Lazy Saturday Reads

Key West Chairs, Dorine MacLauchlan

Good Afternoon!!

Another huge story broke last night at the Washington Post, and this one appears to have been leaked by people in the intelligence community or the White House who are trying to damage Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show.

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The Goldfish Window, Childe Hassam

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Current and former U.S. officials said that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations during two encounters over the course of the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.

It would be interesting to know who leaked this–could it possibly have come from Michael Flynn? In any case, this is highly sensitive information that the Post reportedly had in June but held it until last night.

The Post also published a damaging story about Jared and Ivanka’s lies of omission: In revised filing, Kushner reveals dozens of previously undisclosed assets.

Jared Kushner failed to disclose dozens of financial holdings that he was required to declare when he joined the White House as an adviser to President Trump, his father-in-law, according to a ­revised form released Friday.

separate document released Friday also showed that Kushner’s wife, presidential daughter Ivanka Trump, had been paid as much as $5 million from her outside businesses over an 84-day span this spring around the time she entered the White House as a senior adviser and pledged to distance herself from her private holdings.

Saturday Afternoon, William Gunning King

Kushner’s new disclosure, released by the White House, detailed more than 70 assets that his attorneys said he had inadvertently left out of earlier filings. The new document comes as the presidential aide faces increasing scrutiny as part of investigations into alleged Russian influence in the 2016 campaign….

The new filing reveals Kushner’s past and current investments in an array of entities, including a real estate trading platform now valued at $800 million in which he continues to hold a large stake. He and his wife also disclosed that their contemporary art collection is valued at between $5 million and $25 million.

Kushner’s financial disclosure has been updated 39 times since his first filing in March.

From today’s New York Times: Ivanka Trump Received at Least $12.6 Million Since 2016, Disclosure Shows.

Ivanka Trump or her trust received at least $12.6 million since early 2016 from her various business ventures and has an arrangement to guarantee her at least $1.5 million a year even as she serves in a top White House position, according to her first ethics disclosure made public late Friday.

The report was released alongside an updated filing by her husband, Jared Kushner, who is also serving as a top adviser to President Trump. It shows that the couple benefit from an active business empire worth as much as $761 million to them, an arrangement that ethics experts warn poses potentials for conflicts of interest as the couple have been given a wide-ranging portfolio of government responsibilities.

Ms. Trump, who resigned from nearly 300 leadership positions at various entities within the family real estate businesses and at her fashion brand, has continued to receive millions of dollars from both streams, including more than $2.4 million from her stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington and more than $2.5 million in salary and severance from the Trump Organization.

Ms. Trump received about $1.7 million in payments from T International Realty, the family’s luxury brokerage agency, as well as two other real estate companies for various management, consulting and licensing work, the documents show. Those payments, for work done in 2016, were based on the companies’ performance.

But going forward, she will receive fixed payments — a change that her advisers say was developed in consultation with the Office of Government Ethics to minimize her potential conflicts by removing her interest in how well her family’s business performs.

More at the link.

Brookside Park Pasadena on a Saturday Afternoon

I was really looking forward to seeing Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort testify publicly, but unfortunately it will be behind closed doors now. CNN: Trump Jr. and Manafort reach deal with Senate panel to avoid public hearing.

The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee have cut a deal with President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to avoid being subpoenaed for a high-profile public hearing next week, with the two men agreeing to provide records to the panel and to be privately interviewed ahead of any public session.

In a joint statement, panel Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein said, “(W)e will not issue subpoenas for them tonight requiring their presence at Wednesday’s hearing but reserve the right to do so in the future.”

Feinstein tweeted later Friday evening, “The Judiciary Committee will talk to Trump Jr. & Manafort before they testify in public, but we will get answers.”

Last week, Trump Jr. told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he would testify under oath about his recently revealed 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians, where he attempted to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But after the Senate Judiciary Committee invited him to attend a public hearing, the President’s eldest struck the agreement to avoid it, instead going behind closed doors.

Sources familiar with the matter say no date has been set for his and Manafort’s private interviews with the committee.

It seems as if Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr is getting more serious about his Russia investigation. Yesterday he publicly criticized House Intel chair Devin Nunes.

Talking Points Memo: Senate Intel Chair: ‘The Unmasking Thing Was All Created By Devin Nunes.’

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) on Friday accused his counterpart in the House, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), of creating a false narrative about Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice.

Madeline in a Wheat Field, Daniel Ridgway Knight

Speaking to CNN after Rice was interviewed by the panel in closed session, Burr said he asked no questions about whether she improperly requested and revealed the identities of U.S. individuals swept up in intelligence reports—an accusation Nunes has made repeatedly.

“The unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes, and I’ll wait to go through our full evaluation to see if there was anything improper that happened,” Burr told CNN. “But clearly there were individuals unmasked. Some of that became public which it’s not supposed to, and our business is to understand that, and explain it.”

With an assist from the White House, the House Intelligence chairman in March embarked on a one-man crusade to accuse Rice of improperly unmasking the identities of members of Trump’s campaign in intelligence reports. Though President Donald Trump said he believed Rice’s actions broke the law, bipartisan lawmakers who viewed the same classified reports from which Nunes drew his conclusions said they saw no evidence of wrongdoing. National security experts also told TPM that it was within Rice’s purview as national security adviser to request that names be unmasked as she tried to determine the extent of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Nunes ended up temporarily stepping aside from the House investigation after ethics watchdogs accused him of improperly disclosing classified information in his public statements about Rice. He recently told CNN that he remains fully “read-in” to the House probe and never formally recused himself, however.

Trump has reportedly been asking his lawyers if he can pardon himself and members of his family and staff. Here’s a response in a Washington Post op-ed by Lawrence Tribe, Richard Painter, and Norman Eisen: No, Trump can’t pardon himself. The Constitution tells us so.

Saturday Afternoon, Mark Arian

Can a president pardon himself? Four days before Richard Nixon resigned, his own Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel opined no, citing “the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.” We agree.

The Justice Department was right that guidance could be found in the enduring principles that no one can be both the judge and the defendant in the same matter, and that no one is above the law.

The Constitution specifically bars the president from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal. It adds that any official removed through impeachment remains fully subject to criminal prosecution. That provision would make no sense if the president could pardon himself.

The pardon provision of the Constitution is there to enable the president to act essentially in the role of a judge of another person’s criminal case, and to intervene on behalf of the defendant when the president determines that would be equitable. For example, the president might believe the courts made the wrong decision about someone’s guilt or about sentencing; President Barack Obama felt this way about excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses. Or the president might be impressed by the defendant’s subsequent conduct and, using powers far exceeding those of a parole board, might issue a pardon or commutation of sentence.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

This has been an mind-boggling week for Trump Russia news. I’m kind of relieved to have the weekend to process everything, since I assume Trump will be golfing. Next week could be even worse. Will Trump try to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Will Jeff Sessions have to resign? We’ll have to wait and see.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: Another Bonkers Trump Interview and More Breaking News

Sunday Afternoon, by Marie François Firmin-Girard

Good Morning!!

By 9:00 last night, there were about 10 huge breaking stories related to the Russia investigation.

