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A doorman stands as people walk past the Trump Tower in N.Y. on May 23, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

President tries to brush off lying about infamous Trump Tower meeting

06/15/18 12:30PM

It was two years ago this month that top members of the Trump campaign hosted a private meeting in Trump Tower with a group of Russians. As regular readers know, the intended point of the gathering was for the future president's operation to acquire anti-Clinton intelligence from Moscow, which Team Trump was eager to receive, bolstering allegations of cooperation between the Republican campaign and its benefactors in Moscow.

Last summer, after the meeting came to light, Donald Trump Jr. issued a written statement to the New York Times saying participants "primarily discussed" an adoption program, which was "not a campaign issue." That statement was obviously deceptive and has reportedly drawn the interest of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump's legal defense team later conceded that the president himself personally dictated the wording of his son's dishonest statement.

This morning, Trump was offered an opportunity to shed additional light on the subject.

Q: Did you dictate the statement about [the Trump Tower meeting]?

TRUMP: Let's not talk about it. You know what that is? It's irrelevant. It's a statement to the New York Times. The phony, failing New York Times. It's not a statement to a high tribunal of judges. That's a statement phony New York Times.

The president's point wasn't exactly subtle: lying in a written statement to a major news organization shouldn't necessarily be seen as wrong.

Mueller and his investigators may have a very different perspective on this -- because at face value, it suggests the president may have been personally involved in an attempted cover-up when describing one of the key moments in the overall scandal.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.15.18

06/15/18 12:00PM

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

* With the launch of his latest ad campaign in Florida's U.S. Senate race, Gov. Rick Scott's (R) "spending onslaught" is now "approaching $20 million." It's not even July yet.

* Speaking of big spenders in the Sunshine State, billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene (D) kicked off a gubernatorial campaign in Florida this week, suggesting he might end up spending $100 million on the race. Greene ran an unsuccessful Senate campaign in Florida six years ago.

* In Pennsylvania, the latest Franklin & Marshall poll found incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D) with a surprisingly large lead over Rep. Lou Barletta (R), 44% to 27%.

* The same poll found incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf (D) with a comparable lead over his Republican challenger, Scott Wagner, 48% to 29%.

* Though there's been some chatter about House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R) leaving Capitol Hill and running for governor in Louisiana, the Republican congressman this week ruled out the possibility.

* With Rep. Martha McSally (R) increasingly concerned about her Senate primary in Arizona, a group called One Nation, "aligned" with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), is launching a new ad campaign in support of the Republican congresswoman.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Manafort departs U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia

Trump pretends to barely know the man who led his campaign

06/15/18 11:19AM

It's going to be a very big day for Paul Manafort, the suspected criminal who ran Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2016. Manafort, who was already facing multiple criminal charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, was recently accused of witness tampering. A longtime Manafort associate, a Russian intelligence operative named Konstantin Kilimnik, was also indicted last week.

As you've likely seen Rachel explain on the show, Manafort is scheduled to be back in court today for an arraignment, and his bail agreement may be revised or revoked. Or put another way, the man who led the president's political operation may find himself in jail later today.

Trump was asked about the legal developments this morning, and true to form, the president acted as if he barely knew Manafort, telling reporters:

"Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. I'll tell you, I feel a little badly about it. They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago?

"You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time.... He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something? A very short period of time."

Asked about possible pardons, Trump added, "I don't want to talk about that. But look, I do want to see people treated fairly. That's what it's all about."

It was March 2017 when the White House first tried to dismiss Manafort as someone "who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time." Fifteen months later, Trump has taken this line in a direction that would be hilarious if this weren't so serious.

To the extent that reality matters, let's do a little fact checking:

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

White House turns to conservative job fair to find willing staffers

06/15/18 10:42AM

About three months ago, Donald Trump acknowledged the staffing exodus in his White House, but he rejected the idea that it was a problem.

"You know, I read where, 'Oh, gee, maybe people don't want to work for Trump.' And believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House," the president insisted. "They all want a piece of that Oval Office; they want a piece of the West Wing. And not only in terms of it looks great on their resume; it's just a great place to work."

Given the revolving door at the White House, it was difficult to take Trump's assurances seriously. Indeed, his comments look a little worse after reading this report from Politico this week.

The White House -- which has been having trouble filling positions as it bleeds staffers -- is now trying to find recruits at a conservative job fair on the Hill.

"Interested in a job at the White House?" is the subject line of an email that was blasted out widely to Republicans on the Hill late Wednesday advertising the upcoming event.

The job fair, scheduled for this afternoon on Capitol Hill, is being hosted by the Conservative Partnership Institute, which is a fairly new group created by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who also used to lead the Heritage Foundation.

