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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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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.11.17

07/11/17 12:00PM

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

* In a bit of a surprise, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) is ending his gubernatorial campaign in Colorado, just three months after kicking off his bid for statewide office. The decision comes on the heels of Rep. Jared Polis (D) launching a gubernatorial campaign of his own -- and Polis' deep pockets appear to have had an intimidating effect.

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate special election, Rep. Mo Brooks (R) has launched his first television ad, which features his vow to fight for a border wall, and his willingness to read the Bible to other senators.

* On a related note, Brooks' top rival, appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R), told local voters over the weekend that Donald Trump "is the greatest thing that's happened to this country." Strange added, "I consider it a Biblical miracle that he's there."

* DNC Chairman Tom Perez yesterday announced a new investment in grassroots organizing at the state level. The Washington Post reported, "In October, the DNC will give a $10,000 monthly grant to each state party, running through the 2018 midterms -- a one-third increase over its 2016 commitments, which came when the party's presidential campaign was winning the money wars."

* In West Virginia, the field of Republicans hoping to take on Sen. Joe Manchin (D) is getting a little crowded, with state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) kicking off his statewide campaign yesterday. His principal rival appears to be Rep. Evan Jenkins (R).

* Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, is running a gubernatorial campaign in his native Florida, but his first attempt at statewide office appears to be struggling: his campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, and finance director all quit Gillum's team last week.

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Image: FILE PHOTO --  U.S. President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel give a joint news conference in Washington

The list of Kushner's meetings with Russians keeps getting longer

07/11/17 11:20AM

The story first came to public light in April. The New York Times reported that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's powerful son-in-law, sought the top-secret security clearance before starting his position in the White House, and at the time, "he was required to disclose all encounters with foreign government officials over the last seven years."

The article added that failing to disclose foreign contacts can, in some instances, lead to officials losing “access to intelligence, or worse."

This was relevant because Kushner had failed to disclose a meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and a separate meeting with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian state-owned bank, Vnesheconombank (or VEB). It's suddenly relevant anew, however, in light of the June 2016 meeting Kushner attended with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and a Kremlin-linked lawyer. The latest New York Times report noted:

The president learned from his aides about the 2016 meeting at the end of the trip, according to a White House official. But some people in the White House had known for several days that it had occurred, because Mr. Kushner had revised his foreign contact disclosure document to include it.

Much of the focus over the last few days has been on Trump Jr., and for good reason. He reportedly received an email suggesting the Russian government wanted to help elect his father, and Trump Jr. was apparently prepared to collude with Russia to that end.

But have you noticed just how many meetings Kushner attended with Russians, which he initially failed to disclose?

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A voter walks to an empty electronic voting booth at a Madison, Miss., precinct, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

Trump manages to make his voting commission even worse

07/11/17 10:40AM

I was under the mistaken impression that Donald Trump's ridiculous "voter integrity" commission couldn't possibly get any worse. I stand corrected.

President Donald Trump announced on Monday night that J. Christian Adams, a conservative attorney who has spearheaded efforts around the country to purge voters from the rolls, would be joining the president's commission to investigate voter fraud. [...]

After leaving a post in the Voting Section of the Department of Justice, Adams began a quest to purge voter rolls around the country. As detailed by Mother Jones, Adams has sent threatening letters and filed several lawsuits against counties that he claims have too many names on the voter rolls. The actions largely target rural counties with large minority populations, although last year he and his former colleagues began targeting areas with large Democratic populations in swing states as well.

J. Christian Adams first crossed my radar several years ago. After joining the Bush/Cheney Justice Department, Adams rose to public prominence as the "chief agitator" behind the ridiculous New Black Panther Party story -- alleging two black men with braids in their beards were intimidating white people while loitering outside a Philadelphia voting precinct in 2008.

In the years that followed, Adams began "pushing restrictive elections laws and voter purges across the country."

And now, he's been tapped by the Trump White House to serve on a voting commission, which exists because the president's feelings were hurt when he received 3 million fewer votes than his opponent.

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Iraqi special forces advance towards the city of Mosul, Iraq on Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Khalid Mohammed/AP)

Despite condemning the mission, Trump praises success in Mosul

07/11/17 10:02AM

When ISIS seized control of Mosul two years ago, it sent a chilling signal to much of the world. The fact that Iraqi forces have now effectively driven ISIS out of Iraq’s second largest city is therefore a major development.

Indeed, Donald Trump issued a statement late yesterday, celebrating the developments. It read in part:

"We have made tremendous progress against ISIS -- more in the past 6 months than in the years since ISIS became a major threat. The victory in Mosul, a city where ISIS once proclaimed its so-called 'caliphate,' signals that its days in Iraq and Syria are numbered. We will continue to seek the total destruction of ISIS."

What the White House statement neglected to mention is just how opposed Trump was to the mission from the outset.

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Vice President-elect Mike Pence speaks to reporters at Trump Tower, Nov. 29, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Mike Pence voices support for radical health care alternative

07/11/17 09:20AM

If Senate Republicans fail to pass their regressive health care plan, there's quite a bit of support among GOP members to strike a bipartisan deal with Senate Democrats and move on to other issues. There is, however, a radically different approach that's also on the table.

Donald Trump published a tweet two weeks ago in which he said he supports a repeal-and-delay model in which Congress immediately repeals the Affordable Care Act, and then figures out a replacement model at some point down the road. Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh asked Mike Pence if he's on board with such an approach, and the vice president, after dismissing the idea of bipartisan policymaking out of hand, replied:

"We believe if they can't pass this carefully crafted repeal-and-replace bill -- do those two things simultaneously -- we ought to just repeal only, and then have enough time built into that legislation to craft replacement legislation."

First, to describe the current Senate Republican blueprint as "carefully crafted" is plainly ridiculous. For anyone who takes this issue seriously, the legislation is a joke. Second, it's not exactly a good sign that GOP leaders are currently arguing about what to do after their health care legislation dies.

But let's put that aside and consider the substantive, policy implications of what the vice president just publicly endorsed.

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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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