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Image: YEAR IN FOCUS - NEWS (1 of a set of 85) Republican National Convention: Day Two

Trump's family takes new steps to blur ethical boundaries

05/30/17 10:40AM

Donald Trump's adult sons already have a job: they're responsible for running their father's business, which he still owns and profits from, during his time as president. The ethical implications of this arrangement are already a mess without precedent in American history.

And as the Washington Post reported the other day, the situation keeps getting messier.

Amid mounting questions at the White House about Russia, three prominent members of President Trump's family -- his sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., and Eric's wife, Lara -- have ramped up their engagement with the Republican Party's national political operation, having met privately with GOP leaders to share their concerns and outlook.

Their most recent effort came Thursday, when the president's eldest sons and Lara Trump visited the Republican National Committee's headquarters in Washington.... Their appearance at the RNC irked at least two prominent Republicans who were briefed on the session, who wondered whether it was appropriate for the president's sons, who run the Trump family real estate business, to be highly involved in discussing the party's strategy and resources.

The meeting, according to the report, lasted "about two hours," and participants included, among others, RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, RNC chief of staff Sara Armstrong, and former White House deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, who now advises a pro-Trump nonprofit group.

The president's adult sons reportedly pressed Republican officials at the gathering to do more to "help reignite [Trump's] political base."

The ethical controversies with this family are so common, they effectively serve as background noise that the political world hardly notices anymore, but that's a shame, because his dynamic is tough to defend. Put aside the family connections for a moment and consider the story at face value: the heads of the president's private-sector enterprise are intervening in politics, urging his allies to do more to "help" the president.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

White House communications director quits after just three months

05/30/17 10:00AM

Donald Trump's original plan was for Jason Miller, a top member of the Republican's campaign team, to serve as White House communications director. Miller, however, unexpectedly withdrew before Inauguration Day due to personal troubles, leaving Sean Spicer to serve as both the White House press secretary and the communications director, which never really made any sense, and proved untenable.

And so, a month after taking office, Trump hired Mike Dubke, the founder of a Republican consulting firm called Crossroads Media, to take over as communications director. This, evidently, hasn't worked out well, either.

White House communications director Mike Dubke is stepping down from his post after just three months on the job, NBC News confirmed Tuesday.

Dubke tendered his resignation on May 18, but offered to stay on through President Donald Trump's first foreign trip, which ended Saturday. Trump accepted Dubke's offer, but his official last day has not been set and he was still expected to be at the White House on Tuesday.

Dubke's resignation was first reported by Axios.

In case this isn't obvious, it's not a good sign when a chaotic White House, mired in scandal and tumult, loses its communications director -- after just three months -- despite the fact that he's one of the few people in the West Wing whose professional background actually matched his job description.

We don't yet have the details surrounding why Dubke decided to quit, but as a general rule, one of the surest signs of a White House in crisis is when prominent aides start fleeing.

There's also the added challenge of replacing Dubke. Under these circumstances, who'd leap at the chance of joining Team Trump as communications director?

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Image: *** BESTPIX *** President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Press Conference In New York

Team Trump may not have the campaign documents senators want to see

05/30/17 09:20AM

The Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into the Russia scandal has been alarmingly slow, but we occasionally see evidence of activity. Indeed, late last week, we learned of an important new request for information -- which Donald Trump's team may not be able to answer.

The Washington Post reported that the top two members of the committee -- Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Ranking Member Mark Warner (D-Va.) -- asked Trump's political organization "to gather and produce all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records going back to his campaign's launch in June 2015." Some former Trump campaign staffers, the article added, "have been notified and asked to cooperate."

This is, to be sure, an important development: whenever there's a bipartisan expansion of the investigation into the controversy, it matters.

But Politico reported that some in Trump World believe the materials the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to see may not exist.

Unlike the White House, which is subject to federal recordkeeping requirements, campaigns aren't bound to preserve documents. But staffers may have some emails still backed up on their phones or computers, or documents -- including calendars and other records that could wind up being critical for investigators.

