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Monday's Mini-Report, 11.12.18

11/12/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest out of California: "Deadly wildfires burning across Northern and Southern California have killed a total of 31 people across the state and forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands."

* Someone should let the White House know: "The chief state judge in Broward County, Fla., urged the lawyers involved in the battle over the state vote recount on Monday to 'ramp down the rhetoric' and take any accusations of electoral fraud where they belong: to the police."

* Wall Street: "The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank by more than 600 points Monday, dragged down by a tumble in Apple and Amazon shares, mounting geopolitical concerns, and a strengthening dollar."

* Israel: "A new round of hostilities triggered by a botched Israeli covert operation into the Gaza Strip pushed the territory's fragile security situation to the brink on Monday, as Palestinian militants launched hundreds of rockets toward Israel and Israeli jets carried out bombing raids."

* An agenda takes shape: "Democrats will take control of the U.S. House in January with big items topping their legislative to-do list: Remove obstacles to voting, close loopholes in government ethics law and reduce the influence of political money."

* Duterte is still at it: "The Philippine government said on Friday that it would charge a veteran journalist and her online news start-up with tax evasion, a move the publication described as an attack against media in the country by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte."

* It's a shame to watch the trajectory of Graham's career: "Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday that French President Emmanuel Macron's perceived swipe at President Donald Trump is because the leader of America's oldest ally is facing his own internal problems."

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Image: President Trump meets With Prime Minister Of Denmark Lars Lokke Rasmussen In The Oval Office

Trump raises eyebrows with treatment of black women journalists

11/12/18 03:52PM

At a White House press conference last week, PBS's Yamiche Alcindor reminded Donald Trump that he's described himself as a "nationalist," which she suggested may have emboldened white nationalists. Before she could continue, the president interrupted to accuse her of asking "a racist question."

It wasn't a racist question, though it was the start of an unfortunate series of comments Trump directed at black women journalists.

Two days later, in response to a question about CNN's Jim Acosta, the president decided to go after April Ryan. "I mean, you talk about somebody that's a loser, she doesn't know what the hell she's doing," Trump said. "She gets publicity, and then she gets a pay raise or she gets a contract with, I think, CNN. But she's very nasty, and she shouldn't be. She shouldn't be."

A few minutes later, CNN's Abby Phillip had this exchange with the president about his acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker.

Q: Do you expect Matt Whitaker to be involved in the Russia probe? Do you want him to —

TRUMP: It's up to him.

Q: Do you want him to rein in Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.

Yamiche Alcindor, April Ryan, and Abby Phillip have a few things in common: they're all women journalists; they're all African American; and they were all on the receiving end of presidential indignation last week.

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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)

Acting Attorney General tied to fraud scheme under FBI investigation

11/12/18 03:16PM

There are so many reasons Donald Trump shouldn't have chosen Matt Whitaker to serve as acting attorney general, it's genuinely challenging to choose just one. But by any fair measure, Whitaker's work with World Patent Marketing Inc. has to be near the top of the list. The Wall Street Journal  reported the other day.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting a criminal investigation of a Florida company accused of scamming millions from customers during the period that Matthew Whitaker, the acting U.S. attorney general, served as a paid advisory-board member, according to an alleged victim who was contacted by the FBI and other people familiar with the matter.

The investigation is being handled by the Miami office of the FBI and by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, according to an email sent to the alleged victim last year by an FBI victim specialist. A recording on a phone line set up by the Justice Department to help victims said Friday the case remains active.

Mr. Whitaker, appointed Wednesday by President Trump to replace Jeff Sessions as head of the Justice Department, oversees the FBI in his new job.

Let's back up for a minute, because the details are almost hard to believe.

Whitaker joined the company's advisory board after having served as a U.S. Attorney in the Bush/Cheney administration -- a fact World Patent Marketing exploited to lure potential clients.

Four years ago, the company issued a press release that quoted Matt Whitaker as saying, "As a former U.S. attorney, I would only align myself with a first-class organization. World Patent Marketing goes beyond making statements about doing business ethically and translates them into action."

Those comments started to look pretty bad after the Federal Trade Commission filed a civil suit against this World Patent Marketing, describing it as "an invention-promotion scam that has bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars." Among its alleged victims are many disabled American veterans.

Now, the company is facing possible criminal scrutiny from the FBI, all while one of the company's top officials is running the Justice Department.

It's a dynamic that sounds like fanciful fiction: the president unilaterally empowered Matt Whitaker to serve as the nation's chief law enforcement official, while a company Whitaker helped lead is at the center of a multi-million-dollar fraud scheme being investigated by the FBI.

