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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.23.18

01/23/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest school shooting: "Two students were killed and more than a dozen people were wounded Tuesday when a 15-year-old armed with a handgun opened fire inside a Kentucky high school, the authorities said."

* Confirming what we suspected: "Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators have interviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey as part of the ongoing federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to two people familiar with the investigation."

* On trade policy, how confident are we that Trump knows what he's doing? "President Donald Trump is signing a measure Tuesday imposing tariffs on imported solar-energy components and large washing machines in a bid to help U.S. manufacturers."

* Forgive the cliche, but being poor is expensive: "Bank of America Corp. has eliminated a free checking account popular with some lower-income customers, requiring them to keep more money at the bank to avoid a monthly fee."

* The suspect reportedly made references to "fake news" while threatening violence: "Authorities arrested a Michigan man last week after he allegedly called CNN several times, threatening to kill employees at the network's Atlanta, Georgia, headquarters, according to a federal affidavit."

* Someone should let Republicans know: "More than four in five Morgan Stanley analysts, across industries, said in a survey that the firms they track will use their tax gains to facilitate buybacks and dividends. Barely one in five said firms would pass even some of the tax gains on to workers."

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PRISON REFORM

Special Counsel Mueller reportedly seeks Q&A with Donald Trump

01/23/18 04:52PM

At a press conference in June, a reporter asked Donald Trump whether he'd be willing to answer questions about the Russia scandal under oath. "One hundred percent," the president responded.

As we discussed last week, Trump's position on this has evolved. Asked at a press conference at Camp David whether he's still committed to speaking with Mueller, Trump hedged, refusing to answer the question directly. A few days later, at an event alongside the prime minister of Norway, Trump faced a similar question. The Republican's response was long, meandering, and not altogether coherent, but he concluded that it "seems unlikely" that he'd answer the special counsel's questions.

If today's reporting from the Washington Post is any indication, Trump may need to change his posture once more.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is seeking to question President Trump in the coming weeks about his decisions to oust national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James B. Comey, according to two people familiar with his plans.

Mueller's interest in the events that led Trump to push out Flynn and Comey indicates that his investigation is intensifying its focus on possible efforts by the president or others to obstruct or blunt the special counsel's probe.

This dovetails with a story that's been brewing of late. NBC News reported two weeks ago, for example, that the logistics and scope of an interview between the special counsel's team and Trump were the subject of discussion among the relevant lawyers. Bloomberg Politics reported soon after that talks between Trump's legal team and Mueller's team are "expected to continue ... despite comments from Trump suggesting an interview is unlikely."

With this in mind, the Post added that the president's attorneys "have crafted some negotiating terms for the president's interview with Mueller's team, one that could be presented to the special counsel as soon as next week, according to the two people."

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Image: Senate Minority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer

Schumer takes Trump's border-wall funding off the table

01/23/18 02:23PM

Some have called it the "Cheeseburger Summit." With just hours remaining before Friday night's government-shutdown deadline, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) met privately with Donald Trump at the White House in the hopes of working out some kind of agreement. After the meeting, the Democratic leader seemed optimistic that he and the president had come up with a "framework."

Not surprisingly, it wasn't easy, and it included a tradeoff that most Democrats reject: Schumer was willing to accept increased funding for a border wall in exchange for DACA protections for Dreamers.

As we now know, the deal ultimately fell apart. Though Schumer was on board, he received a call on Friday from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who told the senator the blueprint he sketched out with Trump was simply not far enough to the right for Republicans.

With this in mind, the Democratic leader who put wall funding on the table is now taking it off the table. Politico  reports:

The Senate minority leader, through an aide, informed the White House on Monday that he was retracting the offer he made last week to give Trump well north of the $1.6 billion in wall funding Trump had asked for this year, according to two Democrats. And now they say Trump will simply not get a better deal than that on his signature campaign promise.

Schumer "took it off," said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. "He called the White House yesterday and said it's over."

To clarify, Schumer's office told NBC News that he told the White House the wall offer is off the table on Sunday -- the day before the shutdown ended -- not Monday.

A Democratic aide told  Politico, meanwhile, that Trump's handling of the negotiations means the president has now "missed an opportunity to get the wall."

This got me thinking about something Sarah Binder, a GW political scientist, explained a few years ago, "[M]ost integrative solutions are conditional on completion of the entire deal. As the common mantra goes, 'Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.'"

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Marijuana plants for sale are displayed at the medical marijuana farmers market. (Photo by David McNew/Reuters)

What makes Vermont's new marijuana law different

01/23/18 12:41PM

Vermont takes pride in its firsts. The Green Mountain State was the first, for example, to take steps to ban slavery in its state constitution. Vermont was also first to declare war on Hitler's Germany -- months before the United States did as a whole.

