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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.30.19

09/30/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Subpoenas: "The House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed President Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani for Ukraine-related documents as part of their impeachment inquiry."

* The editorial board of the Connecticut Post has called for Donald Trump to resign from office. Will other newspapers follow suit?

* Intensifying process: "House Democrats are moving swiftly in their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, subpoenaing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for key documents on Friday and announcing plans to haul in the intelligence community's top watchdog next week over a scheduled recess. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) confirmed Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community's inspector general, will testify in a closed session before the panel next Friday."

* I'm not sure what to make of this story: "President Trump met in the White House on Friday with Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, and discussed prospective gun legislation and whether the N.R.A. could provide support for the president as he faces impeachment and a more difficult re-election campaign, according to two people familiar with the meeting."

* All is not well with the Republican Party of North Carolina: "The former North Carolina GOP chairman will admit in court that he lied to federal agents conducting a bribery investigation of a major political donor, according to court documents."

* Mar-a-Lago: "A military official formerly in charge of all White House communications for the U.S. Army at Mar-a-Lago was sentenced to three years of probation on Friday after he made false statements to a federal agent during a child pornography investigation."

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Image: Rep. Chris Collins

NY Republican and Trump ally to change his plea in corruption case

09/30/19 12:40PM

When Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) was brought up on federal felony charges last year, he initially tried to back out of his re-election campaign. When state laws got in the way, the New York Republican reversed course and local voters re-elected him anyway in the single "reddest" congressional district in the northeast.

After pleading not guilty three weeks ago, Collins said he hadn't yet decided whether to run again in 2020. It now appears his future plans have taken an unexpected turn. NBC News reported this morning:

The first member of Congress to announce his support for Donald Trump's presidential bid is likely to plead guilty Tuesday to charges relating to insider trading, according to documents filed in federal court Monday.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., is scheduled to appear for a "change of plea" hearing in a Manhattan courtroom at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Collins pleaded not guilty to insider trading and several other charges when he was first indicted in 2018. Experts say the hearing means he is likely changing his plea to guilty.

Assuming there isn't another dramatic shift, when Collins changes his plea, the legal process will likely advance to the sentencing phase. If the GOP lawmaker ends up in prison, it's a safe bet he'll have to give up his House seat, though it's too soon to say how quickly this might happen. [Update: see below.]

Broadly speaking, there are a couple of angles to the controversy to keep in mind. The first is that the evidence against Collins was pretty brutal.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.30.19

09/30/19 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) became the latest House Republican to announce his retirement this morning. He's also the sixth Texas Republican this year to call it quits ahead of the 2020 cycle. (Thornberry, incidentally, represents the single reddest House district in the country, which suggests the GOP will keep his seat.)

* In South Carolina's Democratic presidential primary, the latest CNN poll shows Joe Biden maintaining his lead with 37% support, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 16% and Bernie Sanders at 11%. No other candidate topped 5%.

* In Nevada, meanwhile, CNN's poll found Biden and Sanders tied at 22% each, while Warren was third at 18%. Kamala Harris was fourth with 5%.

* Cory Booker's team suggested the New Jersey senator would end his Democratic presidential campaign if it fell short of its quarterly fundraising goals, but Booker announced via Twitter that his operation reached its target.

* Though competitive presidential candidates from both parties have steered clear of accepting public financing in recent years, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will apparently become the first Democratic contender to participate in the system.

* In South Carolina, CNN's poll found 62% percent of Republican voters approve of their state party's decision to cancel the GOP presidential primary. That's an unflattering rebuke of Mark Sanford, the former governor and congressman from South Carolina, who's challenging Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.

* For reasons I cannot explain, the National Republican Congressional Committee thought it'd be a good idea to publicly mock freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) for having been to marriage counseling with his wife.

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Image: FILE: Trump Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert Resigns

Former Trump adviser tried to warn him about Ukraine conspiracy theory

09/30/19 11:25AM

It's uncommon for former prominent members of Donald Trump's team to say unflattering things about him on the record, which made Tom Bossert's comments yesterday so notable.

Bossert, who served as the Republican's top homeland-security adviser in the White House, spoke to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos yesterday, and the host noted Trump's efforts to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help with, among other things, information on a crackpot conspiracy theory.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, what the president is referring to there is a debunked conspiracy theory that somehow Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the Democratic e-mails in 2016 and that Ukraine might have the DNC server or Hillary's emails. The details are both convoluted and false. And during your time in the White House, you explained that to the president, right?

