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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump waves following a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, July 27, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

National poll: US majority wants to see Trump removed from office

01/21/20 09:20AM

As Donald Trump's impeachment trial gets underway in the Senate, a new CNN poll offers the president and his party very little in the way of encouraging news.

About half of Americans say the Senate should vote to convict President Donald Trump and remove him from office in the upcoming impeachment trial (51%), according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, while 45% say the Senate should vote against conviction and removal.

Nearly seven in 10 (69%) say that upcoming trial should feature testimony from new witnesses who did not testify in the House impeachment inquiry.

Even a plurality of Republican voters agree that the Senate should consider new information from witnesses -- a position the White House and most GOP lawmakers now oppose.

Other results add to the bleak picture for Trump: not only does the CNN poll show that a narrow majority of Americans believe the president should be removed from office, but 57% agree that Trump obstructed the House impeachment inquiry, while 58% believe he abused the powers of his office.

What's more, the picture is getting worse for the president, not better: CNN polls have been asking respondents since June 2018 whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office, and the latest 51% finding is the highest to date.

As we discussed last week, I continue to believe survey results like these represent more than just political trivia.

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Fearing Bolton's testimony, White House scrambles behind the scenes

01/21/20 08:40AM

It's not yet clear who, if anyone, senators will hear witness testimony from in Donald Trump's impeachment trial, but one name keeps coming up for a reason. Former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton has first-hand information about the president's culpability; he's volunteered to testify; and it's obvious he'd present senators with a more complete picture of what transpired in the Ukraine scandal.

All of this, evidently, is causing Trump and his allies quite a bit of anxiety.

Indeed, they're getting a little weird about it. The president tweeted yesterday, "They didn't want John Bolton and others in the House. They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!" It was bizarre: House Democrats desperately wanted to hear from Bolton and asked him to testify. As House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff reminded Trump, the president is the one who ordered Bolton to remain silent.

The Washington Post reported that there are related behind-the-scenes efforts underway, driven entirely by Republican fears of possible Bolton testimony.

President Trump's legal defense team and Senate GOP allies are quietly gaming out contingency plans should Democrats win enough votes to force witnesses to testify in the impeachment trial, including an effort to keep former national security adviser John Bolton from the spotlight, according to multiple officials familiar with the discussions. [...]

One option being discussed, according to a senior administration official, would be to move Bolton's testimony to a classified setting because of national security concerns, ensuring that it is not public.

There are two key elements to this that are worth keeping in mind as the process moves forward. First, manufacturing pretextual "national security concerns" because Republicans fear a Republican witness telling the truth is a ridiculous abuse.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As impeachment process advances, it's not just Trump who's on trial

01/21/20 08:00AM

On Dec. 18, the U.S. House impeached Donald Trump, at which point speculation shifted from the south side of the Capitol to the north side. By constitutional mandate, it would be up to the U.S. Senate to hold an impeachment trial, and the institution's members would have to decide whether to bring Trump's presidency to a premature end.

Two days later, on Dec. 20, former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, which took the form of a letter to the retired lawmaker's former Senate Republican colleagues. Flake wrote, "President Trump is on trial. But in a very real sense, so are you. And so is the political party to which we belong."

The Arizonan was one of many stressing the same point. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told CBS News' Margaret Brennan, "It isn't just the president who's on trial in an impeachment proceeding. The Senate is on trial, and we have a constitutional responsibility." A week later, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), currently the institution's longest serving member, wrote a New York Times op-ed that added, "[I]t will not just be President Trump on trial. The Senate -- and indeed, truth itself -- will stand trial."

Last week, as the House prepared to send the articles of impeachment to the upper chamber, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) echoed the message: "The Senate is on trial as well as the president."

It's against this backdrop that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has crafted a blueprint for the trial that appears designed to ensure that Donald Trump wins and the Senate loses.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will allot each side a total of 24 hours to present their arguments in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, but the time must be confined to two working days, according to the text of his organizing resolution, which NBC News obtained Monday.

The proposal also suggests that none of the evidence collected as part of the House's impeachment inquiry will be admitted automatically. Instead, according to the text, the Senate will vote later on whether to admit any documents.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but it appears the fix is in -- or at least it will be, if McConnell's plan is implemented.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.20.20

01/20/20 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* On the eve of the impeachment trial's first day: "President Donald Trump did 'absolutely nothing wrong,' is the victim of a partisan plot to take him down and should be swiftly acquitted in a Senate trial, his legal team argued in a brief Monday."

* Fortunately, there was no violence: "Thousands of gun-rights activists, banned from carrying their weapons out of fear of violence, crammed into the Virginia Capitol on Monday to urge state lawmakers to reject sweeping measures to limit the spread of firearms."

* I have a hunch Barr won't agree: "Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, has sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr requesting that he recuse himself from the investigation and appoint a special prosecutor, according to a new court filing."

