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Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chair of the Senate Republican Caucus, speaks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2013. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

GOP senator: It's time to 'move on' from Trump's Russia scandal

11/30/18 10:02AM

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal intensified in the spring and summer, a variety of Republicans responded to the controversy by calling for the probe to end. Vice President Mike Pence, for example, said in May, "In the interests of the country, I think it's time to wrap it up."

A month later, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) was a little more colorful on this point, directing a message to Mueller during a committee debate, saying, "Whatever you got, finish it the hell up." A month after that, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) appeared on "Meet the Press" and added, "I think the Mueller investigation ought to be brought to an end.... We do need to wrap it up."

Thankfully, federal investigators ignored the rhetoric and the probe continued. But in the wake of Mueller's latest criminal charge -- Michael Cohen pleaded guilty yesterday to lying about the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project -- some Republicans are once again eager to pull the plug.

Take, for example, the latest comments from Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who'll soon become the #2 member of the Senate Republican leadership.

"I don't think at this point that there has been anything that, in any way, changes the landscape, so to speak, where the president is concerned," Thune said in an interview with Fox News Thursday. "He has argued all along there wasn't any collusion on the part of his campaign team or his administration with Russia. And I haven't seen anything that disproves that."

Thune added that the Mueller probe should be thorough and complete, but can't go on forever. He said Trump has important work to do for the American people and it is time to "move on."

"And the longer these things drag on, it just, it gets, I think, very wearing on the American people," he said.

Ah, yes, the weary American public couldn't possibly withstand the rigors of this investigation. Thank goodness we have John Thune looking out for us.

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

To defend Trump, Republicans scoff at 'process crimes'

11/30/18 09:20AM

Yesterday was not a good day for Donald Trump. The president's former personal attorney and "fixer" pleaded guilty in a federal courtroom, admitting that he lied to Congress about Trump's efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. It marked the first time the president's private business dealings in Moscow were directly implicated in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the broader Russia scandal.

If the president's Republican allies were going to defend him from developments like these, they'd need to get creative. Evidently, they came up with a new thing at which to scoff: "process crimes."

Some Republicans, like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, said Cohen's admission doesn't prove collusion between Russia and the president. [...]

Graham, who has emerged as one of Trump's fiercest defenders, said he had "no idea what that's all about" when asked his reaction to Cohen's guilty plea, adding that it "seems to be a process crime."

Soon after, Rush Limbaugh complained, "Every one of Mueller's indictments is a process crime."

As TPM reported, Michael Anton, former spokesman for Trump's National Security Council, also lashed out at Mueller's team for pursuing a "process" crime.

Putting aside the amazing coincidence of these Republicans coming up with the same rhetorical line on the same afternoon, it's worth pausing to understand what in the world these guys are talking about.

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Surprise announcement derails controversial Trump judicial nominee

11/30/18 08:40AM

When it comes to Donald Trump's far-right judicial nominees, Senate Republicans generally play the role of rubber stamp: whomever the president wants on the federal judiciary, the president gets. There are, once in a great while, some notable exceptions.

In July, for example, Ryan Bounds' nomination for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was derailed when Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) reviewed his history of racially provocative writings and decided to vote against Bounds. Yesterday, to the surprise of nearly everyone, it happened again.

A second Senate Republican has come out against controversial Trump judicial nominee Thomas Farr, a move that is certain to sink his chances of confirmation.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the Senate's only African-American Republican, said in a statement that he could not vote for Farr because of concerns about his record.

On Wednesday, there was a procedural vote on Farr's nomination, and Scott voted with his party, paving the way for the conservative's confirmation. But almost immediately, the South Carolina Republican made clear that he was still undecided ahead of the final vote. (Alaska's Lisa Murkowski told reporters yesterday that she, too, was undecided.)

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, is opposing every nominee until members are allowed to vote on his bipartisan bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller, though in this case, the retiring Arizonan says he has his own concerns about Farr's record.

With 49 Senate Democrats united in their opposition to Farr, opponents of the nomination only need two GOP senators to break ranks. As of late yesterday, they now have those two votes.

