Tuesday Reads: “I really believe I’d run in there, even if I didn’t have a weapon”

Good Morning!!

If anyone had any doubts about Trump’s mental health they should be put to rest today. You probably saw his ridiculous speech to governors yesterday in which he bragged that he would have run in and confronted the school shooter in Parkland–even if he were unarmed.

After that Governor Jay Inslee of Washington explained why Trump’s plan to arm teachers is incredibly stupid. Trump didn’t like that.

Poor baby Donnie. Some press reactions:

The New York Times: Trump Says He Would Have Rushed in Unarmed to Stop School Shooting.

President Trump asserted Monday that he would have rushed in to save the students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School from a gunman with an assault weapon, even if he was unarmed at the time of the massacre.

Speaking to a meeting of the country’s governors at the White House, Mr. Trump conceded that “you don’t know until you test it.” But he said he believed he would have exhibited bravery “even if I didn’t have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too.”

The president’s remarks came during an hourlong televised conversation with the governors in the State Dining Room, during which Mr. Trump continued to grapple publicly with how best to respond to the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., discussing such things as arming teachers and reopening mental institutions.

As Mr. Trump skipped from one possible solution to another, he mused about the “old days,” when potential criminals could be locked in mental hospitals, and he vowed to ban “bump stocks,” an accessory that can make a semiautomatic weapon fire rapidly, more like an automatic rifle. But he dropped any mention of raising the age required to purchase a rifle to 21 from 18, something he said last week he supported, despite opposition from the National Rifle Association.

Yes, Trump “dropped any mention of raising the age to purchase a rifle” because he found out the NRA doesn’t want that, and he’s scared of the NRA. But he’d run unarmed into a building where a gunman is fired an AR-15. Suuuuuurrre he would.

Humorist Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post: Donald Trump possesses rare powers. Didn’t you know?

Donald Trump would have run in there, unarmed. He would have done that. And it would have worked.

Donald Trump is the greatest hero of our time.

He did not get involved in Vietnam because it would have been unfair to the other combatants, and he wanted to give them a sporting chance. Donald Trump would have been literally unstoppable, especially when angry. The whole country would have been flattened in an instant. Donald Trump was being merciful.

That eagle that seemed to frighten him so much at that photo shoot? Trump could not raise a hand against it, or the beautiful creature would surely have died. Those were his only options. He knows his own strength.

This is a world of cardboard, and it is all Trump can do to contain himself. This is why his handshakes are so formidable. This is as gentle as it is possible for him to be, and he is trying, so hard, to be gentle.

He could end all terrorism, not just domestic, if he ever chose to parachute in there in his signature tie and jacket, but he hasn’t. He has had other things on his mind.

He could end sexism with a swift kick to the teeth, but, again, he has been busy. The same with racism, but he has gotten attached to it, over the years.

Click on the link to read the rest. You won’t be sorry.

Eli Rosenberg at The Washington Post: Trump said he would charge a gunman. Here’s what he’s actually done in the face of danger.

The most frightened that Trump has ever seemed in public was perhaps a moment during a campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio, in March 2016.

The then-candidate was in the midst of speaking about manufacturing, when a man hopped the barrier behind him and rushed the stage. Trump stopped speaking, looked nervously behind him and grabbed and started to duck behind his lectern.

He was then swarmed by Secret Service agents, who steadied him.

Trump continued his speech after the disruption, and gave the audience a thumbs-up, claiming that he could have handled the attacker himself, despite his first reaction.

“I was ready for him,” Trump said, “but it’s much easier if the cops do it.”

Later that year at another rally, Trump was hustled off a stage in Nevada, after the someone in the audience yelled “gun.” No weapon was found.

There are several more examples of Trump’s “courage” at the link. Remember Sam the eagle?

 

And that time Trump was so afraid of rain on his hair that he left Barron and Melania in the lurch?

 

More examples at the WaPo link.

One more on Trump’s idiotic boast: Tevor Noah Mocks Trump’s Absurd Claim That He’d Run Into a School Shooting Unarmed.

“You don’t know until you test it, but I think, I really believe I’d run in there, even if I didn’t have a weapon,” the president declared. “And I think most of the people in this room would have done that too.”

That statement stopped Noah in his tracks. “I like that he’s honest enough to say, ‘Look, I haven’t tested this, but I think would run in, without a weapon, yeah, I think I would,’” the host joked.

“To be fair, if Donald Trump ran into a school during a shooting, I do believe he would actually stop the shooting,” he continued, imagining the scenario in which a school shooter all of sudden sees the president walking toward him in the hallway. “How distracting would that be?” he asked.

“‘That’s right, it’s me, Donald Trump,’” he said, imitating the president. “‘I don’t have a gun, but what I do have is an amazing Electoral College victory.’”

“Eight minutes later, the police show up and Trump is still talking,” Noah said. “And the kid is like, ‘What is happening here?’”

Watch the video at The Daily Beast.

Trump Hotel and Tower, Panama

I’ve been following another strange Trump story. It’s about the Trump hotel in the Panama. You may recall that last year a major investigative story about the Trump’s business was published at Global Witness: Narco-Lago: Money Laundering at the Trump Ocean Club Panama. Here’s a Newsweek article that discusses the investigation: Trump Made Millions of Dollars from Drug Money Laundering in Panama.

President Donald Trump made tens of millions of dollars in profits by allowing Colombian drug cartels and other groups to launder money through a Trump-affiliated hotel in Panama, according to a new investigation by the organization Global Witness.

In the early 2000s, Trump was having financial difficulties and began selling his high-profile name to real estate developers around the world, the report said. One of these developed Panama’s Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower.

The report said the drug cartels purchased hotel units to hide the origins of money earned through drug trafficking and other criminal activity, and Trump is estimated to have earned tens of millions of dollars from the deals….

The report said the Panama project is a textbook case of money laundering.

“Investing in luxury properties is a tried and trusted way for criminals to move tainted cash into the legitimate financial system, where they can spend it freely,” the report noted. “Once scrubbed clean in this way, vast profits from criminal activities like trafficking people and drugs, organized crime, and terrorism can find their way into the U.S. and elsewhere.”

“In the case of the Trump Ocean Club, accepting easy – and possibly dirty – money early on would have been in Trump’s interest; a certain volume of pre-construction sales was necessary to secure financing for the project, which stood to net him $75.4 million by the end of 2010.”

A few days ago the Associated Press reported: Trump officials fight eviction from Panama hotel they manage.

One of President Donald Trump’s family businesses is battling an effort to physically evict its team of executives from a luxury hotel in Panama where they manage operations, and police have been called to keep the peace, The Associated Press has learned. Witnesses told the AP they saw Trump’s executives carrying files to a room for shredding.

Representatives of the hotel owners’ association formally sought to fire Trump’s management team Thursday by hand-delivering termination notices to them at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, according to a Panamanian legal complaint filed by Orestes Fintiklis, who controls 202 of the property’s 369 hotel units. Trump’s managers retreated behind the glass walls of an office where they were seen carrying files to an area where the sounds of a shredding machine could be heard, according to two witnesses aligned with the owners. The legal complaint also accused Trump’s team of improperly destroying documents.

The Trump people are still in the hotel refusing to leave and and the new owner is still trying to evict them. The Washington Post: Bizarre legal brawl intensifies at Trump hotel in Panama.

Since that first confrontation, police have been called multiple times to referee disputes between owner Orestes Fintiklis — who blames the company’s poor management and damaged brand for the hotel’s declining revenue — and the Trump Organization, which says it still has a valid contract to manage the place.

Offices have been barricaded. Several yelling matches have broken out. The power was briefly turned off, in a dispute over the building’s electronic equipment. At one point, Fintiklis — denied a chance to fire the hotel staff or even check into a room — played a tune on the hotel’s lobby piano as an apparent show of defiance.

