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Image: FILE PHOTO: Manafort departs U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia

As Manafort jury deliberates, Trump weighs in on the defendant

08/20/18 09:00AM

On Friday morning, the jury in Paul Manafort's trial was in its second day of private deliberations when the defendant's former boss thought it'd be appropriate to weigh in on the developments. From a brief Q&A with reporters on the White House's South Lawn:

Q: Mr. President, will you pardon Paul Manafort? Will you pardon Paul Manafort if he's convicted?

TRUMP: I don't talk about that, no. I don't talk about that. I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad. When you look at what's going on there, I think it's a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short period of time. But you know what? He happens to be a very good person. And I think it's very sad what they've done to Paul Manafort.

Just so we're clear, when the president said he thinks it's "sad" what "they've done" to Manafort, he was specifically referring to federal law enforcement -- whose case against the former Trump campaign chairman is ongoing.

Soon after on Friday, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing told reporters, "[I]t's great to have the support of the President of the United States." But therein lies the problem: Trump isn't just the defendant's former employer; he's also the nation's chief law enforcement official. Offering "support" during legal proceedings isn't how this is supposed to work.

Since when does a sitting president vouch for the accused during jury deliberations? A jury whose members are not sequestered?

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

White House counsel has reportedly 'cooperated extensively' with Mueller

08/20/18 08:30AM

When thinking about the list of people in Donald Trump's orbit who might provide useful information to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, one doesn't necessarily think of the White House counsel. And yet, according to the New York Times, that's precisely what's happened.

The White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, has cooperated extensively in the special counsel investigation, sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice, including some that investigators would not have learned of otherwise, according to a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter.

In at least three voluntary interviews with investigators that totaled 30 hours over the past nine months, Mr. McGahn described the president's fury toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged Mr. McGahn to respond to it. He provided the investigators examining whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice a clear view of the president's most intimate moments with his lawyer.

Among the topics of conversation between the White House counsel and Mueller's investigators are Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey and the president's pressure on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take control of the investigation into the Russia scandal.

Whether McGahn provided investigators with information that might be used against Trump is unclear -- even the president's lawyers aren't altogether sure -- but one of things about the Times' report that stood out as especially notable was the White House counsel's motivation for talking to Team Mueller.

According to the report, McGahn was skeptical of the strategy devised by members of the president's legal defense team last year -- John Dowd and Ty Cobb -- who encouraged the White House counsel to answer the special counsel's questions. In fact, McGahn grew suspicious that he was being set up as a fall guy.

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'Truth isn't truth': Trump World targets our understanding of reality

08/20/18 08:00AM

The first sign of trouble for Rudy Giuliani in yesterday's "Meet the Press" interview came during an exchange over the infamous June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between leading Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives.

Referring to Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, the president's lawyer insisted that all Trump campaign officials knew ahead of the meeting was "that a woman with a Russian name wanted to meet with them. They didn't know she was a representative of the Russian government and indeed, she's not a representative of the Russian government. So, this is much ado about nothing."

Even by Giuliani standards, this was outrageously wrong. As NBC News reported, emails released by Donald Trump Jr. -- one of the participants who helped set up the meeting -- show "he emailed with publicist Rob Goldstone to set up the meeting and that Goldstone specifically tied the information to the Russian government."

Indeed, we learned more than a year ago that Goldstone alerted Trump Jr. to "very high level and sensitive information" that was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

All of which makes clear that Giuliani's claims yesterday were badly at odds with reality. The trouble is, the former mayor, in the same interview, took issue with the nature of reality. Consider this exchange between Giuliani and NBC News' Chuck Todd.

GIULIANI: When you tell me that, you know, [Trump] should testify [before Special Council Robert Mueller] because he's going to tell the truth and he shouldn't worry, well that's so silly because it's somebody's version of the truth. Not the truth. He didn't have a, a conversation --

TODD: Truth is truth. I don't mean to go like --

GIULIANI: No, it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth.

As outlandish as the claim was, the presidential attorney insisted he meant to say that. Indeed, Giuliani tried to defend it.

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Rachel Maddow interviews John Brennan: Read the full transcript

08/18/18 09:29AM

If you missed Rachel’s interview with former CIA Director John Brennan, we’ve published the full transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW: This interview tonight with John Brennan will be his first live TV interview since the president took this action.

Director Brennan, thank you very much for being here tonight. So, I know you have choices about where to be. Thanks for being here.

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Thanks, Rachel, for having me on.

