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E.g., 10/23/2019
E.g., 10/23/2019

On the defensive, Sec of State Pompeo struggles with basic questions

10/21/19 09:21AM

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, caught up in Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal, sat down with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos yesterday, presumably to push back against the intensifying controversy. In hindsight, that may not have been a good idea.

When the host asked the secretary of State, for example, whether it's appropriate for the administration to condition military aid to a vulnerable ally on a political scheme, Pompeo replied, "I'm not going to get into hypotheticals."

The problem, of course, is that there's nothing "hypothetical" about this. It was just four days ago when the White House publicly acknowledged the scheme.

Viewers were also treated to this gem:

STEPHANOPOULOS: [W]e do know that so much of -- and this is by his own admission -- that so much of this activity [in Ukraine] was being carried out by the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Was he acting with your blessing and supervision?

POMPEO: George, I have had one consistent policy as the secretary of state, to not talk about internal deliberations inside the administration.

But therein lies the rub: Giuliani wasn't part of the administration.

There was also this exchange about former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch:

STEPHANOPOULOS: She testified and she put out this testimony that in late April she met with the Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who told her she was being removed even though she did nothing wrong. That's a quote. Why did you approve the removal of an ambassador who had done nothing wrong?

POMPEO: George, again, I'm not going to get into personnel matters inside the State Department.

That might be more compelling if Pompeo hadn't already told the public that Yovanovitch left her post for family reasons -- a comment on "personnel matters inside the State Department" that turned out to be false.

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Already in a ditch, Mick Mulvaney finds a shovel, digs deeper

10/21/19 08:40AM

On Thursday afternoon, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney appeared before reporters and acknowledged, among other things, the existence of a quid pro quo with Ukraine. The man in charge of running Donald Trump's West Wing offered what was effectively a very public confession: the U.S. administration withheld vital military aid to a vulnerable ally, he explained, using it as leverage to convince a foreign country to participate in a political scheme for Donald Trump.

"Get over it," the South Carolina Republican declared after acknowledging White House wrongdoing.

A day later, a GOP congressional leadership aide told Politico, "Mulvaney needs to learn when to stop talking." That was a sensible observation, which the acting chief of staff ignored.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney insisted Sunday that he did not say that President Donald Trump held up military aid for Ukraine for political purposes — despite acknowledging the issue at the heart of House Democrats' impeachment inquiry during a televised press conference.

"I'm flinching because that's what people are saying that I said, but I didn't say that," Mulvaney told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace of the comments he made -- and then walked back in a contradictory statement -- Thursday.

I'm not sure why Mulvaney thought it'd be a good idea to sit down with Fox News' Chris Wallace, but whatever his reasoning, the president's chief of staff was mistaken. Mulvaney was reduced to repeatedly complaining about being quoted accurately.

On Thursday, for example, the Republican told reporters there were "three factors" in the administration's decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine: "the corruption in the country, whether or not other countries were participating in the support of the Ukraine, and whether or not they were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice. That's completely legitimate."

Putting aside how dubious the "corruption" claim is, Mulvaney insisted on Fox News that the third reason didn't actually exist. Pressed to explain the dramatic shift, he couldn't.

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Abandoning summit scheme, Trump presents himself as a victim

10/21/19 08:00AM

Four days ago, the White House announced that one of Donald Trump's struggling business would host next year's G7 summit, creating a legal and political mess. The Constitution prevents U.S. officials from receiving foreign payments, but under this scheme, world leaders who wished to participate in a key international gathering would have no choice but to spend foreign funds at the American president's golf club in Doral, Florida.

Two days later, Trump announced via Twitter that he'd abandoned the plan.

"I thought I was doing something very good for our Country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 Leaders. It is big, grand, on hundreds of acres, next to MIAMI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, has tremendous ballrooms & meeting rooms, and each delegation would have its own 50 to 70 unit building. Would set up better than other alternatives.

"I announced that I would be willing to do it at NO PROFIT or, if legally permissible, at ZERO COST to the USA. But, as usual, the Hostile Media & their Democrat Partners went CRAZY!

"Therefore, based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020. We will begin the search for another site, including the possibility of Camp David, immediately. Thank you!"

There are, not surprisingly, all kinds of problems with the presidential message. Note, for example, that by Trump's version of events, he was personally involved in the alleged corruption. He also used a series of first-person pronouns that suggested the president sees little difference between himself and his private-sector enterprise.

I was also entertained by the all-caps reference to Miami International Airport, as if MIA deserves to be seen as a flagship facility synonymous with greatness.

But let's not brush past the underlying point of the presidential tweets: Trump continues to see himself as a victim. The public is apparently supposed to believe the Republican simply wanted to do "something very good" for the United States by using his venue -- the tweets were practically another ad for his struggling business -- and it all would've worked out fine were it not for those rascally Democrats, journalists, legal experts, and authorities on governmental ethics.

It's a pitiful posture, made worse by the fact that it isn't even true.

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Elijah Cummings

Filling a legend's shoes takes time

10/19/19 03:48PM

Americans woke up to the news that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) died early Thursday morning at the age of 68. The announcement comes after the Democratic congressman had been absent from House proceedings for several weeks. He cast his last vote a month ago on September 11, but worked up until his final hours, signing two subpoenas just before his passing. Although Cummings’ contributions to American politics and his legacy as an advocate for justice will never be replaced, the work he was devoted to will continue.

Cummings’ congressional seat will be filled by a special election in Maryland’s 7th District. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has not yet announced the date of the special election. Maryland law gives Hogan 10 days to issue a proclamation of when a special primary and special election will be held, but based on regulations it will not happen before the new year.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 10.18.19

10/18/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Cabinet news: "President Donald Trump on Friday tapped Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette to succeed Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who is expected to leave the agency's top post at the end of the year."

* It's curious that we're only hearing about this now: "Boeing Co., the maker of the grounded 737 Max jet, knew for 'some months' about messages between two employees in which one of them expressed serious concerns about the troubled craft, officials said."

* SCOTUS: "The Supreme Court on Friday said it will consider whether the creation of the watchdog Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by Congress in 2010 was unconstitutional, something the Trump administration and even the bureau's director say they now believe."

* The expected outcome: "The Senate on Thursday failed to overturn President Trump's veto of a resolution that would have terminated the national emergency he declared at the southwestern border. The defeat allows Mr. Trump to continue to defy Congress and divert federal funds to the construction of a border wall, his signature campaign promise."

* A related note from yesterday: "Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a longtime opponent of "endless wars," just blocked a resolution condemning President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria."

* Halil Suleyman "Sul" Ozerden's uncertain fate: "President Donald Trump's embattled judicial pick to the powerful Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals faced another setback Thursday, after the Judiciary Committee once again delayed a vote on his nomination."

* This doesn't sound like an entirely accurate description of Facebook's origins: "Mark Zuckerberg recalled the tense atmosphere on Harvard's campus after the U.S. invaded Iraq during a 35-minute Georgetown University address where he linked the war to Facebook's conception. 'I remember feeling that if more people had a voice to share their experiences, maybe things would have gone differently,' Zuckerberg said Thursday in a speech championing freedom of expression. 'Those early years shaped my belief that giving everyone a voice empowers the powerless and pushes society to be better over time.'"

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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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