Posted: March 7, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Axios, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, DNC, DOJ, EDVA, Fox News, Jane Mayer, Jared Kushner, John Kelly, JT Smith, Judge TS Ellis III, Margaret Sullivan, Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, political scandals, primary debates 2019, Spiro Agnew, William Barr
By Maugham Casorati, born 1897 in London, UK died 1982 in Turin, Italy
I wish we could go back to the days when we weren’t overwhelmed with breaking news every single morning. I’ve got a mish-mash of articles for your this morning.
The biggest news today will probably be what happens at Paul Manafort’s sentencing hearing at 3:30 this afternoon in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Courthouse News: Manafort Faces Decades in Prison at Virginia Sentencing.
Manafort, 69, faces up to 24 years in prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. During his trial last August, spread over 12 rigorous days, prosecutors unfurled a complex web of fraud he coordinated in multiple countries with the help of his business associate, Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and testified against Manafort as the star witness.
Accused of failing to report roughly $16.5 million in income from his political lobbying work on behalf of Ukraine and its onetime President Viktor Yanukovych, the jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud after four days of deliberations….
By Bego Tojo
Though none of the charges Manafort faced in Virginia directly involved any of his work on President Donald Trump’s campaign, Mueller’s underlying task – to unearth American activity connected to Russian meddling in the election – placed the spotlight firmly on the president’s onetime campaign chairman….
Manafort will go before Judge Ellis on Thursday afternoon for his sentencing.
Federal sentencing guidelines in the Virginia case suggest Manafort should serve 19 to 24 years in prison but Judge Ellis can impose any sentence he sees fit – including one well below the guidelines. Mueller has recommended Manafort be sentenced in the upper range of the guidelines.
As you probably recall, Judge Ellis is kind of eccentric and usually makes very blunt remarks. Remember, he asked prosecutors whether they had considered charging Mike Flynn with treason and told him “You sold your country out.” Read Ellis quotes at CNN: Baked Alaska and birthday cake: Memorable lines from the Manafort trial judge, T.S. Ellis.
I really dislike the conservative site Axios, but they have a good piece today: The biggest political scandal in American history.
Historians tell Axios that the only two scandals that come close to Trump-Russia are Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and the Teapot Dome scandal of the early 1920s, in which oil barons bribed a corrupt aide to President Warren Harding for petroleum leases.
Mueller has already delivered one of the biggest counterintelligence cases in U.S. history, author Garrett Graff points out — up there with Aldrich Ames (a former CIA officer convicted in 1994 of being a KGB double agent), or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (executed in 1953 for spying for the Soviets).
By Guillermo Marti Ceballos (Barcelona 1958)
Watergate yielded more charges than Mueller has so far: A total of 69 people were charged in Watergate; 48 people and 20 corporations pleaded guilty. Mueller so far has indicted 27 people; seven have been convicted or pleaded guilty.
But historians say that both Watergate and Teapot Dome were more limited because a foreign power wasn’t a central player, and a much narrower band of potential offenses was under investigation.
A fourth notable scandal, the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s — in which arms were traded for hostages held by Iran, with the money usRed to fund rebels in Nicaragua — also involved a more limited range of issues.
Read the rest at Axios. It’s actually quite a bit more comprehensive than most of their stories.
J.T. Smith, who was executive assistant to Attorney General Elliot Richardson under Nixon, has an op-ed at The New York Times today: What if the Mueller Report Demands Bold Action?
Most people take for granted that both Mr. Mueller and the new attorney general, William Barr, accept the current Justice Department legal position — reached in a 2000 opinion — that a sitting president cannot be indicted. In a June 2018 memo, Mr. Barr said that under “the Framers’ plan,” the “proper mechanism for policing the president’s” actions “is the political process — that is, the People, acting either directly, or through their elected representatives in Congress.”
Yet since 1973, the Justice Department has revisited its position five times on the question of indicting a sitting president and reached different conclusions. In fact, as executive assistant to President Richard Nixon’s attorney general, Elliot Richardson, I can speak to the circumstances that delivered that first opinion: The principal purpose of the 1973 Watergate-era legal opinion — which concluded that a sitting president cannot be indicted — was to aid in removal from office of a criminally tainted vice president, who, the memo concluded, could be indicted.
But it was not intended to set an ironclad precedent that would forever shape how a president might be treated.
