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Coming October 2019: Blowout

05/20/19 09:00PM

BigOil and Gas Versus Democracy—Winner Take All: Rachel Maddow's Blowout offers a dark, serpentine, riveting tour of the unimaginably lucrative and corrupt oil-and-gas industry. With her trademark black humor, Maddow takes us on a switchback journey around the globe—from Oklahoma City to Siberia to Equatorial Guinea—exposing the greed and... read more

Monday's Mini-Report, 5.20.19

05/20/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'll have more on this in the morning: "President Donald Trump has directed former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a congressional subpoena and not testify Tuesday, current White House counsel Pat Cipollone said Monday."

* The latest in a series of tragedies: "A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died Monday in immigration custody in south Texas, the fifth migrant child to die since December, Customs and Border Protection said."

* This probably isn't what Trump had in mind: "Ford workers were informed by letter Monday that 500 salaried workers are getting laid off and will have to clean out their desks by the end of the week. And that's just the first of a wave of layoffs in the U.S. that is expected to hit 800 by the end of June and 7,000 worldwide by the end of August, Ford CEO Jim Hackett said in a letter to all employees."

* I'd bet against this working: "After more than two years of study and deliberation, President Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have decided to take a businessman's approach to Middle East peace: They will try to buy their way to a deal."

* Remember when we were supposed to take this issue seriously? "An internal Education Department watchdog says Secretary Betsy DeVos has sometimes used personal email accounts for government business and did not always save the messages properly."

* A fascinating example of real-world consequences for seeking Russian election assistance: "Turns out Russian collusion isn't a 'witch hunt hoax' after all. At least not in Austria. The country's government collapsed on Saturday after Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he was pulling the plug on his ruling coalition after just 17 months in office."

* Hmm: "Just months into a cooperation agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller, former national security adviser Michael Flynn sent an unsolicited text message to one of President Donald Trump's top allies in Congress, urging him to 'keep the pressure on.' 'You stay on top of what you're doing. Your leadership is so vital for our country now,' Flynn wrote to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of Congress' most vocal critics of the Mueller investigation."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump participates in a health care discussion with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady

Trump distances himself from 'universal coverage' health care vow

05/20/19 02:51PM

Donald Trump sat down with Fox News' Steve Hilton for an interview that aired last night, and the host managed to get the president to make a little news on health care. From the transcript as it appeared on Lexis-Nexis:

HILTON: You've got these senators working on a health care plan.

TRUMP: Right, I do.

HILTON: So Rick Scott and so on. In 2016, you said we're going to take care of everyone.

TRUMP: Right.

HILTON: People heard that to me you're for universal coverage.

TRUMP: Oh, no, no.

HILTON: Is that what you mean?

TRUMP: No, no.

First, the idea that the president has Republicans senators "working on a health care plan" is not to be taken seriously. In fact, the opposite appears to be true: GOP leaders told the White House last month that Trump can present a plan if he wants, but there's no appetite for such action for the foreseeable future, especially with Democrats controlling the House.

Second, it's a bit odd to hear the president deny his intention in universal coverage, since it was one of the central pillars of his pitch on health care in the recent past.

"We're going to have insurance for everybody," Trump said the week before his inauguration. "There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it. That's not going to happen with us." Around the same time, the Republican added, in reference to health care, "Everybody's going to be taken care of."

And yet, here we are two years later, watching Trump state his opposition to universal coverage.

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

Trump's love-hate relationship with anonymous sources

05/20/19 12:53PM

Donald Trump spoke on Friday afternoon at a National Association of Realtors event, where attendees were treated to the president sharing some candid thoughts on political journalists.

"[T]hey put out false -- you know, they say, 'confidential sources.' Do you ever notice they never write the names of people anymore? Everything is 'a source says....' There is no source. The person doesn't exist. The person is not alive. It's bulls**t. Okay? It's bulls**t.""

