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Former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani speaks at the Cisco Connect 2013 conference in Warsaw, Poland, November 26, 2013.

Giuliani: 'Nothing wrong' with getting campaign aid from foreign foe

04/22/19 09:22AM

Rudy Giuliani made multiple appearances on the Sunday shows yesterday, doing his best to pretend the Mueller report wasn't devastating for his client in the Oval Office, and presenting a series of wildly unpersuasive arguments.

The Republican told CNN, for example, "There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians." In reality, there's plenty wrong with it. A foreign adversary launched a military intelligence operation against our elections, and the attack included stealing Americans' materials.

For Donald Trump's lawyers to insist there's "nothing wrong with" a U.S. campaign accepting assistance from our international foes is to invite additional attacks.

On "Meet the Press," Giuliani went on to tell NBC News' Chuck Todd that the public had a "right to know" about the information contained in the materials the Russians stole. The former mayor compared hacked information to the Pentagon Papers.

But that's absurd. Not only did the hacked emails not point to any Hillary Clinton wrongdoing, but Giuliani's argument -- an implicit defense of an illegal hack -- could just as easily be applied to stealing others' materials. If a hack produced the president's tax returns, would Giuliani be equally cavalier about the public's "right to know"?

But what struck me as especially notable was Giuliani's response to a question about Sen. Mitt Romney's (R-Utah) criticism. Here was the exchange between Trump's lawyer and CNN's Jake Tapper.

GIULIANI: What a hypocrite. What a hypocrite.

TAPPER: But why is that hypocritical?

GIULIANI: Any candidate -- any candidate in the whole world, in America, would take information, negative [information].

In context, the former mayor was clearly referring to taking "information" from a foreign adversary.

Last summer, then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), one of Moscow's favorites, made a similar argument, insisting "there's not a person in this town" who wouldn't welcome foreign intervention to win an election.

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Then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Donald Trump arrive at a news conference held by Trump to endorse Romney for president at the Trump International Hotel & Tower Las Vegas, Feb. 2, 2012. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty)

If Romney is 'sickened' by Mueller's revelations, what will he do?

04/22/19 08:41AM

The vast majority of congressional Republicans have been willing to stick to the White House's script in the wake of the Mueller report's release, but we've seen a handful of notable exceptions.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), for example, arguably Congress' most moderate GOP member, told Maine Public Radio last week that the special counsel's findings offered "an unflattering portrayal of the president."

And if Collins had been in New Jersey in 1937, I suspect she might've described the Hindenburg as "an unfortunate transportation incident."

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) went considerably further on Friday, issuing a written statement that read:

"It is good news that there was insufficient evidence to charge the President of the United States with having conspired with a foreign adversary or with having obstructed justice. The alternative would have taken us through a wrenching process with the potential for constitutional crisis. The business of government can move on.

"Even so, I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President. I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia -- including information that had been illegally obtained; that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement; and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine.

"Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders."

The statement, not surprisingly, was not well received at the White House. Donald Trump, who's had a strained relationship with the senator whom he considered for his cabinet, published a tweet on Saturday afternoon, mocking Romney's defeat in the 2012 presidential election.

Putting aside the fact that Romney actually won a larger share of the popular vote than Trump, my concerns about the senator's statement came from a very different angle.

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The problem with Trump's 'no obstruction' claim: it's plainly false

04/22/19 08:00AM

I can imagine some Americans being confused by the recent talk about Donald Trump's possible impeachment. After all, the public has been told for the last month that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report was great news for the White House.

The president enjoyed a "victory lap." He declared "game over." His critics and skeptics were despondent. The special counsel proved, definitively, there was "no collusion" and "no obstruction." Trump was "totally and completely exonerated."

Over the last seven days, the president has published the words "no obstruction" on Twitter seven times, including this pair on Saturday:

"Despite the fact that the Mueller Report should not have been authorized in the first place & was written as nastily as possible by 13 (18) Angry Democrats who were true Trump Haters, including highly conflicted Bob Mueller himself, the end result is No Collusion, No Obstruction!

"The end result of the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. political history is No Collusion with Russia (and No Obstruction). Pretty Amazing!"

What's pretty amazing is that the president actually seems to expect the public to believe what he's saying. Every time Trump pretends the Mueller report exonerated him, he's making clear that he hasn't read the document and he's desperately counting on the public to have not read it, either.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the redacted Mueller report, the discourse was dominated by misleading spin, crafted by a partisan attorney general who seemed principally concerned with his president's political interests, and echoed by the White House. It was, for a while, all we had to go on, and it extended a degree of plausibility to Trump's celebratory posture.

But on Thursday morning, the gaslight went out. We've now seen the Mueller report, and to pretend its revelations aren't devastating is comparable to Richard Nixon, following the release of his Oval Office tapes in 1974, declaring, "See? The recordings clearly prove how awesome I am!"

