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Image: FILE PHOTO: Porter hands document to Trump during signing ceremony in the Oval Office in Washington

White House rebuffs congressional requests for Rob Porter info

03/09/18 10:57AM

The controversy surrounding former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter has faded from front pages, but several underlying questions remain unanswered. Indeed, the bipartisan leadership of the House Oversight Committee requested information from Team Trump about Porter, including the details of when the White House learned from the FBI about the "potential derogatory or disqualifying information" found in Porter's background check.

The answers matter: Porter, who faced accusations from his ex-wives of domestic abuse, had routine access to highly classified materials. It raises the possibility of Donald Trump and his team mishandling sensitive secrets, sharing them with a vulnerable official who lacked the proper clearance.

TPM reported yesterday that the White House is "refusing to comply" with the lawmakers' request.

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short sent a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) politely neglecting to cooperate with their demands for information on how and why Porter was allowed to continue to work as White House staff secretary, a senior position, for months after the FBI had informed senior White House staff of allegations of spousal abuse. The letter was obtained by TPM Thursday evening, shortly after the committee received it.

"Consistent with your letters' requests, we would be pleased to update you and others on the progress of the working group at the appropriate time," Short writes to Gowdy at the end of the letter after detailing what the White House is doing differently now on security clearance procedures, a courteous way of ignoring Gowdy's specific requests on what the White House's procedures were at the time and who knew what when about Porter.

TPM's report added that Short, instead of responding to the committee's requests for information, "reiterated what the White House has already publicly said about the new procedures, while ignoring Gowdy's questions."

Adding insult to injury, the Oversight Committee originally gave the White House a deadline of last week. Trump's director of legislative affairs delivered his unsatisfying response a week late.

The answer is what lawmakers intend to do about it.

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

When it comes to conspiracy theories, Republicans are now 0-for-4

03/09/18 10:41AM

It's been a rough year for Republican conspiracy theories. Donald Trump was all excited, for example, about Sen. Mark Warner's (D-Va.) texts with D.C. lawyer Adam Waldman, before the allegations completely fell apart. Trump was similarly worked up about the idea that Barack Obama intervened in the FBI's Hillary Clinton probe, before that too was completely discredited.

For a short while, Republicans even had high hopes for the "Nunes memo," though the stunt clearly didn't work out well.

And then there's the Uranium One story, which has never made any sense, but which assorted GOP partisans have embraced as proof of ... something. The Washington Post's Paul Waldman yesterday highlighted a document released by congressional Democrats that "pretty much demolishes" the Republicans' push.

To push along the Uranium One "scandal," last fall Republicans said they had explosive new evidence from a confidential informant named William Douglas Campbell, a lobbyist who had worked with Russian companies and who was secretly working for the FBI, claiming that the Russians had funneled money to the Clintons to get the Uranium One deal approved. [...]

The Democratic memo, however, makes clear that if Republicans think Campbell is going to blow the lid off this whole conspiracy, they're sadly mistaken. The memo summarizes what happened when Campbell -- and, separately, officials from the Justice Department -- were interviewed by GOP and Democratic members of the three congressional committees. The upshot: Campbell appears to have no evidence of such a conspiracy to offer, and he's also an unreliable witness.

Waldman fleshed this out in great detail, but long story short: the blockbuster GOP witness was a dud. Among other things, Campbell never even made "any allegation of corruption, illegality, or impropriety on Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, President Clinton, the Uranium One deal, or CFIUS."

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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., stops to speak with a reporter as he arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon, May 12, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

White House tariff policy faces Republican threats

03/09/18 10:15AM

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is one of his party's most articulate critics of Donald Trump. What the Arizona Republican has not done, however, is match his rhetoric with action.

I made the case in January that I actually like Flake's speeches, op-eds, and books criticizing the president. I also recognize that it takes some political courage to speak out the way he has. But I keep waiting for the Arizona senator to actually do something -- to follow up his welcome words with deeds -- instead of preparing the next speech, op-ed, and book.

With this in mind, it's only fair that I give credit where credit is due: TPM noted that Flake is prepared to use his power to push new legislation to check the White House.

In response [to Trump's new trade tariffs], Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said Thursday that he will soon draft a bill to block the tariffs from taking effect, calling Trump's move "a marriage of two lethal poisons to economic growth -- protectionism and uncertainty."

"Trade wars are not won, they are only lost," he said in a statement. "Congress cannot be complicit as the administration courts economic disaster. I will immediately draft and introduce legislation to nullify these tariffs, and I urge my colleagues to pass it before this exercise in protectionism inflicts any more damage on the economy."

Now, it's probably worth having a conversation about the fact that Republicans were willing to put up with a whole lot of offensive presidential conduct before this week, and only agreed to take some meaningful legislative action once it was an economic issue on the line. For now, however, let's put that aside.

Let's instead note that many GOP lawmakers, including close allies of the president, are at least sending the right signals about checking Trump's latest moves. "I don't think Republicans will put up with this, and I personally believe that we may be able to stop it in the Congress," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah said yesterday.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a town hall, July 25, 2016, in Roanoke, Va. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Pence keeps saying one thing, while Trump does another

03/09/18 09:50AM

On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence issued a public, written statement about the White House's posture toward North Korea. By all appearances, it was intended to be unambiguous.

"Whichever direction talks with North Korea go, we will be firm in our resolve. The United States and our allies remain committed to applying maximum pressure on the Kim regime to end their nuclear program. All options are on the table and our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization."

Got it. The administration's position "will not change until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization." Literally two days later, Donald Trump changed the administration's posture, agreeing to meet directly with Kim Jong-un -- without credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization.

