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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.24.20

01/24/20 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Turkish earthquake: "At least eight people have died after an earthquake struck eastern Turkey, officials told local media. The tremblor, with a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 struck at around 8:55 p.m. local time (12:55 p.m. ET) in eastern Elazig province, the country's emergency management agency said."

* Coronavirus: "A second case of the new coronavirus has been confirmed in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday morning. The CDC is also investigating another 61 potential cases from 22 states. Eleven have tested negative, and results from the rest are pending."

* Mike Flynn case: "Federal District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan made clear Friday that Michael Flynn, who served briefly as President Donald Trump's national security adviser, has a high hurdle to overcome in persuading the judge to let Flynn withdraw his guilty plea."

* Given his willingness to pander, coupled with his love of the word "first," I'm surprised this took him three years: "President Donald Trump on Friday became the first sitting president to attend the annual anti-abortion March for Life rally in Washington, presenting himself as an unwavering advocate for limiting abortion access."

* It's a fine-tuned machine: "For nine days, the nation's opioid crisis was no longer considered a 'public health emergency' after the Trump administration failed to renew a two-year-old declaration that expired last week."

* In case anyone was inclined to believe the administration's trade claims: "Perhaps distracted by the beauty and billionaires of Davos, Switzerland, this week Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin let slip an embarrassing admission: President Trump's justification for his trade wars is hogwash."

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Pompeo confronts simple questions he just can't seem to answer

01/24/20 04:03PM

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down today with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, who asked whether he owes former U.S. Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch an apology. Given the latest revelations, and the way in which Pompeo's State Department forced Yovanovitch from her post under scandalous circumstances, the question was more than fair.

The nation's chief diplomat didn't seem to agree, however. He complained about the line of inquiry and complained about the Obama administration for a while, before the host narrowed the focus, asking about the State Department personnel who've resigned because of Pompeo's refusal to stand up for American diplomats. He balked, attributing the concerns to "unnamed sources."

Kelly wasted little time in reminding the Kansas Republican that the sources aren't unnamed at all: his own State Department senior adviser, Michael McKinley, a career Foreign Service officer with four decades experience, testified under oath about the department's failures in this area.

Pompeo said he wouldn't comment on McKinley's assessment, either, though he insisted that he's "defended every State Department official" since taking the reins at the cabinet agency. The NPR host, likely realizing that this claim wasn't true, pressed further on this specific point:

KELLY: Respectfully, where have you defended Marie Yovanovich?

POMPEO: I've defended every single person on this team I've done what's right for every person on this team.

KELLY: Can you point me towards your remarks?

POMPEO: I've said all I'm going to say.

On the one hand, I'm glad to see Pompeo sit down for interviews with outlets outside the conservative media bubble. On the other hand, when the secretary of State does sit down for these interviews, they don't seem to go well.

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Republican Senators Hold News Conference On NLRB

In odd defense of Trump, GOP senator says there's 'new evidence' daily

01/24/20 03:22PM

New reporting from ABC News jolted the political world this afternoon, with news of a purported recording in which Donald Trump told associates, in reference to then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, "Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it."

Among other things, if the reporting is accurate, it shows Trump targeting an anti-corruption crusader, barking orders to a controversial Rudy Giuliani associate he claims not to know.

A reporter asked Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) about today's revelations and whether it might affect the Senate's willingness to consider new information that's relevant to the president's impeachment trial. The Wyoming Republican, who serves as chair of the Senate Republican Conference, replied:

"There will be new evidence every day. There will be something new that comes out every day."

Barrasso's point seemed to be that the House impeachment managers have said they already have a mountain of evidence pointing to the president's guilt, so there's no need for senators to consider the latest revelations, no matter their relevance, and no matter the degree to which they may shed light on Trump's culpability.

There are, however, two rather important flaws in Barrasso's argument. First, when a member of the Senate Republican leadership concedes that there's "new evidence" related to Trump's controversy "every day," it doesn't exactly reinforce the GOP's posture that the president is innocent; the Senate should quickly exonerate him; and there's no need for senators to take the scandal seriously.

On the contrary, if there's "new evidence" that comes out daily, that should give the president's Republican allies -- who seem a little too eager to help cover up the scandal -- a fair amount of pause. Barrasso effectively seemed to argue, "We're constantly confronted with potentially incriminating evidence against the White House, so there's really no point in stopping to consider it, since there's likely to be more of it tomorrow."

Indeed, Barrasso's line seems like the sort of thing we might expect to hear from one of Trump's progressive detractors, not one of his far-right supporters.

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Not just 'headaches': 34 US troops diagnosed with brain injuries

01/24/20 02:21PM

Two weeks ago, in retaliation for the U.S. airstrike that killed Gen. Qassim Soleimani, Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi air bases housing U.S. forces. As we've discussed, the next morning, Donald Trump delivered a strange speech, littered with unnecessary falsehoods, though the president stressed an important bottom line.