By Jerry Weiss
My experience makes me believe that Attorney General Barr should reconsider Justice Department policy. If the evidence gathered by the Mueller investigation on the actions of the president and his advisers indicates a crime, an indictment might be the proper course to hold the president accountable. Further, the indictment policy does not stand in isolation: It has repercussions for a Mueller report and access to it for Congress and the American public.
As Rachel Maddow reported recently, the 1973 policy was written when Nixon’s VP Spiro Agnew was being investigated for “bribery, extortion and tax evasion.” (he was subsequently indicted and forced to resign). You can read more details about the history at the link. Smith’s conclusion:
Mr. Mueller’s investigation has brought us to face similar questions of institutional integrity and transparency for the American public. If Mr. Barr determines that Mr. Mueller’s findings compel legal action, he should reconsider the policy against indictment of a sitting president.
But if Mr. Barr holds to the view that a president’s actions should be policed by the political and not criminal process, it will be imperative that he share a Mueller report with Congress and, to the extent practicable, with the public, redacting only information that is classified or otherwise prohibited by statute.
In light of the gravity of our circumstances, it would be timely and appropriate for the Justice Department to reconsider the shaky policy regarding indictability of a sitting president and provide Congress and the public with the Mr. Mueller’s full findings and conclusions. Only through sunlight and transparency can we preserve confidence in our national institutions and leadership.
Yesterday the DNC announced that they will not hold a primary debate in conjunction with Fox News, citing Jane Mayer’s New Yorker Article. This is nothing unusual; the Democrats have refused to work with Fox News since 2007, but mainstream journalists are criticizing the decision.
Now media critic Margaret Sullivan has weighed in at The Washington Post: It’s time — high time — to take Fox News’s destructive role in America seriously.
Chris Wallace is an exceptional interviewer, and Shepard Smith and Bret Baier are reality-based news anchors.
By Dibujo de Eduardo Estrada
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the overall problem of Fox News, which started out with bad intentions in 1996 and has swiftly devolved into what often amounts to a propaganda network for a dishonest president and his allies.
The network, which attracts more viewers than its two major competitors, specializes in fearmongering and unrelenting alarmism. Remember “the caravan”?
At crucial times, it does not observe basic standards of journalistic practice: as with its eventually retracted, false reporting in 2017 on Seth Rich, which fueled conspiracy theories that Hillary Clinton had the former Democratic National Committee staffer killed because he was a source of campaign leaks.
Fox, you might recall, was a welcoming haven for “birtherism” — the racist lies about President Barack Obama’s birthplace. For years, it has constantly, unfairly and inaccurately bashed Hillary Clinton.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
Jared Kushner recently traveled to the Middle East and met privately with Saudi prince MBS. Now he won’t tell anyone what went on in his meetings. The Daily Beast: Embassy Staffers Say Jared Kushner Shut Them Out of Saudi Meetings.
Officials and staffers in the U.S. embassy in Riyadh said they were not read in on the details of Jared Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia or the meetings he held with members of the country’s royal court last week, according to three sources with knowledge of the trip. And that’s causing concern not only in the embassy but also among members of Congress.
By Henry McGrane
On his trip to the Middle East, Kushner stopped in Riyadh. While there, he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman to discuss U.S.-Saudi cooperation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and economic investment in the region, according to the White House.
But no one from the embassy in Riyadh was in the meetings, according to those same sources. The State Department did have a senior official in attendance, but he was not part of the State Department team in Saudi. He is a senior member of the department focused on Iran, according to a source with direct knowledge of the official’s presence in Riyadh.
“The Royal Court was handling the entire schedule,” one congressional source told The Daily Beast, adding that officials in the U.S. embassy in had insight into where Kushner was when in Saudi Arabia. “But that is normal for his past trips.”
Click the link to read the rest. A related article from the WaPo editorial board: Trump is covering up for MBS. The Senate must push for accountability.
New York Times gossip columnist Maggie Haberman relays former WH Chief of Staff John Kelly’s attempted cleanup of his mangled reputation following the revelations about Jared and Ivanka’s security clearances: John Kelly, Out of White House, Breaks With Trump Policies.
The former White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, on Wednesday declined to answer questions about the existence of a memo he wrote saying that President Trump had ordered officials to give his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a security clearance in May 2018.
By Mario Tozzi 1920
Mr. Kelly also broke with Mr. Trump on key aspects of his approach to immigration and the NATO alliance, and said that his top concern about decisions made by the president was whether they were objectively right for the country when divorced from political concerns.
Mr. Kelly, who kept his voice level during a 90-minute question-and-answer session at Duke University, would not specifically address Mr. Kushner’s clearance being ordered by Mr. Trump, which The New York Times reported last week.
