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Image: Former Deputy Director of the FBI McCabe fired by Attorney General Sessions

Seeing Andrew McCabe as a potential 'significant witness'

03/19/18 09:32AM

Andrew McCabe, fired by the Justice Department on Friday night before he could retire 28 hours later, was many things to the White House. McCabe, for example, was the deputy director the FBI -- the first to ever be fired. He was also one of the first officials to scrutinize the connections between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and its Russian benefactors.

But I was especially interested in something McCabe told  Politico.

"[A]t some point, this has to be seen in the larger context," said McCabe, 49, who says he has voted for every Republican presidential nominee until he sat out the 2016 contest entirely. "And I firmly believe that this is an ongoing effort to undermine my credibility because of the work that I did on the Russia case, because of the investigations that I oversaw and impacted that target this administration."

"They have every reason to believe that I could end up being a significant witness in whatever the special counsel comes up with, and so they are trying to create this counter-narrative that I am not someone who can be believed or trusted," McCabe added. "And as someone who has been believed and trusted by really good people for 21 years, it's just infuriating to me." [emphasis added]

Seeing McCabe as a witness is a detail that may be familiar to regular readers and TRMS viewers. Early on in Trump's presidency, the president allegedly asked then-FBI Director James Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn, the former White House national security advisor. Comey, recognizing the importance of a president possibly obstructing justice during an ongoing investigation, informed a small group of officials.

Comey, obviously, was part of the small circle, and he was fired as part of the president's effort to derail the Russia investigation. Then there's Jim Baker, the former FBI general counsel who's still with the FBI, but who's also been ousted from his senior position at the bureau. There's also Jim Rybicki, a two-time chief of staff to the FBI director, who was pushed out earlier this year.

And there's Andrew McCabe, who was fired as part of an apparent political vendetta.

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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.

Will Republicans agree to protect Mueller from Trump?

03/19/18 09:00AM

Last August, there was at least some bipartisan support for Senate legislation intended to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from Donald Trump. At the time, there was considerable chatter about the president possibly trying to fire the head of the Russia investigation -- possibly touching off a political crisis -- and several members saw value in proactive steps to shield the probe from White House interference.

Soon after, however, Republicans lost interest. In October, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a co-sponsor of one of the bills, said, "I don't feel an urgent need to pass that law until you show me that Mr. Mueller is in jeopardy." A few months later, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), the co-sponsor of a related measure, also said his proposal could wait.

Now that Trump is going after Mueller by name, and one of the president's attorneys is calling for an end to the investigation, those who prefer passivity have a difficult case to make. House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) made a compelling case yesterday on ABC's "This Week":

When asked what Congress should do if President Trump opts to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Schiff responded saying, "I would hope that it would prompt all Democrats and Republicans in the House to pass an independent counsel law and reinstate Bob Mueller. This would undoubtedly result in a constitutional crisis and I think Democrats and Republicans need to speak out about this right now," continuing, "Members need to speak out now, don't wait for the crisis."

And while there was no shortage of other Democrats saying the same thing over the weekend, the question, of course, is whether the Republican majority is inclined to agree.

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Image: Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe

Why the FBI's Andrew McCabe was fired

03/19/18 08:30AM

Never before has the deputy director of the FBI been fired. Late Friday night, the Trump administration broke new ground.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Friday night accepted the recommendation that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who took the reins of the agency during the turbulent days after the abrupt firing of James Comey, be terminated -- two days before he was to retire and become eligible for full pension benefits.

Though McCabe -- who has been attacked by President Donald Trump -- stepped down as deputy director in late January, he remained on the federal payroll, planning to retire on Sunday. The firing places his federal pension in jeopardy.

The official rationale is that the Justice Department's inspector general identified wrongdoing on McCabe's part as part of the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails.

And while it's entirely possible McCabe took steps he shouldn't have -- the full report has not yet been made available to the public -- it's difficult to take the official line seriously after seeing Donald Trump's taunting end-zone dance over the weekend. The president's critics responded to McCabe's firing by arguing that the move appeared to be part of a politically motivated vendetta orchestrated by the Oval Office -- and Trump took steps to prove his critics right.

