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DoJ IG report lesson: GOP bullying of law enforcement works

DoJ IG report lesson: GOP bullying of law enforcement works

06/14/18 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the findings of the Department of Justice inspector general report on the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and notes that the unequal treatment James Comey gave to Clinton was the result of Republican attacks on law enforcement that made Comey more concerned about giving the impression of... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 6.14.18

06/14/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The long-awaited inspector general's report: "The Justice Department's watchdog said Thursday that former FBI Director James Comey breached protocol but was not politically motivated in his handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe."

* It sounds like a prison camp for children: "The Trump administration has selected Tornillo, Texas, for the construction of tents to house the overflow of immigrant children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a new 'zero tolerance' policy, according to three sources familiar with the decision."

* In related news: "Life inside the biggest licensed child care facility in the nation for children brought into the U.S. illegally looks more like incarceration than temporary shelter."

* The practices aren't going unnoticed: "A group of legislators and activists that included several Democratic members of the House of Representatives ... staged a sit-in Wednesday outside the headquarters of the Customs and Border Protection agency in Washington, D.C. before moving to block a street at the edge of the White House security perimeter."

* I have a hunch we haven't seen the last of that image: "North Korean state television aired video on Thursday from the historic summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un that included a surprising moment when the American president saluted a North Korean general."

* Trump seems to have a habit of echoing the Kremlin's position: "President Donald Trump told G7 leaders that Crimea is Russian because everyone who lives there speaks Russian, according to two diplomatic sources."

* It's a shame this may be necessary: "A pair of Senate Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday that would prevent President Donald Trump from unilaterally drawing down the American troop presence on the Korean peninsula -- not necessarily because he's said he will, but because they don't want to rely on his word that he won't."

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Image: Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House

Trump Foundation accused of widespread illegal activities

06/14/18 03:30PM

One of the great ironies of the 2016 presidential campaign is that voters were led to believe that of the two major-party candidates, Hillary Clinton was the one with the controversial charitable foundation. Given the many alarming questions surrounding Donald Trump's charitable foundation, the conventional wisdom had it backwards.

And as it turns out, it may have been vastly worse than we knew.

Last fall, Trump's foundation took steps toward dissolution, but it ran into some trouble. The New York Attorney General's Charities Division explained at the time that it was investigating the foundation, and the president's entity couldn't formally dissolve until that probe ran its course.

That was eight months ago. As an NBC News' report makes clear, investigators have now wrapped up their examination, and they apparently found quite a bit.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued President Donald Trump and his charitable foundation on Thursday, alleging that the president and his adult children illegally used the private foundation for personal, business, and political expenses.

The lawsuit alleges illegal activity that took place over more than a decade, including "extensive unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trump's personal and business interests, and violations of basic legal obligations for non-profit foundations," according to a statement from the attorney general's office.

The suit accuses the president, along with Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, and Donald Trump Jr., of violating multiple counts of state and federal law. Foundation funds were used to pay off Trump family legal obligations, promote Trump businesses, purchase personal items, and influence the president's 2016 campaign, the suit said.

The full 41-page court filing is online here (pdf). The president has already published a couple of tweets complaining about the allegations and vowing not to settle the case.

The Trump Foundation also criticized the filing, though in an amusing twist, the foundation accused of improperly being controlled by the Trump Organization responded to the allegations by issuing a statement through the Trump Organization's email account.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion with African American business and civic leaders, Sept. 2, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pa. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Not a great week for Republican outreach to African Americans

06/14/18 12:40PM

One of the most competitive congressional races in the country this year is in New Jersey's 2nd district, where local Republicans recently nominated attorney Seth Grossman in something of an upset. On Monday, the Philadelphia Inquirer  reported on previously unseen comments the GOP candidate made during his primary campaign.

"The whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American," Grossman said at a GOP campaign forum held April 21 in Pittsgrove, Salem County. That comment, captured on video, was filmed by the American Bridge to the 21st Century, a Washington-based political action committee that monitors Republican candidates. It was provided to the Inquirer and Daily News shortly after the June 5 primary.

In the two-minute video clip, Grossman calls diversity "an excuse by Democrats, communists, and socialists, basically, to say that we're not all created equal; that some people, if somebody is lesser qualified, they will get a job anyway or they'll get into college anyway because of the tribe that they're with, what group, what box they fit into."

The same day, state Rep. David Stringer (R) spoke at a forum in Arizona and complained that "there aren't enough white kids to go around" in public schools in the state.

A day later, Virginia Republicans nominated a right-wing pro-Confederacy candidate, Corey Stewart, to run for the U.S. Senate, despite his deeply controversial record on race.

Just hours earlier, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) shared social media content from a British white nationalist who has described himself as a "Nazi sympathizer."

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.14.18

06/14/18 12:00PM

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

* In Ohio's closely watched Senate race, a new Cincinnati Enquirer/Suffolk University poll shows Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) leading Rep. Jim Renacci (R) by 16 points, 53% to 37%. A new Quinnipiac poll points in a similar direction, showing Brown ahead 51% to 34%.

