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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.17.17

05/17/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Perceptions are starting to change: "The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 372.82 points on Wednesday, bringing the giddy post-election rally of the past few months to a halt as investors began to worry about the daily revelations of disarray with President Donald Trump's administration."

* Afghanistan: "Suicide bombers besieged the state television offices in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, officials said, fighting for three hours and leaving at least six people dead."

* An ugly scene: "D.C. police announced they are pursuing charges against additional suspects involved in Tuesday's violent clash between demonstrators and guards for visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan."

* The Senate Judiciary Committee "demanded Wednesday that the FBI and the White House turn over evidence relating to former FBI Director James Comey's interactions with President Trump after reports of a memo that Comey was said have written detailing a request from Trump to wind down the Russia investigation."

* Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee "sought Wednesday to invite former FBI director James Comey to testify and also requested documents related to the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections:"

* As of this afternoon, five Republican senators now support an independent investigation of Trump's Russia scandal: Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dean Heller (Nev.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

* A story worth watching: "Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) is under scrutiny by ethics investigators for his role in soliciting investors for an Australian biotech company, according to a news report."

* On a related note: "Rep. Duncan Hunter's spending habits are once again under scrutiny in light of reports he used campaign money on a Las Vegas trip. The California Republican's campaign spent $1,042 at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and $896 at the hotel's bar called the Chandelier, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported."
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CPAC Vignettes

Trump to give David Clarke an inexplicable promotion

05/17/17 04:52PM

Just a few weeks ago, Americans learned that Sheriff David Clarke's jail in Milwaukee kept water from a mentally ill inmate for days, until the man died of "profound dehydration."

Now, however, Donald Trump's administration has decided to reward David Clarke with a promotion.
Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. will leave office next month to accept a federal appointment as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

He will work in the department's Office of Partnership and Engagement as a liaison with state, local and tribal law enforcement and governments.  "I'm looking forward to joining that team," Clarke said Thursday afternoon on the Vicki McKenna talk show on 1130 WISN Radio.
Even if a bipartisan majority in the Senate were to conclude that Clarke is dangerously unhinged, and should be kept far away from any federal responsibilities, it wouldn't matter -- because as Politico recently noted, the position Clarke is taking "does not require Senate confirmation."

If you're not familiar with Clarke, his career, or his political activism, it's worth appreciating the fact that he's not a typical American sheriff.
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President Trump addresses rally in Harrisburg, PA on April 29, 2017. Screenshot from NBCNews.

Trump whines to Coast Guard: No president has ever 'been treated worse'

05/17/17 04:10PM

It may only be Wednesday, but it's been an odd week for presidential speeches. On Monday, Donald Trump spoke at the annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service, where his remarks veered in some unusual directions. He noted, for example, that police officers supported his campaign "big league," which seemed inappropriate, given the context.

The president also thought it'd be a good idea to use the memorial service to toss a hat during his remarks to the son of a fallen officer. The hat featured a big "45" in honor of himself (Trump is the 45th president).

Today, Trump spoke to graduating cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and took the opportunity to whine about what a victim he is.
"Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair. You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.

"Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history -- and I say this with great surety -- has been treated worse or more unfairly."
Presidents don't usually feel sorry for themselves in front of large audiences -- public whining and self-pity tends to undermine a sense of stature -- but Trump doesn't care. He feels put upon, gosh darn it, and he wants the graduating cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to know about his hurt feelings.

And so, in what was supposed to be a congratulatory speech for Academy graduates veered into the president complaining about his detractors, the press, and others who fail to appreciate his perceived awesomeness.
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Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Paul Ryan isn't done carrying water for Donald Trump

05/17/17 12:48PM

This morning started to feel a little different. Donald Trump has been able to maintain steadfast support from Republicans through a series of brutal controversies, but the revelations from a memo written by former FBI Director James Comey changed things for many Republicans.

