Thursday Reads: News Breaks by the Hour These DaysPosted: May 18, 2017
Where to begin? A special counsel has been appointed. Trump tweets; exhausted White House staff has another mess to clean up. Roger Ailes is dead. The current occupant of the White House can’t spell. Lawrence O’Donnell’s show may yet survive. And so much more.
The tweet below has been deleted and replaced now:
Special Counsel appointed by DOJ
The most daunting assignment in Robert Mueller’s career in law-enforcement and public service might seem to have arrived on Wednesday night, with his appointment as the special prosecutor in the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 president campaign, including possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
But it’s hard to imagine that this new job is any more intimidating than the one Mueller confronted on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when the newly arrived FBI director was forced to deal with the aftermath of terrorist attacks that left more than 3,000 people dead in New York and Washington and put the FBI’s very survival in doubt because of what would be shown to be its well-documented bungling before the attacks. On 9/11, Mueller had been on the job at the FBI for exactly one week.
The fact that the FBI survived in one piece after multiple government investigations of 9/11, and that Mueller went on to serve another dozen years at the bureau and left with his reputation for independence and honesty largely unscathed, suggests to his friends and admirers that the blue-blooded 72-year-old former Marine is the right man for his new job – and that President Trump and his campaign advisers have much to fear from his investigation.
Under terms of his appointment by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mueller will have wide powers to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and—beyond that—“any matters” that arise from the investigation, including perjury and obstruction of justice.
Just a few of the stories that broke last night after we learned about the special counsel in the afternoon.
The New York Times: Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before He Came to White House.
Michael T. Flynn told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.
Despite this warning, which came about a month after the Justice Department notified Mr. Flynn of the inquiry, Mr. Trump made Mr. Flynn his national security adviser. The job gave Mr. Flynn access to the president and nearly every secret held by American intelligence agencies.
Mr. Flynn’s disclosure, on Jan. 4, was first made to the transition team’s chief lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, who is now the White House counsel. That conversation, and another one two days later between Mr. Flynn’s lawyer and transition lawyers, shows that the Trump team knew about the investigation of Mr. Flynn far earlier than has been previously reported.
And of course we knew that Rep. Elijah Cummings had informed the Trump transition team in November that Flynn had been paid to lobby for Turkey. Will Mike Pence still try to claim he didn’t know anything?
One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington, he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent.
The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Pentagon considered the U.S.’s most effective military partners. Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president.
Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months….
Now members of Congress, musing about the tangle of legal difficulties Flynn faces, cite that exchange with Rice as perhaps the most serious: acting on behalf of a foreign nation – from which he had received considerable cash – when making a military decision. Some members of Congress, in private conversations, have even used the word “treason” to describe Flynn’s intervention, though experts doubt that his actions qualify.
The Washington Post: House majority leader to colleagues in 2016: ‘I think Putin pays’ Trump.
KIEV, Ukraine — A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.
Before the conversation, McCarthy and Ryan had emerged from separate talks at the Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladimir Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.
Breaking this morning:
Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.
The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.
Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.
Read the rest at the link.
The Washington Post: Roger Ailes, architect of conservative TV juggernaut Fox News, is dead at 77.
Roger Ailes, who mastered the art of selling political candidates like Hollywood celebrities and was the architect of conservative-oriented TV news, died Thursday at 77. He was the longtime chairman and chief executive of the Fox News Channel, building it over two decades into an politically influential juggernaut until his abrupt ouster last year amid sexual harassment allegations.
His family confirmed the death in a statement. No cause or location was reported.
I don’t like being rude, but in this case I say good riddance. Read more at the WaPo.
The “beleaguered” White House staff is freaking out
The Washington Post: The worst job in Washington right now: Working for Trump.
As Donald Trump has grown increasingly angry and frustrated with his White House staff, the beleaguered targets of his ire have a quietly roiling gripe of their own — their boss, the president himself.
Since he fired FBI Director James B. Comey, Trump has lurched through crises of his own making — from the explosive report Monday that he had revealed highly classified intelligence to Russian officials to the bombshell Tuesday thathe had urged Comey to end the federal investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser.
In his wake remain his exhausted aides and deputies, the frequent targets of Trump’s wrath as they struggle to control an uncontrollable chief executive and labor to explain away his stumbles.
Wednesday evening brought yet another challenging development for the White House, as the Justice Department announced a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
Some White House staffers have turned to impeachment gallows humor. Other mid-level aides have started contacting consultants, shopping their résumés. And at least one senior staffer has begun privately talking to friends about what a post-White House job would look like, according to two people close the staffer.
Break out the popcorn and the tiny violin. Why did they link themselves to a carnival barker in the first place? I have no sympathy for them. None.
Michael Kranish on Trump’s dysfunctional coping methods:
The Washington Post: As president, Trump’s legacy of lawsuits and minimal briefings isn’t helping.
As President Trump manages his latest crises, he is turning to strategies from his tumultuous business career: rely on family and a few trusted advisers, demand absolute loyalty from those beyond the inner circle, threaten opponents with legal action, and insist on bare-bones briefings.
But the tactics that Trump believed served him so well in business may be adding to his self-inflicted wounds as a special counsel prepares to launch an investigation into allegations that Russia sought to influence the 2016 election.
Trump’s family has no government background, and most of his most trusted advisers never worked in a White House. His demands to government officials for personal loyalty are superseded by their loyalty to the Constitution. His threats — such as tweeting that fired FBI Director James B. Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” — have often backfired. Comey’s associates provided quotes from a memo about the conversation that appear to support Comey’s version of events.
And Trump’s famous aversion to in-depth analysis — he once wrote that “The day I realized it can be smart to be shallow was, for me, a deep experience” — has led to concerns that he doesn’t absorb complicated briefing material from intelligence agencies and other sources.
Barbara Res, former executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said that Trump would often come up with business proposals that needed someone to tell him “that’s not a good idea, Donald. It seems to me that people are not doing that” at the White House.
Some good news that I missed yesterday:
We may not have heard “The Last Word,” as it turns out.
I’m told that late yesterday afternoon, MSNBC finally contacted Lawrence O’Donnell‘s agency, WME, to have some talks about renewing his contract.
The contract runs out in less than four weeks. The network, some posit, was stalling as a “tactic.” It didn’t work.
Fan response to the news that O’Donnell might be gone has been HUGE. From Twitter and Facebook to old fashioned calls to MSNBC‘s Phil Griffith and NBC’s Andy Lack, it’s been actually shocking. Not that I’m surprised.
But it turns out MSNBC’s viewers have made “The Last Word” a hit not just because of Rachel Maddow and hatred for Donald Trump, but because they actually enjoy O’Donnell’s reasoned and impassioned approach to the events of the day.
So there may be a happy ending to this bizarre situation.
What wild breaking news is coming today? There’s sure to be plenty of it. Please share the stories you’re following in the comment thread below.