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Bezos accusation could mean huge trouble for National Enquirer

Bezos accusation could mean huge trouble for National Enquirer

02/07/19 09:48PM

Elliot Williams, former deputy assistant attorney general, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether the accusation made by Jeff Bezos against the National Enquirer would be a crime, and what the implications are for the terms of the non-prosecution agreement the National Enquirer's parent company AMI has with prosecutors in the Michael Cohen... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.7.19

02/07/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Today's messiest story: "The acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, told lawmakers on Thursday that he would not testify before the House Judiciary Committee as scheduled on Friday without a written assurance that they would not issue a subpoena for his testimony during the hearing."

* How reassuring: "When asked whether his acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker will testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, President Trump deflected, suggesting if Whitaker did end up appearing he would 'do very well.'"

* Look for a floor vote on Barr in six days: "The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nomination of William Barr to be the next attorney general Thursday, as Republicans touted his qualifications and Democrats voiced concerns about how he would handle the special counsel investigation."

* The Green New Deal gets some details: "Liberal Democrats put flesh on their 'Green New Deal' slogan on Thursday with a sweeping resolution intended to redefine the national debate on climate change by calling for the United States to eliminate additional emissions of carbon by 2030."

* A new Virginia mess:  "A Republican Virginia state senator oversaw a yearbook at the Virginia Military Institute that included racist images and slurs, adding him to the list of scandal-plagued Virginia politicians that has thrust the normally decorous state capital Richmond into a state of tumult."

* Trade talks: "Stocks fell on Thursday after White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said China and the U.S. were still far away on striking a trade deal, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping by 360 points."

* Remember, Trump has argued that these farmers simply don't mind the economic hardship: "President Donald Trump's trade war is magnifying some of the toughest farm conditions since the crisis that bankrupted thousands of farmers in the 1980s -- and threatening a constituency crucial to his reelection hopes."

* I hope you saw Rachel's coverage of this last night: "Paul Erickson, the American political operative and boyfriend of admitted Russian agent Maria Butina, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in South Dakota on charges of wire fraud and money laundering."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Trump taps someone else from Fox News for his team (yes, again)

02/07/19 03:47PM

About a year ago, Fox News' Juan Williams joked on the air that he sees Donald Trump's White House as a reality-television program -- and if you want to make it onto the show, you have to be in a Fox News green room "because apparently that's the staging area."

Perhaps he wasn't kidding.

The Trump administration will tap a former Fox News reporter and former intelligence operative to lead the U.S. government's premier agency charged with exposing and countering disinformation from Russia and other foreign governments around the world.

Lea Gabrielle, who joined Fox News in 2013 and is also a former Navy pilot, will be the new head of the Global Engagement Center, according to a copy of the announcement obtained by USA TODAY.

The State Department's Global Engagement Center is a relatively obscure agency, though it made headlines for a good reason last year. The New York Times  reported in March 2018 that the center was provided with $120 million to "counter foreign efforts to meddle in elections," but it hadn't spent a dime.

It will now be led by Fox News' Lea Gabrielle, who, as USA Today's report added, is facing questions from Trump administration critics about "her qualifications for the job."

Brett Bruen, who worked on the U.S. response to Russian propaganda in the Obama administration, told the newspaper, "Lea may be a great reporter and pilot. She has evidenced absolutely no knowledge of or experience with information warfare. We need leadership that can take on this danger from day one."

She will, however, find plenty of other folks on Team Trump who've made the transition from the president's television screen to his administration's staff.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Trump suggests investigations into his scandals shouldn't be 'allowed'

02/07/19 12:44PM

Someone really ought to introduce Donald Trump to the phrase, "Never let 'em see you sweat."

President Donald Trump escalated his complaints about the myriad of investigations he is facing on Thursday morning, tweeting that there was "no reason" for the House Intelligence Committee to open a new, sweeping probe into whether his decision making as president is motivated by financial gain.

A day after claiming he's never heard of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Trump began the day by lashing out at the congressman, claiming that the Democrat is poised to examine "every aspect of my life, both financial and personal."

The president went on to say that "unlimited presidential harassment" has "never happened before," adding, "The Republicans never did this to President Obama, there would be no time left to run government. I hear other committee heads will do the same thing. Even stealing people who work at White House!"

He concluded the little Twitter tantrum, "PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT! It should never be allowed to happen again!"

These are not the missives of a man who's feeling confident in the face of scrutiny. On the contrary, between these tweets and his State of the Union threat, Trump appears to be panicking a bit.

Let's unpack the tantrum a little, because the presidential pitch is deeply flawed.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.7.19

02/07/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who appears poised to launch a presidential campaign this weekend, has reportedly faced some challenges assembling a staff. HuffPost reported yesterday that the senator's alleged history of "mistreating her staff" has led some contenders for campaign manager to withdraw from consideration.

* Donald Trump, who apparently feels qualified to give Democrats campaign advice, urged Stacey Abrams (D) not to run next year against incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R). "I don't think she can win," the president said.

