Lazy Caturday Reads: Breaking News TsunamiPosted: October 5, 2019
I’m late getting going today because Windows decided to lock me out of my computer until I went along with their ridiculous new plan to control our on-line lives. They tried to get me to give up my phone number so they could link all my other devices for their own devious purposes. So far I escaped that, but who knows what will happen the next time I turn on my computer?
Anyway, the news tsunami we have been experiencing the last few weeks has continued into the weekend. There are way too many important stories again this morning. I’ll post as many as I can.
This one hit the Washington Post late last night and it’s a doozy: Trump’s calls with foreign leaders have long worried aides, leaving some ‘genuinely horrified.’
In one of his first calls with a head of state, President Trump fawned over Russian President Vladimir Putin, telling the man who ordered interference in America’s 2016 election that he was a great leader and apologizing profusely for not calling him sooner.
He pledged to Saudi officials in another call that he would help the monarchy enter the elite Group of Seven, an alliance of the world’s leading democratic economies.
He promised the president of Peru that he would deliver to his country a C-130 military cargo plane overnight, a logistical nightmare that set off a herculean scramble in the West Wing and Pentagon.
And in a later call with Putin, Trump asked the former KGB officer for his guidance in forging a friendship with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un — a fellow authoritarian hostile to the United States.
Starting long before revelations about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine’s president rocked Washington, Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders were an anxiety-ridden set of events for his aides and members of the administration, according to former and current officials. They worried that Trump would make promises he shouldn’t keep, endorse policies the United States long opposed, commit a diplomatic blunder that jeopardized a critical alliance, or simply pressure a counterpart for a personal favor.
“There was a constant undercurrent in the Trump administration of [senior staff] who were genuinely horrified by the things they saw that were happening on these calls,” said one former White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversations. “Phone calls that were embarrassing, huge mistakes he made, months and months of work that were upended by one impulsive tweet.”
Can you believe this man is the “president?” A bit more on that first call with Putin:
The first call Trump made that set off alarm bells came less than two weeks after his inauguration. On Jan. 28, Trump called Putin for what should have been a routine formality: accepting a foreign leader’s congratulations. Former White House officials described Trump as “obsequious” and “fawning,” but said he also rambled off into different topics without any clear point, while Putin appeared to stick to formal talking points for a first official exchange.
“He was like, ‘Oh my gosh, my people didn’t tell me you wanted to talk to me,’ ” said one person with direct knowledge of the call….
“We couldn’t figure out early on why he was being so nice to Russia,” one former senior administration official said. H.R. McMaster, the president’s then-national security adviser, launched an internal campaign to get Trump to be more skeptical of the Russians. Officials expressed surprise in both of his early Putin calls at why he was so friendly.
And there’s more–please read the whole thing and also check out this piece at the WaPo: Trump has spoken privately with Putin at least 16 times. Here’s what we know about the conversations.
There are several new stories this morning about the Ukraine scandal.
Politico has one on Rick Perry’s involvement: Perry pressed Ukraine on corruption, energy company changes.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged Ukraine’s president to root out corruption and pushed the new government for changes at its state-run oil and gas company, people familiar with his work said Friday — indications that he was more deeply involved than previously known in President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure officials in Kiev.
The people said they have no indication that Perry explicitly called on Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, the issue that has spawned a House impeachment inquiry into Trump. But at the very least, they said , Perry played an active role in the Trump administration’s efforts to shape decisions by the newly elected government of President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Among other changes, Perry pushed for Ukraine’s state-owned natural gas company Naftogaz to expand its board to include Americans, two people familiar with the matter said. Two long-time energy executives based in Perry’s home state of Texas were among those under consideration for that role, one source familiar with the administration’s dealings with the company said.
The Wall Street Journal on Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson role: Trump, in August Call With GOP Senator, Denied Official’s Claim on Ukraine Aid.
Sen. Ron Johnson said that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had described to him a quid pro quo involving a commitment by Kyiv to probe matters related to U.S. elections and the status of nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine that the president had ordered to be held up in July.
Alarmed by that information, Mr. Johnson, who supports aid to Ukraine and is the chairman of a Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the region, said he raised the issue with Mr. Trump the next day, Aug. 31, in a phone call, days before the senator was to meet with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. In the call, Mr. Trump flatly rejected the notion that he directed aides to make military aid to Ukraine contingent on a new probe by Kyiv, Mr. Johnson said.
“He said, ‘Expletive deleted—No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?” the Wisconsin senator recalled in an interview Friday. Mr. Johnson said he told the president he had learned of the arrangement from Mr. Sondland.
Mr. Johnson’s account, coupled with text messages among State Department officials released Thursday, show some Trump administration officials—including Mr. Sondland and a top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv—believed there was a link between Mr. Trump’s July decision to hold up the aid to Ukraine and his interest in Kyiv’s launching new probes.
Johnson needs to explain why he didn’t report this to the FBI.
