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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Investigation-loving House leader urges Dems to leave Trump alone

12/11/18 08:40AM

As Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) prepares to make the transition from House majority leader to House minority leader, he has some advice for the Democrats who'll soon run the chamber: don't investigate Donald Trump.

"Well, it's a challenge," McCarthy told Fox News Channel's Bill Hemmer when asked about Democrats' return to the majority in January. "It looks like what they're going to focus on is just more investigations. I think America's too great of a nation to have such a small agenda."

He added that there are "other problems out there that we really should be focused upon" and that "both sides have come up with nothing" in investigating Trump.

The surface-level hypocrisy is hard to overlook. The House Republican conference that McCarthy helps lead is still examining Hillary Clinton's email server protocols -- a topic GOP lawmakers have investigated endlessly for years -- and she hasn't held public office since 2012.

For that matter, McCarthy was delighted when House Republicans scrutinized Benghazi conspiracy theories in ways no other single event has ever been investigated in congressional history. Indeed, it was the California Republican who effectively admitted on national television that the House GOP's Benghazi committee was a taxpayer-funded political operation intended to undermine Hillary Clinton.

As for McCarthy's belief that "both sides have come up with nothing" in investigating Trump, I'd remind the Republican leader that Democrats haven't had subpoena power -- and the GOP investigation from the House Intelligence Committee was a pathetic joke.

But stepping back and looking at McCarthy's comments at a distance, there's a related concern that comes into focus: Republican leaders sure do seem worried about House Democrats conducting oversight of Donald Trump's White House.

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT., talks to reporters as he walks to the weekly Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2013.

Asked about allegations against Trump, senator says, 'I don't care'

12/11/18 08:00AM

It's easy to lose sight of just how remarkable the revelations were on Friday afternoon. Federal prosecutors explained in court filings that the sitting President of the United States directed his attorney to commit a felony to help him win an election. It's not the sort of development Americans have traditionally been confronted with.

How would members of Congress respond to the realization that Donald Trump is currently seen by law enforcement as an unindicted co-conspirator? Well, it depends on whom you ask.

Some Republican senators are taking a cautious approach. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), for example, said yesterday, "We'll just have to wait and see where it lands." Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) added, "We've just got to see where it goes."

These are predictable, though not altogether satisfying, responses to extraordinary circumstances. GOP officials aren't prepared to call for their party's president to resign or face impeachment, so they're content to take a wait-and-see posture.

And then there was Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who spoke with CNN's Manu Raju yesterday on Capitol Hill.

Asked if he had any concerns that Trump was implicated, Hatch told CNN: "The Democrats will do anything to hurt this president." Informed it was alleged by federal prosecutors in New York, Hatch said: "OK, but I don't care, all I can say is he's doing a good job as president." [...]

"I don't think he was involved in crimes but even then, you know, you can make anything a crime under the current laws if you want to, you can blow it way out of proportion, you can do a lot of things."

The retiring Utah Republican added that "we ought to judge" Trump on the health of the economy, not on his suspected crimes.

I don't believe I've ever heard a sitting senator express wholesale indifference to the rule of law in such stark terms. Confronted with possible criminal allegations against the president, Hatch's first instinct was to blame Democrats. Reminded that the allegations were raised by non-partisan federal prosecutors serving in the Trump administration, Orrin Hatch -- the Senate pro tempore and the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- explicitly said he simply does not care.

It's effectively the "evidence, schmevidence" position.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 12.10.18

12/10/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* May doesn't have the votes: "British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Monday that she has postponed a pivotal parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal, throwing the divorce process even deeper into chaos. May was facing a crushing defeat in the House of Commons vote originally slated for Tuesday."

* A different crisis on the other side of the Channel: "Facing a political career in jeopardy, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a raise in the country's minimum wage and tax relief measures during an address to the nation Monday following a fourth weekend of increasing violence by 'yellow jacket' protesters."