More recently, Vermont was first on civil unions. It was also first to approve marriage equality through its legislature. Yesterday, as the alt-weekly Seven Days  reported, Vermont scored another first.

Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill Monday that legalizes adult possession and consumption of marijuana in Vermont beginning on July 1.

His signature makes Vermont the first state to legalize pot by legislative action; other states used public votes on the issue.

Scott, a Republican, signed the bill yesterday after it passed the Democratic-led legislature two weeks ago. "I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children," the governor said in a statement, adding that he approved the proposal with "mixed emotions." (He vetoed a previous version of the legislation.)

Vermont is the ninth state to legalize marijuana, though in the previous eight states, advocates found it necessary to circumvent lawmakers -- because it was unrealistic to think elected officials would approve such a policy. In Vermont, the opposite was true.

That said, there are all kinds of restrictions on the new state policy. As the Washington Post  explained, Vermont's law "does not allow for a commercial marijuana industry to be established there. Individuals may possess up to an ounce of marijuana for personal consumption and grow up to six plants, but buying and selling the drug remains prohibited."

And then, of course, there's Donald Trump's Justice Department to consider.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.23.18

01/23/18 12:00PM

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

* Florida will be home to one of the year's most important ballot initiatives: the state's voters will be asked to decide whether to change Florida law and extend voting rights to the state's 1.5 million convicted felons. The Florida secretary of state's office confirmed this morning that the measure received the necessary number of signatures to qualify for this year's ballot.

* As Rachel noted on the show last night, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down the state's congressional map, gerrymandered to heavily favor Republicans. The ruling, which is unlikely to go federal court on appeal, requires state officials to redraw the lines quickly in preparation for this year's elections.

* Asked yesterday about Donald Trump's new campaign ad, in which he accuses Democrats of being "complicit" in murders, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said those "aren't being done by the White House." (Since the White House doesn't do any campaign advertising, the answer seemed odd.)

* As Republicans feel increasingly anxious about the congressional special election in Pennsylvania's 18th district, the House Republican leadership's super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, is preparing to launch a $1.5 million ad campaign in support of Rick Saccone.

* Gallup reported yesterday that Donald Trump averaged a 38.4% approval rating in his first year, easily the worst of any first-year president since the dawn of modern polling.

* On a related note, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found the president ending his first year in office with a 36% approval rating, nearly 10 points lower than any of his modern predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

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Eric Greitens Founder and CEO, The Mission Continues speaks at the Robin Hood Veterans Summit at Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum on May 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty for The Robin Hood Foundation)

Burdened by scandal, Missouri's Greitens dodges key questions

01/23/18 11:20AM

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' (R) sex scandal has clearly put his career in jeopardy. As regular readers know, the Republican governor concedes he had an extra-marital affair, which occurred the year before he launched his campaign for statewide office, but as part of the story, Greitens is also accused of trying to blackmail his former mistress to keep their relationship secret.

Indeed, though the governor denies this part of the story, there's an audio recording of the woman in question claiming Greitens took nude photographs of her, while she was blindfolded and her hands were tied, which was followed by an alleged verbal threat. (The recording has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News.)

The governor talked to the Associated Press over the weekend -- his first media interview since the scandal broke -- and while Greitens claims there was "no blackmail" and "no threat of violence" as part of his adulterous relationship, he wouldn't say whether he had bound, blindfolded, and taken a photo of the woman.

Yesterday, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch  reported, the Missourian was similarly evasive during a press conference.

Gov. Eric Greitens on Monday sidestepped one question asked repeatedly during a rare news conference: Did he take a compromising photo of a woman with whom he had had an affair?

The question came in various forms from various news outlets. After initially addressing the affair, he attempted to steer the reporters back to the state's $28.7 billion budget blueprint, the planned topic of the day.

Greitens has now repeatedly claimed there was "no blackmail" -- in other words, he's denying criminal wrongdoing -- while sidestepping more embarrassing aspects of the controversy. He said yesterday, for example, "There was no photograph for blackmail," which is obviously very different than saying, "There was no photograph."

And as a rule, once a governor faces questions about tying up a mistress, his career trajectory probably isn't headed in the right direction.

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Image: U.S. Attorney General Sessions testifies before a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington

Special Counsel questioned AG Jeff Sessions in Russia probe

01/23/18 10:40AM

As the investigation into Donald Trump's Russia scandal has unfolded, we've seen no shortage of milestones. Today, as the New York Times  reports, we've learned of a pretty big one:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for several hours last week by the special counsel's office as part of the investigation into Russia's meddling in the election and whether the president obstructed justice since taking office, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman.

The meeting marked the first time that investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, are known to have interviewed a member of Mr. Trump's cabinet.