Last night NBC News reported that: CIA’s top lawyer made ‘criminal referral’ on complaint about Trump Ukraine call.
Weeks before the whistleblower’s complaint became public, the CIA’s top lawyer made what she considered to be a criminal referral to the Justice Department about the whistleblower’s allegations that President Donald Trump abused his office in pressuring the Ukrainian president, U.S. officials familiar with the matter tell NBC News.
The move by the CIA’s general counsel, Trump appointee Courtney Simmons Elwood, meant she and other senior officials had concluded a potential crime had been committed, raising more questions about why the Justice Department later declined to open an investigation.
The phone call that Elwood considered to be a criminal referral is in addition to the referral later received as a letter from the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community regarding the whistleblower complaint.
Justice Department officials said they were unclear whether Elwood was making a criminal referral and followed up with her later to seek clarification but she remained vague.
Oh really? She needs to testify to Congress and so does Bill Barr.
Bloomberg reports that in response to the whistleblower complaint, Trump is reducing the number of people who know what he’s up to: Trump Orders Cut to National Security Staff After Whistle-Blower.
President Donald Trump has ordered a substantial reduction in the staff of the National Security Council, according to five people familiar with the plans, as the White House confronts an impeachment inquiry touched off by a whistle-blower complaint related to the agency’s work.
Some of the people described the staff cuts as part of a White House effort to make its foreign policy arm leaner under new National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
The request to limit the size of the NSC staff was conveyed to senior agency officials by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and O’Brien this week….
Two of the people familiar with the decision to shrink the NSC insisted it was largely rooted in both the transition to O’Brien’s leadership as well as Trump’s desire to increase efficiency at the agency, which grew under former President Barack Obama. About 310 people currently work at the NSC.
Yeah, right. Why don’t I buy these explanations?
More Ukraine stories to check out:
The New York Times: What Was Gordon Sondland’s Mission to Ukraine for Trump All About?
David Ignatious at The Washington Post: For Trump, Ukraine is a story of personal resentment and political opportunism.
The New York Times: 2nd Official Is Weighing Whether to Blow the Whistle on Trump’s Ukraine Dealings.
More Important Stories
Natasha Bertrand on Bill Barr’s efforts to disprove the Mueller Report: Justice Department hasn’t interviewed key Russia probe witnesses.
For months, President Donald Trump’s allies have been raising expectations for prosecutor John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, predicting that he will uncover a deep state plot to stage a “coup” against the president.
Durham “is looking at putting people in jail,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News host Sean Hannity in July. Republican Rep. Jim Jordan said Durham is about to unleash “a pile of evidence” that will “debunk” everything House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff has proclaimed for “the last two years.”
The omission raises questions about what, exactly, Durham—alongside Attorney General Bill Barr—has been investigating.
The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to hear June Medical Services v. Gee, a challenge to Louisiana’s stringent abortion restrictions. There is very little doubt that the conservative majority will use this case to overrule 2016’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, allowing states to regulate abortion clinics out of existence. In the process, the Republican-appointed justices will set the stage for the formal reversal of Roe v. Wade. The court’s decision to hear June Medical Services came with the alarming announcement that it will also consider whether to strip doctors of their ability to contest abortion laws in court. These aggressive moves augur an impending demise ofthe constitutional right to abortion access.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about this case is that it shouldn’t be at the Supreme Court at all. It revolves around a Louisiana law that compels abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. In Whole Woman’s Health, the justices addressed a virtually identical statute passed in Texas. It found that this requirement provided no health benefit to women. The court explained that an abortion law violates the Constitution if the burdens it imposes on patients outweigh the benefits. Because Texas’ admitting privileges law provided no benefits, the court struck it down as an “undue burden.”
But everything has changed since then. Now that Justice Kennedy has been replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, it looks like the Court has finally found a way to almost completely neuter Roe.
The New York Times: Trump Will Deny Immigrant Visas to Those Who Can’t Pay for Health Care.
The Trump administration will deny visas to immigrants who cannot prove they will have health insurance or the ability to pay for medical costs once they become permanent residents of the United States, the White House announced Friday in the latest move by President Trump to undermine legal immigration.
Mr. Trump issued a proclamation, effective Nov. 3, ordering consular officers to bar immigrants seeking to live in the United States unless they “will be covered by approved health insurance” or can prove that they have “the financial resources to pay for reasonably foreseeable medical costs.”
The president justified the move by saying that legal immigrants are three times as likely as American citizens to lack health insurance, making them a burden on hospitals and taxpayers in the United States. Officials cited a Kaiser Family Foundation study that said that among the nonelderly population, 23 percent of legal immigrants were likely to be uninsured, compared with about 8 percent of American citizens.
“The United States government is making the problem worse by admitting thousands of aliens who have not demonstrated any ability to pay for their health care costs,” Mr. Trump wrote, adding, “immigrants who enter this country should not further saddle our health care system, and subsequently American taxpayers, with higher costs.”
That’s it for me. What stories have you been following?