Posted: April 11, 2019 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Adam Schiff, Chelsea Manning, computer crimes, conspiracy theories, corruption, Fox News, Julian Assange, Maryanne Trump Barry, Richard Neal, Steven Mnuchin, Trump tax returns, William Barr
Painting by Karen Kinser
There’s way too much news this morning, but this is how we live now. Day after day the shocks come and it becomes more and more difficult to keep track of the corruption, the lawlessness, and the lack of ethics of this of this monstrous administration.
This morning Julian Assange was arrested and dragged kicking and screaming out the Equadorian embassy in London. The British courts will decide whether to extradite him to the U.S. to face charges of computer hacking and conspiracy. He is not charged in the U.S. with publishing stolen information, but for actively helping Chelsea Manning to discover the password that allowed him to break into U.S. State Department computers. More charges may be added in the future. Tweets from a British journalist.
The New York Times: Julian Assange Arrested on U.S. Extradition Warrant, London Police Say.
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who released reams of secret documents that embarrassed the United States government, was arrested by the British police on Thursday at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he had lived since 2012, after Ecuador withdrew the asylum it had granted him.
The Metropolitan Police said that Mr. Assange had been detained partly in connection with an extradition warrant filed by the authorities in the United States, where he could face of a charge of computer hacking, according to an American official, if he is extradited.
President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador said on Twitter that his country had decided to stop sheltering Mr. Assange after “his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols,” a decision that cleared the way for the British authorities to detain him.
The relationship between Mr. Assange and Ecuador has been a rocky one, even as it offered him refuge and even citizenship, and WikiLeaks said last Friday that Ecuador “already has an agreement with the UK for his arrest” and predicted that Mr. Assange would be expelled from the embassy “within ‘hours to days.’ ”
Yesterday was also a huge news day. Cover-Up General Barr appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee and revealed himself to be not only a political hack and Trump lackey but also a Fox News-style conspiracy theorist when he announced that he thinks U.S. intelligence agencies “spied” on Trump’s campaign. I wonder if he thinks Seth Rich hacked the DNC too? In his testimony Barr never expressed any concern about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to help Trump. The New York Times reports:
With the Russia investigation complete, Mr. Barr said he was preparing to review “both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign,” including possible improper “spying” by American intelligence agencies.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Mr. Barr said, adding that he believed “spying did occur.” Mr. Trump and his allies have accused the F.B.I. and other government officials of abusing their power and cooking up the Russia investigation to sabotage the president.
“I am not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at them,” Mr. Barr said. Later he said he wanted to ensure that there was no “improper surveillance” — not suggesting there had been, but that the possibility warranted review.
It was not immediately clear what Mr. Barr was referring to, and he did not present evidence to back up his statement. The F.B.I. obtained a secret surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, after he left the campaign, and reports have suggested it used at least one confidential informer to collect information on campaign associates.
Mr. Barr said that he will work with the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, to examine the origins of the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign, and that he would soon set up a team for that effort. He noted that Congress and the Justice Department’s inspector general have already completed investigations of that matter, and that after reviewing those investigations he would be able to see whether there were any “remaining questions to be addressed.”
It’s pretty clear no to anyone with half a brain that Barr sees his job as acting as Trump’s personal lawyer and not the top law enforcement officer in the U.S. representing the American people.
Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Adam Schiff just issued a stark warning about William Barr.
“I’m shocked to hear the attorney general of the United States casually make the suggestion that the FBI or intelligence community was spying on the president’s campaign,” Schiff told me. “I’m sure it was very gratifying to Donald Trump.” [….]
Schiff pointed out that the bipartisan Gang of Eight — the leaders and intelligence committee chairs in both parties — were already briefed by the Justice Department after Trump made yet another version of the assertion. At the time, the Democrats issued a joint statement saying nothing they had been told supported the notion of untoward conduct.
“It’s unclear to me what Barr was referring to,” Schiff said. He noted that he was unaware that the statement he and other Democrats put out had ever been “contested by anyone on either side of the aisle.”
“All I can make of it is that he wanted to say something pleasing to the boss, and did so at the cost of our institutions,” Schiff said.
Asked if Schiff would seek another briefing from the Justice Department on Barr’s latest claim, Schiff said: “We’ll certainly try to get to the bottom of many of the things he has been saying over the last two days — his references to investigation into the president’s political opponents.”
“His testimony raises profound concern that the attorney general is doing what we urge emerging democracies not to do, and that is, seek to prosecute your political opponents after you win an election,” Schiff continued, in an apparent reference to Barr’s vow to examine the beginnings of the investigation, precisely as Trump has long demanded….
“The big picture is this,” Schiff said. “The post-Watergate reforms are being dismantled, one by one. The Trump precedent after only two years is that you can fire the FBI director who is running an investigation in which you may be implicated as president.”
Last night, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin intervened in House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal’s demand that the IRS turn over Trump’s personal and business tax returns. The law says that the decision to turn over tax returns fall on the head of the IRS and that Mnuchin must give 30 days notice before he can get involved. But no one in the Trump administration seems to care about those silly things called laws. Axios:
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to meet House Democrats’ request to hand over 6 years of President Trump’s tax returns by the Wednesday’s deadline, stating he needs more time for review, but providing no details as to whether he will comply.
Details: Mnuchin said in a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) that his agency has consulted with the Justice Department to review the lawfulness of the request. He said it “raises serious issues concerning the constitutional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose and the constitutional rights of American citizens.”
Also last night, we got a timely reminder of why we need to see Trump’s taxes.
The New York Times: Retiring as a Judge, Trump’s Sister Ends Court Inquiry Into Her Role in Tax Dodges.
President Trump’s older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, has retired as a federal appellate judge, ending an investigation into whether she violated judicial conduct rules by participating in fraudulent tax schemes with her siblings.
The court inquiry stemmed from complaints filed last October, after an investigation by The New York Times found that the Trumps had engaged in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the inherited wealth of Mr. Trump and his siblings. Judge Barry not only benefited financially from most of those tax schemes, The Times found; she was also in a position to influence the actions taken by her family.
Judge Barry, now 82, has not heard cases in more than two years but was still listed as an inactive senior judge, one step short of full retirement. In a letter dated Feb. 1, a court official notified the four individuals who had filed the complaints that the investigation was “receiving the full attention” of a judicial conduct council. Ten days later, Judge Barry filed her retirement papers.
The status change rendered the investigation moot, since retired judges are not subject to the conduct rules. The people who filed the complaints were notified last week that the matter had been dropped without a finding on the merits of the allegations. The decision has not yet been made public, but copies were provided to The Times by two of the complainants. Both are involved in the legal profession.
The Trump crime family is so corrupt that it’s impossible to keep up with the daily revelations about them.
I’ll post some more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?
Posted: March 9, 2019 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Asian day spas, Bill Shine, corruption, Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr, Erik Prince, GY US Investments, human trafficking, iran, Li Yang, Mar-a-Lago, Saudi Arabia, Sean Hannity, sex trafficking, Tokyo Day Spas, United Arab Emirates
Sir Eli, Los Robles Elementary School Library, Porterville, CA
Yesterday I called Dakinikat early in the morning to tell her about a long investigative piece at The Miami Herald: Trump cheered Patriots to Super Bowl victory with founder of spa where Kraft was busted. She posted a brief excerpt from it in her Friday post. It was just one more example of the corruption Trumph has enabled since becoming “president,” right? Well it looks like there’s a lot more to this story and it could blow up into a huge scandal.
Yesterday multiple photos of prominent Republicans posing with Li “Cindy” Yang, the subject of the Miami Herald story, were posted on Twitter.
