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E.g., 8/17/2017
E.g., 8/17/2017

U.S. job growth remains steady and strong in July

08/04/17 08:41AM

After a couple of underwhelming months for U.S. job growth in the spring, it looks like the summer is faring better.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 209,000 jobs in July, which is down a bit from June, but which is nevertheless further evidence of a healthy job market. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, inched a little lower to 4.3%.

As for the revisions, the totals for May were revised down, while June were revised up, and combined they show a net gain of about 2,000 jobs.

All told, if current averages keep up, we're on track to see the U.S. economy add about 2.2 million jobs this calendar year, which would be roughly in line with what we saw last year.

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FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee June 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty...

In bipartisan fashion, senators move to protect Mueller from Trump

08/04/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump has already made public comments that suggest he'd like to get rid of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who's currently overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal. With Mueller reportedly having impaneled a grand jury, it's likely the president's opposition to the probe has reached new heights.

And while Trump lacks the legal authority to fire the special counsel directly, there's a growing fear the president may try to shake up the Justice Department's leadership in order to force Mueller out. It's against this backdrop that there's a bipartisan effort underway to protect Mueller from the president.

Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are moving to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's job, putting forth new legislation that aims to ensure the integrity of current and future independent investigations.

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware plan to introduce the legislation Thursday. The bill would allow any special counsel for the Department of Justice to challenge his or her removal in court, with a review by a three-judge panel within 14 days of the challenge.

The bill would apply retroactively to May 17, 2017 — the day Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties between Russia and Donald Trump's campaign.

As Sen. Coons explained on last night's show, there are actually two related pieces of legislation under consideration. His bipartisan bill would give Mueller legal options if Trump took steps to fire him, while a separate bill, championed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), intends to give Mueller protections before he's ousted.

It's too soon to say with any confidence whether these measures are going to become law, and with no companion measures in the Republican-led House, it's probably best to keep expectations in check. That said, the fact that these bipartisan Senate measures exist at all is striking.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.3.17

08/03/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "Two U.S. service members were killed by a suicide truck bomber in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Defense Department said, underscoring the danger to U.S. troops as the Trump White House struggles with a decision on the way forward there."

* EPA: "One day after getting sued by 15 states, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt reversed his earlier decision to delay implementation of Obama-era rules reducing emissions of smog-causing air pollutants."

* Russia scandal: "Congressional investigators are interested in obtaining phone records pertaining to Donald Trump Jr.'s June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer, CBS News has confirmed."

* Missouri: "The state of Missouri has earned the dubious distinction of being the first ever state to have a travel advisory issued against it by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), due to a recent string of both directly and indirectly state-sanctioned racist and discriminatory incidents."

* On a related note: "A forthcoming Missouri law that would make it harder to sue a business for race discrimination -- which prompted the NAACP to issue a travel advisory for African-Americans in the state -- was sponsored by a lawmaker whose business is being sued for race discrimination"

* Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had originally said he'd delay the start of the chamber's summer recess until the end of next week. But with health care stalled, McConnell changed his mind -- and senators left town today.

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Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.

Mueller reportedly impanels Russia scandal grand jury

08/03/17 04:27PM

Robert Mueller only took over the federal investigation into the Russia scandal in mid-May, following Donald Trump's decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey in the hopes of derailing the ongoing probe. But it appears the special counsel and his team have already made considerable progress.

The Wall Street Journal reports this afternoon, for example, that Mueller has impaneled a grand jury as part of the investigation, "a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase."

The grand jury, which began its work in recent weeks, is a sign that Mr. Mueller's inquiry is ramping up and that it will likely continue for months. [...]

Grand juries are powerful investigative tools that allow prosecutors to subpoena documents, put witnesses under oath and seek indictments, if there is evidence of a crime. Legal experts said that the decision by Mr. Mueller to impanel a grand jury suggests he believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses.

At this point, the Wall Street Journal appears to be the only major outlet with this report, and the story has not yet been confirmed by NBC News.

That said, if the WSJ's reporting is correct, it's a major development. The newspaper spoke to Thomas Zeno, a federal prosecutor for 29 years, who said the grand jury is "confirmation that this is a very vigorous investigation going on." Zeno went on to say, "This doesn't mean he is going to bring charges. But it shows he is very serious. He wouldn't do this if it were winding down."

Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, added, "This is yet a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel. If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at [former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn], there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy. This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so."

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

The White House has thrown its credibility away

08/03/17 03:56PM

In early February, White House sources first leaked word that Donald Trump's first phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm had been a disaster. The American president, by all accounts, clashed bitterly with the longtime U.S. ally over a refugee policy Trump thought he understood, but didn't. It was the first meaningful evidence that the Republican was poised to do serious harm to American diplomacy and our standing in the world.

A day later, however, Trump insisted on Twitter that he had a "very civil conversation" with the Australian prime minister and accounts to the contrary were falsehoods created by the "fake news media." We know now, of course, that Trump was lying -- because a leaked White House transcript proves it.

What's astounding, of course, is how routine this has become. On an almost comically regular basis, the president and his White House deny the accuracy of various stories, only to soon after confirm that their earlier denials were wrong and the stories were correct.

