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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 2.19.19

02/19/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* RBG: "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the Supreme Court bench on Tuesday, about two months after cancer surgery.... Tuesday's argument was a technical one, considering whether the federal government may challenge patents in a specialized court. Justice Ginsburg asked crisp and clear questions of both sides, and she seemed to express skepticism of one aspect of the government's argument."

* Speaking of SCOTUS: "For the second time in as many weeks, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has sided with liberal Supreme Court justices to disagree with how lower courts have interpreted Supreme Court precedent."

* Quite a story: "Whistleblowers from within President Donald Trump's National Security Council have told a congressional committee that efforts by former national security adviser Michael Flynn to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia may have violated the law, and investigators fear Trump is still considering it, according to a new report obtained by NBC News."

* This op-ed, written by Meredith Watson, serves as a reminder that the crisis in Virginia is not over: "When I came forward to report that Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax raped me when we were both Duke University students in 2000, I did so to support another victim of sexual assault and to remove that man from a position of national prominence."

* Climate crisis: "High-tide flooding, which can wash water over roads and inundate homes and businesses, is an event that happens once in a great while in coastal areas. But its frequency has rapidly increased in recent years because of sea-level rise. Not just during storms but increasingly on sunny days, too."

* Polk Award winners are always deserving, but this year's honorees struck me as especially notable.

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Did Trump try to handpick the prosecutor for his hush-money case?

02/19/19 03:57PM

The New York Times has a lengthy report today on Donald Trump's extensive efforts to interfere with the investigations into his assorted scandals, and the piece is well worth your time. I won't try to unpack all of it -- the article is nearly 5,000-words long -- but I will draw your attention to a specific anecdote that may prove to be quite important:

As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump's role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.

Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to "jump on a grenade" for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge, since Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president's many legal problems go away.

Broadly speaking, there are a couple of ways to look at revelations like these. The first is by focusing specifically on the president: Trump, clearly concerned about the hush-money case in which he was effectively named as an unindicted co-conspirator, apparently tried to arrange for an ally to oversee the case.

In a normal political era, this alone would be a jaw-dropping, stop-the-presses revelation. If the Times' reporting is accurate, the sitting president reached out to his handpicked attorney general, hoping he could also handpick a conflicted prosecutor to intervene in a case in which the president may yet face criminal scrutiny.

If true, it suggests Trump abused his power and obstructed justice. In 2019, it also means it's a typical Tuesday.

But then there's the angle that relates to Matt Whitaker, who stepped down last week as the acting attorney general, but who's still at the Justice Department.

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Roger Stone Addresses Women's Republican Club Of Miami

Federal judge would like a word with Roger Stone

02/19/19 12:45PM

Even those who've come to expect strange antics from Roger Stone were a little surprised yesterday. It's been about a month since the Republican operative was taken into federal custody and charged with obstruction, giving false statements, and witness tampering. Stone is currently out on bond and awaiting trial, though he was confronted last week with a court-imposed gag order, intended to limit his public comments about the case.

It was against this backdrop that Stone decided yesterday to publish a photo of the judge in his case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, to one of his social-media accounts, alongside what appeared to be little crosshairs near her head. The defendant soon after took that image down, but re-posted a similar image, this time without the crosshairs.

As part of his original message, Stone apparently wrote, "Through legal trickery Deep State hitman Robert Mueller has guaranteed that my upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointed Judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges again Hillary Clinton and incarcerated Paul Manafort prior to his conviction for any crime." The missive added that the "fix is in," before encouraging supporters to visit his online legal defense fund.

Stone's lawyers last night filed a "notice of apology" with the court, explaining that Stone recognized the "impropriety" of his Instagram posts. (The notice misspelled Instagram.)

There's reason to believe Jackson did not accept the apology.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is presiding over Stone's prosecution in D.C. federal court, scheduled a new hearing Thursday to discuss "why the media contact order entered in this case and/or his conditions of release should not be modified or revoked in light of the posts on his Instagram account."

The judge's options include revoking his bail.