The comments generated some interest in the president's willingness to use profanity, quite casually, at an official event. And to be sure, it's often a bit jarring to hear Trump use salty language, indifferent to the kind of stature and decorum his modern predecessors sought to maintain at least in public.

But in this case, I'm far more interested in Trump's love-hate relationship with news reports based on anonymous sourcing.

Two years ago this month, USA Today noted, "Trump hates anonymous sources, unless they're in stories favorable to him." The only thing that's changed since then is the president's frequent use of "anonymous validators" -- unnamed people, whom Trump refuses to identify, who constantly tell him how right he is. Most of the time, he describes their identities as people we'd expect to disagree with him -- congressional Democrats, for example -- but who secretly reassure him that all of his beliefs are correct.

One is tempted to respond, "There is no source. The person doesn't exist. The person is not alive." He uses phrases like these because it's a subject he's deeply familiar with: the Republican, with unnerving frequency, shares stories based on made-up sources.

But that's not the only problem with Trump's pitch. It also comes against a backdrop in which the president frequently shares the details of conversations that only occurred in his mind.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.20.19

05/20/19 12:00PM

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

* Just one day after calling for Donald Trump's impeachment, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) has picked up a primary rival in his Michigan congressional district. The challenge is coming from state Rep. Jim Lower (R-Mich.), who changed his social-media profile picture yesterday to appear in front of a pro-Trump sign.

* Speaking of the president, Trump complained about Fox News via Twitter yesterday, suggesting he expects the network not to cover his Democratic rivals in ways he doesn't like.

* Former Vice President Joe Biden formally kicked off his 2020 presidential campaign on Saturday with a rally in Philadelphia. The Democrat's speech included one especially memorable line: "President Trump inherited an economy from an Obama/Biden administration that was given to him -- just like he inherited everything else in his life. And just like everything else he has been given in life, he is in the process of squandering that as well."

* In a bit of a surprise, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D), after just a week on the presidential campaign trail, picked up an endorsement over the weekend from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller (D). Miller is the highest ranking statewide Democratic official in the Hawkeye State, which is home to the nation's first nominating contest.

* Speaking of Democratic presidential hopefuls, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) unveiled her plan this morning on narrowing the pay gap between men and women. The proposal includes, among other provisions, a requirement that large employers obtain an "equal pay certification" every two years.

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has unveiled his education plan, which includes, among other things, a moratorium on new charter schools and a ban on charter schools run by for-profit corporations.

* Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), meanwhile, has started to sketch out his blueprint for reducing gun violence.

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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)

Pushing back against Amash and impeachment, McCarthy falls short

05/20/19 11:20AM

On Saturday afternoon, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) became the first congressional Republican to endorse impeaching Donald Trump in response to the revelations in the Mueller report. Yesterday morning, Amash's ostensible leader, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) went after the Michigan congressman during an interview with Fox's Maria Bartiromo.

"What [Amash] wants is attention in this process. He's not a criminal attorney. He's never met Mueller. He's never met Barr. And now he's coming forward with this? Because this is what he wants. He wants a Sunday show to put his name forward with a question.

"It's really disturbing, because, when you watch on the floor, you could have a bill with 400 votes all supporting it. There will always be one opposed, and that will be Justin Amash."

Jon Chait went through McCarthy's argument in detail, but there were a couple of angles to this that stood out for me.

The first was the GOP leader's insistence that Amash has "never met" Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It's a curious argument, in large part because Republicans have argued of late that meeting Mueller is an unnecessary luxury: lawmakers have a redacted version of the special counsel's report, which in the GOP leaders' minds, means that Congress has all of the information it could possibly need.

Is it Kevin McCarthy's contention that it's important for members to engage Mueller directly? Because if so, that's both new and important.

The second is the Republican leader's point that Justin Amash is "not a criminal attorney." That's true. The Michigan congressman has a law degree from the University of Michigan, but as best as I can tell, he did corporate, not criminal, work as a practicing attorney.