There was a rambling, incoherent New York Times interview with Trump in which he trashed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, accused James Comey of blackmailing him, and threatened Special Counsel Robert Mueller, implying he’d better not try to look into Trump family finances.

On top of that, Trump still won’t let go of the dead GOP health care bill. And of course we learned that Sen. John McCain has an aggressive form of brain cancer that is likely terminal.

Right now we are waiting for Jeff Sessions to speak publicly. Will he resign? We’ll find out soon. In the meantime, here are some of the wild stories that broke last night. [UPDATE: He says he’s not resigning despite what Trump said about him (see CNN article posted down below. The announcement was about taking down a darknet website.] 

I’m going to devote most of this post to the NYT interview, because it’s just so incredible that this numbskull with dementia is in the White House. Here’s the article the Times published about it: Citing Recusal, Trump Says He Wouldn’t Have Hired Sessions.

President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”

In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’s decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.

Desire DeHau reading a newspaper, by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

In a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times, the president also accused James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired in May, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job. Mr. Trump criticized both the acting F.B.I. director who has been filling in since Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the deputy attorney general who recommended it. And he took on Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel now leading the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election.

Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia. Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office.

Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”

Much more at the link.

The Times also released an edited transcript of the interview: Excerpts From The Times’s Interview With Trump. Please read the whole thing if you can handle it. The “president” sounds like a third-grader. He can’t recall words, he has no idea what health insurance is, and he has no understanding of how the government works, and he has zero respect for the rule of law.

Some excerpts:

About health insurance and preexisting conditions:

HABERMAN: That’s been the thing for four years. When you win an entitlement, you can’t take it back.

TRUMP: But what it does, Maggie, it means it gets tougher and tougher. As they get something, it gets tougher. Because politically, you can’t give it away. So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you’re 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan. Here’s something where you walk up and say, “I want my insurance.” It’s a very tough deal, but it is something that we’re doing a good job of.

Painting of woman reading newspaper by Johanna Harmon

So Trump thinks health insurance costs $12 per year and you don’t use it until you’re 70 years old? WTF?! A little more:

TRUMP: Yeah. It’s been a tough process for him. This health care is a tough deal. I said it from the beginning. No. 1, you know, a lot of the papers were saying — actually, these guys couldn’t believe it, how much I know about it. I know a lot about health care. [garbled] This is a very tough time for him, in a sense, because of the importance. And I believe we get there.

This is a very tough time for them, in a sense, because of the importance. And I believe that it’s [garbled], that makes it a lot easier. It’s a mess. One of the things you get out of this, you get major tax cuts, and reform. And if you add what the people are going to save in the middle income brackets, if you add that to what they’re saving with health care, this is like a windfall for the country, for the people. So, I don’t know, I thought it was a great meeting. I bet the number’s — I bet the real number’s four. But let’s say six or eight. And everyone’s [garbled], so statistically, that’s a little dangerous, right?

Trump claims his “enemies” loved the horrible speech he gave in Poland.

TRUMP: I have had the best reviews on foreign land. So I go to Poland and make a speech. Enemies of mine in the media, enemies of mine are saying it was the greatest speech ever made on foreign soil by a president. I’m saying, man, they cover [garbled]. You saw the reviews I got on that speech. Poland was beautiful and wonderful, and the reception was incredible.

The “president” had a blast in France.

After that, it was fairly surprising. He [President Emmanuel Macron of France] called me and said, “I’d love to have you there and honor you in France,” having to do with Bastille Day. Plus, it’s the 100th year of the First World War. That’s big. And I said yes. I mean, I have a great relationship with him. He’s a great guy.

HABERMAN: He was very deferential to you. Very.

TRUMP: He’s a great guy. Smart. Strong. Loves holding my hand….

People don’t realize he loves holding my hand. And that’s good, as far as that goes….

I mean, really. He’s a very good person. And a tough guy, but look, he has to be. I think he is going to be a terrific president of France. But he does love holding my hand.

Claude Monet reading a newspaper, by Pierre Auguste Renoir

On the parade in Paris:

But the Bastille Day parade was — now that was a super-duper — O.K. I mean, that was very much more than normal. They must have had 200 planes over our heads. Normally you have the planes and that’s it, like the Super Bowl parade. And everyone goes crazy, and that’s it. That happened for — and you know what else that was nice? It was limited. You know, it was two hours, and the parade ended. It didn’t go a whole day. They didn’t go crazy. You don’t want to leave, but you have to. Or you want to leave, really.

These things are going on all day. It was a two-hour parade. They had so many different zones. Maybe 100,000 different uniforms, different divisions, different bands. Then we had the retired, the older, the ones who were badly injured. The whole thing, it was an incredible thing.

Seriously, he sounds like a child. Later Macron took Trump to Napoleon’s tomb.

TRUMP: Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad. But I asked that. So I asked the president, so what about Napoleon? He said: “No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.” [garbled] The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather? [….]

Same thing happened to Hitler. Not for that reason, though. Hitler wanted to consolidate. He was all set to walk in. But he wanted to consolidate, and it went and dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and that was the end of that army….

But the Russians have great fighters in the cold. They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they’ve won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death. [crosstalk] It’s pretty amazing.

So what did Trump discuss with Putin during their recently revealed hour-long conversation after dinner at the G20?

We talked about Russian adoption. Yeah. I always found that interesting. Because, you know, he ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because it was a part of the conversation that Don [Jr., Mr. Trump’s son] had in that meeting. As I’ve said — most other people, you know, when they call up and say, “By the way, we have information on your opponent,” I think most politicians — I was just with a lot of people, they said [inaudible], “Who wouldn’t have taken a meeting like that?”

Reading the News, by Evariste Carpentier

Does Trump even know that when Putin talks about “adoptions” he’s actually referring to U.S. sanctions against individual Russian oligarchs? Probably not. Trump goes on to claim that he never saw the email stating that the Russian government was supporting him in the 2016 election. He then goes on to claim that Hillary Clinton strongly opposed sanctions on Russia.

TRUMP: Well, Hillary did the reset. Somebody was saying today, and then I read, where Hillary Clinton was dying to get back with Russia. Her husband made a speech, got half a million bucks while she was secretary of state. She did the uranium deal, which is a horrible thing, while she was secretary of state, and got a lot of money….

She was opposing sanctions. She was totally opposed to any sanctions for Russia.

BAKER: When was that?

HABERMAN: Do you remember when that was? I don’t remember that….

TRUMP: I just saw it. I just saw it. She was opposed to sanctions, strongly opposed to sanctions on Russia.

Cue the Twilight Zone music. There is much much more lunacy, but I’m running out of space. Please try to read the entire interview. I think it’s really important that we all understand how demented Trump really is.

Other important stories to check out:

Washington Post: John McCain, Republican senator from Arizona, diagnosed with brain tumor

CNN: Jeff Sessions: ‘I plan to continue’ as attorney general.

Bloomberg: Mueller Expands Probe to Trump Business Transactions. (Will Trump try to fire Mueller now?)

NYT: Manafort Was in Debt to Pro-Russia Interests, Cyprus Records Show (around $17 million in debt and to the same bank in Cyprus that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is connected with).

Politico: Republicans lament an agenda in ‘quicksand.’

