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Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) of the House Select Committee on Benghazi speaks to reporters. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty)

Benghazi Committee chair sued by former investigator

11/23/15 03:38PM

It was early last month when Bradley Podliska, a major in the Air Force Reserve and a former Benghazi Committee investigator, dropped a political bombshell: he claimed he was fired from the Republican-led panel because he tried to focus on the 2012 terrorist attack instead, instead of targeting Hillary Clinton.
Podliska, a lifelong conservative Republican, alleged that his "non-partisan investigative work conflicted with the interests of the Republican leadership, who focused their investigation primarily on Secretary Clinton and her aides." The story confirmed the worst fears about the taxpayer-financed witch hunt, launched by GOP-led Congress against a leading Democratic presidential candidate.
A day after the accusations surfaced, Podliska’s lawyers also alleged Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and his team violated government confidentiality rules and federal law when they pushed back publicly against the former investigator's claims.
Today, MSNBC's Ari Melber reports that the controversy is now the basis for a new federal lawsuit.
Gowdy previously said Podliska was terminated partly for mishandling classified information. The suit cites Gowdy’s claim from a press release and an interview with NBC News, and argues it was a damaging line of attack, since allegations of such a “serious crime” have “ended the careers of many professionals in national security-related industries.”
But the charge was totally false, the suit says, because the information Podliska handled was drawn entirely from “sources from the Internet.” Podliska adds that the committee staffer who made the allegation later admitted the material “was not classified.” The committee has not withdrawn the allegation.
Note, Podliska has filed a defamation suit, but he's not seeking any financial damages. Rather, as Melber reported, Podliska is "calling for a statement establishing that Gowdy’s allegation was false, and asking the Court to bar Gowdy from repeating it."
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Iowa Central Community College, Nov. 12, 2015, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

The Trump problem Republicans don't know how to solve

11/23/15 12:42PM

A Black Lives Matter protestor briefly interrupted a Donald Trump campaign event in Alabama over the weekend, and there's video that suggests the African-American protester was punched and kicked by white men at the event.
Asked about the incident, the Republican presidential hopeful responded, "[M]aybe he should have been roughed up."
Soon after, Trump turned to Twitter to share a racially charged image with crime statistics that were entirely incorrect.
It was probably about this point that many Republican insiders and party officials slapped their foreheads, realizing not only that Trump's message is resonating with many GOP voters, but also the fact that they have no idea how to interrupt his rising support.
Republican insiders are, however, eager to try. Politico reported last week that John Kasich's super PAC is "planning to invest $2.5 million in the most aggressive takedown" of Trump to date. The article added, "Rather than go after Trump for his business dealings or his past support for liberal causes, as some of his opponents have tried to do, the super PAC will paint Trump as someone who would be a deeply ineffective commander-in-chief and ill suited for the demands of the Oval Office."
The Wall Street Journal reported on a related effort from the GOP establishment, which includes "the first attempt to unite donors from rival camps into a single anti-Trump force."
A well-connected GOP operative is planning a “guerrilla campaign” backed by secret donors to “defeat and destroy” the celebrity businessman’s candidacy, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. [...]
The most concerted effort is Trump Card LLC, the self-styled guerrilla campaign being launched by Liz Mair, the former online communications director of the Republican National Committee. “In the absence of our efforts, Trump is exceedingly unlikely to implode or be forced out of the race,” according to the Trump Card memo.
Let's unwrap this a bit, because it's likely to have a significant impact on the Republican race.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.23.15

11/23/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Hillary Clinton holding onto a large lead over Bernie Sanders at the national level, 60% to 34%, in the race for the Democratic nomination. Martin O’Malley is a distant third with 3%.
* With Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) retiring from public office next year, a long list of Republicans is already eyeing his seat, including Reps. Charles Boustany and John Fleming, state Treasurer John Kennedy, retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. Democrats will likely turn their attention to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose interest is unclear.
* The new Boston Globe/Suffolk poll shows Donald Trump with a significant lead in the New Hampshire Republican primary, but the same poll found that if Mitt Romney ran, he'd easily be the frontrunner in the Granite State. In this hypothetical scenario, Romney would have 31% of the state GOP's support, compared to Trump's 15%.
* Marco Rubio has unveiled his first national television ad, focusing entirely on the recent attack in Paris, which the senator tells viewers “could happen here.” It's scheduled to run on cable networks, though the campaign has not announced the size of the ad buy.
* Speaking of Rubio, the Floridian senator picked up another congressional endorsement late last week, when Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) threw his support to the GOP presidential candidate.
Republican Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during a town hall event at Bob Jones University, Nov. 13, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Carson campaign starts to lose its luster

