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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.18.19

09/18/19 12:00PM

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

* The House Republicans' retirement problem continues: Rep. Paul Cook (R) from California's 8th district announced yesterday he won't seek re-election next year.

* Though Republicans complained yesterday that Democrats had organized a "political" hearing with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Lewandowski teased his possible U.S. Senate campaign during one of the hearing's breaks.

* As Rachel noted on last night's show, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Joe Biden leading the national race for the Democratic nomination with 31%, followed by Elizabeth Warren with 25%. Bernie Sanders was third with 14%, and Pete Buttigieg, with 7%, was the only other candidate above 5%.

* Speaking of polls, the latest Emerson survey of California Democrats found Biden and Sanders tied at 26% each, with Warren close behind at 20%. In her home state, Kamala Harris was further back, with 6%.

* On a related note, Bill de Blasio's Democratic presidential campaign is struggling with the voters who presumably know him best: the latest polling shows him with 0% support in both New York City and the state of New York.

* There aren't many Democrats who hold statewide office in Iowa, but state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald is one of them, and yesterday he threw his support behind Elizabeth Warren.

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Morning breaks over the White House and the offices of the West Wing (R) in Washington January 20, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump finds his fourth national security adviser in three years

09/18/19 11:20AM

Throughout Donald Trump's presidency, the average tenure for a White House national security adviser is about 10 months, which suggests Robert O'Brien should probably rent instead of buying,

President Donald Trump on Wednesday named Robert O'Brien, a State Department official who has specialized in hostage issues, as his new national security adviser.

"I have worked long & hard with Robert," Trump tweeted. "He will do a great job!"

O'Brien will replace John Bolton, whom Trump fired last week after a string of disagreements.

Yesterday, the president mentioned five names as possible Bolton successors, and the list included O'Brien, whom the president described as "fantastic." For O'Brien's sake, here's hoping Trump doesn't soon change his mind -- as is his wont.

The public can take some comfort in the fact that the new White House national security adviser -- a position that does not require Senate confirmation -- has a more traditional background, having served as a State Department envoy for hostage affairs, a U.S. representative to the United Nations General Assembly, and a co-chair of the State Department's Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan.

Or put another way, this does not appear to be an instance in which Trump tapped a guy who said something he liked on television.

That said, O'Brien did recently spend some time on screens. As NBC News' report added, when rapper ASAP Rocky was in the custody of Swedish authorities, Trump dispatched O'Brien, who was in court with the American entertainer, and who pressured Swedish authorities to release him.

But for me, that's not the first story that comes to mind when O'Brien's name comes up.

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Homeless women sit amid their belongings on a street in downtown Los Angeles, California, on January 8, 2014.

Trump finally explains his interest in addressing homelessness

09/18/19 10:43AM

The Washington Post reported last week that Donald Trump directed his aides to figure out "how the hell we can get these people off the streets." The president's approach to homelessness seemed rather vague, and it prompted all kinds of speculation about what, exactly, the administration was prepared to do.

But lingering in the background was a related question that was just as difficult to answer: why has this piqued Trump's interest? Assuming that it's unrelated to personal concerns about the wellbeing of those who are forced to live on the streets, what's the motivation behind the president's push?

There's reason to believe Fox News has something to do with it -- the network has spent a fair amount of time focusing on homelessness in cities led by Democratic officials -- but as the Washington Post reported late yesterday, Trump elaborated on his personal perspective for the first time yesterday.

As he arrived [in California], Trump claimed that he had personally heard complaints from tenants in the state, some of them foreigners. He expressed sympathy for real estate investors here and other Californians whose property values or quality of life are threatened.

"In many cases, they came from other countries and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents," Trump said. "Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And they want to leave."

In Los Angeles and San Francisco, Trump said, people are living on the "best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings ... where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige."

There is something oddly perfect about this. The president is eager to address homelessness in part because of conversations he claims to have had with foreign real-estate investors.

Given Trump's own private-sector enterprises, his comments yesterday made it sound as if he's motivated by the concerns of people like him.

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Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump

Defending his position on Saudi Arabia, Trump's take needs work

09/18/19 10:11AM

Donald Trump took a few minutes on Monday to discuss his perspective on Saudi Arabia and why he's prepared to defend the Middle Eastern country in the wake of the attack on its oil-production facilities over the weekend. ABC News' Jonathan Karl, pointing to a tweet Trump published before his election, asked the president whether he still believes it's the responsibility of the Saudis to defend themselves.

This was Trump's answer in its entirety:

"I think it's certainly the responsibility of them to do a big -- a big deal of their defense, certainly. I also think it's the responsibility of the Saudis to, if somebody like us -- which are the ones -- are going to help them, they, I know, that monetarily will be very much involved in paying for that.

"This is something that's much different than other presidents would mention, Jon. But the fact is that the Saudis are going to have a lot of involvement in this if we decide to do something. They'll be very much involved, and that includes payment. And they understand that fully."

