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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.22.17

11/22/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Bijan Kian: "A former business associate of Michael Flynn has become a subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation for his role in the failure of Flynn's former lobbying firm to disclose its work on behalf of foreign governments, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News."

* Didn't our most recent president spend the day before Thanksgiving feeding the hungry? "President Donald Trump on Wednesday escalated his feud with the father of one of the three UCLA basketball players who was detained in China on suspicion of shoplifting, calling him a 'fool.'"

* On a related note, the White House insisted to reporters this morning that the president had a "full schedule" today. An hour later, Trump was golfing.

* The Hague: "With applause inside and outside the courtroom at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Gen. Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander, was sentenced to life imprisonment on Wednesday for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes."

* This is quite a story: "No medical drama is complete without a bold-yet-sensitive heartthrob doctor in a leading role. The incredible tale of a North Korean soldier's escape across the demilitarized zone last week is no exception."

* The scope of the societal scourge: "Two state legislators in Minnesota are stepping down in response to harassment allegations amid a national wave of politicians, journalists and entertainers being accused of sexual misconduct."

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US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

Trump's efforts to privatize veterans' care causes alarm

11/22/17 04:53PM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump was quite candid about his support for privatizing at least some areas of veterans' care, explicitly endorsing the idea, more than once. After the election, during his presidential transition, the Republican recommitted to his privatization agenda.

There was some question, however, about whether the administration would follow through, especially after David Shulkin, Trump's choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, told senators during his confirmation hearings that the VA "will not be privatized under my watch."

As Rachel noted on the show this week, all of this came to mind when the Associated Press reported that the VA is exploring "the possibility of merging its health system with the Pentagon's." And while that may not sound like a major development, the fear is that existing VA hospitals and clinics will be in jeopardy if/when the VA system is merged with a private system.

News of the plan stirred alarm from veterans groups, who said they had not been consulted, and sharp criticism from congressional Democrats who pledged to oppose any VA privatization effort that forces veterans "to pay out of pocket for the benefits they have earned with their heroism." [...]

"Today, we see evidence that the Trump administration is quietly planning to dismantle veterans' health care," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "House Democrats will fight tooth and nail against any efforts to diminish or destroy VA's irreplaceable role as the chief coordinator, advocate and manager of care for veterans."

This coincided with a Wall Street Journal report that said the Trump administration is eyeing "a larger role" for private-sector providers in veterans' health care -- which reinforces privatization fears.

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U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) speaks to a reporter at the end of a news conference April 22, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Rep. Conyers held the news conference to discuss the "End Racial Profiling Act." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Conyers to face Ethics Committee probe following harassment claims

11/22/17 04:14PM

After Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) was confronted with evidence of a sexual-harassment settlement in 2014, there was some confusion about the nature of his denial. By late yesterday, the Michigan Democrat's office clarified matters, saying Conyers agreed to settle the case, though he insists he did nothing wrong, and he considered the $27,000 settlement to effectively serve as "a reasonable severance payment."

Yesterday afternoon, another former Conyers aide raised similar allegations, claiming that he'd created "a hostile work environment" with unwanted advances, though the congressman's office emphasized that the woman in this case ended up withdrawing her lawsuit.

The House Ethics Committee, which has already announced the start of an investigation, is poised to sort out what happened.

Later Tuesday, the House Ethics Committee said it had started an investigation into the allegations against Conyers, following calls from several Democrats in the chamber to do so.

"The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative John Conyers, Jr. may have engaged in sexual harassment of members of his staff, discriminated against certain staff on the basis of age, and used official resources for impermissible personal purposes," the committee's statement said in announcing its investigation.

Several Democratic House members, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who revealed earlier this month that she had been sexually assaulted when she was in her 20s by the chief of staff she was an aide to, had called on the committee to investigate Conyers.

Let's note for context that Speier recently told a House panel that she's aware of two current members of Congress -- one Democrat and one Republican -- who have engaged in sexual harassment during their service on Capitol Hill. She clarified last night that when she made these comments, she wasn't referring to Conyers.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Did an official fake a bad connection to get Trump off the phone?

11/22/17 01:54PM

A group of moderate Democratic senators recently attended a meeting on tax policy at the White House, and Donald Trump called into the discussion during his Asia-Pacific trip, apparently hoping the personal touch would help persuade them to support the Republican plan.

By all accounts, the meeting didn't go especially well. As we discussed two weeks ago, Trump reportedly talked more than he listened; he couldn’t address any of the substantive details of tax policy; he brazenly lied about the tax benefits that would go towards the wealthy in his party’s plan; and he apparently shared an anecdote about a fictional conversation with his accountant.

But our understanding of the conversation took an interesting turn this morning.

Top White House economic advisor Gary Cohn pretended to have a bad connection to get off a call with President Donald Trump this month, a Democratic senator said Wednesday.

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware told CNN that Cohn took the call from the president during a discussion with Democratic senators about tax reform. Carper said Cohn wanted to have a conversation on tax reform without Trump, who was traveling in Asia at the time.

As the Delaware Democrat explained it, it was nice of the president to call in personally to the conversation, but Trump just kept talking. Reflecting on the events, Carper said, "I said to Gary, it was a room where we're all sitting around this big table, and I said, 'Gary why don't you do this, just take the phone from, you know, your cellphone back and just say, 'Mr. President, you're brilliant! But we're losing contact, and I think we're going to lose you now, so good-bye.'"

Carper, referring to Gary Cohn, added, "And that's what he did, and he hung up."

Pressed by the CNN host if Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council at Trump's White House, actually faked a bad connection in order to get the president off the phone, the senator replied, "Well, I wouldn't -- I don't want to throw him under the bus, but yes."

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