Thursday Reads: Another Crazy Day in Trump World

Good Morning!!

Trump apparently worked himself up into a frenzy last night. He woke up an sent out a series of angry tweets, in one of which he admitted for the first time that Russia helped him get elected. He actually deleted the first tweet but sent out another in which he made the same admission.

A little later Trump emerged from the White House and unleashed a rage-filled 17 minute rant in which he angrily denigrated Robert Mueller. He also contradicted his own tweet, claiming that Russia didn’t help him in 2016.

The Washington Post: Trump attacks Mueller, says he would have brought charges if he had evidence of a crime.

“Robert Mueller should have never been chosen,” Trump said of the former special counsel, who was appointed by former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein, a Republican Trump appointee.

Trump told reporters that he considered Mueller “totally conflicted” because he had discussions about the position of FBI director early in the Trump administration and is friendly with former FBI director James B. Comey, whom Trump fired in 2017.

“He loves Comey,” Trump claimed. “Whether it’s love or a deep like, he was conflicted.” [….]

Trump also cited a “business dispute” with Mueller on which he did not elaborate. In the past, White House aides have pointed to an alleged dispute over membership fees at Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia….

“You know who got me elected? I got me elected,” he said. “Russia didn’t help me at all. Russia, if anything, I think, helped the other side.” [….]

In his comments to reporters, Trump downplayed the prospect of impeachment. A growing number of Democrats were advocating that course on Wednesday after Mueller’s appearance.

“It’s a dirty, filthy disgusting word and it has nothing to do with me,” Trump said. “There was no high crime and there was no misdemeanor.”

This morning’s rant continued as Trump unleashed a number of insults about McCain and how Trump was “never a fan.” He also denied demanding that John McCain’s name be hidden on the U.S. Navy battleship named after McCain’s father and grandfather while Trump was in Japan.

The New York Times: White House Asked Navy to Hide John McCain Warship During Trump’s Visit.

The White House asked the Navy to hide a destroyer named after Senator John McCain in order to avoid having the ship appear in photographs taken while President Trump was visiting Japan this week, White House and military officials said Wednesday.

Although Navy officials insisted they did not hide the ship, the John S. McCain, they did give all of the sailors aboard the day off on Tuesday as Mr. Trump visited Yokosuka Naval Base.

USS Battleship John McCain

Two Navy sailors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that the McCain sailors were not invited to hear Mr. Trump speak that day aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp, while sailors from other American warships at the base were.

A Navy service member based on Yokosuka said that all of the American warships in the harbor were invited to send 60 to 70 sailors to hear Mr. Trump’s address, with the exception of the McCain. When several sailors from the McCain showed up anyway, wearing their uniforms with the ship’s insignia, they were turned away, the service member said.

White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly, confirmed the request was made but said that Mr. Trump did not know about it. A United States official said on Wednesday that the White House sent an email to the Navy with the request on May 15.

[Emphasis added] Raise your hand if you believe Trump had nothing to do with the request.

On the other hand, sailors wearing MAGA patches in support of Trump were allowed to attend the speech.

CNN: Navy reviewing ‘Make Aircrew Great Again’ patches worn by sailors during Trump visit.

The Navy is conducting a review to examine whether President Donald Trump-themed patches worn by sailors on their uniforms during the President’s visit to the USS Wasp violated Navy rules.

“Navy leadership is aware of the incident and reviewing to ensure the patch doesn’t violate DoD policy or uniform regulations,” US Navy spokesperson Lt. Sam Boyle told CNN.
Several service members aboard the USS Wasp were seen wearing the patches when Trump addressed sailors on Tuesday. The patches showed a Trump-like image and the slogan “Make Aircrew Great Again.” [….]

Close-up of the MAGA patch

Military personnel often wear unofficial unit patches, sometimes imbued with humorous images, as part of an effort to build unit cohesion and morale.

However, service members are prohibited from exhibiting political messages while in uniform.
Unit commanders are usually responsible for ensuring that the unofficial patches do not violate military regulations.
Department of Defense guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

Trump faces more legal trouble about that massage parlor owner in Florida Cindy Yang.

The Miami Herald: Federal prosecutors demand Cindy Yang records from Mar-a-Lago, Trump campaign.

Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., this week sent subpoenas to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, and Trump Victory, a political fundraising committee, demanding they turn over all records relating to Republican Party donor Li “Cindy” Yang and several of her associates and companies, the Miami Herald has learned.

Cindy Yang with Donald Trump

Yang, a South Florida massage-parlor entrepreneur, is the target of a public corruption investigation seeking to determine if she funneled money from China to the president’s re-election campaign or otherwise violated campaign-finance laws. She became a GOP donor in the 2016 election cycle and opened a consulting company that promised Chinese businesspeople the chance to attend events at Mar-a-Lago and gain access to Trump and his inner circle. Some of those events were campaign fundraisers that required guests to buy tickets for entry, payments that are considered political contributions. Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to U.S. political campaigns.

Investigators are seeking evidence from Mar-a-Lago and Trump Victory as they build a potential case against Yang and possibly others close to her. The president’s club and the fundraising committee are not the targets of the investigation. The subpoenas cover records from January 2017 to the present. A spokeswoman for Yang did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One subpoena, issued by a federal grand jury in West Palm Beach, compels Mar-a-Lago to turn over all documents, records and communications relating to Yang, as well as 11 other people, one charity and seven companies affiliated with her, according to a person familiar with the investigation who asked for anonymity to discuss an ongoing probe. The people named in that subpoena include Yang’s family members, former employees at her massage parlors and several donors to Trump Victory. Prosecutors were trying to serve the subpoena to Mar-a-Lago through a South Florida law firm, the source said.

The second subpoena, for Trump Victory, was served to attorneys at a Washington, D.C., law firm. It seeks campaign-finance records relating to Yang and her associates.

Click the link to read the rest.

As Trump focuses on attacking the people on his enemies list, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are moving us closer to war with Iran.

USA Today: Escalating Iran crisis looks a lot like the path US took to Iraq war.

March 20, 2003 – War With Iraq – Shock & Awe . . . And Then Invasion.

The U.S. military’s guided bombs brought “shock and awe” to Baghdad in 2003 when American forces invaded Iraq 16 years ago to hunt for weapons of mass destruction. They never found any. Many observers, today, consider that war a failure.

Now, half of all Americans believe the U.S. will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released in late May amid increased tensions between the two countries, longtime geopolitical foes.

The escalating Tehran-Washington crisis comes as the White House claims, without providing detail or public evidence, that Iran poses an increased threat to American forces and facilities in the Middle East – one year after Trump withdrew from an accord between Iran and world powers aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.

Is Iran doomed to be an Iraq redux? This is just one of the questions raised by a crisis that has eerie parallels to the missteps that led to the Iraq War in 2003, where the buildup to conflict was precipitated by faulty intelligence and confrontational foreign policymakers such as John Bolton in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Read all about it at the link above. Meanwhile, does anyone know what Trump foreign policy is?

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Who Speaks for the United States?

Tuesday’s New York Times story on the serious disagreements between President Donald Trump and national security adviser John Bolton misses the bigger picture—namely, that Trump is having disagreements with his entire foreign policy team. To put it another way, it is impossible to say just what U.S. foreign policy is—or, to put it more starkly still, the United States has no foreign policy.

The Times story focuses on disputes over Iran and North Korea.
Bolton has described North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s latest short-range missile tests as violations of a U.N. Security Council resolution; Trump says they’re no big deal. Bolton has called for regime change in Iran; Trump said last week in Japan that he’s fine with the current regime, as long as it stays away from nuclear weapons.

But this dispute involves more players than Trump and Bolton. State Department spokespeople, as well as National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, have said—in agreement with Bolton—that the North Korean tests violated a Security Council resolution. Trump stands utterly alone in his view that Kim is an honorable, trustworthy partner.

