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E.g., 11/17/2019
E.g., 11/17/2019

A 'wall-cam' won't help the White House's plans along the border

11/15/19 08:40AM

Donald Trump's dream of building a giant border barrier isn't going especially well. After the president insisted, for example, that the wall/fence is "impenetrable," we learned the opposite is true. It didn't help matters when U.S. military leaders suggested the White House's financing plan adversely affects our national security interests.

Complicating matters, the administration is facing legal challenges surrounding the takeover of private land for the project, and Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan conceded yesterday that literally zero miles of new border barriers have been constructed since Donald Trump took office -- the Republican president's claims notwithstanding.

That said, the fight over one of Trump's signature campaign promises is poised to enter a new phase, as the administration moves forward with plans to build eight miles of new fencing in an area in Texas where there are no existing barriers. According to a Washington Post report, the White House has an unusual public-relations idea related to the endeavor.

Jared Kushner and other senior Trump administration officials are planning to set up web cameras to live-stream construction of President Trump's border wall, going against objections from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, according to four people familiar with the White House proposal.

"There will be a wall cam, and it'll launch early next year," said a senior White House official involved in the initiative, which aims to rally public support for hundreds of miles of new border barrier Trump wants in place by next year's election.

This is not a good idea.

For one thing, if the White House hopes this will change public attitudes about the endeavor, it should probably start lowering expectations. A livestream of an unpopular infrastructure project, built on a broken campaign promise, that doesn't solve any problems, won't exactly generate excitement among voters.

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School shooting coincides with Senate debate over gun policy

11/15/19 08:00AM

The entirety of the nation's latest deadly school shooting -- the latest of many -- lasted approximately 16 seconds.

A teenage gunman opened fire at a Southern California high school Thursday morning, killing two students and wounding three others, before shooting himself in the head, officials said.

The suspect, whom authorities described as an Asian male who turned 16 on Thursday, was in critical condition at a hospital, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Thursday night. Surveillance video showed the shooter pull a gun from his backpack in the quad area of Saugus High School, shoot five people and then shoot himself, it said.... A 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy died, authorities said. Three other students -- two girls, 14 and 15, and a 14-year-old boy -- were also shot before classes began, officials said. They were listed as stable on Thursday night.

In a rather remarkable coincidence, 2,665 miles to the east, there was a debate underway on the floor of the U.S. Senate -- about gun policy.

A Democratic senator was giving a speech on the Senate floor Thursday morning advocating for stronger gun control measures when an aide handed him a note, informing him there had been a shooting at a high school in California.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut was speaking about a push for universal background checks as news of the shooting was breaking from the other side of the country at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita.

After being handed a piece of paper with news of the school shooting in southern California, the Democratic senator explained to his colleagues, "As I speak, on the floor right now, there is a school shooting in Santa [Clarita], Calif. How can we turn the other way? How can we refuse to see that shooting in real time, demanding our attention, requiring our action?"

Blumenthal added, "We are complicit in these deaths if we fail to act."'

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 11.14.19

11/14/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Today's school shooting: "A teenage gunman opened fire at a Southern California high school Thursday morning, killing two students and wounding three others, before shooting himself in the head, officials said. The suspect, whom authorities described as an Asian male and who turned 16 Thursday, was in 'grave' condition at a hospital, Los Angeles County authorities said."

* Trump's State Department: "A State Department watchdog on Thursday faulted President Donald Trump's top diplomat on Iran for sidelining a career employee after her loyalty was questioned by officials who cited her Iranian-American heritage and her work under the previous administration."

* Dan Brouillette: "The deputy to outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry told lawmakers Thursday that he had no role in the Ukraine matters now at the heart of the House's impeachment investigation as he tried to distance himself from the controversy with the Senate considering his Cabinet nomination."

* That seems like a lot of people: "Wednesday's opening round of the House impeachment hearings drew an average audience of 13.1 million viewers across six major networks, per preliminary Nielsen data."

* Pentagon: "The inspector general's office for the Department of Defense is declining to open an investigation into the department's delay in providing military assistance funds to Ukraine, but will leave the door open to beginning one in the future."

* Dems seem quite focused on that word: "Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that President Donald Trump committed 'bribery,' an impeachable offense, by trying to force Ukraine into tarnishing a political rival to help him in the 2020 election."

* One to watch: "The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine watched in disbelief as her reputation was publicly sullied in a slow-burning campaign to discredit her. She was unceremoniously ousted from her job even as her boss assured her she had done nothing wrong. On Friday, diplomat Marie Yovanovitch gets her turn to tell the public how she feels about her treatment by the Trump administration."

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Senate GOP confirms highly controversial Trump judicial nominee

11/14/19 03:13PM

It's not just the quantity of Donald Trump's judicial nominees who've been confirmed by Senate Republicans, it's also the quality that's striking.

Steven Menashi, one of Donald Trump’s far-right lawyers, has become one of the year’s most controversial judicial nominees for good reason. The New York conservative, nominated for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, has a tough-to-defend record of radicalism that includes an argument about democratic countries working better when everyone is of the same ethnicity. Demand Justice’s Brian Fallon described Menashi as “a perfect storm of awful.”

What's more, as regular readers may recall, his confirmation hearing did not go well. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) chided Menashi for not being more forthcoming, as did Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).

As Jennifer Bendery explained, it didn't matter.

The Senate voted Thursday to make Steven Menashi a lifetime federal judge, despite his inflammatory writings about women's rights and diversity, his refusal to answer senators' questions and his role in devising an illegal Education Department effort to deny debt relief to students cheated by for-profit colleges.

Every Democrat present voted against confirming Menashi, who is President Donald Trump's choice for a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Every Republican present but one, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), voted to confirm him. The final tally was 51-41.

