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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.11.17

01/11/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Powerful testimony: "Evoking memories of segregation-era marches for equality in Selma, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis and other prominent Democrats within the Congressional Black Caucus testified against Sen. Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, staking a clear opposition to the Alabama senator's appointment as attorney general."

* Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump's choice for Secretary of State, did not have an easy day: "After prodding, he acknowledged during Wednesday's confirmation hearing that [Russia's] cyber intrusion would not have happened without Putin's sign off. But the longtime Exxon Mobil CEO told the committee he has not yet spoken to Trump about one Russia, one of the top foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. 'That's pretty amazing,' Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez said."

* More on this story tomorrow: "President-elect Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he has tapped David Shulkin, a physician who is currently serving in the Obama administration as VA undersecretary, to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs."

* Asia-Pacific: "Taiwan scrambled F-16 fighter jets and dispatched a frigate to the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday after China sent its sole aircraft carrier into the waterway, Taiwan's official Central News Agency reported."

* The VW scandal isn't over: "U.S. officials indicted six executives at German automaker Volkswagen on Wednesday in connection with the company's scheme to deliberately deceive U.S. regulators about the emissions standards of its diesel-engine vehicles and sell those cars illegally to American drivers."

* Texas' latest execution: "A Texas man who claims his lawyers did a bad job of defending him against charges he callously murdered two men could become the first prisoner executed this year if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't call off his Wednesday night lethal injection."
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Image: *** BESTPIX *** President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Press Conference In New York

Obama, Trump, and a tale of two appearances

01/11/17 04:54PM

Farewell addresses offer outgoing presidents a special opportunity, not only to reflect on their tenure, but to look ahead to future challenges. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, famously used his farewell address to warn Americans about the dangers of the "military industrial complex."

Last night in Chicago, President Obama spoke only briefly about his many accomplishments, instead investing the bulk of his time on issuing a warning of his own about the health and vibrancy of American democracy.

About 12 hours later, his successor appeared behind a podium -- and proceeded to prove that Obama's fears are well grounded.

Obama's farewell address included a variety of messages and themes, but what Americans saw was a leader who seemed eager to credit his fellow citizens and encourage them to keep moving the country forward.
"You were the change. You answered people's hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started. [...]

"I do have one final ask of you as your president -- the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I'm asking you to believe -- not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours."
These comments -- a leader crediting his supporters instead of himself -- came to mind during Donald Trump's press conference this morning. At one point, for example, the president-elect said he wants recognition for having effectively been a freelance tech consultant during the presidential campaign: "We were told that they were trying to hack [Republicans], but they weren't able to hack. And I think I get some credit because I told Reince, and Reince did a phenomenal job, but I said I want strong hacking defense [on RNC computers]."

The idea that Trump actually gave the RNC advice about cyber-security is very hard to believe, but what struck me as significant about this throwaway line is the president-elect's preoccupation with self-aggrandizing claims.

The result was a pair of bookend speeches in which Americans saw two very different kinds of leaders. One urged the electorate to keep believing in the core strengths of our political system; one made those appeals quite difficult to accept.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Donald Trump sidesteps key question on Russia scandal

01/11/17 02:29PM

Did Russian officials communicate with members of Donald Trump's team during the presidential campaign? Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says yes; the Republican transition team says no. One of them isn't telling the truth.

CNN reported yesterday, meanwhile, that part of the intelligence dossier on the Russian hacking scandal "included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government."

Trump was offered an opportunity to clear this up during this morning's press conference, but his response fell short.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign. And if you do indeed believe that Russia was behind the hacking, what is your message to Vladimir Putin right now?

TRUMP: He shouldn't be doing it. He won't be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I'm leading than when other people have led it. You will see that. Russia will respect our country more. He shouldn't have done it. I don't believe that he will be doing it more now. We have to work something out, but it's not just Russia....
At that point, the president-elect changed the subject and, soon after, ended the press conference without taking any additional questions.

