Thursday Reads: Winter Solstice EditionPosted: December 21, 2017
Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. These days it almost seems quaint to call attention to the solstice or even Christmas, when we are watching and experiencing the end of democracy in the U.S. Can we still turn it around? I’m not sure.
The Republicans have gone full-on “Dear Leader” North Korean style. All you had to do was watch TV yesterday to see it happening. Trump held a cabinet meeting in order to listen to stomach churning praise from his appointees. Then, following the second vote in the House on the GOP tax scam, the “president” celebrated by listening to more fawning from Congressional Republicans.
According to CNN, the cabinet meeting began with a “prayer” from Ben Carson.
In an unusual moment, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson led members of the Trump cabinet in prayer during a meeting on Tuesday, thanking God “for a President and for cabinet members who are courageous, who are willing to face the winds of controversy in order to provide a better future for those who come behind us.”
This odd “prayer” was followed by an embarrassing display of ass-kissing by Mike Pence. The Washington Post: In Cabinet meeting, Pence praises Trump once every 12 seconds for three minutes straight.
Over nearly three minutes, Pence offered plaudit after plaudit after plaudit, praising Trump’s vision, his words, his strategy and his results in light of the passage of tax cuts. By the end, Pence offered 14 separate commendations for Trump in less than three minutes — math that works out to one every 12.5 seconds. And each bit of praise was addressed directly to Trump, who was seated directly across the table.
Here’s the full list:
- “Thank you for seeing, through the course of this year, an agenda that truly is restoring this country.
- “You described it very well, Mr. President.”
- “You’ve restored American credibility on the world stage.”
- “You’ve signed more bills rolling back federal red tape than any president in American history.”
- “You’ve unleashed American energy.”
- “You’ve spurred an optimism in this country that’s setting records.”
- “You promised the American people in that campaign a year ago that you would deliver historic tax cuts, and it would be a ‘middle-class miracle.’ And in just a short period of time, that promise will be fulfilled.”
- “I’m deeply humbled, as your vice president, to be able to be here.”
- “Because of your leadership, Mr. President, and because of the strong support of the leadership in the Congress of the United States, you’re delivering on that middle-class miracle.”
- “You’ve actually got the Congress to do, as you said, what they couldn’t do with [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska] for 40 years.”
- “You got the Congress to do, with tax cuts for working families and American businesses, what they haven’t been able to do for 31 years.”
- “And you got Congress to do what they couldn’t do for seven years, in repealing the individual mandate in Obamacare.”
- “Mostly, Mr. President, I’ll end where I began and just tell you, I want to thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for the forgotten men and women of America.”
- “Because of your determination, because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more. And we are making America great again.”
Then came the “celebration.” Congress members climbed onto buses to join their Lord and Master at the White House and participate in a competition to see who could heap more praise on Dear Leader. Keep in mind that Trump’s only contribution to the tax scam was to stay out of the way while lobbyists wrote it.
During a gathering in front of the White House Wednesday, congressional Republicans stepped to the podium one-by-one to christen the least popular first-year president in modern American history as “one heck of a leader.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)—the author of a provision in the GOP tax bill that will further enrich himself, Trump, and more than a dozen other Republican senators—outdid them all, fawning over the president’s “sheer will” and saying “I just hope that we all get behind him every way we can, and we’ll get this country turned around in ways that will benefit the whole world.”
“We’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen, not only in generations, but maybe ever,” Hatch added.
Fortunately, we still have somewhat free press for now. Here are some reactions from CNN contributors.
Meanwhile, the Russia investigation is continuing, but there are rumors that Trump will attempt to end it over the Christmas break by finding a way to get rid of Robert Mueller, perhaps by firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and replacing him with someone more malleable.
Last night Senator Mark Warner gave a speech on the Senate floor warning Trump against firing Mueller. CNN: Warner: Firing Mueller would be ‘gross abuse of power.’
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday that the firing of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller would be a “gross abuse of power” and called for Congress to respond with “significant consequences” if President Donald Trump took that step.
Warner, a Virginia Democrat, took to the Senate floor for a speech, in which he said the firing of Mueller or the pardoning of those charged in the special counsel’s investigation would represent crossing his “red line.”“Any attempt by this President to remove special counsel Mueller from his position or to pardon key witnesses in any effort to shield them from accountability or shut down the investigation would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of executive branch responsibilities and authorities,” Warner said. “These truly are red lines and simply cannot allow them to be crossed.”“Congress must make clear to the President that firing the special counsel or interfering with his investigation by issuing pardons of essential witnesses is unacceptable and would have immediate and significant consequences,” he added.
At the same time Congressional Republicans are making progress in their efforts to investigate Mueller, the FBI, the Justice Department, Hillary Clinton, and even Barack Obama.
Politico broke this story last night: House Republicans quietly investigate perceived corruption at DOJ, FBI.
