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Trump asked the CIA director to meet with conspiracy theorist

11/08/17 12:49PM

Donald Trump's years-long affinity for conspiracy theories has long alarmed his critics, raising questions about his judgment and ability to understand evidence. Yesterday's reporting, however, takes those questions to a very different level.

At the urging of President Donald Trump, CIA Director Mike Pompeo met last month with a former U.S. intelligence official who advocates a fringe theory that the hack of the Democrats during the election was an inside job and not the work of Russian intelligence, the former official told NBC News.

"He's trying to find some factual evidence," said Bill Binney, a former code-breaker at the National Security Agency.

Binney left the agency in 2000 and has become a self-styled whistleblower, making unsupported claims that the NSA is collecting and storing nearly every U.S. communication. His meeting with Pompeo was first reported by The Intercept, an internet news site.

NBC News confirmed with Binney, a frequent guest on Fox News and the Kremlin's RT, that he met with the CIA director, and Pompeo told him that he took the meeting at the urging of the president.

A CNN reporter added that the Binney-Pompeo chat lasted about a half-hour, and "many inside the [CIA] were uncomfortable with the meeting."

There's a very good reason for that. As Pompeo and everyone else in the U.S. intelligence community already knows, Russian agents, not DNC officials, were responsible for the attack on the American elections last year. It might make Trump feel better to believe nonsense -- for a variety of reasons, he seems a little too eager to exonerate Russia from any wrongdoing -- but reality is stubborn.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.8.17

11/08/17 12:00PM

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

* Republican Reps. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey and Ted Poe of Texas yesterday became the latest GOP incumbents to announce their retirement plans. LoBiondo's district is one of the most competitive in the Northeast, and will be a key pick-up opportunity for Democrats.

* While Democrats had a very good day yesterday, a Republican did prevail in a congressional special election in Utah. Rep.-elect John Curtis (R) scored an easy victory yesterday in one of the nation's reddest districts, and he'll succeed Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R), who retired a few months ago.

* St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (D), one of only a few 2017 candidates to receive a personal endorsement from Barack Obama, won his re-election bid yesterday.

* In Arizona, Rep. Martha McSally (R) hasn't made an official announcement yesterday, but she's begun telling colleagues she'll run for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake's (R) Senate seat. Some far-right groups, including the Club for Growth, have already said McSally isn't extreme enough.

* In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) former commerce secretary, Antonio Soave, has ended his GOP congressional campaign after the Kansas City Star uncovered suspicious government contracts he awarded to his associates.

* In Ohio, Brook Park Mayor Tom Coyne left the Democratic Party last year to become a Republican and endorse Donald Trump. Yesterday, Coyne lost his re-election bid.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media on the golf course at his Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland, June 25, 2016. (Photo by  Carlo Allegri/Reuters )

In South Korea, Trump pauses to promote one of his golf courses

11/08/17 11:21AM

On Friday, before his Asia-Pacific trip, Donald Trump stopped in Hawaii and made a quick trip to the Trump International Hotel Waikiki. The White House soon after issued a statement touting the venue as "a tremendously successful project" for the president.

The visit came the day after USA Today reported that Trump "has installed at least five people who have been members of his clubs to senior roles in his administration." The article added, "[N]ever in modern history has a president awarded government posts to people who pay money to his own companies."

And then, in Seoul, the American president went just a little further down the ethically challenged rabbit hole. The Washington Post reported:

The world was watching as President Trump stepped to the microphone in the heart of South Korea's National Assembly to deliver a high-stakes speech to rally fellow leaders against North Korea. What better time for the president to talk about ... his New Jersey golf course?

Not long after he began his remarks, broadcast live on television feeds from Tokyo to Seoul to Washington, Trump took a moment to praise South Korea on the nation's remarkable economic rise after the Korean War six decades ago. In doing so, he talked about the people's prowess in engineering, technology, medicine, music and education.

Then he got to golf.

According to the transcript, Trump described Korean golfers as "some of the best on Earth," which generated applause. He added, "In fact -- and you know what I'm going to say -- the Women's U.S. Open was held this year at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and it just happened to be won by a great Korean golfer, Sung-hyun Park."

