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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.16.19

09/16/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Strike: "Tens of thousands of auto workers across the country went on strike Sunday night after negotiations faltered between their union and General Motors. The strike began at 11:59 p.m. ET., with as many as 50,000 United Auto Workers at dozens of facilities from Michigan to Texas expected to participate."

* Quite an operation: "Russian spies in the U.S. conducted a massive operation to track and collect encrypted FBI radio traffic, but there is no evidence they ever cracked the codes and obtained the contents of the communications, two former senior FBI officials tell NBC News."

* In related news: "With Congress mulling legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia for its attack on the 2016 American election, an important Russian bank connected to Vladimir Putin's government has turned for help to a well-positioned lobbyist in Washington: a Trump insider and former Republican House member named John Sweeney. In August Sweeney signed a whopping contract to lobby on behalf of this bank to stave off sanctions from the US government."

* The connection between this and Israeli elections is obvious: "U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday he had spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a possible mutual defense treaty between the two nations, a move that could bolster Netanyahu's re-election bid just days before Israelis go to the polls."

* A White House plan on guns is expected any day now: "Democratic leaders urged President Trump to support a House-passed background check bill, as lawmakers wait to see what measures the White House will endorse to reduce mass shootings."

* Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: "The Trump administration reached a milestone this week in its plan to open a pristine part of Alaska to oil and gas development with the release of a final report on the environmental impact of the plan."

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Pence, Pompeo ignore concerns over Trump's self-dealing

09/16/19 12:52PM

For those concerned with Donald Trump profiting off his presidency, it's been a difficult few weeks. It started with the Republican announcing an effort to have the next G-7 summit held at one of his Florida properties. Soon after, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Ireland for meetings in Dublin, but as the president's "suggestion," he stayed three hours away at a Trump-owned property on the other side of the country.

This, of course, was followed by reports about military personnel staying at Trump's business in Scotland, while supporting a nearby airport on which the president's business heavily relies.

In light of the coverage, headlines, and initiated investigations, it stood to reason that the president and others in his orbit would exercise some caution in this area, at least for a while. But while that may have seemed like common sense, Team Trump chose a brazen course. The Washington Post reported on Thursday:

Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are scheduled to speak this week at President Trump's hotel in Washington -- lending their names to events put on by a paying customer of Trump's private business.

The planned speeches suggest that President Trump and his Cabinet are not shying away from events that drive revenue to Trump's company, even after multiple stories have brought new scrutiny to the blurring of lines between Trump's business and presidency.

Pence spoke on Thursday at a gala hosted by Concerned Women for America, a prominent group in the religious right movement, while Pompeo appeared a day later at a "celebration luncheon" put on by the same organization.

I imagine some Americans are starting to get used this dynamic, but this isn't the sort of thing that's supposed to happen. Concerned Women for America, in this case, wasn't just another far-right group hosting an event in the nation's capital; it was also playing the role of Donald Trump's customer. The vice president and the secretary of State didn't see any harm in helping the president's customer with its event.

Or put another way, a conservative organization is helping put money in Trump's pocket, and two leading members of Trump's cabinet helped put money in the group's coffers.

It was against this backdrop that Pompeo thought it'd be funny to tell a little joke about the circumstances. "I look around, this is such a beautiful hotel," the cabinet secretary said. "The guy who owns it must have been successful somewhere along the way." He added, "That was for the Washington Post."

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.16.19

09/16/19 12:00PM

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

* Julian Castro only had three congressional endorsements for his presidential campaign and over the weekend, that number dropped to two: Rep. Vicente González (D-Texas) switched his support to Joe Biden.

* Three years after easily winning New Hampshire's Democratic presidential primary, Bernie Sanders' support isn't quite where he wants it to be in the Granite State. To that end, the Vermont independent reassigned his New Hampshire state director, moving Joe Caiazzo to neighboring Massachusetts. He was replaced by Shannon Jackson, who oversaw Sanders' Senate re-election campaign in 2018.

* For the third time in two weeks, a leading Democratic contender in Colorado's U.S. Senate race has quit: former Ambassador Dan Baer has withdrawn, conceding that former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) was all but certain to win the party's primary.

* Donald Trump's three most notable 2020 primary rivals -- Mark Sanford, Joe Walsh, and William Weld -- wrote a joint op-ed, making a spirited case that state Republican Parties are making a mistake by cancelling the party's presidential nominating contests in order to help Donald Trump.