On Monday, Panama’s federal prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into the Trump Organization, after Fintiklis complained that he had been unlawfully blocked from his own property.

With that, this bizarre standoff turned a theoretical concern about the Trump administration — that, someday, the president’s private business might be investigated by a foreign government — into a reality.

Republicans in Congress should have been investigating this situation long ago, but they couldn’t be bothered. Now Panama is doing it. The Week: Panama is investigating Trump’s business, vindicating ethics watchdogs.

Panama’s federal prosecutors opened an investigation into the Trump Organization on Monday following the escalation of a dispute over the management of Panama City’s Trump International Hotel, The Washington Postreports. The probe has sparked concerns because President Trump still technically owns the organization that shares his name, although his sons oversee the day-to-day operations. “The fear has always been that there would be an international incident involving the finances of the president, and the president would have his loyalties questioned,” explained Jordan Libowitz of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)….

The local investigators made clear that they are willing to request information from foreign entities as needed. CREW’s Libowitz has wondered “what kind of pressure would [Trump] be willing to place” on the Panamanian government as president.

“Panama’s government receives financial support for counter-narcotics work from the United States,” notes the Los Angeles Times, and “Panama is currently seeking to extradite its former president, Ricardo Martinelli, from the United States to face espionage and embezzlement charges.”

How much more of this shit will happen before the Republicans get off their asses and do something?

What stories are you following today? Please share!

 

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Friday Reads: Corruption Junction what’s Your Function?

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

I woke up to the news that a university where where I taught a few years while finishing up my doctorate experienced some shooting near its dorms. Thankfully, I’m on an on line campus of Purdue University where I mostly endure Dinah trying to eat my lunch and Temple trying to snooker me into a walk. I always kid them that they should be glad I get harassment training annually so the work place is safe for them. I think it’s okay to grab the pussies here since it’s a totally different behavior. Cats just adore being in the way and my keyboard is not exempt.

Through this administration and the election we’ve discovered there is no level of criminal enterprise too low for the TRump family crime syndicate. Mojo had a short exposition of some of them last summer. Ethics violations are low level for this crowd.

Trump’s own actions—and those of his family and close associates—suggest a president seeking to monetize his office. He spends nearly every weekend at a Trump-branded property such as Mar-a-Lago, which briefly had its own promotional page on the State Department website. Diplomats and industry leaders flock to his Washington hotel in hopes of winning his favor. On the day that Ivanka Trump and her father met with the Chinese president, China approved three of her company’s copyright requests. Kushner’s family firm has touted its ability to grab visas for wealthy Chinese investors. “The stars have all aligned,” Eric Trump recently said. “I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.”t

To make matters worse, Trump and the Republican Congress have started rolling back the Obama administration’s efforts to combat corruption. In February, Trump signed the repeal of a key provision in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law that had required US oil and gas companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments. This doesn’t look so good when your secretary of state was the CEO of Exxon Mobil. The Department of the Interior has been backing away from the Extrac­tive Industries Transparency Initia­tive, which also publicizes payments to governments by energy companies. The Trump administration has yet to say whether it will remain in the Open Government Partnership; if it leaves, the United States will join abstainers such as Russia and Angola.

And there are indications that Trump may try to weaken the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the crown jewel of anti-­corruption laws. Even before he ran for president, Trump expressed hostility to the FCPA, which prohibits US companies from bribing foreign officials, saying it puts American businesses at a “huge disadvantage” and that it’s a “horrible law and it should be changed.” Part of this animosity may stem from his own experiences trying to take his brand global. A recent New Yorker investigation found that the Trump Organization may have violated the FCPA as part of a failed development deal in Azerbaijan, widely considered one of the world’s most corrupt countries. (A company lawyer dismissed this claim.)

It’s difficult to focus on any one aspect of any of this or the other variety of charges because it’s like juggling hot sticky tarballs while some one throws a few more at you every few minutes. It’s way too much for any one newsroom to keep track of let alone investigate completely. We’re getting some more information from the few of them dedicated to this today. This one is from The Intelligencer and Jonathan Chait at NYMag. Self dealing is a feature in their admnistration. “The Trump Administration Is a Golden Age for Corporate Crooks” pretty much sums it up.

The Republican Party’s main legislative achievement was to facilitate the direct transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars into the hands of business owners. (The proceeds of the Trump tax cuts are mainly going into stock buybacks, a simple windfall for owners of capital.) But a second, less visible channel is the Trump administration’s program of lax regulation. While the tax cuts spray money at business owners as a whole, weak enforcement of regulations confers a windfall targeted specifically at businesses that cheat their customers or break the law.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has brought dramatically fewer cases and lower penalties under Trump. From last February through September, the agency brought 15 cases and collected $127 million in civil penalties, in comparison with 43 cases and $702 million in penalties during a comparable period in 2016. Likewise, the Environmental Protection Agency is collecting far less in penalties from polluters than it did under any of the previous three administrations:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created to fill in a bare spot in the federal regulatory design: financial products, which are inherently complex and in need of regulation, had been marketed to largely unwitting customers with a minimal amount of oversight, resulting in endemic fraud. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s director of the CFPB, has called the agency itself a “sick, sad joke.” Just how his vision would translate into practice has already become apparent.

Chris Arnold reports for NPR that Mulvaney forced the agency to drop a lawsuit against alleged loan-shark outfit Golden Valley Lending. Arnold found a Golden Valley victim named Julie Bonenfant, from Detroit, who needed money after a breakup and having her car stolen led to falling behind on rent. Over the course of a year, Bonenfant paid $3,735 to Golden Valley for a $900 loan. “A key backer of Golden Valley was recently convicted of racketeering charges in a case involving another online lender, according to court documents,” reports Arnold.

Zach Everson–writing for the Daily Beast–uncovers Trump’s pre-inaguration shenningan’s surrounding his hotel in Downtown Washington DC. Trump has a reputation for doing Dine and Dashes on jobbers.

In the days around Donald Trump’s inauguration, the hotel bearing his namein downtown Washington, D.C., quietly settled two liens totaling more than $3 million for allegedly unpaid construction work. In one case, a contractor reached an agreement after receiving a phone call from someone his attorney identified as “Trump.”

The liens had both been previously reported. But their settlements had not. And the fact that they were handled right around the time when Trump took office—perhaps even at the behest of the then-president-elect himself—underscores just how politically sensitive the management of the Trump International Hotel was and is to the current White House occupant.

The largest payment was made to Joseph J. Magnolia, Inc. The family-owned D.C.-based company had filed a lien for $2.98 million on Dec. 21, 2016, for “the unpaid balance for work done” on the hotel, dating from that day back through Sept. 9, 2014, according to court filings. Joseph J. Magnolia, Inc. had done “plumbing, mechanical, and HVAC work, along with the site sewer, water, storm, and water services” per the notice. It also provided the labor and materials required to complete that work.

The company had been featured in a Washington Post article about various liens against Trump’s hotel in D.C. that continues to garner a ton of social media notice. In a previous Post article, John D. Magnolia, the company’s president, noted that he had voted for Trump and felt the Trumps had been “decent people” to work with. But, he added, “Mr. Trump and Ivanka [Trump, who oversaw the hotel project] and so forth, they are I guess preoccupied by other matters now.”

Shortly after that interview, in which he noted that he had supported Trump, Magnolia’s company was finally paid. And it might have been at the behest of the soon-to-be-president himself.

Is that an odd situation or is it just me? Say nice things and you get paid? Vote for him and you get paid?

Eric Levitzer–from NYMag also writing for The Intelligencer- asserts: “Trump Is No Longer Bothering to Conceal His Corruption.”

“The company and policy and government are completely separated,” Eric Trump assured the Washington Post last year. “We have built an unbelievable wall in between the two.”

