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Trump sides with Julian Assange over U.S. intelligence agencies

01/04/17 04:13PM

As recently as 2010, Donald Trump called Julian Assange's WikiLeaks "disgraceful." He added, in apparent reference to the website's operators, "I think there should be like death penalty or something."

Like much of the right, Trump's opinions on Assange have changed quite dramatically.
[O]n Wednesday, Trump continued to cast doubt on intelligence findings as he cited WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange's claim that a "14-year-old kid could have hacked" the emails of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta. "Also [Assange] said Russians did not give him the info!" Trump added.
Even for the president-elect, this was an odd tweet. Trump specifically wrote, "Julian Assange said 'a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta' - why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!"

Note, for example, that he believes John Podesta's emails were on DNC servers, which isn't even remotely true. Even after all of these months, Trump still doesn't understand the most basic details of the underlying controversy.

But more important is the fact that Assange claims that Russia was not WikiLeaks' source for stolen Democratic materials -- a claim U.S. intelligence agencies dispute. Donald Trump, for reasons he hasn't explained, chooses to believe Assange, not the intelligence professionals whom he'll lead in two weeks.

We don't have to speculate about how the American agencies, which Trump has repeatedly mocked and publicly taunted, feel about the president-elect's derision. George Little, the former spokesperson for the CIA, said plainly today, "On Jan. 20, we will be less safe."
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A man carries an umbrella in the rain as he passes the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 16, 2014.

Ignoring promises, Trump taps Wall Street lawyer to oversee Wall Street

01/04/17 12:40PM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump led his followers to believe he had no use for Wall Street and its corrupt ways. In fact, the Republican went out of his way to tell voters that it was Hillary Clinton who was far too cozy with the financial industry.

Clinton, Trump said, is "nothing more than a Wall Street puppet." Her campaign is "paid for by her bosses on Wall Street," he added. The public was told that Clinton is "owned by Wall Street," "is in [the] pocket of Wall Street," and is "bought and paid for by Wall Street."

If voters actually believed the rhetoric and supported Trump in order to limit Wall Street's influence, they made an unwise decision.
President-elect Donald Trump decided on Wednesday to select Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. [...]

Clayton, who has worked on high-profile initial public offerings, including that of Alibaba Group, met with Trump last month. He is a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, who specializes in public and private mergers and offerings. Clayton has also advised several high-net-worth families regarding their investments.
It's probably worth emphasizing that the Securities and Exchange Commission has a variety of responsibilities, but one of its principal functions is regulating and overseeing Wall Street.

In other words, Donald Trump, who spent months railing against the influence of the financial industry in Washington, has tapped a Wall Street insider to oversee Wall Street.

If you bought into the whole "drain the swamp" nonsense, I have some very bad news for you.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.4.17

01/04/17 12:00PM

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

* Bill and Hillary Clinton will attend Donald Trump's inauguration in two weeks, as will George and Laura Bush. George and Barbara Bush will not be there, citing health concerns, but Jimmy Carter was the first to say he'll also attend.

* Trump had scheduled a press conference in December to discuss his many private-sector conflicts of interest, but he canceled it without explanation. Yesterday, the president-elect said he'll host a "general news conference" on Jan. 11 -- a week from today -- which will be his first since July, when he called on Russia to launch a cyber-attack on his opponent's campaign.

* Note, next week's press conference, if it happens, will coincide with several scheduled Senate confirmation hearings for Trump cabinet nominees.

* The Washington Post reports that the DNC "is building a 'war room' to battle President-elect Donald Trump, pressure the new Republican administration on a variety of policy matters and train a spotlight on Russia's alleged cyberattacks to influence the 2016 election.... The DNC has hired John Neffinger, a longtime operative who runs the Franklin Forum, to serve as interim communications director and oversee the national party's operation."

* With a possible eye towards 2020, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) yesterday to unveil a plan to "cover tuition costs at state colleges for hundreds of thousands of middle-and low-income New Yorkers."

* Trump said yesterday that if officials in Chicago can't reduce the city's climbing murder rate, they should "ask for federal help." I'd love to hear more from the president-elect about the kind of help he believes federal officials could provide to reduce a local murder rate.
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AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Jeff Sessions' AG nomination faces fierce pushback

01/04/17 11:21AM

Donald Trump won't be inaugurated until Jan. 20, which means he can't formally nominate anyone for his upcoming cabinet for at least another two weeks. Senate Republicans, however, are eager to get moving on some of the officials the president-elect has already chosen, including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump's choice to be the next Attorney General.

In fact, GOP leaders have already scheduled Sessions' confirmation hearing for next Tuesday. Yesterday, some of the Alabama Republican's critics made clear they'd like to slow the process down a bit.
The NAACP's national president appeared to be arrested after a sit-in at the Mobile, Alabama, office of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions to protest his nomination to be the country's next attorney general, according to a Facebook Live stream of the scene. [...]

