I feel that little demon in the pit of my being. Waiting always, for the other shoe to drop….
Keeping with the marginalia:
When the shit is too unreal to deal with in our daily lives….thankfully there is something to escape to.
A few tweets to get the Sunday going:
This is an open thread.
Trump has left the country for a few days; perhaps we’ll get a break from his insane tantrums over this Memorial Day weekend. Donald and Melania are in Japan for a ceremonial state visit.
The New York Times: For Trump’s Japan Trip, Abe Piles on the Flattery. But to What End?
Significant challenges lie ahead, especially as the United States and Japan begin thorny trade talks and Mr. Trump confronts new provocations from North Korea.
So to keep close ties with Mr. Trump — Mr. Abe’s occasional golf buddy and the world leader on the other end of more than 40 discussions or visits since the 2016 election, according to White House officials — the prime minister has planned a visit dripping in a level of ceremony that money can’t buy.
All of Mr. Abe’s plans are meant to remind Mr. Trump, the leader of Japan’s most important ally, not to forget about his closest friend in Asia. There will be sumo wrestling with a customized Trump trophy. There will be a meeting with the new Japanese emperor. There will be a state banquet.
For Mr. Abe, the flattery is the product of close study of a president who sees diplomacy as an entirely personal endeavor. But two and a half years into the relationship, some observers at home and abroad are questioning whether the overtures have paid off.
With Japan’s economy in a slowdown, Mr. Abe is pursuing a bilateral trade deal with Mr. Trump and is trying to ward off a longstanding threat by the Trump administration to enact damaging auto tariffs. White House officials have said not to expect such a trade-related accord to come out of Mr. Trump’s visit this week.
On matters of security, Mr. Trump’s overtures to Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, continue to rattle the Japanese, who have feared becoming sidelined. White House officials this week stressed the importance of the alliance in deterring aggression from Japan’s neighbors, but emphasized that this visit is a heavily ceremonial one.
Apparently, staff who have go along with Trump when he travels aren’t looking forward to their time with him on Air Force One. CNN: Inside Trump’s Air Force One: ‘It’s like being held captive.’
Not always an eager traveler, Trump has complained in the past about the pace of his foreign travel or the accommodations arranged for him abroad. It’s his aides, however, who sometimes dread boarding Air Force One for a lengthy flight overseas, knowing full well the boss will make little use of the bed wedged into the nose of the plane.
“It’s like being held captive,” one official said of traveling with the President on Air Force One.
Current and former officials have described White House trips as grueling endeavors accompanied by long hours, but several privately said the flights overseas are easily the worst. The duration can stretch nearly 20 hours. Sleeping space is limited. The televisions are streaming Fox News constantly. And if the headlines flashing across the bottom of the screen are unfavorable to their boss, aides know it’s time to buckle up for a turbulent ride.
The President boarded Air Force One Friday for the 14-hour flight to Tokyo, and his staff were gearing up for a particularly hellish ride. An event the previous day was supposed to focus on relief for farmers who have been hurt by tariffs, but it quickly devolved into a venting session for Trump, who called the Democratic House speaker “crazy” and said Democrats were trying to inflict a “thousand stabs” on him.
“Keep stabbing,” he said in the Roosevelt Room, while surrounded by farmers in cowboy hats.
Jonathan Chait summarizes the many complaints: Trump Staff Dreads Traveling Overseas With Toddler President.
The experience of overseas travel with Trump is almost exactly like traveling overseas with a poorly behaved toddler:
Trump won’t stop watching television. The screen-addicted president just keeps doing what he does at home, which is binge-watch TV for hours and get angry. The difference is that, on the plane, they can’t get away:
Trump will spend hours reviewing cable news coverage recorded on a TiVo-like device or sifting through cardboard boxes of newspapers and magazines that have been lugged aboard. He’ll summon sleeping staffers to his office at moments the rest of the plane is dark, impatient to discuss his upcoming meetings or devise a response to something he saw in the media.
Like at home, Trump’s method of governing is to see things on television that anger him and order his staffers to make them go away: “Trump has long insisted that he is treated unfairly by the news media, and if he sees something on television that bothers him — ‘which he invariably will,’ one official quipped — he instructs his staff to fix it, no matter if they are at the White House or flying over the Atlantic Ocean,” according to CNN.
Trump won’t go to sleep. The president and First Lady are the only passengers equipped with lie-flat beds. Despite this, Trump resists his staff’s attempts to get him to go to sleep. Trump “will hold court for hours on end, despite staffers encouraging him to join first lady Melania Trump in the private cabin and get some rest,” the story notes. “He will not go to sleep,” reports a source. Unfortunately, Trump is well past the age at which pediatricians recommend sleep-training.
Other complaints: Trump hates foreign TV and foreign food and he can’t stand it when he has to sit through meetings that aren’t all about him. Read more details at New York Magazine.
Natasha Bertrand: Trump puts DOJ on crash course with intelligence agencies.
President Donald Trump’s declassification order Thursday night has set up a showdown between his own Justice Department and the intelligence community that could trigger resignations and threaten the CIA’s ability to conduct its core business — managing secret intelligence and sources.
Trump’s order directed intelligence agencies to fully comply with Attorney General William Barr’s look at “surveillance activities” during the 2016 election — a probe that Trump’s allies see as a necessary check on government overreach but that critics lambaste as an attempt to create the impression of scandal. Numerous former intelligence officials called the move “unprecedented,” saying it grants the attorney general sweeping powers over the nation’s secrets, subverts the intelligence community and raises troubling legal questions….
