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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.10.19

04/10/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Netanyahu hangs on: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked set for another term Wednesday as his main rival conceded defeat.... The results affirmed Israel's tilt to the right and further dimmed hopes of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

* ICE: "The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is leaving his post Friday, according to an agency spokesperson, the latest departure in a reshuffling of the Department of Homeland Security."

* I wouldn't mind hearing more about this: "U.S. national security officials told a private-equity firm partly backed by a Russian billionaire named in the Steele dossier to sell its stake in Cofense Inc., a cybersecurity firm used by major corporations, according to people familiar with the matter."

* Mitch McConnell rejected the bill before the House took it up: "Net neutrality proponents have won their most significant political victory yet in a years-long effort to ensure that internet service providers are prevented from manipulating traffic on their networks for profit. But any celebration will be short-lived."

* I wonder if any of the suspects will one day run for governor of Florida: "Federal officials said Tuesday that they had dismantled a $1.2 billion Medicare scheme that spanned continents and ensnared hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting elderly and disabled patients."

* This is quite an indictment: "The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday announced the indictment of Indivior Plc on charges it engaged in an illegal scheme to increase prescriptions of its opioid addiction treatment Suboxone to make billions of dollars."

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Image: President Trump Departs White House For G7 Summit In Canada

Asked about Mueller report, Trump unravels, raises claims of 'treason'

04/10/19 03:06PM

Two weeks ago, Donald Trump was asked whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller acted honorably in his investigation of the Russia scandal. "Yes, he did," the president replied, adding that it "wouldn't bother me at all" if the full Mueller report was released.

Two days later, Trump added, "The Mueller report was great," referring to a document he has not read. "It could not have been better."

Contrast this posture with the one the president took this morning when asked about the possible disclosure of Mueller's findings. After rambling for a while about how much federal investigators "truly hated Donald Trump" -- he occasionally slips into third person for no reason -- the president started unraveling a bit, lashing out at the "illegal" and "crooked" investigation.

"This was a -- an attempted coup. This was an attempted takedown of a president. And we beat them. We beat them. So the Mueller report, when they talk about obstruction, we fight back. And do you know why we fight back? Because I knew how illegal this whole thing was. It was a scam. And what I'm most interested in ... is getting started.

"Hopefully, the attorney general -- he mentioned it yesterday -- he's doing a great job -- getting started on going back to the origins of exactly where this all started, because this was an illegal witch hunt and everybody knew it, and they knew it too. And they got caught.

"And what they did was treason. What they did was terrible. What they did was against our Constitution and everything we stand for.... What they did was disgraceful. There's never been anything like it in the history of our country."

I'm not altogether sure who, exactly, Trump thinks committed "treason," and as a rule, that's not the sort of word a sitting president should casually throw around.

But stepping back, it's hard not to notice the profound rhetorical shift at the White House. Two weeks ago, Trump and his team were all smiles. They were not only satisfied with the "honorable" way in which Mueller conducted the investigation, West Wing officials were practically dancing in the halls, cheering as the president took a victory lap.

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William Barr testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be attorney general of the United States on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2019.

AG Barr lends his support to Trump's 'spying' conspiracy theory

04/10/19 12:57PM

About a year ago, Donald Trump seemed a little more agitated than usual, and it led the beleaguered president to create a new conspiracy theory. In fact, it was one of Trump's favorite kind of conspiracy theories: one in which he's the victim.

The Republican argued in May 2018 that during his presidential campaign, the Justice Department may have utilized "spies" inside his political operation. In the days and weeks that followed, the conspiracy theory went through a couple of iterations, but Trump was nevertheless delighted to tout what he called "Spygate."

It was, of course, a very odd tale, which even some congressional Republicans had no use for. Trump's most shameless and sycophantic supporters still occasionally throw around the allegation, but most know not to take it seriously.

It was against this backdrop that we heard Senate testimony from Trump's attorney general this morning.

Attorney General William Barr, defending his decision to order a review of the Trump-Russia probe's origins, told a Senate panel Wednesday that he thinks "spying did occur" by the government on President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

"For the same reason we're worried about foreign influence in elections...I think spying on a political campaign -- it's a big deal, it's a big deal," Barr said in response to a question from the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who had asked why Barr is looking into the origins of the investigation.

When the New Hampshire Democrat asked, "You're not suggesting that spying occurred?" Barr paused before ultimately replying, "I think spying did occur."