The president celebrated McCabe's firing as "a great day for democracy," adding, "Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!" Trump also published a tweet with some demonstrably false Clinton-related conspiracy theories, insisting that McCabe was "caught, called out and fired."

The FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility may have proposed the termination, but the president himself seemed to have no use for the fig leaf. Indeed, he never has: Trump has targeted McCabe personally for months. Friday night was simply the culmination of a petty and corrupt vendetta.

There's no shortage of angles to this story, but as the dust starts to settle, here are  a few things to keep in mind:

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Team Trump takes a dramatic turn, goes on offensive against Mueller probe

03/19/18 08:00AM

For months, Donald Trump and his legal team have been extremely cautious in its confrontations with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. When pressed, the president's defense attorneys have generally pressed Mueller and his investigation, all while vowing to cooperate with the probe.

That was the old posture. The new posture emerged over the weekend.

President Trump's personal lawyer John Dowd called Saturday for an end to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference, citing "recent revelations" and the late-night firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe as a basis to end the probe.

In a statement to NBC News, Dowd said he hopes Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will choose to end the investigation "on the merits" of the FBI Inspector General's recommendation to fire McCabe.

Though Dowd clarified he wasn't calling for Mueller's ouster, the president's attorney did say he prays that Rod Rosenstein brings "an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier."

To the extent that reality is in any way relevant, Dowd's argument was bizarre -- the dossier hasn't been discredited and we already know it wasn't responsible for launching the investigation -- but this shift was less about making credible arguments and more about going on the offensive again the special counsel's ongoing investigation.

It's a campaign Donald Trump himself seemed eager to join.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 3.16.18

03/16/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Six-hour installation? "The pedestrian walkway that collapsed Thursday in Miami, killing at least six people, was being built using a popular but relatively new bridge technology specifically designed to speed construction while maintaining safety."

* U.K.: "Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson of Britain said on Friday that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia personally ordered the nerve agent attack against a former Russian spy this month."

* In related news: "Aside from confirming it would expel some British diplomats, without giving the number, Russia has been coy about its potential responses."

* The Pentagon's former Russia chief makes the case that the Trump administration's new Russia sanctions are "totally inconsequential."

* E.U.: "The European Union on Friday made public a 10-page list of American products that are potential targets for retaliation if President Trump refuses to exempt the allied bloc from his new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports."

* I hope you saw last night's TRMS coverage of this: "The Trump administration accused Russia on Thursday of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will."

* Iraq: "An American military helicopter crashed Thursday near the city of Qaim in western Iraq, killing some of the seven service members aboard, United States officials said."

* Expect big ratings: "For a week, the world has waited: When would '60 Minutes' air its interview with porn star Stormy Daniels alleging an affair with President Trump? CBS has been silent. Now there is a planned date, March 25, according to two people familiar with the timing."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: US Treasury Secretary nominee Mnuchin and  Linton arrive for the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump at the US Capitol

Treasury's Mnuchin racks up sky-high costs with taxpayer-funded travel

03/16/18 04:37PM

It wasn't great when we learned Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife flew on a government plane to Kentucky on the day of the solar eclipse. The story looked a little worse when we learned Mnuchin "inquired about the use of a military plane" for his European honeymoon.

The scope of the story, however, is still coming into focus.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin racked up almost $1 million in military flights last year at taxpayers' expense, according to a new report.

In a report issued Thursday, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which investigated Mnuchin's travels through Freedom of Information Act requests, found Mnuchin took eight separate trips on military aircraft between spring and fall 2017.

Those dates are of particular significance: it seems likely that the cabinet secretary has taken other military flights since the fall of 2017, which means the overall price tag is probably even higher now.

It's also worth emphasizing that Mnuchin had other travel choices. His recent predecessors, for example, took plenty of commercial flights. He also could've made use of smaller military planes.

