Republicans need to say, before the fact, what they will do if Trump fires Mueller

Jennifer Rubin writes: President Trump and his surrogates — most especially the Fox News lineup (which includes a fleet of conservative pundits who disgrace themselves by facilitating a political distraction game for Trump), obsequious Republicans in Congress, old allies such as Roger Stone (who wound up getting banned by Twitter) and the talk radio crowd — have been frantically fanning Hillary Clinton non-scandals about Uranium One (it was baseless before and baseless now) and the dossier’s funder. (Fusion GPS initially was hired by the conservative Free Beacon, which at one time claimed not to know the identity of the Republican outfit that first hired Fusion.) The unhinged rants from Trump’s defenders demanding Clinton be locked up for one or both of these reveal how tightly Trump and the right-wing ecosystem that supports him rely on Clinton as an all-purpose distraction.

Upon a moment’s reflection, the non-scandals make no sense (Clinton was colluding with Russia to beat herself in the election?), have been debunked before and in no way affect the liability, if any, of current or ex-Trump administration figures. This is “whataboutism” run amok. It does expose the degree to which Fox News has given up the pretense of a real news organization, preferring the role of state propagandist. (And it’s not just the evening hosts; the non-scandals now monopolize the rest of the schedule.)

The intensity of Trump’s frenzy underscores the peril in which the president now finds himself. Beyond the indictments unsealed this morning, Trump does not know what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has uncovered; which witnesses are flippable; what financial documents have revealed about the Trump business empire; and whether, for example, Mueller finds support for an obstruction of justice charge from Trump’s own public dissembling (e.g., hinting at non-existent tapes of former FBI director James B. Comey). For someone who insists on holding all the cards and intimidating others, Trump finds himself in a uniquely powerless position.

As I have argued, Republicans should be saying publicly that efforts to fire Mueller and/or pardon indicted figures will commence impeachment proceedings. Those moves would set off a constitutional crisis in which the president is using his powers to protect himself from the Justice Department. Even former senator Rick Santorum concedes that it would be “very perilous” for Trump to fire Mueller.

Right now that is a theoretical question, but given how rattled Trump seems to be we shouldn’t rule out the possibility. It is incumbent on media interviewers to ask Republicans if that is their position and if not to justify giving a green light to what would be an unprecedented scheme to protect himself from investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Key Russia probe splinters as Grassley, Feinstein set own paths

Bloomberg reports: The Senate Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan Russia probe has fractured, with Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein saying they’re each going to set their own path on the investigation.

The two senators spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday, where they agreed to pursue different issues without giving up on the original probe — into the reasons President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and Russian attempts to interfere in the election.

Feinstein of California said she doesn’t understand a push by Republicans to once again investigate Hillary Clinton’s emails or pursue a 2010 Obama-era deal by a Russian-backed company to purchase American uranium mines.

“We have kind of agreed that each side is going to do its own thing,” she said. “I think they want to do some things that we don’t want to do. And that is go into the emails, and go into the uranium thing.”

Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said Wednesday that the chairman will continue his broad focus on multiple administrations, “even if the ranking member is only willing to focus on President Trump and unwilling to examine the role of the DNC and Clinton campaign,” referring to the Democratic National Committee.

Their remarks signal a significant rupture to what has been a bipartisan probe, which kicked off in June with some fanfare. At the time, Grassley’s move appeared to indicate new trouble for Trump, with the independent-minded chairman potentially opening up new — and more public — lines of inquiry into his campaign and his administration. [Continue reading…]

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Sen. Jeff Flake: ‘Anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy’

 

Full transcript: Jeff Flake’s speech from the Senate floor.

Politico reports: Just hours after publicly trading insults with a key GOP senator, President Donald Trump kept to the script and held a “productive,” hour-long meeting with Senate Republicans, according to several senators.

Trump outlined at length his accomplishments since taking office, and then asked for Senate Republicans to help him push through a major tax-reform package. The assembled GOP senators responded to Trump’s appearance with three standing ovations.

