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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.11.19

10/11/19 12:00PM

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

* Louisiana will hold its first round of balloting tomorrow in its gubernatorial race, and Donald Trump will visit the state tonight to rally the Republican troops. Incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) is expected to outpace his GOP rivals, and if Edwards tops the 50% threshold tomorrow, there will be no second round of voting next month.

* Speaking of presidential travel, Trump was in Minneapolis last night for an unusually long campaign rally, at which he attacked all kinds of foes, targeting Joe Biden with particular zeal.

* Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) was planning a comeback next year, but now that he appears to be "Congressman-1" in the indictment of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman -- Rudy Giuliani's associates who were arrested this week -- the Texan's political future is again in doubt.

* On a related note, many of the Republicans who received contributions from Parnas and Fruman are scrambling to either give the money back or donate it to charity.

* While most national Democratic presidential primary polls show Joe Biden's lead over Elizabeth Warren disappearing, Fox News' latest national poll shows the former vice president leading the Massachusetts senator, 32% to 22%. Bernie Sanders is third in the poll with 17%. (Also of interest, Beto O'Rourke reached 3% in the Fox poll, which moves him a little closer to qualifying for the party's November primary debate.)

* As for the general election, Fox's poll found Biden and Warren leading Trump by 10 points each, while Sanders leads the president in a hypothetical match-up by nine points.

* Forty-five years ago, Rep. Larry Hogan Sr. (R-Md.) was the first Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to vote to impeach Richard Nixon. Yesterday, his son, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. (R), announced his support for Congress' impeachment inquiry into Trump.

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In Ukraine, is the quid suddenly meeting the quo?

10/11/19 11:20AM

Donald Trump is likely to be impeached, at least in part because of a scheme the White House hatched to get Ukraine to go after one of the president's domestic rivals. As the scandal has unfolded, an obvious quid pro quo has come into focus: Ukraine needed military aid; Trump wanted something he could use to defeat Joe Biden; and the Republican hoped to trade one for the other.

Recently disclosed text messages showed Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, asking U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, "Are we now saying that security assistance and [a White House] meeting are conditioned on investigations?" In a subsequent message, Taylor added, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

But while Americans continue to learn new details about the scandal, let's not overlook what's happening at the same time in Kiev. The Wall Street Journal reported late last week:

Ukraine's prosecutor general's office said Friday it is reviewing past investigations into the owner of a gas company linked to former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's son, raising the possibility of restarting probes amid pressure from President Trump.

For the past several months, the Trump White House has pushed the authorities in Kyiv to investigate Burisma Group, a big gas-production company, and the role there of Hunter Biden, who served on its board, along with actions of Mr. Biden when he was overseeing U.S. policy toward Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported yesterday:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says his country will "happily" investigate whether Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Zelenskiy told reporters Thursday that "we can't say yes or no" as to whether there was any interference without an investigation. He said it's in Ukraine's interest to determine what happened.

The Ukrainian president also insisted yesterday that Trump didn't try to "blackmail" him.

Or put another way, Ukraine now appears to be saying and doing what Donald Trump wanted Ukraine to say and do.

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Image: US Secretary of State Tillerson rebukes resignation reports

Trump's other new scandal takes an even more serious turn

10/11/19 10:50AM

When Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, was taken into federal custody in 2016, he faced some pretty serious charges. According to American prosecutors, Zarrab played a key role in a scheme to funnel billions of dollars to Iran, in defiance of U.S. sanctions.

As part of his defense, Zarrab hired a Republican lawyer whose work you may be familiar with. His name is Rudy Giuliani.

If you saw Wednesday night's show, you know Bloomberg News ran a striking report this week, alleging that Donald Trump personally pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to intervene in the case, encouraging the nation's chief diplomat to tell the Justice Department to back off the prosecution. Tillerson refused.

For his part, Giuliani conceded to Bloomberg News that he may have "dropped" his client's name "in a conversation" with Trump. According to the New York Times' latest reporting, Giuliani did a whole lot more than that.