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Mueller: Sen. Burr Briefed, White House on Russia Investigation

Mueller: Sen. Burr Briefed White House on Russia Investigation

04/19/19 11:06PM

Rachel Maddow sheds light on an element of the Mueller report involving Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. According to the report, Sen. Burr and other members of the Gang of Eight received a confidential briefing on the status of the Russia investigation, and Burr appears to then have briefed the... watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 4.19.19

04/19/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The due date is May 1: "House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., on Friday subpoenaed the Justice Department for the full, unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report as well as the underlying evidence."

* An important detail: "Special counsel Robert Mueller's criminal investigation may be over, but the FBI's efforts to assess and counter Russian efforts to influence the U.S. political system -- including the Trump administration -- is continuing, current and former U.S. officials say."

* Ohio: "A federal judge blocked part of an Ohio law late Thursday that bans the abortion method of dilation and evacuation in most cases, adding to a list of restrictions on the procedure that are or soon could be in legal limbo."

* Remember him? "Scott Pruitt, the scandal-ridden former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, registered as an energy lobbyist in Indiana on Thursday as fossil-fuels interests there are fighting to block the proposed closure of several coal-fired power plants."

* Virginia: "Two Virginia police officers who worked for different agencies were fired this week after an anti-fascist group linked them to white nationalist organizations."

* South Florida: "Federal authorities today announced that John Kless, a 49-year-old resident of Tamarac in Broward County, called three Democrats at their Washington, D.C. offices April 16 and left voicemail messages threatening murder. The lawmakers included California Congressman Eric Swalwell, Detroit Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker."

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while meeting with President-elect Donald Trump following a meeting in the Oval Office Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Trump can't let go of his preoccupation with Obama

04/19/19 02:48PM

Donald Trump didn't have a whole lot to say about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report yesterday afternoon, though the president did get around to sharing a predictable thought via Twitter: he blamed his predecessor.

"Anything the Russians did concerning the 2016 Election was done while Obama was President. He was told about it and did nothing! Most importantly, the vote was not affected."

Nearly everything in Trump's tweet was wrong. The vote was affected. Barack Obama did a lot more than "nothing," and he would've done more were it not for Mitch McConnell's opposition. The "anything the Russians did..." suggests Trump may still have some doubts as to the nature of the Russians' attack, which is an issue that does not lend itself to skepticism.

But routine nonsense is less interesting to me than Trump's ongoing preoccupation with the president who preceded him. I thought it was at least possible that the Republican, in time, would stop obsessing over the recent past, but by some measures, Trump fixates on Obama nearly as much as Hillary Clinton.

Yesterday, for example, Trump blamed Obama for the Russia attack. Earlier this week, Trump made up a story about hearing from a "big tough guy" who was "crying" because Obama ruined his life. Last week, Trump focused his attention on his approval rating -- as compared to Obama's.

Earlier that day, Trump tried to defend his family-separation policy by falsely claiming it was actually Obama's policy. Four days earlier, Trump went after Joe Biden by condemning Obama.

Three days earlier, Trump told the National Republican Congressional Committee, "By the way, the carbon and all of the things flying up in the air, you know, the carbon footprint? President Obama used to talk about the carbon footprint and he'd hop on Air Force One, a big 747 with very old engines, and he'd fly to Hawaii to play a round of golf. Now, you tell me, the carbon footprint. But that's the way it is."

Obama, incidentally, never flew to Hawaii solely to play a round of golf.

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Republican Presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at an event at the National Press Club on Sept. 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Will Lindsey Graham stick to his Clinton-era standards?

04/19/19 12:50PM

During Congress' lame-duck session in 1998, just a week before Christmas, the Republican-led House impeached then-President Bill Clinton. Among the serious allegations against the Democrat were claims that Clinton encouraged and permitted others to lie on his behalf.

As the legal/political process unfolded, GOP members from the House Judiciary Committee became impeachment "managers," tasked with making their case to the Senate and asking senators to remove the sitting president from office. But as part of those same efforts, those Republicans also did their best to persuade the public that their cause was just.

In fact, as MSNBC's Chris Hayes noted on his show last night, a young GOP congressman from South Carolina named Lindsey Graham went on "Meet the Press" in January 1999 to argue that Clinton shouldn't get away with his alleged misdeeds.

"[Clinton] doesn't have to say, 'Go lie for me,' to be a crime," Graham said at the time. "You don't have to say, 'Let's obstruct justice' for it to be a crime. You judge people on their conduct, not magic phrases."

That sounds like a fairly reasonable posture. The trouble, of course, is that two decades have gone by, Graham is now a senator, and it's his ally in the White House who's facing credible allegations of lying, encouraging others to lie, and taking a series of other deliberate steps to undermine a federal investigation into alleged presidential misconduct.

