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Manafort's ex-son-in-law pleads guilty, cooperating with feds

Manafort's ex-son-in-law pleads guilty, cooperating with feds

05/17/18 09:14PM

Rachel Maddow reviews the unusual financial entanglements of former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and reports breaking news that Jeffrey Yohai, Manafort's former son-in-law with some overlapping business interests has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal prosecutors. Nathan Layne, white collar crime reporter for... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.17.18

05/17/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The final vote was 54 to 45: "The Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina Haspel as the next CIA director despite opposition from most Democrats and a handful of Republicans who blasted her role in the agency's enhanced interrogation program."

* Quite an explosion: "Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupted anew before dawn Thursday, shooting a steely gray plume of ash about 30,000 feet (9,100 meters) into the sky that began raining down on a nearby town."

* I'll have more on this tomorrow: "A New York appeals court on Thursday rejected a request from President Trump to stay proceedings in a defamation suit filed by a former contestant on 'The Apprentice' who has claimed that he sexually harassed her."

* Mueller probe: "Special counsel Robert Mueller has issued a pair of subpoenas to a social media consultant who worked on Roger Stone's pro-Donald Trump super PAC during the 2016 presidential campaign."

* An acknowledgement of reality: "FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterated his position that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia probe is not a witch hunt in an appearance before the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday, continuing to stake a position opposite to President Donald Trump's."

* The latest in a series of bad headlines for the finance giant: "Some employees in a Wells Fargo & Co. unit that handles business banking improperly altered information on documents related to corporate customers, according to people familiar with the matter."

* Andrew Smith: "The new director of the Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection unit, a watchdog with broad investigative powers over private companies, stands out even in an administration prone to turning over regulatory authority to pro-industry players."

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

GOP reps looking for a promotion are struggling in 2018

05/17/18 12:40PM

There's a striking number of House members giving up their seats this year, but not every incumbent lawmaker is trying to exit politics. For example, of the 38 House Republicans who aren't running for re-election this fall, roughly a third are running for statewide office.

The trouble is, those efforts aren't going especially well so far.

This week, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R), widely seen as a strong contender in Idaho's gubernatorial race, came up short in a GOP primary. He has plenty of company: Rep. Robert Pittenger (R) lost in a House primary in North Carolina; Reps. Todd Rokita (R) and Luke Messer (R) both lost in a Senate primary in Indiana; and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R) lost in a Senate primary in West Virginia.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) and Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) won their respective Senate primaries, but both prevailed by smaller-than-expected margins, despite strong support of Donald Trump and party leaders.

Slate's Josh Voorhees explained yesterday that, looking ahead to November, the results are a potential sign of trouble for the Republican Party.

The early losses are another troubling trend for the GOP, which is betting on House Republicans to win a half-dozen key statewide races this fall at the same time the president has made "Washington" an even dirtier word among conservatives than it already was. [...]

Four congressional Republicans are currently running for governor, two of which non-partisan handicappers believe have, at best, even odds of preserving GOP control in those states. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are betting on a handful of House Republicans to win high-profile races that could decide control of the upper chamber in November.

And as we discussed last week, the fact that current House GOP lawmakers are running into trouble isn't just unexpected; it's also a departure from the historical norm.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.17.18

05/17/18 12:00PM

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

* The Congressional Leadership Fund, a very well-funded super PAC allied with the House Republican leadership, has reportedly created "34 offices running mini-campaigns for vulnerable Republicans throughout the country."

* The same week Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) won his Senate primary race in Pennsylvania, Republican officials are expressing concerns about his viability. One party strategist told the Washington Examiner, "The sense is, nobody knows what the f*** he's doing. He's not really working it hard. It's a sad thing, because people like Lou."

* Why is former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) doing so well in Tennessee's Senate race against Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R)? A new Vanderbilt University poll found the former governor with a "significant" advantage among independent voters, and even a majority of Republicans "say they have a favorable view of Bredesen."

* In an announcement that jolted Connecticut's Democratic gubernatorial primary, former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz decided to end her statewide campaign and instead become Ned Lamont's running mate.

* In Ohio, outgoing Gov. John Kasich (R) initially hedged on supporting state Attorney General Mike DeWine's (R) gubernatorial candidacy -- Kasich backed his rival ahead of last week's primary -- but the incumbent has since come around and announced this week he'll "definitely" vote for his party's nominee.

* In Wisconsin's Senate race, state Sen. Leah Vukmir was the overwhelming favorite at the state Republican Party convention and received the GOP's official endorsement, but she'll still have to face Kevin Nicholson in an August primary. The winner will take on Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) in the fall.

