Tuesday Reads: Hugs Help

Good Morning!!

Besides being the official celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, yesterday was National Hugging Day. I’m using that as an excuse to post pictures of creatures hugging each other in today’s post. From Psychology Today: National Hugging Day: Five Scientific Facts About Hugging, by Sebastian Ocklenburg. Excerpts:

No one knows exactly when the first hug occurred between two human beings, but we do know that hugs have been in the human behavioral repertoire for at least several thousand years. In 2007, a team of archeologist discovered the so-called “Lovers of Valdaro” in a Neolithic Tomb near Mantua in Italy (Stewart, 2007). The lovers are a pair of human skeletons that have been buried holding each other in a tight embrace (see Figure 1). They have been determined to be approximately 6000 years old, so we know for sure that people already hugged each other in Neolithic times….

When we hug, we wrap our arms around another person. Typically, we lead the hug with one arm. A German study in which I was a co-author analyzed whether people preferentially hug with their left or their right arm (Packheiser et al., 2018). In this study, we observed hugging couples at the arrivals or departure lounges at international airports and also analyzed videos of people who blindfold themselves and let strangers hug them on the street. We found that overall, most people hugged to the right….

A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.

A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.”

Here’s another piece by Ocklenburg on the ways that hugging increases well being. It turns out that hugging can reduce your chances of getting a cold, lower your blood pressure, and improve your mood.

So as we go into day 4 of the MAGA teens story and day 32 of the government shutdown, remember that hugs can help.

The New York Times: Government Shutdown: Updates on Where Things Stand.

It has been a month since the first day of the government shutdown.

Furloughed federal employees have started part-time jobs with delivery and ride-hailing apps and applied for other opportunities, such as yoga-instructor positions, to try to make ends meet without a government paycheck.

Some of the most vulnerable Americans — including the homeless, the elderly and people one crisis away from the streets — are feeling the burden. Without payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nonprofit groups that support low-income renters are also struggling. Many other social safety net programs are facing similar crises.

As a bone-chilling flash freeze swept through the Midwest and Northeast over the holiday weekend, hundreds of thousands of federal workers remain furloughed, and some continued to work without pay, including forecasters at the National Weather Service. Veterans of the emergency management field are worried about longer-term trouble, too.

Government workers are suffering.

When it began, the shutdown left about 800,000 federal workers without pay, with just over half continuing to work, including members of the Coast Guard and food safety inspectors. The number of people working has grown as the Trump administration reinterprets longstanding rules, often to the benefit of the president’s base.

Some of the employees who still have to report to work during the shutdown spoke with The New York Times about their experiences….

Many federal workers have filed for unemployment benefits. In Washington, local programs have sprouted up to support the city’s large, struggling federal work force. Nationally, an informal network of businesses has also mobilized to ease the pain.

The article notes that we are approaching the point when the federal courts will run out of money, and the economy is beginning to feel effects. Frankly, with Trump calling even more people back to work without pay, this is starting to feel criminal–it’s forced labor.

The shutdown is impeding law enforcement. No wonder Trump likes it.

Just one story on the MAGA teen Nick Sandmann from The Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville PR firm played a key role in Covington Catholic controversy. The firm is Run/Switch, and one of its partners is Scott Jennings, who is a paid commentator on CNN and also writes a column for the Courier Journal! From the article:

Lion rescued as a cub hugs her rescuer.

RunSwitch partners Steve Bryant and Gary Gerdemann said that Sandmann family asked people they knew over the weekend about getting help with handling the media.

“They reached out to our firm, and we responded,” said Bryant, adding that the business specializes in crisis management “all over the country.”

Scott Jennings, a conservative political commentator and a columnist for the Courier Journal, is the third partner in RunSwitch.

I’ve seen Jennings on CNN and interestingly, he routinely wears a smirk just like the one we all saw on Nick Sandmann’s face. Jennings smirks as other people are talking, no matter what is being said, and then he smirks as he defends whatever Trumpian thing is being discussed during his appearance. I find him utterly repulsive and infuriating.

So why was Jake Tapper the first shitty media man to tweet out the poor little Nick’s PR statement?

So Jennings worked for Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell too. How not surprising. I remember when CNN was a serious news channel, but now it’s just a Fox News wannabe that hires people like Oliver Darcy and Kaitlin Collins away from right wing sites (The Blaze and The Daily Caller respectively).

But I’ll move on to other news. This depressing story broke this morning. The Washington Post: Supreme Court allows Trump restrictions on transgender troops in military to go into effect as legal battle continues.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed President Trump’s broad restrictions on transgender people serving in the military to go into effect while the legal battle continues in lower courts.

Rescued Kangaroo hugs rescuer.

The justices lifted nationwide injunctions that had kept the administration’s policy from being implemented.

It reversed an Obama-administration rule that would have opened the military to transgender men and women, and instead barred those who identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth and who are seeking to transition.

The court’s five conservatives–Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh–allowed the restrictions to go into effect while tIhe court decides to whether to consider the merits of the case.

The liberal justices–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan–would have kept the injunctions in place.

I feel nauseated.

From The New York Times last night: Deripaska and Allies Could Benefit From Sanctions Deal, Document Shows.

When the Trump administration announced last month that it was lifting sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, it cast the move as tough on Russia and on the oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted.

Sea hugs baby seal toy

But a binding confidential document signed by both sides suggests that the agreement the administration negotiated with the companies controlled by the oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, may have been less punitive than advertised.

The deal contains provisions that free him from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while leaving him and his allies with majority ownership of his most important company, the document shows.

