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Image: U.S.  President Trump listens during joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg at the White House in Washington

Trump threatens Comey with provocative reference to 'tapes'

05/12/17 10:12AM

Donald Trump had the latest in a series of Twitter tantrums this morning, which wouldn't ordinarily be especially notable, except this one included what appeared to be a provocative threat:
"James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
As 19-word presidential missives go, this may be prove to be quite consequential.

On the surface, Trump's tweet appears to be a not-so-veiled threat against the former FBI director, whom the president fired this week because of Trump's opposition to Comey's investigation into the Russia scandal. This, in and of itself, is outrageously inappropriate and of dubious legality.

Indeed, the fact that the president is publicly warning a potential witness to remain quiet only adds to concerns about Trump possibly obstructing justice. Norm Eisen, the chief ethics lawyer in the Obama White House, characterized the president's tweet this morning as a possible crime.

But then there's that reference to "tapes."
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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-RUSSIA-SECURITY-FLYNN

Trump struggles to explain Michael Flynn controversy

05/12/17 09:24AM

Perhaps the president could explain what he considers an "emergency."
President Donald Trump defended the delay in firing former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in exclusive interview on Thursday with NBC News' Lester Holt.

There was an 18-day gap between the heads up from former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates regarding Flynn's activities with the Russians and his removal by the White House.

"(White House counsel Don) McGahn came back to me and did not sound like an emergency," Trump said of Yates' information about Flynn.
Hmm. President Obama had warned Trump about Michael Flynn; there were multiple news accounts on Flynn receiving money from Russia; and then the acting U.S. Attorney General warned the White House -- multiple times -- that the White House National Security Advisor had been compromised by Russia and was vulnerable to a foreign adversary's blackmail.

Trump heard this and thought it "did not sound like an emergency." In fact, the president decided to do nothing and continued to provide Flynn with access to the nation's most sensitive secrets.

In yesterday's interview with NBC News' Lester Holt, Trump added, "This man (Flynn) has served for many years, he's a general, he's a -- in my opinion -- a very good person. I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general."

Even for Trump, this is bizarre. The person "we don't even know" referred to Sally Yates, who happens to be the Justice Department official that Trump named as acting Attorney General. She's also the one who told Trump's White House that Flynn was not only compromised, and not only lying about his Russian contacts, but that the "underlying conduct" Flynn was lying about was itself problematic.

And yet, at this point, Trump is still defending Flynn.
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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence waits for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Mike Pence gets caught making yet another bogus claim

05/12/17 08:40AM

There's room for an interesting debate about who's ultimately to blame for Mike Pence's public falsehoods, but there's no denying the fact that the list of the vice president's bogus claims is getting longer. Politico reported yesterday:
Vice President Mike Pence has once again delivered the White House line, in the face of growing contradictory evidence, on a charged topic related to Russia's possible connections to the Trump campaign.

In meetings on Capitol Hill and in interviews, Pence has said this week that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
In fact, Pence was rather specific when talking to reporters on Wednesday, saying, "Let me be very clear that the president's decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI was based solely and exclusively on his commitment to the best interests of the American people and to ensuring that the FBI has the trust and confidence of the people this nation."

We now know these comments weren't true -- because Pence's boss has now admitted as much. Trump acknowledged yesterday that his decision to fire the FBI director wasn't related to the Justice Department's recommendations, and wasn't "based solely and exclusively" on the national interest. On the contrary, the president said it was Comey's investigation into the Russia scandal that served as the motivation for the firing.

Pence also said Wednesday that it was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who "made the recommendation" on Comey, which Trump accepted. We now know that's not what happened: Trump told Rosenstein to write the memo to justify a decision the president had already made.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday that it's "a terrible thing to watch" the vice president undermine his own credibility this way. That's true, but let's not forget that it's also a terrible thing that Pence keeps doing this.
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Trump's admission bolsters allegations of obstruction of justice

05/12/17 08:00AM

As the controversy surrounding Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey intensifies, one of the key questions is whether the president obstructed justice by firing the person overseeing the investigation into the Russia scandal. Trump's allies have gone to great lengths this week to argue that the firing and the investigation have nothing to do with one another.

The president, however, has now admitted that those defenses are wrong. In an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt yesterday, Trump admitted he was motivated by concerns about the Russia scandal when he decided to oust Comey from his FBI post.
"[W]hen I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story."
About the same time as the interview, Trump's spokesperson also told reporters that by firing Comey, the White House has "taken steps" to end the investigation into the Russia scandal.

Democrats don't need to make the case that Trump obstructed justice; Trump and his team are doing it for them.

