Tuesday Art and Reads

Good Morning!!

The paintings in today’s post are by Do Fournier, a contemporary French painter. Here’s a little information about her:

Do Fournier (French, b.1951) is a Contemporary painter, originally from Guerande, Brittany, France. She began her career as a successful illustrator, and, in 1984, changed her focus to the creation of her own paintings. Her works were well received, and numerous prestigious exhibitions of her artworks have been mounted in France. In addition, she has frequently been invited to exhibit at the Salon d’Automne in Paris.

Fournier creates fantastic, colorful, and intimate works inspired by her home in France, which overlooks the sea. Her family and pets, as well as her collection of objects d’art, rugs, and textiles, are her primary subjects.

As the noted French critic Gerard Xuriguera has observed: “Her approach in an uneasy society is not to describe it’s pain but the potential it still has for joy, it’s fragile moments of charm and peacefulness stolen from a routine existence. To do this she expresses reality in its most intimate, sensual, peaceful and carnal form. Not as imitation but as a vision filtered through her observations and cast in the exuberance of her blazing colours. What she is trying to capture is fleeting emotion, to immobilize it and express it as simply as possible.

 

Breaking News

Right now I’m watching a press conference by House Leader Nancy Pelosi and the chairs of the five House committees involved in the impeachment investigation.

In yesterday’s impeachment hearing, Rep Eric Swalwell spelled out the case against Trump in no uncertain terms.

Today’s Reads

The New York Times: Another Inquiry Doesn’t Back Up Trump’s Charges. So, on to the Next.

President Trump and his allies spent months promising that a report on the origins of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation would be a kind of Rosetta Stone for Trump-era conspiracy enthusiasts — the key to unlocking the secrets of a government plot to keep Mr. Trump from being elected in 2016.

On that point, the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, did not deliver, even as it found serious problems with how F.B.I. officials justified the surveillance of a Trump campaign aide to a federal court.

But by the time it was released, the president, his attorney general, his supporters in Congress and the conservative news media had already declared victory and decamped for the next battle in the wider war to convince Americans of the enemies at home and abroad arrayed against the Trump presidency.

They followed a script they have used for nearly three years: Engage in a choreographed campaign of presidential tweets, Fox News appearances and fiery congressional testimony to create expectations about finding proof of a “deep state” campaign against Mr. Trump. And then, when the proof does not emerge, skew the results and prepare for the next opportunity to execute the playbook.

That opportunity has arrived in the form of an investigation by aRea Connecticut prosecutor ordered this year by Attorney General William P. Barr — and the president and his allies are now predicting it will be the one to deliver damning evidence that the F.B.I., C.I.A. and even close American allies conspired against Mr. Trump in the 2016 election.

Read the rest at the NYT.

One startling revelation from the IG report was that Ivanka Trump has been friends with Christopher Steele for years.

ABC News: ‘Dossier’ author Chris Steele met Ivanka Trump years before Russia scandal, source says.

Nearly a decade before the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka met a British intelligence officer who ran the Russia desk — and when the agent left his covert service and moved into private practice in 2010, she stayed in touch, ABC News has learned.

Artist Do Fournier

The two exchanged emails but never worked together, and the man, Christopher Steele, would one day re-emerge in a most unexpected way, taking a central role in the Russia scandal that consumed the early years of her father’s presidency, according to a source familiar with their past contacts.

The prior relationship came to light as investigators with the Department of Justice Inspector General’s office was looking into allegations of political bias at the origins of the Russia investigation since May 2018….

In 2007, Ivanka Trump met Steele at a dinner and they began corresponding about the possibility of future work together, the source said. The following year, the two exchanged emails about meeting up near Trump Tower, according to several emails seen by ABC News. And the two did meet at Trump Tower according to the source. The inspector general’s report mentions a meeting with a “Trump family member” there. They suggest Ivanka Trump and Steele stayed in touch via emails over the next several years. In one 2008 exchange they discussed dining together in New York at a restaurant just blocks from Trump Tower.

Ivanka Trump worked as an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, managing a range of foreign real estate projects, including in parts of the world where Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence touted expertise. She and Steele discussed services Orbis could offer to the Trump Organization regarding its planned expansion into foreign markets, according to two sources familiar with the meetings.

Read more at ABC News.

Also from ABC News: FBI Director Chris Wray reacts to DOJ watchdog report on Russia investigation: Exclusive.

FBI Director Christopher Wray offered mixed reactions to a Justice Department watchdog report that uncovered “serious performance failures” on the part of agents involved in the Russia investigation but ultimately determined the bureau was justified in launching its probe.

Artist Do Fournier

In an exclusive broadcast interview with ABC News, Wray lamented “actions described in this report that [he] considered unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution.” But, he said it was “important that the inspector general found that, in this particular instance, the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization.” [….]

But the president and his allies have called it “a major SPY scandal” and accused those involved of working on behalf of the “Deep State.”

Wray did not respond directly to the president, but pushed back on the “Deep State” characterization of the bureau’s work.

“I think that’s the kind of label that’s a disservice to the men and women who work at the FBI who I think tackle their jobs with professionalism, with rigor, with objectivity, with courage,” Wray said. “So that’s not a term I would ever use to describe our work force and I think it’s an affront to them.”

Naturally, Trump is enraged at Wray’s remarks. Will he fire another FBI Director?

The Washington Post: Trump lashes out at FBI director in wake of Justice Department inspector general’s report.

President Trump lashed out Tuesday morning at FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, suggesting that “he will never be able to fix the FBI” based on his reaction to a Justice Department inspector general’s report examining the bureau’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me,” Trump tweeted. “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!”

Artist Do Fournier

The 434-page report rebutted conservatives’ accusations that top FBI officials were driven by political bias to illegally spy on Trump advisers as part of the probe into Russian election interference, but it also found broad and “serious performance failures” requiring major changes.

In a statement Monday, Wray, a Trump appointee, said he had ordered more than 40 corrective steps to address the report’s recommendations,” adding that he would not hesitate to take “appropriate disciplinary action if warranted.”

Cover-up General Bill Barr is also attacking the report by his own independent Inspector General.

Talking Points Memo: How The DOJ Watchdog Forced Barr To Scramble To Undermine Trump-Russia Probe.

Attorney General Bill Barr scrambled on Monday to keep a main anti-DOJ conspiracy theory going, after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a 476-page report finding that the FBI was justified in opening its Trump-Russia investigation.

Horowitz found that there was unanimous support within the Justice Department and FBI in July 2016 for opening an investigation into potential contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and found no evidence that anti-Trump bias played a role in the investigation’s start.

Horowitz opened his probe amid allegations from right-wing talking heads and politicos that partisan bias had propelled FBI officials into investigating the Trump campaign….

The result of the whirlpool of allegations arrived in the form of the Horowitz report, which substantively rebutted the accusations and affirmatively found that FBI officials were justified in opening an investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign.

Artist Do Fournier

So, upon the report’s release, both Barr and Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham issued statements disagreeing with Horowitz’s finding.

“Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened,” Durham said in his statement, adding that he was relying on evidence beyond the “component parts of the Justice Department.”

More details at the TPM link.

Vanity Fair: “It Is Not What The Department of Justice Does”: Barr and Durham Go Rogue On The Inspector General’s Report.

