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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump: 'How could there be obstruction on firing Comey?'

01/15/18 10:00AM

A reporter asked Donald Trump in June whether he'd be willing to answer questions about the Russia scandal under oath. "One hundred percent," the president responded.

In a follow-up, a reporter asked, "So if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that, you would be willing to talk to him?" Trump, referring to comments he made about not pressuring former FBI Director James Comey, responded, "I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you."

Last week, however, the president's posture changed. Asked at a press conference at Camp David whether he's still committed to speaking with Mueller, Trump hedged, refusing to answer the question directly. A few days later, at an event alongside the prime minister of Norway, Trump faced a similar question. The Republican's response was long, meandering, and not altogether coherent, but he concluded that it "seems unlikely" that he'd answer the special counsel's questions.

The president's odd rhetoric notwithstanding, NBC News reported last week that the logistics and scope of an interview with Trump remain the subject of discussion between the special counsel's office and the president's lawyers. Bloomberg Politics reported late Friday that talks between Trump's legal team ad Mueller's team are "expected to continue ... despite comments from Trump suggesting an interview is unlikely."

As long as we're on the subject, it's also worth noting the president's comments on the subject to the Wall Street Journal the other day, because while it wasn't the part of the interview that generated the most news, it offered an interesting peek into Trump's thinking.

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Trump's response to the opioid crisis starts to look even worse

01/15/18 09:45AM

If you focus on solely to Donald Trump's rhetoric about the opioid crisis, the president appears to take the public-health emergency seriously. It's his actions that are the problem.

The first sign of trouble came over the summer when Trump made an official public declaration that the opioid crisis is "a national emergency." He then waited 11 weeks before issuing an underwhelming White House directive on the issue.

Making matters worse, Politico  reported last week that while Trump's official declaration set in motion a 90-day period of mobilization, that declaration runs out on Jan. 23, "and beyond drawing more attention to the crisis, virtually nothing of consequence has been done."

That's not all. Trump also tapped a political pollster with no relevant experience to oversee the White House's response to the opioid crisis, and the president's original choice to serve as the nation's "drug czar" was accused of taking steps to weaken the DEA's authority over opioids after accepting generous campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies.

And then there's Taylor Weyeneth, who's taken on a leading role in responding to the opioid epidemic despite a dubious background. The Washington Post  reported over the weekend on the former Trump campaign aide who's now an administrative leader in Trump's drug policy office:

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Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Richard Durbin on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on April 28, 2015. (Photo by Lauren Victoria Burke/AP)

To defend Trump, Republicans target Dick Durbin

01/15/18 08:40AM

When Republicans find themselves on the defensive, they reflexively look for ways to turn their circumstances around and go on the offensive. In tactical terms, they're generally pretty good at it, just so long as one is willing to overlook facts and propriety.

As the revelations surrounding Donald Trump's Russia scandal have grown more serious, for example, the president and his allies have tried to flip the controversy, arguing that those looking for the real scandal should focus on the Justice Department. And the FBI. And Fusion GPS. And James Comey. And Christopher Steele. And Hilary Clinton's email server protocols.

Anyone but Trump.

Last week, the president was at the center of an international incident following behind-the-scenes comments in which Trump referred to Haiti and African nations as "shithole countries" during a meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) confirmed the accounts, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told a colleague that the reports on the controversy were basically correct.

To defend Trump, Republicans again needed to find a villain. They appear to have settled on Durbin.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) appeared on Fox News the other day, for example, and suggested that, regardless of what Trump said, the Illinois Democrat is responsible for "undermining trust" by alerting the public to the president's comments. House Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) pushed a similar line.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) went even further on CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday.

