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Why Trump's legal team would leak Cohen playmate hush money tape

Why Trump's legal team would leak Cohen playmate hush money tape

07/20/18 09:04PM

Rachel Maddow shares breaking news from Vanity Fair that the audio recording of Donald Trump talking with Michael Cohen about payments to Playboy model Karen McDougal, as reported by the New York Times, was designated as privileged by the special master in the case. News of the tape appears to have come from the Trump legal team. Rachel Maddow... watch

Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., speaks during the House Democrats' news conference at the Capitol on Thursday, April 14, 2016.

Hacked Rep. Ashford: 'Why Was There No Call to Action' from DCCC?

07/20/18 08:26PM

Former Democratic Congressman Brad Ashford (D-Neb.) is now raising questions about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s response to the Russian hacking of his campaign. In conversations with The Rachel Maddow Show, Ashford questioned the DCCC's strategy in the first known case of a congressional candidate informed of compromised campaign material.

Last Friday's indictment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office of 12 Russian nationals for hacking into national Democrats' campaign operations, including the DCCC and DNC, identified a candidate for U.S. Congress asking the Russian hackers known as Guccifer 2.0 for information from their unauthorized access to DCCC files. Ashford shortly thereafter released a statement on Facebook where he "reveal[ed] that my #Ne02 Congressional emails were hacked by Russian agents in 2016."

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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.20.18

07/20/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Ohio State: "More than 100 former Ohio State University students have reported being victims of sexual misconduct by a former school physician over two decades ago, a university spokesman said Friday."

* Israel: "The conflict between Israel and Hamas escalated in Gaza on Friday after a Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier along the border fence and Israel responded with what its military described as 'a wide-scale attack' against Hamas military targets."

* GOP senators caved to the White House (again): "Republicans have agreed to water down legislation designed to punish Chinese telecom company ZTE, delivering a victory to President Donald Trump, according to a person close to negotiations in Congress."

* Trade war: "President Donald Trump has indicated that he is willing to slap tariffs on every Chinese good imported to the U.S. should the need arise. 'I'm ready to go to 500,' the president told CNBC's Joe Kernen in a 'Squawk Box' interview aired Friday."

* Rod Rosenstein's announcement from late yesterday: "The Justice Department plans to alert the public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy under a new policy designed to counter hacking and disinformation campaigns such as the one Russia undertook in 2016 to disrupt the presidential election."

* Bill Shine, Donald Trump's new White House communications chief, was subpoenaed last year "by a federal grand jury in New York as part of a criminal investigation into Fox News's handling of sexual harassment complaints, according to a document viewed by The New York Times."

* "Expedited" doesn't sound encouraging: "The Interior Department has commissioned an expedited environmental review of the impact of leasing part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling, according to a document released under the Freedom of Information Act."

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

McConnell's Supreme Court ultimatum may not be as scary as he thinks

07/20/18 03:41PM

As things stand, Senate Democrats continue to make expansive requests for documents from Judge Brett Kavanaugh's background before his Supreme Court nomination can continue, and Senate Republicans continue to complain that Dems are being unreasonable.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) thinks he has the upper hand: Politico  reports that the GOP leader's latest plan is to tell Democrats he'll push the confirmation vote until the fall unless they back off their document requests.

Delaying the vote past September would serve a dual purpose for McConnell, keeping vulnerable red-state Democrats off the campaign trail while potentially forcing anti-Kavanaugh liberals to swallow a demoralizing defeat just ahead of the midterms. Senators said McConnell believes the Democratic base will be "deflated" if they raise hopes of defeating Kavanaugh only to lose just days before the election. [...]

"We're witnessing historic obstructionism here," Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said of Democratic resistance to Trump's judicial picks....

For now, let's put aside the question of why Senate Republicans are so concerned about limiting transparency on Kavanaugh's background. Let's also look past the fact that Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) shouldn't make silly complaints about "historic obstructionism" after what he and his colleagues did to Merrick Garland two years ago.

Instead, let's consider the strategy on its merits, because at face value, there's some logic to what McConnell is saying. The Senate is rarely in session in October of an election year because incumbents up for re-election want to be in their home states campaigning. With so many red-state Democratic incumbents facing tough races this fall, it's likely they'd rather be on the trail than on Capitol Hill.

