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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.10.19

05/10/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest step: "A House committee issued subpoenas Friday ordering Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig to turn over President Trump's tax returns by next Friday at 5 p.m., according to copies of the subpoenas provided by the committee."

* Baker will be on with Rachel tonight: "Former top FBI lawyer James Baker offered a robust defense Friday of the bureau's investigation into President Trump and his 2016 campaign, taking aim at Trump's allegation that the inquiry was tantamount to a coup and describing how he sought to ensure agents' work was on solid legal footing."

* Is this really a good idea? "The Pentagon is shifting $1.5 billion in funds originally targeted for support of the Afghan security forces and other projects to help pay for construction of 80 miles of wall at the U.S.-Mexican border, officials said Friday. Congress was notified of the move Friday."

* I'm not at all sure what, exactly, Trump would be able to say if Tehran did call: "President Donald Trump has a message for Iran's leaders as tensions flare over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program: 'Call me.'"

* HUD: "The Department of Housing and Urban Development acknowledged that a Trump administration plan to purge undocumented immigrants from public housing could displace more than 55,000 children who are all legal U.S. residents or citizens."

* Hmm: "In a highly unusual move, national security adviser John Bolton convened a meeting at CIA headquarters last week with the Trump administration's top intelligence, diplomatic and military advisers to discuss Iran, according to six current U.S. officials."

* This story is far from done: "The FBI has opened a public corruption investigation into Republican donor and South Florida massage-parlor entrepreneur Li "Cindy" Yang, focusing on whether she illegally funneled money from China into the president's re-election effort or committed other potential campaign-finance violations, the Miami Herald has learned."

* Daniel Hale: "Federal prosecutors in Virginia charged a former United States intelligence analyst with providing classified information to a reporter, according to unsealed court documents.... This is the third case in which someone was prosecuted after providing [The Intercept] outlet with classified information."

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Mick Mulvaney

Why would Trump be embarrassed by his tax returns?

05/10/19 02:54PM

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sat down with CBS News' Major Garrett this week for a podcast interview that covered a fair amount of ground. Of particular interest, though, was the exchange that began at the 23:12 mark of the conversation.

The host noted that the Treasury Department has refused a congressional order to turn over Donald Trump's tax returns, and Garrett asked why. This was the exchange that followed:

MULVANEY: Because they are not entitled to see them by law. By the way, they know, especially on this one, they know they're never going to get these documents. This is a pure show-pony-type of situation. They know the legal reasons they can get those documents --

GARRETT: Legitimate legislative function.

MULVANEY: Right. And they're not even close to that... They're just doing this to make the president look bad. They don't care. This is not about information about the president. Keep in mind, all of the president's financial holdings, by law, are disclosed. Want to know what the president owns? Want to know how he makes money? All of that stuff is, by law, I have to fill out my form by the end of next week. So does he. This is just about trying to embarrass the president.

GARRETT: What's embarrassing about his tax records?

MULVANEY: That's what they want to know.

GARRETT: But what is it?

MULVANEY: I don't know because I've never seen

GARRETT: Is there something embarrassing about his tax records?

MULVANEY: I have no idea and I don't care.

Oh my.

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at a press conference after appearing in court to call for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

To boost Trump, Giuliani seeks foreign government's assistance

05/10/19 12:56PM

The New York Times published a curious article last week, raising questions about Joe Biden's work several years ago on a government-reform effort in Ukraine. There was some suggestion that the Delaware Democrat's son may have benefited, but the claims of possible wrongdoing quickly unraveled, and the story went largely overlooked.

There was, however, a lingering question about what -- or more accurately, who -- was helping drive the story in the first place. The details were a little convoluted, but the Times' article made clear that it was Rudy Giuliani who was helping lead an effort to get Ukrainian assistance for Donald Trump's political agenda. (At one point, the story noted, "Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Trump excitedly to brief him on his findings.")

Today, the New York Times advances the story a bit further.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump's personal lawyer, is encouraging Ukraine to wade further into sensitive political issues in the United States, seeking to push the incoming government in Kiev to press ahead with investigations that he hopes will benefit Mr. Trump.

Mr. Giuliani said he plans to travel to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, in the coming days and wants to meet with the nation's president-elect to urge him to pursue inquiries that allies of the White House contend could yield new information about two matters of intense interest to Mr. Trump.

There are apparently two tracks to this: Giuliani believes his efforts in Ukraine can (a) help dig up possible dirt on Biden; and (b) uncover information that might help Team Trump push back against allegations related to the Russia scandal.

But in this case, the forest is almost certainly more important than the trees: one of the American president's lawyers appears to be pressuring a foreign government to assist with a political scheme.

