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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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Unwilling to present a defense, White House skips impeachment hearings

12/09/19 08:40AM

Republicans originally argued that the House impeachment process was unfair because there'd been no formal vote on the House floor to authorize the inquiry. After the House did, in fact, hold such a vote, Republicans shifted their focus, complaining that the process is unfair because there were no public impeachment committee hearings.

After the House did, in fact, hold extensive public impeachment committee hearings, Republicans shifted again, insisting that the process is unfair because Donald Trump and his team were not given an opportunity to present a defense. Last week, the president and his White House attorneys were, in fact, invited to participate in the impeachment inquiry, and Team Trump refused to accept the offer.

There was some question, however, as to whether Team Trump might choose to play a role in future hearings. On Friday afternoon, in a letter that sounded a bit like the president himself, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) signaling that the boycott would continue. In read in part:

"As you know, your impeachment inquiry is completely baseless and has violated basic principles of due process and fundamental fairness. Nevertheless, the Speaker of the House yesterday ordered House Democrats to proceed with articles of impeachment before your Committee has heard a single shred of evidence."

Cipollone went on to condemn the constitutional impeachment process as "unconstitutional." (Oddly enough, the correspondence never got around to saying whether anyone from the White House would show up for the next hearing, though an administration official eventually confirmed to NBC News that no one would participate.)

It's worth pausing to acknowledge what a genuine shame it is to see the White House Counsel's Office reduced to official correspondence this pitiful, especially after House members have been presented with a mountain of evidence, all of which has gone uncontested. As George Conway put it, "It's an utter embarrassment that any member of the bar, let alone the White House counsel, would write, sign, or send this letter."

For his part, Nadler released a statement noting that his committee gave the president "a fair opportunity to question witnesses and present his own to address the overwhelming evidence before us. After listening to him complain about the impeachment process, we had hoped that he might accept our invitation. If the president has no good response to the allegations, then he would not want to appear before the committee. Having declined this opportunity, he cannot claim that the process is unfair."

The chairman's point is compelling. Trump and his allies whined incessantly for weeks, insisting that any process that denies the White House an opportunity to present a defense is inherently unjust. And yet, when Congress extended Team Trump the opportunity it sought, the president and his lawyers chose to boycott the proceedings.

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Why is Ted Cruz helping promote false Russian propaganda?

12/09/19 08:00AM

U.S. officials have reminded elected policymakers more than once about the dangers of promoting Russian disinformation. In fact, the New York Times reported a few weeks ago that American intelligence professionals have informed senators and their aides that Russia has engaged in a lengthy campaign "to essentially frame" Ukraine for Russia's 2016 election attack.

That didn't stop Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) from helping promote the Kremlin's propaganda, which led to some rather fierce criticism for the Louisiana Republican. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) saw the pushback Kennedy received, appeared on NBC News' Meet the Press, and decided to do the same thing. This was the exchange between the senator and host Chuck Todd that raised so many eyebrows.

TODD: Do you believe Ukraine meddled in the American election in 2016?

CRUZ: I do. And I think there's considerable evidence of that.

TODD: You do? You do?

CRUZ: Yes.

The Republican went on to concede that Russia "interfered" in the American elections, but he nevertheless chastised the media for playing "a game" that overlooks details that Cruz pretended were true: "Ukraine blatantly interfered in our election."

This is, of course, precisely what Russian intelligence services want American officials to say.

To bolster his point, Cruz pointed to a 2016 op-ed from a Ukrainian ambassador that disagreed with then-candidate Donald Trump's vow to consider recognizing Crimea as Russian territory. As grown-ups already know, it's utterly ridiculous to compare an op-ed to an expansive and expensive covert military intelligence operation launched by the Kremlin.

Indeed, Ted Cruz is no doubt aware of the qualitative differences. He just doesn't appear to care.

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Report suggests possible intimidation of IRS whistleblower

Report suggests possible intimidation of IRS whistleblower

12/06/19 09:47PM

Rachel Maddow points out a new CNN report that the IRS whistleblower who flagged potential inappropriate efforts to influence the mandatory audit program of a president's tax returns was informed by an official that providing taxpayer information to the Senate Finance Committee could be a violation. This is not true, according to... watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 12.6.19

12/06/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Deadly shooting at Pensacola Naval Base: "The suspect in a shooting that killed three people and injured several others at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday morning was a member of the Saudi Air Force who was in the U.S. for training, officials said."

* Maybe they couldn't think of a defense: "The White House on Friday rejected an invitation to take part in impeachment hearings before the House Judiciary Committee."

* Team Trump sure does worry about disclosure of the president's finances: "Lawyers for President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court on Friday to block subpoenas issued by House Democrats to Deutsche Bank and Capital One for the president's financial records."

* The future of the so-called "public charge" policy: "A divided federal appeals court has lifted several injunctions blocking the Trump administration from implementing a rule aimed at limiting immigration benefits for individuals who participate in government programs such as food stamps or Medicaid."

