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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Nunes threatens to impeach Trump-appointed FBI director

04/11/18 10:40AM

It's been a few weeks since House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) made head-shaking news, so I guess we were due for a report like this one from Business Insider.

[Nunes suggested last night] he has a plan to target deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and FBI director Christopher Wray.

"We're not going to just hold in contempt, we will have a plan to hold in contempt and to impeach," Nunes said to Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Tuesday evening.

"We're not messing around here," Nunes continued.

Apparently the California Republican, an unnervingly close ally of the Trump White House, wants the Justice Department to give him copies of unredacted documents used to launch the investigation into the Russia scandal.

At issue are materials that document George Papadopoulos' revelation that Russia had acquired damaging information on Hillary Clinton. The Justice Department and the FBI, perhaps skeptical of the increasingly ridiculous House Intelligence Committee, has been reluctant to play along with Nunes' plan to undermine their investigation.

But that resistance has only infuriated Nunes, who insisted last night on Fox News, "We're at a boiling point where we need this." Asked if he's willing to impeach the director of the FBI, the congressman added, "Absolutely."

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Image: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

House Speaker Paul Ryan to exit stage right

04/11/18 10:00AM

There's been an enormous number of House Republican retirement announcements in recent months, but some are more notable than others.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., won't run for re-election, two sources with knowledge of his decision confirmed to NBC News Wednesday.

Axios was the first to report that Ryan, 48, would leave Congress at the end of his term.

The Wisconsin congressman's office has since confirmed the reports, making clear that Ryan will not resign early, but he will also not run for another term.

And while this is no doubt a major development -- Ryan is the first House leader from either party not to run for re-election since Bob Michel (R-Ill.) in 1994 -- it's not terribly surprising, either. The HuffPost's Matt Fuller first reported on rumors about Ryan's retirement back in December, and Politico had a related report a day later.

The Speaker and his office pushed  back against the reports, though they also left themselves some rhetorical wiggle room, suggesting to many that Ryan's exit was a near-certainty.

As for why the Speaker is stepping down, that's a surprisingly easy question to answer.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) emerges from a closed-door weekly policy meeting with Senate Republicans, at the U.S. Capitol, May 10, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Instead of defending Mueller, some in GOP target him

04/11/18 09:20AM

Late Monday, Donald Trump mused publicly about firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which meant there was quite a bit of chatter on Capitol Hill yesterday about what, if anything, lawmakers were prepared to do to shield the investigation from presidential interference.

Most congressional Republicans fell into one of two camps. The first group was made up of GOP lawmakers who shrugged off the president's comments, assuming he was simply blowing off steam, and that the threat of Trump instigating such a crisis wasn't real. The second group took the rhetoric a little more seriously, and indirectly warned Trump that even trying to fire Mueller would put his presidency in jeopardy.

But I was especially interested in the third group: the Republicans who aren't just disinclined to support the special counsel's work, but who are actually openly hostile toward it.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), for example, seemed surprised when asked about effort to shield the special counsel. "To protect Mueller?" the Georgia Republican said. "I think it's about time we get to the end of [the] investigation. This looks like an investigation that's spiraling out of control."

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went a little further.

The Kentucky Republican defended Trump on Fox News, saying Tuesday that the FBI's raid on the president's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen went too far, and took aim at special prosecutor Robert Mueller as a result.

"What does this have to do with Russia?" Paul said on Fox News. "Going after someone's personal attorney is a great overstep I think in the authority of the prosecutor ... I think that Mueller has abused his authority."

To the extent that reality matters, Mueller didn't execute the search warrants on Cohen's office and hotel; the U.S. attorney's office in New York did.

But even putting that aside, it's hard not to see this and think of the members of Congress who lashed out at Archibald Cox in 1973.

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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Apparent falsehoods compound problems for EPA's Pruitt

04/11/18 08:40AM

At face value, the principal problem for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is that he's facing allegations of brazen corruption, misusing public funds, and abusing the powers of his office. So far, Donald Trump has decided he doesn't much care about any of those controversies.

But complicating matters is the fact that the Oklahoma Republican apparently hasn't been truthful in his responses to some of the allegations.

For example, Pruitt is the beneficiary of a large security contingent, which provides around-the-clock protection for the EPA chief, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Pruitt and his allies have defended the measures, citing threats. That defense appears to be unraveling.

Two Senate Democrats say they have documents that show there have been no security threats against EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that would justify the abnormally large security detail and first class air travel he has spent millions of taxpayers dollars on, according to a letter obtained by NBC News.

The letter, written by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Tom Carper of Delaware, was sent to Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. In it, the senators say they have obtained "non-public documents" that include assessments from the Secret Service that "identify no 'reports of behaviors of interest' against Administrator Pruitt."

EPA officials have reportedly begun looking through Twitter, trying to find threatening tweets that would justify Pruitt's "extraordinary and costly security measures." (Politico reported yesterday, "EPA removed a career staffer Tuesday who approved an internal report that undermined ... Pruitt's claims that he needed around-the-clock bodyguards and other expensive security protection, according to two former agency employees familiar with the situation.")

