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Trump wields DOJ as Russia, media reprise 2016 roles for 2020

Trump wields DOJ as Russia, media reprise 2016 roles for 2020

10/21/19 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow looks at the curiously quiet treatment of the end of the Hillary Clinton e-mail story that shaped the 2016 election and notes that the media seems no better prepared for Russia's continued online campaigns to help Donald Trump, but for the 2020 election Donald Trump has the power and authority of Attorney General Bill Barr and... watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 10.21.19

10/21/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Israel: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he could not form a new government after President Reuven Rivlin asked him to try in the wake of a deadlocked election. Netanyahu's decision to cut short his efforts leaves the country's political future -- and his own -- uncertain."

* Brexit: "House of Commons Speaker John Bercow ruled Monday that the government could not ask lawmakers to vote again on the Brexit deal, in the latest blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson."

* Facebook unveiled plans today "to fight 2020 election interference. It will clearly label news that comes from state-owned media, and will give greater transparency for the origins of Facebook pages. And it has already found interference coming from authoritarian regimes overseas."

* Nuclear proliferation: "Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants more than control over a wide swath of Syria along his country's border. He says he wants the Bomb."

* An appropriate honor: "The body of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Baltimore Democrat and committee chairman, will lie in state next week in National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced."

* Jose Segovia Benitez: "Supporters of a Marine combat veteran who served in Iraq are calling on the governor of California to help stop his imminent deportation to El Salvador, a country he left at 3 years old."

* More evidence for the White House to ignore: "Home values could fall significantly. Banks could stop lending to flood-prone communities. Towns could lose the tax money they need to build sea walls and other protections. These are a few of the warnings published on Thursday by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco regarding the financial risks of climate change."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump signs a presidential proclamation on tariffs

Trump's awkward declaration on 'Character Counts Week'

10/21/19 04:30PM

A standard part of the American presidency is issuing assorted declarations and proclamations, and for the most part, they go largely overlooked. Donald Trump's declarations and proclamations, however, tend to be more problematic than most.

When the Republican recognized Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, for example, we were reminded of the many women who've accused Trump of sexual misconduct. On National POW/MIA Recognition Day, we were reminded of the president's snide mockery of former prisoners of war. On World Autism Day, we're reminded of the ridiculous things Trump has said about autism and vaccines.

And then there's this week, which is apparently "National Character Counts Week." Trump's latest proclamation emphasizes the importance of inspiring future leaders to "lead lives of virtue and integrity," and providing them with a strong "moral compass."

"[C]haracter is developed consciously through exemplary effort and respect for others.

"Throughout this week, and each day of our lives, may we strive to demonstrate good character through our thoughts, discourse, and deeds in our homes, schools, workplaces, and houses of worship. Let us set an example for others of the timeless values of respect, compassion, justice, tolerance, fairness, and integrity. May we never forget that our Nation is only as strong as the virtue and character of our citizenry."

The Washington Post's Michael Gerson had a column a couple of years ago, wondering whether Trump is "morally equipped to be president." The piece highlighted Trump's "vulgarity and smallness, which have been the equivalent of spray-painting graffiti on the Washington Monument."

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Trump rejects inconvenient part of the US Constitution as 'phony'

10/21/19 03:21PM

Donald Trump abandoned his plan to host next year's G7 summit at one of his struggling businesses, but the president still seems pretty annoyed that his scheme fell apart. This morning, for example, the Republican continued tweeting, for no apparent reason, about how great it would've been to hold the international gathering at his Doral, Florida, golf resort.

This afternoon, as Politico reported, Trump continued whining.

President Donald Trump on Monday claimed he's receiving unfair scrutiny because of the "phony emoluments clause," as he defended his prior decision to host next year's G-7 summit at his Doral resort in Miami.

Trump over the weekend reversed himself and canceled plans to hold the meeting of world leaders at his property after numerous critics questioned whether the move would violate a Constitutional clause that forbids a president from profiting from foreign governments or receiving any money from the U.S. government except his or her annual salary.

"You people with this phony emoluments clause," Trump said has he took questions from reporters during a Cabinet meeting.

It's worth emphasizing, whether the president realizes this or not, that his emoluments troubles pre-date his G7 gambit. There have been multiple court cases, for example, challenging Trump's D.C. hotel accepting foreign funds, which indirectly end up in the Republican's pocket.

But more important is the fact that Trump considers the emoluments clause to the Constitution "phony." That's absurd, even by 2019 standards.

Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution -- a document, incidentally, that Trump swore to preserve, protect, and defend -- states, "[N]o Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

The Constitution's framers took very seriously the threat of American officials being beholden to foreign powers, which is why this clause of the Constitution is more than a legal afterthought. Rather, it's a key principle of the document that created our government.

