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Monday's Mini-Report, 6.11.18

06/11/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This seems monstrous: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that fear of domestic violence is not legal grounds for asylum in a closely watched immigration case that could have a broad effect on the asylum process, women who have endured extreme violence and the independence of immigration judges."

* Somalia: "An American Special Operations forces soldier was killed and four others were wounded on Friday in an attack in southwestern Somalia against fighters for the Islamic extremist group the Shabab, three Defense Department officials said. The casualties were the first to have been publicized in Africa since an ambush in Niger in October."

* Donald Trump's meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong-un is poised to get underway in Singapore, but note that there is no U.S. ambassador to Singapore, and the White House hasn't even nominated anyone for the post.

* In Trump's White House, concern about leaks has led to unusual tactics: "At least one senior aide is dropping inaccurate stories into the West Wing rumor mill to identify people who speak to reporters."

* Everyday corruption, Part I: "A prominent GOP donor and President Donald Trump supporter helped EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt choose the head of the influential scientific body charged with reviewing EPA's regulations, according to newly released documents. Doug Deason, a Dallas businessman, submitted a list of names of candidates for Pruitt's Science Advisory Board in August that had been supplied by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, on whose board he serves."

* Everyday corruption, Part II: "Education Secretary Betsy DeVos earlier this year reinstated an accreditor of for-profit colleges despite findings by her agency's career staff that the organization failed to meet federal standards, an internal document shows."

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

Why the latest indictments in the Mueller probe pack a potent punch

06/11/18 04:43PM

Paul Manafort, who led Donald Trump's campaign in 2016, was already facing multiple criminal counts, brought against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team, but late last week, the story grew a little more serious.

As Rachel noted on the show, the case against the president's former campaign chief expanded to include Konstantin Kilimnik, who is now also facing charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

And who's Kilimnik? He's a Russian intelligence operative who has worked with Manafort for years. That, in and of itself, creates a striking dynamic. Rachel put it this way:

"[The latest indictment from Mueller's investigation] means for all of us that -- you and I together, us as a country, us as citizens -- we've now reached the point in American history and in our lives where the sitting president's campaign chairman is jointly charged in a felony indictment with a Russian intelligence operative."

That's amazing on its own terms, and it raises a related question for the White House: how long does Donald Trump seriously intend to keep up the "witch hunt" nonsense?

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

In Trump World, presidential record keeping is a crafts project

06/11/18 04:02PM

Under the Presidential Records Act, preserving documents in the White House isn't optional. For all intents and purposes, if a document reaches a president's hands, there's a legal requirement that the piece of paper be preserved.

But in this White House, record keeping is a little more difficult -- because Donald Trump likes to tear documents apart after reading them. Politico  reported yesterday on the folks who -- in a very literal sense -- were responsible for taping Trump's papers back together.

Solomon Lartey spent the first five months of the Trump administration working in the Old Executive Office Building, standing over a desk with scraps of paper spread out in front of him.

Lartey, who earned an annual salary of $65,969 as a records management analyst, was a career government official with close to 30 years under his belt. But he had never seen anything like this in any previous administration he had worked for. He had never had to tape the president's papers back together again.

Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, "like a jigsaw puzzle." Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

This isn't a joke. The article said Trump has an "enduring habit" of ripping up papers -- he ignored pleas from aides to stop -- which in the White House, meant there was an entire department dedicated to the task of retrieving the pieces, taping them back together again, and passing them along to the National Archives.

One of Lartey's colleagues, Reginald Young Jr., told  Politico, "I'm looking at my director, and saying, 'Are you guys serious?' We're making more than $60,000 a year, we need to be doing far more important things than this."

One might think so. As the Washington Monthly's Martin Longman put it, the job of collating presidential records in this White House "quickly became more like a third-grade art class."

But while it's easy to laugh at all of this, there's actually a serious angle that's worth paying attention to.