I don't imagine anyone was especially surprised that Trump would use this platform to promote a property he owns, because we've grown quite accustomed to the president's routine ethical lapses and efforts to profit personally from his presidency.

But that doesn't make his actions any easier to defend.

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This July 26, 2012 file photo shows an AR-15 style rifle. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

Pentagon nominee accidentally tells the truth about gun policy

11/08/17 10:42AM

Dr. Dean Winslow, Donald Trump's choice to serve as the Pentagon's top health official, was on Capitol Hill yesterday for his confirmation hearing, and as Politico reported, it turned out to be a little more interesting than expected.

The most provocative exchange came when the discussion turned to Devin Patrick Kelley, who's believed to be responsible for Sunday's mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked if Winslow believes service members who are convicted of domestic violence charges should be dishonorably discharged.

"I'd also like to -- and I may get in trouble with other members of the committee -- just say, you know, how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy ... a semi-automatic assault rifle like an AR-15, which apparently was the weapon that was used," Dean Winslow, a physician and retired Air Force colonel nominated to be the assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, said during his Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) quickly interjected, "Dr. Winslow, I don't think that's in your area of responsibility or expertise."

I suppose there's some truth to that, though Winslow is an experienced medical professional with an opinion.

As it turns out, of course, that opinion is deeply at odds with the beliefs of the president who nominated him for this Pentagon post. Donald Trump, for example, responded to the massacre in a Texas church by saying this "isn't a guns situation."

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Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

Election Day 2017 featured a series of breakthrough victories

11/08/17 10:14AM

Looking over yesterday's election results, there were all kinds of firsts, but one that stood out for me was the story of Wilmot Collins.

A couple of decades ago, Collins was a refugee from Liberia when he arrived in the United States. In time, he became a member of the U. S. Naval Reserves, served as an adjunct instructor at Helena College, became a child-protection specialist, and as of yesterday, he's the newly elected mayor of Montana's capital city.

Wilmot Collins will be Helena's new mayor, unseating incumbent Jim Smith in a close race Tuesday.

Collins, 54, will be the city's first new mayor in 16 years after running a long campaign based in progressive principles.

He'll be the first black mayor of any city in the history of Montana, and he was elected in a city where the African-American population is less than 1%, according to the 2010 census.

And when it came to breakthrough victories, Collins' win was one of many.

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A voter steps into a voting booth to mark his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Dems keep their winning streak going in state special elections

11/08/17 09:23AM

As of September, Democrats had already flipped eight state legislative seats in 2017 from "red" to "blue" -- three in Oklahoma, three in New Hampshire, and one each in New York and Florida -- on top of a series of other victories.

As Vox noted, the party flipped two more in Georgia yesterday.

As part of a larger wave of Democratic wins on Election Day 2017, Democrats picked up two seats in special elections held for Georgia's House of Delegates.

Deborah Gonzales won House District 117 with 53 percent of the vote and Jonathan Wallace won House District 119 with 56 percent of the vote. Both seats are in the Athens area and both were vacant, hence the special elections. But not only were the two seats previously held by Republican incumbents, they were uncontested in the 2016 elections.

That last point is of particular interest. These districts weren't seen as especially competitive, to the point that Democrats didn't even bother fielding candidates in these state legislative races as recently as last year. And yet, yesterday, Dems won both.

This doesn't dramatically change the makeup of Georgia's state House -- there's still a sizable GOP majority -- but the Democratic victories mean that Republicans no longer enjoy a super-majority in the chamber.

And speaking of special elections in which Dems flipped a seat, Manka Dhingra (D) easily won a state Senate race in her Seattle-area district, which means Democrats will take control of the chamber. Just as importantly, Dems will now oversee Washington's executive and legislative branches -- the same power it holds in nearby California and Oregon -- becoming only the seventh state in which Democrats currently have this power.

According to a tally from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on Democratic state legislative races, Dem candidates also flipped two seats in New Jersey and one in New Hampshire.

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Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a news conference at the State House, Jan. 8, 2016, in Augusta, Maine. (Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Ignoring LePage, Maine voters easily approve Medicaid expansion

11/08/17 08:40AM

The map of states that have adopted Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act has looked kind of funny for a while. While it's not surprising that the Deep South has resisted the progressive policy, every state north of West Virginia and Maryland has embraced Medicaid expansion -- with one exception that sticks out like a sore thumb.