The key word there was “unbelievable.” The president has never been willing to expend much effort on maintaining such a facade. In the first weeks after his election, Trump invited Eric and Don Jr. to a policy meeting with tech executives, met with his Indian business partners, and allowed his D.C. hotel to begin courting the patronage of foreign diplomats. In the first year after his inauguration, he mixed politics and business in ever more blatant ways.

But Don Jr.’s trip to India represents a kind of “coming-out party” for the Trumpist kleptocracy: According the the Washington Post, the manager of the president’s “blind trust” will travel to Mumbai this week to promote his family’s real-estate projects, sell access to himself for $38,000 a head, and give a foreign policy speech (ostensibly) on behalf of his father’s administration at a global business summit ..

Beginning Tuesday, Trump Jr. will have a full schedule of meet-and-greets with investors and business leaders throughout India, where the Trump family has real estate projects — Mumbai, the New Delhi suburb of Gurgaon, the western city of Pune and the eastern city of Kolkata.

Indian newspapers have been running full-page, glossy advertisements hyping his arrival and the latest Trump Tower project under the headline: “Trump is here — Are You Invited?” The ads also solicited home buyers to plunk down a booking fee (about $38,000) to “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner.” Public relations executives working with two local developers arranging the Trump dinner declined to give specifics about the event.

During the visit, the 40-year-old Trump Jr., executive vice president of the Trump Organization, will take a break from his private promotional tour to give an address on “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation” at a global business summit on Friday evening, co-sponsored by the Economic Times newspaper. [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi will also speak at the summit … Later this week, Trump Jr. will travel to Mumbai to open the demo unit at the golden-facade Trump Tower being built by the family development firm of Mangal Prabhat Lodha, a state legislator in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

To review: Donald Trump Jr. will be serving as a representative of both his father’s business and government during this week’s trip to India, and will be selling access to himself (and thus, ostensibly, to his father’s government) for roughly $40,000 a pop.

Michelle Goldberg–NYT–argues for and elucidates a “De-Trumpification Agenda” to clear out the obvious levels of corruption.

In January, the anti-corruption organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, released a detailed report on the historically unethical presidency of Donald Trump. By February, it was outdated, as Trump’s administration and family charted new frontiers in ethical transgression.

Just this week, Donald Trump Jr. traveled to India to promote his family’s real estate projects and give a foreign policy speech; ads in Indian newspapers offered dinner with the presidential scion in exchange for down payments on Trump-branded apartments. President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is reportedly demanding that he maintain his access to top-secret information despite his inability, after 13 months of serving in the White House, to pass an F.B.I. background check.

David Shulkin, the secretary of veterans affairs, remained defiant after revelations that his chief of staff altered a document to justify a government-funded trip to Europe for Shulkin’s wife, vowing to purge “subversion” at his agency. President Trump reportedly sought advice on gun control from members of Mar-a-Lago, the private club where a $200,000 initiation fee buys plutocrats privileged access to the president.

It’s impossible, in real time, to keep up with every new Trumpian advance in corruption and self-dealing, and Republicans in Congress aren’t even trying. True, they’ve been moved to act in a few high-profile cases — on Wednesday, Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded documents about government-funded luxury travel by Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. But overall, the administration enjoys a corrosive degree of impunity.

It’s really amazing we’re not seeing more FBI action on these other Trump Players but white collar crimes do not get the level of scrutiny of those accompanied by drugs and violence and minorities. It’s another bastion of White Male Privilege. But, some argue that Public Corruption Laws may be the ones that finally get the TRumpsters and TRump himself. This is from Margaret Carlson writing at the Daily Beast.

Of course, there’s no law against Trump liking Putin; unseemly yes, illegal, no. But a veteran Washington former federal prosecutor who served during both the Clinton and Bush administrations believes there is a strategy that Mueller is quietly pursuing and that explains his actions so far.

Seth Waxman, now a partner specializing in white-collar crime in Dickinson Wright’s Washington office, has a theory of Mueller’s case, which requires no novel reading of existing law to find Trump broke it. It employs the main weapon any federal prosecutor uses to police public corruption. It is Title 18 United States Code, section 201 that specifically makes it a crime for a public official to take “anything of value,” a bribe, in exchange for government action, which can be prospective.

Note that above I wrote “public official.” That’s because the law is generally wielded against public officials. Problem: Mueller is investigating conduct before Trump became one. Enter Waxman. He points out that in 1962, Congress extended the bribery law to cover activity prior to the assumption of office. It did so, he says, in order to close a “loophole” afforded those “who assume public office under a corrupt commitment.” The upshot? Trump became covered by 18 USC not when he was sworn in but as of July 21, 2016 when he became his party’s nominee in Cleveland, Ohio.

What we know of Mueller’s strategy so far is consistent with leveling charges under the bribery statute. This is not to say Mueller is going to indict Trump. He would need an exception from a Justice Department rule, which advises against it. But neither is he likely to send a report laying out grounds for impeachment as former independent counsel Ken Starr did against Bill Clinton relying solely on perjury and obstruction of justice without a finding of an underlying crime.

Again, it’s difficult to see T Jr. pull this one off without some kind of reaction. Zeeshan Aleem–writing for Vox–calls it “staggeringly corrupt.”

Donald Trump Jr. arrived in India on Tuesday for a week-long visit, and his trip has already revealed a couple of things.

First, it’s clear that the Trump administration is still embroiled in huge conflicts of interest. And second, it’s evident that the Trump brand, though toxic at home, commands surprising power in the world’s second most populous country.

President Trump’s eldest son will be spending his time in India promoting Trump-branded luxury apartments across the country. He’ll be meeting with real estate brokers and potential buyers throughout the week in his family business’s biggest market outside the US.

He’s also offering a special reward to Indians who buy property from him: He’ll join them for an intimate meal.

Indian newspapers have been running advertisements that promise homebuyers willing to pay a roughly $38,000 booking fee an opportunity to “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner.”

Government ethics experts in the US are appalled by that prospect, and say that the arrangement encourages Indians — especially those with ties to India’s government — to use purchases of Trump-branded property as a way to gain favor with the Trump administration.

“For many people wanting to impact American policy in the region, the cost of a condo is a small price to pay to lobby one of the people closest to the president, far away from watchful eyes,” Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the Washington Post.

Trump Jr.’s India visit also highlights something else: While Trump’s polarizing presidency has put a dent in his domestic businesses, it doesn’t seem to have damaged his reputation in India. In fact, the Trump brand seems to be chugging along quite nicely there.

Trump’s business elsewhere is not thriving. Read more at that link. Let’s not forget he’s bilking us daily and with every trip to a Trump property. Hey Mister Mueller nab those big fat pussies!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Tuesday Reads: Nonstop Russia News and Trump Freakouts

Good Afternoon!!

Robert Mueller certainly has been busy lately. Rick Gates hasn’t even pleaded guilty yet, and we’re already learning about crimes he must have talked about in his “queen for a day” interview with his ftc defense lawyers by his side. (By the way, I had to force myself to write “pleaded” in the previous sentence; my reflex is to use “pled,” but apparently that past-tense verb has been discarded by the powers that be.)

Does anyone else remember the old quiz show “Queen for a Day?” As a kid I loved to watch those housewives tell their sob stories. Afterwards the “applause meter” would be used to decide which woman would win new washing machines and other prizes.

But I digress. I’m really a mess this morning–either I have the flu or some other nasty virus, and my brain doesn’t seem to be working properly; plus my eyes hurt and my joints are a lot achier than usual.

Anyway, Mueller has been very busy and Trump seems to be in the midst of a major meltdown. I just hope someone is keeping an eye on the nuclear football.

Here’s what’s happening, or at least the stories that will fit into 2,000 words or so.

Bloomberg: Mueller Charges Lawyer With Lying in Russia Probe.