To understand why there's so much interest in one district court nominee, it's important to understand that Thomas Farr isn't just another Trump court pick.

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Image: Russia US Summit in Helsinki

Trump Org eyed penthouse gift for Putin during 2016 campaign

11/30/18 08:00AM

We've learned quite a bit over the last 24 hours about the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project that Donald Trump and his team pursued during his 2016 presidential campaign. It's a deal the Republican and members of his inner circle appear to have lied about, including lies Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, told to Congress while under oath.

But new and amazing details continue to emerge. BuzzFeed published a gem last night on what the Trump Organization was prepared to offer Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of the project:

President Donald Trump's company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign, according to four people, one of them the originator of the plan.

Two US law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed News that Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer at the time, discussed the idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin's press secretary. [...]

The revelation that representatives of the Trump Organization planned to forge direct financial links with the leader of a hostile nation at the height of the campaign raises fresh questions about President Trump's relationship with the Kremlin.

Rachel joked on the show last night, "Oh, I don't know. Doesn't every presidential candidate in every election offer a $50 million gift to a foreign leader who at that time is running a military intelligence operation to help that candidate become president in the United States? Don't they all do this?"

It's worth pausing to appreciate the trajectory of the controversy from a distance. Remember, when the significance of the Russia scandal first started coming into focus, the original line from Trump and his team was that Moscow didn't interfere in the U.S. elections, didn't prefer Trump, and never communicated with anyone on Trump's political operation.

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Cohen knowledge a 'very dangerous threat' to Trump

Cohen knowledge a 'very dangerous threat' to Trump

11/29/18 09:27PM

Anthony Cormier, reporter for Buzzfeed, talks with Rachel Maddow about his reporting on the Michael Cohen and the Trump Organization's pursuit of a Trump Tower Moscow project well into the 2016 campaign, and the threat Cohen's cooperation with Robert Mueller poses to the Trump Organization. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 11.29.18

11/29/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Big news for those following the Thomas Farr nomination: "Sen. Tim Scott said Thursday he will oppose the nomination of Thomas Farr to the federal bench, assuring the controversial pick will not be confirmed. The South Carolina Republican was the deciding vote in determining whether Farr, widely accused of efforts to disenfranchise black voters, would be confirmed."

* Hmm: "Senate committees investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election are combing through witness testimony for possible misleading or untruthful statements, according to three people familiar with the effort."

* I strongly suspect this was scandal related: "President Donald Trump on Thursday abruptly canceled a planned Saturday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Moscow's seizure of Ukrainian assets and personnel."

* It may just be a coincidence, but Burke was a tax attorney for Donald Trump for 10 years: "Federal agents showed up unannounced at the City Hall office of Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke, kicked everyone out and papered over the windows Thursday morning. The nature of their visit was not known, but Ald. Burke has dodged dozens of federal investigations over five decades in Chicago politics."

* VA: "For weeks, student veterans across the country have raised an alarm about delayed or incorrect GI Bill benefit payments, which the Department of Veterans Affairs has blamed on computer issues. But on Wednesday, the department told congressional staffers that it would not reimburse those veterans who were paid less than they were owed, two committee aides told NBC News."

* Some unexpected news related to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio): "One of President Trump's staunchest defenders on Capitol Hill is bowing out of the race to become the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, anticipating that party leaders would select someone else for the position."

* Farm bill: "Lawmakers have struck a final farm bill deal that scraps a plan -- backed by House Republicans and President Trump -- that would have added new work requirements on food stamp beneficiaries, according to a key GOP senator."

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Image: President Trump Departs White House For G7 Summit In Canada

Trump lashes out at Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer

11/29/18 12:54PM

Two former members of Donald Trump's inner circle agreed this year to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal: former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump Organization vice president Michael Cohen. Both are now convicted felons.

