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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.12.17

05/12/17 12:00PM

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

* USA Today reports that a coalition of progressive groups, including End Citizens United and Every Voice, are launching new ads today in eight states, urging Republican senators to support an independent investigation into the Russia scandal.

* The White House and the National Republican Congressional Campaign are reportedly at odds over special-election strategies and "who is in charge" of the party's midterm campaign efforts.

* In Montana's congressional special election, Republican Greg Gianforte says he doesn't accept corporate PAC money, but he nevertheless referred industry PACs last week to "our Victory Fund."

* In Alabama's upcoming U.S. Senate special election, the Republican field is growing, but on the Democratic side, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones entered the race this week. Jones is perhaps best known for having successfully prosecuted KKK members for a Birmingham church bombing.

* On a related note, Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), the appointed incumbent, released a strange new ad this week in which he tried to distance himself from disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley (R).

* Donald Trump told NBC News that if the election were today, he'd "win by a lot more than I did on November 8th." A national Quinnipiac poll released this week showed the president with a 36% approval rating.
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The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump 'would not be well-received' at FBI headquarters

05/12/17 11:20AM

There was quite a bit of chatter yesterday morning that Donald Trump would stop by FBI headquarters as a way of signaling support for the bureau in the wake of the president firing its director. It's easy to imagine the scene Trump envisioned: he'd stop by, shake a few hands, tell a few jokes, maybe hand out a few electoral maps, and win the FBI over with some presidential charm.

I was eager to see what kind of reception he'd receive, but the plan was apparently scrapped. NBC News explained why.
The White House has abandoned the idea of President Trump visiting FBI headquarters after being told he would not be greeted warmly, administration officials told NBC News.

Amid the continuing fallout over his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, Trump was considering an appearance at the FBI's J Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington, DC. The White House publicly floated the idea as recently as Thursday morning.
The report added that FBI officials told the White House "the optics" would be unkind: "FBI officials made clear that the president would not draw many smiles and cheers, having just unceremoniously sacked a very popular director."

One FBI employee told NBC, "My sense is most FBI employees feel a loyalty to Comey. And whether they agree or disagree with the way he handled the email case, like and respect him ... Trump would not be well-received at headquarters."

And if there's one thing that seems fairly clear about Trump's preferences, he doesn't like to go where he isn't going to be "well-received."
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The perils of defending Donald Trump

05/12/17 10:58AM

On Tuesday night, shortly after Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of Congress' more moderate Republicans, quickly endorsed the president's decision. What's more, the Maine senator anticipated concerns from White House critics, and dismissed them.

"Any suggestion that today's announcement is somehow an effort to stop the FBI's investigation of Russia's attempt to influence the election last fall is misplaced," Collins said, not realizing that Trump and White House aides would soon after connect Comey's firing with the Russia scandal.

The next morning, the Washington Post published a piece from Hugh Hewitt, a prominent conservative pundit, who embraced the message the White House encouraged Trump's defenders to repeat.
Anyone who thinks this is connected to a coverup of "Russian collusion" has to believe that both [Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein] and [Attorney General Jeff Sessions] would participate in such a corrupt scheme. I don't. It is, in fact, absurd to think that. Reread the Rosenstein memo -- a few times. There's the story. Comey was wrong in July, wrong in subsequent statements, wrong as recently as last week and refused to admit error.

The story is a straight-line one, and it's about Rosenstein.
What Hewitt had no way of knowing when he wrote this is that the White House would soon after abandon the "it's about Rosenstein" narrative. In fact, Donald Trump himself said yesterday that Rosenstein's memo on Comey was irrelevant -- the president had already decided to fire the FBI director regardless of what Justice Department officials recommended -- and he was motivated to fire Comey because of the Russia scandal.

Consider all of the assorted partisans and pundits this week who stuck up for Trump, defended his abuse, and said with a straight face that Comey's firing was completely unrelated to the FBI's investigation into the Russia scandal. Then consider how they must have felt yesterday when the president they tried to support cut them off at the knees.

It must be exhausting being a Trump supporter, knowing that even if you're loyal, even if you're sycophantic, even if you say and do exactly what the West Wing implores you to say and do, the president may decide to impulsively switch directions and undermine your credibility without so much as a warning.

You may stick out your neck for this administration, only to have Trump himself lower the proverbial sword.
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Image: U.S.  President Trump listens during joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg at the White House in Washington

Trump threatens Comey with provocative reference to 'tapes'

05/12/17 10:12AM

Donald Trump had the latest in a series of Twitter tantrums this morning, which wouldn't ordinarily be especially notable, except this one included what appeared to be a provocative threat:
"James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
As 19-word presidential missives go, this may be prove to be quite consequential.