The sit-in was part of a larger protest by national and local NAACP chapters, which also included press conferences and demonstrations at other Sessions offices.
This was a high-profile part of a broader push against Sessions' nomination. Consider the developments from just the last week or so:

* A group of more than 1,100 law-school professors also released a joint letter to Congress yesterday, urging that the GOP senator's nomination be rejected. "We are convinced that Jeff Sessions will not fairly enforce our nation's laws and promote justice and equality in the United States," the letter said.

* Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) wrote a letter of his own to senators, by way of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, about Sessions' efforts to criminalize voting assistance.

* This morning, former attorneys with the Justice Department's civil rights division wrote a Washington Post op-ed, explaining that Sessions didn't work on the civil-rights cases he claims to have tackled. (The Atlantic's Adam Serwer helped break this story a couple of weeks ago.)
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2011 Ford Motor Co. Flex sport utility vehicles (SUV) sit on display at the Capital Ford dealership in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 26, 2011. (Photo by Jim R. Bounds/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump keeps claiming credit for jobs he had nothing to do with

01/04/17 10:42AM

The week after Election Day, Donald Trump had an exciting announcement: thanks to his awesomeness, Ford had agreed to keep a Lincoln SUV plant in Kentucky. What the president-elect neglected to mention was that Ford hadn't intended to close the Kentucky plant, and it was't long before Trump's boasts were discredited.

The Republican kept pulling the same trick anyway, in part because the media kept playing along. Trump's claims about jobs saved at Carrier turned out to be untrue. His claims about jobs at Softbank were equally wrong. Trump supporters eagerly credited the president-elect for IBM's plan to expand its workforce, despite the fact that the company's hiring announcement was initially made in May.

Last week, Trump made bold claims about new jobs from Sprint -- the president-elect credited "what is happening and the spirit and the hope" surrounding his upcoming presidency -- which were wildly wrong.

And yesterday, as NBC News reported, it happened again.
Ford Motor Co. announced Tuesday it has scrubbed plans to build a new $1.6 billion assembly plant in Mexico, a project that had been spotlighted by then-candidate Donald Trump, especially after Ford said it would move small car production from the U.S. into that new factory.

But while the move is being hailed by some as a victory for the president-elect, a closer look at the announcement, made by senior Ford executives at a suburban Detroit assembly plant, did not actually reverse the central decision the automaker announced last April.

Small car production, such as the compact Focus model, will still move to Mexico, just into an existing Ford plant in Hermosillo.
The report added that Ford will expand a Michigan factory, adding about 700 jobs, but that project "appears likely to have happened anyway," based on sales of the cars made at that plant.

And yet, there was Trump, crediting himself for the developments.
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Budget Battle

The lesson to be learned from the GOP's ethics fiasco

01/04/17 10:00AM

By yesterday afternoon, much of the media establishment seemed eager to credit Donald Trump for House Republicans reversing course on their plan to gut their own ethics rules. In reality, however, that's far too generous to the president-elect.

For one thing, Trump didn't actually denounce the GOP plan itself. For another, as the Washington Post reported overnight, Republicans were already facing a fierce backlash before the president-elect started tweeting.
The 19 hours of tumult was set in motion the night before behind closed doors at the Longworth House Office Building, where Republican lawmakers decided over the objections of Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to amend House rules to effectively gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

They awoke Tuesday to an intense public outcry. Social media lit up with criticism of representatives trying to rein in the ethics office created a decade ago in the aftermath of scandals. Angry constituents inundated their representatives' offices with calls of protest. Journalists peppered lawmakers with questions. The halls of the Capitol felt chaotic.
This matters for reasons that go far beyond giving credit where it's due. The media rush to applaud Trump misses the more salient angle: congressional Republicans had a plan; Americans hated it; so GOP lawmakers backed down.

Indeed, Google noted that searches for "who is my representative" jumped yesterday morning, just as phones started ringing in members' offices. The Washington Post's Robert Costa added that most of the GOP members he spoke to said the "blizzard of angry constituent calls" were the "most important factor" in getting House Republicans to reverse course yesterday.

And why is that so important? Because yesterday was literally the first day of the new Republican Congress, and there's no reason the "blizzard of angry constituent calls" needs to stop.
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Lindsey Graham, John McCain

Senate Republicans prepared to kill special Russia hacking probe

01/04/17 09:20AM

Just two weeks ago, four prominent U.S. senators -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- issued a joint call for a special select committee to investigate allegations that Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election. The effort, launched by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), seemed to increase the pressure on the GOP leadership to take the scandal seriously.

