Jeff Stein: What’s your take on the press coverage of Trump, starting with the first allegations about his associates’ contacts with the Russians, up to the Mueller report? How has the press been doing?
Barry Sussman: The problem is the media have allowed Trump to set the agenda. When he changes the subject, they change the subject. They follow him wherever he goes. He leads the press around by the nose. That was even true on the Russia investigation. How many weeks did we go, months, where there were front-page stories questioning whether Trump would even testify? Imbeciles like Giuliani were getting press attention as though they had something to say, when all they were doing was trying to stretch things out and humiliate the press. That’s my main difficulty, not only with the Russia investigation but with everything else.
It is a busy day today….
Now the cartoons….
This is an open thread.
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
I woke up to electricity and drinkable water in the faucet so it’s a good day down here in New Orleans. That still doesn’t mean we’re not living in a Banana Republic these days. Folks are taking to the streets today in support of women and their doctors jointly deciding what health care is required. We also have a series of court cases on deck for refusal to do right by House Subpoenas.
Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Women’s March, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other groups are organizing nationwide demonstrations on Tuesday to protest the wave of new state laws banning abortion.
The “extreme bans on abortion [are] stripping away reproductive freedom and representing an all-out assault on abortion access,” the groups said on the “Stop The Bans” protest website.
Former White House Counsel Don McGahn defied a congressional subpoena Tuesday by declining to testify before the House Judiciary Committee at the direction of the White House.
The hearing room chair reserved for McGahn sat empty behind microphones, as committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York opened the scheduled hearing.
“This conduct is not remotely acceptable,” Nadler said, referring to the White House’s instruction to McGahn not to appear. “Let me be clear: This committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it.”
“We will hold this president accountable — one way or the other,” Nadler said.
The New York Democrat had warned in a letter to McGahn late Monday night, “The committee has made clear that you risk serious consequences if you do not appear tomorrow.” The committee could hold McGahn in contempt.
The call for starting an impeachment inquiry is building as House Dems met in a closed meeting with Speaker Pelosi (Via Politico).
House Democratic leaders sparred internally on Monday over whether to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies rejecting the call to move forward for now, according to multiple sources.
Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Joe Neguse of Colorado — all members of Democratic leadership — pushed to begin impeachment proceedings during a leadership meeting in Pelosi’s office, said the sources. Pelosi and Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Cheri Bustos of Illinois — some of her key allies — rejected their calls, saying Democrats’ message is being drowned out by the fight over possibly impeaching Trump.
Raskin — a former law professor — said he wasn’t advocating impeaching Trump but suggested that opening an impeachment inquiry would strengthen their legal position while allowing Democrats to move forward with their legislative agenda.
Pelosi dismissed this argument, asking Raskin whether he wanted to shut down the other five committees working on Trump investigations in favor of the Judiciary Committee.
“You want to tell Elijah Cummings to go home?” Pelosi quipped, referring to the chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee.
And in a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee meeting, Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee stood up and demanded Trump’s impeachment. Pelosi then countered, “This is not about politics, it’s about what’s best for the American people,” said a member who attended the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Russian Potted Plant in the White House and his saplings continue to say they will fight all subpoenas. Let’s see how this works out as an appeal for yesterday’s court action will cross the desk of Judge Merrick Garland.
President Donald Trump’s attorneys have vowed to appeal Monday’s decision in favor of a House committee seeking his financial records, but people on Twitter were thrilled about where the case will end up.
“We will be filing a timely notice of appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told Politico.
Senate Republicans stalled the nomination, refusing to vote or even hold a hearing until after the presidential election. Trump won and appointed Neil Gorsuch instead, which meant Garland remained on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he could now play a role in the looming showdown between the president and House Democrats.
Cases are heard by panels of three judges randomly assigned, so Garland is not necessarily going to hear the appeal (unless the decision is reviewed by the full court). But, the irony of the situation was not lost on Twitter users:
In a pre-Trumpian world, this sequence of events would set off a political crisis. In the surreal landscape we inhabit, it barely registers. But it is worth noting that Trump continues to commit impeachable offenses at an unprecedented pace. Last night’s threats to make good on his “lock them up” promises are merely one more in another recent flurry. The space between Trump’s long-standing authoritarian rhetoric and the deployment of his powers of office is slowly collapsing on several fronts.
Consider some of the events of recent days. Sunday, the New York Timesrevealed that Deutsche Bank’s internal investigators raised concerns that the portfolios of Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner involved money laundering. Trump is suing Deutsche Bank to block it from complying with congressional investigators. The notion that the president is entitled to engage in red-flagged dealings with money launderers, and conceal it from Congress and the public, is a wild transgression of transparency norms.
The same day, the Times reported Trump is preparing pardons for several American war criminals. Trump has long fantasized about war crimes and human-rights violations as part of his idealized military, from repeating a fantasized historical account of General Pershing shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood to proposing that the United States seize Iraqi oil as spoils of war. His prospective pardoning of war criminals are steps toward institutionalizing this vision as de facto law.
Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Michael Cohen told a closed House panel that Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, encouraged him to lie to Congress in 2017. Cohen’s lie concerned his handling of a deal to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow. The subject of the lie is itself a massive scandal: Vladimir Putin, who habitually corrupts foreign politicians with bribes disguised as lucrative deals, was dangling a contract worth several hundred million dollars, with no financial risk or downside to Trump.
