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Kushner acknowledges use of private email account in White House

09/25/17 10:00AM

About a week ago, ProPublica reported that members of Donald Trump's voting commission have been using private email accounts to conduct official business. The same piece quoted legal experts who agreed that the practice falls short of compliance with the law.

The reporting came just a month after state officials in Indiana turned over private emails Vice President Mike Pence sent during his gubernatorial tenure. It turns out that Pence conducted quite a bit of official business through his private AOL account.

And late yesterday, Politico reported that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's right-hand man on practically every issue, also used a private email account in the White House -- a practice his lawyer confirmed soon after.

President Donald Trump's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, used his personal email account while communicating with White House colleagues, Kushner's lawyer said Sunday.

In a statement, the lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said Kushner used the account in fewer than 100 emails during Trump's first eight months in office.

Kushner's attorney said there were "fewer than a hundred" emails in total, and though we don't yet have any way of knowing whether this is true, he added, "All non-personal emails were forwarded to his official address and all have been preserved in any event."

This also follows reporting from February which found White House officials using private chat programs to circumvent record-preservation laws.

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Image: Tom Price

Facing scandal over taxpayer-funded jet travel, Price scrambles

09/25/17 09:30AM

It's a story that looked awful at the outset, and managed to get progressively worse very quickly. Just six days ago, Politico first reported that HHS Secretary Tom Price has been chartering private jets, paid for by American taxpayers, for official business. We learned soon after that the far-right cabinet secretary, who used to be outraged by stories like these, has taken at least 24 of these flights, at a cost exceeding $300,000.

Pressed for an explanation, Price initially didn't want to talk about it. Then the excuse related to the recent hurricanes, which didn't make any sense. His press office later said the chartered jets were about "making sure he is connected with the real American people," which was hilarious, since almost all real Americans tend to fly commercial.

We were then told Price started taking private jets because he had a bad experience with a cancelled flight, which, as excuses go, wasn't exactly persuasive.

Late last week, the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general's office announced an investigation into Price's travel arrangements, and soon after, the cabinet secretary said he'll stop taking chartered flights -- at least for now.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told Fox News on Saturday that he'll stop his taxpayer-funded travel on private jets, pending a formal review by his department's inspector general.

"We've heard the criticism. We've heard the concerns. We take that very seriously and have taken it to heart," Price said.

That may sound like a good start, but as Politico's latest report noted, Price continued just last week to take additional chartered flights, costing tens of thousands of dollars, even after the controversy broke. The new total cost to taxpayers for Price's private flights is now over $400,000 -- and that only includes the flights we know about since May.

Asked about the controversy yesterday, Donald Trump said, "We’re looking into it."

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Image: TOPSHOT-UN-ASSEMBLY

Trump reportedly ignored White House aides ahead of U.N. speech

09/25/17 09:00AM

Donald Trump's first speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week was a unique opportunity. The American president has quickly become the target of international mockery and derision, and many observers around the world see the television-personality-turned-politician as a ridiculous buffoon, incapable of leadership, statesmanship, and diplomacy.

But if Trump's address was an opportunity to chart a new course, he blew it. The speech not only included juvenile taunts, as if this were another one of the president's self-indulgent red-state rallies, but it served as a reminder that Trump's foreign policy vision is increasingly incoherent.

As the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne put it, the president's speech "was supposed to be a serious formulation of the president's grand strategy in the world ... but every effort Trump made to build an intellectual structure to support it only underscored that his favored phrase was either a trivial applause line or an argument that, if followed logically, was inimical to the United States' interests and values."

The remarks were so plainly absurd that some White House aides apparently told the L.A. Times that Trump ignored their advice before delivering it.

Senior aides to President Trump repeatedly warned him not to deliver a personal attack on North Korea's leader at the United Nations this week, saying insulting the young despot in such a prominent venue could irreparably escalate tensions and shut off any chance for negotiations to defuse the nuclear crisis.

Trump's derisive description of Kim Jong Un as "Rocket Man" on "a suicide mission" and his threat to "totally destroy" North Korea were not in a speech draft that several senior officials reviewed and vetted Monday, the day before Trump gave his first address to the U.N. General Assembly, two U.S. officials said.

Some of Trump's top aides, including national security advisor H.R. McMaster, had argued for months against making the attacks on North Korea's leader personal, warning it could backfire.

But Trump, the L.A. Times article added, "felt compelled to make a dramatic splash in the global forum."

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because we've seen this dynamic unfold before.