“I could see something of a showdown happening here, where the CIA says, ‘We’re not comfortable with the declassification of this material and we won’t provide it without the assurance that you won’t declassify it,’” said a former senior Justice Department official who served under both Trump and President Barack Obama, and requested anonymity to discuss the directive more freely. “They feel that these are their sources, their connections.”
Later on Friday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a carefully worded statement, confirming that his agencies will turn over “all of the appropriate information” for the DOJ review. But, Coats added, “I am confident that the Attorney General will work with the [intelligence community] in accordance with the long-established standards to protect highly-sensitive classified information that, if publicly released, would put our national security at risk.”
Read the whole thing at Politico.
It appeared unprecedented to give an official who is not in charge of an intelligence agency the power to reveal its secrets. Current and former intelligence officials said they were concerned that Barr could selectively declassify information that paints the intelligence agencies and the FBI in a bad light without giving a complete picture of their efforts in 2016.
Officials are also concerned about the possible compromise of intelligence sources, including those deep inside the Russian government.
Ordinarily, any review of intelligence activities would be done by the Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats. But in giving that authority to Barr, the president has turned to someone he perceives as a loyalist and who has already said that he thinks the government spied on the Trump campaign.
“This is a complete slap in the face to the director of national intelligence,” said James Baker, the former FBI general counsel. “So why is the attorney general doing the investigation? Probably because the president trusts the attorney general more,” said Baker, now a director at the R Street Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.
Click on the link to read the rest.
Trump’s desire to investigate the investigators who uncovered the Russian plot to elect him president has taken on a special urgency since the release of the Mueller Report, with Trump repeatedly accusing government officials of “treason,” and the White House declaring: “This whole thing was a TAKEDOWN ATTEMPT at the President of the United States.”
On Thursday night, after Trump had spent days excoriating the purportedly “treasonous” investigators by name, he announced he had granted Barr the “full and complete authority” to declassify documents relating to the Russia probe. The White House also stated that Trump had directed intelligence agencies to “quickly and fully” cooperate with the investigation into the investigation.
It’s reminiscent of Nixon’s secret scheme to “use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies,” as then-White House Counsel John Dean put it, by manipulating “grant availability, federal contract, litigation, prosecution, etc.” Nixon directed the IRS provide potentially damaging information against some of his enemies. Although the agency’s commissioner refused Nixon’s demand, the scheme became part of the impeachment case against Nixon, which accused him of illegally endeavoring “to obtain [information] from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens.”
While much of Nixon’s scheme was forestalled, Trump appears poised to effectuate his. Barr recently named Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham (best known for investigating the FBI’s corrupt relationship with Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger) to head up an inquiry into the “origins” of the Russia investigation. Unnamed government officials have attempted to minimize the significance of the inquiry by stating to the press that it does not currently entail the use of grand jury subpoenas, but that of course could change at any time—indeed, Senator Lindsey Graham is publicly demanding as much.
Barr, meanwhile, has become remarkably open about his intent to follow the president’s lead by making the investigators the focus of as much opprobrium as possible.
First Amendment advocates are deeply concerned that Trump and Barr’s Justice Department are using Julian Assange to set a course that will rein in investigative journalism. As much as I despise Assange, I have to agree that charging him with espionage could very well lead to frightening attempts by Trump and Barr to control the press.
Assange is being charged with publishing material that was leaked to him, not with stealing the information himself. That is exactly what happened when The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, which had been stolen and leaked by Daniel Ellsburg in 1971.
Elizabeth Goitein at The Washington Post: The U.S. says Julian Assange ‘is no journalist.’ Here’s why that shouldn’t matter.
On Thursday, Julian Assange became the first person to face prosecution in the United States for publishing classified information, although newspapers routinely publish government secrets that have been leaked to them. Defending the unprecedented move, Assistant Attorney General John Demers declared that “Julian Assange is no journalist.” Millions of Americans no doubt agree. And yet, in making this distinction, the Justice Department is drawing a line the First Amendment simply doesn’t draw — and threatening the freedom of every news outlet in the process.
The federal indictment alleges that Assange solicited and received classified information from Chelsea Manning and published that information through WikiLeaks. The documents he published included official assessments of detainees at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; files relating to rules of engagement for U.S. troops in the Iraq War; and State Department cables. Some revealed damning information about the conduct of American soldiers and other government officials. In a few cases, they included the names of foreign citizens who provided the U.S. with intelligence.
Assange is being charged under the Espionage Act, a law passed during World War I to punish spies and traitors. But in recent years, the law increasingly has been used against government employees who leak classified information to the media. The Obama administration brought eight prosecutions for media leaks — more than all previous administrations combined — and the Trump administration has upped the ante, bringing seven prosecutions in the space of two years.
Please read the rest at the WaPo. Trump and Barr are acting out Trump’s claim that the press is “the enemy of the people.”
That’a all I have room for today, although there is lots more breaking news. What stories have you been following?
Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!
Every day we become more aware of ways that the rule of law is being threatened in our country by today’s Republican Party and its leaders. There is so much slipping away from the ordinary people in this country that it’s difficult to keep track of it all.
This study by the FED shows how the recently rising economy is doing anything but bringing every one with it It’s deeply troubling as all leading indicators now point to a recession on the horizon and all Trump policies point to a huge push over the edge.