BOSSERT: I did. It's not only a conspiracy, it is completely debunked.... At this point I am deeply frustrated with what [Rudy Giuliani] and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again, and for clarity here, George, let me just again repeat that it has no validity. The United States government reached its conclusion on attributing to Russia the DNC hack in 2016 before it even communicated it to the FBI, long before the FBI ever knocked on the door at the DNC.

So a server inside the DNC was not relevant to our determination to the attribution. It was made up front and beforehand. And so while servers can be important in some of the investigations that followed, it has nothing to do with the U.S. government's attribution of Russia of the DNC hack.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet the president keeps on repeating it.

In the same interview, Bossert added, "The DNC server and that conspiracy theory has got to go, they have to stop with that, it cannot continue to be repeated in discourse.... If [the president] continues to focus on that white whale, it's going to bring him down. Enough."

At a certain level, this may seem like painfully obvious advice, but remember, Bossert was the top voice in the Trump White House on matters related to homeland security and cybersecurity. For him to share his unmistakable frustrations with a national television audience over the president peddling nonsense was rather striking.

It was, as best as I can tell, the first example of a former administration official publicly rebuking Trump for his behavior related to the Ukraine scandal.

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GOP rep calls Trump's 'civil war' tweets 'beyond repugnant'

09/30/19 10:52AM

If Donald Trump's rhetorical choices are a reflection of his state of mind, the president is increasingly panicked about the scandal that's likely to lead to his impeachment. On Saturday, for example, he lashed out at several congressional Democrats -- four women of color and two Jewish committee chairs -- as "savages."

A day later, Trump accused Democrats of being "dangerous" and trying to "destabilize the United States of America." It was around the same time as the Republican suggested House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) should be investigated for "treason."

And then came the "civil war" references.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Monday to attack the whistleblower at the center of the growing Ukraine scandal and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff after promoting comments from a supportive pastor who told Fox News that the president's impeachment would lead to a "Civil War-like fracture in this nation." [...]

Trump's attacks came after he promoted remarks Sunday night from Dallas-based evangelical pastor and Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress -- one of Trump's most prominent backers -- during a Sunday interview on "Fox & Friends."

For those unfamiliar with Jeffress, his record of extremism is tough to defend, though Trump has embraced the right-wing pastor as a key political ally. (Chris Christie once said to associate with Robert Jeffress was "beneath the office of president of the United States." Trump, however, doesn't seem to care.)

And yet, there was Jeffress yesterday on Fox News, offering viewers a prediction: "If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, I'm afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal."

After Trump published a multi-tweet thread, quoting the right-wing pastor at length, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman from Illinois and an Iraq war veteran, published a tweet that read, "I have visited nations ravaged by civil war. [Donald Trump] I have never imagined such a quote to be repeated by a President. This is beyond repugnant."

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Trump presses for 'treason' probe targeting Adam Schiff

09/30/19 10:04AM

In the not-too-distant past, if a sitting American president accused a congressional leader of treason, it would've caused a political earthquake. And for good reason: while assorted partisans trade barbs and insults every day, treason is a capital offense.

But in the Donald Trump era, Americans have arrived at a point in which presidential accusations of treason have become nonsensical background noise.

Last night, for example, referring to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Trump declared via Twitter, "I want Schiff questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason." The Republican added this morning:

"Rep. Adam Schiff illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement, pretended it to be mine as the most important part of my call to the Ukrainian President, and read it aloud to Congress and the American people. It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?"

Some context is probably in order. During a hearing last week, Schiff used some paraphrases of Trump during some public remarks, some of which were obviously intended to deride the scandal-plagued president, which apparently made the president a little hysterical.

At no point has the Intelligence Committee chairman committed fraud or treason -- two words Trump uses quite a bit without knowing what they mean.

To be sure, there's nothing to suggest Schiff will be "questioned at the highest level" or "arrested" for anything, and if Attorney General Bill Barr's Justice Department were to seriously go after the congressman in response to the latest presidential tantrum, the broader scandal would take an even more scandalous turn.

But that doesn't make Trump's unhinged rhetoric any less ridiculous. Presidents are not supposed to casually throw around treason accusations whenever they're in a bad mood.