With the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election continuing to shadow President Trump, the administration’s decision to lift sanctions on Mr. Deripaska’s companies has become a political flash point. House Democrats won widespread Republican support last week for their efforts to block the sanctions relief deal. Democratic hopes of blocking the administration’s decision have been stifled by the Republican-controlled Senate.

From ABC News: US banker with ties to Putin’s inner circle sought access to Trump transition: Sources.

Nine days after Donald Trump won the presidency, as scores of supporters clamored for meetings with his transition team, the Hollywood producer of “The Apprentice,” Mark Burnett, reached out to one of Trump’s closest advisers to see if he would sit down with a banker who has long held ties to Russia.

The banker, Robert Foresman, never got the role he was seeking with the fledgling Trump administration. But he has recently attracted the attention of congressional investigators as one more name on an expanding list of Americans with established ties inside the Kremlin who appears to have been seeking access to the newly elected president’s inner circle, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Foresman, who is now vice chairman of the Swiss bank UBS’s investment arm, lived for years in Moscow, where he led a $3 billion Russian investment fund and was touted by his new company as someone who maintains connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Reached by phone, Foresman declined to comment. Attorneys he has hired, including one in Washington who was hired to deal with the congressional probe, also declined to discuss the matter.

One more and then I’ll wrap this up. Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: The GOP has become the Soviet party.

Once upon a time, Ayn Rand-reading, red-baiting Republicans denounced Soviet Russia as an evil superpower intent on destroying the American way of life.

My, how things have changed.

The Grand Old Party has quietly become the pro-Russia party — and not only because the party’s standard-bearer seems peculiarly enamored of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Republican leadership, the United States is starting to look an awful lot like the failed Soviet system the party once stood unified against.

Supposedly middle-class workers — people who have government jobs that are supposed to be stable and secure — are waiting in bread lines. Thanks to government dysfunction and mismanagement, those employed in the private sector may also be going hungry, since 2,500 vendors nationwide are unable to participate in the food stamp program while the government is shuttered and unable to renew licenses for the Electronic Benefit Transfer debit card program.

Why? Because of the whims of a would-be autocrat who cares more about erecting an expensive monument to his own campaign rhetoric than about the pain and suffering of the little people he claims to champion.

And for now, at least, most of those little people are too frightened of the government’s wrath to fight back overtly. Instead, desperate to keep jobs that might someday offer them a paycheck again, the proletariat protest in more passive ways: by calling in sick in higher numbers.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Now, what stories have you been following? Please share in the comment thread below.

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Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

It has been quite a roller coaster ride for politics junkies over the past couple of days.

First, Buzzfeed news posted a blockbuster story on Thursday night citing law enforcement sources who claimed to have documentary evidence that Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow deal that was in the works during the 2016 campaign.

The story was out there for a full day and then the Special Counsel’s office released a cryptic statement saying there was something wrong with the story but not specifically spelling out the problem. CNN: Mueller’s office disputes BuzzFeed report that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, in a statement.

By Alice Neel

It’s highly unusual for the special counsel’s office to provide a statement to the media — outside of court filings and judicial hearings — about any of its ongoing investigative activities.

In response, BuzzFeed said in its own statement, “We are continuing to report and determine what the special counsel is disputing. We remain confident in the accuracy of our report.”
Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief at Buzzfeed, echoed similar sentiments.

“We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing,” he tweeted….

The BuzzFeed story, by reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, asserted that Cohen had told special counsel investigators that “after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations [for a Trump development project in Moscow] ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement,” BuzzFeed wrote, attributing its assertion to two law enforcement sources.

The sources also said the special counsel’s office had corroborating Trump company emails, text messages and other documents, though the BuzzFeed reporters were unclear Friday in television interviews about whether they had seen the documents described in their story.

I’m not going to try to figure out what all this means at the moment, because we have plenty of evidence already that Trump has lie, encouraged others to lie, and has engaged in witness tampering on Twitter and most likely in private. We also have evidence that Trump told his own son to lie about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. In that instance, Trump actually composed the false story to be given to The New York Times.

Numerous experts have weighed in on the meaning of the Special Counsel’s statement Raw Story compiled several of them. And here is Emptywheel’s take on the statement.

We’ll learn what it all means at some point. Buzzfeed will surely go back to their sources for clarification and I hope they’ll publish a follow-up story. Meanwhile, we already know that Trump is a criminal.

By Amy Hill

In other news, Trump announced last night that he is going to make a “major announcement” about the so-called “crisis” at the border and the government shutdown. CBS News reports:

President Trump said he will make a “major announcement” about the southern border and the partial government shutdown on Saturday. It is scheduled to take place at 4 p.m. ET.

“I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown,” Mr. Trump tweeted Friday evening. He had originally said it would be at 3 p.m. but his schedule later noted it would take place an hour later….

A senior administration official told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett that Mr. Trump will present what the White House believes could be a deal to end the shutdown. The deal was largely influenced by talks between Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Obviously, no deal can be reached without including Democratic leaders, and it’s already clear that Trump understands there’s no crisis, or he wouldn’t have waited until day 29 of the shutdown to try to deal with it. It will be interesting to see how Nancy Pelosi responds to whatever Trump proposes. Axios’s Jonathan Swan claims to know what it will be:

President Trump plans to use remarks from the Diplomatic Reception Room on Saturday afternoon to propose a notable immigration compromise, according to sources familiar with the speech.

The offer is expected to include Trump’s $5.7 billion demand for wall money in exchange for the BRIDGE Act — which would extend protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — and also legislation to extend the legal status of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, according to a source with direct knowledge.

Jared Kushner and Mike Pence have led the crafting of this deal and the negotiations with members, according to White House officials.

