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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.7.19

05/07/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Today's school shooting: "At least two people were injured and two suspects were in custody after a shooting was reported at a Colorado STEM school, officials said. The Douglas County Sheriff's Office said they responded to the STEM School Highlands Ranch just before 2 p.m."

* The consequences of Trump's posturing: "The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day with a loss of 473 points as fears grew on Tuesday that the U.S. and China would not resolve their differences on trade."

* It's about time: "Two Pulitzer-winning Reuters journalists held in Myanmar for more than 500 days for their coverage of the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims were freed from jail Tuesday, ending a prolonged detention that has tainted Myanmar and its Nobel laureate civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi."

* Where has this been? "Video from the vantage point of Sandra Bland, the black woman found dead in a Texas jail cell in 2015 after she was arrested during a traffic stop, was made public Monday night."

* A story worth watching; "The leaders of the House Foreign Affairs and Financial Services Committees are accusing the Trump administration of violating a law requiring a report on human rights abuses in Russia."

* The details surrounding his crime are brutal: "President Donald Trump has pardoned a former U.S. soldier convicted in 2009 of killing an Iraqi prisoner, the White House announced Monday. Trump signed an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, for former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, of Oklahoma, press secretary Sarah Sanders said."

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Image: US-POLITICS-FBI-WRAY

FBI's Wray isn't on board with Barr's talk of campaign 'spying'

05/07/19 04:10PM

Attorney General Bill Barr's reputation and credibility were already in trouble when, four weeks ago, the Republican lawyer told a Senate committee "spying did occur" by the government on Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. Barr added, "I think spying on a political campaign -- it's a big deal, it's a big deal."

Despite the dubious and needlessly provocative nature of the attorney general's comments -- which he's refused to retract -- Republicans seized on Barr's assessment, with the president's re-election campaign even using his "spying" talk as the basis for political fundraising.

We learned today, however, that another high-ranking Trump appointee -- FBI Director Chris Wray -- doesn't share Barr's perspective.

During a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Wray was asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., about Barr's statement last month that "spying did occur" on the Trump campaign.

"I was very concerned by his use of the word spying, which I think is a loaded word," Shaheen said. "When FBI agents conduct investigations against alleged mobsters, suspected terrorists, other criminals, do you believe they're engaging in spying when they're following FBI investigative policies and procedures?"

"That's not the term I would use," Wray said of "spying." "So, I would say that's a no to that question."

When the Democratic senator asked Christopher Wray specifically whether he's seen "any evidence that any illegal surveillance" into Trump's 2016 operation, the FBI director replied, "I don't think I personally have any evidence of that sort."

I think it's safe to say the president's re-election campaign won't be using Wray's testimony as the basis for any fundraising letters.

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An exam room at the Whole Women's Health Clinic in McAllen, Texas, March 4, 2014.

Georgia's new anti-abortion law part of a radical new trend

05/07/19 02:14PM

At the national level, anti-abortion policymakers have repeatedly pushed in recent years for measures to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. A new Republican law in Georgia draws the line much, much earlier.

Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation on Tuesday banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That can be as early as six weeks, before many women know they're pregnant.

Kemp said he was signing the bill "to ensure that all Georgians have the opportunity to live, grow, learn and prosper in our great state."

The signing caps weeks of tension and protests at the state Capitol in Atlanta, and marks the beginning of what could be a lengthy and costly legal battle over the law's constitutionality.

It's that "before many women know they're pregnant" line that stands out for a reason. Under the new policy in Georgia, which will be tested vigorously in the courts, women can still terminate an unwanted pregnancy, but they'll have to do so five or six weeks after conception.

Those who don't know they're pregnant that early on in the process will, evidently, be out of luck.

Other states, including Alabama and North Dakota, have pushed similar measures in recent years, but each of those laws have been struck down in the courts,

Anti-abortion forces, however, believe the courts are a whole lot further to the right than they used to be.

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White House orders former counsel not to comply with subpoena

05/07/19 12:49PM

Donald Trump acknowledged over the weekend that former White House counsel Don McGahn has received a congressional subpoena, but the president suggested he'd block the testimony anyway. "I would say it's done," Trump told Fox News.

Pointing to McGahn's cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, the president said, "I've had him testifying already for 30 hours." The president added, in a difficult-to-understand sentence, "I don't think I can let him and then tell everybody else you can because especially him because he was the counsel."

Today, the White House followed through on this point.

The White House has directed former counsel Donald McGahn not to comply with a congressional subpoena for documents related to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, current White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in a letter Tuesday.

McGahn was subpoenaed last month by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., for testimony and documents as part the panel's investigation into possible obstruction of justice by the president and others.

But in a letter to Nadler Tuesday, Cipollone wrote that the subpoena seeks "certain White House records provided" to McGahn when he was White House counsel. Those documents "remain legally protected from disclosure under longstanding constitutional principles, because they implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege," Cipollone said, adding that McGahn "does not have the legal right to disclose these documents."

We're dealing with a political landscape in which White House stonewalling has become the norm, as officials effectively declare war on congressional oversight. But as Rachel explained on the show last night, the McGahn case is of particular interest, in part because Team Trump's argument against cooperation is so weak.

There are two main angles to this: the testimony and the documents. Let's take them one at a time.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.7.19

05/07/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Thom Tillis' (R) re-election campaign in North Carolina just got a little trickier: Garland Tucker III, the retired chairman and CEO of Triangle Capital Corporation, has decided to launch a Republican primary challenge against the incumbent and he's picked up some support from some local party leaders. It will be Tucker's first bid for elected office.

* Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), running on a platform that emphasized combatting gun violence, won one of last year's most competitive congressional races. This week Carolyn Meadows, the new president of the National Rifle Association, argued, "It is wrong to say like McBath said, that the reason she won was because of her anti-gun stance. That didn't have anything to do with it -- it had to do with being a minority female."

* A growing number of congressional Republican leaders are saying, on the record, that they want Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to be the Democratic presidential nominee because they see him as the easiest to beat and believe his candidacy would hurt down-ballot Dems. For his part, the Vermonter told Politico, "I would suggest they underestimate me at their own peril and I hope they do."

* Despite the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's efforts to protect the party's incumbents, a variety of prominent progressive organizations yesterday endorsed Marie Newman's primary challenge to Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), one of Congress' most conservative Democrats. Next year will be Newman's second primary campaign against the Illinois congressman.

* Democrats flipped two congressional seats in Iowa last year, including Rep. Cindy Axne's (D) narrow win over former Rep. David Young (R) in the state's 2nd district. Yesterday, Young, who lost by about two points, announced plans for a rematch.

* Remember the controversy surrounding former Rep. Scott Taylor's (R) campaign in Virginia last year? It's not over: one of the Republican's former staffers has been indicted on election fraud charges.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

McConnell to ignore facts, declare 'case closed' on Trump scandals

05/07/19 11:00AM

About a month ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, running with one of Attorney General Bill Barr's misleading memos, declared the end of Donald Trump's troubles. Referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's findings, the president's chief spokesperson said, "We consider this to be case closed."

That was more than two weeks before anyone had seen the redacted version of the Mueller report.

Now, the most powerful member of Trump's party on Capitol Hill intends to echo the White House's dubious conclusion.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will lay out his case to move on from investigations into President Trump and his 2016 campaign, calling the matter "case closed" even as Democrats intensify their probes into Trump's conduct.

McConnell (R-Ky.), who faces reelection next year, argues that Democrats are continuing to relitigate an election result that is now more than two years old, and plans to make a detailed argument in a floor speech Tuesday morning to declare the matter finished and instead focus on legislation.

I see. So in 2016, when McConnell was given an opportunity to counter Russian efforts to intervene in our elections in order to put Trump in power, the Kentucky Republican balked. In 2019, as Americans come to terms with the results of an investigation into Russia's election attack -- and the steps his party's president took to obstruct, mislead, and derail that investigation -- McConnell would appreciate it if we all just stop asking so many darned questions.

One of the core problems with the Senate majority leader's reported posture is that the case is anything but closed. The special counsel's office documented several instances, for example, in which the president's conduct met the statutory threshold for criminal obstruction, but Mueller left it to others to decide how best to address the allegations going forward.

That's not a "closed" case; it's the opposite. McConnell may be indifferent to Trump allegedly crossing legal lines, but the rule of law is not dependent on the senator's interest.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PENCE

The problem with Pence serving as Trump's policy 'decoder'

05/07/19 10:00AM

The New York Times ran an interesting piece today on Vice President Mike Pence and the specific role he often plays in Donald Trump's White House: that of presidential "decoder."

More than halfway into Mr. Trump's term, he and Mr. Pence have developed what aides describe as a rhythm, in which the president lays out the broad contours of policy and then hands off to the vice president to make the granular sales pitch. [...]

In a White House with a revolving door of top officials and a president who is often focused on his own message, it is often left to Mr. Pence -- who has ties to the traditional conservative movement -- to try to clarify the administration's approach on key issues.

At face value, this probably makes a fair amount of sense. Every administration works a little differently, but in this White House, it stands to reason that Trump, who neither knows nor cares about governing, would play the role of "big picture" president. In this model, he wants to lay out a vision in broad strokes, while asking Pence to fill in the gaps.

Despite his limitations, the vice president is a former member of the congressional leadership and a former governor of a fairly large state. It'd be an exaggeration to say Pence excels in governing, but compared to Trump, he's practically a wonk.

My concern is not with the model, but rather, the application of the model -- because even if the president delegates some power to Pence to "make the granular sales pitch" and/or "clarify the administration's approach," we've all learned that the vice president often has no idea when or whether Trump will step on his efforts.

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Prosecutors: Trump would've been charged if he weren't president

05/07/19 09:20AM

When Donald Trump reflects on the Mueller report and its findings, he sees "total exoneration." When former federal prosecutors look at the same document, they see ... something else.

President Donald Trump would have been indicted for obstruction of justice in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation if he did not hold the nation's highest office, more than 500 former federal prosecutors argued in an open letter published on Medium on Monday.

The ex-prosecutors -- who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations dating back to President Dwight D. Eisenhower -- said Attorney General William Barr's decision not to charge Trump with obstruction "runs counter to logic and our experience."

The letter added, "Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice."

The joint letter went on to note, "We emphasize that these are not matters of close professional judgment." It was a line that stood out for me for a reason: according to these former prosecutors, the evidence that Trump would've been prosecuted is obvious. It's not even a close call.

They added, in reference to the Justice Department policy preventing prosecution of a sitting president, "We believe strongly that, but for the OLC memo, the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favor of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller Report."

When this joint letter was first released, it was signed by more than 300 veterans of the Justice Department. The total then topped 400. Then 500. Then 600. As of this very moment, there are 634 former federal prosecutors who've signed on to the document -- and there's every reason to believe that number will grow as today progresses. [Update: As of 4:30 p.m. eastern, the list of signatories is up to 711, which is roughly double the total when the document was first released.]

Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general, told MSNBC's Ari Melber yesterday, "I've never seen anything quite like it.... [I]f this were anyone else but a sitting president, this person would be labeled a felon and staring down the barrel of a federal indictment."

All of which tells us a few things.

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