While the “feel good” moment only papered over serious divisions in the party — both personal and policy — Senate Republicans were hopeful that it signaled a chance to cooperate with Trump on taxes, which many rank-and-file lawmakers consider critical to keeping their majorities on Capitol Hill.

Yet soon after the meeting ended, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) made a stunning announcement that he would not run for reelection, quickly diverting attention from what had been a hopeful moment for Trump and Senate Republicans. [Continue reading…]

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Clinton campaign, DNC paid for research that led to Russia dossier

The Washington Post reports: The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, people familiar with the matter said.

Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research.

After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the company in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Before that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by an unknown Republican client during the GOP primary. [Continue reading…]

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Once a ‘jackass’ and ‘idiot,’ Trump and Graham now pals

Politico reports: Once upon a time, Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump a “jackass.” Never to be outdone in the put-down department, Trump labeled the South Carolina senator a “lightweight” and an “idiot” who “seems to me not as bright as Rick Perry.”

Two years after that campaign smackdown, Trump and Graham act like longtime friends, hitting the links and plotting legislative strategy together. The two have formed a surprising kinship even as Graham’s best friend, John McCain, is chilly toward a president who once mocked his capture in Vietnam.

In a sign of the dramatic turn in their relationship, during a flight back from South Carolina last week, the president turned to the South Carolina senator and asked if he’d like to take a helicopter back to the White House with him, offering Graham a guided tour.

“How can you not like that?” Graham said in a lengthy interview. “I mean I grew up in the back of a liquor store, first in my family to go to college. I never thought I’d be on Marine One with the president.”

Graham is transforming himself from one of Trump’s fiercest critics to his chief congressional translator, talking to the president sometimes multiple times in a day. He insists Trump is “growing into the job” and becoming more somber, a far different figure than who Graham once railed against as a long-shot presidential candidate. A White House official said that Graham’s alliance with Trump “is one of the best we have on the Hill.” [Continue reading…]

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Hopes dim for congressional Russia inquiries as parties clash

The New York Times reports: In a secured room in the basement of the Capitol in July, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, fielded question after question from members of the House Intelligence Committee. Though the allotted time for the grilling had expired, he offered to stick around as long as they wanted.

But Representative Trey Gowdy, who spent nearly three years investigating Hillary Clinton’s culpability in the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, was growing frustrated after two hours. You are in an unwinnable situation, Mr. Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, counseled Mr. Kushner. If you leave now, Democrats will say you did not answer all the questions. If you stay, they will keep you here all week.

The exchange, described by three people with knowledge of it, typified the political morass that is crippling the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — and whether the Trump campaign colluded in any way.

But the problems extend beyond that panel. All three committees looking into Russian interference — one in the House, two in the Senate — have run into problems, from insufficient staffing to fights over when the committees should wrap up their investigations. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s inquiry has barely started, delayed in part by negotiations over the scope of the investigation. Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, while maintaining bipartisan comity, have sought to tamp down expectations about what they might find.

Nine months into the Trump administration, any notion that Capitol Hill would provide a comprehensive, authoritative and bipartisan accounting of the extraordinary efforts of a hostile power to disrupt American democracy appears to be dwindling. [Continue reading…]

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McCain hits Trump where it hurts, attacking ‘bone spur’ deferments in Vietnam

 

The Washington Post reports: After a week in which President Trump endured not-so-veiled criticisms from his two predecessors as president and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), McCain delivered another broadside that seems clearly aimed at Trump — in the most personal terms yet.

McCain, whose status as a war hero Trump publicly and controversially doubted as a 2016 presidential candidate, appeared to retaliate in kind against the president in a C-SPAN interview about the Vietnam War airing Sunday night. In the interview, McCain pointed to wealthy Americans who were able to get out of being drafted into service in the conflict in which he spent years as a prisoner of war. And he pointed to a very specific type of deferment which Trump just happened to use.

“One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest-income level of America, and the highest-income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur,” McCain said. “That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.” [Continue reading…]

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John Kelly and the dangerous moral calculus of working for Donald Trump

Ryan Lizza writes: Anyone in politics or government who works for Donald Trump, whether on the payroll or in some other supporting role, is forced to make a sacrifice. Working for Trump means that one’s credibility is likely to be damaged, so there is a kind of moral calculation that any Trump supporter must make: Does working for him serve some higher purpose that outweighs the price of reputational loss?

