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Loose ends left in Cohen case; judge set to unseal new details

Loose ends left in Cohen case; judge set to unseal new details

07/17/19 09:13PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the compelling foreshadowing by the judge in the Michael Cohen case ahead of the unsealing of previously redacted parts of the case, and notes the curious disconnect between the number of wrongdoings by others exposed by the Cohen case and the fact that the case is reportedly being closed without further charges. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.17.19

07/17/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This is a story worth watching closely: "A federal judge disclosed Wednesday that prosecutors had concluded their probe into Michael Cohen's campaign finance crimes as he ordered the release of search warrants tied to the case."

* After Turkey's recent purchase from Russia, this was inevitable: "In a significant break with a longtime NATO ally, the Trump administration on Wednesday said Turkey can no longer be part of the American F-35 fighter jet program."

* This is an excellent and well-reported article: "America's largest drug companies saturated the country with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills from 2006 through 2012 as the nation's deadliest drug epidemic spun out of control, according to previously undisclosed company data released as part of the largest civil action in U.S. history."

* Census case: "Critics who sued to block the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census asked a federal judge on Tuesday to punish administration officials, saying the officials had deliberately delayed the lawsuit in order to hide damning evidence -- conduct they called 'nothing less than a fraud on the court.'"

* Trump's failing policy: "North Korea on Tuesday suggested it might call off its 20-month suspension of nuclear and missile tests because of summertime U.S.-South Korean military drills that the North calls preparation for an eventual invasion."

* Keep expectations low: "White House senior adviser Jared Kushner pitched President Donald Trump's Cabinet members Tuesday on a 600-page immigration proposal that he and some congressional Republicans are urging their colleagues to consider before Congress leaves Washington for its monthlong August recess, according to three people involved in discussions."

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House Ways & Means Committee Oversight Subcommittee Ranking Member Mike Kelly, R-Pa., speaks during a hearing on proposals to compel presidents and presidential candidates to make public years of their tax returns on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019,

White GOP congressman says, 'I'm a person of color'

07/17/19 02:49PM

In the wake of Donald Trump's recent racist criticisms of four Democratic congresswomen, there's been considerable discussion about the president and his antagonistic relationship with minority communities and people of color.

And it appears that conversation has bothered a white Republican congressman from Pennsylvania -- for a curious reason.

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, is defending comments he made to a reporter Tuesday, in the wake of President Donald Trump's tweets telling four congresswomen of color to "go back" to where they came from.

"You know, they talk about people of color. I'm a person of color. I'm white," Kelly told Daniel Newhauser of Vice News. "I'm an Anglo-Saxon. People say things all the time, but I don't get offended. With a name like Mike Kelly you can't be from any place else but Ireland."

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's article added, the GOP congressman believes the excerpt from his Vice News interview "mischaracterized our conversation and my broader point: We're all created equal. It's time to stop fixating on our differences and focus on what unites us."

Perhaps, though that doesn't change the fact that a white Republican congressman described himself -- on the record and on tape -- as a "person of color."

As a general rule, no one defines "person of color" this way, and no one should.

If Mike Kelly's name sounds at all familiar, it's because he makes national headlines from time to time, though generally not in flattering ways.

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump turns away from the cameras as he speaks at a town hall event in Appleton, Wis., March 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Shifting the debate from race to patriotism doesn't do Trump any favors

07/17/19 12:45PM

In the White House Cabinet Room yesterday, a reporter asked Donald Trump whether he'd be willing to avoid the phrase "go back to your country." The president ignored the question and stuck to the latest Republican strategy: shift the debate from race to patriotism.

"I think it's terrible when people speak so badly about our country, when people speak so horribly." Trump replied. "I have a list of things here ... said by the congresswomen that is so bad, so horrible, that I almost don't want to read it. It's so bad."

In fairness, some comments are tough to overlook. When Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), for example, argued that the United States is a corrupt country that's "going to hell," she should've expected an angry backlash from those who prioritize patriotism.