* Trump also predicted this morning that the scandals surrounding Democratic leaders in Virginia will push the commonwealth into Republicans' hands in 2020. (Trump lost Virginia by two points in 2016, and voters haven't backed the GOP presidential ticket since 2004.)

* A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday found California Democrats, looking ahead to next year's presidential primary, most excited about former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, a native Californian.

* Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) told Oprah Winfrey this week that he'll announce his plans for 2020 "before the end of this month."

* On a related note, plenty of Texas Democratic leaders would love to see O'Rourke skip the presidential race and instead run against incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R) next year. O'Rourke lost to Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in Texas last year, but the former congressman raised a ton of money and lost by less than 3 points in a race that wasn't expected to be competitive.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Justice Dept to take a closer look at Jeffrey Epstein's plea deal

02/07/19 11:25AM

Jeffrey Epstein, a politically connected multi-millionaire, was accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls in the early 2000s. A federal criminal investigation into his alleged activities raised the prospect of Epstein spending the rest of his life behind bars, but his high-profile legal team -- which featured Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr -- were able to strike a plea deal.

And what a deal it was. Epstein ended pleading guilty to a state charge of soliciting sex from a minor in 2008, which led to an 18-month sentence. He was released after 13 months -- during which time he had been permitted to leave the prison and go to work during much of the day -- and then went back to living the high life.

How in the world did Epstein get such a deal given the number of his alleged underage victims? It's a question many have asked of late, and the best answers could probably come from the U.S. Attorney who signed off on the deal.

His name is Alex Acosta. If his name sounds familiar, it's because he's Donald Trump's Secretary of Labor.

With this in mind, NBC News reported yesterday that the Justice Department has agreed to investigate how the Epstein case was handled.

An investigation by The Miami Herald said that Acosta helped engineer the deal involving only state charges and agreed that it would be kept secret from other victims until it was presented in court, denying them a chance to object. The newspaper's reporting led members of Congress to seek a Justice Department investigation. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called the Epstein plea deal an "epic miscarriage of justice."

On Thursday, the Justice Department notified Sasse that the department's Office of Professional Responsibility "has now opened an investigation into allegations that Department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which the Epstein criminal matter was resolved." The letter does not mention Acosta by name.

There's nothing to suggest this new review might lead to new criminal penalties against Epstein. That said, this scrutiny might finally shed light on why an accused rapist was able to strike such an extraordinary deal -- and what role a current Trump cabinet secretary played in making that happen.

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Flowers on a tree bloom near the Treasury Department building in Washington, DC on March 10, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

Trump taps Bear Stearns' former chief economist for World Bank

02/07/19 10:40AM

In early 2017, shortly before Donald Trump's inauguration, the president-elect and his aides were scrambling to put together an economic team. It raised a few eyebrows when he chose David Malpass to oversee a top Treasury Department agency, not because Malpass was inexperienced, but because his experiences made him look pretty bad.

Malpass was, for example, the chief economist at Bear Stearns, where he downplayed the risks posed by the subprime crisis, right before the subprime crisis brought down Bear Stearns.

Two years later, Trump is ready to give him a high-profile promotion.

President Trump has nominated Treasury Department official David Malpass, a vocal critic of the World Bank, to head the international financial institution.

Malpass, 62, is a conservative with longstanding ties to Trump. He once worked as chief economist at investment bank Bear Stearns, which collapsed in 2008 in the midst of the financial crisis. He also served in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. At Treasury, Malpass is currently involved in tense trade negotiations with China.

Unlike many presidential personnel choices, the World Bank's chief isn't confirmed by the Senate, but rather, is approved by the bank's governing board, featuring representatives from wealthy countries around the world. The United States has always chosen the World Bank's leader since its inception in 1944, and the Trump White House expects this tradition to remain intact.

And while the consensus, at least for now, seems to be that Malpass will be approved, he's not exactly an obvious choice. For one thing, he's been a critic of the World Bank and its work for years. (Trump has a curious habit of choosing people to lead departments and agencies despite their opposition to the departments' and agencies' work.)

For another, as the New York Times' Paul Krugman recently noted, Malpass has been wrong about most of the major economic challenges of the last several years.

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Donald Trump

Has Trump really reversed course on legal immigration?

02/07/19 10:01AM

The prepared text for the State of the Union included a line about immigration that likely would've been unremarkable -- if Trump hadn't ad-libbed five additional words.

The president was supposed to say, "Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways. I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally." But when delivering the remarks, Trump actually said, "I want people to come into our country, in the largest numbers ever...."

It was jarring because Trump was describing the opposite of his own position. For most of his presidency, the Republican has demanded sharp cuts to legal immigration, and has made this a non-negotiable element of any deal. Even when Democrats offered him billions of dollars in wall funding in exchange for DACA protections for Dreamers, Trump balked. Without reductions to legal immigration, he said, there would be no agreement.

And yet there he was on Tuesday night, endorsing -- seemingly by accident -- increased legal immigration, contradicting the specific demands he made to Congress. So what's the president's current position? What he said in his speech or what he said before his speech? Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday:

[O]n Wednesday, Trump said he meant what he said.

