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Trump's tale of canceled Iran operation strains credulity

Trump's tale of canceled Iran operation strains credulity

06/21/19 09:00PM

Ali Velshi looks at Donald Trump's story of calling off a military strike on Iran in the context of Trump's disregard for saying true things. Courtney Kube, NBC News national security and military reporter joins to discuss where Trump's description diverges from what is typical military planning for an operation like this Iran... watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 6.21.19

06/21/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* ICE: "Immigration authorities are planning a massive roundup Sunday of undocumented families that have received deportation orders, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News."

* A 7-2 ruling: "The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday reversed the conviction of a Mississippi death row inmate who said the state prosecutor repeatedly kicked black people off the jury each time he was tried for the same murders."

* A story we've been following: "Missouri's lone abortion clinic can still operate after a St. Louis judge on Friday kept an injunction in effect allowing it to perform the procedure."

* Wisconsin: "The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld lame-duck laws Friday that limit the power of the state's new Democratic governor, handing Republicans a victory in one of several legal fights over the laws. Two other lawsuits over the lame-duck laws are ongoing. The state Supreme Court is considering one and a federal judge the other."

* It was pretty weird when Donald Trump told a Time magazine photographer he could "go to prison" for taking a picture of a Kim Jong Un letter the American president held up during an interview.

* This ought to be interesting: "Andrew Weissmann, one of the top prosecutors for Robert S. Mueller III on the Russia investigation, is writing a book that will explore his work on the special counsel's inquiry, according to a publishing executive with knowledge of the deal."

* The latest NRA drama involves Christopher Cox: "The palace intrigue at the National Rifle Association deepened on Thursday as the gun group suspended its second-in-command and top lobbyist, accusing him of complicity in the recent failed coup against its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre."

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Trump points to new sanctions on Iran that don't actually exist

06/21/19 04:47PM

In a series of tweets this morning, Donald Trump explained why, from his perspective, he backed off military strikes against Iranian targets. To hear the president tell it, the mission presented to him by U.S. military leaders was a disproportionate response, so he called it off "10 minutes before the strike."

There's no shortage of questions about whether this version of events is true, and there's ample room for skepticism.

But as part of the same missive, the Republican added, in apparent reference to Iran, "Sanctions are biting & more added last night." Is that true? Did the White House impose new sanctions on Tehran yesterday evening?

Evidently, no, the president seems to have made that up. The Washington Post reported this afternoon:

The White House did not impose new sanctions against Iran on Thursday in response to its downing of a U.S. military drone, contrary to President Trump's assertion in a Twitter post Friday morning.

Trump's statement of new penalties against Iran came during a string of Twitter posts.... But no such sanctions were imposed. [...]

A White House spokesman did not respond to an inquiry regarding Trump's comments.

I imagine White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would've heard several questions about this at today's briefing, but in Trump's White House, press briefings have effectively ceased.

Alas, this wasn't the first time this president has been caught peddling false claims to the public about sanctions.

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Writer becomes latest woman to accuse Trump of misconduct

06/21/19 03:34PM

E. Jean Carroll spent years as a prominent writer, media figure, and advice columnist, including having hosted a show on America's Talking, which later became MSNBC. She's written a new book on her experiences, which includes allegations of misconduct toward several men.

In a book excerpt published in New York magazine, one of the allegations is directed at Donald Trump.

When Carroll meets Donald Trump in Bergdorf Goodman, the encounter starts as a friendly one. Trump recognizes her as "that advice lady"; Carroll recognizes him as "that real-estate tycoon." Trump tells Carroll that he's there to buy a gift for "a girl," and though we don't learn the identity of this mystery woman, Carroll places the ensuing incident in late 1995 or early 1996, during which time Trump was married to Marla Maples.

When Trump asks Carroll to advise him on what to buy, she agrees, and the two eventually make their way to the lingerie section. Trump suggests a lace bodysuit and encourages Carroll to try it on; she, deflecting, jokingly suggests that he try it on instead. After they reach the dressing rooms, events turn violent. In Carroll's account, Trump shoves her against a wall inside a dressing room, pulls down her tights, and, "forcing his fingers around my private area, thrusts his penis halfway -- or completely, I'm not certain -- inside me."

She said she told two friends about the alleged incident at the time, both of whom are journalists the writer did not identify by name.

Carroll's allegations, which have not been independently verified, come nearly three years after many other women raised related claims of misconduct against the New York Republican.

