Lazy Saturday Reads: Obama’s “Mysterious Reluctance” Helped Give Us Trump.

Saturday Morning, by Susette Gertsch

Good Morning!!

I think I’m finally past the stage of dreading what I’ll learn every morning when I go on the internet or turn on the TV. After 5 months of Trump, I’ve begun to accept that every day there’ll be new and horrifying revelations; but I’m also beginning to understand how quickly everything is spinning out of control while we wait for this monster to be brought down somehow.

After the blockbuster Washington Post story yesterday, we now know for sure what many of have suspected: President Obama’s cautiousness helped the Russians get Trump elected. In August of 2016, the CIA informed Obama that Russia was actively working to damage Hillary Clinton and, if possible, get Trump elected. Furthermore, they knew for a fact that the election meddling was happening under the direct orders of Vladimir Putin.

And what did Obama do? As always, he dithered endlessly and tried to reach a “bipartisan” solution with Republicans. When Mitch McConnell actually questioned the validity of the Intelligence community findings, Obama hesitated to take strong action against Russia and inform the American people of what he knew was happening because he feared being called “partisan.” From the article:

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks….

It took time for other parts of the intelligence community to endorse the CIA’s view. Only in the administration’s final weeks in office did it tell the public, in a declassified report, what officials had learned from Brennan in August — that Putin was working to elect Trump.

Rainy Saturday, by Kristin Grevich

Over that five-month interval, the Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could “crater” the Russian economy.

But in the end, in late December, Obama approved a modest package combining measures that had been drawn up to punish Russia for other issues — expulsions of 35 diplomats and the closure of two Russian compounds — with economic sanctions so narrowly targeted that even those who helped design them describe their impact as largely symbolic.

Obama also approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia’s infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project, which Obama approved in a covert-action finding, was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability.

In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.

Saturday Afternoon, by Joan Becker

We’re stuck in this place because Obama let Mitch McConnell veto his chosen response.

“The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’ ” recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting.

Key Democrats were stunned by the GOP response and exasperated that the White House seemed willing to let Republican opposition block any pre-election move.

On Sept. 22, two California Democrats — Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam B. Schiff — did what they couldn’t get the White House to do. They issued a statement making clear that they had learned from intelligence briefings that Russia was directing a campaign to undermine the election, but they stopped short of saying to what end.

Obama was President of the United States. He had the entire Intelligence community behind him. He didn’t need Republican approval. But he hesitated and now we have the Trump autocracy in charge of our country.

Saturday Afternoon 1875, by Jervis McEntee

All of this because everyone assumed that Hillary Clinton would magically overcome Trump’s vicious lies about her at the same time she was fighting back against a Russian attack on our country with no support from the media and very little backup from the Democratic President who supposedly wanted her to succeed him.

Here’s Julia Ioffe at The Atlantic: It Took Two to Make Russian Meddling Effective.

If there is one thing TheWashington Post’sstory on the Obama administration’s anemic response to Russian meddling in the 2016 election makes clear, it’s that it took two to make the meddling effective.

There is a reason the tactics Russia used on the American elections—which are similar to things they’ve done in former Soviet republics and in Europe—are referred to as “asymmetric warfare”: They embody the art of leverage, of doing a lot with a little. As former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress in May, the Russians “succeeded beyond their wildest dreams and at minimal cost.” The whole operation, according to Clapper, cost a mere $200 million—a pittance in military spending terms. But the Russians used that money not the way a conventional army would, but the way a band of guerrillas would, feeling around for pressure points, and pressing—or not. Though, as Bloombergreported this month, the Russians were clearly exploring ways to attack voting infrastructure in parts of the country, it still appears they ultimately decided not to pull the trigger, sticking instead with the hack-and-dump and the manufacturing of fake news. “It was ad hoc,” an Obama administration official told me shortly after the inauguration. “They were kind of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what would stick.”

Saturday Afternoon, by Stanley Spencer

And then there was Obama’s mysterious reluctance, as described by many of his advisers, “to put his thumb on the scale” and influence the election, even as he and Michelle Obama were campaigning for Hillary Clinton all over the country and coining anti-Trump memes like “Come on, man.” What difference would a thumb on the scale have made when he already had his other nine fingers on it?

Obama’s “mysterious reluctance” is part of his essential personality. We watched this throughout his first term and he repeatedly came very close to giving away the store to the GOP just to demonstrate his willingness to be “bipartisan.”

Now what do we do? We have an illegitimate president who is never going to lift a finger to prevent Russia from continuing to basically take over our government, and we have midterm elections coming up very soon.

NBC News: Trump White House Has Taken Little Action To Stop Next Election Hack.

The Trump administration has taken little meaningful action to prevent Russian hacking, leaking and disruption in the next national election in 2018, despite warnings from intelligence officials that it will happen again, officials and experts told NBC News.

“This attack is really the political equivalent of 9/11 — it is deadly, deadly serious,” said Michael Vickers, a career intelligence official who was the Pentagon’s top intelligence official in the Obama administration. “The Russians will definitely be back, given the success they had…I don’t see much evidence of a response.”

According to recent Congressional testimony, Trump has shown no interest in the question of how to prevent future election interference by Russia or another foreign power. Former FBI Director James Comey told senators that Trump never asked him about how to stop a future Russian election cyber attack, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who sits on the National Security Council, testified that he has not received a classified briefing on Russian election interference.

Dozens of state officials told NBC News they have received little direction from Washington about election security.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said this week he had never addressed the matter with Trump.

That apparent top-level indifference, coupled with a failure to fill key jobs at the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies, has resulted in a government paralyzed by inaction when it comes to protecting the next election, experts and government officials told NBC News.

Saturday Morning, by Terry Matassoni

“The Trump administration is woefully missing in action,” said Gregory Miller, co-founder of the Silicon Valley based Open Source Election Technology Institute, a non-profit research group.

“It isn’t happening,” said David Jefferson, a voter security expert and computer scientist in the Center for Applied Scientific Computing, when asked whether he saw a U.S. government effort to address the problem.

I’ll end with two thoughtful articles by conservatives on the Trump problem.

David Frum at The Atlantic: What Happens When a Presidency Loses Its Legitimacy?

Day by day, revelation after revelation, the legitimacy of the Trump presidency is seeping away. The question of what to do about this loss is becoming ever more urgent and frightening.

The already thick cloud of discredit over the Trump presidency thickened deeper Friday, June 23. The Washington Post reported that the CIA told President Obama last year that Vladimir Putin had personally and specifically instructed his intelligence agencies to intervene in the U.S. presidential election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.

Whether the Trump campaign knowingly coordinated its activities with the Russians remains uncertain. The Trump campaign may have been a wholly passive and unwitting beneficiary. Yes, it’s curious that the Russians allegedly directed their resources to the Rust Belt states also targeted by the Trump campaign. But it’s conceivable they were all just reading the same polls on FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics.

Frum points out that others in the government are working around Trump’s insanity as best they can, but how long can the government function when it’s so crippled from the top and from foreign cyber- and propaganda attacks?

Saturday Afternoon on the Coast of Normandy, by Jules Trayer

The U.S. government is already osmotically working around the presidency, a process enabled by the president’s visible distaste for the work of governance. The National Security Council staff is increasingly a double-headed institution, a zone of struggle between Kushner-Flynn-Bannon types on one side, and a growing staff of capable, experienced, and Russia-skeptical functionaries on the other. The Senate has voted 97-2 to restrict the president’s authority to relax Russia sanctions. It seems the president has been persuaded to take himself out of the chain of command in the escalating military operations in Afghanistan. National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster recently assured the nation that Trump could not have done much harm when he blabbed a vital secret to the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office, precisely because the president was not briefed on crucial “sources and methods” information.

