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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 12.18.19

12/18/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* As if there weren't enough going on today: "In a highly anticipated case, the U.S. Fifth Circuit of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is unconstitutional. But it stopped short of killing off all of Obamacare, kicking the case back down to the district court for further proceedings."

* I guess he only coordinates with the White House? "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says it's up to Speaker Pelosi on when they receive the articles of impeachment in the Senate and that he has not been coordinating with her on when they will be delivered."

* Keep an eye on this: "House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking lawmaker in the House, said Wednesday that Democrats must discuss a last-ditch gambit to delay sending articles of impeachment to the Senate and prevent the Republican controlled chamber from summarily discarding the case against President Donald Trump."

* Some rare good news for Manafort: "A New York judge Wednesday tossed the real estate fraud case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance against Paul Manafort, ruling that the charges violated the state's double jeopardy laws."

* Take a wild guess who helped the campaign against Marie Yovanovitch: "Russian disinformation network is said to have helped spread smear of U.S. ambassador to Ukraine."

* He sure does have a problem with Puerto Rico: "President Donald Trump intervened to cut the federal government's Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico as part of a larger government spending deal, according to four sources with knowledge of the discussions."

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Image: President Trump Holds Make America Great Again Rally In Pennsylvania

As impeachment nears, GOP embraces Trump's version of reality

12/18/19 01:05PM

As impeachment proceedings got underway this morning in the House, ABC News' Terry Moran raised an important point about the evolution in Republican thinking on Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal.

"At the beginning, [when the call summary of Trump's conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky first reached the public,] and you saw in black and white the president talk about Joe Biden and 'do us a favor, though' to the president of Ukraine, that gave clearly a lot of voters ... and their representatives in Congress, including Republicans in Congress, some pause.

"There were Republicans -- in public, for the first time, really, in this presidency -- saying, 'That's not OK.' That they were 'troubled' by it. That it's 'not appropriate.'

"Now you can't find nary a one who'll say anything but basically what the president says.... And that shift in the view of the facts -- not just how they should be weighed but reality itself -- is essentially that mesmerizing hold that Donald Trump has on the Republican Party."

I continue to believe this is among the most remarkable aspects of the impeachment process that's unfolded over the last few months.

Late September and early October may seem like ancient history, but after Trump urged Ukraine and China to go after one of his domestic political rivals, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) described the president's rhetoric as "wrong and appalling." Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) were willing to express similar concerns.

As of last week, however, some House Republicans were content to pretend Trump did not say what we all heard him say.

Similarly, as the details of the White House's Ukraine scheme came into focus, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) conceded to reporters, "The picture coming out of [the hearings] based on the reporting we've seen is, yeah, I would say is not a good one." Even one of the Fox & Friends co-hosts told viewers, "If the president said, 'I'll give you the money, but you've got to investigate Joe Biden', that'd be off-the-rails wrong."

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.18.19

12/18/19 12:00PM

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

* To no one's surprise, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) ended the suspense and announced plans to run for re-election next year. Though the Maine Republican previously told voters that she wouldn't serve more than two terms, she's now seeking a fourth.

* Joe Biden's presidential campaign released a medical report from his physician yesterday, and while the former vice president has had some health issues, the doctor concluded that the Delaware Democrat is a "healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency."

* Politico reported yesterday that the RNC has fired Eric Mitchell as the director of its Trump Victory Team in New Hampshire. After starting in the job in mid-August, Mitchell was ousted over unspecified performance issues.

* A group of prominent Republican critics of Donald Trump -- George Conway, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, and Rick Wilson -- have launched an initiative they're calling the Lincoln Project. It reportedly includes the creation of a super PAC that intends to help defeat Trump and his most sycophantic "enablers."

* On the eve of his likely impeachment, Donald Trump published four tweets yesterday announcing his "total endorsement" of four Republican congressional incumbents: Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Reps. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), and Kay Granger (R-Texas).

* FiveThirtyEight this week launched its polling-average feature for the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. As of this morning, Biden is leading the 2020 pack at the national level with 26.8%, followed by Bernie Sanders at 18%, Elizabeth Warren at 14.4% and Pete Buttigieg at 9.1%. No other candidate is above 5%.

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump's rhetoric on impeachment in 2014 becomes relevant anew

12/18/19 11:08AM

In his unhinged letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday, Donald Trump told the congressional leader, "You have cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment!" The president went on to suggest via Twitter this morning that he's concerned about impeachment being made "trivial."

He appears to have arrived at these concerns quite recently.

