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Top Trump Russian official quits ahead of impeachment testimony

Top Trump Russian official quits ahead of impeachment testimony

10/30/19 09:14PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the latest developments in the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry and the line-up of diplomats and officials giving corroborating and increasingly damning testimony, and points to a pattern of Trump officials, like Tim Morrison, the top Russian official on Trump's NSC, who quit their posts ahead of testifying to House... watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.30.19

10/30/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* If we had the strongest economy of all time, this wouldn't be necessary: "The Federal Reserve cut interest rates on Wednesday for the third time since July, as fears mount that the global economic slowdown will begin to drag on U.S. growth."

* California: "A new, wind-driven wildfire erupted outside Los Angeles early Wednesday, forcing an evacuation of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and threatening about 6,500 homes, officials said. At least 800 firefighters were battling the Easy fire in Simi Valley, about 50 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, a Ventura County dispatcher said."

* Bolton's name sure has come up a lot lately: "House impeachment investigators on Wednesday summoned John Bolton, President Trump's former national security adviser, and two other top White House officials for depositions next week, according to a person familiar with the notices. The letters took the form of voluntary requests, rather than subpoenas."

* Remember Livingston's epic resignation in 1998? "Robert Livingston, a former Republican congressman turned lobbyist, repeatedly told a Foreign Service officer assigned to the White House that the American ambassador to Ukraine should be fired because of her association with Democrats, the officer told impeachment investigators on Wednesday."

* ISIS's dwindling leadership: "President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the United States had killed the 'number one replacement' to the Islamic State militant group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed in a U.S. raid over the weekend."

* Not the vote the White House wanted: "The House voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to impose a series of sweeping sanctions on Turkey over its brutal assault on the Kurds in northern Syria, dealing its second bipartisan rebuke to President Trump this month for pulling back American forces to allow for the Turkish incursion."

* The Perry angle: "Testimony from a senior White House official on Tuesday appeared to contradict Energy Secretary Rick Perry's ardent denials that he ever heard former Vice President Joe Biden or his son Hunter discussed in relation to U.S. requests that Ukraine investigate corruption."

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Ignoring irony, McConnell accuses Dems of taking a 'one-year vacation'

10/30/19 12:55PM

If there were a Hall of Fame for political hypocrisy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be a first-ballot inductee. The Kentucky Republican has condemned obstructionism after mastering the fine art of obstructionism; he's stressed the virtues of bipartisanship after becoming the most partisan congressional leader in modern history; he's demanded that senators treat Supreme Court nominees fairly after spearheading an unprecedented blockage against a qualified, compromise Supreme Court nominee.

And this morning, according to a Congressional Quarterly transcript, McConnell stood on the floor of the Senate and condemned a productive House Democratic majority for taking "a one-year vacation."

"Look, I think it's pretty clear our Democratic colleagues do not have a great affinity for President Trump, but the country cannot afford for Democrats in Congress to take a one-year vacation from any productive legislation just because they'd rather obsess over impeachment."

Donald Trump, who's deeply invested in labeling the opposition party "Do-Nothing Democrats," was delighted with the comments, though those who take reality seriously should be far less impressed.

Last week, for example, the Democratic House majority passed another election-security bill, the second legislative effort on the issue to pass the lower chamber this year. It was the latest in a series of examples of the House advancing legislative priorities, despite the ongoing investigations into Trump's many scandals.

Indeed, as regular readers know, in every Congress, the House majority leadership, regardless of which party is in control, sets aside the first 10 available bill numbers. It's intended as a symbolic way to signal a party's top legislative priorities: H.R. 1 through H.R. 10 will reflect the leadership's most important goals.

So far this year, the House Democratic majority has passed its democracy-reform package (H.R. 1), the Equality Act to expand civil rights to LGBTQ Americans (H.R. 5), the Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6), the Paycheck Fairness Act to address pay disparities between men and women (H.R. 7), a bill to expand background checks on gun purchases (H.R. 8), and a bill to address the climate crisis (H.R. 9).

House Dems have also passed bills to lower prescription drug costs, expand the Violence Against Women Act, and expand the Dream Act for young immigrants.

And then there's McConnell's GOP-led Senate.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.30.19

10/30/19 12:00PM

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

* In New Hampshire, the latest CNN poll found Bernie Sanders leading Elizabeth Warren, 21% to 18%, in the race for the Democratic nomination. The survey, conducted by the University of New Hampshire, found Joe Biden third with 15%, followed by Pete Buttigieg at 10%.

* Also of interest, the same poll found Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, and Tulsi Gabbard tied for fifth place with 5% each. This will help each of these candidates qualify for the party's primary debate in December, and moves Gabbard closer to qualifying for the November debate. (The crosstabs on page 60 suggest the Hawaii congresswoman is benefiting from support from more conservative voters.)

* Not long after his release from prison last year, George Papadopoulos, a former adviser to Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, announced plans to run for Congress -- somewhere. "I just have to find a little Republican enclave somewhere in this part of the country," Papadopoulos said after moving to southern California. Now, evidently, he intends to run in California's 25th district, which was represented by former Rep. Katie Hill (D) before her recent resignation.