In their way, these workarounds are almost as dangerous to the American system of government as the Trump presidency itself. They tend to reduce the president to the status of an absentee emperor while promoting his subordinates into shoguns who exercise power in his name. Maybe that is the least-bad practicable solution to the unprecedented threat of a presidency-under-suspicion. But what a terrible price for the failure of so many American institutions—not least the voters!—to protect the country in 2016 from Russia’s attack on its election and its democracy.

Bruce Bartlett at Politico: ‘Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas.’

Bartlett was among those of us–including Obama–who assumed Hillary would win in the end and then we could deal with the Russia situation. Like the rest of us, he was shocked and horrified by the outcome of the election.

Orford Orange on a Saturday Afternoon, by Meg McLean

Almost everything that has happened since November 8 has been the inverse of what I’d imagined. Trump didn’t lose; he won. The Republican Party isn’t undergoing some sort of reckoning over what it believes; his branch of the Republican Party has taken control. Most troubling, perhaps, is that rather than reassert themselves, the moderate Republicans have almost all rolled over entirely.

Trump has turned out to be far, far worse than I imagined. He has instituted policies so right wing they make Ronald Reagan, for whom I worked, look like a liberal Democrat. He has appointed staff people far to the right of the Republican mainstream in many positions, and they are instituting policies that are frighteningly extreme. Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Scott Pruitt proudly denies the existence of climate change, and is doing his best to implement every item Big Oil has had on its wish list since the agency was established by Richard Nixon. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is actively hostile to the very concept of public education and is doing her best to abolish it. Every day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions institutes some new policy to take incarceration and law enforcement back to the Dark Ages. Trump’s proposed budget would eviscerate the social safety net for the sole purpose of giving huge tax cuts to the ultrawealthy.

And if those policies weren’t enough, conservatives—who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role—have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.

And yet as surprising as this all has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics. Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas, demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power.n

Please go read the rest at Politico.

Sorry this got so long . . . What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

This is going to be a quickie post, because I had an air conditioning emergency this morning and I have a dentist appointment this afternoon. Here’s what’s happening.

Mitch McConnell has revealed the secret Trumpcare bill.

The LA Times: Senate unveils secretive GOP Obamacare repeal plan, with a vote likely next week.

SenateRepublicans on Thursday unveiled a sweeping plan to roll back the Affordable Care Act, including a drastic reduction in federal healthcare spending that threatens to leave millions more Americans uninsured.

The legislative outline, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s team wrote largely behind closed doors, hews closely to the Obamacare repeal bill passed last month by House Republicans, but includes important differences. The House version was first celebrated by President Trump in a White House Rose Garden ceremony, though he later criticized the bill as “mean.”

The Senate measure offers more generous premium subsidies for some low-income buyers of insurance compared with the House version, but it also dramatically cuts federal funding to Medicaid, a move that will likely force states to make deep cuts in their healthcare programs for the poor….

Like the House effort, the Senate bill appears likely to produce major losses in insurance coverage as hundreds of billions of dollars in federal healthcare assistance to low- and moderate-income Americans are cut over the next decade….

The centerpiece of the Senate bill is a series of major reductions in federal aid for poor Americans who rely on the government Medicaid program and consumers who currently qualify for federal subsidies to help them buy private health insurance through the Obamacare marketplace.

An expansion of Medicaid benefits currently offered under Obamacare would be phased out beginning in 2020 and shut down completely by 2023, senators said.

The CBO score will come out in a few days. The Washington Post obtained a draft of the bill yesterday: Senate health-care draft repeals Obamacare taxes, provides bigger subsidies for low-income Americans than House bill.

A discussion draft circulating Wednesday afternoon among aides and lobbyists would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s taxes, phase down its Medicaid expansion, rejigger its subsidies, give states wider latitude in opting out of its regulations and eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

The bill largely mirrors the House measure that narrowly passed last month but with some significant changes aimed at pleasing moderates. While the House legislation tied federal insurance subsidies to age, the Senate bill would link them to income, as the ACA does. The Senate proposal cuts off Medicaid expansion more gradually than the House bill,\ but would enact deeper long-term cuts to the health-care program for low-income Americans. It also removes language restricting federally subsidized health plans from covering abortions, which may have run afoul of complex budget rules.

Many more details at the link. You can also check out this Washington Post summary published this morning: The Health 202: Here’s what’s in the Senate health-care bill.

Right now there are protesters outside Mitch McConnell’s office. Police are “removing” them one at a time. The cops are actually picking people up carrying them out.

Last night the dash-cam video of the murder by cop of Philando Castile was released. NBC News: Girl Pleads With Mother After Castile Killing: ‘I Don’t Want You to Get Shooted!’

The terrified four-year-old witness to the killing of Philando Castile by a Minnesota cop pleaded with her mother to cooperate with police moments after his death telling her “I don’t want you to get shooted,” a newly released police video shows.

The video, which came out with a bundle of evidence from the Castile trial, captures the interaction between Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, and her daughter as they were held in the back of a squad car shortly after the shooting.

In the heart-wrenching video, a handcuffed Reynolds yells “F—!” — and immediately her young daughter begins to cry begging her mother to “please stop cussing and screaming because I don’t want you to get shooted.”

The weeping girl then embraces her mother, who tells her to give her a kiss.

“I can keep you safe,” says the girl, while wiping away tears from her face.

“I can’t believe they just did that,” Reynolds whispers to herself — to which the girl begins to cry uncontrollably.

Reynolds then attempts to get out of her handcuffs, and the girl again desperately yells for her to be calm, out of fear for her mother’s safety.

“No! Please no! I don’t want you to get shooted!” she said.

“They’re not going to shoot me, I’m already in handcuffs,” Reynolds responds in an attempt to pacify the frazzled girl.

I’m in tears just reading that. I saw the video on TV last night and it was horrifying. The cop who murdered this innocent man had no business being a police officer.

Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, during Officer Jeronimo Yanez’s trial (David Joles, Star Tribune via AP

The Washington Post: What the police officer who shot Philando Castile said about the shooting.

This new video showed how quickly the encounter escalated, how fast it shifted when Castile told the officer about the gun he was legally carrying. Along with the footage of the shooting itself, officials also released another account of the shooting: a transcript of Yanez’s interview with two special agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state agency investigating the shooting.

Like the dash-cam footage, Yanez’s comments during his interview were previously revealed in court documents and during his trial, but not widely seen. (According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, an audio recording of Yanez’s full interview with investigators was never played during the trial, and the judge denied a request from jurors to review a transcript during deliberations.) They capture a young officer who says he saw a gun and apparently connected his decision to open fire with the smell of marijuana in the car.

This story reproduces the officer’s interview with investigators approximately 16 hours after the shooting. Read it and watch the video at the link.

Breaking news on the Russia investigation from CNN: Intel chiefs tell investigators Trump suggested they refute collusion with Russians.

Two of the nation’s top intelligence officials told Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and Senate investigators, in separate meetings last week, that President Donald Trump suggested they say publicly there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians, according to multiple sources.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers described their interactions with the President about the Russia investigation as odd and uncomfortable, but said they did not believe the President gave them orders to interfere, according to multiple sources familiar with their accounts.

Sources say both men went further than they did in June 7 public hearings, when they provided little detail about the interactions.

The sources gave CNN the first glimpse of what the intelligence chiefs said to Mueller’s investigators when they did separate interviews last week. Both men told Mueller’s team they were surprised the President would suggest that they publicly declare he was not involved in collusion, sources said. Mueller’s team, which is in the early stages of its investigation, will ultimately decide whether the interactions are relevant to the inquiry.

