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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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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.18.19

02/18/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Expect a whole lot of litigation: "California and a dozen other states are filing a lawsuit challenging Donald Trump's national emergency declaration, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Monday."

* Heather Nauert was not a good choice anyway: "President Trump's pick to serve as ambassador to the United Nations withdrew from consideration on Saturday, citing family concerns.... Ms. Nauert dropped from the running because she had a nanny who was in the United States legally but did not have the proper work visa, according to people familiar with the process."

* Donald Trump boasted on Friday, "We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate. And that will be announced over the next 24 hours." That was nearly 80 hours ago; there's been no announcement.

* In case you missed this on Friday: "Prosecutors said for the first time that they have evidence of Roger Stone communicating with WikiLeaks, according to a new court filing from special counsel prosecutors."

* Does this seem right to you? "Amazon, the e-commerce giant helmed by the world's richest man, paid no federal taxes on profit of $11.2 billion last year, according to an analysis of the company's corporate filings by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a progressive think tank."

* Whitaker isn't leaving: "Former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will remain at the Justice Department despite William Barr's being sworn in to lead the department. Whitaker, who served as chief of staff to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions until President Donald Trump tapped him for the acting role in November, is now a senior counselor in the associate attorney general's office, a department spokesperson said Friday."

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Did two Trump attorneys lie in the hush-money scandal?

02/18/19 04:50PM

At a certain level, it may seem as if Donald Trump's hush-money scandal has already run its course. Michael Cohen, who helped orchestrate the pre-election payoffs, is going to prison. The president, meanwhile, is an unindicted co-conspirator, who won't face charges in the controversy, at least not anytime soon.

But it's not quite that simple. Those hush-money scandals also involve the Trump campaign, which is still under investigation. It also involves American Media Inc. (AMI), the National Enquirer's publisher, which continues to face some difficult questions. As if that weren't enough, the same controversy involves Trump's private-sector business, since as Rachel noted on the show last week, the Trump Organization appears to be the entity through which some of those illegal campaign funds were effectively laundered.

And then late on Friday, a new reason emerged to take the hush-money scandal seriously. Politico reported:

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said on Friday that his panel received new documents showing that two attorneys for President Donald Trump may have lied to government ethics officials about Trump fixer Michael Cohen's payments to women alleging affairs with the president ahead of the 2016 election.

"It now appears that President Trump's other attorneys -- at the White House and in private practice -- may have provided false information about these payments to federal officials," Cummings (D-Md.) wrote in a letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

Cummings named Sheri Dillon and Stefan Passantino as the two attorneys who might have made false statements to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), citing documents the committee obtained from the office.

The story gets a little complicated, but the underlying questions are relatively simple: did Trump's lawyers make false statement to federal investigators about money the president owed Cohen?

If they did make false statements, was that illegal?

And what role, if any, did the president have in directing and/or coordinating with those who may have made false statements?

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Image: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with President Donald Trump

The war with North Korea that Trump thinks he prevented (but didn't)

02/18/19 12:46PM

On Friday, a reporter asked Donald Trump about the prospects for denuclearization on the Korean peninsula. The president's answer meandered a bit -- a common occurrence -- but at the heart of his answer was Trump's insistence that he deserves credit for averting a war.

"When I came into office, I met right there, in the Oval Office, with President Obama. And I sat in those beautiful chairs and we talked. It was supposed to be 15 minutes. As you know, it ended up being many times longer than that.

"And I said, 'What's the biggest problem?' He said, 'By far, North Korea.' And I don't want to speak for him, but I believe he would have gone to war with North Korea. I think he was ready to go to war. In fact, he told me he was so close to starting a big war with North Korea. And where are we now?"

It was, by Daniel Dale's count, the 25th time the Republican told some version of this story. The core elements of the tale tend to be roughly the same: Obama told Trump that the United States was on the brink of a war, and Trump, thanks to how awesome his awesomeness is, was able to avert the deadly conflict.

And while it's difficult to say with certainty exactly what was said between Obama and Trump two-and-a-half years ago, it's very easy to dismiss what the Republican has repeatedly claimed.

Obama's top national security aides have emphatically denied Trump's version of events, explaining that Obama identified a longstanding security threat, which is a far cry from saying the two countries were "ready to go to war."

A New York Times analysis added, "The notion that Mr. Obama, who famously equivocated about a single missile strike against non-nuclear Syria to punish it for using chemical weapons against its own civilians, would have started a full-fledged war with North Korea seems hard to imagine, to say the least. But this presumption has become part of Mr. Trump's narrative in patting himself on the back for reaching out to North Korea to make peace."

So what's driving Trump to lie about this? There are a few angles to this to keep in mind.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.18.19

02/18/19 12:00PM

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

* This is the week in which North Carolina's State Board of Elections will consider evidence of alleged misconduct in last fall's election the 9th congressional district. The declaration of a new vote is a distinct possibility.

* On ABC News yesterday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of Donald Trump's loyal far-right allies, said the president's emergency declaration was in part about fulfilling a "campaign promise." I'm pretty sure that's not a line endorsed by the White House or its lawyers.

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) hasn't made his 2020 plans official, but he's reportedly recorded a campaign video in which he says he's launching another presidential campaign.

* It's not clear whether Democratic officials can talk former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) into running for the Senate again next year, but a Public Policy Polling survey shows incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) leading O'Rourke by just two points, 47% to 45%, in a hypothetical match-up.

* The gubernatorial race in Mississippi, one of only three states to hold statewide elections this year, just got even more interesting: Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R), generally seen as the likely GOP nominee, is now poised to face retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., the son of a former governor, in a Republican primary.

* Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he's prepared to walk away from a possible independent presidential campaign, but only if Democrats nominate someone who meets his vague definition of "centrist."

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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)

Targeting federal law enforcement, Trump turns things up a notch

02/18/19 11:20AM

Apropos of nothing, Donald Trump published a tweet yesterday about Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of federal investigators.

"These guys, the investigators, ought to be in jail. What they have done, working with the Obama intelligence agencies, is simply unprecedented. This is one of the greatest political hoaxes ever perpetrated on the people of this Country, and Mueller is a coverup." Rush Limbaugh

For the record, I have no idea if Limbaugh actually said this. The president occasionally misquotes people -- even his allies -- to advance his own purposes, and it would probably be a mistake to assume this reflects the far-right radio host's exact words.

What matters, however, is the underlying sentiment that Trump was eager to endorse: the president believes federal law enforcement officials, examining a foreign adversary's attack on our elections, aren't just part of some elaborate, partisan conspiracy, he apparently also believes they "ought to be in jail."

That strikes me as a notable rhetorical escalation for the embattled president.

Trump went on to reiterate his belief that the special counsel's investigation is "illegal," before publishing a couple of additional missives about former FBI Deputy Director and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein targeting him with "a very illegal act," which the president believes may be "treasonous."

Given the context, I'm assuming Trump is referring to the alleged 2017 conversation about the 25th Amendment.

Regardless of the context, let's not forget that, as of right now, Rod Rosenstein remains one of the nation's top law enforcement officials. He's also, evidently, someone Trump considers a criminal.

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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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