On Iran, in contrast with what Trump says now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently laid out 12 preconditions for holding talks. Among the demands were that Tehran stop testing ballistic missiles, stop assisting militias in the region, and make several other concessions that would amount, in effect, to a regime change.

And of course, there are his long-standing disputes, over a host of issues, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, various combatant commands, and pretty much the entire intelligence community.

Imagine if you were a world leader who wants to align, or improve relations, with the United States. What do you do? Do you agree with—and act in ways that advance the policies of—the president, the secretary of state, or the national security adviser? It’s impossible to placate all of them simultaneously. So you begin to wonder: Who speaks for the United States?

Please read the whole thing.

So . . . that’s what’s happening so far this morning. What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: Slow News Day

Good Morning!!

I’m not sure how much sense this post is going to make. I’ve been nauseated for days from an antibiotic called Clindamycin that I was prescribed after some dental work. I have one more dose to take this afternoon, and then I can begin trying to soothe my poor shredded stomach lining and esophagus.

It’s a somewhat slow news day following the Memorial Day weekend. Trump just returned to the U.S. from Japan. I just wish he had stayed there, but I imagine the Japanese were glad to be rid of him. As usual, Trump made a complete and utter fool of himself during his trip, praising brutal dictator Kim Jong Un and attacking Joe Biden.

CNN: Trump undercuts his own pomp and circumstance.

Trump ought to be in the middle of an easy two-week cruise of flattering coverage and statesman-like imagery, with British royals set to follow Japan’s imperial court and roll out the red carpet pageantry that he loves next week.

He could have stepped away from the perpetually raging Washington storm, especially since Congress is on a recess that could offer a timeout from his separation-of-powers showdown with Democrats.

But asking Trump to avoid controversy is like expecting a moth to avoid a light bulb. So the President made a conscious choice to use his brief trip to Asia to whip up new outrage back home over the 2020 election and his handling of North Korea.

President Donald Trump often gripes about his bad press — but as his state visit to Japan shows, sometimes he’s his own worst enemy.

Standing next to Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe, Trump praised Kim Jong Un and said that North Korea’s recent missile launches were no big deal. He seem thrilled that Kim had called Biden a “low IQ individual” and ignored Kim’s attacks on John Bolton.

Trump and Abe news conference at Akaska Palace on Monday

“Kim Jong Un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low-IQ individual. He probably is, based on his record,” Trump said alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe….

…by aligning himself with a murderous tyrant who leads a hostile power against a political rival, the President also seemed to be inviting other foreign leaders to do what they can to help his re-election, whatever the consequences for American democracy….

It was an odd way to pay back Japan for its lavish hospitality, which saw Trump become the first foreign leader to meet the new Emperor, Naruhito, and attend a sumo wrestling tournament with Abe.

The President’s comments also opened new divisions between Bolton and him, which raised fresh questions about the national security adviser’s position and the true nature of US foreign policy with several crises, including with Iran, escalating.
North Korea was quick to try to widen the rift with a vitriolic dispatch from its official news agency, KCNA, branding Bolton a “war maniac” with a “different mental structure from ordinary people.”

Politico: Trump finds himself increasingly alone on North Korea.

President Donald Trump is isolating himself from allies and even his own advisers on North Korea, eager to insist that his denuclearization efforts will be successful going into a 2020 re-election bid.

The widening gap was starkly apparent Monday morning, when Trump publicly disagreed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint press conference when asked about recent North Korean missile tests.

Abe had previously called the tests of several short-range ballistic missiles “quite a regrettable act” that violated a United Nations Security Council resolution, echoing language that Trump’s own national security adviser, John Bolton, had used on Saturday.

But the president on Monday, at the end of his short trip to Japan to meet the new emperor, insisted that he was not “personally” bothered by the tests and was “very happy with the way it’s going” in his efforts to engage North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Notably, Trump said he did not think the tests violated the U.N. resolution.

Tornadoes hit parts of Ohio and Indiana last night.

AccuWeather: Large, destructive tornado strikes Dayton as severe storms ravage Ohio.

Catastrophic damage after tornado hit Dayton, Ohio

Dayton, Ohio, and surrounding communities were under a tornado emergency as a dangerous tornado was reported on Monday night. At least one fatality has been reported in Celina as of Tuesday morning.

The National Weather Service (NWS) called it a life-threatening situation as the tornado swept through the heavily populated area.

“A large, dangerous tornado touched down last night in northwest Montgomery County. We are focused on supporting life-saving measures, such as shutting down gas lines or locating people who are trapped by debris,” a post on the county’s Twitter page said. “Call 911 or contact your local fire station for emergency assistance.”

Overnight and early morning pictures on social media showed strewn trees and severely damaged homes in the area. Law enforcement reported that the New Life Worship Center just north of Dayton was completely destroyed.

The City of Dayton is asking residents to conserve water as power has been lost at both water plants and pump stations. The City of Dayton has also issued a boil water advisory for water customers in all of Dayton and Montgomery Counties, officials tweeted on Tuesday morning. The city is setting up water distribution centers at some Red Cross shelters and other locations.

 

The New York Times: Tornadoes Rip Through Ohio and Indiana.

Multiple tornadoes touched down in Ohio and Indiana on Monday night into Tuesday morning, bringing widespread reports of devastating damage along with scattered reports of injuries.

Footage on social media and from local news outlets showed roofs blown off homes, downed trees and power lines, and roads littered with debris. No deaths were reported as of Tuesday morning, and the extent of injuries was not immediately known.

Storm damage on Tuesday in Brookville, Ohio, northwest of Dayton.CreditCreditJohn Minchillo/Associated Press

As daylight broke on Tuesday, emergency responders and homeowners were still surveying the damage, which was spread across much of Ohio….

The damage also extended to Indiana. The National Weather Service in Indianapolis said early Tuesday that it would send a team to survey tornado damage in Pendleton, about 100 miles west of Dayton and 35 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

More details at the NYT.

 

Maybe this is why Nancy Pelosi is hesitant to begin impeachment hearings.

The Hill: Senate GOP vows to quickly quash any impeachment charges.

GOP senators say that if the House passes articles of impeachment against President Trump they will quickly quash them in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has broad authority to set the parameters of a trial.

While McConnell is required to act on articles of impeachment, which require 67 votes — or a two-thirds majority — to convict the president, he and his Republican colleagues have the power to set the rules and ensure the briefest of trials.

“I think it would be disposed of very quickly,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

“If it’s based on the Mueller report, or anything like that, it would be quickly disposed of,” he added.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell’s leadership team, said “nothing” would come of impeachment articles passed by the House….

Senate Republicans say that an impeachment trial would be given the bare minimum amount of floor time.

This is why House Democrats should simply open an impeachment inquiry and hold open hearings right through the 2020 election if necessary.

According to Politico, Joe Biden isn’t attracting much enthusiasm from voters even though he leads in the Democratic primary polls: Joe Biden is the front-runner by every measure — except enthusiasm.

Attendance at the former vice president’s launch rally paled next to some of his rivals. In his first Iowa visit, he didn’t match the crowds that greeted Elizabeth Warren or even the less well-known Pete Buttigieg in their initial visits. So far, he’s kept his events to smaller venues where there’s little danger of empty seats.

In the eyes of Biden’s progressive critics — as well as President Donald Trump, who has publicly mocked him for it — the seeming lack of excitement or teeming masses at his events is a leading indicator of a lack of passion for his candidacy.

“I started to think the polls were wrong about Biden because it’s not what we’re seeing on the ground,” said Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People, a national network devoted to promoting women of color….

“Inspiration is the X-factor and we’re waiting for the inspiration from Biden,” she said. “When the inspiration isn’t there, the turnout from the core of the Democratic base — women of color — isn’t there. And then we lose.”

I hope that means that Biden will lose ground once he has to face charismatic candidates like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren in the debates.