As part of the same sworn testimony, he suggested there was "a failure among" among the "upper echelon" in federal law enforcement, which he feels obligated to examine.

This certainly brings the attorney general in line with the White House's talking points, but that doesn't make the underlying claim true.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.10.19

04/10/19 12:00PM

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

* After quite a bit of hedging, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said yesterday he'll release a decade's worth of tax returns by Monday. The senator also acknowledged that he's now a millionaire, thanks to the success of his recent book.

* On a related note, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released her most recent tax return this morning.

* Though I haven't seen this confirmed by other news outlets, Axios, quoting Joe Biden's friends, reported this morning that the former vice president will kick off his presidential campaign later this month, probably after Easter.

* Ahead of her 2020 re-election campaign, Sen. Susan Collins (R) is raising a fair amount of money, but according to Roll Call, more than 99% of the funds the senator has raised has come from outside her home state of Maine.

* Quinnipiac released a new poll this morning of California Democrats and their presidential preferences, and Biden leads the 2020 field with 26% support. Sanders is second with 18%, followed by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) at 17%. Since the poll was in Harris' home state, her third-place showing isn't ideal.

* Last year, after his criminal indictment, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) briefly tried to end his re-election campaign, but ended up running and winning anyway. Looking ahead to 2020, the New York Republican, whose criminal trial has not yet begun, said he's still "debating" whether to seek another term.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Trump falsely says there's 'no law whatsoever' on his tax returns

04/10/19 11:00AM

Last week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) formally alerted the Treasury Department that he's demanding access to Donald Trump's tax returns. In fact, the powerful lawmaker set a deadline: the IRS would have to make the materials available by April 10.

That, of course, is today.

At the White House this morning, a reporter noted the legal requirements in this area, and the president gave every indication that his administration will ignore that deadline.

"There is no law. As you know, I got elected last time with this same issue, and while I'm under audit, I won't do it.... There's no law whatsoever.... I would love to give them, but I'm not going to do it while I'm under audit. It's very simple.... I have no obligation to do that while I'm under audit."

First, Trump has clung to the "under audit" talking point for years, and it's never made sense.

Before his election, the Republican used this as excuse, but never offered any proof that the audit existed outside of his imagination. After Trump's election, it's true that every president since Watergate has had his tax returns audited automatically, but other modern presidents -- from both parties -- didn't see the need for secrecy. Barack Obama, for example, posted his tax returns online for the public to review, despite the annual audit.

Trump could do the same thing today, but for reasons he still hasn't explained, he doesn't want to. The president said this morning that he'd "love to" disclose his tax returns, which would be far easier to believe if he actually did that, as he's free to do at any time.

Second, when Trump says there's "no law whatsoever" in this area, he's overlooking one inconvenient statute.

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GWBust3

Trump displays his knowledge of history during Mt. Vernon visit

04/10/19 10:09AM

To hear Donald Trump tell it, he's a fan of history, though we're occasionally reminded that this may not be altogether true. Politico published this gem this morning.

President Donald Trump had some advice for George Washington.

During a guided tour of Mount Vernon last April with French president Emmanuel Macron, Trump learned that Washington was one of the major real-estate speculators of his era. So, he couldn't understand why America's first president didn't name his historic Virginia compound or any of the other property he acquired after himself.

"If he was smart, he would've put his name on it," Trump said, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. "You've got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you."

Leave it to Donald Trump to visit Mt. Vernon and focus his attention on the limited reach of George Washington's brand.

Of course, smart or not, Washington didn't name his home after himself, though he appears to be remembered anyway. The nation's capital city is named after him; there's a state named after him; his face is on American currency; a prominent university is named after him (I went to GW); and there's a giant obelisk in his honor near the White House.

Politico's report added that Trump's disinterest in Washington made it difficult for the tour guide -- who later described the experience as "truly bizarre" -- to "sustain Trump's interest" for 45 minutes. The French president and his wife, meanwhile, "were far more knowledgeable about the history of the property than the president."

Alas, this was not an isolated incident. Whatever strengths the Republican may bring to the presidency, knowledge of history isn't among them.

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Herman Cain addresses the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) February 9, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

With Trump's picks for the Fed, even Republicans have their limits

04/10/19 09:20AM

Yesterday, reporters asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) whether he's comfortable with Donald Trump's choices for the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors. The GOP leader raised a few eyebrows by dodging the question.

