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Monday's Mini-Report, 6.17.19

06/17/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A scary scene in Dallas: "A rifle-toting gunman wearing tactical gear and carrying multiple magazines was fatally shot Monday after exchanging fire with federal officers outside a downtown Dallas court building, police said."

* A scary scene in Toronto: "Two people were shot at a rally celebrating the Toronto Raptors' first NBA championship on Monday afternoon, according to police, amid a celebration that saw thousands of fans crowd into the city's downtown core. Police also said that two firearms were recovered and two people were in custody."

* Terrorism in Nigeria: "At least 30 people were killed in a triple suicide bombing in northeastern Nigeria, emergency services reported on Monday, in an attack bearing the hallmarks of the Boko Haram jihadist group."

* A 7-2 ruling: "The Supreme Court declined on Monday to change the longstanding rule that says putting someone on trial more than once for the same crime does not violate the Constitution's protection against double jeopardy -- a case that drew attention because of its possible implications for President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort."

* More from SCOTUS: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dealt a partial victory to the owners of an Oregon bakery who were fined for refusing to provide a cake for a lesbian commitment ceremony. The justices wiped out lower court rulings against the bakers and sent the case back for another round of hearings."

* Unexpected news out of Cairo: "Egypt's former president, Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who rose to office in the country's first free elections in 2012 and was ousted a year later by the military, collapsed in court during a trial and died Monday, state TV and his family said."

* A discouraging record: "Lawmakers set a new record Sunday by leaving the federal minimum wage untouched since July 24, 2009, the first year of former President Barack Obama's first term. The rate hasn't been increased from $7.25 in a whopping 3,615 days, making it the longest dry spell since the federal minimum wage was enacted under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938."

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens to a question during a press conference following the weekly policy meeting at the U.S. Capitol Dec. 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Mitch McConnell's curious definition of 'full-bore socialism'

06/17/19 02:23PM

In March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) condemned the House Democrats' voting-rights legislation -- the "For the People Act" (H.R. 1) -- as a "half-baked socialist proposal." That didn't make any sense, since there's nothing socialistic about ideas such as ending partisan gerrymandering and creating a system of automatic voter registration, but the GOP leader didn't much care.

A few days ago, McConnell appeared on Fox News and made a similar pitch on a similar issue to Laura Ingraham.

"They plan to make the District of Columbia a state, that'd give them two new Democratic senators. Puerto Rico a state, that'd give them two more new Democratic senators. And as a former Supreme Court clerk yourself, you've surely noticed that they plan to expand the Supreme Court.

"So this is full-bore socialism on the march in the House."

Look, I realize some on the right have gotten a little lazy when it comes to crafting political insults. In much the same as "judicial activism" has become a conservative shorthand for "court rulings we don't like," the word "socialism" is starting to become synonymous with "policy reforms Republicans oppose."

But the laziness isn't helping anyone. For one thing, if giving Americans a voice in the U.S. Senate is "socialism," McConnell is necessarily going to make socialism more popular.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump cryptically refers to release of his 'financial statement'

06/17/19 12:48PM

One of the parts of Donald Trump's interview with George Stephanopoulos that's generated some chatter was the president's willingness to scold acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney for coughing during part of the interview. It was, to be sure, odd: Trump went on and on about how unacceptable he considered Mulvaney's coughing, before asking for another take.

But what I found even more notable was what the president was saying before he interrupted the interview to chastise his aide.

TRUMP: When you will see my financial statement, at some point I assume it's going to be released, you'll be very impressed by the job I've done. Much, much bigger, much, much better than anybody.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which financial statement?

TRUMP: Uh, they're after my financial statement. The Senate, they'd like to get my financial statement. At some point I hope they get it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're going to turn it over?

TRUMP: No, at some point I might, but at some point, I hope they get it because it's a fantastic financial statement. It's a fantastic financial statement.

At that point, the president interrupted the interview, said, "Let's do that over," and admonished Mulvaney.

When they returned, the ABC News anchor reminded Trump that it's up to him when people see the materials. "No, it's not up to me," the Republican responded. "It's up to lawyers, it's up to everything else. But they're asking for things that they should never be asking for, that they've never asked another president for." Trump added that people are trying to "demean" him.

The president's response to coughing was weird, but his comments about his "financial statement" weren't any better -- because it wasn't at all clear what in the world he was referring to.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.17.19

06/17/19 12:00PM

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

* In an unexpected 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning rejected a challenge to a lower court ruling on Virginia's racially gerrymandered legislative districts. The outcome increases the odds of Democrats winning a majority in Richmond this fall.

* The latest national Fox News poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) maintaining his position atop the Democratic presidential primary field, leading Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), 32% to 13%. In March, the same poll found Biden leading Sanders by just eight points. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was third in the new results with 9%, followed by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) with 8% each.

* That same poll found each of the top five Democratic contenders leading Donald Trump in hypothetical match-ups, though Biden, who led the president by 10 points, enjoyed the largest advantage.

