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Audience members cheer as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs at a campaign event, Feb. 21, 2016, in Atlanta, Ga. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Poll: GOP voters acknowledge, dismiss Trump's law-breaking

01/23/20 09:20AM

As his Senate impeachment trial continues, Donald Trump would probably like to have the kind of broad public support Bill Clinton had during his impeachment trial, but he clearly does not.

CNN's poll found most Americans want to see Trump removed from office. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll found a plurality reaching the same conclusion, echoing the latest findings from Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

And then there's the latest report from the Pew Research Center.

As the Senate impeachment trial gets underway, slightly more Americans say that Donald Trump should be removed from office than say he should stay in office, with these views starkly divided along partisan lines.

Roughly half of U.S. adults (51%) say the outcome of the Senate trial should be Trump's removal from office, while 46% say the result should lead to Trump remaining in office.

Making matters slightly worse for the president, the same report found that 63% of Americans believe the Republican either has definitely or probably done illegal things, while 70% believe Trump has definitely or probably done unethical things. All of which suggests the public does not hold their president in the highest regard.

That said, there was one easy-to-miss gem in the Pew Research Center's findings:

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In this Oct. 23, 2015, file photo, Jay Sekulow speaks at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va.

Team Trump flubs quid-pro-argument in embarrassing fashion

01/23/20 08:41AM

There was a curious moment in the first day of Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial in which one of the president's attorneys, Jay Sekulow, chided House impeachment managers for using a curious phrase.

"'Lawyer lawsuits'?" Sekulow asked incredulously. "'Lawyer lawsuits'? ... The managers are complaining about 'lawyer lawsuits'? The Constitution allows lawyer lawsuits. It's disrespecting the Constitution of the United States to even say that in this chamber -- 'lawyer lawsuits.'"

No one had any idea what he was talking about, but eventually it became clear that one of the House managers referenced "FOIA lawsuits" -- in reference to the Freedom of Information Act -- and Sekulow misunderstood. Nevertheless, the White House, true to form, refused to acknowledge the misstep, and said Sekulow's mistake was actually correct.

It was a reminder that Trump's legal team, led in part by a controversial attorney who leads a televangelist's legal operation, may not fully be up to the task at hand.

Yesterday, the problem grew even more acute.

In an exchange with reporters during the first break, Jay Sekulow, Trump's personal lawyer, rebutted a reference by Schiff to a quid pro quo.

"You've noticed that Adam Schiff today talked about quid pro quo," Sekulow said. "Notice what's not in the articles of impeachment: allegations or accusations of quid pro quo. That's because they didn't exist. So, you know, there's a lot of things to rebut."

White House officials liked the line so much that it used its official Twitter account to promote Sekulow's argument, which was most unfortunate.

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If good arguments fall in the Senate, do they really make a sound?

01/23/20 08:00AM

By any objective standard, the House managers' case against Donald Trump in yesterday's impeachment trial was brutal for the president. A New York Times report described House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff's (D-Calif.) case as "meticulous and scathing."

For anyone committed to a good-faith examination of the facts, the second day of the president's trial left little doubt about Trump's guilt. But hanging over the proceedings was an uncomfortable question: if compelling evidence falls in a GOP-led Senate, and Republicans don't want to consider it, does it really make a sound?

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin noted that "intentionally ignorant Republicans" in chamber may have been presented yesterday with damaging revelations about their party's president that they hadn't previously heard.

Given how firmly some Republican senators are ensconced in the right-wing news bubble, and how determined they are to avoid hearing facts that undercut their partisan views, it is possible many of them are hearing the facts on which impeachment is based for the first time. Impeachment manager and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) took them through in meticulous detail the scheme President Trump devised to pressure Ukraine to help him smear former vice president Joe Biden.

But while GOP senators may have been confronted with a devastating presentation, the California Democrat wasn't in a position to make Republicans care about the case.

Some literally fell asleep in the middle of the day. Some passed notes to maintain conversations forbidden during presentations. The Associated Press noted that senators, "bored and weary" on the trial's second day, eventually started "openly flouting some basic guidelines in a chamber that prizes decorum."

Perhaps the most brazen was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who was spotted doing a crossword puzzle during the impeachment trial, prompting Dana Milbank to explain, "Paul and some of his Republican colleagues aren't even pretending to treat the proceedings with dignity."

