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Will Trump lawyers boycott next phase of impeachment process?

11/27/19 10:14AM

About a month ago, when the U.S. House approved a resolution that formally established the impeachment process against Donald Trump, lawmakers created a roadmap for lawmakers to follow. Closed-door hearings would lead to public hearings with the House Intelligence Committee. Soon after, the panel would prepare a report for the House Judiciary Committee, which would consider drafting and voting on articles of impeachment.

With this in mind, it raised a few eyebrows yesterday when the Judiciary Committee made an unexpected announcement:

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday announced it will hold its first public impeachment hearing next week, and invited President Donald Trump and his lawyers "to participate."

"I am hopeful that you and your counsel will opt to participate in the Committee's hearing, consistent with the rules of decorum and with the solemn nature before us," Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a letter announcing the hearing.

Nadler said the hearing, which will focus on "Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment," will take place on Dec. 4.

The announcement signaled an important procedural step -- it suggests, among other things, that the Intelligence Committee probably won't hold additional hearings -- but it was also the moment the White House claimed to be waiting for.

In fact, theoretically, Nadler's announcement opens the door to a unique opportunity for the White House. Donald Trump recently complained that the impeachment process was "a farce," in part because his lawyers haven't been able to make their case. The argument never really made any sense, largely because it was made too early: the president's defense team would be able to make their arguments once a report was prepared and presented to the Judiciary Committee.

And now that the process has reached that stage, the Judiciary Committee has invited Trump's lawyers to participate, make their case, and present a defense.

Except they may not want to.

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Pointing to imagined threat, Trump vows to rescue 'Happy Thanksgiving'

11/27/19 09:20AM

In Donald Trump's mind, he singlehandedly saved the phrase "Merry Christmas." The president has repeated the boast many times, including in June, when he told a religious right audience how "proud" he is of the phrase he pretends to have rescued.

Last night, however, at a rally in south Florida, Trump turned his attention to another upcoming holiday.

He painted a world in which he and the audience united once more in 2020 to fight back against a number of adversaries, including those who wanted to stop saying "Happy Thanksgiving." (It was unclear who those people were and what they wanted to say instead.)

The president did not appear to be kidding. "You know, some people want to change the name 'Thanksgiving,'" Trump told his followers, failing to identify who these "people" are. "They don't want to use the term 'Thanksgiving', and that was true also with Christmas, but now everybody's using 'Christmas' again. Remember, I said that? But now we're going to have to do a little work on Thanksgiving."

He added, "People have different ideas why it shouldn't be called 'Thanksgiving,' but everybody in this room, I know, loves the name 'Thanksgiving' and we're not changing it."

Obviously, this is deeply foolish, even by Trump standards. At least when some on the right got hysterical about "Happy Holidays," conservatives could point to actual examples of people and businesses using the inclusive phrase. There is no comparable effort to change Thanksgiving's name.

Trump just made it up.

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at a press conference after appearing in court to call for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Trump's latest line on Giuliani should probably make him nervous

11/27/19 08:40AM

All things considered, the fall season has been a rough time for Rudy Giuliani.

Testimony from the impeachment process puts the former New York City mayor near the center of the Ukraine scandal. His associates are facing criminal trouble. Giuliani himself appears to be under an intensifying criminal investigation. Key figures are prepared to testify against him. There's increased scrutiny of his lobbying efforts on behalf of foreign clients, and the resulting image is deeply unflattering.

It's against this backdrop that Giuliani's most powerful client, Donald Trump, sat down with Bill O'Reilly yesterday. Bloomberg Politics reported:

Donald Trump denied directing Rudy Giuliani to go to Ukraine to look for dirt on his political rivals, in an interview with former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.

"No, I didn't direct him, but he is a warrior, he is a warrior," Trump told O'Reilly in an interview streamed on the internet on Tuesday.

Asked by O'Reilly what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine, Trump said "you have to ask that to Rudy."

The president added, "Rudy has other clients, other than me."

When the host asked, "You didn't direct him to go [to Ukraine] on your behalf?" Trump replied, "No."

First, this probably wasn't the answer Giuliani was hoping to hear from his client. Second, the president's line is literally unbelievable.

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The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

Why two White House officials resigned over Trump's Ukraine scheme

11/27/19 08:00AM

The leverage part of Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal has already come into sharp focus. The publicly available information makes clear that the president and his team tried to extort a vulnerable ally, withholding military aid unless Ukraine agreed to help Trump's domestic political scheme.