Megan McCain “scolded” Amy Kobuchar yesterday after she described John McCain’s reaction to Trumps inauguration speech. The Washington Post:

Speaking before an audience of roughly 200 people during a Saturday campaign stop in Des Moines, Klobuchar described Trump’s inauguration as “dark” and recalled how she sat on the stage between John McCain and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that day while Trump delivered a speech about rampant crime, rusted-out factories and “American carnage.” The fiery populist rhetoric apparently reminded McCain of various authoritarian figures from throughout history.

“John McCain kept reciting to me names of dictators during that speech because he knew more than any of us what we were facing as a nation. He understood it,” Klobuchar said on Saturday, according to NBC News. “He knew because he knew this man more than any of us did.”

Megan McCain wasn’t happy; she apparently thinks no one is allowed to talk about her late father (a public figure) except for family members. She tweeted:

“On behalf of the entire McCain family — @amyklobuchar please be respectful to all of us and leave my father’s legacy and memory out of presidential politics,”

Good luck with that, Meghan.

Well, this isn’t much of a post–as I said, it’s a slow news day. What stories have you been following?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

Trump has left the country for a few days; perhaps we’ll get a break from his insane tantrums over this Memorial Day weekend. Donald and Melania are in Japan for a ceremonial state visit.

The New York Times: For Trump’s Japan Trip, Abe Piles on the Flattery. But to What End?

Significant challenges lie ahead, especially as the United States and Japan begin thorny trade talks and Mr. Trump confronts new provocations from North Korea.

So to keep close ties with Mr. Trump — Mr. Abe’s occasional golf buddy and the world leader on the other end of more than 40 discussions or visits since the 2016 election, according to White House officials — the prime minister has planned a visit dripping in a level of ceremony that money can’t buy.

All of Mr. Abe’s plans are meant to remind Mr. Trump, the leader of Japan’s most important ally, not to forget about his closest friend in Asia. There will be sumo wrestling with a customized Trump trophy. There will be a meeting with the new Japanese emperor. There will be a state banquet.

For Mr. Abe, the flattery is the product of close study of a president who sees diplomacy as an entirely personal endeavor. But two and a half years into the relationship, some observers at home and abroad are questioning whether the overtures have paid off.

With Japan’s economy in a slowdown, Mr. Abe is pursuing a bilateral trade deal with Mr. Trump and is trying to ward off a longstanding threat by the Trump administration to enact damaging auto tariffs. White House officials have said not to expect such a trade-related accord to come out of Mr. Trump’s visit this week.

On matters of security, Mr. Trump’s overtures to Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, continue to rattle the Japanese, who have feared becoming sidelined. White House officials this week stressed the importance of the alliance in deterring aggression from Japan’s neighbors, but emphasized that this visit is a heavily ceremonial one.

Apparently, staff who have go along with Trump when he travels aren’t looking forward to their time with him on Air Force One. CNN: Inside Trump’s Air Force One: ‘It’s like being held captive.’

Not always an eager traveler, Trump has complained in the past about the pace of his foreign travel or the accommodations arranged for him abroad. It’s his aides, however, who sometimes dread boarding Air Force One for a lengthy flight overseas, knowing full well the boss will make little use of the bed wedged into the nose of the plane.
“It’s like being held captive,” one official said of traveling with the President on Air Force One.

Current and former officials have described White House trips as grueling endeavors accompanied by long hours, but several privately said the flights overseas are easily the worst. The duration can stretch nearly 20 hours. Sleeping space is limited. The televisions are streaming Fox News constantly. And if the headlines flashing across the bottom of the screen are unfavorable to their boss, aides know it’s time to buckle up for a turbulent ride.

The President boarded Air Force One Friday for the 14-hour flight to Tokyo, and his staff were gearing up for a particularly hellish ride. An event the previous day was supposed to focus on relief for farmers who have been hurt by tariffs, but it quickly devolved into a venting session for Trump, who called the Democratic House speaker “crazy” and said Democrats were trying to inflict a “thousand stabs” on him.
“Keep stabbing,” he said in the Roosevelt Room, while surrounded by farmers in cowboy hats.

Jonathan Chait summarizes the many complaints: Trump Staff Dreads Traveling Overseas With Toddler President.

The experience of overseas travel with Trump is almost exactly like traveling overseas with a poorly behaved toddler:

Trump won’t stop watching television. The screen-addicted president just keeps doing what he does at home, which is binge-watch TV for hours and get angry. The difference is that, on the plane, they can’t get away:

Trump will spend hours reviewing cable news coverage recorded on a TiVo-like device or sifting through cardboard boxes of newspapers and magazines that have been lugged aboard. He’ll summon sleeping staffers to his office at moments the rest of the plane is dark, impatient to discuss his upcoming meetings or devise a response to something he saw in the media.

Like at home, Trump’s method of governing is to see things on television that anger him and order his staffers to make them go away: “Trump has long insisted that he is treated unfairly by the news media, and if he sees something on television that bothers him — ‘which he invariably will,’ one official quipped — he instructs his staff to fix it, no matter if they are at the White House or flying over the Atlantic Ocean,” according to CNN.

On Trump’s Air Force One, the overnight is dark and full of terrors.

Trump won’t go to sleep. The president and First Lady are the only passengers equipped with lie-flat beds. Despite this, Trump resists his staff’s attempts to get him to go to sleep. Trump “will hold court for hours on end, despite staffers encouraging him to join first lady Melania Trump in the private cabin and get some rest,” the story notes. “He will not go to sleep,” reports a source. Unfortunately, Trump is well past the age at which pediatricians recommend sleep-training.

Other complaints: Trump hates foreign TV and foreign food and he can’t stand it when he has to sit through meetings that aren’t all about him. Read more details at New York Magazine.

Natasha Bertrand: Trump puts DOJ on crash course with intelligence agencies.

President Donald Trump’s declassification order Thursday night has set up a showdown between his own Justice Department and the intelligence community that could trigger resignations and threaten the CIA’s ability to conduct its core business — managing secret intelligence and sources.

Trump’s order directed intelligence agencies to fully comply with Attorney General William Barr’s look at “surveillance activities” during the 2016 election — a probe that Trump’s allies see as a necessary check on government overreach but that critics lambaste as an attempt to create the impression of scandal. Numerous former intelligence officials called the move “unprecedented,” saying it grants the attorney general sweeping powers over the nation’s secrets, subverts the intelligence community and raises troubling legal questions….

“I could see something of a showdown happening here, where the CIA says, ‘We’re not comfortable with the declassification of this material and we won’t provide it without the assurance that you won’t declassify it,’” said a former senior Justice Department official who served under both Trump and President Barack Obama, and requested anonymity to discuss the directive more freely. “They feel that these are their sources, their connections.”

Later on Friday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a carefully worded statement, confirming that his agencies will turn over “all of the appropriate information” for the DOJ review. But, Coats added, “I am confident that the Attorney General will work with the [intelligence community] in accordance with the long-established standards to protect highly-sensitive classified information that, if publicly released, would put our national security at risk.”

Read the whole thing at Politico.

The Washington Post: Barr could expose secrets, politicize intelligence with review of Russia probe, current and former officials fear.

It appeared unprecedented to give an official who is not in charge of an intelligence agency the power to reveal its secrets. Current and former intelligence officials said they were concerned that Barr could selectively declassify information that paints the intelligence agencies and the FBI in a bad light without giving a complete picture of their efforts in 2016.

Officials are also concerned about the possible compromise of intelligence sources, including those deep inside the Russian government.

Ordinarily, any review of intelligence activities would be done by the Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats. But in giving that authority to Barr, the president has turned to someone he perceives as a loyalist and who has already said that he thinks the government spied on the Trump campaign.

“This is a complete slap in the face to the director of national intelligence,” said James Baker, the former FBI general counsel. “So why is the attorney general doing the investigation? Probably because the president trusts the attorney general more,” said Baker, now a director at the R Street Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

Click on the link to read the rest.

David R. Lurie at The Daily Beast: Trump’s Public Enemies List Is an Impeachable Offense. What he and William Barr are doing is potentially worse than anything in the Mueller Report.

