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Trump's case against whistleblower descends deeper into incoherence

10/09/19 10:28AM

The day after Donald Trump's July 25 phone meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the intelligence community whistleblower who helped uncover the scandal wrote a memo. It quoted a White House official who listened in on the call describing the meeting as "crazy," "frightening," and "completely lacking in substance related to national security."

The whistleblower added that the White House official was "visibly shaken by what had transpired," and as the New York Times reported, the official added that there was "already a conversation underway with White House lawyers about how to handle the discussion because, in the official's view, the president had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of advancing his own re-election bid in 2020."

That July memo was shared with the intelligence community's inspector general, and ultimately, with members of Congress.

The president, not surprisingly, is aware of the latest reporting on this, and he published a series of tweets this morning intended to push back against the revelations. Trump's missives were absurd, but they helped capture something important: the Republican is stuck in the wrong conversation.

"The Whistleblower's facts have been so incorrect about my "no pressure" conversation with the Ukrainian President, and now the conflict of interest and involvement with a Democrat Candidate, that he or she should be exposed and questioned properly. This is no Whistleblower. The Whistleblower's lawyer is a big Democrat. The Whistleblower has ties to one of my DEMOCRAT OPPONENTS. Why does the ICIG allow this scam to continue?

"The so-called Whistleblower, before knowing I was going to release the exact Transcript, stated that my call with the Ukrainian President was 'crazy, frightening, and completely lacking in substance related to national security.' This is a very big Lie. Read the Transcript!"

The president is clearly confused about basic details. Trump believes the whistleblower's account has been discredited, but that's not true. He also falsely attributed quotes to the whistleblower that actually came from a White House official. He also falsely suggested the intelligence community's inspector general can derail a congressional impeachment inquiry.

But what mattered most to me is the president's idea that he can tear down the whistleblower by alleging that he or she has "ties" to a Democrat, is "involved" with a Democrat, and has a lawyer who's a Democrat.

I have no idea who the whistleblower is and whether he or she has political "ties" to one party or another. I also have no idea why it would matter.

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House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. reacts to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2015. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

Despite previous friction, Trey Gowdy reportedly joins Team Trump

10/09/19 09:20AM

As Donald Trump moves closer to impeachment, the president is in need of some legal assistance. According to the Associated Press, he's adding a notable political figure to his team.

Former Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy has been tapped to serve as outside counsel to President Donald Trump as the House impeachment inquiry expands. That's according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal legal matters.

Gowdy is a former South Carolina congressman who did not seek reelection last year to the seat he had held for eight years.

Gowdy was the chairman of the House oversight committee. He led the congressional investigation of former presidential candidate Hilary Clinton and the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

There were some reports that suggested Gowdy initially turned down the offer, but he was persuaded by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who previously served alongside Gowdy as Republican congressmen from South Carolina.

The president, who previously suggested he likes to hire attorneys based on who's appeared on television, will likely be pleased to have someone of Gowdy's notoriety working on the impeachment process.

That said, I seem to recall Team Trump holding the South Carolina Republican in low regard in the not-too-distant past.

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Maybe Team Trump should read the Senate Intel report on Russia

10/09/19 08:42AM

The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a bipartisan report yesterday on how Russia used social media as part of the Kremlin-directed attack on the American elections. The document, released by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), made a series of recommendations about new laws to foreign interference, but it also served as an effective indictment against the perpetrators.

The 85-page report takes a comprehensive look at how the Internet Research Agency, a so-called troll farm based in Russia, used automated and fake social media personas in an attempt to sow discord, hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.

The committee found that Russian social media activity "was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump to the detriment of Secretary Clinton's campaign." [...]

The report confirms the findings of private researchers that African-American voters were targeted by the troll farm more frequently than any other group, in an apparent effort to suppress the vote and help Trump.

The Senate Intelligence Committee even uncovered evidence that the day after the 2016 election, operatives at the Internet Research Agency "uncorked a tiny bottle of champagne, took one gulp each and looked into each other's eyes." They celebrated because Trump's victory meant that the Kremlin's campaign had succeeded.

At a certain level, these topline findings probably seem unsurprising. In fact, you may not have even heard much about the Senate Intelligence Committee's findings because they seem obvious: Russia attacked American elections; Moscow's military intelligence operation relied on social media; and the purpose of the gambit was to elevate Donald Trump to power. This is entirely in line with our existing understanding of what transpired, though it's helpful to have a bipartisan Senate report documenting what transpired in fresh detail.

But as Rachel noted on the show last night, there's a related angle unfolding right now: the White House, even now, is still looking for evidence that Russia didn't attack American elections.

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The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

White House: Impeachment process is 'unconstitutional,' 'illegitimate'

10/09/19 08:00AM

Few genuinely believed that Donald Trump's White House would cooperate with Congress' impeachment inquiry with transparency and integrity. The question was how, and in what form, the president and his team would defy lawmakers' authority to hold Trump accountable.

Yesterday afternoon, the answer came into sharp focus with a letter from White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

The White House refused Tuesday to turn over internal documents regarding Ukraine being sought by House Democrats as the Trump administration dug in against their impeachment inquiry.

In a defiant letter that echoed the president's recent impeachment messaging -- accusing Democrats of violating the Constitution and civil liberties and attempting to overturn the results of the 2016 election -- the White House said it would not comply with the request from House Democrats because they were conducting an invalid investigation.

