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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.12.19

06/12/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Crisis conditions in Hong Kong: "At least 72 people were injured and rushed to Hong Kong hospitals in the wake of massive protests Wednesday over a bill that would allow extradition to mainland China, authorities said."

* Capitol Hill: "The House Oversight and Reform Committee advanced a resolution Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for withholding documents on the Trump administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census."

* Ebola: "Fears worsened on Wednesday that the year-old Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo could spread to neighboring countries, as a boy in Uganda died from the disease and two of his close relatives there were infected."

* A curious choice: "Former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn has hired attorney Sidney Powell to replace his legal team. Powell bashed Mueller's tactics in commentary before she was hired by Flynn, which suggests that Flynn — by choosing her — may be doubling down on a strategy to cast doubt on his guilty plea even as he continues to cooperate with prosecutors."

* Keep a close eye on this one: "Margaret Hunter, the wife of longtime East County Congressman Duncan Hunter who was co-indicted with her husband last summer, has agreed to change her plea of not guilty and is scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday morning."

* The deficit for May alone was over $200 billion: "The U.S. budget gap widened last month as government spending outpaced tax collection, boosting the deficit 39% during the first eight months of the fiscal year. The government ran a $739 billion deficit from October through May, compared with $532 billion during the same period a year earlier, the Treasury said."

* Rostin Behnam is the newest person Republicans should, but probably won't, listen to: "A top financial regulator is opening a public effort to highlight the risk that climate change poses to the nation's financial markets, setting up a clash with a president who has mocked global warming and whose administration has sought to suppress climate science."

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A striking number of foreign reps have spent money at Trump properties

06/12/19 12:40PM

The U.S. Constitution includes a once-obscure provision known as the "Emoluments Clause," which as regular readers know, prohibits U.S. officials from receiving payments from foreign governments. Traditionally, this hasn't been much of a problem for sitting American presidents -- but with Donald Trump things are a little different.

After all, this president has refused to divest from his private-sector enterprises, which means he continues to personally profit from businesses that receive payments from foreign governments.

The problem isn't theoretical: Saudi Arabia, for example, spent roughly $270,000 at Trump's Washington hotel during one of the country's lobbying campaigns in 2017. Some of that money benefited the president -- because he owns the place.

But to appreciate the scope of the problem, it's important to know how many other countries' representatives have taken similar steps. NBC News ran this report earlier today:

Representatives of at least 22 foreign governments appear to have spent money at Trump Organization properties, an NBC News review has found, hinting at a significant foreign cash flow to the American president that critics say violates the U.S. Constitution.

The extent and amount of foreign spending at Trump's hotels, golf clubs and restaurants is not known, because the Trump Organization is a private company and declines to disclose that information. Trump promised to donate any profits from foreign governments, and the Trump Organization has sent $343,000 to the U.S. Treasury for 2017 and 2018. The company did not release underlying numbers to support that figure.

Keep in mind, given the constitutional restrictions, the number of countries with representatives spending money at Trump-owned properties would ideally be zero. One is too many.

Twenty-two seems awfully tough to defend.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.12.19

06/12/19 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Quinnipiac poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading the Democratic presidential field with 30%, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 19% and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 15%. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) was fourth with 8%, followed by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) with 7%. No other Dem topped 3% in this poll.

* The release of the Quinnipiac results coincided with the pollster showing several Democratic contenders -- Biden, Sanders, Harris, Warren, Buttigieg, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) -- leading Donald Trump in hypothetical general election match-ups.

* On a related note, while the Quinnipiac poll showed Trump trailing Biden by 13 points, the president told reporters yesterday that the former vice president is the Democrat he's most eager to face. Trump said Biden is "the weakest, mentally."

* With Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) supporting Trump's impeachment, the president and his allies have reportedly taken a direct interest in derailing the Michigan incumbent in a 2020 primary race.

* Mindful that his support for "democratic socialism" might raise concerns about his electability, Bernie Sanders is scheduled to deliver a speech today outlining the details of his economic philosophy.

* The Washington Examiner had an interesting report today out of Texas, where Republican donors are reportedly preparing "a multimillion-dollar effort to register more than 1 million new GOP voters" in the Lone Star State ahead of the 2020 race. There's been lingering talk for years about Texas becoming more competitive, and it appears some Republicans in the state have reached the point at which they're starting to worry about it.

