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A man carries an umbrella in the rain as he passes the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 16, 2014.

Away from the national spotlight, GOP guts Wall Street safeguards

06/09/17 09:20AM

As much of the country probably noticed, it was a rather dramatic day on Capitol Hill yesterday. The former director of the FBI gave sworn testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggesting the president of the United States may have obstructed justice. The hearing generated quite a bit of attention, and for good reason: Donald Trump's presidency is facing a genuine crisis.

But on the other side of Capitol Hill, House Republicans were only too pleased to take advantage of the fact that their latest moves unfolded far from the national spotlight.

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill that would roll back key parts of the Dodd-Frank act aimed at Wall Street and financial industry regulatory reform which was passed in the wake of the mortgage meltdown.

The House voted 233-186 to approve the Financial CHOICE Act.

There was discussion in some circles last year that both parties are more or less the same when it comes to doing Wall Street's bidding, but pay close attention to the roll call on yesterday's vote: of the 234 House Republicans who voted on the bill, 233 (99.6%) of the GOP members voted for it. In contrast, of the 185 House Democrats who voted yesterday, literally all of them opposed the bill.

And what a bill it is. As regular readers may recall from our coverage a month ago, the point of this legislation is to gut most of the Wall Street reforms created in the wake of the 2008 crash. The Dodd-Frank law, which established a series of safeguards and layers of accountability, has drawn fierce opposition from Republicans and their allied lobbyists from the financial industry, and this bill is the vehicle GOP officials have embraced to roll back the clock. As the New York Times explained:

The Choice Act would exempt some financial institutions that meet capital and liquidity requirements from many of Dodd-Frank's restrictions that limit risk taking. It would also replace Dodd-Frank's method of dealing with large and failing financial institutions, known as the orderly liquidation authority — which critics say reinforces the idea that some banks are too big to fail — with a new bankruptcy code provision.

In addition, the legislation would weaken the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Under the proposed law, the president could fire the agency's director at will and its oversight powers would be curbed.

The bill would also eliminate the Labor Department's fiduciary rule, which requires brokers to act in the best interest of their clients when providing investment advice about retirement. The first parts of the rule are scheduled to go into effect on Friday.

Marcus Stanley, policy director for Americans for Financial Reform, recently told Vox, "It's a little hard to get your mind around everything this bill does, because there's almost no area of financial regulation it doesn't touch. There's a bunch of very radical stuff in this bill, and it goes way beyond repealing Dodd-Frank."

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Trump sets up a contest of credibility he simply cannot win

06/09/17 08:42AM

The list of Donald Trump falsehoods exposed by former FBI Director James Comey over the last two days isn't short.

Trump was asked on Fox News last month whether he ever asked Comey for his loyalty. Trump responded, "No, I didn't." Trump was asked at a White House press conference last month, "Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?" Trump replied, "No. No. Next question."

Trump was asked by NBC News' Lester Holt about the private dinner he had with Comey, and the president said Comey "asked for the dinner." Trump said Comey had called him on the phone in the weeks that followed to tell the president he wasn't under investigation. Trump said Comey was fired in part because FBI personnel had "lost confidence" in the bureau's director.

Each of these claims now appears to be a brazen lie the president told the American public.

But wait, Republicans will argue, we don't know for sure that Trump was lying. What we have here is a "he said, he said" dispute. For all we know, the GOP argument goes, perhaps Comey's claims are untrue and the president has been completely honest.

And while that may make the White House and its allies feel better, this posture isn't quite right.

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Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Trump's allies point to his ignorance and inexperience as a defense

06/09/17 08:00AM

As Donald Trump's Russia scandal has intensified, and evidence of alleged obstruction of justice has mounted, the president's allies have argued repeatedly that the Republican did not do what he's accused of doing. The allegations, the right has insisted, are wrong.

This week, the party line changed. Maybe he did do some of those things, Trump's defenders have begun arguing, but it's just because he's so ignorant.

Here, for example, is what House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters yesterday:

"[O]f course there needs to be a degree of independence between DOJ, FBI, and a White House and a line of communications established. The president is new at this, he is new to government, and so he probably wasn't steeped in the long running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI, and White Houses. He is just new to this."