* Bringing France to a halt: "Angry railway employees, teachers and other workers in France showed no signs of backing down from a nationwide strike on Friday, having brought public transportation to a standstill in a protest over President Emmanuel Macron's plans to overhaul the nation's pension system."

* West Virginia: "Officials are investigating a group of West Virginia corrections trainees who were photographed seemingly making a Nazi salute in their uniforms."

* That's a very good point: Republicans are all about boosting economic growth, so they say.... Unless it comes to punishing poor people. In which case, even the economy has to take a back seat."

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Image: A statue of the United States first President, George Washington, is seen under the Capitol dome in Washington

Dems pass another priority, approve Voting Rights Advancement Act

12/06/19 02:41PM

When the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in a highly controversial 5-4 ruling, the court's conservative majority effectively ended federal oversight of areas with history of voter-discrimination laws. If officials in those areas wanted to change their voting laws, the Voting Rights Act required pre-clearance from the Justice Department.

In Shelby County v. Holder, the high court's conservatives scrapped the requirement and challenged Congress to come up with a new formula for determining which areas deserved extra federal scrutiny of their voting laws, and which didn't.

In the six years that followed the ruling, state Republican officials wasted little time in taking advantage of the new legal landscape -- new voter-suppression measures passed in much of the country -- but federal lawmakers did not take up the Supreme Court's challenge and made no effort to create new standards.

Today, as Vox's Ella Nilsen explained, that changed.

Six years after the Supreme Court stripped key parts of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, America's signature legislation protecting voters of color, the House of Representatives passed a bill meant to restore those safeguards.

In a mostly party-line vote, the legislation was approved 228-187. The Voting Rights Advancement Act, introduced by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), is a key part of Democrats' agenda to expand voting rights. It would make it more difficult for states to discriminate against voters of color, and give the federal government a stronger ability to take action against states with a history of discrimination.

At the end of the voting on the House floor today, it was Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, who held gavel, adding symbolic weight to the circumstances.

Mother Jones' Ari Berman fleshed out the practical effects of the legislation: "It would initially cover 11 states: nine in the South, plus California and New York, which have more recently been found to discriminate against Latinos and Asian Americans. The bill would also require all states to get federal approval for election changes that are known to disproportionately affect voters of color, such as strict voter ID laws, tighter voter registration requirements, and polling place closures in areas with large numbers of minority voters."

The Voting Rights Advancement Act enjoyed unanimous support from the House Democrats voting today, but literally only one House Republican -- Pennsylvania's Brian Fitzpatrick -- supported the proposal. (The last time the chamber voted on the Voting Rights Act, in 2006, it passed 390 to 33. GOP politics has changed quite a bit since.)

Now that the bill has passed the House, it heads to the Republican-led Senate, where it will, of course, go completely ignored. That's discouraging for voting-rights advocates, but it also speaks to a larger truth that's often overlooked.

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Congressional Black Caucus Returns Controversial Painting  To Capitol Hill

As Duncan Hunter weighs his options, Issa wants Trump to intervene

12/06/19 12:46PM

Even by the standards of modern congressional scandals, Rep. Duncan Hunter's (R-Calif.) case is a doozy. As regular readers know, California Republican's multi-count criminal indictment accused him, of among other things, stealing campaign funds for personal use and clumsily trying to cover it up. As part of the case, prosecutors also alleged Hunter illegally used contributions to help finance extramarital affairs, including some with lobbyists.

After repeatedly insisting he's innocent, and blaming a political "witch hunt" for his predicament, the congressman pleaded guilty this week to conspiracy to misuse campaign funds. He's scheduled to be sentenced in March, and he faces up to five years in prison.

Though resignation seems like the obvious next step for Hunter, the GOP lawmaker, at least for now, seems intent on sticking around. In fact, the day after pleading guilty, the congressman was back on the House floor, casting votes as if he were a member in good standing. Roll Call reported yesterday that some of his colleagues reminded Hunter that he's not, in fact, a member in good standing: he's been stripped of his committee assignments and the Ethics panel wants him to stop voting on legislation.

The House Ethics Committee notified Rep. Duncan Hunter that his recent guilty plea means he should no longer cast votes in the House. The instruction is not mandatory, but the panel threatened action against him if he continues to vote. [...]

The Thursday letter from House Ethics specifies that Hunter "should refrain from voting on any question at a meeting of the House," until or unless a court reinstates the presumption of his innocence. It says he could resume voting if reelected to the House despite the guilty plea.

I won't pretend to know what the California congressman intends to do next, though one of the Republicans who hopes to succeed Hunter on Capitol Hill yesterday raised a provocative possibility: what if Donald Trump intervenes on Hunter's behalf?