Whatever. He just needs open up the government and stop acting like spoiled brat and holding the country hostage.

By Betty Pieper

Today is the “Women’s March,” and it’s not going to be anything like the one in 2017. The Washington Post:

Thousands of women from across the country gathered in the nation’s capital Saturday morning for the third annual Women’s March on Washington.

Organizers wrote in a permit application weeks ago that they expected hundreds of thousands to attend — a number similar to the 2017 march the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration — but a National Park Service permit issued Thursday indicated that about 10,000 are expected. Similar marches were planned across the country.

The 2019 march is taking place amid controversies that have dogged the national Women’s March organization, including allegations of anti-Semitism and secretive financial dealings and disputes over who gets to own and define the Women’s March. Some organizers have called for its national co-chairs to resign.

Attendees gathered at 10 a.m. at Freedom Plaza, followed at 11 a.m. by a half-mile march past the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The rally — originally planned for the Mall — will resume at 1 p.m. at Freedom Plaza with speakers and performers, then is scheduled to end at 4 p.m.

Yesterday was the oddly named “March for Life,” at which fake Christians argue that American women should be forced to bear children whether they want to or not. There was also an Indigenous People’s March in Washington yesterday, and some kids from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hill, Kentucky wearing MAGA hats chose to harass and mock the indigenous people at the Lincoln Memorial. It was ugly.

It was even worse than it looks in the video, because the boys surrounded the Native American group, pushing and bumping up against them. Here’s some video of the crowd surround the Native American demonstrators.

Here’s a Twitter thread to check out:

You can find lots more on this on Twitter. We’ll see if the school takes any action. Someone posted this news story from a Kentucky outlet, River City News: Video Appears to Show Covington Catholic Students Swarming Native American Marcher.

Multiple videos being shared extensively on social media appear to show students from Covington Catholic High School surrounding a Native American participant in the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. on Friday. The event happened at the same time as the National March for Life, an anti-abortion gathering in D.C., which was attended by Cov Cath students.

A request for comment from a spokesperson at Covington Catholic has not yet been returned. The school removed its Facebook page and made its Twitter profile private after social media users identified the students as being from Cov Cath.

Woman with a Cat, Fernand Léger (french, Argentan 1881–1955

In the videos, one student appears to stand very close to a Native American participant playing a drum as other students stand nearby shouting, chanting, and jumping around.

Many of the students in the video appear to be wearing Covington Catholic apparel, while others are wearing clothing or hats in support of President Donald Trump.

We’ll see if the school takes any action. Obviously they don’t support autonomy for women and these boys learned this horrible behavior somewhere.

Is anyone else getting sick of hearing about Beto O’Rourke? At Yahoo News, Jon Ward asks a question and struggles with the obvious answer: Why was Beto O’Rourke a national phenomenon while Stacey Abrams wasn’t?

One was a three-term congressman known for once playing in a punk band, riding a skateboard and giving an answer about structural racism that went viral.

The other was the leader of her party in a Deep South state with a long history of racial discrimination who had spent years mobilizing people of color to register to vote and whose opponent was overseeing the election while erecting numerous obstacles to voting that disproportionately affected her supporters.

If one of these résumés seems more impressive than the other, you’d be forgiven for wondering why Texas’s Beto O’Rourke, the politician with the decidedly thinner personal story, became a national sensation while Georgia’s Stacey Abrams did not.

Let’s see, young charismatic (to some) white man vs. strong, intelligent, powerful black woman. What could be the explanation for why of of these two got so much more media attention than the other? I just can’t quite put my finger on it.

Way down in the story Ward finally gets to the race issue and just glances on the gender issue. Here’s sample:

By Nikolay Radulov

One staffer to a Democratic governor who was not allowed to be quoted by name said, “We have a very narrow mindset of what electable means, and a tall, white dude who is semifluent when speaking to minorities checks all of those boxes.”

“Stacey Abrams is the opposite of everything we count as electable: She’s black, she’s a woman, she’s in debt and honest about it, has incarcerated family,” the staffer said.

Teddy Goff, who worked for both Obama campaigns as a top digital adviser and also advised Clinton in 2016, tweeted more than a week before the election last fall: “I love Beto, but Stacey Abrams is the most talented Democrat running this year and we would all be talking about her (even) more if so many people didn’t tacitly view women and people of color as having less potential or being less ‘presidential.’”

“You look at Beto, and it’s easy to slot him into a framework of being president. It’s not to his discredit to wonder why don’t we think of President Stacey Abrams,” Goff told Yahoo News.

I’ll end with this piece by Noah Bierman on why Trump is such a terrible dealmaker–he’s the boy who cried wolf. The LA Times: Why can’t Trump make deals? No one trusts him anymore.

Sen. Mitch McConnell was jolted with a fresh reminder of President Trump’s capriciousness last month: The majority leader persuaded Republican colleagues to take a politically difficult vote to temporarily fund the government, but not a border wall, only to see Trump withdraw support — initiating the longest shutdown in history.

House Republicans learned the same lesson early in Trump’s presidency when he rallied them to repeal Obamacare, then described their effort as “mean.”

As Trump reaches the halfway mark of his term on Sunday, he has left a trail of negotiating partners from both chambers of Congress, both political parties and countries around the world feeling double-crossed and even lied to.

The result is that the president who campaigned as the world’s best deal-maker, vowing that he alone could fix Washington’s dysfunction, has been stymied as he looks for achievements before facing the voters again. Two years in, the man who built a political reputation as a guy who tells it like it is has lost the essential ingredients to closing deals: credibility and trust.

