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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.22.16

11/22/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Crossing a threshold: "President Obama granted commutations to another 79 federal drug offenders Tuesday, pushing the number of inmates he has granted clemency to past 1,000. Obama's historic number of commutations was announced as administration officials are moving quickly to rule on all the pending clemency applications from inmates before the end of the year."

* I'd pay good money to listen in on one of these conversations: "President Barack Obama has spoken with President-elect Donald Trump at least once since their first-ever meeting in the Oval Office, the White House said Tuesday. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed during a press briefing that Obama and Trump had spoken 'at least once' since their Nov. 10 meeting."

* She's a Republican, so I guess we're not supposed to make a fuss about stories like this one out of Oklahoma: "Governor Mary Fallin has defended her use of personal email for state business as 'more efficient.' ... [Fallin] met with President-elect Donald Trump Monday about job opportunities."

* An unexpected story: "Exxon Mobil, under fire over its past efforts to undercut climate science, is accusing the Rockefeller family of masterminding a conspiracy against it. Yes, that Rockefeller family."

* Cabinet news: "Education advocate and former D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee said on Tuesday that she is not pursuing a role in President-elect Donald Trump's administration."
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President-elect Donald Trump, arrives with his son Barron, center, and wife Melania, to speak to an election night rally, Nov. 9, 2016, in N.Y. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump's new boast: 'The president can't have a conflict of interest'

11/22/16 04:44PM

Less than a week after the presidential election, Rudy Giuliani, one of Donald Trump's top surrogates, was asked about the president-elect's obvious conflict-of-interest problems. The former mayor told CNN's Jake Tapper, "Well, first of all, you realize that those laws don't apply to the president, right?"

It wasn't long before one of Richard Nixon's most notorious claims came to mind: "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal." In this case, Giuliani was effectively arguing that President Trump can't break laws pertaining to conflicts of interest because the president is above those laws. Other government employees must steer clear of official actions that affect their personal finances, but the man in the Oval Office need not worry.

Trump himself sat down with the New York Times today and repeated the argument.
Mr. Trump brushed aside questions about conflicts arising from his business dealings, declaring that "the law's totally on my side, the president can't have a conflict of interest."
There is some truth to the underlying claim. As Ian Millhiser explained, the president is exempt from certain ethics laws: "One law, for example, prohibits many federal employees from participating in matters where they or a member of their close family has a financial interest in the outcome. But the president is exempt from this law. That exemption is likely a nod to the unique nature of the presidency --  there are certain decisions that can only be made by the president, and thus if the president were conflicted out the government could be paralyzed."

Of course, presidents have usually gone out of their way to avoid untoward appearances by putting their investments and business interests in blind trusts -- the one thing Trump could do to avoid potential controversies, but won't.

Regardless, Trump's legal exemption does not apply to the U.S. Constitution, which he's going to have to follow.
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The size of Donald Trump's popular-vote loss keeps growing

11/22/16 12:33PM

Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's campaign manager, was so impressed with her boss' margin of victory, she recently declared, "This election was not close. It was not a squeaker." A day later, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, soon to be the White House chief of staff, declared Trump's victory a "landslide."

Last week, Corey Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager and a key Trump insider, claimed with a straight face that the Republican president-elect "won the election campaign by the largest majority since Ronald Reagan in 1984" -- which isn't even close to being true.

Every time I'm inclined to stop mentioning the popular vote, Team Trump gives me a reason to circle back.

When it comes to the metric that decides the outcome, Trump won 306 electoral votes, which is roughly 57% of the total. That's more than enough to win, but it's not especially close to the electoral totals earned by Barack Obama (in 2008 and 2012), Bill Clinton (in 1992 and 1996), or George H. W. Bush (in 1988).

But then there's that other metric.
Hillary Clinton's popular vote lead surged above 1.72 million on Sunday night, with millions of votes still to count. At 1.3 percentage points, she has built a lead not seen in a losing campaign since Rutherford B. Hayes's bitterly disputed election of 1876.

The 2016 results have no such disputes, however. Mrs. Clinton's lead keeps rising on her strength in California, where her margin stands at 29 percentage points, up from President Obama's 23 percentage points 2012.
As a matter of percentages, Clinton's current popular-vote advantage is greater than that of seven candidates who won the presidency, including Kennedy and Nixon. Her popular-vote win is roughly in line with George W. Bush's victory over John Kerry in 2004.

And votes are still being counted. By some measures, Clinton may end up with a popular-vote margin of roughly 2.5 million votes, pushing Trump well below the share of the popular vote than Mitt Romney received.
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Then, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, on Oct. 22, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump Foundation acknowledges wrongdoing to IRS

11/22/16 11:22AM

One of the great ironies of the 2016 presidential election is that Americans were told that one of the candidates had a controversial charitable foundation that may have run afoul of the law -- but voters were encouraged to look at the wrong candidate.