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Florida Gov. Scott Visits Opening Of Advanced Pharma Facility- 09/25/13

Reality discredits fraud allegations from Trump, Florida's Scott

11/12/18 02:31PM

Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) aren't the only ones who've peddled election-related conspiracy theories -- Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Marco Rubio (R) have, alas, dipped their toes in the same misguided waters -- but the president and the governor have been more aggressive than most and have done the most damage to their credibility.

Let's start with Scott, who has a dwindling lead against Sen. Bill Nelson (D), and who dispatched Florida law enforcement officials to find evidence to back up his ideas. That didn't turn out well.

State election monitors in Broward County told The Miami Herald on Saturday that they've seen no evidence of voter fraud. And Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, a Democrat, said he has seen no evidence of voter fraud in the county. In addition, the state agency tasked with overseeing elections said it is not investigating any claims of voter fraud.

It's almost as if the governor publicly raised the prospect of "rampant fraud" as part of a panic-induced public-relations scheme, rather than based on meaningful proof of wrongdoing.

After Florida law enforcement told the public that there's no evidence of fraud, Scott went to Fox News to once again raise the prospect of fraud.

All of which looked pretty bad for the governor -- though the president's take may have been slightly worse.

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Kyrsten Sinema

Republican conspiracy theory about Arizona voting proves untenable

11/12/18 12:36PM

As the dust settled on Election Day last week, Martha McSally (R) appeared to have a narrow lead over Kyrsten Sinema (D) in Arizona's closely watched U.S. Senate race. But as the process continued to unfold, it was Sinema who took the lead, and as the Arizona Republic  reported overnight, the Democrat's advantage continues to grow.

Sinema expanded her lead to 32,292 votes -- a 1.5 percentage-point lead -- as of 6:20 p.m. Sunday, according to updated counts posted by the Arizona Secretary of State. Her campaign manager predicted her victory was inevitable.

The lengthy vote-count process, which has continued long after the polls closed Nov. 6, is mostly due to the need to verify signatures for voters who vote by mail.

The Arizona Republic estimates about 215,000 ballots remain to be counted statewide.

It's going to take some time for officials to work through those ballots, and Democrats shouldn't get their hopes up just yet, but Sinema's campaign team insists her lead is "insurmountable," and most election watchers tend to think Sinema will be the one who takes office in the new year.

For his part, Donald Trump has decided to do what Donald Trump always likes to do: peddle odd conspiracy theories. "Just out -- in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON'T MATCH," the confused president tweeted on Friday. "Electoral corruption -- Call for a new Election?" He also said votes in Arizona are materializing "out of the wilderness."

None of this made any sense. There's no evidence of corruption and there won't be a new election, largely because there's no need for one. Trump may be comfortable publicly questioning the integrity of an election for no reason, but the nonsense is literally unbelievable.

McSally, to her credit, hasn't endorsed any of the conspiracy theories, and for her trouble, there's reportedly frustration with her posture "at the highest levels of the national party."

All of which brings us to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, under the leadership of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.12.18

11/12/18 12:00PM

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

* In Georgia, Stacey Abrams (D) is still exploring every possible avenue to force a gubernatorial runoff election against Brian Kemp (R).

* As of this morning, Democrats are ahead in the popular vote for 2018 U.S. House races by 6.7%. As votes continue to be tallied, it's generally expected that this number will continue to inch higher.

* Though it looks like Yvette Herrell (R) narrowly lost her congressional election in New Mexico, she appeared on Fox News over the weekend, said she won't concede, and alleged voter fraud. The Republican has not offered evidence to support the claim.

* It wasn't long ago when Republicans saw Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) as highly vulnerable in Wisconsin and spent heavily to bring her down. The incumbent senator won anyway by nearly 11 points, giving her "the highest vote percentage of any candidate for governor or senator in Wisconsin" in 12 years.

* The elections were apparently quite profitable for Donald Trump. CNN reported, "Campaigns and PACs spent at least $3.2 million at Trump-owned and branded properties throughout the two-year midterm election cycle, a CNN analysis of Federal Election Commission filings shows. And the total could rise after post-election financial reports are published by the commission."

* The U.S. House race in Maine's 2nd congressional district hasn't yet been called, but thanks to the state's ranked-choice voting system, Jared Golden (D) appears to be favored over incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R). Don't be too surprised if the Republican goes to court to challenge the results.

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Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, speaks with reporters as he leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol on Oct. 4, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Steve King's comments about Mexican 'dirt' spark new controversy

11/12/18 11:20AM

With time running out ahead of the toughest race of his career, Republican Rep. Steve King hit the campaign trail in his Iowa district, hoping to salvage his career. A reporter from The Weekly Standard was on hand in Webster City, Iowa, on Nov. 5, when the right-wing congressman spoke with a group of supporters in the back of a restaurant.

