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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)

Waiting for Trump to share his secret sources of information

01/03/17 10:23AM

On New Year's Eve, Donald Trump once again said he's skeptical about the information from U.S. intelligence agencies pointing to evidence of Russian hacking during the 2016 election. But in this case, the president-elect went a little further, telling reporters, "I also know things that other people don't know."

And what might that be? "You'll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday," Trump added.

Well, today's Tuesday. What, pray tell, will the president-elect tell us about his secret sources of information, which gives him special insights U.S. intelligence agencies lack?

Evidently, not much. Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday Trump doesn't necessarily have anything new to reveal. The president-elect, Spicer explained, is only prepared to "talk about his conclusions and where he thinks things stand." As Politico noted, Kellyanne Conway made similar comments last night.
Conway also backed her boss away from a promise he made on New Year's Eve, when he told his traveling pool of reporters that "I also know things that other people don't know" regarding cyberattacks against U.S. political targets that the U.S. intelligence community have attributed to the Russian government. Trump has been unwilling to concede that assessment and told reporters that "you'll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday" what information he has that nobody else does.

"He didn't say, he didn't necessarily say he'd announce it. What he's saying is that we'll find out, he'll find out. I think it's all very contingent on what these intelligence officials reveal in their briefing, Anderson, and everybody should be very happy that the president-elect is open to receiving that briefing. He's very much looking forward to that," Conway told [CNN's Anderson Cooper].
First, let's not set the bar for public satisfaction too low. "Everybody should be very happy that the president-elect is open to receiving that briefing"? Really? When it comes to Donald Trump, Americans should be delighted the incoming president is willing to listen to public officials with sensitive information -- which he may ultimately ignore?
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Trump has no problem judging a book by its cover

01/03/17 09:26AM

After a typical "Meet the Press" appearance, I imagine many guests watch their appearances afterwards to see how they did. Were their answers strong? Did their arguments make sense? What did they say on the air that they should try to say differently during the next interview?

When Donald Trump appears on "Meet the Press," it's a little different. Chuck Todd recently told Politico that the president-elect has a peculiar request after his on-air interviews.
After several of his Sunday appearances as a candidate, Trump would lean back in his chair and request that the control room replay his appearance on a monitor -- sans sound.

"Then there's the amount of time he spends after the interview is over, with the sound off. He wants to see what it all looked like. He will watch the whole thing on mute," Todd told me.... "He's a very visual guy," says Todd. "He thinks this way, and look, it's an important insight in just understanding him. The visual stuff is very real beyond just himself."
Watching the interview on mute says a great deal about Trump's priorities: he doesn't much care about what he said or how he said it, choosing instead to prioritize how he looked while the camera was on.

All of this came to mind yesterday when Trump complained about a new book, put together by CNN, about the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump didn't talk about the content of the book, choosing instead to focus on the photo CNN chose for the cover.

You've heard the adage, "Don't judge a book by its cover"? The president-elect seems to disagree.

This followed a meeting Trump hosted with representatives of the broadcast media shortly before Thanksgiving, where the president-elect reportedly condemned networks, including NBC, for airing photographs of him that Trump found unflattering.

His preoccupation with appearances isn't limited to himself: the Washington Post reported two weeks ago that when Trump meets with prospective members of his cabinet and White House team, the Republican's principal focus is on how they look, not their qualifications.

Chris Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a longtime friend of Trump, told the Post the president-elect is "a showbiz guy," who cares about "the look and the demeanor and the swagger."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen through the audience before participating in a roundtable event, Sept. 27, 2016, in Miami. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Nuclear diplomacy via Twitter is a bad idea

01/03/17 08:44AM

A few days before Christmas, for reasons that weren't at all clear, Donald Trump rattled much of the world with an alarmingly ambiguous tweet about nuclear weapons and an expansion of the U.S. arsenal. A day later, the president-elect reportedly said he's prepared for a new international "arms race" that he's certain the United States would win.

This was a teaching moment for the amateur politician: when talking about the world's most dangerous weapons, don't use Twitter to make vague policy pronouncements, don't terrify international partners, and don't throw around reckless rhetoric.

Two weeks later, it's clear Trump has learned nothing. The New York Times reported overnight:
Faced with a threat from North Korea that it might soon test an intercontinental ballistic missile, President-elect Donald J. Trump took to Twitter on Monday to declare bluntly, "It won't happen!"

