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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.20.18

06/20/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Tomorrow should be interesting: "Republican lawmakers said on Wednesday there is still a need to address immigration through legislation despite President Donald Trump signing an executive order halting his policy of separating families at the border."

* This was a misguided idea: "The Senate on Wednesday rejected billions in spending cuts proposed by the Trump administration as two Republicans joined all Democrats in voting no."

* Losing the world's respect, one day at a time: "U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May condemned on Wednesday the forced separation of migrant children from parents crossing U.S. borders. 'On what we have seen in the United States, pictures of children being held in what appear to be cages are deeply disturbing,' she said. 'I clearly, wholly and unequivocally said it is wrong,' added May.

* Like I said, losing the world's respect, one day at a time: "German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed claims by U.S. President Donald Trump that officials in her country are ignoring a rise in crime, saying Tuesday that the actual figures 'speak for themselves.'"

* Timing matters: "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked World Refugee Day Wednesday with a statement 'commemorating the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees worldwide' as the Trump administration continues to defend its policy of separating children from parents who bring them into the U.S. illegally seeking asylum."

* Trump just found a new way to annoy members of Congress: "President Trump on Wednesday said he was calling off the annual congressional picnic scheduled for Thursday evening as his administration grapples with the furor over its hardline practice of separating migrant families crossing at the border."

* Rudy: "President Trump's personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was questioned this year in an inquiry into whether he was told about the F.B.I.'s reopening of the Hillary Clinton email investigation before it was disclosed to Congress and the public, he confirmed on Tuesday."

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

In retreat, Trump issues executive order on family separations

06/20/18 04:19PM

It was just five days ago when Donald Trump was asked whether he'd take executive action to end his own family-separation policy. "Wait," the president replied. "You can't do it through an executive order."

It was just two days ago that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters, in reference to the administration's policy, "Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it."

It was just this morning that Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) rejected assertions that Trump could act unilaterally to address the problem he created. "He cannot," the Republican senator said. "It's going to require Congress to act."

And it was this afternoon that the president ignored all of this and put pen to paper.

President Donald Trump, under pressure from angry members of his own party, signed on Wednesday an executive order that is meant to keep families together at the border, halting a policy he instituted earlier this year. [...]

Trump said the order "will solve that problem" of children being separated from their parents, but that it wouldn't end his administration's "zero tolerance" policy of charging everyone who attempts to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, a decision that led to the current crisis.

The president who took it upon himself to separate families added, "I didn't like sight of families being separated."

The text of the executive order is online here. Note, about an hour ago, the original link created by the White House didn't work because someone in the communications department misspelled "separation."

In case this isn't obvious, Trump didn't need to sign an executive order on this. He made a conscious and deliberate choice to implement this brutal policy, and he could've simply picked up the phone and told the relevant officials to stop forcing children from the arms of their families.

But putting all of that aside, there's no reason for anyone to think this latest move ends the fight. On the contrary, it's more the end of the beginning than the beginning of the end.

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Image: FBI Investigates Trump's attorney Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen resigns from his Republican National Committee role

06/20/18 03:31PM

In April 2017, the RNC issued a press release introducing the members of its finance team. Casino mogul Steve Wynn would serve as the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman, while Elliott Broidy and Michael Cohen were among a small handful of Republicans who would serve as national deputy finance chairmen.

Wynn was forced to resign from the RNC earlier this year following sexual misconduct allegations. (The RNC refused to return his money.)

Broidy, who’s at the center of multiple, ongoing controversies, also resigned in the wake of an unrelated sex scandal.

And then there's Cohen, who's become a deeply controversial figure, who reportedly expects to be indicted, and who has finally decided to walk away from his RNC role.

Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime confidant and former personal attorney, has resigned from his post as deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee's Finance Committee, sources close to the RNC told ABC News.

In his resignation letter to Ronna McDaniel, the RNC chair, Cohen cited the ongoing special counsel investigation as one reason for his departure. ABC News has reviewed the email.

"This important role requires the full-time attention and dedication of each member. Given the ongoing Mueller and SDNY investigations, that simply is impossible for me to do," he wrote.

It's worth emphasizing that on his way out, Cohen also took a moment to denounce Donald Trump's family-separation policy.

"As the son of a Polish holocaust survivor, the images and sounds of this family separation policy is heart wrenching," Cohen wrote. "While I strongly support measures that will secure our porous borders, children should never be used as bargaining chips."