MADDOW: So, you were CIA director from 2013 to January of 2017.


MADDOW: You were President Obama's counterterrorism and homeland security adviser. You were 25 years as a CIA officer before that. You have been through some stressful situations in your life.

How has it been the past couple days since the president singled you out for attack and punishment in this way?

BRENNAN: It's fine. As far as I’m concerned personally, I’m fine. It's not unexpected. He had signaled something like this would happen.

Nobody, though, got in touch with me from the White House or CIA since it was first noted that my security clearance was under review. I learned about it when somebody called me to say that Sarah Huckabee Sanders was announcing at the podium that these clearances were revoked.

Again, I was not shocked for a couple reasons. One, there’s a heads up. But, secondly, I’m not quite shocked at all the appalling things that Mr. Trump has done.

And so, I think this is an egregious act that it flies in the face of traditional practice, as well as common sense, as well as national security. I think that's why there's been such an outcry from many intelligence professionals. Not to support me, but to support the principle that security clearances are something that’s very, very solemn and sacred and they never, ever should be used for political purposes, either to grant friends those clearances or to revoke clearances of your critics.

MADDOW: With three decades experience at the CIA and all of your other government service, clearly, you're familiar with clearances, with the processes around clearances, including the processes that exist inside the government for revoking them for cause. When the president first signaled that he might go after your security clearance, did you expect that the CIA would then be put through its paces in terms of the normal procedures for how these things go, that they would write a memo and evaluate whether you had behaved in any way that would justify this action? Did you expect that it would go through channels?

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Friday's Mini-Report, 8.17.18

08/17/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* As the jury in the Paul Manafort trial deliberated, Donald Trump vouched for his former campaign chairman, described him as "a very good person," and characterized the federal prosecution against him as "very sad."

* On a related note, there will be no verdict today, and jurors will reconvene on Monday morning.

* Something to watch closely: "President Trump has told advisers that he is eager to strip more security clearances as part of an escalating attack against people who have criticized him or played a role in the investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, two White House officials said."

* I'm generally skeptical of changes that mean less information for investors: "President Trump, in a message posted on Twitter early Friday, wrote that he had directed the Securities and Exchange Commission to study moving corporate America from reporting earnings on a quarterly basis to doing so twice a year."

* FCC: "The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency, said Thursday that a White House official called to talk about a proposed merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. and Tribune Media Co. Ajit Pai told a Senate panel that Don McGahn, the White House counsel, called for a 'status update' on the agency's action on the deal."

* Trump-era media tactics: "[Dana White] and the Pentagon's press operation have already restricted access to briefings, interviews and travel with [Defense Secretary James Mattis]. But in recent weeks, several reporters said that they increasingly feel as though individual journalists are being retaliated against for stories they've written, losing yet more access."

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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)

Trump names his next target at the Justice Department

08/17/18 04:06PM

When the White House announced on Wednesday that Donald Trump had revoked former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance, it became clear that he was the first target of the president's political vendetta, but not necessarily the last.

"As part of this review," Trump's statement added, "I am evaluating action with respect to the following individuals: James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr."

For much of the country, the least familiar name on Trump's enemies list was that last one. Nevertheless, the president has been tweeting about Bruce Ohr quite a bit -- four times just since this past weekend -- and Trump got pretty worked up about him during a brief Q&A with reporters on the White House South Lawn this morning.

"That whole situation is a rigged witch hunt. It's a totally rigged deal. They should be looking at the other side. They should be looking at all the people that got fired by them. All of the people that got fired. They should be looking at Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie for dealing with, by the way, indirectly, Russians. [...]

"I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace. I suspect I'll be taking [his security clearance] away very quickly. I think that Bruce Ohr is a disgrace, with his wife, Nellie. For him to be in the Justice Department, and to be doing what he did, that is a disgrace."

In light of a rant like that, it's tempting to think Ohr is a figure of enormous significance -- and yet, most Americans would probably respond to Trump's little trade by asking, "Who?"

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Image: President Trump Departs White House For G7 Summit In Canada

Facing backlash, Trump touts 'tremendous response' on security clearances

08/17/18 12:41PM

It's been a couple of days since Donald Trump revoked former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance in a petty move the president admits was related to the Russia scandal. This morning, Trump brushed off the criticism.

"I know that I've gotten tremendous response from having done that, because security clearances are very important to me," the president said. "Very, very important. And I've had a tremendous response for having done that."

And what about retired Navy Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden? "I don't know McRaven," Trump added.

