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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.10.18

04/10/18 05:00PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I think the White House wanted this trip to happen in order to help distract their erratic boss: "President Donald Trump has canceled his first official visit to Latin America as his administration evaluates the ongoing crisis in Syria, the White House said Tuesday."

* Investors seemed pleased by this: "President Xi Jinping renewed a pledge Tuesday to open China's markets further for trade and investment, including its automobile sector, and said he would also work harder to boost imports, in what was seen as a conciliatory speech amid an escalating trade conflict with the United States."

* A fresh angle: "The special counsel is investigating a payment made to President Trump's foundation by a Ukrainian steel magnate for a talk during the campaign, according to three people briefed on the matter, as part of a broader examination of streams of foreign money to Mr. Trump and his associates in the years leading up to the election."

* The latest details on Cohen: "The FBI agents who raided the office and hotel room of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, were looking to seize documents tied to payments to two women who allegedly had affairs with the president, according to reports Tuesday."

* On a related note: "CNN reported on Tuesday that search warrant sought info about payments to the two women and also involved a request for records related to a portfolio of New York City taxi cab medallions that Cohen owns, potentially worth millions."

* A nice story out of Oregon: "In February, three middle school students helped push a statewide net neutrality bill. Today, Gov. Kate Brown is headed to the girls' middle school in Portland, where she will sign the bill into law."

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

Despite Trump's claims, attorney–client privilege is not 'dead'

04/10/18 12:44PM

The FBI raid on Michael Cohen's office and hotel room yesterday was, at a minimum, unusual. It's not often when a sitting president's personal attorney is the target of federal law enforcement like this.

But as part of a larger tantrum, Donald Trump insisted this morning, "Attorney–client privilege is dead!" As NBC News explained this morning, that's plainly wrong.

The privilege is not dead. It's just that that the privilege alone won't prevent the issuance of a search warrant for documents in an attorney's office.

Of course, the privilege between an attorney like Cohen and his clients may be lost if the "crime-fraud exception" applies. The purpose of this exception is to assure that the secrecy between lawyer and client does not extend to obtaining advice in furtherance of contemplated or ongoing criminal or fraudulent conduct.

It is not enough for the government to just show that these privileged communications between Cohen and a client might provide evidence of a crime. Rather, the communication itself must have been in furtherance of, and intended to facilitate the crime, in order to strip these communications of the protections of privilege.

Or as the Wall Street Journal  reported, attorney-client privilege "is intended to allow lawyers to give robust legal advice without worrying about incriminating a client. But attorney-client information may not be protected if the communications were in service of an illegal act." (Rachel also explored this in some detail last night with Tom Winter, an NBC News investigative reporter.)

What's more, there's no reason to believe federal law enforcement cut any corners. A federal judge approved a search warrant, and according to NBC News' reporting, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein directly approved the application for that warrant.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.10.18

04/10/18 12:00PM

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

* The number of congressional Republican retirements and resignations this year is the most we've seen since at least 1952.

* There was some question as to whether Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) would support Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the right-wing congresswoman running to replace him, but the retiring senator answered that question yesterday, announcing he's sending her a campaign contribution.

* With party-imposed term limits poised to force Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) from his current leadership post, it looks like Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is already well positioned to succeed him.

* On a related note, there's reportedly some behind-the-scenes wrangling underway in the House, where Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is rumored to be eyeing the exits. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Texas) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) are eyeing the top House GOP position.

* In the Republicans' Senate primary in Wisconsin, Kevin Nicholson has benefited from generous support from Illinois-based billionaire Dick Uihlein. Now, one of Nicholson's rivals, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, is hitting the airwaves thanks to support from billionaire businesswoman Diane Hendricks.

* Speaking of the Badger State, the Republican Governors Association has reportedly already reserved $5.1 million in television time to support Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) as he seeks a third term.

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Image: FILE: Trump Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert Resigns

Trump's homeland security adviser latest to resign

04/10/18 11:20AM

During the presidential transition process, Donald Trump announced that Tom Bossert would serve in a newly created position: assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. In the months that followed, Bossert maintained a fairly high profile on a number of issues, including making multiple Sunday-show appearances on behalf of the White House.

In fact, Bossert was on ABC's "This Week" just two days ago, defending the president's plans for the U.S./Mexico border and discussing possible plans for responding to Syria's alleged chemical weapons attack. He made no mention of a change in career plans.