Cohen has testified that Trump encouraged him to lie by repeating, in his characteristic mobster code — “There’s no Russia” — a cover story both men knew to be false. (Trump of course signed the letter of intent for the Moscow Project.) The new report shows that Sekulow was involved in crafting his false testimony, and that, far from the president’s lawyer freelance ordering perjury, Cohen understood Trump to be working through Sekulow:
Marcy Wheeler is on fire about this. It’s not taking folks long to notice that the RNC wrote a big fat check to McGahn’s law firm. So, inquiring minds would naturally jump to a quid pro quo …
We also know that there are likely good reasons for Trump to be furiously trying to bury any attempt to get his full tax records. This is from WAPO and Catherine Rampell.
When you look at the short span of President Trump’s political career, one question jumps out: How much of his craziest, most paranoid and norm-violating behavior is motivated by a desire to keep his financial arrangements secret?
It began with Trump’s bizarre refusal to release his tax returns, in defiance of both a nearly half-century practice and Trump’s own promise that he’d do so.
Then there was his refusal to divest from his sprawling multinational empire, or even put it into a blind trust — either of which would have forced at least some information disclosure to a third party.
Also, his curious personnel priorities. Once it became clear that House Democrats would exercise their explicit statutory authority to get Trump’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service, Trump asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to prioritize confirmation of Trump’s IRS general counsel nominee ahead of confirmation of a new attorney general. This IRS general counsel pick, mind you, also happened to have previously advised the Trump Organization on tax issues.
Trump’s treasury secretary has also been spending so much time safeguarding Trump’s tax returns, in violation of that explicit statute, that the activity is reportedly crowding out his day job.
All of which raises the question: Why exactly is Trump (and the rest of his administration) expending so much energy and political capital to keep these documents hidden? What could possibly be so disturbing or incriminating to justify such an effort?
One theory is that, maybe, if Trump’s tax returns or other financial records become public, his supporters would learn that he’s not nearly as rich as he says. Another is that his finances are not exactly on the up and up.
Of course, both explanations could be true.
Go read the rest for more on Don the Con. Meanwhile, enjoy some Leslie Dracarys Jones.
So, this is plenty to read and think about today. I’m still trying to rest my eyes while keeping up with things. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Dakinikat has lost her electricity again, so I’m filling in. Sorry to be so late. This Bunday post is dedicated to Dephyne and Luna.
Despite Trump’s efforts to stonewall Congress on everything, especially his financial dealings, the media is still finding stuff out.
David Enrich at The New York Times: Deutsche Bank Staff Saw Suspicious Activity in Trump and Kushner Accounts.
Anti-money-laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog.
The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump’s now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.
But executives at Deutsche Bank, which has lent billions of dollars to the Trump and Kushner companies, rejected their employees’ advice. The reports were never filed with the government….
Real estate developers like Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner sometimes do large, all-cash deals, including with people outside the United States, any of which can prompt anti-money laundering reviews….former Deutsche Bank employees said the decision not to report the Trump and Kushner transactions reflected the bank’s generally lax approach to money laundering laws. The employees — most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve their ability to work in the industry — said it was part of a pattern of the bank’s executives rejecting valid reports to protect relationships with lucrative clients.
Tammy McFadden, the whistleblower who came forward with this information was terminated by the bank after she expressed her concerns. Read the rest at the NYT.
Grant Stern summarizes the dirty details about Kushner’s dealings with Deutsche Bank at Washington Press: A whistleblower just revealed Deutsche Bank covered up 2016 Kushner money transfers with Russia.
David Enrich tweeted after Trump complained about his NYT piece.
Here’s another article he wrote in March, also at the NYT: A Mar-a-Lago Weekend and an Act of God: Trump’s History With Deutsche Bank.
As President Trump delivered his inaugural address in 2017, a slight woman with feathered gray hair sat listening, bundled in a hooded white parka in a fenced-off V.I.P. section. Her name was Rosemary T. Vrablic. She was a managing director at Deutsche Bank and one of the reasons Mr. Trump had just taken the oath of office.
It was a moment of celebration — and a moment of worry for Ms. Vrablic’s employer.
Mr. Trump and Deutsche Bank were deeply entwined, their symbiotic bond born of necessity and ambition on both sides: a real estate mogul made toxic by polarizing rhetoric and a pattern of defaults, and a bank with intractable financial problems and a history of misconduct.
The relationship had paid off. Mr. Trump used loans from Deutsche Bank to finance skyscrapers and other high-end properties, and repeatedly cited his relationship with the bank to deflect political attacks on his business acumen. Deutsche Bank used Mr. Trump’s projects to build its investment-banking business, reaped fees from the assets he put in its custody and leveraged his celebrity to lure clients.
Then Mr. Trump won the 2016 election, and the German bank shifted into damage-control mode, bracing for an onslaught of public scrutiny, according to several people involved in the internal response.
In the weeks before Ms. Vrablic attended his swearing-in, the bank commissioned reports to figure out how it had gotten in so deep with Mr. Trump. It issued an unusual edict to its Wall Street employees: Do not publicly utter the word “Trump.”
The president* and his son-in-law, who has anywhere between three and 81 jobs in the administration*, were shuffling money around in such a funky fashion that money-laundering experts—at the only bank in the world from which the president* can get more than a souvenir calendar—felt compelled to raise an alarm. Putting the words “money laundering” and “president” in the same sentence used to be enough for network news to throw up one of those scarifying “BULLETIN” graphics. Putting the word “Russian” in there, too, used to be enough to get Walter Cronkite to sail his sloop all the way from the Vineyard to Black Rock.
In the summer of 2016, Deutsche Bank’s software flagged a series of transactions involving the real estate company of Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser. Ms. McFadden, a longtime anti-money laundering specialist in Deutsche Bank’s Jacksonville office, said she had reviewed the transactions and found that money had moved from Kushner Companies to Russian individuals. She concluded that the transactions should be reported to the government — in part because federal regulators had ordered Deutsche Bank, which had been caught laundering billions of dollars for Russians, to toughen its scrutiny of potentially illegal transactions.