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Republicans try (and fail) to derail credibility of whistleblower

09/30/19 09:20AM

Helping drive the scandal that's likely to lead to Donald Trump's impeachment are two related documents. The first is a detailed call summary, released by the White House, that shows the American president pressing his Ukrainian counterpart to help with Trump's political schemes. The second is a complaint against Trump and his team, filed by a whistleblower from the U.S. intelligence community.

At least for now, Republicans don't know who the whistleblower is, but they seem to believe tearing down his/her credibility is key to protecting Trump. It led Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, to insist yesterday, "The transcript does not match the complaint."

The president himself has helped spearhead the effort, arguing on Friday that the assertions in the whistleblower's complaint have "proved to be so inaccurate." Trump has since asserted, "The Whistleblower's complaint is completely different and at odds from my actual conversation with the new President of Ukraine," adding, "The Fake Whistleblower complaint is not holding up."

I can appreciate the motivation behind the offensive. The whistleblower's complaint helped light the match, which has led the White House and its allies to believe tearing down his or her credibility will snuff out the larger controversy.

The trouble, of course, is that reality keeps getting in the way. As the Associated Press noted in a fact-check piece over the weekend:

The whistleblower's accusations have not been shown to be incorrect. Several key details have actually been corroborated. For example, the White House account of the July 25 phone call showed that the whistleblower had accurately summarized the conversation, as relayed by unidentified U.S. officials, in the complaint sent to the acting director of national intelligence.

The Washington Post published a rather detailed analysis along these lines, comparing the two documents, and noting their many close similarities. "It's sounding more and more as if the whistleblower is just as credible as the intelligence community's inspector general, and a subsequent review by the Office of Legal Counsel determined him or her to be," the piece concluded.

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Image: Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump

Offered opportunities, Trump's allies struggle to spin Ukraine scandal

09/30/19 08:42AM

The scandal that's likely to lead to Donald Trump's impeachment is a tough one to brush aside. The president tried to coerce a foreign government into helping with his re-election campaign. Members of his team knew this crossed a line, so they tried to cover it up. These are just some of the basic details we already know.

It's not surprising that Trump's more sycophantic allies are finding it daunting to defend him. It is surprising how bad their arguments are.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, before going golfing with the president, appeared on CBS' Face the Nation and dismissed the complaint from the intelligence community's whistleblower as "hearsay." Reminded of the official call summary released by the White House, Graham told host Margaret Brennan, "Never mind. You know you've got an opinion and I got an opinion."

It suggested the Senate Republican isn't altogether clear on the meaning of the words "hearsay" or "opinion."

Later in the day, on 60 Minutes, CBS News' Scott Pelley asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). "How do you expect the president's defense to roll out going forward?" McCarthy replied, "The defense of what?" as if the GOP leader didn't even recognize the scandal Trump's facing.

Also yesterday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was struggling through a rather brutal interview when CNN's Jake Tapper told the far-right congressman, "[T]he president was pushing the president of Ukraine to investigate a political rival. I cannot believe that that is OK with you."

I think that was more than a throwaway line. Trump's Republican allies, desperate in the zeal to defend him at all costs, act like they don't care what he did.

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Trying to defend Trump, GOP leader caught off guard by reality

09/30/19 08:00AM

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) occasionally gets into trouble for saying embarrassing things in private. A few years ago, for example, shortly before Donald Trump clinched the Republican Party's presidential nomination, McCarthy told his House GOP colleagues he thought Trump might be on Vladimir Putin's payroll.

But just as problematic for McCarthy is what he says in public. Exactly four years ago yesterday, for example, the California Republican appeared on Fox News and admitted that his party's Benghazi Committee was a political tool intended to hurt Hillary Clinton's presidential election.

Last night, the House Minority Leader appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes to defend the president against the Ukraine scandal, but McCarthy appeared lost when Scott Pelley presented him with basic factual information.

PELLEY: What do you make of this exchange? President Zelensky says, "We are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes." And President Trump replies, "I would like you to do us a favor though."

MCCARTHY: You just added another word.

PELLEY: No, it's in the transcript.

MCCARTHY: He said- "I'd like you to do a favor though"?

PELLEY: Yes, it's in the White House transcript.

At the bottom of page two of the call summary, released by the White House, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is quoted talking about how eager his country is to receive additional military support from the United States. The very next words out of the American president's mouth, according to the document, are, "I would like you to do us a favor, though."

I don't understand why McCarthy didn't know that. In fact, when the House GOP leader was presented with the now-infamous quote, he reflexively assumed that the CBS News correspondent was engaged in a public deception, "adding another word."

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