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Monday's Mini-Report, 6.5.17

06/05/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Another mass shooting: "A disgruntled former employee at an Orlando, Florida RV accessory business fatally shot five workers Monday morning before turning the gun on himself, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office."

* Afghanistan: "Three explosions on Saturday rocked the funeral service of a victim of antigovernment protests in Kabul, killing at least seven people and injuring dozens after a tense and bloody week in the Afghan capital."

* The privilege claim would've been dubious anyway: "President Donald Trump will not invoke executive privilege to prevent former FBI Director James Comey from testifying before Congress Thursday."

* In case you missed this on Friday night: "The special counsel investigating possible ties between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia's government has taken over a separate criminal probe involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and may expand his inquiry to investigate the roles of the attorney general and deputy attorney general in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, The Associated Press has learned."

* On a related note: "Special Counsel Robert Mueller is already closely managing the Russian election meddling investigation he was appointed to oversee, receiving daily briefings and weighing in on investigative tactics, a spokesman told NBC News Friday."

* This one's also worth watching: "The White House and a Russian state-owned bank have very different explanations for why the bank's chief executive and Jared Kushner held a secret meeting during the presidential transition in December."

* Another promise that's likely to be broken: "Mr. Trump has pledged to overhaul the [nuclear] arsenal, which he has called obsolete. But his challenge is growing: The first official government estimate of the project, prepared by the Congressional Budget Office and due to be published in the coming weeks, will put the cost at more than $1.2 trillion -- 20 percent more than the figure envisioned by the Obama administration."

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London Mayor Sadiq Khan attends Yom HaShoah, the Jewish Community's Holocaust Remembrance Day, at the Barnet Copthall Stadium on May 8, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty)

White House pretends Trump didn't 'pick a fight' with London mayor

06/05/17 04:09PM

At the White House press briefing today, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked a very good question: "Why is [Donald Trump] picking a fight with the mayor of London right after his city was hit with a terrorist attack?" As TPM's report makes clear, the president's spokesperson didn't have much of an answer.

"I don't see that the president is picking a fight with the mayor of London at all," Sanders replied to [ABC News' Jonathan Karl]. "I think, again, the president's point is something he said, frankly, back -- it's been almost two years now, a year and a half ago, when the president talked about how we have to be more committed to national security."

The reporter noted in response that the president, by taking London Mayor Sadiq Khan's words out of context, "directly misrepresented" what was said. Sanders replied, "I don't think that's actually true."

It is actually true.

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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks to the crowd at the Kemp Forum, Jan. 9, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/AP)

Nikki Haley keeps straying from Team Trump's script

06/05/17 01:00PM

For several days, reporters asked White House officials if Donald Trump still believes everything we know about climate change is a hoax, and in each instance, members of the president's team refused to answer. That changed over the weekend.

Finally, in an interview set to air on Sunday, UN ambassador Nikki Haley gave a more straightforward response: "President Trump believes the climate is changing and he believes pollutants are part of the equation," she told Jake Tapper.

Haley wouldn't address Trump's infamous claim that "the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive," saying only that, "[He] knows that it's changing and that the U.S. has to be responsible for it and that's what we're going to do."

That's not a horrible answer, but it's hard not to wonder: just how much does Nikki Haley's perspective comport with the White House's?

In the same interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Haley added that Trump administration officials "absolutely think Russia meddled" in last year's U.S. elections. That's an encouraging acknowledgement of reality, I suppose, but as recently as last month, the president personally and publicly questioned the intelligence pointing to Russia's role in the attack on our democracy.

It's not that I think Haley is lying; it's just that I think Haley and Trump are struggling to stay on  the same page.

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Trump struggles with the meaning of 'obstructionism'

06/05/17 12:30PM

For a while, Donald Trump argued that many of the vacancies in key posts throughout his administration were part of a deliberate strategy. "[I]n many cases, we don't want to fill those jobs," the president said in February. "A lot of those jobs, I don't want to appoint, because they're unnecessary to have.... Many of those jobs, I don't want to fill."

By April, Trump decided to take the opposite position, saying the problem has "nothing to do with" him and everything to do with Democratic "obstructionists" in the Senate.

The Republican president, apparently referencing something he saw on Fox News, continued to push this line earlier today:

"Dems are taking forever to approve my people, including Ambassadors. They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals."

We may need to consider the possibility that Trump doesn't know what "obstructionist" means.

I appreciate the fact that the amateur president is new to government, and may not fully grasp how the process works, but the details aren't especially complicated:

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.5.17

06/05/17 12:00PM

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

* The latest out of North Carolina: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday affirmed a lower court's ruling that North Carolina's state lawmakers illegally relied too much on the race of voters when they drew 28 state House and state Senate districts in 2011. But the justices rejected the court's order to redraw the districts and hold a special election."

