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Monday's Mini-Report, 11.6.17

11/06/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A familiar dynamic: "Democratic lawmakers are renewing their calls for gun control, following the largest mass shooting in Texas history, as Republicans, including President Donald Trump and local lawmakers, insisted firearms are not the problem."

* Saudi Arabia: "The Saudi leadership shake-up and wave of arrests over the weekend have rattled potential investors in the kingdom's ambitious modernization drive to create a new city, diversify the economy and sell off a slice of the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil company."

* In related news: "Saudi Arabia charged Monday that Iran had committed 'a blatant act of military aggression' by providing its Yemeni allies with a missile fired at the Saudi capital over the weekend, raising the threat of a direct military clash between the two regional heavyweights."

* Trump-Russia scandal: "Kremlin-backed support for Donald Trump's candidacy over social media began much earlier than previously known, a new analysis of Twitter data shows."

* It's called sabotage: "In preparation for the Affordable Care Act's latest enrollment season, the Trump administration sent notices about the sign-up options to millions fewer Americans than in past years and deleted themes known to be most effective in motivating consumers to sign up."

* Welcome back: "Rep. Frederica Wilson received a warm welcome at the Capitol Wednesday, her first time back since death threats kept her home in Florida last week amid a feud with President Donald Trump."

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Trump World's dishonesty about its Russia contacts matters

11/06/17 04:35PM

Just how many members of Team Trump were in contact with Russia before Donald Trump's presidential inauguration? The Washington Post published an interesting tally that puts the number at nine.

In all, documents and interviews show there are at least nine Trump associates who had contacts with Russians during the campaign or presidential transition. Some are well-known, and others, such as [Trump foreign policy adviser George] Papadopoulos, have been more on the periphery.

The "at least" caveat makes some sense, because the overall number is arguably larger, but nine seems like a decent place to start: Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, J.D. Gordon, Jeff Sessions, and Michael Flynn.

There's no shortage of angles to this, but I want to focus on just a couple. The first is the dishonesty.

As regular readers know, Trump World told the public repeatedly, over the course of several months, that there were no communications between the Trump campaign and Russia during Russia's attack on the American elections. It's one of the most dramatic falsehoods Team Trump pushed as the scandal unfolded.

Indeed, just a few days before Inauguration Day, for example, CBS's John Dickerson asked Mike Pence, "Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?"

The vice president-elect responded at the time, “Of course not.”

This wasn’t an isolated incident. As we discussed in February, when reports first surfaced that Russia was in talks with Team Trump during Russia’s election crimes, the response from the Republican camp was categorical: those communications simply did not happen. Even after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov acknowledged that “there were contacts” between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign team ahead of Nov. 8, Team Trump kept insisting otherwise.

Indeed, Trump and his aides left no wiggle room on the subject. Kellyanne Conway, asked about the possibility of these communications between the Republican campaign and Russians, said, “Absolutely not.” She added the conversations “never happened” and any suggestions to the contrary “undermine our democracy.”

At a pre-inaugural press conference, Donald Trump himself said no one from his team was in contact with Russians during the campaign. During his tenure, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also denied the communications.

What's more, there's ample reason to believe various officials in the Trump campaign knew about the Russian contacts, even while the campaign denied the communications were happening.

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Image: President Trump Meets With The National Association of Manufacturers

Trump reportedly told tribal leaders to ignore federal laws

11/06/17 12:49PM

The Constitution's Article II doesn't go into a lot of detail when describing the duties of the president, but it does include a rather specific responsibility: a president, the Constitution mandates, "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Whether Donald Trump cares about honoring this obligation is open to some debate. Axios, for example, published a report yesterday on a recent meeting in which the president allegedly told a group of people they should feel free to ignore federal laws.

In late June, President Trump hosted a group of Native American tribal leaders at the White House and urged them to "just do it" and extract whatever they want from the land they control.

The exchange turned out to be an unusually vivid window into the almost kingly power that Trump sees himself as holding, and which he has begun describing with increasing bluntness. The scene was recounted by a source in the room and confirmed by another. The White House didn't dispute the story.

The chiefs explained to Trump that there were regulatory barriers preventing them from getting at their energy. Trump replied: "But now it's me. The government's different now. Obama's gone; and we're doing things differently here."

As Axios described the scene, it was at this point in which the tribal leaders paused, looked at each other, and seemed uncertain about how to proceed.

Trump, however, was reportedly emphatic, telling one of the tribal leaders, "Chief, chief, what are they going to do? Once you get it out of the ground are they going to make you put it back in there? I mean, once it's out of the ground it can't go back in there. You've just got to do it. I'm telling you, chief, you've just got to do it."

Just so we're clear, "it" refers to breaking the law, and "they" refer to officials from Trump's own administration who have a responsibility to act in accordance with the law.

