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Pro-Euro protestors hold European Union flags during a pro-Euro rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece on Jun. 30, 2015. (Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

'The world just moves on without us': Japan and EU sign a trade deal

07/17/18 09:20AM

Almost immediately after taking office, Donald Trump killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement he assumed he hated. A year later, the United States' former partners in the TPP struck their own agreement -- without the provisions the Obama administration fought to include to benefit the United States.

Phil Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an economist in the Bush/Cheney administration, told the New York Times earlier this year, "Maybe there was some sort of presumption on the part of the president and his team that if the U.S. said stop, this process would come to a halt. What this shows is that's not true. The world just moves on without us."

It's still moving on without us.

The European Union and Japan signed a landmark deal on Tuesday that will eliminate nearly all tariffs on products they trade.

The ambitious pact signed in Tokyo runs counter to President Donald Trump's moves to hike tariffs on imports from many U.S. trading partners. It covers a third of the global economy and markets of more than 600 million people.... The leaders did not mention Trump by name, but they did little to mask what was on their minds -- highlighting how Europe and Japan have been pushed closer by Trump's actions.

The Associated Press' report added that there's still some legislative work to do, but barring any dramatic developments, the agreement will benefit consumers in both the EU and Japan.

And they're not alone on this front.

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Image: FINLAND-US-RUSSIA-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-SUMMIT

After Trump sides with Putin, Republicans respond with hollow backlash

07/17/18 08:40AM

There was no shortage of Republican reactions to Donald Trump's stunning summit with Vladimir Putin, in which the American leader sided with the Russian president over his own country. Much of Trump's party was ... not pleased.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) went the furthest, calling Trump's appearance in Helsinki "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." The ailing GOP senator added, "No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant."

On the other end of the spectrum, there was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who actually defended Trump's efforts. The Kentucky Republican's comments came a day after he dismissed the importance of Russia's attack on the United States, and coincided with Paul's announcement that he's planning his own diplomatic mission to Russia.

In general, most GOP officials were closer to McCain than Paul in their reactions, but the importance of their rhetoric is limited. What matters more, of course, is what Republicans intend to do about these developments. Politico's "Playbook" reported this morning that there was a "general consensus" on Capitol Hill yesterday that Donald Trump "thoroughly embarrassed the United States." The president's party, however, seems uncertain about how, and whether, to act.

...Privately, senior-level Republican aides and lawmakers had a second message: what the hell do you want us to do? [...]

At the end of the day, senior Republican aides and lawmakers told us yesterday, it's up to the president to conduct foreign policy.... Congress is not going to do anything substantive. They have no idea what more they should be doing.

With this in mind, some Senate Republicans are reportedly eyeing a non-binding, symbolic resolution that would endorse the intelligence community's findings related to Russian intervention in the 2016 elections.

If that sounds inadequate, that's because it is.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Justice Department charges Russian who eyed NRA as a foreign agent

07/17/18 08:00AM

Late last week, the Justice Department filed criminal charges against 12 Russian intelligence officials for their role in allegedly attacking the U.S. elections in 2016. Yesterday, federal prosecutors charged another Russian, but this story is a little different. NBC News reported yesterday:

The gun-loving former aide to a top Russian official has been arrested and charged with being a foreign agent who conspired with her ex-boss to infiltrate politically powerful U.S. organizations and push Moscow's agenda.

Mariia Butina, 29, who came to the U.S. in August 2016 on a student visa, previously served as a special assistant to a Kremlin crony whose description in court papers matches that of Alexander Torshin.

If Torshin's name sounds familiar, there's a reason for that: McClatchy News reported earlier this year that the FBI is exploring whether "a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money" to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency. The specific focus was reportedly the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, a close Putin ally, and someone who's faced allegations of money laundering and connections to organized crime.

Mariia Butina, by all accounts, is a Torshin protégé, who worked to establish connections to the NRA and prominent figures in American conservative politics.

And now Butina is facing federal criminal charges, with the Justice Department accusing her of working as a Russian foreign agent -- at the direction of Torshin -- and trying to establish "backchannel" lines of communication with American politicians in order to advance Putin's agenda in the United States.

More to the point, the new indictment appears to describe an effort, backed by the Russian government, to use Butina and Torshin to influence Republican politics -- using the NRA in particular as a point of leverage.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 7.16.18

07/16/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "A Russian national with alleged ties to a top Russian official was charged in federal court in Washington Monday with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation, and was ordered held without bond."

