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Friday's Mini-Report, 11.2.18

11/02/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* An unfortunate step backwards: "The White House announced Friday it is re-imposing economic and trade sanctions on Iran, starting at midnight on Sunday. The move is intended to change the country's politics through economic pressure on its ability to sell oil. But the impact is likely to be small on world markets, and even possibly reduced, for now, on Iran itself."

* An important ruling out of Georgia: "A federal judge said Friday that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate for governor, must allow new U.S. citizens to vote Tuesday if they can show proof of citizenship at the polls."

* It'd be nice if Trump didn't encourage troops to commit crimes: "President Donald Trump announced Thursday that the U.S. military would treat any rocks or stones being thrown by asylum-seeking migrants slowly heading toward the U.S.-Mexico border as firearms."

* On a related note:  "President Donald Trump said in a speech on Thursday that rocks thrown by migrants on the US–Mexico border should be considered as firearms. By Friday, the Nigerian army had already used a video of the speech to justify shooting protesters that a human rights group said were unarmed."

* New behind-the-scenes insights: "Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, said in an interview published Friday that he has heard the president use racist language in one-on-one conversations on multiple occasions over the years."

* I'll have more on this next week: "A federal judge on Friday denied President Trump's request to stay a lawsuit alleging he is in violation of the Constitution by doing business with foreign governments, a decision that paves the way for plaintiffs to seek information from his business as it relates to his D.C. hotel."

* I wish he had more credibility: "Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley claimed, citing 'Law Enforcement Sensitive' information, that his office has received information that among the thousands of Central American immigrants in a caravan headed for the United States are a child molester and members of the violent MS-13 gang."

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The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Did the White House get caught in a lie about the FBI HQ project?

11/02/18 12:47PM

As regular readers know, Donald Trump's keen interest in the FBI's headquarters has been at the center of an ongoing controversy. Axios reported in July, for example, that there's been a debate ongoing for quite a while about whether to leave the FBI where it is or relocate the bureau's headquarters to a nearby suburb. The president is "dead opposed to plans to move it out of D.C."

Asked for an explanation, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last month, "The president wanted to save the government money," which is why he directly intervened in the project. As the Wall Street Journal  reports today, Sanders' argument wasn't true.

New documents suggest the Trump administration was aware that its decision to keep the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C., would cost more than a competing proposal to relocate to the suburbs, contradicting public assertions from the White House that it wanted to save taxpayers money.

A newly released email exchange shows that Andrew Abrams, deputy associate director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, attempting to prepare Emily Murphy, chief of the General Services Administration, for testimony before Congress about the FBI headquarters.

In the email, Mr. Abrams says the toughest question Ms. Murphy could receive is, "How is this a good deal for taxpayers?" The email doesn't dispute that the proposal to keep the facility in Washington would cost more and be less secure than relocating to the suburbs in Virginia or Maryland.

The information was obtained by House Democrats, several of whom wrote a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly today, demanding additional information.

Given the last two years, I can appreciate why a "Sanders lies about a thing" story may seem uninteresting, but in this case, don't be too quick to dismiss the revelation. We're talking about a controversy that points to possible presidential corruption, which now also appears to involve multiple officials who haven't told the truth.

Let’s back up for a minute to review how we reached this point, because there’s a controversy here that could pose meaningful trouble for the White House.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.2.18

11/02/18 12:00PM

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

* As Rachel noted on last night's show, the latest news out of North Dakota was very discouraging for voting-rights advocates: "A federal judge on Thursday rejected a last-ditch attempt to block North Dakota's requirement that voters have a residential address."

* How close is Georgia's gubernatorial race? The latest poll from the Atlanta Journal Constitution found Stacey Abrams (D) and Brian Kemp (R) tied at 47% each.

* In related news, Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Georgia yesterday, where he told supporters, "I heard Oprah was in town today. And I heard Will Ferrell was going door-to-door the other day," he told the crowd. Well I'd like to remind Stacey [Abrams] and Oprah and Will Ferrell -- I'm kind of a big deal, too."

* In Arizona's U.S. Senate race, the Green Party's candidate announced yesterday she's ending her candidacy and urging voters to support Kyrsten Sinema (D). It's worth noting, however, that the Green Party's candidate, whose name is Angela Green, will still appear on the ballot and many Arizonans have already voted.