During a contentious Oval Office meeting with President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017, Rudolph W. Giuliani pressed for help in securing the release of a jailed client, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, as part of a potential prisoner swap with Turkey.

The request by Mr. Giuliani provoked an immediate objection from Mr. Tillerson, who argued that it would be highly inappropriate to interfere in an open criminal case, according to two people briefed on the meeting.... But at the White House meeting in early 2017, Mr. Giuliani and his longtime friend and colleague, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, pushed back on Mr. Tillerson's objections.

It's worth noting for context that at the time of this White House meeting, Giuliani was not yet a member of the president's legal team. In other words, Trump invited his secretary of State into the Oval Office for a meeting, at which point Tillerson was lobbied by Giuliani -- a man with no formal ties to the administration or the president -- to help derail a criminal case against a man accused of circumventing U.S. sanctions on Iran.

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Despite US soldiers in Syria, Trump says, 'We have no soldiers in Syria'

10/11/19 10:09AM

The first sign of trouble came in November 2016, about two weeks after the U.S. presidential election, when Donald Trump sat down with the New York Times and said he had some "strong ideas" about Syria. The article about the interview added at the time, "He declined to say what those ideas are despite several requests to do so."

Six months later, the Republican president declared with pride, "We're not going into Syria." It was problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the United States already had troops in Syria.

In late 2018, Trump ignored his team and announced a precipitous withdrawal of all U.S. troops, assuring Americans that "our boys, our young women, our men, they're all coming back." The president quietly abandoned that commitment soon after.

All of which helped set the stage for yesterday, when we were reminded anew that the president is a slow learner. Trump boasted to reporters yesterday afternoon, "Look, we have no soldiers in Syria. We've won.... We have no soldiers." He echoed the rhetoric at a campaign rally in Minneapolis last night, telling supporters he decided to bring Americans troops "back home."

"We don't have any soldiers there because we left, we won, we left, take a victory United States," he said. "Bring our troops back home." [...]

"It's time to bring them home, we've done our job," he added.

What amazed me wasn't just Trump's willingness to make demonstrably false claims, but also his apparent unfamiliarity with the most basic elements of his own policy.

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Image: National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster

McMaster: 'Absolutely' inappropriate to solicit foreign assistance

10/11/19 09:20AM

It's not common for former prominent members of Donald Trump's inner circle to criticize the president, which made former White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster's comments yesterday all the more notable. From a Foundation for Defense of Democracies event:

REPORTER: Is it appropriate for the president of the United States to solicit foreign interference in our political process?

MCMASTER: Of course, no. No, it's absolutely not. And of course, what has to happen here is seeing our democracy play out, our separation of powers play out. And for the American people, through their representatives in Congress, to make a judgment of whether that happened.

Republicans senators such as Iowa's Joni Ernst and Colorado's Cory Gardner should take note. There's a core question about whether a president should seek foreign campaign assistance, and McMaster, a retired three-star Army general, answered it the right way.

Of course, it's not appropriate. It's "absolutely not" the right thing to do.

It took a little courage for the president's former national security adviser to effectively denounce his former boss' actions, but McMaster did it anyway. Trump has reportedly kept in touch with the retired general -- by some accounts, the president has told McMaster he misses him -- though it seems likely their relationship will turn frostier now that McMaster took a principled stand in public.

Just as importantly, the former White House national security adviser isn't impressed with his former boss' new policy in Syria, either.

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Trump makes clear he wasn't kidding about seeking foreign campaign help

10/11/19 08:40AM

There's a long list of instances in which Donald Trump has acted impulsively on assorted whims, but the president's scheme to get foreign assistance for his re-election campaign was altogether different. It was a deliberate scheme, planned out in some detail, involving presidential orders to a variety of people, including officials within his administration.

The scandal surrounding this plan grew more serious last week when Americans saw Trump, desperate and afraid of losing, publicly appeal to foreign countries to do his re-election campaign a favor -- again.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the president's appeal wasn't "real," because Trump was kidding. The Florida senator added that the president was simply "needling the press." Soon after, Republicans ran with this as a talking point, with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) arguing over the weekend that Trump wasn't "serious" about getting foreign countries to go after a domestic rival.

