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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.21.20

01/21/20 12:00PM

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

* In New Hampshire, which will hold its presidential primary three weeks from today, a new Suffolk/Boston Globe poll shows Bernie Sanders with the narrowest of leads of Joe Biden, 16% to 15%, followed closely by Pete Buttigieg at 12%, and Elizabeth Warren at 10%.

* Hillary Clinton has caused a considerable stir with new criticisms of Bernie Sanders as part of an upcoming Hulu documentary. Referring to the Vermont senator and his relationships on Capitol Hill, the former secretary of State said, "Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It's all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it."

* Amid questions about Rep. Devin Nunes' (R-Calif.) role in the Ukraine scandal, the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee made the case yesterday that voters in his district "deserve better."

* With the expectation that Donald Trump and his allies will spread "false accusations" about Joe Biden, the former vice president's campaign yesterday released a memo to journalists, explaining to media professionals why they shouldn't believe or help disseminate untrue information to the public.

* Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) is the only Senate Republican running this year in a state Trump lost, and the endangered incumbent reportedly hasn't held a town hall-meeting with his constituents in two years.

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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

Trump's impeachment defense rests on a foundation of falsehoods

01/21/20 10:50AM

Perhaps more so than any other figure in American public life, Donald Trump has earned a reputation for saying things that aren't true. It's a problem that, in a quantifiable sense, is getting worse as his presidency continues.

The Washington Post reported yesterday, for example, on the third anniversary of the Republican's inauguration, that Trump has made "more than 16,200 false or misleading claims" since taking office. The report added, "In 2017, Trump made 1,999 false or misleading claims. In 2018, he added 5,689 more, for a total of 7,688. And in 2019, he made 8,155 suspect claims."

But as the Senate's impeachment trial gets underway, CNN's Daniel Dale narrowed the focus a bit and examined Trump's "compulsive" dishonesty about the scandal that threatens the Republican's presidency.

President Donald Trump is dishonest about a whole lot of things. But he is rarely as comprehensively dishonest as he has been about his dealings with Ukraine and the impeachment process.

From the eruption of the Ukraine controversy in September to the Senate trial that officially began on Thursday, relentless deceit has seemed to be Trump's primary defense strategy in the court of public opinion. He has made false claims about almost every separate component of the story, from his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, to the whistleblower who complained about the call, to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's own relations with Ukraine.

Dale's report documented 65 specific claims Trump has made about the controversy, each of which were false. That seems like an awful lot of lying -- which continues on a nearly daily basis.

Indeed, it's surprisingly difficult to think of any aspect of Trump's Ukraine scandal in which the American president has managed to make an accurate claim and stick to it as the story continued to unfold.

But there's a larger significance to this, beyond simply marveling at one person's capacity for brazen dishonesty. More important is the degree to which Trump is relying on public deception as part of his response to the political crisis, and the implications of such a strategy.

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Trump finds semi-official impeachment role for far-right GOP reps

01/21/20 10:00AM

As recently as a couple of weeks ago, when it was far from clear who'd serve on Donald Trump's legal defense team during his impeachment trial, the president reportedly "loved the idea" of adding a group of far-right House congressmen to the operation. The plan was to add Republican lawmakers such as Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), John Ratcliffe (Tex.), and Doug Collins (Ga.) to the legal team, at least in part because of their "bare-knuckles tactics and top-rated TV performances."

As we discussed, Senate GOP leaders went out of their way to discourage Trump from pursuing such a course, and it appears those lobbying efforts were effective: when the president's legal defense team expanded to include the likes of Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz, no House Republicans were included.

Last night, however, it appears the White House nevertheless found jobs for the lawmakers. Politico reported:

After excluding House Republicans from his defense team, President Donald Trump announced Monday night that eight of them would serve as his personal warriors.

Republican Reps. Doug Collins (Ga.), Mike Johnson (La.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Debbie Lesko (Ariz.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), John Ratcliffe (Texas), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Lee Zeldin (N.Y.) will "serve as part of his team working to combat this hyper-partisan and baseless impeachment," according to a White House news release Monday.

The official White House announcement, introducing the eight GOP members, was a little odd. For one thing, it insisted that during the House impeachment process, the White House "was prohibited from participating in the proceedings." That's plainly false: Trump and his attorneys were invited to play a role, but they refused. That's not a prohibition on participation; it's the opposite.

For another, while many of the president's most sycophantic congressional allies were part of the new roster, House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) was not included -- and his absence was notable given the intensifying questions about his possible role in the broader Ukraine scandal.