Well, big guy, McRaven knows you. The retired admiral wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post yesterday, urging the president to revoke his security clearance, explaining that he would consider it "an honor" to stand alongside those "who have spoken up against your presidency."

Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs.

A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.

Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.

If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.

McRaven isn't alone. NBC News reported this morning that a growing group former intelligence leaders from over the last three decades -- including William Webster, George Tenet, Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, and James Clapper -- have responded angrily to the White House's move against Brennan.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.17.18

08/17/18 12:00PM

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

* Republican Party leaders in New York's 27th congressional district, where indicted Rep. Chris Collins (R) has suspended his campaign, met this week to plan what to do next. GOP officials are reportedly preparing to meet with prospective replacement candidates, but how they intend to get around state laws is unclear.

* On the heels of his failed U.S. Senate bid in West Virginia, Rep. Evan Jenkins (R) has a new plan: he's running for one of the vacant seats on the state Supreme Court.

* Though the real 2018 advertising onslaught isn't expected to begin until after Labor Day, the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is closely aligned with the House Republican leadership, is reportedly investing $10 million in anti-Democratic attack ads this month, not next.

* I try not to focus too much on the 2020 cycle, but Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is poised to endorse Deidre DeJear in Iowa's secretary of state race, and this might very well have something to do with the presidential race.

* Election-watchers will be interested to know that FiveThirtyEight yesterday launched its big U.S. House forecast, which will be updated regularly, and which currently shows Democrats winning a net gain of 35 seats, which would give them a majority in the next Congress.

* John Cox, California's Republican gubernatorial candidate, expressed some regret yesterday after comparing DMV wait times to the plight of a Holocaust survivor.

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Trump eyes more fighter jets with money that would've gone to his parade

08/17/18 11:20AM

Donald Trump's plans for a military parade in D.C. have evolved over time, but the latest goal was for a big celebration this year to commemorate the centennial of World War I. Whether the anniversary became a convenient excuse to hold a parade the president wanted anyway is an open question, but let's note that he originally wanted the parade on the 4th of July.

Regardless, as we discussed this morning, the administration pulled the plug on the idea when the price tag reached $92 million. Trump himself weighed in on the subject this morning, in a pair of tweets:

"The local politicians who run Washington, D.C. (poorly) know a windfall when they see it. When asked to give us a price for holding a great celebratory military parade, they wanted a number so ridiculously high that I cancelled it. Never let someone hold you up!

"I will instead attend the big parade already scheduled at Andrews Air Force Base on a different date, & go to the Paris parade, celebrating the end of the War, on November 11th. Maybe we will do something next year in D.C. when the cost comes WAY DOWN. Now we can buy some more jet fighters!"

This struck me as notable for a few reasons. First, it's not altogether clear the hefty price tag came from local officials in D.C. Indeed, the latest figure came by way of the Pentagon, not the mayor's office, and included costs that have effectively nothing to do with local government -- including "security, transportation of parade assets, aircraft, as well as temporary duty for troops."

Second, it's kind of amusing that Trump is so focused on parades, he's started making arrangements for alternatives now that his plans have fallen through. He can't afford to host a militaristic display in his nation's capital? Fine, he'll go to France. That'll show 'em.

But it was those last eight words that struck me as especially significant: "Now we can buy some more jet fighters!"

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Image: Donald Trump

Senate Dems zero in on Kavanaugh's most serious vulnerability

08/17/18 10:41AM

Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination is controversial for all sorts of reasons, some of which may put his future in jeopardy, some of which senators may find it easier to overlook.

But to my mind, this remains the biggest vulnerability for Donald Trump's choice for the high court.

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Thursday asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to join a request for Judge Kavanaugh's Staff Secretary records and to publicly release the documents now. Feinstein is the Judiciary Committee's Ranking Member, and Leahy and Durbin are also senior members of the committee.

The senators emphasize the fact that documents that are currently "committee confidential" contain information indicating that Kavanaugh misled the Senate during his 2006 nomination hearing.

They write, "We firmly believe that Judge Kavanaugh's nomination cannot be considered unless these documents are available, including to the public and the Senate as a whole." The senators strongly urged Chairman Grassley to support their "request for Judge Kavanaugh's Staff Secretary records and to publicly release documents from Judge Kavanaugh's time in the White House in the same manner as was done for all previous Supreme Court nominees. The truth should not be hidden from the Senate or the American people."

The phrase "committee confidential" offers a big hint about the nature of the findings -- we're not yet privy to the details -- but the issue is the sort of controversy that even many Republicans may find difficult to defend.

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