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Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Kellyanne Conway: collusion with Russia not proven 'yet'

07/13/17 11:24AM

This was the week the Trump-Russia scandal fundamentally changed. Americans were confronted with documented evidence of Vladimir Putin's government not only offering assistance to members of Donald Trump's inner circle during the campaign, but top members of Trump's team welcoming the foreign support.

Nevertheless, Kellyanne Conway, a top White House aide, appeared on Fox News last night -- with some props -- to argue that these revelations do not "yet" prove collusion.

"I just want to review in case you run out of time. This is how we see it so far. This is to help all the people at home. What's the conclusion? 'Collusion'? No. We don't have that yet.

"I see 'illusion' and 'delusion.' So just so we're clear everyone, four words: conclusion, collusion? No. Illusion, delusion, yes."

The visuals of this were a bit bizarre. Conway, who has an unfortunate track record of saying things in interviews that are completely untrue, held up pieces of paper during the Fox appearance -- as if she were trying to emulate Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" -- which lent itself to some easy (and amusing) online mockery.

But it's also worth pausing to consider Conway's specific phrasing: "We don't have that yet." Um "yet"?

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

Trump World has found its enemy: the Congressional Budget Office

07/13/17 10:47AM

Later today, Senate Republican leaders will unveil the latest iteration of their regressive health care plan, and we'll take a closer look at its details once it's released. In the meantime, however, proponents of the GOP's approach are hard at work -- trying to tear down the Congressional Budget Office's credibility.

If all goes according to plan, the Republican bill will be unveiled today; it will receive a CBO score on Monday; and then the GOP-led Senate will vote on the proposal soon after. Of course, if that plan sounds familiar, it's because this is identical to the schedule created a few weeks ago by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- a schedule that was derailed when the Congressional Budget Office found that the GOP legislation would take health care benefits from 22 million Americans.

This time around, Republicans are investing more energy in trying to convince the relevant players that the CBO's numbers are not to be trusted. The Huffington Post explained yesterday:

The White House attempted to discredit the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday, releasing a video that questions the accuracy of the agency's previous projections on health insurance coverage under Obamacare.

Issued as a heated health care debate continues on Capitol Hill, the administration seems to be arguing that because CBO estimates have been off before, there is no reason to trust its recent reports predicting that a Republican-led effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act would have devastating effects.

But just 10 seconds into the video, the White House instead managed to strain its credibility with a misspelling of the word "inaccurately."

Now, I'm aware of the dangers of throwing rocks in a glass house. I've been known to publish a few typos of my own from time to time, so I'm generally cautious about criticizing -- or worse, mocking -- others' typographical missteps.

Then again, my blog posts are not official White House materials, created to deceive the public about millions of Americans' health security.

Of course, while the typo was probably embarrassing for Team Trump, there are two broader angles to this that are worth keeping in mind.

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The Eiffel Tower is lit with the blue, white and red colors of the French flag in Paris, France, Nov. 16, 2015, to pay tribute to the victims of a series of deadly attacks on Friday in the French capital. (Photo by Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Despite a record of insults, Trump arrives in Paris

07/13/17 10:01AM

If it seems like Donald Trump just got back from a European trip, it's not your imagination. The president was in Germany late last week for a G-20 summit, but that didn't stop him from taking another sojourn this week, arriving in Paris today.

There's ample evidence to suggest the French won't be glad to see him -- Barack Obama was very popular in France, Trump is not -- but that didn't stop him. The Washington Post reports on why the Republican agreed to make the trip.

President Trump was not expected to attend France's Bastille Day, which this year will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States' entry into World War I.

But then he learned there would be a military parade.

French President Emmanuel Macron told Trump in a June 27 phone call about the event, which this year will feature U.S. and French troops marching through the historic streets near the Arc de Triomphe, fighter jets cutting through the skies above, and flags, horses and military equipment on display -- the sort of spectacle that Trump wanted to stage at his own inauguration in January.

Trump's decision, the article added, forced officials in both countries to quickly schedule "a last-minute trip that will last about 27 hours."

It'll be interesting to hear what "Jim" thinks about all of this. And who's Jim? I'm glad you asked.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump World audaciously claims to be 'as transparent as possible'

07/13/17 09:20AM

Last month, while writing a secret health care bill behind closed doors, Senate Republican leaders said they were proud to be part of a "transparent and open" process. They did not appear to be kidding.

And as it turns out, Republican confusion over the meaning of the word "transparency" isn't limited to Capitol Hill. At yesterday's press briefing, a reporter asked Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to explain the "plague of amnesia" affecting Donald Trump's team when it comes to disclosing interactions with Russian nationals. It led to this exchange:

SANDERS: Every single day we do our best to give the most accurate information that we have, and we continue to do that every single day, and have offered to be as transparent as possible with all committees and anyone looking into this matter.

REPORTER: This doesn't suggest to you a pattern of not trying to be transparent?

SANDERS: Not at all. Again, like I said, our goal is to be as transparent as humanly possible.

There was a certain irony to the circumstances: the president's spokesperson made these comments off-camera, because the White House has decided it's occasionally uncomfortable with the public being able to see these press briefings -- which, of course, is the opposite of transparency.

Sanders' claims also follow reports that White House aides, with Donald Trump's personal approval, drafted a misleading statement over the weekend on behalf of Donald Trump Jr. in response to the New York Times' questions about his controversial meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the campaign.