Yang founded a chain of “Asian day spas” in Florida, including Orchids of Asia Day Spa, which was recently busted for sex trafficking. Yang is no longer the owner of Orchids, but she and her family members still own numerous such “massage parlors” called Tokyo Day Spas, which are known for providing “sexual services.”
From the Miami Herald story linked above:
Bradford Public Library in Bradford, Pennsylvania, has a cat named Miss Whispurr
Before the 2016 general election, Yang offered no evidence of political engagement. She hadn’t voted in 10 years, records showed. But she has now become a fixture at Republican political events up and down the East Coast. Her Facebook is covered in photos of herself standing with President Trump, his two sons, Eric and Donald Jr., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott, Sarah Palin, the president’s campaign manager and an assortment of other high-level Republican operators she has met at charity events, political fundraisers and galas, many of which require hefty donations to attend. She sometimes carries a rhinestone encrusted MAGA clutch purse.
Yang has shown considerable political largesse. Since 2017, she and her close relatives have contributed more than $42,000 to Trump Victory, a political action committee, and more than $16,000 to the president’s campaign.
In February 2018, Yang was invited by the White House to participate in an event hosted by the Asian American and Pacific Islander Initiative, an advisory commission Trump established by executive order the year before. Later in the year, she attended at least two more AAPI events in Washington, D.C., according to her Facebook page.
The article says that Yang is planning to get out of the day spa business and plans to move to Washington, DC. More on Yang from the Herald piece:
Catniss Evergreen, Akron Carnegie Public Library, Akron, Indiana
When Donald Trump became a serious candidate for president, politics began to dominate her social media presence.
In January 2017, she was in the crowd at Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. Later that year, she snapped a photo with Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. In December, she attended her first elite event at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, a poolside steak lunch.
In September 2018, Yang received a personalized note from the president and first lady. It read: “Thank you for your friendship and dedication to our cause. Leaders like you in Florida are the key to fulfilling our bold agenda to Make America Great Again!” [….]
Over the past two years, Yang has racked up a who’s who of photos with politicians at more than a dozen political events. She has enough pictures of the president’s private clubs to fill an album.
In 2018, she attended a Safari Night at Mar-a-Lago hosted by the president’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, as well as the White House’s celebration of the Lunar New Year at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. She took photos with Florida’s soon-to-be-governor, Ron DeSantis, at a pro-Israel gala held at Mar-a-Lago, met U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in Washington, D.C., and posed with Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz and former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. She also posted a photograph of herself with DeSantis at a restaurant, saying she was having “brunch this morning with Florida’s next Governor.”
She was photographed with Donald Trump Jr. at a winter Mar-a-Lago gala for Turning Points USA, the conservative college organization, and met Eric Trump last month.
Kuzya, Novorossiysk Library, Russia
Yang claims she doesn’t know Trump personally and is just a volunteer at campaign events. But it turns out there’s a lot more to this story. David Corn at Mother Jones this morning: A Florida Massage Parlor Owner Has Been Selling Chinese Execs Access to Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
…there is another angle to the strange story of Yang: She runs an investment business that has offered to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family. And a website for the business—which includes numerous photos of Yang and her purported clients hobnobbing at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach—suggests she had some success in doing so.
Yang, who goes by Cindy, and her husband, Zubin Gong, started GY US Investments LLC in 2017. The company describes itself on its website, which is mostly in Chinese, as an “international business consulting firm that provides public relations services to assist businesses in America to establish and expand their brand image in the modern Chinese marketplace.” But the firm notes that its services also address clients looking to make high-level connections in the United States. On a page displaying a photo of Mar-a-Lago, Yang’s company says its “activities for clients” have included providing them “the opportunity to interact with the president, the [American] Minister of Commerce and other political figures.” The company boasts it has “arranged taking photos with the President” and suggests it can set up a “White House and Capitol Hill Dinner.” (The same day the Herald story about Yang broke, the website stopped functioning.) [….]
Ernie, Bealton Librrary, Bealton, VA
The GY US Investments website lists upcoming events at Mar-a-Lago at which Yang’s clients presumably can mingle with Trump or members of his family. This includes something called the International Leaders Elite Forum, where Trump’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, will supposedly be the featured speaker. Attendees, the site says, will include “Chinese elites from various countries, including the US states, as well as elite leaders from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, Europe and other countries and regions.” Another event for which Yang’s firm says it can provide access is Trump’s annual New Year’s celebration at Mar-a-Lago. Elsewhere on the website, the firm boasts that “GY Company arranged a number of guests to attend the 2019 New Year’s Eve dinner. All the guests took photos with” members of Trump’s family. This page displays photos of Chinese executives and a Chinese movie star with Donald Trump Jr., suggesting that these pics were arranged by the company, and also includes a photo of Yang with Elizabeth Trump Grau.
I wonder if Yang has anything to do with all those Chinese licensing agreements and trademarks Ivanka keeps getting? Honestly, there is no bottom to the Trump family’s corruption, and there are probably more grifters like Yang picking up the scraps.
In other news, Gabriel Sherman has background on why former Fox News exec Bill Shine is no longer in charge of the White House communications shop: “Trump has been calling him Bill “no shine”: Why Roger Ailes’s Former Right Hand is Leaving the West Wing.
“Bill was iced out,” a Republican close to the White House told me, echoing the view of multiple sources that the president had been souring on the former Fox News co-president for months. “Trump has been calling him Bill ‘No Shine,’” one source briefed on the conversations told me.
Mimi the Blueskin Bay library cat, Dunedin, New Zealand
Trump’s decision to hire Shine last July completed the Fox-ification of the West Wing. Shine got the job after his close friend Sean Hannity lobbied Trump to name Shine chief of staff. “The relationship was always Hannity based,” a former West Wing official explained. “When Trump hired him it was like he thought, ‘I’m getting Hannity.’ I’m like, no you’re getting the guy who produced Hannity.” Trump put Shine in charge of the beleaguered White House press operation with a mandate to plug leaks and improve his image. Shine accomplished neither. In Shine’s defense, the brief was impossible given Trump’s destructive Twitter habits. “Trump needs someone to blame for his bad press,” another former West Wing official said.
Shine was in over his head from the beginning. As Roger Ailes’s right hand, he had virtually no direct contacts with reporters and no involvement in Fox’s P.R. department. “Bill’s not a strategist,” a former Fox executive told me. That lack of experience was evident last September when Shine was caught flat-footed during the rollout of Bob Woodward’s book Fear. “Trump started complaining to people there was no advance prep on Woodward’s book,” the Republican close to the White House said. “Trump let Shine know he wasn’t happy.”
Trump should just hire Hannity as chief of staff and be done with it.
Medhi Hasan of The Intercept did a hard-hitting interview with Erik Prince and got him to admit to attending a high-level meeting at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. (The New York Times reported on the meeting in May 2018). Here’s a summary of the story at HuffPost: Ex-Mercenary CEO Erik Prince Admits To Trump Tower Meet With Donald Jr. And Saudi Emissary.
Shadow, Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Erik Prince, former head of mercenary business Blackwater, revealed in a bombshell interview Friday that he attended a meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and a representative of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss “Iran policy” during the presidential campaign.
The interview marked the first time Prince has publicly acknowledged such a meeting. Prince said in congressional testimony in 2017 that he had no “official” or “unofficial” role in the campaign — other than a “yard sign” and writing “papers” — according to the transcript of his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Nor did he mention the meeting in his testimony, according to transcripts.
