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Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.15.18

03/15/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It's about time: "The Trump administration on Thursday imposed sanctions on a series of Russian organizations and individuals in retaliation for interference in the 2016 presidential elections and other 'malicious cyberattacks.' It was the most significant action taken against Moscow since President Trump took office."

* A terrifying scene: "A pedestrian walkway in Miami collapsed on Thursday, killing several people. The Florida Highway Patrol confirmed the fatalities after multiple vehicles were crushed by the span near Florida International University's campus. According to Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue, there were people on the bridge and several cars underneath it."

* Unexpected news from the FDA: "The Food and Drug Administration plans to try to lower the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to make them less addictive — an unprecedented move by the agency. FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Thursday the agency would propose the rule, opening a long bureaucratic process."

* Parkland: "Surveillance video released on Thursday showed that the only armed sheriff's deputy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., remained outside during the Feb. 14 massacre at the school, taking cover behind a wall."

* Oklahoma "announced Wednesday that after failing to obtain lethal injection drugs, it will seek to execute inmates on death row by asphyxiating them with nitrogen gas."

* Eight years: "The fighting in Syria enters its eighth year on Thursday. A conflict that began as a peaceful uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime escalated into a full-scale civil war that is now one of this century's deadliest."

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Robert Mueller reportedly subpoenas the Trump Organization

03/15/18 04:22PM

The role of Donald Trump's private business in the investigation into the Russia scandal appears to be increasingly unavoidable. Last night, for example, Rachel noted on the show that Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee reported that the Trump Organization was actively negotiating a business deal in Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank during the 2016 election. That's no small revelation.

And while it's not clear if today's news is related to the sanctioned Russian bank, the New York Times  reports that the president's business has now been subpoenaed by Robert Mueller.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has subpoenaed the Trump Organization to turn over documents, including some related to Russia, according to two people briefed on the matter. The order is the first known time that the special counsel demanded documents directly related to President Trump's businesses, bringing the investigation closer to the president.

The breadth of the subpoena was not clear, nor was it clear why Mr. Mueller issued it instead of simply asking for the documents from the company, an umbrella organization that oversees Mr. Trump's business ventures. In the subpoena, delivered in recent weeks, Mr. Mueller ordered the Trump Organization to hand over all documents related to Russia and other topics he is investigating, the people said.

When the president's attorneys assured him this investigation would end by the end of March, that was clearly wrong.

The next question -- well, one of them -- is whether and to what extent these developments cross the president's "red line."

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Adult film actress/director Stormy Daniels attends the 2018 Adult Video News Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on January 27, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

New evidence links Trump Organization and Stormy Daniels

03/15/18 12:51PM

There have been quite a few reports over the last couple of days on Donald Trump's Stormy Daniels controversy, so let's take a look at what we've learned. NBC News, for example, reported last night:

A top lawyer for the Trump Organization was involved in trying to enforce a secrecy agreement that adult film star Stormy Daniels signed in exchange for $130,000 before the 2016 election, new documents show.

Jill A. Martin, whose LinkedIn profile says she is assistant general counsel for the company, last month signed two legal papers linked to a temporary restraining order against the actress, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford.

At issue is the "hush agreement" intended to silence Daniels, and while we've known for a while about the NDA, the Wall Street Journal noted that these new documents "for the first time tie President Donald Trump's flagship holding company to the continuing effort to silence a former adult-film actress who says she had an affair with Mr. Trump."

The president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, created an LLC shortly before the 2016 presidential election in order to facilitate the $130,000 payment to the porn star, buying her silence. But we now know it was also a Trump Organization lawyer who was recently involved in arbitration proceedings intended to ensure Daniels' silence.

NBC News' report added that Clifford's attorney, Michael Avenatti, argued that Jill Martin's signature on the paperwork "is another piece of evidence that Trump knew about the nondisclosure agreement, the payment and the more recent efforts to stop his client from talking."

And while I don't think the revelations definitely show what, exactly, the president knew, the larger point is that the connections are growing, linking Trump's lawyer, Trump's business, Trump's alleged former mistress, and the effort to keep her quiet.

What else have we learned of late? Quite a bit, actually. Politico reported late yesterday that BuzzFeed "may have found a legal opening" for Daniels and her lawyers to exploit.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.15.18

03/15/18 12:00PM

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

* In this week's congressional special election in Pennsylvania, Conor Lamb (D) appears to have narrowly won, but Republican officials are making plans for a recount and a possible lawsuit.

* Vice President Mike Pence raised money last night for his brother, Greg Pence, who's running for Congress in Indiana. Because the event was held at the Trump International Hotel in D.C., the president was able to profit from the fundraiser.

* In case there weren't already enough questions about Donald Trump's outside legal team, CNBC reports that John Dowd, who's helping lead the president's defense team in the Russia scandal, violated election law last year by contributing more to Trump than is legally permitted.

