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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 12.4.19

12/04/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Quite a day: "Three prominent legal scholars testified Wednesday at the House Judiciary Committee that President Donald Trump committed impeachable offenses when he attempted to condition a White House visit by the Ukrainian president and aid to the country on the launching of political investigations."

* Adding to the list of Trump's foreign failures: "President Donald Trump barreled out of the NATO gathering here ever more the global outsider, passing up a high-profile presidential moment as impeachment bore down on him back home."

* In related news: "President Donald Trump blasted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as 'two-faced' on Wednesday after Trudeau was caught on an open mic with other world leaders discussing the NATO meeting in London and referencing Trump's lengthy press conferences."

* As part of that same story, let's also note that Trump was overheard saying earlier today, "That was funny when I said the guy's two-faced." (The president's definition of "funny" is odd.)

* One more NATO-related item, since the Trump/Erdogan relationship has become so controversial: "President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning participated in an unannounced meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following months of scrutiny over the administration's posture toward Ankara and controversial shifts in Syria policy."

* A rare example of bipartisanship: "Robocalls have seemingly done the impossible: Unite a toxically divided Washington. A sweeping 417-3 House vote Wednesday left Congress on the verge of passing legislation aimed at knocking back the billions of unwanted automated phone calls that torment Americans each month, amid hopes the Senate can send the measure to President Donald Trump by Christmas."

* I think he's trying to kill irony: "Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee ... argued Democrats are crafting 'conspiracy theories' in an attempt to control the narrative on impeachment."

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GOP confirms fierce opponent of reproductive rights to federal bench

12/04/19 03:44PM

It's not just the quantity of Donald Trump's judicial nominees who've been confirmed by Senate Republicans; as regular readers know, it's also the quality that's striking.

Sarah Pitlyk, for example, received a "not qualified" rating from the American Bar Association, and the ABA's rationale is quite persuasive: "Ms. Pitlyk has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, whether civil or criminal. She has never examined a witness. Though Ms. Pitlyk has argued one case in a court of appeals, she has not taken a deposition. She has not argued any motion in a state or federal trial court. She has never picked a jury. She has never participated at any stage of a criminal matter."

So why in the world did she get a judicial nomination from Donald Trump? It probably has something to do with Pitlyk being a Federalist Society member, a former Brett Kavanaugh clerk, and a fierce opponent of reproductive rights who's argued that fertility treatments and surrogacy have "grave" adverse effects on society. Jennifer Bendery explained this week:

In private practice and as special counsel at Thomas More Society, Pitlyk established a clear record of attacking reproductive rights. She defended anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, who broke federal and state laws by secretly recording and deceptively editing videos that falsely claimed to expose Planned Parenthood's illegal sale of fetal tissue. She defended Iowa's six-week abortion ban that was later struck down as unconstitutional. In another case, Pitlyk argued that it is "scientific fact" that "human life begins at the moment when a human sperm fertilizes a human egg." (It is not scientific fact.)

After losing that case, Pitlyk lamented that "the trial court's judgment treated the embryonic children as inanimate objects, not human beings with the same interests as other unborn children."

It's against this backdrop that the Trump White House chose Pitlyk for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. This afternoon, the 42-year-old conservative was confirmed by the Republican-led Senate on a 49-44 vote.

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Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, speaks during a campaign event for Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, in Phoenix, Ariz., Aug. 31, 2016. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty)

Despite scrutiny, Giuliani heads abroad to advance pro-Trump gambit

12/04/19 12:54PM

Common sense suggests Rudy Giuliani should probably take it easy for a while, and perhaps consider a lower profile. After all, Donald Trump's personal attorney is reportedly facing a possible criminal investigation, and as the presidential impeachment process moves forward, the former New York City mayor is at the center of a highly scandalous scheme.

But Giuliani isn't laying low at all. The New York Times reported today on his latest trip abroad and the extension of his misguided mission in eastern Europe.

Even as Democrats intensified their scrutiny this week of Rudolph W. Giuliani's role in the pressure campaign against the Ukrainian government that is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Giuliani has been in Europe continuing his efforts to shift the focus to purported wrongdoing by President Trump's political rivals.

Mr. Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, met in Budapest on Tuesday with a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, who has become a key figure in the impeachment inquiry. He then traveled to Kyiv on Wednesday seeking to meet with other former Ukrainian prosecutors whose claims have been embraced by Republicans, including Viktor Shokin and Kostiantyn H. Kulyk, according to people familiar with the effort.

