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E.g., 9/19/2019
E.g., 9/19/2019
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at Turnberry Golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, June 24, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Questions about military stops at Trump's Scottish resort grow louder

09/13/19 08:00AM

Toward the end of last night's Democratic presidential primary debate, Pete Buttigieg reminded the audience that Americans currently have a president "who seems to treat troops as props, or worse, tools for his own enrichment. We saw what's going on with flights apparently being routed through Scotland just so people can stay at his hotels? I'll tell you, as a military officer, the very first thing that goes through your mind, the first time you ever make eye contact with somebody that you are responsible for in uniform, is do not let these men and women down. This president is doing exactly that."

The comments were well timed: just as the Democratic debate was getting underway, Politico published an interesting new report on the simmering controversy:

The U.S. Air Force has lodged crews at President Donald Trump's Scotland resort up to 40 times since 2015, a figure that is far higher than previously known.

The tally represents the preliminary results of an Air Force review launched after POLITICO reported last week that an Air National Guard crew stayed at Turnberry in March. Congressional Democrats have also been investigating military stays at the property, but have yet to receive any information from the Pentagon.

While this advances the story, there are some elements to this that we do not yet know. For example, we learned this week that some of the U.S. military stops at the Prestwick Airport -- about 20 miles away from Trump's struggling business -- predated the Republican's presidency. That didn't negate the burgeoning controversy, since the flights to the airport Trump is eager to prop up went up considerably after he took office, but it's a relevant detail.

And with this in mind, if U.S. servicemen and women stayed at the Trump-owned Turnberry Luxury Collection Resort 40 times, and all or nearly all of the visits occurred during the Obama era, there'd be fewer questions about possible abuses.

But if all or nearly all of the visits occurred after Trump became president -- or if the total jumped from one administration to the next -- we're right back where we started, wondering about a possible scheme to put money in the sitting president's pocket, while bolstering an airport the president's business needs to survive.

Of course, if the lines between Trump the president and Trump the businessman were clearer, and there weren't so many concerns about the Republican trying to profit from his office, unprecedented controversies like these wouldn't even come up.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.12.19

09/12/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* No good can come of this: "The Trump administration rolled back a major Obama-era clean water regulation on Thursday, reversing protections for certain waterways and wetlands that had fallen into a legal grey area after a series of Supreme Court challenges."

* The more the court's conservatives play the role of Trump fixers, the worse it is for the rule of law: "The U.S. Supreme Court late Wednesday gave the Trump administration permission to enforce its toughest restriction yet on asylum seekers at the southern border, even though a lawsuit to stop the new policy is still working its way through the lower courts."

* Adding to our national embarrassment: "Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a message for refugees rejected by U.S. President Donald Trump: Canada will take you."

* McCabe's indictment would be dramatically controversial in light of Trump's crusade against him: "Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen told former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on Thursday that his appeal against possible criminal charges against him has been rejected, according to a person familiar with the decision."

* It's almost as if the entire policy is shaped by one man's uninformed whims: "President Trump said Wednesday night that the United States would delay its next planned tariff increase on China by two weeks, as 'a gesture of good will' that may help to mend the seriously damaged ties between the world's two biggest economies."

* Michael Cohen, back in the news: "The former personal attorney for President Donald Trump has entered into an agreement with New York City prosecutors to provide information about the president's business operation, a source familiar with the situation told NBC News Wednesday."

* A provocative allegation: "The U.S. government concluded within the last two years that Israel was most likely behind the placement of cell-phone surveillance devices that were found near the White House and other sensitive locations around Washington, D.C., according to three former senior U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter."

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As intra-party debate continues, Dems advance impeachment proceedings

09/12/19 12:52PM

There's no shortage of questions surrounding the possible impeachment of Donald Trump, including concerns over Democratic divisions on the issue, public support, and possible political consequences.

And while those questions may not yet have clear answers, the House Judiciary Committee voted today -- along party lines -- to establish the rules for an impeachment process. As NBC News reported:

Under the resolution, which does not need to be approved by the full House, Nadler can designate hearings run by the full committee and its subcommittees as part of the impeachment investigation. The committee's lawyers are also able to question witnesses for an additional hour beyond the five minutes that are allotted to each member of Congress on the panel.