For example, one of Donald Trump's private attorneys, Jay Sekulow, said the president wasn't involved in drafting his son's deceptive statement about a meeting last year with Russian nationals. And yet, as the Washington Post reported:

The White House directly contradicted President Trump's own attorney on Tuesday. It confirmed that the president was involved in that misleading Donald Trump Jr. statement about his meeting with a Russian lawyer after Trump's attorney, Jay Sekulow, had issued two unmistakable comments asserting Trump wasn't.

The headline on the Post's piece yesterday read, "7 times the Trump team denied something -- and then confirmed it." This morning, it was updated to read, "8 times the Trump team denied something -- and then confirmed it." This afternoon, as more examples came to the fore, it reads, "9 times the Trump team denied something -- and then confirmed it." There's no reason to believe it won't be updated again.

The point, of course, is that anytime the president and the White House deny something, there's simply no reason to accept the claim at face value. Members of Trump World have earned a reputation for lying reflexively, and they've been caught too many times for anyone to consider them credible.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Leaked transcripts offer a peek behind the Oval Office curtain

08/03/17 12:48PM

Not long after Donald Trump became president, he did what all new presidents do: he held introductory phone calls with many foreign leaders. We had a sense that some of these calls went very badly for the Republican, but it wasn't until today that we learned just how disastrous some of these conversations were.

The Washington Post obtained transcripts of the discussions Trump had with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull -- the fact this information leaked is itself extraordinary -- and perhaps the most striking revelation had to do with the American president's argument about his precious border wall.

President Trump made building a wall along the southern U.S. border and forcing Mexico to pay for it core pledges of his campaign.

But in his first White House call with Mexico's president, Trump described his vow to charge Mexico as a growing political problem, pressuring the Mexican leader to stop saying publicly that his government would never pay.

"You cannot say that to the press," Trump said repeatedly, according to a transcript of the Jan. 27 call obtained by The Washington Post. Trump made clear that he realized the funding would have to come from other sources but threatened to cut off contact if Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto continued to make defiant statements.

Reading the transcript, it's hard not to notice Trump's desperation. He seems to understand that Mexico won't pay for the wall -- despite what he repeatedly promised voters -- but he pleads with the Mexican president not to make him look bad. "[I]f you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that," Trump said.

Remember, Trump's claim to fame is his supposedly unrivaled ability to strike amazing deals. And that's one of the reasons this peek behind the Oval Office curtain is so important: the transcript offers us a chance to see the Master Negotiator in action on one of his top campaign priorities.

Of course, in this case, Trump's deal-making abilities involved pleading with a foreign president not to acknowledge reality, facing resistance, and not knowing what to do next. Trump seemed to realize that he'd painted himself into a corner by making promises he couldn't keep, and he apparently expected the Mexican president to rescue him.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.3.17

08/03/17 12:00PM

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

* In Arizona, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Sen. Jeff Flake (R) with an approval rating of just 18%. The same poll shows Donald Trump with a 44% rating in the Grand Canyon State, which the president narrowly won last fall.

* The AARP, which was staunchly opposed to Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, has launched new ads thanking Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain for opposing their party's health care legislation.

* Republican Rep. Diane Black, a four-term congresswoman, kicked off her gubernatorial campaign in Tennessee yesterday, and is well positioned to be the 2018 frontrunner.

* With Rep. Lou Barletta (R) almost certain to run for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania next year, Rep. Mike Kelly (R) announced yesterday he's passing on the statewide race and will run for re-election to the House instead.

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) picked up her first challenger this week, with state Rep. Geoff Diehl (R) kicking off his campaign. Diehl is perhaps best known for helping lead Donald Trump's campaign in Massachusetts -- a state the president lost by 27 points.

* In South Carolina, gubernatorial hopeful Catherine Templeton (R) raised a few eyebrows this week declaring at a forum that she's "proud of the Confederacy" and pledging not to "rewrite history" by removing Confederate monuments.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

For the third time, a court uses Trump's own words against him

08/03/17 11:20AM

The Miranda warning read to criminal suspects is familiar to anyone who's watched police dramas on television: people have the right to remain silent, and they should know anything they say may be used against them in court.

Donald Trump should probably be aware of this, too, not because he's been charged with a crime -- at least not yet -- but because the president's words keep coming back to haunt him in court.

The Washington Post highlighted the latest example, which came this week from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Shortly after the bulk of the [Affordable Care Act] went into effect in 2014, House Republicans sued the Obama administration to stop [cost-sharing reduction] payments, which are central to upholding the law and the health of the insurance markets that participate. Now, Democratic attorneys general will sue the Trump administration to keep the federal subsidies.

Trump has openly considered whether to just stop paying those subsidies, which could put him on tricky constitutional and political ground. And health policy experts predict that stopping the payments would cripple the health insurance market and end Obamacare.

Democratic attorneys general from several states argued they should be able to intervene in the litigation before the Trump administration derails the case altogether. The appellate court agreed, in part because the states would directly suffer if the White House tried to sabotage the system, and in part because of "accumulating public statements by high-level officials."

As Nicholas Bagley put it, "In other words, President Trump's loose lips have once again created problems for his lawyers."

If it seems like this keeps happening, it's because this keeps happening.

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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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