Stone, who has pleaded not guilty, will be in the courtroom on Thursday. There are legal experts who can speak to this with more authority than I can, but it seems quite plausible to think the judge will send Stone to jail.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.19.19

02/19/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) nascent presidential campaign said it raised $1 million in just three-and-a-half hours today. That's an extremely impressive haul, consistent with a candidate who enjoys an enthusiastic base of supporters.

* The North Carolina State Board of Elections held a hearing yesterday on the 9th district's congressional race, and as Rachel noted on last night's show, board members heard from a Republican witness who admitted that she engaged in fraudulent and illegal activity.

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is scheduled to an unveil an ambitious plan for universal child care today.

* Adopting an unusual stance, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) reportedly offered a tacit defense of WikiLeaks during a campaign stop in New Hampshire over the weekend. “Obviously, the information that has been put out has exposed a lot of things that have been happening that the American people were not aware of and have spurred some necessary change there,” the congresswoman was quoted saying.

* The progressive Demand Justice Initiative is launching a new television ad campaign in Maine, targeting Sen. Susan Collins (R) for having supported Justice Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. It's part of a five-figure ad buy.

* Though I didn't realize this was even a possibility, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made clear that he will not run for the U.S. Senate in his home state of Kansas next year. "I've said repeatedly that I'm going to be the FCC chairman for the next two years," he said following the FCC's latest monthly meeting, "and I have no plans to do anything else during that time."

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Image: FILE PHOTO - FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe details the filing of civil forfeiture complaints seeking the forfeiture and recovery of more than $1 billion in assets in Washington

Former FBI deputy director: Congress knew about investigation into Trump

02/19/19 11:03AM

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe spoke to NBC News' Savannah Guthrie this morning, and the two touched on something I don't think we knew.

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said Tuesday that no congressional leaders voiced objections when he told them in May 2017 that the bureau had opened a counterintelligence investigation into President Donald Trump. [...]

McCabe writes in his book that the briefing for the "Gang of Eight" leaders in Congress came days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, making McCabe acting director of the bureau at the time. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told the bipartisan group of lawmakers in that meeting that special counsel Robert Mueller had been appointed to continue the ongoing Russia investigations, according to McCabe.

For those unfamiliar with the phrase, the "Gang of Eight" refers to eight members of Congress who receive special intelligence briefings, providing them with classified information as part of a system of checks and balances. The "gang" includes the top two senators (the Senate majority leader and minority leader), the top two House members (the Speaker and the House minority leader), the top two Senate Intelligence Committee members (chair and ranking member) and the top two House Intelligence Committee members (chair and vice chair).

In 2016, for example, members of the "Gang of Eight" received a classified briefing on Russian efforts to put Donald Trump in power. Officials urged the eight lawmakers to respond to Moscow's attack on our elections, but Republicans refused.

Andrew McCabe is now pointing to a different briefing, held in May 2017, in which the FBI alerted the "Gang of Eight" to the fact that federal law enforcement had opened a counter-intelligence investigation into Trump himself.

The purpose of the briefing, the former FBI deputy director said this morning, "was to let our congressional leadership know what exactly what we'd been doing" following Trump's decision to fire James Comey.

And after the lawmakers were notified as to what the FBI was doing, McCabe added, "No one objected -- not on legal grounds, not on constitutional grounds, and not based on the facts."

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Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz addresses the "Race Together Program" during the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting March 18, 2015 in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)

What the polls on independents mean (and what they don't)

02/19/19 10:16AM

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz published a blog post to Medium overnight, making his usual pitch in support of his possible independent presidential campaign. Despite recent evidence that the public is unimpressed by what they've seen from him, Schultz continues to believe that people are clamoring for what he brings to the table.

To be very clear, I firmly believe there is an unprecedented appetite for a centrist independent presidential candidate, and that there is a credible path for an independent to win more than the necessary 270 electoral votes  -- a key criteria in my consideration of whether to run.

I'm hard pressed to imagine how or why anyone would seriously believe this, though I have seen some political observers endorse the underlying idea: a growing number of Americans identify as "independents," which necessarily suggests there's a sizable part of the electorate looking for someone like Schultz.

Indeed, by some measures, there are quite a few more independent voters than partisans affiliated with the Democratic or Republican parties. Why shouldn't an independent presidential candidate excel? If a growing number of voters don't want to align themselves with either of the major parties, why would we assume that an independent candidate would fail?

