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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-CLINTON-FBI

Even now, Republicans can't let go of their Clinton preoccupation

03/20/18 11:18AM

Hillary Clinton spoke at an event in October, and in reference to some of her conservative critics, the former Secretary of State joked, "It appears they don't know I'm not president."

The line came to mind last night when Fox News' Sean Hannity asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) whether he has "any doubt" that Clinton committed "crimes" with her email server protocols. The Republican congressman replied, in apparent reference to the former Democratic official:

"Well, as you know, our committee continues to look at conspiracy. We are looking at obstruction, we are looking at misleading Congress and also there's the statute in the civil rights code that involves I think abuse of power and using your position to go after someone personally."

After explaining his committee's ongoing interest in Hillary Clinton, Nunes added, "The American people expect the intelligence agencies not to be political."

Heaven forbid.

As the interview aired, Politico  reported that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is moving forward with plans "to subpoena the Justice Department for records gathered by its inspector general in his review of how the FBI handled its 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton."

There was a point, shortly before the last presidential election, in which GOP leaders said they expected to spend Clinton's presidency launching one investigation after another. When she lost, some in the party said they didn't care.

Indeed, on Nov. 9, 2016, literally the day after the election, then-House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said his pre-election plans had not changed: he would continue to vigorously pursue Clinton. "We can't just simply let this go," Chaffetz told Fox News in December.

Chaffetz may have resigned from Congress, but his sentiment is still shared by many in his party.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

GOP expects Democrats' help in fixing the tax plan's errors

03/20/18 10:40AM

In any major piece of legislation, flaws are practically inevitable, and even careful policymakers often don't notice the errors until a new law takes effect. With this in mind, perhaps it's unsurprising that the Republicans' regressive new tax plan is riddled with dozens of mistakes.

In this case, however, the details matter. While some errors are probably unavoidable, GOP lawmakers were unusually careless in throwing together their reckless tax breaks for the wealthy, effectively scribbling the legislative text on the back of envelopes filled with campaign contributions.

Asked to describe the scope of the mistakes in the Republican tax law, Marty Sullivan, chief economist at the non-partisan Tax Analysts, told  Politico, "This is not normal. There's always this kind of stuff, but the order of magnitude is entirely different."

Fixing these mistakes will require congressional action, and wouldn't you know it, the Democrats who were locked out of the process last fall don't seem especially eager to cooperate now. The Washington Post  reported over the weekend:

Republicans aiming to use an upcoming spending bill to fix a glaring problem with their recently passed tax overhaul are running into a wall with Democrats, who were shut out of the tax law process and now don't want to cooperate unless they get something in return. [...]

Democrats aren't willing to go along so easily. They say they warned Republicans that pushing through the law in a matter of weeks -- without public hearings -- would result in problems and unintended consequences. And now that such issues are emerging, some Democrats resent being asked to lend their votes to a solution.

That's not the funny part. Rather, what's truly amazing is the Republicans' incredulity.

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The Supreme Court Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 6, 2013. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times/Redux)

Courts reject Republican efforts to rescue gerrymandered map

03/20/18 10:01AM

After the 2010 Census, Pennsylvania Republicans crafted a gerrymandered congressional map that was tough to defend. As regular readers may recall, the GOP-led state legislature took an evenly divided state, drew up 18 congressional districts, and put 13 of them safely in Republican hands.

It created a dynamic in which Democratic candidates won 51% of the vote in Pennsylvania, but received only 28% of the power.

The state Supreme Court rejected that map -- calling it "clearly, plainly, and palpably" unconstitutional -- and ended up unveiling a better map of its own. Republicans still have an advantage under the new district lines, but it's not nearly as outrageous as the GOP's previous version.

To put it mildly, Republican officials weren't satisfied, and when they weren't threatening to impeach state Supreme Court justices, they filed lawsuits. Yesterday, those efforts failed.

Pennsylvania Republicans were handed a pair of defeats Monday in their quest to keep old congressional maps in place for the 2018 midterms, potentially giving Democrats a boost when it comes to winning back the House in November.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined a request from Republican leaders to put the new congressional district map, imposed last month by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, on hold. Earlier Monday, in a separate case, a panel of federal judges dismissed a legal challenge by Republican congressmen to the new map.

There are no additional appeals. The court-drawn map will be the one in place for this year's midterm elections.

Why should voters outside of the Keystone State care? Because this one development is likely to have a significant impact on which party has political power in the coming years.