Alex Van Der Zwaan was charged Feb. 16 with lying to the FBI and Mueller’s office about conversations related to his work on a report prepared by his law firm on the legitimacy of the criminal prosecution of a former Ukrainian prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Prosecutors charged Van Der Zwaan by criminal information, which typically precedes a guilty plea. He is scheduled to appear Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Washington. He didn’t immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

Van Der Zwaan was an associate in the London office of Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom. “The firm terminated its employment of Alex Van Der Zwaan in 2017 and has been cooperating with authorities in connection with this matter,” the firm said in a statement.

Alex Van Der Zwaan

Last year, Van Der Zwaan married the daughter of Russian oligarch German Khan, according to the London Tatler. Khan is a shareholder of Alfa Group, a Russian banking and investment concern, and a board member at LetterOne Holdings, the investment vehicle set up by the founders of Alfa Group.

The false statements have to do with a phone conversation that Van Der Zwaan had with Rick Gates.

Van Der Zwaan was questioned by U.S. authorities regarding his firm’s work in 2012 on behalf of the Ukraine Ministry of Justice.

Van Der Zwaan told investigators that his last contact with Gates was an innocuous text message in mid-August 2016, when they actually spoke the following month about the Tymoshenko report in a call the lawyer secretly recorded, the information says.

Prosecutors also accused Van Der Zwaan of lying about his talks with someone else, identified by the government as Person A. The lawyer told investigators he last spoke with Person A in 2014, when in fact they spoke in September 2016 during the secretly recorded call with Gates.

Who is “person A?” Is it Manafort? The call took place while Gates was working on the Trump transition.

Buzzfeed: Manafort Under Scrutiny For $40 Million In “Suspicious” Transactions.

Federal law enforcement officials have identified more than $40 million in “suspicious” financial transactions to and from companies controlled by President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort — a much larger sum than was cited in his October indictment on money laundering charges.

Rick Gates and Paul Manafort at the 2016 Republican Convention

The vast web of transactions was unraveled mainly in 2014 and 2015 during an FBI operation to fight international kleptocracy that ultimately fizzled. The story of that failed effort — and its resurrection by special counsel Robert Mueller as he investigated whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election — has never been fully told.

But it explains how the special counsel was able to swiftly bring charges against Manafort for complex financial crimes dating as far back as 2008 — and it shows that Mueller could still wield immense leverage as he seeks to compel Manafort to cooperate in the ongoing investigation.

Last week, Mueller’s team told a judge that it had evidence Manafort committed bank fraud, and news organizations have reported that the special counsel may be preparing additional charges.

Go to Buzzfeed to read all the gory details. How long before Manfort gives in and flips on Trump?

CNN Exclusive: Mueller’s interest in Kushner grows to include foreign financing efforts.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s interest in Jared Kushner has expanded beyond his contacts with Russia and now includes his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

This is the first indication that Mueller is exploring Kushner’s discussions with potential non-Russian foreign investors, including in China.

US officials briefed on the probe had told CNN in May that points of focus related to Kushner, the White House senior adviser and son-in-law of President Donald Trump, included the Trump campaign’s 2016 data analytics operation, his relationship with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Kushner’s own contacts with Russians.

China’s first lady Peng Liyuan, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at Mar-a-Lago dinner

Mueller’s investigators have been asking questions, including during interviews in January and February, about Kushner’s conversations during the transition to shore up financing for 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner Companies-backed New York City office building reeling from financial troubles, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation.

It’s not clear what’s behind Mueller’s specific interest in the financing discussions. Mueller’s team has not contacted Kushner Companies for information or requested interviews with its executives, according to a person familiar with the matter.

One clue might be Kushner’s private meetings with the Chinese ambassador. From NY Magazine on January 21, 2018: Report: Kushner’s Meetings With Chinese Officials Raised Red Flags.

The New Yorker reports that China has been courting Jared Kushner aggressively since President Trump’s election, and that the real-estate scion’s intimate meetings with top Chinese officials have made some U.S. officials uncomfortable.

Kushner met with Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., in New York after Trump’s victory, and then multiple times at the White House after the president’s term began.

Some of those encounters included disgraced ex–national security adviser Michael Flynn; on at least one occasion, Kushner and Cui met alone. This was a major departure from previous administrations’ protocol, which consisted of large gatherings that included China experts on the U.S. side.

Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai

Kushner’s encounters with Cui, the article reports, “made some people in the U.S. government uncomfortable.” They feared that China might have been using Kushner’s access to Trump to sway U.S. policy. (Kushner was instrumental in convincing Trump to stick with America’s “One China” policy near the beginning of his term.)

Others feared that Kushner’s total lack of relevant experience made him likely to accede to Chinese demands without pushing back.

One official said, “He went in utterly unflanked by anyone who could find Beijing on a map. It was a dream come true. They couldn’t believe he was so compliant.”

If you haven’t read the New Yorker article, you should check it out.

Naturally, Trump is freaking out. Here’s Greg Sargent on the Twitter meltdown: Trump’s unhinged Russia tweetstorm boomerangs back on Republicans.

After spending some of his “executive time” this morning watching “Fox & Friends,” President Trump thanked his favorite cable channel for airing a segment that discussed President Barack Obama’s failure to block Russian interference in our election. Trump himself cited this failure over the weekend, asking: “Why didn’t he do something?”

Trump repeated that message today, flatly alleging that Obama didn’t do enough to resist Russian sabotage because he thought Hillary Clinton would win and didn’t want to “rock the boat.” Trump is right in one sense: The indictment should open the door to a reexamination of why the previous administration failed to do enough to counter Russian meddling.

The problem for Trump is that this line of inquiry also leads right back to the conduct of his fellow Republicans in the face of this Russian effort to undermine our democracy — conduct that was undertaken on his and the GOP’s behalf.

Now that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has laid out a startlingly detailed plot by Russian nationals to influence the election, which included multiple “operations” that included “supporting” Trump’s presidential candidacy and “disparaging” his opponent’s, it presents an occasion to revisit a series of episodes in 2016 that still remain poorly understood.

It is true that the Obama administration failed in key ways to safeguard the 2016 election. But it has also been established by dogged reporting that leading congressional Republicans rebuffed top Obama officials who wanted them to show a united, bipartisan public front against that Russian sabotage. As The Post has reported, when those officials made that request of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), he refused, claiming (in The Post’s words) that “he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.”

Head over to the WaPo to read the rest. Will McConnell ever be forced to deal with what he did to help Russia?

In other news, Trump and his Russian robots–including Fox News and Rush Limbaugh–are attacking the teenage survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The New York Times: After Florida School Shooting, Russian ‘Bot’ Army Pounced.

One hour after news broke about the school shootingin Florida last week, Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia released hundreds of posts taking up the gun control debate.

The accounts addressed the news with the speed of a cable news network. Some adopted the hashtag #guncontrolnow. Others used #gunreformnow and #Parklandshooting. Earlier on Wednesday, before the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., many of those accounts had been focused on the investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“This is pretty typical for them, to hop on breaking news like this,” said Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of New Knowledge, a company that tracks online disinformation campaigns. “The bots focus on anything that is divisive for Americans. Almost systematically.”

One of the most divisive issues in the nation is how to handle guns, pitting Second Amendment advocates against proponents of gun control. And the messages from these automated accounts, or bots, were designed to widen the divide and make compromise even more difficult.

Any news event — no matter how tragic — has become fodder to spread inflammatory messages in what is believed to be a far-reaching Russian disinformation campaign. The disinformation comes in various forms: conspiracy videos on YouTube, fake interest groups on Facebook, and armies of bot accounts that can hijack a topic or discussion on Twitter.

Read the rest at the NYT if you haven’t already.

What will the rest of the day bring? Are there more surprises in store? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.

 


Monday Reads: Going to the Dogs!!!!

