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E.g., 9/21/2019
E.g., 9/21/2019
Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump

Following oil facilities attack, Trump looks to Saudis for direction

09/16/19 10:07AM

There was a major attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend, and the Trump administration wasted little time implicating Iran in the violence. Officials in Tehran denied the allegations.

Did you happen to catch Donald Trump's tweet on the subject, published yesterday afternoon?

"Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!"

As is generally the case, some caveats are in order. For example, the president's rhetoric is routinely meaningless and should never be taken at face value. For that matter, I'm sympathetic to those who note that it's difficult to learn detailed information from short online missives.

That said, Trump did raise a few eyebrows with this one, and given the possible stakes, it's tough to look past it as trivia. Indeed, the sitting American president made it seem as if he were awaiting instructions from Riyadh: the United States is "locked and loaded," and how we "proceed" will be shaped by what Saudi Arabia tells the Trump administration.

Hmm. I wonder what the Saudis will tell Trump.

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Image: Devin Nunes, Eric Swalwell, Jim Himes

Trump admin faces subpoena over 'urgent' whistleblower complaint

09/16/19 09:20AM

Once in a while, important news breaks late on a Friday night. Take this report from the Wall Street Journal, for example, which reached the public at 11:03 pm (ET).

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff issued a subpoena to the nation's top intelligence official Friday night, seeking to force him to turn over a whistleblower complaint that the intelligence community's inspector general has allegedly deemed a matter of "urgent concern."

The identity of the whistleblower and the nature of the complaint weren't revealed. But in a news release Friday night, Mr. Schiff (D., Calif.) said the inspector general had determined the complaint to be credible and notified his House committee of the matter on Monday.

Not surprisingly given the circumstances, many of the relevant details aren't yet available to the public, but we have a rough sketch to go on. We know the Intelligence Community Inspector General's office is aware of a whistleblower complaint that it determined to be credible and a matter of "urgent concern." We know that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) asked Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to provide the committee with the information.

And we know that Maguire declined to cooperate with the congressional request.

I think it's fair to say Schiff wasn't pleased with the response. The California Democrat subpoenaed the materials, demanding the full and unredacted record, and directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to provide information on possible communications with other offices within the executive branch (cough, West Wing, cough) about the controversy.

The House Intelligence Committee chairman also reminded Maguire in writing, "As Acting Director of National Intelligence, you have neither the legal authority nor the discretion to overrule a determination by the IC IG. Moreover, you do not possess the authority to withhold from the Committee a whistleblower disclosure from within the Intelligence Community that is intended for Congress."

Schiff added, "Your office, moreover, has refused to affirm or deny that officials or lawyers at the White House have been involved in your decision to withhold the complaint from the Committee.... The Committee can only conclude, based on this remarkable confluence of factors, that the serious misconduct at issue involves the President of the United States and/or other senior White House or Administration officials."

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Trump seems to forget his own position on Iran, preconditions

09/16/19 08:40AM

The week before the 2008 presidential election, John McCain and his team realized the odds of success were poor, and the desperation led them to take some unfortunate chances. On Oct. 28, 2008, the Republican campaign launched a rather ugly attack ad condemning Barack Obama for his willingness to talk to Iran without preconditions.

The commercial was widely panned as "inflammatory nonsense" and "stupid," but it nevertheless drove home the fact that in Republican circles, diplomatic engagement with Tehran, especially without preconditions, was simply a bridge too far.

More than a decade later, Donald Trump wants the world to know he's seen the reports about his willingness to meet with Iranian leaders without preconditions, and he's eager to set the record straight.

"The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, 'No Conditions.' That is an incorrect statement (as usual!)."

The nerve of those journalists and news organizations. Why would they mislead the public this way? Don't they have reliable sources who can speak to the president's actual foreign policy agenda? Where'd the media get this idea?

The trouble started three months ago, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, abandoning his previous position, announced publicly that the Trump administration was prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders with "no preconditions."

A few weeks later, the president himself appeared on NBC's Meet the Press, and told Chuck Todd, in reference to talks with Iran, "No preconditions."

A month later, in July, Trump said at a White House press conference, in reference to Iranian diplomacy, "No preconditions. If they want to meet, I'll meet. Anytime they want.... No preconditions. If they want to meet, I'll meet."

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Why impeaching Brett Kavanaugh is back on the table for many Dems

09/16/19 08:00AM

On Saturday morning, the New York Times published a notable report on page A19, making it easy to overlook. It noted that Attorney General Bill Barr is scheduled to present the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service -- one of the Justice Department's most prestigious honors -- to the lawyers who worked to support Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination last year.

