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Friday's Mini-Report, 8.10.18

08/10/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Save the date: "The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to begin confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Sept. 4, Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced Friday."

* So much for Trump liking Tayyip Erdogan: "President Donald Trump abruptly announced Friday that he would double the rate of import tariffs on Turkish metals -- forcing Turkey to ask citizens to buy its own crashing currency. The Turkish economy was already mired in crisis amid worsening relations with Washington and worries over soaring inflation and unemployment."

* Grand jury: "Attorneys for Andrew Miller, a former aide of ex-Trump adviser Roger Stone, said that Miller has been held in contempt of court for refusing to appear in front of the grand jury hearing testimony in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, his lawyers said Friday."

* The MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to National Interests) Program: "The Army has halted forcible discharges of soldiers who were recruited through a program that offers citizenship to skilled immigrants in exchange for military service. But it is not clear whether the step puts an end to the expulsion policy or is just a pause in the Army's effort to curtail a program that its leaders say poses a security risk."

* There are new top-secret cables from a secret prison in Thailand, when it was run by Gina Haspel, who's now CIA director. The documents provide "at times graphic detail on the techniques the agency used to brutally interrogate Qaeda captives" held at the facility.

* Jim Jordan's OSU controversy: "A conservative group that has been defending embattled Rep. Jim Jordan released a quote from a former Ohio State University wrestler on Thursday in which he appears to recant his claim that the congressman -- when he was an assistant coach -- knew that the team doctor was sexually abusing the athletes."

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Image: AG Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks On Immigration And Law Enforcement In PA

Why a federal judge threatened to hold AG Jeff Sessions in contempt

08/10/18 04:21PM

It's not every day that a federal judge raises the prospect of holding the attorney general in contempt, which, as you hopefully saw Rachel discuss on the show last night, made for some dramatic developments in a federal courtroom in D.C. yesterday.

In a federal courtroom in Washington on Thursday, a judge heard about something the Trump administration had just done that clearly angered him. The government, he learned, had deported an immigrant mother and daughter who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit the judge was hearing over asylum restrictions.

So the judge did something highly unusual: He demanded the administration turn around the plane carrying the plaintiffs to Central America and bring them back to the United States. And he ordered the government to stop removing plaintiffs in the case from the country who are seeking protection from gang and domestic violence.

At issue was a young mother from El Salvador and her daughter, represented by the ACLU and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, who were fleeing domestic and gang violence, and who challenged the Trump administration's restrictions on asylum-seekers. The judge in this case, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, had been assured that the plaintiffs would not be deported ahead of the emergency court proceedings.

And when the young mother and her daughter were deported anyway, the judge was not at all pleased.

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Image: NATO Summit In Brussels - Day Two

Did Trump's team feel the need to trick him at the NATO summit?

08/10/18 12:40PM

Donald Trump did not play a constructive role at the G-7 summit in June, but away from the spotlight, diplomats from the various delegations successfully negotiated a joint communique reflecting the member nations' shared values. Everything was on track, right up until the American president threw a tantrum.

The day after the international gathering, Trump announced that he had "instructed" U.S. officials "not to endorse" the official G-7 communique. White House officials then spent some time blaming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for apparently hurting Trump's feelings.

As we discussed last week, the American president's tantrum didn't amount to much. U.S. officials ended up ignoring Trump's instructions and American support for the communique was never formally withdrawn. But the experience left an impression on Trump's team, and as the New York Times  reported overnight, officials took a series of steps to avoid a similar breakdown at last month's NATO summit.

Senior American national security officials, seeking to prevent President Trump from upending a formal policy agreement at last month's NATO meeting, pushed the military alliance's ambassadors to complete it before the forum even began.

The work to preserve the North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreement, which is usually subject to intense 11th-hour negotiations, came just weeks after Mr. Trump refused to sign off on a communiqué from the June meeting of the Group of 7 in Canada.

The rushed machinations to get the policy done, as demanded by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, have not been previously reported. Described by European diplomats and American officials, the efforts are a sign of the lengths to which the president's top advisers will go to protect a key and longstanding international alliance from Mr. Trump's unpredictable antipathy.

It's an amazing dynamic to consider in the abstract: the American president has a tendency to be needlessly hostile toward the most successful security alliance in the world, but his aides don't share his antagonism. There was a real possibility that the former might reject the latest NATO communique, so the latter created conditions in which he wouldn't have that opportunity.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.10.18

08/10/18 12:00PM

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

* On the heels of Rep. Chris Collins' (R-N.Y.) federal indictment, CNBC reported that the Republican congressman has used campaign funds to pay his legal bills. Collins said yesterday he'll stop doing that.

* There's some interesting drama in Michigan's gubernatorial race, where Gov. Rick Snyder (R) wouldn't say yesterday whether he'll endorse state Attorney General Bill Schuette (R), his party's nominee to succeed him. Snyder also wouldn't say whether he even likes the far-right A.G.

* According to NBC News' count, at least 50 Democrats running for the House are prepared to oppose Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) if she runs for Speaker in the event of a Democratic majority.

