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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.22.18

05/22/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* What would he do with those commemorative coins? "President Donald Trump said Tuesday there was a 'very substantial chance' that his June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would not take place as planned."

* Pruitt's EPA strikes again: "The Environmental Protection Agency barred The Associated Press and CNN from a national summit on harmful water contaminants on Tuesday -- and guards forcibly shoved a female reporter out of the building."

* Trump's moves on ZTE aren't popular on the Hill: "[T]he Senate Banking Committee separately approved an amendment proposed by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to limit President Donald Trump's ability to remove sanctions on any Chinese telecommunications company. It passed through the panel easily by a 23 to 2 margin in a bipartisan rebuke to the administration's possible plans."

* Michael Cohen news: "A significant business partner of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer, has quietly agreed to cooperate with the government as a potential witness, a development that could be used as leverage to pressure Mr. Cohen to work with the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election."

* On a related note: "President Donald Trump's personal lawyer helped a major donor to Mr. Trump's inauguration pitch a nuclear-power investment to the Qatari sovereign-wealth fund at a meeting in April, according to people familiar with the matter."

* Long overdue: "After months of closed-door negotiations, a bipartisan group of senators announced Tuesday that they've reached agreement on legislation to reform the sexual harassment reporting process on Capitol Hill and impose more accountability on lawmakers who are accused of improper behavior."

* An odd political plan falls apart: "The Trump administration wanted U.S. Sen. Bob Corker to join its diplomatic ranks. But the retiring Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman declined, saying he turned down the chance to become the next U.S. ambassador to Australia."

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DHS chief says she's unaware of evidence showing Russia favored Trump

05/22/18 12:44PM

It was a pretty big story in March when Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee rejected the findings of U.S. intelligence professionals and concluded that Russia did not favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

It was an even bigger story last week when the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee effectively said those House GOP members didn't know what they were talking about. In a joint statement, Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) explained, "Our staff concluded that the [intelligence community's] conclusions were accurate and on point."

Warner added, "The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton."

Somehow, however, the head of the Department of Homeland Security remains in the dark. Politico  reported today:

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Tuesday that she was unfamiliar with one of the intelligence community's key conclusions about Russian interference in the 2016 election -- that the Kremlin ultimately meddled to help Donald Trump get elected.

"I do not believe that I've seen that conclusion that the specific intent was to help President Trump win," she told reporters on Capitol Hill, following a briefing with lawmakers about election security efforts. "I'm not aware of that."

Politico's piece added that Moscow's preference for Trump "was at the heart of an assessment by the FBI, CIA and NSA delivered in January 2017."

Or put another way, the facts have been obvious and readily available for over a year. It's not like Nielsen hasn't had time to get up to speed on a basic detail that's been widely reported.

A Daily Beast  report added, "After Nielsen made those remarks, a spokesperson for the Senate Intelligence Committee's ranking Democrat, Mark Warner, sent out findings from two reports and the special counsel's indictment in an email titled, 'I honestly can't believe I have to keep doing this.'"

So why, exactly, can't the DHS chief acknowledge what we already know to be true? I have a hunch her boss has a lot to do with it.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.22.18

05/22/18 12:00PM

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

* Arkansas, Georgia, and Kentucky will host a series of primary races today, and Texas also holds primary runoffs. Among the races to watch are Georgia's Democratic gubernatorial primary, pitting former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams against former state Rep. Stacey Evans, and the Democratic primary in Kentucky's 6th congressional district, where Lexington Mayor Jim Gray is going up against former fighter pilot Amy McGrath.

* Also on tap today is a gubernatorial primary in Arkansas, where Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) is facing a right-wing challenge. Donald Trump yesterday officially endorsed the incumbent's re-election bid.

* Newly uncovered materials show that South Carolina's Archie Parnell, a Democratic congressional candidate, physically abused his ex-wife in the 1970s. Parnell has acknowledged the violent incident, and his staff resigned en masse when confronted with the facts, but at least for now, he's refusing to withdraw from the race.

* Sen. Sherrod Brown's (D-Ohio) first television ad buy of the year goes right after his opponent, Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), for his background as a lobbyist.

* Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), one of the Senate's more peripatetic members, was in Missouri the other day, campaigning in support of Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-Mo.) re-election bid.

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) officially announced yesterday that he's running for re-election in Vermont this year. As was the case six years ago, he'll be formally nominated by the state Democratic Party, but he'll turn down that nomination and run once again as an independent.