"There's nothing illegal about it," Giuliani told the Times. "Somebody could say it's improper."

Yes, someone could say it's improper -- because it is.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.10.19

05/10/19 12:00PM

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

* In New Hampshire, the latest Monmouth poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) continuing to lead the Democratic field with 36% support, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who won the New Hampshire primary easily in 2016, with 18%. No other candidate reached double digits, though Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) came close.

* NBC News this morning announced additional details on the first debates for the Democratic presidential candidates, which will be held in Miami on June 26 and June 27.

* In related news, the Democratic National Committee yesterday fleshed out a tie-breaking system in case more than 20 presidential candidates end up qualifying to participate in the debates.

* As for whether or not that tie-breaking system will be necessary, it's worth noting that author and lecturer Marianne Williamson said yesterday that she, too, has qualified for the debates.

* Following Bernie Sanders' recent announcement, HUD Secretary Julian Castro's Democratic presidential campaign announced yesterday that it will also have a unionized staff.

* On a related note, the Biden campaign said yesterday that it, too, would welcome a unionized team, though that hasn't yet happened.

* Though he isn't a household name, Jeff Berman was Barack Obama's delegate selection director and a delegate strategist for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Yesterday, as Politico noted, Berman joined former Rep. Beto O'Rourke's (D-Texas) campaign team.

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File photo taken in November 2017 shows U.S. President Donald Trump (and Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a welcome ceremony in Beijing.

Trump's confusion over trade policy reaches an unsettling new level

05/10/19 11:23AM

Donald Trump recently boasted, in reference to trade policy, "I understand that issue better than anybody." He later added, "I know every ingredient. I know every stat. I know it better than anybody knows it."

I realize that the president has a bizarre habit of assuming that he's an expert in every subject, but his insistence that he's a world-class authority on trade policy is hopelessly bonkers.

Trump started the week with new trade threats directed at China, predicated on the false idea Beijing has been pouring money into the U.S. treasury thanks to his tariff policy. The Republican added soon after that tariffs are contributing to stronger domestic economic growth, which isn't even close to being true.

At his campaign rally in Florida, Trump continued to get the details of his own trade agenda wrong, and at a White House event yesterday, he argued with great confidence that Americans aren't paying more as a result of his tariffs, which is the exact opposite of the truth.

A Washington Post analysis yesterday described the president's trade agenda as "an intellectual disaster."

What the author of that piece failed to anticipate was that Trump wasn't quite done. Indeed, the Republican made matters quite a bit worse this morning.

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Image: U.S. President Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan

Trump's posturing on disaster relief goes off the rails

05/10/19 10:40AM

The Democratic-led House is scheduled to vote today on the latest disaster-relief package, intended to help Americans affected by several different crises. Donald Trump has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he considers the funding a priority, but he's nevertheless lobbying against the House bill.

President Trump called for Republicans to reject a $17 billion disaster relief bill providing millions in funding to areas ravaged by natural disaster in the last few years.

Late Thursday evening, the president tweeted his opposition to the bill, calling it the "BAD DEMOCRAT Disaster Supplemental Bill" and urging House Republicans to vote against it. Hours later, around 11 p.m., he added that his party "must stick together."

The sticking point hasn't changed: Democrats insist on a disaster-relief bill that includes additional aid for Puerto Rico, while the White House insists that Puerto Rico doesn't need any more assistance.

To that end, the president has gone out of his way in recent days to push claims that have already been discredited. Consider, for example, Trump's tirade during an unrelated White House event yesterday:

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Liz Cheney speaks during a campaign appearance in Casper, Wyo. on July 17, 2013.

Liz Cheney believes Dems, not Trump, are 'helping Vladimir Putin'

05/10/19 10:00AM

As the constitutional confrontation between congressional Democrats and Donald Trump continues to unfold, it's not too surprising that Republican lawmakers are siding with the Republican White House. What's notable, however, is how they're choosing to do so.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the House Republican Conference chair, led a Capitol Hill press briefing this week, where she shared this thought with reporters:

"Clearly, what the Democrats in the Judiciary Committee are doing is undermining our democracy and helping Vladimir Putin.

"If you look at what we know, and what we know from the Mueller report and other places, it is absolutely clear that the Russians have attempted, a number of them were indicted for attempting to influence, to undermine our democratic processes and the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are doing exactly what Vladimir Putin would do if he could."

I don't think she was kidding. What's more, as best as I can tell, no one from the GOP conference has made any effort to distance themselves from her claim.

It became clear in 2017 and 2018 that, so long as there's a Republican White House, GOP lawmakers are content to flip the switch and turn off Congress' oversight responsibilities, but the idea that Cheney referred to this week is even more unsettling.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Trump's message on Robert Mueller gets quite a bit stranger

05/10/19 09:20AM

Last September, Donald Trump sat down with a far-right website and peddled a new reason to question Special Counsel Robert Mueller's credibility. "I could give you 100 pictures of him and [former FBI Director James] Comey hugging and kissing each other," the president said.