…what was truly surprising to some veterans of the Robert F. Kennedy building and the DC bar was the reaction from Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney for Connecticut John Durham, who Barr tapped to run a parallel investigation of Crossfire Hurricane and related investigations. Both issued statements throwing significant shade at Horowitz’s report, though, technically, Barr is Horowitz’s boss. “I’ve never seen such an internal DOJ effort to challenge and undermine the IG’s findings,” Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney, told me Monday. “It is not what the Department of Justice does.” [….]

“The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Barr wrote in a statement. “It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory. Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration.”

Barr’s decision to publicly distance himself from Horowitz’s findings was met with some astonishment. “No law enforcement purpose is served by the Attorney General announcing that he disagrees with the inspector general’s conclusion that the FBI had an adequate predicate for its investigation of Russia’s contacts with the Trump campaign,” William Jeffress, a white-collar defense attorney who worked on the Valerie Plame leak case, told me. Barr’s missive was reminiscent of the now infamous four-page summary of Robert Mueller’s report, respinning the results of an exhaustive investigation in ways favorable to the president. “The statement by Barr will only deepen the sense that he is a Trump partisan who lacks the independence to lead the Department of Justice,” Jeffress added.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Lazy Caturday Reads

By Do Fournier

Good Morning!!

How can a person whose brain is this dementia-ravaged actually be “president?” Bloomberg: Trump Orders Toilet Rule Review Over Low-Flow Flushing.

The president on Friday said he ordered a federal review of water efficiency standards in bathroom fixtures and complained that “people are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times as opposed to once” in homes with low-flow appliances.

He said other bathroom fixtures have slowed water to a trickle.

“You can’t wash your hands practically, there’s so little water comes out of the faucet, and the end result is you leave the faucet on and it takes you much longer to wash your hands, you end up using the same amount of water,” he said at an event with small-business owners at the White House.

He said the Environmental Protection Agency was looking into the issue on his recommendation….

Trump said Friday it was “common sense” to review standards he said resulted in showers with water “quietly dripping out” and toilets that “end up using more water” because of repeated flushing.

The Bloomberg article made the Trump rant seem less crazy than it actually was. He also complained about light bulbs.

He also wants American cars to be less fuel-efficient.

Can we please put him out to pasture before he blows up the world?

Trump also defended Saudi Arabia after a Saudi national killed 3 people at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida.

How awkward for the king and Trump that 6 other Saudis are being questioned in the attack–some of whom were seen filming it. The New York Times: Six Saudis Said to Be Questioned After Pensacola Navy Base Shooting.

A United States military official identified the suspect, who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy during the attack, as Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. He was one of hundreds of military trainees at the base, which is considered the home of naval aviation.

Japanese blind, by Jane Lewis, British

Six other Saudi nationals were detained for questioning near the scene of the shooting, including three who were seen filming the entire incident, according to a person briefed on the initial stages of the investigation. A group that monitors online jihadist activity said that shortly before the shooting, a Twitter account with a name matching the gunman’s posted a “will” calling the United States a “nation of evil” and criticizing its support for Israel….

The attack by a foreign national inside an American military installation raised questions about the vetting process for international students who are cleared by the Department of Defense and is likely to complicate military cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia at a time when relations with the kingdom are already tense.

In recent months, President Trump has held fast against bipartisan congressional efforts to rebuke his fierce support for Saudi Arabia and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has pressed for his kingdom to rise as a global player in international finance and politics.

Trump values his relationships with dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and Russia far more highly than he does our traditional allies. We saw how little those allies respect the idiot “president” during the recent NATO summit. At The Washington Post, Brian Klaas writes: America’s allies despise Trump — and that’s a threat to NATO.

By now we’ve all heard or read about the hot-mic incident at the NATO summit in the United Kingdom this week. A camera caught several national leaders joking about the antics of President Trump. Many commentators drew unflattering comparisons with Trump’s oft-cited claim that other countries “are laughing at us” and left it at that.

Yet this might miss the full significance of the story. The leaders of our NATO allies aren’t alone in seeing Trump as a dangerous joke — their citizens do, too. And Trump’s deepening unpopularity in the other countries of the West is becoming as much of a threat to NATO as Trump himself.

By Ophelia Redpath (1965- present, British)

It’s worth noting that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t disavow his own comments in the recorded incident — doing so would have made him look like an appeaser to his own deeply Trump-skeptical public. At the NATO summit, Trudeau also attended a news conference with the U.S. president — far less widely noted by the media — at which Trump referred to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) as a “deranged human being” and a “maniac.” No other world leader behaves like that at an international forum.

Such outbursts, which have a devastating effect on the United States’ reputation overseas, make it far harder for our allies to be seen as close to Trump. And because their citizens see Trump as the current representation of the United States, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the leaders of Germany, or Britain, or Canada, or France to sell pro-American positions to their own voters. Just witness Boris Johnson’s carefully choreographed dance to avoid Trump’s company during the NATO summit, knowing that any all-too-obvious association with the U.S. president could doom the prime minister’s chances in the approaching British election. For the leaders of our allies, proximity to Trump is electoral poison.

There are foreign policy consequences to Trump’s toxicity. Since he took office, global support for U.S. leadership has plummeted. According to Pew Research in a late 2018 study, there has been a collapse in global confidence that the U.S. president will “do the right thing in world affairs.” From President Barack Obama to Trump, such confidence has fallen 76 percentage points in Germany, 75 percentage points in France, 58 percentage pointsin Canada, 52 percentage points in Australia, 51 percentage points in the United Kingdom and 48 percentage points in Japan. In Russia, by contrast, confidence in the U.S. president has increased by 8 percentage points.

Justice Ginsburg granted Trump’s request for an emergency stay on a lower court’s order that his financial records be released to Congress. Politico:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg temporarily blocked a lower court ruling ordering two banks to release President Donald Trump’s financial records to House Democrats.

Two cats, Jenna Fornier

Trump had asked Ginsburg to consider the emergency request earlier Friday. The temporary stay sets the issue on hold pending full consideration by the high court, it does not reflect how judges will rule in the underlying case.

The stay is ordered until 5 p.m. on Dec. 13, and the court ordered that a response must be filed on or before Dec. 11 by 11 a.m.

The emergency filing came after a federal appeals court in New York ruled on Tuesday that Deutsche Bank and Capital One should comply with subpoenas from the House Financial Services and House Intelligence committees seeking information about Trump’s finances.

The House subpoenas seek documents including tax returns, evidence of suspicious activity and, in the case of Deutsche Bank, any internal communications regarding Trump and his ties to foreign individuals.

Trump-related requests are piling up at the Supreme Court — and the outcomes could set precedent on significant questions related to separation-of-power issues and whether a president is immune from state-based criminal investigations while in office.

Recently it was reported that Cover-Up General Bill Barr made some chilling remarks about law enforcement. Florida Rep. Val Demings responded in a Washington Post op-ed yesterday: What William Barr doesn’t understand about law enforcement.

This week, Attorney General William P. Barr honored 19 law enforcement officers selected by the Justice Department for “Distinguished Service in Policing.” I’m glad he did. I have no doubt that each officer earned the distinction. Law enforcement is a tough and dangerous job, and we are unwaveringly grateful for those who go above and beyond the call of duty.

