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Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.16.18

08/16/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Manafort trial: "Jurors began deliberations Thursday in the trial of President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who faces 18 counts of bank fraud and lying -- and the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison."

* It's only a fight over the health of our democracy: "Hundreds of newspaper editorial boards across the country answered a nationwide call Thursday to express disdain for President Trump's attacks on the news media, while some explained their decision not to do so. The same morning, the president tweeted that the 'fake news media' are the 'opposition party.'"

* On a related note, the Senate approved a resolution today, through a voice vote, that "affirms that the press is not the enemy of the people" and "reaffirms the vital and indispensable role that the free press serves" and "condemns the attacks on the institution of the free press."

* William McRaven, a retired four-star admiral: "The architect of the Osama bin Laden raid said Thursday that it was a badge of honor for former CIA Director John Brennan to have his security clearance stripped by President Donald Trump." McRaven added, "I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency."

* The OSU scandal: "The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into whether Ohio State University officials responded 'promptly and equitably' to complaints from wrestlers and other athletes that the team doctor had molested them."

* The latest tape: "Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former reality TV star who became a top White House aide to President Donald Trump, on Thursday released exclusively to MSNBC a secret tape of campaign official Lara Trump offering her a $15,000-a-month job after she was fired from the administration."

* Who is Bruce Ohr? "Ohr exists in a netherworld -- a subject of fascination in right-leaning media, barely a mention in mainstream media. His name last appeared in the pages of The Washington Post in February, and yet President Trump keeps tweeting about him."

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Trump's Supreme Court pick struggles to gain public support

08/16/18 03:50PM

In mid-July, Donald Trump boasted about the popularity of his Supreme Court nominee. "Brett Kavanaugh has gotten rave reviews -- rave reviews – actually, from both sides," the president said. "And I think it's going to be a beautiful thing to watch over the next month. But he has gotten rave reviews."

Well, it's been a month. It's unlikely Trump considers the latest polling a beautiful thing.

Donald Trump's second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, receives a cooler public reception than nearly every nominee for the last four administrations, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. Women are a driving force behind the tepid response, with fewer than three in 10 saying Kavanaugh ought to be confirmed.

Overall, 37% of Americans say they'd like to see the Senate vote in favor of his confirmation. Kavanaugh's support is the lowest in polling dating back to Robert Bork's nomination by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. That's lower support for Kavanaugh than similar public assessments of the unsuccessful nominations of Merrick Garland and Harriet Miers....

A plurality in the CNN poll said they do not want the Senate to confirm the conservative jurist. Kavanaugh's support among women was especially low: only 28% support his confirmation.

In fairness, it's worth noting that there are other polls, and Kavanaugh fares marginally better in the latest Quinnipiac poll, which was released yesterday.

That said, all of the recent polling -- CNN, Quinnipiac, Marist, Pew Research Center, and Gallup -- points to unusually and unexpectedly weak support for the current high-court nominee.

As for why Kavanaugh's support is weak, and whether it'll matter, the questions get a little tricky.

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A U.S. Navy crew member looks at an F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter landing onto the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan, during a joint naval drill between South Korea and the U.S. in the West Sea, South Korea, Oct. 28, 2015. (Photo by Kim Hong-ji/Pool/AP)

GOP's Barr compares congressional service and military service

08/16/18 12:55PM

It was exactly 11 years ago this week when Mitt Romney, during his first presidential campaign, was asked at an event in Iowa about his five adult sons and their decision not to serve in the military. "My sons are all adults and they've made decisions about their careers and they've chosen not to serve in the military and active duty and I respect their decision in that regard," he responded.

And if Romney had stopped there, he probably would've been fine. But he then quickly transitioned to a sour note. "One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president," the Republican added.

It sounded as if Romney was drawing a parallel, suggesting that military service and helping his campaign were comparable approaches to public service.

This year, Rep. Andy Barr (R) is running for re-election in Kentucky's 6th congressional district, where he'll face retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, the first woman to fly an F-18 (such as the one shown in the above photo) in combat. The incumbent congressman told the New York Times:

"We both served our country," Mr. Barr said. "I've served in a position where ideas matter. My opponent has served her country in the military, where execution matters."

It's a subjective question, of course, but this probably isn't as bad as Romney's quote from 2007. It is, however, an example of what not to say when running against a combat veteran with an inspirational personal story.

Because not only is there a qualitative difference between political service and military service, but as most veterans would probably attest, "ideas matter" in the military, too.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.16.18

08/16/18 12:00PM

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

* In CNN's latest national poll, Democrats lead Republicans on the generic congressional ballot by 11 points, 52% to 41%. The Democratic advantage has grown a bit since CNN's poll in June, when Dems had an eight-point lead.