* Our new anti-climate partners: "The United States joined a controversial proposal by Saudi Arabia and Russia this weekend to weaken a reference to a key report on the severity of global warming, sharpening battle lines at the global climate summit in Poland aimed at gaining consensus over how to combat rising temperatures."

* This struck me as new: "The FBI's counterintelligence investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia initially focused on four Americans and whether they were connected to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, former FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers during hours of closed-door questioning. Comey did not identify the Americans but said President Donald Trump, then the Republican candidate, was not among them."

* Before Trump chose William Barr as his nominee for attorney general, the president considered him for his legal defense team?

* Another step backwards: "This week, the United States Department of Agriculture announced its final plans to lower nutrition standards for grains, flavored milks and sodium in school cafeterias that were part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and that Michelle Obama, the former first lady, had advocated."

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Suspected Russian agent Maria Butina prepared to plead guilty

12/10/18 12:46PM

Between the latest court filing on Michael Flynn, the latest guilty plea from Michael Cohen, George Papadopoulos' release from prison, the latest filings from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, and prosecutors directly implicating Donald Trump in a felony, you might be tempted to think there wouldn't be any surprising court developments for a while.

But you'd be wrong. Rachel noted on the show on Thursday that it looked like the Maria Butina case was heading towards some sort of resolution fairly soon, and as NBC News reported this morning, that resolution has apparently arrived.

Alleged Russian agent Maria Butina is likely to plead guilty as soon as this week, according to court papers filed Monday.

Lawyers for Butina and the Justice Department say in the court filing that her criminal case has been "resolved." [...]

Butina, 30, is accused of acting as an agent of Russia in the Washington, D.C. area and faces charges of conspiracy and failing to register as a foreign agent.

There are some key elements of this story that are not yet clear, including whether Butina has struck some kind of deal with prosecutors in exchange for a guilty plea. That should come into focus in the next few days.

That said, if the suspected Russian secret agent is prepared to start cooperating with the Justice Department, it's a safe bet Butina would have some interesting insights to share.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.10.18

12/10/18 12:00PM

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

* As of late last week, Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in North Carolina's 9th congressional district said he'd endorse calls for a new election "if this investigation finds proof of illegal activity." I'm pretty sure we've passed this point already.

* On a related note, North Carolina's board of elections has named political consultant Leslie McCrae Dowless as "a person of interest" as part of its investigation into election fraud.

* There's a growing controversy in Pennsylvania's state Senate, where Republican leaders are prepared to block a newly elected Democrat, Lindsey Williams, over questions about whether she meets the residency requirements necessary for state lawmakers.

* Rep.-elect Ross Spano (R-Fla.) has already admitted to accepting illegal campaign loans ahead of his election last month, and the Florida Republican is now struggling to put together a staff -- in part because of his reliance on one of the people who gave him an illegal loan. Politico quoted election-law experts who said Spano's missteps "could constitute a criminal violation."

* With California and Texas holding their presidential nominating contests in 2020 much earlier than usual, the impact on the race for the Democratic nomination is likely to be significant.

* It's not at all uncommon for members of Congress to go into lobbying after leaving Capitol Hill, but Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), who still has a few weeks remaining in her term, has reportedly already created a new lobbying firm before stepping down.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) emerges from a closed-door weekly policy meeting with Senate Republicans, at the U.S. Capitol, May 10, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Trump scandal is far more serious than 'an error in filing paperwork'

12/10/18 11:20AM

Three days after federal prosecutors directly implicated Donald Trump in a felony, the president this morning published a tweet dismissing his hush-money payments to his former alleged mistresses as a "simple private transaction."

He didn't appear to be kidding.

But Trump isn't the only one struggling to downplay the significance of the controversy. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appeared on "Meet the Press" yesterday and made the argument to NBC News' Chuck Todd that campaign-finance violations occur because the rules are so darned complicated.