* After falling far short in a Republican Senate primary, West Virginia's Don Blankenship still wants to defy the state's "sore-loser" law and run as the Constitution Party's candidate. He's now prepared to take the fight to the state Supreme Court.

* In Indiana's U.S. Senate race, Republican multimillionaire Mike Braun has gone after Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) because he owned stock in his brother's company, which operates a factory in Mexico. The Associated Press reports today, however, that Braun's national auto parts company distributes Chinese-made products.

* At least for now, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) intends to ignore calls that he step down as the state's top elections official during his gubernatorial race.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Donald Trump walks with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani through the new Trump International Hotel in Washington

Trump's lawyers don't seem to know what a 'perjury trap' is

08/10/18 11:20AM

For months, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has wanted to talk to Donald Trump. For as many months, the president has said he's eager to sit down with Mueller and his team, and Trump's lawyers have balked.

With increasing frequency, the presidential defense team has warned of a "perjury trap." The Washington Post  reported overnight:

Early this year, it was very subtle. White House lawyer Ty Cobb for the first time gently suggested the possibility of President Trump being lured into a "perjury trap" if he interviewed with Robert S. Mueller III's Russia investigation. At the same time, though, Cobb was quick to emphasize that he didn't think Mueller, a man he respected, would ever do such a thing.

Times have changed.

Appearing on Sean Hannity's Fox News show Wednesday night, Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani addressed Mueller directly and explicitly accused him of laying a perjury trap for Trump -- twice.

Fox News started pushing perjury-trap warnings in earnest in January, but the rhetoric is now effectively a daily talking point for Trump World.

And that's a shame because, by all appearances, the president's lawyers don't fully appreciate what the phrase means.

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joined by, from left, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., smiles as they unveil the GOP's tax overhaul, Nov. 2, 2017.

GOP running as if it hasn't been in the majority for the last two years

08/10/18 10:41AM

Election Day 2018 is about 88 days away, and the Republican majority, eager to stay in power, certainly has the option of telling voters about all of the things GOP officials have done with the governing authority the electorate gave them in the last election cycle.

But that's not quite the message Americans are hearing right now. The Associated Press reported this week that, as the primary season nears its end, Republicans are "looking ahead to a general-election strategy of embracing anxiety as a tool to motivate voters."

In central Kentucky, GOP Rep. Andy Barr is reminding voters that Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot, voted for President Barack Obama and opposes Trump's proposed border wall. In suburban Pennsylvania, vulnerable Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has warned of "a border in crisis" and demanded a surge of immigration enforcement agents.

And in New Jersey, Republican Rep. Leonard Lance featured an ad in which Democrat opponent Tom Malinowski calls himself a "lifelong progressive Democrat" over and over. Lance also warns of his "dangerous policies" like abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In fairness, GOP officials and candidates aren't just asking voters to be afraid of immigrants; they're also urging people to fear Nancy Pelosi. The Washington Post  reported overnight:

Republicans, clinging to a 23-seat majority in the House, have made the House minority leader a central element of their attack ads and are portraying many of their opponents as inextricably tied to the liberal from San Francisco.

In the special election in Ohio's 12th congressional district, for example, Republicans and their outside allies spent millions of dollars blanketing the airwaves, and roughly a third of their ads referenced the House Minority Leader from California.

There is, of course, room for a spirited discussion about the specific elements of the Republicans' election-year messaging. I could devote the next several hundred words exploring the GOP's embrace of racially charged anti-immigrant rhetoric, the right's dependence on demagogic xenophobia, and the not-so-subtle misogyny behind the Republicans' anti-Pelosi crusade.

But as important as those observations are, let's not miss the forest for the trees: after nearly two years of attempts at governing, with their party controlling all of the levers of federal power for the first time in a decade, the Republican message is still little more than, "Nancy Pelosi is bad and immigrants are scary."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington

Ordering ban on pesticide, court says Trump's EPA broke law

08/10/18 10:00AM

Before Scott Pruitt was forced to resign in disgrace from Donald Trump's cabinet, the far-right EPA chief was often seen as ruthlessly effective in dismantling environmental safeguards. In practice, however, regular readers know that Pruitt's actual record reflected a clumsy and careless administrator.

The New York Times  reported in April that Pruitt has "often been less than rigorous in following important procedures," and many of his environmental rollback efforts have already been rejected in the courts.

Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard, said at the time, "In their rush to get things done, [Pruitt and his team are] failing to dot their i's and cross their t's. And they're starting to stumble over a lot of trip wires, They're producing a lot of short, poorly crafted rulemakings that are not likely to hold up in court."

Take yesterday, for example.

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration endangered public health by keeping the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos on the market despite extensive scientific evidence that even tiny levels of exposure can harm babies' brains.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to remove chlorpyrifos from sale in the United States within 60 days.

The Obama administration proposed banning the pesticide's use on food in October 2015. A risk assessment memo issued in November by nine EPA scientists concluded. "There is a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos."

The Trump administration reversed course in March 2017, prompting a lawsuit filed by farmworkers, environmental groups, and several attorneys general, which argued that Pruitt lacked the authority to unilaterally ignore his own agency's findings for no reason. In a 2-1 ruling, the 9th Circuit agreed.