Head over to CNN to read the rest.

Last night Trump held a “campaign rally” in Iowa. I didn’t watch it, but I guess it was horrifying.

The New York Times: Trump Turns an Iowa Rally Into a Venting Session.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — President Trump said on Wednesday that he was crafting legislation to bar new immigrants from receiving welfare for at least five years. He announced the proposal in a conquering-hero-returns speech in Iowa, his first trip back to the political battleground state since he won it in the 2016 general election.

His mood buoyant after twin Republican wins in congressional special elections the night before, the president also revealed his anticipated plan for putting solar panels on a proposed wall on the Mexican border — an idea he boasted he had come up with himself.

And he — mostly — managed to avoid raising the topic he struggles to stop talking about: the investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with his campaign.

“They have phony witch hunts going against me,” Mr. Trump said nearly an hour into a speech that veered off script repeatedly. “All we do is win, win, win. We won last night.”

The rally, Mr. Trump’s first since the end of April, served as a venting session for a pent-up president who has stewed and brooded from inside the gilded cage of the White House over attacks from investigators, Democrats and the news media, his interview schedule drastically pared down and his aides imploring him to stay off Twitter.

Style-heavy and substance-light, the speech went over an hour: an epic version of the fact-challenged, meandering and, even for his detractors, mesmerizing speeches he gave during his upstart presidential campaign.

Raw Story: WATCH: Morning Joe panel slams ‘dear leader’ Trump with horrifying 2-minute mashup of his Iowa lies.

A “Morning Joe” panel examined President Donald Trump’s lie-filled rally in Iowa, where his supporters cheered each falsehood and jeered when he attacked the media.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham compared the display to former President Richard Nixon’s lies during the Watergate scandal, but he said Trump’s rally was even more like something seen in a totalitarian regime like Nazi Germany or fascist Italy.

“Even now, in regimes like North Korea, where the dear leader speaks and we’re all supposed to salute, that what the dear leader says has to be followed, whether it’s associated with reality or not, whether it’s grounded in reality or not,” Meacham said.

The segment opened with a video montage of Trump’s falsehoods, which the panel fact-checked against previous reporting, and Meacham said the president’s lies undermined some of America’s founding principles.

“It’s a cult of the state,” Meacham said. “It’s a cult not of religion and neighborhoods and civic life and an obligation to facts as we perceive them and through common sense, which was a huge part of, really, the American experiment in the beginning. We weren’t supposed to just listen to kings and clerics who for 1,000 years had had a monopoly on dictating the terms of reality. The point of the United States was that we all had the ability to look at reality, make our own decisions and participate in a collective enterprise to govern ourselves.”

Watch the video at Raw Story.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy your Thursday!


Tuesday Reads: GA 6th, GOP “Health Care” Bill, and Russia News

Jon Ossoff with supporters in Georgia’s 6th District

Good Morning!!

Today is election day in Georgia’s 6th District, and the race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel is tied. The Washington Post reports: Georgia special election: Hard-fought House race in suburban Atlanta comes to an end as a referendum on Trump.

Polls in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District opened at 7 a.m. on a humid morning, with commuters casting ballots with iced coffees in their hands on their way to child-care centers, office parks and downtown Atlanta.

Back in Washington, party leaders — and Trump — were paying close attention to what has become the most expensive House race in history, hoping to make the case by day’s end that they were better positioned to jump-start Trump’s stalled agenda on Capitol Hill — or thwart it.

“KAREN HANDEL FOR Congress,” Trump tweeted as day broke Tuesday, touting the Republican candidate and former Georgia secretary of state. “She will fight for lower taxes, great health care strong security — a hard worker who will never give up! VOTE TODAY!”

Democrats spoke excitedly about Democrat Jon Ossoff, 30, a polished former congressional staffer who has raised more than $23 million and built a devoted grassroots following, all while courting Republicans by bemoaning “wasteful” spending. They see his competitive candidacy in ruby-red suburbia as a possible harbinger ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when Democrats need to win 24 GOP-held seats to reclaim the House majority.

Republican candidate Karen Handel and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff exchange words moments before Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election debate, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry

Specifically, the race is being seen in Washington as a referendum on the awful GOP “health care” bill.

Republicans are laboring to agree on legislation to revise the Affordable Care Act. A GOP win on Tuesday could bring new momentum to their push to pass a bill in the Senate, while a defeat could embolden those who are concerned about the bill to more forcefully oppose it.

Handel and Ossoff are vying to fill the seat vacated by Tom Price, who held it from 2005 until he joined Trump’s Cabinet this year as health and human services secretary.

At The Cut, Rebecca Traister writes about how women are leading the fight for Democrats in Georgia’s 6th: Can the New Activist Passion of Suburban White Women Change American Politics?

At Hearth, a restaurant in Sandy Springs, Georgia, about 30 people — most of them women, most of them white — are sitting at a long table on Saturday night, drinking white wine and beer, scarfing pizzas and salads and talking at a frenzied pitch. One woman is describing, with a tired smile on her face, the contours of her life these days: “If I’m not knocking doors, I’m making calls; if I’m not making calls, I’m writing postcards; if I’m not writing postcards, I’m replacing my lawn sign.” Everyone laughs. “They can’t believe we live here,” says another woman, in reference to the local media and local Republican Party. “They think we must be shipped in from California, because we can’t be their neighbors.”

These women do live here, in Georgia’s affluent, suburban, predominantly white sixth district, where a special election to replace Republican congressman Tom Price, whom Donald Trump tapped to run the Department of Health and Human Services, has drawn the attention of the nation. They are dedicating their time — in many cases, nearly all their time — to campaigning for Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old Democrat who came within spitting distance of winning a majority in April, and is now facing Republican Karen Handel in the runoff, which will take place on Tuesday. That Ossoff has come as close as he has is a startling signal of liberal vigor in Trump’s America: The sixth district is a longtime conservative stronghold that has sent Republicans to Congress since 1979; Price won his November reelection by 23 points. But in the days before the runoff, Ossoff is polling neck and neck with Handel; many on the ground don’t even venture a prediction of what’s going to happen, calling the outcome a “coin flip.”

Especially surprising is that the closeness of the race can largely be attributed to the obsessive energies of the sixth district’s women, an army of mostly white, suburban working mothers who had until now lived politically somnambulant lives. In the wake of Donald Trump’s November defeat of Hillary Clinton, many of these Georgia women have remade their lives, transforming themselves and their communities through unceasing political engagement. To visit Georgia’s sixth in the days before the runoff is to land on a planet populated by politically impassioned women, talking as if they have just walked off the set of Thelma & Louise, using a language of awakening, liberation, and political fury that should indeed discomfit their conservative neighbors, and — if it is a harbinger of what’s to come — should shake conservative America more broadly.

“No matter the outcome on Tuesday, the real story of this campaign is the story of women organizing, standing up, fighting,” Jon Ossoff tells me from his campaign’s Chamblee office two days before the runoff.
“There’s something of a renaissance of civic engagement and political activism afoot, and it’s being led by women.”

A few bits and pieces of the GOP “health care” bill are leaking out, and they are horrifying.

Michael Hiltzik at the LA Times: In secret Obamacare repeal bill, Senate Republicans plan even harsher cuts to Medicaid than House GOP.

In the all-out quest for ways to strip health coverage from millions of people in order to deliver a huge tax cut to the richest Americans, Senate Republicans have been regarded as more moderate than their House colleagues. But a proposal leaked from the Senate GOP’s closed-door drafting sessions on an Obamacare repeal bill may put that notion to rest: The Senate is contemplating a change in Medicaid that would cut it even more than the $830-billion proposed by the House.

