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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Republicans turn to gaslighting in response to Justice Dept report

12/10/19 09:22AM

It's been a rough couple of days for reality. On Sunday morning, for example, two of Donald Trump's most loyal congressional lieutenants, Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), rejected the idea that the president pressed a foreign country to investigate his political rival -- something we already know Trump did.

About 24 hours later, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment, Republican counsel Steve Castor disputed the idea that former Vice President Joe Biden was a leading Democratic presidential candidate over the summer, shortly before Castor also rejected the idea that Trump encouraged the president of Ukraine to look into Biden.

And a few hours after that, Donald Trump reflected on a report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the origins of the investigation into the Russia scandal.

"The IG report just came out, and I was just briefed on it, and it's a disgrace what's happened with respect to the things that were done to our country. It should never again happen to another President. It is incredible. Far worse than I would have ever thought possible. And it's — it's an embarrassment to our country. It's dishonest. It's everything that a lot of people thought it would be, except far worse. [...]

"The report, actually — and especially when you look into it, and the details of the report — are far worse than anything I would have even imagined.... This was an overthrow of government. This was an attempted overthrow. And a lot of people who were in on it, and they got caught. They got caught red-handed."

For those who actually "looked into it," and read "the details of the report," the president's assertions yesterday were gibberish. Horowitz's findings actually exposed Trump's conspiracy theories as lies -- which evidently led the president to believe it'd be a good idea to gaslight the public, assuming Americans wouldn't know the difference.

But while Trump's up-is-down posture was predictable, it's worth appreciating the degree to which his allies scrambled to sell the public the same ridiculous fiction.

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AG Bill Barr tries to rescue Trump from Justice Dept findings

12/10/19 08:43AM

After Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his report yesterday afternoon on the FBI's investigation into the Russia scandal, Donald Trump and his team were left in a difficult position. After all, Horowitz had just exposed months of presidential rhetoric as brazen lies and shredded each of Trump's conspiracy theories about a "witch hunt," launched by the "deep state" in federal law enforcement.

Within two hours of the inspector general's findings reaching the public, Team Trump was reduced to simultaneously arguing to Americans that Horowitz's report was (a) an accurate assessment that totally vindicated all of the president's ridiculous claims; and (b) was an inaccurate assessment that the public should reject.

Apparently unable to experience shame, Bill Barr embraced the latter tack.

Attorney General William Barr on Monday rejected a key conclusion of an investigation conducted by his own agency's watchdog that a probe into Russian interference into the 2016 election was justified.

Barr, in a lengthy statement, called the FBI's investigation into Moscow's interference "intrusive" and said it had been launched "on the thinnest of suspicions" -- even though the Justice Department's inspector general report released Monday concluded that the overall probe was justified and not motivated by politics.

This is the same Bill Barr who offered sworn Senate testimony arguing that the FBI "spied" on the Trump campaign -- an assertion we now know to be completely untrue.

There is a familiarity to the circumstances. When then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report was completed, the attorney general tried to pre-spin it -- before anyone could read the findings for themselves -- as great news for the White House. The dishonest political ploy, by design, muddled the public's understanding of Mueller's investigation.

Yesterday, Barr tried to do effectively the same thing, except this time, the attorney general didn't get a head start -- and the document the Republican lawyer tried to spin was readily available, and there was no need for the public to rely on Barr's agenda-driven rhetoric.

We're learning quite a bit about how this attorney general approaches his unique and powerful responsibilities, and none of what we're learning is good.

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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)

DOJ investigation shreds Trump's claims about FBI, Russia probe

12/10/19 08:00AM

Republicans were eagerly anticipating the release of a document generally known as the Horowitz Report. At issue was an independent review launched by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz into the FBI's decision to open an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections -- and as regular readers know, for Donald Trump and his allies, the review offered exciting possibilities.

Maybe, the president and his cohorts said, Horowitz would turn up evidence of a vast conspiracy, launched by the FBI's "deep state," to undermine Trump. Or maybe there would be proof of widespread wrongdoing from FBI leaders such as James Comey. Or maybe the evidence would point to the bureau "spying" on Team Trump.

The president has spent much of his tenure insisting the FBI is a corrupt institution, filled with his enemies, and Michael Horowitz was in a position to finally bring the truth to light.

Yesterday afternoon, the house of cards collapsed. As NBC News reported, the IG's office, following an extensive review, found that the investigation and its origins were fully justified.

The 434-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that the FBI and the Justice Department launched their investigation into the 2016 campaign not for political reasons, but because of evidence the Russian government was using cutouts to reach out to the Trump campaign as part of its efforts to influence the election.

