Posted: February 28, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Barbara McQuade, Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Joyce White Vance, Kim John Un, Matt Gaetz, Michael Cohen, Otto Warmbier, Vladimir Putin, women reading
Trump’s “summit” with Kim John Un accomplished nothing, but he did manage to disgrace himself and our country by once again sucking up to a murderous dictator.
The Daily Beast: Trump on Otto Warmbier: I Believe Kim Jong Un When He Says He Didn’t Know.
Donald Trump has sided with Kim Jong Un over the death of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea for 17 months for stealing a propaganda poster and died days after being returned home to his family in a coma. Trump said he discussed the case with Kim, and repeatedly absolved him of any blame. Trump said, “Those prisons are rough, rough places, and bad things happened, but I really don’t believe [Kim] knew about it… he felt badly about it, he felt very badly, he knew the case very well but he knew it later.” Trump, speaking at a press conference after talks aimed at persuading Kim to give up his nuclear weapons collapsed, added: “You have a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto. Some really, really bad things. But [Kim] tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.
Just like he took Putin’s word and MBS’s word over the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.
Trump also found time to call Rep. Matt Gaetz to think him for threatening Cohen before the hearing, so now we know who told Gaetz about Cohen’s alleged “girlfriends.”
So now Trump is implicated in Gaetz’s witness tampering.
Trump is also pissed off because the U.S. media largely ignored his kabuki theater in Hanoi in order to cover Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee yesterday.
The Wall Street Journal:Trump: Democrats Did a ‘Terrible Thing’ by Scheduling Cohen Hearing During Summit.
HANOI, Vietnam—President Trump on Thursday said the House Oversight Committee did a “terrible thing” by scheduling a hearing with his former lawyer Michael Cohen to coincide with the timing of his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Having it during this very important summit is sort of incredible,” Mr. Trump told reporters during a press conference in Hanoi after announcing that talks with Mr. Kim failed because of an impasse over sanctions relief.
It’s behind the paywall, but that’s all you need. Trump also said it was a “fake hearing.”
The Washington Post on the aborted summit: Trump and Kim abruptly cut short summit after failing to reach nuclear deal.
HANOI — President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly cut short their two-day summit Thursday after they were unable to reach an agreement to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.
Talks collapsed unexpectedly amid a disagreement about economic sanctions, with the two leaders and their delegations departing their meeting site in Vietnam’s capital without sitting for a planned lunch or participating in a scheduled signing ceremony.
Kim said he was prepared in principle to denuclearize, and Trump said an agreement was “ready to sign.” But Trump said the main impediment to a deal was Kim’s requirement that the United States lift all economic sanctions on North Korea in exchange for the closure of only one nuclear facility, which still would have left Pyongyang with a large arsenal of missiles and warheads.
The New Book (1920). Harold Harvey (British 1874-1921)
“We had some options, but at this time we decided not to do any of the options,” Trump said. He added, “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.”
For Trump, the surprising turn of events amounted to a diplomatic failure. The president flew 20 hours to Vietnam with hopes of producing demonstrable progress toward North Korea’s denuclearization, building upon his first summit with Kim last summer in Singapore.
More from The New York Times:
The premature end to the negotiations leaves the unusual rapprochement between the United States and North Korea that has unfolded for most of a year at a deadlock, with the North retaining both its nuclear arsenal and facilities believed to be producing additional fissile material for warheads.
It also represents a major setback at a difficult political moment for Mr. Trump, who has long presented himself as a tough negotiator capable of bringing adversaries into a deal and had made North Korea the signature diplomatic initiative of his presidency.
Even as the talks began, Mr. Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, was delivering dramatic and damaging testimony in Congress, accusing him of an expansive pattern of lies and criminality.
Aaron Shikler 1922-2015
Word of the collapse of the Hanoi talks sent stocks lower in Asia, and Wall Street futures were down as the opening bell neared.
Mr. Trump had flown across the world to try to work face-to-face with Mr. Kim for the second time, an effort to reduce what American officials regard as one of the world’s foremost nuclear threats. Experts estimate that the North has 30 to 60 nuclear warheads as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles that can hit the United States, though it has not demonstrated the technology to protect warheads as they re-enter the atmosphere.
In other international news, Trump/Kushner close friend Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted. The Times of Israel: Netanyahu to stand trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending hearing.
In a decision that drastically shakes up Israeli politics less than six weeks before general elections, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be charged with criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe, pending a hearing.
The decision marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and casts a heavy shadow over Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.
by Iman Maleki, Iranian, born 1976
Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, unless he can persuade Mandelblit to reconsider in the course of the hearing process.
The attorney general detailed the allegations in a 57-page document that was released on Thursday evening.
Mandelblit, in his decision, wrote that according to suspicions the prime minister “damaged the image of the public service and public trust in it” and is suspected of abusing his position and status, and of “knowingly taking a bribe as a public servant in exchange for actions related to your position.”
If Israel can indict Netayahu, then the U.S. should be able to indict Trump.
Some reactions to Michael Cohen’s testimony:
Barbara McQuade at The Daily Beast: The Case Against Trump Has Never Been Stronger After Cohen Testimony.
One brick does not make a wall, but many bricks do.
When I was a federal prosecutor, a supervisor of mine frequently used this metaphor to remind us that one piece of evidence alone is rarely enough to prove a crime, but enough pieces of evidence are sufficient to prove guilt.
Michael Cohen’s public testimony on Wednesday did not constitute a wall of evidence, but it did provide several new bricks that could be used to build a case against President Donald Trump. Depending on other evidence in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, these pieces of evidence may be enough to prove Trump guilty of criminal or impeachable offenses.
Trump’s former lawyer testified about several facts that are significant bricks in the figurative wall of evidence.
by Edouard John Mentha
First, Cohen testified that he was present when Trump spoke to Roger Stone on speakerphone in July 2016, when Stone said that he had talked to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about an upcoming “massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” According to Cohen, this call came just days before the Democratic National Convention. If Cohen is correct on the timing, this event also occurred after the DNC had announced in June that it had been hacked by Russia, and so Russia’s involvement in the release would have been known by Trump. Cohen said that Trump responded by saying words to the effect of “wouldn’t that be great.”
Read the rest at the link. It’s interesting.
Joyce White Vance at The Washington Post: Yes, Michael Cohen’s a liar and a criminal. So how come you believed him?
Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday was a master class in how prosecutors can present cooperating witnesses who have lied and engaged in criminal conduct, and use their testimony to obtain convictions from juries. This is stock-in-trade for prosecutors because of one simple truth: Choirboys don’t often end up in the middle of criminal conspiracies. Prosecutors don’t pick their witnesses; defendants do.
