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Is Trump shaking down Ukraine for 2020 election assistance?

09/09/19 09:20AM

After Vladimir Putin's Russian government invaded Ukraine in 2014, the United States took a series of specific steps. We established a new defense initiative for parts of Europe; we kicked Russia out of the G-8; and we imposed harsh new economic sanctions on Moscow.

After Donald Trump became president, he defunded the defense initiative (raiding the budget to pay for border barriers), called for Russia's re-entry into what is now the G-7, and held off on implementing Russian sanctions.

But as Rachel explained on the show last week, there's something else the United States did after Russia invaded one of its neighbors: we increased our military aid to Ukraine. Trump, true to form, has delayed following through on that commitment, ignoring the advice of Pentagon officials.

It's against this backdrop that the editorial board of the Washington Post published a rather extraordinary piece the other day, making the case that the Republican president is trying to leverage that support for reasons that are almost hard to believe.

Some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence. But we're reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.

Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine's help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.

So let me get this straight. We committed aid to Ukraine. The Pentagon urged Trump to follow through on that commitment. According to the reliably centrist editorial board of the Washington Post, Trump said he'd consider honoring that commitment, but only if a foreign government agreed to take steps to help influence the American presidential election in 2020.

Or put another way, the sitting American president is telling Ukraine, in classic shakedown fashion, "It's a nice aid package we have here, which you need for security reasons. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at Turnberry Golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, June 24, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Scandal surrounding Trump's self-dealing takes an unsettling turn

09/09/19 08:40AM

Not long before Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015, he was publicly determined to help the Prestwick Airport in Scotland succeed. As late as March 30, 2015, less than three months before kicking off his White House bid, the Republican was focusing attention on bolstering the Scottish facility.

There was no great mystery about the motivations behind his efforts: Trump's Turnberry resort in Scotland was losing money and its future would be even bleaker if the Prestwick Airport failed. It stood to reason that he'd take steps to prop up the facility because of its direct relevance to his struggling business.

The larger question, of course, is just how far Trump would go to prop up the airport. Keep that in mind when reading Politico's amazing scoop from Friday night.

In early Spring of this year, an Air National Guard crew made a routine trip from the U.S. to Kuwait to deliver supplies. What wasn't routine was where the crew stopped along the way: President Donald Trump's Turnberry resort, about 50 miles outside Glasgow, Scotland.

Since April, the House Oversight Committee has been investigating why the crew on the C-17 military transport plane made the unusual stay -- both en route to the Middle East and on the way back -- at the luxury waterside resort, according to several people familiar with the incident. But they have yet to receive any answers from the Pentagon.

The pace of Trump's self-dealing scandals has clearly been picking up of late. Last week, we learned that Vice President Mike Pence and his sizable entourage traveled to Ireland and stayed at Trump's business -- at the president's "suggestion" -- which is on the other side of the country from his scheduled meetings in Dublin. The questions about corruption were hard to dismiss.

The week before, Trump suggested he was prepared to lobby for the next G7 summit to be held at his business in Miami, creating a situation in which leaders of many of the world's most powerful countries would be required to spend considerable resources at a struggling business in order to participate in official diplomatic engagements with the U.S. government.

But the questions surrounding the military stops in Scotland are every bit as serious -- and by some measures, worse.

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Trump's weather campaign takes a potentially dangerous turn

09/09/19 08:00AM

If Donald Trump were capable of shame, last week would've been a painful one for him. As a deadly hurricane approach the United States' southeastern coast, the president was fixated on his false claim, peddled last weekend, that Alabama was among the states that were likely to "be hit (much) harder than anticipated" at a point at which the evidence said the opposite. Defying any sense of reason or propriety, the Republican spent day after day insisting he'd been right all along, despite having been wrong.

The ordeal, which included a crude manipulation of a hurricane-tracking map, told us something important about Trump's approach to reality, as he tried and failed to bully the truth into submission. But on Friday afternoon, the story became a lot less funny.