* In Georgia's congressional special election, Jon Ossoff (D) has had considerable success raising money for his bid, but he and Democrats are being swamped by millions of dollars in attack ads from outside groups, desperate to boost Karen Handel (R) ahead of the June 20 runoff.

* Donald Trump's re-election campaign sent a message to supporters over the weekend, referring them to information published by InfoWars, a fringe conspiracy-theory website.

* In Iowa, congressional candidate Kim Weaver (D) ended her campaign against Rep. Steve King (R) over the weekend, saying she faced "alarming acts of intimidation, including death threats." King faced Weaver last year, and won by over 22 points.

* Montana Republicans are still looking for a top-tier contender to take on Sen. Jon Tester (D) in 2018, but it apparently won't be state Attorney General Tim Fox (R), who's reportedly decided not to run.

* In Minnesota, Rep. Rick Nolan (D) has decided not to run for governor next year, announcing instead he'll run for re-election. The news comes as a relief to the DCCC, which was worried about holding onto his competitive district.

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban on Monday, leaving Iraq off the list of targeted countries at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S.

Defending his Muslim ban, Trump remains his own worst enemy

06/05/17 11:20AM

Just a week ago, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly tried to defend Donald Trump's Muslim ban by focusing on the importance of rhetoric. "It's not a travel ban, remember," the cabinet secretary told Fox News. "It's the travel pause." Similarly, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is on record telling reporters, "When we use words like 'travel ban,' that misrepresents what it is."

According to these officials' boss, they're completely wrong. The president's latest Twitter tantrum focused on the ongoing legal controversy surrounding Trump's executive orders, and in this case, the Republican said the opposite of what he was supposed to say:

"People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!

"The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C. The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court - & seek much tougher version!

"In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!"

About a week ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that "a team of lawyers" may soon start reviewing Trump's social-media missives before they're shared with the world. Clearly, that hasn't happened yet -- because the president's tweets this morning are exactly the sort of messages his attorneys would try to block.

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Television camera operators work from a platform as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton attends at a rally, May 26, 2016, in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Former Trump surrogate makes his debut as a pundit

06/05/17 10:40AM

We learned last week that Boris Epshteyn, a former special assistant to Donald Trump, received a request for information from the House Intelligence Committee, as part of the panel's investigation into the Russia scandal. The news came just two months after Epshteyn, who helped oversee Team Trump's TV surrogate operation, left the White House for reasons that were never fully explained.

Over the weekend, however, many Americans watched their local news and saw a new on-air segment called "Bottom Line with Boris," featuring the former Trump aide with a combative reputation. The two-minute segment featured Epshteyn criticizing the White House press corps.

And why, pray tell, was this former White House official making his debut as a pundit? After his departure from Trump World, Epshteyn was apparently hired by Sinclair Broadcasting as a commentator.

The segment was a reminder that reports like this one from the Washington Post a month ago was probably more important than widely recognized.

Donald Trump the businessman prided himself on making winning business deals. Now, Donald Trump the president appears to be a winner in a deal he didn't even negotiate.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group, already the nation's largest owner of local television stations, is adding 42 more in a $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media. The result could be slightly friendlier coverage for the president in the nation's largest media markets, as well as in cities such as Cleveland, Greensboro, N.C., and Des Moines that represent key centers in battleground states.

Vox added soon after, "Sinclair Broadcast Group — a conservative, Trump-friendly television empire — is poised to become one of the most powerful players in the mainstream media. The relatively unknown company, whose stations have mixed conservative commentary with local news, is now on the verge of a deal that would allow it to reach nearly three-quarters of American households."

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The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump stumbles while looking for a new FBI director

06/05/17 10:00AM

As part of his deeply unfortunate response to the latest terror attack in London, Donald Trump declared his intention to "get down to the business of security for our people." He then went golfing for a few hours.

Before hitting the links, the president didn't specify what getting down to business would entail, exactly, but if Trump had a director of the FBI, it'd be a helpful step in the right direction.

It's been nearly a month since the president fired then-FBI Director James Comey because of Trump's concerns about the counter-espionage investigation Comey was leading, and as is too often the case, the White House hadn't lined up a successor before making the move.

Four days after the firing, Trump pledged to move quickly to nominate a new director. A few days after that, the president said he was "very close" to announcing Comey's replacement.

And yet, here were are, more than two weeks later, waiting for an announcement. Reuters reported the other day that the process of finding a new director isn't going especially well in part because of the president's role.

President Donald Trump is still looking for a new FBI director more than three weeks after he fired James Comey, and sources familiar with the recruiting process say it has been chaotic and that job interviews led by Trump have been brief. [...]

Those conversations, which followed initial interviews at the Justice Department, have been light on questions about substantive issues facing the agency, the three associates said.

