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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.8.19

01/08/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Natalia Veselnitskaya is back in the news: "A Russian lawyer at the center of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russians and Trump campaign officials has been charged with criminal obstruction of justice in a federal civil case in Manhattan."

* Climate crisis: "America's carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3.4 percent in 2018, the biggest increase in eight years, according to a preliminary estimate published Tuesday."

* Trump's latest court defeat: "A federal court has rejected President Trump's first major effort to cut payments for prescription drugs, saying the administration went far beyond its legal authority."

* This has apparently been reversed, at least for now: "The Trump administration downgraded the diplomatic status of the European Union's delegation to the United States last year without making a formal announcement or informing the bloc about the change, a European official said on Tuesday."

* More fallout from a poorly considered decision: "President Trump's surprise announcement that he was pulling the U.S. military out of Syria came with no plan in place for what to do about more than 790 imprisoned ISIS fighters and their families. Now his administration is in a frantic search for solutions, including a renewed look at sending the most dangerous fighters to Guantanamo Bay, U.S. and congressional officials tell NBC News."

* This could prove interesting: "A federal judge has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to release tens of thousands of emails and other documents involving the agency's top-level political appointees -- including acting chief Andrew Wheeler -- in a move activists hope will clarify how industry interests may be influencing their decisions."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Manafort departs U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia

Manafort shared campaign polling with Russian, lied about it

01/08/19 04:00PM

In some court filings, sensitive information is redacted so that the public can't see specific details. Some lawyers, however, are careless in their efforts to conceal information they intend to keep private.

Take Paul Manafort's lawyers, for example.

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to federal investigators about sharing campaign poll data with a Russian associate linked to Russian intelligence services, according to court papers filed Tuesday.

The disclosure was made by Manafort's lawyers in a poorly redacted section of court papers that were filed to rebut the special counsel's allegations that he lied to federal investigators.

The point of the court filing was Manafort's attempt to push back against claims that he violated his cooperation agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller by repeatedly lying.

There are still some details we don't yet know about the nature of the polling in question -- we don't know, for example, whether this was private, proprietary data -- but the revelations are nevertheless striking.

The man who led the sitting president's political operation shared campaign information with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian believed to have close ties to Russian intelligence, and Trump's former campaign chairman also lied to U.S. law enforcement about the interactions.

In case this isn't painfully obvious, it's details like these that reinforce suspicions of cooperation between Team Trump and Moscow during the 2016 campaign.

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President Donald Trump reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

Trump offering to swap steel for concrete isn't a 'compromise'

01/08/19 12:51PM

Since his days as a Republican candidate, Donald Trump has told voters about his dream of building a giant concrete wall along the U.S./Mexico border. At this point, the president seems to recognize an unavoidable truth: that dream is effectively dead. He's now swapped it out, however, for a new dream: a giant steel wall along the U.S./Mexico border.

Trump unveiled his revised plan for a "beautiful" steel-slat border barrier the afternoon of Dec. 21 -- the day of the shutdown deadline -- to the confusion of nearly everyone. "That's not even in the conversation," Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) told NBC News. "That's not even in one of the designs the border patrol has proposed."

Nevertheless, it's apparently become the official White House position. On Friday afternoon, two weeks into his shutdown, the president declared, "I think we're probably talking about steel because I really feel the other side feels better about that, and I can understand what they're saying." He made similar comments over the weekend, telling reporters, "I informed my folks to say that we'll build a steel barrier." He added, in reference to Democrats, "They don't like concrete, so we'll give them steel."

In other words, in Trump's mind, congressional Democrats have raised anti-concrete objections, but they'll "feel better" about steel. In reality, literally zero Democrats have said anything along these lines.

But then the president also something just as notable:

"As far as concrete, I said I was going to build a wall. I never said, 'I'm going to build a concrete...' I said I'm going to build a wall."

There's no doubt that Trump was lying. He spent years promising to build a concrete wall.

To be sure, as presidential lies go, this hardly seems getting worked up about. That said, I think this is important for a few reasons.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.8.19

01/08/19 12:00PM

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

* For the first time in roughly a generation, Gallup has found that most Democratic voters identify themselves as "liberal." Whether that's the result of genuine ideological shifts, or the result of changing attitudes about a label that had been stigmatized, is unclear.

* In North Carolina's 9th congressional district, Mark Harris (R) fled journalists yesterday, tripping an alarm while avoiding questions. (I've long been fascinated by footage of politicians literally running away from reporters.)

* Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), a possible 2020 contender, is reportedly planning a road trip in which he would "pop into places" outside the Lone Star State.

