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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.25.18

05/25/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Friday afternoon ahead of a holiday weekend: "President Trump on Friday signed a series of executive orders making it easier to fire federal government workers and rolling back the prerogatives of unions that represent them."

* Congress won't be pleased: "The Trump administration has told Congress that it's reached a deal that would allow Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp. to stay in business, a source familiar with the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a confidential matter said Friday."

* A potentially important revelation: "Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, met with a Russian oligarch and discussed U.S.-Russia relations just 11 days before Trump was inaugurated as president, according to a person familiar with the meeting. A firm connected to the oligarch, billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, later paid Cohen $500,000 for consulting work."

* Decisiveness is not his strong suit: "President Trump said on Friday that his administration was back in touch with North Korea and the two sides may reschedule his summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, perhaps even on the original June 12 date, a stunning reversal just a day after the president canceled the get-together."

* Hmm: "Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., says the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., may have provided 'false testimony' to the Senate Judiciary Committee when he was asked about the Trump campaign's involvement with foreign governments and foreign nationals."

* Sometimes, pressure campaigns work: "Supermarket giant Publix said Friday it has halted all corporate political contributions. The company made the announcement moments before a planned 'die-in' protest organized by David Hogg, a vocal Parkland school shooting survivor."

* Good to know: "Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday morning that Michael Cohen remains a deputy finance chair at the RNC despite the fact that he's under criminal investigation."

* That's an amazing figure: "EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's security detail cost about $3.5 million for his first year in office, more than twice what his predecessor spent in the final year of the Obama administration, according to spending summaries released today by EPA."

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Former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani speaks at the Cisco Connect 2013 conference in Warsaw, Poland, November 26, 2013.

Rudy Giuliani and the fine art of saying the quiet part loud

05/25/18 04:09PM

It was, of course, "The Simpsons" that helped introduce the world to the dangers of saying "the quiet part loud." The expression is relatively self-explanatory: sometimes, people are accidentally candid, and instead of whispering a damaging truth under their breath, they proclaim for everyone to hear.

Rudy Giuliani appears to be running a clinic this week on saying the quiet part loud.

Donald Trump's bumbling attorney, for example, effectively admitted this week that the president is taking the unprecedented step of ordering federal law enforcement to divulge secrets about an FBI source, at least in part to benefit his own legal defense. "We can't let our guy go in [to an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller] and be questioned without knowing this" information from an ongoing investigation, the lawyer said.

"I don't care so much about the name as I do about the content. What prompted them to do it? What did they learn from it?" Giuliani added, seemingly unaware of the seriousness of what he was admitting out loud.

The former mayor was even more explicit yesterday:

"[The president] wants them to turn over the information that exists about the informant to the House and Senate committees," Giuliani told POLITICO. "All the memos they have. That'll indicate what the informant found. Then those should be made available to us on a confidential basis. We should be at least allowed to read them so we know this exculpatory evidence is being preserved."

After the briefing in which sensitive information from an ongoing investigation was shared with Trump's allies, Giuliani added, "We want to see how the briefing went to today and how much we learned from it."

In case this isn't blisteringly obvious, we're talking about an ongoing investigation in which the president is still a subject. Trump's legal defense team isn't supposed to get a peek at the evidence that investigators may have on him during the probe. Everyone who's facing scrutiny from federal law enforcement would no doubt love to force investigators to share secrets, and see how much they and defense attorneys can "learn from it," but only this president is in a position to abuse his power to this extent.

Giuliani is giving away the whole game, as if his acknowledgements of corrupting the investigatory process were somehow normal.

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The Iran nuclear deal and the Israeli raid

The Iran nuclear deal and the Israeli raid

05/25/18 04:00PM

In January, Mossad agents in Tehran smuggled thousands of documents detailing Iran’s aborted nuclear program out of the country and into Israel. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled the trove last month, in what many experts considered a political stunt to slam the deal. It worked. Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement days later. watch

In this April 28, 2016 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

McCain prepared to accept some 'blame' for the war in Iraq

05/25/18 02:53PM

In Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) new book, The Restless Wave, the ailing senator will apparently acknowledge what his critics have argued for years: he was wrong about the war in Iraq. Politico notes in a new report:

In his new memoir, he concedes that the war in Iraq he fought so hard to launch and then escalate now "can't be judged as anything other than a mistake, a very serious one, and I have to accept my share of the blame for it."

That's quite an admission. He reportedly added that he realizes the "principal reason" for the 2003 invasion -- Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction -- "was wrong." McCain goes on to concede in the as-yet-unreleased book that the war wasn't worth "its cost in lives and treasure and security."

