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A doorman stands as people walk past the Trump Tower in N.Y. on May 23, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Poll shows broad opposition to campaigns colluding with foreign adversaries

08/15/18 11:20AM

There's quite a bit to chew on in the new national Quinnipiac poll, but there was one question that stood out for me.

"Do you think it is ever acceptable for a presidential campaign to obtain information on a political opponent from a hostile foreign power, or do you think that is never acceptable?"

As it turns out, this was one of the few questions in which Americans were largely on the same page. Overall, 79% of Americans said it's never acceptable for U.S. campaigns to get dirt from foreign adversaries, and the consensus was fairly broad: even 69% of Republicans agreed.

Among white voters without college degrees -- a constituency that tends to make up the bulk of Donald Trump's base -- 79% said it's never acceptable, which is the identical figure to overall national sentiment.

And at a certain level, the question may seem boring, if not wholly unnecessary. Of course the American is going to balk at the idea of presidential campaigns obtaining information on a political opponent from a hostile foreign power, right? Who's going to argue the other side of this fight?

The answer, it turns out, is some of Trump's allies, who are worried about where the Russia scandal is headed.

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at a press conference after appearing in court to call for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Defending Trump's lies, Giuliani says facts are 'in the eye of the beholder'

08/15/18 10:42AM

CNN's Chris Cuomo interviewed Rudy Giuliani last night, and the host noted that plenty of modern presidents have faced pressure and attacks, but no modern president has "dealt with humanity the way" Donald Trump does. The former mayor, conceding the point, replied, "Maybe nobody has been as honest as him."

Yes, because if there's one thing Trump has demonstrated, it's his unyielding commitment to ... honesty?

It led to an interesting exchange between the host and guest.

CUOMO: If fact-counting is anything, we've never had anybody with the level of mendacity that he has. Not even close.

GIULIANI: It's in the eye of the beholder.

CUOMO: No, facts are not in the eye of the beholder.

GIULIANI: Yes, they are. Nowadays they are.

In context, Giuliani was chuckling a bit when he said this, so perhaps the presidential attorney was treating this as some kind of joke.

Or maybe Trump's lawyer was treating the whole idea of objective reality as some kind of joke. It was a little tough to tell.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Why the White House got African-American job numbers very wrong

08/15/18 10:00AM

This past weekend, the Associated Press published an unflattering report fact-checking Donald Trump's rhetoric on the economy, explaining in some detail that the president has been reduced to "pulling numbers out of thin air." The AP added that figures Trump peddles "don't even come close" to being true.

Two days later, the president seemed eager to prove the AP correct, delivering remarks in which he repeated claims about his record on job creation and economic growth that were plainly wrong.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went even further yesterday, pointing to a truly ridiculous argument while defending Trump against allegations of racism.

"Just look at the economy alone. This president, since he took office, in the year and a half that he's been here, has created 700,000 new jobs for African Americans. That's 700,000 African Americans that are working now that weren't working when this President took place.

"When President Obama left, after eight years in office -- eight years in office, he had only created 800 -- or 195,000 jobs for African Americans. President Trump in his first year and a half has already tripled what President Obama did in eight years."

Even by Trump World standards, this was hopelessly bizarre. As a CNBC report explained, "During the eight years President Barack Obama was in office, black employment rose by roughly 3.2 million, or more than four times the 700,000 jobs added so far since Trump took office."

Soon after, the White House Council of Economic Advisors apologized, insisting it was responsible for Sanders' mistake. The press secretary added the numbers she used "were correct, but the time frame for [President] Obama wasn't."

Except, this was wrong, too, since the revised numbers included jobs that were lost during the Great Recession before Obama took office.

But as important as these factual details are, I'm also curious about why the White House thought the absurd claims were true.

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks about the Kansas voter ID law in his Topeka, Kan., office May 12, 2016. (Photo by Dave Kaup/Reuters)

As Kobach prevails, Dems get the candidate they're eager to beat in Kansas

08/15/18 09:20AM

Kansas hosted one of the nation's closest primary contests last week, and it looked like it might be a while before we learned who the Republican Party's gubernatorial nominee would be. Incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) had already hired an attorney, and many expected a prolonged and contentious recount process.