Apparently, according to the people interviewed by the Times, DB functioned as an all-purpose international laundromat for various people who needed money cleaned. Of course, the stakes rise considerably when one of the folks waiting for the spin cycle to finish is the president* of the United States.
Read the rest at Esquire.
Trump has nominated another lunatic to the Federal Reserve Board. Pedro Nickolaci da Cost at Forbes: Trump Fed Nominee Backs Policies That Would Crash The Economy.
Donald Trump is really scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to his remaining Federal Reserve nominees—and he doesn’t seem to understand what their individual views on monetary policy actually mean.
Take his latest pick, Judy Shelton, chosen after the attempted appointment of Stephen Moore collapsed following footage of him making incredibly misogynistic and racist comments.
Shelton’s views on interest policy and currencies aren’t just arcane, destructive and out of the mainstream. They also run directly counter to Trump’s own calls for the Fed not to raise interest rates and, most recently, for them to reduce borrowing costs to boost growth and help the administration achieve its elusive 3% growth target.
And they contradict Trump’s nationalist approach to economic relations by calling for a new international treaty on currencies that would essentially take drag the world economy back into some kind of gold standard, effectively shoving it totally needlessly into deep depression.
Read details about Shelton’s crazy ideas at the link.
You’ve probably heard that Trump is planning to pardon a number of accused or convicted war criminals. From Saturday’s New York Times: Trump May Be Preparing Pardons for Servicemen Accused of War Crimes.
President Trump has indicated that he is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes, including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder and desecration of a corpse, according to two United States officials.
The officials said that the Trump administration had made expedited requests this week for paperwork needed to pardon the troops on or around Memorial Day.
One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who is scheduled to stand trial in the coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.
The others are believed to include the case of a former Blackwater security contractor recently found guilty in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis; the case of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, the Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; and the case of a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters.
And yes, Trump wants to pardon war criminals on Memorial Day. More from New York Magazine: Trump Wants to Make War Criminals Great Again.
Trump has already publicly signaled his support for both Gallagher and Golsteyn, at least in part owing to the advocacy of Fox & Friends co-anchor Pete Hegseth, who has been lobbying the president on behalf of the men both on and off the air. In March, Trump announced that he would be transferring Gallagher to “less restrictive confinement” while he awaits his upcoming trial, and back in December, Trump tweeted that he would be reviewing Golsteyn’s case. He referred to Golsteyn as a “U.S. military hero.”
Trump has not mentioned the Marine Scout Snipers who were court-martialed for urinating on dead Taliban fighters, but Task and Purpose reports that Trump’s former attorney, John Dowd, had worked to clear the Marines’ records in 2017, and a lawyer for one of the Marines said he had requested a pardon from Trump after he took office but never heard back. The president has also never mentioned Slatten, the Blackwater contractor, but Trump has well-known links to Blackwater via its founder, the Trump-boosting, truth-challenged Erik Prince, and his sister, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
The paperwork requests also come less than two weeks after President Trump pardoned another convicted war criminal, former Army First Lieutenant Michael Behenna, who, while deployed in Iraq in 2008, disobeyed orders, drove an Iraqi prisoner into the desert, stripped him naked, and shot him in the chest and the head. Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder a year later and was already serving a reduced sentence when Trump pardoned him.
Trump is (or has been) convinced that these men are victims of injustice, rather than perpetrators of it. And it’s not hard to imagine how war criminals could seem like war heroes to a president who fetishizes strength and power over the powerless….
Whatever Trump believes, he has already made it clear that when it comes to helping his friends and perceived allies, he has no problem wielding pardons and revoking justice at an unprecedented scale. Considering all these factors, there should be little doubt that Trump will proceed with the pardons, as well as think that Memorial Day would be the best day to grant them, rather than the absolute worst day imaginable — since it would malign the honorable service and sacrifice of countless other Americans.
You can read more examples of Gallagher’s war crimes from this long Twitter thread by Scott Hechinger.
What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great Bunday!
I am a woman.
Agency refers to the thoughts and actions taken by people that express their individual power. The core challenge at the center of the field of sociology is understanding the relationship between structure and agency. Structure refers to the complex and interconnected set of social forces, relationships, institutions, and elements of social structure that work together to shape the thought, behavior, experiences, choices, and overall life courses of people. In contrast, agency is the power people have to think for themselves and act in ways that shape their experiences and life trajectories. Agency can take individual and collective forms.
I am a resident of Georgia.
Sociologists understand the relationship between social structure and agency to be an ever-evolving dialectic. In the simplest sense, a dialectic refers to a relationship between two things, each of which has the ability to influence the other, such that a change in one requires a change in the other. To consider the relationship between structure and agency a dialectical one is to assert that while social structure shapes individuals, individuals (and groups) also shape social structure. After all, society is a social creation — the creation and maintenance of social order require the cooperation of individuals connected through social relationships. So, while the lives of individuals are shaped by the existing social structure, they none the less have the ability — the agency — to make decisions and express them in behavior.
I have no Agency.
The above is quoted from: How Sociologists Define Human Agency …it is not the best source but it came in handy. As you can see…I am not in a particular good mood this morning.
lanned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Women’s March, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other groups are organizing nationwide demonstrations on Tuesday to protest the wave of new state laws banning abortion.
The “extreme bans on abortion [are] stripping away reproductive freedom and representing an all-out assault on abortion access,” the groups said on the “Stop The Bans” protest website.
