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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 12.10.19

12/10/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Today's mass shooting: "A police officer, three civilians and two suspects were killed Tuesday afternoon during a shootout and standoff in Jersey City, New Jersey, authorities said."

* Fallout from last week's shooting in north Florida: "The Navy has grounded Saudi military trainees in Florida, suspending their flight instruction indefinitely in the wake of a shooting last week at Naval Air Station Pensacola by a member of the Saudi Royal Air Force."

* This seemed inevitable: "Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page sued her old employers on Tuesday, charging they unlawfully released inflammatory text messages between her and FBI agent Peter Strzok in order to redirect Republican anger from top officials at the Department of Justice."

* Delicate negotiations: "Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to a renewed cease-fire and to exchange all known prisoners when they met for the first time in Paris on Monday, making modest gains in peace talks designed to end a deadly war in eastern Ukraine."

* Why would anyone find it suspicious that Bill Barr doesn't want to say when the Justice Department's holiday party is? "Attorney General William P. Barr had planned to hold a 200-person holiday party at the Trump hotel in Washington Sunday night, but the event was rescheduled, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman. The spokeswoman declined to say when the event would take place but said it would still be at the Trump International Hotel."

* This seems like a reasonable suggestion: "Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) Monday became the first lawmaker to call on the official overseeing Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare to resign over POLITICO reports he said reveal 'a gross misuse of public funds.'"

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump pays $2 million to resolve case over his fraudulent foundation

12/10/19 03:06PM

As a presidential candidate in 2016, Donald Trump took great pride in boasting to the public that he doesn’t settle lawsuits. “I don’t settle cases,” the Republican bragged during a primary debate in March 2016. “I don’t do it because that’s why I don’t get sued very often, because I don’t settle, unlike a lot of other people.”

Indeed, in June 2018, when the president’s fraudulent charitable foundation was taken to court, Trump made a specific vow via Twitter: “I won’t settle this case!”

As we discussed last month, Trump settled the case. The Washington Post reported this afternoon on the president cutting the $2 million check.

President Trump has paid $2 million in court-ordered damages for misusing funds in a tax-exempt charity he controlled, the New York Attorney General said Tuesday.

The payment was ordered last month by a New York state judge, in an extraordinary rebuke to a sitting president. [...] Now, the foundation will be shuttered. But the consequences of this case will linger for Trump. Under the terms of the settlement, he has agreed to special supervision if he ever returns to charity work in New York.

The Washington Post had a related report last month on the developments, which added, “In a statement signed by Trump’s attorney, the president admitted to poor oversight of the charity.”

And while I’m sure the president isn’t pleased with the $2 million judgment, this case could’ve been much worse for Trump. We are, after all, talking about an entity that was supposed to be a charitable foundation, which Trump repeatedly misused for his own interests.

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

House Dem leaders endorse revised trade deal with Canada, Mexico

12/10/19 12:52PM

One of Donald Trump's top legislative priorities for this Congress is passage of a trade deal called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which is really just a rebranded NAFTA, with some updated provisions. The president has spent months upbraiding Democrats for failing to approve NAFTA 2.0, while Democratic lawmakers pushed for changes to the agreement.

As of this morning, those negotiations appear to have succeeded. Less than an hour after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other leaders from her party unveiled articles of impeachment against the president, they announced their support for the revised trade deal with the United States' neighbors. The changes, among other things, are intended to lower prescription drug costs, while boosting environmental and labor safeguards.

"There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA, but in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration," Pelosi said. "It's a victory for America's workers, it's one that we take great pride in advancing." [...]

Democrats sought to highlight their contributions to the deal -- such as removing carveouts for pharmaceutical companies, among others, and barriers to generic medications -- and how hard they'd worked on the deal to improve it from the White House's first draft.

Acknowledging the political circumstances, the House Speaker added, in reference to the president, "There's some people who say, 'Why make it look like he has a victory?' Well, we're declaring victory for the American worker."

