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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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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 12.5.18

12/05/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* We have a very serious problem: "The world's greenhouse gas emissions are rising at a faster pace in 2018 than they did last year, researchers said Wednesday, the latest evidence that planet-warming pollution is proliferating again after a three-year lull in the middle of the decade. That trend is accelerating the earth's collision course with some of the most severe consequences of climate change, scientists warned."

* Trade: "China's Commerce Ministry released a statement Wednesday calling trade talks between Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the G-20 Summit in Argentina 'very successful' -- but empty of promises and vague on the 90-day deadline for negotiations touted by the Trump administration."

* This was a big strike: "A new contract with Marriott International that will give housekeepers in San Francisco an eventual $4-an-hour increase and better protections against sexual harassment was approved Monday, ending a nine-week strike by 2,500 workers at seven hotels in that city. The settlement in San Francisco concludes a nationwide walkout against the world's largest hotel chain. At its peak, the protest involved 7,700 workers at 23 hotels."

* North Carolina: "We're learning more about a heavily armed man arrested on Smith High School campus in Greensboro Monday afternoon. Police arrested Steve Spence by the tennis courts at Smith High School after he went to the school's cafeteria through the open courtyard and pulled out two hand guns. Police found he had several magazines and a backpack of bullets with him. They also say he had a long gun in the stolen car he parked by the school."

* An unflattering portrait of a retiring congressman: "The Office of Congressional Ethics released its report on allegations against Rep. Thomas Garrett Tuesday, including testimony from staffers past and present. The House Ethics Committee announced that it is continuing its own inquiry, but has not yet impaneled an investigative subcommittee."

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A person man uses a laptop. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/AP)

Hack into Republicans' committee leaves Trump in an awkward spot

12/05/18 02:13PM

When Russians hacked into the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 elections, it had a dramatic impact on American politics. With that in mind, it's worth noting that the National Republican Campaign Committee was apparently hacked this year.

The emails of top officials at the campaign arm for House Republicans were stolen during the 2018 midterm election cycle, a spokesman confirmed to NBC News on Tuesday.

Ian Prior, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, said that the group had launched an internal probe and flagged the attack to the FBI. [...]

The hack, which was first reported by Politico, involved the email accounts of four senior aides at the NRCC, said two sources with knowledge of the situation. Those accounts were surveilled for months, said the sources, who added that no donor information was compromised.

There's a lot about this story that we don't yet know, which makes it tough to answer the relevant questions. Was information stolen? Was it used against the party or its candidates? Who was responsible?

Politico's report added that Republican officials "privately believe it was a foreign agent because of the nature of the attack." I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but it'd be useful to know which foreign country we're talking about.

What's more, the same Politico article added, "The hack became a major source of consternation within the committee as the midterm campaign unfolded. The NRCC brought on the prominent Washington law firm Covington & Burling as well as Mercury Public Affairs to oversee the response to the hack. The NRCC paid the two firms hundreds of thousands of dollars to help respond to the intrusion. The committee's chief legal counsel, Chris Winkelman, devoted many hours to dealing with the matter."

But that seems weird, too. Why would the National Republican Campaign Committee spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on "the response" to an attack that the NRCC never publicly acknowledged and the public knew nothing about?

And finally, there's the matter of Donald Trump's previous rhetoric on the subject.

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Image: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at Haneda Airport, in Tokyo

Mattis and Pompeo face bipartisan pressure following Khashoggi briefing

12/05/18 12:40PM

For reasons that are still the subject of speculation, Donald Trump has gone out of his way to excuse Saudi Arabia's apparent murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In an administration in which the president perceives dissent as betrayal, everyone on Team Trump was expected to read from the same script.

And so, when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed senators last week on Khashoggi's slaying, they reportedly shared a message in line with the president's wishes and declined to blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

A week later, their testimony has become, to put it mildly, problematic. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told MSNBC this morning that yesterday's classified briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel has left Mattis and Pompeo in an awkward position.

"I think the secretary of Defense and secretary of State are in a bad spot because the president has given this bear hug to MBS and to the entire Saudi regime, so they are bound to carry out his bizarre policy," [Murphy] said. "But at the same time, it's sort of hard to call this a cover-up given the fact that everybody in that briefing last week knew that Pompeo and Mattis were misleading us, knew there was no way this murder happened without the consent and direction of MBS."

The Connecticut Democrat isn't the only one making comments like these. A reporter asked Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) yesterday whether there was a substantive difference between what senators heard last week from Mattis and Pompeo, and what they heard yesterday from the CIA director.

After pausing, the retiring Republican chairman compared it to the difference "between darkness and sunshine."

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump cheerleader, said yesterday that one would have to be "willfully blind" to miss Mohammed bin Salman's culpability in Khashoggi's murder.

"If they were in a Democratic administration," Graham said of Pompeo and Mattis, "I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia."

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