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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz attends a Penn. campaign kickoff event held on N.Y. presidential primary night at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Penn. on April 19, 2016. (Photo by Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

A closer look at Ted Cruz's interest in Russian 'appeasement'

07/12/17 09:20AM

There were some fascinating exchanges yesterday between reporters and congressional Republicans on the Trump-Russia scandal, but for my money, it's tough to top the interview NBC News' Kasie Hunt had with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a Capitol Hill hallway.

HUNT: Is Russia an enemy of the United States?

CRUZ: Russia is a significant adversary. Putin is a KGB thug.

HUNT: Do you think that Trump is treating them that way?

CRUZ: I think that we have had eight years of Barack Obama showing nothing but appeasement towards Russia

HUNT: President Trump is not appeasing Russia?

The Texas Republican, reluctant to answer the question directly, kept trying to complain about Obama -- because some habits evidently die hard. Hunt ultimately reminded Cruz that Trump is trying to water down a bill on Russian sanctions that Cruz (and 96 other senators) voted for.

The GOP lawmaker responded, "The policies of the Obama administration were constant weakness and appeasement...."

Sure, this was unpleasant to watch. It was also rather predictable: despite Trump targeting Cruz's wife and father during their race for the Republican presidential nomination, the Texas senator votes with the White House's position more than 95% of the time and is eager to carry Trump's water.

But if Cruz sincerely wants to talk about Russian appeasement, he may not like where the conversation ends up.

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Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Russia scandal presents congressional Republicans with a choice

07/12/17 08:43AM

About a week before Iowa's presidential caucuses last year, Donald Trump delivered a memorable line while boasting about the loyalty of his allies. "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay?" the Republican bragged. "It's, like, incredible."

This was, in a way, prescient. At the time, Trump was referring to the unflinching support he enjoyed from much of the GOP base, but a year and a half later, it's hard not to wonder if he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and he wouldn't lose any congressional Republicans, either.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) said Monday evening that he would have done the same as Donald Trump Jr. in meeting with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

"Do I think it's appropriate? I think I probably would have done the same thing," Yoho told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I mean, it's opposition research. Anybody that's been in an election, you're always looking to get the upper hand."

The Florida Republican added, "I stand on the side of the president 100 percent on this."

There's a lot of this going around. While yesterday seemed to present the nation with a smoking gun -- we now know the Trump campaign knew about and welcomed Russia's intervention in the American election -- congressional Republicans were largely indifferent to the developments. The Washington Post reported, "What Democrats saw as a break in the Trump/Russia investigation was processed by many Republicans, and much of conservative media, as one more distraction that was likely being overhyped."

Vox, which ran a helpful quote collection, added, "Everybody at the US Capitol was rocked Tuesday by revelations that Donald Trump Jr. had accepted a meeting with someone whom he had been told was a representative of the Russian government, who had promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Everybody, that is, except Senate Republicans."

GOP lawmakers are not blind to the revelations. They know Russia launched the most serious attack on the United States since 9/11. They know Trump and his team lied about their contacts with Russian nationals. They know Trump fired an FBI director because of the president's opposition to an ongoing investigation in the Russia scandal. They know the Trump campaign was eager to accept support from a foreign adversary.

Congressional Republicans, however, by and large, simply don't care.

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As Russia scandal grows, Team Trump faces a crisis of credibility

07/12/17 08:00AM

Yesterday's developments in the Trump-Russia scandal caught much of the political world off-guard. Even those who've come to expect the worst seemed at least a little surprised to read emails, released by Donald Trump Jr., showing the Trump campaign's eagerness to collude with the Russian government during its attack on the American election.

The president's son is nevertheless under the impression that he can explain this mess away. In fact, he turned to Trump World's friendliest media ally in the hopes of doing exactly that.

In an interview Tuesday night on Fox News Channel's "Hannity," Trump Jr. said: "Someone sent me an email! I can't help what someone sends me. I read it, I responded accordingly, and if there was something interesting there, I think that's pretty common."

"It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame," Trump Jr. told host Sean Hannity, but he added: "In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently."

While it's true that much of Team Trump is new to politics and public service, for the record, it's not "pretty common" for an American campaign to welcome assistance from a foreign adversary.

