With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: President Trump and his political appointees at the Justice Department insist that the federal government’s lawsuit Monday to block AT&T from acquiring Time Warner is not retribution for CNN’s coverage of the White House. But there are good reasons to be dubious of their denials.
AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson was adamant yesterday that he won’t agree to sell CNN to placate Trump, an issue that he described as “the elephant in the room.” He said he cannot say for sure why the government sued. “But nobody should be surprised that the question keeps coming up,” he said, “because we’ve witnessed such an abrupt change in the application of antitrust law here.”
Telling the Justice Department to go to court to block a business transaction because of his personal animus toward a news organization, if proven, would constitute a clear-cut abuse of presidential power.
Stephenson said he is willing to go to court and will try to compel the DOJ to turn over internal correspondence, which might expose political interference. The company’s case would be much stronger if it could establish that the opposition of the government is the result of a desire to silence a dissenting voice.
Even if a smoking gun never emerges, though, here are seven reasons to be suspicious of the administration’s motives:
1. In every other area, the Trump administration is bending over backward to boost big business.
This lawsuit is ideologically inconsistent and discordant with the rest of their agenda. The biggest critics of the merger have been hard-left liberals who oppose the concentration of corporate power, so it’s odd to see Trump’s DOJ throw in their chips with people like Al Franken, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
At the same moment DOJ is filing suit, for example, FCC chairman Ajit Pai is moving swiftly to get rid of net neutrality rules that were put in place during the Obama administration. This would allow Verizon to deliver content from Yahoo, which it owns, faster than it delivers content from Google or to slow down Google’s services to push customers toward its own products, for example.
Getting rid of net neutrality demonstrates the administration’s lack of broad-based concern about consumer protection.
2. The head of the antitrust division has changed his view on the issue to match the president’s.
In October 2016, two days after Trump decried the AT&T-Time Warner merger at a rally, Makan Delrahim expressed the opposite view during a television interview. “I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem,” he said. “I think these folks would have an easier route toward approval” compared with other deals.
3. The administration’s denials are full of lawyerly language that leaves wiggle room.
Asked 10 days ago about reports that the DOJ told AT&T it would need to spin off CNN for the merger to go through, Trump told reporters: “I didn’t make that decision. It was made by a man who’s a very respected person, a very, very respected person. … I did make a comment as to what I think. … I do feel you should have as many news outlets as you can — especially since so many are fake.”
The head of the antitrust division who Trump was referring to, Delrahim, says he was never given instructions by the White House on how to conduct his analysis of whether the merger would be anticompetitive. “I have never been instructed by the White House on this or any other transaction under review by the antitrust division,” Delrahim said in a statement.
But one would not need to receive an explicit order from the president to cater to his preferences, and Trump admits making a comment about what he thinks.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a separate statement on Nov. 8 that Trump has not spoken with Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the proposed acquisition, “and no White House official was authorized to speak with the Department of Justice on this matter.”
Before being named assistant attorney general in charge of antitrust, Delrahim spent six months as a top lawyer inside the White House and managed Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination. Did he have conversations with Trump regarding Time Warner before he got confirmed?
4. Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not respect the independence of the Justice Department. Why would he prize the autonomy of the antitrust division any more than he did the FBI?
Think of all Trump’s criticisms of Sessions, his decision to fire James Comey as FBI director and his calls for Hillary Clinton to be investigated.
5. There are no precedents for this kind of lawsuit succeeding.
Until very recently, the $85 billion acquisition looked like a done deal because previous administrations, including Barack Obama’s, allowed vertical mergers that didn’t involve direct competitors. Comcast’s deal to buy NBC in 2011 was similar to this transaction, for example.
“The move by the Justice Department’s antitrust division is unusual because it challenges a deal that would combine two different kinds of companies — a telecom with a media and entertainment company. Antitrust officials are relatively untested in the courts on opposing such deals and have rarely tried to squash them,” explains Brian Fung, who covers tech for us. “Even beyond the politics surrounding the case, the Justice Department may not have an airtight economic argument against the AT&T-Time Warner deal, some analysts said.”
6. The president has made no secret of his deep personal disdain for CNN.
Trump said during a fundraiser for his 2020 campaign at the Trump hotel in June that the people who work at CNN are “horrible human beings.”
He tweeted this just last week:
While in the Philippines I was forced to watch @CNN, which I have not done in months, and again realized how bad, and FAKE, it is. Loser!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2017
Most notoriously, Trump shared this video depicting himself as a professional wrestler attacking a CNN stand-in:
“Deals like this destroy democracy,” he said at a rally last October when he was especially mad about CNN’s reporting.
The Wall Street Journal reported that two weeks ago that Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide, Jared Kushner, met with a top executive at CNN parent company Time Warner earlier this year and told him that 20 percent of the cable network’s staff should be fired because of their coverage of the 2016 election. The White House claimed Kushner was making a point and didn’t intend for the 20 percent number to be taken seriously, but the Journal said that it was within Time Warner.
7. White House officials have previously hinted that Trump might wade into the antitrust process.
“It’s all about CNN,” one source told the Financial Times earlier this month, explaining why the deal is facing scrutiny.
The New York Times reported this summer that White House advisers had discussed using the merger as a potential point of leverage to try manipulating the tenor of CNN’s coverage.
Politico reported in July, before Steve Bannon went back to Breitbart News, that the then-White House chief strategist was internally pushing the idea of blocking the merger.
