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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.12.18

04/12/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Syria: "The U.S. now has blood and urine samples from last Saturday's deadly attack in Syria that have tested positive for chemical weapons, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence."

* The island's crisis is ongoing: "A single tree fell on top of a main power line in Cayey, Puerto Rico, causing a massive outage that left almost 900,000 customers in the dark as the U.S. territory is still recovering from Hurricane Maria."

* Given what we know of his political career, this isn't especially surprising: "Steve Stockman, a Republican former congressman from Texas, has been convicted of defrauding two conservative mega-donors and funneling their $1.25 million into personal and campaign expenses as part of what prosecutors have described as a 'white collar crime spree.'"

* Literally zero Senate Republicans voted against Andrew Wheeler: "If embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt were to leave office, the reins of the agency could fall to a former Senate aide and coal mining lobbyist who was confirmed 53-45 Thursday afternoon to become second-in-command at EPA."

* This is a weird story: "When Scott Pruitt wanted to refashion the Environmental Protection Agency's 'challenge coin' -- a type of souvenir medallion with military origins that has become a status symbol among civilians -- he proposed an unusual design: Make it bigger, and delete the E.P.A. logo."

* I know this will sound like inside-baseball, but it matters: "White House budget director Mick Mulvaney won his fight to grab some regulatory power from the Treasury Department, with possibly major ramifications for the new tax law. Treasury and OMB released a joint "Memorandum of Agreement" on Thursday that gives the budget office significant new authority to review tax regulations before they take effect."

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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-PROBE-INTELLIGENCE-COMEY

RNC takes aim at former FBI Director James Comey

04/12/18 12:59PM

Former FBI Director James Comey's book will soon hit shelves, and by all accounts, it will have less-than-flattering things to say about Donald Trump -- the president who fired Comey last year in the hopes of derailing the investigation into the Russia scandal. What exactly does the White House intend to do about Comey's return to the national spotlight?

According to a Politico  report published earlier this week, not much. "There is no blitz attack planned by the White House," the article said. Instead, the "nitty-gritty of preparing talking points and rapid response is being outsourced to the Republican National Committee."

And what, pray tell, does the Republican National Committee have in mind? TPM reported this morning on the party's unveiling of a new website and partisan talking points.

The website, lyincomey.com, is strewn with quotes from prominent Democrats bashing Comey after his July 5, 2016 statement on the FBI's investigation into then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's emails, punctuated by black and white photos of the former FBI director looking shifty.

"Comey is a liar and a leaker and his misconduct led both Republicans and Democrats to call for his firing," RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement to CNN.

A Washington Post  report added, "RNC officials say their effort will also include digital ads, a 'war room' to monitor Comey's television appearances, a rapid response team to rebut his claims in real time and coordination of Trump surrogates to fan out across other TV programs."

Look, I can appreciate why the president's allies are feeling a little anxious about Comey's book, but the RNC's offensive is a little tough to take seriously.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.12.18

04/12/18 12:00PM

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

* Retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said yesterday he will not run for elected office again -- though he'd be open to an ambassadorship to Ireland "in a decade or so."

* Republicans will need a candidate to run in Ryan's district, of course, but it apparently won't be Reince Priebus, Donald Trump's first White House chief of staff, who said this morning he's not interested in this race.

* Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told MSNBC's Chuck Todd yesterday, "I am convinced that there won't be a lot of other retirements coming." Does that mean Stivers still expects some additional retirement announcements?

* The Associated Press reported that voters in Anchorage, Alaska, are "on track to becoming the first in the U.S. to defeat a so-called bathroom bill in a referendum that asked them to require people using public bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender at birth."

* On a related note, Anchorage's vote-by-mail model has worked wonders in boosting participation rates.

* As the teacher walkout in Oklahoma continues, a growing number of educators are "registering to run for office." CNN added yesterday, "Laura Griesel, who was at the Capitol for most of last week, feels that many legislators are not hearing her concerns. The best way to change that, she believes, is to become a representative herself."

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Image: Michael Cohen, attorney for The Trump Organization, arrives at Trump Tower in New York City

Why a former Trump doorman was paid $30,000 by a supermarket tabloid

04/12/18 11:31AM

I first started highlighting the National Enquirer's support for Donald Trump a year and a half ago, after noticing at the grocery-store checkout line a series of embarrassingly complimentary headlines for the Republican. I didn't realize at the time how much further this would go.

We've known for a while, for example, about the tabloid's parent company, American Media Inc., paying former Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal $150,000 for her story about her extra-marital affair with Trump. Once AMI brought the exclusive rights, the company buried the story so no one would hear about it.

