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Mark Meadows

Leading Trump ally tries to spin latest Mueller court filing

12/05/18 10:07AM

The latest court filing from Special Counsel Robert Mueller advances our understanding of the ongoing investigation, but only to a point. We now know, for example, that former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied to investigators about his foreign communications, and in the process, was compromised by Russia before his resignation last year. We also know that Mueller and his team are satisfied with the extent to which Flynn has cooperated with their probe.

We don't, however, know the areas in which Flynn has been cooperative. The court filing explained that the former national security adviser has provided information about three investigations, two of which remain undisclosed.

Those other two investigations raise tantalizing possibilities -- one of which was explicitly identified as a "criminal" probe -- but for now, they remain something of a mystery.

I was curious how the right would respond to revelations like these, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of Donald Trump's most ardent congressional allies, didn't disappoint during his Fox News interview last night. Here was the far-right lawmaker's pitch:

"I've looked at this report and, yes, everybody is going to focus on what has been redacted. But let's look at what's not in there. There is no suggestion that Michael Flynn had anything to do with collusion. He was with the transition team. He was part of the campaign. And, yet, there is no mention of collusion.

"I think it's good news for President Trump tonight that this is what has come down to, even though they said he 'substantially cooperated,' I think he substantially cooperated to say that there was no collusion and we can look at it with that in mind."

This almost certainly wasn't intended to be funny, but it was hard not to be entertained by the attempted spin.

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at a press conference after appearing in court to call for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Giuliani, Trump's 'cyber' guy, flubs internet basics, blames conspiracy

12/05/18 09:20AM

Late last week, Rudy Giuliani kept up his public-relations offensive against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, complaining on Twitter about the timing of the plea agreement with Michael Cohen. Giuliani's tweet read exactly as follows:

Mueller filed an indictment just as the President left for G-20.In July he indicted the Russians who will never come here just before he left for Helsinki.Either could have been done earlier or later. Out of control!Supervision please?

What Giuliani, a member of Donald Trump's legal defense team, didn't notice was that he'd inadvertently created a hyperlink in his tweet. There should've been a space after the period between "G-20" and "In." The typo created a link to a non-existent website.

Except, it didn't stay non-existent for long. Someone having a little fun at Giuliani's expense registered the G-20.In domain and created a single page with a one-sentence message: "Donald J. Trump is a traitor to our country."

Yesterday, the former New York City mayor discovered what had happened -- and concocted a conspiracy theory involving Twitter. Giuliani wrote:

Twitter allowed someone to invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message. The same thing-period no space-occurred later and it didn't happen. Don't tell me they are not committed cardcarrying anti-Trumpers. Time Magazine also may fit that description. FAIRNESS PLEASE

For the record, practically every Twitter user has accidentally published typos; I've had plenty of my own. Most of us, however, don't blame Twitter for our mistakes, and certainly don't attribute our mistakes to some nefarious political plot cooked up by our perceived enemies.

Regardless, there are a couple of substantive angles to this. The first is an unfortunate pattern: every time Republicans think they've finally uncovered evidence that proves their conspiracy theories about tech giants and their political agenda, it's the Republicans who end up looking foolish.

The second deals with Giuliani's purported area of expertise.

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Roger Stone Addresses Women's Republican Club Of Miami

Roger Stone, longtime Trump associate, pleads the Fifth

12/05/18 08:40AM

In a missive that looked like witness tampering, Donald Trump published a tweet on Monday praising longtime associate Roger Stone, writing, "'I will never testify against Trump.' This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about 'President Trump.' Nice to know that some people still have 'guts!'"

Just one day later, the Republican operative who received Trump's praise announced he'd plead the Fifth rather than cooperate with a Senate inquiry. Politico reported:

President Donald Trump's longtime political ally Roger Stone invoked the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination as he declined to share documents and testimony with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to a letter posted Tuesday by the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. [...]

Stone is under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, in part over allegations that he had foreknowledge of WikiLeaks' dump of Clinton campaign emails the month before the election. Stone has denied any advance knowledge, despite a series of tweets foreshadowing the contents of the emails, which he attributed to educated guesses and indirect information provided through an intermediary with WikiLeaks.

Stone is not the first person close to Trump to invoke the Fifth Amendment as part of this scandal. In May 2017, former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded the Fifth in response to a Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena, and in April 2018, Michael Cohen did the same as part of the Stormy Daniels lawsuit.

We now know, of course, that Flynn and Cohen later adopted far more loquacious postures in the months that followed. Whether Stone does the same remains to be seen.

But for Trump, his previous rhetoric on the subject should make all of this a bit awkward.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

In Flynn filing, Mueller points to 'several ongoing investigations'

12/05/18 08:00AM

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators don't say a whole lot. Those of us following the investigation into the Russia scandal have to wait, with varying degrees of patience, for court filings that offer some insights into the probe, its targets, and its status. It's what made yesterday such an important day.

