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Trump's odd expectations: he'd like to be 'immune from criticism'

04/23/19 10:04AM

When Donald Trump reflects on his understanding of history, trouble soon follows. After all, the president has talked about Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and the U.S. civil war, and in each instance, Trump ended up embarrassing himself.

And yet, the Republican continues to think he knows enough about history to make astute observations. Take this morning, for example, when Trump published this to Twitter:

"In the 'old days' if you were President and you had a good economy, you were basically immune from criticism. Remember, 'It's the economy stupid.'

"Today I have, as President, perhaps the greatest economy in history...and to the Mainstream Media, it means NOTHING. But it will!"

Let's not dwell on the minor factual errors, including the fact that the current economy isn't even close to being the "greatest" in history. In fact, it's not quite as strong as it was in 2015.

What's more important is the fact that Trump is offering an interesting peek into his expectations. In his mind, a healthy economy should necessarily immunize a president from criticism. After all, the president argued, that's the way it worked in the "old days."

In case this isn't obvious, no American president has ever been "immune from criticism," regardless of the economic conditions of the day. Bill Clinton was president when the economy boomed, and he not only faced criticism, he was also impeached (for misdeeds that pale in comparison to Trump's misdeeds).

More recently, Barack Obama rescued the economy from the Great Recession, but that didn't stop some clown from running around peddling a racist conspiracy theory about his birth certificate.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Trump loves 'transparency,' except when it comes to his own actions

04/23/19 09:20AM

Early last year, then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a sycophantic ally of the White House, prepared a "memo" with classified information he wanted to release in order to help Donald Trump. The president, ignoring the concerns of his own FBI director, cleared the way for the document's release.

Pressed for an explanation, Team Trump insisted at the time that it was part of the administration's commitment to "transparency."

In May 2018, when Trump ordered a highly sensitive intelligence briefing for some members of Congress, in which law enforcement officials were instructed to share information on a confidential human source, the president defended the move by saying, "What I want is I want total transparency.... You have to have transparency."

In September 2018, Trump ordered the release of classified materials related to the Russia investigation. "All I want to do is be transparent," he said at the time.

What the president meant, of course, was that he wanted to be transparent with information he thought might be able to help him politically. When it comes to disclosing information related to his work and background, Trump doesn't much care for transparency at all.

Just yesterday, the president sued the chairman of the House Oversight Committee as part of a desperate attempt to keep his financial records secret, and soon after, as the Washington Post reported, Team Trump directed a White House official to ignore a subpoena as part of an investigation into security-clearance abuses.

A former White House personnel security director has been instructed by the White House not to show up Tuesday for questioning by the House Oversight Committee.

The move appears to be the latest effort by the Trump administration to push back against congressional inquiries targeting the White House, which have proliferated since Democrats took control of the House in January.

White House deputy counsel Michael M. Purpura wrote a letter Monday asking the former security director, Carl Kline, not to show up as the committee had requested.

Whatever happened to, "You have to have transparency"?

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Federal Reserve To Announce Policy Decisions After One-Day Meeting

One of Trump's Fed picks quits, the other faces new controversy

04/23/19 08:40AM

Herman Cain no doubt saw the writing on the wall. Last week, the White House opened the door to him ending his bid for the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, and quietly leaked word that officials had begun searching for his replacement. But last Wednesday, Cain said he didn't care about the political pushback -- he was "very committed" to sticking with the process.

Five days later, Cain quit. The Georgia Republican explained in an online statement that he withdrew from consideration for a variety of reasons, including concerns that he "could not advocate on behalf of capitalism" if he were confirmed to the post.

I'm not altogether sure what that means, but given the fact that Cain is exiting the stage, it's probably not worth investing too much energy trying to figure it out.

Instead, let's focus attention on Donald Trump's other choice for the Fed's board.

One of President Donald Trump's picks to serve on the Federal Reserve Board has written that women should be banned from refereeing, announcing or beer vending at men's college basketball games, asking if there was any area in life "where men can take vacation from women."

Stephen Moore, an economic commentator and former Trump campaign adviser, made those and similar comments in several columns reviewed by CNN's KFile that were published on the website of the conservative National Review magazine in 2001, twice in 2002 and 2003.

