There is so much news today that it’s difficult to believe it’s Saturday–much less that it’s a three-day weekend. But that’s the way we live now, moving from crisis to crisis. At least we got some good news yesterday–at least for those of us who still support American democracy.
The new indictments from Special Counsel Bob Mueller prove once and for all to Trump and his Republican supporters that Russia actively intervened in the 2016 election in order to get Trump elected.
At the same time, we must stay focused on the nightmare of mass shootings and the refusal of Republicans to face up to their complicity in the mounting number of deaths caused by their support for the NRA.
And in spite of all the breaking news, we can’t forget the ongoing security clearance scandal in the White House.
I can’t even begin to link to all the important articles today, so I’ll just post a few on the Russia story and then you can join me in adding more on other topics in the comment thread.
None of the defendants indicted Friday for their alleged influence operation against the U.S. political system is likely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom. None is in custody. None is likely to surrender to U.S. authorities. And Vladimir Putin will probably not race to extradite them.
Nevertheless, the grand jury’s charges against the 13 Russians and three organizations mark a significant moment in the investigation of L’Affaire Russe. President Trump has spent the year since his victory casting doubt on the very premise that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Yet here is the Justice Department on the record declaring that the Russia investigation isn’t, in fact, a witch hunt. It isn’t a hoax. It isn’t just a “phony Democrat excuse for losing the election,” as the president has tweeted. There really was, the Justice Department is saying, a Russian influence operation to interfere in the U.S. political system during the 2016 presidential election, and it really was at the expense of Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.
The U.S. intelligence community, of course, already knew this. It has already shouted it from the rooftops about as loudly as the intelligence community announces its conclusions. The intelligence community, after all, assessed in January 2017 that it had “high confidence” that “President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016” targeting the U.S. presidential election. Before that, it had warned in October 2016 that the Russian government was behind the hacking and distribution of emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. None of these public conclusions stopped Trump from publicly casting doubt on Russian interference.
But the indictments on Friday reflect a different level of certainty, confidence and evidence. Here the special counsel is stating not merely that he has “high confidence” that the interference happened. He is stating that he can prove the existence of the Russian operation in court beyond a reasonable doubt, using only admissible evidence, and that the operation violated U.S. federal criminal law. And he is laying out an astonishingly specific set of forensic conclusions that reflect an impressive intelligence operation against the very operation on which the indictment reports. Even if the special counsel never gets the chance to prove his allegations in court by bringing any of the indictees before a federal judge, the formal statement that he is prepared and able to do so represents a remarkable rebuke of the president’s claims.
Much more at Lawfare.
Des Moines Register: Russians claimed fraud in Iowa caucuses, Mueller indictment alleges.
Russian operatives trying to sow discord and distrust during the 2016 presidential campaign bought social media advertisements alleging fraud in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.
That’s one of the allegations in a blockbuster indictment made public today by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who’s investigating Russian meddling in the election and possible collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign.
The indictment alleges that an organized group of Russian operatives began promoting a range of allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party in the summer of 2016 as the general election race between Trump and Hillary Clinton was heating up.
Among those was an allegation about the caucuses, the first presidential contest of the 2016 nominating process, which Clinton won by a tiny margin over Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders.
“On or about August 4, 2016,” the indictment says, “Defendants and their co-conspirators began purchasing advertisements that promoted a post on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Facebook account ‘Stop A.I.’ The post alleged that ‘Hillary Clinton has already committed voter fraud during the Democrat Iowa Caucus.’”
I guess that was part of Russia’s support for Bernie Sanders. I think Bernie need to acknowledge this publicly, but I think that’s unlikely.
Molly McKew at Wired: Did Russia Affect the 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable.
FOR SOME TIME, there has been a conflation of issues—the hacking and leaking of illegally obtained information versus propaganda and disinformation; cyber-security issues and the hacking of elections systems versus information operations and information warfare; paid advertising versus coercive messaging or psychological operations—when discussing “Russian meddling” in the 2016 US elections. The refrain has become: “There is no evidence that Russian efforts changed any votes.”
But the bombshell 37-page indictment issued Friday by Robert Mueller against Russia’s Internet Research Agency and its leadership and affiliates provides considerable detail on the Russian information warfare targeting the American public during the elections. And this information makes it increasingly difficult to say that the Kremlin’s effort to impact the American mind did not succeed.
The indictment pulls the curtain back on four big questions that have swirled around the Russian influence operation, which, it turns out, began in 2014: What was the scope of the Russian effort? What kind of content did it rely on? Who or what was it targeting, and what did it aim to achieve? And finally, what impact did it have?
Most of the discussion of this to date has focused on ideas of political advertising and the reach of a handful of ads—and this discussion has been completely missed the point.
Read the details at Wired.
Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: It’s Going to Be Much, Much Harder for Trump to Fire Rod Rosenstein Now.
On Friday, the Department of Justice detonated a legal bombshell, announcing the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election. It was just as fascinating to watch who was doing the detonating. Standing at the podium was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Donald Trump’s much-reviled “Democrat from Baltimore,” who is widely believed to be just barely hanging on to his day job as special counsel Robert Mueller’s minder and whose deputy has just lurched off the national stage for a gig at Walmart.
This was a fairly impressive piece of political maneuvering. On the one hand, it makes any attempt by Trump to remove Rosenstein an even more explicit obstruction of justice. Rosenstein has, after all, just publicly linked himself to indictments of Russians (foreigners!) who tried to throw the election to Trump. He’s also linked himself even more tightly with Mueller and the special counsel’s investigation, which turned up the evidence presented in Friday’s indictment. Rosenstein now indisputably stands for the proposition that Russia interfered in the election and that anyone who denies this is lying. Earlier this week, incidentally, CNN reported that “Trump still isn’t buying that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.”
Perhaps most importantly, Rosenstein—merely by standing at that podium—presented a unified front, backing up the proposition that the DOJ as a whole (with the possible exception of attorney general Jeff Sessions) takes Russian interference seriously. And in stating up front that nothing in this indictment alleges that “any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” he cleared the Trump campaign of knowing collusion. For now.
Obviously, things can change, but for today Rosenstein has allowed the president himself and Sean Hannity types to scream “no collusion” even when the door hasn’t been shut on that possibility. Effective Friday afternoon, Rosenstein looks to be on the side of protecting us from Russian meddling. He’s also given some cover to the president, a fact that might protect him from Trump’s morning rage tweets, at least for a week or two. And hovering silently over Friday’s telenovela was “Bobby Three Sticks” Mueller. He says nothing. Nothing is leaked. That silence is powerful, as theater goes.
Go over to Slate to read why Rosenstein actually is still in danger.
Noah Bookbinder and Norman Eisen at Politico: Bob Mueller Is Not Playing Around.
Federal investigators and prosecutors, and a grand jury, have now found probable cause to believe that a complex web of Russian organizations and agents executed a years-long scheme to undermine our elections—first to sow chaos, conflict and doubt into our electoral system and then specifically to support Donald Trump and oppose Hillary Clinton. These are not vague allegations; over 37 pages, the indictment lays out in careful detail a step-by-step scheme involving identity theft, fake accounts, carefully orchestrated trips and outreach, a concerted social media strategy and even real live rallies across the United States secretly planned from Russia. That is not to say that the president and his supporters will necessarily accept the allegations in the indictment, but this serious and thorough document does not leave them much of a leg to stand on if they continue to deny meaningful Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Beyond providing detailed support for Russian interference and starting the process of holding accountable those who perpetrated this exceedingly serious crime, special counsel Robert Mueller is, with this indictment, doing his part to prevent it from happening again.
