Rachel Maddow

The Impossible Successor

#PresidentRyan | ¿#WhatTheyVotedFor?

Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally, Oct. 22, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Amid everything else over the last week or so, we ought not forget this:

We’re left with an unsettling picture. Flynn told the transition team he’s the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, and either that information either reached Pence or it didn’t. If Pence was out of the loop, he was dangerously incompetent at his job. If Pence knew, and Flynn became National Security Advisor anyway, that’s worse.

Remember, as the turmoil surrounding Flynn grew more serious, the vice president said he was completely unaware of Flynn’s alleged misdeeds. In March, when Fox News asked Pence about Flynn having to register as a foreign agent, Pence said he was hearing the story for the first time.

Except, as Rachel has explained on the show, that’s literally unbelievable. Not only were there multiple news reports for months about Flynn’s foreign work, but Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote to Pence’s transition team to make sure Team Trump was aware of this.

(Benen)

Because, quite frankly, it still cracks me up that once upon a time, when Rubio was fumbling for water, Paul was drowning in plagiarism, and Christie apparently had nothing to do with that bridge, we might have heard Mike Pence’s name whispered as the cyclical dark horse. The Indiana governor, by Republican accounts, was politically savvy and a dedicated conservative. And while others might disagree about the savvy, it seemed for naught when he signed a RFRA and failed to comprehend what happened next. Except, of course, his dramatic revitalization as Donald Trump’s vice presidential candidate, and then vice president. It was easy enough to joke that we might yet see a President Pence.

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Death and the Natural State

VIII. Adjustment.

This is the setup: The state of Arkansas wishes to execute eight people over the course of ten days in four doubleheaders of death overseen by a prisons regime that has never executed anyone at all, using drugs the state has never used before and have shown grotesquely problematic in neighboring Oklahoma, are about to expire, and, according to the manufacturers, do not appear to have been acquired legitimately. Rachel Maddow offered a six and a half minute overview last week.

That would have been Thursday evening. Friday and Saturday saw the whole plan come apart, with one execution stayed at least temporarily, and then a temporary restraining order against one of the intended execution drugs, compelling a federal court to halt all eight executions. This is Arkansas, though; NBC News brings the latest:

Lawyers for the Arkansas attorney general’s office worked feverishly on Saturday in an attempt to dismantle road blocks in the way of a historic spate of executions temporarily halted by court rulings.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson had ordered the execution of eight men over 10 days because one of the state’s lethal injection drugs was set to expire at the end of the month, but a series of court rulings Friday and early Saturday put that schedule in jeopardy.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge made it clear the state was unwilling to concede.

The former Land of Opportunity, naturally, is very much distressed that the courts should meddle with its opportunity excuse for homicidal spectacle.

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A Steady Drip (Carter Page)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite — Donald Trump: Detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc; Carter Page: AP Photo; Puti-Toots: Artist unknown.

Something goes here about the headlines that drop in the evening; in the week before President Trump’s infamous tweetstorm accusing President Obama of wiretapping him, evening headlines kept the White House running ragged night after night. And, yes, there is some irony that we have now come far enough ’round the circle that Carter Page might well be the answer to what the president was on about. Or, as the evening headline from the Washington Post has it, “FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page”:

This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether the Justice Department might later seek charges against him or others in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The counterintelligence investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections began in July, officials have said. Most such investigations don’t result in criminal charges.

Rachel Maddow spent some effort on msnbc last night driving a point about how unusual it is that we should see leaked such details of a FISA warrant. In that context perhaps it behooves us to consider whether or not the prospect of leaking this FISA warrant would come about at all were it not for President Trump’s twitterpated tantrum after a week of bad evening headlines.

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The Question of the Hour (Presidential Panic)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Rachel Maddow“If there is going to be an independent investigation of this president, and his campaign and his ties to Russia, it is inconceivable that an independent investigation would not include an examination of the president’s financials, his tax returns, his business records, all the rest .... Is the president, or his family, potentially at risk of having violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is a crime for which you go to jail? Is the president, or is his family, potentially at risk of being blackmailed by foreign business partners who have evidence of ties or behavior that might put the president and his family in legal jeopardy if those things were exposed?”

