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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.30.18

05/30/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Quite a surprise: "Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who was widely reported to have been assassinated in the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday, turned up at a news conference alive and well on Wednesday."

* In normal times, this would be a pretty important development: "President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday that he wished he had not selected Jeff Sessions as his attorney general."

* Trump isn't much of a dealmaker: "China on Wednesday lashed out at Washington's unexpected statement that it will press ahead with tariffs and restrictions on investments by Chinese companies, saying Beijing was ready to fight back if Washington was looking to ignite a trade war."

* This is bonkers, even for him: "President Donald Trump made his first comments about the Roseanne Barr controversy on Wednesday, criticizing ABC for apologizing to the former Obama adviser targeted by Barr in a racist tweet and claiming the network has ignored 'horrible' remarks made about him."

* Trouble for Ronald Mortensen's nomination? "Sen. Jeff Flake wrote online Tuesday that he will not support the White House's nominee to lead a State Department office that oversees refugees because of the man's hard-line anti-immigration rhetoric."

* This isn't what the right said would happen: "Despite backlash over halting sales of assault-style guns in its stores, Dick's Sporting Goods posted higher revenue for its most recent quarter and greater-than-expected profit."

* Trump still wants Americans to believe Mexico will pay for a border wall. Mexico is still telling Trump that won't happen.

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President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump walk with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill, Nov. 10, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

Republicans who praised Trump for scrapping summit are now in an awkward spot

05/30/18 12:47PM

Almost immediately after Donald Trump announced last week that he was cancelling the June 12 summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) praised the American president, calling Trump's move "100% the right decision."

The Florida Republican added that Kim was insincere about wanting a deal and "deliberately sabotaged the talks," trying to set up the United States to take the blame.

Rubio was hardly alone.

Republican senators praised President Donald Trump for his decision Thursday to cancel a summit in Singapore with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.

In a rare interview with reporters, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Trump made the "right" decision. "I think he did the right thing," he said.

The trouble is, Rubio, McConnell, and other Republicans didn't get any kind of heads-up from the White House on the president's thinking -- and they had no idea that when Trump said he was cancelling the summit, he wasn't really cancelling the summit.

So what do the Republicans who praised last week's move do now that the president is trying to do the opposite?

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.30.18

05/30/18 12:00PM

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

* Donald Trump yesterday alleged that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team "will be MEDDLING with the mid-term elections." He offered no evidence, because none exists.

* Some corners of the political world freaked out a little last week when a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Republicans up by five on the generic congressional ballot, but the same poll now shows Democrats with a seven-point advantage. (My advice: pay attention to averages.)

* With Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) announcing his retirement well after Virginia's filing deadline, local Republican officials will be responsible for choosing the party's nominee, and several contenders have already asked to be considered.

* At a campaign rally in Tennessee last night, Trump attacked Hillary Clinton; his audience chanted, "Lock her up!"; and the president complained about an event Jay Z held in support of Clinton's candidacy. Trump added that he enjoyed bigger crowds than the entertainer. The 2016 election, in case anyone's curious, was 567 days ago.

* House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is taking in a considerable amount of money ahead of his re-election fight, but the Fresno Bee  reports that when it comes to contributions from individual donors, only about 2% of the money came from his own district.

* Speaking of the Golden State, the Sacramento Bee  reports that voters with no party preference now outnumber Republicans in California.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Giuliani makes new demands ahead of possible Trump-Mueller interview

05/30/18 11:20AM

In January, Donald Trump surprised White House reporters with some unscheduled comments. Though it was unclear at the time whether the president would ever answer questions as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Trump said the discussion was just weeks away.

"I'm looking forward to it, actually," Trump said, adding that he'd "love to" talk to the special counsel investigators. The president went on to say he's "absolutely" prepared to answer questions under oath.

A great deal has changed since January. Trump and his team have since adopted a vastly more antagonistic posture toward the special counsel's probe, and in the latest move, the president's defense team is making fresh demands ahead of a possible interview.

President Trump's lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani said Tuesday that Trump will not agree to an interview with the special counsel until prosecutors allow the president's legal team to review documents related to the FBI's use of a source to interact with members of Trump's 2016 campaign.

"We need all the documents before we can decide whether we are going to do an interview," Giuliani said in an interview with The Washington Post, using Trump's term "spygate" to refer to the FBI actions, which former officials have said were well within bounds.

First, there's already a bipartisan consensus that the "Spygate" conspiracy theory is baseless, and for Rudy Giuliani to pretend otherwise is pitiful.

Second, Giuliani's demand is impossible to defend. Trump already went too far directing federal law enforcement to brief members of Congress on a confidential human source during an ongoing investigation, and now the former mayor expects the FBI to open its files to the subject of a probe before it's complete?