After the event, an NBC News reporter repeated the unanswered question to Trump as he approached an elevator to exit the room. The president-elect responded, "No."

He didn't elaborate.
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Donald Trump holds a press conference with his VP Choice, Gov. Mike Pence, July 16, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Trump's plan to address conflicts of interest falls far short

01/11/17 01:12PM

About a month ago, Fox News' Chris Wallace asked Donald Trump about his many conflicts of interest, and the possibility of "foreign interests trying to curry favor" with the incoming president. Trump said the public has nothing to be concerned about.

"I turned down seven deals with one big player -- great player -- last week because I thought it could be perceived as a conflict of interest," the president-elect said. For emphasis, Trump added a moment later that the deals he recently turned down were worth "probably a billion dollars."

It wasn't a reassuring answer. As we discussed at the time, while Trump faced allegations about exploiting his office for financial gain, he admitted to discussing business deals -- during his busy transition process -- with a "big player," who approached Trump about a billion-dollar opportunity.

At this morning's bizarre press conference, Trump's first since he encouraged Russia to commit cyber-crimes in the United States in July, the president-elect did it again.
"Now, I have to say one other thing. Over the weekend, I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer from the Middle East, Hussein Damack, a friend of mine, great guy. And I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai -- a number of deals and I turned it down.

"I didn't have to turn it down, because as you know, I have a no-conflict situation because I'm president, which is -- I didn't know about that until about three months ago, but it's a nice thing to have."
Got that? Trump believes it's literally impossible for him to have a conflict of interest, and to calm fears about his potential conflicts, he wants us all to know he met with a foreign developer over the weekend who discussed a multi-billion-dollar business opportunity with him.

How reassuring.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.11.17

01/11/17 12:01PM

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

* Keep a close eye on this case in North Carolina: "The U.S. Supreme Court has put new General Assembly elections ordered by a lower court on hold for now. In a one-paragraph order issued Tuesday, the court stayed a lower court demand that lawmakers redraw many of their districts and hold new elections in 2017."

* A Quinnipiac poll, released yesterday, shows Trump with a favorability rating of just 37%. In eight years, President Obama's favorability rating never reached a level so low.

* The same poll puts President Obama's approval rating at 55%.

* This should make for interesting confirmation-hearing questions: "The ex-wife of President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to be labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, appeared in disguise on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' as a victim of domestic violence, after having accused him multiple times of physically assaulting her in the 1980s, according to two friends of hers and a spokesman for the former couple."

* The American Action Network, a Republican non-profit, is prepared to launch a $1 million ad campaign "promoting House leaders' plans on health care." If House Republicans had a health plan, this might be a more sensible investment.

* Monica Crowley, Donald Trump's pick for a top position on the White House National Security Council, has now been accused of plagiarizing for the fourth time. The latest accusations relate to her columns in the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper.
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President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Orlando Amphitheater at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, Dec. 16, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Donald Trump asks, 'Are we living in Nazi Germany?'

01/11/17 10:13AM

Donald Trump has apparently heard about the new, unverified allegations surrounding Russia and damaging information it allegedly has about him. If this morning is any indication, the president-elect isn't pleased.

Turning to Twitter this morning, Trump began by writing, "Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is 'A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.' Very unfair!" It's worth noting that there's no reason to believe the allegations were "paid for" by anyone; Trump actually misquoted the Kremlin; and I'm not sure it's a great idea for Trump to cite Russia's word in this particular controversy.

The president-elect added, "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!" Let's pause to note that there's ample evidence to the contrary. If he wants to substantiate his claims, however, he certainly has the option of releasing his tax returns -- something Trump said he'd do, but hasn't.

But Trump wrapped up his tirade with an unexpected message:
"Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?"
Americans have never had a president who asked whether we're living in Nazi Germany, so I suppose this is history in the making.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

The renewed relevance of Russia's alleged talks with Team Trump

01/11/17 09:22AM

The new, unverified allegations about Donald Trump and Russia create a controversy with several interconnected parts, but more questions than answers. At this point, we don't yet know what's true and what's not, but we do know U.S. intelligence agencies made President Obama and the president-elect aware of the allegations in briefing materials last week.