The New York Times reported last year that Prince organized the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with President Donald Trump’s eldest son and Lebanese-American businessman George Nader. Nader revealed at the meeting that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wanted to aid Trump in his bid for the presidency, according to the newspaper.
The meeting also reportedly included now-top White House aide Stephen Miller and Israeli social media expert Joel Zamel.
Posted: February 26, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Foreign Affairs, just because, U.S. Politics
Building A House in the Woods, Inga Moore
If only I could go live in a children’s book surrounded by bunnies and other wild creatures. Sadly, I have to be an adult living in the time of Trump. But I can still enjoy these illustrations and imagine being in a safe and sane world.
Trump has gone to Vietnam to meet the evil dictator he fell in love with. Instead of consulting with his intelligence community and national security advisers, Trump asked the Kremlin for advice before his meeting with Kim Jong Un. Newsweek reports:
As the Trump administration prepared for the upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it reached out to the Kremlin for advice, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told Interfax news.
Illustration by Brian Patterson
The Kremlin representative did not specify what guidance the Trump administration sought or whether the Russian government had offered the U.S. any specific advice. The White House did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
This would not be the first time that Russia had gotten involved in Trump’s ongoing negotiations with North Korea over the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Previous reports claimed that Russia had offered North Korea nuclear power plants in exchange for denuclearization. And in his recently published book The Threat, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe said that Trump listened to Putin’s theories about North Korea’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles over the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community.
“He thought that North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles. He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so,” McCabe wrote.
According to James Hohmann at The Washington Post Daily 202, Trump has embraced Nixon’s “madman theory” in his dealings with Kim, and Trump thinks it’s working.
Trump is not wrong that his threats have packed more of a punch because foreign leaders think he might go through with them. For example, no one would have believed Barack Obama or George W. Bush if either of them threatened to scuttle NATO or NAFTA to prod allies to spend more on defense or improve the terms of existing trade deals. People also wouldn’t have believed past presidents if they had tweeted they were going to impose stiff tariffs on all Chinese imports.
Yet many serious people really thought a year ago that there was some possibility Trump might actually go through with a preemptive strike on Pyongyang after all his charged rhetoric, despite American military commanders warning that such a move could lead to tens of thousands being killed. In other words, Trump’s intimidations have seemed more credible because he’s gladly encouraged the global perception that he’s quarrelsome.
The president has preached the virtue of strategic unpredictability as a lever to gain the upper hand in negotiations. “We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” Trump said as a candidate in 2016. “We have to be unpredictable!”
A bit more from Hohman:
Trump has even advised his own aides to tell people on the outside that he is “crazy” if they think it will help in negotiations. During an Oval Office meeting in September 2017, Trump told chief trade negotiator Bob Lighthizer that he should threaten to have the U.S. withdraw from its free trade agreement with South Korea. Axios reported this exchange at the time:
“You’ve got 30 days, and if you don’t get concessions, then I’m pulling out,” Trump told Lighthizer.
“Okay, well I’ll tell the Koreans they’ve got 30 days,” Lighthizer replied.
“No, no, no,” Trump interjected. “That’s not how you negotiate. You don’t tell them they’ve got 30 days. You tell them, ‘This guy’s so crazy he could pull out any minute!’”
“That’s what you tell them: Any minute,” Trump continued.
Of course, as Hohmann points out, the “madman theory” didn’t work for Nixon. I’m sorry, I don’t buy that Trump is even trying to protect American interests in this “summit.” He’s obviously doing Putin’s bidding.
Kim wasn’t happy when he found out that U.S. reporters were in his Hanoi hotel. The Washington Post: In Hanoi, Kim Jong Un and a culture clash with the White House press corps.
As Kim’s motorcade was barreling into Hanoi for the final leg of his nearly 70-hour journey from Pyongyang — which included a 65-hour train ride through China — authorities were scrambling behind the scenes to avert an all-out culture clash over the boundaries of free speech for a leader accustomed to an obedient state-controlled media.
Kim was staying at the Melia hotel tower in the heart of the city, but the hotel also happened to have been booked by the White House as the filing center for the traveling press corps to cover the summit.
Not long before Kim arrived, a notice was distributed to the press corps that the filing center would be moved to a separate site for the international press corps at the Cultural Friendship Palace.
A tweet from the Vietnamese government, complete with three megaphone emojis, confirmed the switch.
Bunny rabbit and mouse, Lisi Martin
That left the U.S. press contingent scrambling to make the move. Television network producers had spent weeks setting up cameras, lights, monitors and other equipment shipped halfway across the world. A person with knowledge of the situation said the networks were told they could no longer do liveshots from the Melia, although the correspondents booked to stay in the hotel were not told they had to leave.
While Trump is on the other side of the world talking to his NK boyfriend, his former fixer Michael Cohen will be testifying in three Congressional committees over the next three days.
Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Michael Cohen’s three days of Capitol Hill testimony, explained.
Cohen is testifying for three straight days, but only one of the hearings will be public. After testifying behind closed doors on Tuesday to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he has a public date Wednesday with the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee, and then will go back behind closed doors Thursday with the House Intelligence Committee….
Cohen is the first member of Trump’s inner circle to provide eyewitness testimony about alleged misdeeds by the president. While other former aides have flipped and spoken to prosecutors, Cohen has spoken publicly and indicated that he thinks it’s his duty to atone for his own wrongdoing. And now that Democrats control the House, he has been given a platform.
Illustration by Susan Wheeler
Even before testifying, Cohen has spoken out repeatedly about Trump, has helped prosecutors implicate him in campaign finance violations and has reached a key plea deal with Mueller in which he admitted to lying about the Trump Tower Moscow effort.
Cohen is not just a former campaign aide, but also someone who had been around Trump years before by serving as his personal lawyer and “fixer.” In other words, he is someone who could speak to many different facets of Trump. That combination and Cohen’s stated desire to hold Trump accountable makes him a one-of-a-kind witness. Although Cohen has spoken publicly, it has been infrequent, and we don’t know what celse he might be prepared to disclose or allege.
Click on the link to read Blake’s speculations about what Cohen will discuss.
The New York Times’s gossip girl Maggie Haberman’s take: Planned in Michael Cohen’s Testimony: A Litany of Accusations Against Trump.
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, is planning on portraying his onetime client in starkly negative terms when he testifies Wednesday before a House committee, and on describing what he says was Mr. Trump’s use of racist language, lies about his wealth and possible criminal conduct.
Mr. Cohen’s plans were laid out in broad strokes by a person familiar with what he intends to say in his testimony. And they indicate that Mr. Cohen will use documents and his personal experiences to support his statements….
Among the most explosive and potentially damning aspects of Mr. Cohen’s testimony will be providing evidence of potential criminal conduct since Mr. Trump became president, according to the person familiar with the plans.
That potential conduct stems from reimbursements that were made to Mr. Cohen in 2017 for hush money payments that he made to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress. In October 2016, during the height of the presidential campaign, Mr. Cohen paid Ms. Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her claims of a previous affair with Mr. Trump….
He will also discuss how long Mr. Trump continued to ask about plans for a Trump Tower project in Moscow after the Iowa caucuses had taken place in February 2016. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty last November to lying to Congress in testimony in 2017 about the duration of time over which the Moscow project discussions took place….
He is prepared to describe Mr. Trump making racist statements, as well as lying or cheating in business. Last fall, Mr. Cohen told Vanity Fair that Mr. Trump frequently used racist language, telling the magazine that his former boss said during the 2016 campaign that “black people are too stupid to vote for me.”
