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E.g., 11/20/2019

Did Trump engage in 'witness intimidation in real time'?

11/15/19 12:29PM

As a rule, I'm sympathetic to those who argue that Donald Trump's tweets rarely constitute actual, legitimate news. There are, however, exceptions.

This morning, for example, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted as part of Team Trump's political scheme, testified publicly as part of the impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill. During her appearance, the president thought it'd be a good idea to publish a tweet, smearing her career in public service.

"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad," Trump wrote. "She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President's absolute right to appoint ambassadors."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told the former ambassador about Trump's missive and offered her a chance to respond.

"I don't think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu, Somalia and not in other places. I actually think that where I've served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I've served in.

"Ukraine, for example, where there are huge challenges, including, you know, the issue that we are discussing today, of corruption, huge challenges. But they've made a lot of progress since 2014, including in the years that I was there.... The Ukrainian people get the most credit for that. But a part of that credit goes to the work of the United States and to me as the ambassador in Ukraine."

Schiff wasted little time in shining a light on the obvious, asking Yovanovitch about the effects of Trump's attacks on other witnesses and their willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing. "Well, it's very intimidating," she replied.

The committee chairman added, "Well, I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously."

During a break in the proceedings, Schiff stopped to briefly speak with reporters.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.15.19

11/15/19 12:00PM

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

* Louisiana's gubernatorial race is tomorrow -- it's the last statewide race of 2019 -- and Donald Trump made his second trip to the state last night, trying to rally support for Eddie Rispone's (R) candidacy.

* Following a recanvass of last week's gubernatorial election in Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin (R) finally conceded yesterday afternoon. "I'm not going to contest these numbers that have come in," the outgoing governor said.

* According to a report from Politico, the campaign finance violations allegedly committed by Rep. Ross Spano (R-Fla.) are so significant that the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation. The Florida Republican, who's only been in Congress for 10 months, has denied any wrongdoing.

* Though it's not yet clear whether Michael Bloomberg will run for president, the former New York City mayor is reportedly launching a $100 million digital ad campaign targeting Donald Trump. The ads go live today in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

* It may seem hard to believe, but the latest data suggests Tom Steyer, a longshot Democratic presidential candidate, has "accounted for 67% of all TV ad sales amongst 2020 candidates."

* Though many current presidential candidates are reluctant to criticize Iowa's first-in-the-nation status, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro has gone further than most in criticizing the Hawkeye State's current role in the process.

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Trump releases new Ukrainian call record, raising new questions

11/15/19 10:23AM

This past weekend, Donald Trump brought up a phone meeting he had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in April -- three months before the Republican's controversial "I would like you to do us a favor, though" conversation. Trump said he expected to release this second call summary on Tuesday, adding that in his mind, because this was his first call with Zelensky, it was more "important" than the second.

The American president shared the call summary with some Republican lawmakers yesterday, and this morning, just as former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch's public hearing was poised to get underway, the White House released the document to the public.

The White House released a record of President Donald Trump's first phone conversation his Ukrainian counterpart on Friday, a call in which the two chat amicably and there's no mention of the Bidens or the 2016 election.

The record of the April call was released at 9 a.m., just as day 2 of the House's public impeachment hearings stemming from Trump's July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was set to begin.

For reasons that weren't altogether clear, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, read the call summary out loud as this morning's impeachment hearing got underway.

At first blush, the document is not especially provocative. It was a 16-minute conversation, featuring an exchange of pleasantries. Trump, being Trump, made note of how impressed he is with his own accomplishments, highlighted his previous ownership of the Miss Universe pageant, congratulated the new Ukrainian president on his election victory, and assured Zelensky, "[W]e're with you all the way."

The same call summary made clear that Zelensky was eager to get on Trump's good side -- he made more than one reference to seeing Trump as a political model to follow -- and repeatedly emphasized how much he would appreciate the American president visiting Kyiv around the time of his inauguration.

For some Republicans, these materials will probably be seen as exculpatory, since the document -- which is not a word-for-word transcript of the call -- does not show Trump threatening, leveraging, or extorting his Ukrainian counterpart.

But it's not nearly that simple.

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Following email leak, Democrats call for Stephen Miller's ouster

11/15/19 09:20AM

White House adviser Stephen Miller was already a controversial figure inside Trump World, but the release of purported Miller emails in which he appears to have promoted theories popular with white nationalist groups has taken concerns about him to a new level. The New York Times reported this week:

The group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, on Tuesday published a summary of some 900 messages that Mr. Miller sent to Breitbart News from March 2015 to June 2016. The center shared with The New York Times seven pages of the emails included in that summary.

The emails, supplied by Katie McHugh, a former editor at Breitbart, show that Mr. Miller tried to shape news coverage with material he found on at least one website that espouses white nationalist viewpoints, including fringe theories that people of color are trying to engage in "white genocide." The law center's investigation, which the group says it will turn into a series, seeks to illustrate how Mr. Miller brought anti-immigrant beliefs to the White House and turned them into policy.

It's that last point that's of particular interest. Miller is not just some random figure, isolated in an obscure office somewhere in the Trump administration bureaucracy. On the contrary, the president has given Miller extraordinary power and influence in shaping the White House's hard-line approach to immigration policy.

In an especially memorable report, the Wall Street Journal noted in April that the president specifically told Miller, in reference to immigration policy, "You're in charge."

Or put another way, a far-right adviser who's been accused of promoting theories popular with white nationalist groups is overseeing the White House's immigration agenda. Is it any wonder that several prominent Democrats have called for Miller's resignation?

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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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