Dakinikat posted this yesterday, but it’s worth reposting. The Daily Beast: GOP Lawmaker Got Direction From Moscow, Took It Back to D.C.

Paste Magazine: The Hidden Man: Why Paul Manafort is the Focal Point at the Trump Jr. Meeting.

NYT: Big German Bank, Key to Trump’s Finances, Faces New Scrutiny.


Tuesday Reads: The Death of Trumpcare, Don Jr.’s Meeting, and “Devil’s Bargain.”

Good Morning!!

Trumpcare is dead after two more GOP Senators said they won’t support the bill to “repeal and replace Obamacare. The Washington Post reports:

Two more Senate Republicans have declared their opposition to the latest plan to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, potentially ending a months-long effort to make good on a GOP promise that has defined the party for nearly a decade and been a top priority for President Trump.

Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) issued statements declaring that they would not vote for the revamped measure. The sudden breaks by Lee, a staunch conservative, and Moran, an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), rocked the GOP leadership and effectively closed what already had been an increasingly narrow path to passage for the bill.

They joined Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Susan Collins (Maine), who also oppose it. With just 52 seats, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes to pass their proposed rewrite of the Affordable Care Act. All 46 Democrats and two independents are expected to vote against it.

In a pair of tweets Tuesday morning, Trump decried the defections, called for letting the Affordable Care Act “fail” and vowed to keep pushing for a GOP plan.

“We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans. Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard. We will return!” he wrote in the first tweet.

Remember when our joke of a “president” said repealing Obamacare would be “so easy?” Mother Jones in March:

“Together we’re going to deliver real change that once again puts Americans first,” Trump said at an October rally in Florida. “That begins with immediately repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare…You’re going to have such great health care, at a tiny fraction of the cost—and it’s going to be so easy.”

Trump also argued on the campaign trail that electing a Republican-controlled Congress would allow him to quickly dismantle the health care law and pass other pieces of legislation. “With a Republican House and Senate, we will immediately repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare,” Trump said at another event. “A Republican House and Senate can swiftly enact the other items in my contract immediately, including massive tax reduction.”

“We will [repeal and replace Obamacare], and we will do it very, very quickly,” Trump said during the final week of the campaign. “It is a catastrophe.”

Trump’s confidence in his ability to win the health care fight continued through the first few weeks of his presidency. On February 9, he bragged that when it came to repealing Obamacare, “Nobody can do that like me.” ….

By the end of February, Trump had changed his tune somewhat. “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” the president said. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

He still has no idea what’s in the bill he was so eager to sign.

So now Mitch McConnell says he will try to do a simple repeal of the ACA and worry about a “replacement” down the road. The Washington Post says that plan is dead in the water too.

Mitch McConnell pulled the second draft of his health-care bill last night after two more Republican senators came out against even bringing it up for debate on the floor: Utah’s Mike Lee and Kansas’s Jerry Moran.

“Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” the Senate majority leader said in a statement sent at 10:47 p.m.

He announced that he’ll bring the bill that already passed the House up for consideration “in the coming days,” and the first amendment the Senate would take up would be for the full repeal of Obamacare (with a two-year delay for implementation). But to get that vote on repeal, conservative critics must vote to allow debate on the broader bill.

If the clean vote for full repeal failed, as it almost certainly would, senators could continue making additional amendments that may make the measure even more unpalatable to conservatives.

The latest Trump Russia news:

CNN is trying to find out who the eighth person in the Don Jr. meeting was.

CNN reported July 14 that there was also an eighth person in the room, according to two sources familiar with the circumstances, although the name has not been disclosed. The person was described to CNN by a source as a representative of the Russian family, the Agalarovs, who had asked Goldstone to set up the meeting. While it isn’t clear who the person is, a second source said he was an employee of the Agalarovs who was in the US before the meeting.

More hints: Trump Jr. attorney offers details about 8th person at meeting.

Donald Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, has told CNN he has spoken by phone to the eighth person in the room during the meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016.

CNN reported last week that the Awas there on behalf of a Russian family, the Agalarovs, who had asked for the meeting to be set up, according to two sources….

Futerfas says the person, who he declined to name, was a US citizen and said he was not employed by the Russian government. But Futerfas acknowledged he didn’t know his entire history. The Agalarovs and their attorney have not publicly explained who the employee was who attended.

Finally, Dan Diamond of CNN has pulled together “the ever-changing story about Trump Jr.’s meeting — what we know.”

The New York Times has a piece on “The Master of ‘Kompromat’ Believed to Be Behind Trump Jr.’s Meeting.”

The salacious video, of a naked man in bed with two women, was one of the most prominent examples of “kompromat,” the Russian art of spreading damaging information to discredit a rival or an enemy, in recent Russian history.

It was made available to Russian state television in the late 1990s and authenticated in public by Yuri Y. Chaika, Russia’s prosecutor general, who at 66 has a long and storied background in kompromat. Mr. Chaika benefited from the video, as it destroyed a predecessor as prosecutor general, Yuri I. Skuratov, who had been looking into suspicions of corruption by President Boris N. Yeltsin and his associates.

Mr. Chaika (pronounced CHIKE-uh) is also the man who is widely considered to have been the source of the incriminating information on Hillary Clinton that Donald Trump Jr. was promised at a meeting last June in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer and a Russian-American lobbyist. And yet, oddly, the accusations brought to New York fell flat, by the accounts of those present, despite their having originated from such a seasoned master of kompromat.

We’ll see. I’m not prepared to believe anything that comes from the Trump family or their attorneys.

 

This morning I downloaded the new book on Steve Bannon and the Trump campaign by Joshua Green. Here’s the intro from the New York Times review: How Steve Bannon and Donald Trump Rode the Honey Badger Into the White House.

Mellivora capensis — better known as the honey badger — is a thick-skinned and sharp-toothed little creature that in 2011 became a YouTube sensation thanks to a short video called “The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger.” In the clip, a honey badger chases off jackals, raids a beehive, survives a cobra bite and eats venomous snakes head first. Meanwhile, an unseen narrator extols the animal’s core virtue: “Honey badger don’t give a . . .” — well, a darn.

The video has been viewed more than 83 million times.

Most people who watch it probably find it fairly amusing — and plenty gross. But for Stephen Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist and leading impresario of the alt-right, the video and its furry hero were something else: inspiration. The animal is the mascot of Breitbart News, the truth-optional publication Bannon took over following Andrew Breitbart’s sudden death in 2012 and with which he can maintain communication thanks to a White House waiver. After Trump made allegations about Bill Clinton’s sexual history in a debate last year with Hillary Clinton, Bannon exulted over his boss’s brazen but effective performance: “Classic honey badger,” he called it.

If there’s a lesson to draw from “Devil’s Bargain,” Joshua Green’s deeply reported and compulsively readable account of Bannon’s fateful political partnership with Trump, it is not to underestimate the honey badger. “If I didn’t come along, the Republican Party had zero chance of winning the presidency,” Trump told Green, a senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek, in May 2016, and he was probably right. Only someone with his and Bannon’s transgressive instincts, along with their seeming incapacity for moral and intellectual embarrassment, could have defeated the well-oiled if soulless machine that was Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

You’ve probably already heard about or read excerpts from the book. A couple of examples:

The Daily Beast: Trump’s Campaign Conceded in a Memo That Comey Was Having Major Impact.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign acknowledged in an internal memo that former FBI Director James Comey’s 11th hour decision to reopen an inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email helped shift the results.