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Image: 2018 Adult Video News Awards - Arrivals

Trump lawyer: Pre-election payment to porn star unrelated to election

03/20/18 09:20AM

When it comes to Donald Trump's Stormy Daniels scandal, some of the most interesting revelations come from one of the president's personal attorneys, Michael Cohen. He's the one who quietly created an LLC in 2016 to pay $130,000 in hush money to the porn star, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

It was Cohen, for example, who publicly confirmed the $130,000 figure. It was Cohen who said he borrowed against his home equity in order to facilitate the payment. And now it's Cohen who's now denying any connection between the pre-election payoff and the election itself.

Attorney Michael Cohen, who has said he paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about any relationship she might have had with his client Donald Trump, told Vanity Fair that the payment had nothing to do with the 2016 campaign. Cohen also denied he has threatened Daniels.

"People are mistaking this for a thing about the campaign," Cohen told VF. "What I did defensively for my personal client, and my friend, is what attorneys do for their high-profile clients. I would have done it in 2006. I would have done it in 2011. I truly care about him and the family -- more than just as an employee and an attorney."

Given the circumstances, this isn't a surprising argument. As Cohen no doubt realizes, if the hush money was delivered as part of an effort to improve Trump's chances of winning, then it may have been necessary to report the $130,000 as a campaign-related expenditure -- and failure to do so may have violated federal election laws.

And so, naturally, the president's lawyer is now eager to make the case that this had nothing do with the 2016 campaign. Cohen would've paid hush money to the adult-film actress at any time, the story goes, and it's just a remarkable coincidence that the developments unfolded in late October 2016.

If it seems difficult to believe Cohen's claims, it's probably because of what we know about the larger context.

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Key Republican appears indifferent to Cambridge Analytica revelations

03/20/18 08:42AM

As the tumult surrounding the Russia scandal intensifies, yesterday brought a new twist. Cambridge Analytica, the data firm utilized by Donald Trump's 2016 political operation, became the subject of international scrutiny, following reports that it exploited Facebook, "harvesting private information" about tens of millions of users without their permission.

There's also a curious Russia angle to the story. As Chris Wylie, the firm's former research director, noted on NBC's "Today" show yesterday, Cambridge Analytica partnered with a Russian oil giant with a history of influence operations overseas, which expressed an interest in targeting American voters.

The controversy surrounding the firm, which was created in part by major Trump donor Robert Mercer and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, grew even more serious as yesterday progressed.

In a meeting with the head of Cambridge Analytica -- the political data firm used by the Trump campaign in 2016 -- reporters from NBC News' U.K. partner ITN Channel 4 News posed as potential clients interested in changing the outcome of the Sri Lankan elections.

The reporters, who were trying to find out how the company operated, quickly learned about the novel and deceptive methods employed by the company, including bribes, blackmail, and misinformation campaigns. The findings were broadcast by the network on Monday.

On hidden camera, the reporters recorded Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, discussing the idea of hypothetically entrapping an opposition leader. He described how the company could record a person accepting a bribe, "an offer he can't refuse" or "send some girls around to the candidate's house."

When he wasn't talking about meddling in elections with entrapment tactics, the Cambridge Analytica executive referenced the potency of political misinformation. "It doesn't have to be true," Nix said. "It just has to be believed."

Given these extraordinary new details, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee will certainly want to re-open their investigation, right? Right?

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump lawyers get creative, try to 'minimize his exposure' to Mueller

03/20/18 08:00AM

In January, Donald Trump surprised White House reporters with some impromptu comments about how much he's looking forward to speaking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

"I'm looking forward to it, actually," Trump said, adding that he'd "love to" talk to the special counsel investigators. The president went on to say he's "absolutely" prepared to answer questions under oath, and he suggested the discussion would happen in roughly "two or three weeks."

That was two months ago. In the weeks that followed, Trump's lawyers have gone to almost comical lengths to give the appearance of cooperation, without actually agreeing to a presidential Q&A, At one point, the president's defense team considered offering the special counsel's team a written affidavit, signed by the president, "affirming he was innocent." Another possibility would be an on-paper interview -- in effect, a take-home exam -- in which Trump's lawyers answered Mueller's questions in writing instead of having the president sit down with investigators.

More recently, Trump's lawyers reportedly offered the special counsel a deal in which Mueller and his team could interview the president, so long as no one asked the president any detailed questions, and in exchange, Mueller would agree to end his investigation in 60 days.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, the Washington Post  reported on the latest, unintentionally hilarious offer.

President Trump's attorneys have provided the special counsel's office with written descriptions that chronicle key moments under investigation in hopes of curtailing the scope of a presidential interview, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Trump's legal team recently shared the documents in an effort to limit any session between the president and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to a few select topics, the people said.

