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Trump undue pressure for peek at Russia probe is dangerous

Trump undue pressure for peek at Russia probe is dangerous

05/24/18 09:26PM

David Kris, former assistant attorney general for national security, talks with Rachel Maddow about why elements of an investigation cannot be shared before the investigation is complete, and why Donald Trump's pressure on the Justice Department to reveal elements of the Trump Russia investigation is not normal and very dangerous. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.24.18

05/24/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* There is no such evidence: "Congressional Democrats say that a classified briefing held Thursday for top leaders about the FBI's investigation into President Trump's 2016 campaign did not offer evidence that supports the allegation that an intelligence agency placed a spy in the campaign."

* The compromise measure was only released a couple of days ago and now it's done: "After months of debate, the Senate has finally reached an agreement on a bill to curtail sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, the Senate passed the bill on a voice vote."

* Keep an eye on this one: "A Border Patrol agent shot and killed a woman who had crossed the border illegally near Laredo, Tex., on Wednesday after the officer came under attack, federal authorities said."

* Moving backward quickly: "Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday scoffed at American demands that his country curb its military ambitions and issued his own set of demands to Europe to remain in the nuclear deal."

* This probably won't end well: "President Donald Trump wants to put a 25 percent tariff on imports of automobiles under a similar authority that allowed him to slap duties on imports of steel and aluminum in order to protect U.S. national security, a senior administration official confirmed."

* Rudy Giuliani last talked to Donald Trump a "couple weeks ago." Given how much the former mayor speaks on the president's behalf, that's unexpected.

* An election worth watching: "Ireland, a once staunchly Catholic country, will hold a national referendum Friday on whether to overturn its strict abortion law, and polls show the vote will be close."

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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., stops to speak with a reporter as he arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon, May 12, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

GOP senator condemns 'moral vandalism' from Trump's White House

05/24/18 04:33PM

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has made no secret of his concerns about Donald Trump's presidency, but the retiring Republican senator was strikingly candid in a speech at Harvard Law School yesterday.

"Not to be unpleasant, but I do bring news from our nation's capital. First, the good news: Your national leadership is not good. At all. Our presidency has been debased by a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division -- and only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works.

"And our Article I branch of government, the Congress -- that's me -- is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily.... This is it, if you have been wondering what the bottom looks like. This is what it looks like when you stress-test all of the institutions that undergird our constitutional democracy, at the same time."

The Arizonan went on to twice describe our system of government as "a democracy that is in trouble." Flake added that Americans have arrived at a time "of great peril."

It was a speech that was as compelling as it was eloquent, and for those who mourn the demise of the Republican Party's principles and traditions, it was heartening to see Flake have the courage to deliver the remarks.

And yet, once again, the praise for the senator must come with some caveats.

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Image: South Korean National Security Advisor Makes Announcement At White House

Did Trump leave South Korea in the dark on his summit plans?

05/24/18 12:49PM

South Korea has played a key role in facilitating diplomacy between the United States and North Korea, but after Donald Trump announced the cancellation of his upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un, it appeared his allies were left in the dark.

South Korea said Thursday that it was trying to figure out the circumstances behind the cancellation of the summit, according to Yonhap News, a South Korean news agency.

"(We) are trying to figure out what President Trump's intention is and the exact meaning of it," a spokesman told the news outlet.

I'm sure this is the sort of thing the U.S. ambassador to South Korea can help smooth over with our longtime allies.

No, wait, nearly a year and a half after taking office, the Trump administration doesn't yet have an ambassador to South Korea.

It was our allies in Seoul who first alerted Trump to Kim Jong-un's eagerness for a bilateral meeting, and in a curious display, it was South Korean officials whom Trump dispatched to the White House driveway in March to tell the press that the American president had agreed to meet with the nuclear-armed dictator.

And yet, it's now South Korean officials who are "trying to figure out" what Trump did and why.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.24.18

05/24/18 12:00PM

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

* Though the details are far from clear, Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.), a member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, "abruptly parted ways" this week with his chief of staff, and according to Politico, the Republican congressman is "considering" not seeking re-election this year.

* Iowa gubernatorial hopeful Nate Boulton, often described as a "rising star" in Democratic politics, ended his statewide campaign today following a Des Moines Register report that he groped three women.

* A reporter for the Fresno Bee asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) if he intends to hold any public forums or town-hall events during his re-election campaign. "Your paper is a joke to even bring these issues up or raise these issues," the Republican congressman replied.

