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E.g., 10/21/2019
E.g., 10/21/2019

Trump explains his indifference to recent defeats in court

10/14/19 10:02AM

On a variety of fronts, the federal judiciary has been a nagging thorn in Donald Trump's side. The president's Census scheme, for example, was blocked in the courts. So was his family-separation policy. And his DACA scheme.

And it's not just his policy agenda that's suffered. The Republican's emoluments controversy persists in the courts, as does his struggling effort to hide his tax returns indefinitely.

On Friday afternoon, Trump suffered a series of embarrassing legal setbacks, including defeats in cases related to his border barriers and his so-called "public charge" rule, among other things But what struck me as notable was the president's response when a reporter asked him on Friday afternoon about the court losses, some of which he said he hadn't yet heard about. Trump expressed confidence that his positions would ultimately prevail and explained why:

"I've had a great track record. And right now, within a couple of weeks, we will have 160 judges. And within a couple of months, we'll have 182 federal judges. And we are breaking records like nobody has ever seen in that regard, as you know."

In other words, as Trump sees it, his recent court defeats are merely temporary. Soon, even more of his judges will be on the bench, at which point the courts will rule in his favor and give him what he wants.

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More GOP senators struggle with basic Trump scandal questions

10/14/19 09:20AM

CBS News' Margaret Brennan asked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) yesterday whether it's appropriate for Donald Trump to urge foreign countries to go after one of his domestic rivals. "Look, of course not," the Texas Republican replied. "Elections in the U.S. should be decided by Americans and it's not the business of foreign countries, any foreign countries, to be interfering in our elections."

Cruz added, "Listen, foreign countries should stay out of American elections. That's true for Russia. That's true for Ukraine. That's true for China. That's true for all of them. It should be the American people deciding elections."

This, of course, was the correct answer. It's also the one some of his Republican colleagues -- most notably Iowa's Joni Ernst and Colorado's Cory Gardner -- refused to offer, afraid to take a stand on principle.

But as it turns out, they aren't the only ones struggling. After some unhelpful exchanges, CNN's Jake Tapper yesterday asked Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), "Are you really not capable of answering a question about whether or not it's acceptable for a president to ask a foreign rival to investigate his political rivals, to ask a foreign nation to investigate his political rivals without bringing up Hunter Biden?" Cramer wouldn't respond directly.

But even more striking was an exchange late last week between Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Boise State Public Radio about the White House scandal.

"I'm not going there. If you want to have an interview with me about the business center, please do so," Risch said, before turning and walking away.

"Don't do that again," he said.

So, at a public event, a journalist isn't supposed to ask the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about an ongoing scandal involving U.S. foreign policy? Is that the point we've reached?

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Ambassador poised to undercut Trump's defense in Ukraine scandal

10/14/19 08:40AM

Recently disclosed text messages put Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal in a new and unflattering light, bringing the nature of the quid pro quo into sharp focus. One message showed Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, asking U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, "Are we now saying that security assistance and [a White House] meeting are conditioned on investigations?"

In a subsequent message, Taylor added, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

Nearly five hours after that text was sent, Sondland -- a Republican megadonor with no experience in diplomacy or foreign policy -- replied, "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind."

It was a difficult message to accept at face value, since common sense suggests it was written as a cover story. But for the White House, Sondland's text effectively negates the controversy. As the story goes, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, tackling policy in Ukraine for reasons unknown, exonerated his boss with his online message.

Except, it's not quite that simple, as Sondland is poised to tell lawmakers when he appears on Capitol Hill this week.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland will testify to Congress [on Thursday] that he did not know why United States military assistance to Ukraine was held up nor who ordered it, according to a person with knowledge of Sondland's testimony before the House next week.

Sondland will say that he "relied on the president's assurances in good faith and passed these along" when he texted Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor that there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine, the person said. President Donald Trump has urged Ukraine to investigate the son of political rival Joe Biden.

To put this in some rough chronological order, Bill Taylor, a career official, effectively told Sondland, "This sure seems wrong." At that point, Sondland talked to Trump, and the president effectively said, "I'm not doing anything wrong," which Sondland then texted back to Taylor.

The trouble, we now know, is that Sondland was simply taking Trump's word for it -- and given the president's capacity for staggering dishonesty, and everything we now know about this scandal, that was probably unwise.

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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)

Facing possible criminal probe, Giuliani does himself no favors

10/14/19 08:00AM

Over the last several days, CNN, Bloomberg News, and ABC News have each run reports on Rudy Giuliani facing possible criminal scrutiny for his role in Donald Trump's Ukraine scheme, and over the weekend, the New York Times advanced the story a bit more.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump's personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani's efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump's broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.

All of this, of course, comes on the heels of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two highly controversial Giuliani associates, being taken into federal custody last week, following their alleged illegal campaign contributions, which went to officials whose help they sought in removing Yovanovitch from her post as the U.S. ambassador.