Read the rest at the LA Times.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Thursday Reads: Trump Russia, Giuliani’s Meltdown, and Other News

Good Morning!!

Last night I was thinking about when Obama was president and we would have days when there was nothing earth shattering in politics to talk about. There would be quiet Fridays and weekends with no significant news about the government. Now there are terrifying crises in the government every single day, including weekends. If only we could go back to those relatively peaceful times! Instead we have Trump.

This morning, there are so many significant stories, that I can’t possibly get to all of them, so I’ll begin with this stunning headline from Wired: Trump Must Be a Russian Agent; The Alternative is Too Awful, by Garrett Graff.

It would be rather embarrassing for Donald Trump at this point if Robert Mueller were to declare that the president isn’t an agent of Russian intelligence.

The pattern of his pro-Putin, pro-Russia, anti-FBI, anti-intelligence community actions are so one-sided, and the lies and obfuscation surrounding every single Russian meeting and conversation are so consistent, that if this president isn’t actually hiding a massive conspiracy, it means the alternative is worse: America elected a chief executive so oblivious to geopolitics, so self-centered and personally insecure, so naturally predisposed to undermine democratic institutions and coddle authoritarians, and so terrible a manager and leader, that he cluelessly surrounded himself with crooks, grifters, and agents of foreign powers, compromising the national security of the US government and undermining 75 years of critical foreign alliances, just to satiate his own ego.

In short, we’ve reached a point in the Mueller probe where there are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised by the Russian government and has been working covertly to cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016 election—or Trump will go down in history as the world’s most famous “useful idiot,” as communists used to call those who could be co-opted to the cause without realizing it.

At least the former scenario—that the president of the United States is actively working to advance the interests of our country’s foremost, long-standing, traditional foreign adversary—would make him seem smarter and wilier. The latter scenario is simply a tragic farce for everyone involved.

We’re left here—in a place unprecedented in American political history, wondering how much worse the truth is than we already know—after four days of fresh revelations in the public drip-drip-drip of the Russia investigation. The past two months have seen the public understanding of the case advance into almost unthinkable territory. Now we’re simply trying to figure out how bad things really are.

That’s about it. And will be eventually learn that a large proportion of Republicans in Congress are also either compromised by Russia or too stupid to see that their president is? After all, they did vote yesterday to lift sanctions on Paul Manafort’s buddy Oleg Derapaska’s businesses.

And did you see Rudy Giuliani’s meltdown on CNN last night? In case you missed it:

Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Rudy Giuliani just contradicted nearly all the Trump team’s past collusion denials.

President Trump’s legal spokesman Rudolph W. Giuliani on Wednesday night appeared to grant the possibility that members of Trump’s campaign did, in fact, collude with the Russians during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

And in the process, he contradicted dozens of previous denials that both the Trump team (and Trump himself) have offered.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, before getting cut off.

“Yes, you have,” Cuomo said.

Giuliani shot back: “I have not. I said ‘the president of the United States.’”

But while Giuliani himself might not have assured that nobody on the campaign colluded, others including Trump sure have. In fact, the Trump team has moved the goal posts on this question no fewer than 10 times after initially denying any contact at all with “foreign entities.” Trump has said dozens of times that there was “no collusion,” full stop. This appears to be the first time anyone has acknowledged the possibility that someone colluded without Trump’s knowledge.

Read the rest for a list of Rudy’s successive walkbacks on whether there was collusion with Russia in the Trump campaign. Is this just a response to the many revelations about Paul Manafort or is Trump getting ready to throw Don Jr. under the bus? From Raw Story:

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s stunning interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night is still making waves, and a CNN panel agreed on Thursday morning that it could spell big trouble for Donald Trump Jr.

While discussing Giuliani’s latest admission that there may have been some collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian government agents, host John Berman asked whether Trump Jr. should be worried that his father is preparing to throw him under the bus for potentially conspiring with a hostile foreign power.

“Would you be nervous if you’re Donald Trump Jr. or Jared Kushner?” Berman asked. “Did Giuliani just send a signal that… the president’s legal defense team isn’t here for you?”

“That’s what I heard,” replied New York Times reporter Astead Herndon. “Everyone under [Trump’s] level can now be considered fair game, if we’re talking about the political signaling.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent discussed Giuliani’s meltdown with attorney Neal Kayal.

Former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal told me that this appears to be a tacit admission of serious vulnerability — as well as an effort to lay the groundwork for a last-ditch defense of Trump, should more come out. It also makes the nonstop claims that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is leading a “witch hunt” look ridiculous.

“They’ve been saying for two years that this is a witch hunt,” Katyal told me. “As a lawyer, given the recent revelations, Giuliani now has to pivot and outline the next line of defense.”

“This is straight out of the organized-crime playbook,” Katyal continued. “The boss says, ‘There was no conspiracy.’ Then prosecutors prove there was a conspiracy between your subordinates and a criminal organization. Then the defense shifts to, ‘Okay, there was a conspiracy, but the boss didn’t know anything about it.’”

Sargent also asked Obama’s white house counsel Bob Bauer about Giuliani’s statements.

Bob Bauer, the White House counsel under former president Barack Obama, told me that Giuliani “must have some continuing hope” that Mueller cannot prove Trump knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort attended in the expectation of gaining dirt on Hillary Clinton produced by the Russian government.