The federal agency that oversees the National Weather Service has sided with President Trump over its own scientists in the ongoing controversy over whether Alabama was at risk of a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated Alabama was in fact threatened by the storm at the time Trump tweeted Alabama would "most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated."

The NOAA, in an unsigned statement attributed to no one, even admonished the National Weather Service, effectively throwing NWS officials under the bus for saying Alabama was not at risk from Hurricane Dorian at a time when Alabama was not at risk from Hurricane Dorian.

I can appreciate why some news consumers grew weary of "Sharpie-gate" last week, but the NOAA's statement on Friday afternoon put the story on a very different level. What was a farce about a president who couldn't tolerate having been proven wrong became a drama about a president corrupting government agencies that rely on credibility to be effective.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 9.6.19

09/06/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Landfall: "Hurricane Dorian, packing powerful winds and dangerous storm surges, made its first landfall in the United States over North Carolina's Outer Banks on Friday morning."

* I have all kinds of concerns about this: "The Justice Department has launched an antitrust investigation into four auto makers that forged an independent agreement with California on vehicle-emissions standards."

* The NRA mess continues: "A past president of the National Rifle Association has taken out loans totaling more than $250,000, at an interest rate as low as 2 percent, from the NRA's Florida affiliate, a nonprofit that she has led for decades and that employs only her, according to the organization's tax filings."

* A dreadful idea: "The White House is considering a plan that would effectively bar refugees from most parts of the world from resettling in the United States by cutting back the decades-old program that admits tens of thousands of people each year who are fleeing war, persecution and famine, according to current and former administration officials."

* A step in the right direction: "Google on Friday announced a new health care and medicines policy that bans advertising for 'unproven or experimental medical techniques.' ... A blog post from Google policy adviser Adrienne Biddings said the company will prohibit ads selling treatments 'that have no established biomedical or scientific basis.'"

* A story worth watching: "The Trump administration on Friday asked for more time to decide whether to shield documents concerning allegations of official Saudi involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a sign that top Justice Department officials are struggling with how to handle demands from victims' families to release the information."

* I can't think of a defense for this: "Just as the Trump administration has sought to limit both legal and illegal immigration generally, it has tried to make it harder to gain U.S. citizenship by serving in the military. That's a sharp break from the past."

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Presidential contender Donald Trump gestures to the media on the 17th fairway on the first day of the Women's British Open golf championship on the Turnberry golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, July 30, 2015. (Photo by Scott Heppell/AP)

Dems launch probe following Trump's self-dealing controversies

09/06/19 12:48PM

For those troubled by corruption allegations surrounding the White House, recent events have been especially discouraging. Last week, Donald Trump announced a new effort to have the next G7 summit held at one of his Florida properties, which seemed to represent an unprecedented abuse of a president trying to use his office to boost one of his struggling businesses.

As the Washington Post reported, "If Trump does choose Doral, he would be directing six world leaders, hundreds of hangers-on and massive amounts of money to a resort he owns personally -- and which, according to his company's representatives, has been 'severely underperforming.'"

Meanwhile, this week, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Ireland for meetings in Dublin, but he stayed three hours away at a Trump-owned property on the other side of the country. According to Pence's chief of staff, it was the president who personally "suggested" that the vice president and his traveling companions book rooms at Trump's business.

The one-two punch seems like the sort of thing that should receive all kinds of congressional oversight scrutiny. Fortunately, as CNBC reported, there's now an investigation underway.

House Democrats are investigating Vice President Mike Pence's stay at President Donald Trump's golf resort in Ireland, as well as Trump's recent promotion of another property he owns as a possible venue for the next G-7 summit.

In letters made public Friday, leaders of two Democrat-led House committees requested documents and other information from the White House, the Secret Service and the Trump Organization about the two matters.

To their credit, House Dems appear to be taking the matter fairly seriously, with two separate committees -- Judiciary and Oversight -- launching investigations of the back-to-back abuses.