Maine's legislature has already made attempts to rectify this and bring coverage to low-income families in the state, but Gov. Paul LePage (R) hasn't budged, blocking Medicaid expansion at every opportunity.

Yesterday, as the Portland Press Herald reported, the state's residents took matters into their own hands.

Maine voters passed a measure to expand Medicaid on Tuesday, giving about 70,000 Mainers health care coverage and making the state the first in the nation to approve Medicaid expansion at the ballot box.

With 75 percent of Maine precincts reporting, the measure was favored by 59 percent of the voters. Support for the measure appeared to be strongest along the coast and in southern Maine, but it also was backed by voters in parts of more conservative northern Maine.

The number of states that have adopted Medicaid expansion now stands at 32 -- the most recent previous state was Louisiana, which embraced the policy nearly two years ago -- though Maine is the first state to do so through a ballot initiative.

This will likely give a boost to related efforts to health care advocates in Utah and Missouri, who are also trying to get the issue on their statewide ballots next year.

And while this is obviously good news for the Mainers who'll soon have health security they currently lack, there are a couple of broader angles to keep in mind.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

After election backlash, Trump's GOP is lost without a map

11/08/17 08:00AM

For the better part of 2017, the conventional wisdom painted a bleak picture for Democrats. With Republicans in a dominant position, Dems were characterized as lost and leaderless. The party lacked direction, a credible bench, and an agenda that appeals to a national electorate. The party's base, the argument went, would rather bicker over 2016 than look ahead. It'd be a while before Democrats found any joy in an Election Day.

Last night, this picture was turned on its head. With big victories in races from coast to coast, Democrats had their best Election Day in years. Indeed, in Virginia's gubernatorial race -- the marquee contest of the year -- the Democratic candidate, whom many pundits assumed would lose, scored the biggest win for a Dem nominee in the commonwealth in more than three decades.

The key, evidently, was a voter backlash to Donald Trump. NBC News had a report examining the exit polling in yesterday's gubernatorial contests:

In Virginia, where Democrat Ralph Northam bested Republican Ed Gillespie, 57 percent of voters said they disapproved of Trump's job performance, according to exit polling in the state. And those voters broke for Northam, 87 percent to 11 percent.... Perhaps more importantly, half of voters in Virginia said that Trump was a factor in their vote, and they opposed the president by a 2-to-1 margin -- 34 percent oppose, 16 percent support. [...]

Trump's standing was even worse in New Jersey, where Democrat Phil Murphy beat Republican Kim Guadagno in that state's gubernatorial race. Just 36 percent of Garden State voters said they approved of the president's job, while 63 percent disapproved, according to exit polls there.

And among the 39 percent of voters in New Jersey who said Trump was a factor in their vote, 28 percent said it was to oppose him, versus 11 percent who were supporting him -- a nearly 3-to-1 margin.

The president's name wasn't literally on the ballot, but there's no mistaking the fact that Trump's presidency played a key role in driving the results. Yesterday was a referendum on Trump, and his party lost in spectacular fashion.

And that leaves the Republican Party -- which has spent a year supporting, defending, and enabling the hapless GOP president -- facing a difficult question this morning: "Now what?"

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.7.17

11/07/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Devin Kelley: "The gunman accused of the worst mass murder in Texas history escaped from a mental health hospital during his stint in the Air Force, according to a 2012 police report."

* Congress gets a reminder: "An economic crisis already present in Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria devastated the island more than 50 days ago could get much worse as officials estimate they will need as much as a staggering $21 billion over the next two years to cover operating costs and help the island rebuild its infrastructure."

* Now that's  a good question to ask Donald Trump: "Would you consider extreme vetting on people trying to buy a gun?"

* It's extraordinary to me that this wasn't resolved sooner: "Justice Department prosecutors have dropped their case against a woman who laughed at now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing. Desiree Fairooz was scheduled to face trial for a second time next week, but a DOJ prosecutor entered a nolle prosequi filing in the case on Monday indicating the department is dismissing the charges."

* The Rand Paul assault story continues to be odd: "A U.S. senator was allegedly assaulted three days ago, and the more we learn about it, the stranger it becomes."