Giuliani has already acknowledged working with Parnas and Fruman on the scheme to target Yovanovitch, but he told the Times it wasn't illegal: the president's lawyer argued that he was acting on Trump's behalf "when he collected the information on Ms. Yovanovitch and the others and relayed it to the American government and the news media."

He added in an interview with Foreign Policy on Friday, in reference to the American ambassador he targeted, "There was no secret campaign against her. It was an open campaign against her."

These are curious things for the former mayor to admit on the record.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 10.11.19

10/11/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Major testimony: "Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told House impeachment investigators Friday that President Donald Trump had personally pressured the State Department to remove her, even though a top department official assured her that she had 'done nothing wrong.'"

* A relevant angle: "In a closed-door deposition that could further fuel calls for Mr. Trump's impeachment, Ms. Yovanovitch delivered a scathing indictment of his administration's conduct of foreign policy. She warned that private influence and personal gain have usurped diplomats' judgment, threatening to undermine the nation's interests and drive talented professionals out of public service."

* I'd recommend holding off on taking this seriously until there are additional details: "President Donald Trump said Friday that the U.S. and China had reached a 'substantial phase one deal' on trade that will eliminate a tariff hike that had been planned for next week."

* On a related note, Trump told reporters today that Hong Kong "will take care of itself."

* Key immigration ruling, Part I: "A federal judge ruled Friday that President Donald Trump violated federal law when he used his declaration of a national emergency to get millions for building a wall on the southern border."

* Key immigration ruling, Part II: "Federal judges in New York and California on Friday ordered a nationwide block in cases challenging a Trump administration policy that would make it far easier for the government to deny legal status to immigrants who use or are deemed likely to use public assistance. The rule was set to go into effect next week.

* Isn't Trump supposed to be eager to bring troops home from the Middle East? "The Trump administration said Friday it is sending 2,800 more troops, fighter jets and missile defense weaponry to Saudi Arabia to help bolster the kingdom's defenses after a September attack on its oil facilities."

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After court defeat, Trump is running out of options on his tax returns

10/11/19 12:37PM

As of this morning, we're one step closer to seeing Donald Trump's hidden tax returns.

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that President Donald Trump's accounting firm must turn over financial records requested by a House committee, a legal blow to the administration's efforts to block congressional investigations of his finances.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a subpoena to Mazars USA, in April asking for documents related to Trump's accounts going back to January 2009. His lawyers sued to block the subpoena, arguing that Congress had no legitimate legislative purpose for getting the materials.

But in a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the committee "possesses authority under both the House rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply."

Because there are multiple ongoing lawsuits surrounding the president's hidden tax returns, it's easy to get confused about the various cases. Earlier this week, for example, a federal judge ruled that a New York district attorney's office, which is investigating Trump's hush-money scandal, has the legal right to access eight years' worth of personal and business tax returns from the president.

As Rachel noted on the show, Trump's legal team argued in that case that a sitting American president cannot be investigated by anyone for any reason, no matter how serious the underlying accusation. The judge disagreed, ruled in prosecutors' favor, and the case went to the 2nd Circuit on appeal.

Today's ruling is an entirely different case, related to a congressional effort to subpoena Trump's accounting firm. The president's lawyers, hired specifically to help keep his tax returns hidden, sued to block enforcement of the subpoena, arguing that Congress lacks the legal authority to scrutinize alleged presidential misdeeds.

A lower court rejected Team Trump's argument. Today, an appeals reached the same conclusion. A copy of full ruling is online here.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.11.19

10/11/19 12:00PM

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

* Louisiana will hold its first round of balloting tomorrow in its gubernatorial race, and Donald Trump will visit the state tonight to rally the Republican troops. Incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) is expected to outpace his GOP rivals, and if Edwards tops the 50% threshold tomorrow, there will be no second round of voting next month.

* Speaking of presidential travel, Trump was in Minneapolis last night for an unusually long campaign rally, at which he attacked all kinds of foes, targeting Joe Biden with particular zeal.

* Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) was planning a comeback next year, but now that he appears to be "Congressman-1" in the indictment of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman -- Rudy Giuliani's associates who were arrested this week -- the Texan's political future is again in doubt.

* On a related note, many of the Republicans who received contributions from Parnas and Fruman are scrambling to either give the money back or donate it to charity.

* While most national Democratic presidential primary polls show Joe Biden's lead over Elizabeth Warren disappearing, Fox News' latest national poll shows the former vice president leading the Massachusetts senator, 32% to 22%. Bernie Sanders is third in the poll with 17%. (Also of interest, Beto O'Rourke reached 3% in the Fox poll, which moves him a little closer to qualifying for the party's November primary debate.)

* As for the general election, Fox's poll found Biden and Warren leading Trump by 10 points each, while Sanders leads the president in a hypothetical match-up by nine points.

