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Monday's Mini-Report, 3.6.17

03/06/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Possible hate crime: "Police in a Seattle suburb are investigating a possible hate crime after a masked gunman shot a Sikh man after telling him to get out of the country, Kent's police chief said."

* Supreme Court:  "In a blow to advocates of transgender rights, the U.S. Supreme Court Monday said it would not hear the case of a transgender high school student fighting to use the bathroom of his choice. The court also wiped off the books a lower court ruling in favor of the student, Gavin Grimm, who said federal law allowed him to use school restrooms matching his gender identity."

* North Korea "fired four banned ballistic missiles into Japanese waters on Monday, an act that officials in Seoul and Tokyo said represented a grave threat to their countries' security."

* On a related note: "The barrage of medium-range missiles that North Korea fired into the ocean late Sunday night and early Monday morning actually included five missiles, not four, but one of the missiles failed at launch, according to two senior defense officials."

* The future of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: "The Trump administration is seeking to slash the budget of one of the government's premier climate science agencies by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs, according to a four-page budget memo obtained by The Washington Post."

* The consequences of the Trump era: "An idea, once unthinkable, is gaining attention in European policy circles: a European Union nuclear weapons program."

* The possible return of an amazing case: "President Trump's post-election agreement to pay $25 million appeared to settle the fraud claims arising from his defunct for-profit education venture, Trump University. But a former student is now asking to opt out of the settlement, a move that, if permitted, could put the deal in jeopardy."
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Image: Donald Trump

White House undercuts its own arguments with new Muslim ban

03/06/17 04:17PM

So much for "see you in court." The White House quietly gave up on Donald Trump's original Muslim ban after it failed spectacularly in the courts, paving the way for today's rollout of a new version of the president's executive order.
Citizens from the affected countries -- Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Libya -- will be subjected to a 90-day ban on travel to the United States. Iraq was previously listed among those nations, but was removed from this latest iteration of the travel ban after assurances from the Iraqi government of increased information sharing with the United States, a senior Department of Homeland Security official told reporters on Monday.

The order will go into effect on March 16, does not revoke existing visas approved before that date and does not explicitly apply to current lawful permanent residents and green card holders.

Visas revoked because of the original travel ban have been fully restored, according to the State Department.
Unlike most of Trump's executive orders, the president did not host a signing ceremony today.

The Muslim Ban 2.0 -- or 3.0 when one factors in the proposal Trump unveiled during the campaign -- is going to be the basis for another international controversy, though it is different from its immediate predecessor in a variety of ways, which NBC News' Ari Melber fleshed out this afternoon.

Note, for example, that legal U.S. residents with green cards are exempt -- a point of serious contention when the other Muslim ban was first implemented -- and Syrian refugees will no longer be held to a different standard than refugees from other countries. That said, the Trump administration's new policy includes a 120-day suspension of the refugee program, regardless of country of origin.

While legal experts dig in, and we wait for inevitable litigation, one of the more important takeaways of today's announcement is that Trump's new Muslim ban, ostensibly signed out of concerns for national security, seems to have very little to do with national security.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

On Trump's wiretap allegations, White House's defenses don't add up

03/06/17 12:58PM

It's been a couple of days since Donald Trump first alleged that he'd "just found out" that former President Obama had tapped the Republican's phone before the election. Trump described this as a "fact," characterized it as a scandal along the lines of "Nixon/Watergate," and condemned his predecessor as a "bad (or sick) guy."

It's quickly becoming apparent that the president's latest conspiracy theory isn't true, and Trump's tantrum came in response to a report he saw on a right-wing website. But White House officials are nevertheless rolling out a series of arguments in support of their boss. Let's consider them one at a time:

1. The White House won't comment. Yesterday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration wants Congress to review the nonsensical allegations, adding, "Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted." Just 43 minutes later, Spicer ignored his own declaration and started commenting further. Several of his White House colleagues have also done interviews on the story.

In other words, when the White House press secretary said no one from Trump's team would comment on the story, the truth was pretty much the opposite.

