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Friday's Mini-Report, 4.13.18

04/13/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Under the circumstances, a call like this is tricky: "President Trump phoned his longtime confidant, Michael D. Cohen, to 'check in' on Friday as lawyers for the two men went to court to block the Justice Department from reading seized documents related to Mr. Cohen's decade of work for Mr. Trump, according to two people familiar with the call."

* A thumb in Jeff Sessions' eye: "President Trump has promised a top Senate Republican that he will support congressional efforts to protect states that have legalized marijuana -- defusing a months-long standoff between Sen. Cory Gardner and the administration over Justice Department nominees."

* In support of Trump's confusion: "President Donald Trump issued a surprise executive order late on Thursday to request an audit of the U.S. Postal Service's finances, adding some administrative force to his recent fiery and unfounded claims that the service was losing money by acting as 'delivery boy' for Amazon."

* Tapes? "President Trump's personal attorney Michael D. Cohen sometimes taped conversations with associates, according to three people familiar with his practice, and allies of the president are worried that the recordings were seized by federal investigators in a raid of Cohen's office and residences this week."

* On a related note: "Federal agents who raided Cohen's home, office and hotel room this week seized recordings, sources familiar with the raid tell ABC News."

* The right call: "The Justice Department cannot require that local police departments help immigration agents in order to receive federal funding, a federal judge has ruled. The ruling is a significant victory for local governments that have opposed the Trump administration's stance on immigration and vowed to stay out of enforcement efforts."

* This will not help Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' (R) standing with voters: "The hiring of a Washington-based lawyer to defend the governor's office against the threat of impeachment is costing Missouri taxpayers $320 an hour, the Post-Dispatch has learned."

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Another RNC finance chair resigns in the wake of scandal

04/13/18 03:23PM

The funny thing is, Elliott Broidy, the Republican National Committee's deputy finance chair, was already a deeply controversial figure. As Rachel noted on the show two weeks ago, Broidy is at the center of multiple, ongoing controversies, including allegations that he pitched himself, shortly before Trump's inauguration last year, as someone who could help Russian companies get off the U.S. sanctions list for a fee.

Broidy is also, incidentally, a convicted felon.

Today, however, the Wall Street Journal published this report, which put Broidy back in the national spotlight for unwelcome reasons.

President Donald Trump's personal lawyer negotiated a deal in late 2017 to pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who said she was impregnated by a top Republican fundraiser, according to people familiar with the matter.

Michael Cohen, whose office, home and hotel room were raided by federal agents this week, arranged the payments to the woman on behalf of Elliott Broidy.... The deal, which hasn't previously been reported, prohibits the Los Angeles woman from disclosing her alleged relationship with Mr. Broidy in exchange for $1.6 million to be paid to her over two years in quarterly installments, these people said. The first payment was due Dec. 1, according to one of the people.

While there's not a lot of news value in Broidy's extramarital affair, this story does offer yet another example of Michael Cohen being involved in buying someone's silence.

What's more, it's another problem for the Republican National Committee: soon after the Wall Street Journal article was published, Broidy stepped down as an RNC finance chair, and RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel accepted his resignation.

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

When the pardon power becomes an instrument of political messaging

04/13/18 01:03PM

It was tough to forget Donald Trump's first use of his presidential pardon authority. Last August, late on a Friday evening, with much of the country focused on a major national disaster unfolding at the time, the president pardoned one of his political allies, Arizona's Joe Arpaio.

As regular readers may recall, the move was a rather flagrant abuse. Arpaio, among other things, was accused of violating people's civil rights. When a court ordered him to stop, the Arizonan ignored the order, which led a judge to find Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt. Trump intervened in the hopes of shielding Arpaio of any legal consequences.

But do you happen to remember the president's second pardon?

Last month, also late on a Friday afternoon, Trump pardoned Kristian Saucier, a Navy submariner, who'd taken photos inside the engine room of a nuclear attack submarine. After becoming a cause celebre of sorts on Fox News, Saucier appeared on "Fox & Friends," complained about Hillary Clinton, asked for a presidential pardon, and received one less than a week later.

The politics of this wasn't subtle: Trump still wants people to believe Hillary Clinton is some kind of criminal, so he pardoned someone convicted of mishandling classified information. In this White House, the presidential pardon authority is now an instrument of political messaging.

Indeed, it now appears likely to happen again.

President Donald Trump plans to pardon I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted in 2007 of lying to the FBI and obstructing justice, an administration official confirmed to NBC News.

ABC News reported Thursday evening that Trump is poised to pardon Libby, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison but who had his sentence commuted by President George W. Bush. The conviction remained on his record.

[Update: Shortly after I published this, Trump made the pardon news official.]

Since his conviction, Libby's guilt has never really been in doubt. He got caught by Patrick Fitzgerald, who was appointed -- by then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey -- to investigate the exposure of the CIA's Valerie Plame.