* In Florida's U.S. Senate race, Gov. Rick Scott (R) headlined the Hillsborough County Republican Party's major annual fundraising dinner Saturday night, but the governor made no mention of the man who pressured him to launch this campaign: Donald Trump.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump campaign turns DOJ 'demand' into fundraising opportunity

05/22/18 11:20AM

Politicians, just as a matter of course, are generally desperate to raise as much money as possible. They're usually careful, however, about exploiting certain developments.

Donald Trump's political operation has no such fears.

Last fall, for example, the president's re-election campaign sent a solicitation to donors using the mass shooting in Las Vegas as the basis for a pitch. When the administration decided to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, that too was turned into a fundraising opportunity.

When Vice President Mike Pence left a football game because some players kneeled in protest against racial injustice, Trump's campaign said donors should get out their checkbooks. A week earlier, the president's operation even referenced disaster relief while asking for money.

But as Trump takes aim at our system of justice, using this a fundraising opportunity seems especially offensive. TPM noted yesterday afternoon:

President Donald Trump's reelection campaign used his recent "demand" that the Justice Department investigate special counsel Robert Mueller's probe in a fundraising email Monday.

"WORSE than Watergate," the email's subject line read. "I hereby DEMAND that the Department of Justice investigate whether Obama's FBI and DOJ infiltrated or surveilled our campaign for political purposes," the email, signed by Trump, reads. "THIS COULD BE THE GREATEST POLITICAL SCANDAL IN AMERICAN HISTORY."

"I need you to sign your name right this second to join me in demanding this abuse of power gets investigated."

The "petition," of course, isn't real; it's just a common tactic to get donors engaged and more likely to contribute. In this case, folks sign the "petition" -- giving Trump's political operation their contact information for future use -- they're directed to a donation page. In small font, the page says, "Paid for by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee authorized by and composed of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. and the Republican National Committee."

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Mick Mulvaney

White House budget director discusses plan to replace Paul Ryan

05/22/18 10:40AM

Mick Mulvaney is one busy guy. The South Carolina Republican, for example, is already serving as Donald Trump's budget director, which has traditionally included some time-consuming responsibilities. He's also the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where Mulvaney has been running interference for financial institutions accused of widespread abuses.

In his free time, Mulvaney has even offered advice to banking industry executives on how they can best buy influence and access in the Trump era.

And in case that weren't enough, the Washington Post  reports that Mulvaney even finds time to work on partisan strategies on Capitol Hill, where he was once a member.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney acknowledged having discussions with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy about replacing House Speaker Paul D. Ryan before Ryan retires from Congress next year, a conservative newsmagazine reported Monday.

The Weekly Standard reported that Mulvaney made the remarks Sunday during a conference sponsored by the publication in Colorado Springs. Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier asked Mulvaney about the prospect of McCarthy succeeding Ryan this year, before the midterm elections, and Mulvaney suggested that it would become a referendum on the top Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi.

As the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, explained, Mulvaney conceded that he'd spoken "privately" to the House majority leader about a scheme in which Ryan would resign; Republican members would elevate McCarthy; and House Democrats would cast votes for Nancy Pelosi, which would apparently become the subject of new attack ads.

"Wouldn't it be great to force a Democrat running in a tight race to have to put up or shut up about voting for Nancy Pelosi eight weeks before an election?" Mulvaney asked. "That's a really, really good vote for us to force if we can figure out how to do it."

As a rule, top White House officials don't generally speak publicly about working behind the scenes to oust a sitting House Speaker, which made Mulvaney's comments stand out as unusual.

But just as interesting are the flaws in the budget director's scheme.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Pompeo's vision suggests Trump has no real plan for Iran

05/22/18 10:03AM

After Donald Trump withdrew from the international nuclear agreement with Iran, ignoring much of his team and the judgment of key U.S. allies, the announcement was followed by a fairly obvious question: What are you going to do now, smart guy?

As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank recently noted, after the president shared a "torrent of adjectives" to condemn the Iran deal, "Trump had few words left to say about what would happen next, beyond working with our allies (who oppose the U.S. reversal), economic sanctions on Iran (which does little business with the United States) and threatening Iran with military action for noncompliance ("bigger problems than it has ever had before"). In other words, he has no idea."

Maybe Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has some idea? Maybe not.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Monday that the United States would impose "the strongest sanctions in history" against Iran if it did not agree to change course.

"We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the regime," Pompeo said in his first major foreign policy address, delivered at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "The leaders in Tehran will have no doubt about our seriousness."

