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Friday's Mini-Report, 12.13.19

12/13/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Expect a ruling in this case by June 2020: "The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear President Donald Trump's appeal of lower court orders, now on hold, that require his banks and accountants to turn over financial records to the House and local prosecutors in New York."

* We haven't yet seen the details: "The United States and China have reached an agreement on phase one of the trade deal, Chinese officials said Friday. President Donald Trump confirmed the news in a tweet shortly afterward."

* The day after in the UK: "British Prime Minister Boris Johnson went to Buckingham Palace to meet Queen Elizabeth II so she could formally invite him to form a new government Friday following his Conservative Party's resounding election victory."

* The Justice Department "has released several internal legal opinions that could help bolster President Trump's claim of executive privilege in barring Congress from interviewing witnesses and collecting documents from the executive branch."

* The off-again, on-again Taliban talks are off-again, at least for now: "The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan said Thursday he was outraged by a Taliban attack near Bagram Airfield this week, and 'we're taking a brief pause,' apparently in reference to peace talks that had recently resumed with the militant group."

* A closely-watched emoluments case: "A federal appeals court in Virginia heard arguments Thursday about whether to revive a lawsuit accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by profiting from his hotel near the White House, in a spirited session that indicated sharp divisions among the judges over the legal consequences of the president's conduct."

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Image: President Trump attends Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol

House Dem makes case: McConnell should recuse in impeachment trial

12/13/19 04:36PM

Last night, as the impeachment process against Donald Trump inched forward, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) met in private with White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland. It was the sort of behind-closed-doors chat that raised concerns about Senate GOP leader's neutrality in the process.

Soon after, however, McConnell removed all doubt: the Kentucky Republican sat down with Fox News' Sean Hannity and vowed to remain in "total coordination" with the White House as the impeachment process advances. In apparent reference to the GOP leadership in the Senate, McConnell added, "There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this, to the extent that we can."

This isn't even close to how the process is supposed to work. As we discussed this morning, there are qualitative differences between an actual trial in an American courtroom and a presidential impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, but in a broad sense, senators do serve as jurors. McConnell -- who'll effectively be the jury foreman -- isn't supposed to be in "total coordination" with the defendant's legal team.

It led one House Democrat -- who serves on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees -- to make a provocative suggestion: if McConnell won't be able to serve as an impartial juror, maybe he shouldn't serve as a juror at all.

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) on Friday called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to recuse himself from the Senate impeachment trial, citing the GOP leader's remarks the previous night about coordinating with the White House. [...]

"No court in the country would allow a member of the jury to also serve as the accused's defense attorney. The moment Senator McConnell takes the oath of impartiality required by the Constitution, he will be in violation of that oath," she said in a statement.

As the report in The Hill added, the Florida Democrat noted that Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution reads, "The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation."

And what does that oath entail? I'm glad you asked.

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Arizona Republican in denial about core impeachment detail

12/13/19 12:57PM

Since Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal first came to public light a few months ago, Republicans have confronted a question that's simple but difficult to answer: should an American president press a foreign country to go after a domestic political rival?

A few too many GOP lawmakers -- most notably Iowa's Joni Ernst and Colorado's Cory Gardner -- struggled mightily with the question early on, refusing to say much of anything. Others soon realized this was unsustainable, conceded that presidents should not seek foreign campaign assistance, and looked for other ways to excuse Trump's misdeeds.

This morning, however, CNN's Manu Raju spoke to Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) about this foundational element of the overall scandal, and according to what the Capitol Hill reporter posted to Twitter, the exchange didn't go especially well.

Q: Why is it ever ok for an American president to ask a foreign power to investigate a political rival? Why do you think that's ok?

Lesko: "He didn't. He didn't do that"

Manu: He did ask Zelensky

Lesko: "He did not do that."

It's really not a trick question. Either it's acceptable for presidents to ask foreign governments to go after domestic political rivals or it's not. In this case, Trump's allies can try to argue that it is acceptable behavior; they can make the case that it doesn't rise to the level of an impeachable offense; or they can agree with impeachment proponents and vote for the pending articles.

What GOP members -- especially those on the Judiciary Committee, on which Debbie Lesko currently serves -- shouldn't do is pretend up is down and reality has no meaning.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.13.19

12/13/19 12:00PM

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

* In Wisconsin, one of the nation's key 2020 battlegrounds, the latest Marquette Law School poll found Donald Trump with a 47% approval rate, well above the national average. The same poll showed the president narrowly leading each of the top Democratic candidates in hypothetical match-ups, through Trump narrowly trails Joe Biden in the Marquette results.