11/23/15 11:20AM

It was just a few weeks ago that Donald Trump started to have some company at the top of Republican presidential polling, as Ben Carson's support surged. But as MSNBC's Steve Kornacki noted this morning, the retired neurosurgeon has struggled to maintain his frontrunner status.
At the start of the month, Carson overtook Trump in the national polling average and in the key early states of Iowa and South Carolina. He also moved into a close second behind Trump in New Hampshire. And he seemed to have the potential to rise higher, with Republicans giving Carson the highest marks of any candidate -- by far -- on personal favorability.
But with this rise to the top has come a new level of scrutiny from the press and from his opponents. And there are now clear signs that Carson is not holding up well under the spotlight.
There's a fair amount of evidence to reinforce the thesis. Consider the poll aggregators published by the Huffington Post and Real Clear Politics, both of which show Carson's support peaking in late October, and steadily declining ever since.
The news is no better for Carson at the state level. In New Hampshire, for example, the latest Boston Globe/Suffolk poll shows him slipping to third place, while the latest Fox News poll in the Granite State has him falling to fourth.
Even in Iowa, which seemed like Carson's strongest early state, recent surveys show him surrendering his lead back to Trump. Politico had this report from Hawkeye State over the weekend, which probably wasn't well received at Carson HQ.
Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, speaks at the RedState Gathering, Aug. 7, 2015, in Atlanta, Ga. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Given a chance to 'tell it like it is,' Christie hedges

11/23/15 10:40AM

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has begun telling audiences that ”thousands and thousands” of Jersey City residents “cheered” when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. Pressed for proof, the Republican has so far offered nothing, though he insists he saw the celebrations, reality notwithstanding.
Local law enforcement officials have said Trump is wrong. The mayor of Jersey City has explained that Trump is wrong. Even the Republican who was governor of New York on 9/11 has said Trump is wrong. And yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was given a chance to defend his own constituents and make clear that Trump's claims are ridiculous.
But Christie just wasn't prepared to do that. BuzzFeed reported last night on reporters pressing the governor on the point.
QUESTION: Governor, you were in New Jersey in 2001 right after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Do you recall ever seeing – were there ever instances in Jersey City of thousands of people cheering?
CHRISTIE: I don’t recall that. I don’t. I mean, listen, I can’t say, Matt, I can’t say that I have -- it was a pretty emotional time for me because, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s family involved, there’s friends involved and so it was a pretty harrowing time. I do not remember that. And so, it’s not something that was part of my recollection. I think if it had happened, I would remember it. But, you know, there could be things I forget, too. I don’t remember that. No.
Note the pointless equivocating. Christie could have just said Trump is wrong, but instead he felt the need to add qualifiers about his ability to remember things. The question called for straightforward candor about his own constituents, but instead Christie was reduced to, "[Y]ou know, there could be things I forget" before eventually saying he doesn't "remember" Jersey City residents celebrating the death of thousands.
The weak answer came hours after Christie was interviewed by CNN's Jake Tapper, who asked the governor what he thinks should happen to the Syrian refugees who've already been resettled in New Jersey. The host asked more than once, but Christie wouldn't answer.
The great irony is, the official slogan of Christie's presidential campaign -- appearing in all caps at the top of his home page -- is "Telling It Like It Is."
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Voting the wrong way for the wrong reason

11/23/15 10:00AM

Late last week, in their final vote before a Thanksgiving break, U.S. House members easily approved a bill to effectively block Syrian refugees from reaching American soil. The outcome wasn't close -- supporters easily outnumbered opponents, 289 to 137, with 47 House Democrats breaking ranks and joining nearly every Republican in the chamber.
The legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate, but a nagging question remains unresolved: how many of those 289 House representatives realized this is a bad bill, but voted for it anyway?
One lawmaker in particular offers a rather extraordinary example.
Republican Rep. Steve Russell delivered a speech on the House floor this week decrying his colleagues’ “xenophobic” push against Syrian refugees in the wake of last week’s Paris attacks. “While I have focused my comments on actions we should take to eliminate ISIS, one action we should not take is to become like them,” the Oklahoma-based lawmaker said. “America is a lamp that lights the horizon of civilized and free mankind. The Statue of Liberty cannot have a stiff arm. Her arm must continue to keep the torch burning brightly.”
He added: “If we use our passions and our anger, fear, and we use that to snuff out her flame by xenophobic and knee-jerk policy, the enemy wins. We have played into their hands. Period.”
It was a powerful and compelling argument from a far-right lawmaker, reminding his colleagues about the importance of America's best instincts and our proudest traditions.
And yet, when it came time to consider the controversial bill, Steve Russell followed the herd and voted against Syrian refugees, even after his spirited condemnation of Congress' “xenophobic” push and "knee-jerk" reaction to Paris.
What in the world happened between the Oklahoma congressman's speech and his vote?
Republican presidential candidates John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul take the stage before the Republican presidential debate, Nov. 10, 2015, in Milwaukee. (Photo by Jeffrey Phelps/AP)