Suddenly, GOP lawmakers who are ordinarily eager to appear on television started turning down invitations. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made the case that we're seeing a new Watergate. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) believes impeachment may be necessary. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) now wants an independent commission, and he's not alone. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said, "While I'm no Comey fan, I won't defend anyone who obstructs justice."

Even Wall Street, which had largely shrugged off Trump's recent scandals, fell sharply this morning as the prospect of political instability in the White House grew more real.

Some things, however, haven't changed at all.
House Speaker Paul Ryan cautioned against jumping to conclusions about President Donald Trump's alleged meddling in an FBI investigation of his administration and dismissed the need for more outside oversight of the Department of Justice probe into Trump campaign ties to Russia, as calls for a special prosecutor grow louder on Capitol Hill.

"We need the facts. It is obvious there are some people out there that want to harm the president," Ryan told reporters at a news conference.
In reality, that's not "obvious" at all. No one made Donald Trump fire the FBI director, for example, and no one forced him to admit that the president did so because of his dissatisfaction with an ongoing investigation into his political team.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.17.17

05/17/17 12:00PM

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

* Donald Trump's re-election campaign sent out a new fundraising letter yesterday, with a subject line that read, "SABOTAGE." Apparently, officials on Team Trump want donors to give them money because of the scandals swirling around the president.

* As if the congressional special election in South Carolina weren't already dragged out enough, the Republican primary runoff, held yesterday, is apparently headed for a recount. The general election is June 20.

* Speaking of congressional special elections, in Montana, where GOP officials are increasingly worried about Greg Gianforte's slipping advantage, the wealthy Republican candidate has lent himself $1 million for the campaign's home stretch. The election is May 25, which is a week from tomorrow.

* The voter-ID law passed by North Carolina Republicans failed in the courts, and was effectively rendered dead by the U.S. Supreme Court this week, but GOP lawmakers in the state are apparently hard at work on a new voter-suppression bill. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) would veto such an effort, but GOP dominance in the legislature makes a veto override likely.

* The Center for American Progress hosted an Ideas Conference yesterday, which turned into a "pre-2020 showcase" for Democrats who are likely to consider the next presidential race. Among those in attendance were Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

* Although many GOP leaders hoped to persuade Rep. Pat Tiberi (R) to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in Ohio next year, the Republican congressman has decided to pass on the race.
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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Trump allies come up with the wrong response to the Comey bombshell

05/17/17 10:57AM

The day after Donald Trump fired his national security advisor, Michael Flynn, he reportedly had a private chat with then-FBI Director James Comey. According to a memo Comey wrote at the time, the president said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

That, of course, sounds remarkably similar to obstruction of justice, leaving the White House to try to come up with some kind of defense. As of last night, Trump's communications team released a statement -- no official wanted to put his or her name on the document -- that said, "[T]he president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation.... This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey."

This morning, however, reporters started hearing a slightly different defense. NBC News' Marianna Sotomayor‏ noted on Twitter this morning:
"A senior WH official tells @PeterAlexander that POTUS wasn't telling Comey to end Flynn investigation and suggest this is the way he speaks"
Politico's John Bresnahan‏ had a similar item, noting that he heard from some congressional Republicans last night that the president's comments to Comey were an example of Trump "just spouting off." The comments weren't a "serious attempt at obstruction."

If this is going to serve as the GOP defense, it's worth taking a moment to unpack it.
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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

National security officials try to accommodate Trump's attributes

05/17/17 10:10AM

The week of Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, Donald Trump conceded he likes to have short intelligence briefings, with information on national security limited to one page. "I like bullets or I like as little as possible," he said.

Soon after, National Security Council officials said that while Barack Obama liked policy papers that were three to six single-spaced pages, Trump prefers one page, "with lots of graphics and maps."

As Trump prepares for his first overseas trip as president, Reuters reports today on the efforts to prepare a president with Trump's unique attributes.
Conversations with some officials who have briefed Trump and others who are aware of how he absorbs information portray a president with a short attention span.

He likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos.