* On a related note, the same poll found Biden leading his party's 2020 pack in Wisconsin with 23% support, followed by Bernie Sanders at 19%, Elizabeth Warren at 16%, and Pete Buttigieg at 15%. No other candidate reached 5%.

* The Democratic National Committee has announced the dates and media partners for the next round of presidential primary debates, including an event in Iowa on Jan. 14, in New Hampshire on Feb. 7, in Nevada on Feb. 19, and in South Carolina on Feb. 25. The qualifying metrics for participating in the debates have not yet been announced.

* Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a late entrant in the Democratic presidential race, released a letter from his doctor yesterday describing the 77-year-old candidate as being in "outstanding health," though he has received treatment for a variety of minor ailments, including an irregular heartbeat. Bloomberg is one of four Democratic presidential hopefuls in his 70s, and one of three candidates who's over the age of 75.

* Politico reported yesterday that two progressive groups, Arena and Future Now Fund, are moving forward with plans to "spend $7 million to try to flip GOP-controlled state legislatures in Florida, Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina."

* Despite having been championed by Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State's office announced this week that it's suspending its use of the controversial CrossCheck system.

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House Judiciary agrees to impeach Trump, setting up historic vote

12/13/19 10:57AM

It took a little longer than expected, but the House Judiciary Committee convened this morning and voted along party lines to approve two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, formally accusing him of both abusing his power and obstructing Congress.

Both measures will be voted on by the full House ... and come after weeks of damaging testimony against Trump.

The votes follow 14 hours on Thursday debating the articles and amendments offered by Republicans that sought to gut resolutions. There was no further discussion of the impeachment articles on Friday morning before the two quick historic roll call votes lasting only a few minutes.

The vote on each article of impeachment, as expected, was 23 to 17. (Note, there are 24 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, but Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California underwent surgery this week and was unavailable for this morning's votes. By all appearances, Lieu supports the impeachment effort and would've voted with the majority had he been able to attend.)

These were the first Judiciary Committee votes on presidential impeachment since 1998, when the GOP-led panel voted nearly along party lines on four articles targeting Bill Clinton. In those votes, there was partisan unanimity on three of the four, but on one of the articles -- the one in which the then-president was accused of perjury in the Paula Jones civil suit -- a brave GOP lawmaker broke ranks and sided with Democrats.

His name was Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. His career has since taken an unfortunate turn.

Nevertheless, this morning's developments set the stage for only the third House floor votes on presidential impeachment in American history. Those votes are expected next week, possibly as early as Wednesday.

The articles are expected to pass, impeaching Trump, and initiating a Senate trial -- which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already promised to steer in the president's favor.

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Trump pretends Democrats' family-leave policy was his priority

12/13/19 10:22AM

The negotiations over the latest National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- the annual spending package that finances the military -- weren't exactly easy. House Democrats approved a version of the bill that included a series of progressive priorities, including an end to Donald Trump's ban on transgender troops and safeguards to regulate toxic chemicals used in water on military bases.

In the end, the parties struck a deal: the White House would get funding for the president's "Space Force," which will be part of the Air Force, and in exchange, Democrats were able to secure funding for a 12-week family-leave benefit for federal employees. With the compromise in place, the $738 billion defense package had the support needed to pass.

In a curious political move, however, Trump wants people to believe the Democratic provisions were actually his idea. The conservative Washington Times reported yesterday:

President Trump spotlighted a "historic" deal Thursday that offers paid family leave to federal workers, seizing credit for another item that was on Democrats' wish list for years.

The government "will now give 12 weeks of paid family leave to all federal employees -- something that nobody expected," Mr. Trump said at a White House summit on child care.

A day earlier, on Twitter, the president identified the "paid parental leave" provisions in the NDAA as one of "our priorities."

At a certain level, I understand the rationale behind the deception. Pro-family policies tend to be quite popular, so it stands to reason Trump would want to be associated with the Democratic goal that Democrats successfully fought for.

But that doesn't turn fiction into fact.

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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin speaks during the Indiana Republican Party Spring Dinner, April 21, 2016, in Indianapolis. (Photo by Darron Cummings/AP)

With stunning pardons, defeated GOP governor accused of 'atrocity'

12/13/19 09:20AM

Despite Donald Trump's furious efforts, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) lost his re-election bid last month, an embarrassing failure for a red-state Republican who expected to win. The outgoing GOP governor soon after began making plans to help with the transition to a new gubernatorial administration.