That news comes from The Hill, which reported Monday that the Senate is contemplating imposing a lower inflation growth rate on Medicaid, which would be capped in both proposals. The Senate’s idea is to allow Medicaid to grow at the rate of the overall consumer price index (specifically, the CPI for all urban consumers, the most commonly used variant).

That’s a much lower growth rate than the index in the American Health Care Act, which House Republicans passed in May as a measure to repeal the the Affordable Care Act. The House caps growth in the Medicaid budget at the CPI for medical care, which grows much faster.

The difference would produce a massively larger cut in Medicaid than the House bill. That’s remarkable, because the House bill would drive 14 million people out of Medicaid by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate version, which hasn’t been presented in its entirely to the CBO because it’s still being worked on in secret, is certain to cost many more Americans their coverage.

Please go read the rest at the above link. Read more about what is believed to be in the bill at the Washington Post: The Health 202: Here’s what we know about the Senate health-care bill. But the simple truth is that the purpose of this bill is to transfer money from needy people to a few super-rich families.

Huffington Post: The Not-So-Secret Truth About the Senate GOP’s Secret Health Care Bill.

Senate Republicans are hurling themselves toward passing an incredibly unpopular set of health care reforms that even they don’t understand, haven’t seen and likely won’t see until just before it hits the floor.

This rightly has raised the hackles not only of Senate Democrats and the media, but anyone who values transparency in government or is anxious about the consequences of reordering the American health care system and taking away health coverage from millions of people.

But as important as the legislation’s details will turn out out to be, there’s a simple, fundamental, incontrovertible fact about whatever the Senate health care reform bill winds up looking like: The purpose of this bill is to dramatically scale back the safety net so wealthy people and health care companies can get a massive tax cut….

That’s true of the House-passed version of the American Health Care Act, which the Congressional Budget Office projects would lead to 23 million fewer people being insured over the next decade, severely weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions and put health coverage out of reach for older, sicker and poorer people who won’t be able to afford insurance or, in some cases, to even access it at any price.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his handpicked cohort of backroom negotiators are advancing a measure that will look pretty much like the House legislation and do pretty much the same thing. McConnell wants a vote before July 4, and he’ll probably get it if something doesn’t alter the trajectory. There’s little Democrats can do beyond try to slow Senate business to a crawl to draw out the process and keep health care in the public eye for as long as possible.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to cozy up to Putin as the Russia investigation continues. This story at Newsweek is just unbelievable: Rex Tillerson to Work with Russia on Cybersecurity (Even After Hacking).

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly has a three-point plan to both improve relations and work with Russia, one of which includes facing global threats posed by the Syrian civil war, the proliferation of North Korea’s missile and defense program and a third that could seem strange to some: Cybersecurity and cyber-espionage.

A BuzzFeed report published Monday detailed the former ExxonMobil CEO turned U.S. statesman’s plan, which included each side vowing to avoid “aggressive actions” that wouldn’t be productive for anyone as well as a third point called “strategic stability” meant to bundle together problems the two superpowers face.

But the second tenet, aimed at cybersecurity and cyberespionage, seems particularly odd given not only the investigations surrounding President Donald Trump and his former campaign but also the conclusion reached by the U.S. intelligence community that Russia intentionally meddled in last year’s election in order to ascend Trump’s candidacy.

Please go check out this story and the one at BuzzFeed too.

News on the Russia investigation:

Bijan Kian (center) worked on Trump transition

Talking Points Memo: Report: Feds Now Interested In Flynn’s Former Business Partner.

Federal investigators are now interested in the role Bijan Kian, co-founder of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn’s consulting firm, played in their lobbying work, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The report was based on information from an anonymous individual recently interviewed by the FBI, who said that agents from the criminal division asked as many questions about Kian and his involvement with a lobbying contract carried out by the firm that primarily benefitted the Turkish government as they did about Flynn.

Kian was responsible for securing and carrying out that work for Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, as Reuters and the Associated Press have reported. It netted Flynn Intel Group $530,000. Two other sources with knowledge of the probe told Reuters that investigators were looking at whether the payments Flynn and his firm received from foreign clients were lawful and whether they made the proper disclosures with the federal government to perform this work.

Both men retroactively registered as foreign agents for their Turkey lobbying, which involved producing negative public relations materials about an exiled cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt last summer.

Flynn likely talking to FBI

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a former federal prosecutor, believes that Flynn is likely cooperating with the FBI. From Real Clear Politics:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island suggests that fired national security Mike Flynn has made a deal with the FBI and will testify against President Trump….

“All the signals are suggesting [Flynn] is already cooperating with the FBI, and may have been for some time. First of all, they had him dead to rights on a felony false statement, on the statement they took from him at the White House on the Kislyak conversations. Second, Comey reported that one of the things the FBI does with cooperators is get them to go back and clean up areas of non-compliance. Flynn, who will never be hired by a foreign government again, went back and cleaned up his foreign agent filings. Third, all of the reporting of the Eastern District of VA on subpoenas is one hop away from Flynn. He is the hole in a donut of subpoenas,” he sad.

He continued: “One of the most talkative people in Trumpland [Flynn] has gone absolutely silent. That is exactly what a prosecutor would strongly encourage a cooperating witness to do… in order to avoid lengthy imprisonment.”

“It could be a huge deal. Who knows what Trump has said to him?” Whitehouse speculated. “Both during the campaign and the early days of the presidency.”

I’m running out of space, but I’ll add more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads

Good Morning!!

Seven U.S. Sailors are missing following a collision off the coast of Japan. NBC News: 7 U.S. Sailors Unaccounted for After Navy Destroyer Collides With Ship Off Japan.

The USS Fitzgerald, a 505-foot destroyer, collided with a Philippine container vessel at approximately 2:30 a.m. Saturday local time (1:30 p.m. ET Friday), about 56 nautical miles off Yokosuka, the U.S. 7th Fleet said.

The ship, which had experienced some flooding after the collision, was tugged back to Yokosuka Naval Base, south of Tokyo, early Saturday.

Meanwhile search and rescue efforts by U.S. and Japanese aircraft and boats were underway in the area where the vessels collided.

The U.S. Navy said damaged areas of the ship will also be searched for the seven unaccounted-for sailors after the ship is safely docked.

“Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the Sailors,” Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a statement. “We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance.”

More details from The Washington Post:

The operators of the merchant ship, ACX Crystal, reported all of the 20-member Filipino crew were safe….

The Philippine-flagged Crystal is nearly four times as large as the Fitzgerald, an Aegis guided-missile destroyer. Japanese and U.S. vessels and aircraft fanned out across the scene of the collision, about 12 miles off Japan’s Izu peninsula. The Japanese coast guard led the search teams.

USS Fitzgerald arrives at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. TORU HANAI / Reuters

Three of the Fitzgerald’s crew, including the destroyer’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, were evacuated from the damaged vessel and are being treated at the U.S. naval hospital at Yokosuka, the home of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet.

Benson was reported to be in stable condition, while the other two were still having their injuries assessed. The Seventh Fleet had set up an information center for families of sailors serving on the ship.

The USS Dewey, another Navy destroyer and two naval tugboats were at the scene, about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka. Two Japanese coast guard cutters with helicopters were helping with the search.

The Crystal, which is fully loaded with cargo, is bound for Tokyo, according to a website that tracks maritime traffic. Nippon Yusen K.K., the Japanese shipping company that operates the container ship.

The Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer commissioned in 1995, is part of the Yokosuka-based group that includes the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, but it was operating independently of the carrier when the collision occurred, Flanders said.