To be sure, it's a complex political dynamic. Pelosi was facing pressure from some of her members who believed the new NAFTA would help the constituents economically. She was also facing pressure from some House Democrats who wanted symbolic evidence that the party could tackle legislative priorities and presidential accountability at the same time.

There were also, of course, plenty of Dems who saw the existing NAFTA as sufficient and concluded there was no compelling reason to hand Trump a victory, in exchange for practically nothing.

But in the end, Pelosi approached the issue in the opposite way of how Republicans approached policy disputes throughout the Obama era.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.10.19

12/10/19 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) announced this morning that he'll retire at the end of this Congress, becoming the 23rd House Republican to give up his or her seat ahead of the 2020 elections. Yoho represents Florida's 3rd congressional district, which is just south of Jacksonville, and which is expected to remain in GOP hands.

* Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is close to qualifying for next week's Democratic presidential primary debate, but the congresswoman announced yesterday she won't attend, even if she meets the necessary thresholds. Gabbard cited "a number of reasons" behind her decision, though she didn't identify any of those reasons.

* Donald Trump is returning to Pennsylvania tonight for another campaign rally, this time in Hershey. He'll be joined by Vice President Mike Pence.

* In the wake of criticisms from Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg's presidential campaign announced yesterday that it will begin allowing press access to his fundraising events, and will also start disclosing the mayor's fundraising bundlers.

* On a related note, McKinsey & Co., the private consulting firm Buttigieg worked for after getting his degree, agreed yesterday to identify the presidential candidate's former clients.

* Bernie Sanders picked up an endorsement this morning from the Center for Popular Democracy Action, which Politico described as "an alliance of more than 40 left-wing organizations across the country," with a reported 600,000 members.

* Michael Bloomberg's presidential campaign doesn't have many endorsements from prominent Democratic officials, though San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo (D), who was backing Sen. Kamala Harris, threw his support behind the New Yorker yesterday. Liccardo will also reportedly serve as the co-chair of Bloomberg's national campaign.

* In Texas' 13th district, retired Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, whose nomination to serve as Veterans Affairs secretary failed in embarrassing fashion, yesterday filed to run for Congress, hoping to replace Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who is retiring. Texas' 13th is literally the reddest district in the United States, and a crowded GOP primary field is likely.

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Trump's troubles with his own handpicked FBI director reach new stage

12/10/19 10:54AM

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report on the investigation into the Russia scandal was mostly, but not entirely, good news for the FBI. On the one hand, Horowitz found that the bureau and its leadership acted appropriately in launching its probe, and the FBI's handling of the matter wasn't tainted by partisan or political bias.

On the other hand, the inspector general also found bureau officials made mistakes in parts of its application to monitor Carter Page, the controversial Trump campaign adviser with close ties to the Kremlin. It's sparked new discussion about reforming the process through which law enforcement seeks investigatory authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

For his part, FBI Director Christopher Wray appears to have responded to the findings in a constructive way, ordering a series of "corrective steps to address the report's recommendations." Wray also did an interview in which he took a degree of pride in the core findings of the Horowitz investigation.

Wray, reacting to the release of the IG report in an interview with ABC News, said that one key takeaway for him was that "the Inspector General did not find political bias or improper motivations impacting the opening of the investigation or the decision to use certain investigative tools during the investigations."

In the same interview, the FBI director said, in response to a question about a popular Republican conspiracy theory, "We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election.... Well, look, there's all kinds of people saying all kinds of things out there. I think it's important for the American people to be thoughtful consumers of information and to think about the sources of it and to think about the support and predication for what they hear."

In other words, Wray said the opposite of what Donald Trump wanted him to say -- a development that did not go unnoticed in the White House.

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House Democrats unveil articles of impeachment against Donald Trump

12/10/19 10:16AM

In 1974, Richard Nixon faced three articles of impeachment; in 1998, Bill Clinton faced four; and in 2019, Donald Trump faces two.

House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump about two and a half months after Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., first announced a formal impeachment inquiry into the president.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., announced that his committee will consider two articles of impeachment -- one for abuse of power and the other for obstruction of Congress -- charging Trump "with committing high crimes and misdemeanors."