The Associated Press published a related report overnight, highlighting AMI's $30,000 payment to Dino Sajudin, a doorman at one of Trump's buildings, which also happened during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Associated Press confirmed the details of the Enquirer's payment through a review of a confidential contract and interviews with dozens of current and former employees of the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc. Sajudin got $30,000 in exchange for signing over the rights, "in perpetuity," to a rumor he'd heard about Trump's sex life -- that the president had fathered a child with an employee at Trump World Tower, a skyscraper he owns near the United Nations.

The contract subjected Sajudin to a $1 million penalty if he disclosed either the rumor or the terms of the deal to anyone.

Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney, acknowledged to the Associated Press that he'd spoken to the National Enquirer's parent company about the doorman's story.

That's the same Cohen whose office and hotel room was raided by the FBI this week, with federal law enforcement reportedly seeking information on, among other things, Cohen's role facilitating hush-money payments to protect Trump.

The AP article added, "The parallel between the ex-Playmate's and the ex-doorman's dealings with the Enquirer raises new questions about the roles that the Enquirer and Cohen may have played in protecting Trump's image during a hard-fought presidential election."

Ya think?

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Image: Donald Trump

White House struggles to keep up with Trump's incoherence on Syria

04/12/18 10:33AM

It was just yesterday morning when Donald Trump rattled much of the world, announcing via Twitter that Russia should "get ready" because the United States was poised to launch missiles in Syria. As Rachel explained on the show last night, the presidential missive caught White House officials and U.S. allies abroad off-guard -- because no one knew what Trump was talking about.

Making matters worse, he added this morning that a U.S.-launched attack "could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

The Washington Post had an interesting behind-the-scenes look at developments in the White House, where officials were "proceeding with uncharacteristic deliberation" about the U.S. response to the Syrian government's latest alleged gas attack, right up until Trump published an odd tweet for the world to see.

White House advisers were surprised by the missive and found it "alarming" and "distracting," in the words of one senior official. They quickly regrouped and, together with Pentagon brass, continued readying Syria options for Trump as if nothing had happened. [...]

The Twitter disruptions were emblematic of a president operating on a tornado of impulses -- and with no clear strategy -- as he faces some of the most consequential decisions of his presidency,.

One West Wing aide told the Post, "It's just like everybody wakes up every morning and does whatever is right in front of them. Oh, my God, Trump Tower is on fire. Oh, my God, they raided Michael Cohen's office. Oh, my God, we're going to bomb Syria. Whatever is there is what people respond to, and there is no proactive strategic thinking."

The result is a dynamic in where there is no White House in the traditional sense. Sure, there's a complex filled with officials at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but in practice, what we have is a confused and erratic amateur, barking out periodic nonsense, and White House personnel struggling to keep up.

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Image:  Bob Corker Donlad Trump ill tempered exchanges

Senator: vote for GOP tax plan may be 'one of the worst votes I've made'

04/12/18 09:20AM

It was just a couple of weeks after congressional Republicans passed their regressive tax plan that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) started expressing some regret. The Floridian conceded that he and his party "probably went too far" in delivering massive tax breaks to big corporations, adding at the time that the GOP package "isn't going to create dramatic economic growth."

Evidently, Rubio isn't the only one who isn't sure he did the right thing.

GOP Sen. Bob Corker is having second thoughts about his vote on the new tax reform law, now that there's a clearer price tag for the bill.

During a Senate Budget Committee hearing with the Congressional Budget Office, Corker bemoaned the large amount of new federal debt that is projected to pile up due to the new law.

"If it ends up costing what has been laid out here, it could well be one of the worst votes I've made," Corker said.

At a certain level, Corker's regret is understandable. The retiring Tennessee Republican claims to take fiscal responsibility seriously, so it stands to reason that he'll feel some alarm about this week's CBO report and its findings. After all, there's fresh evidence that the Republican policy will undermine the nation's finances for at least the next decade.

What's less understandable is why Corker turned a blind eye to the evidence before casting "one of the worst votes" of his career.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Trump seeks legal advice 'from virtually any attorney who calls him'

04/12/18 08:40AM

At face value, Donald Trump's legal defense team in the Russia scandal is shrinking in ways that should worry the president's supporters. Marc Kasowitz? Demoted. John Dowd? Resigned. Joe diGenova? Out. Victoria Toensing? Gone.

But there's another way of looking at Trump's volatile legal predicament. Perhaps the problem isn't that the president has too few lawyers to turn to; maybe the problem is that he has too many.

