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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

'Dysfunction' starts to overcome Kelly's White House

02/12/18 09:00AM

The early months of Donald Trump's presidency featured constant turmoil in the White House. On a near-daily basis, Americans were confronted with reports of chaos, in-fighting, distrust, and behind-the-scenes leaks intended to boost one faction over another.

More than a few observers started comparing Trump's out-of-control West Wing to "Game of Thrones." When the president held a press conference one year ago this week and described his team as a "fine-tuned machine," nearly everyone immediately found it hilarious because the assessment was so badly at odds with reality.

When John Kelly made the transition from four-star general to Homeland Security secretary to White House chief of staff, the mayhem was supposed to end. Instead, Trump World now appears to have come full circle. The Washington Post put it this way:

Aides described a resulting level of dysfunction not experienced behind the scenes at the White House since the early months of Trump’s presidency. Dormant ­rivalries have come alive, with suspicions swirling about some of the most senior officials and the roles they apparently played in protecting [former White House Staff Secretary Rob] Porter.

Two prominent White House staffers were forced to resign last week following allegations of violent domestic abuse -- part of a recent trend in which the administration has begun hemorrhaging staff. Aides have started to tell reporters that Kelly's version of events surrounding Porter's exit wasn't true. Communications Director Hope Hicks is under  fire in ways she's not accustomed to. Kelly has reportedly made clear that he's willing to resign.

For his part, Trump has not only vented his frustrations about Kelly's performance, he's also begun "speculating about potential replacements," and a short list of possible successors has apparently emerged.

By one account, Trump last week privately confided in, of all people, Reince Priebus -- the man he ousted as chief of staff to install Kelly.

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Image: Devin Nunes, Eric Swalwell, Jim Himes

Trump clears bogus Republican memo, but blocks Dems' rebuttal

02/12/18 08:30AM

Around 1 p.m. (ET) on Friday, a reporter asked Donald Trump if he'd release the Democratic response to the Republicans' discredited "Nunes memo." The president didn't hesitate. "Yes," he replied. "It's going to be released soon."

By Friday evening, that was no longer true.

Citing national security concerns, the White House on Friday formally notified the House intelligence committee that President Donald Trump is "unable" to declassify a memo drafted by Democrats that counters GOP allegations about abuse of government surveillance powers in the FBI's Russia probe.

White House counsel Don McGahn said in a letter to the committee that the memo contains "numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages" and asked the intelligence panel to revise the memo with the help of the Justice Department. He said Trump is still "inclined" to release the memo in the interest of transparency if revisions are made.

Trump himself weighed in via Twitter, complaining that the Democratic document was "political and long" -- remember, he's not much of a reader -- and designed specifically to be rejected.

In a missive the president almost certainly didn't write himself, the tweet added that the memo's Democratic authors knew it "would have to be heavily redacted, whereupon they would blame the White House for lack of transparency."

Raise your hand if you believe Donald Trump personally wrote a tweet featuring the word "whereupon."

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump apparently has no use for the #MeToo movement

02/12/18 08:00AM

As the national conversation about sexual misconduct continues to unfold, and the backlash against those facing abuse allegations intensifies, Donald Trump now seems eager to take a side.

On Friday, for example, the president was asked about former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who resigned following reports of his alleged abuse toward both of his ex-wives. Instead of denouncing domestic abuse, Trump highlighted what he saw as the most important elements of the Porter scandal: the former aide "worked very hard," did "a very good job," and is "very sad."

Hours later, another White House staffer, speechwriter David Sorensen, also resigned following claims from his ex-wife that he was violent and emotionally abusive. Sorensen denies the allegations.

It's against this backdrop that the president decided over the weekend to shed additional light on his views on recent developments, effectively offering a rejoinder to the #MeToo movement:

"Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused -- life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?"