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Trump judicial nominee withdraws in the face of GOP opposition

06/12/19 11:20AM

As a rule, the Republicans' judicial pipeline works with remarkable efficiency. Partisan operatives tell Donald Trump who to nominate; the White House sends the nominees to Capitol Hill, and the Republican-led Senate serves as a rubber stamp. The result is a largely successful initiative to move the entire federal judiciary to the right.

Once in a great while, however, there are exceptions.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), for example, derailed a couple of Trump nominees with problematic records on race. What's more, Brett Talley withdrew when his profound lack of qualifications was exposed; Jeff Mateer's nomination ended when senators learned of his bizarre anti-LGBT animus; and Matthew Petersen called it quits following a humiliating confirmation hearing.

Yesterday, the list of failed Trump judicial nominees got just a little longer. Politico reported:

Michael Bogren, a Trump judicial nominee, is withdrawing from consideration amid a Republican backlash, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Bogren, who was nominated to the District Court for the Western District of Michigan, faced growing opposition from Republican senators. Three Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina -- said they would oppose his nomination and more were expected to emerge. He also faced criticism from conservative advocacy groups like the Judicial Crisis Network, Heritage Action for America, and Conservative Action Project.

What makes Bogren's reported withdrawal so notable is the degree to which it's different than Trump's other failed judicial nominees: some Senate Republicans decided Bogren just wasn't far enough to the right.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

In response to discouraging polls, Trump concocts conspiracy theory

06/12/19 10:40AM

It's hard to blame Donald Trump for feeling discouraged by the latest 2020 polls. The president is struggling in battleground states; his internal polls are reportedly "devastating"; and the latest national polls suggest, at least for now, that the Republican is likely to lose next year.

Indeed, a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday afternoon showed Trump trailing six leading Democratic contenders in hypothetical general election match-ups, with former Vice President Joe Biden leading the incumbent by 13 points.

Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said, "It's a long 17 months to Election Day, but Joe Biden is ahead by landslide proportions."

During a brief Q&A with reporters at the White House yesterday, Trump suggested that polls he doesn't like should be seen as "fake." On Twitter this morning, the president elaborated on the subject.

"The Fake News has never been more dishonest than it is today. Thank goodness we can fight back on Social Media. Their new weapon of choice is Fake Polling, sometimes referred to as Suppression Polls (they suppress the numbers). Had it in 2016, but this is worse.

"The Fake (Corrupt) News Media said they had a leak into polling done by my campaign which, by the way and despite the phony and never ending Witch Hunt, are the best numbers WE have ever had. They reported Fake numbers that they made up & don't even exist. WE WILL WIN AGAIN!"

If you saw this on Twitter and the missives disappeared soon after, it's because Trump originally misspelled "their." He deleted the original tweets and then republished them soon after without the typo.

Regardless, what strikes me as amazing about the president's approach is that he has better alternatives, but he chooses to ignore them and go with the worst of his rhetorical options.

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joined by, from left, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., smiles as they unveil the GOP's tax overhaul, Nov. 2, 2017.

Leading Republican admits his tax cuts haven't paid for themselves

06/12/19 10:05AM

During the debate over the Republicans' tax plan -- to the extent that there was an actual "debate" -- GOP policymakers insisted that they didn't have to offset the costs of the package. Republicans instead argued, with great sincerity, that tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations would magically pay for themselves through increased growth.

The argument wasn't limited to partisan radicals. Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ostensibly her party's most moderate federal lawmaker, defended her party's regressive Republican tax plan by insisting, more than once, that tax breaks would pay for themselves.

We now know, of course, that they were spectacularly wrong, and the budget deficit that Republicans used to pretend to care about is now ballooning -- just as critics of the GOP plan predicted.

What does one of the principal authors of the Republican tax policy have to say for himself? The Washington Post reported late yesterday:

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), a lead architect of the GOP tax bill, suggested Tuesday the tax cuts may not fully pay for themselves, contradicting a promise Republicans made repeatedly while pushing the law in late 2017.

Pressed about what portion of the tax cuts were fully paid for, Brady said it was "hard to know."

"We will know in year 8, 9 or 10 what revenues it brought in to the government over time. So it's way too early to tell," said Brady at the Peterson Foundation's annual Fiscal Summit in Washington D.C.

