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E.g., 12/12/2017
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Under pressure, Trump takes aim at the FBI (again)

12/04/17 09:30AM

On Saturday morning, reporters asked Donald Trump for his reaction to his former National Security Advisor pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia. The president said he and his team are "very happy" because "what has been shown is no collusion, no collusion."

First, in reality, what's "been shown" is all kinds of collusion. Second, I don't really believe Trump is "very happy" at all. In fact, the president seemed quite unhappy.

President Trump issued a fresh denial Sunday that he asked then-FBI Director James B. Comey to halt an investigation into the conduct of his dismissed national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn," Trump said in a pre-dawn message on Twitter. "Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!"

Comey delivered congressional testimony, under oath, that Trump did pressure him about the Flynn investigation. In fact, the firmer FBI director has contemporaneous notes that quoted Trump saying in February, in reference to Flynn, "I hope you can let this go."

It leaves the political world with a choice: believe Comey's sworn testimony and contemporaneous materials, or believe the president, who's strained relationship with the truth often borders on pathological.

But Trump didn't just target Comey; he also shared some related thoughts on the bureau Comey used to lead. On Twitter, the president went on to say that the FBI's reputation is "in Tatters" and is now the "worst in History." (Trump still struggles with capitalization for reasons no one can explain.)

He added that "we" will restore the FBI "to greatness."

A year ago, Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote, "When you're attacking FBI agents because you're under criminal investigation, you're losing." It's funny how the salience of that message continues to resonate.

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Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio and rival candidate Donald Trump argue at the same time at the debate in Detroit, Mich., March 3, 2016. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

On taxes, Trump signals a willingness to ignore his 'red line'

12/04/17 09:00AM

Donald Trump initially demanded that the Republican tax plan drop the corporate tax rate to 15%, but even GOP officials, as irresponsible on this issue as they are, told the president the goal was unrealistic. They could do 20%, but no lower.

Trump was grudgingly satisfied, but he made clear that Congress shouldn't even consider pushing the corporate rate any higher in the legislation. The president declared publicly that the 20% rate was "very much a red line" he would not cross. Trump's Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, added soon after, "The president's number one issue that is not negotiable is 20% corporate taxes."

The rigidity of the White House's position created all kinds of problems for the president's congressional allies, but Republican lawmakers honored Trump's demands -- even if it meant killing popular ideas and writing a plan that raised taxes on millions of middle-class families. For all intents and purposes, the 20% corporate was the point of the legislation.

And so, it came as something of a surprise when the president suggested over the weekend that he'd consider crossing his own red line. The Washington Post reported:

Hours after the pre-dawn passage of a $1.5 trillion tax cut, President Trump suggested for the first time Saturday that he would consider a higher corporate rate than the one Senate Republicans had just endorsed, in remarks that could complicate sensitive negotiations to pass a final bill.

On his way to New York for three fundraisers, Trump told reporters that the corporate tax rate in the GOP plan might end up rising to 22 percent from 20 percent.

Referring to the corporate rate, the president said, "It could be 22% when it comes out, but it could also be 20%. We'll see what ultimately comes out."

So much for the "red line" that's "not negotiable." No wonder some Republicans weren't pleased.

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Image: U.S. President Trump speaks to reporters before departing the White House for New York in Washington

Who is the GOP tax plan for? Trump fundraiser hints at the answer

12/04/17 08:30AM

Senate Republican leaders hoped to wrap up work on their tax plan on Thursday night, but it quickly became apparent that they hadn't yet locked up the votes. As members left Capitol Hill that night, they faced a challenge: the GOP bill was too expensive, and making it cheaper wouldn't be easy.

And so, they didn't try. Instead of making the legislation more affordable, Republicans decided to make it more expensive, throwing in all kinds of 11th-hour treats benefiting the wealthy. Slate highlighted one especially notable last-minute addition to the GOP plan.

Senate Republicans are getting ready to pass their tax bill any minute now -- but not before tacking on one last gift for their donors.

University of San Diego law professor Victor Fleischer spotted the early Christmas present in a leaked list of the amendments Republicans are planning to include in the bill. It comes courtesy of Texas Senator John Cornyn. In essence, it lets the partners of giant private equity firms like Blackstone and Apollo Global Management, as well as a number of energy companies, take advantage of the bill's big tax cut for pass-through businesses, which aren't subject to the corporate rate.

A New York Times report quoted USC professor Edward Kleinbard, a former chief of staff for the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, saying, "The Senate went out of its way to confirm that passive investors in these publicly traded investment vehicles get the benefit of the pass-through discount tax rate. This is a working definition of a tax boondoggle."

But that's not the punchline. This is the punchline.

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U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement from the Roosevelt Room next to the empty chairs of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (L), D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R), D-California, after they cancelled their meeting at the Whi

Trump stumbles into new questions about obstruction of justice

12/04/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump's official line has been that he fired his first White House National Security Advisor, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, because Flynn lied to Mike Pence about his communications with Russia. There are, as Rachel noted on Friday's show, plenty of questions surrounding the reliability of this official line, but that was the president's story and he stuck to it.