He will also describe the president inflating or devaluing his net worth, referring to a financial statement of Mr. Trump’s that Mr. Cohen has in his possession, the person said. Those financial statements cannot be independently verified without Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which he has never made public, the person said.
More gossipy details at the NYT link.
Yesterday a couple of stories broke that could be problematic for Trump’s DOJ mole Matthew Whitaker.
Buzzfeed’s Trump’s Memo Appointing Matthew Whitaker Raises Questions About When He Actually Took Over DOJ.
Carol of the Field Mice from The Wind in the Willows, by Inga Moore
A newly released document regarding former acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker’s appointment shows that, at the earliest, President Donald Trump authorized Whitaker to lead the Justice Department a day later than officials previously said was the case….
Then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, whose departure as the head of DOJ was forced by Trump, resigned by way of an undated letter made public Nov. 7, 2018. Trump tweeted that afternoon that Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, would be taking over as the acting attorney general until a replacement was confirmed.
The obtained presidential memorandum, dated Nov. 8, does not make clear when Sessions’ resignation took effect or when Whitaker actually began serving as acting attorney general….
The memorandum signed by Trump appointing Whitaker to the role, however, was not dated until the next day, Nov. 8, and the DOJ’s Executive Secretariat — the office with the “responsibility for controlling and managing correspondence emanating to and from” top DOJ officials — did not mark its receipt of the memorandum until 11:59 p.m. Nov. 13.
Why that’s a problem: Whitaker was taking actions as if he were the official acting director.
Notably, on Nov. 8, Whitaker, along with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, issued the asylum rule that preceded Trump’s Nov. 9 move seeking to limit asylum applications from along the southern border.
Read the rest at Buzzfeed.
Even more problematic for Whitaker, The Wall Street Journal (behind the paywall) reported that House investigators are suggesting that Whitaker may have committed perjury when he claimed that Trump had not put pressure on him to interfere in investigations.
The Week: House committee thinks it has evidence Trump asked Whitaker to put an ally in charge of Cohen probe.
The House Judiciary Committee believes it has evidence that President Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to put an ally in charge of an investigation into his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, The Wall Street Journal reports.
This follows a report from The New York Times that Trump made this request of Whitaker, asking him whether he could get attorney Geoffrey Berman to head the Southern District of New York’s ongoing investigation, even though Berman is a Trump supporter who donated to his campaign and used to work with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Berman had also previously recused himself from the probe, which has looked into Trump’s inaugural committee and has led to charges against Cohen, who implicated Trump in a crime.
The Judiciary Committee is also reportedly examining whether Whitaker may have committed perjury when he told Congress, “At no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation.” The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake points out that Whitaker also said no one from the White House contacted him to express “dissatisfaction” with the SDNY probe.
Trump will have plenty to be nervous about while he’s out of the country.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.
Posted: February 9, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Foreign Affairs, U.S. Politics | Tags: AMI, but her emails, cats, David Pecker, Donald Trump, Jamal Kashoggi, Jeff Bezos, John Dingell, Matt Whitaker, Saudi Arabia, The National Enquirer, women running for president
Paul Newman and his Burmese caat
There are four Democratic women running for president and the media is working overtime to take them all down. Meanwhile, elderly white males Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders get kid glove treatment.
Let me see if I can get this straight: Elizabeth Warren believed her family when they told her she had a Native American ancestor. Kamala Harris was a prosecutor (horrors!), she dated an older black man but married a white man. Amy Klobuchar is mean to her staff. Kirsten Gillibrand is “too transparently opportunistic.”
Each one of these women has now been assigned a “her emails” story that will dominate her campaign if reporters are successful. But two elderly white men with problematic political records and a younger man with few qualifications (Beto O’Rourke) are treated as viable candidates.
Sigh . . . Will I live to see a woman president? I’m still hoping.
In other news, Trump had his physical and surprise! He’s in perfect health!
The Washington Post: Trump’s doctor says he is in ‘very good health’ after exam by 11 specialists.
President Trump is “in very good health” and is expected to remain healthy for “the duration of his Presidency, and beyond,” the president’s doctor reported Friday after a physical exam that lasted nearly four hours and included 11 specialists.
Carole Lombard with black cat
The White House did not release details of the exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and did not say whether more details would be released.
Trump was seen by a “panel of 11 different board certified specialists,” Sean P. Conley wrote in a brief memorandum released by the White House.
The memo did not include the disciplines of any of the specialists. Typically, a physical exam includes checks of height, weight, blood pressure and other standard measures. Trump said last year that he takes a statin drug to manage his cholesterol.
Trump did not undergo any procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia, Conley reported.
I wonder if he is still 6’3 and 239 pounds? The doctor doesn’t say. Maybe his height increased again–so rare for a 72 year old man, but possible for a wannabe dictator.
Let’s see, what else is happening?
The New York Times: Trump Defies Congressional Deadline on Khashoggi Report.
President Trump refused to provide Congress a report on Friday determining who killed the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, defying a demand by lawmakers intent on establishing whether the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was behind the grisly assassination.
Steve McQueen and friend
Mr. Trump effectively bypassed a deadline set by law as his administration argued that Congress could not impose its will on the president. Critics charged that he was seeking to cover up Saudi complicity in the death of Mr. Khashoggi, an American resident and a columnist for The Washington Post.
“Consistent with the previous administration’s position and the constitutional separation of powers, the president maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate,” the Trump administration said in a statement. The statement said the administration had taken action against the killers and would consult with Congress.
But Democrats said Mr. Trump was violating a law known as the Magnitsky Act. It required him to respond 120 days after a request submitted in the fall by committee leaders — including Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — a period that expired Friday.
The illegitimate “president” of the U.S. is protecting a foreign despot who ordered the brutal murder of a Washington Post journalist. And there are suggestions that the “president” used Saudi Arabia and his pals at The National Enquirer to get revenge on Jeff Bezos, who owns the Post.
CNN: Bezos flags ‘Saudi angle’ in alleged AMI extortion attempt.
Jeff Bezos’ stunning accusation that the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him mentioned the close ties between the paper’s publisher, David Pecker, and President Donald Trump — and a second, less well-known connection.
Lucille Ball with cat
Bezos flagged the link between the New York tabloid’s parent company, American Media, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, returning to it several times.
While Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir denied any connection between his country and AMI to CNN, Bezos said in his Thursday statement that the link between the Kingdom and the media company is not yet fully understood. He carefully laid out a web of connections.
The trigger for Bezos’ post was his decision to hire a respected investigator to find out how texts to his girlfriend were obtained and published by the National Enquirer — and to determine why the paper and Pecker, the AMI chairman, had made him a target.
“Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation,” Bezos wrote. “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” he continued.
A couple of articles on the National Enquier story to check out:
The Washington Post: Federal prosecutors reviewing Bezos’s extortion claim against National Enquirer, sources say.
The Daily Beast: Private Eyes Detail Inner Workings of National Enquirer ‘Blackmail’ Machine.
Marlon Brando and his cat
The illegitimate “president’s” fake attorney general made an ass of himself in front of the Congressional committee and the world yesterday and the “president” is very pleased. Natasha Bertrand at The Atlantic: Matthew Whitaker Plays to an Audience of One.
It took about five minutes of questioning for the acting attorney general to provoke gasps and jeers in the congressional hearing room. “Your five minutes are up,” Matthew Whitaker, an ex-U.S. Attorney-turned toilet salesman, told the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman Jerry Nadler. Nadler cracked a smile, but from that point on the rules of engagement seemed clear: Whitaker, just days remaining in his legally dubious role as the interim head of the Justice Department, appeared to be playing to an audience of one…..