* Elizabeth Warren's strong showing in 2020 polling is not the result of an aggressive media campaign: the Massachusetts senator's operation ran its first television commercial in Iowa over the weekend.

* The latest Emerson College poll suggests Arizona may be a competitive battleground next year, with Trump tied with Biden and Warren in hypothetical general election match-ups, and the incumbent leading Sanders by just a couple of points.

* A HuffPost analysis of federal election spending records found that Trump's re-election campaign and affiliated political committees have spent "about $16.8 million at his businesses since he launched his 2016 bid for the presidency."

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Trump blissfully unaware of White House concerns about his Ukraine call

10/30/19 11:20AM

To hear Donald Trump tell it, he has no idea why the Ukraine scandal is even a scandal. All he did was a have a "perfect" telephone chat with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, which no reasonable person could've found objectionable.

In fact, as far as the American president is concerned, all kinds of people heard what he said during that conversation and were wholly unconcerned. A "casual reading of the Transcript leads EVERYBODY to see that the call with the Ukrainian President was a totally appropriate one," Trump wrote on Twitter this morning. He added soon after, "There were many people listening to the call. How come they ... found NOTHING wrong with it."

In reality, officials found plenty wrong with it. Trump may have ended his subscription to the New York Times, but the newspaper ran this report over a month ago.

No one bothered to put special limits on the number of people allowed to sit in the "listening room" in the White House to monitor the phone call because it was expected to be routine. By the time the call was over 30 minutes later, it quickly became clear that it was anything but.

Soon after President Trump put the phone down that summer day, the red flags began to go up. Rather than just one head of state offering another pro forma congratulations for recent elections, the call turned into a bid by Mr. Trump to press a Ukrainian leader in need of additional American aid to "do us a favor" and investigate Democrats.

The alarm among officials who heard the exchange led to an extraordinary effort to keep too many more people from learning about it.

This week, we learned Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council, also had concerns about Trump's comments, to the point that he followed the chain of command and reported the matter to his superior.

The president this morning dismissed Vindman -- currently a prominent member of the White House's national security team -- as a "Never Trumper witness."

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a sign supporting coal during a rally at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on October 10, 2016.

Despite his rhetoric, Trump isn't saving the coal industry

10/30/19 10:42AM

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran a report with a familiar headline: "In Pro-Trump West Virginia Coal Country, the Jobs Keep Leaving." The feature quoted one local industry employee saying, "It's only going to get worse."

Two days later, another WSJ report helped drive the point home.

Murray Energy Corp., led by outspoken Trump administration ally Robert Murray, has filed for chapter 11 protection, a stark example of coal's diminished role in the U.S. energy sector.

The eighth coal producer to collapse into bankruptcy over the past year, Murray Energy is the latest to fall victim to diminished demand for coal and competition from cheaper fuels.

The Journal cited a series of contributing factors, including "abundant natural gas and renewable energy sources." The article also quoted Murray Energy's current CEO pointing to the "recent trade war" as a factor in depressing international demand for U.S. coal.

NBC News ran a related report a couple of months ago, noting that Donald Trump promised miners "he would restore the industry -- and their jobs -- after years of steady decline." To that end, the Republican administration has "loosened rules governing coal ash disposal and mercury pollution from power plants." Team Trump has also pushed dubious schemes to prop up coal plants.

The president and GOP senators even put a former coal industry lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency.

But it hasn't worked. Reuters reported earlier this year, "More U.S. coal-fired power plants were shut in President Donald Trump's first two years than were retired in the whole of Barack Obama's first term, despite the Republican's efforts to prop up the industry to keep a campaign promise to coal-mining states."

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A twenty dollar bill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Economic growth cooled a bit in the summer and early fall

10/30/19 10:03AM

Donald Trump turned to Twitter this morning to declare that we currently have "the Greatest Economy in American History!" I wish that were true. It's not.

Dogged by uneasiness over trade frictions and weak global growth, the American economy's growth inched lower over the summer.

Gross domestic product -- the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the economy -- grew at a 1.9 percent annual rate for the third quarter, according to preliminary data released by the Commerce Department on Wednesday.... The year started out with a surge, but the pace of growth declined in the spring and again over the period that spanned July, August and September.

To be sure, 1.9% growth isn't awful. In fact, this morning's figure is a bit better than projections headed into the announcement.

The GDP figure is, however, down a little from the second quarter, which was down from the first quarter. What's more, growth in the third quarter of 2019 is down a full percentage point from growth over the same three-month period from last year.

This morning's figures -- which will be revised in the coming months -- also suggest the president will again fail to produce annual growth between 4% and 6%, which is what he inexplicably promised during the 2016 campaign.

Indeed, Candidate Trump repeatedly lambasted Barack Obama for being "the first president in modern history not to have a single year of 3% growth." And yet, here we are: in Trump's first year, growth reached 2.3%; in his second year it reached 2.5%; and barring an extraordinary and unexpected shift, economic growth will almost certainly fall short of 3% again in the Republican's third year.