The Politico piece added, "Recruiting at a job fair is seen as an unusual step for a White House to take.... A former Obama administration official said it would have been unheard of in the previous administration.... The Trump White House, however, has had difficulty bringing new people in."

For many observers, especially the president's detractors, it's probably tempting to laugh at all of this. It is, after all, pitiful.

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Image: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with President Donald Trump

Trump suggests he wants to be treated the way Kim Jong-un is treated

06/15/18 10:12AM

Donald Trump has already made major concessions to North Korea's Kim Jong-un in exchange for nothing, and also offered public praise for the brutal dictator. How can the American president make matters worse?

Perhaps by expressing some admiration for the authoritarian's governing style.

Trump was asked this morning whether Kim might someday visit the White House. The Republican said it "could happen," before adding:

"Hey, he's the head of a country, and I mean he's the strong head. Don't let anyone think any different. [Kim] speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same."

In context, "my people" appeared to refer to White House staff, not Americans in general, though that's hardly reassuring. What Trump neglected to mention is that Kim's "people" sit up at attention when he speaks because they realize that failure to do so may lead to their execution.

The president's comments coincided with a Washington Post  report on the events surrounding this week's summit in Singapore. Trump was reportedly impressed with North Korea's state-run television news, and was struck by "how positive the female North Korean news anchor was toward Kim." He added "that maybe she should get a job on U.S. television."

Taken in isolation, one might be tempted to shrug off ridiculous rhetoric like this, but there's a broader pattern of concern. Trump has repeatedly expressed public admiration for dictators, not despite their authoritarian practices, but because of them.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump

Defamation lawsuit grows more serious for Trump

06/15/18 09:20AM

As if Donald Trump's lawyers weren't already busy, the president's defense team has made repeated efforts to make Summer Zervos' civil suit go away. As we were reminded yesterday, those efforts aren't going well.

New York's highest court on Thursday denied President Donald Trump's attempt to put the brakes on a defamation suit from former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos.

The decision by the New York Court of Appeals marks another failed bid from Trump to halt or delay the lawsuit brought by Zervos.

Zervos' lawyer, Mariann Wang, said in a statement to CNBC. "This is now the third time the courts have rejected defendant's effort to block the progress of this case. We look forward to continuing the discovery process and exposing the truth."

It's that discovery process that should worry the president.

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Image: Donald Trump

'People have gone to prison for stuff like this'

06/15/18 08:40AM

Under normal political circumstances, the new allegations against Donald Trump's charitable foundation would be the dominant political scandal of the day. As Rachel explained on last night's show, the New York attorney general's office believes the president's foundation was little more than a slush fund, which, among other things, made illegal in-kind contributions for Trump's campaign.

What's more, according to yesterday's court filing, Trump's alleged misdeeds were "willful and intentional," and he was "fully aware of" at least some of the foundation's suspect activities. Indeed, there's a paper trail that appears to document the Republican's direct involvement in improper foundation payments intended to boost his candidacy.

But the significance of the revelations extend beyond the lawsuit filed by the state. As the New York Times  reported overnight, the president's bigger problem "might be with the Internal Revenue Service."

The lawsuit accused Mr. Trump and three of his children of using the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a nonprofit charity, for political and business purposes, even though he signed federal tax returns swearing that wasn't happening. Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood referred her findings to the I.R.S. for further investigation. [...]

Similar behavior has prompted federal prosecutions, according to lawyers who have worked on such cases.

The New York attorney general's filing is not a criminal case, but the AG's office did refer potential crimes to the attention of the IRS and the Federal Elections Commission.

And at face value, there's ample reason to believe the IRS should take an interest in these findings. After all, as the NYT's article noted, Trump signed the foundation's tax returns, in which he stated, under penalties of perjury, "that the foundation did not engage in transactions with interested parties, and that the foundation did not carry out political activity."

In reality, there's quite a bit of evidence that the foundation was used as a piggy bank for Trump's campaign -- with Trump's direct involvement -- to the tune of $2.8 million.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Justice Dept report makes Trump's FBI criticisms appear foolish

06/15/18 08:00AM

The point of the investigation from the Justice Department inspector general's office was to examine how federal law enforcement performed during the 2016 presidential election, scrutinizing whether the FBI or the DOJ was in any way politically biased during the campaign season.

For Donald Trump and Republicans, the answer was already obvious: the president and his party have insisted for years that the federal law enforcement was biased in favor of Hillary Clinton, who received preferential treatment for partisan reasons, and who would've been "locked up" if the investigation into her email server been handled in a neutral way.