The idea is to provide the special counsel with "a narrative of the White House view" of key events that are currently under investigation, in order to "eliminate the need to ask the president" about the incidents.

You've got to be kidding me.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 3.19.18

03/19/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Austin's serial bomber: "The fourth explosion in less than three weeks in Austin, Texas, appears to be the work of a serial bomber, officials said Monday. Authorities warned that the devices appear to be getting more sophisticated and asked residents of one neighborhood to stay indoors until 2 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET) Monday."

* Did anyone doubt what would happen? "Russian President Vladimir Putin won a landslide re-election victory Sunday, a widely anticipated win that will see him extend his rule over the world's largest country into a third decade."

* Does anyone doubt what they'll find? "Russia's Investigative Committee said on Friday it had opened a criminal investigation into the attempted murder of Yulia Skripal, daughter of former double agent Sergei Skripal, and what it said was the murder of another Russian in Britain."

* Kushner story #1: "The Kushner Cos. routinely filed false paperwork with [New York City] declaring it had zero rent-regulated tenants in dozens of buildings it owned across the city when, in fact, it had hundreds."

* Kushner story #2: "A real estate investment company that partnered with the Trump Organization on an office tower project in India has been accused of defrauding its foreign investors of at least $147 million, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post."

* Kushner story #3: "Jared Kushner's father met with Qatar's finance minister three months after President Trump's inauguration, a New York City session at which funding for a financially troubled real estate project was discussed, the company acknowledged Sunday."

* And speaking of Kushner, the Office of American Innovation doesn't appear to be doing anything.

* An astonishing report: "Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children."

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump's new defense attorney burdened by a controversial past

03/19/18 03:03PM

It was just last week when we learned Donald Trump was eyeing an addition to his legal defense team. The New York Times  reported that the president had already had discussions with Emmet Flood, a veteran D.C. attorney with an exceptional reputation who has exactly the right kind of background Trump needs given the seriousness of the Russia scandal.

The president insisted soon after, however, that the report was wrong and that he was "VERY happy" with his current lawyers. (My personal hunch is that Flood turned the president down.)

As it turns out, Trump has hired added a member to his legal defense team -- but it's not someone of Emmet Flood's caliber.

President Trump has decided to hire the longtime Washington lawyer Joseph E. diGenova, who has pushed the theory on television that Mr. Trump was framed by F.B.I. and Justice Department officials, to bolster his legal team, according to three people told of the decision.

Mr. diGenova is not expected to take a lead role but will instead serve as a more aggressive player on the president's legal team.

Though Trump hasn't directly confirmed the news, Jay Sekulow, another member of the president's defense team, told NBC News, "I have worked with Joe for many years and have full confidence that he will be a great asset in our representation of the president."

At this point, I imagine some of you are asking, "Who's Joe diGenova?" And I'm very glad you asked.

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump walks along the Rose Garden as he returns from a day trip to Atlanta on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S.

Non-disclosure agreements for Trump aides described as 'crazy'

03/19/18 12:30PM

Even before he was elected, Donald Trump made no secret of his support for non-disclosure agreements. It was nearly two years ago that the then-candidate stated his belief that White House officials should sign NDAs.

Evidently, he meant it. Trump required confidentiality agreements of his campaign staff, his transition staff, and according to the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus, his White House staff.

This is extraordinary. Every president inveighs against leakers and bemoans the kiss-and-tell books; no president, to my knowledge, has attempted to impose such a pledge. And while White House staffers have various confidentiality obligations -- maintaining the secrecy of classified information or attorney-client privilege, for instance -- the notion of imposing a side agreement, supposedly enforceable even after the president leaves office, is not only oppressive but constitutionally repugnant.

Unlike employees of private enterprises such as the Trump Organization or Trump campaign, White House aides have First Amendment rights when it comes to their employer, the federal government. If you have a leaker on your staff, the cure is firing, not suing.

Marcus spoke to attorney Debra Katz, who has represented numerous government whistleblowers and negotiated nondisclosure agreements, who described Trump's NDAs as "crazy," adding, "The idea of having some kind of economic penalty is an outrageous effort to limit and chill speech. Once again, this president believes employees owe him a personal duty of loyalty, when their duty of loyalty is to the institution."

The Post columnist obtained a draft of the agreement, which restricts not only what aides can say during their tenures at the White House, but also "at all times thereafter." The NDA goes so far as to include "works of fiction."

There's a lot to this, but three questions come to mind.

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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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