The conservative Daily Caller cited “a source familiar with President Trump's thinking” this summer to report that “the White House does not support the pending merger between CNN’s parent company Time Warner and AT&T if Jeff Zucker remains president of CNN.”
The New York Post’s Page Six, which Trump reads, ran a thinly sourced item around this time that said AT&T would look to “neutralize” Zucker, the president of CNN, if the merger went through.
-- The editorial boards of several newspapers are expressing alarm about the motives behind the suit:
USA Today says it “smacks of politics”: “Ever since the Nixon administration secretly meddled in antitrust policy, both parties have tried to keep raw partisan politics out of it. Presidents appoint certain types of lawyers to head the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission antitrust units, then leave them alone to conduct independent reviews that follow the facts and the law. At least that was the practice until Trump became president. … None of this makes any sense outside of political vendettas. Turner Broadcasting is fairly small potatoes in terms of market power. … If the AT&T-Time Warner case goes to court, the administration is highly likely to lose, but not before wasting a lot of taxpayer and shareholder money on legal fees in the process.”
The Chicago Sun-Times frets that “Trump is behaving again like a tin-pot dictator, trying to punish a media company that has dared to cover him honestly, aggressively and accurately”: “The president has called on the Justice Department to open an investigation into bogus scandals involving … his opponent in last year’s election. As a candidate, Trump threatened Jeff Bezos, the owner of The Washington Post, with ‘such problems’ once he got elected. Just last month, Trump threatened to look into pulling NBC’s broadcasting license after the network reported that the president was contemplating a dramatic increase in the nation’s nuclear arsenal. … When Trump threatens to use the powers of government against his critics and foes, as if a federal agency were just a weapon for his personal use, he makes it tough for anybody to believe that any major policy decision by his administration is being judged on its merits.”
The Washington Post Editorial Board is calling for congressional hearings: “The acquisition may pose legitimate antitrust concerns — but Mr. Trump’s behavior raises the specter of political retaliation, which in turn increases the need for transparency … The Senate subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights should exercise its oversight responsibility and convene a hearing on the matter. If the White House exerted improper influence over the Justice Department in the interest of punishing a political enemy, the public has a right to know. If suspicions are unfounded, then a hearing will work to dispel them. The White House has put itself in a position where the nation may reasonably presume bad faith. If it wants trust, it must now earn it.”
-- The former chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush weighed in on Twitter this morning:
The entire point of the DOJ suit against the ATT -Time Warner deal is to retaliate against CNN, force sale to Rupert Murdoch. Congress must investigate now!— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) November 21, 2017
-- How the lawsuit is playing elsewhere:
Investor’s Business Daily: “AT&T Calls Out CNN Issue As DOJ Moves To Block Time Warner Deal.”
Harvard Business Review: “Why Mergers Like the AT&T-Time Warner Deal Should Go Through.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- A federal judge permanently blocked Trump’s executive order to withhold funds from sanctuary cities. Eli Rosenberg reports: “The ruling by District Judge William H. Orrick in San Francisco comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the city of San Francisco and nearby Santa Clara County, and follows a temporary halt on the order that the judge issued in April. Orrick, in his summary of the case Monday, found that the Trump administration’s efforts to move local officials to cooperate with its efforts to deport undocumented immigrants violated the separation of powers doctrine, as well as the Fifth and Tenth amendments. … In court earlier this year, the government’s lawyers had said that cities were overreacting to the order because federal officials had not yet moved to withhold funding from them.”
-- The Trump administration announced it will end immigration protections for nearly 60,000 Haitians living in the U.S. following a devastating 2010 earthquake on the island. The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles and Patricia Mazzei report: “The special deportation protection [known as TPS] will expire July 22, 2019, giving Haitians living in the U.S. under TPS an 18-month window to go back to their struggling homeland or legalize their status in the United States. At the end of the period, Haitians will return to the immigration status they previously held, leaving them facing possible detention and deportation. The announcement, while pleasing to immigration hardliners … deals a hard blow to longtime Haitian and immigration advocates.” The decision comes two weeks after DHS announced it was terminating TPS for 57,000 Hondurans, as well as 2,500 Nicaraguans.
“The entire South Florida congressional delegation supports an extension [for the Haitians], as do an army of newspaper editorial voices that grows more robust by the day,” the Orlando Sun-Sentinel’s Editorial Board writes. “Their 18-month reprieve has been extended several times because conditions on the island had barely improved. On the contrary . . . [t]he earthquake woes have been compounded by the wind and rain of Hurricane Mathew. And all of it was capped off by a cholera epidemic. Haiti is ill-equipped to deal with the everyday problems that come with being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It can’t handle the return of 50,000 countrymen looking for work, places to live, food and all the basics of life.”
-- DHS’s inspector general has concluded the administration’s botched rollout of the first travel ban led federal agents to defy court orders. Devlin Barrett and Carol D. Leonnig report: “The inspector general’s letter is particularly critical of the leadership of the Customs and Border Protection agency. ‘While CBP was compliant at U.S. ports of entry with travelers who had already arrived, CBP was very aggressive in preventing affected travelers from boarding aircraft bound for the United States, and took actions that, in our view, violated two separate court orders that enjoined them from this activity,’ Roth’s letter says. … Having bungled the rollout of the order, DHS is now trying to keep the extent of the mismanagement hidden from the public, by proposing to redact large sections of his report on the subject, the inspector general wrote.”