It's an increasingly common argument. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said yesterday, "It has to still be legal and right and all that, but I think a lot of it is -- he's used to being the CEO."

Here's a tip for political professionals: if your argument begins, "It has to still be legal and right and all that, but..." stop and think of something else.

Regardless, this entire tack is bizarre. It's as if some on the right want Americans to believe we elected an ignorant television personality to lead the executive branch of a global superpower, and if he started ignoring the rule of law shortly after taking office, it's only because he's a fool, not a criminal.

And that's supposed to be the defense of the president.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 6.8.17

06/08/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More on this tomorrow: "The House on Thursday voted to free Wall Street from many of the strict constraints put in place after the 2008 financial crisis, the opening salvo in what is likely to be a protracted battle over deregulation of the powerful banking industry."

* North Korea "fired several suspected short-range anti-ship missiles off its east coast Thursday, South Korea's military said, in a continuation of defiant launches as it seeks to build a nuclear missile capable of reaching the continental United States."

* The U.S. State Department's statement was far more diplomatic: "Iran's foreign minister rejected Donald Trump's condolences Thursday after a pair of ISIS-claimed attacks in Tehran, calling the president's words 'repugnant.'"

* An unpredictable British election: "Polling stations opened across the U.K. early Thursday in an election dominated by looming Brexit negotiations and recent deadly terror attacks."

* Reality Leigh Winner: "The intelligence industry contractor who is accused of giving journalists a highly classified report about Russian interference in the U.S. election will plead not guilty, her lawyer told NBC News on Wednesday."

* This jail falls under the purview of David A. Clarke Jr: "A federal jury Wednesday awarded $6.7 million to a woman who was raped repeatedly by a guard when she was being held in the Milwaukee County Jail four years ago."

* The White House probably didn't expect pushback on this: "As President Donald Trump aligns with Saudi Arabia amid a fresh dispute among Gulf nations, senators in both parties as soon as Thursday will try to block him from selling more than $500 million in offensive weapons to Riyadh."

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Image: US-POLITICS-CONGRESS-INTELLIGENCE

FBI's Comey raises the stakes in Trump's Russia scandal

06/08/17 01:59PM

It was a day much of the political world had circled on its calendar, and for good reason. As the investigation into Donald Trump's Russia scandal intensifies, former FBI Director James Comey gave sworn testimony this morning before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

And what, pray tell, did we learn? Quite a bit, actually.

1. Comey thinks Trump is a liar. Comey's opening statement called out Trump for making "plain and simple" lies about the FBI, and his testimony made multiple references to Comey's concerns about the president's habit of dishonesty, including the explanation about his contemporaneous memos: "I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting."

This may not have been surprising on a substantive level, but to hear a former FBI director give sworn testimony that the president cannot be trusted to tell the truth struck me as amazing.

2. Obstruction. Asked about Trump's possible obstruction of justice, which seems more obvious now than ever, Comey twice said that was up to the special counsel, saying it's a question Bob Mueller and his team "will work toward." I'd love some additional clarity: did that mean the special counsel could explore alleged obstruction or is already in the process of investigating alleged obstruction?

Also note, Comey said Trump's request about the investigation into Mike Flynn is of "investigative interest" to the FBI, which probably isn't what the White House wanted to hear.

3. Consider the partisan wagons circled. Those hoping Senate Republicans might eventually break with the White House's preferred script will apparently have to wait for some other day. GOP senators didn't defend Trump, per se, but their questions once again proved that tribal loyalties outweigh practically every other consideration, Trump's 34% approval rating be damned.

4. Comey made news about Sessions. One of the questions that emerged yesterday is why Comey assumed Attorney General Jeff Sessions would have to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Comey testified today that Sessions' role would've been "problematic" for reasons the former FBI director couldn't discuss publicly. That's a big deal.

5. Collusion. Does Comey believe Trump colluded with Russia? "It's a question I don't think I should answer in an open setting," he replied. Leaving that open-ended seemed to catch everyone by surprise, and for good reason.

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Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., leaves a closed-door GOP caucus luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 14, 2014.

