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Monday's Mini-Report, 4.22.19

04/22/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Sri Lanka: "At least 290 people were killed and 500 others injured after a series of blasts shook Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. A wave of near-simultaneous explosions rocked three churches and three luxury hotels, officials said. Police later reported two further explosions. Police said Monday that 24 suspects had been arrested."

* The results weren't close: "Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy won Sunday's runoff election in Ukraine, ousting incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in a landslide. With over 90 percent of the ballots counted, Zelenskiy had 73 percent of the vote with Poroshenko at just under 25 percent."

* At the border: "The FBI on Saturday arrested a man described as a commander of an armed group that has been detaining migrants in New Mexico, the state attorney general's office said."

* The end of a strike: "Stop & Shop and its striking workers reached a tentative agreement Sunday night, bringing an end to a 10-day work stoppage that crippled New England's largest grocery chain -- closing dozens of stores, delaying food from reaching others, and keeping away loyal shoppers in large numbers."

* This seems unlikely to go well: "The Trump administration said Monday it will scrap all waivers that allowed eight governments to buy Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions -- a move designed to choke off Tehran's oil revenue."

* Kansas: "Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's power to fill vacancies in some top state posts would be stripped and given to party leadership under new legislation introduced in the House."

* He's off to a great start, isn't he? "Interior Secretary David Bernhardt began working on policies that would aid one of his former lobbying clients within weeks of joining the Trump administration, according to a POLITICO analysis of agency documents -- a revelation that adds to the ethics questions dogging his leadership of the agency."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

Despite evidence, Trump claims 'nobody disobeys' his orders

04/22/19 12:38PM

Donald Trump likes to be seen as a strong president who commands respect, which has long been a tough image to maintain given his often ridiculous antics. But the Republican's reputation suffered irreparable harm last week, when the public saw Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, which documented a series of incidents in which Trump's aides ignored some of his most outlandish directions.

This morning, as the Associated Press reported, the president pushed back.

President Donald Trump says that "nobody" disobeys his orders, a reference to the Mueller report, which paints a deeply unflattering picture of his presidency.

Trump made the comments Monday during the annual Easter Egg roll when asked by reporters about special counsel Robert Mueller's portrayal of a White House in which staffers often ignore the president's orders.

The report suggested that some of those refusals helped protect the president from himself.

But Trump insisted Monday that: "Nobody disobeys my orders."

Before the Mueller report's release, we already knew that Trump's team routinely ignored the president's instructions. Bob Woodward's latest book, for example, highlighted an incident in which Trump directed then-Defense Secretary James Mattis to prepare a plan to kill Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Mattis listened, told Trump he'd get right on that, hung up the phone, and told a senior aide, "We're not going to do any of that."

There was also a separate incident in which Trump asked Mattis to provide him with military options for Iran. The Pentagon chief reportedly “refused.”

As we discussed several months ago, this comes up with alarming regularity. For example, Trump announced in June 2018 that he had “instructed” U.S. officials “not to endorse” an official G-7 communique negotiated by diplomats from member nations. Officials didn’t much care about the tweet and they proceeded to ignore Trump’s online instructions.

A few months earlier, the president announced via Twitter that Russia should “get ready” because he was poised to launch a military offensive in Syria. White House officials found Trump’s declaration “distracting,” and proceeded “as if nothing had happened.”

“What is most remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive,” Jack Goldsmith, a top Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, wrote a while back. “Never has a president been so regularly ignored or contradicted by his own officials…. The president is a figurehead who barks out positions and desires, but his senior subordinates carry on with different commitments.”

But the Mueller report took this dynamic to an even more embarrassing level.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.22.19

04/22/19 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) announced this morning that he, too, is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. By my count, he's the 17th elected official to enter the contest, the sixth current or former member of the U.S. House, and the third military veteran.

* On a related note, there's some question about whether Moulton, who'll be on with Rachel tonight, is holding open the possibility of running for re-election to Congress. His FEC filing suggests the Massachusetts Democrat is giving up his House seat, but a campaign spokesperson said the opposite.

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) presidential campaign continues to roll out major policy proposals on a nearly daily basis, and today, Team Warren unveiled an impressive "$1.25 trillion plan to reshape higher education by canceling most student loan debt and eliminating tuition at every public college."

* The Trump campaign is reportedly shifting its business away from Jones Day, a prominent law firm, as a way to punish Don McGahn, a Jones Day partner, who shared some damaging information with Special Counsel Robert Mueller about his time as Trump's White House counsel.

* Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke's (D-Texas) presidential campaign is experiencing a bit of a staff shake-up, with Becky Bond and her deputy, Zack Malitz, both parting ways with the congressman's team.