And yet, Bossert is now the latest departure from Team Trump.

President Donald Trump's homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, has resigned, the White House said Tuesday, making him the latest in a long line of senior officials to leave the administration.

On Monday night, Bossert was socializing with current and former U.S. Intelligence officials at a conference at the Cloisters resort in Sea Island, Georgia. A source close to him told NBC News that the adviser was not aware there was any intention at the White House to seek his resignation and had no plans to quit.

"New team," the source said, without further explanation.

Given the circumstances, that's probably a reference to John Bolton officially starting yesterday as the White House national security adviser, following a stint as a Fox News personality.

Of course, the timing could be better. As Trump adopts an aggressive new border policy, and prepares a response to Syria, it seems like an odd time for the president to accept the resignation of his top adviser on "homeland security and counterterrorism."

Nevertheless, Bossert's departure comes a day and a half after National Security Council spokesperson Michael Anton also announced his departure, in a move that's also widely believed to be tied to Bolton's arrival in the White House.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump

Every criticism of the Republican tax plan is proving true

04/10/18 10:43AM

During the abbreviated debate over the Republican tax plan, Democrats said the corporate beneficiaries of the tax breaks would use their windfalls on priorities such as stock buybacks. We now know, of course, that this prediction turned out to be true.

Critics of the GOP plan also said it included all kinds of sloppy and consequential errors that would need fixes, which is also happening.

Dems also warned that Republican leaders would use the impact of the tax cuts as a pretext to go after social-insurance programs -- sometimes called "entitlements" -- such as Social Security. That, too, is coming true.

And, of course, progressive opponents of the GOP tax breaks said the proposal would do real harm to the nation's finances, and wouldn't come close to paying for themselves. We can now add this to the list of things Dems got right and Republicans got wrong. Jon Chait had a good summary of the latest findings from the Congressional Budget Office.

The new projections by the Congressional Budget Office, the first federal budget analysis to be released since the Trump tax cuts were passed into law, shows how fully the Republican government has operationalized its theory. CBO now estimates the 2018 deficit will be $242 billion higher than it had estimated last June, before the tax cuts. And the tax cut is the major reason: "Accounting for most of that difference is a $194 billion reduction in projected revenues, mainly because the 2017 tax act is expected to reduce collections of individual and corporate income taxes."

The deficit is expected to grow to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. That would make sense if the country was spending to counteract a serious but temporary emergency, like a recession or perhaps a major war. There is no such emergency, though.

The full CBO report is online here. Note that the budget office projects the annual budget shortfall will swell this year to $804 billion, before growing to $941 billion next year and $1 trillion in 2020.

And as Slate's Jim Newell explained, these are the "rosy" estimates.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

White House: Trump 'feels' there was voter fraud in election he won

04/10/18 10:04AM

At an event in West Virginia last week, which was ostensibly about tax policy, Donald Trump talked at some length about his belief that millions of people conspired to cast illegal votes in the 2016 presidential election. As the president put it, "They always like to say, 'Oh, that's a conspiracy theory.' Not a conspiracy theory folks, millions and millions of people."

As a rule, candidates who win elections don't try to undermine public confidence in the legitimacy of the results, but in this case, Trump has long been uncomfortable with the fact that he received far fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. As a result, he concocted a conspiracy theory that he insists isn't a conspiracy theory.

A reporter brought this up yesterday during White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' briefing.

Q: The president talked about those claims of voter fraud again. It's something he's repeatedly brought up. It's just getting the idea of when words matter, particularly in moments of a lot of international pressure, like this moment right now, what his standard of accuracy is when he's speaking to the American public.

SANDERS: Certainly, the president still strongly feels that there was a large amount of voter fraud, and attempted to do a thorough review of it.

This struck me as interesting for a couple of reasons. First, note that the president's chief spokesperson didn't say there was a large amount of voter fraud; she said Trump "feels" there was a large amount of voter fraud. It's as if the White House press secretary didn't want to be directly associated with peddling nonsense, so Sanders was more comfortable attributing the absurd claim to her boss.

Second, since when do the president's "feelings" override evidence and demonstrable facts?

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Trump World confronts a tidal wave of scandals, investigations

04/10/18 09:20AM

In the final days of the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump's closing message urged Americans to reject Hillary Clinton, not just because she was wrong, but because her election would lead to an exhausting number of scandals.

