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Why the GOP's manufactured outrage over Schiff is so unbelievable

01/27/20 10:00AM

One of the most surprising things about the first week of Donald Trump's impeachment trial was the frequency with which Senate Republicans wanted to talk about their feelings being hurt.

After House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.J.) suggested GOP senators were helping participate in a "cover-up" for the White House, Republican lawmakers were reportedly 'livid." After House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) reminded senators a day later that they "can't trust this president to do what's right," Republicans claimed to be "absolutely offended."

And after Schiff had the temerity the next day to reference a CBS News report, they were practically apoplectic.

Schiff, who delivered closing arguments for the prosecution, was holding Republican senators rapt as he called for removing Trump from office for abusing his power and obstructing Congress. Doing anything else, he argued, would be to let the president bully Senate Republicans into ignoring his pressure on Ukraine for political help.

"CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, 'Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.' I don't know if that's true," Schiff said.

After that remark, the generally respectful mood in the Senate immediately changed.

"Whatever gains he may have made, he lost all of it -- plus some -- tonight," Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) declared after Schiff's remarks. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) described himself as "visibly upset" by the comment he described as "demeaning."

So let me get this straight. CBS News reported that the White House warned its allies that the president would be vindictive toward any Senate Republicans who broke party ranks. Schiff mentioned the reporting. Republicans not only said the reporting was inaccurate, but said that Schiff had done lasting harm to his efforts, his reputation, and his case by daring to reference what CBS News had said.

Perhaps we're supposed to believe that GOP senators were seriously weighing the House impeachment manager's arguments and evidence, but Schiff lost them with a stray, easy-to-believe sentence, which hurt Republicans' feelings.


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Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Finding himself in a hole, Pompeo reaches for a shovel, digs deeper

01/27/20 09:20AM

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down on Friday with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, and as the broadcast made clear, it did not go well for the controversial cabinet secretary. He whined about the lines of inquiry, pretended well-known officials were "unnamed sources," and dodged reasonable questions as part of a display that was equal parts evasive and cringe-worthy.

What was not immediately obvious at the time of the interview, however, was how much worse Pompeo would make matters after the broadcast.

[Kelly] said Pompeo then glared at her and left the room with his aides. An aide soon returned to the interview room and took her to Pompeo's private living room where he screamed and cursed at her, she said.

"He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine. He asked, 'Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?' He used the F word in that sentence, and many others," she said.

"He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map I said, 'Yes,' he called out for his aides to bring him a map of the world with no writing, no countries marked. I pointed to Ukraine he put the map away, he said, people will hear about this, and then he turned and said he had things to do, and I thanked him again for his time and left."

There is no element of this that's defensible. Under no circumstances should the nation's chief diplomat shout obscenities at a professional journalist who was doing her job, and doing it well. For him to suggest that Americans don't care about Ukraine -- on the eve of a scheduled trip to Ukraine -- added insult to injury.

Also note that Pompeo and his entourage apparently have immediate access to a blank map of eastern Europe -- I'd love to know why -- which the secretary used to quiz Kelly. What the Kansas Republican apparently didn't realize is that the Harvard-trained NPR journalist has a post-graduate degree in European studies from Cambridge University in England.

If we were to stop here, it would be a humiliating series of events for the secretary of State, who's already reeling from the Trump Ukraine scandal. But Pompeo, after finding himself in a hole, thought it'd be a good idea to reach for a shovel.

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 In this file photo taken on May 9, 2018, US President Donald Trump speaks alongside National Security Adviser John Bolton during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

Trump pushes back against Bolton report with more bogus claims

01/27/20 08:40AM

Donald Trump helped get his day started the usual way: with an odd tweet. With the political world jolted by a report on former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton's book, which appears to directly contradict the president's impeachment defense, Trump published an item that read in part, "The Democrat controlled House never even asked John Bolton to testify."

That's the opposite of the truth. As those who followed the impeachment proceedings in the House already know -- and as the president really ought to understand -- the chamber sought Bolton's testimony, but it was Trump who refused to allow his former aide to answer lawmakers' questions.

In other words, confronted with a report about evidence that his impeachment defense is a lie, the president thought it'd be a good idea to publish a rather obvious lie.

Alas, it wasn't the only one. Shortly after midnight this morning, Trump had some similarly mendacious missives.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday that he "NEVER" told former national security adviser John Bolton that the hold on nearly $400 million in military aid was tied to investigations of Democrats after it was reported Bolton insisted as much in an upcoming book.

"I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens," Trump wrote. "In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book."

Obviously, the point of publishing tweets like these is to push back against the New York Times' reporting on Bolton's upcoming book. The president's impeachment defense rests in large part on a simple assertion -- Trump didn't connect military aid to a demand for political investigations -- and the former White House national security advisor appears ready to expose the defense as a lie.

But Trump isn't doing himself any favors with his tweets: trying to defend himself from accusations of dishonesty, the president is peddling more dishonesty.

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U.S. President Donald Trump listens as his national security adviser John Bolton speaks during a presidential memorandum signing for the "Women's Global Development and Prosperity" initiative in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., Febr

Why Bolton's book bombshell has jolted the impeachment debate

01/27/20 08:00AM

On Saturday, Donald Trump's legal defense team began its opening arguments in the presidential Senate impeachment trial, and there was one point Republicans seemed especially excited about. Mike Purpura, one of Trump's attorneys argued, "Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting, or anything else."

It was a flawed argument. But just as importantly, there is a witness who's willing to testify that Trump himself did make the connection between military aid to a vulnerable ally and investigations into the American president's domestic enemies. That witness' name is former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton.

President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton. [...]

Mr. Bolton's explosive account of the matter at the center of Mr. Trump's impeachment trial, the third in American history, was included in drafts of a manuscript he has circulated in recent weeks to close associates. He also sent a draft to the White House for a standard review process for some current and former administration officials who write books.

There's a lot to the New York Times' report on this, and the article is worth reading in its entirety. Of particular interest were the elements pertaining to Bolton's knowledge about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and Attorney General Bill Barr, and the degree to which they were aware of the president's scheme.

But there's also a top-line takeaway that's tough to ignore: much of Trump's defense is predicated on the idea that he simply did not do what the first article of impeachment accuses the Republican of doing. The president, the argument goes, never made military aid conditional on investigations.

Bolton apparently has first-hand knowledge that Trump's defense is a lie -- and Bolton put the damaging truth in writing.

So, what happens now?

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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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