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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.11.19

04/11/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

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

* Louisiana: "A suspect in custody in connection with fires at three historically black churches in Louisiana was identified Thursday morning as Holden Matthews, 21, the son of a local sheriff's deputy, a source briefed on the investigation told NBC News."

* Ignoring subpoenas can be risky: "The House Committee on Oversight and Reform threatened Thursday to hold a Justice Department official in contempt of Congress after the agency refused to comply with a subpoena seeking testimony and documents related to the 2020 census citizenship question."

* I wonder whom he was referring to: "North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country needs to deliver a 'telling blow' to those imposing sanctions by ensuring its economy is more self-reliant, state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Thursday."

* Oct. 31: "About 48 hours before Britain was scheduled to crash out of the European Union, its Brexit deadline was postponed until Halloween. The extension came after a high-stakes, six-hour summit in Brussels that ended early Thursday morning."

* This seems unnecessary: "The White House on Thursday for the first time said it was requiring the Federal Reserve and other independent agencies to submit new guidelines for review, a controversial step that has long been a goal of conservative groups."

* It appears he'll need a good lawyer: "Michael Avenatti, former attorney for Stormy Daniels, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in California on 36 counts, including embezzling from a paraplegic, court documents released Thursday show."

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This file photo taken on Feb. 05, 2016 shows WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange coming out on the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy to address the media in central London. (Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty)

Ignoring his record, Trump pretends to know 'nothing' about WikiLeaks

04/11/19 02:25PM

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was taken into custody today in London, where he was wanted for skipping bail in 2012. He'll likely face criminal charges in the United States, and the Justice Department has already charged Assange with computer hacking crimes.

And while this will obviously be a major international story in the coming months, it's worth pausing to appreciate just how amazing Donald Trump's response to the developments was this afternoon.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he knows "nothing about WikiLeaks" hours after the arrest of the organization's founder, Julian Assange, and two-and-a-half years after he frequently cited its information dumps about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.

"I know nothing about WikiLeaks," Trump told reporters at the White House, where he met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. "It's not my thing."

That the American president was able to say this with a straight face was unsettling -- because he does know WikiLeaks, and throughout his 2016 campaign, it was very much his thing.

In fact, Trump mentioned WikiLeaks more than 100 times in just the final month of the 2016 campaign, according to Factba.se. Many of those times, he expressed admiration for its work. "This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable," he said once. "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," he said another time. Yet another time: "Oh, we love WikiLeaks. Boy, they have really -- WikiLeaks! They have revealed a lot."

There's a reason Trump's denial today was literally unbelievable.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

With odd threats toward Mexico, Trump does his trade deal no favors

04/11/19 12:52PM

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin complained yesterday that he doesn't know why the House hasn't yet brought NAFTA 2.0 -- the "United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement" trade deal -- to the floor for consideration. It was an odd thing to say: the Trump administration hasn't yet sent the agreement to Congress, so for now, there's nothing to bring to the floor.

Complicating matters, Donald Trump, who's repeatedly bragged about the deal, seems to be going out of his way to undermine it, threatening to impose steep new tariffs on cars made in Mexico if the White House isn't satisfied with our neighbor's immigration policies. Of course, one of the principal problems with this, as the Washington Post noted, is that the Trump administration has already committed not to do what the president has said he's prepared to do.

In October, his administration announced the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, a trade deal that most observers agreed offered relatively modest changes to the provisions in NAFTA. It will probably go before Congress for ratification this year. The agreement also included several side letters, one of which, already in effect, explicitly exempts both Canada and Mexico from tariffs imposed by the United States on as many as 2.6 million vehicles imported into the United States each year.

This wasn't an accident. Trump's threat "is the exact scenario that the Mexican negotiating team predicted and secured protections from in the USMCA," trade lawyer Daniel D. Ujczo told the Associated Press. "Mexico 'Trump-and-Tweet-proofed' its auto sector," he said, adding that Trump "would need to get very creative to impose auto tariffs on Mexico" in light of that agreement.

Over the weekend, Fox News asked Trump how he could impose tariffs on cars manufactured in Mexico when his own trade agreement precludes that possibility. The president replied, "We haven't finished our agreement yet."

