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Former Trump campaign chair sentenced to 47 months in prison

Former Trump campaign chair sentenced to 47 months in prison

03/07/19 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow looks back at the course of Paul Manafort's trial in the Eastern District of Virginia, and talks with Josh Gerstein, senior legal affairs contributor for Politico, about how the sentencing hearing played out, with Judge T.S. Ellis III disregarding sentencing guidelines to give Manafort a much more lenient 47 months in federal... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.7.19

03/07/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* What we're waiting for: "Paul Manafort, the political consultant and Trump presidential campaign chairman whose lucrative work in Ukraine and ties to well-connected Russians made him a target of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, faces sentencing on Thursday in the financial fraud case that left his grand lifestyle and power-broker reputation in ruins."

* Cohen said he's owed $1.9 million: "Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer, filed a lawsuit Thursday in New York City against his one-time boss's real estate business over unpaid legal bills."

* This story out of San Diego warrants some additional attention: "Documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates show the U.S. government created a secret database of activists, journalists, and social media influencers tied to the migrant caravan and in some cases, placed alerts on their passports."

* White House planning seems wise: "The White House made a quiet but notable personnel change a few weeks ago, moving a veteran staff attorney to a press office that is preparing a response to the much-anticipated final report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — whatever it says, whenever it comes."

* So very disappointing: "The Senate confirmed President Donald Trump's controversial judicial nominee on Wednesday who supported a lawsuit challenging Obamacare. In a 52-47 vote, the Senate approved Chad Readler's nomination to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine joined Democrats to vote against the nominee."

* A worthwhile line of inquiry: "The House Oversight and Reform Committee is investigating allegations of voter suppression in Georgia under Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has since become governor."

* Remember this guy? "Charges against former Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock are set to be dropped in a stunning agreement reached Wednesday with federal prosecutors."

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Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) poses for a portrait in his offices on Capitol Hill on Jan. 27, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/The Washington Post/Getty)

The 2020 presidential race is capable of surprises

03/07/19 03:05PM

As Democratic presidential candidates go, Sen. Sherrod Brown brought a lot to the table. He has many years of experience fighting successfully for progressive causes; the senator has a proven track record of earning the support of swing voters without compromising on his principles; Brown appeals to multiple Democratic constituencies; and he's popular in the Rust Belt, where the party came up critically short in the 2016 election.

And did I mention that he's from Ohio -- and that the candidate who carried the Buckeye State went on to win the presidency in 14 of the last 14 election cycles?

It was very easy to imagine the Democratic senator becoming a top-tier contender, and perhaps even the 2020 nominee. But in the end, Brown decided he didn't want the job.

Sen. Sherrod Brown announced Thursday he will not run for president.

The surprise announcement comes after a two-month tour through early voting states, which many believed was the building blocks of a presidential campaign.

"I will keep calling out Donald Trump and his phony populism. I will keep fighting for all workers across the country. And I will do everything I can to elect a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate in 2020. The best place for me to make that fight is in the United States Senate," Brown said in a statement.

To my mind, this is the biggest surprise of the 2020 cycle to date. For other prospective candidates who ultimately didn't run, there's a simple explanation: they couldn't line up supporters, they couldn't put together a competitive staff and operation, they were significantly out of step with the party's base and orthodoxy, etc.

Brown, however, is in an entirely different category. For all intents and purposes, he was running, he looked like he'd seriously compete, but he stepped aside anyway.

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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)

The Senate Republican majority takes a pass on oversight (again)

03/07/19 12:51PM

For the first two years of the Donald Trump presidency, congressional Republicans made a conscious choice to ignore practically every controversy, forfeiting the institution's oversight responsibilities. Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders effectively conceded the point.

"[T]he first two years were not about oversight," the president's spokesperson told Fox News. "They were about success."

Sanders didn't elaborate -- I'm not sure if one unpopular package of tax cuts for the wealthy constitutes "success" -- though it was reassuring to hear her acknowledge that the GOP-led Congress largely ignored its checks-and-balances duties for the first half of Trump's term.

Capitol Hill is obviously very different in the wake of the 2018 midterms, and the new House Democratic majority is scrutinizing the White House, holding oversight hearings, and asking some challenging questions of the president and his team. But there is a whole other half of Congress that, in theory, could be doing the same thing.

With this in mind, CNN ran a report this week that stood out for me.

President Donald Trump may have committed crimes over a scheme to pay off women alleging extramarital affairs -- but Senate Republicans say they have no reason to look into it.

GOP leaders and key committee chairmen are making clear that they believe there is no reason to probe whether the President broke the law in engaging in a scheme to hide payments made to two women to keep their stories quiet in the days running up to the 2016 elections.

The Senate equivalent to the House Oversight Committee is the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which, under Republican leadership, took a keen interest in Benghazi conspiracy theories and Hillary Clinton's emails in recent years. When CNN asked Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) whether his panel might examine questions surrounding the president personally financing an illegal cover-up, the senator said he's content to let Special Counsel Robert Mueller continue his work.

