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Image: Eric Greitens

Sex scandal gets vastly more serious for Missouri's GOP governor

04/12/18 08:00AM

In contemporary politics, sex scandals are not always career-ending controversies. The public is often forgiving, for example, when politicians are contrite about mistakes in their personal lives.

But make no mistake: the allegations surrounding Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) are vastly more serious than routine controversies about adultery. The Kansas City Star  reported overnight:

When she tried to leave, sobbing after a non-consensual sexual encounter, she says the man who would be governor physically stopped her.

What happened next, she testified under oath to a Missouri House committee investigating allegations of misconduct against Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, is spelled out in graphic detail in a 25-page report and transcripts of testimony that the lawmakers released Wednesday.

It's the first time the public has heard sworn testimony from the woman at the center of allegations of misconduct against the governor.

The full report is online here. I should emphasize that it's quite graphic and explains in some detail alleged non-consensual sexual assaults.

The governor, who's acknowledged the pre-election affair but who's denied criminal wrongdoing, was originally dealing with a controversy about blackmail. The findings from the state House committee -- which was led by members of Greitens' own party -- take the story in a qualitatively different, and more gut-wrenching, direction.

Nevertheless, the governor preempted yesterday's report with a forceful denial, and he insists his extra-marital affair was consensual.

The number of people sympathetic to his argument is shrinking. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate and someone generally seen as a Greitens ally, has called on him to "resign immediately."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: FBI Director Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington

Exclusive: DoJ letter shows scope of Mueller evidence collection

04/11/18 11:39PM

The Rachel Maddow Show has obtained exclusively a collection of previously unreported documents. Among them are handwritten notes, now confirmed by The Washington Post as having been taken by then acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente, recording his conversation with James Comey about Comey's interactions with Donald Trump.

The collection of documents also includes a letter in which Boente informs the Department of Justice that he has been asked to give testimony to Robert Mueller's investigation, and another letter declaring that Boente's notes on his talks with Comey are not Top Secret.

Rachel Maddow reported additionally on Wednesday on another letter obtained exclusively by TRMS. The letter, from Scott Schools, the top career official at the Justice Department, informs other top DoJ officials that they've been asked to preserve any "Documents and Responsive Materials" related to Donald Trump's firing of James Comey or the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia's intrusion in the 2016 election.

Below is a rush transcript of Maddow's reporting on that document:

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.11.18

04/11/18 05:31PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* That's unexpected: "The F.B.I. agents who raided the office and hotel of President Trump's lawyer on Monday were seeking all records related to the 'Access Hollywood' tape in which Mr. Trump was heard making vulgar comments about women, according to three people who have been briefed on the contents of a federal search warrant."

* Also unexpected: "Former House Speaker John Boehner says his stance on a popular substance has shifted -- and it's not merlot. The former Republican congressional leader -- and famed wine-drinker -- announced Wednesday he is joining the board of Acreage Holdings, a firm that cultivates, processes and dispenses marijuana in 11 U.S. states."

* Medicaid expansion also created 19,000 new jobs in the state: "Louisiana's decision to expand Medicaid in 2016 led to a $1.85 billion direct economic impact, according to an economic impact report released Tuesday."

* Not helpful: "President Donald Trump's tweet Wednesday morning threatening a potential U.S. strike against Syria broke with national security procedures -- as well as his own admonishments about tipping off enemies about attack plans."

* Good idea: "Senate Democrats are formally calling for Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt to resign or be fired, citing allegations of ethical lapses and questionable spending on travel and security. New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall said the mounting allegations against Pruitt mean 'it is time for his imperial tenure to end.'"

* Bad idea: "President Donald Trump signed a broad executive order urging a revamp of federal government aid programs Tuesday, invigorating a contentious debate from which Republicans hope to gain momentum before the November elections."

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The NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Ky. on May 20, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

The NRA offers a new count of its Russian contributors

04/11/18 04:40PM

Before getting into the latest on the National Rifle Association and its foreign contributors, some backstory is in order.

After the NRA’s campaign expenditures saw a dramatic jump in 2016, the group started fielding questions about the money’s sources. In fact, McClatchy News first reported in January that the FBI is exploring whether “a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money” to the NRA to help Trump win the presidency.

The same outlet reported soon after that a former NRA board member, had “concerns” about the group’s ties to Russia “and its possible involvement in channeling Russian funds into the 2016 elections.” Politico reported soon after that the Federal Election Commission has launched “a preliminary investigation into whether Russian entities gave illegal contributions” to the far-right group.