* In related news, Michigan Republicans cannot legally cancel their presidential primary, but state GOP officials have changed their delegate apportionment rules to all but guarantee that Trump receives all of the state's delegates in 2020.

* Almost immediately after parting ways with the Trump White House, former National Security Adviser John Bolton brought his PAC and super PAC back to life. He soon after announced new support for a variety of Republicans, including Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

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House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy - Jessica Taylor - 08/20/2013

Looking ahead, House GOP leader eyes ACA repeal (yes, again)

09/16/19 11:20AM

Earlier this year, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was fairly candid in his assessment of why House Republicans struggled so badly in the 2018 midterms, in which the GOP lost its majority. Confirming what the evidence suggested, McCarthy privately told a group of donors that the defeats could be blamed on the party's failed health care gambit in 2017.

McCarthy, who helped push his own members to vote for a far-right health care bill that ultimately failed in the Senate, conceded the party was vulnerable after voting to strip Americans with pre-existing conditions of their protections, "and that was the defining issue and the most important issue in the race."

Seven months later, House Republicans huddled in Baltimore to begin laying out a plan for the 2020 elections, and as the Washington Post reported, McCarthy and the rest of the House GOP leadership are planning to do the same thing over again, expecting a different result.

Meeting for their annual legislative retreat here nearly nine months into the minority, top GOP officials couldn't help but raise matters such as health care and skyrocketing budget deficits that bedeviled the party before last year's House Democratic midterm sweep.

If Trump is reelected, the GOP recaptures the House and holds the Senate, the president and Republicans said they would try again to scrap the 2010 law that has provided coverage for tens of millions of Americans and ensured health care for those with preexisting medical conditions.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) added, "Health care is an important issue for us to lean in on."

Is it?

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Trump eyes Justice Department 'rescue' for Brett Kavanaugh

09/16/19 10:46AM

Questions surrounding Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's alleged misconduct -- and alleged dishonesty about the incidents in question -- returned to the fore over the weekend, and Donald Trump is eager to defend the conservative jurist. Politico noted what the president has in mind.

President Donald Trump on Sunday once again came to the defense of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

"Brett Kavanaugh should start suing people for liable, or the Justice Department should come to his rescue," the president wrote on Twitter, misspelling the word "libel." Approximately an hour after the original tweet, he sent out a new one with the correct spelling.

As presidential typos go, there's something oddly perfect about Trump confusing "libel" and "liable."

But what's far more important is the president's suggestion that the Justice Department should perhaps come to the "rescue" of the controversial Supreme Court justice. Why? Because news organizations have run reports about Kavanaugh that Trump doesn't like.

I'd love to know more about how, exactly, that's supposed to work in the president's mind. The Justice Department would intervene on behalf of a judge receiving unflattering media attention? How?

The larger point, of course, is that Donald Trump, after nearly three years as an American president, and after several decades as an American adult, still doesn't quite understand what the Justice Department does.

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Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump

Following oil facilities attack, Trump looks to Saudis for direction

09/16/19 10:07AM

There was a major attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend, and the Trump administration wasted little time implicating Iran in the violence. Officials in Tehran denied the allegations.

Did you happen to catch Donald Trump's tweet on the subject, published yesterday afternoon?

"Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!"

As is generally the case, some caveats are in order. For example, the president's rhetoric is routinely meaningless and should never be taken at face value. For that matter, I'm sympathetic to those who note that it's difficult to learn detailed information from short online missives.

That said, Trump did raise a few eyebrows with this one, and given the possible stakes, it's tough to look past it as trivia. Indeed, the sitting American president made it seem as if he were awaiting instructions from Riyadh: the United States is "locked and loaded," and how we "proceed" will be shaped by what Saudi Arabia tells the Trump administration.

Hmm. I wonder what the Saudis will tell Trump.

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Image: Devin Nunes, Eric Swalwell, Jim Himes

Trump admin faces subpoena over 'urgent' whistleblower complaint

09/16/19 09:20AM

Once in a while, important news breaks late on a Friday night. Take this report from the Wall Street Journal, for example, which reached the public at 11:03 pm (ET).

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff issued a subpoena to the nation's top intelligence official Friday night, seeking to force him to turn over a whistleblower complaint that the intelligence community's inspector general has allegedly deemed a matter of "urgent concern."

The identity of the whistleblower and the nature of the complaint weren't revealed. But in a news release Friday night, Mr. Schiff (D., Calif.) said the inspector general had determined the complaint to be credible and notified his House committee of the matter on Monday.

