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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 8.15.18

08/15/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Former CIA Director John Brennan responds to the president revoking his clearance: "This action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics. It should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out. My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent."

* Closing arguments: "Paul Manafort lied to hide the full extent of his wealth from U.S. tax authorities and lied some more to obtain loans that would continue to fund his luxurious lifestyle, prosecutors said Wednesday during the closing arguments of the federal fraud trial of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman."

* Afghanistan: "Taliban insurgents overran an Afghan Army base and a police checkpoint in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 39 soldiers and police officers, officials said, and a suicide bomber in the capital killed at least 48 people in a classroom."

* Gut-wrenching findings: "Bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, persuading victims not to report the abuse and law enforcement not to investigate it, according to a searing report issued by a grand jury on Tuesday."

* When a NATO member turns to Russia: "Turkey, a longtime North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, has been caught between the West and Russia. This week, officials in Ankara were leaning decidedly toward Moscow."

* A provocative report: "In its investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 election, the Senate Intelligence Committee has spent more than a year trying to follow the money. But its efforts, unparalleled on Capitol Hill, have been hampered by a surprising force: the US Treasury Department, which has delayed turning over crucial financial records and refused to provide an expert to help make sense of the complex money trail. Even some of the department's own personnel have questioned whether Treasury is intentionally hamstringing the investigation."

* Jones gets a time-out: "Twitter on Tuesday put temporary limits on the account of Alex Jones, a move that marks the latest restriction by a Silicon Valley company on the controversial conspiracy theorist and radio host."

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Trump's Brennan condemnation is sorely lacking in self-awareness

08/15/18 04:40PM

Donald Trump took unprecedented action today against one of his high-profile critics, revoking former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance. Since this has apparently never happened before, it's tempting to assume Brennan did something truly outrageous to draw the presidential punishment.

Did he put national security at risk? No, that's not it. Did Brennan disclose classified information? No, that's not it, either.

Instead, Trump explained his rationale in a statement.

[A]t this point in my Administration, any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior. Second, that conduct and behavior has tested and far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him.

Mr. Brennan has a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility.... Additionally, Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations -- wild outbursts on the internet and television -- about this Administration. Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct, characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary, is wholly inconsistent with access to the Nation’s most closely held secrets and facilitates the very aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos.

Or to summarize in list form, the president believes the former CIA chief:

* is guilty of "erratic conduct and behavior";

* is lacking in "objectivity and credibility";

* has made "unfounded and outrageous allegations";

* has made "wild outbursts on the internet and television"'

* has been caught "lying";

* has engaged in "frenzied commentary."

Perhaps you see where I'm going with this.

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Trump revoking Brennan security clearance is 'a banana republic kind of thing'

08/15/18 03:52PM

It was three weeks ago when White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Donald Trump was considering a bold move. As the president's chief spokesperson acknowledged at the time, Trump was considering revoking the security clearances of former intelligence officials who've criticized him, raising the specter, as NBC News put it, of a president "using his office to lash out at his political enemies."

Soon after, the next day, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) shrugged off the White House rhetoric. Referring to the president, Ryan told reporters, "I think he's trolling people, honestly."

Actually, no, he wasn't.

President Donald Trump has decided to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's clearance for access to classified information, he said in a statement read by press secretary Sarah Sanders Tuesday.

The courtesy of allowing a former administration official to retain security clearance has been "outweighed by the risk posed by his erratic conduct and behavior," Trump said in the statement. "Mr. Brennan has a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility..."

"Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status ... to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet and on television, about this administration," he added.

We may never know for sure exactly what prompted this move, though it's worth noting for context that Brennan was a guest of MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell" just last night. The former CIA chief said, among other things, that Trump's presidency is "dangerous to our nation."

Sanders went on to note that the White House is also "evaluating" the clearances of several other former officials: James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.

The press secretary didn't say what, exactly, the evaluation would include. Under the circumstances, this seems to be a case in which these officials can avoid White House punishment if they refrain from hurting Trump's feelings.

