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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

House Intelligence Chair's antics generate bipartisan criticism

03/29/17 09:26AM

At one point yesterday afternoon, in a Capitol Hill hallway, a reporter asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) if he's prepared to recuse himself from the Russia investigation the Republican congressman compromised. Nunes responded to the reporter, "Why are you so lame?"

That's emblematic of the state of the debate surrounding Nunes and his increasingly strange behavior.

One of the key points of contention surrounding the House Intelligence Committee chair is his effort last week to bolster Donald Trump's conspiracy theory about being the subject of covert surveillance. Nunes claims to have a secret source, whom he met secretly at the White House complex last week, who gave him secret information Nunes was eager to share with the media last week in vague and unhelpful ways.

The Huffington Post noted yesterday that the beleaguered GOP lawmaker said yesterday he'll never identify his source -- even to the Intelligence Committee he ostensibly leads.
"We will never reveal sources and methods," Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said to ABC News' Mary Bruce on Tuesday.

Even other members of the committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the presidential campaign, will not learn how Nunes obtained information he said indicated that key figures close to Trump were monitored by U.S. intelligence, Nunes said.
Reuters had a related report, noting that Nunes will not divulge information on who gave him intelligence information on Trump, even to his colleagues on the intelligence panel.

This isn't a situation in which other committee members lack the necessary clearance, but rather, Nunes simply wants to keep a secret from his colleagues related to the investigation on which they're supposed to be working together. It's as if the Intelligence Committee is proceeding with a bifurcated process: one investigation from the panel, and another from the panel's chair.

If there's a compelling defense for this, Nunes hasn't come up with it yet.
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A laptop in use. (Photo by TEK/Science Photo Library/Corbis)

Republicans roll back the clock on Internet privacy protections

03/29/17 08:40AM

Advocates of Internet privacy protections received some very bad news yesterday. Slate's report summarized the developments on Capitol Hill nicely:
In a defeat for digital privacy advocates, the House of Representatives voted Tuesday to allow internet service providers to sell information about consumers' browsing history without their knowledge or consent.

The bill repeals FCC the broadband privacy rules passed during the final months of the Obama administration. In addition to protecting customer data, the rules, which never had a chance to go into effect, also required the providers to notify customers when they experienced a data breach. The Senate voted to revoke the rules last week.
Politico tweeted overnight that the House voted "nearly unanimously to revoke broadband privacy rules." That's not even close to being true: the House voted 215 to 205. Literally zero Democrats voted for the bill, while nearly every Republican voted for it. In the Senate, the same legislation passed 50 to 48, again along party lines. (Sen. Rand Paul missed the vote, but was a co-sponsor of the legislation.)

Donald Trump is expected to sign the measure sometime soon.

And for privacy advocates, that's discouraging. As the Washington Post reported, service providers, including online giants such Verizon and Comcast (MSNBC's parent company), "will be able to monitor their customers' behavior online and, without their permission, use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads -- making them rivals to Google and Facebook in the $83 billion online advertising market. The providers could also sell their users' information directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data -- all of whom could use the data without consumers' consent."
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Image: US President Donald J. Trump participates in a health care discussion with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady

Trump's lawyers try to shield him from sexual misconduct lawsuit

03/29/17 08:00AM

In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, nearly a dozen women came forward to accuse Donald Trump of sexual misconduct. The Republican denied each of the allegations and vowed to sue the women after the election.

Like so many of Trump's claims, the promise turned out to be untrue, but that doesn't mean the accusations are behind him. On the contrary, one of the women has now sued the president for defamation, and as USA Today reported, Trump's attorneys have responded to the litigation by saying he should be immune from the lawsuit -- because he's too busy being president to be distracted by the case.
Summer Zervos, a former contestant from The Apprentice, sued Trump in New York on Jan. 17, just days before the inauguration. She came forward in October and accused Trump of kissing and groping her in a Beverly Hills hotel room in 2007. Trump denied the accusation, including a series of tweets calling the sexual misconduct allegations "100% fabricated and made-up charges," "totally false" and "totally made up nonsense."

Zervos' attorney, Gloria Allred, demanded a retraction, to no avail. So, she sued. Zervos' lawsuit claims the alleged defamation was "detrimental to Ms. Zervos's reputation, honor and dignity."
Trump's lawyers -- his private counsel, not the White House counsel -- told the court this week the case could "distract a President from his public duties to the detriment of not only the President and his office but also the Nation."

If all of this sounds kind of familiar, there's a good reason for that: a couple of decades ago, Paula Jones sued then-President Bill Clinton under similar circumstances, and the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against Clinton. Those involved in the legal proceedings would need to accommodate the president's unique schedule, the justices said, but no one, not even the Leader of the Free World, is immune from civil litigation for conduct unrelated to his office.