It still is not clear how the vessels collided, but one thing we know is that “President” Trump’s unfilled appointments could be a problem for those trying to find the missing sailors and determine the cause of this tragedy. The Guardian reports: USS Fitzgerald collision: Trump criticised for leaving key posts unfilled.

Donald Trump has been criticised for delays in appointing a navy secretary and ambassador to Japan, leaving a communications vacuum as the countries continued their search for seven missing sailors off the east coast of Japan.

The commanding officer of the USS Fitzgerald, Bryce Benson, and two other crew were injured after the vessel collided with a Philippine-registered container ship before dawn on Saturday.

The US has been without an ambassador to Japan since Caroline Kennedy left Tokyo in January.

William Hagerty, nominated but not yet confirmed as Ambassador to Japan

Her successor, the Tennessee businessman William Hagerty, has attended a Senate confirmation hearing but has yet to take up his post.

Brandon Friedman, a former Obama administration official and co-founder of the McPherson Square Group, a strategic communications firm in Washington, pointed to the absence of an ambassador and navy secretary – two officials who would be expected to take a lead in liaising between the US navy, and Japanese and US government officials during the search.

“The USS Fitzgerald might sink off Japan and the US President can’t call our ambassador or our navy secretary because we have neither,” Friedman said.

Trump’s nominee for US navy secretary, Richard Spencer, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

The “president” has been too busy tweeting and raking in money from foreign governments to attend to his constitutional duties. According to Max Boot at Foreign Policy, he is also “proving to be too stupid to be president.”

I’m starting to suspect that Donald Trump may not have been right when he said, “You know, I’m like a smart person.” The evidence continues to mount that he is far from smart — so far, in fact, that he may not be capable of carrying out his duties as president.

There is, for example, the story of how Trump met with the pastors of two major Presbyterian churches in New York. “I did very, very well with evangelicals in the polls,” he bragged. When the pastors told Trump they weren’t evangelicals, he demanded to know, “What are you then?” They told him they were mainline Presbyterians. “But you’re all Christians?” he asked. Yes, they had to assure him, Presbyterians are Christians. The kicker: Trump himself is Presbyterian.

Trump claims he originated the saying “priming the pump.”

Or the story of how Trump asked the editors of the Economist whether they had ever heard of the phrase “priming the pump.” Yes, they assured him, they had. “I haven’t heard it,” Trump continued. “I mean, I just … I came up with it a couple of days ago, and I thought it was good.” The phrase has been in widespread use since at least the 1930s.

Or the story of how, after arriving in Israel from Saudi Arabia, Trump told his hosts, “We just got back from the Middle East.”

These aren’t examples of stupidity, you may object, but of ignorance. This has become a favorite talking point of Trump’s enablers. House Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, excused Trump’s attempts to pressure FBI Director James Comey into dropping a criminal investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on the grounds that “the president’s new at this” and supposedly didn’t realize that he was doing anything wrong. But Trump has been president for nearly five months now, and he has shown no capacity to learn on the job.

More broadly, Trump has had a lifetime — 71 years — and access to America’s finest educational institutions (he’s a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, he never tires of reminding us) to learn things. And yet he doesn’t seem to have acquired even the most basic information that a high school student should possess. Recall that Trump said that Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, was “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.” He also claimed that Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War, “was really angry that he saw what was happening in regard to the Civil War.”

Read the rest at Foreign Policy.

Think Progress on all those emoluments: Trump details how he’s profiting off the presidency.

New financial disclosure forms provide insight into where and how Donald Trump has reaped profits since he launched his bid for the presidency.

The 98-page filing with the Office of Government Ethics, released on Friday afternoon, provides an incomplete snapshot of Trump’s financial picture. But since Trump has broken presidential precedent by refusing to release his taxes, it’s the closest look into his investments the public has gotten so far.

The documents provide financial information for the period of time between last January and this spring — encompassing the lead-up to the presidential election and Trump’s transition into the White House.

Trump’s sprawling business empire is difficult to definitively quantify. However, the filings do show that the properties Trump has visited frequently as president have seen significant gains in income, the D.C. hotel at the center of an ethical controversy has generated millions in revenue, and the royalties for Trump’s books have soared.

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where he spent most of his weekendsimmediately after his inauguration, returned millions more in income after his campaign and subsequent election. Trump reported about $16 million in profits for Mar-a-Lago in his report filed in 2015, about $30 million in his report filed in 2016, and about $37 million in his most recent report.

Trump didn’t hide the fact that his presidency made Mar-a-Lago a more profitable venture for him. The initiation fee for the so-called “Winter White House” doubled to $200,000 — a figure that doesn’t include taxes and $14,000 annual dues — immediately after Trump was inaugurated.

Please click on the link and read the rest.

I’m sure you’ve already heard about this story, but it’s important to take note of it. In Trump’s America, police officer can kill unarmed black people on video and still evade punishment. Slate: Philando Castile’s Killer Acquitted Despite Forensics That Contradicted His Case.

Philando Castile’s killer, police officer Jeromino Yanez, was acquitted of manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm on Friday. The case of Castile’s shooting last July in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota had sparked mass protests after his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds posted a dramatic and wrenching video of the shooting’s aftermath. The video, taken with Reynolds’ 4-year-old daughter in the car, included footage of Castile lying in a puddle of blood after he was struck five times from seven shots.

Castile had informed the officer that he was carrying a firearm, for which he had a permit. Shortly thereafter, Yanez opened fire. In his opening statement, Yanez’s defense attorney claimed that Castile was holding his gun when he was shot.

Philando Cast

“He has his hand on the gun,” Engh reportedly said during opening arguments. “The next command is, ‘Don’t pull it out.’ … [Yanez] can’t retreat … But for Mr. Castile’s continuous grip on the handgun, we would not be here.”

The prosecution argued that the 32-year-old school cafeteria supervisor with no violent criminal record was reaching for his driver’s license—as Yanez had instructed—and not his gun when he was shot. The forensic evidence and Reynold’s testimony would both seem to back up the prosecution’s account and rebut the defense’s version. Reynolds testified that he was trying to unbuckle his seatbelt so that he could get out his wallet and driver’s license when he was shot. As the Associated Press reported, this was supported by forensics:

Prosecutor Jeff Paulsen highlighted autopsy evidence in his closing argument, reminding the jury of a bullet wound to what would have been Castile’s trigger finger — and that there was no corresponding bullet damage nor wounds in the area of Castile’s right shorts pocket, where he carried his gun. He also cited testimony from first responders who saw Castile’s gun in his pocket as he was loaded onto a backboard.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports: Hours after officer Yanez is found not guilty in fatal shooting of Philando Castile, marchers close I-94.

After 27 hours of deliberation, a jury of seven men and five women reached a verdict in Philando Castile’s death. Eight hours later, after a march in St. Paul, hundreds went on the freeway, where some faced off with police before 18 were arrested.

A jury found St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty Friday in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, whose livestreamed death during a traffic stop stunned a nation.

Castile’s family called the decision proof of a dysfunctional criminal justice system, while prosecutors cautioned the public to respect the jury’s verdict “because that is the fundamental premise of the rule of law.”

“I am so disappointed in the state of Minnesota,” Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, said at a news conference shortly after the verdict was read in court about 2:45 p.m. “My son loved this state. He had one tattoo on his body and it was of the Twin Cities — the state of Minnesota with TC on it. My son loved this city and this city killed my son. And the murderer gets away.”

Castile’s girfriend Diamond Reynolds, who videotaped his murder.

Castile was a cafeteria worker who was very popular with the children he served. Twin Cities Pioneer Press: J.J. Hill school’s grief over Philando Castile’s death continues after verdict.