* In Illinois, where Rep. Dan Lipinski (D) is facing a tough Democratic primary in his Chicago-area district, the latest campaign mailer on the congressman's behalf features a big photo of Barack Obama. As David Axelrod noted, there's some irony to this: Lipinski, a conservative Democrat, refused to endorse Obama's 2012 re-election bid.

* In Missouri's closely watched U.S. Senate race, state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) is trying to prevent the release of records related to his time as a University of Missouri professor. Some state Democratic lawmakers have asked the state auditor to examine the matter.

* Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is facing a credible Democratic rival this year, but as the filing deadline passes, no top-tier Republicans entered the race,

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Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Will Trump's picks for CIA and State face confirmation trouble?

03/15/18 11:20AM

Donald Trump jolted the political world this week, announcing the ouster of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and replacing him with Gina Haspel, the intelligence agency's current deputy director.

But the process isn't one in which the president just snaps his fingers. Both Pompeo and Haspel will require Senate confirmation, and while the odds are in their favor in the Republican-led chamber, it's not necessarily going to be easy.

President Donald Trump's picks to run the Central intelligence Agency and the State Department likely will need votes from Democrats to get confirmed by the closely divided Senate, after a Republican lawmaker said he would oppose their nominations.

Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) announced Wednesday he would oppose the nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA, citing her involvement with the harsh interrogation program used in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He also said he would oppose the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state, citing his perceived stance on foreign wars.

To be sure, the broader picture hasn't yet come into focus. Maybe Rand Paul intends to follow through on his decision (like he did when he briefly shut down the government last month), or maybe he'll cave when the pressure's on (like he did during the health care fight).

For that matter, we don't know whether Pompeo and Haspel will receive support from some conservative Democrats, or whether other Senate Republicans may have related concerns. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, has also raised concerns in writing.

I mention all of this, not because I take Rand Paul's rhetoric at face value, but because in a 51-49 Senate, interesting things can happen. Given Haspel's record on Bush-era torture, for example, it wouldn't shock me if Paul and McCain really did balk at her nomination, putting it in jeopardy.

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At fundraiser, Trump appears to threaten another U.S. ally

03/15/18 10:43AM

Given the seriousness of the threat posed by North Korea, common sense suggests Donald Trump should be doing everything possible to strengthen the alliance between the United States and South Korea. And yet, the American president seems to be doing the exact opposite.

As regular readers know, this has been going on for a while. Just a few months into his presidency, Trump lied about dispatching an "armada," led by an aircraft carrier, towards the peninsula, and South Koreans weren't pleased. When Trump falsely said the Korean Peninsula "used to be a part of China," that didn't go over especially well, either.

Last May, Trump made matters vastly worse, condemning the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as Korus, and threatening to trash the deal. He then said he wants to deploy a missile-defense system – Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense (Thaad) – in South Korea to help protect against a North Korean attack, but only if South Korea pays for the technology. (White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster quietly let officials in Seoul know they should ignore the American presidents' bluster.)

When Trump started publicly praising North Korea's Kim Jong-un, many in South Korea were left understandably “bewildered.”

And yet, nearly a year later, Trump is still at it. The Washington Post  reported on comments he made at a fundraiser in Missouri last night.

He also seemed to threaten to pull U.S. troops stationed in South Korea if he didn't get what he wanted on trade with Seoul, an ally. He said that the country had gotten rich but that U.S. politicians never negotiated better deals. "We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them," Trump said. "We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let's see what happens."

"Our allies care about themselves," he said. "They don't care about us."

Oh my.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump meets with members of the House Ways and Means Committee

Trump looks ahead to 'Phase 2' of his tax-cut plans

03/15/18 10:12AM

Republicans didn't just approve massive tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations because they believed the policy would be good for the economy; they also saw the regressive tax cuts as a powerful electoral tool. A president's party traditionally does poorly in the first midterm cycle, but GOP leaders saw their tax plan as key to bucking the historical trend.

Those assumptions have been shaken of late. In Pennsylvania's congressional special election, Republicans initially focused heavily on the GOP tax cuts, only to discover that voters in the district -- an area Donald Trump won easily in 2016 -- were wholly unimpressed.

It's against this backdrop that the president apparently wants ... wait for it ... more tax cuts. The New York Times  reports:

Amid all the turmoil and uncertainty, with his White House seemingly fraying, his legislative agenda stalled and his electoral base in danger, President Trump these days finds one area of comfort: talking about his tax cuts. He finds it so reassuring, in fact, that he is increasingly talking about doing it all over again. [...]

"We're now going for a Phase 2," he told a selected group of supporters at a Boeing factory in St. Louis. He did not describe what would be in such a Phase 2 but said he would team up with Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "It's going to be something very special. Kevin Brady's working on it with me."

Some of this might even be true. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee told Fox Business that Republicans believe "even more can be done" on taxes.