Last night, however, all of that changed.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded Tuesday evening in the state's Republican gubernatorial primary, saying he would endorse Secretary of State Kris Kobach a week after their neck-and-neck finish threatened to send the race to a recount.

Colyer accepted defeat after a review of some provisional ballots from most Kansas counties failed to find enough votes for him to overcome a deficit of 110 votes at the time of poll closing in the Aug. 7 primary, out of more than 311,000 votes initially counted.

Donald Trump will likely take some credit for the results, and for a change, the presidential boast may be at least somewhat true. Despite pressure from the Republican Governors Association and White House officials, who urged Trump to stay out of the primary, the president announced his support for Kobach the day before the primary.

Given Kobach's tiny margin of victory, it's quite likely Trump's backing helped push the far-right candidate over the top.

The question, of course, is whether Republicans will end up regretting it.

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Pawlenty quits Romney campaign to run Wall Street lobby shop

Latest primary results point to surprises, historic breakthroughs

08/15/18 08:45AM

About a month ago, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), running for his old job, launched his first television ad of the primary season. In an unexpected move, the Republican didn't tout a lengthy record of success; he attacked his primary rival, Jeff Johnson, as a "career politician."

The substance of the message was bizarre -- Pawlenty, after all, was a two-term governor, a five-term state legislator, and a failed presidential candidate -- but the subtext suggested there was something in his polling that gave him pause. With a huge financial advantage, broad name-recognition, a professional operation, Pawlenty seemed likely to win the primary, but that first advertising choice reflected anxiety.

We now know the concerns were rooted in fact. The Star-Tribune  reported overnight:

Jeff Johnson shocked the Minnesota political world Tuesday with a commanding victory in the Republican primary for governor, while U.S. Rep. Tim Walz won a three-way race in the DFL primary, setting up a clash of starkly different visions for the state's future.

Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, derailed former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's bid to win back his old job. Pawlenty had been widely seen as the front-runner thanks to much higher name recognition from his two previous terms in office, and Johnson overcame a vast fundraising disadvantage with a message of change and by courting supporters of President Donald Trump.

With just about all of the precincts reporting, Johnson appears to have won the primary by nearly nine points.

The significance of this extends well beyond embarrassment for Pawlenty. Most observers in both parties believe Johnson and his Trump-like message will not be effective in this relatively blue state. BuzzFeed reported earlier in the summer, "Most notably, a big investment from the Republican Governors Association could be in jeopardy: One national Republican experienced in gubernatorial campaigns told BuzzFeed News that the RGA is likely to cancel its $2.3 million reservation for fall airtime in Minnesota if Johnson wins the nomination."

That's not just good news for Rep. Tim Walz, who won a competitive Democratic primary yesterday, it's also bad news for other Republicans up and down the ballot: with Dems now favored in Minnesota's gubernatorial race, and both of its U.S. Senate races, GOP candidates in tough races are suddenly in an even tougher spot now than before Primary Day.

But while Pawlenty's loss may have been yesterday's biggest surprise, it wasn't the only interesting result.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

Why the White House won't 'guarantee' there's no tape of Trump using the N-word

08/15/18 08:00AM

There have been unsubstantiated rumors for quite a while of possible tapes, recoded during Donald Trump's time as a reality-show personality, using racist language behind the scenes. Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former White House aide, claims she's heard a recording of the president using the N-word.

The allegations led to a rather striking exchange at yesterday's press briefing.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday that she could not "guarantee" that there are no recordings of President Donald Trump using the N-word.

"I've never heard him use that term or anything similar," Sanders said in response to a series of questions from NBC's Kristen Welker about whether he's ever used the racial slur. Asked if she could promise that Americans would never hear him say it on a recording, she declined. "I can't guarantee anything, but I can tell you the president addressed this question directly," she said, though she acknowledged that she had never asked him the question herself.