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

Obama speaks up on Trump's family-separation policy

06/20/18 01:45PM

With just two days remaining in his presidency, Barack Obama hosted a White House press conference in which he said he expected the new administration and Congress to make their own determinations about the nation's direction, and by and large, he intended to stay out of it.

But as regular readers know, Obama also acknowledged at the time that there might be exceptions to the rule. "There's a difference," the outgoing president explained, "between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake."

Take now, for example. The former Democratic president issued a statement this afternoon that made no direct references to Donald Trump or his policy of separating immigrant children from their families, but Obama's point was hardly subtle.

"[T]o watch those families broken apart in real time puts to us a very simple question: are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents' arms, or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together? Do we look away, or do we choose to see something of ourselves and our children?

"Our ability to imagine ourselves in the shoes of others, to say 'there but for the grace of God go I,' is part of what makes us human. And to find a way to welcome the refugee and the immigrant -- to be big enough and wise enough to uphold our laws and honor our values at the same time -- is part of what makes us American. After all, almost all of us were strangers once, too. Whether our families crossed the Atlantic, the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we're only here because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, how our last names sound, or the way we worship. To be an American is to have a shared commitment to an ideal -- that all of us are created equal, and all of us deserve the chance to become something better.

"That's the legacy our parents and grandparents and generations before created for us, and it's something we have to protect for the generations to come. But we have to do more than say 'this isn't who we are.' We have to prove it -- through our policies, our laws, our actions, and our votes."

One gets the sense Obama does not believe that legacy is being protected now.

For those keeping score, this is not the first time the Democratic president has spoken out in response to one of his successor's policies. The list now includes:

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Allegations of corruption continue to plague Trump's cabinet

06/20/18 12:43PM

It's been days since a leading official in Donald Trump's cabinet faced new corruption allegations, and given recent history, I'm afraid that suggests we were due.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has already been the subject of some controversies, mostly stemming from his alleged efforts to mislead the public about his net worth, but Forbes magazine this week reported on a new development related to Ross' public vow to divest from his private-sector holdings upon entering government.

In November 2017, Ross confirmed in writing to the federal Office of Government Ethics that he had divested everything he promised. But that was not true. After weeks of investigation, Forbes found:

For most of last year, Ross served as secretary of commerce while maintaining stakes in companies co-owned by the Chinese government, a shipping firm tied to Vladimir Putin's inner circle, a Cypriot bank reportedly caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation and a huge player in an industry Ross is now investigating. It's hard to imagine a more radioactive portfolio for a cabinet member.

Ross eventually took steps to distance himself from his investments, but many of his holdings were moved to a family trust, which means he didn't really solve the problem. As the Forbes report added, "Ross' ethics agreement required him to divest, either by selling his assets or giving them away. Simply parking them in a trust was not enough."

And while this looks pretty bad, the story took an even more alarming turn when we learned Ross allegedly took steps to profit from scrutiny of his apparent corruption.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.20.18

06/20/18 12:00PM

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

* Brad Parscale, Donald Trump's campaign manager, issued a public call yesterday for his boss to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions. None of this is in any way normal.

* Following an unexpected Democratic victory in a local election yesterday, Dems now have a rare majority on the Miami-Dade County Commission, with the party controlling seven of the commission's 13 seats.

* As part of his remarks to the National Federation of Independent Businesses yesterday, the president spoke for a while about his assessments of Hillary Clinton's campaign commercials. For those keeping score, Election Day 2016 was 589 days ago.

* Steve Schmidt, an MSNBC political analyst, was a Republican for nearly 30 years and served as a senior adviser to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. Yesterday, Schmidt ended his association with the GOP.

* As if the Republican primary in New York's 11th congressional district weren't strange enough already, former Rep. Michael Grimm has accused incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan of privately offering to work on a pardon for Grimm if he agreed not to run against him. If the claim is true, it'd be a pretty serious ethical violation. Primary Day in New York is next week.

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Sen. Jim Inhofe (pictured) and his fellow GOP Oklahoma senator, Tom Coburn, are finding blind ideology a bit difficult at the moment.
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma's Inhofe willing to give Pruitt a pass on corruption allegations

06/20/18 11:21AM

The list of scandals surrounding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt grew a little longer two weeks ago. The Washington Post  reported that Pruitt used his office and agency staff to reach out to the CEO of Chick-fil-A about "a potential business opportunity" -- which turned out to be a possible franchise in Oklahoma for Pruitt's wife.

