Tuesday Reads: Plenty of Breaking News TodayPosted: December 3, 2019
As you can see from the paintings I’ve chosen, I have snow on the brain this morning; as an early winter storm is still hovering over the Boston area for the third day. It’s a lovely winter wonderland outside my window, but I’m hoping the snow will leave us sometime this afternoon.
Trump is at the NATO meeting in the UK making a fool of himself as usual. He just finished a tense meeting with French president Macron in which the two talked past each other and exchanged hostile comments. We’ll have to wait for analysis from reporters, but here are some twitter takes.
The Washington Post: Trump calls French president’s criticism of NATO ‘nasty’ and ‘disrespectful’
LONDON — President Trump on Tuesday slammed as “very, very nasty” and “very disrespectful” recent comments by his French counterpart about the diminished state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance.
Referring to comments President Emmanuel Macron made last month in an interview with the Economist magazine — in which Macron described the “brain death” of NATO resulting from America’s failure to consult with its allies — Trump attacked Macron during his first remarks on the first day of the NATO 70th anniversary summit in London, calling the comments “very insulting.” [….]
“I would say that nobody needs NATO more than France,” Trump said. “That’s why I think when France makes a statement like they made about NATO, that’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”
Trump’s tough talk on France came just a day after the United States threatened new tariffs of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion in French products, including wine, cheese and yogurt — a response, Trump’s chief trade negotiator said, to a French digital services tax that the United States concluded is discriminating against American Internet companies.
More from The New York Times: In Tense Exchange, Trump and Macron Put Forth Dueling Visions for NATO.
A once-cordial relationship between President Trump and President Emmanuel Macron of France devolved in a dramatic fashion on Tuesday, as the two leaders publicly sparred over their approach to containing the threat of terrorism and a shared vision for the future of NATO, a 70-year-old alliance facing existential threats on multiple fronts.
In a lengthy appearance before reporters, the president met a cool reception from Mr. Macron, who earlier in the day Mr. Trump derided as “very insulting” for his recent remarks on the “brain death” of the alliance. When asked to address his earlier comments on the French leader, Mr. Trump, a leader averse to face-to-face confrontation, initially demurred, but Mr. Macron was direct.
“My statement created some reactions,” Mr. Macron said. “I do stand by it.”
What followed was an extended, terse back-and-forth over trade, immigration, and Mr. Trump’s relationship with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
Mr. Trump’s interactions with the Turkish president are also sure to be closely watched. Mr. Erdogan, who has already upset NATO allies by purchasing a sophisticated Russian antiaircraft missile system, the S-400, is now threatening to oppose NATO’s plans to update the defense of Poland and the Baltic countries if the alliance does not join him in labeling some Kurdish groups as terrorists.
”Who is the enemy today?” Mr. Macron asked. “And let’s be clear and work together on that.”
More breaking news from Twitter:
— A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Deutsche Bank and Capital One can hand over years of President Donald Trump’s financial records in compliance with House Democrats’ subpoenas.
— The ruling offers another loss in the courts for Trump, who has fought attempts to obtain his financial records through multiple lawsuits.
— The case is likely destined for the Supreme Court, where the president has already appealed two other lower court decisions requiring the disclosure of his financial records.
Aaron Blake has an interesting piece at The Washington Post on the timeline of Trump’s interactions with Ukraine even before Zelensky took over as president: 2 key Trump-Ukraine events we should be paying more attention to.
The first event:
In February 2017, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump and Poroshenko had spoken by phone and “discussed plans for an in-person meeting in the future.”
Even as Trump met with a procession of foreign leaders in those early months, though, a meeting with Poroshenko wasn’t scheduled. Indeed, it didn’t happen until late June. And why is that date significant? Because it was very shortly after Poroshenko’s government took action on an investigation of personal interest to Trump — and in a Trump-friendly direction.
Here’s a quick timeline:
June 8, 2017: Trump ally Rudolph W. Giuliani meets with Poroshenko and then-Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko.
June 9, 2017: Lutsenko’s office joins an existing investigation into the “black ledger,” which implicated former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The investigation had previously been handled only by Ukraine’s independent National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), and critics alleged the new move was meant to bury the scandal.
June 14, 2017: Reports in Europe indicate Poroshenko will meet with Trump.
June 19, 2017: Spicer says Poroshenko will meet with Vice President Pence, but doesn’t confirm a meeting with Trump.
June 20, 2017: Poroshenko gets a brief “drop-in” visit with Trump.
The second event:
In December 2017, the Trump administration made a key decision to provide Ukraine with lethal aid — specifically antitank missiles called Javelins. This is the same weaponry Trump and Zelensky would later talk about on their fateful July 25, 2019, phone call.
Republicans have hailed Trump’s decision to provide such weaponry as evidence of his support for Ukraine and as a counterpoint to the idea that he has been leveraging it. But what if the Javelins were also used as leverage?
