Thursday Reads: A Mixed BagPosted: February 23, 2017
Breaking this morning at 9:19AM: Alan Colmes has died after a brief illness. He was just 66 years old. From Mediaite:
Fox News moments ago reported on Colmes’ death with a segment narrated by Sean Hannity, who paired with Colmes for years on the venerable talk show Hannity & Colmes.
Hannity identified his old colleague as, “one of the nicest, kindest, and most generous people,” while his family released a statement a short time ago that read in part:
He was a great guy, brilliant, hysterical, and moral. He was fiercely loyal, and the only thing he loved more than his work was his life with [wife] Jocelyn [Elise Crowley]. He will be missed. The family asks for privacy during this very difficult time.
I’ll update if I get more information.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Mexico this morning on another Trump clean-up mission. The New York Times reports: Rex Tillerson Arrives in Mexico Facing Twin Threats to Relations.
The Trump administration calls the visit a step toward mutual understanding, a way to move the relationship forward.
But as Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson arrived in Mexico on Wednesday, twin threats hung over the frayed relationship between the two nations: President Trump’s new orders to round up and deport immigrants who are in the United States illegally, and a separate effort to take a hard look at all American aid to Mexico, possibly using it to pay for a border wall instead.
By Friday, American officials are required to finish calculating all the money and grants that the United States provides to Mexico, a task that Mr. Trump first demanded in the executive order he signed last month directing the construction of a border wall.
The timing adds to the deep tensions between the two countries. Mr. Tillerson, the top American official to visit Mexico since Mr. Trump’s inauguration, arrived with John F. Kelly, the secretary of Homeland Security, only a day after the Trump administration released documents ordering a crackdown on immigration in the United States.
Newspapers here have described the Trump administration’s new deportation policies in apocalyptic terms, saying in some cases that they represented “war” on the millions of Mexicans in the United States.
Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, said Wednesday that the package of immigration directives is “something that, without doubt, worries all of us Mexicans” and will be “the first point on the agenda” when he meets with his American counterpart.
I guess we’ll hear more later on, but it doesn’t look good.
Some weird Russia news today from Politico: Manafort faced blackmail attempt, hacks suggest.
A purported cyber hack of the daughter of political consultant Paul Manafort suggests that he was the victim of a blackmail attempt while he was serving as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman last summer.
The undated communications, which are allegedly from the iPhone of Manafort’s daughter, include a text that appears to come from a Ukrainian parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko, seeking to reach her father, in which he claims to have politically damaging information about both Manafort and Trump.
Attached to the text is a note to Paul Manafort referring to “bulletproof” evidence related to Manafort’s financial arrangement with Ukraine’s former president, the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an alleged 2012 meeting between Trump and a close Yanukovych associate named Serhiy Tulub.
“Considering all the facts and evidence that are in my possession, and before possible decision whether to pass this to [the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine] or FBI I would like to get your opinion on this and maybe your way to work things out that will persuade me to do otherwise,” reads the note. It is signed “Sergii” — an alternative transliteration of Leshchenko’s given name — and it urges Manafort to respond to an email address that reporters have used to reach Leshchenko.
In the text to Manafort’s daughter to which the note was attached, the sender writes from a different address, “I need to get in touch with Paul i need to share some important information with him regarding ukraine investigation.” The sender adds “as soon as he comes back to me i will pass you documents,” but also warns: “if I don’t get any reply from you iam gonaa pass it on to the fbi and ukrainian authorities inducing media.”
Manafort says he gave the texts to his attorney, but shouldn’t he have reported them to the FBI too? These texts were reportedly obtained from a “hacktivist.” Read the rest at the link.
Another Trump adviser is in hot water, according to a Newsweek exclusive:
An embattled White House terrorism advisor whose academic credentials have come under widespread fire telephoned one of his main critics at home Tuesday night and threatened legal action against him, Newsweek has learned.
Sebastian Gorka, whose views on Islam have been widely labeled extremist, called noted terrorism expert Michael E. Smith II in South Carolina and expressed dismay that Smith had been criticizing him on Twitter, according to a recording of the call provided to Newsweek.
“I was like a deer in the headlights,” Smith, a Republican who has advised congressional committees on the use of social media by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, tells Newsweek. “I thought it was a prank. He began by threatening me with a lawsuit.”
Gorka apparently used his personal cell phone, with a northern Virgina area code, rather than making the call from his White House office or government-issued cell phone, where it would be officially logged, Smith says. The terrorism expert says he suspected Gorka “was trying to conceal the call.”
Smith says he did not begin recording the call until after Gorka allegedly threatened to sue Smith. In an email to Newsweek, Smith said that, “Gorka asserted my tweets about him merited examination by the White House legal counsel. In effect, he was threatening to entangle me in a legal battle for voicing my concerns on Twitter that he does not possess expertise sufficient to assist the president of the United States with formulating and guiding national security policies.”
