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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump's communications director has a secret source: Trump

07/24/17 09:20AM

The New York Times reported yesterday that when Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin recently met in Germany, the American president was impressed by an argument from his Russian counterpart: "Moscow's cyberoperators are so good at covert computer-network operations that if they had dipped into the Democratic National Committee's systems, they would not have been caught."

In a rather literal sense, the White House has adopted Putin's talking points. Here, for example, was Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's new communications director, echoing the line on CNN yesterday:

"You know, somebody said to me yesterday -- I won't tell you who -- that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would have never seen it. You would have never had any evidence of them, meaning that they're super confident in their deception skills and hacking."

Moments later, Scaramucci conceded his source -- the one whom he didn't want to identify just seconds earlier -- was Donald Trump himself, who'd called him a day earlier.

Even for this White House, this was exceedingly strange. As part of a defense against the Russia scandal, the president's communications director echoed Vladimir Putin's talking points, citing a secret source, who happened to be the president, who directly reminded him of Putin's talking points.

Making matters quite a bit worse, all of this was intended to undermine confidence in the findings of American intelligence agencies, which the president still chooses not to believe. Indeed, the White House's broader point seems to be that Russia's espionage operations are so skillful and clever, American intelligence professionals couldn't possibly be expected to keep up.

One might expect to hear something like this from the Kremlin, not the White House.

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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

Donald Trump boasts he 'has the complete power to pardon'

07/24/17 08:40AM

Late last week, the Washington Post added an alarming twist to Donald Trump's intensifying Russia scandal, reporting that the president has asked White House aides "about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe." Over the weekend, Trump didn't explicitly confirm the story, but he made clear that the subject is very much on his mind.

Via Twitter, the president insisted on Saturday that "all agree" an American president "has the complete power to pardon."

Evidently, the conversations he had about the subject led to answers Trump liked.

But there's apparently still some disagreement within Trump World about the nature of these discussions. For example, Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's outside legal team, told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos yesterday:

"I want to be clear on this, George. We have not and continue to not have conversations with the president of the United States regarding pardons. Pardons have not been discussed and pardons are not on the table."

Around the same time, however, new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci appeared on Fox News, and was asked why Trump broached the subject in the first place. He replied:

"See, this is one -- again, this is one of those things about Washington and it's the convolution and the nature of the things. I'm in the Oval Office with the president last week, we're talking about that. He brought that up, he said but he doesn't have to be pardoned. There's nobody around him that has to be pardoned. He was just making the statement about the power of pardons."

So, "pardons have not been discussed," except the discussions in which Trump brought up pardons?

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Image: Trump holds a healthcare meeting with Senate Republicans at the White House in Washington

Trump presses troops for political help in lobbying Congress

07/24/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump headlined an event over the weekend, commissioning the USS Gerald Ford, which wouldn't have been especially notable, were it not for one important aspect of his remarks. As the Huffington Post noted:

Trump urged the crowd of about 6,500 people, including uniformed naval officers, to call Congress and ask lawmakers to pass the budget, in which he seeks an additional $54 billion for defense spending in 2018.

"I don't mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it," he told the crowd, before plugging another item on his agenda. "And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get health care."

As a Washington Post report added, Trump’s brief appeal "created a potentially awkward tableau at a commissioning event intended to be ceremonial -- a commander in chief offering political remarks, and what could even be construed as an order, to the naval officers he commands."

It's entirely possible that Trump, new to public service and the structures of government, doesn't really know anything about the unique relationship between a president and active-duty military personnel. He may not understand, for example, that when a commander in chief asks troops to do something, they're expected to do it.

Which is why we're not accustomed to American leaders trying to recruit servicemen and women into lobbying campaigns in support of the White House's priorities. There are certain norms that are presidents are supposed to honor and protect, and Donald Trump either doesn't know or doesn't care where those lines are drawn.