Manafort, who "flipped" on Trump but was apparently trying to play both sides simultaneously, has no doubt noticed that the president is dangling the possibility of a pardon. In fact, just this morning, indifferent to concerns about the appearance of obstructing justice, Trump told reporters, "The question was asked yesterday about pardons with respect to Paul Manafort, who, it's very sad what's happened to Paul, the way he's being treated. I've never seen anybody treated so poorly."

The president's perspective on Cohen, who pleaded guilty this morning to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower Moscow project, seems a little more contentious. Make that, more than a little.

"He was convicted of a fairly long-term sentence on things totally unrelated to the Trump organization.... He's a weak person, and by being weak, unlike other people that you watch, he's a weak person and what he's trying to do is get a reduced sentence. [...]

"Here's the thing. even if he was right, it doesn't matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign."

That last point, at face value, may seem vaguely compelling. After all, before taking office, Trump was a private citizen. If he wanted to pursue a possible business venture in Moscow while running for president, he was well within his rights to do so.

"There was a good chance that I wouldn't have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business and why should I lose lots of opportunities," he added this morning.

The trouble, of course, is that this doesn't explain all of the lying. Why would the president spend months denying business deals with Russia if it "doesn't matter"?

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.29.18

11/29/18 12:00PM

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

* It's not official just yet, but as things stand, Rep. David Valadao (R) has fallen behind in California's 21st congressional district, and he won't catch up to T.J. Cox (D). If this holds, it'll be the 40th and final House Democratic pickup of this election cycle.

* On a related note, one of the last uncalled congressional races was in New York's 22nd, where Anthony Brindisi (D) has defeated far-right freshman Rep. Claudia Tenney (R).

* Now that he's lost, Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) is asking a federal court to declare his state's election system unconstitutional. Barring that, the Maine Republican wants a judge to order a new election. Neither outcome appears likely.

* Something weird is going on with the election results in North Carolina's 9th congressional district, where Mark Harris (R) appears to have defeated Dan McCready (D) by about 900 votes. However, the state board of elections unanimously agreed this week not to certify the results, and as the Charlotte Observer  reported, one board member cited what he called "unfortunate activities" in the eastern part of the district.

* The Republican National Committee yesterday boasted about the extraordinary investments and efforts that went into Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith's (R) special-election victory in Mississippi this week. I'm not sure why the RNC is bragging: Mississippi is a deep-red state and this Senate race was the closest the state has seen in 30 years.

* House Democrats met privately yesterday to choose their leadership for the new Congress. In the contested contests, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) was elected Democratic Caucus chair, while Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) was chosen as Democratic Caucus vice chair.

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Image: US-POLITICS-INVESTIGATION-TRUMP-COURT

Why Michael Cohen's new guilty plea is so important

11/29/18 10:46AM

As part of a flurry of desperate tweets this morning, Donald Trump wrote, in reference to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe, "Did you ever see an investigation more in search of a crime?"

The president's timing could've been better. Just a few hours after Trump published his missive, his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former longtime personal attorney and fixer, pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday to making false statements to Congress about the project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Cohen's plea marked the first time that Trump and his private business dealings in Moscow were named in open court as part of Mueller's investigation into Russia's ties to the Trump campaign.

The president has repeatedly insisted that he's had no business dealing with Russia, but that's never been altogether true. As regular readers may recall, a member of Trump's inner circle tried to complete a major real-estate deal in Moscow during the Republican's presidential campaign. What's more, as Rachel has explained on the show, the financing for the proposed deal was coming by way of a bank owned and controlled by Putin's government in Russia.

This isn't a situation in which a Trump lieutenant tackled a business venture on his own: as the Washington Post  reported last year, Cohen "said that he discussed the deal three times with Trump and that Trump signed a letter of intent with the company on Oct. 28, 2015." That's several months after Trump launched his campaign. (He even participated in a Republican primary debate that evening.)

This is the same business deal in which Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer and Trump associate, said in an email that completing the agreement would help put Trump in the White House.

"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," Sater wrote in an email obtained by the New York Times. "I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process."

And now we know that Michael Cohen, while under Trump's employ, found it necessary to lie to Congress about the deal.

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