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E.g., 10/20/2019

WH's Mulvaney tries to pretend he didn't already give away the game

10/18/19 08:40AM

For weeks, Donald Trump and his team tried to pretend the White House didn't orchestrate a quid pro quo with Ukraine. Those rhetorical efforts were belied by overwhelming evidence, but that was the message and the president and his aides tried to stick to it.

That is, until yesterday, when acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, in a stunning display, effectively confessed, acknowledging the quid pro quo in no uncertain terms.

And while that was certainly unexpected, observers were equally surprised when the South Carolina Republican reversed course a few hours later, issuing a statement that said the opposite of what Mulvaney had said on camera earlier that afternoon.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday walked back comments he made earlier in the day suggesting that President Donald Trump held up military aid to Ukraine until it moved to investigate a conspiracy involving the 2016 U.S. election.

"There was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election," he said in a statement contradicting remarks he made during an earlier press briefing.

The need for the humiliating "clarification," for lack of a better word, was obvious. Mulvaney announced that the White House deliberately crafted a scheme in which it delayed military aid to a vulnerable ally in order to force the foreign country to participate in a political scheme for Donald Trump. The president's chief of staff not only confessed, Mulvaney insisted the White House's misdeeds were unimportant.

"Get over it," he said.

A congressional Republican told the Washington Post that Mulvaney's comments were "totally inexplicable," adding, "He literally said the thing the president and everyone else said did not happen."

The use of the word "literally" is relevant. Political figures often use vague rhetoric, giving themselves some wiggle room in the event of a controversy. Mulvaney, however, was candid and explicit yesterday.

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Trump doesn't seem to realize he was 'outmaneuvered' in Mideast deal

10/18/19 08:00AM

Donald Trump beamed with pride yesterday announcing a "cease-fire" agreement in Turkey negotiated by a U.S. delegation. The American president wrote on Twitter, "This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path."

Trump seemed blissfully unaware of his own failure. He created the crisis, inviting Turkey to launch a ruthless offensive against our Kurdish allies, which the Republican resolved by giving Turkey everything it wanted in exchange for practically nothing. The New York Times' analysis of yesterday's developments served as a brutal wake-up call for the confused American president.

The cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump.

The best that can be said for the agreement is that it may stop the killing in the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. But the cost for Kurds, longtime American allies in the fight against the Islamic State, is severe: Even Pentagon officials were mystified about where tens of thousands of displaced Kurds would go, as they moved south from the Turkey-Syria border as required by the deal — if they agree to go at all.

And the cost to American influence, while hard to quantify, could be frightfully high.

A Turkish official told the Washington Post that his country's officials who participated in the talks were "surprised and relieved at how easy the negotiations were." The official added, "We got everything we wanted."

By any fair measure, that's unambiguously true. Turkey initially got to slaughter Kurds at the invitation of the American president. As the violence unfolded, Turkey then got the United States to agree to a "deal" in which Turkey will (a) gain control of Kurdish land in northern Syria, (b) face no U.S. sanctions, and (c) receive a diplomatic reward in the form of a White House visit for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It's also an agreement that delights Russia and ISIS.

As for the American side of the ledger, we get nothing, except diminished credibility

It is, in other words, an embarrassing failure for the Trump administration -- except Trump doesn't seem to know that.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.17.19

10/17/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A giant exits the stage: "Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, the sharecroppers' son who fought for racial justice in his beloved Baltimore and in recent years took on the Trump administration, died Thursday. He was 68."

* I'll have more on this in the morning: "Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday that the United States reached a cease-fire agreement with Turkey to suspend its military operation in Syria to allow Kurdish forces to retreat from a designated safe zone."

* Will Parliament approve? "The United Kingdom and the European Union announced Thursday they had agreed to a new Brexit divorce deal, a potentially key breakthrough ahead of the Oct. 31 deadline for Britain to leave the bloc."

* Oh, Rudy: "In the spring of 2017, former U.S. attorney general Michael Mukasey met with representatives of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK), a State Department-designated foreign terrorist organization until 2012. Mukasey wasn't alone. Joining him at the meeting was another high-profile American political figure: Rudy Giuliani."

* Keep an eye on the Halkbank story: "After repeated appeals to President Trump by Turkey's president to avoid charges against a state-owned Turkish bank, Attorney General William P. Barr oversaw an effort earlier this year to negotiate a settlement with the bank, two people with knowledge of the matter said."