* The latest Quinnipiac poll, meanwhile, shows Dems on the generic ballot by nine points, 51% to 42%. That's down a little from the Quinnipiac poll in July, which showed the party ahead by 12 points.

* With just two weeks remaining before Arizona's Republican Senate primary, Rep. Martha McSally (R) has launched her first attack ad targeting former state Sen. Kelli Ward. In a sign of the times, the congresswoman argues in the spot that Ward, a far-right firebrand, isn't reliably conservative enough.

* If you've missed former White House strategist Steve Bannon, I have good news: he's back with a new group, called Citizens of the American Republic, which will work to help Republicans in the 2018 midterms.

* In Missouri's U.S. Senate race, Josh Hawley (R) slammed Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) this morning for "hiding out" in Washington, D.C. For the record, the Senate is in session, which means McCaskill just went to work.

* Rolling Stone had an interesting report yesterday on alleged cyberattacks targeting a former rival to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), generally recognized as the Kremlin's favorite congressman.

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A voter marks a ballot for the New Hampshire primary inside a voting booth at a polling place, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Trump offers Democrats some 'bulletin-board' material on turnout

08/16/18 11:20AM

In politics, mobilizing one's base is nearly always beneficial, but it carries an inherent risk: politicians who generate excitement among loyal partisans can simultaneously motivate the other side.

For example, if a Democratic president moved to the left and delivered a message intended to motivate liberal voters ahead of an election, voters on the right, some of whom may have been indifferent about voting, might suddenly feel an urge to head to the polls.

Clearly, Donald Trump doesn't see much value in this model. The president sat down with the Wall Street Journal yesterday, talked about his plans for the 2018 midterms, and bragged about his physical stamina. "I have to make 50 stops, it's a lot," Trump said. "So, there aren't a lot of people that can do that, physically. Fortunately, I have no problem with that."

It led to this exchange:

Asked if his campaign appearances might also mobilize Democratic voters, Mr. Trump said, "It may -- but it energizes my people much more than it energizes them."

"I think the Democrats give up when I turn out," he said. "If you want to know the truth, I don't think it energizes them. I think it de-energizes them. I think they give up when I turn out."

In sports, there's something called "bulletin-board material." A player or a coach will make some audacious boast about an upcoming game, and it'll get posted to the bulletin board in the other team's locker room for motivation.

Trump's quote struck me as bulletin-board material for Democrats: he thinks they're more likely to stay home when he shows up in their area. The president is practically daring Dems to turn out in greater numbers in the fall.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

Do security clearances suddenly 'operate within the White House' again?

08/16/18 10:41AM

The White House's Rob Porter scandal in February was a multi-faceted controversy, but one of the core questions related to security clearances. As Rachel explained on the show at the time, Team Trump struggled to explain why Porter had day-to-day access over highly sensitive, classified materials, despite the fact that he couldn't get permanent security clearance because of his alleged violence toward women.

During the press briefing on Feb. 12, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders adopted a line that put quite a bit of distance between the West Wing and the security-clearance process.

"Look, this is a process that doesn't operate within the White House. It's handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community. And we support that process. It's the same process that has been used for decades in previous administrations, and we're relying on that process at this point."

Putting aside questions about whether Sanders' line was persuasive, we're now confronted with an entirely different question: are her claims still true?

Because by all accounts, Donald Trump yesterday decided to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance unilaterally. Indeed, the president adopted a process that existed entirely outside official channels, to the point that relevant intelligence agencies and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats were neither consulted nor notified in advance.

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during an event on July 8, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty)

Targeting Cuomo, Trump makes a dubious claim to the patriotic high ground

08/16/18 10:00AM

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) spoke at a bill-signing event yesterday, and while trying to make an unscripted comment about Donald Trump's signature phrase, the governor apparently went a little further than he intended.

"We're not going to make America great again. It was never that great," Cuomo said, generating some gasps in the audience. The New York Democrat quickly added that he was referring to American women being able to reach their full potential, and the governor's office soon after issued a statement to clarify Cuomo's perspective.

"Gov. Cuomo disagrees with the president," his spokesperson said. "The governor believes America is great and that her full greatness will be fully realized when every man, woman, and child has full equality. America has not yet reached its maximum potential."

Nevertheless, the president saw an opportunity to slam a potential 2020 rival.

