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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 12.5.18

12/05/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* We have a very serious problem: "The world's greenhouse gas emissions are rising at a faster pace in 2018 than they did last year, researchers said Wednesday, the latest evidence that planet-warming pollution is proliferating again after a three-year lull in the middle of the decade. That trend is accelerating the earth's collision course with some of the most severe consequences of climate change, scientists warned."

* Trade: "China's Commerce Ministry released a statement Wednesday calling trade talks between Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the G-20 Summit in Argentina 'very successful' -- but empty of promises and vague on the 90-day deadline for negotiations touted by the Trump administration."

* This was a big strike: "A new contract with Marriott International that will give housekeepers in San Francisco an eventual $4-an-hour increase and better protections against sexual harassment was approved Monday, ending a nine-week strike by 2,500 workers at seven hotels in that city. The settlement in San Francisco concludes a nationwide walkout against the world's largest hotel chain. At its peak, the protest involved 7,700 workers at 23 hotels."

* North Carolina: "We're learning more about a heavily armed man arrested on Smith High School campus in Greensboro Monday afternoon. Police arrested Steve Spence by the tennis courts at Smith High School after he went to the school's cafeteria through the open courtyard and pulled out two hand guns. Police found he had several magazines and a backpack of bullets with him. They also say he had a long gun in the stolen car he parked by the school."

* An unflattering portrait of a retiring congressman: "The Office of Congressional Ethics released its report on allegations against Rep. Thomas Garrett Tuesday, including testimony from staffers past and present. The House Ethics Committee announced that it is continuing its own inquiry, but has not yet impaneled an investigative subcommittee."

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A person man uses a laptop. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/AP)

Hack into Republicans' committee leaves Trump in an awkward spot

12/05/18 02:13PM

When Russians hacked into the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 elections, it had a dramatic impact on American politics. With that in mind, it's worth noting that the National Republican Campaign Committee was apparently hacked this year.

The emails of top officials at the campaign arm for House Republicans were stolen during the 2018 midterm election cycle, a spokesman confirmed to NBC News on Tuesday.

Ian Prior, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, said that the group had launched an internal probe and flagged the attack to the FBI. [...]

The hack, which was first reported by Politico, involved the email accounts of four senior aides at the NRCC, said two sources with knowledge of the situation. Those accounts were surveilled for months, said the sources, who added that no donor information was compromised.

There's a lot about this story that we don't yet know, which makes it tough to answer the relevant questions. Was information stolen? Was it used against the party or its candidates? Who was responsible?

Politico's report added that Republican officials "privately believe it was a foreign agent because of the nature of the attack." I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but it'd be useful to know which foreign country we're talking about.

What's more, the same Politico article added, "The hack became a major source of consternation within the committee as the midterm campaign unfolded. The NRCC brought on the prominent Washington law firm Covington & Burling as well as Mercury Public Affairs to oversee the response to the hack. The NRCC paid the two firms hundreds of thousands of dollars to help respond to the intrusion. The committee's chief legal counsel, Chris Winkelman, devoted many hours to dealing with the matter."

But that seems weird, too. Why would the National Republican Campaign Committee spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on "the response" to an attack that the NRCC never publicly acknowledged and the public knew nothing about?

And finally, there's the matter of Donald Trump's previous rhetoric on the subject.

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Image: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at Haneda Airport, in Tokyo

Mattis and Pompeo face bipartisan pressure following Khashoggi briefing

12/05/18 12:40PM

For reasons that are still the subject of speculation, Donald Trump has gone out of his way to excuse Saudi Arabia's apparent murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In an administration in which the president perceives dissent as betrayal, everyone on Team Trump was expected to read from the same script.

And so, when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed senators last week on Khashoggi's slaying, they reportedly shared a message in line with the president's wishes and declined to blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

A week later, their testimony has become, to put it mildly, problematic. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told MSNBC this morning that yesterday's classified briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel has left Mattis and Pompeo in an awkward position.

"I think the secretary of Defense and secretary of State are in a bad spot because the president has given this bear hug to MBS and to the entire Saudi regime, so they are bound to carry out his bizarre policy," [Murphy] said. "But at the same time, it's sort of hard to call this a cover-up given the fact that everybody in that briefing last week knew that Pompeo and Mattis were misleading us, knew there was no way this murder happened without the consent and direction of MBS."

The Connecticut Democrat isn't the only one making comments like these. A reporter asked Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) yesterday whether there was a substantive difference between what senators heard last week from Mattis and Pompeo, and what they heard yesterday from the CIA director.

After pausing, the retiring Republican chairman compared it to the difference "between darkness and sunshine."

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump cheerleader, said yesterday that one would have to be "willfully blind" to miss Mohammed bin Salman's culpability in Khashoggi's murder.

