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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 2.13.18

02/13/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* DACA: "A second U.S. judge on Tuesday blocked President Donald Trump's decision to end a program that protects immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children from deportation."

* Climate crisis: "The Trump administration on Monday moved to repeal one of the last unchallenged climate-change regulations rushed into place in the waning days of the Obama presidency -- a rule restricting the release of planet-warming methane into the atmosphere."

* Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "vowed he would be vindicated Tuesday moments after police recommended that he be indicted on charges of corruption and bribery."

* The good news: "With the fate of hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants in the balance, the Senate on Monday began an open-ended debate on immigration -- an exceedingly rare step that, in effect, will allow senators to attempt to build a bill from scratch on the Senate floor."

* The bad news: "That excitement quickly turned to frustration as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) confirmed Tuesday morning that he wants the entire debate -- on the half-dozen-plus competing proposals put forward so far by lawmakers -- to be over by the end of the week."

* Baltimore: "Two Baltimore detectives were convicted Monday of robbery and racketeering in a trial that laid bare shocking crimes committed by an elite police unit and surfaced new allegations of widespread corruption in the city's police department."

* Milwaukee: "A Wisconsin jail commander repeatedly lied after her officers cut off water to an inmate who later died of dehydration, prosecutors said on Monday as they described a series of lethal missteps and a two-year investigation."

* This is a bad idea: "The Trump administration wants to turn the International Space Station into a kind of orbiting real estate venture run not by the government, but by private industry."

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US National Security Advisor Susan Rice listens to a speaker before speaking in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on March 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Mandel Ngan/Getty.

Latest Republican offensive against Susan Rice comes up far short

02/13/18 04:07PM

There's something about former White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice that seems to send Republicans in unhealthy directions. Donald Trump, for example, invested quite a bit of energy last year in trying to smear the Obama-era aide, before his claims completely unraveled.

Before that, a variety of GOP officials targeted Rice with truly bizarre conspiracy theories involving the 2012 attack in Benghazi, each of which were discredited.

Politico  reported yesterday on the new Republican offensive against Rice.

Former President Barack Obama suggested in January 2017 that information related to a federal probe of Russian election interference might have to be withheld from aides to then-President-elect Donald Trump, according to an internal White House email released Monday by two senior GOP senators.

The warning Obama delivered on Jan. 5, 2017, came during an Oval Office conversation shortly after senior intelligence officials briefed him on Russian cyber-meddling in the 2016 election. It was documented in an email then-national security adviser Susan Rice sent to herself on Jan. 20, the day of Trump's inauguration.

Portions of the email were released Monday by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who called the missive "odd" and "unusual."

As one might expect, conservative media has embraced this as some kind of new Rice-related controversy.

So, let's unpack the story, because it's important -- not just to events that unfolded over a year ago, but also to the ongoing Trump-Russia scandal.

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FBI's Wray makes the White House's Porter problem worse

02/13/18 12:58PM

Last Thursday, just two days after the controversy surrounding former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter first broke, an Axios analysis said, "The West Wing couldn't have handled it worse."

That was premature -- because Trump World's handling of the controversy has clearly deteriorated since.

As of yesterday, the official line from Donald Trump's team included three key points: (1) White House officials weren't fully aware of the extent of the allegations against Porter; (2) the FBI hadn't yet completed its review of Porter's security clearance; and (3) the FBI first notified the White House about concerns related to Porter's clearance last summer.

According to FBI Director Christopher Wray's testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, the White House's version of events simply isn't true. The New York Times  reported that Wray "contradicted ... the White House timeline."

Mr. Wray said that the bureau delivered to the White House a partial report on problems in Mr. Porter's background in March, months earlier than the White House has admitted receiving the information. [...]

[Wray added] that after the partial report in March, the F.B.I. gave the White House "a completed background investigation" in late July. He said the bureau received a request for a "follow-up inquiry" and provided more information about Mr. Porter's background to the White House in November.

The bureau's director went on to say that the investigation was "administratively closed" in January, which further contradicts the White House's claim that the examination was "ongoing" when domestic-abuse allegations forced Porter's ouster -- a claim Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated twice yesterday.

It also raises further doubts about Trump World's claims that officials in the West Wing didn't know the extent of Porter's alleged misdeeds. Wray said the FBI compiled information about the staff secretary and the bureau "passed that on" to the White House.

So, unless Wray just perjured himself for no reason -- an unlikely scenario -- Trump's handpicked FBI director effectively contradicted all of the key defenses the White House has presented in the Porter matter, which comes on the heels of various members of the president's team contradicting each other.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.13.18

02/13/18 12:00PM

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

* In Minnesota yesterday, Democrat Karla Bigham won her state Senate special election by three points, keeping the seat "blue." It was, however, a competitive district: Donald Trump narrowly won here in the last presidential election.

* In related news, Minnesota was also home yesterday to a state House special election, where Republican Jeremy Munson prevailed in a district that Trump won by 26 points. Munson won by about 18 points.

