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Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Dallas Church Choir speaks as he introduces President Donald Trump during the Celebrate Freedom event at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Saturday, July 1, 2017.

This Week in God, 3.10.18

03/10/18 07:30AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the kind of defense Donald Trump's evangelical Christian allies are offering in the wake of the president's Stormy Daniels scandal.

Helping lead the defense is far-right megachurch leader Robert Jeffress -- a familiar name to regular readers -- who first rose to national political prominence during the 2012 presidential campaign, when he partnered with then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) candidacy and attacked Mitt Romney as "a member of a cult."

Much of the country soon became acquainted with the Texan's record of over-the-top extremism, including his description of Roman Catholicism as a "cult-like pagan religion," which represents "the genius of Satan."

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said to associate with Robert Jeffress was "beneath the office of president of the United States."

Donald Trump, however, has embraced Jeffress as a close ally, and the megachurch pastor has returned the favor.

"Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star," Robert Jeffress told Fox News on Thursday. "However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him."

Jeffress, who is an evangelical adviser to the president, said Trump's personal behavior isn't an issue. "Evangelicals knew they weren't voting for an altar boy when they voted for Donald Trump," he said.

Let's pause to note that anytime a prominent Christian evangelist begins an argument by saying, "Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star. However..." the sentence probably won't end well.

Nevertheless, in the same interview, Jeffress emphasized his bond with his ally in the White House. "I'm his friend," he said. "I will never walk away."

This is not an uncommon sentiment among Christian conservatives. In January, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the religious right and the movement's adherents agree that Trump should "get a mulligan" when it comes to his personal misdeeds.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 3.9.18

03/09/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) "on Friday signed into state law new gun restrictions -- and a provision that allows teachers to arm themselves -- crafted in response to the February killing of 17 people at a suburban high school."

* Shkreli: "A Brooklyn federal judge dismissed the tearful plea for mercy from 'Pharma Bro' Martin Shkreli and sentenced him Friday to seven years in prison for defrauding investors."

* Quite an op-ed from former U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley: "I resigned because the traditional core values of the United States, as manifested in the president's National Security Strategy and his foreign policies, have been warped and betrayed. I could no longer represent him personally and remain faithful to my beliefs about what makes America truly great."

* Libya: "The United States military has carried out twice as many airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Libya since President Trump took office as it has publicly acknowledged, raising questions about whether the Pentagon has sought to obscure operations in the strife-torn North African nation."

* That's unexpected: "Former President Barack Obama is in advanced negotiations with Netflix to produce a series of high-profile shows that will provide him a global platform after his departure from the White House, according to people familiar with the discussions."

* Remember this case? "The man accused of tackling U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in the Kentucky lawmaker's yard has pleaded guilty to the attack that broke the senator's ribs. Rene Boucher's lawyer says his client pleaded guilty Friday to a federal charge of assaulting a member of Congress resulting in personal injury."

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Trump World reportedly makes Mueller an offer he can easily refuse

03/09/18 04:50PM

In January, 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 assertions 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, and he suggested the discussion would happen in roughly "two or three weeks."

That, of course, didn't happen, and according to multiple accounts, Trump's lawyers are hesitant about the president answering the special counsel's questions. The Wall Street Journal reports today, however, that Trump's legal team have a possible "deal" in mind.

President Donald Trump's lawyers are seeking to negotiate a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller that uses an interview with the president as leverage to spur a conclusion to the Russia investigation, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The president's legal team is considering telling Mr. Mueller that Mr. Trump would agree to a sit-down interview based on multiple considerations, including that the special counsel commit to a date for concluding at least the Trump-related portion of the investigation. One idea is to suggest a deadline of 60 days from the date of the interview, the person said.

Another consideration for the legal team is reaching an agreement with Mr. Mueller on the scope of his questioning of the president...

You've heard the expression about making someone an offer they can't refuse? If the WSJ's reporting is correct, this seems like an offer Robert Mueller can easily refuse.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

White House unexpectedly hedges on North Korea meeting

03/09/18 04:28PM

The news from the White House last night was, if nothing else, historic. North Korea's Kim Jong-un extended an invitation for face-to-face negotiations with Donald Trump and the American president has accepted the offer.

Indeed, Trump's decision was apparently quite impulsive. The New York Times reported that events unfolded "haphazardly," with the American president summoning South Korea's Chung Eui-yong for an unscheduled meeting. When Chung mentioned Kim Jong-un's desire to meet Trump, the president "immediately said he would do it, and directed Mr. Chung to announce it to the White House press corps." This, despite Trump administration officials earlier this week dismissing North Korea's offer of direct talks "in scathing terms."