The problem, of course, is that Republicans are simply indifferent to the presentations because they've already decided to excuse the president's abuses. By some counts, as many as 45 GOP senators -- roughly 85% of the Senate Republican conference -- were prepared to dismiss the charges and forgo the trial altogether.

The result is an awkward dynamic in which impeachment managers are winning and losing at the same time: they're presenting a devastating, air-tight case to jurors, many of whom have made little effort to hide their apathy about the underlying scandal.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.22.20

01/22/20 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* He did exactly that: "Rep. Adam Schiff opened the arguments in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial on Wednesday by telling the Senate that House Democrats will present an 'overwhelming and damning' picture of Trump's alleged misconduct with regard to Ukraine."

* Litigation worth watching: "The District of Columbia filed suit against President Donald Trump's inaugural committee and the Trump Organization on Wednesday, charging they misused non-profit funds to enrich the president's family business."

* China: "The death toll from a new flu-like coronavirus in China rose to 17 from 9 on Wednesday, Chinese state media reported. Some 544 people have been infected across the country, according to state-run CGTN."

* SCOTUS: "The Supreme Court seemed prepared Wednesday to rule that states violate the U.S. Constitution if they prevent religious schools from receiving some state benefits."

* What a story: "Two U.N. experts have called for an investigation into an accusation that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, had his phoned hacked after receiving a WhatsApp message from Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman."

* The difference between "FOIA lawsuits" and "lawyer lawsuits" is real: "President Trump's impeachment managers made little secret Tuesday that they'd rather put House Democrats on trial than Trump. They repeatedly alleged mistreatment of Trump in his impeachment rather than dwelling upon the evidence against him. But in one instance, one of them badly overreached."

* Guantanamo: "On the witness stand was James E. Mitchell, a psychologist and architect of the Bush-era interrogation program that had inflicted torture on prisoners held in secret C.I.A. prisons after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

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In reversal, Trump puts post-2020 entitlement cuts on the table

01/22/20 04:20PM

"I'm not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid," Donald Trump declared in 2015. "Every other Republican's going to cut, and even if they wouldn't, they don't know what to do because they don't know where the money is. I do. I do."

As regular readers may recall, this became a staple of his entire national candidacy: no matter what, Americans could count on him to champion these social-insurance programs. Ahead of the 2016 race, Trump wanted everyone to know that entitlement cuts, as far as he's concerned, are off the table.

Now, however, he's saying something different. Consider the exchange when CNBC's Joe Kernen sat down with the president this morning and broached the subject.

KERNEN: Entitlements ever be on your plate?

TRUMP: At some point they will be.... And at the right time, we will take a look at that.

At that point, the president shifted his focus a bit, exaggerating the recent economic growth -- GDP growth, in reality, is both short of his projections and slower than parts of Obama's second term -- seemingly as a way to suggest this would make cuts easier.

Kernen followed up, asking about Medicare and Trump's willingness to "do some of the things that you said you wouldn't do in the past."

The president replied, "We're going to look."

This is obviously the sort of thing that raises any number of questions -- the details matter -- and there are no available answers.

But at its core, there's a basic truth that's unavoidable: ahead of the 2016 cycle, Trump insisted he wouldn't cut any of these social-insurance programs, and ahead of the 2020 cycle, his position is fundamentally different.

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Trump's curious trial boast: 'We have all the material'

01/22/20 12:48PM

Addressing reporters this morning from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Donald Trump expressed delight over the state of his impeachment trial. Explaining why he was so pleased, the president said, "Honestly, we have all the material. They don't have the material."

It didn't take long before Democrats pounced. Here, for example, was Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) -- a House impeachment manager and a former police chief -- responding to Trump's off-the-cuff comment:

"The second article of impeachment was for obstruction of Congress: covering up witnesses and documents from the American people. This morning the President not only confessed to it, he bragged about it."

Harvard Law School's Lawrence Tribe was thinking along the same lines, concluding that the president was effectively "confessing" to "stonewalling" Congress. Tribe encouraged Trump to "try reading" the second article of impeachment.

I actually heard the quote a little differently. In context, it seems to me that the president wasn't referring to documents the White House has withheld from investigators -- though that's certainly an important problem and a radical departure from how the Clinton White House operated during its impeachment crisis -- but rather, he seemed to be referring to the general strength of his side's argument.