The Republican doesn't have a foreign policy, per se. He has transactions. In this case, Trump made it sound as if there's a price tag on the use of American military power, and he's comfortable with the fact that the Saudis pay cash.

In fact, the president was quite literal on this point. Asked at the same Oval Office meeting whether he's promised Riyadh that the United States will protect Saudi Arabia following the weekend's attack, Trump said he'd made no such promise, but he's "certainly" prepared to assist.

He added, "They've been a great ally. They spend $400 billion in our country over the last number of years. Four hundred billion dollars. That's a million and a half jobs. And they're not ones that, unlike some countries, where they want terms; they want terms and conditions. They want to say, 'Can we borrow the money at zero percent for the next 400 years?' No. No. Saudi Arabia pays cash."

Again, the implication here is that Trump sees a direct connection between the United States' willingness to use military force in the Middle East and the money foreign countries are willing to give us. From the American president's perspective, our military isn't for sale, but it may be for rent.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Trump's Homeland Security purge isn't over just yet

09/18/19 09:20AM

With all of the litigation surrounding the Department of Homeland Security and Donald Trump's immigration policies, it seems like a curious time to fire DHS's general counsel, but that's what happened yesterday.

The White House on Tuesday fired John Mitnick, the general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security, after months of shake-up at an agency responsible for carrying out President Trump's immigration agenda. [...]

Mr. Mitnick's exit comes as the department fights off multiple lawsuits challenging Mr. Trump's immigration policies.

The New York Times' report on this added, "The White House this year has turned the Department of Homeland Security -- which oversees securing the country's borders, disaster relief efforts and addressing domestic terrorism and cybersecurity threats -- into a revolving door of officials, creating a void of permanent leadership."

Quite right. If it seems as if the Department of Homeland Security has been losing top-level staff at a breakneck pace, it's not your imagination. Since April, we've seen Trump part ways with his Homeland Security secretary (Kirstjen Nielsen), acting ICE chief (Ron Vitiello), acting Homeland Security deputy secretary (Claire Grady), Citizenship and Immigration Services director (Lee Cissna), and Customs and Border Protection commissioner (John Sanders). Now, the DHS general counsel is out, too.

In the spring, when there were rumors that John Mitnick was on the chopping block, Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) began pushing back, urging the administration to keep him. That effort apparently didn't have much of an effect.

Indeed, as regular readers may recall, Politico reported in mid-April that congressional Republicans were "alarmed" and "blindsided" by the DHS purge and had begun urging Trump not to part ways with anyone else. The president apparently did not take that advice to heart.

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Trump is far happier with Lewandowski's testimony than he should be

09/18/19 08:40AM

The circumstances may not have seemed historic at first blush, but the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing yesterday since establishing the parameters of its impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. The result was dramatic in more ways than one.

The hearing was supposed to feature testimony from former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn and former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, both of whom were featured several times in Robert Mueller's special counsel report, both of whom were witnesses to potential presidential criminal behavior, and both of whom were instructed by the White House not to speak to the Judiciary Committee.

Corey Lewandowski, the first of Trump's three 2016 campaign managers, did agree to participate in the proceedings, but it's tough to describe his testimony as "cooperation." The Republican operative, eyeing a U.S. Senate campaign in New Hampshire, seemed eager to do everything he could to turn the hearing into a food fight -- to the president's delight.

It was, to be sure, a frustrating afternoon. Trump refused to allow his former White House aides to testify, and he instructed a private citizen -- who never worked in the White House -- not to answer relevant questions about alleged misdeeds he personally witnessed. The idea that the president has the authority to block legitimate federal investigations because he feels like is, to put it mildly, problematic.

That said, I think Jonathan Allen's piece for NBC News gets this right: Trump was far happier with yesterday's hearing than he probably should have been.

The first hearing of the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee's effort to develop articles of impeachment against Trump was a contentious affair in which Lewandowski, Trump's 2016 campaign manager and the lone witness, said Democrats "hate this president more than they love their country."

But no one -- not Lewandowski nor committee Republicans -- seriously disputed the central theme of the day: that Trump had gone to extreme lengths in circumventing the entirety of the federal government to get Lewandowski to instruct then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly announce that the president had done nothing wrong and limit the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe in 2017.

Ultimately, Lewandowski put flesh on the bones that Mueller gave the committee in his report.

None of this was good news for Team Trump.

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Trump admin escalates fight over intel whistleblower complaint

09/18/19 08:00AM

It's possible that the whistleblower complaint from within the U.S. intelligence community is relatively benign. Maybe it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. Maybe the underlying concern is technical and inconsequential in nature.

But given the Trump administration's recent conduct, it's awfully tough to give the relevant officials the benefit of the doubt. The New York Times reported overnight:

The acting director of national intelligence will not testify before Congress this week or immediately hand over a whistle-blower complaint to lawmakers, escalating a standoff between Capitol Hill and leaders of the intelligence agencies.