After the GOP plan passed, many of us assumed Republicans would turn their attention to other issues, such as infrastructure or immigration. What we didn't know was that some key GOP leaders would effectively decide, "No, we'll just keep focusing on tax breaks, thank you very much."

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Image: Students sit for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 students killed last month

Under pressure, House passes underwhelming bill on gun violence

03/15/18 09:20AM

When it comes to the nation's debate over guns, it's hard to miss the direction of the prevailing winds. Gallup released a report yesterday that found two-thirds of American adults want new restrictions on the sale of firearms -- the strongest support for gun restrictions in 25 years.

The same day as the poll's release, tens of thousands of students across the country participated in a walkout protesting gun violence. Exactly one month after the mass shooting in south Florida, the young activists protested for 17 minutes -- one for each of the victims in Parkland -- and organizers said the purpose was to highlight "Congress' inaction against the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods."

It was against this background that the Republican-led House did, in fact, approve legislation related to guns. It is, however, a very modest measure. Roll Call  reported:

It's not quite one and done, but the bill the House passed Wednesday to provide grants for schools to implement safety protocols and training is likely the last action GOP leaders will take this Congress in response to a recent spate of mass shootings.

The House passed, 407-10, a bipartisan measure by Florida Republican John Rutherford called the Student, Teacher's Officer's Prevention (STOP) School Violence Act.

The full roll call is online here.

To be sure, there's nothing especially wrong with the bill. As Roll Call's report explained, the proposal would "authorize $50 million in grant funding for schools to conduct training to prevent student violence, set up anonymous reporting systems for threats and implement other safety protocols."

That said, as a Vox piece added, the bill "doesn't address guns in any substantive way." It's likely why the proposal was able to get a vote in the far-right chamber and pass without much of a fuss.

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Image: Democratic Congressional Candidate Conor Lamb Holds Election Night Event

Trump: Pennsylvania Dem won because he's 'like Trump'

03/15/18 08:40AM

Ahead of this week's congressional special election in Pennsylvania, Republicans insisted that Conor Lamb (D) was a liberal Democrat who had no business representing a conservative district that backed Donald Trump by a 20-point margin. After Lamb's apparent victory, GOP leaders decided they no longer agreed with their own talking points.

The Republican National Committee insisted that Lamb "essentially" ran as a Republican. A White House spokesperson said the Democrat "really embraced the president's policies and his vision."

As The Atlantic  reported, Trump went a little further while reflecting on the race yesterday at a private fundraiser in Missouri.

"The young man last night that ran, he said, 'Oh, I'm like Trump. Second Amendment, everything. I love the tax cuts, everything.' He ran on that basis," Trump said. "He ran on a campaign that said very nice things about me. I said, 'Is he a Republican? He sounds like a Republican to me.'"

Look, I realize that the president, by his own admission, occasionally makes stuff up, but the GOP spin on Pennsylvania's special election is getting more than a little silly.

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Image: Donald Trump

Celebrating ignorance, Trump boasts about making stuff up

03/15/18 08:00AM

About a year ago, Donald Trump sat down for an interview with the Associated Press, which touched on the president's criticisms of NATO. He referenced an exchange he had during the campaign with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, in which then-candidate Trump expressed deep concerns about the security alliance despite "not knowing much about NATO."

In other words, according to Trump, he spoke with great conviction about a key area of U.S. foreign policy, despite the fact that -- by his own admission -- he had no idea what he was talking about.

Yesterday, something very similar happened. The president spoke at a fundraiser about a conversation he had had with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in which the two leaders discussed which country had a trade deficit with the other. As the Washington Post  reported, Trump bragged last night that he made the private comments without having a clue as to whether or not he was correct.

"Trudeau came to see me. He's a good guy, Justin. He said, 'No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,' " Trump said, mimicking Trudeau, according to audio obtained by The Washington Post. "Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in -- 'Donald, we have no trade deficit.' He's very proud because everybody else, you know, we're getting killed.

"... So, he's proud. I said, 'Wrong, Justin, you do.' I didn't even know.... I had no idea. I just said, 'You're wrong.' You know why? Because we're so stupid. ... And I thought they were smart. I said, 'You're wrong, Justin.' He said, 'Nope, we have no trade deficit.' I said, 'Well, in that case, I feel differently,' I said, 'but I don't believe it.' I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out, I said, 'Check, because I can't believe it.'"

So, Trump started with the premise that the United States is "stupid" -- a curious assumption for an American president -- and then based his assumptions on that dubious foundation. It then led him to assume, without having any facts or having done any homework ahead of his meeting with the Canadian prime minister, that we have a trade deficit with our neighbors to the north.

According to last night's story, Trump's aide then came back to him to assure the president that he was, in fact, correct about the trade imbalance -- which is bizarre, since, according to the Trump administration's own data, the United States has a trade surplus with Canada.

What's amazing about this story, however, isn't just the American president being wrong about a simple issue he's talked about for years.

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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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