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Friday's Mini-Report, 4.7.17

04/07/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Stockholm: "Police launched a manhunt in Sweden's capital Friday for a suspect who rammed a truck into a department store in a likely act of terrorism -- killing four people and injuring 15 others, officials said."

Syria: "Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday described the choice to strike Syria as deliberative and decisive. Militarily, the strikes seem to be a singular action attached to no publicly announced policy objectives. The future, Tillerson told reporters Friday, will be guided by how Syria reacts to the strike."

* Remember this report from 2013? It seems newly relevant: "More than 100 House lawmakers -- at least 98 Republicans and 18 Democrats -- have signed on to a letter formally requesting that President Obama seek congressional approval for any military response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria."

* I wonder if Moscow has any buyer's remorse about the U.S. election: "Russia on Friday condemned a U.S. missile strike against Syrian government forces as an attack on its ally and said it was suspending an agreement to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents between U.S. and Russian aircraft operating over Syria."

* North Korea: "The National Security Council has presented President Trump with options to respond to North Korea's nuclear program -- including putting American nukes in South Korea or killing dictator Kim Jong-un, multiple top-ranking intelligence and military officials told NBC News."

* I could've sworn we were told he doesn't settle: "President Trump's company and D.C. chef José Andrés have settled a nearly two-year-old legal dispute stemming from the chef's decision to shelve plans to open a restaurant in Trump's D.C. hotel following Trump's controversial immigration rhetoric."

* Quite a story: "The special counsel for the Alabama House Judiciary Committee has released his report on the impeachment investigation of Gov. Robert Bentley."
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Twitter Inc. sign is displayed outside of the company's headquarters in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo by Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty)

In a legal fight against Twitter, the Trump administration blinked

04/07/17 04:23PM

Donald Trump's presidency has generated all kinds of notable developments, including an important one through social media: career officials at various agencies, unhappy with the executive branch's new direction, claim to have created various "alt" and "rogue" Twitter accounts to voice their dissatisfaction, publicly but anonymously.

There are plenty of questions about the legitimacy of these accounts, and it's difficult to say with confidence whether they're actually controlled by frustrated administration officials -- as opposed to people pretending to be associated with the agencies. That said, accounts like @Alt_Labor and @Alt_CDC are active and popular feeds, which may offer a meaningful peek behind the scenes.

And then there's the @ALT_USCIS account, which as the New York Times reported, has become the basis for a bizarre controversy.
Last month, the federal government issued a summons ordering Twitter to hand over information about an anonymous account that had posted messages critical of the Trump administration. Now, the government has blinked.

Customs and Border Protection on Friday withdrew its demand that Twitter unmask the anonymous account, a day after the social media company sued the government to block the summons. The person or people behind the account in question, @ALT_USCIS, had claimed to be a current employee of Citizenship and Immigration Services and had regularly posted messages at odds with White House policy.
The dispute appears to have ended quickly, but the fact that Trump administration officials even picked this fight is amazing.
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Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives to talk to the media after a weekly Senate Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

With Gorsuch confirmed, McConnell gets away with stealing a seat

04/07/17 01:01PM

In the wake of Senate Republicans changing the chamber's rules yesterday through the nuclear option, the outcome of today's floor vote was a foregone conclusion, but it nevertheless marked the end of dejecting process.
The Senate confirmed judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court Friday in a mostly party-line 54-45 vote that reflected weeks of bruising political fighting which deepened congressional divides and changed the nature of high court appointments in the future.

Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's first major court nominee, will fill the seat that has been vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February of 2016. He will be officially sworn in on Monday morning.
Shortly before this morning's vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, "As I look back on my career, I think the most consequential decision I've ever been involved in was the decision to let the president being elected last year pick the Supreme Court nominee."

I'm very much inclined to agree. After Justice Antonin Scalia died, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a center-left, compromise jurist to fill the vacancy, which opened the door to a historic opportunity, unseen in a generation: the Supreme Court could finally stop drifting towards the right. McConnell instead decided to impose an unprecedented high-court blockade, gambling that Americans may elect a Republican president and Republican Congress.

The gamble was very "consequential," indeed. McConnell stole a Supreme Court seat from one administration and handed it to another. Instead of a center-left judge working alongside a conservative minority on the court, we'll have yet another conservative majority -- this time with Neil Gorsuch, who is only 49, and who's likely to serve as many as four decades.