By Misha Askenazy, black Kimono

Unfortunately, while speaking to the officers, the attorney general showed that he simply does not understand the foundational values of modern American policing. “If communities don’t give . . . support and respect” to law enforcement, he said, “they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”

I hope this statement was made in ignorance rather than malice. It is a knife in the heart of decades of painstaking work to develop bonds of trust between police and the communities they serve.

Law enforcement is not a protection racket. It is a sacred charge. We take an oath not to any individual or faction but to the Constitution, or, in other words, to society at large. Because, at the end of the day, law enforcement and the community are the same. The police are the community, and the community is the police.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Here’s an interesting related article at The New York Times: ‘I Got Tired of Hunting Black and Hispanic People.’

At a police station tucked into an end-of-the-line subway terminal in South Brooklyn, the new commander instructed officers to think of white and Asian people as “soft targets” and urged them to instead go after blacks and Latinos for minor offenses like jumping the turnstile, a half-dozen officers said in sworn statements.

“You are stopping too many Russian and Chinese,” one of the officers, Daniel Perez, recalled the commander telling him earlier this decade.

Another officer, Aaron Diaz, recalled the same commander saying in 2012, “You should write more black and Hispanic people.”

The sworn statements, gathered in the last few months as part of a discrimination lawsuit, deal with a period between 2011 and 2015. But they are now emerging publicly at a time when policing in the subway has become a contentious issue, sparking protests over a crackdown on fare evasion and other low-level offenses.

The commander, Constantin Tsachas, was in charge of more than 100 officers who patrolled a swath of the subway system in Brooklyn, his first major command. Since then, he has been promoted to the second-in-command of policing the subway system throughout Brooklyn. Along the way, more than half a dozen subordinates claim, he gave them explicit directives about whom to arrest based on race.

Those subordinates recently came forward, many for the first time, providing signed affidavits to support a discrimination lawsuit brought by four black and Hispanic police officers.

Click the NYT link to read the rest.

Those are my recommended reads for today. What stories have you been following?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

This morning, Nancy Pelosi announced that she is authorizing the drafting of articles of impeachment against Trump.

The Washington Post reports:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that President Trump’s wrongdoing strikes at the heart of the Constitution and asked House committee chairs to proceed with articles of impeachment, saying lawmakers have “no choice but to act.”

Her address, in which she invoked principles espoused by the nation’s founders, came shortly after Trump went on Twitter to urge House Democrats to impeach him quickly, if they plan to do it, and suggested he would call an expansive list of witnesses during a trial in the Republican-led Senate.

At the heart of the Democrats’ case is the allegation that President Trump tried to leverage a White House meeting and military aid, sought by Ukraine in the face of Russian military aggression, to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as a probe of an unfounded theory that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Of course Trump has weighed in.

Somehow I missed this, but Trump has started calling Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” again, and North Korea is not amused. The New York Daily News:

Looks like the North Korean honeymoon is over.

President Trump reprised his “Rocket Man” insult for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on Tuesday as tensions spiraled between the two leaders who once boasted of their durable friendship.

North Korea has set a year-end deadline for Trump to return to the nuclear negotiating table, and has underlined its insistence on new talks by escalating its nuclear tests.

The U.S. appears to be doing its best to ignore Kim’s threats.

“He definitely likes sending up rockets, doesn’t he,” Trump said on the sidelines of the NATO summit, referring to KIm. “That’s why I call him Rocket Man.”

Now North Korea has responded. Kyodo News: N. Korea lambastes Trump for calling Kim “Rocket Man” again: KCNA.

A close aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday lambasted U.S. President Donald Trump for calling him a “Rocket Man” again, saying it represents a “very dangerous challenge.”

“What makes us feel further worse is that the figurative style was dare used at random with no courtesy when referring to the supreme leadership of dignity of the DPRK,” First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hu said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency in English….

“It would be fortunate if the utterances of the use of military force and the title of figurative style made by President Trump were an instantaneous verbal lapse, but matter becomes different if they were a planned provocation that deliberately targeted us,” Choe said.

“If this is meant to make expressions, reminiscent of those days just two years ago when a war of words was fought across the ocean, surface again on purpose, it will be a very dangerous challenge,” she added.

I don’t support Joe Biden, but this is best anti-Trump ad I’ve seen yet.

I haven’t read it yet, but this looks like an important article by Julia Ioffe in GQ: Trump Is Waging War on America’s Diplomats.

Last year, just before Halloween, Lewis Lukens, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London, visited a pair of English universities where he spoke about the importance of international cooperation, beseeching students not to “swipe left” on the historic “special relationship” between the U.K. and America. The speeches were—according to a copy of the remarks that Lukens provided to GQ—fairly anodyne, reprising all the things Americans and Brits had learned from each other, all the ways we’ve helped each other over the years, disagreements notwithstanding. At the time, things between the two countries had been strained—in part because President Trump had attacked British leaders, including Prime Minister Theresa May and London Mayor Sadiq Khan—but Lukens, the second-most-senior American diplomat to the United Kingdom, had a request for the students who had gathered to see him: “Don’t write off the special relationship.”

A week later, Lukens says, his boss, the U.S. ambassador Woody Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune and a Trump political appointee, told him that he was done, firing Lukens from his post seven months ahead of when he was scheduled to leave for a new assignment. After nearly 30 years as a foreign service officer, his State Department career was over. The reason? Lukens says he had unwittingly committed a fatal error in his speech: He had mentioned former president Barack Obama.

To open the speech, Lukens, who had worked for presidents of both parties, used an anecdote from his time as ambassador to Senegal to illustrate how allies can handle disagreements. He mentioned Obama’s 2013 visit to the country. “There was incredible excitement,” Lukens said in his speech. “He had a guard of honor, crowds shouting his name, street vendors selling WE LOVE OBAMA T-shirts. It was really amazing. And the president had really great talks with the Senegalese president, Macky Sall. They got on really well. But what I remember most of all was the disagreement they had—as friends.” Lukens explained that during the trip, an American journalist had asked Obama whether he had pressed the Senegalese leader on LGBT rights—a provocative topic in a country where same-sex relationships are criminalized as “unnatural” and where the LGBT community faces widespread discrimination. Lukens told the students that Obama handled the thorny question well. And then he moved on to the rest of the speech, not realizing the damage he’d done with a single anecdote. (When asked about the episode and Lukens’s ouster, the State Department declined to comment. The American embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment.)

Read the rest at GQ.

I know many younger people don’t understand why some of us think John F. Kennedy was a good president and could have been a great one if he had not been murdered. Here’s an example of the kind of thoughtful discourse we heard from him as president. What a contrast to the current occupant of the office.

That;s all I have for you this morning, because I’m having some problems with watery eyes that make it difficult for me to read on the computer. This happens to me occasionally. So . . . what stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Plenty of Breaking News Today

Winter Glow, Boston Common, by Julia O’Malley Keyes

Good Morning!!

As you can see from the paintings I’ve chosen, I have snow on the brain this morning; as an early winter storm is still hovering over the Boston area for the third day. It’s a lovely winter wonderland outside my window, but I’m hoping the snow will leave us sometime this afternoon.

Trump is at the NATO meeting in the UK making a fool of himself as usual. He just finished a tense meeting with French president Macron in which the two talked past each other and exchanged hostile comments. We’ll have to wait for analysis from reporters, but here are some twitter takes.