Although Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer and personal attorney, did not testify in a criminal trial, under questioning from a prosecutor, but rather in a congressional proceeding, under questioning from lawmakers, what we saw was an example of how someone who has stood before a judge at the lowest moment of his life, acknowledging participation in criminal acts, can become a credible witness.
Shelley Thayer Layton, the Library Window
It is the very fact of a defendant’s criminality that creates the baseline for this transformation. Prosecutors require witnesses with firsthand knowledge. Witnesses with firsthand knowledge are mostly high-level participants in serious crimes. But how does the conversion take place? How does a defendant who has been involved in sustained criminal activity, who has threatened people, who has lied, who has participated in fraud and is generally subject to being excoriated on cross examination by the defense because of that behavior, become a witness whom jurors, or a country, can believe, even if they don’t like him or his conduct?
It starts with the nonnegotiable commitment by the defendant to cooperate fully and truthfully, to assist as requested in other investigations and cases. We know that the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III believes that Cohen did this — it told us so in its sentencing recommendation for him. Cohen himself told us on Wednesday that he was in “constant contact” with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. To be caught lying again can render the cooperator potentially unredeemable — a Paul Manafort, so to speak.
Again, there’s much more at the link.
Charles Pierce lambastes the Republicans who neither addressed Cohen’s testimony, nor defended Trump: The Republican Party Completely and Utterly Disgraced Itself at Michael Cohen’s Hearing.
On July 24, 1974, a congressman named Thomas Railsback leaned into the microphone in front of him on the broad, curving dais of the House Judiciary. Railsback was a Republican from Moline, Illinois. The issue before him that night was whether to vote to send to the full House of Representatives articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, a Republican from California who, at that moment, was the President of the United States. You could see the anguish on Railsback’s face the way you can see the current still running in a river that is only thinly iced. “I wish,” Railsback said in a ragged voice,”that the president could do something to absolve himself.” Then, Tom Railsback, Republican of Illinois, voted “Yea” on all three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.I mention this bit of history only to illustrate how utterly and completely the Republican Party disgraced itself on Wednesday when Michael Cohen, the current president*’s former king fixer, sat before the House Oversight Committee to describe some of the garish and baroque offenses against the law and the republic committed by Donald Trump. There was not a single Railsback to be found. Not one Republican asked a question about the specific offenses that Cohen had illuminated in his opening statement.Instead, they hammered away at Cohen’s own crimes—which, of course, did nothing but remind the folks watching at home on whose behalf Cohen had told so many lies and paid off so many women. They spent great chunks of their time trying to get Cohen to promise he wouldn’t sign a book deal after he gets out of the federal sneezer in three years. Rep. Michael Cloud of Texas told Cohen that any subsequent book deal would be “kind of sweet,” as though he’d be willing to spend three years in a federal prison if an editor from Random House would be waiting on the day he got out.
Nakamura Daizaburo [Japanese Nihonga painter 1898-1947
Read the rest at Esquire.
It’s been an exciting week so far. I wonder if we’ll get any news from the Special Counsel’s office tomorrow? What stories have you been following?
Posted: February 26, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Foreign Affairs, just because, U.S. Politics
Building A House in the Woods, Inga Moore
If only I could go live in a children’s book surrounded by bunnies and other wild creatures. Sadly, I have to be an adult living in the time of Trump. But I can still enjoy these illustrations and imagine being in a safe and sane world.
Trump has gone to Vietnam to meet the evil dictator he fell in love with. Instead of consulting with his intelligence community and national security advisers, Trump asked the Kremlin for advice before his meeting with Kim Jong Un. Newsweek reports:
As the Trump administration prepared for the upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it reached out to the Kremlin for advice, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told Interfax news.
Illustration by Brian Patterson
The Kremlin representative did not specify what guidance the Trump administration sought or whether the Russian government had offered the U.S. any specific advice. The White House did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
This would not be the first time that Russia had gotten involved in Trump’s ongoing negotiations with North Korea over the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Previous reports claimed that Russia had offered North Korea nuclear power plants in exchange for denuclearization. And in his recently published book The Threat, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe said that Trump listened to Putin’s theories about North Korea’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles over the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community.
“He thought that North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles. He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so,” McCabe wrote.
According to James Hohmann at The Washington Post Daily 202, Trump has embraced Nixon’s “madman theory” in his dealings with Kim, and Trump thinks it’s working.
Trump is not wrong that his threats have packed more of a punch because foreign leaders think he might go through with them. For example, no one would have believed Barack Obama or George W. Bush if either of them threatened to scuttle NATO or NAFTA to prod allies to spend more on defense or improve the terms of existing trade deals. People also wouldn’t have believed past presidents if they had tweeted they were going to impose stiff tariffs on all Chinese imports.
Yet many serious people really thought a year ago that there was some possibility Trump might actually go through with a preemptive strike on Pyongyang after all his charged rhetoric, despite American military commanders warning that such a move could lead to tens of thousands being killed. In other words, Trump’s intimidations have seemed more credible because he’s gladly encouraged the global perception that he’s quarrelsome.
The president has preached the virtue of strategic unpredictability as a lever to gain the upper hand in negotiations. “We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” Trump said as a candidate in 2016. “We have to be unpredictable!”
A bit more from Hohman:
Trump has even advised his own aides to tell people on the outside that he is “crazy” if they think it will help in negotiations. During an Oval Office meeting in September 2017, Trump told chief trade negotiator Bob Lighthizer that he should threaten to have the U.S. withdraw from its free trade agreement with South Korea. Axios reported this exchange at the time:
“You’ve got 30 days, and if you don’t get concessions, then I’m pulling out,” Trump told Lighthizer.
“Okay, well I’ll tell the Koreans they’ve got 30 days,” Lighthizer replied.
“No, no, no,” Trump interjected. “That’s not how you negotiate. You don’t tell them they’ve got 30 days. You tell them, ‘This guy’s so crazy he could pull out any minute!’”
“That’s what you tell them: Any minute,” Trump continued.
Of course, as Hohmann points out, the “madman theory” didn’t work for Nixon. I’m sorry, I don’t buy that Trump is even trying to protect American interests in this “summit.” He’s obviously doing Putin’s bidding.
Kim wasn’t happy when he found out that U.S. reporters were in his Hanoi hotel. The Washington Post: In Hanoi, Kim Jong Un and a culture clash with the White House press corps.
As Kim’s motorcade was barreling into Hanoi for the final leg of his nearly 70-hour journey from Pyongyang — which included a 65-hour train ride through China — authorities were scrambling behind the scenes to avert an all-out culture clash over the boundaries of free speech for a leader accustomed to an obedient state-controlled media.
Kim was staying at the Melia hotel tower in the heart of the city, but the hotel also happened to have been booked by the White House as the filing center for the traveling press corps to cover the summit.
