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Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Her Weekly Press Conference At The Capitol

It's time to rethink old assumptions about Pelosi's public standing

10/10/19 10:00AM

In recent years, the conventional wisdom in Republican circles has been that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's public standing is so poor, it's effectively toxic. According to a recent book from Cliff Sims, a former aide in Donald Trump's White House, the president told then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) a couple of years ago, in reference to Pelosi, "Have you seen her? She's a disaster. Every time she opens her mouth another Republican gets elected."

The comment helped crystallize the GOP's assumptions on the California Democrat, though the latest national Fox News poll, released late yesterday, suggests those assumptions are due for an overhaul.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's personal favorability rating is under water by 6 points (42 percent favorable vs. 48 percent unfavorable). Still, that's a new high, and gives her the highest favorable rating of Capitol Hill leadership tested in the poll.

Obviously, no one with a 42% favorability rating should be described as broadly popular with the American electorate. That said, according to Fox News' results, Pelosi's favorability is roughly in line with Donald Trump's -- in fact, her unfavorable rating is quite a bit better than the president's -- and the House Speaker has stronger public support than Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

As regular readers know, less than a year ago, after House Republicans suffered through their worst midterm cycle since the immediate aftermath of Watergate, there was a fair amount of anxiety about Democrats elevating Pelosi back to the Speaker's office -- not because she'd failed to earn it, but because some in the party believed she was too unpopular.

It was certainly the image GOP officials have spent years cultivating, condemning the villainous "San Francisco liberal," and trying desperately to tie Democratic candidates to Pelosi, occasionally in races that are unrelated to the U.S. House.

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A Fox News reporter works from the Bernie Sanders rally in Iowa City, Ia., Jan. 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

New impeachment lawyer moves from Fox News to Team Trump

10/10/19 09:21AM

As expected, Donald Trump's personal legal team added a new member yesterday, with former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) agreeing to help the president as the impeachment process advances. NBC News' report on the announcement highlighted what the South Carolina Republican has been up to lately.

After retiring from Congress at the beginning of the year, Gowdy became a contributor on Fox News, where he has blasted the impeachment inquiry. [...]

In a sign that he'd be joining Team Trump, Fox News issued a statement earlier Wednesday saying he'd "been terminated and is no longer a contributor."

Media Matters added yesterday, "Since The Wall Street Journal reported on September 20 that the whistleblower complaint involved Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, leading to the inquiry announced on September 24, Gowdy has gone on Fox to slam Democrats for 'mishandling this investigation,' make dishonest comparisons between Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and former President Barack Obama, lend credibility to a conspiracy theory pushed by the president, and single out some of Trump's favorite targets for attack."

What we didn't fully appreciate was the degree to which Gowdy's appearances effectively served as an audition.

Regardless, if the former congressman's transition from Fox News to Team Trump seems familiar, it's because we've seen it before -- many, many times.

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Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Iowa's Ernst struggles with question at the heart of Trump scandal

10/10/19 08:40AM

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) published a tweet last week summarizing Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal with a straightforward question. "It comes down to this," the California Democrat wrote. "We've cut through the denials. The deflections. The nonsense. Donald Trump believes he can pressure a foreign nation to help him politically. It's his 'right.' Every Republican in Congress has to decide: Is he right?"

As bottom-line questions go, this seems quite fair. Obviously, the broader scandal is multifaceted, with a series of players and detailed developments, but the core of the story is simple: the American president used his office to pressure foreign governments, not to advance our interests, but to advance his. Trump fears a domestic rival, so he encouraged foreign officials to go after him.

The Republican defended himself by insisting he has an "absolute right" to engage in this conduct. The question -- by some measures, the only question -- is whether his party agrees with this assessment.

It's also a question many in the GOP don't know how to answer. Take Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), for example, who was repeatedly pressed by a CNN reporter this week to say whether it's appropriate or not for a president to solicit campaign assistance from a foreign power. Iowa Starting Line reported yesterday on the exchange:

Ernst's first response to the reporter's question was: "I think we are going to have to go back, just as I said last week, we'll have to wait. All that information is going to have to go to Senate Intelligence." [...]

The reporter clarified she wanted to know whether asking a foreign power for help investigating an opponent was appropriate. "We again, we don't have the facts in front of us," Ernst said. "And what we see pushed out through the media, we don't know what is accurate at this point."

The reporter interjected that she "didn't ask if it was accurate -- I'm asking you if it's appropriate for a president to ask a foreign power to investigate his domestic political rival. Yes or no?"

Ernst replied: "I don't know if we have that information in front of us, and I'll just stick with what I said all along ... "

Ernst's refusal to answer the question made for a cringe-worthy display. The fact that she kept saying she didn't have information on the subject made matters worse, given the fact that Trump stood on the South Lawn of the White House and literally called for foreign governments to target Joe Biden.

