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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)

Justice Dept to take a closer look at Jeffrey Epstein's plea deal

02/07/19 11:25AM

Jeffrey Epstein, a politically connected multi-millionaire, 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 -- were able to strike a plea deal.

And what a deal it was. Epstein ended pleading guilty to a state charge of soliciting sex from a minor in 2008, which led to an 18-month sentence. He was 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.

How in the world did Epstein get such a deal given the number of his alleged underage victims? It's a question many have asked of late, and the best answers could probably come from the U.S. Attorney who signed off on the deal.

His name is Alex Acosta. If his name sounds familiar, it's because he's Donald Trump's Secretary of Labor.

With this in mind, NBC News reported yesterday that the Justice Department has agreed to investigate how the Epstein case was handled.

An investigation by The Miami Herald said that Acosta helped engineer the deal involving only state charges and agreed that it would be kept secret from other victims until it was presented in court, denying them a chance to object. The newspaper's reporting led members of Congress to seek a Justice Department investigation. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called the Epstein plea deal an "epic miscarriage of justice."

On Thursday, the Justice Department notified Sasse that the department's Office of Professional Responsibility "has now opened an investigation into allegations that Department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which the Epstein criminal matter was resolved." The letter does not mention Acosta by name.

There's nothing to suggest this new review might lead to new criminal penalties against Epstein. That said, this scrutiny might finally shed light on why an accused rapist was able to strike such an extraordinary deal -- and what role a current Trump cabinet secretary played in making that happen.

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Flowers on a tree bloom near the Treasury Department building in Washington, DC on March 10, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

Trump taps Bear Stearns' former chief economist for World Bank

02/07/19 10:40AM

In early 2017, shortly before Donald Trump's inauguration, the president-elect and his aides were scrambling to put together an economic team. It raised a few eyebrows when he chose David Malpass to oversee a top Treasury Department agency, not because Malpass was inexperienced, but because his experiences made him look pretty bad.

Malpass was, for example, the chief economist at Bear Stearns, where he downplayed the risks posed by the subprime crisis, right before the subprime crisis brought down Bear Stearns.

Two years later, Trump is ready to give him a high-profile promotion.

President Trump has nominated Treasury Department official David Malpass, a vocal critic of the World Bank, to head the international financial institution.

Malpass, 62, is a conservative with longstanding ties to Trump. He once worked as chief economist at investment bank Bear Stearns, which collapsed in 2008 in the midst of the financial crisis. He also served in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. At Treasury, Malpass is currently involved in tense trade negotiations with China.

Unlike many presidential personnel choices, the World Bank's chief isn't confirmed by the Senate, but rather, is approved by the bank's governing board, featuring representatives from wealthy countries around the world. The United States has always chosen the World Bank's leader since its inception in 1944, and the Trump White House expects this tradition to remain intact.

And while the consensus, at least for now, seems to be that Malpass will be approved, he's not exactly an obvious choice. For one thing, he's been a critic of the World Bank and its work for years. (Trump has a curious habit of choosing people to lead departments and agencies despite their opposition to the departments' and agencies' work.)

For another, as the New York Times' Paul Krugman recently noted, Malpass has been wrong about most of the major economic challenges of the last several years.

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Donald Trump

Has Trump really reversed course on legal immigration?

02/07/19 10:01AM

The prepared text for the State of the Union included a line about immigration that likely would've been unremarkable -- if Trump hadn't ad-libbed five additional words.

The president was supposed to say, "Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways. I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally." But when delivering the remarks, Trump actually said, "I want people to come into our country, in the largest numbers ever...."

It was jarring because Trump was describing the opposite of his own position. For most of his presidency, the Republican has demanded sharp cuts to legal immigration, and has made this a non-negotiable element of any deal. Even when Democrats offered him billions of dollars in wall funding in exchange for DACA protections for Dreamers, Trump balked. Without reductions to legal immigration, he said, there would be no agreement.

And yet there he was on Tuesday night, endorsing -- seemingly by accident -- increased legal immigration, contradicting the specific demands he made to Congress. So what's the president's current position? What he said in his speech or what he said before his speech? Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday:

[O]n Wednesday, Trump said he meant what he said.

"Yes, because we need people in our country because our unemployment numbers are so low," he said in an interview with regional news organizations after he was asked whether he favors a change in policy to expand legal immigration, according to a reporter for The Advocate of Louisiana.

