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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Will allegations of Russian interference get Congress' attention?

12/08/16 11:20AM

A few months ago, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence looked into allegations that Vladimir Putin's Russia took deliberate criminal steps to interfere with the American presidential election. The agencies came to the same conclusion: Russia apparently stole American materials in order to interfere with our political process, hoping to boost one American candidate over the other.

An alleged crime of this magnitude should probably be of great interest to Congress, but of late, the Republican majority, satisfied that suspected Russian efforts helped the GOP, has ignored Democratic calls for an investigation. As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, the partisan attitudes are starting to change, at least a little.
Democrats' efforts got a bipartisan boost Wednesday, when Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said he would lead an inquiry into the Russian operation. Mr. Graham, who previously had called on Congress to look into the Russian hacks, told CNN that he would pursue inquiries via subcommittees that he chairs. [...]

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said his committee has looked into holding closed-door hearings on the issue of potential Russian interference in the election. "We have committee members that are interested and we certainly intend to pursue what if any interference took place," Mr. Corker said.
Mother Jones' David Corn reported yesterday that Democrats are pushing for an independent commission -- along the lines of the 9/11 Commission -- to investigate the allegations, but no Republicans have endorsed the idea. What's more, the creation of such a panel would need a presidential signature -- and Donald Trump continues to believe that Putin is telling the truth and U.S. intelligence agencies are lying about Russian activities.

I'm sure this is going to come across as horribly naive, but there's no reason this controversy should be seen as necessarily partisan or ideological.
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U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) speaks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jan. 8, 2014.

Jeff Sessions' record on desegregation draws fresh scrutiny

12/08/16 10:42AM

Shortly after Donald Trump chose Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as his choice for Attorney General, the president-elect's team put together talking points for Senate Republicans, urging them to sing the senator's praises. In particular, Team Trump asked GOP lawmakers to say Sessions has a "strong civil rights record."

Given the senator's actual civil rights record, it's a tough sell.

But as Politico reported., the talking points were also more specific in some cases, noting that Sessions also "led desegregation lawsuits in his home state." Trump's spokesperson pushed the same line with reporters recently, claiming the Alabama Republican "filed a number of desegregation lawsuits in Alabama" during his tenure as a U.S. Attorney.

But did that actually happen? The Atlantic's Adam Serwer did some interesting digging into Sessions' record.
The Atlantic could not find evidence Sessions filed any new school desegregation lawsuits. Searches of the legal databases Westlaw and PACER found no evidence that any new school-desegregation lawsuits were filed in Alabama's Southern District by Sessions between 1981, when Sessions became U.S. attorney in Alabama, and 1995, when he became Alabama attorney general, though it is possible that the records exist but are not in those databases. The Atlantic could find no reference to the claim in the transcripts of his 1986 confirmation hearing.

Former Justice Department officials and civil-rights experts expressed puzzlement when asked about the claim, in part because nearly every school in Alabama was under desegregation orders by the 1970s, years before Sessions became U.S. attorney.
The report noted that even if there were such cases during Sessions' tenure, they would've been filed by the Justice Department's civil rights division, not the local U.S. Attorney.

So did Sessions and Team Trump straight-up lie about the senator's record? Not exactly.
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Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Linda McMahon celebrates her in win in the Connecticut primary over Chris Shays in Stamford, Conn., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012.

After chiding the 'elite,' Team Trump adds another multimillionaire

12/08/16 09:49AM

At a post-election forum in D.C. recently, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's campaign manager, emphasized one of her key political observations: the 2016 campaign was a rejection of the "elites." In fact, she said her own Republican Party was "veering dangerously close to being the party of the elites" until Trump campaign along -- a point she's repeated in other interviews.

Even in the new Time cover story naming Trump "Person of the Year," Conway argued, "You cannot underestimate the role of the backlash against political correctness -- the us vs. the elite."

Soon after the article reached the public, Team Trump made a new personnel announcement.
Donald Trump has picked Linda McMahon, co-founder of pro wrestling company WWE, to lead his Small Business Administration, his transition team said Wednesday.

The 68-year-old McMahon was a major Trump backer during his campaign.... The publicly-traded WWE, which McMahon and husband Vince founded more than 30 years ago, has a market value of about $1.5 billion.
McMahon wasn't just a generous donor to Trump's campaign; she and her husband were also the nation's largest outside donors to the controversial Trump Foundation, which has already admitted to breaking a couple of laws in recent years.

She joins an incredibly wealthy team of Republican officials. Donald Trump, himself a billionaire celebrity, has now chosen several billionaires and multimillionaires for top posts in the upcoming administration.

The Washington Post recently added a striking observation: "When George W. Bush assembled his first Cabinet in 2001, news reports dubbed them a team of millionaires, and government watchdogs questioned whether they were out of touch with most Americans' problems. Combined, that group had an inflation-adjusted net worth of about $250 million -- which is roughly one-tenth the wealth of Donald Trump's nominee for commerce secretary alone."

What a relief it is to know Republicans are no longer "the party of the elites."
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Image: John F. Kelly

Yet another general agrees to join Trump's team

12/08/16 08:48AM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump did something without any real precedent in modern U.S. political history: the Republican, who has no background in the military or matters of national security, went after American generals in surprisingly aggressive ways.

