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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to shield Mueller from Trump

04/26/18 12:40PM

Early last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to slam the door shut on any legislative effort to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from White House interference. Though the Republican leader said Mueller should be allowed to continue his work, asked about a bipartisan bill to shield the special counsel, McConnell declared, "We'll not be having this on the floor of the Senate."

Despite multiple reports that Donald Trump has already tried to take steps to fire Mueller, McConnell added that he believes new legislation is "not necessary."

Evidently, there are still some senators who disagree.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance legislation designed to make it more difficult for any president to dismiss a special counsel, a signal to President Donald Trump amid Robert Mueller's ongoing Russia probe. [...]

The legislation represents a compromise between [Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck] Grassley and a bipartisan foursome who had long advocated the measure: Lindsay Graham, R-S.C.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Christopher Coons, D-Del.; and Cory Booker, D-N.J.

The outcome was by no means a foregone conclusion. As recently as yesterday afternoon, Grassley sought changes to the proposal that, if implemented, likely would've undermined the independence of Mueller's probe. (Among other things Grassley envisioned requiring Mueller to notify the Judiciary Committee "if there is any change is made to the specific nature of scope of the investigation.")

The Iowa Republican backed off those changes overnight, allowing the bill to clear committee today with bipartisan support. The final vote on the panel was 14 to 7.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.26.18

04/26/18 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Quinnipiac poll, released yesterday, found Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 48% to 40%. The same poll showed Donald Trump's approval rating dropping slightly to 39%, from 41% a few weeks ago.

* After striking out at the Colorado Supreme Court, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), facing the prospect of not appearing on the ballot, brought his case to federal district court yesterday. Colorado's primary is June 26.

* In Arizona's congressional special election this week, results continue to come in, and as of this morning, Rep.-elect Debbie Lesko's (R) margin of victory is down to just four points. This is a district that Donald Trump won by 21 points, and where Republicans enjoy a registration advantage of 17 points.

* Twelve years ago, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island. This year, Chafee is eyeing something akin to a rematch, but this time, Chafee, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat will run against Whitehouse in a Democratic primary.

* Texas is moving forward with plans to hold a special election to replace former Rep. Blake Farenthold (R), but Gov. Greg Abbott this week wrote to the former congressman, demanding that he cover the election's costs. Farenthold, of course, is still on the hook for the $84,000 he used to settle a sexual harassment claim.

* Though there are tricky legal questions involved, former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) and former Rep. David Jolly (R) are exploring the possibility of running as a bipartisan gubernatorial ticket in Florida this year.

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Trump threatens to exert political influence over the Justice Department

04/26/18 11:22AM

At the end of Donald Trump's odd interview on Fox News this morning, the president threw something of a tantrum on the air, in response to a question about answering questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump's response was a lengthy tirade, leading to this:

"You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it’s a disgrace. And our Justice Department -- which I try and stay away from, but at some point I won't -- our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia."

As Trump tried to ramble some more, the Fox hosts rushed him off the phone, with one of them reminding the president he has "a million things to do." That, in itself, was a remarkable moment: ordinarily, journalists talking to an interview-shy president would want to keep the conversation going as long as possible. This morning, the hosts of "Fox & Friends" themselves ended the interview, stopping a highly agitated Trump before he could embarrass himself further.

Curious media strategies notwithstanding, it was no small development to hear the president -- the subject of an ongoing investigation -- talk openly about intervening with the Justice Department. In fact, Trump was rather explicit during the interview, arguing that he wants federal law enforcement officials to stop investigating his alleged crimes and start investigating his perceived foes.

The president attacked former FBI Director James Comey as a criminal, for example, adding that Justice Department officials aren't "doing their job" by failing to investigate him. "I've taken the position -- and I don't have to take this position and maybe I'll change -- that I will not be involved with the Justice Department. I will wait until this is over. It's a total -- it's all lies and it's a horrible thing that's going on.... I'm very disappointed in my Justice Department."

For those keeping score, the sitting president is attacking his Justice Department, calling for an investigation into the former FBI director, and threatening to seize greater control over the levers of federal law enforcement power.

And yet, it seems like just another day in Donald Trump's America.

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Trump's story appears to change on details of Moscow trip

04/26/18 10:40AM

Before he fired James Comey as the director of the FBI, Donald Trump was reportedly "obsessed" with disproving claims from the Steele dossier about alleged lewd conduct with prostitutes while in Moscow in 2013. In fact, Comey's memos about his interactions with the president suggest Trump tried to say he effectively had an alibi that disproved the claims.