The first big resignation of Donald Trump's presidency was the departure of Michael Flynn, the White House national security adviser who didn't even last a month on the job. After his departure, Flynn was indicted for lying to the FBI about his foreign contacts, including his communications with Russia.

Yesterday, of course, was the day Mueller was scheduled to file materials with a federal court, detailing Flynn's misdeeds, his level of cooperation, and the kind of sentencing the special counsel believes the former White House official should receive. As you probably saw Rachel explain on the show, Mueller explained that Flynn has been cooperating to the special counsel's satisfaction and should therefore serve no prison time.

But one of the overarching questions is what, exactly, Flynn has been cooperating about. If you've read last night's court filings, you've no doubt noticed an astonishing number of redactions. And while the black bars are frustrating for those of us who want answers, former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said something on the show last that stood out for me:

"I think there are a couple of things that are disclosed even in the heavily redacted form that we see. Number one, the fact that they met 19 times. That is a huge number of meetings, and suggests that Michael Flynn has shared an awful lot of information with the special counsel.

"The other thing you pointed out, by going through the redactions in the addendum, it looks like there's not just one, but three separate investigations that Michael Flynn has cooperated about, the special counsel investigation. And then one that's partly redacted but says criminal investigation. And a third that's completely redacted.

"And if you say criminal investigation, is that in contrast with something else that's in that third investigation? Is it not criminal? Is it something else? Is it a civil investigation? Or is it a counter intelligence investigation?"

It's an important detail. We've known for a while that Flynn has been cooperating with Mueller's investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 elections; we didn't know until last night that Flynn has also been providing information on two other investigations.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 12.4.18

12/04/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Removing all doubt: "Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Tuesday that the evidence connecting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was so strong, it amounted to 'a smoking saw.'"

* Jeffrey Epstein: "A politically connected multi-millionaire sex offender accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls struck a last-minute deal to avoid a civil trial that would have allowed some of his victims to finally testify against him in open court."

* Republicans may find it tough to blame Dems for this one: "The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by almost 800 points Tuesday, to close at 25,027, continuing a shaky start to the week prompted by confusion over a thaw in U.S.-China trade relations. The Dow finished the day down 3.06 percent. The S&P 500 lost 3.2 percent of its value, and the Nasdaq fell by 3.8 percent."

* France takes a step back: "Trying to quell its most serious political crisis, the government of President Emmanuel Macron announced on Tuesday that it would suspend the gasoline tax increase that had set off three weeks of increasingly violent protests in Paris and around France by the so-called Yellow Vest movement."

* November was reportedly the deadliest month for American servicemen and women in Afghanistan since December 2015.

* It had to be Florida, didn't it? "A Florida sheriff's sergeant who wore a QAnon conspiracy theory patch on his uniform while greeting Vice President Mike Pence last week has been reprimanded and removed from special assignments for 'conduct unbecoming an employee.'"

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Trump claims a border wall would 'pay for itself' (but it really wouldn't)

12/04/18 04:14PM

There's still a chance that Donald Trump isn't bluffing and he'll shut down the federal government later this month over funding for a giant wall along the U.S./Mexico border. In fact, the issue was on the president's mind yesterday when Trump wrote on Twitter, with his usual habit of capitalizing assorted words he finds important, "We would save Billions of Dollars if the Democrats would give us the votes to build the Wall."

It wasn't altogether clear what he was talking about. American taxpayers would save billions of dollars by spending billions of dollars on a pointless vanity project?

Today, Trump went into a little more detail, tweeting, "Could somebody please explain to the Democrats (we need their votes) that our Country losses 250 Billion Dollars a year on illegal immigration, not including the terrible drug flow. Top Border Security, including a Wall, is $25 Billion. Pays for itself in two months."

Jane Coaston made a compelling case that someone needs to have the details explained to them, but it's not congressional Democrats. Indeed, in her Vox piece, Coaston tried to figure out the origins of the $250 billion figure, which the president appears to have made up out of whole cloth.

President Trump's use of numbers in his public statements and tweets has always been somewhat arbitrary. As Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale, who fact-checks every single one of Trump's public statements, put it in November, "If Trump cites any number at all, the real number is usually smaller."

The $250 billion referenced in his tweet is a prime example, because in August 2016, Trump said during an Arizona speech that "illegal immigration costs our country more than $113 billion a year." In Trump's Tuesday tweet, he has somehow more than doubled that number in two years, despite an overall downward trend in undocumented immigrants crossing the border.

(For the record, I reached out to the White House and to the Department of Homeland Security for a source for the $250 billion number, but have not yet heard back.)

Coaston did find a conservative group that published a report that put a $115.8 billion price tag on illegal immigration, but that figure is (a) a contested total released by an advocacy organization that wants new restrictions on immigration; and (b) still less than half the number Trump used this morning.