Sanders added, "Look, I haven't been in every single room."

It wasn't much of an answer. If we asked a White House spokesperson from the previous administration if Barack Obama had ever talked about launching a full-scale military invasion of Antarctica, we wouldn't hear, "I can't guarantee anything. I haven't been in every room."

Instead, we'd hear something categorical, such as, "No, that's stupid."

Similarly, if reporters asked Sanders if there's a recording of her boss planning a nude barbecue on the South Lawn, I imagine she'd be comfortable guaranteeing that such a tape does not exist.

But Sanders wasn't willing to rule out the possibility of a recording of Trump using racist slurs, suggesting that she believes such a tape may, in fact, exist -- and suggesting she believes the president may be capable of such behavior. That in turn raises two angles of interest.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.14.18

08/14/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More than 10 months later: "Puerto Rico's electric utility said it completed restoration of power to all of its customers on Tuesday, more than 10 months after Hurricane Maria left 1.5 million homes and businesses in the dark."

* Time for closing arguments: "Paul Manafort's lawyers declined Tuesday to call any witnesses to defend him against charges of bank and tax fraud. Mr. Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, also told the judge that he did not want to testify, clearing the way for closing arguments from both sides and the start of jury deliberations on Wednesday."

* The latest from Italy: "At least 23 people were killed when a highway bridge collapsed during a violent storm in Italy's northern city of Genoa on Tuesday."

* The latest from London: "A man has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism offenses after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament. The vehicle swerved into cyclists and pedestrians shortly after 07:30 BST, injuring three people. The 29-year-old suspect is not believed to be known to MI5 or counter-terrorism police, and is not cooperating with officers."

* Turkey: "President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that Turkey would boycott U.S.-made electronic products, escalating a feud with the Trump administration that has contributed to the rapid decline of the Turkish currency. "

* The Pentagon's Dana White: "One of Defense Secretary James Mattis' most senior civilian advisers is being investigated by the Defense Department Office of Inspector General for allegedly retaliating against staff members after she used some of them to conduct her personal errands and business matters, according to four sources familiar with the probe."

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Image: FILE: Omarosa Manigault Newman Resigns from White House Role

Trump campaign launches new legal action against Omarosa

08/14/18 12:51PM

Donald Trump and his team have routinely made threats about possible legal action against their critics, but the posturing rarely amounts to much. Earlier this year, for example, the president's lawyers went after "Fire and Fury" author Michael Wolff and his publisher, insisting that the book not be published or disseminated.

The threats, of course, were ignored, and the book became a bestseller.

Eight months later, when rumors first emerged about Trump World "looking into legal options" against Omarosa Manigault Newman, it was easy to assume the president and those around him were just trying to intimidate the former White House aide. As it turns out, however, the threat of legal action is apparently quite real. NBC News reports that the Trump campaign is formally alleging that the reality-show personality breached a 2016 confidentiality agreement.

Trump's campaign, formally named Donald J. Trump for President, filed an arbitration action Tuesday against Manigault Newman with the American Arbitration Association in New York City, the official told NBC News.

The action is related to claims made by Manigault Newman in her new book, "Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House," in which she slammed the president as racist and in mental decline. [...]

In an arbitration proceeding, each side submits to the judgment of an independent arbitrator -- typically a retired judge -- who hears evidence presented by both sides and has the ability to make a ruling or penalize one side.

There are plenty of experts who can speak to this with more authority than I can, but it's my understanding that the discovery process in arbitration cases is pretty limited -- which in a controversy like this one, cuts off a potential bonanza of opportunities.

That said, by taking any action at all, the Trump campaign is guaranteeing even more attention for the former White House aide and her book.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.14.18

08/14/18 12:00PM

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

* It's Primary Day in four states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Vermont -- with a variety of Senate, gubernatorial, and U.S. House primaries among the contests to watch.

* In New Jersey's 3rd congressional district, which Democrats consider a key pick-up opportunity, a new Monmouth University poll found incumbent Rep. Tom MacArthur (R) with the narrowest of leads over Andy Kim (D), 41% to 40%.