It was against this backdrop that there was a notable exchange during a brief presidential Q&A with reporters yesterday afternoon:

Q: Were you joking when you asked China to investigate?

TRUMP: China has to do whatever they want. If they want to look into something, they can look into it. If they don't want to look into it, they don't have to. Frankly, are far as I'm concerned, if China wants to look into something, I think that's great. And if they don't want to, I think that's great too. That's up to China.

Or put another way, the president obviously wasn't kidding about having Beijing pursue a baseless conspiracy regarding the Bidens.

It's a problem for those who go out on a limb in support of Donald Trump: the Republican has a tendency to saw those limbs off, indifferent to the impact on his ostensible supporters.

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The first arrests of Donald Trump's impeachment crisis

10/11/19 08:00AM

At first blush, the charges against Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two highly controversial associates of Rudy Giuliani, might make yesterday's developments look like a campaign-finance scandal. And to a certain extent, that's a key piece of the puzzle: the Florida businessmen stand accused of funneling very large amounts of illegal campaign contributions to various Republican politicians and political entities, including a leading super PAC allied with Donald Trump.

What's more, according to prosecutors -- who took Parnas and Fruman into custody shortly before they were prepared to take a one-way flight out of the country -- the two cooked up a variety of schemes to make illegal donations to Republicans.

But this isn't just a campaign-finance controversy, and it's important to appreciate what else these guys were up to.

[Parnas and Fruman] were helping President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani set up meetings with high level Ukrainian officials, according to documents obtained by the State Department inspector general. Giuliani has acknowledged that he lobbied those people to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 campaign, in what Democrats say was an effort to uncover dirt on the president's political enemies.

While the nature of the criminal charges obviously matter, yesterday's developments are also a key ingredient to the larger impeachment crisis unfolding around Donald Trump.

It's impossible to do this justice in a single blog post, so I'll just encourage you to watch Rachel's A block from last night. In the meantime, though, let's pause to note that Parnas and Fruman may not be the only ones who'll face charges.

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Criminality taints Giuliani role in Trump Ukraine scheme

Criminality taints Giuliani role in Trump Ukraine scheme

10/10/19 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the arrests of two associates of Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were working on the Ukraine scheme that is now the subject of the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry, for FEC violations related to funneling foreign money to a Trump-supporting super PAC. Giuliani also consulted with convicted felon Paul... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.10.19

10/10/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "Two foreign-born associates of Rudy Giuliani who gave money to a political action committee supporting President Donald Trump were arrested Wednesday night on criminal charges tied to an alleged effort to influence U.S. politics with illegal campaign contributions."

* Perry subpoena: "House Democrats issued a subpoena to Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Thursday, the latest salvo in the party's impeachment probe into whether President Donald Trump abused his power through his interactions with the leadership of Ukraine."

* Turkey: "Shells and rockets landed in several Turkish border towns on Thursday, killing four civilians, one of them an infant, and wounding 70, in a sharp escalation of the conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish-led militia that fought alongside American forces in the campaign against Islamist extremists in northern Syria."

* In related news: "The U.S. military is taking custody of several dozen high-value Islamic State detainees, including two British men accused of involvement in the militant group's summary executions of American and other Western hostages. The action is designed to prevent their escape or release from camps in Syria, where they have been guarded by Kurdish forces now under threat from Turkey's incursion, according to U.S. officials."

* Pacific Gas & Electric Corp: "Californians from the governor on down slammed the state's largest utility Wednesday for rolling blackouts that could plunge up to 2 million people into darkness as it scrambles to keep its power lines from sparking wildfires."

* Team Trump shifts on Huawei: "The White House has signed off on special licenses for some U.S. companies to do some business with Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co., according to a person familiar with the process."

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Senator-elect, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner delivers his victory speech to supporters during a GOP election night gathering at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center, in Denver, Colo. on Nov. 4, 2014. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

Colorado's Gardner trips over a basic question on Trump scandal

10/10/19 03:33PM

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) was asked yesterday whether she believes it's appropriate or not for a president to solicit campaign assistance from a foreign power. She wouldn't answer directly -- despite repeated journalistic efforts.