- Just yesterday, the DOJ asked the Supreme Court to fully implement the latest travel ban after a federal appeals court ruled earlier this month only part of the ban could take effect. (The Wall Street Journal)
GET SMART FAST:
- The Nebraska Public Service Commission approved the Keystone XL pipeline. But the panel rejected TransCanada’s preferred route for it, which could complicate its construction plans. (Steven Mufson)
- The FCC is expected to announce its intention to fully repeal the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules. The commission plans to vote on the proposal, which would be a huge win for telecom companies, in December. (Politico)
Congressional leaders from both parties increasingly fear a government shutdown over dreamers. House conservatives want to keep the DACA issue out of a year-end spending bill, but Democrats warn they won’t provide their votes (necessary to keep the government open) unless the dreamers get a reprieve. (Politico)
- U.S. and Afghan forces have launched strikes on alleged narcotics laboratories in southern Afghanistan. The strikes mark a key part of Trump’s strategy in the country — and utilize new legal authorities that enable the Pentagon to target Taliban revenue streams. (Dan Lamothe)
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated her preference for a new election after talks of forming a new coalition government collapsed. (Griff Witte)
- Janet Yellen announced her resignation from the Fed board, writing in a letter to Trump that she would resign as soon as her successor is sworn in. (Martin Crutsinger)
- The FBI is unlikely to seek a federal case over the Sutherland Springs shooter’s locked iPhone. Some FBI and DOJ officials were anxious to reignite the encryption fight following the 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., but the Texas case presents different legal challenges. (Ellen Nakashima and Devlin Barrett
- Uber inked a deal to purchase 24,000 autonomous vehicles from Volvo in one of the largest deals yet for self-driving cars. It comes as company officials predict their first robotically driven taxis will appear on streets as early as 2019. (Peter Holley)
- A new study found that the risk of stillbirth is 2.3 times greater among pregnant women who sleep on their backs during the third trimester — presenting the clearest evidence yet that sleeping conditions during pregnancy could have significant effects on the fetus. (William Wan)
- Fox News host Jeanine Pirro received a court summons for allegedly driving 119 miles per hour. “I had been driving for hours to visit my ailing 89-year-old mom and didn’t realize how fast I was driving,” Pirro said in the statement. (The New York Times)
Anthony Scaramucci has backtracked on plans to write a book about his short-lived tenure as White House communications director. “In order for publishers to be interested it would have to be a tell-all,” Scaramucci said. "Not one publisher wanted anything else. I am a team player and don't want to write a tell-all." (Business Insider)
- Jacob Thompson, a 9-year-old cancer patient whose earnest last wish for Christmas cards earned thousands of responses from around the world, has died. “Each and every person who sent Jacob a Christmas card, a gift, a Facebook message or video, or a prayer made a difference in the final days of his life,” his mother wrote on Facebook. (Lindsey Bever and Kristine Phillips)
NEWS OF MEN BEHAVING TERRIBLY KEEPS COMING:
-- CBS News said it has placed Charlie Rose on suspension, while PBS and Bloomberg have halted distribution of his show after eight women accused the veteran journalist of unwanted sexual advances — including lewd phone calls, groping and walking around naked in their presence. Irin Carmon and Amy Brittain report: “The women were employees or aspired to work for Rose at the ‘Charlie Rose’ show from the late 1990s to as recently as 2011. They ranged in age from 21 to 37 at the time of the alleged encounters. Most of the women said Rose alternated between fury and flattery in his interactions with them. Five described Rose putting his hand on their legs, sometimes their upper thigh, in what they perceived as a test to gauge their reactions. Two said that while they were working for Rose at his residences or were traveling with him on business, he emerged from the shower and walked naked in front of them. One said he groped her buttocks at a staff party[.]”
- Reah Bravo, an intern and associate producer for Rose’s PBS show beginning in 2007, described unwanted sexual advances while working for Rose at his private waterfront estate and while traveling with him. “It has taken 10 years and a fierce moment of cultural reckoning for me to understand these moments for what they were,” she told The Post. “He was a sexual predator, and I was his victim.”
- Kyle Godfrey-Ryan, one of Rose’s assistants in the mid-2000s, said he walked nude in front of her at least a dozen times while working in one of his New York City homes. He also repeatedly called the then-21-year-old late at night or early in the morning to describe his fantasies of her swimming naked as he watched. She said she told Rose’s longtime executive producer about the inappropriate calls. “She would just shrug and just say, ‘That’s just Charlie being Charlie.’”
- Another woman recounted Rose's behavior at his Bellport residence, where he repeatedly attempted to put his hand down her pants as she shoved him away and wept.
-- Rose responded to the accusations with the following statement:
-- The New York Times has suspended White House correspondent Glenn Thrush while it investigates several allegations of sexual misconduct, which were first made public by Vox.com. Ben Terris reports: “In the article, three women said Thrush had made unwanted contact or advances toward them. One of them was the story’s author, Laura McGann, who wrote that Thrush, after a night of drinking with colleagues, put his hand on her thigh and tried kissing her against her wishes. McGann wrote that she had interviewed 40 people ‘in and around media who know Thrush,’ and painted a portrait of a powerful media figure who often crossed the line with female reporters in their early 20s. ‘The alleged behavior is very concerning and not in keeping with the standards and values of The New York Times,’ Eileen Murphy, the senior vice president of communications for the Times, wrote in a statement[.] ... She added that [Thrush] has entered treatment for substance abuse.
