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Image: Director Of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, And Intel Chiefs Testify To Senate Intel Committee On FISA

Top intel officials hide scandal info from congressional oversight

06/08/17 08:40AM

The timing was fortuitous. We'd already seen reports that Donald Trump asked the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to publicly intervene in the pushback to the Russia scandal, and those reports were advanced yesterday morning with evidence that the president also encouraged Coats to intervene with the FBI -- which is the crime that forced Richard Nixon's resignation.

We were fortunate, then, that Coats and Rogers were scheduled to appear yesterday in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, where they could answer oversight questions about this very issue.

At least, that is, in theory. As Rachel noted on last night's show, Coats and Rogers refused to provide senators with the information sought by the committee. It led to a striking exchange between Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and two of the nation's top intelligence officials.

KING: Why are you not answering these questions? Is there an invocation by the president of the United States of executive privilege? Is there, or not?

ROGERS: Not that I'm aware of.

KING: Then why are you not answering?

ROGERS: Because I feel it is inappropriate, senator.

KING: What you feel isn't relevant, admiral.

It's important to understand the context and the setting. In an oversight hearing, when senators demand non-classified information from administration officials, the officials have limited options. They can (1) answer the question; (2) plead the 5th; or (3) refuse to answer as the result of executive privilege. Michael Rogers, however, adopted his own posture, insisting he didn't "feel" it was "appropriate" to provide the information.

Coats tried a similar line, saying he doesn't "believe" it'd be appropriate to answer questions about the president's alleged request about intervening in an FBI investigation. The Maine senator asked, "What is the legal basis for your refusal to testify to this committee?"

Coats replied, "I'm not sure I have a legal basis."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Comey's statement points to alleged Trump lies about obstruction

06/08/17 08:00AM

Yesterday afternoon, former FBI Director James Comey's opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee landed on the political world like a bombshell. The remarks, which Comey will deliver under oath this morning, raised the prospect of serious wrongdoing on the part of Donald Trump, with Ben Wittes describing the statement as "the most shocking single document compiled about the official conduct of the public duties of any President since the release of the Watergate tapes."

It's against this backdrop that Marc Kasowitz, Trump's outside counsel, tried to pretend that Comey's written version of events is great news for his client.

"The President is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the President was not under investigation in any Russian probe. The President feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda."

For the record, I don't think he was kidding.

Obviously, attorneys are obligated to represent their clients' interests, but let's be clear: Comey's statement yesterday put Trump's presidency in jeopardy and may help bring about its premature end. If the former FBI director's account is accurate, the president demanded Comey's loyalty, and suggested the demand was tied to Comey's future career. Trump also personally urged the FBI director to back off an ongoing federal investigation, which looks an awful lot like obstruction of justice.

The statement from Trump's outside counsel doesn't deny, refute, or contest any of these allegations.

Just as importantly, though Comey's statement didn't highlight this, the information the former FBI director documented suggests the president didn't just obstruct justice -- he also brazenly lied about it to the American public.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.7.17

06/07/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iran: "Gunmen dressed as women stormed Iran's parliament building on Wednesday while a suicide bomber targeted a shrine to the Islamic republic's founder in deadly twin attacks that were claimed by ISIS. At least 12 people were killed and 42 wounded, state media reported, citing the head of Iran's emergency department as saying.."

* A White House statement on the attack suggested Iran bears part of the blame for the deadly violence: "We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times. We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote."

* This was a frustrating hearing: "Two of the nation's top intelligence officials refused to address questions Wednesday about allegations that they had been asked by President Donald Trump to interfere in the FBI's Russia investigation, infuriating Senate Democrats who repeatedly pressed them for answers."

* Comey had a good reason for this: "The day after President Trump asked James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, to end an investigation into his former national security adviser, Mr. Comey confronted Attorney General Jeff Sessions and said he did not want to be left alone again with the president, according to current and former law enforcement officials."

* An important quote from Mark Warner: "The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee told USA TODAY on Tuesday that Russian attacks on election systems were broader and targeted more states than those detailed in an explosive intelligence report leaked to the website The Intercept."

* A sensible decision: "Francis Collins will stay on as director of the National Institutes of Health, the White House said Tuesday. Dr. Collins, a noted geneticist who once headed the government's Human Genome project and served previously as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, is 67 years old."

