On Tuesday evening, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow launched a flurry of speculation and excitement by tweeting "we've got Trump tax returns" an hour and a half before her show. Her scoop — which came after a characteristic, if ill-advised, contextual wind-up, during which The Daily Beast actually beat her to the punch — ultimately revealed nothing more than that Trump finagled his way into paying a rate of less than 4 percent on his regular federal income tax in 2005.
Almost immediately, viewers began to skewer the way Maddow had hyped the information. By Wednesday, Slate's Willa Paskin recounted the event by writing that "Maddow seemed uncharacteristically nervous as she wended her way though what could kindly be described as context and which I am unkindly describing as word salad, a long meander that was difficult to follow even without the distracting promise of a revelatory tax return at its end." National Review was less kind, declaring: "Rachel Maddow Wastes Everyone's Time."
Some critics went as far as to say Maddow's handling of the news was a "nice victory" for President Trump. Jay Yarow wrote for CNBC: "For Trump, in the swirl of chaos thanks to the CBO saying the GOP health-care bill would lead to 24 million uninsured and the FBI preparing to weigh in on his accusation of President Barack Obama wire tapping him, this tax story is a welcome reprieve." Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign press secretary, Brian Fallon, had speculated that Maddow's scoop was going to be "the holy grail," only to later tweet that Democrats "should return focus to TrumpCare tomorrow [and] … not get distracted by two pages from '05 tax return."
The White House also skewered Maddow for the story, releasing a statement prior to her show that claimed "you know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago." Some people, including Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnson, who received the tax form anonymously, believe that Trump himself could have leaked the information.
"The media is undeniably essential, particularly in this administration," noted Esquire. "However, leaning too heavily on the shock and awe factor is a distraction at best and an exploitation of the nation's fear at worst. And after all that, in the end, we didn't learn anything we didn't already know. Fun, huh?" Jeva Lange
Sean Spicer tendered his resignation as White House press secretary last Friday, calling his time in the position "an honor and a privilege." While he'll stay in the White House through August, Spicer was spotted in New York City on Wednesday morning, where he was reportedly meeting with several TV networks, possibly in pursuit of a post-government gig.
But the most interesting option by far came from Page Six on Wednesday, when the site reported Spicer might be in talks to take his theatric personality to an actual stage: Reality dancing competition Dancing with the Stars has reached out to the former spokesman about appearing on the show, Page Six claims. "That has legs," an unnamed "TV insider" told Page Six of Spicer possibly cha-cha-ing on the hit ABC show.
When reached by Page Six on Wednesday about the rumor, Spicer said, "I have no comment." ABC told Page Six they "don't comment on casting."
But ... we can hope, right? Kimberly Alters
On Wednesday, after Senate Republicans failed for the second time to repeal ObamaCare, even former Fox News staple Bill O'Reilly had to admit his pessimism. "Health care, not going to happen," O'Reilly tweeted. "The Republican Party cannot get it together."
Health care, not going to happen. The Republican Party cannot get it together. Absolute chaos.
— Bill O'Reilly (@billoreilly) July 26, 2017
O'Reilly was the leading host on Fox News until he was ousted amid sexual harassment allegations in April. Earlier this week, he defended President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner against allegations of Russia collusion by arguing Kushner is simply too baby-faced to be "fixing elections with Putin."
So, conservatives: When even Bill O'Reilly can't muster a defense for you, that might be a bad sign. Kimberly Alters
On Wednesday, the Senate rejected a proposal to repeal ObamaCare without an immediate replacement, 45-55. Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nev.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Rob Portman (Ohio) joined all Democrats in voting down the measure.
After rejecting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare on Tuesday, senators will now move on to a "skinny repeal" plan, which would scrap ObamaCare's individual and employer mandates as well as the medical device tax, but leave everything else in place. The proposal has the best chance of allowing Senate Republicans to pass a bill — any bill — which would allow them to move on to conference with the House, where they could assemble a more comprehensive repeal plan.
The "skinny repeal" plan could face a vote by the end of the week. Kimberly Alters
While new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci takes a "fire everyone" approach to dealing with leaks, embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to shortly launch criminal investigations to catch the executive branch leakers that have so frustrated President Trump.
Multiple unnamed officials told The Washington Post in a report published Tuesday evening that "Sessions is due to announce in coming days a number of criminal leak investigations based on news accounts of sensitive intelligence information." Fox News reported the same thing Wednesday, apparently citing a different official, who said the announcement has "been in the works for some time and will most likely happen sometime in the next week."