Trump’s desire to investigate the investigators who uncovered the Russian plot to elect him president has taken on a special urgency since the release of the Mueller Report, with Trump repeatedly accusing government officials of “treason,” and the White House declaring: “This whole thing was a TAKEDOWN ATTEMPT at the President of the United States.”

On Thursday night, after Trump had spent days excoriating the purportedly “treasonous” investigators by name, he announced he had granted Barr the “full and complete authority” to declassify documents relating to the Russia probe. The White House also stated that Trump had directed intelligence agencies to “quickly and fully” cooperate with the investigation into the investigation.

It’s reminiscent of Nixon’s secret scheme to “use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies,” as then-White House Counsel John Dean put it, by manipulating “grant availability, federal contract, litigation, prosecution, etc.” Nixon directed the IRS provide potentially damaging information against some of his enemies. Although the agency’s commissioner refused Nixon’s demand, the scheme became part of the impeachment case against Nixon, which accused him of illegally endeavoring “to obtain [information] from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens.”

While much of Nixon’s scheme was forestalled, Trump appears poised to effectuate his. Barr recently named Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham (best known for investigating the FBI’s corrupt relationship with Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger) to head up an inquiry into the “origins” of the Russia investigation. Unnamed government officials have attempted to minimize the significance of the inquiry by stating to the press that it does not currently entail the use of grand jury subpoenas, but that of course could change at any time—indeed, Senator Lindsey Graham is publicly demanding as much.

Barr, meanwhile, has become remarkably open about his intent to follow the president’s lead by making the investigators the focus of as much opprobrium as possible.

First Amendment advocates are deeply concerned that Trump and Barr’s Justice Department are using Julian Assange to set a course that will rein in investigative journalism. As much as I despise Assange, I have to agree that charging him with espionage could very well lead to frightening attempts by Trump and Barr to control the press.

Assange is being charged with publishing material that was leaked to him, not with stealing the information himself. That is exactly what happened when The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, which had been stolen and leaked by Daniel Ellsburg in 1971.

Elizabeth Goitein at The Washington Post: The U.S. says Julian Assange ‘is no journalist.’ Here’s why that shouldn’t matter.

On Thursday, Julian Assange became the first person to face prosecution in the United States for publishing classified information, although newspapers routinely publish government secrets that have been leaked to them. Defending the unprecedented move, Assistant Attorney General John Demers declared that “Julian Assange is no journalist.” Millions of Americans no doubt agree. And yet, in making this distinction, the Justice Department is drawing a line the First Amendment simply doesn’t draw — and threatening the freedom of every news outlet in the process.

The federal indictment alleges that Assange solicited and received classified information from Chelsea Manning and published that information through WikiLeaks. The documents he published included official assessments of detainees at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; files relating to rules of engagement for U.S. troops in the Iraq War; and State Department cables. Some revealed damning information about the conduct of American soldiers and other government officials. In a few cases, they included the names of foreign citizens who provided the U.S. with intelligence.

Assange is being charged under the Espionage Act, a law passed during World War I to punish spies and traitors. But in recent years, the law increasingly has been used against government employees who leak classified information to the media. The Obama administration brought eight prosecutions for media leaks — more than all previous administrations combined — and the Trump administration has upped the ante, bringing seven prosecutions in the space of two years.

Please read the rest at the WaPo. Trump and Barr are acting out Trump’s claim that the press is “the enemy of the people.”

That’a all I have room for today, although there is lots more breaking news. What stories have you been following?


Thursday Reads: No Achomlishments!

Good Morning!!

Another day, another Trump tantrum. Poor Donald. He just can’t handle Nancy Pelosi. What is it about her that gets under his notoriously thin skin?

The Washington Post: A Trump Twitter-style diatribe — live from the Rose Garden.

Trump, ever the director and star of his own White House movie, staged his outburst in two acts.

Act 1: Blow up a White House meeting with Democratic lawmakers that was over before the first handshake. Bye-bye, Infrastructure Day.

Act 2: Stride to a podium at a hastily arranged Rose Garden news conference to say he won’t work with Democrats on infrastructure or anything else while they pursue the “investigation track.”

What set the president off was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saying earlier Wednesday that Trump has engaged in a “coverup” related to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation and other probes.

“I don’t do coverups,” Trump angrily told reporters who had been hustled outside with little notice and less information.

Trump — who with his allies is actively working to block more than 20 separate investigations by Democrats — called himself “the most transparent president, probably, in the history of this country,” and said he had been ready to discuss infrastructure and other priorities before Pelosi’s remark.

 

White House stenographer Peter Baker and his colleagues provide background on why Trump flipped out:

Mr. Trump and Democratic leaders were to meet on Wednesday morning to develop a $2 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure. But Ms. Pelosi first met with Democrats on Capitol Hill to deflect pressure on impeachment, which she has opposed. Emerging from that meeting, she sought to signal sympathy with Democrats angry at the president’s efforts to block their investigations, declaring that “the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.”

Mr. Trump saw the comments and did not hide his fury when she and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, arrived at the White House. The president walked into the Cabinet Room and did not shake anyone’s hand or sit down, according to people in the room. He said that he wanted to advance legislation on infrastructure, trade and other matters, but that Ms. Pelosi had said something “terrible” by accusing him of a cover-up.

After about three minutes, the president stalked out before anyone else could speak. From there, he headed to the Rose Garden, where a lectern had been set up with a preprinted sign that said “No Collusion, No Obstruction” along with statistics intended to show that the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was more than thorough.

Here’s the weird graphic that accompanied Trump’s tantrum in the Rose Garden yesterday.

“Instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to look at people that have just said that I was doing a cover-up,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t do cover-ups.”

“I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi: ‘I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I’d be really good at that, that’s what I do. But you know what? You can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with,’” he said….

“He just took a pass and it just makes me wonder why he did that,” Ms. Pelosi said. “In any event, I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America.”

Mr. Schumer expressed shock at the outcome. “To watch what happened in the White House would make your jaw drop,” he said.

Mr. Schumer said Mr. Trump’s eruption was hardly spontaneous, noting the preprinted sign on the lectern. Instead, he suggested that the president had staged it because he had not come up with a way to pay for such an enormous spending package.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Dana Millbank: Trump seems to be transparently mad.

This is not the work of an orderly mind.

President Trump stormed into the Cabinet Room 15 minutes late Wednesday morning and immediately proceeded to blow up a long-planned meeting with Democratic leaders about an infrastructure bill. He raged against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the terrible, horrible things she has said about him, and he vowed not to work on any legislation until Democrats stop investigating his administration. He stomped out of the room before Democrats had a chance to reply, then marched into the Rose Garden for an unscheduled news conference — or, more accurately, a 12-minute parade of paranoia.

Nate Beeler / Columbus Dispatch

Positively everybody was out to get him. They were out to get him in the third person: “They hated President Trump. They hated him with a passion,” he said. They were out to get him in the first-person plural: “These people were out to get us, the Republican Party and President Trump. They were out to get us.” What’s more, they have been after him “pretty much from the time we came down the escalator in Trump Tower.” And now they probably will impeach him because they “do whatever they have to do.”

He raged on. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has “been an enemy of mine for many years.” The “whole thing was a takedown attempt.” The assembled press “ought to be ashamed of yourselves for the way you report it so dishonestly.” And, even though he was the one who blew up the infrastructure meeting, he just knew that Democrats were “not really thinking they wanted to do infrastructure or anything else other than investigate.”

He ricocheted randomly among inchoate thought fragments: Infrastructure. WITCH HUNT! Unemployment. NO COLLUSION! Drug prices. HOAX! A special election in Pennsylvania. ONE-SIDED HORRIBLE THING! Tax cuts. DON JR. HAS GONE THROUGH HELL! I love the American people. IMPEACHMENT! Regulations. A DISGRACE! ABUSE!

Read more at the WaPo.