There is a hierarchy of justifications for backing Trump. At the bottom are the spokespeople and purely political officials who are almost instantly discredited, because they are forced to defend the statements of a President who routinely lies and manufactures nonsensical versions of events. Sean Spicer learned this on his first day on the job, when Trump sent him into the White House briefing room to tell the press lies about Inauguration-crowd sizes. He never recovered. But there was also no higher purpose for which Spicer could claim he was serving Trump, except that he was a political-communications official, and being the White House spokesman is the top prize in that profession.

Republicans in Congress are a little farther up the pyramid. Many privately say that they believe Trump is a disaster of a President, an embarrassment to the G.O.P., and, as Bob Corker recently said publicly, echoing what he claimed were the views of most Republican senators, setting America “on the path to World War III.” They justify their support by noting that Trump will implement the core Republican agenda, and that alone is worth the price of a person at least some of them believe is unfit to be President. They may be privately embarrassed by Trump, the agreement goes, but at least he has appointed a reliable conservative to the Supreme Court, almost repealed Obamacare (and still might), and has a decent chance at signing a big tax cut into law. How morally justifiable one believes this argument is depends a lot on how bad one believes Trump is for the country and the world, though a Third World War seems like it would be a steep price to pay for Neil Gorsuch. [Continue reading…]

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Trump campaign staffers pushed Russian propaganda from fake Twitter account days before the election

The Washington Post reports: Russian operatives used a fake Twitter account that claimed to speak for Tennessee Republicans to persuade American politicians, celebrities and journalists to share select content with their own massive lists of followers, two people familiar with the matter said.

The list of prominent people who tweeted out links from the account, @Ten_GOP, which Twitter shut down in August, includes political figures such as Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, celebrities such as Nicki Minaj and James Woods, and media personalities such as Ann Coulter and Chris Hayes.

There is no evidence that any of them knew the account was run by Russians. Independent researchers had suspected the account was Russian, and their work was confirmed Wednesday by two people familiar with the investigations into the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. [Continue reading…]

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Bannon promises ‘season of war’ against McConnell, GOP establishment

Politico reports: Steve Bannon taunted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Saturday and vowed to challenge any Senate Republican who doesn’t publicly condemn attacks on President Donald Trump.

“Yeah, Mitch, the donors are not happy. They’ve all left you. We’ve cut your oxygen off,” Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, said during a speech to religious conservatives at the Values Voter Summit in Washington.

Referencing Shakespeare, Bannon compared McConnell to Julius Caesar, adding that lawmakers are wondering who will emerge as Brutus, the character who reluctantly joins in on the assassination of Caesar for the benefit of Rome.

Bannon, now the executive chairman of Breitbart News, bashed Senate Republicans by name for not publicly distancing themselves from Sen. Bob Corker’s criticism of Trump, reserving particular animus for Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), Dean Heller (Nev.) and Deb Fischer (Neb.).

“Nobody can run and hide on this one,” he said. “These folks are coming for you. The days of taking a few nice conservative votes and hiding are over.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump mocks Bob Corker’s height, escalating feud with a key Republican

The New York Times reports: President Trump escalated his attack on Senator Bob Corker on Tuesday by ridiculing him for his height, even as advisers worried that the president was further fracturing his relationship with congressional Republicans just a week before a vote critical to his tax cutting plan.

Mr. Trump gave Mr. Corker, a two-term Republican from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a derogatory new nickname — “Liddle Bob” — after the two exchanged barbs in recent days. He suggested Mr. Corker was somehow tricked when he told a reporter from The New York Times that the president was reckless and could stumble into a nuclear war.