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

House Dems may balk at seating North Carolina's Harris

12/04/18 12:54PM

The controversy surrounding the U.S. House race in North Carolina's 9th district is turning into one of the year's most important electoral scandals. As the dust settled on Election Day, it appeared last month that former far-right pastor Mark Harris (R) had narrowly defeated Dan McCready (D), but credible accusations of election fraud have put those results in doubt.

The latest revelations about alleged wrongdoing from Harris' aides have led state election officials to hold off before certifying the results, and those same officials have reportedly begun issuing subpoenas in the hopes of getting to the bottom of what transpired.

But this morning, as the Washington Post  reported, a leading House Democrat raised the prospect of an additional wrinkle.

The incoming House majority leader said Democrats might refuse to seat a North Carolina Republican next year unless and until "substantial" questions about the integrity of his election are resolved.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the current minority whip, made the comments to reporters Tuesday as North Carolina election officials investigate whether an operative hired by Republican candidate Mark Harris illegally collected incomplete ballots from voters.

Hoyer said this morning,. "If there is what appears to be a very substantial question on the integrity of the election, clearly we would oppose Mr. Harris being seated until that is resolved."

In nearly every instance, there is no question about the legitimacy of a congressional election. One candidate prevails, his or her victory is certified, and he or she is welcomed on Capitol Hill.

But in the face of serious allegations, Congress has the authority to launch its own investigations of election results. To that end, it can also try to block apparent winners from taking office and call for a "do-over" election.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.4.18

12/04/18 12:00PM

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

* As the controversy surrounding the U.S. House race in North Carolina's 9th district continues, the Charlotte Observer published a report on Leslie McCrae Dowless, an "independent contractor" for Republican Mark Harris' campaign, who is a convicted felon who faced jail time for felony fraud and perjury.

* On a related note, the ABC affiliate in Charlotte ran a report on what appears to have been an illegal system of picking up ballots in the district. WSOC spoke to one woman who collected ballots and gave them to Dowless, and she conceded she can't say whether those ballots were counted.

* Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that state elections board yesterday subpoenaed Mark Harris' campaign. Election officials are also expected to issue another subpoena to the Republican consulting firm, Red Dome Group, which hired Dowless.

* It's Election Day in Georgia again today, and voters will elect a new secretary of state. The runoff race pits state Rep. Brad Raffensperger (R) against former U.S. Rep. John Barrow (D). Though neither candidate reached 50% last month, Raffensperger narrowly led Barrow in the first round of balloting.

* Speaking of Georgia, Stacey Abrams (D) narrowly lost a highly controversial gubernatorial race last month, but she's already eyeing her next election. Abrams told Politico she's considering a U.S. Senate race against Sen. David Perdue (R) in 2020.

* In Wisconsin, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) defended his party's power-grab yesterday by saying Republicans "don't trust" Gov.-elect Tony Evers "right now." What Fitzgerald doesn't appear to appreciate is that he needs to trust the state's voters, too.

* A month after Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) was re-elected despite being under federal criminal indictment, a judge yesterday set a trial date of Sept. 10 for the Republican congressman.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

In the wake of defeat, Republicans see no reason to change

12/04/18 11:05AM

As things stand, House Democrats won at least 40 seats in this year's midterm elections. They flipped seven governors' offices. Democrats lost a little ground in the U.S. Senate, but even here, Republicans fell short of their own expectations. There's ample public polling that shows the GOP agenda, such as it is, features a series of woefully unpopular ideas.

Ron Brownstein had an interesting conversation with Bill Kristol the other day in which Brownstein said, 'I am stunned by how little debate and discussion there has been by Republicans about the extent of their suburban wipeout.... I think they should be more alarmed than they are."

That would require some introspection. The New York Times reported yesterday, however, that Republicans leaders have shown little interest in "self-examination ... about why a midterm that had seemed at least competitive became a rout."

President Trump has brushed aside questions about the loss of the chamber entirely, ridiculing losing incumbents by name, while continuing to demand Congress fund a border wall despite his party losing many of their most diverse districts. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republicans swiftly elevated their existing slate of leaders with little debate, signaling a continuation of their existing political strategy.

And neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan nor Representative Kevin McCarthy, the incoming minority leader, have stepped forward to confront why the party's once-loyal base of suburban supporters abandoned it -- and what can be done to win them back.

New York's Elise Stefanik, one of only six U.S. House Republicans still serving in states north of Pennsylvania, told the Times, "There has been close to no introspection in the G.O.P. conference and really no coming to grips with the shifting demographics that get to why we lost those seats."

All of this suggests Republicans are content to look at the 2018 results as a fluke, if not a triumph. The intra-party goal isn't to fix what ails the GOP, bur rather, to simply ignore the party's problems and wait for the political winds to change direction.

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