Mr. Trump made his post on Twitter, where he often tests out his first thoughts on developing issues in the United States and abroad, a day after North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong-un, declared that the "final stage in preparations" was underway for a test of such a missile. Mr. Kim offered no time frame.
The American president-elect, who's a little too fond of exclamation points, initially said via his favorite social-media tool, "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!" (For the record, that's not exactly what North Korea said.)

Trump, still overly committed to exclamation points, quickly added, "China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!"

In recent weeks, Trump has antagonized China in ways that don't appear to make sense. Trump has also used Twitter to throw around careless rhetoric about nuclear weapons. Yesterday, it was apparently time to combine both.
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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Republicans move to gut congressional ethics office

01/03/17 08:00AM

In the 2004 elections, voters handed Republicans control over the White House, Senate, House, and gubernatorial offices. With Democrats lacking any levers of power, Republicans were in a truly dominant position for the first time in a generation.

Almost immediately, GOP officials got to work ... weakening ethics rules. Led by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), congressional Republicans moved swiftly -- behind closed doors, with no Democratic input -- to ease the ethics burdens on members of Congress.

As longtime readers may recall, a young congressman by the name of Mike Pence was especially fond of weaker ethics rules.

The results weren't pretty. In the ensuing Congress, an astonishing number of members, nearly all of whom were Republicans, were caught up in a series of damaging scandals -- remember the Abramoff affair? -- some of which put members of Congress behind bars. Democrats ran against "the culture of corruption" two years later and won both chambers.

In the 2016 elections, voters once again put Republicans in a dominant position. And just like 12 years ago, GOP lawmakers, before tackling any other priority, met behind closed doors to weaken their own ethics rules. NBC News reported overnight:
Just hours before the 115th Congress gavels in, House Republicans voted to weaken the independent ethics office that investigates House lawmakers and staff accused of misconduct.

During a closed-door meeting Monday, by a vote of 119 to 74, House Republicans defied their leadership to adopt an amendment by Rep Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to place the Office of Congressional Ethics, known as OCE, under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.

The move effectively gives the ethics oversight and investigative role to the lawmakers themselves and prevents information about investigations from being released to the public.
The changes, adopted by Republicans who debated among themselves in secret, are surprisingly broad. Vox's report added, "The House committee could force the office to stop an investigation at any time, and the office would be prevented from accepting and investigating anonymous tips. The office would no longer be able to relay an issue to law enforcement if it determines a crime is committed."

It's easily the biggest rollback of ethics rules since the last time Republicans swept a national election.
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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.2.17

01/02/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Turkey: "A terrorist remained on the loose Sunday after opening fire at a crowded nightclub in Istanbul during New Year's celebrations, killing at least 39 people. The suspect killed a police officer and a civilian outside the Reina Club before entering and firing on revelers inside at about 1:30 a.m. [local time]."

* Iraq: "A suicide bomber driving a pickup loaded with explosives struck a bustling market in Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 36 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group hours after French President Francois Hollande arrived in the Iraqi capital."

* Israel: "Police investigators arrived at the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening to question him, indicating that Israel's attorney general has upgraded a long-running graft inquiry into a criminal investigation."

* Not sure what to make of this one: "A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials."

* Team Trump can't stop him: "Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain has scheduled a hearing on cyber threats for Thursday, where the issue of Russia's election-year hacking will take center stage, a source familiar with the committee's planning told Politico."

* ISIS: "The Islamic State starts the new year with a drastically depleted bank account, counterterrorism officials say, following months of intensified efforts to deprive the Islamists of oil profits and other revenue used to finance military operations and terrorist attacks abroad."
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The Great 2016 Sunday Show Race

01/02/17 03:35PM

In 2013, 2014, and 2015, a Republican won the Great Sunday Show Race with relative ease. In 2016, however, while GOP guests dominated -- as is the case every year -- it was a political independent who was the big winner.

For the fourth straight year, I tallied up the guests for "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," "This Week," "State of the Union," and "Fox News Sunday," and in 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) crushed the competition, making an astonishing 70 appearances. To put that in perspective, Donald Trump won last year with 36 appearances -- and the Vermont senator nearly doubled that total.

