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Thursday's Mini-Report, 6.13.19

06/13/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's remarks on this were not accompanied by evidence: "An American-guided missile destroyer was sent to assist two burning tankers in the Gulf of Oman, following what the Trump administration on Thursday described as a 'blatant assault' by Iran."

* Now that the White House has effectively ended press briefings, I guess the question is whether she'll be replaced: "White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is leaving her post at the end of June, President Donald Trump said Thursday."

* Flint: "Prosecutors investigating the deadly lead-poisoned water crisis in Flint, Michigan, dropped criminal charges against eight people, including the former head of the state's health department."

* Subpoenas of note: "The House Intelligence Committee has issued subpoenas for former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former deputy Trump campaign chairman Rick Gates, two of former special counsel Robert Mueller's most important cooperators."

* Investigating the investigators: "Justice Department officials intend to interview senior C.I.A. officers as they review the Russia investigation, according to people briefed on the matter, indicating they are focused partly on the intelligence agencies' most explosive conclusion about the 2016 election: that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia intervened to benefit Donald J. Trump."

* Schiff talked about this on the show last night: "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Wednesday threatened to subpoena the FBI for information about the original counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference. Schiff said he has been unable to get briefings or information on the status or findings of the counterintelligence probe, including on whether it was ever shuttered."

* In the current administration, this is not a great job: "President Donald Trump intends to appoint Eric Ueland, a senior White House aide with vast experience in the Senate, as the next director of legislative affairs at the White House."

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Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, and press secretary Hope Hicks watch during a campaign rally on Oct. 14, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Office of Special Counsel: Kellyanne Conway needs to go

06/13/19 01:31PM

It may not have seemed especially notable two weeks ago when White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway used her position to go after former Vice President Joe Biden's Democratic presidential campaign. Conway is a longtime Republican operative; she supports Donald Trump's re-election; and so it may have seemed obvious that she'd target a leading rival from the other party.

But federal ethics laws restrict the political activities of federal employees, which means Conway may have technically been crossing a legal line. Reminded of this, the White House official was indifferent. "Blah, blah, blah," Conway told reporters.

It appears some are far less cavalier about violations of ethics laws.

A government watchdog agency recommended Thursday that Kellyanne Conway, a top aide to President Donald Trump, be removed from federal office for repeated violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from engaging in certain political activity.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent government agency that enforces the act, said it sent a report to Trump detailing "numerous occasions" in which Conway violated the law by saying disparaging things about Democratic presidential candidates in television interviews and on social media while acting in her official capacity as counselor to the president.

The Office of Special Counsel -- not to be confused with Robert Mueller and the special counsel's office -- described Conway as a "repeat offender," which is true. In fact, she started ignoring federal ethics laws almost immediately after arriving at the White House, and kept ignoring the Hatch Act in the months that followed.

The OSC added, "Ms. Conway's violations, if left unpunished, would send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act's restrictions. Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system -- the rule of law."

The appropriate next step, according to the agency, would be to dismiss Conway.

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Republican Presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at an event at the National Press Club on Sept. 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

GOP carefully criticizes Trump's line on foreign election interference

06/13/19 12:30PM

Donald Trump jolted the political world yesterday when he endorsed foreign interference in American elections. The result is a multifaceted controversy, including an awkward dynamic for the president's party: would Republicans endorse Trump's reckless posture? Are they prepared to criticize him and risk the White House's wrath?

The answer for some GOP officials is to avoid the question altogether. If you were watching MSNBC this morning, for example, you might've caught Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) walking very quickly past reporters in a Capitol Hill hallway, ignoring their requests for comment.

Around the same time, a CNN anchor said a congressional Republican had agreed to appear on the air this morning, but he or she canceled.

To his credit, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was at least willing to comment.

"I think that's wrong. That's a mistake," Graham, a frequent defender of the president, said. "I've been consistent on this. If a public official is approached by a foreign government offering anything of value ... the right answer is 'no.'"

Graham added that he is willing to look at legislation to more clearly define what is illegal, and that "you accept assistance from a foreign government at your own peril."

"The answer is 'no.' It's got to be 'no,'" Graham told reporters during a separate interview.

So far, so good. But the South Carolinian, who's up for re-election next year, went on to say this morning, "I'm hoping some of my Democratic colleagues will take more seriously the fact that Christopher Steele was a foreign agent paid for by the Democratic Party."

Graham echoed this in a written statement, denouncing "foreign influence in American elections," before condemning Democrats for "hiring a foreign national" to "dig up dirt" on the Republican nominee.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who's also running next year, took a similar tack: the senator conceded that accepting foreign interference is "dangerous," before immediately pivoting to a complaint about the Clinton campaign and "a British spy's dossier."

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.13.19

06/13/19 12:00PM

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

* In Nevada, the latest Monmouth University poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading the Democrats' presidential field with 36%, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 19%, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 13%. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) were the only other Dems to top 5%.

* In California, meanwhile, a new UC Berkeley poll conducted for the L.A. Times found Biden leading Warren in the Golden State, 22% to 18%. Sanders was a close third with 17%, followed by Harris with 13% in her own home state. Buttigieg, who had 10% support in the poll, was the only other candidate above 3%.

* Pointing to his internal polling, Donald Trump claimed yesterday, "We are winning in every single state that we polled." That's extremely hard to believe.