INTERLUDE: Trump is a textbook case of malignant narcissism. It’s as if we’re all attending a psychiatric case conference. From Wikipedia:

On 11 May 1968, the psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg presented his paper Factors in the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personalities, from the work of the Psychotherapy Research Project of The Menninger Foundation, at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association in Boston.[6] Kernberg’s paper was first published in hard copy on 1 January 1970.[6] In Kernberg’s 1968 paper, first published in 1970 in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (JAPA), the word ‘malignant’ does not appear once, while ‘pathological’ or ‘pathologically’ appears 25 times.

Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star Tribune

Developing these ideas further, Kernberg pointed out that the antisocial personality was fundamentally narcissistic and without morality.[6]Malignant narcissism includes a sadistic element creating, in essence, a sadistic psychopath. In his article, “malignant narcissism” and psychopathy are employed interchangeably. Kernberg first proposed malignant narcissism as a psychiatric diagnosis in 1984, but so far it has not been accepted in any of the medical manuals, such as the ICD-10 or the DSM-5.

Kernberg described malignant narcissism[7] as a syndrome characterized by a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial features, paranoid traits, and egosyntonic aggression. Other symptoms may include an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and a sense of importance (grandiosity). Pollock wrote: “The malignant narcissist is presented as pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioral regulation with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism“.

At Politico, John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett discuss: Why Pelosi is so good at infuriating Trump.

On Wednesday, for the third time in barely six months, a meeting between the president, the speaker and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blew up in spectacular fashion.

And in each case, Trump handed Pelosi a huge gift, a priceless moment that helped unify the Democratic Caucus behind her at a crucial time.

“She’s smarter than him, and she’s tougher than him, and I think that bothers him,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a Pelosi ally. “It’s hard to get inside that head of his and figure out what drives him, other than an oversized ego and an undersized sense of ethics.”

Trump doesn’t have a condescending nickname for the speaker as he does for other Democrats. He even appears to have a grudging respect for Pelosi, the first woman to serve as House speaker. He treats her as a peer who commands her chamber with a firm hand, and he knows she can deliver on votes, and that she is willing to call any bluff at any time….

“Guess what? He behaves like a child. This is what we have in the White House now,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who served under Pelosi in the House. “I’m used to it. I’m not expecting a grown-up any longer. I’m not expecting him to grow into the role.”

And for Pelosi, the timing is perfect. As the drumbeat for impeachment grows within her caucus, she can argue that what they’re doing is already working. Trump clearly doesn’t know how to respond to the barrage of Democratic investigations; they’re winning in the courts and he’s throwing fits. So why bother with impeachment, especially when Democrats know that a GOP-run Senate isn’t going to remove him from office?

Meanwhile, the Trump-Pelosi confrontations are getting to be recurring spectacles, and even Republicans know it hurts the president’s image.

“It’s a disaster,” said a senior Republican who requested anonymity. “It plays right into her hands.”

And on top of being smarter and tougher, she’s a woman. And her strategy of encouraging investigations while supposedly “tamping down” talk of impeachment is working. All those impatient Democrats on Twitter are too dumb to see what Pelosi is up to. It’s obvious that impeachment is very much on the table. Check out this assessment from a Republican political strategist.

Rich Wilson at The Daily Beast: Pelosi’s Strategy Is Working, and Trump Is One Step Closer to Being F*cked.

I’ve been a deep skeptic of impeachment as a political strategy, putting me solidly in the Nancy Pelosi go-slow camp. I’ve argued time and again that the smart play is IIABN: Impeachment in All but Name, but the great beast of Washington shambles ever forward, its ponderous, inexorable tread leading it toward the inevitable impeachment proceedings against Donald John Trump, 45th president of the United States.

Can you make an impeachment case for obstruction based purely on the released information in the Mueller Report? Absolutely.

Are you there yet politically? Nope.

For my Democratic friends, I know how frustrating this seems to you. This week, forward progress on a number of fronts will help move the nation into the mental and political frame where impeachment could lead to the conviction of Trump, not just what he’ll view as a wrist-slap and a campaign motivation point for his base. You cannot shame the shameless. You cannot make a man who is without a single ethical standard change the behavior that allowed him to grift his way into office and to monetize the presidency….

For all that, the Democrats chomping at the bit to hold Trump to account are having a good week already, whether they know it or not. It’s so good, they’d be fools not to keep doing the things that are starting to work—the exercise of congressional power, the use of the courts to uphold the law, and the momentum building in the public mind for an accounting of Trump’s full-spectrum lawbreaking, contempt, obstruction, and corruption.

The Pelosi-Nadler strategy is starting to shift that political battlefield, and the legal landscape is breaking in their favor. The judicial branch isn’t yet a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc. Yet. Trump’s own mistakes are helping move the investigation strategy forward and are beginning to ensure that when Congress does start getting testimony and documents from the White House and Department of Justice, Trump will have painted himself into a corner he can’t tweet his way out of.

More interesting reads, links only.

The New Republic: Trump v. The “I” Word.

Kurt Bardella at NBC News: Trump’s House investigations tantrum proves Pelosi and Democrats are gaining momentum.

Bloomberg: Mueller Probed Cohen Ties to Oligarch’s Cousin, Filings Show.

The Daily Beast: Michael Cohen Called CEO Tied to Russian Oligarch Hundreds of Times, According to FBI.

Lawfare: Testimonial Immunity, Executive Privilege and the President’s Authority Over Former Officials.

NBC News: Wells Fargo, TD Bank have already given Trump-related financial documents to Congress.

The New York Times: Trump’s Financial Secrets Move Closer to Disclosure.

The Washington Post: Putin out-prepared Trump in key meeting, Rex Tillerson told House panel.

Forbes: The Truth Behind Trump Tower Moscow: How Trump Risked Everything For A (Relatively) Tiny Deal.

 


Happy Bunday Reads: News With Bunnies On the Side

Edwin Landseer, Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Good Afternoon!!

Dakinikat has lost her electricity again, so I’m filling in. Sorry to be so late. This Bunday post is dedicated to Dephyne and Luna.

Despite Trump’s efforts to stonewall Congress on everything, especially his financial dealings, the media is still finding stuff out.

David Enrich at The New York Times: Deutsche Bank Staff Saw Suspicious Activity in Trump and Kushner Accounts.

Anti-money-laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog.

The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump’s now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.

A Hare in the Forest by Hans Hoffmann (c. 1585)

But executives at Deutsche Bank, which has lent billions of dollars to the Trump and Kushner companies, rejected their employees’ advice. The reports were never filed with the government….

Real estate developers like Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner sometimes do large, all-cash deals, including with people outside the United States, any of which can prompt anti-money laundering reviews….former Deutsche Bank employees said the decision not to report the Trump and Kushner transactions reflected the bank’s generally lax approach to money laundering laws. The employees — most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve their ability to work in the industry — said it was part of a pattern of the bank’s executives rejecting valid reports to protect relationships with lucrative clients.

Tammy McFadden, the whistleblower who came forward with this information was terminated by the bank after she expressed her concerns. Read the rest at the NYT.

Grant Stern summarizes the dirty details about Kushner’s dealings with Deutsche Bank at Washington Press: A whistleblower just revealed Deutsche Bank covered up 2016 Kushner money transfers with Russia.

David Enrich tweeted after Trump complained about his NYT piece.

Here’s another article he wrote in March, also at the NYT: A Mar-a-Lago Weekend and an Act of God: Trump’s History With Deutsche Bank.

As President Trump delivered his inaugural address in 2017, a slight woman with feathered gray hair sat listening, bundled in a hooded white parka in a fenced-off V.I.P. section. Her name was Rosemary T. Vrablic. She was a managing director at Deutsche Bank and one of the reasons Mr. Trump had just taken the oath of office.

It was a moment of celebration — and a moment of worry for Ms. Vrablic’s employer.