* A Trump target: "U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan plans to retire in January, officials said Wednesday, following months of complaints from President Trump that the Postal Service was losing too much money and should be charging retail giant Amazon more for package delivery."

* Not great: "American shoppers pulled back on spending in September, signaling a key support for the U.S. economy this year could be softening amid a broader global economic slowdown."

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White House's Mulvaney admits there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine

10/17/19 03:53PM

For weeks, Donald Trump's White House and its allies have downplayed the Ukraine scandal by insisting there was no quid pro quo. Yes, the Trump administration held up military aid for a vulnerable ally, and yes, the Republican president pressed Ukraine to pursue partisan conspiracy theories, but Trump didn't necessarily draw a connection between the two.

That argument has always been ridiculous. As of this afternoon, it's also been rejected -- by the Trump White House.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has a message for those concerned that President Donald Trump held up military aid to Ukraine until they moved to investigate a conspiracy involving the 2016 U.S. election -- "Get over it."

In speaking with reporters Thursday at the White House, Mulvaney acknowledged Trump held up Ukraine aid partly for political reasons. "Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy," he added.

By Mulvaney's telling, Trump specifically wanted Ukraine to explore questions "related to the DNC server" -- a line of inquiry most fair-minded observers recognize as a crackpot conspiracy theory -- as part of a White House quid pro quo. That, of course, is a quid pro quo that Republicans just spent weeks denying the existence of.

When a reporter explained to the acting White House chief of staff that he'd "just described a quid pro quo," Mulvaney replied, "We do that all the time with foreign policy."

It was moments later when the South Carolina Republican added, "I have news for everybody. Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), "Mr. Mulvaney's acknowledgment means that things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse."

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White House picks Trump's struggling Florida business for G7 gathering

10/17/19 02:15PM

In late August, Donald Trump made an announcement that seemed brazen, even by his standards: the president liked the idea of having the next G7 summit at one of his own businesses. Specifically, Trump talked up the possibility of hosting the event at his Doral, Florida, golf resort, not far from Miami International Airport.

As the Washington Post reported at the time, "If Trump does choose Doral, he would be directing six world leaders, hundreds of hangers-on and massive amounts of money to a resort he owns personally -- and which, according to his company's representatives, has been 'severely underperforming.'"

Take a wild guess what happened next.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announced Thursday that next year's Group of Seven summit meeting of world leaders will be held at President Donald Trump's Miami-area resort. [...]

"This is the perfect physical location to do this," Mulvaney told reporters Thursday, adding that the White House advance team visited multiple potential locations and reported back that it was "almost like they built [Doral] to host this type of event."

Just so we're all clear, world leaders who wish to participate in the G7 gathering will now have no choice but to spend considerable funds at the American president's own struggling business. It's a recipe for an Emoluments Clause nightmare.

This is, of course, the same American president who claims to be deeply concerned about "corruption," even as his own White House awards a lucrative contract to one of his failing enterprises.

Indeed, the resort has been in "sharp decline" for a while: "At Doral, which Trump has listed in federal disclosures as his biggest moneymaker hotel, room rates, banquets, golf and overall revenue were all down since 2015. In two years, the resort's net operating income – a key figure, representing the amount left over after expenses are paid – had fallen by 69 percent."

The venue has especially struggled in the summer months, when it's "usually empty."

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Trump does no favors for his own delegation in Turkey

10/17/19 12:42PM

As expected, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are leading a U.S. delegation to Turkey, where American officials hope to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to implement a cease-fire in Syria. It is, by any fair measure, a White House attempt to clean up Donald Trump's mess: the Republican's decision to remove troops from northern Syria unleashed no small amount of hell in the region.

Whether the American president appreciates this or not, the administration isn't speaking with one voice. NBC News' report on the talks touched on an underappreciated point.

...Pence's meeting with Erdogan comes hours after Trump dismissed Turkey's invasion and said the fight was over land that "has nothing to do with us."

"If Turkey goes into Syria, that's between Turkey and Syria," he said to reporters in the Oval Office. "It's not between Turkey and the United States."

The point Trump went to great lengths to drive home yesterday was that he does not care about the violence or its effects. Talking to reporters in the Oval Office, the American president dismissed our Kurdish allies, insisting they're "no angels," and suggesting at least some Kurds are dangerous terrorists. Trump added, in apparent reference to Turkish and Kurdish forces, "There's a lot of sand that they can play with."

The Republican added on Twitter this week, "The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years.... Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them!"

So much for the White House's commitment to a cease-fire.