Making matters slightly worse, the EPA chief told Fox News last week he had no idea about the lucrative raises two of his top aides received at the agency. The Atlantic, however, this week highlighted an email that suggests Pruitt "personally signed off" on the decision.

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Image: US-POLITCS-FBI-MULLER

Trump 'believes' he can fire Mueller (and he's taken steps to do so)

04/11/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump caused a bit of a stir late Monday afternoon, publicly speculating about firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Whether the president has the legal authority to do so directly, however, is a subject of some debate.

And yet, there was White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters yesterday that Trump "certainly believes he has the power" to oust the special counsel.

There are multiple problems with this. First, by several accounts, it may be wrong. Second, Sanders' comments suggest this has been the topic of some conversation at the White House, inching Team Trump closer to a possible crisis.

And third, it's not just an academic exercise -- because the president has already reportedly taken steps to fire Mueller. The New York Times  reported overnight:

In early December, President Trump, furious over news reports about a new round of subpoenas from the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, told advisers in no uncertain terms that Mr. Mueller's investigation had to be shut down.

The president's anger was fueled by reports that the subpoenas were for obtaining information about his business dealings with Deutsche Bank, according to interviews with eight White House officials, people close to the president and others familiar with the episode. To Mr. Trump, the subpoenas suggested that Mr. Mueller had expanded the investigation in a way that crossed the "red line" he had set last year in an interview with The New York Times.

If this sounds at all familiar, it's because this wasn't the first time. We learned last year that the president also called for Mueller's ouster in June, but he backed down when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign. Similarly, Trump was talked out of acting in December.

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In this Jan. 26, 2012, file photo, then-U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente speaks at a news conference in Alexandria, Va.

Exclusive: Notes appear to back Comey claims about Trump

04/11/18 12:53AM

The Rachel Maddow Show has obtained exclusively what we believe are the contemporaneous handwritten notes of Dana Boente, then acting deputy attorney general, from his conversations with FBI Director James Comey about Comey's interactions with President Donald Trump.

The notes appear to corroborate Comey's testimony to Congress about his exchanges with Trump, including similar phrasing about Trump’s discomfort with the Russia investigation.

Boente records in his notes from March 30, 2017, for example, "What can I do to relieve the cloud" as a line relayed from Comey that Trump said to him in a conversation also on March 30th. Comey cited that similar phrasing in his public statements.

Additionally, TRMS has obtained a letter from Boente informing the Department of Justice that he has been asked to speak with Robert Mueller's investigators, and requesting legal representation from the department.

The exclusive collection of documents also includes a letter from E.W. Priestap, the assistant director of the Counterintelligence Division of the Department of Justice, informing Boente that his notes from his conversation with Comey are not classified.

Below is a rush transcript of part one of Rachel Maddow's exclusive report:

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.10.18

04/10/18 05:00PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I think the White House wanted this trip to happen in order to help distract their erratic boss: "President Donald Trump has canceled his first official visit to Latin America as his administration evaluates the ongoing crisis in Syria, the White House said Tuesday."

* Investors seemed pleased by this: "President Xi Jinping renewed a pledge Tuesday to open China's markets further for trade and investment, including its automobile sector, and said he would also work harder to boost imports, in what was seen as a conciliatory speech amid an escalating trade conflict with the United States."

* A fresh angle: "The special counsel is investigating a payment made to President Trump's foundation by a Ukrainian steel magnate for a talk during the campaign, according to three people briefed on the matter, as part of a broader examination of streams of foreign money to Mr. Trump and his associates in the years leading up to the election."

* The latest details on Cohen: "The FBI agents who raided the office and hotel room of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, were looking to seize documents tied to payments to two women who allegedly had affairs with the president, according to reports Tuesday."

* On a related note: "CNN reported on Tuesday that search warrant sought info about payments to the two women and also involved a request for records related to a portfolio of New York City taxi cab medallions that Cohen owns, potentially worth millions."

* A nice story out of Oregon: "In February, three middle school students helped push a statewide net neutrality bill. Today, Gov. Kate Brown is headed to the girls' middle school in Portland, where she will sign the bill into law."

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

Despite Trump's claims, attorney–client privilege is not 'dead'

04/10/18 12:44PM

The FBI raid on Michael Cohen's office and hotel room yesterday was, at a minimum, unusual. It's not often when a sitting president's personal attorney is the target of federal law enforcement like this.

But as part of a larger tantrum, Donald Trump insisted this morning, "Attorney–client privilege is dead!" As NBC News explained this morning, that's plainly wrong.

The privilege is not dead. It's just that that the privilege alone won't prevent the issuance of a search warrant for documents in an attorney's office.

Of course, the privilege between an attorney like Cohen and his clients may be lost if the "crime-fraud exception" applies. The purpose of this exception is to assure that the secrecy between lawyer and client does not extend to obtaining advice in furtherance of contemplated or ongoing criminal or fraudulent conduct.

