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Gorka is the latest departure from Trump's volatile White House

08/28/17 09:20AM

It's never been altogether clear what, exactly, Sebastian Gorka did in Donald Trump's White House. The far-right adviser made plenty of media appearances, but in terms of his day-to-day responsibilities, there was always some degree of mystery as to what role Gorka served.

Whatever the answer to that question, he won't be in that role anymore.

Sebastian Gorka, a national security aide to President Donald Trump and one of the most vocal hard-right advocates for a firm stand against Islam and for a pro-America foreign policy position, is no longer a part of the administration, a White House official said Friday. [...]

The departure was first reported by The Federalist. The White House official told NBC News that Gorka resigned in part because with John Kelly in place as chief of staff, there was "no way" he'd have a policy role in the National Security Council.

Not only do we not know what Gorka did, we also don't know who was responsible for his departure. Some White House officials told reporters he was forced out, while Gorka, who's had one foot out the door for a while, insists his resignation was his idea.

Either way, the revolving door between the Trump White House and a far-right website called Breitbart News continues to swing: Gorka, like Stephen Bannon, worked for Breitbart before joining Team Trump, and he, like Bannon, has returned to the website now that he's no longer at the White House.

Taking a step back, the employment volatility surrounding the president is so considerable, we can now break down the major departures into categories:

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is joined onstage by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a campaign rally in Marshalltown, Iowa, Jan. 26, 2016. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

With Arpaio pardon, Trump's 'law and order' vow becomes a cynical joke

08/28/17 08:40AM

Over the course of seven months, Donald Trump has made several outrageous moves, but the president's pardon of Joe Arpaio is among the toughest to defend.

To be sure, this is a story with multiple angles. The White House waited until late on a Friday evening, with much of the country focused on a major national disaster, to announce that the president was abusing his power to aid a political ally. It was a dishonorable act, done in a dishonorable way.

Arpaio, among other things, was accused of violating people's civil rights. When a court ordered him to stop, the Arizonan ignored the order, which led a judge to find Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt. The racial aspect of this is tough to miss: on the heels of Trump's inflammatory response to Charlottesville, the president delivered his first pardon to help his confederate -- who deliberately targeted people of color -- before he could face any consequences for his illegal actions.

In fact, in Friday night's announcement, the president praised Arpaio for his crimes, which the disgraced former sheriff committed without remorse.

All of which raises some important questions about Donald Trump and his appreciation -- or lack thereof -- for the rule of law.

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Trump's Secretary of State argues Trump doesn't speak for U.S.

08/28/17 08:00AM

A United Nations committee last week criticized the Trump administration's response to events in Charlottesville, using striking language. The White House was specifically rebuked for "its failure at the highest political level to unequivocally reject and condemn the racist violent events and demonstrations."

With this in mind, Fox News' Chris Wallace asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday whether Donald Trump's racially inflammatory postures makes it more difficult to advocate on behalf of American values. Tillerson's response, to put it mildly, was unexpected.

TILLERSON: Chris, we express America's values from the State Department. We represent the American people. We represent America's values, our commitment to freedom, our commitment to equal treatment of people the world over. And that message has never changed.

WALLACE: And when the president gets into the kind of controversy he does and the U.N. committee response the way it does, it seems to say they begin to doubt whether we're living those values.

TILLERSON: I don't believe anyone doubts the American people's values or the commitment of the American government or the government's agencies to advancing those values and defending those values.

WALLACE: And the president's values?

TILLERSON: The president speaks for himself, Chris.

Take a moment to appreciate the significance of Tillerson's point. To hear the nation's chief diplomat tell it, the sitting president of the United States does not speak for the United States. The State Department, under Tillerson's vision, expresses America's values, but Donald Trump expresses nothing but his own perspective.

This clearly isn't in line with the American tradition, in which a president is routinely expected to speak on behalf of the nation. But just as importantly, this was an instance in which one of Trump's top cabinet secretaries effectively told the world that the United States shouldn't be defined by his boss' values.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 8.25.17

08/25/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Quite a storm: "Thousands of people fled parts of coastal Texas on Friday as Hurricane Harvey strengthened to a major Category 3 storm and hurtled toward the state."

* Hmm: "Special counsel Robert Mueller is examining what role, if any, former national security adviser Mike Flynn may have played in a private effort to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails from Russian hackers, according to people familiar with the matter."

* Venezuela: "President Trump moved Friday to restrict the Venezuelan government's access to the U.S. financial system and squeeze the oil-based economy that sustains President Nicolás Maduro but stopped short of imposing a full oil embargo."

* Stay tuned: "President Donald Trump appears likely to pull the plug on DACA, the Obama-era program allowing young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children to remain here, several government officials said Friday."

* An increasingly bizarre story: "At least 16 Americans working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana became ill last year in a mysterious health attack, the State Department disclosed on Thursday."

* Gary Cohn, the head of Donald Trump's economic council, explained yesterday why he didn't resign in the wake of Charlottesville. His rationalization really doesn't make any sense.

* This is an excellent point: "In the federal government and in most states, there are consequences when governments deprive Americans of their constitutional right to liberty -- through, say, wrongful imprisonment. So why aren't there more meaningful consequences when states deprive Americans of their constitutional right to vote?"

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-INVESTIGATION

CIA's Brennan: Some in Congress overlooked 'gravity' of Russia attack

08/25/17 04:09PM

About a year ago, as U.S. intelligence officials recognized the scope of the Russian attack on the American election, then-CIA Director John Brennan warned Alexander Bortnikov, the director of Russia's Federal Security Service, that Moscow was doing major harm to the countries' relationship.