* Forty-five years ago, Rep. Larry Hogan Sr. (R-Md.) was the first Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to vote to impeach Richard Nixon. Yesterday, his son, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. (R), announced his support for Congress' impeachment inquiry into Trump.

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In Ukraine, is the quid suddenly meeting the quo?

10/11/19 11:20AM

Donald Trump is likely to be impeached, at least in part because of a scheme the White House hatched to get Ukraine to go after one of the president's domestic rivals. As the scandal has unfolded, an obvious quid pro quo has come into focus: Ukraine needed military aid; Trump wanted something he could use to defeat Joe Biden; and the Republican hoped to trade one for the other.

Recently disclosed text messages showed Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, asking U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, "Are we now saying that security assistance and [a White House] meeting are conditioned on investigations?" In a subsequent message, Taylor added, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

But while Americans continue to learn new details about the scandal, let's not overlook what's happening at the same time in Kiev. The Wall Street Journal reported late last week:

Ukraine's prosecutor general's office said Friday it is reviewing past investigations into the owner of a gas company linked to former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's son, raising the possibility of restarting probes amid pressure from President Trump.

For the past several months, the Trump White House has pushed the authorities in Kyiv to investigate Burisma Group, a big gas-production company, and the role there of Hunter Biden, who served on its board, along with actions of Mr. Biden when he was overseeing U.S. policy toward Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported yesterday:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says his country will "happily" investigate whether Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Zelenskiy told reporters Thursday that "we can't say yes or no" as to whether there was any interference without an investigation. He said it's in Ukraine's interest to determine what happened.

The Ukrainian president also insisted yesterday that Trump didn't try to "blackmail" him.

Or put another way, Ukraine now appears to be saying and doing what Donald Trump wanted Ukraine to say and do.

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Image: US Secretary of State Tillerson rebukes resignation reports

Trump's other new scandal takes an even more serious turn

10/11/19 10:50AM

When Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, was taken into federal custody in 2016, he faced some pretty serious charges. According to American prosecutors, Zarrab played a key role in a scheme to funnel billions of dollars to Iran, in defiance of U.S. sanctions.

As part of his defense, Zarrab hired a Republican lawyer whose work you may be familiar with. His name is Rudy Giuliani.

If you saw Wednesday night's show, you know Bloomberg News ran a striking report this week, alleging that Donald Trump personally pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to intervene in the case, encouraging the nation's chief diplomat to tell the Justice Department to back off the prosecution. Tillerson refused.

For his part, Giuliani conceded to Bloomberg News that he may have "dropped" his client's name "in a conversation" with Trump. According to the New York Times' latest reporting, Giuliani did a whole lot more than that.

During a contentious Oval Office meeting with President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017, Rudolph W. Giuliani pressed for help in securing the release of a jailed client, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, as part of a potential prisoner swap with Turkey.

The request by Mr. Giuliani provoked an immediate objection from Mr. Tillerson, who argued that it would be highly inappropriate to interfere in an open criminal case, according to two people briefed on the meeting.... But at the White House meeting in early 2017, Mr. Giuliani and his longtime friend and colleague, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, pushed back on Mr. Tillerson's objections.

It's worth noting for context that at the time of this White House meeting, Giuliani was not yet a member of the president's legal team. In other words, Trump invited his secretary of State into the Oval Office for a meeting, at which point Tillerson was lobbied by Giuliani -- a man with no formal ties to the administration or the president -- to help derail a criminal case against a man accused of circumventing U.S. sanctions on Iran.

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Despite US soldiers in Syria, Trump says, 'We have no soldiers in Syria'

10/11/19 10:09AM

The first sign of trouble came in November 2016, about two weeks after the U.S. presidential election, when Donald Trump sat down with the New York Times and said he had some "strong ideas" about Syria. The article about the interview added at the time, "He declined to say what those ideas are despite several requests to do so."

Six months later, the Republican president declared with pride, "We're not going into Syria." It was problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the United States already had troops in Syria.

In late 2018, Trump ignored his team and announced a precipitous withdrawal of all U.S. troops, assuring Americans that "our boys, our young women, our men, they're all coming back." The president quietly abandoned that commitment soon after.

All of which helped set the stage for yesterday, when we were reminded anew that the president is a slow learner. Trump boasted to reporters yesterday afternoon, "Look, we have no soldiers in Syria. We've won.... We have no soldiers." He echoed the rhetoric at a campaign rally in Minneapolis last night, telling supporters he decided to bring Americans troops "back home."

"We don't have any soldiers there because we left, we won, we left, take a victory United States," he said. "Bring our troops back home." [...]

"It's time to bring them home, we've done our job," he added.

What amazed me wasn't just Trump's willingness to make demonstrably false claims, but also his apparent unfamiliarity with the most basic elements of his own policy.

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