Rabbits Concert, by Cornelis Jetses

Mr. Trump and Deutsche Bank were deeply entwined, their symbiotic bond born of necessity and ambition on both sides: a real estate mogul made toxic by polarizing rhetoric and a pattern of defaults, and a bank with intractable financial problems and a history of misconduct.

The relationship had paid off. Mr. Trump used loans from Deutsche Bank to finance skyscrapers and other high-end properties, and repeatedly cited his relationship with the bank to deflect political attacks on his business acumen. Deutsche Bank used Mr. Trump’s projects to build its investment-banking business, reaped fees from the assets he put in its custody and leveraged his celebrity to lure clients.

Then Mr. Trump won the 2016 election, and the German bank shifted into damage-control mode, bracing for an onslaught of public scrutiny, according to several people involved in the internal response.

In the weeks before Ms. Vrablic attended his swearing-in, the bank commissioned reports to figure out how it had gotten in so deep with Mr. Trump. It issued an unusual edict to its Wall Street employees: Do not publicly utter the word “Trump.”

Enright has a book about Deutsche Bank and Trump coming out in 2020. And here’s an interview of Enright by Terry Gross.

Charles Pierce: The Words ‘Money Laundering’ and ‘President’ Should Never Be in the Same Sentence.

Gemüsestilleben mit Häschen (Still Life with Rabbits) by Johann Georg Seitz (c. 1870)

The president* and his son-in-law, who has anywhere between three and 81 jobs in the administration*, were shuffling money around in such a funky fashion that money-laundering experts—at the only bank in the world from which the president* can get more than a souvenir calendar—felt compelled to raise an alarm. Putting the words “money laundering” and “president” in the same sentence used to be enough for network news to throw up one of those scarifying “BULLETIN” graphics. Putting the word “Russian” in there, too, used to be enough to get Walter Cronkite to sail his sloop all the way from the Vineyard to Black Rock.

In the summer of 2016, Deutsche Bank’s software flagged a series of transactions involving the real estate company of Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser. Ms. McFadden, a longtime anti-money laundering specialist in Deutsche Bank’s Jacksonville office, said she had reviewed the transactions and found that money had moved from Kushner Companies to Russian individuals. She concluded that the transactions should be reported to the government — in part because federal regulators had ordered Deutsche Bank, which had been caught laundering billions of dollars for Russians, to toughen its scrutiny of potentially illegal transactions.

Apparently, according to the people interviewed by the Times, DB functioned as an all-purpose international laundromat for various people who needed money cleaned. Of course, the stakes rise considerably when one of the folks waiting for the spin cycle to finish is the president* of the United States.

Read the rest at Esquire.

Trump has nominated another lunatic to the Federal Reserve Board. Pedro Nickolaci da Cost at Forbes: Trump Fed Nominee Backs Policies That Would Crash The Economy.

By Jean Stote

Donald Trump is really scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to his remaining Federal Reserve nominees—and he doesn’t seem to understand what their individual views on monetary policy actually mean.

Take his latest pick, Judy Shelton, chosen after the attempted appointment of Stephen Moore collapsed following footage of him making incredibly misogynistic and racist comments.

Shelton’s views on interest policy and currencies aren’t just arcane, destructive and out of the mainstream. They also run directly counter to Trump’s own calls for the Fed not to raise interest rates and, most recently, for them to reduce borrowing costs to boost growth and help the administration achieve its elusive 3% growth target.

And they contradict Trump’s nationalist approach to economic relations by calling for a new international treaty on currencies that would essentially take drag the world economy back into some kind of gold standard, effectively shoving it totally needlessly into deep depression.

Read details about Shelton’s crazy ideas at the link.

You’ve probably heard that Trump is planning to pardon a number of accused or convicted war criminals. From Saturday’s New York Times: Trump May Be Preparing Pardons for Servicemen Accused of War Crimes.

President Trump has indicated that he is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes, including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder and desecration of a corpse, according to two United States officials.

White rabbit standing, by Jan Mankes, 1910

The officials said that the Trump administration had made expedited requests this week for paperwork needed to pardon the troops on or around Memorial Day.

One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who is scheduled to stand trial in the coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.

The others are believed to include the case of a former Blackwater security contractor recently found guilty in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis; the case of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, the Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; and the case of a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters.

And yes, Trump wants to pardon war criminals on Memorial Day. More from New York Magazine: Trump Wants to Make War Criminals Great Again.

Trump has already publicly signaled his support for both Gallagher and Golsteyn, at least in part owing to the advocacy of Fox & Friends co-anchor Pete Hegseth, who has been lobbying the president on behalf of the men both on and off the air. In March, Trump announced that he would be transferring Gallagher to “less restrictive confinement” while he awaits his upcoming trial, and back in December, Trump tweeted that he would be reviewing Golsteyn’s case. He referred to Golsteyn as a “U.S. military hero.”

Moonlight and Har by Amanda Clark

Trump has not mentioned the Marine Scout Snipers who were court-martialed for urinating on dead Taliban fighters, but Task and Purpose reports that Trump’s former attorney, John Dowd, had worked to clear the Marines’ records in 2017, and a lawyer for one of the Marines said he had requested a pardon from Trump after he took office but never heard back. The president has also never mentioned Slatten, the Blackwater contractor, but Trump has well-known links to Blackwater via its founder, the Trump-boosting, truth-challenged Erik Prince, and his sister, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The paperwork requests also come less than two weeks after President Trump pardoned another convicted war criminal, former Army First Lieutenant Michael Behenna, who, while deployed in Iraq in 2008, disobeyed orders, drove an Iraqi prisoner into the desert, stripped him naked, and shot him in the chest and the head. Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder a year later and was already serving a reduced sentence when Trump pardoned him.

Trump is (or has been) convinced that these men are victims of injustice, rather than perpetrators of it. And it’s not hard to imagine how war criminals could seem like war heroes to a president who fetishizes strength and power over the powerless….

Whatever Trump believes, he has already made it clear that when it comes to helping his friends and perceived allies, he has no problem wielding pardons and revoking justice at an unprecedented scale. Considering all these factors, there should be little doubt that Trump will proceed with the pardons, as well as think that Memorial Day would be the best day to grant them, rather than the absolute worst day imaginable — since it would malign the honorable service and sacrifice of countless other Americans.

You can read more examples of Gallagher’s war crimes from this long Twitter thread by Scott Hechinger.

Piero di Cosimo Venus, Mars and Cupid

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great Bunday!


Lazy Caturday Reads

Dali Atomicus, by Salvador Dali and Philippe-Halsman (photographer)

Good Morning!!

I would love to know who is leaking info about Michael Flynn. Apparently Flynn reached out to Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz while he was supposedly cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

CNN: Flynn contacted GOP Mueller critic while cooperating with special counsel.

While he was cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn contacted at least one member of Congress who was publicly criticizing the special counsel probe, according to messages obtained by CNN.

Flynn sent Twitter direct messages to Rep. Matt Gaetz, encouraging the Florida Republican to “keep the pressure on.” It’s not clear if Flynn sent additional messages to other lawmakers.
“You stay on top of what you’re doing. Your leadership is so vital for our country now. Keep the pressure on,” Flynn wrote in an April 2018 message to Gaetz, which was obtained by CNN.

By Amy Hill

On the evening Flynn sent the message to Gaetz, the lawmaker had appeared on Fox Business’ “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” where he criticized the Mueller investigation.

“We’ve got to play a far stronger role in exposing the hypocrisy at the Department of Justice,” Gaetz said in the April 3, 2018, appearance. “With no evidence of collusion, with no evidence of any crime whatsoever, they unleashed Bob Mueller to go investigate things that happened before Donald Trump was even contemplating running for president.”

That same hour, Flynn sent Gaetz the direct message.

Gaetz also received a message in February of this year. On the day that Attorney General William Barr was confirmed, Flynn sent Gaetz GIFs of a bald eagle and an American flag, without any accompanying text.