Nadler said the articles of impeachment were being filed in response to Trump allegedly soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election, compromising national security, threatening the integrity of the upcoming election and concealing evidence from Congress and the American people. Trump, he said, violated his oath of office.

The process is likely to move quite quickly now that the articles have been drafted and presented. The Judiciary Committee will move in the coming days toward the "markup" phase -- a process in which members debate and vote on committee measures -- and we may see the articles of impeachment clear the committee later this week.

The issue would then head to the House floor, with the prospect of final votes on Trump's impeachment as early as next week. A simple majority is all that's needed to pass the articles, and given the size of the Democratic majority in the chamber, the odds of the president being impeached are good.

The matter would then head to the Republican-led Senate for an impeachment trial in which a two-thirds majority -- 67 votes -- would be necessary to remove Trump from office.

But before the process advances, it's worth pausing to note what the current articles of impeachment don't include.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Republicans turn to gaslighting in response to Justice Dept report

12/10/19 09:22AM

It's been a rough couple of days for reality. On Sunday morning, for example, two of Donald Trump's most loyal congressional lieutenants, Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), rejected the idea that the president pressed a foreign country to investigate his political rival -- something we already know Trump did.

About 24 hours later, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment, Republican counsel Steve Castor disputed the idea that former Vice President Joe Biden was a leading Democratic presidential candidate over the summer, shortly before Castor also rejected the idea that Trump encouraged the president of Ukraine to look into Biden.

And a few hours after that, Donald Trump reflected on a report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the origins of the investigation into the Russia scandal.

"The IG report just came out, and I was just briefed on it, and it's a disgrace what's happened with respect to the things that were done to our country. It should never again happen to another President. It is incredible. Far worse than I would have ever thought possible. And it's — it's an embarrassment to our country. It's dishonest. It's everything that a lot of people thought it would be, except far worse. [...]

"The report, actually — and especially when you look into it, and the details of the report — are far worse than anything I would have even imagined.... This was an overthrow of government. This was an attempted overthrow. And a lot of people who were in on it, and they got caught. They got caught red-handed."

For those who actually "looked into it," and read "the details of the report," the president's assertions yesterday were gibberish. Horowitz's findings actually exposed Trump's conspiracy theories as lies -- which evidently led the president to believe it'd be a good idea to gaslight the public, assuming Americans wouldn't know the difference.

But while Trump's up-is-down posture was predictable, it's worth appreciating the degree to which his allies scrambled to sell the public the same ridiculous fiction.

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AG Bill Barr tries to rescue Trump from Justice Dept findings

12/10/19 08:43AM

After Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his report yesterday afternoon on the FBI's investigation into the Russia scandal, Donald Trump and his team were left in a difficult position. After all, Horowitz had just exposed months of presidential rhetoric as brazen lies and shredded each of Trump's conspiracy theories about a "witch hunt," launched by the "deep state" in federal law enforcement.

Within two hours of the inspector general's findings reaching the public, Team Trump was reduced to simultaneously arguing to Americans that Horowitz's report was (a) an accurate assessment that totally vindicated all of the president's ridiculous claims; and (b) was an inaccurate assessment that the public should reject.

Apparently unable to experience shame, Bill Barr embraced the latter tack.

Attorney General William Barr on Monday rejected a key conclusion of an investigation conducted by his own agency's watchdog that a probe into Russian interference into the 2016 election was justified.

Barr, in a lengthy statement, called the FBI's investigation into Moscow's interference "intrusive" and said it had been launched "on the thinnest of suspicions" -- even though the Justice Department's inspector general report released Monday concluded that the overall probe was justified and not motivated by politics.

This is the same Bill Barr who offered sworn Senate testimony arguing that the FBI "spied" on the Trump campaign -- an assertion we now know to be completely untrue.

There is a familiarity to the circumstances. When then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report was completed, the attorney general tried to pre-spin it -- before anyone could read the findings for themselves -- as great news for the White House. The dishonest political ploy, by design, muddled the public's understanding of Mueller's investigation.

