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E.g., 10/18/2019
E.g., 10/18/2019

Admiral from bin Laden raid: Trump puts 'fate of our Republic' at risk

10/18/19 12:57PM

About a year ago, facing criticism from several prominent retired military leaders, Donald Trump lashed out at those he described as "failed generals" who had the audacity to disagree with him.

If the president thought he could intimidate American generals and admirals into toeing the White House's line, he was mistaken.

Earlier this week, for example, retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, the former commander of American forces in Afghanistan and former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, condemned Trump's policy in northern Syria, telling CNN, "There is blood on Trump's hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies."

Allen added, "This is what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats."

Last night, Trump's former Defense secretary, retired four-star Marine Gen. James Mattis had a little fun at his former boss' expense. Referencing disparaging comments about him Trump made to congressional leaders this week -- the president called him "the world's most overrated general" -- Mattis joked, "I'm honored to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress. So I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals and frankly that sounds pretty good to me."

But perhaps most striking of all is a new op-ed in the New York Times from retired Adm. William McRaven, the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, and the military leader best known to Americans as the Navy SEAL who oversaw the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

McRaven wrote about some recent military events he attended, and at one of them a retired four-star general grabbed his arm and shouted, "I don't like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!" It led the retired admiral to reflect on the president's willingness to break faith with American allies and American principles.

If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can't have faith in our nation's principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military? And if they don't join, who will protect us? If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us? And if no one follows us -- where will the world end up?

President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness. He is wrong. These are the virtues that have sustained this nation for the past 243 years. If we hope to continue to lead the world and inspire a new generation of young men and women to our cause, then we must embrace these values now more than ever.

And if this president doesn't understand their importance, if this president doesn't demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office -- Republican, Democrat or independent -- the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.

The headline on the opinion piece read, "Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President."

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.18.19

10/18/19 12:00PM

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

* In Iowa, the latest Emerson poll found Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren tied in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination with 23% support each. Pete Buttigieg is third in the poll with 16%, with Bernie Sanders slipping to fourth with 13%. No other candidate tops 5% in the Emerson results.

* Speaking of the Hawkeye State, Biden and Sanders have spent more in Iowa than any of the other contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination, with Sanders having spent about $460,000 in the third quarter, and Biden spending $409,000. Andrew Yang, oddly enough, is third, spending $263,000 in the first caucus state.

* Colorado will host one of the cycle's most closely watched U.S. Senate races next year, and a new Keating Research-OnSight Public Affairs-Martin Campaigns poll found former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) leading incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner (R) in a hypothetical match-up, 53% to 42%.

* On a related note, though Colorado has generally been seen as a battleground state in recent years, the same poll showed Donald Trump with a 38% favorability rating in the Rocky Mountain State.

* Speaking of Colorado, former state House Speaker Crisanta Duran has ended her Democratic primary campaign against Rep. Diana DeGette, while Alice Madden, a former state House majority leader, has ended her Democratic U.S. Senate candidacy.

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GOP advances another young, controversial Trump judicial nominee

10/18/19 11:20AM

The HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery reported yesterday on the latest conservative judicial nominee to raise eyebrows on Capitol Hill.

Senate Republicans voted Thursday to advance another of President Donald Trump's judicial nominees, Justin Walker, who earned a rare and embarrassing "not qualified" rating from the American Bar Association.

Every Republican on the Judiciary Committee voted to advance Walker, the president's pick for a lifetime seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote. Every Democrat voted no.

Walker is a 37-year-old associate law professor at the University of Louisville. The Harvard Law School grad has worked as speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld, in addition to having clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and current Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

That said, Walker has never tried a case. He's never even been a co-counsel in a case. It very likely contributed to his "not qualified" rating from the ABA.

