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Trump takes aim at war hero on his own White House team

11/04/19 08:00AM

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman has left Donald Trump and his allies in a difficult position. Vindman, a decorated war hero and the top Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council, testified to the congressional impeachment inquiry last week, and his opening statement painted a highly unflattering portrait of the president and his Ukrainian scheme.

Complicating matters, Vindman is a difficult witness to dismiss: he's a current White House official with direct, first-hand information about what transpired -- he was, for example, on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky -- and has the credibility that comes from being a decorated American combat veteran.

This did not stop some of the White House's allies in conservative media from going after Vindman's patriotism last week, and it now appears the president himself is taking aim at his own National Security Council official. Here, for example, was an exchange between NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell and Trump on Saturday night:

Q: Mr. President, do you regret calling Lieutenant Colonel Vindman a "Never Trumper" as Commander-in-Chief?

TRUMP: Do I re- -- what? Say it again.

Q: Do you regret calling Lieutenant Colonel Vindman a "Never Trumper"?

TRUMP: Well, you'll be seeing very soon what comes out. And then you -- then you can ask the question in a different way.

It was possible that the president was just using this as a line to buy time. Indeed, the Republican does this frequently when confronted with questions he considers awkward and doesn't want to answer: Trump suggests secret information will soon put the issue in a new light. Then time goes by, new controversies arise, and he never gets around to divulging the information that only existed in his mind.

But yesterday afternoon, the president again returned to the subject. Asked about possible evidence he has against Lt. Col. Vindman, Trump replied, "We'll be showing that to you real soon, okay?"

It's still quite possible that there is no evidence and Trump is casting aspersions as a political ploy that's starting to resemble McCarthyism. It's also possible, however, that the president and his team have done opposition research on an active-duty war hero who's currently a member of the White House national security staff.

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Fate of Trump's abettors may not be aligned with impeachment

Fate of Trump's abettors may not be aligned with impeachment

11/01/19 09:44PM

Rachel Maddow looks at new reporting that Trump counselor John Eisenberg sought to hide the record of Donald Trump's call with Ukrainian President Zelensky on a secret server upon learning that Trump's conduct was improper, and talks with Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, about what happens to the peripheral players... watch

Bad day in court for Giuliani associate Igor Fruman

Bad day in court for Giuliani associate Igor Fruman

11/01/19 09:02PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the difficult day Rudy Giuliani associate Igor Fruman had in court today as his lawyer tried to ease some of the restrictions of his bail with a less-than-convincing argument that Fruman's one-way plane ticket was not an indication that he was trying to flee the United States. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 11.1.19

11/01/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A big story: "The senior White House lawyer who placed a record of President Donald Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine's president in a top-secret system also instructed at least one official who heard the call not to tell anyone about it, according to testimony heard by House impeachment investigators this week."

* Federally financed discrimination? "The Trump administration is proposing a rule that would allow faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to continue getting taxpayer funding even if they exclude LGBTQ families and others from their services based on religious beliefs."

* A story worth watching: "A federal judge sharply challenged the Trump administration on Thursday over its objections to a House Democratic lawsuit trying to force the testimony of one of Robert Mueller's star witnesses as part of their broader impeachment inquiry."

* State Department: "President Donald Trump on Thursday nominated Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, to serve as the State Department's second-in-command. Biegun would replace John Sullivan, who was nominated to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to Russia. Both positions require Senate confirmation."

* FDA: "President Donald Trump on Friday picked a cancer specialist and hospital executive to lead the Food and Drug Administration. If confirmed, Dr. Stephen Hahn of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston would inherit a raft of high-profile public health issues, including leading the agency's response to a wave of underage vaping and the opioid epidemic."

* It strikes me as pretty funny that Kellyanne Conway said yesterday, ahead of the House floor vote on the impeachment inquiry, "Dirty little secret: They don't have the votes." A few hours later, the measure passed, 232 to 196.

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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Nunes calls impeachment investigators a 'cult,' irony be damned

11/01/19 12:47PM

In June 2018, then-Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) complained that too much of today's Republican Party has found itself in "a cult-like situation as it relates to a president." Soon after, Donald Trump Jr. appeared on Fox News and was surprisingly reluctant to reject the criticism.

"You know what," the president's adult son said, "if it's a cult, it's because they like what my father is doing."

In other words, Trump Jr. was comfortable with the use of the "cult," but uncomfortable with the Republican senator's reluctance to join the GOP sect.

