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Friday's Mini-Report, 4.12.19

04/12/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A new approach: "House Oversight and Reform Committee Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is moving to issue a subpoena to obtain 10 years of President Donald Trump's financial records from accounting firm Mazars USA, the chairman told members of the panel in a memo on Friday."

* The Acosta controversy isn't going away: "Senate Democrats are demanding the Department of Justice disclose the full results of an investigation into whether U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is guilty of "professional misconduct" in his handling of a sex crime prosecution against billionaire Jeffrey Epstein over a decade ago."

* The Sudanese military takes control: "As Sudan's military announced at lunchtime on Thursday that it had finally unseated President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a brief burst of joy exploded outside the military headquarters in Khartoum where huge throngs of protesters had massed.... But the euphoria quickly soured when the protesters realized who had replaced Mr. al-Bashir."

* An unnecessary step backwards: "Three years after the Obama administration told transgender individuals they could serve openly and have access to gender-affirming medical and psychological care, the Trump administration has reversed course. The Pentagon on Friday began to implement a controversial new policy that critics say is essentially a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy for trans service members."

* A case we've been following closely: "A federal judge on Friday sentenced lobbyist W. Samuel Patten to 36 months of probation for funneling $50,000 from foreign nationals to President Donald Trump's inaugural committee. Patten, 47, a longtime Washington operative, will also be required to pay a $5,000 fine and serve 500 hours of 'hands-on' community service."

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

Did Trump offer a possible pardon to a top US border official?

04/12/19 04:51PM

We're aware of Donald Trump abusing his pardon power. We're also aware of reports about the president telling people that following the law is optional. Today, CNN published a report that seemed to combine these two dynamics.

During President Donald Trump's visit to the border at Calexico, California, a week ago, where he told border agents to block asylum seekers from entering the US contrary to US law, the President also told the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, that if he were sent to jail as a result of blocking those migrants from entering the US, the President would grant him a pardon, senior administration officials tell CNN.

Two officials briefed on the exchange say the President told McAleenan, since named the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that he "would pardon him if he ever went to jail for denying US entry to migrants," as one of the officials paraphrased.

The CNN report, which hasn't been independently verified by NBC News or MSNBC, received a denial from a DHS spokesperson who said Trump never "indicated, asked, directed or pressured the Acting Secretary to do anything illegal." It's also possible that the president was trying to be funny.

But stories like these are so easy to believe because of their familiarity. This reporting is very much in line with everything else we've learned about this president, his manic recent border efforts, and his indifference to the rule of law.

Indeed, the CNN report coincides with a related new report from the New York Times, which added, "President Trump last week urged Kevin McAleenan, whom he was about to name as acting secretary of homeland security, to close the southwestern border despite having just said that he was delaying a decision on the step for a year, according to three people briefed about the conversation."

The Times' article went on to note that Trump raised the prospect of -- you guessed it -- a presidential pardon in the event of McAleenan facing legal jeopardy as a result of Trump's directive.

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Image: YEAR IN FOCUS - NEWS (1 of a set of 85) Republican National Convention: Day Two

What happened to the Trumps' promise to separate business and politics?

04/12/19 04:08PM

Donald Trump clearly raised a few eyebrows with his comments to The Atlantic about various government posts for which he's considered Ivanka Trump, but the president had some related thoughts on two of his other adult children.

In our conversation, the president wanted to be clear: He was very proud of all his children.... "Don is, uh, he's enjoying politics; actually, it's very good. And Eric is running the business along with Don, and also very much into politics. I mean, the children -- the children have been very, very good."

On the surface, the president's comments hardly seem surprising. Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. are prominent public figures, especially in the political sphere, where they frequently make media appearances and speeches as part of the family's political agenda. With this in mind, it's only natural that their father would acknowledge the degree to which they're "very much into politics."

But just below the surface, there's a meaningful ethical dilemma. Trump's adult sons are running his business, making new investments, serving as presidential surrogates, and playing partisan politics -- all at the same time.

Weren't we told the First Family would avoid doing this?