Amid what is likely to become the longest period of sustained economic growth on record, a new report shows that millions of middle-class and low-income Americans still aren’t on solid enough ground to weather a sustained downturn.
Since the Federal Reserve’s annual report on household well-being began in 2013, the survey (most recently of more than 11,000 Americans) has become a key measure of whether the benefits of the recovery have reached beyond the upper end of the socioeconomic spectrum.
Although this year’s report painted a positive picture overall, officials said, it identified underlying fragility and exposed pockets of distress. In line after line, the report lays out the everyday concerns that plague U.S. households.
Almost four in 10 people (39 percent) said they wouldn’t be able to scrape together the cash to meet a $400 emergency expense. Even without any sudden expense, about 17 percent of adults said they would miss a payment on at least one bill during the month surveyed.
More than 6 in 10 said losing their job would mean they couldn’t cover three months of expenses, even if they took out loans, sold assets or borrowed from friends and relatives.
Only 36 percent said their retirement savings are on track.
Almost a quarter of Americans skipped some form of medical care in the past year because they couldn’t afford it. Separately, 1 in 5 faced major, unexpected medical bills. About 4 in 10 of those folks were still carrying debt related to those bills.
The survey covers 2018, when the unemployment rate averaged 3.9 percent, the lowest since 1969, and the economy grew 2.9 percent, matching its post-Great Recession high. Average hourly earnings grew 3 percent, easily the fastest rate since the recession’s end. But those figures are broad national averages — if gains are going disproportionately to the wealthy few, trends among the majority of U.S. workers could be missed.
This is going on while the checked flag of recessions indicators is waving madly (via CNBC): “US manufacturing activity dives to more than 9-year low on trade war worries, survey shows”. The only silver lining in this is it’s likely to take a huge bit of wind out of any Trump re-election sail.
U.S. manufacturer growth hit a multiyear low in May, the latest sign that the trade war may be slowing the economy.
The U.S. manufacturing PMI (purchasing managers index) was 50.6 in May, the lowest level since September 2009, according to results from financial data firm IHS Markit released Thursday.
“Growth of business activity slowed sharply in May as trade war worries and increased uncertainty dealt a further blow to order book growth and business confidence,” said Chris Williamson, Markit’s chief business economist.
U.S. overall business activity growth also faltered to a three-year low as the seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Flash U.S. Composite PMI Output Index dropped to 50.9 in May, indicating the slowest expansion since May 2016.
“The slowdown has been led by manufacturing, but shows increasing signs of spreading to services…Trade wars remained top of the list of concerns among manufacturers, alongside signs of slower sales and weaker economic growth both at home and in key export markets,” Williamson said.
And then, there’s just general lawlessness and ignorance of the law going on right and left these days. Here’s some of these headlines.
Obama banned adoption and foster-care agencies from receiving federal funding if they refused to work with same-sex couples. Religious organizations have consistently bristled at that policy, arguing that they’re being forced to contradict their beliefs.
- Administration officials said the White House is weighing two options: either rescinding those rules altogether, or adding an explicit exemption for religious organizations.
- The debate is mainly about which approach would hold up better in court, the officials said. A religious exemption seems to have the upper hand for now, but that could change
President Trump has personally and repeatedly urged the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to award a border wall contract to a North Dakota construction firm whose top executive is a GOP donor and frequent guest on Fox News, according to four administration officials.
In phone calls, White House meetings and conversations aboard Air Force One during the past several months, Trump has aggressively pushed Dickinson, N.D.-based Fisher Industries to Department of Homeland Security leaders and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps, according to the administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal discussions. The push for a specific company has alarmed military commanders and DHS officials.
Semonite was summoned to the White House again Thursday, after the president’s aides told Pentagon officials — including Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff — that the president wanted to discuss the border barrier. According to an administration official with knowledge of the Oval Office meeting, Trump immediately brought up Fisher, a company that sued the U.S. government last month after the Army Corps did not accept its bid to install barriers along the southern border, a contract potentially worth billions of dollars.
President Donald Trump’s bet that it’ll take years to resolve a coming court fight over his tax returns could be wrong.
Federal courts are already ruling quickly against Trump in his other attempts to block Congress. The Supreme Court could also be a dead end if the case doesn’t present new legal issues or divide appellate courts. That means there’s a decent chance the White House could lose the fight and be forced to hand over Trump’s tax records before the election.
“He’s gambling,” said Michael Stern, a former senior counsel in the House of Representatives’ Office of General Counsel. “I don’t think anyone would say that it’s impossible for there to be a final order for him to produce the tax returns by the middle of next year.”
That could potentially be disastrous for Trump and other Republicans by focusing public attention on the long-running mystery of what’s in his returns just as voters are heading to the polls — and would likely leave the GOP wishing Trump had ripped off the tax-return Band-Aid sooner.
It would also be ironic because Trump once criticized former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for releasing his own tax returns too close to the 2012 elections.
Pete Williams / NBC News: Trump doesn’t seem to understand what ‘treason’ means
Once again on Thursday, President Donald Trump used the T-word, this time saying that former FBI officials who were involved in investigating his campaign committed treason.
Asked at a White House event which of his adversaries he had in mind when he accused them of treason, he said, “A number of people. They have unsuccessfully tried to take down the wrong person.” He then specified former FBI director James Comey, former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and former FBI agent Peter Strzok.
“That’s treason. They couldn’t win the election, and that’s what happened.”