Ah, I see. Brady and his compatriots said their massive tax breaks would pay for themselves, and now that the evidence shows otherwise, Brady now wants people to believe the tax breaks may someday pay for themselves.

It's a convenient way to win any argument about a prediction gone wrong: if we wait, eventually I might be right, and since you can't definitively prove otherwise, let's call it a draw.

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Attorney General Kamala Harris smiles speaks at an event in Sacramento, Calif., April 13, 2013. (Photo by Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Kamala Harris eyes Trump prosecution after 2020 election

06/12/19 09:20AM

In a typical presidential election, candidates aren't asked about possible criminal indictments against incumbent presidents. But in the Trump era, things are a little different.

In recent months, a variety of Democratic contenders -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) -- have said that if prosecutors wanted to charge Donald Trump with crimes after Inauguration Day 2021, they wouldn't rescue the Republican with a pardon.

Yesterday on NPR, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) went a bit further, stating that her Justice Department would likely charge Trump with obstruction of justice.

"I believe that they would have no choice and that they should, yes," Harris told the NPR Politics Podcast, pointing to the 10 instances of possible obstruction that former special counsel Robert Mueller's report detailed without making a determination as to whether or not the episodes amounted to criminal conduct.

"There has to be accountability," Harris added. "I mean look, people might, you know, question why I became a prosecutor. Well, I'll tell you one of the reasons -- I believe there should be accountability. Everyone should be held accountable, and the president is not above the law."

Reflecting on the circumstances as a former prosecutor and former state attorney general, the California Democrat added, "The facts and the evidence will take the process where it leads.... But I've seen prosecution of cases on much less evidence."

As best as I can tell, Harris wasn't asked specifically about a possible pardon for Trump, but in context, there wasn't much doubt that the 2020 candidate has little interest in shielding the Republican from legal consequences.

All of which raises the question of whether Harris went a little further than she should have.

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Image: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with President Donald Trump

Why would Trump oppose intelligence gathering on North Korea?

06/12/19 08:40AM

Two years ago, Kim Jong Un's half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed in a Malaysian airport. This week, the Wall Street Journal reported on a possible motive: the dictator's half-brother "was a Central Intelligence Agency source who met on several occasions with agency operatives."

It was against this backdrop that a reporter asked Donald Trump yesterday about his diplomatic efforts with the rogue nuclear state. The Republican's response was unexpected:

"...I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un, and I think the relationship is very well. But I appreciated the letter. I saw the information about the CIA, with respect to his brother, or half-brother. And I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices, that's for sure. I wouldn't let that happen under my auspices."

Trump went on and on for a while, gushing about the "warmth" of the dictator's latest personal correspondence, before being asked to clarify his concerns about the CIA and Kim Jong Un's half-brother.

The Republican added, "I know this: That the relationship is such that that wouldn't happen under my auspices."

The obvious question is, why not?

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President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before departing for a trip to Iowa, on the South Lawn of White House, Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Washington.

The case of Donald Trump and his mysterious piece of paper

06/12/19 08:00AM

When Donald Trump backed off his threat to impose new trade tariffs on Mexico, the president pointed to three purported accomplishments. The first was a series of new steps our neighbors agreed to take to stem the tide of immigration, but those steps proved to be illusory: Mexico had already agreed to implement those measures months ago.

The second was a major agricultural purchase the Republican said Mexico had agreed to make, though it now appears Trump just made this up.

But the third has become the most interesting. The American president said there was a secret side deal, excluded from the formal agreement, which Trump and his team secured with Mexico thanks to his threat. Mexican officials have spent the last few days denying the existence of this secret accord.

All of which led to some fresh drama yesterday afternoon at the White House.

It's all right here -- but you can't see it yet.

That's what President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday as he removed a piece of paper from his suit jacket pocket, waved it around and claimed it contained the details of his secret agreement with the Mexican government that Mexican officials have expressed confusion about.

Asked specifically about a possible "safe-third-country" agreement with Mexico -- rumored to be what Trump is referring to as the secret deal -- the president held up a folded piece of paper. "That's the agreement that everybody says I don't have," Trump said, refusing to let anyone see it.

He added, "[R]ight here is the agreement. It's very simple. It's right here. And in here is everything you want to talk about. Done. It's done. It's done. It's all done."

Two days after Trump said the secret agreement will need the approval of Mexican lawmakers, the Republican said something different yesterday, telling reporters, "It goes into effect when I want it to."

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