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In this Jan. 29, 2015 file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/File/AP)

How confident can Kavanaugh's accuser be in a fair Senate hearing?

09/20/18 12:40PM

As things stand, the road ahead for Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination is unclear. Christine Blasey Ford, who this week went public with her sexual assault allegation against the judge, is prepared to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but she wants FBI to scrutinize her claims first -- following the model from Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill.

The Republican majority has made some demonstrably false assertions about the FBI's purview, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has specifically argued that his committee's staff is capable of examining the controversy, and as he wrote on Twitter, "No other OUTSIDE investigation is necessary."

The first question is why Republicans would be so reluctant to have the FBI scrutinize Ford's allegation. The second question is whether the California professor can credibly expect a fair hearing in light of what we've seen from at least one member of Grassley's team. Roll Call  reported today:

Mike Davis, the committee's chief staffer for nominations, tweeted twice overnight about his key role in the committee's review of Christine Blasey Ford's allegation, as well as criticism of Ford's attorneys and his desired outcome of the process.

"Unfazed and determined. We will confirm Judge Kavanaugh. #ConfirmKavanaugh #SCOTUS," Davis tweeted at 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Davis tweeted two hours later: "I personally questioned Judge Kavanaugh under penalty of felony and 5 years of imprisonment, if he lies. I'm still waiting to hear back from the accuser's attorneys, who can't find time between TV appearances to get back to me."

It hardly came as a surprise when some saw these missives and questioned his impartiality.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.20.18

09/20/18 12:00PM

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

* Despite being under criminal indictment, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) announced yesterday that he's not just running for re-election, he'll also "actively campaign" for the post. The New York Republican last month suspended his candidacy after surrendering to the FBI, and asked local GOP officials to find a different candidate.

* In related news, Collins' Democratic rival, Nate McMurray, unveiled a television ad this week, taking aim at the incumbent congressman's scandal, though it's unclear if the campaign will have the resources necessary to get it on the air.

* In Florida's gubernatorial race, Steven M. Alembik is one of Ron DeSantis' (R) top supporters, and as Politico  reported, the GOP donor lined up a speech for the candidate at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club. Alembik also recently called Barack Obama a "F---- MUSLIM N----" on Twitter, prompting the Republican candidate to distance himself from his ally.

* Axios published an interesting report this morning showing a big surge in Democratic turnout in 2018 primaries. It's the first time in a decade in which Democratic primary voters turned out in greater numbers than Republican primary voters.

* Few observers expect Virginia's U.S. Senate race to be at all competitive, and a new University of Mary Washington poll helps show why: the results found incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine (D) leading Corey Stewart (R), 49% to 30%.

* In Wisconsin, someone in the Madison area called the police on Shelia Stubbs, an African-American woman running for the state Assembly, as she did door-to-door campaigning. I wish this were the first recent example of the police being called on a black candidate who wasn't doing anything wrong, but it's not.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-ATTACKS-ANNIVERSARY

Trump says he found border wall inspiration at 9/11 memorial

09/20/18 11:20AM

When I first heard that Donald Trump drew a connection between the 9/11 attacks and his dream of building a giant wall along the U.S./Mexico border, I thought he might have made some kind of clumsy argument about the dangers of foreigners entering the country.

As it turns out, the connection was more ham-handed.

In the president's interview with The Hill, he was asked about whether he'll ever follow through on his plan. Trump initially responded by saying he's already "started an 80-mile stretch" of the wall, which is a lie. The president quickly added that the Senate's filibuster rule has been a hindrance, which also isn't true -- Trump's immigration policy received just 39 votes in the Republican-led Senate, making the 60-vote threshold irrelevant.

Eventually, he made a curious 9/11 connection.

President Donald Trump said he found inspiration for the U.S.-Mexico border wall after visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial this month for a ceremony commemorating the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The memorial marks the site where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in an open field after 40 passengers and crew members tried to overtake terrorists who had hijacked the plane.

"They built this gorgeous wall where the plane went down in Pennsylvania. Shanksville. And I was there. I made the speech. And it's sort of beautiful, what they did is incredible," Trump told Hill.TV in an interview on Tuesday. "They have a series of walls, I'm saying, 'It's like perfect.' So, so, we are pushing very hard."

The larger question at this point is just how aggressively the president intends to "push," especially with a shutdown deadline looming.

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Trump believes anonymous Democratic validators actually exist

09/20/18 10:40AM

Reading the transcript of Donald Trump's interview this week with The Hill, the president repeatedly referenced support from a curious group of folks: unnamed Democrats secretly agree with him.

For example, while railing against Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, Trump concluded that the federal investigation into the Russia scandal has been "discredited." Specifically, he argued:

"It's been totally discredited. Even Democrats agree that it's been discredited."

Which Democrats would those be? The president didn't say, but we're apparently supposed to believe they exist, and Trump knows what they're thinking.

Similarly, The Hill asked him about the FISA Court and federal surveillance of Carter Page, Trump's former Kremlin-linked foreign policy adviser. The president concluded:

"Even the other side knows how wrong this whole thing is."