* Unexpected news out of Afghanistan: "The Trump administration has told its top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban, a significant shift in American policy in Afghanistan, done in the hope of jump-starting negotiations to end the 17-year war."

* Germany's foreign minister said this morning that Europe "could not rely on Donald Trump and needed to close ranks after the U.S. president called the European Union a 'foe' with regard to trade."

* Brutal: "Cleaning Toilets, Following Rules: A Migrant Child's Days in Detention: A portrait of life in the shelters for the children detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border."

* Trump imposed tariffs on Canada, and when Canada responded, Trump filed a WTO complaint: "U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has filed a World Trade Organization challenge against the retaliatory tariffs Canada has imposed in response to Trump's own tariffs on steel and aluminum."

* Bad advice: "British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday that President Donald Trump advised her to take legal action against the European Union rather than negotiate Britain's exit from the bloc."

* Maybe tax cuts don't pay for themselves? "The federal government recorded a $74.9 billion deficit in June, a month when the government often runs a surplus, as corporate taxes dropped sharply compared to a year ago."

* Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) is under fire again, this time for suggesting young black kids playing chess in West Louisville is unexpected.

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Image: The President Of The United States And Mrs Trump Meet HM Queen

Trump's overseas adventure becomes a week of 'calamitous' events

07/16/18 04:00PM

It was just six days ago that Donald Trump spoke briefly with reporters on the White House's South Lawn, as he prepared to depart for his overseas trip. "We'll see what happens," the president said. "We have a long, beautiful week."

Long? Maybe. Beautiful? Not so much.

* Tuesday, July 10: Trump lashed out at NATO allies via Twitter, misstated the size of the U.S. trade deficit with European Union, and incoherently called on NATO member nations to "reimburse" the United States.

* Wednesday, July 11: From Brussels, Trump threw a bit of a tantrum and blasted a key U.S. ally, falsely accusing Germany of being a "captive of Russia" and being "totally controlled by Russia." At a breakfast with Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, Trump again claimed that "many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money," which isn't true, and which was based on Trump's ongoing confusion about how NATO financing works.

* Thursday, July 12: Trump launched into a behind-closed doors tirade, forced NATO members into an emergency session, and further alienated U.S. allies. He then proceeded to hold a press conference, claiming to have secured financial commitments from NATO members that, according to multiple foreign governments, didn't actually exist.

* Friday, July 13: The Sun, a British tabloid, published an interview with Trump in which he condemned Prime Minister Theresa May's handling of Brexit, and in the process, he created another international incident with a key American ally. Later in the day, he somehow managed to screw up walking alongside Queen Elizabeth II.

* Saturday, July 14: Ignoring any sense of ethics or propriety, Trump visited -- and heavily promoted -- his golf course in Scotland, which he still owns and tries to profit from. The day after massive anti-Trump protests in England, the American president faced additional protests in Scotland. The same day, Trump said that "many, many" of the street demonstrations were in support of his presidency, a claim which was apparently hopelessly bonkers.

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Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., speaks during the news conference to oppose the chained Consumer Price Index to cut benefits for Social Security and disabled veterans on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Leading Dem senator: it's 'likely' Putin has incriminating info on Trump

07/16/18 03:12PM

There's been ample speculation for quite a while about whether Vladimir Putin's Russian government has compromising information on Donald Trump. And given the American president's antics, it's easy to understand why the questions persist: there has to be some kind of explanation for Trump's bizarre behavior.

But as loud as the speculation has been, it's nevertheless striking when a sitting U.S. senator -- and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- shared some candid thoughts on the subject. Consider what Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) had to say this morning to BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith.

"What do you think of Trump's persistent, among other things, refusal to criticize Vladimir Putin? I mean do you think Vladimir Putin has anything on him?" Smith asked.

"I think it's likely, yeah," Merkley said.

When Smith pressed him to elaborate, the Oregon Democrat said, "It's a standard strategy of Russia when people visit there who are important to try to get compromising information on them, to set them up with hookers, to tape everything that goes on in their room."

The BuzzFeed chief asked soon after, "Just to put this in terms that the Twitter world can relate to, you think the pee tape is real?"

Pausing briefly, Merkley nodded and replied, "Something close to that, something close to that."

The senator isn't the only one on Capitol Hill thinking along these lines.

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In disastrous press conference, Trump defended Putin, blasted Americans

07/16/18 01:15PM

It would've been pretty easy for Donald Trump to get through today's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin without making things worse for himself. Following his behind-closed-doors talks, the American president could've kept things vague, made non-committal references to "common interests," and expressed optimism about the road ahead.