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Image: A statue of the United States first President, George Washington, is seen under the Capitol dome in Washington

Democratic debate over Trump's impeachment reaches a new stage

04/22/19 11:10AM

Before the public was able to read Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report last week, most Democratic leaders were eager to downplay talk of Donald Trump's impeachment, if they were willing to acknowledge the question at all. But now that the report is out, and we've seen the evidence of the president's alleged crimes, conditions are different.

At least a little.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who wasn't advocating in support of impeachment before, called on Friday for impeachment proceedings to begin, and fleshed out her reasoning in an interview with Rachel. If, however, those who agree with the senator's position hoped other 2020 presidential contenders would soon follow, they were left wanting over the weekend.

In practice, however, the opinions of Trump's would-be successors are arguably less important than House Democrats' opinions -- the latter would be responsible for actually initiating the process and seeing it through -- and over the weekend, the impeachment door appeared ajar.

Democrats "can foresee" the possibility of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report.

Speaking on the Sunday political talk shows, the chairmen of three key House investigatory committees sounded open to the possibility of bringing impeachment proceedings against the president.

It would be an overstatement to say leading Democrats are pursuing impeachment with any real vigor, but their willingness to consider the possibility appears to be growing.

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Elijah Cummings (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

To keep financial records secret, Trump sues key House Democrat

04/22/19 10:08AM

Last week, as part of the congressional investigation into Donald Trump's controversial finances, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) issued a subpoena to Mazars USA, directing the firm to turn over the president's financial records. Almost immediately, the president's new lawyers -- hired to keep Trump's finances secret -- sent a letter to Mazars USA, insisting that the firm ignore that federal subpoena.

Today, Trump and the Trump Organization took this one step further.

Lawyers for President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization are suing House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings to block a subpoena for years of financial records from accounting firm Mazars USA.

The lawyers filed the lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, saying the subpoena "lacks any legitimate legislative purpose, is an abuse of power, and is just another example of overreach by the president's political opponents."

To the extent that reality matters, the House Oversight Committee recently heard testimony from Michael Cohen, the president's former personal attorney and fixer, who altered lawmakers to a series of alleged financial misdeeds committed by Donald Trump.

Lawmakers are also aware of credible allegations of criminal fraud, criminal tax evasion, and money laundering, which the American president exploited to fuel his rise to power.

In other words, the idea that Cummings' request for information "lacks any legitimate legislative purpose" seems a little silly: the Oversight Committee, which has an expansive purview, is obviously following up on evidence of suspected wrongdoing.

Indeed, it seems this new lawsuit does little except make clear that the president and his team are desperate to keep his financial records, including his tax returns, secret.

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Former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani speaks at the Cisco Connect 2013 conference in Warsaw, Poland, November 26, 2013.

Giuliani: 'Nothing wrong' with getting campaign aid from foreign foe

04/22/19 09:22AM

Rudy Giuliani made multiple appearances on the Sunday shows yesterday, doing his best to pretend the Mueller report wasn't devastating for his client in the Oval Office, and presenting a series of wildly unpersuasive arguments.

The Republican told CNN, for example, "There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians." In reality, there's plenty wrong with it. A foreign adversary launched a military intelligence operation against our elections, and the attack included stealing Americans' materials.

For Donald Trump's lawyers to insist there's "nothing wrong with" a U.S. campaign accepting assistance from our international foes is to invite additional attacks.

On "Meet the Press," Giuliani went on to tell NBC News' Chuck Todd that the public had a "right to know" about the information contained in the materials the Russians stole. The former mayor compared hacked information to the Pentagon Papers.

But that's absurd. Not only did the hacked emails not point to any Hillary Clinton wrongdoing, but Giuliani's argument -- an implicit defense of an illegal hack -- could just as easily be applied to stealing others' materials. If a hack produced the president's tax returns, would Giuliani be equally cavalier about the public's "right to know"?

But what struck me as especially notable was Giuliani's response to a question about Sen. Mitt Romney's (R-Utah) criticism. Here was the exchange between Trump's lawyer and CNN's Jake Tapper.

GIULIANI: What a hypocrite. What a hypocrite.

TAPPER: But why is that hypocritical?

GIULIANI: Any candidate -- any candidate in the whole world, in America, would take information, negative [information].

In context, the former mayor was clearly referring to taking "information" from a foreign adversary.

Last summer, then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), one of Moscow's favorites, made a similar argument, insisting "there's not a person in this town" who wouldn't welcome foreign intervention to win an election.

