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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Despite revelations, Lindsey Graham still excuses Trump

12/13/18 08:42AM

In August, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former personal attorney, directly implicated the president in a felony. The White House's Republican allies shrugged.

Last week, federal prosecutors directly implicated the president in a felony. Again, the GOP was underwhelmed. One Republican went so far as to explicitly say he simply didn't care whether the president committed crimes or not.

We learned yesterday that American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer tabloid, admitted it paid off one of Trump's alleged former mistresses. The hush-money, according to the company, was made "in concert with" the Trump campaign, in order to "suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election."

And yet, the president's allies are still underwhelmed. Here's what Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CNN's Manu Raju last night:

"You'd have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the payment was designed to benefit the campaign exclusively and there was no other reason. So I think that would be somewhat of a challenge for a prosecutor."

Remember, we know there was a pre-election payoff. We know Trump's lawyer said it was made in order to help Trump's campaign. We know federal prosecutors, who've seen all of the evidence, believe the payment was made in order to help Trump's campaign. We know the company that wrote the check has admitted that the payment was made in order to help Trump's campaign.

But Lindsey Graham isn't sold. Maybe he wants to see "we're conspiring to break campaign-finance laws" written in the memo section of the check.

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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

As pressure rises, Giuliani presses Mueller 'to wrap the damn thing up'

12/13/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump's legal defense team originally predicted that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation would end by Thanksgiving -- of 2017. When Rudy Giuliani joined the president's legal defense in April, he suggested he could help wrap up the process in "a couple of weeks."

That was eight months ago.

It's against this backdrop that the former New York City mayor made an unprompted call to Yahoo News, making the case that the probe needs to end.

Giuliani said the Trump legal team is focused on encouraging Mueller to end his investigation into whether the president's campaign colluded with Russian intervention efforts in the 2016 election. He further suggested that Mueller lacks the authority to prosecute Trump.

"Our strategy is ... to do everything we can to try to convince Mueller to wrap the damn thing up, and if he's got anything, show us," Giuliani said. "If he doesn't have anything, you know, write your report, tell us what you have, and we'll deal with it. He can't prosecute him [Trump]. All he can do is write a report about him, so write the goddamned thing and get it over with now."

If I didn't know better, I might think the pressure is starting to get to these guys.

Giuliani's call for the special counsel to "wrap the damn thing up" echoes similar assessments from some of the president's Republican allies in Congress, who've also argued that the investigation end, even as new information further implicates Trump in wrongdoing.

But there is a degree of irony to Giuliani's posture, because if Team Trump wants to see Mueller's probe come to an end, there are steps the president and his allies could take to make that happen.

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Case against Trump progeny clearer after Cohen, AMI deals

Case against Trump progeny clearer after Cohen, AMI deals

12/12/18 09:28PM

Rachel Maddow shows the legal exposure of Don Jr, Eric, and Ivanka Trump as the only Trump Organization executives with check-writing authority who aren't protected by an immunity deal as federal prosecutors appear to be focusing on the trail of the hush money Donald Trump paid to allegedly keep infidelity accusations from hurting his... watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 12.12.18

12/12/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm not sure who else would want her job: "Prime Minister Theresa May survived an effort to oust her as head of Britain's ruling Conservative Party on Wednesday, leaving her standing but wounded as the government scrambles to negotiate Brexit just months before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union."

* I'm not sure who'd want Kelly's job, either: "President Trump has told Rep. Mark Meadows, considered one of the front-runners for the White House chief of staff job, that he wants him to remain in Congress, a White House official said on Wednesday."

* I wish he understood why comments like these cause so much trouble: "U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he would intervene with the U.S. Justice Department in the case against a Chinese telecommunications executive if it would help secure a trade deal with Beijing."

* On a related note: "U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he stood by Saudi Arabia's crown prince despite a CIA assessment that he ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and pleas from U.S. senators for Trump to condemn the kingdom's de facto ruler."

* Stories like these don't inspire confidence in Team Trump: "The Trump Organization, the family real estate interests of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump friend Richard LeFrak, a New York developer, could all benefit from a new federal program that has designated 'opportunity zones' in 'economically distressed' areas around the country and offers tax benefits for developers."

* This will die in the House, but I was glad to see it pass anyway: "The Senate passed legislation Wednesday to reverse a Trump administration policy limiting donor disclosure requirements for political nonprofits in a rare rebuke to the White House."

* Seriously, Michigan? "The state's chief medical executive is facing a jury trial on Flint water crisis criminal charges including involuntary manslaughter but that hasn't prevented her from securing a new job -- one that pays well and has civil service protections."

* It's about time: "More than a year after the #MeToo era began, the House and Senate reached a deal Wednesday to change their policies on sexual harassment, paving the way for reforms to take effect when the new Congress convenes in January."

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This July 12, 2017, file photo shows the cover of an issue of the National Enquirer featuring President Donald Trump at a store in New York.

Why the prosecutors' deal with National Enquirer parent is so important

12/12/18 04:16PM

Michael Cohen receiving a 36-month prison sentence is unwelcome news for his former boss, Donald Trump. But today's revelations, also from prosecutors in New York, about the president's former tabloid, are almost certainly worse.

The company that publishes the National Enquirer admitted that it paid $150,000 hush money to silence alleged mistresses of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump prior to the 2016 election, prosecutors said Wednesday.

American Media Inc. will avoid prosecution by stipulating that it worked with Trump's campaign to buy the silence of women -- who have identified themselves as adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal -- ahead of the vote two years ago, prosecutors said.

In a press statement, federal prosecutors explained the terms of agreement with AMI -- the National Enquirer's parent company -- in connection with the company admitting making the hush-money payoff to one of Trump's alleged former mistresses.

Specifically, prosecutors said AMI also admitted it made the payment "in concert with" the Trump campaign, in order to "suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election."

The company would apparently be facing prosecution for campaign-finance crimes, were it not for "its substantial and important assistance in this investigation."

All of this is coming to light now, despite the agreement between the company and prosecutors being reached months ago, because the case against Cohen included his work with AMI to make the illegal payment to Karen McDougal.

As for why today's revelations are so important, there are a few angles to keep in mind as the story continues to unfold. First, this represents additional evidence of Donald Trump's political operation acting outside the law before the president's election.

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Image: FBI Investigates Trump's attorney Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen, president's former attorney, sentenced to 36 months

12/12/18 12:43PM

We knew Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former attorney and so-called "fixer," would almost certainly be headed to prison. This morning, we learned how long his sentence will be.

An emotional Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer, was sentenced Wednesday to three years after pleading guilty to nine federal charges stemming from his failure to report millions of dollars in income making secret payments to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump.

One of the charges Cohen pleaded guilty to included a separate charge, stemming from Robert Mueller's probe into Trump's potential collusion with Russia, that he lied to Congress about his dealings with a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow. [...]

Pauley sentenced Cohen to 36 months for the eight charges from the Southern District and an additional two months for the Mueller charge, which will run concurrently. The judge added a $50,000 fine and said Cohen must turn himself on March 6.

It's worth emphasizing that when looking at the list of felonies Cohen has been convicted of, two of them were committed in coordination with the sitting president of the United States -- according to Cohen and prosecutors.

Indeed, the Mueller charge referenced in the NBC News report was Cohen lying to Congress about Trump's efforts to negotiate a Trump Tower Moscow deal during the 2016 presidential campaign. Though Cohen cooperated with the special counsel's office, he nevertheless received a two-month prison sentence for his dishonesty.

I wonder if others in the president's orbit took note of this.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.12.18

12/12/18 12:00PM

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

* The scandal in North Carolina's 9th district is still growing: "McCrae Dowless, the man whose 'get-out-the-vote' activities are the center of the election fraud investigation in North Carolina, told a local political campaign volunteer that he was holding onto 800 absentee ballots, according to a new affidavit obtained by NBC News."

* On a related note, following reports of early voter data being leaked to Republicans in the district, the chair of the North Carolina Republican Party inched closer to endorsing calls for a new election.

* Julian Castro (D), the former San Antonio mayor who served as HUD secretary in the Obama administration, told the Associated Press today that he's creating a presidential exploratory committee for 2020. It looks like he'll be the first to do so.

* The party probably won't call it an "autopsy" the way they did six years ago, but Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said yesterday the RNC will take a "deep data dive" to help understand why the party struggled so badly in the 2018 midterms. The gender gap, McDaniel said, is of particular interest.

* Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) has positioned himself as one of Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) most ardent intra-party foes, and that may not be helping his career. In an interview with the NBC affiliate in Boston this week, Massachusetts state Sen. Barbara L'Italien (D) suggested she might launch a primary challenge against Moulton in two years.

* With the Senate Republican majority growing a bit next year, Senate Democratic leaders are having to shuffle some committee assignments, but they've taken steps to ensure that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) remains on the Judiciary Committee. As the California Democrat eyes a possible 2020 presidential bid, that's a post she's reportedly eager to keep.

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

The immigration deal Trump should've taken, but didn't

12/12/18 11:20AM

The Oval Office meeting between Donald Trump and congressional Democratic leaders turned out to be far more dramatic than anyone expected, and to the extent that the president's words have any practical meaning, there was one meaningful takeaway: the Republican is now prepared to shut down the government next week over funding for a border wall.

It reminded me of the Democratic offer the president should've accepted earlier this year.

Though this doesn't come up much anymore, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) met privately with Trump at the White House in January, and the two had what was described as the "Cheeseburger Summit." After the meeting, the Democratic leader seemed optimistic that he and the president had come up with the "framework" for an immigration deal.

As we discussed at the time, the basic contours of the deal were straightforward: Schumer was willing to accept funding for a border wall in exchange for DACA protections for Dreamers.

After Trump negotiated the terms, the White House balked: Chief of Staff John Kelly called Schumer soon after to explain the plan wasn't far enough to the right for Republicans. Trump himself declared that he'd need far more in any deal, including significant cuts to legal immigration.

I'm reminded of something Slate's Jim Newell wrote back in Matrch:

[All Trump] had to do was accept a 10- to 14-year path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States at a young age.

That deal has been on the table for more than a month now: Trump gives Democrats a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers; Democrats give Trump his full $25 billion wall funding request. [...]

It is confounding that Trump didn't just take the deal.

That was published nearly nine months ago. It's still confounding that Trump didn't just take the deal.

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Attendees stand during a news conference at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. (Photo by Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Facing Google's CEO, Republicans can't shake their conspiracy theories

12/12/18 10:49AM

When Google CEO Sundar Pichai agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, it created an important opportunity for federal lawmakers to address a range of important issues with one of the tech industry's biggest and most important giants.

Alas, the Republican majority blew it. NBC News reported overnight:

After months of wrangling, members of Congress finally had Google CEO Sundar Pichai right where they wanted him on Tuesday -- testifying in front of a House oversight committee.

But instead of data privacy, antitrust, the abuse of market power, China or any number of other crucial topics, partisanship in the form of Republican questions about political bias at Google dominated the House Judiciary session.

It's a problem that so much of contemporary GOP politics is driven by baseless conspiracy theories. It's a bigger problem that Republicans' preoccupation with these baseless conspiracy theories ends up pushing aside real governing opportunities.

Slate  highlighted some examples of House Republicans trying to offer proof of Google discriminating against conservatives -- which turned out to be far funnier than the GOP members intended:

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Why Trump, even now, says he'll have Mexico pay for a border wall

12/12/18 10:05AM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump realized voters were likely to balk at spending billions of taxpayer dollars for a giant border wall, so the Republican told them they wouldn't have to: he'd get Mexico to pay for it.

Last week, the president shifted gears a bit, downplaying the idea that Mexico would pay for a wall and instead arguing that a wall would pay for a wall.

Yesterday, during private negotiations with congressional Democratic leaders, Trump apparently returned to his original position.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told fellow Democrats after meeting with President Donald Trump Tuesday that the President renewed his campaign-era claim that Mexico will pay for his proposed border wall, CNN reported.

The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey had earlier tweeted a corroboration of the story. Politico mentioned it in a report as well. 

It's tempting to ignore obvious presidential nonsense, but given the fact that Trump may shut down much of the federal government next week over this specific dispute, it's probably worth pausing to explain what, exactly, he's trying to say.

Even Trump realizes that the government of Mexico is not going to write a multi-billion-dollar check, send it to the White House, and finance construction of a wall that Mexicans -- like most Americans -- do not want.

Rather, what the American president has in mind is a promise with very fine print.

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia U.S.

'Troubling gaps' between Trump's beliefs and intel community

12/12/18 09:20AM

Initially, it seemed as if Donald Trump was only rejecting the U.S. intelligence community's findings that related to Russia. Soon, however, it became clear that the Republican president had no use for intelligence professionals' assessments on a range of other issues, too.

Trump blew off intelligence agencies' findings on Saudi Arabia. And North Korea. And Latin America. And Iran.

The Washington Post  reported yesterday that American intelligence professionals are struggling with the fact that Trump's public rhetoric contradicts the information they keep providing him.

President Trump continues to reject the judgments of U.S. spy agencies on major foreign policy fronts, creating a dynamic in which intelligence analysts frequently see troubling gaps between the president's public statements and the facts laid out for him in daily briefings on world events, current and former U.S. officials said. [...]

"There is extraordinary frustration," a U.S. intelligence official said. The CIA and other agencies continue to devote enormous "time, energy and resources" to ensuring that accurate intelligence is delivered to Trump, the official said, but his seeming imperviousness to such material often renders "all of that a waste."

It's a breathtaking dynamic, which as the Post noted, is "without precedent." American intelligence agencies continue to do everything possible to provide the president with the best possible information, and to their frustration, Donald Trump just doesn't seem to give a darn.

What was especially striking was reading about the lengths intelligence professionals are willing to go to accommodate the president's ... what's the word I'm looking for ... eccentricities.

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