“On Facebook, Thrush posted a statement in which he called McGann’s recollection into question, saying their encounter was ‘consensual, brief, and ended by me.’ And yet: ‘I apologize to any woman who felt uncomfortable in my presence, and for any situation where I behaved inappropriately,’ Thrush wrote. ‘Any behavior that makes a woman feel disrespected or uncomfortable is unacceptable.’”
-- A negative side effect of the allegations against Rose, Thrush and other prominent media figures is that it feeds the “fake news” narrative pushed by Trump. The Fix's Callum Borchers explains: “If they were fake in the way they presented themselves, the reasoning goes, maybe they were fake in their reporting, too. Maybe lots of reporting is fake[.] … The Thrush news broke first on Monday, and Trump boosters such as Breitbart's John Nolte and Internet activist Jack Posobiec, a regular on Infowars programming, quickly used the report to cast doubt on Thrush's work, specifically, and New York Times journalism, generally.”
-- Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the longest-serving House member, settled a $27,000 wrongful dismissal complaint from a former employee who claimed she was fired for not succumbing to his sexual advances. BuzzFeed News’s Paul McLeod and Lissandra Villa report: “Documents from the complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News include four signed affidavits, three of which are notarized, from former staff members who allege that Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sexual favors, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public. …
“[The woman] was offered a settlement, in exchange for her silence, that would be paid out of Conyers’ taxpayer-funded office budget. His office would ‘rehire’ the woman as a ‘temporary employee’ despite her being directed not to come into the office or do any actual work, according to the document. The complainant would receive a total payment of $27,111.75 over the three months, after which point she would be removed from the payroll[.]
“The documents were first provided to BuzzFeed News by Mike Cernovich . . . who propagated a number of false conspiracy theories including the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy. Cernovich said he gave the documents to BuzzFeed News for vetting and further reporting, and because he said if he published them himself, Democrats and congressional leaders would ‘try to discredit the story by attacking the messenger.’ … BuzzFeed News independently confirmed the authenticity of the documents[.]”
-- Meanwhile, a second woman came forward to accuse Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching, but the Minnesota Democrat showed no signs he will step down. Ed O’Keefe reports: “The latest accusation surfaced when Lindsay Menz, 33, of Frisco, Tex., [said] that Franken, 66, grabbed her when they posed for a photo at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair. Franken, a second-term senator, already faces a Senate ethics investigation into allegations that he inappropriately touched a fellow performer on a USO tour in 2006. Menz said she attended the fair with her husband and father and met the senator at a local radio booth sponsored by her father’s business. As her husband held up a phone to take the photo, Franken ‘pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear,’ Menz [said].”
In a statement Monday, Franken did not deny that the incident took place: “I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don’t remember taking this picture. I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected,” Franken said.
“Multiple senior Democrats on Monday said Franken is not expected to resign over the latest allegations, nor is he expected to face calls for his ouster from Democratic congressional colleagues,” O’Keefe writes. “These Democrats … said they see no reason for Franken to step down as long as he agrees to participate in an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.”
-- But the second allegation against Franken has some progressive groups drawing a line in the sand. Politico’s Elana Schor and Seung Min Kim report: “‘We believe Lindsay Menz. We believe Leeann Tweeden,’ tweeted Indivisible, the progressive advocacy group that's gained prominence challenging (Trump) this year. ‘Senator @alfranken should be held accountable and he should resign.’”
-- Abby Honold, a rape victim who was working with Franken on a piece of legislation, has asked that he no longer sponsor the bill. The New York Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jonathan Martin report: The bill “called for federal funding to train law enforcement officers in how to interview victims of sexual trauma. [Honold] said in an interview on Monday that she had asked Mr. Franken’s Minnesota colleague, Senator Amy Klobuchar, to take over his work on the measure. ‘My main focus is this bill,’ Ms. Honold said, ‘and I think if his name was on it, it would send the wrong message.’”
-- Both Franken and Trump have used their roles as entertainers to enable their alleged misconduct, writes the New York Times’s James Poniewozik. “In the photo, Mr. Franken’s hands are stretched toward Ms. Tweeden’s breasts, but he’s not looking at her. He’s looking into the camera, with a broad smile on his face. His grin is implicating. It says that the joke is between him and you, the viewer, and that Ms. Tweeden is simply the prop. … That dynamic — the performer, the enabling audience and the woman who does not realize she’s being objectified — is familiar. Specifically, it reminded me of Mr. Trump’s notorious 2005 ‘Access Hollywood’ tape.”
-- Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) also became the first member of Congress to name another (then) lawmaker for inappropriate behavior — saying on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily” that former Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) tried to “pin [her] up against the door” and kiss her before she pushed him away. “Believe you me, I never got in an elevator with him again,” she said. Remember: Filner was accused by more than 20 women of lewd conduct while he was San Diego mayor.
