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President Elect Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan.20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Trump's inauguration fundraising adds to his disclosure troubles

04/19/17 10:02AM

In late November, Donald Trump's inaugural committee started selling "exclusive access" to the president-elect and his team "in exchange for donations of $1 million and more." Apparently, some folks took advantage of the opportunity.
President Trump raised twice as much money for his inauguration festivities as any previous president-elect in history, pulling in tens of millions of dollars from wealthy donors and large corporations eager to woo the nation's new chief executive in the days after his unexpected victory.

Disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday showed the contributions from corporate executives, lobbyists and businesses, as well as small donors, totaled $107 million. The previous record was held by President Barack Obama, who raised $53 million for his 2009 inauguration.
As the New York Times' report added, Trump's inaugural committee has not disclosed how the money was spent, how much was unspent, or where those funds may end up. The committee said yesterday it's "still identifying charities toward which it would direct leftover money."

The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold noted that the inaugural committee's members "said they'd tell us about their donations when they released fundraising numbers. They didn't."

When we talk about Team Trump's transparency troubles, the problem isn't limited to tax returns and White House visitor logs.
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Image: President Trump meets With Prime Minister Of Denmark Lars Lokke Rasmussen In The Oval Office

The wrong messenger for a 'Buy American, Hire American' message

04/19/17 09:22AM

For many years, reporters have received press releases from the White House touting various initiatives with "what people are saying" collections. It's a straightforward exercise: the White House will collect praise from various corners, package it together, and send it out as proof of a proposal's merit. The goal is to convince others in media that an administration's idea has been well received and is generating positive "buzz."

And while this has been a common tool for Democrats and Republicans alike, Donald Trump's White House did something yesterday that no one's ever seen: it sent out a press release touting praise from itself. The headline read: "Senior Administration Officials Praise President Donald J. Trump's 'Buy American, Hire American' Executive Order." It proceeded to quote four members of the president's team saying nice things about the president's latest executive order.

Let that sink in for a minute: White House officials alerted the media to the fact that other White House officials praised a new White House policy.

Evidently, Team Trump couldn't find praise from anyone else, so it was compelled to highlight positive remarks from itself. That's probably because the president's "Buy American, Hire American" executive order isn't especially compelling.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday aimed at reducing the number of lower wage foreign hires in the U.S. workforce and bringing job opportunity back to American employees -- a key campaign promise.

The signing of this order, Trump told the Kenosha, Wisconsin crowd, will "defend our workers, protect our jobs, and finally put America first."
That's pleasant sounding rhetoric, and it's possible the president actually believes he's just done something of great significance, but his executive order really just asks various agencies to look for fraud in guest-worker programs, while beginning "an interdepartmental review" of the H-1B visa program." At some point in the future, various agencies will report back to the White House with some suggested changes.

Groundbreaking, this isn't.

What stood out as important, though, was just how poor a messenger Trump is for this specific message.
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Trump celebrates after his unpopularity puts red seats in play

04/19/17 08:40AM

Georgia's 6th congressional district has long been a GOP stronghold, represented in recent decades by a pair of high-profile, far-right Republicans Tom Price and Newt Gingrich. When Price gave up the seat to join Donald Trump's cabinet, the question wasn't whether he'd be replaced by a Republican, but rather, which one.

And yet, in the first round of balloting, a first-time Democratic candidate very nearly took the seat -- and still might.
Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker who shattered fundraising records, finished well ahead of his challengers -- but came just shy of the 50% threshold necessary to win the closely watched race outright, according to the Associated Press, which called the race just before 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Ossoff, who finished with about 48%, will now head to a runoff on June 20 against Republican Karen Handel, the former Georgia Secretary of State, who bested 10 other GOP hopefuls with about 20% of the overall vote in the unusual all-party primary.
Obviously, Ossoff and his allies hoped to cross the 50% threshold yesterday and avoid a runoff, but the fact that he earned 48% of the vote is an impressive feat for a Democrat in a Republican district in a Republican state. What's more, with another round of balloting on the way, Ossoff still has a chance to flip the seat from red to blue.

