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E.g., 9/25/2018
E.g., 9/25/2018

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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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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Baylor University President Ken Starr attends a discussion about "The State of Higher Education and the Calling of Faith-based Universities," in Washington, Feb. 4, 2015. (Photo by Chuck Myers/ZUMA)

Ken Starr: Presidential impeachment is 'the wrong way to go'

09/17/18 10:40AM

Ken Starr, promoting a new book, appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" yesterday, and he spoke with host Jake Tapper a bit about the similarities between the presidential scandals in 1998 and 2018. It was, of course, 20 years ago that Starr led an independent counsel investigation into Bill Clinton -- a process that culminated in the Democrat's impeachment.

Yesterday's interview led to an interesting exchange:

TAPPER: Do you think that President Trump will face the same fate of President Clinton, which is impeachment?

STARR: I hope not, because one of the lessons in the book is, impeachment is hell. The country should not be taken through that. The founding generation wisely knew that it was such a serious action, it requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Unless there is a growing national consensus that impeachment is proper, it's doomed to fail and it's just the wrong way to go.

It was a jarring comment for a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious problem was the glaring hypocrisy: Ken Starr, of all people, believes the country shouldn't be subjected to the trauma of a presidential impeachment process, despite the fact that he subjected us to that exact process in the not-too-distant past.

One is tempted to wonder if perhaps Starr is only uncomfortable with presidential impeachment when it's a Republican in the White House.

But the other problem is that there's no reason to assume that Starr is necessarily correct about the importance of avoiding a perfectly legitimate constitutional recourse.

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Image: NATO Summit In Brussels - Day Two

Why Trump and Pompeo are going after John Kerry so aggressively

09/17/18 10:00AM

Throughout Barack Obama's presidency, Republican efforts to undermine U.S. foreign policy were extraordinary, and by some measures, unprecedented. In one especially glaring instance, 47 Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), wrote a letter to Iranian leaders, telling officials not to trust the United States. The goal wasn't subtle: GOP lawmakers hoped to sabotage their own country's diplomacy in the middle of delicate international nuclear talks.

In an odd twist, Republicans are now accusing John Kerry of doing something similar.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has unloaded on his Obama-era predecessor John Kerry for "actively undermining" U.S. policy on Iran by meeting several times recently with the Iranian foreign minister.

In unusually blunt and caustic language, Pompeo said Friday that Kerry's meetings with Mohammad Javad Zarif -- who was his main interlocutor in the Iran nuclear deal negotiations -- were "unseemly and unprecedented" and "beyond inappropriate."

President Donald Trump had late Thursday accused Kerry of holding "illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime, which can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people."

The current secretary of state added in a tweet over the weekend, "What [John Kerry] has done by engaging with Iran's regime, the world's top state sponsor of terror, is unseemly, unprecedented, and inconsistent with U.S. foreign policy. The deal failed. Let it go."

This is all quite foolish. For one thing, the international nuclear agreement with Iran was working exactly as intended, right up until Donald Trump rejected the policy for reasons the White House has struggled to explain in a coherent way. (Pompeo has long given every indication that he doesn't know what he's talking about on the subject, arguing last month that the Iran deal "failed to restrain Iran's nuclear progress." The truth is the exact opposite.)

For another, it's not exactly unusual, much less "illegal," for former U.S. diplomats to maintain relationships with the foreign counterparts. On the contrary, it's been the American norm for generations.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Trump's problem with Mueller: the special counsel is 'batting a thousand'

09/17/18 09:20AM

Yesterday morning, Donald Trump published a familiar tweet, summarizing his fury over Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. "The illegal Mueller Witch Hunt continues in search of a crime," the president wrote. "There was never Collusion with Russia, except by the Clinton campaign, so the 17 Angry Democrats are looking at anything they can find. Very unfair and BAD for the country. ALSO, not allowed under the LAW!"

It was the "in search of a crime" phrase that stood out for me as amusing. Whether Trump has noticed this or not, Mueller has already secured convictions and/or guilty pleas in cases against several members of the president's inner circle -- suggesting the special counsel's "search" is actually going quite well.

In fact, we have a pretty good idea as to why Trump is throwing this tantrum: the special counsel keeps racking up victories. Following Paul Manafort's decision to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors, Rachel said something on the show that stood out for me:

"This is the eighth person convicted or pleading guilty in Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the election. Robert Mueller is now batting a thousand in terms of convictions and guilty pleas from everybody who he has pursued in court.

"He's also now batting a thousand in terms of securing cooperation from every single American who has been charged in this case -- including the president's national security adviser, the president's deputy campaign chair, and now the president's campaign chairman who himself has decades' worth of links to the former Soviet Union and whose business partner is believed by the FBI to be himself linked to Russian intelligence agencies."

When Paul Manafort struck a deal it was a breakthrough -- and not just because Manafort oversaw Donald Trump's political operation in 2016, and not just because Manafort is in a position to help the special counsel get to the truth.

Rather, when the special counsel flipped Manafort -- by some measures, "nabbing his white whale" -- he also sent a powerful reminder to everyone involved in the scandal that Mueller is on a winning streak that's likely to continue.

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