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Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long delivers update on federal actions to support Hurricane Irma response in Washington, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

Trump's FEMA chief reportedly facing possible criminal probe

09/18/18 10:42AM

We've known for about a week that FEMA chief Brock Long isn't just dealing with the effects of Hurricane Florence; he's also found himself facing an ethics investigation. The Wall Street Journal  reported overnight that the matter appears to be increasingly serious.

An investigation targeting President Trump's top emergency-management official has been referred to federal prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges should be pursued, according to people familiar with the probe.

Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and two other federal employees may have broken as many as six laws as they commuted frequently between Washington and Mr. Long's home in Hickory, N.C., at taxpayers' expense, said one of the people briefed on the investigation.

The Washington Post had a related report, noting that an internal investigation within the Department of Homeland Security has been "referred to U.S. attorneys for prosecution."

Making matters slightly worse for the FEMA director, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) wrote to Long yesterday, "requesting documentation and other information related to his use of government vehicles and about the agency personnel who may have accompanied him on the trips."

For those just joining us, the Trump administration has already been burdened by a series of controversies over top officials misusing public funds for personal travel, though Brock Long appears to offer a rather extreme example of the problem.

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum, Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Walker says he'll clean up the health care mess he's eager to create

09/18/18 10:00AM

There's a serious lawsuit pending in a federal court in Texas right now that hopes to gut the Affordable Care Act, with protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions hanging in the balance. The anti-health-care case was brought by 20 Republican state attorneys general and the Republican governors from Maine and Mississippi.

One of the 20 states that filed the case was Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R), currently running for a third consecutive term, signed off on state Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) joining a multi-state litigation. It made this Associated Press report all the more notable.

Gov. Scott Walker's campaign says he would call a special session of the Legislature if necessary to pass a bill guaranteeing health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

That guarantee is already provided under the federal health care law Walker wants to see repealed. But the Republican says he likes that provision and earlier this year called on the state Legislature to enact a protection. The bill did not pass.

Walker spokesman Brian Reisinger says Friday that "if something were to change" and people with pre-existing conditions were no longer covered in Wisconsin, "Walker would call a special session in a heartbeat and get it passed."

This is a curious posture. Walker has long opposed "Obamacare" and has called for its repeal. The Republican governor also supports the lawsuit that would strip Americans of protections they currently enjoy.

And Walker also wants voters to know that if the case he supports succeeds, he'll also scramble to rescue the families hurt by the outcome he wants. It sounds a bit like the governor has a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other -- and Walker wants the public to know that whatever fire he helps start he'll also try to put out.

We're nevertheless seeing related developments elsewhere. In Missouri, state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), running in one of the nation's most competitive U.S. Senate races, was only too pleased to join the anti-ACA lawsuit earlier this year. Now that families are starting to worry about the punishments the case will impose, however, Hawley "won't offer details about his role in the Republican lawsuit."

The GOP candidate says he supports protections for those with pre-existing conditions, even as his case tries to take those protections away.

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT., talks to reporters as he walks to the weekly Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2013.

Orrin Hatch defends Kavanaugh in the least persuasive way possible

09/18/18 09:20AM

It's not surprising that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has positioned himself as an ardent supporter of Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. What is surprising is how bad Hatch's arguments are.

The retiring Utah Republican told Capitol Hill reporters yesterday, for example, in refence to Christine Blasey Ford's allegations, that Kavanaugh didn't even attend the party. Since Ford hasn't gone into any details about the event, it's difficult to know how the judge, or his GOP ally in the Senate, could say this with any certainty.

Hatch added that Ford must be "mixed up," evidently because Kavanaugh says so.

After gushing about the Supreme Court nominee's honesty, decency, and integrity, Hatch was asked about the possibility of the allegations being accurate. The senator told reporters:

"If that was true, I think it'd be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today -- because that's the issue. Is this judge a really good man? And he is. And by any measure he is."

This was a highly problematic answer. As The New Republic's Jeet Heer wrote, "So Hatch's position is: Ford is mistaken because Kavanaugh wasn't at a party that Ford didn't really describe but it wouldn't matter if Ford were telling the truth because Kavanaugh is a good man. The philosopher Jacques Derrida described this type of thinking as 'kettle logic': the making of contradictory arguments with no regard for internal coherence."

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Trump ignores security, crosses 'red line' with declassification gambit

09/18/18 08:40AM

Donald Trump's abuses have become routine, but that doesn't make them any easier to tolerate. The president's move yesterday afternoon, for example, is awfully tough to defend.

In an unprecedented move that stunned current and former intelligence officials, President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the public release of highly classified documents and text messages related to the FBI investigation into whether his campaign conspired with Russia.

A statement by the White House press office said Trump had directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Department of Justice and the FBI to declassify about 20 pages of a highly sensitive application for surveillance against Carter Page, a one-time Trump foreign policy aide.

The president suggested two weeks ago that he was considering such a move, but many hoped Trump was just blowing off steam and he'd end up in a more responsible place. That's obviously not what happened.

