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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Republicans lose interest in bills to protect Mueller from Trump

10/31/17 10:17AM

As recently as August, a bipartisan group of senators were working on legislation intended to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller in case Donald Trump tried to fire him. Now that members of Trump's political operation have been charged by Mueller and his team, perhaps it's time to take those measures more seriously?

Apparently not. GOP senators, including some who've been publicly critical of Trump, argued yesterday that it's simply unfathomable that the president would try to oust the special counsel before the completion of the investigation. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was prepared to co-sponsor one of the bills to protect Mueller a few months ago, suggested yesterday his own bill isn't needed.

The bipartisan cosponsors of two bills to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from meddling by President Trump told reporters Monday night that they have received zero indication that the Senate's GOP leaders will allow a vote on the legislation. And most rank-and-file Republicans, including one cosponsor of the legislation, said they saw no need to pass it.

"I don't feel an urgent need to pass that law until you show me that Mr. Mueller is in jeopardy," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a cosponsor of the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act. "Anybody in his right mind at the White House wouldn't think about replacing him."

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the question of whether Donald J. Trump is "in his right mind" is a subject of considerable debate.

But even if we put that aside, I get the feeling some Republicans on Capitol Hill have lost sight of the fact that Trump has already publicly flirted with the idea of ousting Mueller from his post.

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Image: US President Trump leads listening session on human trafficking

Trump tries to dismiss adviser he praised as an 'excellent guy'

10/31/17 09:21AM

Donald Trump initially said very little following yesterday's criminal charges against former members of his campaign team, but this morning the president apparently figured out what he wanted to say. He started, for example, arguing that Paul Manafort's alleged misdeeds "took place long before he came to the campaign."

That's not true. In fact, the indictment specifically covers events through 2017.

Perhaps more important, though, was Trump turning his attention to his former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, who's already pleaded guilty to lying federal investigators.

"Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar."

This posture was predictable, of course, but there are two angles to Trump's new line that are worth keeping in mind.

First, it's far too late for the president to dismiss Papadopoulos as some meaningless, peripheral figure. Trump personally singled out Papadopoulos as an "excellent guy" when Trump listed him as one of only four people he'd brought onto the campaign to offer advice on foreign policy.

What's more, the court documents made available yesterday show Papadopoulos communicating with top members of Trump's campaign operation, including former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former campaign co-chair Sam Clovis, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. On MSNBC's "All In" last night, Carter Page, another Trump foreign policy adviser embroiled in the scandal, told Chris Hayes he and Papadopoulos may have even exchanged emails last year about Russia.

One former Trump confidant this morning dismissed Papadopoulos as an inconsequential "coffee boy." The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

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A magnifying glass is posed over a monitor displaying a Facebook page in Munich on Oct. 10, 2011. (Photo by Joerg Koch/AP)

Russian-backed election content reached a third of US population

10/31/17 08:40AM

As Americans have begun to learn more about Russian efforts to use Facebook last year to spread campaign propaganda, Donald Trump has been eager to dismiss its significance. Just 10 days ago, the president tweeted, "Keep hearing about 'tiny' amount of money spent on Facebook ads. What about the billions of dollars of Fake News on CNN, ABC, NBC & CBS?"

At first blush, the problem with messages like these is that Trump doesn't recognize the difference between American journalism and a Russian espionage operation. But as more details come into focus, there's a related problem: the Russian-backed election content was anything but "tiny."

An estimated 126 million Americans, roughly one-third of the nation's population, received Russian-backed content on Facebook during the 2016 campaign, according to prepared testimony the company submitted Monday to the Senate Judiciary Committee and obtained by NBC News.

Underscoring how widely content on the social media platform can spread, Facebook says in the testimony that while some 29 million Americans directly received material from 80,000 posts by 120 fake Russian-backed pages in their own news feeds, those posts were "shared, liked and followed by people on Facebook, and, as a result, three times more people may have been exposed to a story that originated from the Russian operation."

The report added that the the 80,000 posts generated by fake Russian-backed pages doesn't include the 3,000 Facebook ad Russian entities purchased during the campaign.

To add some additional context to this, nearly 81 million Americans saw the first nationally televised debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton last fall. That was certainly a large audience, but it's far smaller than the 126 million Americans who were confronted with Russian campaign propaganda.

What's more, it's important to appreciate the recent evolution of the data. As Slate noted, Facebook originally downplayed Russia's use of the social-media platform, before conceding that 10 million Americans saw Russian-backed content. Following a series of reports, that total has now increased to roughly 126 million.

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Image: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan hosts press conference following a Republican caucus meeting

Congressional Republicans shrug following Trump World indictments

10/31/17 08:00AM

Imagine a hypothetical. Let's say a tiny number of progressive votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania went Democratic a year ago and Hillary Clinton were president right now.

Let's also say, in this hypothetical scenario, nine months into her presidency, Hillary Clinton was unpopular in ways with no historical parallel, and her political operation was the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, suspected of cooperating with a foreign adversary's espionage operation, which was launched to help put her in the White House.

Then imagine, nine months into her first term, Clinton's former campaign chairman is indicted and one of her former foreign policy advisers pleads guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with the aforementioned foreign adversary.

What do you suppose congressional Republicans would say under those circumstances?

The point, obviously, is that GOP lawmakers were confronted yesterday with exactly these circumstances, except it's Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, who's in office. And while it's safe to assume Republicans would have hair-on-fire reactions to Clinton World indictments, they managed to offer a collective shrug yesterday afternoon in response to Trump World indictments.

"That really isn't our job," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Ky.) told reporters, when asked about the criminal charges brought against members of Trump's campaign team. "That's not our wheelhouse." The top Republican in the House was similarly disinterested.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Monday said charges brought against members of President Donald Trump's campaign are not going to have any effect on Congress.

"I really don't have anything to add, other than: Nothing is going to derail what we're doing in Congress," Ryan said on conservative Wisconsin talk radio station WTAQ.

What they're "doing in Congress," of course, is pursuing massive tax cuts -- which for Ryan and his allies, have to remain the party's principal focus.

If that means averting their gaze, pretending not to notice the crisis overwhelming their own party's president, so be it.

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Matthews: Facts hurt Trump

Matthews: Facts hurt Trump

10/30/17 09:45PM

Chris Matthews joins Rachel Maddow to talk about his new book, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, and about how Donald Trump is struggling to deal with a fact-based scandal that doesn't bend to his manipulations. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 10.30.17

10/30/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business associate Rick Gates both "entered not guilty pleas at their arraignment inside a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C., on Monday afternoon."

* A federal judge today "partially blocked the Trump Administration's proposed transgender military ban, writing in a strongly worded opinion that the policy 'does not appear to be supported by any facts.'"

* U.S. troops captured a suspect in the 2012 Benghazi attack: "The man, Mustafa al-Imam, was caught on Sunday in the area of Misurata, Libya, brought aboard an America warship and will be taken to the United States to face criminal charges."

* Vice President Mike Pence visited North Dakota's Minot Air Force Base, home to 26 B-52 bombers and 150 intercontinental ballistic missile sites, and told servicemen and women on Friday, "Now, more than ever, your commander in chief is depending on you to be ready."

* Las Vegas: "As hundreds of survivors struggle to recover emotionally and physically from the Oct. 1 attack, they are beginning to come to terms with the financial toll of the violence perpetrated against them. Even those who are insured could face untold costs in a city they were only visiting."

* Scott Lloyd: "Since his appointment in March as director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services, Lloyd has prohibited undocumented minors in federal custody from obtaining abortions. He has instructed subordinates to prevent these minors from meeting with attorneys and from going to court to request permission to terminate their pregnancies. He has personally met with multiple minors to coerce them to carry their unwanted pregnancies to term."

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Trump's ouster of U.S. Attorney Dana Boente matters

10/30/17 04:04PM

In March, Donald Trump summarily fired 46 U.S. Attorneys, without warning or explanation. Of particular interest was Preet Bharara, who had jurisdiction over Trump Tower, and who'd been specifically told he could stay on at his post.

Then, for reasons the White House hasn't shared, the president and his team changed their minds, and showed Bharara and dozens of his fellow federal prosecutors the door, without having any of their successors lined up.

Trump did not, however, replace literally all of the Obama-era U.S. Attorneys: Dana Boente was allowed to stay on. Late last week, as NBC News reported, that changed, too.

Dana Boente, one of the nation's most high-profile federal prosecutors, has submitted his resignation after he was asked to step down to make way for a successor to be named by President Donald Trump. [...]

Boente, who has served in the Justice Department for three decades, became the U.S. attorney in 2015 during the Obama administration. A well-regarded veteran prosecutor, he became acting attorney general in January after Trump fired Sally Yates, who refused to enforce the first executive order restricting travel.

At first blush, this may not seem especially important. After all, presidents routinely appoint their own slate of federal prosecutors, so it may seem as if Boente is just part of a larger pattern.

But there's more to this one: Boente, like Bharara, was in a position to investigate the president when Trump decided unexpectedly to fire him.

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Image: President Trump attends Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol

Team Trump's pre-election Russian contacts draw new scrutiny

10/30/17 02:27PM

George Papadopoulos spent nearly a year as a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, and during his tenure, he interacted with foreign nationals with ties to the Russian government -- who claimed to have "dirt" on Hillary Clinton they wanted to share. From NBC News' report:

The professor introduced Papadopoulos to a Russian who said he was close to officials at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs who then spoke with Papadopoulos over Skype about laying the groundwork for a meeting between the campaign and officials in Moscow.

The Russian woman -- whom Papadopoulos mistakenly described in an email as the niece of Russian President Vladimir Putin -- also tried to arrange a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials, the documents say.

Papadopoulos, 30, communicated with a "campaign supervisor" about his attempts to broker a meeting with the Russians to discuss U.S.-Russia ties during a Trump presidency, the court papers say.

"Great work," the supervisor, who was not named in the documents, told him in an email.

This is, of course, an extremely important development for all sorts of reasons, but let's take a moment to note that this counts as yet another communication between a member of Team Trump and Russia that happened during the 2016 presidential campaign.

And while that may not seem especially notable, we were told repeatedly, for months that no such contacts occurred, and while that's sometimes lost in the shuffle, it's also one of the most dramatic falsehoods Team Trump pushed as the scandal unfolded.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort departs a press conference at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, July 19, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

How not to respond to Paul Manafort's criminal indictment

10/30/17 12:39PM

Corey Lewandowski, who helped lead Donald Trump's presidential campaign before Paul Manafort did, appeared on Fox Business Network this morning to talk about Manafort's criminal indictment. In the process, Lewandowski presented a new talking point: let's blame the FBI.

"If the public reports are true, and there was a time where Paul Manafort was under a FISA warrant before coming to the Trump campaign, why is it the FBI never reached out to me as the campaign manager, never reached out to Donald Trump, and said: 'Look, you might want to pause for a second and take a look before you bring this guy on board as a volunteer to hunt delegates to you,'" Lewandowski argued.

I see. So, it's not Trump World's fault they hired a suspected criminal to lead Trump's political operation; it's federal law enforcement's fault for not discouraging Trump World.

Given what we know about this presidency, the argument isn't exactly compelling. Team Trump knew Michael Flynn was under investigation, for example, but the president made him White House National Security Advisor anyway.

But even putting that aside, Trump World is also responding to the charges against Manafort with related unpersuasive arguments.

This was echoed by another source close to the White House, who told CNN that Manafort and Gates' behavior has little to do with the Trump campaign or the Russia investigation.

"These guys were bad guys when they started, they were bad guys when they left," the source said, adding, "It has nothing to do with any relationship to Russia."

This is one of those defenses that doesn't exactly come across as a defense.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Former Trump adviser pleads guilty to lying to Mueller's team

10/30/17 11:16AM

In March 2016, Donald Trump sat down with the editorial board of the Washington Post, and was asked about the team of foreign policy advisers his campaign had assembled. The then-candidate volunteered a handful of names, including Carter Page, who's now a key figure in the Russia scandal, and whom Trump later claimed not to know.

But after mentioning Page, Trump quickly added to his list of advisers, "George Papadopoulos, he's an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy."

Even at the time, this seemed odd. Papadopoulos had only graduated from college seven years earlier, and he listed participation with the "Model United Nations" as one of his credentials. And yet, in March 2016, the then-frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination identified Papadopoulos as one of only a handful of people advising him on foreign policy.

As of today, George Papadopoulos is suddenly known for a brand new reason.

A former Trump campaign adviser struck a cooperation agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, secretly pleading guilty three weeks ago to lying to federal agents about his contacts with Kremlin-connected Russians.

George Papadopolous, who joined the Trump team in spring 2016 as an energy and foreign policy expert, communicated with a "campaign supervisor" during the campaign about his attempts to arrange a meeting with the Russians to discuss U.S.-Russia ties during a Trump presidency, according to court documents. The supervisor, who was not named in the documents, told him, "Great work."

He relayed to the supervisor that during his communications with Russian contacts, the Russians said they had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton and thousands of emails.

This morning, after we learned about the criminal indictments for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his longtime business associate Rick Gates, it wasn't long before the president's allies had a talking point ready: these alleged crimes weren't directly related to the Trump organization.

The Papadopoulos story, however, hits much closer to home.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

Now that indictments have been issued, how far will Trump go?

10/30/17 09:41AM

Two weeks ago, Donald Trump appeared in the White House Rose Garden alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for a press conference, and the investigation into the Russia scandal came up very briefly.

REPORTER: You discussed the special counsel and the investigation currently. Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: No, not at all.

That's not an excerpt; it was the entire exchange. And taken at face value, the president's response may have been reassuring that the special counsel's ongoing investigation will continue without interference from the West Wing.

But if there's one thing that should be overwhelmingly clear at this point, it's that taking Trump's rhetoric at face value is a fool's errand.

As things stand, we don't know if the president is going to seriously consider trying to oust Robert Mueller. We also don't know if Trump is going to seriously consider it, only to be talked out of it by his White House aides.

But there's already some evidence that Trump's far-right allies are responding to Mueller's probe, not by defending the president and his team, but by going after Mueller and the legitimacy of his investigation.

Over the summer, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that if Trump went after Mueller, it "could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency." Today seems like a good time for the political world to revisit these sentiments -- just in case.

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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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