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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.14.18

08/14/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More than 10 months later: "Puerto Rico's electric utility said it completed restoration of power to all of its customers on Tuesday, more than 10 months after Hurricane Maria left 1.5 million homes and businesses in the dark."

* Time for closing arguments: "Paul Manafort's lawyers declined Tuesday to call any witnesses to defend him against charges of bank and tax fraud. Mr. Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, also told the judge that he did not want to testify, clearing the way for closing arguments from both sides and the start of jury deliberations on Wednesday."

* The latest from Italy: "At least 23 people were killed when a highway bridge collapsed during a violent storm in Italy's northern city of Genoa on Tuesday."

* The latest from London: "A man has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism offenses after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament. The vehicle swerved into cyclists and pedestrians shortly after 07:30 BST, injuring three people. The 29-year-old suspect is not believed to be known to MI5 or counter-terrorism police, and is not cooperating with officers."

* Turkey: "President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that Turkey would boycott U.S.-made electronic products, escalating a feud with the Trump administration that has contributed to the rapid decline of the Turkish currency. "

* The Pentagon's Dana White: "One of Defense Secretary James Mattis' most senior civilian advisers is being investigated by the Defense Department Office of Inspector General for allegedly retaliating against staff members after she used some of them to conduct her personal errands and business matters, according to four sources familiar with the probe."

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Image: FILE: Omarosa Manigault Newman Resigns from White House Role

Trump campaign launches new legal action against Omarosa

08/14/18 12:51PM

Donald Trump and his team have routinely made threats about possible legal action against their critics, but the posturing rarely amounts to much. Earlier this year, for example, the president's lawyers went after "Fire and Fury" author Michael Wolff and his publisher, insisting that the book not be published or disseminated.

The threats, of course, were ignored, and the book became a bestseller.

Eight months later, when rumors first emerged about Trump World "looking into legal options" against Omarosa Manigault Newman, it was easy to assume the president and those around him were just trying to intimidate the former White House aide. As it turns out, however, the threat of legal action is apparently quite real. NBC News reports that the Trump campaign is formally alleging that the reality-show personality breached a 2016 confidentiality agreement.

Trump's campaign, formally named Donald J. Trump for President, filed an arbitration action Tuesday against Manigault Newman with the American Arbitration Association in New York City, the official told NBC News.

The action is related to claims made by Manigault Newman in her new book, "Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House," in which she slammed the president as racist and in mental decline. [...]

In an arbitration proceeding, each side submits to the judgment of an independent arbitrator -- typically a retired judge -- who hears evidence presented by both sides and has the ability to make a ruling or penalize one side.

There are plenty of experts who can speak to this with more authority than I can, but it's my understanding that the discovery process in arbitration cases is pretty limited -- which in a controversy like this one, cuts off a potential bonanza of opportunities.

That said, by taking any action at all, the Trump campaign is guaranteeing even more attention for the former White House aide and her book.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.14.18

08/14/18 12:00PM

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

* It's Primary Day in four states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Vermont -- with a variety of Senate, gubernatorial, and U.S. House primaries among the contests to watch.

* In New Jersey's 3rd congressional district, which Democrats consider a key pick-up opportunity, a new Monmouth University poll found incumbent Rep. Tom MacArthur (R) with the narrowest of leads over Andy Kim (D), 41% to 40%.

* Now that Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) has been arrested by the FBI, will Republicans who received campaign contributions from him keep the money? Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) accepted a donation from Collins' PAC, but the Kentucky Republican announced yesterday he'll donate the same amount to a veterans' charity.

* In Minnesota, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) looks like a fairly safe bet for re-election: the latest Emerson poll found her leading her top Republican challenger, Jim Newberger, 50% to 26%.

* In New York, a state court ruled the other day that Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D) can, at least for now, run for re-election to Congress and run for state attorney general at the same time.

* Speaking of New York, Donald Trump claimed at a fundraiser last night that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) personally vowed to the president that he wouldn't run against him in 2020. I find that hard to believe, but the governor's office has not yet commented on the claim.

* In Florida, which will be home to several major races this year, Politico  reports that the state Democratic Party "has lost a share of its registered voters in Florida since 2016 and the percentage of Democrats casting vote-by-mail absentee ballots this month trails those mailed in by Republicans, according to new figures from the state's elections division."

