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Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.1.18

03/01/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* New news on Mueller's probe: "Special Counsel Robert Mueller is assembling a case for criminal charges against Russians who carried out the hacking and leaking of private information designed to hurt Democrats in the 2016 election, multiple current and former government officials familiar with the matter tell NBC News."

* Speaking of Russia: "President Vladimir Putin's assertion Thursday that Russia is testing a range of new nuclear-powered weaponry reveals a Kremlin that has become increasingly emboldened by the Trump administration and skilled at stoking East-West tensions, analysts say."

* The right call: "A federal judge has permanently barred Indiana from trying to prevent Syrian refugees from resettling in the state under an order Vice President Mike Pence championed as governor."

* HUD: "The White House said Thursday that a pricey purchase order for a lavish dining room set for the office of Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson had been cancelled, after the reported price tag -- more than $31,000 -- sparked intense backlash."

* Everyone saw last night's A block on this, right? Jared Kushner's family business "received loans after White House meetings."

* I'm filing this Anastasia Vashukevich story away for future reference: "A self-described sex expert whose videos highlighted the ties between one of Russia's richest men and the Kremlin has been jailed in Thailand and is calling for U.S. help, claiming she has information about links between Russia and President Trump."

* This drama is not near over: "One of the top deputies to VA Secretary David Shulkin has actively lobbied Capitol Hill to demand his boss's resignation, according to two people with knowledge of the effort."

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

Even on guns, Trump sees everything through an Obama lens

03/01/18 03:43PM

Fairly early on in yesterday's White House meeting with senators on gun policy, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) mentioned the popularity of expanded background checks, despite the political resistance the issue has faced. "You have a different president now," Donald Trump responded. "You went through a lot of presidents and didn't get it done.... I think it's time that a president stepped up."

Soon after, Trump asked Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to summarize his 2013 background-check bill, which he co-sponsored with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). It led to this exchange:

TRUMP: Do you have support for that, bipartisan support for what you're saying?

TOOMEY: We had 54 votes in 2013. Most of those 54 voters are still in the Senate.

TRUMP: And not a lot of presidential backup?

TOOMEY: President Obama did support it.

TRUMP: But that was your problem.

It was a confusing back and forth. Trump seemed to be suggesting that Barack Obama didn't step up to support the background-check bill. Told that the Democratic president was actually on board with the plan, Trump then suggested Obama's shouldn't have stepped up to support the bill.

But the broader point was nevertheless clear: in Trump's mind, Obama should've gotten Congress to pass new legislation to address gun violence, which creates an incentive for this president to do what Obama did not.

It was a point he returned to, more than once, insisting for example that Obama "was not proactive in getting a bill signed." That's outrageously untrue, but Trump doesn't care: when congressional Republicans blocked bipartisan measures, that should be seen as an example of his predecessor's ineptitude.

It seems very easy to believe Trump offered unexpected rhetorical support for progressive priorities on guns precisely because they're priorities Obama couldn't get.

Because in this White House, every light is viewed through an Obama-centric lens.

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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Did House Republicans leak a senator's texts to conservative media?

03/01/18 12:49PM

For much of the last year, there's been ample reason to believe the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee, led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), is simply out of control. Nunes' partisan antics and sycophantic attitude toward Donald Trump have made the once-respected committee a laughingstock.

There's news today that suggests the House panel is actually getting worse.

To quickly recap, Fox News reported several weeks ago that Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, made an effort to reach out to Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence official who wrote a dossier on Trump, through an intermediary. The story, based on text exchanges between Warner and D.C. lawyer Adam Waldman, proved to be meaningless, though the president briefly pretended the Democratic senator had been "caught" engaging in some kind of nefarious scheme.

The transparently dumb non-story, which even some Senate Republicans dismissed as nonsense, faded quickly, but there was a lingering question: how did Fox News get hold of Warner's texts?