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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-INTELLIGENCE

Tillerson story creates Trump's latest possible impeachable offense

10/10/19 08:00AM

About a year ago, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared at a forum and was asked why he and Donald Trump struggled to see eye to eye. The nation's former chief diplomat talked a bit about the differences in their styles before noting, almost in passing, that the president had asked him to do things that "violate the law."

It was, of course, a startling moment, though the former cabinet secretary didn't go into additional details about the kind of illegalities Trump wanted him to commit. As Rachel noted on the show last night, however, Bloomberg News appears to have uncovered an amazing instance.

President Donald Trump pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help persuade the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was a client of Rudy Giuliani, according to three people familiar with the 2017 meeting in the Oval Office.

Tillerson refused, arguing it would constitute interference in an ongoing investigation of the trader, Reza Zarrab, according to the people. They said other participants in the Oval Office were shocked by the request.

Tillerson immediately repeated his objections to then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in a hallway conversation just outside the Oval Office, emphasizing that the request would be illegal.

As much of the country has no doubt noticed, we're in the midst of a presidential impeachment inquiry, which is evaluating Trump's possible high crimes and misdemeanors. With this in mind, it's worth emphasizing that if the president urged his secretary of State to interfere with the Justice Department, derailing the prosecution of one of Giuliani's clients -- a client who faced serious criminal charges -- that would almost certainly constitute an impeachable offense.

Which is to say, another impeachable offense.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.9.19

10/09/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The offensive Trump allowed to happen: "Turkey launched airstrikes in northeastern Syria on Wednesday, Kurdish militia leaders and eyewitnesses said, prompting panic among civilians in the region and despair among the fighters who have been crucial U.S. allies in the war on the Islamic State militant group."

* Germany: "Two people were shot to death and several were injured Wednesday after gunfire erupted at a synagogue and a nearby kebab shop in the city of Halle in eastern Germany, in violence that was livestreamed by the gunman and posted online. The shooting occurred on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur."

* The point, apparently, is to prevent power lines from sparking wildfires: "The Pacific Gas and Electric Company said that early Wednesday it began implementing the first phase of a 'public safety power shutoff,' expected to affect 513,000 customers in northern California, and that at noon (3 p.m. ET) a second phase affecting around 234,000 customers would begin."

* A story we've been following: "Democrats pursuing an impeachment inquiry of President Trump want to take a fresh look at whether the sale of anti-tank missiles to Kyiv last year was in any way connected to Ukraine's decision to halt investigations into Trump's campaign chairman."

* I'm eager to see additional reporting on this: "President Donald Trump directed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and two top State Department officials to deal with his private attorney Rudy Giuliani when the Ukrainian President sought to meet Trump, in a clear circumvention of official channels, according to two sources familiar with the conversation."

* Cohen keeps generating headlines: "Michael Cohen, the former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, is expected to be brought back to New York for a meeting with state prosecutors where he's expected to tell them everything he knows, a law enforcement official tells CNN."

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Image: Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump

Lindsey Graham insists impeachment might 'destroy the nation'

10/09/19 02:25PM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has reason to feel frustrated. The Republican senator has gone out of his way to maintain a sycophantic alliance with Donald Trump, hoping that it would offer him an opportunity to help guide the president's foreign policy. That plan failed: Trump not only ignored Graham's pleas for U.S. policy toward Syria, the White House didn't even bother to tell the South Carolinian what was going on.

At the same time, Graham is also apparently frustrated that he can't stop the impeachment of the president who doesn't much seem to care about his loyalty.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday said that he is sending a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warning that Senate Republicans won't impeach President Trump over his call with Ukraine.

Graham, in an appearance on Fox News's "Fox & Friends," said that he was going to ask other Senate Republicans to sign a letter to Pelosi saying that they "do not believe the transcript of the phone call between the president and the Ukraine is an impeachable offense."

"They're about to destroy the nation for no good reason," Graham said. "And I want Nancy Pelosi to know that Republican senators are not going to impeach this president based on this transcript, so she can stop now before she destroys the country."

It's a curious approach to the issue. Graham seems to believe, for example, that he and other Senate Republicans will side with Trump no matter the results of the impeachment inquiry, so there's no point in the U.S. House pursuing the matter. The South Carolinian is the second GOP leader this week, following Mitch McConnell, to effectively rule out the possibility of Republicans holding their president accountable.

The Senate trial isn't close to beginning, but some in the majority party apparently want to make it clear that the fix is in.

Of course, the House impeachment is not dependent on a specific Senate outcome. In 1998, for example, Graham helped lead the impeachment charge against Bill Clinton, knowing at the time that there was no realistic chance of the Senate removing the Democratic president from office. Graham did it anyway, indifferent to the process' effects or likelihood of success.

But it was the "destroy the nation" line that struck me as especially important.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Those who mistake an American president for a king

10/09/19 12:50PM

One of the common threads tying together many of Donald Trump's disparate scandals is an unsettling idea touted by his lawyers and defenders: the president must be freed from the burdens of accountability.