* After the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday turned down a DNC appeal, it looks like a consent decree that limited the RNC's racially charged poll-watching efforts is coming to an end.

* Kentucky is one of two states that will hold gubernatorial races this year, though at this point, Republicans in the Bluegrass State still aren't altogether sure if Gov. Matt Bevin (R) will seek a second term.

* Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) new memoir is offering the senator a chance to do some promotional work, which will likely be tied to a 2020 presidential campaign.

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Team Trump struggled to recognize 'the breadth' of shutdown's impact

01/08/19 11:20AM

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CBS News the other day that if Donald Trump "is against governance, and doesn't care whether people's needs are met, or that public employees are paid, or that we can have a legitimate discussion, then we have a problem."

With that in mind, I think it's safe to say we have a problem.

The Washington Post published this report on Friday, exactly two weeks after the president's shutdown began.

The Trump administration, which had not anticipated a long-term shutdown, recognized only this week the breadth of the potential impact, several senior administration officials said. The officials said they were focused now on understanding the scope of the consequences and determining whether there is anything they can do to intervene.

This is, of course, the opposite of how the process is supposed to work. Ordinarily, in a functioning administration, officials identify the consequences of a decision before it's made. In the Trump administration, the president stumbled into a decision and then officials scramble to appreciate "the breadth of the potential impact" of their own team's agenda.

In this case, the effects are poised to be quite brutal. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, has begun scrambling to reach 1,500 landlords as part of a "last-minute" effort to prevent thousands of evictions.

The administration apparently didn't realize that tens of millions of low-income Americans who receive food assistance may soon face adverse effects, too.

The consequences for the Transportation Safety Administration are already apparent.

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Image: President Trump Holds Make America Great Again Rally In Pennsylvania

Trump voter: 'He's not hurting the people he needs to be hurting'

01/08/19 10:46AM

The New York Times published an interesting report over the weekend on the real-world effects of Donald Trump's trade war, highlighting some of those who feeling the greatest pinch. Of particular interest, the article noted an electronics company in Michigan, which is "mulling the possibility of moving its production to Mexico to escape the tariffs that President Trump has put on imported components."

The Times quoted the company's chairman, Pat LeBlanc, a Trump voter who now believes the president's policy will slice his profits in half. "I just feel so betrayed," he said. "If we fail because the company is being harmed by the government, that just makes me sick."

The quote came to mind this morning, reading a new article from the New York Times today on Jackson County, Fla., in the state's panhandle, which was already struggling in the wake of Hurricane Michael, but which is now also feeling the adverse effects of Trump's government shutdown. The piece included this anecdote:

A few miles away, another prison employee, Crystal Minton, accompanied her fiancé to a friend's house to help clear the remnants of a metal roof mangled by the hurricane. Ms. Minton, a 38-year-old secretary, said she had obtained permission from the warden to put off her Mississippi duty until early February because she is a single mother caring for disabled parents. Her fiancé plans to take vacation days to look after Ms. Minton's 7-year-old twins once she has to go to work.

The shutdown on top of the hurricane has caused Ms. Minton to rethink a lot of things.

"I voted for him, and he's the one who's doing this," she said of Mr. Trump. "I thought he was going to do good things. He's not hurting the people he needs to be hurting."

I've seen plenty of memorable quotes from Trump voters over the last couple of years, but "he's not hurting the people he needs to be hurting" is among the most striking.

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The question Pence can't answer: how can Americans trust Trump?

01/08/19 10:12AM

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post last week, raising public objections to Donald Trump's integrity and character. The senator made clear his objections weren't substantive -- Romney agrees with the president on most issues --but rather, were personal: Romney disapproves of how Trump conducts himself in office.

A couple of days later, the Post published a response piece from Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), complaining about Romney's attempts at "character assassination." The conservative Georgian said Romney should prioritize "conservative Republican governance" over other considerations.

What Perdue did not do, however, was actually defend Trump's character. The argument wasn't that the president is an honorable man, but rather, to advance partisan goals, questions about Trump's integrity simply shouldn't be asked, at least not by Republicans..

All of this came to mind this morning, watching ABC News' Jonathan Karl interview Vice President Mike Pence ahead of Trump's speech tonight on his demands for a border wall.

KARL: How can [the president's] work be trusted on this, when he has said so many things that are just not true about this crisis? He said Barack Obama has a 10-foot wall built around his house here in Washington; you know that's not true. He said some of his predecessors told him that they wanted to build a wall, but all four living presidents have now put out statements saying that they never had any such conversation with the president. You saw that Sarah Sanders said that nearly 4,000 terrorists come into the country every year and you know that that's not true, either.