But that's not all he did. The Courier-Journal in Louisville reported this week on Bevin's decision to issue 428 pardons and commutations, some of which were very controversial.

The family of a man pardoned by Gov. Matt Bevin for a homicide and other crimes in a fatal 2014 Knox County home invasion raised $21,500 at a political fundraiser last year to retire debt from Bevin's 2015 gubernatorial campaign. [...]

The beneficiaries include one offender convicted of raping a child, another who hired a hit man to kill his business partner and a third who killed his parents.

The Lexington Herald-Leader had a related report yesterday, noting that Bevin, before leaving office, also intervened in support of a man who was convicted of decapitating a woman who broke up with him, and a teacher who was convicted possessing of child pornography.

The article quoted a local prosecutor saying, in reference to Bevin, "I think it's arrogance of one who has a God-like image of himself. And a lack of concern for anybody else."

The Washington Post talked to a different local prosecutor who added, "What this governor did is an absolute atrocity of justice. He's put victims, he's put others in our community in danger."

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

The rationale behind Trump's latest bogus claim about Pelosi

12/13/19 08:40AM

Last night, as Donald Trump wrapped up a long day of borderline-hysterical tweeting, the president came up with a new line of attack against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat, Trump claimed, "just got duped in an interview to admitting that she has been working on impeaching me for 'two and a half years.' In other words, she lied. This was the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats plan all along, long before the Ukraine phone call."

As is usually the case, the president wasn't telling the truth.

[At Politico's "Women Rule" summit], Anna Palmer asked Pelosi to react to the criticism that Democrats are racing through their impeachment inquiry of the president.

"It's been going on for 22 months, two-and-a-half years actually," Pelosi said initially.

Then immediately made clear she was referring to the Mueller investigation.

"I think we are not moving with speed. Was it two and a half years ago they initiated the Mueller investigation? It's not about speed. It's about urgency. One of the charges against the president of the United States is that he was violating his oath of office by asking for government to interfere in our election undermining the integrity of our elections," she said.

Nevertheless, Trump repeated his lie this morning. If recent history is any guide, forever more, the president will pretend his falsehood is fact, telling anyone who'll listen that Pelosi "admitted" that she began the impeachment push two-and-a-half years ago, facts be damned.

Trump's dishonesty is painfully common, and as his lies go, this one may seem unremarkable. What shouldn't get lost in the shuffle, though, is the degree to which Trump has reality backwards.

Nancy Pelosi did not want to impeach this president. She really made every effort to avoid it. The more some House Democrats pushed for an impeachment inquiry in the spring, the more the Speaker pushed back, insisting Trump wasn't "worth it."

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

On impeachment, McConnell vows 'total coordination' with Team Trump

12/13/19 08:00AM

In late September, as Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal started to come into focus, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) demurred in response to reporters' questions, explaining that she'd likely be "a juror" in the president's impeachment trial. To draw conclusions about Trump's guilt or the merits of the allegations, the senator said, might suggest she was "prejudging" the accused.

There are, of course, key qualitative differences between an actual trial in an American courtroom and a presidential impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, but in a broad sense, senators do serve as jurors. In theory, they have a responsibility to weigh the seriousness of the allegations, consider the evidence, and decide the fate of the accused.

But as Trump's impeachment process advances, some Republicans are comfortable abandoning the pretense of independence and impartiality. USA Today reported overnight:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday that he will be in "total coordination with the White House counsel" as the impeachment into President Donald Trump presses forward.

During an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, the Majority Leader said that "everything" he does "during this, I'm coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this, to the extent that we can."

Oh. So despite weeks of GOP senators occasionally sidestepping questions about the White House scandal, claiming that they're jurors who want to maintain the appearance of neutrality, Mitch McConnell -- in effect, the jury foreman -- is coordinating with the defendant's lawyers.

Indeed, the Republican leader's interview followed a Capitol Hill meeting last night with White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland.

During last night's marathon session in the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) learned of McConnell's comments and alerted his colleagues, explaining, "In other words, the jury -- Senate Republicans -- are going to coordinate with the defendant -- Donald Trump -- on how exactly the kangaroo court is going to be run."

On Twitter, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added that McConnell is "proudly announcing he is planning to rig the impeachment trial for Trump."

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