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China's President Xi Jinping walks during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta October 2, 2013.

China has 'serious concerns' about Trump's provocative posturing

12/12/16 10:00AM

Ten days ago, Donald Trump spoke directly with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, which sent shockwaves through the international community. It was the first direct, high-level communication between the United States and Taiwan in decades, undermining the "One-China" policy, and uprooting decades of carefully crafted, delicate diplomacy that had been honored by both parties.

Evidently, our president-elect isn't quite done provoking Beijing. Fox News' Chris Wallace asked Trump about his approach in an interview that aired yesterday.
WALLACE: You recently took a call from the president of Taiwan, and on the Sunday shows, including ours, some of your top aides said, oh, it was just a congratulatory call. But the next day, some of your top aides said, no, in fact, you had been thinking about this for weeks in advance to send a message. So, which is it?

TRUMP: Oh, it's all wrong. No, no. It's all wrong. Not weeks. I took a call. I heard the call was coming probably an hour or two before. I fully understand the One-China policy. But I don't know why we have to be bound by a One-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.
"One China" has been U.S. policy since 1972, U.S. officials recognized Beijing as the legitimate capital of China in 1978; and the U.S. closed its embassy in Taiwan in 1979.

This does, however, get complicated. While we don't officially recognize Taiwan, we do have back-channel talks with the country and we even sell military equipment to the Taiwanese. Navigating these diplomatic waters, while maintaining a healthy relationship with the world's most populous nation -- a burgeoning superpower for the 21st century -- requires delicacy and patience.

Donald Trump, however, wants to start breaking stuff, apparently to see what happens.
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Image: President Elect Trump Continues His "Thank You Tour" In Grand Rapids, Michigan

Trump falsely claims Russia scandal wasn't brought up before election

12/12/16 09:21AM

On CBS's "Face the Nation," Donald Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, fielded questions about allegations that Vladimir Putin's Russian government took deliberate steps to help put Trump in the White House. Conway said there's "no evidence" to support the allegation, thought the Central Intelligence Agency clearly disagrees.

But just as importantly Conway characterized concerns about Russian interference as something new: "[I]f you go back and you listen to Clinton campaign spokespeople on your program and others, if you listen to their private briefings to media and others, they said very little about this."

Trump himself pushed a similar line this morning via Twitter: "Why wasn't this brought up before election?"

It was brought up before the election -- many, many times.

Hillary Clinton, for example, brought up this scandal in the first presidential debate, and then pushed the line even more aggressively in the second, only to keep driving the point home in the third.
"It's pretty clear you won't admit that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.

"So I think that this is such an unprecedented situation. We've never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing."
And it wasn't just Clinton. The White House put the spotlight on this; congressional Democrats did the same; hell, I wrote wrote dozens of posts about this myself.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump explains skipped intel briefings: 'I'm, like, a smart person'

12/12/16 08:40AM

As recently as 2014, Donald Trump seemed deeply interested in President Obama and his daily intelligence briefing. In fact, the Republican, the year before launching his presidential campaign, seemed convinced that Obama wasn't taking the national-security briefings as seriously as he should.

"Fact -- Obama does not read his intelligence briefings nor does he get briefed in person by the CIA or DOD," Trump complained, making up details that in no way reflected reality. Around the same time, Trump added, "Obama has missed 58% of his intelligence briefings" -- which, again, was completely untrue.

With his whining in mind, there is some irony to the fact that Trump is now a president-elect who's skipped nearly all of his intelligence briefings. In an interview that aired yesterday, Fox News' Chris Wallace asked the Republican about his disinterest in receiving classified information from U.S. intelligence agencies. "Well, I get it when I need it," the least experienced president-elect in the nation's history explained.

It led to this extraordinary answer.
"I don't have to be told -- you know, I'm, like, a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years. It could be eight years -- but eight years. I don't need that.

"But I do say if something should change, let us know. Now, in the meantime, my generals are great, are being briefed. Mike Pence is being briefed, who is, by the way, one of my very good decisions. He's terrific. And they're being briefed. And I'm being briefed also.

"But if they're going to come in and tell me the exact same thing that they told me, you know, that doesn't change necessarily. There might be times where it might change. I mean, there will be some very fluid situations. I'll be there not every day but more than that.