A White House official described Carroll's claims as "completely false and unrealistic." Trump also repeatedly denied any wrongdoing after facing earlier accusations, and in 2016, he condemned his accusers as "liars." Two weeks before Election Day 2016, Trump also vowed to file lawsuits against the women once the race was over.

While he never followed through on that promise, one of his accusers, Summer Zervos, is currently suing Trump for defamation, and while the president's lawyers have tried to derail her litigation, those efforts have thus far failed and the case continues.

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Donald Trump,Justin Trudeau

Trump's interest in Air Force One goes around the bend

06/21/19 02:31PM

Donald Trump spoke briefly in the Oval Office yesterday, sitting alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, largely to emphasize their support for the revised NAFTA. But just as reporters were preparing to start asking about a possible military confrontation with Iran, a model Air Force One was presented on a nearby table.

The American president, who recently bragged about his personal involvement in design elements of the plane, gushed with pride yesterday.

"I was going to say this is the new Air Force One, which we ordered, which they've been trying to order for a lot of years. We were able to shave $1.5 billion off the price. When I got here, they were going to spend a lot more money than we spent. And I would say the plane basically is an upgrade over that model.

"We actually are getting things that they didn't get. We're saving about $1.5 billion. So it's going to be terrific. It's under construction, right now, by Boeing."

This stood out for me for a few reasons. First, Trump's previous claims about the project's costs have failed to stand up to scrutiny.

Second, there's the fact that the Republican is still eager to change Air Force One's exterior paint color, which would coincidentally bring it more in line with the colors of his corporate jet.

Third, Trump seems to believe his design changes are a done deal, but Congress apparently feels differently.

But even if we put aside all of these relevant details, there's still the fact that there's something kind of weird about the president's fascination with the subject matter.

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New York Times hacked - Michele Richinick - 08/28/2013

In his campaign against the NYT, Trump forgets how journalism works

06/21/19 12:50PM

Early this morning, with much of the world's attention focused on the White House's abandoned mission against Iran, Donald Trump decided it was a good time to go on the attack ... against the New York Times.

"Just revealed that the Failing and Desperate New York Times was feeding false stories about me, & those associated with me, to the FBI. This shows the kind of unprecedented hatred I have been putting up with for years with this Crooked newspaper. Is what they have done legal?

"'This Russia Collusion Hoax was perpetrated in part by people inside the government, and in part by a compliant (Fake News) media.' Mollie Hemingway. @TuckerCarlson @foxandfriends The facts are starting to pour out. Stay tuned!"

As Trump conspiracy theories go, this one was a little more confusing than most. The New York Times -- a newspaper the president has repeatedly accused of "treason" -- gave the FBI false information? Huh?

Apparently, Trump and Fox News were excited about this report in the conservative Washington Examiner, which was published yesterday, and which said, "A New York Times reporter fed information about Jared Kushner meeting with Russians to the FBI, newly released emails show."

That's not quite what happened. In March 2017, the New York Times' Michael Schmidt reached out to an official in the FBI's public-affairs office about the bureau's possible scrutiny of Jared Kushner as part of the investigation into the Russia scandal.

The newspaper ran its report on this soon after.

As a rule, deciphering Trump's media conspiracy theories is inherently frustrating, but the biggest problem with this one is that it's completely bonkers.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.21.19

06/21/19 12:00PM

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

* In the wake of the controversy surrounding his comments about segregationist senators, former Vice President Joe Biden reportedly huddled last night with senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

* On a related note, Biden also reportedly called one of his 2020 rivals, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), in the hopes of smoothing things over after their back-and-forth this week.

* Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) officially endorsed Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) presidential campaign this morning. He's the second non-California member of the Congressional Black Caucus to announce support for Harris this week.

* Right on cue, Republican leaders in D.C. are vowing to do whatever it takes to derail Roy Moore's (R) U.S. Senate campaign in Alabama, which the disgraced former judge kicked off yesterday afternoon.

* Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reportedly came up with a non-aggression pact of sorts, agreeing they wouldn't publicly criticize each other during their respective presidential campaigns.

* Sinclair Broadcast Group's latest segment from former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn looks a bit like a campaign ad for the Republican ticket -- and local news stations are required to air it as part of their news broadcasts.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to the crowd as he arrives at a rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on May 25, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

Trump isn't sure he has to bother reaching out to swing voters

06/21/19 11:20AM

In the modern political era, there's no precedent for a sitting president, eyeing a re-election campaign, downplaying the importance of swing voters. And yet, there was Donald Trump making that case during his interview with Time magazine.