A year and a half later, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), somehow the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, used the same word during yesterday floor debate on the presidential impeachment inquiry. As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank noted, the GOP congressman's rhetoric was "jaw-dropping."

He railed about the sort of person who believes in "conspiracy theories" and relies on "defamation and slander," who spins a "preposterous narrative" with "no evidence" and only "bizarre obsession."

Surely he was describing one Donald J. Trump to a T?

On the contrary, Nunes applied these Trumpian signatures to Democrats. "What we're seeing among Democrats on the Intelligence Committee," he said, "is like a cult. These are a group of people loyally following their leader as he bounces from one outlandish conspiracy to another."

I realize that I'm-rubber-and-you're-glue projection has become common in Republican circles of late, but Devin Nunes' "no puppeting" efforts were extraordinary, even by 2019 standards.

It would've been entirely appropriate for one of Nunes' Democratic colleagues to borrow his notes, walk to a microphone, and repeat some of his comments, word for word: "These are a group of people loyally following their leader as he bounces from one outlandish conspiracy to another."

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.1.19

11/01/19 12:00PM

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

* Ahead of Iowa's Democratic presidential caucuses, a newly released New York Times/Siena poll shows four candidates within five points of each other: Elizabeth Warren is out in front with 22%, followed by Bernie Sanders at 19%, Pete Buttigieg at 18%, and Joe Biden at 17%. The only other candidate to top 3% was Amy Klobuchar, who had 4%.

* Elizabeth Warren promised to go into more detail on how she intends to finance her Medicare-for-All plan, and this morning, the Massachusetts Democrat unveiled a relatively detailed blueprint that places most of the revenue burden on businesses and the wealthy, while proposing "not one penny in middle-class tax increases."

* Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro said he needed to raise $800,000 by last night or he'd end his presidential campaign. It appears he met his goal, so his candidacy will continue.

* With two weeks remaining before Louisiana's competitive gubernatorial race, Donald Trump said this morning he'll visit the Pelican State tonight for a campaign rally in support of first-time candidate Eddie Rispone. According to the White House schedule, however, he'll actually be in Mississippi tonight, and he'll campaign in Louisiana on Wednesday.

* On a related note, Kentucky's gubernatorial election is Tuesday, and Trump has scheduled a rally in the Bluegrass State on Monday night in support of incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (R).

* Speaking of Kentucky, Ed Kilgore had a good piece yesterday on the degree to which Republicans are trying to create a "red scare" in the state's gubernatorial race, sending direct mail "modeled on 1930s-era Soviet posters of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin, but with the evil commie trio of Warren, AOC, and Bernie flanking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear, who is about as much of a socialist as Mitch McConnell is a model of bipartisanship."

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Pastors from the Las Vegas area pray with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a visit to the International Church of Las Vegas, and International Christian Academy on Oct. 5, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump adds televangelist to his White House team

11/01/19 11:20AM

Donald Trump has invested considerable time and energy into cultivating ties with the religious right movement, and it stands to reason that the president would look for ways to solidify his connections to politically conservative evangelical Christians ahead of his 2020 campaign.

But cozying up to televangelists is one thing; hiring a televangelist to work at the White House is something else.

Paula White, a televangelist based in Florida and personal pastor to President Trump whom he has known since 2002, has joined the Trump administration in an official capacity, according to a White House official.

Ms. White will work in the Office of Public Liaison, the official said, which is the division of the White House overseeing outreach to groups and coalitions organizing key parts of the president's base. Her role will be to advise the administration's Faith and Opportunity Initiative, which Mr. Trump established last year by executive order and which aims to give religious groups more of a voice in government programs devoted to issues like defending religious liberty and fighting poverty.

The New York Times' report on this noted that White has "a large following among Christians who believe in the 'prosperity gospel,' which teaches that God blesses people he deems to be of strong faith with wealth, good health and other gifts."

The same article added that many other Christians consider the "prosperity gospel" to be "heresy."

And while I'm inclined to put aside questions related to theological merits, the fact that Paula White will now have a job at the White House suggests it's probably worth taking a look at her record.

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Image: U.S. President Trump delivers statement following a shooting at a Congressional Republicans baseball practice, at the White House in Washington

Despite recent promises, Trump abandons blueprint for gun reforms

11/01/19 10:40AM

Three months ago, there were back-to-back mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, leaving 31 people dead over the course of about 13 hours. Not surprisingly, many Americans once again looked to elected leaders to do something about gun violence in the United States.