The full text of the eight-page letter is online here (pdf), and even by the standards of Trump World, this one's a doozy. I'm a little surprised a White House counsel agreed to put his name on it, since it's likely to do lasting harm to Cipollone's reputation as a legal professional.

Indeed, it's difficult to see the letter as even presenting a legal argument. In practice, it's as if the president threw a tantrum; the White House legal team jotted down some of his poorly articulated rage; and shameless Republican attorneys tried to put a legal-ish veneer on Trump's rant.

Gregg Nunziata, who served as legal counsel and a senior policy adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), described Cipollone's letter as "bananas" and a "barely-lawyered temper tantrum." Nunziata added that "no member of Congress," regardless of party or ideology, "should accept it."

It's that bad.

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Russia's role in 2016 attack made explicit in new Senate report

Russia's role in 2016 attack made explicit in new Senate report

10/08/19 09:33PM

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, member of the House Intelligence Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about a new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee reiterating the conclusion by American investigators that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and how the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry will move forward even as Trump tries to undermine... watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.8.19

10/08/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* House Democrats plan to subpoena Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, "as well as emails and text messages that Sondland held on a personal device and that have been turned over to the State Department, which has yet to release them."

* Keep a close eye on this one: "Lawyers for House Democrats on Tuesday urged a federal judge to release grand jury testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation as Congress conducts an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump."

* Middle East: "The commander of the American-backed militia in Syria said Tuesday that it would attack Turkish forces if they enter northeastern Syria, while Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicated that such an operation was imminent."

* SCOTUS: The Supreme Court appeared to be closely divided after hearing two hours of courtroom arguments Tuesday on one of the most important issues of the term: whether existing federal law forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

* This should be quite a spectacle: "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Tuesday that he would invite Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, to testify before his committee about corruption in Ukraine."

* On a related note: "Trump personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani said Tuesday that he would not cooperate with House investigators and that he 'can't imagine' that anyone from the Trump administration would appear before a Democratic-led panel investigating the president."

* Quite an operation: "The Trump Organization's two Scottish golf courses lost $14.3 million in 2018, extending a multiyear string of losses that have intensified since Donald Trump took office, according to annual financial reports released this month."

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Trump tries to 'no puppet' his way through an impeachment crisis

10/08/19 03:01PM

On Sunday night, Donald Trump turned his attention to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, publishing a mini-tantrum to Twitter that went largely overlooked. The president's argument, such as it was, centered around the idea that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff committed all kinds of misdeeds, which Pelosi knew about.

Ergo, Trump concluded, both Democratic leaders are equally "guilty" of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even Treason." The Republican added that Pelosi and Schiff "must" be "immediately" impeached.

Even if we put aside the relevant details -- Schiff obviously didn't commit any crimes, members of Congress cannot be impeached under our system of government, etc. -- we're left with an uncomfortable realization: a sitting American president publicly accused the House Speaker of "treason," an unprecedented development in our nation's history, and it quickly became overlooked background noise.

This is our life now.

The day after Trump suggested congressional leaders committed treason and should be impeached -- one of these days, someone ought to buy this guy a civics textbook -- the Republican went after Adam Schiff again at a White House event on Japanese trade. Specifically, the American president offered this memorable assessment of the Intelligence Committee's chairman and his recent paraphrase of Trump during a hearing:

"I think he's having some kind of a breakdown. Because he got up and made a speech that bore no relationship to what the conversation was."

Yes, on the same afternoon in which Donald Trump told the world he has "great and unmatched wisdom," following a series of incidents in which he talked about prosecuting his critics and casually threw around "treason" accusations, believes someone else appears to be "having some kind of a breakdown."

Why? Because the president, lacking in self-awareness, thinks Schiff's comments "bore no relationship" to reality.

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Conflicts of interest hang over Trump's policy toward Turkey

10/08/19 12:53PM

As of this minute, it's not altogether clear what Donald Trump's policy toward Turkey is or when it's likely to change. On the one hand, the Republican impulsively overhauled a key element of his foreign policy in the Middle East because Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recommended it; on the other hand, Trump has threatened to "totally destroy and obliterate" Turkey's economy.

On the one hand, Turkey is vowing to ignore the United States' threats, signaling possible tensions between the countries; on the other hand, Trump will welcome Erdogan to the White House next month. All of this is unfolding, of course, while Trump both abandons and vows to never to abandon Kurdish forces

While the American president struggles to settle on a position, a question hangs over head: what role, if any, do Trump's conflicts of interest have in this mess? A Washington Post analysis noted yesterday that the Republican acknowledged in December 2015 that his Trump Towers project in Istanbul create "a little conflict of interest" for him when it comes to Turkey.

The easy answer, the answer that might have been offered by any prior president, was that Trump would divest of his investments in Turkey before taking office. Instead, Trump offered another murky response, including an assertion that "we should have been able to win easily but we haven't used the right military thought process."

Nor did he divest, of course. Trump Towers Istanbul is still part of the Trump Organization and still generates revenue for Trump himself.

After the 2016 election, Trump chose Michael Flynn to serve as his White House national security adviser, despite Flynn's work as a foreign agent of Turkey during the campaign. (The convicted felon is currently awaiting sentencing.)

A Democratic source reminded this morning that after Inauguration Day, Turkish officials started booking events at Trump-owned properties. One three-day conference at Trump's D.C. hotel was organized, in part, by a group run by Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman close to Turkish President Erdogan who hired Flynn a year earlier.

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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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