Lazy Saturday Reads: A Friday the Thirteenth to RememberPosted: April 14, 2018
I’m still in shock after yesterday. Was there another blockbuster story breaking every couple of hours or am I imagining it? The chaos just keeps increasing. How much worse can it get? I’m guessing a lot worse.
I’m not even going to try to recap all of the sordid messes that Trump’s past and present behavior created yesterday. Suffice it to say that Friday, April 13, 2018 consisted of breaking story after breaking story about Trump’s and his lawyer Michael Cohen’s corruption and criminality, ending with Trump pardoning Scooter Libby and then wagging the dog with another ineffectual strike against Syria.
Friday began with Trump raging against James Comey and his soon-to-be-release book. Politico: ‘The possibility of Trump exploding has gone up.’
President Donald Trump decided to skip an international summit to stay close to home amid a swirling debate about launching airstrikes in Syria — but instead spent Friday tweeting angrily about former senior FBI officials.
“He LIED! LIED! LIED!” Trump wrote of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, a career official who was fired hours before his official retirement in March amid an ongoing inspector-general review.
Trump went on to attack former FBI director James Comey and the broader Russia probe Comey once oversaw: “McCabe was totally controlled by Comey – McCabe is Comey!! No collusion, all made up by this den of thieves and lowlifes!”
The presidential missives were triggered by the release of a Justice Department inspector general report to the Hill critical of McCabe’s conduct. The report seemed only to further irritate the already amped-up president, who began the day tweeting about Comey, calling the longtime civil servant “a weak and untruthful slime ball.”
So dignified. So presidential.
Yet the main preoccupation of the president and the people closest to him remained Comey. The White House offensive is only expected to intensify in the coming days as the former FBI director embarks on a series of media interviews ahead of the book’s Tuesday release.
White House officials were scouring news reports and reaching out to allies who have copies of the book, hoping to identify passages that they believe undercut Comey’s credibility or make him seem sympathetic to Democrats.
Trump’s allies are keen to avoid a repeat of the fallout from Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” the hard-edged insider account of life in Trump’s White House that caught many in the West Wing by surprise and dominated headlines for weeks.
But so far, the White House’s strategy, or lack thereof, is doing little to stop the barrage of news stories about the book.
There’s much more at the link.
Much of the breaking news yesterday involved Trump’s personal “fixer” Michael Cohen. It appears that Mr. Cohen is in very deep trouble. Some links in case you missed them:
WaPo: Criminal investigation into Trump lawyer’s business dealings began months ago. For security purposes, take a look at the site here.
Here’s the big one from McClatchy: Sources: Mueller has evidence Cohen was in Prague in 2016, confirming part of dossier.
The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to a retired British spy’s report that Cohen strategized there with a powerful Kremlin figure about Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
It would also be one of the most significant developments thus far in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of whether the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House. Undercutting Trump’s repeated pronouncements that “there is no evidence of collusion,” it also could ratchet up the stakes if the president tries, as he has intimated he might for months, to order Mueller’s firing….
It’s unclear whether Mueller’s investigators also have evidence that Cohen actually met with a prominent Russian – purportedly Konstantin Kosachev, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — in the Czech capital. Kosachev, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of a body of the Russian legislature, the Federation Council, also has denied visiting Prague during 2016. Earlier this month, Kosachev was among 24 high-profile Russians hit with stiff U.S. sanctions in retaliation for Russia’s meddling.
But investigators have traced evidence that Cohen entered the Czech Republic through Germany, apparently during August or early September of 2016 as the ex-spy reported, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is confidential. He wouldn’t have needed a passport for such a trip, because both countries are in the so-called Schengen Area in which 26 nations operate with open borders.
Philip Bump at The Washington Post this morning: Michael Cohen’s visiting Prague would be a huge development in the Russia investigation.
A trip to Prague by Cohen was included in the dossier of reports written by former British intelligence official Christopher Steele. Those reports, paid for by an attorney working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, included a broad array of raw intelligence, much of which has not been corroborated and much of which would probably defy easy corroboration, focusing on internal political discussions in the Kremlin.