The scheme he has uncovered threatened the very fabric of our democracy—and intelligence officials warned this week that Russia will do it again. If Russia repeatedly gets away with this kind of interference in U.S. elections, it will erode public confidence in our electoral system. By publicly spelling out the tactics used and acting swiftly and decisively to bring consequences, Mueller is making it easier for state and federal authorities to spot this conduct in the future and is providing a strong deterrent against Russian agents engaging in this kind of treachery.
Have great weekend, Sky Dancers! There’s hope for our democracy yet. See you in the comment thread.
Good Afternoon, Sky Dancers.
It’s another heartbreaking day in Trump world, in the GOP-controlled USA, where the ability to buy semi-automatic rifles is more important than the health and safety of our children. Why is that? Because the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA. And Russia: let’s not forget that Russia is in bed with the NRA too.
It was recently revealed that the FBI is investigating the National Rifle Association to determine whether a Russian central banker, and Putin ally, illegally funneled money through the organization to help the Trump campaign.
These allegations have now prompted a complaint to the Federal Election Commission and an effort by Sen. Ron Wyden to obtain documents from the Treasury Department and the NRA. As shocking as other Russia-related revelations have been — attempts to hack voting machines, vast Internet propaganda, leaking of stolen campaign information — this allegation illustrates a problem of even broader scope.
Although much of the reporting on Russia has focused on whether there was “collusion” with the Trump campaign — a genuine concern — the investigation is also revealing another disquieting reality: that American democracy has a money laundering problem.
Both in their personal finances and in their campaign support, politicians are relying on money hidden to the public, money which threatens to make them answerable to interests beyond those of the citizens they represent. The only way to combat this problem is to start shining a light on the dark corners of our politics….
Moreover, in the case of the NRA, the FBI is now investigating whether illicit funds were spent in support of Trump’s political campaign. Wehave long warned that our broken system of campaign finance disclosure creates opportunities for foreign governments to illegally influence American elections, undetected.
The NRA is among the largest “dark money” organizations, reporting the greatest amount of campaign spending without revealing the source of the funds — over $35 million in the 2016 election cycle alone. Still, this amount was just a fraction of the over $175 million in reportedcampaign-related spending that came from unknown sources.
Could this explain why some Republicans who have spoken out against Trump (e.g., Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker) have suddenly switched to sucking up? Are they being blackmailed by Trump, the NRA, or Russia?
Here’s another article on the NRA and Russia by Tim Dickinson at Rolling Stone: The Trump-Russia-NRA Connection: Here’s What You Need to Know.
The National Rifle Association spent tens of millions of dollars backing Trump’s presidential bid in 2016. The NRA endorsed Trump in May 2016. And the NRA disclosed it spent at least $30 million on Trump’s behalf and attacking Hillary Clinton. That level of support is unprecedented – more than twice what the NRA disclosed it spent on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run.
The true sum the NRA spent to install Trump in the White House may be far higher. Campaign finance disclosures do not cover spending on unregulated Internet advertising or voter mobilization; citing two sources close to the gun group, McClatchy suggests the NRA may have spent upwards of $70 million on Trump’s presidential bid.
President Trump is clearly indebted: “You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you,” Trump promised the NRA at its 2017 convention. “I will never, ever let you down.” [….]
In the age of Citizens United and unlimited campaign donations, the NRA has emerged as an important “dark money” hub in Republican politics. Under its tax code designation, the NRA is a “social welfare” organization, largely exempt from disclosing its donors. To skirt disclosure, other big-dollar political players – including a SuperPAC linked to Karl Rove and a “chamber of commerce” controlled by the Koch Brothers – have routinely steered money into the NRA, confident that the gun group’s spending will advance the GOP cause.
It is illegal, however, for foreign money to be used to influence U.S. elections. According to McClatchy, the heart of the FBI investigation is whether the NRA became a conduit for Russian cash, linked to the Kremlin, that bolstered Trump.
Trump was the perfect candidate for Russia and the NRA, because he has no moral values whatsoever. He’s the culmination of the GOP sellout that began with the Southern strategy, grew with the acceptance of evangelical “christian” “values,” and reached peak evil by bowing down to Russia in 2016. There’s no hope for our country as long as Republicans remain in control of the government. We will continue to see mass shootings on an almost daily basis until we can get turn these NRA/Russia-controlled automatons out of office.
How many more times will we have to see scenes of children running for their lives and sobbing in their parents’ arms on our TV and computer screens? Writing about yesterday’s disaster in Parkland, Florida feels nearly unbearable; but I guess I at least have to post some articles about it. So here we go.
The New York Times: Death Toll Is at 17 and Could Rise in Shooting.
PARKLAND, Fla. — A heavily armed young man barged into his former high school about an hour northwest of Miami on Wednesday, opening fire on terrified students and teachers and leaving a death toll of 17 that could rise even higher, the authorities said.
Students huddled in horror in their classrooms, with some of them training their cellphones on the carnage, capturing sprawled bodies, screams and gunfire that began with a few shots and then continued with more and more. The dead included students and adults, some of whom were shot outside the school and others inside the sprawling three-story building.
The gunman, armed with a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, was identified as Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old who had been expelled from the school, the authorities said. He began his shooting rampage outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in this suburban neighborhood shortly before dismissal time around 2:40 p.m. He then made his way inside and proceeded down hallways he knew well, firing at students and teachers who were scurrying for cover, the authorities said.
By the end of the rampage, Mr. Cruz had killed 12 people inside the school and three outside it, including someone standing on a street corner, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Two more victims died of their injuries in local hospitals. The aftermath at the school was an eerie shrine, with chairs upended, a computer screen shattered with bullet holes and floors stained with blood.
On Thursday, the authorities charged Mr. Cruz with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
“This is catastrophic,” said Sheriff Israel, who has three children who graduated from the high school. “There really are no words.”
Here are some words: let’s clean house of the blood-soaked Republicans who care more about their blood money than about democracy or our children’s lives. Then let’s pass some intelligent gun control laws so we don’t have to have any more bloody massacres in our children’s schools.
John Cassidy at The New Yorker: America’s Failure to Protect Its Children from School Shootings Is a National Disgrace. Following a summary of the events of the mass shooting, Cassidy writes:
On Twitter, President Donald Trump offered his “prayers and condolences to the families of the victims,” adding that “no child, teacher, or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.” Fox News interviewed Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior senator, who has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. “I hope people reserve judgment…. The facts of this are important,” Rubio said. As soon as the facts are clear, Rubio went on, “we can have a deeper conversation about why these things happen.” The forty-six-year-old Republican added, “It’s a terrible situation. It’s amazing the amount of carnage that one individual can carry out in such a short period of time.”
Yet some pertinent facts are already known. According to local police, Cruz was armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle—the same type of gun that Adam Lanza used to kill twenty-six pupils and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in December, 2012. Evidently, Rubio still isn’t aware of the power of such weapons, which fire bullets that can penetrate a steel helmet from a distance of five hundred yards. When fired from close range at civilians who aren’t wearing body armor, the bullets from an AR-15 don’t merely penetrate the human body—they tear it apart. It “looks like a grenade went off in there,” Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon at the University of Arizona, told Wired.
To spare the families of the victims—and the public at large—additional anguish, these sorts of details are often glossed over in the aftermath of mass shootings. But it’s surely long past time that we acknowledged these facts, and that we begin to more fully discuss the complicity of N.R.A.-backed politicians like Rubio, and Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, in maintaining the environment that allows these tragedies to happen again and again and again.
