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Image: James Comey

Giuliani sheds new light on Trump's decision to fire James Comey

05/03/18 08:40AM

One of the most important decisions Donald Trump has made as president was firing James Comey as the director of the FBI a year ago this week. It was the first domino in a series of developments that has put the Republican's presidency in jeopardy.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who's now a member of Trump's legal team, told Fox News last night why the president made this decision.

"He fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn't a target of the investigation. He's entitled to that. Hillary Clinton got that and he couldn't get that. So he fired him and he said, 'I'm free of this guy.'"

As a rule, when a group of people, in the midst of a scandal, repeatedly change their story about basic details, something is amiss.

For those keeping score, the first line from the White House was that the president ousted Comey based on the recommendations of the Justice Department, where Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote a memo criticizing the FBI director's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

The second line came from Trump himself, when he told NBC News' Lester Holt -- the last major interview the president did outside of conservative media -- that he fired Comey because of the investigation into the "Russia thing."

Despite these comments, the president insisted two weeks ago that Comey was not fired because of the investigation into the Russia scandal.

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Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum

In Stormy Daniels case, Giuliani just made Trump's life much more difficult

05/03/18 08:00AM

Last month, during a brief chat with reporters on Air Force One, Donald Trump said he did not know about the $130,000 hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels shortly before Election Day 2016. He added soon after that he also didn't know where his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, received the money to pay the porn star.

Rudy Giuliani, a recent addition to the president's legal defense team, shed some additional light on the subject last night, and in the process, made Trump's life vastly more difficult.

President Donald Trump repaid his attorney Michael Cohen the $130,000 Cohen paid porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election for her silence about her alleged affair with Trump in 2006, the president's new lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, said Wednesday night.

Appearing on Fox News Channel's "Hannity," Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and former U.S. attorney for Manhattan whom Trump hired to join his personal legal team last month, revealed for the first time that Trump had paid back the money to Cohen, who had said previously that he had paid Daniels with his own funds and without Trump's knowledge.

Giuliani prefaced his comments by telling the Fox News host, "I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know." The presidential lawyer then explained that Trump didn't know all of the specific details of the payoff to the adult-film actress, "but he did know about the general arrangement."

Giuliani went on to say, "[T]he president reimbursed that over the period of several months."

He stressed that no campaign funds were used in the transaction -- a point Trump also emphasized in a trio of tweets this morning that he obviously did not write -- which in Giuliani's mind, means the hush-money payoff was "perfectly legal" and couldn't be a campaign-finance violation.

After the Fox News appearance, Giuliani spoke to the New York Times, adding that Trump reimbursed Cohen "out of his personal family account" in $35,000 monthly increments. In all, Cohen reportedly received $460,000 or $470,000.

Giuliani also talked to the Washington Post, and said he'd spoken to the president about last night's comments and Trump was "very pleased."

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.2.18

05/02/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A rapid collapse: "Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL are shutting down, citing a 'siege of media coverage' that drove away its customers, NBC News has confirmed."

* A few weeks after Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks for no reason, the men have reached a settlement with the city for $1 each. Just as importantly, as part of their settlement, the city will create "a $200,000 fund that, through the help of a nonprofit organization, will assist young entrepreneurs in Philadelphia."

* I hope you saw last night's coverage of this: "In a tense meeting in early March with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, President Trump's lawyers insisted he had no obligation to talk with federal investigators probing Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. But Mueller responded that he had another option if Trump declined: He could issue a subpoena for the president to appear before a grand jury, according to four people familiar with the encounter."

* I guess the rhetoric about broad Republican support for DACA isn't entirely true: "Opening another front in the battle over immigration policy, Texas and six other states sued the federal government on Tuesday in an attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program."

* Afghanistan: "Just one day after a double suicide bombing in Kabul killed at least 31 people and wounded scores more, a U.S. military watchdog released a report with a set of dismal statistics on the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. The report conflicts with the optimism projected by senior military officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis."

* BIA: "When the Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs abruptly resigned last week after less than six months in his post, the agency gave no explanation. But an e-mail from a BIA employee obtained by TPM claims the director, Bryan Rice, exhibited aggressive and intimidating behavior toward her in an incident she believes was captured by a surveillance camera."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington

48 hours that should (but probably won't) end Scott Pruitt's career

05/02/18 05:01PM

I spent some time over the weekend counting up the number of federal investigations surrounding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and I came up with a baker's dozen. Donald Trump's team has developed an unfortunate reputation for scandal and corruption, but even among these guys, the Oklahoma Republican stands out as ... unique.

But consider what we've learned about the far-right EPA chief since Monday afternoon:

1. Pruitt has been accused of lying to Congress while giving testimony under oath.

2. Pruitt appears to have done a highly lucrative favor for a major Trump supporter who helped Pruitt get his job.

3. Two of Pruitt's top aides abruptly resigned.

4. The Associated Press reported that the lobbyist whose wife rented a condo to Pruitt for $50 a night "sought EPA committee posts for a lobbying client, according to a newly released EPA memo."