In labeling Mr. Corker “liddle,” the president was evidently returning to a theme. He considered Mr. Corker for secretary of state during the transition after last year’s election but was reported to have told associates that Mr. Corker, at 5-foot-7, was too short to be the nation’s top diplomat. Instead, Mr. Trump picked Rex W. Tillerson, who is several inches taller but whose own relationship with the president has deteriorated to the point that he was said to have called Mr. Trump a “moron.” [Continue reading…]

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Stephen Miller’s ascent powered by his fluency in the politics of grievance

The New York Times reports: Stephen Miller had their attention. That was reason enough to keep going.

Standing behind the microphone before a hostile amphitheater crowd, Mr. Miller — then a 16-year-old candidate for a student government post, now a 32-year-old senior policy adviser to President Trump — steered quickly into an unlikely campaign plank: ensuring that the janitorial staff was really earning its money.

“Am I the only one,” he asked, “who is sick and tired of being told to pick up my trash when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us?”

It appeared he was. Boos consumed the grounds of the left-leaning Santa Monica High School campus. Mr. Miller was forcibly escorted from the lectern, shouting inaudibly as he was tugged away.

But offstage, any anger seemed to fade instantly. Students were uncertain whether Mr. Miller had even meant the remarks sincerely. Those who encountered him afterward recalled a tranquillity, and a smile. If he had just lost the election — and he had, the math soon confirmed — he did not seem to feel like it.

“He just seemed really happy,” said Charles Gould, a classmate and friend at the time, “as if that’s how he planned it.”

In the years since, Mr. Miller has rocketed to the upper reaches of White House influence along a distinctly Trumpian arc — powered by a hyper-fluency in the politics of grievance, a gift for nationalist button-pushing after years on the Republican fringe and a long history of being underestimated by liberal forces who dismissed him as a sideshow since his youth.

Across his sun-kissed former home, the so-called People’s Republic of Santa Monica, they have come to regret this initial assessment. To the consternation of many former classmates and a bipartisan coalition of Washington lawmakers, Mr. Miller has become one of the nation’s most powerful shapers of domestic and even foreign policy. [Continue reading…]

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Bannon plans to back challengers to most GOP senators running in 2018

Bloomberg reports: Steve Bannon plans to back primary challengers to almost every Republican senator who runs for re-election next year in an effort to depose Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and streamline Senate voting procedures, three people familiar with his plans said.

Only Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is safe from the nascent political organization led by Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, the people said — because Cruz is considered conservative enough and is thought to be moving toward the more populist approach Bannon favors. Bannon has held a series of meetings to plan his moves for 2018 since late September, when he backed Roy Moore, the Alabama judge who’s been accused of bigotry, in a successful runoff election against Senator Luther Strange, who had support from Trump and McConnell.

Bannon plans to support as many as 15 Republican Senate candidates in 2018, including several challengers to incumbents, the people said. He’ll support only candidates who agree to two conditions: They will vote against McConnell as majority leader, and they will vote to end senators’ ability to block legislation by filibustering. [Continue reading…]

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Bob Corker says Trump’s recklessness threatens ‘World War III’

The New York Times reports: Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”

“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

Mr. Corker’s comments capped a remarkable day of sulfurous insults between the president and the Tennessee senator — a powerful, if lame-duck, lawmaker, whose support will be critical to the president on tax reform and the fate of the Iran nuclear deal. [Continue reading…]

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Yes, Steve Bannon should terrify you

Frank Bruni writes: Remember all the talk, before Steve Bannon was expectorated from the Trump administration, that he’d be a worse menace on the outside than on the inside?

Turns out it was true.

He popped up last week in a picture as unsettling as any image from Puerto Rico, North Korea or Las Vegas. It showed the potbellied Pygmalion beside a new protégé, Michael Grimm, who is hoping to reclaim, from a fellow Republican, the congressional seat that he had to vacate a few years back when he was convicted of felony tax fraud and sent off to the clink. Bannon apparently wants to help.

Why? Excellent question. Grimm’s botched effort to enrich himself by hiding $1 million of his restaurant-business earnings doesn’t exactly scream populism. He has as much to do with draining the swamp as Cheetos do with nutrition. [Continue reading…]

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The gun lobby owns the GOP

Politico reports: Attention is being thrust back on the gun lobby as lawmakers give gun control measures a fresh look in the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting – the deadliest in modern U.S. history. Gun rights groups overwhelmingly support GOP candidates, contributing $5.9 million into Republican campaigns in the 2016 election cycle, compared with $106,000 to those of Democrats. It’s also the most money gun lobbyists have given in a campaign year since at least 1990.