Additionally, the president's lawyers will be able to respond in writing to evidence and testimony presented to the committee, and evidence can be received in closed session.

Though the practical implications of the step are limited, Roll Call noted that this was the "first vote on text that focuses on the Judiciary Committee deciding whether to impeach Trump."

Today's move does not necessarily mean the president will be impeached or even that articles of impeachment will be drawn, but the House panel has now set the rules of the road so that the process can move forward fairly and judiciously.

Obviously, it signals that the impeachment threat is real and that lawmakers are taking the possibility seriously. This formal step of establishing procedural rules was also taken during Richard Nixon's and Bill Clinton's presidencies.

As for what to call this, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in his opening statement this morning, "Some call this process an impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature."

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.12.19

09/12/19 12:00PM

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

* Ten contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination will debate tonight in Houston. Unlike the first two rounds of debates, there will be only one event this week.

* Ahead of the debate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) picked up a notable congressional endorsement: Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) threw his backing behind the California senator. Harris now has more endorsements from U.S. House Democrats than any other 2020 candidate.

* The latest national CNN poll found Joe Biden leading the Democratic field with 24%, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 18% and Bernie Sanders at 17%. As is usually the case, the only other contenders above 5% are Harris at 8% and Pete Buttigieg at 6%.

* Though most recent polling shows Biden ahead in New Hampshire, the latest Franklin Pierce University-Boston Herald poll found Sanders with a significant lead over Biden in the nation's first primary state, 29% to 21%.

* Speaking of the Granite State, former Trump campaign chair Corey Lewandowski is reportedly planning a Republican U.S. Senate campaign in New Hampshire next year, and an Emerson poll this week showed him leading retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc in a GOP primary.

* In North Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis (R) must be at least a little concerned about his re-election prospects, since his campaign just made a $2.2 million ad buy. Tillis is facing a primary challenge from Garland Tucker, a wealthy first-time candidate.

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Trump's Iran policy takes a head-shaking turn toward incoherence

09/12/19 10:51AM

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke at a media briefing this week and argued that he, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Donald Trump are "completely aligned on our 'maximum pressure' campaign" against Iran. Mnuchin added that the policy is "absolutely working."

The policy is absolutely not working. After the president walked away from the international nuclear agreement with Iran, the foreign adversary has become more dangerous, not less, As the Associated Press reported this week, "The United Nations' atomic watchdog confirmed Monday that Iran is preparing to use more advanced centrifuges, another breach of limits set in the country's slowly unraveling nuclear deal with major powers."

There's no great mystery behind the broader dynamic: Trump took a policy that was working as intended and abandoned it for reasons he struggled to explain. Iran responded, as expected, by accelerating the nuclear program that the JCPOA policy had kept in check. As Colin Kahl, an Obama administration veteran, recently explained, "Trump's 'maximum pressure' campaign was supposed to induce Iran to scrap its nuclear program (which was already contained by the 2015 nuclear deal). Instead, Trump's actions have incentivized Iran to restart it, creating a completely unnecessary crisis."

Trump's plan -- to the extent that his whims can be credibly characterized as a "plan" -- has been to use sanctions to force Iran to the negotiating table in order to reach a deal to limit its nuclear program. Once that happens, Trump believes, he can offer Iranian officials economic incentives to entice them into an agreement.

Or put another way, the Republican hopes to do what Barack Obama already did several years ago, striking a deal that Trump rejected.

Yesterday, as the New York Times reported, Trump sent an entirely different kind of signal.

President Trump appeared to take a step back from his administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran on Wednesday, leaving open the possibility of easing economic sanctions before starting new nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

Although he also warned Iran against restarting production of the material necessary to make a nuclear bomb -- as the clerical government in Tehran has threatened -- Mr. Trump made clear he was ready for diplomatic talks.

After the American president referenced sanctions on Iran, a reporter asked whether he'd consider easing the sanctions as part of a diplomatic olive branch. Trump didn't rule it out, saying, "We'll see what happens."

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Can a campaign that never ended really start anew?

09/12/19 10:00AM

After the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Donald Trump with a 38% approval rating, while also showing him trailing each of the top Democratic contenders by sizable margins, the Republican published a curious response to the data on Twitter:

"This is a phony suppression poll, meant to build up their Democrat partners. I haven't even started campaigning yet, and am constantly fighting Fake News like Russia, Russia, Russia. Look at North Carolina last night. Dan Bishop, down big in the Polls, WINS. Easier than 2016!"