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

We’re in full throttle Mardi Gras mode down here and I’m laid up in bed with sinus crud. I’m a second-hander atm who is viewing all the Tu Deaux through the lens of friends. Meanwhile, I sniffle and cough on.

One of the big questions I had back in 2016 is the subject of a Politico feature featuring former diplomat Victoria Nuland. Why didn’t President Obama set off more alarms about the Russian Hacking?

By the summer of 2016, Victoria Nuland’s “Spidey sense” told her something was very wrong.

That spring, Nuland, the top State Department official charged with overseeing U.S. policy toward Russia, was one of those who had “first rung the alarm bell” inside the Obama administration, warning that Russia appeared to be trying to “discredit the democratic process” in the United States as part of a concerted 2016 strategy.

Now, the Russian campaign was turning out to be even more serious than she had imagined. She had known since late 2015 that the Democratic National Committee’s email servers had been hacked; all these months later, the stolen DNC emails were being publicly released by websites known to be Russian conduits right on the eve of the Democratic convention, and the hack would soon be confirmed as a Russian operation by U.S. intelligence agencies.

“That’s when the hairs really went up on the back of our necks,” she recounted in an interview with The Global Politico, her first extensive public comments about what it was like to spend months in the middle of the U.S. government’s halting, frustrating attempts to understand the Russian attack on the U.S. electoral system — and then try to figure out how to respond to it.

While the broad contours of that response are known, hearing it viscerally described by one of those who tried to stop it is bracing. Nuland is now confirming publicly that she pushed Obama to respond more aggressively to the hacking before the election and acknowledging that she and others at the State Department were informed by “sometime in late July” about the inflammatory findings of former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele apparently linking the Russian effort to Republican candidate Donald Trump. Unbeknownst to her, the FBI, also in July 2016, had begun a secret investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and the issue of whether the Steele report, paid for by Democrats, helped fuel that investigation is now the subject of heated partisan dispute on Capitol Hill.

It’s an interesting read so go check it out.

It’s clear that the Republican party has become unhinged. There is a Holocaust denier/NAZI running as the sole Republican for a suburban Chicago Congressional Seat.

Arthur Jones — an outspoken Holocaust denier, activist anti-Semite and white supremacist — is poised to become the Republican nominee for an Illinois congressional seat representing parts of Chicago and nearby suburbs.

“Well first of all, I’m running for Congress not the chancellor of Germany. All right. To me the Holocaust is what I said it is: It’s an international extortion racket,” Jones told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Indeed, Jones’ website for his latest congressional run includes a section titled “The ‘Holocaust Racket’” where he calls the genocide carried out by the German Nazi regime and collaborators in other nations “the biggest blackest lie in history.”

Jones, 70, a retired insurance agent who lives in suburban Lyons, has unsuccessfully run for elected offices in the Chicago area and Milwaukee since the 1970s.

He ran for Milwaukee mayor in 1976 and 13th Ward alderman on Chicago’s Southwest Side in 1987.

Since the 1990s to 2016, Jones has jumped in the GOP 3rd Congressional District primary seven times, never even close to becoming a viable contender.

The outcome will be different for Jones in the Illinois primary on March 20, 2018.

To Jones’ own amazement, he is the only one on the Republican ballot.

Trump voters have all the appearances and characteristics of a cult. They’ve totally run the traditional party off the rails.

Rarely has a president changed his party as fast and profoundly as Donald J. Trump. Love him or hate him, you can no longer argue his ability to bend an entire party to his will.

In the two and a half years since he announced his candidacy, he has moved the party away from decades of orthodoxy on trade, Russia, deficits and more — and has helped make the law-and-order party skeptical of FBI leadership.

Perhaps the most profound thing Trump has done is show how many movement leaders and Republicans in Congress are out of touch with Republican voters:

  • There’s a massive cohort of Republican voters who are socially conservative and culturally reactionary but fiscally liberal, even if they don’t know it.
  • The base is very skeptical of trade deals — convinced that ordinary Americans have lost at globalization.
  • Huge swaths of Trump Country are dependent on Social Security, Medicaid and other government programs.

While much of the GOP donor class is passionate about issues like criminal justice reform and expanded high-skilled immigration, many GOP voters want the exact opposite:

  • The ratio between the number of Republicans who think that way, versus number of conservatives who talk that way on cable TV or at the Capitol, is way out of whack. Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum were their lonely on-air champions.
  • If Trump has tapped into a silent majority, it’s those voters — the opposite of Paul Ryan voters, the opposite of Rubio, the opposite of Jeb.
  • The source close to GOP leadership said: “All evidence in the last two years points to the fact that the R base was never as ‘conservative’ on economic policy as we portrayed them during the Obama years.”

What will Trump’s brand of reactionary populism continue to let him get away with?

This, then, is the article we thought we would never write: a frank statement that a certain form of partisanship is now a moral necessity. The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, nonpartisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for nonpartisans evaporates. We’re thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump’s Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to do as Toren Beasley did: vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes (very preferably the former).

Of course, lots of people vote a straight ticket. Some do so because they are partisan. Others do so because of a particular policy position: Many pro-lifers, for example, will not vote for Democrats, even pro-life Democrats, because they see the Democratic Party as institutionally committed to the slaughter of babies.

We’re proposing something different. We’re suggesting that in today’s situation, people should vote a straight Democratic ticket even if they are not partisan, and despite their policy views. They should vote against Republicans in a spirit that is, if you will, prepartisan and prepolitical. Their attitude should be: The rule of law is a threshold value in American politics, and a party that endangers this value disqualifies itself, period. In other words, under certain peculiar and deeply regrettable circumstances, sophisticated, independent-minded voters need to act as if they were dumb-ass partisans.

For us, this represents a counsel of desperation. So allow us to step back and explain what drove us to what we call oppositional partisanship.

Is the current SpokesSisterWife for the Trump Family Crime Syndicate on her way to an obstruction of Justice charge? A FOIA request shows internal memos from FBI Agents reacting to the Comey firing. It’s not the one portrayed by Huckabee or Trump.

In a , the same day McDermott was asking her staff to make sure one another were “doing OK,” then-Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that the president had “lost confidence in Director Comey” and that “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.” She stated that the president had “had countless conversations with members from within the FBI” in the course of making his decision to fire Comey. , Sanders stated that she personally had “heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision” and that the president believed “Director Comey was not up to the task…that he wasn’t the right person in the job. [Trump] wanted somebody that could bring credibility back to the FBI.”

Trump himself blasted Comey too, stating that the former director was “a showboat. He’s a grandstander” and that the FBI “has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil—less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.” A few days later, the New York Times that Trump had told Russian officials visiting him in the Oval Office the day after Comey’s firing that Comey was a “nut job.”

Over the next few days, to suggest that Trump and Sanders were playing fast and loose with the truth. But we now have the documents to prove that decisively. Their disclosure was not a leak but an authorized action by the FBI, which released to us under the Freedom of Information Act more than 100 pages of leadership communications to staff dealing with the firing. This material tells a dramatic story about the FBI’s reaction to the Comey firing—but it is neither a story of gratitude to the president nor a story of an organization in turmoil relieved by a much-needed leadership transition.

Within a few days of the firing, both current and former FBI officials began pushing back against the White House’s claims. Then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, that Comey “enjoyed broad support within the FBI” and that “the vast majority of employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”

Yes, that’s me up there in 1999 with Honey and Karma parading in 007: From Barkus with Love. Good grief that was a long time ago!! We were “Bondage” Girls!!! and clearly on the side fighting the Russians!!

Meanwhile, Trump still finds Presidential life to be a combination of spending time at Trump properties on the Tax Payer dime. This weekend it was back to Florida for Super Bowl Party. Then, it’s time spent twitting and elimination shit.

President Donald Trump traded insults with the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Monday, a day after Democrats and Republicans said Trump was wrong to assert that a GOP-produced classified memo on FBI surveillance powers cleared him in the Russia investigation.

