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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 EricGreitensForPresident.com domain name.

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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-RUSSIA

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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Image: Ivanka Trump Attends W20 Conference In Berlin

China awards Ivanka Trump's company several new trademarks

05/29/18 10:08AM

In March 2017, just a couple of months after Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, Ivanka Trump started working in the White House, reversing her earlier commitments. A month later, on April 6, 2017, China approved new trademarks for Ivanka Trump's company.

The same day, the president's daughter dined at Mar-a-Lago, sitting next to Chinese President Xi Jinping. For those concerned about possible conflicts of interest surrounding the First Family, these were not welcome developments.

More than a year later, there are new reasons to ask the same questions. The New York Times  reported yesterday, for example, that China has awarded Ivanka Trump's company a series of new trademarks, just as her father took controversial steps to help a major Chinese telecommunications company.

The developments may very well be unrelated, but the point is, we shouldn't even have to wonder about the motivations of the relevant players.

[T]he remarkable timing is raising familiar questions about the Trump family's businesses and its patriarch's status as commander in chief. Even as Mr. Trump contends with Beijing on issues like security and trade, his family and the company that bears his name are trying to make money off their brand in China's flush and potentially promising market.

The most recent slew of trademarks appear to have been granted along the same timeline as Ms. Trump's previous requests, experts said. But more broadly, they said, Ms. Trump's growing portfolio of trademarks in China and the family's business interests there raises questions about whether Chinese officials are giving the Trump family extra consideration that they otherwise might not get.

Before the president's supporters shrug their shoulders, they may want to consider how they'd react if a President Hillary Clinton were engaged in trade talks with China, while at the same time, Chelsea Clinton's private business were receiving valuable trademarks from officials in Beijing.

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US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

Why can't Trump tell the truth about military pay?

05/29/18 09:22AM

Donald Trump spoke at the U.S. Naval Academy's graduation and commissioning ceremony in Annapolis late last week, which wouldn't have been especially notable were it not for the president's propensity to say a lot of things that weren't even close to being true.

Trump's rhetoric about the size of the Naval fleet was wrong. His claims about defense spending were false. He insisted that he's improved international respect for the United States, which wasn't even close to being true.

But while those bogus claims were annoying, this was the presidential rhetoric that stood out for me:

"We just got you a big pay raise. First time in 10 years. We got you a big pay increase. First time in over 10 years.

"I fought for you. That was the hardest one to get, but you never had a chance of losing. I represented you well. I represented you well."

If this sounds familiar, it's because this wasn't the first time Trump made this claim. A few weeks ago, the president delivered remarks at a Celebration of Military Mothers and Spouses Event in the White House at which he twice boasted with pride about approving the first military raises "in 10 years."

All of which leads to an awkward question: what kind of president lies to servicemen and women about their pay?

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Virginia's Tom Garrett, embattled GOP congressman, calls it quits

05/29/18 08:41AM

The trouble started, somewhat cryptically, last week, when Politico reported that Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) had "abruptly parted ways" with his chief of staff. The same report noted that the far-right freshman, just a year and a half into his congressional career, was considering retirement, though the underlying controversy was unclear.

A day later, the Virginia Republican held a rambling press conference in which he defiantly declared he'd run for re-election. Garrett said there was "no way in heck" he'd retire.

The story, however, was just starting to unfold. A day after the congressman insisted he wasn't going anywhere, Politico spoke to several of Garrett's former staffers and found that the congressman and his wife treated his staff like "personal servants," assigning them tasks that ranged "from grocery shopping to fetching the congressman's clothes to caring for their pet dog, all during work hours."

Yesterday, the Virginian came to terms with his circumstances.

Rep. Tom Garrett, R-Va., said Monday that he was an alcoholic and added his name to the growing list of lawmakers not seeking re-election in November's midterm elections, his spokesman confirmed. [...]

Garrett described his retirement as "a new beginning" driven not by a fear of losing but by "knowing where your priorities should be." His alcoholism, he added, was the "one area that I haven't been honest."

At least for now, it appears that Garrett, a member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, will not resign from Congress before his term ends in January.

And on that note, it seems like a good time to update the overall congressional retirement list:

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Image: Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House

Trump falsely blames Democrats for his own immigration agenda

05/29/18 08:00AM

The stories are gut-wrenching. Hundreds of immigrants, many of them legally seeking asylum, are reaching the U.S. border, only to have American officials take their young children away. In some cases, literal toddlers have been forcibly removed from the arms of their parents.

The outrage and public condemnations of these practices has left Donald Trump with a choice. He can defend his administration's policy; he can pretend the policy doesn't exist; or he can try to blame others for what he's done. In this case, the Republican president has decided to look behind Door #3, as evidenced by this tweet over the holiday weekend.

"Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the U.S. Catch and Release, Lottery and Chain must also go with it and we MUST continue building the WALL! DEMOCRATS ARE PROTECTING MS-13 THUGS."

Much of this is gibberish, but the part of this that matters was the president's insistence that Democrats approved a "horrible law" that requires him to separate children from parents.

Trump is clearly lying. There is no such law. As NBC News reported the other day, there's a 2008 law "requiring children traveling alone at the border to be released in the 'least restrictive setting' while their cases are processed," but it doesn't require Trump to separate children from their parents, and it was a bipartisan measure signed by George W. Bush.

The policies the Trump administration are imposing on these families are part of a deliberate strategy. Whether the president understands this or not, top members of his own team -- including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen -- have made no secret of the fact that they're separating these families, on purpose, in order to discourage additional immigration.

As the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell explained, "The Trump administration's goal is to inflict pain upon these families. Cruelty is not an unfortunate, unintended consequence of White House immigration policy; it is the objective. After all, if forced separations are sufficiently agonizing, fewer families will try to come here, no matter how dangerous their home countries are. Administration members have argued as much."

All of which raises the question of why, exactly, Trump is telling this specific lie.

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Impeachment a wildcard issue amid midterm messaging

Impeachment a wildcard issue amid midterm messaging

05/28/18 11:44PM

Rachel Maddow looks at the role of the potential impeachment of Donald Trump in Democratic politics, and Steve Kornacki talks with former Rep. Tom Davis about how political miscalculations about impeaching Bill Clinton ahead of midterm elections ended up hurting Republicans in the voting booth. watch

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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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