NPR moved the ball forward a bit with a new report two weeks ago, noting that the organization acknowledges accepting money from foreign sources, though the NRA denies anything improper.

But what about Russian donors specifically? Initially, the organization said it only had one Russian contributor. NPR reported today, however, that the group had now revised that total.

The National Rifle Association has accepted contributions from about 23 Russians, or Americans living in Russia, since 2015, the gun rights group acknowledged to Congress.

The NRA said in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., unveiled on Wednesday, that the sum it received from those people was just over $2,500 and most of that was "routine payments" for membership dues or magazine subscriptions.

About $525 of that figure was from "two individuals who made contributions to the NRA."

In case this isn't obvious, given the enormous amount of money the NRA receives for its endeavors, these revised totals of donations from Russia represent a tiny percentage of the organization's budget and that of its affiliates.

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

Congressional retirements start to pile up

04/11/18 04:07PM

Just how many members of Congress are retiring this cycle? If you check with various news organizations, you're likely to get a variety of answers, and that's because this is a little more complicated than it probably should be.

The trick of it is figuring out exactly what counts as a "retirement." Do we count the House members who gave up their seats to join Donald Trump's cabinet? How about those who've already been replaced by way of a special election? Do resignations count? What do we do with Oklahoma's Jim Bridenstine, who was nominated to run NASA, but who's still casting votes in the House, and who may not be confirmed?

I've maintained my own list for several months, and with today's congressional retirement announcements, it seemed like a good time to take a look at the landscape as I see it:

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

Senators unveil bipartisan bill to shield Mueller from Trump

04/11/18 12:40PM

Last summer, when it seemed possible that Donald Trump would upend the investigation into the Russia scandal by firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, several lawmakers took steps to prevent that crisis. Those efforts are suddenly relevant anew,

Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), for example, unveiled a proposal that would allow Mueller to challenge his removal, bringing the matter to a three-judge panel for a legal review. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), meanwhile, worked on a measure that intended to give Mueller protections before he's ousted.

This morning, these same four senators unveiled the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, which combines the two proposals.

The bill would ensure that only a senior official at the Department of Justice has the authority to fire the special counsel and the reason would have to be provided in writing. The measure would also give the special counsel 10 days to seek judicial review to examine their removal to determine if the dismissal "was for good cause."

The legislation would ensure that documents, materials and staff working on the investigation are preserved.

"A nation of laws cannot exist if the people tasked with enforcing them are subjected to political interference or intimidation from the president," Booker said in a press statement. "The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act will install a needed check and ensure that Special Counsel Mueller and his team -- and any future special counsels -- are able to follow the facts and the law wherever they lead. Congress must act to advance this bipartisan legislation as soon as possible without any further delay."

That seems like a reasonable suggestion, though I have a hunch GOP leaders will disagree about what "must" happen.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.11.18

04/11/18 12:00PM

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

* With House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) retiring, Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball ratings now list the race for his Wisconsin district as a "toss-up," from "likely Republican."

* While the Ryan news is going to get far more attention, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) also announced this morning that he's retiring after four terms in Congress. By my count, he's the 38th Republican retirement this cycle.

* Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) was sworn in this week as Thad Cochran's (R) successor, following his recent health-related resignation. Hyde-Smith, a former Democrat, intends to run this fall in the special election for this seat, and if she prevails, she'll serve the remainder of Cochran's term, which ends in 2020.

* A Nevada Republican plan to launch recall campaigns against some Democratic state senators has apparently come to an end, at least for now. The Nevada Independent  reported, "Nevada election officials say that signatures for the two recall campaigns targeting Democratic state senators have failed to trigger a special election, though an appeal is possible."

* According to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), she met with Donald Trump during his transition period and in December 2016, the then-president-elect urged her to change parties. That obviously didn't happen, and Heitkamp is running for a second term this year as a Dem.

* In Florida yesterday, Lori Berman (D) easily won a state Senate special election -- as was expected -- prevailing with about 75% of the vote. According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on state races, Berman outperformed Hillary Clinton's vote share in the same district by about 14 percentage points.

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Image: APEC Summit 2017 in Vietnam

Will Trump tweet his way into an escalating military conflict in Syria?

04/11/18 11:20AM

For years, Donald Trump assured the public that he would never telegraph his military plans. Lately, for reasons the White House hasn't explained, the president has spent a fair amount of time doing the opposite.

