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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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Image: First Lady Melania Trump Hosts A Celebration Of MilitaryMothers Event

What Donald Trump knew and when he knew it

07/12/17 10:48AM

This week's Russia scandal revelations are a different kettle of fish: Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer offering campaign help from the Russian government, and Team Trump was eager to receive it. The details, including incriminating emails, have led much of the political world to start updating their timelines, noting other developments around the time of the Trump Tower chat.

But of all the attempts to connect various dots, this one, highlighted by the Huffington Post, stood out for me.

Donald Trump promised a "major speech" attacking campaign rival Hillary Clinton last June, just hours after his son, Donald Trump Jr., set up a meeting with a Russian lawyer he was told had compromising information on the Democratic candidate.

In a speech on June 7, 2016, first flagged by Washington Post reporter Philip Bump, then-candidate Trump promised vaguely to discuss "all the things that have taken place with the Clintons."

"I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons," Trump said at the time. "I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting."

The Republican made this announcement around 9 p.m. on June 7. Around 5 p.m. on June 7, Trump Jr. confirmed a scheduled meeting with the Russian lawyer whom, the campaign believed, had damaging information about Clinton, provided by the Russian government.

And what about the speech the then-candidate promised to deliver the following week, "discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons"? The one that we'd find "very, very informative"? It didn't happen. Trump instead delivered a speech in New Hampshire on national security.

All of this matters, of course, because it's important to understand what, if anything, the president was told about his campaign's cooperation with Russia. The timing in this instance is awfully coincidental.

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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)

Does McConnell regret doing nothing about the Russian attack?

07/12/17 10:01AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appears principally focused on passing a regressive health care plan this summer, but with the Russia scandal intensifying, NBC News' Kasie Hunt asked the Kentucky Republican a good question yesterday.

HUNT: Mr. Leader, you were briefed on this intelligence report surrounding Russian meddling back in the fall before the election. And there was a decision not to put that out in public. Now there are emails that show that Donald Trump Jr. was aware that this may have been damaging information from the Russian government. Do you regret your course of action?

MCCONNELL: What I have a lot of confidence in is the Intelligence Committee handling this whole investigation. Senator Burr and Senator Warner have ball control, and we'll hear from them later.

There is no meaningful relationship between the question and the answer -- the Intelligence Committee's investigation is unrelated to McConnell's personal culpability -- but I'm glad Kasie asked anyway because I continue to believe this angle to the story is underappreciated.

As The New Republic's Brian Beutler noted yesterday, "McConnell ran interference for Trump during the campaign to stop Obama from warning the country about things Trump was lying publicly about."

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz attends a Penn. campaign kickoff event held on N.Y. presidential primary night at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Penn. on April 19, 2016. (Photo by Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

A closer look at Ted Cruz's interest in Russian 'appeasement'

07/12/17 09:20AM

There were some fascinating exchanges yesterday between reporters and congressional Republicans on the Trump-Russia scandal, but for my money, it's tough to top the interview NBC News' Kasie Hunt had with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a Capitol Hill hallway.

HUNT: Is Russia an enemy of the United States?

CRUZ: Russia is a significant adversary. Putin is a KGB thug.

HUNT: Do you think that Trump is treating them that way?

CRUZ: I think that we have had eight years of Barack Obama showing nothing but appeasement towards Russia

HUNT: President Trump is not appeasing Russia?

The Texas Republican, reluctant to answer the question directly, kept trying to complain about Obama -- because some habits evidently die hard. Hunt ultimately reminded Cruz that Trump is trying to water down a bill on Russian sanctions that Cruz (and 96 other senators) voted for.

The GOP lawmaker responded, "The policies of the Obama administration were constant weakness and appeasement...."

Sure, this was unpleasant to watch. It was also rather predictable: despite Trump targeting Cruz's wife and father during their race for the Republican presidential nomination, the Texas senator votes with the White House's position more than 95% of the time and is eager to carry Trump's water.

But if Cruz sincerely wants to talk about Russian appeasement, he may not like where the conversation ends up.

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Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Russia scandal presents congressional Republicans with a choice

07/12/17 08:43AM

About a week before Iowa's presidential caucuses last year, Donald Trump delivered a memorable line while boasting about the loyalty of his allies. "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay?" the Republican bragged. "It's, like, incredible."

This was, in a way, prescient. At the time, Trump was referring to the unflinching support he enjoyed from much of the GOP base, but a year and a half later, it's hard not to wonder if he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and he wouldn't lose any congressional Republicans, either.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) said Monday evening that he would have done the same as Donald Trump Jr. in meeting with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

"Do I think it's appropriate? I think I probably would have done the same thing," Yoho told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I mean, it's opposition research. Anybody that's been in an election, you're always looking to get the upper hand."

The Florida Republican added, "I stand on the side of the president 100 percent on this."

There's a lot of this going around. While yesterday seemed to present the nation with a smoking gun -- we now know the Trump campaign knew about and welcomed Russia's intervention in the American election -- congressional Republicans were largely indifferent to the developments. The Washington Post reported, "What Democrats saw as a break in the Trump/Russia investigation was processed by many Republicans, and much of conservative media, as one more distraction that was likely being overhyped."

Vox, which ran a helpful quote collection, added, "Everybody at the US Capitol was rocked Tuesday by revelations that Donald Trump Jr. had accepted a meeting with someone whom he had been told was a representative of the Russian government, who had promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Everybody, that is, except Senate Republicans."