So why is this even an issue? Because according to Team Trump, this case is a little different: Jones filed a federal sexual harassment case, while Zervos' lawsuit is in a state court. What's more, the Jones case unfolded during Clinton's presidency, while Zervos filed before Trump was inaugurated.
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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 3.28.17

03/28/17 07:26PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Quite a concession: "The top American general in Mosul says the initial military assessment into civilian casualties allegedly caused by a March 17 U.S. airstrike shows the U.S. 'probably had a role in these casualties,' according to the top American general there."

* I guess we should disregard the opposition Trump voiced about the mission in Mosul: "The United States is sending more than 200 additional soldiers to Iraq to support the Iraqi military’s push to retake western Mosul from the Islamic State, military officials said on Monday."

* Obama's Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule is no more: "President Trump signed a bill Monday that killed an Obama-era worker safety rule that required businesses competing for large federal contracts to disclose and correct serious safety and other labor law violations."

* Mass shooting in Cincinnati: "As broken glass and stray shoes are cleaned from the parking lot of an East End nightclub, questions linger about the shooting that killed one person and injured 16 others. Gunfire broke out just after 1 a.m. Sunday at Cameo Night Club on Kellogg Avenue. Witnesses said they heard dozens of shots ring out."

* Hmm: "The former chief financial officer of Fox News Channel, Mark Kranz, is said to have been offered immunity from prosecution by U.S. government attorneys looking into payments by the network and its parent, 21st Century Fox, to women who claimed to be harassed by Roger Ailes, the cable-news outlet’s former chief and leader, according to a report in The Financial Times."

* Justice Department: "Nearly two dozen people from five states are accusing Attorney General Jeff Sessions of lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his communications with the Russian government and subsequently trying to cover up that lie, according to a complaint sent to the Department of Justice."

* The Washington Nationals offered Donald Trump the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at the team's home opener. He declined. That's probably one of the smarter decisions he's made since becoming president.
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Image: U.S. President Trump displays executive order on "energy independence" during event at EPA headquarters in Washington

Targeting climate policy, Trump makes a promise he can't keep

03/28/17 06:20PM

Given the fact that Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate, described climate change as a "hoax," cooked up by the Chinese as part of an elaborate conspiracy, it doesn't come as too big of a surprise that Trump, as a president, would go after his predecessor's Clean Power Plan. It did, however, come as a surprise to see Trump deliberately mislead some of his supporters about his approach.

NBC News summarized today's developments, noting the president's latest executive order.
The order asks the Environmental Protection Agency to review Obama's Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and is considered one of the past administration's signature pieces of climate policy. The plan's implementation was already put on hold by the Supreme Court in February of 2016.
This is clearly a major development, but it kicks off a larger conflict. As Vox's report explained, "Trump's administration will now spend years trying to rewrite rules and fend off legal challenges from environmentalists. And it's not clear they'll always prevail: Some of President Obama's climate policies may prove harder to uproot than thought."

That's certainly true, though it's still an international embarrassment for the United States to abandoned its leadership role; it risks exacerbating the existing crisis; and it makes it very unlikely we'll meet our own goals and targets as part of the Paris Accord.

But as this process unfolds, it's worth remembering that much of today's regressive shift is built on falsehoods -- and not just about science.
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Image: FILE: Acting Attorney General Orders Justice Department Not To Defend Executive Order On Immigration

Did the White House try to block the former A.G. from testifying?

03/28/17 01:04PM

In the early days of Donald Trump's presidency -- which is to say, just a couple of months ago -- Sally Yates was the administration's choice to serve as the acting U.S. Attorney General, though that did not last. Ten days into her tenure, Trump fired Yates after she directed the Justice Department not to defend the president's Muslim ban, which she considered unconstitutional.

All of this unfolded on Jan. 30. Four days earlier, however, Yates notified the White House that the Justice Department had evidence that then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn lied about his post-election talks with Vladimir Putin's government and may be vulnerable to a Russian blackmail campaign.

Yates is now eager to talk to congressional investigators about those developments. The Washington Post reports that the White House has "sought to block" that testimony.
The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump's presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry.

According to letters The Post reviewed, the Justice Department notified Yates earlier this month that the administration considers a great deal of her possible testimony to be barred from discussion in a congressional hearing because the topics are covered by the presidential communication privilege.
You may have heard about a House Intelligence Committee hearing, which was scheduled for yesterday, in which Yates was prepared to testify. The committee's beleaguered chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), abruptly cancelled the hearing late last week, without notifying any of his colleagues.

