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Syrian government soldier stands next to a well at Jazel oil field, after retaking the area from Islamic State fighters on March 9, 2015. Recent US-led coalition air strikes have frequently targeted oil facilities run by IS. (Photo by STR/AFP/Getty)

Has no one told Trump we're not 'keeping the oil' in Syria?

11/14/19 10:00AM

On Tuesday, Donald Trump spoke at the Economic Club of New York and fielded a question about his plan to address some of the recent economic headwinds. The president gave a long, rambling answer, which veered off in a variety of directions, including some commentary on his national security policy in the Middle East.

"We kept the oil," the Republican said, referring to Syrian oil fields. "You know, we kept the oil."

Yesterday, sitting in the Oval Office alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump echoed the line.

"We're keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind, only for the oil.... But again, we're keeping the oil."

To be sure, the American president certainly seems to believe this. As regular readers know, Trump boasted two weeks ago that the United States has “taken” Syrian oil and he's prepared to “militarily stop” those who try to claim it.

Reflecting on the Syrian oil’s value, Trump went on to say that the United States “should be able to take some,” adding, “[W]hat I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly.” (In context, “it” appeared to refer to extracting oil.)

It’s a tough dynamic to defend – it’s illegal for a country to send troops into another country to take its natural resources – but the president continues to echo his message, boasting at recent campaign rallies about “keeping” Syrian oil.

The trouble is, he's plainly wrong.

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Barr differs with Trump line on controversial presidential request

11/14/19 09:20AM

The Washington Post published a provocative scoop last week, reporting that Donald Trump wanted Attorney General Bill Barr to hold a news conference, telling the public that the president's Ukrainian extortion scheme did not break any laws. Barr, the article said, "declined to do so." (The New York Times soon after ran its own version of the same story.)

The Post's report went on to note that Trump didn't just move on after Barr demurred: the president mentioned it to others, saying he wished the attorney general would publicly exonerate him.

A few days later, Trump told reporters, "Listen. I never asked him for a press conference. It's fake news by the Washington Post, which is a fake newspaper. It's fake. It's made up. And if I ask Bill Barr to have a press conference, I think he'd do it. But I never asked him to have a press conference."

One reporter reminded, the president, "Bill Barr and the DOJ are not denying that you asked him to have a press conference." Trump replied, "Well, they're not saying anything."

Yesterday, that changed. The Washington Post reported:

Attorney General William P. Barr said Wednesday that he did not remember President Trump ever asking him to hold a news conference declaring the commander in chief broke no laws in a controversial phone call with the leader of Ukraine, but he acknowledged discussions with the White House on how his department would communicate to the media about the matter.

At an event in Memphis about a Justice Department crackdown on gun violence, a reporter inquired, "Mr. Attorney General, did the president ask you to publicly defend him regarding the Ukrainian call, and if so, why did you not want to do that?"

"If you're talking about press reports that he asked me to have a news conference, the fact is, I don't remember any such request," Barr said.

The gap between Trump's rhetoric and Barr's is notable and potentially important.

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Deval Patrick

Deval Patrick joins 2020 field, faces daunting challenges

11/14/19 08:40AM

About a year ago, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) said he'd received encouragement to run for president in 2020, but he wasn't prepared to subject his loved ones to "the cruelty of our elections process." It came on the heels of related comments the former governor made to David Axelrod.

"It's hard to see how you even get noticed in such a big, broad field without being shrill, sensational or a celebrity -- and I'm none of those things and I'm never going to be any of those things," Patrick said in a podcast interview.

That was then; this is now.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced Thursday that he will run for the Democratic nomination for president.

His decision to enter the primary comes against the backdrop of the realities of the political calendar -- the filing deadline in all-important New Hampshire is Friday -- as well as continued consternation from some Democrats about whether the current field presents viable options to beat President Donald Trump in 2020.

The former two-term governor of Massachusetts will reportedly travel to New Hampshire this morning, where he'll file for the nation's first presidential primary in person.

For those keeping score, Patrick pushes the Democrats' 2020 field back up to 18 members -- it was starting to shrink a bit from historic highs -- though he and Montana's Steve Bullock are the only current or former governors in the race. (Washington's Jay Inslee and Colorado's John Hickenlooper also ran, but ended their campaigns months ago.)

What's more, the field may yet grow larger: former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is inching closer to a national bid -- he's already filed for a couple of primaries -- and former Attorney General Eric Holder is reportedly still weighing his 2020 options.