So how is it Walker was nominated to a lifetime position on the federal bench? New York magazine's Matt Stieb noted:

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Trump's G7 gambit isn't like his other emoluments problems (it's worse)

10/18/19 10:50AM

It's safe to say Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, was not pleased when the White House announced yesterday that next year's G7 summit would be held at one of Donald Trump's struggling businesses. Consider what Shaub wrote via Twitter:

"In case it's not clear from my freaking out, this G-7 thing is an escalation. It may look from the outside like it's been corruption all along -- because it has been -- but participating in a contract award to yourself is different by orders of magnitude. This is a red line crossed."

I strongly agree, though I also think it's worth pausing to appreciate why this latest presidential gambit is considerably worse than the more mundane corruption that's practically served as background noise for the Trump presidency.

At issue is a once-obscure provision of the U.S. Constitution known as the "Emoluments Clause." As regular readers know, the clause prohibits U.S. officials from receiving payments from foreign governments. Traditionally, this hasn't been much of a problem for sitting American presidents -- but in the Trump era, things are a little different.

For example, the president owns a hotel that sits roughly a half-mile from the White House, which hosts international officials with some regularity. The result is a dynamic in which foreign governments have spent quite a bit of money at a Trump-owned property, to the benefit of the American president and his private-sector enterprise.

The result, not surprisingly, has been a series of court cases challenging the legality of Trump's business practices.

One of the core defenses for the president has been the idea that the foreign officials are making a private decision on their own, without interference from Trump. In other words, if Saudi Arabian leaders are visiting the nation's capital, and they happen to book rooms at a prominent D.C. hotel in a great location, that's not the president's fault. It's not like Trump told them to do business at one of the facilities he owns.

There's no shortage of problems with the defense, but the argument itself helps underscore why the new G7 scandal is qualitatively different.

We're watching a passive-vs-active problem play out.

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Caught in a quid pro quo, Trump falsely accuses Biden of a quid pro quo

10/18/19 10:13AM

Donald Trump spoke at a far-right event last weekend and denounced the Democratic accusations at the heart of the presidential impeachment inquiry. In fact, the Republican described his perception of the Democrats' tactics.

"[T]hey're of the opinion, you know, just keep saying it, saying it, saying it, and maybe someday they'll believe it," Trump said.

It was a curious failure of self-awareness for the president. He was, after all, describing one of his most commonly used tactics and attributing it to his critics. And therein lies the rub: as the walls close in on Trump, projection remains his go-to move.

A few days later, the president hosted a White House meeting with congressional leaders, which was derailed by what some participants described as Trump's "meltdown." After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Americans should "pray for his health," the Republican responded in his patented I'm-rubber-you're-glue sort of way, published a tweet accusing Pelosi of being mentally ill, and added, "Pray for her, she is a very sick person!"

Since he heard the Speaker accuse him of a "meltdown," Trump also accused Pelosi of having had a "meltdown."

All of which led to the Republican's campaign rally last night in Texas, held just a few hours after acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged the White House's quid-pro-quo scheme with Ukraine. Trump responded by accusing Joe Biden of trying to execute a quid-pro-quo scheme in Ukraine.

Trump said that the former vice president was in charge of Ukraine policy for the Obama administration and sought the firing of the then-Ukrainian prosecutor general while his son, Hunter "was paid massive sums of money [to] buy a Ukrainian energy company."

"Now that's what you call quid pro quo," Trump said.

No, in reality, it's not. Biden, with bipartisan and international backing, urged Ukraine to dismiss an inept prosecutor who wasn't investigating the Ukrainian company in question. It bears literally no resemblance to a quid pro quo.

But the fact that the president is pushing the fraudulent line anyway brings a simple truth into focus: Trump genuinely seems to believe he can "no puppet" his way through his impeachment crisis.

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Embroiled in scandal, Energy Secretary Rick Perry resigns

10/18/19 09:20AM

Two weeks ago, Politico was first to report that Energy Secretary Rick Perry was poised to announce his resignation from Donald Trump's cabinet. The Texas Republican pushed back soon after, telling reporters, "They've been writing the story for at least nine months now. One of these days they will probably get it right, but it's not today, it's not tomorrow, it's not next month."

Perry resigned yesterday.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who has emerged as a central figure in the Trump administration's quickly expanding Ukraine affair, has resigned and will leave his job by the end of the year. [...]