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Ben Carson watches as Donald Trump takes the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Carson's HUD advances plans to roll back Obama-era fair housing rule

08/15/18 12:42PM

When it comes to Donald Trump, his administration, and his problems with race, there are two broad categories to keep in mind. The first has to do with rhetorical divisions.

The president, for example, relied on overt racism to get elected, and proceeded to use his office to ignite ugly and wildly unnecessary racial controversies. As we recently discussed, this was obvious when Trump offered public praise for racist protesters in Charlottesville, but it's been equally clear with his efforts to generate public disgust for African-American athletes protesting racial injustice, his behind-the-scenes references to "shithole countries," and the vigor with which he questions the intelligence of his black critics.

But the other problem is focused on policy and the substance of governing. Take yesterday's news, for example.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is taking new steps to roll back an Obama-era rule intended to combat housing segregation.

On Monday, the Trump administration formally began the process of revamping a 2015 rule that required cities and towns to examine historic patterns of segregation and create plans to combat it, or lose federal funding.

Sara Pratt, a former Obama official who helped develop the rule, told NBC News that the Trump administration's moves would enable communities to ignore long-standing barriers to fair housing and integration.

"You're going back to communities willfully blinding themselves to patterns of segregation," said Pratt, whose law firm is representing a coalition of groups suing the Trump administration for its earlier efforts to suspend the rule. "Without this rule, communities will not do the work to eliminate discrimination and segregation."

Circling back to our earlier coverage, his comes on the heels of the Trump administration issuing new federal guidance to educational institutions, urging them to stop considering race as a factor in school admissions, scrapping an Obama-era policy.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.15.18

08/15/18 12:00PM

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

* As his political career came to an end, Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty (R), who lost a gubernatorial primary most expected him to win, told reporters last night, "The Republican Party has shifted. It is the era of Trump and I'm just not a Trump-like politician."

* Speaking of yesterday's primaries, Democratic turnout easily outpaced Republican turnout, and the data was especially striking for Dems in Minnesota.

* In the wake of his arrest, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) has suspended his re-election campaign and is prepared to let his party choose a new nominee. With the relevant deadlines having come and gone, New York Democrats are preparing to take the matter to court, insisting that Collins' name remain on the ballot.

* In the midst of an ongoing controversy surrounding his campaign's allegedly fraudulent tactics, Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) announced he's withdrawing from an upcoming debate with his Democratic rival, Elaine Luria. The official explanation is that the debate was sponsored by WHRO, a public-radio outlet in Norfolk, and Taylor disapproves of the station's coverage.

* In a bit of a surprise, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican-turned-Libertarian and failed presidential candidate, yesterday launched a U.S. Senate campaign. He'll take on incumbent Sen. Martin Heinrich (D), who appears to be the heavy favorite for re-election.

* In Kentucky's 6th congressional district, Rep. Andy Barr's (R) first general-election ad criticizes Amy McGrath (D) for, among other things, identifying herself as a "feminist." Why that's supposed to be a bad thing is unclear.

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A doorman stands as people walk past the Trump Tower in N.Y. on May 23, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Poll shows broad opposition to campaigns colluding with foreign adversaries

08/15/18 11:20AM

There's quite a bit to chew on in the new national Quinnipiac poll, but there was one question that stood out for me.

"Do you think it is ever acceptable for a presidential campaign to obtain information on a political opponent from a hostile foreign power, or do you think that is never acceptable?"

As it turns out, this was one of the few questions in which Americans were largely on the same page. Overall, 79% of Americans said it's never acceptable for U.S. campaigns to get dirt from foreign adversaries, and the consensus was fairly broad: even 69% of Republicans agreed.

Among white voters without college degrees -- a constituency that tends to make up the bulk of Donald Trump's base -- 79% said it's never acceptable, which is the identical figure to overall national sentiment.

