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Image: FBI Investigates Trump's attorney Michael Cohen

Dems pounce on report that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress

01/18/19 08:00AM

Donald Trump has long insisted that he didn't have or pursue any business deals in Russia. Those claims were false: during the 2016 campaign, the future Republican president and members of his inner circle tried to complete a major real-estate deal in Moscow. Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, business associate, and purported "fixer," was a key player in the process.

We learned two months ago that Cohen lied to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project -- a detail that emerged from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation -- which ultimately worsened Cohen's prison sentence. It was a striking development: this was the first time the president's private business dealings in Moscow became a documented part of Mueller's investigation.

Last night, however, the story took an even more dramatic turn with this report from BuzzFeed.

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. "Make it happen," the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

As the story goes, after the election, Trump hoped to "obscure" his involvement in the proposed Moscow project, so he instructed Cohen to deceive lawmakers about when the negotiations ended.

At face value, that's an awfully interesting thing for the president to have been concerned about.

The standard response from the White House's allies in response to Cohen-related revelations is that the president's former lawyer is untrustworthy. Perhaps. But in this case, according to BuzzFeed's report -- which hasn't been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News -- the special counsel's office "learned about Trump's directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents."

It was at that point that Cohen confirmed what Mueller's team had uncovered.

It's not lost on anyone that if the president directed his fixer to lie to Congress, it would take Trump's troubles to a new, perilous level.

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'Sex trainer' who exposed Deripaska in video arrested in Russia

'Sex trainer' who exposed Deripaska in video arrested in Russia

01/17/19 09:43PM

Rachel Maddow updates the story of Belarusian model Anastasia Vashukevich, whose fortunes as a sex trainer took a dramatic turn when she shared a video that may have contained evidence of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska's interest in the 2016 U.S. election. After being release from a Thai prison and deported, she was promptly arrested in... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.17.19

01/17/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* If only more Senate Republicans agreed: "In a rebuke to the Trump administration, 136 Republicans joined House Democrats Thursday to oppose a Treasury Department plan to lift sanctions against companies controlled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin."

* Madness: "A Marine veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder was held for three days for possible deportation before federal authorities learned that he was a U.S. citizen born in Michigan, lawyers said Wednesday."

* VA: "Members of the security detail tasked with protecting senior leaders at the Department of Veterans Affairs followed questionable procedures that put officials' safety at risk, abused rules governing overtime pay, and acted as chauffeur for former Secretary David Shulkin’s wife, according to a new investigation."

* Maybe Trump shouldn't have prematurely declared a triumph: "North Korea has not taken "concrete steps" to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, Vice President Mike Pence told a group of U.S. diplomats on Wednesday."

* Departures like these are discouraging: "A top Department of Housing and Urban Development official is leaving the agency Thursday following disagreements with other members of the Trump administration over housing policy and the White House's attempt to block disaster-recovery money for Puerto Rico, according to five people with direct knowledge of the situation."

* Is it legal for Trump's Treasury Department to force tens of thousands of IRS workers back onto the job without pay? Probably not.

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Trump scraps Pelosi trip to Afghanistan, apparently out of spite

01/17/19 04:18PM

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), citing security concerns, wrote to Donald Trump yesterday, suggesting he either postpone his State of the Union address or submit it in writing. The president didn't immediately reply, though he sent a rather remarkable written response this afternoon. It read in its entirety:

"Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed. We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over. In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate. I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown. Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.

"I look forward to seeing you soon and even more forward to watching our open and dangerous Southern Border finally receive the attention, funding, and security it so desperately deserves!"

For a man who claims not to throw tantrums, today's petty announcement offers compelling evidence to the contrary.

It's always nice to see when the president actually writes his own correspondence. The idiosyncratic grammar -- Trump continues to capitalize random words he finds important, he's never quite gotten the hang of hyphens -- gives away the game.

The trouble, naturally, is that the needlessly petty president doesn't know what he's talking about. Pelosi wasn't going to Egypt; this wasn't an "excursion" or a "public-relations" trip; the trip wasn't scheduled to last seven days; there's no such thing as a "Strong Border Security movement"; and if Trump is genuinely interested in giving the border obsessive "attention," it's a mystery as to why he invested so little effort into the issue during his first two years in office -- and why he agreed with Pelosi's position on funding the government as recently as last month.