Latest polls point to one dominant Republican candidate

11/23/15 09:20AM

Every pundit who said the terrorist violence in Paris would dramatically shake up the race for the Republican presidential nomination, at least for now, appears to have gotten it backwards. Here's the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll.
1. Donald Trump: 32% (unchanged since October)
2. Ben Carson: 22% (unchanged)
3. Marco Rubio: 11% (up one point)
4. Ted Cruz: 8% (up two points)
5. Jeb Bush: 6% (down one point)
When it comes to dealing with the threat of terrorism, roughly 4 in 10 Republican voters believe the New York land developer is the most reliable candidate in the GOP field. The latest national Fox News poll points in a very similar direction:
1. Donald Trump: 28% (up two points since early November)
2. Ben Carson: 18% (down five points)
3. Ted Cruz: 14% (up three points)
3. Marco Rubio: 14% (up three points)
5. Jeb Bush: 5% (up one point)
Note, Trump's 28% backing is the best any candidate has fared in any national Fox poll so far this year; Carson's five-point slide is the worst of his candidacy; and Cruz and Rubio combined only tie Trump.
If you're inclined to look past national trends and focus more on polling from the early nominating states, take a look at the striking new Boston Globe/Suffolk poll of New Hampshire Republicans:
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to guests as he leaves a rally at Des Moines Area Community College Newton Campus on Nov. 19, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Just when it seemed Trump couldn't stoop any lower...

11/23/15 08:40AM

Late last week, as was first reported on The Rachel Maddow Show, Donald Trump boasted that through "good management," he could create some kind of federal registry of Muslim Americans.  It was hard not to wonder where the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination could possibly go next.
The answer became clearer yesterday when Trump sat down with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who pressed the GOP candidate on some of the pertinent details of his radical vision.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You did stir up a controversy with those comments over the database. Let’s try to clear that up. Are you unequivocally now ruling out a database on all Muslims?
TRUMP: No, not at all. I want a database for the refugees that -- if they come into the country. We have no idea who these people are. When the Syrian refugees are going to start pouring into this country, we don’t know if they’re ISIS, we don’t know if it’s a Trojan horse. And I definitely want a database and other checks and balances. We want to go with watchlists. We want to go with databases. And we have no choice.
Note, Trump was asked about a database for "all Muslims," which he answered by directing his attention to "Syrian refugees," making it difficult to know what in the world he's talking about.
From there, Trump also endorsed torturing detainees with waterboarding. "I would bring it back, yes," the Republican said. "I would bring it back. I think waterboarding is peanuts compared to what they’d do to us, what they’re doing to us, what they did to James Foley when they chopped off his head."
When the discussion turned to the issue of the government closing mosques, the candidate added, "You have very, very tough people that you’re dealing with. They only understand strength." Asked for his criteria for closing American houses of worship, Trump eventually clarified, "Well, I don’t want to close mosques; I want to surveil mosques. I want mosques surveiled." But not all of them, he said, just the "bad ones."
Well, that ought to clear things up.
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) speaks during a news conference July 26, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Scandal-plagued Republican loses big in key statewide election