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U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement from the Roosevelt Room next to the empty chairs of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (L), D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R), D-California, after they cancelled their meeting at the Whi

Trump says DACA is 'probably dead,' scrambles to avoid blame

01/15/18 08:00AM

With policymakers facing a series of pressing deadlines, congressional Democrats have taken several steps to work out an agreement on a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) solution that would protect Dreamers. Just last week, Democratic officials not only briefly persuaded Donald Trump to agree with their position, they also worked out a bipartisan agreement with Senate Republicans.

It's against this backdrop that the president spent much of the weekend publishing a series  of  tweets suggesting the door is effectively closed.

"The Democrats are all talk and no action. They are doing nothing to fix DACA. Great opportunity missed. Too bad! ... I don't believe the Democrats really want to see a deal on DACA. They are all talk and no action. This is the time but, day by day, they are blowing the one great opportunity they have. Too bad!

"DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don't really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military."

Trump appears to be echoing an emerging line that's popular on the right, especially in conservative media: Dems could agree to a DACA compromise, the argument goes, but they'd rather keep the issue alive in order to exploit the controversy for political gain.

The problem with the thesis, which the president seems a little too eager to promote, is that it's ridiculous.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for service at First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine, Iowa, Jan. 24, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

This Week in God, 1.13.18

01/13/18 08:16AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the White House evangelical advisory council, whose members have remained steadfast in their support for Donald Trump, and whether the controversy surrounding his "shithole countries" comments has shaken his standing among these ardent faith-based backers.

Evidently not. The Washington Post  reported:

A few members of President Trump's evangelical advisory council — including its spokesman — on Friday defended the president after he made comments about immigrants from places including Africa and Central America.

In a statement to The Washington Post, [advisory council] spokesman Johnnie Moore questioned whether Trump had actually made the comments and accused Congress of holding up immigration reform. If Trump did make the comments, Moore said, they "were crass." The reports about Trump's remarks are "absolutely suspect and politicized," Moore said. [...]

Others in the advisory group — the only known regular pipeline of religious feedback to the White House — spoke in support of the president, saying that his language may not have been acceptable but that his views are.

As best as I can tell, much of Trump's evangelical council had no interest in commenting at all, which is itself problematic. That said, Robert Jeffress, a controversial far-right mega-church leader in Texas who enjoys close White House ties, went quite a bit further, endorsing Trump's racially inflammatory sentiment. "I support his views 100 percent, even though as a pastor I can't use that language," Jeffress told the Post.

This isn't altogether surprising. After Trump was heard bragging about sexually assaulting women on the "Access Hollywood" tape, his most prominent evangelical advisers stood by him. After Trump defended racist activists in Charlottesville last summer, only one member of the White House's evangelical advisory council resigned, no longer willing to be associated with this president.

As of last night, no current members have resigned in response to the president's racist rhetoric this week.

"Trump has courted evangelicals, some of whom have had access to him and his administration," Wheaton College's Ed Stetzer wrote yesterday. "I hope those evangelical leaders will speak clearly, reminding Trump that all people are worthy of dignity and respect because they are made in the image of God."

So far, many of these evangelical voices have been reluctant to say anything of the sort.

Also from the God Machine this week:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.12.18

01/12/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iran nuclear deal: "President Donald Trump on Friday will extend waivers on Iran nuclear sanctions, keeping alive the landmark 2015 deal for at least another several months despite his past vows to scuttle the deal."

* No "Profile in Courage" Award for you, senator: "Sen. Lindsey Graham did not deny Friday that President Donald Trump called certain nations 's---hole' countries, adding that he 'said [his] piece' in response to the president's 'comments' at a meeting with lawmakers."

* A notable resignation: "U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley, a career diplomat and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot, has resigned, telling the State Department he no longer feels able to serve President Donald Trump."

* Scandal in Missouri, Day Two: "St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner will launch a criminal investigation into accusations engulfing Gov. Eric Greitens, she announced Thursday afternoon."

* A story worth watching: "The Russian hackers who stole emails from the Democratic National Committee as part of a campaign to interfere in the 2016 election have been trying to steal information from the U.S. Senate, according to a report published Friday by a computer security firm."