Flynn is still “cooperating,” and he hasn’t been sentenced yet. As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, new information has been revealed by order of the judge in Flynn’s case Emmet Sullivan. Did the DOJ leak the incriminating info about Flynn contacting Gaetz in response to the new Mueller report info to make Flynn look bad? I wonder what Judge Sullivan will have to say about this?

There’s also this Devin Nunes tweet from 2016:

Here’s another interesting story I missed from a couple of days ago. This one is about Felix Sater, who was involved with Trump for years and, along with Michael Cohen working on the Trump Tower Moscow project.

Natasha Bertrand at Politico: Judge confirms Trump associate gave feds Osama bin Laden’s number.

A federal judge has confirmed for the first time that Felix Sater, a former Donald Trump business associate who drove Trump Tower Moscow negotiations during the 2016 election, helped the U.S. government track down Osama bin Laden.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Percy, by David Hockney, 1970-71

During a hearing on Thursday in the Eastern District of New York — held as part of a lawsuit brought by First Look Media to unseal records related to Sater’s longtime cooperation with the government on various national security issues — Judge I. Leo Glasser said the media group already knew all of the “very interesting and dangerous things” Sater had done through his decade as an FBI informant.

“He cooperated,” Glasser said. “And you know what he did over the 10, 11 years, because you told me that you know. He provided the telephone number of Osama bin Laden. He has done an awful lot of very interesting and dangerous things.”

The detail is just another bizarre side plot that has emerged over the two-plus years that federal investigators, lawmakers and journalists have tried to uncover every detail about possible interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian intermediaries during the 2016 election. The probes have put spotlights on a cast of figures in Trump’s extended orbit, many of whom possess unusual backgrounds.

Trump’s “Roy Cohn” AKA Cover-Up General Bill Barr appeared on state TV on Friday to publicly trash the investigation into Russia’s interference in our elections.

Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Barr Again Casts Doubt on Russia Inquiry’s Origins, Aligning With Trump’s Attacks.

Still Life with Cat And Lobster 1962 Painting by Pablo Picasso; Still Life with Cat And Lobster 1962 Art Print for sale

When Attorney General William P. Barr described the early stages of the Russia investigation as “spying” on the Trump campaign, he prompted questions about whether he had used that word spontaneously — or whether he was deliberately fueling conspiracy theories.

That question flared anew on Friday after Mr. Barr went even further in casting doubt on the legitimacy of the investigation in two interviews that, by design or coincidence, provided fresh ammunition for President Trump and allies to attack law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Mr. Barr told Fox News he had been asking whether “government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” in opening the Russia inquiry. “A lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together,” he added.

And he doubled down on the innuendo-laden formulation he used in congressional testimony last month, telling The Wall Street Journal, “Government power was used to spy on American citizens.”

The statements were the latest in a series of actions and comments by Mr. Barr expressing skepticism about how the F.B.I. began investigating during the 2016 presidential campaign whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia’s election interference. The attorney general has appointed a federal prosecutor to review aspects of the investigation, rather than await the results of an independent inspector general inquiry due in the coming weeks, and he has invoked the term “spying” on multiple occasions.

Grey Matter, by Amy Jo Hill

Are we stuck with Joe Biden as the 2020 Democratic nominee for president? The media in general seems to believe he’s the anointed one. But anointed by whom? Obama hasn’t endorsed him. Who really wants this guy to be POTUS?

Jill Filipovic at The New York Times: Does Anyone Actually Want Joe Biden to Be President?

The most important requirement for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee? Electability. It matters more, we keep hearing, than nominating a candidate who has good policies. It matters more than nominating a candidate with a track record of passing progressive legislation. It certainly matters more than nominating a candidate who could be the first female president.

Unfortunately, very few people who say they are putting electability first seem to understand what “electability” means, or what today’s electorate actually looks like.

Case in point: In a field crowded with nearly two dozen candidates, no answer to the electability question is offered more regularly and with more conviction than “Joe Biden.”

Mr. Biden, whose campaign officially kicks of this Saturday in Philadelphia, is the kind of guy you could see sitting behind a big desk, acting as a wise custodian of our democracy without posing any threat of changing much. He is from one of those scrappy Rust Belt cities fetishized by so many pundits — people who believe that the imaginary working-class white voter who is going to deliver the White House to the Democrats wants Joe Biden, which is what, in turn, makes Joe Biden electable.

But what about the rest of us–Democrats who aren’t white males living in the rust belt? What about women who still dream of a women president in their lifetimes? We don’t count when it comes to “electability” supposedly. Read more at the NYT.

At The Daily Beast, Adam Howard tries to explain Biden’s current appeal to African Americans: Why Black Voters Are Gravitating to Biden.

Haiku, by Albena Vatcheva

Now, with Obama’s blessing if not his formal endorsement, Biden has sought the presidency himself for the third time in 30 years, and this time, he’s enjoying a solid and in some case growing lead over a historically huge field of Democratic contenders. The backbone of his support comes from the most reliable and one of the most coveted Democratic primary voting blocs: African-Americans.

Most of the cable news commentary has approached this fact with the condescending assertion that Biden’s black support is mostly due to name recognition and his proximity to Obama. Some have suggested that older black voters, who are traditionally more moderate, may be attracted to his centrism.

But these hot takes overlook something less tangible and quantifiable: how much the sincere, integrated friendship of Biden and Obama (and their families) was cathartic and inspirational. It was the personification of the post-racial utopia some hoped Obama’s election victories would deliver but never did, and probably never could.

Their platonic bromance provided comfort during the confounding period when Obama’s popularity seemed to grow simultaneously with the rise and improbable election of a man who championed a racist campaign to discredit him.

Howard suggests that Biden could loose African American support as the campaign goes on. He doesn’t specifically address the attitudes of black women or provide any evidence for his arguments. The piece is based on his own personal opinions. I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.

I’ll end with this article at The Washington Post on Nevada, where women are now in control of the legislature: Where women call the shots.

by Amy Hill

She didn’t plan to say it. Yvanna Cancela, a newly elected Democrat in the Nevada Senate, didn’t want to “sound crass.” But when a Republican colleague defended a century-old law requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions whether they’re married, Cancela couldn’t help firing back.

“A man is not asked his marital status before he gets a vasectomy,” she countered — and the packed hearing room fell silent.

Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.

Cancela, 32, is part of the wave of women elected by both parties in November, many of them younger than 40. Today, women hold the majority with 23 seats in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate, or a combined 52 percent.

No other legislature has achieved that milestone in U.S. history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47 percent of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman. And in Alabama, which just enacted an almost complete ban on abortion, women make up just 15 percent of lawmakers.

The female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: Women’s Bodies, Women’s Lives

Peonies, by Claude Monet

Good Morning!!

Even as we worry about Trump and Bolton starting a war with Iran and about the Democrats refusing to follow the Impeachment road map provided by Robert Mueller, American women must face the fact that our very personhood is being attacked.

Personally, I have decided that I will not vote for any man for president. The right of women to make decisions about our own bodies is too important.

Here’s the latest on the War on Women:

NBC News: Missouri Senate passes bill to outlaw abortion at 8 weeks.

Missouri’s Senate has passed what its authors call one of the nation’s most stringent anti-abortion bills, which would outlaw nearly all abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.

The Republican-led Senate passed the bill, dubbed Missouri Stands With The Unborn, by a margin of 24 to 10 early Thursday morning….

Missouri’s move comes hours after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that would introduce a near-total abortion ban in that state. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.

Louisiana is following suit with its own “heartbeat” abortion ban, which was approved unopposed by the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.

Abortion right activists are mobilizing in Alabama. The Washington Post: Governor signs Alabama abortion ban, which has galvanized support on both sides, setting up a lengthy fight.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — As a crop duster with a banner saying “Abortion is okay” hummed above the capitol, circling back and forth around the governor’s mansion, a group of women below let out a cheer.

Amaryllis by Piet Mondrian (1910)

“Just another day in Alabama,” said Mia Raven, director of People Organizing for Women’s Empowerment and Rights (POWER) House. “We knew this would pass and we got ready.”

