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Image: Jeff Sessions

As Russia scandal percolates, AG Sessions the latest to lawyer up

06/21/17 10:09AM

In late May, the White House's Russia scandal reached the point at which Donald Trump found it necessary to lawyer up, hiring his own outside counsel to represent the president's personal interests. About three weeks later, Mike Pence, facing plenty of questions of his own, did the same thing.

The vice president told reporters last week, in response to questions about taking this step, "It's very routine. Very routine." That's not even close to being true: vice presidents very rarely have to hire outside counsel in the midst of a federal investigation.

It's even more unusual for attorneys general to hire their own lawyer, but the Washington Post reported that Jeff Sessions has done exactly that.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been under fire in recent months for his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential race, has retained the services of Washington lawyer Charles J. Cooper, a longtime friend. [...]

Cooper, a partner with his own firm, Cooper & Kirk, would not say when he was retained by Sessions or whether he is representing Sessions in the special counsel's investigation into Trump and Russia.

If Cooper's name sounds familiar, there are two reasons why. First, Cooper, a leading figure in Republican legal circles for many years, was a top contender for solicitor general in the Trump administration before surprisingly withdrawing from consideration in February.

Second, Cooper was also seen during Jeff Sessions' testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week: he was the one sitting behind the attorney general. USA Today reported that Cooper helped prepare Sessions for the hearing.

He's a perfectly sensible choice for the A.G. Indeed, in this case, Pence and Sessions have both hired exactly the kind of outside counsel you'd expect people in their position to hire given the circumstances. The same cannot be said of the president, whose legal team includes, shall we say, some nontraditional choices.

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Trump's infrastructure initiative is already failing

06/21/17 09:20AM

Much of the country might have missed it, but the White House kicked off "Infrastructure Week" in early June, which was intended to be a public-relations campaign in which Donald Trump touted his support for a popular idea: improving the nation's infrastructure.

It was, however, a flop. The White House's plan, by officials' own admission, is still months away from completion, which meant "Infrastructure Week" amounted to one fake signing ceremony, in which Trump put his signature on a glorified press release, asking Congress to privatize the nation's air-traffic control system.

And two weeks later, the idea appears to be effectively dead. The Hill reported:

A Senate panel has declined to include President Trump's controversial proposal to separate air traffic control from the federal government in a must-pass aviation bill, according to the committee's chairman.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who leads the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the Senate's long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will not include the spinoff plan, citing the lack of support for the idea on his panel.

The Republican committee chairman told reporters yesterday, "No, we don't have the votes to pass that in our committee at the moment."

This doesn't come as too big of a surprise, since Thune specifically warned the White House that the privatization idea was unlikely to go anywhere. Perhaps Trump thought by throwing his weight behind the proposal, it'd create some momentum for the presidential priority.

It didn't. The president's political capital doesn't really exist in any meaningful sense.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump reportedly wants 'more heart' in GOP health care overhaul

06/21/17 08:40AM

Last week, before a White House meeting with Senate Republicans, Donald Trump said for the cameras that the chamber's health care plan will be "generous, kind, with heart." The presidential message came with subtext: Trump apparently believes the House GOP version, which he touted vigorously, wasn't generous or kind, and obviously lacked heart.

Indeed, once the cameras were gone, the president reportedly told senators the House-passed health care overhaul was "mean," "cold-hearted," and a "son of a bitch."

Remember, this was in reference to legislation Trump has championed and said he's eager to sign.

CNBC reported that Trump had a meeting with business leaders yesterday and reportedly raised similar concerns about the Senate bill.

The source said the president told the CEOs on Monday that the Senate's health-care bill needs "more heart." That would be a second known instance of the president criticizing the GOP plan in private meetings.

Soon after, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the behind-the-scenes quote, and the president's spokesperson made little effort to deny the report, saying Trump "clearly wants a bill that has heart in it."

Spicer added, "And as the Senate works its way through this bill ... any ideas are welcome to strengthen it, to make it more affordable, more accessible, and deliver the care that it needs."

Unless those ideas come from Senate Democrats, of course, in which case the 13 Republican men writing the secret legislation behind closed doors aren't interested.