A day later, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), hardly a moderate, announced a plan of his own to introduce legislation that would create a select committee on cybersecurity, which would tackle, among other things, the suspected Russian espionage operation.

Two weeks later, Politico reports that those efforts, which appeared to be gaining momentum, are now effectively dead.
John McCain and Lindsey Graham are backing off of their push for a select committee on cybersecurity after Russian interference in the election, bowing to the political reality that the Senate Republican Conference largely does not back their idea. [...]

McCain said he'd spoken to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about the matter. McConnell prefers to use the Intelligence Committee to spearhead the cyber investigation, and McCain said their discussions had done little to move the GOP leader. "He said he doesn't think we need it," McCain said.
It's a missed opportunity. As we discussed the other day, in a 52-48 Senate, small groups of Republicans have an enormous amount of leverage, if they choose to exercise it. It's a simple matter of arithmetic: if three GOP senators -- in this case, Graham, McCain, and Gardner -- tell their party's leadership that they'll balk at the party's other priorities until plans for a select committee move forward, McConnell & Co. would be more inclined to give them what they want.

The question is just how much they want a special investigation into a foreign adversary subverting the American democracy. The answer, evidently, is not that much.
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Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Senate Democrats prepare to hold open Supreme Court vacancy

01/04/17 08:40AM

For months, the Senate Republicans' Supreme Court gamble looked like the boneheaded political strategy of the decade. GOP senators launched a radical and unprecedented blockade, refusing to consider President Obama's compromise nominee, because they thought their party would soon control the White House and Congress.

After Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, and everyone assumed there was simply no way Americans would elect a ridiculous television personality to the world's most powerful office, the GOP gambit was destined to become one of the all-time miscalculations.

Or so we thought, right up until Election Day.

The question now is what the Senate Democratic minority intends to do about it. A week after the election, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told MSNBC's Chris Hayes that Senate Republicans' treatment of a qualified, moderate jurist was effectively a political crime. A Supreme Court seat, the Oregon senator argued, was "stolen from the Obama administration and the construct of our Constitution. And it's being delivered to an administration that has no right to fill it."

Merkley added, "There's no legitimacy to a Supreme Court justice in a seat that's been stolen from one administration and handed to another. We need to do everything we possibly can to block it."

And what might that include? Rachel asked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about his party's plans, and his comments were surprising.
SCHUMER: I can't -- it's hard for me to imagine a nominee that Donald Trump would choose that would get Republican support that we could support. So you're right.

MADDOW: And so you will do your best to hold the seat open?

SCHUMER: Absolutely.
Asked if it's fair to say the Supreme Court vacancy is "basically a stolen seat," Schumer replied, simply, "Yes."
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Image: President Elect Trump Continues His "Thank You Tour" In Grand Rapids, Michigan

Trump intensifies 'insanely dangerous' feud with intel agencies

01/04/17 08:00AM

As recently as Monday night, Kellyanne Conway said Americans "should be very happy" that Donald Trump is "open" to receiving a briefing this week from intelligence officials about Russia's alleged intervention in the U.S. presidential campaign. Conway, who'll serve as a senior advisor in the Trump White House, added, "He's very much looking forward to that."

The idea that the public should be delighted that the president-elect is willing to complete routine tasks was itself an odd argument, but even more important is that Conway was clearly mistaken about Trump's frame of mind.
The president-elect took another swipe on Tuesday at the intelligence community that will be under his command in just a few weeks, once again in a tweet.

Last week Donald Trump had said he would meet with high-level intel briefers this week to hear more about Russian hacking of the U.S. election.... On Tuesday, Trump tweeted, "The 'Intelligence' briefing on so-called 'Russian hacking' was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!"
To the extent that reality matters, the briefing wasn't delayed. NBC News' report added that a senior U.S. intelligence official with direct knowledge of the situation said last night that "the heads of the NSA, CIA, FBI and the director of national intelligence were always scheduled to meet with Trump on Friday."

But arguably more important than Trump's lazy dishonesty is his willingness to intensify his ongoing feud with U.S. intelligence agencies. In one juvenile tweet, the president-elect managed to attack the integrity of the agencies, their work, their professionalism, and their findings. He also has clearly made up his mind about the underlying controversy, choosing to believe Russia over American officials.

Sure, other presidents (and presidents-elect) have clashed with intelligence officials in recent history, but Trump is the first to openly taunt and mock these agencies in public.

The Washington Post's Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, wrote last month, "Trump's blanket attack on the intelligence community for incompetence -- as though he were still going after 'Little Marco' or 'Lyin' Ted' -- is an insanely dangerous antic that materially undermines American security." Gerson added last night that Trump's latest salvo is "dangerous beyond belief" and "dangerous beyond precedent."
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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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