* The future of the Endangered Species Act: "The congressman who said he 'would love to invalidate' the Endangered Species Act is closing in on his goal. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) recently shepherded five bills out of the Natural Resources Committee he chairs that would dismantle the law piece by piece."

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Voters line up in voting booths to cast their ballots at Robious Elementary School in Chesterfield, Va. on Nov. 8, 2016. (Photo by Shelby Lum/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP)

Races to watch on Election Day 2017

11/07/17 02:26PM

As a rule, off-year election cycles tend to generate quite a bit less attention, but for campaign watchers, today is shaping up to be a day worth watching closely.

The marquee contest is clearly the gubernatorial race in Virginia, where polls show a very tight race between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie (R). Believe the hype: the outcome of this election will reverberate nationwide, and have a meaningful effect on everything from health care to voting rights to the GOP relying on nativism to win elections nationwide.

But it's not the only race of consequence today. Here are a few of the other elections I'm keeping an eye on:

* New Jersey's gubernatorial race: Former Ambassador Phil Murphy (D) looks like the clear favorite over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R), and if the polls are right, it creates a unique opportunity for Dems. A Murphy victory would put Dems in control of New Jersey's state government, making it one of only seven states where Democrats have the governor's office, the state House, and the state Senate.

* Medicaid in Maine: Thanks to Gov. Paul LePage (R), Maine is the only state in the Northeast that hasn't adopted Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act. Voters today can change that and bring coverage to roughly 80,000 low-income Mainers. (Locally, the race is known as "Question 2.")

* Washington's state Senate: While state Senate elections tend not to generate much national interest, both parties are closely watching the race in Washington's 45th district today. If Democrat Manka Dhingra prevails, Democrats will take control of the chamber, and in turn, dominate state government in Washington. It would also complete a trifecta of sorts: a Dhingra win would mean Dems control state political power across the Pacific coast in California, Oregon, and Washington.

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Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Nov. 3, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

House Republican: Donors are helping driving push for tax breaks

11/07/17 12:40PM

At first blush, the Republicans' push for massive tax breaks, disproportionately benefiting the wealthy, seems politically unwise. The American mainstream isn't exactly clamoring for the GOP tax plan -- polls show broad public opposition to the Republican proposal -- and no party ever became more popular by doing something unpopular.

What's more, the country can't afford the Republican plan; there's no reason to believe it'd make a significant difference on the economy; and it's having the unintended effect of dividing the GOP at a difficult time.

So why focus so much time, energy, and resources in the idea? Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) spoke to The Hill this morning and gave away the game.

A House Republican lawmaker acknowledged on Tuesday that he's facing pressure from donors to ensure the GOP tax-reform proposal gets done.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) had been describing the flurry of lobbying from special interests seeking to protect favored tax provisions when a reporter asked if donors are happy with the tax-reform proposal.

"My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don't ever call me again,' " Collins replied.

I suppose Collins deserves some credit for being so publicly candid. Traditionally, members of Congress have been more restrained when talking about using their offices to pursue political donors' goals, but Collins, a prominent Donald Trump ally, is taking a refreshing approach. He's admitting that he's concerned about the pressure he's under from campaign contributors.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.7.17

11/07/17 12:00PM

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

* A new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that a plurality of Americans who live in "Trump Counties" believe the country is worse off now that it was a year ago.

* Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the Senate's most vulnerable Republican incumbent in 2018, has launched his first television ad of the cycle, focusing on, among other things, filling judicial vacancies with Donald Trump's far-right nominees.

* Reflecting on Ed Gillespie's (R) right-wing messaging in Virginia's gubernatorial race, his former extremist primary rival, Corey Stewart, said yesterday, "It feels like my campaign, doesn't it?"

* Tom Steyer's television ads in support of Donald Trump's impeachment have been airing quite a bit on cable news networks, including MSNBC, but they're poised to reach a narrower audience now: Fox News has decided to stop airing the commercial.

* In a bit of a surprise, Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer will no longer have the Republican field to themselves in Indiana's U.S. Senate race: former state Rep. Mike Braun, who's independently wealthy, kicked off his race this week.

* In a new book, former President George H.W. Bush concedes he voted for Hillary Clinton last year.

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