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Monday's Mini-Report, 8.6.18

08/06/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Rick Gates took the stand at Paul Manafort's trial today and conceded that he committed crimes with Donald Trump's former campaign chairman.

* Iran sanctions: "The Trump administration announced it will reintroduce sanctions on Iran at a minute after midnight Monday ET, a consequence of the president's decision to withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal."

* Afghanistan: "A Taliban suicide bomber killed three NATO service members on a foot patrol in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday in an attack that also wounded a U.S. soldier and two Afghan troops, NATO said. The Czech military confirmed that the three killed were Czech service members."

* Indonesia: "The death toll from an earthquake that struck the Indonesian resort islands of Lombok and Bali rose to 98 on Monday as new information came in from areas where thousands of buildings collapsed or were badly damaged, authorities said."

* The AP has a striking report on a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States that "cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash" across Yemen.

* The day after in Caracas: "Venezuelan authorities have detained six people in connection with an apparent attempt to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro, according to the country's interior minister, Néstor Luis Reverol."

* Saudi Arabia doesn't appear to take criticism well: "Relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia are at a low point after Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland criticized the oil-rich country's human rights record last week. In response, Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada's ambassador and suspended trade deals."

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U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen following the classified House members-only briefing on election security in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, May 22, 2018.

Federal judge smacks down Trump admin's effort to rescind DACA

08/06/18 12:40PM

A few months ago, a federal court ruled that the Trump administration's attempt to rescind the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program for Dreamers was "arbitrary and capricious." Judge John D. Bates offered Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen an opportunity to either provide "a coherent explanation" of the administration's legal position or to reissue its directive "for bona fide policy reasons."

That didn't go well.

A U.S. District Court judge in the District of Columbia ruled Friday that the Obama-era program offering temporary protected status to a cohort of immigrants brought here illegally as children must remain in place despite efforts by the Trump administration to dismantle it.

" ... The Nielsen Memo offers nothing even remotely approaching a considered legal assessment that this Court could subject to judicial review," Bates wrote. He added, later, "The Nielsen Memo demonstrates no true cognizance of the serious reliance interests at issue here -- indeed, it does not even identify what those interests are ... "

The full ruling, which is online here, is worth reading, if only to appreciate how thoroughly annoyed the federal district court judge seems with the DHS attorneys.

Its conclusion, for example, seemed especially brutal. "The Court did not hold in its prior opinion, and it does not hold today, that DHS lacks the statutory or constitutional authority to rescind the DACA program. Rather, the Court simply holds that if DHS wishes to rescind the program -- or to take any other action, for that matter -- it must give a rational explanation for its decision.... A conclusory assertion that a prior policy is illegal, accompanied by a hodgepodge of illogical or post hoc policy assertions, simply will not do."

Ouch.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.6.18

08/06/18 12:00PM

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

* Tomorrow will be a busy day for election watchers, with primaries in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and the state of Washington. The marquee race, however, is tomorrow's congressional special election in Ohio's 12th district.

* On a related note, the latest Emerson College poll in Ohio's 12th shows Danny O'Connor (D) with a narrow lead over Troy Balderson (R), 47% to 46%. The survey was conducted, however, before Donald Trump headlined a local rally for Balderson on Saturday night.

* In Texas' U.S. Senate race, the latest Public Policy Polling survey shows incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R) with a four-point advantage over Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D), 46% to 42%. It's the third poll in a week that found Cruz's lead in the low-to-mid single digits.

* In Kansas' gubernatorial race, the Topeka Capital-Journal  reported that Secretary of State Kris Kobach's (R) operation "employs three men identified as members of a white nationalist group by two political consultants who have worked with Republicans in Kansas."

* Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) received a fake award from a non-existent Israeli outlet as part of Sacha Baron Cohen's series on Showtime. ThinkProgress noted that Perry didn't realize "he was duped" and treated the award as real.

* In the fight over Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, Politico  reports that America First Policies, a Trump-aligned advocacy group, is launching a new television ad campaign targeting vulnerable red-state Senate Democrats in Indiana, West Virginia, and North Dakota, urging them to support Trump's nominee. Protect Our Care, a progressive pro-health-care outfit, is doing the opposite, airing anti-Kavanaugh ads in Maine, Alaska, and Nevada.