And how, pray tell, did the Republican lawmaker respond to the release of the Mueller report?

Graham said in a statement that his panel is studying the report. The South Carolina Republican says he's eager to hear Barr's May 1 testimony to his panel.

"Once again, I applaud Attorney General Barr for his commitment to transparency and keeping the American people informed," he wrote.

Given Barr's political antics and deceptions, I'm not sure how the senator's praise makes sense, but for now, let's put that aside.

Instead, let's ask a more pointed question: will 2019 Lindsey Graham apply 1999 Lindsey Graham's standards?

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.19.19

04/19/19 12:00PM

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

* Former Vice President Joe Biden is reportedly prepared to launch his Democratic presidential campaign next week.

* On a related note, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced this week that he won't launch a White House campaign, and will instead focus on helping his party in state legislative races.

* Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign launched a new fundraising drive this week, asking for contributions by pointing to his Democratic critics. There's some risk in this: the independent senator has already faced questions about his commitment to the party.

* At least for now, the Democratic presidential campaign with the largest staff operation belongs to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who "now has a team of more than 170 people."

* File this away for future reference: Donald Trump said yesterday he expects to be in office for another six years, and joked that he might remain for "at least for 10 or 14 years."

* In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice, running as a Republican after getting elected as a Democrat, now has two primary rivals. Former state Del. Mike Folk (R) was already running, and this week, former West Virginia Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher (R) threw his hat into the ring, too.

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The latest in a series of 'Mission Accomplished' moments for Trump

04/19/19 11:21AM

A senior White House official told Olivia Nuzzi a couple of weeks ago, in reference to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's findings, "There will be plenty of unfavorable things about the president in the full report, which we think will eventually come out, so let's not go overboard saying there's no wrongdoing."

That was a sensible perspective. It was also too late. Donald Trump and his loyalists decided weeks ago that the Mueller report "could not have been better," and "totally exonerated" the president. It was a triumph for the ages, which humiliated the president's enemies, and transformed the president into a heroic figure.

I'm reminded of a piece Ashley Parker wrote last week on the White House's over-the-top boasts about the report officials in the West Wing had not read.

[W]hen the Justice Department releases Mueller's redacted report in coming days, the reality is likely to be far more nuanced -- including potentially damaging new details of alleged misdeeds by Trump or his campaign, even if they fall short of criminal wrongdoing.

That puts the president and his defenders in a potentially thorny position: Could Trump's cries of "total exoneration" become his own "Mission Accomplished"?

A week later, I think we have an answer.

"Mission Accomplished," of course, was the text on the banner above George W. Bush in 2003 when the then-president declared the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq. Bush never literally spoke the words "mission accomplished" in his remarks, but they appeared over his head during the speech and his presidency was haunted by the phrase.

As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, the death toll mounted, and the arguments in support of the invasion evaporated, that two-word banner came to represent premature celebration. It quickly became a warning to future presidents, tempted by hubris.

As regular readers know, it's a lesson Trump refuses to learn -- as evidenced by his own "Mission Accomplished" moments in North Korea, Syria, and now the Russia scandal.

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A Rorschach test in which one side urges people not to look at the inkblot

04/19/19 10:35AM

The Justice Department released a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report yesterday morning, and just minutes later, Donald Trump was all smiles. The president said at a White House event:

"I'm having a good day, too. It was called, 'No collusion. No obstruction.' There never was, by the way, and there never will be."

To the extent that reality has any meaning, the boast didn't make sense. The report, which Trump did not read, painted an incredibly damaging picture of a president who lied, encouraged others to lie, took repeated steps to undermine a federal investigation, and has overseen a dysfunctional and corrupt operation that had "numerous links" with Russian attackers who targeted our elections to put him in power.

There was no reason to pretend this was "a good day."

But it was just the start of an elaborate exercise in make-believe. The White House issued an official written statement, ostensibly written by Vice President Mike Pence, that said the Mueller report "confirms" Trump's earlier claims. The president's re-election campaign issued a similar statement, insisting that the president had been "fully and completely exonerated" by the report:

Kellyanne Conway, who somehow managed to keep a straight face, described the release of the devastating report as "really the best day since" Trump's election in 2016. The White House counselor added, "We're accepting apologies today, too, for anyone who feels the grace in offering them."

Apologies for what, Conway didn't say. Perhaps it's supposed to be obvious that, in Trump World's bizarre alternate reality, the president should be seen as a victim.

It's tempting to describe the Mueller report as a political Rorschach test, with different groups of people looking at the same image, but seeing entirely different things.

There is, however, a problem with the analogy -- because one side of the argument needs people not to look at the inkblot at all.

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