To provide some context to this, note that Giuliani published a tweet this week, announcing that he'd begun work on "an important project" with the One America News Network (OANN), which is effectively a media outlet for those who see Fox News as a bit too moderate.

The Republican lawyer added that the project intends to "bring before the American people" information that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and his recent proceedings "covered up."

If this is starting to sound a little kooky, it gets much worse.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.4.19

12/04/19 12:00PM

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

* According to a report in the Topeka Capital-Journal, freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Kan.) listed a UPS Store on his election documents and voter-registration form as his residential address. The article added that the Kansas Republican is facing allegations of "voter fraud under federal law and election perjury under state statute."

* Speaking of Kansas, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, despite being tarnished by the Ukraine scandal, has reportedly taken steps to line up financial support for a possible U.S. Senate campaign. The Republican's efforts have reportedly included outreach to Sheldon Adelson and Charles Koch, the latter of whom is a Kansan who's supported Pompeo's elections in the past.

* VoteVets, the nation's largest progressive group of veterans, announced its endorsement this morning for Pete Buttigieg's Democratic presidential campaign. The mayor is one of only two military veterans running in 2020.

* In Texas, state Rep. Rick Miller (R) lost his party's support after making controversial comments about his Asian-American primary rivals, and this morning, the Republican state lawmaker ended his re-election bid altogether.

* And speaking of the Lone Star State, a Beacon Research poll in Texas showed Sen. John Cornyn (R) with a narrow lead in a hypothetical match-up against former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D), 46% to 42%. The same poll, however, found the Republican incumbent with double-digit leads over the Democrats who are actually in the race.

* After Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) exited the presidential race yesterday, Donald Trump taunted her on Twitter. The Democratic senator responded soon after, "Don't worry, Mr. President. I'll see you at your trial."

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Republican gubernatorial candidate for Georgia Brian Kemp speaks as Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams looks on during a debate in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S, October 23, 2018. Picture taken on October 23, 2018.

Georgia's Kemp ignores Trump, appoints new Republican senator

12/04/19 11:20AM

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who is bringing his political career to a premature end for health reasons, delivered his farewell remarks yesterday, clearing the way for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to announce his choice to fill the senator's vacancy until the next election.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, the first-year governor introduced his choice this morning, though there was some controversy surrounding the process.

Gov. Brian Kemp appointed financial executive Kelly Loeffler to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, selecting the co-owner of Atlanta's WNBA franchise over a congressman that President Donald Trump repeatedly urged the Republican to pick. In remarks in Kemp's ceremonial office, Loeffler presented herself as a lifelong conservative who is "pro-Second Amendment, pro-military, pro-wall and pro-Trump" to counter criticism pitting her as a closet liberal.

"I make no apologies for my conservative values," she said, "and will proudly support President Trump's conservative judges."

At first blush, this may seem straightforward to the point of being boring: a conservative Republican senator resigned; a conservative Republican governor had the responsibility of choosing someone to fill the vacancy; and the conservative Republican governor appointed a conservative Republican senator. No muss, no fuss, right?

Wrong. In fact, this has proven to be an unexpectedly messy intra-party fight.

At the heart of the conflict, not surprisingly, is Donald Trump, who wanted Kemp to choose Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), a loyal White House ally, for the Senate seat. In fact, the president recently met with the governor and urged Kemp to follow his direction.

The governor resisted the presidential pressure, which only made matters worse.

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Devin Nunes faces new questions about previously unreported calls

12/04/19 10:23AM

For those who've followed the impeachment process closely, many of the elements in the House Intelligence Committee's report were familiar. We knew, for example, about Donald Trump's Ukraine extortion scheme, his efforts to secure foreign assistance for his re-election campaign, the degree to which the Republican undermined national security, and the president's efforts to obstruct the investigation.

There were, however, quite a few revelations that we did not know -- including, as the New York Times reported, new details about previously unreported phone calls.

The report ... indicated that Democrats have collected more raw evidence than previously known, including call records produced by AT&T and Verizon showing a series of phone calls between Mr. Trump's personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and his associates and several government officials.

