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The one reason Lindsey Graham's impeachment stunt may actually matter

10/25/19 10:20AM

Yesterday was not the finest day in the career of South Carolina's senior U.S. senator.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Thursday introduced a resolution backed by more than 40 GOP senators excoriating House Democrats' impeachment inquiry, accusing Democrats of violating due process for interviewing key witnesses behind closed doors.

Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the five-page resolution that includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as a co-sponsor on Thursday afternoon.

Reflecting on Graham's antics, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank asked, "Could he be any more shameful?" I'm tempted to answer in the negative, but the Senate Judiciary Committee's chairman keeps finding new ways to embarrass himself.

At this point, it's tempting to write a point-by-point takedown of everything Graham said during his unfortunate press conference yesterday afternoon. I'm inclined to write a long, tiresome piece explaining in excruciating detail that there's nothing scandalous about the House's impeachment inquiry; Graham is surely aware of that; he's contradicting his own stated principles; Graham's rhetoric about due process doesn't make any sense at all; and he appears unusually pitiful doing the bidding of a president who recently felt the need to remind Graham that he's his "boss."

But for now, let's put those relevant considerations aside and consider a more practical detail: the number of co-sponsors on Graham's pointless resolution.

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Is the House GOP failing to do real work in the impeachment inquiry?

10/25/19 09:20AM

To hear House Republicans tell it, Democratic leaders are holding a secret and partisan impeachment inquiry that excludes GOP lawmakers from the process. They know that's ridiculous: as USA Today noted yesterday, 47 Republican members on the relevant committees leading the investigation "have access to the closed-door depositions."

In fact, many of the members who barged into a secure congressional hearing room this week, disrupting the process as a press stunt, were fully permitted to be there. They didn't need to storm the gates; they already had an invitation. It was a pointless made-for-the-cameras circus.

But on the show last night, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, raised a related point I hadn't heard before.

MALONEY: It's not enough that [dozens of House Republicans on the relevant committees] have every right to be there for every deposition, that their lawyers get equal time, that their members get equal time. And, of course, the funny part is, is very few of them have taken advantage of that because apparently they don't want to do the actual work.

MADDOW: Republican members haven't been sitting in on the depositions even when they're allowed to?

MALONEY: Very few.

Hmm. Is that so.

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Italy has no use for AG Bill Barr's conspiracy theory

10/25/19 08:40AM

Attorney General Bill Barr has long been focused on the origins of the Russia scandal, to the point that there is reportedly a criminal investigation underway that could target American law enforcement and intelligence officials who examined Russia's 2016 attack. That probe was technically assigned to U.S. Attorney John Durham.

But that's not to say Barr is somehow taking a hands-off role in the process. As Rachel noted near the top of last night's show, the sitting U.S. attorney general, an unabashed Donald Trump loyalist, has apparently been personally involved in traveling the world, meeting with foreign officials, hoping to find evidence to support a conspiracy theory that would disprove the facts surrounding his boss' Russia scandal.

The theory itself is plainly bonkers, and even many congressional Republicans have no use for it. But Barr keeps racking up frequent-flier miles, including making stops in Italy -- where the prime minister was asked by Italian lawmakers to explain what in the world the American attorney general wanted. The New York Times published this striking report yesterday:

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy said his country's intelligence services had informed the American attorney general, William P. Barr, that they played no role in the events leading to the Russia investigation, taking the air out of an unsubstantiated theory promoted by President Trump and his allies in recent weeks.

"Our intelligence is completely unrelated to the so-called Russiagate and that has been made clear," Mr. Conte said in a news conference in Rome on Wednesday evening after spending hours describing Italy's discussions with Mr. Barr to the parliamentary committee on intelligence.

Mr. Conte publicly acknowledged for the first time that Mr. Barr had twice met with the leaders of Italy's intelligence agencies after asking them to clarify their role in a 2016 meeting between a Maltese professor and a Trump campaign adviser on a small college campus in Rome, Link Campus University.

As bizarre as this may sound, the American attorney general appears to have gone to allied nations, looking for damaging information about American officials, which he thought might help Donald Trump.

