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Trump admin confrontation of Iran raises concerns of escalation

Trump admin confrontation of Iran raises concerns of escalation

06/14/19 09:23PM

Ali Velshi looks at the escalation of tensions between the Trump administration and Iran through the lens of the Bush administration’s posture in the run-up to the Iraq war. Hagar Chemali, former spokesperson for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department, joins to share her insights on the dangerous U.S./Iran dynamic. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 6.14.19

06/14/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* An important ruling: "The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday said the Trump administration cannot deny pregnant undocumented minors in federal custody access to abortion."

* It's only a case of someone repeatedly and flagrantly breaking an ethics law: "President Trump said Friday that he will not fire White House counselor Kellyanne Conway for repeated violations of the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from engaging in political activity in the course of their work."

* Climate crisis: "Ice is melting in unprecedented ways as summer approaches in the Arctic. In recent days, observations have revealed a record-challenging melt event over the Greenland ice sheet, while the extent of ice over the Arctic Ocean has never been this low in mid-June during the age of weather satellites."

* What a fiasco: "Federal tax payments by big businesses are falling much faster than anticipated in the wake of Republicans' tax cuts, providing ammunition to Democrats who are calling for corporate tax increases."

* A million here, a million there: "Ivanka Trump made $4 million from her investment in her father's Washington hotel last year, according to a disclosure released by the White House on Friday. She also made at least $1 million from her line of branded apparel, jewelry and other merchandise, down from at least $5 million in the previous year."

* A step in the right direction: "A small group of House Judiciary Committee members traveled to the Justice Department Thursday afternoon to begin reviewing former special counsel Robert Mueller's underlying evidence, according to multiple Democratic sources."

* There's just no good reason for this: "Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has chosen to relocate two of USDA's research agencies to the Kansas City area, the final step in a process to reshape the department's research wing that has drawn objections from several congressional Democrats."

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Image: US-POLITICS-FBI-WRAY

Trump puts his handpicked FBI director in an unenviable position

06/14/19 03:24PM

Last fall, NBC News reported that Donald Trump has been known to privately complain about his FBI chief, arguing behind the scenes that Chris Wray was "not protecting his interests." The president's dissatisfaction has become far more overt of late.

A month ago, for example, Trump whined via Twitter that the FBI "has no leadership," a not-so-subtle shot at the man he handpicked to oversee the bureau. Two days later, the president complained that it was "ridiculous" for Wray to balk at the White House's conspiracy theory about the Trump campaign being spied on in 2016.

Reminded this week that Wray has encouraged Americans aware of foreign efforts to intervene in our elections to contact federal law enforcement, Trump declared, "The FBI director is wrong." (The FBI was not, in reality, wrong.)

This was, of course, part of the same interview in which the president personally invited foreign intervention in American elections, saying that if foreign countries have information that might benefit his re-election effort, "I think I'd take it."

Politico reported overnight that with his bizarre comments, Trump "undercut" months of work at the bureau.

[Trump's] comments, according to interviews with nearly a dozen law enforcement veterans, have undone months of work, essentially inviting foreign spies to meddle with 2020 presidential campaigns and demoralizing the agents trying to stop them.

And it has backed Wray into a corner, they added, putting him in a position where he might have to either publicly chastise the president and risk getting fired, or resign in protest.

Jim Baker, the FBI's former general counsel, told Politico, in reference to FBI leaders who saw Trump's interview, "I don't think they should run for the exits right away, but they can't just ignore this one. This is potentially encouraging criminal activity and undermining federal law."

Don't brush past that one too quickly: the former top lawyer at the FBI believes the sitting president may have encouraged others to commit federal crimes.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump boasts about personal involvement in Air Force One design

06/14/19 12:41PM

Donald Trump made quite a bit of news in his interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, but there was another part of the interview that the president seemed especially excited about.

Less than a year after announcing a $3.9 billion makeover for America's most famous aircraft, President Donald Trump shared never-before-seen images of Air Force One's prospective redesign on Wednesday during an exclusive interview with ABC News.

"George, take a look at this," Trump boasted to ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, as he flashed mock-ups of his vision for the next generation of the presidential aircraft. "Here's your new Air Force One." [...]