What we can say is that they weren’t delivered until after another significant investigatory decision from Ukraine in Trump’s favor — one that was even more narrowly beneficial to Trump.
In early April 2018, according to the New York Times, Ukraine halted its investigations of Manafort and also its cooperation with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation. In addition, it reportedly allowed a potential witness in Mueller’s collusion investigation to leave the country for Russia, where they couldn’t be interviewed.
Later that month, the Javelins arrived. Poroshenko posted as much on Facebook on April 30, and U.S. officials soon confirmed it.
These don’t look like coincidences to me, and they probably didn’t look that way to Zelensky either.
At The Atlantic, Professor Kim Wehle of the University of Baltimore School of Law argues that House Democrats should be tougher on witnesses who refuse to testify in the impeachment inquiry: The House Is Making This Fight Too Easy for Trump.
Last week marked a low point in Donald Trump’s quest for presidential superpowers. On Monday, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled that former White House Counsel Don McGahn does not have absolute immunity from having to testify before the House Judiciary Committee regarding misconduct by Trump and his associates in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. “Presidents are not kings,” Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote. “They do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.”
In practical terms, the court declared that Trump cannot lawfully forbid anyone and everyone he’s ever worked with from heeding legislative requests for information. This isn’t even a close question, as the stark language of Jackson’s 120-page ruling made clear. Notwithstanding White House Counsel Pat Cipollone’s October 8 letter—in which he deemed the impeachment inquiry unconstitutional and announced that the administration would not cooperate in any way—the president cannot prohibit current or former government employees from testifying when called before Congress.
Which is why House Democrats’ milquetoast response to widespread defiance of congressional subpoenas is both perplexing and disturbing. When faced with credible evidence of serious misconduct, Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the president accountable on behalf of the people. Yet House leaders have psyched themselves out of fully exercising that duty.
Read the rest at The Atlantic link.
Bill Barr is working hard to be Trump’s personal defense attorney. The Washington Post reports: Barr disputes key inspector general finding about FBI’s Russia investigation.
Attorney General William P. Barr has told associates he disagrees with the Justice Department’s inspector general on one of the key findings in an upcoming report — that the FBI had enough information in July 2016 to justify launching an investigation into members of the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, is due to release his long-awaited findings in a week, but behind the scenes at the Justice Department, disagreement has surfaced about one of Horowitz’s central conclusions on the origins of the Russia investigation. The discord could be the prelude to a major fissure within federal law enforcement on the controversial question of investigating a presidential campaign.
Barr has not been swayed by Horowitz’s rationale for concluding that the FBI had sufficient basis to open an investigation on July 31, 2016, these people said.
Barr’s public defenses of President Trump, including his assertion that intelligence agents spied on the Trump campaign, have led Democrats to accuse him of acting like the president’s personal attorney and eroding the independence of the Justice Department. But Trump and his Republican allies have cheered Barr’s skepticism of the Russia investigation.
Finally, The Daily Beast is running a series of three articles by Patricia Ravalgi about how officials who previously worked together for the benefit of U.S. national security are now on opposite sides because of Trump. Here are the first two installments and introductory paragraphs:
The constellation of federal investigators, attorneys, prosecutors and judges orbiting Donald Trump in the last three years have a unique, shared history.
Relatively unknown to the American public is the fact that before many of them became household names, cast as either the heroes or villains of the Trump saga (depending on where you stand on Trump), they were colleagues in the trenches of some of America’s biggest terrorism cases.
They crossed paths numerous times in courtrooms and at crime scenes, often united by a single case. From my perch working for the House Intelligence Committee, at the FBI as a congressional liaison, and then on the 9/11 Joint Inquiry, I observed what in many respects were their finest achievements, how those played out politically, how they fought their turf battles at home and with foreign governments, how they learned to communicate with the American public after each tragedy—and ultimately, fundamentally how they changed America’s approach to national security.
On July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747 carrying 230 summer vacationers, would-be tourists, and crew members took off from New York’s JFK airport en route to Rome. Ten minutes into the flight, the plane’s captain reported unusual readings on the Fuel Quantity Indication System (FQIS). Two minutes after that, a catastrophic explosion occurred.
TWA 800 broke apart mid-air into three huge sections that came crashing into the sea. People on the South Shore of Long Island would report seeing the fireball in the night. Others reported seeing lights streaking across the sky around the same time as the explosion.
Alongside the work of the National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI launched an investigation led by the assistant director for the New York field office, James Kallstrom. Until recently, he was defined in history as the man who headed that $20 million, 16-month investigation into the explosion—and who kept conspiracy theories from spinning out of control. And that was no easy task. Pierre Salinger, President John F. Kennedy’s former press secretary, was reporting from France that he had secret information that the plane had been brought down by the friendly fire of a U.S. Navy missile, and that theory has never been completely exorcised from the popular imagination.
These are long reads, with one more installment to come.
It looks like we’ll continue to have a busy news day today and a busy week of news to come. What stories are you following today?