But even putting these relevant angles aside, there was a lingering question for which there was no obvious answer: what exactly are these eight House Republicans going to do? They're now part of Trump's "impeachment team," but what does that mean?

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump waves following a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, July 27, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

National poll: US majority wants to see Trump removed from office

01/21/20 09:20AM

As Donald Trump's impeachment trial gets underway in the Senate, a new CNN poll offers the president and his party very little in the way of encouraging news.

About half of Americans say the Senate should vote to convict President Donald Trump and remove him from office in the upcoming impeachment trial (51%), according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, while 45% say the Senate should vote against conviction and removal.

Nearly seven in 10 (69%) say that upcoming trial should feature testimony from new witnesses who did not testify in the House impeachment inquiry.

Even a plurality of Republican voters agree that the Senate should consider new information from witnesses -- a position the White House and most GOP lawmakers now oppose.

Other results add to the bleak picture for Trump: not only does the CNN poll show that a narrow majority of Americans believe the president should be removed from office, but 57% agree that Trump obstructed the House impeachment inquiry, while 58% believe he abused the powers of his office.

What's more, the picture is getting worse for the president, not better: CNN polls have been asking respondents since June 2018 whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office, and the latest 51% finding is the highest to date.

As we discussed last week, I continue to believe survey results like these represent more than just political trivia.

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Fearing Bolton's testimony, White House scrambles behind the scenes

01/21/20 08:40AM

It's not yet clear who, if anyone, senators will hear witness testimony from in Donald Trump's impeachment trial, but one name keeps coming up for a reason. Former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton has first-hand information about the president's culpability; he's volunteered to testify; and it's obvious he'd present senators with a more complete picture of what transpired in the Ukraine scandal.

All of this, evidently, is causing Trump and his allies quite a bit of anxiety.

Indeed, they're getting a little weird about it. The president tweeted yesterday, "They didn't want John Bolton and others in the House. They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!" It was bizarre: House Democrats desperately wanted to hear from Bolton and asked him to testify. As House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff reminded Trump, the president is the one who ordered Bolton to remain silent.

The Washington Post reported that there are related behind-the-scenes efforts underway, driven entirely by Republican fears of possible Bolton testimony.

President Trump's legal defense team and Senate GOP allies are quietly gaming out contingency plans should Democrats win enough votes to force witnesses to testify in the impeachment trial, including an effort to keep former national security adviser John Bolton from the spotlight, according to multiple officials familiar with the discussions. [...]

One option being discussed, according to a senior administration official, would be to move Bolton's testimony to a classified setting because of national security concerns, ensuring that it is not public.

There are two key elements to this that are worth keeping in mind as the process moves forward. First, manufacturing pretextual "national security concerns" because Republicans fear a Republican witness telling the truth is a ridiculous abuse.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As impeachment process advances, it's not just Trump who's on trial

01/21/20 08:00AM

On Dec. 18, the U.S. House impeached Donald Trump, at which point speculation shifted from the south side of the Capitol to the north side. By constitutional mandate, it would be up to the U.S. Senate to hold an impeachment trial, and the institution's members would have to decide whether to bring Trump's presidency to a premature end.

Two days later, on Dec. 20, former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, which took the form of a letter to the retired lawmaker's former Senate Republican colleagues. Flake wrote, "President Trump is on trial. But in a very real sense, so are you. And so is the political party to which we belong."

The Arizonan was one of many stressing the same point. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told CBS News' Margaret Brennan, "It isn't just the president who's on trial in an impeachment proceeding. The Senate is on trial, and we have a constitutional responsibility." A week later, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), currently the institution's longest serving member, wrote a New York Times op-ed that added, "[I]t will not just be President Trump on trial. The Senate -- and indeed, truth itself -- will stand trial."

Last week, as the House prepared to send the articles of impeachment to the upper chamber, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) echoed the message: "The Senate is on trial as well as the president."

It's against this backdrop that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has crafted a blueprint for the trial that appears designed to ensure that Donald Trump wins and the Senate loses.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will allot each side a total of 24 hours to present their arguments in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, but the time must be confined to two working days, according to the text of his organizing resolution, which NBC News obtained Monday.

