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U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Latest DHS shake-up adds to chaotic conditions in the Trump admin

06/26/19 11:00AM

As the Trump administration faces an outcry over its border policies, the commission of Customs and Border Protection announced yesterday that he's stepping down.

Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders told employees on Tuesday that he would be stepping down from his post on July 5, according to a spokesman for the agency.

The resignation of Sanders, who became acting commissioner just two months ago, follows reports of children living in squalor at border stations where they often lack child care, bedding or even basic hygiene items.

If it seems as if the Department of Homeland Security has been losing top-level staff at a breakneck pace, it's not your imagination. Since April, we've seen Donald Trump part ways with his Homeland Security secretary (Kirstjen Nielsen), acting ICE chief (Ron Vitiello), acting Homeland Security deputy secretary (Claire Grady), Citizenship and Immigration Services director (Lee Cissna), and now his acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner.

In mid-April, Politico reported that congressional Republicans were "alarmed" and "blindsided" by the DHS purge and had begun urging Trump not to part ways with anyone else. The president apparently did not take that advice to heart.

In fact, Trump was asked by reporters yesterday whether John Sanders' departure was voluntary. The president didn't answer directly, instead saying, "I don't know anything about it. I hear he's a very good man. I hear he's a good person. I don't know him. I don't think I ever spoke to him."

So, Trump tapped Sanders to lead Customs and Border Protection two months ago; Sanders is now quitting; and the president never even had a conversation with him? Given all that's happening at the border, doesn't it seem usual that Trump didn't even talk to his own handpicked official overseeing border-protection policies?

In case the game of musical chairs weren't quite dizzying enough, consider whom Trump is planning to choose as John Sanders' successor.

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The empty speaker podium in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Why it's tough to be optimistic about Sarah Sanders' successor

06/26/19 10:01AM

When White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently announced her resignation -- her last day is Friday -- there was some speculation about whether Donald Trump would bother to hire her successor. The press secretary's principal responsibility is holding a daily briefing with reporters, and Trump and Sanders effectively scrapped that traditional practice.

Nevertheless, First Lady Melania Trump announced yesterday that her own communications director, Stephanie Grisham, will now serve as White House press secretary. One of the most surprising aspects of the news is just how many jobs Grisham will hold. The New York Times reported:

Ms. Grisham will also take on the added role of communications director, a job that has been vacant since the departure of Bill Shine in March, and will keep her role in the East Wing.

Dating back to Trump's presidential transition period, Grisham will be the seventh person the Republican has tapped to serve as the White House's communications director.

By some accounts, Grisham also intends to "maintain her current role as the first lady's chief spokeswoman."

There have been jokes for months about acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney holding multiple positions at once, and it now appears that those same jokes can apply to the president's new chief spokesperson.

Just as important is the degree to which Grisham fits in among her Team Trump colleagues. The Washington Post added:

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Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, questions Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as she testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013.

GOP rep: children at migrant detention facility are 'free to leave'

06/26/19 09:20AM

There have been all kinds of reactions from Americans confronted with heartbreaking reports about children suffering in migrant detention facilities, but in general, congressional Republicans have said very little.

To his credit, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) was willing to speak with MSNBC's Chris Hayes about his perspective. Unfortunately, his defense of the status quo needed some work.

The GOP congressman addressed conditions at the Casa Padre shelter in Brownsville, Texas, a former Walmart store converted to house migrant children as young as 10. Burgess seemed to believe there's proof that conditions at the facility aren't that bad:

"You know what? There's not a lock on the door. Any child is free to leave at any time, but they don't. You know why? Because they are well taken care of."

I'm trying to imagine the practical effects of such an approach. Let's say there's a 10-year-old boy who finds the conditions at the Casa Padre shelter intolerable. Let's also say he follows Burgess' suggestion and decides to flee.

Then what? Is he supposed to call an Uber?

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Why the subpoena for Robert Mueller is so important

06/26/19 08:40AM

For those who've followed the investigation into the Russia scandal closely, it started to seem as if we'd never hear another word from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He'd issued a report; he'd delivered brief remarks; and Mueller made clear he had no interest in further addressing the probe or its findings -- in any forum, at any time, for any reason.