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Image: Jon Ossoff

Dems come up short in special elections, but find a silver lining

06/21/17 08:00AM

In 2009, the first year of Barack Obama's presidency, there were five congressional special elections, including one in a red district in upstate New York, and Democratic candidates won all five. Was it evidence of Dems' national strength? Not really: a year later, Republicans won 63 U.S. House seats and took control of the chamber.

In 2017, the first year of Donald Trump's presidency, there have been five congressional special elections, and as of last night, Republicans have now won four of them, including a key victory in a hard-fought race in Georgia.

Republican Karen Handel won the special congressional election in Georgia on Tuesday, fending off a challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff in the heavily Republican House district. [...]

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Handel leads Ossoff 53 percent to 47 percent in a race that many expected to be much closer.

Of course, there's more than one way to look at the results. We could, for example, focus on the fact that Democrats went all out to win Georgia's special election, hoping to use it as a national referendum, and came up short. The results are likely to be demoralizing in some circles.

On the other hand, it's equally true that over the last 25 years, no Democrat has ever come close to seriously competing in this red district -- formally represented by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Tom Price -- and this special election was easily the closest contest Georgia's 6th has ever seen. What's more, the Democrat was a 30-year-old, first-time candidate, who didn't actually live in the district, running against a Republican who'd already been elected to statewide office.

Let's also not forget that there was another special election in South Carolina's 5th yesterday -- a district that's even more Republican than Georgia's 6th -- and in that race Republican Ralph Norman prevailed over Democrat Archie Parnell by just three points, 51% to 48%.

Republicans have reason to celebrate, and winning is always more fun than losing. But taking a step back, there's a silver lining for the party that's come up short: if Democrats can seriously compete in red districts in red states like these, they can seriously compete almost anywhere.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.20.17

06/20/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Brussels: "The main train station in the Belgian capital was evacuated Tuesday evening after security forces shot a person following a small but fiery blast, officials said. Nobody besides the alleged perpetrator was hurt in the incident, which happened around 9 p.m. local time at Brussels Central Station, the prosecutor's office reported."

* His first instinct is to always blame his predecessor: "President Trump on Tuesday called the death of Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea for nearly a year and a half, 'a total disgrace' and indirectly blamed former president Barack Obama for not securing the University of Virginia student's release sooner."

* On a related note, Trump had this tweet this afternoon, and it's not at all clear what it means: "While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!"

* The footage is important, but not for the faint of heart: "Authorities on Tuesday released graphic dashcam footage of officer Jeronimo Yanez firing seven shots into Philando Castile's car last year, killing him as viewers watched the aftermath on Facebook Live."

* This isn't fine: "A U.S. military official says a Russian fighter jet flew within several feet of an American reconnaissance plane in what the U.S. says was an unsafe maneuver over the Baltic Sea. Navy Capt. Danny Hernandez, a U.S. European Command spokesman, said the Russian pilot was flying at high speed and had poor control of the aircraft."

* As p.r. gimmicks go, this was a pretty good one: "Democratic Sens. Cory Booker, Brian Schatz, and Chris Murphy decided to take their hunt for the GOP's healthcare bill on the road Tuesday."

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Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

Republicans intend to execute 'a legislative heist'

06/20/17 12:59PM

The news last night was in line with expectations, but was nevertheless extraordinary: Senate Republicans really are moving forward with plans to hold a vote next week on a health care overhaul, bringing a still-secret bill to the floor. There will be no hearings, no testimony from industry stakeholders or subject-matter experts, and no meaningful deliberation among lawmakers themselves.

MSNBC's Chris Hayes, apparently flabbergasted, wrote on Twitter, "This is quite literally unprecedented. I've run out of adjectives for it. It's like a legislative heist."

The more I thought about it, the more I liked that analogy.

To a very real extent, Americans have already seen Senate Republicans pull off one of the most important political heists in at least a generation. GOP senators recently stole a Supreme Court seat, taking it from one administration and handing it to another, affecting the direction of American jurisprudence for decades.

Last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared, "One of my proudest moments was when I told Obama, 'You will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.'" As regular readers know, this is the kind of pride one feels when they steal something and know they've gotten away with it.

But just as every great heist movie seems to get a sequel, McConnell & Co. may be pulling off an even bigger robbery in plain sight.

Consider what goes into every successful heist:

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.20.17

06/20/17 12:00PM

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

* Georgia's long-awaited congressional special election is today, pitting Jon Ossoff (D) against Karen Handel (R) in a district that's been a Republican stronghold for many years. Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time and will close at 7 p.m. Check out tonight's show for results.

