Lazy Caturday ReadsPosted: October 20, 2018
Tonight is the 45th anniversary of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre. I’ll never forget waking up on Sunday morning to the shocking news that Nixon had fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. It was mindblowing.
What was shocking in 1973 seems almost quaint now after two years of Trump as “president.” Back then, we had a Democratic Congress and there were some moderate Republicans who eventually stepped up. Today, we really can’t be sure that today’s Congress will be willing or able to check Trump’s power grabs.
A lot is riding on the midterm elections a little more than two weeks away. But as Dakinikat wrote yesterday voters face election interference from Russia and from Republicans determined to suppress our votes.
For now, we still have Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein. We know Trump will try to get rid of them after the elections. Will democracy survive? Is it even still alive?
Fortunately, Mueller is still keeping busy, even though Republicans thought the investigation should be halted during election season.
The Wall Street Journal: Mueller Probes WikiLeaks’ Contacts With Conservative Activists.
Mr. Mueller’s team has recently questioned witnesses about the activities of longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone, including his contacts with WikiLeaks, and has obtained telephone records, according to the people familiar with the matter.
Investigators also have evidence that the late GOP activist Peter W. Smith may have had advance knowledge of details about the release of emails from a top Hillary Clinton campaign official by WikiLeaks, one person familiar with the matter said. They have questioned Mr. Smith’s associates, the person said.
Right-wing pundit Jerome Corsi was also questioned by investigators about his interactions with Mr. Stone and WikiLeaks before a grand jury in September, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Corsi declined to comment. A lawyer for Mr. Stone said he hasn’t been contacted by the special counsel. Mr. Smith died last year….
Throughout 2016, Messrs. Stone, Smith and Corsi, who long worked on the margins of Republican politics, tried to dig up incriminating information about Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, according to emails and some public comments. A lawyer for President Trump didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign staffer who interacted with Mr. Stone, said he also was questioned by Mr. Mueller’s team about communications he had with Mr. Stone regarding WikiLeaks. New York radio host Randy Credico also said the special counsel asked about his communications with Mr. Stone and WikiLeaks. Mr. Credico interviewed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016 and has known Mr. Stone for years.
The role WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange played during the 2016 election as the chief publisher of stolen Democratic emails has been of enduring interest to investigators probing Russian election interference in 2016 and whether there was collusion with Trump associates.
Lots more detail at the link. I don’t think the story is behind the firewall; I got in from Memeorandum.
At Politico, Connor O’Brien and Wesley Morgan write about another problem we may face soon: Newest security worry: Trump without Mattis.
National security leaders fear that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is on his way out — and that Donald Trump’s next Pentagon chief will be far more subservient to the president’s unilateral and bombastic whims.
Mattis was instrumental in pulling back on Trump’s vow to “carpet bomb” ISIS or pull troops from Afghanistan. He moderated the U.S. military response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons and openly opposed Trump’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal.
Now Trump’s reverence for the retired four-star general has worn thin, and Mattis is widely expected to depart his post sometime after the November elections, according to multiple Pentagon and administration officials with knowledge of personnel discussions. And that’s fueling anxiety among officials of both parties who have viewed him for almost two years as a force for stability.
“Secretary Mattis is one of the only reassuring figures in the Trump administration, and I don’t mean that as a Democratic partisan,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a member of the Appropriations Committee’s defense panel. “I mean when our partners and our adversaries think about the United States and the Department of Defense, knowing that Secretary Mattis is there strengthens our hand.”
Current and former government officials say they worry about a repeat of what happened when Trump replaced former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster with leading hawk John Bolton, and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with conservative stalwart Mike Pompeo.
Much more at the link.
Right now, Trump is dealing with an international crisis around the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by making every effort to cover for the Saudi Arabian murderers. To use one of Trump’s favorite words, he is a national disgrace.
The Saudi government on Friday issued a statement claiming that Jamal was killed when a fistfight went bad in its consulate in Istanbul. Really? This is a fistfight to which the Saudi goons reportedly brought a bone saw so that they could dismember him afterward; by some accounts, they began the dismemberment while he was still alive.
It’s also grotesque for the Saudi authorities to claim that a journalist whose fingers they reportedly amputated as part of their torture somehow managed to engage in a fistfight. Jamal had no fists left….
Saudi Arabia even announced that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who almost everybody believes must have approved this operation — his initials, M.B.S., are now said to stand for “Mr. Bone Saw” — will lead an investigation into what happened. That’s like appointing O.J. Simpson to investigate the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.
These lies are so blatant and implausible that they underscore how out of touch M.B.S. is, and also suggest M.B.S. believes that he will have the backing of the United States in this cover-up. That’s a good bet, since Trump has lately celebrated the assault on a journalist by a Montana congressman and previously suggested that maybe a rogue killer was responsible for killing Jamal.
But M.B.S. has already gotten away with kidnapping Lebanon’s prime minister and starving eight million Yemenis; if he also gets away with murdering Jamal, who was an American resident and Washington Post columnist, as many believe happened, then that’s a green light to him and any other autocrat who wants to make a troublesome journalist disappear. Journalists and democracy activists all over the world will have targets on their backs.
Here’s what Trump had to say yesterday about this ridiculous explanation from the Saudis, according to The New York Times:
Asked during a visit to an Air Force base in Arizona whether he viewed the Saudi explanation as credible, Mr. Trump said, “I do.” [….]