The inspector general said he examined more than a million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses.

Horowitz found that political bias did not taint the actions of former FBI leaders who have frequently been the subject of presidential attacks on Twitter, including former Director James Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok.

The full inspector general's report is online here (pdf).

It's worth noting that the Horowitz probe pointed to mistakes the FBI made in parts of its application to monitor Carter Page, the controversial Trump campaign adviser with close ties to the Kremlin, and for Republicans desperate for something useful to cling to in the inspector general's findings, these mistakes are of great interest.

But even on this point, the bottom line has no partisan value for the right: Horowitz found that the Page probe was justified and legitimate, too.

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Trump campaign was not spied on: DOJ IG; Barr reverts to deceit

Trump campaign was not spied on: DOJ IG; Barr reverts to deceit

12/09/19 09:17PM

Rachel Maddow reports on some of the findings in the DOJ inspector general report, including that the FBI did not spy on the Trump campaign, debunking a flat accusation leveled by William Barr in congressional testimony in April. Rather than showing contrition for being so wrong, Barr followed his Mueller report playbook, presenting a deceptive... watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 12.9.19

12/09/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'll have more on the Horowitz report in the morning: "The FBI mishandled parts of its application to monitor a Trump campaign aide as it was probing possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, but the overall investigation was justified, according to a long-awaited report by the Justice Department's watchdog that rebuts the president's depiction of a politically biased plot against him."

* The U.S. policy is failing: "North Korea said Sunday it carried out a 'very important test' at its long-range rocket launch site that it reportedly rebuilt after having partially dismantled it when it entered denuclearization talks with the United States last year."

* On a related note: "North Korea insulted President Donald Trump again Monday, calling him a 'thoughtless and sneaky old man' after he tweeted that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wouldn't want to abandon a special relationship between the two leaders and affect the American presidential election by resuming hostile acts."

* U.S. officials knew we weren't making progress in Afghanistan, but they misled everyone anyway: "A trove of government documents shows that U.S. officials systematically misled the public about the war in Afghanistan during three presidential administrations, The Washington Post reported in an explosive story Monday."

* The latest step backward for NATO: "The United States ambassador to Denmark barred an American NATO expert critical of President Trump from speaking at an international conference hosted by the American embassy and a Danish think tank, prompting the event's cancellation, organizers said."

* In case you missed this on Friday: "A national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence submitted additional classified evidence to House impeachment investigators about a phone call between Pence and Ukraine's president, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff revealed Friday."

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

GOP's McCarthy argues against first-term presidential impeachments

12/09/19 02:53PM

Generous political observers might be tempted to give House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) credit for trying. The top House Republican hasn't exactly succeeded in presenting a compelling defense of Donald Trump's alleged abuses, but McCarthy is certainly giving it his best shot.

It just isn't going well for anyone. In September, McCarthy appeared on CBS's 60 Minutes and got lost when confronted with basic details he hadn't bothered to learn. In October, McCarthy told a national television audience that the president never urged China to investigate the Bidens, despite Trump having stood on the White House South Lawn and literally saying, "China should start an investigation into the Bidens."

In November, the House GOP leader endorsed the Kremlin's discredited conspiracy theory about Ukraine interfering in U.S. elections, and last week, he misquoted Alexander Hamilton. All of which helped pave the way for today's latest gem.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) doesn't quite have his impeachment facts straight.

"In modern history, we've never gone after impeaching a president in the first term," McCarthy said in a Monday appearance on Fox News ahead of the House Judiciary Committee's second public impeachment hearing.

I guess the motivation behind rhetoric like this is that if the Democratic impeachment effort can be characterized as unprecedented, then it would be ... bad. The trouble is, there's an important difference between historical curiosities and actual arguments.

Before Trump, there have been three impeachment efforts: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon in 1974, and Bill Clinton in 1998. Johnson was impeached in his first (and only) term; Nixon resigned before being impeached; and Clinton was impeached in his second term.

For Kevin McCarthy, this is significant because, well, I actually haven't the foggiest idea why. What matters to the process is the seriousness of presidential misdeeds, not what year in a president's tenure they occurred.

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The US Department of State seal is seen Nov. 26, 2013 in the State Department briefing room in Washington, DC.

Why is a fringe pundit working as a senior State Department adviser?

12/09/19 12:49PM

Throughout Donald Trump's presidency, a wide variety of fringe figures with dubious qualifications and strange ideas have landed important jobs in the federal bureaucracy. But Frank Wuco tends to stand out.