On the surface, Trump's tweet appears to be a not-so-veiled threat against the former FBI director, whom the president fired this week because of Trump's opposition to Comey's investigation into the Russia scandal. This, in and of itself, is outrageously inappropriate and of dubious legality.

Indeed, the fact that the president is publicly warning a potential witness to remain quiet only adds to concerns about Trump possibly obstructing justice. Norm Eisen, the chief ethics lawyer in the Obama White House, characterized the president's tweet this morning as a possible crime.

But then there's that reference to "tapes."
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Trump struggles to explain Michael Flynn controversy

05/12/17 09:24AM

Perhaps the president could explain what he considers an "emergency."
President Donald Trump defended the delay in firing former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in exclusive interview on Thursday with NBC News' Lester Holt.

There was an 18-day gap between the heads up from former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates regarding Flynn's activities with the Russians and his removal by the White House.

"(White House counsel Don) McGahn came back to me and did not sound like an emergency," Trump said of Yates' information about Flynn.
Hmm. President Obama had warned Trump about Michael Flynn; there were multiple news accounts on Flynn receiving money from Russia; and then the acting U.S. Attorney General warned the White House -- multiple times -- that the White House National Security Advisor had been compromised by Russia and was vulnerable to a foreign adversary's blackmail.

Trump heard this and thought it "did not sound like an emergency." In fact, the president decided to do nothing and continued to provide Flynn with access to the nation's most sensitive secrets.

In yesterday's interview with NBC News' Lester Holt, Trump added, "This man (Flynn) has served for many years, he's a general, he's a -- in my opinion -- a very good person. I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general."

Even for Trump, this is bizarre. The person "we don't even know" referred to Sally Yates, who happens to be the Justice Department official that Trump named as acting Attorney General. She's also the one who told Trump's White House that Flynn was not only compromised, and not only lying about his Russian contacts, but that the "underlying conduct" Flynn was lying about was itself problematic.

And yet, at this point, Trump is still defending Flynn.
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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence waits for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Mike Pence gets caught making yet another bogus claim

05/12/17 08:40AM

There's room for an interesting debate about who's ultimately to blame for Mike Pence's public falsehoods, but there's no denying the fact that the list of the vice president's bogus claims is getting longer. Politico reported yesterday:
Vice President Mike Pence has once again delivered the White House line, in the face of growing contradictory evidence, on a charged topic related to Russia's possible connections to the Trump campaign.

In meetings on Capitol Hill and in interviews, Pence has said this week that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
In fact, Pence was rather specific when talking to reporters on Wednesday, saying, "Let me be very clear that the president's decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI was based solely and exclusively on his commitment to the best interests of the American people and to ensuring that the FBI has the trust and confidence of the people this nation."

We now know these comments weren't true -- because Pence's boss has now admitted as much. Trump acknowledged yesterday that his decision to fire the FBI director wasn't related to the Justice Department's recommendations, and wasn't "based solely and exclusively" on the national interest. On the contrary, the president said it was Comey's investigation into the Russia scandal that served as the motivation for the firing.

Pence also said Wednesday that it was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who "made the recommendation" on Comey, which Trump accepted. We now know that's not what happened: Trump told Rosenstein to write the memo to justify a decision the president had already made.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday that it's "a terrible thing to watch" the vice president undermine his own credibility this way. That's true, but let's not forget that it's also a terrible thing that Pence keeps doing this.
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Trump's admission bolsters allegations of obstruction of justice

05/12/17 08:00AM

As the controversy surrounding Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey intensifies, one of the key questions is whether the president obstructed justice by firing the person overseeing the investigation into the Russia scandal. Trump's allies have gone to great lengths this week to argue that the firing and the investigation have nothing to do with one another.

The president, however, has now admitted that those defenses are wrong. In an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt yesterday, Trump admitted he was motivated by concerns about the Russia scandal when he decided to oust Comey from his FBI post.
"[W]hen I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story."
About the same time as the interview, Trump's spokesperson also told reporters that by firing Comey, the White House has "taken steps" to end the investigation into the Russia scandal.

Democrats don't need to make the case that Trump obstructed justice; Trump and his team are doing it for them.

Perhaps you've seen a crime drama in which the smart detective sits down with a suspect and tries to cleverly get the accused to confess to the crime. In this case, however, the task is made far easier by the fact that the president has dropped the pretense of innocence. Trump is effectively admitting he's guilty.

And as Rachel noted on the show last night, the only appropriate remedy for a president who's obstructed justice is impeachment.
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.11.17

05/11/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* His ego wouldn't allow such a confrontation: "The White House has abandoned the idea of President Trump visiting FBI headquarters after being told he would not be greeted warmly, administration officials told NBC News."

* What a transparent joke: "President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday creating a commission aimed at investigating alleged vote fraud -- a move that drew swift rebuke from civil liberty groups and liberal lawmakers amid worries the panel's work could seek to justify voter suppression."