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Then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Donald Trump arrive at a news conference held by Trump to endorse Romney for president at the Trump International Hotel & Tower Las Vegas, Feb. 2, 2012. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty)

If Romney is 'sickened' by Mueller's revelations, what will he do?

04/22/19 08:41AM

The vast majority of congressional Republicans have been willing to stick to the White House's script in the wake of the Mueller report's release, but we've seen a handful of notable exceptions.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), for example, arguably Congress' most moderate GOP member, told Maine Public Radio last week that the special counsel's findings offered "an unflattering portrayal of the president."

And if Collins had been in New Jersey in 1937, I suspect she might've described the Hindenburg as "an unfortunate transportation incident."

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) went considerably further on Friday, issuing a written statement that read:

"It is good news that there was insufficient evidence to charge the President of the United States with having conspired with a foreign adversary or with having obstructed justice. The alternative would have taken us through a wrenching process with the potential for constitutional crisis. The business of government can move on.

"Even so, I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President. I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia -- including information that had been illegally obtained; that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement; and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine.

"Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders."

The statement, not surprisingly, was not well received at the White House. Donald Trump, who's had a strained relationship with the senator whom he considered for his cabinet, published a tweet on Saturday afternoon, mocking Romney's defeat in the 2012 presidential election.

Putting aside the fact that Romney actually won a larger share of the popular vote than Trump, my concerns about the senator's statement came from a very different angle.

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The problem with Trump's 'no obstruction' claim: it's plainly false

04/22/19 08:00AM

I can imagine some Americans being confused by the recent talk about Donald Trump's possible impeachment. After all, the public has been told for the last month that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report was great news for the White House.

The president enjoyed a "victory lap." He declared "game over." His critics and skeptics were despondent. The special counsel proved, definitively, there was "no collusion" and "no obstruction." Trump was "totally and completely exonerated."

Over the last seven days, the president has published the words "no obstruction" on Twitter seven times, including this pair on Saturday:

"Despite the fact that the Mueller Report should not have been authorized in the first place & was written as nastily as possible by 13 (18) Angry Democrats who were true Trump Haters, including highly conflicted Bob Mueller himself, the end result is No Collusion, No Obstruction!

"The end result of the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. political history is No Collusion with Russia (and No Obstruction). Pretty Amazing!"

What's pretty amazing is that the president actually seems to expect the public to believe what he's saying. Every time Trump pretends the Mueller report exonerated him, he's making clear that he hasn't read the document and he's desperately counting on the public to have not read it, either.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the redacted Mueller report, the discourse was dominated by misleading spin, crafted by a partisan attorney general who seemed principally concerned with his president's political interests, and echoed by the White House. It was, for a while, all we had to go on, and it extended a degree of plausibility to Trump's celebratory posture.

But on Thursday morning, the gaslight went out. We've now seen the Mueller report, and to pretend its revelations aren't devastating is comparable to Richard Nixon, following the release of his Oval Office tapes in 1974, declaring, "See? The recordings clearly prove how awesome I am!"

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Mueller: Sen. Burr Briefed, White House on Russia Investigation

Mueller: Sen. Burr Briefed White House on Russia Investigation

04/19/19 11:06PM

Rachel Maddow sheds light on an element of the Mueller report involving Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. According to the report, Sen. Burr and other members of the Gang of Eight received a confidential briefing on the status of the Russia investigation, and Burr appears to then have briefed the... watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 4.19.19

04/19/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The due date is May 1: "House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., on Friday subpoenaed the Justice Department for the full, unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report as well as the underlying evidence."

* An important detail: "Special counsel Robert Mueller's criminal investigation may be over, but the FBI's efforts to assess and counter Russian efforts to influence the U.S. political system -- including the Trump administration -- is continuing, current and former U.S. officials say."

* Ohio: "A federal judge blocked part of an Ohio law late Thursday that bans the abortion method of dilation and evacuation in most cases, adding to a list of restrictions on the procedure that are or soon could be in legal limbo."

* Remember him? "Scott Pruitt, the scandal-ridden former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, registered as an energy lobbyist in Indiana on Thursday as fossil-fuels interests there are fighting to block the proposed closure of several coal-fired power plants."

* Virginia: "Two Virginia police officers who worked for different agencies were fired this week after an anti-fascist group linked them to white nationalist organizations."

* South Florida: "Federal authorities today announced that John Kless, a 49-year-old resident of Tamarac in Broward County, called three Democrats at their Washington, D.C. offices April 16 and left voicemail messages threatening murder. The lawmakers included California Congressman Eric Swalwell, Detroit Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker."

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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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