One of the first duties of any government is to protect its citizens, through collective action, from violent threats they’d otherwise have to fend off themselves. Even most libertarians accept this principle. But when it comes to mass shootings, the Republican Party falls back on constitutional arguments that have no proper basis in history, and it refuses to budge from this stance. Nothing can shift it—not Sandy Hook, not the Orlando night-club shooting, not the Las Vegas massacre, not weekly shootings in schools. (According to the Guardian, Wednesday’s attack in Parkland was the eighth school shooting this year that has resulted in death or injury.) Nothing.
That’s right. And nothing will happen this time. Absolutely nothing.
More reads, links only
The New York Times: After Sandy Hook, More Than 400 People Have Been Shot in Over 200 School Shootings.
The Miami Herald: Florida school shooting suspect was ex-student who was flagged as threat.
The Daily Beast: Florida Shooter Made Sick Use of School’s Active-Shooter Drill.
That’s all I have for today. Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.
Tuesday Reads: Intel Chiefs Testify, The Rape Culture Presidency, and Trump’s Horrifying Budget ProposalPosted: February 13, 2018
The illustrations in this post are Deborah Julian’s parodies of famous art works.
The U.S. Intelligence chiefs are testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee today. They are warning that Russia will attack the 2018 midterm elections. NBC: U.S. intel agencies expect Russia to escalate election meddling efforts.
The nation’s intelligence chiefs are presenting their view of the top threats confronting the nation before the Senate intelligence committee, where they are likely to face tough questioning about whether the Trump administration is responding adequately to the Russian efforts.
U.S. intelligence analysts believe that Russia will conduct “bolder and more disruptive cyber operations during the next year,” targeting Ukraine, NATO and the United States, the assessment says.
“We assess that the Russian intelligence services will continue their efforts to disseminate false information via Russian state-controlled media and covert online personas about U.S. activities to encourage anti-U.S. political views,” the statement says.
“Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes, degrade democratization efforts, weaken U.S. partnerships with European allies, undermine Western sanctions, encourage anti-U.S. political views, and counter efforts to bring Ukraine and other former Soviet states into European institutions.”
The assessment says that Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom President Donald Trump has repeatedly praised, “is likely to increase his use of repression and intimidation to contend with domestic discontent over corruption, poor social services, and a sluggish economy with structural deficiencies”
It adds that Putin will “continue to manipulate the media, distribute perks to maintain elite support, and elevate younger officials to convey an image of renewal. He is also likely to expand the government’s legal basis for repression and to enhance his capacity to intimidate and monitor political threats, perhaps using the threat of ‘extremism’ or the 2018 World Cup to justify his actions.”
This year’s midterm elections are a “potential target” for Russian influence operations, with Moscow likely to exploit social media and other platforms to fuel divisions, according to the top U.S. spy.
Russia is probably the most capable and aggressive of all the countries capable of such operations, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in prepared remarks for a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday. In a review of the intelligence community’s annual assessment of global threats, he was to appear alongside officials, including Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Of course no matter what the Intel chiefs say, the “president” is working to help Putin and Russia and Republicans in Congress are working to protect the “president,” so we’re probably going to continue to be vulnerable to the Russian attacks.
“Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes,” Coats said. “We assess that the Russian intelligence services will continue their efforts to disseminate false information via Russian state-controlled media and covert online personas about U.S. activities to encourage anti-U.S. political views.”
The testimony underscores continued unanimity among American intelligence agencies that Russia conducted an extensive campaign to meddle in the 2016 presidential campaign. President Donald Trump has dismissed the continuing investigation into Russian interference as a “witch hunt,” especially the suggestion that anyone close to him colluded in the effort.
One bit of news that has come out of the hearing so far is that the FBI’s timeline on the Rob Porter abuse scandal is very different from what is being claimed by the White House.
I haven’t seen any news articles about this yet, but they’ll be coming and the White house will continue to be overwhelmed by this growing scandal. Some interesting reads on the abuse story and its aftereffects:
Laura Chapin at U.S. News: The Rape-Culture Presidency.
In the words of “The West Wing’s” C.J. Cregg, I’m not shocked Trump is defending former White House aide Rob Porter against claims of domestic violence. I’m barely surprised.
In 2016, The New York Times posted an uncensored account of Trump crowds at his campaign events. Among the frequent epithets were shouts of “Kill Her!” and “Trump that Bitch,” referring to Hillary Clinton. As local reporter Saja Hindi posted, a Trump rally in Loveland, Colorado, featured 12-year-old boys wearing T-shirts that read, “Hillary Sucks But Not Like Monica” on the front and “Trump that Bitch” on the back.
Just as many reporters and pundits were reluctant to accept the core of Trump’s appeal was racism – we kept hearing economic anxiety as an excuse – here’s another ugly truth they don’t want to accept: Trump’s appeal to his base is partly rape culture and the abuse of women. Rewire writer Imani Gandy said that Trump is the walking, talking embodiment of rape culture. That’s who he is. That’s why his hardcore supporters like him.
It’s quite a good rant. I hope you’ll read the rest.
Peter Baker at The New York Times: A Whirlwind Envelops the White House, and the Revolving Door Spins.
The doors at the White House have been swinging a lot lately. A deputy chief of staff moved on. A speechwriter resigned. The associate attorney general stepped down. The chief of staff offered to quit. And that was just Friday.
All of that came after the departure of Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who cleared out his office last week amid accusations of spousal abuse. The White House had overlooked reported problems with his security clearance last year in part, officials said, because of a reluctance to lose yet another senior aide, particularly one seen as so professional and reliable.
More than a year into his administration, President Trump is presiding over a staff in turmoil, one with a 34 percent turnover rate, higher than any White House in decades. He has struggled to fill openings, unwilling to hire Republicans he considers disloyal and unable to entice Republicans who consider him unstable. Those who do come to work for him often do not last long, burning out from a volatile, sometimes cutthroat environment exacerbated by tweets and subpoenas.
To visit the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the granite, slate and cast iron edifice across West Executive Avenue from the White House where most of the president’s staff works, at times feels like walking through a ghost town. The hallways do not bustle as much as in past administrations. The budget director is doing double duty as the acting head of the consumer protection agency. The personnel director is doing triple duty, also overseeing the offices of political affairs and public liaison.
“We have vacancies on top of vacancies,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied White House turnover over the last six administrations. “You have initial vacancies, you have people who left in the first year and now you have people who are leaving in the second year.”
Eliana Johnson at Politico: Kelly increasingly isolated as Porter scandal rages on.
Turbulence in this West Wing is typically generated by President Donald Trump, but for the past week, it’s been chief of staff John Kelly—the man brought in to be a steadying hand—who’s inspiring what one White House official described as a crisis of confidence.
While the president often makes a hash of the truth, aides took Kelly’s word at face value until they were confronted with zigzagging accounts of the events leading up to former staff secretary Rob Porter’s resignation—and Kelly’s role in them.
In the hours immediately after the Daily Mail published a photograph of Porter’s first ex-wife with a black eye, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders hastily arranged an off-the-record meeting in the West Wing with Porter and four reporters: the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Axios’ Jonathan Swan, and the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender. In that meeting, which hasn’t previously been reported, Porter relayed his version of events and fielded questions from the group.
Kelly told staff two days later that once he’d been briefed on allegations of abuse against Porter by his two ex-wives, “he was gone 40 minutes later.”
The White House declined to comment on Porter’s meeting with reporters, including whether or not Kelly was aware it took place. But two White House officials said the mixed messages are symptomatic of the extent to which the White House has left Kelly to shoulder the blame for the Porter mess.
Read all the details at Politico.
The New York Times: Accusations Against Aide Renew Attention on White House Security Clearances.