Presidential campaigns tend to have short windows for maintaining emails on their private servers. And while they often do keep field plans, budgets and other critical personnel documents for archival or legal purposes, the retention policies for emails frequently mean all messages are automatically deleted within 30 to 90 days unless they're specifically preserved.

Trump's campaign, said a former senior aide, didn't do much in the way of establishing a backup plan to preserve those digital records.

It's difficult to say at this point whether this is true or not. Maybe Trump's political operation largely ignored document retention, maybe these aides are laying the groundwork now, looking for an excuse to avoid complying with an official request.

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Image: FILE PHOTO --  U.S. President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel give a joint news conference in Washington

Trump World's defense of Jared Kushner is literally unbelievable

05/30/17 08:40AM

It's not surprising that prominent voices from the Trump administration would try to defend the latest revelations surrounding Jared Kushner. It is surprising, though, that officials would jeopardize their credibility and stature with talking points that are literally unbelievable.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly appeared on ABC News' "This Week" on Sunday, and gave this assessment of Kushner's reported outreach to Russia:

"It's both normal, in my opinion, and acceptable. Any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organizations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us is a good thing.... [I]t's not a bad thing to have multiple communication lines to any government."

Kelly added on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he believes "any time you can open lines of communication with anyone, whether they're good friends or not so good friends, is a smart thing to do."

White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster embraced a similar tack.

McMaster, a decorated three-star Army general, was asked whether he would be concerned if an official on his National Security Council staff or elsewhere in the Trump administration sought a back-channel communications system with the Russian embassy or the Kremlin in Moscow.

"No," McMaster said. "We have back-channel communications with a number of countries. So, generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner." He continued, "No, I would not be concerned about it."

Let's take a step back, because to take administration officials' rhetoric at face value is to ignore the seriousness of the allegations and every relevant detail that's already emerged.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-DEPARTS

If Trump's trip was a 'home run,' I'd hate to see a strike out

05/30/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump and his team were delighted with his first overseas trip as president, with White House aides telling reporters they considered it "the most successful stretch" of Trump's tenure thus far. The Republican himself boasted on Saturday that he believes he "hit a home run."

A senior administration official "implored" reporters on Air Force One to "tell the story back home about what an unprecedentedly and historically successful trip this was by an incredible leader and an amazing man."

Putting aside the Pyongyang-like tone of that creepy Trump World quote, the gushing boasts masked an uncomfortable truth: the president failed rather spectacularly in his first audition on the international stage. Consider, for example, Angela Merkel's impression, as reported by the Washington Post.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Trump last week, saying that Europe "really must take our fate into our own hands."

It was the toughest review yet of Trump's trip to Europe, which inflamed tensions rather than healed them after the U.S. president sparred with the leaders of Washington's closest and oldest allies on trade, defense and climate change.
The German leader did not mention Trump by name, but her comments in Munich weren't exactly subtle: she said she believes the days in which Europe could rely on others was "over to a certain extent." Merkel added, "This is what I have experienced in the last few days."

The "last few days," of course, referred to time she'd just spent with the new American president.

For a leader who chooses her words carefully, Merkel's comments sent diplomatic shockwaves throughout much of the international community for a reason: it was emblematic of a widening rift between Western allies, caused almost entirely by Donald J. Trump. Russia has spent decades hoping to drive a wedge between Germany and the United States -- an alliance that's been a central pillar of global affairs for decades -- and it now appears Trump has managed to deliver that result after just four months in office.

If Trump scored a "home run" abroad, I'd hate to see what a strike out looks like.
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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.26.17

05/26/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Egypt: "Masked gunmen killed 28 people on a bus carrying Coptic Christians, Egyptian authorities said. State TV reported the vehicle was attacked as it traveled on the road to the St. Samuel Monastery in Minya province, which is located about 140 miles south of Cairo."

* China: "Two Chinese fighter jets intercepted a U.S. surveillance aircraft a couple hundred miles southeast of Hong Kong this week in a maneuver the Navy described as 'unsafe.'"