The meeting still would've been controversial -- there was no reason for Trump to reward Putin like this, especially in exchange for nothing -- but the gathering in Helsinki didn't have to be an abject disaster for the White House.

But it was. After watching the post-talks press conference, it's suddenly vastly easier to believe Donald Trump has been compromised in some way by the foreign adversary that attacked the United States in order to put Trump in power.

At a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on foreign soil, President Donald Trump attacked fellow Americans -- Democrats, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and members of the news media -- for damaging U.S.-Russia relations by pursuing questions about Moscow's efforts to help him win the presidency in 2016. [...]

Trump also touted several conspiracy theories related to the election, asking about the 33,000 Hillary Clinton emails he has long claimed are missing, the whereabouts of a computer server at the Democratic National Committee, and the activities of a former House Democratic staffer who some conspiracy theorists have alleged penetrated lawmakers' computers.

This is one of those important political moments that had to be seen to be fully believed. Some of the takeaways from my quickly scribbled notes:

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.16.18

07/16/18 12:00PM

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

* Though July is a pretty slow month for elections, Alabama will host primary run-off elections tomorrow, and the race to watch is Rep. Martha Roby's (R) contest against party-switching former Rep. Bobby Bright. Roby, having received endorsements from Donald Trump and Mike Pence, is expected to prevail.

* The New York Times  reported today on Donald Trump's re-election campaign committee's new FEC filing, which shows the Team Trump, combined with two joint committees formed with the Republican Party, has nearly $53.6 million in the bank. That's quite a haul before the president's first midterm cycle.

* That said, Trump talked to Piers Morgan the other day, and the British journalist asked if there's any doubt about whether he'll run again in 2020. The American president said, "Well, you never know what happens with health and other things," but added, "It seems like everybody wants me to." Asked if he sees a likely Democrat who can beat him, Trump said, "No. I don't see anybody. I know them all and I don't see anybody."

* Fueled by progressive activists, the California Democratic Party's executive committee officially endorsed state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D), incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D) general-election rival, over the weekend. As Politico noted, the move "delivers a lifeline to de Leon's struggling campaign -- and the party's imprimatur, which is accompanied by valuable access to slate cards, email lists and voter outreach machinery that will allow him to reach an estimated 2 million Democratic voters."

* House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of Congress' most sycophantic Trump allies, is receiving a fundraising boost from donors who appreciate his pro-Trump efforts: the California Republican raised roughly $5 million in the second quarter. Headed into the cycle's final four months, Nunes has over $6 million cash on hand.

* Elon Musk reportedly contributed $38,900 to the Protect the House PAC, which exists to help Republicans keep control of Congress. The Daily Beast noted that the Tesla and SpaceX CEO joins "the likes of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Houston Texans owner Robert McNair in the PAC's top 50 donors."

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In this Jan. 12, 2016 file photo, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback speaks to the legislature in Topeka, Kan. (Photo by Orlin Wagner/AP)

Did Brownback lobby in support of a British right-wing activist?

07/16/18 11:30AM

Earlier this year, by the narrowest of margins, the Senate confirmed Sam Brownback to serve as the U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom in the Trump administration. The expectation was that Brownback, having ruined Kansas' state finances as a two-term governor, would maintain a fairly low profile in a position that has limited legal or political power.

Perhaps those expectations were mistaken. Reuters reported the other day Brownback took an interest in a right-wing activist who's currently in a U.K. jail -- and Brownback directed his concerns directly to the British ambassador.

Brownback raised the case of the activist known as Tommy Robinson in a June meeting with Sir Kim Darroch, Britain's Ambassador to the United States, according to a British official and two sources close to the organizers of a pro-Robinson demonstration planned for London on Saturday.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, though he also uses other aliases, is a founder of the English Defense League, which has organized violent demonstrations against Islamic immigrants in the UK in the past decade. More recently, Robinson has branded himself a journalist and campaigner against Islamic extremism, a move that won him contacts with American anti-Muslim activists.

Robinson was arrested in late May outside a courthouse in Leeds, England, while making video recordings about a trial related to child molestation and jailed for 13 months for violating English law limiting publicity during criminal trials.

The underlying controversy is of interest to observers in the U.K., but for reasons that aren't at all clear, Brownback reportedly pressed the British ambassador to treat the right-wing wing activist more sympathetically. If not, according to Reuters' reporting, Brownback said the Trump administration would publicly criticize the British government's handling of the case.