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Image: Michael Cohen, attorney for The Trump Organization, arrives at Trump Tower in New York City

Payment from Trump lawyer to adult-film star raises questions

01/12/18 04:54PM

It's been a surprisingly busy week for controversies related to Donald Trump. Some of the stories have been substantive, such as his confusion about immigration and surveillance proposals. Some have been entertaining, such as the president claiming Norway bought F-52 jets that don't exist.

Some have been odd, such as Trump's claim that he received complimentary letters from television anchors (the correspondence, like the F-52s, apparently didn't exist). Some have been racial, such as denigration of "shithole countries." And some have been connected to established scandals, such as Trump hedging on his previous willingness to talk to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and his willingness to accuse FBI officials of "treason."

But we haven't seen much of anything this week about Trump's personal life. It's against this backdrop that the Wall Street Journal  reports this afternoon on a curious alleged payment during the 2016 campaign season.

A lawyer for President Donald Trump arranged a $130,000 payment to a former adult-film star a month before the 2016 election as part of an agreement that precluded her from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.

Michael Cohen, who spent nearly a decade as a top attorney at the Trump Organization, arranged payment to the woman, Stephanie Clifford, in October 2016 after her lawyer negotiated the nondisclosure agreement with Mr. Cohen, these people said.

Ms. Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, has privately alleged the encounter with Mr. Trump took place after they met at a July 2006 celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, these people said. Mr. Trump married Melania Trump in 2005.

The reporting has been met with several specific kinds of denials.

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A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Trump boasts about Norway buying fighter jets that don't exist

01/12/18 02:33PM

Standing alongside Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at a White House press conference this week, Donald Trump boasted, "In November, we started delivering the first F-52s and F-35 fighter jets."

That wouldn't be especially notable, were it not for the fact that there's no such thing as an F-52. The Washington Post  reported yesterday that the plane does exist in a popular video game.

President Trump's announcement of U.S.-made F-52s fighter aircraft delivered to Norway may have rattled its neighbor Russia, the source of rising tension among NATO allies.

Was it a secret advanced jet capable of beating its Russian counterparts? A ruse to fool intelligence analysts?

Neither, it turns out. The "F-52" is a fictional jet only available to fly if you're a gamer at the controls of "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare."

In fairness, at the same press conference, Trump went on to talk about 52 of the F-35 fighter jets -- it's likely he confused the numbers while reading from his prepared text -- but in this case, that was wrong, too: Norwegian officials have so far authorized funding for 40 of the planes, not 52. The president made no effort to correct the record.

Indeed, the Daily Beast's Spencer Ackerman joked, "You laugh but I promise you [Lockheed Martin, the defense company that makes the F-35] is scrambling to design an F-52 knowing that the administration would buy it just to avoid admitting a Trump error."

All of which brings us back to a familiar thesis: the president keeps saying odd things about airplanes.

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What Donald Trump considers 'a treasonous act'

01/12/18 01:59PM

The Wall Street Journal asked Donald Trump yesterday whether he wants congressional Republicans to shut down investigations into the Russia scandal. The president said no, before insisting that Democrats colluded with Russians during the campaign, which Trump says with increasing frequency, despite the fact that the claim is plainly ridiculous.

But unprompted, he quickly transitioned to throwing around accusations of treason.

TRUMP: What went on with the FBI, where a man is tweeting to his lover that if she loses, we'll essentially go back to the -- we'll go to the "insurance policy," which is -- if they lose, we'll go to phase 2, and we'll get this guy out of office. I mean, this is the FBI we're talking about. I think that is -- that is treason. See, that's treason right there.

WSJ: Does any of that make you less...

TRUMP: By the way, that's a treasonous act. What he tweeted to his lover is a treasonous act.

As a rule, sitting presidents should be cautious about casually throwing around accusations of treason, and in this case, Trump's recklessness is especially tough to defend.

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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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