One week after the 2016 election, President-elect Donald J. Trump tweeted that he was “not trying to get ‘top level security clearance’ for my children,” calling such claims “a typically false news story.” But he said nothing at the time about his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Nearly 15 months later, Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser with a broad foreign policy portfolio that requires access to some of the intelligence community’s most closely guarded secrets, still has not succeeded in securing a permanent security clearance. The delay has left him operating on an interim status that allows him access to classified material while the F.B.I. continues working on his full background investigation.
Mr. Kushner’s status was similar to the status of others in the White House, including Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned last week after his two former wives alleged that he physically and emotionally abused them during their marriages.
People familiar with the security clearance process in Mr. Trump’s White House said it was widely acknowledged among senior aides that raising questions about unresolved vetting issues in a staff member’s background would implicitly reflect on Mr. Kushner’s status, as well — a situation made more awkward because Mr. Kushner is married to the president’s daughter Ivanka.
Click on the link to read more about Kushner’s troubles.
I’ll end with two stories on the horrifying Trump budget proposal:
The Washington Post: Trump’s budget hits poor Americans the hardest.
President Trump proposed a budget Monday that hits the poorest Americans the hardest, slashing billions of dollars in food stamps, health insurance and federal housing subsidies while pushing legislation to institute broad work requirements for families receiving housing vouchers, expanding on moves by some states to require recipients of Medicaid and food stamps to work.
The Trump budget proposal would gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, by $17.2 billion in 2019 — equivalent to 22 percent of the program’s total cost last year. It calls for cuts of more than $213.5 billion over the next decade, a reduction of nearly 30 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
In addition, Trump is proposing a full-scale redesign of SNAP, which provides an average of $125 per month to 42.2 million Americans. For the last 40 years, the program has allowed beneficiaries to use SNAP benefits at grocery stores as if they were cash. Under the budget proposal, the Department of Agriculture would use a portion of those benefits to buy and deliver a package of U.S.-grown commodities to SNAP households that receive $90 or more in assistance each month, using the government’s buying power to obtain common foods at lower costs.
“This budget proposes taking away food assistance from millions of low-income Americans — and on the heels of a tax cut that favored the wealthy and corporations,” said Stacy Dean, president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It doesn’t reflect the right values.”
Because Trump doesn’t have values.
Russell Berman at The Atlantic: All the Trump Budget Cuts Congress Will Ignore.
Within the thousands of pages the White House transmitted to Congress on Monday morning as part of President Trump’s second annual budget request, there is a line that pretty much sums up the whole ritual.
“Many of the eliminations and reductions in this volume reflect a continuation of policies proposed in the 2018 President’s Budget that have not yet been enacted
by the Congress,” the sentence reads. It’s included in the introduction of a 222-page document titled “Major Savings and Reforms.”
Those are all the cuts the Trump administration is proposing, and they’re going nowhere.
Trump again wants to take a meat cleaver to the Environmental Protection Agency, chopping its budget by one-third. He’s asking Congress to scrap entirely community-development block grants and heating assistance for low-income housing. And he wants to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the national endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, and a slew of other independent agencies.
The proposals prompted an outcry from Democrats, advocacy groups, and activists. But there wasn’t much cause for alarm: Congress ignored most of them last year, and lawmakers are even more likely to ignore them again this year.
For good measure, Trump is proposing hundreds of billions in new cuts to Medicare, a program he vowed as a candidate to leave alone and which he generally laid off a year ago. But those reductions, too, aren’t going to happen.
Much more at the link.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?
Happy Lundi Gras!
It’s the day before Mardi Gras and traditionally a day of resting up to go full out on the big day. I’ll be working since–last time I checked–Indiana doesn’t recognize the day. Unlike the Universities here, Purdue ignores the chance to break the winter blues.
And, it is a bit New Orleans wintry down here. I’m putting up pictures for parades I’ve been missing due to the ongoing sinus crud. These parade pictures are from Krewe D’Etat. It’s always got serious satire going plus I have a friend that does a lot of the pictures and float designs. She’s basically a full time Mardi Gras artist which has to be the best gig ever. She also designs amazing headdresses. Meet Caroline Thomas!
It takes a lot to put on these huge parades. I think a lot of folks get carried away by the sheer spectacle of it all. But, I’d just like to remind you that it takes the creative genius of Caroline and her peers to really capture the sense of it all. Each krewe has its own vibe. It’s a real skill to be able to make art that’s a combination of show and tell.
So, that’s Caroline! And here’s some of her work for Krewe D’etat and Chaos. Enjoy it before I share my reads that have given so much fodder to the satire krewes and all the parade artists for two very long years. I love Caroline’s comment that accompanied her caricatures of “creepy men”.
So, speaking of creepy men,Harvey Weinstein’s office was basically a little shop of predatory horrors that he forced employees to stock.
Among notable examples of harassment cited by the lawsuit:
• Harvey Weinstein told several employees words to the effect of “I will kill you,” “I will kill your family,” and “You don’t know what I can do.” He also asserted that he had contacts within the Secret Service who could take care of problems for him.
• The Weinstein Company, the suit says, “employed one group of female employees whose primary job it was to accompany (Harvey) to events and to facilitate (his) sexual conquests. … One of the members of this entourage was flown from London to New York to teach” his assistants “how to dress and smell more attractive” to him.• Another group of employees were assigned to “further his regular sexual activity, including by contacting … prospective sexual partners via text message or phone at his direction and maintaining space on his calendar for sexual activity.”
• A third set of employees also were forced to facilitate his sexual conquests. These female employees were supposed to help his company produce films and television projects. But despite their skills and stated job responsibilities, he required them to meet with prospective sexual conquests for his own personal interests. “This compelled service demeaned and humiliated them, contributing to the hostile work environment.”
• His use of vulgarity was widely noted in the suit, which described how he would call female employees “c—” or “p—-” when he was angry with them or felt they had done a task poorly or incorrectly. And he also used those terms to scold or degrade male employees. On some occasions, he asked female employees if they had their period, including asking an employee if her tampon was “up too far,” the filing says. In one 2012 incident, he launched into a tirade against a female employee in which he berated her in front of other employees and threatened to “cut (her) loins.”
• Weinstein’s assistants were required to provide childcare for his young children and handle other domestic work for his wife, Georgina Chapman, and an adult daughter.
• Assistants had copies of a document called the “Bible,” which included information about his likes and dislikes, and a list of people to assist arranging “personals,” or sexual activity.
• His drivers in both New York and Los Angeles were required to have available condoms and erectile dysfunction injections in the car at all times.
• The suit says the head of human resources at Weinstein’s company was not empowered to do anything about his ongoing sexual harassment of female employees. Victims were told by the director of HR that he “sympathized” with them, acknowledging that they had a “tough job,” but that there was nothing he could do.
Yeah, that’s pretty much representative of the mind of a psychopath. But, you know, KKKremlin Caligula is pretty disturbed along those lines too. Here’s Jennifer Rubin on Trump and breach of classified information.
Candidate Donald Trump used, more than any other issue, Hillary Clinton’s home email server to argue that she was unfit for office and, moreover, that there were grounds for sending her to jail. The eerie chants, more common in banana republics, to imprison his opponent (“Lock her up!”) would thrill his crowds and reignite the anti-Clinton anger that had gripped Republicans for decades. For less crazed voters, it was an effective reminder of the Clintons’s proclivity to break the rules, to disregard conflicts of interest and to only grudgingly come clean when caught misbehaving. Her offense, in retrospect, seems small and innocuous, in large part because Trump’s defiance of rules, indulgence in massive conflicts of interest and habitual lying in just one year in office dwarf anything (and everything) both Clintons have done in a lifetime in the public eye.
And that brings us to President Trump’s handling and mishandling of classified information. No president has more recklessly exposed the country’s secrets than this one.