That said, broadly speaking, Republican voices easily outnumbered their Democratic counterparts last year, just as they did in the previous years. The above chart shows every political figure who made 10 or more Sunday show appearances this year -- based on Nexis transcripts and the shows' archives -- with red columns representing Republicans, blue columns representing Democrats, and purple columns representing independents*.

I should note that for the purpose of this study, I excluded hosts and journalists, looking exclusively at current officials, former officials, candidates for public office, domestic or foreign policymakers, or anyone who could be fairly characterized as actively involved in the political arena. (Karl Rove's inclusion here is admittedly debatable, but given his role in the Crossroads operation, it seemed only fair to characterize him as someone who's "in the arena." He has a media role, to be sure, but Rove also hopes to directly influence the outcome of the elections on which he comments.)
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Saying goodbye to one of the worst Congresses ever

01/02/17 01:00PM

When the current Congress got underway two years ago, Republicans, in control of both chambers for the first time in a decade, had very high hopes. Optimists imagined all sorts of exciting possibilities, including the potential for real progress on issues such as criminal-justice reform and immigration.

GOP leaders, with the 2016 elections in mind, were eager to show that Republicans could be a governing party, and with sizable House and Senate majorities, this was their chance.
Today, however, is technically the last day of the 114th Congress, and it's worth pausing to appreciate just how dreadful it turned out to be. I'm reminded of this piece Norm Ornstein wrote for The Atlantic in June.
In 2011, I wrote a piece for Foreign Policy magazine about the 112th Congress; the editors helpfully titled it "Worst. Congress. Ever." It was a bit of hyperbole, but it may be no exaggeration to call the current, 114th Congress the worst ever -- at least edging out the infamous 112th.
We'll get to that comparison in a minute, but let's first take stock of the many reasons this current Congress was, as Ornstein put it, "cringe worthy."

* A capable, compromise Supreme Court nominee was ignored -- no hearing, no floor debate, no vote -- as part of a partisan blockade unlike anything in the American tradition.

* Congressional productivity, as noted in the chart above, has remained stuck at an abysmal level. Since the Republican wave in the 2010 midterms, we've had three congresses: the 112th. 113th, and 114th. In terms of bills passed into law, these three rank 1st, 2nd, and 3rd as the least productive congresses since clerks started keeping track in the 1940s.
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.2.17

01/02/17 12:00PM

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

* The White House announced this morning that President Obama will deliver a farewell address a week from tomorrow in Chicago. (The Wall Street Journal reported the other day that presidential farewell addresses are "unusual." That's not even close to being true.)

* A new Gallup poll shows that when it comes to seven key metrics, Americans are far less confident in Donald Trump than any recent president-elect.

* With only 18 days remaining until Inauguration Day, Trump still has several key administrative posts without an announced nominee, including two cabinet positions: Secretaries of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs.

* According to people who've spoken to the president-elect, Trump is intent on drafting "the entirety" of his inaugural speech himself. No one should believe this.

* Trump also intends to have a shorter inauguration. An inaugural committee spokesperson said last week the president is "going to have a shortened parade, and he's going to go into the White House and get some work done before he goes to the [inaugural] balls."

* A member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir resigned late last week so that she won't have to perform at Trump's inauguration. "I could never look myself in the mirror again with self-respect," Jan Chamberlin wrote in a resignation letter.

* In a bit of a surprise, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) has decided to run for re-election, skipping Nevada's open gubernatorial race. The 2018 cycle looks dreadful for Senate Democrats, but look for the DSCC to go after Heller aggressively in the increasingly blue-ish state.
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An electronic benefit card for Georgia's food stamp program sits on the counter of Shinholster Grocery & Meat in Irwinton, Ga., Nov. 21, 2013.

Claims about 'food-stamp fraud' completely fall apart

01/02/17 11:20AM

As Ari Melber noted on the show last week, Fox News aired a strange report, telling its viewers that "food-stamp fraud" has reached "an all-time high." Citing evidence from the Department of Agriculture, Fox said fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cost taxpayers $70 million in 2016.

"Is it time to end the program?" Fox asked, rhetorically.