"We had different choices, here," Trump said, pointing to images he said he designed himself. "These are all slightly different."

The president went on to claim he "got $1.6 billion off the price" of the project -- a claim that's already been proven false many, many times.

But that's not the only problem with this story. For example, the exterior colors of the new Air Force One look "remarkably similar to those on his own corporate jet."

For that matter, House Democrats this week moved forward with a defense spending bill with a provision that requires congressional approval for changes to the "interior, paint and fixtures" of Air Force One.

But the part of the story that caught my attention was ABC News reporting that Trump pointed to "images he said he designed himself."

I'm fascinated by what the president finds fascinating.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.14.19

06/14/19 12:00PM

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

* The DNC officially announced the participants for the upcoming presidential primary debate. Arguably the most notable exclusion was two-term Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D).

* Believe it or not, as White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gets ready to exit her current job, she's reportedly had conversations about running for governor in her native Arkansas.

* Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) announced this morning that she's retiring from politics and won't seek re-election next year. The news is especially notable because Brooks is supposed to be overseeing candidate recruitment for her party in the 2020 cycle.

* Justice Democrats, which helped elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) last year, now has its eyes on Texas' 28th congressional district. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) is among the least progressive Dems on Capitol Hill, despite representing a relatively safe Democratic district, and Justice Democrats is now rallying behind immigration lawyer Jessica Cisneros' primary campaign.

* Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) used some rather pointed language yesterday on MSNBC, saying in reference to former Vice President Joe Biden's candidacy, "You cannot go back to the end of the Obama administration and think that that's good enough.... We cannot return to the past."

* Asked this week about a possible third-party presidential bid in 2020, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the only Republican who supports impeaching Donald Trump, said, "I have no interest in playing spoiler. When I run for something, I run to win." He added, however, "I haven't ruled anything out."

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Trump suggests his former White House counsel lied to investigators

06/14/19 11:20AM

When it comes to obstruction allegations surrounding Donald Trump, former White House Counsel Don McGahn is a witness of particular significance: few figures play as an important a role in the Mueller report as the former White House counsel. As we've discussed, the Republican lawyer spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and in the redacted version of Mueller's report, the former White House counsel is cited more than 150 times.

In some of the episodes in which Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what McGahn told investigators.

Indeed, as the special counsel's findings made clear, the former White House counsel very nearly resigned because the president directed him to "do crazy s**t," including an incident in which, according to McGahn, Trump pressed the lawyer to push the Justice department to derail the investigation by getting rid of Mueller and creating a false document to cover that up.

In an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that aired this morning, the president pushed back against the allegations raised by the former White House counsel.

"I don't care what [McGahn] says, it doesn't matter," Trump said.

"Why would [McGahn] lie under oath?" Stephanopoulos later asked.

"Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer," Trump said. "Or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen -- including you, including the media -- that Robert Mueller was conflicted. Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest."

"And has to go?" Stephanopoulos followed up.

"I didn't say that," Trump insisted.

The implication isn't subtle: the president seemed to suggest the former White House counsel made false claims, under oath, when speaking to federal investigators.

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Image: President Trump Holds Rally In Great Falls, Montana

Trump campaign: We'll handle foreign info on a 'case by case basis'

06/14/19 10:41AM

On Wednesday, Donald Trump told a national television audience that he'd welcome foreign intervention in his own county's 2020 elections. On Thursday, as CBS News reported, the president's campaign put his position in practical terms:

President Trump's 2020 reelection campaign will handle damaging information on political opponents provided by foreign governments and entities on a "case by case basis," according to the campaign's top spokesperson.

Asked about Mr. Trump's assertion that he would be receptive to dirt on rivals offered by foreigners, Kayleigh McEnany, the national press secretary for the president's reelection bid, told CBSN's "Red & Blue" that campaign staff should take the president's comments as a "directive" to handle foreign dirt through a two-pronged approach.

McEnany literally said, "The president's directive, as he said, [it's] a case by case basis."