Consider that he blabbed code-word intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. According to national security expert Amy Zegart of Stanford University, “On a scale of 1 to 10—and I’m just ball parking here—it’s about a billion. … The president could have jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. Not America’s source. Somebody else’s. Presumably from an allied intelligence service who now knows that the American president cannot be trusted with sensitive information.”
Fast-forward to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who cooked up a memo falsely accusing the FBI of omitting information on a warrant application to the FISA court to conduct surveillance on longtime suspected spy Carter Page. Nunes has stubbornly refused to say if he drafted the memo in concert with the White House, but his refusal to deny the accusation speaks volumes. The president, contrary to the pleading of FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, released the memo publicly, sending out to everyone on the planet a document originally labeled “top secret.” (Countless national security experts have explained that “top secret” is usually the designation of material whose release would expose sources and methods of intelligence gathering.) Trump, even before the so-called vetting process, told a lawmaker at the State of the Union address that he intended to release the memo. Keeping our nation’s secrets, as well as releasing his tax records, are hindrances to his self-protection. Therefore, top-secret classification (and personal financial transparency) be damned.
One could barely get a night’s sleep before another White House aide, the speechwriter David Sorensen, was forced to resign after it was revealed that, during a background check, his ex-wife, Jessica Corbett, had told the F.B.I. that he had abused her by, among other acts, putting out a cigarette on her hand and running over her foot with a car.
Trump’s response on social media to these allegations was not entirely surprising. He tweeted his suspicion of the #MeToo movement, saying, “People’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused—life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
Trump responded with similar fellow-feeling when charges were levelled at Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, late of Fox News, and Roy Moore, the right-wing former judge who had seemed headed to victory in an Alabama Senate race. (Trump, of course, is unforgiving when it comes to Democrats like Al Franken and John Conyers.)
Kellyanne Conway, whose defenses of Trump’s most preposterous statements are sometimes so tortured that they become the stuff of late-night satire, could not bear to back the President on this one. She told CNN that she saw “no reason not to believe” Porter’s former spouses. “In this case, you have contemporaneous police reports, you have women speaking to the FBI under threat of perjury,” Conway said. “You have photographs, and when you look at all of that pulled together, Rob Porter did the right thing by resigning.” This was hardly a condemnation, but, in the context of this White House and these times, she showed, if fleetingly, common sense.
Trump is considered the “most anti-woman President* ever and polls are confirming what women think of him.
Donald Trump wants you to believe he has “great respect” for women, but his words and actions tell a far different story. In fact, Trump may be the most anti-women US president ever.
Case in point: On Friday, Trump defended his former aide Rob Porter after news broke of allegations that Porter had been physically abusive to his two ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby.
At that point, America had already seen the photo of Holderness with a black eye caused when Porter allegedly punched her. We had heard Porter’s second wife, Willoughby tell us that while married to Porter he had been abusive. He “grabbed me from the shower by my shoulders up close to my neck and pulled me out to continue to yell at me,” she said. Porter has denied these allegations.
It’s clear that women are increasingly not buying Trump’s lie that he respects them. According to exit polls for the 2016 election, Trump received the support of 41% of female voters, including 52% of white women. But now it appears Trump is losing favor among women, with a recent Marist Poll showing he not only has just a 33% approval rating among women, but also that 50% of women strongly disapprove of the job he is doing as president.
These twin forces—of class and gender—have established a sharp continuum of white attitudes toward Trump. White men without a college degree remain his foundation, even if the pillar is showing some cracks: Relative to his 2016 vote, Trump’s approval rating in 2017 among this group declined in all 13 states. But given his commanding initial position, Trump retains a very strong hold on those men, drawing 60 percent or more approval from them in each state except Michigan, Colorado, and Minnesota (though he still retains majority support in those).
At the opposite pole, college-educated women remain the engine of white resistance to Trump. In only four of the 13 states (more on them below) did Trump’s approval among college-educated white women exceed an anemic 34 percent. That widespread rejection of Trump keys the Democratic opportunity in 2018 in House seats in information-age, white-collar suburbs in major metropolitan areas.
The two other groups of whites are more conflicted. Among college-educated white men, Trump retains majority approval in five of the states and draws at least 45 percent in four more. The intense backlash against Trump from well-educated white women means that GOP hopes of minimizing their suburban losses may depend on maintaining majority support from college-educated white men—who many Republican strategists consider the audience most likely to snap back to GOP candidates over the tax bill and generally brightening economic picture (the stock market’s tumble this week notwithstanding).
The situation looks even more volatile among white women without a college degree. No group was more central to Trump’s victory, especially in the Rustbelt states that effectively decided the election. (Trump won at least 56 percent of those women in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, according to exit polls.) In 2017, Gallup found, Trump averaged majority approval from these blue-collar white women in six of the 13 states. But that finding highlights the continuing force of regional variation in shaping attitudes about Trump: All six of those states are in the South and Southwest.
In the Rustbelt states that decided 2016, Trump has slipped into a much more precarious position with these women: Gallup put his 2017 approval with them at 45 percent in Pennsylvania, 42 percent in Michigan, and 39 percent or less in Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Compared to his 2016 vote, his 2017 approval among blue-collar white women in the Rustbelt represented some of his largest declines anywhere—18 percentage points in Ohio and 19 in Wisconsin and Minnesota. That erosion, which intensified during Trump’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, creates the opening for Democrats to contest blue-collar and non-urban House seats this fall through the Midwest and Northeast.
I love the title of this piece in the Kansas City Star. “Rob Porter and the Team Trump men’s club: Accused of mistreating women? You’re hired!”
It’s almost as if domestic violence allegations are a résumé enhancer for the Trump administration.President Donald Trump’s staff secretary, Rob Porter, who had the power to decide what information would cross the commander in chief’s uncluttered desk, was the second top Trump aide to have been accused of past spousal abuse. A third was out before week’s end.Back when Steve Bannon was the new CEO of the Trump campaign, the news broke that he had been charged with domestic violence in 1996. But that in no way diminished his influence with the candidate.Can Team Trump’s indifference to allegations of wife-beating endure in the #MeToo moment? It can, it has and it continues to. White House officials didn’t fire, suspend or otherwise signal they thought any less of Porter after reports that two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend had accused him of physical abuse. Why would they flinch when that was not news to them?
But let’s not forget!!!
… on Saturday, Trump remained sad for his former aides, tweeting that men can be “shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”Presumably, the president can relate. His first wife, Ivana, later withdrew her allegations that Trump had raped her and ripped a handful of her hair out around the time of their divorce. Some 19 women willing to be quoted by name have accused him of harassment and assault in the years since.Trump, who has bragged about grabbing women but denied all specific allegations, is reportedly still looking for a job for former Carl’s Jr. head Andy Puzder, who took himself out of the running to be labor secretary after reports that ex-wife once went on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and accused him of abusing her. Like Bannon’s ex-wife, she has taken it back.The president also remains in a mutual admiration society with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was charged with assaulting Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. Like the charges against Bannon, those were dropped as well.How did all these alleged hotheads slip past the filter? They didn’t.
I can only hope all the blowback from this translates to votes the House and Senate just in time to impeach Pence and Trump using Mueller’s findings. Oh, and with a Democratic Speaker.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
You can find Caroline’s work on Instagram. She goes by C_to_the_line and her website. Also, d’Etat designs are by Ryan Blackwood. The float with Matt Lauer on the front is painted by the very talented Noah Church.
Happy Weekend Sky Dancers!!