President Donald Trump slammed Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., for having a "total meltdown" Wednesday after Cuomo said the U.S. "was never that great" in a dig at the commander-in-chief's 2016 campaign slogan.

"'WE'RE NOT GOING TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, IT WAS NEVER THAT GREAT.'" Trump tweeted Wednesday night. "Can you believe this is the Governor of the Highest Taxed State in the U.S., Andrew Cuomo, having a total meltdown!"

At face value, this isn't especially surprising. Cuomo's choice of words made it easy for Republicans to target his patriotism, so Trump's decision to pounce was probably predictable.

What may be less obvious, though, is why the president is mistaken to claim the patriotic high ground.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump finds a replacement for handing out electoral maps

08/16/18 09:20AM

Three months after taking office, Donald Trump was apparently still feeling insecure about the legitimacy of his presidency. During a Reuters interview two days shy of the 100-day mark, Trump interrupted a discussion about China to hand out colored copies of the 2016 electoral map.

"Here, you can take that, that's the final map of the numbers," the president said from his desk, handing copies to each of the three Reuters reporters in the room. "It's pretty good, right? The red is obviously us."

Fortunately, we haven't seen that pathetic display in recent months. Unfortunately, Trump has replaced this with something nearly as sad. Consider this tidbit from the Wall Street Journal, which had an impromptu, 20-minute interview with the president yesterday.

Several times Mr. Trump interrupted the conversation to summon aides to the Oval Office to share charts showing his endorsement record and to discuss the size of his following on social media.

"So what's my record?" he asked political director Bill Stepien, who said the president had yet to lose a candidate he has backed in Republican primary races.

Mr. Trump said he notched eight wins out of nine in special elections.

Note the specific wording of the report: Trump didn't just interrupt the WSJ conversation with odd electoral boasts; he did this "several times."

Making matters worse, as unintentionally amusing as the president's antics were, the underlying claims weren't even true.

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Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum

Despite investigation, Trump says 'in theory' he's not under investigation

08/16/18 08:41AM

Throughout his first year as president, Donald Trump didn't just obsess over the intensifying Russia scandal, he was also preoccupied with whether he was personally under investigation. Last fall, the Republican declared, "As far as I'm concerned, I haven't been told that we're under investigation, I'm not under investigation."

The curious phrasing notwithstanding -- as far as Trump is "concerned," all kinds of fictional claims may seem true -- the rhetoric slowly faded from the president's talking points. Yesterday, in an impromptu interview with the Wall Street Journal, the claim made a comeback.

Mr. Trump said the Russia probe is unwarranted. "Of course they say it's not an investigation. You know, in theory I'm not under investigation...I'm not a target. But regardless, I think that whole -- I call it 'the rigged witch hunt,' is a sham."

I haven't yet seen a full transcript, and context can often change the meaning of quotes, but I'll confess to being confused by Trump's apparent assertion that "they say it's not an investigation." Who are "they"? Why would anyone deny the fact that the investigation into the Russia scandal is an investigation?

But it was the next line that really stood out: "You know, in theory I'm not under investigation." I suppose, at some level, there may be some truth to that -- because in theory, all sorts of things that aren't true could conceivably be true.

In theory, Trump is wildly popular. In theory, he won the popular vote. In theory, Russia didn't attack our elections in the hopes of putting Trump in power. In theory, the president hasn't been caught lying thousands of times.

But what the president considers theoretically true is far less interesting than what's actually true.

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Trump connects Brennan punishment, Russia scandal in provocative way

08/16/18 08:00AM

The White House issued a written statement yesterday afternoon, describing the official rationale for Donald Trump's decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance. It's ostensibly from the president himself -- it's written in the first person -- and it lists a litany of concerns about the former CIA chief, characterizing him as an erratic liar who makes outrageous allegations online and on television.

There's no shortage of problems with Trump targeting one of his perceived enemies like this, but complicating matters is the fact that the official explanation is apparently incomplete. The president added an additional explanation for yesterday's announcement in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Trump cited Mr. Brennan as among those he held responsible for the investigation, which also is looking into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Mr. Trump has denied collusion, and Russia has denied interfering.

Mr. Brennan was director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Democratic administration of former President Obama and one of those who presented evidence to Mr. Trump shortly before his inauguration that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

"I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham," Mr. Trump said in an interview. "And these people led it!"

He added: "So I think it's something that had to be done."

Oh. So the official explanation is that the president believes Brennan is an unhinged ideologue, but the explanation from Trump himself is that Brennan is connected to the investigation into the Russia scandal -- which in the president's mind, means he must be punished.

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