A constituent asked about King's latest pheasant hunting, and he offered a detailed answer about his "patented pheasant noodle soup," which led the GOP lawmaker to reflect on ingredients from local soil.

KING: I raised a bunch this year, and they don't have enough bite. I guess I'm going to have to go and get some dirt from Mexico to grow the next batch. [Laughs]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Trust me, it's already on its way.

KING: Well, yeah, there's plenty of dirt, it's coming from the West Coast, too. And a lot of other places, besides. This is the most dirt we've ever seen.

Not surprisingly, many read the comments and picked up on what seemed like a not-so-subtle immigration subtext.

I'd assumed King would push back by insisting he was referring to literal dirt, but in a bit of a surprise, King accused  The Weekly Standard -- a prominent conservative magazine -- of misquoting him.

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In this Nov. 13, 2013 file photo, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Vladimir Putin is going to need a new favorite congressman

11/12/18 10:40AM

In a closed-door event in 2016, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told his Republican colleagues, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump." The latter, of course, was Donald Trump, the presidential candidate the Kremlin was eager to see in power; the former referred to McCarthy's fellow Californian, Republican Dana Rohrabacher.

The House GOP leadership later said McCarthy was kidding when he made the comment, but the joke didn't come out of nowhere: Rohrabacher has long been Vladimir Putin's favorite congressman. The New York Times  reported a year ago that the Kremlin considered Rohrabacher so valuable that the FBI warned the congressman in 2012 that Russia considered him "an intelligence source worthy of a Kremlin code name."

It looks like Moscow is going to need a new friend on Capitol Hill. The Washington Post  reported over the weekend:

A Republican congressman known for his outspoken support for Russian President Vladimir Putin narrowly lost his Orange County, Calif., seat after 15 terms, a defeat that helped Democrats further solidify their House majority.

Democrat Harley Rouda, a real estate executive, beat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in one of the state's most closely watched congressional races, the Associated Press projected on Saturday. Rohrabacher's strong identification with President Trump and his unabashed support for Russia had made him ripe for a challenge in an affluent district that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Rouda had 109,591 votes to Rohrabacher's 101,081 votes, with 52 percent of the vote to the Republican's 48 percent, according to the AP.

California has obviously earned a reputation as one of the nation's "bluest" states, but it's important to acknowledge the fact that Rohrabacher is a 30-year congressional veteran, representing a southern California district where registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by a double-digit margin. He'd never really been in jeopardy before this year.

And yet, Rohrabacher lost anyway.

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Prominent among the sights to see in Jackson, Miss., is the Mississippi State Capitol, photographed, June 10, 1999. Completed in 1903, the building exemplifies the beaux arts classical style of architecture.

GOP senator with black rival tells joke about 'public hanging'

11/12/18 10:00AM

The 2018 midterm elections aren't quite over yet. Not only are there still several pending races where the votes are still being tallied, but there's also a U.S. Senate race in Mississippi that's headed for a runoff.

At first blush, given Mississippi's partisan leanings, it may be tempting to assume the contest won't be competitive. But as we were reminded over the weekend, this Senate race is worth watching for all sorts of reasons.

A video of U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., who faces a runoff against an African-American opponent, joking about attending "a public hanging" went viral Sunday as she insisted there was nothing negative about her remark.

"If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row," Hyde-Smith said during a campaign stop in Tupelo, Mississippi. The man she was referring to was identified as a local rancher.

The video was first posted online by Lamar White Jr., the publisher of The Bayou Brief, a nonprofit news site in Louisiana.

As always, context is everything: Hyde-Smith, an appointed Senate incumbent, is running against Mike Espy, the first African American to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and who, 30 years ago, became the first African American elected to Congress from Mississippi since Reconstruction.

Given the state's history, and her opponent's race, it's not unreasonable to argue that Hyde-Smith should've avoided unprompted comments about public hangings.

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Reality gets in the way of Mike Pence's Veterans Day pitch

11/12/18 09:20AM

"The debt our Nation owes those who have worn the uniform is a debt we will never be able to fully repay," Vice President Mike Pence wrote yesterday in a tweet recognizing Veterans Day. "But just as those courageous men and women have fought for us, [Donald] Trump & our administration have fought for them."

That second sentence suggested it wasn't enough for the vice president to honor the service and sacrifices of America's veterans; Pence decided it'd also be a good idea to add a political element to his message. Recognizing those who served on Veterans Day is important, but for the vice president, recognizing Donald Trump matters, too.

Pence's tweet directed people to a Fox News op-ed, ostensibly written by the vice president himself, with a headline that read, "Veterans have no better friend than President Trump."

This president and our administration understand that veterans' benefits are not entitlements – they're earned. They are the ongoing compensation for services rendered in the uniform of the United States. And since the outset of our administration, we've taken decisive action to make good on our promise to the heroes who've served.