* The new NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll found Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 52% to 43%, among likely voters.

* CNN released a few new polls yesterday that found Sen. Bill Nelson (D) with a two-point lead in Florida, gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum (D) with a one-point lead in Florida, and Senate hopeful Marsha Blackburn (R) with a four-point lead in Tennessee.

* In Oklahoma, the latest SoonerPoll found Kevin Stitt (R) with a modest advantage over Drew Edmondson (D), 46% to 42%. Early voting in Oklahoma began yesterday.

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Despite his dubious record, Trump says, 'When I can, I tell the truth'

11/02/18 11:20AM

In an interview this week, Donald Trump described his social-media messages as "my form of telling the truth." The phrasing was odd: the president didn't say his missives are true, but rather his "form" of what's true.

He said something similar two days later.

President Trump defended his proclivity to spread misleading statements and falsehoods, saying in a television interview Wednesday that he tells the truth when he can.

"Well, I try. I do try ... and I always want to tell the truth," Trump said in an interview with ABC News. "When I can, I tell the truth. And sometimes it turns out to be where something happens that's different or there's a change, but I always like to be truthful."

Note Trump's choice of words, which seemed to reflect an awkward realization that he's not considered to be an honest person. The president could've simply said, "I always tell the truth," but he didn't.

We were instead treated to a series of caveats: Trump "tries" to tell the truth. He "wants" to tell the truth. He "likes" to be truthful.

Maybe he ought to "try" harder. The Washington Post  reported today:

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Image: John Bolton

White House's John Bolton complains about ethics rules

11/02/18 10:40AM

Given the number of scandals surrounding Donald Trump and his team, many have made the case that it's time for federal policymakers to strengthen existing ethics rules. With some members of the president's cabinet having resigned in disgrace, another facing all kinds of accusations of wrongdoing, and another still facing the prospect of a criminal investigation, it's tough to blame reform advocates.

But some in the White House apparently disagree. As CNN reported, National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke at the Hamilton Society yesterday in DC, where he argued that current ethics rules are a deterrent to public service.

Bolton said "things have gotten more bureaucratic, harder to get things done" since he served under President George H.W. Bush in the 1990s and blamed the difficulty, in part, on the "excessive nature of the so-called ethics checks."

"If you were designing a system to discourage people from coming into government, you would do it this way," Bolton said.

"That risks building up a priestly class" of government employees, he added.

"It's really depressing to see," Bolton said of the bureaucratic red tape.

I generally find it difficult to take John Bolton's arguments seriously, but this seems like especially weak tea. If the current ethics standards are unrealistically high, how exactly did we end up with our current motley crew running the executive branch?

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Following synagogue and pipe bomb attacks, Trump finds the wrong victim

11/02/18 10:01AM

Last week, as Americans were confronted with news of a Donald Trump fan targeting Democratic officials with pipe bombs, the president complained that "this 'Bomb' stuff" was interfering with the Republican Party's election messaging and the GOP's purported "momentum."

Last night in Missouri, Trump added some related thoughts, connecting the mail bombs to the mass shooting in Pittsburgh over the weekend that left 11 people dead.

"I will tell you, we have gotten tremendous numbers, tremendous numbers of Republicans are going out to vote. Now, we did have two maniacs stop our momentum that was incredible, because for seven days, nobody talked about the election to stop the tremendous momentum."

In the wake of the synagogue and pipe bomb attacks, the president found some people to feel sorry for: himself and his party.

Perhaps realizing that he was prioritizing party politics over people, the president quickly added that "we don't care about momentum," before immediately making the case that he cares deeply about momentum: "But it did nevertheless stop a certain momentum. And now the momentum is picking up. And it's picked up based on common sense. It's picked up based on strong borders...."

We don't care about momentum, but have I mentioned how important momentum is?

Circling back to our coverage from last week, if a major news organization had published a report, quoting anonymous White House insiders, saying that Trump is whining behind the scenes about pipe bombs and the deadliest attack on Jewish Americans in the history of the United States interfering with Republicans' election messaging, it would've made the president look like an awful, petulant child, more concerned with politics than national security.

