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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.14.19

06/14/19 12:00PM

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

* The DNC officially announced the participants for the upcoming presidential primary debate. Arguably the most notable exclusion was two-term Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D).

* Believe it or not, as White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gets ready to exit her current job, she's reportedly had conversations about running for governor in her native Arkansas.

* Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) announced this morning that she's retiring from politics and won't seek re-election next year. The news is especially notable because Brooks is supposed to be overseeing candidate recruitment for her party in the 2020 cycle.

* Justice Democrats, which helped elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) last year, now has its eyes on Texas' 28th congressional district. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) is among the least progressive Dems on Capitol Hill, despite representing a relatively safe Democratic district, and Justice Democrats is now rallying behind immigration lawyer Jessica Cisneros' primary campaign.

* Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) used some rather pointed language yesterday on MSNBC, saying in reference to former Vice President Joe Biden's candidacy, "You cannot go back to the end of the Obama administration and think that that's good enough.... We cannot return to the past."

* Asked this week about a possible third-party presidential bid in 2020, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the only Republican who supports impeaching Donald Trump, said, "I have no interest in playing spoiler. When I run for something, I run to win." He added, however, "I haven't ruled anything out."

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Trump suggests his former White House counsel lied to investigators

06/14/19 11:20AM

When it comes to obstruction allegations surrounding Donald Trump, former White House Counsel Don McGahn is a witness of particular significance: few figures play as an important a role in the Mueller report as the former White House counsel. As we've discussed, the Republican lawyer spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and in the redacted version of Mueller's report, the former White House counsel is cited more than 150 times.

In some of the episodes in which Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what McGahn told investigators.

Indeed, as the special counsel's findings made clear, the former White House counsel very nearly resigned because the president directed him to "do crazy s**t," including an incident in which, according to McGahn, Trump pressed the lawyer to push the Justice department to derail the investigation by getting rid of Mueller and creating a false document to cover that up.

In an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that aired this morning, the president pushed back against the allegations raised by the former White House counsel.

"I don't care what [McGahn] says, it doesn't matter," Trump said.

"Why would [McGahn] lie under oath?" Stephanopoulos later asked.

"Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer," Trump said. "Or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen -- including you, including the media -- that Robert Mueller was conflicted. Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest."

"And has to go?" Stephanopoulos followed up.

"I didn't say that," Trump insisted.

The implication isn't subtle: the president seemed to suggest the former White House counsel made false claims, under oath, when speaking to federal investigators.

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Image: President Trump Holds Rally In Great Falls, Montana

Trump campaign: We'll handle foreign info on a 'case by case basis'

06/14/19 10:41AM

On Wednesday, Donald Trump told a national television audience that he'd welcome foreign intervention in his own county's 2020 elections. On Thursday, as CBS News reported, the president's campaign put his position in practical terms:

President Trump's 2020 reelection campaign will handle damaging information on political opponents provided by foreign governments and entities on a "case by case basis," according to the campaign's top spokesperson.

Asked about Mr. Trump's assertion that he would be receptive to dirt on rivals offered by foreigners, Kayleigh McEnany, the national press secretary for the president's reelection bid, told CBSN's "Red & Blue" that campaign staff should take the president's comments as a "directive" to handle foreign dirt through a two-pronged approach.

McEnany literally said, "The president's directive, as he said, [it's] a case by case basis."

That's not a legitimate answer. To hear the national press secretary for the president's re-election campaign put it, Trump and his team may accept some illegal foreign assistance, and they may reject other illegal foreign assistance. In Trump World, there's apparently no need for a blanket policy.

Except, of course, there should be.

For his part, the president returned to Fox News again this morning, where he kinda sorta clarified what he said to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Trump explains why he refused to answer Mueller's questions under oath

06/14/19 10:05AM

Despite having boasted last year that he was "looking forward to" an interview with then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Donald Trump never actually sat down with investigators to answer their questions. The president eventually agreed to answer written questions, though Trump's answers were deemed "inadequate" – and in some cases, "incomplete or imprecise"– by Mueller and his team.

Multiple news accounts concluded that Trump's lawyers refused to let their client testify because they were concerned that the president, unable to control himself, would lie under oath.

With this in mind, Trump sat down with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, who had lengthy exchanges with the president about the investigation into the Russia scandal. It led to a striking exchange:

"If you answer these questions to me now," Stephanopoulos asked, "why not answer them to Robert Mueller under oath?"