My plan for today and every day that the monster currently defiling the American people’s House continues to perpetrate his foul corruption is to resist the urge to give up on justice and human decency. We need to remember every day that Hillary got nearly 3 million more votes than the current “president.” But for Russian interference, James Comey, and media misogyny, she would be in the White House now. There are many more in the Resistance than those who support Trump’s authoritarian behavior. We must and will defeat him in the end.
Meanwhile, the woman-hating “president” tweeted his sympathy for abusive men this morning. Doesn’t he need to get to the golf course?
Like his life was “shattered” by becoming “president?” Fuck you, you fucking asshole! Some twitter responses:
The moronic “president” also tweeted about the Democratic memo produced in response to the fake Nunes memo. Last night he announced he will refuse to release it. Gee, I wonder why?
Why didn’t you redact the Nunes memo after the FBI and DOJ said it would cause “grave” damage to national security, you fucking hypocrite?
The Daily Beast: In Private, Donald Trump Voices Doubt About Rob Porter’s Accusers.
As his White House has become engulfed in controversy over its handling ofallegations of spousal abuse leveled against former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, President Donald Trump has privately questioned the credibility of the accusers. In fact, the president has gone as far as to express doubts to aides and friends about the assault allegations, and has asked repeatedly if there are any reasons Porter’s two ex-wives could have to make up such claims, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the conversations.
Trump’s skepticism has been apparent in discussions with confidants and officials, who tell The Daily Beast that, at least in their conversations, he has not expressed sympathy for the ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, who have gone on the record to allege physical violence.
“[It is] 100% not what’s on his mind,” one source close to Trump who has spoken with the president in recent days told The Daily Beast, referring to the well-being of alleged victims.
The Washington Post: Second White House official departs amid abuse allegations, which he denies.
A White House speechwriter resigned Friday after his former wife claimed that he was violent and emotionally abusive during their turbulent 2½ -year marriage — allegations that he vehemently denied, saying she was the one who victimized him.
The abrupt departure of David Sorensen, a speechwriter who worked under senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, came as The Washington Post was reporting on a story about abuse claims by his ex-wife, Jessica Corbett. Corbett told The Post that she described his behavior to the FBI last fall as the bureau was conducting a background check of Sorensen….
Corbett first contacted The Post a week before Porter’s case became public. She said that during her marriage to Sorensen, he ran a car over her foot, put out a cigarette on her hand, threw her into a wall and grasped her menacingly by her hair while they were alone on their boat in remote waters off Maine’s coast, an incident she said left her fearing for her life. During part of their marriage, he was a top policy adviser to Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage.
She said she did not report her abuse allegations to police because of Sorensen’s connections to law enforcement officials.
Corbett said several of the incidents involved alcohol and acknowledged that she slapped Sorensen a number of times after he called her a vulgar term.
The Washington Post: Hope Hicks: The quiet one in Trump’s White House suddenly feels the glare.
Hope Hicks, the discreet aide always at President Trump’s side whose desk is just outside the Oval Office, is his right-hand woman. Improbably, the former model, at only 29, has worked with Trump longer than anyone he is not related to at the White House.
But now Hicks is suddenly frying under the spotlight of scandal, a central figure in two White House controversies — the Russian investigation and the departure of a senior White House aide accused of physically abusing two ex-wives.
Hicks has been dating Rob Porter, 40, who left his job Wednesday, and was involved in crafting the widely condemned initial White House defense of him. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly called him “a man of true integrity.”
After Porter began dating Hicks, an ex-girlfriend brought accusations to the White House about Porter’s abuse of his ex-wives.
In recent days, Trump has complained about Hicks — a rare occurrence for a president who rages about others but rarely about her. Her colleagues have quietly accused her of looking out for Porter and not the White House, and she has been visibly upset in recent days as her personal life becomes a national news story. West Wing aides say she has glanced at the TV screens, seen her face and quickly looked away.
More details at the WaPo.
Thirty to 40 White House officials and administration political appointees are still operating without full security clearances, including senior adviser to President Donald Trump Jared Kushner and — until recently — White House staffer Rob Porter, according to a US official and a source familiar with the situation.
The White House claims that the backlog of interim security clearances is a procedural consequence of the review process carried out by the FBI and White House Office of Security, which can take time to complete.
But several sources, including intelligence officials who have served previous Democratic and GOP administrations, describe the backlog as very unusual and make clear that the process should have been completed after a year in office….
One current and one former US official said the backlog could indicate that there are remaining questions or obstacles from the intelligence community and law enforcement conducting the review.
Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, is quoted in a new edition of the book “Devil’s Bargain” as sharply criticizing what he terms the “anti-patriarchy movement” — that is, the movement against sexual harassment and assault — saying he believes it will “undo ten thousand years of recorded history.”
In a preface to an updated paperback version of his New York Times bestselling book, set for release on Tuesday, author and Bloomberg journalist Josh Green writes that he visited Bannon at his Washington, D.C., home while he watched the Golden Globes.Green says Bannon, who was recently ousted from his position as executive chairman of the far-right website Breitbart, took particular notice of the Times’s Up campaign, founded by Hollywood celebrities inspired by the #MeToo movement and the post-Harvey Weinstein reckoning.
“It’s a Cromwell moment!” Bannon is quoted as nearly shouting, referring to the 17th century political leader often characterized as a fanatical dictator. “It’s even more powerful than populism. It’s deeper. It’s primal. It’s elemental. The long black dresses and all that — this is the Puritans! It’s anti-patriarchy.”
No doubt Trump would agree if he could read and understand words longer than four letters.
The Washington Post: ‘Very turbulent’: Trump and White House consumed with turmoil amid abuse allegations.
The White House was engulfed in chaos Friday as officials scrambled to contain the fallout from its management of domestic violence allegations against staff secretary Rob Porter, even as President Trump lavished praise on the now-departed senior aide and suggested he may be innocent.
And amid the tumult, the man whose mission had been to enforce order in the West Wing, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, was focused instead on a more personal goal — to save his job — as Trump seriously sounded out confidants about possible replacements.
Trump and Kelly have had a series of conversations in recent days that two White House officials described as “very turbulent.” The president is upset with his top aide — as well as with White House Communications Director Hope Hicks — for not being more transparent with him about the allegations against Porter and for their botched public relations push to defend him, according to four officials.
Kelly and his loyal deputies have been “frantically trying to stop the bleeding,” according to one West Wing staffer, who, like the others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe the chaos. Kelly’s efforts at damage control included instructing senior aides at a Friday morning meeting to communicate that he had taken action to remove Porter within 40 minutes of learning that abuse allegations from both of Porter’s ex-wives were credible, according to two senior officials. That account contradicts the administration’s public statements and other private accounts.
Fuck Kelly! He needs to be gone yesterday.
Politico: White House lurches into crisis mode, again. An excerpt–lots more gossip at the link.
The Trump White House has careened from one crisis to another since January, with the furor around the publication of Michael Wolff’s best-selling tell-all “Fire and Fury” — which sparked a public break between Trump and his former top strategist Steve Bannon — replaced by outrage sparked by Trump’s description of African countries as “shitholes,” as well as a stand-off between Trump and the FBI over the ever-present Russia investigation. In the midst of all that, the government shut down – twice.
The relentless chaos has prompted some senior officials to leave the administration in recent weeks. The latest is Rachel Brand, the number three official at the Justice Department, who resigned on Friday to join Wal-Mart, telling friends that she was concerned that her association with the Trump administration could hurt her reputation.
“She is very smart, accomplished, and talented, and wants to protect her career,” said one Brand associate.
Late Friday, the White House made a long-anticipated announcement about personnel moves in the West Wing. The list largely consisted of portfolio reassignments and title changes, doing little to allay concerns that Kelly has been unable to recruit fresh faces to replace senior officials who have left.