It is not enough for the government to just show that these privileged communications between Cohen and a client might provide evidence of a crime. Rather, the communication itself must have been in furtherance of, and intended to facilitate the crime, in order to strip these communications of the protections of privilege.

Or as the Wall Street Journal  reported, attorney-client privilege "is intended to allow lawyers to give robust legal advice without worrying about incriminating a client. But attorney-client information may not be protected if the communications were in service of an illegal act." (Rachel also explored this in some detail last night with Tom Winter, an NBC News investigative reporter.)

What's more, there's no reason to believe federal law enforcement cut any corners. A federal judge approved a search warrant, and according to NBC News' reporting, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein directly approved the application for that warrant.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.10.18

04/10/18 12:00PM

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

* The number of congressional Republican retirements and resignations this year is the most we've seen since at least 1952.

* There was some question as to whether Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) would support Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the right-wing congresswoman running to replace him, but the retiring senator answered that question yesterday, announcing he's sending her a campaign contribution.

* With party-imposed term limits poised to force Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) from his current leadership post, it looks like Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is already well positioned to succeed him.

* On a related note, there's reportedly some behind-the-scenes wrangling underway in the House, where Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is rumored to be eyeing the exits. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Texas) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) are eyeing the top House GOP position.

* In the Republicans' Senate primary in Wisconsin, Kevin Nicholson has benefited from generous support from Illinois-based billionaire Dick Uihlein. Now, one of Nicholson's rivals, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, is hitting the airwaves thanks to support from billionaire businesswoman Diane Hendricks.

* Speaking of the Badger State, the Republican Governors Association has reportedly already reserved $5.1 million in television time to support Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) as he seeks a third term.

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Image: FILE: Trump Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert Resigns

Trump's homeland security adviser latest to resign

04/10/18 11:20AM

During the presidential transition process, Donald Trump announced that Tom Bossert would serve in a newly created position: assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. In the months that followed, Bossert maintained a fairly high profile on a number of issues, including making multiple Sunday-show appearances on behalf of the White House.

In fact, Bossert was on ABC's "This Week" just two days ago, defending the president's plans for the U.S./Mexico border and discussing possible plans for responding to Syria's alleged chemical weapons attack. He made no mention of a change in career plans.

And yet, Bossert is now the latest departure from Team Trump.

President Donald Trump's homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, has resigned, the White House said Tuesday, making him the latest in a long line of senior officials to leave the administration.

On Monday night, Bossert was socializing with current and former U.S. Intelligence officials at a conference at the Cloisters resort in Sea Island, Georgia. A source close to him told NBC News that the adviser was not aware there was any intention at the White House to seek his resignation and had no plans to quit.

"New team," the source said, without further explanation.

Given the circumstances, that's probably a reference to John Bolton officially starting yesterday as the White House national security adviser, following a stint as a Fox News personality.

Of course, the timing could be better. As Trump adopts an aggressive new border policy, and prepares a response to Syria, it seems like an odd time for the president to accept the resignation of his top adviser on "homeland security and counterterrorism."

Nevertheless, Bossert's departure comes a day and a half after National Security Council spokesperson Michael Anton also announced his departure, in a move that's also widely believed to be tied to Bolton's arrival in the White House.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump

Every criticism of the Republican tax plan is proving true

04/10/18 10:43AM

During the abbreviated debate over the Republican tax plan, Democrats said the corporate beneficiaries of the tax breaks would use their windfalls on priorities such as stock buybacks. We now know, of course, that this prediction turned out to be true.

Critics of the GOP plan also said it included all kinds of sloppy and consequential errors that would need fixes, which is also happening.

Dems also warned that Republican leaders would use the impact of the tax cuts as a pretext to go after social-insurance programs -- sometimes called "entitlements" -- such as Social Security. That, too, is coming true.

And, of course, progressive opponents of the GOP tax breaks said the proposal would do real harm to the nation's finances, and wouldn't come close to paying for themselves. We can now add this to the list of things Dems got right and Republicans got wrong. Jon Chait had a good summary of the latest findings from the Congressional Budget Office.

The new projections by the Congressional Budget Office, the first federal budget analysis to be released since the Trump tax cuts were passed into law, shows how fully the Republican government has operationalized its theory. CBO now estimates the 2018 deficit will be $242 billion higher than it had estimated last June, before the tax cuts. And the tax cut is the major reason: "Accounting for most of that difference is a $194 billion reduction in projected revenues, mainly because the 2017 tax act is expected to reduce collections of individual and corporate income taxes."

The deficit is expected to grow to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. That would make sense if the country was spending to counteract a serious but temporary emergency, like a recession or perhaps a major war. There is no such emergency, though.

The full CBO report is online here. Note that the budget office projects the annual budget shortfall will swell this year to $804 billion, before growing to $941 billion next year and $1 trillion in 2020.

And as Slate's Jim Newell explained, these are the "rosy" estimates.

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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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