Republicans are also under the impression that if Kavanaugh ends up being confirmed anyway, it would have a demoralizing effect on Democratic morale right before Election Day.

But there's a flipside to this.

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Image: FBI Investigates Trump's attorney Michael Cohen

Cohen recorded chat with Trump about possible pre-election payoff

07/20/18 12:49PM

The issue of secret recordings of Donald Trump's conversations has lingered for a while. For example, it was in May 2017 that the president first seemed to threaten former FBI Director James Comey, publishing a tweet that said Comey "better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations."

We later learned that no such tapes exist -- the president occasionally says ridiculous things with no basis in fact -- though it's a subject with a rich history. After all, Trump has a lengthy track record of recording communications – at Trump Tower, at various other Trump-owned properties, and elsewhere.

Perhaps Trump's personal fixer learned a thing or two from his boss. The New York Times  reports today:

President Trump's longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation with Mr. Trump two months before the presidential election in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump, according to lawyers and others familiar with the recording.

The F.B.I. seized the recording this year during a raid on Mr. Cohen's office. The Justice Department is investigating Mr. Cohen's involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Mr. Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them.

Rudy Giuliani confirmed to the NYT that there is a tape of Trump talking to Cohen, but the former mayor said the recording isn't incriminating.

Then again, Giuliani says a lot of things.

So, how big a deal is this? There's a fair amount to unpack here.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.20.18

07/20/18 12:00PM

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

* He retweeted this same message this morning for no apparent reason: "President Trump on Thursday tweeted a partial clip of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arguing eight years ago that a "strong Russia" is in the world's best interest.... The clip is from a 2010 interview Clinton did with First Channel Television, which is partially owned by the Russian government."

* Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) said yesterday he won't apologize for using misogynistic language during his time as a radio host because, as the Republican congressman put it, he was "paid to be provocative."

* In New Jersey, Republican Senate hopeful Bob Hugin "fought efforts to open Princeton University's famed all-male eating clubs to women, going so far as to call the ultimately successful attempt 'politically correct fascism.'" Reminded of his previous position, Hugin yesterday said, "If I could go back in time, I would not use those words. It was a mistake and I take responsibility for that."

* Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), an ambitious House Democrat, has become the latest lawmaker to argue that marijuana should be legal nationwide.

* With less a month remaining before Wisconsin's statewide primaries, a new Marquette Law School poll shows Kevin Nicholson and Leah Vukmir effectively tied in the Republicans' Senate primary, though about a third of GOP voters are still undecided.

* The same poll found Tony Evers, the superintendent of Wisconsin's public schools, as the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate in a multi-candidate field. Primary Day is Aug. 14.

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A person man uses a laptop. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/AP)

Key cyber-security officials leave the Trump admin at a difficult time

07/20/18 11:21AM

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has made no secret of his concerns about cyber-security threats. In fact, the nation's top intelligence officer raised more than a few eyebrows last week when he said in the months leading up to 9/11, the "system was blinking red," adding, "Here we are, nearly two decades later, and I'm here to say the warning lights are blinking red again."

It's against this backdrop that the Wall Street Journal  reports on some important departures from the Trump administration.

Three of the top cybersecurity officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation are retiring from government service, according to people familiar with the matter -- departures that come as cyberattacks are a major concern for the country's security agencies.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials warn that the country is at a "critical point" facing unprecedented cyberthreats, including Russia's ongoing attacks on the American political system. The retirements also come as the FBI is facing regular criticism from President Donald Trump and his supporters, and is working to attract and retain top cyber talent.

The WSJ  noted that Scott Smith, who runs the FBI cyber division, is leaving this month, and his deputy, Howard Marshall, has already moved on. Their supervisor, David Resch, is also stepping down.

They're joined by Carl Ghattas, executive assistant director of the FBI's national security branch, who's also leaving, following Jeffrey Tricoli, "a senior FBI cyber agent who oversaw a Bureau task force addressing Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. elections," out the door.

According to Politico, Tricoli was replaced by someone who "knows absolutely nothing about cyber."

Of course, all of this follows Donald Trump's decision in May to eliminate the job of the nation's cyber-security czar, as part of John Bolton's reorganization of the National Security Council.