But I'm not sure how that's relevant. The U.S. House is supposed to have 435 members, and in rare occasions, they're asked to consider articles of impeachment. Individual lawmakers are tasked with evaluating the evidence and drawing conclusions -- whether they have a background in criminal law or not.

That said, if McCarthy is interested in how some criminal attorneys feel about the Mueller report's findings, I can think of a few people whose perspectives the congressman might find interesting.

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Image: FILE PHOTO - National security adviser General Michael Flynn arrives to deliver a statement during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S.

Presidential whining about Flynn doesn't do Trump any favors

05/20/19 10:40AM

In apparent response to something he saw on Fox News, Donald Trump turned to Twitter the other day to complain about the lack of warnings he received about his former White House national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

"It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge," the president wrote. "It would have been impossible for me to know this but, if that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?"

At first blush, it might seem as if Trump had a point. If Flynn was suspected of wrongdoing, why didn't someone alert the man who was relying on the retired general for national-security advice?

The trouble, of course, is that the president's whining has it backwards: Trump was cautioned about Flynn, but he failed to take the warnings seriously.

Right off the bat, when Trump wrote, "It now seems..." the president was referring to information that was first made available last year. It's likely that Trump forgets the basic details of reports that cross his desk, and he relies on conservative media to shape his perspective, but this is an odd thing to acknowledge in a tweet.

But even putting that aside, during the 2016 presidential transition process, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee at the time, alerted Trump's transition team to possible trouble signs surrounding Flynn. It was one of several alerts the Republican received on the matter.

He was first warned about Mr. Flynn two days after the election, when Mr. Trump met in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama, who cautioned his successor not to give Mr. Flynn a senior post on his national security team. (Mr. Obama had fired Mr. Flynn in 2014 as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency after repeated clashes over his management.)

But even if Mr. Trump did not interpret Mr. Obama's comments as a warning, Mr. Flynn himself told the transition team's lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, weeks before inauguration that he was under federal investigation for paid lobbying work he did secretly for Turkey while he was working on the presidential campaign.

Then, six days after Mr. Trump's inauguration, the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, told Mr. McGahn, by then the White House counsel, that Mr. Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail because he misled the vice president about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the transition period.

Or put another way, Trump complained on Friday about the lack of warnings about Flynn, which only makes sense if we overlook all the warnings he received about Flynn.

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Bank reportedly flagged Trump, Kushner transactions as suspicious

05/20/19 10:00AM

House Democrats have spent recent months focusing on Deutsche Bank -- at one point, the only financial giant willing to do business with Donald Trump -- as a source for important information on the president's finances. The latest reporting from the New York Times reinforces the impression that Dems are looking in the right place.

Anti-money-laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog.

The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump's now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.

Many of the details of the transactions are not yet clear, and the fact that the bank had concerns about them does not necessarily mean they were improper.

That said, given everything we know about Trump and Kushner, it's of interest that some of their transactions were considered suspicious -- not just by some bank algorithm, but by bank employees.

It's also of interest that, according to the Times' report, in some of the suspect transactions, "money had moved from Kushner Companies to Russian individuals." The same article added that Deutsche Bank discouraged employees not to file suspicious activity reports.

In fact, despite the concerns raised by anti-money-laundering specialists, the bank never alerted the authorities.

What's more, let's not brush past the dates too quickly: at issue aren't just transactions from Trump's controversial private-sector past, but also developments that occurred during the presidential campaign and after he took office. From the article:

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Opposing the 'Equality Act,' Republicans take a step backwards

05/20/19 09:20AM

In every Congress, the House majority leadership, regardless of which party is in control, sets aside the first 10 available bill numbers. As regular readers know, it's intended as a symbolic way to signal a party's top legislative priorities: H.R. 1 through H.R. 10 will reflect the leadership's most important goals.

