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

After 'Moscow Mitch' push, McConnell backs down on security funding

09/20/19 09:20AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is accustomed to criticism, which the longtime GOP lawmaker tends to brush off with a degree of blithe indifference. But by all appearances, the "Moscow Mitch" label seemed to actually bother him.

The line of criticism took root over the summer, as Democratic lawmakers pushed a series of measures intended to protect U.S. elections from another Russian attack, only to have McConnell block each of the efforts for flimsy reasons. It led Dana Milbank to refer to the Senate's top Republican as "a Russian asset" who was "doing Russian President Vladimir Putin's bidding."

McConnell made little effort to hide his disgust with the criticisms. At the same time, however, they appear to have had an effect.

In a surprise development, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his support on Thursday for additional money to bolster the country's election system ahead of the 2020 vote, a move that counters his earlier position resisting calls for more funding.

McConnell, R-Ky., said he is co-sponsoring an amendment to an appropriations bill that would provide $250 million for election security.

Keep in mind, when Democrats brought up a measure last year to provide $250 million in election-security assistance to states, McConnell and his conference balked. Now, it's a different story.

Stepping back, it's been exasperating over the years to see McConnell shrug his shoulders in response to criticisms, no matter how fierce or widespread. From the Kentucky Republican's perspective, he's acted as if he's immune -- because for the most part, McConnell was.

The GOP leader has long been aware of the condemnations of his maximalist tactics, but he was unfazed because he's never seen a reason to care. McConnell expected to win re-election anyway and was confident his far-right conference would reward him.

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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)

To assist Trump, Giuliani says a bit too much about a foreign scheme

09/20/19 08:44AM

Rudy Giuliani is ostensibly one of Donald Trump's most prominent allies, though the former New York City Mayor tends to cause more trouble for the president than he resolves.

Take last night, for example.

Giuliani, one of Trump's personal lawyers, was interviewed by CNN's Chris Cuomo, and the host asked Giuliani whether he asked Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. "No," the Republican replied. "Actually, I didn't."

About 30 seconds later, viewers were treated to this exchange:

CUOMO: So, you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?

GIULIANI: Of course, I did.

CUOMO: You just said you didn't.

GIULIANI: No. I didn't ask them to look into Joe Biden.

It actually went downhill from there.

To be sure, watching Giuliani's apparent meltdown on national television was difficult. If he thought he was representing his client's interests, the former mayor was mistaken.

But this was about more than just a former prominent politician embarrassing himself on camera. There's actually a real story here, which may relate to the ongoing scandal about the intelligence community whistleblower.

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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)

Revelations bring Trump's whistleblower scandal into sharper focus

09/20/19 08:00AM

There are still some key elements of the whistleblower scandal that are not yet publicly available, but after reading the Washington Post's overnight scoop, the story is quickly coming into sharper focus.

A whistleblower complaint about President Trump made by an intelligence official centers on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter, which has set off a struggle between Congress and the executive branch.

The complaint involved communications with a foreign leader and a "promise" that Trump made, which was so alarming that a U.S. intelligence official who had worked at the White House went to the inspector general of the intelligence community, two former U.S. officials said.

Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and political newcomer who was elected in a landslide in May.

The New York Times also reported that the story involves Trump and Ukraine.

And if you've been following the news closely over the last few weeks, this doesn't necessarily come as a major surprise. Trump, putting aside the Pentagon's guidance, recently held off on delivering promised military aid to Ukraine, and according to the Washington Post, it's because the American president hoped to leverage the aid as part of an extortion scheme: Trump reportedly told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that if his country wanted the military assistance, his country would have to assist the Trump campaign by investigating Joe Biden.

If you’re wondering why in the world Ukraine would have anything to do with the 2020 race in the United States in the first place, the New York Times published a curious article in May, raising questions about Joe Biden’s work several years ago on a government-reform effort in Ukraine. There was some suggestion that the Delaware Democrat’s son may have benefited, but the claims of possible wrongdoing quickly unraveled, and the story went largely overlooked.

Trump and his team, however, believe that if they dig hard enough on this, there may be some dirt they could use.

It's against this backdrop that Trump reportedly made a "promise" that centered on Ukraine that was so provocative that a U.S. intelligence official filed a complaint with the inspector general of the intelligence community.

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Trump lawyers argue Trump can't be investigated or prosecuted

Trump lawyers argue Trump can't be investigated or prosecuted

09/19/19 09:06PM

Rachel Maddow reports on Donald Trump's legal argument to prevent Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance from obtaining Trump's past tax returns in his investigation of hush money payments by Trump and his associates. The argument includes the claim that not only can a sitting president not be indicted, they also can't be investigated. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.19.19

09/19/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Thursday that he believed it was likely that President Donald Trump or his aides were working to keep the details of an urgent complaint by an intelligence community whistleblower from Congress."

* Gun industry: "Colt will suspend production of AR-15 rifles for civilian sales, saying there's an 'adequate supply' of the high-powered weapons already in the market, the famed gun manufacturer said Thursday. The gun-maker, based in West Hartford, Connecticut, said its decision is purely market-driven and made no mention of any public pressure over the AR-15's use in several mass shootings in the United States."