Reported in Joshua Green’s new book Devil’s Bargain, the memo gives credence to an argument long espoused by Clinton world that Comey’s announcement propelled Trump to victory.

The memo was authored by some of Trump’s pollsters and data gurus just five days before the vote. Days earlier, Comey had reopened his investigation after FBI agents found additional emails on a laptop belonged Anthony Weiner, the now estranged husband of Clinton’s longtime aide Huma Abedin. While polling began to swing towards Trump, virtually all prognosticators still had Clinton heading for a comfortable win on November 8. On the Trump campaign, however, Green writes that “it was suddenly clear” that the investigation “was roiling the electorate.”

“The last few days have proven to be pivotal in the minds of voters with the recent revelations in reopening the investigation of Secretary Clinton,” the memo read, according to Green. “Early polling numbers show declining support for Clinton, shifting in favor of Mr. Trump.”

It added: “This may have a fundamental impact on the results.”

The Daily Mail: Trump the foul-mouthed germophobe fired Chris Christie because New Jersey governor arranged for Obama to call his phone NOT The Donald’s on election night.

Author Joshua Green, a senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek, writes that Christie had run against Trump for the Republican Presidential candidacy but quit in February last year after the New Hampshire primary.

The next month he shocked the Republican establishment by endorsing Trump and began leading his White House transition team.

According to ‘Devil’s Bargain’, Trump was in his War Room on election night when it started to look like he would pull of his shock victory.

The book says that ‘although he was surrounded by friends, aides and family members, there seemed to be a force field around him that discouraged a direct approach’.

Friends started congratulating Mike Pence instead and saluting him as ‘Mr Vice President’.

Trump sat down to ‘absorb the gravity of what was happening’ and a moment later Christie ‘burst through the force field and sat next to him’.

Christie said: ‘Hey Donald. The President talked to me earlier’ – the two had gotten to know each other after Superstorm Sandy. Christie said: ‘If you win he’s going to call my phone, and I’ll pass it over to you’.

Trump ‘flashed a look of annoyance, clearly resenting the intrusion’ and was repulsed by the idea of having somebody else’s phone next to his face.

Trump told Christie: ‘Hey Chris, you know my f***ing phone number. Just give it to the President. I don’t want your f***ing phone’.

Aides said that Christie’s move was the ‘ultimate mistake’ and one from which he ‘wouldn’t recover’.

If anyone is looking for me, I’ll be reading this book up until I have to go to the Dentist later this afternoon.

What stories are you following today?

 

 


Lazy Saturday Reads: Escape to Hope Island

Hope Island off the coast of Maine is for sale

Good Afternoon!!

Remember when we used to talk about finding a haven where we Sky Dancers could retreat from the world? If only we could raise $7.9 million, we could own this beautiful estate on an 86 acre private island, all we would have to do is to contact a west vancouver realtor and let him take care of everything else. From Boston.com:

A 25-minute boat ride from Portland, Maine, this estate on Casco Bay comes with more than just a three-bedroom, six-bathroom, 11,000-square-foot-plus main house.

Its $7,950,000 price tag also includes the 86-acre island on which it sits — Hope Island — along with a boathouse with an apartment; a barn with apartments; a carriage house; a tavern; a chapel; a stable; and a variety of other buildings. As you might assume, the home boasts some pretty incredible water views….

The island, with 11,050 feet of water frontage, has a rocky coastline, as well as sand beaches, a deepwater pier, and eight ponds.

In the main house, you’ll find two full stories and an unfinished basement. The kitchen boasts a center island with granite countertops, two bar sinks, cherry cabinetry, and a large pantry. The central entertainment room features custom millwork, a circular bar, built-ins, and French doors that lead to a terrace.

And from Boston Magazine:

Hope Island

The allure of Hope Island doesn’t rest on natural beauty alone, though. “No expense was spared in creating this magical island kingdom,” reads its property listing. What does that mean, exactly? For starters, there’s a more than 10,000-square-foot main house with six bathrooms, as well as several guest houses, a pier, a sizable boat house, a 10-stall horse stable, a couple of barns, concrete roads, a chapel, and even a tavern.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the island is powered by generators and submerged marine cables from nearby Long Island. There are also 15 water wells and nine separate septic systems. And if you ever needed to run an errand on the mainland, Portland Harbor is only a 25-minute boat ride away.

And to top it off, it’s called “Hope Island.” If only we could escape from the nightmarish Trump world we currently inhabit to a beautiful island close to Canada.

Our latest national nightmare includes Republicans who now say that colluding with the Russian government to help elect a president of the U.S. is no big deal. In fact, it’s just politics as usual and anyone would do it in order to win. Yesterday Jennifer Rubin posted a scathing takedown of her party: The GOP’s moral rot is the problem, not Donald Trump Jr.

The key insight from a week of gobsmacking revelations is not that the Russia scandal may finally have an underlying crime but that, as David Brooks suggests, “over the past few generations the Trump family built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.” (Remember when the media collectively oohed and ahhed that, “Say what you will about Donald Trump, but his kids are great!”?Add that to the heap of inane media narratives that helped normalize Trump to the voters.) We now see that, sure enough, the Trump legal team (the fastest-growing segment of the economy) has trouble restraining its clients, explaining away initial, false explanations and preventing self-incriminating statements. (The biggest trouble, of course, is that the president lied that this is all “fake news” and arguably committed obstruction of justice to hide his campaign team’s misdeeds.)

Hope Island

Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.” [….]

Indeed, for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, giving us anti-immigrant hysteria, promulgating disrespect for the law (how many “respectable” conservatives suggested disregarding the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage?), elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party, as Brooks said of the Trump clan, with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.

Please go read the rest. Other than the fact that she quotes David Brooks and she characterizes Hillary as “ethically challenged,” I can’t disagree with much in Rubin’s op-ed. The Republican Party has completely lost its moral compass over the past half-century, to the point that they now believe that winning and money are the only things that matter and that basic morality, Constitutional norms, even common human decency and compassion are utterly irrelevant.

Here’s the latest on Don Jr.’s Trump Tower collusion meeting from CNN:

Trump Tower Russia meeting: At least eight people in the room.

Hope Island

The June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort included at least eight people.

The revelation of additional participants comes as The Associated Press first reported Friday that a Russian-American lobbyist named Rinat Akhmetshin said he also attended the June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. CNN has reached out to Akhmetshin for comment.

So far acknowledged in attendance: Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Akhmetshin and publicist Rob Goldstone, who helped set up the meeting. A source familiar with the circumstances told CNN there were at least two other people in the room as well, a translator and a representative of the Russian family who had asked Goldstone to set up the meeting. The source did not provide the names.

That meeting is getting bigger and bigger with each passing day. How many more people were actually in attendance?

