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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

The renewed relevance of Russia's alleged talks with Team Trump

01/11/17 09:22AM

The new, unverified allegations about Donald Trump and Russia create a controversy with several interconnected parts, but more questions than answers. At this point, we don't yet know what's true and what's not, but we do know U.S. intelligence agencies made President Obama and the president-elect aware of the allegations in briefing materials last week.

There's one thread from the CNN report, however, that I'm especially eager to pull on.
The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.
This detail, like everything else that's emerged since yesterday afternoon, has not yet been substantiated or verified. But it raises a question in need of an answer.

On Nov. 10, just two days after the American Election Day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said "there were contacts" between the Russian government and Trump's campaign team before the U.S. presidential election. In fact, Ryabkov said "quite a few" members of Trump's team had been "staying in touch with Russian representatives" before Americans cast their ballots.

The Republican's transition team has insisted that these conversations never happened. Kellyanne Conway was especially emphatic when asked about possible, pre-election communications between the campaign and Moscow. "Absolutely not," she told CBS News' John Dickerson in December. She added the conversations "never happened" and any suggestions to the contrary "undermine our democracy."

This angle to the broader controversy quietly faded -- replaced with other revelations -- but the new reporting should return the question to the fore. Did the pre-election communications happen or not?
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FBI Director James B. Comey listens to a question from a reporter during a media conference in San Francisco, Calif., Feb. 27, 2014. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP)

FBI's James Comey still has some explaining to do

01/11/17 08:53AM

The political world was jolted last night with new, unverified allegations about Donald Trump and Russia, which both the president-elect and President Obama have been made aware of. We don't yet know which, if any, of the allegations are true.

We do know, however, that FBI Director James Comey has been aware of the allegations for quite a while, and with this in mind, The Guardian reported on a notable exchange on Capitol Hill yesterday.
The director of the FBI -- whose high-profile interventions in the 2016 election are widely seen to have helped tip the balance of against Hillary Clinton -- has refused to say if the bureau is investigating possible connections between associates of President-elect Donald Trump and Russia.

Testifying before the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday, James Comey said he could not comment in public on a possible investigation into allegations of links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

"I would never comment on investigations -- whether we have one or not -- in an open forum like this, so I really can't answer one way or another," said Comey, at a hearing into the US intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia intervened in the election to benefit Trump.
Right. We certainly wouldn't want the FBI director to comment on the status of a possible, politically sensitive investigation in public. Heaven forbid.

Look, this isn't complicated. As recently as late October, James Comey was aware of allegations that Russia intervened in the American presidential election through an illegal espionage operation and might also have damaging, compromising information on Donald Trump. At the exact same time, Comey believed Anthony Weiner's laptop might have emails from Hillary Clinton.

The FBI director, just days before Election Day and with early voting already underway across much of the country, found it necessary to share with Americans damaging information about the Democratic candidate, but not the Republican candidate.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen through the audience before participating in a roundtable event, Sept. 27, 2016, in Miami. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Political world jolted by unverified Trump, Russia allegations

01/11/17 08:00AM

U.S. intelligence officials presented President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump last week with a briefing on the available information about one of the nation's most pressing scandals: Russia's alleged intervention in the American presidential campaign. According to a CNN report, the briefing included a potentially stunning twist.
Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.

The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.
The same report noted that last week's briefing also "included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government." This has long been a point of contention in the broader story.

BuzzFeed, meanwhile, published a copy of the salacious-but-unverified materials put together by the aforementioned former British intelligence operative, though we don't know if any of it is true.

Rumors about all of this have circulated for months -- many have tried to figure out Trump's unusual affection for Russia's Vladimir Putin -- but at this point, the story is a series of questions without concrete answers. As Rachel noted on the air last night that the amount of information on this that's been verified by U.S. intelligence agencies or NBC News is "very thin."

Rachel added that we're talking about "alleged dirt that the Russians allegedly say they allegedly have" about the incoming American president -- information Russia "allegedly used to allegedly cultivate" Trump as basically an asset for Putin's government.
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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.10.17

01/10/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Dylann Roof: "An admitted white supremacist was sentenced to death Tuesday for massacring nine black worshipers who'd invited him to study the Bible with them at a Charleston, S.C., church, ending a two-phase federal trial that exposed the killer's hate-fueled motives and plumbed the chasms of grief left by the victims' deaths."