* Kamala Harris unveiled a proposal yesterday to expand the existing DACA program and create a pathway to citizenship for some Dreamers, even if Congress takes no action.

* Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), another presidential contender, unveiled his plan yesterday to address LGBTQ rights, which includes undoing many of the Trump administration's policies.

* Despite several weeks of chatter, Rep. Mark Walker (R) has decided not to take on Sen. Thom Tillis (R) in a North Carolina primary next year. (Rumor has it Walker was waiting for White House support that never arrived.) The GOP incumbent will, however, still face a challenge from businessman Garland Tucker.

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Image: The President Of The United States And Mrs Trump Meet HM Queen

Trump's defense of foreign election interference makes things worse

06/13/19 10:53AM

Donald Trump seems aware of the fact that he sparked a new controversy yesterday when he endorsed foreign interference in our elections. Even many of the president's media allies have thus far struggled to defend his ridiculous comments.

So Trump turned to Twitter to defend himself:

"I meet and talk to 'foreign governments' every day. I just met with the Queen of England (U.K.), the Prince of Wales, the P.M. of the United Kingdom, the P.M. of Ireland, the President of France and the President of Poland. We talked about 'Everything!'

"Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous! I would never be trusted again.

"With that being said, my full answer is rarely played by the Fake News Media. They purposely leave out the part that matters."

Let's get a few things out of the way quickly. First, I'm reasonably sure Trump will never understand how quotation marks work. Second, I loved the reference to "the Queen of England (U.K.)," as if there were some other Queen of England and he wanted to make sure we knew to whom he was referring.

Third, in Trump's original tweet, he referred to Prince Charles as the "Prince of Whales," which was hilarious, but which was deleted soon after.

But putting all of that aside, what struck me as important is the cynical little shell game the Republican has decided to play: Trump's new line is that it's unrealistic to think he'd contact the FBI following every interaction with a foreign official or dignitary.

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U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a press conference after the meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2

Trump thinks 'people are so untrusting' when it comes to him and Putin

06/13/19 10:00AM

Sitting alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda in the Oval Office yesterday, Donald Trump was asked if he expects to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the next G-20 summit. The Republican said he does, in fact, plan to meet with Putin and other international leaders.

It led to a notable follow-up question:

Q: Are you going to have a lot of people in the room with you -- national security officials?

TRUMP: Well, it's probably easier because you people are so untrusting. So it's probably better.... I think it's probably easier is we have people in the room because you people don't trust anything.

So, from the American president's perspective, it's a problem that people are skeptical about his interactions with the Russian president. Apparently, from Trump's perspective, he's earned the benefit of the doubt -- and the public should simply assume that when he meets with Putin, nothing suspicious will follow.

It's not like there's been a three-year scandal about this, right?

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History belies Trump's cynical stance on foreign election assistance

06/13/19 09:20AM

About a year ago, then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), one of Moscow's favorites, insisted, "There's not a person in this town" who wouldn't welcome foreign intervention to win an election. Two months ago, Rudy Giuliani echoed the sentiment, arguing that "any candidate" would welcome dirt on his or her opponent, even if it came from a foreign source.

Yesterday, Donald Trump endorsed the line during an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

"Okay, let's put yourself in a position. You're a congressman. Somebody comes up and says, 'Hey, I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI? I don't think [so]....

"This is somebody that said we have information on your opponent. 'Oh, let me call the FBI.' Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way."

It's a posture lacking in subtlety. To hear the president tell it, in the real world -- never mind those namby-pamby idealists with their heads in the clouds -- this is how people actually behave. Politics can be a tough business, the argument goes, so candidates who want to win have to put aside concerns about niceties and legal limits.

If that means welcoming foreign interference in American elections, so be it. To deny this is to ignore the facts of how life "works."

It's an offensive and cynical approach for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the lesson learned from American history.

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

Trump puts fight over election security in a whole new context

06/13/19 08:42AM

Soon after Donald Trump said he'd accept foreign assistance in his re-election campaign, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded to the president in a specific and notable way.

"Disgraceful yet sadly par for the course for this president.

"When the president talks like this, it's no wonder [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] is blocking bipartisan efforts to secure our elections from foreign interference."

I think this was more than a throwaway line. There's an ongoing debate on Capitol Hill about legislative efforts to prevent foreign interference in our elections, and the president just put that debate in a whole new context.

Three years after the Republicans' Senate leader balked at an effort to confront Russia's election attack, Mitch McConnell has effectively imposed a "blockade" against all proposals intend to protect the U.S. system against future foreign attacks.

Indeed, as we discussed the other day, the list of proposals -- many of which enjoy bipartisan backing -- is not short. The New York Times reported:

The bills include a Democratic measure that would send more than $1 billion to state and local governments to tighten election security, but would also demand a national strategy to protect American democratic institutions against cyberattacks and require that states spend federal funds only on federally certified "election infrastructure vendors." A bipartisan measure in both chambers would require internet companies like Facebook to disclose the purchasers of political ads.

Another bipartisan Senate proposal would codify cyberinformation-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials, speed up the granting of security clearances to state officials and provide federal incentives for states to adopt paper ballots.

McConnell won't allow his chamber to consider any of these measures. But has Trump changed the calculus?

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