* In related news, Nunes' higher public profile as a sycophantic Trump ally has done wonders for his fundraising: the Washington Examiner  reported yesterday that Californian "raised an extraordinary approximate sum of $2.25 million in six weeks," likely pushing his overall war chest "past $5 million."

* And speaking of the Golden State, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has long been a proponent of capital punishment, but she told the L.A. Times this week that she's changed her mind. "It became crystal clear to me that the risk of unequal application is high and its effect on deterrence is low," the incumbent senator, up for re-election this year, explained.

* Donald Trump's 2020 re-election campaign continues to expand its staff, and this week added veteran GOP strategist Chris Carr, who'll serve as the campaign's political director.

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. testifies during a hearing on Feb. 11, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty)

Why Trump is lying about former DNI James Clapper

05/24/18 11:34AM

During a brief Q&A with reporters at the White House yesterday, Donald Trump suggested that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had quietly endorsed the president's new favorite conspiracy theory.

"If you look at Clapper, he sort of admitted that they had spies in the campaign, yesterday, inadvertently," Trump said, clinging to the ridiculous assertion that federal law enforcement embedded spies in the Republican's political operation.

And while the president yesterday included qualifiers in his claim -- note the use of "sort of" -- he was more direct this morning. "Clapper has now admitted that there was Spying in my campaign," Trump wrote on Twitter.

The conspiracy theory is made up, but what's with all the talk about Clapper's "admission"? As is too often the case, Trump appears to be trying to deceive the public, referring to this exchange on "The View" between Clapper and co-host Joy Behar:

Joy Behar: "So I ask you, was the F.B.I. spying on Trump's campaign?"

Mr. Clapper: "No, they were not. They were spying on, a term I don't particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage or influence, which is what they do."

Ms. Behar: "Well, why doesn't he like that? He should be happy."

Mr. Clapper: "He should be. I mean, Russia — it's one of the reasons I wrote my book, was the threat Russia poses because they are bent on undermining our system. And that's what they did, and had a lot of success during the course of the election."

As the New York Times  explained, "In other words, Mr. Clapper used the word 'spy' to describe intelligence gathering on Russian efforts to influence the election. He explicitly denied that the F.B.I. 'spied' on Mr. Trump's campaign. "

So why is the president peddling such an easily discredited claim? It's likely Trump believes he has no other choice.

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Trump scraps plans for summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un

05/24/18 11:01AM

It was just a few days ago when White House sources started signaling that Donald Trump was prepared to walk away from his scheduled talks with North Korea's Kim Jong-un. This morning, the American president did exactly that.

President Donald Trump has canceled the planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which was set to take place June 12 in Singapore.

In a letter addressed to Kim and released by the White House Thursday, Trump blamed the cancellation on the "tremendous anger and open hostility" in a recent statement by the North Koreans. "I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting," he wrote.

The full text of the letter was posted to the White House website, and as presidential correspondence goes, it's an odd document. Trump wrote, for example, "I felt a wonderful dialog was building up between you and me, and ultimately, it is only that dialog that matters."

I'm not at all sure what that means, though it suggests the president may have personally played a role in writing the message -- a suspicion bolstered by the letter's use of the words "massive," "beautiful," and "sad."

So now what? There are a few questions to consider as this story continues to unfold:

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San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sept. 12, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Trump: protesting athletes 'maybe shouldn't be in the country'

05/24/18 10:06AM

When many professional athletes protested against racial injustice last year, Donald Trump seized on the issue as a new front in a divisive culture war. As a practical matter, the president's campaign worked: apparently eager to assuage the Republican, the NFL this week announced that players who engage in on-the-field protests would be penalized.

The problem with appeasement, of course, is that the intended target is rarely satisfied.

Taking a knee during the national anthem during a National Football League game should "maybe" be a deportable offense, President Donald Trump appeared to say in an interview that aired Thursday morning.

Speaking just moments after the NFL announced that all players who are on the field when the national anthem is heard before a game must stand and show respect -- or can choose to remain in the locker room without penalty -- Trump praised the new policy but also said it didn't go far enough in punishing players who might continue to take a knee during the anthem.

In an interview that aired this morning, the president told Fox News the new NFL policy is "good," but added, "I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms.... You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country."

At face value, watching a sitting president attack the patriotism of Americans who take a knee in recognition of racial injustice is offensive. But for Trump and his aides, these kinds of criticisms have become unnervingly common.