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

Trump may be the only person in the world who trusts Putin's word

07/13/17 08:41AM

After Donald Trump met privately with Vladimir Putin in Germany, there were different accounts on whether the American president accepted the Russian president's denial about intervening in our presidential election. The answer, however, is now coming into sharper focus.

After Trump returned from the G-20 summit, he assured the public that Putin "vehemently denied" intervening in the American election, which means, as far as the Republican is concerned, it's time to "move forward." The implication wasn't subtle: Trump seems inclined to accept the Russian leader's claims at face value, evidence be damned.

This was bolstered yesterday when the American president sat down with Reuters for an interview.

In the White House interview, the president said he directly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin if he was involved in what U.S. intelligence says was Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and that Putin had insisted he was not. [...]

"I said, 'Did you do it?' And he said, 'No, I did not. Absolutely not.' I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not," Trump said.

Wait, Trump asked the question in two different ways? Well, that changes everything.

Look, this is silly. Trump, a former television personality with no background in government or public policy at any level, has been told repeatedly by his own intelligence agencies that the Russian government orchestrated an attack. He then sat down with Putin, a former KGB operative, and asked if he's responsible for the crime of the century.

Putin denied it twice, which apparently Trump found persuasive. The Russian president must have been thrilled to find the one person in the world naïve enough to believe Putin's obvious lies.

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Trump goes backwards, falsely claims Putin preferred Clinton

07/13/17 08:00AM

There's been a steady evolution to the Russia scandal over the course of several months, featuring questions that have incrementally advanced the story. We start with the root question -- "Did Vladimir Putin's government attack the U.S. election?" -- which serves as a foundation for everything that follows.

Did Russian officials attack? Yes. Did they intervene to help put Donald Trump in power? Yes. Was Trump's campaign in communications with Russia during the espionage operation? Yes. Was Trump's campaign willing and eager to cooperate with Russia's scheme? Yes. Will the president or anyone in his operation face any consequences? Stay tuned.

But it's against this backdrop that Trump has a bad habit: he struggles to keep up, at times going backwards to re-ask questions that were answered months ago. Last week, the Republican beneficiary of Russian intervention belittled his own intelligence agencies and insisted "nobody really knows" if Russia was responsible for the attack in the first place.

This week, the president sat down with radical TV preacher Pat Robertson and again tried to raise doubts about a key detail that every honest observer already knows to be true.

He thinks Putin would actually have been happier with Hillary Clinton in the White House because he's building the U.S. military and working to export U.S. energy, which Russia opposes.

"We are the most powerful country in the world and we are getting more and more powerful because I'm a big military person. As an example, if Hillary had won, our military would be decimated. Our energy would be much more expensive. That's what Putin doesn't like about me. And that's why I say, why would he want me? Because from day one I wanted a strong military, he doesn't want to see that," Trump told Robertson.

The president added, "So what I keep hearing about that [Putin] would have rather had Trump, I think probably not."

This is bizarre nonsense, even by Trump standards.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.12.17

07/12/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Look for more on this story on tonight's show: "U.S. intelligence agencies starting in the spring of 2015 detected conversations in which Russian government officials discussed associates of Donald Trump, several months before he declared his candidacy for president, according to current and former U.S. officials."

* This, too: "Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign's digital operation -- overseen by Jared Kushner -- helped guide Russia's sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016."

* As a matter of legislative procedure, this is very significant: "Senate Republicans have won an argument before the parliamentarian that will allow a House-passed health care reconciliation bill to be taken up and amended in the Senate next week without any obstacle, CQ Roll Call has learned."

* Expect confirmation: "Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Federal Bureau of Investigations, said Wednesday that he did not consider the probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election to be a "witch hunt," disagreeing with the president's own assessment of the matter."

* This story, involving Mohsen Dehnavi, demands some explanation: "An Iranian cancer researcher who traveled to the US with his family on a valid visa has been sent back to his home country two weeks after Donald Trump's revised travel ban came into force."

* Nearly the size of Delaware: "One of the largest icebergs ever recorded broke off from an ice shelf in Antarctica, British scientists announced Wednesday.... Project MIDAS said there is no evidence to directly link the calving of the iceberg to climate change. However, it is widely accepted that warming ocean and atmospheric temperatures have been a factor in earlier disintegrations of ice shelves elsewhere on the Antarctic Peninsula."

* Worthy activism: "Major internet companies are preparing to launch online protests Wednesday over Republican efforts to roll back Obama-era net neutrality rules, employing a tactic that influenced policy in past years."

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump attorney says collusion scandal is 'not a legal issue'

07/12/17 01:01PM

Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for the religious right movement who's now part of Donald Trump's legal team, appeared on several morning shows today, hoping to dismiss the relevance of the Russia scandal and this week's revelations. In an exchange with CNN's Chris Cuomo, Sekulow made the case that the developments with Donald Trump Jr. aren't that important, in part because there's no allegation of a crime.

"Look, here's what I look at. I look at the law. Was there any illegality? Was there any legal difficulty, legal problem with this issue and it's not a legal issue."

Of course it's a legal issue. Rachel talked to Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney, about this on the show last night and it seemed quite obvious that this is a legal issue. NBC News published a related piece on the legal questions surrounding the controversy. The New York Times published a piece of its own today from Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, who served as the top ethics attorneys in the last two administrations, exploring some of the unresolved legal controversies that are still being investigated.

If, however, Sekulow wants to argue that this isn't only a legal issue, I'd be far more inclined to agree. As one observer put it yesterday, "A presidential campaign enthusiastically courting secret sponsorship by a foreign government is a problem bigger than the criminal law."

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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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