On Friday evening, the president praised the statement issued by the Saudi government, which confirmed Mr. Khashoggi’s death, as a “good first step” and a “big step.” Earlier, the prince and other senior Saudi officials had denied any role in Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Prince Mohammed by phone on Friday evening and then briefed Mr. Trump and his national security adviser, John R. Bolton, according to a White House spokesman.
“I think we’re getting close to solving a big problem,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the Luke Air Force Base, where he was shown an Apache helicopter, an F-35 fighter jet and an array of bombs.
Seriously? I don’t think so. For one thing, the CIA has already heard the audiotape of the murder, according to Shane Harris at The Washington Post:
CIA officials have listened to an audio recording that Turkish officials say proves the journalist was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents inside the consulate, according to people familiar with the matter. If verified, the recording would make it difficult for the White House to accept the Saudi version that Khashoggi’s death was effectively an accident. A CIA spokeswoman declined to comment.
At The Atlantic, Hassan Hassan, Senior research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, wrrites: What’s Missing From the Saudis’ Khashoggi Story.
Seventeen days after the disappearance of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, authorities in Riyadh finally confirmed his death. According to the Saudi version of what happened, Khashoggi died after a fist fight between him and several men at the consulate in Istanbul. Authorities announced the arrest of 18 Saudi nationals, as well as the dismissal of top officials, including an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The gaps in this story are as significant as the announcement itself.
Saudi authorities did not reveal the location of Khashoggi’s body, which lends credence to the narrative attributed to Turkish officials over the past two weeks. Even before Turkish authorities were allowed to search the consulate and the residence of the consul general, they suggested that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the consulate. They reached this conclusion based on video footage that showed Khashoggi entered the building but never came out. In an interview with Bloomberg, the crown prince, widely known as MbS, insisted that Khashoggi left the consulate—but if that were true the Saudis could have produced a body.
The spontaneous scuffle theory also does not explain the dismissal of the adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, who was perceived as MbS’s right-hand man and thought by some to encourage his worst instincts. Dubbed “the father of electronic flies” by his critics, he’s been accused of using social media bots and trolls to lead smear campaigns against government opponents, especially in the wake of the Qatar crisis. Al-Qahtani oversaw public relations efforts abroad, and was known for combative language online. At the time of this writing, his pinned tweet read: “Some brothers blame me for what they view as harshness. But everything has its time, and talk these days requires such language.”
It’s difficult to understand al-Qahtani’s removal as anything other than a soft rebuke to MbS and his heavy-handedness by King Salman, who stepped in some days ago to manage the fallout from Khashoggi’s murder. A Saudi official told me that the king’s orders could perhaps alter the aggressive way that authorities deal with dissidents.
Turkish investigators say they expect to learn what happened to Kashoggi’s body soon. Reuters:
“We’ll find out what happened to the body before long,” the senior official said. “The DNA is being procured from within Turkey. It seems there will be no need to ask Saudi Arabia at the moment.”
Khashoggi’s killers may have dumped his remains in Belgrad Forest adjacent to Istanbul, and at a rural location near the city of Yalova, a 90-kme (55 mile) drive south of Istanbul, officials told Reuters on Thursday.
Investigators were still focused on the Yalova and Belgrad Forest areas, and were looking at CCTV footage from near Belgrad Forest, the senior official said.
Investigators were also still examining traffic records of every car that went in and out of the Saudi Consulate on Oct.2, the day Khashoggi entered the consulate, the senior official said.
Members of the Saudi royal family are increasingly concerned about whether MBS is competent to lead the kingdom. It’s difficult not to draw parallels between MBS and his American BFF Jared Kushner. A couple articles in this vein:
The New York Times: Uproar Over Dissident Rattles Saudi Royal Family.
Saudi Arabia is facing perhaps its greatest international crisis since the revelation that its citizens planned and carried out the attacks on September 11, 2001.
Members of the ruling family are increasingly worried about the direction of the country under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 33-year-old favorite son of King Salman and the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler.
But unlike 2001, when the royal family came together to protect its collective interests, this time that may not be possible. Instead, there is deep concern, as royals search, so far in vain, for a way to contain the crown prince, who has consolidated power so completely that nearly everyone else is marginalized.
At The Washington Post, David Von Drehle suggests that MBS “could bring his kingdom crumbling down.”
Among advisers to family-owned businesses there’s a widely known adage : “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” Difficult as it is to build a successful enterprise, it is more difficult to raise children with the ability and desire to keep it going. Producing one grandchild among a potentially rivalrous set of cousins with the right talent and interests and force and tact — is more challenging still.
Observers of Saudi Arabia have been mulling this problem for many years, as the strongest among founding king Abdul Aziz ibn Saud’s 45 sons passed the crown from one to another. Now, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Post contributing columnist lured to the Saudi Consulate in Turkey, chillingly tells us that generational succession is no longer a future problem. It is a present crisis.
Admittedly, thanks to the ocean of oil discovered beneath the sands of Saud’s realm, there’s no risk of his grandchildren reverting to the nomadic life from which the kingdom was built nearly a century ago. Instead, the risk is that the third generation — lacking its grandfather’s cunning and the caution of its fathers — will drag the kingdom into a spiral of treachery, backstabbing and recklessness. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has shown himself to be steeped in all three.
Read the rest at the link.
So . . . what stories are you following today? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.