The relentless chaos has prompted some senior officials to leave the administration in recent weeks. The latest is Rachel Brand, the number three official at the Justice Department, who resigned on Friday to join Wal-Mart, telling friends that she was concerned that her association with the Trump administration could hurt her reputation.“She is very smart, accomplished, and talented, and wants to protect her career,” said one Brand associate.
Late Friday, the White House made a long-anticipated announcement about personnel moves in the West Wing. The list largely consisted of portfolio reassignments and title changes, doing little to allay concerns that Kelly has been unable to recruit fresh faces to replace senior officials who have left.
The changes included the nomination of Jim Carroll, who had been serving as Kelly’s de facto deputy, to serve as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, further thinning the top ranks of the White House. White House officials told POLITICO as recently as Wednesday that Kelly was pleased with Carroll’s performance in his office.
I hope everyone has a terrific weekend, in spite of the Trump horrors. Take care of yourselves in the best ways you know how. I love you guys!
Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!
You have to wonder what fresh hell we’ll wake up to each morning. We continue to find out how deeply the men in this administration hate women and how deeply the women that side with them must hate themselves. Sarah Sisterwife may still be in good stead, but Hope Hicks appears to be taking heat for dating not one but two serial wife beaters. What did the men in charge know about these duds and when did they know it?
A day after White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned amid allegations he physically abused his ex-wives, the Trump administration is still struggling to contain the fallout. The question of who knew what, and when, is being hotly debated in the West Wing. Chief of Staff John Kelly, whose relationship with Trump has been strained in recent weeks, is taking the lion’s share of the blame, as I reported yesterday. On Wednesday night, Donald Trump vented to advisers that Kelly had not fully briefed him on Porter’s issues with women until recently, two sources told me. Trump was also not aware of the severity of the alleged abuse until yesterday, when Ivanka walked into the Oval Office and showed her father a photo published in the Daily Mail of Porter’s ex-wife with a black eye. “He was fucking pissed,” said one Republican briefed on the conversation. According to a source, Ivanka and Jared Kushner have been discussing possible chief-of-staff replacements. The problem is there’s not an obvious candidate waiting in the wings.
West Wing staffers continue to wonder why Kelly would keep the Porter allegations from the president, and why he defended Porter so aggressively when presented with allegations by the Mail. Porter’s history with women had been known to Kelly for months, a source familiar with the matter said. (Porter has been working with a temporary security clearance because the allegations surfaced in an F.B.I. background interview.) According to a source, Kelly at first pushed back when White House officials wanted him to issue a second statement walking back his initial strong defense of Porter. Kelly ultimately wrote that he was “shocked by the new allegations.”
The crisis also raises questions about Hope Hicks’s decision-making, and whether her romantic relationship with Porter clouded her judgment. According to a source, Hicks did not get a sign off from Trump for the White House’s initial statement defending Porter, in which Kelly was quoted calling Porter a “man of true integrity.” She drafted the statement with her close friend, Kushner’s White House spokesman Josh Raffel, whom she’s known since their days working for Manhattan P.R. strategist Matthew Hiltzik. This morning, Hicks continued to defend Porter in private, a source said, telling people she thinks the allegations aren’t true. In recent weeks, Trump has been angry at Hicks for her role in approving interviews with Michael Wolff, a Republican close to the White House told me. (The White House did not respond to requests for comment.)
Kelly is an appalling racist and misogynist who continually outs himself in public. But, why on earth would Hicks defend Porter?
President Donald Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with Hope Hicks, his communications director and one of his closest confidantes, amid the fallout from the Rob Porter scandal, people familiar with the matter say.Meanwhile, the President has told associates he’s dismayed at how the allegations involving his former staff secretary accused of domestic abuse were handled, but he isn’t certain how to solve the mushrooming controversy, a person familiar with the conversations tells CNN.Trump was not consulted when Hicks and several other aides drafted a White House statement defending Porter, and he is under the impression that Hicks has let her romantic relationship with Porter cloud her judgment, a source familiar said.In the aftermath, Trump has told associates he feels that Hicks put her own priorities ahead of his. However, there is little to indicate that Hicks’ standing is in jeopardy.Speaking during the White House briefing on Thursday, spokesman Raj Shah said Hicks had recused herself from some matters related to the Porter fallout. Porter was in the building for a short period to clean out his desk, Shah said.Hicks continued to privately defend Porter to her White House colleagues Thursday, a source familiar said.
The Rob Porter crisis has become a John Kelly crisis, and it has now totally engulfed the West Wing. White House staff — especially Porter’s close friendship circle —are shell-shocked by the allegations of domestic abuse by the departing aide. President Trump is enraged about the situation, though he still feels that it hasn’t touched him.
The bottom line: Trump’s affection for his chief of staff is gone, and Kelly has lost the goodwill of much of his staff. The president is mulling potential replacements, though aides doubt he has it in him to actually fire the retired general.
Where it stands: Kelly still has not adequately answered when he became aware of the horrific allegations against Porter. Nor have the other senior officials who should have had visibility over this: White House counsel Don McGahn and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin.
The official White House line — that Kelly only became “fully aware” of the domestic assault allegations when the Daily Mail story broke — doesn’t pass the smell test.
- Both of Porter’s ex-wives told the FBI about their claims.
- There was a police report.
- There was a restraining order.
- There are photos.
- All of this was part of his background checks which never passed muster.
The big picture: In any major corporation in America, Porter would have been escorted out the door the minute senior officials learned of these allegations. Everyone is entitled to their day in court, but in no normal corporation or White House could somebody continue serve under these conditions. And there is no organization in America more important than the White House.
Yes, but: It’s probably not enough to get Kelly fired — because unlike other Trump aides, Kelly never wanted the job in the first place and would never fight to save it. And as a source close to the president told me, “That changes Trump’s calculus.”
What we’re hearing: It’s not surprising that Trump would make noises about getting rid of Kelly. But sources close to the president don’t believe he has it in him to actually pull the trigger.
- Yes, Kelly frustrates Trump. Yes, Trump complains about him. Yes, the two have never developed the personal chemistry — full of off-color jokes and nicknames like Hopey (Hope Hicks) and Reincey (Reince Priebus) — that Trump has formed with some of his other advisers.
- And yes, there’s not a ton of personal affection for Kelly across the White House staff.
- But everyone respects the service of a man Trump calls “a tough cookie.” And Kelly’s four star status inoculates him from the normal reaches of Trump’s wrath.
“Trump is not going to fire him,” the source close to the president said. “And does Trump have the stomach to do what he normally does when he’s fed up with them? He usually makes their lives miserable, publicly humiliates them. But now he’s up against somebody who doesn’t care and would happily leave.”
White House counsel Don McGahn knew a year ago that Rob Porter’s two former wives were preparing to testify to the FBI that he had abused them. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about the domestic abuse allegations as early as November 2017. Other powerful administration figures may have been aware earlier than that.
No one took action.
Porter resigned this week as the allegations become public, including a photo of one of his wives with a black eye. But the White House defended him again and again, and President Trump told reporters today that Porter has claimed to be innocent and “will have a great career ahead of him.”
The White House’s inaction — and recent defense of Porter — bring to light a major conflict within the conservative movement in the age of Trump. While House Speaker Paul Ryan touts his support for bipartisan legislation to end harassment and misconduct committed by members of Congress, and other Republicans make changes within their own offices, the Trump White House is not even paying lip service to reform.
Instead, they’ve housed Porter, accused of spousal abuse, and Steve Bannon, also accused of spousal abuse (whom Trump nicknamed “Bam Bam” because of it), and backed an Alabama Senate candidate accused of molesting or assaulting minors.