Last year, McConnell declared, "One of my proudest moments was when I told Obama, 'You will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.'" It's the kind of pride one feels when they steal something and know they've gotten away with it.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.7.17

04/07/17 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) may not be a Democrat, and his preferred candidate in the race for the DNC chairmanship may have come up short, but the Vermont independent is still teaming up with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez for a series of public events later this month.

* Republican anxiety over Georgia's congressional special election has reached the point in which even the NRA Political Victory Fund is launching attack ads against Jon Ossoff, telling local voters the Democratic candidate "grew up in Washington D.C." (Ossoff did not, in fact, grow up in Washington D.C.)

* On a related note, Republicans are simultaneously pushing anti-Ossoff attacks -- via television and direct mail -- suggesting the candidate is somehow in league with terrorists.

* It seems hard to believe, but the National Republican Congressional Committee is making some last-minute investments in Kansas' congressional special election, which is next week. "Kansas should not be in play, but Kansas is in play," one Kansas Republican consultant told Politico.

* Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said he might retire next year if Mitt Romney agrees to run to succeed him. The former Massachusetts governor is reportedly thinking about it, and has "spent recent weeks actively discussing" a Senate campaign.
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Image: A crater is seen at the site of an airstrike, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib

Trump has options in Syria, if he wants them

04/07/17 11:27AM

Donald Trump's new approach to Syria bears little resemblance to his position from a few days ago, last week, last year, or even four years ago. By way of an explanation, the White House points to Bashar al-Assad's brutal chemical attack on Tuesday, which NBC News reports killed at least 100 people -- including 25 children -- and injured 400 others.

In other words, the president's military response last night has a humanitarian motivation: Syria's regime is responsible for a deadly atrocity, the argument goes, and the United States felt it was necessary to respond. The New York Times published a headline (which has since been changed) that told readers, "On Syria Attack, Trump's Heart Came First."

This is an incredibly generous interpretation of yesterday's developments, based on nothing but Trump's rhetoric. We're to believe the president, moved by compassion and sympathy for Assad's victims, struck at Syria as an expression of American disgust.

But what's often overlooked is the range of options available to the administration -- some through the military, some not -- which the president can take full advantage of in pursuit for a moral policy. Vox's Dylan Matthews had a good piece along these lines last night, noting Trump's efforts to block Syrian refugees -- the people fleeing the bloodshed that apparently moved the president to action -- from seeking safe harbor in the United States.
Expanding refugee resettlement would certainly work, would carry little in the way of short-term financial costs, and that would likely provide a powerful boost to the US economy and drastically increase the living standards of Syrians who were able to relocate. Instead, Trump has sought to slash the number of Syrians allowed to come to the US -- while dropping bombs on Syria itself.
MSNBC's Chris Hayes added last night, "If we care about suffering of people, there are lots of things we can do other than war." Chief among them are letting in refugees.
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CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "diverse mission requirements in support of our National Security", in Washington, DC, June 16, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

CIA warned lawmakers about Russia's pro-Trump efforts last summer

04/07/17 10:59AM

In late-August, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) raised quite a fuss with the FBI, urging federal law-enforcement officials to take the burgeoning Russia scandal seriously. In a letter to FBI Director James Comey, Reid pointed to "evidence of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump's presidential campaign."

As the Associated Press reported at the time, Reid said it was vital to investigate the circumstances, including any "complicit intermediaries" between the Russian government, the leakers and "any U.S. citizen."

By and large, Reid's concerns were overlooked -- much of the political world decided that Hillary Clinton's email server protocols were of far greater significance -- but there's new reporting that sheds fresh light on what the Democratic Senate leader knew at the time, but couldn't publicly acknowledge. The New York Times reported overnight:
The C.I.A. told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald J. Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump's victory months later, former government officials say.

The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia's intentions to help Mr. Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought.... The former officials said that in late August — 10 weeks before the election — John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia's election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for eight top members of Congress, some of them on secure phone lines while they were on their summer break.
According to the Times' report, the week of Reid's letter to Comey, Brennan told the senator not only that Russia appeared to be taking steps to help the Trump campaign, but also that "unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election."