But that isn’t what the Constitution says treason is. It doesn’t mean being disloyal to the president. And it certainly would not apply to any actions against a private citizen, which Donald Trump was as a candidate for president
Remember the War Criminals that Trump Wants to Pardon?
An attorney for Navy SEAL chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher also represents the Trump Organization, CNN has learned, just days after reports surfaced indicating the President is considering pardoning Gallagher of charges that could constitute war crimes.
Gallagher faces a slew of accusations connected to violations of military law while he was deployed to the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2017, including premeditated murder in the stabbing death of an injured person in Iraq. He has pleaded not guilty.
Trump Organization lawyer Marc Mukasey started working on the case in recent months, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik, a former business partner of Trump ally and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, also is helping with Gallagher’s case. Kerik, who once served three years in federal prison for charges including tax fraud and lying to officials, was nominated as homeland security secretary by President George W. Bush but withdrew from consideration due to potential tax violations.
He has regularly appeared on Fox News as a surrogate for the President.
The Trump administration is preparing to circumvent Congress to allow the export to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of billions of dollars of munitions that are now on hold, according to current and former American officials and legislators familiar with the plan.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and some political appointees in the State Department are pushing for the administration to invoke an emergency provision that would allow President Trump to prevent Congress from halting the sales, worth about $7 billion. The transactions, which include precision-guided munitions and combat aircraft, would infuriate lawmakers in both parties.
They would also further inflame tensions between the United States and Iran, which views Saudi Arabia as its main rival and has been supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen in their campaign against a Saudi-led military coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates.
American legislators from both parties remain incensed by the Trump administration’s equivocal response to the grisly killing last October by Saudi agents of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and Virginia resident. They are also frustrated by the administration’s role in supporting the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen war, a four-year conflict that the United Nations has deemed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with thousands of civilians killed and millions suffering from famine.
President Trump took extraordinary steps on Thursday to give Attorney General William P. Barr sweeping new authorities to conduct a review into how the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia were investigated, significantly escalating the administration’s efforts to place those who investigated the campaign under scrutiny.
In a directive, Mr. Trump ordered the C.I.A. and the country’s 15 other intelligence agencies to cooperate with the review and granted Mr. Barr the authority to unilaterally declassify their documents. The move — which occurred just hours after the president again declared that those who led the investigation committed treason — gave Mr. Barr immense leverage over the intelligence community and enormous power over what the public learns about the roots of the Russia investigation.
The order is a change for Mr. Trump, who last year dropped a plan to release documentsrelated to the Russia investigation amid concerns from Justice Department officials who said making them public could damage national security. At the time, the president was being encouraged by a group of Republican Congress members to declassify the information.
Mr. Barr, who has used the word “spying” to describe how the Trump campaign was investigated, has been deeply involved in the department’s review of how intelligence was collected on the campaign. Mr. Barr has told Congress that he personally authorized the review. While he has asked John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut, to spearhead it, a Justice Department official said that Mr. Barr has personally met with the heads of the intelligence agencies to discuss the review and that the project was a top priority after the release last month of the special counsel’s report.
Are we winning yet?
Have a good weekend Sky Dancers! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Another day, another Trump tantrum. Poor Donald. He just can’t handle Nancy Pelosi. What is it about her that gets under his notoriously thin skin?
The Washington Post: A Trump Twitter-style diatribe — live from the Rose Garden.
Trump, ever the director and star of his own White House movie, staged his outburst in two acts.
Act 1: Blow up a White House meeting with Democratic lawmakers that was over before the first handshake. Bye-bye, Infrastructure Day.
Act 2: Stride to a podium at a hastily arranged Rose Garden news conference to say he won’t work with Democrats on infrastructure or anything else while they pursue the “investigation track.”
What set the president off was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saying earlier Wednesday that Trump has engaged in a “coverup” related to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation and other probes.
“I don’t do coverups,” Trump angrily told reporters who had been hustled outside with little notice and less information.
Trump — who with his allies is actively working to block more than 20 separate investigations by Democrats — called himself “the most transparent president, probably, in the history of this country,” and said he had been ready to discuss infrastructure and other priorities before Pelosi’s remark.
White House stenographer Peter Baker and his colleagues provide background on why Trump flipped out:
Mr. Trump and Democratic leaders were to meet on Wednesday morning to develop a $2 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure. But Ms. Pelosi first met with Democrats on Capitol Hill to deflect pressure on impeachment, which she has opposed. Emerging from that meeting, she sought to signal sympathy with Democrats angry at the president’s efforts to block their investigations, declaring that “the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.”
Mr. Trump saw the comments and did not hide his fury when she and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, arrived at the White House. The president walked into the Cabinet Room and did not shake anyone’s hand or sit down, according to people in the room. He said that he wanted to advance legislation on infrastructure, trade and other matters, but that Ms. Pelosi had said something “terrible” by accusing him of a cover-up.
After about three minutes, the president stalked out before anyone else could speak. From there, he headed to the Rose Garden, where a lectern had been set up with a preprinted sign that said “No Collusion, No Obstruction” along with statistics intended to show that the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was more than thorough.
“Instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to look at people that have just said that I was doing a cover-up,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t do cover-ups.”
“I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi: ‘I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I’d be really good at that, that’s what I do. But you know what? You can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with,’” he said….
“He just took a pass and it just makes me wonder why he did that,” Ms. Pelosi said. “In any event, I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America.”
Mr. Schumer expressed shock at the outcome. “To watch what happened in the White House would make your jaw drop,” he said.