That seems unlikely, given the latest from The New York Times on Trump’s black box meetings with Vladimir Putin: Trump and Putin Have Met Five Times. What Was Said Is a Mystery. The story recounts the meetings and phone calls Trump has had with Putin, beginning right after he was elected. But here’s the highlight of the story:

The inaugural meeting [in Hamburg, Germany] came at a sensitive time. Mr. Trump’s team learned that day that one of the biggest secrets of his presidential bid was about to become public: At the height of the campaign, his son, son-in-law and campaign chairman had met at Trump Tower with Russians on the promise of obtaining dirt on Mrs. Clinton from the Russian government. Mr. Trump’s team was scrambling to respond to a request for comment by The Times.

Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin that day lasted more than two hours. Afterward, Mr. Trump took his interpreter’s notes and instructed the interpreter not to brief anyone. Mr. Tillerson told reporters that the leaders discussed everything from Syria to Ukraine, but he also described “a very robust and lengthy exchange” on the election hacking.

A few hours later, Mr. Trump sought out Mr. Putin again during a dinner for all the leaders. Videotape later made public showed Mr. Trump pointing at Mr. Putin, who was seated across and down a long table, then pointing at himself and then making a pumping motion with his fist.

Mr. Trump later told The Times that he went over to see his wife, Melania Trump, who was sitting next to Mr. Putin, and the two leaders then talked, with Mr. Putin’s interpreter translating. No American officials were present, and the White House did not confirm the encounter until more than 10 days later, after it was independently reported.

Here’s the shocker:

The day after the two meetings, as Mr. Trump was on Air Force One taking off from Germany heading back to Washington, he telephoned a Times reporter and argued that the Russians were falsely accused of election interference. While he insisted most of the conversation be off the record, he later repeated a few things in public in little-noticed asides.

He said that he raised the election hacking three times and that Mr. Putin denied involvement. But he said Mr. Putin also told him that “if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten caught because we’re professionals.” Mr. Trump said: “I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world” at hacking.

Asked how he weighed Mr. Putin’s denials against the evidence that had been presented to him by Mr. Comey; John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director; and James R. Clapper Jr., then director of national intelligence, he said that Mr. Clapper and Mr. Brennan were the “most political” intelligence chiefs he knew and that Mr. Comey was “a leaker.”

Later on the same flight Trump dictated a statement to the NYT about Don Jr.’s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.

Mr. Trump huddled with aides to decide how to respond to the emerging story by other Times reporters about the Trump Tower meeting. He personally dictated a misleading statement, saying the meeting was about Russian adoptions without admitting that it was actually intended to accept Moscow’s aid for his campaign, as emails obtained by The Times later documented.

You may have seen this footage from the dinner in Hamburg, in which Trump signals to Putin and then clenches his fist. Was he signaling that he needed to talk to Putin about the NYT story?

More stories to check out:

Michael McFaul at The Washington Post: Sorry, but Trump is not ‘tough on Russia’

The Wall Street Journal: Poll-Rigging for Trump and Creating @WomenForCohen: One IT Firm’s Work Order.

The Epoch Times: EXCLUSIVE: In Closed-Door Testimony, Papadopoulos Identified Alleged Spy in Trump Campaign.

The Daily Beast: Rick Gates Tells Mueller About Trump Team’s Dealings With Israeli Intelligence Firm.

The Washington Post: North Korean spy chief’s visit to Washington shrouded in mystery.

CNN: Trump is fraying nerves inside the Pentagon.

Raw Story: Stephen Miller was writing SOTU to blame Democrats for shutdown — until Nancy Pelosi pulled the rug out: report.

So . . . what stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

William Barr

The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently questioning William Barr, Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. It’s pretty much guaranteed that Barr’s appointment will be approved, so the main goal for Democrats is to get him to commit publicly to protecting Robert Muller and the Russia investigation.

Diane Feinstein already got Barr to say that he will protect the investigation and he said that he will abide by the rules of the Special Counsel statute. The hearings are expected to take about three days. You can read Barr’s prepared statement at CNN.

Also from CNN: Barr sent or discussed controversial memo with Trump lawyers.

Attorney General nominee William Barr shared a controversial memo last year with nearly all of President Donald Trump’s lawyers concluding that an aspect of special counsel Robert Mueller’s case could be “fatally misconceived,” Barr acknowledged Monday.

Barr’s 19-page memo — which concluded that Trump’s publicly reported interactions with ex-FBI Director James Comey could not constitute obstruction of justice — was addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General Steve Engel and released as a part of Barr’s Senate questionnaire last month. But it was previously unclear who else had seen it.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham Monday night, Barr said that he had sent it to White House special counsel Emmet Flood, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, and his former Justice Department colleague Pat Cipollone who is now White House counsel. He also discussed the issues raised in the memo with Trump lawyers Marty and Jane Raskin and Jay Sekulow. In addition he sent a copy, or had a conversation about the contents of the memo with Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Jared Kushner.

In Tuesday’s testimony, Barr will say he distributed the memo “broadly” so that other lawyers “would have the benefit of my views.” He said the memo was narrow in scope and targeted a specific obstruction of justice theory “under a single statute that I thought, based on media reports, the special counsel might be considering.”

“I wrote it myself, on my own initiative, without assistance , and based solely on public information,” Barr will say.
But the revelation comes as Democrats have pledged to make Barr’s criticisms of Mueller’s investigation a centerpiece of the hearings, particularly because Barr would be poised to oversee Mueller’s work if confirmed.

Cindy McCain weighed on Twitter.

Here are three opinion pieces on the Barr nomination to check out:

NBC News: William Barr confirmation hearing: Trump’s attorney general nominee still has a lot to answer for, by Glenn Kirschner.

The Washington Post: I was in Congress during Nixon’s impeachment proceedings. William Barr is wrong, by Elizabeth Holzman. former Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Lawfare: Lessons from Watergate: What the Senate Judiciary Committee Should Ask Bill Barr, by Mikhaila Fogel Quinta Jurecic, and Benjamin Wittes.

