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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

House Republicans show how not to investigate a scandal

03/08/18 10:51AM

On Tuesday night, the New York Times published online an important story about Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates, who is now a witness cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of the Russia scandal. The article, which appeared on the Times' front page yesterday, was a doozy.

Not only is Mueller apparently "examining the influence of foreign money" in the 2016 campaign, but Nader also helped arrange the controversial January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles -- a meeting that featured a prominent Trump supporter and a Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Yesterday, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) reportedly told a CBS News reporter, "I don't have any clue who George Nader is."

At face value, that may not seem especially notable, except Mike Conaway is a member of the House Intelligence Committee -- and he's ostensibly helping lead the investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal. Even if he'd missed the front-page scoop in the New York Times, it stands to reason he'd know who George Nader is, simply by virtue of his own familiarity with the details of his own probe.

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Xi Jinping

Why Trump's latest request to China didn't make any sense

03/08/18 10:00AM

The U.S. trade deficit is steadily growing, and as Reuters reported yesterday, "the shortfall with China widening sharply." Donald Trump's vow to shrink the trade deficit quickly clearly isn't on track for success.

It's against this backdrop that the American president published an odd tweet yesterday.

"China has been asked to develop a plan for the year of a One Billion Dollar reduction in their massive Trade Deficit with the United States. Our relationship with China has been a very good one, and we look forward to seeing what ideas they come back with. We must act soon!"

Putting aside some grammatical concerns, this was a puzzling missive. The U.S. trade deficit with China last year was a little over $375 billion. We can certainly have a conversation about whether that's good or bad, but for Trump to ask Beijing to "develop a plan" to shrink that deficit by $1 billion is practically silly -- because even if China had an incentive to help the White House on this, what difference would it make to reduce the shortfall by a fraction of a percentage point?

Indeed, after Trump's strange tweet, it was only natural to wonder just how confused the president really is. Did the administration actually submit such a request? Was the $1 billion figure the result of some kind of negotiation? Was Trump just publishing random thoughts unrelated to any real policies?

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Image: Stormy Daniels Hosts Super Bowl Party At Sapphire Las Vegas Gentlemen's Club

Trump lawyer tries to silence porn star Stormy Daniels

03/08/18 09:20AM

Stormy Daniels, the adult-film star who allegedly had a sexual relationship with Donald Trump and received $130,000 not to talk about it before the 2016 election, filed a lawsuit this week. The basis for the case is pretty straightforward: Daniels wants to talk about the alleged affair and is trying to break the "hush agreement" that seems to require her silence.

What we didn't know until late yesterday was that Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney who facilitated the pre-election porn-star payment, has also taken some fresh legal steps of his own.

President Donald Trump's lawyer is trying to silence adult-film star Stormy Daniels, obtaining a secret restraining order in a private arbitration proceeding and warning that she will face penalties if she publicly discusses a relationship with the president, NBC News has learned.

As NBC News' report explained, Cohen obtained a temporary restraining order against Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, from a private arbitrator. The order "bars her from disclosing 'confidential information' related to the nondisclosure agreement signed in October 2016, just two weeks before Election Day.

Why Cohen didn't go to a court, with public proceedings, is unclear.

Meanwhile, for the first time, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday addressed the scandal, insisting that Trump denies the adulterous relationship, and adding, "I've had conversations with the president about this, and as I outlined earlier, that this case has already been won in arbitration."

It's not altogether clear what case the president's spokesperson was referring to -- getting a temporary restraining order isn't the same thing as "winning" a case -- and Daniels' attorney suggested Sanders' claim is false.

What's more, the White House press secretary was less than categorical in response to questions about whether Trump knew about the apparent hush money, with the Washington Post characterizing Sanders' posture as "suspiciously coy."

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In Russia probe, Mueller examines infamous Seychelles meeting

03/08/18 08:40AM

The first report about Trump World seeking backchannel communications with Russia came nearly a year ago. The Washington Post  reported last May that Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak had a private meeting in early December -- during the Trump presidential transition process -- at Trump Tower in New York.

At the meeting, Kushner reportedly "discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring." (That didn't work: Kislyak shared Kushner's offer with his superiors in Russia, and those communications were intercepted by U.S. intelligence officials.)

And now we're learning about another related effort. The Washington Post moved the ball forward overnight with this report:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has gathered evidence that a secret meeting in Seychelles just before the inauguration of Donald Trump was an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin -- apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, according to people familiar with the matter.

In January 2017, Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater, met with a Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and later described the meeting to congressional investigators as a chance encounter that was not a planned discussion of U.S.-Russia relations.

A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

If you saw Rachel's segment on Tuesday, or Ari's report last night, you know the cooperating witness is Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, who's proving to be a key player in this story. It was Nader who not only attended the pre-inaugural Seychelles meeting, he also helped organize it.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump ignores legal advice, talks with witnesses about Russia case

03/08/18 08:00AM

About a week ago, Politico  reported that Donald Trump's lawyers have given him good advice about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal: the president should not discuss details of the probe "with anyone outside his legal team."

