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New Trump order 'a grotesque abuse': fmr DOJ counterintel chief

New Trump order 'a grotesque abuse': fmr DOJ counterintel chief

05/23/19 09:29PM

Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that Donald Trump has issued a directive to the intelligence community to cooperate with William Barr in investigating the Trump-Russia investigation, and reports that David Laufman, former chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section at the DOJ, calls the directive "a grotesque abuse of... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.23.19

05/23/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest from Missouri: "A deadly storm system swept across Missouri on Wednesday, killing at least three people in the southwestern part of the state and causing extensive damage and injuring multiple people in the capital city."

* The final vote on this was 85 to 8: "The Senate on Thursday passed a bipartisan deal that would provide more than $19 billion in disaster aid funding to parts of the United States hit by hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and wildfires, following months of negotiation."

* Where things stand on the Hill: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told her Democratic colleagues Thursday that President Donald Trump 'wants to be impeached' so that he can be vindicated by the Senate. Pelosi made the comments at a closed-door morning meeting, two Democratic aides told NBC News, who also said that Pelosi called Trump's actions 'villainous.'"

* Remember, we're supposed to believe this is the most transparent administration ever: "Acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan has mandated new restrictions on the way the Pentagon shares information with Congress about military operations around the world, a move that is straining ties with key Republican and Democratic lawmakers."

* Assange: "The Department of Justice on Thursday indicted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on 18 charges, including violations of the Espionage Act and a case that could pose challenges to First Amendment protections."

* Ackerman McQueen later counter-sued in response to this: "The National Rifle Association sued its most prominent contractor on Wednesday, even as the gun group declared that it was 'now moving forward' from an ugly power struggle that had consumed its leadership at the highest levels."

* What an embarrassment: "Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson seized the opportunity during a Wednesday morning interview on Fox Business Network to explain a blunder that took the media for a spin Tuesday afternoon."

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

The problem with Trump's argument about Democratic 'achomlishments'

05/23/19 12:47PM

When Donald Trump held an odd press conference at the White House yesterday, photographers were able to get a few shots of the president's handwritten notes. Among the talking points the Republican was eager to emphasize: "Dems have no achomlishments."

It is, to be sure, curious than a 72-year-old president with an Ivy League education -- a man who spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how impressed he is with his intellect -- isn't sure how to spell "accomplishments."

Trump's idiosyncratic use of the language notwithstanding, the underlying point is clearly important to the president, as evidenced by his latest tweets on the subject, including this one ...

"Zero is getting done with the Democrats in charge of the House."

... and this one.

"Democrats don't want to fix the loopholes at the Border. They don't want to do anything."

Broadly speaking, there are three main problems with this. The first is that it's demonstrably false.

Since the start of the year, the new House Democratic majority has wasted little time tackling its legislative priorities and passing a series of notable bills. The list includes approval of a disaster relief bill, the Equality Act, a bill to lower prescription drug costs, a couple of other health care bills, a landmark elections-reform package, and an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act.

In the process, Dems have discredited the idea that lawmakers can't investigate and legislate at the same time.

Republicans will be quick to argue that none of these measure has cleared Congress and been signed into law. That's true, but it also leads us to the second problem: when Trump whines that "zero is getting done" on Capitol Hill, he's inadvertently condemning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.23.19

05/23/19 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Monmouth University poll found 60% of Americans don't think Donald Trump should be re-elected, while 37% believe he should get a second term. The gender gap stood out: among men, the president is -9, while among women, he's -36.

* After North Korea threw several verbal jabs at Joe Biden, the Democrat's campaign replied, "Given Vice President Biden's record of standing up for American values and interests, it's no surprise that North Korea would prefer that Donald Trump remain in the White House."

* Under pressure from reproductive-rights advocates, DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) yesterday canceled a scheduled fundraiser for Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). Lipinski is an opponent of abortion rights and is generally seen as one of Congress' most conservative Democrats.

* In the wake of Rep. Justin Amash's (R-Mich.) endorsement of Trump's impeachment, the DeVos family has decided to end its financial support for the Republican congressman. As the AP noted, the DeVos family is "politically powerful" in Amash's home state of Michigan.