Italy, not surprisingly, had no such information, and seemed baffled as to what the United States' top law-enforcement official was looking for.

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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's investigation into investigators takes an unsettling turn

10/25/19 08:00AM

The fear has long been that if the politicization of the Justice Department reached genuinely scary levels, we might see Team Trump's "investigate the investigators" gambit incorporate some kind of criminal probe. That, evidently, is where we now find ourselves.

A probe by Attorney General William Barr into the origins of the Russia investigation has changed from an administrative review into a criminal investigation, a person familiar with the review confirmed to NBC News.

The review is being conducted by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham. The New York Times first reported Thursday that the administrative review has turned into a criminal investigation.... The Times reported that the change in status gives Durham the power to subpoena witness testimony and documents, to impanel a grand jury and to file criminal charges.

Late last night, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) issued a joint statement, noting that if the latest reporting is accurate, it raises "profound new concerns" about the degree to which Attorney General Bill Barr's Justice Department "has lost its independence and become a vehicle for President Trump's political revenge."

The congressional chairmen added, "If the Department of Justice may be used as a tool of political retribution or to help the president with a political narrative for the next election, the rule of law will suffer new and irreparable damage."

We start with a basic premise: Russia attacked our elections in 2016. That's what the U.S. intelligence community determined; it's what Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation concluded; and it was the unanimous conclusion of the investigation launched by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Community.

From there we move to the next step: Donald Trump, the intended beneficiary of Russia's attack, finds the facts inconvenient, and prefers to believe there was an elaborate conspiracy to make it look like Russia was responsible. With this in mind, the president and his followers have gone after senior American law enforcement and intelligence officials who had the temerity to investigate Moscow's scheme and the question of Team Trump's possible involvement in it.

All of which brings us to the current step: Barr's Justice Department opening the door to possible criminal charges against the investigators.

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Trump, Barr push specious theory against backdrop of impeachment

Trump, Barr push specious theory against backdrop of impeachment

10/24/19 09:37PM

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, member of the House Intelligence Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about Bill Barr making a criminal investigation of the probe into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, and how Republicans are reacting to progress in the Trump impeachment inquiry since the important testimony of former Ambassador Bill Taylor. watch

Criminal inquiry opened into Trump-Russia probe's origins: NYT

Criminal inquiry opened into Trump-Russia probe's origins: NYT

10/24/19 09:00PM

Katie Benner, Justice Department reporter for the New York Times, talks with Rachel Maddow about breaking news that the investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation is now a criminal investigation, giving new powers to U.S. Attorney John Durham, who leads the investigation under close watch of Trump Attorney General Bill Barr. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.24.19

10/24/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The plot thickens: "The White House's trade representative in late August withdrew a recommendation to restore some of Ukraine's trade privileges after John Bolton, then-national security adviser, warned him that President Trump probably would oppose any action that benefited the government in Kyiv, according to people briefed on the matter."

* The story about A. Wayne Johnson is fascinating: "A senior student-loan official in the Trump administration said he would resign Thursday and endorse canceling most of the nation's outstanding student debt, calling the student-loan system 'fundamentally broken.'"

* So is the story about Trump's VA: "One of President Trump's signature initiatives to turn around a culture of retaliation against whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs is an office in disarray that instead has punished them -- and held almost no wrongdoers accountable."

* Brazil: "It washed ashore in early September, thick globs of oil that appeared from out of nowhere and defied explanation. In the weeks since, the mysterious sludge, the largest spill in Brazil's history, has tarred more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, polluted some of the country's most beautiful beaches and killed all sorts of marine life. But despite the time that has passed — and the damage done — the most important questions remain unanswered. Where is the oil coming from? And how can it be stopped?"

* Maybe Republicans should pretend to care about this: "The National Archives and Records Administration has launched an investigation into Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' use of private email for official business, according to a letter made public this week."

* Why do this? "A Marine combat veteran whose supporters were seeking a pardon from the governor of California was suddenly deported to El Salvador this week, according to advocates and immigration authorities."