* On a related note, Vukmir's latest campaign pitch is that Baldwin is on "Team Terrorist" because the senator opposes Gina Haspel's nomination to lead the CIA.

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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy leaves the House Chamber after the House approved a stopgap spending bill to keep the federal government open, Sept. 30, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Immigration fight roils House Republicans in unexpected ways

05/17/18 11:22AM

The latest fight over immigration policy appeared to reach its end point in March. Congressional Democrats offered Donald Trump at least six bipartisan compromises on the issue, including a package that would've funded his beloved border-wall proposal, but the president rejected each of them, insisting he needed both wall funding and drastic cuts to legal immigration.

But last week, a group of House Republicans shook up the debate in an unexpected way, unveiling a discharge petition -- in defiance of congressional GOP leaders and the White House -- that would force floor votes on a variety of measures, including bipartisan protections for Dreamers.

At first, the gambit looks like little more than theater. After all, discharge petitions almost always fail, and this one would need 25 House Republican votes, along with all the House Democrats. That's an unrealistic goal, right?

Perhaps not. This week, the measure received its 19th and 20th signatories from GOP members, and as a result, as the Washington Post reported, the party's leaders are suddenly scrambling.

House Republican leaders made a full-court press Wednesday to forestall a GOP immigration rebellion that they fear could derail their legislative agenda and throw their effort to hold the majority in doubt.

The effort began in a closed-door morning meeting where Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned that a freewheeling immigration debate could have sharp political consequences. It continued in the evening, when the leaders of a petition effort that would sidestep were summoned to a room with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), McCarthy and three other top leaders.

At this point, the party doesn't appear to have a specific solution. Republican leaders, when they're not pleading with their colleagues not to sign the discharge petition, are exploring alternative measures to offer their rebelling members, even as some rank-and-file GOP lawmakers say they might derail the House's farm bill unless they get their way on immigration.

But what struck me as especially significant was the nature of the pitch House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made to his conference during the weekly meeting yesterday. Politico  reported:

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at a press conference after appearing in court to call for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Giuliani not doing Trump any favors with latest collusion arguments

05/17/18 10:40AM

About a week ago, there were multiple reports that Donald Trump was growing frustrated with Rudy Giuliani's antics. If true, the aggravation seems understandable: the former New York mayor, added to the president's legal team for reasons that still don't make any sense, appears to have done far more harm than good.

In fact, it seemed likely that Giuliani would maintain a lower profile, especially in the media, since he tends to cause trouble for his client in nearly every interview. And yet, as this HuffPost piece shows, he just keeps saying things he shouldn't.

"When I ran against [the Democrats], they were looking for dirt on me every day," Giuliani told Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday night, in response to a question about Donald Trump Jr.'s apparent quest to find "dirt" on Hillary Clinton before the 2016 presidential election.

"That's what you do, maybe you shouldn't, but you do. Nothing illegal about that," Giuliani said. "Even if it comes from a Russian or a German or an American, doesn't matter."

The president's lawyer added that the "main thing" to keep in mind is that the Trump campaign "never used it ... they rejected it." Giuliani went on to say, "If there was collusion with the Russians, they would've used it."

Let's unpack this, because his comments were more interesting than Giuliani probably realizes.

First, this is a clumsy and unpersuasive attempt to move the "collusion" goalposts. To hear this Trump lawyer tell, a campaign can forge some kind of partnership with a foreign adversary, welcoming intelligence stolen as part of an espionage operation, to be used in an American election, and this isn't collusion.

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Ahead of North Korea talks, Trump 'doesn't think he needs to' prepare

05/17/18 10:00AM

It's difficult to say with confidence whether Donald Trump's scheduled meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un will happen next month. The dictator halted the diplomatic process this week in response to U.S./South Korean military exercises; the White House's "Libya model" rhetoric, as expected, isn't going over well; and by some measures, National Security Advisor John Bolton is undermining the entire endeavor.

Trump World, meanwhile, can't seem to make up its mind about whether they expected this diplomatic turbulence or were caught off-guard by it.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reports that U.S. officials are scrambling to address the logistical issues surrounding the upcoming summit in Singapore, "gaming out policy plans, negotiating tactics, even menu items."

The only person who doesn't appear to be working hard on this is their boss. Time magazine reported yesterday:

With just one month until a scheduled sit-down with North Korea's leader, President Donald Trump hasn't set aside much time to prepare for meeting with Kim Jong Un, a stark contrast to the approach of past presidents.

"He doesn't think he needs to," said a senior administration official familiar with the President's preparation.