A GOP state senator in Georgia recently said the 6th district's lines "were not drawn" to elect a Democrat, and yet, there was Ossoff, forcing Republicans to spend millions of dollars they didn't expect to invest in order to barely keep him below 50%. Yesterday was emblematic of a fact that should make much of the right quite nervous: if Democrats can seriously compete in Georgia's 6th, it opens up all kinds of opportunities nationwide.

All of which makes it kind of ridiculous to see Trump pat himself on the back.
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Image: FILE PHOTO - Donald Trump gets a briefing before he tours the pre-commissioned U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford in Newport News Virginia

Dissembling on North Korea, Trump creates a crisis of credibility

04/19/17 08:00AM

A week ago, as tensions with North Korea reached dangerous levels, Donald Trump sat down for an interview in which he sent an important message to our adversary and the world.

Asked specifically about redirecting U.S. military forces towards the Korean peninsula, the president said, "I don't want to talk about it. We are sending an armada, very powerful."

As is often the case with Trump, the message was disjointed -- he didn't want to talk about what he was doing, except to tell everyone he was dispatching a Navy "armada" -- but we nevertheless got the point. Indeed, the president wasn't the only one making this message: Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer all said publicly, over the course of a few days, that the United States had dispatched an aircraft carrier and its support ships to head towards the Korean peninsula.

This was, the administration told the world, a show of force, intended to be a deterrent.

We now know, however, that none of what the Trump administration said was true. As Rachel explained on the show last night, the USS Carl Vinson was not dispatched to the Korean peninsula; there were no cancelled exercises in the South Pacific; there was no armada sent as a show of force.
"Despite what the White House, and the National Security Advisor, and the Defense Secretary all said, the USS Carl Vinson was not steaming toward North Korea. It was not steaming north toward the Korean peninsula. In fact, while they were all saying that the USS Carl Vinson was steaming toward North Korea, it was 3,000 miles away, steaming south, in the opposite direction."
I imagine much of the public gets tired of hearing this, but this is not normal.
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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.18.17

04/18/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Fresno shooting spree: "Three people were shot to death in less than a minute at separate locations Tuesday in Fresno, California, authorities said. A fugitive wanted in a previous homicide was arrested at the scene."

* Potentially dangerous: "The U.S. scrambled jet fighters to intercept two Russian bombers that flew near the Alaskan coast on Monday night, several American officials said."

* Juan Manuel Montes has lived in the U.S. since age 9: "Federal agents ignored President Trump's pledge to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children by sending a young man back to his native Mexico, the first such documented case, a USA TODAY examination of the new administration's immigration policies shows."

* On a related note: "Immigration arrests rose 32.6 percent in the first weeks of the Trump administration, with newly empowered federal agents intensifying their pursuit of not just undocumented immigrants with criminal records, but also thousands of illegal immigrants who have been otherwise law-abiding."

* I'll have more on this in the morning: "President Trump -- hammering his 'America First' campaign theme after recent policy flip-flops that have infuriated his populist base -- signed an executive order on Tuesday authorizing studies and tweaks in government rules that could lead to restrictions on foreign technical workers."

* A case worth watching: "Two new plaintiffs -- an association of restaurants and restaurant workers, and a woman who books banquet halls for two D.C. hotels -- plan to join a lawsuit alleging that President Trump has violated the Constitution's emoluments clause because his hotels and restaurants do business with foreign governments."

* Election seasons in the U.K. sure are brief: "British Prime Minister Theresa May stunned her nation and its European partners Tuesday with a call for an early national election on June 8, seeking to cement her political backing as Britain moves ahead with difficult negotiations on its break from the European Union."
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North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attends a photo session with the participants of a meeting of Korean People's Army (KPA) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on Nov. 5, 2014. (KCNA KCNA/Reuters)

Trump's confusion extends to the 'gentleman' in North Korea

04/18/17 03:56PM

In the post-World War II era, North Korea has effectively had three leaders: Kim Il-sung, who was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il, who was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un. These are, obviously, three different individuals.

Whether Donald Trump fully appreciates that fact is not entirely clear. Consider what the president told Fox News yesterday:
"I hope things work out well. I hope there's going to be peace, but you know, they've been talking with this gentleman for a long time. You read Clinton's book, he said, 'Oh we made such a great peace deal,' and it was a joke.

