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Buildings are seen near the ocean as reports indicate that Miami-Dade County in the future could be one of the most susceptible places when it comes to rising water levels due to global warming on March 14, 2012 in North Miami, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

Trump administration gives sea-level study a little touch-up

05/23/17 10:22AM

It would make sense for Republicans, like all Americans, to be concerned about rising sea levels. But in recent years, GOP officials' concerns have been limited to squelching the discussion about the environmental problem instead of addressing it.

As regular readers may recall, in 2012, Republicans in North Carolina tried to prohibit a state-appointed science panel from relying on the scientific evidence related to sea levels. Around the same time, Republican state lawmakers in Virginia commissioned a study on climate change and the state's Eastern shore, but "sea-level rise" was to be omitted. The GOP sponsor of the study pointed to "sea-level rise" as an example of "liberal code words."

That kind of thinking appears to have reached the Trump administration. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
On Thursday, a group of scientists, including three working for the U.S. Geological Survey, published a paper that highlighted the link between sea-level rise and global climate change, arguing that previously studies may have underestimated the risk flooding poses to coastal communities.

However, three of the study's authors say the Department of Interior, under which USGS is housed, deleted a line from the news release on the study that discussed the role climate change played in raising Earth's oceans.
The public statement originally said, "Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding." The U.S. Geological Survey changed the text so that it now says, "The frequency and severity of coastal flooding throughout the world will increase rapidly and eventually double in frequency over the coming decades even with only moderate amounts of sea level rise."

In other words, officials were comfortable describing the problem, but not identifying the cause of the problem. The news release isn't wrong, exactly, so much as it was made deliberately incomplete.
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Image: FILE PHOTO - National security adviser General Michael Flynn arrives to deliver a statement during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S.

Flynn's falsehoods create new troubles for Trump's White House

05/23/17 09:20AM

As Donald Trump's Russia scandal has progressed, we've been confronted with instances in which people close to the president failed to disclose Russian ties that should've been divulged. And sins of omission are important, outright deceptions are even more serious.

Take Michael Flynn, for example.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn appears to have lied to security clearance investigators by telling them he was paid by "U.S. companies" when he traveled to Russia in December 2015, according to a letter released Monday by the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

"The Oversight Committee has in our possession documents that appear to indicate that General Flynn lied to the investigators who interviewed him in 2016 as part of his security clearance renewal," said Rep. Elijiah Cummings of Maryland in a letter to committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

"Specifically, the Committee has obtained a Report of Investigation dated March 14, 2016, showing that General Flynn told security clearance investigators that he was paid by 'U.S. companies' when he traveled to Moscow in December 2015 to dine at a gala with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The actual source of the funds for General Flynn's trip was not a U.S. company, but the Russian media propaganda arm, RT."
The payments Flynn received from Russia have long been a point of contention for Trump's top former national security aide -- someone the president kept at his post for 18 days, even after the Justice Department told the White House Flynn had been compromised by Moscow -- but allegations that he deliberately misled U.S. investigators in official documents are a new development.

It also sheds new light on why Flynn, who pleaded the Fifth yesterday in response to a Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry, has been so eager to cut an immunity deal with federal prosecutors in exchange for his testimony in the Russia scandal. As the New York Times' report noted, "Intentionally lying to federal investigators is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison."

And this doesn't even factor in the fact that Flynn was supposed to register as a foreign agent -- a step he failed to take -- which also appears to be a crime.
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People wait in line to enter the U.S. Supreme Court building January 11, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Supreme Court strikes down North Carolina gerrymandering

05/23/17 08:40AM

North Carolina Republican leaders may be radicalized to an alarming degree, but they're also competent enough to achieve their goals. It's not easy, for example, to take a state where voters are roughly divided evenly between the parties, and then draw the congressional district lines so that Republicans hold 10 of the state's 13 seats, turning roughly 50% of the vote into 77% of the power.

That is, however, precisely what GOP officials in North Carolina did in one of the most ridiculous contemporary examples of gerrymandering in the country. It's also a map that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down yesterday as illegal.
The U.S. Supreme Court Monday threw out North Carolina's maps for two of the state's 13 congressional districts, a ruling that former attorney general Eric Holder called "a watershed moment in the fight to end racial gerrymandering."