Mr. Schumer said Mr. Trump’s eruption was hardly spontaneous, noting the preprinted sign on the lectern. Instead, he suggested that the president had staged it because he had not come up with a way to pay for such an enormous spending package.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Dana Millbank: Trump seems to be transparently mad.
This is not the work of an orderly mind.
President Trump stormed into the Cabinet Room 15 minutes late Wednesday morning and immediately proceeded to blow up a long-planned meeting with Democratic leaders about an infrastructure bill. He raged against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the terrible, horrible things she has said about him, and he vowed not to work on any legislation until Democrats stop investigating his administration. He stomped out of the room before Democrats had a chance to reply, then marched into the Rose Garden for an unscheduled news conference — or, more accurately, a 12-minute parade of paranoia.
Positively everybody was out to get him. They were out to get him in the third person: “They hated President Trump. They hated him with a passion,” he said. They were out to get him in the first-person plural: “These people were out to get us, the Republican Party and President Trump. They were out to get us.” What’s more, they have been after him “pretty much from the time we came down the escalator in Trump Tower.” And now they probably will impeach him because they “do whatever they have to do.”
He raged on. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has “been an enemy of mine for many years.” The “whole thing was a takedown attempt.” The assembled press “ought to be ashamed of yourselves for the way you report it so dishonestly.” And, even though he was the one who blew up the infrastructure meeting, he just knew that Democrats were “not really thinking they wanted to do infrastructure or anything else other than investigate.”
He ricocheted randomly among inchoate thought fragments: Infrastructure. WITCH HUNT! Unemployment. NO COLLUSION! Drug prices. HOAX! A special election in Pennsylvania. ONE-SIDED HORRIBLE THING! Tax cuts. DON JR. HAS GONE THROUGH HELL! I love the American people. IMPEACHMENT! Regulations. A DISGRACE! ABUSE!
Read more at the WaPo.
INTERLUDE: Trump is a textbook case of malignant narcissism. It’s as if we’re all attending a psychiatric case conference. From Wikipedia:
On 11 May 1968, the psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg presented his paper Factors in the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personalities, from the work of the Psychotherapy Research Project of The Menninger Foundation, at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association in Boston. Kernberg’s paper was first published in hard copy on 1 January 1970. In Kernberg’s 1968 paper, first published in 1970 in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (JAPA), the word ‘malignant’ does not appear once, while ‘pathological’ or ‘pathologically’ appears 25 times.
Developing these ideas further, Kernberg pointed out that the antisocial personality was fundamentally narcissistic and without morality.Malignant narcissism includes a sadistic element creating, in essence, a sadistic psychopath. In his article, “malignant narcissism” and psychopathy are employed interchangeably. Kernberg first proposed malignant narcissism as a psychiatric diagnosis in 1984, but so far it has not been accepted in any of the medical manuals, such as the ICD-10 or the DSM-5.
Kernberg described malignant narcissism as a syndrome characterized by a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial features, paranoid traits, and egosyntonic aggression. Other symptoms may include an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and a sense of importance (grandiosity). Pollock wrote: “The malignant narcissist is presented as pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioral regulation with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism“.
At Politico, John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett discuss: Why Pelosi is so good at infuriating Trump.
On Wednesday, for the third time in barely six months, a meeting between the president, the speaker and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blew up in spectacular fashion.
And in each case, Trump handed Pelosi a huge gift, a priceless moment that helped unify the Democratic Caucus behind her at a crucial time.
“She’s smarter than him, and she’s tougher than him, and I think that bothers him,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a Pelosi ally. “It’s hard to get inside that head of his and figure out what drives him, other than an oversized ego and an undersized sense of ethics.”
Trump doesn’t have a condescending nickname for the speaker as he does for other Democrats. He even appears to have a grudging respect for Pelosi, the first woman to serve as House speaker. He treats her as a peer who commands her chamber with a firm hand, and he knows she can deliver on votes, and that she is willing to call any bluff at any time….
“Guess what? He behaves like a child. This is what we have in the White House now,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who served under Pelosi in the House. “I’m used to it. I’m not expecting a grown-up any longer. I’m not expecting him to grow into the role.”
And for Pelosi, the timing is perfect. As the drumbeat for impeachment grows within her caucus, she can argue that what they’re doing is already working. Trump clearly doesn’t know how to respond to the barrage of Democratic investigations; they’re winning in the courts and he’s throwing fits. So why bother with impeachment, especially when Democrats know that a GOP-run Senate isn’t going to remove him from office?
Meanwhile, the Trump-Pelosi confrontations are getting to be recurring spectacles, and even Republicans know it hurts the president’s image.
“It’s a disaster,” said a senior Republican who requested anonymity. “It plays right into her hands.”
And on top of being smarter and tougher, she’s a woman. And her strategy of encouraging investigations while supposedly “tamping down” talk of impeachment is working. All those impatient Democrats on Twitter are too dumb to see what Pelosi is up to. It’s obvious that impeachment is very much on the table. Check out this assessment from a Republican political strategist.
Rich Wilson at The Daily Beast: Pelosi’s Strategy Is Working, and Trump Is One Step Closer to Being F*cked.
I’ve been a deep skeptic of impeachment as a political strategy, putting me solidly in the Nancy Pelosi go-slow camp. I’ve argued time and again that the smart play is IIABN: Impeachment in All but Name, but the great beast of Washington shambles ever forward, its ponderous, inexorable tread leading it toward the inevitable impeachment proceedings against Donald John Trump, 45th president of the United States.