In the current Congress, for example, we've recently seen votes on the House majority's democracy-reform package called the "For the People Act" (H.R. 1), as well as the "Paycheck Fairness Act" (H.R. 7). Late last week, Democrats also passed the 'Equality Act" (H.R. 5).

The House on Friday passed a sweeping LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill that would modify existing civil rights legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit.

"The LGBTQ community has waited nearly 250 years for full equality in our country," said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the legislation's chief sponsor and one of eight openly LGBTQ members in the House. "Today, we're one step closer to that goal."

To be sure, it was a historic step in a progressive direction, though there's a reason much of the country probably didn't hear about the House vote: everyone involved in the process knows that the Republican majority in the Senate won't even consider the legislation. The Equality Act is going to pass someday, but that day won't come before 2021.

Before the political world moves on, however, it's worth pausing to note just how many Republicans voted for the bill on Friday afternoon.

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Casino mogul Steve Wynn during a news conference in Medford, Mass., Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

Despite scandal, RNC welcomes money from casino mogul Steve Wynn

05/20/19 08:40AM

It was early last year when billionaire casino mogul Steve Wynn, facing sexual misconduct allegations, resigned as the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. The story has since become even more serious: an investigatory report later painted an ugly portrait of an executive accused of “sexually assaulting or harassing” many women who worked for him.

As regular readers may recall, state regulators concluded just last month that Wynn's company "ran a longstanding, sophisticated cover-up to protect founder Steve Wynn from allegations by employees that he had engaged in sexual misconduct against them."

It was therefore a bit jarring when Donald Trump met with Wynn, who's denied all wrongdoing, ahead of a campaign event in Las Vegas in April. A Politico report published late last week, however, took the story to a new level.

The national Republican Party has accepted nearly $400,000 in donations from disgraced ex-casino mogul Steve Wynn — a move that comes just over a year after he was accused of sexually harassing or assaulting employees over a decade-long period.

Wynn gave $248,500 to the Republican National Committee and $150,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in April, according to two people familiar with the contributions.

The New York Times ran a report of its own yesterday, adding that Wynn was also seen last week "arriving at a high-dollar fund-raising dinner" for Trump and the RNC in New York.

Some hypocrisy is a routine element of politics, but when hypocrisy reaches you've-got-to-be-kidding-me levels, it's worth pausing to take note.

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Justin Amash

Trump lashes out after GOP rep says he 'engaged in impeachable conduct'

05/20/19 08:00AM

At first blush, the description of events may seem routine and unremarkable. A member of Congress who sits on the House Oversight Committee read Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report "carefully and completely," and soon after came to some important conclusions. First, the lawmaker determined that Attorney General Barr has "deliberately misrepresented" Mueller's findings.

And second, Donald Trump "engaged in impeachable conduct." The lawmaker added in a statement published over the weekend, "Our system of checks and balances relies on each branch's jealously guarding its powers and upholding its duties under our Constitution. When loyalty to a political party or to an individual trumps loyalty to the Constitution, the Rule of Law -- the foundation of liberty -- crumbles."

To be sure, we've seen similar statements from plenty of Democratic lawmakers since a redacted version of the special counsel's report was released to the public. But what made these conclusions so notable was that they didn't come from a Democrat at all; they came from Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican congressman from Michigan.

In theory, the White House could've ignored the GOP lawmaker's statement, downplaying its significance in the hopes it would go largely overlooked, but the president just couldn't seem to help himself. Trump, utilizing his idiosyncratic approach to English grammar, published a pair of tweets yesterday, giving the story some additional oxygen:

"Never a fan of [Amash], a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, 'composed' by 18 Angry Dems who hated Trump, he would see that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION.

"Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!"

My favorite part of this was the implication that Trump, unlike Amash, "actually read the biased Mueller Report." For one thing, that's almost certainly backwards. For another, it's curious that the president keeps attacking a report he insists "totally exonerated" him.

But putting these details aside, there's a bigger picture to consider: what happens now that a Republican member of Congress has endorsed Donald Trump's impeachment?

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