Thursday Reads: A Mish-Mash of Stories

By Maugham Casorati, born 1897 in London, UK died 1982 in Turin, Italy

Good Morning!!

I wish we could go back to the days when we weren’t overwhelmed with breaking news every single morning. I’ve got a mish-mash of articles for your this morning.

The biggest news today will probably be what happens at Paul Manafort’s sentencing hearing at 3:30 this afternoon in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Courthouse News: Manafort Faces Decades in Prison at Virginia Sentencing.

Manafort, 69, faces up to 24 years in prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. During his trial last August, spread over 12 rigorous days, prosecutors unfurled a complex web of fraud he coordinated in multiple countries with the help of his business associate, Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and testified against Manafort as the star witness.

Accused of failing to report roughly $16.5 million in income from his political lobbying work on behalf of Ukraine and its onetime President Viktor Yanukovych, the jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud after four days of deliberations….

By Bego Tojo

Though none of the charges Manafort faced in Virginia directly involved any of his work on President Donald Trump’s campaign, Mueller’s underlying task – to unearth American activity connected to Russian meddling in the election – placed the spotlight firmly on the president’s onetime campaign chairman….

Manafort will go before Judge Ellis on Thursday afternoon for his sentencing.

Federal sentencing guidelines in the Virginia case suggest Manafort should serve 19 to 24 years in prison but Judge Ellis can impose any sentence he sees fit – including one well below the guidelines. Mueller has recommended Manafort be sentenced in the upper range of the guidelines.

As you probably recall, Judge Ellis is kind of eccentric and usually makes very blunt remarks. Remember, he asked prosecutors whether they had considered charging Mike Flynn with treason and told him “You sold your country out.” Read Ellis quotes at CNN: Baked Alaska and birthday cake: Memorable lines from the Manafort trial judge, T.S. Ellis.

I really dislike the conservative site Axios, but they have a good piece today: The biggest political scandal in American history.

Historians tell Axios that the only two scandals that come close to Trump-Russia are Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and the Teapot Dome scandal of the early 1920s, in which oil barons bribed a corrupt aide to President Warren Harding for petroleum leases.

Mueller has already delivered one of the biggest counterintelligence cases in U.S. history, author Garrett Graff points out — up there with Aldrich Ames (a former CIA officer convicted in 1994 of being a KGB double agent), or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (executed in 1953 for spying for the Soviets).

By Guillermo Marti Ceballos (Barcelona 1958)

Watergate yielded more charges than Mueller has so far: A total of 69 people were charged in Watergate; 48 people and 20 corporations pleaded guilty. Mueller so far has indicted 27 people; seven have been convicted or pleaded guilty.

But historians say that both Watergate and Teapot Dome were more limited because a foreign power wasn’t a central player, and a much narrower band of potential offenses was under investigation.
A fourth notable scandal, the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s — in which arms were traded for hostages held by Iran, with the money usRed to fund rebels in Nicaragua — also involved a more limited range of issues.

Read the rest at Axios. It’s actually quite a bit more comprehensive than most of their stories.

J.T. Smith, who was executive assistant to Attorney General Elliot Richardson under Nixon, has an op-ed at The New York Times today: What if the Mueller Report Demands Bold Action?

Most people take for granted that both Mr. Mueller and the new attorney general, William Barr, accept the current Justice Department legal position — reached in a 2000 opinion — that a sitting president cannot be indicted. In a June 2018 memo, Mr. Barr said that under “the Framers’ plan,” the “proper mechanism for policing the president’s” actions “is the political process — that is, the People, acting either directly, or through their elected representatives in Congress.”

Yet since 1973, the Justice Department has revisited its position five times on the question of indicting a sitting president and reached different conclusions. In fact, as executive assistant to President Richard Nixon’s attorney general, Elliot Richardson, I can speak to the circumstances that delivered that first opinion: The principal purpose of the 1973 Watergate-era legal opinion — which concluded that a sitting president cannot be indicted — was to aid in removal from office of a criminally tainted vice president, who, the memo concluded, could be indicted.

But it was not intended to set an ironclad precedent that would forever shape how a president might be treated.

By Jerry Weiss

My experience makes me believe that Attorney General Barr should reconsider Justice Department policy. If the evidence gathered by the Mueller investigation on the actions of the president and his advisers indicates a crime, an indictment might be the proper course to hold the president accountable. Further, the indictment policy does not stand in isolation: It has repercussions for a Mueller report and access to it for Congress and the American public.

As Rachel Maddow reported recently, the 1973 policy was written when Nixon’s VP Spiro Agnew was being investigated for “bribery, extortion and tax evasion.” (he was subsequently indicted and forced to resign). You can read more details about the history at the link. Smith’s conclusion:

Mr. Mueller’s investigation has brought us to face similar questions of institutional integrity and transparency for the American public. If Mr. Barr determines that Mr. Mueller’s findings compel legal action, he should reconsider the policy against indictment of a sitting president.