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

Whether Trump likes it or not, 'collusion' constitutes several crimes

08/06/18 11:20AM

For months, Donald Trump repeated one of his favorite phrases -- "No collusion" -- as if it were some kind of nervous tic. Last week, however, the president made the phrase quite a bit longer: "Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn't matter because there was No Collusion."

The Washington Post  reported over the weekend that Trump has taken a liking to this framing, in part thanks to Rudy Giuliani's influence.

Trump has told some associates that Giuliani has convinced him Mueller has nothing incriminating about him. "Rudy's told him the other player is bluffing with a pair of 2's," said one Trump adviser. And Trump has latched onto Giuliani's talking point that "collusion is not a crime," believing it is catchy and brilliantly simplistic, according to people with knowledge of internal talks.

With this in mind, on ABC News' "This Week" yesterday, Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump's legal defense team, pushed the line with great vigor. "The question is, what law, statute, rule or regulation's been violated?" Sekulow asked. "Nobody's pointed to one."

It fell to host George Stephanopoulos to respond, "Well, they actually have pointed to several including conspiracy to defraud the United States."

Right. The trouble with the "collusion is not a crime" talking point is that it's plainly wrong.

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A Washington Post newspaper box (L) stands beside the empty box of competitor Washington Times (R) outside the Washington Post on August 5, 2013 in Washington, DC, after it was announced that Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos had agreed to purchase...

Trump is certain he's identified 'the enemy of the people'

08/06/18 10:54AM

The first time Donald Trump described news organizations as "the enemy of the American people," his presidency wasn't yet a month old. The ensuing controversy -- American presidents tend not to echo phrases from Stalin and Mao -- seemed to push the talking point away from Trump's standard lines, at least for a while.

In the first 15 months in office, the president tweeted the phrase just once.

As the pressure from the Russia scandal intensified, however, the president re-embraced the phrase with alarming enthusiasm. He labeled the media "the enemy of the people" the day before his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and then again the day after.

It's news organizations, Trump asked Americans to believe, that are the "real" adversary of the United States -- not the foreign adversary that attacked our political system.

Last week, the president said the phrase "fake news" and "morphed into phrase, 'Enemy of the People,'" as if this happened organically. Over the weekend, the president went a little further, insisting that American journalists criticize his use of the phrase because we "know it's true."

"The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it's TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!"

There's a lot to this, but I'd recommend keeping a few things in mind.

First, no one should be surprised if Trump's incendiary language creates genuine threats that put media professionals in danger. The "enemy of the state" phrasing has been used "by some of history's most vicious thugs" for a reason.

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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

To defend Trump's lobbying for Flynn, Sekulow points to MLK

08/06/18 10:00AM

It was a year ago this week that former FBI Director James Comey testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee and shed light on his behind-the-scenes interactions with Donald Trump. One of the more striking revelations had to do with former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, whom the president fired a few weeks into his term after Flynn lied to the FBI about his communications with Russia.

According to Comey's version of events, the day after Flynn left the White House, Trump told Comey in a one-on-one Oval Office chat, "I want to talk about Mike Flynn." The president reportedly said of his former aide, "He is a good guy and has been through a lot... I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

Comey seemed to describe a situation in which a sitting president encouraged the then-FBI director to go easy on someone under a federal investigation.

Complicating matters, Murray Waas reported in the New York Review of Books last week that Trump had been specifically told by top White House aides that Flynn was under criminal investigation at the time. On "This Week" yesterday, ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump's legal defense team, about this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you suggesting it wouldn't be a problem if the president pressured James Comey to let the Flynn investigation go after knowing that Michael Flynn was under criminal investigation?

SEKULOW: Well, I want you to understand something. I mean, I know this sounds remarkable to a lot of people but there were investigations going on on Martin Luther King Jr. -- and do you think if President Kennedy would have gone to J. Edgar Hoover and said stop that, that that would have been an obstruction of justice claim? Of course not.

Remember, Trump World has had a full year to come up with a good argument to defend the president's alleged efforts to help shield Flynn. Evidently, the president's team has come up with ... this.

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Donald Trump, Jr., son of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, speaks during the second day session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 19, 2016. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

President reportedly fears Trump Jr may face legal jeopardy

08/06/18 09:20AM

The Washington Post published an interesting behind-the-scenes report over the weekend on recent developments in Donald Trump's White House -- based on "interviews with 14 administration officials, presidential friends and outside advisers to the White House." There's quite a bit to chew on in the piece, but of particular interest is the president's "unease" about his oldest son.

