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Trump's whopper: 'I never said Russia did not meddle in the election'

02/19/18 09:22AM

We're pretty accustomed to Donald Trump throwing occasional Twitter tantrums, but his avalanche of nonsense over the weekend was startling, even for him. You've heard the phrase, "Never let 'em see you sweat"? Following Friday's indictments against the president's Russian benefactors, Trump ignored the adage in rather profound ways.

But of particular interest was a curious denial. "I never said Russia did not meddle in the election," he tweeted. "I said 'it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.'"

At face value, the president is trying to suggest he sliced the truth thin: he didn't explicitly say Russia was innocent, the argument goes, so much as he raised the possibility that Russia may not be guilty. As such, Trump -- who likes to pretend he's incapable of saying something that's incorrect -- wasn't technically wrong.

That's a nice try, I suppose, but reality is stubborn.

Mr. Trump is referring to comments he made during the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, 2016. But as The New York Times reported in a fact-check in June, Mr. Trump has also explicitly disagreed with the assessment of various intelligence agencies or cast doubt on Russia's role in the vote.

The Times' article documents eight examples of Trump telling the public that he did not believe Russia intervened in the 2016 election, including the unambiguous assertion, "I don't believe they interfered."

The list isn't intended to be comprehensive, and it omitted plenty of related examples, many of which CNBC flagged. One of my personal favorites came during the presidential transition period, when the Republican, confronted with a U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia intervened on Trump's behalf, called the findings "ridiculous," adding, "I don't believe it."

It was one of several instances in which Trump rejected the findings of U.S. intelligence professionals, whom he's routinely mocked and publicly criticized for daring to, we now know, tell the truth about a foreign adversary's intelligence operation.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

White House caught fibbing about Russian operatives' indictments

02/19/18 08:40AM

When Donald Trump makes ridiculously untrue comments, few are surprised. The president has a reputation for breathtaking dishonesty, which is well deserved. Making matters much worse, however, is the degree to which his White House makes no real effort to be more trustworthy.

For example, the White House issued a formal written statement late Friday responding to the federal indictment of 13 Russian operatives who are accused of attacking our elections to help put Trump in power. A Washington Post analysis described the statement as "extremely dishonest," and documented several demonstrable falsehoods -- none of which has been corrected.

But West Wing officials weren't content to stop there. On Twitter, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "Unlike Obama, [Trump] isn't going to be pushed around by Russia or anybody else." That might be slightly less laughable if Obama hadn't imposed sanctions on Russia, which is the opposite of what Trump did.

But it was one of Sanders' colleagues who took the offensive to another level. The HuffPost noted:

Just a day after the special counsel leading the investigation indicted 13 Russians and three Russian organizations, the White House deputy press secretary said it's the media and Democrats who have "created chaos more than the Russians" for their coverage of the probe into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"There are two groups that have created chaos more than the Russians, and that's the Democrats and the mainstream media," said Hogan Gidley in a Saturday "Fox & Friends" interview.

So, on Friday, the Justice Department brought criminal charges against Russian operatives who attacked our democracy. And on Saturday, Trump's deputy press secretary effectively defended the Russians, saying it's Democrats and American journalists who are actually responsible for creating "chaos."

What happened after Gidley's absurdity is every bit as important as absurdity itself.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

After indictments, Trump lashes out wildly (but not at Russia)

02/19/18 08:00AM

Friday's federal indictments against Russian operatives responsible for attacking American elections in 2016 weren't just important; they were historic. There's no meaningful precedent for the U.S. government detailing an illegal foreign intelligence operation intended to put an adversary's preferred candidate in power.

The indictments are therefore more than just a legal document: they're an instrument through which the United States is pushing back against those who attacked us.

That significance is amplified by our president's reluctance to take any actions of his own.

Throughout Donald Trump's brief career in politics, we've been told repeatedly that when he's attacked, Trump punches back 10 times harder. It's precisely why, Trump World explains, he so often gets hysterical in response to minor slights.

But we're occasionally reminded of the limits of the principal. Trump lashes out at those who attack him personally, but those who attack the United States should apparently expect far less.

A Washington Post  analysis noted over the weekend that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's indictments have "laid down a challenge to the president that no longer can be ignored." To which Trump effectively replied, "Oh yeah? Watch me."

President Donald Trump railed against the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election Saturday night into Sunday, sending off a stream of tweets attacking the FBI, CNN, the Democratic Party, his own national security adviser, former President Barack Obama and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

He did not criticize Russia, or voice concern over Vladimir Putin's attempts to undermine U.S. elections.