But as it turns out, we don't need a behind-the-scenes account: Trump keeps sharing this sentiment in public.

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Trump picks a curious adjective to describe Georgia's Stacey Abrams

11/02/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump has a special fondness for peddling insults, and we've grown accustomed to hearing him use similar words and phrases to target his many perceived rivals. But as the New York Times  noted, the president went after Stacey Abrams yesterday with phrasing he doesn't often use.

President Trump disparaged Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia, in ambiguous and unusually personal terms on Thursday, warning that "her past" left her "not qualified to be the governor."

Mr. Trump did not elaborate and offered no evidence for his assertion, which seemed to be a potential preview of the political message he will deliver on Sunday, two days ahead of the election, at a Georgia rally for Brian Kemp, Ms. Abrams's Republican rival.

But the decision of the president, who has been criticized for inflammatory language, to invoke Ms. Abrams's background so broadly was a distinct escalation in his attacks on her bid to become the first black woman to be elected governor in the United States.

The comments came on the heels of a recent tweet in which Trump described the Georgia Democrat as "totally unqualified."

According to the comprehensive Trump Twitter Archive, Trump has called exactly one person -- literally, just one -- "unqualified" since becoming president, and it's Stacey Abrams.

There is a certain irony to the attack. After all Donald Trump, up until quite recently, was a television personality, who'd never served a day in public office, who spent much of his life benefiting from illegal handouts from his father, and who failed repeatedly as a hapless businessman.

Perhaps he's the wrong guy to start offering evaluations about who is and isn't "qualified" for high-ranking elected office.

But it's also a curious line of criticism because it's wrong.

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Job market bounces back in final pre-election report

11/02/18 08:44AM

Ahead of this morning's jobs report, most projections pointed to monthly job growth in September around 188,000. The initial data suggests we did even better than that.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the economy added 250,000 jobs in October, while the unemployment rate remained steady at 3.7%. Both figures point to a very healthy jobs landscape.

On a related note, the revisions for the two previous months -- August and September -- were roughly offsetting, with August's totals revised up a bit and September's totals revised down.

In terms of the larger context, this morning's data points to 2.12 million jobs created so far in 2018, which is quite good, and which is an improvement on the totals from the first 10 months of 2017 (1.79 million). It's also up over the comparable period from 2016 (1.99 million). That said, this year's tally is still short of the totals from the first 10 months of 2014 (2.45 million) and 2015 (2.19 million).

When the White House says this is the best growth "ever," it apparently means "since a few years ago."

As for the political implications, Donald Trump has now been in office for 21 full months – February 2017 through October 2018 -- and in that time, the economy has created 4.05 million jobs. In the 21 full months preceding Trump's presidency -- May 2015 to January 2017 -- the economy created 4.47 million jobs.

The White House has not yet offered an explanation for why job growth has slowed since Trump took office.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

In racist video, Trump can't even try to scare people without lying

11/02/18 08:00AM

It's been called "the most racially charged national political ad in 30 years." Donald Trump this week released a 53-second online video in which the president featured a Mexican cop killer named Luis Bracamontes.

"It is outrageous what the Democrats are doing to our Country," Trump wrote in a tweet prompting the video. The clip itself features on-screen text that tells views, "Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay. Who else would Democrats let in?"

And while many marveled at the ugly demagoguery -- even a handful of Republicans said they were disgusted -- it wasn't long before we realized that Trump's video wasn't just based on racism; it was also based on lies. The Daily Beast  explained yesterday:

Bracamontes was first deported to his native Mexico in 1997, during the Clinton administration, after he was busted selling drugs. But, according to U.S. Immigration officials, Bracamontes managed return to the United States by 2001, when he was deported a second time for being in the country illegally. That was during the first year of the Bush administration.

Bracamontes was back in America again by 2002.

In other words, a Democratic administration deported him, but he re-entered the country under a Republican administration.

Complicating matters, the Sacramento Bee reported yesterday that Bracamontes was also arrested on drug charges in Arizona in the 1990s, but he was released by then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office "for reasons unknown."

Arpaio, of course, is a far-right Republican, a close ally of Donald Trump, and the recipient of a highly dubious presidential pardon.

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