On multiple occasions in the interview, the president's son insisted, "It was such a nothing." Asked, for example, if he'd spoken to his father about the meeting with the Kremlin-linked lawyer offering campaign information from the Russian government, Trump Jr. said, "It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell." He added, "It was such a nothing, there was no reason to follow up."

At the risk of stating the obvious, it's worth pausing to appreciate a relevant detail: there is literally no reason to accept any of these claims at face value. Trusting Team Trump's rhetoric about the Russian scandal has proven to be folly, and the more the controversy intensifies, the more important it is to be skeptical of dubious denials.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.11.17

07/11/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Deadly crash: "Sixteen service members were killed in the military plane that crashed Monday afternoon in rural Mississippi, spurring an intense search for bodies and a federal investigation into what caused the fiery wreck. Marine Corps Maj. Andrew Aranda said at a news conference Tuesday that there was no immediate evidence of foul play."

* This is pretty surprising: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Tuesday announced he is delaying the start of the traditional August recess this year by two weeks in order to work on health care and other issues."

* Natalia Veselnitskaya: "The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. during the presidential campaign denied in an exclusive interview with NBC News that she had any connection to the Kremlin and insisted she met with President Donald Trump’s son in 2016 to discuss sanctions between Russia and the U.S., not to hand over information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign."

* Erik Prince and Stephen Feinberg: "President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old."

* FBI: "The federal government is canceling the search for a new FBI headquarters, according to officials familiar with the decision, putting a more than decade-long effort by the bureau to move out of the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building back at square one."

* Believable: "U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis told members of the USGA’s executive committee that Donald Trump threatened to sue the organization if it moved the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open from Trump National Golf Club in Bedminister, N.J., according to a person with direct knowledge of the meeting."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a town hall, July 25, 2016, in Roanoke, Va. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Pence takes steps to blaze his own, non-Trump trail

07/11/17 04:20PM

As vice president, Mike Pence has already been caught -- several times -- trying to defend Donald Trump in ways that turned out to be completely untrue. Whether he knew he was deceiving the public is a matter of some debate, but Pence has nevertheless been caught peddling brazen falsehoods on the president's behalf.

And so, I was curious to see what the veep would say today, now that we know Trump World tried to collude with Russia during our adversary's election attack. Here's the official statement Pence's press secretary gave NBC News this afternoon:

"The vice president is working every day to advance the president's agenda. He was not aware of the meeting. He is also not focused on stories about the campaign -- especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign."

It's those last 11 words that stand out. Pence didn't literally say, "Hey, I wasn't even on the ticket when Team Trump wanted Russia's illegal help," but the subtext isn't exactly subtle.

And it's against this backdrop that our current vice president seems open, if not eager, to establish his own political identity -- distinct from that of the president who chose him. The New York Times reported over the weekend, for example, that Pence "has been courting scores of the country's most influential donors, corporate executives and conservative political leaders over the past several months in a series of private gatherings and one-on-one conversations."

Pence is also the first sitting vice president who isn't running for president himself to create his own political action committee.

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Image: FILE PHOTO - Donald Trump Jr. arrives at Trump Tower in New York City

Emails show Trump Jr's eagerness to collude with Russia

07/11/17 12:48PM

The New York Times reported last night that Donald Trump Jr. agreed to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer following an enticing email. The message reportedly said if he agreed to meet the attorney, she could provide compromising information about Hillary Clinton, as part of the Russian government's effort to help elect his father.

The report sent shockwaves through the political world -- it pointed to evidence of the Trump campaign attempting to collude with Russia during its attack on the United States -- but we hadn't seen the specific emails. Perhaps the language was more benign than the account from the Times' sources?

I'm afraid not.

Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday tweeted his email chain showing him making plans to meet with a Russian attorney said to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.

The email exchange shows an acquaintance with ties to Russia, music publicist Rob Goldstone, telling the son of then-candidate Donald Trump last year that the attorney has "information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."

The New York Times, which obtained the emails before the tweets, noted that the emails went on to tell Trump Jr., "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

The candidate's son responded soon after, "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."

The meeting between Trump, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Natalia Veselnitskaya was then arranged for June 9 -- just six days after the original email.