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Contradicting his own team, Trump confirms retribution scheme

04/12/19 02:23PM

Even some who expect the worst from the Trump administration were surprised by reports from the Washington Post and NBC News this morning about the White House pressuring U.S. immigration authorities to "release detainees onto the streets of 'sanctuary cities' to retaliate against President Trump's political adversaries."

As we discussed earlier, according to the purported plan, the White House envisioned a system in which officials would detain immigrants and then transport them to targeted "Democratic strongholds," including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's district in San Francisco.

By all appearances, the ridiculous gambit has already been rejected by administration officials. An official statement from the White House said, "This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion." NBC News spoke to a former Department of Homeland Security official who added that the plan was ultimately scrapped when it was determined to be "so illegal."

When Donald Trump himself decided to weigh in via Twitter, I assumed he'd type a few words about "fake news" and move on. Instead, he went in the opposite direction.

"Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only.

"The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy -- so this should make them very happy!"

Putting aside the "open borders" nonsense -- I can only hope this president doesn't actually believe his own talking points -- Trump has now admitted that the ridiculous plan the White House said is dead is actually under "strong consideration."

It's a reminder that there's no real point in believing anything this White House says, even in writing, because Trump has no qualms about declaring the opposite, on a whim, even if it means blindsiding his own team.

What's more, note that the premise of the president's position is bizarre. In reality, Democrats are not "unwilling" to change the nation's immigration laws. On the contrary, Democratic lawmakers have offered the White House a series of possible compromises. Trump, at least so far, has rejected each of them.

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Federal Reserve To Announce Policy Decisions After One-Day Meeting

The embarrassment surrounding Trump's Fed picks intensifies

04/12/19 12:46PM

Donald Trump not only still likes the idea of adding Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, the Washington Post reports that the president also offered Cain the opportunity to see what most White House visitors do not.

Trump recently gathered with generals and other military leaders for a meeting about the Mexican border, according to two people familiar with the chain of events who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe the discussions. At the meeting, which was held in the White House Situation Room, an aide passed Trump a note informing him that Cain was in the building.

Trump summoned Cain to the meeting, and then told the military brass that they needed to come up with a "9-9-9" plan for the border. The joke fell flat.

Comedy gold like that didn't generate huge laughs? I guess the Situation Room is a tough room.

Regardless, I hope Cain enjoyed his visit to the West Wing, because it may have been the closest he'll get to real power. Several Senate Republicans have expressed their opposition to Cain joining the Fed -- enough to derail a nomination -- and by some accounts, he'll withdraw from consideration in the coming days, ending this unfortunate fiasco.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told reporters yesterday that the White House supports Cain's candidacy for the Federal Reserve "for the moment," which is generally not the kind of phrase we'd expect about someone who's likely to succeed.

It probably doesn't help that embarrassing new information about Cain continues to come to the fore: the Kansas City Star reported yesterday that the Georgia Republican has "described the Senate Banking Committee, which would vet him if he were nominated, 'as a bunch of yahoos.' He compared the right to health care to the right to own a Cadillac, and said God would decide when it was time to stop using fossil fuels."

So, if Cain -- who still hasn't formally even been nominated -- will soon exit the stage, fans of common sense and sound governance can breathe a little easier? Maybe, but there is Trump's other pick for the Fed to consider.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.12.19

04/12/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) yesterday unveiled a new initiative that would impose new corporate taxes on companies with profits over $100 million.

* NBC News' First Read raised an interesting point about 2020 fundraising: Democratic presidential contenders are raising less money than the 2008 candidates, but there are a lot more donors overall.

* The latest Monmouth poll of Iowa Democrats found former Vice President Joe Biden leading the pack with 27%, followed by Bernie Sanders at 16% and Pete Buttigieg at 9%.

* CNN has uncovered letters Joe Biden wrote in 1977 to then-segregationist senators as part of his efforts at the time against busing.

* The latest Gallup poll found Donald Trump receiving a bump in his support, with an approval rating of 45% -- matching a level of support he had last summer. Most other recent polling shows the president's standing a little lower.

* Indifferent to his party's 2020 plans, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced his endorsement of Sen. Susan Collins' (R-Maine) re-election campaign. To put it mildly, these kinds of cross-party endorsements, especially in key contests, are extremely rare.