Trump’s attack on California Rep. Adam Schiff came before a planned meeting of the House intelligence panel Monday, where the committee is expected to consider whether to release a Democratic rebuttal memo. Democrats are seeking to push back on the Republican document, which questions the FBI methods used to apply for a surveillance warrant on a onetime Trump campaign associate.

On Twitter, Trump called Schiff “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington,” adding that he “must be stopped.”

Schiff quickly shot back: “Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or … really anything else.”

Trump also praised Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., on Twitter, calling him a man of tremendous courage and grit, may someday be recognized as a Great American Hero for what he has exposed and what he has had to endure!”

Meanwhile, Trump is “poo-pooing” the bipartisan effort to give Dreamers legal permanent status.

The White House is dismissing an immigration deal brokered by a bipartisan group of lawmakers as a non-starter just hours before it is expected to be formally introduced in the Senate.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons are slated to introduce a bill Monday that would grant eventual citizenship to young undocumented immigrants who have been in the country since 2013 and came to the US as children, but it does not address all of the President’s stated immigration priorities, like ending family-based immigration categories — which Republicans call “chain migration” — or ending the diversity visa program

It also would not immediately authorize the $30 billion that Trump is seeking to build the border wall, instead greenlighting a study of border security needs. The bill would also seek to address the number of undocumented immigrants staying in the US by increasing the number of resources for the immigration courts, where cases can take years to finish.

The bill is a companion to a piece of House legislation that has 54 co-sponsors split evenly by party.

A White House official rebuffed the effort, telling CNN that it takes “a lot of effort” to write up a bill worse than the Graham-Durbin immigration bill, but somehow “this one is worse.”

An update on a story from New Orleans that captured many hearts prior to the end of the Football Season.

Oh, and this about sums up my thoughts about the latest pannem et circenses event. Well, that and WTF did Justin Timberlake think he was doing with Prince. White people! Wake the fuck up! Black people, black culture, black history, and black labor is not yours to co-op!!!

What’s on your reading and blogging list?

This is an open thread! I’ll check in as the sniffling allows!

Oh, and BB!! Here is something special for you!

It has often been claimed that humans learn language using brain components that are specifically dedicated to this purpose. Now, new evidence strongly suggests that language is in fact learned in brain systems that are also used for many other purposes and even pre-existed humans.

And something for JJ

Scientists studying brain scans of people who were asked to come up with inventive uses for everyday objects found a specific pattern of connectivity that correlated with the most creative responses. Researchers were then able to use that pattern to predict how creative other people’s responses would be based on their connections in this network.

And something from me to Everyone:

It may sound like sci-fi, but mind reading equipment are much closer to become a reality than most people can imagine. Researchers used a magnetic resonance machine to read participants’ minds and find out what song they were listening to. The study contributes to improve the technique and pave the way to new research on reconstruction of auditory imagination, inner speech and to enhance brain-computer interfaces for communication with locked-in syndrome patients.

 

 


Lazy Saturday Reads

Original Expressionist Painting Peru Art, ‘Woman Reading with Peacock’

Good Afternoon!!

Most politics watchers spent yesterday laughing at Devin Nunes and his highly anticipated memo. But the moron in the White House thinks it completely vindicates him.

“Their” was no “Collusion” according to the barely literate “president.” Does anyone understand the Trump rules of spelling, capitalization, and the use of quotes? The moron probably spent the day watching Fox News and doesn’t even know that he and Devin Nunes were the butt of jokes everywhere else. Some reactions:

Politico: Even if You Take the Nunes Memo Seriously, It Makes No Sense, by Paul Rosenzweig (former Whitewater investigator).

Under the most fair reading of the memorandum, the argument it makes is as follows: The Steele dossier—a collection of reports filed by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele—is a biased and flawed document produced by someone out to “get” the president; FBI and Justice Department officials knew of the bias and did not disclose it to the judges of the FISA court who approved the FISA warrant; as a result, the rights of an American citizen (Carter Page) were violated; and (more importantly, from the perspective of the Republican Party) the FBI’s reliance on the Steele dossier corrupted the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign—all of which is, in effect, the “fruit of a poisonous tree” that should no longer be credited.

Given that story line, one can only conclude that the Nunes memo fails to make its case—and fails quite badly at that.

Lost Pocketbook, by Sally Storch

Consider, first, the obvious timing problem. The Nunes memo begins with a FISA application dated October 21, 2016. That date is significant for a number of reasons. As an initial matter, coming less than 20 days before the election, it seems a particularly poor way of trying to influence the outcome of the election. A FISA application just a few days before November 9 would not actually have produced any evidence until well after the election—making Nunes’ implicit charge of a corrupted investigation chronologically implausible. In addition, the focus on this date has to deal with the uncomfortable fact that the surveillance of Page it authorized started roughly a month after Page officially left the Trump campaign—so, again, it is a poor way of effectuating a bias against Trump to collect evidence relating to the actions of a former campaign volunteer.

But the most important reason to focus on the 2016 date is that it ignores another, earlier date. We know from public reports that the FBI opened its inquiry into Page’s Russian connections as early as 2013, at which time the bureau already had probable cause to think Russian intelligence operatives might be trying to recruit him. (The Russian spies, by the way, thought that Page was “an idiot,” according to court documents.) Any story of the investigation of Page that starts in the middle is incomplete at best—and since we don’t know what was in the earlier Page application or in the rest of this October application, we can’t really know how incomplete it is. But that careful incompleteness is, by itself, grounds to doubt the memo’s conclusions.

I know. You knew that already. But it’s an interesting piece that demolishes the Nunes memo piece by piece.

Lawfare: Thoughts on the Nunes Memo: We Need to Talk About Devin, By Quinta Jurecic, Shannon Togawa Mercer, Benjamin Wittes. You’ll need to read the whole thing to follow the complete argument, but here are some brief excerpts:

…let’s briefly put aside the reality that the memo is probably neither a complete nor a fair account of the FBI’s handling of the Page matter. For a moment, let’s assume that every fact in the memo is true and that the memo contains all relevant facts on the matter—in other words, that it is entirely accurate and not selective. What would that mean?

“Reclining Woman with Book,” by Imre Goth (1893-1982). Oil on canvas, 99 x 75cm. London art market (Bonhams), 1993.

As the document tells the story, on Oct. 21, 2016, the Justice Department and FBI successfully applied for a FISA warrant against Carter Page from the FISA court. Presumably, though the memo does not state this explicitly, it did so under Title I of FISA, as Page is a U.S. citizen and the warrant seems to have been an individualized one directed at him. The initial warrant was renewed three times, once every 90 days, each time requiring renewed showing of probable cause that Page was acting as the agent of a foreign power….

To the extent that the complaint is that Page’s civil liberties have been violated, the outraged are crying crocodile tears. For one thing, it is not at all clear that Page’s civil liberties were, in fact, violated by the surveillance; the memo does not even purport to argue that the Justice Department lacked probable cause to support its warrant application. It does not suggest that Page was not, after all, an agent of a foreign power. What’s more, the only clear violation of Page’s civil liberties apparent here lies in the disclosure of the memo itself, which named him formally as a surveillance target and announced to the world at large that probable cause had been found to support his surveillance no fewer than four times by the court. Violating Page’s civil liberties is a particularly strange way to complain about conduct that probably did not violate his civil liberties.

To the extent the complaint is that the FBI relied on a biased source in Steele, the FBI relies every day on information from far more dubious characters than former intelligence officers working for political parties. The FBI gets information from narco-traffickers, mobsters and terrorists. Surely it’s not scandalous for it to get information from a Democrat—much less from a former British intelligence officer working for Democrats, even if he expresses dislike of a presidential candidate.

