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E.g., 4/22/2019
A protester is seen during the during the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing for David Bernhardt, nominee to be Secretary of the Interior, March 28, 2019.

Four days on the job, Trump cabinet secretary faces new investigation

04/16/19 08:00AM

Last Thursday, the Senate voted largely along party lines to confirm David Bernhardt, a former corporate lobbyist for the oil industry, as the nation's new secretary of Interior. Four days later, as the New York Times reported, he became the subject of an ethics investigation.

The Interior Department's internal watchdog has opened an investigation into ethics complaints against the agency's newly installed secretary, David Bernhardt. [...]

Eight senators, all Democrats, and four government ethics watchdog groups have requested that the Interior Department's inspector general open formal investigations into various aspects of Mr. Bernhardt's conduct. Among the chief complaints have been allegations, revealed by three separate New York Times investigations, that Mr. Bernhardt used his position to advance a policy pushed by his former lobbying client; that he continued working as a lobbyist after filing legal paperwork declaring that he had ceased lobbying; and that he intervened to block the release of a scientific report showing the harmful effects of a chemical pesticide on certain endangered species.

There are a handful of ways to look at a story like this one. The first is to note the incredible speed with which the Republican cabinet secretary found himself facing an ethics probe.

Bernhardt certainly isn't the first member of Donald Trump's team to find himself under investigation, but the Interior secretary may have set some kind of land-speed record: he was confirmed on April 11, only to receive word about an ethics inquiry on April 15.

The second is to ask how in the world 56 senators voted to confirm this guy. None of the controversies surrounding Bernhardt is new; each were well documented before his nomination reached the Senate floor. (While serving as former Secretary Ryan Zinke's deputy, Bernhardt had so many conflicts of interest, the Washington Post reported last year that he had to "carry a small card listing them all," because he "worked for years as a lobbyist representing many of the very businesses he now regulates.")

As we discussed last week, there was a reason a protester in a Swamp Creature mask sat behind the Republican nominee during his recent confirmation hearing.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 4.15.19

04/15/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Losing a global treasure: "The Notre Dame Cathedral has long been regarded as a spiritual beacon, architectural marvel, monument to Parisian beauty and a towering symbol of French national pride. But the flames that engulfed the centuries-old structure on Monday threatened to permanently demolish that rich cultural legacy, alarming admirers and worshipers around the world."

* Maybe the White House can lower the temperature? "Rep. Ilham Omar said death threats against her have spiked as a result of an inflammatory video that was shared by President Donald Trump on Twitter about a remark she made regarding the 9/11 terrorist attacks."

* Quite a strike: "More than 30,000 Stop & Shop supermarket workers across three states remained on strike for a third day on Saturday, protesting what they said were unfair wages and high health insurance premiums."

* This story continues to amaze: "A federal judge on Monday denied bail to a Chinese woman who was arrested while trying to enter President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club with a trove of electronic devices."

* This guy's confirmation process was way too easy: "The National Archives and Records Administration gave the Interior Department until late April to address Democrats' allegations that newly confirmed Secretary David Bernhardt may have been destroying his official calendars, according to a letter POLITICO obtained Friday."

* Another diplomatic step backwards: "The Trump administration will not nominate anyone to serve on a United Nations committee on racism, the latest sign of a U.S. retreat from international bodies and traditional human rights priorities."

* Reproductive rights abroad: "South Korea's Constitutional Court on Thursday struck down the country's laws prohibiting abortion, a landmark decision challenging the 66-year-old ban that had become increasingly unpopular in recent years."

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Image: Senior White House Advisor Stephen Miller waits to go on the air in the White House Briefing Room in Washington

How Stephen Miller is using the power Trump gave him

04/15/19 02:42PM

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Donald Trump, eager to implement a variety of right-wing measures on immigration, recently told Stephen Miller, "You're in charge" of the administration's immigration agenda.