It's a curious decision. CNN's Elie Honig, a former federal and state prosecutor, noted soon after, "What a joke. This prestigious award typically goes to prosecutors who make the biggest cases against terrorists, corrupt politicians, drug cartels, organized crime enterprises, etc. And now AG Barr is using it to honor ... Team Kavanaugh."

What's more, Bill Barr's timing could be better. As the Republican AG prepares to honor the lawyers who helped put Kavanaugh on the high court, questions surrounding Kavanaugh's background have returned to the fore.

A slew of prominent Democrats called on Congress to impeach Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after allegations of sexual misconduct that had once threatened to torpedo his nomination to the bench resurfaced, even as President Donald Trump continued to defend him. [...]

The new revelations came to light in an opinion-section article written by two New York Times reporters, published late Saturday, whose book on the Kavanaugh nomination will be released this week. In the book, which was summarized in Saturday's article, the authors wrote that they had found new corroboration for accusations that Kavanaugh exposed himself to Deborah Ramirez, a classmate at Yale. NBC News has not verified that reporting.

While Christine Blasey Ford's allegations and Senate testimony were the subject of intense scrutiny, the story surrounding Deborah Ramirez also generated headlines last September. According to a New Yorker piece published at the time, Ramirez "remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away."

The New York Times piece added over the weekend, "During his Senate testimony, Mr. Kavanaugh said that if the incident Ms. Ramirez described had occurred, it would have been 'the talk of campus.' Our reporting suggests that it was."

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Friday's Mini-Report, 9.13.19

09/13/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Not at all what the Bahamas needs: "A tropical storm warning was issued Thursday for the Bahamas, less than two weeks after Hurricane Dorian devastated the commonwealth's northwest region as a Category 5 hurricane."

* A story we've been following closely: "An internal memo prepared by a top Trump immigration official recommends that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services be stripped of its authority to delay deportations for undocumented immigrants receiving treatment for serious medical conditions."

* Asylum policy: "Following the Supreme Court's decision to allow the Trump administration to go forward with its toughest asylum policy to date, officials from the Department of Justice and Homeland Security on Friday detailed how they would begin enforcement, including by turning back children who arrive at the southern border without their parents."

* Well, well: "Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are negotiating for Jeff Sessions's testimony in their impeachment investigation of President Trump, an appearance they hope could bolster their inquiry given the former attorney general's rocky relationship with Trump."

* I hope to circle back to this next week: "A federal appeals court Friday breathed new life into a lawsuit claiming that President Donald Trump's profiting from restaurants and hotels patronized by government officials violates the Constitution."

* Hmm: "A Taliban official says the insurgent group's negotiating team has arrived in the Russian capital just days after U.S. President Donald Trump declared a deal that had been nearly a year in the making was dead."

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In this Jan. 21, 2011, file photo, Manager Nick Reynoza holds a 100-watt incandescent light bulb at Royal Lighting in Los Angeles.

Trump tackles lightbulb policy in a perfectly Trumpian way

09/13/19 04:43PM

Last week, the Trump administration rolled back lightbulb energy-efficiency standards, which represented a pointless step backwards. As The Hill’s report on this noted, the new rule "will increase U.S. electricity use by 80 billion kilowatt hours over the course of a year, roughly the amount of electricity needed to power all households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to an analysis by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project."

At a campaign rally in North Carolina earlier this week, Donald Trump addressed his policy and shed some light (no pun intended) on why he and his team adopted their latest position.

"I'm not a vain person, and I know I have no vain people especially these incredible ladies in the front, but I look better under an incandescent light than these crazy lights that are beaming down on us."

Last night, speaking to the House Republican Conference, he did it again.

"The lightbulb. People said, 'What's with the lightbulb?' I said, 'Here's the story...' And I looked at it -- the bulb that we're being forced to use -- number one, to me, most importantly, the light is no good. I always look orange. And so do you. The light is the worst."

In fairness, the president went on to make some additional comments about bulb prices, but this was nevertheless the second time this week the public heard Trump address energy policy by focusing on his perceptions of his own physical appearance.

Which is a policy dynamic that's awfully tough to defend.

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Air Force: Trump's border wall gambit risks national security

09/13/19 02:56PM

It was earlier this year when Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration, giving himself the authority to raid the Pentagon budget and redirect funds to his border agenda, whether Congress liked it or not. Last week, the administration started offering specific details about which projects were supposed to receive Defense funds, but which will now lose out to pay for unnecessary border barriers.

