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Appointment of special counsel sparks new Trump tantrum

05/18/17 10:14AM

Last night, after the Justice Department named a special counsel to oversee the investigation into the Russia scandal, the White House issued a rather mild statement on behalf of Donald Trump. Aides were quick to share scuttlebutt that news hadn't affected the president much at all.

And yet, there was Trump on Twitter this morning, sounding more than a little rattled.
"With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel (sic) appointed!" he weighed in Thursday morning on Twitter, his favored form of communication.

"This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!" he followed up.
Let's not dwell on some of the obvious problems. There are, for example, no credible allegations of criminal wrongdoing from the Obama administration; there were independent Clinton-era investigations; and it's kind of hilarious that the president keeps misspelling "counsel."

It's also problematic that Trump believes his own justice department is responsible for perpetuating a "witch hunt."

But there's a substantive angle to the president's self-indulgent whining, too. When a White House is under investigation, officials usually have a standard line in response to press questions: "We can't comment because there's an ongoing investigation." It's frustrating and unsatisfying, but the line makes some sense: the White House counsel's office lets officials know the importance of silence, because saying the wrong thing, even inadvertently, may prove to be damaging. The less that's said, the better.

And yet, there's the president, sharing his thoughts on Twitter, urging people to feel sorry for him.
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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

Trump World knew Flynn was under investigation when he was hired

05/18/17 09:20AM

Just when it seemed the story surrounding Michael Flynn couldn't possibly get worse for Donald Trump and the White House, the New York Times reports that Flynn told Trump's transition team "weeks before the inauguration" that he was under federal investigation.
Despite this warning, which came about a month after the Justice Department notified Mr. Flynn of the inquiry, Mr. Trump made Mr. Flynn his national security adviser. The job gave Mr. Flynn access to the president and nearly every secret held by American intelligence agencies.

Mr. Flynn's disclosure, on Jan. 4, was first made to the transition team's chief lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, who is now the White House counsel. That conversation, and another one two days later between Mr. Flynn's lawyer and transition lawyers, shows that the Trump team knew about the investigation of Mr. Flynn far earlier than has been previously reported.
If there's a credible explanation for the series of events, I honestly can't imagine what it might be.

Flynn was a foreign agent when Trump brought him on as a member of his inner circle. In the weeks and months that followed, Trump did nothing after learning that Flynn was under a federal investigation, and then again did nothing after his own Justice Department said Flynn had been compromised by Russia and was vulnerable to blackmail.

In fact, even after Trump World knew all of this, the president continued to give Flynn access to the nation's most sensitive secrets and classified information -- which almost certainly represents an even more egregious example of the White House mishandling classified intelligence than Trump sharing secrets with Russians during an Oval Office chat requested by Vladimir Putin.

And then, even after Trump was forced to fire Flynn, he reportedly took steps to derail the investigation into his National Security Advisor, privately urging then-FBI Director James Comey to back off because Flynn is such a "good guy."
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House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan whispers to House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy during the House Republican leadership media availability after the House Republican Conference meeting, March 19, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

GOP Majority Leader last year: Trump is on Putin's payroll

05/18/17 08:40AM

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) isn't known as an accomplished legislator, but once in a while, he makes headlines for accidentally blurting out the truth. In 2015, for example, the GOP leader admitted on national television that his party's committee to investigate Benghazi conspiracy theories was created to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential  campaign.

A year later, as the Washington Post reported yesterday, McCarthy was equally candid about a politically sensitive subject.
A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress -- House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy -- made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump," McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy's assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.
When the Post reached out to the House Speaker's office, Ryan's spokesperson, Brendan Buck, initially said of the McCarthy story, "That never happened.... The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false."

Told that the newspaper had a recording of McCarthy's comments, Ryan's spokesperson switched gears, saying the House Majority Leader's comment may have happened, but he was kidding.

Hmm.
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FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee June 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty...

Appointment of special counsel raises stakes in Trump's Russia scandal

05/18/17 08:00AM

When it comes to the Justice Department's handling of the investigation into Donald Trump's Russia scandal, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already recused himself, leaving Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in charge. And as recently as Friday, Rosenstein said he saw no need to appoint a special prosecutor.

A lot can happen in five days.
Bowing to public and Congressional pressure, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Bob Mueller on Wednesday to be a special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, Justice Department officials said.

Mueller will take command of the prosecutors and FBI agents who are working on the far-reaching Russia investigation, which spans multiple FBI field offices on both coasts.
OK, let's dig in.

Is Mueller the right person for the job?

Almost certainly, yes. Finding someone who has bipartisan credibility, prosecutorial expertise, and experience with the FBI is exceedingly difficult, but Mueller fits the bill.

Is his appointment good news or bad news for those who take the scandal seriously?

That's a matter of perspective, of course, but there can be no doubt that the White House and its allies just got a lot more nervous. Donald Trump's Russia scandal was already heating up, but yesterday's announcement raised the temperature by several degrees.

Isn't it a little ironic that Trump's firing of James Comey led to Mueller's appointment?
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.17.17

05/17/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Perceptions are starting to change: "The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 372.82 points on Wednesday, bringing the giddy post-election rally of the past few months to a halt as investors began to worry about the daily revelations of disarray with President Donald Trump's administration."

* Afghanistan: "Suicide bombers besieged the state television offices in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, officials said, fighting for three hours and leaving at least six people dead."

* An ugly scene: "D.C. police announced they are pursuing charges against additional suspects involved in Tuesday's violent clash between demonstrators and guards for visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan."

* The Senate Judiciary Committee "demanded Wednesday that the FBI and the White House turn over evidence relating to former FBI Director James Comey's interactions with President Trump after reports of a memo that Comey was said have written detailing a request from Trump to wind down the Russia investigation."

* Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee "sought Wednesday to invite former FBI director James Comey to testify and also requested documents related to the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections:"

* As of this afternoon, five Republican senators now support an independent investigation of Trump's Russia scandal: Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dean Heller (Nev.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

* A story worth watching: "Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) is under scrutiny by ethics investigators for his role in soliciting investors for an Australian biotech company, according to a news report."

* On a related note: "Rep. Duncan Hunter's spending habits are once again under scrutiny in light of reports he used campaign money on a Las Vegas trip. The California Republican's campaign spent $1,042 at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and $896 at the hotel's bar called the Chandelier, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported."
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CPAC Vignettes

Trump to give David Clarke an inexplicable promotion

05/17/17 04:52PM

Just a few weeks ago, Americans learned that Sheriff David Clarke's jail in Milwaukee kept water from a mentally ill inmate for days, until the man died of "profound dehydration."

Now, however, Donald Trump's administration has decided to reward David Clarke with a promotion.
Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. will leave office next month to accept a federal appointment as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

He will work in the department's Office of Partnership and Engagement as a liaison with state, local and tribal law enforcement and governments.  "I'm looking forward to joining that team," Clarke said Thursday afternoon on the Vicki McKenna talk show on 1130 WISN Radio.
Even if a bipartisan majority in the Senate were to conclude that Clarke is dangerously unhinged, and should be kept far away from any federal responsibilities, it wouldn't matter -- because as Politico recently noted, the position Clarke is taking "does not require Senate confirmation."

If you're not familiar with Clarke, his career, or his political activism, it's worth appreciating the fact that he's not a typical American sheriff.
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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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