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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 3.13.19

03/13/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Why was the United States last to make the call? "President Donald Trump announced an emergency order from the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday grounding Boeing 737 Max jets in the wake of an Ethiopian Airlines crash Sunday and a Lion Air accident in October that together killed 346 people."

* Brexit: "British lawmakers on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected leaving the European Union without a deal, paving the way for a vote to delay Brexit to seek a way out of Britain's worst political crisis in generations."

* The federal judiciary: "The Senate has confirmed President Donald Trump's nominee to replace Brett Kavanaugh on a high-profile appeals court. Senators voted 53-46 on Wednesday to confirm White House official Neomi Rao for a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit."

* On a related note, thanks to the ferocity of Senate Republicans' efforts, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has flipped from having a majority of judges appointed by Democratic presidents to a majority of judges appointed by Republican presidents. As Lawrence Hurley noted, "This is the first of the circuits to flip since Trump took office."

* Something to look out for: "The Trump administration is preparing to shutter all international offices of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a move that could slow the processing of family visa applications, foreign adoptions and citizenship petitions from members of the military stationed abroad."

* Remember the Hatch Act? "Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta's tweets praising President Donald Trump have raised concerns inside the department about whether Acosta is violating a federal law that limits federal employees' political activities, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg Law."

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Image: COMBO-FILES-US-CRIME-POLITICS-MANAFORT

Why Manafort's lawyer told such an odd whopper outside the courthouse

03/13/19 02:35PM

Soon after Paul Manafort learned of the additional years he'll serve in a federal prison, his attorney, Kevin Downing, spoke briefly to reporters outside the courthouse. It seemed likely the lawyer would offer a few perfunctory comments about his client's remorse, thank the judge, and move on.

But that's not quite what happened.

"Good afternoon, everyone," Downing said to a phalanx of journalists. "For anyone who was in the courtroom today, what I'm about to say will not be a surprise. Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case." It was at this point when protesters started shouting that Manafort's lawyers was clearly lying.

But Downing kept going, adding, "Two courts have ruled no evidence of any collusion with any Russians."

There are a couple of relevant angles to this. The first is that Judge Amy Berman Jackson most certainly did not make any such concession. As the Washington Post explained:

Manafort's legal team had suggested repeatedly in its sentencing memo that the fact that he hadn't been found to have colluded with Russia should be a mitigating factor when it came to how much time he would serve in prison. But Jackson not only rejected that argument in sentencing him to 43 additional months in prison, she also rejected the entire argument behind it.

"The 'no collusion' refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to matters at hand," she said. "The 'no collusion' mantra is simply a non sequitur."

Then she added: "The 'no collusion' mantra is also not accurate, because the investigation is still ongoing."

All of which leads to the second angle of interest: why Manafort's lawyer would make a claim like this that was so obviously and demonstrably untrue.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Manafort departs U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia

Manafort, who led Trump's campaign, receives longer prison sentence

03/13/19 12:40PM

Last week, Paul Manafort caught a break. After having been convicted of a variety of felonies, including tax crimes and bank fraud, the Republican operative who led Donald Trump's political operation in 2016, faced the prospect of decades in a federal prison. Instead, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis went easy on Manafort, sentencing him to 47 months.

It was, however, one of two shoes to drop. Manafort was also convicted of a different set of felonies in a D.C. court, and appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson this morning to learn of the rest of his sentence.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced Wednesday to 43 additional months in prison by a federal judge in Washington on conspiracy charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Manafort, 69, had faced up to 10 years behind bars after pleading guilty to the two charges related to undisclosed lobbying work he did for pro-Russian political figures in Ukraine.

Though this admittedly gets a little confusing, between the two different prison sentences, the sentences that will run concurrently, and time served, Manafort will end up serving about seven years behind bars.

And while that's hardly good news for the 69-year-old operative who isn't in the best of health, given the number of felonies for which he's been convicted, and the sentencing guidelines already in place, Manafort's prison sentence could've been much, much worse.

There was a very real possibility that Manafort would spend the rest of his natural life in a federal penitentiary. Now, as an actuarial matter, that seems less likely.

While I don't doubt that his sentences will be the subject of considerable debate, I still think there's a historical angle to these circumstances that's worth appreciating.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.13.19

03/13/19 11:59AM

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

* The North Carolina Board of Elections filed an order this morning on the election in the 9th congressional district, and as TPM noted, board members concluded the race was "corrupted by fraud, improprieties, and irregularities so pervasive that its results are tainted as the fruit of an operation manifestly unfair to the voters and corrosive to our system of representative government."

* On a related note, a federal grand jury is considering allegations of election fraud in North Carolina's 9th, and it's reportedly begun issuing subpoenas in the case.