So why would Trump pardon him a decade later? Perhaps because this White House is determined to advance another petty political point.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.13.18

04/13/18 12:00PM

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

* In a bit of a surprise, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) will not seek the top House Republican leadership post. With Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) retiring, many had expected Scalise to compete with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

* On a related note, McCarthy will probably not run unopposed. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a right-wing firebrand, is reportedly "strongly considering" the race for the top House GOP post.

* In Missouri's closely watched U.S. Senate race, the latest Mason-Dixon poll shows incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) with the narrowest of leads over state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), 45% to 44%.

* In New Jersey, the latest Monmouth University poll shows Sen. Bob Menendez's (D) approval rating taking a hit in the wake of his recent legal troubles, but he nevertheless leads his Republican rival, Bob Hugin, 53% to 32%.

* Speaking of the Garden State, New Jersey's state Assembly yesterday easily approved automatic voter registration. The measure now goes to the state Senate, where it's expected to pass.

* In New York, the latest Marist poll suggests Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still favored to prevail in his Democratic primary against Cynthia Nixon: the incumbent leads in the poll, 68% to 21%.

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

After creating historic deficits, Republicans move to outlaw deficits

04/13/18 11:23AM

They're sometimes called "messaging votes." Congressional leaders will bring measures to the floor that they have no intention of passing, purely for symbolic and electoral reasons. These pointless votes are generally a waste of time, though they tend to make assorted partisans feel better.

Some messaging votes, however, are more offensive than others.

The House failed on Thursday to advance a constitutional amendment that would require Congress not spend more than the nation collects in revenue. Some conservative lawmakers had hoped a vote on the bill would calm grassroots conservatives who had been fuming about recent high levels of spending.

On a mostly party line vote, Republicans failed to advance the bill, 233-184. Normally, legislation requires 218 votes to win approval in the House and can be passed with just Republican votes. The balanced budget amendment, however, required bipartisan support with a two-thirds majority vote because it was a constitutional amendment.

GOP leaders knew, of course, that this constitutional amendment would fail. More to the point, they voted for it despite the fact that they wanted it to fail.

Indeed, what made yesterday's vote so exasperating was the backdrop against which it came. It was just a few months ago that Republicans approved massive tax breaks the nation can't afford, and the Congressional Budget Office reported this week that those tax cuts will wreak havoc on the nation's finances for many years to come. More recently, Republicans also approved a $1.3 trillion omnibus package that, among other things, increased government spending by hundreds of billions of dollars.

All of which led up to yesterday's vote, in which Republicans said they want a constitutional gimmick to stop Republicans from passing the kinds of bills Republicans just voted for. The people who are creating trillion-dollar deficits are the same people who are saying deficits should be outlawed.

The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell added last night, "A balanced-budget amendment is pretty much always a stupid idea. But you know when it's stupidest? When you've just blown a multitrillion-dollar hole in the deficit, and also, umm, don't even really plan to pass a budget."

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Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.

American mainstream rejects Trump's condemnation of Mueller probe

04/13/18 10:40AM

At a certain level, public-opinion polls on federal criminal investigations seem unimportant. After all, law-enforcement officials are not politicians, and while they serve the public's interests, they also have a job to do that has little to do with popular will.

That said, I tend to keep an eye on polling related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe, not because public attitudes should shape the direction of the investigation, but because I'm interested in whether the Republican campaign to undermine public confidence in the probe is working.

Donald Trump, for example, has characterized the investigation itself as "illegal" and "corrupt." His allies in Congress and conservative media have mounted a spirited campaign against Mueller, the FBI, and the Justice Department, which collectively have become a bete noire for the right.

The American mainstream isn't buying it.

A clear majority of Americans support special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged collusion with President Trump's campaign, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.

The results show backing for inquiries into Trump's orbit on several fronts.

Nearly 7 in 10 adults say they support Mueller's focus on possible collusion with Russia. Sixty-four percent say they want the special counsel investigating Trump's business activities. And a 58 percent majority supports investigating alleged payments by Trump associates to silence women who say they had affairs with him.

Just to clarify, whether Mueller and his investigators have any interest in Trump World's hush-money scandals is unclear, but the point is there's a fair mount of public support for examining this and related Trump controversies.

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Image: James Comey

Trump says Comey is a 'slime ball,' calls for his criminal prosecution

04/13/18 10:02AM

We're still a few days out from the official release of James Comey's book, but as news outlets get their hands on leaked copies, we're learning quite a bit about the former FBI director's interactions with, and concerns about, Donald Trump.

The president doesn't appear to be taking the news well, as evidenced by a pair of tweets this morning.

"James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did-until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked CLASSIFIED information, for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under OATH.

"He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible Director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case, and the events surrounding it, will go down as one of the worst 'botch jobs' of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey!"

If I didn't know better, I might think Comey has gotten under the president's skin a bit.

What I find especially entertaining about Trump's little tirade, though isn't just how factually inaccurate it is, but the degree to which his lack of impulse control has upended the White House's plan.

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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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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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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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