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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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Russia's role in 2016 attack made explicit in new Senate report

Russia's role in 2016 attack made explicit in new Senate report

10/08/19 09:33PM

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, member of the House Intelligence Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about a new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee reiterating the conclusion by American investigators that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and how the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry will move forward even as Trump tries to undermine... watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.8.19

10/08/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* House Democrats plan to subpoena Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, "as well as emails and text messages that Sondland held on a personal device and that have been turned over to the State Department, which has yet to release them."

* Keep a close eye on this one: "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."

* Middle East: "The commander of the American-backed militia in Syria said Tuesday that it would attack Turkish forces if they enter northeastern Syria, while Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicated that such an operation was imminent."

* SCOTUS: The Supreme Court appeared to be closely divided after hearing two hours of courtroom arguments Tuesday on one of the most important issues of the term: whether existing federal law forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

* This should be quite a spectacle: "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Tuesday that he would invite Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, to testify before his committee about corruption in Ukraine."

* On a related note: "Trump personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani said Tuesday that he would not cooperate with House investigators and that he 'can't imagine' that anyone from the Trump administration would appear before a Democratic-led panel investigating the president."

* Quite an operation: "The Trump Organization's two Scottish golf courses lost $14.3 million in 2018, extending a multiyear string of losses that have intensified since Donald Trump took office, according to annual financial reports released this month."

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