$5,900,000 given to Republicans in 2016 election cycle; $106,000 given to Democrats in 2016 election cycle

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan think tank that tracks money in politics, found that in 2016 more than half of the members of the House of Representatives — or 232 of the 435 — received money from gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America. That money went disproportionately to Republicans. Only nine Democrats received campaign contributions from these groups.

POLITICO tallied contributions to representatives in the 2016 election cycle. Some, like Ryan Zinke, no longer serve in Congress. Zinke now heads the Department of the Interior, but he received $74,000 in 2016, making him the recipient of the second-highest contributions, after Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. [Continue reading…]

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McConnell swats away talk of gun control

Politico reports: Mitch McConnell did not want to discuss gun control on Tuesday.

The Senate majority leader shut down all talk of legislative remedies to gun violence after a man killed 59 people in Las Vegas on Sunday night and injured hundreds more, mirroring the Tuesday morning remarks by his GOP counterpart in the House, Speaker Paul Ryan.

McConnell declared this is simply not the time to be talking about legislation targeting firearms.

Asked if he could support a bill banning the conversion of semi-automatic guns to automatic guns being written by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), McConnell responded: “The investigation has not even been completed. I think it’s premature to be discussing legislative solutions, if there are any.”

The GOP leader similarly parried when pressed on why Democratic efforts have failed to resonate with voters. Senate Democrats put forward a universal background checks bill in 2013 that won the support of four GOP senators but was filibustered by most other Republicans. They lost the Senate in 2014 and the effort has never regained steam. [Continue reading…]

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How Trump turned the Las Vegas massacre into an America First moment — updated

Even though Stephen Miller looks like a ventriloquist’s dummy, it’s often clear that it’s Trump who is the dummy whose lips are getting animated by Miller — no more so than when the president robotically read from his script in an unlikely performance yesterday as America’s impromptu prayer leader:

In times such as these, I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness. The answers do not come easy. But we can take solace knowing that even the darkest space can be brightened by a single light, and even the most terrible despair can be illuminated by a single ray of hope.

Melania and I are praying for every American who has been hurt, wounded or lost the ones they love so dearly in this terrible, terrible attack.

We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace. And we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear.

For some cable news anchors this might have sounded “pitch perfect” and yet that perception required overlooking not only the glaringly obvious fact that none of these were Trump’s own words, but most importantly that his speechwriter should choose to single out the American victims of Sunday’s violence.

Even though country music is a quintessentially white American cultural phenomenon, Las Vegas is an international tourist destination and believe it or not there are actually millions of non-American lovers of this musical genre.

It might turn out that every single one among the hundreds of victims and their thousands of relatives and friends are or were indeed all Americans, but that’s actually very unlikely.

So, at a moment that calls out for human sympathy, why declare we are “praying for every American”? The lives of the non-American victims are surely just as precious and just as deserving of prayer.

And yet, at a time when America could engage in some kind of moral reckoning through facing the culpability that extends through gun dealers, gun manufacturers, the NRA, the GOP, Congress, the president, and all those who value the Second Amendment more than the lives of those around them, what better way of ducking the issue than turning this into a nationalistic America First moment.

Update — CBC News reports: Four Canadians are among the 59 dead in Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

On Tuesday it was confirmed that Calla Medig and Tara Roe Smith, 34, both from Alberta, died in the attack.

Medig, who was in her 20s, was from Jasper, Alta. Roe, 34, was from Okotoks, just south of Calgary. She had been reported missing since Sunday.

Jordan McIldoon, 23, of Maple Ridge, B.C., and Jessica Klymchuk, 34, of Valleyview, Alta., were also killed when a gunman opened fire on a large crowd near the end of the outdoor festival on the Vegas Strip. Their deaths were confirmed by their families on Monday. [Continue reading…]

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