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U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a press conference after the meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2

Trump thinks 'people are so untrusting' when it comes to him and Putin

06/13/19 10:00AM

Sitting alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda in the Oval Office yesterday, Donald Trump was asked if he expects to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the next G-20 summit. The Republican said he does, in fact, plan to meet with Putin and other international leaders.

It led to a notable follow-up question:

Q: Are you going to have a lot of people in the room with you -- national security officials?

TRUMP: Well, it's probably easier because you people are so untrusting. So it's probably better.... I think it's probably easier is we have people in the room because you people don't trust anything.

So, from the American president's perspective, it's a problem that people are skeptical about his interactions with the Russian president. Apparently, from Trump's perspective, he's earned the benefit of the doubt -- and the public should simply assume that when he meets with Putin, nothing suspicious will follow.

It's not like there's been a three-year scandal about this, right?

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History belies Trump's cynical stance on foreign election assistance

06/13/19 09:20AM

About a year ago, then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), one of Moscow's favorites, insisted, "There's not a person in this town" who wouldn't welcome foreign intervention to win an election. Two months ago, Rudy Giuliani echoed the sentiment, arguing that "any candidate" would welcome dirt on his or her opponent, even if it came from a foreign source.

Yesterday, Donald Trump endorsed the line during an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

"Okay, let's put yourself in a position. You're a congressman. Somebody comes up and says, 'Hey, I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI? I don't think [so]....

"This is somebody that said we have information on your opponent. 'Oh, let me call the FBI.' Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way."

It's a posture lacking in subtlety. To hear the president tell it, in the real world -- never mind those namby-pamby idealists with their heads in the clouds -- this is how people actually behave. Politics can be a tough business, the argument goes, so candidates who want to win have to put aside concerns about niceties and legal limits.

If that means welcoming foreign interference in American elections, so be it. To deny this is to ignore the facts of how life "works."

It's an offensive and cynical approach for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the lesson learned from American history.

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

Trump puts fight over election security in a whole new context

06/13/19 08:42AM

Soon after Donald Trump said he'd accept foreign assistance in his re-election campaign, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded to the president in a specific and notable way.

"Disgraceful yet sadly par for the course for this president.

"When the president talks like this, it's no wonder [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] is blocking bipartisan efforts to secure our elections from foreign interference."

I think this was more than a throwaway line. There's an ongoing debate on Capitol Hill about legislative efforts to prevent foreign interference in our elections, and the president just put that debate in a whole new context.

Three years after the Republicans' Senate leader balked at an effort to confront Russia's election attack, Mitch McConnell has effectively imposed a "blockade" against all proposals intend to protect the U.S. system against future foreign attacks.

Indeed, as we discussed the other day, the list of proposals -- many of which enjoy bipartisan backing -- is not short. The New York Times reported:

The bills include a Democratic measure that would send more than $1 billion to state and local governments to tighten election security, but would also demand a national strategy to protect American democratic institutions against cyberattacks and require that states spend federal funds only on federally certified "election infrastructure vendors." A bipartisan measure in both chambers would require internet companies like Facebook to disclose the purchasers of political ads.

Another bipartisan Senate proposal would codify cyberinformation-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials, speed up the granting of security clearances to state officials and provide federal incentives for states to adopt paper ballots.

McConnell won't allow his chamber to consider any of these measures. But has Trump changed the calculus?

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Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

How will the GOP defend Trump's line on foreign election interference?

06/13/19 08:00AM

If there's one thing that literally everyone involved in American politics should now understand with great clarity, it's the fact that foreign interference in our elections is unacceptable. It's illegal; it's undemocratic; and it's served as the basis for one of the most important criminal investigations in the nation's history.

As you've likely heard by now, it's also a fact that Donald Trump still hasn't learned.

President Donald Trump said in an interview excerpt aired Wednesday that he might take help from a foreign government offering information on an opponent.

Trump made the comment to ABC's George Stephanopoulos while discussing why his son, Donald Trump Jr., didn't go to the FBI after he spoke with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.