People on Twitter had a lot of fun with the expanding numbers yesterday:

I should be posting articles about the people who attended that meeting, but I just don’t have the stomach for much more today. I’ll post some links in the comment thread. I have two more pieces to share and then I’ll end for today and try to get involved in some escapist fiction.

Edward Price at Politico: Why Does Jared Kushner Still Have a Security Clearance?

…the latest revelations undeniably have raised additional questions about the judgment of key figures in President Trump’s orbit, namely his eldest son Donald Jr., his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Only Kushner, however, holds an administration position and, as a result, a Top Secret security clearance.

The fact that Kushner, by all accounts, retains that clearance is an affront to America’s national security and a slap in the face to the career professionals subject to a different set of rules. I know this because, as a career CIA officer and later a spokesman for the National Security Council, I used to be one of them.

First, let’s review what we’ve learned about Kushner. He is among several Trump administration officials and associates to have acknowledged, long after the fact, his contacts with then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak. In one such previously undisclosed meeting with Kislyak, Kushner reportedly sought to establish a covert backchannel with Moscow, employing Russian communication equipment in an apparent effort to evade U.S. surveillance. At the ambassador’s request, moreover, Kushner also met with the head of a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions, a discussion that went unreported for months. The banker, Sergei Gorkov, has close ties to Russia’s intelligence services.

Hope Island

In recent days, moreover, the Trump administration confirmed that Kushner also attended a June 9, 2016, meeting with a Russian, who—in an email forwarded to Kushner—was described as a “government lawyer” privy to Moscow’s effort to denigrate Hillary Clinton and advantage Trump. In the face of persistent questions, Trump administration officials had—until last weekend—maintained for months that no campaign operatives had held any meetings with Russians. Kushner, it seems, was content to allow his White House colleagues to make liars of themselves as he left himself open to being compromised by the Kremlin, which has almost certainly known the truth all along.

I am confident in saying that my clearance would have been immediately revoked had I, as a career CIA officer, been accused of a fraction of these activities. In my case, the clearance process culminating in my first day at Langley lasted approximately a year, fairly standard for the period. It consisted of interviews, psychological exams and a lie detector test, while my family, friends and neighbors were subjected to questions about everything from my financial health to my drinking habits by humorless federal agents. When I ultimately was cleared to join the ranks of the CIA, the imperatives of unimpeachable integrity and sound judgment were stressed at every turn. It’s a mantra that becomes an ethos for our national security officials.

Read the rest at Politico.

Joy Reid at The Daily Beast: So This Is What American Greatness Really Looks Like?

This week, Garry Kasparov, former Russian chess champion and perennial critic of Vladimir Putintweeted about what autocrats do when caught: “1: Deny, lie, slander accusers. 2: Say it was a misunderstanding. 3. Boast & say ‘What are you going to do about it?’”

The day after that tweet, Donald Trump stood on a dais in Paris beside the French president and said of his son’s now-confirmed willingness to receive campaign help for his father from Russia: “I think it’s a meeting that most people in politics probably would have taken.”

That would be jaw dropping and bizarre coming from a mob boss at his pretrial hearing, let alone from the president of the United States. But that line is now standard issue among much of Trump’s political party, which has come around to the notion that collusion with a foreign power—even an adversarial one like Russia—is no big deal.

Trump, his family, and his defenders in the once Grand Old Party have mounted various defenses for his campaign’s collusion with Russians and their cutouts to win the 2016 presidential election. They have tried to ignore Russiagate. They have said collusion with Russia never happened. They have blamed Hillary ClintonBarack Obama, and Loretta Lynch (Trump now says the Russian government lawyer who met with Donald Jr. was only in the country because Lynch let her in. It will surprise no one to discover that’s not true.) And they have landed on the notion that even if collusion did happen, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Check off all three of the Kasparov boxes.

Click on the link and read the rest.

I hope all you Sky Dancers have a nice weekend and that Robert Mueller is working hard to rescue our once-great nation.


Thursday Reads: Trump Has Left the U.S. and All Hell is Breaking Loose.

Good Morning!!

I’ve been having another one of those mornings when I’m so shocked that I feel almost paralyzed. I realize now that I was becoming accustomed to the daily jolts of breaking news about Traitor Trump. How much worse can it get? I think it’s going to get a whole hell of a lot worse. Last night a story broke that knocked me back into that overwhelming feeling of unbelief.

Business Insider: House Democrats want to know why a major Russian money-laundering case was abruptly settled.

Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday asking why the Department of Justice settled a major money-laundering case involving a real-estate company owned by the son of a powerful Russian government official whose lawyer met with Donald Trump Jr. last year….

That attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, represents the family of Pyotr Katsyv, the former vice governor of the Moscow region, whose son, Denis, owns the real-estate company Prevezon. The DOJ had been investigating whether Prevezon laundered millions of dollars through New York City real estate when the case was unexpectedly settled two days before going to trial in May.

“Last summer, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected attorney in an attempt to obtain information ‘that would incriminate Hillary,'” the Democrats wrote, citing the emails he published. “Earlier this year, on May 12, 2017, the Department of Justice made an abrupt decision to settle a money laundering case being handled by that same attorney in the Southern District of New York.

“We write with some concern that the two events may be connected — and that the Department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts.”

The case was settled for only $6 million, and here’s how the lawyers for the Russians reacted.

“We reluctantly agreed to accept the government’s offer when it became clear that the fine proposed was no more than we would have spent fully litigating the case, and that no admission of guilt, forfeiture, or continued seizure of any assets was required,” Dillard added. “Essentially, the offer was too good to refuse.”

Sergei Magnitsky

This was a case that Preet Bharara was prosecuting at the time he was fired. I’ve long suspected that when Jeff Sessions fired all of the U.S. Attorneys it was really a cover for the Trump administration’s desired to get rid of Bharara and hush up this case and possibly other investigations of the Trump organization. Foreign Policy reports:

The civil forfeiture case was filed in 2013 by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — who was fired by Trump in March. The case alleged that 11 companies were involved in a tax fraud in Russia and then laundered a portion of the $230 million they got into Manhattan real estate.

The forfeiture case was heralded at the time as “a significant step towards uncovering and unwinding a complex money laundering scheme arising from a notorious foreign fraud,” Bharara said. “As alleged, a Russian criminal enterprise sought to launder some of its billions in ill-gotten rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate.”

But Instead of proceeding with the trial as scheduled, the Trump Justice Department settled the case two days before it was due to begin. By then, Bharara had already been axed by the president. Bharara’s assistant did not immediately respond to request for comment.in

The case stemmed from the work of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who was likely murdered in prison in an effort to hush up the fraud. After Magnitsky’s death, the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which personally sanctioned certain named Russian oligharchs. One of the attorneys in the case is the woman who met with Donald Trump Jr. in June, 2016. Vladimir Putin then retaliated by ending American adoptions of Russian orphans.

Also the attorney representing the Russian companies in the DOJ case, [Natalia] Veselnitskaya, is the same one who organized a meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. and top Trump campaign officials in June 2016 to offer material that could “incriminate” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “Love it,” responded Trump, Jr. to an intermediary.

Donald J. Trump with the Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, left, and his father, Aras Agalarov, on the red carpet at the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.