To be sure, it was relatively obscure before the Trump era, but that's largely because we haven't traditionally had many leading American officials who've tried to accept funds from foreign states.

But stepping back, there's a broader concern about the president's occasional hostility for the Constitution he has a responsibility to uphold.

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With a whimper, State Dept ends examination of Clinton emails

10/21/19 12:58PM

When Donald Trump holds campaign rallies, it's common to hear the president's followers chant "lock her up" in unison -- three years removed from the 2016 election, and seven years after Hillary Clinton left public office. It's easy to forget sometimes the ostensible reason so many on the far-right still want to see the former secretary of State incarcerated.

Whether Republicans have thought this through or not, the core allegation against Clinton was that she mishandled classified information -- to a literally criminal degree -- with a private email server. An FBI investigation determined that there was no need to charge the former cabinet secretary with anything, and as the Washington Post reported, a State Department probe reached a similarly underwhelming conclusion.

A multiyear State Department probe of emails that were sent to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton's private computer server concluded there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information by department employees, according to a report submitted to Congress this month.

The report appears to represent a final and anticlimactic chapter in a controversy that overshadowed the 2016 presidential campaign and exposed Clinton to fierce criticism that she later cited as a major factor in her loss to President Trump.

The New York Times, which has a deeply unfortunate record on covering this story, ran its article on the State Department's findings on page A16 of its Saturday print edition. The print headline read, "Quiet Ending For Inquiry Into Emails And Server."

There's some truth to that. It's probably not a coincidence that Donald Trump's State Department, led by an unabashed partisan, released its findings on a Friday afternoon. Had officials uncovered evidence that Clinton systemically and deliberately mishandled classified information, it's a safe bet the Trump administration would've made more of a fuss.

Call it a hunch.

But the Times' use of the word "quiet" struck me as notable, in large part because the adjective reflects an editorial choice. The State Department's findings don't have to be "quiet"; they only go unnoticed if major news organizations -- many of which obsessively told American voters that email server protocols were a pressing national issue of historic importance -- decide that the revelations don't much matter.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.21.19

10/21/19 12:00PM

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

* The U.S. Supreme Court this morning "threw out a challenge" to Michigan's gerrymandered legislative map. As Reuters reported, the high court's action "voided an order in April by a three-judge panel to rework 34 districts in the state legislature and U.S. House of Representatives whose boundaries were crafted purely to advantage Republicans."

* A new Suffolk/USA Today poll of Iowa Democrats shows a competitive presidential nominating contest, with Joe Biden narrowly leading Elizabeth Warren, 18% to 17%, with Pete Buttigieg not far behind with 13%. Bernie Sanders slipped to fourth in this poll, with 9% support.

* Also of interest, Amy Klobuchar was at 3% in the poll -- she's tied for fifth place -- which I think will help move the Minnesota Democrat closer to qualifying for next month's presidential primary debate.

* Speaking of Minnesota, a new Star Tribune poll found Donald Trump trailing each of the top Democratic contenders in 2020 match-ups. Despite the president's recent insistence that he expects to win Minnesota next year, the poll showed him trailing Warren by nine points, Biden by 12 points, and Klobuchar by 17 points.

* On the heels of Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) suggesting he'd consider supporting Trump's impeachment, the Florida Republican announced he'll retire after just two terms in the U.S. House.

* The day after acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, "Get over it" after acknowledging the White House's quid-pro-quo scheme with Ukraine, Trump's re-election campaign began selling t-shirts with the same phrase.

* Julian Castro's presidential campaign announced this morning that the former House secretary will end his presidential bid without an additional $800,000 in donations over the next 10 days. Of course, even if the Texas Democrat gets the money, he's still not yet close to meeting the polling threshold for next month's primary debate.

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Why does Trump think we've 'taken control' of Middle Eastern oil?

10/21/19 11:20AM

On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump tried again to defend his highly controversial policy in Syria, telling reporters, "We've taken control of the oil in the Middle East, the oil that we're talking about; the oil that everybody was worried about. We have -- the U.S. has control of that."

The comments sparked a series of questions, since no one seemed to know what the president was talking about. My guess was that Trump might've been referring to U.S. troops being deployed to Saudi Arabia, where local oil facilities were recently attacked, but I had no idea whether the guess was correct.

Apparently, Trump had a different country's oil in mind. He published a tweet yesterday that read:

Mark Esperanto, Secretary of Defense, "The ceasefire is holding up very nicely. There are some minor skirmishes that have ended quickly. New areas being resettled with the Kurds." USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones. We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!

The president eventually deleted this, probably because his Defense secretary's name is Mark Esper, not Mark Esperanto. But that wasn't the only problem with the missive.

For one thing, the quote Trump attributed to the Pentagon chief appears to have been made up. No one heard Esper say anything like this to anyone, and a Washington Post reporter added that administration officials were "confused" by the president's tweet.

