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Friday's Mini-Report, 6.8.18

06/08/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Don't miss tonight's show: "Special counsel Robert Mueller filed a new indictment Friday against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, charging him and a Russian associate with obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to tamper with witnesses."

* The James Wolfe story is important for all sorts of reasons: "The former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer accused of lying to FBI agents about his contacts with reporters was released from custody Friday after a brief court proceeding."

* I wish he'd think these things through: "President Donald Trump said Friday he was considering granting a posthumous pardon for Muhammad Ali -- prompting a lawyer for his estate and family to say thanks, but no thanks: The boxing great had his criminal conviction overturned by the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago."

* A pointless tragedy: "Manuel Antonio Cano Pacheco should have graduated from high school in Des Moines last month... Instead, Manuel died a brutal death alone in a foreign land, a symbol of gang supremacy in a country plagued by violent drug cartels. It happened three weeks after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned him to Mexico, a country he had left at age 3 when his parents brought him here without a visa."

* This is a weird story: "The Trump administration is planning to release a suspected ISIS fighter in Syria with more than $4,000 in cash and a new cellphone, a Pentagon official said in a court filing released on Thursday. The U.S. military has been holding the unidentified man, who is a Saudi-U.S. dual citizen, as a prisoner for about nine months."

* The Imran Awan case: "President Trump weighed in Thursday on a pending criminal case involving a former technology staffer for congressional lawmakers -- another instance in which he publicly lobbied for a specific legal outcome and appeared to embrace and promote unfounded allegations."

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Image: President Trump Departs White House For G7 Summit In Canada

Trump says he 'hates' his own immigration policy, falsely blames Dems

06/08/18 02:11PM

As Americans come to terms with the Trump administration's practice of separating children and parents at the border, public revulsion has grown. Donald Trump seems unconcerned with the human controversy, but antsy about the political one.

And so, the president has taken a variety of steps to assure Americans that Democrats are to blame for his immigration policies. It's demonstrably ridiculous, but that's Trump's story and he's sticking to it.

Last week, for example, the president urged the public to "put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents." This week, he added, "Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats."

This morning, Trump took the argument away from Twitter and repeated it aloud to reporters. Asked about separating children from their parents, the president argued:

"Well, the Democrats -- this is a Democrat bill. The Democrats can end that very quickly. All they have to do is sit down with us and negotiate a real bill allows us to keep criminals out of this country. It's very easy.

"... I don't like the children being separated from the parents. I don't like it. I hate it. But that's a Democrat bill that we're enforcing. We can change it in one day. All they have to do is come and see us."

Even by Trump standards, this is indefensibly incoherent.

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Pointing to Clinton, Trump makes the case against preparation

06/08/18 12:43PM

After weeks of reports from White House officials about Donald Trump's refusal to prepare for next week's summit with North Korea's Jim Jong-un, the president did something surprising yesterday: he effectively confirmed the reports and explained that he doesn't feel the need to do his homework.

"I don't think I have to prepare very much," Trump told reporters, adding, "This isn't a question of preparation."

This morning, before the president departed for a G-7 meeting in Canada, a reporter asked Trump if he was serious about not needing to prepare. The Republican replied:

"I always believe in preparation, but I've been preparing all my life. You know, these one-week preparations, they don't work. Just ask Hillary what happened to her in the debates."

For the record, Trump referenced Hillary Clinton four times this morning, during a fairly brief Q&A with reporters on the White House's South Lawn.

The election was 577 days ago, but he's still running against his former rival. One gets the sense he'll never stop.

Regardless, Trump's argument against preparation this morning was bizarre. "Just ask Hillary what happened to her in the debates"? To the extent that reality matters, in 2016, polls showed Americans saw Clinton as the winner of the first debate. And the second debate. And the third debate. She was prepared, he wasn't, and she won.

But in a case like this, those details are largely beside the point, because even if Clinton had lost the debates, that wouldn't justify Trump's anti-preparation posture.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.8.18

06/08/18 12:00PM

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

* A Fox News poll released yesterday found Democrats leading Republicans on the congressional generic ballot, 48% to 39%. The Dems' nine-point advantage is up from a five-point lead in the same poll in March.

* In Michigan, a state appeals court ruled yesterday that voters should be able to decide on whether to create "an independent commission to draw political boundaries instead of politicians." At least for now, the idea is slated to be on Michigan's statewide ballot this November.

* Texas' U.S. Senate race appears to have already turned in an ugly direction: Sen. Ted Cruz (R) yesterday went after Rep. Beto O'Rourke's (D) mother, pointing to a controversy involving Melissa O'Rourke and fines imposed on her former furniture store over unpaid taxes.

* Despite several failed campaigns over the last decade, former Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) is launching another comeback bid, announcing this week that he's running in Hawaii's open U.S. House race. The 1st district is currently represented by Colleen Hanabusa (D), who's giving up her seat to run for governor.

