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Comey firing raises question: Why now?

Comey firing raises question: Why now?

05/09/17 09:23PM

Matt Zapotosky, how covers the Justice Department for the Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about the questions raised by the timing of Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey and A.G. Jeff Sessions' apparent violation of his own recusal from the Trump-Russia case. watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.9.17

05/09/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Terrifying: "Some 200 workers at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington state were ordered to 'take cover' Tuesday after a 20-foot section of tunnel containing 'contaminated materials' collapsed."

* Syria: "President Donald Trump has approved a plan to arm the Syrian Kurdish militia -- an important U.S. ally in Syria in the fight against ISIS."

* This is deeply offensive: "The Trump administration has begun hunting for evidence of crimes committed by Haitian immigrants as it decides whether to allow them to continue in a humanitarian program that has shielded tens of thousands from deportation since a devastating earthquake."

* South Korea "elected Moon Jae-in, a human rights lawyer who favors dialogue with North Korea, as president on Tuesday, returning the nation's liberals to power after nearly a decade in the political wilderness and setting up a potential rift with the United States over the North's nuclear weapons program."

* For those doing head-counts in the Senate on the House health care bill, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he opposes the current American Health Care Act, adding, "We're starting over from a clean sheet of paper here."

* What a fiasco: "When Jared Kushner's sister took the stage in two Chinese ballrooms over the weekend to urge investors to fund a New Jersey development through a controversial visa program, she mentioned her brother's role in the White House and displayed a photo of President Donald Trump.... What she didn't mention was that the project has suffered a slew of problems: the exit of its anchor tenant, the loss of millions in tax breaks and a curdling political relationship with the mayor of its host city."

* Sinclair has a reputation for its conservative leanings: "The Sinclair Broadcast Group, already the nation's largest owner of local television stations, is adding 42 more in a $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media. The result could be slightly friendlier coverage for the president in the nation's largest media markets, as well as in cities such as Cleveland, Greensboro, N.C., and Des Moines that represent key centers in battleground states."

* What a deeply strange congressman: "The footage of Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) walking out of an interview with an Iowa reporter is brutal. And it's going viral for a reason: In trying to protect himself from anger in this health-care debate, Blum just made himself a target of it."
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St Basil's Cathedral

Will Trump's business ties in Russia be the next line of inquiry?

05/09/17 03:54PM

Towards the end of yesterday's high-profile Senate hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who chaired the proceedings, asked former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper an interesting question, which led to an exchange that raised some eyebrows.
GRAHAM: General Clapper, during your investigation of all things Russia, did you ever find a situation where a Trump business interest in Russia gave you concern?

CLAPPER: Not in the course of the preparation of the intelligence committees' assessment.

GRAHAM: Since? At all, any time?

CLAPPER: Senator Graham I can't comment on that because that impacts an investigation.
Wait, it does? Clapper couldn't comment, which is understandable when an investigation is underway, but therein lies the point: his answer made it sound as if Donald Trump's business interests in Russia might also be drawing scrutiny.

Or an NBC News' First Read team put it, "Whoa."

This afternoon, Graham told reporters that he's seen no evidence of wrongdoing related to Trump's dealings with Russia, but added, "[D]o I want to know about business ties? Yes." The GOP senator added that this is an area of "interest" to him.
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Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to US President Donald Trump ordering missile strikes on Syria

Donald Trump's fear of the Russia scandal becomes more obvious

05/09/17 12:57PM

Ahead of yesterday's Senate hearing on the Russia scandal, Donald Trump's tweets suggested he was feeling anxious. In the morning, he tried to argue via Twitter that the mess surrounding Michael Flynn was the Obama administration's fault, and soon after, the president suggested without evidence that Sally Yates may have illegally leaked classified information.

After the hearing, Trump's anxiety was just as obvious, with a series of tweets trying to downplay the damaging revelations, change the subject, and dismiss the seriousness of the entire ongoing investigation. The president added that in his mind, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that there's "no evidence" of "collusion" between Russia and Team Trump.

Evidently, Trump really liked that tweet.
President Donald Trump changed the banner image on his Twitter account late Monday night, and then changed it again several hours later after people on the internet thoroughly mocked it.

Trump made the top image on his Twitter page a photo of House Republicans celebrating passing the American Health Care Act, superimposed with a tweet the president had sent earlier that day about congressional testimony from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on the subject of collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia.
Take a moment to imagine the conversation between the president and the poor White House aide who was ordered to change the Twitter banner to Trump's misguided specifications.