Actions will be held Tuesday at statehouses, town squares and courthouses across the nation. “We will show up to speak out and fight back against this unconstitutional attempt to gut Roe and punish women,” the website states, referring to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. “Politicians shouldn’t be making decisions best left to women, their families and their doctors.”
You can find more information at the website here:
Across the country, we are seeing a new wave of extreme bans on abortion, stripping away reproductive freedom and representing an all-out assault on abortion access. This is Trump’s anti-choice movement… and it’s terrifying, particularly for women of color and low-income women who are most affected by these bans.
We will show up to speak out and fight back against this unconstitutional attempt to gut Roe and punish women. Politicians shouldn’t be making decisions best left to women, their families, and their doctors.
Together we say: Stop the bans. Sign up below to be the first to get updates.
I will end this with the song Veronica, by Elvis Costello:
Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well I used to know a girl and I could have sworn
That her name was VeronicaWell she used to have a carefree mind of her own
And a delicate look in her eye
These days I’m afraid she’s not even sure
If her name is VeronicaDo you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
And all the time she laughs at those who shout
Her name and steal her clothes
VeronicaDid the days drag by? Did the favors wane?
Did he roam down the town all the while?
Will you wake from your dream, with a wolf at the door,
Reaching out for VeronicaWell it was all of sixty-five years ago
When the world was the street where she lived
And a young man sailed on a ship in the sea
With a picture of VeronicaOn the “Empress of India”
And as she closed her eyes upon the world
And picked upon the bones of last week’s news
She spoke his name out loud againDo you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
And all the time she laughs at those who shout
Her name and steal her clothes
VeronicaVeronica sits in her favorite chair
And she sits very quiet and still
And they call her a name that they never get right
And if they don’t then nobody else willBut she used to have a carefree mind of her own
With devilish look in her eye
Saying “You can call me anything you like,
But my name is Veronica”Do you suppose, that waiting hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide?
And all the time she laughs at those who shout
Her name and steal her clothes
Q: I recently heard the Elvis Costello song, “Veronica,” and wondered what the story behind it was.
A: Co-written with Paul McCartney, whose Hofner bass can be heard on the song, “Veronica” can be found on the 1989 album, “Spike.” It has been one of the most popular and successful of Costello’s songs, peaking at No. 19 on the Billboard singles chart. A very intelligent song, both musically and lyrically, it tells the achingly touching story of an aging woman suffering from memory loss. In a posting on his website, Costello states that his grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, was the inspiration for this song. He says that it appeared that his grandmother was happiest when she remembered events that occurred in her life between the 1920s and 1950s. “I wanted it to be joyful-sounding,” he says, “But with some sort of defiance. Because there’s a strange sort of defiance in old people when they’re physically pathetic. A strange way about them. They’ll suddenly look at you and they’ll be looking right into you. And then you look back and they won’t be there at all. I think that’s quite comforting.”
Elvis Costello recalled the story of the song in his 2015 memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink:
“When I’d got the call to say Paul wanted me to write some songs with him for his next record, I didn’t know what to expect, but as his last co-written hit had been with Michael Jackson, I wondered whether I should be taking some dancing lessons. I’d brought an early draft of ‘Veronica’ that you would have recognized, but we immediately got to work putting a better flow into the chorus and shifting the bridge into making that part of the song seem more like a dream.”
I would love to know who is leaking info about Michael Flynn. Apparently Flynn reached out to Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz while he was supposedly cooperating with the Mueller investigation.
While he was cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn contacted at least one member of Congress who was publicly criticizing the special counsel probe, according to messages obtained by CNN.
Flynn sent Twitter direct messages to Rep. Matt Gaetz, encouraging the Florida Republican to “keep the pressure on.” It’s not clear if Flynn sent additional messages to other lawmakers.
“You stay on top of what you’re doing. Your leadership is so vital for our country now. Keep the pressure on,” Flynn wrote in an April 2018 message to Gaetz, which was obtained by CNN.
On the evening Flynn sent the message to Gaetz, the lawmaker had appeared on Fox Business’ “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” where he criticized the Mueller investigation.
“We’ve got to play a far stronger role in exposing the hypocrisy at the Department of Justice,” Gaetz said in the April 3, 2018, appearance. “With no evidence of collusion, with no evidence of any crime whatsoever, they unleashed Bob Mueller to go investigate things that happened before Donald Trump was even contemplating running for president.”
That same hour, Flynn sent Gaetz the direct message.
Gaetz also received a message in February of this year. On the day that Attorney General William Barr was confirmed, Flynn sent Gaetz GIFs of a bald eagle and an American flag, without any accompanying text.
Flynn is still “cooperating,” and he hasn’t been sentenced yet. As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, new information has been revealed by order of the judge in Flynn’s case Emmet Sullivan. Did the DOJ leak the incriminating info about Flynn contacting Gaetz in response to the new Mueller report info to make Flynn look bad? I wonder what Judge Sullivan will have to say about this?
There’s also this Devin Nunes tweet from 2016:
Here’s another interesting story I missed from a couple of days ago. This one is about Felix Sater, who was involved with Trump for years and, along with Michael Cohen working on the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Natasha Bertrand at Politico: Judge confirms Trump associate gave feds Osama bin Laden’s number.
A federal judge has confirmed for the first time that Felix Sater, a former Donald Trump business associate who drove Trump Tower Moscow negotiations during the 2016 election, helped the U.S. government track down Osama bin Laden.
During a hearing on Thursday in the Eastern District of New York — held as part of a lawsuit brought by First Look Media to unseal records related to Sater’s longtime cooperation with the government on various national security issues — Judge I. Leo Glasser said the media group already knew all of the “very interesting and dangerous things” Sater had done through his decade as an FBI informant.