"I'm pleased to inform you, the American people should be extremely grateful and happy no Americans were harmed in last night's attack by the Iranian regime," Trump said near the outset of his remarks. "We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases."

It now seems obvious those claims weren't true. NBC News reported last week that 11 service members were transported to two hospitals for treatment for concussions following the strike.  As of today, that number has tripled.

Thirty-four U.S. service members were diagnosed with concussions and traumatic brain injuries following Iranian airstrikes on the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq earlier this month, the Pentagon's chief spokesman said Friday. [...]

Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon spokesman, confirmed on Friday that eight of the U.S. service members who received diagnoses were transported to a hospital in Germany and then taken back to the U.S., where they will receive treatment at the Walter Reed Medical Center. He said another nine were still in Germany.

Sixteen of the service members who were diagnosed with brain injuries were back on active duty in Iraq, and one person was taken to Kuwait, Hoffman told reporters.

As it turns out, we know why the president boasted that "no Americans were harmed" when, in reality, some Americans were harmed: Trump told reporters this week that he'd heard that some of the servicemen and women had experienced "headaches," but he added, "I don't consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I've seen."

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'Take her out': Reported tape suggests Trump demanded ambassador's firing

01/24/20 12:49PM

Rachel sat down last week with Lev Parnas, one of Rudy Giuliani's controversial associates who helped execute Donald Trump's Ukraine scheme, and his claims related to U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch were among the most provocative.

According to Parnas, Yovanovitch's anti-corruption efforts made her a target -- she stood in the way of assorted schemes -- and by his telling, the American president specifically took steps to force her from her post in Kyiv. In fact, Parnas specifically referenced an "intimate dinner" at Trump's hotel at which the president ordered Yovanovitch's firing.

It's against this backdrop that ABC News ran this striking report this morning.

A recording reviewed by ABC News appears to capture President Donald Trump telling associates he wanted the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch fired while speaking at a small gathering that included Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman -- two former business associates of Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who have since been indicted in New York.

The recording appears to contradict statements by President Trump and support the narrative that has been offered by Parnas during broadcast interviews in recent days. Sources familiar with the recording said the recording was made during an intimate April 30, 2018, dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

According to ABC News' report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, a voice that appears to be the president's is heard on the recording saying, "Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it."

The report added that a copy of the recording "is now in the custody of federal prosecutors in New York's Southern District."

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.24.20

01/24/20 12:00PM

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

* Despite the recent chatter about Democratic campaigns throwing a few elbows at one another, consider this fascinating tidbit: "In a barrage of 85 different ads that have aired more than 72,000 times in the past two months on local television [in Iowa], no Democrat has even mentioned a primary rival by name, a Wall Street Journal review found."

* Speaking of television ads, the newest spot from Joe Biden is not subtle in its electability message: after recent polling data is shown on screen, the voiceover tells viewers, "This is no time to take a risk." The text ads, "Vote Biden. Beat Trump."

* Republican fundraising for the 2020 presidential campaign has been impressive of late, but don't overlook the Senate races. The Washington Post reported, "The big-money groups aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised $68.3 million in 2019, a record sum for a non-election year."

* The Democrats' presidential primary in New Hampshire is Feb. 11, and the Trump campaign announced yesterday that he's scheduled a rally in the Granite State for Feb. 10. Perhaps the president doesn't like it when people other than him get attention, or perhaps Trump is a little concerned about his likely margin of victory in the GOP primary.

* Nothing's official, but the New York Times reported that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is considering a Biden endorsement, which would probably boost her odds of a vice presidential nomination if Biden receives the Democratic nod.

* In Iowa, a Public Policy Polling survey this week found incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst (R) ahead in her re-election fight against Theresa Greenfield (D), though her 47%-to-41% advantage is hardly overwhelming.

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'Death Valley': Trump laments possible ratings for his trial defense

01/24/20 11:20AM

Just when it seemed Donald Trump couldn't find anything new to complain about regarding his impeachment trial, the president this morning took aim at the Senate's schedule.

President Donald Trump on Friday slammed Democratic House impeachment managers for perpetrating "lies, fraud and deception" and complained that his own legal defense team would have to start their arguments on Saturday -- what the president said is called "Death Valley in T.V."

"After having been treated unbelievably unfairly in the House, and then having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin' Chuck Schumer & their crew, looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.," tweeted Trump, a former reality television star known widely for being especially cognizant of how things play on television.

I don't think I've ever heard another person who doesn't work in the television industry who's quite as preoccupied with television ratings as Donald Trump.

Nevertheless, much of his complaint was nonsensical -- his case against the House impeachment process has gone completely off the rails, for example -- though I couldn't help but notice that the president didn't blame anyone in particular for the schedule.

