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Biden: No pardon for Trump if he's indicted after 2020

10/15/19 10:00AM

Former Vice President Joe Biden sat down with Radio Iowa this week and answered a question I haven't heard him address before.

During an interview with Radio Iowa later Sunday afternoon, Biden said if he is elected, he will not follow President Ford's example in pardoning Nixon so Nixon was not prosecuted for his role in Watergate.

"It wouldn't unite the country," Biden said. "You'd say: 'Wait a minute. I get a parking ticket and I've got to pay it. This happens to me and I've got to go to jail. This guy does all these things that put us jeopardy and he gets off? I think this is of a different nature. And I think President Ford, God love him, he's a good guy, I knew him pretty well. I think if he had to do it over again, he wouldn't have done it ... because he didn't get re-elected."

As regular readers know, I've been keeping an eye on this for a while, because for Donald Trump, winning a second term next year is about more than just power and ego; it's also about the statute of limitations.

After all, the president has been implicated in a variety of alleged crimes, though Trump appears to be shielded from prosecution so long as he’s in office. If he were to lose in 2020, that shield would disappear, and the prospect of an indictment would become quite real. Indeed, by most accounts, the only way for Trump to ensure he faces no criminal liability is for him to remain president for another four years.

But let’s say he doesn’t. For the sake of conversation, let’s imagine Trump not only loses the popular vote again, but also comes up short in the electoral college. Let’s also say it’s 2021 and the president’s Democratic successor, recognizing the possibility of Trump facing an indictment, has to decide whether to pull a Gerald Ford and issue a pardon for his/her scandal-plagued predecessor.

Biden is now committed to not pardoning Trump, and the Delaware Democrat isn't alone.

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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)

Facing crises, Team Trump takes aim at the church-state line

10/15/19 09:20AM

On Friday, Attorney General William Barr spoke at Notre Dame's law school and raised a few eyebrows by condemning societal ills on conspiring American secularists. As far as the nation's chief law enforcement official was concerned, non-religious Americans -- roughly a fifth of the population -- are helping advance "social pathology" and "moral upheaval." Barr added that these sinister secularists are responsible for "an unremitting assault" on "traditional values."

One day later, Donald Trump spoke at a religious right gathering, where he told social conservative activists, "Forever and always, Americans will believe in the cause of freedom, the power of prayer, and the eternal glory of God." Soon after, the president called into Fox News and insisted that there's a Christian revival underway because "everybody" knows that "the Russian witch hunt was a faux, phony fraud. And we got rid of that. And then they came up with this Ukrainian story that was made up by Adam Schiff."

And then, of course, there's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. USA Today reported late yesterday:

A recent speech about "Being a Christian Leader" by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was promoted on the State Department's homepage Monday, and has been met with criticism that it potentially violates the principle of separation of church and state enshrined in the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

The speech was delivered at the America Association of Christian Counselors on Friday in Nashville, Tennessee. Pompeo touts Christianity throughout the remarks, describing how he applies his faith to his government work, referencing God and the Bible during the entirety of the speech.

If you visited the U.S. State Department's website yesterday, its homepage featured a picture of Pompeo alongside text that read, "Being a Christian Leader." (That text has since been replaced with content about Turkish sanctions.)

Taken together, Team Trump's theological push isn't exactly subtle. In a country that's supposed to honor the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, it isn't exactly healthy, either.

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File photo taken in November 2017 shows U.S. President Donald Trump (and Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a welcome ceremony in Beijing.

Trump touts 'great' Chinese trade deal that doesn't actually exist

10/15/19 08:40AM

Over the weekend, Donald Trump spoke at the Voters Values Summit, one of the year's major gatherings of the religious right movement, and the president was eager to tout parts of his record. "We do great things," the Republican told the social conservative activists. "Look at what we did yesterday with China."

The comments came about 24 hours after Trump told reporters, "So, we just made what, I guess, is one of the biggest deals that's been made in a long time, with China." The president went on to say, "[I]f you look at the deal, the deal is so incredible. The deal is a great deal."

Part of the problem with the Republican's boast is that the framework of the agreement may be "great," but not for the United States. The Wall Street Journal published an interesting report the other day, noting that it was China that "emerged with wins" from the trade talks.

The other part of the problem, as the Associated Press reported, is that the trade deal Trump is so excited about doesn't actually exist, at least not yet.

[N]egotiators reached their tentative agreement only in principle. No documents have been signed. A final deal could still fall through, though Trump told reporters Friday he didn't think that would happen.

Many of the details remained to be worked out. Some of the thorniest issues -- such as U.S. allegations that China forces foreign companies to hand over trade secrets -- were dealt with only partially, or not at all, and will require further talks.

"The president is acting as if a lot of Chinese concessions have been nailed down, and they just haven't," said Derek Scissors, a China specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

A separate AP report added that despite Trump's rhetoric, "closer inspection suggests there isn't much substance" to the announced agreement. Scott Kennedy, who analyzes China's economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, added that Friday's announcement was "a nothing-burger," adding, "I call it the 'Invisible Deal.'... The only thing that happened Friday was that the U.S. delayed the tariff increase."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin conceded yesterday that the deal needs "a lot of work," and Beijing hasn't even acknowledged the existence of an agreement.