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Bo (L) and Sunny, the Obama family dogs, on the South Lawn of the White House on August 19, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

'Like a dog': Curious comparison becomes Trump's best friend

10/30/19 09:20AM

When Donald Trump announced the demise of ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi over the weekend, the president noted that the only injury to the U.S. Special Operations Forces was to a dog. "Our canine -- I call it a dog, a beautiful dog, a talented dog -- was injured and brought back," Trump said.

That was not, however, the only canine reference in the Republican's remarks.

"Last night was a great night for the United States and for the world. A brutal killer, one who has caused so much hardship and death, has violently been eliminated. He will never again harm another innocent man, woman, or child. He died like a dog."

Trump repeated the "he died like a dog" phrase twice on Sunday morning, though I'm still not altogether sure how one dies like a dog.

The president went on to describe ISIS leaders as acting like "very frightened puppies."

I realize that Trump's mastery of the language is limited, but he really ought to come up with some additional points of comparison. As regular readers may recall, it was earlier this year, for example, shortly before his State of the Union address, when Trump told a group of television anchors that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) “choked like a dog” at a press conference a few days prior.

A few weeks before that, we learned of an anecdote from Cliff Sims’ book in which Trump told then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), in reference to the closing days of the 2016 election cycle, “You were out there dying like a dog, Paul. Like a dog!”

It’s clearly one of this president’s favorite metaphors. Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for example, was “fired like a dog.” According to Trump, so were conservative media figures Erick Erickson and Glenn Beck.

Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was “dropped like a dog.” Steve Bannon was “dumped like a dog.” Mitt Romney “choked like a dog.” Ted Cruz “lies like a dog.” Brent Bozell allegedly went to Trump’s office “begging for money like a dog.”

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At a key moment, Mulvaney found himself on the outside looking in

10/30/19 08:40AM

The photograph taken in the White House Situation Room on May 1, 2011, is among the most memorable images of the decade. It featured Barack Obama and his team monitoring developments as U.S. Special Operations Forces launched a raid on Osama bin Laden.

Not far from the center of the image, standing near the head of the table, was Bill Daley, the president's chief of staff at the time. He was behind Brigadier General Marshall "Brad" Webb, alongside Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.

None of this was the least bit surprising at the time or now. By most measures, the job of the White House chief of staff is a cabinet-level position of enormous power and influence, and it stood to reason that Daley would in the Situation Room at this critically important time.

Keep this in mind while reading NBC News' latest report on the current White House chief of staff's whereabouts over the weekend.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney first learned about the U.S. military raid against ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after the operation was already underway, according to five current and former senior administration officials.

Mulvaney was at home in South Carolina when President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter Saturday night that "Something very big has just happened!" He was briefed on the raid that night, officials said.

NBC News' report added that Mulvaney, who effectively confessed to a quid pro quo in the Ukraine scandal during a disastrous recent press conference, appears to be "increasingly sidelined."

The report went on to note, "The White House chief of staff typically would be central to such a momentous gambit for a president, coordinating logistics, public statements and notifications of congressional leaders and allies."

Andy Card, former President George W. Bush's longtime chief of staff, said he was "baffled" by the decision to exclude Mulvaney at a critical time.

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White House official: Trump's 'exact' transcript omitted key details

10/30/19 08:00AM

Five times yesterday, Donald Trump published tweets insisting that everyone "read the transcript" of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The advice seemed unwise: those who've read the call summary realize it includes incriminating details that make Trump look worse, which is why many Republicans said it was a "huge mistake" for the White House to release it.

But there's a related problem of even greater importance: the summary of the controversial call isn't a transcript at all.

At first glance, the problem with the ellipses in the call summary may not seem altogether new. Those who read the document carefully, for example, know that it showed Trump telling Zelensky, "Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it... It sounds horrible to me."

It hasn't been clear what those ellipses between "look into it" and "it sounds horrible" represented. Were words omitted? Did Trump trail off, losing his train of thought? Was there a brief interruption to the call? What about the other two instances in which ellipses appeared in the call summary?

Those ellipses have suddenly taken on an even greater significance, following yesterday's testimony in the congressional inquiry.

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, told members of Congress that he tried to edit a White House log of a July call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine's president to include details that were omitted, one lawmaker present at the testimony and another source familiar with it confirmed to NBC News.

Vindman testified in a closed-door deposition before House impeachment investigators that the attempted edits were to reflect Trump mentioning possible recordings of former vice president Joe Biden discussing corruption in Ukraine and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy mentioning Bursima, the company who had hired Biden's son, Hunter, the sources said.

A New York Times report added that there is no audio recording of the Trump/Zelensky call, but White House notetakers and voice recognition software created a rough transcript. At that point, the document went to Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council, to help fill in gaps, especially as they relate to proper nouns and technical terms that would be unfamiliar to notetakers and the software.

Vindman reviewed the rough transcript and made edits. Yesterday, the Army lieutenant colonel told lawmakers that some of those edits were not reflected in the final document that was released to the public.

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