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Image: Kim Jong Un attends launching of ballistic missile Hwasong-12

Trump warns North Korea may not 'be around much longer'

09/25/17 08:30AM

When Donald Trump wasn't complaining about black athletes and Republican senators opposed to their party's far-right health care plan, the president was threatening war with North Korea. He said via Twitter yesterday:

"Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!"

It's the kind of presidential statement that deserves some clarity -- because it sounds as if Trump is prepared to destroy North Korea if he doesn't like the rhetoric from its leaders.

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum noted in response, "My guess is that Trump is trying to goad Kim Jong-un into doing something provocative enough to justify a U.S. attack.... Alternatively, of course, Trump tweeted this because he's a childish buffoon who has no self-control and engages in schoolyard taunts with anyone he doesn't like."

That those appear to be the two most plausible explanations is unsettling.

And yet, here we are. Trump's tweet suggesting North Koreans may not be "around much longer" comes on the heels of the American president publicly calling Kim Jong-un a "madman" who is "killing his people," and who'll be "tested like never before."

That was soon followed by the president delivering a speech in Alabama in which he sounded indifferent about a diplomatic solution. "Maybe something gets worked out and maybe it doesn't," Trump said. "Personally, I'm not sure that it will. Other people like to say, 'Oh, we want peace.' You know, they've been saying now for 25 years, 'Oh, we want peace, we want peace.' And then he goes and just keeps going, going, going. Well, maybe something gets worked out and maybe it doesn't."

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How Donald Trump tries to 'improve race relations'

09/25/17 08:00AM

"I think the president believes it is his role to improve race relations." That was the line Marc Short, the White House's legislative affairs director, shared on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday.

How's that working out?

The latest racial firestorm began on Friday night, when Donald Trump delivered a rambling speech in Alabama in which the president reflected on, of all things, sports. He noted, for example, that "they" are "ruining" the NFL by trying to reduce brain injuries. "You know, today, if you hit too hard, right, they hit too hard, 15 yards, throw him out of the game," Trump complained.

And if that were all he'd said, that would've merely been odd. But the president went much further:

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired, he's fired.' [...] Because that's a total disrespect of our heritage, that's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for, OK? Everything that we stand for.

"And I know we have freedoms and we have freedom of choice and many, many different freedoms. But you know what? It's still totally disrespectful. And, you know, when the NFL ratings are down massively, massively. Now, the number one reason happens to be that they like watching what's happening on, you know, with yours truly."

After suggesting that some Americans are so interested in him that they're watching less football, Trump added that fans should "leave the stadium" if they see players take a knee during the national anthem. "I guarantee things will stop, things will stop," he said. "Just pick up and leave, pick up and leave."

Apparently pleased with himself, the president announced via Twitter the next morning that the NBA's Golden State Warriors are no longer welcome at the White House, because Stephen Curry "hesitated" in response to an invitation.

And then he really got worked up. Trump complained that athletes should not be "allowed" to show "disrespect" towards the flag or the country, adding those who feel differently should be "fired." There were a series of related missives, culminating in the president calling football games "boring" and questioning the patriotism of the league.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 9.22.17

09/22/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Future of Trump's Muslim ban: "The White House could issue new requirements this weekend for travelers entering the United States, replacing President Donald Trump's controversial ban on visitors from six Muslim countries, administration officials tell NBC News."

* Puerto Rico's financial difficulties make matters much worse: "As Hurricane Maria plowed on from a stricken and sodden Puerto Rico, residents on Friday faced the arduous work of rebuilding that awaited them, a task made all the more formidable by the fact that, for now, the island has no power."

* Quite a story:  "President Donald Trump’s attorneys in the probe of Russian election interference are being funded in part through a Republican Party account with a handful of wealthy donors -- including a billionaire investor, a property developer seeking U.S. government visas and a Ukrainian-born American who has made billions of dollars doing business with Russian oligarchs."

* More Trump-Russia: "Special counsel Robert Mueller has sought phone records concerning the statement written aboard Air Force One defending a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians at Trump Tower last year that was set up by Donald Trump Jr., according to two people familiar with the investigation."

Korean peninsula: "Army counterintelligence officials in South Korea are investigating fake mobile alerts and social media messages warning American military families and Defense Department personnel of orders to evacuate the volatile peninsula on Thursday."

* Afghanistan: "President Donald Trump and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani delivered contradictory assessments Thursday of the situation on the ground as the U.S. military operation there enters its 16th year."