This sets up a very troubling timeline if you combine what was happening with this case and in the Trump Campaign at the same time. That link goes to a NYT timeline of campaign events published last night. A brief excerpt:

At 6:14 p.m. on June 7, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. clicked the send button on an email to confirm a meeting with a woman described as a “Russian government attorney” who would give him “information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.”

Three hours later, his father, Donald J. Trump, claimed victory in the final primary races propelling him to the Republican presidential nomination and a general election contest against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In his victory speech, Mr. Trump promised to deliver a major address detailing Mrs. Clinton’s “corrupt dealings” to give “favorable treatment” to foreign governments, including “the Russians.” ….

The meeting with the Russian lawyer came at a crucial stage in the elder Mr. Trump’s against-the-odds campaign as he pivoted toward taking on Mrs. Clinton, who was widely seen as the front-runner for the presidency. With Mr. Trump’s party still divided, his team was eager for information that could be used against his Democratic opponent, just as any nominee would be at that stage. The difference was that the Kremlin, according to intelligence reports, was eager to play a role in the campaign, and was in the midst of unleashing an operation to damage Mrs. Clinton.

Please read the rest at the NYT. I can’t tie all this together in a blog post, but it all seems very suspicious. A couple other relevant reads:

Josh Rogin at The Washington Post: Inside the link between the Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump dossier. You’ll need to read the whole thing to make the connections. The Trump gang is trying to twist this story in such a way as to blame Democrats.

This week’s revelations about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyerhave shined a new spotlight on a small Washington opposition research firm that worked with her on a legal case for years and then subsequently commissioned a dossier full of salacious allegations of the Russian government’s attempts to collude with the Trump presidential campaign.

The firm, Fusion GPS, will be one subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing next week that was planned well before the story broke of Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Fusion GPS says it had no involvement in the meeting although it did work on a lawsuit that involved Veselnitskaya for more than two years. The firm’s work on the Trump dossier was on a different timeline. Nevertheless, Trump’s legal team is already conflating the two issues as part of their defense of the president’s son.

Natalia Veselnitskaya

The Trumpies are suggesting that evil Democrats somehow set up poor, innocent Don Jr. But Fusion GPS was also representing Prevezon, the “holding company” involved in the Russian money laundering case.

Fusion GPS has said that it was working for the law firm BakerHostetler, which was representing Prevezon, a Russian holding company based in Cyprus, in its defense against Justice Department allegations that Prevezon laundered money stolen in the fraud Magnitsky uncovered. Veselnitskaya was Prevezon’s lawyer. Fusion GPS started working on the case in 2013 and the case settled in May with no admission of guilt by Prevezon.

Fusion GPS told me its work on the Prevezon case had nothing to do with the 2016 presidential election and they were not involved in the outreach to the Trump campaign.

“Fusion GPS learned about this meeting from news reports and had no prior knowledge of it,” the company told me in a statement. “Any claim that Fusion GPS arranged or facilitated this meeting in any way is false.”

As a subcontractor for BakerHostetler, Fusion GPS would not have been required to register under FARA. Senators may want to know why BakerHostetler decided that it did not need to register. Neither Veselnitskaya nor Mark Cymrot of Baker Hostetler, who handled the Prevezon case, responded to requests for comment.

Sam Thielman at TPM: Inside The Russian Lawyer’s And An Accused Spy’s ‘Adoption’ Crusade.

…that June 2016 meeting, which the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended, served another purpose for the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskya, and her wealthy client Denys Katsyv: It was a stop on a major PR tour against a sanctions bill.Katsyv had retained

Pytor Katsyv

Veselnitskaya had been accused of lobbying U.S. officials on behalf of the foundation before. The foundation had just two registered lobbyists, one of whom, Rinat Akhmetshin, had worked for Russian counterintelligence. And the foundation wasn’t asking for the reinstatement of an adoption program; it was, at least by implication, offering it. The group sought the alteration of a U.S. sanctions program that was about to become law, the Global Magnitsky Act, which was named after a dead Russian whistleblower. The original Magnitsky Act, enacted in 2012, had annoyed Russian President Vladimir Putin so much that he banned American adoptions of Russian children in retaliation; the expanded version had him enraged.

“What’s happening around the time of her meeting with Don, Jr. is the most serious-resourced and aggressive counterattack ever that the Kremlin has mounted on the Magnitsky Act,” one congressional aide told TPM. “They have learned over the years in their attempts to fight and derail this and they have gotten better at it. They’ve involved less ham-handed folks, and less people who might be out of central casting.”

Read the rest at the link. I’m sorry I can’t tie this all together, but I’m sure Bob Mueller is working on it with his dream team of federal prosecutors.

That’s not the only big story that broke last night. The Wall Street Journal was kind enough to leave this one outside the paywall: Russian Officials Overheard Discussing Trump Associates Before Campaign Began.

Investigators are re-examining conversations detected by U.S. intelligence agencies in spring 2015 that captured Russian government officials discussing associates of Donald Trump, according to current and former U.S. officials, a move prompted by revelations that the president’s eldest son met with a Russian lawyer last year.

In some cases, the Russians in the overheard conversations talked about meetings held outside the U.S. involving Russian government officials and Trump business associates or advisers, these people said….

The Devil Incarnate

The 2015 conversations were detected several months before Mr. Trump declared his candidacy for the White House. The conversations have been in investigators’ possession for some time, but officials said the Donald Trump Jr. news this week prompted them to look at them again.

In 2015, intelligence agencies weren’t sure what to make of the surveillance reports, which they viewed as vague and inconclusive, the current and former officials said. But the volume of the mentions of Trump associates by the Russians did have officials asking each other, “What’s going on?” one former official said….

Now, in light of the release of emails Tuesday by the president’s eldest son, describing a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, investigators are going back to those early reports. They are seeking new leads as they probe whether the Trump campaign colluded in what several U.S. intelligence agencies say was a Russian government-sponsored effort to meddle in the election to benefit Mr. Trump.

Did the collusion between Trump and Russian begin before anyone even knew Trump would run for president?

And what the hell is going on in the Department of Justice. From NPR this morning: Justice Department Defies Court Deadline To Release Sessions’ Contacts With Russians.

In defiance of a court order, the Justice Department is refusing to release part of a security form dealing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ contacts with the Russian government.

On June 12, a judge had ordered the agency to provide the information within 30 days, a deadline that passed on Wednesday.

A recently launched ethics watchdog group called American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request in March for sections of the Standard Form 86 relating to Sessions’ contact “with any official of the Russian government.”

The group then filed a lawsuit in April after it said the government didn’t provide the documents.

“Jeff Sessions is our nation’s top law enforcement officer, and it is shocking one of his first acts after being named Attorney General was to mislead his own agency about a matter of national security,” the group’s executive director, Austin Evers, said in a statement.

He continued: “The court gave DOJ thirty days to produce Attorney General Sessions’s security clearance form, DOJ has already confirmed its contents to the press and Sessions has testified about it to Congress, so there is no good reason to withhold this document from the public.”

The DOJ has now released a heavily redacted document.

I hope this post isn’t too confusing. I’m probably going to spend the rest of the day trying to sort out all this madness.

So . . .what stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Break Out the Popcorn. The Trump Crime Family is Going Down.