I should emphasize that the Reuters piece hasn't been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News. That said, if the reporting is accurate, it raises some questions that deserve answers.

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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)

Former House Dem says Russia hacked his campaign, too

07/16/18 11:00AM

Quick quiz: how many House Democrats lost their re-election bids in 2016 to Republican challengers? It was a decent election cycle for the GOP -- the party did win control of the White House, Senate, and House -- so the number was probably pretty significant, right?

Wrong. The grand total of House Dems who lost their seats to Republican challengers in 2016 was one: Nebraska's Brad Ashford, who lost to Rep. Don Bacon (R) by about 1% of the vote.

The Associated Press reported the other day that Ashford has come forward with information we didn't know: months ahead of his narrow re-election defeat, Russian agents launched a cyber-attack on his campaign.

Former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford announced the breach on his Facebook page after the Justice Department filed an indictment alleging that 12 Russian military intelligence officers stole information from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and the Democratic Party.

Ashford, who lost his seat to Republican Don Bacon by 3,464 votes, said hackers obtained all of his campaign's email correspondence with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He said he was notified of the breach in the summer of 2016 by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's office and was told that the Russians were likely responsible.

"I wasn't concerned about anything that would be untoward or inappropriate (in the emails), because I knew there wasn't anything like that," Ashford said in an Associated Press interview. "I was fearful that they would know things about our campaign's strategy and focus, and that it would somehow get into the hands of a dark money group. It was stuff you don't want the other side to get."

Ashford, who seems reluctant to sound like a sore loser, added, "I'm not suggesting that it cost me the election. But I do think it's important for people in my district to know how close to home these Russians can get."

It's an important point, the significance of which extends well beyond Omaha, Nebraska.

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Image: FINLAND-US-RUSSIA-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-SUMMIT

On Russia, Trump and Trump's team are rarely on the same page

07/16/18 10:30AM

On the eve of Donald Trump's bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said the one-on-one discussion should be seen as "meeting," not a "summit."

Apparently, his boss disagrees: Trump has described the gathering in Helsinki as a "summit."

In the grand scheme of things, the fact that the president and his ambassador to Russia disagree on what to call today's talks is minor, but as the New York Times  noted, this unfolded against a backdrop in which Trump and the rest of his team routinely draw dramatically different conclusions when it comes to U.S. policy toward to Russia.

Whether it is Russia's interference in the election, its annexation of Crimea or its intervention in Syria, Mr. Trump's statements either undercut, or flatly contradict, those of his lieutenants.

The disconnect is so profound that it often seems Mr. Trump is pursuing one Russia policy, set on ushering in a gauzy new era of cooperation with Mr. Putin, while the rest of his administration is pursuing another, set on countering a revanchist power that the White House has labeled one of the greatest threats to American security and prosperity.

The contradictions are jarring, though the underlying question -- should we listen to administration officials or their boss about U.S. policy toward Russia? -- has a clear answer.

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Image: US-POLITICS-INVESTIGATION-COATES

DNI on election cyber threat: 'The warning lights are blinking red again'

07/16/18 10:00AM

When Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spoke over the weekend at a convention of state secretaries of state, she raised the prospect of additional foreign intervention in the 2018 midterm elections, though the DHS chief seemed to have something of a mixed message.

On the one hand, Nielsen said the threat of cyber-attacks has not dissipated. On the other hand, as the Associated Press noted, she added that there are no signs that Russia is targeting this year's elections with the same "scale or scope" it targeted the 2016 presidential election.

The director of national intelligence seemed far less sanguine. The New York Times  reported:

The nation's top intelligence officer said on Friday that the persistent danger of Russian cyberattacks today was akin to the warnings the United States had of stepped-up terror threats ahead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

That note of alarm sounded by Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, came on the same day that 12 Russian agents were indicted on charges of hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Mr. Coats said those indictments illustrated Moscow's continuing strategy to undermine the United States' democracy and erode its institutions.

Speaking at a scheduled event at the Hudson Institute, Coats referenced the concerns among intelligence officials in the months leading up to 9/11, when the "system was blinking red." He added, "Here we are, nearly two decades later, and I'm here to say the warning lights are blinking red again."

In the same remarks, Coats said the United States' digital infrastructure "is literally under attack," and among our foes, Russia is the "worst offender."

All of this coincided with latest Justice Department indictment, charging 12 Russian intelligence officials for helping orchestrate the operation that targeted the 2016 presidential election.

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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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