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Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.10.18

05/10/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Middle East: "Israeli warplanes struck dozens of suspected Iranian military targets in Syria early Thursday, in a furious response to what Israel called an unsuccessful Iran rocket attack launched from Syria."

* Mark your calendars: "President Donald Trump announced Thursday that his long-expected summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will take place in Singapore on June 12."

* Will Senate Republicans listen? "Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain wants the Senate to reject the nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the Central Intelligence Agency."

* House Democrats released "more than 3,500 Russian-bought Facebook ads Thursday.... The majority of the ads target politically divisive issues like gun control, race relations and immigration. Much of the wording is awkward, as though translated into English, and inflammatory."

* On a related note, if you wanted to see all of the Russian ads, here you go.

* ISIS: "Five senior Islamic State officials have been captured, including a top aide to the group's leader, in a complex cross-border sting carried out by Iraqi and American intelligence, two Iraqi officials said Wednesday."

* SCOTUS: "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Thursday encouraged Supreme Court justices flirting with retirement to immediately step down, saying he would like to push through a nominee before the midterm elections."

* Interesting move: "California took a major step Wednesday toward becoming the first state to require solar panels on nearly all new homes, the latest sign of how renewable energy is gaining ground in the U.S."

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Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is pictured during an eventon May 12, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Cheney talks up torture, threats posed by weapons of mass destruction

05/10/18 12:40PM

It's hard to escape the feeling of deja vu. Fifteen years ago, a confused Republican president listened to misguided hawks, rejected diplomacy, and put the United States on a path to a dangerous military conflict in the Middle East. That's also what's happening now.

The Atlantic's Peter Beinart noted this week that the parallels between 2002 and 2018 are uncanny: "In both cases, American leaders feared that a longtime Middle Eastern adversary was breaking free of the fetters that had previously restrained it. In both cases, American leaders pursued a more confrontational policy, which they buttressed with frightening statements about the regime's nuclear program. In both cases, international inspectors contradicted those alarmist claims. In both cases, America's European allies defended the inspectors and warned of the chaos America's confrontational policy might bring. In both cases, hawks in America and Israel responded by trying to discredit the inspection regime. And in both cases, two leaders of that effort were John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu."

With those identical voices ascendant again, I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising that former Vice President Dick Cheney is re-entering the conversation. He was on Fox Business this morning, reading from a familiar script, insisting that the United States maintain an indefinite military presence in the Middle East, and warning of possible proliferation of "weapons of mass destruction."

That's right, Dick Cheney still feels comfortable claiming credibility, not only on national security policy in the Middle East, but also on WMD.

In the same interview, Cheney even offered fresh support for torture. Politico reported:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said the U.S. should restart its enhanced interrogation techniques -- often considered torture -- after the issue was thrust to the forefront during Gina Haspel's confirmation fight to become CIA director.

"If it were my call, I would not discontinue those programs," he said in an interview that aired Thursday morning on Fox Business. "I'd have them active and ready to go, and I'd go back and study them and learn."

The former vice president went on to say that he doesn't believe Bush-era torture techniques constituted torture, adding, "People want to go back and try to rewrite history, but if it were my call, I'd do it again."

I won't try to explain why anyone would find Cheney's judgment credible, but I am curious if Donald Trump is watching all of this unfold.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.10.18

05/10/18 12:00PM

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

* The latest national CNN poll shows the Democratic advantage on the generic congressional ballot shrinking to just three points, down from the double-digit lead the party enjoyed a few months ago. That said, the top-line data isn't necessarily the whole story.

* In Ohio's competitive gubernatorial race, state Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) won his party's nomination this week, but outgoing two-term Gov. John Kasich (R) isn't endorsing him, at least not yet. A key point of contention: Medicaid expansion.

* Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a prominent Democratic gubernatorial candidate, died unexpectedly this morning of an apparent heart attack.

* Missouri Republicans want scandal-plagued Gov. Eric Greitens (R) to move some progressive ballot initiatives, including a proposed minimum-wage increase, from the November ballot to the August primary. But with state GOP leaders calling for his resignation, the governor is apparently ignoring their request.

* Don Blankenship's Senate campaign in West Virginia obviously didn't turn out well -- he came in third in this week's Republican primary -- but as a consolation prize, Donald Trump called him yesterday "to exchange pleasantries and offer his congratulations on waging the campaign."

* Connecticut legislators this week approved a measure that would "add the state to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, bringing electoral reformers closer to their goal of sidestepping the Electoral College to elect presidents by a nationwide popular vote."

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Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chairman Sheldon Adelson speaks to students at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada in Las Vegas, April 26, 2012.

Sheldon Adelson opening his wallet for the House GOP

05/10/18 11:00AM

There's ample evidence that control of Congress is very much on the line in this year's midterm elections, the outcomes of which will have an enormous impact on the future of Donald Trump's presidency. Democrats have an opportunity to make significant gains, but several important factors will dictate whether the party has a good cycle or a great one.

Near the top of the list is money. And as Politico  reports today, it's House Republicans who are about to get a very significant boost.

Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has cut a $30 million check to the House GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, a massive cash infusion that top Republicans hope will alter the party's electoral outlook six months before Election Day.

The long-sought donation was sealed last week when, according to two senior Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan flew to Las Vegas to meet with the billionaire at his Venetian Hotel.

It would be illegal for the Republican leader to request an eight-figure contribution to an allied super PAC, so according to Politico's reporting, after Ryan helped make the case for GOP control of the chamber, the House Speaker left the room when it came to make the specific appeal. That task was left to former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who now chairs the Republican Jewish Coalition.

And it now appears that effort paid off: the billionaire casino magnate is writing a $30 million check. That's not only an enormous contribution from one individual for one cycle targeting one chamber, it's also triple the amount Adelson donated to the Congressional Leadership Fund in the last election cycle.