Not long before Kim arrived, a notice was distributed to the press corps that the filing center would be moved to a separate site for the international press corps at the Cultural Friendship Palace.
A tweet from the Vietnamese government, complete with three megaphone emojis, confirmed the switch.
Bunny rabbit and mouse, Lisi Martin
That left the U.S. press contingent scrambling to make the move. Television network producers had spent weeks setting up cameras, lights, monitors and other equipment shipped halfway across the world. A person with knowledge of the situation said the networks were told they could no longer do liveshots from the Melia, although the correspondents booked to stay in the hotel were not told they had to leave.
While Trump is on the other side of the world talking to his NK boyfriend, his former fixer Michael Cohen will be testifying in three Congressional committees over the next three days.
Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Michael Cohen’s three days of Capitol Hill testimony, explained.
Cohen is testifying for three straight days, but only one of the hearings will be public. After testifying behind closed doors on Tuesday to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he has a public date Wednesday with the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee, and then will go back behind closed doors Thursday with the House Intelligence Committee….
Cohen is the first member of Trump’s inner circle to provide eyewitness testimony about alleged misdeeds by the president. While other former aides have flipped and spoken to prosecutors, Cohen has spoken publicly and indicated that he thinks it’s his duty to atone for his own wrongdoing. And now that Democrats control the House, he has been given a platform.
Illustration by Susan Wheeler
Even before testifying, Cohen has spoken out repeatedly about Trump, has helped prosecutors implicate him in campaign finance violations and has reached a key plea deal with Mueller in which he admitted to lying about the Trump Tower Moscow effort.
Cohen is not just a former campaign aide, but also someone who had been around Trump years before by serving as his personal lawyer and “fixer.” In other words, he is someone who could speak to many different facets of Trump. That combination and Cohen’s stated desire to hold Trump accountable makes him a one-of-a-kind witness. Although Cohen has spoken publicly, it has been infrequent, and we don’t know what celse he might be prepared to disclose or allege.
Click on the link to read Blake’s speculations about what Cohen will discuss.
The New York Times’s gossip girl Maggie Haberman’s take: Planned in Michael Cohen’s Testimony: A Litany of Accusations Against Trump.
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, is planning on portraying his onetime client in starkly negative terms when he testifies Wednesday before a House committee, and on describing what he says was Mr. Trump’s use of racist language, lies about his wealth and possible criminal conduct.
Mr. Cohen’s plans were laid out in broad strokes by a person familiar with what he intends to say in his testimony. And they indicate that Mr. Cohen will use documents and his personal experiences to support his statements….
Among the most explosive and potentially damning aspects of Mr. Cohen’s testimony will be providing evidence of potential criminal conduct since Mr. Trump became president, according to the person familiar with the plans.
That potential conduct stems from reimbursements that were made to Mr. Cohen in 2017 for hush money payments that he made to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress. In October 2016, during the height of the presidential campaign, Mr. Cohen paid Ms. Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her claims of a previous affair with Mr. Trump….
He will also discuss how long Mr. Trump continued to ask about plans for a Trump Tower project in Moscow after the Iowa caucuses had taken place in February 2016. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty last November to lying to Congress in testimony in 2017 about the duration of time over which the Moscow project discussions took place….
He is prepared to describe Mr. Trump making racist statements, as well as lying or cheating in business. Last fall, Mr. Cohen told Vanity Fair that Mr. Trump frequently used racist language, telling the magazine that his former boss said during the 2016 campaign that “black people are too stupid to vote for me.”
He will also describe the president inflating or devaluing his net worth, referring to a financial statement of Mr. Trump’s that Mr. Cohen has in his possession, the person said. Those financial statements cannot be independently verified without Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which he has never made public, the person said.
More gossipy details at the NYT link.
Yesterday a couple of stories broke that could be problematic for Trump’s DOJ mole Matthew Whitaker.
Buzzfeed’s Trump’s Memo Appointing Matthew Whitaker Raises Questions About When He Actually Took Over DOJ.
Carol of the Field Mice from The Wind in the Willows, by Inga Moore
A newly released document regarding former acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker’s appointment shows that, at the earliest, President Donald Trump authorized Whitaker to lead the Justice Department a day later than officials previously said was the case….
Then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, whose departure as the head of DOJ was forced by Trump, resigned by way of an undated letter made public Nov. 7, 2018. Trump tweeted that afternoon that Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, would be taking over as the acting attorney general until a replacement was confirmed.
The obtained presidential memorandum, dated Nov. 8, does not make clear when Sessions’ resignation took effect or when Whitaker actually began serving as acting attorney general….
The memorandum signed by Trump appointing Whitaker to the role, however, was not dated until the next day, Nov. 8, and the DOJ’s Executive Secretariat — the office with the “responsibility for controlling and managing correspondence emanating to and from” top DOJ officials — did not mark its receipt of the memorandum until 11:59 p.m. Nov. 13.
Why that’s a problem: Whitaker was taking actions as if he were the official acting director.
Notably, on Nov. 8, Whitaker, along with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, issued the asylum rule that preceded Trump’s Nov. 9 move seeking to limit asylum applications from along the southern border.
Read the rest at Buzzfeed.
Even more problematic for Whitaker, The Wall Street Journal (behind the paywall) reported that House investigators are suggesting that Whitaker may have committed perjury when he claimed that Trump had not put pressure on him to interfere in investigations.
The Week: House committee thinks it has evidence Trump asked Whitaker to put an ally in charge of Cohen probe.
The House Judiciary Committee believes it has evidence that President Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to put an ally in charge of an investigation into his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, The Wall Street Journal reports.
This follows a report from The New York Times that Trump made this request of Whitaker, asking him whether he could get attorney Geoffrey Berman to head the Southern District of New York’s ongoing investigation, even though Berman is a Trump supporter who donated to his campaign and used to work with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Berman had also previously recused himself from the probe, which has looked into Trump’s inaugural committee and has led to charges against Cohen, who implicated Trump in a crime.
The Judiciary Committee is also reportedly examining whether Whitaker may have committed perjury when he told Congress, “At no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation.” The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake points out that Whitaker also said no one from the White House contacted him to express “dissatisfaction” with the SDNY probe.
Trump will have plenty to be nervous about while he’s out of the country.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.
Posted: February 25, 2019 Filed under: 2016 elections, Afternoon Reads | Tags: Campaign Finance Criminal Donald, Harry Reid interview, North Korea summit, Sexual Predator Donald, Trump Family Crime Syndicate
Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!
I’m hoping we get good news this week on Mueller Friday. I am certainly wishfully thinking we’ll get more perp walks with all those sealed indictments out there. There’s something making the Twitter Troll in Chief nervous because he’s sure been active today. It takes a lot of asshole to rage at a dying old man just because he says he misses the last republican president. He has said worse before.