Not surprisingly, we don't yet know any details about the nature of the Q&A or what specifically was discussed, but the list of possible topics isn't short.

We know, for example, that Sessions may have lied under oath during his confirmation hearings about his communications with Russians during the 2016 election, and I imagine Mueller and his team might be interested in learning more about those private chats.

Sessions also played a role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey -- a subject that appears to be of interest to the special counsel's investigation, since it may offer evidence of the president obstructing justice.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PENCE

After months of inaction, Trump admin extends its opioid deadline

01/23/18 10:00AM

The first sign of trouble came over the summer. Donald Trump made an official public declaration that the opioid crisis is "a national emergency," but as regular readers know, the president then waited 11 weeks before issuing an underwhelming White House directive on the issue.

As part of that formal declaration in October, the administration set in motion a 90-day period of mobilization, in which "virtually nothing of consequence has been done." What's more, that 90-day emergency period ends today.

And so, the Trump administration is giving itself an extension.

The Trump administration has extended the opioid public health emergency issued by President Trump, days before that declaration was set to expire. [...]

[T]he emergency orders only last for 90 days, so it would have expired Tuesday. On Friday, Health and Human Services (HHS) acting Secretary Eric Hargan signed an extension for another 90 days, effective Wednesday.

At least in theory, the next 90 days may be more productive than the last 90 days -- clearing a low bar, to be sure -- but given what we've seen, there's no reason to assume we'll see meaningful progress.

Indeed, it's hard to imagine how Trump and his team could've handled this much worse.

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Adult-movie star Stormy Daniels stops at Rooster's Country Bar in Delhi, La. on Friday, July 3, 2009

Did Trump World's porn-star payment break campaign-finance rules?

01/23/18 09:20AM

It's been about 10 days since we first learned about Donald Trump's lawyer reportedly paying a former porn star $130,000 -- shortly before the 2016 presidential election -- in order to buy her silence about an alleged extramarital affair. Putting aside salacious details, the most meaningful questions continue to surround the money.

Those questions took an interesting turn yesterday, when a watchdog group argued that Trump World's deal with Stormy Daniels may have violated campaign finance laws. The Washington Post  reported:

In a pair of federal complaints, Common Cause, a nonprofit government watchdog group, argued that the settlement amounted to an unreported in-kind contribution to Trump's campaign. The group called on the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission to investigate. [...]

This settlement should have been considered a campaign expense "because the funds were paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election," Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert at the group, said in a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.

The pair of complaints filed by Common Cause said that the source of the $130,000 payment remains unknown, but they added that regardless of where it originated -- even "if Donald J. Trump provided the funds" -- the money was aimed at affecting the election and then never reported.

Michael Cohen told the Post, "The Common Cause complaint is baseless along with the allegation that President Trump filed a false report to the F.E.C." Cohen, who has denied there was an affair but who has not specifically denied paying the adult-film star, reportedly created an LLC in Delaware in order to quietly make the $130,000 payment.

Note, the Common Cause charge isn't that Team Trump improperly spent campaign funds to pay Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. In fact, the argument is largely the opposite: the allegation here is that no matter where the money came from, the problem is that the Trump campaign failed to report it to the FEC.

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Republican Presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at an event at the National Press Club on Sept. 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Lindsey Graham's loyalty to Trump goes unrewarded

01/23/18 08:43AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), once one of Donald Trump's fiercest Republican critics, experienced a metamorphosis in 2017. The South Carolina Republican, who had been a frequent target of presidential mockery and derision, decided he'd transform himself into one of Trump's closest Capitol Hill allies.

Graham attacked the press for its criticisms of Trump. Graham promoted conspiracy theories and anti-Clinton nonsense that Trump was likely to favor. Graham pressed the Justice Department to go after the author of the Trump/Russia dossier. Graham golfed with Trump and bragged about how nice Trump's course was. Even after Graham heard Trump condemn immigrants from, in the president's words, "shithole countries," the GOP bit his tongue and refused to publicly acknowledge what we knew to be true.

And yet, in Trump World, Graham's loyalty is worth effectively nothing. Politico  noted last night:

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) "were completely dishonest" in their negotiations on immigration with President Donald Trump, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Monday.

Gidley criticized a bipartisan deal on immigration brought forth by the lawmakers, along with four other senators, for failing to live up to their assurances to the White House.

The White House official added, "To pretend [Graham[ is anything other than someone who wants open borders and amnesty is just disingenuous." Hogan Gidley had related comments against Graham over the weekend.

Yesterday, in apparent reference to Graham, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders added, "It is almost appalling to me that you have a senator that isn't stepping up, doing the right thing."

Graham carried the president's water for a while. Now Trump World is dumping that water on Graham's head.

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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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