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After judge rejects Trump's 'absolute immunity' claim, now what?

11/26/19 08:00AM

When it comes to obstruction allegations surrounding Donald Trump, former White House Counsel Don McGahn is not just another witness: few figures play as important a role in the Mueller report as the former White House counsel. As we've discussed, the Republican lawyer spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and the special counsel's findings cited McGahn more than 150 times.

In some of the episodes in which Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what the former White House Counsel told investigators.

Indeed, as the special counsel's findings made clear, McGahn very nearly resigned because the president directed him to "do crazy s**t," including an incident in which, according to McGahn, Trump pressed the lawyer to push the Justice Department to derail the Russia investigation by getting rid of Mueller and creating a false document to cover that up.

Not surprisingly, Congress subpoenaed McGahn to testify. The former White House counsel refused to comply after Trump ordered him to ignore the lawmakers' summons. But is that legal? Can a president direct someone not to comply with a lawful federal subpoena? As NBC News' Pete Williams reported, a federal judge ruled late yesterday that Trump exceeded his authority -- and McGahn must obey the subpoena issued by the House Judiciary Committee.

Federal District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said McGahn must appear before Congress but retains the ability to "invoke executive privilege where appropriate" during his appearance. The judge did not put her own ruling on hold, but the Trump administration will likely seek one to put the effect of her ruling on hold while it pursues an appeal.

"It is clear to this Court for the reasons explained above that, with respect to senior-level presidential aides, absolute immunity from compelled congressional process simply does not exist," Jackson said in her ruling.

"Presidents are not kings," she added.

The full ruling is online here. As Rachel explained on the show last night, "This is a ruling that is designed to be read by people who are outside this case. This is a ruling, I think, in the specific, that is designed to remind us all what kind of government the Constitution spells out for us and why, when all else fails, we should be able to count on the judiciary, the court system, the rule of law, to protect the Constitution, to make sure that the law is upheld. To make sure that nobody is above the law."

So, what happens now?

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Judge finds limit to Trump ability to block witnesses from House

Judge finds limit to Trump ability to block witnesses from House

11/25/19 09:46PM

Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney, talks with Rachel Maddow about the dramatic ruling by U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in which she explains that presidents are not kings and even Donald Trump is not above the law, so former White House counsel Don McGahn cannot ignore a subpoena to testify before the House impeachment inquiry... watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 11.25.19

11/25/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Impressive numbers from an engaged democracy: "After months of sometimes-violent unrest in Hong Kong, an election with record turnout handed a big victory to pro-democracy local district council candidates, posing a new conundrum for Beijing and adding pressure on the city's leader."

* I guess the new policy is the same as the old policy: "United States troops have resumed large-scale counterterrorism missions against the Islamic State in northern Syria, military officials say, nearly two months after President Trump's abrupt order to withdraw American troops opened the way for a bloody Turkish cross-border offensive."

* Parnas and Fruman, redux: "Two associates of Rudy Giuliani tried to recruit a top Ukrainian energy official in March in a proposed takeover of the state oil-and-gas company, describing the company's chief executive and the then-U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as part of "this Soros cartel" working against President Trump."

* RBG: "Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is back home and resting after being hospitalized Friday. Ginsburg, 86, has been released after being admitted with chills and a fever, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court said Sunday."

* More evidence of a climate crisis for the White House to ignore: "The concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere has reached a record high, according to a report released Monday by the World Meteorological Organization."

* I'm guessing he didn't consider resigning as an alternative to carrying out the order: "Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday that President Donald Trump had directed him to allow a Navy SEAL acquitted of war crimes to retire without losing his elite status."

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Rick Perry told Trump he's 'the chosen one'

11/25/19 02:19PM

With just a few months remaining before Election Day 2008, John McCain's presidential campaign settled on an unexpected line of attack. "Barack Obama," the Republican campaign said in a national online ad, "may be The One."

As the New York Times noted at the time, "The heavens part in this new Web ad, which wraps Mr. Obama's words around the emerging meme among Republicans ... that the presumptive Democratic nominee is the 'anointed' one, and mocks him with a parting of the seas by Moses."

Twelve years later, Republicans have stopped mocking Obama as the chosen one and started sincerely labeling Donald Trump the chosen one.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in an interview that he told President Donald Trump that he was God's "chosen one" to lead the United States, just as he chose the kings to lead Israel in the Old Testament. [...]

The former Texas governor said he told Trump that some people "said you were the chosen one."

"And I said, 'You were.'"

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley made related comments to TV preacher Pat Robertson's cable program, saying, in response to a question about a divine hand possibly putting Trump in the Oval Office, "[E]verything happens for a reason... I think that God sometimes places people for lessons and sometimes places people for change."

In the spring, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also sat down with the Christian Broadcasting Network and said he believes God may have sent Donald Trump to Earth to protect Israel.

Two months earlier, then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that He wanted Donald Trump to become president and that's why he's there."

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In this Oct. 18, 2010 file photo, a United Parcel Service (UPS) driver lifts an Amazon.com box in Palo Alto, Calif.