Following up on Rachel's report from last night and our earlier coverage, let's recap where things stand. Someone within the U.S. intelligence community sent a complaint to the intelligence community's inspector general, and while we don't know about the nature of the complaint, the IG reviewed it and found it credible.

Just as importantly, the matter was deemed "urgent."

Under our system, this is supposed to set a series of dominoes in motion, including an alert to the director of National Intelligence. That, by all accounts, is what occurred. (There is currently no Senate-confirmed DNI, but Joseph Maguire is there in an acting capacity.)

At that point, by law, the DNI has seven days to alert the congressional Intelligence committees. And that's the step the Trump administration is refusing to take.

Instead, Maguire told House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) that the complaint refers to someone outside the intelligence community and it involves matters that are privileged. This, evidently, was supposed to justify the DNI's legally dubious secrecy.

Not surprisingly, this has led to some speculation about whether the complaint is about Donald Trump – which also raises the specter of the acting DNI, appointed by the president, ignoring his legal obligations, and withholding a credible whistleblower complaint, possibly to protect Trump from yet another scandal.

Which, in itself, would be pretty scandalous.

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Intel chief escalates standoff over secret whistle-blower report

Intel chief escalates standoff over secret whistle-blower report

09/17/19 09:17PM

Rachel Maddow reports on acting-DNI Joseph Maguire missing the deadline set by House Intel chairman Adam Schiff to turn over a whistle-blower report as the law requires him to do, noting that the next step will likely be a subpoena for Maguire to appear before Congress to explain himself and the contents of the report, which the IC inspector... watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 9.17.19

09/17/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "An explosion near an election rally attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani killed 26 people -- including 4 security forces -- and injured 42 others, local officials said, but Ghani was unhurt according to an aide."

* Impeachment process: "Democrats pressed Corey Lewandowski at a contentious House hearing on Tuesday, with at least one member calling for the former Trump campaign manager to be held in contempt for following a White House directive to limit the scope of his testimony."

* A murky electoral picture in Israel: "Polls closed in Israel's razor-tight election Tuesday as embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to maintain his decadelong hold on power."

* Middle East: "The attack on a major Saudi oil facility originated geographically from Iranian territory, with a series of low-altitude cruise missiles fired from at least one location in the western region of the country, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the latest intelligence."

* Border barriers: "The Defense Department is no longer moving forward with three border barrier projects in California and Arizona, according to a court filing Monday. The move is a reversal of an earlier Pentagon authorization for about 20 miles of fencing, lighting and other border infrastructure that would have used $2.5 billion in funds redirected from a counter-drug fund."

* That was quick: "It hasn't yet been a full week, but it appears [former National Security Adviser John Bolton has] found a vehicle for clearing the air. According to two people with knowledge of the situation, Bolton has already expressed interest in writing a book on his time in the Trump administration, and has been in contact in recent days with literary agents interested in making that happen."

* Even if Republicans weren't persuaded by the national security arguments, it'd be nice if the fiscal arguments mattered: "Holding the Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess as the lone prisoner in Germany's Spandau Prison in 1985 cost an estimated $1.5 million in today's dollars. The per-prisoner bill in 2012 at the 'supermax' facility in Colorado, home to some of the highest-risk prisoners in the United States, was $78,000. Then there is Guantánamo Bay, where the expense now works out to about $13 million for each of the 40 prisoners being held there."

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U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) on his way back to his office Jan. 28, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Trump admin under increasing pressure on whistleblower complaint

09/17/19 12:47PM

The burgeoning controversy surrounding the Trump administration withholding a complaint from an intelligence-community whistleblower is starting to intensify. It was good to see the editorial board of the Washington Post publish a piece on this overnight:

Mr. Trump has made plain his distaste for congressional oversight. Elsewhere, he's resisting disclosure of his tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee, although the law in that case also is straightforward. Oversight is a vital function of Congress, one that's not always performed as strenuously as it should be. At the same time, the Supreme Court has ruled that it can't lead to boundless inquisitions. [...]

In the case of the intelligence-community whistleblower, this clearly falls under the definition of a legitimate task of Congress. Someone inside the intelligence community decided to follow the rules and filed this complaint for a reason. Neither [acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire] nor Mr. Trump should be able to conceal such information. They should respect and uphold the law, not contravene it.

As Rachel explained on the show last night, the available facts in this matter do not appear to be in dispute. Someone within the U.S. intelligence community sent a complaint to the intelligence community's inspector general, and while we don't know about the nature of the complaint, the IG reviewed it and found it credible.

Just as importantly, the matter was deemed "urgent."

Under our system, this is supposed to set a series of dominoes in motion, including an alert to the director of National Intelligence. That, by all accounts is what occurred. (There is currently no Senate-confirmed DNI, but Joseph Maguire is there in an acting capacity.)

At that point, by law, the DNI has seven days to alert the congressional Intelligence committees. And that's the step the Trump administration, at least for now, is refusing to take.

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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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