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FBI Director James Comey takes questions from members of the media during a news conference, Nov. 18, 2014, in Boston. (Photo by Steven Senne/AP)

As FBI probe continues, Trump says it's 'not too late' to fire Comey

04/12/17 04:20PM

In an interview with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo, Donald Trump was asked about "Obama-era staffers" that continue to serve in the executive branch. As the Washington Post reported, one official in particular stood out as important.
President Trump said in an interview aired Wednesday morning that he has "confidence" in FBI Director James B. Comey, but it was "not too late" to fire him.

Trump has long sent mixed signals on Comey and the bureau director's future in government, though his comments to Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo are especially important because Comey has now confirmed that the bureau is investigating possible coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign to influence the presidential election.
This was all rather odd. For example, Bartiromo characterized Comey as an Obama-era "staffer," but that's not quite right. FBI directors are appointed to serve fixed 10-year terms -- in large part to help shield directors from overt political influence and pressures -- and in this case, the Democratic president chose a Republican to fill the post. That didn't mean Comey was part of Obama's "staff."

But even putting that aside, Trump went on to say, after noting that "it's not too late" to oust Comey from his post, "We'll see what happens. You know, it's going to be interesting."

The president didn't specify what, exactly, is "going to be interesting." I hope he didn't mean the results of the ongoing counter-espionage investigation into Russia's efforts to put Trump in the White House.

Because if that is what Trump meant, the on-air comments might start to resemble a veiled threat -- along the lines of, "It's a nice career at the FBI you have there; it'd be a shame if something happened to it."
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In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) launches a Tomahawk cruise missile as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014.

On Syria, 'reflexive partisanship' doesn't apply to both parties

04/12/17 12:42PM

What do Americans think of U.S. military intervention in Syria's civil war? The Washington Post noted yesterday that "reflexive partisanship" is evident in the latest polling.
More Americans than ever view the news through red-colored glasses. In 2013, when Barack Obama was president, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 22 percent of Republicans supported the U.S. launching missile strikes against Syria in response to Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against civilians.

A new Post-ABC poll finds that 86 percent of Republicans support Donald Trump's decision to launch strikes on Syria for the same reason. Only 11 percent are opposed.
That's an astounding shift in attitudes, and partisan instincts almost certainly explain the rapid change. Republican voters opposed Obama, so they had no use for his plan to attack the Assad regime, and Republican voters generally back Trump, so they support last week's strikes.

But look a little closer at the details, and the asymmetry between the parties becomes more obvious: four years ago, 38% of Democratic voters backed Obama's proposed strikes in Syria, and now, 37% of Democratic voters support Trump doing the same thing. In other words, there's been effectively no change.

This isn't limited to rank-and-file voters; the dynamic affects elected officials, too. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have been brazenly inconsistent on the issue, opposing Obama's approach because it was Obama's approach, and supporting Trump's offensive because it's Trump's offensive.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.12.17

04/12/17 12:00PM

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

* Reflecting on Kansas' congressional special election, Donald Trump said this morning that the Republican won "easily" against Democrats "who spent heavily [and] predicted victory." All of this is true, except for the parts about the Republican winning easily, Democrats spending heavily, and Democrats predicting victory.

* In 2009, during a presidential address to Congress, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) heckled Barack Obama, shouting, "You lie." At a town-hall event in his home district this week, the South Carolina Republican was heckled with the same phrase by his own constituents.

* In Virginia, a new Quinnipiac poll shows former Rep. Tom Perriello with a modest lead over Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, though most Dem voters remain undecided. Former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie has a more comfortable lead in the Republican primary.

* On a related note, the point that should alarm Republicans is that the same poll shows both Dems with double-digit leads over Gillespie in a hypothetical general-election match-up.

* And sticking with Virginia, the Quinnipiac poll also found Sen. Tim Kaine (D) with 20-point leads over his likely GOP rivals. Donald Trump's approval rating in the commonwealth is just 36%.