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Trump makes ethics office more accommodating

Trump makes ethics office more accommodating

07/21/17 09:57PM

Rachel Maddow reports on Donald Trump's selection of a more permissive leader of the Office of Government Ethics and notes not only did the new leader approve Jared Kushner's amended disclosure forms, but he released them at 7pm on a Friday instead of when they were signed. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 7.21.17

07/21/17 05:00PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* If you fell for the nonsense about the significance of "unmasking," I have bad news for you: "Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) on Friday accused his counterpart in the House, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), of creating a false narrative about Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice."

* Spicer's successor: "Sarah Huckabee Sanders will replace Sean Spicer as White House press secretary. Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, announced Sanders' promotion during Friday's press briefing -- the first on-camera briefing in weeks."

* The latest on Manafort: "Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible money laundering by Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign manager, as part of his criminal investigation into what U.S. intelligence agencies say was a Kremlin-backed campaign to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, according to a person familiar with the matter."

* The obvious thing to do: "The Trump administration has brought a Qaeda suspect to the United States to face trial in federal court, backing off its hard-line position that terrorism suspects should be sent to the naval prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rather than to civilian courtrooms."

* If our goal is to improve relations with an ally, this is probably unwise: "President Trump has offered the post of United States ambassador to Germany to Richard Grenell, a former diplomatic aide to President George W. Bush and a Republican strategist who once worked for Senator John McCain, two people briefed on the conversation said on Thursday."

* Interesting statistic: when the Affordable Care Act was written, Democrats helped approve 188 Republican amendments to the legislation. This year, Republicans have approved zero Democratic amendments.

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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Former ACA critic: 'I can't even remember why I opposed it'

07/21/17 04:07PM

When the fight over the Affordable Care Act was at its height, both major parties effectively took a political gamble. Democrats believed that once "Obamacare" became law, and families started enjoying the benefits of the vastly improved system, the overheated controversy would fade and the ACA's popularity would grow.

Republicans, meanwhile, bet on the opposite. The right believed, through a combination of lies, demagoguery, and ridiculous predictions, it could convince much of the nation's mainstream that "Obamacare" would shred the fabric of American life. These attitudes, conservatives assumed, would be quickly ingrained, to the point that the reform law would never receive public acceptance.

Several years later, with the Affordable Care Act's popularity reaching new heights, there's every reason to believe Democratic expectations were more correct than their GOP counterparts. The New York Times has an interesting piece on the attitudes of voters in Doylestown, Pa., where locals didn't like "Obamacare" -- until recently.

[S]entiment here reflects the polls -- and how they have shifted. Many people still have little understanding of how the law works. But Democrats and independents have rallied around it, and many of those who opposed it now accept the law, unwilling to see millions of Americans stripped of the coverage that it extended to them.

"I can't even remember why I opposed it," said Patrick Murphy, who owns Bagel Barrel, on a quaint and bustling street near Mr. Brahin's law office here in Doylestown.

He went on to tell the Times, "Everybody needs some sort of health insurance." In apparent reference to Republicans, Murphy added, "They're trying to repeal Obamacare but they don't have anything in place."

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Image: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer Holds Daily Press Briefing

After a brief and tumultuous tenure, Sean Spicer resigns

07/21/17 12:37PM

After Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, elevating Gerald Ford, the new Republican president needed a new White House team. Ford tapped Jerald terHorst, a veteran journalist, to be the press secretary, and he seemed like a perfectly sensible choice.

The arrangement, however, did not last. A month into Ford's tenure, the new president issued a controversial pardon to Nixon, and unwilling to defend the decision, terHorst resigned. His tenure -- just 31 days -- was the shortest of any White House press secretary ever.

The second shortest was Sean Spicer, who lasted 182 days.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned on Friday, sources tell NBC News.

The sudden departure comes as Donald Trump transition team official Anthony Scaramucci was slated to be announced as White House communications director.

For more on Scaramucci's apparent appointment, see our piece from this morning.

By any fair estimate, Spicer was never an ideal choice for this position. Trump's principal spokesperson quickly developed a reputation for brazen dishonesty and clumsy evasiveness, both of which made it easy for hilarious impressions, but difficult for competent work from the podium of the White House briefing room.

