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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) bows his head in prayer during an event on Capitol Hill, Feb. 24, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

McConnell wants less 'drama' from Trump, but for the wrong reasons

05/17/17 09:20AM

Because Republican support for Donald Trump is key to the sustainability of his presidency, much of the political world suddenly finds itself paying very close attention to anything resembling GOP criticism of the White House. With this dynamic in mind, a Mitch McConnell quote received quite a bit of attention yesterday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wishes there was "less drama" coming out of the White House following reports that President Donald Trump revealed classified information during a meeting with Russian officials last week.

In response to questions, McConnell said that he has not lost confidence in the president and that he still trusts him with classified information.

"I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House," McConnell told reporters, not directly responding to the latest controversy flowing out of the executive branch.
"Ah ha!" the political world responded, Mitch McConnell must be growing weary of Trump World's constant stream of scandals and self-imposed crises, each of which are difficult to defend. The Senate Majority Leader must want the president and his team to get their house in order -- and stop doing things like leaking highly classified intelligence to the Russians for no reason.

But consider the quote with a little more context: "I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda, which is deregulations, tax reform, [and] repealing and replacing Obamacare."

It's the latter half of the sentiment that sounds more cynical than principled.
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Sen. Angus King, I-Me., leaves the senate luncheons in the Capitol, September 9, 2014. Photo by Tom Williams/Getty.

Independent senator raises specter of Trump's impeachment

05/17/17 08:42AM

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) does not have a reputation as a partisan bomb-thrower. He's one of only two independents in Congress, and he's widely seen as someone with a moderate, even-keeled temperament.

And with this in mind, when CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked the Maine senator yesterday whether he believes Donald Trump may soon face impeachment proceedings, King's answer raised more than a few eyebrows.
"Reluctantly, Wolf, I have to say yes, simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense. And I say it with sadness and reluctance. This is not something that I've advocated for. The word [impeachment] has not passed my lips in this whole tumultuous three or more months.

"But if indeed the president tried to tell the director of the FBI, who worked for him, that he should drop an investigation -- whether it was Michael Flynn or some investigation that had nothing to do with Russia or politics or the election -- that's a very serious matter."
Soon after, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who's voted with Trump more than 92% of the time this year, told an International Republican Institute, "I think we've seen this movie before. I think it's reaching a point where it's of Watergate size and scale."

Part of the trouble for the Trump White House isn't just the "size and scale" of Watergate, but the eerie similarities.
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FBI Director James B. Comey listens to a question from a reporter during a media conference in San Francisco, Calif., Feb. 27, 2014. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP)

Comey memo may prove to be a smoking gun for Trump

05/17/17 08:00AM

About a week after his presidential inauguration, Donald Trump had dinner with then-FBI Director James Comey, and at the time, the president reportedly asked about the investigation into the Russia scandal and sought a loyalty pledge from Comey. Given the circumstances, the dinner discussion looked a bit like obstruction of justice.

Later, when the president said he fired Comey because of Trump's dissatisfaction with the investigation into the Russia scandal, the admitted details looked even more like obstruction of justice.

New York Times' report, published late yesterday, appears to remove any sense of subtlety from the conversation about the scandal.
President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

"I hope you can let this go," the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.
It's important to note that the memo was contemporaneous with the events. This isn't a case in which an aggrieved fired official, eager to punish the president who ended his career, is reflecting on a discussion that happened months prior; rather, this is an instance in which Comey kept a paper trail, documenting developments as they occurred.

The White House, not surprisingly, is denying the accuracy of the report -- interestingly, the written statement from the West Wing wasn't attributed to any one individual official -- but given what remains of Trump World's shredded credibility, it's difficult to take the denials seriously.
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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.16.17

05/16/17 05:37PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Awkward diplomacy: "President Donald Trump welcomed Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday to the White House amid tensions over the U.S. arming Kurdish militias in Syria to help push ISIS out of Raqqa and Turkish extradition demands for Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric accused of organizing last year's failed coup."