When Stephanopoulos asked if his adult son should've gone to the FBI when offered anti-Clinton dirt from Russia, the president said, "Okay, let's put yourself in a position. You're a congressman. Somebody comes up and says, 'Hey, I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI? I don't think [so]. I've seen a lot of things over my life. I don't think in my whole life I've ever called the FBI -- in my whole life. I don't, you don't call the FBI."

Trump added, "This is somebody that said we have information on your opponent. 'Oh, let me call the FBI.' Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way."

When the ABC News anchor reminded the president that FBI Director Chris Wray has said that's how the process should work, Trump replied, "The FBI director is wrong."

Following this to its next logical step, Stephanopoulos asked if foreigners offered Trump campaign officials information ahead of the 2020 election, should they accept it or should they call the FBI. "I think maybe you do both," the president replied. "I think you might want to listen, there's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, 'We have information on your opponent,' oh I think I'd want to hear it."

Asked why he'd want foreign interference in American elections, the Republican responded, "It's not an interference. They have information, I think I'd take it."

The one thing even Trump should know not to say is the one thing Trump said -- out loud, on camera, on the record, for all the world to see. His indifference to the rule of law was laid bare.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.12.19

06/12/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Crisis conditions in Hong Kong: "At least 72 people were injured and rushed to Hong Kong hospitals in the wake of massive protests Wednesday over a bill that would allow extradition to mainland China, authorities said."

* Capitol Hill: "The House Oversight and Reform Committee advanced a resolution Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for withholding documents on the Trump administration's decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census."

* Ebola: "Fears worsened on Wednesday that the year-old Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo could spread to neighboring countries, as a boy in Uganda died from the disease and two of his close relatives there were infected."

* A curious choice: "Former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn has hired attorney Sidney Powell to replace his legal team. Powell bashed Mueller's tactics in commentary before she was hired by Flynn, which suggests that Flynn — by choosing her — may be doubling down on a strategy to cast doubt on his guilty plea even as he continues to cooperate with prosecutors."

* Keep a close eye on this one: "Margaret Hunter, the wife of longtime East County Congressman Duncan Hunter who was co-indicted with her husband last summer, has agreed to change her plea of not guilty and is scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday morning."

* The deficit for May alone was over $200 billion: "The U.S. budget gap widened last month as government spending outpaced tax collection, boosting the deficit 39% during the first eight months of the fiscal year. The government ran a $739 billion deficit from October through May, compared with $532 billion during the same period a year earlier, the Treasury said."

* Rostin Behnam is the newest person Republicans should, but probably won't, listen to: "A top financial regulator is opening a public effort to highlight the risk that climate change poses to the nation's financial markets, setting up a clash with a president who has mocked global warming and whose administration has sought to suppress climate science."

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A striking number of foreign reps have spent money at Trump properties

06/12/19 12:40PM

The U.S. Constitution includes a once-obscure provision known as the "Emoluments Clause," which as regular readers know, prohibits U.S. officials from receiving payments from foreign governments. Traditionally, this hasn't been much of a problem for sitting American presidents -- but with Donald Trump things are a little different.

After all, this president has refused to divest from his private-sector enterprises, which means he continues to personally profit from businesses that receive payments from foreign governments.

The problem isn't theoretical: Saudi Arabia, for example, spent roughly $270,000 at Trump's Washington hotel during one of the country's lobbying campaigns in 2017. Some of that money benefited the president -- because he owns the place.

But to appreciate the scope of the problem, it's important to know how many other countries' representatives have taken similar steps. NBC News ran this report earlier today:

Representatives of at least 22 foreign governments appear to have spent money at Trump Organization properties, an NBC News review has found, hinting at a significant foreign cash flow to the American president that critics say violates the U.S. Constitution.

The extent and amount of foreign spending at Trump's hotels, golf clubs and restaurants is not known, because the Trump Organization is a private company and declines to disclose that information. Trump promised to donate any profits from foreign governments, and the Trump Organization has sent $343,000 to the U.S. Treasury for 2017 and 2018. The company did not release underlying numbers to support that figure.

Keep in mind, given the constitutional restrictions, the number of countries with representatives spending money at Trump-owned properties would ideally be zero. One is too many.