Instead, the president ignored the concerns of the intelligence community and federal law enforcement officials, ordering the release of highly specific materials and excerpts requested by far-right members of Congress.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, issued a blistering statement on the developments, arguing, "President Trump, in a clear abuse of power, has decided to intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative. With respect to some of these materials, I have been previously informed by the FBI and Justice Department that they would consider their release a red line that must not be crossed as they may compromise sources and methods. This is evidently of no consequence to a president who cares about nothing about the country and everything about his narrow self-interest."

That reference to "a red line that must not be crossed" was of particular interest -- because it suggests Trump's actions, which put his interests above the nation's, can be fairly described as dangerous.

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Image: US-POLITICS-JUSTICE-TRUMP

Despite his troubled track record, Trump endorses Kavanaugh's character

09/18/18 08:00AM

White House officials were probably concerned what Donald Trump might say -- or more to the point, tweet -- about the latest allegations facing Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and they were probably relieved yesterday when the president exercised some restraint. Since the public learned of Christine Blasey Ford's name and her specific claims, Trump hasn't published a word about her or his Supreme Court nominee via social media.

The president was asked at a White House event yesterday, however, whether he believes Ford's allegations. Trump responded:

"Judge Kavanaugh is one of the finest people that I've ever known. He's an outstanding intellect, an outstanding judge. Respected by everybody. Never had even a little blemish on his record.... He is somebody very special. [...]

"He is one of the great intellects and one of the finest people that anybody has known. You look at his references; I've never seen anything quite like it."

There was a time when this kind of presidential endorsement of someone's character would be quite meaningful, but with Donald Trump, his track record is a bit of a problem.

Earlier this year, for example, when former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter faced credible allegations of domestic abuse, Trump argued, "He says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that."

A few months before that, during Roy Moore's Senate campaign in Alabama, the president was asked about his message to women. "Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it," Trump replied. "That's all I can say. He denies it. And by the way, he totally denies it."

The president was similarly dismissive of sexual-misconduct claims against prominent figures from conservative media, including Bill O'Reilly and Roger Ailes.

And, of course, Trump himself has been accused of sexual misconduct, and there's a recording of him bragging about his abusive tactics. He later denied having done what the nation heard him boasting about.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.17.18

09/17/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* He'll accept "a little" delay: "President Donald Trump said Monday that he is willing to accept that it might take longer to get a vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh because of an allegation that Kavanaugh assaulted a girl while both were in high school, but added that it was 'ridiculous' to ask whether Kavanaugh had offered to withdraw."

* Devastation in the Philippines: "Rescue operations are underway in the Philippines as 49 people remain missing after Super Typhoon Mangkhut triggered a massive landslide in the country's north, destroying hundreds of homes. Fifty-four people have been confirmed dead so far as a result of the typhoon, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesperson said Monday."

* Hurricane Florence: "Authorities in North Carolina and South Carolina said Monday that at least 23 deaths have been blamed on the storm, a number that has steadily risen each day as rain has pounded the region and floodwaters have spread throughout both states."

* Identifying Texas' suspected serial killer: "A U.S. Border Patrol agent is suspected of being a serial killer after he was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping in rural Webb County, Texas, authorities announced Saturday."

* Syria: "Russia's defense minister said on Monday that Syria would refrain from launching an offensive on Idlib Province, the last major rebel stronghold, after the presidents of Russia and Turkey agreed to establish a 'demilitarized zone' there to avert a potentially catastrophic military confrontation."

* Coast Guard: "A member of a U.S. Coast Guard team responding to Tropical Storm Florence in South Carolina appeared to flash a white power hand gesture in the background as a captain was being interviewed Friday by MSNBC. The man has since been removed from the Florence response operations and the incident is under investigation, said Coast Guard Lt. J.B. Zorn."

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Larry Kudlow

Top White House official eyes entitlement cuts 'next year'

09/17/18 03:36PM

As the midterm elections draw closer, a variety of Republican leaders, cognizant of broad public support for social-insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security, have said it's Republicans who are the true champions of the programs -- reality be damned.

Donald Trump went so far as to argue two weeks ago, "We're saving Social Security; the Democrats will destroy Social Security. We're saving Medicare; the Democrats want to destroy Medicare." The president has pushed the same message at some of his recent campaign rallies.

As election-season pitches go, the idea that Republicans will support Medicare and Social Security more than Democrats is as cynical as it is ridiculous. But while the president and some of his cohorts vow to protect these pillars of modern American life, other Republicans are stepping on the party's message and signaling their intentions to cut those programs.

Today, for example, Larry Kudlow, the director of the Trump White House's National Economic Council, spoke at the Economic Club of New York, and had this exchange with CNBC's Becky Quick:

QUICK: Will the Trump administration tackle entitlement reform?

KUDLOW: Well, we've already tackled a big part of the newest entitlement, namely Obamacare. As far as the larger entitlements, I think everybody's going to look at that probably next year. I don't want to be specific, I don't want to get ahead of our own budgeting, but we'll get there.