The answer is, because those polls only tell a small part of a larger story.

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President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

On emergency declaration, Americans aren't buying what Trump's selling

02/19/19 09:20AM

When Donald Trump demanded a border wall, he failed to persuade the American mainstream. When the president launched the nation's longest-ever government shutdown in pursuit of his unnecessary goal, the American mainstream again balked.

And now that the Republican has issued a legally dubious emergency declaration, Trump is once again discovering that the public isn't following his lead.

A majority of Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the latest poll from the PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist.

Sixty-one percent of U.S. adults said they do not approve of the president's national emergency, while 36 percent say they support it. Another 3 percent of respondents said, in the days following Trump's Friday announcement in the Rose Garden, that they were unsure of how they felt.

The same poll found that a majority of Americans (58%) do not believe there's a national emergency along the U.S./Mexico border, while a similar percentage of the public believe the president did, in fact, misuse his power when he granted himself powers to redirect funds toward a wall project.

This is very much in line with recent polls conducted before last week's announcement -- CNN, Fox News, Washington Post/ABC News, et al -- each of which found broad public skepticism about the president's plans for a national emergency declaration.

Of course, that was before Americans heard his pitch, and saw the White House's allies fan out to defend the president's plan, touting its virtues.

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally in Washington, June 9, 2016. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)

And then there were 10: Bernie Sanders joins crowded 2020 field

02/19/19 08:40AM

Headed into today, there were already enough Democratic presidential candidates to field a baseball team. including five sitting U.S. senators. Today, they received some high-profile company.

Bernie Sanders is campaigning for president again, officially entering the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential field on Tuesday with a vow to finish what he started in his last race for the White House.

"Together, you and I and our 2016 campaign began the political revolution. Now, it is time to complete that revolution and implement the vision that we fought for," Sanders said in an email to supporters and a video announcing his candidacy.

The Vermont independent also appeared on CBS News this morning, in an interview that was recorded in advance, where he boasted, "We're gonna win."

That might be true.

It's quite easy to make the case that Sanders will not win the presidency next year. Indeed, for those who follow politics, the bullet points come to mind quickly: he'll struggle to win a Democratic nomination since he's not actually a Democrat; the senator is comfortable with the "socialist" label in a country where many are reflexively uncomfortable with the word; many of his progressive ideas have already been embraced by other Democratic candidates, making his campaign unnecessary; and it's at least possible that some voters will think twice about rallying behind a presidential candidate who'll be 79 years old on Election Day 2020.

And yet, despite all of these familiar concerns, it's equally easy to see Sanders as a top-tier contender who may very well excel in the coming months.

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

Dems ignore Trump's ultimatums, advance investigations into scandals

02/19/19 08:00AM

The intimidation campaign began the day after the 2018 midterm elections. As results were still being tallied in parts of the country, Donald Trump, acknowledging the incoming House Democratic majority, published a tweet warning Dems not to investigate his many scandals.

A few hours later, at a White House press conference, the president suggested he wouldn't even try to work with Congress on substantive issues if Democratic lawmakers scrutinized the controversies surrounding him. In his State of the Union address two weeks ago, Trump was even more explicit, insisting he would only work constructively with Congress if Dems agreed to look the other way on his many scandals.

The Republican added a couple of days later that he doesn't believe such scrutiny should be "allowed."

If the intention was to curtail Democrats' interest in oversight, that plan appears to have failed badly. The Washington Post's David Ignatius explained in his most recent column that Trump may see scrutiny of his personal finances as a "red line," but Dems are prepared to cross it.

We're entering a new phase of the Trump-Russia investigation, in which the president's efforts to contain the probe are failing. Information he tried to suppress about his business and political dealings is emerging — with more to come.

"There are no red lines except what's necessary to protect the country," Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said during an interview Monday. Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, told me he plans to request information, perhaps by subpoena, from Deutsche Bank, a major Trump lender, and that "our work on Trump's finances has already begun."

As Rachel explained on last night's show, this will apparently be the only real scrutiny of Trump's relationship with Deutsche Bank.

And for the president, this is just one line of inquiry among many.

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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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