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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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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.11.19

06/11/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Capitol Hill: "The House approved a resolution Tuesday to authorize the House Judiciary Committee and other panels to go to court to enforce their subpoenas of the Trump administration."

* North Korea: "Kim Jong Nam, the slain half brother of North Korea's leader, was a Central Intelligence Agency source who met on several occasions with agency operatives, a person knowledgeable about the matter said."

* Worth watching: "President Donald Trump appears to be having second thoughts about his choice of Patrick Shanahan as his next secretary of defense and asked several confidants in France last week about alternative candidates, according to four people familiar with the conversations."

* The Justice Department yesterday "offered new insight into what it called a 'broad' and 'multifaceted' review of the origins of the Russia investigation, and sought to assure lawmakers that the probe ordered by President Donald Trump would work to protect sensitive intelligence at the heart of it."

* I wonder what he'll say: "President Donald Trump's eldest son will meet with the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday behind closed doors, according to two people familiar with the meeting."

* Missouri: "A St. Louis judge issued another order Monday to keep Missouri's only abortion clinic operating while a fight over the facility's license plays out in court."

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Comedian Jon Stewart speaks during a news conference to demand an extension of the Zadroga 9/11 health bill at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 16, 2015. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Jon Stewart implores Congress to act on 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

06/11/19 04:11PM

Congress created the Sept. 11th Victim Compensation Fund years ago as a way to help cover the health care costs for those injured or sickened in the attacks. What lawmakers may not have fully appreciated is just how many people would need medical assistance -- especially first responders who suffered ill effects as part of their service. As a result, the fund has struggled to keep pace with claims.

It's now time for lawmakers to reauthorize the entire program, and as a high-profile speaker told a congressional subcommittee this morning, there's no reason this should be difficult.

Comedian Jon Stewart is scolding Congress for failing to ensure that a victims' compensation fund set up after the 9/11 attacks never runs out of money.

Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, angrily called out lawmakers for failing to attend Tuesday's hearing on a bill that would ensure the fund can pay benefits for the next 70 years.

"Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It's the one thing they're running out of," the former "Daily Show" host said.

Struggling with his emotions, the comedian concluded, "They responded in five seconds -- they did their jobs. With courage, grace, tenacity, humility.... Eighteen years later, do yours."

A standing ovation soon followed.

There is little doubt that a bill to reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund will eventually pass. What's so difficult to understand, however, is why this isn't effortless.

Indeed, what I find personally baffling is the fact that this has been needlessly challenging for years.

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For the judiciary, the left borrows a page from the right's playbook

06/11/19 12:52PM

For much of the right, few goals are as important as the federal judiciary. It's why Senate Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat from the Obama White House, and it's why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has all but given up on legislating, preferring instead to confirm one Donald Trump judicial nominee after another.

But just below the surface, there's a whole conservative infrastructure supporting the endeavor. Not only have GOP voters been told repeatedly to prioritize the courts above practically everything else, but there are partisan operatives whose sole focus is on identifying and vetting the "right" jurists, and ensuring they receive lifetime positions on the federal bench.

For the most part, this appears to be a one-sided fight: Democrats are little more than a speed bump for the Senate Republican majority, which has removed effectively every possible impediment to stacking the courts with ideologues.

But the New York Times reported the other day on a progressive initiative that's worth keeping an eye on.

[L]iberal activists, hoping for a chance to offset the growing conservative presence in the courts, have identified a pool of potential judicial vacancies that could remain out of Mr. Trump's reach -- scores of seats held by veteran judges appointed by Democrats who may be biding their time, awaiting the outcome of the 2020 presidential race. [...]

Anticipating that at least some of those long-serving judges named by Democrats would step aside once a president more to their ideological liking took office, liberal judicial activists have begun a new effort to recommend possible successors who could immediately be funneled into the judicial pipeline. Those successors would not shift the ideological balance of the courts, but like Mr. Trump's young conservatives, they would have staying power.

The project is apparently called the Building the Bench effort, which is being financed by a group of progressive groups, and which is creating an advisory board with likeminded lawyers and law professors.

The Alliance for Justice's Nan Aron, a leading progressive advocate on judicial issues, told the Times the goal is to "start identifying people so the new president won't waste a minute in addressing this need."

That assumes, of course, that there is a new president in Jan. 2021.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.11.19

06/11/19 12:00PM

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

* NBC this morning announced the moderators for the first Democratic presidential primary debate: "Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and José Diaz-Balart will moderate the debate, which will take place at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami over two nights on June 26-27."

* Former Vice President Joe Biden will campaign in Iowa today, and according to a copy of his prepared remarks shared with the media, the Delaware Democrat will describe Donald Trump as an "existential threat" to the nation's future.

* It took a little longer than expected, but Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) has apparently crossed the 65,000-donor threshold, guaranteeing her a spot in the first round of Democratic presidential primary debates.

* Over the weekend, Julián Castro became the first Democratic presidential hopeful this cycle to campaign in Flint, Michigan, and yesterday, the Texan laid out his plan for eliminating lead poisoning.

* A new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of Massachusetts Democrats found Biden leading the 2020 field with 22% support, followed by home-state Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 10%. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) was third with 8%, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was fourth with 6%, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), with 5%, was the only other candidate with backing above 1%.

* Speaking of Buttigieg, the South Bend mayor is scheduled to deliver his first big foreign policy address of his presidential candidacy.

* Former Secretary of State John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, considered running again in 2020, but he's apparently decided not to. The Massachusetts Dem told the Washington Post he's "delighted" to see Biden, his friend and former colleague, in the race.

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Ken Cuccinelli talks with supporters while greeting voters at Hanover Precinct 304 at Atlee High School on November 5, 2013 in Mechanicsville, Virginia.

Is Trump skirting the law with Ken Cuccinelli's appointment?

06/11/19 11:20AM

By any sensible measure, Ken Cuccinelli is a very poor choice to oversee the nation's legal immigration system. As we recently discussed, the far-right Virginian -- an intra-party critic of Trump’s before he changed his mind -- has earned a reputation for radicalism on a wide range of issues, including immigration.

And yet, Donald Trump has nevertheless tapped Cuccinelli to serve as the acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan announced the move in an email to agency staff Monday, though the mechanics of whether it would include an official nomination were not immediately clear.

In any event, Cuccinelli, head of the Senate Conservatives Fund and a former Virginia attorney general, is expected to take over at least on an interim basis at USCIS, which is responsible for the administration of legal immigration, including dealing with asylum claims, issuing green cards and handling the naturalization process.

Ordinarily, this would be the point at which I start to write about the many reasons Cuccinelli is an awful choice, why he's likely to fail, and how this ties into the larger pattern of the president choosing the wrong people for important posts after seeing them say nice things about him on television.

But as applicable as those points are, this story is a little different. In fact, what was especially notable about the Cuccinelli announcement yesterday was the degree to which it circumvented the law.

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