Following Trump's intervention, Amazon sues over DOD contract

11/25/19 12:34PM

At first blush, the Pentagon's Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract -- a multi-billion-dollar cloud-computing initiative -- may only seem relevant to those closely involved with national security and the tech industry. But as regular readers know, there are real political implications to the controversy and this newly filed lawsuit.

Amazon Web Services on Friday confirmed it has filed a lawsuit challenging the Defense Department's decision to award Microsoft a major contract for cloud services.

The JEDI, or Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, deal, which could be worth up to $10 billion, was hotly contested and marks a big win for Microsoft as it chases down AWS in cloud infrastructure.

It’s entirely possible that Microsoft won the contract strictly on the merits and there’s no concern about possible presidential corruption. That said, Donald Trump hasn’t exactly made it easy to believe the most benign interpretation of events.

Let’s back up and review how we arrived at this point. About a year into Trump’s presidency, Axios spoke to five sources close to the White House who said the Republican was eager to  “go after” Amazon.com and its CEO, Jeff Bezos. Referring to Trump, one source said at the time, “He’s obsessed with Amazon. Obsessed.”

The article added, “The president would love to clip CEO Jeff Bezos’ wings. But he doesn’t have a plan to make that happen.”

Trump’s preoccupation with Bezos has always been a little weird. It’s effectively a political bank shot of presidential contempt: the Republican hates the Washington Post’s coverage of his administration, which leads Trump to hate its owner, which then leads the president to also hate Bezos’ other businesses, including Amazon Web Services.

It was against this backdrop that Trump announced in July – just as the Pentagon was reportedly prepared to announce a decision on the JEDI contract – that he was looking “very seriously” at intervening in the contracting process because unnamed people had told him “it wasn’t competitively bid.”

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.25.19

11/25/19 12:00PM

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

* Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made it official yesterday, kicking off a longshot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. As part of his launch, Bloomberg has reportedly purchased $34 million in television ad time.

* For those keeping score, the Democratic presidential field now stands at 18 competitors, up from 16 two weeks ago.

* On a related note, Bloomberg, who is a billionaire, has said his campaign won't accept any contributions. According to DNC rules, I think this means the former mayor will be ineligible to participate in upcoming debates, even if he managed to qualify by way of polling support.

* Joe Biden's campaign has picked up some notable endorsements over the last few days. In Iowa, former Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) -- who served with Biden in Barack Obama's cabinet -- threw his support to the former vice president, and in Nevada, Rep. Dina Titus (D) endorsed Biden this morning.

* Speaking of 2020 endorsements, Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) has thrown his backing behind his fellow Californian, Sen. Kamala Harris. This is the fourth endorsement the Democratic senator has received from a Congressional Hispanic Caucus member.

* While Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D-Minn.) presidential campaign hasn't had much of an operation in the Silver State, the senator's operation has started staffing up in Nevada, hiring some aides who had worked for Beto O'Rourke's operation.

* Though unionized campaign workers are traditionally unheard of, Pete Buttigieg's field organizers became the latest campaign staffers to organize. Politico reported, "It said in a statement that the campaign had 'voluntarily recognized' that IBEW Local 2321 would serve as the sole union representing campaign staffers who have the title 'organizer.'"

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On his way out, Navy secretary takes not-so-subtle shot at Trump

11/25/19 10:52AM

There was a point over the weekend in which it appeared the dispute between Donald Trump and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer would be resolved. By last night, however, the detente ended and Spencer was ousted from his post.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was fired Sunday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who ordered that a Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murder be allowed to remain in the elite commando corps, the Defense Department said.

Esper asked for Spencer's resignation after President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday that Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher would retain the gold Trident insignia signifying his status as a member of the Sea, Air, and Land Teams, or SEALs. Spencer told reporters on Friday that he believed the review process over Gallagher's status should go forward.

Following up on our earlier coverage, there's little doubt that the Gallagher controversy was responsible for driving a wedge between the White House and the Navy secretary. Gallagher was accused of murder and war crimes, but he was ultimately convicted of a lesser charge. He was dropped in rank, though Trump intervened and promoted Gallagher.

Spencer, eager to instill a sense of discipline and respect for law and order, moved forward to strip Gallagher of his gold eagle Trident emblem, so that he would no longer be a Navy SEAL. Trump published a tweet last week announcing he was prepared to override the Navy's judgment on this, too.

This, naturally, intensified the dispute, and by some accounts, led Spencer to threaten to resign over the president's interference. According to the New York Times, the Navy secretary's threat "provoked Mr. Trump's ire."

For his part, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was reportedly bothered with the fact that Spencer tried to diffuse the situation by negotiating a deal directly with the White House -- circumventing him -- that would've allowed Gallagher to retire as a Navy SEAL.

Trump soon after weighed in with tweets suggesting Spencer's ouster had something to do with "large cost overruns from past administration's contracting procedures," which the president said "were not addressed to my satisfaction."

While the competing versions and explanations have the effect of making a messy situation messier, Spencer's written statement on his way out the door shouldn't go overlooked.

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