* In Virginia, the latest poll from Roanoke College shows incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine (D) with double-digit leads over each of his would-be Republican rivals. Virginia Republicans will vote in a primary next week on Kaine's challenger.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

Before Trump, the 'Duty to Report Act' was unnecessary

06/08/18 11:19AM

A couple of weeks ago, Donald Trump complained that the FBI should have contacted his campaign in 2016 to alert him to the "Russia problem." What the president failed to mention is that the FBI did warn him during the campaign about possible foreign efforts to infiltrate his campaign.

What's more, as NBC News reported, both major party presidential nominees "were urged to alert the FBI about any suspicious overtures to their campaigns."

Of course, there's a large roster of Russians connected to Putin's government who were in contact with the Trump campaign or the Trump transition team before the president's inauguration, but neither Trump nor anyone on his campaign thought to mention any of this to federal law enforcement, even after the FBI's warning.

All of which sets the stage for an interesting new proposal from Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, who made a pitch in The Atlantic yesterday in support of the Duty to Report Act, which would "explicitly require candidates and campaigns to notify the FBI if anyone representing a foreign power offers dirt on that candidate's opponents."

[T]he legislation would make it a crime for candidates, their immediate family, or people involved with their campaign to fail to notify the FBI if any of them are told about, are offered, or receive in an unsolicited way nonpublic, materially significant information about another person running for the same office, when they know or recklessly disregard that the source is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power.

The bill would apply only when the information is about a candidate seeking the same office, both because that seems the likeliest scenario for foreign interference, and to avoid having the law to cover innocuous conversations people may have about contests in which they're not involved. And I specified "know or recklessly disregard" to avoid leaving space for disingenuousness. What you know might be debatable, but if it walks like a spy, talks like a spy, and acts like a spy, you must assume that it's a spy and act accordingly.

What amazes me is that we've reached the point in American politics that this bill is even considered necessary. If Trump had followed Adlai Stevenson's example, it wouldn't be.

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Morning breaks over the White House and the offices of the West Wing (R) in Washington January 20, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The revolving door at Trump's White House just keeps spinning

06/08/18 10:49AM

If you're under the impression that the staff shake-up at Donald Trump's White House has settled down, allow me to make the opposite case. The Washington Post  reported yesterday, for example, on the next major departure from the West Wing.

White House deputy chief of staff Joseph Hagin, President Trump's point person arranging the North Korean nuclear summit, is preparing to leave his West Wing post soon, according to four people familiar with White House planning.

Hagin, who was in Singapore recently and has been negotiating logistics for the on-again, off-again meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, may leave his job overseeing White House operations shortly after returning from the historic visit, two of the people said.

The Post added that Hagin intends to leave "almost immediately" after returning from next weeks' summit in Singapore.

He's not alone. We learned this morning that Drew Maloney, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for legislative affairs, is leaving his position for a job with the finance industry.

Kelly Sadler, a special assistant to the president in the White House Communications Office, also left this week, a month after her rude comments about Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) health became a notable political controversy.

They join Mark Inch, chief of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; Tom Ziemer, the National Security Council's head of Global Health Security, and Richard Johnson, the State Department's acting assistant coordinator for Iran Nuclear Issues; each of whom have parted ways with Team Trump since I last published the overall departures list.

Cliff Sims, a special assistant to the president who oversees White House message strategy, also left, as did Sam Clovis, the White House's controversial USDA liaison, and Thomas Homan, the Trump administration's top immigration enforcement official.

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A person man uses a laptop. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/AP)

Parties' leaders divided over the use of stolen campaign materials

06/08/18 10:13AM

About a year ago, with U.S. intelligence officials warning of future foreign attacks on American elections, the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported on a formal request from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to its Republican counterpart, seeking a "united front." Specifically, the DCCC hoped to create a "joint plan" against any Russian efforts to undermine the 2018 midterm elections.

Republicans rejected the outreach, questioning the Dems' sincerity.

About a month ago, Democrats gave this another try, but a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee told The Atlantic that the party hadn't responded due to a lack of "trust."

CNN reported yesterday that the debate isn't over.

The heads of the House Democratic and Republican campaign arms clashed Thursday over whether their candidates should use hacked emails and documents in midterm races this fall.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said campaigns should "absolutely not" use those materials against opponents "in any form or fashion."

But his counterpart at the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Steve Stivers, said he wouldn't "run down one of my candidates for using something that's in the public domain."

The trouble, of course, is about creating incentives for theft.

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Image: APEC Summit 2017 in Vietnam

In latest pro-Putin move, Trump wants Russia readmitted into G-7

06/08/18 09:20AM

As the G-7 summit gets underway in Canada today, Donald Trump is isolated from our closest allies in ways no modern American president has been. For reasons that the White House hasn't explained, Trump seems to have gone out of his way to unite the G-7's other leaders in opposition to his presidency.