The specific language is tough to defend. Told that the Russian government wanted to share "very high level and sensitive information" with the Trump campaign, Trump Jr. and his associates probably should've called the FBI. Instead, they welcomed the opportunity to collude with a foreign adversary during its intervention in our political system.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.11.17

07/11/17 12:00PM

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

* In a bit of a surprise, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) is ending his gubernatorial campaign in Colorado, just three months after kicking off his bid for statewide office. The decision comes on the heels of Rep. Jared Polis (D) launching a gubernatorial campaign of his own -- and Polis' deep pockets appear to have had an intimidating effect.

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate special election, Rep. Mo Brooks (R) has launched his first television ad, which features his vow to fight for a border wall, and his willingness to read the Bible to other senators.

* On a related note, Brooks' top rival, appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R), told local voters over the weekend that Donald Trump "is the greatest thing that's happened to this country." Strange added, "I consider it a Biblical miracle that he's there."

* DNC Chairman Tom Perez yesterday announced a new investment in grassroots organizing at the state level. The Washington Post reported, "In October, the DNC will give a $10,000 monthly grant to each state party, running through the 2018 midterms -- a one-third increase over its 2016 commitments, which came when the party's presidential campaign was winning the money wars."

* In West Virginia, the field of Republicans hoping to take on Sen. Joe Manchin (D) is getting a little crowded, with state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) kicking off his statewide campaign yesterday. His principal rival appears to be Rep. Evan Jenkins (R).

* Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, is running a gubernatorial campaign in his native Florida, but his first attempt at statewide office appears to be struggling: his campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, and finance director all quit Gillum's team last week.

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Image: FILE PHOTO --  U.S. President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel give a joint news conference in Washington

The list of Kushner's meetings with Russians keeps getting longer

07/11/17 11:20AM

The story first came to public light in April. The New York Times reported that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's powerful son-in-law, sought the top-secret security clearance before starting his position in the White House, and at the time, "he was required to disclose all encounters with foreign government officials over the last seven years."

The article added that failing to disclose foreign contacts can, in some instances, lead to officials losing “access to intelligence, or worse."

This was relevant because Kushner had failed to disclose a meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and a separate meeting with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian state-owned bank, Vnesheconombank (or VEB). It's suddenly relevant anew, however, in light of the June 2016 meeting Kushner attended with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and a Kremlin-linked lawyer. The latest New York Times report noted:

The president learned from his aides about the 2016 meeting at the end of the trip, according to a White House official. But some people in the White House had known for several days that it had occurred, because Mr. Kushner had revised his foreign contact disclosure document to include it.

Much of the focus over the last few days has been on Trump Jr., and for good reason. He reportedly received an email suggesting the Russian government wanted to help elect his father, and Trump Jr. was apparently prepared to collude with Russia to that end.

But have you noticed just how many meetings Kushner attended with Russians, which he initially failed to disclose?

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A voter walks to an empty electronic voting booth at a Madison, Miss., precinct, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

Trump manages to make his voting commission even worse

07/11/17 10:40AM

I was under the mistaken impression that Donald Trump's ridiculous "voter integrity" commission couldn't possibly get any worse. I stand corrected.

President Donald Trump announced on Monday night that J. Christian Adams, a conservative attorney who has spearheaded efforts around the country to purge voters from the rolls, would be joining the president's commission to investigate voter fraud. [...]

After leaving a post in the Voting Section of the Department of Justice, Adams began a quest to purge voter rolls around the country. As detailed by Mother Jones, Adams has sent threatening letters and filed several lawsuits against counties that he claims have too many names on the voter rolls. The actions largely target rural counties with large minority populations, although last year he and his former colleagues began targeting areas with large Democratic populations in swing states as well.

J. Christian Adams first crossed my radar several years ago. After joining the Bush/Cheney Justice Department, Adams rose to public prominence as the "chief agitator" behind the ridiculous New Black Panther Party story -- alleging two black men with braids in their beards were intimidating white people while loitering outside a Philadelphia voting precinct in 2008.

In the years that followed, Adams began "pushing restrictive elections laws and voter purges across the country."

And now, he's been tapped by the Trump White House to serve on a voting commission, which exists because the president's feelings were hurt when he received 3 million fewer votes than his opponent.

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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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