* Sen. Susan Collins (R) acknowledged yesterday that she's considering running for governor in Maine next year. If Collins gives up her Senate seat, Gov. Paul LePage (R) would appoint a replacement, who'd serve until 2020, when Collins' current term is up.

* The Associated Press reported yesterday on a super PAC called the Ohio Freedom Fund, which is relying on dark money to support Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel's (R) latest U.S. Senate campaign.

* House Democrats set out to recruit veterans to run for Congress next year, and the initiative is showing signs of success: "Jason Crow, a decorated Army Ranger, is running against Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.); Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force officer, is running against Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.); and Josh Butner, a Lt. Commander of the U.S. Navy Seals, is announcing against embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.)."
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Image: US President Trump leads listening session on human trafficking

Trump's problematic new vow: 'We're not going into Syria'

04/12/17 10:46AM

In August, Donald Trump reflected a bit on foreign policy and declared with great confidence, "[Vladimir Putin is] not going into Ukraine, okay, just so you understand. He's not gonna go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want."

It was, at the time, a bizarre thing to say, because Putin's forces were already in Ukraine. It raised concerns about Trump's ignorance and ability to keep up with current events.

But in hindsight, perhaps the trouble was with Trump's confusion about the word "into." Take the president's latest rhetoric about U.S. policy towards Syria, for example.
President Donald Trump said in an interview to air Wednesday that "we're not going into Syria" after the United States launched a cruise missile strike against a government airbase in that nation over a chemical attack in the country's six-year civil war.
Putting aside the fact that Trump just ignored his own rule about discussing his future security plans, his declaration that "we're not going into Syria" is problematic because we're already in Syria.

Not only have U.S. forces launched military offensives against the Assad regime and ISIS targets -- putting the United States in the position of attacking more than one side of Syria's civil war simultaneously -- but as Rachel noted on the show last night, hundreds of American troops are currently serving in Syria, the country the president says we're not going into.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump reverses course, vows to tackle health care 'first'

04/12/17 10:14AM

About three weeks ago, after the House Republicans' health care bill collapsed in the face of intra-party opposition, Donald Trump delivered some brief remarks from the Oval Office, expressing his disappointment about the outcome, blaming Democrats, and looking ahead.

While the president said policymakers will "end up with a truly great health care bill in the future," Trump added he'd shift his attention to a different issue. "We'll probably be going right now for tax reform, which we could have done earlier, but this really would have worked out better if we could have had some Democrat [sic] support," he said, adding, "So now we're going to go for tax reform which I've always liked."

Two days later, on NBC's "Meet the Press," Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, sounded a similar note. "We've moved on to other things," Mulvaney said. "The president has other things he wants to accomplish."

Three weeks later, Trump apparently no longer intends to move on.
During an exclusive interview on FOX Business, President Donald Trump said he wants to tackle health care before tax reform.

"I have to do health care first, I want to do it first to really do it right," Trump told Maria Bartiromo.
The president's phrasing was clumsy, but he seems to have some basic understanding of the broader dynamic. "[W]e're going to have great health care, and all of that savings goes into the tax," Trump told Fox Business. "If you don't do that you can't put any of the savings into the tax cuts and the tax reform."

That's more or less accurate. One of the reasons House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) prioritized health care over tax reform is that he saw the former as helping lay the groundwork for the latter. By crafting a far-right bill, Republicans could save billions, which in turn could be applied to tax cuts in a separate, conservative tax reform package.
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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-STAFF

Amid White House turmoil, Trump says of Bannon, 'I like Steve, but..."

04/12/17 09:20AM

After chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon was removed from the National Security Council last week, Team Trump insisted we shouldn't read too much into it. Bannon was only added to the NSC to keep an eye on the president's National Security Advisor, whom officials did not trust, and since Michael Flynn was gone, it was time for Bannon to step down.