The Washington Post: Trump calls French president’s criticism of NATO ‘nasty’ and ‘disrespectful’

LONDON — President Trump on Tuesday slammed as “very, very nasty” and “very disrespectful” recent comments by his French counterpart about the diminished state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance.

Shoveling Snow, New England, Frederick Childe Hassam

Referring to comments President Emmanuel Macron made last month in an interview with the Economist magazine — in which Macron described the “brain death” of NATO resulting from America’s failure to consult with its allies — Trump attacked Macron during his first remarks on the first day of the NATO 70th anniversary summit in London, calling the comments “very insulting.” [….]

“I would say that nobody needs NATO more than France,” Trump said. “That’s why I think when France makes a statement like they made about NATO, that’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”

Trump’s tough talk on France came just a day after the United States threatened new tariffs of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion in French products, including wine, cheese and yogurt — a response, Trump’s chief trade negotiator said, to a French digital services tax that the United States concluded is discriminating against American Internet companies.

More from The New York Times: In Tense Exchange, Trump and Macron Put Forth Dueling Visions for NATO.

A once-cordial relationship between President Trump and President Emmanuel Macron of France devolved in a dramatic fashion on Tuesday, as the two leaders publicly sparred over their approach to containing the threat of terrorism and a shared vision for the future of NATO, a 70-year-old alliance facing existential threats on multiple fronts.

A Hare In The Snow by Bruno Andreas Liljefors

In a lengthy appearance before reporters, the president met a cool reception from Mr. Macron, who earlier in the day Mr. Trump derided as “very insulting” for his recent remarks on the “brain death” of the alliance. When asked to address his earlier comments on the French leader, Mr. Trump, a leader averse to face-to-face confrontation, initially demurred, but Mr. Macron was direct.

“My statement created some reactions,” Mr. Macron said. “I do stand by it.”

What followed was an extended, terse back-and-forth over trade, immigration, and Mr. Trump’s relationship with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Mr. Trump’s interactions with the Turkish president are also sure to be closely watched. Mr. Erdogan, who has already upset NATO allies by purchasing a sophisticated Russian antiaircraft missile system, the S-400, is now threatening to oppose NATO’s plans to update the defense of Poland and the Baltic countries if the alliance does not join him in labeling some Kurdish groups as terrorists.

”Who is the enemy today?” Mr. Macron asked. “And let’s be clear and work together on that.”

More breaking news from Twitter:

CNBC: Trump loses appeal to block Deutsche Bank, Capital One from handing his financial records to Congress.

— A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Deutsche Bank and Capital One can hand over years of President Donald Trump’s financial records in compliance with House Democrats’ subpoenas.

— The ruling offers another loss in the courts for Trump, who has fought attempts to obtain his financial records through multiple lawsuits.

— The case is likely destined for the Supreme Court, where the president has already appealed two other lower court decisions requiring the disclosure of his financial records.

Vincent van Gogh, Snow-covered field with a harrow (after Millet) (1889)

Aaron Blake has an interesting piece at The Washington Post on the timeline of Trump’s interactions with Ukraine even before Zelensky took over as president: 2 key Trump-Ukraine events we should be paying more attention to.

The first event:

In February 2017, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump and Poroshenko had spoken by phone and “discussed plans for an in-person meeting in the future.”

Even as Trump met with a procession of foreign leaders in those early months, though, a meeting with Poroshenko wasn’t scheduled. Indeed, it didn’t happen until late June. And why is that date significant? Because it was very shortly after Poroshenko’s government took action on an investigation of personal interest to Trump — and in a Trump-friendly direction.

Here’s a quick timeline:

June 8, 2017: Trump ally Rudolph W. Giuliani meets with Poroshenko and then-Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko.
June 9, 2017: Lutsenko’s office joins an existing investigation into the “black ledger,” which implicated former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The investigation had previously been handled only by Ukraine’s independent National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), and critics alleged the new move was meant to bury the scandal.
June 14, 2017: Reports in Europe indicate Poroshenko will meet with Trump.
June 19, 2017: Spicer says Poroshenko will meet with Vice President Pence, but doesn’t confirm a meeting with Trump.
June 20, 2017: Poroshenko gets a brief “drop-in” visit with Trump.

Marurice de Vlaminck, French 1876-1958

The second event:

In December 2017, the Trump administration made a key decision to provide Ukraine with lethal aid — specifically antitank missiles called Javelins. This is the same weaponry Trump and Zelensky would later talk about on their fateful July 25, 2019, phone call.

Republicans have hailed Trump’s decision to provide such weaponry as evidence of his support for Ukraine and as a counterpoint to the idea that he has been leveraging it. But what if the Javelins were also used as leverage?

What we can say is that they weren’t delivered until after another significant investigatory decision from Ukraine in Trump’s favor — one that was even more narrowly beneficial to Trump.

In early April 2018, according to the New York Times, Ukraine halted its investigations of Manafort and also its cooperation with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation. In addition, it reportedly allowed a potential witness in Mueller’s collusion investigation to leave the country for Russia, where they couldn’t be interviewed.

Later that month, the Javelins arrived. Poroshenko posted as much on Facebook on April 30, and U.S. officials soon confirmed it.

These don’t look like coincidences to me, and they probably didn’t look that way to Zelensky either.

Paul Gauguin, Breton Village in the Snow (1894)

At The Atlantic, Professor Kim Wehle of the University of Baltimore School of Law argues that House Democrats should be tougher on witnesses who refuse to testify in the impeachment inquiry: The House Is Making This Fight Too Easy for Trump.

Last week marked a low point in Donald Trump’s quest for presidential superpowers. On Monday, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled that former White House Counsel Don McGahn does not have absolute immunity from having to testify before the House Judiciary Committee regarding misconduct by Trump and his associates in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. “Presidents are not kings,” Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote. “They do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.”

In practical terms, the court declared that Trump cannot lawfully forbid anyone and everyone he’s ever worked with from heeding legislative requests for information. This isn’t even a close question, as the stark language of Jackson’s 120-page ruling made clear. Notwithstanding White House Counsel Pat Cipollone’s October 8 letter—in which he deemed the impeachment inquiry unconstitutional and announced that the administration would not cooperate in any way—the president cannot prohibit current or former government employees from testifying when called before Congress.

Which is why House Democrats’ milquetoast response to widespread defiance of congressional subpoenas is both perplexing and disturbing. When faced with credible evidence of serious misconduct, Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the president accountable on behalf of the people. Yet House leaders have psyched themselves out of fully exercising that duty.

Read the rest at The Atlantic link.

Caspar David Friedrich, Winterlandschaft (1811)

Bill Barr is working hard to be Trump’s personal defense attorney. The Washington Post reports: Barr disputes key inspector general finding about FBI’s Russia investigation.

Attorney General William P. Barr has told associates he disagrees with the Justice Department’s inspector general on one of the key findings in an upcoming report — that the FBI had enough information in July 2016 to justify launching an investigation into members of the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horo­witz, is due to release his long-awaited findings in a week, but behind the scenes at the Justice Department, disagreement has surfaced about one of Horowitz’s central conclusions on the origins of the Russia investigation. The discord could be the prelude to a major fissure within federal law enforcement on the controversial question of investigating a presidential campaign.

Barr has not been swayed by Horowitz’s rationale for concluding that the FBI had sufficient basis to open an investigation on July 31, 2016, these people said.