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Image: President Trump And President Putin Hold A Joint Press Conference After Summit

Russia is likely to approve of Trump's latest signing statement

08/14/18 11:20AM

It's been about four years since Vladimir Putin's Russian government annexed Crimea, prompting international outrage and a series of burdensome economic sanctions. Nevertheless, as far as Moscow is concerned, the dispute is over, and this part of Ukraine is now Russian soil.

In the U.S. Congress, however, the dispute is far from settled. In fact, in the newly signed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), there's fairly specific language that says the Trump administration must not recognize Crimea as part of Russia.

As Roll Call  reported this morning, the president signed the NDAA into law, but he soon after issued a signing statement about this provision, announcing plans to ignore it.

Language in the fiscal 2019 defense authorization, which Trump signed in to law Monday during a ceremony at Fort Drum in upstate New York, purported to impose a funding blockade on the Pentagon acting on recognition of Crimea as part of Russia.

The literal text of the new law states: "None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2019 for the Department of Defense may be obligated or expended to implement any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea."

This isn't to say the administration will recognize Crimea as Russian soil, but the signing statement -- which is available in its entirety here -- leaves open the possibility, rejecting Congress' authority to tie Trump's hands.

This follows recent comments from the Republican president in which he emphasized all the money the Putin government has spent in Crimea, as if this might help justify Moscow's position.

Trump added, in reference to possibly recognizing Russia's annexation of Crimea, "We'll have to see."

That wasn't a "no."

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A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

After health care rate hikes, Trump falsely boasts he's 'kept rates down'

08/14/18 10:45AM

Whenever Donald Trump tries to talk about health care, the president nearly always runs into trouble. Two weeks ago, for example, he boasted at a rally that his administration's new association plans are doing "record business" and generating "incredible" numbers. What Trump didn't know was that the plans won't even be available until Sept. 1.

Last night, at a New York fundraiser, the president again tried to dip his toes into the health care waters.

"People are shocked that we've kept their rates down. The increases have been much less than people were projecting that they'd be -- because of what we've done.... We've worked very hard on that."

This isn't just wrong; it's wrong in ways that contradict the usual Republican talking points.

There are certain core truths that are unavoidable. For example, we know that millions of consumers are now paying higher premiums.

We also know that premiums have gone up as a result of Trump's policy decisions. Reporting on the latest data from the Congressional Budget Office, Axios recently explained, "Insurance premiums tend to go up every year, but the magnitude of these increases stems largely from the repeal of the ACA's individual mandate, the expansion of skimpy short-term plans, and the decision last year to cut off the law's cost-sharing payments."

Private insurers from across the country have said the same thing: people are paying more and it's the direct result of the administration's policies.

We also know that were it not for Trump's misguided moves, American consumers would be paying less. Brookings published a fascinating report on this just two weeks ago. I'll assume it's still on the president's to-be-read list.

And then, of course, we also know how Republicans usually try to explain these developments.

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The Harley Davidson logo is displayed on the outside of the Harley-Davidson of New York City store, June 25, 2018 in New York City.

Trump escalates Harley-Davidson feud, endorses boycott against US company

08/14/18 10:00AM

Before becoming president, Donald Trump recommended all kinds of boycotts against companies that bothered him in some way -- HBO, Macy's, and Apple were among his targets -- but since taking office, Trump has limited his boycotts to news organizations that publish reports he disapproves of.

As the Washington Post  reported yesterday, the president is now branching out.

President Trump on Sunday leveraged the office of the president of the United States against a private American company for seeking to insulate itself from his trade war.

"Great!" he wrote of purported plans by customers of Harley-Davidson to boycott the venerable motorcycle company over its plan to move production of motorcycles sold in Europe to factories outside the United States.

The article added that Trump's tweet "represented the first time since he became president that he has called on Twitter for a 'boycott' of an American company, media organizations aside."

And while the public has grown accustomed to the Republican's antics, it's exceedingly strange to see an American president endorse a boycott of an American company, especially in light of the fact that Harley-Davidson hasn't actually done anything wrong.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Trump's time-zone troubles reportedly come up on 'a constant basis'

08/14/18 09:20AM

Politico published a rather unflattering piece yesterday on Donald Trump's "diplomatic learning curve," which has apparently proven challenging for the amateur president. The article noted one instance, for example, in which Trump studied a briefer's map of South Asia and "mispronounced Nepal as 'nipple' and laughingly referred to Bhutan as 'button.'"

