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E.g., 9/18/2018

Monday's Mini-Report, 9.10.18

09/10/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Quite a storm: "As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the Southeast as a Category 4 storm, South Carolina's governor has ordered evacuations along the state's entire coastline -- which could affect up to a million people."

* North Korea: "As President Donald Trump issues a steady stream of praise for Kim Jong Un in interviews and on Twitter, a steady stream of evidence that North Korea is still making nuclear weapons has pushed his administration to take a much more aggressive stance toward Pyongyang."

* Another deliberate diplomatic setback: "The Trump administration says it is closing the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, D.C., effectively shuttering the Palestinian diplomatic mission to the U.S."

* Afghanistan: "U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in the Afghan capital on Friday in an unannounced visit, amid upheaval in the senior ranks of American and Afghan officials waging the 17-year war against the Taliban and other Islamist militants."

* As Trump alienates much of Latin America, the region moves toward a rival suitor: "The United States has recalled three chiefs of mission from Latin American nations that cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of recognizing China. The move comes as American officials have expressed growing unease over China's rising influence in the region."

* The Elliott Broidy saga: "A major Republican fundraiser allegedly demanded that his Playboy playmate mistress have an abortion. That's according to accusations leveled by the mistress, Shera Bechard, and revealed in a document unsealed in court on Friday."

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Trump's economic illiteracy keeps getting in the way

09/10/18 02:35PM

It stands to reason that Donald Trump would want to focus on the strength of the economy, since it's the only thing keeping the president's approval rating from collapsing to new depths. There's room for a spirited debate over just how much credit Trump deserves for current conditions -- the current expansion started long before the Republican took office -- but at its root, there's an obvious logic to the president highlighting good news.

But if Trump is going to keep talking about the economy, he really ought to get up to speed on the basics. Let's take his tweets from today, one at a time:

"The GDP Rate (4.2%) is higher than the Unemployment Rate (3.9%) for the first time in over 100 years!"

This is wrong for a wide variety of reasons. First, it's a mistake to compare a percentage shift to a more static level. Second, it's a mistake to equate quarterly growth with annual growth. Third, even if we pretend quarterly growth is annual growth, Trump's boast is false. And finally, if we treat quarterly growth as quarterly growth, Trump's boast is even further from the truth.

Next up:

"If the Democrats had won the Election in 2016, GDP, which was about 1% and going down, would have been minus 4% instead of up 4.2%. I opened up our beautiful economic engine with Regulation and Tax Cuts. Our system was choking and would have been made worse. Still plenty to do!"

Trump appears to be simply making up numbers that pop into his head, which makes it tough to fact-check, but what he said about the GDP growth he inherited is plainly and demonstrably wrong.

Moving on:

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Image: Rep. Chris Collins

Chris Collins addresses his indictment (with pro-Trump swag in the background)

09/10/18 12:44PM

It's been about a month since Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) was indicted for alleged insider trading. The criminal charges against the congressman were serious enough to force him to drop his re-election bid: Collins "suspended" his campaign less than a week after he surrendered to the FBI.

Though the New York Republican originally said he'd have nothing to say about the scandal outside of the courtroom, Collins has apparently decided to start talking publicly about his defense, starting with an interview with WIVB in Buffalo.

As TPM noted, Collins seemed to suggest the federal officials who showed up at his door didn't treat him fairly -- "It turns out, they don't read you your rights, they don't tell you you can have an attorney," he explained -- but just as interesting as what the congressman said is what viewers saw behind him:

Collins, notably, had several quintessential Trumpian decor items on full display throughout the interview: At least three Make America Great Again hats and a coffee mug emblazoned with a CNN logo that said "FNN" instead. A quick google search reveals "FNN" stands for Fake News Network, a wisecrack Trump is bound to enjoy.

Collins was the first House Republican to endorse Trump during the 2016 election and many have speculated he may be gunning for a presidential pardon if he's convicted.

Ideally, we wouldn't have to think this way. It'd be far better if we could simply question Chris Collins' choice of décor as a matter of style and taste, not a possible scheme.

But the politics of pardons in the Trump era has its own set of rules.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.10.18

09/10/18 12:00PM

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

* There are only a handful of primaries remaining, and they're all scheduled for this week. First up are contests in New Hampshire tomorrow, followed Rhode Island on Wednesday, and New York on Thursday.

* On a related note, arguably this week's most high-profile contest is New York's Democratic gubernatorial primary. If a new Siena poll is correct, it won't be close: the survey shows incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo leading Cynthia Nixon by 41 points, 63% to 22%.

* CNBC reports that the conservative Koch political network is launching a new super PAC, Americans for Prosperity Action, just in time for this year's midterm elections. CNBC added that the entity will serve as "a sister organization" to the Koch-backed non-profit Americans for Prosperity.

* Six years after Sen. Joe Manchin's (D) successful campaign in West Virginia featured him literally shooting a cap-and-trade bill, the incumbent senator has a new ad in which he shoots the Republicans' anti-health-care lawsuit. "Patrick Morrisey's lawsuit would take away health care from people with pre-existing conditions," Manchin says in the spot, referring to his GOP challenger. "That's just dead wrong, and that ain't gonna happen."