Some of my personal favorite moments from Spicer's brief-but-tumultuous tenure included the time he was caught hiding in the bushes for several minutes; his spirited argument over the meaning of the word "is"; the terribly unfortunate reference to "Holocaust centers"; his unintentionally hilarious instance that Trump's inaugural crowd "was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration -- period"; the argument that the Republican health care bill must be superior to the Affordable Care Act because it can be printed on fewer pieces of paper; and many, many more moments we can all collectively treasure.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.21.17

07/21/17 12:00PM

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

* There's a little over three months remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, and Republican nominee Ed Gillespie has decided he needs strong turnout from Donald Trump supporters if he's going to prevail. "Virginia needs a governor who is eager to work with President Trump, not be at odds with him," he said this week. Trump lost Virginia last year by five points.

* By all accounts, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray is preparing to launch a Democratic gubernatorial campaign in Ohio next year. Cordray, before joining the CFPB, was the Buckeye State's attorney general.

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate special election primary, a super PAC supporting appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) has launched a new ad, highlighting Rep. Mo Brooks' (R) previous criticism of Trump. Viewers are told the far-right congressman is "Wrong on Trump. Wrong for Alabama." The primary is Aug. 15.

* The Washington Post did an interesting analysis of the interviews Trump's done since taking office, which found the president tends to turn his attention to Hillary Clinton, unprompted, very early on in almost every conversation.

* In Ohio's U.S. Senate race, Republican Josh Mandel this week took the unusual step of condemning the Anti-Defamation League and expressing solidarity with right-wing conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, who's perhaps best known for promoting the bizarre "Pizzagate" theory.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

CIA Director Pompeo's views on Wikileaks have apparently evolved

07/21/17 11:20AM

A few months ago, in his first public remarks after becoming the director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo expressed contempt for Wikileaks, calling the website "a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia."

Yesterday, The Hill highlighted some related thoughts from Pompeo.

Pompeo argued during an interview with conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens at the Aspen Institute's Security Forum that Wikileaks is intent on harming America.

"WikiLeaks will take down America any way they can," he said. "I don't love WikiLeaks."

This wasn't an unexpected response. Not only did he criticize Wikileaks earlier this year, but most high-ranking officials in U.S. intelligence agencies have made related comments about the website and the people behind it.

The trouble is what Pompeo used to say about Wikileaks. CNN had an interesting report on this back in April.

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Clouds fill the sky in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Senate GOP confirms controversial Trump nominee to appeals court

07/21/17 10:42AM

Asked this week about his party's difficulties in governing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, "We have a new Supreme Court justice,"

The point wasn't subtle: the Republicans may be struggling to advance their legislative agenda, but the party is nevertheless moving the federal judiciary to the right. And while this may seem like an argument intended to rationalize failure, McConnell's argument isn't wrong.

Yesterday, for example, Senate Republicans voted unanimously to confirm John Bush, a Donald Trump nominee to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. And who's John Bush? Let's revisit a recent piece from Slate's Dahlia Lithwick:

Blogging under a pseudonym, the Kentucky lawyer wrote more than 400 posts for the website Elephants in the Bluegrass. His wide-ranging and unfiltered commentary has included, for instance, the claim that abortion and slavery are “[t]he two greatest tragedies in our country.” His blog posts have cited conspiracy theories and false information, including references to the claim that President Obama was not born in the United States.

In his Senate questionnaire, he described the vicious 1991 beating of Rodney King as a “police encounter.” As Eleanor Clift notes in the Daily Beast, he has also gone on record arguing that the Supreme Court made a bad ruling in the landmark freedom of the press case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. In the Trump era, that’s a feature, not a bug.

During Bush's confirmation hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Bush to explain why he relied on radical and fringe websites like World Net Daily as legitimate sources for information. Bush said that "as a blogger I was finding things in the news that were of note."

World Net Daily, for those unfamiliar with it, is known for peddling ridiculous conspiracy theories, including championing the ant-Obama "birther" cause for many years. The fact that Bush saw WND as credible raises serious questions about his judgment.

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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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