"But I don't need to be told, Chris, the same thing every day, every morning, same words. 'Sir, nothing has changed. Let's go over it again.' I don't need that."
You've got to be be kidding me.
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Then, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, on Oct. 22, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Russian efforts to boost Trump campaign jolt political world

12/12/16 08:00AM

Reports of Russian officials intervening in the American presidential election have been percolating for months. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence looked into the allegations, and the agencies came to the same conclusion: Vladimir Putin's government deliberately interfered with America's presidential election.

But as Rachel explained on Friday's show, the controversy took an extraordinary turn on Friday night with the publication of a blockbuster report from the Washington Post about the Central Intelligence Agency's findings.
The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton's chances.
A senior U.S. official, briefed on an intelligence presentation made to members of Congress, told the Post that it's "the consensus view" of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia's alleged crimes had one specific purpose: "Russia's goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected."

There's been some speculation in recent months that Putin's suspected interference was intended to undermine American democracy in general, casting doubts about the strength of our system and its institutions. The Washington Post's report indicates that those assessments were incomplete: Russia wanted Donald Trump in the White House, so Russian officials allegedly took a variety of criminal steps to ensure that outcome.

The White House, swayed by the evidence, wanted bipartisan support to pushback against Russian intrusion, and in mid-September, President Obama dispatched counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco, FBI Director James Comey, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to brief top members of Congress (the "Gang of 12"). Obama didn't want to be seen as using intelligence for partisan or electoral ends, so he sought a "show of solidarity and bipartisan unity" against foreign manipulation of our democracy.

That didn't happen, in large part because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused, raising questions about whether the Republican leader intentionally put his party's interests ahead of the nation's.
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The Official White House Christmas Tree arrives at the White House in Washington, Nov. 27, 2015. This year's White House Christmas Tree is an 18.5-foot Fraser fir grown by Jay and Glenn Bustard in Lansdale, Penn. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

This Week in God, 12.10.16

12/10/16 08:00AM

First up from the God Machine this week, whether most Americans realized it or not, the "War on Christmas" has apparently ended -- and Donald Trump won. The Huffington Post noted the unintentionally funny news a few days ago.
One of Donald Trump's surrogates is declaring victory on the so-called War on Christmas.

Speaking on Fox News on Tuesday night, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski claimed it was safe to say "Merry Christmas" again.
Lewandowski, a Trump advisor and former campaign manager, proudly declared, "You can say again, 'Merry Christmas,' because Donald Trump is now the president. You can say it again, it's OK to say; it's not a pejorative word anymore."

Evidently, had the winner of the popular vote prevailed in the presidential election, Americans wouldn't be able to wish each other a "Merry Christmas." I guess we dodged a holiday-themed bullet.

This comes just a few months after one of Trump's adult children said the Republican launched his national campaign because "the tree on the White House lawn has been renamed 'Holiday tree' instead of 'Christmas tree.'" In reality, the tree on the White House lawn wasn't actually renamed at all -- Eric Trump made this up -- but as a pro-Trump pundit recently explained, there's "no such thing" as facts anymore.

As for why in the world a prominent Trump ally would tie the president-elect's win with holiday greetings, The New Republic's Alex Shephard explained, "Trump's attraction to 'Merry Christmas' was never based on his religious belief, it was based on it being a (practically audible) dog whistle to those who believe that America is being threatened by multiculturalism."

Message delivered.

Also from the God Machine this week:
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Friday's Mini-Report, 12.9.16

12/09/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This is a story worth watching closely: "President Barack Obama has ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to deliver to him a dossier of the evidence that the Russian government used cyber attacks and other means to intervene in the 2016 election, possibly with the idea of making more information public, a senior intelligence official tells NBC News."

* Perhaps the best news I've heard all week: "Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has removed his name from consideration for a position in President-elect Donald Trump’s new administration, the Trump transition team said on Friday." Note, he's not just out of contention for Secretary of State; Giuliani is out altogether.

* South Carolina: "Dylann Roof began his videotaped confession with 11 chilling words: 'I went to that church in Charleston and I did it.' And then for the next two or three hours, the self-declared white supremacist described to the FBI how he gunned down nine black worshippers last year at a historic South Carolina church in a bid to spark a race war."

