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The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

The other whistleblower controversy dogging Team Trump

10/03/19 10:54AM

Rachel sat down with Stephen Colbert this week, and the host asked about other major stories of note that the public isn't necessarily hearing about because of the focus on Donald Trump's impeachment crisis. Their exchange reminded me that I hadn't yet written about a story I've been meaning to mention.

MADDOW: There's another whistleblower.

COLBERT: Whaaa? What is this other whistleblower?

MADDOW: The intelligence community whistleblower who came forward that led to this impeachment scandal is one thing. Just before that, we got very quiet word in a court filing -- that nobody put out a press release about -- from the Ways and Means Committee that said, "By the way, we've had a whistleblower come forward to say there's been improper influence by the administration on the handling of President Trump's tax returns at the IRS." So that's the other whistleblower. We don't know what's going to happen with that.

COLBERT: That is a whistle I would like to listen to.

This isn't a story that's generated a lot of attention, at least not yet, but it has quite a bit of potential.

The Internal Revenue Service is responsible for conducting an annual audit of the president's tax returns -- a post-Watergate reform that's applied to every modern president -- which ordinarily wouldn't be especially notable.

But as the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell noted in a column this week, according to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), an anonymous whistleblower over the summer offered credible allegations of "evidence of possible misconduct," specifically "inappropriate efforts to influence" the audit of Trump's materials.

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Trump targets Schiff with strange new conspiracy theory

10/03/19 10:08AM

The headline on the New York Times piece yesterday had a vaguely sinister tone: "Schiff Got Early Account of Accusations as Whistle-Blower's Concerns Grew." Those who read the article, however, learned of a series of events featuring officials who went strictly by the book.

The intelligence community's whistleblower, aware of Donald Trump's alleged misconduct, approached the House Intelligence Committee seeking guidance. A committee aide encouraged the whistleblower to get legal counsel and share the concerns with the intelligence community's inspector general. The congressional aide alerted House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calf.) to what transpired, but the congressman didn't see the complaint or know the whistleblower's identity.

In other words, Schiff's aide directed the whistleblower to follow the law. The process moved forward the way it was supposed to.

And yet, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who appeared eager to promote the New York Times article without having read it, insisted yesterday that Schiff "just got caught orchestrating with the whistleblower." That's obviously not at all what happened, and it was curious to see the top House Republican screw this up so badly.

But it was Donald Trump who took this mistake to hysterical depths.

"Well, I think it's a scandal that [Schiff] knew before. I'd go a step further: I think he's probably helped write it. Okay? That's what the word is."

The president went on to again accuse the House Intelligence Committee chairman of being a criminal who committed treason.

I mention all of this, not because Trump's conspiracy theory is interesting, but because of the larger context. It was the president's love of ridiculous conspiracy theories that helped get him into trouble in the first place, pushing him to the brink of impeachment. If the Republican were better able to demonstrate critical thinking skills, separating fact from nonsense, he'd be in a vastly better position.

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Trump threatens new lawsuits (which will likely never come)

10/03/19 09:20AM

Rudy Giuliani told a national television audience this week that he'd consider filing a lawsuit against members of Congress for daring to investigate Donald Trump's scandals. The whole pitch was bizarre, but the former mayor apparently believes the courts might help shield the president from congressional oversight, Constitution be damned.

As foolish as this sounded, Giuliani's friend in the Oval Office has some ridiculous litigation of his own in mind. Consider Trump's remarks yesterday during a White House press conference alongside Sauli Niinisto, the president of Finland.

"And just so you know, we've been investigating, on a personal basis -- through Rudy and others, lawyers -- corruption in the 2016 election. We've been investigating corruption, because I probably will -- I was going to definitely -- but I probably will be bringing a lot of litigation against a lot of people having to do with the corrupt investigation, having to do with the 2016 election.

"And I have every right to do that.... I've been talking about it from the standpoint of bringing a major lawsuit, and I've been talking about it for a long time."

So let me see if I have this straight. The sitting American president and his strange personal lawyer have launched an investigation "on a personal basis" into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories surrounding the election he won. The result will "probably" be eventual lawsuits, filed by Trump, targeting unnamed foes.

It's all plainly ridiculous, but it's also emblematic of a larger pattern: when the president is rattled, he likes to threaten lawsuits that will never materialize in reality.

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Despite 'stable genius' boast, Trump unravels under pressure

10/03/19 08:42AM

When leaders are under pressure, the nature of their character comes to the fore. Are they made of sterner stuff? Do they wilt in the heat? Do they have the capacity to persevere in the face of adversity?

Americans are getting a good look at what Donald Trump is made of. The emerging picture is one of a man who doesn't appreciate getting caught, and who's ill-equipped to handle the pressures of a job he's never fully understood.

Aaron Blake's assessment yesterday afternoon rang true:

The idea that President Trump has finally gone over the edge is an overwrought journalistic genre. Oftentimes, people simply forget all that has come before when they declare him to be particularly unwieldy or off the rails at a particular moment. And his opponents are far too anxious to find examples of Trump finally reaching a threshold that suggests he has completely thrown caution to the wind and may be just giving up.

All of that said, it has been some week for Trump -- even by his standards.

Yesterday, in particular, was a difficult day for the flailing president. It began with a series of hysterical tweets, one of which included all-caps profanity.

It was soon followed by an Oval Office appearance alongside Sauli Niinisto, the president of Finland, who appeared stoic as Trump accused a congressional leader of treason, pointed to alleged spies in the White House, and labeled his country's journalists "truly the enemy of the people."