2. Trump believes what he's saying. On NBC this morning, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in reference to Trump's anti-Obama allegations, "I think the president firmly believes it did [happen]." That may be true, but Trump firmly believes all sorts of strange things with no real connection to reality, so this is hardly compelling.

To be sure, insights like these matter in the context of the is-he-lying-or-is-he-bonkers debate, but what ultimately matters is whether the charges are true, not whether Trump thinks they're true. (Note, The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, added this morning, "White House sources acknowledge that Trump had no idea whether the claims he was making were true when he made them.")

3. Secret evidence. Kellyanne Conway told Fox News this morning that Trump "has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not." That's generally true, but in this case, it's also irrelevant. When all available evidence suggests the president pushed a wild-eyed conspiracy theory -- which is to say, the latest in a series of wild-eyed conspiracy theories embraced by Trump -- it rings hollow when a White House official effectively says, "There's secret evidence that you can't see."
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.6.17

03/06/17 12:00PM

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

* Nearly two weeks after Donald Trump urged his supporters to "have their own rally," predicting it would be "the biggest of them all," some of the president's supporters held some events on Saturday. Turnout at "March 4 Trump" rallies was decent in some larger areas, but many were duds.

* Trump headlined a Florida fundraiser on Friday, telling elite Republican donors that he's focusing on creating a filibuster-proof 60-vote supermajority for Senate Republicans in next year's midterms.

* Ahead of Montana's congressional special election, Democratic officials chose musician Rob Quist, while Republicans will choose their candidate tonight. The Missoulian reported, Quist "gained fame in the Mission Mountain Wood Band," and "touted years of public service including serving for 11 years on the Montana Arts Council and as a state ambassador to Montana's sister state in Kumamoto, Japan. He advocated for the Montana Food Bank and received a grant from the Office of Public Instruction to create anti-bullying programs and art programs in public schools."

* Speaking of congressional special elections, Jon Ossoff, a Democratic candidate in Georgia's 6th district, launched his first television ad on Friday.

* Jere Wood, a Republican mayor in Georgia's 6th, doesn't like Ossoff's chances. Wood told the New Yorker last week, "If you just say 'Ossoff,' some folks are gonna think, 'Is he Muslim? Is he Lebanese? Is he Indian?' It's an ethnic-sounding name, even though he may be a white guy, from Scotland or wherever."

* Retired far-right baseball player Curt Schilling will apparently skip next year's race against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) in Massachusetts, and will instead support Shiva Ayyadura. Ayyadura is perhaps best known for making dubious claims about having invented email.
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Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

Donald Trump's most important friend in Congress

03/06/17 11:21AM

When Donald Trump launched his new wiretap conspiracy theory, congressional Republicans said very little. GOP lawmakers were reportedly "confused" by the president's strange ideas, and largely avoided commenting on the new allegations.

NBC News' Benjy Sarlin noted, "In ordinary times, such an accusation would send both parties and the White House scrambling into action with demands and counter-demands for an immediate investigation. But Trump is not an ordinary president and the initial response from his own side was so muted as to barely be audible."

It's an extraordinary development in its own right. It's as if Republican leaders on Capitol Hill simply don't take Trump's allegations -- which is to say, claims of wrongdoing from a president of their own party -- seriously.

There were, however, exceptions.
House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said on Sunday that his committee will "make inquiries" into whether President Barack Obama's administration eavesdropped on campaign officials before the 2016 election, as President Donald Trump has baselessly claimed it did.

"One of the focus points of the House Intelligence Committee's investigation is the U.S. government's response to actions taken by Russian intelligence agents during the presidential campaign," Nunes said in a statement. "As such, the Committee will make inquiries into whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party's campaign officials or surrogates, and we will continue to investigate this issue if the evidence warrants it."
There's no evidence such surveillance activities ever happened, but the White House wants Nunes to look into it, and the California Republican is happy to oblige by making "inquiries." (This may backfire: if Nunes follows through, he'll find that either Trump made all of this up, or there was enough evidence against Trump to get a court order.)