The same piece added, however, that when it comes to this scandal, Trump "often fails to observe boundaries." It's a point driven home by the latest reporting from the New York Times.

The special counsel in the Russia investigation has learned of two conversations in recent months in which President Trump asked key witnesses about matters they discussed with investigators, according to three people familiar with the encounters. [...]

The episodes demonstrate that even as the special counsel investigation appears to be intensifying, the president has ignored his lawyers' advice to avoid doing anything publicly or privately that could create the appearance of interfering with it.

On the show last night, MSNBC's Ari Melber did a nice job summarizing some of the possible reasons the president would do this. It's possible, for example, that Trump simply doesn't care about his own lawyer's advice. Maybe he doesn't fully appreciate the possible risks. Perhaps the president recognizes the risk, but he believes it's a gamble worth making.

Or maybe Trump, lacking in impulse control, just can't help himself.

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Pursuit of Kremlin link by Trump backer eyed by Mueller: WaPo

Pursuit of Kremlin link by Trump backer eyed by Mueller: WaPo

03/07/18 09:23PM

Sari Horwitz, national reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Ari Melber about Trump backer Erik Prince trying to set up a back channel of communication with the Kremlin at a secret Seychelles meeting with a Russian official close to Vladimir Putin, officials from the UAE, and UAE adviser George Nader, who is reportedly cooperating with... watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 3.7.18

03/07/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Wow: "A former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned by a nerve agent in England this week, the British authorities said on Wednesday, heightening suspicions that the episode was an assassination attempt by a national government, amid rampant speculation that Russia was responsible."

* This was inevitable: "European Union officials unveiled an array of tariffs on Wednesday that they would place on American-made goods if the United States followed through on President Trump's plan to impose penalties on imported steel and aluminum, raising the specter of a trade war."

* An interesting case out of the 6th Circuit: "A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that a Michigan funeral home broke federal law when it fired a transgender woman, while tossing out the employer's claim that a religious objection created a legal loophole to terminate her."

* I hope you saw Rachel's segment on this: "An adviser to the United Arab Emirates with ties to current and former aides to President Trump is cooperating with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and gave testimony last week to a grand jury, according to two people familiar with the matter."

* In related news: "Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has requested documents and interviewed witnesses about incidents involving Michael Cohen, the longtime lawyer for President Trump whose wide-ranging portfolio has given him a unique vantage point into Trump's business, campaign and political activities."

* The Justice Department "sued California late Tuesday, escalating the battle between the Trump administration and local governments over the issue of providing sanctuaries from a crackdown on immigration enforcement."

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On tariffs, Trump's indifference to substance gets in the way

03/07/18 04:42PM

Much of Donald Trump's economic team told him tariffs on steel and aluminum would undermine the economy. The president's national security team told him the tariffs would run counter to our national security interests. His diplomatic team concluded the policy would be bad for U.S. foreign policy.

And yet, Trump nevertheless concluded that these tariffs are a great idea. The process behind his announcement was a mess, even by this White House's standards: Trump made this decision without any internal review by government lawyers or his own staff. NBC News reported, "No one at the State Department, the Treasury Department or the Defense Department had been told that a new policy was about to be announced or given an opportunity to weigh in in advance."

Even Trump's allies in Congress weren't told anything about the policy before it was announced.

What's more, as Rachel noted on the show last night, Trump himself seemed to blurt out the specific size of the tariffs to reporters, almost as an afterthought, reinforcing the impression that the president and his team have just been winging it on an important economic policy.

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent added yesterday that the stated legal justification for the tariffs "is deeply dubious, and the substantive case for it that Trump himself has offered is based on absurdities."

All of which leads to an awkward fact about contemporary American governance: there's no reason to assume the president has any idea what his policy is, what it means, how and why it'll be implemented, or what it will do once the policy is in place.

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Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum

Trump wants 'credit' for non-existent efforts to shield elections

03/07/18 12:45PM

At yesterday's White House press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, a reporter asked Donald Trump about Russian efforts to influence American elections. His response rambled a bit and mainly focused on his belief that Republicans will do well in the 2018 midterms. Trump acted as if he didn't understand the question.

And so, the reporter again asked whether the American president is "worried about Russia trying to meddle" in this year's elections. Trump replied:

"No, because we'll counteract whatever they do. We'll counteract it very strongly. And we are having strong backup systems. And we've been working, actually -- we haven't been given credit for this, but we've actually been working very hard on the '18 election and the '20 election coming up."

Note, in Trump's mind, it's important to always stress that he and his team be given "credit" for their efforts -- because in this White House, effective public service is not its own reward.

But even putting that aside, the problem, whether the president understands this or not, is that he and his team haven't been "working very hard" on this at all. In fact, by all appearances, the exact opposite is true.

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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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