"There are thousands and thousands of rules. It's incredibly complicated, campaign finance. We have to decide whether or not really criminal penalties are the way we should approach criminal finance. I personally think that if someone makes an error in filing paperwork or in not categorizing a campaign contribution correctly, it shouldn't be jail time. It ought to be a fine."

Hmm. Donald Trump's personal attorney created a shell corporation to make a hush-money payment to a porn star, shortly before Election Day, and then everyone involved, including the president, lied about it.

According to the president, this was a "simple private transaction." According to Rand Paul, the rules are so "complicated," mishaps like these are bound to happen.

It's like "an error in filing paperwork." By the Kentucky Republican's reasoning, it's a minor miracle we don't see similar controversies all the time, with candidates' lawyers stumbling into creating shell corporations in secret to payoff mistresses with pre-election hush money.

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John Edwards exits a federal courthouse next to one of his defense lawyers, Abbe Lowell (R) in Greensboro, North Carolina May 10, 2012. Edwards, 58, is accused of secretly soliciting more than $900,000 in illegal campaign funds from two wealthy donors...

The problem with the GOP's interest in John Edwards' court case

12/10/18 10:41AM

The day after federal prosecutors in New York directly implicated Donald Trump in a felony, Rudy Giuliani turned to Twitter to argue why he thinks the U.S. Attorney's office is wrong.

"The President is not implicated in campaign finance violations because based on Edwards case and others the payments are not campaign contributions. No responsible prosecutor would premise a criminal case on a questionable interpretation of the law."

At issue here are two separate controversies. The first involves Donald Trump relying on his former personal attorney to arrange secret hush-money payments to two women who allegedly had extra-marital affairs with the president. The second involves former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who was indicted -- but never convicted -- for paying his former mistress to hide his extra-marital affair.

For Giuliani, the latter effectively negates the former. It was a popular argument yesterday, which was repeated yesterday on NBC's, ABC's, and CBS's Sunday shows.

The trouble is, the two stories aren't quite the same -- or at least aren't similar enough to help Trump.

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Image: FILE PHOTO --  U.S. President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel give a joint news conference in Washington

Jared Kushner's efforts with Saudi Arabia draw fresh scrutiny

12/10/18 10:00AM

One of the many problems with Donald Trump's approach to White House governance is the president's willingness to put enormous power into the hands of his young son-in-law. Despite his inexperience and lack of subject-matter expertise, Jared Kushner has been given a vast policy portfolio, which includes key duties related to international affairs.

For some officials abroad, that's created an opportunity of sorts. The Washington Post reported in February, for example, that officials in at least four countries -- the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico -- had "privately discussed ways they can manipulate" Kushner, exploiting, among other things, his inexperience.

The article added, "Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was 'naive and being tricked' in conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel."

Nearly a year later, the question is whether other countries may have come to similar conclusions. Take Saudi Arabia, for example.

Senior American officials were worried. Since the early months of the Trump administration, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and Middle East adviser, had been having private, informal conversations with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son of Saudi Arabia's king.

Given Mr. Kushner's political inexperience, the private exchanges could make him susceptible to Saudi manipulation, said three former senior American officials. In an effort to tighten practices at the White House, a new chief of staff tried to reimpose longstanding procedures stipulating that National Security Council staff members should participate in all calls with foreign leaders.

But even with the restrictions in place, Mr. Kushner, 37, and Prince Mohammed, 33, kept chatting, according to three former White House officials and two others briefed by the Saudi royal court. In fact, they said, the two men were on a first-name basis, calling each other Jared and Mohammed in text messages and phone calls.

According to the highly detailed New York Times  report, Saudi officials very carefully cultivated the relationship with Kushner over the course of two years, starting in November 2016 -- the month Trump was elected. A Saudi delegation identified the presidential son-in-law at the time as someone with "scant knowledge about the region, a transactional mind-set and an intense focus on reaching a deal with the Palestinians that met Israel's demands."

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