-- Leigh Corfman gave her first television interview after telling our colleagues that Roy Moore touched her inappropriately when she was 14 and he was 32, standing by her account. Beth Reinhard reports: Corfman “rejected his claim that he has never met her, saying Monday in her first television interview, ‘I wonder how many “me’s” he doesn’t know.’ Corfman, who is 53, was interviewed on NBC’s ‘Today’ show 11 days after her account first appeared in The Washington Post. … ‘I didn’t deserve to have a 32-year-old man prey upon me,’ Corfman said … Some Moore supporters have suggested the women were paid to make up stories about Moore, which Corfman denied. ‘If anything this has cost me,’ she said in the television interview. ‘I’ve had to take leave from my job. I have no tickets to Tahiti and my bank account has not flourished.’”
-- Moore is eschewing media coverage in the final weeks of the campaign, as Democrat Doug Jones works to mobilize voters. Politico’s Daniel Strauss reports: “Jones has refrained from weighing in often about the Moore accusations since the first story broke, when his campaign issued a one-sentence statement calling on Moore to ‘answer these serious charges.’ He has said he’s content to focus on the issues and allow others to question Moore. But the Democrat has also aired hundreds of TV ads per day in the past week featuring Republican voters saying they can’t back Moore and urging support for Jones[.]”
-- Trump allies like Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway convinced the president to keep quiet about the Moore accusations. The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng report: “Multiple sources in and out of the West Wing say that some of Trump’s closest advisers have recommended that he not criticize Moore publicly prior to the election in November. … The advice President Trump received simply reinforced his own preferences with respect to the race. Trump hasn’t been eager to publicly weigh in on Moore, in part due to the fact that doing so would immediately open him up to questions about the onrush of sexual harassment and assault allegations he faced shortly before his own election.” When Conway was asked yesterday whether Alabama voters should cast their ballots for Moore, she replied, “I’m telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.”
-- How it’s playing locally: “Don't believe Roy Moore's accusers? Then listen to Moore,” by the Birmingham News's Kyle Whitmire: “First, read his book. In it, Moore describes how he met his wife at a Christmas party hosted by friends. He would have been 37. She was 23. ‘Many years before, I had attended a dance recital at Gadsden State Junior College,’ Moore wrote. ‘I remembered one of the special dances performed by a young woman whose first and last names began with the letter 'K.' It was something I had never forgotten. Could that young woman have been Kayla Kisor?’ Moore later determined that it was. …
“Take a second to think about what's being said here. Moore first took notice of Kayla at a dance recital? Perhaps you're wondering what ‘many years’ means, and I wondered that too. Luckily, Moore again has cleared that up for us. … ‘It was, oh gosh, eight years later, or something, I met her,’ Moore said. … It's a simple matter of subtraction. When Roy Moore first took notice of Kayla she would have been as young as 15. There's a little fuzziness, to be sure, in the timeline. … So maybe she was 15, or maybe she was 16. But still, here is a grown man at about 30 years old attending a girls' dance recital, and doing what exactly?”
SOME UNHELPFUL HEADLINES FOR GOP TAX PUSH:
-- The House tax plan would fall $1.3 trillion short of paying for itself over the next decade, according to a newly released study from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Damian Paletta reports: “The [TPC] is the third outside group to conclude that the bill would add to the deficit, contradicting Republicans’ claim that the bill would effectively pay for itself via a surge in economic growth. [They] found that the economic growth the bill would create would add $169 billion in additional tax revenue over the next decade. But that would be far outweighed by $1.436 trillion in revenue losses over the decade due to the bill’s tax cuts, leaving the bill with a net addition to the deficit of $1.266 trillion. The [report] found that the House Republican tax-cut package would add 0.6 percent to U.S. gross domestic product in 2018 but just 0.3 percent in 2027.
-- Here's why GOP Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), opposes the plan, and why it could still face a big problem in the House with other moderate Republicans: “For taxpayers in our district, being able to deduct their state and local income taxes from their federal return is the first line of defense against the tax increase factory the Democrats have built in Sacramento. … For Americans with leaders in their state Capitol less greedy than our own, eliminating the deduction makes little difference. But for us, eliminating the ability of Californians to deduct their hefty state and local taxes significantly compounds the substantial burdens already imposed on the taxpayers by our state.”
-- Meanwhile, the Senate bill remains tied up over competing interests from Republicans. The New York Times’s Thomas Kaplan reports: “Lawmakers face a challenge in navigating those competing priorities without rankling other members or running afoul of budget rules. For instance, dropping the repeal of the individual mandate from the bill would mollify the concerns of some but could alienate others who wish to see it included, while also upending the delicate fiscal math behind the Republican plan. … The concerns expressed by Republican senators are hardly monolithic, and [Mitch] McConnell will have to walk a delicate line to resolve the issues without setting off additional objections from other lawmakers.”
-- National security adviser H.R. McMaster reportedly mocked Trump’s intelligence during a private dinner with the CEO of Oracle, saying the president has the intelligence of a “kindergartner,” according to BuzzFeed News’s Joseph Bernstein: “Over a July dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz — who has been mentioned as a candidate for several potential administration jobs — McMaster bluntly trashed his boss, said the sources, four of whom [said] they heard about the exchange directly from Catz. [McMaster] dismissed the president variously as an ‘idiot’ and a ‘dope’ with the intelligence of a ‘kindergartner’ … A sixth source who was not familiar with the details of the dinner [said] McMaster had made similarly derogatory comments about Trump’s intelligence to him in private, including that the president lacked the necessary brainpower to understand the matters before the National Security Council.”