In other DOJ news, The Supreme Court has declined to hear a “challenge to Whitaker as acting attorney general.” The Washington Post reports:

The Supreme Court, without comment, turned away a challenge Monday to Matthew G. Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general.

Washington lawyer and Supreme Court practitioner Thomas C. Goldstein has intervened in cases in Nevada and Maryland to say that President Trump did not have the legal authority to appoint Whitaker, who had been chief of staff to Jeff Sessions when Trump forced out his attorney general in November.

The justices denied the Nevada case and its attempt to substitute Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein for Whitaker. The Maryland case is still before a federal judge there.

Goldstein and others say that Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, should have succeeded Sessions and that it is unlawful for Whitaker to be running the department for even a short time.

Read more at the WaPo.

More legal news, just breaking this morning: Wilbur Ross can’t include a question about immigration status in the Census questionnaire. NPR: Judge Orders Trump Administration To Remove 2020 Census Citizenship Question.

A federal judge in New York has ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Wilbur Ross characiture

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ordered the administration to stop its plans to include the controversial question on forms for the upcoming national head count “without curing the legal defects” the judge identified in his opinion released on Tuesday.

Furman’s decision marks a significant milestone in a legal battle that began shortly after the Trump administration announced last year that the 2020 census would include a controversial question about U.S. citizenship status. The added question was: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” All U.S. households have not been asked such a question on the census since 1950.

It’s an important step in the right direction, but the case will likely end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Furman has noted that he does not expect his order to be the final word on the question’s fate. The district court ruling in New York is expected to be appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, ultimately, to the Supreme Court.

In addition to the two lead cases before Furman at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the administration is fighting five more lawsuits across the country filed by dozens of states, cities and other groups that want the question removed. A second trial over the question began earlier this month in California, and another is scheduled to begin in Maryland on Jan. 22.

Yesterday The New York Times reported that Trump is dying to make Putin’s dreams come true: Trump Discussed Pulling U.S. From NATO, Aides Say Amid New Concerns Over Russia.

There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.

Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States.

Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set.

In the days around a tumultuous NATO summit meeting last summer, they said, Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.

Read more at the NYT.

Will Devin Nunes finally get his comeuppance? The Daily Beast reports: Mueller Probes an Event With Nunes, Flynn, and Foreign Officials at Trump’s D.C. Hotel.

The Special Counsel’s Office and federal prosecutors in Manhattan are scrutinizing a meeting involving former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, one-time National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and dozens of foreign officials, according to three sources familiar with the investigations.

The breakfast event, which was first reported by The Daily Sabah, a pro-government Turkish paper, took place at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. at 8.30 a.m. on Jan. 18, 2017—two days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration. About 60 people were invited, including diplomats from governments around the world, according to those same sources.

The breakfast has come under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in Manhattan as part of their probe into whether the Trump inaugural committee misspent funds and if donors tried to buy influence in the White House. The existence of that probe was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The Special Counsel’s Office is also looking at the breakfast as part of its investigation into whether foreigners contributed money to the Trump inaugural fund and PAC by possibly using American intermediaries, as first reported by The New York Times. Robert Mueller’s team has asked Flynn about the event, according to two sources familiar with the Special Counsel’s Office questioning.

Click on the link to read the rest.

Breaking Russia investigation news from Twitter:

The Women’s March is bleeding support because of concerns that the leadership of the group is anti-Semitic. The latest from Jewish News Syndicate: Democratic National Committee drops partnership with Women’s March.

The Democratic National Committee has dropped its partnership in the Women’s March over anti-Semitism concerns, according to a Democratic source.

This development comes amid accusations of anti-Semitism within the movement’s leadership, causing many organizations to drop their support of the this year’s march, scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 19. There have been calls for firms to back out.

In recent weeks, a number of progressive groups that have withdrawn their support of the march, which was launched in 2017 in protest of the election of President Donald Trump, including, but are not limited to, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, the Human Rights Campaign, Greenpeace, Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance, Coalition Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.

Moreover, local marches, such as in Chicago and New Orleans, have been cancelled.

And from The Washington Post: What’s in a name? Women’s March groups spar over who owns the name and the movement.

After a year marred by accusations of anti-Semitism, financial opacity and infighting, the national Women’s March organization has sought to refocus the group with a rally and the rollout of a new federal policy platform dubbed the Women’s Agenda.

Meanwhile, local groups across the country — largely unaffiliated with the national organization — have been unable to separate themselves from the fallout. They say it has hurt their ability to organize, to attract participants and to be heard.

Even the name, Women’s March, has become a flash point.

Four organizations have sued the national Women’s March group — led by activists Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour — over efforts to trademark the name, arguing that no entity can own the march or the activism it has inspired. Some groups have sought to rebrand to shed the “Women’s March” name and the tumult that comes with it.

Frankly, I had issues with the women’s march in 2017, because they shut out Hillary and her supporters. The next march is scheduled for Saturday.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Putin’s Puppet

The blue cat by Natasha Milashevich

Good Afternoon!!

I assume everyone has heard about the blockbuster story in The New York Times last night about an FBI investigation into whether Trump was working with Russia and against the U.S.: F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia.

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

Two well-known instances of Trump’s public behavior helped trigger the counterintelligence investigation of Trump: a draft of a letter explaining the firing James Comey and Trump’s interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in which he tied the firing of Comey to the Russia investigation. The investigations were passed on to Robert Mueller after he was appointed Special Counsel.

