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Friday's Mini-Report, 2.9.18

02/09/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Huge news breaking at the Justice Department: "Rachel L. Brand, the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, plans to step down after nine months on the job as the country's top law enforcement agency has been under attack by President Trump, according to two people briefed on her decision."

* White House scuttlebutt: "John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, told officials in the West Wing on Friday that he was willing to step down over his handling of allegations of spousal abuse against Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned in disgrace this week over the accusations, according to two officials aware of the discussions."

* On a related note: "President Donald Trump, frustrated by his staff's handling of the abuse allegations against Rob Porter, is increasingly venting about Chief of Staff John Kelly and speculating about potential replacements, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter."

* This guy: "House lawmakers celebrated themselves this week for passing a bill that cracks down on sexual harassers in Congress. But they have an alleged harasser in their midst who is trying to quietly slip by: Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas)."

* Hmm: "The FBI was monitoring Carter Page when the former Trump campaign adviser says he spoke with Trump adviser Steve Bannon about Russia in January 2017, raising the strong possibility that the FBI intercepted a conversation between the two men."

* Devin Nunes: "Last month, an attorney expressed his outrage with leaders of the House Intelligence Committee: He demanded to know why a committee official shared his client's secret testimony with another lawyer, a blatant violation of the panel's rules."

* A sensible choice: "Ethics experts were over the moon with President Donald Trump's selection to lead the Office of Government Ethics, Emory Rounds."

* Speaking of executive-branch picks: "President Trump's nominee to lead the Internal Revenue Service is a longtime tax lawyer who has specialized in defending people and companies against the tax agency in court."

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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Key Trump ally in Congress 'goes off the rails' with odd allegation

02/09/18 05:03PM

When Donald Trump is feeling especially desperate about the Russia scandal, the president will insist that his political operation never colluded with Putin's government -- but Hillary Clinton's did. Even for a guy who loves playing a childish I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I game, the whole line comes across as desperate and a little silly.

And with that in mind, it seemed a little worse when Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, started pushing Trump's talking point.

In a remarkable interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes on Monday night claimed it was the Hillary Clinton campaign that had been the real Russian collaborator, and had effectively weaponized the FBI against Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election.

"It's what happens in banana republics. It's scary," said the California Republican, who claimed that the controversial memo released by the House intel panel last week on a party-line vote showed a "clear link" between the Clinton campaign and Russia.

Maybe, under the circumstances, this guy might want to steer clear of banana republic references.

Nevertheless, two days later, Nunes repeated the line on Hugh Hewitt's radio show: "The truth is that they [Democrats] are covering up that Hillary Clinton colluded with the Russians to get dirt on Trump to feed it to the FBI to open up an investigation into the other campaign."

So, is there any truth to this? No. The Washington Post fact-checked explained today:

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Trump's comments on Porter controversy come up short

02/09/18 03:47PM

As the controversy surrounding former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter continues, Vice President Mike Pence spoke to NBC News' Lester Holt about the story today, and said largely the right things. Pence said he was "appalled" when he learned of the allegations this week, before adding that the White House has "no tolerance" for domestic abuse and there's "no place in America" for the crime.

This afternoon in the Oval Office, Donald Trump also addressed the controversy publicly for the first time, though the president's comments struck a slightly different tone.

"Well, we wish [Porter] well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It's obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job while he was in the White House. And we hope that he has a wonderful career -- hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him.

"But it was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he's also very sad. Now, he also, as you probably know, he says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent, so you'll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. He did a very good job while he was at the White House."

That's not an excerpt of his response; it was the entirety of his response.

I thought it was at least possible Trump would condemn violence against women, even briefly, if for no other reason than to acknowledge the political circumstances surrounding his White House.

But he didn't. The president seems to think the important elements of the Porter story are the facts that his former staff secretary "worked very hard," did "a very good job," and is "very sad."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Porter hands document to Trump during signing ceremony in the Oval Office in Washington

With key questions unanswered, Porter scandal jolts White House

02/09/18 12:53PM

Donald Trump's White House is many things, but it's not apologetic. It was therefore a little surprising when Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah held a briefing yesterday and struck a conciliatory tone when asked about the scandal surrounding former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who resigned this week in the wake of allegations that he was violently abusive toward both of his ex-wives.