Philando Castile’s death last year rattled the J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School community.

Friday’s verdict acquitting the officer who fired the shots that killed the beloved school cafeteria worker brought no relief to their grief, parents contacted afterward said.

“I’m appalled, unbelievably sickened,” parent Chad Eisen Ramgren said about the verdict.

Castile — called “Mr. Phil” by the students — had worked at J.J. Hill for two years as nutrition services supervisor before he was fatally shot by St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop on July 6. A vigil and children’s march were held in the days after outside the school where his smile and kindness were recalled….

Families knew Mr. Phil as the man who gave their children high-fives in the lunch line and helped them with their lunch numbers.

More at the link.

I’ll have more links in the comment thread. Please join me in posting your thoughts and links.


Thursday Reads

 Good Afternoon!!

Trump is totally screwed now, and he did it to himself. Last night The Washington Post broke the news that we’ve all been expecting (emphasis added): Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, officials say.

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.

That sounds significant. How long before Manafort, Flynn, and others turn on Trump?

Five people briefed on the interview requests, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said that Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week. The investigation has been cloaked in secrecy, and it is unclear how many others have been questioned by the FBI.

The NSA said in a statement that it will “fully cooperate with the special counsel” and declined to comment further. The office of the director of national intelligence and Ledgett declined to comment.

Trump’s lawyers are claiming this information was leaked by the FBI, but it seems likely that the news came from people who have been contacted by Mueller’s team for interviews.

The interviews suggest that Mueller sees the question of attempted obstruction of justice as more than just a “he said, he said” dispute between the president and the fired FBI director, an official said.

In other words, Mueller will seek to find people who can corroborate Comey’s claims about Trump trying to get him to drop the investigation. In addition, the article makes clear that the investigation into Trump’s actions began shortly after he fired Comey. Mueller is simply taking over that thread of the inquiry. Read more details at the WaPo link.

The New York Times followed up on the Post story: Mueller Seeks to Talk to Intelligence Officials, Hinting at Inquiry of Trump.

It has been clear since Mr. Mueller was appointed last month that he was likely to scrutinize the president’s actions. Mr. Trump has said he is willing to be interviewed by Mr. Mueller’s agents, and Mr. Comey said he was sure that the special counsel would investigate the possibility of obstruction.

In recent days, Mr. Trump is said to have considered firing Mr. Mueller but to have been talked out of it by aides. If the president is under investigation for obstruction, a move to fire Mr. Mueller would prove more complicated politically….

The scrutiny of Mr. Trump’s actions is part of a ripple of unintended consequences that began when the president, frustrated by the cloud of investigations into Russian collusion, fired Mr. Comey last month. “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’” Mr. Trump told NBC. He then said: “I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people. He’s the wrong man for that position.”

The White House could try to assert executive privilege to keep the intelligence officials from discussing conversations between them and the president with Mr. Mueller. But that could set up a fight in court, where judges have generally held that criminal investigators can demand information that would normally be privileged.

In his memos, Mr. Comey said Mr. Trump had encouraged him to end an F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Flynn, an effort that Mr. Comey called “very disturbing.” There is a broad federal inquiry underway into Mr. Flynn’s actions. Among the issues being examined are whether he misled investigators about his ties to Russia, and his failure to disclose that he was working as a foreign agent of Turkey from August to November 2016: the same time he was advising the Trump campaign.

Read the rest at the NYT.

The Daily Beast explains how Trump “shot himself in the foot”: Even Trump’s Aides Blame Him for Obstruction Probe: ‘President Did This to Himself.’

It’s exactly the circumstance Donald Trump tried to avoid. But Trump’s own actions have made an FBI investigation into the president himself a reality.

Firing James Comey, the FBI director, was, by Trump’s explanation, a way to stop a “witch hunt” against his team’s alleged ties to Russia. It led, within weeks, to the appointment of a special prosecutor, Comey’s FBI predecessor, Robert Mueller. And now Mueller is investigating Trump himself for possible obstruction of justice—by firing Comey, who had led the FBI inquiry.

With the crisis engulfing Trump’s young presidency intensifying, senators, Trump aides, former prosecutors, and FBI veterans are sending the White House an urgent warning: Whatever you do, don’t. Fire. Mueller.

News of the obstruction investigation, which was first reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday, comes just days after Trump himself began floating the possibility of firing the new head of the investigation: Robert Mueller, the Justice Department special counsel appointed in the wake of Comey’s firing.

The obstruction investigation has raised the stakes for Mueller’s potential ouster. Firing him now, which would require that Trump personally direct DOJ leadership to do so, would create a political firestorm.

“Firing Robert Mueller right now would be a direct attack on the rule of law by Donald Trump,” Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Daily Beast. Wyden declined to directly address the Post report.

Trump reportedly floated the possibility of firing Mueller as a way to prod him toward exonerating the president and other Trump associates party to the investigation. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that aides dissuaded him from doing so.

Trump just can’t even imagine the existence of a person like Mueller, who is reportedly honest as the day is long and strictly nonpartisan. Axios also reports on what White House officials are saying:

  • They know Trump talked to countless people about ending the Flynn probe, so they assume Comey’s version of events is true.
  • They assume he did, indeed, ask Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, if they could help derail the Flynn probe, as the WashPost reported. They also assume he said similar things to other officials.
  • Nobody has privately mounted a straight-faced argument to us that Trump didn’t say this stuff to Comey or to Coats/Rogers. That’s telling in itself. The fact that the Trump public position — that Comey is a perjurer — isn’t being argued in private.
  • Any obstruction probe requires context, which means investigators digging into the finances of Flynn, Trump and Jared Kushner. This is the phase of the probe many Republicans have always feared most.
  • The obstruction probe is simply a new layer to the bigger underlying matters: Did Flynn have illegal or improper contacts, and did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians to influence the 2016 campaign? So the investigation is metastasizing.

One more to check out at the Washington Post:

Three prongs of the Russia investigation, explained.

The three prongs are Russia’s interference with the campaign and possible coordination with the Trump campaign, Trump’s possible obstruction of justice, and–possibly most significant–financial crimes by Trump or his associates.

Of course, Trump couldn’t resist tweeting this morning. CBS News: Trump tweets obstruction of justice reports are “phony.”

President Trump tweeted Thursday morning to criticize reports that FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller would potentially be looking into whether or not Mr. Trump obstructed justice amid ongoing investigations into any ties between his presidential campaign’s or transition’s associates and the Russian government.

“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” wrote Mr. Trump….

He continued by reiterating his belief that the nation is “witnessing the single greatest witch hunt in America political history,” a move he says is being led by “very bad and conflicted people.”

On yesterday’s shooting:

Steve Scalise with his children

CNBC: Critically wounded GOP Rep. Steve Scalise may need more surgery.

Scalise, the number three republican in the House, underwent surgery at Medstar Washington Hospital Center and is in critical condition. Earlier, a statement from his office characterized his condition as stable.

Two U.S. Capitol Police officers — who [sic] House Speaker Paul Ryan identified as Crystal Griner and David Bailey — were wounded amid the shooting. Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said in a statement that Griner is in “good condition in the hospital after getting shot in the ankle” and that Bailey was “treated and released” following a “minor” injury.

“Had they not been there, it would have been a massacre,” eyewitness Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who took cover behind a tree amid the shooting, said of the Capitol Police. The officers were present because Scalise is a member of the congressional leadership.

Ryan named the others shot: Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika and Zack Barth, a staffer for Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas. Mika was transported to a hospital and remains in critical condition following surgery, according to a Tyson Foods spokesman.

Barth was hospitalized and released, according to Williams. Williams also injured his ankle while diving for cover.

