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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)

Offered daily intelligence briefings, Trump takes a pass

11/28/16 08:30AM

Shortly after the election, President Obama approved daily intelligence briefings for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. It was obviously the responsible thing to do: the Republican ticket will soon be sworn into office, and Obama wants them to be up to speed so they're prepared the moment they're in positions of responsibility.

But as Rachel noted on the show the other day, there's a problem: Trump apparently doesn't want the information. NBC News reported:
President-elect Donald Trump has had only two intelligence briefings since he won the election more than two weeks ago, intelligence sources told NBC News on Wednesday -- a much lower number than his predecessors had and fewer even than Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
A Washington Post report added that a team of intelligence analysts "has been prepared to deliver daily briefings on global developments and security threats to Trump in the two weeks since he won," but he's passed on all but two meetings. Pence, on the other hand, "has set aside time for intelligence briefings almost every day since the election."

When these reports first surfaced, I thought it was some kind of joke, or at least the result of some confusion, but it's actually quite real: Trump has been offered daily access to sensitive and classified information from around the globe, and the president-elect, at least for now, isn't interested.

Asked about this yesterday on CNN, Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager and spokesperson, said she "can't discuss" how many briefings the president-elect has turned down, but she insisted that Trump is "engaged" and "brilliant." Conway added that Trump is "availing himself of the information as provided to him from a number of sources."

I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it warrants some follow-up. What other "sources" might Trump be listening to? If U.S. intelligence agencies aren't enough for the president-elect, who else, specifically, is providing him with "information"?
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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's conflicts of interest create a test for political system

11/28/16 08:00AM

If Donald Trump faced one conflict-of-interest controversy, it would serve as the basis for a challenging test for his upcoming presidency. But at this point, the Republican faces so many conflict-of-interest controversies, it's more accurate to think of this as a test for the entire U.S. political system.

In fact, at a certain level, "conflict of interest" is an unsatisfying phrase, which fails to capture the scope and scale of the problem. For the typical American, it may even sound dull and legalistic. Maybe it's better to frame this in a more direct way: the president-elect, fresh off his national victory in which more voters preferred the other candidate, appears to be using the office he does not yet have to advance his financial interests around the world.

And our system simply isn't designed to accommodate circumstances like these.

The New York Times published a very detailed overview of Trump's international investments, holdings, and debts, each of which create potential conflicts, and the article wasn't short.
The globe is dotted with such potential conflicts. Mr. Trump’s companies have business operations in at least 20 countries, with a particular focus on the developing world, including outposts in nations like India, Indonesia and Uruguay, according to a New York Times analysis of his presidential campaign financial disclosures.

What’s more, the true extent of Mr. Trump’s global financial entanglements is unclear, since he has refused to release his tax returns and has not made public a list of his lenders.
One of the key challenges at this point is simply keeping track of all of the problematic areas. Scotland is certainly near the top of the most controversial conflicts -- Trump has already admitted discussing one of his foreign investments with a foreign official since Election Day -- and Argentina isn't far behind.

But let's not forget Turkey. And Georgia (the country, not the state). And the Philippines. And India. And Brazil. And Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, we still don't know why Trump had his daughter, who'll help run his business enterprise, join him for a meeting with the Japanese prime minister -- or why Ivanka Trump also chatted with the Argentinian president.

For his part, Trump isn't exactly denying any of the allegations, so much as he's insisting that existing laws place no real limits on his private-sector activities.
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.23.16

11/23/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The rule was set to take effect next week: "In a blow to the Obama administration's labor-law plans, a federal court has blocked the start of a rule that would have made an estimated 4 million more American workers eligible for overtime pay heading into the holiday season."

* Always keep an eye on this one: "Shelling and gunfire intensified on Wednesday on the de facto border between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir region, killing nine civilians on a bus one day after the Indian Army promised retribution for what it said was the killing of three of its soldiers."

* Jo Cox's murder: "A man whose bookshelf was full of writings on white supremacy and Nazism was found guilty Wednesday of killing British lawmaker Jo Cox in an apparent political attack as the country headed toward its landmark vote on European Union membership.... Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two young children, was a well-known campaigner for Britain to remain in the European Union and a passionate advocate for refugees."

* The Koch brothers win again: "Koch Industries and others who invested in the Madoff fund from offshore accounts won a key ruling in federal bankruptcy court on Monday, when the judge said certain funds held abroad -- estimated at about $2 billion -- could not be made available to victims of the Madoff scheme."