"I think it's fair to say that we all could have done better over the last few hours — or last few days in dealing with this situation," Shah conceded to reporters, on a day in which the White House struggled to keep its story straight.

It's a welcome sentiment, I suppose, though it's worth asking what, specifically, the White House believes it did wrong in this "situation."

For example, one of the things Trump World "could have done better" is take action long before this week. The Washington Post  reported overnight, for example:

White House Counsel Donald McGahn knew one year ago that staff secretary Rob Porter's ex-wives were prepared to make damaging accusations about him that could threaten his security clearance but allowed him to serve as an influential gatekeeper and aide to President Trump without investigating the accusations, according to people familiar with the matter.

Chief of Staff John F. Kelly learned this fall about the allegations of spousal abuse and that they were delaying Porter's security clearance amid an ongoing FBI investigation. But Kelly handed Porter more responsibilities to control the flow of information to the president.

When the FBI alerted the White House to some of its findings about Porter, Team Trump didn't act. When Porter's security clearance was delayed, Team Trump didn't act. When one of Porter's accusers contacted the White House with alarming claims, Team Trump didn't act.

What's more, Politico  reported that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly "was told several weeks ago that the FBI would recommend denying full security clearances to multiple White House aides," including Porter. And yet, Kelly not only failed to act, he also vigorously defended Porter when the controversy first came to the public's attention this week.

The allegations of violence toward women weren't a secret. It's just that no one in the West Wing decided to do anything about them.

That said, it's not quite right to say White House officials knew about Porter's alleged violence and did nothing. They actually gave him access to highly classified materials.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.9.18

02/09/18 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) announced this morning that he's retiring at the end of the year, despite saying last year that he'd run again. This is a Republican pick-up opportunity for the midterms: Nolan's Minnesota district backed Donald Trump in 2016.

* In related news, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) announced yesterday he will seek another term, despite rumors to the contrary. Roe had promised local voters that he'd leave the House after 10 years of service. Now that he's been in the job for 10 years, Roe is apparently willing to break that promise.

* With Missouri Republicans feeling buyers' remorse about state Attorney General Josh Hawley's (R) Senate candidacy, GOP officials are reportedly turning to Rep. Ann Wagner (R), asking her to reconsider her decision not to run -- and the latest reports suggest she's open to the possibility.

* An odd campaign story out of Alabama: Bobby Bright was a Democratic congressman who lost to Republican Rep. Martha Roby in 2010. Now Bright has decided to run against Roby again, except this time, he's switched parties, become a Republican, and will take on Roby in a GOP primary.

* In Iowa, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll shows Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) leading each of her Democratic contenders in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups, though state Sen. Nate Boulton and retired businessman Fred Hubbell are both within five points of the incumbent.

* The same poll found Donald Trump with a 34% approval rating in Iowa, and just 26% of Iowans say they definitely intend to vote for him in 2020. In 2016, Trump won the state by 10 points.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump 'rarely if ever' reads his daily intelligence briefing

02/09/18 11:06AM

As regular readers may recall, Donald Trump has long taken an interest in the presidential daily intelligence briefing. In fact, in 2014, he seemed convinced that Barack Obama wasn't taking the national-security briefings as seriously as he should.

"Fact – Obama does not read his intelligence briefings," 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.

All of this seemed quite ironic when, during Trump's presidential transition process, he skipped nearly all of his intelligence briefings. Asked why, the Republican told Fox News in December 2016, "Well, I get it when I need it... I don't have to be told – you know, I'm, like, a smart person."

As his inauguration drew closer, Trump acknowledged that he likes very short intelligence briefings. "I like bullets or I like as little as possible," he explained in January 2017.

Intelligence professionals have gone to great lengths to accommodate the president's toddler-like attention span, preparing reports "with lots of graphics and maps." National Security Council officials have even learned that Trump is likely to stop reading important materials unless he sees his name, so they include his name in "as many paragraphs" as possible.

It's against this backdrop that the Washington Post had this remarkable report this morning:

For much of the past year, President Trump has declined to participate in a practice followed by the past seven of his predecessors: He rarely if ever reads the President's Daily Brief, a document that lays out the most pressing information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies from hot spots around the world.