Yesterday, Barr tried to do effectively the same thing, except this time, the attorney general didn't get a head start -- and the document the Republican lawyer tried to spin was readily available, and there was no need for the public to rely on Barr's agenda-driven rhetoric.

We're learning quite a bit about how this attorney general approaches his unique and powerful responsibilities, and none of what we're learning is good.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

DOJ investigation shreds Trump's claims about FBI, Russia probe

12/10/19 08:00AM

Republicans were eagerly anticipating the release of a document generally known as the Horowitz Report. At issue was an independent review launched by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz into the FBI's decision to open an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections -- and as regular readers know, for Donald Trump and his allies, the review offered exciting possibilities.

Maybe, the president and his cohorts said, Horowitz would turn up evidence of a vast conspiracy, launched by the FBI's "deep state," to undermine Trump. Or maybe there would be proof of widespread wrongdoing from FBI leaders such as James Comey. Or maybe the evidence would point to the bureau "spying" on Team Trump.

The president has spent much of his tenure insisting the FBI is a corrupt institution, filled with his enemies, and Michael Horowitz was in a position to finally bring the truth to light.

Yesterday afternoon, the house of cards collapsed. As NBC News reported, the IG's office, following an extensive review, found that the investigation and its origins were fully justified.

The 434-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that the FBI and the Justice Department launched their investigation into the 2016 campaign not for political reasons, but because of evidence the Russian government was using cutouts to reach out to the Trump campaign as part of its efforts to influence the election.

The inspector general said he examined more than a million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses.

Horowitz found that political bias did not taint the actions of former FBI leaders who have frequently been the subject of presidential attacks on Twitter, including former Director James Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok.

The full inspector general's report is online here (pdf).

It's worth noting that the Horowitz probe pointed to mistakes the FBI made in parts of its application to monitor Carter Page, the controversial Trump campaign adviser with close ties to the Kremlin, and for Republicans desperate for something useful to cling to in the inspector general's findings, these mistakes are of great interest.

But even on this point, the bottom line has no partisan value for the right: Horowitz found that the Page probe was justified and legitimate, too.

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Trump campaign was not spied on: DOJ IG; Barr reverts to deceit

Trump campaign was not spied on: DOJ IG; Barr reverts to deceit

12/09/19 09:17PM

Rachel Maddow reports on some of the findings in the DOJ inspector general report, including that the FBI did not spy on the Trump campaign, debunking a flat accusation leveled by William Barr in congressional testimony in April. Rather than showing contrition for being so wrong, Barr followed his Mueller report playbook, presenting a deceptive... watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 12.9.19

12/09/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'll have more on the Horowitz report in the morning: "The FBI mishandled parts of its application to monitor a Trump campaign aide as it was probing possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, but the overall investigation was justified, according to a long-awaited report by the Justice Department's watchdog that rebuts the president's depiction of a politically biased plot against him."

* The U.S. policy is failing: "North Korea said Sunday it carried out a 'very important test' at its long-range rocket launch site that it reportedly rebuilt after having partially dismantled it when it entered denuclearization talks with the United States last year."

* On a related note: "North Korea insulted President Donald Trump again Monday, calling him a 'thoughtless and sneaky old man' after he tweeted that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wouldn't want to abandon a special relationship between the two leaders and affect the American presidential election by resuming hostile acts."

* U.S. officials knew we weren't making progress in Afghanistan, but they misled everyone anyway: "A trove of government documents shows that U.S. officials systematically misled the public about the war in Afghanistan during three presidential administrations, The Washington Post reported in an explosive story Monday."

* The latest step backward for NATO: "The United States ambassador to Denmark barred an American NATO expert critical of President Trump from speaking at an international conference hosted by the American embassy and a Danish think tank, prompting the event's cancellation, organizers said."

* In case you missed this on Friday: "A national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence submitted additional classified evidence to House impeachment investigators about a phone call between Pence and Ukraine's president, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff revealed Friday."

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