This and similar efforts from Pruitt to use his position to improve his family's finances appear to be at odds with the law, and the latest revelations pushed many on the right to call for the EPA chief's ouster. Even Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a staunch Pruitt ally, conceded, "Every day, something new comes out."

Yesterday, the Oklahoma senator said he'd meet with Pruitt face to face and determine what should happen next. Apparently, the discussion happened this morning -- and Inhofe came away satisfied.

The GOP lawmaker told Bloomberg News' Ari Natter that he was "beginning to have doubts" about Pruitt, but those concerns about the EPA chief have been put to rest. Politico  reported:

Sen. Jim Inhofe says he's confident in Scott Pruitt’s leadership after meeting with the embattled EPA chief Tuesday night — and said he's “a little embarrassed” to have doubted his long-time friend from Oklahoma.

The Republican senator told reporters Wednesday that any of Pruitt's lapses were minor and excusable given his lack of experience in Washington, but that many were simply untrue and fueled by critics of his deregulatory agenda.

Inhofe went on to blame former Pruitt colleagues, news organizations, and environmental activist Tom Steyer for the recent scandals.

Even by 2018 standards, this is bizarre.

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Image: President Trump meets GOP senators at the White House

Trump rejects another one of his own ideas on immigration

06/20/18 10:41AM

Donald Trump addressed the National Federation of Independent Businesses yesterday, and though the president's remarks were supposed to be about small businesses and the economy, the only thing he seemed eager to talk about was immigration.

In fact, at one point, Trump went on an extended, unscripted riff on one point in particular: the prospect of hiring additional immigration judges to help expedite the legal process at the border. The president apparently thinks this idea is "crazy."

"Ultimately, we have to have a real border -- not judges. Thousands and thousands of judges they want to hire. Who are these people? ... What country does this? ... No, seriously, what country does it?

"They said, 'Sir, we'd like to hire about five or six-thousand more judges.' Five or six-thousand? Now, can you imagine the graft that must take place? You're all small business owners, so I know you can imagine a thing like that would happen. But here's a guy -- they say, 'Could you please be a judge? Come on, get it.' They line up to be a judge. It's horrible.

"We don't want judges; we want security on the border."

There are a couple of key details to keep in mind. The first is that literally no one at the federal level has called for the hiring of several "thousand" immigration judges. The actual figure is several hundred.

The second relevant point is coming to terms with who came up with this idea: the Trump White House.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump Foundation may be unique in the 'scope of its transgressions'

06/20/18 10:03AM

It's been about a week since the New York attorney general's office accused Donald Trump's charitable foundation of being little more than a slush fund, which, among other things, made illegal in-kind contributions for Trump's campaign. As the process moves forward, it's worth considering just how serious the allegations are.

Marcus Owens, who used to lead the IRS division on tax-exempt organizations during the Bush and Clinton administrations, told the New York Times the other day that people have faced criminal prosecutions for circumstances like these. The difference, Owens said, is that those other cases were "less egregious" than Trump's.

Yesterday, CNN's Chris Cillizza published a related interview with Owens, in which the former IRS official elaborated on this point.

[T]he Trump Foundation may be unique in the variety and scope of its transgressions of state and federal law, as well as the visibility of the transgressions. [...]

In fact, while my years at the IRS brought me into contact with many charities and foundations that had violated federal tax law, few approached the variety of the Trump Foundation's transgressions.

In the interest of disclosure, I should probably mention that I had several conversations with Owens many years ago, and I can say with direct experience that he's not prone to exaggeration or wild accusations. He's a very mild-mannered, non-political guy.

So when Owens says the president's foundation may have flouted the law, it's worth pausing to take note.

Asked about possible defenses from Trump and his team, Owens added, "In my opinion, there are no effective defenses that Donald Trump and/or his foundation can deploy to either the attorney general's petition or to federal tax charges. About the best he can do is plead ignorance of the law (generally ineffective with the sort of allegations being made) and to try to shift the blame to his accountants and attorneys (which will be factually difficult given Trump's personal involvement in many of the actions. It's unlikely, for example, that one of Trump's attorneys or accountants said that it is fine to contribute to the Florida attorney general's PAC or to buy a painting of himself and hang it in one of his clubs.)."

