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The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Coal lobbyist takes over key leadership post at Trump's EPA

04/13/18 09:20AM

At around 2 p.m. (E.T.) yesterday, Donald Trump insisted he's "draining the swamp," even if it may not look like it." At around 4 p.m. (E.T.), we were reminded why "it may not look like" the president is honoring his commitment. Mother Jones  reported:

The fossil fuel industry now has yet another ally at the Environmental Protection Agency -- one who would almost certainly take over as head of the agency if Scott Pruitt is forced to resign. In a 53-45 vote on Thursday, the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler -- a coal lobbyist who once worked for DC's most notorious climate change denier -- for the EPA's second-most powerful position. [...]

As deputy administrator -- a powerful, if somewhat low-profile position -- Wheeler will be responsible for implementing Pruitt's vision. Wheeler is likely to have a hand in making appointments, overseeing operations, and working with regional and state agencies.

I realize that when it comes to this White House's personnel decisions, we've seen a staggering number of tough-to-defend moves, but Wheeler is especially egregious.

Let's circle back to our coverage from a few months ago to provide some relevant context. For the last several years, Wheeler was a lobbyist for, among others, Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal companies and fierce opponent of environmental safeguards. (Murray Energy’s CEO, Bob Murray, has also been a generous Donald Trump donor.)

In addition to his background as a lobbyist for polluters, Wheeler also served as chief counsel for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation’s preeminent climate deniers.

It’s against this backdrop that Donald Trump thought it’d be a good idea to put Wheeler in a position to help lead the Environmental Protection Agency – a decision literally every Senate Republican on the floor yesterday, in addition to three red-state Democrats, endorsed yesterday.

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Image: Donald Trump, Mike Pence

Trump says he's 'draining the swamp,' even if 'it may not look like it'

04/13/18 08:40AM

One of the signature lines of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign was "drain the swamp." Through the Republican was always a little vague about the meaning of the phrase, it was widely seen as an outsider's vow to clean up the nation's capital.

The Republican told NBC’s “Meet the Press” during the campaign that he’s tired of everybody in the nation’s capital “being controlled by the special interests and the lobbyists.” Trump went so far as to say he’d have “no problem” banning lobbyists from his administration altogether.

The promise has since become the punch-line to a sad joke, though at a White House event yesterday, the president made the case that he's honoring his commitment -- even if reality suggests otherwise.

"From the day I took the oath of office, I've been fighting to drain the swamp. And sometimes it may not look like it, but, believe me, we are draining the swamp. And there are a lot of unhappy people. You can see that every day. All you have to do is turn on the news. Every time you see me hit, you know that I'm draining the swamp. And people don't like it."

As a rule, when Trump says, "Believe me," the public's first instinct should be to not believe him.

That's certainly true in this case because the only "unhappy people" we have seen "every day" are those who actually believed Trump's campaign promises.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Despite Trump's boasts, odds of his Mueller interview have 'drastically dimmed'

04/13/18 08:00AM

A few months ago, Donald Trump surprised White House reporters by making unscheduled comments about a provocative subject: Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal. More specifically, the president made a variety of comments about how much he's looking forward to speaking to Mueller and his team under oath.

"I'm looking forward to it, actually," Trump said, adding that he'd "love to" talk to the special counsel investigators. The president went on to say he's "absolutely" prepared to answer questions under oath.

NBC News reported late yesterday, however, that the prospects for a presidential interview have "drastically dimmed."

Special counsel Robert Mueller's office and President Donald Trump's legal team are now proceeding with strategies that presume a presidential interview will likely not take place as part of the Russia investigation, after months of talks between the two sides collapsed earlier this week, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

While the negotiations over a possible interview continued earlier this week, the FBI's raid on Michael Cohen's office and hotel room apparently changed the overall calculus.

And where does that leave us? If Mueller and his investigators aren't going to speak directly with the president, it brings us to a point in the trajectory of this story that's likely to be a very big deal.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.12.18

04/12/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Syria: "The U.S. now has blood and urine samples from last Saturday's deadly attack in Syria that have tested positive for chemical weapons, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence."

* The island's crisis is ongoing: "A single tree fell on top of a main power line in Cayey, Puerto Rico, causing a massive outage that left almost 900,000 customers in the dark as the U.S. territory is still recovering from Hurricane Maria."

* Given what we know of his political career, this isn't especially surprising: "Steve Stockman, a Republican former congressman from Texas, has been convicted of defrauding two conservative mega-donors and funneling their $1.25 million into personal and campaign expenses as part of what prosecutors have described as a 'white collar crime spree.'"

* Literally zero Senate Republicans voted against Andrew Wheeler: "If embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt were to leave office, the reins of the agency could fall to a former Senate aide and coal mining lobbyist who was confirmed 53-45 Thursday afternoon to become second-in-command at EPA."

* This is a weird story: "When Scott Pruitt wanted to refashion the Environmental Protection Agency's 'challenge coin' -- a type of souvenir medallion with military origins that has become a status symbol among civilians -- he proposed an unusual design: Make it bigger, and delete the E.P.A. logo."

* I know this will sound like inside-baseball, but it matters: "White House budget director Mick Mulvaney won his fight to grab some regulatory power from the Treasury Department, with possibly major ramifications for the new tax law. Treasury and OMB released a joint "Memorandum of Agreement" on Thursday that gives the budget office significant new authority to review tax regulations before they take effect."

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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-PROBE-INTELLIGENCE-COMEY

RNC takes aim at former FBI Director James Comey

04/12/18 12:59PM

Former FBI Director James Comey's book will soon hit shelves, and by all accounts, it will have less-than-flattering things to say about Donald Trump -- the president who fired Comey last year in the hopes of derailing the investigation into the Russia scandal. What exactly does the White House intend to do about Comey's return to the national spotlight?