And that's probably because Democrats presented a plan in which Trump's lawyers wouldn't have begun their defense on a Saturday, but Republicans ignored the effort.

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Image: Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House

Republican state AGs make a curious case against Trump's impeachment

01/24/20 10:48AM

Congress didn't solicit the advice of state attorneys general in Donald Trump's impeachment trial, but 21 Republican state AGs decided to weigh in anyway, offering lawmakers some unsolicited guidance. The conservative Washington Times reported:

The Republican attorneys general of 21 states authored a scathing rebuke of the impeachment trial, urging senators to reject Democrats' charges against President Trump.

In a 13-page letter to the U.S. Senate, the attorneys general assert House Democrats' impeachment of Mr. Trump is nothing more than a political ploy that could destroy the Constitution's separation of powers provision.

The entirety of the letter is online here, and some of it's familiar. The GOP officials find the articles of impeachment unpersuasive; they believe the effort is at odds with "the Framers' design"; they're convinced Democrats are solely motivated by politics; and they believe impeachment should only be used in "exceedingly rare circumstances," which do not include Trump's illegal extortion scheme.

In a curious twist, they also somehow arrived at the idea that the president's corrupt motives mean he's being punished for "a political thought crime." That's a new one.

Adam Piper, executive director of the Republican Attorney General Association, added in a statement that Republicans "are committed to keeping America great," which is apparently why 21 of the nation's 26 GOP state AGs signed their name to the document.

After learning of the effort by way of Fox News coverage, the president seemed quite impressed with the effort, publishing a few tweets on the subject, one of which included a whole lot of all-caps words, suggesting Trump was quite worked up about the segments he saw. (Whether he read the entire multi-page, footnoted letter is unclear, though I think we can probably take an educated guess.)

Which was unfortunate, since the letter included one important flaw.

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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)

Dems pounce in court after Trump lawyers contradict Trump's DOJ

01/24/20 10:04AM

On the opening day of Donald Trump's impeachment trial this week, Jay Sekulow, one of the president's controversial personal attorneys, insisted that it should be up to the courts to mediate disputes between the executive and legislative branches. That came as something of a surprise to many listening: the Trump administration has spent months making the opposite argument.

Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for congressional Democrats and their attorneys to take advantage of the contradiction. Politico reported yesterday:

House Democrats on Thursday night flagged to a federal appeals court panel comments made earlier this week by President Donald Trump's lawyers during the Senate impeachment trial in hopes it can spur a win in a pending case that could open a spigot of new information in their bid to remove the president.

The two-page letter from the House's top lawyer brings to the attention of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit remarks made by Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow on the Senate floor questioning why Democrats hadn't tried to secure testimony in court from a key former White House aide -- rather than push ahead with impeachment.

The underlying case involves Don McGahn, the former White House counsel who was, for all intents and purposes, one of the star witnesses in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal. As we've discussed, the Republican lawyer spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and in the redacted version of Mueller's report, the former White House counsel is cited more than 150 times.

In some of the episodes in which Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what McGahn told investigators.

Indeed, as the former special counsel's findings made clear, the former White House counsel very nearly resigned because the president directed him to "do crazy s**t," including an incident in which, according to McGahn, Trump pressed the lawyer to push the Justice Department to derail the investigation by getting rid of Mueller and creating a false document to cover that up.

Naturally, lawmakers were eager to hear more, so they subpoenaed McGahn. The White House, true to form, directed McGahn to ignore that subpoena.

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The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

Team Trump balked at cooperating with watchdog probe of Ukraine scheme

01/24/20 09:20AM

After the public learned about Donald Trump's scheme to withhold approved military aid to a vulnerable ally, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) asked the Government Accountability Office -- a non-partisan watchdog agency that conducts audits and investigations for Congress -- to determine whether the administration had broken the law. Last week, the GAO determined that president's scheme was, in fact, illegal.

And while that's important for any number of reasons -- not the least of which is the damage this has done to Republican talking points -- we're still learning more about the investigation itself. CNN had this report early this morning:

The White House refused to provide documents to a non-partisan congressional watchdog investigating President Donald Trump's decision to withhold US security aid to Ukraine, according to documents released by Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland on Thursday.

Included in the release is a December 20 letter from the White House responding to an inquiry from the Government Accountability Office by citing a previous legal memo from the Office of Management and Budget defending the military aid freeze.

When the GAO investigators sought "factual information and legal views" about why the White House withheld the Ukraine aid, presidential aide Brian Miller said there would be no such cooperation.

"The White House does not plan to respond separately to your letters," he wrote.

On Twitter, Van Hollen characterized this as further evidence of a "cover-up," adding, "As seen in these documents, OMB provided incomplete responses and the White House flat out refused."

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