Despite the trappings of convention, however, Trump has for the most part thrown out the playbook for incumbency. The last three two-term Presidents were lifted in important ways by a bipartisan message. Bill Clinton ran on the 1994 crime bill and tax reform. George W. Bush ran on keeping America safe in the wake of 9/11. Barack Obama reminded voters that Osama bin Laden was dead and General Motors was alive.

Trump, who lost the popular vote in 2016 and is the only President in the history of Gallup polling never to crack 50% approval, says he's ready to defy that legacy. "I think my base is so strong, I'm not sure that I have to do that," he tells TIME, after being asked whether he should reach out to swing voters.

Looking over the full transcript, Time specifically asked the president about taking this opportunity, while Democratic candidates fight among themselves, to "reach out" beyond his core Republican base.

The president said that "might happen," but thanks to what Trump sees as the strength of his base, he's "not sure" that he has to do that.

It's a striking perspective, not just as a strategic matter -- common sense suggests an unpopular president who lost the popular vote should be desperate to expand his support -- but also because it tells us what to expect from Trump in the coming months.

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Image: Immigrant children now housed in a tent encampment under the new "zero tolerance" policy by the Trump administration are shown walking in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas

Trump's lies about his family-separation policy take a disturbing turn

06/21/19 10:42AM

Donald Trump sat down with Time magazine this week and repeated a familiar lie about his family-separation policy.

"But you have to understand, they were separated with President Obama. They were separated with President Bush. I didn't change the policy, and the policy had been changed, it was -- I'm the one that ended separation."

Looking at the full transcript, Time asked the president, "Would you consider reinstating the family-separation policy?" Trump's response meandered a bit, and included a variety of odd claims, but it also referenced Barack Obama and the Democratic administration 10 times -- literally.

At one point, Trump went so far as to say he "inherited" his own family-separation policy from his predecessor.

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, Trump was brazenly lying.

“During the Obama administration, there was no policy in place that resulted in the systematic separation of families at the border, like we are now seeing under the Trump administration,” Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, explained last summer. “Our understanding is that generally parents were not prosecuted for illegal entry under President Obama. There may have been some separation if there was suspicion that the children were being trafficked or a claimed parent-child relationship did not actually exist. But nothing like the levels we are seeing today.”

Is Trump “the one that ended” the family-separation policy? Grammar aside, this is backwards: Trump is the one who created the family-separation policy. As we've discussed. he eventually issued an order to end his own practice, but for Trump to brag about this is like listening to an arsonist boast about putting out a fire he started.

Making matters considerably worse, the policy the president wants credit for ending may not have entirely ended.

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Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum

On Iran, Trump's version of events doesn't do him any favors

06/21/19 10:05AM

The news overnight was unsettling: Donald Trump reportedly approved military strikes on Iranian targets, but he backed off before the plan was executed. There was no shortage of unanswered questions surrounding the developments, not the least of which was whether the president changed his mind or whether the mission was derailed for logistical reasons.

Trump turned to Twitter this morning to share his perspective on what transpired. This was his message in its entirety:

"President Obama made a desperate and terrible deal with Iran - Gave them 150 Billion Dollars plus I.8 Billion Dollars in CASH! Iran was in big trouble and he bailed them out. Gave them a free path to Nuclear Weapons, and SOON. Instead of saying thank you, Iran yelled Death to America.

"I terminated deal, which was not even ratified by Congress, and imposed strong sanctions. They are a much weakened nation today than at the beginning of my Presidency, when they were causing major problems throughout the Middle East. Now they are Bust!

"On Monday they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters. We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General.

"10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!"

Remember, this is Trump's version of events. The president has earned a reputation as one of the nation's least reliable sources, especially about matters pertaining to his own presidency, and accepting a flamboyantly dishonest man's claims about his actions is inherently unwise.

That said, what's striking about the president's story is that he seems to think it makes him look better. It does not.

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Oregon Governor Kate Brown speaks at the state capital building in Salem, Oregon, Feb. 20, 2015. (Photo by Steve Dipaola/Reuters)

Oregon Republicans flee their state to derail Dems' climate bill

06/21/19 09:20AM

Oregon is one of a handful of states in which Democrats control all of the levers of power. There's a Democratic governor working with sizable Democratic majorities in the state House and state Senate.

