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E.g., 11/19/2019
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Author's anonymity confounds traditional news verification

Author's anonymity confounds traditional news verification

11/07/19 09:33PM

Rachel Maddow discusses the conundrum faced by news outlets trying to report on and/or fact check the ostensibly news-making book "A Warning" by an anonymous author described only as “a senior official in the Trump administration,” and notes the author's stark contrast with the officials testifying for the Trump impeachment... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 11.7.19

11/07/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Another damaging transcript: "State Department official George Kent, a key witness in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, told House investigators last month he created contemporaneous memos of specific conversations he'd witnessed related to the White House's attempted quid pro quo that he said were 'injurious to the rule of law, both in Ukraine and the U.S.' according to a transcript of his testimony made public Thursday."

* I plan to follow up on this in the morning: "President Donald Trump must pay a $2 million judgment for improperly using his Trump Foundation charity to further his 2016 presidential campaign, a New York state judge ruled Thursday."

* William Roebuck: "The top American diplomat on the ground in northern Syria has criticized the Trump administration for not trying harder to prevent Turkey's military offensive there last month -- and said Turkish-backed militia fighters committed 'war crimes and ethnic cleansing.'"

* In case you were wondering why the stock markets had a good day: "The United States and China have agreed that an initial trade deal between the two countries would roll back a portion of the tariffs placed on each other's products, a significant step toward defusing tensions between the world's largest economies."

* NOAA: "Internal emails at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Thursday showed how the agency scrambled to respond to President Donald Trump's inaccurate claims about Hurricane Dorian and Alabama."

* The mistake is thinking this White House comes up with plans: "Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other top Democrats are sending a letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday demanding he develop and brief Congress on a plan to stop the Islamic State from returning in Syria now that most of the American forces have been pulled out of the country."

* EPA: "Environmental Protection Agency officials are in a standoff with the agency's independent watchdog over a probe of EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson's efforts to influence a scientist ahead of her congressional testimony."

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Defending Trump, GOP senator attacks Pelosi as 'dumb'

11/07/19 03:25PM

As far as Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) is concerned, Donald Trump is "a very smart man." And by way of contrast, the Republican senator last night thought it'd be a good idea to tell a far-right crowd whom he considers "dumb."

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) launched into a blistering attack against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) while speaking at a Trump campaign rally in Louisiana late Wednesday, stating that it "must suck" to be as "dumb" as her.

"In three short years, President Trump has doubled the growth in the greatest economy in all of human history. And do you know what our Democratic friends have done for him?" Kennedy asked. "Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to impeach him."

"I don't mean any disrespect, but it must suck to be that dumb," Kennedy added, prompting widespread laughs from the crowd and grinning from President Trump.

If the Louisianan's phrasing sounds at all familiar, it's because Kennedy used the same rhetoric in the spring to attack House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), as part of the Democrat's pursuit of Trump's secret tax returns.

"It must really suck to be that dumb," Kennedy said in reference to Neal.

Part of the problem with the senator's latest harangue is that it's plainly false. Love the House Speaker or hate her, the idea that Nancy Pelosi is lacking in intelligence is obviously absurd.

It's also worth mentioning that cheap rhetoric like this isn't doing the discourse any favors. Kennedy obviously thinks he's being clever when he describes Pelosi as "dumb" and condemns four congresswomen of color as "whack jobs," but the Louisianan is really just doing lasting harm to his reputation.

But there was just one other element of this that stood out for me.

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GOP ignores scandals, advances controversial judicial nominee

11/07/19 12:57PM

Steven Menashi, one of Donald Trump's far-right lawyers, has become one of the year's most controversial judicial nominees for good reason. The New York conservative, nominated for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, has a tough-to-defend record of radicalism that includes an argument about democratic countries working better when everyone is of the same ethnicity. Demand Justice's Brian Fallon described Menashi as "a perfect storm of awful."

His confirmation hearing did not go well. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) chided Menashi for not being more forthcoming, as did Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).

This morning, however, Graham, Kennedy, and every other Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Menashi's nomination to the floor, where he'll almost certainly be confirmed.

That's not too surprising -- GOP senators nearly always serve as a rubber stamp for Trump's far-right picks for the federal judiciary -- but the vote came on the heels of this New York Times report, published yesterday, which common sense suggests should've at least given the Judiciary Committee pause.

A judicial nominee slated for a key Senate committee vote on Thursday helped devise an illegal Education Department effort to use private Social Security data to deny debt relief to thousands of students cheated by their for-profit colleges, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.