In other words, just as I might argue that Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock are the best stand-up comedians because they have "the material" their contemporaries lack, I think Trump was trying to say his lawyers are doing well in the impeachment trial because they have "the material" their opponents lack. It's not about secret documents, per se; it's about having the facts on one's side.

The trouble, of course, is that even if that was the point the Republican hoped to convey, he's completely wrong about that, too.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.22.20

01/22/20 12:00PM

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

* A new national CNN poll found Bernie Sanders jumping out in front of the pack in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, leading Joe Biden, 27% to 24%. Elizabeth Warren is third with 14%, followed by Pete Buttigieg at 11%. Most voters, however, said they may yet change their minds.

* The same poll found Donald Trump trailing each of the top Democratic contenders in hypothetical match-ups, though Biden and Mike Bloomberg did the best, with both candidates leading the incumbent president by nine points.

* A new national Monmouth poll, however, paints a different picture: it found Biden in the lead with 30%, followed by Sanders at 23%. Monmouth found Warren in third with 14%, followed by Bloomberg at 9%, and Buttigieg at 6%.

* The former vice president also got some good news yesterday when he picked up endorsements from four Congressional Black Caucus members, three of whom had previously supported Sens. Kamala Harris or Cory Booker.

* The months-long conflict between the DCCC and the Congressional Progressive Caucus over "blacklisting" consultants who work with primary challengers has apparently been resolved.

* Bloomberg's presidential campaign launched a new ad campaign this week focused specifically on Trump's impeachment. As the AP noted, "The ad will run in 27 states, including states represented by vulnerable Republican senators, and be Bloomberg's only ad on television in the next few days."

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Pence is 'grappling with unknowns' during Trump's impeachment trial

01/22/20 11:20AM

During Bill Clinton's impeachment ordeal, the Democratic president's vice president, was able to play an important role. Al Gore, untouched by the scandal that threatened Clinton's presidency, was free to be a surrogate, a defender, and a cheerleader for his partner in the Oval Office.

More than two decades later, it's not quite that simple for the current vice president, since Mike Pence has been implicated in Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal. Politico had a good report on this yesterday, noting that the Indiana Republican's future will also be shaped by the president's ongoing saga.

Though the outcome of Trump's trial has appeared preordained for weeks -- conviction and removal from office would require an unrealistic 20 Republican defections-- potential witnesses and new evidence released by House Democrats last Tuesday could entangle the vice president in a mess he has deliberately tried to sidestep as he considers a White House bid of his own in 2024.

But despite his best efforts, Pence keeps getting pulled into the scandal at the heart of impeachment -- that the president withheld financial aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine to announce politically advantageous probes. Pence met with Ukraine's president in Trump's place during the period the aid was being withheld, Trump has suggested reporters press Pence about his communications with the Ukrainian leader and several figures have accused Pence of knowing about the scheme, which the vice president denies.

The report added that Pence is "grappling with other unknowns," including uncertainty about whether former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton might testify in such a way that further implicated the vice president in Trump's scheme.

Politico quoted a source close to Pence who said, "If there came a point where Mike was seriously forced to weigh his own career against his loyalty to Trump, that would be one hell of a twist."

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Trump claims on troop injuries following Iran strike get a bit worse

01/22/20 10:40AM

Two weeks ago, in retaliation for the U.S. airstrike that killed Gen. Qassim Soleimani, Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi air bases housing U.S. forces. As we've discussed, the next morning, Donald Trump delivered a strange speech, littered with unnecessary falsehoods, though the president stressed an important bottom line.

"I'm pleased to inform you, the American people should be extremely grateful and happy no Americans were harmed in last night's attack by the Iranian regime," Trump said near the outset of his remarks. "We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases."

It now appears the presidential rhetoric wasn't altogether true. NBC News reported last week that 11 service members were transported to two hospitals for treatment for concussions following the strike. The Washington Post added overnight:

More U.S. service members have been transported out of Iraq for medical treatment and evaluations following Iran's missile attack on military facilities there, the Pentagon said Tuesday, nearly two weeks after President Trump and defense officials initially said no one was hurt.

The Pentagon said Friday that 11 service members required medical treatment outside Iraq. U.S. military officials declined to say Tuesday how many more are receiving care but said "additional" personnel had been sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The officials left open the possibility that the number could increase in coming days.

So, why did Trump boast that "no Americans were harmed" if, in reality, some Americans were harmed? Apparently because the president has his own definition of "harm."

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