A majority of the judges on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals have now been nominated by Republican presidents -- a first since the early 1990s.

That said, Menashi, who's only 40 years old, is an especially difficult jurist to defend.

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Report: Second source heard Trump/Sondland call on 'investigations'

11/14/19 12:48PM

One of the most striking revelations that emerged from yesterday's impeachment hearing was new information presented by William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. As we discussed, Taylor described a July 26 call -- the day after Donald Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for Biden-related assistance -- between Trump and Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland. The phone conversation followed a meeting between U.S. officials at a top aide to the new Ukrainian leader.

Trump was heard asking Sondland on the call about "the investigations." In response to questioning, Taylor added that this was in reference to investigations into the Bidens, and that Sondland told Trump that the Ukrainians "were ready to move forward."

After that call, the ambassador purportedly said that Trump "cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for."

The Associated Press reported a short while ago that more than one person heard the Trump/Sondland cellphone call.

A second U.S. embassy staffer in Kyiv overheard a key cellphone call between President Donald Trump and his ambassador to the European Union discussing the need for Ukrainian officials to pursue "investigations," The Associated Press has learned. [...]

The second diplomatic staffer also at the table was Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer based in Kyiv. A person briefed on what Jayanti overheard spoke to AP on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter currently under investigation.

So now there are two witnesses: David Holmes, the State Department official who serves as counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, heard the Trump/Sondland call, and he's scheduled to testify in closed session tomorrow as part of the impeachment inquiry. If the Associated Press report is correct, Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer based in Kyiv, can corroborate Holmes' account.

It's an important revelation, not just because of obvious security concerns, but because of the degree to which this appears to link the American president directly to the scandal.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.14.19

11/14/19 12:00PM

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

* Louisiana's gubernatorial runoff election is just a couple of days away, and with Republicans concerned that incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) having the edge, the RNC is throwing another $1 million into the race.

* Yesterday was the cutoff for polls that would help candidates qualify for next week's Democratic presidential primary debate. Ten candidates have made the cut, but former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who participated in the earlier debates, fell short.

* In Pennsylvania, the latest Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll found Donald Trump trailing each of the top Democratic candidates in head-to-head match-ups. Joe Biden, a Pennsylvania native, did the best, leading the president in the Keystone State by a 52%-43% margin.

* A year ago, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy (D) came up short in Mississippi's U.S. Senate special election, but he did better than any Democratic candidate in the state since 1988. Espy announced yesterday that he'll try again next year, taking on incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R).

* Speaking of Mississippi, Secretary of State-elect Michael Watson (R) endorsed reforming Mississippi's current model for electing governors, which requires candidates to win both the statewide popular vote and a majority of the state's legislative districts. "I'm definitely supportive of moving away from the current system," Watson told the Clarion Ledger this week.

* To no one's surprise, Republican Jon Huntsman is moving forward with plans to run for governor in Utah, hoping to reclaim the office he previously held. More recently, Huntsman served in ambassadorial posts in the Trump administration (in Russia) and the Obama administration (in China).

* Apparently lacking in any sense of shame, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, hoping to reclaim his old U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, is launching a new television ad highlighting his 2016 endorsement of Donald Trump. In the same ad, Sessions puts on a red "Make America Great Again" cap.

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Turkey's Erdogan reportedly tries to sway senators with 'propaganda'

11/14/19 11:20AM

Donald Trump hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House yesterday, but added to the schedule was something unexpected: five Republican senators -- Ted Cruz (Texas), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Jim Risch (Idaho), and Rick Scott (Fla.) -- were invited to sit down with Erdogan, too.

Axios reported that the discussion got a little weird.

An Oval Office meeting yesterday with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a dark turn when Erdogan pulled out his iPad and made the group watch a propaganda video that depicted Kurds as terrorists, according to three sources familiar with the meeting. [...]

Erdogan apparently thought he could sway these senators by forcing them to watch a clunky propaganda film.... Erdogan's video "was unpersuasive," according to a source who was in the room.

The reporting has not been independently confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News, though CNN had a related report, quoting a source who described the Turkish president's video as "surreal" and "straight propaganda."

It all sounds quite bizarre, though I'm still wondering why Erdogan was rewarded with this White House visit in the first place.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Latest example of Trump's security breaches is described as 'insane'

11/14/19 10:40AM

Donald Trump has mishandled sensitive information with such frequency that I was able to put together a top-10 list a couple of weeks ago. I didn't expect the collection to grow quite so quickly, but yesterday's impeachment hearing offered another striking example of the phenomenon.

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told lawmakers about a July telephone call between the president and Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland -- a table in a Ukrainian restaurant -- in which Trump sought information on Ukraine helping target the president's domestic political opponents. It was a significant development, further linking Trump to the broader scandal.

But as the Washington Post noted, there was a related problem:

"The security ramifications are insane -- using an open cellphone to communicate with the president of the United States," said Larry Pfeiffer, a former senior director of the White House Situation Room and a former chief of staff to the CIA director. "In a country that is so wired with Russian intelligence, you can almost take it to the bank that the Russians were listening in on the call." [...]

Russia already has shown its ability to monitor U.S. diplomats' calls in Kyiv, and the Kremlin has no hesitation in leaking them when it suits its interests.

The Post also spoke to a former senior U.S. intelligence official who explained that calling a president from a cellphone violates protocols set up to protect senior administration officials' communications. "It's indicative of a lack of concern for operational security," he said.

Michael McFaul, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, added that the "whole world was listening in" to the Trump/Sondland conversation because it was held on a cellphone.

Of course, given the legal and political implications, if other countries did hear the call, it meant other countries learned about the American president's scheme to extort Ukraine, creating possible blackmail opportunities against the White House.

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