* Brexit: "Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Thursday for a general election on Dec. 12 to break Britain's Brexit impasse, a goal the leader has sought but so far failed to push through parliament."

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump scraps newspaper subscriptions, but appreciates fawning tweets

10/24/19 12:39PM

Donald Trump told Fox News this week that the New York Times is a "fake newspaper" that he no longer wants in the White House. The president added on Tuesday, "We're going to probably terminate that and the Washington Post. They're fake."

Evidently, the Republican was referring to the White House's print subscriptions, not journalists from the news outlets themselves. And while Trump's declarations routinely generate no follow-though, it appears that in this instance, it's quite real: the Washington Post and the New York Times will no longer be delivered daily to the White House.

That, in and of itself, is an extraordinary example of Trump's pettiness, but it caught my eye because it coincides with a report on the sort of things the president is actually prepared to read.

Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren on Wednesday shared a printout of positive tweets about President Trump, including one of her own praising his recent rally in Dallas, that Trump himself signed with a personal note.

"Tomi, thank you for everything, best wishes," Trump's note to the conservative commentator reads, along with his signature. She in turn thanked Trump for the note.

The tweet from Lahren included in the printout praised his rally in Texas last week.

Looking at the tweet, Tomi Lahren's complimentary post was one of several that had been pulled together for the president, showing online Republican praise for Trump's recent rally in Texas. Without exception, each of the tweets (a) was written by a supporter of the president; and (b) told Trump how great he was.

In the case of the Fox Nation host, the president sent Lahren a signed copy of the tweet collection to thank her for her support.

Or put another way, Trump doesn't want to see print editions of the nation's most important newspapers, but he does want to see a list of people saying nice things about one of his pep rallies on Twitter.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.24.19

10/24/19 12:00PM

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

* A new national Quinnipiac poll found Elizabeth Warren leading Joe Biden in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, 28% to 21%. (The previous Quinnipiac poll showed Warren with a more narrow, three-point advantage.) Bernie Sanders was third in the latest poll with 15%, and Pete Buttigieg was the only other candidate to reach double digits with a 10% showing.

* On a related note, Amy Klobuchar was sixth in the poll with 3%, which means the Minnesota senator has now qualified to participate in next month's Democratic primary debate. For now, she's one of nine candidates to meet the participation threshold.

* The latest Monmouth poll in South Carolina found Biden leading Warren, 33% to 16%, which is a much closer advantage than the same poll showed in July. Sanders is third in the poll with 12%.

* In Wisconsin, which is arguably the most important 2020 battleground state, the latest Marquette University Law School poll found Biden leading Donald Trump in the state by six points, 50% to 44%. The same results showed Sanders leading the president in the Badger State by two points, while Warren was up by one point. Marquette found Pete Buttigieg trailing Trump in a hypothetical matchup by two points.

* After briefly expressing tacit support for a presidential impeachment inquiry, Rep. Mark Amodei (R) has apparently lost his spot chairing Trump's re-election campaign in Nevada.

* On a related note, though he wasn't specific as to whom he was referring, Trump yesterday described his "Never Trump" Republican detractors as "human scum."

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John Cornyn, R-Texas, leaves Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office in the Capitol on Oct. 8, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Cornyn suggests US right to get out of the way of ethnic cleansing

10/24/19 11:25AM

In an unscripted moment last week, Donald Trump defended his one-sided "deal" with Turkey in such a way as to seemingly endorse ethnic cleansing. The American president told reporters of the Turks' efforts to rid northern Syria of the Kurds, "[T]hey had to have it cleaned out."

Yesterday, however, one of Trump's congressional allies was more explicit on this point. The Dallas Morning News reported:

Texas Sen. John Cornyn defended the president's abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, arguing Wednesday that with Turkey intent on ethnic cleansing of the Kurds -- longtime U.S. allies in the fight against the radical Islamic State -- the move had merit.

"If Turkey was planning on coming into northern Syria and trying to ethnically cleanse the Kurds, and U.S. troops were caught in the middle, I am not completely convinced that it was a bad idea to get them out of harm's way," Cornyn said.