In terms of the calendar in a historical context, MSNBC's Steve Kornacki added yesterday that Patrick is entering the race at the latest date of any presidential candidate since Pat Buchanan entered the 1992 Republican race on Dec. 10, 1991, though he did not win any primaries or caucuses. Gary Hart re-entered the 1988 Democratic race on Dec. 15, 1987, though he didn't win any contests, either.

All of which serves as a reminder of the serious hurdles Patrick is facing.

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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Trying to hide his tax returns, Trump loses yet again in court

11/14/19 08:00AM

Donald Trump and his lawyers keep asking courts to help keep the president's tax returns hidden. The courts keep saying no.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday let stand a ruling allowing lawmakers to subpoena President Donald Trump's accountants for years of his financial records. A lawyer for the president promised to appeal to the Supreme Court.

On an 8-3 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declined to grant a hearing before the full court, upholding a ruling last month by a three-judge panel of the court to allow the subpoena.

Because there are multiple ongoing fights over Trump's hidden tax materials, it can get a little confusing to keep track of the cases. Last week, for example, a different appeals court ruled against the president's lawyers, who tried to block a subpoena from New York prosecutors who are seeking Trump's tax returns as part of an investigation into the Republican's hush-money scandal.

Yesterday's ruling, meanwhile, relates to the U.S. House subpoena of Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, for the same documents. The president's lawyers already lost this case at both the district and appellate court levels, but Team Trump asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to scrap that decision and rehear the case. In an 8-3 ruling, the appellate bench rejected the request.

To date, Trump's lawyers have lost every case related to keeping the president's returns hidden from scrutiny.

Jay Sekulow, one of the president's private attorneys, said in a statement yesterday that Trump's team will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court -- which, naturally, is where things will get even more interesting.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.13.19

11/13/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Today was not a great day for the White House: "Bill Taylor and George Kent, the first two witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's dealings in Ukraine, testified for more than five hours Wednesday in a public hearing that saw both men share new -- and sometimes shocking -- pieces of information."

* On a related note: "President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed the House's impeachment proceedings as a 'hoax' and said he was 'too busy to watch' -- and then blasted Democrats' choice of questioners at a hearing he said he hadn't been briefed on."

* Israel: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday that Israel was prepared to hit Iran-backed Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip 'mercilessly,' while a Gaza Strip resident described conditions there as close to unbearable, saying 'we try to calm the kids but they live in fear.'"

* DHS: "Chad Wolf was sworn in Wednesday as the new acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, becoming the fifth person to hold the top job under President Trump, a period of unusually high leadership turnover at the nation's largest domestic security agency."

* I meant to mention this yesterday: "The Supreme Court has denied Remington Arms Co.'s bid to block a lawsuit filed by families of victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre. The families say Remington should be held liable, as the maker and promoter of the AR-15-style rifle used in the 2012 killings."

* In related news: "A federal judge in Washington State on Tuesday blocked the Trump administration from allowing blueprints for making plastic guns on 3-D printers to be posted on the internet, ruling that the move violated federal procedures."

* A highly provocative report about Stephen Miller: "In the lead-up to the 2016 election, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller sought to promote white nationalism, far-right extremist ideas and anti-immigrant rhetoric through the conservative website Breitbart, a report released Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center claims."

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Taylor testimony further links Trump to Ukraine scandal

11/13/19 03:36PM

After many hours of closed-door depositions, and the release of hundreds of pages of transcripts, it's tempting to think the public-hearing phase of the impeachment inquiry might simply review information we already know, with witnesses who've already spoken to lawmakers.

That assumption would be wrong. Consider this NBC News from this afternoon.

A U.S. government employee overheard President Donald Trump ask Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on the phone about "the investigations" and heard the ambassador reassure the president that the Ukrainians were "ready to move forward," a senior diplomat told Congress Wednesday in the first public impeachment hearing.

The revelation from William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, is a significant new development that emerged in a hearing that lawmakers had anticipated would largely reconstruct on television depositions that had taken place previously behind closed doors.

What Taylor described was a July 26 call -- the day after Donald Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for Biden-related assistance -- which followed a meeting between Trump administration officials and a top Zelensky aide in Ukraine.

Trump purportedly asked Sondland about "the investigations."

In response to questioning, Taylor added this morning that this was in reference to possible investigations into the Bidens, and that Sondland told the American president that the Ukrainians "were ready to move forward."

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

NYU's Ryan Goodman, a former special counsel at the Pentagon described these new details as a "bombshell."

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