Twenty-two seems awfully tough to defend.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.12.19

06/12/19 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Quinnipiac poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading the Democratic presidential field with 30%, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 19% and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 15%. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) was fourth with 8%, followed by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) with 7%. No other Dem topped 3% in this poll.

* The release of the Quinnipiac results coincided with the pollster showing several Democratic contenders -- Biden, Sanders, Harris, Warren, Buttigieg, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) -- leading Donald Trump in hypothetical general election match-ups.

* On a related note, while the Quinnipiac poll showed Trump trailing Biden by 13 points, the president told reporters yesterday that the former vice president is the Democrat he's most eager to face. Trump said Biden is "the weakest, mentally."

* With Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) supporting Trump's impeachment, the president and his allies have reportedly taken a direct interest in derailing the Michigan incumbent in a 2020 primary race.

* Mindful that his support for "democratic socialism" might raise concerns about his electability, Bernie Sanders is scheduled to deliver a speech today outlining the details of his economic philosophy.

* The Washington Examiner had an interesting report today out of Texas, where Republican donors are reportedly preparing "a multimillion-dollar effort to register more than 1 million new GOP voters" in the Lone Star State ahead of the 2020 race. There's been lingering talk for years about Texas becoming more competitive, and it appears some Republicans in the state have reached the point at which they're starting to worry about it.

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Trump judicial nominee withdraws in the face of GOP opposition

06/12/19 11:20AM

As a rule, the Republicans' judicial pipeline works with remarkable efficiency. Partisan operatives tell Donald Trump who to nominate; the White House sends the nominees to Capitol Hill, and the Republican-led Senate serves as a rubber stamp. The result is a largely successful initiative to move the entire federal judiciary to the right.

Once in a great while, however, there are exceptions.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), for example, derailed a couple of Trump nominees with problematic records on race. What's more, Brett Talley withdrew when his profound lack of qualifications was exposed; Jeff Mateer's nomination ended when senators learned of his bizarre anti-LGBT animus; and Matthew Petersen called it quits following a humiliating confirmation hearing.

Yesterday, the list of failed Trump judicial nominees got just a little longer. Politico reported:

Michael Bogren, a Trump judicial nominee, is withdrawing from consideration amid a Republican backlash, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Bogren, who was nominated to the District Court for the Western District of Michigan, faced growing opposition from Republican senators. Three Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina -- said they would oppose his nomination and more were expected to emerge. He also faced criticism from conservative advocacy groups like the Judicial Crisis Network, Heritage Action for America, and Conservative Action Project.

What makes Bogren's reported withdrawal so notable is the degree to which it's different than Trump's other failed judicial nominees: some Senate Republicans decided Bogren just wasn't far enough to the right.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

In response to discouraging polls, Trump concocts conspiracy theory

06/12/19 10:40AM

It's hard to blame Donald Trump for feeling discouraged by the latest 2020 polls. The president is struggling in battleground states; his internal polls are reportedly "devastating"; and the latest national polls suggest, at least for now, that the Republican is likely to lose next year.

Indeed, a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday afternoon showed Trump trailing six leading Democratic contenders in hypothetical general election match-ups, with former Vice President Joe Biden leading the incumbent by 13 points.

Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said, "It's a long 17 months to Election Day, but Joe Biden is ahead by landslide proportions."

During a brief Q&A with reporters at the White House yesterday, Trump suggested that polls he doesn't like should be seen as "fake." On Twitter this morning, the president elaborated on the subject.

"The Fake News has never been more dishonest than it is today. Thank goodness we can fight back on Social Media. Their new weapon of choice is Fake Polling, sometimes referred to as Suppression Polls (they suppress the numbers). Had it in 2016, but this is worse.

"The Fake (Corrupt) News Media said they had a leak into polling done by my campaign which, by the way and despite the phony and never ending Witch Hunt, are the best numbers WE have ever had. They reported Fake numbers that they made up & don't even exist. WE WILL WIN AGAIN!"

If you saw this on Twitter and the missives disappeared soon after, it's because Trump originally misspelled "their." He deleted the original tweets and then republished them soon after without the typo.

Regardless, what strikes me as amazing about the president's approach is that he has better alternatives, but he chooses to ignore them and go with the worst of his rhetorical options.

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