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Trump falsely says there's 'no law whatsoever' on his tax returns

04/10/19 11:00AM

Last week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) formally alerted the Treasury Department that he's demanding access to Donald Trump's tax returns. In fact, the powerful lawmaker set a deadline: the IRS would have to make the materials available by April 10.

That, of course, is today.

At the White House this morning, a reporter noted the legal requirements in this area, and the president gave every indication that his administration will ignore that deadline.

"There is no law. As you know, I got elected last time with this same issue, and while I'm under audit, I won't do it.... There's no law whatsoever.... I would love to give them, but I'm not going to do it while I'm under audit. It's very simple.... I have no obligation to do that while I'm under audit."

First, Trump has clung to the "under audit" talking point for years, and it's never made sense.

Before his election, the Republican used this as excuse, but never offered any proof that the audit existed outside of his imagination. After Trump's election, it's true that every president since Watergate has had his tax returns audited automatically, but other modern presidents -- from both parties -- didn't see the need for secrecy. Barack Obama, for example, posted his tax returns online for the public to review, despite the annual audit.

Trump could do the same thing today, but for reasons he still hasn't explained, he doesn't want to. The president said this morning that he'd "love to" disclose his tax returns, which would be far easier to believe if he actually did that, as he's free to do at any time.

Second, when Trump says there's "no law whatsoever" in this area, he's overlooking one inconvenient statute.

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GWBust3

Trump displays his knowledge of history during Mt. Vernon visit

04/10/19 10:09AM

To hear Donald Trump tell it, he's a fan of history, though we're occasionally reminded that this may not be altogether true. Politico published this gem this morning.

President Donald Trump had some advice for George Washington.

During a guided tour of Mount Vernon last April with French president Emmanuel Macron, Trump learned that Washington was one of the major real-estate speculators of his era. So, he couldn't understand why America's first president didn't name his historic Virginia compound or any of the other property he acquired after himself.

"If he was smart, he would've put his name on it," Trump said, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. "You've got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you."

Leave it to Donald Trump to visit Mt. Vernon and focus his attention on the limited reach of George Washington's brand.

Of course, smart or not, Washington didn't name his home after himself, though he appears to be remembered anyway. The nation's capital city is named after him; there's a state named after him; his face is on American currency; a prominent university is named after him (I went to GW); and there's a giant obelisk in his honor near the White House.

Politico's report added that Trump's disinterest in Washington made it difficult for the tour guide -- who later described the experience as "truly bizarre" -- to "sustain Trump's interest" for 45 minutes. The French president and his wife, meanwhile, "were far more knowledgeable about the history of the property than the president."

Alas, this was not an isolated incident. Whatever strengths the Republican may bring to the presidency, knowledge of history isn't among them.

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Herman Cain addresses the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) February 9, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

With Trump's picks for the Fed, even Republicans have their limits

04/10/19 09:20AM

Yesterday, reporters asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) whether he's comfortable with Donald Trump's choices for the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors. The GOP leader raised a few eyebrows by dodging the question.

McConnell's reluctance to answer was emblematic of a broader concern within his conference. The Wall Street Journal reported overnight:

Senate Republicans sounded increasingly doubtful Tuesday about the prospects of confirming President Trump's latest pick for the Federal Reserve Board, former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who has dismissed criticism of his candidacy as partisan.

"It's hard for me to imagine he'd be confirmed," said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.), a member of the Banking Committee and one of the president's strongest allies on Capitol Hill.

Politico added, "Republican senators have generally waved through Trump's nominees over the past two years, but they are reluctant to do the same for the Fed, amid fears that Trump's push to install interest-rate slashing allies will politicize the central bank."

At a certain level, all of this is refreshingly reassuring. By any sane measure, elevating Herman Cain to the Fed's board of governors is plainly absurd. Even the most cursory review of the Georgia Republican's background makes clear that the very idea is indefensible, and the fact that Senate Republicans are balking suggests, even in 2019, there are still some limits in GOP politics.

But the good news comes with some fine print. Politico's report added, "Some GOP senators said that Cain's difficult path might have eased Stephen Moore's confirmation to the Fed, despite Moore's own problems with unpaid taxes and his partisan reputation. After all, Republicans might be hard-pressed to revolt against both of Trump's nominees."

You have got to be kidding me.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Homeland Security loses another top official as Trump's purge continues

04/10/19 08:40AM

It's been a rough a week at the Department of Homeland Security. Last Friday, Donald Trump dumped his acting ICE chief without any real explanation, stunning the cabinet agency, only to make matters even more serious two days later by ousting the Homeland Security secretary. Not quite 24 hours later, the president fired the head of the U.S. Secret Service, too.