What's less understood is the process through which the Republican and his operation withheld the aid in the first place. With this in mind, the U.S. House yesterday released two more deposition transcripts, including one from Mark Sandy, the deputy associate director for national security programs at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

To put it mildly, Sandy, the first OMB official to testify as part of the congressional impeachment inquiry, gave lawmakers some important insights that we did not previously know.

Mark Sandy, a career staffer in the White House Office of Management and Budget, told impeachment investigators that two budget staffers left the agency after expressing frustrations about the unexplained hold on Ukrainian aid, according to new closed-door transcripts released Tuesday.

Sandy said that one staffer, who worked in OMB's legal office and whose name was undisclosed, told him they were leaving the agency, at least in part, because of their concerns regarding the hold on Ukraine security assistance.

As the scandal has unfolded, there's been considerable debate about the seriousness of the allegations and the degree to which they meet constitutional standards for impeachment. But these latest details lead to different questions: what prompted Trump to put a hold on the congressionally approved military aid and was that legal?

Mark Sandy's testimony sheds light on both lines of inquiry.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.26.19

11/26/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Mark your calendars for Dec. 4: "The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday announced it will hold its first public impeachment hearing next week, and invited President Donald Trump and his lawyers 'to participate.'"

* A case worth watching: "The House Oversight Committee filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Attorney General Bill Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for blocking its probe into the administration's failed efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, calling their actions a 'brazen obstruction of Congress.'"

* New OMB documents: "The White House Office of Management and Budget made its first official move to withhold military aid to Ukraine on July 25, the same day President Donald Trump spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy by phone, according to a summary of OMB documents produced by the House Budget Committee."

* In related news: "A federal judge on Monday issued a preliminary injunction ordering the Department of Defense and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for records relating to the Trump administration's freeze on security aid to Ukraine."

* What a strange case: "A Chinese businesswoman was sentenced on Monday to eight months in prison and ordered to be deported for trespassing at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida carrying a trove of electronics."

* Hmm: "David Pecker, the head of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, has spoken with prosecutors with the New York district attorney's office as part of its investigation into the Trump Organization's handling of hush money payments to women who alleged affairs with President Donald Trump, sources with knowledge of the meeting tell CNN."

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Pompeo points to a 'duty' to examine a discredited conspiracy theory

11/26/19 12:49PM

In late September, when the White House released a call summary of Donald Trump's phone meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the public learned of the kind of "favors" the Republican sought from his counterpart. Trump didn't just want Kyiv to go after one of his domestic rivals; he also brought a crackpot conspiracy theory.

"This whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike," the call summary quotes Trump saying. "I guess you have one of your wealthy people... The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation."

A week later, as the New York Times reported, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump's request to Zelensky, despite the fact that the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory is both ridiculous and discredited. As the report from early October explained, Pompeo said it was "the 'duty' of the Trump administration to pursue whether efforts to tamper in the United States election were rooted in Ukraine, even though the American intelligence agencies have long concluded Russia was to blame."

Nearly two months later, as The Daily Beast noted, the secretary of State's line hasn't improved.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested in a Tuesday press conference that a conspiracy theory that Ukraine and not Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016 is a legitimate line of inquiry.

Asked if the U.S. and Ukraine should investigate whether "Ukraine and not Russia hacked the DNC," Pompeo, who previously served as CIA director, replied: "Anytime there is information that indicates that any country has messed with American elections, we not only have a right but a duty to make sure we chase that down."

It's worth emphasizing that Pompeo did not explicitly endorse the unhinged conspiracy theory or accuse Ukraine, by name, of any wrongdoing.

But the Kansas Republican's rhetoric seemed to leave open the possibility that the discredited conspiracy theory has merit, enough to warrant official examination. Pompeo could've used this opportunity to make clear that the U.S. government holds Russia responsible for Russia's attack on our elections -- but he didn't.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.26.19

11/26/19 12:00PM

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

* In New Hampshire, the latest Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll showed a very competitive contest featuring four candidates within four points of one another. Bernie Sanders is out in front with 16%, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 14%, Pete Buttigieg at 13%, and Joe Biden at 12%.

* On a related note, the same poll found Tulsi Gabbard, fueled in large part by support from non-Democratic voters, at 6% in New Hampshire, while Andrew Yang was at 4%. The results move both of them closer to qualifying for the party's December primary debate.

* In a significant staffing development, Vanessa Cárdenas, who oversaw outreach to Latino, African-American, and women's groups for Joe Biden's presidential campaign, has stepped down from the former vice president's operation.

