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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.26.18

04/26/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Pruitt on the Hill: "Lawmakers excoriated EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for recent revelations of ethical lapses and excessive spending during a hearing on the EPA's 2019 budget request Thursday, with Democrats and at least one Republican informing the embattled agency chief that they found his leadership lacking."

* The final vote was 57 to 42: "The Senate on Thursday easily confirmed Mike Pompeo as the nation's 70th secretary of state, elevating the current C.I.A. director and an outspoken foreign policy hawk to be the nation's top diplomat."

* Special Master in the Cohen case: "Barbara S. Jones, a lawyer who served as a federal judge in Manhattan, was selected on Thursday to oversee the process of screening materials seized in a recent F.B.I. raid from President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen."

* The White House's Porter scandal: "The F.B.I. first gave the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, a file containing spousal abuse allegations against Rob Porter in March 2017, according to a detailed new timeline the bureau has given to Congress that casts further doubt on the West Wing's account of how accusations against one of President Trump's closest advisers were handled."

* Part of a pattern: "The Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday that it will cancel temporary residence permits for thousands of Nepalis in the United States, a status granted to them following an earthquake three years ago that devastated the South Asian country."

* Devastating: "Poor training, complacency and a culture of excessive risk contributed to the deaths of four U.S. soldiers during an operation in Niger in October, according to a classified Pentagon report. The report, described by officials familiar with its contents, details a series of missteps and describes a disregard for military procedures and for the chain of command."

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Trump's three magical words: 'People don't realize'

04/26/18 02:45PM

Donald Trump's references to common facts that he assumes people aren't aware of are always entertaining.

The hosts also asked Trump to weigh in on a series of supportive tweets by Kanye West on Wednesday. He attributed West's comments to dropping black unemployment, and suggested that the GOP could win over African American voters. "People don't realize, if you go back to the Civil War the Republicans really did the thing. Lincoln was a Republican," he said, citing an extremely well-known fact.

This comes a week after the president endorsed diplomatic talks on the Korean peninsula, explaining, "People don't realize that the Korean War has not ended."

In nearly every instance, when Trump says, "People don't realize" -- or its rhetorical cousin, "A lot of people don't know that" -- what he means is, "I recently learned some new detail, and since I wasn't aware of it, I'm going to assume most people didn't know it, either."

There are exceptions. Sometimes, for example, he'll use the phrase to bolster a detail that's false, but which he wants to be true. As a candidate, he insisted that "nobody knows" that the murder rate is at 45-year high. Of course, in reality, "nobody knows" that because it's not true. Trump also believes that "a lot of people don't know" that U.S. taxes are the highest in the world, which would be fascinating, if his point weren't completely wrong.

Other times, the president is more philosophical. "People don't realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?" he asked a year ago this week.

But more often than not, he assumes Americans simply aren't aware of fairly common details. Last summer, for example, Trump declared, "France is America's first and oldest ally. A lot of people don't know that." Before that, he said, in reference to Abraham Lincoln, "Most people don't even know he was a Republican. Right? Does anyone know? A lot of people don't know that."

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

Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to shield Mueller from Trump

04/26/18 12:40PM

Early last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to slam the door shut on any legislative effort to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from White House interference. Though the Republican leader said Mueller should be allowed to continue his work, asked about a bipartisan bill to shield the special counsel, McConnell declared, "We'll not be having this on the floor of the Senate."

Despite multiple reports that Donald Trump has already tried to take steps to fire Mueller, McConnell added that he believes new legislation is "not necessary."

Evidently, there are still some senators who disagree.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance legislation designed to make it more difficult for any president to dismiss a special counsel, a signal to President Donald Trump amid Robert Mueller's ongoing Russia probe. [...]

The legislation represents a compromise between [Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck] Grassley and a bipartisan foursome who had long advocated the measure: Lindsay Graham, R-S.C.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Christopher Coons, D-Del.; and Cory Booker, D-N.J.

The outcome was by no means a foregone conclusion. As recently as yesterday afternoon, Grassley sought changes to the proposal that, if implemented, likely would've undermined the independence of Mueller's probe. (Among other things Grassley envisioned requiring Mueller to notify the Judiciary Committee "if there is any change is made to the specific nature of scope of the investigation.")

The Iowa Republican backed off those changes overnight, allowing the bill to clear committee today with bipartisan support. The final vote on the panel was 14 to 7.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.26.18

04/26/18 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Quinnipiac poll, released yesterday, found Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 48% to 40%. The same poll showed Donald Trump's approval rating dropping slightly to 39%, from 41% a few weeks ago.