The Clinton Foundation faced a series of unproven allegations, but in the end, the entity was simply a charity that did worthwhile work around the globe. The Trump Foundation, meanwhile, faced far more credible allegations, some of which appear to be true.

We already know -- because Trump's team already admitted -- that the Donald J. Trump Foundation broke one law when it made an illegal campaign contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, around the time the Florida Republican was weighing an investigation into "Trump University," a separate scandal-plagued Trump entity. The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold reports today that the Trump Foundation's troubles now appear to run deeper.
President-elect Donald Trump's charitable foundation has admitted to the IRS that it violated a legal prohibition against "self-dealing," which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity's money to help themselves, their businesses or their families.

That admission was contained in the Donald J. Trump Foundation's IRS tax filings for 2015, which were recently posted online at the nonprofit-tracking site GuideStar. A GuideStar spokesman said the forms were uploaded by the Trump Foundation's law firm, Morgan, Lewis and Bockius.
As the Post's article explained, the IRS asked if the Trump Foundation had transferred "income or assets to a disqualified person." The foundation checked "yes."

The same document asked if the Trump Foundation had engaged in any acts of self-dealing in prior years. On this, the Trump Foundation also checked "yes."

In the charitable world, self-dealing is a fairly serious misstep. Charities are expected to use its resources to advance its non-profit mission, whatever it might be, which is why it's illegal for those running a charitable foundation to use its resources to benefit themselves -- as Trump's charity evidently did.
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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listen to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on Oct 9, 2016 in St Louis, Mo. (Photo by Saul Loeb/Pool/Getty)

Claiming an imaginary authority, Trump passes on pursuing Clinton

11/22/16 10:28AM

During the presidential campaign, one of Donald Trump's most striking promises was his vow to investigate, prosecute, and imprison his opponent, Hillary Clinton, for non-existent crimes. The Republican's intentions were unlike anything in the American tradition, and reinforced fears about Trump's undemocratic, authoritarian instincts.

Soon after the election, CBS News' Lesley Stahl asked Trump, Are you going to ask for a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton over her emails? And are you, as you had said to her face, going to try and put her in jail?" The president-elect said in response, "I'm going to think about it."

Well, evidently, he's done thinking about it. The Washington Post reported this morning that Trump "has decided that his administration will not pursue criminal investigations related to former rival Hillary Clinton's private email server or her family foundation." We learned of the decision by way of Kellyanne Conway, who appeared on MSNBC earlier today.
...Conway said Trump now sees things differently. "I think when the president-elect, who's also the head of your party, tells you before he's even inaugurated that he doesn't wish to pursue these charges, it sends a very strong message, tone and content" to fellow Republicans, she said. "Look, I think he's thinking of many different things as he prepares to become the President of the United States, and things that sound like the campaign are not among them," she added.
I suspect much of the political world will perceive this as a conciliatory, and perhaps even magnanimous, decision, but before anyone gives Trump too much credit for being gracious towards his former foe, let's set the record straight.
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North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory makes remarks concerning House Bill 2 while speaking during a government affairs conference in Raleigh, N.C., May 4, 2016. (Photo by Gerry Broome/AP)

A potential campaign crisis brews in North Carolina

11/22/16 09:11AM

Republicans were generally pleased with this year's gubernatorial elections, flipping several seats from "blue" to "red," extending the GOP's national advantage in gubernatorial offices. There is, however, one glaring exception.

In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) had a tumultuous first term, faced a top-tier opponent in state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), and appears to have lost a close race. As WRAL reported overnight, counties are continuing to count provisional ballots, but at this point, "Cooper's lead has grown from fewer than 5,000 on Election Night to more than 6,600 by Monday evening." McCrory's team has filed a series of challenges to vote tallies, but those filings have been largely "dismissed by Republican-controlled county elections boards as either factually incorrect or unproven."

And in theory, there's not much more to talk about. Cooper has declared victory; McCrory is under pressure to honor the will of voters; and state officials are moving forward with plans for a gubernatorial inauguration in early January. But in practice, as the New York Times explained the other day, the prospect of a political crisis is a little too real.
The legal and political jockeying raised the specter of a recount, and it could ultimately climax in a political wild card: Mr. McCrory using a state law to contest the election in the state's Republican-dominated General Assembly. [...]

[T]he immediate question in North Carolina is how long Mr. McCrory will dispute the results and whether he might ultimately ask the General Assembly to consider the election. Under state law, the legislature could order a new election or, "if it can determine which candidate received the highest number of votes," it may declare a winner. The law asserts that the legislature's decision in such a contest is "not reviewable" by the courts.
Some of you may have read that and thought, "Wait, that can't be right." But I'm afraid it is.
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Republican president-elect Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd during his election night event in the early morning hours of Nov. 9, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Team Trump offers vague rebuke to white-supremacist gathering

11/22/16 08:20AM

Over the weekend, the National Policy Institute -- a radical group with an anodyne name -- held an event in D.C. that was more than a little alarming. As Rachel noted on the show last night, the white-supremacist gathering featured remarks from its leader, Richard Spencer, who not only argued that white people are intended to conquer, but also declared, "Hail Trump" and "Hail our people."