The proposal also suggests that none of the evidence collected as part of the House's impeachment inquiry will be admitted automatically. Instead, according to the text, the Senate will vote later on whether to admit any documents.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but it appears the fix is in -- or at least it will be, if McConnell's plan is implemented.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.20.20

01/20/20 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* On the eve of the impeachment trial's first day: "President Donald Trump did 'absolutely nothing wrong,' is the victim of a partisan plot to take him down and should be swiftly acquitted in a Senate trial, his legal team argued in a brief Monday."

* Fortunately, there was no violence: "Thousands of gun-rights activists, banned from carrying their weapons out of fear of violence, crammed into the Virginia Capitol on Monday to urge state lawmakers to reject sweeping measures to limit the spread of firearms."

* I have a hunch Barr won't agree: "Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, has sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr requesting that he recuse himself from the investigation and appoint a special prosecutor, according to a new court filing."

* Keep an eye on this one: "A long-simmering conflict between the National Security Agency and the House Intelligence Committee broke into the open on Sunday when the committee's chairman, Representative Adam B. Schiff, accused the agency of withholding critical intelligence from his panel, including some that might be useful in the impeachment trial of President Trump."

* This one's shaping up to be interesting, too: "Andrew Peek, the senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, has been placed on administrative leave pending a security-related investigation, people familiar with the situation tell Axios."

* Trump used to think very little of Ken Starr, who's now part of his team: "President Trump on Friday chose the people who will be defending him at his impeachment trial. And one of them is 'a lunatic' who was 'a disaster' during the last impeachment of a president, according to Trump himself."

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Image: Rep. Chris Collins

One of Trump's top congressional allies sentenced in corruption case

01/20/20 03:02PM

When then-Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) was first brought up on federal corruption charges, the New York Republican -- the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump -- initially pleaded not guilty. In September, Collins reversed course and acknowledged what was plainly true: he did what prosecutors accused him of doing.

The Buffalo News reported late last week on his sentence.

Chris Collins cried so hard that many of his words got lost in his anguish.

But that act of contrition only meant so much to U.S. District Court Judge Vernon S. Broderick, who on Friday sentenced Collins to 26 months in prison for launching an insider trading scheme with a call to his son from a White House picnic in June 2017.... Broderick also fined Collins $200,000. And once he leaves prison, the former four-term Republican lawmaker from Clarence will have to go through one year of supervised release.

Stepping back, I think there are a few angles to this that are worth keeping in mind. The first is that the evidence against Collins was ridiculously strong. Had he gone to trial, the disgraced former congressman would've lost.

Second, the list of people close to Trump who've ended up in prison is alarmingly long, and it may yet grow longer. Former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is awaiting sentencing, and so is former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the second congressional Republican to endorse Trump's 2016 candidacy.

And third, I'll be eager to see if Collins seeks some kind of presidential pardon.

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Team Trump: Presidents can't be impeached for abuses of power

01/20/20 12:35PM

With Donald Trump's impeachment trial poised to begin tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives filed a "Trial Memorandum and Statement of Material Facts" with the office of the Secretary of the Senate on Saturday afternoon. The purpose of the document was simple: the Democratic-led House's brief was intended to establish the president's guilt, while reviewing the case the impeachment "managers" will present at trial.

The 111-page document is a persuasive, substantive, well-researched, and thoroughly footnoted indictment against a president who, according to overwhelming and uncontested evidence, abused the powers of his office as part of an unprecedented extortion scheme. It concludes by asking senators to do their duty and bring Trump's presidency to an end.

A few hours later, the White House submitted a short "answer" to the House's allegations. As the New York Times reported:

In a six-page filing formally responding to the House impeachment charges submitted shortly after and filled with partisan barbs against House Democrats, Mr. Trump's lawyers denounced the case as constitutionally and legally invalid, and driven purely by a desire to hurt Mr. Trump in the 2020 election. [...]

The president's lawyers did not deny any of the core facts underlying Democrats' charges, conceding what considerable evidence and testimony in the House has shown: that he withheld $391 million in aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine and asked the country's president to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, Hunter Biden.

But they said Mr. Trump broke no laws and was acting entirely appropriately and within his powers when he did so, echoing his repeated protestations of his own innocence. They argued that he was not seeking political advantage, but working to root out corruption in Ukraine.

The entirety of the surprisingly short White House argument is online here (pdf), and I think it's fair to say it is not an impressive document. Paul Waldman joked, "[I]t reads as though it was written by a ninth-grader who saw an episode of Law & Order and learned just enough legal terms to throw them around incorrectly."

But while it's true that most of the missive was familiar palaver, there was one element worth dwelling on.

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