* After striking out at the Colorado Supreme Court, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), facing the prospect of not appearing on the ballot, brought his case to federal district court yesterday. Colorado's primary is June 26.

* In Arizona's congressional special election this week, results continue to come in, and as of this morning, Rep.-elect Debbie Lesko's (R) margin of victory is down to just four points. This is a district that Donald Trump won by 21 points, and where Republicans enjoy a registration advantage of 17 points.

* Twelve years ago, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island. This year, Chafee is eyeing something akin to a rematch, but this time, Chafee, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat will run against Whitehouse in a Democratic primary.

* Texas is moving forward with plans to hold a special election to replace former Rep. Blake Farenthold (R), but Gov. Greg Abbott this week wrote to the former congressman, demanding that he cover the election's costs. Farenthold, of course, is still on the hook for the $84,000 he used to settle a sexual harassment claim.

* Though there are tricky legal questions involved, former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) and former Rep. David Jolly (R) are exploring the possibility of running as a bipartisan gubernatorial ticket in Florida this year.

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Trump threatens to exert political influence over the Justice Department

04/26/18 11:22AM

At the end of Donald Trump's odd interview on Fox News this morning, the president threw something of a tantrum on the air, in response to a question about answering questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump's response was a lengthy tirade, leading to this:

"You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it’s a disgrace. And our Justice Department -- which I try and stay away from, but at some point I won't -- our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia."

As Trump tried to ramble some more, the Fox hosts rushed him off the phone, with one of them reminding the president he has "a million things to do." That, in itself, was a remarkable moment: ordinarily, journalists talking to an interview-shy president would want to keep the conversation going as long as possible. This morning, the hosts of "Fox & Friends" themselves ended the interview, stopping a highly agitated Trump before he could embarrass himself further.

Curious media strategies notwithstanding, it was no small development to hear the president -- the subject of an ongoing investigation -- talk openly about intervening with the Justice Department. In fact, Trump was rather explicit during the interview, arguing that he wants federal law enforcement officials to stop investigating his alleged crimes and start investigating his perceived foes.

The president attacked former FBI Director James Comey as a criminal, for example, adding that Justice Department officials aren't "doing their job" by failing to investigate him. "I've taken the position -- and I don't have to take this position and maybe I'll change -- that I will not be involved with the Justice Department. I will wait until this is over. It's a total -- it's all lies and it's a horrible thing that's going on.... I'm very disappointed in my Justice Department."

For those keeping score, the sitting president is attacking his Justice Department, calling for an investigation into the former FBI director, and threatening to seize greater control over the levers of federal law enforcement power.

And yet, it seems like just another day in Donald Trump's America.

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Trump's story appears to change on details of Moscow trip

04/26/18 10:40AM

Before he fired James Comey as the director of the FBI, Donald Trump was reportedly "obsessed" with disproving claims from the Steele dossier about alleged lewd conduct with prostitutes while in Moscow in 2013. In fact, Comey's memos about his interactions with the president suggest Trump tried to say he effectively had an alibi that disproved the claims.

According to the ousted FBI chief, the president, on multiple occasions, told him he never actually spent the night in Russia, so the salacious story couldn't be true. The trouble, of course, is that there's clear evidence that Trump did, in fact, spend the night in Moscow at the time.

This morning, the president shed new light on the subject, telling Fox News he never made the claims that Comey documented in his memos.

"They're phony memos. He didn't write those memos accurately. He put a lot of phony stuff. For instance, I went to Russia for a day or so -- a day or two -- because I owned the Miss Universe pageant. So I went there to watch it because it was near Moscow.

"So I go to Russia. Now I didn't go there -- everybody knows, the logs are there, the planes are there. He said I didn't stay there a night. Of course I stayed there. I stayed there a very short period of time, but of course I stayed. Well his memos said, 'I left immediately' -- I never said that! I never said I left immediately."

At that point, for reasons that were not at all clear, Trump began attacking CNN and accusing Hillary Clinton of getting debate questions in advance.

The comments are worth listening to, rather than just reading, because the president sounded highly agitated and more than a little manic.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Trump speaks during a forum called Generation Next at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington

Daniels' lawyer: Trump's new comments are a 'gift from the heavens'

04/26/18 10:13AM

With Michael Cohen facing a criminal investigation and asserting his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, it stood to reason Donald Trump would have something to say about his personal attorney during his Fox News interview this morning.

The president, however, probably wasn't supposed to say this.

