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Friday's Mini-Report, 4.12.19

04/12/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A new approach: "House Oversight and Reform Committee Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is moving to issue a subpoena to obtain 10 years of President Donald Trump's financial records from accounting firm Mazars USA, the chairman told members of the panel in a memo on Friday."

* The Acosta controversy isn't going away: "Senate Democrats are demanding the Department of Justice disclose the full results of an investigation into whether U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is guilty of "professional misconduct" in his handling of a sex crime prosecution against billionaire Jeffrey Epstein over a decade ago."

* The Sudanese military takes control: "As Sudan's military announced at lunchtime on Thursday that it had finally unseated President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a brief burst of joy exploded outside the military headquarters in Khartoum where huge throngs of protesters had massed.... But the euphoria quickly soured when the protesters realized who had replaced Mr. al-Bashir."

* An unnecessary step backwards: "Three years after the Obama administration told transgender individuals they could serve openly and have access to gender-affirming medical and psychological care, the Trump administration has reversed course. The Pentagon on Friday began to implement a controversial new policy that critics say is essentially a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy for trans service members."

* A case we've been following closely: "A federal judge on Friday sentenced lobbyist W. Samuel Patten to 36 months of probation for funneling $50,000 from foreign nationals to President Donald Trump's inaugural committee. Patten, 47, a longtime Washington operative, will also be required to pay a $5,000 fine and serve 500 hours of 'hands-on' community service."

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President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

Did Trump offer a possible pardon to a top US border official?

04/12/19 04:51PM

We're aware of Donald Trump abusing his pardon power. We're also aware of reports about the president telling people that following the law is optional. Today, CNN published a report that seemed to combine these two dynamics.

During President Donald Trump's visit to the border at Calexico, California, a week ago, where he told border agents to block asylum seekers from entering the US contrary to US law, the President also told the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, that if he were sent to jail as a result of blocking those migrants from entering the US, the President would grant him a pardon, senior administration officials tell CNN.

Two officials briefed on the exchange say the President told McAleenan, since named the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that he "would pardon him if he ever went to jail for denying US entry to migrants," as one of the officials paraphrased.

The CNN report, which hasn't been independently verified by NBC News or MSNBC, received a denial from a DHS spokesperson who said Trump never "indicated, asked, directed or pressured the Acting Secretary to do anything illegal." It's also possible that the president was trying to be funny.

But stories like these are so easy to believe because of their familiarity. This reporting is very much in line with everything else we've learned about this president, his manic recent border efforts, and his indifference to the rule of law.

Indeed, the CNN report coincides with a related new report from the New York Times, which added, "President Trump last week urged Kevin McAleenan, whom he was about to name as acting secretary of homeland security, to close the southwestern border despite having just said that he was delaying a decision on the step for a year, according to three people briefed about the conversation."

The Times' article went on to note that Trump raised the prospect of -- you guessed it -- a presidential pardon in the event of McAleenan facing legal jeopardy as a result of Trump's directive.

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Image: YEAR IN FOCUS - NEWS (1 of a set of 85) Republican National Convention: Day Two

What happened to the Trumps' promise to separate business and politics?

04/12/19 04:08PM

Donald Trump clearly raised a few eyebrows with his comments to The Atlantic about various government posts for which he's considered Ivanka Trump, but the president had some related thoughts on two of his other adult children.

In our conversation, the president wanted to be clear: He was very proud of all his children.... "Don is, uh, he's enjoying politics; actually, it's very good. And Eric is running the business along with Don, and also very much into politics. I mean, the children -- the children have been very, very good."

On the surface, the president's comments hardly seem surprising. Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. are prominent public figures, especially in the political sphere, where they frequently make media appearances and speeches as part of the family's political agenda. With this in mind, it's only natural that their father would acknowledge the degree to which they're "very much into politics."

But just below the surface, there's a meaningful ethical dilemma. Trump's adult sons are running his business, making new investments, serving as presidential surrogates, and playing partisan politics -- all at the same time.

Weren't we told the First Family would avoid doing this?

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Contradicting his own team, Trump confirms retribution scheme

04/12/19 02:23PM

Even some who expect the worst from the Trump administration were surprised by reports from the Washington Post and NBC News this morning about the White House pressuring U.S. immigration authorities to "release detainees onto the streets of 'sanctuary cities' to retaliate against President Trump's political adversaries."

As we discussed earlier, according to the purported plan, the White House envisioned a system in which officials would detain immigrants and then transport them to targeted "Democratic strongholds," including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's district in San Francisco.

By all appearances, the ridiculous gambit has already been rejected by administration officials. An official statement from the White House said, "This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion." NBC News spoke to a former Department of Homeland Security official who added that the plan was ultimately scrapped when it was determined to be "so illegal."

When Donald Trump himself decided to weigh in via Twitter, I assumed he'd type a few words about "fake news" and move on. Instead, he went in the opposite direction.

"Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only.

"The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy -- so this should make them very happy!"

Putting aside the "open borders" nonsense -- I can only hope this president doesn't actually believe his own talking points -- Trump has now admitted that the ridiculous plan the White House said is dead is actually under "strong consideration."

It's a reminder that there's no real point in believing anything this White House says, even in writing, because Trump has no qualms about declaring the opposite, on a whim, even if it means blindsiding his own team.

What's more, note that the premise of the president's position is bizarre. In reality, Democrats are not "unwilling" to change the nation's immigration laws. On the contrary, Democratic lawmakers have offered the White House a series of possible compromises. Trump, at least so far, has rejected each of them.

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Federal Reserve To Announce Policy Decisions After One-Day Meeting

The embarrassment surrounding Trump's Fed picks intensifies

04/12/19 12:46PM

Donald Trump not only still likes the idea of adding Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, the Washington Post reports that the president also offered Cain the opportunity to see what most White House visitors do not.