As CNBC reported, Kudlow added that the White House is determined to reduce federal spending, and "part of the Republican plan to curb spending is tackling entitlements."

For now, let's put aside the misplaced boasts about "tackling" the Affordable Care Act -- a system Trump made worse, on purpose, though it's still far more popular than the Republican tax plan.

The more notable revelation was Kudlow's intentions to target the major social-insurance programs "probably next year."

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Trump won't be able to complain about the Mueller probe's cost anymore

09/17/18 12:40PM

At one point during Friday's court proceedings, in which Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to a variety of charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, the judge reminded Donald Trump's former campaign chairman that there are "a significant number" of forfeitures in this case, including several homes and financial accounts.

Given the circumstances, "significant" may have been understating matters. As Rachel explained on the show the other day, after highlighting the series of things Manafort is giving up to federal officials:

"He's forfeiting all of those things -- bank accounts, insurance policies, lots and lots of real estate to the government. The government alleges that he defrauded the government of $15 million, money that he didn't pay taxes on. Part of making that up clearly is handing over his ill-gotten gains and the things he committed crimes in order to attain as real estate.

"But that last question there from the judge -- 'real property at Baxter Street in New York and also real property at Fifth Avenue in New York' -- that's the last one she asks, at that point, that's actually the first reference to President Trump, because the Fifth Avenue property that Paul Manafort agreed in court today to forfeit to the government, that is Paul Manafort's apartment at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

"You might remember that Paul Manafort used the fact that he had an apartment at Trump Tower as one of the selling points for himself in his letter to the Trump campaign in which he pitched himself for the campaign chairman job. Well, now the Justice Department owns Paul Manafort's old apartment in Trump Tower, which has to be a little unsettling for the president, I'd imagine."

And what, pray tell, is the combined fair-market value of Manafort's forfeited real-estate properties? According to a Washington Post  analysis, the combined total is about $22.2 million.

The analysis added, that sum alone "nearly covers our estimated costs of the investigation to date." Add Manafort's bank accounts and insurance policies to the mix, the value of what the feds have seized from the president's former campaign chairman goes up even more.

In other words, as of Friday's proceedings, Mueller's probe is effectively paying for itself.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.17.18

09/17/18 12:00PM

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

* After Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) was indicted on federal criminal charges, he "suspended" his re-election bid and encouraged Republican officials to find someone else to run. The Buffalo News  reports today, however, that Collins will remain on the ballot after all.

* During an event on MSNBC late last week, Republican Senate candidate Chris McDaniel said African-American voters in Mississippians should stop "begging for federal government scraps." The right-wing candidate was promptly booed by the live audience at Ole Miss.

* Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) re-election campaign is once again under fire for sending fundraising letters to Texans that appear to be officials summons notices. If this sounds at all familiar, Cruz and his team have been criticized for these deceptive tactics before.

* In Ohio, L Brands CEO Leslie H. Wexner, the wealthiest Republican supporter in the state, announced late last week that he's given up on the Republican Party, denouncing the GOP's "nonsense" during an appearance in Columbus. Wexner now identifies as an independent.

* Speaking of Ohio, the latest Politico/AARP poll found incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) with a healthy lead over Rep. Jim Renacci (R), 47% to 31%. Results like these suggest Republicans are likely to give up on the race in Ohio, if they haven't already.

* In Minnesota, a new Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll, shows Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) with a commanding lead over Jim Newberger (R), 60% to 30%.

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Image: President Trump Holds Make America Great Again Rally In Pennsylvania

The key reason the GOP is confronting a 'severe voter-turnout problem'

09/17/18 11:20AM

In the wake of some Republican primaries in June that went the way the White House wanted, Donald Trump interpreted the results as proof that Democrats would have a difficult year at the ballot box. "So much for the big Blue Wave," the president wrote on June 6, "it may be a big Red Wave."

That didn't make a lot of sense -- Republican victories in Republican primaries do not diminish Democratic prospects -- but two months later, Trump was at it again. "[T]here will not be a Blue Wave," the president wrote on Aug. 5, "but there might be a Red Wave!"

In all, looking exclusively at Trump's tweets, he's talked up the idea of a "red wave" -- a reference to major Republican gains in the 2018 midterms -- seven times since summer began.

And while it's easy to laugh at such analysis, Republicans are confronting an awkward problem: many of the party's voters actually believe the president's assurances and are feeling quite confident about this year's midterms. The New York Times  reported over the weekend:

America First Action, a political committee aligned with Mr. Trump, conducted a series of focus groups over the summer and concluded the party had a severe voter-turnout problem, brought on in part by contentment about the economy and a refusal by Republicans to believe that Democrats could actually win the midterm elections.

Conservative-leaning voters in the study routinely dismissed the possibility of a Democratic wave election, with some describing the prospect as "fake news," said an official familiar with the research....

Axios had a related report yesterday on polling conducted by the Republican National Committee, which also found that "a majority of Trump voters don't believe the mountain of evidence that Democrats will win back the House in November."

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