* A federal judge in Michigan yesterday rejected a Republican argument and cleared the way for a new redistricting commission to advance. Last fall, Michigan voters easily approved a ballot measure to create the commission as a way to counteract gerrymandering.

* John Gray, the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, confirmed yesterday that Sen. Tom Cotton (R) will not have a Democratic rival next year. Josh Mahony was supposed to be the party's U.S. Senate candidate, but he withdrew from the race a few hours after the state's filing deadline had passed and has reportedly "ceased communication with party leaders." (Notable footnote from recent history: in 2008, when Democrat Mark Pryor ran for re-election to this same seat, he ran without a Republican opponent.)

* It appears former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's extensive financial support for Republican candidates in recent years hasn't gone unnoticed as he moves forward with his 2020 Democratic presidential campaign.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

On impeachment polling, it's Trump vs. independent data

11/26/19 10:55AM

Following two weeks of brutal hearings in the House impeachment inquiry, which presented an ugly picture to the public of Donald Trump's apparent guilt, the president has convinced himself that Americans are finally starting to see things his way.

On Monday morning, he offered some thoughts about polling on impeachment: "Support for Impeachment is dropping like a rock, down into the 20's in some Polls. Dems should now get down to work and finally approve USMCA, and much more!"

That tweet echoed one from Sunday, in which he declared that "polls have now turned very strongly against Impeachment, especially in swing states." Polling now showed that only 25 percent of those surveyed supported impeachment, according to his tweet.

The president published a related missive this morning, ostensibly quoting someone on Fox News describing the latest polling as "actually devastating to the Democrats."

Part of the problem with Trump's pitch is that he seems to be pointing to data that does not exist outside of his imagination. There are no national polls, for example, that put support for impeachment at just 25%. Literally none show the national figure "down into the 20s." Republicans were awfully excited about an Emerson poll showing support slipping to 43%, but (a) that poll appears to be an outlier; and (b) there's a significant difference between 43% and 25%.

Complicating matters is the other data we've seen since the president made his dubious declarations. The latest Politico/Morning Consult poll, for example, found 50% of Americans support impeaching Trump and removing him from office, a figure that's up three points since the previous survey taken before last week's hearings.

The latest CNN poll, released this morning, also found 50% of Americans supporting Trump's impeachment and removal from office. And while those numbers haven't budged in recent weeks, they reflect a dramatic shift since the spring.

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File photo taken in November 2017 shows U.S. President Donald Trump (and Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a welcome ceremony in Beijing.

Evidence knocks down Trump claims on China, tariffs (again)

11/26/19 10:03AM

Late last week, Donald Trump called into Fox News for a rambling, 53-minute interview in which the president made an astonishing number of ridiculous claims. Among them, however, was a familiar refrain.

"We're taking in hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs [from China]," Trump said. "We never took in 10 cents. We are not paying like, you know, you -- they fed the line, you know, the media fed the line about us paying."

All of this, of course, was wrong. In reality, for example, we're not taking in hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs from China. What's more, we have taken in more than "10 cents" from Beijing in years past.

As for blaming "the media" for telling the public that American consumers are actually paying for the White House's tariffs on Beijing, journalists aren't the only ones telling people the truth. Liberty Street Economics published this report yesterday, answering a straightforward question: "Who Pays the Tax on Imports from China?"

Tariffs are a form of taxation. Indeed, before the 1920s, tariffs (or customs duties) were typically the largest source of funding for the U.S. government. Of little interest for decades, tariffs are again becoming relevant, given the substantial increase in the rates charged on imports from China.

U.S. businesses and consumers are shielded from the higher tariffs to the extent that Chinese firms lower the dollar prices they charge. U.S. import price data, however, indicate that prices on goods from China have so far not fallen. As a result, U.S. wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers, and consumers are left paying the tax.

As Catherine Rampell noted, "This is at least the fifth independent analysis finding that Americans are bearing the cost of Trump's tariffs."

And yet, with unnerving frequency, the president keeps telling Americans the opposite, reality be damned. All of which brings us back to a question that's difficult to answer: does Trump actually believe the nonsense he keeps asking us to believe?

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

On centennial coins, Trump struggles with how time works

11/26/19 09:21AM

There was a point last year at which Harley-Davidson announced plans to move some of its production overseas as a result of Donald Trump's trade policies. The president. outraged, responded that customers were so angry with the developments that they'd pushed down Harley-Davidson's sales numbers in 2017.