McConnell's reluctance to answer was emblematic of a broader concern within his conference. The Wall Street Journal reported overnight:

Senate Republicans sounded increasingly doubtful Tuesday about the prospects of confirming President Trump's latest pick for the Federal Reserve Board, former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who has dismissed criticism of his candidacy as partisan.

"It's hard for me to imagine he'd be confirmed," said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.), a member of the Banking Committee and one of the president's strongest allies on Capitol Hill.

Politico added, "Republican senators have generally waved through Trump's nominees over the past two years, but they are reluctant to do the same for the Fed, amid fears that Trump's push to install interest-rate slashing allies will politicize the central bank."

At a certain level, all of this is refreshingly reassuring. By any sane measure, elevating Herman Cain to the Fed's board of governors is plainly absurd. Even the most cursory review of the Georgia Republican's background makes clear that the very idea is indefensible, and the fact that Senate Republicans are balking suggests, even in 2019, there are still some limits in GOP politics.

But the good news comes with some fine print. Politico's report added, "Some GOP senators said that Cain's difficult path might have eased Stephen Moore's confirmation to the Fed, despite Moore's own problems with unpaid taxes and his partisan reputation. After all, Republicans might be hard-pressed to revolt against both of Trump's nominees."

You have got to be kidding me.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Homeland Security loses another top official as Trump's purge continues

04/10/19 08:40AM

It's been a rough a week at the Department of Homeland Security. Last Friday, Donald Trump dumped his acting ICE chief without any real explanation, stunning the cabinet agency, only to make matters even more serious two days later by ousting the Homeland Security secretary. Not quite 24 hours later, the president fired the head of the U.S. Secret Service, too.

Soon after, Politico reported that congressional Republicans were "alarmed" and "blindsided" by the DHS purge and had begun urging Trump not to fire anyone else. A day later, the cabinet agency parted ways with its deputy secretary.

Claire Grady, the acting Homeland Security Department deputy secretary, has offered to resign, according to outgoing Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

"Acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady has offered the President her resignation, effective tomorrow," Nielsen tweeted Tuesday evening. "For the last two years, Claire has served @DHSgov w excellence and distinction. She has been an invaluable asset to DHS – a steady force and a knowledgeable voice."

It appears in this instance that Grady's ouster had very little to do with her service. Rather, she was the victim of a bureaucratic game of chairs.

After Trump forced out DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the president decided he wanted Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, to succeed her, at least temporarily. The trouble is, that wasn't exactly legal: there's a line of succession at Homeland Security, and in the wake of Nielsen's forced resignation, Claire Grady was supposed to become the acting head of the agency.

Since Trump preferred someone else, Grady, despite decades of experience as a career official, had to go, too.

So, is the Homeland Security drama over? Not just yet.

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Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., left, and Rep. Jim Jordan, the House Oversight and Reform Committee's ranking member, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

Republicans warn drug companies not to cooperate with investigation

04/10/19 08:00AM

Earlier this year, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee took an interest in how the pharmaceutical industry sets prices on prescription medications, and Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) reached out to the major drug companies for information. None of this was especially surprising -- it's an important issue, of concern to millions of Americans, and it's understandable that the committee would seek answers.

What's surprising, however, is how two of the panel's far-right members responded to the effort. BuzzFeed reported this week:

In an unusual move, House Republicans are warning drug companies against complying with a House investigation into drug prices.

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee sent letters to a dozen CEOs of major drug companies warning that information they provide to the committee could be leaked to the public by Democratic chair Elijah Cummings in an effort to tank their stock prices.

I'm not aware of anything like this ever happening before. Two members of Congress, in effect, have taken steps to undermine their own committee's investigation of a private industry.

We've seen Republicans reach out to a foreign country's leaders in the hopes of sabotaging nuclear talks, and we've seen Republicans reach out to sports leagues in the hopes of discouraging Americans from getting health care coverage, but Republicans warning an industry about cooperating with their own branch of government's investigation seems entirely new.

BuzzFeed's report went on to note that Jordan and Meadows -- leaders of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus -- want Big Pharma to believe Democrats will misuse the information drug companies provide as part of a dastardly plot to drive down stock prices.

In other words, two of Congress' most high-profile conservatives are justifying their efforts to undermine a congressional investigation by peddling a conspiracy theory.

Cummings added that the far-right duo would apparently rather "protect drug company 'stock prices' than the interests of the American people."

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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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