5. The Washington Post  reported that Richard Smotkin, a former Comcast lobbyist and longtime Pruitt associate, helped arrange Pruitt's controversial and trip to Morocco last year. Taxpayers ended up paying for the trip, which Pruitt took for reasons that the EPA has struggled to explain.

6. The New York Times  reported that a former lobbyist for foreign governments played a central role in attempting to set up a trip for Pruitt to Australia, and then "took steps to disguise his role."

7. TPM reported that in early 2017, after Pruitt took the reins at the EPA, he "directed his future chief of staff to explore the creation of an EPA office in Pruitt's hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, even though an EPA office with authority over Oklahoma already existed in Dallas, Texas."

Even by 2018 standards, this is an astonishing 48 hours for a high-profile cabinet official -- and yet, Pruitt will almost certainly keep his job. It's worth understanding why.

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U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement from the Roosevelt Room next to the empty chairs of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (L), D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R), D-California, after they cancelled their meeting at the Whi

Trump's legal team loses one more member (but gains another)

05/02/18 04:09PM

Marc Kasowitz used to lead Donald Trump's legal defense team, though he didn't last long. Mark Corallo was on the team, but he resigned last year. John Dowd oversaw the president's team, but he stepped down in March. Around the same time, Trump brought on two Fox News personalities -- Joe diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing -- but both were told less than a week later that their services would not be needed.

But despite all of this tumult, today's developments might be the most significant shake-up of the president's legal defense team to date.

President Donald Trump has tapped Emmett Flood, who advised Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings, to assist in the Russia investigation after the lead White House attorney handling the probe announced plans to retire, the White House said Wednesday.

"Emmet Flood will be joining the White House Staff to represent the President and the administration against the Russia witch hunt," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

The departing Ty Cobb, who had served as the president's lead White House attorney for the investigation, told NBC News, "I believe the White House is in good hands with Emmett Flood, who is a highly regarded and very talented attorney."

The New York Times first reported in March that Emmet Flood was under consideration for the president's team, and Trump called it "a false story." It now appears Trump's denial, like so many of his claims, wasn't true.

As for Cobb, who lasted longer than most on the defense team, there have been rumors about his departure for weeks, but his resignation still seems sudden. As recently as this morning, Cobb sat down for an interview with ABC News, and at least initially, he didn't say anything about leaving the White House. It's the sort of thing that will generate some speculation about whether Cobb jumped ship or whether he was pushed.

What's more, given the seriousness of the scandal and the investigation, and how far along Special Counsel Robert Mueller is, the volatility of Trump's legal team is extraordinary.

That said, Emmett Flood's willingness to join the president's defense is almost certainly welcome news for Trump and his supporters.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Paul Manafort, senior advisor to Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, exits following a meeting of Donald Trump's national finance team in New York

To keep Trump happy, Ukraine ended its cooperation with Mueller

05/02/18 12:55PM

If you watch the show often, you know that Ukraine plays a critically important role in the investigation into Donald Trump's political operation and its alleged cooperation with Russia during the 2016 election. You also probably know that Ukrainian officials, for a while, cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

The New York Times  reports today, however, on why that's no longer the case.

In the United States, Paul J. Manafort is facing prosecution on charges of money laundering and financial fraud stemming from his decade of work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

But in Ukraine, where officials are wary of offending President Trump, four meandering cases that involve Mr. Manafort, Mr. Trump's former campaign chairman, have been effectively frozen by Ukraine's chief prosecutor.

There's no great mystery as to why Ukraine's chief prosecutor halted its cooperation with Mueller's investigation: Ukraine relies on aid from the United States, and officials freely admit that they're concerned about the Trump White House punishing Ukraine if the country assists in a probe the president opposes.

Indeed, the Times added, "The decision to halt the investigations by an anticorruption prosecutor was handed down at a delicate moment for Ukraine, as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles, called Javelins."

The calculus was simple: Ukrainian officials feared they could get the anti-tank weapons or help Mueller, but not both. Not surprisingly, they prioritized the former over the latter.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.2.18

05/02/18 12:00PM

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

* After striking out at the Colorado Supreme Court, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) is back on the primary ballot, thanks to a federal court ruling yesterday. A district court judge agreed that the state law requiring ballot-petition circulators to be in-state residents is "likely unconstitutional."

* Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, is facing criticism after launching a campaign ad in which he points a shotgun at a teenager, featured in the commercial as one of his daughter's suitors.

* In California, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is seeking re-election, the longtime senator has changed her position on marijuana laws and now wants federal law enforcement not to interfere in California's legal marijuana market.

* With Donald Trump suddenly eager to destroy Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short apparently called into a Montana radio show yesterday to complain about Tester's scrutiny of Ronny Jackson, the president's former nominee to lead the VA.

* To the disappointment of Democratic leaders, former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) has decided to launch a primary challenge against Rep. Darren Michael Soto (D-Fla.). Soto, a freshman, succeeded Grayson in Florida's 9th district.