The Republican also whined at great length about the Washington Post while responding to an article he didn't like in the New York Times. He was, by all appearances, confused.

Two hours later, Trump and Niinisto held a press conference in which Trump appeared to completely unravel, offering what one reporter described as "a roller coaster display of the grievances, victimhood, falsehoods and braggadocio."

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Report implicates VP Pence in intensifying Trump scandal

10/03/19 08:00AM

The scandal that's likely to lead to Donald Trump's impeachment involves a striking cast of characters. In addition to the president himself, there's a growing list of questions involving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General Bill Barr, among others, and those questions need answers.

But don't forget about Vice President Mike Pence. The Washington Post reported overnight:

President Trump repeatedly involved Vice President Pence in efforts to exert pressure on the leader of Ukraine at a time when the president was using other channels to solicit information that he hoped would be damaging to a Democratic rival, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump instructed Pence not to attend the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in May — an event White House officials had pushed to put on the vice president's calendar — when Ukraine's new leader was seeking recognition and support from Washington, the officials said.

Months later, the president used Pence to tell Zelensky that U.S. aid was still being withheld while demanding more aggressive action on corruption, officials said. At that time — following Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelenksy — the Ukrainians probably understood action on corruption to include the investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

The timeline of events paints an exceedingly unflattering picture. We know that Trump personally intervened to delay U.S. aid to Ukraine, which was desperate for the American assistance. We also know that Trump soon after had a telephone meeting with Zelenksy in which the Ukrainian leader stressed the significance of the aid package, only to hear his American counterpart say in response, "I would like you to do us a favor, though."

Trump's wish list included, among other things, Ukraine taking law-enforcement action to undermine Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election.

We now also know that in the wake of that conversation, it was Mike Pence who spoke with Zelenksy in person, reiterating Trump's expectations.

That's not a great position for the vice president to find himself in. Trump's actions are likely to lead to his impeachment, and it now appears Pence may have done something quite similar.

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Clinton: Trump impeachment inquiry should follow every thread

Clinton: Trump impeachment inquiry should follow every thread

10/02/19 09:33PM

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks with Rachel Maddow about how a phone call between the U.S. president and other world leaders is supposed to work, and why the Trump impeachment process should follow threads that might also find abuse of power by Trump aides who tried to help conceal records of Trump's interactions with other... watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.2.19

10/02/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* North Korea "fired a ballistic missile from the sea on Wednesday, South Korea's military said, a suggestion that it may have tested an underwater-launched missile for the first time in three years ahead of a resumption of nuclear talks with the United States this weekend."

* It's about time: "The Department of Homeland Security is beginning to address white supremacist terrorism as a primary security threat, breaking with a decade of flagging attention after bigoted mass shooters from New Zealand to Texas took the lives of nearly 100 people in the last six months."

* Perry's role is worth keeping an eye on: "Democrats investigating a whistleblower's allegations against President Donald Trump pressed Rick Perry on Tuesday for information about his May travels to Ukraine, opening a rare window into the energy secretary's role as an emissary for some of the administration's most sensitive international missions."

* A curious time for Sigal Mandelker to depart: "The Trump administration's top sanctions chief -- responsible for wielding the financial firepower of the world's most powerful economy as the White House's primary foreign policy tool -- is leaving for the private sector, top U.S. Treasury officials said."

* Good luck with that: "Speaking with Fox News' Laura Ingraham on Tuesday night, [President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani] proposed bringing a lawsuit against House Democrats for investigating the president in the wake of revelations involving Trump's interactions with Ukraine."

* Israel: "A long-brewing corruption case against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shifted to the next phase Wednesday, escalating the embattled premier's legal peril even as he fights to retain office following last month's closely divided election."

* I was surprised to see Sonny Perdue say this out loud and in public: "President Donald Trump's agriculture secretary said Tuesday during a stop in Wisconsin that he doesn't know if the family dairy farm can survive as the industry moves toward a factory farm model."

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President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence wave as they visit to Carrier factory, Dec. 1, 2016, in Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump's failure on manufacturing comes into sharper focus

10/02/19 12:43PM

CNBC's Kayla Tausche earlier this week asked White House trade advisor Peter Navarro about the nation's manufacturing sector. Navarro, who has Donald Trump's ear on these issues, was incredulous. "Manufacturing is strong as a rock," he said.

Yeah, about that...

U.S. manufacturing fell deeper into a contraction last month, erasing hope of a quick turnaround for the industry and handing a blow to President Trump's promises that he would revive blue-collar jobs and companies.

September marked the worst month for U.S. manufacturing in more than a decade -- since June 2009 -- according to the closely watched Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index. Companies blamed Trump's escalating trade war for many of their woes, putting pressure on the White House to show progress soon. Manufacturing remains a prominent industry in many swing states.... Manufacturing fell into a technical recession in the first half of the year, and the latest ISM data indicates the situation appears to be getting worse.

The Washington Post's report added that most analysts "agree that what's happening to manufacturing is evidence Trump's tariffs are doing real harm to the U.S. economy and is a warning sign for what could happen to other industries, especially as the tariffs expand by the end of the year onto nearly all Chinese products."

The article went on to quote Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, who told clients, "There is no end in sight to this slowdown, the recession risk is real."

Remember when Trump said trade wars were "good" and "easy to win"? I do.

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