Much of this is easily dismissed nonsense. Major American news organizations, for example, do not concoct polling results as part of a political conspiracy. The Russia scandal was not, and is not, "fake." Rep.-elect Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) was not actually "down big" in the polls ahead of this week's congressional special election.

But it was that other phrase that stood out for me: "I haven't even started campaigning yet."

As Trump really ought to know by now, in order for a lie to have its intended effect, it has to be at least somewhat plausible. If most of the people who hear a claim respond by quizzically responding, "Um, what?" then the attempt at deception has fallen short.

In this case, the idea that the president hasn't started campaigning yet is bizarre. As we discussed several months ago, Trump's focus on the 2020 election has been a constant of his presidency, including his decision to file a re-election letter with the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 20, 2017 -- literally the first day of his term.

The president also began fundraising for the 2020 cycle before he was even sworn in, “pulling in tens of millions of dollars in the months after his election and through his inauguration.”

There’s no modern precedent for such an aggressive fundraising schedule, but Trump did it anyway. Indeed, the Republican hasn't just been raising money, he's been spending it: according to the Federal Election Commission, as of this morning, Trump's re-election campaign has already spent more than $75 million. For context, note that this total is more than Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg have spent combined.

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In this April 23, 2014, file photo, a man smokes an e-cigarette at Vape store in Chicago. (Photo by Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Trump vows 'very strong' regulations on vaping, noncommittal on guns

09/12/19 09:20AM

Vaping has caught the White House's attention.

The Trump administration said Wednesday it plans to ban the sale of non-tobacco-flavored electronic cigarettes amid a vaping crisis.

"The Trump Administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. "We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth."

Donald Trump briefly addressed the issue at an Oval Office event yesterday, telling reporters that vaping is "causing a lot of problems, and we're going to have to do something about it."

The president went on to say, "There have been deaths and there have been a lot of other problems," and that he and his team are eying "very strong rules and regulations."

In curious comments, Trump also pointed to First Lady Melania Trump and her concerns over vaping, telling reporters, in apparent reference to his own youngest child, "I mean, she's got a son -- together -- that is a beautiful, young man, and she feels very, very strongly about it."

And while that's a tough one to unpack, it was also interesting to contrast the president's comments about vaping with his comments about guns at the same White House Q&A.

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Trump tries (and fails) to deflect blame for the John Bolton mess

09/12/19 08:40AM

A reporter asked Donald Trump in the Oval Office yesterday about why he and former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton parted ways. The president's case suggested he knew he needed to criticize Bolton, but he wasn't altogether sure how.

"So, John is somebody that I actually got along with very well. He made some very big mistakes. When he talked about the Libyan model for Kim Jong Un, that was not a good statement to make. You just take a look at what happened with Qaddafi. That was not a good statement to make, and it set us back.... We were set back very badly when John Bolton talked about the Libyan model. And he made a mistake. And as soon as he mentioned that, the Libyan model, what a disaster."

There may be some truth to this. Bolton really did talk up "the Libya model" for North Korea, suggesting he envisioned a dynamic in which Kim Jong Un would give up his nuclear program, at which point the dictator would face a domestic rebellion, be forced from power, before ultimately being killed.

The trouble, though, is that Bolton made these comments in April 2018. Trump made it sound yesterday like this was an important example of the national security adviser's disastrous incompetence, but the president kept Bolton at his post for nearly 19 months after he made the comments -- which seems to suggest they weren't too significant a problem.

That led to the president's second argument: "And, frankly, [Bolton] wanted to do things -- not necessarily tougher than me. You know, John is known as a tough guy. He's so tough, he got us into Iraq."

It's true that Bolton, one of the nation's most caustic and notorious hawks, has a dreadful record on national security judgments, including his assessments about the war in Iraq. But his catastrophic misjudgments about the conflict were in 2002 and 2003 -- and Trump tapped him for the powerful White House post in 2018.

Or put another way, if Trump was so unimpressed with Bolton's failed foreign policy discernments, it raises the question of why in the world he hired the guy in the first place.

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