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Image: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland

Priebus' improper contacts with the FBI come into focus

02/27/17 09:00AM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a top Donald Trump ally, did his best yesterday to defend the White House urging FBI officials to downplay the Russia scandal. The Republican governor's defense isn't that the White House is innocent, but rather, that Team Trump doesn't know what it's doing.
"I can guarantee this, I don't think [White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus] will ever have that kind of conversation with the FBI, with FBI personnel, again," he said.

"Remember, these are all people who have never been in government before," Christie said. "And so they're going to need to learn these things."
Factually, Christie's point has merit -- we have an amateur president who's surrounded himself with people who have no governing experience -- but it's still not much of a defense. By his reasoning, it didn't occur to the president's chief of staff it might be problematic for the White House to intervene in a pending federal investigation. It's one of those things the person running the White House needs to know, not "learn."

Of course, Christie's defense of Priebus' outreach to the FBI acknowledges the underlying detail that matters: Priebus reached out to the FBI. The allegation that shook the political world on Thursday night and Friday morning, we now know, is true.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

White House seeks intelligence that tells Trump what he wants to hear

02/27/17 08:30AM

Donald Trump hasn't given up on his Muslim ban, but after failing in the courts, the president realizes his proposal needs some work. Hoping to craft a policy that can pass legal muster, the White House has moved forward in recent weeks with a plan that involves defending the legality of the administration's policy by pointing to security risks that, in Trump's mind, makes his proposal necessary.

With that in mind, a senior White House official told CNN late last week that intelligence officials at the Department of Homeland Security "are working on an intelligence report that will demonstrate that the security threat for these seven countries is substantial and that these seven countries have all been exporters of terrorism into the United States."

As Rachel noted on Friday's show, the key phrase in the quote is "will demonstrate." The White House hadn't seen the incomplete intelligence reports, but Team Trump was nevertheless comfortable describing the findings and boasting about how they would support the president's preconceived conclusions. As the Bush/Cheney administration's handling of pre-invasion Iraq intelligence helped prove, this is exactly the opposite of how the process is supposed to work.

But a funny thing happened to derail Team Trump's plan: intelligence professionals decided to tell the White House the truth, instead of what the president wanted to hear.
Analysts at the Homeland Security Department's intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump's travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States.

A draft document obtained by The Associated Press concludes that citizenship is an "unlikely indicator" of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria's civil war started in 2011.
The Associated Press published the full document, prepared by the Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, online. Note that it also asserts that people from the seven suspect countries are “rarely implicated in U.S.-based terrorism."

In practical terms, the White House's strategy has failed spectacularly. They started with the preconceived answer -- the one Trump unveiled during the campaign without any meaningful analysis or substantive thought -- and then asked intelligence officials to reverse-engineer the evidence to justify the administration's goal.

What's less clear is whether the White House cares. A Wall Street Journal report suggests the answer is no.
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

White House makes matters worse by trying to suppress Russia scandal

02/27/17 08:00AM

Top White House officials have been so alarmed by the Russia scandal that they reached out to the FBI -- during the FBI's ongoing investigation -- to encourage federal law enforcement to quietly tell the media to ignore the controversy. The outreach is itself problematic -- the phrase, "obstruction of justice" keeps coming to mind -- but FBI officials ignored the West Wing's pleas.

As it turns out, however, the FBI wasn't the office the White House contacted. As Rachel noted on Friday's show, the Washington Post published an important scoop: after the FBI said it wouldn't talk to the media on the White House's behalf, Donald Trump's team found others who were more amenable.
The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates' ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House.

Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump's campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.
Of particular interest, the White House's public-relations campaign included Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), both of whom confirmed that they spoke to journalists about the Russia scandal at the White House's request.

And that's extraordinary. While Burr and Nunes were supposed to be overseeing investigations into the Russia scandal, they were also cooperating with the White House, telling reporters not to take the Russia scandal seriously.

In other words, the investigators were undermining their own investigation -- at the behest of those being investigated.

There's no shortage of questions about the developments, but there's an obvious one near the top of the list: what happens now?
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Friday's Mini-Report, 2.24.17

02/24/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* If the White House wanted intelligence that met the preconceived conclusion, officials will be disappointed: "Analysts at the Homeland Security Department's intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump's travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States."

* That's not how this is supposed to work: "Multiple media outlets were blocked from a White House gaggle Friday afternoon, hours after President Donald Trump again labeled the press as enemies of the American people and vowed to 'do something about it.'"

* A sneak peek: "A draft bill detailing Republican plans to begin repealing and replacing many facets of the Affordable Care Act would provide expanded tax credits and health savings accounts for individuals while reducing federal spending on tax subsidies and Medicaid and practically eliminating both the current employer and individual mandate to provide and carry health insurance."

