Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

As usual these days, I don’t know where to begin. We are living through something so strange and unprecedented that I just find myself shaking my head at each new revelation. Once again, I’m going to illustrate this post with baby animal pics, just because.

One crazy-making thing for me is the fact that the Senate is currently grilling a candidate for the Supreme Court who has been nominated by a man who may have committed treason. Neil Gorsuch should not be approved until the investigation of Trump’s involvement with Russia’s interference in the election is complete. I’m actually having difficulty watching the Gorsuch hearing. The word I think of when I look at and listen to him is “oily.” I hope some of you are following the questioning and can share your impressions.

I did watch the entire “Comey hearing” yesterday, and I’m still processing the latest revelations. I expect the press will be on this now and news outlets will compete to give us new information on a daily basis. We may have to function during political chaos for months and years to come. I can only hope the Republicans begin to develop spines as the 2018 election gets closer.

While the House Intelligence Committee testimony by FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers was still going on, White House spokesman Sean Spicer bizarrely continued to defend Trump’s accusation that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. He also claimed that Michael Flynn was only “volunteer” for the Trump campaign and that Paul Manafort had only a “limited role.”

Vanity Fair on the press briefing yesterday:

During the campaign, Flynn was a top adviser and, at one point, was vetted to become Trump’s running mate. He later accepted a job as national security adviser, one of the most important roles in the West Wing, before resigning 24 days into the new administration, after it was revealed that he had not been entirely forthcoming about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

“General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign,” Spicer said on Monday, brushing off concerns that Flynn had been a high-level Trump campaign adviser with any degree of influence while maintaining ties to Russia.

On Manafort, CNN reports:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer incorrectly diminished the role of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, remarks made at the same time as a House Intelligence Committee hearing investigated whether campaign aides colluded with Russia during last year’s presidential race.Spicer, pressed on a number of Trump associates’ connections to Russian operatives, claimed Manafort played a “limited role (in the campaign) for a very limited amount of time.”

Manafort was hired by the Trump campaign in March 2016 to lead the delegate operation on the floor of the Republican National Committee in Cleveland.

Manafort was promoted in May to campaign chairman and chief strategist. And when campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired in June, Manafort — who butted heads with Lewandowski — was widely seen as the campaign’s top official.

Manafort is largely credited with securing Trump the Republican nomination, through a mix of deep ties in the Republican establishment and tireless organizing to win the Republican delegate fight which almost derailed Trump one year ago.

I wonder why the White House is so desperate to disown Manafort, who is a close friend of Trump buddy Roger Stone and has lived in Trump Tower since for more than a decade? The Washington Post may have provided a partial answer this morning: New documents show Trump aide laundered payments from party with Moscow ties, lawmaker alleges.

A Ukrainian lawmaker released new financial documents Tuesday allegedly showing that a former campaign chairman for President Trump laundered payments from the party of a disgraced ex-leader of Ukraine using offshore accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan.

The new documents, if legitimate, stem from business ties between the Trump aide, Paul Manafort, and the party of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who enjoyed Moscow’s backing while he was in power. He has been in hiding in Russia since being overthrown by pro-Western protesters in 2014, and is wanted in Ukraine on corruption charges.

The latest documents were released just hours after the House Intelligence Committee questioned FBI Director James B. Comey about possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow. The hearing that also touched on Manafort’s work for Yanukovych’s party in Ukraine.

Comey declined to say whether the FBI is coordinating with Ukraine on an investigation of the alleged payments to Manafort.

More details at the link.

Another Russia fan who is still in the Trump administration is good old Rex Tillerson. Have you hear about the recent changes to his travel schedule? This seems odd after what we heard at the Intel Committee hearing yesterday.

NBC News: Rex Tillerson to Skip Key NATO Summit, Plans to Travel to Russia.

America’s smaller European allies have expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s mixed signals on whether he would protect them against Russia.

The uncertainty threatened to deepen late Monday when U.S. officials said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to skip what would have been his first official meeting with NATO in April.

However, Tillerson will travel later in the month to a series of unspecified meetings in Russia, a State Department spokesman confirmed to NBC News.

Whoa! Skipping the NATO meeting and heading to Moscow? I’m speechless.

Here’s an interesting opinion piece by Walter Shapiro at Roll Call: James Comey and the Art of the Shiv.