Nevertheless, the House Speaker's office responded soon after with a written press statement:

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

House Republican quits in first resignation of the new Congress

01/17/19 03:45PM

The most recent Congress, which wrapped up two weeks ago, featured a surprisingly large number of resignations. Al told, 12 House members and two senators stepped down from Capitol Hill before the end of their respective terms.

It's impossible to say whether we'll see anything comparable in the new Congress, though the resignation list already has a very early entry.

Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino announced Thursday he would be resigning from Congress.

The Republican lawmaker, who represents the 12th District in northeast and central Pennsylvania, said he will be leaving his post Jan. 23 for a job in the private sector.

Marino has served in the House since 2011 and was just re-elected to his fifth term.

There's some ambiguity as to what prompted the Pennsylvania Republican to quit just two weeks into his new term, and his official press statement only said that he's taken a position "in the private sector."

State officials will now organize a special election to fill the vacancy, and the seat is expected to safely remain in the GOP's hands: Donald Trump won Pennsylvania's 12th by 36 points in his race, and this is one of the "reddest" districts in the northeast.

But one of the things that makes Marino's resignation of particular interest is that he was supposed to give up his House seat for an entirely different reason.

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Image: Immigrant children now housed in a tent encampment under the new "zero tolerance" policy by the Trump administration are shown walking in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas

New evidence casts family separation policy in an even worse light

01/17/19 02:33PM

Just when it seemed Donald Trump's family separation policy couldn't look worse, we're confronted with a new report from Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general's office. Not only did the Trump administration separate thousands more immigrant children from their parents than we previously knew, but as NBC News reported, whether those families have been reunified is unknown,

The report found a spike in immigrant family separations beginning in the summer of 2017, a year prior to the "zero tolerance" policy that prosecuted immigrant parents who crossed the border illegally while holding their children separately in HHS custody. The families separated under zero tolerance were represented in a class action lawsuit, where a federal judge ordered that the government reunify them.

However, the government had no such order to reunify children separated prior to "zero tolerance." Some may have been released to family or nonrelative sponsors, but it is not known how many have been reunified.

HHS officials did not keep track of whether children they were releasing from their custody had been separated from their parents at the border or whether they crossed the border without a parent.

Just how many families are at issue? No one seems able to say for sure, and both the report and an HHS spokesperson said the department has faced "challenges in identifying separated children."

They didn't know what they were doing, and they did it badly.

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Image: Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump

On foreign policy, Trump vacillates between Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul

01/17/19 12:46PM

Among Senate Republicans, it's probably fair to say no two members are more dissimilar on foreign policy than Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The South Carolinian is a hawk who's long demonstrated an eagerness to exercise the United States' military might, while the Kentuckian is a libertarian who envisions a drastically reduced military presence abroad.

One would ordinarily expect a president, especially a Republican president, to side with one of these GOP lawmakers. Donald Trump, however, seems to vacillate between them, depending on the day.

I'm reminded of fictional characters, presented as having an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other, each whispering in the protagonist's ear -- except in this case, it's an amateur president, who has no consistent foreign policy vision of his own, and who apparently sees value in two opposing visions.

When Trump first announced a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, no Republican was happier than Rand Paul, just as no Republican was as dissatisfied as Lindsey Graham. The president proudly tweeted praise from the Kentuckian, while condemning the South Carolinian's motives.

Two weeks later, the president seemed to flip, abandoning his plan for a precipitous withdrawal. After a meeting with Trump, a relieved Graham told reporters that when it came to U.S. troops in Syria, the president agreed to a "pause situation."

Nine days later, the "pause" apparently ended and U.S. troops started to withdraw. As Politico  noted, now it's Rand Paul who's as pleased as Lindsey Graham was.

Sen. Rand Paul strongly suggested that President Donald Trump is poised to begin scaling back the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and will follow through on his promise to pull out of Syria, the Kentucky Republican told reporters Wednesday.

Paul met with Trump privately and in a larger meeting with other senators on the president's plans to wind down the U.S. presence in Syria. While Paul would not talk specifics of Trump's plans, he said that the president recognizes "we've been at war too long and in too many places."

This is consistent with Josh Rogin's recent piece for the Washington Post, which noted, "These days, Trump is listening more than ever to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is quietly steering U.S. foreign policy in a new direction."

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