Barr’s public defenses of President Trump, including his assertion that intelligence agents spied on the Trump campaign, have led Democrats to accuse him of acting like the president’s personal attorney and eroding the independence of the Justice Department. But Trump and his Republican allies have cheered Barr’s skepticism of the Russia investigation.

Claude Monet, The Magpie

Finally, The Daily Beast is running a series of three articles by Patricia Ravalgi about how officials who previously worked together for the benefit of U.S. national security are now on opposite sides because of Trump. Here are the first two installments and introductory paragraphs:

Mueller, Barr, Giuliani, Comey and Kallstrom Once Fought Terror Together—Now Trump Has Them Fight Each Other.

The constellation of federal investigators, attorneys, prosecutors and judges orbiting Donald Trump in the last three years have a unique, shared history.

Relatively unknown to the American public is the fact that before many of them became household names, cast as either the heroes or villains of the Trump saga (depending on where you stand on Trump), they were colleagues in the trenches of some of America’s biggest terrorism cases.

They crossed paths numerous times in courtrooms and at crime scenes, often united by a single case. From my perch working for the House Intelligence Committee, at the FBI as a congressional liaison, and then on the 9/11 Joint Inquiry, I observed what in many respects were their finest achievements, how those played out politically, how they fought their turf battles at home and with foreign governments, how they learned to communicate with the American public after each tragedy—and ultimately, fundamentally how they changed America’s approach to national security.

Once-Heroic Agents Have Helped Trump’s Effort to Divide and Conquer the FBI.

On July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747 carrying 230 summer vacationers, would-be tourists, and crew members took off from New York’s JFK airport en route to Rome. Ten minutes into the flight, the plane’s captain reported unusual readings on the Fuel Quantity Indication System (FQIS). Two minutes after that, a catastrophic explosion occurred.

TWA 800 broke apart mid-air into three huge sections that came crashing into the sea. People on the South Shore of Long Island would report seeing the fireball in the night. Others reported seeing lights streaking across the sky around the same time as the explosion.

Alongside the work of the National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI launched an investigation led by the assistant director for the New York field office, James Kallstrom. Until recently, he was defined in history as the man who headed that $20 million, 16-month investigation into the explosion—and who kept conspiracy theories from spinning out of control. And that was no easy task. Pierre Salinger, President John F. Kennedy’s former press secretary, was reporting from France that he had secret information that the plane had been brought down by the friendly fire of a U.S. Navy missile, and that theory has never been completely exorcised from the popular imagination.

These are long reads, with one more installment to come.

It looks like we’ll continue to have a busy news day today and a busy week of news to come. What stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads

By Marguerite H. Mahood 1901-89, Australian

Good Morning!!

For the first time in ages, we are actually having a somewhat slow news day. The biggest news where I am is the coming snowstorm that could drop as much as a foot of white stuff in Massachusetts. What a shock to the system!

In Democratic primary news, Elizabeth Warren is finally getting the Kamala Harris treatment, although it’s not quite as bad as Harris gets. After all, Warren is white. But the media wants a center right nominee and they will work hard to get one.

A few days ago, Warren dropped 14 points (50%) in the Quinnipiac poll and Phillip Bump somewhat sheepishly asked: What happened to Elizabeth Warren?

This is one of those headlines that, in a few months, staffers for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) may screenshot and embed in fundraising emails: Remember when they wrote us off? It’s an admittedly loaded question, asking what happened to one candidate in a remarkably fluid Democratic primary field. We reiterate this point over and over that the field is fluid and voters aren’t set in their preferences, so, of course, candidates will rise and fall as a result.

That defensive hand-wringing aside, it’s still the case that something happened to Warren. In early October, she was surging in the polls, rising in RealClearPolitics’ average of polls to match (and even briefly surpass) former vice president Joe Biden. At the time, we noted a recent history of people surging into ties — and then fading away. (Ben Carson in the 2016 Republican contest, for example.) That’s exactly what happened to Warren: a peak and then a fade.

Polling from Quinnipiac University released Tuesday allows us to look a little more closely at how Warren’s fortunes have fared. In that poll, Warren slipped from a clear first at the end of October to a tie for third with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Biden regained his lead, but South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg climbed into second. (Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who surged after the first Democratic debate, continues to poll in the single digits.)

Bouquet And A Cat, by Marie Clementine Valadon

Bump looks at the “demographic shifts” in the poll.

Two things stand out pretty clearly in many of those charts: Warren’s drop and Buttigieg’s increase. Among “very liberal” respondents, both Biden and Buttigieg appear to have gained at Warren’s expense. Her support among moderates, once respectable, collapsed entirely. It’s worth noting that the shift against Warren came after significant focus on her approach to Medicare-for-all — which Quinnipiac suggests has relatively low support among Democratic moderates.

Oddly, Warren has dropped in both over-65 and younger voter support; the older voters shifted to Buttigieg and younger voters to Biden. Weird.

Today’s WaPo has a policy-oriented analysis: How a fight over health care entangled Elizabeth Warren — and reshaped the Democratic presidential race.

In mid-November, a few dozen of the country’s most influential advocates of Medicare-for-all were reviewing details of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to finance the proposed government-run program when they learned that she had unexpectedly changed her position.

Warren (D-Mass.), who had excited liberals when she initially embraced a Medicare-for-all idea first proposed by rival presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was suggesting a more centrist idea: to delay enactment of the single-payer system and, in the interim, give consumers the choice to opt in. The change might have seemed insignificant to most Americans, but to many in the suburban Washington conference room, Warren’s new stance marked an abrupt retreat, according to several people in attendance.

That moment highlighted the political turbulence that Warren has experienced in recent weeks as she has attempted to extricate herself from a policy dilemma that has blunted her steady rise to the top ranks of the Democratic nominating contest….

By Tetsuhiro Wakabayashi

“As [Medicare-for-all] got more attention, more and more people began to say, ‘Yeah, that’s a mistake [that] she showed flexibility,’ ” said former congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts. “But I guess she felt she couldn’t make herself totally vulnerable to the Sanders people by abandoning [Medicare-for-all] altogether.”

“It would have been better to do it earlier,” Frank said of her shift, adding that he had privately told her that backing the Sanders plan was “a terrible mistake.”

I’ve wondered all along if Warren’s political inexperience would come back to haunt her. Unlike other Democratic candidates, she has little history with the Democratic Party, having been a registered Republican until 1997. Unlike Hillary Clinton, she has no long-term history of support for civil rights issues. She was apparently torn between her need to win over Sanders voters and her dawning recognition that “Medicare for all” would ultimately be a loser among moderate and swing voters.

Recent polling suggests Warren has sustained political damage from her health-care policy. After climbing to the top of the field by focusing on a message of overhauling Washington and Wall Street, Warren plateaued as her campaign became consumed with health care.

Now, she is falling.

Nationally, Warren has dropped from a high of about 27 percent in October’s RealClearPolitics’ average of polls to near 16 percent at the end of November. In Iowa, she has dropped about five points in that same period, and in New Hampshire, her support has been cut in half, according to the calculation. Warren’s decline has coincided with the rise of a new entrant into the top tier: South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has backed a more moderate health-care agenda and accused Warren of failing to make clear how she would pay for her plan.

There’s much more analysis at the link. I think Warren is still in a strong position, but some of the bloom is definitely off the rose. It’s still early, of course.