"You look at different things over the years with President Obama. Everybody's been outplayed, they've all been outplayed by this gentleman and we'll see what happens."
Now, reasonable people can have a credible argument over the merits of the Clinton administration's diplomatic outreach to North Korea. Assorted partisans might even believe the Obama administration was "outplayed" by North Korea, though I'm not sure what the specific complaint would be, and the president's vague reference to "different things" suggests he wanted to complain about Obama, but wasn't sure why. (Note that Trump didn't mention the Bush/Cheney administration, which did very little when North Korea's nuclear weapons program expanded.)

But what stood out as especially interesting was Trump twice referring to "this gentleman," whom the president believes we've been dealing with "for a long time."

We really haven't. Kim Jong-un has only been in power for five years, and he wasn't part of the Clinton-era negotiations, when Kim Jong-un wasn't yet a teenager. In fact, the Clinton-era negotiations began in earnest with Kim Il-sung, before his death in 1994.

Putting aside whether a sitting president should have some basic understanding of these details, has no one at the White House explained any of this to Trump?
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Image: FILE PHOTO --  U.S. President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel give a joint news conference in Washington

Trump's daughter meets Chinese president, receives Chinese trademarks

04/18/17 12:47PM

During the presidential transition period, Donald Trump met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York, which wouldn't have been especially notable were it not for Ivanka Trump's participation in the discussion. The Republican's daughter, at the time, said she intended to have no role in the Trump administration, so why was she there?

We learned soon after that Ivanka Trump was working on a licensing deal in Japan, as part of a deal with a bank owned by the Japanese government, when she sat in on a meeting with Japan's prime minister.

This quickly became an obvious example of Team Trump's conflict-of-interest troubles, which Trump himself showed little interest in addressing. Four months later, the Associated Press has highlighted a related story that's just as jarring.
On April 6, Ivanka Trump's company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world's second-largest economy. That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago.

The scenario underscores how difficult it is for Trump, who has tried to distance herself from the brand that bears her name, to separate business from politics in her new position at the White House.
Let's not lose sight of the timeline here: we learned in late March that Ivanka Trump, after having said the opposite, has joined her father's White House team. Though she won't receive a paycheck, Trump's daughter will have an office in the West Wing and will serve as an assistant to the president.

It was a week later when White House Employee Ivanka Trump's company won approval in China for several new trademarks, literally the same day she sat down for dinner with the Chinese president.

In case this isn't painfully obvious, there's no precedent for anything like this in the American tradition. If Hillary Clinton had won the election, and Chelsea Clinton were engaged in similar activities, it's a safe bet the number of congressional hearings would be overwhelming.
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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.18.17

04/18/17 12:00PM

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

* It's Election Day in Georgia's 6th congressional district, where there's a special election to replace HHS Secretary Tom Price. How worried are Republicans? Donald Trump tweeted about the Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, four times over the course of 24 hours and recorded a robocall to local GOP voters.

* In a striking moment of candor, Georgia state Sen. Fran Millar (R) told a Republican Party breakfast the other day that 6th district's lines "were not drawn" to elect a Democrat, adding, "They were not drawn for that purpose, OK? They were not drawn for that purpose." According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's report, Millar added, "And you didn't hear that."

* This week's tour featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez held its first event last night, rallying supporters in Portland, Maine.

* On a related note, the DNC yesterday announced the members of a new Democratic Unity Reform Commission, which according to a press statement, "will recommend improvements to insure the presidential nomination process is accessible, transparent, and inclusive." The panel has 21 members, including people chosen by representatives of the Clinton and Sanders campaigns.

* In Montana's congressional special election, Bernie Sanders has not only endorsed Rob Quist (D), the senator also announced plans to campaign with Quist in Montana ahead of the May 25 election.

* In Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz's (R) Democratic challenger, Kathryn Allen, is off to a strong start. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that when it comes to campaign fundraising, "She raised more money, received contributions from more people and, after expenses, has more cash available to spend" than the incumbent.
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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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