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Monday's Mini-Report, 7.8.19

07/08/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Epstein case: "An 'extraordinary volume' of photographs featuring nude or partially nude young girls was confiscated from the New York City home of Jeffrey Epstein, federal prosecutors revealed Monday after a newly unsealed indictment accused the multimillionaire financier of exploiting a 'vast network' of underage victims for sex."

* New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) this morning "signed a bill that would allow certain members of Congress to access President Donald Trump's New York state tax returns."

* The latest personnel mess: "The man set to take over as the head of the Navy declined the position over the weekend, less than one month before he was scheduled to begin the job."

* The latest trouble for Broidy: "A federal grand jury in New York is investigating top Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, examining whether he used his position as vice chair of President Donald Trump's inaugural committee to drum up business deals with foreign leaders, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press and people familiar with the matter."

* Of course he did: "President Donald Trump on Sunday accused the New York Times of publishing 'phony and exaggerated accounts' in its expose on the child migrant center in Clint, Texas."

* Trump's USDA back in the news: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it's suspending tracking the plunging honeybee population because of a budget shortfall. The department will suspend data collection for its Honey Bee Colonies report, and officials did not say when -- or if -- it would be restarted."

* Good craftspeople never blame their tools: "President Donald Trump -- who used to mock predecessor Barack Obama for using the devices during speeches -- said Friday that technical problems with the teleprompter during his 'Salute to America' led to his head-scratching remarks about the Continental Army securing not-yet existent 'airports' during the Revolutionary War."

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Image: The President Of The United States And Mrs Trump Meet HM Queen

Leaked materials show UK ambassador telling awkward truths about Trump

07/08/19 12:50PM

Foreign ambassadors to the United States have a variety of responsibilities, including an obvious one: reporting back to their home countries with honest and candid assessments about American developments and personnel.

By all appearances, that's precisely what Kim Darroch did. What the British ambassador did not know was that his private reports would be made public.

The U.K.'s top diplomat in the U.S. views President Donald Trump as "inept," "insecure" and "incompetent," according to leaked diplomatic cables.

Kim Darroch, Britain's ambassador to Washington, D.C., made the highly critical comments about the president and his administration in a series of memos to London.

NBC News has confirmed the authenticity of the documents. In a statement, a spokesperson for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said "a formal leak investigation will now be initiated."

The leaks provide a rare insight into how a key U.S. ally views the Trump administration behind closed doors.

"We don't really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept," Darroch wrote in one of the leaked documents.

Not surprisingly given the circumstances, officials in the U.K. have scrambled to contain the diplomatic fallout and are working furiously to understand how and why the leak occurred.

Time will tell what the investigation uncovers, though it's likely the leak had less to do with Trump, per se, and more to do with a power struggle among British contingents dealing with Brexit. (If Darroch is forced to return to the U.K. in the wake of the leak, he can be replaced with a more conservative successor.)

But as important as those elements are to the broader story, and as easy as it is to feel sympathy for the British ambassador, what strikes me as most notable about the controversy is the degree to which Darroch's cables are unsurprising.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.8.19

07/08/19 12:00PM

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

* Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) campaigned in South Carolina yesterday, where he walked back earlier comments about working with segregationists in the 1970s. "I regret it and I am sorry for any of the pain or misconception that may have caused anybody," the presidential hopeful said.

* On a related note, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who hit Biden pretty hard over his record at a recent debate, said the other day that she believes busing should be considered by local school districts, but shouldn't be a federally mandated policy. This appeared to be a shift from what the senator said two weeks ago.

* At the Essence Festival in New Orleans on Saturday, Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled proposals intended to address racial disparities.

* In recent days, we've also seen Mayor Pete Buttigieg's (D) national-service plan, Sen. Cory Booker's (D) plan on immigrant detention, and Gov. Jay Inslee's (D) education plan.