On Nov. 2, 2016, Politico  reported, "Trump predicted that Clinton's election would bring 'an unprecedented and protracted constitutional crisis' because of the looming investigation and suggested Americans would not want to endure a second Clinton administration marred by scandal."

Three days later, Trump insisted that Clinton, as president, couldn't possibly be expected to govern -- because the distraction of a federal investigation would make such an endeavor impossible.

All of this came to mind when I saw this report in the New York Times.

The [FBI searches of Michael Cohen's office and hotel room] open a new front for the Justice Department in its scrutiny of Mr. Trump and his associates: His longtime lawyer is being investigated in Manhattan; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is facing scrutiny by prosecutors in Brooklyn; his campaign chairman is under indictment; his former national security adviser has pleaded guilty to lying; and a pair of former campaign aides are cooperating with [Special Counsel Robert Mueller].

Mr. Mueller, meanwhile, wants to interview Mr. Trump about possible obstruction of justice.

Well, sure, when you put it that way, it starts to look bad for the president -- especially after he warned the electorate about the costs of electing a leader mired in scandal.

Indeed, let's not miss the forest for the trees. While the day-to-day developments in and around Trump World are themselves amazing, it's worth pausing to appreciate the fact the president is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, and he surrounded himself with people who've been indicted, have already pleaded guilty, or are currently under investigation.

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Image: Michael Cohen, attorney for The Trump Organization, arrives at Trump Tower in New York City

Scandals engulf multiple RNC finance chairs

04/10/18 08:40AM

A year ago this week, the Republican National Committee issued a press release that, at the time, seemed entirely forgettable. It read in part:

Today Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and RNC Finance Chairman Steve Wynn announced additional members of the RNC's Finance leadership team:

"I am delighted to announce the addition of these longtime friends of the Party and supporters of this administration to our Finance leadership team," said Chairwoman McDaniel. "Elliott Broidy, Michael Cohen, and Louis DeJoy will serve as National Deputy Finance Chairmen...."

In hindsight, however, that's quite a collection of individuals.

Steve Wynn, for example, was forced to resign from his RNC post earlier this year following sexual misconduct allegations. (The RNC refused to return his money.)

Elliott Broidy, meanwhile, has become quite a controversial figure in his own right. As Rachel noted on the show two weeks ago, Broidy is at the center of multiple, ongoing controversies, including allegations that he pitched himself, shortly before Trump's inauguration last year, as someone who could help Russian companies get off the U.S. sanctions list for a fee.

And then there's Michael Cohen, whose office and hotel room were raided by the FBI yesterday, and who's at the center of multiple Trump-related scandals. By some accounts, Cohen is under investigation for, among other things, possible bank fraud.

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Image: President Trump comments on Syria, FBI raid of Michael Cohen's office at White House

In new tantrum, Trump calls raid on lawyer's office an 'attack on our country'

04/10/18 08:00AM

The details are still coming into focus, but we know that the FBI raided the office and hotel room of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal attorney, yesterday. As NBC News reported, we also know that the search warrants "were sought and executed by FBI agents and federal prosecutors in New York in coordination with special counsel Robert Mueller's team after an initial referral from Mueller's office."

As for why federal law enforcement launched this raid, that gets a little tricky. It appears that officials are looking for information about the $130,000 in hush money Cohen paid porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election, though as Rachel noted on last night's show, Cohen has been at the center of all kinds of controversies, and the Washington Post and New York Times  reported  separately that the president's attorney is also under investigation for possible bank fraud.

One that's perfectly clear, however, is that Trump isn't taking the news especially well.

Trump wasted no time addressing the raids when reporters entered the Cabinet Room where he was meeting with senior military leaders, starting his remarks by calling Mueller's investigation a "witch hunt" and a "disgrace."

It's "an attack on our country in a true sense, an attack on what we all stand for," Trump said of the raids, which were first reported by The New York Times.

To fully appreciate the scope of the presidential tantrum, it's worth checking out the transcript. Trump characterized the FBI raid as a break-in; he used the words "disgrace" or "disgraceful" nine times; and he lashed out at the special counsel's office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, federal investigators, Hillary Clinton, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

One gets the sense the president is unfamiliar with the phrase, 'Never let 'em see you sweat."

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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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