As you may have seen on last night's show, some in Congress are aware of the former special counsel's reticence, but they nevertheless have questions that need answers.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller has agreed to testify in public about his two-year Russia investigation at a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Committee on July 17. The announcement came from the chairmen of the two panels, who issued a subpoena compelling his testimony.

In a news release issued late Tuesday, Judiciary Committee Chairmen Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that Mueller had agreed to testify next month.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) conceded during an on-air interview with Rachel that the subpoena probably shouldn't be seen as a "friendly" one: Mueller doesn't want to do this.

But he'll honor the congressional subpoena anyway. Some of the logistical and procedural issues haven't yet been resolved, though it appears Mueller will testify -- on camera and in open session -- for both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, in back-to-back sessions on the same day. Schiff indicated last night that there will also be a closed-session hearing with members of the special counsel's team.

While those plans for the July 17 hearing come into sharper focus, the larger questions are also taking shape: what, exactly, can we expect to learn from Mueller? What will members ask?

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Image: Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump

Republicans accept Trump's word following assault allegation

06/26/19 08:00AM

It's been nearly a week since E. Jean Carroll, a longtime writer and media figure, went public with her allegation that Donald Trump attacked her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s. The president has denied the claim, arguing, among other things, that his latest accuser isn't his "type."

At a Capitol Hill press briefing yesterday, a reporter asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about the propriety of Trump's posture. "I don't, I didn't, I haven't seen that," the Republican congressman said, adding, "I know the president has said this is not true. I haven't, know anything else about it."

Asked if he believes Trump's denial, McCarthy said, "Yes, I believe the president."

As Politico reported, there's a lot of that going around.

Republicans believe Donald Trump. They're not so sure about the woman.

The president's GOP allies in Congress are moving swiftly to dismiss new allegations of rape against him, arguing journalist E. Jean Carroll is eager to promote her new book and that Trump's denial of the alleged attack is credible.

"Quite honestly, as somebody who had a front-row seat to the Kavanaugh hearings, we've seen allegations that were false," said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). "We'll let the facts go where they are, but I take [Trump's] statement at face value."

Igor Bobic, a HuffPost reporter, published a lengthy Twitter thread yesterday with quotes from a variety of GOP senators, most of whom had very little to say about Carroll's allegation. Some suggested they weren't even familiar with the controversy.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump critic turned cheerleader, added, "[T]he president's firmly denied it. That's the end of it for me unless she shows something new."

Or put another way, Trump's word is his bond. It's not as if the president has ever given anyone reason to question his honesty, right?

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Mueller hearing could shed light on Trump counterintel probe

Mueller hearing could shed light on Trump counterintel probe

06/25/19 09:51PM

Rachel Maddow summarizes the breaking news that Special Counsel Robert Mueller, after receiving a subpoena from the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, has agreed to testify in an open session, potentially an opportunity for the public to learn what became of the counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump that is not mentioned... watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.25.19

06/25/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* At the border: "The government has moved about 100 migrant children to a Texas border patrol facility dogged by allegations that it was housing minors without providing adequate food or access to soap and toothpaste, a Border Patrol official said Tuesday."

* The shake-up continues: "Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders told employees on Tuesday that he would be stepping down from his post on July 5, according to a spokesman for the agency."

* Iran: "Fresh sanctions levied by the United States drew an intense reaction from Iran on Tuesday, with a senior official saying they spell the 'permanent closure' of diplomacy between the two countries."

* A case we've been following: "A once-secret plea deal reached a decade ago with wealthy convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein must stand, despite objections from many of his victims who were teenagers at the time, federal prosecutors said in a new court filing."

* Sanders' successor: "First lady Melania Trump announced Tuesday that her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, will now serve as White House press secretary, replacing Sarah Sanders, who is leaving at the end of the month."

* Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signs a big bill: "Illinois' new governor delivered on a top campaign promise Tuesday by signing legislation legalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, making the state the 11th to do so and the first to implement a statewide cannabis marketplace designed by legislators."

* Stuff like this makes me nervous: "President Donald Trump has recently mused to confidants about withdrawing from a longstanding defense treaty with Japan, according to three people familiar with the matter, in his latest complaint about what he sees as unfair U.S. security pacts."