* In a quote Nevada Democrats will be only too pleased to share with voters in the fall, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said yesterday about his plans for immigration policy, "I have a tendency to support what the president's trying to do, and that's probably the position that's closest to where I am."

* The Republican National Committee now intends to keep the donations it received from Steve Wynn, the RNC's former finance chair, "until state regulators in two states complete their investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct made against him."

* The Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity is reportedly launching new attack ads targeting Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) for voting against the regressive Republican tax plan.

* In Alabama, state Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) has been caught in an exceedingly awkward spot: his office is subpoenaing state lawmakers while his political operation seeks campaign contributions from those same lawmakers. (Thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up.)

* In Arizona, Senate hopeful Kelli Ward (R) told MSNBC's Kasie Hunt yesterday that she still wants Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to resign. Ward is currently running to replace Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who's retiring.

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Amtrak Train 111, which was the first Northeast Regional train out of New York City at 5:30 am this morning, arrives at Union Station May 18, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

The unsettling details surrounding Trump's railroad safety chief

02/13/18 11:20AM

The Trump administration has struggled with all kinds of personnel troubles lately, but this Politico piece about Heath Hall points to a different kind of controversy.

A top official charged with overseeing the safety of the nation's railroads has resigned "effective immediately," the Department of Transportation said Saturday after POLITICO raised questions about whether he was simultaneously working as a public relations consultant in Mississippi.

The news comes at a time of strain for the Federal Railroad Administration, which hasn't had a permanent leader for more than a year while it investigates a string of fatal train crashes and deals with a rising trend of rail-related deaths.

As Rachel explained on the show last night, the trouble in this case is that Heath Hall oversaw the Federal Railroad Administration while he maintained an entirely different job: Hall also served as a spokesperson for a local sheriff's department in Mississippi, home to the public-relations firm he's run for years.

In fact, Hall reportedly had federal officials help him with his second job, all while he was ostensibly helping oversee the $1.7 billion agency that's in charge of rail safety for the entire country. No one notified the Department of Transportation about any of this.

Almost immediately after Politico called to inquire about Hall's two simultaneous jobs, he resigned -- suggesting he intended to keep the scheme going until someone finally figured it out.

But before we move on, can we also ask how it is this guy got the job?

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Mick Mulvaney

CFPB ends payday lender lawsuit, leaves Trump voter feeling 'betrayed'

02/13/18 10:42AM

One of the most controversial aspects of the nation's finance industry is the prevalence of payday lenders, and the business practices that consumer advocates consider predatory. The Obama administration unveiled new safeguards in 2016, specifically intended to protect the public.

Last month, Donald Trump's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, led by Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, announced that those rules would effectively be ignored. CNBC reported yesterday on the latest effects of the Trump administration's approach to the payday-lending industry.

The federal consumer watchdog has dropped a lawsuit against a lender that allegedly charged people up to 950 percent interest rates. It's part of a move away from aggressive enforcement under interim director Mick Mulvaney that has angered career staff, NPR reported.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau confirmed to CNBC on Monday that it scrapped the suit against Golden Valley Lending in January. Mulvaney, who also heads the administration's Office of Management and Budget,was appointed by President Donald Trump to lead the CFPB after Democrat Richard Cordray resigned.

Mulvaney -- a harsh critic of the CFPB while serving in Congress -- decided to scrap the legal action even though career officials wanted to move ahead with it, several CFPB staff members told NPR.

Note, NPR's report makes clear that CFPB officials spent years building a case against Golden Valley Lending, and if the litigation had been successful, thousands of Americans stood to get some of their money back. Mulvaney didn't care.

The report specifically highlighted a Michigan woman named Julie Bonenfant, who faced a financial crisis that led her to borrow $900 from Golden Valley Lending. She soon discovered that "her scheduled payments in less than 12 months will total $3,735, or more than four times what she borrowed."

Bonenfant told NPR, "To be honest I'm really mad, really pissed, because I actually voted for Trump. So knowing that his guy threw out this case that affects people like me, I feel kind of like stupid -- just kind of like betrayed."

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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Pruitt takes the Trump admin's travel troubles to new heights

02/13/18 10:08AM

One of the few scandals that actually seemed to embarrass the Trump administration last year was the plane problem: top officials kept taking very expensive, taxpayer-financed flights that the White House found difficult to defend.

The controversy cost HHS Secretary Tom Price his job, but he wasn't the only one caught up in this mess. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's travel became a problem. The controversy surrounding Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s travel is starting to look worse. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s travel drew some scrutiny as did Energy Secretary Rick Perry's. VA Secretary David Shulkin’s travel was under investigation, and the latest findings do not paint a flattering picture.

And then there's EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who's tenure has been controversial for a wide variety of reasons, and who now looks a little worse thanks to this Washington Post  report.

Just days after helping orchestrate the United States' exit from a global climate accord last June, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt embarked on a whirlwind tour aimed at championing President Trump's agenda at home and abroad.

On Monday, June 5, accompanied by his personal security detail, Pruitt settled into his $1,641.43 first-class seat for a short flight from the District to New York City. His ticket cost more than six times that of the two media aides who came along and sat in coach, according to agency travel vouchers; the records do not show whether his security detail accompanied him at the front of the plane.