And third, I'm starting to get the sense that maybe, just maybe, the president and his team are reluctant to fully cooperate with this investigation.

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Image: President Trump hosts the California Sanctuary State Roundtable

Did Trump brag about sensitive information at a fundraiser?

05/30/18 10:41AM

In early February, there was a serious and deadly firefight in Syria that pitted U.S. forces against hundreds of pro-Syrian government forces, which reportedly included Russian mercenaries. A recent New York Times  account of the battle described it as an assault that last nearly four hours, included "merciless" U.S. airstrikes, and left hundreds of pro-Assad fighters dead.

The Times' article added, "The prospect of Russian military forces and American troops colliding has long been feared as the Cold War adversaries take opposing sides in Syria's seven-year civil war. At worst, officials and experts have said, it could plunge both countries into bloody conflict."

Nearly four months after the firefight, it's likely many Americans haven't heard anything about it -- and that's not an accident. The White House and administration officials have said practically nothing about the skirmish since it happened.

And yet, as Politico  reported, Donald Trump apparently couldn't help himself at a closed-door fundraiser in New York last week.

The details of the battle remain classified, but speaking to donors in midtown Manhattan last Wednesday, Trump said he was amazed by the performance of American F-18 pilots. He suggested that the strikes may have been as brief as "10 minutes" and taken out 100 to 300 Russians, according to a person briefed on the president's remarks, which have not previously been reported. [...]

White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah declined to comment on Trump's remarks because information about the Syria strikes remains classified.

And while Shah's reticence is understandable, it only reinforces the larger concern: if information about the Syria strikes remains classified, why was the president sharing information about the Syria strikes with a group of wealthy donors?

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House Benghazi Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., steps back as other Republican members of the panel discuss the final report on Benghazi, June 28, 2016, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Trey Gowdy breaks from the White House's 'Spygate' script

05/30/18 10:00AM

At a campaign rally in Tennessee last night, Donald Trump spent a little time hyping his absurd "Spygate" conspiracy theory, based on the president's apparent belief that the FBI "infiltrated" his 2016 campaign by "implanting" a "spy" in his operation.

"So how do you like the fact they had people infiltrating our campaign?" the president told supporters in Nashville. "Can you imagine? Can you imagine?"

And while that was clearly a rhetorical question, about an hour earlier, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) helped answer it -- but not in a way the president would've liked.

"I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump," Gowdy said on Fox News.

This morning, the South Carolina Republican -- generally considered a close White House ally -- went a little further, explaining to CBS News that the FBI did exactly what it was obligated to do.

"When the FBI comes into contact with information about what a foreign government may be doing in our election cycle, I think they have an obligation to run it out," said Gowdy on "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday.

He added, "Based on what I have seen, I don't know what the FBI could have done or should have done other than run out a lead that someone loosely connected with the campaign was making assertions about Russia, I would think you would want the FBI to find out whether there was any validity to what those people were saying."

Asked specifically if he's seen any evidence to substantiate Trump's claim of an FBI "spy" infiltrating the Republican's campaign, Gowdy answered, "I have not."

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House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 10, 2017.

GOP rep connects school shootings, access to pornography

05/30/18 09:20AM

In the aftermath of the deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, opponents of gun reforms came up with quite a few culprits to blame for the bloodshed. None of them, of course, included easy access to firearms.

The public should blame the number of doors at the school, for example. And abortion. And video games. And Ritalin, secularism, Common Core, and trench coats.

And while some of this was expected -- the right consistently tries to steer public discussions away from guns after mass shootings -- Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) broke new ground when she tried to connect school shootings and porn. The HuffPost reported yesterday:

During a meeting last week with local pastors, Black raised the issue of gun violence in schools and why it keeps happening. "Pornography," she said.

"It's available on the shelf when you walk in the grocery store. Yeah, you have to reach up to get it, but there's pornography there," she continued. "All of this is available without parental guidance. I think that is a big part of the root cause."

While that quote may seem hard to believe, the report included an audio clip of her comments.

Her argument raised a variety of questions, though I'm inclined to start with this one: where exactly is Diane Black buying her groceries?

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Eric Greitens Founder and CEO, The Mission Continues speaks at the Robin Hood Veterans Summit at Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum on May 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty for The Robin Hood Foundation)

Scandals force Missouri's GOP governor to resign in disgrace

05/30/18 08:40AM

It's not surprising that Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) was forced to resign; it's surprising that it took so long. Not long after the governor's sex scandal broke, one Republican state senator declared, "Stick a fork in him."

That was early January.