As Axios' report tells it, Native American leaders still weren't sure whether they should take the president's instructions at face value, so Trump again encouraged them to simply ignore the existing legal framework. "Guys, I feel like you're not hearing me right now," he added. "We've just got to do it. I feel like we've got no choice; other countries are just doing it. China is not asking questions about all of this stuff. They're just doing it. And guys, we've just got to do it."

By way of an analysis, Axios added that Trump "sees himself above the traditions, limits and laws of the presidency," which helps explain why he was reportedly comfortable telling a group of White House visitors that they should feel free to commit crimes with his blessing.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.6.17

11/06/17 12:00PM

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

* With Virginia's closely watched gubernatorial campaign on tap for tomorrow, there's a whole bunch of new polls, nearly all of which show Ralph Northam (D) with a modest lead over Ed Gillespie (R).

* Donald Trump has endorsed Gillespie, but hasn't made any in-person campaign appearances for him. When was the last time a sitting president didn't campaign for his party's gubernatorial nominee in Virginia? That would be Richard Nixon in 1973 -- near the height of the Watergate scandal.

* New Jersey will also host a gubernatorial campaign tomorrow, and the latest Monmouth University poll shows Phil Murphy (D) with a 14-point lead over Kim Guadagno (R), 53% to 39%.

* The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll found Democrats with a double-digit advantage over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot. The Dems' lead is now the largest it's been in this poll since 2006 -- the cycle Democrats wrestled control of both the House and Senate from the Bush-era GOP.

* reported the other day that a small "Republicans for Doug Jones" movement is gaining ground in Alabama ahead of the state's U.S. Senate special election. Jones (D) will face Roy Moore on Dec. 12, which is five weeks from tomorrow.

* Jeff Hoover, the Republican state House Speaker in Kentucky, resigned yesterday, acknowledging that he'd sent "inappropriate" text messages to a legislative staffer in his office.

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Image: FILE PHOTO - Donald Trump Jr. arrives at Trump Tower in New York City

Details of infamous Trump Tower meeting come into sharper focus

11/06/17 11:20AM

Four months ago, the New York Times published a report that changed the trajectory of the Trump-Russia scandal in a rather dramatic way. As regular readers no doubt recall, we learned that in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had a private meeting with, among others, a Kremlin-linked Russian attorney and a former Soviet counterintelligence officer.

Though Trump World's explanation for the meeting evolved over time -- when those caught up in a scandal change their story, it's never a good sign -- we eventually learned that the Republican team set up the meeting in the hopes of acquiring dirt from Russia on Hillary Clinton, effectively inviting a foreign adversary to cooperate with the Trump campaign.

And while that appears to answer the "collusion" question, there's still a great deal to be learned about that Trump Tower conversation. Bloomberg Politics moved the ball forward in provocative ways in a newly published report.

A Russian lawyer who met with President Donald Trump's oldest son last year says he indicated that a law targeting Russia could be re-examined if his father won the election and asked her for written evidence that illegal proceeds went to Hillary Clinton's campaign.

The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, said in a two-and-a-half-hour interview in Moscow that she would tell these and other things to the Senate Judiciary Committee on condition that her answers be made public, something it hasn't agreed to. She has received scores of questions from the committee, which is investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Veselnitskaya said she's also ready -- if asked -- to testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

There's quite a bit to this, but the latest allegations point to a possible quid pro quo in which Team Trump would receive campaign assistance from Russia while Russia would receive sanctions help from a future Trump administration, with a specific focus on the Magnitsky Act.

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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.

Scope of Mueller's probe worries Team Trump and its allies

11/06/17 10:40AM

In police dramas on television, there are certain plot developments that give away the game. For example, when detectives show up at a suspect's home, and the suspect seems concerned about the police looking beneath his shed, it's a safe bet there's some incriminating evidence under that shed.

With this in mind, I'm fascinated by Trump World talking publicly about the areas it wants Special Counsel Robert Mueller to avoid.

[T]he president's personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, told POLITICO on Thursday he is primed to lodge formal objections with either Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if the Russia investigation took a wide or unexpected detour into issues like an old Trump real-estate deal.

"We'd view that as outside the scope of legitimate inquiry," Sekulow said. "We'd raise it."

Donald Trump made a similar comment over the summer to the New York Times, when the president said it'd be "a violation" if Mueller examined his personal finances.

Just as a matter of strategy, warnings like these seem unwise. If there's one thing Trump and his team should avoid doing, it's telling federal investigators, "Whatever you do, don't look over there."

What's more, the warnings don't appear to be working. The Washington Post noted yesterday that Mueller's interest in Russian contacts "may extend to Trump's business, as well, with the special counsel's office recently asking for records related to a failed 2015 proposal for a Moscow Trump Tower, according to a person familiar with the request."

If the president's rhetoric from July reflected his genuine intentions, this presumably means Trump will be more inclined to take steps to fire Mueller and derail the investigation.