How ironic that Scalise, an ultra-right-winger who reportedly gave a speech at a KKK-linked event, was rescued by two people of color, one of whom is a lesbian and is married to another woman, Tiffany Dyar. A couple of stories to check out:

The Daily Beast: The Hero Cops Who Prevented a Congressional ‘Massacre’

Capitol Police officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey are special agents on Rep. Steve Scalise’s security detail. Scalise was standing near second base in an Alexandria, Virginia park when the bullets began flying from behind the third base dugout, striking Scalise. While Scalise dragged himself to safety, Griner and Bailey lept into action. In an extended firefight, the two agents took down shooter James Hodgkinson while battling through injuries of their own. Both were taken to the hospital after the gunfight, and are recovering from their injuries, officials say.

Read all about them at the link.

Politicus USA: Portrait of an American Hero: The Lesbian Minority Woman Who Saved Republican Lives.

David Bailey and Crystal Griner

It’s not that people should be defined by their skin color, gender, or who they love. But in this case, these details are important enough to focus on for a moment.

Capitol Police special agents Crystal Griner and David Bailey are widely credited with saving Republican lawmakers and staff during the horrific shooting in Alexandria, Virginia that left Representative Steve Scalise in the hospital in critical condition.

Both Griner and Bailey were wounded.

Both Griner and Bailey are minorities.

Crystal Griner is a female minority, who just so happens to be married to a woman. Griner married Tiffany Dyar in 2015.

Rep. Scalise strongly opposes same-sex marriage.

Too often, all of the minority categories that Griner falls into are demonized by Republicans and this is a chance to emphasize the importance of humanity, of seeing people as whole beings with a history, with dreams of their own, with loves of their own.

Too many of our leaders, particularly President Trump but he’s not alone in this, are trying to divide us, to dehumanize the “other.” Wednesday, during moments of exceptional horror, these two Capitol Police special agents stepped up to do their jobs with incredible bravery and effectiveness.

In honoring these heroes, people should also take a moment to consider their humanity. Consider how the laws dealt with in Congress would impact these folks who just saved their lives or the lives of their colleagues.

The folks being hurt by laws bandied about in Congress aren’t nameless, bad “others.” They are sometimes people of stunning courage like Crystal Griner.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?


Friday Afternoon Baby Animals Open Thread

Good Afternoon!

I just learned that Dakinikat is under the weather today, so I’m going to pull together some reading material for discussion. Here are some of the stories I’ve been reading today.

Of course there are lots of horrible articles about Trump and his efforts to destroy our country. On of the ways he’s doing that is by encouraging people who like to shoot guns. For that reason, and because it’s such an important story, I want to begin with a long piece at The Washington Post about a school shooting and its after-effects. I’ll post the beginning of the story. Please follow the link to read the rest. It’s powerful and important.

Recess had finally started, so Ava Olsen picked up her chocolate cupcake, then headed outside toward the swings. And that’s when the 7-year-old saw the gun.

It was black and in the hand of someone the first-graders on the playground would later describe as a thin, towering figure with wispy blond hair and angry eyes. Dressed in dark clothes and a baseball cap, he had just driven up in a Dodge Ram, jumping out of the pickup as it rolled into the chain-link fence that surrounded the play area. It was 1:41 on a balmy, blue-sky afternoon in late September, and Ava’s class was just emerging from an open door directly in front of him to join the other kids already outside. At first, a few of them assumed he had come to help with something or say hello.

Then he pulled the trigger.

“I hate my life,” the children heard him scream in the same moment he added Townville Elementary to the long list of American schools redefined by a shooting.

A round struck the shoulder of Ava’s teacher, who was standing at the green metal door, before she yanked it shut. But the shooter kept firing, shattering a glass window.

Near the cubbies inside, 6-year-old Collin Edwards felt his foot vibrate, then burn, as if he had stepped in a fire. A bullet had blown through the inside of his right ankle and popped out beneath his big toe, punching a hole in the sole of his Velcro-strapped sneaker. As his teachers pulled him away from the windows, Collin recalled later, he spotted a puddle of blood spreading across the gray wax tile floor in the hallway. Someone else, he realized, had been hurt, too.

Outside, Ava had dropped her cupcake. The Daisy Scout remembered what her mom had said: If something doesn’t feel right, run. She sprinted toward the far side of the building, rounding a corner to safety. Nowhere in sight, though, was Jacob Hall, the tiny boy with oversize, thick-lensed glasses Ava had decided to marry when they grew up. He had been just a few steps behind her at the door, but she never saw him come out. Ava hoped he was okay.

After reading this heartbreaking story, I want to just forget about our Trumpian nightmare for the rest of the day.

Of course the monster tweeted this morning after taking a long break from his social media addiction. He just can’t quit.

So now the pretend president has accused the former Director of the FBI of a felony–lying under oath.

Philip Bump at the Washington Post: There’s no indication Comey violated the law. Trump may be about to.

President Trump’s declaration that the Thursday testimony of former FBI director James B. Comey was a “total and complete vindication” despite “so many false statements and lies” was the sort of brashly triumphant and loosely-grounded-in-reality statement we’ve come to expect from the commander in chief. It was news that came out a bit later, news about plans to file a complaint against Comey for a revelation he made during that Senate Intelligence Committee hearing meeting, that may end up being more damaging to the president.

CNN and Fox first reported that Trump’s outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, plans to file complaints with the inspector general of the Justice Department and the Senate Judiciary Committee about Comey’s testimony. At issue was Comey’s revelation that he provided a memo documenting a conversation with Trump to a friend to be shared with the New York Times.

As the news broke, I was on the phone with Stephen Kohn, partner at a law firm focused on whistleblower protection. We’d been talking about where the boundaries lay for Comey in what he could and couldn’t do with the information about his conversations with the president. Kohn’s response to the story about Kasowitz, though, was visceral.

“Here is my position on that: Frivolous grandstanding,” he said. “First of all, I don’t believe the inspector general would have jurisdiction over Comey any more, because he’s no longer a federal employee.” The inspector general’s job is to investigate wrongdoing by employees of the Justice Department, which Comey is no longer, thanks to Trump — though the IG would have the ability to investigate an allegation of criminal misconduct.

“But, second,” he continued, “initiating an investigation because you don’t like somebody’s testimony could be considered obstruction. And in the whistleblower context, it’s both evidence of retaliation and, under some laws, could be an adverse retaliatory act itself.”

Vox: Trump’s lawyer: Comey violated executive privilege. 10 legal experts: No, he didn’t.

After the public testimony of former FBI Director James Comey on Thursday, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, released a statement. In addition to being riddled with typos, it contained a curious legal argument.

Kasowitz contended that Comey broke the law by leaking memos about his private conversations with the president — what the statement called an “unauthorized disclosure of private information.”

The not-so-subtle implication here is that any and every conversation with the president is privileged, and therefore protected under the law. That’s a rather broad interpretation of executive privilege, and one that 10 legal experts disputed in interviews with Vox.

Executive privilege exists for a reason: to protect against the forced disclosures of classified or confidential executive branch communications. But here’s the problem: The conversations between Trump and Comey were not classified. Moreover, because the president himself has publicly referred to the conversations in question, he has already waived any claim for executive privilege. That Comey is now a private citizen also weakens the Kasowitz’s claim that he’s bound to secrecy.

There is, however, little settled law on the question of executive privilege. So I reached out to 10 legal experts and asked them if Kasowitz’s interpretation of executive privilege makes any sense. Every one of them said it doesn’t.

Read what the experts said at the Vox link.

The Atlantic: The Incompetence Defense.