* Ahead of a likely presidential campaign, former Rep. Beto O'Rouke (D-Texas) hasn't just scheduled an event with a Democratic state Senate candidate in Iowa; he's also planning to stick around the Hawkeye State for a while.

* In Michigan, the latest Emerson Poll found 56% of voters saying they don't plan to support Trump's re-election, while 44% said they are likely to vote for him. The Republican's surprise, narrow victory in Michigan in 2016 was his closest win in any state.

* There were a whole bunch of state legislative special elections, and let's start in Pennsylvania where nurse Bridget Kosierowski (D) kept a state House seat in Democratic hands, and Movita Johnson-Harrell (D), a former victims' services supervisor at the Philadelphia district attorney's office, also won a Democratic-held state House special election.

* In Maine, former state Sen. Joe Perry (D) also won a state House seat that had been held by a Democrat.

* Democrats also received some good news in Texas, where Ray Lopez (D) won a state House special election.

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Image: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence departs a healthcare meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

White House weighs a deal to rescue Trump's emergency declaration

03/13/19 11:20AM

With bipartisan support, the House passed a measure a couple of weeks ago to block Donald Trump's emergency declaration, in which he granted himself the power to redirect funds to border barriers, in defiance of Congress and public will. Over the next day or two, the Republican-led Senate will vote on the same bill.

On the surface, the outcome seemed obvious. Several GOP senators have already stated publicly that they will vote for the measure, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) conceded to reporters last week that it will pass. Though proponents of the bill only need four Republican votes, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggested last week the total could be as high as 10.

A lot can happen in a week, though.

A reporter asked Rand Paul yesterday whether he still believes there are 10 GOP votes in place to reject the White House's controversial policy. "Well, they're being beaten up right now, so if you see anybody that's got blood dripping out of their ear, they may be changing," he replied.

In this case, Team Trump isn't just pushing Senate Republicans to ignore their principles and toe the party line, though that's certainly part of the push. As the Washington Post reports, there's also a possible deal in the works.

Although four Republican senators have already announced they will vote to nullify the president's emergency declaration, one of them — Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.) — publicly indicated Tuesday after a private meeting with Vice President Pence that he could change his position if the administration and senators strike a deal on revising the National Emergencies Act. That would be enough to kill the resolution in the Senate, provided no other GOP senators oppose Trump's declaration or alter their position.

The basic contours of the deal are as follows: if enough Senate Republicans agree to defeat the pending resolution, the White House will agree to changes to the National Emergencies Act -- the law that Trump appears to have abused through his emergency declaration, and the law that empowers Congress to block the presidential effort.

Though the details of the changes aren't yet available, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is reportedly taking the lead on revising the National Emergencies Act so as to limit presidential power going forward.

And if that doesn't sound to you like an especially good deal, your instincts are sound.

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Image: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at Haneda Airport, in Tokyo

As Trump targets pro-democracy projects, Pompeo struggles with math

03/13/19 10:40AM

Donald Trump's new White House budget slashes investments in all kinds of important areas, and U.S. diplomatic efforts are not spared. As McClatchy News reports, the president has recommended dramatic cuts to funds that promote democracy and human rights, including efforts in Venezuela.

McClatchy quoted one senior administration, who's concerned about the conflicting messages, who said, "There is a huge disconnect between the budget folks and the policy folks. It sends a horrible message to the people in those countries. On the one hand where the president and vice president say they support the people and their struggle for freedom and democracy. And yet that priority is not reflected in the budget."

Congress, of course, will almost certainly ignore the White House's blueprint, but it was nevertheless of interest to see Secretary of State Mike Pompeo try to defend his boss' plan.

In an interview Monday with McClatchy's Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, Pompeo said the administration is working to make sure that the citizens of Venezuela no longer have "to suffer under the tragic conditions that Maduro" has forced on his people. [...]

But when pressed why make such drastic cuts at such a critical time, Pompeo pushed back. "You just have your math wrong," he said.

The next day, a senior administration official acknowledged the numbers were correct and explained the cuts were part of overall non-defense reductions.

In other words, when Pompeo insisted that reporters' math was wrong, it was he who was confused.

Unfortunately, that's been happening quite a bit lately with the nation's chief diplomat.

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The view from a witness room facing the execution chamber of a "death house" at a correctional facility. (Photo by Caroline Groussain/AFP/Getty)

Trump insists voters' will matters (but only on some issues)

03/13/19 10:01AM

California, which operates one of the largest prison systems in the world, has had the death penalty since 1978, when it was reinstated by voters through a statewide ballot measure. Today, that policy will reportedly come to an end.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is scheduled to sign an executive order Wednesday that would place a moratorium on the state's death penalty, according to his office.