“He cooperated,” Glasser said. “And you know what he did over the 10, 11 years, because you told me that you know. He provided the telephone number of Osama bin Laden. He has done an awful lot of very interesting and dangerous things.”
The detail is just another bizarre side plot that has emerged over the two-plus years that federal investigators, lawmakers and journalists have tried to uncover every detail about possible interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian intermediaries during the 2016 election. The probes have put spotlights on a cast of figures in Trump’s extended orbit, many of whom possess unusual backgrounds.
Trump’s “Roy Cohn” AKA Cover-Up General Bill Barr appeared on state TV on Friday to publicly trash the investigation into Russia’s interference in our elections.
Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Barr Again Casts Doubt on Russia Inquiry’s Origins, Aligning With Trump’s Attacks.
When Attorney General William P. Barr described the early stages of the Russia investigation as “spying” on the Trump campaign, he prompted questions about whether he had used that word spontaneously — or whether he was deliberately fueling conspiracy theories.
That question flared anew on Friday after Mr. Barr went even further in casting doubt on the legitimacy of the investigation in two interviews that, by design or coincidence, provided fresh ammunition for President Trump and allies to attack law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Mr. Barr told Fox News he had been asking whether “government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” in opening the Russia inquiry. “A lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together,” he added.
And he doubled down on the innuendo-laden formulation he used in congressional testimony last month, telling The Wall Street Journal, “Government power was used to spy on American citizens.”
The statements were the latest in a series of actions and comments by Mr. Barr expressing skepticism about how the F.B.I. began investigating during the 2016 presidential campaign whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia’s election interference. The attorney general has appointed a federal prosecutor to review aspects of the investigation, rather than await the results of an independent inspector general inquiry due in the coming weeks, and he has invoked the term “spying” on multiple occasions.
Are we stuck with Joe Biden as the 2020 Democratic nominee for president? The media in general seems to believe he’s the anointed one. But anointed by whom? Obama hasn’t endorsed him. Who really wants this guy to be POTUS?
Jill Filipovic at The New York Times: Does Anyone Actually Want Joe Biden to Be President?
The most important requirement for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee? Electability. It matters more, we keep hearing, than nominating a candidate who has good policies. It matters more than nominating a candidate with a track record of passing progressive legislation. It certainly matters more than nominating a candidate who could be the first female president.
Unfortunately, very few people who say they are putting electability first seem to understand what “electability” means, or what today’s electorate actually looks like.
Case in point: In a field crowded with nearly two dozen candidates, no answer to the electability question is offered more regularly and with more conviction than “Joe Biden.”
Mr. Biden, whose campaign officially kicks of this Saturday in Philadelphia, is the kind of guy you could see sitting behind a big desk, acting as a wise custodian of our democracy without posing any threat of changing much. He is from one of those scrappy Rust Belt cities fetishized by so many pundits — people who believe that the imaginary working-class white voter who is going to deliver the White House to the Democrats wants Joe Biden, which is what, in turn, makes Joe Biden electable.
But what about the rest of us–Democrats who aren’t white males living in the rust belt? What about women who still dream of a women president in their lifetimes? We don’t count when it comes to “electability” supposedly. Read more at the NYT.
Now, with Obama’s blessing if not his formal endorsement, Biden has sought the presidency himself for the third time in 30 years, and this time, he’s enjoying a solid and in some case growing lead over a historically huge field of Democratic contenders. The backbone of his support comes from the most reliable and one of the most coveted Democratic primary voting blocs: African-Americans.
Most of the cable news commentary has approached this fact with the condescending assertion that Biden’s black support is mostly due to name recognition and his proximity to Obama. Some have suggested that older black voters, who are traditionally more moderate, may be attracted to his centrism.
But these hot takes overlook something less tangible and quantifiable: how much the sincere, integrated friendship of Biden and Obama (and their families) was cathartic and inspirational. It was the personification of the post-racial utopia some hoped Obama’s election victories would deliver but never did, and probably never could.
Their platonic bromance provided comfort during the confounding period when Obama’s popularity seemed to grow simultaneously with the rise and improbable election of a man who championed a racist campaign to discredit him.
Howard suggests that Biden could loose African American support as the campaign goes on. He doesn’t specifically address the attitudes of black women or provide any evidence for his arguments. The piece is based on his own personal opinions. I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.
I’ll end with this article at The Washington Post on Nevada, where women are now in control of the legislature: Where women call the shots.
She didn’t plan to say it. Yvanna Cancela, a newly elected Democrat in the Nevada Senate, didn’t want to “sound crass.” But when a Republican colleague defended a century-old law requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions whether they’re married, Cancela couldn’t help firing back.
“A man is not asked his marital status before he gets a vasectomy,” she countered — and the packed hearing room fell silent.
Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.
Cancela, 32, is part of the wave of women elected by both parties in November, many of them younger than 40. Today, women hold the majority with 23 seats in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate, or a combined 52 percent.
No other legislature has achieved that milestone in U.S. history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47 percent of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman. And in Alabama, which just enacted an almost complete ban on abortion, women make up just 15 percent of lawmakers.
The female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?
Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!
It’s no wonder that Mitch McConnell is stacking the judiciary with the likes of dingbat Wendy Vitter who is probably one of the most uniquely unqualified Federal judges to ever sit on the bench. It appears to be the only way they can get their conspiracy theories and pet religious fantasies into law.
This is from Vanity Fair and the keyboard of Bess Levin: “TRUMP JUDGE WHO ENDORSED THEORY ABORTION CAUSES CANCER CONFIRMED BY SENATE. Wendy Vitter, who promoted a brochure that links birth control to “violent death,” just got a lifetime seat on the federal bench,.”