Despite the lingering questions about his resume and suspicions about why he was appointed over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who would have been Sessions’s natural replacement, Whitaker presented himself to Nadler, a 13-term congressman, with the same aloofness and disdain for tradition that often seems typical of the Trump White House. And that may have been on purpose. Whitaker, whose tenure ends when Bill Barr is confirmed as attorney general next week, will need a new job. He has reportedly been considered for the role of Trump’s chief of staff. And though he testified under oath that he had “not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation,” he repeatedly declined to contradict Trump’s claims that Mueller is on a “witch hunt.”
Chuck Rosenberg, a former senior Justice Department official who resigned in 2017, said it would have been “easy” for Whitaker to say that Mueller’s investigation is legitimate, as Barr did during his recent confirmation hearings. “I don’t know how somebody could be that cowardly,” he added. But doing so would have undermined what is arguably his boss’s most important talking point—and that would not have been a good move for Whitaker if he was, in fact, auditioning for his next position.
Instead, Whitaker had a boilerplate response prepared for the myriad of questions posed by Democrats about the Mueller probe: “It would be inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation,” he said. Democrats, though, found that disingenuous—Whitaker had discussed the probe publicly earlier this month, going as far as to speculate that it would be wrapping up soon.
Read the rest at The Atlantic.
Here’s a Trump/Whitaker/Russia scandal that is new to me. Raw Story:
Taking to Twitter on Friday night, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) hinted that there will be an investigation into a donor who gifted the Judicial Network with $18 million to steal the Supreme Court seat belonging to Merrick Garland.
As part of his observations on the Matt Whitaker hearing where he was confronted about a mysterious $1.2 million donation that funded his salary, Whitehouse said Democrats shouldn’t stop there.
‘Whitaker did political hit work for a front group called FACT that does not reveal its donors. Today he admitted that its donor was Donors Trust, an entity that hides the identity of right-wing donors. That means the unknown real donor hid behind two entities,” Whitehouse tweeted….
Whitehouse then put conservatives on notice that he expects an investigation into the dark money that was used to fund a campaign to keep Judge Merrick Garland from even getting a hearing — only to see his seat go to conservative Neil Gorsuch after Donald Trump was elected.
I found this on Twitter.
Could this be true? I don’t know, but I hope Whitehouse finds out. At this point, nothing about Trump, Republicans, and Russia would surprise me.
I’ll end with something more hopeful from The New York Times: John Dingell: My last words for America.
John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.
Mary Tyler Moore
One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.
In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.
And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.
My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.
Click on the link to read Dingell’s final thoughts. How amazing that he chose to speak out publicly from his deathbed. He was a true public servant.
That’s all I have for today. I hope you all enjoy the weekend in spite of the insanity that surrounds us.
Posted: February 2, 2019 Filed under: Cats, Foreign Affairs, morning reads, racism, U.S. Politics | Tags: Bandy X. Lee, Concord Management and Consulting, Donald Trump, Justin Fairfax, Ralph Northam, Robert E Lee, Robert Mueller, slavery, Stonewall Jackson
Catsquatch by Syama Golden
There is so much news this morning that it’s difficult to know what to focus on. I guess I’ll begin with the followup to the story Dakinikat wrote about in yesterday’s post–Trump’s horrifying decision to withdraw from the INF treaty. This was nothing but a gift to Trump’s puppet master Putin–did they coordinate this?
Associated Press: Russia to pull plug on nuclear arms pact after US does same.
MOSCOW (AP) — Following in the footsteps of the U.S., Russia will abandon a centerpiece nuclear arms treaty but will only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday.
U.S. President Donald Trump accused Moscow on Friday of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with “impunity” by deploying banned missiles. Trump said in a statement that the U.S. will “move forward” with developing its own military response options to Russia’s new land-based cruise missiles that could target Western Europe.
By Alfonso Rocchi
The collapse of the INF Treaty has raised fears of a repeat of a Cold War showdown in the 1980s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent. Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing as they only take a few minutes to reach their targets, leaving no time for decision-makers and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.
After the U.S. gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the treaty in six months, Putin said that Russia would do the same. He ordered the development of new land-based intermediate-range weapons, but emphasized that Russia won’t deploy them in the European part of the country or elsewhere unless the U.S. does so.
“We will respond quid pro quo,” Putin said. “Our American partners have announced they were suspending their participation in the treaty and will do the same. They have announced they will conduct research and development, and we will act accordingly.”
“Quid pro quo?” Is that shade from Putin? Because it’s obvious as this point that Trump is checking off everything on Putin’s wish list in order to repay him for the 2016 election and likely promises that he’ll eventually get that Trump Tower in Moscow.
And it’s not just the 2016 election. Natasha has a revealing post up at The Atlantic this morning on Robert Mueller’s latest court filing: Russia Is Attacking the U.S. System From Within.
A new court filing submitted on Wednesday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed that a Russian troll farm currently locked in a legal battle over its alleged interference in the 2016 election appeared to wage yet another disinformation campaign late last year—this time targeting Mueller himself.
Didier Lourenço Lithograph, 2012
According to the filing, the special counsel’s office turned over one million pages of evidence to lawyers for Concord Management and Consulting as part of the discovery process. The firm is accused of funding the troll farm, known as the Internet Research Agency. But someone connected to Concord allegedly manipulated and leaked those documents to reporters, hoping the documents would make people think that Mueller’s evidence against the troll farm and its owners was flimsy. The tactic didn’t seem to convince anyone, but it appeared to mark yet another example of Russia exploiting the U.S. justice system to undercut its rivals abroad….
When Mueller indicted Concord Management and Consulting in February 2018, along with two other corporate entities and 13 Russian nationals allegedly connected to the Internet Research Agency, it seemed highly unlikely that the indictment would result in a trial because Russians cannot be extradited to the United States. But Concord unexpectedly hired the well-connected American law firm, Reed Smith, to fight Mueller, arguing that the charges should be dropped because the special counsel was illegally appointed. The judge in the case, Dabney Friedrich, has twice refused to dismiss the case and recently lambasted Concord’s American lawyers for submitting “unprofessional, inappropriate and ineffective” court filings, and the legal battle has raged on.
Now, according to the Mueller filing this week, unidentified actors working out of Russia appear to have weaponize the U.S. discovery process to Concord’s benefit. Over 1,000 files on the website that hosted the leaked documents “match those produced in discovery,” the special counsel said. The documents were published from a computer with a Russian IP address, according to Mueller, and whoever released them clearly “had access to at least some of the non-sensitive discovery produced by the government.” But forged documents were mixed in to the trove, too, apparently in an attempt to accuse Mueller of characterizing American websites and Facebook pages like Occupy Democrats as Russian disinformation operations. The website also inserted irrelevant documents into the unique folder names—known only to those with access to the discovery materials—and characterized them as the sum-total of Mueller’s evidence “in an apparent effort to discredit the investigation,” the special counsel said.
It’s complicated, so I hope you’ll go read the rest at The Atlantic.
Girl With a Cat, 2012, by Ju Hong Chen
Yesterday, the The Virginian-Pilot broke the news that Governor Ralph Northam included a racist photo of himself and another man in his medical school yearbook. I’m not going to post the photo; I’m sure you’ve seen it by now.
Ralph Northam admits he’s in “clearly racist” photo; vows to serve out term amid calls for resignation.
A photo from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook shows him and another person in racist costumes — one wearing blackface and one a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood, though it was not clear which person was the future governor.