Before Comey returned to his offstage role, he dropped enough bombshells to solidify his reputation as the most significant FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover. Joined by his crusty sidekick, Adm. Michael Rogers, who heads the National Security Agency, Comey gave an artful lesson in how to stick a shiv into a sitting president without ever raising his voice or making a specific accusation.

Early in the hearing, Comey shredded Trump’s cockamamie Twitter claim that Barack Obama had wiretapped him before the election. As Comey solemnly stated, “I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”

Comey had arrived at the hearing with his own smoking gun that he brandished at the beginning of his opening statement — official confirmation that the FBI is investigating “any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russian efforts.”

Comey’s offensive against the White House even extended to refuting a presidential tweet about the ongoing hearing. Connecticut Democratic Rep. Jim Himes asked Comey to respond to a Trump tweet claiming, “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process.” Comey dismissed Trump’s fanciful version of the truth by saying, “It wasn’t certainly our intention to say that today.”

Shapiro thinks Comey’s “role in upending” Hillary Clinton gives him credibility against Trump. I’m not so sure. Still, the piece is worth a read.

This morning Trump went to Capitol Hill in person and tried to convince hostile House Republicans to vote for his disastrous health care bill. If this is how he negotiates deals, it’s surprised he didn’t have more than 6 bankruptcies.

The Washington Post: Trump to GOP critics of health care bill: ‘I’m gonna come after you.’

Assuring Republicans they would gain seats if they passed the bill, the president told Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, to stand up and take some advice.

“I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’” said the president, according to several Republican lawmakers who attended the meeting. “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.”

But after the meeting, Meadows told reporters that the president had not made the sale, that the call-out was good-natured, and that conservative hold-outs would continue pressing for a tougher bill.

“I’m still a ‘no,’” he said. “I’ve had no indication that any of my Freedom Caucus colleagues have switched their votes.”

House Republicans made some changes to the bill yesterday, but according to Ezra Klein: The new Republican health care bill doesn’t fix the old bill’s problems.

There are three problems you could have imagined the manager’s amendment to the American Health Care Act trying to fix:

  1. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the AHCA will lead 24 million more Americans to go uninsured, push millions more into the kind of super-high-deductible care Republicans criticized in the Affordable Care Act, and all that will happen while the richest Americans get hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. Voters — including the downscale rural whites who propelled Donald Trump into the presidency — aren’t going to like any of that.
  2. Virtually every health policy analyst from every side of the aisle thinks the AHCA is poorly constructed and will lead to consequences even its drafters didn’t intend. Avik Roy argues there are huge implicit tax increases for the poor who get jobs that lift them out of Medicaid’s ranks. Bob Laszewski thinks the plan will drive healthy people out of the insurance markets, creating even worse premium increases than we’re seeing under Obamacare. Implementing this bill, as drafted, would be a disaster.
  3. As written, the AHCA is unlikely to pass the House, and so GOP leadership needs to give House conservatives more reasons to vote for the bill, even if those reasons leave the legislation less likely to succeed in the Senate. For this bill to fail in the House would embarrass Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump.

Of the three problems in the AHCA, the third is by far the least serious — but it’s the only one the manager’s amendment even attempts to solve. These aren’t changes that address the core problems the GOP health care bill will create for voters, insurers, or states; instead, it’s legislation that tries to solve some of the problems the bill creates for conservative legislators. It might yet fall short on even that count.

This is a trap for Republicans. Both the process and the substance of the American Health Care Act have revealed a political party that has lost sight of the fact that the true test of legislation isn’t whether it passes, but whether it works.

One more from Mother Jones on the Trump kleptocracy:

The Trump Organization Says It’s Vetting Deals for Conflicts—But Refuses to Say How.

The week after Donald Trump’s inauguration, as questions swirled about the ethics ramifications of his refusal to divest from his business holdings, the Trump Organization announced that it had created a system for vetting new deals that could benefit the president. The company said it had tapped George Sorial, a Trump Organization executive, to be chief compliance counsel and Bobby Burchfield, a Washington-based corporate lawyer, to serve as an outside ethics adviser who would scrutinize new Trump company transactions for potential conflicts of interest. Trump’s private lawyer, Sheri Dillon, had pledged in early January that Trump would “build in protections” to assure Americans that his actions as president “are for their benefit and not to support his financial interests.” But two months into Trump’s presidency, there are serious questions about the rigor and transparency of the Trump Organization’s vetting process.