Wait, did I say that was a quote from the Minnesota congresswoman? It was actually Donald Trump who said that -- just one month before he launched his campaign in 2015.

Part of the problem with his current gambit is that the president can't -- or at least, shouldn't -- pretend that his attacks against congresswomen of color are unrelated to race. It's far too late for that.

But the other part of the problem is that Trump is under the mistaken impression that a fight over patriotism leaves him on stronger ground. As this New York Times analysis helps make clear, it really doesn't.

America stinks. At least that's what Donald J. Trump seemed to be saying before becoming president.

He did not believe in "American exceptionalism," he said, because America was not exceptional. Instead, it was a "laughingstock" that was no better than Vladimir V. Putin's Russia. By promising to make America great again, he made it clear that he believed it was not great anymore.

The analysis added that Trump is "the president who trash-talked America more than any other in modern times."

The Washington Post ran a related piece this week, highlighting instances in which the Republican said the United States has "lost all sense of direction or purpose" and has become "stupid."

I recently pulled together some related examples, including one instance in which Trump whined about "how bad the United States is."

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.17.19

07/17/19 12:00PM

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

* There's been a sudden flurry of presidential primary polling out of New Hampshire, including this new one from CNN, which found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading the field with 24% support. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 19% each. As is usually the case, the only other candidates with significant support were Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), with 10% and 9%, respectively.

* Speaking of polling, Quinnipiac polled Democrats in California -- home to an early, March 3 primary -- and found native daughter Kamala Harris leading the field with 23%, followed by Biden with 21%. Sanders and Warren were close behind, with 18% and 16% respectively, while Buttigieg was fifth with 3%.

* Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) raised a few eyebrows yesterday, telling reporters that when it comes to the future of the legislative filibuster, "nothing's off the table."

* Now that we've seen all of the second-quarter fundraising numbers for the presidential contenders, the Washington Post published a good analysis of the data, which I found compelling.

* Fresh off their controversial gambit to derail a climate bill, Oregon Republicans are now launching a recall campaign against Gov. Kate Brown (D), who cruised to a relatively easy victory just nine months ago. According to the Oregonian, "Organizers now have 90 days to gather 280,050 valid signatures from voters.... That's a high bar: it's not unusual for campaigns to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars collecting signatures to qualify initiatives for the ballot."

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

Trump gets House Democrats' legislative record backward

07/17/19 11:24AM

For months, Donald Trump has tried to convince the public that the new Democratic majority in the House is choosing not to govern. The president recently tweeting, "[T]he Dems are getting nothing done in Congress. They are frozen stiff." It came on the heels of a series of related missives, one of which insisted, "Democrats ... don't want to do anything."

He repeated the claim this morning:

"The Democrats in Congress are getting nothing done, not on drug pricing, not on immigration, not on infrastructure, not on nothing! Sooo much opportunity, yet all they want to do is go 'fishing.' The American people are tired of the never ending Witch Hunt, they want results now!"

If Trump wanted to complain that House Dems are pursuing ideas he opposes, that would at least make sense. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her conference are advancing all kinds of progressive priorities, and it stands to reason that the Republican White House would oppose practically everything Democrats like.

But to pretend the House majority isn't legislating at all is to ignore reality altogether.

It was just five days ago that the House passed an ambitious defense-spending bill, which came the same day the chamber passed the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Shortly before Congress' 4th-of-July break, the House also passed a bipartisan border bill, which was followed a day later by Democrats passing an election-security package.

As regular readers know, those measures followed a series of related votes – House Dems have already passed more than half of their top 10 priorities for this Congress – on bills related to everything from Dreamers to lowering prescription-drug costs to expanding the Violence Against Women Act.