“I couldn’t — and I’m not dodging — I couldn’t comment on that for a couple of reasons,” Mr. Kelly said, citing clearances being among the things that he could not discuss, and that conversations with the president “at that level would certainly” be kept confidential under executive privilege.
Some of what Kelly did talk about:
Mr. Kelly, who left at the end of December, also made clear he did not consider himself working for Mr. Trump, but doing his civic duty to serve. If Hillary Clinton had won, he said, he probably would have worked for her as well.
Mr. Kelly defended the utility of the NATO alliance, which Mr. Trump has often criticized as an unfair financial drain on the United States.
On a wall at the border with Mexico, Mr. Kelly said that there were specific areas where it could be effective but constructing one “from sea to shining sea” was a “waste of money.”
The issuance of the zero-tolerance policy for border crossings that resulted in family separations “came as a surprise” to him and to other officials, Mr. Kelly said, defending his replacement as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, from criticism. He appeared to place most of the blame on the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who announced the policy.
I have a few more links to share, but this post is getting long. I’ll put them in the comment thread. What stories have you been following?
Posted: March 5, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics
Congressional oversight has finally arrived, more than two years into the Trump “presidency.” For the first two-plus years, Republicans did nothing but run interference for Trump’s obstruction-in-plain sight of the Russia investigation. But voters elected a Democratic House of Representatives in November of 2018, and those voters knew that Democrats would investigation Trump’s crimes and corruption. And now Jerry Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee has fired the first salvo.
The New York Times: With Sweeping Document Request, Democrats Launch Broad Trump Corruption Inquiry.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee delivered a flurry of demands for documents from the executive branch and the broader Trump world on Monday that detailed the breadth and ambition of a new investigation into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power by President Trump and his administration….
[T]he newest requests from Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the Judiciary Committee chairman, opened perhaps the most perilous front to date for Mr. Trump — an inquiry that takes aim at the heart of his norm-bending presidency and could conceivably form the basis of a future impeachment proceeding.
Mr. Nadler was explicit on Monday in saying that the House was no longer content to await the findings of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and would delve into many of the same issues, but with a different standard of evidence not wedded to a criminal indictment.
“We will act quickly to gather this information, assess the evidence and follow the facts where they lead with full transparency with the American people,” Mr. Nadler said in a statement. “This is a critical time for our nation, and we have a responsibility to investigate these matters and hold hearings for the public to have all the facts. That is exactly what we intend to do.” […]
The letters from Mr. Nadler, dated March 4, went to 81 agencies, individuals and other entities tied to the president. They included the Trump Organization, the Trump campaign, the Trump Foundation, the presidential inaugural committee and the White House. The Justice Department and the F.B.I., which have collected substantial evidence on Mr. Trump’s behind-the-scenes interactions with federal investigators, were also recipients.
Letters also went out to dozens of the president’s closest family members and aides who counseled him as he sought to suppress the story of a pornographic film actress, Stormy Daniels, whose claim of an affair threatened his presidential campaign, and later as he began attacks against federal investigations into him and his associates, the news media and the federal judiciary.
The Times hastens to add that witnesses could put up resistance.
…the Judiciary Committee could face significant hurdles to obtaining some of the material it seeks. Aides to the committee said that they had intentionally limited their initial requests to material already provided to other congressional committees or federal investigators to ensure substantial compliance.
But witnesses could still choose to slow-walk production or defy subpoenas. Mr. Trump could choose to go further and assert executive privilege over certain materials, as well.
We’ll see. I think pressure from the American people could influence what happens. At least it did during the Watergate scandal. Congressional hearings will educate the public on Trump’s corruption, as MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell said last night.
Natasha Bertrand details some of the document requests at The Atlantic: The House’s Latest Move Could Be a Big Threat to Trump’s Presidency.
Many of the individuals who received a letter from Nadler—including Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and the former top White House aides Hope Hicks, Sean Spicer, and Steve Bannon—have already testified before Congress and provided documents in conjunction with the various probes into Trump’s ties to Russia. In the new letters sent out on Monday, which addressed everyone from the Trump Organization’s Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, Nadler wrote that the House Judiciary Committee is investigating “a number of actions that threaten our nation’s longstanding commitment to the rule of law, including allegations of obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power … President Trump and his administration face wide-ranging allegations of misconduct that strike at the heart of our constitutional order.” He added that “Congress has a constitutional duty to serve as a check and balance against any such excesses,” and that the House Judiciary Committee “has also played a historic role as the primary forum for hearings on the abuse of executive power.”