-- Internal State Department documents show that several current officials are accusing Rex Tillerson of breaking a law meant to deter international recruitment of child soldiers. Reuters’s Jason Szep and Matt Spetalnick report: “A confidential State Department ‘dissent’ memo not previously reported said Tillerson breached the Child Soldiers Prevention Act when he decided in June to exclude Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a U.S. list of offenders in the use of child soldiers. This was despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were being conscripted in those countries. Keeping the countries off the annual list makes it easier to provide them with U.S. military assistance.”
-- The DOJ is investigating Harvard’s use of race in admissions decisions. The Wall Street Journal’s Melissa Korn and Nicole Hong report: “The Justice Department is investigating complaints that formed the basis of a federal civil lawsuit filed in 2014 in Boston, according to [obtained] documents. That suit alleges Harvard intentionally discriminates against Asian-Americans by limiting the number of Asian students who are admitted. … The Justice Department, whose Civil Rights Division is conducting the investigation into similar allegations, said in a letter to Harvard’s lawyers, dated Nov. 17 and reviewed by the Journal, that the school was being investigated under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[.]”
-- Newly released documents reveal that Lolita Zinke, who is married to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, caused headaches for department staff with her frequent travels accompanying her husband. Juliet Eilperin reports: In May, “Interior staffers scrambled to overhaul travel logistics on a trip in Alaska after they learned Lolita Zinke wanted to attend a dinner with the state’s governor, Bill Walker (I), rather than return to Washington as planned. ‘I have heard that Mrs. Zinke was now maybe not going to fly out from Fairbanks Sunday morning . . . so, I asked Annie if she happened to talk to Mrs. Zinke about her plans,’ Russell Roddy, who directs scheduling and advance for the department, wrote to several colleagues in a May 27 email. ‘She said Mrs. Zinke said she was now going to head to Byers Lake and Anchorage with RKZ and fly out of Anchorage on Tuesday. UGH! We have all kinds of planes, trains and automobiles manifests to now scramble with.’”
-- One of Trump’s golf courses paid back his charitable foundation for money used to settle a lawsuit, in what one former IRS official called “an effort to get the house in order, so to speak, before shutting down.” David A. Fahrenthold reports: “The March 2017 payment came after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, launched an investigation into how the Donald J. Trump Foundation collects and disburses funds. The inquiry is ongoing. … The charity confirmed in its new filing what Trump said last December — that he plans to shut down the foundation once the attorney general’s probe is complete. … The reimbursement by Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, N.Y., was detailed in the foundation’s 2016 tax filing, which was released Monday by the nonprofit-tracking site GuideStar.”
-- LaVar Ball appeared on CNN to address his perceived lack of gratitude for Trump helping to get Ball’s son and two other UCLA players out of a Chinese jail. Kyle Swenson reports: “The result: one of the testiest — and weirdest — prime-time spots in recent times. ‘It wasn’t like he was in the U.S. and said, “Okay, there’s three kids in China, I need to go over there and get them,”’ Ball told [CNN’s Chris] Cuomo. ‘That wasn’t the thought process.’ … ‘I don’t have to go around saying thank you to everybody,’ Ball said. ‘He didn’t call me, I didn’t shake his hand. Maybe we was doing some talking with some other people.’ Throughout the interview Ball insisted Trump was overstating his role in freeing [Ball’s son] LiAngelo and the two other American players, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley.”
-- “[R]ather than embrace professional athletes as a way to broaden his political appeal, Trump has used them as a constant foil for his presidency — fuel for stoking the culture wars and serving as sometimes unwitting antagonists in his personal feuds,” writes David Nakamura. “Trump’s eagerness to mix it up in the ring has perplexed presidential historians and aides to former presidents who said that while his pugnacious attitude toward athletes matches the rest of his political persona, Trump is needlessly creating political controversy in one of the few areas where his predecessors saw bipartisan opportunity. It was Reagan, after all, who launched the tradition of inviting championship teams to the White House for a photo op in the East Room or on the South Lawn — and some hokey jokes from the fan in chief.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Trump announced he has redesignated North Korea as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” reversing a nearly decade-old decision in an attempt to further isolate the rogue regime and ramp up the pressure on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. David Nakamura reports: “Trump vowed that Pyongyang will face further sanctions in the near future that will amount to the ‘highest level of sanctions by the time it’s finished.’ … The North spent 20 years on that list before being removed in 2008 by the Bush administration for meeting nuclear inspection requirements, [which it later violated]. Trump made his decision public during a brief photo op at a Cabinet meeting, calling it ‘a very critical step’ that ‘should've happened a long time ago.’”
-- North Korea’s latest criticism of Trump calls him “an old lunatic, mean trickster and human reject” following his speech in South Korea earlier this month. Anna Fifield reports: “This is not North Korea’s first commentary on Trump’s 12-day trip through the region. It had already denounced him for traveling around Asia ‘like a hungry wolf’ who was trying to enrich the American defense industry ‘by milking the moneybags from its subordinate “allies.”’ But it is North Korea’s most hyperbolic tirade to date. Trump’s ‘reckless remarks’ during his visits to Japan, South Korea and China were ‘an open declaration of war,’ the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party, said in a commentary published Tuesday.”