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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)

The trouble with the White House's pitch on Greg Craig's indictment

04/12/19 10:48AM

Donald Trump and his team appear awfully interested in Greg Craig's indictment, though their promotional efforts are a bit flawed.

Former White House counsel Greg Craig was indicted by a grand jury Thursday for allegedly making false statements to the Justice Department about work performed for Ukraine in 2012.

Craig, 74, who was charged with concealing material information from the Foreign Agents Registration Act Unit, or FARA Unit, and making false statements, failed to disclose work he performed for Ukraine because he believed it would prevent him from assuming future roles within the federal government, according to the indictment, which stemmed from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

For the right, Craig's indictment is important because he served as White House counsel during the first couple of years of Barack Obama's presidency. It creates a headline that Trump World wants the public to see: Lawyer from Obama White House faces criminal charges.

Except, that paints a misleading picture. Did Greg Craig's alleged crimes happen during his White House tenure? No. Did he work for Obama in any way at the time of the alleged misdeeds? No. Did any of this have anything to do with Obama or Trump's conspiracy theories involving his predecessor? No.

In fact, as Rachel noted on the show last night, Craig was indicted over his alleged role in an illegal foreign lobbying scheme coordinated by Paul Manafort -- the convicted felon who oversaw Donald Trump's political operation in 2016.

And yet, there was Kellyanne Conway yesterday, publishing a tweet that read, "BREAKING NEWS! FINALLY! WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL INDICTED in connection with MUELLER investigation!"

Perhaps this was intended to be funny, but (a) Craig's alleged crimes happened long after he was a White House official; and (b) I seem to recall Donald Trump's White House national security advisor getting busted as part of the Mueller investigation, as part of crimes committed while under Trump's employ.

Conway's boss went even further.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump departs the White House

Pence says Trump didn't 'endorse' WikiLeaks, despite his professed 'love'

04/12/19 10:07AM

Given how frequently Donald Trump says things that aren't true, it's tempting to think he'd be better at it. The president gets enough practice that he should practically be an expert.

And yet, there was Trump yesterday, responding to Julian Assange's arrest by telling reporters, "I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It's not my thing." This, naturally, led a whole lot of media professionals to highlight the Republican's enthusiastic embrace of WikiLeaks -- which was very much his "thing" -- when it was disseminating materials stolen by Russia in order to help Trump gain power.

Vice President Mike Pence, however, believes we didn't fully understand the subtleties of the president's message.

Vice President Pence asserted in an interview broadcast Friday that President Trump's enthusiastic reaction to WikiLeaks' releases of damaging material on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race did not amount to an endorsement of the organization.

"I think the president always, as you and the media do, always welcomes information," Pence said in an interview with CNN. "But that was in no way an endorsement of an organization that we now understand was involved in disseminating classified information by the United States of America."

Ah yes, of course. Donald Trump simply "welcomes information." He's a voracious reader and news consumer, who simply sees WikiLeaks as one of many online resources.

Naturally, we should see the president's comments about WikiLeaks as a reflection of his detached and dispassionate views on the online repository. Trump, as Pence put it, certainly wouldn't "endorse" such a project.

Please.

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

White House pushed retribution scheme targeting 'sanctuary cities'

04/12/19 09:20AM

Many Americans have grown accustomed to many of the White House's worst instincts. For more than two years, Donald Trump and his team have pushed a seemingly endless stream of gimmicks, immature stunts, taunts, and antics befitting intemperate children.

But occasionally, someone helps peel back the curtain, and we learn that conditions are worse at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue than even cynics suspect. The Washington Post published this report overnight:

White House officials have tried to pressure U.S. immigration authorities to release detainees onto the streets of "sanctuary cities" to retaliate against President Trump's political adversaries, according to Department of Homeland Security officials and email messages reviewed by The Washington Post.

Trump administration officials have proposed transporting detained immigrants to sanctuary cities at least twice in the past six months -- once in November, as a migrant caravan approached the U.S. southern border, and again in February, amid a standoff with Democrats over funding for Trump's border wall.