I suspect Pence thought he was telling the truth about U.S. foreign policy when he issued the statement earlier this week. The vice president simply didn't know that his boss would soon decide to do the exact opposite.

And while that's likely the source of some embarrassment for the Indiana Republican, there's a larger context to this: Trump keeps doing this.

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On trade, our former partners are moving on without us

03/09/18 09:20AM

It was just a few weeks ago that 25 Republican senators, including a member of the GOP leadership, released a joint letter to Donald Trump, urging the White House to "re-engage with the Trans-Pacific Partnership." A week later, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that "it is something the president will consider."

It's a little late for that.

A trade pact originally conceived by the United States to counter China's growing economic might in Asia now has a new target: President Trump's embrace of protectionism.

A group of 11 nations -- including major United States allies like Japan, Canada and Australia -- signed a broad trade deal on Thursday in Chile's capital, Santiago, that challenges Mr. Trump's view of trade as a zero-sum game filled with winners and losers.

Covering 500 million people on either side of the Pacific Ocean, the pact represents a new vision for global trade as the United States imposes steel and aluminum tariffs on even some of its closest friends.

The timing was quite striking. As Rachel noted at the top of last night's show, while our former partners finalized their new trade agreement -- without many of the provisions U.S. negotiators fought successfully to include during the Obama era -- Donald Trump, who rejected the TPP without ever making clear he knew what it was, announced new tariffs denounced by our allies.

And as regular readers know, the practical effects are obvious: the United States is now more isolated. A Washington Post  report in the fall noted that when Trump withdrew, it “created a vacuum other nations are now moving to fill, with or without the president.”

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Job growth soars in February, exceeding expectations

03/09/18 08:51AM

Headed into this morning, most economic observers expected the new jobs report to show steady growth, with roughly 200,000 new jobs. As it turns out, the projections weren't nearly optimistic enough.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that the economy added 313,000 jobs in February, while the unemployment rate held steady at 4.1%, which is very low.

Just as encouraging, the revisions for the previous two months -- December 2017 and January 2018 -- were both up significantly, pointing to an additional 54,000 previously unreported jobs.

Before Donald Trump starts tweeting that these are record-breaking numbers, let's note that while this is certainly the strongest report of his presidency, the nation topped 300,000 monthly jobs seven times in the Obama era: April 2011, January 2012, April 2014, June 2014, May 2015, and October 2015.

Also keep an eye on the Federal Reserve's reaction to the new data. If the markets start to drop today, it's probably because of fears of rising interest rates.

Above you'll find the chart I run every month, showing monthly changes in total jobs since the start of the Great Recession. The image makes a distinction: red columns point to monthly changes under the Bush and Trump administrations, while blue columns point to monthly job changes under the Obama administration.

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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

On North Korea, Trump gambles from a position of weakness

03/09/18 08:00AM

It's been quite a journey for Donald Trump on North Korea. The American president announced in May that he'd be "honored" to talk to Kim Jong-un. Five months later, Trump insisted that his own chief diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was "wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man." Talking to North Korea, he added, wouldn't work.

And five months after that, the White House acknowledged that the North Korean dictator had invited the American president for direct negotiations -- and that Donald Trump had accepted.

Or put another way, Trump has agreed to give Kim Jong-un exactly what he wants. North Korean leaders have sought this kind of meeting for decades because it would necessarily elevate the rogue state: it would show the world that North Korea's leader is being treated as an equal by the Leader of the Free World. Previous American presidents - from both parties -- have left open the possibility of such engagement, but only as a reward for meaningful and tangible results.

Trump, however, tends to assume his modern predecessors were fools who lacked his awesomeness. Why would this president take the one step other presidents would not? The question practically answers itself: Trump agreed to the talks precisely because other presidents didn't. Politico had a good piece on this overnight, highlighting Trump's "taboo-breaking instinct."

[Last night's announcement] spotlighted an instinct that has defined Trump's early foreign policy: say the things others wouldn't say; do the things they didn't dare.

"He likes to be the first. He likes doing things no one has ever done before," one senior Trump official said.

It doesn't seem to occur to Trump to ask why others haven't taken such actions. Worse, the president apparently hasn't thought through the scope of the risk he's taking.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.8.18

03/08/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Part of me wasn't sure he'd go through with it: "President Donald Trump on Thursday approved new steel and aluminum tariffs, capping off a week-long worth of controversy over his plans to impose the trade penalties."

* Doing this on International Women's Day seems especially insulting: "Mississippi lawmakers on Thursday passed what is likely to be the nation's most restrictive abortion law, making the procedure illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The House voted 75-34 in favor of the measure, and Gov. Phil Bryant has said he will sign it."

* Manafort: "Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort pleaded not guilty to a new indictment on Thursday and will have to wear a second ankle-monitoring bracelet until his trial, which could begin as early as July. As he left court, a protester threw a Russian flag at him and shouted: 'Traitor! Show us your bracelet.'"

* It's genuinely weird to see a president talk like this: "President Donald Trump said Thursday he suspected departing aide Gary Cohn would be back, saying the National Economic Council director 'may be a globalist, but I still like him.'"

* Jared Kushner with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, but he "did not invite the American ambassador -- Roberta S. Jacobson, a diplomat with more than 30 years of experience in the region -- to join him in the meetings."

* I guess the story can get weirder: "A day before she resigned as White House communications director, Hope Hicks told the House Intelligence Committee last week that one of her email accounts was hacked, according to people who were present for her testimony in the panel's Russia probe."

* Quite a story: "Lawyers for the alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind quit the capital case after discovering a microphone in their special client meeting room and were denied the opportunity to either talk about or investigate it, the Miami Herald has learned."

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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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