* CPB: "U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed Thursday that their agents requested to see the identification of domestic flight passengers landing at a New York airport Wednesday night as they searched for an immigrant who had received a deportation order to leave the United States."

* Why is it so important to have lawmakers host town-hall events? Because sometimes, they end up saying something new: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), for example, "called on President Trump to release his tax returns at a town hall meeting ... Thursday, reflecting the growing pressure on Republican lawmakers this week to assuage angry constituents."

* Trump's wall: "House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul tempered his support of President Donald Trump's plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, stressing the need for a multifaceted approach to border security. 'I don't think we need a 2,000-mile wall down there,' McCaul, fresh off a tour of the Rio Grande Valley portion of the boundary with House Speaker Paul Ryan, told the PBS 'NewsHour' on Thursday."
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Wayne LaPierre

Short on enemies, NRA's LaPierre invents a new one

02/24/17 04:49PM

Shortly before Election Day, NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre delivered an election-season message, which seemed oddly detached from reality, even for him.

"When I said Barack Obama would come for our guns and do everything in his power to sabotage the Second Amendment, they savaged me. They called me a liar," the NRA leader proclaimed. "But every one of those predictions came true."

Actually, not one of those predictions came true. Obama didn't come for Americans' guns -- I'm pretty sure we would've noticed -- and Second Amendment wasn't sabotaged. And yet, LaPierre, whose business model remains dependent on a boogeyman, quickly added that Obama's non-existent gun-confiscation campaign would continue unless voters elected the NRA's Republican allies.

And as it turns out, that worked out pretty well for the far-right organization, though with the NRA's successes come a new challenge: if the group's allies now control all federal policymaking, what exactly should NRA members be afraid of? If LaPierre relies on keeping supporters in a perpetual state of near-panic about looming threats posed by Democrats, and Democrats have no meaningful power in Washington, who will LaPierre tell conservatives to be afraid of now?

Apparently, the right is supposed to believe dangerous liberals are on the prowl. TPM reported on LaPierre's appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
"Right now, we face a gathering of forces that are willing to use violence against us," he said. "The leftist movement in this country right now is enraged. Among them and behind them are the most radical political elements there are: Anarchists, Marxists, communists and the left of the -- the rest of the left-wing socialist parade. They hate everything America stands for: Democracy, free market capitalism, representative government, individual freedom. They want to tear down our system and replace it with their collectivist top-down global-government-knows-best-utopia." [...]

LaPierre wrapped up by attacking the media and insinuating violence against the "violent left" if it brings "terror" to communities.
The NRA leader added, by the way, that progressive activists receive $1,500 a week, which works out to roughly $78,000 a year, well above the median national income. He went on to say anti-Trump protesters "spit in the face of Gold Star families" -- which was a curious line of attack given Trump's own history.

I should note, in case there are any doubts, LaPierre did not appear to be kidding. This was not some kind of skit intended to make conservatives appear foolish; the NRA leader was apparently quite serious.
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Image: Supreme Court Upholds Obama's Affordable Care Act

GOP lawmaker: 'Obamacare' may be saved by progressive activism

02/24/17 04:01PM

Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been watching the health care fight from retirement, and he's come to his conclusion: his party is likely to fail.

Speaking at a health care conference in Orlando this week, Boehner -- who held dozens of ACA repeal votes against his better instincts -- said the existing law is likely to remain largely intact, despite Republican dominance. "Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act," he said, "that's going to be there."

The former Speaker added that his party will continue to struggle to agree among themselves on an alternative, and conceded many of the reform law's most popular provisions are now likely irreversible.

Of course, Boehner is no longer on the front lines of the conflict. Perhaps Republicans who are still in the thick of the fight have a different perspective about the state of the fight? Perhaps not.
Republican Rep. Mo Brooks said Thursday that protests at town halls around the country might prevent Republican lawmakers from repealing the Affordable Care Act.

"I'll tell you, Toni, there are a, in my opinion, a significant number of congressmen who are being impacted by these kinds of protests and their spine is a little bit weak," the Alabama congressman said in an interview on "The Morning Show with Toni & Gary" on WBHP 800 Alabama radio. "And I don't know if we're going to be able to repeal Obamacare now because these folks who support Obamacare are very active, they're putting pressure on congressman and there's not a counter-effort to steal the spine of some of these congressmen in tossup districts around the country."
To be sure, Brooks wants to repeal the law -- a point he emphasized during the interview -- but the far-right Alabaman nevertheless sees the fight slipping away. He added yesterday that Congress "may not even" vote to repeal the law. "We don't have the votes in Congress to pass a repeal bill, in part because of what these people are doing," Brooks concluded.

"These people," in this case, refers to ACA proponents who've made their voices heard.
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