Tomorrow, barring any surprises, House Democrats will pass popular legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

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Attendees stand during a news conference at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. (Photo by Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Trump's latest 'treason' accusation is directed at Google

07/17/19 10:43AM

Donald Trump used the "t" word again yesterday, quoting something he saw on Fox News. The president wrote on Twitter, "'Billionaire Tech Investor Peter Thiel believes Google should be investigated for treason. He accuses Google of working with the Chinese Government.' @foxandfriends A great and brilliant guy who knows this subject better than anyone! The Trump Administration will take a look!"

Asked about this at a cabinet meeting yesterday, Trump didn't repeat the "treason" allegation, but as the transcript made clear, he repeated the underlying concerns.

"Well, what we're doing with China, first of all -- you know, Thiel is a friend of mine. He's a tremendous contributor. He's a big -- he's a big -- he spoke at our convention -- at the Republican National Convention. Peter is a brilliant young man -- one of the most successful people in Silicon Valley. I guess he was an original investor in some of these biggest -- biggest companies, including Facebook, I understand.

"Yeah, he made a very strong charge. He's one of the top -- maybe the top expert on all of those things. And he made a very big statement about Google. And I would like to recommend to the various agencies, including perhaps our Attorney General, who is with us, to maybe take a look. It's a big statement, when you say that, you know, Google is involved with China in not a very positive way for our country.

"So I think we'll all look at that. I know that our other agencies will be looking at it. And we'll see if there's any truth to it. But that's a very big statement, made by somebody who's highly respected. So we'll certainly take a look at that."

It was hard not to wonder what in the world the president was talking about.

As it turns out, Thiel recently accused Google of working with the Chinese military. Fox News aired an 11-second news brief on the claim yesterday; Trump apparently saw it; and the result was a presidential directive about a federal investigation into one of the world's largest tech giants.

This really isn't how governing is supposed to work in a global superpower.

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A Fox News reporter works from the Bernie Sanders rally in Iowa City, Ia., Jan. 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Trump adds (yet another) Fox News figure to his team

07/17/19 10:00AM

Donald Trump's original plan was to add Fox News' Monica Crowley to his National Security Council as the NSC's senior director of strategic communications. She was a poor choice, not just because of her professional background in this area, but also because Crowley was soon after confronted with a serious plagiarism controversy.

Crowley nevertheless remained in the White House's orbit, and a few months ago, she joined Team Trump with a job at the Treasury Department. Yesterday, she received a promotion.

President Trump announced Tuesday that he plans to appoint former Fox News contributor Monica Crowley to be the next spokeswoman for the Treasury Department.

Crowley, who currently serves as the department's senior adviser for public affairs, will serve as an assistant Treasury secretary for public affairs, according to the release.

It's unusual to see someone derailed by a plagiarism scandal return so quickly to positions of governmental prominence.

But I'm also struck by the unnerving frequency with which Fox News alum receive plum assignments in the Trump administration. Indeed, the Crowley news comes just a few months after Morgan Ortagus, a former Fox News contributor, became the State Department's new spokesperson -- replacing Heather Nauert, a former Fox News anchor.

Two months before that, Lea Gabrielle, a former Fox News reporter, was hired to help lead the State Department's Global Engagement Center.

And circling back to our earlier coverage, each of these Fox News veterans found plenty of other folks on Team Trump who've made the transition from the president's television screen to his administration's staff.

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President Barack Obama walks across the South Lawn to board Marine One as he departs the White House, on Sept. 13 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty)

With a straight face, GOP leader says party was 'respectful' of Obama

07/17/19 09:20AM

As part of the defense of Donald Trump's racist criticisms of four Democratic congresswomen of color, the president's Republican allies have tried to argue that the congresswomen in question are worthy of Trump's ire -- in part because of their ideology, and in part because they're big meanies toward the president.

Here, for example, was House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) yesterday, talking to reporters during a Capitol Hill press conference about the difference between how Republicans treated Barack Obama and Democrats treat Donald Trump.

"Look, we disagreed with Barack Obama on a lot of things that he did, the policies. As our conference chair laid out, there are a lot of policies that we had disagreements on with Speaker Pelosi and her socialist Democrats, just like we had disagreements with a lot of Barack Obama's policies, but we never disrespected the office. [...]

