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Carter Page transcript sheds new light on Trump-Russia scandal

11/07/17 10:40AM

It was just last year when Donald Trump personally singled out Carter Page, by name, as one of only a handful of people who were advising him on matters of foreign policy. As regular readers know, this has become highly problematic: the FBI has investigated Page as a possible agent of Russia.

Last night, Page's role in the Trump-Russia scandal took on new salience with the release of a 243-page transcript of his recent discussion with the House Intelligence Committee. NBC News reported:

Former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page, who has come under scrutiny in the investigation of Russian election interference, told a House committee that he sought permission for a July 2016 trip to Moscow from senior Trump campaign officials, and reported to other Trump officials about the trip when he returned.

It's long been known that Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016, but he has said it was in his private capacity, unrelated to his role with the Trump campaign.

Page, whose sworn testimony was released Monday night, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that he sought permission to make the trip from campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and also notified Hope Hicks, who is now the White House communications director.

This is no small revelation. We'd known about Page traveling to Moscow during the campaign -- which is itself a rather extraordinary step -- when he met with prominent Russian officials. What's new and important here is the fact that Page told his colleagues on the Trump campaign about his trip, including top members of the Republican candidate's team.

Indeed, as the NBC News report makes clear, Page "served on a campaign foreign policy advisory committee under the supervision of Jeff Sessions, who was then a senator and is now the attorney general." Sessions was also among those on Team Trump who was notified of Page's July 2016 Moscow trip.

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Syria backs climate accord, further isolating the United States

11/07/17 10:00AM

Today's news is as embarrassing as it is dangerous.

Syria announced during United Nations climate talks on Tuesday that it would sign the Paris agreement on climate change. The move, which comes on the heels of Nicaragua signing the accord last month, will leave the United States as the only country that has rejected the global pact.

According to several people who were in a plenary session at the climate talks in Bonn, Germany, a Syrian delegate announced that the country was poised to send its ratification of the Paris agreement to the United Nations.

In case anyone needs a refresher, it was just two years ago when representatives of 195 countries met in Paris and reached a historic international agreement to combat the climate crisis. Only two countries -- Syria and Nicaragua -- rejected the accord. At the time, Nicaragua insisted the agreement didn't go far enough, while Syria, in the midst of a devastating civil war, didn't participate in the talks, in large part because of sanctions imposed on the Assad government.

Over the summer, Donald Trump announced that the United States, which used to try to lead internationally on climate, was withdrawing from the accord, joining Syria and Nicaragua.

But two weeks ago, Nicaragua announced its support for the Paris climate policy, and today Syria has reportedly done the same. The resulting dynamic is extraordinary: literally every country on the planet supports the agreement, except us, thanks to Donald Trump.

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A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

So far, ACA enrollment numbers are 'a big surprise'

11/07/17 09:20AM

For American health care consumers, last week was the start of the Affordable Care Act's open-enrollment period, which was notable in part because of the Trump-era changes. The White House hasn't made much of an effort to hide the fact that the Trump administration hopes to sabotage the health care system, and to that end, officials have taken unmistakable steps to discourage participation.

As the Washington Post noted, those efforts don't appear to be working.

In the first few days of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, the numbers of participants has surged compared with the past, according to federal officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the administration has yet to release official numbers.

More than 200,000 Americans chose a plan on Nov. 1, the day open enrollment began, according to one administration official. That's more than double the number of consumers who signed up on the first day of enrollment last year. More than 1 million people visited HeathCare.gov, the official federal website, the official said, which amounts to roughly a 33 percent increase in traffic compared with 2016.

Note, this only offers a piece of a larger image, since roughly a quarter of the states have their own exchange marketplaces that operate independently from HeathCare.gov, and we don't yet have a sense of how their first week of enrollments went.

But the evidence that is available at the national level looks like great news for the health care system -- even if it's bad news for Donald Trump's political agenda. The president seemed to personally take it upon himself to depress enrollment totals -- it's difficult to count just how many times Trump declared the ACA "dead" -- and it appears he can't even do that properly.

The Post's article quoted one state official who said this year's numbers may even set a record, and it's "a big surprise."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers remarks while campaigning at Regent University on Oct. 22, 2016 in Virginia Beach, Va.

