October 11, 2017
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At the July 20 meeting in the Pentagon that reportedly prompted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to call President Trump a "moron," Trump told the assembled military and national security leaders that he wanted "what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal," NBC News reported Wednesday, citing "three officials who were in the room." Trump had apparently just been shown a slide charting the decline in the number of America's nuclear weapons since the late 1960s, from about 32,000 nukes to some 4,000 warheads today, and Trump reportedly said he wanted to return to the number America had at its peak.

Tillerson and Trump's other advisers were "surprised" and other officials "rattled by the president's desire for more nuclear weapons and his understanding of other national security issues from the Korean peninsula to Iraq and Afghanistan," NBC News reports, and "officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the build-up." No such buildup is planned, NBC News says, but "officials said they are working to address the president's concerns within the Nuclear Posture Review."

On Tuesday, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster warned national security officials they should "realize that speaking to the media about government deliberations is treasonous when it involves national security." As for the leak about the July 20 meeting, "it's unclear which portion of the Pentagon briefing prompted Tillerson to call the president a 'moron' after the meeting broke up and some advisers were gathered around," NBC News says. "Officials who attended the two-hour session said it included a number of tense exchanges." You can read more at NBC News. Peter Weber

September 13, 2017
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After falsely claiming that 3-5 million people voted illegally for his opponent in the 2016 election, President Trump announced his intention in late January to set up a commission to investigate voter fraud, a decision he formalized with an executive order in May. On Feb. 22, a Heritage Foundation employee wrote an email to Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying he'd heard the "disturbing" news that the commission's chairman, Vice President Mike Pence, planned to make the panel bipartisan and urged that only like-minded conservatives be appointed, according to a copy of the email obtained by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC) through a freedom-of-information request.

The Justice Department redacted the name of the Heritage Foundation's self-proclaimed vote-fraud expert, but the conservative think tank effectively confirmed to Gizmodo that the author was Hans von Spakovsky, who was later appointed to the commission and is identified by the CLC as "widely considered the architect of the voter fraud myth." At the commission's second public meeting on Tuesday, before Heritage confirmed that Spakovsky wrote the email, Pro Publica's Jessica Huseman asked him "point blank" if he'd "authored this document, he said no." She posted audio of the exchange.

In the email, the Heritage Foundation employee presumed to be Spakovsky argued to Sessions that "there isn't a single Democratic official that will do anything other than obstruct any investigation of voter fraud" and claim that the commission "is engaged in voter suppression," and that "mainstream Republican officials and/or academics" would also make the commission "an abject failure." The author also complained that none of the "real experts on the conservative side" had been appointed "other than Kris Kobach," the committee's vice chairman, Kansas secretary of state, and Breitbart News columnist.

Pence and Kobach eventually appointed seven Republicans and five Democrats to the commission, though one Democrat resigned. But the CLC said that the email adds "to the mounting evidence that the commission has no interest in true bipartisanship or an open discussion of how to solve the real problems in our elections." CLC president Trevor Potter, a former GOP chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said that Kobach's "farcical meetings" continue "to validate the worst suspicions about the commission: that it is designed to shrink the electorate for partisan advantage." He suggested they focus on "a true issue of election integrity" like Russians buying political ads on Facebook.

UPDATE: Spakovsky said in a statement that the email was sent to "private individuals who were not in the administration" and "was unaware that it had been forwarded" to Sessions. He added that he now believes the commission is "committed to uncovering the truth about election integrity and the other issues present in our election system." Peter Weber

August 10, 2017

So, Hillary Clinton got more than 2.8 million more votes than President Trump in the 2016 election (yes, California's votes count), and there is zero evidence of any significant amount of voter fraud, despite Trump's false claims about millions of illegal Clinton voters and the staunch numerical agnosticism of the voter-fraud commission he ordered into being. Still, a new survey from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Yeshiva University found that 47 percent of Republicans said they believe Trump won the popular vote, 68 percent believe that millions of illegal immigrants voted in 2016, and 73 percent said voter fraud happens somewhat or very often.

"This is similar to previous polls," the researchers, Ariel Malka and Yphtach Lelkes, write in The Washington Post. But they took this a step further, asking respondents: "If Donald Trump were to say that the 2020 presidential election should be postponed until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote, would you support or oppose postponing the election?" Then they asked the same question with the addition that Trump and Republicans in Congress proposed postponing the election together. More than half of Republicans, 52 percent, supported postponing the vote, and 56 said the same thing if the GOP offered the proposal alongside Trump.