How can the American people trust the president when he says this is crisis when he says things over and over again that aren't true?

PENCE: Well, look, the American people aren't as concerned about the political debate as they are concerned about what's really happening at the border.

When Perdue was confronted with questions about Trump's character, he made no real effort to defend the president's integrity. When Pence was confronted with questions about Trump's dishonesty, he similarly made no effort to argue that the president is honest and believable.

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The Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, Arlington County, Virginia.

Trump struggles to find someone to serve as his new Defense secretary

01/08/19 09:20AM

The original plan was for James Mattis to serve as the secretary of Defense through the end of February, giving the White House time to search for his successor, and creating the conditions for a smooth transition from one Pentagon chief to the next.

Indeed, soon after Mattis announced his resignation, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, "Let's not forget, he is not just walking out the door. This will be orderly process and continue to be a good relationship over the next couple of months."

That didn't last. Donald Trump eventually learned via television what the retired four-star general wrote in his resignation letter -- which the president could've read but didn't -- at which point the Republican asked someone to direct Mattis to leave his post on Dec. 31, without a successor in mind.

Soon after, during his trip to Iraq two weeks ago, Trump went on and on about all of the great people who are eager to lead the Pentagon.

"I will say that I've got everybody -- everybody and his uncle wants that position. And also, by the way, everybody and her aunt -- just so I won't be criticized for that last statement.

"Everybody wants that position. Everybody. Everybody -- so many people want to be -- who wouldn't want to be secretary of Defense? ... So we have a lot of people. We have a lot of great people who want to be secretary of Defense."

That was the first big hint that all was not well with the search for the cabinet position. When the president repeats a dubious claim like that, Shakespeare coined the "doth protest too much" phrase for a reason.

But we're not just dealing with hints. Politico reported that Trump is "having a tough time" finding someone to fill the position, and former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and retired Gen. Jack Keane have both waved off the White House's overtures.

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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)

White House's claims about terrorists at border start to look even worse

01/08/19 08:40AM

The White House has a goal: build a giant border wall. It also has something resembling a plan to reach that goal: scare Americans into believing that the medieval vanity project will keep them safe.

To that end, Donald Trump declared on Friday, "[Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen] has gone over the numbers, and the numbers are alarming. You know, one of the numbers that jumps out is last year, in 2017, actually. Over 3,700 known or suspected terrorists tried to enter into this country.... We have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that’s probably the easiest place to come through."

The same afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders echoed her boss' assertion, arguing that Customs and Border Protection picked up nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists last year "that came across our southern border." Even a Fox News host found it difficult to tolerate such brazen dishonesty.

But if the administration's talking points are obvious lies, what's the actual number? NBC News had an important report yesterday afternoon:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data provided to Congress in May 2018 and obtained by NBC News. [...]

Overall, 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were encountered at the southern border from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, but 35 of them were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Six were classified as non-U.S. persons.

On the northern border, CBP stopped 91 people listed in the database, including 41 who were not American citizens or residents.

Let's take stock of where things stand in light of the latest revelations. First, when Sarah Huckabee Sanders said officials picked up nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists last year "that came across our southern border," she was off by nearly 4,000.

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President Barack Obama laughs with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.

Latest Trump lie discredited by several former US presidents

01/08/19 08:00AM

On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump hosted a meandering White House press conference, largely focused on his proposed border wall, in which the president unveiled a new talking point: his presidential predecessors privately agree with him about the medieval vanity project.

"This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me and they all know it," the Republican declared. "Some of them have told me that we should have done it."

At a certain level, the argument has some appeal: Trump probably recognizes the skepticism surrounding his unpopular idea, but if he can convince people that other presidents agree with him, it may help broaden the support.

The trouble, of course, was that Trump was brazenly lying, once again describing private conversations that only occurred in his imagination. Politico reported over the weekend:

Asked if Clinton told Trump that he should have built a border wall, Clinton spokesman Angel Urena said, "He did not. In fact, they've not talked since the inauguration."

Bush spokesman Freddy Ford also said the two men had not discussed the matter. And Obama, for his part, has not spoken with Trump since his inauguration, except for a brief exchange at George H.W. Bush's funeral in Washington, D.C.

Obama has consistently blasted Trump's pledge to build a border wall.

Yesterday, a spokesperson for Obama explicitly rejected Trump's claim, and soon after, former President Jimmy Carter said in a statement, "I have not discussed the border wall with President Trump, and do not support him on the issue."

At this point, some of you are probably thinking, "Shocker. Trump was caught lying? It must be a day that ends in 'y'." In this case, however, I think there's a little more to it.

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