In fact, to hear Trump tell it, generals are incompetent and pathetic. "I know more about ISIS than the generals do," he insisted a year ago. "Believe me." Several months later, Trump added that U.S. military leaders "don't know much because they're not winning," As recently as September, the Republican said American generals "have been reduced to rubble," adding, "They have been reduced to a point where it's embarrassing to our country."

Despite these broadsides, Trump won the election -- and proceeded to stock his team with generals.
Retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly has been selected to serve as President-elect Donald Trump's secretary for homeland security, NBC News has confirmed. [...]

The retired four-star general led the U.S. Southern Command, and commanded Marines during some of the most intense fighting in Iraq.
Note, Kelly was still on active duty as recently as January.

Ordinarily, the first question in response to any announcement about a cabinet nominee is the most obvious: is this the right person for the job? Given the scope of the Department of Homeland Security's responsibilities, it's an especially important question now, and Kelly's positions on a range of issues will warrant careful scrutiny.

But under the current circumstances, there's also the broader question of why Trump has chosen quite so many generals for his team, and the degree to which this is democratically unusual.
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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)

Stung by criticism, Trump goes after local union leader

12/08/16 08:00AM

Donald Trump should be incredibly busy. The transition period is limited, as we talked about the other day, presidents-elect are expected to maintain a rather grueling schedule, choosing a cabinet, attending security briefings, staffing a White House, speaking to international leaders, shaping a policy agenda, and even preparing for his inauguration. Every hour of every day counts.

Trump, however, hasn't yet learned the value of focusing his attention on what matters most. He instead likes to take time complaining about Broadway productions, sketch-comedy shows, and as of last night, local union leaders.
President-elect Donald Trump pledged to be "so presidential you will be bored" during the election, but he continues to keep Americans on their toes after again taking to Twitter to battle his most recent critic.

Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers 1999, told NBC News that he had been harassed and threatened in the wake of Trump's latest attack -- a broadside against Jones leadership of union workers at a Carrier manufacturing plant in Indiana that took center stage last week.
It should've been a relatively minor story. Trump made claims about the Carrier deal that were demonstrably untrue, and Chuck Jones spoke up about it -- as American citizens are still free to do. Last night, the labor leader appeared on CNN to "correct some of [Trump's] math," and soon after, the president-elect who lacks impulse control decided it'd be a good idea to go after Jones directly.

Jones, Trump said on Twitter, "has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!"

None of this makes sense. For one thing, blaming American workers for corporate outsourcing decisions is bonkers. For another, Trump likes to pretend he's a champion of regular, everyday Americans -- unless, apparently, they cross him, in which case the president-elect will go after them personally.
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Trump to pick EPA antagonist to lead EPA

Trump to pick EPA antagonist to lead EPA

12/07/16 09:24PM

Rachel Maddow reports on Donald Trump's apparent selection of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, and Pruitt's history of not only fighting the EPA on environmental regulations but advocating on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, including rejecting climate science. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 12.7.16

12/07/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Indonesia: "Nearly 100 people were killed early Wednesday and more were feared dead after a powerful earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra, with many of the victims crushed to death in their homes as they slept."

* Pakistan: "All 48 people aboard a passenger plane that crashed into a mountainside in northern Pakistan on Wednesday were killed, authorities confirmed."

* Tennessee: "Two juveniles were arrested Wednesday on aggravated arson charges in the Tennessee wildfires that killed 14 people, and more charges are possible, authorities said Wednesday."

* A sane choice: "After a campaign filled with tough talk on China and some post-election ruffling of diplomatic feathers, President-elect Donald Trump Wednesday tapped Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to become his ambassador to that nation -- a Midwestern Republican who also happens to have a surprising and long-running relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping."

* Italy: "Matteo Renzi officially stepped down as prime minister on Wednesday, three days after his stinging defeat in a critical referendum, formally ending Italy's 63rd government in 70 years."

* An Ohio bill "that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected is headed to the governor's desk.... The legislation would prohibit most abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy after the first detectable heartbeat."

* It's hard to believe, but the Huffington Post's Nick Baumann is facing an actual FBI investigation in response to a sarcastic joke he told on Twitter.
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The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump's EPA pick has fought vehemently ... against the EPA

12/07/16 04:11PM

Two weeks ago, Donald Trump sat down for a lengthy interview with the New York Times, where he emphasized his commitment to the environment. "I will tell you this: Clean air is vitally important," the president-elect said. "Clean water -- crystal clean water -- is vitally important. Safety is vitally important."

If his choice for the Environmental Protection Agency is any indication, Trump didn't mean a word of it.
Donald Trump intends to select Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, a senior transition official confirmed to NBC News Wednesday -- the clearest sign yet the president-elect will pursue an agenda that could undue President Obama's climate change legacy.

An ally to the fossil fuel industry, Pruitt has aggressively fought against environmental regulations, becoming one of a number of attorneys general to craft a 28-state lawsuit against the Obama administration's rules to curb carbon emissions.
A Washington Post report added that Pruitt "has spent much of his energy as attorney general fighting the agency he is being nominated to lead." That includes Pruitt's refusal to believe in climate change.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but Scott Pruitt, if confirmed, will be the most anti-environmental EPA chief in history. He's practically a caricature of what a ridiculous Republican choice for the agency looks like.

When Trump and one of his adult children met with Al Gore this week, some clung to hopes that the president-elect might temper some of his far-right attitudes and be halfway reasonable when it comes to natural resources. Those hopes now appear quite foolish. Pruitt's nomination is the punchline to a bad joke.
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About The Rachel Maddow Show

Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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