Hours after the 35-year-old photo came to light Friday, Northam apologized for his decision to appear in it. Elected officials and activist groups from across the political spectrum called for him to resign.
But in a video posted to Twitter Friday evening, Northam said he had spent the past year “fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people” and he would continue to do so throughout the rest of his term, which ends in January 2022.
Northam admitted that he appears in the photo, but for some reason did not say which of the costumed men he is. It’s obvious he is going to have to step down, but as of this morning he’s apparently still hanging on. Multiple Democratic politicians, including former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe have called for his resignation.
Shortly after this news broke, CBS New reported that the yearbook also lists a racist nickname for Northam, who was 25 years old at the time.
CBS News uncovered a page from Northam’s yearbook at the Virginia Military Institute that had nicknames listed underneath his name. One of them was “Coonman,” a racial slur.
Woman with a black cat, by Pablo Picasso
Northam has to go, but the upside of this is that his Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax is a rising star and would be Virginia’s second black governor if Northam resigns. The Washington Post:
Justin Fairfax is an Ivy League-educated lawyer descended from slaves, who as lieutenant governor of Virginia was known mostly for sitting out tributes to Confederate leaders in the historic Capitol in Richmond.
He could now become the commonwealth’s 74th governor, if fellow Democrat Ralph Northam resigns over a racist photo he included in his medical school yearbook in 1984.
Fairfax, 39, was elected as Northam’s deputy in the 2017 blue wave in which Democrats won all three statewide offices and picked up 15 seats in the House of Delegates.
He would be the second African American governor of Virginia, following L. Douglas Wilder, who held the office from 1990 to 1994. Only two other African Americans have been governors in modern U.S. history.
Read more about Northam’s background at the WaPo. Also check out this powerful piece at the Root: Justin Fairfax, The King of Confederate Shade, Shuts Down 100-Year Tribute to American Traitors.
For more than 100 years, the Virginia State Senate has had a little tradition, where they honor Confederate “heroes” Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee at the close of a Senate session sometime near the birthdays of two men. Now if you didn’t take Treason 101 in high school, you probably missed the part where Jackson and Lee were part of the Confederacy that broke away from the United States and started the Civil War by firing on Fort Sumter. Perhaps you also didn’t learn that Robert E. Lee, as head of the Confederate Army, is responsible for more American deaths than the Nazis, The Vietcong, ISIS, the LAPD, Cobra, Hydra, and high blood pressure.
The point is, at the time and by modern standards, Jackson and Lee were horrible men. They also happen to have birthdays very close to each other (Jackson, January 21; Lee, January 19) and Jackson occasionally shares a birthday with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
By François Batet 1921
Consequently, for years, on or around the birthdays of these two Confederates, a member of the Virginia Senate would announce, “I would like to adjourn in honor of General Lee or Stonewall Jackson.”
The Senate would agree, someone would take the podium to speak a couple of words, and then everyone would break for orange slices and Mint Julip Capri-Suns. All of this has gone off without a hitch for decades, even after the first African Americans got elected to the Virginia Senate; even after the state adopted the ridiculous Lee-Jackson-King Holiday from 1984 to 2000; even after Virginia elected its first black governor, Doug Wilder, from 1990-1994. However, Justin Fairfax didn’t come to Richmond to play footsie with Confederates and he is very much his great-grandfather’s child….
Since being elected Lt. Governor of Virginia in 2017, Fairfax has served as the president of the state Senate and has quietly left the podium whenever state senators have attempted to honor Stonewall or Lee at the end of the session. He did it last Friday when a Republican senator stepped up to honor Robert E. Lee. The reasons are obvious. First, no one should be honoring American traitors in a government building, no matter where that traitor was born. Secondly, Justin Fairfax, a man who literally took his oath of office with his three-greats-ago grandfather’s Freedom papers in his pocket, knows history and knows power.
It sounds like Fairfax would do just fine as governor; he was expected to run in 2021 after Northam completed his term-limited governorship anyway.
I’m post a few more important reads in the comment thread, but I want to call attention to this one from Raw Story: ‘Incredibly dangerous’: Yale psychiatrist warns Trump will resort to ‘extreme measures’ as Mueller closes in.
‘La Sieste’ by Magalie Bucher
On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared that he was not concerned about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
He claimed that departing Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein had told him he was not a person of interest in the investigation.
“He told the attorneys that I’m not a subject, I’m not a target,” Mr. Trump told the New York Times.
Nevertheless, the probe seems to be circling closer to the president and his family. The arrest of long-time Trump ally Roger Stone—and wording in his indictment that suggested he’d been directed to perform criminal acts by a more senior campaign official—spurred discussion that Donald Trump Jr. or even Trump himself would be implicated in Stone’s alleged crimes.
Trump also told the Times that he would build a wall along the Southwest border with Mexico regardless of Congress.
Raw Story spoke with Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee about how the latest developments are likely to impact the president. Lee’s views are her own, not a reflection of Yale’s position.
I hope you’ll go read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:
Bandy X. Lee: His anxieties are palpable, as he resorts to more and more extreme measures and unreal justifications for building a wall. We had the extended shutdown that put us at real security risk, according to the FBI, and declaring a national emergency is a very real possibility.
He needs to maintain his shrinking base as well as to give himself a sense of victory, and he will go to all lengths to achieve it. What concerns me, however, is our own lack of readiness for when the real crisis comes. As a nation, we continue merely to react, while dangers escalate, and underestimate the profound effects that mental instability can have.
With all the negative news for Mr. Trump, “rational” people may feel relief, as he is finally held to account, but while being driven to a corner, the president’s only desperate remaining diversion may be war. Forces around the globe—the Israelis and the Saudis, for example—want that for their own reasons, and with a foreign policy team that now reflects his psychology, times could turn incredibly dangerous.
What stories have you been following?
Posted: January 31, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Foreign Affairs, U.S. Politics
View of Chicago across a frozen Lake Michigan
The biggest news this morning is the weather. The Midwest is getting hit hard by the polar vortex. So far it’s not that bad in the Boston area. It’s 12 degrees this morning with a high of 18, and the temperatures will be going up after that, so I feel fortunate.
The New York Times: Polar Vortex Updates: Bitter Cold Weather Spreads East.
As the middle of the nation awoke on Thursday, the deep freeze seemed to have settled in for a long, unwanted visit, disrupting life across an entire region for much of a week, contributing to deaths and injuries, and leaving residents impatient to emerge from their homes and get back to normal.
The grim temperatures and gusty winds lingered in the Midwest, and had spread to the Northeast.
Here are the latest developments:
• Temperatures broke records in some places, and remained low, near record levels, in much of the Midwest on Thursday morning. Minneapolis was minus 23, with a wind chill of minus 38, the National Weather Service said. Chicago was at minus 21, with a wind chill of minus 41. And Milwaukee hit minus 21, with a wind chill of minus 40.
Another shot of frozen Chicago
• At least eight deaths have been connected to the Midwest’s dangerously cold weather system, according to The Associated Press, including that of a University of Iowa student who was found behind an academic hall several hours before dawn on Wednesday.
• The sustained cold taxed energy systems across the Midwest, leading to some outages and urgent calls to customers to reduce the heat in their homes.
• Many schools, businesses and restaurants remained shuttered on Thursday, though some offices were reopening and many more were expected to reopen Friday, when temperatures are expected to rise.
• Airlines have already canceled more than 2,000 flights scheduled for Thursday in the United States, according to FlightAware. On Wednesday, cancellations topped 2,700.
• The East Coast was feeling the bitter cold, too. At 6 a.m. the temperature in New York City hit 2 degrees, but with the wind it felt like 17 below zero.