...Trump has confided to friends and advisers that he is worried [Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe] could destroy the lives of what he calls "innocent and decent people" -- namely Trump Jr., who is under scrutiny by Mueller for his role organizing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

As one adviser described the president's thinking, he does not believe his son purposefully broke the law, but is fearful nonetheless that Trump Jr. inadvertently may have wandered into legal jeopardy.

CNN had a similar report on Saturday, describing Trump as "concerned" about his oldest son's legal exposure in the scandal.

"Trump has been concerned for months now that the Mueller probe could reach his family," the report added, "and potentially his son-in-law Jared Kushner, but his focus has turned to his namesake in recent weeks, one person who speaks with Trump frequently tells CNN. This is one of several reasons Trump has upped his public attacks on Mueller, because he doesn't want him touching his family, the person adds."

The reports prompted the president to rebut the allegations via Twitter yesterday, with Trump calling the claims "a complete fabrication."

Of course, the president says all kinds of things on Twitter, many of them untrue. The core question remains: does Trump Sr. have anything to worry about when it comes to Trump Jr.?

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In this Oct. 23, 2015, file photo, Jay Sekulow speaks at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va.

Why do people in Trump's orbit keep relying on 'bad information'?

08/06/18 08:40AM

After the public learned last year about the infamous Trump Tower meeting, Donald Trump Jr. issued a written statement to the New York Times saying participants "primarily discussed" an adoption program, which was "not a campaign issue." That statement was obviously deceptive, and we later learned that the president himself personally dictated the dishonest wording.

Except, that's not what Trump World told us at the time. Jay Sekulow told NBC News' "Meet the Press" last summer that the president "was not involved in the drafting of the statement." Sekulow told ABC News a week earlier that Trump Sr. "didn't sign off on anything," referring to the deceptive press release. The lawyer added, "The president wasn't involved in that."

So, why did Sekulow tell the public something that was completely untrue? On "This Week" yesterday, ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked the member of the president's legal defense team for an explanation. The presidential lawyer responded:

"[A]s you know, George, I was in the case at that point, what? A couple of weeks. And there was a lot of information that was gathering and as my colleague Rudy Giuliani said, I had -- I had bad information at that time and made a mistake in my statement. I've talked about that before. That happens when you have cases like this.... Over time, facts develop."

There's no reason to accept "facts develop" at face value. Stories may develop, and so may excuses, but facts are simply true independently. Our understanding of facts may change, but that's not the same thing.

That said, it's hardly outrageous to give Sekulow the benefit of the doubt on the narrow point he conveyed yesterday. In fact, it's quite likely that someone really did give him "bad information"; he didn't realize the claims were false; and he presented to the public what he thought was accurate information at the time. Now he knows better.

The more salient question, however, is how exactly the president's lawyer came to believe this "bad information" in the first place.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump departs the White House

Trump discredits his own story about infamous Russia meeting

08/06/18 08:00AM

It's easy to forget, but the original line from Team Trump was that no one associated with the campaign had any communications with Russia during the country's attack on our 2016 elections. We've come a long way since then.

President Donald Trump said Sunday that the meeting between his son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer in June 2016 was "to get information on an opponent," seemingly contradicting a statement from more than a year ago that the meeting focused on a Russian adoption program. [...]

"This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics -- and it went nowhere," he tweeted, defending the meeting and appearing to refer to political opposition research done by campaigns.

The tough part is knowing where to start. Let's first note that it's not at all common for American presidential campaigns to welcome assistance from foreign adversaries. The president may choose to believe this is "done all the time," but this isn't even close to being true. (In the not-too-distant past, when foreign adversaries have offered to help presidential candidates, those candidates not only refused the offers; they also reported the outreach to the FBI. Trump did not.)

Second, the idea that conspiring with Russia to interfere in an American election is "totally legal" is a rather dubious proposition.

But even putting these details aside, let's not miss the forest for the trees: Donald Trump admitted yesterday that top members of his campaign team sought assistance from Moscow during Russia's attack, discrediting Trump World's previous claims about the June 2016 meeting.

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