It wasn't long ago, for example, that Trump wanted Pelosi to impeach George W. Bush for having launched the Iraq war. "He got us into the war with lies!" Trump said in 2008.

His attitude toward impeaching Barack Obama was even more cavalier. "Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?" Trump wrote on Twitter in June 2014.

Several months later, after Republicans took complete control over both houses of Congress, Trump appeared on Fox & Friends and was asked what he'd like to see the new GOP majorities do. Trump replied that he wanted Republicans to impeach the Democratic president.

"Do you think Obama seriously wants to be impeached and go through what Bill Clinton did? He would be a mess. He would be thinking about nothing but. It would be a horror show for him. It would be an absolute embarrassment. It would go down on his record permanently."

It wasn't altogether clear what it was Obama did that Trump saw as worthy of impeachment; Trump simply seemed to like the idea of trying to rattle Obama on a personal level.

But given today's developments, it's worth pausing to reflect anew on Trump's 2014 on the personal toll impeachment takes on a president:

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Even now, Trump balks at taking responsibility for his actions

12/18/19 10:28AM

A reporter asked Donald Trump during a brief Q&A yesterday whether he takes "any responsibility" for his likely impeachment.

"No," the president replied. "I don't take any -- zero, to put it mildly." The Republican added on Twitter this morning, "I DID NOTHING WRONG!"

I won't pretend to know whether Trump actually believes his own claims, though at face value, Americans are once again supposed to see him as a victim. The president, pure as the driven snow, was minding his own business, governing responsibly and properly, when rascally Democrats, hellbent on mischief, launched impeachment proceedings for no reason.

He's not the bully, the argument goes, he's the bullied. He's not the perpetrator of wrongdoing; he's the one who was wronged.

I'm reminded anew of this Associated Press analysis, published last month as public hearing testimony wrapped up, which summarized nicely much of what we've learned about the president's misconduct.

Trump explicitly ordered U.S. government officials to work with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on matters related to Ukraine, a country deeply dependent on Washington's help to fend off Russian aggression. The Republican president pushed Ukraine to launch investigations into political rivals, leaning on a discredited conspiracy theory his own advisers disputed. And both American and Ukrainian officials feared that Trump froze a much-needed package of military aid until Kyiv announced it was launching those probes.

Those facts were confirmed by a dozen witnesses, mostly staid career government officials who served both Democratic and Republican administrations. They relied on emails, text messages and contemporaneous notes to back up their recollections from the past year.

Stitched together, their hours of televised testimony paint a portrait of an American president willing to leverage his powerful office to push a foreign government for personal political help.

Over 1,500 historians have reviewed these findings and concluded that impeachment is the appropriate remedy to the presidential misdeeds. Over 850 legal scholars have reached the same conclusion.

So, too, have the editorial boards of many of the nation's leading newspapers, as well as roughly half of the American electorate.

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The Capitol building at dusk.

House Republican concedes Trump 'showed poor judgement'

12/18/19 09:20AM

As Congress' impeachment process has advanced, there's been considerable attention focused on a specific group of lawmakers: the 31 House Democrats who represent districts that Donald Trump won in 2016. The assumption has been that if a sizable number of Democratic lawmakers were going to break ranks and oppose presidential impeachment, the members would likely come from this contingent.

But as members fall off the fence and make their intentions known, it's clear that nearly all of these Trump-district Dems will, in fact, vote to impeach the president -- despite the risks, despite the pressure campaigns.

But what about the mirror-image members on the other side? What should we expect from the House Republicans who represent districts Hillary Clinton won? It's an exceedingly small faction, made up of two individuals: Pennsylvania's Brian Fitzpatrick and New York's John Katko.

Fitzpatrick, in particular, has taken several steps to distance himself from his party's far-right flank. When the House voted last week, for example, on the "Lower Drug Costs Now Act" (H.R. 3), only two GOP lawmakers voted for it, and the Pennsylvanian was one of them. A week earlier, when the House passed the "Voting Rights Advancement Act" (H.R. 4), literally only one Republican sided with the majority, and it was Fitzpatrick.

On impeachment, however, he's sticking with his party. The Washington Post reported:

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick refuses to defend President Trump's conduct toward Ukraine, but the Pennsylvania Republican is not going to vote to impeach him.

A past critic of the president who has sought to build a reputation on Capitol Hill as a politician untethered to party, Fitzpatrick is also a former FBI agent who spent time in Ukraine advancing anti-corruption efforts. He serves as co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus. [...]