The same day, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee went on to tell the Washington Post how correct Trump is about opposition the White House is facing from the U.S. intelligence community and elsewhere.
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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Team Trump tries to pacify its 'raging mad' president

03/06/17 10:40AM

NBC News confirmed the details over the weekend of an Oval Office discussion on Friday in which Donald Trump "furiously blasted senior staff." The president was apparently furious over Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself in the Russia probe just one day after Trump said he shouldn't.

The Washington Post had a similar report overnight, noting that Trump summoned his senior aides on Friday morning for a meeting in which he "simmered with rage." The president wanted Sessions to ignore the pressure, "fighting with the full defenses of the White House."

The piece added, "As reporters began to hear about the Oval Office meeting, [White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus] interrupted his Friday afternoon schedule to dedicate more than an hour to calling reporters off the record to deny that the outburst had actually happened."

Oh. In other words, Priebus spent more than an hour lying to reporters.

The Post's report, which was "based on interviews with 17 top White House officials, members of Congress and friends of the president," painted a severely unflattering portrait of a flailing, embattled president, who's increasingly resentful, bitter, and "steaming, raging mad," overseeing an administration that remains "in a perpetual state of chaos."

This, however, was the anecdote that stood out most for me.
Trouble for Trump continued to spiral over the weekend. Early Saturday, he surprised his staff by firing off four tweets accusing Obama of a "Nixon/Watergate" plot to tap his Trump Tower phones in the run-up to last fall's election. Trump cited no evidence, and Obama's spokesman denied any such wiretap was ordered.

That night at Mar-a-Lago, Trump had dinner with Sessions, Bannon, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, among others. They tried to put Trump in a better mood by going over their implementation plans for the travel ban, according to a White House official.

Trump was brighter Sunday morning as he read several newspapers, pleased that his allegations against Obama were the dominant story, the official said.
We're learning quite a bit about how the president's aides try to placate him -- and what it takes to cheer Trump up when he's feeling blue.
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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Following Sessions' Mar-a-Lago appearance, new ethics questions arise

03/06/17 10:00AM

At some point during the Obama era, conservatives convinced themselves that the Democratic president took an outrageous amount of time off, traveled constantly, and vastly preferred golfing to working. The criticisms were always quite silly -- especially after George W. Bush broke every modern record for time off taken by a sitting president -- but the right nevertheless embraced the nonsense with great enthusiasm.

Vox recently talked to a series of CPAC attendees, many of whom continued to complain bitterly about Obama's travel costs and downtime. Told that Donald Trump is actually spending more on travel and enjoying more downtime, conservatives were incredulous. The facts "can't possibly be right," one said. "That absolutely can't be right."

Reality, however, is stubborn. Trump headlined a political fundraiser on Friday night, before heading to Mar-a-Lago, the for-profit club he still owns, for another relaxing weekend. Over the last five weekends, the president has visited his luxury resort four times -- each trip costs American taxpayers about $3 million -- and as of last night, Trump had spent 31% of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago.  He's now played golf eight times since taking office six weeks ago.

In October 2014, Trump whined via Twitter, "We pay for Obama's travel so he can fundraise millions so Democrats can run on lies. Then we pay for his golf." A year later, as a presidential candidate, Trump declared that if he were in office, he'd dispense with breaks. "I'd want to stay in the White House and work my ass off," he told voters.

Like so many of his claims, Trump apparently didn't mean a word of it. (Last week, the White House even gave the press misleading information about one the president's golf outings.)

But this latest trip was a little different -- because as the Palm Beach Post noted, Trump this time brought along some powerful friends.
President Donald Trump mingled with guests outside a charity ball at his Mar-a-Lago Club on Saturday night. As attendees danced inside the ballroom where the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute held its gala, the president was spotted nearby, shaking hands and talking with club members and guests.

Earlier, Attorney General Jeff Sessions also took a few moments from high-level meetings to greet guests at the estate.
Oh good, we've reached the point at which the attorney general of the United States is a prop for members at the president's for-profit club.
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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

When Trump has questions, far-right media gives him answers

03/06/17 09:20AM

Fairly early on Saturday morning, Donald Trump started sharing some thoughts. Before hitting the golf course again, the president told the public that he'd "just found out" that former President Obama tapped his phones during the presidential election. "This is Nixon/Watergate," the Republican said. "Bad (or sick) guy!"