The New York Times published a report this morning that seems to answer that question in an unsettling way.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee were behind the leak of private text messages between the Senate panel's top Democrat and a Russian-connected lawyer, according to two congressional officials briefed on the matter.

Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the committee's Republican chairman, and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat, were so perturbed by the leak that they demanded a rare meeting with Speaker Paul D. Ryan last month to inform him of their findings. They used the meeting with Mr. Ryan to raise broader concerns about the direction of the House Intelligence Committee under its chairman, Representative Devin Nunes of California, the officials said.

Look, I'm aware of the whole "politics ain't beanbag" adage, and assorted partisan pugilists are occasionally going to throw a punch. But when Republicans use the House Intelligence Committee to attack the Senate Intelligence Committee, it points to developments that are deeply unhealthy to our system of government.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.1.18

03/01/18 12:00PM

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

* In Mississippi, Chris McDaniel made it official yesterday, kicking off his Republican primary campaign against incumbent Sen. Roger Wicker. McDaniel called Wicker, who votes with Donald Trump 97% of the time, "one of the most liberal senators."

* Just as importantly, considering the very real possibility that McDaniel could win the primary and be too extreme for Mississippi, state House Minority Leader David Baria (D) submitted the paperwork for his own Senate campaign.

* In North Carolina, the News & Observer  reports, "For the first time in anyone's memory, nearly all 170 state legislative races in North Carolina will feature both a Republican and Democratic candidate." The filing deadline ended yesterday, and voters in 169 out of 170 state legislative districts will have at least two candidates to choose from.

* In Illinois' gubernatorial race, a Southern Illinois University poll points to possible trouble for incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner (R): he trails J.B. Pritzker (D) and Daniel Biss (D) by double digits in hypothetical match-ups.

* In Arizona, right-wing Senate hopeful Joe Arpaio (R) believes he may have a supernatural connection with Donald Trump. "I can read his mind without even talking to him. I think he may be reading mine," Arpaio said. "Is there something that goes through the airwaves? Mental telepathy?" I'll assume that was a rhetorical question.

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Snow slows down traffic on Interstate 40, Jan. 22, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. A blizzard menacing the Eastern United States started dumping snow in Virginia, Tennessee and other parts of the South. (Photo by Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean/AP)

The White House's 'Infrastructure Week' apparently didn't work

03/01/18 11:20AM

Last summer, during one of the White House's many "infrastructure weeks," Trump unveiled his only meaningful infrastructure idea of 2017. As the president saw it, the nation needed to privatize its system of air-traffic control, and the White House organized a fake signing ceremony to help generate some interest in the idea.

It didn't work. Congress rejected Trump's idea quickly.

This year, however, offered the White House a new opportunity to get infrastructure right, and in early February, Team Trump unveiled a long-awaited blueprint on the issue, which was surprisingly awful. Three weeks later, as Reuters reported, the president's plan already looks dead.

The U.S. Senate's second highest-ranking Republican on Tuesday expressed doubt that Congress will pass legislation to increase infrastructure spending this year, citing time constraints.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, told reporters: "I think it will (be) challenging. I certainly would be happy if we could, but we've got a lot of things to do, that being one of them, and I don't know if we will have time to get to that," according to a transcript from his office.

President Donald Trump wants Congress to approve $200 billion in federal spending over 10 years designed to spur $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, the White House's arithmetic still doesn't make any sense, and there's literally no reason to think $200 billion in federal spending -- redirected from other priorities -- would spur $1.5 trillion in investments.

Second, Cornyn may want to blame the calendar, but there's reason for skepticism. Congress has some spending packages to work on, but if lawmakers wanted to make infrastructure a priority, they could. Heck, they wrote, debated, and passed a $1.5 trillion tax plan over the course of a few weeks -- which suggests they could make time for infrastructure if they really wanted to.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to retired and active law enforcement personnel at a Fraternal Order of Police lodge during a campaign stop in Statesville, N.C. on Aug. 18, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

It's a new day for Republican rhetoric toward law enforcement

03/01/18 10:53AM

Donald Trump caused a bit of a stir yesterday with a tweet directed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling it "disgraceful" that Sessions isn't going further "to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse." In reality, those abuses don't appear to exist, but there was an underlying truth that went largely overlooked.