Trump recently gathered with generals and other military leaders for a meeting about the Mexican border, according to two people familiar with the chain of events who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe the discussions. At the meeting, which was held in the White House Situation Room, an aide passed Trump a note informing him that Cain was in the building.

Trump summoned Cain to the meeting, and then told the military brass that they needed to come up with a "9-9-9" plan for the border. The joke fell flat.

Comedy gold like that didn't generate huge laughs? I guess the Situation Room is a tough room.

Regardless, I hope Cain enjoyed his visit to the West Wing, because it may have been the closest he'll get to real power. Several Senate Republicans have expressed their opposition to Cain joining the Fed -- enough to derail a nomination -- and by some accounts, he'll withdraw from consideration in the coming days, ending this unfortunate fiasco.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told reporters yesterday that the White House supports Cain's candidacy for the Federal Reserve "for the moment," which is generally not the kind of phrase we'd expect about someone who's likely to succeed.

It probably doesn't help that embarrassing new information about Cain continues to come to the fore: the Kansas City Star reported yesterday that the Georgia Republican has "described the Senate Banking Committee, which would vet him if he were nominated, 'as a bunch of yahoos.' He compared the right to health care to the right to own a Cadillac, and said God would decide when it was time to stop using fossil fuels."

So, if Cain -- who still hasn't formally even been nominated -- will soon exit the stage, fans of common sense and sound governance can breathe a little easier? Maybe, but there is Trump's other pick for the Fed to consider.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.12.19

04/12/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) yesterday unveiled a new initiative that would impose new corporate taxes on companies with profits over $100 million.

* NBC News' First Read raised an interesting point about 2020 fundraising: Democratic presidential contenders are raising less money than the 2008 candidates, but there are a lot more donors overall.

* The latest Monmouth poll of Iowa Democrats found former Vice President Joe Biden leading the pack with 27%, followed by Bernie Sanders at 16% and Pete Buttigieg at 9%.

* CNN has uncovered letters Joe Biden wrote in 1977 to then-segregationist senators as part of his efforts at the time against busing.

* The latest Gallup poll found Donald Trump receiving a bump in his support, with an approval rating of 45% -- matching a level of support he had last summer. Most other recent polling shows the president's standing a little lower.

* Indifferent to his party's 2020 plans, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced his endorsement of Sen. Susan Collins' (R-Maine) re-election campaign. To put it mildly, these kinds of cross-party endorsements, especially in key contests, are extremely rare.

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Morning breaks over the White House and the offices of the West Wing (R) in Washington January 20, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The trouble with the White House's pitch on Greg Craig's indictment

04/12/19 10:48AM

Donald Trump and his team appear awfully interested in Greg Craig's indictment, though their promotional efforts are a bit flawed.

Former White House counsel Greg Craig was indicted by a grand jury Thursday for allegedly making false statements to the Justice Department about work performed for Ukraine in 2012.

Craig, 74, who was charged with concealing material information from the Foreign Agents Registration Act Unit, or FARA Unit, and making false statements, failed to disclose work he performed for Ukraine because he believed it would prevent him from assuming future roles within the federal government, according to the indictment, which stemmed from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

For the right, Craig's indictment is important because he served as White House counsel during the first couple of years of Barack Obama's presidency. It creates a headline that Trump World wants the public to see: Lawyer from Obama White House faces criminal charges.

Except, that paints a misleading picture. Did Greg Craig's alleged crimes happen during his White House tenure? No. Did he work for Obama in any way at the time of the alleged misdeeds? No. Did any of this have anything to do with Obama or Trump's conspiracy theories involving his predecessor? No.

In fact, as Rachel noted on the show last night, Craig was indicted over his alleged role in an illegal foreign lobbying scheme coordinated by Paul Manafort -- the convicted felon who oversaw Donald Trump's political operation in 2016.

And yet, there was Kellyanne Conway yesterday, publishing a tweet that read, "BREAKING NEWS! FINALLY! WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL INDICTED in connection with MUELLER investigation!"

Perhaps this was intended to be funny, but (a) Craig's alleged crimes happened long after he was a White House official; and (b) I seem to recall Donald Trump's White House national security advisor getting busted as part of the Mueller investigation, as part of crimes committed while under Trump's employ.

Conway's boss went even further.

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

Pence says Trump didn't 'endorse' WikiLeaks, despite his professed 'love'

04/12/19 10:07AM

Given how frequently Donald Trump says things that aren't true, it's tempting to think he'd be better at it. The president gets enough practice that he should practically be an expert.

And yet, there was Trump yesterday, responding to Julian Assange's arrest by telling reporters, "I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It's not my thing." This, naturally, led a whole lot of media professionals to highlight the Republican's enthusiastic embrace of WikiLeaks -- which was very much his "thing" -- when it was disseminating materials stolen by Russia in order to help Trump gain power.

Vice President Mike Pence, however, believes we didn't fully understand the subtleties of the president's message.

Vice President Pence asserted in an interview broadcast Friday that President Trump's enthusiastic reaction to WikiLeaks' releases of damaging material on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race did not amount to an endorsement of the organization.

"I think the president always, as you and the media do, always welcomes information," Pence said in an interview with CNN. "But that was in no way an endorsement of an organization that we now understand was involved in disseminating classified information by the United States of America."

Ah yes, of course. Donald Trump simply "welcomes information." He's a voracious reader and news consumer, who simply sees WikiLeaks as one of many online resources.

Naturally, we should see the president's comments about WikiLeaks as a reflection of his detached and dispassionate views on the online repository. Trump, as Pence put it, certainly wouldn't "endorse" such a project.

Please.

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