He added that his movement has "a psychic connection, or you can say a deeper connection, with Donald Trump in a way that we simply do not have with most Republicans."

And while delivering his speech, several of the radical attendees responded with Nazi salutes.

Obviously, for decent people, the display was gut-wrenching, as is the fact that Spencer and others are trying to add a professional/academic veneer to white nationalism. But what about the Republican president-elect these extremists were so eager to "hail"?

Donald Trump faced repeated calls yesterday to condemn the gathering, and by late yesterday afternoon, his spokesperson issued a statement on the matter.
"President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind and he was elected because he will be a leader for every American. To think otherwise is a complete misrepresentation of the movement that united Americans from all backgrounds."
If you're thinking this seems like a rather vague and hollow response given the circumstances, you're not alone. Asked to condemn a specific event, led by specific extremists, who made specific remarks, Team Trump chose to denounce racism in general -- saying literally nothing about Saturday's gathering or the movement the radicals comprise.

MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin asked an excellent question last night: "Set aside politics or norms. If a bunch of racists are playacting Nazism in your name, isn't the natural response to be personally furious?"

One would certainly like to think so. And yet, here we are.
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Monday's Mini-Report, 11.21.16

11/21/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Japan: "A strong earthquake hit Tuesday morning off the east coast of Japan near Fukushima, the site of the 2011 earthquake-spawned tsunami that killed almost 19,000 people, Japanese and U.S. agencies said."

* Standing Rock: "Authorities on Monday defended their decision to douse protesters with water during a skirmish in subfreezing weather near the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and organizers said at least 17 protesters were taken to the hospital -- including some who were treated for hypothermia."

* Afghanistan: "A suicide bomber struck a crowded gathering of Shiite Muslims in the Afghan capital on Monday, officials said, killing at least 30 people in the latest assault against religious minorities here to be claimed by militants loyal to the Islamic State."

* The trouble for Republicans is, the Iran deal is a good policy that's working: "The Obama administration is considering new measures in its final months in office to strengthen the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran, senior U.S. officials said, with President-elect Donald Trump's first appointments foreshadowing an increasingly rocky road for the controversial deal."

* With any luck, Trump won't turn the alliance into a protection racket: "U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg agreed on Friday on the Western alliance's 'enduring importance,' NATO said, striving to reassure Europe that Washington will remain committed to its security."

* An under-appreciated story: "Mary Jo White, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, announced Monday that she will step down two years before the end of her term, clearing the way for President-elect Donald Trump to reshape the way Wall Street is regulated."

* Arctic drilling: "Further cementing President Barack Obama's climate legacy, the Department of the Interior announced on Friday its intent to ban oil drilling in the U.S. section of the Arctic Ocean for the next five years, citing environmental risks. The plan blocks the sale of new offshore oil and gas leases in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, north of Alaska, between 2017 and 2022."
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Republican nominee Donald Trump is seen during the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on Sept. 26, 2016. (Photo by Joe Raedle/AFP/Getty)

Trump faces avalanche of conflict-of-interest troubles

11/21/16 09:45AM

It was clear during the presidential campaign that Donald Trump's international business dealings were likely to create the mother of all conflict-of-interest controversies should the Republican win the White House. And now that the election is over, and Trump is the president-elect, those warnings may have understated matters.

The fact that we knew these conflicts were inevitable doesn't make them any less problematic. The New York Times had this report over the weekend:
It is a daunting proposition to put $2 million apartments on the market in Pune -- a quiet industrial city in the west of India, where even the fanciest neighborhoods are lined with squat housing blocks.

But the developers of Trump Towers Pune, an elegant pair of 23-story black-glass pillars, have an extraordinary new marketing tool they are moving quickly to exploit: the president-elect of the United States.

Since Donald J. Trump won the presidency, they have celebrated the growth that Mr. Trump's win could bring to their brand, even flying to New York last week to meet with the president-elect and his family as he was assembling his cabinet.
Yes, the president-elect interrupted his transition schedule last week to meet with some of his Indian business partners. Journalists were not invited or notified of the conversation in advance.

The discussion came around the same time Trump also met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- joined by Ivanka Trump, who'll help oversee her father's business empire, and who's supposed to have no official governmental role, despite her position on the Trump transition team and reports that the president-elect wants to give her security clearance.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, reports that foreign diplomats are booking rooms at Trump's hotel in D.C., hoping to curry favor with the president-elect. The same paper reports today on the dangers associated with Trump's "vast assortment of foreign business interests never before seen in past presidencies," creating conditions that "could open him to foreign influence and tilt his decision-making as America's executive in chief."
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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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