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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.1.19

10/01/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* If this is right, it's a major development: "The State Department approved and Congress has informally signed off on a $39 million sale of additional Javelin anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, according to three officials familiar with the decision. The sale of 150 anti-tank missiles and two additional missile launchers could be announced later on Tuesday."

* Violence in Hong Kong: "Hong Kong police shot a protester at close range Tuesday, marking a new level of violence after weeks of demonstrations in the semiautonomous region, and overshadowing the Communist Party of China's triumphal 70th anniversary celebrations in Beijing."

* Collins used to condemn the charges against him as "fake news," but now he's saying something different: "Former GOP Rep. Chris Collins on Tuesday pleaded guilty to charges related to insider trading, hours after he resigned his New York congressional seat."

* Trade wars aren't easy to win after all: "U.S. manufacturing activity tumbled to a more than 10-year low in September as lingering trade tensions weighed on exports, further heightening financial market fears of a sharp slowdown in economic growth in the third quarter."

* An angle worth watching: "President Trump said on Monday that the White House was 'trying to find out' the identity of the whistle-blower whose claims led Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry last week, even as the whistle-blower's lawyers have outlined 'serious' safety concerns for their client as Mr. Trump has repeatedly targeted him and compared him to a spy."

* In related news, Chuck Grassley carefully said the right thing: "A top Republican senator Tuesday defended the whistleblower at the center of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry following repeated attacks from President Donald Trump."

* Georgia's six-week ban: "A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked Georgia's restrictive new abortion law from taking effect, following the lead of other judges who have blocked similar measures in other states."

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The US State Department is seen in Washington, DC.

Trump's State Dept balks at cooperating with impeachment inquiry

10/01/19 12:55PM

As part of the impeachment process in the U.S. House, lawmakers expected to hear in the coming days from five State Department officials involved in U.S. relations with Ukraine. The group includes Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was fired under unusual circumstances, and Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine who resigned unexpectedly late last week.

Evidently, as NBC News reported, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has a different plan in mind.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused House Democrats of attempting to "intimidate, bully and treat improperly" five State Department officials whom key committees have asked to interview as part of an impeachment inquiry centering on the Ukraine scandal.

"I am concerned with aspects of your request ... that can be understood only as an attempt to intimidate, bully, and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State, including several career Foreign Service Officers, whom the committee is now targeting," Pompeo wrote in a letter to House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.

Pompeo claimed he had been "made aware that Committee staff" had been "sending intimidating communications" to career State Department officials.

To the extent that governmental principles matter, there's nothing inherently wrong with officials in a cabinet agency feeling a degree of intimidation under the circumstances. There is, after all, an impeachment inquiry underway, which is inherently serious and historically momentous. The State Department is near the center of an intensifying scandal, and lawmakers, exercising their oversight responsibilities, believe some officials in the department are in a position to help Congress better understand what happened and why.

These officials may feel anxious and daunted by the pressure-filled process, but that's not altogether relevant -- and it's certainly not a compelling excuse to obstruct an impeachment inquiry.

What's less clear is what lawmakers intend to do about it.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.1.19

10/01/19 12:00PM

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

* After a couple of difficult months, Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign needed some good news, and a $25.3 million fundraising haul in the third quarter definitely counts as good news for the senator. The total is up from the Vermonter's $18 million tally from the second quarter.

* Pete Buttigieg also announced third-quarter fundraising totals, and it looks like the mayor raised more than $19.1 million between June and August. That's down from $24.8 million in the second quarter, but it nevertheless leaves Buttigieg in a strong financial position for the next phase in the race.

* Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also announced his third-quarter tally: more than $6 million. That's his best quarter to date, and it's enough to keep him in the race.

* Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) presidential campaign isn't where she wants it to be, so the senator is "shaking up the top ranks" of her operation. The change includes moving two top aides from Harris' Senate staff to her campaign staff.

* The latest Republican National Committee solicitation looks an awful lot like official census materials, which is the sort of misleading scheme partisans are supposed to avoid.

* To the disappointment of Democrats who expected him to lose badly, Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's controversial former campaign manager, conceded this morning that it's "fair to say" he's reconsidering plans to run for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire next year.

* The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports today that new voters in Georgia "have registered in droves" since last year's elections, and "many of the new voters are racial minorities or under age 30, both groups that are more likely to support Democrats than Republicans."