Nothing to see here. Move along. There's certainly no behind-the-scenes drama to notice.

And yet, despite all the efforts to downplay the palace intrigue, Donald Trump himself is making it sound as if Bannon's role in the White House has reached a precarious stage.
In a brief exchange with the New York Post's Michael Goodwin on Tuesday, Trump seemed to deliberately place Bannon at arm's length, suggesting that his role as an adviser has been oversold and even appearing to threaten Bannon's job.

Goodwin says he asked Trump if he still has confidence in Bannon, who is reportedly feuding with Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. And Trump didn't exactly disabuse Goodwin of the idea that Bannon is embattled. In fact, he did quite the opposite.
"I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late," Trump said. "I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn't know Steve. I'm my own strategist, and it wasn't like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary."

Asked about the friction between various factions in the West Wing, the president added, "Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will."
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Ripped Donald Trump signs lay on the floor at a rally in Radford, Va., Feb. 29, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

GOP strategist: 'The way things are headed, we would lose the House'

04/12/17 08:40AM

Congressional elections are zero-sum affairs: candidates vie for a seat, the winner earns the opportunity to serve, and the loser gets nothing. To this extent, the fact that Republicans managed to hold onto Kansas' 4th district in yesterday's special election is precisely the outcome the GOP wanted to see.

And yet, it's Democrats who appear to be smiling. The Kansas City Star reported overnight:
Republican Ron Estes will be the next congressman from the state of Kansas, but his victory Tuesday night did not come as easily as many expected in the deep-red state.

GOP strategists warned in recent days that Democrat James Thompson, a civil rights attorney, was in striking distance against Estes, Kansas state treasurer from Wichita, in the special election to replace Mike Pompeo.

Estes trailed Thompson early in the night, but began to pull ahead around 9 p.m. In the end, Estes prevailed with 53 percent to Thompson's 45 percent.
By every possible metric, the GOP candidate should've won this race easily, without breaking a sweat. It's a ruby-red district -- Donald Trump won here by 27 points -- in a ruby-red state. A FiveThirtyEight analysis this week noted, "A Thompson loss of 20 percentage points or less would probably be a good sign for Democrats."

The Republican Party had to scramble furiously, in ways no one expected, to win by about 8 percentage points. The GOP push included intervention from Donald Trump and Mike Pence, both of whom recorded robo-calls for local voters; in-person campaigning from Ted Cruz; a fundraising push from Paul Ryan; and 11th-hour investments from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Republicans prevailed, but the GOP candidate didn't win so much as he survived. If Democrats can seriously compete in this Kansas district, they can seriously compete almost anywhere.
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Trump campaign advisor investigated as possible Russian agent

04/12/17 08:00AM

As Donald Trump's Russia scandal grew more serious late last year, the Republican's team faced all kinds of questions, including whether anyone from the campaign was in communications with Russia ahead of Election Day. The answer was always the same: No.

In the face of reports that Carter Page, a Trump foreign policy adviser, may have spoken with Russian officials during the campaign, Sean Spicer told reporters during the transition period, "Carter Page is an individual whom the president-elect does not know."

Even at the time, that was hard to believe. A year ago, Trump personally singled out Page, by name, as one of only a handful of people who were advising him on matters of foreign policy. A few months later, Page sought and received permission from Trump's then-campaign manager to visit Moscow.

And that's now proving to be a serious problem. Last week, BuzzFeed reported that Page was in communications with at least one Russian spy a few years ago, and last night, the Washington Post had an even more striking scoop.
The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page's communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump's favor.
As Rachel emphasized on the show last night, this reporting is extraordinary, in part because of the revelations, but also because leaks from FISA court proceedings are exceedingly rare.

But we're then confronted with the importance of the reporting itself: a foreign-policy adviser to the president of the United States was investigated as a possible agent of Russia, while Russia was illegally intervening in the campaign on the president's behalf.
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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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