That's not a legitimate answer. To hear the national press secretary for the president's re-election campaign put it, Trump and his team may accept some illegal foreign assistance, and they may reject other illegal foreign assistance. In Trump World, there's apparently no need for a blanket policy.

Except, of course, there should be.

For his part, the president returned to Fox News again this morning, where he kinda sorta clarified what he said to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Trump explains why he refused to answer Mueller's questions under oath

06/14/19 10:05AM

Despite having boasted last year that he was "looking forward to" an interview with then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Donald Trump never actually sat down with investigators to answer their questions. The president eventually agreed to answer written questions, though Trump's answers were deemed "inadequate" – and in some cases, "incomplete or imprecise"– by Mueller and his team.

Multiple news accounts concluded that Trump's lawyers refused to let their client testify because they were concerned that the president, unable to control himself, would lie under oath.

With this in mind, Trump sat down with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, who had lengthy exchanges with the president about the investigation into the Russia scandal. It led to a striking exchange:

"If you answer these questions to me now," Stephanopoulos asked, "why not answer them to Robert Mueller under oath?"

"Because they were looking to get us for lies or slight misstatements," Trump said.

Oh. So the president believed federal investigators were looking for instances in which he lied under oath, which left him with a limited number of options: Trump could (a) refuse to fully cooperate with the probe; or (b) he could tell the truth.

The Republican chose the former over the latter.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Trump and his team confront their crisis of credibility

06/14/19 09:20AM

When Donald Trump first spoke to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos this week, the president was preoccupied with reports about his poor standing in public opinion polls. Stephanopoulos asked why he was so bothered by the reports.

"Because, it's untrue," Trump replied. "I like the truth. I'm actually a very honest guy."

It was his use of the word "actually" that stood out for me. The president must realize on some level that he's seen as one of the world's most flamboyantly dishonest people -- a reputation he's earned by lying so frequently, more than a few observers have raised concerns about his mental stability.

"I'm actually a very honest guy" is a hilariously false claim, but it comes with an unfortunate subtext: Trump almost seemed to suggest, "It might surprise people to hear that I'm honest, but..."

A day later, NPR's Steve Inskeep sat down with Peter Navarro, a controversial White House figure who's helping guide the president's agenda on trade. The host inquired about Trump's claims about a secret side deal with Mexico:

INSKEEP: I do have to ask ... about this purported secret agreement. The president says he has one. Mexico says he doesn't have one. Who's not telling the truth?

NAVARRO: The president always tells the truth.

As best as I can tell, Navarro wasn't trying to be funny. He actually expects people to believe that Trump is honest.

To be sure, it would be great if anyone could take boasts like these seriously, but in this presidency, it's just not an option. Trump has proven himself to be untrustworthy. His lies are innumerable.

The result is a crisis of credibility that the White House may not fully appreciate, but which the president and his team are nevertheless being forced to confront.

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Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.

Indicted GOP congressman's life just got a lot more complicated

06/14/19 08:40AM

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) recently made national headlines for his controversial comments about war crimes. But as alarming as the lawmaker's comments were, they weren't his most serious problem.

This is Hunter's most serious problem.

The wife of indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to misuse campaign funds, including for an Italy trip that cost more than $10,000.

Margaret Hunter, who worked as her husband's campaign manager, had previously pleaded not guilty to corruption charges alleging the couple used more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for personal trips, hotel rooms and shopping sprees.

On Thursday, she withdrew that plea in U.S. court in San Diego and pleaded guilty to a single count carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison. The move suggests she is cooperating with the prosecution and might even testify against her husband, whose trial is scheduled for September.

In case anyone needs a refresher, the GOP congressman and his wife were charged last summer, and the criminal indictment was quite brutal: federal prosecutors alleged that the Hunters stole more than $250,000 in campaign funds and used the money to pay for personal purchases, ranging from trips to school tuition to dental work to veterinary care.

As if that weren't enough, the Hunters allegedly went to great lengths to cover up the scheme: according to prosecutors, they made fraudulent claims that their purchases were for charities, including veterans' charities. A Washington Post report added that the prosecutors' allegations "read like a caricature of a corrupt, greedy politician."

The Republican's defense has evolved a bit over time.

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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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