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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.9.19

10/09/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The offensive Trump allowed to happen: "Turkey launched airstrikes in northeastern Syria on Wednesday, Kurdish militia leaders and eyewitnesses said, prompting panic among civilians in the region and despair among the fighters who have been crucial U.S. allies in the war on the Islamic State militant group."

* Germany: "Two people were shot to death and several were injured Wednesday after gunfire erupted at a synagogue and a nearby kebab shop in the city of Halle in eastern Germany, in violence that was livestreamed by the gunman and posted online. The shooting occurred on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur."

* The point, apparently, is to prevent power lines from sparking wildfires: "The Pacific Gas and Electric Company said that early Wednesday it began implementing the first phase of a 'public safety power shutoff,' expected to affect 513,000 customers in northern California, and that at noon (3 p.m. ET) a second phase affecting around 234,000 customers would begin."

* A story we've been following: "Democrats pursuing an impeachment inquiry of President Trump want to take a fresh look at whether the sale of anti-tank missiles to Kyiv last year was in any way connected to Ukraine's decision to halt investigations into Trump's campaign chairman."

* I'm eager to see additional reporting on this: "President Donald Trump directed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and two top State Department officials to deal with his private attorney Rudy Giuliani when the Ukrainian President sought to meet Trump, in a clear circumvention of official channels, according to two sources familiar with the conversation."

* Cohen keeps generating headlines: "Michael Cohen, the former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, is expected to be brought back to New York for a meeting with state prosecutors where he's expected to tell them everything he knows, a law enforcement official tells CNN."

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Image: Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump

Lindsey Graham insists impeachment might 'destroy the nation'

10/09/19 02:25PM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has reason to feel frustrated. The Republican senator has gone out of his way to maintain a sycophantic alliance with Donald Trump, hoping that it would offer him an opportunity to help guide the president's foreign policy. That plan failed: Trump not only ignored Graham's pleas for U.S. policy toward Syria, the White House didn't even bother to tell the South Carolinian what was going on.

At the same time, Graham is also apparently frustrated that he can't stop the impeachment of the president who doesn't much seem to care about his loyalty.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday said that he is sending a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warning that Senate Republicans won't impeach President Trump over his call with Ukraine.

Graham, in an appearance on Fox News's "Fox & Friends," said that he was going to ask other Senate Republicans to sign a letter to Pelosi saying that they "do not believe the transcript of the phone call between the president and the Ukraine is an impeachable offense."

"They're about to destroy the nation for no good reason," Graham said. "And I want Nancy Pelosi to know that Republican senators are not going to impeach this president based on this transcript, so she can stop now before she destroys the country."

It's a curious approach to the issue. Graham seems to believe, for example, that he and other Senate Republicans will side with Trump no matter the results of the impeachment inquiry, so there's no point in the U.S. House pursuing the matter. The South Carolinian is the second GOP leader this week, following Mitch McConnell, to effectively rule out the possibility of Republicans holding their president accountable.

The Senate trial isn't close to beginning, but some in the majority party apparently want to make it clear that the fix is in.

Of course, the House impeachment is not dependent on a specific Senate outcome. In 1998, for example, Graham helped lead the impeachment charge against Bill Clinton, knowing at the time that there was no realistic chance of the Senate removing the Democratic president from office. Graham did it anyway, indifferent to the process' effects or likelihood of success.

But it was the "destroy the nation" line that struck me as especially important.

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Those who mistake an American president for a king

10/09/19 12:50PM

One of the common threads tying together many of Donald Trump's disparate scandals is an unsettling idea touted by his lawyers and defenders: the president must be freed from the burdens of accountability.

Follow the law as it relates to disclosing tax returns? No, Team Trump says, because a president can't be investigated. Follow legal precedent related to grand jury testimony during impeachment proceedings? No, Team Trump says, because the president operates above the law. Cooperate with a congressional impeachment inquiry? No, Team Trump says, because a president can pick and choose which legal processes he deems legitimate.

With this in mind, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote a ridiculous letter to congressional leaders yesterday, effectively making the case that the president considers the ongoing impeachment proceedings "unconstitutional" and has therefore decided to defy lawmakers' efforts to hold him accountable. Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, told Roll Call that Cipollone's letter is "borderline hysterical," adding, "Cipollone would rip up the Constitution and make impeachment subject to presidential consent."

Shaub, now a senior adviser at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), went on to say, in reference to the White House counsel's bizarre argument, "Its underlining assumption, that the executive must consent to an impeachment inquiry, mistakes Trump for a king."

Neal Katyal, the former acting U.S. solicitor general, drew a similar conclusion, noting on Twitter that Cipollone is "saying in effect" that the American president is "a king."

New York's Adam K. Raymond noted a related argument that unfolded on Fox News soon after.

On Tuesday's episode of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle, Joseph diGenova did what Giuliani hasn't. The lawyer and ardent Trump fan appeared on the show right next to Giuliani, when he called the impeachment proceedings against Trump "regicide."