Good Morning!!

You’ve most likely seen the New York Times story that broke late last night. This morning another shoe dropped. Last night’s breaking news:

Trump Jr. Was Told in Email of Russian Effort to Aid Campaign.

WASHINGTON — Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Trump acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, but gave no indication that he thought the lawyer might have been a Kremlin proxy.

Mr. Goldstone’s message, as described to The New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign.

This morning’s update: The NYT now has the email, and it’s as bad as we suspected:

Russian Dirt on Clinton? ‘I Love It,’ Donald Trump Jr. Said.

The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of an ongoing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.

He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”

Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.

Read the rest at the NYT link above.

If this isn’t the smoking gun, what would be?

Two more stories to check out at the Times:

How a Pageant Led to a Trump Son’s Meeting With a Russian Lawyer.

How Trump’s ‘Miss Universe’ in Russia Became Ensnared in a Political Inquiry.

It’s amazing how many journalists and TV commentators are still questioning whether the Trump folks actually committed crimes. The Trump crime family is completely screwed. The only question is how long it will take for Mueller to take them down.

Some Twitter reactions:

On the legal issues:

 On the legal issues:

Politico: Donald Trump Jr. in legal danger for Russia meeting about Clinton dirt.

Democratic and Republican lawyers and political operatives alike say explanations about the June 2016 meeting from President Donald Trump’s oldest son are way out of step with common campaign practices when dealing with offers for opposition research.

But perhaps far more important, his statements put him potentially in legal cross hairs for violating federal criminal statutes prohibiting solicitation or acceptance of anything of value from a foreign national, as well as a conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Politically, by discussing such a sensitive topic that could prove embarrassing if revealed, Trump Jr. and the other Trump campaign officials in the room for the meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, including Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, may have also exposed themselves to future blackmail threats, the legal experts said.

Those potential troubles deepened Monday night with a fresh New York Times report alleging that Trump Jr. was sent an email before his meeting with Veselnitskaya indicating the information she had was part of a Russian plan to boost his father in the race against Clinton.

Don Jr. has lawyered up.

Trump Jr. has hired New York criminal defense attorney Alan Futerfas as his personal attorney for Russia-related matters, Futerfas told POLITICO. On Monday, the president’s son sought to quell the political firestorm by criticizing media coverage about it and insisting that what he did was not unusual for someone in the midst of a presidential campaign. He also emphasized that the meeting “went nowhere.”

On Monday night, Futerfas responded to the most recent report saying it was “much ado about nothing” and adding that “the bottom line” is that Trump Jr. did “nothing wrong.” ….

But legal experts of both political parties say his explanations may not fly if he’s questioned under oath by Congress or Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating potential Trump campaign collusion with Russia — and where perjury and making false statements carry legal consequences that don’t exist when engaging with reporters or on social media.

“I don’t think that is an out,” said Robert Bauer, a former White House counsel under President Barack Obama and the Democrat’s 2008 campaign attorney. “If they accept the meeting on the understanding that they will be offered something of value — the opposition research — they are sending a clear signal that they would like to have it.”

More legal opinions at the link.

The Washington Post: The latest Russia revelations lay the groundwork for a conspiracy case.

Collusion is usually defined as a secret agreement to do something improper. In the criminal-law world, we call that conspiracy. If unlawful collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals did take place, criminal conspiracy would be one of the most likely charges.

A conspiracy is a partnership in crime. The federal conspiracy statute prohibits conspiracies to defraud the United States, which includes conspiracies to impede the lawful functions of the federal government — such as administering a presidential election.

Conspiracy also prohibits agreements to commit another federal crime. This would include an agreement to violate the laws against hacking into someone else’s computer, or to violate federal election laws.

Conspiracies, by their nature, take place in secret. To break through that secrecy, prosecutors often rely on circumstantial evidence. The classic trial lawyer’s metaphor is that each such piece of evidence is a brick. No single event standing alone may prove the case. But when assembled together, those individual bricks may build a wall — a big, beautiful wall — that excludes any reasonable doubt about what happened.

That’s why this latest news is a big deal. The meeting helps establish a few critical facts. The first is simply that contacts between Russians and campaign officials did take place. If you are seeking to prove a criminal partnership, evidence that the alleged partners had private meetings establishes the opportunity to reach an agreement.

Read more at the WaPo.

Also note that Congressional investigators know a lot more than what has been publicly released. The Hill: Top Intel Dem warns Trump Jr.: We have more intel than what public knows.

Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the committee has much more information about the ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election than what has been reported publicly.

“There’s an awful lot more [intelligence] than that’s even in the public domain,” Schiff said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

One more and then I’m going to post this so we can use it as a live blog.

Joan McCarter at DailyKos: What did Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell know about Trump/Russia collusion and when did they know it?

While the clear evidence that the Trump campaign knowingly colluded with the Russian government to win the 2016 election unfolds, don’t forget that this did not happen in a vacuum. Don’t forget that congressional leadership knew in 2015 that Russia was trying to hack the Democratic party.

Don’t forget that the CIA was giving confidential briefings to leadership with information “indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald J. Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump’s victory months later, former government officials say.”

The classified briefings that the C.I.A. held in August and September for the so-called Gang of Eight—the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate and of the intelligence committees in each chamber—show deep concerns about the impact of the election meddling.In the briefings, the C.I.A. said there was intelligence indicating not only that the Russians were trying to get Mr. Trump elected but that they had gained computer access to multiple state and local election boards in the United States since 2014, officials said.

Here’s what CIA chief John Brennan told then Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid in a private, classified briefing: “Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election,” and that “unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election.” It’s too incredible to believe that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not get that same briefing, did not know that the CIA had solid enough intelligence that the Russians could possibly be in the Trump campaign, trying to influence the outcome of the election.

In September, intelligence officials had a secret meeting with the Gang of 12—including the House and Senate leaders and the chairmen and ranking members of both chambers’ committees on intelligence and homeland security. That meeting was intended to get leadership behind a “show of solidarity and bipartisan unity” publicly condemning Russia for interference.

As we all know, Mitch McConnell blocked the release of this damning information to the public.

What are you reading and hearing? Please update us in the comment thread, and keep lots of popcorn on hand!


Lazy Saturday Reads: G20 Disaster

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday Trump finally got to meet with the big boss, the man who put him in the White House. As we expected, he was thrilled and overwhelmed with joy when the big moment finally came.

But what does Putin really think of Trump? His facial expression in this photo is revealing.

From what I can tell, Trump brought up the Russian interference in our election by indicating that “the American people” (according to Tillerson) are concerned about it, not that Trump himself cares a whit. Then when Putin denied any involvement, Trump basically said okay, let’s just pretend it never happened and make sure Putin gets everything he’s been wishing for.

A couple of reactions, the first from a foreign policy and Russia expert and the second from an ultra-conservative journalist.

Molly McKew at Politico: Trump Handed Putin a Stunning Victory. “From his speech in Poland to his two-hour summit in Hamburg, the president seemed determined to promote Russia’s dark and illiberal view of the world.”