All of which suggests Pruitt's opponents were fortune the former EPA chief was so routinely bad at his job.

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A woman places her vote into the ballot box on March 5, 2016 in Bowling Green, Ky. (Photo by Austin Anthony/Daily News/AP)

Automatic voter registration expands its reach to another state

08/10/18 09:20AM

A month ago, Massachusetts' state Senate approved an automatic-voter-registration bill unanimously. Apparently, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) got the message. The Boston Globe  reported:

Hundreds of thousands of new voters could join the state's rolls in the coming years after Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation that adopts automatic voter registration — one in a flurry of bills that became law Thursday with a few flicks of the Republican's pen. [...]

Under the new law, eligible residents who interact with the Registry of Motor Vehicles or the MassHealth program will have to opt out if they don't want to join the voter rolls, rather than opt in. The law also allows the secretary of state to reach agreements with state agencies to automatically register voters if they meet certain criteria, potentially further expanding the net the state can cast to reach eligible residents.

While it's obviously too late for the measure to take effect ahead of this year's elections, state officials said the new system will be in place before the 2020 cycle.

The developments make Massachusetts the nation's 14th state to adopt automatic voter registration, joining (in alphabetical order) Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. The District of Columbia has also approved AVR.

Not bad for a policy that didn't exist in any state as recently as three years ago.

What's more, there's no reason to think the progress will soon stop. Automatic voter registration will be on the statewide ballot in November in Nevada, and most observers expect it to pass. Voting-rights advocates are also trying to get AVR onto the ballot in Michigan.

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Image: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence touches a piece of hardware with a warning label "Do Not Touch" at Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Pence makes a curious case for Trump's 'Space Force'

08/10/18 08:40AM

One of the unfortunate staples of Donald Trump's presidency is that officials in the president's orbit feel compelled to take some of his ridiculous ideas seriously, using them as the basis for actual policy initiatives.

Trump made up a story about millions of illegal ballots being cast in 2016, which was fantasy, but which nevertheless led to the creation of an actual commission on election integrity. More recently, the president convinced himself that first responders in California lack the water they need to combat wildfire, and despite that being completely wrong, administration officials adopted new, real-world policies to accommodate Trump's confusion.

And the president has also said he thinks it'd be cool if the United States had a Space Force, all of which led to yesterday.

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday laid out details for President Donald Trump's proposed new branch of the U.S. military -- responsible for protecting national security in outer space.

In a speech at the Pentagon, Pence said the new Space Force would be established by 2020.... If it happens, the Space Force would become the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, equal to the other five, Pence said.

The Department of Defense released a 15-page report Thursday laying out the phases of creating the new branch, which will ultimately need to be approved by Congress.

Sounding very much like an excited kid, Trump tweeted after the vice president's speech, "Space Force all the way!"

Trump's re-election campaign then sent a fundraising appeal to supporters, asking them to vote on their choice for a Space Logo. (One of them is effectively identical to the official NASA logo, but in a different color.)

It's tempting not to take any of this seriously. The trouble is, the Trump administration is now taking the idea very seriously. Indeed, Pence called for the United States to spend $8 billion on the Space Force endeavor.

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks about the Kansas voter ID law in his Topeka, Kan., office May 12, 2016. (Photo by Dave Kaup/Reuters)

Facing awkward questions, Kansas' Kobach signals change in direction

08/10/18 08:00AM

One of the most closely watched Republican primaries of the year also turned out to be one of the closest. In a contest pitting incumbent Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the two are nearly tied, with less than 0.1% of the vote separating them.

The problem -- that is, one of the problems -- is that the process in the coming days and weeks will be complex, complete with provisional ballots, mail-in ballots, and a likely recount. Kobach oversees the state's elections, and in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's primary, he said he was perfectly comfortable overseeing this one, despite the obvious conflict of interest.

Last night, as the Kansas City Star  reported, the notorious secretary of state appeared to adopt a new posture.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in a cable news interview Thursday night that he plans to recuse himself from the vote tally process in the face of pressure from Gov. Jeff Colyer and mounting confusion over vote totals.

Kobach said that he would recuse himself in an interview with CNN hours after Colyer had sent a letter demanding that Kobach refrain from instructing county election officials on the counting of ballots in the primary race for governor on a day when the vote total narrowed to roughly 100 votes as multiple counties reported that vote totals were incorrect.

"I'll be happy to recuse myself. But as I say, it really doesn't make any difference. My office doesn't count the votes. The counties do," Kobach said in an interview with host Chris Cuomo.

At the risk of sounding picky, I'm not altogether certain Kobach has, in fact, recused himself from this process. Taking his words at face value, he signaled a willingness to recuse, but that's not quite the same thing as formally stepping aside.

Indeed, a spokesperson for the governor told the Star last night, "We don't have an official recusal," Marr said. "We want to see what that looks like tomorrow. We want to make sure it's not a symbolic recusal. The secretary of state has a substantive role in this process and the recusal needs to be substantive."

Just as important are the steps that led up to Kobach's comments last night -- because despite his claims of detachment, he and his office are already facing some awkward questions.

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