11/23/15 08:00AM

It's easy to forget that when Sen. David Vitter (R) announced his plans to run for governor in Louisiana, the conventional wisdom was that he was a shoo-in. The Pelican State has become a ruby-red Republican stronghold; and the far-right senator enjoyed the resources, the name-recognition, and the electoral experience he'd need to win.
When Democratic officials reached out to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) about the race, he passed, at least in part because it looked like a year in which a Democrat simply had no chance of success in a state in which Republicans have won every statewide contest for nearly a decade.
And yet, the scandal-plagued Republican got trounced, losing by more than 12 points.
Democrat John Bel Edwards won the runoff election for Louisiana governor Saturday, defeating Republican David Vitter. [...]
Edwards, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, is the first Democrat to win a statewide race in Louisiana since 2008.
With all precincts reporting, Edwards finished with 56.1% of the statewide vote, while Vitter received 43.9%. It's the weakest showing for any Louisiana Republican gubernatorial nominee since 1991 -- nearly a quarter of a century ago -- when the GOP voters nominated a former Ku Klux Klan leader as their candidate.
On a certain level, Vitter's defeat may not seem like too much of a surprise given that all statewide polling showed him trailing Edwards, but the broader context is nevertheless important: the Times-Picayune described Edwards' victory as "one of the biggest political upsets in the state's history" in light of the expectations surrounding the race when it began earlier this year.
With Edwards winning by double-digits, even picking up some endorsements from high-profile Republicans, is it possible Louisiana is becoming a more competitive battleground?

Paris attack fugitive still at large and other headlines

11/23/15 07:15AM

Belgium police arrest 16, Paris fugitive still at large. (AP)

Protective suits stolen from locked room at Paris hospital. (AP)

Poll: Trump retakes lead, Cruz surges in IA; Rubio second in NH. (CBS News)

Trump sticks to claim he saw New Jersey Muslims celebrate 9/11 attacks. (Mashable)

Marco Rubio warns 'Paris attacks could happen here' in first TV ad. (New York Magazine)

Sen. David Vitter's defeat in the race for Louisiana governor is a lost opportunity for Senate Democrats. (New York Times)

Endangered white rhino dies at San Diego Zoo. (Los Angeles Times)

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Week in Geek: Where are they now? edition

11/22/15 02:26PM

One year and one week(ish) ago, the Rosetta spacecraft in orbit around Comet 67/P released the Philae lander which descended to the comet's surface. And A LOT has happened since then.

Here are just a few of the developments and findings:

For the tl;dr version of all these updates, you can watch this summary video from ESA.

Or alternatively you can enjoy the latest chapter of ESA's brilliant "Once Upon a Time" animated story of this plucky mission.

I can't wait to see what happens next!

Here's some more geek from the week.

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Republican presidential candidates, from left, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, moderator Frank Luntz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum stand on stage during the Presidential Family Forum, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Des Moines, I

This Week in God, 11.21.15

11/21/15 09:28AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the "presidential family forum," held last night in Iowa, and hosted by a far-right religious-right group called The Family Leader, led by a conservative kingmaker named Bob Vander Plaats.
Right Wing Watch explained this week a little about the man who ran the show: ""Not only does Vander Plaats want to remove from office or defund the courts of judges who find in favor of marriage equality, he believes that anything, like gay marriage, that 'goes against the law of nature' is by definition unconstitutional . He argues that the government is an institution of God and therefore its purpose is 'to promote righteousness' and to apply 'God's principles and precepts.'"
And it's against this backdrop that seven contenders for the Republican presidential nomination -- Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum -- appeared at last night's gathering, hoping to earn an endorsement. (In 2008, Vander Plaats backed Huckabee, who won that year's Iowa caucuses, and in 2012 he backed Santorum, who won that year's Iowa caucuses).
So, how'd it go? I think this helped capture the flavor of the evening.
Asked to name the first person they would call upon hearing about a terrorist attack, Carson and Rubio both said the Department of Homeland Security; Fiorina and Mike Huckabee both said they'd fall to their knees and pray.
The question was quite specific. The moderator asked the candidates to imagine a scenario in which there were simultaneous attacks on Times Square and Yankee Stadium on Sept. 11, 2017. The question -- who would you call first? -- went to Rubio, who talked about federal resources and DHS. Huckabee answered moments later, saying he would get on his knees and "make a call to God."
Based on the roar of applause, it was apparently the answer the audience was looking for.
Cruz, meanwhile, continues to be the candidate making gains with evangelical voters.
He brought down the house at the close of the evening with an impassioned plea for conservative unity that may, come the Iowa caucuses in February, turn out to be prophetic.
"If conservatives come together and stand as one, it's game over," he said. "This primary is over if conservatives unite. And if conservatives stand together and unite, the general election is over."
Also from the God Machine this week:
Terror strike in Mali keeps al Qaeda on radar

Terror strike in Mali keeps attention on al Qaeda

11/20/15 10:35PM

Rachel Maddow reports on a terror attack at a hotel in the capital of Mali and traces the recent history of terrorist activity in that part of Africa, with its oddly factional terror groups, and a terrorist leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who continues to operate through al Mourabitoun despite several assassination attempts. watch