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post reported on Wuco's role as a senior adviser at the State Department's Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

A former conservative talk radio host and naval intelligence officer who suggested dropping nuclear bombs on Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks now works on arms control issues at the State Department, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter. [...]

Wuco works at the State Department, though some arms control advocates have questioned his suitability for the area of arms control given his past remarks.

Wuco, a retired naval intelligence officer turned far-right pundit, first gained notoriety as a Trump administration official two years ago, while serving as a White House senior adviser at the Department of Homeland Security. CNN reported at the time that he had an unfortunate habit of peddling bizarre conspiracy theories, including "claims that former President Barack Obama's memoir was ghostwritten by former anti-Vietnam War radical Bill Ayers, that former CIA director John Brennan had converted to Islam and that Attorney General Eric Holder had been a member of the Black Panthers."

In case this isn't obvious, none of these theories is even remotely true.

Media Matters added that Wuco also claimed that Muslims "by-and-large" will "subjugate and humiliate non-Muslim members of their societies" and that their core faith purportedly instructs them that they can't "coexist peacefully with other religions." He also argued that "societies and nations for millennia have suffered greatly" for LGBTQ acceptance.

CNN added last week that Wuco also said he thought Barack Obama was a Kenyan, called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a "Nazi," and argued that it'd be difficult for a "solid, practicing" Muslim to be a good American.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.9.19

12/09/19 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) announced late Friday he intends to resign from Congress "shortly after the holidays." NBC News' report noted that the timing of the disgraced Republican's departure means California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) "can leave the seat vacant until after the Nov. 2020 general election, call for a special election, or consolidate a special election with the March primary."

* It took a while, but a super PAC aligned with Joe Biden's presidential campaign, called Unite the Country, has made a $650,000 ad buy focusing on Iowa markets. The 30-second spot is online here.

* According to a FiveThirtyEight tally, Tom Steyer's Democratic presidential campaign has spent $47 million on advertising, Michael Bloomberg's presidential campaign has spent $39 million (in just a few weeks), and the rest of the party's 2020 field combined has spent $15 million.

* Speaking of the former New York City mayor, Bloomberg claimed in a CBS News interview that it took several years for him to publicly apologize for the "stop and frisk" policy because he hadn't been asked about it before launching a White House bid. That does not appear to be true.

* Bernie Sanders' 2020 campaign parted ways late last week with its deputy director of constituency organizing following revelations about offensive tweets the staffer published between 2010 and 2012. This is the second such departure from the Vermont senator's operation in recent months.

* Kelly Loeffler won't take office as an appointed U.S. senator until next month, but the Georgia Republican is already talking about investing $20 million of her own money into her 2020 bid.

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Image: President Trump Holds Make America Great Again Rally In Pennsylvania

Trump highlights accused war criminals at Republican fundraiser

12/09/19 11:20AM

It's been nearly a month since Donald Trump, ignoring senior Pentagon officials and military justice experts, intervened in three cases involving accused American war criminals. As the New York Times reported, the president welcomed two of the three to join him on stage at a Florida fundraiser over the weekend.

Mr. Trump, as the featured speaker, invited up Army First Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, according to a report in The Miami Herald that was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the event.

The fund-raiser, which was held Saturday at the J.W. Marriott Turnberry Resort and Spa in Aventura and benefited the Republican Party of Florida, was closed to reporters. A Republican official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the event, said that the officers were guests of an attendee and that they had not been part of the program. Mr. Trump appears to have called them up upon learning they were there.

As NBC News recently reported, Lorance received a 19-year murder sentence after being convicted of ordering an enlisted soldier to open fire on a group of unarmed Afghans in 2012. At his court-martial, the report added, "several of Lorance's soldiers testified the Afghan men posed no imminent threat."

Golsteyn, meanwhile, was awaiting trial, accused of murdering a suspected Afghan bomb maker in 2010.

The president's intervention in their cases is likely to become a campaign talking point in the coming months -- as The Atlantic's Adam Serwer recently put it, "Donald Trump is a war-crimes enthusiast" -- and we probably haven't seen the last of the Republican standing alongside the accused war criminals in a political setting. The Daily Beast reported two weeks ago:

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Image: Donald Trump

Speaking to Jewish audience, Trump uses anti-Semitic tropes (again)

12/09/19 10:40AM

Donald Trump spoke over the weekend to the Israeli American Council's national summit, where the president did something oddly familiar: he once again used anti-Semitic tropes to a Jewish audience. From the official White House transcript:

"A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well. You're brutal killers. (Laughter.) Not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me; you have no choice. You're not going to vote for Pocahontas, I can tell you that. (Laughter and applause.) You're not going to vote for the wealth tax.