That's the same agreement the Trump administration is impatiently waiting for Congress to vote on.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.11.19

04/11/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) presidential campaign announced yesterday that it raised $6 million in the first quarter of the year. That's a bit better than the hauls from Amy Klobuchar ($5.2 million) and Cory Booker ($5.1 million), but it's short of the totals from Bernie Sanders ($18.2 million), Beto O'Rourke ($9.4 million), and Pete Buttigieg ($7 million).

* Speaking of fundraising, I was surprised to see Dan McCready (D) raise $1.6 million for his congressional campaign ahead of the do-over election this fall in North Carolina's 9th congressional district.

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reintroduced his Medicare for All blueprint yesterday, though the proposal is still a little fuzzy on its finances. The Vermonter's plan already has 14 Democratic co-sponsors, and the list includes four other Democratic presidential candidates.

* On a related note, Sanders opposes changing the Senate's filibuster rules, but he believes his health care plan can advance through the Senate's reconciliation process (which would allow it to pass with 51 votes).

* In New Hampshire, a new Saint Anselm College poll found Biden leading the Democratic presidential field with 23%, followed by Sanders with 16%, and Buttigieg with 11%. No other Dem reached double digits, though Warren was a close fourth with 9%.

* Despite Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's blackface scandal, the latest statewide poll from the Wason Center found that 52% of Virginians believe he should remain in office. Under the commonwealth's system, Northam will not, however, be eligible to run for re-election in 2021.

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Keith Schiller, deputy assistant to the president and director of Oval Office operations talks to President Donald Trump during a ceremony to welcome the 2016 NCAA Football National Champions The Clemson Tigers on the South Lawn of the White House on June

New report gives Trump new reason to worry about hush-money scandal

04/11/19 11:01AM

As important as the Russia scandal and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation are, the political world occasionally loses sight of the fact that Donald Trump has already been implicated in a felony -- and it has nothing to do with the Kremlin.

In fact, we learned last year that federal prosecutors in New York directly implicated the president in the felonious hush-money scandal, in which Trump allegedly directed Michael Cohen to make illegal payoffs to women with whom Trump had extra-marital affairs.

It's no small story. The Atlantic reported last August that New York prosecutors "may pose a bigger threat to Trump than Mueller." It was hardly a novel argument: both Chris Christie and Alan Dershowitz separately said the same thing.

With this in mind, the Wall Street Journal published a new report yesterday on the investigation, and the article pointed to federal prosecutors having gathered "more evidence than previously known in its criminal investigation."

Prosecutors interviewed Hope Hicks, a former close aide to Mr. Trump and White House communications director, last spring as part of their campaign-finance probe, which ultimately implicated the president in federal crimes.

They also spoke to Keith Schiller, Mr. Trump's former security chief. Investigators learned of calls between Mr. Schiller and David Pecker, chief executive of the National Enquirer's publisher, which has admitted it paid $150,000 to a former Playboy model on Mr. Trump's behalf to keep her story under wraps.

In addition, investigators possess a recorded phone conversation between Mr. Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen and a lawyer who represented the two women.

Of particular interest, the WSJ also reported that the U.S. Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York had information implicating Trump in the alleged felony "weeks before" Cohen tied the president to his misdeeds in court.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump keeps accusing foes of 'treason,' without knowing what it means

04/11/19 10:15AM

In the public discourse, certain words and phrases become a convenient shorthand for partisans. "Judicial activism," for example, generally means "court rulings that conservatives don't like." Similarly, "socialism," at least in Republican circles, is synonymous with "progressive policymaking."

The shorthand rhetoric is often misleading, and usually lazy, but it also tends to be inconsequential. If anything, the overuse of these words and phrases ultimately strips them of the value that made them worthwhile in the first place.

Donald Trump, however, has his own rhetorical quiver, which he turns to a little too often, routinely pulling one especially provocative arrow. Here, for example, was the tweet the president published overnight.

"I think what the Democrats are doing with the Border is TREASONOUS. Their Open Border mindset is putting our Country at risk. Will not let this happen!"

As everyone involved in the debate already realizes, congressional Democrats do not actually support an open-border policy. The Obama administration increased border security to all-time highs, and Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly tried to work out bipartisan compromises with the White House that would further strengthen border security. Trump has turned down each of the offers.

But it's that first sentence in his tweet that stands out: "I think what the Democrats are doing with the Border is TREASONOUS." What Dems are "doing," in this case, is balking at the president's border agenda -- to the extent that the White House has an actual agenda -- and choosing not to give Trump everything he wants.