But was the president's decision so impulsive that it was incorrect? Consider what White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters this afternoon:

"The president will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions take place by North Korea."

Well, compared to what we were told less than 24 hours ago, that's ... different.

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Image: Stormy Daniels Hosts Super Bowl Party At Sapphire Las Vegas Gentlemen's Club

Email raises questions about Trump World's Stormy Daniels claims

03/09/18 02:43PM

At this point, we know quite a bit about the Stormy Daniels scandal. We know the adult-film star, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleges she had a sexual relationship with Donald Trump during his third and current marriage. We know Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, created an LLC to pay Daniels $130,000 shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

We know Daniels is bound by a non-disclosure agreement, which she's suing to break. And we know the president's lawyer is still trying to silence the porn star, recently obtaining a secret restraining order in a private arbitration proceeding.

But as NBC News reports today, there are still questions that are slowly getting answers.

President Donald Trump's personal attorney used his Trump Organization email while arranging to transfer money into an account at a Manhattan bank before he wired $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence.

The lawyer, Michael Cohen, also regularly used the same email account during 2016 negotiations with the actress ... before she signed a nondisclosure agreement, a source familiar with the discussions told NBC News.

And Clifford's attorney at the time addressed correspondence to Cohen in his capacity at the Trump Organization and as "Special Counsel to Donald J. Trump," the source said.

It was previously reported that Cohen, while making the apparent hush-money payment, used First Republican Bank to wire the money shortly before the election. Now there's an email from that bank to Trump's attorney confirming the October 2016 transaction.

Why is this important? Keep a couple of things in mind.

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Image: Trump during meeting in Oval Office

Trump's go-to move remains the same: blindsiding his own aides

03/09/18 12:44PM

The Trump White House doesn't seem to appreciate it when political observers comment on the "chaos" at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The label, however, is tough to avoid.

It's not just the scandals. Or the resignations. Or the palace intrigue. Or even the in-fighting. Perhaps the most important part of the chaotic conditions in the White House is that the staff doesn't appear to know what it's doing.

And I mean they literally don't know. After Donald Trump blurted out his plans for trade tariffs the other day, NBC News reported that the president blindsided his own team, announcing a new policy "without any internal review by government lawyers or his own staff." What's more, "No one at the State Department, the Treasury Department or the Defense Department had been told that a new policy was about to be announced or given an opportunity to weigh in in advance."

That was last week. This week wasn't any better. The Washington Post offered an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how the controversial tariff policy was unveiled.

"Looking forward to 3:30 P.M. meeting today at the White House," [the president] wrote at 7:38 a.m.... The response inside and outside the White House: What meeting?

There was no mention of the event on the president's schedule, and the major focus of the day was supposed to be a discussion of gun violence in video games. A number of aides thought tentative plans for a tariff announcement had been called off. Soon, there were rumors that the teased event would be canceled or delayed.

Less than four hours later, the White House hosted South Korean officials, who told the press that Trump would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- sometime fairly soon. Earlier in the day, State Department officials, who were apparently unaware of the developments, had downplayed the possibility of such talks, reinforcing the "apparent lack of coordination" between the West Wing and the president's diplomatic team.

We talk regularly about Team Trump's staffing crisis, but it's important to acknowledge the simple truth at the heart of the White House's problem: no one wants to work in an environment in which they have no idea what their colleagues and superiors may do next.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.9.18

03/09/18 12:00PM

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

* Though the details are still coming together, former Gov. Phil Bredesen's (D) Senate campaign in Tennessee contacted the FBI yesterday, concerned that the campaign had been hacked.

* I've seen multiple reports this week with Republicans trashing Rick Saccone (R), the party's candidate in next week's congressional special election in Pennsylvania. My advice: take the chatter with a grain of salt. It sounds to me like an elaborate exercise in setting expectations, so that if Saccone wins by three points, in a race GOP officials hoped to win by 23 points, it'll look impressive.

* What's weirder than the Republican National Committee paying rent in Trump Tower for Donald Trump's re-election campaign? The apparent fact that Trump's re-election campaign offices are largely empty.

* Sen. Dean Heller (R), worried about his re-election prospects in November, said the other day that he thinks Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will retire this summer. The Republican senator believes the news will excite his party's base and boost his candidacy.

* And speaking of Nevada, Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) announced last year that he would not seek a second term, following sexual misconduct allegations. This week, however, local reports said Kihuen is "reconsidering" his decision to give up his seat.

* Billionaire Tom Steyer, a prominent Democratic donor, announced this week he's investing $7 million in Florida and California as part of a voter-outreach program, specifically targeting young voters.

