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Former U.S. president Bill Clinton speaks during a "Get Out The Vote Clinton Family Event" for democratic presidential candidate  Hillary Clinton at Manchester Community College on Feb. 8, 2016 in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Republicans see Clinton's impeachment through rose-colored glasses

12/26/19 10:03AM

If the point of the headline on Karl Rove' latest Wall Street Journal column was to get attention, the editors succeeded. It read, "Clinton's Impeachment Was Dignified."

Those of us who remember the details of the impeachment saga surrounding Bill Clinton, and read Ken Starr's report, can probably think of a variety of adjectives. "Dignified" isn't one of them.

A week earlier, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), one of the House impeachment managers who encouraged the Senate to remove Clinton from office 20 years, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times and emphasized an even less defensible point.

Earlier this Congress, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, and Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, set forth criteria for undertaking an impeachment. They said that the evidence would have to be overwhelming and compelling, and, importantly, it would have to be bipartisan.

Looking back at the Clinton impeachment, I'm convinced we satisfied each of these. Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, conducted a very lengthy and nonpartisan investigation.... Mr. Starr testified before our committee that the president might have committed impeachable offenses.

Sensenbrenner's underlying point was that contemporary House Democrats failed because they didn't convince House Republicans of Donald Trump's guilt. It's a difficult argument to take seriously, since for GOP lawmakers, nothing short of a signed presidential confession would've made a difference.

But the Wisconsin congressman assertion that Ken Starr oversaw a "non-partisan" probe, like Rove's insistence that the investigation into Clinton was "dignified," suggests Republicans don't remember the events of the late 1990s nearly as well as they should.

It's part of a phenomenon Robert Schlesinger once labeled "Clinton Nostalgia Syndrome," which generally involves Republicans, who made every effort to destroy Clinton at the time, praising the former Democratic president, and encouraging contemporary Dems to follow Clinton's lead.

But the effort now appears to be spreading, with Republicans also holding out their own impeachment crusade against Clinton as a model worthy of emulation.

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

Trump struggles when asked about Ukraine messages from Putin

12/26/19 09:20AM

For nearly three years, Donald Trump has ignored his own country's intelligence community and believed that Ukraine intervened in the U.S. elections in 2016 in the hopes of undermining his candidacy. One of the underlying questions is why the Republican believes the bogus conspiracy theory.

A Washington Post report last week shed new light on the issue, explaining that Trump's embrace of the falsehood appears to have come directly from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Post quoted one former senior White House official who said Trump was quite explicit on this point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit, U.S. intelligence be damned, because "Putin told me."

As we've discussed, Trump not only believed Putin, he also acted on that belief, pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pursue, among other things, a crackpot conspiracy theory about Ukraine's role in American election interference.

It was against this backdrop that a reporter broached the subject yesterday morning, after Trump's Christmas video teleconference with U.S. troops deployed abroad.

Q: Sir, what did President Putin say to you that convinced you that the Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election?

TRUMP: What did he say to me?

Q: Yes.

TRUMP: About what?

Q: What did President Putin say to you when you met?

TRUMP: You're putting words in somebody's mouth. Who are you referring to? Me? I never said anything about it. I never said a thing about it. All right, any other questions?

While it was easy to enjoy the exchange's Abbott-and-Costello-like qualities, it was equally easy to notice this seemed like a subject Trump was reluctant to talk about.

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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin speaks during the Indiana Republican Party Spring Dinner, April 21, 2016, in Indianapolis. (Photo by Darron Cummings/AP)

FBI reportedly interested in Bevin's scandalous pardons in Kentucky

12/26/19 08:40AM

After narrowly losing his re-election bid last month, Kentucky's then-governor, Republican Matt Bevin, turned his attention to criminal-justice issues, issuing hundreds of controversial pardons and commutations, benefiting a wide range of convicted criminals, including murderers and a man convicted of raping a child.

A local prosecutor called Bevin's actions "an absolute atrocity of justice," which put Kentucky residents "in danger."

But prosecutors weren't the only ones alarmed by the former governor's intervention in so many cases. It appears the FBI has also decided to take a closer look at Bevin's actions. The Courier Journal in Louisville reported this week:

The FBI is asking questions about the pardons Matt Bevin issued during his last weeks as Kentucky governor, The Courier Journal has learned.

State Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, told reporters that a criminal investigator contacted him last week and asked what he knew about Bevin's pardons.... Two sources with knowledge of the inquiry told The Courier Journal on Monday that an FBI agent had spoken with Harris.

Bevin did not comment when asked about the FBI's reported interest. The Kentucky Republican last week, however, tried to defend some of his more scandalous decisions, saying he commuted the sentence of a man convicted of raping a young girl  in part because the girl's hymen was "intact." (In a study published in June in Reproductive Health journal, the authors wrote, "An examination of the hymen is not an accurate or reliable test of a previous history of sexual activity, including sexual assault. Clinicians tasked with performing forensic sexual assault examinations should avoid descriptions such as 'intact hymen' or 'broken hymen' in all cases.")

As for which case -- or cases -- might be of interest to the FBI, it's difficult to say without more information, though one pardon stood out as an example of possible corruption. NBC News reported:

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Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Key GOP senator 'disturbed' by McConnell's impeachment plan

12/26/19 08:00AM

Had Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) simply announced how he intended to vote in Donald Trump's impeachment trial, it would've been problematic. After all, the trial hasn't even begun yet, and senators are going to have to "solemnly swear" to do "impartial justice" before the proceedings get underway.

But McConnell went considerably further two weeks ago, meeting in private with top White House officials, and then declaring on Fox News that he'd be in "total coordination" with Team Trump as the process advances. The Senate GOP leader added that "everything" he does during the proceedings will be coordinated with the White House, assuring Fox News' audience that there will be "no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this."

It wasn't long before congressional Democrats cried foul, suggesting McConnell's comments were so far over the line that he should consider recusing himself from the process. But as it turns out, Dems weren't the only ones who thought the Kentucky Republican pushed the envelope too far.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Tuesday she was "disturbed" that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would engage in "total coordination" with the White House regarding the upcoming Senate trial of President Donald Trump.

In an interview with Anchorage's local NBC affiliate KTUU broadcast Tuesday, Murkowski — who earlier in the year refused to defend Trump from the Democrats' impeachment inquiry — said McConnell's comments "has further confused" the impeachment process.

While arguing that there should be some distance between the White House and the Senate on the impeachment proceedings, Murkowski said, in reference to McConnell's comments, "[I]n fairness, when I heard that I was disturbed.... To me it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense, and so I heard what leader McConnell had said, I happened to think that that has further confused the process."

The president has repeatedly insisted in recent weeks that his party stands completely unified on impeachment. Murkowski's concerns -- and her willingness to express them publicly -- suggest Trump's boast may not be altogether true.

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Tourists visit the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City, December 5, 2013.

Happy Holidays, 2019

12/24/19 08:35AM

It's likely to be pretty quiet here at MaddowBlog today and tomorrow, so readers should expect a light-to-nonexistent posting schedule. That said, we have a special episode of The Rachel Maddow Show on tap for this evening, and I'll be around if there's breaking news of historic significance.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 12.23.19

12/23/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This could take a while: "Both sides dug in Monday in the impasse over a Senate trial of President Trump, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) chiding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) for the delay in transmitting articles of impeachment, a position he called 'absurd.'"

* Afghanistan: "A member of the U.S. military was killed in Afghanistan, raising to 20 the number of American military personnel who have died in fighting this year and putting further strain on U.S.-Taliban talks aimed at ending the 18-year war."

* Also in Afghanistan: "Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appears to have narrowly won a second term, according to preliminary results from September's balloting that were announced Sunday, although his main challenger rejected the outcome as illegitimate."

* Saudi Arabia: "A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death Monday for 'committing and directly participating' in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year."

* Quite a shake-up: "Boeing CEO Dennis A. Muilenburg was fired Monday, a week after the company announced it planned to suspend production of its troubled 737 Max airplanes, which were grounded after two crashes killed 346 people."

* Indian unrest: "Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended the government's new citizenship law, despite the major ongoing protests against it.... More than 20 people have died in ten days of clashes sparked by the bill, which critics see as anti-Muslim. Protesters have continued to take to the streets in spite of police bans."

* Caveat emptor: "America's food inspectors are warning that "unsafe" pork is likely making it to consumers under a change in rules for meat inspection. That change is now set to roll out nationwide to plants that process more than 90 percent of the pork Americans eat."