Plus, there’s some news about more of Trump sexual assault exploits during his campaign–err Russian based usurpation–during 2016. He’s also called Spike Lee a racist for his Oscar Speech of all things. Doesn’t he have a country to actually run or something? Or a North Korea play date to plan for?
One of the most serious and largely ignored issues so far this century has been the rise of white nationalism and terror. Donald the white nationalist has certainly brought them out from their hidey holes. An FBI report showed that many of the adherents came from military backgrounds. We had a serious issue this month with a Coast Guard member. Will we finally see policy and laws to keep track and route these racists out of the military once and for all? Dan Lamothe reports for WAPO with this hopeful headline: “House Democrats press the U.S. military about how it is screening for white nationalism and other extremism in the ranks”. The last thing we need to do is provide weapons training to potential domestic terrorists.
“Our hope is that these incidents are isolated events and are not indicative of a larger, systemic issue within the United States Armed Services,” the lawmakers wrote. “Beyond the extremes of domestic terrorism, we are additionally concerned with low level racism and other identity-based harassment that disrupts unit cohesion, impacts readiness, and degrades the ability of our servicemembers to protect our nation. Servicemembers who experience or witness racist or hateful behavior must be able to report such behavior without fear of repercussions.”
Hasson, 49, was arrested Feb. 15 in Silver Spring, Md., after an investigation that began last fall when a computer program the Coast Guard uses to search for insider threats identified suspicious behavior allegedly tied to him. He was charged with possession of firearms and ammunition by an unlawful user of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of Tramadol, an opioid painkiller.
On Thursday, a judge ordered that he be held for 14 days while federal authorities consider bringing additional charges. Hasson’s attorney, Julie Stelzig, has argued that there was no indication he planned to carry out any violence and that it is not a crime to have negative thoughts.
Hasson had previously served in the Marine Corps and Army National Guard in the late 1980s and 1990s. In a letter to a neo-Nazi quoted in his court filing, authorities said he wrote that he was a “long time White Nationalist” and had “been a skinhead 30 plus years ago before my time in the military.”
A Coast Guard spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, said Monday that Hasson’s secret security clearance was suspended Feb. 19, the day that news of his arrest became public.
“The Coast Guard takes active measures to prevent, detect, respond, and mitigate insider threats,” he said.
In their letter Monday, the lawmakers also noted that service members participated in the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., in which white nationalists, neo-Nazis, members of the Ku Klux Klan and other extremists gathered. Several were later identified as U.S. service members. In one case, a Marine — Lance Cpl. Vasillios G. Pistolis — was court-martialed and separated from the military.
A Crew report details multiple crimes committed by Trump during his campaign and first year in office.
In a new report, A Campaign to Defraud, CREW combs through the facts behind these apparent crimes, based on admissions by two of President Trump’s likely co-conspirators and news reports, detailing how criminal law can already be applied to publicly known facts. Most of President Trump’s potential violations are related to illegal campaign contributions meant to cover up evidence of Trump’s affairs with two women, preventing voters from learning the truth about his behavior ahead of the election, though at least one continued well into his first year in office. The eight criminal offenses, including seven felonies, potentially committed by Trump include:
- Causing American Media Inc. (AMI) to make and/or accepting (or causing his then lawyer Michael Cohen to accept) an unlawful corporate contribution related to Karen McDougal.
- Two instances of causing Cohen to make and/or accepting an unlawful individual contributions related to Stephanie Clifford and February 2015 online polling.
- Two instances of causing Donald J. Trump for President LLC’s failure to report contributions from AMI and Cohen related to McDougal and Clifford.
- Causing Donald J. Trump for President LLC to file false reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
- Making a false statement by failing to disclose liability to Cohen for the Clifford payment on his 2017 public financial disclosure form.
- Conspiracy to defraud the United States by undermining the lawful function of the FEC and/or violating federal campaign finance law related to “hush money” payments, false statements, and cover-ups of reimbursement payments to Cohen made by the Trump Organization.
“There has already been significant attention to the President’s possible exposure for obstruction of justice, but it is deeply troubling to discover that he also may have been personally involved in a whole other set of criminal offenses for causing or accepting illegal campaign contributions and then covering up those payments,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “These potential offenses highlight a concerted effort by the President and those around him to deprive the American people of information relevant to making informed election decisions, severely eroding public trust.”
A lawsuit filed by a former campaign staffer details sexual assault and battery committed by Candidate Trump during the 2016 campaign. His life as a sexual predator undoubtedly continues. This is by Ronan Farrow writing for The New Yorker.
A staff member of Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign filed a lawsuit in federal court in Florida on Monday, alleging that she experienced “racial and gender discrimination” while working for the campaign, that she was paid less than male and white colleagues, and that Trump once kissed her partially on the mouth, without her consent. The claim related to the kiss may prove difficult to verify. Four people said that the campaign worker, Alva Johnson, told them about the incident afterward, but two other people, who Johnson said were present at the time of the kiss, told me that they did not see it. In a statement, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, denied that it had taken place.
The most legally significant aspect of Johnson’s suit may ultimately be something the complaint does not explicitly address: the pervasive use of nondisclosure agreements by Trump during his campaign and in his Administration. Johnson’s suit is at least the sixth legal case in which Trump campaign or Administration employees have defied their nondisclosure agreements. Three of those actions, including Johnson’s, were filed this month. Johnson, who was the campaign’s administrative field-operations director in Florida, signed a nondisclosure agreement that bars her from revealing any information “in any way detrimental to the Company, Mr. Trump, any Family Member, any Trump Company or any Family Member company.” Johnson’s attorney, Hassan Zavareei, said, “We expect that Trump will try to use the unconscionable N.D.A. and forced arbitration agreement to silence Ms. Johnson. We will fight this strong-arm tactic.”
The White House referred questions about the nondisclosure agreements to Michael Glassner, the chief operating officer of Trump’s reëlection campaign. He said in a statement, “The campaign takes our NDA agreements very seriously, and will enforce them aggressively if they are breached.” Johnson said that she considers the issues raised by her suit important enough to merit breaching the contract. “I am suing because my work holds the same value as the work of my white male counterparts,” Johnson said, in an interview. “I am suing because this predatory behavior should not be minimized, especially when committed by the most powerful man in the world.”
The Daily Beast has some interesting scuttlebutt: “Trump Tells His Lawyers: Stay for the Coming Legal Hellscape. The president has made private admissions that federal investigations bedeviling his first term in office will be haunting him for possibly years to come.” News Break ! Serial criminal under multiple investigations suddenly figures out that they have his number!
Donald Trump has signaled to his inner circle that even he knows Special Counsel Robert Mueller finishing his investigation will be a new beginning, not a dramatic end, for Trumpworld’s eclectic legal hellscape.