If the quote is accurate, I'm a little surprised the Senate Republican would make a comment like this on the record. The Texan's position, in effect, is that our allies were facing a campaign of ethnic cleansing, so the smart move was to get out of the way so as to avoid being caught up in the slaughter.

In fairness, Cornyn didn't endorse this position with great enthusiasm, but he did tell reporters that he's "not completely convinced" that standing aside in the face of an ethnic cleansing campaign was "a bad idea."

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A voter casts their ballot at a polling place in Nashua, N.H., on Feb. 9, 2016. (Photo by Cassi Alexandra/For The Washington Post/Getty)

House Dems pass election security bill, ignoring Trump's veto threat

10/24/19 10:47AM

The White House would have voters believe the Democratic majority in the House is focused exclusively on Donald Trump's impeachment, to the point that it can't be bothered to work on legislative priorities. And yet, House Dems continue to tackle legislative priorities, including a new bill on election security that passed yesterday. The Associated Press reported:

The Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy, or SHIELD Act, would require that candidates and political committees notify the FBI and other authorities if a foreign power offers campaign help. It also tightens restrictions on campaign spending by foreign nationals and requires more transparency in political ads on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

And it would explicitly prohibit campaigns from exchanging campaign-related information with foreign governments and their agents. The latter provision was aimed at reports that officials in Trump's 2016 campaign shared polling data with a person associated with Russian intelligence.

The final roll call is online here. Note, the bill passed 227 to 181, with literally zero Republicans voting for it. The White House announced before the vote that Donald Trump would veto the bill if it were to reach his desk.

Given the circumstances, the Republican can probably keep his veto pen in a drawer: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- who picked up the "Moscow Mitch" moniker after balking at other bills on election security -- condemned the latest House bill yesterday, insisting it's at odds with the First Amendment.

All of this, incidentally, follows related measures that have already passed the House, including the "Securing America's Federal Elections Act" (SAFE Act), which would, among other things, require voting systems to use backup paper ballots, mandate tech safeguards, and provide resources to states to improve their election-security measures.

The Senate's GOP majority, however, won't budge. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) yesterday tried to pass three election-related bills -- including a Senate companion to the SHIELD Act -- but the efforts were blocked by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

All of which brought a couple of key points into focus.

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Taylor's statement becomes the latest doc Republicans haven't read

10/24/19 10:00AM

We don't yet know everything Bill Taylor said during his 10 hours of testimony this week, but we know the career diplomat's opening statement as part of the impeachment inquiry was devastating. After weeks in which Donald Trump and his allies tried to maintain the fiction that there was no "quid pro quo" between the White House and Ukraine, Taylor laid the truth bare.

As we discussed yesterday, Taylor's testimony, supported by extensive and contemporaneous notes, exposed the American president's direct involvement in an explicit scheme to leverage both military aid and a White House meeting as part of a plan to coerce Ukraine into participating in Trump's domestic scheme.

Even a member of Senate Republican leadership conceded that the emerging picture "is not a good one" for Donald Trump.

Other GOP senators may have drawn a similar conclusion, but Politico reported yesterday that "a surprising number of Republicans said they were unfamiliar with even the gist of Taylor's testimony."

"I don't know Bill Taylor from Adam. I know you better than I know Bill Taylor. I've been busy… doing important things, not participating in a sham process over in the House," Cornyn said. "The drip drip drip of leaked testimony is producing daily news stories like you're asking me about it. It's part of their plan and scheme and I do not approve."

Cornyn was not alone. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who has rapped the president for pressing the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, said he will "eventually" get around to reading about Taylor's testimony but hasn't yet.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho), who presumably should have some interest in the subject matter, said he's neither seen nor read Taylor's opening statement. Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) added that he hasn't yet read it, either.

It's possible, of course, that each of these GOP senators are fibbing. Maybe they're aware of what the career diplomat said, and they realize that if they concede to having familiarized themselves with Taylor's remarks, they'll be in the awkward position of having to either condemn or defend Trump's misconduct.

But it's also possible that many Senate Republicans are just incurious -- again.

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