CNN's report found a missive Moore wrote in March 2002 on the March Madness college-basketball tournament, in which the Republican pundit presented his case for removing "un-American" aspects of it. The first proposed "rule" was banning women.

"Here's the rule change I propose: No more women refs, no women announcers, no women beer venders, no women anything," he wrote at the time. "There is, of course, an exception to this rule. Women are permitted to participate, if and only if, they look like Bonnie Bernstein. The fact that Bonnie knows nothing about basketball is entirely irrelevant." CNN also found a later missive in which Moore wrote that Bernstein, a CBS sports journalist at the time, should wear halter tops.

It's worth clarifying that if Moore were an otherwise qualified nominee for the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, revelations like these would raise serious doubts about his judgment and character.

But he's not an otherwise qualified nominee.

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Trump lawsuit hopes to limit the scope of congressional oversight

04/23/19 08:00AM

Last week, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) issued a subpoena to Mazars USA, directing the firm to turn over Donald Trump's financial records. The president's new lawyers -- hired to keep the Republican's finances secret -- initially sent a letter to Mazars USA, insisting that the firm ignore that federal subpoena.

Yesterday, Trump's attorneys kicked things up a notch, suing Cummings, asking a federal court to block the congressman's oversight efforts. As Rachel noted on the show last night, the lawsuit will almost certainly fail.

But the Washington Post highlighted an interesting tidbit from the lawsuit, which I'd overlooked after initially reading the filing.

In Trump's lawsuit, his attorneys cited a Supreme Court decision called Kilbourn v. Thompson, which found "no express power" in the Constitution for Congress to investigate individuals without pending legislation.

The problem with that argument, said University of Baltimore law professor Charles Tiefer, is that Kilbourn v. Thompson is a case from 1880.

And it was overruled by a decision in 1927, Tiefer said.

"By reaching back to precedent to the 1880s, they're seeking ... to overturn the entire modern case law that the courts have put together to respect Congress's investigative power," Tiefer added, referring to Trump's lawyers. "It's a very long shot.... These suits look like an act of desperation by the Trump lawyers."

It's obviously embarrassing that the president's new legal team didn't realize it was citing a Supreme Court case that was overturned nearly a century ago, but let's not brush past too quickly the absurdity of the underlying argument.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 4.22.19

04/22/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Sri Lanka: "At least 290 people were killed and 500 others injured after a series of blasts shook Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. A wave of near-simultaneous explosions rocked three churches and three luxury hotels, officials said. Police later reported two further explosions. Police said Monday that 24 suspects had been arrested."

* The results weren't close: "Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy won Sunday's runoff election in Ukraine, ousting incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in a landslide. With over 90 percent of the ballots counted, Zelenskiy had 73 percent of the vote with Poroshenko at just under 25 percent."

* At the border: "The FBI on Saturday arrested a man described as a commander of an armed group that has been detaining migrants in New Mexico, the state attorney general's office said."

* The end of a strike: "Stop & Shop and its striking workers reached a tentative agreement Sunday night, bringing an end to a 10-day work stoppage that crippled New England's largest grocery chain -- closing dozens of stores, delaying food from reaching others, and keeping away loyal shoppers in large numbers."

* This seems unlikely to go well: "The Trump administration said Monday it will scrap all waivers that allowed eight governments to buy Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions -- a move designed to choke off Tehran's oil revenue."

* Kansas: "Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's power to fill vacancies in some top state posts would be stripped and given to party leadership under new legislation introduced in the House."

* He's off to a great start, isn't he? "Interior Secretary David Bernhardt began working on policies that would aid one of his former lobbying clients within weeks of joining the Trump administration, according to a POLITICO analysis of agency documents -- a revelation that adds to the ethics questions dogging his leadership of the agency."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

Despite evidence, Trump claims 'nobody disobeys' his orders

04/22/19 12:38PM

Donald Trump likes to be seen as a strong president who commands respect, which has long been a tough image to maintain given his often ridiculous antics. But the Republican's reputation suffered irreparable harm last week, when the public saw Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, which documented a series of incidents in which Trump's aides ignored some of his most outlandish directions.

This morning, as the Associated Press reported, the president pushed back.

President Donald Trump says that "nobody" disobeys his orders, a reference to the Mueller report, which paints a deeply unflattering picture of his presidency.