Broadly speaking, there are two angles to this that are worth keeping in mind. The first is the focus on the facts, which the president continues to struggle with, and the second is the acute fear Trump appears to be feeling about the seriousness of the scandal.
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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.9.17

05/09/17 12:00PM

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

* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, hoping to exploit the unpopularity of the Republican health care plan, is launching new online advertising targeting 10 vulnerable House Republicans.

* On a related note, the far-right American Action Network, which is aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), is launching a $500,000 ad campaign to tout the GOP legislation's imagined virtues.

* Mark Green, whose nomination for Army Secretary ended as his record of extremism came to public light, is now back in Tennessee, where he's once again considering a gubernatorial campaign.

* Rep. Evan Jenkins (R) became the first high-profile Republican in West Virginia to kick off a Senate bid yesterday, announcing his intention to take on incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D). Jenkins yesterday blasted Manchin for participating in a bipartisan effort to reduce gun deaths in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

* In a bit of a surprise, Rep. Dan Kildee (D) has decided not to run for governor in Michigan next year, and will instead run for re-election to Congress.

* In a move that's likely intended to manage expectations, McClatchy reports that "Republican anxiety is mounting" about Georgia's congressional special election, and GOP insiders believe Jon Ossoff defeating Karen Handel "is a distinct possibility."
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Image: US-POLITICS-FBI-CONGRESS-COMEY

FBI's Comey faces fresh controversy following dubious sworn testimony

05/09/17 11:24AM

When FBI Director James Comey testified on Capitol Hill last week, he remained on the defense over his controversial role in the 2016 presidential campaign. But as part of the same hearing, Comey, a Republican appointed to his post by President Obama, also offered some catnip to those who care about Huma Abedin emails that were on Anthony Weiner's computer.

"Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information," Comey said, adding, "His then-spouse Huma Abedin appears to have had a regular practice of forwarding emails to him for him I think to print out for her so she could then deliver them to the secretary of state." The FBI director went on to say Abedin "forwarded hundreds and thousands of emails, some of which contain classified information.''

The usual suspects treated this like a major revelation, but ProPublica reports that Comey's claims were apparently wrong.
Much of what Comey said about this was inaccurate. Now the FBI is trying to figure out what to do about it.

FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found. On Monday, the FBI was said to be preparing to correct the record by sending a letter to Congress later this week. But that plan now appears on hold, with the bureau undecided about what to do.
According to the report, Comey overstated the number of emails, the frequency of the practice, and even how the emails reached Weiner's laptop.

A Washington Post report added, "None of the forwarded emails were marked classified, but a small number -- a handful, one person said -- contained information that was later judged to contain classified information, these people said.
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Image: Donald Trump, Jens Stoltenberg

Trump can't delegate all of his powers as Commander in Chief

05/09/17 11:03AM

While much of the political world was watching Sally Yates' Senate testimony yesterday, the White House had a very different story it was eager to push. As the Washington Post reported, Donald Trump's "most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban."

The new policy has not yet been approved by the president, but as the Post's report put it, the Obama administration's efforts to wind down the U.S. military role in Afghanistan would be reversed under this new plan. The article added:
The new strategy, which has the backing of top Cabinet officials, would authorize the Pentagon, not the White House, to set troop numbers in Afghanistan and give the military far broader authority to use airstrikes to target Taliban militants. [...]

[I]n keeping with the Trump administration's desire to empower military decision-making, the Pentagon would have final say on troop levels and how those forces are employed on the battlefield.
This approach isn't limited to U.S. military policy in Afghanistan. BuzzFeed reported two weeks ago that while White House management over the Pentagon was tight in the Obama era, Trump prefers to give the Defense Department "a freer hand in deciding how many of its troops are deployed in the war against ISIS and when they are sent there."

To that end, the president has delegated "new authorities to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to determine the maximum number of forces to be deployed to a conflict, known as the Force Management Level, or FML, in Iraq and Syria.... The Trump administration also has given more authorities to commanders, relaxing the rules to prevent civilian casualties during US airstrikes in Somalia."

This also came up recently after the use of a MOAB ("Mother Of All Bombs") in Afghanistan, a decision that was made without input -- or even direct approval -- from the White House. Asked about this, Trump declared with pride, "Everybody knows exactly what happened. And what I do is I authorize my military.... We have given them total authorization, and that's what they're doing."
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Image: House GOP Pulls Vote On Trump's American Health Care Act

Republicans start literally deleting their health care promises

05/09/17 10:11AM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) declared with glee the other day that last week's vote on the GOP health care plan is an example of "us keeping our promises." That's only partially true.