* Unsettling: "Several journalists Wednesday reported receiving notifications from Google about 'government-backed attackers' attempting to steal their passwords."

* It is that bad: "As Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin – states that once were the stronghold of the nation's industrial union movement – dropped into Donald Trump's column on election night, one longtime union staff member told me that Trump's victory was 'an extinction-level event for American labor.' He may be right."
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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump introduces Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions Mobile during his rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Aug. 21, 2015 in Mobile, Ala. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty)

The mainstreaming of the Republican fringe

11/23/16 12:49PM

The Senate will have a Republican majority in the next Congress, but the GOP's edge will be smaller than it is now, shrinking from four seats to two. And in a 52-48 chamber, even small shifts -- a couple of members breaking ranks here and there -- can produce interesting results.

When Donald Trump announced Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would be his choice for attorney general, for example, there was some chatter about whether the right-wing Alabaman with an ugly racial history was a sure thing for confirmation. Those questions were effectively answered yesterday when Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ostensibly the last of the Senate GOP "moderates," threw her support behind Sessions' nomination. (West Virginia's Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat, is also backing Sessions.)

With the far-right nominee's confirmation effectively assured, I was reminded of this Washington Post piece from a few days ago.
President-elect Donald Trump announced Friday that he will nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to run the Justice Department. A few years ago, this would have a startling pick.

Sessions has always been one of the most conservative senators in the GOP, a fringe figure perhaps best known for his hard-line views on immigration. Now, if confirmed as attorney general, he will become the nation's top law-enforcement officer.

The mainstreaming of Sessions reflects just how much politics has changed of late.
It does, indeed. The Post piece added that Sessions, whose judicial nomination was rejected in 1986 because he was considered too racist, arrived in the Senate 20 years ago as one of the chamber's most extreme members, along with Republican colleagues like Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). In recent years, however, Sessions has found himself "moving closer to the center of the GOP" -- not because of his own shifts, but because other Senate Republicans "are getting more extreme."

What's striking about reports like this one is how easy it is to swap out Jeff Sessions' name with others' and make the identical observation.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.23.16

11/23/16 12:00PM

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

* Despite increasing pressure that he concede the race he appears to have lost, incumbent North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) formally requested a statewide recount yesterday. The Republican's deficit, as of this morning, is nearly 8,000 votes and growing.

* Though Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) appears to be the frontrunner in the race for the DNC chairmanship, the Obama White House is reportedly "uneasy" with the Minnesota congressman and looking for alternative candidates. Vice President Biden has ruled out pursuing the post.

* Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), taking on Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the race to become House Minority Leader, faces an uphill challenge, but he has a provocative new idea. Ryan told Roll Call yesterday that if he wins and Democrats don't take back the House majority in 2018, he'll relinquish his post voluntarily. "If we don't win the House back in two years, I won't run," the Ohioan said. "That just needs to be the standard."

* If you're waiting to learn which cabinet post New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) might receive, stop. Christie declared on his radio show this week, "I'm serving the rest of my term." The Republican's second term won't end until the end of next year.

* Asked about his chief strategist's controversial record, Donald Trump told the New York Times yesterday, "I've known Steve Bannon a long time. If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, or any of the things that we can, you know, the terms we can use, I wouldn't even think about hiring him." For the record, Bannon boasted in July that he's proud of having created "the platform for the alt-right."

* Next year, Sen.-elect Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) will serve as DSCC chair. He'll be the first incoming freshman to ever hold the post.

* Don't look for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) to seek national office in 2020: Hillary Clinton's running mate said he's committed to running for re-election in 2018, but has no interest in joining his party's presidential ticket again.
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Even in victory, Trump's Electoral College concerns remain

11/23/16 11:22AM

As Hillary Clinton's popular-vote lead over Donald Trump passes 2 million, a growing number of Democrats are eager to have a debate over the existence of the Electoral College. If the discussion ever begins in earnest, they may even have an unexpected ally: Donald Trump.

Four years ago, when some Republicans initially thought President Obama would lose the popular vote, Trump declared, "The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy." In a tweet he later deleted, Trump added on Election Night 2012, in reference to Obama, "He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!"

Of course, now it's Trump who "lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election." What's interesting, though, is that Trump, more than any candidate in American history, has benefited from the Electoral College -- but he still doesn't like it.