* To no one's surprise given his health issues, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) acknowledges in his new book that he's in his final term in the Senate and will not seek re-election when his current term ends in 2022.

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Donald "Don" Blankenship, former chief executive officer of Massey Energy Co., center, and his attorney, left, exit the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston, W. Va., on Dec. 3, 2015. (Photo by Calvin Mattheis/Bloomberg/Getty)

The 'Convict Caucus' adds an unusual element to the 2018 midterms

05/02/18 11:23AM

The old assumption was that people run for office and then get convicted of crimes. In 2018, that assumption has been flipped: some Republicans have already been convicted of crimes and are now running for office.

It's been labeled the "convict caucus": a trio of GOP ex-cons, two of whom served time behind bars, who are now running for Congress. The list includes Arizona's Joe Arpaio, New York's Michael Grimm, and West Virginia's Don Blankenship.

Lately, this has become more than just an electoral curiosity. The convicted criminals who'll soon be on the ballot are emblematic of something important brewing in contemporary Republican politics. The Washington Post had a good piece on this the other day

[Former New York congressman Michael Grimm] has uncovered a new reality in the constantly changing world of Republican politics: Criminal convictions, once seen as career-enders, are no longer disqualifying. In the era of President Trump, even time spent in prison can be turned into a positive talking point, demonstrating a candidate's battle scars in a broader fight against what he perceives as liberal corruption.

In a startling shift from "law-and-order Republicans," Trump has attacked some branches of law enforcement, especially those pursuing white-collar malfeasance, as his allies and former campaign officials are ensnared in various investigations.

Among the key details that Grimm, Arpaio, and Blankenship have in common is that they were charged, tried, and convicted while Barack Obama was president. Is there any evidence to suggest their prosecutions were influenced by politics in any way? No, there's literally none.

But in Trump's GOP, evidence isn't nearly as important as what partisans can be made to believe. And with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation underway, the White House attacking the Justice Department on a regular basis, and party leaders like Vice President Mike Pence celebrating Arpaio as a "tireless champion" of "the rule of law," rank-and-file GOP voters are being asked to believe that law enforcement is not to be trusted when it's a Republican accused of a crime.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Is the GOP leaving the midterms 'vulnerable to malicious interference'?

05/02/18 10:40AM

In 2016, when U.S. intelligence agencies were convinced that Russia was attacking American elections, the Obama administration reached out to congressional leaders in both parties, seeking a "show of solidarity and bipartisan unity" against foreign manipulation of our democracy. Republicans refused.

In 2017, with intelligence officials telling policymakers that we're likely to see similar Russian tactics again, the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported on a formal request from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to its Republican counterpart, asking it to join in showing a "united front" and creating a "joint plan" against any Russian efforts to undermine the 2018 midterm elections. Republicans again refused.

And now, in 2018, it's happening again. The Atlantic's Natasha Bertrand reported yesterday:

Congressional Democrats are pledging not to exploit stolen materials in their campaigns, but Republicans have declined to match that commitment, leaving the midterm races vulnerable to malicious interference.

Russia's successful interference in the 2016 election -- when Moscow hacked both Democrats and Republicans -- has spurred fears of a recurrence in 2018. But although congressional Democrats are pledging not to use stolen or hacked materials in their campaigns this fall, their Republican counterparts have so far declined to match that commitment. That partisan split could leave the November elections open to malicious interference.

A spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee told The Atlantic that the party hasn't responded to the Democratic requests for cooperation due to a lack of "trust."

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Mick Mulvaney

Mulvaney mulls plan that could put CFPB employees in their basement

05/02/18 10:00AM

If you've ever seen the cult classic "Office Space," you know the relationship between Bill Lumbergh and Milton Waddams is a difficult one.

Lumbergh (played by the amazing Gary Cole) clearly doesn't like or respect Milton (played by the amazing Stephen Root), and has no use for Milton's work. In fact, if it were up to Lumbergh, the "squirrelly looking guy" who "mumbles a lot" would stop working in the office altogether.

With that in mind, Lumbergh takes steps to make Milton as uncomfortable as possible, moving his cubicle, using his work space for storage, and in the final indignity, eventually moving Milton and his desk into the basement.

All of this came to mind yesterday reading Bloomberg Politics' report on the latest developments at the CFPB.

Mick Mulvaney says he's legally barred from shutting down the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a regulator he once called a "sick" joke.

But the agency's acting director could move dozens of employees to the basement of its Washington headquarters. And he might try to relocate other staff members to Dallas.

Such options are being proposed by his top aides as Mulvaney seeks to cut spending at the Republican-loathed watchdog by tens of millions of dollars, according to an internal cost-savings analysis that was obtained by Bloomberg News. Another budget-trimming idea: making employees share desks.

In this case, obviously, Mulvaney is effectively playing the role of Lumbergh, while the CFPB's staff is Milton. The former doesn't like, respect, or see any need for the latter's work, so he may do as Lumbergh did, making the agency's employees even more uncomfortable.

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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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