Yahoo News: Live updates: Deep freeze blasts Northeast as dangerously cold temperatures are unrelenting in Midwest.
A dangerous deep freeze is blasting the Northeast and Midwest, where record-breaking cold temperatures are paralyzing cities and communities.
At least eight people have died in connection with the coldest weather in decades across the Northern Plains and Midwest.
The wind chill in Chicago plunged to minus 52 on Wednesday — the coldest wind chill since 1985. It was minus 55 in Minneapolis, also the coldest wind chill since 1985….
Emergency responders help victims after a pileup near Reading, PA
The bone-chilling temperatures are unrelenting in the Midwest, where the actual temperatures — not wind chills — were in the minus 20s and minus 30s.
Record low temperatures were recorded in Chicago: minus 21 degrees; Madison, Wisconsin: minus 26 degrees; and Milwaukee: minus 23 degrees….
On the East Coast, New York City had a temperature of 2 degrees — the coldest day in three years.
Philadelphia reached a temperature of 5 degrees with a wind chill of minus 11 — the coldest so far this winter.
Boston also fell to 5 degrees 5 with a wind chill of minus 16 — the worst so far for the year.
I’m not sure about that. We had below zero real temperatures a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, it’s cold and I don’t plan to go outside until tomorrow, when it’s supposed to go back into the 20s.
My Mom lives in an assisted living community in the Indianapolis area, and it has been really cold there. Last night her apartment was so cold that they had to giver her a space heater. They’re not prepared for temperatures like that in that part of Indiana.
You probably heard about this yesterday: Russians have been trying to spread disinformation about the Mueller investigation using discovery materials from the Concord Management case.
NBC News: Mueller says Russians are using his discovery materials in disinformation effort.
Russians are using materials obtained from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office in a disinformation campaign apparently aimed at discrediting the investigation into Moscow’s election interference, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Ice is seen on the side of the Great Falls National Historic Park in Patterson, NJ yesterday
One or more people associated with the special counsel’s case against Russian hackers made statements last October claiming to have stolen discovery materials that were originally provided by Mueller to Concord Management, Mueller’s team said in court documents filed on Wednesday in the Russian troll farm case.
That discovery — evidence and documents traded between both sides of a lawsuit — appears to have been altered and disseminated as part of a disinformation campaign apparently aimed at discrediting the ongoing investigations in Russian interference in the U.S. political system, according to the documents.
Concord Management, a company owned by a Russian oligarch known as President Vladimir Putin’s “chef,” is one of three Russian entities that were accused by the special counsel last February of helping to mastermind the social media meddling into the 2016 election. Thirteen Russian citizens were also indicted and accused of taking part in the widespread effort.
According to the documents filed Wednesday, a Twitter account called @HackingRedstone tweeted: “We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!”
Click on the link to read the rest.
Trump is infuriated because his own intelligence chiefs disagree with his ignorant, information-free pronouncements about foreign countries. The heads of intelligence agencies testified to Congress on Tuesday.
CNN: Trump singled out Dan Coats in morning rant about intelligence community.
Icicles form on a railing in Port Washington, WI yesterday
President Donald Trump seethed Wednesday morning as he watched the highlights of his intelligence chiefs testifying on Capitol Hill and singled out Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats by name during his morning rant, two people with knowledge of the outburst tell CNN.
The President didn’t see Coats’ full testimony in front of lawmakers that took place on Tuesday, but he was furious Wednesday as he watched television chyrons blare that the officials had contradicted him. The snippets of Coats saying that North Korea had “halted its provocative behavior related to its WMD program” but was unlikely to “completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities” angered him, CNN has learned.
Trump made his displeasure with the intelligence team clear on Twitter just after 6 a.m. Wednesday, but he didn’t single Coats out in his tweets like he did verbally. The President was more frustrated with the coverage than the assessments of the intelligence chiefs, who brief him on national security matters regularly.
The White House says Trump isn’t yet going to fire Coats for telling the truth.
At The Washington Post, Tim Weiner, author of books on the histories of the CIA and FBI, writes: When Trump savages his intelligence chiefs, the ‘deep state’ has reason to worry.
President Trump has compared the CIA to Nazis. Now he is attacking the sentinels of American national security as “extremely … naive” on Iran, and much else. “They are wrong!” he tweeted on Wednesday. “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”
The chiefs of U.S. intelligence, an enterprise costing well north of $80 billion a year, report that Iran isn’t building nuclear weapons, North Korea isn’t dismantling them, and the Islamic State is undefeated in Syria and Iraq. Trump batted back their conclusions on ISIS and North Korea in tweets delivered before dawn, in who knows what dark night of the soul.
The Sheboygan lighthouse glows at sunrise in Wisconsin.
“The President has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality,” tweeted Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “People risk their lives for the intelligence he just tosses aside on Twitter.”
The CIA’s spies and analysts are the lead reporters on these issues. All their work contradicts the president’s assumptions. And they are almost assuredly correct. Trump says they don’t know what they’re talking about. Why is he savaging American intelligence and its leaders? He may be playing deaf, dumb and blind to their work, fending it all off as fake news, because he thinks they have something on him. He certainly sees the CIA (and the FBI) as an instrument of a “deep state” conspiring to undo his presidency. And so he denigrates their work and dismisses their leaders as fools and naifs.
Sure, the CIA has been tragically wrong in the past. The United States went to war in Iraq 15 years ago, in part, because of its supposition that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But it’s just as great a tragedy when it gets it right and the president won’t listen. We are living through that kind of tragedy right now. If Trump trashes whatever the CIA tells him — just as he ignored its solid reporting that a certain Saudi prince had a contributing Washington Post journalist murdered four months ago — who knows what will happen if we have an actual crisis.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
The Polar Vortex from space
The media has worked hard this weeks to make former Starbucks boss and billionaire Howard Schwartz into a viable presidential candidate. I don’t think it’s working, because Schultz is an unattractive man with zero charisma and no understanding of politics or government. Yesterday Schultz really stepped in it.
CNN: Howard Schultz deletes tweet about column that contained smears on Warren, Harris.
Schultz, who is weighing an independent centrist bid for president, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper he was unaware the column on PJMedia.com called Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts “Fauxcahontas” — a reference to her claim of Native American heritage — and Sen. Kamala Harris of California a “shrill … quasi-socialist.”
Asked on “Anderson Cooper 360” why he deleted the tweet, Schultz said it was “because I don’t want to get into the mud with anybody.”
“I don’t want to get into revenge politics, which has been obviously been the problem that I’m identifying,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of mudslinging. I want to speak aspirationally and positively and do everything I can to elevate the national conversation. That is what’s necessary.”
Schultz’s tweet Wednesday morning had thanked the column’s author for a “thoughtful analysis of what’s possible” as it argued the former CEO could win the White House.
So why did he recommend a column on PJ media then? Here’s what it said about Warren and Harris, from The Hill: Schultz deletes tweet of column calling Warren ‘Fauxcahontas’ and Harris ‘shrill.’
In the now-deleted tweet, Schultz linked to a piece that called Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) “shrill” and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “Fauxcahontas,” a reference to her claims of Native American heritage.
Melissa Seitz at Higgins Lake, Michigan, caught this sunrise halo on January 30, 2019. Halos like this are caused by ice crystals drifting in the air. She wrote: “I created the heart in the snow a few days ago by walking around in tall boots!
“Thank you @Rogerlsimon for a thoughtful analysis of what’s possible. #ReimagineUS,” Schultz tweeted, along with a link to an article on PJ Media by Roger L. Simon titled “Howard Schultz Could Actually Win the Presidency.”