Again, to date, no one from the Democratic "side" has raised any concerns about Page's surveillance, but Trump nevertheless believes he knows what his opponents are thinking -- and he's confident they agree with him.

When the discussion turned to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump again pointed to those who secretly share his beliefs.

"[M]y worst enemies, I mean, people that, you know, are on the other side of me, in a lot of ways including politically, have said that was a very unfair thing he did."

Who are these people? He didn't say, but the president apparently wants us to think they're out there, quietly nodding.

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Trump takes aim at Christine Blasey Ford's claims

09/20/18 10:00AM

Since Christine Blasey Ford came forward publicly with a sexual-assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh, Republicans have exercised at least some caution in how they've phrased their dismissal of her claim. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), for example, said he believes the California professor must be "mixed up" -- suggesting he sees her as confused, not dishonest.

Some prominent figures in conservative media have adopted a similar posture, arguing that Ford must be remembering her attack incorrectly.

Leave it to Donald Trump to show far less restraint. The Hill asked the president if he has "any concerns about the credibility of the accuser," and after asking for an update on the afternoon's developments, Trump said:

"This is no different than the Russian witch hunt, what they've done is they make up a lot of stuff and try and obstruct and resist."

In context, "they" referred to Democrats.

There are a couple of relevant angles to this. The first is that the Russia scandal is quite real, and "they" haven't made up any "stuff."

The second is that there's no reason to think Christine Blasey Ford has made up any "stuff," either.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

On classified docs, Trump values TV personalities over security officials

09/20/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump seems excited about the sensitive materials from the investigation into the Russia scandal that he's decided to declassify. In fact, the president has already boasted about all of the things the documents will prove, including his claims that the entire controversy is a "hoax."

Among the many problems with this move is the fact that Trump apparently hasn't read the materials he's decided to declassify. He admitted as much in an interview with The Hill published yesterday.

THE HILL: Have you reviewed the memos yourself? What do you expect them to show, if so?

TRUMP: I have not reviewed them. I have been asked by many people in Congress as you know to release them. I have watched commentators that I respect begging the president of the United States to release them.... I have been asked by so many people that I respect, please -- the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, the wonderful, great Jeanine Pirro.

This is almost certainly more damning that the president realizes. It's problematic, for example, that the president couldn't pry himself away from the television long enough to read the classified documents he's eager to share with the world.

But nearly as important was his use of the phrase "so many people that I respect." We're talking about a dynamic in which national security officials in the Trump administration have urged the president not to declassify these materials, warning him that disclosure could be dangerous to the United States. On the other hand, Trump has also heard from television personalities who've offered the opposite advice.

The people the president "respects" are the ones he sees on TV, not the officials whose job it is to keep the nation safe.

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Team Trump embraces conspiracy theory about year-old interview

09/20/18 08:40AM

On May 9, 2017, Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the investigation into the Russia scandal. Two days later, the president spoke with NBC News' Lester Holt at the White House and said Comey's ouster was driven by Trump's opposition to the probe.

"When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story," the president explained at the time.

Trump's claims didn't just contradict his own White House's official line on Comey's ouster, he also seemed to admit that his decision was directly related to the investigation into the Russia scandal, reinforcing concerns that the president may have obstructed justice when he fired the FBI director.

Three weeks ago, however, he dramatically changed course. Trump published a tweet that said, "When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly!" (In context, "they" appeared to refer to NBC News, not the Russians.) It was the first time in the 15 months that followed the interview in which he'd taken issue with the exchange.

Last night, Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's legal defense team, spoke to CNN's Chris Cuomo, and echoed the claim.

"There is actually a transcript of the entire Lester Holt interview. And as you know -- because you do TV and you do a good job -- you know that when there are interviews, there are edits and there is a longer transcript.

"And I will just tell you without disclosing any detail that when you review the entire transcript, it is very clear as to what happened. And I'm not going to give you information on how we provided it, but in our professional discussions with the office of special counsel, we have addressed that on multiple occasions appropriately."

Sekulow added, "The entire transcript without question supports the president."

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Surveying hurricane damage, Trump struggles with his latest empathy test

09/20/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump traveled to North Carolina yesterday, visiting an area hard hit by Hurricane Florence and the flooding that followed the storm. At one point, he spoke to a homeowner with a yacht in his backyard.

As the Washington Post  reported, the president appeared to take a keen interest in the boat.

"Is this your boat? Or ... did it become your boat?" Trump asked the man who lived in the house where the boat was now inadvertently and incongruously docked.

No, it was not his boat, the homeowner replied, according to the pool report, which didn't identify residents by name.

Trump returned his gaze to the vessel, which was white with brown accents and balanced at a precarious angle.

"At least you got a nice boat out of the deal," he said, with a smile.

Later, a reporter asked the president to reflect on what he'd seen in the affected area. "I think it's incredible, I think it's incredible," Trump said. "To see what we're seeing -- this boat, I don't know what happened, but this boat just came here. And do you know whose boat that is? They don't know whose boat that it."