The departure of Perry, one of the last remaining members of Trump's original Cabinet, comes as his name emerged in the Ukraine affair that has resulted in a Democrat-led House impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Perry's departure comes two weeks after Donald Trump, in remarks to House Republicans, suggested his scandalous July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was the Energy secretary's fault.

The Texas former governor is also the latest in a series of Trump cabinet officials who've exited under a cloud of scandal, and the list includes controversial figures such as former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, former HHS Secretary Tom Price, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and former VA Secretary David Shulkin.

For months, there was a running joke in political circles about Donald Trump's cabinet: as controversies swirled around the president and his team, it was Rick Perry, of all people, who was "making it through his service relatively unscathed."

In recent weeks, that joke disappeared for good reason.

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WH's Mulvaney tries to pretend he didn't already give away the game

10/18/19 08:40AM

For weeks, Donald Trump and his team tried to pretend the White House didn't orchestrate a quid pro quo with Ukraine. Those rhetorical efforts were belied by overwhelming evidence, but that was the message and the president and his aides tried to stick to it.

That is, until yesterday, when acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, in a stunning display, effectively confessed, acknowledging the quid pro quo in no uncertain terms.

And while that was certainly unexpected, observers were equally surprised when the South Carolina Republican reversed course a few hours later, issuing a statement that said the opposite of what Mulvaney had said on camera earlier that afternoon.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday walked back comments he made earlier in the day suggesting that President Donald Trump held up military aid to Ukraine until it moved to investigate a conspiracy involving the 2016 U.S. election.

"There was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election," he said in a statement contradicting remarks he made during an earlier press briefing.

The need for the humiliating "clarification," for lack of a better word, was obvious. Mulvaney announced that the White House deliberately crafted a scheme in which it delayed military aid to a vulnerable ally in order to force the foreign country to participate in a political scheme for Donald Trump. The president's chief of staff not only confessed, Mulvaney insisted the White House's misdeeds were unimportant.

"Get over it," he said.

A congressional Republican told the Washington Post that Mulvaney's comments were "totally inexplicable," adding, "He literally said the thing the president and everyone else said did not happen."

The use of the word "literally" is relevant. Political figures often use vague rhetoric, giving themselves some wiggle room in the event of a controversy. Mulvaney, however, was candid and explicit yesterday.

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Trump doesn't seem to realize he was 'outmaneuvered' in Mideast deal

10/18/19 08:00AM

Donald Trump beamed with pride yesterday announcing a "cease-fire" agreement in Turkey negotiated by a U.S. delegation. The American president wrote on Twitter, "This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path."

Trump seemed blissfully unaware of his own failure. He created the crisis, inviting Turkey to launch a ruthless offensive against our Kurdish allies, which the Republican resolved by giving Turkey everything it wanted in exchange for practically nothing. The New York Times' analysis of yesterday's developments served as a brutal wake-up call for the confused American president.

The cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump.

The best that can be said for the agreement is that it may stop the killing in the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. But the cost for Kurds, longtime American allies in the fight against the Islamic State, is severe: Even Pentagon officials were mystified about where tens of thousands of displaced Kurds would go, as they moved south from the Turkey-Syria border as required by the deal — if they agree to go at all.

And the cost to American influence, while hard to quantify, could be frightfully high.

A Turkish official told the Washington Post that his country's officials who participated in the talks were "surprised and relieved at how easy the negotiations were." The official added, "We got everything we wanted."

By any fair measure, that's unambiguously true. Turkey initially got to slaughter Kurds at the invitation of the American president. As the violence unfolded, Turkey then got the United States to agree to a "deal" in which Turkey will (a) gain control of Kurdish land in northern Syria, (b) face no U.S. sanctions, and (c) receive a diplomatic reward in the form of a White House visit for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It's also an agreement that delights Russia and ISIS.

As for the American side of the ledger, we get nothing, except diminished credibility

It is, in other words, an embarrassing failure for the Trump administration -- except Trump doesn't seem to know that.

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