* Keep an eye on this one: "A long-simmering conflict between the National Security Agency and the House Intelligence Committee broke into the open on Sunday when the committee's chairman, Representative Adam B. Schiff, accused the agency of withholding critical intelligence from his panel, including some that might be useful in the impeachment trial of President Trump."

* This one's shaping up to be interesting, too: "Andrew Peek, the senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, has been placed on administrative leave pending a security-related investigation, people familiar with the situation tell Axios."

* Trump used to think very little of Ken Starr, who's now part of his team: "President Trump on Friday chose the people who will be defending him at his impeachment trial. And one of them is 'a lunatic' who was 'a disaster' during the last impeachment of a president, according to Trump himself."

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Image: Rep. Chris Collins

One of Trump's top congressional allies sentenced in corruption case

01/20/20 03:02PM

When then-Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) was first brought up on federal corruption charges, the New York Republican -- the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump -- initially pleaded not guilty. In September, Collins reversed course and acknowledged what was plainly true: he did what prosecutors accused him of doing.

The Buffalo News reported late last week on his sentence.

Chris Collins cried so hard that many of his words got lost in his anguish.

But that act of contrition only meant so much to U.S. District Court Judge Vernon S. Broderick, who on Friday sentenced Collins to 26 months in prison for launching an insider trading scheme with a call to his son from a White House picnic in June 2017.... Broderick also fined Collins $200,000. And once he leaves prison, the former four-term Republican lawmaker from Clarence will have to go through one year of supervised release.

Stepping back, I think there are a few angles to this that are worth keeping in mind. The first is that the evidence against Collins was ridiculously strong. Had he gone to trial, the disgraced former congressman would've lost.

Second, the list of people close to Trump who've ended up in prison is alarmingly long, and it may yet grow longer. Former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is awaiting sentencing, and so is former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the second congressional Republican to endorse Trump's 2016 candidacy.

And third, I'll be eager to see if Collins seeks some kind of presidential pardon.

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Team Trump: Presidents can't be impeached for abuses of power

01/20/20 12:35PM

With Donald Trump's impeachment trial poised to begin tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives filed a "Trial Memorandum and Statement of Material Facts" with the office of the Secretary of the Senate on Saturday afternoon. The purpose of the document was simple: the Democratic-led House's brief was intended to establish the president's guilt, while reviewing the case the impeachment "managers" will present at trial.

The 111-page document is a persuasive, substantive, well-researched, and thoroughly footnoted indictment against a president who, according to overwhelming and uncontested evidence, abused the powers of his office as part of an unprecedented extortion scheme. It concludes by asking senators to do their duty and bring Trump's presidency to an end.

A few hours later, the White House submitted a short "answer" to the House's allegations. As the New York Times reported:

In a six-page filing formally responding to the House impeachment charges submitted shortly after and filled with partisan barbs against House Democrats, Mr. Trump's lawyers denounced the case as constitutionally and legally invalid, and driven purely by a desire to hurt Mr. Trump in the 2020 election. [...]

The president's lawyers did not deny any of the core facts underlying Democrats' charges, conceding what considerable evidence and testimony in the House has shown: that he withheld $391 million in aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine and asked the country's president to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, Hunter Biden.

But they said Mr. Trump broke no laws and was acting entirely appropriately and within his powers when he did so, echoing his repeated protestations of his own innocence. They argued that he was not seeking political advantage, but working to root out corruption in Ukraine.

The entirety of the surprisingly short White House argument is online here (pdf), and I think it's fair to say it is not an impressive document. Paul Waldman joked, "[I]t reads as though it was written by a ninth-grader who saw an episode of Law & Order and learned just enough legal terms to throw them around incorrectly."

But while it's true that most of the missive was familiar palaver, there was one element worth dwelling on.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.20.20

01/20/20 12:00PM

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

* As Democratic presidential hopefuls fight for positioning in Iowa, the editorial board of the Quad City Times endorsed Amy Klobuchar's candidacy over the weekend. Around this time four years ago, the same newspaper endorsed Bernie Sanders.

* Speaking of newspaper endorsements, the editorial board of the New York Times caused a bit of a stir overnight, publishing an editorial endorsing both Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.

* Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, picked up the backing of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who has also agreed to serve as the national health policy chair for the Vermont senator's campaign. Sanders now has seven endorsements from sitting U.S. House members.

* With just two weeks remaining before the Iowa caucuses, a Focus on Rural America poll found Joe Biden leading the pack with 24%, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 18%, and Pete Buttigieg at 16 percent. Bernie Sanders was right behind them in the poll with 14%, and Amy Klobuchar also reached double digits, showing 11% support.