Follow the law as it relates to disclosing tax returns? No, Team Trump says, because a president can't be investigated. Follow legal precedent related to grand jury testimony during impeachment proceedings? No, Team Trump says, because the president operates above the law. Cooperate with a congressional impeachment inquiry? No, Team Trump says, because a president can pick and choose which legal processes he deems legitimate.

With this in mind, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote a ridiculous letter to congressional leaders yesterday, effectively making the case that the president considers the ongoing impeachment proceedings "unconstitutional" and has therefore decided to defy lawmakers' efforts to hold him accountable. Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, told Roll Call that Cipollone's letter is "borderline hysterical," adding, "Cipollone would rip up the Constitution and make impeachment subject to presidential consent."

Shaub, now a senior adviser at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), went on to say, in reference to the White House counsel's bizarre argument, "Its underlining assumption, that the executive must consent to an impeachment inquiry, mistakes Trump for a king."

Neal Katyal, the former acting U.S. solicitor general, drew a similar conclusion, noting on Twitter that Cipollone is "saying in effect" that the American president is "a king."

New York's Adam K. Raymond noted a related argument that unfolded on Fox News soon after.

On Tuesday's episode of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle, Joseph diGenova did what Giuliani hasn't. The lawyer and ardent Trump fan appeared on the show right next to Giuliani, when he called the impeachment proceedings against Trump "regicide."

"What you're seeing is regicide," said diGenova.... "This is regicide by another name, fake impeachment."

If that name sounds familiar, it's because last year Trump decided to hire Joe diGenova, a far-right conspiracy theorist and frequent Fox News guest, to help defend him from the investigation into the Russia scandal. They parted ways seven days later.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.9.19

10/09/19 12:00PM

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

* A national Quinnipiac poll released yesterday found Elizabeth Warren holding onto her narrow lead over Joe Biden in the race for the Democratic nomination, 29% to 26%. Bernie Sanders was third with 16%, and no other candidate topped 5%.

* The same poll found Biden leading Donald Trump in a hypothetical general election match-up by 11 points (51% to 40%), Warren leading Trump by eight points (49% to 41%), and Sanders leading him by seven points (49% to 42%).

* Presidential hopeful Andrew Yang was at 3% in the Quinnipiac poll, which means he's now the eighth candidate to qualify for the Democrats' presidential primary debate in November.

* On a related note, we learned yesterday that MSNBC and the Washington Post will co-host the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate on Nov. 20 in Georgia. As NBC News' report on this added, "The specific location, venue, format and moderators will be announced at a later date."

* With just a few days remaining ahead of Louisiana's first round of balloting in the state's gubernatorial race, the latest Emerson poll found Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) leading the field with 48% -- which is awfully close to the 50% threshold he'd need to avoid a runoff and serve a second term. Eddie Rispone (R) was second in the poll with 25%, followed by Ralph Abraham (R) at 19%.

* At home in Vermont yesterday, Bernie Sanders told reporters that in the wake of his heart attack that he'll have to "change the nature of the campaign a bit." The independent senator suggested the shift will mean holding fewer campaign events.

* Because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is nothing if not shameless, his re-election campaign yesterday began promoting a Politico article pointing to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao's alleged favoritism for Kentucky. Chao, of course, is McConnell's wife. "Mitch McConnell is a Kentucky Asset," the senator's team wrote in a tweet highlighting the report.

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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)

Trump's Justice Department rejects Watergate-era precedent

10/09/19 11:07AM

During Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal, there was a federal grand jury collecting information, hearing testimony, and issuing subpoenas relevant to the probe. As Congress pursues impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, lawmakers now want access to that information, and because the Trump administration has nothing to hide, the White House is eager to provide those materials in the name of transparency.

No, I'm just kidding. The Trump administration is actually fighting tooth and nail to block the grand jury materials from reaching Capitol Hill.

Lawyers for House Democrats on Tuesday urged a federal judge to release grand jury testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation as Congress conducts an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Douglas Letter, an attorney for the Judiciary Committee, said the materials are needed to investigate what Trump knew about Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. The committee is seeking access to grand jury witness transcripts that could demonstrate obstruction of justice, among other things.

Attorneys for the Department of Justice, however, told Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell that the House Judiciary Committee has not gone through the correct legal process necessary to obtain the secret material, which was redacted in the version of Mueller's report given to Congress and released to the public.

Because if there's one thing we know about Trump administration lawyers, it's their unyielding fealty toward correct legal processes.

In terms of the underlying legal dispute, grand jury transcripts are kept secret, though they can be shared as part of "judicial proceedings." The ongoing case is testing whether an impeachment process counts as a judicial proceeding, and whether the U.S. House's current impeachment inquiry is legitimate.

Judge Beryl Howell hasn't yet ruled, though she seemed skeptical yesterday of the Republican arguments. But as Rachel noted on the show last night, of particular interest was Trump's Justice Department arguing against Watergate-era precedent.

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