"The Committee does not believe that U.S. taxpayer funds should be used to personally enrich President Trump, his family, and his companies," Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote -- articulating a principle that should be obvious, but isn't in the Trump era.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.6.19

09/06/19 12:00PM

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

* Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced the end of his independent presidential campaign this morning, explaining in a three-page letter to supporters that he didn't have a path to victory. His decision comes as a relief to Democrats who believed Schultz would split the center-left mainstream and help re-elect Donald Trump.

* Mayor Pete Buttigieg has raised quite a bit of money for his presidential race, and he's now investing those resources into a new television ad campaign. This 30-second spot is the first of his candidacy.

* Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who's up for re-election next year, caused a bit of stir this past weekend, telling a group of voters that she'd like to see a discussion about reforming Social Security happen "behind closed doors."

* With Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) stepping down for health reasons, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) reportedly hopes to be appointed to fill the vacancy ahead of the 2020 special election. Collins is currently the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, where he's earned a reputation as a sycophantic ally of Donald Trump.

* Who might be the next Democratic presidential candidate to drop out? New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters this week, "I'm going to go and try to get into the October debates, and if I can, I think that's a good reason to keep going forward. And if I can't, I think it's really tough to conceive of continuing."

* On a related note, the next Democratic presidential primary debate will be in Houston on Thursday. The fourth, which will be a little easier to qualify for, will be in mid-October in Ohio.

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File Photo: Rhino 500 handguns are on display at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits on April 14, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images, File)

White House reviews 'politically problematic' polling on guns

09/06/19 11:24AM

In February 2018, Donald Trump hosted a fairly long meeting with congressional leaders over gun policy, and the president told attendees how he viewed the political landscape.

"The background checks are so important," Trump said. "People are afraid to do background checks because you're afraid of somebody. And you know what? You're going to be more popular if you do -- if you have a strong, good -- but I don't care who's endorsing you or not endorsing you, you're going to be more popular if that's what you're into."

He added, "I don't understand why this hasn't happened -- for the last 20 years, nothing has happened."

Perhaps he understands a little better now.

Trump met at the White House yesterday with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the lead sponsors of a federal background-check bill, and as the New York Times reported, White House officials reminded the policymakers of polling data that's "politically problematic for the president."

Mr. Trump's aides were on hand for the meeting, and the president told Mr. Manchin that a background checks bill that the senator had pushed for with a Republican counterpart, Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, was still on the table, according to the people briefed on the discussion.

But the polling data, White House aides said, indicated that the issue does not help the president with his core base of supporters, according to the people briefed on the meeting.

So much for "you're going to be more popular if that's what you're into."

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Donald Trump, Jerry West

Trump accidentally speaks his mind at Medal of Freedom presentation

09/06/19 10:46AM

On the surface, this seemed like one of the least controversial parts of Donald Trump's week.

President Donald Trump on Thursday awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to basketball legend Jerry West.

At a White House ceremony, Trump praised West -- whose iconic dribble can be seen on the logo for the National Basketball Association -- as an "extraordinary American" for his achievements on and off the court, saying the nation's highest civilian honor was a "richly deserved" award.

So far, so good. It's tough for a president to screw up a Medal of Freedom presentation, since it generally involves saying nice things about a prominent American. Even for Trump, this should be a piece of cake.

But it wasn't. After welcoming people to the event, the president started reading Jerry West's biographical information, including the fact that he was born and raised in West Virginia. At that point, Trump strayed from his prepared remarks and turned to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who was also in attendance.

"I shouldn't say this, Joe, but I won it by 43 points," Trump told the senator, referring to West Virginia. "That's a lot."

Turning back to Jerry West, the president added, "We love West Virginia. Probably helped you getting this award today."

Trump was almost certainly kidding, though the joke was rooted in the idea that if West had been born and raised in a blue state, he'd be less likely to receive the Medal of Freedom.

Even at an award ceremony intended to honor someone else, Trump's thoughts turned to Trump -- and how impressed he is with himself.

The larger point to this is a point we last kicked around a year ago: this president isn't just inept when it comes to governing; Trump flubs his ceremonial duties, too.

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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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