The president made clear to his outside legal team, which includes Rudy Giulianiand Jay Sekulow, that he didn’t want his lawyers going anywhere—even after the Mueller probe ends. The conversations served as a private admission that federal investigations bedeviling his first term in office will be haunting him for possibly years to come.
The president broached the topic of keeping his team together starting late last year, according to two sources familiar with the exchanges, by discussing other legal woes he might face after the Special Counsel’s Office submits its report to the Department of Justice
Trump’s focus at the time? The Southern District of New York. The jurisdiction, known as SDNY, is currently looking into matters involving the president. Those cases have long been considered by Trump’s close allies as a far graver potential threat than the Mueller investigation.
Details about Trump and his family business could be laid bare for public scrutiny as Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and self-described fixer, heads to the Hill to testify this week. He is set to answer questions regarding Trump’s debts and payments, compliance with federal disclosure requirements, tax laws, campaign finance laws, and potentially fraudulent practices by the Trump foundation.
Meanwhile, Assholes have to be assholes.
Harry Reid gave an interview to CNN and minced no words.
Former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid has news he is eager to spread: He is feeling “very good.”
The former US Senator from Nevada was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, and New York Times Magazine writer Mark Leibovich wrote last month after an interview with Reid that he “does not have long to live.”
But make no mistake: this Harry Reid is still the same former boxer and political street fighter I covered for decades in the US Senate.
A searing critic of President George W. Bush and his administration, Reid now says in the age of Trump, he wishes for Bush again “every day,” saying Bush would be “Babe Ruth” compared to the current president.
In an apparent reaction to the interview Monday morning, Trump returned the spars, tweeting that Reid got “thrown out” (he retired) and was working to “put a good swing on his failed career.”
Since the 2016 presidential election, Reid has been colorful in criticizing Trump. He called the now-President everything from a “con man” to a “human leech” to a “big fat guy.” He is especially proud of using the word “amoral” in his New York Times Magazine interview because he says it resulted in a boost of googling the dictionary definition of the word.
I asked him if he has anything nice to say about the President. He pondered that question hard, took time to look for an answer and after a pregnant pause, finally replied, “I just have trouble accepting him as a person, so frankly I don’t see anything he’s doing right.
Give ’em hell Harry!
So, yeah, he’s headed to Vietnam to embarrass us on the world stage yet again. The BBC seems to show the level of diplomatic thought he displays in this lede: “Trump: North Korea ‘could be great power’ without nuclear weapons”. Um, no, just NO. So are your plans for the week watching Trump be duped there or keeping your eye on the mess that keeps emerging from his criminal acts here? Nixon lite any one?
He reiterated that he was “in no rush” to press for North Korea’s denuclearisation. “I don’t want to rush anybody. I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy,” he said.
The Singapore summit was historic as the first meeting between a sitting US president and a leader of North Korea, but the agreement the two men signed was vague on detail. Little has been done since about their stated goal – finding a way to get nuclear weapons off the Korean peninsula.
The president’s latest remarks come on the eve of his departure for Vietnam, and are being seen as a bid to manage expectations.
So, what exactly is he gambling on? This is from The Atlantic and the keyboard of Uri Friedman.
Trump’s negotiators have thus been left in a bind: The only way to make major progress under such circumstances is to get the U.S. and North Korean leaders in a room, but they can’t get them in a room without taking a high-risk gamble.
That’s what Trump’s meeting with Kim in Vietnam, on February 27–28, amounts to. At best, the two leaders will achieve a breakthrough on peace and denuclearization that has eluded their predecessors for decades. At worst, the United States will reward North Korea without reducing the danger it poses. Somewhere in the middle would be a repeat of the leaders’ first summit in Singapore last June: a spectacle with little of substance to show for it.
“Both leaders are free to put aside their briefing books—assuming they even look at them—and move according to their instincts and sense of the possible. Bureaucracies and advisors working with kings, emperors and presidents have known that for centuries,” wrote Stanford’s Robert Carlin, a North Korea scholar who recently held the most detailed discussion yet with Trump’s special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, on the administration’s vision for diplomacy with Kim.
“Many experts would be more comfortable with the working-level process leading, possibly and eventually, to the summit,” he added. “But we have the reverse, and no one really knows what it will mean to ski downhill from the top of Mt. Everest.”
Well, that’s a metaphor for ya!
So, there’s no panic inducing news today. Not yet any way!
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Posted: February 24, 2019 Filed under: just because
My mom got the report back from the lab, they found cancer cells in the fluid from the paracentesis. That fluid goes all through her body, so what ever doesn’t have cancer will have cancer soon. They say once the cancer has reached this point, life expectancy is at six months.
I have zero knowledge of what is going on in the real world…after spending days in a hospital …whose initials spell out UGH and which my mother’s hospital room window looked out onto a shithouse. No, seriously.
A garden shed made to look like an outhouse. A hospital known as UGH… the sarcasm writes itself.
Anyway, let’s make this an open thread. I can’t do anything thing else.
Posted: February 23, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, just because, U.S. Politics
I’m in desperate need of cheering up this morning. Everything that is happening in the news is so depressing! I’m usually an optimist, but this morning everything feels hopeless. I do need to be concerned, because I have a lifelong history of severe depression. I’ll be trying to find ways back to equanimity this weekend.
Now here are some stories to check out today.
An opinion piece at The New York Times by Thomas T. Cullen, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia: The Grave Threats of White Supremacy and Far-Right Extremism.
Last week, federal agents in Maryland arrested a United States Coast Guard officer and said he was plotting to assassinate Democratic members of Congress, prominent television journalists and others. The officer, Lt. Christopher Hasson, apparently was inspired by a right-wing Norwegian terrorist who slaughtered 77 people in 2011, stockpiled firearms and ammunition and researched locations around Washington to launch his attacks, according to investigators. Fortunately, the F.B.I. arrested him before he could act.
Illustration by Colette Bruniliere
This frightening case is just one of several recent reminders that white supremacy and far-right extremism are among the greatest domestic-security threats facing the United States.
Regrettably, over the past 25 years, law enforcement, at both the federal and state levels, has been slow to respond. This is in part because of the limited number of enforcement tools available to prosecutors. But there are steps that can be taken to help the police and prosecutors address this growing threat — including, on the federal level, a domestic terrorism law.
In 2017, hate crimes, generally defined as criminal acts motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, or gender,
Killings committed by individuals and groups associated with far-right extremist groups have risen significantly. Seventy-one percent of the 387 “extremist related fatalities in the United States” from 2008 to 2017 were committed by members of far-right and white-supremacist groups, according the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Islamic extremists were responsible for 26 percent.
Read the rest at the NYT. Anyone who doesn’t see that the rise of right wing hate is linked to Trump willfully blind.