Trump has opted to rely on an oral briefing of select intelligence issues in the Oval Office rather than getting the full written document delivered to review separately each day, according to three people familiar with his briefings.

Sometimes, a report can be both important and not surprising in the least.

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Trump sees his judges as 'one of the greatest achievements'

02/09/18 10:12AM

In his recent State of the Union address, Donald Trump boasted that Republicans are "appointing judges who will interpret the Constitution as written, including a great new Supreme Court Justice, and more circuit court judges than any new administration in the history of our country."

Unlike so many of the president's claims, this one was largely true. Now that filibusters are no longer an option on judicial nominees, the Republican-led Senate is confirming the Republican-led White House's court picks at a stunning clip -- including 13 appellate court judges in Trump's first year.

Soon after, Trump spoke at a GOP congressional retreat and kept his focus on the judiciary:

"And one of the things we're doing that's so important -- and Mitch has worked so hard on, and Don, and everybody -- is the justices, the judges all over the country. We're filling up the courts with really talented people who understand and read the Constitution for what it says.

"So it's really not talked about that much, but it is a tremendous impact. It's having already a tremendous impact. And we have incredible people lined up -- just lined up -- that are getting ready to go into the courts. And, in many ways, Mitch, I think it's going to be one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, that we're doing.... What we're doing with the courts, I think, is going to go down as one of the greatest achievements."

Trump's excitement is understandable at a certain level. Republicans have struggled in a wide variety of ways since the president took office, but when it comes to filling the federal courts with far-right nominees -- who serve lifetime appointments -- Democrats have been effectively powerless to stop the GOP's efforts.

But it's worth taking a moment to understand who, exactly, will end up benefiting from this "achievement."

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Virginia Senator Mark Warner as he addresses an election night rally in Arlington, Va. on Nov. 4, 2014. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

With Mark Warner conspiracy theory, Trump goes 0-for-3

02/09/18 09:22AM

Donald Trump was very excited about the Republicans' "Nunes memo," though the stunt clearly didn't work out well. The president was nearly as excited about a GOP report this week that suggested Barack Obama may have intervened in the FBI's Hillary Clinton probe, before the story was completely discredited.

But the guy who championed Birtherism for several years isn't the type to give up on the search for exciting new conspiracy theories. And so, Trump published this missive last night about Sen. Mark Warner (R-Va.), the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating the Russia scandal:

"Wow! -Senator Mark Warner got caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch. Warner did not want a 'paper trail' on a 'private' meeting (in London) he requested with Steele of fraudulent Dossier fame. All tied into Crooked Hillary."

The president -- who ostensibly has access to a vast, multi-billion-dollar intelligence apparatus, providing him with almost limitless amounts of vetted information -- was apparently relying on something he saw on Fox News.

And that's a shame, because Trump's latest bombshell is also a dud. As the HuffPost explained overnight:

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(L to R) President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, Nov. 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, N.J. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Defense Secretary reportedly ignored Trump request for Iran options

02/09/18 08:41AM

When Donald Trump's presidency was just getting started, the new president seemed eager to receive advice from James Mattis, the retired general who now serves as the Defense secretary. That did not, however, last very long.

Mattis urged the president not to move the U.S. embassy in Israel, and Trump ignored him. Mattis explained to the president that the international nuclear agreement with Iran was the basis for regional stability, and Trump ignored him again. Mattis spent weeks lobbying behind the scenes to help shape the president's June address to NATO leaders, and Trump "deleted" the language the Pentagon chief helped write.

But as it turns out, the Defense secretary occasionally ignores the White House, too. The Washington Post published an interesting profile on Mattis this week, which included an amazing anecdote.

For weeks, Mattis had been resisting requests from the White House to provide military options for Iran. Now Trump made clear that he wanted the Pentagon to deliver a range of plans that included striking Iranian ballistic missile factories or hitting Iranian speedboats that routinely harassed U.S. Navy vessels.

"Why can't we sink them?" Trump would sometimes ask about the boats.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster and his staff laid out the president's request for Mattis in a conference call, but the defense secretary refused, according to several U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations.

"In the weeks that followed," the article added, "the options never arrived."

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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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