There are some important problems with the president's perspective. Trump may believe, for example, that those accused of misconduct can never recover, but he appears to be living proof to the contrary: despite the fact that he personally has faced allegations from a wide variety of women, Trump was nevertheless elected president.

For that matter, do you know what else often "shatters and destroys" people's lives? Being the target of sexual misconduct and abuse. It's the part of the equation about which Trump has very little to say.

But perhaps the most striking part of the president's message was his sudden interest in "due process."

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A nurse prepares a flu shot at the Salvation Army in Atlanta, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.

This Week in God, 2.10.18

02/10/18 08:00AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a stunning comment from an evangelical minister who apparently believes Christianity immunizes people from the flu. Politico reported this week:

Texas minister Gloria Copeland, who sat on the Trump campaign's evangelical executive advisory board, denied the country is in the midst of a severe flu outbreak in a Facebook video that went viral because, "Jesus himself is our flu shot. He redeemed us from the curse of the flu."

"We have a duck season, a deer season, but we don't have a flu season and don't receive it when someone threatens you with 'everybody is getting the flu,'" Copeland added. "We've already had our shot: He bore our sicknesses and carried our diseases. That's what we stand on. And by his stripes we are healed."

Right off the bat, let's note that public-health officials would probably discourage people from relying on supernatural treatments in response to virus outbreaks, and that Copeland's comments during an especially brutal flu season were irresponsible.

Making matters slightly worse, Right Wing Watch explained that Copeland's Texas megachurch was at the center of a measles outbreak in 2013 "that was attributed to the church’s belief that congregants can forego vaccines because Jesus will protect them from illness." In other words, Copeland probably ought to know better.

But perhaps most striking from a political perspective is that Copeland isn't just some fringe figure with no influence among those in power. On the contrary, Copeland and her husband, Kenneth Copeland, both served as members of Donald Trump's evangelical advisory panel in 2016, alongside the likes of Michele Bachmann, Ralph Reed, James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, and Jerry Falwell, Jr.

For the record, it's not too late to get a flu shot if you haven't already had one.

Also from the God Machine this week:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 2.9.18

02/09/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Huge news breaking at the Justice Department: "Rachel L. Brand, the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, plans to step down after nine months on the job as the country's top law enforcement agency has been under attack by President Trump, according to two people briefed on her decision."

* White House scuttlebutt: "John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, told officials in the West Wing on Friday that he was willing to step down over his handling of allegations of spousal abuse against Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned in disgrace this week over the accusations, according to two officials aware of the discussions."

* On a related note: "President Donald Trump, frustrated by his staff's handling of the abuse allegations against Rob Porter, is increasingly venting about Chief of Staff John Kelly and speculating about potential replacements, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter."

* This guy: "House lawmakers celebrated themselves this week for passing a bill that cracks down on sexual harassers in Congress. But they have an alleged harasser in their midst who is trying to quietly slip by: Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas)."

* Hmm: "The FBI was monitoring Carter Page when the former Trump campaign adviser says he spoke with Trump adviser Steve Bannon about Russia in January 2017, raising the strong possibility that the FBI intercepted a conversation between the two men."

* Devin Nunes: "Last month, an attorney expressed his outrage with leaders of the House Intelligence Committee: He demanded to know why a committee official shared his client's secret testimony with another lawyer, a blatant violation of the panel's rules."

* A sensible choice: "Ethics experts were over the moon with President Donald Trump's selection to lead the Office of Government Ethics, Emory Rounds."

* Speaking of executive-branch picks: "President Trump's nominee to lead the Internal Revenue Service is a longtime tax lawyer who has specialized in defending people and companies against the tax agency in court."

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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Key Trump ally in Congress 'goes off the rails' with odd allegation

02/09/18 05:03PM

When Donald Trump is feeling especially desperate about the Russia scandal, the president will insist that his political operation never colluded with Putin's government -- but Hillary Clinton's did. Even for a guy who loves playing a childish I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I game, the whole line comes across as desperate and a little silly.