This comes as Trump continues his public attacks on Sessions, seemingly pushing the attorney general to resign. Among his complaints, the president said Tuesday, is that Sessions should "be much tougher on leaks in the intelligence agencies that are leaking like they never have before. ... You can't let that happen." Bonnie Kristian
Powerhouse link aggregator The Drudge Report has uniquely shaped online traffic flow and the conservative news agenda for two decades, garnering its reclusive curator, Matt Drudge, a position of real influence among right-of-center politicos. Drudge galvanized his readers' support for President Trump during the 2016 election, but now CNN reports his own enthusiasm for the president is beginning to wane.
Drudge is "growing impatient," an unnamed associate of the site editor told CNN, because he "takes some credit, I think, for getting Trump elected into the White House and he expected him to follow through on the promises he campaigned on. Look, it's not going well so far. Some of it is, but for the most part it's trouble. Drudge can see that. He's not blind to reality."
Another person with ties to Drudge said it "seems like Matt is starting to get a bit miffed" and does not feel at all "beholden" to Trump if the president doesn't keep his promises.
Drudge is reportedly attending regular meetings at the White House, talking with Trump himself as well as key advisers like Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner. Still, his coverage of Trump has acquired a more critical tone of late. "Drudge smells smoke and maybe sees some fire and he is trying to figure out this: Does he put the fire out? Can the fire be put out? Or does he put himself in the position to pour kerosene on the fire and take advantage of that?" said conservative writer John Ziegler, who worked with Drudge on a talk radio show. "So basically, Drudge is trying to figure out if he is the fireman or the arsonist." Bonnie Kristian
Trump's transgender policy tweets briefly had the Pentagon worried he was declaring war on North Korea
When President Trump sent out a series of three tweets Wednesday morning announcing a total ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military "in any capacity," his posts published at a halting pace. Fully nine minutes elapsed between the vague first tweet and the second, in which Trump got to the meat of his statement. In that gap, BuzzFeed News reports, many at the Pentagon were on tenterhooks:
At the Pentagon, the first of the three tweets raised fears that the president was getting ready to announce strikes on North Korea or some other military action. Many said they were left in suspense for nine minutes, the time between the first and second tweet. Only after the second tweet did military officials receive the news the president was announcing a personnel change on Twitter. [BuzzFeed]
The announcement came as a surprise for congressional Republicans, too. Politico's behind-the-scenes look at the president's decision to send the tweets described it as Trump's impulsive attempt to salvage "a spending bill stacked with his campaign promises, including money to build his border wall with Mexico" that risked being derailed over federal funding for gender reassignment surgeries for military staff.
Trump's outright ban went well beyond what House Republicans were debating, which never involved expelling all transgender soldiers. In the words of an unnamed senior House GOP aide, "This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire."
Within the White House, chief strategist Stephen Bannon reportedly "encouraged Trump to deal with the matter now," while Defense Secretary James Mattis urged caution and research before upending prior policy that could affect between 2,500 and 15,000 active-duty troops. Read Politico's full inside scoop here. Bonnie Kristian
Republican lawmakers have been rallying around Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week, as Sessions weathers friendly fire from President Trump. Trump has criticized Sessions recently in a variety of ways — including on Twitter, from the White House Rose Garden, and in print — and many of Sessions' former colleagues on Capitol Hill have come to his defense.
But perhaps the strongest defense of Sessions came from fellow Alabama lawmaker Rep. Mo Brooks (R), who is running for the Alabama Senate seat Sessions vacated to become attorney general. Brooks released a lengthy statement Wednesday comparing Trump's treatment of Sessions to a "public waterboarding":
I cannot remain silent about the treatment Jeff Sessions is receiving from President Trump. If the president has reservations about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that is okay. No two people agree all the time. But President Trump should raise his reservations with Attorney General Sessions privately, man to man, one on one, not publicly scorn a great man like this.
I support President Trump's policies, but this public waterboarding of one of the greatest people Alabama has ever produced is inappropriate and insulting to the people of Alabama who know Jeff Sessions so well and elected him so often by overwhelming margins. [Rep. Mo Brooks]
Brooks then offered Trump a deal: If he wants to fire Sessions, Brooks will withdraw from the Alabama Senate race if all of his Republican opponents agree to do so as well in order to pave the way for Sessions. Then, Brooks said, if Sessions were to leave Washington, the path would be cleared for him to return to the Senate, while Trump could replace Sessions at the Justice Department with whomever he wants.
"I recognize that President Trump is popular in Alabama," Brooks said. "My closest friends and political advisers have told me not to side with Jeff Sessions, that it will cost me politically to do so. My response is simple: I don't care."
The special election to fill Sessions' seat is Dec. 12. Read Brooks' full statement below. Kimberly Alters
Mo Brooks: "this public waterboarding of one of the greatest ppl AL has ever produced is inappropriate and insulting to the people of AL" pic.twitter.com/FgUcwCNoEk
— Alan He (@alanhe) July 26, 2017