"What you're seeing is regicide," said diGenova.... "This is regicide by another name, fake impeachment."

If that name sounds familiar, it's because last year Trump decided to hire Joe diGenova, a far-right conspiracy theorist and frequent Fox News guest, to help defend him from the investigation into the Russia scandal. They parted ways seven days later.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.9.19

10/09/19 12:00PM

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

* A national Quinnipiac poll released yesterday found Elizabeth Warren holding onto her narrow lead over Joe Biden in the race for the Democratic nomination, 29% to 26%. Bernie Sanders was third with 16%, and no other candidate topped 5%.

* The same poll found Biden leading Donald Trump in a hypothetical general election match-up by 11 points (51% to 40%), Warren leading Trump by eight points (49% to 41%), and Sanders leading him by seven points (49% to 42%).

* Presidential hopeful Andrew Yang was at 3% in the Quinnipiac poll, which means he's now the eighth candidate to qualify for the Democrats' presidential primary debate in November.

* On a related note, we learned yesterday that MSNBC and the Washington Post will co-host the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate on Nov. 20 in Georgia. As NBC News' report on this added, "The specific location, venue, format and moderators will be announced at a later date."

* With just a few days remaining ahead of Louisiana's first round of balloting in the state's gubernatorial race, the latest Emerson poll found Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) leading the field with 48% -- which is awfully close to the 50% threshold he'd need to avoid a runoff and serve a second term. Eddie Rispone (R) was second in the poll with 25%, followed by Ralph Abraham (R) at 19%.

* At home in Vermont yesterday, Bernie Sanders told reporters that in the wake of his heart attack that he'll have to "change the nature of the campaign a bit." The independent senator suggested the shift will mean holding fewer campaign events.

* Because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is nothing if not shameless, his re-election campaign yesterday began promoting a Politico article pointing to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao's alleged favoritism for Kentucky. Chao, of course, is McConnell's wife. "Mitch McConnell is a Kentucky Asset," the senator's team wrote in a tweet highlighting the report.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Trump's Justice Department rejects Watergate-era precedent

10/09/19 11:07AM

During Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal, there was a federal grand jury collecting information, hearing testimony, and issuing subpoenas relevant to the probe. As Congress pursues impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, lawmakers now want access to that information, and because the Trump administration has nothing to hide, the White House is eager to provide those materials in the name of transparency.

No, I'm just kidding. The Trump administration is actually fighting tooth and nail to block the grand jury materials from reaching Capitol Hill.

Lawyers for House Democrats on Tuesday urged a federal judge to release grand jury testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation as Congress conducts an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Douglas Letter, an attorney for the Judiciary Committee, said the materials are needed to investigate what Trump knew about Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. The committee is seeking access to grand jury witness transcripts that could demonstrate obstruction of justice, among other things.

Attorneys for the Department of Justice, however, told Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell that the House Judiciary Committee has not gone through the correct legal process necessary to obtain the secret material, which was redacted in the version of Mueller's report given to Congress and released to the public.

Because if there's one thing we know about Trump administration lawyers, it's their unyielding fealty toward correct legal processes.

In terms of the underlying legal dispute, grand jury transcripts are kept secret, though they can be shared as part of "judicial proceedings." The ongoing case is testing whether an impeachment process counts as a judicial proceeding, and whether the U.S. House's current impeachment inquiry is legitimate.

Judge Beryl Howell hasn't yet ruled, though she seemed skeptical yesterday of the Republican arguments. But as Rachel noted on the show last night, of particular interest was Trump's Justice Department arguing against Watergate-era precedent.

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Trump's case against whistleblower descends deeper into incoherence

10/09/19 10:28AM

The day after Donald Trump's July 25 phone meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the intelligence community whistleblower who helped uncover the scandal wrote a memo. It quoted a White House official who listened in on the call describing the meeting as "crazy," "frightening," and "completely lacking in substance related to national security."

The whistleblower added that the White House official was "visibly shaken by what had transpired," and as the New York Times reported, the official added that there was "already a conversation underway with White House lawyers about how to handle the discussion because, in the official's view, the president had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of advancing his own re-election bid in 2020."

That July memo was shared with the intelligence community's inspector general, and ultimately, with members of Congress.

The president, not surprisingly, is aware of the latest reporting on this, and he published a series of tweets this morning intended to push back against the revelations. Trump's missives were absurd, but they helped capture something important: the Republican is stuck in the wrong conversation.

"The Whistleblower's facts have been so incorrect about my "no pressure" conversation with the Ukrainian President, and now the conflict of interest and involvement with a Democrat Candidate, that he or she should be exposed and questioned properly. This is no Whistleblower. The Whistleblower's lawyer is a big Democrat. The Whistleblower has ties to one of my DEMOCRAT OPPONENTS. Why does the ICIG allow this scam to continue?