* In the closely watched U.S. House race in Kentucky's 6th congressional district, the latest poll from the New York Times and Siena College shows incumbent Rep. Andy Barr (R) with the narrowest of leads over Amy McGrath (D), 47% to 46%.

* Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) concluded on Friday that the legislative redistricting process "has reached an impasse," with the parties unable to reach an agreement. The Richmond Times-Dispatch  reported, "The governor and House Democratic leaders said it is now time to let the three judges who ruled that 11 House districts were unconstitutional redraw the boundaries in time for the 2019 elections."

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Image: 2018 Adult Video News Awards - Arrivals

Trump to answer questions, under oath, in defamation case

09/10/18 11:20AM

As much of the world no doubt recalls, Trump was recorded in 2005 bragging about committing sexual assaults. The Republican said, among other things, that he kisses women he considers attractive – “I don’t even wait,” Trump claimed at the time – which he said he can get away with because of his public profile.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said on the recording. “You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p—y.”

After Trump denied having done what he bragged about doing, more than a few women came forward to accuse the Republican of sexual misconduct – one of whom, Summer Zervos, is currently suing the president for defamation, after Trump insisted each of his accusers were liars.

The Washington Post  reported that Trump, unable to make the case go away, will now have to answer questions in the case under oath.

President Trump will provide written answers under oath in the defamation lawsuit brought by former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos, who claims Trump sexually assaulted her in 2007, a new court filing stated.

Lawyers for Trump and Zervos agreed this week to exchange "written answers and objections" to formal written questions by Sept. 28, according to a document filed Friday with the New York State Supreme Court. Rules in New York state require interrogatories to be sworn or verified, according to a source familiar with the system, meaning that false answers could open Trump to charges of perjury.

It's those last nine words that are of particular interest. Trump apparently won't have to give verbal testimony -- a setting in which the president, given what we know of his tendencies, is far more likely to lie -- but the written Q&A should help move the case along.

Indeed, with the deadline just 18 days away, we should expect to see the next steps in the process unfold fairly quickly.

All of which leads to the latest developments in one of the other related presidential controversies. In the Stormy Daniels scandal, NBC News reported:

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Woodward: 'People better wake up to what's going on' in the White House

09/10/18 10:43AM

Donald Trump hasn't exactly been shy about sharing his concerns over Bob Woodward's new book. The president has peddled some very odd conspiracy theories about the Washington Post journalist, in between a flurry of Woodward-related tweets -- including four that were published just this morning, part of nine tweets on the author Trump has written over the last six days.

But Woodward doesn't appear intimidated by the president's latest tantrum. In a CBS News interview aired yesterday, the journalist reflected on what he learned after carefully examining the Trump White House. "You look at the operation of this White House and you have to say, 'Let's hope to God we don't have a crisis,'" Woodward said.

"Fear: Trump in the White House" is Woodward's 19th book, but he told CBS that his reporting on this project took him deeper inside a working White House than at any point in his lengthy career. "This one was in the belly of the beast," he added.

When CBS's David Martin asked, "And what did you conclude about the beast?" Woodward replied, "That people better wake up to what's going on."

This morning, in his first live television interview, Woodward went a little further.

Veteran journalist Bob Woodward said Monday in an exclusive interview on NBC News' "Today" that President Donald Trump is "detached" from reality and jeopardizes American national security. [...]

Woodward depicts widespread White House dysfunction in "Fear," raising explosive allegations of a paranoid president whose own staff believes is unhinged and erratic.

"I've never seen an instance when the president is so detached from the reality of what's going on," Woodward told NBC News this morning. He added, "This has not been treated seriously enough.... The things -- some of the things -- that Trump did and does jeopardizes the real national security."

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Ron DeSantis

Florida's DeSantis faces difficult new questions about his views on race

09/10/18 10:01AM

In the months following the 2012 election cycle, many Republican leaders said they wanted to "broaden the GOP's appeal with voters" and "reach out to new voters, specifically Asian Americans, blacks, Hispanics and young people." It was against this backdrop that the Republican National Committee hosted a spring meeting in Los Angeles in early 2013 featuring a rather motley crew who were invited to give the party guidance.

Near the top of the list was a prominent right-wing provocateur named David Horowitz. As we discussed at the time, this was a difficult RNC choice to defend: Horowitz is one of the nation’s most abrasive anti-Muslim activists, a notorious conspiracy theorist who’s dabbled in some ugly racial politics, and someone who believes political correctness will lead to a “totalitarian future.” He’s also written books with titles like “Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes” and “The Race Card: White Guilt, Black Resentment, and the Assault on Truth and Justice.”

It was around this same time that a young Republican congressman from Florida expressed his admiration for Horowitz and his work. The congressman's name was Ron DeSantis.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a gubernatorial nominee who recently was accused of using racially tinged language, spoke four times at conferences organized by a conservative activist who has said that African Americans owe their freedom to white people and that the country's "only serious race war" is against whites.