White House chief of staff John Kelly was told several weeks ago that the FBI would recommend denying full security clearances to multiple White House aides who had been working in the West Wing on interim security clearances.
Those aides, according to a senior administration official, included former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who left the White House on Thursday after reports that he physically and verbally abused his two ex-wives.
The White House chief-of-staff told confidants in recent weeks that he had decided to fire anyone who had been denied a clearance — but had yet to act on that plan before the Porter allegations were first reported this week.
Kelly’s inaction has produced what may be the deepest crisis of his seven months on the job, unleashing a cascade of questions about whether Trump – who was accused by multiple women during the 2016 campaign of sexual impropriety – and his closest advisers take violence against women seriously at a time when the #MeToo movement has called other politicians, media moguls and entertainment icons to account.
The revelations about Porter included photographs of his first wife with a black eye she said he gave her on a trip to Italy. Kelly initially defended Porter, who has been romantically involved with White House communications director Hope Hicks, before expressing shock over the allegations on Thursday.
Those close to Kelly say they’re puzzled about why the former Marine general, whose singular focus since joining the West Wing in July has been to eliminate irregularities and chaos, failed to follow through on his determination to push out aides denied a permanent clearance.
Still, a lot of gossip is still circling Hope Hicks too. What was she thinking?
President Trump‘s communications director Hope Hicks has now been romantically linked to not one but two ousted Trump aides who have been accused of violence against women.
The newspaper published photos of Hicks and Porter recently enjoying dinner and drinks with Ivanka Trump and others at Rosa Mexicano in Washington, D.C., before appearing to return to Hicks’ apartment alone together.
The Daily Mail said Hicks and Porter did not sit next to each other at the restaurant but that an eyewitness spotted them kissing and cuddling in the back of a taxi on their way home.
According to The Daily Mail, speculation that the two were romantically involved started last month, after Hicks and Porter were seen at a Washington, D.C., area church service on Jan. 7. Though Hicks is Roman Catholic and Porter is Mormon, they were reportedly seen praying together.
This is what happens when you let a man of low values and character with absolutely no skill set or emotional maturity surround himself with people that he doesn’t feel threatened by. I’m really tired of the chaos, the bigotry, and the daily outrage.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
and for something a bit more uplifting …
Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!
Another day! Another Constitutional Crisis! It’s Groundhog Day KKKrelim Caligula Style!
Ezra Klein of VOX has written an extensive article based on How Democracies Die. His basis is the book and an interview with the authors available in podcast.
Where Levitsky and Ziblatt make their mark is in weaving together political science and historical analysis of both domestic and international democratic crises; in doing so, they expand the conversation beyond Trump and before him, to other countries and to the deep structure of American democracy and politics.
They also offer a lesson that should ring in our minds as we watch congressional Republicans agitate to release a memo designed to smear the FBI — setting up a confrontation between a president with authoritarian impulses and the FBI that’s investigating him — and cheer lustily as Trump delivers his State of the Union address.
Demagogues and authoritarians do not destroy democracies. It’s established political parties, and the choices they make when faced with demagogues and authoritarians, that decide whether democracies survive.
“2017 was the best year for conservatives in the 30 years that I’ve been here,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week. “The best year on all fronts. And a lot of people were shocked because we didn’t know what we were getting with Donald Trump.”
The best year on all fronts. Think about that for a moment. If you want to know why congressional Republicans are opening an assault on the FBI in order to protect Trump, it can be found in that comment. This was a year in which Trump undermined the press, fired the director of the FBI, cozied up to Russia, baselessly alleged he was wiretapped, threatened to jail his political opponents, publicly humiliated his attorney general for recusing himself from an investigation, repeatedly claimed massive voter fraud against him, appointed a raft of unqualified and occasionally ridiculous candidates to key positions, mishandled the aftermath of the Puerto Rico hurricane, and threatened to use antitrust and libel laws against his enemies.
And yet McConnell surveyed the tax cuts he passed and the regulations he repealed and called this not a mixed year for his political movement, not a good year for his political movement, but the best year he’d ever seen.
Speaking of Republicans who have completely sold out our country, you may read Rep. Devin Nunes (R- RUSSIA) at this link at WAPO.
The Nunes memo is a document created by the staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) that alleges the FBI abused its surveillance authority, particularly when it sought a secret court order to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser. The FBI and the Justice Department had lobbied strenuously against its release. On Wednesday, the FBI had said it was “gravely concerned” that key facts were missing from the memo. President approves release of GOP memo criticizing FBI surveillance
The White House released the memo with no redactions but a lot of stern tweet lying and shaming.
The White House transmitted the president’s opinion to the committee in a letter this morning, the official said.
As ABC News has previously reported, the memo is critical of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his role in renewing a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page after Trump took office.
Trump’s Republican allies have suggested that Rosenstein — who is also overseeing the Mueller investigation — is guilty of political bias toward the president because he supported surveillance on Page based in part on information from a Democrat-funded dossier.
“Does it make you more likely to fire Rosenstein? Do you still have confidence in him after reading the memo?” a reporter asked the president in the Oval Office.
“You figure that one out,” Trump responded.
Here’s some VOX analysis of why the Republicans (RUSSIA) think the memo will destroy the credibility of Mueller and his team.9
1) A FISA court judge reviewed evidence and approved a warrant to wiretap a Trump associate
In fall 2016, FBI investigators applied for a warrant with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to wiretap Carter Page, a former Trump adviser. They presented evidence that Page may be acting as a Russian agent and the judge approved the warrant.
There isn’t much disagreement up to this point.
2) The core of the Nunes argument
But the Nunes memo implies the case was primarily built on the Steele dossier — and points out that it was funded partially by a law firm on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
And here’s the important part: Nunes says investigators misled the judge by not saying they were relying on the Steele dossier.
3) Rod Rosenstein is dragged into this as well
The Nunes memo points out that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approved the application for a renewal of the warrant knowing they were relying heavily on the DNC-funded Steele dossier.
This part is crucial because it is saying Rosenstein knew about the warrant and approved of it. And since Nunes believes the warrant application was mostly from a DNC- and Clinton-funded report, he is trying to imply Rosenstein has an anti-Trump bias.
This is clearly a move to remove Rosenstein and replace him with some one that will fire Mueller. It’s also beyond Nixonian.
It’s always been held–but not determined by the Supreme Court–that a sitting President cannot be indicted. This is being challenged by two lawyers with connections to lawyers familiar with the investigation.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation has gathered enough steam that some lawyers representing key Donald Trump associates are considering the possibility of a historic first: an indictment against a sitting president.
While many legal experts contend that Mueller lacks the standing to bring criminal charges against Trump, at least two attorneys working with clients swept up in the Russia probe told POLITICO they consider it possible that Mueller could indict the president for obstruction of justice.
Neither attorney claimed to have specific knowledge of Mueller’s plans. Both based their opinions on their understanding of the law; one also cited his interactions with the special counsel’s team, whose interviews have recently examined whether Trump tried to derail the probe into his campaign’s Russia ties.
“If I were a betting man, I’d bet against the president,” said one of the lawyers.
The second attorney, who represents a senior Trump official, speculated that Mueller could try to bring an indictment against Trump even if he expects the move to draw fierce procedural challenges from the president’s lawyers – if only to demonstrate the gravity of his findings.
“It’s entirely possible that Mueller may go that route on the theory that, as an open question, it should be for the courts to decide,” the attorney said. “Even if the indictment is dismissed, it puts maximum pressure on Congress to treat this with the independence and intellectual honesty that it will never, ever get.”
I’m sure will hear all about this on news today. Meanwhile, share what you think and what you’re hearing!