Read more about Gorka at the link. He was previously a writer at Breitbart.
A Muslim woman who was on the National Security Council has written in The Atlantic about why she resigned after 8 days under Trump:
Like most of my fellow American Muslims, I spent much of 2016 watching with consternation as Donald Trump vilified our community. Despite this––or because of it––I thought I should try to stay on the NSC staff during the Trump Administration, in order to give the new president and his aides, a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America’s Muslim citizens.
I lasted eight days.
When Trump issued a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and all Syrian refugees, I knew I could no longer stay and work for an administration that saw me and people like me not as fellow citizens, but as a threat.
The evening before I left, bidding farewell to some of my colleagues, many of whom have also since left, I notified Trump’s senior NSC communications advisor, Michael Anton, of my departure, since we shared an office. His initial surprise, asking whether I was leaving government entirely, was followed by silence––almost in caution, not asking why. I told him anyway.
I told him I had to leave because it was an insult walking into this country’s most historic building every day under an administration that is working against and vilifying everything I stand for as an American and as a Muslim. I told him that the administration was attacking the basic tenets of democracy. I told him that I hoped that they and those in Congress were prepared to take responsibility for all the consequences that would attend their decisions.
He looked at me and said nothing.
It was only later that I learned he authored an essay under a pseudonym, extolling the virtues of authoritarianism and attacking diversity as a “weakness,” and Islam as “incompatible with the modern West.”
I’ll end with two new articles about Trump’s conflicts of interest and corruption.
Johnathan Chait at New York Magazine: This Obscure News Story, Which Should Be Huge, Shows How Trump Gets Away With Corruption.
The House of Representatives has refused to investigate either one of the two massive ongoing legal and ethical violations involving the Trump administration: President Trump’s opaque ties (financial and otherwise) to Russia, and his ongoing self-enrichment in office and violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.
If the House won’t investigate, what happens next? Well, the next-best course of action would be some form of public debate on the matter. This is not nearly as good as a real investigation, since the absence of subpoena power means Republicans can simply deny Trump has done anything wrong while blocking any efforts to acquire the evidence that would prove the case. But at least it’s something. That’s why House Democrats introduced a “resolution of inquiry” that would force House action on these issues.
Today, Politico reports the House’s response: It will divert the resolution to the House Judiciary Committee, which will (almost certainly) vote on Tuesday along party lines to kill the inquiry. It will be a minor story that probably receives scant or nonexistent coverage from television news, and then it will be quickly over. To be sure, coverage of Trump’s scandals will surely continue. But coverage of the House role in permitting Trump’s behavior will be extremely minimal.
The problem — which is a longstanding one and has protected both parties over the decades — is that the chain of responsibility is too long and obscure to have any bearing on the average voter. The average House Republican votes for the party leadership, which then allocates decisions like this to individual committees, which can be stacked with partisan loyalists from safe districts. (Of course, the overwhelming majority of House members come from safe districts that insulate them from accountability — another longstanding flaw in the system.)
Please go read the rest.
Mother Jones: Donald Trump’s Mystery $50 Million (or More) Loan.
Among Donald Trump’s debts—the source of some of his most intractable conflicts of interest—is a mystery loan that Trump has not publicly explained. Have a peek at these guys and learn more. And this means that the president could have a secret creditor to whom he owes tens of millions of dollars.
According to Trump’s financial disclosure records and various news report, Trump is carrying hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. These transactions could provide his creditors with leverage over the new commander-in-chief. Moreover, it would be difficult for Trump to refinance or modify the terms of his various loans without raising suspicion that he is receiving favorable treatment because of his position. (Imagine a bank gives him a good rate. Would this suggest it might receive preferential treatment from the US government Trump heads?) Because Trump has refused to release his tax returns, it’s impossible for the public to know exactly how much he owes and to whom. And Trump never kept his campaign promise to reveal all his creditors and obligations.
The financial disclosure form he filed last year did note more than a dozen loans totaling at least $713 million. But the full amount could be more. And buried in the paperwork is a puzzling debt that ethics experts say could suggest that Trump has a major creditor he has not publicly identified.
According to the disclosure, in 2012, Trump borrowed more than $50 million from a company called Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC. (The true value of the loan could be much higher; the form requires Trump only to state the range of the loan’s value, and he selected the top range, “over $50,000,000.”) Elsewhere in the same document, Trump notes that he owns this LLC. That is, he made the loan to himself. There’s nothing necessarily unusual about that.
Then it gets weirder and more complicated. Read about it at Mother Jones.
That’s all I have for you today–a bit of a mixed bag. What stories are you following? Let us know in the comments.