The president, in this case, was targeting the FBI. Trump believes it was federal law enforcement that unfairly targeted his political operation, and it's FBI officials whom Trump wants the Justice Department to target.

A day earlier, members of the House Republican leadership spoke with reporters and fielded a series of questions about gun violence. GOP leaders directed much of their criticism at law enforcement.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for example, said of the Parkland shooting, "In this particular case, there were a lot of breakdowns, from the local law enforcement to the FBI getting tips that they didn't follow up on." House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) added, "I think what angered me the most is when I see breakdowns with law enforcement."

A day earlier, much of the country heard about Trump boasting that he would've confronted the Parkland gunman with his bare hands, but did you happen to catch the comments that immediately preceded that claim?

"The way [local law enforcement] performed was, frankly, disgusting. They were listening to what was going on. The one in particular, he was then -- he was early. And then you had three others that probably a similar deal a little bit later, but a similar kind of a thing.

"You know, I really believe -- you don't know until you test it -- but I really believe I'd run in there, even if I didn't had a weapon. And I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too, because I know most of you. But the way they performed was really a disgrace."

In 2009, Barack Obama said a Boston-area police officer acted "stupidly" when he arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his own home. It sparked months of outrage and years of conservative claims about the Democratic president being "hostile" toward the police. The incident served as a reminder of why law enforcement is so often aligned with Republican politics.

Nearly a decade later, however, the politics have changed. Suddenly, it's Republican leaders who are blasting law enforcement in ways we're not accustomed to.

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

New questions surround the 'Patriot Legal Expense Fund'

03/01/18 10:08AM

About a month ago, The Rachel Maddow Show was the first to report the creation of the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust LLC. Details have been scarce, but as Donald Trump's Russia scandal has intensified, and so many people in the president's orbit have lawyered up, Trump World saw the need for a legal defense fund to help pay for the legal fees.

There was no public announcement about the fund being established, but on Tuesday, the paperwork was filed in Delaware, and the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust LLC came into existence.

There are all kinds of questions surrounding the fund, and the Washington Post  picked up on the fact that no one on Team Trump seems eager to answer them.

A new legal defense fund designed to help defray the costs faced by aides to President Trump drawn into the various Russia investigations has yet to answer key questions regarding how it will vet donors and provide transparency about the contributors who finance the effort.

The trust plans to allow both individuals and "entities" to make unlimited donations that will be pooled to defray the costs of multiple recipients, according to paperwork filed in January with the Office of Government Ethics.

At first blush, the creation of the fund may not seem especially noteworthy. The Russia scandal has cast quite a net over much of Trump World, and I'm sure many of the president's aides could use some financial assistance paying defense attorneys' bills.

But given this gang's lax approach to ethics and legal proprieties, it'd be helpful to know who's contributing to the fund, how it will distribute money, who might be deemed ineligible for assistance, and what the fund will do to ensure compliance with conflict-of-interest rules.

At least for now, those are the questions no one is answering -- and it's part of a larger pattern.

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Branding concerns shape Trump's vision on guns

03/01/18 09:20AM

Congressional Republicans aren't at all eager to pass meaningful gun measures, which is one of the reasons the right is so upset about Donald Trump's discussion at the White House yesterday: the president explicitly endorsed a "comprehensive" approach.

But it's worth pausing to appreciate exactly what Trump said and why.

"I like that word, comprehensive," Trump said. "They say it is a bad word. I like the word. I would rather have a comprehensive bill. ... It would be really nice to create something that's beautiful."