But he didn't. Mnuchin isn't part of the military; he's never been in the military; and there's nothing about his office that requires him to make use of military planes, which are extremely expensive. But the Treasury secretary has apparently been taking full advantage of this opportunity, even if taxpayers get stuck with the tab.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivers a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance" at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Interior's Ryan Zinke just can't seem to stay out of trouble

03/16/18 02:36PM

It seemed like a perfectly reasonable question. At a House Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), a fourth-generation Japanese-American, asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about his agency's grant programs to preserve World War II-era internment camps.

"Oh, konnichiwa," Zinke replied.

There was apparently a momentary silence in the committee room; the Democratic congresswoman corrected his Japanese; and the hearing proceeded. That said, several other lawmakers, including Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), were eager to admonish the cabinet secretary today for his "flippant" and "juvenile" comment.

But before we could catch our breath on this Zinke story, the Associated Press published another.

Trophy hunters are packed on a new U.S. advisory board created to help rewrite federal rules for importing the heads and hides of African elephants, lions and rhinos. That includes some members with direct ties to President Donald Trump and his family.

A review by The Associated Press of the backgrounds and social media posts of the 16 board members appointed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke indicates they will agree with his position that the best way to protect critically threatened or endangered species is by encouraging American hunters to shoot some of them.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Trump administration announced the end of an Obama-era ban on hunters bringing the trophy heads of elephants they'd killed in Africa back to the U.S. The move immediately drew fire, even from some prominent Republicans, and Donald Trump soon after suspended his own administration's policy. Via Twitter, the president said it'd be difficult to change his mind about "this horror show."

Two weeks later, the Trump administration reversed course again, and now Zinke's advisory board wildlife-protection board is stacked with trophy hunters.

All of which serves as a striking reminder: when the Interior secretary make headlines, it's probably not for flattering reasons.

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Paul Ryan, Jeb Hensarling, Steve Scalise

The banking deregulation bill isn't a done deal just yet

03/16/18 12:58PM

In early 2009, when the Great Recession was still very much an ongoing crisis, congressional Democrats began work on reforming the financial industry's rules, including bankruptcy reform proposals. When some of these ideas failed, then-Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) became frustrated, and was willing to say so in candid ways.

"[T]he banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill," Durbin said nine years ago. "And they frankly own the place."

By some measures, that hasn't changed.

The Senate passed on Wednesday legislation sponsored by Senate Banking Committee Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) that would rewrite parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the landmark financial regulation overhaul enacted in response to the 2008 financial crisis. The bill cleared the Senate with ease, 67 to 31, earning support from 16 Democrats and Sen. Angus King (I-ME) in addition to 50 Republicans.

The Senate bill would adjust the size at which banks are subject to certain regulatory scrutiny and exempt small banks from some requirements for loans, mortgages, and trading, among other measures.

Right now, banks with more than $50 billion in assets are subject to Dodd-Frank regulations. The Senate bill would, among other things, raise that threshold to $250 billion.

The bill faced fierce criticism from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and much of the left -- the very idea that Congress would roll back financial-industry safeguards right now seems dangerous from a progressive perspective, especially with the industry already flush with cash -- but it cleared the Senate anyway. All 31 "no" votes came from the Senate Democratic caucus, but they were easily outnumbered.

What's especially interesting right now, however, is what House Republicans intend to do with the Senate bill.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.16.18

03/16/18 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) died this morning at the age of 88, following a three-decade career on Capitol Hill. Roll Call  reports that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will reportedly have some discretion "over when to call a special election."

* At an appearance in New Hampshire this morning, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) offered another not-so-subtle rhetorical shot at Donald Trump. "We have ... succumbed to what can only be described as a propaganda-fueled dystopian view of conservatism," the retiring senator argued.

* On a related note, Flake told the Associated Press, "It's not in my plan to run for president, but I am not ruling it out. Somebody needs to stand up for traditional Republicanism."

* How are Democrats preparing to defend vulnerable Democratic incumbents? The Senate Majority PAC unveiled this new ad today, defending Sen. Joe Donnely (D-Ind.), who's already facing an aggressive ad campaign from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.