The document requests varied in subject and scope. In a request to the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, for example, Nadler appears to be homing in on alleged collusion between the campaign and Russia. (Trump said on Monday that he cooperates “all the time with everybody … You know the beautiful thing — no collusion. It’s all a hoax.”) Nadler asked for all documents relating to changes to the Republican platform in 2016 dealing with Russia and Ukraine, discussions of sanctions policy with regard to Russia, and the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. In a letter to the FBI, meanwhile, Nadler seems to be zeroing in on questions of potential obstruction, asking for any communications involving Trump and his associates about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. And in a letter to the CEO of American Media, David Pecker, Nadler requested more information about payments made to the benefit of the Trump campaign that might have violated campaign-finance laws. The Trump campaign’s digital director, Brad Parscale (now Trump’s 2020 campaign manager), received one of the most extensive document requests, covering everything from plans for a Trump Tower Moscow in 2016 to Trump’s conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 and 2018.
Two House Judiciary Committee sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment freely on the investigation, said some witnesses were asked specific questions “because we’re pretty sure they know” the answer, while other questions were more speculative in nature. But none of the witnesses were hit with completely new document requests that haven’t been asked of them before, by either the special counsel, the Southern District of New York, or various congressional committees. Even more document requests could be sent out to additional witnesses as the investigation moves forward. “This is just the first wave,” one source said. “The committee will continue to make news as the weeks go on.”
Click on the link to read the rest.
More specifics from Aaron Black at The Washington Post: 7 intriguing names on the list of Democrats’ Trump-world documents requests.
The House Judiciary Committee on Monday sent 81 letters requesting documents from President Trump’s businesses, the Trump campaign, Trump’s family, Trump allies and people who have unwittingly found themselves mixed up with Trump. It represents the first big onslaught of requests stemming from the new majority status House Democrats enjoy.
But while some of the names on the list are no surprise, a few are worth picking out. Here are some of the more intriguing inclusions — and one notable omission.
The individuals (and one group) that Blaka provides background and comments on are: Hope Hicks, Allen Weisselberg, Michael Flynn Jr., K.T. McFarland, the estate of Peter Smith, Trump’s long-time secretary Rhona Graff, and Irakly Kaveladze/Rinat Akhmetshin/Anatoli Samochornov/Rob Goldstone. Read what he has to say at the WaPo.
Michael Daly at The Daily Beast: The Guy Trump Called ‘Fat Jerry’ Is Chairman Nadler Now.
Long before there was Crooked Hillary and Lyin’ Ted there was Fat Jerry.
That 1995 bit of name-calling by Donald Trump was aimed at Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Democrat from New York who now serves as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Nadler long ago lost 100 pounds, but he’s still someone for Trump to hate and fear.
Their original object of contention was Television City, a metropolis within a metropolis that Trump proposed on a 52-acre tract he acquired on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1980s. The initial plan was for eight towers and 5,700 apartments, as well as television and movie studios.
Nadler met with Trump as the state assemblyman who then represented the area. Trump excitedly told him that the centerpiece would be a 150-story building, the tallest in the world. The lower floors were to be NBC’s new headquarters. Trump would of course occupy a palatial penthouse apartment at the very top.
“Above the clouds,” he told Nadler.
“New Yorkers want the tallest building,” Trump also said. “And so do I.”
Nadler was more of the opinion that New Yorkers wanted an affordable apartment. He opposed Trump’s project, viewing it as a neighborhood destroyer. Enough of the neighborhood agreed with him that he was elected to Congress after the incumbent, Rep. Ted Weiss, died the day before the primary in 1992.
Read more history of the Nadler-Trump relationship at the link.
This article precedes the Nadler letters, but it’s obviously relevant. Adam Davidson at The New Yorker: Fifteen Questions for Allen Weisselberg, the C.F.O. of the Trump Organization.
It now seems likely—at long, long last—that Weisselberg will be a central focus of the many sprawling investigations of Donald Trump and his businesses by the Democratic-controlled House. Weisselberg has been Trump’s primary accountant since Trump entered his father’s business, in 1973. Journalists who cover Trump’s finances have heard, from source after source, some variation of “I don’t know, but Allen does” about questions regarding Trump’s unorthodox accounting practices. Weisselberg is obsessively private, but he did give a deposition in a Trump Foundation lawsuit that revealed his willingness to engage in practices that appear far outside financial norms.