* This seems like a wildly irresponsible thing for someone in his position to say: "Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Friday said the terror threat is worse than most realize, saying some people would 'never leave the house' if they knew the truth."

* There should be accountability for governmental abuses of power: "Sitting on the tarmac at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Jan. 15, Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. sent a text message to one of his captains after a brief verbal exchange with a passenger. The sheriff explained in the text what should be done when Riverwest resident Dan Black got off the plane."

* Maybe the Texas Republican can think of something different to joke about: "Gov. Greg Abbott's visit to a shooting range to sign a bill into law got big attention when he took some target practice and made a crack about journalists. 'I'm going to carry this around in case I see any reporters,' Abbott said with a grin as he joked with journalists covering the event, after he was given his target sheet."
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Image: Hillary Clinton Delivers Commencement Address At Wellesley College

Hillary Clinton reflects on the 'assault on truth and reason'

05/26/17 04:27PM

Hillary Clinton delivered the commencement address at Wellesley College earlier today, and she made no explicit references to Donald Trump. She didn't identify any GOP officials or conservative media outlets by name. She mentioned the Republican Party once, but only to note to her audience that, years ago, she served as the president of the Wellesley College Young Republicans.

But if you missed her remarks, it's also fair to say the former Secretary of State's speech wasn't exactly subtle.
Hillary Clinton returned to her alma mater, Wellesley College, Friday to deliver a fiery commencement address that attacked President Donald Trump and his policies  --  but it was her implicit comparisons between Nixon's resignation and the current administration that drew the loudest cheers.

Clinton lashed out at what she described as the "unimaginable cruelty" of Trump's budget proposal and the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories and internet trolls. But when she talked about the mood on campus in 1969, the year she graduated, she got her biggest reception.

"We were furious about the past presidential election, of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with impeachment for obstruction of justice -- after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice!" she said.
She was referring, of course, to Nixon, though the Wellesley audience seemed to pick up on the parallels to a certain other Republican.

But what struck me as especially notable was Clinton taking some time to reflect on the "assault on truth and reason."
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Image: US President Donald J. Trump visits Saudi Arabia

Trump's latest jobs boast falls apart almost immediately

05/26/17 12:41PM

Just this morning, Donald Trump turned to Twitter to announce he'd arrived in Italy for a G-7 meeting, which led him to reflect on the "very successful" foreign trip he believes he's having. "We made and saved the USA many billions of dollars and millions of jobs," the president said.

Just as a general rule, when Trump makes claims about jobs he's created and/or saved, it's best to be skeptical. His track record in recent months has been breathtaking in its mendacity, so it's not as if the president has built up a reservoir of credibility.

But let's try to have an open mind. The Republican president has been abroad for about six days, and in that time, he believes he's managed to create and/or save "millions of jobs." If that were in any way true, it'd be a remarkable feat: in a good year, the United States will create between 2 million and 3 million new jobs over the course of 12 months.

If Trump's managed to match that in less than a week, he'd finally have something to brag about. Fortunately, the Washington Post took a closer look:
As for the number of jobs [connected to an arms deal with Saudi Arabia], thousands appears to have morphed into millions. But an analysis published by The Washington Post reported that the companies involved would not confirm any specific number of jobs saved or supported, suggesting that Trump's original estimate of "thousands" was more guesswork than reality.

A White House official said Trump was not talking just about the Saudi deals but "benefits to trade from the entire trip from Saudi Arabia to the G7." He noted that "any improvement on trade would save many jobs. Stopping even one bad trade deal can save millions. Changing the infrastructure of global trade to tilt it back toward the U.S. would save and create millions."
Well, maybe. We can certainly have a conversation about the effects trade deals can have on domestic employment, but at the risk of sounding picky, Trump hasn't signed, stopped, or changed any U.S. trade deals with anyone -- neither this week nor at any point in his brief term thus far.

What Trump World is saying, in effect, is that Trump may someday change the direction of international trade -- itself a dubious claim -- which in turn may someday improve job creation in the United States.
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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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