Or put another way, with so much on the line, House Republicans have new hope that they can buy their way to a prolonged majority, thanks to the generosity of the party's billionaire megadonors.

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US-VETERANS DAY

What Trump doesn't seem to understand about military raises

05/10/18 10:14AM

Donald Trump delivered remarks yesterday at a Celebration of Military Mothers and Spouses Event in the White House, where the president made one claim that stood out:

"We just approved $700 billion for our military. So we're going to be having the best equipment ever known. And next year, $716 billion. So I wanted to let you know.

"And, by the way, I know you don't care about this, but that also includes raises for our military. First time in 10 years."

At first I thought he may have just misspoken, but Trump repeated the line soon after. In reference to military raises, the president added, "I am proud of it. And I guess there will be others, too. Would you like one sooner, or do you want to wait another 10 years?"

The trouble is, there were raises for our military in 2017. And 2016. And 2015 and 2014. And every other year of the Obama era. And the Bush era. And the Clinton era.

In fact, the Military Times' Leo Shane explained yesterday, "The military has gotten a raise every year since the start of the all-volunteer military."

Let's be generous and say that Trump simply didn't know that. If we give the president the benefit of the doubt and assume he wasn't deliberately trying to deceive these military families, the question turns to better understanding Trump's ignorance.

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As hostages return home, Trump's thoughts turn to TV ratings

05/10/18 09:20AM

Early this morning, the three Americans freed from North Korean labor camps returned to the United States. As NBC News reported, Kim Hak-song, Kim Dong-chul and Kim Sang-duk, who is also known as Tony Kim, were granted amnesty by Kim Jong-un.

What made this morning's arrival a little different, however, was the fact that they were greeted by Donald Trump upon their arrival. And while the president made a variety of comments about what the men had gone through and his expectation that an agreement with North Korea may be his "proudest achievement," Trump also took a moment to share a little joke.

The arrival of the released prisoners in the dead of night created a made-for-TV moment for Trump, a former reality television host.

"I think you probably broke the all-time-in-history television rating for three o'clock in the morning," Trump joked to cameras.

At first I thought there was simply no way he actually said this, even in jest, but according to the official White House transcript, this is precisely what he said. (Trump also inexplicably declared this morning, "We want to thank Kim Jong-un, who really was excellent to these three incredible people." I have a hunch the former hostages might disagree.)

Just so we're clear, it's unambiguously good news that these Americans have returned home. Full stop. There's no reason to see developments like these through a partisan or political lens.

I just wish I had some confidence that Donald Trump felt the same way. In fact, we have every reason to believe that when it comes to these three former hostages, the president has politics very much on his mind -- largely because Trump told us so.

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Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

White House signals the demise of Trump's infrastructure plan

05/10/18 08:40AM

As recently as late March, Donald Trump headlined an event in Ohio to promote his infrastructure agenda. Six weeks later, the president's plan appears to be dead.

At yesterday's press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether we'll ever see legislation to advance Trump's infrastructure initiative. She replied:

"We're going to continue to look at ways to improve the nation's infrastructure. But in terms of a specific piece of legislation, I'm not aware that that will happen by the end of the year."

The comments only made official what most observers assumed to be true. Indeed, in early April, DJ Gribbin, the White House's top infrastructure adviser, announced his resignation, apparently because he didn't have much to do.

As we discussed at the time, Gribbin had worked for months to craft the president's infrastructure plan, but once it was complete, the blueprint, designed to pass the Republican-led Congress, landed on Capitol Hill with a thud.

The reason was simple: it was based on bizarre arithmetic: Trump and his team insisted they could spur $1.5 trillion in investments by spending $200 billion, nearly all of which would come from cuts to other transportation priorities.

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Image: US-POLITICS-INVESTIGATION-TRUMP-COURT

Controversy surrounding Cohen's shell company comes into sharper focus

05/10/18 08:00AM

Michael Cohen's shell company started off as one kind of thing. Shortly before Election Day 2016, Donald Trump's personal lawyer created Essential Consultants LLC to pay hush money to a porn star who allegedly had an affair with the future president. It wasn't a business in the traditional sense -- there was no office or staff -- but Essential Consultants LLC was a vehicle for a payoff.

We learned this week, however, that Cohen's shell company turned out to be much more. Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' attorney, released materials showing a series of payments Essential Consultants LLC received from all sorts of entities, and yesterday, those corporations started confirming the payments -- along with some curious explanations as to why.

Korea Aerospace Industries, for example, was already facing corruption allegations when it started paying Cohen's shell company to assist with its "internal accounting system." That, of course, doesn't make any sense, largely because Essential Consultants LLC was really just one guy who had no background in accounting.

As Rachel explained on the show last night, Korea Aerospace Industries' story evolved  -- which became something of a theme over yesterday afternoon. AT&T initially claimed it paid Cohen's one-person shell company for help with regulatory reform and tax reform, before it too changed its story. Novartis Pharmaceuticals also had a series of explanations, one of which was that Cohen was paid to provide health care consulting services.

While all of this had an entertaining farcical quality, it was hard not to wonder how some of these giant multi-national corporations even heard of a one-person LLC in Delaware. That came into focus yesterday, too.

President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, contacted the drug giant Novartis after the 2016 election "promising access" to the new administration, and special counsel Robert Mueller later requested information from the company about the offer, a senior official inside Novartis told NBC News on Wednesday.

Cohen "contacted us after the new administration was in place," the official said. "He was promising access to the new administration." Novartis then signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract with Cohen.

Oh. So it sounds as if Trump's personal lawyer collected big checks through his shell company because he was, in effect, selling influence with his client in the Oval Office.

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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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