It didn't take long before literally every detail of the report was discredited. Food-stamp fraud is not at an all-time high; the Department of Agriculture has not released any new data on this; there's no evidence that puts the price tag of fraud in the system at $70 million; and ending a social-insurance program over this is absurd.

The Department of Agriculture demanded a retraction. As The Hill noted, Fox obliged.
Fox News has retracted a Tuesday story that claimed "an all-time high" for food stamp fraud. "We reported that back in 2016 $70 [billion] were wasted on food stamp fraud," Fox News contributor Abby Huntsman said on Friday's "Fox and Friends."

"That was actually incorrect. The latest information from 2009 to 2011 shows the fraud at 1.3 percent, which is approximately $853 million for each of those three years. Nationally food stamp trafficking is on the decline. So sorry about that mistake."
That's the appropriate resolution, of course. We all make mistakes -- I've had to publish some corrections of my own over the years -- and it's encouraging this was straightened out fairly quickly.

I'm still curious, though, about how and why this bogus report aired in the first place.
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File Photo: House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution Chairman Trent Franks (R-AZ) holds a hearing about H.R.3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill February 8, 2011 in...

GOP congressman says his pro-hacking comments were 'misconstrued'

01/02/17 10:40AM

A handful of congressional Republicans have expressed tacit support for Russia's alleged espionage operation attacking the U.S. presidential election, but no member went quite as far as Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).

"If Russia succeeded in giving the American people information that was accurate, then they merely did what the media should have done," the far-right Arizonan told MSNBC late last week.

As we discussed soon after, Franks' argument is genuinely bizarre. According to the Republican congressman, so long as Russia was stealing actual materials - as opposed to, say, falsifying documents – in order to further its own interests, Franks is satisfied with the results. In fact, the GOP lawmaker seems to believe news organizations should also start committing similar crimes.

This is a bit like saying the Washington Post's Woodward and Bernstein should have spent less time investigating the Watergate scandal and more time breaking into the DNC headquarters in order to give the American people "information that was accurate."

A day after the interview, the GOP lawmaker seemed to back away from his own assertions, at least a little.
[I]n an interview with CNN's Jim Sciutto on "Wolf," Franks argued that he has been a harsh critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime and that his comment was misinterpreted.

"Those comments were completely misconstrued," Franks told Sciutto, adding that "nobody has been harder on Russian than me."

Franks did not elaborate further on how his comment had been misunderstood.
I've checked the transcript, and Franks made no effort to explain how or why his comments to MSNBC had been "completely misconstrued." He emphasized his concerns about Russia's government, but that's largely irrelevant in this case -- because the question is whether Franks supports Russia's alleged espionage operation that subverted the U.S. presidential election.

And on this point, his conclusion wasn't misconstrued at all: Franks said he saw Russian intervention in the American process to be a positive development.
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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at the USA Thank You Tour event at the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center in West Allis, Wis., on Dec. 13, 2016. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Trump seems eager to make national divisions much worse

01/02/17 10:00AM

It's fairly common for national leaders to extend best wishes to the public as one calendar year ends and another begins. President Obama said via Twitter yesterday, for example, "It's been the privilege of my life to serve as your President. I look forward to standing with you as a citizen. Happy New Year everybody."

Donald Trump had a related message of his own, but take a moment to appreciate the not-so-subtle difference between the president-elect's message and that of the current president.
As 2016 comes to a close, world leaders appear just as eager to start fresh in the new year. President-elect Donald Trump, however, couldn't let this year go without taking another dig at his critics.

"Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love!" he tweeted Saturday morning.
Note, there's nothing to suggest Trump's Twitter feed was hacked by an intemperate child trying to make the president-elect look petty or intentionally ridiculous. This sentiment reflects Trump's actual New Year's sentiment.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) joked in response to Trump's message, "This is the exact same tweet my nephew sent when he won middle school class treasurer. Word for word. Uncanny."

A day earlier, Politico reported that Trump "ejected from his West Palm Beach golf course one of his most critical biographers, Harry Hurt III, who had been preparing to play in a foursome with billionaire mega-donor David Koch." Apparently, Trump is still bothered by a 1993 book about him, and he argued with the author about the biography's accuracy after Hurt tried to congratulate Trump for his election victory.

Do you ever get the feeling Trump doesn't care about moving past old conflicts in order to help bring people together?
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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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