But just as importantly, Brennan told his Russian counterpart that the espionage operation would fail. "I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption," Brennan explained. "I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in election."

Regrettably, the former CIA director's assumptions about basic American patriotism were mistaken. Not only did many voters fall for the Russian attack, but as BuzzFeed reported, some leading members of Congress didn't much care about the foreign intervention in our democracy.

In an internal memo to CIA employees last December, CIA Director John Brennan complained that some members of Congress he had briefed about the agency's assessment that Russia interfered in the US presidential election did not "understand and appreciate the importance and gravity of the issue."

Brennan's Dec. 16, 2016, memo did not identify the lawmakers who expressed skepticism about the CIA's judgment that Russia helped Donald Trump win the election. But three intelligence sources told BuzzFeed News that Brennan's criticism was directed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn, the majority whip. At the time, the two Republican lawmakers downplayed the importance of the CIA's intelligence. Cornyn said it was "hardly news."

In other words, when the CIA told these lawmakers about the most important attack on the United States since 9/11, they just didn't much care.

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on the protests in Charlottesville Virginia from his golf estate in Bedminster New Jersey

Trump finding new ways to bungle the tax-reform fight

08/25/17 12:57PM

Not long after taking office, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin assured Americans that tax reform would pass by August. That obviously didn't happen. Later, White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short said the administration's tax plan wouldn't pass by August, but before September, the blueprint would be "locked in place." That obviously didn't happen, either.

The White House's plan then changed a bit more: Donald Trump would spend August selling the public on the virtues of his tax reform plan, before unveiling the "full blown" presidential blueprint after Labor Day. We can add this to the list of things that were supposed to happen but didn't.

The punch-line, however, was delivered yesterday. Bloomberg Politics reported that the plan Team Trump vowed to unveil does not and will not exist.

Republican congressional leaders don't expect to release a joint tax plan with the White House next month, and they'll rely instead on House and Senate tax-writing committees to solve the big tax questions that remain unanswered, according to two people familiar with the matter.

A CNBC reporter confirmed with a White House official that the Trump administration, despite its previous vows, will not release a tax proposal of its own, leaving it to congressional Republicans to work out the details.

If this pattern sounds vaguely familiar, it's because this isn't the first time the president and his team promised to unveil a detailed policy proposal on a key priority, only to fail miserably.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.25.17

08/25/17 12:00PM

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

* Another setback for Texas Republicans: "The state of Texas is on an impressive losing streak in court. On Thursday evening, a three-judge panel of a federal district court in San Antonio found that the state House district map purposefully undercut the voting power of African American and Latino voters -- the ninth racial discrimination case the state has lost since 2011 and the fourth in just over a week."

* Former President Barack Obama hasn't played much of a role in electoral politics this year, but he did throw this support this week behind St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (D), whose election is on Tuesday in Florida.

* Eric Trump, who's ostensibly steering clear of politics while helping run his father's business, was a featured speaker last night at the RNC Summer Meeting in Nashville. [Correction: I thought he was speaking tonight, but it was last night.]

* On a related note, top officials from Trump's campaign committee will also be on hand in Nashville, talking about RNC members with the president's 2020 bid in mind.

* It's not exactly a secret that Sen. Susan Collins (R) is interested in Maine's gubernatorial race next year, and the senator said yesterday she'll announce her plans by the end of September.

* On a related note, Maine's current governor, the perpetually controversial Paul LePage (R), said yesterday he believes it's "highly unlikely" Collins could "win a Republican primary."

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The National Debt Clock, a billboard-size digital display showing the increasing US debt, on Sixth Avenue August 1, 2011 in New York.

Tax-cut advocates stop pretending to care about the deficit

08/25/17 11:20AM

It was a political dynamic so absurd, it's still hard to believe Republicans pulled it off. During George W. Bush's presidency, GOP policymakers decided, as Dick Cheney once declared, that "deficits don't matter." Republicans put two wars, two tax cuts, Medicare expansion, and a Wall Street bailout on the national credit card -- and made no effort to pay for any of it.

Reflecting on the era, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who's been in Congress since the start of the Carter administration, told the Associated Press in 2009 that "it was standard practice not to pay for things" during Bush's presidency. A year later, the Utah Republican told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell "a lot of things weren't paid for" before Barack Obama became president.

And then GOP officials decided everything they'd said and done no longer mattered, and that any attempt to add so much as a penny to the debt was a crime against the American way of life. It was a transparent and ridiculous sham, which much of the political world accepted at face value. After all, voters were told, Republicans were the party of "deficit hawks."

Now GOP policymakers control the levers of power again, and right on cue, many of the folks who pretended to be concerned about the deficit in the Obama era have decided to drop the facade. Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday:

It was only about five years ago that powerful people in finance loved talking about the horrendous consequences for the U.S. if it didn't get its finances under control. They warned that the federal debt -- and the interest payments -- could eventually get high enough to drag down the economy, burden future generations, and even threaten national security. Chief executive officers of five of the biggest U.S. banks joined a campaign called Fix the Debt, signing on with hedge fund billionaires, asset managers, and private equity executives, as well as former lawmakers and others.

The conversation on Wall Street changed after November's election.

Imagine that. The "Fix the Debt" crowd adopted a "Forget the Debt" posture the moment Donald Trump started talking up tax breaks for the wealthy.

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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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