Soon after, Politico reported that congressional Republicans were "alarmed" and "blindsided" by the DHS purge and had begun urging Trump not to fire anyone else. A day later, the cabinet agency parted ways with its deputy secretary.

Claire Grady, the acting Homeland Security Department deputy secretary, has offered to resign, according to outgoing Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

"Acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady has offered the President her resignation, effective tomorrow," Nielsen tweeted Tuesday evening. "For the last two years, Claire has served @DHSgov w excellence and distinction. She has been an invaluable asset to DHS – a steady force and a knowledgeable voice."

It appears in this instance that Grady's ouster had very little to do with her service. Rather, she was the victim of a bureaucratic game of chairs.

After Trump forced out DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the president decided he wanted Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, to succeed her, at least temporarily. The trouble is, that wasn't exactly legal: there's a line of succession at Homeland Security, and in the wake of Nielsen's forced resignation, Claire Grady was supposed to become the acting head of the agency.

Since Trump preferred someone else, Grady, despite decades of experience as a career official, had to go, too.

So, is the Homeland Security drama over? Not just yet.

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Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., left, and Rep. Jim Jordan, the House Oversight and Reform Committee's ranking member, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

Republicans warn drug companies not to cooperate with investigation

04/10/19 08:00AM

Earlier this year, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee took an interest in how the pharmaceutical industry sets prices on prescription medications, and Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) reached out to the major drug companies for information. None of this was especially surprising -- it's an important issue, of concern to millions of Americans, and it's understandable that the committee would seek answers.

What's surprising, however, is how two of the panel's far-right members responded to the effort. BuzzFeed reported this week:

In an unusual move, House Republicans are warning drug companies against complying with a House investigation into drug prices.

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee sent letters to a dozen CEOs of major drug companies warning that information they provide to the committee could be leaked to the public by Democratic chair Elijah Cummings in an effort to tank their stock prices.

I'm not aware of anything like this ever happening before. Two members of Congress, in effect, have taken steps to undermine their own committee's investigation of a private industry.

We've seen Republicans reach out to a foreign country's leaders in the hopes of sabotaging nuclear talks, and we've seen Republicans reach out to sports leagues in the hopes of discouraging Americans from getting health care coverage, but Republicans warning an industry about cooperating with their own branch of government's investigation seems entirely new.

BuzzFeed's report went on to note that Jordan and Meadows -- leaders of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus -- want Big Pharma to believe Democrats will misuse the information drug companies provide as part of a dastardly plot to drive down stock prices.

In other words, two of Congress' most high-profile conservatives are justifying their efforts to undermine a congressional investigation by peddling a conspiracy theory.

Cummings added that the far-right duo would apparently rather "protect drug company 'stock prices' than the interests of the American people."

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.9.19

04/09/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I have a hunch Rachel will have more on Barr's testimony on the show: "Attorney General William P. Barr testified Tuesday that he thinks he will be able to release special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's report 'within a week,' and that he will color-code redacted information so the public will know why various material is being veiled."

* Election Day in Israel: "Israeli exit polls indicate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and the rival Blue and White party are locked in a race that is too close to call. The Blue and White party, headed by former military chief Benny Gantz, has a narrow lead over the Likud, Channel 12 and Kan TV said."

* DHS: "President Donald Trump's Homeland Security shake-up has left almost half its senior leadership in the hands of temporary administrators."

* Budget caps matter: "A liberal revolt forced House Democratic leaders to call off a planned vote on a two-year budget plan Tuesday, an embarrassing outcome for leadership that raised questions about Congress' ability to solve huge spending fights that loom later this year."

* The latest on Trump's trade war: "The Trump administration is proposing tariffs on new passenger helicopters, various cheeses and wines, ski suits and certain motorcycles in response to harm the U.S. says is being caused by European Union subsidies to Boeing Co. rival Airbus SE."

* Sadly predictable: "The White House is working on plans to make it harder for immigrants at the border to receive asylum by forcing them to do more to prove they have a credible fear of returning home and putting border agents in charge of the interview process, according to multiple senior administration officials."

* This passed with surprising ease: "Liberals abandoned a last-minute rebellion Tuesday over a bill to change the Internal Revenue Service, with Democratic leaders easily pushing legislation through the House that would bar the IRS from creating free tax preparation software."

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Kirstjen Nielsen learns a lesson on the limits of Trump's loyalty

04/09/19 02:49PM

Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen did everything Donald Trump asked of her, up to and including separating children from the families and putting them in cages. Dana Milbank noted in his latest column:

Nobody debased herself quite as often as Nielsen did in her quest to keep the job, defending Trump after the "s---hole countries" and Charlottesville scandals, enduring frequent rebukes from Trump and leaks about her imminent firing, embracing his incendiary language and enduring his extralegal instincts, swallowing her moral misgivings to embrace the family-separation policy (while denying any such policy existed), and implausibly claiming that children weren't being put in cages. [...]