Trump declared two weeks ago, for example, "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.... Very soon -- very soon we're coming out." (The Trump administration said soon after that it disagrees.)

This morning on Twitter, the president signaled the opposite intention.

"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"

About a half-hour after taunting Russia and signaling a missile attack, Trump tried a more conciliatory tone.

"Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?"

The idea that the U.S./Russia relationship is worse now than during the Cold War is difficult to take seriously -- maybe he's never heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis? -- but also note the shift from one tweet to the next. First he said, "Get ready Russia," which was soon followed by a call for international cooperation.

All of which led Trump to blame the deteriorating conditions on the investigation into the Russia scandal.

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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Nunes threatens to impeach Trump-appointed FBI director

04/11/18 10:40AM

It's been a few weeks since House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) made head-shaking news, so I guess we were due for a report like this one from Business Insider.

[Nunes suggested last night] he has a plan to target deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and FBI director Christopher Wray.

"We're not going to just hold in contempt, we will have a plan to hold in contempt and to impeach," Nunes said to Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Tuesday evening.

"We're not messing around here," Nunes continued.

Apparently the California Republican, an unnervingly close ally of the Trump White House, wants the Justice Department to give him copies of unredacted documents used to launch the investigation into the Russia scandal.

At issue are materials that document George Papadopoulos' revelation that Russia had acquired damaging information on Hillary Clinton. The Justice Department and the FBI, perhaps skeptical of the increasingly ridiculous House Intelligence Committee, has been reluctant to play along with Nunes' plan to undermine their investigation.

But that resistance has only infuriated Nunes, who insisted last night on Fox News, "We're at a boiling point where we need this." Asked if he's willing to impeach the director of the FBI, the congressman added, "Absolutely."

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Image: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

House Speaker Paul Ryan to exit stage right

04/11/18 10:00AM

There's been an enormous number of House Republican retirement announcements in recent months, but some are more notable than others.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., won't run for re-election, two sources with knowledge of his decision confirmed to NBC News Wednesday.

Axios was the first to report that Ryan, 48, would leave Congress at the end of his term.

The Wisconsin congressman's office has since confirmed the reports, making clear that Ryan will not resign early, but he will also not run for another term.

And while this is no doubt a major development -- Ryan is the first House leader from either party not to run for re-election since Bob Michel (R-Ill.) in 1994 -- it's not terribly surprising, either. The HuffPost's Matt Fuller first reported on rumors about Ryan's retirement back in December, and Politico had a related report a day later.

The Speaker and his office pushed  back against the reports, though they also left themselves some rhetorical wiggle room, suggesting to many that Ryan's exit was a near-certainty.

As for why the Speaker is stepping down, that's a surprisingly easy question to answer.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) emerges from a closed-door weekly policy meeting with Senate Republicans, at the U.S. Capitol, May 10, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Instead of defending Mueller, some in GOP target him

04/11/18 09:20AM

Late Monday, Donald Trump mused publicly about firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which meant there was quite a bit of chatter on Capitol Hill yesterday about what, if anything, lawmakers were prepared to do to shield the investigation from presidential interference.

Most congressional Republicans fell into one of two camps. The first group was made up of GOP lawmakers who shrugged off the president's comments, assuming he was simply blowing off steam, and that the threat of Trump instigating such a crisis wasn't real. The second group took the rhetoric a little more seriously, and indirectly warned Trump that even trying to fire Mueller would put his presidency in jeopardy.

But I was especially interested in the third group: the Republicans who aren't just disinclined to support the special counsel's work, but who are actually openly hostile toward it.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), for example, seemed surprised when asked about effort to shield the special counsel. "To protect Mueller?" the Georgia Republican said. "I think it's about time we get to the end of [the] investigation. This looks like an investigation that's spiraling out of control."

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went a little further.

The Kentucky Republican defended Trump on Fox News, saying Tuesday that the FBI's raid on the president's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen went too far, and took aim at special prosecutor Robert Mueller as a result.

"What does this have to do with Russia?" Paul said on Fox News. "Going after someone's personal attorney is a great overstep I think in the authority of the prosecutor ... I think that Mueller has abused his authority."

To the extent that reality matters, Mueller didn't execute the search warrants on Cohen's office and hotel; the U.S. attorney's office in New York did.

But even putting that aside, it's hard not to see this and think of the members of Congress who lashed out at Archibald Cox in 1973.

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