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E.g., 9/19/2019

Monday's Mini-Report, 9.9.19

09/09/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Keep a close eye on this one: "President Donald Trump on Monday downplayed the idea of allowing Bahamians fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Dorian into the United States on humanitarian grounds, hours after his acting Customs and Border Protection chief said it was worth considering."

* NOAA: "The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's acting chief scientist said that he would investigate why the agency backed President Donald Trump's claims about Hurricane Dorian hitting Alabama over its own forecasters."

* In related news: "Also on Monday, the director of the National Weather Service broke with NOAA leadership over its handling of Trump's Dorian tweets and statements."

* Whether this will remain his position, no one knows: "President Trump declared that peace talks with the Taliban were 'dead, as far as I'm concerned,' saying he called off a meeting at Camp David after the militant group in Afghanistan killed 12 people, including one American soldier."

* This is bound to be interesting: "House Democrats announced Monday that they will investigate the role of President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in what they characterized as efforts to influence the government of Ukraine to help the Trump re-election campaign."

* In related news: "The Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are urging the White House to release security assistance funds for Ukraine meant to deter Russia."

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A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

White House struggles to explain underwhelming job growth

09/09/19 02:58PM

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest jobs numbers late last week, and the results were less than encouraging. The economy added 130,000 jobs in August, short of expectations, and a number that was artificially inflated by 25,000 temporary workers hired by the Census Bureau.

It's never wise to overreact to one month's jobs figures -- we routinely see outliers for one reason or another -- but for those concerned about a possible recession, the latest data didn't help. Making matters slightly worse, U.S. job growth has slowed quite a bit since Donald Trump took office.

The White House has offered some responses. They're not especially persuasive.

Lawrence Kudlow, President Donald Trump's top economic adviser, shrugged off a disappointing jobs report by saying August "is always a quirky month."

Well, maybe. Looking back over the last few years, some Augusts have looked great, others less so. But what Kudlow should probably appreciate is the fact that the broader concerns aren't limited to August. As things stand, 2019 is on track to be the worst year for American job creation this decade. The White House may find it tough to dismiss it as a "quirky" year.

Which led us to the second talking point.

President Trump lashed out Friday at the news media after the release of an underwhelming August jobs report, accusing journalists of stoking anxiety about a potential recession.

"The Economy is great. The only thing adding to 'uncertainty' is the Fake News!" Trump tweeted Friday, hours after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released an August jobs report that fell below expectations.

American news organizations were around last year, when job growth was stronger. The president will have to do better than this.

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On high crimes, the question shifts from 'whether' to 'how many'

09/09/19 12:57PM

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that Donald Trump was so desperate to expand border barriers ahead of his 2020 campaign that he'd directed aides to "aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules." Those who were caught running afoul of the law, the president reportedly added, would be rewarded with presidential pardons.

The day the article was published, MSNBC's Chris Hayes wrote on Twitter, "This is, I think, pretty unambiguously a high crime/misdemeanor." And when I saw the tweet, I immediately nodded in agreement. There's plenty of scholarly debate about what meets the threshold for presidential misconduct worthy of impeachment, but it seems more than reasonable to think offering pardons to those who commit crimes while scrambling to build an unnecessary "wall" with raided funds in defiance of Congress' wishes probably crosses the line.

But what's unsettling is just how often political observers are confronted with the same question. It's little wonder that the congressional impeachment inquiry is due to expand.

House Democrats return to Washington this week poised to significantly broaden their nascent impeachment inquiry into President Trump beyond the findings of the Russia investigation, but they will confront a fast-dwindling political clock.

Undeterred by lackluster public support for impeachment, Democratic lawmakers and aides have sketched out a robust four-month itinerary of hearings and court arguments that they hope will provide the evidence they need to credibly portray Mr. Trump as corrupt and abusing his power.

I won't pretend to know what's going to happen as a result of these inquiries or the vigor with which they'll be pursued. It's no secret that much of the House Democratic leadership is deeply skeptical of impeaching Trump -- not because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies think he's innocent, but because they think the process will help him win a second term, especially after the Republican-led Senate quickly ignores any articles of impeachment approved by the lower chamber.