The first deal completed after Trump’s swearing-in suggested the vetting procedures are weak. This transaction, as Mother Jones reported, was the sale of a $15.8 million condo to a Chinese American businesswoman who peddles access to Chinese elites and who has ties to a front group established by China’s military intelligence apparatus. Angela Chen’s connections to Chinese officials and military intelligence evidently weren’t a cause for concern to the Trump Organization. The condo sale went through on February 21, with Chen apparently paying the $15.8 million in cash—roughly $2 million more than a unit one floor below. (Chen had lived in the same Trump-owned Park Avenue building in a smaller apartment for years. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump lived in the same building before their move to Washington.) Contacted by Mother Jones earlier this month, Burchfield, the Trump Organization’s outside ethics adviser, declined to comment on the sale or how it was vetted.

Robert Weissman, president of the good-government group Public Citizen, says the Chen deal raises questions about whether any real vetting happened. “Here, where we actually need extreme vetting, it appears to be absent,” he says. “It’s absolutely unclear if Burchfield or anybody else is doing anything pursuant to what they alleged they would do. And if they are, we don’t know what it is. But we should not presume it’s happening.”

On Thursday, Burchfield, a veteran corporate litigator who specializes in political law and largely represents Republican clients, declined to comment regarding the vetting process for new Trump deals. He would not talk about any transactions approved or denied since he began advising the Trump Organization. At Trump’s January 11 press conference, Dillon promised that the outside ethics adviser would provide “written approval” of any new deal, ostensibly explaining why a transaction does not pose a conflict for the president. Burchfield has not publicly disclosed details about the written approval process.

Read more details at Mother Jones.

What stories are you following today?


34 Comments on “Tuesday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Sarah Kendzior on the Comey hearing:

    At long last, a forum where Trump cannot escape the truth.

    Monday’s congressional hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election was a day of historic firsts.

    It was the first time that a U.S. President’s campaign team was proclaimed to be under investigation for its ties with a foreign adversary. It was the first time intelligence officials had to state that accusations a sitting President made about his predecessor – Donald Trump’s tweets that Barack Obama had wiretapped his building – were completely groundless.

    And it was the first time that a hearing was interrupted with a new lie from the sitting President about the hearing itself, as the official @POTUS account tweeted midway through: “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.” After that tweet was read out loud, FBI director James Comey and NSA head Michael Rogers debunked it by simply reminding the audience what they had said hours before.

    This, sadly, is a mark of democratic progress under the Trump administration.

    After months of being told they live in a post-truth era, Americans were granted a serious fact-finding inquiry, one in which Mr. Trump’s lies died upon arrival.

    • joanelle says:

      Ack, I’m late gain, but just fell in love with that baby giraffe and baby elephant, thanks, BB for taking my mind off the ‘sitting goofus’ danger to our world future.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    From our Republican Governor:

    GOP health plan would cost Mass. at least $1b, Baker says.

    Baker’s estimate came in a letter Tuesday to the state’s congressional delegation in which he shared his administration’s analysis of the effects of the controversial House GOP bill’s impact on the state.

    “Overall, our analysis indicates that the [bill] would increasingly strain the fiscal resources necessary to support the Commonwealth’s continued commitment to universal health care coverage,” the Republican governor said.

    Baker said that his administration estimated that the revenue hit would be at least $1 billion in 2020, $1.3 billion in 2021, and $1.5 billion in 2022, with an even higher impact in the following years. He said the numbers were developed after applying assumptions from the March 13 report on the bill’s impacts by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

    Are other governors examining the costs to their states?

    • janicen says:

      McAuliffe referred to Trump as a one man wrecking crew to the Virginia economy.

  3. dakinikat says:

    From the lips of some one who can work on it:

    • Pat Johnson says:

      I want very much to take Maxine at her word. But I am fearful that she may be throwing stuff out there that cannot be proven.

      I realize she has knowledge most of us do not possess but I can only hope she speaks the truth and is not just using hyperbole just to make a point.

      Which only shows my frustration that at this point in time I doubt everyone.

  4. Pat Johnson says:

    The question is how long can the GOP ignore the stench coming out of the White House?

    Connecting the dots illustrates the need for an independent counsel to actively investigate what now appears to be a quid pro quo. The lifting of sanctions, the withdrawal from NATO, the fact that will makes millions – if not billions – for all those involved. These facts cannot be ignored.