* Though it's received less attention -- and far less money -- South Carolina is also hosting a congressional special election today, with Ralph Norman (R) facing off against Archie Parnell (R) in a deep-red district. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, "The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the biggest outside contributor to the race, has spent $275,000 to test a host of messages aimed at driving black voters to the polls. The results, officials say, will inform Democratic turnout efforts in African-American communities in the 2018 elections."

* In Nevada, the latest Public Policy Polling survey found Sen. Dean Heller (R), who's up for re-election in a battleground state, with an approval rating of just 31%, with 44% disapproving. In a test against a generic Democrat, the poll found Heller trailing by seven percentage points.

* With this in mind, it was of interest last night when Politico reported that Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) intended to take on the Republican incumbent in Nevada next year, with a formal announcement coming "in a couple weeks."

* In the race to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who'll resign from Congress next week, Utah Democrats have chosen physician Kathie Allen as the party's nominee for the special election. There will be no primary, and Allen is considered the underdog in this heavily Republican district.

* The field of candidates in Michigan's 2018 gubernatorial race continues to grow, with Shri Thanedar, a businessman and scientist, kicking off his campaign last week. Thanedar, the CEO of a chemical testing lab in Ann Arbor, is running as a Democrat.

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Image: House Votes On Trump's American Health Care Act

Devin Nunes: 'I never recused myself' from Russia probe

06/20/17 11:21AM

By early April, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) had become the punch-line to an unfortunate joke. The California Republican, who was supposed to be leading an investigation into the Russia scandal, took steps to effectively blow up his own probe by partnering with the White House, keeping secrets from his colleagues, and lying publicly about his own antics.

With circumstances forcing his hand, and facing an ethics probe, Nunes announced on April 6 that he was recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Responsibility for overseeing the probe quickly shifted to other GOP members of the House Intelligence panel.

All of which brought us to yesterday, when the GOP congressman said he didn't actually recuse himself after all. The Washington Examiner reported:

"I never recused myself," the House Intelligence Committee chairman reportedly said in an interview with KMJ's Ray Appleton. "This was essentially made up by the media."

Nunes announced on April 6 that he'd step away from the House's investigation of the Russia issue, meaning a fair number of reporters were justifiably confused by his interview remarks.

As Rachel noted on last night's show, we were certainly led to believe Nunes had withdrawn from the process, "but he now says that was all fake news. He's still in charge. He's not recused and he's still controlling the subpoena power on that committee. That's weird."

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Attorney General Eric Holder delivers remarks on March 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Former AG Eric Holder: 'Now is the time to be heard'

06/20/17 10:50AM

Former Attorney General Eric Holder has been making a variety of public appearances lately, including delivering a speech to the Virginia Democratic Party last weekend. Before his remarks, Holder spoke with NBC News about a recent trip he took with Barack Obama, and the discussion the two had about redistricting reform.

In fact, Obama asked Holder to lead a new organization, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, "to prepare Democrats for 2020, when states will redraw the boundaries of their legislative and congressional districts for the first time in a decade."

Holder joked, "Part of my job is to make redistricting sexy" for Democrats.

As it turns out, that may not be the only job the former attorney general has in mind. Yahoo News published an interesting piece this morning, noting that Holder is "re-entering the political fray," perhaps with a national campaign in mind.

Seized by a sense of urgency to oppose Trump and restore what he regards as America's best self, Holder is mulling a White House bid of his own, according to three sources who have spoken to him and are familiar with his thinking.

"Up to now, I have been more behind-the-scenes," Holder told Yahoo News in an exclusive interview about his plans. "But that's about to change. I have a certain status as the former attorney general. A certain familiarity as the first African-American attorney general. There's a justified perception that I'm close to President Obama. So I want to use whatever skills I have, whatever notoriety I have, to be effective in opposing things that are, at the end of the day, just bad for the country.

"Now is the time to be more visible," Holder added. "Now is the time to be heard."

He made the comments while in California, helping promote a state proposal "designed to prevent the Trump administration from forcing local police departments to assist in the deportation of undocumented immigrants."

The same report added that Holder is also in the early stages of creating a national "PAC-like organization that would develop and coordinate legal resistance strategies among various states and localities that are determined to stymie Trump."

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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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