* The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was also released over the weekend, and it found just 37% of registered voters are enthusiastic or comfortable about voting for Trump. In contrast, the poll found 52% said they're "very uncomfortable" backing the president.

* In South Carolina, a Post and Courier-Change Research Poll found Biden leading Warren, 37% to 17%, followed by Buttigieg with 11%. Harris and Sanders are tied in this poll for fourth with 9% each.

* Speaking of the Palmetto State, several Democratic contenders appeared at the Black Economic Alliance Presidential Forum in South Carolina on Saturday. The candidates -- Warren, Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) -- spoke at the event, which was specifically focused on economic problems affecting African-American communities.

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St Basil's Cathedral

US officials target Russia's power grid, but leave Trump in the dark: NYT

06/17/19 11:20AM

The New York Times published a striking front-page article over the weekend, reporting that the United States is "stepping up digital incursions into Russia's electric power grid." The piece added that in recent months, officials have described previously unreported "deployment of American computer code inside Russia's grid and other targets."

It's a solid scoop, though U.S. officials didn't appear overly eager to hide their handiwork. The article went on to note, "Officials at the National Security Council also declined to comment but said they had no national security concerns about the details of The New York Times's reporting about the targeting of the Russian grid, perhaps an indication that some of the intrusions were intended to be noticed by the Russians."

Or put another way, U.S. officials were comfortable throwing a brushback pitch at Moscow, letting Russia know what's possible.

But perhaps the most notable part of the Times' reporting came halfway through the article:

Two administration officials said they believed Mr. Trump had not been briefed in any detail about the steps to place "implants" — software code that can be used for surveillance or attack — inside the Russian grid.

Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.

At face value, this is an extraordinary dynamic: Trump administration officials were reluctant to brief their president because they weren't sure they could trust him.

Evidently, those concerns are no longer valid -- if they intended to keep Trump in the dark, they probably wouldn't have told the New York Times about the deployment of these cybertools -- though as Mother Jones' Kevin Drum noted, it's possible these officials hoped the public reporting would make it difficult for the president to reverse course.

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Trump hedges on whether it's possible for him to obstruct justice

06/17/19 10:44AM

The first sign of trouble came in December 2017. As the investigation into the Russia scandal intensified, and credible allegations that Donald Trump obstructed justice came into focus, one of the president’s attorneys argued on the record that Trump “cannot obstruct justice.”

A day later, the same lawyer, John Dowd, added that because the president is the nation’s “chief law enforcement officer,” it’s simply not possible for him to “obstruct himself.”

As regular readers may recall, it was around this time that Trump's lawyers sent a 20-page memo to the special counsel's office, telling Robert Mueller and his team that the president has the authority to, "if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon." It's why, in their minds, it's not even possible for the president to have obstructed justice.

In his interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, Donald Trump didn't explicitly endorse the argument, but he came awfully close.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You talk about Article II. So your position is that you can hire or fire anybody, stop or start, in any investigation --

TRUMP: That is the position of a lot of great lawyers. That's the position of some of the most talented lawyers. And you have to have a position like that because you're the president. But without even bringing up Article II, which absolutely gives you every right --

STEPHANOPOULOS: So a president can't obstruct justice?

TRUMP: A president can run the country. And that's what happened, George. I run the country, and I run it well.

In 1977, three years after Americans saw their president resign in disgrace for the first time, Martin Frost sat down with Richard Nixon, who argued, "When the president does it, that means that is not illegal."

It led the ABC News anchor to ask the relevant question, 42 years later: "When the president does it, it's not illegal?"

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APTOPIX Mideast Iran Election

Failure of Trump's Iran policy comes into sharper focus

06/17/19 10:05AM

In late January, Donald Trump seemed quite satisfied with his policy toward Iran. When he became president, the Republican wrote on Twitter, Iran "was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different."

A day later, Trump added that thanks to his agenda, U.S. policy toward Iran was finally in a "good" place.

Even at the time, the president's boast seemed bizarre. Reading this New York Times report this morning, the idea that Trump's policy toward Iran is some kind of success seems ridiculous.

Iran announced plans on Monday to stop complying with the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States withdrew from last year, leaving the door open to an "unlimited rise" in Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium amid escalating tensions between the two nations.

The announcement by Iran's Atomic Energy Organization was the country's latest signal that it will abandon the pact unless the other signatories to the deal help Iran circumvent punishing United States economic sanctions imposed by President Trump.

Colin Kahl, an Obama administration veteran, responded this morning, "Trump's 'maximum pressure' campaign was supposed to induce Iran to scrap its nuclear program (which was already contained by the 2015 nuclear deal). Instead, Trump's actions have incentivized Iran to restart it, creating a completely unnecessary crisis."

It's difficult to overstate the scope of the White House's failure. For reasons no one has been able to explain, Trump abandoned the international nuclear agreement with Iran -- a policy that the president's own team said was working.

It was the first in a series of dominoes, the latest of which includes the Trump administration directing highly provocative accusations at Iran with very little evidence, and even less credibility on which to lean. Tehran opened the door to an "unlimited rise" in its enriched uranium stockpile soon after.