It seems likely that Weisselberg knows more than any other person—including Trump himself—about the specifics of how Trump made his money and who supported him financially. It is impossible to imagine a thorough investigation of Trump’s potential conflicts of interest without a full accounting from Weisselberg.
Click the New Yorker link to read Davidson’s questions.
Two more useful pieces to check out at Emptywheel:
Puzzling Through the House Requests.
In this one, Marcy Wheeler tries to break down the recipients of requests into logical groupings according to what we know about the Russia investigation.
The Metadata of the HJC Requests.
While the rest of us were looking at the content of the letters the House Judiciary Committee was sending out to witnesses yesterday, @zedster was looking at the metadata. The requests have dates and times reflecting three different production days: towards end of the work day on March 1 (Friday), a slew starting just after 3PM on March 3 (Sunday), with some individualized documents between then and Sunday evening, with a ton of work being done until 1:30 AM March 4 (Monday morning), and four more trickling in after that.
I think the production dates likely reflect a number of different factors.
First, the letters are boilerplate, which may explain why most of those were done first. Three things might explain a delay on any of those letters: either a late decision to include them in the request, delayed approval by SDNY or Mueller for the request, or some difficulty finding the proper addressee for the letter (usually, but not always, the person’s counsel of record). Not all of these addresses are correct: as one example, Erik Prince reportedly has gotten a new lawyer since Victoria Toensing first represented him, but has refused to tell reporters who represents him now; his letter is addressed to Toensing.
Read more at Emptywheel.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.
Posted: March 2, 2019 Filed under: just because, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Amy Berman Jackson, cats, Chelsea Manning, David House, Eastern District of Virginia, John Dean, Julian Assange, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Robert Mueller, Roger Stone, Russia investigation, weather
By Didier Lourenço
It’s March 2, but winter is still hanging on. It’s snowing here in the Boston area, and we expect several more inches on top of what we got earlier this week. It’s also supposed to snow again tomorrow night. I guess that’s going to come from this major cross-country storm.
USA Today: Major weekend winter storm packing heavy snow begins 2,500-mile cross-country sprint.
A major, fast-moving winter storm is racing across the country this weekend, bringing forecasts of heavy snow from California to New England and threats of heavy rain and severe thunderstorms along the 2,500-mile path….
In parts of the Midwest, the snow — falling at up to 1 or 2 inches per hour — could pile up fast enough to strand motorists along major highways, AccuWeather warns.
Sections of Pennsylvania, New York and northern and western New England could see up to a foot of snow.
The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings Saturday for parts of Colorado, northern New Mexico, southern Wyoming and much of Kansas.
By Galina Kim
Snow was expected to move into the Central Rockies on Saturday and develop over parts of the Northern and Central Plains by Saturday evening, the NWS says. The snow will expand into parts of the Southern Plains and Middle Mississippi Valley overnight as it rolls eastward.
We didn’t get any new indictments from Robert Mueller yesterday, but there’s still quite a bit of Russia investigation news.
Roger Stone apparently failed to tell Judge Amy Berman Jackson that he has a book coming out that may violate his gag order. Late last night she ordered him to explain WTF is going on.
The Washington Post: Judge orders Roger Stone to explain imminent release of book that may violate gag order.
Republican operative and longtime Trump friend Roger Stone faced fresh legal trouble Friday after a federal judge ordered his attorneys to explain why they failed to tell her before now about the imminent publication of a book that could violate his gag order by potentially criticizing the judge or prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
The order by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia late Friday came barely eight days after Jackson barred Stone from speaking publicly about his case, prompted by a photo posted on Stone’s Instagram account that placed a crosshairs next to a photo of Jackson’s head….
By Adrie Martens
In the new controversy, Jackson, in a brief order posted on the court’s electronic docket after office hours Friday, said she was allowing Stone’s defense team to file under seal a motion apparently to clarify the court’s gag order and an unspecified accompanying exhibit, and ordered a court clerk to make public Stone’s request.
But Jackson also ordered Stone’s attorneys to explain by Monday why they waited until now in making that request to disclose the “imminent general rel[e]ase” of a book, which Jackson said “was known to the defendant.” [….]
On Jan. 16, Stone announced via Instagram that he would be publishing a book titled “The Myth of Russian Collusion: The Inside Story of How Trump Really Won.” He included an image of the book cover. At the time, a source familiar with the publication plans told The Washington Post that the book consisted of a new introduction attached to a previous book that Stone had written about the 2016 presidential campaign. On Feb. 15, he announced via Instagram that the book would be published March 1, and he accompanied the post with hashtags such as #noconspiracy and #norussiancollusion.