-- Sudarsan Raghavan reports that the area in Niger where four U.S. troops were killed was a well-known hub for Islamist extremists: “Residents, Nigerien officials and analysts say it is clear that the U.S.-Niger team was operating in an area where many villagers sympathize with the militants or are forced to assist them. It is not clear how aware the soldiers were of the threat. For U.S. troops supporting Niger’s military, that bond between the villagers and the fighters may prove difficult to break.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The New York Daily News seized on the accusations against Charlie Rose:
Liberal commentator Sally Kohn called for Al Franken's resignation:
Time for Al Franken to go.— Sally Kohn (@sallykohn) November 20, 2017
Wrong is wrong. And the Democrats need to show they strongly AND CONSISTENTLY stand for women’s rights.
Payouts reportedly made by Congress to cover behavior by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) drew raised eyebrows from the D.C. press corps. From a congressional NPR reporter:
I remember the 2010 story when Conyers was photographed reading a Playboy on a flight home. The casual arrogance of it amazed me then, as it does still.— Susan Davis (@DaviSusan) November 21, 2017
From a CNN reporter:
That means the $17 million in settlements over the last 20 years is likely just scratching the surface. And think about all the complaints that never get to settlement stage... 2/2— Juana Summers Markland (@jmsummers) November 21, 2017
From one of The Post's Capitol Hill reporters:
If Dems win the House, John Conyers would be the Judiciary Committee chairman possibly overseeing impeachment proceedings. https://t.co/v3fALLYbXD— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) November 21, 2017
A New York Times columnist got some serious blowback for his comment about what men know:
I am at the point where i seriously, sincerely wonder how all women don't regard all men as monsters to be constantly feared. the real world turns out to be a legit horror movie that I inhabited and knew nothing about.— Farhad Manjoo (feat. Drake) (@fmanjoo) November 20, 2017
From a Post reporter:
Surprise! The answer is that we do, and we must, regard all men as potential monsters to be feared. That's why we cross to the other side of the street at night, and why we sometimes obey when men say "Smile, honey!" We are always aware the alternative could be death. https://t.co/hvgT7c5GBa— Monica Hesse (@MonicaHesse) November 20, 2017
From a HuffPost reporter:
I appreciate that men are posting that they realize now the world is scary for women, and thank you for realizing, but dude, we’ve told you 10000 times. You should have realized before.— Elise Foley (@elisefoley) November 20, 2017
From CNN commentator and former Clinton White House aide Keith Boykin:
Anthony Weiner is in prison. Bill Clinton was impeached. Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey & Mark Halperin were fired. Al Franken and Charlie Rose apologized. Glenn Thrush was suspended. Louis C.K. was canceled. When will Donald Trump be held accountable?— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) November 20, 2017
From a national correspondent for Time:
Prediction: So many stories are going to come out over the next few weeks that it will get to a point where none of it sticks. If everyone's a pervert, then nobody is.— Charlotte Alter (@CharlotteAlter) November 21, 2017
(and that's how Moore will win)
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) responded to the Trump administration’s decision to suspend deportation protections for Haitian immigrants:
There is no reason to send 60,000 Haitians back to a country that cannot provide for them. This decision today by DHS is unconscionable. And I am strongly urging the administration to reconsider. Ultimately, we need a permanent legislative solution. https://t.co/Ft0bE0itf6— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) November 21, 2017
Sarah Huckabee Sanders requested that reporters give thanks at the White House briefing:
.@PressSec asks WH reporters to precede their questions at briefing today to say what they're thankful for. Reporters play along. Aww....— Paul Farhi (@farhip) November 20, 2017
Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol is indeed thankful:
I’m thankful for Bob Mueller. https://t.co/tQjGKiRCYu— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) November 20, 2017
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) responded to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s claim that he “should take [it] as a compliment” that he was compared to a James Bond villain:
And Barack Obama wished Joe Biden a happy birthday:
ME: Joe, about halfway through the speech, I’m gonna wish you a happy birth--— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) November 20, 2017
BIDEN: IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!
Happy birthday to @JoeBiden, my brother and the best vice president anybody could have. pic.twitter.com/sKbXjNiEjH
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The New Yorker, “The Astonishing Rise of Angela Merkel,” by George Packer: “Among German leaders, Merkel is a triple anomaly: a woman (divorced, remarried, no children), a scientist (quantum chemistry), and an Ossi (a product of East Germany). … Trained to see the invisible world in terms of particles and waves, Merkel learned to approach problems methodically, drawing comparisons, running scenarios, weighing risks, anticipating reactions, and then, even after making a decision, letting it sit for a while before acting. She once told a story from her childhood of standing on a diving board for the full hour of a swimming lesson until, at the bell, she finally jumped. [These] qualities, though making her an outsider in German politics, also helped to propel her extraordinary rise. … ‘There are some who say what should not be can’t really exist — that a woman from East Germany, who doesn’t have the typical [politician qualities] … shouldn’t be in this position,’ [said one resident]. ‘They don’t want to say she’s just a very good politician.’”
-- GQ, “The Bizarre True Story of the Neighborhood Scuffle That Left Rand Paul with Six Broken Ribs,” by Ben Schreckinger: “[T]o many people in Bowling Green, there's nothing about this that smacks of politics. From the locals who know both men well, a portrait emerges of something much more personal and petty: a clash between a big-deal politician, living in a small town and rarely realizing the ways in which he rubs people the wrong way, and his neighbor, a proud, fiery, and meticulous former doctor. In other words, something far less Sumner-Brooks than Hatfield-McCoy.”