Politico ran an interesting report overnight on the president's relationship with Alan Dershowitz, the retired Harvard law professor who makes a lot of television appearances, and whose judgment Trump apparently likes. The article added something I haven't seen elsewhere:

Trump's freewheeling conversations about the Mueller probe have become a source of concern for his lawyers, who have warned him not to discuss the investigation with anybody but his own counsel. And Dershowitz isn't the only one Trump is soliciting advice from, sources said. The president has been asking for legal advice, one person familiar with the conversations said, from virtually any attorney who calls him up, even after being warned of the danger he is putting himself in.

The president has continued to discuss the case with longtime attorney Marc Kasowitz, who originally led his legal team but stepped down last summer, as well as with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, a former Westchester County prosecutor and longtime Trump friend.

An unnamed person familiar with the case told  Politico, "Trump should not be having any conversations about [the investigation] with anyone who is not officially representing him."

That's true, but what Trump should do and what Trump does are often very different things.

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Image: Eric Greitens

Sex scandal gets vastly more serious for Missouri's GOP governor

04/12/18 08:00AM

In contemporary politics, sex scandals are not always career-ending controversies. The public is often forgiving, for example, when politicians are contrite about mistakes in their personal lives.

But make no mistake: the allegations surrounding Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) are vastly more serious than routine controversies about adultery. The Kansas City Star  reported overnight:

When she tried to leave, sobbing after a non-consensual sexual encounter, she says the man who would be governor physically stopped her.

What happened next, she testified under oath to a Missouri House committee investigating allegations of misconduct against Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, is spelled out in graphic detail in a 25-page report and transcripts of testimony that the lawmakers released Wednesday.

It's the first time the public has heard sworn testimony from the woman at the center of allegations of misconduct against the governor.

The full report is online here. I should emphasize that it's quite graphic and explains in some detail alleged non-consensual sexual assaults.

The governor, who's acknowledged the pre-election affair but who's denied criminal wrongdoing, was originally dealing with a controversy about blackmail. The findings from the state House committee -- which was led by members of Greitens' own party -- take the story in a qualitatively different, and more gut-wrenching, direction.

Nevertheless, the governor preempted yesterday's report with a forceful denial, and he insists his extra-marital affair was consensual.

The number of people sympathetic to his argument is shrinking. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate and someone generally seen as a Greitens ally, has called on him to "resign immediately."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: FBI Director Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington

Exclusive: DoJ letter shows scope of Mueller evidence collection

04/11/18 11:39PM

The Rachel Maddow Show has obtained exclusively a collection of previously unreported documents. Among them are handwritten notes, now confirmed by The Washington Post as having been taken by then acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente, recording his conversation with James Comey about Comey's interactions with Donald Trump.

The collection of documents also includes a letter in which Boente informs the Department of Justice that he has been asked to give testimony to Robert Mueller's investigation, and another letter declaring that Boente's notes on his talks with Comey are not Top Secret.

Rachel Maddow reported additionally on Wednesday on another letter obtained exclusively by TRMS. The letter, from Scott Schools, the top career official at the Justice Department, informs other top DoJ officials that they've been asked to preserve any "Documents and Responsive Materials" related to Donald Trump's firing of James Comey or the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia's intrusion in the 2016 election.

Below is a rush transcript of Maddow's reporting on that document:

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.11.18

04/11/18 05:31PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* That's unexpected: "The F.B.I. agents who raided the office and hotel of President Trump's lawyer on Monday were seeking all records related to the 'Access Hollywood' tape in which Mr. Trump was heard making vulgar comments about women, according to three people who have been briefed on the contents of a federal search warrant."

* Also unexpected: "Former House Speaker John Boehner says his stance on a popular substance has shifted -- and it's not merlot. The former Republican congressional leader -- and famed wine-drinker -- announced Wednesday he is joining the board of Acreage Holdings, a firm that cultivates, processes and dispenses marijuana in 11 U.S. states."

* Medicaid expansion also created 19,000 new jobs in the state: "Louisiana's decision to expand Medicaid in 2016 led to a $1.85 billion direct economic impact, according to an economic impact report released Tuesday."

* Not helpful: "President Donald Trump's tweet Wednesday morning threatening a potential U.S. strike against Syria broke with national security procedures -- as well as his own admonishments about tipping off enemies about attack plans."

* Good idea: "Senate Democrats are formally calling for Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt to resign or be fired, citing allegations of ethical lapses and questionable spending on travel and security. New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall said the mounting allegations against Pruitt mean 'it is time for his imperial tenure to end.'"

* Bad idea: "President Donald Trump signed a broad executive order urging a revamp of federal government aid programs Tuesday, invigorating a contentious debate from which Republicans hope to gain momentum before the November elections."

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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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