And at a certain level, the question may seem boring, if not wholly unnecessary. Of course the American is going to balk at the idea of presidential campaigns obtaining information on a political opponent from a hostile foreign power, right? Who's going to argue the other side of this fight?

The answer, it turns out, is some of Trump's allies, who are worried about where the Russia scandal is headed.

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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)

Defending Trump's lies, Giuliani says facts are 'in the eye of the beholder'

08/15/18 10:42AM

CNN's Chris Cuomo interviewed Rudy Giuliani last night, and the host noted that plenty of modern presidents have faced pressure and attacks, but no modern president has "dealt with humanity the way" Donald Trump does. The former mayor, conceding the point, replied, "Maybe nobody has been as honest as him."

Yes, because if there's one thing Trump has demonstrated, it's his unyielding commitment to ... honesty?

It led to an interesting exchange between the host and guest.

CUOMO: If fact-counting is anything, we've never had anybody with the level of mendacity that he has. Not even close.

GIULIANI: It's in the eye of the beholder.

CUOMO: No, facts are not in the eye of the beholder.

GIULIANI: Yes, they are. Nowadays they are.

In context, Giuliani was chuckling a bit when he said this, so perhaps the presidential attorney was treating this as some kind of joke.

Or maybe Trump's lawyer was treating the whole idea of objective reality as some kind of joke. It was a little tough to tell.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Why the White House got African-American job numbers very wrong

08/15/18 10:00AM

This past weekend, the Associated Press published an unflattering report fact-checking Donald Trump's rhetoric on the economy, explaining in some detail that the president has been reduced to "pulling numbers out of thin air." The AP added that figures Trump peddles "don't even come close" to being true.

Two days later, the president seemed eager to prove the AP correct, delivering remarks in which he repeated claims about his record on job creation and economic growth that were plainly wrong.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went even further yesterday, pointing to a truly ridiculous argument while defending Trump against allegations of racism.

"Just look at the economy alone. This president, since he took office, in the year and a half that he's been here, has created 700,000 new jobs for African Americans. That's 700,000 African Americans that are working now that weren't working when this President took place.

"When President Obama left, after eight years in office -- eight years in office, he had only created 800 -- or 195,000 jobs for African Americans. President Trump in his first year and a half has already tripled what President Obama did in eight years."

Even by Trump World standards, this was hopelessly bizarre. As a CNBC report explained, "During the eight years President Barack Obama was in office, black employment rose by roughly 3.2 million, or more than four times the 700,000 jobs added so far since Trump took office."

Soon after, the White House Council of Economic Advisors apologized, insisting it was responsible for Sanders' mistake. The press secretary added the numbers she used "were correct, but the time frame for [President] Obama wasn't."

Except, this was wrong, too, since the revised numbers included jobs that were lost during the Great Recession before Obama took office.

But as important as these factual details are, I'm also curious about why the White House thought the absurd claims were true.

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks about the Kansas voter ID law in his Topeka, Kan., office May 12, 2016. (Photo by Dave Kaup/Reuters)

As Kobach prevails, Dems get the candidate they're eager to beat in Kansas

08/15/18 09:20AM

Kansas hosted one of the nation's closest primary contests last week, and it looked like it might be a while before we learned who the Republican Party's gubernatorial nominee would be. Incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) had already hired an attorney, and many expected a prolonged and contentious recount process.

Last night, however, all of that changed.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded Tuesday evening in the state's Republican gubernatorial primary, saying he would endorse Secretary of State Kris Kobach a week after their neck-and-neck finish threatened to send the race to a recount.

Colyer accepted defeat after a review of some provisional ballots from most Kansas counties failed to find enough votes for him to overcome a deficit of 110 votes at the time of poll closing in the Aug. 7 primary, out of more than 311,000 votes initially counted.

Donald Trump will likely take some credit for the results, and for a change, the presidential boast may be at least somewhat true. Despite pressure from the Republican Governors Association and White House officials, who urged Trump to stay out of the primary, the president announced his support for Kobach the day before the primary.