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Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford answers questions from reporters after voting in Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday, April 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

Mocking Sanford's loss, Trump shows he is who we think he is

06/20/18 09:20AM

The point of Donald Trump's closed-door appearance on Capitol Hill last night was to help guide Republicans on immigration policy. That didn't go especially well: not only did the president fail to bring any clarity to the debate, he also veered into unrelated topics that popped into his head.

One House GOP member told reporters after the event that he found it "hard to follow everything [Trump] says. He's kind of like a bouncing ball."

And as the Washington Post  reported, at one point, that bouncing ball landed on Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.).

Rep. Mark Sanford was at the airport in Charleston, S.C., for four hours of "airplane hell" when President Trump veered from his speech on immigration to the South Carolina Republican.

"I want to congratulate him on running a great race!" Trump said sarcastically, to awkward silence from more than 200 of his Republican colleagues.

Hearing silence from the room, Trump then piled on and said, "What, nobody gets it," and added that Sanford is a "nasty guy."

According to multiple accounts, the president's comments were met with some boos from House Republicans.

Sanford lost in a GOP primary last week against a Republican rival who attacked him as insufficiently loyal to Trump. Last night, unprompted, the president thought it'd be a good idea to rub the congressman's nose in it.

This wasn't in response to a pointed question or a snide remark from Sanford. In fact, the South Carolina Republican wasn't even there. But Trump, who didn't need to say anything about Sanford, apparently wanted to put his classlessness on display.

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In this photo taken Aug. 25, 2015, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski watches as Trump speaks in Dubuque, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Trump confidant indifferent toward immigrant child with Down's syndrome

06/20/18 08:41AM

There are so many heartbreaking stories about immigrant families at the border, but Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray yesterday highlighted an especially brutal example, pointing to a 10-year-old girl with Down's syndrome who was recently separated from her mother and brother.

When former DNC adviser Zac Petkanas reflected on this girl's plight during a Fox News segment yesterday, he was interrupted.

In the middle of his comments, fellow guest Corey Lewandowski cut in. "Womp womp," President Trump's former campaign manager said, a dismissive trombone-like sound effect.

"Did you just say 'womp womp' to a 10-year-old with Down syndrome?" Petkanas shot back.

Yes, actually, he did.

At least publicly, Trump World's posture is one of furrowed brow. The president says he "hates" his own policy, for example, and while that doesn't really make sense -- he can end the practice whenever he wants -- many White House officials have appeared in the media to express sorrow over what they characterize as an unfortunate necessity.

But there was Corey Lewandowski, lending his voice to the kind of cruel indifference rarely heard in polite company. The presidential confidant appeared on national television to make clear he simply does not care about a young girl with special needs, who's done nothing wrong, and who's being kept from her family by the United States government.

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Image: Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House

On immigration, Trump leaves Republicans more confused, not less

06/20/18 08:00AM

As public revulsion grows over the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, Republican policymakers are in desperate need of some presidential leadership. They are, however, stuck with Donald Trump.

The GOP-led Senate is largely united on a proposal that would end the White House's "zero tolerance" policy; the GOP-led House will vote tomorrow on entirely different immigration legislation, and the Republican president traveled to Capitol Hill last night, ostensibly to help guide his party on the path forward.

At least, that was the idea. The Washington Post  reported:

President Trump implored anxious House Republicans to fix the nation's immigration system but did not offer a clear path forward amid the growing uproar over his administration's decision to separate migrant families at the border.

Huddling with the GOP at the Capitol on Tuesday evening, Trump stopped short of giving a full-throated endorsement to immigration legislation meant to unite the moderate and conservative wings of the House Republican conference.

The House is poised tomorrow to take up two bills -- a conservative plan and even-more-conservative plan -- and the president made clear that he's comfortable with both. Indeed, by all accounts, Trump told GOP lawmakers that he's "one thousand percent" behind them.

What he did not do, however, was offer any real clarity or specificity. One top Republican lawmaker who has not decided how he'll vote tomorrow, told  Politico, in reference to Trump's remarks, "It did not move the needle at all. He made comments like 'I'm behind it 1,000 percent,' but what is 'it'?"

The president expressed tacit support last night for the legislation he denounced a few days ago, and Trump expressed a willingness to sign a bill that, just hours earlier, he announced plans to "make changes to." Offered a chance to clear things up, Trump spent "45 minutes ranting to House Republicans on everything from taxes to his pending lawsuits."

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