During former FBI Director James Comey’s dramatic testimony before the Senate on Thursday, Republican senators settled on a pair of strange arguments for why President Trump hadn’t obstructed justice: He didn’t try very hard, or he was really bad at it.

Comey testified that the president asked Comey to shut down the FBI investigation into former National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was ousted after lying about his contact with Russian officials, saying, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Comey testified that he took that statement as “direction.” Republicans weren’t convinced.

“Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?” Idaho Republican Jim Risch asked. Comey said he did not, but New York Times legal reporter Adam Liptak quickly found one such example.

Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma took a similar tack. “If this seems to be something the president is trying to get you to drop it,” Lankford said, “it seems like a light touch to drop it, to bring it up at that point, the day after he had just fired Flynn, to come back here and say, I hope we can let this go, then it never reappears again.”

Texas Senator John Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate, suggested that firing Comey after not shutting down the Flynn investigation proved Trump wasn’t trying to shut it down. “As a general proposition, if you’re trying to make an investigation go away, is firing an FBI director a good way to make that happen?” Cornyn asked Comey, who replied that “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but I’m hopelessly biased given that I was the one fired.”

David Gomez, a senior fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security and a former FBI agent, said he didn’t find that line of argument persuasive. “I failed to follow Cornyn’s logic. Especially given the public reasons for the firing,” Gomez said. “Firing the man in charge of the FBI—and replacing him with your own man—is exactly what I would expect if you were trying to impede an FBI investigation.”

Republican are at great pains to make excuses for Trump’s behavior. Paul Ryan even claimed it should be overlooked because Trump is new to politics. Do Congressional Republicans even give a sh$t about what happens to our democratic system? That was an academic question.

Matthew Yglesias argues that: The most important Comey takeaway is that congressional Republicans don’t care. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Republicans know something is wrong, but they don’t care

Ezra Klein rightly wrote yesterday that Trump’s presidency is an American crisis.

I would only add that it’s a political crisis. Anyone who has had any occasion to speak to Republican members of Congress or other pillars of the Washington conservative establishment knows they are perfectly aware that Trump is unfit to serve as president.

“Washington conservatives know that reporters are not making up these incredible quotes, or relying only on Democratic holdovers, or getting bits of gossip from the janitor,” as Megan McArdle put it in an excellent Bloomberg View column speaking as a member of the beltway right trying to address the grassroots right. “They know that the Trump administration is in fact leaking like a rusty sieve — from the top on down — and that this is a sign of a president who has, in just four short months, completely lost control over his own hand-picked staff.”

Over lunch, a right-of-center think tanker told me that during the transition his colleagues joked that in this administration, you’d rather get a job in a federal agency than a White House job — because that way you’d stay out of jail when the indictments come down.

But Republicans have decided they aren’t going to address this crisis situation. Instead, they are going to try to manage it in pursuit of the shared agenda of tax cuts, welfare state rollback, and deregulation of banks and polluters.

Anyway . . . what else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread below. 


Thursday: Live Blog–James Comey Testimony


Good Morning!

James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee will begin soon. This day is likely to go down in history as the beginning of the end of the treasonous Trump administration. Please join us in documenting the hearing and our reactions in real time. Here is Comey’s opening statement, for reference.

Some relevant reads

Philip Allen Lacovara at The Washington Post: I helped prosecute Watergate. Comey’s statement is sufficient evidence for an obstruction of justice case.

Philip Allen Lacovara, a former U.S. deputy solicitor general in the Justice Department, served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski.

In prepared testimony released on the eve of his appearance Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI director James B. Comey placed President Trump in the gunsights of a federal criminal investigation, laying out evidence sufficient for a case of obstruction of justice.

Comey proved what Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers carefully avoided admitting in their testimony on Wednesday — that the president had specifically attempted to shut off at least a major piece of what Trump calls the “Russia thing,” the investigation into the misleading statements by fired national security adviser Michael Flynn concerning his role in dealings with the Russians. This kind of presidential intervention in a pending criminal investigation has not been seen, to my knowledge, since the days of Richard Nixon and Watergate.

Comey’s statement meticulously detailed a series of interventions by Trump soliciting his assistance in getting the criminal probe dropped. These details are red meat for a prosecutor. Presumably, the team of experienced criminal prosecutors that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has assembled will be following up on this crucial testimony, which rests on contemporaneous memorandums that Comey was sufficiently alarmed to prepare immediately after receiving the president’s requests.

That both Coats and Rogers denied that they “felt pressured” provides no comfort for the president’s position. The obstruction of justice statute prohibits not only successful interference with pending criminal investigations but also any use of “threats” to “endeavor” to obstruct an investigation. Thus, it is the attempt or objective that is criminal, and Coats and Rogers were apparently unable to deny that the president had solicited their interference in the pending FBI investigation. If Coats and Rogers did not yield to the endeavor, kudos for them, but that is no excuse for the president.

Moreover, Comey’s testimony also supplies the element of “threats.” He vividly describes a dinner with the president on Jan. 27, which the president surprisingly limited to just the two of them. The president asked Comey whether he liked his job and wanted to continue in it, even though, before the inauguration, the president had asked Comey to stay on the job, and Comey had eagerly accepted.

Leaving little doubt about the price of continued retention, the president twice, according to Comey, told him that he expected “loyalty” from Comey, just as he did from everyone else around him.

Head over to the WaPo to read the rest.

The New York Times: ‘Must-See TV’: Free Drinks and Canceled Meetings for Comey’s Testimony.

The schedule has been cleared and the popcorn readied at Evergreen Partners, a strategic communications firm in central New Jersey, where the rule for employees on Thursday morning is simple: No client talk while James B. Comey is speaking.

“We canceled meetings when we saw what time it was on,” said the firm’s president, Karen J. Kessler, who is planning a cheese-and-crackers spread by her office’s 60-inch screen. “It’s must-see TV.”

Americans do not agree on much these days. But millions are expected to pause on Thursday to take in a spectacle already being compared to other political-cultural touchstones, like the Army-McCarthy hearings and Anita Hill’s testimony about Clarence Thomas. This time, Mr. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, will dish to the Senate Intelligence Committee about President Trump, the man who fired him.

By the time details from Mr. Comey’s prepared remarks surfaced on Wednesday — revealing an anxious president pressing his F.B.I. director about a continuing investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russia — the hearing had leapt from Beltway curiosity to required viewing, a cliffhanger episode of the nation’s real-life reality show.

C-Span, this is not. (Although C-Span will be covering it.) Every national broadcast network — along with an alphabet soup of cable stations from CNBC to HLN — plans to carry the 10 a.m. hearing live. Bars in Houston, San Francisco and Washington are opening early. Schoolteachers are remaking lesson plans to discuss the testimony instead.

Adding to the anticipation: Mr. Trump is expected to be among the viewers, and there is speculation that he may respond to Mr. Comey on Twitter in real-time — “Mystery Science Theater 3000” in the West Wing.

“They really should declare a national holiday,” said Sally Quinn, the journalist and the doyenne of Washington’s social circuit, “since no work is going to get done.”

But this is serious business, and here are a couple of links to serious discussions of Comey’s statement.

Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare: Initial Comments on James Comey’s Written Testimony.

Jack Goldsmith at Lawfare: Two Reflections on the Comey Statement.

I’m planning to watch the entire hearing and re-read the recent posts about it on the company website of North Shore Advisory Inc.. The cable networks have already begun their coverage. Even the broadcast networks are cancelling programming to show the Comey testimony, which begins at 10AM. Will Republicans continue to support Trump after this? Probably. But how much longer can they last before they accept the inevitable?

Please post your thoughts and any recommended links in the comment thread. And away we go!