In theory, this offers a possible breakthrough in the immigration debate. Trump's insistence on drastic cuts to legal immigration have been a sticking point for over a year, and if the president now wants the opposite of what he demanded, it's suddenly easier to imagine real progress on the issue.

But therein lies the rub: no one can say with any confidence what his position will be on his own agenda on any given day.

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Image: Donald Trump, Dean Heller

Why Trump is still slamming a former GOP senator months after his loss

02/07/19 09:20AM

Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, then-Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada was in a unique position: he was literally the only Republican senator up for re-election in a state Donald Trump lost.

The GOP incumbent could've moderated his public image and run as a centrist, independent voice, or he could move to the right and position himself as a Donald Trump toady. In 2016, Heller eyed the former over the latter: the Nevadan opposed Trump's presidential candidacy and donated to charity a contribution he'd received from his party's presidential nominee.

But as regular readers know, as 2018 drew closer, Heller switched gears, aligned himself with the president, declared his home state "Trump country," and campaigned alongside Trump, telling the president at one rally, "I think everything you touch turns to gold."

Trump, in turn, told Nevadans that he had "no better partner" than Dean Heller.

Two weeks later, Heller lost by five points.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal  reported yesterday that the president hasn't forgotten what transpired, and he blamed Heller's loss on the senator having been "extraordinarily hostile" toward him during the 2016 race.

"What happened with Dean Heller is, I tried for him," Trump said during a sit-down with regional reporters in the Oval Office. But he said hard-core voter base "did not believe me. They wouldn't go for him."

Trump accused Heller of leaving the impression that he had voted for Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.... "I just could never get my base excited on him," Trump said, before he added, "I like him a lot."

Told about Trump's comments, Heller responded, "This president called me that day before the election and said I was going to win by five points. Now all of sudden he has a different spin on that. Not surprising. I think America's used to that."

The importance of this has less to do with what transpired in Nevada, and more to do with what's likely to happen in 2020.

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An attendee handles a revolver in the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. booth on the exhibition floor of the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Nashville, Tenn. on April 11, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

What it takes to get Congress to take a closer look at gun violence

02/07/19 08:40AM

In the recent past, news consumers would come across headlines that referenced a "GOP lawmaker" who said or did something foolish, leaving readers to wonder which Republican the piece was referring to. More often than not, it was Michele Bachmann, Louie Gohmert, or Paul Broun.

And while some of these more cartoonish members are still on Capitol Hill -- Gohmert and Steve King, for example, keep getting re-elected -- we're occasionally reminded about the torch being passed to a new generation of lawmakers who are equally difficult to take seriously.

The Washington Post  reported yesterday, for example, on some of the antics on display during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence.

A congressional hearing on gun violence erupted into recriminations on Wednesday after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) argued for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and called for the removal of two fathers whose children were killed in last year's mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Gaetz, one of President Trump's most vocal supporters on Capitol Hill, prompted an outcry from the Parkland fathers when he argued at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that illegal immigration is a greater threat to public safety than gun violence.

The far-right Floridian already had an unfortunate reputation, and yesterday's display won't help Gaetz's poor standing.

But while the congressman and his absurdities mattered, let's not miss the forest for the trees: there was actually a House hearing yesterday on gun violence.

That may not seem especially notable, but this was the first House hearing on guns this decade. As Rachel noted on last night's show, there have been all kinds of horrible mass shootings in recent years, including the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, but none of them prompted the House, controlled by Republicans from January 2011 until last month, to convene a single policy discussion on the issue.

We finally know what it takes to get the House to examine gun violence: it's not a mass shooting; it's an election.

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Investigation-loving GOP leader sides with Trump against investigations

02/07/19 08:00AM

The most memorable moment of Donald Trump's State of the Union address this week was his remarks condemning congressional investigation into his many scandals. The president warned lawmakers that scrutinizing the controversies would not only be dangerous for the country, it would also prevent any kind of legislative progress over the next two years.

If the idea was to intimidate Democratic lawmakers into submission, Trump's efforts failed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made clear yesterday that she and her members would not be bullied by the president's "all-out threat," and as Rachel noted on the show last night, the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee moved forward yesterday with their plans to get answers to pressing questions.

It was against this backdrop that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) endorsed the White House's position.

"Look, we will never give up our oversight role, but this country is too great for a small vision of just investigations," McCarthy said at a press conference. "There are challenges out there that we have to get done. And to be fair, we have been investigating for the last two years.

"I think it should come to a close. I think the country wants to be able to solve the problems going forward," McCarthy said.