[But] ahead of Wednesday's vote, Fitzpatrick spelled out his opposition to impeachment in a lengthy statement in which he called it "a constitutional nuclear option of last resort," criticized the House probe as rushed and argued that it was "poisoned from the start" when Democratic leaders tapped the Intelligence Committee rather than law enforcement to investigate.

Fitzpatrick conceded yesterday that Trump "showed poor judgement," but that was as far as the GOP congressman was prepared to go.

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Image: Devin Nunes, Eric Swalwell, Jim Himes

Trump whines about being unable to prosecute Adam Schiff

12/18/19 08:40AM

Donald Trump welcomed Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to the White House yesterday, and during a fairly brief photo-op in the Oval Office, a reporter asked the Republican whether he intended to watch today's impeachment proceedings in the House.

The American president's answer meandered a bit, before taking aim at one of Trump's favorite targets: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calf.).

"It's a total sham when you have a guy like Shifty Schiff go out and make up a statement that I've made. He said, 'This is what he said.' But I never said it. He totally made it up. In Guatemala, they handle things much more diff- -- much tougher than that.

"And because of immunity -- he has House immunity -- because of immunity, he can't be prosecuted. He -- he took a statement and totally made it up. It was a lie. It was a fraud. And you just can't do those things."

In case anyone's forgotten, a few months ago, during a congressional hearing, Schiff paraphrased Trump's phone meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. It was a clumsy misstep for the Intelligence Committee chairman, but it was also wholly unimportant and inconsequential.

Except in Trump's mind, the paraphrase is worthy of prosecution and incarceration in a Guatemalan prison. Indeed, the Republican seems to have somehow convinced himself that were it not for Schiff's paraphrasing, there would be no impeachment proceedings -- a belief that's truly bizarre, even for Trump.

Stepping back, it's always unsettling when Trump praises harsh foreign criminal-justice systems, which he does with some regularity. He suggested yesterday that Guatemala would be "tougher" with paraphrasing lawmakers than he can be -- as if that were some kind of flaw in the American model.

But just as striking was the American president's concerns about Schiff having the audacity to misquote him.

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With hysterical impeachment letter, Trump gives away the game

12/18/19 08:00AM

As midnight approached on the eve of his likely impeachment, Donald Trump wrapped up his day with a few more strange tweets, one of which assured the public, "I'm not worried!"

Hours earlier, the president issued a hysterical letter making clear that he's very worried, indeed.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday excoriated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her effort to have him impeached, calling it a partisan "crusade," an "unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power" and a "spiteful" "election-nullification scheme."

In a rambling six-page letter, Trump accused Pelosi of having "cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment" and said she was "declaring open war on American Democracy" by pursuing his impeachment.

I've seen a variety of adjectives journalists have used to describe the letter: "fiery," "scathing." "angry." And while those words are fair, they don't fully capture the unhinged, crazypants hysterics of the presidential missive.

On the show last night, Rachel described Trump's letter to Pelosi as "cuckoo for cocoa puffs," and "basically six pages of performative explanation points from the president."

The entire letter has been posted to the White House website, and if you haven't seen the whole document, it's worth checking out, if only to see what it looks like when the leader of the free world inches closer to the breaking point, tying together self-pity, conspiracy theories, ridiculous and transparent falsehoods, idiosyncratic grammar, and a primal scream in one deranged piece of correspondence.

It was as if people close to Trump saw him on the verge of a breakdown, encouraged him to "let it all out," and he did, in writing -- at which point he thought it'd be a good idea to send his stream-of-consciousness tantrum to the Speaker of the House.

It wasn't an accident when officials in the White House counsel's office quietly let reporters know yesterday afternoon that they had nothing to do with the letter's creation. The eagerness to distance themselves from the cringe-worthy nonsense is understandable.

Jon Chait added, "If a juror in Trump's coming impeachment trial had no other evidence except this letter, it would provide ample grounds for impeachment. Trump openly denies the Congress's constitutional prerogative, and makes plain his mental unfitness for the job." Around the same time, Rick Wilson, a longtime Republican strategist, appeared on MSNBC and described Trump's letter as "pure crazy, weapons-grade nuts."

But it was those three tweeted words last night that served as a helpful coda to the developments: "I'm not worried!"

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Lisa Page describes pain of betrayal by DOJ, Barr, Pompeo

Lisa Page describes pain of betrayal by DOJ, Barr, Pompeo

12/17/19 09:44PM

Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer whose personal texts were released by the DOJ to become fodder for Donald Trump and his supporters, talks with Rachel Maddow about how it felt to have her own institution use her in that way and why William Barr and Mike Pompeo should be standing up for the public servants who become Trump targets. watch