* In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, most of the leading Democratic contenders tied Donald Trump in hypothetical general-election match-ups, but Biden had a sizable advantage over the incumbent president.

* Former Gov. John Hickenlooper's (D) presidential campaign appears to be in very rough shape. A day after the Coloradan released weak fundraising totals from the second quarter, Politico reported that Hickenlooper's senior team "urged him last month to withdraw from the presidential race gracefully."

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APTOPIX Mideast Iran Election

As Iran raises the stakes, Trump struggles to find a coherent policy

07/08/19 11:00AM

After Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the international nuclear agreement with Iran, it was only a matter of time before Iran followed the White House's lead and started walking away from its commitments. It's become painfully obvious in recent days that the time is now.

A week ago, the Associated Press reported that Iran had "broken the limit set on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium ... marking its first major departure from the unraveling agreement a year after the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the accord." Overnight, the New York Times added this report:

Iran said on Sunday that within hours it would breach the limits on uranium enrichment set four years ago in an accord with the United States and other international powers that was designed to keep Tehran from producing a nuclear weapon.

The latest move inches Iran closer to where it was before the accord: on the path to being able to produce an atomic bomb.

It's breathtaking just how spectacular Trump's failure is. He took an international agreement that was working exactly as intended, ignored the pleas of our coalition partners, blew up the policy for no reason, and created a national security threat that was otherwise contained.

We're left with the world's most easily avoidable mess. All Trump had to do was nothing. A comprehensive solution was already in place, having the desired effect. But in a rather literal sense, he couldn't leave well enough alone.

Looking ahead, the American president doesn't seem to have any policy at all, and as Politico noted in a good piece yesterday, the White House "has few options when it comes to curbing Iran from producing a nuclear weapon."

The same article quoted an administration official saying, "Fundamentally, we want them to stay in the deal."

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Trump's census scheme descends deeper into chaos

07/08/19 10:15AM

About a week ago, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) published a tweet suggesting Donald Trump should move forward with the White House's census scheme -- including the citizenship question -- despite the Supreme Court's recent ruling. The congressman's recommendation seemed bizarre for a reason: as a rule, federal lawmakers don't publicly encourage presidents to circumvent the law.

The broader problem that emerged soon after was the possibility that Trump was looking for ways to follow Roy's advice.

As of early last week, the administration had thrown in the towel. In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling, federal officials, facing an inflexible deadline, announced that the White House's census scheme was dead and census forms would be printed without the controversial and legally impermissible citizenship question. The gambit, it appeared, had run its course.

And then Trump started tweeting, creating uncertainty about the administration's intentions. The Wall Street Journal spoke to one insider who said, when asked what Team Trump would do, "Nobody has any f—ing idea."

Conditions grew quite a bit messier yesterday:

[T]he Department of Justice announced Sunday that it was shifting its census effort to a new team of lawyers and indicated there would be more court filings Monday.

"As will be reflected in filings tomorrow in the census-related cases, the Department of Justice is shifting these matters to a new team of Civil Division lawyers going forward," said DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec. She did not say why the change was being made.

There are a variety of possible explanations for the change, but there's an especially notable one: career attorneys at the Justice Department may believe that the latest argument suffers from legal and/or ethical concerns, and they simply weren't prepared to take that case to a judge, Trump's wishes notwithstanding.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Epstein, politically connected billionaire, faces sex trafficking charges

07/08/19 09:20AM

Jeffrey Epstein, a politically connected billionaire, was accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls in the early 2000s. A federal criminal investigation into his alleged activities raised the prospect of Epstein spending the rest of his life behind bars, but his high-profile legal team -- which featured Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr -- was able to strike a plea deal.

As regular readers know, the agreement was indefensibly generous. Epstein pleaded guilty to a state charge of soliciting sex from a minor in 2008, which led to an 18-month sentence. He was ultimately released after 13 months -- during which time he had been permitted to leave the prison and go to work during much of the day -- and then went back to living the high life.