In drawing the boundary lines for both districts, race was the predominant factor and the state failed to offer a compelling justification, the court said.
The full ruling in Cooper v. Harris is online here. Note that the majority included the court's four center-left jurists -- Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer -- who were unexpectedly joined in this decision by, of all people, Clarence Thomas. (It was a 5-3 ruling, since Gorsuch did not participate. The case was heard before his confirmation.)

The key takeaway of a ruling like this is about establishing some boundaries. When state lawmakers draw district lines following a decennial census, they're legally permitted to consider race as a factor, but as Vox's report explained, "to use race as a predominant factor, the state has to have a compelling interest. For example, a state can say that it needs to, under the federal Voting Rights Act, consider race to ensure that a minority voting bloc isn't consistently negated by a larger set of white voters who vote against the minority voting bloc's preferred candidate."

That's not what North Carolina Republicans did. In fact, they did largely the opposite, working with remarkable precision to isolate minority communities, not to advance a compelling state interest, but to maximize partisan GOP power by deliberately diminishing the voting power of people of color.

The Supreme Court said yesterday that this is a step states cannot take.
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Image: First Lady Melania Trump Hosts A Celebration Of MilitaryMothers Event

Obstruction allegations against Donald Trump grow more obvious

05/23/17 08:00AM

In August 1974, with the Watergate scandal ravaging Richard Nixon's presidency, the "smoking gun" tape made it impossible for the Republican to stay in office. The recording, which Nixon fought to conceal, showed the then-president discussing a plan with an aide: they'd try to get the CIA to help derail the FBI's investigation into the scandal.

Confronted with this evidence, GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill quickly abandoned Nixon, who then resigned.

Reading the latest Washington Post scoop, published online late yesterday, I'm reminded of the phrase, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."
President Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.
NBC News confirmed that Coats and Rogers "were sufficiently concerned about the requests that one of them wrote a memo about it" and the two men "exchanged notes about their conversations with the president."

That was the appropriate response. The idea that a sitting president of the United States would personally encourage the NSA director and the DNI to intervene this way -- effectively asking them to make public claims they couldn't prove -- is plainly outrageous.

Making matters worse, the Post's report added that senior White House officials also "sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of intervening directly" with then-FBI Director Comey in order to "encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Michael Flynn."

One official said of the line of questioning from the White House, "Can we ask him to shut down the investigation? Are you able to assist in this matter?"
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Monday's Mini-Report, 5.22.17

05/22/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iran: "Riding a large turnout from Iran's urban middle classes, President Hassan Rouhani won re-election in a landslide on Saturday, giving him a mandate to continue his quest to expand personal freedoms and open Iran's ailing economy to global investors."

* North Korea: "South Korean defense officials said on Monday that the missile the North launched on Sunday was a medium-range ballistic missile that cannot fly far enough to strike American military bases in Guam, as analysts had feared."

* This complaint takes chutzpah: "Turkey's Foreign Ministry lodged a formal protest Monday with the U.S. ambassador over 'aggressive' actions by American security personnel during a clash between Turkish guards and protesters as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Washington this month."

* This isn't all right: "Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a news conference with the Saudi foreign minister in Riyadh on Sunday, but he left the American media behind."

* This isn't, either: "A reporter said he was pinned against a wall by two security officials in a public hallway at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington on Thursday after he tried to ask a question of a commissioner."

* Jared Kushner's distance from his family's business could be clearer: "Kushner, 36, who is emerging as a singularly powerful figure in the Trump White House, is keeping nearly 90 percent of his vast real estate holdings even after resigning from the family business and pledging a clear divide between his private interests and public duties."

* I can't think of a coherent defense for this: "Nearly 700 positions are vacant at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of a continuing freeze on hiring that officials and researchers say affects programs supporting local and state public health emergency readiness, infectious disease control and chronic disease prevention."
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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

In Russia scandal, top former Trump aide pleads the 5th

05/22/17 04:30PM

The Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Donald Trump's Russia scandal isn't breaking any speed records, but it's incrementally moving forward. NBC News reports today, for example, that Paul Manafort and Roger Stone have turned over documents related to the probe, per the committee's request.

Michael Flynn, on the other hand, is pursuing a different course. The Associated Press reported this afternoon:
President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination on Monday and declined to hand over documents sought under subpoena by a Senate panel investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.