Rachel Maddow

The Trump Fantastic (#trumpstyle)

#trippingthetrumpfantastic | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the Central Intelligence Agency, 21 January 2016, in Langley, Virginia. (Photo: Olivier Doulier/Pool/Getty Images)

“Usually, even the laziest of partisans aren’t quite so ridiculous when dealing with the legislative branch’s oversight role over the executive branch.”

Steve Benen

Something goes here about striking decay. And something unfortunate about how that sounds about right. No, really: In what universe?

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Something About Alfalfa

This is something that has been bugging me, and the question doesn’t seem to want to calm down.

To the one, the infamous Yemen raid is all the more notorious for being the first military action of President Donald Trump’s new administration. To the other, Rachel Maddow spoke with a Colin Kahl, formerly a national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden:

MADDOW: In terms of how President Trump did run this process, we don’t know very much about it. We are told in terms of the timeline that his National Security Advisor briefed him on the plans for the operation one day. The next day, at dinner with his senior strategist Steve Bannon and with his son in law Jared Kushner, and with Secretary of Defense and some other principal-level personnel, he made the decision around the dinner table that it would happen, and then it was launched immediately. That seems like a remarkably informal, small, quick process. Is that totally out of keeping with the kinds of processes that you’ve seen around potentially deadly raids like this, in the past?

KAHL: Well, it is unusual, especially in a context where a raid like this represents a significant escalation in the nature of our actions in Yemen. So it’s not just the raid itself, it’s that there’s a broader set of authorities that are behind that, that deserve deliberation, and what I mean by that is you need to have not just the Defense Department around the table. You also need your intelligence professionals, so that they can vet the intelligence to make sure that they agree with the risk assessment the Pentagon is making. You also need the State Department at the table, so that they can go through the political implications; what happens if civilians die, what are the implications for tribal relations in Yemen, or diplomatic relations? You need the communicators in the room so that you know that you’re on message and you can coordinate with your allies. You also need the legislative team in the room so that you can notify Congress. This is a deliberate process that you owe the president a holistic assessment, and the problem is even if you’ve got a bunch of smart capable people around the table at dinner―like Secretary Mattis, who I think the world of, and Joe Dunford, our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who’s an amazing man―you need a fuller picture than those two general can provide so the president to make a decision of this gravity.

Quite the question; quite the answer. Nor should we look past the rest of it but for the moment, well, the words “significant escalation” stand out. And it’s just one more reason.

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An American Lamentation (Two by “Huh?”)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016. (Detail of frame via YouTube)

Americans often lament the fact of their essentially two-party political league, and the top of the Libertarian ticket, Gary Johnson, is capable of providing spectacular reminders of why we tend toward the binary. The former New Mexico governor and middle-tier celebrity stoner has managed to reduce a human atrocity to yet another icon of American stupidity, which really is no good legacy to build. Yet it is true, in the American discourse, “Aleppo” is … well, Matthew Kitchen tries to explain for NBC News:

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson struggled to name a single foreign leader when asked who his favorite was during an MSNBC town hall Wednesday night.

“Any one of the continents, any country. Name one foreign leader that your respect and look up to. Anybody,” host Chris Matthews pushed during the event, causing Johnson to sigh loudly as his VP pick Bill Weld tried to jump in.

“I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment,” Johnson finally said, referring to his recent gaffe on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when he asked “What is Aleppo?” after he was questioned about how he would handle the conflict in the Syrian city.

So, yeah. Aleppo is … Gary Johnson being inexcusably stupid. (Look, dude, I mean, you’re, like, running for president, you know, like, aren’t you?)

And then there is Donald Trump.

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The Donald Trump Show (Trolling the Gap)

Johnson-20151212-Trump-ObamaBinLyin-detail-bw

This is your reminder―

Since launching his presidential campaign, however, Trump has largely ignored what used to be his signature issue. Fox’s Bill O’Reilly broached the subject last night:

O’REILLY: Do you think your birther position has hurt you among African Americans?