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A voter marks a ballot for the New Hampshire primary inside a voting booth at a polling place, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Supreme Court's conservatives endorse state voter purges

06/11/18 12:51PM

U.S. Navy veteran Larry Harmon was a registered voter in Ohio, and he voted in the 2004 and 2008 election cycles. Uninspired by his choices in 2010, 2012, and 2014, Harmon sat those elections out.

What he didn't know until 2015, however, when he tried to vote on a ballot initiative, is that his home state had un-registered him, striking his name from Ohio's voter rolls because he hadn't participated in a while. The Buckeye State's Republican-led government has been especially aggressive in these voter purges in recent years, which as many observers have noted, tend to disproportionately affect minority and low-income communities.

Ohio's practice faced a test at the U.S. Supreme Court, and in a 5-4 ruling, the court's conservative majority sided with the state. NBC News' Pete Williams reported:

All states have procedures for removing from their registration lists the names of people who have moved and are therefore no longer eligible to vote in a given precinct. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a voter's decision to sit out a certain number of elections could be the trigger for that effort.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, said the court's job was not "to decide whether Ohio's supplemental process is the ideal method for keeping its voting rolls up to date. The only question before us is whether it violates federal law. It does not."

The decision, which is online here, reversed a federal appeals court ruling that said Ohio's practices violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

The four justices chosen by Democratic presidents dissented, though Sonia Sotomayor seemed especially displeased by the five-member conservative majority.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.11.18

06/11/18 12:00PM

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

* Though the contests aren't quite as exciting as last week's primary, voters in five states will vote in primaries tomorrow: Nevada, Virginia, Maine, South Carolina, and North Dakota.

* Among the things to watch tomorrow is the voting in Maine, not just because of the specific races and candidates, but also because Maine will be the only state in the nation this year to use ranked-choice voting -- or as some call it, instant-runoff voting -- in its congressional and gubernatorial primaries.

* In South Carolina, most election watchers are keeping an eye on the state's gubernatorial primaries, but it may also be worth watching Rep. Mark Sanford's Republican primary in the state's 1st congressional district. Sanford has traditionally avoided spending money on television advertising, but he's made an 11th-hour media blitz, suggesting he's worried about tomorrow's results.

* On a related note, Donald Trump formally endorsed current South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) on Friday afternoon. McMaster was an early backer of Trump's 2016 campaign.

* Guided by the principle that the head of a party should be a member of the party, the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee adopted a new rule on Friday "that would prevent outsiders like Bernie Sanders from seeking the party's nomination in the 2020 presidential race."

* In Florida, former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) considered a gubernatorial campaign this year, but late last week, he decided against it and threw his support to former Rep. Gwen Graham (D).

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An employee reviews a customer's application as part of a background check for a handgun sale, in Houston, Texas.

Why Florida failed to do concealed weapons background checks

06/11/18 11:20AM

Between February 2016 and March 2017, Florida was supposed to be conducting background checks on tens of thousands of applications for concealed weapons permits, but didn't. Why not? For that, let's turn to a report from the Tampa Bay Times.

A previously unreported Office of Inspector General investigation found that in February 2016 the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stopped using an FBI crime database called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that ensures applicants who want to carry a gun do not have a disqualifying history in other states.

The employee in charge of the background checks could not log into the system, the investigator learned. The problem went unresolved until discovered by another worker in March 2017 — meaning that for more than a year, applications got approved without the required background check.

I should note that the Times' report hasn't been confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News. That said, state officials aren't exactly denying what transpired, and when Florida's Office of Inspector General interviewed employees for its report, officials conceded that concealed weapons licenses "may have been issued to potentially ineligible individuals."

In fact, quite a few concealed weapons licenses may have been issued to Floridians who weren't supposed to receive them. The same article noted that the Pulse nightclub shooting occurred in June 2016 -- roughly in the middle of the period in question -- and after the massacre, Florida saw a record number of requests for concealed weapons permits.