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Federal Reserve To Announce Policy Decisions After One-Day Meeting

Trump changes his mind about the Fed and low interest rates

07/20/18 10:44AM

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has only been on the job for five months, but in that time, he's twice raised interest rates, and appears likely to raise them again before the end of the year.

Evidently, the president who appointed Powell to the post isn't altogether pleased with the developments.

President Donald Trump attacked the Federal Reserve on Thursday, saying he disagreed with the course taken by the central bank and its chairman, Jerome Powell, whom Trump nominated to the position last year.

"I don't necessarily agree with it," Trump told CNBC about the Fed's two rate hikes so far this year. "I'm not thrilled, because every time we go up, they want to raise rates again. But at the same time I'm letting them do what they feel is best."

The comments caused a stir in financial circles, largely because presidents are supposed to keep their distance from the Federal Reserve's decisions, respecting the institution's independence.

Trump, however, doesn't seem overly concerned with these norms -- you're shocked, I know -- and he published some related tweets this morning complaining about rising interest rates.

What I find amazing about this, though, isn't the president's indifference toward contemporary American traditions and institutional constraints. Rather, what interests me is the dramatic evolution of Trump's thinking on the subject.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington

Pruitt's EPA staff worried about chemical exposure (for him, not you)

07/20/18 10:04AM

The day after Donald Trump's inauguration last year, the new Republican White House got to work targeting regulations and public safeguards. Six weeks later, the New York Times  reported that the Trump administration had already halted "a measure intended to prevent potentially toxic formaldehyde exposure in homes caused by certain furniture products."

This month, the story grew even more alarming. Politico  reported a few weeks ago that the Environmental Protection Agency prepared a report warning that many Americans are at risk of developing leukemia and other ailments by inhaling formaldehyde vapor, but the Trump administration is "suppressing" the EPA's findings.

EPA scientists reportedly completed their draft assessment last fall, and were poised to move forward with a peer-review process, but it's still under wraps. The concern, of course, is the Trump administration is trying to protect the chemical industry from having to deal with onerous new safeguards.

Keep all of this in mind when reading Politico's latest scoop, published yesterday afternoon.

Then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's staff sought to protect him from exposure to toxic formaldehyde from an office desk last year, emails show -- just months before his top political aides blocked the release of a report on health dangers from the same chemical.

In the spring of 2017, as Pruitt was finishing the more than $9,500 redecoration of his office, a top career official in the administrator's office noticed a California warning that one of the ornate desks their boss wanted contained formaldehyde, which the state classifies as a carcinogen. It's unclear whether Pruitt ultimately ordered that desk as part of the renovation -- which included artwork from the Smithsonian, framed photographs of Pruitt and President Donald Trump and a standing "captain's" desk -- but the documents show that his staff took steps to protect Pruitt from exposure to the chemical.

If the reporting is accurate, we're dealing with a dynamic in which Pruitt's aides were concerned about his exposure to a potentially toxic chemical, even while Pruitt stood accused of suppressing evidence about our exposure to a potentially toxic chemical.

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Voting booths await voters in Red Oak, Iowa, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, ahead of the Iowa primary elections.

Republicans reject Dem effort to boost election-security funding

07/20/18 09:20AM

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats noted last week that in the months leading up to 9/11, the "system was blinking red." Referring to Russian cyber-attacks, Coats added, "Here we are, nearly two decades later, and I'm here to say the warning lights are blinking red again."

With this in mind, House Democrats this week made a concerted effort to boost federal spending on election security at the state level, hoping to add $380 million to a broader appropriations bill. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on the floor yesterday, "The flashing red light calls us to action. Surely we can rise above pandering to party and Putin to act on behalf of our freedom and our security."

As USA Today  noted, the result in the chamber was a little unexpected.

Democratic lawmakers erupted on the House floor Thursday as they pushed to send more money to states for election security.

"USA! USA!" the group chanted, following fiery speeches from Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The chanting was so loud that reporters standing outside of the chamber rushed to windows to see what was happening.

The patriotic appeal fell short: the Democratic amendment failed, 182 to 232, with no members in either party breaking ranks with their respective party.

As for the Republican arguments against the effort, some were more compelling than others.

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