Domestically, there are all kinds of worthwhile priorities that have suddenly been stripped of funding, including schools and daycare facilities for the children of American troops, as well as construction work in Puerto Rico. But internationally, the developments are just as striking, with the president taking steps to deny assistance to European allies facing possible Russian aggression.

NBC News advances the story further today, highlighting a report compiled by the U.S. Air Force.

President Donald Trump's plan to pay for his proposed border wall by taking funds from more than four dozen Air Force military construction projects poses various national security risks for the U.S. armed forces, according to a report compiled by the U.S. Air Force.

The report, obtained by NBC News, details the importance of each of the 51 military projects chosen by the Trump administration to lose their funding....

The full report is well worth your time to appreciate the scope and scale of the problem, though I was especially struck by NBC News' reporting on scrapped investments that would have upgraded airfields in Germany, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Hungary, and Slovakia, "leaving the bases unable to support U.S. and NATO airplanes."

The report quoted an Air Force official saying, "We had no advanced notice of what projects they chose."

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Why Trump believes his national security advisers 'don't have to work'

09/13/19 12:52PM

As things stand, Donald Trump does not currently have a White House national security adviser, which is an incredibly important and influential job. The NSA -- or technically, the assistant to the president for national security affairs (APNSA) -- is responsible for coordinating the White House policy process on matters related to national security and international affairs. The person in the job has a considerable reach, involving the White House National Security Council and a variety of departments and agencies across the executive branch.

Trump has gone through three national security advisers in 32 months. One of them, Michael Flynn, is now a convicted felon awaiting sentencing.

The president said on Wednesday he had five leading contenders to replace John Bolton at the post. He upped that number yesterday, telling reporters during a brief Q&A there are now 15 people on his list.

"A lot of people want the job. And we -- it's a great job. It's great because it's a lot of fun to work with Donald Trump. And it's very easy, actually, to work with me. You know why it's easy? Because I make all the decisions. They don't have to work."

This struck me as a surprisingly interesting comment, which is worth unpacking a bit.

First, when Trump said "a lot of people" want to serve as the next national security adviser, that's almost certainly not true. He used nearly identical language after firing Defense Secretary James Mattis, and that was because the White House was struggling to find a new Pentagon chief at the time. He felt the need to lie to obscure the embarrassment.

It's far easier to believe that real candidates for the job don't want it because they've seen what's happened to those who've held the job under Trump. As Eliot Cohen, a veteran of the Bush/Cheney administration, said this week, no matter who replaces Bolton, "it's not going to be an important position anymore -- there really isn't going to be much of a process under Trump."

Second, the fact that Trump described the White House national security adviser as basically a do-nothing gig in which someone simply watches the president make decisions says a great deal about how things work -- or fail to work -- in the current West Wing.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.13.19

09/13/19 12:00PM

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

* Last year, after the Tennessee Black Voter Project kicked off an initiative to register new voters in a state with one of the lowest registration rates in the country, Tennessee's Republican-led legislature passed a new law to make voter-registration drives far more difficult. Yesterday, a federal judge blocked that law.

* Following a provocative exchange in last night's Democratic presidential primary debate, Julián Castro argued this morning that he wasn't targeting Joe Biden over his age. In the same interview, however, the former HUD secretary went on to refer to Biden "as someone who's 'been around for a long time' and had trouble hearing him."

* Andrew Yang, a Democratic presidential candidate, announced at last night's debate that he wants to create a test model for his universal-basic-income idea by paying 10 people $1,000 a month for a year. That's probably not something a presidential hopeful can do legally.

* If you enjoyed Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) 2016 presidential campaign, you can look forward to a sequel. "Look, I hope to run again," he told reporters yesterday. "We came very, very close in 2016. And it's the most fun I've ever had in my life." The Texas Republican won 11 primaries in his race, second only to Donald Trump's 41.

* Speaking of former presidential candidates, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said yesterday he won't endorse anyone in the 2020 presidential primaries or the presidential general election. Given Romney's history, however, don't be too surprised if he changes his mind.

* In Colorado, the massive field of Democratic U.S. Senate candidates is starting to get a little smaller. Former U.S. Attorney John Walsh became the second Senate hopeful to end his candidacy, announcing yesterday that he's supporting former Gov. John Hickenlooper. Former state Sen. Mike Johnston ended his campaign last week.

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