But because Florida is Florida, the person in charge of conducting background checks apparently couldn't log into the FBI system -- so checks didn't happen. Applications were approved anyway.

The political angle to the story makes it just a little worse.

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U.S. Senator John McCain, Immigration - 08/27/2013

Republicans concerned about Trump can (and should) do more than tweet

06/11/18 10:40AM

As Donald Trump takes aim at the Western alliance, and the American president finds it easier to forge ties with authoritarian dictators than democratically elected allies, congressional Republicans have a decision.

A small handful of GOP lawmakers have decided to speak up in ways the White House won't like.

"To our allies: bipartisan majorities of Americans remain pro-free trade, pro-globalization & supportive of alliances based on 70 years of shared values," [Arizona Sen. John] McCain wrote. "Americans stand with you, even if our president doesn't."

A day later, after White House trade adviser Peter Navarro inexplicably suggested there's a "special place in hell" for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) wrote, "Fellow Republicans, this is not who we are. This cannot be our party."

Yesterday afternoon, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) shared some related thoughts about her home state's close ties with our neighbors to the north. Though the senator carefully avoided any references to the president or his tantrum, Collins said, "In Maine, we have a special relationship with Canada.... We must preserve this friendship."

And while these sentiments were nice, and they're preferable to the indifference we heard from the overwhelming majority of congressional Republicans, the choice facing GOP officials is not between speaking up and silence. It's been action and inaction.

Reacting to Peter Navarro's ridiculousness, Flake insisted the comments are not reflective of today's Republican Party, but what if they are? What does the senator intend to do about it, exactly?

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Image: SKOREA-NKOREA-US-NUCLEAR-DIPLOMACY

At Singapore summit, Trump expects a clear picture 'within the first minute'

06/11/18 10:00AM

Twice last week, Donald Trump publicly made the case against preparing for tomorrow's summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un. Before leaving the G-7 summit early, the American president added new details to his short-attention-span approach to international diplomacy with a nuclear-armed dictator.

Q: How long do you think that it will take you to figure out whether he's serious about [the process]?

TRUMP: That's a good question. How long will it take? I think within the first minute, I'll know.

Asked how he'll know that quickly, the Republican added, "Just my touch, my feel. That's what I do."

Got it. America's first amateur president, who's negotiated a grand total of zero deals since taking office, who has no background in international diplomacy, who has an embarrassingly thin record of deal-making in the private sector, who's been described as possibly "the worst presidential dealmaker in modern history," who doesn't have any meaningful familiarity with the issues he'll be discussing with a rogue nuclear-armed dictator, expects to know "within the first minute" how this process is going to go.

Donald Trump is approaching the summit in Singapore the way a single American might approach speed-dating.

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

When it comes to boosting Putin, Trump can't seem to help himself

06/11/18 09:21AM

On Friday, Donald Trump surprised much of the world when he announced his support for welcoming Russia back into the G-7, effectively rewarding Vladimir Putin's government for its recent misdeeds. As the American president pushed his pro-Moscow talking points, which appeared rehearsed, questions arose anew about why, exactly, Trump continued to go out of his way to use his office to help a foreign adversary that attacked the United States.

Indeed, the call didn't really make any sense: the G-7 is intended for the world's largest democracies and largest economies. Russia falls short in both categories.

During the summit in Quebec, Canada, Trump hosted a press conference and went a little further, suggesting Putin shouldn't be blamed for Russia's annexation of Crimea -- a crime that helped push Russia out of what was the G-8.

Q: Just to come back to Russia for a second. Something that happened that got them kicked out of the G-8 was the invasion and annexation of Crimea. Do you think that Crimea should be recognized as Russian [territory]?

TRUMP: Well, you know, you have to ask President Obama, because he was the one that let Crimea get away. That was during his administration. And he was the one that let Russia go and spend a lot of money on Crimea, because they've spent a lot of money on rebuilding it. I guess they have their submarine port there and such. But Crimea was let go during the Obama administration. And, you know, Obama can say all he wants, but he allowed Russia to take Crimea. I may have had a much different attitude. So you'd really have to ask that question to President Obama -- you know, why did he do that; why did he do that.

