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The Eiffel Tower is lit with the blue, white and red colors of the French flag in Paris, France, Nov. 16, 2015, to pay tribute to the victims of a series of deadly attacks on Friday in the French capital. (Photo by Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Despite a record of insults, Trump arrives in Paris

07/13/17 10:01AM

If it seems like Donald Trump just got back from a European trip, it's not your imagination. The president was in Germany late last week for a G-20 summit, but that didn't stop him from taking another sojourn this week, arriving in Paris today.

There's ample evidence to suggest the French won't be glad to see him -- Barack Obama was very popular in France, Trump is not -- but that didn't stop him. The Washington Post reports on why the Republican agreed to make the trip.

President Trump was not expected to attend France's Bastille Day, which this year will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States' entry into World War I.

But then he learned there would be a military parade.

French President Emmanuel Macron told Trump in a June 27 phone call about the event, which this year will feature U.S. and French troops marching through the historic streets near the Arc de Triomphe, fighter jets cutting through the skies above, and flags, horses and military equipment on display -- the sort of spectacle that Trump wanted to stage at his own inauguration in January.

Trump's decision, the article added, forced officials in both countries to quickly schedule "a last-minute trip that will last about 27 hours."

It'll be interesting to hear what "Jim" thinks about all of this. And who's Jim? I'm glad you asked.

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

Trump World audaciously claims to be 'as transparent as possible'

07/13/17 09:20AM

Last month, while writing a secret health care bill behind closed doors, Senate Republican leaders said they were proud to be part of a "transparent and open" process. They did not appear to be kidding.

And as it turns out, Republican confusion over the meaning of the word "transparency" isn't limited to Capitol Hill. At yesterday's press briefing, a reporter asked Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to explain the "plague of amnesia" affecting Donald Trump's team when it comes to disclosing interactions with Russian nationals. It led to this exchange:

SANDERS: Every single day we do our best to give the most accurate information that we have, and we continue to do that every single day, and have offered to be as transparent as possible with all committees and anyone looking into this matter.

REPORTER: This doesn't suggest to you a pattern of not trying to be transparent?

SANDERS: Not at all. Again, like I said, our goal is to be as transparent as humanly possible.

There was a certain irony to the circumstances: the president's spokesperson made these comments off-camera, because the White House has decided it's occasionally uncomfortable with the public being able to see these press briefings -- which, of course, is the opposite of transparency.

Sanders' claims also follow reports that White House aides, with Donald Trump's personal approval, drafted a misleading statement over the weekend on behalf of Donald Trump Jr. in response to the New York Times' questions about his controversial meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the campaign.

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

Trump may be the only person in the world who trusts Putin's word

07/13/17 08:41AM

After Donald Trump met privately with Vladimir Putin in Germany, there were different accounts on whether the American president accepted the Russian president's denial about intervening in our presidential election. The answer, however, is now coming into sharper focus.

After Trump returned from the G-20 summit, he assured the public that Putin "vehemently denied" intervening in the American election, which means, as far as the Republican is concerned, it's time to "move forward." The implication wasn't subtle: Trump seems inclined to accept the Russian leader's claims at face value, evidence be damned.

This was bolstered yesterday when the American president sat down with Reuters for an interview.

In the White House interview, the president said he directly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin if he was involved in what U.S. intelligence says was Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and that Putin had insisted he was not. [...]

"I said, 'Did you do it?' And he said, 'No, I did not. Absolutely not.' I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not," Trump said.

Wait, Trump asked the question in two different ways? Well, that changes everything.

Look, this is silly. Trump, a former television personality with no background in government or public policy at any level, has been told repeatedly by his own intelligence agencies that the Russian government orchestrated an attack. He then sat down with Putin, a former KGB operative, and asked if he's responsible for the crime of the century.

Putin denied it twice, which apparently Trump found persuasive. The Russian president must have been thrilled to find the one person in the world naïve enough to believe Putin's obvious lies.

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Trump goes backwards, falsely claims Putin preferred Clinton

07/13/17 08:00AM

There's been a steady evolution to the Russia scandal over the course of several months, featuring questions that have incrementally advanced the story. We start with the root question -- "Did Vladimir Putin's government attack the U.S. election?" -- which serves as a foundation for everything that follows.

Did Russian officials attack? Yes. Did they intervene to help put Donald Trump in power? Yes. Was Trump's campaign in communications with Russia during the espionage operation? Yes. Was Trump's campaign willing and eager to cooperate with Russia's scheme? Yes. Will the president or anyone in his operation face any consequences? Stay tuned.

But it's against this backdrop that Trump has a bad habit: he struggles to keep up, at times going backwards to re-ask questions that were answered months ago. Last week, the Republican beneficiary of Russian intervention belittled his own intelligence agencies and insisted "nobody really knows" if Russia was responsible for the attack in the first place.

This week, the president sat down with radical TV preacher Pat Robertson and again tried to raise doubts about a key detail that every honest observer already knows to be true.

He thinks Putin would actually have been happier with Hillary Clinton in the White House because he's building the U.S. military and working to export U.S. energy, which Russia opposes.

"We are the most powerful country in the world and we are getting more and more powerful because I'm a big military person. As an example, if Hillary had won, our military would be decimated. Our energy would be much more expensive. That's what Putin doesn't like about me. And that's why I say, why would he want me? Because from day one I wanted a strong military, he doesn't want to see that," Trump told Robertson.

The president added, "So what I keep hearing about that [Putin] would have rather had Trump, I think probably not."