For another, the assertions Trump tweeted appear to be completely wrong. The "ceasefire" hasn't stopped the violence; the "skirmishes" haven't ended; the Kurds still have nowhere to go; U.S. troops are not out of harm's way; and American servicemen and women are not on their way "home."

But as important as these falsehoods were, note that Trump again echoed the point he emphasized on Friday, tweeting, "We have secured the Oil." (In the deleted tweet, the president asserted this on his own; in a subsequent tweet, he attributed this directly to Esper, despite the fact that there's no evidence of the Pentagon secretary making the claim.)

So, what's he talking about?

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Trump boasts he's bringing troops home from Syria (except he's not)

10/21/19 10:40AM

Facing bipartisan criticisms for his dangerous new policy in northern Syria, Donald Trump has repeatedly emphasized a core priority as a fundamental defense: the American president has said he's desperate to bring American troops "back home."

"Bring our troops back home.... It's time to bring them home," the Republican told supporters at a campaign rally two weeks ago. Trump's pushed the same message on Twitter, arguing last week, "I am the only person who can fight for the safety of our troops & bring them home." He added at an unrelated White House event that it's "time to bring our soldiers back home."

There's ample room for debate about the wisdom of the Republican's policy, and whether he's pursuing the most responsible course. What's far less debatable is whether he's bringing U.S. troops home -- because as the Associated Press reported, "That's not what he's doing."

While the U.S. has begun what the Pentagon calls a deliberate withdrawal of troops from Syria, Trump himself has said that the 200 to 300 U.S. service members deployed to a southern Syria outpost in Al-Tanf will remain there.

And on Saturday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the current plan calls for all U.S. troops who are leaving Syria to go to western Iraq, not home. They number more than 700.

Asked Sunday why troops weren't coming home as Trump said they would, his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said: "Well, they will eventually."

Mulvaney's response wasn't exactly compelling. No one's suggested the president is relocating U.S. troops to the Middle East, making foreign countries their permanent new home. The trouble is, the more Trump says, "It's time to bring them home," the more he leads Americans to believe those troops are en route to U.S. soil, which is plainly not the case.

In fact, by some accounts, Trump's entire withdrawal plan appears to be in doubt. NBC News had this report earlier today:

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Trump manages to find yet another former lobbyist for his cabinet

10/21/19 10:00AM

Before Donald Trump took office, the U.S. Energy secretary was Ernest Moniz, one of the nation's leading nuclear physicists and a longtime MIT professor. He succeeded Barack Obama's first Energy secretary, Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate and a celebrated physics professor at UC Berkley.

Even George W. Bush seemed to recognize the importance of having someone with a strong scientific background in this post, making Samuel Bodman, who had an MIT chemical engineering background, as his Energy secretary.

Trump, however, went in a very different direction, tapping Texas Gov. Rick Perry for the job, despite the fact that the governor had no scientific background, and despite the fact that Perry had publicly called for the elimination of the cabinet agency he'd soon lead.

Embroiled in scandal, Perry is stepping down, and now we know whom the Republican president has in mind as his successor in the cabinet.

President Donald Trump on Friday tapped Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette to succeed Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who is expected to leave the agency's top post at the end of the year.

Brouillette -- whose broad experience in Washington's backrooms includes stints as a top lobbyist for the Ford Motor Company, the chief of staff for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and senior Energy Department roles in multiple administrations -- is a "total professional," Trump said in nominating him.

In a GOP-led Senate, Brouillette's confirmation is a safe bet, and when he arrives in the White House cabinet, he'll be one of several members with backgrounds in corporate lobbying. Indeed, Brouillette was a top lobbyist for Ford, and his nomination comes on the heels of Trump tapping Mark Esper, a former lobbyist for a leading defense contractor, to serve as the secretary of Defense.

That nomination came just one month after the president traveled to Orlando to officially launch his re-election campaign, boasting to supports, “We stared down the unholy alliance of lobbyists and donors and special interests, who made a living bleeding our country dry. That’s what we’ve done.”

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On the defensive, Sec of State Pompeo struggles with basic questions

10/21/19 09:21AM

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, caught up in Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal, sat down with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos yesterday, presumably to push back against the intensifying controversy. In hindsight, that may not have been a good idea.

When the host asked the secretary of State, for example, whether it's appropriate for the administration to condition military aid to a vulnerable ally on a political scheme, Pompeo replied, "I'm not going to get into hypotheticals."

The problem, of course, is that there's nothing "hypothetical" about this. It was just four days ago when the White House publicly acknowledged the scheme.

Viewers were also treated to this gem:

STEPHANOPOULOS: [W]e do know that so much of -- and this is by his own admission -- that so much of this activity [in Ukraine] was being carried out by the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Was he acting with your blessing and supervision?