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A campaign sign for Donald Trump is seen before an event in Lawrenceville, N.J., May 19, 2016. (Photo by John Taggart/Bloomberg/Getty)

Discouraging internal polls become a huge headache for Team Trump

06/17/19 09:20AM

About a week ago, the New York Times reported that Donald Trump had received a briefing on his internal polls, the results of which were "devastating" for the president's operation. Soon after, according to the article, the Republican directed his aides "to deny that his internal polling showed him trailing" former Vice President Joe Biden, despite the fact that the data showed exactly that.

Trump did not handle the Times' reporting well. In fact, he soon after insisted that the internal polling data was "fake," "made up," and that the results in question "don't even exist."

Yeah, about that...

Data from President Donald Trump's first internal reelection campaign poll conducted in March, obtained exclusively by ABC News, showed him losing a matchup by wide margins to former Vice President Joe Biden in key battleground states.

Trump has repeatedly denied that such data exists.

The polling data, revealed for the first time by ABC News, showed a double-digit lead for Biden in Pennsylvania 55-39 and Wisconsin 51-41 and had Biden leading by seven points in Florida. In Texas, a Republican stronghold, the numbers showed the president only leading by two points.

NBC News obtained additional data from the internal polling report, which also painted a bleak picture for the GOP incumbent.

Brad Parscale, Trump's campaign manager, conceded that the polling results -- the ones his boss said were "fake," "made up," and non-existent -- were real, but out of date.

Parscale added that his operation has seen "huge swings in the president's favor" since that internal poll was conducted in March, which seems awfully hard to believe given the overall trajectory of Trump's national standing.

But in case this weren't a big enough fiasco, Team Trump has responded to these developments by shaking up his polling team.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Key GOP rep: It'd be 'foolish' to turn down info from foreign source

06/17/19 08:40AM

Donald Trump jolted the political world last week when the president ignored the lessons of the Russia scandal and endorsed foreign intervention in American political campaigns. He scoffed at the idea of contacting the FBI about improper foreign outreach -- "Give me a break," the Republican said, "Life doesn't work that way" -- and rejected the conclusions of his own handpicked FBI director.

Trump added, "If somebody called from a country, Norway, 'We have information on your opponent,' oh I think I'd want to hear it.... It's not an interference. They have information, I think I'd take it."

The comments caused some discomfort among Republicans, who weren't altogether eager to defend their president's indifference to the rule of law and the integrity of his own country's elections system. But as the Salt Lake Tribune reported, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) went in a very different direction.

While Stewart said he wouldn't have said it the way President Donald Trump did to ABC News -- the president said he would take intel from a foreign government and maybe not alert the FBI -- there's good reason to look at the information they may be offering.

"It depends on who it is and the circumstances and how credible it is," Stewart told CNN's Jim Scuitto. "There might be valuable information that comes from one of our allies. If they look at it, and it's credible, I think it would be foolish not to take that information."

Asked about contacting the FBI if offered campaign information from a foreign source, the four-term GOP lawmaker added, "I just think you have to say it depends. Because it truly does depend."

Chris Stewart is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which suggests he really ought to know better.

Among the problems with this is the simple fact that U.S. law isn't ambiguous on this point.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump now claims he read the whole Mueller report (but he didn't)

06/17/19 08:00AM

At a White House event last Wednesday, Donald Trump ranted for quite a while about the Mueller report, making a long series of claims, each of which were demonstrably wrong. Purely as a matter of political theatrics, it was almost impressive to see a sitting president lie so much, so quickly, about something of great significance.

Referring to the special counsel's findings, Trump argued, "It said, 'No collusion and no obstruction and no nothing.' And, in fact, it said we actually rebuffed your friends from Russia; that we actually pushed them back -- we rebuffed them." The Republican went on to make similarly false claims about his disclosures, his transparency, and federal investigators.

Listening to the tirade, it became clear that the president had simply decided to replace our reality with an alternative version that better suited his purposes. It served as a reminder that Trump had drawn firm conclusions about the Mueller report despite not having read it.

And yet, the president sat down with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos the same day and insisted he had read the Mueller report.

In context, the anchor, speaking with Trump inside the presidential limousine, asked the Republican about his "pitch to the swing voter on the fence." Trump quickly turned to the Mueller report, his "no collusion" claim, and his perception that voters "are angry about it." Stephanopoulos began to correct him, but said the two could discuss it in more detail later.

But the president pressed on, again insisting that the special counsel's findings concluded "no collusion," and "they didn't find anything having to do with obstruction." The ABC host explained, "They didn't examine collusion. He laid out evidence of obstruction."

This exchange soon followed:

TRUMP: He said no collusion.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He said he didn't look at collusion.

TRUMP: George, the report said no collusion.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you read the report?

TRUMP: Uh, yes I did, and you should read it, too.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I read every word.

TRUMP: Alright, let's go. You should read it, too, George.

At that point, the president decided it was time to leave the car.

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