Amanda Reyes, who works with an abortion fund, was wearing an “I’m on the pill” T-shirt, complete with instructions printed on the back detailing how to get a medical abortion. She also looked skyward: “Here it comes again! That’s just the coolest thing.”

Hours after the Alabama Senate voted late Tuesday to ban abortions in almost all circumstances — including in cases of rape and incest — women’s rights activists and abortion rights advocates said the decision to approve the nation’s strictest abortion measure has energized them. Knowing that the bill was designed to challenge Roe v. Wade, they are gearing up for the fight.

The Washington Post: Louisiana ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban nearing final passage.

BATON ROUGE, La. — A proposal to ban abortions in Louisiana as early as the sixth week of pregnancy continued to speed through the state legislature Wednesday, the same day Alabama’s governor signed the nation’s most restrictive law against the procedure.

Without objection, the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee backed legislation to prohibit abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, similar to laws passed in several conservative states that are aimed at challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion. Louisiana’s ban, however, only would take effect if a federal appeals court upholds a similar law in Mississippi.

Louisiana’s so-called fetal “heartbeat bill” is sponsored by state Sen. John Milkovich, one of several measures that lawmakers are advancing to add new restrictions on abortion. Senators already have supported the bill, which will next receive full House consideration, one step from final passage. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has indicated he will sign the measure if it reaches his desk.

The New York Times sums up the current abortion landscape: ‘The Time Is Now’: States Are Rushing to Restrict Abortion, or to Protect It.

Alex Katz, Tulips 4, 2013

States across the country are passing some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in decades, deepening the growing divide between liberal and conservative states and setting up momentous court battles that could profoundly reshape abortion access in America….

The national race to pass new legislation began last fall, after President Trump chose Brett M. Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court, adding what some predicted would be a fifth vote to uphold new limits on abortion. Red states rushed to pass more restrictions and blue states to pass protections.

Now, as state legislative sessions draw to a close in many places, experts count about 30 abortion laws that have passed so far.

That is not necessarily more than in past years, said Elizabeth Nash, a legal expert at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.

What’s different is the laws themselves, which have gone further than ever to frontally challenge Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that established federal protections for abortion.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Interestingly, these extreme laws could be interfering with right wing plans to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Flowers in a Glass Vase by John Constable (c. 1814)

Even Pat Robertson thinks the Alabama law is too “extreme.” The Washington Post: Televangelist Pat Robertson: Alabama’s abortion ban is ‘extreme’ and has ‘gone too far.’

Longtime televangelist Pat Robertson decried Alabama’s new abortion ban as “extreme,” saying on his show on Wednesday that the state legislature has “gone too far.”

Alabama’s law, which has been passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, includes a penalty of up to 99 years in prison for doctors who perform abortions and has no exceptions for rape or incest, Robertson noted on his show.

“They want to challenge Roe vs. Wade, but my humble view is I don’t think that’s the case I’d want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one will lose,” Robertson told viewers of CBN’s “The 700 Club” on Wednesday.

David G. Savage at The Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court is not eager to overturn Roe vs. Wade — at least not soon.

The Supreme Court justices will meet behind closed doors Thursday morning and are expected to debate and discuss — for the 14th time — Indiana’s appeal of court rulings that have blocked a law to prohibit certain abortions.

The high court’s action — or so far, nonaction — in Indiana’s case gives one clue as to how the court’s conservative majority will decide the fate of abortion bans recently passed by lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signed her state’s ban into law on Wednesday.

Pot of Geraniums, Henri Matisse

Lawmakers in those states have said they approved the bans in an effort to force the high court to reconsider Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The justices have many ways to avoid such a sweeping ruling, however. And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in his 14 years on the high court, has typically resisted moving quickly to decide major controversies or to announce abrupt, far-reaching changes in the law.

Roberts’ history, along with the court’s handling of abortion cases in recent years, suggests he will not move to overturn the right to abortion soon, or all at once, and is particularly unlikely to do so in the next year or two with a presidential election pending.

At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick makes a similar argument: Alabama’s Extremist Abortion Bill Ruins John Roberts’ Roe Plan.

One could feel sorry for Chief Justice John Roberts. He is, after all, caught in an unsightly squeeze play between anti-abortion zealots in Alabama, and slightly less wild-eyed anti-abortion zealots in Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Indiana (the court seems unable to make a decision on whether to grant the Indiana petition it has been sitting on for months now). There’s finally a five-justice majority within striking distance of a decades-long dream to overturn Roe v. Wade, and the anti-choice activists are getting ahead of themselves like slurring drunks at a frat party and making everything more transparently nasty than it need be.

Hibiscus by Hiroshige (c. 1845)

There are easy and near invisible ways for the high court to end Roe. That has always been, and remains, the logical trajectory. As Mark Joseph Stern has shown, when Brett Kavanaugh came onto the court, with his dog whistles and signaling around reproductive rights, it became clear that he would guide the court to simply allow states to erect more and more barriers to abortion access (dolphin-skin window coverings on every clinic!). The five justices in the majority would do it all while finding ways to say that such regulations were not an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose. The courts and state legislatures could continue their lilting love songs to the need for the states to protect maternal health and to help confused mommies make good choices, and nobody need dirty their hands by acknowledging that the real goal of three decades’ worth of cumbersome clinic regulations and admitting privileges laws were just pretexts for closing clinics and ending abortion altogether.

Read the rest at Slate.

(Mostly) male legislators are ignoring the realities of actual women’s lives.

When Senator Clyde Chambliss, a Republican, for example, was asked if the law would allow for incest victims to obtain abortions, he responded: “Yes, until she knows she’s pregnant.”

He did not elaborate on how someone would have an abortion before she knows she’s pregnant, outside of claiming, “It takes time for all the chromosomes to come together.”

Flower Garden by Gustav Klimt, 1905

Women’s bodies, lives, and futures are quite literally in the hands of men who seemingly couldn’t pass a high school health class. That’s part of what’s so hard about watching these debates: It’s not just that women’s rights and autonomy are being legislated away, but that it’s being done by complete morons.

This lack of remedial understanding of women’s bodies is not limited to Alabama. Representative John Becker of Ohio, a Republican, for example, sponsored a bill to limit insurance coverage for abortions, but claimed that it would have an exception for ectopic pregnancies, when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. “That treatment would be removing the embryo from the fallopian tube and reinserting it in the uterus,” he said, explaining a procedure that doesn’t exist and isn’t medically possible.

There is also Texas state Representative Dan Flynn, a Republican, who believes abortion requires cutting into a woman’s uterus, or Vito Barbieri, the Idaho state Representative, a Republican, who thought you could give a woman a remote gynecological exam by having her swallow a tiny camera.

Shannon Dingle at USA Today: I was 12 years old and pregnant. Alabama’s abortion ban bill would punish girls like me.

Roses and Lillies by Henri Fantin-Latour (1888)

I was that 11-year-old pregnant by rape in Ohio, except I had just turned 12 and lived in Florida….She is 11. She has experienced and is experiencing violating trauma. Maybe someday she will tell her story, but today is not that day.

I can tell my story, though. I was newly 12. I lived in a suburb of Tampa. I had gotten my period a couple years before, and it came regularly once it started. I knew to expect it every 32 days.

It was July, the summer between sixth and seventh grade, when days 33, 34, 35 and more passed with no period. I had read in one of my sister’s Seventeen magazines that periods aren’t always regular, so I figured this was my first one of those.

It wasn’t….I never chose to have sex at such a young age, but abusers in my family chose to rape me. I had lost count of the number of times by then. With a dad high ranking in the county sheriff’s office, I didn’t trust going to the police. I had tried to tell teachers and church volunteers, but that never went anywhere, either.

Please go read the rest if you haven’t already.

Women and girls in the U.S. are in real danger. For me this is the number one issue for women in the upcoming presidential election.

As always, this is an open thread.