By last night, Trump's target list expanded to include Oprah Winfrey -- whom the president described as "very insecure," irony be damned -- after he saw a television segment he didn't like.

The avalanche of bizarre tweets included all kinds of easily discredited falsehoods. What they did not include was (1) any acknowledgement of the fact that Russian operatives took steps to elect him; (2) any concern about the foreign attack on the United States; (3) any evidence that Russia should expect consequences for its crimes; or (4) any assurances that Trump intends to prevent similar attacks in the future.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 2.16.18

02/16/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Parkland: "Less than six weeks before Nikolas Cruz committed one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, someone who knew him called an FBI tip line to complain about him, the agency revealed on Friday. But no one followed up."

* White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has "approved an overhaul of how the White House manages security-clearance investigations, acknowledging missteps but putting the onus on the FBI and the Justice Department to now hand-deliver updates and provide more information."

* Keep an eye on Shulkin: "The secretary of veterans affairs, David J. Shulkin, for a year enjoyed rare bipartisan support in Washington as he reformed his department, but now officials in the Trump administration are trying to replace him."

* Again? "Jared Kushner quietly filed an addendum to his personal financial disclosure adding even more previously undisclosed business interests in recent weeks -- and may have even more to disclose, according to real estate documents shared with TPM."

* Really? "9 out of 10 public schools now hold mass shooting drills for students."

* I meant to mention this 4th Circuit ruling yesterday: "A second federal appeals court ruled on Thursday against President Trump's latest effort to limit travel from countries said to pose a threat to the nation's security."

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Image: President Trump attends Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol

Trump comes up short in response to new Mueller indictment

02/16/18 04:50PM

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team announced the indictment today of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities who allegedly interfered in the 2016 presidential election, trying to boost Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. The news further discredits the president's longtime claim that that Russian assistance for his campaign is a "hoax."

And so, Trump, who was reportedly briefed on the indictment this morning by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, thought it'd be a good idea to tweet about the news with a slightly different posture.

"Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!"

OK, let's take those one at a time.

1. "Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President." That's a little dubious -- there were plenty of headlines before 2015 about Trump's possible candidacy -- but I'm not sure why Trump thinks that's important. What today's indictment documents are the efforts Russian operatives took on his behalf in 2016. The fact that the network's operations were in place beforehand is interesting, but not exculpatory.

For that matter, the fact that the president is now referencing Russia's "campaign" is a rather dramatic departure. For the better part of two years, Trump has questioned whether the Russia meddling happened at all -- and the more U.S. intelligence agencies said otherwise, the more Trump publicly belittled American intelligence professionals.

Indeed, as recently as November, Trump told reporters he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin -- twice -- and Putin "said he didn't meddle." Trump added, "I just asked him again, and he said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they're saying he did.... Putin said he did not do what they said he did. And, you know, there are those that say, if he did do it, he wouldn't have gotten caught, all right? Which is a very interesting statement."

That posture was ridiculous at the time. Now even Trump is grudgingly acknowledging Russia's "campaign."

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Indictment crushes Trump's 'hoax' claims about Russian interference

02/16/18 02:32PM

For the better part of two years, Donald Trump balked at the very idea of Russian operatives trying to help elect him. The Republican president insisted the whole argument was a "hoax," facts and intelligence community assessments, be damned.

I know Trump isn't much of a reader, but someone really ought to show him today's indictment from the Justice Department.

Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian entities have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of interfering in the 2016 presidential election -- including supporting the Trump campaign and "disparaging" Hillary Clinton, special counsel Robert Mueller announced Friday.

The indictments -- part of Mueller's ongoing investigation -- are the first criminal indictments tied directly to Russian interference in the 2016 election. [...]

According to the indictment, some defendants traveled to U.S. under false pretenses to collect intelligence and to "reach significant number of Americans for purposes of interfering with the U.S. political system, including the presidential election of 2016."

The full, detailed, 37-page indictment is online here (pdf) and it's worth your time. It paints a rather extraordinary picture of an extensive Russian interference operation.

And while I'm not an attorney, and I'll defer to those with more authority to delve into the indictment in more detail, several things have jumped out at me:

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Bacardi Presents Playboy's Super Saturday Night Party

Trump faces questions about another adult entertainer affair

02/16/18 12:54PM

When talking about Donald Trump's alleged affairs with women from the adult-entertainment industry, it's probably best to ask, "Which one?"

The $130,000 pre-election payment to Stormy Daniels is already the subject of an ongoing controversy, but a few days before the 2016 election, the Wall Street Journal published a separate article about a Playboy centerfold named Karen McDougal. As the story goes, the company that owns the National Enquirer paid McDougal $150,000 for her story about her affair with Trump, received the exclusive rights, and then didn't publish it.