In a letter to the Senate intelligence committee, Flynn's attorneys justified the decision by citing an "escalating public frenzy against him" and saying the Justice Department's recent appointment of a special counsel has created a legally dangerous environment for him to cooperate with the panel's investigation.
The committee's leaders will now have to consider its next move, including the option of moving forward with a vote to hold Flynn in contempt of Congress. In theory, that could lead to a criminal charge.

But the short-term political problem for the White House is less ambiguous. Not only will Flynn's refusal to cooperate detract from the president's efforts to change the subject with his overseas trip, there's also the litany of quotes from Trump World about the dubiousness of those who take full advantage of their Fifth Amendment rights.
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This file handout photo taken on May 10, 2017 made available by the Russian Foreign Ministry shows shows US President Donald J. Trump (C) speaking with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak.

In Israel, Trump denies intel claim he was never accused of

05/22/17 12:54PM

It's been nearly two weeks since Donald Trump welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak into the Oval Office -- at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin -- which has proven to be controversial for all sorts of reasons. It was the American president's intelligence leak that probably mattered most.

We learned last week that Trump, for reasons that remain unclear, decided to share highly classified intelligence with his Russian guests. The sensitive secrets were provided to the United States by a third, unnamed country, and when the the Republican passed the intel on to the Russians, it sent shockwaves through the international community.

With this in mind, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, standing alongside the American president earlier, was asked at a brief press conference if he has any concerns about intelligence cooperation with the United States. He said he did not. At that point, the leaders were poised to be whisked off to their next event, but Trump stopped everyone because he had something to declare:
"Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name 'Israel.' Never mentioned that during that conversation. They were all saying I did, so you have another story wrong. Never mentioned the word 'Israel.'"
To put it mildly, that's not what Trump was supposed to say.
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.22.17

05/22/17 12:00PM

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

* I'll have more on this a little later today: "The Supreme Court ruled Monday that racial considerations pervaded the way North Carolina lawmakers drew congressional maps after the 2010 Census in order to maximize Republicans' advantage."

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) traveled to Montana yesterday to campaign in support of Rob Quist, the Democratic candidate in the state's congressional special election. The vote is this Thursday. "The eyes of the country, actually eyes all over the world, are on the great state of Montana," Sanders told a sizable crowd.

* On a related note, Quist's closing message goes after the Republican health care plan for gutting protections for those with pre-existing conditions, while delivering a tax cut for the wealthy.

* In Virginia, one of only two states to host gubernatorial elections this year, the latest Washington Post/George Mason poll shows both of the Democratic candidates -- Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello -- with double-digit leads over the likely Republican nominee, Ed Gillespie. According to the survey, Perriello leads Gillespie in a hypothetical match-up by 13 points, while Northam is up by 11 points.

* In an interesting sign of the times, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who represents a district Donald Trump lost badly, wants it to be known he was the first congressional Republican to publicly broach the subject of presidential impeachment.

* In California yesterday, state Democrats apparently elected state party vice chairman Eric Bauman to serve as the new chairman, edging out Kimberly Ellis, a Bernie Sanders supporter from the Bay Area,  Ellis, however, has not conceded the race, and has "been in touch with attorneys."
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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump White House clashes with federal ethics watchdog

05/22/17 11:20AM

Up until quite recently, Walter Shaub worked in relative obscurity. Shaub is the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, an independent, non-partisan office, which tries to prevent conflicts of interest among high-ranking federal officials, and he's worked off and on at the office for 20 years.

But Donald Trump's election has brought Shaub into the spotlight in unexpected ways.

It was Shaub who balked publicly in response to Trump's decision to maintain ownership of his business ventures while serving as president. Soon after, he raised concerns about the president moving forward with cabinet nominees before the Office of Government Ethics could complete an ethics review process -- and then blew the whistle when Trump's nominees pushed back against the government's ethics requirements with "a ferocity we've not previously seen."

Last week, we learned that it was Shaub's office that stood its ground when Trump's attorneys "wanted him to submit an updated financial disclosure without certifying the information as true." And this week, the New York Times highlights the latest skirmish in this ongoing saga.
The Trump administration, in a significant escalation of its clash with the government's top ethics watchdog, has moved to block an effort to disclose any ethics waivers granted to former lobbyists who have work in the White House or federal agencies.

The latest conflict came in recent days when the White House, in a highly unusual move, sent a letter to Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Office of Government Ethics, asking him to withdraw a request he had sent to every federal agency for copies of the waivers. In the letter, the administration challenged his legal authority to demand the information.
This is a tough one for the administration to defend.
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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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