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FBI Director James B. Comey listens to a question from a reporter during a media conference in San Francisco, Calif., Feb. 27, 2014. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP)

Comey says Trump demanded 'loyalty' in private meeting

06/07/17 03:19PM

Former FBI Director James Comey's testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee won't begin until tomorrow morning, but he's submitted his opening statement to the panel -- which will be delivered under oath -- and it's been published online for public review, reportedly at Comey's request.

And it's quite a read. In his sworn statement, Comey will offer details surrounding several interactions he's had with Donald Trump, both before his presidential inauguration and after, some of which will reinforce concerns that the president obstructed justice by applying pressure on the FBI director during an ongoing investigation.

Consider, for example, the private dinner Trump had with Comey the week after the presidential inauguration:

"The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.

"My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI's traditionally independent status in the executive branch.

"I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten-year term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not 'reliable' in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody's side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.

"A few moments later, the President said, 'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.' I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner."

The fact that the president tried to connect loyalty to Comey's continued employment is obviously problematic.

At the same dinner, Trump later returned to the same subject, again telling Comey, "I need loyalty." When the FBI director said the president could always count on him to be honest, Trump said, "That's what I want, honest loyalty."

Three weeks later, Trump had another one-on-one conversation with Comey, which was even more egregious.

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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-PROBE-INTELLIGENCE-COMEY

White House, Trump allies take aim at James Comey's credibility

06/07/17 01:01PM

Former FBI Director James Comey will testify tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and given the seriousness of the Russia scandal -- and what the former FBI director may say about Donald Trump's legally dubious behavior -- the hearing is drawing more attention than any Capitol Hill hearing in years.

The Washington Post described Comey's testimony as "a political Super Bowl -- with television networks interrupting regular programming to air it, and some Washington offices and bars making plans for special viewings."

And just as the Super Bowl has extensive pre-game programming, we're apparently now dealing with the show before the show. The Associated Press reports today that for the White House and its allies, it's an opportunity to attack the former FBI director before he's even sworn in.

Trump's White House and its allies are crafting a strategy aimed at undermining Comey's credibility. Both White House officials and an outside group that backs Trump plan to hammer Comey in the coming days for misstatements he made about Democrat Hillary Clinton's emails during his last appearance on Capitol Hill.

An ad created by the pro-Trump Great America Alliance — a nonprofit "issues" group that isn't required to disclose its donors — casts Comey as a "showboat" who was "consumed with election meddling" instead of focusing on combating terrorism. The 30-second spot is slated to run digitally on Wednesday and appear the next day on CNN and Fox News.

I honestly can't remember the last time any political entity launched a televised attack ad in preparation for a congressional hearing. If you're questioning the seriousness of the Russia scandal, take note: the president's allies are well aware of the existential threat this controversy poses. If this was trivial, they wouldn't bother.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.7.17

06/07/17 12:00PM

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

* With two weeks remaining before Georgia's congressional special election, Jon Ossoff (D) and Karen Handel (R) faced off in a televised debate last night. In response to a question about the minimum wage, the Republican candidate said at one point, "This is an example of the fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative: I do not support a livable wage." Local voters should expect to see that in an ad very soon.

* In Los Angeles, Rep.-elect Jimmy Gomez (D), as expected, easily won a congressional special election and will now take Xavier Becerra's seat.

* After congressional special elections in Kansas, Montana, and California, there are now only two U.S. House vacancies remaining: Georgia's 6th and South Carolina's 5th. Both vacancies will be resolved on June 20.

* In New Jersey's Democratic gubernatorial primary, former Ambassador Phil Murphy easily outpaced his four rivals. Though he didn't quite reach 50%, the new nominee defeated his next closest competitor by 26 points.

* In New Jersey's Republican gubernatorial primary, Kim Guadagno, Chris Christie's current lieutenant governor, also won with relative ease. She and Murphy will face off in November for one of only two gubernatorial races this year.

* A new report from Gallup found that the Democrats' party-affiliation advantage over Republicans has "grown to seven percentage points, the largest it has been in over two years." The gap now stands at 45% to 38%, but note that the Democratic number hasn't grown, but the Republican number has shrunk.