* Subpoena #1 in the Russia investigation: "President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, was subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday."

* Believable: "White House lawyers have had to warn President Donald Trump repeatedly against reaching out to his fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, two people familiar with the matter tell The Daily Beast."

* North Carolina: "Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday expressed his "shock and disappointment" in the small amount of federal disaster money the Trump administration and Congress authorized in the latest round of funding for Hurricane Matthew recovery in North Carolina – less than 1 percent of what the state requested."

* A story worth keeping an eye on: "Federal authorities on Thursday searched the offices of [Strategic Campaign Group] a political consulting firm in Annapolis that has worked with Republican candidates nationwide and was sued in 2014 on allegations of fraudulent fundraising practices."
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FBI Director James Comey testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

White House connects Comey firing, 'conclusion' of Russia probe

05/11/17 04:40PM

This was probably not a smart thing to say given the circumstances.
The White House said Thursday that removing FBI Director James Comey from his post may hasten the agency's investigation into Russian meddling.

"We want this to come to its conclusion, we want it to come to its conclusion with integrity," said deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders, referring to the FBI's probe into Moscow's interference in last year's election. "And we think that we've actually, by removing Director Comey, taken steps to make that happen."
CNN's report characterized this as a "surprising admission from the White House that Comey's sudden dismissal on Tuesday may have an effect on the Russia probe."

That's right.

In terms of the context, the White House's contradictions reflect a degree of internal chaos. Two days ago, in a Fox News interview, Sanders, the president's principal deputy press secretary, said the White House wants the investigation into the Russia scandal to end. "It's time to move on," she argued.

A day later -- which is to say, yesterday -- during the White House press briefing, Sanders changed direction, saying the president wants the investigation to keep going. Trump, she said, wants Justice Department officials "to continue with whatever they see appropriate and sees fit, just the same as he's encouraged the House and Senate committees to continue any ongoing investigations."

And today, she changed back, saying the White House wants the investigation to "come to its conclusion."

But looking past the inconsistencies, the more serious concern is the White House linking Comey's firing to Team Trump's desire to see the probe end.
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Trump contradicts his own White House team on Comey firing

05/11/17 03:02PM

On Tuesday night, in a written statement, the White House said Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey "based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions." The same evening, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the decision was the Justice Department's.

On Wednesday morning, Sarah Sanders added that Trump "made a decision based on" the DOJ's recommendations, and in light of Rosenstein's memo, the president had "no choice" but to fire Comey. Kellyanne Conway made similar comments to a national audience.

According to Donald Trump, his own White House is wrong. The president sat down today with NBC News' Lester Holt, who asked about how Trump's decision came to fruition. Here was the exchange:
HOLT: Monday you met with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein--

TRUMP: Right.

HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation [on Comey]?

TRUMP: What I did is, I was going to fire [Comey]. My decision, it was not--

HOLT: You had made the decision before they came in the room.

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey.
When the NBC anchor noted the White House's written claim about the recommendations from the Justice Department, Trump couldn't have been clearer about his intentions.

"Oh, I was gonna fire regardless of [the] recommendation," the president said.
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A crest of the Federal Bureau of Investi

With Comey firing, Trump delivers 'a gut punch' to the FBI

05/11/17 12:42PM

Throughout much of the last year, before and after Election Day, Donald Trump took jaw-dropping shots at U.S. intelligence agencies, questioning their competence, judgment, and professionalism. At one point, the Republican even compared American intelligence professionals to Nazis.

For a president to launch these kinds of rhetorical attacks was outrageous on its face, and it creates a dangerous governing dynamic. But Trump's tantrums were also at odds with his own self-interest. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Rachel earlier this year, "You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you. So even for a practical supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he's being really dumb to do this."

The comment came to mind reading the Washington Post's report on Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, and how the news was received by Comey's former colleagues.
Within the Justice Department and the FBI, the firing of Comey has left raw anger, and some fear, according to multiple officials. Thomas O'Connor, the president of the FBI Agents Association, called Comey's firing "a gut punch. We didn't see it coming, and we don't think Director Comey did anything that would lead to this.''

Many employees said they were furious about the firing, saying the circumstances of his dismissal did more damage to the FBI's independence than anything Comey did in his three-plus years in the job.

One intelligence official who works on Russian espionage matters said they were more determined than ever to pursue such cases. Another said Comey's firing and the subsequent comments from the White House are attacks that won't soon be forgotten. Trump had "essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI," one official said. "I think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind."
At a press briefing yesterday, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters, "[T]he rank-and-file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director." There's very little evidence to back that up, but perhaps we're about to learn whether the rank-and-file of the FBI have lost confidence in their president.
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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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