In case this isn't already painfully obvious, it's hard not to wonder whether Nunes, who already appears to be working with Team Trump to derail the investigation into Team Trump, scuttled the hearing at the behest of his White House allies.
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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.28.17

03/28/17 12:00PM

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

* The latest poll in Georgia's upcoming congressional special election, commissioned by the Fox affiliate in Atlanta, shows Jon Ossoff (D) leading the race, but not enough to avoid a runoff. In hypothetical head-to-head match-ups, Ossoff leads most of the Republican candidates, but narrowly trails former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel. The first round of voting is scheduled for April 18 -- three weeks from today.

* In Virginia, home to one of two gubernatorial races this year, a new poll from Christopher Newport University shows a tied Democratic primary between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former Rep. Tom Perriello. Former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie remains the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

* Rep. Tim Walz (D) ended the suspense and announced yesterday he will run for governor in Minnesota next year.

* A few years ago, Arkansas' Supreme Court struck down a Republican voter-ID law in the state, but GOP officials have tried again, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a very similar bill into law yesterday.

* In Iowa, where Gov. Terry Branstad (R) is stepping down to become ambassador to China, a growing field of local Dems are gearing up for a statewide race next year against Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R).

* In Trump's home state of New York, where the president received 36% of the vote in November, a new Siena poll shows him with an approval rating of just 26%.
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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Trump wants a Russia investigation ... directed at Clinton

03/28/17 11:22AM

As the Russia scandal involving Donald Trump and his team advances -- we learned last week that the FBI is conducting an ongoing counter-espionage investigation into the Trump campaign -- the president has a creative response to the allegations. Let's call it the "Hey, look at Hillary Clinton" tack.

Last week, apparently unable to think of a compelling defense, Trump declared via Twitter, "What about all of the contact with the Clinton campaign and the Russians?" In reality, of course, there's no evidence of meaningful contact between Vladimir Putin's government and the unsuccessful Democratic campaign, but Trump seemed to think it was important.

Last night, after going nearly the entire day without tweeting, Trump returned to the subject. The Washington Post reported:
President Trump sought Monday to pressure the House committee investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. election, arguing that the panel should be probing Bill and Hillary Clinton's alleged ties to the country instead of those of his own campaign advisers.

In a pair of evening tweets, Trump wrote that the "Trump Russia story is a hoax" and listed a string of alleged financial and other connections the Clintons have had over the years with Russia. He asked why the House Intelligence Committee is not investigating the former president and former secretary of state.
"Why isn't the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Bill & Hillary deal that allowed big Uranium to go to Russia," the president declared, adding, "Russian speech money to Bill, the Hillary Russian 'reset,' praise of Russia by Hillary, or Podesta Russian Company."

For good measure, Trump also urged his followers to watch Fox News this morning, in advance of a segment on Russia and Clinton's former campaign chairman.

On the surface, little tantrums like these point to a shrinking president, lashing out with pitiful, almost child-like, responses to a serious international controversy. It's easy to grow inured to the stream of nonsense, but having the sitting president of the United States call for a congressional investigation into his defeated opponent, for no credible reason, is alarming.

It's also worth noting that Trump doesn't appear to have any idea what he's talking about: there was no "Bill & Hillary deal that allowed big Uranium to go to Russia."
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Image: House GOP Pulls Vote On Trump's American Health Care Act

Republicans can't even agree on whether to give up on health care

03/28/17 10:28AM

Irreconcilable divisions within the Republican ranks doomed the GOP's health care plan, leaving Donald Trump and Paul Ryan with brutal setbacks. Complicating matters, party leaders now can't agree on whether the health care fight is actually over.

Friday afternoon:
It was an admission of defeat that House Speaker Paul Ryan probably didn't expect to make just three months into a fully Republican government: "Obamacare is the law of the land.... We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future."
Vice President Pence on Saturday reaffirmed the Trump administration's commitment to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, saying President Trump "won't rest" until the law is dismantled.
On Sunday morning's Meet the Press, President Donald Trump's budget director Mick Mulvaney declared that the White House is no longer trying to repeal Obamacare. "We've moved on to other things," Mulvaney said. "The president has other things he wants to accomplish."
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan told Republican donors Monday that he intends to continue pushing for an overhaul of the nation's health-care system by working "on two tracks" as he also pursues other elements of President Trump's agenda. "We are going to keep getting at this thing," Ryan said....
The chairman of the House tax committee declared Monday he is "turning the page" from health care to tax reform....
For those keeping score at home, Republicans aren't giving up on repealing the Affordable Care Act and implementing a conservative alternative. They're also moving on. Except they're not. But maybe they are.
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