He reportedly added, "What's the law? Maybe it becomes theirs."

It's entirely possible the president takes the "finders keepers" maxim a bit too literally.

Whether Trump was kidding or not is unclear, but either way, this was an opportunity for the president to console a community that's suffered a great ordeal. To do so effectively would've required a degree of empathy.

And that's not exactly a key element of Donald Trump's skill-set.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 9.19.18

09/19/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Today's mass shooting: "At least three people were injured in a shooting at an office building in Middleton, Wisconsin, authorities said. Police shot and killed the gunman, who hadn't been identified. University of Wisconsin Health University Hospital received four patients from the shooting, said a spokeswoman, Lisa Brunette."

* Today's other mass shooting: "At least five people were shot inside a magisterial district judge's office in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The shooting took place around 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon in Masontown, which is about 65 miles south of Pittsburgh."

* Korean talks: "Kim Jong-un, North Korea's leader, finally committed on Wednesday to some concrete steps toward denuclearization -- most notably an offer to 'permanently dismantle' facilities that are central to the production of fuel for nuclear warheads -- but they fell far short of what American officials have demanded."

* Migrant kids: "The Trump administration is unable to account for the whereabouts of nearly 1,500 migrant children who illegally entered the United States alone this year and were placed with sponsors after leaving federal shelters, according to congressional findings released on Tuesday."

* New information: "A former schoolmate of Brett Kavanaugh's accuser wrote a Facebook post saying she recalls hearing about the alleged assault incident involving the future Supreme Court nominee, though she says she has no first-hand information to corroborate the accuser's claims."

* The shutdown decision will rest solely with Trump: "The Senate on Tuesday passed a short-term spending bill that would keep the government running through Dec. 7, aiming to avert a government shutdown and put off a fight over funding for President Trump's border wall until after the midterm elections."

* FEMA's John Veatch: "A senior FEMA official has been suspended without pay in connection with a Department of Homeland Security inspector general investigation into the improper use of government vehicles by FEMA administrator Brock Long, according to two current government officials."

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In odd White House video, Trump reflects on the wetness of water

09/19/18 03:36PM

Over the last several weeks, Donald Trump has recorded a series of video messages, each of which he promotes via social media, featuring the president speaking extemporaneously on topics of the day. They're nearly always odd, largely because they require Trump to speak with some eloquence for a couple of minutes in a solo monologue -- and as he's probably realizing, that's tougher than it looks.

Yesterday afternoon, for example, the president recorded an 82-second video on Hurricane Florence, in which he thanked first-responders and other emergency officials. If he'd left it at that, the message would've been largely unremarkable.

But Trump being Trump, he felt the need to keep the stream-of-consciousness message going.

"This is a tough hurricane, one of the wettest we've ever seen from the standpoint of water."

As opposed to some other standpoint? The video came a week after the president had a related message on preparations ahead of the storm, when he said:

"Bad things can happen when you're talking about a storm this size. It's called Mother Nature. You never know, but we know."

I still don't know what that means. Who's "we"? What is it that they know about nature that the rest of don't?

Perhaps my favorite was the very first video message, released about a month ago, when Trump declared, "'Made in America' is back. Now, some people would say 'Made in the USA.' I personally don't care."

In response to yesterday's installment, Jon Chait noted, "Watching this video is very much like the common experience of making small talk about the weather with a stranger, except rather than ending the conversation after the normal ten seconds or so, the stranger believes his job and stature require him to elaborate with words that are not at his disposal."

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There's a reason Trump's rhetoric about 'transparency' rings hollow

09/19/18 12:43PM

For the most part, Donald Trump has been quite candid about his motivations for ordering the public release of highly classified materials related to the Russia investigation, ignoring the advice of officials in his own administration. The president has said he's willing to tolerate the potential dangers to the country in order to undermine the ongoing federal probe.

Indeed, in his interview with The Hill, Trump said he wants the cherry-picked documents to be released in the hopes of showing that the investigation is based on a "hoax." The fact that the president hasn't read the materials, and has no idea what they say, apparently wasn't a deterrent.

But there was something else he said about his rationale that stood out for me.

"I have had many people ask me to release them. Not that I didn't like the idea but I wanted to wait, I wanted to see where it was all going," he said.

In the end, he said, his goal was to let the public decide by seeing the documents that have been kept secret for more than two years. "All I want to do is be transparent," he said.

Ah yes, there's that word again. In May, when Trump ordered a highly sensitive intelligence briefing for some members of Congress, in which law enforcement officials were instructed to share information on a confidential human source, the president defended the move by saying, "What I want is I want total transparency.... You have to have transparency."

A few months earlier, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a sycophantic ally of the White House, prepared a "memo" with classified information he wanted to release in order to help Trump. Ignoring the concerns of his own FBI director, the president endorsed the release of the document.

Team Trump insisted at the time, too, that this was all about "transparency."

Now, evidently, the president has re-discovered the rhetorical convenience of the word, which is a shame given the circumstances.

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