Note, Trump basically said the same sentence, with slightly different wording, over and over again, making a point that only he understood. Russia invaded one of its neighbors, and Trump now wants the world to blame Obama, not Putin.

And that's bonkers.

There's no point in dwelling on a history lesson -- it's not as if the relevant facts would sway Trump anyway -- but short of risking World War III, there wasn't much Obama (or any other leader) could do to stop Russia's annexation.

Obama did respond to Putin's move by imposing new economic sanctions and diplomatic punishments -- including helping kick Russia out of the G-8. Trump, meanwhile, responded to Russia's invasion of Crimea by largely endorsing Putin's aggression in a televised interview.

But in this case, watching Trump blame an American for Russian aggression may be exasperating, but it's also part of a larger whole.

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While lashing out at Canada, Trump accidentally shares his genuine beliefs

06/11/18 08:40AM

We know Donald Trump and his team took their animosity toward Canada in a rather hysterical direction over the weekend. What we don't know is why.

At a press conference from the G-7 summit Quebec on Saturday, a reporter asked the American president about frayed relationships with allied leaders. Upon learning that the reporter was with CNN, Trump whined about the news organization for a while, before bragging about his personal closeness with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emanuel Macron, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"I would say that the level of relationship is a 10," he boasted. "We have a great relationship. Angela and Emmanuel and Justin. I would say the relationship is a 10."

Soon after, the Canadian leader hosted a press conference in which he repeated the same things he's said publicly and privately for quite a while, at which point Trump turned to Twitter and inadvertently suggested that CNN reporter he chastised was on to something.

"Based on Justin's false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our U.S. Reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. Market!

"PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our @G7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, 'US Tariffs were kind of insulting' and he 'will not be pushed around.' Very dishonest & weak. Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!"

Members of Trump's White House team, taking their misguided cues from their boss, piled on yesterday. Larry Kudlow, the director of the White House's National Economic Council, called Trudeau's comments a "betrayal," adding that the prime minister "stabbed us in the back" and delivered a "slap in the face." (How one might simultaneously stab someone in the back and slap someone in the face is unclear.)

Peter Navarro, a top Trump adviser on trade, added on Fox News, in apparent reference to the Canadian prime minister, "There's a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with Donald J Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door."

It's worth unpacking some of this, because amid the nonsense, the White House accidentally said something interesting.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to U.S. President Donald Trump during the second day of the G7 meeting in Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 9, 2018.

At key international gathering, Trump makes a bad situation worse

06/11/18 08:00AM

Ahead of the G-7 gathering in Quebec, Canada, Donald Trump was an unusually isolated American leader, having earned the scorn of our neighbors and allies on issues ranging from trade to national policy to climate. The Republican made matters worse before leaving the White House on Friday, inexplicably calling for Vladimir Putin's Russian government to be re-admitted into the elite international group.

But it would have been a mistake to think Trump had nowhere to go but up. At the gathering, the America president managed to make a bad situation vastly worse.

For example, much of the summit involved negotiations between the delegations on a joint communique reflecting the G-7 members' shared values. An agreement was reached -- right up until Trump intervened.

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Group of Seven's official statement of common values and accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the host of the G-7 conference, of "false statements."

An administration official earlier had said that Trump would join the summit communique.

The American president rejected the communique by way of an angry tweet, published while en route to the summit in Singapore with North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

White House officials then spent yesterday blaming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for apparently hurting Trump's feelings.

Among the most striking aspects of this is how easy it would have been for this president to avoid another diplomatic fiasco. Trump could've made an appearance, shaken a few hands, offered vague assurances, embraced an ambiguous and non-binding communique, and turned his attention to his meeting with Kim Jong-un.

Instead, the Republican went to Canada and, over the course of just two days, managed to:

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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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