In an extraordinary rebuke, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote yesterday, "The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be. Because these 6 countries represent values, they represent an economic market which has the weight of history behind it and which is now a true international force."

Standing alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom Trump has taken repeated shots at this week, Macron added at a press conference yesterday, "The six countries of the G-7 without the United States, are a bigger market taken together than the American market." In an apparent reference to American primacy, the French president added, "Nobody is forever."

It's against this backdrop that Trump isn't just feuding with our allies and neighbors, he's also looking for new ways to help Russia. Take this morning, for example.

President Trump called on the world's leading economies on Friday to reinstate Russia to the Group of 7 nations four years after it was cast out for annexing Crimea, once again putting him at odds with America's leading allies in Europe and Asia.

The president made the suggestion to reporters as he headed to Canada for the annual meeting of the G-7, a gathering that already was promising to be crackling with tension over trade, Iran and Mr. Trump's sharp-edged approach to foreign leaders.

NBC News posted a video of Trump's comments online. It includes predicable political nonsense -- he's still pretending Vladimir Putin would've preferred a Hillary Clinton victory two years ago -- but it culminated in the American president calling for Russia to be readmitted into the international gathering.

He added that his position "may not be politically correct," offering a reminder that Trump may not fully understand what "politically correct" means.

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

Trump falsely accuses Obama admin of 'totally illegal' move

06/08/18 08:42AM

Whenever it strikes his fancy, Donald Trump likes to accuse the Obama administration of criminal misconduct, whether it makes sense or not. In fact, the Republican president did it again yesterday.

"The Obama Administration is now accused of trying to give Iran secret access to the financial system of the United States. This is totally illegal. Perhaps we could get the 13 Angry Democrats to divert some of their energy to this 'matter' (as Comey would call it). Investigate!"

For those who don't keep up on Trump's antics, "the 13 Angry Democrats" is the name he likes to use to describe Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The fact that the probe is led by Mueller, a Republican, who reports to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, another Republican, is one of the details the president prefers to ignore.

Regardless, in this case, Trump is referring to the international nuclear agreement with Iran, and the fact that the Obama administration issued a special license from Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which allowed Iran access to its own money. It was a one-time transaction, made necessary by the broader deal.

Was this illegal? Nope. As a Washington Post  report explained overnight, "[T]he granting of the license was not illegal; [Trump's] statement is simply false." The piece added that the license utilized by the Obama administration "made the transaction perfectly legal."

In fact, the New York Times' Peter Baker added that the Senate Republicans who investigated this weren't happy with what transpired, but they never said the Obama administration's actions were illegal. Trump just made it up.

And while the president's brazen dishonesty is hardly new, I hope we don't grow too inured to this specific kind of lying.

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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-RUSSIA

Trump admin takes dramatic steps to undermine health benefits

06/08/18 08:00AM

The Affordable Care Act has already survived multiple legal challenges, including two cases that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which seemed to effectively end this aspect of the debate.

Or so we thought. When Republicans approved their regressive package of tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations, they simultaneously repealed the ACA's individual mandate penalty. And that, in turn, gave several far-right attorneys general an idea: they could once again file suit against "Obamacare," arguing that the penalty-free mandate is unconstitutional, and given the mandate's importance to the system, the entire law should be torn down.

Late yesterday, the Trump administration endorsed this position. The Washington Post  reported:

The Trump administration said Thursday night that it will not defend the Affordable Care Act against the latest legal challenge to its constitutionality -- a dramatic break from the executive branch's tradition of arguing to uphold existing statutes and a land mine for health insurance changes the ACA brought about.

In a brief filed in a Texas federal court and an accompanying letter to the House and Senate leaders of both parties, the Justice Department agrees in large part with the 20 Republican-led states that brought the suit. They contend that the ACA provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance soon will no longer be constitutional and that, as a result, consumer insurance protections under the law will not be valid, either.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions added that the Justice Department adopted this position "with the approval of the President of the United States." Imagine that.

There are a few ways to look at the Trump administration's move, which I consider to be a Trifecta of Wrong.

1. It's wrong on legal grounds. As Vox noted, "Many legal scholars have long thought the lawsuit, first filed in February, is spurious and that higher courts -- up to and including the Supreme Court, which has upheld Obamacare against existential legal threats on several prior occasions -- would not take it seriously."

But just as importantly, many in legal circles were shocked last night when the Justice Department sided with the Republican attorneys general because, in nearly every instance, the Justice Department defends existing federal law, regardless of the political party in power at the time. The American system will struggle mightily if the U.S. government only defends laws the sitting president happens to like.

Indeed, it's worth emphasizing that three career Justice Department attorneys who'd been working on this case "abruptly withdrew from the litigation" late yesterday, apparently unwilling to go along with Donald Trump's and Jeff Sessions' radical scheme.

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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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