National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump's name in "as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he's mentioned," according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.
I mean, really. What are we even supposed to say at this point? Nearly four months into this presidency, National Security Council officials have apparently learned that Trump is likely to stop reading important materials unless he sees his name, so they write "Trump" more than they'd like to in the hopes of keeping the president's attention.

Have I mentioned that we're talking about a grown man with the world's most difficult job?
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) bows his head in prayer during an event on Capitol Hill, Feb. 24, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

McConnell wants less 'drama' from Trump, but for the wrong reasons

05/17/17 09:20AM

Because Republican support for Donald Trump is key to the sustainability of his presidency, much of the political world suddenly finds itself paying very close attention to anything resembling GOP criticism of the White House. With this dynamic in mind, a Mitch McConnell quote received quite a bit of attention yesterday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wishes there was "less drama" coming out of the White House following reports that President Donald Trump revealed classified information during a meeting with Russian officials last week.

In response to questions, McConnell said that he has not lost confidence in the president and that he still trusts him with classified information.

"I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House," McConnell told reporters, not directly responding to the latest controversy flowing out of the executive branch.
"Ah ha!" the political world responded, Mitch McConnell must be growing weary of Trump World's constant stream of scandals and self-imposed crises, each of which are difficult to defend. The Senate Majority Leader must want the president and his team to get their house in order -- and stop doing things like leaking highly classified intelligence to the Russians for no reason.

But consider the quote with a little more context: "I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda, which is deregulations, tax reform, [and] repealing and replacing Obamacare."

It's the latter half of the sentiment that sounds more cynical than principled.
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Sen. Angus King, I-Me., leaves the senate luncheons in the Capitol, September 9, 2014. Photo by Tom Williams/Getty.

Independent senator raises specter of Trump's impeachment

05/17/17 08:42AM

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) does not have a reputation as a partisan bomb-thrower. He's one of only two independents in Congress, and he's widely seen as someone with a moderate, even-keeled temperament.

And with this in mind, when CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked the Maine senator yesterday whether he believes Donald Trump may soon face impeachment proceedings, King's answer raised more than a few eyebrows.
"Reluctantly, Wolf, I have to say yes, simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense. And I say it with sadness and reluctance. This is not something that I've advocated for. The word [impeachment] has not passed my lips in this whole tumultuous three or more months.

"But if indeed the president tried to tell the director of the FBI, who worked for him, that he should drop an investigation -- whether it was Michael Flynn or some investigation that had nothing to do with Russia or politics or the election -- that's a very serious matter."
Soon after, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who's voted with Trump more than 92% of the time this year, told an International Republican Institute, "I think we've seen this movie before. I think it's reaching a point where it's of Watergate size and scale."

Part of the trouble for the Trump White House isn't just the "size and scale" of Watergate, but the eerie similarities.
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FBI Director James B. Comey listens to a question from a reporter during a media conference in San Francisco, Calif., Feb. 27, 2014. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP)

Comey memo may prove to be a smoking gun for Trump

05/17/17 08:00AM

About a week after his presidential inauguration, Donald Trump had dinner with then-FBI Director James Comey, and at the time, the president reportedly asked about the investigation into the Russia scandal and sought a loyalty pledge from Comey. Given the circumstances, the dinner discussion looked a bit like obstruction of justice.

Later, when the president said he fired Comey because of Trump's dissatisfaction with the investigation into the Russia scandal, the admitted details looked even more like obstruction of justice.

New York Times' report, published late yesterday, appears to remove any sense of subtlety from the conversation about the scandal.
President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

"I hope you can let this go," the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.
It's important to note that the memo was contemporaneous with the events. This isn't a case in which an aggrieved fired official, eager to punish the president who ended his career, is reflecting on a discussion that happened months prior; rather, this is an instance in which Comey kept a paper trail, documenting developments as they occurred.

The White House, not surprisingly, is denying the accuracy of the report -- interestingly, the written statement from the West Wing wasn't attributed to any one individual official -- but given what remains of Trump World's shredded credibility, it's difficult to take the denials seriously.
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