The good news for Ryan is that he and his fellow Republicans did promise to pass a regressive health care bill, and now they've done exactly that. Whether you believe that's a positive development is based in part on whether you might ever need an affordable visit to a doctor.

But when it comes to keeping promises, the Speaker and his GOP brethren have found themselves in an awkward spot. Ryan, Donald Trump, and other prominent Republican officials made all kinds of specific guarantees tied to their health care legislation, and they proceeded to break many of those commitments without explanation last week.

Indeed, in the Speaker's case, some of those promises were put in writing. Remember this online Q&A published on the House Republican leadership's website?
Are you repealing patient protections, including for people with pre-existing conditions?

No. Americans should never be denied coverage or charged more because of a pre-existing condition. […]

Won't millions of Americans lose their health insurance because of your plan?

No. We are working to give all Americans peace of mind about their health care.
The day after 217 House Republicans voted for their party's health care plan, the website was changed -- and these promises, which Republicans broke, were replaced with new text.

In other words, instead of keeping their promises, Ryan and the House GOP leadership quietly -- and literally -- deleted some of their promises.
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Canada's Liberal leader and Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau walks on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Oct. 20, 2015. (Photo by Chris Wattie/Reuters)

White House aides turned to Canada to keep Trump in check

05/09/17 09:20AM

It's generally best to avoid phrases such as "one of the strangest things Trump has done as president" because the competition is just so fierce, but Donald Trump's handling of NAFTA really has been odd.

Two weeks ago, the Republican had apparently decided to abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he'd railed against as a candidate, though it's unclear if he understands the policy in any meaningful way. As Trump acknowledged, "I was all set to terminate. I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it."

Trump eventually changed his mind, however, saying he spoke with Canadian and Mexican leaders who convinced him not to walk away from the agreement. The Washington Post offered a behind-the-scenes look at how the president's team convinced him to change course (it involved treating Trump like a child and showing him maps.)

Canada's National Post, a conservative newspaper out of Toronto, added another element to the story yesterday:
White House staff called the Prime Minister's Office last month to urge Justin Trudeau to persuade President Donald Trump not to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to multiple Canadian government sources.

The unconventional diplomatic maneuver -- approaching the head of a foreign government to influence your own boss -- proved decisive, as Trump thereafter abandoned his threat to pull out of NAFTA unilaterally, citing the arguments made by Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as pivotal.

But the incident highlights the difficulties faced by governments all over the world when it comes to dealing with a president as volatile as Trump.
To be sure, this report hasn't yet been independently verified by any U.S. outlets, but if accurate, it's quite a revelation. Trump's aides, the story goes, wanted to stop the American president from doing something irresponsible, and as part of their pitch, the White House staffers quietly reached out to Ottawa for help in persuading their erratic boss.

To put it mildly, this is not how international policymaking in the White House is supposed to work, though in this case, it's not at all hard to believe.
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Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York) is interviewed at Roll Call in Washington, D.C.

Dems host town-hall meetings on health care in GOP districts

05/09/17 08:40AM

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) appeared on the show on Friday, the day after House Republicans passed their far-right health care bill, and he raised an interesting idea.

The Republican representative in the neighboring district, Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.), backed his party's regressive plan, took his office's phones off the hook, and decided not to host a local event to explain to his constituents why he'd voted for legislation that would do so much deliberate harm.

Maloney told Rachel on the show that if Faso wouldn't talk to voters in his own district, answering their questions about health care, Maloney would do it for him. "I think every Republican who voted for this thing ought to have to stand in front of their voters and explain it," the congressman said. "And if it takes a Democrat to go in and do it for them for a while, I'll explain what is in this bill. And if he doesn't like it, he should stand up and explain it himself."

As the Poughkeepsie Journal reported, Maloney wasn't kidding, and he followed through yesterday.
On Monday afternoon, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney listened to their concerns in his 18th Congressional District. Then, he listened to concerns from constituents in the 19th Congressional District Monday night. [...]

Maloney said he was on hand to "adopt" the 19th district, after he said Faso rejected Maloney's invitation to visit the 18th district to explain his vote. Maloney said Faso on Monday night was at a fundraiser in Albany. An empty stool had a card with Faso's name.
As best as I can tell, the turnout for the event looked quite good, especially given that it wasn't their congressman who was speaking.

Rachel described it last night as a "new form of protest," which it clearly is. I also think it's quite clever: nervous voters have questions about Republican efforts to gut the health care system, and if their representative doesn't want to talk about it, there's certainly no harm in having a different member of Congress help pick up the slack.
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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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