Over the weekend, however, Trump published a tweet that pointed to an important change in the president's posture.

"I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"

It was the kind of message that generated all kinds of questions -- why would Flynn lie if there was "nothing to hide"? -- but the key phrase that stood out in the tweet was "and the FBI."

Taken at face value, Trump's tweet made it sound as if he knew Flynn lied to the FBI, which is why he "had to fire" Flynn from his important White House post. To put it mildly, that raised the possibility of an important legal problem for the president: it suggested Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13 for lying to the FBI, and then asked James Comey, the then-FBI director, to go easy on Flynn literally one day later, on Feb. 14.

Matt Miller, a former Justice Department spokesperson and an MSNBC analyst, wrote after seeing the president's tweet, "Oh my god, he just admitted to obstruction of justice. If Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI when he asked Comey to let it go, then there is your case."

Susan Hennessey, Lawfare's executive editor, added, in reference to Trump's message, "This is a pretty substantial confession to essential knowledge elements of an obstruction of justice charge."

Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics, went a little further, writing, “Before we slipped into an alternate universe of unabashed corruption, this tweet alone might have ended a Presidential administration."

Allegations that the president may have obstructed justice are not new, but his tweet certainly appeared to make matters significantly worse. And so, the White House came up with a curious explanation.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 12.1.17

12/01/17 05:33PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It's obviously going to pass: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Friday that Republicans have the votes to pass the GOP tax bill, after Sen. Jeff Flake said he will support the legislation. 'We have the votes,' the Kentucky Republican told reporters on the Senate floor shortly before noon."

* Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) will be the only Senate Republican to oppose the GOP tax plan, guaranteeing bipartisan opposition.

* Perhaps my favorite tweet from the Senate tax debate came from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii): "After careful consideration I've decided to support this bill. Just kidding, I haven't read it yet because it doesn't exist yet and that would be ridiculous."

* If only anyone could believe him: "President Trump tweeted on Friday that reports he would soon fire Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson were 'fake news,' and that 'I call the final shots.'"

* On a related note, NBC News confirmed with two administration officials this afternoon that Rex Tillerson's Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications, R.C. Hammond, is stepping down this month.

* In case we didn't have enough to worry about: "The federal government could run out of room to pay its bills by late March or early April unless Congress raises the federal borrowing limit, the Congressional Budget Office said in a new report Thursday."

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Image: A statue of the United States first President, George Washington, is seen under the Capitol dome in Washington

Watching the rules of politics change (and not for the better)

12/01/17 03:56PM

When it comes to defeating major legislative initiatives, there's no sure-fire script to follow that's guaranteed to work, but there are certain "rules" that tend to be effective.

To defeat a regressive Republican tax plan, for example, opponents would start by trying to convince the American mainstream that the GOP proposal is a bad idea and organize a series of public protests. Critics of the plan might also hope to persuade opinion leaders and powerful advocacy organizations.

Once those tasks were complete, opponents of the Republican bill might ensure the facts on their side, paying careful attention to reports and analyses from the Congressional Budget Office, Joint Committee on Taxation, Tax Policy Center, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The plan's critics would then take that data and make a bullet-proof case that the GOP proposal is a dangerous and misguided idea.

Over the last couple of months, opponents of the Republican tax plan did each of these things -- quite well, in fact. The bill's progressive proponents checked every box, completed every task, and proved that this legislation deserved to be rejected. In short, they created a winning coalition. By the "rules" of American politics, GOP lawmakers had every reason to vote against one of the least popular major proposals in decades.

But when it mattered, Republicans linked arms and supported it anyway. When push came to shove, they simply didn't care about the data or the polls or the protests or the facts.

In other words, the "rules" didn't much matter -- and that's probably because new "rules" are emerging.

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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

The usual Trump World tactic won't work with Michael Flynn

12/01/17 12:48PM

Whenever the Trump-Russia scandal ensnares another member of Team Trump, the president's team has a standard tactic it relies on instinctively: pretend not to know the guy in trouble.

Paul Manafort was dismissed as a guy Donald Trump barely knew for a few months. Carter Page wasn't even that. George Papadopoulos was dismissed as a guy who picked up coffee for important people. Trump World even put distance between the campaign and Cambridge Analytica -- the data firm Trump paid millions to last year.

And so, when Michael Flynn became a problematic figure in the Russia scandal, the White House tried to dismiss him as someone who was little more than "a volunteer of the campaign." As TPM reported, the president's legal team picked up that ball and ran with it this morning.

After hours of radio silence following the news that former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn had pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, White House lawyer Ty Cobb finally issued a statement downplaying Flynn's role in the White House and calling him "a former Obama administration official."

Cobb also described Flynn as someone who worked with the president for just "25 days."

Let's make this plain: there's no such thing as a low-level White House National Security Advisor.

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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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