* Now that Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) has been arrested by the FBI, will Republicans who received campaign contributions from him keep the money? Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) accepted a donation from Collins' PAC, but the Kentucky Republican announced yesterday he'll donate the same amount to a veterans' charity.

* In Minnesota, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) looks like a fairly safe bet for re-election: the latest Emerson poll found her leading her top Republican challenger, Jim Newberger, 50% to 26%.

* In New York, a state court ruled the other day that Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D) can, at least for now, run for re-election to Congress and run for state attorney general at the same time.

* Speaking of New York, Donald Trump claimed at a fundraiser last night that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) personally vowed to the president that he wouldn't run against him in 2020. I find that hard to believe, but the governor's office has not yet commented on the claim.

* In Florida, which will be home to several major races this year, Politico  reports that the state Democratic Party "has lost a share of its registered voters in Florida since 2016 and the percentage of Democrats casting vote-by-mail absentee ballots this month trails those mailed in by Republicans, according to new figures from the state's elections division."

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Image: President Trump And President Putin Hold A Joint Press Conference After Summit

Russia is likely to approve of Trump's latest signing statement

08/14/18 11:20AM

It's been about four years since Vladimir Putin's Russian government annexed Crimea, prompting international outrage and a series of burdensome economic sanctions. Nevertheless, as far as Moscow is concerned, the dispute is over, and this part of Ukraine is now Russian soil.

In the U.S. Congress, however, the dispute is far from settled. In fact, in the newly signed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), there's fairly specific language that says the Trump administration must not recognize Crimea as part of Russia.

As Roll Call  reported this morning, the president signed the NDAA into law, but he soon after issued a signing statement about this provision, announcing plans to ignore it.

Language in the fiscal 2019 defense authorization, which Trump signed in to law Monday during a ceremony at Fort Drum in upstate New York, purported to impose a funding blockade on the Pentagon acting on recognition of Crimea as part of Russia.

The literal text of the new law states: "None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2019 for the Department of Defense may be obligated or expended to implement any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea."

This isn't to say the administration will recognize Crimea as Russian soil, but the signing statement -- which is available in its entirety here -- leaves open the possibility, rejecting Congress' authority to tie Trump's hands.

This follows recent comments from the Republican president in which he emphasized all the money the Putin government has spent in Crimea, as if this might help justify Moscow's position.

Trump added, in reference to possibly recognizing Russia's annexation of Crimea, "We'll have to see."

That wasn't a "no."

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A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

After health care rate hikes, Trump falsely boasts he's 'kept rates down'

08/14/18 10:45AM

Whenever Donald Trump tries to talk about health care, the president nearly always runs into trouble. Two weeks ago, for example, he boasted at a rally that his administration's new association plans are doing "record business" and generating "incredible" numbers. What Trump didn't know was that the plans won't even be available until Sept. 1.

Last night, at a New York fundraiser, the president again tried to dip his toes into the health care waters.

"People are shocked that we've kept their rates down. The increases have been much less than people were projecting that they'd be -- because of what we've done.... We've worked very hard on that."

This isn't just wrong; it's wrong in ways that contradict the usual Republican talking points.

There are certain core truths that are unavoidable. For example, we know that millions of consumers are now paying higher premiums.

We also know that premiums have gone up as a result of Trump's policy decisions. Reporting on the latest data from the Congressional Budget Office, Axios recently explained, "Insurance premiums tend to go up every year, but the magnitude of these increases stems largely from the repeal of the ACA's individual mandate, the expansion of skimpy short-term plans, and the decision last year to cut off the law's cost-sharing payments."

Private insurers from across the country have said the same thing: people are paying more and it's the direct result of the administration's policies.

We also know that were it not for Trump's misguided moves, American consumers would be paying less. Brookings published a fascinating report on this just two weeks ago. I'll assume it's still on the president's to-be-read list.

And then, of course, we also know how Republicans usually try to explain these developments.

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