* The DNC has unveiled the participation thresholds for the next presidential primary debate, scheduled for Feb. 3 in New Hampshire. To qualify, candidates will need donations from at least 225,000 unique donors, as well two polls with 7% support in early contests or four polls with 5% support in early contests or national surveys. As things stand, each of the six candidates who met in last week's poll have already qualified to be on the stage in the next debate.

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Trump's team is what happens 'when you don't pay your legal bills'

01/20/20 11:30AM

It wasn't until late last week that Donald Trump's legal team expanded in preparation for the Senate's impeachment trial, and as the Center for a New American Security's Carrie Cordero noted, it's not exactly a powerhouse roster.

"Contrary to tone of some coverage, I'm struck by the *lack* of conservative legal star power on Trump's impeachment team," Cordero wrote, adding that there's "no credible constitutional superstar."

George Conway appeared to be thinking along the same lines, arguing in a Washington Post op-ed, "This is what happens when you don't pay your legal bills."

President Trump, whose businesses and now campaign have left a long trail of unpaid bills behind them, has never discriminated when it comes to stiffing people who work for him. That includes lawyers -- which is part of the reason he found the need to make some curious last-minute tweaks to his team, announcing the addition of the legal odd couple of Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth W. Starr.

The president has consistently encountered difficulty in hiring good lawyers to defend him. In 2017, after Robert S. Mueller III became special counsel, Trump couldn't find a high-end law firm that would take him as a client. His reputation for nonpayment preceded him: One major Manhattan firm I know had once been forced to eat bills for millions in bond work it once did for Trump. No doubt other members of the legal community knew of other examples.

Of course, being cheap wasn't the only reason Trump struck out among the nation's legal elite. There was the fact that he would be an erratic client who'd never take reasonable direction -- direction as in shut up and stop tweeting.

There was a point a couple of years ago, as the president's Russia scandal was intensifying, when he needed sound legal representation and bragged that the "top" law firms were eager to take him on as a client. That was very hard to believe: I put together a list in April 2018 of the lawyers who'd turned Trump down, and it wasn't an especially short list.

There's been no comparable reporting of late about specific, high-profile lawyers rejecting the president's overtures ahead of his impeachment trial, but it seems as if Trump has ended up with a group of attorneys he chose because he saw them on television.

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Larry Kudlow

White House eyes backward steps on anti-bribery laws

01/20/20 11:01AM

It's called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and its purpose is simple: as part of the United States' effort to combat global corruption, federal law prevents American businesses from paying bribes to foreign officials.

Donald Trump has made no effort to hide his contempt for this law.

In fact, NBC News' Richard Engel appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show a couple of years ago and highlighted a 2012 quote from Trump, in which the future president said, in reference to FCPA, "Now, every other country goes into these places, and they do what they have to do. It's a horrible law and it should be changed. I mean, we're like the policeman for the world. It's ridiculous."

The New York Republican didn't forget about his opposition to the law after taking office. A new book from the Washington Post's Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig reports that Trump clashed with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in early 2017 because the new president wanted to get rid of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. "It's just so unfair that American companies aren't allowed to pay bribes to get business overseas," Trump reportedly said at the time.

The same book added that Trump directed Stephen Miller to draft an executive action to repeal the law. (Executive actions cannot simply repeal federal laws, though the president apparently didn't care.)

Nearly three years later, Team Trump hasn't lost sight of the president's interest in this.

The Trump administration is "looking at" making changes to a decades-old global anti-bribery law, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow told reporters on Friday.

"We are looking at it, and we have heard some complaints from our companies," Kudlow said, responding to a question about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The law generally prohibits American companies from paying bribes to secure contracts overseas. "I don't want to say anything definitive policy-wise, but we are looking at it," Kudlow added.

It's amazing on its face that Trump and his team are eager to make foreign bribes easier, but it's the larger political context that makes the story all the more extraordinary.

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A twenty dollar bill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

As deficits soar, Trump asks, 'Who the hell cares about the budget?'

01/20/20 10:30AM

Donald Trump delivered remarks at a private dinner with wealthy donors Friday night at Mar-a-Lago, and as the Washington Post reported, the president shared some thoughts about the nation's finances.

To those who criticized his spending and the growing national debt, Trump said: "Who the hell cares about the budget? We're going to have a country."

For most of President Barack Obama's time in office, Republicans seemed to care very much about the budget, making fears around the national debt and deficit their top talking point. They've backed off those concerns under Trump.

The Republican's comments came just four days after the Trump administration reported that the annual budget deficit surpassed $1 trillion in 2019, despite the growing economy, and despite the fact that Trump promised voters he'd produce the opposite results.

Trump has now added $2.6 trillion to the national debt in just three years -- more than Obama added to the debt in his entire second term.

It's against this backdrop that the current president has chosen ... indifference. And though I'm generally loath to agree with Trump, his blunt rhetorical question -- "Who the hell cares about the budget?" -- may have some merit.

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