Trump made the comments Monday during the annual Easter Egg roll when asked by reporters about special counsel Robert Mueller's portrayal of a White House in which staffers often ignore the president's orders.

The report suggested that some of those refusals helped protect the president from himself.

But Trump insisted Monday that: "Nobody disobeys my orders."

Before the Mueller report's release, we already knew that Trump's team routinely ignored the president's instructions. Bob Woodward's latest book, for example, highlighted an incident in which Trump directed then-Defense Secretary James Mattis to prepare a plan to kill Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Mattis listened, told Trump he'd get right on that, hung up the phone, and told a senior aide, "We're not going to do any of that."

There was also a separate incident in which Trump asked Mattis to provide him with military options for Iran. The Pentagon chief reportedly “refused.”

As we discussed several months ago, this comes up with alarming regularity. For example, Trump announced in June 2018 that he had “instructed” U.S. officials “not to endorse” an official G-7 communique negotiated by diplomats from member nations. Officials didn’t much care about the tweet and they proceeded to ignore Trump’s online instructions.

A few months earlier, the president announced via Twitter that Russia should “get ready” because he was poised to launch a military offensive in Syria. White House officials found Trump’s declaration “distracting,” and proceeded “as if nothing had happened.”

“What is most remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive,” Jack Goldsmith, a top Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, wrote a while back. “Never has a president been so regularly ignored or contradicted by his own officials…. The president is a figurehead who barks out positions and desires, but his senior subordinates carry on with different commitments.”

But the Mueller report took this dynamic to an even more embarrassing level.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.22.19

04/22/19 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) announced this morning that he, too, is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. By my count, he's the 17th elected official to enter the contest, the sixth current or former member of the U.S. House, and the third military veteran.

* On a related note, there's some question about whether Moulton, who'll be on with Rachel tonight, is holding open the possibility of running for re-election to Congress. His FEC filing suggests the Massachusetts Democrat is giving up his House seat, but a campaign spokesperson said the opposite.

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) presidential campaign continues to roll out major policy proposals on a nearly daily basis, and today, Team Warren unveiled an impressive "$1.25 trillion plan to reshape higher education by canceling most student loan debt and eliminating tuition at every public college."

* The Trump campaign is reportedly shifting its business away from Jones Day, a prominent law firm, as a way to punish Don McGahn, a Jones Day partner, who shared some damaging information with Special Counsel Robert Mueller about his time as Trump's White House counsel.

* Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke's (D-Texas) presidential campaign is experiencing a bit of a staff shake-up, with Becky Bond and her deputy, Zack Malitz, both parting ways with the congressman's team.

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Image: A statue of the United States first President, George Washington, is seen under the Capitol dome in Washington

Democratic debate over Trump's impeachment reaches a new stage

04/22/19 11:10AM

Before the public was able to read Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report last week, most Democratic leaders were eager to downplay talk of Donald Trump's impeachment, if they were willing to acknowledge the question at all. But now that the report is out, and we've seen the evidence of the president's alleged crimes, conditions are different.

At least a little.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who wasn't advocating in support of impeachment before, called on Friday for impeachment proceedings to begin, and fleshed out her reasoning in an interview with Rachel. If, however, those who agree with the senator's position hoped other 2020 presidential contenders would soon follow, they were left wanting over the weekend.

In practice, however, the opinions of Trump's would-be successors are arguably less important than House Democrats' opinions -- the latter would be responsible for actually initiating the process and seeing it through -- and over the weekend, the impeachment door appeared ajar.

Democrats "can foresee" the possibility of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report.

Speaking on the Sunday political talk shows, the chairmen of three key House investigatory committees sounded open to the possibility of bringing impeachment proceedings against the president.

It would be an overstatement to say leading Democrats are pursuing impeachment with any real vigor, but their willingness to consider the possibility appears to be growing.

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Elijah Cummings (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

To keep financial records secret, Trump sues key House Democrat

04/22/19 10:08AM

Last week, as part of the congressional investigation into Donald Trump's controversial finances, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) issued a subpoena to Mazars USA, directing the firm to turn over the president's financial records. Almost immediately, the president's new lawyers -- hired to keep Trump's finances secret -- sent a letter to Mazars USA, insisting that the firm ignore that federal subpoena.

