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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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Image: FILE PHOTO: Paul Manafort, senior advisor to Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, exits following a meeting of Donald Trump's national finance team in New York

Mueller indicts Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chair

10/30/17 08:49AM

When we learned on Friday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was poised to issue the first criminal indictment in the Trump-Russia probe, it was entirely possible that it'd be a relatively low-profile figure facing charges. The president's critics, hoping for a blockbuster revelation, needed to keep their expectations in check.

As it turns out, however, when the former chairman of Donald Trump's presidential campaign is indicted, it's an extraordinarily big deal.

Former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his longtime business associate Rick Gates have been told to surrender to law enforcement on Monday, a senior U.S. official told NBC News.

They are the first people to turn be ordered to surrender in the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia and Moscow's interference in the election last year.

Rick Gates' name may not be immediately familiar, but his name came up in a recent interview Rachel did with Greg Farrell, investigative reporter for Bloomberg News. Also note, the New York Times published a profile on Gates in June.

As for Manafort, if recent history is any guide, we already know how the president and his team will respond to today's news: Trump World will insist that Manafort was a trivial figure in the president's operation, who worked on the campaign for a very brief time. This is, of course, the line they took over the summer.

But as we discussed at the time, the "Paul who?" argument isn't to be taken seriously. Manafort effectively ran the campaign when Trump secured and accepted the Republican Party's presidential nomination. By their own admission, members of Team Trump touted Manafort for being "in charge" of Trump's political operation, and "leading" the campaign team.

Without the benefit of a time machine, it's a little late to put distance between the president and his former campaign chairman.

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Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.

Special counsel to issue criminal indictment in Trump-Russia probe

10/30/17 08:00AM

As recently as Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told a national television audience that she's "confident" Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal was near its end.

Like so many of Sanders' claims, this doesn't appear to be holding up especially well.

A federal grand jury in Washington has approved the first criminal charges in the special counsel's investigation into Russian election interference, two sources told NBC News, marking a significant milestone in an inquiry that has roiled Donald Trump's presidency.

Mueller's Special Counsel's Office will make public an indictment on Monday, a U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of the process confirmed to NBC News, without disclosing the name of the target or the nature of the charges. The timing was confirmed by a second source familiar with the matter.

If you saw Rachel's show on Friday night, the initial report on the indictment was first published by CNN in the early evening on Friday. Soon after, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal ran pieces of their own. NBC News confirmed the report on Saturday.

Though the details should come into focus fairly soon, let's review what we know and what we don't at this point. [Update: It's Manafort.]

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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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