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In calls with foreign leaders, maybe Trump needs more than 'coaching'

10/01/19 11:16AM

The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend on an awkward White House dynamic in which Donald Trump needed hand-holding to get through phone meetings with foreign officials. It wasn't a flattering picture:

On more than one occasion, John Kelly, the White House's then-chief of staff, who was often in the room during calls with world leaders, briefly muted the line so he could caution Mr. Trump against continuing to talk about sensitive subjects, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The small group of advisers in the room for the calls would also often pass the president notes offering guidance, the person said.

CNN had a related report yesterday, noting that Trump was "so unprepared for calls with foreign leaders that he was coached by several staff members and advisers." CNN quoted a source who said Kelly, during his West Wing tenure, "always wanted a bunch of us to be there in the Oval (Office) ... to just babysit on these calls."

The source added, "[Trump] would go on random tangents about the Mueller investigation with foreign leaders ... it was unnecessary and unhelpful. And sometimes he just wouldn't have his facts straight and he would really rattle some of the foreign leaders with whom he spoke."

This reporting hasn't been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, but it's also very easy to believe. Indeed, it's entirely consistent with everything we know about the president, how he tries to communicate, and how he approaches his responsibilities.

But at the heart of the story isn't just a confused amateur who's unprepared and in need of "coaching" and "babysitting." It's also about a president who sees calls with foreign leaders as opportunities to abuse his power.

I don't blame Kelly or other White House insiders for trying to steer Trump in responsible directions; I blame Trump for learning so little from the tutelage.

Consider some of the interactions we've learned about in recent days:

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As scandal intensifies, attitudes on Trump's impeachment shift quickly

10/01/19 10:16AM

Donald Trump highlighted the results of a "poll" via Twitter last night, which was the sort of thing to bring tears to the eyes of those who take social-science methodology seriously. In this case, a right-wing website asked its right-wing readers whether they "stand with President Trump," and wouldn't you know it, nearly 98% of respondents sided with the Republican.

This, in Trump's mind, is apparently something to be proud of. Meanwhile, in reality, real polling is producing results the president doesn't want to see.

Late last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found a plurality of Americans expressing support for congressional Democrats' decision to start an impeachment inquiry into Trump. A new CNN poll found very similar results.

As for Quinnipiac, just last week, it found 37% of Americans endorsing Trump's impeachment and removal from office, while 57% disagreed. The results are quite different now.

American voters are divided on impeaching and removing President Trump from office, 47 - 47 percent - closing a 20-point gap from less than a week ago, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released today. In the poll released on September 25th, voters said that the president should not be impeached and removed 57 - 37 percent. [...]

While voters are split on impeaching and removing President Trump from office, a slim majority of registered voters do approve of the impeachment inquiry opened by the U.S. House of Representatives 52 - 45 percent. Approval includes half of independents, who are split 50 - 45 percent on the inquiry.

Not surprisingly, there's an enormous gap among partisans -- the overwhelming majority of Democratic voters support impeachment and removal, while the overwhelming majority of Republican voters disagree -- but support has grown among Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

I put together the chart featured above to show the shift in public attitudes over the last several months.

Quinnipiac's data also found that a 56% majority believe Trump sees himself as above the law, while a 54% majority believe the president abuses the power of his office.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump, allies peddle bogus claim about changed whistleblower rules

10/01/19 09:20AM

Yesterday morning, Donald Trump, playing the role of a confused low-information voter, published an all-caps question to Twitter. Adjusting its punctuation, the missive read, "Who changed the long standing whistleblower rules just before submittal of the fake whistleblower report?" (In reality, the complaint from the intelligence community's whistleblower is anything but "fake.")

A day earlier, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) appeared on CBS News' Face the Nation and asked rhetorically, "What's going on here? Why did they change the rules about a whistleblower you can use hearsay when you could not just weeks before the complaint?"

At a certain level, this is a fascinating case study in the ways in which far-right propaganda can start out on a far-right website and then spread like a virus to the Oval Office. It's also, of course, the latest example, of some of the nation's most power Republicans peddling nonsense to the public. As a Washington Post fact-check piece explained, the apoplexy appears to stem from a change to the form intelligence community whistleblowers can fill out.

The original report in the Federalist focused on a change in the form, suggesting it was somehow related to the recent whistleblower case. There is no evidence that is correct.