And with that in mind, it seemed a little worse when Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, started pushing Trump's talking point.

In a remarkable interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes on Monday night claimed it was the Hillary Clinton campaign that had been the real Russian collaborator, and had effectively weaponized the FBI against Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election.

"It's what happens in banana republics. It's scary," said the California Republican, who claimed that the controversial memo released by the House intel panel last week on a party-line vote showed a "clear link" between the Clinton campaign and Russia.

Maybe, under the circumstances, this guy might want to steer clear of banana republic references.

Nevertheless, two days later, Nunes repeated the line on Hugh Hewitt's radio show: "The truth is that they [Democrats] are covering up that Hillary Clinton colluded with the Russians to get dirt on Trump to feed it to the FBI to open up an investigation into the other campaign."

So, is there any truth to this? No. The Washington Post fact-checked explained today:

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PENCE

Trump's comments on Porter controversy come up short

02/09/18 03:47PM

As the controversy surrounding former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter continues, Vice President Mike Pence spoke to NBC News' Lester Holt about the story today, and said largely the right things. Pence said he was "appalled" when he learned of the allegations this week, before adding that the White House has "no tolerance" for domestic abuse and there's "no place in America" for the crime.

This afternoon in the Oval Office, Donald Trump also addressed the controversy publicly for the first time, though the president's comments struck a slightly different tone.

"Well, we wish [Porter] well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It's obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job while he was in the White House. And we hope that he has a wonderful career -- hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him.

"But it was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he's also very sad. Now, he also, as you probably know, he says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent, so you'll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. He did a very good job while he was at the White House."

That's not an excerpt of his response; it was the entirety of his response.

I thought it was at least possible Trump would condemn violence against women, even briefly, if for no other reason than to acknowledge the political circumstances surrounding his White House.

But he didn't. The president seems to think the important elements of the Porter story are the facts that his former staff secretary "worked very hard," did "a very good job," and is "very sad."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Porter hands document to Trump during signing ceremony in the Oval Office in Washington

With key questions unanswered, Porter scandal jolts White House

02/09/18 12:53PM

Donald Trump's White House is many things, but it's not apologetic. It was therefore a little surprising when Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah held a briefing yesterday and struck a conciliatory tone when asked about the scandal surrounding former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who resigned this week in the wake of allegations that he was violently abusive toward both of his ex-wives.

"I think it's fair to say that we all could have done better over the last few hours — or last few days in dealing with this situation," Shah conceded to reporters, on a day in which the White House struggled to keep its story straight.

It's a welcome sentiment, I suppose, though it's worth asking what, specifically, the White House believes it did wrong in this "situation."

For example, one of the things Trump World "could have done better" is take action long before this week. The Washington Post  reported overnight, for example:

White House Counsel Donald McGahn knew one year ago that staff secretary Rob Porter's ex-wives were prepared to make damaging accusations about him that could threaten his security clearance but allowed him to serve as an influential gatekeeper and aide to President Trump without investigating the accusations, according to people familiar with the matter.

Chief of Staff John F. Kelly learned this fall about the allegations of spousal abuse and that they were delaying Porter's security clearance amid an ongoing FBI investigation. But Kelly handed Porter more responsibilities to control the flow of information to the president.

When the FBI alerted the White House to some of its findings about Porter, Team Trump didn't act. When Porter's security clearance was delayed, Team Trump didn't act. When one of Porter's accusers contacted the White House with alarming claims, Team Trump didn't act.

What's more, Politico  reported that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly "was told several weeks ago that the FBI would recommend denying full security clearances to multiple White House aides," including Porter. And yet, Kelly not only failed to act, he also vigorously defended Porter when the controversy first came to the public's attention this week.

The allegations of violence toward women weren't a secret. It's just that no one in the West Wing decided to do anything about them.

That said, it's not quite right to say White House officials knew about Porter's alleged violence and did nothing. They actually gave him access to highly classified materials.

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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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