    The shadiness of these named principles has been exposed. Most roads led right into the Kremlin. It appears so far that the named “actors” may be guilty of treason. Our national interests are at stake. Our allies are confused. What will it take to shine the light on the nefarious actions and lies?

    Trump is nuts. But he is also a greedy man. He acts in his own best interests. This must be stopped before calamity strikes and we are shown to be helpless because of him.

    Certainly deliberate lies must be considered when one speaks of “high crimes and misdemeanors”. A POTUS under FBI investigation must resign.

    There is no other way.

    • Enheduanna says:

      Pat – I couldn’t agree more. I am thinking the GOPers have just about had enough – and that ridiculous “wire tapp” tweet was a tweet too far. The longer he’s in the more embarrassing muck is dredged up.

      And now he’s threatening them with “I’ll come for you?”

      I also don’t understand why he isn’t up to his neck in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations. Selling that condo to that Chinese spy? The hotel in Azerbaijan?

  5. Fannie says:

    OMG, that’s my Opie right in the middle of the hammock swing. He’s a yellow lab. We spent 6 hours on the road to get him, and he was 7 weeks. He’s been with us a week now, and I forgot what it’s like having a pup. Today, my grand daughter has basketball game, and told Bill to go on, and I would baby sit Opie. He’s too young to be left in the house, or the garage, or outside.

    He look like a stick of butter, and yep, we’re in luv, puppy breath and all.

  6. Fannie says:

    Rex Tillerson is going to the Winter Russian House first, meet with Chinese. And then he told NATO to move the meeting closer to him. He doesn’t like all the flights, and needs his nappy poo. No way in hell, the man could ever keep up with Hillary Clinton.

  7. ANonOMouse says:

    The words that come to mind listening to Gorsuch’s answers are “Drama Queen”, “phony-ass-baloney”, “bullshitter”, “snake oil peddler”, “sleaze bag”. I know exactly why trump appointed him, they’re simpatico.

    • Catscatscats says:

      So that’s why I bailed after 3 minutes! I could no longer stand looking at him or listening to him. Thanks, Mouse!

  8. dakinikat says:

    So the WSJ op ed page has always been truly madly deeply right wing:

    • Catscatscats says:

      “Untrustworthy Hillary Clinton” and “smooth sailing” for gorsuch and progress on health care reform still sound pretty right wing to me.

      • dakinikat says:

        Yeah. They’re still the original voice of the nutters. I’ve always refused to get a subscription because of their op ed page. I stick with the Financial Times.

    • NW Luna says:

      “show more respect for the truth”? So, what % of truth would meet the WSJ approval? 25%? 35%? 50%?

  9. dakinikat says:

  10. quixote says:

    BB, those baby animals are so magnificent and cute, cute, CUTE, I don’t even care about the rest of the revolting news.

    Thank you!

  11. bostonboomer says:

    //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

  12. Earlynerd says:

    Baby giraffes! Kittens! Puppies! Even baby elephants (proof that even Republicans could be cute at one time in their lives). Just what the doctor ordered – thanks, BB.

    Only…it does create cognitive dissonance to be helplessly smiling while reading along with the headlines.

  13. dakinikat says:

    While Gorsuch was testifying, the Supreme Court unanimously said he was wrong
    Awkward.

    https://thinkprogress.org/while-gorusch-was-testifying-the-supreme-court-unanimously-said-he-was-wrong-33b9ff7eca77#.6q18c8gw3

    About 40 minutes after Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch began his second day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, all eight of the justices he hopes to join said a major disability decision Gorsuch wrote in 2008 was wrong.
    Both the Supreme Court’s decision and Gorsuch’s 2008 opinion involved the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires that public school systems which take certain federal funds provide a “free appropriate public education” to certain students with disabilities.
    Applying this law to individual students, the Supreme Court acknowledged in its Wednesday opinion in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is not an exact science. “A focus on the particular child is at the core of the IDEA,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the unanimous Supreme Court. “The instruction offered must be ‘specially designed’ to meet a child’s ‘unique needs’ through an ‘[i]ndividualized education program.’”
    But while this process can be difficult, it must provide meaningful educational benefits to disabled students — which brings us to Judge Gorsuch’s error in a 2008 opinion. In Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P., a case brought by an autistic student whose parents sought reimbursement for tuition at a specialized school for children with autism, Gorsuch read IDEA extraordinarily narrowly.