Perhaps you've seen a crime drama in which the smart detective sits down with a suspect and tries to cleverly get the accused to confess to the crime. In this case, however, the task is made far easier by the fact that the president has dropped the pretense of innocence. Trump is effectively admitting he's guilty.

And as Rachel noted on the show last night, the only appropriate remedy for a president who's obstructed justice is impeachment.
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.11.17

05/11/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* His ego wouldn't allow such a confrontation: "The White House has abandoned the idea of President Trump visiting FBI headquarters after being told he would not be greeted warmly, administration officials told NBC News."

* What a transparent joke: "President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday creating a commission aimed at investigating alleged vote fraud -- a move that drew swift rebuke from civil liberty groups and liberal lawmakers amid worries the panel's work could seek to justify voter suppression."

* Subpoena #1 in the Russia investigation: "President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, was subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday."

* Believable: "White House lawyers have had to warn President Donald Trump repeatedly against reaching out to his fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, two people familiar with the matter tell The Daily Beast."

* North Carolina: "Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday expressed his "shock and disappointment" in the small amount of federal disaster money the Trump administration and Congress authorized in the latest round of funding for Hurricane Matthew recovery in North Carolina – less than 1 percent of what the state requested."

* A story worth keeping an eye on: "Federal authorities on Thursday searched the offices of [Strategic Campaign Group] a political consulting firm in Annapolis that has worked with Republican candidates nationwide and was sued in 2014 on allegations of fraudulent fundraising practices."
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FBI Director James Comey testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

White House connects Comey firing, 'conclusion' of Russia probe

05/11/17 04:40PM

This was probably not a smart thing to say given the circumstances.
The White House said Thursday that removing FBI Director James Comey from his post may hasten the agency's investigation into Russian meddling.

"We want this to come to its conclusion, we want it to come to its conclusion with integrity," said deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders, referring to the FBI's probe into Moscow's interference in last year's election. "And we think that we've actually, by removing Director Comey, taken steps to make that happen."
CNN's report characterized this as a "surprising admission from the White House that Comey's sudden dismissal on Tuesday may have an effect on the Russia probe."

That's right.

In terms of the context, the White House's contradictions reflect a degree of internal chaos. Two days ago, in a Fox News interview, Sanders, the president's principal deputy press secretary, said the White House wants the investigation into the Russia scandal to end. "It's time to move on," she argued.

A day later -- which is to say, yesterday -- during the White House press briefing, Sanders changed direction, saying the president wants the investigation to keep going. Trump, she said, wants Justice Department officials "to continue with whatever they see appropriate and sees fit, just the same as he's encouraged the House and Senate committees to continue any ongoing investigations."

And today, she changed back, saying the White House wants the investigation to "come to its conclusion."

But looking past the inconsistencies, the more serious concern is the White House linking Comey's firing to Team Trump's desire to see the probe end.
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Trump contradicts his own White House team on Comey firing

05/11/17 03:02PM

On Tuesday night, in a written statement, the White House said Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey "based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions." The same evening, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the decision was the Justice Department's.

On Wednesday morning, Sarah Sanders added that Trump "made a decision based on" the DOJ's recommendations, and in light of Rosenstein's memo, the president had "no choice" but to fire Comey. Kellyanne Conway made similar comments to a national audience.

According to Donald Trump, his own White House is wrong. The president sat down today with NBC News' Lester Holt, who asked about how Trump's decision came to fruition. Here was the exchange:
HOLT: Monday you met with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein--

TRUMP: Right.

HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation [on Comey]?

TRUMP: What I did is, I was going to fire [Comey]. My decision, it was not--

HOLT: You had made the decision before they came in the room.

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey.
When the NBC anchor noted the White House's written claim about the recommendations from the Justice Department, Trump couldn't have been clearer about his intentions.

"Oh, I was gonna fire regardless of [the] recommendation," the president said.
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A crest of the Federal Bureau of Investi

With Comey firing, Trump delivers 'a gut punch' to the FBI

05/11/17 12:42PM

Throughout much of the last year, before and after Election Day, Donald Trump took jaw-dropping shots at U.S. intelligence agencies, questioning their competence, judgment, and professionalism. At one point, the Republican even compared American intelligence professionals to Nazis.

For a president to launch these kinds of rhetorical attacks was outrageous on its face, and it creates a dangerous governing dynamic. But Trump's tantrums were also at odds with his own self-interest. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Rachel earlier this year, "You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you. So even for a practical supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he's being really dumb to do this."