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Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump visits his Scottish golf course Turnberry with his children Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump on July 30, 2015 in Ayr, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty)

Trump's use of cancer charity draws awkward scrutiny

06/07/17 11:21AM

For much of the 2016 presidential campaign, there was parlor game of sorts among some who watched Donald Trump closely: what's the worst thing this guy has ever done? The competition was fierce -- Trump's adult life hasn't exactly been controversy-free -- though my vote was the time he crashed a charitable event for a nursery school helping children with AIDS in order to falsely appear generous.

Yesterday, however, a new contender emerged.

At first blush, the story seems rather mundane. Eric Trump, one of the president's adult sons, hosted the annual Eric Trump Foundation golf invitational in New York, and the money raised at the event went to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Best of all, because the charitable tournament was held at his family's course at no charge, it meant more money raised at the event could go to help sick kids.

Forbes reported yesterday, however, that not all of the money went to St. Jude.

In reviewing filings from the Eric Trump Foundation and other charities, it's clear that the course wasn't free -- that the Trump Organization received payments for its use, part of more than $1.2 million that has no documented recipients past the Trump Organization. Golf charity experts say the listed expenses defy any reasonable cost justification for a one-day golf tournament.

Additionally, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which has come under previous scrutiny for self-dealing and advancing the interests of its namesake rather than those of charity, apparently used the Eric Trump Foundation to funnel $100,000 in donations into revenue for the Trump Organization.

And while donors to the Eric Trump Foundation were told their money was going to help sick kids, more than $500,000 was re-donated to other charities, many of which were connected to Trump family members or interests, including at least four groups that subsequently paid to hold golf tournaments at Trump courses.

The report led to unflattering headlines like this one in Slate: "Trump Accused of Laundering Money Through Pediatric Cancer Charity."

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The landmark CN Tower is lit blue, white and red in the colors of the French flag following Paris attacks, in Toronto, Nov. 13, 2015. (Photo by Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Canada prepares for an era in which it can't count on the U.S.

06/07/17 10:51AM

Vice President Mike Pence appeared on Fox News last week and declared that Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate accord was evidence of international leadership. "The world is seeing that we have a president again who is embracing his role as leader of the free world," Pence said, somehow delivering the line with a straight face.

In reality, the American president has done the opposite. Following a series of incidents, much of the world has begun to look anew at the United States and its role in the world, and come to the conclusion that Trump's rise reflects a country that can no longer be counted on.

As the Washington Post reported, the sentiment has reached some officials in our neighbor to the north.

Canada intends to make "a substantial investment" in its military because it can no longer rely on the United States for leadership in the face of threats posed by terrorist groups or countries like Russia and North Korea, the Canadian foreign minister said Tuesday.

Echoing complaints made recently by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chrystia Freeland told Canada's House of Commons that Washington is no longer committed to its position of world leadership, forcing Canada to invest in its own armed forces to defend liberal democracy.... Although Freeland was careful to say that Canada was "grateful" for the "outsized role" that the United States has played in the world, there was an undertone of disappointment throughout the speech, something seldom heard recently in Canada-U.S. relations.

The Canadian foreign minister did not mention Donald Trump by name, but in context, she didn't have to.

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Eric Trump looks at his father, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, during a caucus night watch party at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on Feb. 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty)

Eric Trump: President's detractors are 'not even people'

06/07/17 10:18AM

For a guy who's supposed to be helping lead Donald Trump's business empire, and steering clear of politics, Eric Trump maintains a surprisingly active political schedule. Eric Trump recently sat down with officials at the Republican National Committee, for example, to discuss ways in which the party could help his father. He also tried to discredit the investigation into the Russia scandal during an ABC News interview this week.

Last night, however, The Hill reports that presidential son took his political rhetoric to a whole new level.

President Trump's son Eric Trump on Tuesday said Democrats are "not even people" to him after their obstruction of his father's agenda.

"I've never seen hatred like this," he said on Fox News's "Hannity" Tuesday night. "To me, they're not even people. It's so, so sad. Morality's just gone, morals have flown out the window and we deserve so much better than this as a country."

In context, it was a little unclear to me whether Eric Trump was referring specifically to Democrats or just those who protest against the president when he said "they're not even people," but either way, the point was roughly the same.

Truth be told, I wouldn't ordinarily be too interested in random nonsense from Donald Trump's adult sons, and "Republican says mean thing" is an inherently boring subject.

But I'll confess the "not even people" line stood out as a rhetorical escalation of sorts.

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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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