Donald Trump assured the public that he was prepared to take the issue seriously. "We're going to come with something that's going to be, really, very good -- beyond anything that's been done so far," the president told reporters on Aug. 7. He added that White House officials had already begun talks with congressional leaders, before complaining about his predecessors' inability to address the issue "over the last 30 years."

At the same Q&A, the Republican went on to voice his strong support for expanded background checks -- "like we've never had before," he said -- before vowing to "certainly bring up" a ban on assault weapons.

In context, all of this was poised to be part of a White House blueprint of reforms, which Trump intended to present to lawmakers and the public. In mid-September, the president suggested he was still serious about this, adding, "[W]e'll be reporting back in a fairly short period of time. There are a lot of things under discussion. Some things will never happen, and some things can, really, very much -- some very meaningful things can happen."

According to a new Washington Post report, the White House has decided not to bother to make anything happen.

President Trump has abandoned the idea of releasing proposals to combat gun violence that his White House debated for months following mass shootings in August, according to White House officials and lawmakers, a reversal from the summer when the president insisted he would offer policies to curb firearm deaths.

Trump has been counseled by political advisers, including campaign manager Brad Parscale and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, that gun legislation could splinter his political coalition, which he needs to stick together for his reelection bid, particularly amid an impeachment battle.

The article added that the White House Domestic Policy Council had worked on a plan that included eight to 12 tenets, but Team Trump has since decided to "move on."

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it's not your imagination.

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After latest spill, Trump's Keystone assurances appear ridiculous

11/01/19 10:06AM

It was exactly four years ago this week when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump condemned the Obama administration's decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. As the future president put it at the time, the proposed oil pipeline would be "good for the environment."

Trump added that there was "no downside" to approving the project.

Yeah, about that....

The Keystone pipeline system, an addition to which has been the subject of environmental protests for years, leaked about 383,000 gallons of crude oil in North Dakota, covering an estimated half-acre of wetland, state environmental regulators said.

The spill, which has been contained, occurred in a low-gradient drainage area near the small town of Edinburg in northeast North Dakota, less than 50 miles from the Canadian border, according to Karl Rockeman, the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality's division of water quality.

"It is one of the larger spills in the state," he said in an email on Thursday.

As regular readers may recall, this latest spill was not the first such incident involving the Keystone project.

But it's not altogether clear Trump knows or cares about such details. During remarks in North Dakota a couple of years ago, the president said in reference to the pipeline. "I think environmentally better. I really believe that – environmentally better."

Better than what, he did not say.

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Why Republicans delivered suspicious packages to congressional offices

11/01/19 09:20AM

An unfortunate part of work on Capitol Hill is learning to be cautious about suspicious packages. This has been true for a while, but congressional aides were reminded of the threat around this time last year when a deranged Donald Trump supporter targeted lawmakers and prominent journalists with pipe bombs.

With this in mind, Roll Call reported yesterday on an unfortunate and ill-considered Republican stunt.

Several House Democrats in battleground districts complained Thursday that a political stunt by Republicans intended to warn them they would not be in office long because of impeachment instead ended up wasting the time of Capitol Police after aides complained of receiving suspicious packages.

The National Republican Congressional Committee sent packing boxes to the Capitol Hill offices of the Democrats, most of whom flipped Republican districts in 2018 and are expected to have competitive campaigns to keep them next year.

The suspicious packages were supposed to represent "moving boxes," which the NRCC found amusing. Others were far less entertained: Aaron Fritschner, who works for Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), explained that he heard members of the U.S. Capitol Police, whose time Republicans wasted, tell staffers, "Do not touch a package like that, call us first."

Among those targeted with "moving boxes" were Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), and Conor Lamb (D-Pa.). For her part, Wexton responded, "I cannot figure out why anyone would think it's funny to leave suspicious packages for members of Congress."

Common sense makes clear this prank was unwise, but I'm also struck by the ostensible point of the stunt gone awry: for the National Republican Congressional Committee, lawmakers approving an impeachment inquiry -- not impeachment itself, but simply seeking answers about alleged presidential wrongdoing -- are risking their careers by ignoring the will of the electorate.

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel added, in reference to the impeachment inquiry, "The longer this goes, we are seeing more and more voters shift to supporting the president and recognizing that this is a totally partisan endeavor by the Democrats."

There's quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.

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