The IG report makes clear that Trump and Republicans were just wrong. As the New York Times' David Leonhardt explained:

Did the Justice Department and F.B.I. use their power, as Trump has repeatedly claimed, to help Clinton's campaign and hurt his?

In the lead-up to the report, Trump's allies agreed that this was paramount. "The central question in my opinion," David Bossie, Trump's former deputy campaign manager, wrote this week on the Fox News website, "is did Hillary Clinton and her cronies get preferential treatment in her email server investigation for political reasons?"

And the report's answer is clear: No. Federal investigators and prosecutors did not give preferential treatment to Clinton. They pursued the case on the merits. They were guided by, as the inspector general's report puts it, "the prosecutor's assessment of the facts, the law, and past Department practice."

There was no pro-Clinton bias. The Republican president's allegations were the opposite of the truth. As Rachel explained on the show last night, the Justice Department's exhaustive review explained that the reason Clinton wasn't charged was because there simply wasn't reason to charge her. The investigation into her emails was handled properly.

The inspector general did find serious fault in former FBI Director James Comey's conduct -- a point Trump seemed excited about this morning -- but what the White House and its allies need to understand is that Comey was criticized in the new report for being unfair to Clinton.

In other words, the former FBI director, far from helping the Democratic ticket, went too far in damaging Clinton's candidacy.

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DoJ IG report lesson: GOP bullying of law enforcement works

DoJ IG report lesson: GOP bullying of law enforcement works

06/14/18 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the findings of the Department of Justice inspector general report on the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and notes that the unequal treatment James Comey gave to Clinton was the result of Republican attacks on law enforcement that made Comey more concerned about giving the impression of... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 6.14.18

06/14/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The long-awaited inspector general's report: "The Justice Department's watchdog said Thursday that former FBI Director James Comey breached protocol but was not politically motivated in his handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe."

* It sounds like a prison camp for children: "The Trump administration has selected Tornillo, Texas, for the construction of tents to house the overflow of immigrant children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a new 'zero tolerance' policy, according to three sources familiar with the decision."

* In related news: "Life inside the biggest licensed child care facility in the nation for children brought into the U.S. illegally looks more like incarceration than temporary shelter."

* The practices aren't going unnoticed: "A group of legislators and activists that included several Democratic members of the House of Representatives ... staged a sit-in Wednesday outside the headquarters of the Customs and Border Protection agency in Washington, D.C. before moving to block a street at the edge of the White House security perimeter."

* I have a hunch we haven't seen the last of that image: "North Korean state television aired video on Thursday from the historic summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un that included a surprising moment when the American president saluted a North Korean general."

* Trump seems to have a habit of echoing the Kremlin's position: "President Donald Trump told G7 leaders that Crimea is Russian because everyone who lives there speaks Russian, according to two diplomatic sources."

* It's a shame this may be necessary: "A pair of Senate Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday that would prevent President Donald Trump from unilaterally drawing down the American troop presence on the Korean peninsula -- not necessarily because he's said he will, but because they don't want to rely on his word that he won't."

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Image: Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House

Trump Foundation accused of widespread illegal activities

06/14/18 03:30PM

One of the great ironies of the 2016 presidential campaign is that voters were led to believe that of the two major-party candidates, Hillary Clinton was the one with the controversial charitable foundation. Given the many alarming questions surrounding Donald Trump's charitable foundation, the conventional wisdom had it backwards.

And as it turns out, it may have been vastly worse than we knew.

Last fall, Trump's foundation took steps toward dissolution, but it ran into some trouble. The New York Attorney General's Charities Division explained at the time that it was investigating the foundation, and the president's entity couldn't formally dissolve until that probe ran its course.

That was eight months ago. As an NBC News' report makes clear, investigators have now wrapped up their examination, and they apparently found quite a bit.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued President Donald Trump and his charitable foundation on Thursday, alleging that the president and his adult children illegally used the private foundation for personal, business, and political expenses.

The lawsuit alleges illegal activity that took place over more than a decade, including "extensive unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trump's personal and business interests, and violations of basic legal obligations for non-profit foundations," according to a statement from the attorney general's office.

The suit accuses the president, along with Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, and Donald Trump Jr., of violating multiple counts of state and federal law. Foundation funds were used to pay off Trump family legal obligations, promote Trump businesses, purchase personal items, and influence the president's 2016 campaign, the suit said.

The full 41-page court filing is online here (pdf). The president has already published a couple of tweets complaining about the allegations and vowing not to settle the case.

The Trump Foundation also criticized the filing, though in an amusing twist, the foundation accused of improperly being controlled by the Trump Organization responded to the allegations by issuing a statement through the Trump Organization's email account.

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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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