There's one thread from the CNN report, however, that I'm especially eager to pull on.
The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.
This detail, like everything else that's emerged since yesterday afternoon, has not yet been substantiated or verified. But it raises a question in need of an answer.

On Nov. 10, just two days after the American Election Day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said "there were contacts" between the Russian government and Trump's campaign team before the U.S. presidential election. In fact, Ryabkov said "quite a few" members of Trump's team had been "staying in touch with Russian representatives" before Americans cast their ballots.

The Republican's transition team has insisted that these conversations never happened. Kellyanne Conway was especially emphatic when asked about possible, pre-election communications between the campaign and Moscow. "Absolutely not," she told CBS News' John Dickerson in December. She added the conversations "never happened" and any suggestions to the contrary "undermine our democracy."

This angle to the broader controversy quietly faded -- replaced with other revelations -- but the new reporting should return the question to the fore. Did the pre-election communications happen or not?
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FBI Director James B. Comey listens to a question from a reporter during a media conference in San Francisco, Calif., Feb. 27, 2014. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP)

FBI's James Comey still has some explaining to do

01/11/17 08:53AM

The political world was jolted last night with new, unverified allegations about Donald Trump and Russia, which both the president-elect and President Obama have been made aware of. We don't yet know which, if any, of the allegations are true.

We do know, however, that FBI Director James Comey has been aware of the allegations for quite a while, and with this in mind, The Guardian reported on a notable exchange on Capitol Hill yesterday.
The director of the FBI -- whose high-profile interventions in the 2016 election are widely seen to have helped tip the balance of against Hillary Clinton -- has refused to say if the bureau is investigating possible connections between associates of President-elect Donald Trump and Russia.

Testifying before the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday, James Comey said he could not comment in public on a possible investigation into allegations of links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

"I would never comment on investigations -- whether we have one or not -- in an open forum like this, so I really can't answer one way or another," said Comey, at a hearing into the US intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia intervened in the election to benefit Trump.
Right. We certainly wouldn't want the FBI director to comment on the status of a possible, politically sensitive investigation in public. Heaven forbid.

Look, this isn't complicated. As recently as late October, James Comey was aware of allegations that Russia intervened in the American presidential election through an illegal espionage operation and might also have damaging, compromising information on Donald Trump. At the exact same time, Comey believed Anthony Weiner's laptop might have emails from Hillary Clinton.

The FBI director, just days before Election Day and with early voting already underway across much of the country, found it necessary to share with Americans damaging information about the Democratic candidate, but not the Republican candidate.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen through the audience before participating in a roundtable event, Sept. 27, 2016, in Miami. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Political world jolted by unverified Trump, Russia allegations

01/11/17 08:00AM

U.S. intelligence officials presented President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump last week with a briefing on the available information about one of the nation's most pressing scandals: Russia's alleged intervention in the American presidential campaign. According to a CNN report, the briefing included a potentially stunning twist.
Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.

The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.
The same report noted that last week's briefing also "included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government." This has long been a point of contention in the broader story.

BuzzFeed, meanwhile, published a copy of the salacious-but-unverified materials put together by the aforementioned former British intelligence operative, though we don't know if any of it is true.

Rumors about all of this have circulated for months -- many have tried to figure out Trump's unusual affection for Russia's Vladimir Putin -- but at this point, the story is a series of questions without concrete answers. As Rachel noted on the air last night that the amount of information on this that's been verified by U.S. intelligence agencies or NBC News is "very thin."

Rachel added that we're talking about "alleged dirt that the Russians allegedly say they allegedly have" about the incoming American president -- information Russia "allegedly used to allegedly cultivate" Trump as basically an asset for Putin's government.
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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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