The president has installed a whopping 106 judges since his inauguration, and, on Thursday, the Senate confirmed what might be his craziest nominee yet.
That would be Wendy Vitter. Trump nominated her nearly a year and a half ago, and on Thursday, the Senate officially voted to give her a lifetime seat on the federal bench. So, what’s so bad about Vitter that Susan “This Kavanaugh guy totally deserves a seat on the Supreme Court” Collins broke ranks to oppose her? Where to start?
Probably with the fact that Vitter, who has been general counsel for the Archdiocese of New Orleans since 2012, seemingly believes that abortion causes breast cancer. At a conference in 2013, Vitter referred to a brochure that linked abortions to breast cancer, and told the audience, “Go to Dr. Angela’s Web site, Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, download it, and, at your next physical, you walk into your pro-life doctor and say, ‘Have you thought about putting these facts or this brochure in your waiting room?’ Each one of you can be the pro-life advocate to take that next step. That’s what you do with it.” That same brochure that Vitter appeared to endorse claimed that taking birth control can lead to cervical and liver cancers, and “violent death,” because “women who take oral contraceptives prefer men with similar DNA, and that women in these partnerships have fewer sexual relations, leading to more adultery, and ‘understandably . . . violence.’” Separately, Vitter appeared at an anti-Planned Parenthood rally, where she accused the group of “kill[ing] over 150,000 females a year.” Naturally, she left these activities off her disclosure form to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The latest conspiracy theory concerns Trump’s and apparently AG Barr’s concept that Trump was ‘spied on’ by his political enemies. This enters the conversation while we find out the FBI is telling Governors that their election databases were hacked by Russians in 2016 while swearing them to secrecy that prevents them from doing anything about it in 2020. I’m beginning to think more and more that Trump knows his election is illegitimate and that his campaign knows which swing states the Russians flipped for him. Well, one of the two hacked counties in Florida has been revealed.
The voter registration database of a small county in the Florida panhandle was breached by Russian government hackers in 2016, according to two U.S. officials.
The Russian military spy agency, the GRU, was responsible for the penetration of Washington County’s database, according to the two officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. The county has a population of about 25,000.
Carol F. Rudd, county elections supervisor, declined to comment on the breach but said it’s important for federal, state and local officials to be able to communicate confidentially. “If each agency gets suspicious of the other’s ability to follow the rules of confidentiality, then those tenuous lines of communication quickly break down,” she said in an email. “That would set our security capabilities back years and severely compromise our ability to protect our elections. THAT would be a big win for the Russians going into 2020.”
I’m still not convinced that the Russians didn’t play around with things while they were in there. So which Florida County was the second? And what about the other states?
Lawmakers confirmed on Wednesday, however, that the Russian hackers did gain adequate access to be able to change voter registration data if they’d wanted, although there is no evidence that they did so.
The systems used to tabulate results are not connected to the registration systems.
“What the FBI has come forward with is that they have no evidence that the voter database was tampered with,” Waltz said. “But their level of confidence was unclear.”
This isn’t a conspiracy theory since we’ve got some facts here to show there was an actual hack. The damned spying thing however …
In his first television interview, Attorney General William Barr said his initial review of the origins of the Russia probe has produced more questions than adequate answers.
“It wasn’t handled in the ordinary way that investigations or counter intelligence activities are conducted. It was sort of an ad hoc small group. Most of these people are no longer with the FBI or the CIA, or the other agencies involved,” Barr told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer in the interview that aired Friday morning.
Notice Barr appeared on the State Propaganda Chanel.
Barr told Congress last month he believed “spying did occur.”
“I don’t want to speculate,” Barr said. “What I will say is I’ve been trying to get answers to questions and I found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate and I have also found that some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together. In a sense I have more questions today than I did when I first started,” he continued.
“The fact of the matter is [special counsel] Bob Mueller did not look at the government’s activities. He was looking t whether or not the Trump campaign had conspired with the Russians. He was not going back and looking at the counter intelligence program.,” Barr said. “And we have a number of investigations underway that touch upon it. The main one being the office of inspector general that’s looking at the FISA warrants. But as far as I’m aware, no one has really looked across the whole waterfront,” he continued.
Where that investigation stands now, though, is a mystery — even to congressional leaders. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) spoke with The Washington Post by phone Tuesday and explained how he and his colleagues have been stymied in their efforts to learn how and if the probe is moving forward. The interview has been edited for clarity.
The Post: What, as you understand it, is the current status of that investigation into the president?
Schiff: The short answer is: We don’t know. Just as a reminder, this all began as an FBI counterintelligence investigation into whether people around then-candidate Trump were acting as witting or unwitting agents of a foreign power. So it began as a counterintelligence investigation, not as a criminal investigation. Now obviously a criminal case — many criminal cases — were spun off of this but we don’t know what happened to the counterintelligence investigation that James Comey opened.
We would get briefed, predominantly at a Gang of Eight level, up until Comey was fired. And, after that point, while we continued to get quarterly — although often they missed the quarterly nature of it — counterintelligence briefings, they excluded the most important counterintelligence investigation then going on, that involving Donald Trump.
There is a reference in the Mueller report to counterintelligence FBI personnel who were embedded in Mueller’s team [Volume One, p. 13] which then reports back to headquarters, although those reports may have dealt with counterintelligence issues that the special counsel felt were beyond his scope. But we don’t know whether the Mueller team itself or others in the Mueller team or others outside the Mueller team continued the counterintelligence investigation after the criminal probe was opened or whether at some point it was closed.