But if Mr. Barr holds to the view that a president’s actions should be policed by the political and not criminal process, it will be imperative that he share a Mueller report with Congress and, to the extent practicable, with the public, redacting only information that is classified or otherwise prohibited by statute.

In light of the gravity of our circumstances, it would be timely and appropriate for the Justice Department to reconsider the shaky policy regarding indictability of a sitting president and provide Congress and the public with the Mr. Mueller’s full findings and conclusions. Only through sunlight and transparency can we preserve confidence in our national institutions and leadership.

Yesterday the DNC announced that they will not hold a primary debate in conjunction with Fox News, citing Jane Mayer’s New Yorker Article. This is nothing unusual; the Democrats have refused to work with Fox News since 2007, but mainstream journalists are criticizing the decision.

Now media critic Margaret Sullivan has weighed in at The Washington Post: It’s time — high time — to take Fox News’s destructive role in America seriously.

Chris Wallace is an exceptional interviewer, and Shepard Smith and Bret Baier are reality-based news anchors.

By Dibujo de Eduardo Estrada

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the overall problem of Fox News, which started out with bad intentions in 1996 and has swiftly devolved into what often amounts to a propaganda network for a dishonest president and his allies.

The network, which attracts more viewers than its two major competitors, specializes in fearmongering and unrelenting alarmism. Remember “the caravan”?

At crucial times, it does not observe basic standards of journalistic practice: as with its eventually retracted, false reporting in 2017 on Seth Rich, which fueled conspiracy theories that Hillary Clinton had the former Democratic National Committee staffer killed because he was a source of campaign leaks.

Fox, you might recall, was a welcoming haven for “birtherism” — the racist lies about President Barack Obama’s birthplace. For years, it has constantly, unfairly and inaccurately bashed Hillary Clinton.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Jared Kushner recently traveled to the Middle East and met privately with Saudi prince MBS. Now he won’t tell anyone what went on in his meetings. The Daily Beast: Embassy Staffers Say Jared Kushner Shut Them Out of Saudi Meetings.

Officials and staffers in the U.S. embassy in Riyadh said they were not read in on the details of Jared Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia or the meetings he held with members of the country’s royal court last week, according to three sources with knowledge of the trip. And that’s causing concern not only in the embassy but also among members of Congress.

By Henry McGrane

On his trip to the Middle East, Kushner stopped in Riyadh. While there, he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman to discuss U.S.-Saudi cooperation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and economic investment in the region, according to the White House.

But no one from the embassy in Riyadh was in the meetings, according to those same sources. The State Department did have a senior official in attendance, but he was not part of the State Department team in Saudi. He is a senior member of the department focused on Iran, according to a source with direct knowledge of the official’s presence in Riyadh.

“The Royal Court was handling the entire schedule,” one congressional source told The Daily Beast, adding that officials in the U.S. embassy in had insight into where Kushner was when in Saudi Arabia. “But that is normal for his past trips.”

Click the link to read the rest. A related article from the WaPo editorial board: Trump is covering up for MBS. The Senate must push for accountability.

New York Times gossip columnist Maggie Haberman relays former WH Chief of Staff John Kelly’s attempted cleanup of his mangled reputation following the revelations about Jared and Ivanka’s security clearances: John Kelly, Out of White House, Breaks With Trump Policies.

The former White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, on Wednesday declined to answer questions about the existence of a memo he wrote saying that President Trump had ordered officials to give his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a security clearance in May 2018.

By Mario Tozzi 1920

Mr. Kelly also broke with Mr. Trump on key aspects of his approach to immigration and the NATO alliance, and said that his top concern about decisions made by the president was whether they were objectively right for the country when divorced from political concerns.

Mr. Kelly, who kept his voice level during a 90-minute question-and-answer session at Duke University, would not specifically address Mr. Kushner’s clearance being ordered by Mr. Trump, which The New York Times reported last week.

“I couldn’t — and I’m not dodging — I couldn’t comment on that for a couple of reasons,” Mr. Kelly said, citing clearances being among the things that he could not discuss, and that conversations with the president “at that level would certainly” be kept confidential under executive privilege.

Some of what Kelly did talk about:

Mr. Kelly, who left at the end of December, also made clear he did not consider himself working for Mr. Trump, but doing his civic duty to serve. If Hillary Clinton had won, he said, he probably would have worked for her as well.

Mr. Kelly defended the utility of the NATO alliance, which Mr. Trump has often criticized as an unfair financial drain on the United States.

On a wall at the border with Mexico, Mr. Kelly said that there were specific areas where it could be effective but constructing one “from sea to shining sea” was a “waste of money.”