"If they were in a Democratic administration," Graham said of Pompeo and Mattis, "I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia."

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.5.18

12/05/18 12:00PM

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

* In Georgia's secretary of state runoff election, Brad Raffensperger (R) prevailed over John Barrow (D), 52% to 48%. As a result, Brian Kemp's (R) voter-suppression agenda will remain in place.

* The news for Dems was a little better in Little Rock, Ark., where Frank Scott, Jr., widely seen as a rising star in Democratic politics, yesterday became the city's first elected black mayor. He defeated Baker Kurrus in what was technically a non-partisan race.

* The Charlotte Observer's editorial board today called for a new election in North Carolina's 9th congressional district.

* In Maine's 2nd congressional district, where incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) is already suing to overturn his defeat, a town-by-town recount is scheduled to get underway tomorrow morning.

* I know the focus on the so-called "invisible primary" annoys some people, but this is the point at which possible presidential contenders start making decisions that shape the actual primary phase. Former two-term Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), for example, has reportedly decided not to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. This comes a week after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced he isn't running, either.

* Michael Avenatti, best known as Stormy Daniels' attorney, also isn't running.

* On a related note, the Democratic National Committee is working on its plan for a series of primary debates, and party officials intend to avoid the "kiddie table" model Republicans used during the last presidential election cycle.

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Protesters gather outside the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011.

In defiance of voters' will, Wisconsin GOP advances brazen power-grab

12/05/18 10:54AM

The election results in Wisconsin this year were unmistakable: voters in the Badger State handed Democrats victories up and down the ballot. As the dust settled on Election Day, we saw that voters had elected a Democratic governor, re-elected a Democratic U.S. senator, re-elected a Democratic secretary of state, and elected a Democratic state attorney general. Even in the state legislature, Democratic candidates easily won the most votes.

As regular readers know, Wisconsin Republicans have responded to the election results with truly radical tactics, scrambling to approve a new power-grab before Dems take office in the new year. The agenda is as brazen as it is aggressive, targeting voting rights, election results, and the powers of state offices the GOP will no longer control.

As of this morning, the agenda -- unveiled late on Friday -- is now on its way to becoming law.

The Wisconsin Senate voted just before sunrise Wednesday following an all-night session to pass a sweeping bill in a lame-duck session designed to empower the GOP-controlled Legislature and weaken the Democrat replacing Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Republicans pushed on through protests, internal disagreement and Democratic opposition to the measures designed to reduce the powers of incoming Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Democratic Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul. Both Evers and Kaul urged Republicans not to do it, warning that lawsuits would bring more gridlock to Wisconsin when the new administration, and the first divided government in 10 years, takes over.

But Republicans forged ahead regardless, passing it 17-16 with all Republicans except one in support. All Democrats voted against it. The Assembly was expected to pass the bill later Wednesday, sending it on to Walker for his consideration. Walker has signaled support.

Robin Vos, the Speaker of the Republican-led state Assembly, defended his party's tactics last night, arguing, "We are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in."

It's rare to see an elected leader in the United States show such brazen contempt, not just for democracy, but for the voters of his own state.

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Mark Meadows

Leading Trump ally tries to spin latest Mueller court filing

12/05/18 10:07AM

The latest court filing from Special Counsel Robert Mueller advances our understanding of the ongoing investigation, but only to a point. We now know, for example, that former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied to investigators about his foreign communications, and in the process, was compromised by Russia before his resignation last year. We also know that Mueller and his team are satisfied with the extent to which Flynn has cooperated with their probe.

We don't, however, know the areas in which Flynn has been cooperative. The court filing explained that the former national security adviser has provided information about three investigations, two of which remain undisclosed.

Those other two investigations raise tantalizing possibilities -- one of which was explicitly identified as a "criminal" probe -- but for now, they remain something of a mystery.

I was curious how the right would respond to revelations like these, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of Donald Trump's most ardent congressional allies, didn't disappoint during his Fox News interview last night. Here was the far-right lawmaker's pitch:

"I've looked at this report and, yes, everybody is going to focus on what has been redacted. But let's look at what's not in there. There is no suggestion that Michael Flynn had anything to do with collusion. He was with the transition team. He was part of the campaign. And, yet, there is no mention of collusion.

"I think it's good news for President Trump tonight that this is what has come down to, even though they said he 'substantially cooperated,' I think he substantially cooperated to say that there was no collusion and we can look at it with that in mind."

This almost certainly wasn't intended to be funny, but it was hard not to be entertained by the attempted spin.

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at a press conference after appearing in court to call for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Giuliani, Trump's 'cyber' guy, flubs internet basics, blames conspiracy

12/05/18 09:20AM

Late last week, Rudy Giuliani kept up his public-relations offensive against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, complaining on Twitter about the timing of the plea agreement with Michael Cohen. Giuliani's tweet read exactly as follows:

Mueller filed an indictment just as the President left for G-20.In July he indicted the Russians who will never come here just before he left for Helsinki.Either could have been done earlier or later. Out of control!Supervision please?