Not surprisingly given the circumstances, many of the relevant details aren't yet available to the public, but we have a rough sketch to go on. We know the Intelligence Community Inspector General's office is aware of a whistleblower complaint that it determined to be credible and a matter of "urgent concern." We know that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) asked Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to provide the committee with the information.

And we know that Maguire declined to cooperate with the congressional request.

I think it's fair to say Schiff wasn't pleased with the response. The California Democrat subpoenaed the materials, demanding the full and unredacted record, and directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to provide information on possible communications with other offices within the executive branch (cough, West Wing, cough) about the controversy.

The House Intelligence Committee chairman also reminded Maguire in writing, "As Acting Director of National Intelligence, you have neither the legal authority nor the discretion to overrule a determination by the IC IG. Moreover, you do not possess the authority to withhold from the Committee a whistleblower disclosure from within the Intelligence Community that is intended for Congress."

Schiff added, "Your office, moreover, has refused to affirm or deny that officials or lawyers at the White House have been involved in your decision to withhold the complaint from the Committee.... The Committee can only conclude, based on this remarkable confluence of factors, that the serious misconduct at issue involves the President of the United States and/or other senior White House or Administration officials."

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Trump seems to forget his own position on Iran, preconditions

09/16/19 08:40AM

The week before the 2008 presidential election, John McCain and his team realized the odds of success were poor, and the desperation led them to take some unfortunate chances. On Oct. 28, 2008, the Republican campaign launched a rather ugly attack ad condemning Barack Obama for his willingness to talk to Iran without preconditions.

The commercial was widely panned as "inflammatory nonsense" and "stupid," but it nevertheless drove home the fact that in Republican circles, diplomatic engagement with Tehran, especially without preconditions, was simply a bridge too far.

More than a decade later, Donald Trump wants the world to know he's seen the reports about his willingness to meet with Iranian leaders without preconditions, and he's eager to set the record straight.

"The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, 'No Conditions.' That is an incorrect statement (as usual!)."

The nerve of those journalists and news organizations. Why would they mislead the public this way? Don't they have reliable sources who can speak to the president's actual foreign policy agenda? Where'd the media get this idea?

The trouble started three months ago, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, abandoning his previous position, announced publicly that the Trump administration was prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders with "no preconditions."

A few weeks later, the president himself appeared on NBC's Meet the Press, and told Chuck Todd, in reference to talks with Iran, "No preconditions."

A month later, in July, Trump said at a White House press conference, in reference to Iranian diplomacy, "No preconditions. If they want to meet, I'll meet. Anytime they want.... No preconditions. If they want to meet, I'll meet."

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Why impeaching Brett Kavanaugh is back on the table for many Dems

09/16/19 08:00AM

On Saturday morning, the New York Times published a notable report on page A19, making it easy to overlook. It noted that Attorney General Bill Barr is scheduled to present the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service -- one of the Justice Department's most prestigious honors -- to the lawyers who worked to support Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination last year.

It's a curious decision. CNN's Elie Honig, a former federal and state prosecutor, noted soon after, "What a joke. This prestigious award typically goes to prosecutors who make the biggest cases against terrorists, corrupt politicians, drug cartels, organized crime enterprises, etc. And now AG Barr is using it to honor ... Team Kavanaugh."

What's more, Bill Barr's timing could be better. As the Republican AG prepares to honor the lawyers who helped put Kavanaugh on the high court, questions surrounding Kavanaugh's background have returned to the fore.

A slew of prominent Democrats called on Congress to impeach Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after allegations of sexual misconduct that had once threatened to torpedo his nomination to the bench resurfaced, even as President Donald Trump continued to defend him. [...]

The new revelations came to light in an opinion-section article written by two New York Times reporters, published late Saturday, whose book on the Kavanaugh nomination will be released this week. In the book, which was summarized in Saturday's article, the authors wrote that they had found new corroboration for accusations that Kavanaugh exposed himself to Deborah Ramirez, a classmate at Yale. NBC News has not verified that reporting.

While Christine Blasey Ford's allegations and Senate testimony were the subject of intense scrutiny, the story surrounding Deborah Ramirez also generated headlines last September. According to a New Yorker piece published at the time, Ramirez "remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away."

The New York Times piece added over the weekend, "During his Senate testimony, Mr. Kavanaugh said that if the incident Ms. Ramirez described had occurred, it would have been 'the talk of campus.' Our reporting suggests that it was."

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