* The president's lawyers sure are busy: "President Donald Trump on Thursday sued Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who subpoenaed eight years of Trump's personal and corporate tax returns earlier this month."

* Did it not occur to him that the public would find out? "A third instance of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in a costume and covered in blackface surfaced Thursday, hours after he admitted to two previous instances where he dramatically darkened his face."

* Technically, the next government-shutdown deadline is a week and a half away, but the crisis is likely to be avoided: "The House passed a short-term bill Thursday to prevent a federal shutdown when the budget year ends Sept. 30, and give lawmakers until the Thanksgiving break to negotiate and approve $1.4 trillion for federal agencies. The Senate is expected to approve the stopgap bill next week. The vote in the Democratic-run House on the bipartisan plan was 301-123."

* Adding to the list of Trump's failed overseas ventures: "It was billed by Donald Trump as an 'incredible' way to tour his golf resorts in the UK and Ireland... But Mr. Trump's bold vision of bolstering business at three of his loss-making courses by exporting one of his luxury helicopters across the Atlantic to woo wealthy golfers has failed to take off."

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Why Trump's response to the intel whistleblower scandal falls short

09/19/19 12:42PM

Nearly a week after the controversy first broke, Donald Trump today offered a response to reports about the complaint filed by an intelligence community whistleblower. The president's argument needs some work.

"Another Fake News story out there - It never ends! Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

"Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially 'heavily populated' call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!," he continued before calling the reports an example of "Presidential Harassment!"

So let me see if I have this straight. According to Donald Trump, we shouldn't believe he extended a provocative "promise" to a foreign leader because the American president is far too smart to do something dangerous around witnesses. Given the president's obvious limitations, the number of people likely to find this persuasive is small.

What's more, to characterize the controversy as "fake news" is ridiculous, even for Trump. There really was a complaint filed by an intelligence community whistleblower. The inspector general's office really did examine the complaint, and he really did consider it credible and urgent. The IG really did contact the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The DNI really did reach out to the Justice Department. They really did work on a plan to circumvent the legal process on congressional disclosure.

There's nothing "fake" about any of this.

Finally, Trump's assertion that he's far too clever to say "something inappropriate" to foreign officials might be easier to believe if there weren't already examples of him saying inappropriate things to foreign officials.

While the president works on his talking points, the intelligence community's inspector general who received the whistleblower's complaint was on Capitol Hill this morning, though the New York Times reports that his closed-door testimony hasn't gone especially well for those seeking answers.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.19.19

09/19/19 12:00PM

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

* On the heels of Bernie Sanders' campaign shaking up its staffing in New Hampshire, the Vermont senator's operation has also parted ways with its political director in Iowa.

* The latest national Fox News poll found Joe Biden leading the Democrats' 2020 field with 29% support, followed by Sanders at 18% and Elizabeth Warren at 16%. Sen. Kamala Harris was fourth with 7%, followed by Pete Buttigieg at 5% and Beto O'Rourke at 4%.

* In hypothetical general-election match-ups, the same poll also found Biden leading Donald Trump by 14 points (52% to 38%), while Sanders leads the president by eight (48% to 40%) and Warren leads by six (46% to 40%).

* With Kamala Harris' campaign struggling to reach the top tier, Politico reports that the senator's operation is shifting to "a new Iowa-or-bust strategy."

* It looks like North Carolina will be home to another competitive U.S. Senate race next year: Public Policy Polling found Cal Cunningham (D) with a slight lead over incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis (R), 45% to 43%,

* It looks like Massachusetts will be home to a tough Democratic Senate primary next year, with Rep. Joe Kennedy (D) taking on incumbent Sen. Ed Markey (D). Kennedy will reportedly kick off his statewide campaign this weekend.

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Pompeo tries to blame Iran deal for Trump admin's failures

09/19/19 11:20AM

The international nuclear agreement with Iran was working when Donald Trump decided to withdraw the United States from the pact. At the time, the White House said its new approach would be even more effective: at the president's behest, the Trump administration would impose a "maximum pressure" campaign that would keep Iran in line and produce great results for the world.

That approach has clearly failed. By any fair measure, Iran has become far more dangerous and taken steps that appear to be far more provocative. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday recommended that everyone look at reality with their heads tilted:

Pompeo defended this approach to reporters traveling with him to Saudi Arabia, saying, "There is this theme that some suggest that the president's strategy that we allowed isn't working. I would argue just the converse of that. I would argue that what you are seeing here is a direct result of us reversing the enormous failure of the JCPOA."

He was referring to the formal name of the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

This is an amazingly bad argument for two reasons. The first, obviously, is that the JCPOA wasn't failing at all. In fact, Trump knew it wasn't failing because his own team told him in 2017 that it was working exactly as intended -- leading the president to have "a bit of a meltdown."

Trump didn't want to be told the truth; he wanted to be told his false assumptions were correct. Pompeo may want to believe the JCPOA wasn't working, but his bogus assertions don't make it so.

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