TRUMP: I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t even talk about it anymore, Bill…. I guess with, maybe some. I don’t know why. I really don’t know why. But I don’t think―very few people, you are the first one that’s brought that up in a while.

For the record, Trump fielded a question about this as recently as Monday―the day before this O’Reilly interview. When the candidate said no one has brought up this issue “in a while,” that clearly wasn’t true.

(Benen)

―that Donald Trump is the candidate of the internet troll. The whole pro wrestling metaphor really is tempting, all things considered, but let’s just file that under some manner of reality television. You know, to some degree we’re supposed to believe pro wrestling, too.

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A Strange Moment in History

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during an election night event at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, 15 March 2016. (Detail of photo by Lynne Sladky/AP Photo)

This couldn’t have waited until tomorrow?

Striding into history, Hillary Clinton will become the first woman to top the presidential ticket of a major U.S. political party, capturing commitments Monday from the number of delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.

(Yen, et al.)

It seems for the moment this development has any number of people puzzled. On msnbc, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Andrea Mitchell all offered double-takes over the timing. While it is certainly possible to understand a certain notion, that these superdelegates decided to start wrapping up the Democratic Show in favor of turning to the Big Show, the idea that professional political hands couldn’t see the problem with the timing is problematic. Then again, maybe they didn’t coordinate. We might note this isn’t like when South Dakota upped its prestige a notch when its superdelegates decided to clinch the nomination for Donald Trump. Right now, as far as we can tell, of the ninety-five Democratic superdelegates who had yet to commit publicly during repeated inquiries over the last seven months, some did this time around, and AP just happens to be able to turn its eye to history, scooping the candidate herself.

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Clowntastic

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

“The truth is that Republicans are at a crossroads. What we are seeing is a surrogate battle to determine whether the GOP will be a sort of populist/protectionist party, or a more cosmopolitan and compassionate one. And if those are the two world views that will eventually clash, Cruz and Rubio are much better representatives than, say, Trump and Bush.”

Matt Lewis

Conservative stalwart Matt Lewis offers an intriguing commentary considering the real potential of a marquee showdown between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. The junior U.S. Senators from Florida and Texas respectively enjoy competitive positions in the polls, and thus stand out as leading candidates to ascend as Dr. Ben Carson tumbles and pretty much everyone else wonders when Trump will follow. The Roll Call op-ed opens:

“The two people to watch are Cruz and Rubio,” Charles Krauthammer declared on Tuesday’s episode of Fox News’ “Special Report.” Call it wishful thinking or conventional wisdom (or both), but there is an assumption that this clash of titans might eventually occur—and I, for one, am rooting for it.

And we can skip ahead to the ending, a pretense of obvious afterthought―that both Cruz and Rubio can win the general against Hillary Clinton―long enough to remember that Lewis is, after all, a conservative pitch man. Cruz can’t win; Rubio has a chance if he can overcome the deer and headlight air of youthful inexperienceα he often demonstrates so aptly when rattling through talking points that thoroughly defy his comprehension. That is to say, we can attend the pretense of afterthought long enough to dismiss it.

Nonetheless, Mr. Lewis offers an insightful analysis that includes the benefit of also sounding reasonable:

Most people I know think a Trump candidacy would be disastrous, but there is division regarding just how freaked out we should be. Some, like statistician Nate Silver, argue that we are putting too much stock in these early polls showing Trump ahead for a variety of reasons, including the fact that “the vast majority of eventual Republican voters haven’t made up their minds yet.”

Others argue that this is fantasy. All the previous predictions about a Trump collapse were premature, and besides, he’s a paradigm-shifting candidate; the old rules no longer apply.

Having said all that, it’s not absurd to believe that voters will finally come to their senses, and that Cruz and Rubio might eventually emerge as representatives of their various “lanes” to face off in a sort of championship battle to determine who will represent the GOP in the general election.

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