Given Kobach's tiny margin of victory, it's quite likely Trump's backing helped push the far-right candidate over the top.

The question, of course, is whether Republicans will end up regretting it.

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Pawlenty quits Romney campaign to run Wall Street lobby shop

Latest primary results point to surprises, historic breakthroughs

08/15/18 08:45AM

About a month ago, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), running for his old job, launched his first television ad of the primary season. In an unexpected move, the Republican didn't tout a lengthy record of success; he attacked his primary rival, Jeff Johnson, as a "career politician."

The substance of the message was bizarre -- Pawlenty, after all, was a two-term governor, a five-term state legislator, and a failed presidential candidate -- but the subtext suggested there was something in his polling that gave him pause. With a huge financial advantage, broad name-recognition, a professional operation, Pawlenty seemed likely to win the primary, but that first advertising choice reflected anxiety.

We now know the concerns were rooted in fact. The Star-Tribune  reported overnight:

Jeff Johnson shocked the Minnesota political world Tuesday with a commanding victory in the Republican primary for governor, while U.S. Rep. Tim Walz won a three-way race in the DFL primary, setting up a clash of starkly different visions for the state's future.

Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, derailed former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's bid to win back his old job. Pawlenty had been widely seen as the front-runner thanks to much higher name recognition from his two previous terms in office, and Johnson overcame a vast fundraising disadvantage with a message of change and by courting supporters of President Donald Trump.

With just about all of the precincts reporting, Johnson appears to have won the primary by nearly nine points.

The significance of this extends well beyond embarrassment for Pawlenty. Most observers in both parties believe Johnson and his Trump-like message will not be effective in this relatively blue state. BuzzFeed reported earlier in the summer, "Most notably, a big investment from the Republican Governors Association could be in jeopardy: One national Republican experienced in gubernatorial campaigns told BuzzFeed News that the RGA is likely to cancel its $2.3 million reservation for fall airtime in Minnesota if Johnson wins the nomination."

That's not just good news for Rep. Tim Walz, who won a competitive Democratic primary yesterday, it's also bad news for other Republicans up and down the ballot: with Dems now favored in Minnesota's gubernatorial race, and both of its U.S. Senate races, GOP candidates in tough races are suddenly in an even tougher spot now than before Primary Day.

But while Pawlenty's loss may have been yesterday's biggest surprise, it wasn't the only interesting result.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

Why the White House won't 'guarantee' there's no tape of Trump using the N-word

08/15/18 08:00AM

There have been unsubstantiated rumors for quite a while of possible tapes, recoded during Donald Trump's time as a reality-show personality, using racist language behind the scenes. Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former White House aide, claims she's heard a recording of the president using the N-word.

The allegations led to a rather striking exchange at yesterday's press briefing.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday that she could not "guarantee" that there are no recordings of President Donald Trump using the N-word.

"I've never heard him use that term or anything similar," Sanders said in response to a series of questions from NBC's Kristen Welker about whether he's ever used the racial slur. Asked if she could promise that Americans would never hear him say it on a recording, she declined. "I can't guarantee anything, but I can tell you the president addressed this question directly," she said, though she acknowledged that she had never asked him the question herself.

Sanders added, "Look, I haven't been in every single room."

It wasn't much of an answer. If we asked a White House spokesperson from the previous administration if Barack Obama had ever talked about launching a full-scale military invasion of Antarctica, we wouldn't hear, "I can't guarantee anything. I haven't been in every room."

Instead, we'd hear something categorical, such as, "No, that's stupid."

Similarly, if reporters asked Sanders if there's a recording of her boss planning a nude barbecue on the South Lawn, I imagine she'd be comfortable guaranteeing that such a tape does not exist.

But Sanders wasn't willing to rule out the possibility of a recording of Trump using racist slurs, suggesting that she believes such a tape may, in fact, exist -- and suggesting she believes the president may be capable of such behavior. That in turn raises two angles of interest.

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