"'Yeah, let's take 100 percent of your wealth away.' No, no. Even if you don't like me; some of you don't. Some of you I don't like at all, actually. (Laughter.) And you're going to be my biggest supporters because you'll be out of business in about 15 minutes, if they get it."

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has proposed a "wealth tax," but Trump's description of it wasn't even close to being accurate.

More to the point, however, is Trump's assumption that Jewish people are solely focused on acquiring and maintaining wealth, and that preoccupation will inevitably lead Jewish-American voters -- who voted heavily against Trump in 2016 -- to rally behind the Republican ticket in 2020.

Aaron Keyak, the former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, noted soon after, "Trump's insistence on using anti-Semitic tropes when addressing Jewish audiences is dangerous and should concern every member of the Jewish community -- even Jewish Republicans."

It's also true, however, that the familiarity of these circumstances is just as unsettling.

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Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump

Following deadly shooting, Team Trump defends Saudi Arabia

12/09/19 10:01AM

The New York Times did a nice job over the weekend summarizing the "strange dynamic" between Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia, especially in the wake of Friday's deadly shooting in north Florida.

When a Saudi Air Force officer opened fire on his classmates at a naval base in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday, he killed three, wounded eight and exposed anew the strange dynamic between President Trump and the Saudi leadership: The president's first instinct was to tamp down any suggestion that the Saudi government needed to be held to account.

It started with tweets, in which the American president let everyone know about King Salman calling him to "express his sincere condolences and give his sympathies to the families and friends of the warriors who were killed and wounded in the attack." Trump, echoing the king's message, added that the Saudi people "are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people."

A day later, the Republican told reporters, "They are devastated in Saudi Arabia." Trump went on to say that King Salman "will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones. He feels very strongly. He's very, very devastated by what happened and what took place. Likewise, the Crown Prince. They are devastated by what took place in Pensacola. And I think they're going to help out the families very greatly."

It prompted MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell to note, "Accepting the Saudi King's apology without demanding they investigate is shocking. No demand for accountability."

Complicating matters, it wasn't just Trump. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also echoed Saudi Arabia's "condolences and sadness," while Defense Secretary Mark Esper downplayed reports that a Saudi soldier filmed the shooting at the American military base.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) noted soon after, "It's unnerving how eager everyone in this administration is to be PR agents for the Saudis. I'm glad they are sad and cooperative, but ask yourself: would this administration do this for any other country besides Saudi Arabia?"

That need not be a rhetorical question.

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Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 6, 2011. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Why Trump's promise of a Giuliani investigative 'report' is misguided

12/09/19 09:20AM

Rudy Giuliani spent last week galivanting across eastern Europe, meeting with nefarious characters, stepping on his party's talking points, and looking for clues that might help Donald Trump, hurt Joe Biden, and exonerate Russia from its attack on U.S. elections in 2016. Over the weekend, his Oval Office client gave reporters an update on the former mayor's efforts.

Asked whether he knew and approved of Giuliani's misguided European mission, Trump replied:

"Well, I just know he came back from someplace, and he's going to make a report, I think to the attorney general and to Congress. He says he has a lot of good information. I have not spoken to him about that information.

"But Rudy, as you know, has been one of the great crime fighters of the last 50 years. And he did get back from Europe just recently, and I know -- he has not told me what he found, but I think he wants to go before Congress and say -- and also to the attorney general and the Department of Justice. I hear he's found plenty."

Right off the bat, let's note the president's cringe-worthy track record, which makes his latest rhetoric so difficult to believe. In 2011, for example, Trump appeared on NBC and claimed that he'd personally dispatched a team of investigators to Hawaii to explore his racist "birther" conspiracy theory. "I have people that have been studying [Barack Obama's origins] and they cannot believe what they're finding," he said at the time.

We later learned that Trump made all of this up: there were no investigators; there was no investigation; and he'd lied to everyone, including his allies and supporters, about the entire endeavor.

More recently, Giuliani, in his capacity as Trump's lawyer, spent a chunk of 2018 claiming he was nearly done with a lengthy "counter-report" to then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller's findings in the Russia scandal. That document was never released, and given the widespread contradictions of Giuliani's rhetoric on the subject, it's likely that the document never existed.

With this in mind, when Trump claims Giuliani is working on a report that will feature "plenty" of provocative information, it's probably wise to take this with several grains of salt.

But stepping back, there's a larger context to this that's even more damaging.

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