NBC Los Angeles learned of Newsom's plan to use his executive authority to halt the use of the death penalty early Tuesday evening through law enforcement sources.

A subsequent statement from the governor's office detailed the plan to halt the death penalty for all 737 people on California's death row, the nation's largest. The statement includes prepared remarks Newsom planned to deliver at a Wednesday morning news conference.

The president apparently heard about the scheduled developments and published a tweet to express his dissatisfaction.

"Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers," Donald Trump wrote. "Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!"

There's no shortage of angles to this, from the president claiming to speak for people he does not know to his dubious assumption that everyone on death row is necessarily guilty.

But the two words that jumped out at me as important were "defying voters."

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A young girl grasps the hand of her newborn daughter. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/The Washington Post/Getty)

Why the GOP's paid-family-leave plan is not what it appears to be

03/13/19 09:20AM

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), two of the most conservative members of the Senate, sat down for an interview with CBS News this week to tout their paid-family-leave plan, called the "Cradle Act." Asked why the United States is so far behind the rest of the world on this issue, Ernst didn't hesitate.

"We've decided now is the time to step up and really do something about this," the Iowa Republican said. "We think it's time to catch up with other countries."

That may sound encouraging, but there's less here than meets the eye.

The GOP duo promoted their proposal with a new op-ed in the Washington Post, touting the virtues of paid family leave "without burdening either employers or taxpayers."

Our proposal, the Cradle Act, would allow both natural and adoptive parents to receive one, two or three months of paid leave benefits. A few decades down the road, those parents would then "pay" for the benefit themselves by delaying their own retirement for two, four or six months.

To choose the paid parental leave option, parents would first have to notify the Social Security Administration of their plan to take paid leave before the expected birth or adoption. Then, after parents applied for their baby's Social Security number, payments would begin in two weeks.

If this sounds at all familiar, it's because the Ernst/Lee plan is very similar to the "Economic Security for New Parents Act" unveiled by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), which we discussed last year.

In practice, both suffer from the same fundamental flaw: the plans are less of a benefit and more of a loan, from you to you.

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US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

Trump admin moves forward with policy against transgender US troops

03/13/19 08:40AM

In July 2017, Donald Trump announced a new policy via Twitter: the president would no longer allow transgender Americans to serve in the military. He hadn’t given anyone at the Pentagon a heads-up about his new discriminatory policy – officials throughout the executive branch were blindsided – and no one at the White House could explain the necessity of the change.

As regular readers may recall, Trump eventually defended the move by saying, "I think I'm doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it." I still have no idea what that meant.

Naturally, there was extensive litigation challenging the policy, but two months ago, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court allowed the White House to move forward with its ban.

Today, the Associated Press reports on how the administration is implementing the new policy, which will "largely bar transgender troops and military recruits from transitioning to another sex, and require most individuals to serve in their birth gender."

Under the new rules, currently serving transgender troops and anyone who has signed an enlistment contract by April 12 may continue with plans for hormone treatments and gender transition if they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

But after April 12, no one with gender dysphoria who is taking hormones or has transitioned to another gender will be allowed to enlist. And any currently serving troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria after April 12 will have to serve in their birth gender and will be barred from taking hormones or getting transition surgery.

The memo lays out guidelines for discharging service members based on the new policy. It says a service member can be discharged based on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria if he or she is "unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with his or her biological sex, or seeks transition to another gender."

As important as these discriminatory developments are, it's worth emphasizing that the fight isn't yet over, at least not completely.

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Travelers make their way through Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 23, 2015. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Why hasn't Trump nominated someone to lead the FAA?

03/13/19 08:00AM

Following two deadly crashes in recent months involving Boeing 737 Max 8s, countries around the world yesterday grounded the aircraft, with some declaring that the plane can no longer fly in their airspace, even if they intend to land elsewhere.

In the United States, however, as the Washington Post reported, U.S. aviation safety officials "found themselves virtually alone."

The Trump administration resisted bipartisan calls to temporarily suspend use of the Boeing 737 Max 8, even as President Trump consulted by phone with the besieged company's CEO.

With the European Union and others following China's move to bar flights by some of the American aviation giant's most important airplanes, former transportation safety officials said the Federal Aviation Administration risked losing its status as the world's aviation safety leader.

This coincided with reports of complaints from American pilots, flying American commercial flights, some of whom have said they, too, have experienced difficulties with this specific plane.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration is resisting pressure. The president spoke directly with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg -- an executive who's cultivated ties with the Republican -- who insisted that the plane is safe, and at least for now, Trump isn't taking the steps we're seeing other countries take.

At this point, one might assume the president would initiate a series of conversations with his FAA chief. That, however, apparently won't happen -- because Trump hasn't nominated anyone to lead the FAA.

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