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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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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.11.17

04/11/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Germany: "Multiple explosions went off near a bus carrying a German soccer team in Dortmund Tuesday evening, injuring a player ahead of a quarterfinal match, authorities and the team said."

* United: "The 69-year-old man dragged from a United Airlines flight in a bloody scuffle -- igniting outrage over his treatment -- has been identified as a Kentucky physician as the airline's CEO issued another apology and ordered a 'thorough review.'"

* NATO: "U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed the U.S. instrument of ratification for Montenegro's accession to NATO, the White House said in a statement. Last month the Senate overwhelmingly backed the expansion of NATO to allow Montenegro to join the alliance, hoping to send a message that the United States will push back against Russian efforts to increase its influence in Europe."

* An angle worth watching: "Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is warning that President Trump needs to release his personal tax returns if he hopes to achieve comprehensive tax reform in the coming months."

* This will no doubt be interesting: "Former President Barack Obama plans to reemerge on the international stage in late May, sitting down with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her home country for a panel discussion about democracy. The panel, part of a 500–year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, is titled 'Being Involved in Democracy: Taking on Responsibility Locally and Globally.'"

* For a guy who doesn't settle, Trump sure is settling a lot of lawsuits: "The Trump Organization has settled a legal dispute with a second celebrity chef who backed out of a deal to open a restaurant in President Trump's hotel in downtown Washington."
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Image: Sean Spicer

Spicer's Hitler analogy goes horribly awry at White House briefing

04/11/17 03:57PM

When it comes to Donald Trump's White House and issues related to the Nazi Holocaust, the president and his team have made some unfortunate missteps. There was, for example, the ll-advised statement honoring International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January. A month later, the West Wing had an odd quarrel with the Anne Frank Center.

Today, however, Team Trump broke new ground.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer compared Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler on Tuesday, saying that even someone as "despicable" as the German dictator "didn't even sink to using chemical weapons."

Asked moments later to clarify those remarks, Spicer, speaking from the White House podium, said that Hitler "was not using the gas on his own people the same way Assad used them."
Spicer went on to say Hitler brought people into "Holocaust centers."

All of this, of course, unfolded from the White House podium during Passover.

Part of what makes this so remarkable is how obviously wrong Spicer was. One need not be a historian to know Hitler gassed Holocaust victims. The reference to "his own people" made an unfortunate mistake worse. As for Spicer describing Nazi concentration camps as "Holocaust centers," I honestly don't know where to start.

But even looking past the press secretary's regrettable choice of words, it's even less clear what point Spicer intended to make.
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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Trump moves away from 'Obamacare' sabotage (for now)

04/11/17 12:52PM

Donald Trump's plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with a far-right alternative hasn't gone especially well, but if the Republican White House was determined to sabotage the health care system, it has a variety of options available.

The New York Times reports, however, that Team Trump is, at least for now, taking one of the most potent options off the table.
The Trump administration says it is willing to continue paying subsidies to health insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act even though House Republicans say the payments are illegal because Congress never authorized them.

The statement sends a small but potentially significant signal to insurers, encouraging them to stay in the market.
This stems from a lawsuit GOP lawmakers filed a few years ago, when they were still trying to tear down "Obamacare" through the courts. As longtime readers may recall, the details of the case get a little complicated, but let's quickly review for those who may need a refresher.

Much of the federal spending associated with the ACA goes to subsidizing insurance, but some of the costs go towards “cost-sharing reductions” to help families with their deductibles and co-payments. The reform law caps how much low-income consumers have to pay for these health expenses, reimbursing part of the costs to the insurance companies.

Republicans, insisting that the funds weren’t explicitly allocated by Congress, thought they might be able to crash the insurance markets by using the courts to scrap the subsidies, making it vastly more difficult for struggling families to pay for their medical care.

Nearly everyone thought the lawsuit would fail -- the Republicans' own attorneys dropped the case twice -- but the case ended up before a Bush/Cheney appointee who actually ruled in the GOP's favor, though the decision was put on hold pending an appeal.

And this, in turn, left the Trump administration with an opportunity: if the White House decided not to appeal, the ruling would stand, the cost-sharing reductions would end, millions wouldn't be able to afford care, and the ACA markets would unravel. In other words, Republicans could've used this ruling to sabotage the law they claim to hate.

We now know, however, that the White House has decided not to exploit this opportunity, at least not yet, reducing some of the uncertainty facing insurers.
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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.11.17

04/11/17 12:00PM

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

* Donald Trump personally recorded a new robocall in support of Republican Ron Estes in today's congressional special election in Kansas. In the 65-second recording, the president told voters "there's really few very much more important" elections.

* The National Republican Congressional Committee's internal polling reportedly put the Kansas race within single digits, which helped touch off the party-wide panic. This is, after all, a deep "red" district, which Trump carried by 27 points, in a deep "red" state.

* On a related note, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was in Kansas yesterday, campaigning on Estes' behalf, and complaining about "the Obama economy." No, really, that's what he said.