Noting the similarities between this and a scene from "The Simpsons," Jon Chait noted, "It's like having Homer Simpson as president, but dumber."

The same Politico piece went on to note instances in which Trump "appeared confused" by the existence of smaller countries sandwiched between larger countries, caused a diplomatic stir by praising China's Xi Jinping during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and showed a "bizarre" fascination with calling French President Emmanuel Macron for no apparent reason.

But the part of the piece that stood out for me was Trump's reported habit of wanting to call Shinzo Abe in the middle of the afternoon, when it was the middle of the night in Tokyo.

"He wasn't great with recognizing that the leader of a country might be 80 or 85 years old and isn't going to be awake or in the right place at 10:30 or 11 p.m. their time," said a former Trump NSC official. "When he wants to call someone, he wants to call someone. He's more impulsive that way. He doesn't think about what time it is or who it is," added a person close to Trump.

In the case of Abe and others, Trump's NSC staffers would advise him, for instance, that "the time is messed up, it's 1 o'clock in the morning" and promise to put the call on his calendar for a more diplomatically appropriate time. Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster would assure him: "We can try to set it up."

This happened, Politico reported, "several times." One diplomatic source said explaining the time-zone issue to the American president came up on "a constant basis."

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The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Republican lawmakers see FBI firings through a curious lens

08/14/18 08:40AM

Donald Trump and his allies have been relentless in targeting their perceived foes in federal law enforcement. Among those who've been fired are FBI Director James Comey, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and as we learned yesterday, Peter Strzok, who led the FBI's counterintelligence division.

Among those who were reassigned, before ultimately quitting under pressure, are FBI Chief of Staff Jim Rybicki and FBI General Counsel James Baker.

It's against this backdrop that some of the White House's allies have come up with a striking new observation. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a Republican gubernatorial hopeful who's been described as the president's "mini-me," published a fascinating Twitter thread yesterday.

"The firing of anti-Trump FBI agent Peter Strzok is welcome, if overdue. By exhibiting such rampant bias, Strzok did enormous damage to the FBI and to the country.

"Accountability has not always been quick or easy. But the fact that so many of 2016's key players ... have seen adverse actions taken against them shows that these matters were mishandled."

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who hopes to be the next Speaker of the House despite his recent controversies, published a similar tweet, highlighting those who've been ousted from the FBI. The far-right congressman said he's "never seen a federal agency where that's happened."

I'll confess, I didn't see this coming, though it's consistent with the larger political gambit. Among the fiercest Republican partisans, FBI officials are the bad guys, leading a corrupt agency, which is insufficiently loyal to Donald Trump -- who, of course, must be seen as the victim of an illegal investigation into the Russia scandal.

With this in mind, folks like DeSantis and Jordan are effectively arguing, "Our concerns about the FBI must've been right after all. Just look at all of those firings and demotions!"

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Image: President Trump Holds Make America Great Again Rally In Pennsylvania

What Trump's McCain snub tells us about his character

08/14/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump seems to enjoy headlining campaign rallies, and nearly all of his recent events have one thing in common: the Republican president sets aside time to whine about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Just from the last couple of months, there's video evidence here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Yesterday, however, Trump had an opportunity to be gracious toward the ailing GOP senator of his own party. He just couldn't bring himself to do it.

Congress wanted to honor the ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. President Donald Trump did not.

In extended remarks during a visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York to sign the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 -- this year's version of an annual bill that sets defense policy -- Trump chose not to mention the former prisoner of war and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who is battling brain cancer. He even omitted McCain's name when citing the title of the bill.

It would have been easy for Trump to show some class. He could've at least acknowledged the name of the legislation, which honored McCain and his priorities. It would've taken very little effort for the president to mention the Republican senator in some perfunctory way.

But, no. Trump made no reference to McCain while signing the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

Yes, the two men have been foes. Yes, they've been publicly critical of one another, as Trump's mockery of McCain's military service helped demonstrate.

But part of being president is being gracious. After McCain and Barack Obama waged a fairly aggressive campaign against one another in 2008, the Democratic president repeatedly offered public praise for his former rival, which is exactly what one would expect of a leader with dignity.

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