A skilled president, at this point, might try to open policy negotiations in the hopes of reaching an agreement. This president turns to Twitter, to accuse his perceived enemies of "treason."

If this sounds familiar, it's because Trump keeps using this same word -- far more than he should -- without fully understanding what it means.

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Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., center, Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, right, are seen during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.

GOP rep launches misguided offensive against John Kerry's college degree

04/11/19 09:22AM

Rep. Thomas Massie's (R-Ky.) name occasionally pops up in national news. When the U.S. House, for example, passed a resolution calling for the disclosure of the Mueller report, the measure received 420 votes -- and Massie was one of only a handful of members not to vote for it. The Kentucky Republican also played a role in the intra-party campaign against then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) a few years ago.

As of this week, however, Massie will probably be known for something else.

The House Oversight Committee held a fairly routine hearing on addressing the climate crisis and invited former Secretary of State John Kerry to testify. That made sense, since Kerry helped negotiate the Paris climate accord and the former senator has long been a leading progressive voice on the issue.

Thomas Massie, however, thought it'd be a good idea to question Kerry's credentials -- or more specifically, his degree.

[Massie] began his line of questioning attempting to undermine Kerry's authority on the issue by asking him about his "science degree" from Yale.

Kerry explained it was actually a bachelor of arts in political science.

"How do you get a bachelor of arts in a science?" Massie asked.

"Well, it's liberal arts education ..." Kerry replied.

"So, it's not really science," Massie said. "I think it's somewhat appropriate that someone with a pseudoscience degree is here pushing pseudoscience in front of our committee today."

It was at this point that Kerry interjected. "Are you serious?" he asked. "Is this really serious? This is really happening here?"

For the record, if we wanted to summarize our contemporary political lives in five words, we could do worse than "This is really happening here?"

The back and forth continued for a while, before Kerry ultimately said, "This is just not a serious conversation."

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

Trump frustrated the military can't get 'rough' with asylum seekers

04/11/19 08:40AM

When Donald Trump ousted Kirstjen Nielsen from her post as secretary of Homeland Security, it ended a fraught professional relationship. Indeed, it was somewhat surprising the two didn't part ways sooner, though there was one thing that helped the former DHS chief hang on for a while.

The Washington Post reported this week that the president was prepared to fire Nielsen last fall, but she "appeared to regain her footing" after U.S. Border Patrol agents used tear gas against migrants at the border. It was, the article added, the sort of "tough" action Trump liked to see.

It's against this backdrop that the president participated in a roundtable discussion yesterday in Texas, where he raised a provocative point about the kind of policies he'd like to see at the border.

"I'm going to have to call up more military. Our military, don't forget, can't act like a military would act -- because if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy. So our military can't act like they would normally act or like, let's say, another military from another country would act."

Trump is describing a dynamic in which desperate families, many of whom have fled their homes in desperation, literally running from life-threatening violence, should be subjected to treatment from the U.S. military that's "a little rough."

The president has shown restraint in this area, not because he's concerned with morality, because he doesn't want to deal with the political blowback.

Indeed, listening to the clip, Trump's frustrations are palpable. In his mind, the United States has the world's mightiest fighting force, and he's struggling to understand why he can't order the armed forces to get "rough" -- which is to say, violent -- with desperate families seeking asylum.

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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

Treasury sec takes fight over Trump's tax returns to a new level

04/11/19 08:00AM

It should have been a relatively straightforward process. Last week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), exercising his authority under the law, formally told the Treasury Department that he's demanding access to Donald Trump's tax returns. The Democratic chairman set a deadline, telling the IRS to make the materials available by April 10.

Those looking for loopholes in the law are probably going to be disappointed. The statute states, "Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request."

So, left with no choice, the Trump administration is complying with the law, right? Not exactly.

The Treasury Department won't meet House Democrats' deadline of Wednesday to hand over President Donald Trump's tax returns, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

In a letter to Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Mnuchin said the Treasury was continuing to review Democrats' request in light of "serious issues" about whether the request is proper.

The president's Treasury secretary will apparently oversee a review of the request personally, though I'm not at all sure what that means in practical terms.

As Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said in a written statement, "How many lawyers and how much time does it take for Secretary Mnuchin to understand that 'shall' means 'shall'?"

Under the circumstances, that seems like a fair question.

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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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