The calls came as Mr. Giuliani was executing a smear campaign against the American ambassador to Ukraine at the time, Marie L. Yovanovitch, and pressing Ukraine to begin investigations that would benefit Mr. Trump. The records show calls between Mr. Giuliani and others, including Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, the Giuliani calls are rather extraordinary in their own right, especially the unexplained calls between the president's attorney and the White House Office of Management and Budget, which was in turmoil as Trump tried to exploit a vulnerable ally by withholding congressionally approved military aid.

But the role of Devin Nunes, the Intelligence Committee's ranking member, was every bit as surprising. The controversial California Republican's name appears in the 300-page report dozens of times, and not just because of his official role on the congressional panel.

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Barr: Communities should 'respect' police or risk losing protection

12/04/19 09:21AM

In October, Attorney General Bill Barr delivered radical remarks at Notre Dame in which the nation's chief law-enforcement official condemned societal ills on conspiring American secularists, whom he accused of launching "an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values."

A month later, Barr delivered equally unsettling remarks defending a dramatic vision of expansive presidential power and accusing "the left" of engaging in "the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law." It prompted even some conservative-leaning lawyers to rebuke the attorney general's radicalism.

And yesterday, Barr took new steps to appear even more extreme. The HuffPost reported:

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday that if some communities don't begin showing more respect to law enforcement, then they could potentially not be protected by police officers.

The country's top cop made the questionable remarks while giving a speech at the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in Policing.

"But I think today, American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers," Barr said. "And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves -- and if communities don't give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need."

Not to put too fine a point on this, but perhaps Bill Barr has forgotten the role of dissent in American society. In the United States, unsatisfied citizens are free to criticize and condemn those in positions of authority -- without fear of official reprisals.

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Allied leaders appear to mock Trump in private recording

12/04/19 08:40AM

As the latest NATO summit got underway in the U.K., Donald Trump's first day at the international gathering could've been better.

The Republican clashed with American allies. He claimed to have "taken" Syrian oil. He was caught lying, repeatedly, about matters large and small. As one observer noted, he also threw the alliance "into a state of chaos, contradicted his own administration on multiple occasions and caused a plunge in the stock market."

It was, even by Trump standards, an embarrassing display -- both for himself and the country he ostensibly represents. But all things considered, I suspect this report from Canada's CBC will be the development that stands out most for the American president:

It was intended as a show of unity after seven decades as allies, but the NATO summit in London has, if anything, brought the divisions among nations into sharper focus.

After parading those divisions in public in London on Tuesday, the leaders of the 29 member states take their arguments behind closed doors at a luxury golf course and resort near Watford, on the outskirts of the British capital.

At a Buckingham Palace reception, a misery-loves-company moment involving Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron and the U.K.'s Boris Johnson, among others, was caught on video.

The clip features parts of a conversation between the three foreign leaders, and though Trump's name isn't explicitly used, it certainly appears the men were referencing -- and mocking -- the hapless American president.

Trudeau, in particular, took note of U.S. officials and their "jaws dropping to the floor" during one of Trump's rants.

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What to expect on impeachment following release of brutal Intel report

12/04/19 08:00AM

The House Intelligence Committee yesterday released its "Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report" with a specific purpose in mind: to summarize the panel's findings -- so far -- in its investigation of Donald Trump and his efforts to extort a vulnerable foreign ally for domestic political assistance. The 300-page document was expected to be brutal, and it was. From the report:

Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States -- acting personally and through his agents within and outside of the U.S. government -- solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and to influence our nation's upcoming presidential election to his advantage. In so doing, the President placed his personal political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security. [...]

Faced with the revelation of his actions, President Trump publicly and repeatedly persisted in urging foreign governments, including Ukraine and China, to investigate his political opponent. This continued solicitation of foreign interference in a U.S. election presents a clear and present danger that the President will continue to use the power of his office for his personal political gain.

There are, of course, complex details among the findings, but at the heart of the report are some core allegations: Trump abused his office to extort Ukraine in the hopes of benefiting from foreign election interference; he undermined U.S. national security; and the American president "ordered and implemented a campaign to conceal his conduct from the public and frustrate and obstruct the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry."

And while the Intelligence Committee's report -- advanced by the panel last night on a party-line vote -- does not explicitly call on lawmakers to impeach the president, it does serve as a roadmap of sorts for the next phase in the process, fleshing out the evidence of presidential wrongdoing.

And what, pray tell, is the next phase? That begins today in the House Judiciary Committee.

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