By Ruskin Spear (1911-1990, British)

Meanwhile, New Hampshire voters, who have to deal with endless political ads and phone calls during primary season are sick and tired of Tom Steyer. Politico: New Hampshire voters to Steyer: Make it stop!

Some Granite staters said they’re seeing Steyer’s ads dozens of times a day — and it’s become more grating than ingratiating. A POLITICO reporter who watched YouTube music videos this week by Pentatonix, a popular a capella group, endured 17 Steyer ads in just over an hour.

Even some of Steyer’s local staff privately acknowledge the volume of ads has gone overboard.

Steyer has massively outspent other Democratic candidates on social media in an effort to gain traction in polls and ensure he makes the debate stage. But the recoiling of some New Hampshire voters suggests there are limits to the strategy — Michael Bloomberg beware. Indeed, some residents feel like they can’t touch a piece of technology without seeing his face.

“There is a point of no return in terms of visibility,” said Scott Spradling, a New Hampshire media analyst. “At some point, you become the uninvited guest. He uniquely is becoming dangerously close.”

Read on to see the mind-boggling amounts of money Steyer has been dropping on ads in NH and nationally. He has even outspent Trump! And for what? Imagine what he could be doing to help a serious candidate but he’d rather waste his millions on his own vanity campaign.

Kazuaki Horitomo By Kitamura (Contemporary, Japanese-American)

Trump went to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving and falsely claimed a cease-fire was imminent: Trump’s talk of Afghanistan cease-fire appears to surprise the Taliban, Afghan government.

Declaring that the U.S.-Taliban talks he abruptly canceled in September are back in motion, Trump said during a Thanksgiving Day visit to troops in Afghanistan that the Taliban “wants to make a deal. And we’re meeting with them, and we’re saying it has to be a cease-fire.”

“They didn’t want to do a cease-fire, but now they do want to do a cease-fire,” Trump said of the militants. “It will probably work out that way. . . . We’ve made tremendous progress,” he added.

But on Friday neither the Taliban nor the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani indicated that a cease-fire was near, or even being discussed in resumed U.S. negotiations.

At the time the U.S.-Taliban talks ended, the two sides were preparing to sign a draft agreement that called for a reduction in violence. But it specifically declared that any discussion of a cease-fire was to be left to follow-on negotiations between the militants and the government in Kabul.

In a statement, the Taliban said that remains its understanding. “We are ready to talk, but we have the same stance to resume the talks from where it was suspended,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Post.

Read more at the WaPo link.

At The Atlantic, Peter Nichols has an interesting and disturbing piece on Trump’s obsession with conspiracy theories: Trump Needs Conspiracy Theories.

By Norbertine Bresslern-Roth

A product of tabloid culture, Trump has long trafficked in conspiracy theories. But as chief executive, he’s used the machinery of government to give the ones especially useful to him the stamp of official validation. (That’s the main reason he now faces impeachment in the House.) These baseless theories are a way for Trump to explain away his problems and undercut opponents. Beyond that, though, they seem to serve distinct emotional needs, feeding a narcissistic ego that cold reality won’t satisfy. His efforts to persuade the public to go along with these self-protective myths have already corroded democratic institutions. The wreckage from that destructive legacy won’t be easily repaired after he leaves the stage.

“We’ve never had a president who trades in conspiracy theories, who prefers lies instead of fact,” Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University and a presidential historian, told me….

The Ukraine debacle is the most extreme case, illustrating just what can happen when the president takes hold of a bad idea and won’t let it go. Repellent to Trump is the notion that he would have lost to Hillary Clinton had it not been for Russia’s electoral interference. The self-image he’s constructed rests on the idea that he’s rich and successful—not a “loser,” the epithet he routinely hurls at opponents. Trump has worried that if people believe Russia’s interference spelled the difference in the election, it could undermine his legitimacy, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report showed.

All of which explains why, for the president, the Ukraine fiction is so alluring. It’s a twofer. If Ukraine covertly interfered in the election for Clinton’s benefit, as Trump has suggested, that would both exonerate Russia and cement his 2016 victory. Trump apparently finds that theory so compelling that he risked his presidency to see if he could give it traction. Loyal appointees are now pushing his message: In a news conference on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Ukraine merited investigation. The United States has “not only a right, but a duty” to look into any “information that any country has messed with American elections,” Pompeo said.

Trouble is, none of this has a basis in reality. Members of Trump’s own staff and intelligence-community officials have all debunked the idea that the culprit was Ukraine, not Russia.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

I’ll end there. What stories have you been following on this long holiday weekend?


Thanksgiving Day Reads

Claude Monet, The Turkeys, 1876, Musée d’Orsay

Happy Thanksgiving!!

I hope everyone has a lovely day whatever you choose to do. As always these days, there is plenty of news even though it’s a holiday. Some stories to check out if you want a distraction from cooking, eating and visiting with family and friends:

The Washington Post: Ken Cuccinelli walked into a bar. And Martin O’Malley lit into him.

A liberal ex-governor walks into a bar, followed by a conservative Trump administration official.

Instead of a punchline, what followed, one witness said, was a “shame-invoking tirade” by Martin O’Malley, the former Democratic governor of Maryland, directed at Ken Cuccinelli II, the former Virginia attorney general who is acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

The two political polar opposites crossed paths Wednesday night at the Dubliner, a Capitol Hill Irish pub popular on Thanksgiving Eve with Gonzaga College High School graduates. Both men attended the school, graduating five years apart in the 1980s.

Doris Lee, Thanksgiving, 1935, Art Institute of Chicago

Siobhan Arnold, who was visiting from Philadelphia, had just met O’Malley at the bar when Cuccinelli walked in. Soon the two men were face-to-face, she said, with O’Malley excoriating Cuccinelli over the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

O’Malley said “something about his [Cuccinelli’s] grandparents,” Arnold said in an interview. Cuccinelli said little if anything in reply, she added, quickly leaving the pub.

“O’Malley was shouting,” Arnold said. “I don’t think Cuccinelli was responding. I think he’s like, ‘Time to go. Just got here and I’m leaving.’ He pretty much retreated.”

More from Newsweek:

Speaking to the Post over text message, O’Malley, who served as Maryland governor from 2006 to 2014 and made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, confirmed the incident, but said he did not believe he had shouted at Cuccinelli, but had simply raised his voice “just to be heard” in the popular venue.

The former governor said he also was not the only one to air his grievances with Cuccinelli, who he described as “the son of immigrant parents who cages children for a fascist president,” that evening.

“We all let him know how we felt about him putting refugee immigrant kids in cages,” O’Malley said, adding that such practices were “certainly not what we were taught by the Jesuits at Gonzaga.”

Ousted Navy Secretary published an op-ed at the Washington Post: Richard Spencer: I was fired as Navy secretary. Here’s what I’ve learned because of it.

The case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was charged with multiple war crimes before being convicted of a single lesser charge earlier this year, was troubling enough before things became even more troubling over the past few weeks. The trail of events that led to me being fired as secretary of the Navy is marked with lessons for me and for the nation.

Painted Creatures, by Hans Heysen

It is highly irregular for a secretary to become deeply involved in most personnel matters. Normally, military justice works best when senior leadership stays far away. A system that prevents command influence is what separates our armed forces from others. Our system of military justice has helped build the world’s most powerful navy; good leaders get promoted, bad ones get moved out, and criminals are punished.