According to a Politico  report published earlier this week, not much. "There is no blitz attack planned by the White House," the article said. Instead, the "nitty-gritty of preparing talking points and rapid response is being outsourced to the Republican National Committee."

And what, pray tell, does the Republican National Committee have in mind? TPM reported this morning on the party's unveiling of a new website and partisan talking points.

The website, lyincomey.com, is strewn with quotes from prominent Democrats bashing Comey after his July 5, 2016 statement on the FBI's investigation into then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's emails, punctuated by black and white photos of the former FBI director looking shifty.

"Comey is a liar and a leaker and his misconduct led both Republicans and Democrats to call for his firing," RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement to CNN.

A Washington Post  report added, "RNC officials say their effort will also include digital ads, a 'war room' to monitor Comey's television appearances, a rapid response team to rebut his claims in real time and coordination of Trump surrogates to fan out across other TV programs."

Look, I can appreciate why the president's allies are feeling a little anxious about Comey's book, but the RNC's offensive is a little tough to take seriously.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.12.18

04/12/18 12:00PM

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

* Retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said yesterday he will not run for elected office again -- though he'd be open to an ambassadorship to Ireland "in a decade or so."

* Republicans will need a candidate to run in Ryan's district, of course, but it apparently won't be Reince Priebus, Donald Trump's first White House chief of staff, who said this morning he's not interested in this race.

* Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told MSNBC's Chuck Todd yesterday, "I am convinced that there won't be a lot of other retirements coming." Does that mean Stivers still expects some additional retirement announcements?

* The Associated Press reported that voters in Anchorage, Alaska, are "on track to becoming the first in the U.S. to defeat a so-called bathroom bill in a referendum that asked them to require people using public bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender at birth."

* On a related note, Anchorage's vote-by-mail model has worked wonders in boosting participation rates.

* As the teacher walkout in Oklahoma continues, a growing number of educators are "registering to run for office." CNN added yesterday, "Laura Griesel, who was at the Capitol for most of last week, feels that many legislators are not hearing her concerns. The best way to change that, she believes, is to become a representative herself."

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Image: Michael Cohen, attorney for The Trump Organization, arrives at Trump Tower in New York City

Why a former Trump doorman was paid $30,000 by a supermarket tabloid

04/12/18 11:31AM

I first started highlighting the National Enquirer's support for Donald Trump a year and a half ago, after noticing at the grocery-store checkout line a series of embarrassingly complimentary headlines for the Republican. I didn't realize at the time how much further this would go.

We've known for a while, for example, about the tabloid's parent company, American Media Inc., paying former Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal $150,000 for her story about her extra-marital affair with Trump. Once AMI brought the exclusive rights, the company buried the story so no one would hear about it.

The Associated Press published a related report overnight, highlighting AMI's $30,000 payment to Dino Sajudin, a doorman at one of Trump's buildings, which also happened during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Associated Press confirmed the details of the Enquirer's payment through a review of a confidential contract and interviews with dozens of current and former employees of the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc. Sajudin got $30,000 in exchange for signing over the rights, "in perpetuity," to a rumor he'd heard about Trump's sex life -- that the president had fathered a child with an employee at Trump World Tower, a skyscraper he owns near the United Nations.

The contract subjected Sajudin to a $1 million penalty if he disclosed either the rumor or the terms of the deal to anyone.

Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney, acknowledged to the Associated Press that he'd spoken to the National Enquirer's parent company about the doorman's story.

That's the same Cohen whose office and hotel room was raided by the FBI this week, with federal law enforcement reportedly seeking information on, among other things, Cohen's role facilitating hush-money payments to protect Trump.

The AP article added, "The parallel between the ex-Playmate's and the ex-doorman's dealings with the Enquirer raises new questions about the roles that the Enquirer and Cohen may have played in protecting Trump's image during a hard-fought presidential election."

Ya think?

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Image: Donald Trump

White House struggles to keep up with Trump's incoherence on Syria

04/12/18 10:33AM

It was just yesterday morning when Donald Trump rattled much of the world, announcing via Twitter that Russia should "get ready" because the United States was poised to launch missiles in Syria. As Rachel explained on the show last night, the presidential missive caught White House officials and U.S. allies abroad off-guard -- because no one knew what Trump was talking about.

Making matters worse, he added this morning that a U.S.-launched attack "could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

The Washington Post had an interesting behind-the-scenes look at developments in the White House, where officials were "proceeding with uncharacteristic deliberation" about the U.S. response to the Syrian government's latest alleged gas attack, right up until Trump published an odd tweet for the world to see.

White House advisers were surprised by the missive and found it "alarming" and "distracting," in the words of one senior official. They quickly regrouped and, together with Pentagon brass, continued readying Syria options for Trump as if nothing had happened. [...]

The Twitter disruptions were emblematic of a president operating on a tornado of impulses -- and with no clear strategy -- as he faces some of the most consequential decisions of his presidency,.

One West Wing aide told the Post, "It's just like everybody wakes up every morning and does whatever is right in front of them. Oh, my God, Trump Tower is on fire. Oh, my God, they raided Michael Cohen's office. Oh, my God, we're going to bomb Syria. Whatever is there is what people respond to, and there is no proactive strategic thinking."

The result is a dynamic in where there is no White House in the traditional sense. Sure, there's a complex filled with officials at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but in practice, what we have is a confused and erratic amateur, barking out periodic nonsense, and White House personnel struggling to keep up.

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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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