The criminal and counterintelligence elements were coupled together into one investigation, former law enforcement officials said in interviews in recent weeks, because if Mr. Trump had ousted the head of the F.B.I. to impede or even end the Russia investigation, that was both a possible crime and a national security concern. The F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division handles national security matters.

If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017. He privately testified in October before House investigators who were examining the F.B.I.’s handling of the full Russia inquiry.

“Not only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,” Mr. Baker said in his testimony, portions of which were read to The New York Times. Mr. Baker did not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the investigation of Mr. Trump to congressional investigators.

One more event reinforced the decision to investigate Trump himself.

F.B.I. officials viewed their decision to move quickly as validated when a comment the president made to visiting Russian officials in the Oval Office shortly after he fired Mr. Comey was revealed days later.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to a document summarizing the meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

 

This should be mind-blowing; but after all we’ve learned over the past three years it’s really not that big of a surprise. After all, Hillary warned us back in 2016.

After the NYT story broke last night, Sarah Sanders released an idiotic statement that contained no denial of the substance.

Trump also tweeted and failed to deny anything substantive in the story.

Susan Glasser reupped her May 2017 Politico story about Trump’s meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office: Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance. The cozy meeting between President Trump and Russia’s foreign minister came at Vladimir Putin’s insistence.

When President Donald Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday just hours after firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded with the Russians, he was breaking with recent precedent at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Grey haired woman with cat, Teresa Tanner

The chummy White House visit—photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit—had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, and indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”

The meeting was Lavrov’s first in the White House since 2013—and came after several years of the Obama administration’s flat-out refusal to grant him an Oval Office audience, two former senior White House officials told me. “The Russians were begging us for years to do that,” one of the former officials said. “They were constantly pushing for it and we were constantly saying no.”

The images of Trump putting his arm genially on Lavrov’s back—and a later White House official readout of the meeting that said Trump “emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia”—couldn’t have come at a more fraught political moment for Trump, amid a barrage of bipartisan criticism of his firing of FBI Director James Comey. On Wednesday morning before meeting with Trump, Lavrov even cracked a joke about his hosts’ political predicament, laughingly claiming not to have heard of the Comey firing while standing alongside Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

In other words, Lavrov was right where he has always wanted to be Wednesday: mocking the United States while being welcomed in the Oval Office by the president himself.

How many conversations has Trump had with Putin on his unsecured cell phone? My guess is the NSA and Robert Mueller know the answer and they also know what the two pals discussed.

Late last night The Hoarse Whisperer posted a long Twitter thread, at the end of which he noted that on his way out Obama issued an executive order to make information sharing between the NSA and the FBI easier.

Read the whole thread on Twitter.

From the January 2017 New York Times Story by Charlie Savage:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions.

Obama must have suspected that FBI investigators would need to access the NSA data.

More stories to check out:

Lawfare: What if the Obstruction Was the Collusion? On the New York Times’s Latest Bombshell.

The Daily Beast: Ex-FBI Officials Say Spy Inquiry into President Trump Is ‘Uncharted Territory.’

Vox: How the big new New York Times scoop changes our understanding of the Trump-Russia probe.

I know there’s plenty of other news, but I can’t focus on anything but the Russian agent in the White House. But please share your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Having a childish, incompetent madman in charge of the government is so exhausting. How much more of this can we take? Today, Donnie is headed for the Texas border with Mexico to do something or other. Who knows what insane gibberish will spew from his deformed lips. All I know for sure is that it won’t make sense.

Donnie has been touting his “steel slat” fence for the past week, but guess what? Those slats can be cut through with a common household saw.

NBC News: Test of steel prototype for border wall showed it could be sawed through.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated for a steel slat design for his border wall, which he described as “absolutely critical to border security” in his Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday. But Department of Homeland Security testing of a steel slat prototype proved it could be cut through with a saw, according to a report by DHS.

A photo exclusively obtained by NBC News shows the results of the test after military and Border Patrol personnel were instructed to attempt to destroy the barriers with common tools.

The Trump administration directed the construction of eight steel and concrete prototype walls that were built in Otay Mesa, California, just across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. Trump inspected the prototypes in March 2018. He has now settled on a steel slat, or steel bollard, design for the proposed border barrier additions. Steel bollard fencing has been used under previous administrations.

However, testing by DHS in late 2017 showed all eight prototypes, including the steel slats, were vulnerable to breaching, according to an internal February 2018 U.S. Customs and Border Protection report.

Photos of the breaches were not included in a redacted version of the CBP report, which was first obtained in a Freedom of Information Act Request by San Diego public broadcaster KPBS.

Gail Collins mocks Donnie’s wall obsession at The New York Times: Trump Hits the Wall. And what’s all that sniffling about?

We need to look at the bright side of Donald Trump’s border wall fixation.

Sure, he’s shut down the government and thrown the nation into chaos. But it could be worse. He could be demanding a fiery moat between us and Canada. Or building a 36,000-foot-deep barrier across the Pacific Ocean to drive home his commitment to tariffs.

See? There’s always a silver lining.

On Trump’s strange oval office address:

Maybe all this wall obsessing makes Trump tired. He certainly seemed low-energy during his Oval Office address. “He makes Jeb Bush look like a combination of Mighty Mouse and Bruce Springsteen,” a friend of mine said after the president finished his nine-minute speech to the American people.

For every viewer whose response to the talk was “Wow, we should do something about immigration!” there must have been a hundred whose first reaction was “Why does this man keep sniffing?” Deviated septum? Nasal polyps? Trump’s breathing has actually sounded strange for a long time, but most of us have chosen to ignore it rather than engage in a national conversation about the president’s nose.