* Seems reasonable: "A growing number of Republican and Democratic lawmakers are calling on President Trump to hand over the transcript of the White House meeting last week in which he revealed highly classified information to Russia's foreign minister and ambassador, according to current and former U.S. officials."

* Replacing Comey, Part I: "After interviewing to lead the FBI -- and the nation's investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia -- on Saturday, Sen. John Cornyn pulled his name from consideration Tuesday. He drops out amid a flurry of explosive reports that the president gave highly classified intelligence to Russian diplomats."

* Replacing Comey, Part II: "Rep. Trey Gowdy took himself out of the running to be the new FBI director, saying Monday that he doesn't feel like he'd be the right pick."

* North Carolina: "Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vowed Tuesday to issue an executive order 'pretty soon' to increase protections for LGBTQ people in the state. The pledge follows the state's partial repeal of HB2, a law barring local governments from passing any anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people."

* All is not well at the State Department: "The White House issued a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after the publication of a Washington Post report saying that Trump had revealed highly sensitive intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in the course of a conversation about ISIS. The only issue: State Department officials had no idea the statement had come out, learning about it only from CNN."
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Image: National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster

Trump's National Security Advisor comes up with the wrong defense

05/16/17 04:59PM

Nine times. White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster hosted a press briefing today in which he said, nine times, that Donald Trump sharing classified information with Russian officials in a private meeting was "wholly appropriate."

As the Washington Post noted, that wasn't much of an argument.
Here's the thing: It's very likely that what Trump did in that meeting with Russia was legal ... but that's not the same as saying that it was appropriate or helpful or not damaging to national security. The president has broad authority to declassify information that he feels the need to share, but sharing this information willy nilly with adversarial foreign powers -- including one with very different goals in Syria -- would seem to raise obvious red flags.

The standard put forward by McMaster for what is not only legal but also appropriate means that basically anything the president might share is appropriate, simply by virtue of it coming from the president.... To take this to a ridiculous extreme: If Trump decided to broadcast the nuclear codes live on Fox News, by McMaster's logic, as long as Trump deemed this necessary for national security purposes, it would be appropriate.
But in between incessant references to what he thinks may be "wholly appropriate," the president's national security advisor seemed to accidentally add an important detail: Trump, McMaster said, wasn't even "aware of where this [intelligence] came from. He wasn't briefed on the source of this information."

Moments later, McMaster said he had to go, and as a result, there was no follow-up Q&A.
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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to the media on June 3, 2016 in Doral, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Republicans change their tune on the mishandling of classified info

05/16/17 04:17PM

On July 5, 2016, then-FBI Director James Comey said Hillary Clinton wouldn't be indicted over her email server protocols, but Comey nevertheless said the former secretary of state had been "extremely careless" in the way in which she handled classified information. For Republicans, that criticism was a launching pad.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, almost immediately said Clinton's "mishandling of classified information was disgraceful and unbecoming of someone who aspires to the presidency. There is simply no excuse.... Her actions were grossly negligent, damaged national security and put lives at risk."

Asked today about Donald Trump sharing highly sensitive secrets with Russia, Rubio said the president's careless is "less than ideal," but the Florida Republican added, "It is what it is."
Hmm. It's almost as if Rubio has two entirely different standards. [Update: See below]

Two days after Rubio's Clinton condemnation, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called for intelligence agencies to deny Clinton intelligence briefings for the rest of the campaign season. The message was straightforward:
"It's simple: Individuals who are ‘extremely careless’ [with] classified info should be denied further access to it."
The day before Ryan's declaration, 14 Republican senators introduced legislation to revoke Clinton's security clearance and demand that anyone in the executive branch who shows "extreme carelessness" in their handling of classified information be denied access to that information.

The same day, then-RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said those who've mishandled classified information "have had their security clearances revoked, lost their jobs, faced fines, and even been sent to prison." Soon after, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked, "What do I say to the marines in my district when Hillary Clinton handles classified information in a careless way yet has no ramifications?"

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) argued in the fall that even the possibility of exposing sensitive intelligence to foreign adversaries is "treason."

And then, of course, there's Donald J. Trump.
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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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