President Trump involved himself in the case almost from the start. Before the trial began, in March, I received two calls from the president asking me to lift Gallagher’s confinement in a Navy brig; I pushed back twice, because the presiding judge, acting on information about the accused’s conduct, had decided that confinement was important. Eventually, the president ordered me to have him transferred to the equivalent of an enlisted barracks. I came to believe that Trump’s interest in the case stemmed partly from the way the defendant’s lawyers and others had worked to keep it front and center in the media.

After the verdict was delivered, the Navy’s normal process wasn’t finished. Gallagher had voluntarily submitted his request to retire. In his case, there were three questions: Would he be permitted to retire at the rank of chief, which is also known as an E-7? (The jury had said he should be busted to an E-6, a demotion.) The second was: Should he be allowed to leave the service with an “honorable” or “general under honorable” discharge? And a third: Should he be able to keep his Trident pin, the medal all SEALs wear and treasure as members of an elite force?

On Nov. 14, partly because the president had already contacted me twice, I sent him a note asking him not to get involved in these questions.

Read the rest at the WaPo link.

One of the Family, Frederick George Cotman

CNN: Worry rises in military over Trump’s decision-making.

Tensions that have been mounting for months between some of the nation’s most senior military officers and President Donald Trump are boiling over after his decision to intervene in the cases of three service members accused of war crimes.

A long-serving military officer put it bluntly, telling CNN “there is a morale problem,” and senior Pentagon officials have privately said they are disturbed by the President’s behavior.
Dismay in the Pentagon has been building over Trump’s sporadic, impulsive and contradictory decision-making on a range of issues, including his sudden pullback of troops in Syria. But now there are new and significant worries, as multiple military officials and retired officers say Trump’s intervention into high-profile war crimes cases cannot be ignored….

Trump had upped the ante at a rally on Tuesday by issuing an extraordinary declaration that he took action in the face of “deep state” opposition. In fact, senior Pentagon officials had been unanimously opposed to the President’s intervention because they believed it would undermine military discipline and order.

The President’s comments and his intervention — at the urging of Fox News commentators — reflect another worry among military leaders that Trump continues to be influenced by the network in ways that encourage him to politicize the military, an institution that is meant to stay above the political fray.

Read more at CNN.

Currier and Ives, Home to Thanksgiving

Some uncomfortable stories have been coming out about Trump’s EU Ambassdor and impeachment witness Gordon Sondland.

First up, did he fabricate the call in which he claimed Trump said “I want nothing….no quid quo pro?” The Washington Post: Witness testimony and records raise questions about account of Trump’s ‘no quid pro quo’ call.

Sondland’s recollection of a phone conversation that he said took place on Sept. 9 has emerged as a centerpiece of Trump’s defense as House Democrats argue in an impeachment inquiry that he abused his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

However, no other witness testimony or documents have emerged that corroborate Sondland’s description of a call that day.

Trump himself, in describing the conversation, has referred only to the ambassador’s account of the call, which — based on Sondland’s activities — would have occurred before dawn in Washington. And the White House has not located a record in its switchboard logs of a call between Trump and Sondland on Sept. 9, according to an administration official who, like others in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

But there is evidence of another call between Trump and Sondland that occurred a few days earlier — one with a very different thrust, in which the president made clear that he wanted his Ukrainian counterpart to personally announce investigations into Trump’s political opponents.

The conflicting information raises serious questions about the accuracy of Sondland’s account, one that Trump has embraced to counter a growing body of evidence that he and his allies pressured Ukraine for his own political benefit.

More Sondland stories:

The Daily Beast: Sondland’s Ties to Romanian Official Set Off Alarms at National Security Council.

ProPublica: Multiple Women Recall Sexual Misconduct and Retaliation by Gordon Sondland.

By Norman Rockwell

Bad news for Trump at The New York Times: Russia Inquiry Review Is Expected to Undercut Trump Claim of F.B.I. Spying.

The Justice Department’s inspector general found no evidence that the F.B.I. attempted to place undercover agents or informants inside Donald J. Trump’s campaign in 2016 as agents investigated whether his associates conspired with Russia’s election interference operation, people familiar with a draft of the inspector general’s report said.

The determination by the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, is expected to be a key finding in his highly anticipated report due out on Dec. 9 examining aspects of the Russia investigation. The finding also contradicts some of the most inflammatory accusations hurled by Mr. Trump and his supporters, who alleged not only that F.B.I. officials spied on the Trump campaign but also at one point that former President Barack Obama had ordered Mr. Trump’s phones tapped. The startling accusation generated headlines but Mr. Trump never backed it up.

The finding is one of several by Mr. Horowitz that undercuts conservatives’ claims that the F.B.I. acted improperly in investigating several Trump associates starting in 2016. He also found that F.B.I. leaders did not take politically motivated actions in pursuing a secret wiretap on a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page — eavesdropping that Mr. Trump’s allies have long decried as politically motivated.

But Mr. Horowitz will sharply criticize F.B.I. leaders for their handling of the investigation in some ways, and he unearthed errors and omissions when F.B.I. officials applied for the wiretap, according to people familiar with a draft of the report. The draft contained a chart listing numerous mistakes in the process, one of the people said.

More news, links only:

The Washington Post: North Korea launches two projectiles in Thanksgiving message to Trump.

The New York Times: Time Is Running Out for Trump’s North Korean Diplomacy, Analysts Say.

The Washington Post: Appeals court stays ruling that former White House counsel Donald McGahn must comply with House subpoena.

AP: Judge upholds charges that could put Weinstein away for life.

The Verge: Apple alters Maps and Weather to show Crimea as a Russian territory.

The Washington Post: Trump official who suggested dropping nuclear bombs on Afghanistan now responsible for arms control issues.

Edward Luce at The Financial Times: How money laundering is poisoning American democracy.

HuffPost: Trump Has Spent $115 Million On Golf Trips ― Or 287 Years Of Presidential Salary.

Mother Jones: Rudy Giuliani Has a Foreign-Lobbying Problem, and It Just Got Bigger.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Report: Trump’s Business More Fraudulent Than Previously Known.

Have a wonderful, relaxing Thanksgiving Day, everyone!!


Tuesday Reads: Trump Infects the U.S. Military with His Political Corruption

Good Morning!!

Today fallout continues from Trump’s pardons of accused and/or convicted war criminals. Yesterday Dakinikat wrote about the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer over an internal review board investigation of Eddie Gallagher, a Navy Seal who was convicted of posing for a trophy photo of a dead ISIS fighter. Gallagher was also accused of stabbing to death the teenager in the photo was acquitted.

In today’s New York Times, two former Navy secretaries Richard J. Danzig and write: Trump and the Military Do Not Share the Same Values.

“Get back to business!” With this tweet, President Trump directed his secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, to stop the naval officers charged with oversight of the SEALs from disciplining one of their own. That order was confirmed on Monday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and over the weekend, Mr. Spencer was fired.

Richard Spencer

There are three problems with Mr. Trump’s action. The first is that it is very much the Navy’s business — and every military’s business — to maintain, as the military so often recites and Mr. Spencer put it in his final letter to the president, “good order and discipline.” In conducting their “business,” our military services are not and must not be commanded in support of political ends, as Mr. Trump was apparently doing here.