As recently as a week ago, the Justice Department insisted in a court filing that there's no reason to invalidate Epstein's non-prosecution agreement -- which was engineered at the time by Alex Acosta, who now serves as Donald Trump's Labor secretary. At that point, Epstein was probably feeling pretty good about his future.

That changed over the weekend, when Epstein was arrested in connection with federal sex trafficking allegations as part of a joint NYPD and FBI investigation.

The arrest stems from incidents spanning from 2002 to 2005, three law enforcement officials said.... [A] senior law enforcement official briefed on the case says that Epstein is expected to face two federal charges for "dozens" of victims.

The official says, Epstein allegedly paid minors cash for massages and then sex acts. He would then allegedly pay those alleged victims even more money to bring him their friends/others who he would also allegedly pay for acts.

The official says that some victims are as young as 14 years old. These acts allegedly occurred at his Upper East Side and Palm Beach, Florida homes.

By all accounts, Epstein was taken into custody in New Jersey and will be arraigned in a federal court in New York later today.

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Jobs bounced back in June, but totals have slipped under Trump

07/08/19 08:40AM

The job numbers in May were a major disappointment, prompting a series of uncomfortable questions about whether the job market might be headed in a very discouraging direction.

Fortunately, those questions were silenced, at least for now, by the jobs report released on Friday morning. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy added 224,000 jobs in June, while the unemployment rate inched up a little to 3.7%.

As heartening as the latest numbers were, the revisions from the previous two months were a little disappointing: job totals from April and May were both revised down, subtracting 11,000 from previous reporting.

As for the political implications, Donald Trump has now been in office for 29 full months -- February 2017 through June 2019 -- and in that time, the economy has created 5.61 million jobs. In the 29 months preceding Trump's presidency -- September 2014 to January 2017 -- the economy created 6.42 million jobs.

Last month, I heard from a couple of readers who asked what would happen if we looked at the same numbers, but assigned the job totals from January 2017 to Trump, even though Obama was president for most of the month. On balance, I think that paints a misleading picture, but it doesn't change the underlying dynamic: if we applied jobs from January 2017 to Trump and compared the last 30 months to the previous 30 months, job totals still slowed from 6.59 million to 5.87 million.

The White House, meanwhile, believes we should start the clock for Trump at November 2016 -- the month of his election -- and apply the jobs created during the final months of the Obama era to the current Republican president. But that still doesn't help: if we compare the last 32 months to the previous 32 months, job totals slowed from 7.32 million to 6.25 million.

The Republican continues to tell the world that he's overseeing the strongest domestic job growth in American history, which is plainly false. What's more, the White House has not yet offered an explanation for why job growth has slowed since Trump took office.

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Justin Amash

Michigan congressman declares his independence from Republican Party

07/08/19 08:00AM

For eight weeks, it was notable that one -- and only one -- Republican member of Congress publicly supported Donald Trump's impeachment.

On the 4th of July, however, that number slipped back to zero -- not because a member of Congress reversed course on the impeachment question, but because the GOP lawmaker in question decided it was time to abandon his party.

Michigan Rep. Justin Amash announced Thursday that he was leaving the GOP after growing "disenchanted" and "frightened" by party politics.

Amash, who represents Michigan's third congressional district, wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post that he would remain in Congress as an independent.

The lawmaker's announcement came less than a month after Amash also parted ways with the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, which he helped create.

In light of these high-profile shifts, it may be tempting for some to assume that the Michigan congressman is shifting his ideology, or perhaps even becoming more moderate, leaving him out of place with the increasingly far-right Republican mainstream. But that's not quite right: Amash has changed his affiliations, but not his political perspective or principles.

Or put another way, as far as Amash is concerned, he didn't leave the GOP; the GOP left him.

It's exceedingly rare for sitting members of Congress to change parties, which made Amash's announcement extraordinary in its own right, but there are also some meaningful practical implications of news like this.

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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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