The comment came to mind reading the Washington Post's report on Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, and how the news was received by Comey's former colleagues.
Within the Justice Department and the FBI, the firing of Comey has left raw anger, and some fear, according to multiple officials. Thomas O'Connor, the president of the FBI Agents Association, called Comey's firing "a gut punch. We didn't see it coming, and we don't think Director Comey did anything that would lead to this.''

Many employees said they were furious about the firing, saying the circumstances of his dismissal did more damage to the FBI's independence than anything Comey did in his three-plus years in the job.

One intelligence official who works on Russian espionage matters said they were more determined than ever to pursue such cases. Another said Comey's firing and the subsequent comments from the White House are attacks that won't soon be forgotten. Trump had "essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI," one official said. "I think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind."
At a press briefing yesterday, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters, "[T]he rank-and-file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director." There's very little evidence to back that up, but perhaps we're about to learn whether the rank-and-file of the FBI have lost confidence in their president.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.11.17

05/11/17 12:00PM

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

* In the latest national Quinnipiac poll, released yesterday, Donald Trump's approval rating is just 36%, while only 33% consider him honest. The poll was conducted before the president fired FBI Director James Comey.

* On a related note, the same poll found Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 54% to 38%. The Dems' 16-point advantage, the report noted, is "the widest margin ever measured for this question in a Quinnipiac University poll."

* The Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republican leadership's super PAC, has a new attack ad in Georgia's congressional special election, slamming Jon Ossoff's (D) out-of-state support. The irony, of course, is that this commercial will air locally thanks to Republicans'  out-of-state support.

* Rep. Raúl Labrador (R), one of Congress' most far-right stalwarts, announced this week that he's running for governor in Idaho next year. Labrador considered running for the job in 2014, but passed.

* Mark Salter, a former campaign adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), raised a few eyebrows yesterday when he said via Twitter that "the security of the United States might now depend on electing a Democratic Congress in 2018." These are, Salter said, words he "thought I'd never say."

* A Republican narrowly won a state House special election this week, which wouldn't ordinarily be especially notable, except the two-point margin of victory came as a big surprise. Last November, Trump won this same district by 50 points.
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Image: President Trump Meets With The National Association of Manufacturers

The White House's official line on Comey's firing unravels

05/11/17 11:14AM

One of the more alarming aspects of Donald Trump's Russia scandal is how guilty White House officials are acting. As we discussed yesterday, people who are innocent -- those who expect to be fully exonerated -- don't usually try to end ongoing investigations, lash out at witnesses, and suppress questions.

They also tend not to change their story.

It hasn't yet been two full days since the president fired FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing a counter-espionage investigation into the Russia scandal. The Washington Post's Aaron Blake had an excellent piece this morning noting a key problem with the White House's explanation: it keeps changing.
It has been 36 hours since the White House announced that President Trump had fired James B. Comey as FBI director. And its rationale and explanations for that move continue to fall apart.
Team Trump said on Tuesday that Comey's ouster was the Justice Department's decision, only to say the opposite on Wednesday. Team Trump said on Tuesday that the memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein forced the president's hand, only to acknowledge on Wednesday that Trump told Rosenstein to write the memo.

Team Trump said on Tuesday that the firing was the result of Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, only to abandon that story on Wednesday.

Team Trump said on Wednesday that the president "had lost confidence in Comey from the day he was elected." Team Trump said the exact opposite as recently as last week.
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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

Trump's Oval Office meeting with Russian officials grows more alarming

05/11/17 10:11AM

At face value, it looked ridiculous. The day after Donald Trump fired the FBI director overseeing the investigation into the Russia scandal, the president welcomed Russian officials into the Oval Office for a chat. Soon after, the world was treated to photographs from the Russian Foreign Ministry -- not the White House or U.S. news organizations -- of Trump shaking hands with Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

It wasn't long before many started wondering why American journalists were barred from the event, but Russia's official news agency was allowed in.

The Washington Post took this a step further, highlighting the possibility of a security breach.
A photographer for a Russian state-owned news agency was allowed into the Oval Office on Wednesday during President Trump's meeting with Russian diplomats, a level of access that was criticized by former U.S. intelligence officials as a potential security breach.

The officials cited the danger that a listening device or other surveillance equipment could have been brought into the Oval Office while hidden in cameras or other electronics. Former U.S. intelligence officials raised questions after photos of Trump's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were posted online by the Tass news agency.... Other former intelligence officials also described the access granted to the photographer as a potential security lapse, noting that standard screening for White House visitors would not necessarily detect a sophisticated espionage device.
Former deputy CIA director David S. Cohen was asked on Twitter yesterday whether it was wise to allow a Russian government photographer and his equipment into the Oval Office.

"No," Cohen replied, "it was not."

So why in the world did Team Trump let this happen?
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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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