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Liz Cheney speaks during a campaign appearance in Casper, Wyo. on July 17, 2013.

Liz Cheney tries to connect impeachment, crisis conditions in Syria

10/15/19 08:00AM

There's no great mystery behind the crisis conditions in northern Syria. While conditions in the area were relatively stable of late, Donald Trump withdrew U.S. military forces -- defying the advice of his own administration and failing to consult our allies -- effectively giving the green light to Turkey to launch a brutal offensive against our Kurdish allies. The results have been catastrophic.

One of Congress' top Republicans argued yesterday, however, that House Democrats bare at least some of the blame for the crisis conditions.

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican, claimed Democrats' impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump is partly to blame for Turkey's invasion of northern Syria.

Though Trump has faced bipartisan backlash for withdrawing American troops from the region ahead of the Turkish assault against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces, Cheney said Democrats should also be held responsible for the crisis.

During a Fox News appearance, Cheney argued that the ongoing impeachment inquiry is part of an attempt "to weaken this president. The Wyoming Republican added, "It was not an accident that the Turks chose this moment to roll across the border. And I think the Democrats have got to pay very careful attention to the damage that they're doing with impeachment proceedings."

In other words, by Cheney's reasoning, Turkey saw an American president weakened by an impeachment inquiry, tried to take advantage of the opportunity, and launched a military assault. If only House Democrats had ignored Trump's misdeeds, the argument goes, maybe Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would've ignored the green light provided by the White House.

As the HuffPost report added, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office described Cheney's argument as "delusional," which seems more than fair under the circumstances. Indeed, the idea peddled yesterday by the House Republican conference chair is bizarre: Turkey doesn't care about some congressional hearings; it cares about the withdrawal of American troops. This isn't complicated.

I can appreciate why some of the White House's far-right allies would look for ways to shift the blame for Trump's disastrous decision away from the president, but unless Liz Cheney is prepared to make the case that the House Democratic majority forced Trump to make a ruinous national security decision, the whole argument is plainly ridiculous.

That said, there is a larger arc to this: some in the GOP want to characterize the impeachment process as inherently dangerous.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 10.14.19

10/14/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Chaos in northern Syria: "The U.S. military this weekend accelerated its plans to fully withdraw from Syria as Turkish forces continued their advance in the country's north and reports of human rights atrocities emerged."

* On a related note: "President Donald Trump said Monday he plans to sanction Turkey amid sustained criticism from Republican lawmakers over his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria to make way for a Turkish operation."

* Impeachment inquiry: "Fiona Hill, a former top National Security Council expert on Russia, was testifying to Congress behind closed doors Monday, the latest former Trump administration official to be subpoenaed as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump."

* In related news: "Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he was kicked out of this morning's deposition of Fiona Hill by House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff. Gaetz is not on any of the three committees conducting the impeachment investigation — Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight."

* Texas: "The Fort Worth, Texas, police officer who fatally shot a woman while she was babysitting her nephew over the weekend resigned Monday, hours before the police department was going to fire him."

* Nauseating: "A violent video showing a likeness of President Donald Trump shooting, stabbing and brutally assaulting members of the news media and political opponents prompted calls Monday for the White House to denounce the footage."

* I guess Trump saw something on television about this? "President Donald Trump used Twitter on Saturday morning to come to the defense of an army officer charged with murder and said the man's case was now under review at the White House."

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In this file photo taken on June 29, 2019 (front L-R) Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, advisor to the US President Ivanka Trump, US President Donald Trump and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo attend an event on women's empowerment during the G20 Summit

Why exactly would Donald Trump have Ivanka talk to world leaders?

10/14/19 02:39PM

The Associated Press had an interesting report over the weekend on Donald Trump's infamous July phone meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the contents of which are now the basis for an impeachment inquiry. But in the same article, the AP offered some notable behind-the-scenes details on the ways in which the White House prepares -- or least tries to prepare -- for these calls.

For example, there's apparently a problem with Trump's complete disinterest in preparing for important discussions.

One individual with firsthand knowledge of how the Trump calls with foreign leaders are handled said the president "hates" such "pre-briefs" and frequently has refused to do them. Trump doesn't like written background materials either. [...]

The person said a six-page pre-brief with attachments was once prepared for Trump before a call to a foreign leader. But that turned out to be too long, as did a single-page version. Preparing pre-brief note cards that offered about three talking points for Trump to make on a call was the norm.

This is, of course, unsettling, though it's also consistent with everything we've learned about the president's process. Trump can’t even be bothered to read his daily presidential intelligence briefing. Some aides have routinely found that “even a single page of bullet points” is too taxing for the president's limited attention span. A Trump confidant said a couple of years ago, “I call the president the two-minute man. The president has patience for a half-page.”