According to Reuters' reporting, one prospective director reportedly described the process as "chaotic" and said that in one interview, "Trump spoke mostly about himself and seemed distracted."

That's very easy to believe. By all appearances, the president has no meaningful understanding of what an FBI director does, so the fact that he's involved in the interview process is bound to be a hindrance.

I just hope Trump doesn't hand copies of the 2016 electoral map to those under consideration.

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Trump campaign's 'Pittsburgh, not Paris' rally draws 'dozens'

06/05/17 09:20AM

In his White House speech on Thursday afternoon, Donald Trump delivered a soundbite that conservatives quickly embraced: "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris." The phrase, which drew quick applause from the president's supporters, did not, however, make any sense: the international climate accord was agreed to in Paris, but it was intended to benefit everyone, not just Parisians.

Nevertheless, this Politico report, published the day after Trump's speech, didn't come as too big a surprise to anyone.

President Donald Trump's campaign announced a "Pittsburgh, not Paris" rally across from the White House on Saturday to celebrate the United States' withdrawal from a global climate agreement.

The Fairfax County Republican Committee and the Republican Party of Virginia are sponsoring the rally in Lafayette Square, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, according to an announcement from the Trump campaign.

It was hard not to appreciate the irony of Republicans holding a "Pittsburgh, not Paris" rally in Lafayette Square -- literally across the street from the north side of the White House -- which is named after a French general, Marquis de Lafayette, who helped America win the Revolutionary War. New York magazine's Jon Chait noted, "There is literally no stupider location in the entire world to stage an anti-French American rally."

And while that may be true, that doesn't necessarily mean turnout for such a gathering would be poor. After all, if a sitting president's campaign team announces support for a rally in a major American city, and the event is officially sponsored by a nearby state Republican Party, it stands to reason that plenty of GOP diehards would come out to express their support for Trump's anti-climate decision.

So, how many people showed up?

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(L to R) President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, Nov. 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, N.J. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Pentagon's Mattis shares an unexpected message with U.S. allies

06/05/17 08:40AM

In late March, Republicans on Capitol Hill started whispering to reporters about their "frustrations" with Defense Secretary James Mattis. Apparently, Donald Trump's Pentagon chief wasn't nearly as partisan or political as GOP officials had hoped, and it was causing some intra-party rifts.

Those same Mattis critics are probably even less pleased now.

After the weekend's terrorist attack in London, the Defense secretary told reporters, "I like learning about something before I talk. So let me look into it." It may not have been intended as a rhetorical shot at Donald Trump, but given the president's track record, Mattis' reaction sounded like a not-so-subtle insult directed at his boss.

Earlier in the day, Mattis spoke at a security conference in Singapore, where many U.S. allies pressed the Pentagon chief on the Trump administration's apparent desire to upend and undermine alliances that have lasted for generations and helped ensure stability throughout much of the world. The New York Times reported:

No sooner had Mr. Mattis finished his address than he was thrust into the uncomfortable position of defending White House policy decisions on trade, climate science and burden-sharing in a spirited question-and-answer session. The head of an Australian policy institute, Michael Fullilove, wanted to know if the United States, which shelved the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and withdrew from the climate accord, was bringing about the destruction of the very global order Mr. Mattis was championing. [...]

"To quote a British observer of us from some years ago, bear with us," Mr. Mattis said. "Once we have exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing," he continued, invoking a famous quote often attributed to Winston Churchill.

That's a pretty remarkable thing for Mattis to say given the circumstances.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Following London attack, Trump flunks latest leadership test

06/05/17 08:00AM

Soon after Saturday night's terrorist attack in London, where seven were killed and nearly 50 were injured, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis was asked for his reaction to the deadly incident. "I don't know enough about it yet," the Pentagon chief said, adding, "I like learning about something before I talk. So let me look into it."

His boss adopted a very different kind of posture.

Donald Trump, who has unlimited access to expansive amounts of intelligence, initially responded to the attack by retweeting an item from the Drudge Report. Soon after, the American president declared, "We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!"

What does the White House's proposed Muslim ban have to do with the attack? I don't know; Trump didn't say. What "rights" have we lost that Trump wants courts to restore? I don't know; Trump didn't explain that, either.

As more information came to light, Trump wrapped up his Saturday night commentary by saying, "Whatever the United States can do to help out in London and the U. K., we will be there - WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!" It wasn't the most elegant of responses, but the sentiment seemed appropriate.

That is, until yesterday morning, when the Republican shared some related thoughts in a trio of online missives:

"We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don't get smart it will only get worse

"At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is 'no reason to be alarmed!'

"Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That's because they used knives and a truck!"

Trump then went to play golf for a few hours.

When deadly incidents like these unfold, they create easy-to-pass leadership tests. Donald Trump may not realize the degree to which he failed.

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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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