Mueller, of course, isn't investigating the hush-money scandal.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.7.19

03/07/19 12:00PM

* With the Democratic presidential debate season just a few months away, the DNC announced yesterday that Fox News will not be among the networks hosting the party-sanctioned events.

* On a related note, Donald Trump, closely allied with Fox News, said via Twitter that he might try to block independent networks in the general-election debates. (I'm not at all sure what he thinks that would mean in practical terms.)

* Barack Obama published a Facebook piece yesterday on the Democratic presidential primaries, noting, among other things, "As this contest heats up, I'm hopeful that all our candidates and their supporters will honor the difference between a healthy competition among allies and the deployment of misinformation and baseless attacks that we've seen too much of in our politics. Such slash-and-burn tactics will not just divide Democrats and make it potentially harder to win in November. They also are corrosive to our democracy and will add to a cynicism that prevents us from tackling big problems."

* In related news, Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) campaign said yesterday that the senator will not air "personal attack ads" against his Democratic rivals, though voters may see ads highlighting policy "differences."

* With Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) poised to vote for a resolution blocking Donald Trump's emergency declaration, there's suddenly some grumbling about a possible primary challenge to the incumbent senator next year.

* With House Democrats poised to pass their expansive voting-rights overhaul, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters yesterday he will not allow the upper chamber to consider the legislation. Asked why, the GOP leader said with a grin, "Because I get to decide what we vote on."

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The White House grounds are covered in snow after a winter storm hit Washington, DC on Feb. 17, 2015. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

Facing defeat, White House scrambles to protect emergency declaration

03/07/19 11:20AM

The Democratic-led House has already approved a resolution to block Donald Trump's emergency declaration, in which the president granted himself the authority to redirect funds to border barriers in defiance of Congress' wishes. Next week, the Senate will take up the same measure, and a bipartisan majority is already in place to pass it, which will force Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency.

In fact, opponents of the White House's plan only needed four Republican senators to break ranks -- and those four votes are already in place. One member of the quartet, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said this morning that the total number of GOP votes against Trump's gambit may very well grow.

It's an outcome the White House clearly hopes to avoid. It's why the president tweeted on the subject yesterday ...

"Senate Republicans are not voting on constitutionality or precedent, they are voting on desperately needed Border Security & the Wall. Our Country is being invaded with Drugs, Human Traffickers, & Criminals of all shapes and sizes. That's what this vote is all about. STAY UNITED!"

... why Vice President Mike Pence is lobbying lawmakers on the issue ...

Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump administration officials are calling on senators to back President Donald Trump's emergency declaration to build his southern border wall, citing an increase in illegal border crossings in recent months.

Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday criticized lawmakers from both parties who plan to support a resolution to block the president's emergency declaration.

.. and why White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is blaming Congress for not simply meeting Trump's demands in the first place.

"My message to that group is to do your job," she said during an appearance on Fox News's "Fox & Friends." "If you had done what you were elected to do on the front end, the president wouldn't have to fix this problem on his own through a national emergency."

The broader question, however, is why Team Trump is suddenly making such a hard sell.

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North Korean officials take full advantage of what Trump gave them

03/07/19 10:40AM

No modern American president wanted to hand North Korea a public-relations coup by rewarding the rogue dictatorship with a bilateral summit. U.S. leaders from both parties realized that Pyongyang would exploit a presidential-level meeting for all its worth.

With this in mind, it probably shouldn't surprise anyone that North Korea's state-run television is airing propaganda, glorifying Kim Jong-un's summit with Donald Trump in Vietnam. The Associated Press reported overnight:

The documentary shows a smiling Kim talking with Trump while walking together inside a Hanoi hotel last week.

It shows Kim's black limousine passing through a Hanoi street lined with residents waving flags. The footage also shows Kim visiting the North Korean Embassy where some skipped and wept with emotions before they took a group photo with the backdrop of a huge picture of Kim's late father and grandfather.

The documentary cited Kim as saying North Korea and the U.S. must put an end to their decades-long animosity and confrontation. But it didn't mention about the lack of an agreement following the Kim-Trump summit.

This comes on the heels of Donald Trump's announcement that the United State is ending joint military exercises with our South Korean allies -- another concession the American president appears to have made in exchange for nothing.

Complicating matters, NBC News reported this week that North Korea is pursuing the "rapid rebuilding" of a long-range rocket site. The report added, "Sohae Satellite Launching Station, North Korea's only operational space launch facility, has been used in the past for satellite launches. These launches use similar technology to what is used for intercontinental ballistic missiles."

The Trump-Kim talks collapsed last Thursday. The renewed activity at the site began two days later.

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

What happens when Trump asks for Pelosi's help?

03/07/19 10:00AM

After investing an enormous amount of effort into telling Americans that he'd get Mexico to pay for a giant border wall, Donald Trump switched gears a couple of months ago, declaring that Mexico is already paying for a wall.