Today, Trump and the Trump Organization took this one step further.

Lawyers for President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization are suing House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings to block a subpoena for years of financial records from accounting firm Mazars USA.

The lawyers filed the lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, saying the subpoena "lacks any legitimate legislative purpose, is an abuse of power, and is just another example of overreach by the president's political opponents."

To the extent that reality matters, the House Oversight Committee recently heard testimony from Michael Cohen, the president's former personal attorney and fixer, who altered lawmakers to a series of alleged financial misdeeds committed by Donald Trump.

Lawmakers are also aware of credible allegations of criminal fraud, criminal tax evasion, and money laundering, which the American president exploited to fuel his rise to power.

In other words, the idea that Cummings' request for information "lacks any legitimate legislative purpose" seems a little silly: the Oversight Committee, which has an expansive purview, is obviously following up on evidence of suspected wrongdoing.

Indeed, it seems this new lawsuit does little except make clear that the president and his team are desperate to keep his financial records, including his tax returns, secret.

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Former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani speaks at the Cisco Connect 2013 conference in Warsaw, Poland, November 26, 2013.

Giuliani: 'Nothing wrong' with getting campaign aid from foreign foe

04/22/19 09:22AM

Rudy Giuliani made multiple appearances on the Sunday shows yesterday, doing his best to pretend the Mueller report wasn't devastating for his client in the Oval Office, and presenting a series of wildly unpersuasive arguments.

The Republican told CNN, for example, "There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians." In reality, there's plenty wrong with it. A foreign adversary launched a military intelligence operation against our elections, and the attack included stealing Americans' materials.

For Donald Trump's lawyers to insist there's "nothing wrong with" a U.S. campaign accepting assistance from our international foes is to invite additional attacks.

On "Meet the Press," Giuliani went on to tell NBC News' Chuck Todd that the public had a "right to know" about the information contained in the materials the Russians stole. The former mayor compared hacked information to the Pentagon Papers.

But that's absurd. Not only did the hacked emails not point to any Hillary Clinton wrongdoing, but Giuliani's argument -- an implicit defense of an illegal hack -- could just as easily be applied to stealing others' materials. If a hack produced the president's tax returns, would Giuliani be equally cavalier about the public's "right to know"?

But what struck me as especially notable was Giuliani's response to a question about Sen. Mitt Romney's (R-Utah) criticism. Here was the exchange between Trump's lawyer and CNN's Jake Tapper.

GIULIANI: What a hypocrite. What a hypocrite.

TAPPER: But why is that hypocritical?

GIULIANI: Any candidate -- any candidate in the whole world, in America, would take information, negative [information].

In context, the former mayor was clearly referring to taking "information" from a foreign adversary.

Last summer, then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), one of Moscow's favorites, made a similar argument, insisting "there's not a person in this town" who wouldn't welcome foreign intervention to win an election.

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Then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Donald Trump arrive at a news conference held by Trump to endorse Romney for president at the Trump International Hotel & Tower Las Vegas, Feb. 2, 2012. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty)

If Romney is 'sickened' by Mueller's revelations, what will he do?

04/22/19 08:41AM

The vast majority of congressional Republicans have been willing to stick to the White House's script in the wake of the Mueller report's release, but we've seen a handful of notable exceptions.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), for example, arguably Congress' most moderate GOP member, told Maine Public Radio last week that the special counsel's findings offered "an unflattering portrayal of the president."

And if Collins had been in New Jersey in 1937, I suspect she might've described the Hindenburg as "an unfortunate transportation incident."

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) went considerably further on Friday, issuing a written statement that read:

"It is good news that there was insufficient evidence to charge the President of the United States with having conspired with a foreign adversary or with having obstructed justice. The alternative would have taken us through a wrenching process with the potential for constitutional crisis. The business of government can move on.

"Even so, I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President. I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia -- including information that had been illegally obtained; that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement; and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine.

"Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders."

The statement, not surprisingly, was not well received at the White House. Donald Trump, who's had a strained relationship with the senator whom he considered for his cabinet, published a tweet on Saturday afternoon, mocking Romney's defeat in the 2012 presidential election.

Putting aside the fact that Romney actually won a larger share of the popular vote than Trump, my concerns about the senator's statement came from a very different angle.

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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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