The president was being quite literal. It's not that he likes the component elements of a comprehensive bill on gun safety; rather, he likes the word "comprehensive" as a branding label he can apply to legislation.

In fact, earlier in the same meeting with senators yesterday, Trump made clear he has preferences when it comes to bill names. He noted pending legislation on improving the NICS database, and added, "It would be nice if we could add everything on to it and maybe change the title, all right? The 'U.S. Background Check Bill' or whatever."

Because for this president, the title of the proposal is no small matter. He seemed to lack even a rudimentary understanding of the policies at hand, but what a bill might be named captured Trump's attention.

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Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, speaks on Capitol Hill on Jan. 26, 2015.

House Republican connects gun control, Nazi Holocaust

03/01/18 08:40AM

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has an unfortunate track record of making cringe-worthy comments. The most striking example that comes to mind was a story from four years ago when the Republican congressman spoke at an Alaskan high school, less than a week after a student had committed suicide.

Young proceeded to use "salty language," told a story "that involved flying to Paris to get drunk," compared marriage equality to "bull sex," and said the boy who committed suicide must have lacked support from his friends and family. Asked to explain himself after the appearance, the GOP lawmaker added that welfare may have also led to the student's death.

But as offensive as that was, Young may have topped himself.

Jewish people would have been able to fend off the Nazis if not for gun-control laws imposed by the Third Reich, Rep. Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, argued last week.

"How many millions were shot and killed because they were unarmed?" Young asked at an event in Juneau, Alaska, before answering his own question. "Fifty million in Russia because their citizens were unarmed. How many Jews were put into the ovens because they were unarmed?"

If this seems at all familiar, it's probably because Young isn't the first Republican to suggest gun control contributed to the Nazi Holocaust. During his presidential campaign in 2015, Ben Carson argued, "]T]he likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed."

Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, explained at the time that Carson "has a right to his views on gun control, but the notion that Hitler's gun-control policy contributed to the Holocaust is historically inaccurate." Greenblatt added that "gun control did not cause the Holocaust."

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Trump shows why there's no point in talking to him about policy

03/01/18 08:00AM

The Washington Post  reported yesterday morning that Congress has several competing options on gun policy, but what lawmakers are looking for is some presidential leadership.

Donald Trump and his team have pointed in a series of different directions, and as the article added, lawmakers are "searching for signals from the administration on how it wants Congress to respond to the Feb. 14 shooting and how serious Trump is about the various proposals he has floated in the days since 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla."

I think it's safe to say that if everyone was uncertain about how to proceed before, they're even more confused now.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that his administration was drafting an executive order that would ban rapid-fire gun bump stocks and appeared to embrace a series of gun-control measures that his party has long rejected. During an extraordinary hour-long discussion on school safety at the White House, his free-wheeling positions on guns appeared to startle several members of a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Cameras were allowed in to capture Trump's negotiations with key members of Congress in real time, where he chastised some in attendance for being too "afraid" of the National Rifle Association to take action after past mass shootings and positioned himself as the person to finally herald legislation that could tighten America's background checks system.

Even for those who've come to expect baffling displays from this president, yesterday's televised discussion was truly bizarre. The House Republicans' bill tying background checks to concealed carry? Trump is now against it, and lectured GOP lawmakers about its futility. The 2013 Manchin-Toomey bill? He didn't seem to know what it was. The National Rifle Association? Trump initially bragged about his undying affection for the far-right organization, shortly before mocking lawmakers for being beholden to the advocacy group.

At one point, when the discussion turned to Americans who've been flagged as potentially dangerous, the president endorsed an approach in which law enforcement could confiscate firearms without due process.

"Take the guns first, go through due process second," Trump said. He was responding to a comment from his own vice president, Mike Pence, about requiring the police to get court orders.

We were left with an NRA-backed Republican president who wants expanded background checks, gun confiscations, raised age limits, and quite possibly an assault-weapons ban.

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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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