How the president chooses to value order and discipline in his White House, and if at all, is of real concern to all Americans. But the military is not an extension of his White House. Some may argue that all actions by a president may have some political component, yet instead of constraining that component, this action by this president celebrates and encourages it.

The second problem intensifies the first. Contamination from the president’s approach is amplified when his judgment is largely shaped by television commentators and his decision announced by tweet. The military has well-established procedures for assuring good order and discipline. They begin by eliciting a judgment by peers. No one is as well positioned to balance the exigencies of combat and the demands of law and ethics as a panel of fellow sailors, Marines, airmen or soldiers….

Mark Esper

Finally, there is the judgment itself. An American service member shared a photograph of himself with a corpse along with the message: “I have got a cool story for you when I get back. I have got my knife skills on.” Our president’s endorsement of the perpetrator will be taken as a representation of our values. Our own troops, many of them teenagers, will be misled by the president’s sense, or lack of sense, of honor.

Paul Waldman at The Washington Post: How Richard Spencer’s firing illustrates some of Trump’s most corrupt impulses.

One key reason Donald Trump’s presidency has been so damaging is that he has a way of corrupting all the people and institutions he comes in contact with, infecting them with his virus. No one remains untouched.

As the sudden firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer shows, that includes the military. Spencer’s story also bears a remarkable resemblance to the Ukraine scandal, in the way people with their own agendas played on Trump’s most repugnant impulses to manipulate him.

Spencer’s firing has its roots in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who became a Fox News hero. Gallagher’s long and complicated case began when members of his own unit accused him of a series of war crimes, including firing on civilians and murdering a wounded teenage Islamic State fighter receiving medical treatment from his unit.

Gallagher allegedly stabbed the wounded fighter multiple times, then took a picture with his corpse and texted it to friends, with the caption “Got him with my hunting knife.” He was also charged with covering up his crime by threatening to kill members of his platoon if they reported it. They did anyway….

Eddie Gallagher

Trump pardoned him, along with two other service members who had also been accused of war crimes.

Those pardons generated enormous controversy both inside and outside the military, but they were not surprising. From the time he began running for president, Trump has shown nothing but contempt for ideas like military order and discipline, respect for human rights and standards of wartime conduct. He has advocated torturing detainees, suggested that a way to fight terrorism would be to murder the families of suspected terrorists and mused about committing genocide. Accused war criminals are his kind of people.

There’s much more at the link. I hope you’ll go read the rest.

CBS News: Ousted Navy Secretary Richard Spencer defends handling of Navy SEAL case.

Spencer stepped down at the request of Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday amid an ongoing controversy over Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, whose case attracted President Trump’s attention.

Esper told reporters Monday that he fired Spencer after “losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor.” He accused Spencer of secretly proposing a deal to the White House that would allow Gallagher to retire and retain his Trident pin, which denotes his status as a SEAL, a move Esper said was “completely contrary” to what the two had discussed.

In an interview Monday, Spencer told CBS News he spoke with White House counsel Pat Cipollone on November 15 and proposed an arrangement in which Gallagher would be allowed to retire as a SEAL if the president agreed not to intervene in the case and “let the Navy do its administrative work.” Spencer said Cipollone called back the same day to decline the offer, saying the president would be involved.

“In order to preserve the resiliency of the naval institution, I had to step up and do something when it came to the Gallagher case,” Spencer said.

Spencer acknowledged not telling Esper about the proposal.

Navy Seals on the front lines in Afghanistan

“I will take the bad on me, for not letting him know I did that,” Spencer said. “But as far as I was concerned, at that point, the president understood the deal. Arguably, he doesn’t have to deal with anyone. He said, ‘I’m going to be involved.’ He sent a signed letter to me, an order with his signature on it, saying, ‘Promote Edward Gallagher to E7,'” the rank of chief petty officer.

Esper acknowledged Monday that when confronted about his secret negotiations with the White House, Spencer “was completely forthright in admitting what had been going on.”

Read more at the link.

The Independent spoke to veterans about the situation: US veterans say Trump views military ‘as tool for massacres’ after reinstating accused war criminal to Navy.

Numerous veterans spoke out about the move to The Independent after Secretary of Defence Mark Esper confirmed he was ordered by the president to retain Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s status in the elite service, as well as his Trident pin, a prestigious special warfare insignia.

“Ever since Donald Trump became president he’s been tearing the military apart, putting troops in the difficult position of needing to choose between obedience to his unhinged orders, and staying true to our code of honour,” said Alexander McCoy, a former Marine and political director of the veteran group Common Defence. “By pardoning war criminals because Fox News told him to, Trump showed he sees our military as a tool for massacres, not as the professional, honourable force we aspire to be.” [….]

The president’s demands could cause “significant long-term damage to the Naval Special Warfare community,” according to James Waters, a former Navy SEAL platoon commander and White House staff member in the Bush administration, who told The Independent: “The only people who weigh in on whether a Navy SEAL deserves to keep his Trident are people who have their Trident.”

James Waters, former Navy Seal and GW Bush WH staffer

“Every SEAL knows he must ‘earn your Trident every day’ – even after officially qualifying – and the same standard should apply here,” Mr Waters said. “Unless you’ve been through Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training and served in the Teams and know the specific facts related to a person’s performance, you’re not qualified to weigh in.” [….]

“There’s a reason we have the Geneva Convention. There’s a reason we have the Universal Code of Military Justice. There’s a reason we have the morale and ethics that we learn in training,” said Josh Manning, a former Army intelligence officer. “For Trump to just step in and undermine centuries worth of morale and discipline undercuts the very military that he’s trying to command.” [….]

Charlotte Clymer, an Army Veteran and press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, said Mr Trump appeared to be “hell-bent on exploiting” the military justice system for his own purposes.

“My colleagues and I, those still serving and not, are openly horrified by the way this coward has explicitly condoned war crimes, seemingly to pander to people who don’t understand how this undermines our moral authority,” she told The Independent. “I’ve talked to other service members and veterans, and none of us are sure how this could get worse.”

They’re suggesting that Trump wants to take us back to Vietnam years when we had shameful incidents like the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

In a final outrage, Trump now says he wants to use the pardoned war criminals in his 2020 campaign. Daily Beast: Trump Tells Allies He Wants Absolved War Criminals to Campaign for Him.

If Donald Trump gets his wish, he’ll soon take the three convicted or accused war criminals he spared from consequence on the road as special guests in his re-election campaign, according to two sources who have heard Trump discuss their potential roles for the 2020 effort.

Despite military and international backlash to Trump’s Nov. 15 clemency—fallout from which cost Navy Secretary Richard Spencer his job on Sunday—Trump believes he has rectified major injustices. Two people tell The Daily Beast they’ve heard Trump talk about how he’d like to have the now-cleared Clint Lorance, Matthew Golsteyn, or Edward Gallagher show up at his 2020 rallies, or even have a moment on stage at his renomination convention in Charlotte next year. Right-wing media have portrayed all three as martyrs brought down by “political correctness” within the military.

“He briefly discussed making it a big deal at the convention,” said one of these sources, who requested anonymity to talk about private conversations. “The president made a reference to the 2016 [convention] and where they brought on-stage heroes” like former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who refused to execute detained civilians ahead of a devastating Taliban attack.

So next year he wants to celebrate men who chose to execute civilians and detainees?

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