But tactical considerations aside, it seems the underlying question isn't whether Trump is facing credible allegations of high crimes and misdemeanors, but how many high crimes and misdemeanors the president may have committed.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.9.19

09/09/19 12:00PM

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

* A Washington Post/ABC News poll released over the weekend found former Vice President Joe Biden leading the Democratic 2020 presidential field nationally with 29%, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders with 19%, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 18%. Sen. Kamala Harris, at 7%, was the only other candidate above 5%. It's also worth noting that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was at 2%, which may help her qualify for the party's debate in October.

* On a related note, Tom Steyer reached 2% in Nevada in a CBS News poll, which means he will be the 11th candidate to qualify for the October debates. It also means we're likely to see back-to-back debates on successive nights again, unlike this week, when 10 candidates share a single stage.

* It's Election Day in two North Carolina congressional districts tomorrow, and Donald Trump will be in the Tar Heel State tonight, hoping to rally support for the GOP candidate, Dan Bishop, in the competitive do-over race in the 9th district. The president has also published a few related tweets on the race in recent days.

* Mark Sanford, a former South Carolina governor and former three-term congressman, announced on Fox News yesterday that he's running against Trump in a GOP presidential primary.

* In related news, Sanford will not have the ability to vote for himself: South Carolina Republicans agreed over the weekend to cancel the state's 2020 Republican presidential primary in order to protect Trump.

* At a campaign event in New Hampshire, Kamala Harris became the latest Democratic presidential hopeful to endorse mandatory buybacks of military-style assault weapons, though she conceded officials would have to "work out the details."

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Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Pompeo's whopper: Team Trump is the most science-friendly in history

09/09/19 11:13AM

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at an event Kansas on Friday, where he fielded a question from a Kansas State University physics professor who asked a very good question.

"As you know, there have been an exodus of scientists across many of the federal agencies. This exodus has been driven largely because the results of their work has been suppressed. Indeed, recently a well-regarded physicist/chemist Dr. Rod Schoonover left the U.S. Department of State due to the suppression of even a security-cleared version of his assessment on the impact of climate change on national security. I add parenthetically that, in my opinion, the Department of State can ill afford the loss of any good scientists.

"My question is: Do you support the suppression of scientific reports from within the U.S. Department of State? If not, how did this happen? And if so, why?"

Pompeo was less impressed with the question than I was.

"Well, it won't shock you that I disagree with most of what you just said. Of course, no one supports the absence of science. I would argue that this State Department -- indeed, this administration -- has relied on science far more than the previous administration, and I would argue more than any administration in history. [...]

"We turn to scientists and facts-based approaches to every single difficult challenge we face every day."

I realize the cabinet secretary was able to say all of this with a straight face. That's part of the problem. The idea that the Trump administration has set a historically high bar, relying on science in ways that exceed every administration in the history of the country, is completely bonkers.

Indeed, the timing of Pompeo's comments was almost comical: the same day the Kansas Republican praised Team Trump's handling of science, Trump's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration threw National Weather Service scientists under the bus for daring to tell the public truths the president didn't like.

The ridiculous incident signaled to scientists throughout the government that there's an expectation their work will be in accordance with the White House's political vision.

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Afghan former Taliban fighters are photographed holding weapons before they hand them over as part of a government peace and reconciliation process at a ceremony in Jalalabad on Feb. 8, 2015. (Photo by Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty)

How and why Trump's talks with the Taliban unraveled

09/09/19 10:36AM

Before launching his presidential campaign in 2015, Donald Trump categorically condemned the idea of "negotiating with terrorists." In 2012, with U.S. military leaders directly engaged in talks with the Taliban in the hopes of ending the war in Afghanistan, the New York Republican was disgusted with Barack Obama for "negotiating with our sworn enemy the Taliban -- who facilitated 9/11."

After taking office, Trump and his team, not surprisingly, negotiated with the Taliban, though the American president's posture didn't exactly help advance the diplomatic goals. Politico reported a month ago that the Republican's public statements about his eagerness to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan "have weakened the hand of his negotiators by making it clear just how desperately the president wants a deal."

The talks nevertheless proceeded, and appeared close to some kind of resolution, right up until Saturday night, when the world learned of some unexpected news by way of Trump's Twitter feed.

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he was calling off "peace negotiations" with Taliban leadership after a U.S. service member was killed in a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Trump tweeted that he was scheduled to hold a secret meeting at Camp David Sunday with Taliban leadership and, separately, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The United States has been working on a deal with the group that harbored 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden to pull troops out of Afghanistan and end the nation's longest war.