Are you there yet politically? Nope.
For my Democratic friends, I know how frustrating this seems to you. This week, forward progress on a number of fronts will help move the nation into the mental and political frame where impeachment could lead to the conviction of Trump, not just what he’ll view as a wrist-slap and a campaign motivation point for his base. You cannot shame the shameless. You cannot make a man who is without a single ethical standard change the behavior that allowed him to grift his way into office and to monetize the presidency….
For all that, the Democrats chomping at the bit to hold Trump to account are having a good week already, whether they know it or not. It’s so good, they’d be fools not to keep doing the things that are starting to work—the exercise of congressional power, the use of the courts to uphold the law, and the momentum building in the public mind for an accounting of Trump’s full-spectrum lawbreaking, contempt, obstruction, and corruption.
The Pelosi-Nadler strategy is starting to shift that political battlefield, and the legal landscape is breaking in their favor. The judicial branch isn’t yet a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc. Yet. Trump’s own mistakes are helping move the investigation strategy forward and are beginning to ensure that when Congress does start getting testimony and documents from the White House and Department of Justice, Trump will have painted himself into a corner he can’t tweet his way out of.
More interesting reads, links only.
The New Republic: Trump v. The “I” Word.
Kurt Bardella at NBC News: Trump’s House investigations tantrum proves Pelosi and Democrats are gaining momentum.
The New York Times: Trump’s Financial Secrets Move Closer to Disclosure.
The Washington Post: Putin out-prepared Trump in key meeting, Rex Tillerson told House panel.
It is a busy day today….
Now the cartoons….
This is an open thread.
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
I woke up to electricity and drinkable water in the faucet so it’s a good day down here in New Orleans. That still doesn’t mean we’re not living in a Banana Republic these days. Folks are taking to the streets today in support of women and their doctors jointly deciding what health care is required. We also have a series of court cases on deck for refusal to do right by House Subpoenas.
Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Women’s March, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other groups are organizing nationwide demonstrations on Tuesday to protest the wave of new state laws banning abortion.
The “extreme bans on abortion [are] stripping away reproductive freedom and representing an all-out assault on abortion access,” the groups said on the “Stop The Bans” protest website.
Former White House Counsel Don McGahn defied a congressional subpoena Tuesday by declining to testify before the House Judiciary Committee at the direction of the White House.
The hearing room chair reserved for McGahn sat empty behind microphones, as committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York opened the scheduled hearing.
“This conduct is not remotely acceptable,” Nadler said, referring to the White House’s instruction to McGahn not to appear. “Let me be clear: This committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it.”
“We will hold this president accountable — one way or the other,” Nadler said.
The New York Democrat had warned in a letter to McGahn late Monday night, “The committee has made clear that you risk serious consequences if you do not appear tomorrow.” The committee could hold McGahn in contempt.
The call for starting an impeachment inquiry is building as House Dems met in a closed meeting with Speaker Pelosi (Via Politico).
House Democratic leaders sparred internally on Monday over whether to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies rejecting the call to move forward for now, according to multiple sources.
Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Joe Neguse of Colorado — all members of Democratic leadership — pushed to begin impeachment proceedings during a leadership meeting in Pelosi’s office, said the sources. Pelosi and Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Cheri Bustos of Illinois — some of her key allies — rejected their calls, saying Democrats’ message is being drowned out by the fight over possibly impeaching Trump.
Raskin — a former law professor — said he wasn’t advocating impeaching Trump but suggested that opening an impeachment inquiry would strengthen their legal position while allowing Democrats to move forward with their legislative agenda.
Pelosi dismissed this argument, asking Raskin whether he wanted to shut down the other five committees working on Trump investigations in favor of the Judiciary Committee.
“You want to tell Elijah Cummings to go home?” Pelosi quipped, referring to the chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee.
And in a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee meeting, Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee stood up and demanded Trump’s impeachment. Pelosi then countered, “This is not about politics, it’s about what’s best for the American people,” said a member who attended the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Russian Potted Plant in the White House and his saplings continue to say they will fight all subpoenas. Let’s see how this works out as an appeal for yesterday’s court action will cross the desk of Judge Merrick Garland.
President Donald Trump’s attorneys have vowed to appeal Monday’s decision in favor of a House committee seeking his financial records, but people on Twitter were thrilled about where the case will end up.
“We will be filing a timely notice of appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told Politico.
Senate Republicans stalled the nomination, refusing to vote or even hold a hearing until after the presidential election. Trump won and appointed Neil Gorsuch instead, which meant Garland remained on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he could now play a role in the looming showdown between the president and House Democrats.
Cases are heard by panels of three judges randomly assigned, so Garland is not necessarily going to hear the appeal (unless the decision is reviewed by the full court). But, the irony of the situation was not lost on Twitter users:
In a pre-Trumpian world, this sequence of events would set off a political crisis. In the surreal landscape we inhabit, it barely registers. But it is worth noting that Trump continues to commit impeachable offenses at an unprecedented pace. Last night’s threats to make good on his “lock them up” promises are merely one more in another recent flurry. The space between Trump’s long-standing authoritarian rhetoric and the deployment of his powers of office is slowly collapsing on several fronts.
Consider some of the events of recent days. Sunday, the New York Timesrevealed that Deutsche Bank’s internal investigators raised concerns that the portfolios of Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner involved money laundering. Trump is suing Deutsche Bank to block it from complying with congressional investigators. The notion that the president is entitled to engage in red-flagged dealings with money launderers, and conceal it from Congress and the public, is a wild transgression of transparency norms.