DeSantis, elected to represent north-central Florida in 2012, appeared at the David Horowitz Freedom Center conferences in Palm Beach, Fla., and Charleston, S.C., in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, said Michael Finch, president of the organization. At the group's annual Restoration Weekend conferences, hundreds of people gather to hear right-wing provocateurs such as Stephen K. Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos and Sebastian Gorka sound off on multiculturalism, radical Islam, free speech on college campuses and other issues.

As the Washington Post's report on this makes clear, DeSantis didn't just share his societal views during his appearances; he also expressed his personal support for Horowitz.

The Post  pointed specifically to a 2015 event in which DeSantis -- a very close Donald Trump ally, described by NBC News as the president's "mini-me" -- told an audience in Charleston, "David has done such great work and I've been an admirer. I've been to these conferences in the past but I've been a big admirer of an organization that shoots straight, tells the American people the truth and is standing up for the right thing."

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In Russia scandal, Trump tries to separate himself from own team

09/10/18 09:20AM

It's been a while since Donald Trump shared his thoughts on the Russia scandal in any real detail, so it was interesting to see the president discuss his perspective with reporters on Air Force One late last week.

"Now, they've practically found that there is no collusion."

I'm not sure what Trump thinks "practically" means. It's also unclear who "they" are. Regardless, there have been no such findings by any independent entity.

"They've given up -- everybody has given up on collusion."

No one has given up on investigating possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during Moscow's attack on our elections. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is ongoing.

"I didn't meet with Russians because I love the United States."

Hmm. By that reasoning, are we to believe that those who did meet with Russians don't love the United States? Because I seem to recall a certain meeting in Trump Tower involving Trump's son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman in which they welcomed Russian assistance in the 2016 race.

"There was no talking to Russia."

There were actually all kinds of communications between people close to Trump and Russia.

"There was no phone calls."

Grammatical concerns aside, there was apparently a 2016 call between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian developer Emin Agalarov.

"I didn't make phone calls to Russia. I didn't receive phone calls. I didn't have meetings. I didn't have texts. Anything. I have nothing to do with Russia."

And that's the rhetoric that stood out for me as especially notable.

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Image: Brett Kavanaugh

Kavanaugh accused of 'untruthful testimony, under oath and on the record'

09/10/18 08:40AM

When Judge Brett Kavanaugh met privately with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) ahead of his confirmation hearings, the conservative jurist realized he was talking to one of only a handful of pro-choice Republicans still in Congress. With this in mind, Kavanaugh told Collins he sees the Roe v. Wade debate as "settled as a precedent of the court" and "settled law."

Substantively, the phrasing was vacuous, but it also may not have reflected his genuine beliefs: we learned last week that Kavanaugh wrote a memo in 2003 insisting that Roe shouldn't be seen as settled law. Is that the sort of thing that might give Collins pause?

Evidently not. The Maine Republican shrugged off the revelation as inconsequential late last week. That said, the Portland Press Herald published a report over the weekend that included a quote from Collins that struck me as new.

When asked about a controversy regarding whether Kavanaugh lied under oath during his 2004 confirmation hearing to be a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court, Collins said she wasn't aware of the issue. Democrats are charging that Kavanaugh lied about whether -- while working for the Bush administration in 2003 -- he handled the "vetting process" for another judge, appeals court Judge William Pryor. Kavanaugh said he wasn't involved in the process during his 2004 confirmation hearing, but newly surfaced emails from that time suggest that he was.

Collins said she would examine the issue this weekend.

"If in fact (Kavanaugh) was not truthful, then obviously that would be a major problem for me," Collins said.

And if the GOP senator was serious on this point, it's worth watching closely what Collins will do next -- because there's quite a bit of evidence that Kavanaugh hasn't been truthful.

Indeed, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who hardly has a reputation for throwing around reckless accusations, stated unequivocally that he believes Kavanaugh has given "untruthful testimony, under oath and on the record."

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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Ariz., on Aug. 31, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Why Mike Pence's 'disappointment' with Obama doesn't make sense

09/10/18 08:00AM

After keeping a fairly low electoral profile since the end of his presidency, Barack Obama has re-entered the fray in a rather boisterous way, delivering remarks on Friday that were critical of Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. A day later, the former president campaigned in California, where Democrats hope to gain several U.S. House seats, and where Obama told voters they have a chance to "restore some sanity in our politics."

"It's a consequential moment in our history," he said, pointing to this year's midterm elections. "And the fact is that, if we don't step up, things can get worse."

Vice President Mike Pence appeared on Fox News yesterday and expressed his "disappointment" with Obama's comments.

Says Pence: "The truth is, the American people in 2016 rejected the policy and direction of Barack Obama when they elected President Donald Trump." [...]

Pence said it's "very disappointing" to see Obama break with the tradition of former presidents, who largely shun the campaign trail, and "become so political."

The idea that "the American people" rejected Obama's agenda "when they elected" Trump is problematic for a very specific reason: when "the American people" were given a choice in 2016, Trump came in second. To be sure, the Republican president won the election, and was elevated by way of the electoral college, but let's not pretend that most of "the American people" wanted what Trump was selling: he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots. To see this result as a resounding endorsement of Trump's platform from the nation's electorate is wrong.

But even putting that aside, the closer one looks at Pence's complaints, the less sense they make.

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