Greitens nevertheless stuck around, insisting he could politically survive, even as new allegations surfaced, even as new details of his allegedly brutal extra-marital affair came to public light, and even as the threat of impeachment grew more serious. Yesterday, however, the GOP governor reversed course and called it quits.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, once a rising star in the Republican Party, said Tuesday he is resigning after facing impeachment by state's GOP legislature following a sexual misconduct scandal and a felony charge involving possible campaign finance violations. [...]

The Associated Press reported shortly after Greitens' announcement that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said her office has reached a "fair and just resolution" on criminal charges against Greitens now that he's stepping down. The details won't be released until Wednesday, she said.

That raises the possibility that the governor's resignation was part of some kind of plea agreement. [Update: It was, in fact, part of a deal with prosecutors.]

Regardless, Greitens' resignation represents the coda of a remarkable fall from grace from a young Republican who was seen as a rising star in national politics. The Missourian, a Rhodes Scholar and retired Navy Seal, had reportedly even registered the domain name.

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Mueller reportedly takes an interest in Trump's pressure on Sessions

05/30/18 08:00AM

In March 2017, not quite two months into Donald Trump's presidency, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation into the Russia scandal. This was hardly a radical decision: Sessions was a prominent member of the Republican's campaign team; he'd made highly dubious claims under oath about his contacts with Russian officials; and Justice Department officials urged the attorney general to stand aside.

The president, however, didn't quite see it that way. In fact, Sessions' recusal quickly became the basis for multiple Trump tantrums, including an incident in May in which the president called his attorney general an "idiot" and accused him of "disloyalty."

As it turns out, that's not all he did. The New York Times had an interesting scoop overnight.

By the time Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrived at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort for dinner one Saturday evening in March 2017, he had been receiving the presidential silent treatment for two days. Mr. Sessions had flown to Florida because Mr. Trump was refusing to take his calls about a pressing decision on his travel ban.

When they met, Mr. Trump was ready to talk -- but not about the travel ban. His grievance was with Mr. Sessions: The president objected to his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump, who had told aides that he needed a loyalist overseeing the inquiry, berated Mr. Sessions and told him he should reverse his decision, an unusual and potentially inappropriate request.

Sessions refused to reverse course, which no doubt infuriated the president further, but this isn't just a story about palace intrigue and who enraged whom behind the scenes. What's more significant about this report is that Trump's efforts to get the attorney general to un-recuse himself raise important legal questions.

Rudy Giuliani told the Times that the presidential pressure was perfectly permissible. Special Counsel Robert Mueller may see things differently: the NYT's article added that Mueller is examining the confrontation between Trump and Sessions.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.29.18

05/29/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Ukraine: "A Russian journalist was shot and killed in the Ukrainian capital Tuesday, and the national police said he apparently was targeted because of his work. Ukrainian police said Arkady Babchenko's wife found him bleeding at their apartment building in Kiev and called an ambulance, but Babchenko died on the way to a hospital. Police said he died of multiple gunshots wounds to his back."

* Staggering statistics: "At least 4,645 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria and its devastation across Puerto Rico last year, according to a new Harvard study released Tuesday, an estimate that far exceeds the official government death toll, which stands at 64."

* Landslide: "Ireland voted to overturn its constitutional ban on abortion Saturday in the latest example of how the traditionally Catholic country is embracing a more liberal stance."

* Why are wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs being told they can buy access to Donald Trump at an upcoming fundraiser?

* Stop digging: "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday defended his 'konnichiwa' remark to a Japanese-American congresswoman by arguing that he 'has friends that were Japanese families' who lived through Japanese internment camps during World War II."

* Important research, Part I: "Judges appointed by Republican presidents gave longer sentences to black defendants and shorter ones to women than judges appointed by Democrats, according to a new study that analyzed data on more than half a million defendants."

* Important research, Part II: "A new Federal Reserve survey of more than 12,200 Americans about their finances [found that] 40 percent of American adults don't have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense such as an unexpected medical bill, car problem or home repair."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Donald Trump walks with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani through the new Trump International Hotel in Washington

Giuliani rejects the legitimacy of Mueller's investigation

05/29/18 02:32PM

As the Russia scandal unfolded, Donald Trump and his allies had plenty to say on the subject, but they went out of their way to avoid criticizing Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation directly. The president would throw around phrases such as "witch hunt" and "no collusion" like they were nervous tics, but targeting Mueller was a line he was reluctant to cross.

In mid-March, as part of a strategy that appeared deliberate, Trump World's posture changed. As we discussed a while back, it was at this point when the president started publishing tweets referencing Mueller by name, and Trump's defense attorneys started making public calls for the end of the special counsel's probe.

The pushback reached a new level over the holiday weekend when Rudy Giuliani, one of the president's lawyers, questioned the legitimacy of the investigation itself during an interview with CNN's Dana Bash.

BASH: So you think that the Mueller probe is legitimate?