To the extent the complaint is that the bureau was insufficiently candid with the tribunal, that is a potentially more serious matter. But as Orin Kerr argued on Lawfare this week, it is far from clear that the allegation—even if true—would create any kind of legal defect in the warrant. And in any event, the court itself has the power to demand accountability to the extent judges feel misled. In Friday’s Lawfare Podcast, David Kris suggests that the government is likely considering how best to officially advise the FISA court of the Nunes memo and so provide the court with an opportunity to respond to the memo’s allegations.

Much more at the link above.

There has been much GOP outrage over Nunes’ claim that the FISA judges weren’t told that the Steele dossier was the product of political opposition research. But that isn’t true according to The Washington Post: Justice Dept. told court of source’s political influence in request to wiretap ex-Trump campaign aide, officials say.

Lempicka, Tamara de; 1898-1980. “Wisdom”, 1940/41. Oil on wood.

The court that approved surveillance of a former campaign adviser to President Trump was aware that some of the information underpinning the warrantA request was paid for by a political entity, although the application did not specifically name the Democratic National Committee or the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

A now-declassified Republican memo alleged that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was duped into approving the wiretap request by a politicized FBI and Justice Department. The memo was written by House Intelligence Committee Republicans and alleged a “troubling breakdown of legal processes” flowing from the government’s wiretapping of former Trump aide Carter Page.

But its central allegation — that the government failed to disclose a source’s political bias — is baseless, the officials said.

The Justice Department made “ample disclosure of relevant, material facts” to the court that revealed “the research was being paid for by a political entity,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

A few more links to check out:

Spencer Ackerman at The Daily Beast: Sources: Devin Nunes Memo Is ‘100%’ Wrong About Andrew McCabe and Steele Dossier.

Phillip Carter at Slate: Survival at All Costs. By releasing the Nunes memo, Trump betrayed the intelligence community to save his own skin.

John Harwood at CNBC: Trump and the House GOP face an uphill battle against the FBI and the Justice Department.

Frankly, I’m much more concerned about another story that hasn’t gotten enough attention: a meeting between U.S. intelligence chiefs with the heads of Russian intelligence agencies. Keep in mind that we only learned about this meeting because it was covered by Russian news outlets.

PBS: Democrats question U.S. meeting with Russian spy chiefs.

Democrats want to know why the Trump administration allowed two Russian spy chiefs under U.S. and European sanctions to meet last week in Washington with American intelligence officials.

Russia’s U.S. ambassador said Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, was in the United States to discuss counterterrorism with his American counterparts.

By Malcolm Liepke

Naryshkin was accompanied at the meeting in Washington by Alexander Bortnikov, who directs the top KGB successor agency known as the Federal Security Service, according to two U.S. officials, who were not authorized to disclose the information and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The two Russian intelligence officials were sanctioned in 2014 in response to Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine — Naryshkin by the U.S. and Bortnikov by the European Union.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the timing of the meeting is suspicious because it came just days before the Trump administration decided not to issue new sanctions against Russian politicians and oligarchs over Russian interference in the election. He released a letter early Thursday demanding that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats disclose details of the meeting by Feb. 9.

Schumer said sanctions against Naryshkin impose severe financial penalties and prohibit his entry into the U.S. without a waiver.

Politico: Pompeo on meetings with Russians: ‘We vigorously defend America in these encounters.’

CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Thursday pushed back Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s suggestion that Russian intelligence officials’ visit to the United States last week may have played a role in the Trump administration’s move to hold off on new sanctions against Moscow.

Pompeo told Schumer in a letter that his meetings with Russian intelligence counterparts focused on anti-terrorism cooperation and followed similar talks held by previous administrations in both parties. Three top Russian intelligence officials held U.S. meetings last week — Alexander Bortnikov, Sergey Naryshkin, and Igor Korobov — a notably high-level presence to some observers of U.S.-Russia relations.

Pompeo did not address Schumer’s question about whether sanctions against Russia were discussed at his meeting with the Russian officials, which took place days before the Trump administration opted to forestall new penalties that Congress called for in bipartisan legislation last year.

“When those meetings take place, you and the American people should rest assured that we cover very difficult subjects in which American and Russian interests do not align,” Pompeo wrote to Schumer.

Yeah, right. We need to know a lot more about this meeting and why U.S. media and why we had to learn about it from the Russians.

Finally, a new story about what Trump may have handed over to the Russians in that meeting the day after the Comey firing. NPR: Journalist Details Israel’s ‘Secret History’ Of Targeted Assassinations. During this Fresh Air interview, Israeli journalist suggested that Trump’s betrayal of Israeli intelligence sources was much worse than has been reported.

This is FRESH AIR, and we’re speaking with Ronen Bergman. He’s a veteran investigative reporter in Israel. His new book is “Rise And Kill First: The Secret History Of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations.”

Richard Edward Miller, Miss V in Green

You know, you’ve written that the United States and the Israeli intelligence services have developed a very close set of joint operations and exchange of information. And of course earlier this year, there was a huge controversy when President Trump apparently revealed information in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador which betrayed some Israeli sourcing. Where do things stand with these relationships between American and Israeli intelligence in the Trump administration?

BERGMAN: Well, Dave, just a year ago, I published a story that created a lot of controversy. I said – and I was surprised to hear that from my sources in the beginning – that a group of American intelligence officers, in a regular meeting with the Israeli counterparts, just before Trump was elected and before the inauguration, they suggested that the Israelis stop giving sensitive material to the White House. They said we are afraid that Trump or someone of his people are under leverage from the Russians. And they might give sensitive information to the Russians who, in their turn, would give that to Iran. They said we have evidence that part of the material that Edward Snowden stole from the CIA and NSA – and was not yet published – found its way to Iran. And we believe, of course, that he gave everything he had to the Russians.

And the Israelis were shocked. They have never been in such an occasion. They have never heard Americans say something of that kind about their chief and commander – about the president. And when, just few months after that, it turned out that everything – all the predictions that the Americans have made to the Israelis as warnings – not because they knew it was going to happen but they thought it might – everything came to be true. And President Trump apparently gave secret information. And I know the nature of that information. It is indeed delicate and very, very secret.

It just instilled a sense of miscomfort (ph) inside Israeli intelligence. And I think, if I recall something that I heard just recently, they feel – Israeli intelligence feel that the American administration is in chaos – is in havoc. It’s not function properly – not intentionally, but that lead to further leaks. And they are very hesitant with sharing everything they have, as they did in the past, with their American counterparts.

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

 


Sunday Reads: New Year 2018

Hell yes, it is time for another fucking year to roll around. So let us start the party early with this kickass artwork by surreal artist Surazica.

There is something about that poodle’s attitude that grabbed my attention.

You can scroll through some close-ups here:

Dear friends, I wish everyone a happy new year! #happynewyear #newyear #marrychristmas #dog #collage #art #newyeardog #surrealism #surrealart #graphics #winter #lovedogs

A post shared by ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀S U R A Z I C A (@surazica_art) on

I don’t know what 2018 will bring, but I do feel we will have to be vigilant and aware…because it seems like a turning point is coming.

I think we all have a sense of it…

Now a few links to start you going:

Have a safe evening tonight…please take care of yourself and be aware of your surroundings.


Monday Reads: Looking for at least 3 wise men, must be bearing indictments

Happy Christmas Sky Dancers!

Fifty more days until Mardi Gras!

We’re careening towards a New Year with a hope that 2018 brings indictments, a new congress, and impeachments!  I have some reads for you to let you remember why this year we RESIST!

From WAPO:  ‘The U.N. finds growing numbers of Americans are living in the most impoverished circumstances. How did we get here?’

But could extreme poverty also be a feature of what is (although perhaps not for long) one of the richecoasst and most powerful nations in the world? Quite possibly. To answer the question, the United Nations launched an investigation of extreme poverty in the United States.

Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has just wrapped up a 15-day tour of the United States. His team visited Alabama, California, Puerto Rico, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. The findings, released last Friday, documented homelessness, unsafe sanitation and sewage disposal practices, as well as police surveillance, criminalization and harassment of the poor. The rise in poverty, they found, disproportionately affects people of color and women, but also large swaths of white Americans. The report concluded that the pervasiveness of poverty and inequality “are shockingly at odds with [the United States’] immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights.”

To be sure, poverty in the United States is not equivalent to poverty in less developed countries. This has never been a country free of inequality and poverty, but their rapid growth over the past two decades has undermined any professed commitment to equal opportunity or the belief that the nation’s prosperity rests on the well-being of ordinary Americans.

This phenomenon will undoubtedly be exacerbated by the topic of this thoughtful piece by Heater Cox Richardson in The Guardian: ‘Bit by bit, Trump is taking apart the New Deal’s glorious legacy’. 

Since January, there have been frightening signs that America is becoming an oligarchy overseen by a dictator. From the first, Donald Trump has followed an authoritarian playbook, beginning with his rejection of objective reality. Forced early on to defend the assertion that the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was the biggest ever witnessed, presidential spokesperson Kellyanne Conway explained that the administration used “alternative facts”. Since then, the president has repeatedly attacked fact-based media as “fake news”. Indeed, with his insistence on an alternative reality, Trump sometimes seems like an elderly Fox News-addled neighbour suddenly given power to make his bizarrely warped view of America real.

Since Democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the New Dealin the 1930s, radical conservatives have railed against the idea that the government should intervene in the economy. The New Deal responded to the Great Crash and the ensuing Depression by regulating business, providing a basic social safety net and promoting infrastructure in order to maintain a level playing field for all Americans. Opponents countered this principle by arguing that the government must not hem in America’s business leaders. In their view, government regulations and laws to benefit poorer members of society crippled leaders’ ability to prosper and, since their prosperity drove the economy by trickling down to everyone else, such laws destroyed progress.

Best and most appropriate holiday gift ever with the story via New York Daily News: ‘Gift-wrapped horse poop sends bomb squad to Steven Mnuchin’s Bel Air mansion’.

Los Angeles police got a whiff of horse manure intended for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at his Bel-Air home Saturday night.

A neighbor discovered the Christmas-themed package on the driveway of the Trump cabinet member around 5:30 p.m. local time and called police, a Los Angeles Police Department official said.

The bomb squad opened the gift-wrapped surprise and found a “pretty good quantity” of horse manure inside, LAPD Sgt. Briggs said.

fc8c55e06c80091958425f8a2cd64948And what brave man did this you may ask?   Well,  from AL.com we get this answer: ‘Man who left manure at Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s house comes forward, speaks out’.

L.A. psychologist Robby Strong provided AL.com with convincing evidence that he is the man behind the now-infamous incident, which attracted the LAPD’s bomb squad and other law enforcement personnel to Mnuchin’s home in the city’s Bel Air neighborhood.

He defended his decision to drop the box of manure – which he says he got from a horse-owning friend – off at Mnuchin’s house as a “prank” aimed at raising the awareness of Americans about the idea that “Republicans have done nothing for the American worker” and other political topics.

“The thing I live by is a rule of transparency and I was exercising my First Amendment rights,” Strong told AL.com. “A few years ago when [a Supreme Court ruling] said that corporations are persons and money equals free speech, that is so absurd and my rule of thumb is now that if corporations are free speech, then so is horses***t.”

At 12:22 p.m. PST Saturday, Strong posted three pictures to Facebook, one of which depicts himself posing with a shovel next to a gift-wrapped box, and another of which shows the box full of what appears to be fecal matter.

Festive Resistance!   How very kewl!!  Roll backs on environmental protection continue.  Oil companies continue to look for ways to drill in pristine places like the Arctic National Refuge and the Gulf.   Louisiana has to fight all kinds of issues including a proposed battery component factory in a small town surrounded by water that connects to Lake Pontchartrain.

An Australian company hoping to bring a battery components factory to a port in southern Tangipahoa Parish is running into opposition from residents concerned the plant could harm the nearby swampy waterway used for fishing and recreation.

Syrah Resources is in the permitting phase for a facility that would process graphite from Mozambique into a component for lithium ion batteries, now in high demand for electric cars. The company is touting the plant as a way for Louisiana to position itself as a player in the growing electric car industry.

Similar plants exist in China, but this would be the first in the United States, said Paul Jahn, chief operations officer for battery anode materials at Syrah Tehnologies, the company’s battery subsidiary.

The factory would be located in an existing warehouse at Port Manchac, the port and industrial complex along North Pass, a narrow waterway connecting Lake Maurepa and Lake Pontchartrain.

The company hopes to start production in the spring of 2018.

At the plant, flake graphite would be milled into a spherical shape and purified with water and acids. The final product would be shipped to battery manufacturers in the U.S. and abroad, Jahn said.

At full capacity, the plant would produce about 10,000 metric tons of spherical graphite each year, he said.

Syrah has applied to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for air and water permits. The company proposes to release annually about 38 tons of particulate matter, .93 tons of hydrochloric acid, .52 tons of hydrogen fluoride and .004 tons of formaldehyde into the air, according to permit documents. The plant also proposes to pump 41,000 gallons of water used in the manufacturing process into North Pass on a daily basis.

Louisiana is already making plans to move it’s coastal communities as most of its coastline continues to erode and sink into the Gulf of Mexico.  This headline is from Bloomberg: Louisiana, Sinking Fast, Prepares to Empty Out Its Coastal Plain’.  There are so many things that need to be saved from this administration it’s becoming an endless list.

Louisiana is finalizing a plan to move thousands of people from areas threatened by the rising Gulf of Mexico, effectively declaring uninhabitable a coastal area larger than Delaware.

A draft of the plan, the most aggressive response to climate-linked flooding in the U.S., calls for prohibitions on building new homes in high-risk areas, buyouts of homeowners who live there now and hikes in taxes on those who won’t leave. Commercial development would still be allowed, but developers would need to put up bonds to pay for those buildings’ eventual demolition.

“Not everybody is going to live where they are now and continue their way of life,” said Mathew Sanders, the state official in charge of the program, which has the backing of Governor John Bel Edwards. “And that is an emotional, and terrible, reality to face.”

Dust off your pink or purple pussy hat!  More women’s marches are on the way for 2018 and we’re going to need them!  Here’s a jolly headline from Newsweek: ‘HOW TRUMP AND THE NAZIS STOLE CHRISTMAS TO PROMOTE WHITE NATIONALISM’.

President Donald Trump wants Americans to think he re-invented Christmas.“We can say merry Christmas again,” he has said on numerous occasions both during his campaign for president and his presidency. “Christmas is back, better and bigger than ever before,” he told supporters months before the Christmas season.

“You can say again, ‘Merry Christmas’ because Donald Trump is now the president,” said Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after Trump won the election.

But critics counter that Trump is promoting a version of the holidays that excludes members of other religions, and that his crusade to bring back Christmas is part of a larger attempt by the president to define America as a country for white Christians alone.

Wishing people “merry Christmas” instead of “happy holidays,” is thus in line with Trump’s decision to ban citizens of Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, critics say. It fits neatly with his refusal to condemn white supremacists when they march against diversity, and with his condemnation of athletes who protest police brutality against black men.

With this in mind, the fight to end the war on Christmas is exclusionary politics at its most flagrant.

“I see such invocations of Christmas as a kind of cypher, what some would call a dog whistle. It does not appear to be intolerant or extreme, but to attentive audiences it speaks volumes about identity and belonging—who and what are fully American,” Richard King, a professor at Washington State University who studies how white supremacists exploit culture, told Newsweek.

So, that’s it for me.  Let’s just get ready to take it all back in 2018!!  Have a great week! 

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