* Not many vacant cabinet slots left: "President-elect Donald Trump is expected to tap Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) to lead the Interior Department, according to a person familiar with the matter... [If confirmed,McMorris Rodgers], would lead Mr. Trump's efforts to open up federal lands and waters to fossil-fuel development and reverse environmental policies the Obama administration has pursued over the past eight years."

Korea: "For her nearly four years in office, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea cooperated closely with the United States, particularly when it came to dealing with her volatile neighbor, North Korea. Her impeachment on Friday now throws both her country and American policy in the region into deep uncertainty, as the North's nuclear program advances and the incoming administration of Donald J. Trump deliberates over whether to adjust Washington's stance."

* Technically, there's a chance we'll have a brief government shutdown tonight, but don't bet on it: "Senate Democrats are fighting a legislative battle they appear unlikely to win, demanding new negotiations on a critical spending bill after Senate Republicans have already closed off talks and the House has gone home for the holidays."

* Alabama "executed a former Eagle scout on Thursday for a convenience store killing in 1994, the 20th person executed in the United States this year and the second in Alabama."
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Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn arrives at Trump Tower, Nov. 17, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Trump's National Security Advisor struggles to outrun his record

12/09/16 04:59PM

It's become something of a parlor game in some political circles: of all the people Donald Trump has chosen for key government posts, which one has you the most frightened? Which nominee/appointee is likely to do the most harm?

For what it's worth, my vote would go to Michael Flynn. To understand why, consider this new report from CNN's Andrew Kaczynski.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's pick to be his national security adviser, claimed in an August radio interview that Arabic signs were present along the United States border with Mexico to guide potential state-sponsored terrorists and "radicalized Muslims" into the United States.

Flynn further said in the interview he had personally seen photos of such signs in Texas.
All available evidence suggests no such signs exist in reality. In fact, no one, anywhere, has been able to substantiate such bizarre claims, which Flynn appears to have either made up out of whole cloth, or learned from one of his weird sources, who made it up out of whole cloth.

Either way, this isn't the sort of thing we'd expect from a White House NSA -- though increasingly, it's exactly the sort of thing we'd expect from Michael Flynn, who's embraced all kinds of bizarre theories and conspiracies, both before and during his tenure as a leading Donald Trump ally.

As we talked about the other day, when the president of the United States has a chief national security advisor who struggles to separate fact from politically satisfying fiction, but who nevertheless is responsible for identifying key information that should matter to the man in the Oval Office, there's a real problem.

A Politico piece added, "[S]ome say Flynn's fondness for spreading fake news casts doubt on his fitness to serve as the White House's national security adviser, suggesting that he either can't spot a blatant falsehood or is just ideologically bent to believe the worst of his perceived enemies."

Indeed, even some of his allies are starting to come to the same conclusion.
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A trader works at the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, April 16, 2012.

Trump eyes yet another Goldman Sachs vet for his team

12/09/16 12:52PM

In February, Edward Snowden characterized the 2016 presidential election as "a choice between Donald Trump and Goldman Sachs." Ten months later, the assessment isn't holding up especially well.

The Washington Post reported last week that Gary Cohn, president of Goldman Sachs, walked into Trump Tower recently, it served as a reminder that "one of the world's most important banks is making its way back into Washington's inner circle." Americans' election of Donald Trump means that Goldman Sachs and the rest of the Wall Street elite "are poised to come roaring back."

And that assessment is looking more and more true all the time. CNBC reported this morning:
Donald Trump has offered Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn a key economic post, which would add to the administration another veteran of the powerful firm he bashed during his campaign, sources close to Cohn told NBC News.

Cohn, Goldman's 56-year-old president and chief operating officer, has been offered the directorship of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy, the sources said.
If Cohn accepts the invitation, he'll join two other Goldman Sachs veterans who've already accepted leading roles in the incoming administration: Steven Mnuchin, Trump's choice for Treasury Secretary, and Steve Bannon, Trump's chief White House strategist.

Part of the problem, of course, is that Trump assured voters he'd "drain the swamp," targeting special interests' power in Washington, claims that now appear almost comical in hindsight. But of even greater interest is what Trump said as a candidate about this particular financial giant.
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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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