"We expressed our disagreements in a respectful, respectful way."

There's video of the Louisianan's comments. In case there were any doubts, Scalise did not appear to be kidding.

Which is a shame because it suggests the Republican congressman -- the #2 member of the House GOP leadership -- genuinely believes that he and his party were nothing but responsible and measured when expressing their disagreements with Barack Obama during his presidency. Republicans, in Scalise's mind, set a high bar when it came to political decorum. Obama could take comfort in knowing that his GOP opponents took great care to treat him and his office with respect and decency.


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Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, and press secretary Hope Hicks watch during a campaign rally on Oct. 14, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Why did Kellyanne Conway ask a reporter, 'What's your ethnicity?'

07/17/19 08:40AM

Kellyanne Conway's exact responsibilities in the White House have never been altogether clear to me, though she's generally referred to as the White House "counselor" -- as in, someone who counsels the president on matters of importance.

In practice, however, we tend to see Conway -- a Republican pollster who served as Donald Trump's third campaign manager from the 2016 cycle -- as a spokesperson for the president, making frequent media appearances defending Trump and putting a positive spin on his many scandals and controversies.

And as a rule, I try to be sympathetic. Defending the indefensible isn't easy, and I imagine there are some days Conway shows up at the White House wondering how in the world she'll push back against the latest criticisms of her boss' ridiculous antics.

With this in mind, Conway's job yesterday was to help present a defense after Trump used racist language against four congresswomen of color, which for some reason, led her to ask a reporter about his ethnic heritage at a White House Q&A.

Andrew Feinberg, a White House reporter for Breakfast Media, a website about politics and technology, asked Conway, "If the president was not telling these four congresswomen to return to their supposed countries of origin, to which countries was he referring?"

Conway paused and then asked him, "What's your ethnicity?"

"Why is that relevant?" Feinberg replied.

That was an appropriate response, and Feinberg soon after added, "My own ethnicity is not relevant to the question I'm asking."

The fact that Feinberg is Jewish raised additional questions about the propriety of Conway asking about his heritage for no apparent reason.

The exchange seemed a bit intense, and Conway quickly shifted gears, returning to the White House's larger strategy of questioning the patriotism of the congresswomen of color Trump targeted.

Left unanswered, however, was why in the world Conway asked about a reporter's ethnicity in the first place.

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Why the House was so divided on a measure condemning Trump's racism

07/17/19 08:00AM

There was plenty of drama on the House floor yesterday afternoon, but in the end, there was a straightforward outcome: lawmakers formally condemned Donald Trump's recent racist outburst.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution on Tuesday night condemning President Donald Trump for his "racist comments" about four Democratic congresswomen of color.

The resolution passed largely along party lines -- 235 Democrats joined by only four Republican supported the measure -- following hours of back-and-forth and gamesmanship between Republicans and Democrats, which included a GOP objection to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's remarks about Trump and whether she would be allowed to keep speaking on the floor.

The roll call is online here. Note that Democrats were completely united on the symbolic resolution and they were joined by four Republicans: Indiana's Susan Brooks, Pennsylvania's Brian Fitzpatrick, Texas' Will Hurd, and Michigan's Fred Upton. The House's sole independent, Michigan's Justin Amash -- a Republican up until two weeks ago -- also supported the measure. (Six Republicans did not vote.)

The procedural drama was over comments House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made on the floor, condemning the president's racist comments, which drew an objection from Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who pointed to rules limiting the kind of insults members could make against a president.

I'll spare you the procedural details, but for the GOP minority, this pointless debate over an arcane rule quickly became the most significant aspect of the day's floor developments. For hours, Republicans insisted what really mattered was Nancy Pelosi's criticisms of Donald Trump's racism -- not Trump's racism itself.

All of which reinforced the ridiculousness of the circumstances and the need for the contemporary Republican Party to reevaluate what's important.

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