Pompeo outlined an alternate path: reprieve from sanctions and restoration of full diplomatic and economic relations should Iran meet a list of 12 demands aimed at the heart of Iran's foreign policy agenda.

The full list of demands is long and unrealistic. Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard, joked after the secretary of state's remarks, "I'm still a bit surprised Pompeo didn't demand that Iran agree to open a Trump-branded golf course in Teheran and pay for the wall with Mexico."

But what struck me as important was Pompeo's willingness to impose "the strongest sanctions in history" against Iran. Whether the Trump administration understands this or not, we already had the strongest sanctions in history against Iran.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

To sound like Trump, White House aides create poorly written tweets

05/22/18 09:20AM

An English teacher once told me that writing styles are like fingerprints: everyone's is different. That doesn't mean, however, that they can't be copied.

There's a parlor game in some circles about Donald Trump's tweets, as observers wonder whether individual missives were written by the president or one of his aides. I tend to believe that if the messages include complete sentences and proper capitalization, it's a safe bet the wording didn't come from Trump.

But the Boston Globe's Annie Linskey reports today that figuring out the author of the presidential tweets isn't always easy.

The hallmark of President Trump's Twitter feed is that it sounds like him -- grammatical miscues and all.

But it's not always Trump tapping out a Tweet, even when it sounds like his voice. West Wing employees who draft proposed tweets intentionally employ suspect grammar and staccato syntax in order to mimic the president's style, according to two people familiar with the process.

They overuse the exclamation point! They Capitalize random words for emphasis. Fragments. Loosely connected ideas. All part of a process that is not as spontaneous as Trump's Twitter feed often appears.

I see. We've reached the point in American history at which White House professionals, with high-paying jobs in the West Wing, take care to write badly, on purpose, in order to sound like the president of the United States.

Somewhere, the aforementioned English teacher is weeping.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Trump reportedly thinks it's 'too inconvenient' to use a secure phone

05/22/18 08:40AM

It's no secret that Donald Trump makes frequent use of his mobile phone. Not only does the president have an active Twitter account, but he uses his phone to circumvent White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, receiving private advice from trusted confidants.

In fact, Trump apparently has two smart phones, one of which he uses to make calls, the other of which he uses to tweet and access a handful of news sites. The trouble, as Politico  reported, is the president's disinterest in proper security protocols.

President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn't equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials -- a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance.

The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

While Barack Obama turned over his devices every 30 days for a security review, the current president believes that would be "too inconvenient."

Politico's report added, "The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump's call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out."

And in case the security risk weren't already obvious enough, note that while Obama's phones didn't have a camera or a microphone, the phone Trump uses to make calls has both.

In the early days of Trump's presidency, there were a variety of reports that the Republican was making use of an unsecured phone, to the frustration of his aides. I'd assumed the issue would be addressed soon after. Evidently, it wasn't.

There are a few interesting angles to this, but it's worth pausing to pay particular attention to the hypocrisy.

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Dems take aim at the Republicans' 'culture of corruption'

05/22/18 08:00AM

The circumstances may sound familiar: in 2006, the nation had an unpopular Republican president, who was struggling despite a fairly strong economy, working with a Republican-led Congress. Democrats believed there was a public backlash brewing, which gave them a shot at retaking control of the House, the Senate, or both.

To that end, Dems focused at least some of their energies on targeting the GOP's "culture of corruption" -- a theme made possible by a series of Republican scandals surrounding officials whose names may be familiar to those who were engaged at the time: Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, Mark Foley, et al.

The message resonated, and voters rewarded Democrats with control of Congress. Twelve years later, the party believes a similar opportunity exists.

Democrats are going to make prosecuting what they called a "culture of corruption" in President Donald Trump's administration a central theme of this year's midterm elections, the party's congressional leaders signaled Monday.

"The swamp has never been more foul or more feted than under this president," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said at a news conference on the Capitol steps.

This year, the GOP's problem is less about scandals on Capitol Hill and more about scandals in the White House -- which congressional Republicans are ignoring and enabling. It's an issue quite a few observers have picked up on: Vox had a piece in March urging Democrats to make Donald Trump's corruption "a central issue in the 2018 midterms." BuzzFeed published an item the same week that said, "The real threat to Trump isn't Russia, racism, or incompetence; it's corruption."

Jon Chait added in April that "the best way" for Democrats to reclaim power is to shine a light on Trump's corruption.

But what was especially interesting about the Dems' newly unveiled push is the policy agenda included in the message.

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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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