The AP article went on to note that Trump has a habit of taking his note cards and ripping them up after his conversations. Since the Presidential Records Act still exists, White House aides have to "put the papers out on a table and tape them back together to preserve them as official presidential records." This, too, is consistent with what we've heard before.

This tidbit from the AP report, however, was new to me: "Occasionally, while on the phone with foreign heads of state, Trump has handed the receiver to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, so she can talk with the leader."

Really?

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AG Barr blames 'moral upheaval' on conspiring US secularists

10/14/19 12:49PM

There's some disagreement among religious scholars over the phases of the Great Awakening, which are periods of Christian revival that began in the early 18th century. But according to Donald Trump, he may be responsible for helping usher in the latest phase.

"I was called by the great pastors of this country in a call about a week ago," the president told Fox News' Jeanine Pirro over the weekend, "and they said they have never seen electricity in the air, enthusiasm in the air. Churches are joining. People are joining the church." Trump added this Christian revival is the result of "everybody" knowing that "the Russian witch hunt was a faux, phony fraud. And we got rid of that. And then they came up with this Ukrainian story that was made up by Adam Schiff."

Evidently, this politically inspired Great Awakening is necessary, at least according to Attorney General William Barr, who spoke a day earlier at Notre Dame's law school and condemned societal ills on conspiring American secularists.

"We see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism," he said. "Basically every measure of this social pathology continues to gain ground."

He described several social issues as "consequences of this moral upheaval."

"Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic."

Bill Barr, with a conspiratorial flare, added, "This is not decay. This is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia, in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values."

I can appreciate the fact that Barr is "neck-deep" in the scandal that's likely to lead to the president's impeachment, and perhaps his bizarre tirade against non-religious Americans was intended to solidify Team Trump's support among Christian conservatives.

But that's not much of an excuse for the attorney general's offensive speech.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.14.19

10/14/19 12:00PM

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

* As expected, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) came out on top in the first round of balloting in the state's gubernatorial race, but his 47% wasn't enough to prevent a runoff. The incumbent will face millionaire novice Eddie Rispone (R), who received 27% support in the multi-candidate contest.

* Donald Trump, who headlined a rally in Louisiana late last week, said he pushed John Bel Edwards' support from 66% to 47%. There is literally no evidence to support this -- pre-election polls were surprisingly accurate -- and the president has an unfortunate habit of touting made-up numbers.

* After Facebook refused to take down a Trump campaign ad with demonstrably false claims, Elizabeth Warren launched an ad of her own with deliberately false information -- about Facebook.

* On a related note, the social-media giant responded by noting that broadcast stations have aired the same dishonest Trump ad. It opens an interesting door: broadcast stations are regulated by the FCC, while Facebook isn't regulated by government agency.

* Beto O'Rourke's campaign announced on Friday afternoon that it raised $4.5 million in the third quarter, which is an improvement on the second quarter. That said, nearly all of the top Democratic contenders had better July-to-September hauls.

* On a related note, O'Rourke said at CNN's LGBTQ town-hall event last week that he believes houses of worship should probably lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose marriage equality. That's almost certainly not a legally sound approach.

* Bernie Sanders noted in an ABC News interview, which aired yesterday, that there's an important difference between his vision and Elizabeth Warren's. "Elizabeth, I think, as you know, has said that she is a capitalist through her bones," the Vermont independent said. "I'm not."

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Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump

Trump's curious defense for deploying more troops to Saudi Arabia

10/14/19 11:20AM

In the face of widespread condemnations and evidence of horrific failure, Donald Trump has tried to defend his new policy in Syria by stressing a specific principle: the president is desperate to bring U.S. troops home. "The same people who got us into the Middle East mess are the people who most want to stay there!" the Republican wrote on Twitter this morning.

It was against this backdrop, however, that the Trump administration announced on Friday afternoon that it's sending 2,800 more American troops to Saudi Arabia.

During a brief Q&A with reporters, the president faced the obvious question: "Mr. President, why are you sending more troops to Saudi Arabia when you just said it's a mistake to be in the Middle East?" After acknowledging that he is, in fact, deploying more American troops to Saudi Arabia, Trump explained his thinking on the matter:

"The relationship has been very good. And they buy hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of merchandise from us, not only military equipment. In military equipment, about $110 billion. It's millions of jobs.

"Now, with that being said, we are sending troops and other things to the Middle East to help Saudi Arabia. But are you ready? Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we're doing. That's a first. But Saudi Arabia -- and other countries, too, now -- but Saudi Arabia has agreed to pay us for everything we're doing to help them. And we appreciate that."

For the record, Trump has been exaggerating -- at times, hilariously -- the scope and scale of arms deals with Riyadh for quite a while. His rhetoric on the subject is literally unbelievable.

But in this case, that's not the most interesting part. Did the president mean to say that we're sending thousands of troops to the Middle East because Saudi Arabia "has agreed to pay us"?

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