In any case, the IG's process for handling whistleblower allegations is determined not by a form but by the law and related policy documents. The key document, ICD 120, has been virtually unchanged since 2014. Contrary to the speculation, the whistleblower used the 2018 form, not the new online form. The IG then investigated and found that his allegations were credible and that Congress should be notified.

The president seized on reports on the form to falsely claim the rules for whistleblowers were changed just before the whistleblower's report was submitted in August. That's false and worthy of Four Pinocchios.

This is in line with similar fact-check reports from NBC News and the Associated Press, as well as the latest statement from the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community -- which is led by a Trump appointee.

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Secretary of State Pompeo was on Trump's scandalous call

10/01/19 08:42AM

When Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal first started coming into focus, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reached out to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with some pointed questions. The New Jersey Democrat wanted to know, for example, all about Pompeo's knowledge of and role in Donald Trump's schemes vis a vis Ukraine.

It looks like Menendez can now add to his lines of inquiry. NBC News reported overnight that Pompeo was on the call when Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to participate in the Republican's campaign scheme.

Pompeo's involvement in the call -- during which Trump told Zelenskiy that [former Vice President Joe] Biden's conduct sounded "horrible" to him -- was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. It's not unusual for the nation's top diplomat to be on a president's call with a foreign leader, but Pompeo has not acknowledged his involvement.

Pompeo dodged questions about the phone call and the complaint during an interview with ABC's "This Week" on Sept. 22, days before the White House released a summary of the call which showed Trump asking about the Bidens' dealings in Ukraine.

When ABC News' Martha Raddatz asked the secretary of State about Trump's call with Zelensky, Pompeo acted as if he didn't know relevant details. "You just gave me information about [an intelligence community] report, none of which we've seen," he said.

After on-air comments like these, if the secretary of State believes his credibility is intact, he's mistaken.

What's more, as Rachel noted on the show last night, unless Pompeo is the whistleblower -- an extraordinarily unlikely scenario -- it means Pompeo was in a rather unique position. He knew his own State Department had signed off on U.S. military assistance to Ukraine; he knew that Trump was effectively making that aid dependent on a partisan electoral scheme; and he said nothing.

Attorney General Bill Barr isn't the only prominent member of the president's cabinet who's up to his neck in this mess.

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AG Bill Barr finds himself 'neck deep' in Trump scandal

10/01/19 08:00AM

The editorial board of the New York Times published a good overview piece of Donald Trump's brewing scandal over the weekend, highlighting prominent members of the cast of characters, and took note of Attorney General Bill Barr. "Mr. Barr," the editorial said, "is neck-deep in this mess."

As new revelations come to the fore, it's probably safe to say the mess is even deeper now. The Washington Post had this striking report overnight:

Attorney General William P. Barr has held private meetings overseas with foreign intelligence officials seeking their help in a Justice Department inquiry that President Trump hopes will discredit U.S. intelligence agencies' examination of possible connections between Russia and members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the matter. [...]

The attorney general's active role also underscores the degree to which a nearly three-year-old election still consumes significant resources and attention inside the federal government. Current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials expressed frustration and alarm Monday that the head of the Justice Department was taking such a direct role in reexamining what they view as conspiracy theories and baseless allegations of misconduct.

While Donald Trump is likely to be impeached over his efforts to coerce a foreign government to help with his 2020 campaign, Barr has been focused on an investigate-the-investigators scheme, overseen in part by John Durham, a U.S. attorney. To that end, the Post added that the attorney general "has already made overtures to British intelligence officials, and last week the attorney general traveled to Italy, where he and Durham met senior Italian government officials and Barr asked the Italians to assist Durham."

In other words, Bill Barr has sought foreign assistance in response to conspiracy theories about the conclusions of his own country's intelligence agencies.

It was against this backdrop that the New York Times was first to report that Donald Trump pressed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to help Barr "gather information for a Justice Department inquiry that Mr. Trump hopes will discredit the Mueller investigation."

The article described it as another example of the American president "using high-level diplomacy to advance his personal political interests."

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Blowout - Now available!

10/01/19 12:00AM

BigOil and Gas Versus Democracy—Winner Take All: Rachel Maddow's Blowout offers a dark, serpentine, riveting tour of the unimaginably lucrative and corrupt oil-and-gas industry. With her trademark black humor, Maddow takes us on a switchback journey around the globe—from Oklahoma City to Siberia to Equatorial Guinea—exposing the greed and... read more

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