A group of House Republicans has gathered secretly for weeks in the Capitol in an effort to build a case that senior leaders of the Justice Department and FBI improperly — and perhaps criminally — mishandled the contents of a dossier that describes alleged ties between President Donald Trump and Russia, according to four people familiar with their plans.
A subset of the Republican members of the House intelligence committee, led by Chairman Devin Nunes of California, has been quietly working parallel to the committee’s high-profile inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. They haven’t informed Democrats about their plans, but they have consulted with the House’s general counsel.
The people familiar with Nunes’ plans said the goal is to highlight what some committee Republicans see as corruption and conspiracy in the upper ranks of federal law enforcement. The group hopes to release a report early next year detailing their concerns about the DOJ and FBI, and they might seek congressional votes to declassify elements of their evidence.
That final product could ultimately be used by Republicans to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether any Trump aides colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign — or possibly even to justify his dismissal, as some rank-and-file Republicans and Trump allies have demanded. (The president has said he is not currently considering firing Mueller.)
Republicans in the Nunes-led group suspect the FBI and DOJ have worked either to hurt Trump or aid his former campaign rival Hillary Clinton, a sense that has pervaded parts of the president’s inner circle.
Remember Devin Nunes was a member of Trump’s transition team.
NBC reported this morning that the DOJ is trying to ramp up another investigation of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation: Prosecutors ask FBI agents for info on Uranium One deal.
On the orders of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Justice Department prosecutors have begun asking FBI agents to explain the evidence they found in a now dormant criminal investigation into a controversial uranium deal that critics have linked to Bill and Hillary Clinton, multiple law enforcement officials told NBC News.
The interviews with FBI agents are part of the Justice Department’s effort to fulfill a promise an assistant attorney general made to Congress last month to examine whether a special counsel was warranted to look into what has become known as the Uranium One deal, a senior Justice Department official said.
At issue is a 2010 transaction in which the Obama Administration allowed the sale of U.S. uranium mining facilities to Russia’s state atomic energy company. Hillary Clinton was secretary of state at the time, and the State Department was one of nine agencies that agreed to approve the deal after finding no threat to U.S. national security.
Republicans in Congress reportedly want to investigate Obama based on a story broken by Politico this week. Business Insider: A massive investigation accuses Obama of laying off a terror group for the Iran deal — and the reaction is split.
Former security officials claim that the Obama administration intentionally stonewalled a Drug Enforcement Agency investigation against a major terror group, according to a Politico report.
Officials tell Politico’s Josh Meyer that the Obama administration ultimately derailed the DEA’s investigation into Hezbollah’s massive drug trade operations that investigators believed provided the terror group with up to $1 billion in funds a year. According to the report, the White House cut support for the investigation — known as Project Cassandra — in order to gain favor for the Iran nuclear deal.
“The administration’s willingness to envision a new role for Hezbollah in the Middle East, combined with its desire for a negotiated settlement to Iran’s nuclear program, translated into a reluctance to move aggressively against the top Hezbollah operatives, according to Project Cassandra members and others,” Meyer writes.
Sources claim the link to the Iran deal was explicit.
“During the negotiations, early on, [the Iranians] said listen, we need you to lay off Hezbollah, to tamp down the pressure on them, and the Obama administration acquiesced to that request,” a former CIA officer told Politico. “It was a strategic decision to show good faith toward the Iranians in terms of reaching an agreement.”
Maybe they can use this to get rid of the Iran deal and then we’ll be dealing with another rogue regime with nuclear weapons.
Right now, according to the Telegraph, it the Trump administration is seriously planning an attack on North Korea: Exclusive: US making plans for ‘bloody nose’ military attack on North Korea.
America is drawing up plans for a “bloody nose” military attack on North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons programme, The Telegraph understands.
The White House has “dramatically” stepped up preparation for a military solution in recent months amid fears diplomacy is not working, well-placed sources said.
One option is destroying a launch site before it is used by the regime for a new missile test. Stockpiles of weapons could also be targeted.
The hope is that military force would show Kim Jong-un that America is “serious” about stopping further nuclear development and trigger negotiations.
The rest of the story is behind a paywall, but Business Insider has more details.
Those possible solutions include destroying a launch site before North Korea tests a missile or targeting a stockpile of weapons, according to the Daily Telegraph.
“The Pentagon is trying to find options that would allow them to punch the North Koreans in the nose, get their attention and show that we’re serious,” a former US security official briefed on policy told the Telegraph.
Reportedly, the Trump administration has the April 7 strike on a Syrian airfield in mind as a blueprint for the move against North Korea.
But when US Navy ships fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield, Trump had the world’s support in attacking a nation accused of using chemical weapons on its own people.
Syria’s military was already stretched thin fighting a civil war and multiple Islamist terror groups. The strike went virtually unpunished.
If the US strikes North Korea, whose entire military posture is geared towards offense and has a massive standing army, it’s unlikely the attack would go unpunished.
Much more at the BI link.
There is some news on the Russia investigation that I’ll add in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?