"The so-called Whistleblower, before knowing I was going to release the exact Transcript, stated that my call with the Ukrainian President was 'crazy, frightening, and completely lacking in substance related to national security.' This is a very big Lie. Read the Transcript!"

The president is clearly confused about basic details. Trump believes the whistleblower's account has been discredited, but that's not true. He also falsely attributed quotes to the whistleblower that actually came from a White House official. He also falsely suggested the intelligence community's inspector general can derail a congressional impeachment inquiry.

But what mattered most to me is the president's idea that he can tear down the whistleblower by alleging that he or she has "ties" to a Democrat, is "involved" with a Democrat, and has a lawyer who's a Democrat.

I have no idea who the whistleblower is and whether he or she has political "ties" to one party or another. I also have no idea why it would matter.

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House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. reacts to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2015. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

Despite previous friction, Trey Gowdy reportedly joins Team Trump

10/09/19 09:20AM

As Donald Trump moves closer to impeachment, the president is in need of some legal assistance. According to the Associated Press, he's adding a notable political figure to his team.

Former Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy has been tapped to serve as outside counsel to President Donald Trump as the House impeachment inquiry expands. That's according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal legal matters.

Gowdy is a former South Carolina congressman who did not seek reelection last year to the seat he had held for eight years.

Gowdy was the chairman of the House oversight committee. He led the congressional investigation of former presidential candidate Hilary Clinton and the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

There were some reports that suggested Gowdy initially turned down the offer, but he was persuaded by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who previously served alongside Gowdy as Republican congressmen from South Carolina.

The president, who previously suggested he likes to hire attorneys based on who's appeared on television, will likely be pleased to have someone of Gowdy's notoriety working on the impeachment process.

That said, I seem to recall Team Trump holding the South Carolina Republican in low regard in the not-too-distant past.

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Maybe Team Trump should read the Senate Intel report on Russia

10/09/19 08:42AM

The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a bipartisan report yesterday on how Russia used social media as part of the Kremlin-directed attack on the American elections. The document, released by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), made a series of recommendations about new laws to foreign interference, but it also served as an effective indictment against the perpetrators.

The 85-page report takes a comprehensive look at how the Internet Research Agency, a so-called troll farm based in Russia, used automated and fake social media personas in an attempt to sow discord, hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.

The committee found that Russian social media activity "was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump to the detriment of Secretary Clinton's campaign." [...]

The report confirms the findings of private researchers that African-American voters were targeted by the troll farm more frequently than any other group, in an apparent effort to suppress the vote and help Trump.

The Senate Intelligence Committee even uncovered evidence that the day after the 2016 election, operatives at the Internet Research Agency "uncorked a tiny bottle of champagne, took one gulp each and looked into each other's eyes." They celebrated because Trump's victory meant that the Kremlin's campaign had succeeded.

At a certain level, these topline findings probably seem unsurprising. In fact, you may not have even heard much about the Senate Intelligence Committee's findings because they seem obvious: Russia attacked American elections; Moscow's military intelligence operation relied on social media; and the purpose of the gambit was to elevate Donald Trump to power. This is entirely in line with our existing understanding of what transpired, though it's helpful to have a bipartisan Senate report documenting what transpired in fresh detail.

But as Rachel noted on the show last night, there's a related angle unfolding right now: the White House, even now, is still looking for evidence that Russia didn't attack American elections.

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The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

White House: Impeachment process is 'unconstitutional,' 'illegitimate'

10/09/19 08:00AM

Few genuinely believed that Donald Trump's White House would cooperate with Congress' impeachment inquiry with transparency and integrity. The question was how, and in what form, the president and his team would defy lawmakers' authority to hold Trump accountable.

Yesterday afternoon, the answer came into sharp focus with a letter from White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

The White House refused Tuesday to turn over internal documents regarding Ukraine being sought by House Democrats as the Trump administration dug in against their impeachment inquiry.

In a defiant letter that echoed the president's recent impeachment messaging -- accusing Democrats of violating the Constitution and civil liberties and attempting to overturn the results of the 2016 election -- the White House said it would not comply with the request from House Democrats because they were conducting an invalid investigation.

The full text of the eight-page letter is online here (pdf), and even by the standards of Trump World, this one's a doozy. I'm a little surprised a White House counsel agreed to put his name on it, since it's likely to do lasting harm to Cipollone's reputation as a legal professional.

Indeed, it's difficult to see the letter as even presenting a legal argument. In practice, it's as if the president threw a tantrum; the White House legal team jotted down some of his poorly articulated rage; and shameless Republican attorneys tried to put a legal-ish veneer on Trump's rant.

Gregg Nunziata, who served as legal counsel and a senior policy adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), described Cipollone's letter as "bananas" and a "barely-lawyered temper tantrum." Nunziata added that "no member of Congress," regardless of party or ideology, "should accept it."

It's that bad.

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