At face value, that may help explain the president's newly aggressive posture on everything from closing the border to "getting rid of" judges to cutting off aid to Central America, but behind the scenes, conditions may be even more unsettling. The New York Times reported today:

Mr. Trump insisted in a tweet on Saturday that he was "not frustrated" by the situation at the border, where for months he has said there is a crisis that threatens the nation's security. But unable to deliver on his central promise of the 2016 campaign, he has targeted his administration's highest-ranking immigration officials.

And behind that purge is Mr. Miller, the 33-year-old White House senior adviser. While immigration is the issue that has dominated Mr. Trump's time in office, the president has little interest or understanding about how to turn his gut instincts into reality. So it is Mr. Miller, a fierce ideologue who was a congressional spokesman before joining the Trump campaign, who has shaped policy, infuriated civil liberties groups and provoked a bitter struggle within the administration.

The problem is not just that the White House's entire immigration agenda is being shaped by a controversial young ideologue. Indeed, what's especially striking about the latest reporting is how Stephen Miller is shaping policy in the West Wing.

The New York Times highlighted a series of incidents in which Miller, ostensibly speaking on behalf of the president, demanded administration officials do more to deny welfare benefits to legal immigrants, work around court-ordered protections for migrant children, and make the review process more difficult for those seeking asylum.

Trump political appointees -- not career officials -- have pushed back against policies they considered "legally questionable, impractical, unethical or unreasonable," and that in turn has "further infuriated a White House set on making quick, sweeping changes to decades-old laws."

The article added that there was a meeting in which officials at Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) were on the receiving end of a Miller tirade and believed "it was almost as if Mr. Miller wanted asylum officers to ignore the law."

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

As the release of the Mueller report nears, Trump lashes out

04/15/19 12:56PM

If you've been waiting for the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, your waiting isn't over. The good news is, you don't have to wonder anymore when the wait will end.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on the Russia investigation and President Donald Trump is expected to be made public Thursday morning, the Justice Department said Monday.

Washington has been waiting for the release of the report, which has put Attorney General William Barr at loggerheads with congressional Democrats who have demanded the entire, unredacted document since Mueller recently concluded his nearly two-year investigation.

As things stand, the findings that we'll see on Thursday morning will be a redacted version of the final document, not the full and unedited Mueller report. Congressional efforts to obtain everything -- including the unredacted findings and the supporting materials -- will continue.

But chances are good that on Thursday morning, our understanding of the special counsel's report will at least be better than it is now. We'll have to deal with Bill Barr's redactions, but we won't have to rely exclusively on Barr's characterizations -- and non-summary summary -- of Team Mueller's work.

In the meantime, ABC News' Jonathan Karl reported yesterday that White House officials "have been briefed" on the yet-to-be-released report and there is "significant concern on the president's team," especially with regards to what former White House Counsel Don McGahn told Mueller and his investigators.

It's important to emphasize that MSNBC and NBC News haven't independently confirmed that reporting, but if Karl's correct and the White House has been briefed on Mueller's findings, it casts Donald Trump's latest tweets in an interesting light.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.15.19

04/15/19 12:00PM

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

* As the Democratic presidential nominating process continues to get underway in earnest, Donald Trump's re-election campaign continues to look like a financial juggernaut: it took in $30 million in the first quarter and now has more than $40 million cash on hand. That doesn't include the tens of millions of dollars the RNC has raised, which will further benefit the president.

* South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg formally kicked off his Democratic presidential campaign yesterday, and he'll be on the show with Rachel tonight. (According to the mayor's campaign, the candidate wrote his own announcement speech.)

* More than two months after launching his presidential campaign, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also held a formal kick-off event in his hometown of Newark over the weekend.

* And in case that weren't quite enough, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who announced his candidacy last week, held a formal launch event of his own yesterday in his hometown of Dublin, Calif.

* Late last week, Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) announced he'll retire at the end of his term, creating a pick-up opportunity for Republicans: Iowa's 2nd congressional district switched from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to supporting Donald Trump in 2016.

* As part of her presidential campaign, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) released 15 years' worth of tax returns over the weekend.

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