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joined by, from left, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., smiles as they unveil the GOP's tax overhaul, Nov. 2, 2017.

Two years later, the Republican tax plan still looks like a failure

12/23/19 02:58PM

Exactly two years ago yesterday, Donald Trump put his signature on his most significant legislative accomplishment, making the Republican Party's massive package of tax breaks law. At the time, the president and his party had high hopes for their creation and made bold promises about its effects.

Those assurances, we now know, were unwise. As regular readers know, none of what Republicans said about their tax cuts came true. The plan isn’t paying for itself; it’s not boosting economic growth; it didn’t fuel private-sector hiring; it didn’t help GOP candidates in the 2018 midterms; and it wasn’t the biggest tax cut of all time.

Meanwhile, progressive critics of the Republican plan said the corporate beneficiaries of the tax breaks would use their windfalls on priorities such as stock buybacks. That, among other Democratic predictions, turned out to be right.

It's against this backdrop that the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell welcomed the GOP plan into its "terrible twos," noting that the toddler's parents seem unconcerned that it is "way behind on nearly all its developmental milestones."

Like most starry-eyed parents, the progenitors of this policy believe it can do no wrong. In fact, they’re keen on giving it a baby sibling soon: Trump’s economic advisers have floated yet more plutocratic tax cuts, with various proposals to slash capital gains and corporate income taxes. Trump’s co-partisans on Capitol Hill say they’re ready to help.

The Trump tax cuts may be failing to deliver on key promises. But on at least one developmental milestone -- the terribleness of those "terrible twos" -- this toddler has proved precocious.

Rampell's point about the tax plan's possible "sibling" is of particular interest, because it was just two weeks ago when acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said another corporate tax break is a top priority for Trump if Americans reward him with a second term.

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Image: Donald Trump

White House eyes new pitch: maybe Trump wasn't actually impeached?

12/23/19 12:50PM

As much of the world probably noticed, the U.S. House voted, with relative ease, to impeach Donald Trump last week. Just one day later, however, Bloomberg News ran a report suggesting that, as far as the White House was concerned, maybe the president wasn't actually impeached.

Lawyers close to President Donald Trump are exploring whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to temporarily withhold articles of impeachment from the Senate could mean that the president hasn't actually been impeached. [...]

The White House legal theory, according to a person familiar with the legal review, is that if Trump has been officially impeached, the Senate should already have jurisdiction. Backers of the theory would argue that the clause of the U.S. Constitution that gives the Senate "the sole Power to try all Impeachments" indicates that the impeachment isn't formalized until the House reported the charges to the upper chamber.

CBS News ran a related report over the weekend, noting, "The White House is considering making the argument that President Trump has not officially been impeached, given that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate."

Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor, has made the argument that in order for the president to have been formally impeached, the House must transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial. It's a bit like saying an NFL team didn't really win the Super Bowl when the clock hit zero at the big game, but rather, when the league gives the team the Lombardi trophy.

There are a variety of reasons to be skeptical of the pitch, not the least of which is the Constitution's language that explicitly says the U.S. House "shall have the sole Power of Impeachment."

But there's a related problem: the Trump administration may not fully believe the controversial argument. Politico reported this morning on some new legal filings from the Justice Department:

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.23.19

12/23/19 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) may now be a Republican with Donald Trump's backing, but three conservative Republicans are moving forward with plans to run against him in a GOP primary next year.

* Bolstered by Trump's efforts, the RNC is headed into 2020 with $63 million in the bank. The DNC, in contrast, has $8.3 million.

* According to the Trump campaign, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) called for the president to be hanged. In reality, the campaign removed all context from the Democratic leader's quote, apparently in the hopes of trying to deceive the president's own supporters.

* In remarks to a group of far-right students over the weekend, Trump praised Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) for voting "present" on the articles of impeachment against him.

* Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), the only incumbent Republican governor who lost in 2016, announced late last week that he doesn't intend to run for his old office in 2020, but he will "seriously consider" parlaying his defeat into a U.S. Senate campaign in 2022.

* Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Democratic presidential campaign doesn't yet have any congressional endorsements, but he's picked up some support from current and former mayors: former two-term Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) is now backing the New Yorker and will serve as Bloomberg's national political chair.

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