What Giuliani, a member of Donald Trump's legal defense team, didn't notice was that he'd inadvertently created a hyperlink in his tweet. There should've been a space after the period between "G-20" and "In." The typo created a link to a non-existent website.

Except, it didn't stay non-existent for long. Someone having a little fun at Giuliani's expense registered the G-20.In domain and created a single page with a one-sentence message: "Donald J. Trump is a traitor to our country."

Yesterday, the former New York City mayor discovered what had happened -- and concocted a conspiracy theory involving Twitter. Giuliani wrote:

Twitter allowed someone to invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message. The same thing-period no space-occurred later and it didn't happen. Don't tell me they are not committed cardcarrying anti-Trumpers. Time Magazine also may fit that description. FAIRNESS PLEASE

For the record, practically every Twitter user has accidentally published typos; I've had plenty of my own. Most of us, however, don't blame Twitter for our mistakes, and certainly don't attribute our mistakes to some nefarious political plot cooked up by our perceived enemies.

Regardless, there are a couple of substantive angles to this. The first is an unfortunate pattern: every time Republicans think they've finally uncovered evidence that proves their conspiracy theories about tech giants and their political agenda, it's the Republicans who end up looking foolish.

The second deals with Giuliani's purported area of expertise.

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Roger Stone Addresses Women's Republican Club Of Miami

Roger Stone, longtime Trump associate, pleads the Fifth

12/05/18 08:40AM

In a missive that looked like witness tampering, Donald Trump published a tweet on Monday praising longtime associate Roger Stone, writing, "'I will never testify against Trump.' This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about 'President Trump.' Nice to know that some people still have 'guts!'"

Just one day later, the Republican operative who received Trump's praise announced he'd plead the Fifth rather than cooperate with a Senate inquiry. Politico reported:

President Donald Trump's longtime political ally Roger Stone invoked the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination as he declined to share documents and testimony with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to a letter posted Tuesday by the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. [...]

Stone is under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, in part over allegations that he had foreknowledge of WikiLeaks' dump of Clinton campaign emails the month before the election. Stone has denied any advance knowledge, despite a series of tweets foreshadowing the contents of the emails, which he attributed to educated guesses and indirect information provided through an intermediary with WikiLeaks.

Stone is not the first person close to Trump to invoke the Fifth Amendment as part of this scandal. In May 2017, former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded the Fifth in response to a Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena, and in April 2018, Michael Cohen did the same as part of the Stormy Daniels lawsuit.

We now know, of course, that Flynn and Cohen later adopted far more loquacious postures in the months that followed. Whether Stone does the same remains to be seen.

But for Trump, his previous rhetoric on the subject should make all of this a bit awkward.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

In Flynn filing, Mueller points to 'several ongoing investigations'

12/05/18 08:00AM

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators don't say a whole lot. Those of us following the investigation into the Russia scandal have to wait, with varying degrees of patience, for court filings that offer some insights into the probe, its targets, and its status. It's what made yesterday such an important day.

The first big resignation of Donald Trump's presidency was the departure of Michael Flynn, the White House national security adviser who didn't even last a month on the job. After his departure, Flynn was indicted for lying to the FBI about his foreign contacts, including his communications with Russia.

Yesterday, of course, was the day Mueller was scheduled to file materials with a federal court, detailing Flynn's misdeeds, his level of cooperation, and the kind of sentencing the special counsel believes the former White House official should receive. As you probably saw Rachel explain on the show, Mueller explained that Flynn has been cooperating to the special counsel's satisfaction and should therefore serve no prison time.

But one of the overarching questions is what, exactly, Flynn has been cooperating about. If you've read last night's court filings, you've no doubt noticed an astonishing number of redactions. And while the black bars are frustrating for those of us who want answers, former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said something on the show last that stood out for me:

"I think there are a couple of things that are disclosed even in the heavily redacted form that we see. Number one, the fact that they met 19 times. That is a huge number of meetings, and suggests that Michael Flynn has shared an awful lot of information with the special counsel.

"The other thing you pointed out, by going through the redactions in the addendum, it looks like there's not just one, but three separate investigations that Michael Flynn has cooperated about, the special counsel investigation. And then one that's partly redacted but says criminal investigation. And a third that's completely redacted.

"And if you say criminal investigation, is that in contrast with something else that's in that third investigation? Is it not criminal? Is it something else? Is it a civil investigation? Or is it a counter intelligence investigation?"

It's an important detail. We've known for a while that Flynn has been cooperating with Mueller's investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 elections; we didn't know until last night that Flynn has also been providing information on two other investigations.

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