To win elections, Trump likes to create alternate universes

11/07/17 08:40AM

Throughout much of 2016, Donald Trump had an important challenge to overcome. Among his troubles was the fact that Barack Obama was a popular president, leading in a time of low unemployment and low crime, making it difficult for a Republican to make the case for a radical change in the nation's direction.

And so, Trump created an alternate universe that better suited his purposes. How did the GOP candidate respond to low unemployment? By insisting that jobless rate was politically-motivated fiction, cooked up by corrupt officials hiding the truth. At different points in the campaign, Trump publicly argued that the unemployment rate was 20% – or possibly 42% – even as reality pointed to a rate below 5%.

Trump did the same thing when talking about crime rates. The Republican insisted repeatedly that the U.S. murder rate was at a 45-year high, despite the evidence that showed it near a 50-year low. (The Trump campaign ultimately said the FBI might be lying in its crime statistics.)

Watching Trump replace our reality with an alternate universe was, of course, disorienting, which was very likely the point. What we didn't realize at the time, however, is that would become the first page in his playbook on how to win elections.

Virginians will go to the polls today to elect a new governor, and the president desperately hopes former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie prevails. Republicans, however, face a familiar dynamic: the Democratic incumbent enjoys fairly broad support, and Virginia has thrived in recent years.

Naturally, Trump's solution is to once again create an alternate reality. "The state of Virginia economy, under Democrat rule, has been terrible," the president said yesterday. He added this morning that the commonwealth is plagued by "high crime and poor economic performance."

Whether the president understands this or not, he's completely wrong.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

A year after his election, Trump faces historically weak support

11/07/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump told reporters the other day that he considered hosting a celebration to honor the one-year anniversary of his surprise election victory, before ultimately deciding against it.

Given the latest evidence, 364 days after Trump stunned the world, that was probably one of his smartest decisions to date. Because at this point, as Americans take stock of this bizarre presidency, much of the country doesn't appear to be in a celebrating mood.

A majority of Americans say President Trump has not accomplished much during his first nine months in office and they have delivered a report card that is far harsher even than the tepid expectations they set for his tenure when he was sworn into office, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News survey.

Approaching the first anniversary of his victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, Trump has an approval rating demonstrably lower than any previous chief executive at this point in his presidency over seven decades of polling. Fewer than 4 in 10 Americans -- 37 percent -- say they approve of the way he is handling his job.

The historical context matters: since the advent on modern polling, no president has struggled this severely to earn public support one year after his election. Indeed, several modern presidents never saw their support drop to Trump-like depths, even after years in office.

And it's not just the Washington Post-ABC News survey. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Trump's public standing dropping to an all-time low last week. The same is true of the latest Fox News poll. The same is also true of a new CNN poll released yesterday.

The president told the New York Times last week that the Republican National Committee recently conducted polling in swing states, and he was pleased with the results. "I just got fantastic poll numbers," Trump boasted, declining to offer any evidence.

What we're left with is a dynamic in which we can believe secret data that Trump claims exists or public data, all of which is pointing in the opposite direction.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 11.6.17

11/06/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A familiar dynamic: "Democratic lawmakers are renewing their calls for gun control, following the largest mass shooting in Texas history, as Republicans, including President Donald Trump and local lawmakers, insisted firearms are not the problem."

* Saudi Arabia: "The Saudi leadership shake-up and wave of arrests over the weekend have rattled potential investors in the kingdom's ambitious modernization drive to create a new city, diversify the economy and sell off a slice of the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil company."

* In related news: "Saudi Arabia charged Monday that Iran had committed 'a blatant act of military aggression' by providing its Yemeni allies with a missile fired at the Saudi capital over the weekend, raising the threat of a direct military clash between the two regional heavyweights."

* Trump-Russia scandal: "Kremlin-backed support for Donald Trump's candidacy over social media began much earlier than previously known, a new analysis of Twitter data shows."

* It's called sabotage: "In preparation for the Affordable Care Act's latest enrollment season, the Trump administration sent notices about the sign-up options to millions fewer Americans than in past years and deleted themes known to be most effective in motivating consumers to sign up."