Cohen’s visiting Prague, though, is concrete. Over the course of three of the dossier’s 17 reports, the claim is outlined — but we hasten to note that these allegations have not been confirmed by The Washington Post.
It suggests that Cohen took over management of the relationship with Russia after campaign chairman Paul Manafort was fired from the campaign in August (because of questions about his relationship with a political party in Ukraine). Cohen is said to have met secretly with people in Prague — possibly at the Russian Center for Science and Culture — in the last week of August or the first of September. He allegedly met with representatives of the Russian government, possibly including officials of the Presidential Administration Legal Department; Oleg Solodukhin (who works with the Russian Center for Science and Culture); or Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign relations committee in the upper house of parliament. A planned meeting in Moscow, the dossier alleges, was considered too risky, given that a topic of conversation was how to divert attention from Manafort’s links to Russia and a trip to Moscow by Carter Page in July. Another topic of conversation, according to the dossier: allegedly paying off “Romanian hackers” who had been targeting the Clinton campaign.
There is a lot there — but it hinged on Cohen’s having traveled to Prague. If he was not in Prague, none of this happened. If he visited Prague? Well, then we go a level deeper.
There’s your collusion, Trump. Read the rest at the WaPo.
Right before Trump announced strikes in Syria by the U.S., France, and Great Britain, he pardoned Scooter Libby, the only Bush official convicted in the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. It’s pretty obvious that Trump did this to send a message to Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, and the rest of his gang that he could pardon them too. But there are problems with that.
Here’s the best article I’ve read on the pardon by Marcy Wheeler at The New York Times: Trump Pardoned Libby to Protect Himself From Mueller.
…we never learned the real story about whether Vice President Dick Cheney had ordered Mr. Libby, his chief of staff, to leak the identity of Valerie Plame to the press in retaliation for a Times Op-Ed by her husband, Joseph Wilson, calling out the president’s lies. We never learned whether Mr. Cheney gave those orders with the approval of the president or on his own. That’s because President George W. Bush added to the obstruction by commuting Mr. Libby’s sentence, ensuring that nothing would happen to the firewall that protected his own White House. Mr. Libby wouldn’t go to prison, but neither would he lose his Fifth Amendment privilege, which could make it easy to compel further testimony about his bosses.
On Friday another president with a special counsel investigation raging around him pardoned Mr. Libby. “I don’t know Mr. Libby,” President Trump said in the pardon announcement. “But for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly. Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”
Mr. Trump’s action does nothing to change the past.
But it might change the lives or convictions of people whom President Trump does know: his own personal firewall. By pardoning Mr. Libby, Mr. Trump sends a message to Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and any of his other close aides who are facing or may face potential prosecution pursuant to the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel.
But Trump may have waited too long to pardon his thugs.
The thing is, Mr. Trump is unlikely to be able to use his pardon power to get out of his legal jam. That’s because several of his potential firewalls — Mr. Manafort, Mr. Cohen and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — could be charged at the state level for the financial crimes they’re suspected of. A federal pardon would simply move their prosecution beyond Mr. Trump’s control.
And there are many more people who can incriminate the president, whereas in the investigation into Ms. Plame’s exposure, Mr. Libby was one of the only people who could say whether the president had authorized the leak of a C.I.A. officer’s identity. Already, three key witnesses have agreed to cooperate with Mr. Mueller against the president, so it’s probably too late to start silencing witnesses.
Finally, neither Mr. Trump nor his thoroughly outmatched legal team knows the full exposure he or potential witnesses face. Given the involvement of Russians trying to undermine the United States, the evidence Mr. Mueller may already have collected could well be even uglier than deliberately burning a C.I.A. spy for political gain.
That makes it a lot harder to pull off what George Bush did — protect his firewall.
After yesterday, it’s looking much more likely that Trump will not be able to use pardons to weasel out of the mess he’s in.
Some stories on the Syria situation:
So . . . what stories are you following today?