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.6.19

12/06/19 12:00PM

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

* Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) this morning became the latest Republican member of Congress to announce his retirement, citing North Carolina's new congressional map that makes his district more Democratic.

* On a related note, Holding's announcement comes just one day after Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) said he, too, has decided not to run for re-election next year. For those keeping score, 19 House Republican incumbents are now retiring from elected office, while an additional three GOP House members are giving up their seats to seek statewide office.

* Speaking of 2020 plans, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) still hasn't yet officially declared her electoral intentions, though the Maine Republican told a reporter yesterday that she'll announce her decision within the next two weeks. (For the record, I don't really expect Collins to retire.)

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) this morning released a letter from her physician describing her as "very healthy." Referring to the senator, who turned 70 over the summer, Dr. Beverly Woo, a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, wrote, "There are no medical conditions or health problems that would keep her from fulfilling the duties of the President of the United States." The letter was accompanied by several pages of medical records.

* John Kerry, a former senator, former secretary of State, and former presidential nominee, endorsed Joe Biden's candidacy in a written statement yesterday.

* Democratic presidential hopeful Julian Castro announced last night that he's reached the 200,000-donor threshold -- the minimum for qualifying for this month's presidential primary debate -- though his polling support leaves him short of making it onto the stage.

* Though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hasn't officially launched a U.S. Senate campaign in his native Kansas, CNN reports the Republican "attended an off-the-books sit-down meeting with a conservative group that included a small number of wealthy Republican donors, which was not on his official schedule while he was in London to attend this week's NATO Summit."

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at a press conference after appearing in court to call for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Perhaps Giuliani should stop trying to 'help' his Oval Office client

12/06/19 11:12AM

Despite the reported criminal investigation into him, Rudy Giuliani thought it'd be a good idea to travel to eastern Europe this week, as part of an ongoing effort to help Donald Trump, dig up damaging revelations about Joe Biden, and pursue imagined evidence that Russia didn't attack our elections in 2016.

In fact, as Rachel noted on the show last night, it was just a couple of days ago when Giuliani met with a former Ukrainian prosecutor linked to Russian intelligence, whom Giuliani is relying on for dubious anti-Biden dirt.

Trump's lawyer briefly interrupted his trip yesterday to publish a couple of tweets, making the case that the impeachment effort against his client is a "farce." To bolster the assertion, Giuliani insisted that the Trump administration did not withhold military aid to Ukraine -- a bizarre claim, since the president has already acknowledged the opposite.

The former mayor added:

"The conversation about corruption in Ukraine was based on compelling evidence of criminal conduct by then VP Biden, in 2016, that has not been resolved and until it is will be a major obstacle to the US assisting Ukraine with its anti-corruption reforms.

"The American people will learn that Biden & other Obama administration officials, contributed to the increased level of corruption in Ukraine between 2014 to 2016. This evidence will all be released very soon."

Those waiting for actual "evidence" should probably lower their expectations, but that's not what made Giuliani's missives interesting.

It was earlier this week when Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released a "report" -- I'm using the word loosely -- making the case that Trump is actually innocent, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. The GOP lawmakers conceded that the American president may have pressed his Ukrainian counterpart, but according to the panel's Republican members, Trump was motivated solely by his sincere and deeply held concerns about corruption in Kyiv, not digging up dirt on a domestic political rival.

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent explained a few days ago, the argument is impossible to take seriously, though I think Giuliani just made matters quite a bit worse.

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National Review calls on Newt Gingrich to quit

At the intersection of impeachment and Christmas

12/06/19 10:17AM

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) made rather predictable comments to Fox News about the impeachment process targeting Donald Trump, though he made a point to connect the congressional effort to an upcoming holiday.

"The whole thing is a joke. It is frankly very, very close to what Clarence Thomas once described as 'a modern-day lynch mob.' ... And really, on the eve of Christmas, it is really sad to see the dishonesty and the partisanship that the House Democrats are displaying."

As luck would have it, the current presidential impeachment process isn't the first to unfold "on the eve of Christmas." In fact, the last one did, too.

Let's take a stroll down memory lane. In 1998, the Republican House majority, led by Gingrich, expected to see its ranks grow by 30 seats in the midterm elections. Voters had a different idea: with widespread opposition to the GOP's impeachment effort against then-President Bill Clinton, it was House Democrats who actually gained seats that cycle, a historical rarity for the White House's party in a president's sixth year.

Republicans, unwilling to take the hint, proceeded with the process anyway, using Congress' lame-duck session to impeach Clinton, the will of the electorate be damned. Gingrich and his party held the votes on the impeachment articles -- which fell largely along party lines -- on Saturday, Dec. 19, 1998, six days before Christmas.

It was around this same time that Gingrich announced that he'd resign, in part because his GOP conference blamed him for their electoral misfortunes, in part because of the ethical lapses, and in part because he'd engaged in an extramarital affair while leading the push to impeach Clinton over an extramarital affair.

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