Of course Trump has spent his life wallowing in racism, misogyny, and criminality, and his corruption is reflected in the people he surrounds himself with. The most recent shocking story is about Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.
Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown laid bare the corrupt deal that Acosta cut with serial child sexual abuser and human trafficker Jeffrey Epstein: How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime.
On a muggy October morning in 2007, Miami’s top federal prosecutor, Alexander Acosta, had a breakfast appointment with a former colleague, Washington, D.C., attorney Jay Lefkowitz.
It was an unusual meeting for the then-38-year-old prosecutor, a rising Republican star who had served in several White House posts before being named U.S. attorney in Miami by President George W. Bush.
Instead of meeting at the prosecutor’s Miami headquarters, the two men — both with professional roots in the prestigious Washington law firm of Kirkland & Ellis — convened at the Marriott in West Palm Beach, about 70 miles away. For Lefkowitz, 44, a U.S. special envoy to North Korea and corporate lawyer, the meeting was critical.
His client, Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, 54, was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day, the Town of Palm Beach police found..
Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life.
Brown appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show Last Night. If you missed the interview, you can watch it here: Acosta deal for Epstein treated victims as ‘throw-away girls.’
This week a federal judge in Florida found that prosecutors in the Epstein case broke the law with the sweetheart deal. The New York Times: Prosecutors Broke Law in Agreement Not to Prosecute Jeffrey Epstein, Judge Rules.
Prosecutors led by Alexander R. Acosta, who is now the secretary of labor, violated federal law when they failed to tell victims about an agreement not to prosecute Jeffrey E. Epstein, a wealthy New York financier accused of molesting dozens of underage girls, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.
The agreement not to pursue federal sex trafficking charges, negotiated in secret while prosecutors told victims that a case against Mr. Epstein was still possible, violated the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act, ruled Judge Kenneth A. Marra of Federal District Court in West Palm Beach, Fla. He gave the government and the two victims who sued 15 days to discuss what remedy should apply in the case.
Federal prosecutors had initially drafted a 53-page indictment against Mr. Epstein, but under the deal negotiated in 2008, he pleaded guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution and served 13 months at the Palm Beach County Stockade. While there, Mr. Epstein was allowed to leave custody and work out of his office six days a week.
The court’s ruling on Thursday could nullify the non-prosecution agreement and subject Mr. Epstein and any co-conspirators in the case to new federal charges, said Jack Scarola, a lawyer for the two victims who challenged the agreement.
What does the Trump administration have to say about Acosta? CBS News: Trump praises labor secretary accused of illegally concealing sex offender’s plea.
President Trump on Friday praised Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, whom a federal judge says broke the law when he concealed the plea agreement of a wealthy, well-connected sex offender during his days as a prosecutor….
Mr. Trump claimed he didn’t know much about the case specifically, but praised Acosta’s job as labor secretary.
“I really don’t know too much about it,” the president said. “I know he’s done a great job as labor secretary and that seems like a long time ago, but I know he’s been a fantastic labor secretary, but that’s all I can really tell you.”
I’ll bet that evil monster knows plenty about it.
Guess who else was on Epstein’s defense team? Ken Starr. Here’s Charles Pierce: Ken Starr Is Now the Biggest Fish in the Barrel of Mockery.
Somehow, in the ungodly mess that is the Jeffrey Epstein scandal—and I use ungodly in the fullest sense of the word—I somehow have missed one of the greatest proofs yet that the Deity has a whopping good sense of humor. And it’s right there in the latest filings, the one where the judge teed up the federal prosecutors for having broken the law in how they let this monster skate as smoothly as he did. And it’s not the fact that one of the law-breaking federal prosecutors is Alexander Acosta, the current Secretary of Labor and now perhaps moving up to being the fourth-worst cabinet official down at Camp Runamuck.
No, it’s not that. Seriously. From the Miami Herald:
Acosta, in 2011, would explain that he was unduly pressured by Epstein’s heavy-hitting lawyers—Lefkowitz, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Jack Goldberger, Roy Black, former U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis, Gerald Lefcourt, and Kenneth Starr, the former Whitewater special prosecutor who investigated Bill Clinton’s sexual liaisons with Monica Lewinsky.
Is the cosmos jerking my chain? One of Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyers was Ken Fcking Starr? The sanctimonious sheet-sniffing yahoo who presented to the Congress a soft-core porn novel in the hopes it would be enough to defenestrate a sitting president, who then went on to a career turning a blind eye to sexual assaults at Baylor University, and who now apparently took up working for a serial sex-maniac predatory pedophile?
And Alan Dershowitz. Gee, I wonder why that slimeball keeps defending Trump? And check this out:
That’s right, newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr and his prospective deputy AG were Alex Acosta’s colleagues.
One more good article on the Epstein/Acosta scandal by Virginia Heffernan at the LA Times: Uncovering the deal Trump’s Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta gave to a Florida sex abuser. Heffernan talked to the women who are now speaking out about the abuse they experienced. Please go read it.
Acosta is only the most recent Trump cabinet member to be engulfed in scandal. More from the annals of Trump corruption:
Bloomberg: Top Ethics Watchdog Rejects Ross’s Financial Disclosure Form.
The top federal ethics watchdog has rejected U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s 2017 financial disclosure form.
The Office of Government Ethics declined to certify Ross’s latest financial disclosure because after reporting that he had sold off his shares in BankUnited Inc. that year, he actually sold the stock in October 2018. According to a later filing, he said he mistakenly believed that the shares had been sold earlier.
In a letter
sent to the Commerce Department’s top ethics officer, OGE Director Emory Rounds wrote that Ross’s 2017 report,“inaccurately reported that he sold all of his stock when in fact he had not done so.” Rounds also said that Ross was not in compliance with his ethics agreement when he filed the annual report in 2018.
Prosecutors have begun presenting evidence to a grand jury in Washington in their probe of whether former interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to federal investigators, according to two individuals briefed on the matter.
The closed-door deliberations are focused on Zinke’s decision not to grant a petition by two Indian tribes to operate a commercial casino in Connecticut, according to these individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because grand jury proceedings are not public.
The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ push to run a gambling facility in East Windsor, Conn., had sparked a lobbying campaign by MGM Resorts International, a competitor that opposed the planned casino. The proposal was the subject of intense scrutiny at Interior and the White House during President Trump’s first months in office.
The tribes allege that Zinke decided not to grant their application because of political pressure, and Interior’s Office of Inspector General opened an investigation into the matter a year ago.
Investigators with the Interior Department’s inspector general’s office came to believe Zinke had lied to them in the course of that inquiry and referred the matter to the Justice Department late last year.