The issuance of the zero-tolerance policy for border crossings that resulted in family separations “came as a surprise” to him and to other officials, Mr. Kelly said, defending his replacement as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, from criticism. He appeared to place most of the blame on the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who announced the policy.

I have a few more links to share, but this post is getting long. I’ll put them in the comment thread. What stories have you been following?


39 Comments on “Thursday Reads: A Mish-Mash of Stories”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    ABC News: Lawyers claiming ties to Rudy Giuliani approached Michael Cohen after FBI raids; investigators looking at contacts.

    In the weeks following the federal raids on former Michael Cohen’s law office and residences last April, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and confidant was contacted by two New York attorneys who claimed to be in close contact with Rudy Giuliani, the current personal attorney to Trump, according to sources with direct knowledge of the discussions.

    The outreach came just as Cohen, who spent more than a decade advocating for Trump, was wrangling with the most consequential decision of his life; whether to remain in a joint defense agreement with the president and others, or to flip on the man to whom he had pledged immutable loyalty. The sources described the lawyers’ contact with Cohen as an effort to keep him in the tent.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Marcy Wheeler critiques the Axios story: The Ineffable Boiling Frog of Trump Scandal.

    In the last several days, two outlets have tried — but (in my opinion) failed — to communicate the sheer scale of the President’s corruption. Today, that bastion of warmed over conventional wisdom, Axios, deemed Trump’s Russian conspiracy “the biggest political scandal in American history.”

    They miss most of the key details (and treat Trump’s contacts with Russian officials as the crime, when that’s not by itself one). Even in a piece invoking the Teapot Dome Scandal, they don’t seem to see the outlines of a quid pro quo bribe, Tower and dirt for sanctions relief. There’s no mention of Paul Manafort at all, much less one describing how he shared polling data in a meeting where he also discussed sanctions relief….

    More remarkably, the Axios founders don’t seem to be able to get their arms around where this scandal ends, in part because some of the other stuff Trump has done — monetizing the Presidency via other foreign powers or various properties — are separate from the Russian part of Trump’s scandals.

  3. Pat Johnson says:

    How disappointing to hear that Sherrod Brown is not running for POTUS.

    So far none of the others have peaked my interest. I was hoping it would be Brown but no.

    Oh well, back to the drawing board. Let’s see what the others have got .

    • bostonboomer says:

      Unfortunately, Biden will probably run now. I will never vote for him.

      • dakinikat says:

      • Enheduanna says:

        I’m in big trouble if I have to vote for Biden or Sanders. Just not sure I can make myself.

        • Pat Johnson says:

          We’ll all have to hold our nose if it comes down to Bernie or Biden. The alternative is 4 more years of Trump.

          I may just tune out until Nov 2020. Don’t think I can work up enthusiasm over either one of these two.

          Thank god for the Red Sox, Netflix and Amazon books.

          • RonStill4Hills says:

            Is there some reason why Al Gore is out of the question? Why aren’t we even talking about it? He owns. Lunate change. And hs a resume almost as good as Hillary’s.

          • RonStill4Hills says:

            Is there some reason why Al Gore is out of the question? Why aren’t we even talking about it? He owns. Lunate change. And hs a resume almost as good as Hillary’s.

          • bostonboomer says:

            Gore is younger than Biden.

          • RonStill4Hills says:

            A right wing cabal conspired to overturn the will of the American people in 2000. We did not do anything about it. So they did it again in 2016.

            Am I the only on tired of having a rough Tsing nut job shoved down my throat instead of getting the candidate who got the most votes?

          • RonStill4Hills says:

            I was going for right wing nut job but they suck sooo hard I am going to stick with rough Tsing nut jobs.

          • bostonboomer says:

            lol

  4. dakinikat says:

  5. dakinikat says:

    Okay, can get a big we told you so!

  6. dakinikat says:

    good gawdesses! If this is thursday, what is friday going to bring!

    Great post and round up … so much is afoot!!!

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks. I’m looking forward to Manafort sentencing and hoping for indictments tomorrow.

      • Enheduanna says:

        Same here – great round up BB!

        John Kelly is one of those members of the Dump administration that won’t be able to redeem himself with me. Sort of like Comey – and I guess the whole lot of them frankly.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    Judge Ellis thinks the sentencing guidelines are “excessive” and Manafort has lived an “otherwise blameless life.” WTF?

  8. dakinikat says:

    • dakinikat says:

  9. dakinikat says:

  10. NW Luna says:

    I’m so disgusted and appalled I can’t think of anything to say other than curses.

  11. NW Luna says:

    “perceived”

    Manafort’s ‘mind-boggling’ 47-month sentence prompts debate over judicial system’s ‘blatant inequities’

    Paul Manafort’s case was perceived as a high-profile instance of the system working one way for a wealthy, well-connected man, while working in a harsher way for indigent defendants facing lesser crimes.