According to the ousted FBI chief, the president, on multiple occasions, told him he never actually spent the night in Russia, so the salacious story couldn't be true. The trouble, of course, is that there's clear evidence that Trump did, in fact, spend the night in Moscow at the time.

This morning, the president shed new light on the subject, telling Fox News he never made the claims that Comey documented in his memos.

"They're phony memos. He didn't write those memos accurately. He put a lot of phony stuff. For instance, I went to Russia for a day or so -- a day or two -- because I owned the Miss Universe pageant. So I went there to watch it because it was near Moscow.

"So I go to Russia. Now I didn't go there -- everybody knows, the logs are there, the planes are there. He said I didn't stay there a night. Of course I stayed there. I stayed there a very short period of time, but of course I stayed. Well his memos said, 'I left immediately' -- I never said that! I never said I left immediately."

At that point, for reasons that were not at all clear, Trump began attacking CNN and accusing Hillary Clinton of getting debate questions in advance.

The comments are worth listening to, rather than just reading, because the president sounded highly agitated and more than a little manic.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Trump speaks during a forum called Generation Next at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington

Daniels' lawyer: Trump's new comments are a 'gift from the heavens'

04/26/18 10:13AM

With Michael Cohen facing a criminal investigation and asserting his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, it stood to reason Donald Trump would have something to say about his personal attorney during his Fox News interview this morning.

The president, however, probably wasn't supposed to say this.

"I don't know his business, but this doesn't have to do with me. Michael is a businessman. He's got a business. He also practices law. I would say probably the big thing is his business, and they're looking at something having to do with his business," Trump said during a lengthy phone interview with "Fox and Friends." "I have nothing to do with his business, I can tell you."

Asked about Cohen's work representing him, Trump claimed that Cohen only handled "a tiny, tiny little fraction" of his legal work.... "He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me," the President continued, referencing Cohen's payment to Daniels and work negotiating a hush agreement with the porn actress. "You know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong. There were no campaign funds going into this, which would have been a problem."

There's a lot to this, but let's consider three of the key elements to Trump's comments.

First, prosecutors have suggested that while Michael Cohen is an attorney, his work with Trump hasn't strictly been in a legal capacity. The president seemed eager to bolster this point this morning, emphasizing repeatedly that Cohen is principally "a businessman."

Second, the official line from Trump World has been that the president had nothing to do with the Stormy Daniels controversy. He wasn't involved in the pre-election hush-money payoff, the argument went, and the president is completely in the dark when it comes to the whole sordid affair.

Trump suggested this morning that this narrative is false, making clear that Cohen represented him in the "deal" with the porn star, and asserting that he knows campaign funds weren't used to buy Daniels' silence.

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Ben Carson watches as Donald Trump takes the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Carson's new HUD plan: rent hikes for low-income families

04/26/18 09:20AM

It sounds like the plot of a Dickensian nightmare. A wealthy president signed a massive package of tax cuts, which importunately benefit the wealthy and big corporations. We learned just last week, for example, that "the nation's six big Wall Street banks saved at least $3.59 billion in taxes last quarter, thanks to the recently enacted Trump tax law."

At the same time, that same president's party is trying to cut food stamps while his administration targets housing benefits for low-income families. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proposed far-reaching changes to federal housing subsidies Wednesday, tripling rent for the poorest households and making it easier for housing authorities to impose work requirements.

Carson's proposals, and other initiatives aimed at low-income Americans receiving federal assistance, amount to a comprehensive effort by the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to restrict access to the safety net and reduce the levels of assistance for those who do qualify.

The article added that roughly "half of the 4.7 million families receiving housing benefits would be affected" by the proposed changes.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump's nominee to be Secretary of Veteran Affairs Ronny Jackson visits Capitol Hill

Ending fiasco, Ronny Jackson withdraws as VA nominee

04/26/18 08:41AM

Yesterday was supposed to be the day confirmation hearings began for Navy Admiral Ronny Jackson, a White House physician and Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Instead, it was his last day as a cabinet nominee.

This morning, Jackson issued a statement announcing he's withdrawing from consideration. The statement read in part:

"Going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity.

"The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated. If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years.... Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this president and the important issue we must be addressing -- how we give the best care to our nation's heroes."