GOP lawmakers are not blind to the revelations. They know Russia launched the most serious attack on the United States since 9/11. They know Trump and his team lied about their contacts with Russian nationals. They know Trump fired an FBI director because of the president's opposition to an ongoing investigation in the Russia scandal. They know the Trump campaign was eager to accept support from a foreign adversary.

Congressional Republicans, however, by and large, simply don't care.

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As Russia scandal grows, Team Trump faces a crisis of credibility

07/12/17 08:00AM

Yesterday's developments in the Trump-Russia scandal caught much of the political world off-guard. Even those who've come to expect the worst seemed at least a little surprised to read emails, released by Donald Trump Jr., showing the Trump campaign's eagerness to collude with the Russian government during its attack on the American election.

The president's son is nevertheless under the impression that he can explain this mess away. In fact, he turned to Trump World's friendliest media ally in the hopes of doing exactly that.

In an interview Tuesday night on Fox News Channel's "Hannity," Trump Jr. said: "Someone sent me an email! I can't help what someone sends me. I read it, I responded accordingly, and if there was something interesting there, I think that's pretty common."

"It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame," Trump Jr. told host Sean Hannity, but he added: "In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently."

While it's true that much of Team Trump is new to politics and public service, for the record, it's not "pretty common" for an American campaign to welcome assistance from a foreign adversary.

On multiple occasions in the interview, the president's son insisted, "It was such a nothing." Asked, for example, if he'd spoken to his father about the meeting with the Kremlin-linked lawyer offering campaign information from the Russian government, Trump Jr. said, "It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell." He added, "It was such a nothing, there was no reason to follow up."

At the risk of stating the obvious, it's worth pausing to appreciate a relevant detail: there is literally no reason to accept any of these claims at face value. Trusting Team Trump's rhetoric about the Russian scandal has proven to be folly, and the more the controversy intensifies, the more important it is to be skeptical of dubious denials.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.11.17

07/11/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Deadly crash: "Sixteen service members were killed in the military plane that crashed Monday afternoon in rural Mississippi, spurring an intense search for bodies and a federal investigation into what caused the fiery wreck. Marine Corps Maj. Andrew Aranda said at a news conference Tuesday that there was no immediate evidence of foul play."

* This is pretty surprising: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Tuesday announced he is delaying the start of the traditional August recess this year by two weeks in order to work on health care and other issues."

* Natalia Veselnitskaya: "The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. during the presidential campaign denied in an exclusive interview with NBC News that she had any connection to the Kremlin and insisted she met with President Donald Trump’s son in 2016 to discuss sanctions between Russia and the U.S., not to hand over information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign."

* Erik Prince and Stephen Feinberg: "President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old."

* FBI: "The federal government is canceling the search for a new FBI headquarters, according to officials familiar with the decision, putting a more than decade-long effort by the bureau to move out of the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building back at square one."

* Believable: "U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis told members of the USGA’s executive committee that Donald Trump threatened to sue the organization if it moved the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open from Trump National Golf Club in Bedminister, N.J., according to a person with direct knowledge of the meeting."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a town hall, July 25, 2016, in Roanoke, Va. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Pence takes steps to blaze his own, non-Trump trail

07/11/17 04:20PM

As vice president, Mike Pence has already been caught -- several times -- trying to defend Donald Trump in ways that turned out to be completely untrue. Whether he knew he was deceiving the public is a matter of some debate, but Pence has nevertheless been caught peddling brazen falsehoods on the president's behalf.

And so, I was curious to see what the veep would say today, now that we know Trump World tried to collude with Russia during our adversary's election attack. Here's the official statement Pence's press secretary gave NBC News this afternoon:

"The vice president is working every day to advance the president's agenda. He was not aware of the meeting. He is also not focused on stories about the campaign -- especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign."

It's those last 11 words that stand out. Pence didn't literally say, "Hey, I wasn't even on the ticket when Team Trump wanted Russia's illegal help," but the subtext isn't exactly subtle.

And it's against this backdrop that our current vice president seems open, if not eager, to establish his own political identity -- distinct from that of the president who chose him. The New York Times reported over the weekend, for example, that Pence "has been courting scores of the country's most influential donors, corporate executives and conservative political leaders over the past several months in a series of private gatherings and one-on-one conversations."

Pence is also the first sitting vice president who isn't running for president himself to create his own political action committee.

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Image: FILE PHOTO - Donald Trump Jr. arrives at Trump Tower in New York City

Emails show Trump Jr's eagerness to collude with Russia

07/11/17 12:48PM

The New York Times reported last night that Donald Trump Jr. agreed to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer following an enticing email. The message reportedly said if he agreed to meet the attorney, she could provide compromising information about Hillary Clinton, as part of the Russian government's effort to help elect his father.

The report sent shockwaves through the political world -- it pointed to evidence of the Trump campaign attempting to collude with Russia during its attack on the United States -- but we hadn't seen the specific emails. Perhaps the language was more benign than the account from the Times' sources?

I'm afraid not.

Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday tweeted his email chain showing him making plans to meet with a Russian attorney said to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.

The email exchange shows an acquaintance with ties to Russia, music publicist Rob Goldstone, telling the son of then-candidate Donald Trump last year that the attorney has "information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."

The New York Times, which obtained the emails before the tweets, noted that the emails went on to tell Trump Jr., "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

The candidate's son responded soon after, "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."

The meeting between Trump, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Natalia Veselnitskaya was then arranged for June 9 -- just six days after the original email.

The specific language is tough to defend. Told that the Russian government wanted to share "very high level and sensitive information" with the Trump campaign, Trump Jr. and his associates probably should've called the FBI. Instead, they welcomed the opportunity to collude with a foreign adversary during its intervention in our political system.

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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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