No amount of public disgrace could deter her from serving the president's whims.

In theory, this may sound like the kind of debasement that would satisfy Trump, who prioritizes unflinching loyalty. And for a while, Nielsen's willingness to say and do anything to advance the White House's agenda likely extended her tenure at DHS.

But as many have learned before her, there are important limits to Trump's sense of loyalty.

Indeed, it's become a staple of the Republican's presidency, even in foreign policy. Politico reported last summer, "Foreign leaders are learning that hand-holding, golf games, military parades and other efforts to personally woo President Donald Trump do not guarantee that Trump won't burn them on key policy issues."

The article quoted one former White House official saying, "Trump is very selfish and I think he views flattery as a one-way street where he gets flattered and then there's no real reciprocal benefit going back the other direction."

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while meeting with President-elect Donald Trump following a meeting in the Oval Office Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Trump tries to falsely blame Obama for his own family separation policy

04/09/19 01:57PM

After a brief Oval Office photo-op this morning, reporters were being ushered out of the room when one asked Donald Trump about his former family separation policy. The president initially ignored the question, before changing his mind.

"Obama separated the children, by the way. You can -- just so you understand, President Obama separated the children. Those cages that were shown, I think they were very inappropriate. They were built by President Obama's administration, not by Trump.

"President Obama had child separation. Take a look. The press knows it. You know it. We all know it. I didn't have -- I'm the one that stopped it. President Obama had child separation. And I'll tell you something. Once you don't have it, that's why you see many more people coming. They're coming like it's a picnic because, 'Let's go to Disneyland.' President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one that changed it."

He added that he's not "looking to" reinstate the policy, though Trump added moments later that he considers the tactic effective.

The Republican then added, "President Obama had the law. We changed the law, and I think the press should accurately report it. But of course they won't."

What a great idea. Let's accurately report it -- because Trump either has no idea what he's talking about, or he knows the facts and is scrambling to brazenly deceive the public.

Let's start with the basics. Obama "separated the children"? Not exactly.

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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

Mnuchin: White House spoke to Treasury about Trump's tax returns

04/09/19 12:42PM

In theory, the dispute over Donald Trump's hidden tax returns is limited to two parties. In one corner, we see the Treasury Department, which has the materials. In the other, there's Congress, which includes one powerful member who's instructed Treasury to turn over the materials.

But in practice, others have decided they'd also like to part of the process. On Friday, for example, a private attorney representing the president told the Treasury Department it should refuse to comply with the recent congressional instructions, at least until the Justice Department can intervene with an opinion on the matter.

Two days later, Trump's White House chief of staff also decided to weigh in, telling a national television audience that congressional Democrats will "never" gain access to the president's tax returns -- materials Trump previously said he'd eventually disclose to the public, before changing his mind without explanation.

This morning, as the Washington Post reported, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin added an additional wrinkle.

Treasury Department lawyers consulted with the White House general counsel's office about the potential release of President Trump's tax returns before House Democrats formally requested the records, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday.

Mnuchin had not previously revealed that the White House was playing any official role in the Treasury Department's decision on releasing Trump's tax returns. [...]

Mnuchin revealed the discussions during a congressional hearing. He said he had not personally spoken with anyone from the White House about the tax returns, but he said that members of his team had done so.

The cabinet secretary said he "believes" the communications were "informational." The larger question, of course, is why there were communications at all, since the White House need not play a role in the process.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.9.19

04/09/19 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California) announced last night that he, too, is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. By my count, he's the 16th elected official to enter the contest, and the fifth current or former member of the U.S. House. (Swalwell will also be on the show tomorrow night.)

* As first-quarter fundraising totals continue to come in, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) announced that she collected more than $5.2 million for her 2020 bid, which was a little better than Sen. Cory Booker's (D-N.J.) haul, but short of several other Democratic presidential contenders.

* Speaking of Booker, the New Jersey Democrat, who's doing pretty well on the endorsement front, yesterday picked up support from Jon Morgan, a prominent Democratic state senator in New Hampshire.

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) raised a few eyebrows the other day when he endorsed voting rights for felons currently behind bars, but for what it's worth, two states -- Vermont and Maine -- already allow those behind bars to cast ballots.

* Over the weekend, Democrats in the state of Washington agreed to drop its presidential caucus system, replacing it with a statewide primary. (Thanks to reader D.N. for the heads-up on this.)

* On a related note, Alaska Democrats may soon do the same thing.

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