While Jackson denies the allegations raised against him in recent days, the scope and seriousness of those claims intensified yesterday, to the point that his nomination became unsustainable.

Even before claims of wrongdoing emerged, Jackson's nomination was problematic -- he lacked the qualifications needed for the cabinet post and has no experience overseeing a large organization -- but as lawmakers heard from many of the doctor's former colleagues, Senate Republicans started to balk.

The president turned to Fox News this morning to blame Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, for the demise of Jackson's nomination, but like so many of Trump's claims, that doesn't make a lot of sense. For one thing, concerns about Jackson were bipartisan.

For another, if anyone's to blame for this fiasco, it's Trump and his White House team.

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Image: Michael Cohen at Federal Court

Michael Cohen to take the Fifth, leaving Trump in an awkward spot

04/26/18 08:00AM

Remember when some political observers ignored the Stormy Daniels controversy, deeming it a tabloid-esque sideshow? At this point, it's effectively impossible to say this story doesn't matter.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, filed a declaration in federal court on Wednesday asserting his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in the ongoing lawsuit filed against him by porn star Stormy Daniels.

"Based on the advice of counsel, I will assert my Fifth Amendment rights in connection with all proceedings in this case due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York," Cohen said in the court filing.

The development comes just weeks after the FBI raided Cohen's office, home, and hotel room, as part of an apparent investigation into his role in hush-money payments.

His legal assertion doesn't come completely out of the blue -- Cohen and his team had signaled earlier this month that this might happen -- but now that it's official, we're reminded in stark terms just how much legal jeopardy the president's personal attorney appears to be in.

And that, in turn, leaves Trump in an awkward position for a couple of reasons.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.25.18

04/25/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Serious allegations: "Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician nominated to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, provided 'a large supply' of Percocet, a prescription opioid, to a White House military office staff member, throwing his own medical staff 'into a panic' when the medical unit could not account for the missing drugs, according to a summary of questionable deeds compiled by the Democratic staff of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee."

* I think we know where this is headed: "President Donald Trump's latest restriction on travel to the United States from a handful of mostly Muslim countries seemed likely to survive Supreme Court review, based on comments from the justices during an hour of animated courtroom argument on Wednesday."

* On the other hand, this decision was heartening: "A D.C. federal judge has delivered the toughest blow yet to Trump administration efforts to end deportation protections for young undocumented immigrants, ordering the government to continue the Obama-era program and -- for the first time since announcing it would end -- reopen it to new applicants."

* Unexpected: "The former Secret Service agent who leads the security detail for Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, worked on assignments for the tabloid news publisher American Media Inc. during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to records and interviews."

* Grassley's proposed changes are misguided: "Democrats are warning that the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman's proposed changes to a bill to protect special counsels from undue firing would give the GOP the ability to tip off President Trump about developments in Robert S. Mueller III's probe of him -- the latest flash point on the legislation's rocky road to a committee vote, expected Thursday."

* Hasn't this question already been answered? "Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue reportedly told senators Tuesday that he advised President Donald Trump to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the latest of a series of contradictory statements from Trump and his administration about the trade deal."

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Image: French President Emmanuel Macron Delivers An Address To Joint Meeting Of Congress

France's Macron tells Congress what Republicans didn't want to hear

04/25/18 04:55PM

For the last few days, Americans have seen French President Emmanuel Macron standing alongside Donald Trump in all kinds of formal and informal settings, ostensibly helping strengthen the partnership between the United States and our oldest ally. The American president has certainly seemed impressed, telling reporters yesterday that France "will be taken to new heights" under Macron.

But when the French president spoke to a joint session of Congress earlier today, he offered a reminder that despite his burgeoning friendship with the White House, Macron is not on board with the vision embraced by Trump and his Republican Party.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in an address to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, laid out a couple of key areas where he differs with President Donald Trump — the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords.

Macron called on the U.S. not to withdraw from the Iran deal negotiated by the Obama administration with France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, China and the European Union.

Macron was not exactly subtle, especially on the climate crisis, reminding American lawmakers, "Let us face it, there is no Planet B."

But of particular interest was the French president's focus on broader themes, which Congress' GOP majority probably didn't care for. Without mentioning any names, Macron seemed eager to warn Americans not to give in to "fear and anger," which ultimately "freezes and weakens us."

He added, "[W]e have two possible ways ahead. We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. This is an option,. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears. But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world."

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