POMPEO: George, I have had one consistent policy as the secretary of state, to not talk about internal deliberations inside the administration.

But therein lies the rub: Giuliani wasn't part of the administration.

There was also this exchange about former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch:

STEPHANOPOULOS: She testified and she put out this testimony that in late April she met with the Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who told her she was being removed even though she did nothing wrong. That's a quote. Why did you approve the removal of an ambassador who had done nothing wrong?

POMPEO: George, again, I'm not going to get into personnel matters inside the State Department.

That might be more compelling if Pompeo hadn't already told the public that Yovanovitch left her post for family reasons -- a comment on "personnel matters inside the State Department" that turned out to be false.

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Already in a ditch, Mick Mulvaney finds a shovel, digs deeper

10/21/19 08:40AM

On Thursday afternoon, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney appeared before reporters and acknowledged, among other things, the existence of a quid pro quo with Ukraine. The man in charge of running Donald Trump's West Wing offered what was effectively a very public confession: the U.S. administration withheld vital military aid to a vulnerable ally, he explained, using it as leverage to convince a foreign country to participate in a political scheme for Donald Trump.

"Get over it," the South Carolina Republican declared after acknowledging White House wrongdoing.

A day later, a GOP congressional leadership aide told Politico, "Mulvaney needs to learn when to stop talking." That was a sensible observation, which the acting chief of staff ignored.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney insisted Sunday that he did not say that President Donald Trump held up military aid for Ukraine for political purposes — despite acknowledging the issue at the heart of House Democrats' impeachment inquiry during a televised press conference.

"I'm flinching because that's what people are saying that I said, but I didn't say that," Mulvaney told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace of the comments he made -- and then walked back in a contradictory statement -- Thursday.

I'm not sure why Mulvaney thought it'd be a good idea to sit down with Fox News' Chris Wallace, but whatever his reasoning, the president's chief of staff was mistaken. Mulvaney was reduced to repeatedly complaining about being quoted accurately.

On Thursday, for example, the Republican told reporters there were "three factors" in the administration's decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine: "the corruption in the country, whether or not other countries were participating in the support of the Ukraine, and whether or not they were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice. That's completely legitimate."

Putting aside how dubious the "corruption" claim is, Mulvaney insisted on Fox News that the third reason didn't actually exist. Pressed to explain the dramatic shift, he couldn't.

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Abandoning summit scheme, Trump presents himself as a victim

10/21/19 08:00AM

Four days ago, the White House announced that one of Donald Trump's struggling business would host next year's G7 summit, creating a legal and political mess. The Constitution prevents U.S. officials from receiving foreign payments, but under this scheme, world leaders who wished to participate in a key international gathering would have no choice but to spend foreign funds at the American president's golf club in Doral, Florida.

Two days later, Trump announced via Twitter that he'd abandoned the plan.

"I thought I was doing something very good for our Country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 Leaders. It is big, grand, on hundreds of acres, next to MIAMI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, has tremendous ballrooms & meeting rooms, and each delegation would have its own 50 to 70 unit building. Would set up better than other alternatives.

"I announced that I would be willing to do it at NO PROFIT or, if legally permissible, at ZERO COST to the USA. But, as usual, the Hostile Media & their Democrat Partners went CRAZY!

"Therefore, based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020. We will begin the search for another site, including the possibility of Camp David, immediately. Thank you!"

There are, not surprisingly, all kinds of problems with the presidential message. Note, for example, that by Trump's version of events, he was personally involved in the alleged corruption. He also used a series of first-person pronouns that suggested the president sees little difference between himself and his private-sector enterprise.

I was also entertained by the all-caps reference to Miami International Airport, as if MIA deserves to be seen as a flagship facility synonymous with greatness.

But let's not brush past the underlying point of the presidential tweets: Trump continues to see himself as a victim. The public is apparently supposed to believe the Republican simply wanted to do "something very good" for the United States by using his venue -- the tweets were practically another ad for his struggling business -- and it all would've worked out fine were it not for those rascally Democrats, journalists, legal experts, and authorities on governmental ethics.

It's a pitiful posture, made worse by the fact that it isn't even true.

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Elijah Cummings

Filling a legend's shoes takes time

10/19/19 03:48PM

Americans woke up to the news that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) died early Thursday morning at the age of 68. The announcement comes after the Democratic congressman had been absent from House proceedings for several weeks. He cast his last vote a month ago on September 11, but worked up until his final hours, signing two subpoenas just before his passing. Although Cummings’ contributions to American politics and his legacy as an advocate for justice will never be replaced, the work he was devoted to will continue.

Cummings’ congressional seat will be filled by a special election in Maryland’s 7th District. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has not yet announced the date of the special election. Maryland law gives Hogan 10 days to issue a proclamation of when a special primary and special election will be held, but based on regulations it will not happen before the new year.

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