The Post: Is there any reason to believe that the counterintelligence investigation has been closed?
Schiff: You know, I have not been able to get clarity on that. We have been seeking to get it, to get an answer from the Justice Department, from the counterintelligence division at the FBI, and we don’t have clarity, which is concerning.
So, the news of the day relates to Judge Emmet Sullivan ordering the DOJ to unredact portions of the Mueller Report. The Flynn part is truly amazing. This is also from WAPO.
A federal judge on Thursday ordered that prosecutors make public a transcript of a phone call that former national security adviser Michael Flynn tried hard to hide with a lie: his conversation with a Russian ambassador in late 2016.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in Washington ordered the government also to provide a public transcript of a November 2017 voice mail involving Flynn. In that sensitive call, President Trump’s attorney left a message for Flynn’s attorney reminding him of the president’s fondness for Flynn at a time when Flynn was considering cooperating with federal investigators.
The transcripts, which the judge ordered be posted on a court website by May 31, would reveal conversations at the center of two major avenues of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. So far they have been disclosed to the public only in fragments in court filings and the Mueller report.
Sullivan also ordered that still-redacted portions of the Mueller report that relate to Flynn be given to the court and made public.
Sullivan’s orders came very shortly after government prosecutors agreed to release some sealed records in Flynn’s case. The release was in response to a motion filed with the court earlier this year by The Washington Post, which argued that the public deserved to know more about Flynn’s role in key events and cooperation with investigators.
A long read you may want to check out at The Atlantic as Jeff Stein interviews a Watergate figure: “The Watergate Editor on How Trump “Leads the Press Around by the Nose”. Barry Sussman, who edited Woodward and Bernstein at The Washington Post, discusses the president, Putin, and what the media must fix.”
Grumpy Cat — the blue-eyed cat with the withering stare and permafrown that suggested perpetual irritation — has died, her family announced early Friday. She was 7.
The scowling kitty died of complications from a urinary tract infection, her owners said.
“Some days are grumpier than others,” Tabatha Bundesen wrote, announcing her cat’s death.
Born in 2012, Grumpy Cat became a darling of memes, cat fanciers and anyone who needed to be reminded that somewhere out there, there was a cat who looked as grumpy as they felt.
“Besides being our baby and a cherished member of the family, Grumpy Cat has helped millions of people smile all around the world — even when times were tough,” Bundesen wrote, in a note from her and the rest of Grumpy Cat’s family.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Even as we worry about Trump and Bolton starting a war with Iran and about the Democrats refusing to follow the Impeachment road map provided by Robert Mueller, American women must face the fact that our very personhood is being attacked.
Personally, I have decided that I will not vote for any man for president. The right of women to make decisions about our own bodies is too important.
Here’s the latest on the War on Women:
Missouri’s Senate has passed what its authors call one of the nation’s most stringent anti-abortion bills, which would outlaw nearly all abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.
The Republican-led Senate passed the bill, dubbed Missouri Stands With The Unborn, by a margin of 24 to 10 early Thursday morning….
Missouri’s move comes hours after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that would introduce a near-total abortion ban in that state. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.
Louisiana is following suit with its own “heartbeat” abortion ban, which was approved unopposed by the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.
Abortion right activists are mobilizing in Alabama. The Washington Post: Governor signs Alabama abortion ban, which has galvanized support on both sides, setting up a lengthy fight.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — As a crop duster with a banner saying “Abortion is okay” hummed above the capitol, circling back and forth around the governor’s mansion, a group of women below let out a cheer.
“Just another day in Alabama,” said Mia Raven, director of People Organizing for Women’s Empowerment and Rights (POWER) House. “We knew this would pass and we got ready.”
Amanda Reyes, who works with an abortion fund, was wearing an “I’m on the pill” T-shirt, complete with instructions printed on the back detailing how to get a medical abortion. She also looked skyward: “Here it comes again! That’s just the coolest thing.”
Hours after the Alabama Senate voted late Tuesday to ban abortions in almost all circumstances — including in cases of rape and incest — women’s rights activists and abortion rights advocates said the decision to approve the nation’s strictest abortion measure has energized them. Knowing that the bill was designed to challenge Roe v. Wade, they are gearing up for the fight.
The Washington Post: Louisiana ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban nearing final passage.
BATON ROUGE, La. — A proposal to ban abortions in Louisiana as early as the sixth week of pregnancy continued to speed through the state legislature Wednesday, the same day Alabama’s governor signed the nation’s most restrictive law against the procedure.
Without objection, the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee backed legislation to prohibit abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, similar to laws passed in several conservative states that are aimed at challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion. Louisiana’s ban, however, only would take effect if a federal appeals court upholds a similar law in Mississippi.
Louisiana’s so-called fetal “heartbeat bill” is sponsored by state Sen. John Milkovich, one of several measures that lawmakers are advancing to add new restrictions on abortion. Senators already have supported the bill, which will next receive full House consideration, one step from final passage. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has indicated he will sign the measure if it reaches his desk.
The New York Times sums up the current abortion landscape: ‘The Time Is Now’: States Are Rushing to Restrict Abortion, or to Protect It.
States across the country are passing some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in decades, deepening the growing divide between liberal and conservative states and setting up momentous court battles that could profoundly reshape abortion access in America….
The national race to pass new legislation began last fall, after President Trump chose Brett M. Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court, adding what some predicted would be a fifth vote to uphold new limits on abortion. Red states rushed to pass more restrictions and blue states to pass protections.
Now, as state legislative sessions draw to a close in many places, experts count about 30 abortion laws that have passed so far.
That is not necessarily more than in past years, said Elizabeth Nash, a legal expert at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.