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

Trump's Commerce Secretary has some explaining to do

11/06/17 10:00AM

When it comes to the Russia scandal and Donald Trump's cabinet, much of the focus has been on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and for good reason. The Alabama Republican has made quite a few claims under oath about interactions with Russia that don't appear to be true.

But let's not forget Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

If you've been keeping an eye on Rachel's coverage of the Russia scandal in recent months, you may recall that Ross helped lead the highly controversial Bank of Cyprus, home to a Russian oligarch who did this otherwise inexplicable real-estate transaction with Donald Trump in Palm Beach a few years ago

Over the weekend, NBC News raised new questions about Ross, reporting that Trump's cabinet secretary "shares business interests with Vladimir Putin's immediate family," which Ross failed to previously disclose.

Ross -- a billionaire industrialist -- retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator's most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin's son-in-law and other members of the Russian president's inner circle.

Some of the details of Ross's continuing financial holdings -- much of which were not disclosed during his confirmation process -- are revealed in a trove of more than 7 million internal documents of Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm, that was leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The documents consist of emails, presentations and other electronic data. These were then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists -- a global network that won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its work on the Panama Papers -- and its international media partners. NBC News was given access to some of the leaked documents, which the ICIJ calls the "Paradise Papers."

The New York Times published a related piece, noting that Ross' personal share in Navigator Holdings lessened after he became a cabinet secretary, but he maintained a multi-million-dollar investment in the company, which this year increased its business dealings with Sibur, a giant Russian energy company whose clients include Putin's family member.

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U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.

Trump raises eyebrows with odd economic rhetoric in Japan

11/06/17 09:20AM

At a news conference in Tokyo today, Donald Trump read from a prepared script and praised Japan's economy while standing alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The American president then paused for a moment and decided to add an unscripted thought.

"I don't know if [Japan's economy is] as good as ours. I think not. OK? We're going to try to keep it that way. And you'll be second."

First, I realize America's amateur president isn't skilled in diplomacy, but when visiting an allied country, it's generally not polite to brag publicly that the host nation's economy isn't as impressive as the United States' economy.

Second, while the American economy is, by a wide margin, still the largest on the planet, China is the next closest, not Japan. Trump's dig at the Japanese economy created a needlessly awkward moment, but it was also factually wrong.

This followed a similar problem last night, when Trump shared some related thoughts on Japanese manufacturing during a briefing with business executives.

"If you're a Japanese firm, we love it -- try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over," the American president said. "Is that possible to ask? That's not rude. Is that rude? I don't think so."

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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)

Rand Paul recovering following assault at his Kentucky home

11/06/17 08:40AM

There were some odd reports on Saturday about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) being assaulted at his Kentucky home late last week, but a spokesperson for the Republican senator said he was "fine." The Kentucky State Police added that Paul suffered "a minor injury."

By yesterday afternoon, our understanding of what transpired was quite a bit different.

Sen. Rand Paul was "blindsided" and broke five ribs when he was tackled by a neighbor at his home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, police and an aide to Paul said Sunday.

Rene Boucher, 59, of Bowling Green, was charged with one count of fourth-degree assault in the incident, which occurred at about 3:20 p.m. (4:20 p.m. ET) Friday, Kentucky State Police said.

According to a spokesperson for the senator, Paul suffered five rib fractures, including three displaced fractures, and it's "not clear exactly how soon he will return to work."

State police indicated that the FBI is involved in the investigation, which makes sense given the fact that a sitting senator was apparently the victim of a violent assault.

And I'll look forward to learning the results of that investigation, because what we know at this point is quite bizarre.

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Following mass shooting, Trump says this 'isn't a guns situation'

11/06/17 08:00AM

As of this morning, the death toll from yesterday's mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, stands at 26 people, with at least 19 others in nearby hospitals. According to NBC News' reporting, the ages of the victims ranged from 5 to 72, although later one bereaved family reportedly said an infant girl was among those killed. The gunman was also later found dead.

The shooting at the First Baptist Church was the fifth deadliest in American history, the deadliest in Texas' history, and comes just a month after the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump delivered a predictable message this morning: this "isn't a guns issue."

President Donald Trump said Monday that Sunday's mass shooting at a Texas church "isn't a guns situation" but instead "a mental health problem at the highest level."

Asked at a joint press briefing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe if he would consider pressing for gun control measures in the wake of America's second mass shooting in a month, Trump said "mental health is your problem here," calling the shooter a "very deranged individual" with "a lot of problems over a long period of time."

At a certain level, this brings us to a very familiar place: opponents of new gun reforms respond to mass shootings by pointing to mental health, while proponents of new gun reforms point out that every country has people who suffer from mental illness, but the United States is unique in its experiences with gun violence.

But even if we look past this back-and-forth, Donald Trump's specific record in this area is problematic in ways the president doesn't seem to fully appreciate.

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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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