Given how embarrassing it was to see the far-right Iowan struggle through a clumsy effort at dodging a simple question, it stood to reason other Republicans would see that and realize they should probably come up with some kind of coherent answer. And yet, a reporter asked Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) this morning:

"Do you believe it's appropriate for the president of the United States to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival? Yes or no?"

Gardner -- who happens to be up for re-election in an increasingly "blue" state next year -- said a lot of words, none of which answered the question. Another reporter asked the same question, and the Colorado Republican again dodged.

The back and forth continued for a while, but Gardner simply wouldn't say whether he believes it's appropriate for a president to ask foreign officials to go after a domestic rival.

The GOP senator was, however, willing to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a "partisan partisanized effort."

It's not a trick question. One need not be a strategic genius or professional messaging consultant to figure this out.

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The most dangerous word in Donald Trump's vocabulary: 'Easy'

10/10/19 12:56PM

Donald Trump made all kinds of strange comments at a White House event yesterday, but the Washington Post picked up on one of the presidential remarks that stood out the most for me.

President Trump said Wednesday that it would be "easy" for the United States to form new alliances if Syrian Kurds leave the fight against the Islamic State to fend off a Turkish attack, noting that "they didn't help us in the Second World War, they didn't help us in Normandy" and were only interested in fighting for "their land."

As the official transcript makes clear, a reporter reminded the president how critical the Kurds have been in the fight against ISIS, adding, "By allowing this offensive [against the Kurds by Turkey], is it going to be more difficult in future times of need to develop alliances?"

"No, it won't be," Trump replied. "It won't be at all. Alliances are very easy." It was part of this same answer that the Republican went on to complain about the Kurds not meeting his expectations during World War II.

The president seemed quite pleased with his ridiculous comments, publishing them to Twitter, and touting how "different" they were.

The problem, of course, is that the point of the reporter's question was right and Trump was wrong. As the United States abandons its allies in Syria -- based on a decision the president made on a whim, without any real policymaking process -- the world takes note, and our already damaged credibility suffers further.

"Alliances are very easy"? For countries that honor their commitments, stand by their allies, and demonstrate sound judgment on the international stage, maybe. But the current American president seems wholly oblivious to the challenges of creating and sustaining alliances in a time when our foreign policy is shaped by an erratic amateur who's too often confused between friend and foe.

Sally Canfield, a former aide to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, wrote on Twitter yesterday, "So let me get this straight. Basically the President of the United States helped coordinate an attack on an ally."

It's the sort of thing that makes cultivating and maintaining alliances less than "easy."

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.10.19

10/10/19 12:00PM

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

* A day after saying he intended to scale back his campaign schedule in the wake of his heart attack, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told NBC News yesterday he "misspoke" and intends to "get back into the groove of a very vigorous campaign."

* On a related note, the Vermont senator said he knew about the heart attack for a few days before it was disclosed to the public, but Sanders added that he's nevertheless comfortable with the way his campaign handled the matter. "No apologies," he said.

* Joe Biden yesterday made an unequivocal statement in support for Donald Trump's impeachment, a step he'd previously been reluctant to take.

* On a related note, the former vice president's campaign sent a written complaint to New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet yesterday, questioning the newspaper's decision to publish an op-ed from Peter Schweizer and pointing to what Team Biden sees as a larger pattern of "journalistic malpractice."

* And speaking of Biden's campaign, it also reached out to Facebook about taking down a Trump campaign attack ad that includes demonstrably false claims. The social-media giant refused.

* Despite having qualified for next week's Democratic presidential primary debate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is now saying she may boycott the event in order to protest a process she believes is "rigged" against her and candidates like her.

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said this week that she would continue to forgo big-dollar fundraising events, even if she wins her party's presidential nomination next year. The senator later clarified, however, that she'd headline high-dollar events for the Democratic Party, but not to benefit her own campaign directly.

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