* Tune in tonight: "President Obama will say farewell Tuesday night to a nation he helped transform during his eight years in the White House."

* Hacking scandal: "The director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, told lawmakers at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that Russian hackers had penetrated the Republican National Committee's computer records, but he called it a 'limited penetration of old R.N.C.' computer systems that were 'no longer in use.'"

* Bomb threats, "which turned out to be unfounded, were reported all over the Eastern United States on Monday, at as many as 16 Jewish community facilities, one advocacy group estimated. Time and time again, the police responded, buildings were evacuated and, after tense waits, the centers and schools reopened."

* VW scandal: "Volkswagen has reached a deal with the United States government to pay $4.3 billion to resolve a federal criminal investigation into its cheating on emissions tests, the company said on Tuesday. As part of the settlement with federal officials, the company will plead guilty to criminal charges."

* U.S. allies want to remind Trump who are actual U.S. allies: "The prospect of President-elect Donald Trump striking a grand bargain with Russian President Vladimir Putin is unnerving to many traditional U.S. allies, but few stand to lose more than the pro-American leaders of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Those leaders, fighting on the front line of the battle against Putin's drive to upend the democratic world order, are asking Trump to think twice before choosing the wrong side."
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Image: President Elect Trump Continues His "Thank You Tour" In Grand Rapids, Michigan

On health care, Trump seems deeply confused about policy and process

01/10/17 04:22PM

When it comes to the health care debate, Republican unanimity has unraveled with surprising speed in recent weeks. GOP leaders in the House and Senate are committed to a "repeal and delay" strategy in which Republicans would repeal the Affordable Care Act quickly and work out the details in a few years, while a growing number of rank-and-file GOP lawmakers don't want to vote on repeal until the party has an alternative reform plan to replace "Obamacare."

To help work out the differences, Republicans could probably use some presidential leadership. Unfortunately for the GOP, however, the party is stuck with Donald Trump -- who made clear in a New York Times interview this afternoon that he has absolutely no idea what he's talking about when it comes to the most rudimentary details of the debate.
President-elect Donald J. Trump pressed Republicans on Tuesday to move forward with the immediate repeal of the Affordable Care Act and to replace it very quickly thereafter, saying, "We have to get to business. Obamacare has been a catastrophic event."

Mr. Trump's position undercuts Republican leaders who want a quick vote to repeal President Obama's signature domestic achievement but who also want to wait as long as two to three years to come up with an alternative. But he was also challenging the resolve of nervous Republicans in Congress who do not want any vote on a repeal until that replacement exists.
Hmm. There are two GOP factions on this: those who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act and then replace it with a more conservative alternative, and those who want to tackle both tasks simultaneously. Trump, in effect, said he kinda sorta disagrees with both approaches -- and kinda sorta agrees with both, too.

The president-elect, completely clueless about his own party's plans, went on to tell the Times he wants to see a repeal vote "probably some time next week." Trump then wants the replacement bill to follow "very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter."

That doesn't make any sense.
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A jobs record Obama can (and should) brag about

01/10/17 12:51PM

President Obama will deliver his farewell address tonight with a speech in Chicago, and it's a safe bet he'll mention his successes in turning the economy around, helping rescue the country from the Great Recession. It's a shame, though, that his presentation probably won't include charts.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the final jobs report of the Obama era late last week, and it showed the United States added over 2.15 million jobs in 2016. That's the sixth consecutive year in which the country has seen job growth over 2 million -- a streak unseen since the late 1990s.

I created the above chart showing job growth by year for the four most recent presidential administrations -- two Democratic and two Republican. The blue columns point to the two Democratic administrations (darker blue for overall job growth, lighter blue for private-sector-only growth), and the red columns point to the two Republican administrations (darker red for overall job growth, lighter red for private-sector-only growth).

It's always tempting at the end of a presidency to compare various administrations' records, but there's some important context with Obama's record: he inherited a global economic crisis unlike anything we've seen in the modern era. And yet, the president's record on job creation -- over 15 million jobs created during the last seven years -- stacks up quite well, and easily surpasses the totals from recent GOP administrations.

The same is true of the unemployment rate.
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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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