In his recent "60 Minutes" interview, the president-elect conceded, "I'm not going to change my mind just because I won. But I would rather see it where you went with simple votes." Trump said something similar to the New York Times yesterday:
"So we won that by a lot of votes and, you know, we had a great victory. We had a great victory. I think it would have been easier because I see every once in a while somebody says, 'Well, the popular vote.' Well, the popular vote would have been a lot easier, but it's a whole different campaign.

"I would have been in California, I would have been in Texas, Florida and New York, and we wouldn't have gone anywhere else. Which is, I mean I'd rather do the popular vote from the standpoint -- I'd think we'd do actually as well or better -- it's a whole different campaign."
Trump went on to joke, "I was never a fan of the Electoral College until now."

It'd be an exaggeration to say the president-elect endorsed doing away with the electoral college altogether -- he didn't go quite that far -- but Trump nevertheless twice said yesterday that he sees the popular vote as "easier" and he'd "rather" have it than the alternative.

If even the beneficiary of the Electoral College isn't a fan, and the current system failed in two of the last five presidential cycles, isn't it about time for a meaningful debate about reform?
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives for his election night rally at the New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan, N.Y. on Nov. 9, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

After touting support for torture, Trump gets a new perspective

11/23/16 10:00AM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appeared at an international security forum over the weekend, where he pushed back against the idea of Donald Trump bringing back U.S.-sanctioned torture. "I don't give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do or anybody else wants to do. We will not waterboard. We will not torture," McCain said to applause. "My God, what does it say about America if we're going to inflict torture on people?"

A day later, Vice President-elect Mike Pence was asked to respond on CBS's "Face the Nation," and the Republican wouldn't commit to following the law. "We're going to have a president again who will never say what we'll never do," Pence said.

And what, pray tell, does Donald Trump himself have to say about this? The president-elect sat down with the New York Times yesterday, and was asked where he stands on torture. Trump's response departed a bit from his previous posture.
"So, I met with [retired General James Mattis], who is a very respected guy.... I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said, 'What do you think of waterboarding?' He said -- I was surprised -- he said, 'I've never found it to be useful.' He said, 'I've always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.'

"And I was very impressed by that answer. I was surprised, because he's known as being like the toughest guy. And when he said that, I'm not saying it changed my [mind]. Look, we have people that are chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages and we're not allowed to waterboard. But I'll tell you what, I was impressed by that answer. It certainly does not -- it's not going to make the kind of a difference that maybe a lot of people think. If it's so important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that. But General Mattis found it to be very less important, much less important than I thought he would say. I thought he would say -- you know he's known as Mad Dog Mattis, right? Mad Dog for a reason. I thought he'd say 'It's phenomenal, don't lose it.' He actually said, 'No, give me some cigarettes and some drinks, and we'll do better.'"
Imagine that. Trump assumed military leaders would agree with him on torture, only to actually have a conversation with a retired general who knows what he's talking about.

What will be interesting is whether or not Trump moves forward with his torture plans anyway.
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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley delivers the State of the State in the House chambers at the South Carolina Statehouse, Jan. 20, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/AP)

Why Trump tapped Haley for Ambassador to U.N.

11/23/16 09:06AM

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) hasn't always held Donald Trump in the highest regard. Back in January, when the governor delivered her party's response to the State of the Union address, Haley took a not-so-subtle shot at the then-frontrunner for the GOP's presidential nomination -- much to the consternation of the Republican base.

A month later, Haley called Trump "everything a governor doesn't want in a president." Soon after, Trump returned fire, declaring in a tweet, "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!"

As recently as late October, the South Carolina governor was reluctant to even say Trump's name out loud, conceding she's "not a fan" of her party's presidential nominee. Haley said she'd vote for the GOP ticket, but "that doesn't mean it's an easy vote."

And yet, here we are.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has accepted Donald Trump's offer to be his ambassador to the United Nations, a source familiar with the president-elect's transition process confirmed to NBC News on Wednesday. [...]

The daughter of immigrants from India, Haley served three terms in South Carolina's State House before winning the governorship in 2010 and again in 2014.
That's not a bad resume for someone in public service, but Haley's background in foreign policy doesn't exist. If confirmed, Haley would head to the United Nations as a diplomat, despite having no experience in diplomacy, working on international affairs she's currently unfamiliar with.

Which naturally raises the question of why in the world Trump would extend such an offer.
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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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