House and Senate Democrats say they have obtained evidence that a senior official at the Department of Education tried to oust the department’s independent watchdog after she pushed back on an attempt to interfere in an active investigation of Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Lawmakers from four House and Senate committees who oversee the department sent a letter to DeVos on Tuesday, suggesting that the effort to replace the department’s acting inspector general, Sandra Bruce, had been related to her duties in overseeing the probe of DeVos’ decision to reinstate ACICS, an accreditor that had been stripped of its certification by the Obama administration.
“We have now received correspondence between the Department and the (Office of Inspector General) that reveals troubling efforts by the Department to influence the ACICS investigation,” House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., wrote to DeVos.
Scott was joined by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who serves on the House Appropriations Committee; Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee; and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate committee handling education.
That’s all I’ve got for you today. I know the cat illustrations are in sharp contrast to the content of this post, but I’m using them anyway. What stories are you following?
Posted: February 22, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads | Tags: Collusion, Mueller investigation, Paul Manafort, Trump Foreign Policy
Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!
We’re having another one of those mega news drop days so this thread will be a bit disjointed. However,chaos whispering is the rule of day for media. It doesn’t seem to be rule of the day with the various Trump corruption, collusion, and constitution-breaking investigations plodding ever forward. Paul Manafort chose poorly in the Grail search. Even if does get to sip from the chalice of Pardons by Trump the Pretender, he’ll get the cold, dank dungeon from the State of New York.
“New York Has Prepared Paul Manafort Charges If Trump Pardons Him” is posted by Bloomberg Politics and written by Greg Farelle.
New York state prosecutors have put together a criminal case against Paul Manafort that they could file quickly if the former chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign receives a presidential pardon.
New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is ready to file an array of tax and other charges against Manafort, according to two people familiar with the matter, something seen as an insurance policy should the president exercise his power to free the former aide. Skirting laws that protect defendants from being charged twice for the same offense has been one of Vance’s challenges.
Manafort was convicted of eight felonies, pleaded guilty to two more and is scheduled to be sentenced next month for those federal crimes. Prosecutors working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller have recommended as long as 24 years, a virtual life sentence, for the 69-year-old political consultant.
The president, who has bemoaned Manafort’s treatment at the hands of Mueller, said in November that he has not ruled out a pardon. He has frequently talked of his broad pardon power, possibly extending even to himself, and acted to liberate two political allies previously.
Divvying out transgressions was an obvious strategy by those conducting the central DOJ investigations. There was an overriding concern that it was just a matter of time before a Trump administration lackey would try to shut the entire operation down. We’ve learned a lot about that since the release of Andrew McCabe’s book. Phillip Bump argues–for the Washington Post–that the Manfort report has been slowing writing itself in a series of indictments and page turns along the way. Be sure to check out his graphic on the “product’ of the Mueller probe which consists of the stack of already filed indictments and guilty pleas. It’s actually from Marcy Wheeler who has been doing a great investigative job herself.
President Trump has benefited enormously from the frog-in-hot-water nature of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into his campaign and possible overlap with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.
Imagine if, instead of Mueller releasing new public indictments as he went along, leveraging criminal charges to obtain more information from the targets of his probe, he instead had kept his information private. Imagine if he and his lawyers had been working in quiet for 20 months, submitting expenses to the Department of Justice and suffering the president’s tweeted ferocity.
And then, after all of that, they suddenly produced a dozen indictments and plea deals running into hundreds of pages, detailing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s illegal and questionable financial dealings, those of his deputy Rick Gates, full details of Russia’s alleged efforts to influence social media and to steal electronic information from Democratic targets and detailed a half-dozen people who admitted to lying to federal investigators.
Imagine if that had landed with a thud on the attorney general’s desk.
Yeah, but I’m still waiting for Don Jr’s turn in the handcuffs and I shall have it! I will admit that watching Roger Stone get his comeuppance is mildly thrilling. There is some speculation that a final “tell all” will happen during the next court sessions for Manafort. He is due in March for the Virginia sentencing. This is from Katelyn Polentz reporting for CNN. The sentencing memo is due today to the DC District.
It is the last major requisite court filing in Mueller’s longest running case, a sprawling prosecution of the former Trump campaign manager that led investigators to gather exhaustive information about his hidden Cypriot bank accounts, Ukrainian political efforts in Europe and the US and into Manafort’s time on the 2016 presidential campaign.
Prosecutors are set to outline all facts they believe the judge should consider at his sentencing, now set for March 13. That will likely include Manafort’s criminal business schemes, his attempt to reach out to key contacts after his arrest and the lies he told to prosecutors and a grand jury after he agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.
Often, in filings like these, prosecutors will pull together a complete retelling of the defendant’s crimes, convictions and cooperation. Details about Manafort’s cooperation have been especially guarded by prosecutors, since his interviews are a significant part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
Prosecutors will also likely suggest a range the judge could give him in prison time.
The memo Friday will cover the two charges Manafort pleaded guilty to in September, conspiracy against the US and conspiracy witness tampering, which he committed after he was arrested by trying to reach out to former colleagues.
At the time of his plea, he also admitted to a litany of money laundering and foreign lobbying crimes that encompassed his work for Ukrainian politicians and other clients over several years. Co-conspirators, Manafort said, were his long-time colleagues Rick Gates, who is still cooperating with Mueller, and Konstantin Kilimnik, whom prosecutors say is connected to Russian intelligence and who is at the heart of their inquiry.
The memo will also likely cover his and Kilimnik’s alleged contact with potential witnesses in his case after Manafort’s October 2017 arrest, and his lies about his interactions with Kilimnik in 2016 and other topics.
Representative Adam Schiff–chair of the House Intel Committee–has written an “open” letter to Republicans. It’s been published by WAPO.
This is a moment of great peril for our democracy. Our country is deeply divided. Our national discourse has become coarse, indeed, poisonous. Disunity and dysfunction have paralyzed Congress.
And while our attention is focused inward, the world spins on, new authoritarian regimes are born, old rivals spread their pernicious ideologies, and the space for freedom-loving peoples begins to contract violently. At last week’s Munich Security Conference, the prevailing sentiment among our closest allies is that the United States can no longer be counted on to champion liberal democracy or defend the world order we built.
For the past two years, we have examined Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its attempts to influence the 2018 midterms. Moscow’s effort to undermine our democracy was spectacularly successful in inflaming racial, ethnic and other divides in our society and turning American against American.
But the attack on our democracy had its limits. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not lead us to distrust our own intelligence agencies or the FBI. He could not cause us to view our own free press as an enemy of the people. He could not undermine the independence of the Justice Department or denigrate judges. Only we could do that to ourselves. Although many forces have contributed to the decline in public confidence in our institutions, one force stands out as an accelerant, like gas on a fire. And try as some of us might to avoid invoking the arsonist’s name, we must say it.
I speak, of course, of our president, Donald Trump.