"Because they were looking to get us for lies or slight misstatements," Trump said.

Oh. So the president believed federal investigators were looking for instances in which he lied under oath, which left him with a limited number of options: Trump could (a) refuse to fully cooperate with the probe; or (b) he could tell the truth.

The Republican chose the former over the latter.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Trump and his team confront their crisis of credibility

06/14/19 09:20AM

When Donald Trump first spoke to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos this week, the president was preoccupied with reports about his poor standing in public opinion polls. Stephanopoulos asked why he was so bothered by the reports.

"Because, it's untrue," Trump replied. "I like the truth. I'm actually a very honest guy."

It was his use of the word "actually" that stood out for me. The president must realize on some level that he's seen as one of the world's most flamboyantly dishonest people -- a reputation he's earned by lying so frequently, more than a few observers have raised concerns about his mental stability.

"I'm actually a very honest guy" is a hilariously false claim, but it comes with an unfortunate subtext: Trump almost seemed to suggest, "It might surprise people to hear that I'm honest, but..."

A day later, NPR's Steve Inskeep sat down with Peter Navarro, a controversial White House figure who's helping guide the president's agenda on trade. The host inquired about Trump's claims about a secret side deal with Mexico:

INSKEEP: I do have to ask ... about this purported secret agreement. The president says he has one. Mexico says he doesn't have one. Who's not telling the truth?

NAVARRO: The president always tells the truth.

As best as I can tell, Navarro wasn't trying to be funny. He actually expects people to believe that Trump is honest.

To be sure, it would be great if anyone could take boasts like these seriously, but in this presidency, it's just not an option. Trump has proven himself to be untrustworthy. His lies are innumerable.

The result is a crisis of credibility that the White House may not fully appreciate, but which the president and his team are nevertheless being forced to confront.

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Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.

Indicted GOP congressman's life just got a lot more complicated

06/14/19 08:40AM

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) recently made national headlines for his controversial comments about war crimes. But as alarming as the lawmaker's comments were, they weren't his most serious problem.

This is Hunter's most serious problem.

The wife of indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to misuse campaign funds, including for an Italy trip that cost more than $10,000.

Margaret Hunter, who worked as her husband's campaign manager, had previously pleaded not guilty to corruption charges alleging the couple used more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for personal trips, hotel rooms and shopping sprees.

On Thursday, she withdrew that plea in U.S. court in San Diego and pleaded guilty to a single count carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison. The move suggests she is cooperating with the prosecution and might even testify against her husband, whose trial is scheduled for September.

In case anyone needs a refresher, the GOP congressman and his wife were charged last summer, and the criminal indictment was quite brutal: federal prosecutors alleged that the Hunters stole more than $250,000 in campaign funds and used the money to pay for personal purchases, ranging from trips to school tuition to dental work to veterinary care.

As if that weren't enough, the Hunters allegedly went to great lengths to cover up the scheme: according to prosecutors, they made fraudulent claims that their purchases were for charities, including veterans' charities. A Washington Post report added that the prosecutors' allegations "read like a caricature of a corrupt, greedy politician."

The Republican's defense has evolved a bit over time.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

Meet the Republican who blocked the election-interference bill

06/14/19 08:00AM

On the surface, some congressional Republicans have expressed their discomfort with Donald Trump inviting foreign interference in American elections. Whether these GOP lawmakers are prepared to do anything about these concerns is another matter entirely.

Yesterday, Senate Democrats offered their Republican colleagues an opportunity to demonstrate their sincerity on the matter. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked members to unanimously approve his bill called the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act (FIRE Act), which does one simple thing: it legally requires campaigns to report attempts at foreign elections interference to the FBI and the FEC.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) blocked it. To put it mildly, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was not pleased, delivering remarks soon after from the chamber's floor:

"This one is a new low. It's okay for foreign powers to interfere? You don't have to report it to law enforcement? That's welcoming foreign powers to interfere, and as my friend from Virginia said, the president's own FBI director said it's going to happen again in 2020. 'But let's cover it up, because it might have an effect that we like,' say our Republican friends.

"Today is a new low for this Senate, for this Republican Party here in the Senate, and for this democracy.... It is truly outrageous that this unanimous consent request, which should bring all of us together, is being blocked by our Republican friends."

I don't imagine we've heard the last of this -- House Democrats, for example, are very likely to pass their own legislation on this issue -- but before moving on, it's worth pausing to appreciate Marsha Blackburn's role in yesterday's developments.

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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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