* On a related note, in Ohio's gubernatorial race, the Enquirer/Suffolk poll found former CFPB Director Richard Cordray (D) leading state Attorney General Mike DeWine (R), 43% to 36%. Quinnipiac, meanwhile showed a tighter race, with Cordray up 42% to 40%.

* Facing heated complaints from Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) that the White House isn't engaged enough in North Dakota's Senate race, Donald Trump took a few shots yesterday at Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) on Twitter.

* Following Corey Stewart's win this week in Virginia's Republican Senate primary, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity have decided not to invest in this contest this year.

* Slate  noted this week that in Michigan, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R), a Republican gubernatorial candidate, has taken steps to remove the word "democratic" from the phrase "core democratic values" in the state's proposed social studies standards. Colbeck complained that the phrase is "not politically neutral," apparently confusing "democratic" with "Democratic."

* In New York, the latest Siena poll shows Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) with a 35-point lead over his Democratic primary rival, Cynthia Nixon, and a 19-point lead over his likely Republican opponent in the general election, Marc Molinaro.

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Image: Donald Trump Jr.

Trump Jr offers the wrong response to concerns that the GOP is 'cult-like'

06/14/18 11:35AM

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) upped the ante a bit this week on his frustrations with Donald Trump and his party's direction, telling reporters yesterday that the GOP has almost become "cultish" toward the president.

The retiring Republican senator added, "It's not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be of, purportedly, of the same party."

Donald Trump Jr. appeared on Fox News this morning and was asked about Corker's comments. His response was ... unexpected.

Trump Jr. didn't totally reject the characterization. Instead, after he was played a clip of Corker's remarks, he said, "You know what, if it's a cult, it's because they like what my father is doing."

"You see real Americans actually winning for a change," Trump Jr. continued. "Conservatives actually getting things done."

So let me get this straight. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is concerned about the GOP taking a cult-like posture toward their party's president, and the president's son/surrogate didn't reject the characterization?

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Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

The good question that Team Trump considers 'ridiculous' and 'ludicrous'

06/14/18 10:43AM

In the aftermath of Donald Trump's summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, one of the key questions is on verification. The two leaders signed a statement in which the dictatorship agreed to "work toward" denuclearization, but the vague phrasing raised more questions than it answered.

How will North Korea "work toward" that goal? How would the United States know if the authoritarian regime is keeping its word? Instead of answering the questions, the Trump administration yesterday rejected them as annoying. Politico had a good report on this late yesterday:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lost his cool Wednesday with reporters who pressed him on the vague agreement President Donald Trump reached with North Korea in Singapore this week.

During a visit to South Korea Wednesday, Pompeo bristled at and called "ludicrous" questions about why a document Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un signed on Tuesday did not include language that Pompeo has called essential to any nuclear deal.

When asked how a nuclear agreement would be verified, Pompeo snapped: "Don't say silly things.... It's not productive."

Look, I can appreciate the stress Pompeo is under. His boss keeps making concessions to one of the United States' key enemies in exchange for nothing, all while alienating several of the United States' closest allies. This isn't an easy time to be America's top diplomat.

But that doesn't change the fact that Pompeo's frustrations yesterday were absurd. Reporters asked the cabinet secretary to explain why this week's agreement didn't include phrases such as "verifiable and irreversible." Apparently, the pressure got to him.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington

Some on the right grow uncomfortable with Pruitt's flamboyant corruption

06/14/18 10:00AM

It's one of the most common questions in American politics: how in the world does EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt still have his job? There's no shortage of possible explanations, but the Oklahoma Republican has clearly benefited from the right's steadfast support.

So long as the EPA chief's critics are limited to the American mainstream, Donald Trump finds it easier to shrug off criticisms of his scandal-plagued cabinet secretary.

But there's fresh evidence that conservatives' support is not unconditional. In the wake of new revelations about Pruitt using his office to help his family, National Review published a piece yesterday calling for the EPA chief's resignation.

[W]e are now at a point where a good week for Pruitt sees only one report of behavior that is bizarre or venal. He seems to have used government employees to secure a job for his wife and to get a discount on a mattress. His top aides got hefty raises, and Pruitt first told Fox News he did not know about those raises and then told a House committee that he did. He reportedly told aides to find reasons for him to take official trips to countries he wanted to see, and had security aides run errands such as searching for his favorite lotion. And that's just the start.

This is no way for any public official to treat taxpayers.

Also yesterday, conservative commentator Laura Ingraham -- one of a very small number of people whom Trump follows on Twitter -- said Pruitt's "bad judgment" is hurting the president, which means he's "gotta go."

This week, the American Future Fund, a conservative non-profit group, also launched an ad campaign urging Pruitt to resign, with commercials describing him as a "swamp monster" who is "embarrassing President Trump."