Almost immediately, nearly everyone, including White House officials, began wondering where the president heard this unhinged conspiracy theory. As NBC News and other major news organizations reported, it wasn't from official sources.
A senior U.S. official in a position to know told NBC News that Trump's allegations have no merit, and the president did not consult with people within the U.S. government who would know the validity of the charge before making claims on his favored communications platform.
It seems safe to assume Trump "just found out" about this deeply strange conspiracy by reading a report from Breitbart News, a right-wing website that was run by his chief White House strategist, Stephen Bannon.

This is no small realization. Under normal circumstances, after Americans elect a normal president, we'd expect information about surveillance operations to come from law enforcement and intelligence agencies. But Trump, who is anything but normal, didn't rely on administration officials or intelligence professionals to give him information through formal channels; he apparently started communicating with the American public because a right-wing website triggered some strange thoughts in his head.

Worse, this wasn't the first time.
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FBI Director James Comey testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Comey, Justice Department at odds over Trump's bizarre claims

03/06/17 08:40AM

The day before Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-CIA Director John Brennan wanted to tell the incoming White House team that Michael Flynn had been lying about his contacts with Russia. FBI Director James Comey disagreed.

As the Washington Post reported last month, Comey pushed back against the idea "primarily on the grounds that notifying the new administration could complicate the agency's investigation" into Russia's intervention on Trump's behalf. Quoting a source familiar with Comey's thinking at the time, the FBI director didn't think the bureau should be "the truth police."

"In other words, if there's not a violation of law here, it's not our job to go and tell the vice president that he's been lied to," the source said.

A month later, Donald Trump apparently started lying to the nation about former President Obama wiretapping the Republican's phone line before the election. According to the New York Times' reporting, Comey believed in this case that the FBI should be the truth police.
The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump's assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump's phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement. [...]

Mr. Comey's request is a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation's top law enforcement official in the position of questioning Mr. Trump's truthfulness. The confrontation between the two is the most serious consequence of Mr. Trump's weekend Twitter outburst, and it underscores the dangers of what the president and his aides have unleashed by accusing the former president of a conspiracy to undermine Mr. Trump's young administration.
It's worth pausing to appreciate the circumstances the nation finds itself in. The sitting president of the United States, apparently after reading some nonsense on a right-wing website, seems to have lied to the nation about a conspiracy involving his predecessor. The director of the FBI -- a Republican appointed by Obama -- concluded that the president was lying and asked the Justice Department to tell Americans the truth.

The Justice Department ignored the request, allowing Trump's apparent deception to stand.
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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump targets Obama with wild-eyed wiretapping conspiracy theory

03/06/17 08:00AM

Immediately following the president's address to a joint session of Congress last week, a variety of pundits could hardly contain their excitement about The New Donald Trump. He'd finally "normalized" himself, Americans were told. He's "pivoted." He's hit the "reset" button. It took a while, but the Republican proved that he now understands how to be "presidential."

Those pundits were spectacularly wrong, as Trump seemed eager to prove on Saturday morning. In what was supposed to be a quiet day for the president and his team, Trump jolted the political world in ways that caught nearly everyone off guard.
President Donald Trump alleged in a tweet storm early Saturday that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower before his election win in November -- an accusation that a senior U.S. official told NBC News is baseless.

Trump did not provide any evidence for the claims, which followed an interview on Fox News in which the allegation came up.
Even by the standards of Donald J. Trump, the president's online missives were extraordinary. The first message read, in its entirely, "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"

It was soon followed by a series of related tweets, in which the embattled Trump declared, "Is it legal for a sitting President to be 'wire tapping' a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW! I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election! How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"

Soon after, the president turned his attention to the ratings of the reality show for which he serves as executive producer. Trump then played golf.

This is a doozy of a story, so let's unpack what we know (and what we don't).
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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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