The result is a contradiction for which there is no obvious resolution: the American vice president is in Ankara, eager to make clear that the United States cares, but his message is at odds with the American president's explicit indifference.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.17.19

10/17/19 12:00PM

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

* Following a well-received debate performance, Sen. Amy Klobuchar's presidential campaign reportedly raised $1.1 million in less than a day, which was her best day for online fundraising since her campaign launch. The Minnesota Democrat will, however, still need increased poll support in order to qualify for next month's primary debate.

* Barack Obama occasionally weighs in on international campaigns, and yesterday, the former Democratic president threw his support behind Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

* The Club for Growth, a far-right advocacy group, is launching a new attack ad targeting Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), accusing him of being a "Democrat secret asset" who is "plotting to take down President Trump with impeachment." The commercial will reportedly run online and on Fox News in Utah.

* In Kansas, state Sen. Barbara Bollier recently made headlines by leaving the Republican Party and becoming a Democrat, and yesterday she made headlines again: Bollier launched a U.S. Senate campaign, hoping to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R). She'll have a few primary rivals, including former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, who entered the race earlier this year.

* Among the notable tidbits in the latest campaign finance filings: Wayne Messam, the mayor of Miramar, Florida, and a largely unknown presidential candidate, raised just $5 in the third quarter of the year. No, that's not a typo.

* Speaking of presidential hopefuls facing long odds, South Carolina's Mark Sanford, a former congressman and governor, held a press conference in Philadelphia as part of his 2020 kickoff. Only four people were there: the candidate, two of his aides, and one reporter.

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Latest impeachment polling paints a bleak picture for Trump

10/17/19 11:20AM

About a week ago, Donald Trump published a tweet that claimed, "Only 25 percent want the President Impeached, which is pretty low considering the volume of Fake News coverage, but pretty high considering the fact that I did NOTHING wrong."

Each of the claims in the tweet was absurd, but it was the specific polling statistic that stood out: the president wants the public to know that impeachment currently polls at only 25%. If that were true, it'd create a difficult political dynamic on Capitol Hill.

Except, it's not at all true. Trump has a curious habit of simply making up numbers in his mind, pretending they're real, and asking everyone to play along, but in this case, public support for impeachment is roughly double what the Republican said it was.

Consider the latest Gallup poll, for example.

Public opinion on whether Trump should be impeached remains mixed, but Americans now lean slightly more in favor of impeachment and removal from office compared with where they stood in June.

Currently, 52% say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 46% say he should not be. This is roughly the opposite of what Gallup found in June when asked in the context of special counselor Robert Mueller's investigation.

The same results found that 55% of self-identified independents support impeaching the president and removing him from office, while 89% of Democrats agree. (Only 6% of Republican voters feel the same way.)

And while these results are interesting in their own right, one of the things that make the figures especially notable is the pollster that released them: Gallup is one of the nation's oldest pollsters, which makes it possible to do some helpful historical comparisons.

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Image: Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump

Trump reminds Lindsey Graham, 'I am the boss'

10/17/19 10:40AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) probably assumed that if he showed sycophantic loyalty toward Donald Trump, he'd be rewarded for his servility. The South Carolina Republican almost certainly knew that his toadying posture would make him the target of ridicule, especially given the severity of his pre-election condemnations of Trump, but Graham was willing to pay the price because he expected to have the kind of access and influence others lacked.

For his trouble, the GOP senator has very little to show for his efforts. When Trump settled on a disastrous new policy in northern Syria, not only was Graham's advice ignored, but the White House didn't even bother to give him a heads-up on the president's decision.

Graham, not surprisingly, is furious. Trump, as the Associated Press reported, is indifferent to the South Carolinian's dissatisfaction.

The golf-and-politics alliance between President Donald Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham frayed Wednesday over Syria, with the South Carolina Republican threatening to become the White House's "worst nightmare" unless more is done to protect Kurdish fighters against Turkish attacks.

Trump, in turn, suggested Graham focus on his job leading the Senate Judiciary Committee and reminded him who's in a position to threaten whom.

"I am the boss," Trump said.

Exactly. What Graham may not have fully appreciated is the fact that the president effectively sees him as an employee. The senator, in Trump's eyes, is the help, and the president expects Graham to follow the boss' lead.

The relationship is based on loyalty, but as Trump has demonstrated on multiple occasions, he sees loyalty as a one-way street: it's something he expects to receive, not bestow.

The question now is what the Senate Republican is prepared to do about it.

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