"Mexico is paying for the Wall through the new USMCA Trade Deal," the president wrote on Twitter, referring to the renegotiated NAFTA. There were, of course, all kinds of problems with the laughably foolish argument, not the least of which was the simple fact that the USMCA agreement hasn't even been implemented yet.

The White House, however, hopes to change that soon. Politico reported overnight:

The White House is engineering an unusually by-the-book approach for selling Congress on the replacement deal for NAFTA -- with the hope of persuading Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote for the new trade agreement.

Administration officials have been organizing dozens of meetings with rank-and-file lawmakers to try to build bipartisan support for the deal, which restructures trade terms with Canada and Mexico.

The administration is reportedly seeking congressional approval of the trade deal by late summer, which will likely be a heavy lift. Lawmakers from both parties have raised concerns, some of which may need to be brought to Canadian and Mexican officials.

But while the process unfolds, there's one thing about this political dynamic that stands out for me: this is an exceedingly rare example of Trump turning to Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders, seeking their help with a White House priority.

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross gestures as he leaves after addressing delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in east London, on November 6, 2017.

Federal judge: Trump admin broke law with Census gambit

03/07/19 09:20AM

The Trump administration announced about a year ago that that the 2020 Census would include a question about citizenship status, and as regular readers know, the move immediately drew swift condemnations. The criticisms were rooted in fact: the question is likely to discourage immigrants' participation in the census, which would mean under-represented communities in the official count, affecting everything from political power to public investments.

In January, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ruled against the administration and barred it from proceeding with its Census plan. Yesterday, as the Washington Post reported, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg went even further.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acted in "bad faith," broke several laws and violated the constitutional underpinning of representative democracy when he added a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. [...]

Unable to find any expert in the Census Bureau who approved of his plan to add the citizenship question, Seeborg wrote, Ross engaged in a "cynical search to find some reason, any reason" to justify the decision.

The result was a policy intended to undercount specific parts of the population, which in turn ran afoul of the Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act, and Census Act.

And while there are still additional steps as the matter is litigated, it's worth re-emphasizing the apparent fact that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross played fast and loose with the truth about how the Census change was made -- and he got caught.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Despite the bluster, Trump's economic message runs into trouble

03/07/19 08:40AM

Donald Trump, for reasons that have never been altogether clear, identified the trade deficit as one of the nation's most important and damaging challenges. The president even promised to soon cut the trade deficit in half.

The Republican's failure to reach that goal is now obvious: the Trump administration reported yesterday that the trade deficit in goods has reached record heights (or depths, depending on how one looks at it). Catherine Rampell explained in her new column that the president can't pass the buck on this one -- since his policies, intended to shrink the trade gap, made it worse.

He has picked trade wars the world over, with friends and foes alike. He has also threatened even more tariffs, including an additional hike in tariffs on Chinese goods, a new "national security"-driven duty on auto imports, etc. These actions and threats have led to some predictable consequences.

One is that U.S. companies have stocked up on some imported goods to beat the tariffs, which increases imports in the short run. Higher imports = bigger trade deficit.

Another is that other countries have levied their own retaliatory tariffs on our own products — most famously, red-state goods such as soybeans and bourbon. So there has been less demand for U.S. exports. Lower exports also = bigger trade deficit.

Philip Bump added that one of Trump's most important mistakes was making promises on the issue that he'd never be able to keep.

But stepping back, it's also worth appreciating the larger pattern -- because when it comes to the economy, this isn't the only area in which the president's rhetoric is at odds with his reality.

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GOP senator: Trump's hush-money payoff is proof he 'loves his family'

03/07/19 08:00AM

The evidence that Donald Trump financed an illegal cover-up, using hush-money to pay off a porn star, is quite compelling. The New York Times added some additional context yesterday, juxtaposing the Republican's presidential duties with the dates in which he signed reimbursement checks to his former fixer.

What do congressional Republicans have to say about this? CNN's John Berman spoke with Sen. Mike Rounds (R) of South Dakota yesterday, who did his best to defend his ally in the White House. From the network's transcript:

"I think most of us have a concern any time you have a president who is trying to work through some very personal matters. I think -- I honestly think this president loves his family, and I think it has as much to do with trying not to -- not to have public discussions about something that is, for him, a private matter that he didn't want to have discussed with his family. And I think that's a lot of it.

"You know, I think that every time I think about this I think about that particular issue, because I -- I think he really does care about -- about his family. I think he loves his family, and I don't think he wanted his family to -- to go through this."

Hmm. The president is accused of having an extra-marital affair with a porn star, soon after the birth of his youngest child, before implementing a legally dubious hush-money scheme -- which is sending his former lawyer to prison -- and then lying about it.

It's tough to see this as a strictly "personal" matter. Indeed, when Bill Clinton lied about an affair, Republicans impeached him.

It's even harder to consider these revelations proof of Trump's commitment to his family.

The larger point, however, is not to pick on Mike Rounds' unfortunate argument. Rather, it's also worth appreciating just how much difficulty the president's allies are having in coming up with coherent defenses.

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