* Military history: "For the first time, a woman is set to become a Marine Corps infantry officer, a milestone in the Corps' 242-year history. The woman, whose name has not been released, is scheduled to graduate from the physically demanding infantry officer course Monday. She will be the first women to complete the 13-week course. Since it was opened to females in 2012, 36 women have enrolled in the course."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: U.S. Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain listens as he is introduced at a campaign rally in Fayetteville

McCain cannot 'in good conscience' vote for GOP repeal bill

09/22/17 02:20PM

If Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) goal was to play a consequential role in the fight over health care, he's succeeded beautifully.

Two months ago, it was the Arizona Republican who cast a dramatic deciding vote that derailed his party's repeal push. Two weeks ago, it was McCain who seemed to throw a lifeline to the repeal crusade, telling reporters he was prepared to support the Graham-Cassidy proposal.

And this afternoon, it was the veteran lawmaker who announced his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy plan, effectively sealing its fate.

"I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won't be available by the end of the month, we won't have reliable answers to any of those questions.

"I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it. The bill's authors are my dear friends, and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for the country. So am I.

"I hope that in the months ahead, we can join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to arrive at a compromise solution that is acceptable to most of us, and serves the interests of Americans as best we can."

McCain added that he'd consider a bill like Graham-Cassidy "were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment," but that hasn't happened.

Let no one say he didn't warn us this would happen. As recently as two days ago, McCain told reporters, "Nothing has changed. If McConnell wants to put it on the floor, that's up to McConnell. I am the same as I was before. I want the regular order." Two days earlier, the Arizona Republican said, "I'm not the one that waited nine months to bring up an issue. And we just went through that last fiasco. It's not my problem that we only have those few days left."

I guess he wasn't kidding.

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

GOP 'moderates' give up on concessions they once deemed important

09/22/17 12:44PM

Over the summer, during the various stages of the health care repeal fight, several Senate Republicans at least went through the motions. Unwilling to look like knee-jerk partisans, GOP senators like Ohio's Rob Portman and West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito -- sometimes labeled as "moderates" by news outlets -- said they weren't prepared to endorse the Republican plan because it was a Republican plan.

Instead, they had certain conditions. These senators said they wanted increased investments to address the opioid crisis, for example, and additional protections for Medicaid beneficiaries. Without some concessions from GOP leaders, these senators said, their support was in doubt.

Two months later, those same senators have apparently decided they no longer care about these conditions. Roll Call reported this week:

Republican senators face the prospect of backtracking from their previous public stances in order to support fast-moving legislation that would significantly overhaul the U.S. health care system.

Concerns about the impact on people suffering from opioid addiction, drastic cuts to Medicaid and the lack of robust analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office appear to have vanished as the GOP hopes to advance a bill to repeal the 2010 health law before the fast-track budget reconciliation mechanism they are using expires on Sept. 30.

It's almost as if many Senate Republicans weren't especially serious about their stated principles. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said he opposed Medicaid cuts. Portman and Capito prioritized opioid investments. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he cared about a legitimate, thorough process -- including a proper score from the Congressional Budget Office -- and a lengthy policy debate.

A big chunk of the Republican Party, including Donald Trump himself, said protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions must be part of any GOP health care package.

And yet, here we are. Graham-Cassidy cuts Medicaid, ignores the opioid crisis, is advancing through a ridiculously truncated process, and eliminates guarantees for those with pre-existing conditions.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.22.17

09/22/17 12:00PM

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

* With only a few days remaining ahead of Alabama's Republican Senate primary runoff, a new statewide poll from the Fox affiliate in Mobile found Roy Moore with a decent lead over appointed Sen. Luther Strange, 54% to 46%.

* The Senate Leadership Fund, the Senate majority leadership's super PAC, reportedly made an additional $630,000 investment in support of Strange's campaign this week.

* Moore and Strange debated last night, with the latter repeatedly emphasizing his endorsement from Donald Trump. On a related note, the president has tweeted twice over the last 24 hours that Strange is in contention thanks to Trump (because everything is always about him).

* Speaking of the president, nearly a full year after the 2016 campaign, Trump declared this morning that he believes "Crooked Hillary Clinton ... was a bad candidate." I'm going to assume he'll continue to periodically tweet this, apropos of nothing, for the rest of his life.

* The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows the president's approval rating inching higher, though when it comes to the 2018 midterms, Democrats still enjoy a six-point advantage on the generic congressional ballot.

* During his presidential campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) generally didn't focus much attention on foreign policy, but ahead of a possible 2020 bid, he's apparently expanding his repertoire of interests. The Vermont independent presented his vision on international affairs in a speech yesterday.

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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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