The Twitter thread, on its face, was a little strange. The American president said he'd arranged for a secret trip, bringing Afghanistan's president and Taliban leaders to Camp David. According to Trump, however, a recent Taliban attack, which left an American servicemember dead, derailed the process. He added that he was amazed that the Taliban wouldn't "agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks."

There was no shortage of questions. Why was Trump negotiating with the Taliban after denouncing negotiations with the Taliban? Why would Trump bring Taliban leaders to Camp David? Why would Trump bring Taliban leaders to American soil the same week as the anniversary of 9/11?

If deadly Taliban attacks on American servicemen and women were a deal-breaker for Trump, why did his administration keep the talks going during previous Taliban murders? If Trump expected a cease-fire during the diplomatic efforts, why did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appear on multiple Sunday shows yesterday, assuring the public that "in the last ten days," U.S. forces have killed "over 1,000 Taliban" troops?

Additional reporting following the tweets brought relevant details into sharper focus.

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Is Trump shaking down Ukraine for 2020 election assistance?

09/09/19 09:20AM

After Vladimir Putin's Russian government invaded Ukraine in 2014, the United States took a series of specific steps. We established a new defense initiative for parts of Europe; we kicked Russia out of the G-8; and we imposed harsh new economic sanctions on Moscow.

After Donald Trump became president, he defunded the defense initiative (raiding the budget to pay for border barriers), called for Russia's re-entry into what is now the G-7, and held off on implementing Russian sanctions.

But as Rachel explained on the show last week, there's something else the United States did after Russia invaded one of its neighbors: we increased our military aid to Ukraine. Trump, true to form, has delayed following through on that commitment, ignoring the advice of Pentagon officials.

It's against this backdrop that the editorial board of the Washington Post published a rather extraordinary piece the other day, making the case that the Republican president is trying to leverage that support for reasons that are almost hard to believe.

Some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence. But we're reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.

Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine's help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.

So let me get this straight. We committed aid to Ukraine. The Pentagon urged Trump to follow through on that commitment. According to the reliably centrist editorial board of the Washington Post, Trump said he'd consider honoring that commitment, but only if a foreign government agreed to take steps to help influence the American presidential election in 2020.

Or put another way, the sitting American president is telling Ukraine, in classic shakedown fashion, "It's a nice aid package we have here, which you need for security reasons. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."

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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)

Scandal surrounding Trump's self-dealing takes an unsettling turn

09/09/19 08:40AM

Not long before Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015, he was publicly determined to help the Prestwick Airport in Scotland succeed. As late as March 30, 2015, less than three months before kicking off his White House bid, the Republican was focusing attention on bolstering the Scottish facility.

There was no great mystery about the motivations behind his efforts: Trump's Turnberry resort in Scotland was losing money and its future would be even bleaker if the Prestwick Airport failed. It stood to reason that he'd take steps to prop up the facility because of its direct relevance to his struggling business.

The larger question, of course, is just how far Trump would go to prop up the airport. Keep that in mind when reading Politico's amazing scoop from Friday night.

In early Spring of this year, an Air National Guard crew made a routine trip from the U.S. to Kuwait to deliver supplies. What wasn't routine was where the crew stopped along the way: President Donald Trump's Turnberry resort, about 50 miles outside Glasgow, Scotland.

Since April, the House Oversight Committee has been investigating why the crew on the C-17 military transport plane made the unusual stay -- both en route to the Middle East and on the way back -- at the luxury waterside resort, according to several people familiar with the incident. But they have yet to receive any answers from the Pentagon.

The pace of Trump's self-dealing scandals has clearly been picking up of late. Last week, we learned that Vice President Mike Pence and his sizable entourage traveled to Ireland and stayed at Trump's business -- at the president's "suggestion" -- which is on the other side of the country from his scheduled meetings in Dublin. The questions about corruption were hard to dismiss.

The week before, Trump suggested he was prepared to lobby for the next G7 summit to be held at his business in Miami, creating a situation in which leaders of many of the world's most powerful countries would be required to spend considerable resources at a struggling business in order to participate in official diplomatic engagements with the U.S. government.

But the questions surrounding the military stops in Scotland are every bit as serious -- and by some measures, worse.

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