* Newly uncovered video of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) 1988 trip to the USSR is drawing scrutiny from multiple outlets, including Mother Jones and Politico.

* Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who won re-election last year despite being under criminal indictment, hasn't yet decided whether to run again in 2020, but he'll face a primary rival if he does. Christopher Jacobs, a Buffalo-area state senator, announced the other day that he's running in New York's 27th regardless of Collins' plans.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stands beside monitors showing US President Donald J. Trump delivering a statement on the economy, at the beginning of a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, January

Sanders' dubious pitch: Pelosi shouldn't have accused Trump of a crime

05/23/19 11:20AM

To hear the White House tell it, Donald Trump's tantrum yesterday was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) fault. The Democratic leader told reporters yesterday morning that the president is "engaged in a cover-up," and that kind of rhetoric was so incendiary, Team Trump claims, that it immediately derailed negotiations.

Indeed, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders apparently feels justified seizing on Pelosi's quote to go on the offensive.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Thursday on CNN that "it's insane" to think infrastructure talks can continue as if Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had not accused Trump of a "cover-up," as Pelosi did Wednesday shortly before the White House meeting. Sanders said, "It's real simple, you can't go down two tracks."

"It's very hard to have a meeting where you accuse the president of the United States of a crime and an hour later show up and act as if nothing has happened," Sanders told reporters outside the White House.

Trump's press secretary added, "The president's feelings weren't hurt. [Pelosi] accused him of a crime. Let that sink in."

Look, I don't envy the position Sarah Huckabee Sanders is in. Her boss has asked her to defend a truly ridiculous position, and if I were in her shoes, I'd struggle to come up with a good argument, too. My point is not to sound unsympathetic.

But the fact remains that her argument is so obviously foolish, it's as if Sanders didn't give it any thought at all.

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Image: President Trump Holds Make America Great Again Rally In Pennsylvania

Trump wanted a big political win, so he invented one

05/23/19 10:40AM

Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail on Monday night, taking his pitch to Pennsylvania, a state he narrowly won in 2016. The president reminded local voters that there was a congressional special election in the state's 12th congressional district the next day, which Trump described as "a little bit of a referendum" on him.

This wasn't even close to being true: the Republican candidate in this race was so heavily favored to win in a landslide that neither party gave the contest much thought. By characterizing the race as "a little bit of a referendum" on him, Trump was obviously trying to manufacture a political victory for himself.

Yesterday at the White House, the president took this a little further.

"Even last night, we had a great election. I went there on Monday. We had an election for Fred Keller, who's a 50-50 shot and he won in a landslide. We went and we did a rally. Hardly mentioned today.

"And yet if he lost, it would have been the biggest story in the country, even bigger than this witch hunt stuff that you guys keep writing about."

For now, let's put aside how pitiful it was to see an American president whine like this, once again playing the role of a victim whom we should all feel sorry for. Instead, let's consider Trump's claims on the merits.

To describe Rep.-elect Fred Keller's odds of success as "50-50" is bonkers. This is a district that Trump carried in 2016 by 36 points. Looking at partisan-voter-index ratings, it's no exaggeration to say Pennsylvania's 12th is friendlier to Republicans than most of the congressional districts in Alabama.

And yet, there was Trump, suggesting that it was his unique brand of political magic that somehow tipped the scales in the GOP nominee's favor -- a minor miracle that the political world fails to acknowledge because no one appreciates how awesome his awesomeness is.

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Trump isn't helping himself with his latest shot at Tillerson

05/23/19 10:00AM

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on Capitol Hill yesterday, testifying to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Trump administration's foreign policy. Among other things, Tillerson told lawmakers that when Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany in 2017, the Republican was at a disadvantage -- because Putin out-prepared him. As the Washington Post reported:

The U.S. side anticipated a shorter meeting for exchanging courtesies, but it ballooned into a globe-spanning two-hour-plus session involving deliberations on a variety of geopolitical issues, said committee aides, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Tillerson's seven-hour closed meeting with the committee.