* According to an AP article, the chair of the West Virginia Republican Party apparently criticized Democratic congressional candidate Richard Ojeda for receiving a military pension. If so, that was probably unwise.

* In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) launched her first TV ad of the cycle, claiming she "steadied the ship" after her predecessor, former Gov. Robert Bentley (R), was forced to resign in the wake of a sex scandal.

* Former Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) announced this week that he won't seek a rematch against Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) this year, citing Donald Trump's unpopularity and the results of Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania.

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Economic analyst Lawrence "Larry" Kudlow appears on CNBC at the New York Stock Exchange, (NYSE) in New York, March 7, 2018.

Trump's top new voice on the economy is always wrong about the economy

03/16/18 11:20AM

In political circles, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol is known for a few things. He was former Vice President Dan Quayle's chief of staff; he's one of the more influential Republicans in the D.C. media; he's a notable critic of Donald Trump; and he has an unfortunate habit of making predictions that don't come true.

Larry Kudlow is similar, except instead of always being wrong about political developments, Kudlow is always wrong about the economy. And while that's an unfortunate track record for someone who pontificates about the economy on television -- Kudlow is a longtime CNBC anchor -- it's an even worse trait for someone who leads the White House's National Economic Council.

And yet, that's the job Donald Trump tapped Kudlow for this week.

The New York Times  highlighted some of Kudlow's "not-so-on-the-money predictions" yesterday, and it's an unflattering list. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank added:

It was the eve of the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression. Many on Wall Street worried that a recession loomed and that the housing bubble was bursting.

And then there was Larry Kudlow, the man President Trump just tapped to be his top economic adviser.

"Despite all the doom and gloom from the economic pessimistas, the resilient U.S. economy continues moving ahead," Kudlow wrote on Dec. 7, 2007, in National Review, predicting that gloomy forecasters would "wind up with egg on their faces." Kudlow, who previously derided as "bubbleheads" those who warned about a housing bubble, now wrote that "very positive" news in housing should "cushion" falling home sales and prices.

That was in December 2007 -- the exact month the Great Recession began -- and the global economy entered a crushing free-fall not long after.

"Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, they say," Milbank added. "But Kudlow's misfires just keep coming."

The point, however, isn't to point and laugh. Rather, what matters here is Kudlow's track record and its relationship to his new responsibilities.

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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Nunes: There's 'no one left' for Mueller to indict in Russia scandal

03/16/18 10:45AM

Politico  reported late yesterday that House Republicans "are privately venting that they've fumbled the release of their own Russia probe report."

Ya think? The GOP leadership of the House Intelligence Committee abruptly ended their own investigation of the Russia scandal, long before they had all the facts. They also released a ridiculous pre-cooked report, rejected the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies about Russia backing Donald Trump, and then spent the rest of the week conceding that this core conclusion of the GOP report was wrong.

"Fumbled the release" seems like a charitable way of saying the House Intelligence Committee's Republicans screwed up spectacularly (again). Four days after the release of a GOP document intended to exonerate their party's president, the only people who even remember the report are those who recognize its insulting absurdities.

But the committee's embattled chairman and unyielding Donald Trump ally, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), is undeterred. Indeed, he spoke at a private dinner this week, hosted by a conservative magazine called the American Spectator, and toed the White House line in an interesting way. The Washington Examiner reported:

Nunes said that he doesn't see who [Special Counsel Robert Mueller] could indict for collusion if all the indictments to date have been on other charges.

"Now look at who Mueller has prosecuted at this point, and who is left to prosecute for collusion?" he wondered. "I mean, there's no one left. [Former Trump campaign manager Paul] Manafort would be the obvious guy to think of that was colluding, right? If you could have gotten him on collusion, he would have been the obvious choice. Flynn, I mean, I knew Flynn very very well, and he is not a secret communist supporting Putin. So, they can't get him on that. So who else do they have?"

Was that a rhetorical question? Because if Nunes really wants to know -- if he genuinely believes there's literally no one else who might be prosecuted by the special counsel's team -- the California Republican probably should've run a real investigation and kept it going.

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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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