Aides plan to squeeze in time for Trump to learn more about Kim's psychology and strategize on ways to respond to offers Kim may make in person, but so far a detailed plan hasn't been laid out for getting Trump ready for the summit.

This is very easy to believe.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington

Overwhelmed by scandal, EPA's Pruitt finds a defense lawyer

05/17/18 09:20AM

There's some question as to exactly how many federal investigations Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is currently facing. My tally puts the number at 14. Dana Milbank, however, counts 15.

Either way, let's all agree that the far-right EPA chief is in a fair amount of trouble, facing all kinds of allegations, including corruption, abuses of power, and misuse of public resources. I made the argument in March that the question shouldn't be whether Scott Pruitt will keep his job, but rather, whether or not he should be looking for a good defense attorney.

As it turns out, Pruitt was thinking along similar lines. Politico  reported yesterday:

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has tapped a white-collar defense lawyer to advise him as he grapples with a dozen federal investigations into his activity, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Paul Rauser, co-founder of the firm Aegis Law Group, has been assisting Pruitt for several weeks as the Environmental Protection Agency chief faces fierce scrutiny on everything from his international travel and his lavish spending to his $50-per-night lease in a Capitol Hill condo owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, these people said. Rauser has recently been spotted at EPA headquarters, according to the people.

On a related note, the New York Times  reported a couple of weeks ago that the EPA administrator has created a legal defense fund, and yesterday, Pruitt confirmed that the report is accurate.

And while that may seem understandable given the avalanche of scandals falling on the Oklahoma Republican, Pruitt's legal defense fund is not without complications, as a recent Mother Jones  report explained:

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Image: President Trump hosts the California Sanctuary State Roundtable

Trump calls some immigrants 'animals,' adds, 'We have to break up families'

05/17/18 08:40AM

Fearing adverse political consequences, Donald Trump occasionally likes to argue that he, unlike those rascally Democrats, is the true champion of undocumented immigrants. It's the Republicans, the president insists, who are on their side.

The rhetoric has long been at odds with reality, and yesterday, Trump hosted an immigration roundtable at the White House, where he dropped the facade.

"We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we're stopping a lot of them — but we're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals. And we're taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that's never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It's crazy."

This was not, alas, the first time this president referred to immigrants as "animals."  [Update: see below.]

But the fact that Trump's rhetoric is increasingly common doesn't make it any less offensive. Indeed, when a leader with authoritarian instincts start describing those he considers undesirable as less than human, there's cause for concern.

A Washington Post  report added, "There's important historical context here, too, that many social media users pointed out: Referring to marginalized groups as subhuman has been a way dictators have justified the abuse of those groups."

All of this comes less than a week after White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, echoing anti-immigration rhetoric from generations past, said undocumented immigrants are unskilled and uneducated people who can't "easily assimilate" and "don't integrate well."

It's almost as if Trump's assurances about treating immigrants with great "heart" were insincere.

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Image: Donald Trump

Why Trump's new disclosure on Stormy Daniels payment matters

05/17/18 08:00AM

It was just last month when Donald Trump chatted briefly with reporters on Air Force One, and in response to a reporter's question, the president said he did not know about the $130,000 hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels shortly before Election Day 2016. The Republican added that he also didn't know where his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, received the money to pay the porn star.

A month later, Rudy Giuliani told a national television audience that Trump's original version of events wasn't altogether true, and yesterday, the president disclosed the truth in black and white.

President Donald Trump reported that he reimbursed personal attorney Michael Cohen for costs apparently incurred in paying adult film star Stormy Daniels for a nondisclosure agreement, according to a federally required annual financial disclosure form released by the Office of Government Ethics on Wednesday.

"In the interest of transparency, while not required to be disclosed as 'reportable liabilities' ... in 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J. Trump's attorneys, Michael Cohen," a note at the bottom of Page 45 of the 92-page report states. "Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Cohen in 2017. The category of value would be $100,001 to $250,000 and the interest rate would be zero."

The acknowledgement appeared in a footnote.

At face value, I imagine some might see this acknowledgement as underwhelming. Sure, it's newsworthy when a sitting president discloses a previously secret six-figure payment to a porn star -- the sort of development that would probably destroy any of Trump's predecessors -- but yesterday's filing is entirely consistent with what we knew.

And sure, it's important that the president appears to have brazenly lied to the public about all of this, but it's fair to say most observers knew this, too.

What makes Trump's financial disclosure filing so striking, however, is the letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein from David Apol, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, that accompanied the president's paperwork. Apol noted, for example, that despite Trump's assertion, the disclosure of the reimbursement payment to Cohen wasn't optional.

And that's no small detail.

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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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