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Charles Koch and Dr. Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, speak with the Washington Post at the Freedom Partners Summit on Aug. 3, 2015 in Dana Point, Ca. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/The Washington Post/Getty)

Koch denounces political focus on 'the privileged few'

03/09/18 11:20AM

In the fall of 2015, Charles Koch did an interview with CBS in which he insisted that he and his brother are trying to "fight against special interests." When the interviewer noted that many might consider Koch and his business enterprise to be a classic example of a special interest, the billionaire added, "Yeah, but my interest is, just as it's been in business, is what will help people improve their lives, and to get rid of these special interests."

When Koch invests in politics, it's fine -- because his interests, the story goes, aren't "special."

About a month later, Yahoo News asked Charles Koch about the role of money in politics and the influence of wealthy donors such as himself. The billionaire replied that he and his political operation make political investments "so there's less money in politics." This, too, seemed like a failure of self-awareness.

All of which brings us to Koch's new op-ed in the Washington Post, which denounces Donald Trump's new trade tariffs in a memorable way.

To include millions more of our people in true economic progress, our lawmakers must act on behalf of all Americans -- not just the privileged few. If they do, I am confident we can regain our citizens' trust and ensure that America's best days are yet to come.

It's a bit jarring, isn't it? Charles Koch, an influential billionaire and one of the most powerful mega-donors in politics, wants elected officials to focus less on "the privileged few."

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

White House rebuffs congressional requests for Rob Porter info

03/09/18 10:57AM

The controversy surrounding former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter has faded from front pages, but several underlying questions remain unanswered. Indeed, the bipartisan leadership of the House Oversight Committee requested information from Team Trump about Porter, including the details of when the White House learned from the FBI about the "potential derogatory or disqualifying information" found in Porter's background check.

The answers matter: Porter, who faced accusations from his ex-wives of domestic abuse, had routine access to highly classified materials. It raises the possibility of Donald Trump and his team mishandling sensitive secrets, sharing them with a vulnerable official who lacked the proper clearance.

TPM reported yesterday that the White House is "refusing to comply" with the lawmakers' request.

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short sent a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) politely neglecting to cooperate with their demands for information on how and why Porter was allowed to continue to work as White House staff secretary, a senior position, for months after the FBI had informed senior White House staff of allegations of spousal abuse. The letter was obtained by TPM Thursday evening, shortly after the committee received it.

"Consistent with your letters' requests, we would be pleased to update you and others on the progress of the working group at the appropriate time," Short writes to Gowdy at the end of the letter after detailing what the White House is doing differently now on security clearance procedures, a courteous way of ignoring Gowdy's specific requests on what the White House's procedures were at the time and who knew what when about Porter.

TPM's report added that Short, instead of responding to the committee's requests for information, "reiterated what the White House has already publicly said about the new procedures, while ignoring Gowdy's questions."

Adding insult to injury, the Oversight Committee originally gave the White House a deadline of last week. Trump's director of legislative affairs delivered his unsatisfying response a week late.

The answer is what lawmakers intend to do about it.

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

When it comes to conspiracy theories, Republicans are now 0-for-4

03/09/18 10:41AM

It's been a rough year for Republican conspiracy theories. Donald Trump was all excited, for example, about Sen. Mark Warner's (D-Va.) texts with D.C. lawyer Adam Waldman, before the allegations completely fell apart. Trump was similarly worked up about the idea that Barack Obama intervened in the FBI's Hillary Clinton probe, before that too was completely discredited.

For a short while, Republicans even had high hopes for the "Nunes memo," though the stunt clearly didn't work out well.

And then there's the Uranium One story, which has never made any sense, but which assorted GOP partisans have embraced as proof of ... something. The Washington Post's Paul Waldman yesterday highlighted a document released by congressional Democrats that "pretty much demolishes" the Republicans' push.

To push along the Uranium One "scandal," last fall Republicans said they had explosive new evidence from a confidential informant named William Douglas Campbell, a lobbyist who had worked with Russian companies and who was secretly working for the FBI, claiming that the Russians had funneled money to the Clintons to get the Uranium One deal approved. [...]

The Democratic memo, however, makes clear that if Republicans think Campbell is going to blow the lid off this whole conspiracy, they're sadly mistaken. The memo summarizes what happened when Campbell -- and, separately, officials from the Justice Department -- were interviewed by GOP and Democratic members of the three congressional committees. The upshot: Campbell appears to have no evidence of such a conspiracy to offer, and he's also an unreliable witness.

Waldman fleshed this out in great detail, but long story short: the blockbuster GOP witness was a dud. Among other things, Campbell never even made "any allegation of corruption, illegality, or impropriety on Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, President Clinton, the Uranium One deal, or CFIUS."

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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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