The same day, the Times reported Trump is preparing pardons for several American war criminals. Trump has long fantasized about war crimes and human-rights violations as part of his idealized military, from repeating a fantasized historical account of General Pershing shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood to proposing that the United States seize Iraqi oil as spoils of war. His prospective pardoning of war criminals are steps toward institutionalizing this vision as de facto law.
Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Michael Cohen told a closed House panel that Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, encouraged him to lie to Congress in 2017. Cohen’s lie concerned his handling of a deal to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow. The subject of the lie is itself a massive scandal: Vladimir Putin, who habitually corrupts foreign politicians with bribes disguised as lucrative deals, was dangling a contract worth several hundred million dollars, with no financial risk or downside to Trump.
Cohen has testified that Trump encouraged him to lie by repeating, in his characteristic mobster code — “There’s no Russia” — a cover story both men knew to be false. (Trump of course signed the letter of intent for the Moscow Project.) The new report shows that Sekulow was involved in crafting his false testimony, and that, far from the president’s lawyer freelance ordering perjury, Cohen understood Trump to be working through Sekulow:
Marcy Wheeler is on fire about this. It’s not taking folks long to notice that the RNC wrote a big fat check to McGahn’s law firm. So, inquiring minds would naturally jump to a quid pro quo …
We also know that there are likely good reasons for Trump to be furiously trying to bury any attempt to get his full tax records. This is from WAPO and Catherine Rampell.
When you look at the short span of President Trump’s political career, one question jumps out: How much of his craziest, most paranoid and norm-violating behavior is motivated by a desire to keep his financial arrangements secret?
It began with Trump’s bizarre refusal to release his tax returns, in defiance of both a nearly half-century practice and Trump’s own promise that he’d do so.
Then there was his refusal to divest from his sprawling multinational empire, or even put it into a blind trust — either of which would have forced at least some information disclosure to a third party.
Also, his curious personnel priorities. Once it became clear that House Democrats would exercise their explicit statutory authority to get Trump’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service, Trump asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to prioritize confirmation of Trump’s IRS general counsel nominee ahead of confirmation of a new attorney general. This IRS general counsel pick, mind you, also happened to have previously advised the Trump Organization on tax issues.
Trump’s treasury secretary has also been spending so much time safeguarding Trump’s tax returns, in violation of that explicit statute, that the activity is reportedly crowding out his day job.
All of which raises the question: Why exactly is Trump (and the rest of his administration) expending so much energy and political capital to keep these documents hidden? What could possibly be so disturbing or incriminating to justify such an effort?
One theory is that, maybe, if Trump’s tax returns or other financial records become public, his supporters would learn that he’s not nearly as rich as he says. Another is that his finances are not exactly on the up and up.
Of course, both explanations could be true.
Go read the rest for more on Don the Con. Meanwhile, enjoy some Leslie Dracarys Jones.
So, this is plenty to read and think about today. I’m still trying to rest my eyes while keeping up with things. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Dakinikat has lost her electricity again, so I’m filling in. Sorry to be so late. This Bunday post is dedicated to Dephyne and Luna.
Despite Trump’s efforts to stonewall Congress on everything, especially his financial dealings, the media is still finding stuff out.
David Enrich at The New York Times: Deutsche Bank Staff Saw Suspicious Activity in Trump and Kushner Accounts.
Anti-money-laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog.
The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump’s now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.
But executives at Deutsche Bank, which has lent billions of dollars to the Trump and Kushner companies, rejected their employees’ advice. The reports were never filed with the government….
Real estate developers like Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner sometimes do large, all-cash deals, including with people outside the United States, any of which can prompt anti-money laundering reviews….former Deutsche Bank employees said the decision not to report the Trump and Kushner transactions reflected the bank’s generally lax approach to money laundering laws. The employees — most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve their ability to work in the industry — said it was part of a pattern of the bank’s executives rejecting valid reports to protect relationships with lucrative clients.
Tammy McFadden, the whistleblower who came forward with this information was terminated by the bank after she expressed her concerns. Read the rest at the NYT.
Grant Stern summarizes the dirty details about Kushner’s dealings with Deutsche Bank at Washington Press: A whistleblower just revealed Deutsche Bank covered up 2016 Kushner money transfers with Russia.
David Enrich tweeted after Trump complained about his NYT piece.
Here’s another article he wrote in March, also at the NYT: A Mar-a-Lago Weekend and an Act of God: Trump’s History With Deutsche Bank.
As President Trump delivered his inaugural address in 2017, a slight woman with feathered gray hair sat listening, bundled in a hooded white parka in a fenced-off V.I.P. section. Her name was Rosemary T. Vrablic. She was a managing director at Deutsche Bank and one of the reasons Mr. Trump had just taken the oath of office.
It was a moment of celebration — and a moment of worry for Ms. Vrablic’s employer.
Mr. Trump and Deutsche Bank were deeply entwined, their symbiotic bond born of necessity and ambition on both sides: a real estate mogul made toxic by polarizing rhetoric and a pattern of defaults, and a bank with intractable financial problems and a history of misconduct.
The relationship had paid off. Mr. Trump used loans from Deutsche Bank to finance skyscrapers and other high-end properties, and repeatedly cited his relationship with the bank to deflect political attacks on his business acumen. Deutsche Bank used Mr. Trump’s projects to build its investment-banking business, reaped fees from the assets he put in its custody and leveraged his celebrity to lure clients.