That, of course, didn't make any sense. Consumers upset by developments in 2018 can't affect sales in 2017. Trump was so eager to make a strange political point that he briefly seemed to forget how time works.

Yesterday, it happened again, when Trump signed the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, which directs the Treasury to issue a commemorative coin to honor the 100th anniversary of American women getting the right to vote. After signing the measure -- which passed both the House and Senate unanimously -- the president decided to take a moment to reflect on what he considered important: his own awesomeness.

"I am curious why wasn't it done a long time ago and also, well, I guess the answer to that is because now I am president and we get things done.

"We get a lot of things done that nobody else got done."

Well, if Trump is "curious" why other presidents didn't sign the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, I can help. In this country, the women's suffrage movement led to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919, and its ratification in 1920.

No one tried to honor the centennial of this because -- and this is important -- centennials mark the hundredth anniversary of things. In order to recognize the centennial of something that happened in 1920, we had to wait until around 2020, because that's how time works.

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After echoing Russian propaganda, GOP senator tries to walk it back

11/26/19 08:41AM

U.S. officials have urged policymakers, more than once, not to promote Russian disinformation about the attack on our 2016 elections. In fact, the New York Times reported late last week that American intelligence professionals have "informed senators and their aides in recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow's own hacking of the 2016 election."

It was against this backdrop that Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) appeared on Fox News over the weekend, fielding a question from Chris Wallace about which country was responsible for Russia's attack. "I don't know, nor do you, nor do any of us," the Republican senator replied.

The host reminded the Louisianan that the entirety of his own country's intelligence community pointed to Russia's culpability. "Right, but it could also be Ukraine," Kennedy said, apparently indifferent to the fact that he was helping disseminate the Kremlin's bogus message.

As Politico noted, the GOP senator adopted a different position last night.

Sen. John N. Kennedy (R-La.) walked back on a comment he made Sunday supporting the debunked theory that Ukraine hacked the Democratic National Committee's emails in 2016.

"I was wrong," Kennedy said Monday night on CNN. "The only evidence I have, and I think it's overwhelming, is that it was Russia to tried to hack the DNC computer." [...]

[S]peaking with CNN's Chris Cuomo on Monday, Kennedy said he misheard Wallace's question.

Because it's uncommon to see politicians publicly admit mistakes, there's something refreshing, even heartening, about Kennedy's on-air acknowledgement that he was wrong.

But at the risk of sounding picky, the senator's walkback wasn't as compelling as it could've been.

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After judge rejects Trump's 'absolute immunity' claim, now what?

11/26/19 08:00AM

When it comes to obstruction allegations surrounding Donald Trump, former White House Counsel Don McGahn is not just another witness: few figures play as important a role in the Mueller report as the former White House counsel. As we've discussed, the Republican lawyer spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and the special counsel's findings cited McGahn more than 150 times.

In some of the episodes in which Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what the former White House Counsel told investigators.

Indeed, as the special counsel's findings made clear, McGahn very nearly resigned because the president directed him to "do crazy s**t," including an incident in which, according to McGahn, Trump pressed the lawyer to push the Justice Department to derail the Russia investigation by getting rid of Mueller and creating a false document to cover that up.

Not surprisingly, Congress subpoenaed McGahn to testify. The former White House counsel refused to comply after Trump ordered him to ignore the lawmakers' summons. But is that legal? Can a president direct someone not to comply with a lawful federal subpoena? As NBC News' Pete Williams reported, a federal judge ruled late yesterday that Trump exceeded his authority -- and McGahn must obey the subpoena issued by the House Judiciary Committee.

Federal District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said McGahn must appear before Congress but retains the ability to "invoke executive privilege where appropriate" during his appearance. The judge did not put her own ruling on hold, but the Trump administration will likely seek one to put the effect of her ruling on hold while it pursues an appeal.

"It is clear to this Court for the reasons explained above that, with respect to senior-level presidential aides, absolute immunity from compelled congressional process simply does not exist," Jackson said in her ruling.

"Presidents are not kings," she added.

The full ruling is online here. As Rachel explained on the show last night, "This is a ruling that is designed to be read by people who are outside this case. This is a ruling, I think, in the specific, that is designed to remind us all what kind of government the Constitution spells out for us and why, when all else fails, we should be able to count on the judiciary, the court system, the rule of law, to protect the Constitution, to make sure that the law is upheld. To make sure that nobody is above the law."

So, what happens now?

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