In other words, the director of the CIA indicated to the Democratic Senate leader that there may have been cooperation between Team Trump and Moscow -- the very question an ongoing counter-espionage investigation is apparently trying to answer.
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Image: FILE PHOTO --  U.S. President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel give a joint news conference in Washington

Kushner's meetings with Russian officials draw closer scrutiny

04/07/17 09:33AM

Donald Trump's 36-year-old son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has a policy portfolio that's so expansive, he's quickly become one of the most powerful figures in the White House, despite having no meaningful experience in government or public affairs. Complicating matters, however, is Kushner's chats with Russian officials.

As Rachel has reported on the show, while the president's son-in-law's to-do list keeps growing, so too does interest in Kushner's previously undisclosed meeting with the head of a Russian bank -- an institution with direct ties to Vladimir Putin and Russian spy services -- which came after his previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States. It's these chats that help explain why Kushner is set to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into the broader Russia scandal.

The New York Times moved the ball forward a bit this morning with new details surrounding Kushner's interactions with Russian officials.
When Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, sought the top-secret security clearance that would give him access to some of the nation's most closely guarded secrets, he was required to disclose all encounters with foreign government officials over the last seven years.

But Mr. Kushner did not mention dozens of contacts with foreign leaders or officials in recent months. They include a December meeting with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, and one with the head of a Russian state-owned bank, Vnesheconombank, arranged at Mr. Kislyak's behest.
Kushner's lawyer told the Times that the omissions were an error, and that may turn out to be true. The same article added, however, that failing to disclose foreign contacts can, in some instances, lead to officials losing "access to intelligence, or worse."

In this case, Kushner has apparently already begun the process of amending the official documents to be more accurate. That said, there are still a couple of angles of interest to this.
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U.S. job market cools in March, growth reaches a 10-month low

04/07/17 08:50AM

Donald Trump and the White House were eager to take credit for the strong job reports in January and February. Team Trump will probably be a bit more circumspect about the totals for March.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 98,000 jobs in March, less than half the number created in the preceding months. The unemployment rate, however, inched lower to 4.5%, the lowest since the summer of 2007, before the start of the Great Recession.

As for the revisions, both January's and February's totals were revised down a little, and combined they show a net loss of 38,000 jobs.

I'd caution against making broad assumptions about the direction of the job market based on one monthly report. As we've seen for years, the numbers ebb and flow, and disappointing reports are often followed by encouraging ones. That said, March's 98,000 jobs were far short of projections, and not consistent with the kind of robust job market we've seen lately.
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Image: Trump Hosts Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi At The White House

Whiplash: Trump completes a dramatic reversal with Syrian attack

04/07/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump was asked yesterday afternoon whether he believes Syrian President Bashar Assad should remain in power. "I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity," Trump said of this week's chemical attack. Referring to Assad, the American president added, "And he's there, and I guess he's running things, so something should happen."

We only had to wait hours to learn what "something" meant.
The United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria overnight in response to what it believes was a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 100 people.

At least six people were killed, Syria claimed, but the Pentagon said civilians were not targeted and the strike was aimed at a military airfield in the western province of Homs.
While there's ample precedent for U.S. leaders modifying their positions after taking office, Trump's change in direction in Syria induces whiplash. Before becoming president, Trump repeatedly insisted that the Obama administration not launch military offensives against the Assad regime in Syria. "What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict?" he asked.

Trump, at separate times, argued that Obama would be making a "big mistake" if he failed to "get congressional approval before attacking Syria," and that an offensive against Assad "could very well lead to World War III." The list of Trump's flip-flops isn't short, but on this the Republican has been fairly consistent for years: he took an unyielding non-interventionist approach, especially towards the Middle East.

After the election, this didn't change. Literally just six days before last night's attack, breaking with the Obama administration's support for regime change in Syria, the Trump White House said it had no choice but to "accept" the fact that Assad would remain in power. Trump's Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations both said earlier this week that they're prepared to leave Assad where he is.
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Gas attack gives Trump clarity on Syria

Gas attack gives Trump clarity on Syria

04/06/17 11:13PM

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, talks about the confused messaging on Syria coming out of the State Department ahead of the missile attack on a Syria's Shayrat airfield, in contrast with Donald Trump's clarity condemning Syria's apparent use of chemical weapons. watch


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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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