Then Mr. Trump won the 2016 election, and the German bank shifted into damage-control mode, bracing for an onslaught of public scrutiny, according to several people involved in the internal response.
In the weeks before Ms. Vrablic attended his swearing-in, the bank commissioned reports to figure out how it had gotten in so deep with Mr. Trump. It issued an unusual edict to its Wall Street employees: Do not publicly utter the word “Trump.”
The president* and his son-in-law, who has anywhere between three and 81 jobs in the administration*, were shuffling money around in such a funky fashion that money-laundering experts—at the only bank in the world from which the president* can get more than a souvenir calendar—felt compelled to raise an alarm. Putting the words “money laundering” and “president” in the same sentence used to be enough for network news to throw up one of those scarifying “BULLETIN” graphics. Putting the word “Russian” in there, too, used to be enough to get Walter Cronkite to sail his sloop all the way from the Vineyard to Black Rock.
In the summer of 2016, Deutsche Bank’s software flagged a series of transactions involving the real estate company of Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser. Ms. McFadden, a longtime anti-money laundering specialist in Deutsche Bank’s Jacksonville office, said she had reviewed the transactions and found that money had moved from Kushner Companies to Russian individuals. She concluded that the transactions should be reported to the government — in part because federal regulators had ordered Deutsche Bank, which had been caught laundering billions of dollars for Russians, to toughen its scrutiny of potentially illegal transactions.
Apparently, according to the people interviewed by the Times, DB functioned as an all-purpose international laundromat for various people who needed money cleaned. Of course, the stakes rise considerably when one of the folks waiting for the spin cycle to finish is the president* of the United States.
Read the rest at Esquire.
Trump has nominated another lunatic to the Federal Reserve Board. Pedro Nickolaci da Cost at Forbes: Trump Fed Nominee Backs Policies That Would Crash The Economy.
Donald Trump is really scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to his remaining Federal Reserve nominees—and he doesn’t seem to understand what their individual views on monetary policy actually mean.
Take his latest pick, Judy Shelton, chosen after the attempted appointment of Stephen Moore collapsed following footage of him making incredibly misogynistic and racist comments.
Shelton’s views on interest policy and currencies aren’t just arcane, destructive and out of the mainstream. They also run directly counter to Trump’s own calls for the Fed not to raise interest rates and, most recently, for them to reduce borrowing costs to boost growth and help the administration achieve its elusive 3% growth target.
And they contradict Trump’s nationalist approach to economic relations by calling for a new international treaty on currencies that would essentially take drag the world economy back into some kind of gold standard, effectively shoving it totally needlessly into deep depression.
Read details about Shelton’s crazy ideas at the link.
You’ve probably heard that Trump is planning to pardon a number of accused or convicted war criminals. From Saturday’s New York Times: Trump May Be Preparing Pardons for Servicemen Accused of War Crimes.
President Trump has indicated that he is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes, including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder and desecration of a corpse, according to two United States officials.
The officials said that the Trump administration had made expedited requests this week for paperwork needed to pardon the troops on or around Memorial Day.
One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who is scheduled to stand trial in the coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.
The others are believed to include the case of a former Blackwater security contractor recently found guilty in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis; the case of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, the Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; and the case of a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters.
And yes, Trump wants to pardon war criminals on Memorial Day. More from New York Magazine: Trump Wants to Make War Criminals Great Again.
Trump has already publicly signaled his support for both Gallagher and Golsteyn, at least in part owing to the advocacy of Fox & Friends co-anchor Pete Hegseth, who has been lobbying the president on behalf of the men both on and off the air. In March, Trump announced that he would be transferring Gallagher to “less restrictive confinement” while he awaits his upcoming trial, and back in December, Trump tweeted that he would be reviewing Golsteyn’s case. He referred to Golsteyn as a “U.S. military hero.”
Trump has not mentioned the Marine Scout Snipers who were court-martialed for urinating on dead Taliban fighters, but Task and Purpose reports that Trump’s former attorney, John Dowd, had worked to clear the Marines’ records in 2017, and a lawyer for one of the Marines said he had requested a pardon from Trump after he took office but never heard back. The president has also never mentioned Slatten, the Blackwater contractor, but Trump has well-known links to Blackwater via its founder, the Trump-boosting, truth-challenged Erik Prince, and his sister, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
The paperwork requests also come less than two weeks after President Trump pardoned another convicted war criminal, former Army First Lieutenant Michael Behenna, who, while deployed in Iraq in 2008, disobeyed orders, drove an Iraqi prisoner into the desert, stripped him naked, and shot him in the chest and the head. Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder a year later and was already serving a reduced sentence when Trump pardoned him.
Trump is (or has been) convinced that these men are victims of injustice, rather than perpetrators of it. And it’s not hard to imagine how war criminals could seem like war heroes to a president who fetishizes strength and power over the powerless….
Whatever Trump believes, he has already made it clear that when it comes to helping his friends and perceived allies, he has no problem wielding pardons and revoking justice at an unprecedented scale. Considering all these factors, there should be little doubt that Trump will proceed with the pardons, as well as think that Memorial Day would be the best day to grant them, rather than the absolute worst day imaginable — since it would malign the honorable service and sacrifice of countless other Americans.
You can read more examples of Gallagher’s war crimes from this long Twitter thread by Scott Hechinger.
What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great Bunday!