In Manhattan, Pruitt made two brief television appearances praising the White House's decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, stayed with staff at an upscale hotel near Times Square and returned to Washington the next day.

That same week, Pruitt flew on Air Force One to attend an infrastructure event, before taking a military jet to New York, where the EPA chief and his team boarded another flight to Rome.

All of this has cost American taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars -- and that doesn't include the undisclosed costs associated with covering the travel expenses of Pruitt's security -- which is extensive.

Indeed, the closer one looks at this story, the worse it appears.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

On protecting classified information, Sanders' defense falls short

02/13/18 09:20AM

One of the core elements of the White House's Rob Porter controversy is a question about national security: the former staff secretary had day-to-day access to highly sensitive, classified materials, despite not having a permanent security clearance. While Team Trump was entrusting Porter with secrets, one of Porter's ex-wives was warning Team Trump he was susceptible to blackmail.

With this in mind, NBC News' Kristen Welker had an important exchange yesterday with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

WELKER: Can you guarantee that you are protecting classified information given that you have someone like Rob Porter who didn't have a permanent security clearance to access classified information?

SANDERS: I think we're doing and taking every step we can to protect classified information. I mean, frankly, if you guys have such concern with classified information, there's plenty of it that's leaked out of the Hill, that's leaked out of other communities well beyond the White House walls. If you guys have real concerns about leaking out classified information, look around this room. You guys are the ones that publish classified information and put national security at risk that doesn't come from this White House.

WELKER: Is this White House jeopardizing national security?

SANDERS: We take every precaution possible to protect classified information and certainly to protect national security. It's the president's number-one priority, is protecting the citizens of this country. It's why we spend every single day doing everything we can to do that. And I think if anyone is publishing or putting out, publicly, classified information, it's members of the press, not the White House.

As responses go, this is a mess, and given the seriousness of the underlying issue, it's a problem that deserves special scrutiny.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Following tax cuts for the rich, Trump budget would hurt the poor

02/13/18 08:41AM

In his inaugural address last year, Donald Trump articulated a vision for taking political power and "giving it back to you, the American people." The new Republican president added, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."

Well, maybe just a little longer.

President Trump proposed a budget Monday that hits the poorest Americans the hardest, slashing billions of dollars in food stamps, health insurance and federal housing subsidies while pushing legislation to institute broad work requirements for families receiving housing vouchers, expanding on moves by some states to require recipients of Medicaid and food stamps to work. [...]

"This budget proposes taking away food assistance from millions of low-income Americans — and on the heels of a tax cut that favored the wealthy and corporations," said Stacy Dean, president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "It doesn't reflect the right values."

No, though it does reflect the right's values.

The point about the Republican tax plan stands out as especially important. It was, after all, just two months ago that GOP policymakers approved a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, almost all of which benefited the wealthiest Americans and large corporations. Donald Trump continues to tout the policy as a historic achievement.

But this same president, the self-proclaimed champion of "the forgotten men and women," has created a bookend for the regressive tax breaks: a White House budget that goes out of its way to impose new hardships on those who are already struggling most.

I've been thinking about something Slate's Jamelle Bouie wrote last week:

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Image: Trump departs for travel to Missouri from the White House in Washington

Team Trump still can't get its story straight on Porter scandal

02/13/18 08:00AM

It's now been a week since the public first learned about former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter's alleged violence toward his ex-wives. In theory, Donald Trump and his team have had plenty of time to examine how they handled the matter and get their story straight.

It's not going well. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced this question during yesterday's briefing:

"Tuesday night, when the initial story came out, the White House praises Rob Porter. Wednesday morning, photos come out. The White House stands by its statement. Wednesday afternoon, the White House continues to praise Rob Porter. And Chief of Staff John Kelly says he acted 40 minutes within knowing the allegations. Can you explain that?"

She couldn't explain that. White House officials have given competing explanations of when they learned about the allegations and when they responded to the allegations. At different times, they've said Porter chose to resign and was forced out. Their timeline, meanwhile, lacks any kind of consistency.

Politico  reports this morning, meanwhile, that after reports of Porter's alleged domestic violence reached the public, the White House arranged an off-the-record briefing between the aide and several reporters, allowing him to push back against the claims. This appears to be completely at odds with John Kelly's "40 minutes" claim, which was already a mess.

Making matters slightly worse, the L.A. Times  reported yesterday, "Over and over again the past few days, various White House aides have buttonholed reporters to tell them -- anonymously -- that they think Kelly either lied to them or tried to get them to lie about what he knew when."

Fine-tuned machine, indeed.

There is, of course, a broader significance to this that extends beyond one former West Wing aide who's been accused of violent domestic abuse -- allegations he denies. There's also the fact that Trump World doesn't exactly have a reservoir of credibility it can lean on when confronted with controversies like these.

A Washington Post reporter asked rhetorically over the weekend, "What happens when there's an external crisis and the White House needs the American people to believe what it says?" The answer, I suspect, is that much of the public would respond with justifiable skepticism.

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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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