Key GOP senator shrugs off Trump's scandalous demand for loyalty

06/08/17 09:20AM

Donald Trump sat down with Fox News' Jeanine Pirro last month, and the host, responding to a New York Times account, asked the president if he pressed then-FBI Director James Comey for his loyalty. "No," Trump replied. "No, I didn't."

We now have reason to believe the president was lying. The Comey statement released yesterday provides the details of the conversation in which Trump reportedly told the head of the FBI, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty" -- and then seemed to connect his expectations to Comey's continued employment.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told MSNBC yesterday that it was "obviously" not appropriate for Trump to make such a request. Unfortunately, not every Republican leader agrees. The Washington Post reported:

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who is leading the Senate probe of possible Russian coordination with Trump associates, said he was not alarmed by Comey's account.

"I don't think it's wrong to ask for loyalty of anyone inside an administration," Burr said. "I don't think of what I've read there's anything of wrongdoing."

Note, Burr isn't rejecting Comey's account as unreliable. Rather, the North Carolina Republican is saying that if the account is true, he just doesn't care. 

I realize assorted partisans are going to take steps to defend their party's leader, but Burr's quote is unsettling, not just because he's the chairman of the committee investigating the Russia scandal, but also because he's completely wrong.

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Image: Director Of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, And Intel Chiefs Testify To Senate Intel Committee On FISA

Top intel officials hide scandal info from congressional oversight

06/08/17 08:40AM

The timing was fortuitous. We'd already seen reports that Donald Trump asked the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to publicly intervene in the pushback to the Russia scandal, and those reports were advanced yesterday morning with evidence that the president also encouraged Coats to intervene with the FBI -- which is the crime that forced Richard Nixon's resignation.

We were fortunate, then, that Coats and Rogers were scheduled to appear yesterday in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, where they could answer oversight questions about this very issue.

At least, that is, in theory. As Rachel noted on last night's show, Coats and Rogers refused to provide senators with the information sought by the committee. It led to a striking exchange between Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and two of the nation's top intelligence officials.

KING: Why are you not answering these questions? Is there an invocation by the president of the United States of executive privilege? Is there, or not?

ROGERS: Not that I'm aware of.

KING: Then why are you not answering?

ROGERS: Because I feel it is inappropriate, senator.

KING: What you feel isn't relevant, admiral.

It's important to understand the context and the setting. In an oversight hearing, when senators demand non-classified information from administration officials, the officials have limited options. They can (1) answer the question; (2) plead the 5th; or (3) refuse to answer as the result of executive privilege. Michael Rogers, however, adopted his own posture, insisting he didn't "feel" it was "appropriate" to provide the information.

Coats tried a similar line, saying he doesn't "believe" it'd be appropriate to answer questions about the president's alleged request about intervening in an FBI investigation. The Maine senator asked, "What is the legal basis for your refusal to testify to this committee?"

Coats replied, "I'm not sure I have a legal basis."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Comey's statement points to alleged Trump lies about obstruction

06/08/17 08:00AM

Yesterday afternoon, former FBI Director James Comey's opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee landed on the political world like a bombshell. The remarks, which Comey will deliver under oath this morning, raised the prospect of serious wrongdoing on the part of Donald Trump, with Ben Wittes describing the statement as "the most shocking single document compiled about the official conduct of the public duties of any President since the release of the Watergate tapes."

It's against this backdrop that Marc Kasowitz, Trump's outside counsel, tried to pretend that Comey's written version of events is great news for his client.

"The President is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the President was not under investigation in any Russian probe. The President feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda."

For the record, I don't think he was kidding.

Obviously, attorneys are obligated to represent their clients' interests, but let's be clear: Comey's statement yesterday put Trump's presidency in jeopardy and may help bring about its premature end. If the former FBI director's account is accurate, the president demanded Comey's loyalty, and suggested the demand was tied to Comey's future career. Trump also personally urged the FBI director to back off an ongoing federal investigation, which looks an awful lot like obstruction of justice.

The statement from Trump's outside counsel doesn't deny, refute, or contest any of these allegations.

Just as importantly, though Comey's statement didn't highlight this, the information the former FBI director documented suggests the president didn't just obstruct justice -- he also brazenly lied about it to the American public.

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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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