Even Republican Sen. James Inhofe, a longtime Pruitt ally and a fellow far-right Oklahoman, said yesterday, "Every day, something new comes out. So I've kind of taken the position that if that doesn't stop, I'm going to be forced to be in a position where I'm going to say 'Well, Scott, you're not doing your job.'"

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Image: SINGAPORE-US-NKOREA-DIPLOMACY-SUMMIT

Trump finds new ways to excuse his new friend's heinous crimes

06/14/18 09:25AM

Donald Trump didn't just meet with North Korea's Kim Jong-un this week; the American president also offered gushing public praise for the repressive dictator. Even those who were inclined to approve of the Republican giving North Korea what it wanted, in exchange for nothing, found it difficult to defend Trump over-the-top affection for Kim.

What we didn't know was that the president wasn't done. Consider this exchange between Trump and Fox News' Bret Baier, aired last night:

BAIER: You know you call people sometimes 'killers.' [Kim] is a killer. I mean he's clearly executing people.

TRUMP: He is a tough guy. Hey when you take over a country, tough country, with tough people and you take it over from your father. I don't care who you are, what you are. How much of an advantage you have. If you can do that at 27 years old you, I mean, that's one in 10, 000 that could do that. So he is a very smart guy. He is a great negotiator, but I think we understand each other.

BAIER: But he's still has done some really bad things.

TRUMP: Yeah, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things.

Yes, we've reached the point in history at which the president of the United States is offering public excuses for a communist dictator's barbaric crimes.

If Trump's phrasing sounds at all familiar, just a month into his presidency, the Republican also sat down for a Fox News interview in which he was reminded that Russian President Vladimir Putin "is a killer." Trump responded at the time, "There are a lot of killers."

In English, we have a word to describe those who shrug off the crimes of their pals, making excuses for their misdeeds. They're called "apologists."

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Rep. Steve King

House Republican retweets Nazi sympathizer, faces no punishment

06/14/18 08:40AM

Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) ugly history on matters related to race, alas, is not new. And yet, new King controversies keep coming up. The Washington Post  reported:

Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa is drawing scrutiny after sharing a social media post from a British white nationalist who has described himself in the past as an admirer of Hitler's Germany and a "Nazi sympathizer."

King, whose racially inflected comments on subjects such as immigration and Western culture have drawn headlines for years, retweeted the British white nationalist Mark Collett, who had shared a statistic from Breitbart News on Tuesday morning about opinions of "mass immigration" in Italy.

"Europe is waking up," King wrote, above Collett's tweet. "Will America ... in time?"

There can be no doubt about Collett's abhorrent vision. As a Slate  piece explained, "According to HuffPost, Collett was once the youth leader of the British National Party, an extreme far-right party, and he once said that AIDS is a 'friendly disease because blacks, drug users, and gays have it.' He has also espoused anti-Semitic beliefs and appeared frequently on far-right and white nationalist podcasts. In his Twitter feed, he talks about white genocide, a popular concept among white supremacists, and the 'price of multiculturalism.'"

But what matters in this case is not Collett's disgusting worldview. It's not even Steve King's unsurprising willingness to promote Collett's online content.

What shouldn't go overlooked is the Iowa Republican's ability to get away with stuff like this -- because the right-wing congressman's party has an endless tolerance for his offensive antics. Or put another way, the question is less about Steve King and more about what GOP leaders intend to do about Steve King.

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Image: APEC Summit 2017 in Vietnam

Putin suggested Trump's controversial new foreign policy move

06/14/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump's first big concession to North Korea's Kim Jong-un came before their summit even began: the American president agreed to a bilateral summit, one of the dictatorship's long-sought goals, in exchange for practically nothing.

Trump's second big concession, however, was announced immediately after the summit ended: the president was scrapping joint military exercises with our South Korean allies, to North Korea's delight, also in exchange for practically nothing.

It was a difficult decision to defend. After all, the United States military has been participating in these joint exercises for decades. Making matters worse, Trump made the announcement without notifying our partners in South Korea, who were blindsided by the American leader's decision, or the Pentagon, where officials had no idea what the Republican president was talking about.

So why in the world would Trump do this? His first stated reason was that canceling the military exercises would save us money, which isn't altogether true, and which is an argument officials from both parties found bizarre. Trump also argued that the exercises were overtly "provocative" -- which represented an exceedingly rare instance in which an American president echoed the talking points of North Korea's communist dictatorship.

But to fully appreciate the oddity of the circumstances, it's worth understanding where Trump apparently got this idea in the first place. The Wall Street Journal  reported in January:

Around the same time, Mr. Trump had an idea about how to counter the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, which he got after speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin: If the U.S. stopped joint military exercises with the South Koreans, it could help moderate Kim Jong Un's behavior.... Mr. Trump dropped the idea, although he has ordered aides to give the exercises a low profile, eliminating press releases and briefings about them.

In context, "around the same time" refers to the period last summer after Trump met with Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg.

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