"Yes, because we need people in our country because our unemployment numbers are so low," he said in an interview with regional news organizations after he was asked whether he favors a change in policy to expand legal immigration, according to a reporter for The Advocate of Louisiana.

In theory, this offers a possible breakthrough in the immigration debate. Trump's insistence on drastic cuts to legal immigration have been a sticking point for over a year, and if the president now wants the opposite of what he demanded, it's suddenly easier to imagine real progress on the issue.

But therein lies the rub: no one can say with any confidence what his position will be on his own agenda on any given day.

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Image: Donald Trump, Dean Heller

Why Trump is still slamming a former GOP senator months after his loss

02/07/19 09:20AM

Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, then-Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada was in a unique position: he was literally the only Republican senator up for re-election in a state Donald Trump lost.

The GOP incumbent could've moderated his public image and run as a centrist, independent voice, or he could move to the right and position himself as a Donald Trump toady. In 2016, Heller eyed the former over the latter: the Nevadan opposed Trump's presidential candidacy and donated to charity a contribution he'd received from his party's presidential nominee.

But as regular readers know, as 2018 drew closer, Heller switched gears, aligned himself with the president, declared his home state "Trump country," and campaigned alongside Trump, telling the president at one rally, "I think everything you touch turns to gold."

Trump, in turn, told Nevadans that he had "no better partner" than Dean Heller.

Two weeks later, Heller lost by five points.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal  reported yesterday that the president hasn't forgotten what transpired, and he blamed Heller's loss on the senator having been "extraordinarily hostile" toward him during the 2016 race.

"What happened with Dean Heller is, I tried for him," Trump said during a sit-down with regional reporters in the Oval Office. But he said hard-core voter base "did not believe me. They wouldn't go for him."

Trump accused Heller of leaving the impression that he had voted for Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.... "I just could never get my base excited on him," Trump said, before he added, "I like him a lot."

Told about Trump's comments, Heller responded, "This president called me that day before the election and said I was going to win by five points. Now all of sudden he has a different spin on that. Not surprising. I think America's used to that."

The importance of this has less to do with what transpired in Nevada, and more to do with what's likely to happen in 2020.

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An attendee handles a revolver in the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. booth on the exhibition floor of the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Nashville, Tenn. on April 11, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

What it takes to get Congress to take a closer look at gun violence

02/07/19 08:40AM

In the recent past, news consumers would come across headlines that referenced a "GOP lawmaker" who said or did something foolish, leaving readers to wonder which Republican the piece was referring to. More often than not, it was Michele Bachmann, Louie Gohmert, or Paul Broun.

And while some of these more cartoonish members are still on Capitol Hill -- Gohmert and Steve King, for example, keep getting re-elected -- we're occasionally reminded about the torch being passed to a new generation of lawmakers who are equally difficult to take seriously.

The Washington Post  reported yesterday, for example, on some of the antics on display during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence.

A congressional hearing on gun violence erupted into recriminations on Wednesday after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) argued for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and called for the removal of two fathers whose children were killed in last year's mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Gaetz, one of President Trump's most vocal supporters on Capitol Hill, prompted an outcry from the Parkland fathers when he argued at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that illegal immigration is a greater threat to public safety than gun violence.

The far-right Floridian already had an unfortunate reputation, and yesterday's display won't help Gaetz's poor standing.

But while the congressman and his absurdities mattered, let's not miss the forest for the trees: there was actually a House hearing yesterday on gun violence.

That may not seem especially notable, but this was the first House hearing on guns this decade. As Rachel noted on last night's show, there have been all kinds of horrible mass shootings in recent years, including the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, but none of them prompted the House, controlled by Republicans from January 2011 until last month, to convene a single policy discussion on the issue.

We finally know what it takes to get the House to examine gun violence: it's not a mass shooting; it's an election.

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Investigation-loving GOP leader sides with Trump against investigations

02/07/19 08:00AM

The most memorable moment of Donald Trump's State of the Union address this week was his remarks condemning congressional investigation into his many scandals. The president warned lawmakers that scrutinizing the controversies would not only be dangerous for the country, it would also prevent any kind of legislative progress over the next two years.

If the idea was to intimidate Democratic lawmakers into submission, Trump's efforts failed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made clear yesterday that she and her members would not be bullied by the president's "all-out threat," and as Rachel noted on the show last night, the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee moved forward yesterday with their plans to get answers to pressing questions.

It was against this backdrop that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) endorsed the White House's position.

"Look, we will never give up our oversight role, but this country is too great for a small vision of just investigations," McCarthy said at a press conference. "There are challenges out there that we have to get done. And to be fair, we have been investigating for the last two years.

"I think it should come to a close. I think the country wants to be able to solve the problems going forward," McCarthy said.

At this point, we could talk about the fact that Congress is more than capable of conducting investigations and legislating at the same time, as it's done many times before. We could also talk about how Kevin McCarthy had a very different perspective on investigating the executive branch when his party was in the majority and his target was the Obama administration.

Indeed, House Republicans were still exploring Hillary Clinton's emails as recently as a few months ago -- despite the fact that the former Secretary of State left office after the 2012 elections -- and the Senate Republican majority still intends to examine the issue this year.

But that's not the funny part.

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