Trump continues to have a devastating impact on our Country and all aspects of life and law. There is a lot of concern about what he will do in Vietnam while being tricked by the North Korean Dictator. Eliana Johnson of Politico writes this: “Trump aides worry he’ll get outfoxed in North Korea talks President Trump is excited to meet Kim Jong Un in Hanoi. Others fear he’ll give too much away.”
The push for a second summit came almost entirely from the president himself, according to current and former White House officials — but Trump remains undeterred. He has gushed about the “wonderful letters” he has received from Kim, as well as the “good rapport” he has developed with the North Korean leader and the enormous media coverage the event in Vietnam’s capital is likely to attract. Trump even bragged, in a phone call Tuesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, that he is the only person who can make progress on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, according to a person briefed on the conversation, and complained about negative news coverage he has received.
Inside the administration, concern about the upcoming summit has come from predictable skeptics, including national security adviser John Bolton, a longtime opponent of diplomacy with North Korea, but also from unexpected corners. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the man charged with leading the negotiations, has expressed frustration to allies about the lack of diplomatic progress and voiced concern that his boss will get outmaneuvered, according to a source with direct knowledge of the conversations. Other top officials, such as former Defense Secretary James Mattis, simply worked to keep as much distance from the negotiations as possible.
“There is not optimism in the administration,” said Ian Bremmer, founder and president of the Eurasia Group. “Pompeo is deeply skeptical that we are going to get anything of substance on denuclearization from Kim Jong Un, and Pompeo believes the North Koreans are just playing for time.”
Jared’s busy heading off to the middle east to push through more bad policy but gee, his fortunes have suddenly taken off.
Kushner Cos., the family real-estate company of President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, said it has acquired a portfolio of rental apartments for $1.1 billion in the firm’s largest transaction in more than a decade.
The purchase comes less than a year after the company unloaded a Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue to Brookfield Asset Management Inc. in a deal that valued the property at about $1.25 billion.
The earlier transaction, in which Brookfield leased the office building for 99 years, relieved Kushner Cos. of $1.1 billion in debt due this year. That liability had been hanging over the firm and had raised questions about whether Kushner Cos. had the means to transact any large deals.
The acquisition of more than 6,000 rental apartments in Maryland and Virginia from the private-equity firm Lone Star Funds is the clearest sign yet that Kushner Cos. is re-emerging after that period of uncertainty.
The firm, headed by Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, has faced increased scrutiny over potential conflicts of interest since Mr. Trump took office and Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, began working in the White House.
So that’s happening here, while this is going on in the MENA region. This is from the UK Independent. “Trump administration ‘pushing Saudi nuclear deal’ which could benefit company linked to Jared Kushner. Congressional report cites ‘abnormal acts’ in White House regarding proposal to build reactors in kingdom.”
Senior Trump administration officials pushed a project to share nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia over the objections of ethics officials, according to a congressional report, in a move that could have benefitted a company which has since provided financial relief to the family of Jared Kushner.
Citing whistleblowers within the US government, the report by the Democrat-led House oversight and reform committee alleges “abnormal acts” in the White House regarding the proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors across the kingdom.
The committee on Tuesday opened an investigation into the allegations, which include concerns over whether White House officials in the early months of the Trump administration sought to work around national security procedures to push a Saudi deal that could have financially benefited close supporters of the US president.
According to the report, the nuclear effort was pushed by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired in early 2017 and is awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation.
Derek Harvey, a National Security Council official brought in by Flynn, continued work on the proposal, which has remained under consideration by the Trump administration.
Susan Glasser–writing for the New Yorker– analyzes Trump’s Foreign Policy and its correlation with flattering Trump the Pretender. “Audience of One: Why Flattery Works in Trump’s Foreign Policy” is the lede.
Slavishly praising Trump in public, of course, is a signature tactic of his advisers and others who seek his favor. This week, though, Presidential flattery as a tool of foreign policy seemed particularly prominent. In Japan, a mini political uproar broke out when a newspaper reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had secretly nominated Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize, at Trump’s request. (Abe, who eagerly flew to New York for a Trump Tower session only days after the 2016 election, did not deny the reports.) Among Trump’s men in Munich, the performance of Vice-President Mike Pence, who has always been an especially avid practitioner of public boss-praising, stood out. He admiringly mentioned President Trump at least thirty times in his Saturday address to the conference (far more attention, tweeters quickly pointed out, than the vice-chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, who spoke later, gave to his boss). In a separate appearance meant to honor McCain, Pence paused for applause after he uttered his usual boilerplate line, “I bring greetings from the President of the United States.” Even in a room that included a couple dozen Republican members of Congress, Graham among them, no one clapped. Not surprisingly, the video of the moment, which the Pence and Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio described to me as “self-emasculating,” went viral on Twitter, a perfect metaphor at an annual forum that has, for decades, both celebrated and ratified America’s leadership in the West.
This wasn’t just a matter of a speech that flopped, though. This latest dance of the Republicans overseas was a reminder of why the bipartisan effort to convince the rest of the world that America’s commitments are unchanged, even under its America-First President, just doesn’t work. The U.S. may be the world’s leading power, but its foreign policy has become contorted, and essentially overtaken, by the toxic court politics of Trump. There’s a reason, after all, for all that over-the-top flattery, and it’s not just that Graham and Pence are particularly brazen in their use of this political art. Telling the truth in public can have real consequences in Trumpworld, and those who surround him are under no illusions about it. Just this week, reports continued to emanate from the White House that Trump was considering firing the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, whose sin was to have testified truthfully about the contradictions between Trump’s foreign-policy assumptions and the conclusions of Trump’s own intelligence agencies.
Contrast his standing with that of Lindsey Graham, whose public obsequiousness once again appears to have paid off. By this Thursday evening, Graham’s office was sending out a delighted press release, headlined “Graham Applauds Trump Decision to Leave Troops in Syria,” as wire services reported that the President had apparently conceded to lobbying by Graham and others, deciding to leave around two hundred troops in Syria after the April pullout. At least for now. But there was no ambiguity in Graham’s praise for the modest move. “Well done Mr. President,” his statement concluded.
But of course there’s an element of fatal self-absorption to it all. In Washington, it’s as if the city is permanently turned inward on the escalating distractions of the Trump Presidency, the investigations that threaten him, and the Democratic political contest to defeat him. Meanwhile, the rest of the world wonders what to make of a President who chides his closest allies and speaks warmly of its foes. There are real consequences to this; new survey data from the Pew Research Center found that Europeans are now more likely to trust Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping than Trump in world affairs, and by a significant margin.
Well, that’s enough torture for every one today. Meanwhile, let’s wait for that sentencing memo and see what it brings!
I’d like to shout out some love to JJ whose Mom had to enter the hospital with a severe drug interaction and is hopefully doing better. We love you JJ!!!!
What’s on your reading and blogging list?