What’s different is the laws themselves, which have gone further than ever to frontally challenge Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that established federal protections for abortion.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Interestingly, these extreme laws could be interfering with right wing plans to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Even Pat Robertson thinks the Alabama law is too “extreme.” The Washington Post: Televangelist Pat Robertson: Alabama’s abortion ban is ‘extreme’ and has ‘gone too far.’
Longtime televangelist Pat Robertson decried Alabama’s new abortion ban as “extreme,” saying on his show on Wednesday that the state legislature has “gone too far.”
Alabama’s law, which has been passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, includes a penalty of up to 99 years in prison for doctors who perform abortions and has no exceptions for rape or incest, Robertson noted on his show.
“They want to challenge Roe vs. Wade, but my humble view is I don’t think that’s the case I’d want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one will lose,” Robertson told viewers of CBN’s “The 700 Club” on Wednesday.
David G. Savage at The Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court is not eager to overturn Roe vs. Wade — at least not soon.
The Supreme Court justices will meet behind closed doors Thursday morning and are expected to debate and discuss — for the 14th time — Indiana’s appeal of court rulings that have blocked a law to prohibit certain abortions.
The high court’s action — or so far, nonaction — in Indiana’s case gives one clue as to how the court’s conservative majority will decide the fate of abortion bans recently passed by lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signed her state’s ban into law on Wednesday.
Lawmakers in those states have said they approved the bans in an effort to force the high court to reconsider Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
The justices have many ways to avoid such a sweeping ruling, however. And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in his 14 years on the high court, has typically resisted moving quickly to decide major controversies or to announce abrupt, far-reaching changes in the law.
Roberts’ history, along with the court’s handling of abortion cases in recent years, suggests he will not move to overturn the right to abortion soon, or all at once, and is particularly unlikely to do so in the next year or two with a presidential election pending.
At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick makes a similar argument: Alabama’s Extremist Abortion Bill Ruins John Roberts’ Roe Plan.
One could feel sorry for Chief Justice John Roberts. He is, after all, caught in an unsightly squeeze play between anti-abortion zealots in Alabama, and slightly less wild-eyed anti-abortion zealots in Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Indiana (the court seems unable to make a decision on whether to grant the Indiana petition it has been sitting on for months now). There’s finally a five-justice majority within striking distance of a decades-long dream to overturn Roe v. Wade, and the anti-choice activists are getting ahead of themselves like slurring drunks at a frat party and making everything more transparently nasty than it need be.
There are easy and near invisible ways for the high court to end Roe. That has always been, and remains, the logical trajectory. As Mark Joseph Stern has shown, when Brett Kavanaugh came onto the court, with his dog whistles and signaling around reproductive rights, it became clear that he would guide the court to simply allow states to erect more and more barriers to abortion access (dolphin-skin window coverings on every clinic!). The five justices in the majority would do it all while finding ways to say that such regulations were not an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose. The courts and state legislatures could continue their lilting love songs to the need for the states to protect maternal health and to help confused mommies make good choices, and nobody need dirty their hands by acknowledging that the real goal of three decades’ worth of cumbersome clinic regulations and admitting privileges laws were just pretexts for closing clinics and ending abortion altogether.
Read the rest at Slate.
(Mostly) male legislators are ignoring the realities of actual women’s lives.
When Senator Clyde Chambliss, a Republican, for example, was asked if the law would allow for incest victims to obtain abortions, he responded: “Yes, until she knows she’s pregnant.”
He did not elaborate on how someone would have an abortion before she knows she’s pregnant, outside of claiming, “It takes time for all the chromosomes to come together.”
Women’s bodies, lives, and futures are quite literally in the hands of men who seemingly couldn’t pass a high school health class. That’s part of what’s so hard about watching these debates: It’s not just that women’s rights and autonomy are being legislated away, but that it’s being done by complete morons.
This lack of remedial understanding of women’s bodies is not limited to Alabama. Representative John Becker of Ohio, a Republican, for example, sponsored a bill to limit insurance coverage for abortions, but claimed that it would have an exception for ectopic pregnancies, when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. “That treatment would be removing the embryo from the fallopian tube and reinserting it in the uterus,” he said, explaining a procedure that doesn’t exist and isn’t medically possible.
There is also Texas state Representative Dan Flynn, a Republican, who believes abortion requires cutting into a woman’s uterus, or Vito Barbieri, the Idaho state Representative, a Republican, who thought you could give a woman a remote gynecological exam by having her swallow a tiny camera.
Shannon Dingle at USA Today: I was 12 years old and pregnant. Alabama’s abortion ban bill would punish girls like me.
I was that 11-year-old pregnant by rape in Ohio, except I had just turned 12 and lived in Florida….She is 11. She has experienced and is experiencing violating trauma. Maybe someday she will tell her story, but today is not that day.
I can tell my story, though. I was newly 12. I lived in a suburb of Tampa. I had gotten my period a couple years before, and it came regularly once it started. I knew to expect it every 32 days.
It was July, the summer between sixth and seventh grade, when days 33, 34, 35 and more passed with no period. I had read in one of my sister’s Seventeen magazines that periods aren’t always regular, so I figured this was my first one of those.
It wasn’t….I never chose to have sex at such a young age, but abusers in my family chose to rape me. I had lost count of the number of times by then. With a dad high ranking in the county sheriff’s office, I didn’t trust going to the police. I had tried to tell teachers and church volunteers, but that never went anywhere, either.
Please go read the rest if you haven’t already.
Women and girls in the U.S. are in real danger. For me this is the number one issue for women in the upcoming presidential election.
As always, this is an open thread.