This is bizarre nonsense, even by Trump standards.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.12.17

07/12/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Look for more on this story on tonight's show: "U.S. intelligence agencies starting in the spring of 2015 detected conversations in which Russian government officials discussed associates of Donald Trump, several months before he declared his candidacy for president, according to current and former U.S. officials."

* This, too: "Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign's digital operation -- overseen by Jared Kushner -- helped guide Russia's sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016."

* As a matter of legislative procedure, this is very significant: "Senate Republicans have won an argument before the parliamentarian that will allow a House-passed health care reconciliation bill to be taken up and amended in the Senate next week without any obstacle, CQ Roll Call has learned."

* Expect confirmation: "Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Federal Bureau of Investigations, said Wednesday that he did not consider the probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election to be a "witch hunt," disagreeing with the president's own assessment of the matter."

* This story, involving Mohsen Dehnavi, demands some explanation: "An Iranian cancer researcher who traveled to the US with his family on a valid visa has been sent back to his home country two weeks after Donald Trump's revised travel ban came into force."

* Nearly the size of Delaware: "One of the largest icebergs ever recorded broke off from an ice shelf in Antarctica, British scientists announced Wednesday.... Project MIDAS said there is no evidence to directly link the calving of the iceberg to climate change. However, it is widely accepted that warming ocean and atmospheric temperatures have been a factor in earlier disintegrations of ice shelves elsewhere on the Antarctic Peninsula."

* Worthy activism: "Major internet companies are preparing to launch online protests Wednesday over Republican efforts to roll back Obama-era net neutrality rules, employing a tactic that influenced policy in past years."

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

Trump attorney says collusion scandal is 'not a legal issue'

07/12/17 01:01PM

Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for the religious right movement who's now part of Donald Trump's legal team, appeared on several morning shows today, hoping to dismiss the relevance of the Russia scandal and this week's revelations. In an exchange with CNN's Chris Cuomo, Sekulow made the case that the developments with Donald Trump Jr. aren't that important, in part because there's no allegation of a crime.

"Look, here's what I look at. I look at the law. Was there any illegality? Was there any legal difficulty, legal problem with this issue and it's not a legal issue."

Of course it's a legal issue. Rachel talked to Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney, about this on the show last night and it seemed quite obvious that this is a legal issue. NBC News published a related piece on the legal questions surrounding the controversy. The New York Times published a piece of its own today from Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, who served as the top ethics attorneys in the last two administrations, exploring some of the unresolved legal controversies that are still being investigated.

If, however, Sekulow wants to argue that this isn't only a legal issue, I'd be far more inclined to agree. As one observer put it yesterday, "A presidential campaign enthusiastically courting secret sponsorship by a foreign government is a problem bigger than the criminal law."

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.12.17

07/12/17 12:00PM

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

* In Oklahoma yesterday, Democrats won in two state legislative special elections -- one in the state House, the other in the state Senate -- in districts that had been held by Republicans. According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee these are the third and fourth times, respectively, that Dem candidates have flipped GOP seats in state legislatures so far this year.

* Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) was sworn in as a member of Congress yesterday, after winning a special election in his Los Angeles district last month. There is now only one congressional vacancy: Utah's Jason Chaffetz resigned two weeks ago.

* The AP reported yesterday on new voting restrictions in New Hampshire, imposed by the state's Republican-led government: "A new law in New Hampshire requires that voters moving to the state within 30 days of an election provide proof that they intend to stay and subjects them to an investigation if they can't provide the proof and want to vote in future elections."

* In Maryland's 2018 gubernatorial race, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is throwing his support to Ben Jealous (D). Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, backed the Vermont senator's presidential campaign last year.

* Speaking of Bernie Sanders, the independent lawmaker has a new book coming out, and he's headed to Iowa to help promote it -- which, naturally, is leading to speculation about the senator's 2020 plans.

* In Oklahoma, former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is so displeased that Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) is breaking his term-limits pledge that he's threatening to support a primary challenge to the congressman next year.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Donald Trump Jr. gives a television interview at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland

The White House treats Donald Trump Jr. as part of the team

07/12/17 11:20AM

NBC News' First Read team published a good piece this morning, noting four essential questions related to this week's Trump-Russia scandal revelations. Among the most notable is the one the White House didn't want to answer yesterday: "Why does Jared Kushner still have a security clearance?"

The challenge, of course, is knowing where to stop once the questions start. For example, I'd also like to know why White House aides and the president are involved in Donald Trump Jr.'s public-relations strategies.

The New York Times reported today on Trump World's response to the newspaper's reporting on last summer's meeting with the Russian lawyer offering campaign assistance from Moscow. The article noted that Trump Jr. issued a written response over the weekend, but he wasn't its author.

As Air Force One jetted back from Europe on Saturday, a small cadre of Mr. Trump’s advisers huddled in a cabin helping to craft a statement for the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to give to The New York Times explaining why he met last summer with a lawyer connected to the Russian government. Participants on the plane and back in the United States debated how transparent to be in the statement, according to people familiar with the discussions. [...]

The original statement, drafted aboard Air Force One by advisers and then approved by Mr. Trump, said only that the Russian lawyer had discussed adoption policy during the meeting, without mentioning that the meeting had been offered as a chance to provide information about Mrs. Clinton's dealings with Russia. Only after The Times followed up in preparation for another article did the younger Mr. Trump issue a second statement acknowledging that.

We've noted this week that it's of interest that Trump Jr.'s story changed from one day to the next, which is an automatic red flag. But what we didn't know is how that story was crafted in the first place.

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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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