If you watched the address — and really, you could have, it was only about as long as it takes to microwave popcorn — you saw a 72-year-old guy squinting at the teleprompter and making rather alarming breathing sounds while reading a speech about how we need a wall to protect women who are “sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico.”

This is not a man who should wrap his arguments around the idea of protecting women from sexual assault. But also, gee, he sounded like Uncle Fred who you haven’t seen for a while and suddenly he shows up for Thanksgiving with weird colored hair and vacant eyes and he’s talking into his mashed potatoes.

As the Trump shutdown continues, the administration has been giving tone-deaf advice to government employees who are going without pay.

The Washington Post: Coast Guard families told they can have garage sales to cope with government shutdown.

Employees of the U.S. Coast Guard who are facing a long U.S. government shutdown just received a suggestion: To get by without pay, consider holding a garage sale, babysitting, dog-walking or serving as a “mystery shopper.”

The suggestions were part of a five-page tip sheet published by the Coast Guard Support Program, an employee-assistance arm of the service often known as CG SUPRT. It is designated to offer Coast Guard members help with mental-health issues or other concerns about their lives, including financial wellness.

“Bankruptcy is a last option,” the document said.

The Coast Guard receives funding from the Department of Homeland Security and is subjected to the shuttering of parts of the government along with DHS’s other agencies. That stands in contrast to other military services, which are part of the Defense Department and have funding.

This is interesting, from Buzzfeed News: ICE Might Be Violating Federal Law By Keeping Immigrants Detained During The Shutdown.

A lengthy government shutdown over border wall funding has potentially put Immigration and Customs Enforcement at risk of violating a more than 100-year-old law that could not only require the release of “non-dangerous” individuals in the agency’s custody but also stop it from continuing to arrest and detain certain people, according to former senior ICE officials and experts.

The potential violation could complicate ICE’s operations at a time when President Donald Trump has argued that the shutdown is necessary to force Democrats to implement tougher immigration policies, such as building a wall on the US–Mexico border.

ICE contracts with nonfederal detention facilities, like county jails and private detention contractors, across the country to hold individuals detained by immigration agents. The agency pays for the bed space in various ways, including monthly payments or, in some cases, in advance.

As of Jan. 1, the agency was detaining more than 48,000 individuals, which is 8,000 more than the levels that had been provided for by the now-expired congressional funding. But nearly three weeks after its funding lapsed because of the shutdown, ICE has likely run out of money to pay contractors for the detention space it uses.

And while ICE has some non-appropriated funds it can lean on, those are not enough to pay for the overall detention space for more than a few weeks, said Kevin Landy, who was appointed during the Obama administration to run ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning, a position he held for more than six years, up until 2017.

In other news, Kamala Harris is close to announcing a run for president in 2020.

KCBS Radio: Kamala Harris Ready To Enter Race For President, Sources Say.

Sen. Kamala Harris has decided to run for president in 2020 and will announce her candidacy on or around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, probably at a campaign rally in Oakland, sources close to the freshman senator from California tell KCBS Radio.

Harris, 54, has been making the rounds of television talk shows and appearing at several events this week as part of a brief tour to promote her new book, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.”

At every stop, when asked about running for president, Harris has answered with some variation of “I’m not ready yet” to announce her decision, citing family considerations. But several sources knowledgeable about her plans say she is ready, and has in fact decided to run, with the enthusiastic blessing of her husband and two stepchildren.

The debate within her camp is how, and where, to launch her campaign. The tentative plan is for Harris to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination with a campaign rally, most likely in Oakland, where she was born and began her legal career.

And the media continues to belatedly vet Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign. Politico: Top Bernie Sanders 2016 adviser accused of forcibly kissing subordinate.

On the final night of the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016, Bernie Sanders’ staffers went out to a Mediterranean restaurant and hookah bar in Center City Philadelphia to celebrate and mourn the end of the campaign.

Sitting at the bar sometime after midnight, convention floor leader Robert Becker—who oversaw Sanders’ Iowa campaign, then helped lead his efforts in Michigan, California, and New York as deputy national field director—began talking with a female staffer who had worked under him along with her boyfriend.

Becker, now 50 years old, told the 20-something woman that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a reference to riding his “pole,” according to the woman and three other people who witnessed what happened or were told about it shortly afterward by people who did. Later in the night, Becker approached the woman and abruptly grabbed her wrists. Then he moved his hands to her head and forcibly kissed her, putting his tongue in her mouth as he held her, the woman and other sources said.

The woman said she didn’t come forward at the time, because Sanders’ campaign was over. But when she was recently contacted by Becker about 2020 the women felt she had to speak up.

“Candidates who allow people like Robert Becker to lead their organizations shouldn’t earn the highest office in our government,” said the woman, who was granted anonymity because she feared retaliation from supporters of Sanders and Becker, who has a loyal following of his own.

“It just really sucks because no one ever held him accountable and he kept pushing and pushing and seeing how much he could get away with. This can’t happen in 2020. You can’t run for President of the United States unless you acknowledge that every campaign demands a safe work environment for every employee and volunteer.”

 


Trump Tantrum Open Thread

 

Here’s a fresh thread in case anyone wants to discuss the televised Trump tantrum tonight. One good thing, Rachel Maddow is going to be on at 8PM with Chris Hayes and will follow the Trump tantrum with other guests on her show.

A few reads:

George Packer at The Atlantic: The Suicide of a Great Democracy.

Also at The Atlantic: Why Mike Pence Couldn’t End the Shutdown.

Reuters: A growing number of Americans blame Trump for shutdown: Reuters-Ipsos poll.

CBS News: Every congressperson along southern border opposes border wall funding.

 

This is a wide open thread.