While I haven't seen the book or the context for this concession, this appears to be a rather dramatic departure from the Republican senator's previous position on the issue.

In fact, in the recent past, McCain seemed convinced of the opposite. After more than a decade of defending the war and his position on the conflict, the veteran lawmaker argued in 2015, in reference to Iraq, "Everything I've predicted, unfortunately, has come true."

It was a difficult boast to take seriously given the scope and scale of McCain's documented misjudgments on the war. As Rachel noted on the show way back in 2014, "Let the record show, John McCain was wrong about Iraq and the war in Iraq in almost every way that a person can be wrong about something like that. He was wrong about Saddam having [WMD]. He was wrong about how long the war would take. He was wrong about how big the war would be. He famously said that as far as he was concerned, he thought that maybe Saddam sent the anthrax attacks. John McCain was wrong about whether there might ever be any trouble between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq."

At the time, the senator apparently disagreed. Now, in his words, he's prepared to accept his "share of the blame" for the disastrous conflict.

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Image: President Trump speaks at swearing in ceremonies for new CIA Director Haspel

Trump's 'Spygate' scam continues to gradually evolve

05/25/18 12:53PM

Donald Trump's timing could be better. The president spent the week peddling a nonsensical tale in which the Justice Department and the FBI "infiltrated" his 2016 campaign, "implanting" a "spy" in his operation. Yesterday, the story effectively unraveled.

At Trump's insistence, federal law enforcement officials provided highly sensitive information to a group of lawmakers about a human source who assisted with an ongoing counter-intelligence investigation. One of the goals was to advance the conspiracy theory, but those who actually attended the briefing came away certain that there was no "spy."

So, naturally, the president decided not only to tout his conspiracy theory anew, but also to take it a little further in a pair of tweets this morning.

"Can anyone even imagine having Spies placed in a competing campaign, by the people and party in absolute power, for the sole purpose of political advantage and gain? And to think that the party in question, even with the expenditure of far more money, LOST!

"'Everyone knows there was a Spy, and in fact the people who were involved in the Spying are admitting that there was a Spy...Widespread Spying involving multiple people.' Mollie Hemingway, The Federalist Senior Editor But the corrupt Mainstream Media hates this monster story!"

All of this quite sad, but I'll confess it's amazing to watch the evolution of a scam unfold in real time.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.25.18

05/25/18 12:00PM

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

* Responding to reports about his re-election plans, Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) delivered some odd remarks yesterday, in which he made clear that he is running. The underlying controversy surrounding the Virginia Republican, who parted ways with his chief of staff, is still unclear.

* After Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told a group of realtors that homeowners should be able to discriminate against LGBT buyers, the National Association of Realtors withdrew its support for his re-election bid.

* This week, two major Republican donors threatened to withhold their financial support for the party unless GOP officials approve a solution to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issue this year.

* Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to maintain an active role in this year's election cycle, extending an endorsement this week to Steven Horsford's campaign in Nevada's 4th congressional district.

* Six months after losing his Senate campaign in Alabama, disgraced former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is filing a second lawsuit against the women who accused him of sexual misconduct.

* Our Revolution, the group that grew out of Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign, continues to face internal tumult: a month after one founding board member resigned, the group is also losing Catalina Velasquez, an Our Revolution co-vice-chair.

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Image: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

Just how concerned is Paul Ryan about 'moral relativism'?

05/25/18 10:43AM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast yesterday, and he shared a message that, devoid of context, would've been largely predictable. From his remarks:

"At this time, there is a deeply serious problem we see right now within our society. We see moral relativism becoming more and more pervasive in our culture. Identity politics and tribalism have grown on top of this."

It's somewhat surprising to see the Republican leader, poised to step down from Congress after two decades on Capitol Hill, suggest there's something wrong with "identity politics and tribalism." After all, Ryan has long been one of American politics' most rabid partisans, often rejecting bipartisanship as a course he was loath to even consider.

But it was the Wisconsin congressman's denunciation of moral relativism that stood out as especially important.

For those unfamiliar with the phrase, moral relativism is a rejection of the idea that there are core, universal moral standards that should be applied without concern for culture or context. Moral relativists believe there are fluid answers to questions of right and wrong, rather than inviolable principles that must always be honored in all instances.

In general, it's the left that's associated with moral relativism, and the right that's traditionally found it offensive. And yet, in the Donald Trump era, those lines have been blurred.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Border Patrol union: Trump's Guard deployment is a 'colossal waste'

05/25/18 09:37AM

It was early last month when Donald Trump formally directed thousands of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, ostensibly to combat illegal border crossings. "Until we can have a wall and proper security, we are going to be guarding our border with the military," the president said at the time.