"I don't know his business, but this doesn't have to do with me. Michael is a businessman. He's got a business. He also practices law. I would say probably the big thing is his business, and they're looking at something having to do with his business," Trump said during a lengthy phone interview with "Fox and Friends." "I have nothing to do with his business, I can tell you."

Asked about Cohen's work representing him, Trump claimed that Cohen only handled "a tiny, tiny little fraction" of his legal work.... "He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me," the President continued, referencing Cohen's payment to Daniels and work negotiating a hush agreement with the porn actress. "You know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong. There were no campaign funds going into this, which would have been a problem."

There's a lot to this, but let's consider three of the key elements to Trump's comments.

First, prosecutors have suggested that while Michael Cohen is an attorney, his work with Trump hasn't strictly been in a legal capacity. The president seemed eager to bolster this point this morning, emphasizing repeatedly that Cohen is principally "a businessman."

Second, the official line from Trump World has been that the president had nothing to do with the Stormy Daniels controversy. He wasn't involved in the pre-election hush-money payoff, the argument went, and the president is completely in the dark when it comes to the whole sordid affair.

Trump suggested this morning that this narrative is false, making clear that Cohen represented him in the "deal" with the porn star, and asserting that he knows campaign funds weren't used to buy Daniels' silence.

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Ben Carson watches as Donald Trump takes the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Carson's new HUD plan: rent hikes for low-income families

04/26/18 09:20AM

It sounds like the plot of a Dickensian nightmare. A wealthy president signed a massive package of tax cuts, which importunately benefit the wealthy and big corporations. We learned just last week, for example, that "the nation's six big Wall Street banks saved at least $3.59 billion in taxes last quarter, thanks to the recently enacted Trump tax law."

At the same time, that same president's party is trying to cut food stamps while his administration targets housing benefits for low-income families. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proposed far-reaching changes to federal housing subsidies Wednesday, tripling rent for the poorest households and making it easier for housing authorities to impose work requirements.

Carson's proposals, and other initiatives aimed at low-income Americans receiving federal assistance, amount to a comprehensive effort by the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to restrict access to the safety net and reduce the levels of assistance for those who do qualify.

The article added that roughly "half of the 4.7 million families receiving housing benefits would be affected" by the proposed changes.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump's nominee to be Secretary of Veteran Affairs Ronny Jackson visits Capitol Hill

Ending fiasco, Ronny Jackson withdraws as VA nominee

04/26/18 08:41AM

Yesterday was supposed to be the day confirmation hearings began for Navy Admiral Ronny Jackson, a White House physician and Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Instead, it was his last day as a cabinet nominee.

This morning, Jackson issued a statement announcing he's withdrawing from consideration. The statement read in part:

"Going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity.

"The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated. If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years.... Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this president and the important issue we must be addressing -- how we give the best care to our nation's heroes."

While Jackson denies the allegations raised against him in recent days, the scope and seriousness of those claims intensified yesterday, to the point that his nomination became unsustainable.

Even before claims of wrongdoing emerged, Jackson's nomination was problematic -- he lacked the qualifications needed for the cabinet post and has no experience overseeing a large organization -- but as lawmakers heard from many of the doctor's former colleagues, Senate Republicans started to balk.

The president turned to Fox News this morning to blame Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, for the demise of Jackson's nomination, but like so many of Trump's claims, that doesn't make a lot of sense. For one thing, concerns about Jackson were bipartisan.

For another, if anyone's to blame for this fiasco, it's Trump and his White House team.

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Image: Michael Cohen at Federal Court

Michael Cohen to take the Fifth, leaving Trump in an awkward spot

04/26/18 08:00AM

Remember when some political observers ignored the Stormy Daniels controversy, deeming it a tabloid-esque sideshow? At this point, it's effectively impossible to say this story doesn't matter.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, filed a declaration in federal court on Wednesday asserting his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in the ongoing lawsuit filed against him by porn star Stormy Daniels.

"Based on the advice of counsel, I will assert my Fifth Amendment rights in connection with all proceedings in this case due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York," Cohen said in the court filing.

The development comes just weeks after the FBI raided Cohen's office, home, and hotel room, as part of an apparent investigation into his role in hush-money payments.

His legal assertion doesn't come completely out of the blue -- Cohen and his team had signaled earlier this month that this might happen -- but now that it's official, we're reminded in stark terms just how much legal jeopardy the president's personal attorney appears to be in.

And that, in turn, leaves Trump in an awkward position for a couple of reasons.

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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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