"We spent a lot of time in the conversation talking about how Putin seized every opportunity to push what he wanted," a committee aide said. "There was a discrepancy in preparation, and it created an unequal footing."

Tillerson's testimony, at least on this point, is very easy to believe. On multiple occasions, Trump has publicly downplayed the importance and utility of preparing for meetings with foreign leaders.

With this in mind, it stands to reason that Putin would take full advantage of the American leader's amateurishness and ignorance.

Yesterday, however, was a busy news day on a variety of fronts, and I suspected that much of the country probably wouldn't hear about the former cabinet secretary's testimony. With all due respect to the fine people who work for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, this was a relatively low-profile hearing, and most news consumers probably weren't rushing to learn about Rex Tillerson's impressions of a 2017 meeting in Hamburg.

But Trump went out of his way to make sure the public heard about the former secretary's comments by -- you guessed it -- lashing out via Twitter: "Rex Tillerson, a man who is 'dumb as a rock' and totally ill prepared and ill equipped to be Secretary of State, made up a story (he got fired) that I was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany. I don't think Putin would agree. Look how the U.S. is doing!"

This was unwise.

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This circa 1860-75 photo made available by the Library of Congress shows Harriet Tubman.

Did the delay of the Harriet Tubman $20 bill relate to Trump?

05/23/19 09:26AM

The launch of the Harriet Tubman $20 bill was slated for next year, which would carry some historical weight: next year is the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in the United States. Yesterday, however, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the rollout of the new currency has been delayed until 2028.

In response to questions from Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Mnuchin testified yesterday, "The primary reason we have looked at redesigning the currency is for counterfeiting issues. Based upon this, the $20 bill will now not come out until 2028. The $10 bill and the $50 bill will come out with new features beforehand."

As it turns out, that may not have been the only reason.

The New York Times published an article overnight with a provocative headline: "Harriet Tubman $20 Bill Is Delayed Until Trump Leaves Office, Mnuchin Says." What does the delay have to do with Donald Trump? According to the Times' reporting, the timing of the delay and the Republican president's tenure are not coincidental.

Mr. Mnuchin, concerned that the president might create an uproar by canceling the new bill altogether, was eager to delay its redesign until Mr. Trump was out of office, some senior Treasury Department officials have said. As a presidential candidate in 2016, Mr. Trump criticized the Obama administration's plans for the bill.

It's worth emphasizing that I haven't seen similar reporting elsewhere, and this hasn't been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News.

That said, it's also not too hard to believe.

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Why Trump won't even consider the gift Democrats have offered him

05/23/19 08:40AM

As part of his bizarre breakdown at the White House yesterday, Donald Trump tried to justify his refusal to work with Congress until lawmakers stop investigating his many scandals. As the president sees it, policymakers can care about oversight or governing, but they can't do both.

"So I've said from the beginning -- right from the beginning -- that you probably can't go down two tracks. You can go down the investigation track, and you can go down the investment track or the track of let's get things done for the American people."

The Republican soon after reiterated the point on Twitter, writing, "You can't investigate and legislate simultaneously - it just doesn't work that way. You can't go down two tracks at the same time."

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, we already know that the claim is false. As Rachel explained in detail on last night's show, at the height of the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon and congressional Democrats continued to work on all kinds of legislative priorities. Decades later, during Bill Clinton's impeachment ordeal, the Democratic president never stopped working with congressional Republicans.

Indeed, right now, House Democrats continue to pass many of their legislative priorities, even as multiple investigations into White House scandals unfold.

But the problem isn't just that Trump is wrong; it's also the fact that the president is rejecting the gift Dems are offering him.

Indeed, it's easy to overlook just how extraordinary the underlying political dynamic is. Democratic leaders have effectively told Trump. "We're prepared to work with you on major priorities despite your scandals and stonewalling. With a little cooperation, there can be bipartisan deals, on popular issues, which you can then run on in 2020."

To which the president has effectively responded, "No. Stop doing oversight or governing in D.C. will end for the next year and a half."

It's worth taking a moment to consider why he'd rather leave the gift on the table than pick it up.

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