“Current frontrunner Kamala Harris is far from reassuring,” Simon writes in the column. “She’s a shrill (see the Kavanaugh hearings) quasi-socialist promising pie in the sky — Medicare-for-all, debt-free college, guaranteed pre-K, minimum basic income, confiscatory taxes — and she’s just getting started. Bernie [Sanders] and others will soon be following suit. Fauxcahontas already has, competing in a game of socialist one-upmanship.”
Not a very good start for a man who claims he wants to unite the country. Oh by the way, he also wants to cut Social Security, Medicare, and other social programs and doesn’t think the rich should pay more taxes.
More stories to check out:
New York Law Journal: Hasn’t the Time Come for Rudy Giuliani to be Disciplined?
CNN: Even some Republicans balk as Trump targets US spy chiefs.
Vox: Jerome Corsi’s claims about Roger Stone, WikiLeaks, and the Access Hollywood tape, explained.
The Daily Beast: NRA Heavyweight Wanted Access to Putin: Leaked Email.
Think Progress: Newly emerged photo shows Ben Carso.n with key employee of sanctioned Russian oligarch.
Lawfare: What an Old Watergate Document Can Teach the House Judiciary Committee.
SFGATE: Elephant seals took over a Pt. Reyes beach during shutdown. It won’t reopen a.nytime soon.
APNewsBreak: ICE force-feeding detainees on hunger strike.
Raw Story: How Donald Trump brought about the end of my marriage.
So . . . what stories have you been following?
Posted: January 8, 2019 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Dunning-Kruger effect, immigration policy, John Bolton, Kurds, Mike Pompeo, Nazi Germany, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Reichstag fire, Turkey
The TV networks are giving Trump free time tonight to spout lies about a non-existent “crisis” at the Southern border. Fortunately, they are also giving equal time to Democrats to respond. But they should have just said no. After all, they refused to carry an Oval Office speech by Obama in 2014. Matthew Yglesias at Vox:
In 2014, Obama was ready to announce a series of executive actions on immigration in the wake of the collapse in negotiations over a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. The plan had a lot of moving parts, but the centerpiece was to give work permits and formal protection from deportation to millions of unauthorized immigrants while focusing the nation’s immigration enforcement resources on immigrants who’d committed violent crimes.
This was, naturally, very controversial. And Obama, naturally, wanted to try to make it less controversial by convincing people that it was a good idea.
Conservative pundits were, at the time, pushing the notion that Obama was essentially seizing power like a Latin American dictator, so essentially anything that refocused the conversation on banal policy details would have played to his advantage. TV networks, however, didn’t give him what he wanted, in part because it was November sweeps time, but officially because he was playing partisan politics rather than addressing a true national emergency.
So why are they running Trump’s obviously political speech? Because they’re scared. This is what what one anonymous network executive told CNN’s Brian Stelter.
This “exec” didn’t even have the guts to let Stelter use his name!
Here’s what the U.S. Secretary of State thinks of what Trump plans to say tonight.
These people are pathetic. Meanwhile, in Turkey, more pathetic incompetence from National Security Adviser John Bolton.
Bloomberg: Erdogan Snubs Trump Adviser Bolton for Blocking Syria Roadmap.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, frustrated by evolving U.S. conditions for quitting Syria, refused to meet with visiting National Security Adviser John Bolton and ripped into U.S. proposals to give Kurds a key role in Syria after the withdrawal.
Turkey is angered that Bolton, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and top American military officials are slowing what President Donald Trump suggested only weeks ago would be a quick exit. The delay would restrict Turkey’s ability to launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers enemies but who allied with a U.S. coalition to oust the Islamic State terrorist group from Syria.
“Although we made a clear agreement with U.S. President Trump, different voices are emerging from different parts of the administration,” Erdogan said as Bolton prepared to leave Ankara, where he met with other Turkish officials. “Trump’s remarks continue to be the main point of reference for us.”
It looks like attempts to walk back Trump’s insane policy decisions are no longer working.
Will Trump try to declare a national emergency tonight? I have no idea, but if he does it’s going to cause more problems than any of us can predict. Here are some opinions about what could happen, beginning with the worst case scenarios
Elizabeth Goitein at The Atlantic: What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency. A brief excerpt:
It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check.
But will they? Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.
This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.
Read the whole thing at The Atlantic.
At Bloomberg, Noah Feldman disagrees, because only Congress can authorize spending: No ‘Emergency’ Will Allow Trump to Build His Wall.
President Donald Trump has said that he can declare a national emergency and order his border wall to be built. He’s wrong. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t contain any national emergency provision that would allow the president to spend money for purposes not allocated by Congress. And it’s clearer than clear that Congress not only hasn’t authorized money for a wall along the border with Mexico but also doesn’t intend to do so.
The upshot is that any attempt by Trump to get around Congress by using invented emergency powers would violate the Constitution. It almost certainly would be blocked by the courts. And it would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor qualifying him for impeachment.
Of course, Trump may not care. He’s established a pattern of taking clearly unconstitutional action, waiting for the courts to block it, and winning (at least in his estimation) political points with his Republican base regardless. It would be perfectly within that pattern for Trump to announce that he can do whatever he wants in a national emergency. He is expected to lay the groundwork for such a declaration in a prime-time address Tuesday. But we should recognize any such action for what it is: a usurpation of clear constitutional commands for the purposes of political grandstanding.
A bit more detail:
The Constitution does contain an emergency powers clause. Article I, Section 9 allows for the suspension of habeas corpus in cases of rebellion or invasion.
Those emergency powers are unsurprisingly varied and broad. But none of them can displace the Constitution itself. And it is the Constitution that says the Congress appropriates money and the executive spends it.
If there were some statutory provision saying that in an emergency the president could do things Congress otherwise has told him he can’t do, that would pose an intriguing constitutional question: Which law would prevail in a conflict between one saying the president could do something and another saying he couldn’t?
But I know of no law that says the president can spend money on purposes that Congress doesn’t want him to spend it on.
From the fact that the suspension clause exists, you can deduce something very basic to the U.S. constitutional system: There are no other inherent constitutional emergency powers. Yes, the president is commander in chief, with the power to defend the United States — but he can only do that with an army authorized and paid for by Congress.
That means any emergency power the president might have must come directly from Congress. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 is Congress’s last word on what emergency powers it gives the president. That law was enacted after Senate staffers’ research revealed some 470 emergency provisions across the whole of the U.S. Code.
As Trump often says, “we’ll see what happens.”
Trump thinks he knows better than anyone about anything, and yet we can all see that he knows almost nothing about what his job entails. This video has been floating around lately.
How to explain Trump’s illusion of competency? Seemingly in answer to this question, The Washington Post has posted an article on the Dunning-Kruger effect: What’s behind the confidence of the incompetent? This suddenly popular psychological phenomenon.
You may have witnessed this scene at work, while socializing with friends or over a holiday dinner with extended family: Someone who has very little knowledge in a subject claims to know a lot. That person might even boast about being an expert.
This phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s not a disease, syndrome or mental illness; it is present in everybody to some extent, and it’s been around as long as human cognition, though only recently has it been studied and documented in social psychology.
In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
Put simply, incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it.
To test Darwin’s theory, the researchers quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought they did. Specifically, participants were asked how many of the other quiz-takers they beat.
Dunning was shocked by the results, even though it confirmed his hypothesis. Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts.
That’s it for me today. I’m trying to decide whether to leave the TV off tonight or just mute it until the Democratic response begins. What are you going to do?