* Welcome back: "Rep. Frederica Wilson received a warm welcome at the Capitol Wednesday, her first time back since death threats kept her home in Florida last week amid a feud with President Donald Trump."

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

Trump World's dishonesty about its Russia contacts matters

11/06/17 04:35PM

Just how many members of Team Trump were in contact with Russia before Donald Trump's presidential inauguration? The Washington Post published an interesting tally that puts the number at nine.

In all, documents and interviews show there are at least nine Trump associates who had contacts with Russians during the campaign or presidential transition. Some are well-known, and others, such as [Trump foreign policy adviser George] Papadopoulos, have been more on the periphery.

The "at least" caveat makes some sense, because the overall number is arguably larger, but nine seems like a decent place to start: Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, J.D. Gordon, Jeff Sessions, and Michael Flynn.

There's no shortage of angles to this, but I want to focus on just a couple. The first is the dishonesty.

As regular readers know, Trump World told the public repeatedly, over the course of several months, that there were no communications between the Trump campaign and Russia during Russia's attack on the American elections. It's one of the most dramatic falsehoods Team Trump pushed as the scandal unfolded.

Indeed, just a few days before Inauguration Day, for example, CBS's John Dickerson asked Mike Pence, "Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?"

The vice president-elect responded at the time, “Of course not.”

This wasn’t an isolated incident. As we discussed in February, when reports first surfaced that Russia was in talks with Team Trump during Russia’s election crimes, the response from the Republican camp was categorical: those communications simply did not happen. Even after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov acknowledged that “there were contacts” between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign team ahead of Nov. 8, Team Trump kept insisting otherwise.

Indeed, Trump and his aides left no wiggle room on the subject. Kellyanne Conway, asked about the possibility of these communications between the Republican campaign and Russians, said, “Absolutely not.” She added the conversations “never happened” and any suggestions to the contrary “undermine our democracy.”

At a pre-inaugural press conference, Donald Trump himself said no one from his team was in contact with Russians during the campaign. During his tenure, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also denied the communications.

What's more, there's ample reason to believe various officials in the Trump campaign knew about the Russian contacts, even while the campaign denied the communications were happening.

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Image: President Trump Meets With The National Association of Manufacturers

Trump reportedly told tribal leaders to ignore federal laws

11/06/17 12:49PM

The Constitution's Article II doesn't go into a lot of detail when describing the duties of the president, but it does include a rather specific responsibility: a president, the Constitution mandates, "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Whether Donald Trump cares about honoring this obligation is open to some debate. Axios, for example, published a report yesterday on a recent meeting in which the president allegedly told a group of people they should feel free to ignore federal laws.

In late June, President Trump hosted a group of Native American tribal leaders at the White House and urged them to "just do it" and extract whatever they want from the land they control.

The exchange turned out to be an unusually vivid window into the almost kingly power that Trump sees himself as holding, and which he has begun describing with increasing bluntness. The scene was recounted by a source in the room and confirmed by another. The White House didn't dispute the story.

The chiefs explained to Trump that there were regulatory barriers preventing them from getting at their energy. Trump replied: "But now it's me. The government's different now. Obama's gone; and we're doing things differently here."

As Axios described the scene, it was at this point in which the tribal leaders paused, looked at each other, and seemed uncertain about how to proceed.

Trump, however, was reportedly emphatic, telling one of the tribal leaders, "Chief, chief, what are they going to do? Once you get it out of the ground are they going to make you put it back in there? I mean, once it's out of the ground it can't go back in there. You've just got to do it. I'm telling you, chief, you've just got to do it."

Just so we're clear, "it" refers to breaking the law, and "they" refer to officials from Trump's own administration who have a responsibility to act in accordance with the law.

As Axios' report tells it, Native American leaders still weren't sure whether they should take the president's instructions at face value, so Trump again encouraged them to simply ignore the existing legal framework. "Guys, I feel like you're not hearing me right now," he added. "We've just got to do it. I feel like we've got no choice; other countries are just doing it. China is not asking questions about all of this stuff. They're just doing it. And guys, we've just got to do it."

By way of an analysis, Axios added that Trump "sees himself above the traditions, limits and laws of the presidency," which helps explain why he was reportedly comfortable telling a group of White House visitors that they should feel free to commit crimes with his blessing.

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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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