There's a degree of unseemliness to attaching a political public-relations angle to a message recognizing veterans. Mike Pence's pitch, in effect, was, "Happy Veterans Day. But enough about you; now let me tell you how awesome Donald Trump is."

Even if we put this aside, is the administration's actual record on veterans' issues as impressive as the vice president wants the public to believe?

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Firefighters douse flames as they approach the Casa Loma fire station in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Loma Prieta, Calif. on Sept. 27, 2016. (Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty)

Trump's response to deadly California fires reaches cringe-worthy depths

11/12/18 08:40AM

It was August when Donald Trump first started sharing his thoughts on California wildfires, which the president was eager to blame on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and "bad environmental laws." As regular readers may recall, none of Trump's rhetoric made sense.

The Washington Post reported, for example, that the president seemed confused about every relevant detail. CNN added that even some White House officials “admitted to being slightly perplexed” at Trump’s obvious nonsense.

And yet, Trump not only refused to get up to speed on the basics of the issue, he also refused to stop addressing the issue in unusually callous ways. Five months after his initial misguided foray, he renewed his offensive over the weekend.

President Donald Trump on Saturday blamed "mismanagement" of California's forests for ongoing deadly wildfires, threatening to withhold federal payments after 25 people died in two separate blazes and evacuation orders were issued for some 250,000 state residents.

"There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!" he tweeted.

There are a couple of ways to consider a story like this one. The first and most obvious is to acknowledge the factual details and point out that the president simply has no idea what he's talking about. The fires are not the result of state officials' approach to forest management.

California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice issued a scathing written statement in response to Trump's nonsense, describing the president's assessment as being, among other things, "dangerously wrong."

And while it's tempting to end the conversation there, it's nearly as important to acknowledge serious concerns about the president's capacity for empathy and character.

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At international gathering, Trump finds himself isolated and alone

11/12/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump traveled abroad in July for a series of key international events, each of which proved to be deeply embarrassing for the American president and his administration. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) described Trump's foreign travel at the time as a series of "calamitous" events, which seemed more than fair under the circumstances.

Five months later, Trump's trip to France wasn't quite as cringe-worthy, but at times, it was close. Politico's report was exactly right: the Republican once again found himself isolated, both figuratively and literally.

President Donald Trump looked very much alone in Paris this weekend, isolated from European leaders and longtime U.S. allies as he continued to pursue his "America First" agenda.

He seemed most at ease late Sunday afternoon, on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, as he visited the Suresnes American Cemetery and memorial just outside Paris.... It was the rare moment in Paris, an event where Trump was in control and could try to shine, coming off a weekend in which European leaders rebuked him both implicitly and explicitly. From Macron to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the message seemed clear: Trump is taking the U.S. in a more isolated direction, while former allies band together to reject him.

Oddly enough, Trump seemed eager to pick a fight before the gathering even began in earnest. On Friday afternoon, the American president published a tweet that read, "President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!"

In realty, Macron delivered remarks in which he stressed the need for Europe to be able to protect itself, rather than rely solely on the United States. By most measures, it's a sentiment Trump would ordinarily approve of.

But instead of getting his facts straight, the confused Republican thought it'd be wise to lash out via Twitter, initiating a pointless diplomatic feud for no reason.

It went downhill from there.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for service at First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine, Iowa, Jan. 24, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

This Week in God, 11.10.18

11/10/18 07:45AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a new argument from Donald Trump about how -- and whether -- he should be seen not only as a political leader, but a moral one, too.

Traditionally, the president's allies have defended his moral failings by questioning their relevance. Shortly before the 2016 election, for example, when Americans heard the "Access Hollywood" recording of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, Corey Lewandowski, the Republican's former campaign manager, argued, "We're not choosing a Sunday school teacher here."

It was a concession of sorts, acknowledging Trump's character flaws and messy personal life, while simultaneously making the case that voters need not concern themselves with his morality.

Politically conservative evangelical Christians have made the same calculus throughout the Trump presidency: they don't need him to be moral, the argument goes, so much as they need him to help advance what they see as their moral agenda.

It therefore came as something of a surprise this week when Trump was asked directly about this aspect of his presidency.

Q: How do you see your role as a moral leader?

TRUMP: I think I am a great moral leader, and I love our country.

Whether or not Trump deserves to be seen as a "great moral leader" is a matter of perspective, though the Republican's argument is very much at odds with the line his defenders -- who say they back him despite his moral compass -- usually tout.

But the president's line turned out to be poorly timed. Two days after boasting of his moral standing, the Wall Street Journal  published a new, thoroughly detailed report on Trump's direct role in making legally dubious hush-money payments to women, including a former porn star, all of which he repeatedly lied to the public about.

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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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