It prompted BuzzFeed to submit a records request with the FBI. The Bureau concluded it had "no pictures of Mueller and Comey embracing each other. None."

Nevertheless, this remains on the president's mind. A reporter asked Trump yesterday whether he intends to allow the special counsel to testify to Congress, and as part of the president's 665-word answer, we were treated to this gem:

"...Bob Mueller is no friend of mine. I had conflicts with him. We had a business dispute. We had somebody that is in love with James Comey. He liked James Comey. They were very good friends; supposedly, best friends. Maybe not, but supposedly, best friends. You look at the picture file and you see hundreds of pictures of him and Comey."

Let's quickly run through some of the more obvious factual errors. Trump did not have actual "conflicts" with Mueller, and there was no meaningful "business dispute." What's more, as the Associated Press has reported, "Though James Comey succeeded Mueller as FBI director, and though they served together in the Bush administration, the men are not known to be social friends. There is certainly no evidence, as Trump has repeatedly suggested, that they are 'best friends.'"

There's even less evidence of the two former FBI directors being "in love" with one another.

Meanwhile, I'm not at all sure what a "picture file" is, or why Trump has been preoccupied for months with photographs ostensibly featuring both Comey and Mueller. It's not even clear what it would prove if some kind of connections between the two men were documented. (Trump is convinced that Comey is a nefarious criminal, but that isn't true, either.)

But the broader significance of this goes well beyond the president's weird whining. What matters more is the fact that the White House still can't quite figure out what to say about Mueller's findings.

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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan listens, Wednesday May 1, 2019, during a House Appropriations subcommittee on budget hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Trump's new choice to lead the Pentagon is not without controversy

05/10/19 08:40AM

The original plan was for James Mattis to serve as the secretary of Defense through the end of February, giving the White House time to search for his successor and creating the conditions for a smooth transition from one Pentagon chief to the next.

Indeed, soon after Mattis announced his resignation last year, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, "Let's not forget, he is not just walking out the door. This will be an orderly process and continue to be a good relationship over the next couple of months."

As regular readers know, that didn't last. Donald Trump eventually learned via television what the retired four-star general wrote in his resignation letter -- which the president could've read but didn't -- at which point the Republican asked someone to direct Mattis to leave his post on Dec. 31, without a successor in mind.

The process that was supposed to be "orderly" turned into an unprecedented four-month period in which there was no permanent Pentagon chief and no presidential nominee. Yesterday, finally, Trump announced his choice for the post.

President Donald Trump is expected to nominate Patrick Shanahan as secretary of defense, the White House announced Thursday.

Shanahan, who has no military experience and is the current acting secretary, worked at Boeing for more than 30 years before Trump tapped him to serve as deputy defense secretary in 2017. He was thrust into the role of acting Pentagon chief at the start of this year, after Defense Secretary James Mattis was ousted by Trump ahead of his planned departure date.

It's likely Shanahan would've been nominated sooner, but he was facing a Defense Department ethics investigation. The White House apparently wanted to wait until it was resolved in his favor.

Shanahan will now have to go through the Senate confirmation process, and given Republican control of the chamber, his odds of success are quite good.

That said, his nomination is not without controversy.

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Image:

For the first time, Trump hedges on his bogus 'no obstruction' claim

05/10/19 08:00AM

Donald Trump likes talking points that are clean, simple, and easy-to-remember. In this White House, nuances and ambiguities are for losers. When communicating an idea to the public, this president wants short phrases that fit comfortably on a bumper sticker -- or lend themselves to Twitter hashtags.

It's why, in recent weeks, Donald Trump and his team have responded to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's findings by saying, "No collusion, no obstruction," ad nauseum. Those who've actually read the Mueller report know better, but their summary of the facts takes more than four words.

Sure, Trump's phrase is wildly dishonest, and paints a deliberately deceptive picture for the public, but it's simple and exculpatory, and for this president, little else matters.

All of which made it a little surprising yesterday when the Republican added a qualifier to the phrase for the first time yesterday. Asked at a White House event whether he intends to let Mueller testify to Congress, Trump responded with a long, rambling 665-word answer, which included a line he hadn't previously used.

"I have presidential privilege. I could've stopped everything. I didn't have to give them a document. I gave them 1.5 million documents. I gave them White House Counsel. I gave them other lawyers. Anybody you want, you can talk to.

"At the end of the testimony: no collusion and, essentially, no obstruction."

Wait, what was that about essentially no obstruction?

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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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