President Donald Trump needed to accomplish two things this week during his visits to Poland and the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. First, he needed to reassure America’s allies that he was committed to collective defense and the core set of values and principles that bind us together. Second, he needed to demonstrate that he understands that the greatest threat to that alliance, those values, and our security is the Kremlin.

Trump delivered neither of these. In very concrete terms, through speech and action, the president signaled a willingness to align the United States with Vladimir Putin’s worldview, and took steps to advance this realignment. He endorsed, nearly in its totality, the narrative the Russian leader has worked so meticulously to construct.

The readout of Trump’s lengthy meeting with Putin included several key points. First, the United States will “move on” from election hacking issues with no accountability or consequences for Russia; in fact, the U.S. will form a “framework” with Russia to cooperate on cybersecurity issues, evaluating weaknesses and assessing potential responses jointly. Second, the two presidents agreed not to meddle in “each other’s” domestic affairs—equating American activities to promote democracy with Russian aggression aimed at undermining it, in an incalculable PR victory for the Kremlin. Third, the announced, limited cease-fire in Syria will be a new basis for cooperation between the U.S. and Russia; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went so far as to say that the Russian approach in Syria—yielding mass civilian casualties, catastrophic displacement, untold destruction and erased borders—may be “more right” than that of the United States.

Each of these points represents a significant victory for Putin. Each of them will weaken U.S. tools for defending its interests and security from the country that defines itself as America’s “primary adversary.” Trump has ceded the battle space—physical, virtual, moral—to the Kremlin. And the president is going to tell us this is a “win.”

Trump in Poland

About Trump’s awful speech in Poland McKew writes:

Trump’s unusual speech in Warsaw earlier in the week foreshadowed this catastrophic outcome, despite some analysts’ wishful thinking to the contrary. The initial reaction to the speech was far more positive than to his previous attempt at NATO. After all, the president seemed to challenge Russia, acknowledge the importance of the alliance’s commitment to mutual defense, and mount a defense of Western democracies and values.

But this assessment missed the forest for the trees—and the fact that its intended audience was Russia, not Europe. In reality, Trump attacked NATO and the EU, the twin pillars of the post-World War II transatlantic architecture, again demonstrating he has no interest in being the leader of the free world, but rather its critic in chief.

Then there’s this piece from The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes: Trump Caves to Putin. What  president Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin tells us about the future of Russian-American affairs.

If Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s readout of Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin is a preview of the Trump administration’s approach to Russia, it’s going to be a rough three and a half years. In a diplomatic depantsing that will have repercussions far beyond Russia, Tillerson’s comments did more to further Russia’s interests than Russian propaganda outlets could have possibly hoped to accomplish themselves.

Tillerson told reporters that Trump and Putin “acknowledged the challenges of cyber threats and interference in the democratic processes of the United States and other countries.” Well then.

Vladimir Putin acknowledged generic “challenges” of unspecified “cyber threats” related to U.S. elections and those in other countries? Who cares? What Putin wouldn’t acknowledge was far more important: The Russians were the source of the cyber threats.

Tillerson reported that after the two men had a “robust and lengthy exchange on the subject,” Putin “denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.” Putin’s denials are false, of course, and the offenses are grave. Russia’s election meddling is part of a longer pattern of provocation largely ignored by the Obama administration and now tolerated by Trump. But the president apparently didn’t want to let reality intrude on his desire for better relations (he began his meeting by telling Putin that he was “honored” to meet him) and Tillerson didn’t seem to care. “So, more work to be done on that regard,” Tillerson said, dismissively.

Set aside as yet unproven allegations of Trump-Russia collusion. The available facts are deeply troubling. Russia waged a persistent, hostile campaign against the United States in an effort to affect the outcome of the election – or at least influence perceptions of it. And the current administration doesn’t seem to care.

Let’s face it. Trump is a traitor. This is getting really dangerous for our country and the world. There has to be some way we can get rid of him before he completely hands our government over to Russian oligarchs.

Breaking just now from the Washington Post: Putin says he thinks Trump ‘agreed’ with assurances that Russia did not interfere in U.S. elections.

Russian President Vladi­mir Putin on Saturday said that he assured President Trump that Moscow had not interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and that it appeared to him that Trump had agreed with his assurances.

“It seemed to me that he took it into account, and agreed” Putin told reporters on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg. The Russian president added “you should ask him.

Russia’s foreign minister’s on Friday had said that Trump had “accepted” Putin’s assurances that Moscow did not run a hacking and disinformation campaign to help Trump’s campaign.

Putin Saturday said that Trump “asked many questions” about Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The Russian leader said he had repeated Moscow’s stance that “there was no basis to believe that Russia” interfered in the elections.

“I feel as though my answers satisfied him,” Putin said.

Unbelievable! How can the Republicans continue to go along with this?

“14 words”

But let’s get back to that speech Trump gave in Warsaw. The entire thing was a dog whistle to white supremacists, painting the fight against terrorism as a war of “civilizations.”

The speech on Thursday centered on extended praise for what Trump described as the unique virtues of Western civilization, which he said faced “dire threats to our security and to our way of life.”

Those threats, he said, emanate from the “south or the east” — a thinly veiled reference to the Islamic world — and could “erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” he said, one of nearly a dozen times that he invoked the idea of “will” during the course of the approximately 40-minute speech.

Trump had expressed similar ethnocentric ideas during his presidential campaign, but had never before described them at such length.

“If we are looking for a Trump doctrine, this is as close as we are going to get,” said Michal Baranowski, the director of the German Marshall Fund office in Warsaw and an expert on Polish and European politics. “It is not a foreign policy doctrine — it is almost a manifesto.”

Two more to check out on this topic:

Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post: Trump’s white-nationalist dog whistles in Warsaw.

Elite Daily: Trump’s Recent “14 Words” Speech Raises Concerns About White Supremacy.

And the latest humiliation involves Trump nepotism. Bloomberg reports this morning: Ivanka Trump Sat In for Her Father at the G-20 Leaders’ Table.

Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, took his seat at a Group of 20 meeting table in Hamburg, sitting in for the president when he stepped away for one-on-one meetings with world leaders.

A photo on Twitter shows Ivanka Trump sitting at her father’s place, between Chinese President Xi Jinping and British Prime Minister Theresa May. One official who was watching the session said she has taken her father’s place at the table on at least two occasions today and did not speak.

A spokesman for Ivanka Trump said she had been sitting in the back of the room and then briefly joined the main table when the president stepped out. The president of the World Bank addressed the meeting, which was about African migration and health — areas that would benefit from a facility that Ivanka Trump and the World Bank had announced shortly before the meeting, the spokesman said.

G-20 leaders are allowed to bring staff into the room for some of the meetings, and when other leaders stepped out during today’s session, their seats were briefly filled by others. Ivanka Trump serves as an unpaid adviser to her father, as an assistant to the president.

But her presence at the table is the sort of blurring of lines — between family and official business — that Donald Trump is often criticized for, and it would be unusual for world leaders to have family members take their place at their table. Later in the meeting, Trump’s wife, Melania, joined the U.S. delegation in the room while the president was in the chair.

Seated at other seats nearby Ivanka Trump were German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s Recip Tayyip Erdogan.

That’s about all the Trump news I can stomach for the moment. What stories are you following today?