It quickly became obvious, though, that the White House couldn't fully explain the point of the policy. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tried to defend the deployments, but it didn't go especially well. A CNN report added that it "remains unclear exactly what [the National Guard troops] will be there to do."

Nearly two months later, the story looks slightly worse. The L.A. Times  reported overnight:

A month after President Trump called for sending National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, the head of the national Border Patrol union called the deployment "a colossal waste of resources."

"We have seen no benefit," said Brandon Judd, president of the union that represents 15,000 agents, the National Border Patrol Council.

The criticism is a dramatic departure for the group, which endorsed Trump's candidacy for president and has praised his border security efforts, including National Guard deployments.

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum added, "This is yet another example of Trump talking big but accomplishing little because he has no idea what the issues really are and what kind of actions to order. He just tweets out a command to deploy the National Guard to the border, basks in the applause, and then assumes everything will just work out."

Exactly. Trump's actions and decisions aren't governing in any meaningful sense. He starts by making false assumptions based on dubious reports he learns from conservative media -- the president is convinced there's a border crisis, reality be damned -- and then tries to think of "solutions" that will impress his rabid base.

In this case, that meant deploying thousands of National Guard troops.

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A woman pumps gas into her car on Nov, 15, 2013 in Pembroke Pines, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

Political debate over gas prices heats up

05/25/18 09:00AM

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, average U.S. gas prices reached a seven-year low in February 2016. That average has been steady increasing ever since, reaching a four-year high this month.

And as Politico  noted, the result is a renewed political debate that's likely to become an issue in the 2018 midterms.

President Donald Trump is hoping a wave of tax-cut-fueled economic euphoria will boost his approval ratings and his party's political fortunes this fall. A sharp spike in gas prices could slam the brakes on all of that.

As Americans head out for traditional Memorial Day weekend road trips, they'll confront gas prices of nearly $3 a gallon, the highest since 2014 and a 25 percent spike since last year.

Democratic leaders clearly see an opportunity they're eager to exploit. They held an event at a Capitol Hill gas station this week, and the Daily Beast  reported that the party is "preparing an aggressive assault on the Trump administration" over this issue.

The politics of this fight get a little tricky, though Trump unwittingly put himself in a difficult position he may find difficult to explain.

Let's start with a basic truth: in general, presidents have limited influence over what American consumers pay at the pump for a global commodity. When Barack Obama took office, for example, gas prices were collapsing, not because of any policies the Democratic president had implemented, but because the international economy was in freefall. Recessions depress economic activity, which lessens the demand for fuel, and pushes prices lower.

Similarly, as Obama's economic agenda pulled the nation out of the Great Recession, gas prices climbed throughout his first term. Republicans howled, but the trend was entirely predictable, and there wasn't much of anything the White House could do about it.

The trouble for Trump, however, is three-fold.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Trump's nonsensical 'Spygate' conspiracy theory ends with a whimper

05/25/18 08:00AM

By any fair measure, yesterday's classified briefing shouldn't have happened. Donald Trump instructed federal law enforcement officials to hand over sensitive information to a group of lawmakers about a human source who assisted with an ongoing counter-intelligence investigation. The president made this demand for brazenly political reasons, threatening to undermine not only the rule of law, but also a probe in which Trump is a subject.

The fact one of the president's defense attorneys turned up, unannounced, at the congressional briefing added insult to injury.

But while this stunt is indefensible on its face, it did serve a practical purpose: Trump's "Spygate" conspiracy theory appears to have ended with a whimper.

Congressional Democrats say that a classified briefing held Thursday for top leaders about the FBI's investigation into President Trump's 2016 campaign did not offer evidence that supports the allegation that an intelligence agency placed a spy in the campaign.

"Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intel agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign," said a statement Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., read to reporters on behalf of himself, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

Republican officials who attended the same briefing have been far more circumspect, but it's worth emphasizing that none of them has suggested in any forum that the revelations were in any way useful to the White House.

This week, Trump and his allies aggressively peddled a nonsensical tale in which the Justice Department and the FBI "infiltrated" his 2016 campaign, "implanting" a "spy" in his operation. Yesterday's briefing was intended to advance the conspiracy theory, divulging information about an FBI informant.

But just as the notorious "Nunes memo" ended up backfiring, undermining Trump World's own arguments, the secret information divulged yesterday brought into focus another inconvenient truth for the president: there was no spy. Trump's assertions on the matter have been ridiculous from the outset.

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