Earlier this month, for example, the Republican told supporters, "We have laws written by people that truly do not love our country." In March, he insisted that Democrats "don't believe in" the U.S. military. In February, Trump whined that when Democrats failed to applaud his State of the Union address, "they certainly didn't seem to love our country very much." He then casually raised the prospect of "treason."

In April, the Washington Post  noted, "The Trump White House has turned questioning patriotism into a talking point."

This isn't just an unhealthy approach to the political discourse in a democracy; it's also deeply ironic.

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On North Korea, Trump should've looked before he leaped

05/24/18 09:20AM

Before the leaders of two adversarial nations sit down for sensitive negotiations, the diplomatic legwork is generally exhaustive. Key areas of discussion are addressed in detail long before talks are even announced.

Which made it all the more bizarre when South Korean officials told Donald Trump that North Korea's Kim Jong-un wanted a face-to-face chat, and the American president quickly accepted without any planning or forethought.

CNN had a report yesterday that suggests it's dawning on some U.S. officials that the president's approach -- leaping, then looking -- may have been unwise.

The Trump administration wants additional high-level talks with North Korea and assurances from Kim Jong Un that he is committed to giving up his nuclear program before next month's planned historic summit in order for the meeting to go ahead, a senior administration official involved in planning for the talks told CNN.

"We need to have more conversations about what we would be talking about before we know if this is going to be useful," the official said.

Yes. Exactly. Read that quote again: "We need to have more conversations about what we would be talking about before we know if this is going to be useful."

That's what a sensible president would've said to his team before announcing bilateral talks with the dictator of a rogue nuclear state.

So why didn't Trump ask the right questions before agreeing to the talks? As it turns out, we have a pretty good idea what the answer is to that question.

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2018 points to historic breakthrough for Democratic women

05/24/18 08:41AM

Last week, after four states held congressional primaries, one of the key takeaways was that the results showed "strong wins for Democratic women." This week, after four more states held similar contests, headlines read, "Another big primary night for Democratic women."

It's quickly becoming one of the most important political developments of the year. NBC News did a nice job yesterday crunching the numbers, noting that following Tuesday's results, "[T]he total number of female House nominees is already up to 72 -- with 62 of those being on the Democratic side."

To put that in context, as recently as 1990, 69 women overall represented a major party in the general election when all the primary contests were said and done.

At 72 nominees so far, we're past that number already after primaries in only about a dozen states, with the lion's share left to come in June and August..... As of last night's primaries, more than 40 percent of Democratic nominees so far are women, compared to less than 10 percent for Republicans.

Since it's only May, the number of women nominees is likely to keep growing.

For those committed to feminist principles and greater representation for women in positions of power, this is an amazing development. It's also historic: as the above chart from NBC News shows, American voters have never seen so many women win major-party congressional nominations.

The day after Donald Trump's inauguration, when women's marches offered one of the most impressive displays of political activism in a generation, many questioned what the political impact might be. Sure, millions could take to the streets and make their voices heard, but what about the electoral consequences? Would anyone still care about the message behind the marches after the events were over?

The answer is increasingly obvious.

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Donald Trump makes a misguided pitch in support of 'transparency'

05/24/18 08:00AM

There are conflicting reports about who'll be in attendance, but later today, some members of Congress will receive a highly sensitive intelligence briefing. At the insistence of Donald Trump, himself the subject of an ongoing investigation, federal law enforcement officials will take the unprecedented step of sharing information on a confidential human source.

The president spoke briefly with reporters yesterday and made a ridiculous claim about his motivations for interfering with the system of justice.

TRUMP: What I want is I want total transparency.... You have to have transparency.

Q: And Democrats?

TRUMP: Even they probably want transparency, because this issue supersedes a party.... We want transparency.... I think they want transparency too.

If this sounds a little familiar, it's not your imagination. Earlier this year, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a sycophantic ally of the White House, prepared a "memo" with classified information he wanted to release in order to help Trump. Ignoring the concerns of his own FBI director, the president endorsed the release of the document.

Team Trump insisted at the time that this was all about "transparency." (Nunes' memo ended up backfiring and leaving the president and his allies in a worse position.)

And at first blush, some might find the "transparency" pitch persuasive. After all, isn't sharing pertinent information with multiple parties an inherently good thing? If the investigation is being conducted in an above-board fashion, there's no reason to hide key details, right?

Wrong. There are three problems with the argument.

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