NBC News has confirmed the Post's reporting.

According to the purported plan, the White House envisioned a system in which officials would detain immigrants and then transport them to targeted "Democratic strongholds," including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's district in San Francisco.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) balked. In fact, the Post added, "The attempt at political retribution raised alarm within ICE, with a top official responding that it was rife with budgetary and liability concerns, and noting that 'there are PR risks as well.'"

Ya don't say.

Taking a step back, I think there are two broad angles to this that are worth keeping in mind, aside from the bewildering immaturity of the president's team.

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Ivanka and Donald Trump in Aston, Pa. where they outlined Trump's proposal on childcare on Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

President eyed Ivanka Trump to lead the World Bank

04/12/19 08:40AM

In 2017, Donald Trump tapped David Malpass to oversee a top Treasury Department agency, despite being a less-than-ideal choice. Malpass was, after all, the chief economist at Bear Stearns, where he downplayed the risks posed by the subprime crisis, right before the subprime crisis brought down Bear Stearns.

Two years later, the president nevertheless chose Malpass to lead the World Bank -- despite his years-long criticisms of the World Bank and its work, and despite the fact that Malpass has been wrong about most of the major economic challenges of the last several years. Nevertheless, Malpass was the White House's choice, following a search process that was led in part by Ivanka Trump.

Why in the world would one of the president's adult children help lead the process of selecting the next World Bank president? It's a tough question to answer, although it's better than the alternative: Ivanka Trump leading the World Bank.

The Atlantic has a new feature on the president's high-profile daughter, whom the president insists "created millions of jobs." (In reality, Ivanka Trump has not created millions of jobs.) The article added:

But it's true that when jobs open up in the Trump administration -- a frequent occurrence -- Ivanka is at the top of her father's mind. "She's a natural diplomat," Trump said. "She would've been great at the United Nations, as an example." I asked why he didn't nominate her. "If I did, they'd say nepotism, when it would've had nothing to do with nepotism. But she would've been incredible."

Warming to the subject, he said, "I even thought of Ivanka for the World Bank ... She would've been great at that because she's very good with numbers."

It's worth taking a moment to appreciate the many ways in which this is absurd.

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Donald Trump with his sister Maryanne Trump Barry, during a break in proceedings of the Aberdeenshire Council inquiry into his plans for a golf resort, Aberdeen, northeast Scotland June 10, 2008. (Photo by David Moir/Reuters)

Why it matters that Trump's sister stepped down from the federal bench

04/12/19 08:00AM

It was six months ago when the New York Times first published a devastating report on Donald Trump's finances. As regular readers may recall, the newspaper's exhaustive research uncovered evidence of "dubious tax schemes" and "outright fraud" that Trump exploited to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from his father.

The findings painted a picture in which the president, far from the self-made man he pretends to be, relied heavily on allegedly illegal handouts. At the heart of the story was the prospect of criminal fraud, criminal tax evasion, and money laundering, which the American president exploited to fuel his rise to power.

Donald Trump, however, was not the sole beneficiary of his family's scheme. Consider, for example, the president's sister.

President Trump's older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, has retired as a federal appellate judge, ending an investigation into whether she violated judicial conduct rules by participating in fraudulent tax schemes with her siblings.

The court inquiry stemmed from complaints filed last October, after an investigation by The New York Times found that the Trumps had engaged in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the inherited wealth of Mr. Trump and his siblings. Judge Barry not only benefited financially from most of those tax schemes, The Times found; she was also in a position to influence the actions taken by her family.

As Rachel explained at the top of last night's show, this is a controversy in which a federal appellate judge may have personally benefited -- to the tune of tens of millions of dollars -- from an alleged tax avoidance and fraud scheme that was run out of her family's business. It was a scheme that made Maryanne Trump Barry the target of a judicial conduct counsel probe.

It's the same scheme that appears to have benefited her brother -- who's the current president of the United States.

The judicial conduct inquiry into Maryanne Trump Barry's finances is now over, not because the judicial conduct probe ran its course and led to exoneration, but because she agreed to step down from the federal bench.

The last time I checked, her brother remains in office.

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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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