With this in mind, when Oregon policymakers decided to move forward with a fairly ambitious plan to address the climate crisis, Republican opponents didn't have many options. They did, however, have one unusual solution to their problem: GOP lawmakers could literally flee their own state.

And so they did.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown deployed the state police Thursday to try to round up Republican lawmakers who fled the Capitol in an attempt to block a vote on a landmark climate plan that would be the second of its kind in the nation.

Minority Republicans want the cap-and-trade proposal aimed at dramatically lowering the state's greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to be sent to the voters for approval instead of instituted by lawmakers. Negotiations with Democrats fell apart late Wednesday prompting conservatives to pursue a walkout, said Kate Gillem, a spokeswoman for Senate Republicans said Thursday.

Some members have even left the state to avoid a vote, Gillem said. State police don't have jurisdiction beyond state lines.

To hold a vote, the state Senate needs a quorum of 20 members in the 30-seat chamber. The Democratic majority has 18 members.

It's worth emphasizing that the Democratic proposal isn't exactly radical. If the law were to take effect, Oregon would have a cap-and-trade model, similar to the system approved by its neighbors in California, in which polluters would face a ceiling on carbon emissions. Those who wanted to go above that limit would need to trade credits with other companies.

This is, incidentally, a market-based approach that Republicans used to like before the party orthodoxy on climate science shifted dramatically to the right.

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gestures while taking part in a panel discussion at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (Photo by Michael Dwyer/AP)

Clarence Thomas presents radical vision for US religious liberty

06/21/19 08:41AM

This year's big U.S. Supreme Court case for the separation of church and state involved something known as the "Peace Cross" -- a 40-foot-tall concrete Christian symbol on public land in Maryland, not far from Washington, D.C. The case, not surprisingly, was based on the idea that state support for a giant cross -- erected as a World War I memorial nearly a century ago -- is at odds with the First Amendment.

The justices didn't quite see it that way. In American Legion v. American Humanist Association, a court majority said the cross can remain because it is old. "With sufficient time, religiously expressive monuments, symbols, and practices can become embedded features of a community's landscape and identity," Justice Samuel Alito wrote.

The full ruling is a little complicated, with a series of concurring rulings -- and one excellent dissent from Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, who offered a spirited defense of church-state separation -- including Justice Neil Gorshuch expressing a degree of scorn for atheists.

But in a piece for NBC News, Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, highlighted a detail of particular interest.

Look behind the curtain and we have justices putting forward opinions that would fundamentally re-shape our understanding of the Establishment Clause.

We have our longest-serving justice, Clarence Thomas, arguing that the Establishment Clause may not even apply to actions by states and localities, but instead only applies to laws passed by Congress.

That's not an exaggeration. Under Clarence Thomas' vision, state governments don't necessarily have to honor the First Amendment's religious liberty clauses at all.

The implications of such a radical vision are staggering.

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Image: President Trump comments on Syria, FBI raid of Michael Cohen's office at White House

After reportedly approving Iran airstrikes, Trump backs off

06/21/19 08:00AM

Yesterday afternoon in the Oval Office, reporters asked Donald Trump about a possible response to Iran shooting down a U.S. drone. "They made a very bad mistake," the president said, echoing an earlier tweet.

Asked how he intended to proceed, Trump added, "You'll find out... You'll find out. You'll find out.... You're going to find out. They made a very big mistake."

According to multiple accounts, the Republican soon after approved a military strike, before backing away soon after.

President Donald Trump approved military strikes on Iranian targets in retaliation for a strike on a U.S. drone but later backed away, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported Thursday night, citing multiple administration officials.

The Times quoted a senior administration official as saying the operation was under way in its early stages -- with planes in the air and ships in position -- when it was called off.

The fact that these details leaked doesn't come as too big of a surprise. The number of people involved in planning and executing this kind of mission is considerable, so it stands to reason that we'd hear about what transpired.

That said, there are still plenty of questions as to what, exactly, prompted the president to back off. It's possible, for example, that Trump decided restraint was the smarter move. It's also possible there were some kind of logistical challenges that forced a change in plans.

The latter is of particular concern, since it leaves open the possibility that the president might yet approve military strikes on Iranian targets again.

What's far clearer is the fact that Trump and his team don't appear to have a coherent policy, per se, and their recklessness has contributed to a highly dangerous and unstable dynamic.

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