-- The Atlantic, “The Nationalist's Delusion,” by Adam Serwer: “During the final few weeks of the campaign, I asked dozens of Trump supporters about their candidate’s remarks regarding Muslims and people of color. I wanted to understand how these average Republicans — those who would never read the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer or go to a Klan rally at a Confederate statue—had nevertheless embraced someone who demonized religious and ethnic minorities. What I found was that Trump embodied his supporters’ most profound beliefs — combining an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked. It was not just Trump’s supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who … searched desperately for any alternative explanation — outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety — to the one staring them in the face.”
-- GQ, “James Clapper on Donald Trump, Russia, and the First Line of His Obituary,” by Mattathias Schwartz: “James Clapper met Donald Trump for the first time on the morning of January 6, in a conference room at Trump Tower. Despite [their] differences, the two men seemed to hit it off. There was no hint of how Trump would behave over the months that followed, diminishing both his office and his country to the point that Clapper would do something drastic, something that he never believed he would do — condemn a sitting president. ‘I've been a political appointee in both Democratic and Republican administrations,’ [Clapper says now], his voice a phlegmy rumble. ‘Support the commander in chief. That was the first order of business. But this one, you know …’ He reached for his coffee, leaned back, took a sip. ‘It's hard. This is a unique situation. We've never had a president like this before.’”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Mexican Bride Marries American Groom During Rare Opening Of Border Gate,” from HuffPost: “A heavy metal gate at the U.S.–Mexican border temporarily became a bridge Saturday when a Mexican woman married her American fiancé. The gate, known as the ‘Door of Hope,’ is inside Friendship Park, a small strip of land on the border near San Diego and Tijuana where families from both countries can chat with each other through the fence’s heavy screen[.] … Since 2013, the metal gate has been opened six times, allowing for families to hug each other and, for Evelia Reyes and Brian Houston, get married and have their first kiss as a couple. Reyes and Houston were one of 12 families selected for the rare gate opening by Border Angels, a San Diego–based nonprofit that advocates for migrant rights[.]" They had just three minutes to complete the ceremony.
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“Country singer releases 'Take a Knee, My [Expletive]’ to counter NFL national anthem protests,” from the Washington Examiner: “Country music singer Neal McCoy takes a jab at former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others who protested the national anthem by taking a knee in his newest single he debuted last week. The song, ‘Take a Knee, My [Expletive] (I Won’t Take a Knee),’ was performed in front of a small audience on Oct. 8th and shared online as a Facebook Live video, which has since gone viral. ‘When I see someone on TV take their stand by bending their knee, whether it be on astro turf or grass,’ the lyrics say. ‘I think of those whose freedom was not free, and I say: ‘Take a knee – my [expletive]!’ The song, which McCoy notes was written by a friend of his, cites the armed forces as a reason why he proudly stands for the national anthem. McCoy is also well-known for posting hundreds of videos of himself reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on social media.”
Trump and the first lady will participate in the Turkey Pardoning Ceremony for Thanksgiving before traveling to Mar-a-Lago for the holiday.
Pence has a phone call with the vice president of the European Union.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) backed political maneuvering to get a new GOP candidate in the Alabama race: “We’re about to give away a seat that can determine the future of Trump’s agenda,” Graham said in a radio interview. “And I hope the good people of Alabama on the Republican side will try to find a way to pick a nominee that can represent the conservative cause in an effective way.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- D.C. will see some warmer weather today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Mostly sunny skies with temperatures advancing more strongly to the upper 50s to low 60s by afternoon. Calm to light winds in the morning pick up to breezy or even occasionally gusty levels by afternoon.”
-- The Wizards beat the Bucks 99-88. (Candace Buckner)
-- The Capitals lost to the Flames 4-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)
-- Virginia’s Board of Elections declined to certify two extremely close House races that could determine control of the lower legislative chamber. Laura Vozzella reports: “The board called a ‘time out’ after state Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortés announced that in April 2016, Fredericksburg registrar Juanita Pitchford erroneously assigned 83 voters from the 28th House District to the 88th. It was not clear how many of the 83 voters actually cast ballots on Nov. 7, but the 28th District race is tight. Republican Robert Thomas leads Democrat Joshua Cole by 82 votes in the contest to fill the seat held by retiring Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). … Monday was the state deadline to certify the election under state law, but the code allows the board up to three more days if it is ‘unable to ascertain the results.’”
-- A group of faith leaders and scholars reported their initial impressions of the new Museum of the Bible. (Michelle Boorstein)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Stephen Colbert to discuss the mounting sexual harassment allegations on Capitol Hill:
Seth Meyers criticized Kellyanne Conway for her defense of Roy Moore:
The Post reviewed Trump's many statements on whether he plans to investigate Hillary Clinton:
Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) sat down for a conversation to promote civil discourse in honor of Thanksgiving family dinners:
(Read Mike DeBonis’s write-up on the initiative, led by the Faith and Politics Institute and the National Institute for Civil Discourse.)
A Heritage Foundation fellow pointed to Doug Jones’s position on abortion to argue that, between him and Roy Moore, “there’s no moral high ground here”:
This guy compared Doug Jones’ position on abortion to Roy Moore molesting children. Yes, you read that correctly. pic.twitter.com/2fbXRIZd1Z— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) November 21, 2017
And an Atlanta bus blocked the Weather Channel’s camera shot of the Georgia Dome being demolished, a moment that immediately went viral: