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Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to President-Elect Donald Trump, takes questions from the media at Trump Tower on Nov. 21, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty)

Kellyanne Conway: Trump has 'discovered' border-wall concerns

01/11/18 10:40AM

During Tuesday's White House discussion on immigration, Donald Trump stumbled in important ways. As we discussed yesterday, the president accidentally endorsed a Senate Democrat's request for a clean DACA bill, extending protections to Dreamers, only to have a House Republican quickly interject, reminding Trump of what his position is supposed to be.

The contradiction was compounded yesterday when he initially told reporters he'd support any bipartisan immigration agreement reached in Congress. Five seconds later, Trump added, "No, no, no. It's got to include the wall."

Got it. The president will support any congressional bill, no matter what's in it, unless he doesn't like what's in it.

But even the White House's position on Trump's proposed border wall is far from clear. What the president promised voters was a wall -- not a fence -- that spanned the U.S./Mexico border, which Mexico would pay for. Trump now expects Americans to pay for the barrier, and according to what Kellyanne Conway told CNN's Chris Cuomo last night, the rest of the president's promise is uncertain, too.

"[A]fter conferring with the experts who are involved in this process, Christopher, the president has discovered that part of it -- well, he knows part of it will be the physical wall, part of it is better technology, part of it is also fencing. You know, there are rivers involved, I'm told, there are mountains involved, but there is terrain that isn't conducive to building an actual physical structure in some places."

So let me get this straight. Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015. He was a candidate for a year and a half, during which time he publicly committed, countless times, to build a border wall. He then spent a year as president, promising to follow through on his campaign pledge to build a giant wall with Mexican money.

It's only now Trump has "conferred" with experts and "discovered" problems with his promise?

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump takes aim at surveillance law he's supposed to support

01/11/18 10:00AM

One of the bizarre hallmarks of Donald Trump's first year as president has been the frequency with which he blindsides his own aides. White House staffers routinely discover dramatic changes to the Trump administration's position based on tweets published by their erratic boss, which in turn makes their jobs far more difficult.

This morning's Trump tweet, however, published in response to a Fox News segment, was especially bizarre:

"House votes on controversial FISA ACT today." This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?

First, the dossier isn't phony and hasn't been discredited. Second, people close to him were reportedly caught up in regular ol' FISA wiretaps, not the 702 policy that Congress is weighing. Third, there's no evidence of any "abuse" involving surveillance of people in Trump's orbit.

But even if we put all of that aside, what was especially amazing about this was Trump criticizing an intelligence tool that the Trump administration supports. Indeed, the White House issued a statement late yesterday encouraging Congress to extend the 702 policy. The statement came on the heels of Trump's CIA director, Mike Pompeo, hitting the Sunday shows over the weekend, talking up his support for the policy.

In other words, the president, eager to bolster a ridiculous conspiracy theory, undercut his own team, mindlessly criticizing a policy he's supposed to support, based on a Fox News segment he apparently didn't understand. Or as Steve Vladeck‏ put it, "Just to be clear, [Trump] is objecting to Congress's renewal of a piece of important national security legislation because of a completely invented scandal about how an unrelated provision of the same underlying statute (FISA) was allegedly (but not really) abused."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Trump touts 'letters' from 'anchors' that don't appear to exist

01/11/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump hosted a lengthy, televised White House meeting on Tuesday, bringing lawmakers together to discuss immigration policy in the Cabinet Room. It's possible that the conversation was intend to dispel concerns that the president is an unstable television addict.

But if that was the intended purpose, Trump didn't exactly help his own case yesterday when he appeared in the same room to reflect on the hours of television coverage he saw about the discussion from the day before.

"[I]t got great reviews by everybody other than two networks, who were phenomenal for about two hours. Then, after that, they were called by their bosses for saying, 'Oh, wait a minute.' And, unfortunately, a lot of those anchors sent us letters saying that was one of the greatest meetings they've ever witnessed. And they were great. For about two hours, they were phenomenal. And then they went a little bit south on us, but not that bad. It was fine.

"They probably wish they didn't send us those letters of congratulations."

Let's unpack this a bit, because it offers some notable insights into the president's perspective.

First, Trump apparently monitored hours of television news coverage of Tuesday's meeting, for reasons that only make sense to the president. Second, he apparently believes there's a conspiracy involving media "bosses" who require criticism of the White House.

What's more, asked for evidence of "letters" from "anchors" who praised Trump's meeting, the White House sent out a package of complimentary clips and tweets -- which suggests the "letters" from "anchors" exist only in the president's imagination.

But even putting all of that aside, what I cared most about the assertion that Tuesday's immigration "was one of the greatest meetings" observers have ever witnessed.

This is part of an amazing self-aggrandizing pattern:

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Eric Greitens Founder and CEO, The Mission Continues speaks at the Robin Hood Veterans Summit at Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum on May 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty for The Robin Hood Foundation)

Missouri's GOP governor caught up in ugly sex scandal

01/11/18 08:40AM

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) is not the first governor to be caught up in a sex scandal, but this story isn't quite like the one's we're used to.

The revelations broke last night with this report from KMOV, the CBS affiliate in St. Louis.

Governor Eric Greitens on Wednesday night confirmed to News 4 he had an extramarital affair, an admission a months-long News 4 investigation prompted.

In a recording obtained by News 4, a woman says she had a sexual encounter with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and that he tried to blackmail her to keep the encounter quiet.

The details were provided to News 4 by the woman's ex-husband, claiming the sexual relationship happened between his now ex-wife and Greitens in March 2015. News 4 is not naming the woman and she has not made an on-the-record comment about the story.

Greitens' extra-marital affair, which occurred before he was elected governor, would not ordinarily be a career-ender in contemporary politics. The Republican, who's only been in office for a year, might have difficulty explaining why he presented himself to voters as a committed family man, but politicians have survived controversies like these before.

What makes this story different is that the Missouri governor is accused not only of "horrible and disgusting" private acts, but also of allegedly attempting to blackmail his mistress.

"He took a picture of my wife naked as blackmail," the ex-husband told the local station. "There is no worse person."

A report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch added that while the relationship was consensual, the alleged photography was not: "She said in the audio that she wasn't aware he was doing it until she saw a flash of light through the blindfold, followed by his alleged verbal threat."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points at supporters after speaking at rally at the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 8, 2016. (Photo by Justin Lane/EPA)

Trump wants GOP allies to 'take control' of Russia scandal probe

01/11/18 08:00AM

We recently learned that Donald Trump, feeling the heat as the Russia scandal was intensifying last summer, personally urged Republican lawmakers to end congressional scrutiny of the controversy. The president's lobbying campaign targeted, among others, the Senate majority leader and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

As we discussed at the time, when Congress is investigating a scandal involving the president, the president isn't supposed to call lawmakers to pressure them to stop.

Yesterday, however, as Politico  noted, Trump took his lobbying campaign in a more public direction.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged Republicans in Congress to "take control" of the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, prompting some head-scratching from a top GOP investigator on Capitol Hill.

"The single greatest Witch Hunt in American history continues," Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. "There was no collusion, everybody including the Dems knows there was no collusion, & yet on and on it goes. Russia & the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing. Republicans should finally take control!"

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was asked to respond to the president's plea. His answer wasn't exactly encouraging.

"I don't know what the president has in mind, and I don't think I better comment until I have a discussion with the president on that," Grassley told reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday.

The problem, of course, is that the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee isn't supposed to have a "discussion" with the president whose scandal is facing scrutiny from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Quickly realizing that he'd said the wrong thing, Grassley added, And I don't intend to have a discussion with the president on that point, and I hope he doesn't call me and tell me the same thing that you said he said."

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.10.18

01/10/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* California: "Rescue crews waded through thick mud in Southern California on Wednesday to extricate stranded residents and clear roads made impassable by mudslides that have left at least 15 people dead and destroyed around 100 homes."

* ICE: "U.S. immigration agents raided dozens of 7-Eleven stores before dawn Wednesday and arrested 21 people in the biggest crackdown on a company suspected of hiring undocumented workers since President Donald Trump took office."

* This doesn't sound like a team that's nearly done: "Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has added a veteran cyber prosecutor to his team, filling what has long been a gap in expertise and potentially signaling a recent focus on computer crimes."

* Fortunately, the damage appears to have been limited: "One of the strongest earthquakes to hit the Caribbean in modern times struck off the coast of Honduras on Tuesday night, shaking the mainland and setting off tsunami warnings that were canceled about an hour later."

* In case you missed Rachel talking about this last night: "A senior National Security Council official proposed withdrawing some U.S. military forces from Eastern Europe as an overture to Vladimir Putin during the early days of the Trump presidency, according to two former administration officials."

* This would be less discouraging if there was any reason to believe Trump understood what it is about NAFTA he doesn't like: "Canada is increasingly convinced that U.S. President Donald Trump will soon announce that the United States intends to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, two government sources said on Wednesday."

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump shows an unsettling interest in overhauling libel laws

01/10/18 01:54PM

At a press conference this past weekend, Donald Trump eagerly pushed back against Michael Wolff's new best seller, "Fire and Fury," in a rather specific way. "The libel laws are very weak in this country," the president told reporters. "If they were strong, it would be very helpful. You wouldn't have things like that happen where you can say whatever comes to your head."

Yes, because if there's one person who should criticize others for saying whatever comes to their head, it's Donald J. Trump.

Regardless, this is apparently a subject of growing interest for the president. Reuters reports that Trump talked up the issue again today.

"Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness so we're going to take a strong look at that," he told reporters as he met members of his Cabinet. [...]

"We are going to take a strong look at our country's libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts," Trump said.

If you watch the clip, note that he was reading from prepared notes when he said this. They weren't off-the-cuff comments; the president planned specifically to address the issue.

Trump added, "You can't say things that are false, knowingly false. and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account." Yes, his lack of self-awareness continues to be breathtaking.

For what it's worth, I suspect he's just blowing smoke. For years, Trump has loved to talk about all the people he's eager to sue for one slight or another, but in nearly every instance, he's been all talk.

That said, let's not be too quick to brush past the significance of the circumstances: a sitting president wants to make it easier for himself to sue his critics -- and at least rhetorically, he's committed to making legal changes on the subject.

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Darrell Issa

As Issa exits the stage, the GOP has reason to worry about 2018

01/10/18 12:52PM

One my favorite congressional races of 2016 was in southern California, where Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was so worried about his re-election that he sent out direct-mail ads suggesting he’d worked cooperatively with Barack Obama -- whose presidency he fruitlessly tried to tear down.

As regular readers may recall, Issa prevailed in that contest, but it proved to be the closest congressional race of the cycle: the conservative incumbent eked out a narrow win over Doug Applegate (D), a retired Marine colonel. (Issa later filed a ridiculous defamation lawsuit against Applegate, which didn't work out well for the Republican.)

It didn't take long for Democrats to target Issa as one of Congress' most vulnerable Republicans in 2018. As it turns out, the incumbent has seen the writing on the wall: Issa announced this morning that he's retiring this year after nearly two decades on Capitol Hill.

And while plenty of this year's GOP retirements are in districts that lean heavily to the right, that's not the case with Issa.

Hillary Clinton won Issa's 49th Congressional District in 2016 by over seven percentage points against Donald Trump even though Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama there by a similar margin in 2012.

Orange County was once a fabled Republican stronghold, but Clinton became the first Democrat to win the affluent area since the Great Depression as it veered away from Trump.

This, coupled with the prevailing political winds, which appear to be blowing at Democrats' backs, left Issa with two unwelcome options: retire or lose. He chose the former.

But the bigger picture extends well beyond one vulnerable incumbent who's exiting the stage. Issa's retirement is emblematic of a larger Republican problem: as GOP lawmakers cancel their re-election plans, the odds of a new Democratic majority improve considerably. Relying on NBC News' data, let's look at the retirement announcements by breaking them up into groups:

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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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