There was, naturally, ample speculation about whether the tabloid's parent company, American Media Inc., did this as a "catch and kill" favor to help the Republican candidate -- buying the story so no one would see it. The company's CEO, David Pecker, is a Trump friend and supporter.

Now, however, the controversy is back in the news, with new details about how Trump and his allies concealed the alleged affair through secret meetings, payoffs, and legal arrangements.

Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate of the Year, documented her alleged nine-month affair with Trump in an eight-page handwritten note shared with The New Yorker.

McDougal, 46, claims Trump once offered to pay her after they had sex in a private bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where many of their purported liaisons took place. She alleges Trump tried to avoid creating a record that might expose their relationship by having her pay for her own flights and then reimbursing her.

According to McDougal's account, she had a consensual sexual relationship with Trump in 2006, roughly two years after he married Melania Trump, his third and current wife. McDougal said the relationship ended in April 2007, about a year after Trump's youngest son was born.

Asked about the story, a White House spokesperson said, "This is an old story that is just more fake news. The president says he never had a relationship with McDougal."

That's an interesting choice of words.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.16.18

02/16/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* With a month remaining in Pennsylvania's congressional special election, a new Monmouth University poll shows Rick Saccone (R) leading Conor Lamb (D), 49% to 46%. Given the partisan leanings of the district, we'd generally expect to see the Republican with a much larger advantage.

* As if Missouri's U.S. Senate race weren't already complicated enough, Kansas City lawyer Craig O'Dear launched an independent bid today, making this a three-way contest.

* With Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) retiring, Mark Burns, a pro-Trump televangelist, has decided to run for the South Carolina congressional seat.

* Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has signed on as the state engagement chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, emphasizing this year's elections as part of the 2020 redistricting effort. It's also worth noting that McAuliffe is a possible 2020 presidential candidate.

* Barack Obama left office on a relatively high note, at least as far as polling is concerned, and his standing has only improved since. Gallup reported this week that Obama's "legacy appears to be on the right track, as 63% of Americans in hindsight say they approve of the way he handled his job."

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Image: Senators Debate Health Care Bill On Capitol Hill

Even Republicans slam Trump's handling of immigration fight

02/16/18 11:21AM

After Senate Republicans partnered with the White House to kill a bipartisan compromise on immigration, Donald Trump tried to blame Democrats. Some of the GOP senators who helped craft the latest bipartisan deal -- the most recent of several -- have already said the president's rhetoric isn't true.

"I don't think the president helped very much," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Capitol Hill reporters yesterday afternoon. "There's probably 75 votes here for border security plus a pathway to citizenship for the DACA recipients, but you need presidential leadership. Without it, we won't get there."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another one of the GOP co-sponsors of the bipartisan Rounds-King deal, expressed a similar sentiment, but she also raised an interesting point:

"I fear that you've got some within the White House that have not yet figured out that legislation almost by its very definition is a compromise product and compromise doesn't mean getting four Republicans together and figuring out what it is that those four agree on, it is broader," [Murkowski] said.

This is a good point, of course, which is more broadly applicable than some may realize.

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Image: Donald Trump

Immigration politics lead Trump to repeat a cynical lie

02/16/18 10:53AM

Donald Trump has many flaws, but he tends to understand what will affect his own personal standing. The president realizes, for example, that if he starts deporting hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, the threat of a political backlash is real. After all, the American mainstream supports DACA protections for these young immigrants.

And so, in order to protect himself politically, Trump has to lie -- brazenly and repeatedly -- as he did again this morning.

"Cannot believe how BADLY DACA recipients have been treated by the Democrats...totally abandoned! Republicans are still working hard."

For anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of reality, the president's tweet is hopelessly bonkers. Trump is the one who rescinded DACA protections for the Dreamers. At the risk of noting details that are already painfully obvious, if he didn't want to see these immigrants "totally abandoned," he wouldn't have totally abandoned them.

Trump is also the one who's now rejected or walked away from six different bipartisan efforts to protect Dreamers from the president's own policy.

Indeed, it's stunning just how far Democrats have been willing to go as this debate has unfolded. I, for example, have never seen much value in trading DACA for a border wall, largely because that's a "compromise" in which Trump gets something he says he wants in exchange for something Trump says he wants. That's not how bipartisan deals are generally supposed to go.

But as of yesterday, Democrats were willing to accept that deal anyway as part of the Rounds-King proposal that Republicans filibustered on the Senate floor. In effect, Dems caved, feeling as if they had no choice and no leverage. Trump and his team could've taken "yes" for an answer, but instead they worked as hard as they could to kill the measure.

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