This was just a hypothetical question, Malka and Lelkes noted, but "we do not believe that these findings can be dismissed out of hand." They explain:

At a minimum, they show that a substantial number of Republicans are amenable to violations of democratic norms that are more flagrant than what is typically proposed (or studied). And although the ensuing chaos could turn more Republicans against this kind of proposal, it is also conceivable that a high-stakes and polarized debate would do the exact opposite. [The Washington Post]

Hopefully, this particular hypothetical will never be tested. Certainly, it reveals some anxiety about Trump's electoral chances, as well as Republican faith in the integrity of state-run elections. But if you are one of the majority of voters who picked someone else in the 2016 election and are alarmed at Trump's job performance, you might understand the devilish allure of saying yes to postponing an election. Malka and Lelkes surveyed 1,325 Americans, including 650 self-identified Republicans, from June 5-20. Their sample was weighted to match the general population. You can read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

July 5, 2017

For the 29th year in a row on Tuesday, NPR hosts, reporters, and commentators read the Declaration of Independence aloud to celebrate the Fourth of July. NPR also tweeted out the founding document, signed 241 years earlier, because not everyone listens to public radio. Some of those people, probably unaware of NPR's July 4 tradition, took some of the tweeted lines the wrong way, presumably mistaking the 1776 resistance against King George III for the "Resistance" opposed to President Trump's policies and agenda.

Others found the whole idea of reading the Declaration of Independence unbalanced, for unexplained reasons. Some of the commenters, when informed of their mistake, gamely took this as a learning experience.

And perhaps one of the lessons from the social media debacle is a reminder of just what a revolutionary declaration Thomas Jefferson wrote and delegates to the Continental Congress risked their lives to sign. Or you could take away the same conclusion Axios' David Nather reached when the Indiana GOP tried to solicit "horror stories" about ObamaCare, and it backfired: "The outcome was predictable, given how the internet works — you're never, ever just reaching like-minded people." Either way, you can read more awkward responses to NPR's attempt at civic engagement at BuzzFeed and HuffPost. Peter Weber

June 15, 2017
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Late Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued an unusual statement on anonymous sources, warning Americans to "exercise caution" when reading the news.

People need to think before "accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous 'officials,' particularly when they do not identify the country — let alone the branch or agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated," Rosenstein said. "Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations."

David Cay Johnston, a columnist and author of The Making of Donald Trump, tweeted that The New York Times and The Washington Post both check their stories that use unnamed sources with the Justice Department before they run, and Rosenstein's "bizarre" statement "makes sense if he's channeling/speaking for Trump." Others are wondering if this statement portends a bombshell story coming in the next few days. Catherine Garcia

June 14, 2017

We know that Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday made Sessions nervous, because he told us so.

Some people noticed the exchange, and found it strange, including Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

Luckily for Sessions, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) stepped in to save him from Harris and her nerve-racking questions, as she was trying to get the attorney general to explain why he was not answering questions from her and other senators. Harris, a former California attorney general and prosecutor, was the only senator interrupted by a colleague during the hearing, as some people noticed, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who did his own grilling of Sessions on Tuesday.

And, interestingly enough, Harris was also interrupted by a GOP colleague a week earlier, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as the witness.

Maybe Harris is interrupted by her peers because she insists on getting a yes or no answer from loquacious witnesses, or because she asks questions too rapidly, or too incisively, or too forcefully. Former Trump campaign communications adviser Jason Miller had his own theory, suggesting on CNN that the junior senator from California was being "hysterical" during her questioning. Kirsten Powers did not buy that explanation.

Thanks to the magic of video, you can watch the entire exchange and decide for yourself. Peter Weber

April 21, 2017
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President Trump met with former Colombian Presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana at Mar-a-Lago last weekend, an undisclosed meeting that Colombian media says was arranged by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Rubio, Uribe, and Pastrana are all prominent critics of the peace deal Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos negotiated with the FARC guerrilla group. Next month, Santos is meeting with Trump in Washington, and he will urge Trump to support the peace deal, which won Santos the Nobel Peace Prize, by maintaining the $450 million in foreign aid that former President Barack Obama pledged to implement the agreement, McClatchy reports.

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to confirm that the meeting had taken place. On Thursday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told McClatchy that Trump had "briefly said hello when the presidents walked past them," saying the two presidents happened to be visiting Trump's private club with an unidentified member. "There wasn't anything beyond a quick hello," she said.

On Twitter, meanwhile, Pastrana thanked Trump for the "cordial and very frank conversation about problems and perspectives in Colombia and the region," and Uribe ally and former vice president Francisco Santos told McClatchy that the former presidents had raised concerns with Trump about the turmoil in Colombia and Venezuela, and the FARC peace deal, in a short but direct meeting.

Colombian analysts focused on the damage to the peace process if Trump pulled funding or publicly opposed the peace plan, while in the U.S. observers were more concerned about the ease with which well-connected foreign leaders can meet with the president to press their case, without any public record. Mar-a-Lago's membership rolls are not public, the media is kept at arm's length when Trump is down there, and the club has no visitor log. You can read more about the meeting and the Colombian politics at The Miami Herald. Peter Weber

March 15, 2017

It turns out Sean Hannity isn't the only person at Fox News who has a bone to pick with newspapers. On Tuesday's Fox & Friends First, host Heather Childers had a brief segment on the pressing topic of newspaper apparel — or, as Childers put it: "Media bias on full display: Newspapers now cashing in on T-shirts splashed with anti–President Trump rhetoric." That rhetoric is: "Journalism Matters," from the Los Angeles Times; "Speaking Truth to Power Since 1847," from the Chicago Tribune; and "Democracy Dies in Darkness," from The Washington Post.

You can draw your own inference about what that says about Fox News and/or Trump. Peter Weber

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