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Thursday's Mini-Report, 12.6.18

12/06/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The arrest of Meng Wanzhou carries real international consequences: "China demanded the release of a senior executive at tech giant Huawei Technologies after she was detained in Canada on extradition charges to the U.S."

* I guess we now know about one of the two redacted investigations Flynn is helping with: "Federal prosecutors in Virginia are investigating a secret Turkish lobbying effort that once involved Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, even as Mr. Flynn's role in the special counsel's investigation winds down, according to people familiar with the inquiry."

* This is exactly the opposite of the result Trump promised: "The trade deficit rose in October to a 10-year high amid a record shortfall with China, keeping the U.S. on pace to record the largest annual gap in a decade."

* Quite a ride: "Wall Street had a rollercoaster ride on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average swinging from a session low where it was down 784 points, to end the day with a decline of just 77 points."

* Not how democracy is supposed to work: "Republicans in the Wisconsin state Senate rushed to approve 82 of Gov. Scott Walker's appointees, a month after voters chose not to reelect the Republican."

* A striking op-ed in the Miami Herald calling for Labor Secretary Alex Acosta to resign "immediately."

* A striking portrait in the New York Times about an undocumented immigrant, who works at Donald Trump's New Jersey golf course, who's taking a great risk by speaking up.

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An election worker checks a voter's drivers license as North Carolina's controversial "Voter ID" law goes into effect for the state's presidential primary election at a polling place, March 15, 2016,  in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters)

Despite election-fraud scandal, North Carolina advances voter-ID bill

12/06/18 12:49PM

The Republican-majority in North Carolina's General Assembly isn't addressing the election fraud that does exist, but it is addressing the threat of voter fraud that doesn't exist. The News & Observer in Raleigh reports:

The North Carolina General Assembly has finalized legislation implementing the voter photo identification mandate approved in a statewide referendum last month.

The Senate voted 25-7 on Thursday to accept House changes to the measure and sent it to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a voter ID opponent. Republicans in charge of the legislature can override a Cooper veto if they stay united.

If you're thinking that this sounds vaguely familiar, that's probably because GOP policymakers in the Tar Heel State approved a different voter-ID law in 2013 as part of a package of new voting restrictions. That package was later rejected by the courts, with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2016 that the measure's provisions targeted African Americans "with almost surgical precision."

Donald Trump later nominated the architect of that plan, Thomas Farr, to a lifetime position as a federal judge.

This latest effort isn't quite as offensive -- it allows the use of student-IDs, for example, while the previous iterations did not -- but it will nevertheless almost certainly face resistance from North Carolina's Democratic governor. That said, given the size of the GOP majority in the legislature, the new bill is very likely to become law anyway.

That will be a step backwards for voting rights in the state, but it's especially jarring given the larger context: North Carolina is dealing with the most serious example of election fraud in recent American history.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.6.18

12/06/18 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, has called for an emergency hearing to examine allegations of election fraud in North Carolina's 9th congressional district. "Real election fraud is playing out right before us," the Virginia Dem told the Washington Post.

* In the Alaska state House race we've been watching, the latest recount found the Republican candidate ahead by a single vote, and the Democrat in the race appears poised to take the issue to the courts.

* Nancy Pelosi moved a little closer to reclaiming the House Speaker's gavel yesterday when Rep.-elect Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), who voted against Pelosi in last week's caucus meeting, announced plans to vote for her on the House floor next month.

* It was extremely close, but state lawmakers in New Hampshire yesterday re-elected Bill Gardner (D) to serve as secretary of state for another term. It's a position Gardner has held for 42 years.

* Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser became the latest Republican to say he won't run for governor in Louisiana next year, though incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) isn't going to run unopposed. Rep. Ralph Abraham (R), a relatively low-profile two-term congressman, announced this morning that he's going to take on Edwards in 2019.

* Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions could try to reclaim his old Senate seat next year, but the Alabama Republican spoke to Politico yesterday and didn't sound especially interested.

* Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) seemed to suggest at an event this week that Gov. Steve Bullock (D) would take on Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) in 2020, but yesterday, Tester walked it back, explaining that he misheard the question.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Answering Mueller's questions may not have been 'easy' after all

12/06/18 11:06AM

The Atlantic's Elaina Plott has a new report on Donald Trump's team preparing for a report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the degree to which those efforts aren't going well. The piece has quite a few interesting insights, but this was one of the tidbits that stood out for me:

Giuliani said it's been difficult in the last few months to even consider drafting response plans, or devote time to the "counter-report" he claimed they were working on this summer, as he and Trump confronted Mueller's written questions about the 2016 campaign.

"Answering those questions was a nightmare," he told me. "It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days."

We talked earlier about the trajectory of the elusive "counter-report," but let's also take a moment to consider what else Giuliani conceded in the interview.

After months of clumsy negotiations, the special counsel's office submitted a series of written questions to the White House, and just a few weeks ago, the president was eager to boast about the answers he claims to have personally prepared.

"I write the answers." Trump insisted. "My lawyers don't write answers, I write answers. I was asked a series of questions. I have answered them very easily. Very easily.... The questions were very routinely answered by me. By me. Okay?"

Even at the time, the president's rhetoric seemed ridiculous. Now, however, it seems a little worse.

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani comments on a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision outside Los Angeles Superior court in Los Angeles, Calif., on Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Giuliani changes direction on report to counter Mueller

12/06/18 10:40AM

Earlier this year, Donald Trump found it difficult to find good lawyers willing to represent him in the investigation into the Russia scandal. Eventually, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced that he'd agreed to join the president's legal defense team, and he had high hopes about what he'd be able to achieve.

In fact, Giuliani said at the time that he hoped to bring the entire investigation to an end "maybe in a couple of weeks."

That was in April.

As it turns out, it wasn't the only prediction he's flubbed. Giuliani told The Atlantic, for example, that the "counter-report" to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's still-unpublished findings isn't progressing well. The Atlantic reported that the former mayor has found it difficult in recent months to devote time to the document he claimed to be drafting over the summer.

That's where New York's Jon Chait picked up the thread:

On August 30, the Daily Beast had a much more extensive update on the counter-report. It was "quite voluminous," Giuliani boasted. "The first half of it is 58 pages, and second half isn't done yet … It needs an executive summary if it goes over a hundred." Giuliani said the first draft would be "in pretty good shape by next week," though a more cautious source told the Daily Beast that "those involved expect the counter-report to be ready to go in the next two to three weeks."

A profile of Giuliani in The New Yorker, published September 10, included another counter-report update: "Giuliani said that this 'counter-report' is already forty-five pages and will likely grow, adding, 'It needs a five-page summary -- for me.'" Note that just a couple weeks before, the first half alone had stretched to 58 pages, but now the entire thing was just 45 pages. This was perhaps a sign that the report was not proceeding quite as fast as promised.

And now that report, which Giuliani boasted was "quite voluminous," doesn't appear to be anywhere on the horizon.

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Republican Presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at an event at the National Press Club on Sept. 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Lindsey Graham underwhelmed by Michael Flynn's felonies

12/06/18 10:01AM

Last week, Michael Cohen admitted in court that he lied to Congress about Donald Trump's efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. It marked the first time the president's private business dealings in Russia were directly implicated in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the broader Russia scandal.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) didn't much care, saying the wrongdoing from Trump's former personal attorney "seems to be a process crime."

This week, the special counsel's office submitted a court filing detailing former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's felonies. Asked for his reaction, Graham told CNN yesterday, "The charge leveled against Gen. Flynn is sort of a process crime."

Really? Again?

I realize that Mueller and his team recommended that Flynn not be locked up for his felonies, but reading Tuesday's court filing, they didn't downplay the significance of his crimes, either. From the filing:

"The defendant's offense is serious. As described in the Statement of Offense, the defendant made multiple false statements, to multiple Department of Justice entities, on multiple occasions."

Flynn lied about his communications with Russia, he lied about his work with Turkey, he gave false statements that was material to a serious ongoing counterintelligence investigation, and he tried to cover up the degree to which he'd been compromised.

To which Lindsey Graham, the lawmaker who'll soon chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, effectively said, "Yawn."

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A month later, scale of Dems' victory appears even more impressive

12/06/18 09:20AM

A month ago tomorrow, Donald Trump held a post-election press conference in the White House, where a reporter reminded the president, "You're a man who likes to win, but last night was not an absolute victory for you."

Before she could even get to her question, Trump interjected. "I'll be honest," the famously dishonest president said. "I thought it was a very close to complete victory."

Even at the time, there was nothing "honest" about the assessment. Trump's Republican Party had just lost dozens of U.S. House seats and its majority in the chamber, effectively killing the president's legislative agenda for the next two years.

But a month later, the electoral landscape looks even worse for the GOP. The number of Democratic pickups in the U.S. House reached 40 -- on the very high end of what most observers considered possible in this cycle -- and as the Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman noted last night, the Democrats' lead in the national popular vote now stands at 8.6%.

That's the largest margin either party has seen in any midterm cycle in more than 30 years. (I put together the above chart to help drive the point, relying on data from FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver and Princeton's Sam Wang.)

Also note, in raw popular vote totals, House Democrats recently crossed the 60 million-vote threshold, which means the party received roughly the same number of votes in this year's midterms as John McCain did in his 2008 presidential election and Mitt Romney did in his 2012 bid.

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In this March 4, 2016, file photo, Sean Hannity of Fox News arrives in National Harbor, Md.

Leading Trump media ally: 'Don't talk to the FBI'

12/06/18 08:40AM

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal intensifies, the pressure seems to be getting to Donald Trump. In fact, as key figures weigh whether, and to what extent, to cooperate with the probe, the president has sounded at times a bit like an organized-crime figure.

Last week, for example, Trump argued that those who cooperate with federal investigators (Michael Cohen) are "weak," while those who don't (Paul Manafort) may be deserving of a pardon. This week, the president published a tweet that praised Roger Stone's "guts" for refusing to cooperate with the special counsel.

A day after Trump wrote that missive, Fox News' Sean Hannity, one of the president's closest allies, told his radio audience that he believes talking to the FBI is a bad idea. From Media Matters' transcript:

"If you're like me, and you were -- grew up to revere an FBI agent, and the FBI comes to your house, and maybe some crime took place in the neighborhood, and maybe you have a little bit of information, but you don't quite fully recall everything, but you're pretty sure you do -- the advice I have to give you now is, 'Don't talk to the FBI.' How awful is that?"

I'll assume that was a rhetorical question.

In case there were any doubts about the reasoning behind Hannity's comments, the host added, "I don't think anything of what we're hearing is true, because it just -- none of it makes sense, but they get to jump the gun, because they want this all to -- they want everybody to believe Donald Trump was colluding with the Russians."

It's quite a one-two punch, isn't it? On the one hand, we see the sitting president, the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, publicly praising those who refuse to cooperate with a federal investigation -- to the point that some knowledgeable observers questioned whether he'd crossed the line into witness tampering.

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Trump's hotel profited from clumsy Saudi-backed lobbying campaign

12/06/18 08:00AM

The timing of last night's revelations could be better for Donald Trump. This week, we learned that a federal lawsuit is advancing challenging the president's alleged "Emolument Clause" violations, in which Trump profits from foreign money. There are multiple lawsuits testing his practice, but the case filed by the Maryland and D.C. attorneys general has moved to the discovery phase, and subpoenas were issued on Tuesday.

The Justice Department continues to insist that the case has no merit. It's against this backdrop that the Washington Post published a new report overnight on the money Trump's D.C. hotel received thanks to a Saudi Arabian lobbying campaign.

Lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved blocks of rooms at President Trump's Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump's election in 2016 -- paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the trips and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

At the time, these lobbyists were reserving large numbers of D.C.-area hotel rooms as part of an unorthodox campaign that offered U.S. military veterans a free trip to Washington -- then sent them to Capitol Hill to lobby against a law the Saudis opposed, according to veterans and organizers.

At issue was proposed legislation called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which Saudi officials were vehemently against. Ostensibly as part of their opposition, Saudi Arabia hired lobbyists and booked rooms at Trump's hotel for U.S. veterans who were encouraged to pressure members of Congress on the legislation. Some of those veterans apparently didn't realize what foreign country was footing the bill.

As the Post's report makes clear, the original plan was to put up the veterans in a different D.C.-area hotel, but after Election Day, the lobbyists "switched most of their business to the Trump International Hotel."

The lobbyists told the newspaper this was a coincidence.

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