The plan, outlined by Steven J. Menashi when he was acting general counsel under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, was ruled by a federal judge to violate federal privacy laws. She ordered the department to stop the practice.

If you missed Rachel's coverage of this last night, I'd recommend taking the time to watch the segment, because this story's a doozy.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.7.19

11/07/19 12:00PM

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

* Pointing to "voting irregularities" that he did not identify, outgoing Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) formally requested yesterday a recanvass of the results of the gubernatorial race he lost a day earlier.

* The latest Quinnipiac poll in Iowa found the top four Democratic candidates within five points of one another: Elizabeth Warren was first with 20%, followed by Pete Buttigieg with 19%. Bernie Sanders was third with 17%, followed by Joe Biden with 15%.

* On a related note, the same poll found Amy Klobuchar in fifth place with 5% support in Iowa, which helped the Minnesota senator become the sixth candidate to qualify for the party's presidential primary debate in December. Tulsi Gabbard, meanwhile, was in seventh place with 3%, which means she's now eligible to participate in the November debate.

* After more than three decades on Capitol Hill, Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) announced yesterday that he'll retire at the end of this Congress. That will create a vacancy as the chair of the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee, which Visclosky currently leads.

* Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) yesterday announced her support for Elizabeth Warren's presidential campaign. Pressley is a member of the four-person group of progressive first-term congresswomen known as "The Squad," though the other three members endorsed Bernie Sanders.

* Joe Biden, meanwhile, picked up an endorsement yesterday from Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas). The former vice president now has nine endorsements from black members of Congress.

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Trump to black candidate, 'Did you see what I'm doing for A$AP Rocky?'

11/07/19 11:30AM

Gov.-elect Andy Beshear (D) gave up his job as Kentucky attorney general in order to run for governor, and this week, voters in the Bluegrass State chose his successor. The results weren't close: Republican Daniel Cameron won by 15 points.

For the GOP, it was a key victory for reasons that extend beyond just flipping control of the state AG's office. As the Washington Post reported today, Cameron, a former University of Louisville football player, served as general counsel to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and he's reportedly "being groomed to succeed McConnell in the Senate when he retires."

The same article noted what happened when Cameron was brought to the White House for a meeting with Donald Trump.

A senior White House official said Trump viewed Cameron as "out of central casting."

"Did you see what I'm doing for A$AP Rocky?" Trump asked Cameron at one point during the July Oval Office meeting, according to those familiar with the encounter.

On the one hand, I don't imagine anyone will find this especially surprising. On the other hand, it's hard to overstate how cringe-worthy this is.

Trump welcomes an African-American man to the Oval Office, and it leads the president to ask his guest if he's familiar with his efforts to help a black rapper accused of beating a man during a street fight in Sweden?

It reinforces concerns that the president continues to make all kinds of misguided assumptions about race. It's hard not to wonder, for example, whether Trump would have asked, "Did you see what I'm doing for A$AP Rocky?" to a white Republican running for state attorney general.

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party, at the Iowa State Fair Oct. 31, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Steve Pope/Getty)

Lindsey Graham questions whether Sondland is in league with Dems

11/07/19 10:45AM

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland jolted the impeachment process this week, revising his earlier testimony and telling lawmakers about his role in a quid-pro-quo scheme involving Ukraine.

As we discussed earlier this week, Sondland recalled a conversation from September in which he told Andriy Yermak, a top Zelenskiy adviser, that "the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks."

In other words, Sondland told our vulnerable ally that its aid was locked. To unlock it, Ukraine would have to make a public statement about a Biden-related investigation, which Team Trump could then use for domestic political purposes.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he wasn't interested in reading Sondland's written submission, but as TPM noted, the senator was willing to go on Fox News last night to raise the prospect of a new conspiracy theory.

When Fox News host Martha MacCallum asked the notorious Trump defender about Schiff saying that the release of testimony transcripts prove that the "most important facts are largely not contested," Graham said "that statement is full of crap" before stoking a conspiracy accusing Sondland of switching up his testimony because of a "connection" with Democratic operatives.

"Why did [Sondland] change his testimony?" Graham said. "Was there a connection between [Sondland] and Democratic operatives on the committee? Did he talk to Schiff? Did he talk to Schiff's staffers?"

For some reason, Graham kept referring to Gordon Sondland as "Sunderland," suggesting the Judiciary Committee chairman hasn't yet gotten around to learning the relevant players' names.