At this point, we could talk about the fact that Congress is more than capable of conducting investigations and legislating at the same time, as it's done many times before. We could also talk about how Kevin McCarthy had a very different perspective on investigating the executive branch when his party was in the majority and his target was the Obama administration.

Indeed, House Republicans were still exploring Hillary Clinton's emails as recently as a few months ago -- despite the fact that the former Secretary of State left office after the 2012 elections -- and the Senate Republican majority still intends to examine the issue this year.

But that's not the funny part.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 2.6.19

02/06/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* New details out of Virginia: "The woman accusing Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of a sexual assault in 2004 detailed her allegation in a lengthy statement issued Wednesday through her legal team."

* A story we've been following: "Any honeymoon President Donald Trump expects after his second State of the Union address Tuesday is proving to be short lived, as newly empowered House investigators make their first significant moves to scrutinize his administration and advance special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation."

* At the border: "Hundreds of migrants in a new caravan that just reached the U.S. border may have to wait in Northern Mexico for months, because the U.S. agents in the tiny Texas town where they want to cross can only currently process fewer than 20 migrants a day, according to Customs and Border Protection officials."

* In related news: "The governor of New Mexico ordered the state's National Guard to withdraw a majority of its troops from the southern border.... 'New Mexico will not take part in the president's charade of border fear-mongering by misusing our diligent National Guard troops,' Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement."

* The climate crisis: "New government data on temperatures around the world offers cold comfort to those who hope that global warming is on the wane. The data, released on Wednesday by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows that 2018 was the fourth-hottest year since 1880, the earliest year for which reliable global temperature data is available. The three hottest years on record were 2015, 2016 and 2017."

* In the wake of Trump's moves on the INF treaty: "Russia said it was working to develop new missile systems, including a hypersonic long-range rocket, in the first concrete indication of its response to the breakdown of a Cold War-era nuclear treaty."

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Why Pelosi was unimpressed with Trump's underwhelming cancer plan

02/06/19 04:43PM

A common element of every State of the Union address is a president introducing a laundry list of priorities he or she would like Congress to tackle. About halfway through Donald Trump's remarks, we heard something unfamiliar from the Republican:

"Tonight, I am also asking you to join me in another fight that all Americans can get behind: the fight against childhood cancer.

"Joining Melania in the gallery this evening is a very brave 10-year-old girl, Grace Eline. Every birthday since she was 4, Grace asked her friends to donate to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. She did not know that one day she might be a patient herself. Last year, Grace was diagnosed with brain cancer. Immediately, she began radiation treatment. At the same time, she rallied her community and raised more than $40,000 for the fight against cancer. When Grace completed treatment last fall, her doctors and nurses cheered with tears in their eyes as she hung up a poster that read: 'Last Day of Chemo.' Grace -- you are an inspiration to us all.

"Many childhood cancers have not seen new therapies in decades. My budget will ask the Congress for $500 million over the next 10 years to fund this critical lifesaving research."

I thought it was at least possible that he misspoke when he requested $500 million over the next decade, but the White House published the text of the remarks as written, and that's what he meant to say.

On the surface, this probably seemed like one of the least controversial appeals in the address. It's not like childhood cancer is an issue with two equally weighted sides.

But it wasn't long before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) raised a legitimate concern about Trump's proposal -- not because she's against cancer research, but because of the paucity behind the president's request. Politico reported today:

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Image: Ralph Northam

Things go from bad to worse with new revelations in Virginia

02/06/19 12:49PM

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is already facing a scandal over racist incidents from his past, and there's near-unanimity in Democratic politics that the governor should resign. If he were to step down, Northam would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D).

Except, he's facing a scandal of his own. Dr. Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor of politics at Scripps College in California, has accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room in 2004. The lieutenant governor has said there was a sexual encounter, but he's insisted it was consensual. Tyson has hired Christine Blasey Ford's legal team to represent her.

If Northam and Fairfax were to step down, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) would become governor, except he too now has a problem.

Virginia's Democratic attorney general ... admitted on Wednesday he once wore blackface at a college party in 1980.

"In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song," AG Mark Herring said in a statement. "It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes -- and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others -- we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup."

Herring called it "a onetime occurrence" and said, "I accept full responsibility for my conduct." He said the "shame of that moment has haunted me for decades."

Herring's statement was just released a couple of hours ago, and it's not yet clear whether Northam's many critics will also call for the attorney general's ouster.

Unlike the governor, Herring left open the possibility of stepping down, adding in his written statement, "In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general, but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation."

And who serves if the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general all step down?

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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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