GIULIANI: Not anymore. I don't. I did when I came in. But now I see Spygate....

To the extent that reality still matters, "Spygate" is a nonsensical conspiracy theory about events that allegedly occurred in 2016, long before Mueller was appointed to oversee the investigation. Questioning the legitimacy of the special counsel's investigation is a bad idea; questioning its legitimacy because of a silly conspiracy theory is worse; and questioning its legitimacy because of a silly conspiracy theory that Mueller had literally nothing to do with is even worse still.

But Giuliani's salvo was just part of a larger offensive against the investigation, which Donald Trump described this morning as "rigged."

None of this has anything to do with the law or the investigatory process. The president and his team have simply decided that it's time for a political campaign in which Bob Mueller is their opponent.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

The FBI warning Trump received, ignored, and apparently forgot about

05/29/18 12:57PM

Donald Trump asked over the holiday weekend why neither the FBI nor the Justice Department contacted him during the 2016 campaign to alert him to the "Russia problem." Those who haven't paid close attention to this story might've seen the president's point as having merit.

Indeed, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer declared, "This is a good question that deserves an answer."

The trouble is, the question was already answered months ago. NBC News had this report in December 2017:

In the weeks after he became the Republican nominee on July 19, 2016, Donald Trump was warned that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign, according to multiple government officials familiar with the matter.

The warning came in the form of a high-level counterintelligence briefing by senior FBI officials, the officials said. A similar briefing was given to Hillary Clinton, they added. They said the briefings, which are commonly provided to presidential nominees, were designed to educate the candidates and their top aides about potential threats from foreign spies.

The candidates were urged to alert the FBI about any suspicious overtures to their campaigns, the officials said.

There are a couple of angles to this to keep in mind. The first is that Trump's latest complaint -- federal law enforcement should've given him a heads-up about the "Russia problem" during Russia's attack on our political system -- is difficult to take seriously given the counterintelligence briefing he received in 2016.

But for the president to remind us of this is especially unwise since Trump did more than just ignore the warning -- the Republican and his team also failed to volunteer information that would've mattered to the FBI at the time.

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In this Nov. 13, 2013 file photo, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

GOP rep takes a risky stand in support of housing discrimination

05/29/18 12:00PM

Which congressional districts are most likely to flip from "red" to "blue" in 2018? A good place to start is with the districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, but which are currently represented by Republican lawmakers.

Take California's 48th congressional district, for example, where Clinton narrowly prevailed, while far-right Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) won re-election with relative ease. Democrats at the state and national level believe they have a real chance to succeed here, thanks in part to Rohrabacher's antics and assorted controversies.

Take last week's developments, for example, when Rohrabacher effectively endorsed housing discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.

Rohrabacher initially made the remarks last week while speaking to a group of National Association of Realtors members who had congregated in his office. Members of the group were there to ask Rohrabacher to support HR 1447, a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected against discrimination in the Fair Housing Act (FHA) under the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

"I presented the Fair Housing Act to him along with [information on HR 1447]," Wayne Woodyard, one of the NAR members in the room, told NBC News. "Almost before I could finish, he let out, 'I will not support it.'"

Woodyard went on to say, "There were about 10 people in his office, and we were all kind of shocked." When a former aide to the congressman suggested he may not fully understand the issue at hand, Rohrabacher reportedly responded, "No, I do understand."

The more the realtors tried to steer him away from endorsing discrimination, the more the Republican lawmaker rejected their appeals.

The National Association of Realtors, which had backed Rohrabacher's re-election, soon after announced it had withdrawn its support.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Why Trump falsely accuses the media of making up sources

05/29/18 11:02AM

The state of possible talks between Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un is difficult to discern, at least for now. The June 12 summit was scheduled to happen, until the American president canceled the meeting in an oddly worded letter to the North Korean dictator last week.

The New York Times published a report over the holiday weekend noting that the discussion may yet happen, though it quoted a senior White House official voicing skepticism. As far as Trump is concerned, that official and his comments were made up.

"The Failing @nytimes quotes 'a senior White House official,' who doesn't exist, as saying 'even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.' WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources."

As it happens, Trump was ridiculously wrong. His own White House team organized a briefing for reporters last week, and the Times' article quoted one of the president's aides. Even for Trump, this was bizarre: he was effectively telling the world that a member of his National Security Council, who spoke to journalists about a major issue, was a figment of the media's imagination.

There's audio proof of the briefing that the president believes did not occur.

This was hardly the first time Trump accused major news organizations of fabricating sources for important stories -- he's raised this  accusation many, many  times -- but what fascinates me is why he thinks this way. I care less about the president's false accusations and more about the thought process that leads Trump to believe professional journalists routinely quote imagined people.

My hunch is, he thinks this way because he routinely quotes imagined people.

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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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