Graham went on to suggest he still believes there was "no quid pro quo" -- despite all of the painfully obvious evidence to the contrary.

I found all of this noteworthy, not just because I'm amazed by the senator's willingness to throw away his reputation, but also because Graham raised the prospect of the one conspiracy theory that I assumed we wouldn't hear.

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As Sessions eyes a comeback in Alabama, Trump readies attack

11/07/19 10:01AM

There is already a crowded field of Republican U.S. Senate candidates in Alabama, eager to take on incumbent Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), widely seen as Congress' most vulnerable Democrat. This week, however, the GOP field will reportedly get one very high-profile addition.

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions intends to announce this week his bid to reclaim his old U.S. Senate seat, two sources familiar with Sessions tell NBC News. [...]

Sessions would enter the race with $2.5 million stowed away in his campaign war chest from previous fundraising.

Right off the bat, as NBC News' report on this makes clear, there are legitimate questions about Sessions' ability to mount a credible statewide campaign. Name recognition obviously won't be a problem, but the Republican primary is less than five months away, and it's been more than two decades since Sessions ran in a competitive race.

What's more, other leading candidates in the GOP race aren't prepared, at least not yet, to stand aside and clear the field for Sessions. This will, among other things, limit the former attorney general's access to state-based campaign aides and donors, who are already associated with Sessions' Republican rivals.

And then, of course, there's a guy by the name of Donald J. Trump -- who has some rather strong feelings about Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III,

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Fla. Attorney General Pam Bondi makes introductory remarks for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, before Trump arrives at a campaign event in Tampa, Fla. on March 14, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Despite earlier controversy, Pam Bondi joining Team Trump

11/07/19 09:23AM

A month ago, Donald Trump's operation added a notable political figure to the team: former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) was slated to serve as outside counsel to the president as the impeachment inquiry intensified. And while this made a bit of a splash, the new face of Trump's legal team didn't last: the New York Times reported that the day after the announcement, "the arrangement fell apart."

The "botched" rollout, the article added, left Trump and his advisers back at "square one, searching for a different lawyer."

Evidently, they've found one, though the choice is not without controversy.

Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general joining the White House communications team to work on impeachment, is currently lobbying for Qatar and will be winding down that role to join the White House team.

Bondi was added in July to lobbying firm Ballard Partners' $115,000-a-month contract with the Embassy of Qatar in Washington, according to a document filed in July with the Justice Department's Foreign Agents Registration Act unit and reviewed by NBC News. Bondi was named "key personnel" for the contract and would be "personally and substantially engaged" in delivering services to the country, according to a consulting agreement filed with the DOJ.

According to NBC News' reporting, Bondi will have "special government employee" status, which means she'll be "brought into the government part time under less-stringent ethics rules than would apply to normal federal employees, including allowing them to continue their outside work."

Adding to the interest, of course, is the previous controversy surrounding Trump and the former Florida state attorney general.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Donald Trump walks with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani through the new Trump International Hotel in Washington

After saying he didn't need one, Trump's lawyer hires a lawyer

11/07/19 08:40AM

Three weeks ago, as reports of a criminal investigation into Rudy Giuliani grew louder, Donald Trump's lawyer insisted he was unconcerned. "At this time," the former mayor wrote on Twitter, "I do not need a lawyer."

At this time, however, it appears Giuliani does need a lawyer. The New York Times reported late yesterday:

President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said on Wednesday that he had assembled a legal team to represent him in the criminal investigation into his activities related to Ukraine, an announcement that came after weeks of sputtered attempts to find a lawyer willing to take him on as a client.

Mr. Giuliani said on Twitter that he would be represented by three lawyers, including his longtime friend, Robert J. Costello.

The article added that "at least four prominent attorneys" declined Giuliani overtures.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, there is an amazing symmetry to the circumstances. When the president's first personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was in legal jeopardy, he hired Robert Costello to oversee his criminal defense. Now the president's second personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, also appears to be facing legal jeopardy, and he too has hired Robert Costello to oversee his criminal defense.

Cohen, of course, is currently a federal prison inmate, in part because of his role in Trump's hush-money scandal involving payoffs to Trump's alleged former mistresses. Giuliani hasn't been charged, at least not yet.

Of course, none of this does the president any favors: as best as I can tell, Trump is the first president whose lawyer needed to hire a criminal defense lawyer -- only to have the exact same thing happen again.

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