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Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.

Allegations against indicted House Republican get even worse

06/25/19 12:40PM

As a rule, when people talk about politicians being in bed with lobbyists, the rhetoric isn't intended to be taken literally.

There are exceptions.

Justice Department prosecutors alleged on Monday that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) used campaign contributions to have multiple extramarital affairs, including a $1,000 ski vacation with a female lobbyist.

According to the court filing, Hunter started using the campaign funds to "carry out a series of intimate relationships" with five women soon after he first entered office in 2009.

The first woman ("Individual 14") was a lobbyist. For about three years, Hunter dipped into his campaign contributions to pay for a couple's ski getaway (which cost more than $1,000), a road trip to Virginia Beach, and hotel stays, according to prosecutors.

TPM's report added that the Republican congressman's alleged relationship with the lobbyist ended in 2012 -- he'd been married for roughly 14 years at the time -- though prosecutors have accused Hunter of having four other affairs over the course of the four years that followed. Donors allegedly picked up the tab for expenses related to each of the relationships.

While these claims against the indicted GOP lawmaker will still need to be proven in court, the allegations do help contextualize matters a bit.

In case anyone needs a refresher, the GOP congressman and his wife were charged last summer, and the criminal indictment was quite brutal: federal prosecutors alleged that the Hunters stole more than $250,000 in campaign funds and used the money to pay for personal purchases, ranging from trips to school tuition to dental work to veterinary care.

As if that weren’t enough, the Hunters allegedly went to great lengths to cover up the scheme: according to prosecutors, they made fraudulent claims that their purchases were for charities, including veterans’ charities. A Washington Post report added that the prosecutors’ allegations “read like a caricature of a corrupt, greedy politician.”

The California Republican’s defense has evolved a bit over time.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.25.19

06/25/19 12:00PM

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

* A new straw poll found 38% of the group's progressive members listed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as their first choice. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who received's endorsement in 2016, was second in the straw poll with 17% support.

* Speaking of surveys, a new Emerson poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading the Democrats' 2020 field with 34% support, followed by Sanders with 27%. Warren was third with 14%, and like nearly every other recent poll, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) rounded out the top five.

* On a related note, the same Emerson poll found each of the top Democratic contenders leading Donald Trump in hypothetical general-election match-ups.

* Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) officially endorsed Kamala Harris' presidential campaign this morning. A week ago, the Californian didn't have any congressional endorsements outside of her home state, but over the last five days, Harris has picked up three -- and all are members of the Congressional Black Caucus. As Nate Silver noted this morning, "A gradual shift in support among black leaders from Biden/undecided to Harris would be one of the most significant events of the primary."

* Warren, Sanders, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) may be 2020 rivals, but this week, they're partnering up in opposition to Sinclair Broadcast Group's acquisition of 21 regional sports networks. The progressive senators are pressing the FEC and the Justice Department to conduct a review.

* In an effort to duplicate the success Democrats have had in small-donor fundraising through ActBlue, Republicans this week launched their rival online mechanism, which they're calling WinRed.

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A less-than-ideal time for a 'Latinos for Trump' event

06/25/19 11:20AM

In August 2017, after deadly violence broke out on the streets of Charlottesville, Donald Trump publicly defended the "very fine people" among the racist activists. The Republican president also expressed his deep affection for monuments honoring Confederate leaders who took up arms against the United States during the Civil War.

It was against this backdrop that Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, traveled to Detroit for ... wait for it ... an outreach event for African-American voters, encouraging the community to support Republican candidates.

As the Detroit News reported at the time, "The timing couldn't have been more awkward."

Nearly two years later, a similar dynamic is unfolding.

Vice President Pence is traveling to Florida on Tuesday to launch a national "Latinos for Trump" initiative in a bid to bolster support for the Republican ticket at time when new polling shows large majorities of Hispanics favoring the election of a Democrat next year.

Pence is scheduled to appear later Tuesday morning in Miami, the city that is hosting the first of the Democratic presidential debates this week. Florida, home to more than 2 million Hispanic registered voters, is a key state for Trump's reelection fortunes next year.

To borrow the Detroit News' phrasing, the timing couldn't be more awkward.

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