* On the Democratic side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has kept its distance in the Kansas race, began doing "live calls to 25,000 households" in the state's 4th district in support of James Thompson.

* As Rachel noted on last night's show, HHS Secretary Tom Price's wife, state Rep. Betty Price (R), is becoming increasingly involved in efforts to help Republicans hold onto her husband's Georgia congressional district.

* The far-right Club for Growth announced a new $1 million ad campaign yesterday, encouraging 10 House Republicans to end their opposition to the party's American Health Care Act. The ad is online here.

* Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who's struggled to make up his mind about whether he'll keep his promise to retire next year, is apparently planning on running once again, Mitt Romney's interest notwithstanding. The longtime senator said yesterday Republicans in D.C. simply like him too much.
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un salutes during a visit to the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces on the occasion of the new year, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Jan. 10, 2016. Photo by KCNA/Reuters

Trump threatens via Twitter to 'solve the problem' in North Korea

04/11/17 11:20AM

A friend asked me the other day whether I believe Mike Pence would be a better president than Donald Trump, if the current president were forced from office as a result of the Russia scandal. I'll tell you what I told him: I think Pence is ill-suited for the Oval Office, but he seems less likely than Trump to start a war via Twitter.

And with that in mind, the president once again turned to his favorite social-media app this morning.
Less than a week after authorizing a missile strike against Syria, President Trump took to social media Tuesday to rattle the saber at North Korea and its nuclear program.

"North Korea is looking for trouble," Trump tweeted. "If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A."
In context, I'm reasonably certain the "U.S.A." reference was Trump's way of repeating the patriotic chant to himself, as if he were doing an impression of Stephen Colbert's old character on the "Colbert Report."

And while I'm sympathetic to the argument that reacting to every random Trump tweet is generally a pointless mistake, it's not unreasonable to argue that international nuclear diplomacy shouldn't be conducted by confused amateur presidents, 140 characters at a time.

This is especially true after the U.S. military ordered an aircraft carrier group to move closer to the Korean Peninsula over the weekend.
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Travel During July 4th Holiday Weekend Expected To Be Heavy

Republican talking points on infrastructure go off the rails

04/11/17 10:41AM

Donald Trump's health care plans haven't worked out especially well. Neither have his efforts to create a Muslim ban. The president's tax-reform ambitions face long odds, and are already being scaled back. Perhaps infrastructure will be the issue on which Trump can find a major victory?

Probably not. Politico reports that Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure proposal -- which does not currently exist -- is "running into familiar roadblocks: suspicious Democrats, a divided GOP and questions about the math." The article added one quote, though, that jumped out at me.
Republicans say they think Democrats, despite their complaints, will come to the negotiating table when work begins in earnest. And some say enthusiasm from Trump could be the ingredient to make it work.

"Obama never really had infrastructure on his mind," said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who worked with Democrats on two major transportation laws. "This president does, and one thing we've learned -- whether you guys like him or not -- he does what he said he was going to do. Maybe to a fault, but he does."
It's worth taking a moment to appreciate how spectacularly wrong this is.

First, Barack Obama often seemed obsessed with infrastructure investments, pleading with Congress in multiple State of the Union addresses -- and an address to a joint session while unveiling the American Jobs Act -- to take the issue seriously. Congressional Republicans refused, taking an unyielding position against public spending because it was public spending.

Second, the assertion that Donald Trump "does what he said he was going to do" is amusing, but wrong. On everything from health insurance to the opioid crisis to trade to national security to Wall Street, this president routinely does the opposite of what he said he was going to do.
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Image: Toyota Sales Up Nearly 42 Percent From September 2011

Trump keeps taking credit for Obama-era economic news

04/11/17 10:08AM

When it comes to avoiding responsibility for bad things that happen on his watch, Donald Trump will go to almost any lengths. But the president is also capable of acting with equal vigor when trying to take credit for good things that happen on his watch.

Take yesterday, for example.
President Donald Trump lent his office to Japanese automaker Toyota on Monday, saying the company's announcement of a $1.33 billion investment in its Georgetown, Kentucky plant was evidence that confidence in the economic climate "has greatly improved under my administration."
"Toyota's decision to invest $1.3 billion in their Kentucky plant is further evidence that manufacturers are now confident that the economic climate has greatly improved under my administration," Trump said in a written statement. The press release was Toyota's, not the White House's, which is itself unusual -- because ordinarily a president doesn't communicate with the public through corporate public-relations departments.

Nevertheless, the Republican sees the $1.3 billion investment, which will add 700 employees to the Kentucky plant, as evidence of his economic prowess and the "climate" he's created.

Which is wrong. The 700 jobs were actually added last year, before Toyota knew who the next president would be. What's more, the $1.3 billion investment has "been in the works for years," and a company spokesperson acknowledged that Toyota's decision had nothing to do with the Trump administration.

And yet, this ... just ... keeps ... happening.
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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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