According to Bloomberg, this may be an updated version of a 2017 Stone book.
At Buzzfeed News, Zoe Tillman writes about Paul Manafort’s latest sentencing memo: Paul Manafort Didn’t Just Ask For Less Prison Time In His Latest Court Filings — He’s Attacking Mueller Too.
Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort on Friday continued to attack special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing Mueller’s office of not only vilifying him, but also of “spreading misinformation.”
Manafort and his lawyers have used pre-sentencing memos not only to lobby for a lower prison sentence, but also to criticize the special counsel’s office — something they’ve had limited opportunities to do, given a gag order imposed early on. In a sentencing memo filed Friday in Manafort’s case in federal court in Virginia, his lawyers wrote that Mueller had unfairly impugned Manafort’s character.
By Catriona Millar
“The Special Counsel’s attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this Court,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote. “The Special Counsel’s conduct comes as no surprise, and falls within the government’s pattern of spreading misinformation about Mr. Manafort to impugn his character in a manner that this country has not experienced in decades.”
Manafort’s lawyers repeated their claim that Mueller pursued Manafort for crimes largely unrelated to his work on President Donald Trump’s campaign in order to pressure Manafort to flip on the president. Political and legal pundits have speculated that Manafort is angling for a pardon; Trump in November told the New York Post that a pardon for Manafort was not “off the table.”
“The Special Counsel’s strategy in bringing charges against Mr. Manafort had nothing to do with the Special Counsel’s core mandate — Russian collusion — but was instead designed to ‘tighten the screws’ in an effort to compel Mr. Manafort to cooperate and provide incriminating information about others,” his lawyers wrote, quoting language Manafort’s judge in Virginia, US District Judge T.S. Ellis III, had previously used to question the special counsel’s office’s motivations.
Manafort is due for sentencing in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on March 7. Earlier this month, Mueller’s office said in a sentencing memo that it believed Manafort should face a sentencing range of between 19.5 to 24 years in prison. It also wrote that Manafort’s penalty could include a fine of up to $24 million.
Lock him up!
At The New York Times, John Dean has suggestions for Michael Cohen: John Dean: I Testified Against Nixon. Here’s My Advice for Michael Cohen.
There are several parallels between my testimony before Congress in 1973, about President Richard Nixon and his White House, and Michael Cohen’s testimony this week about President Trump and his business practices. Setting aside the differences regarding how we got there, we both found ourselves speaking before Congress, in multiple open and closed venues, about criminal conduct of a sitting president of the United States. This is not a pleasant place to be, particularly given the presidents involved.
The field cat, by Isabella Bryer
There are some differences: Unlike Mr. Cohen, who testified in public for a day, I testified for five days. His prepared statement was about 4,000 words; mine was some 60,000 words. Nielsen reports over 16 million people watched his testimony. I am told over 80 million people watched all or part of mine….
Mr. Cohen should understand that if Mr. Trump is removed from office, or defeated in 2020, in part because of his testimony, he will be reminded of it for the rest of his life. He will be blamed by Republicans but appreciated by Democrats. If he achieves anything short of discovering the cure for cancer, he will always live in this pigeonhole. How do I know this? I am still dealing with it.
Just as Mr. Nixon had his admirers and apologists, so it is with Mr. Trump. Some of these people will forever be rewriting history, and they will try to rewrite it at Mr. Cohen’s expense. They will put words in his mouth that he never spoke. They will place him at events at which he wasn’t present and locations where he has never been. Some have tried rewriting my life, and they will rewrite his, too.
There’s much more at the link.
This isn’t a Mueller case, but it could be related: Chelsea Manning has been subpoenaed. Politico: Chelsea Manning fights grand jury subpoena seen as linked to Assange.
Lawyers for convicted WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning are asking a federal court to block a grand jury subpoena she received in what her supporters believe is a federal investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Manning’s attorneys filed the motion Friday morning in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., a spokesperson for Manning said. The motion was put under seal and no information about it was immediately available from the court clerk’s office.
By Peter Mitchev, Bulgarian painter
The subpoena sent to Manning in January does not specify any crimes or particular investigation, but it was issued at the request of a federal prosecutor assigned to handle the fallout from an error that led to the disclosure late last year of the strongest indication so far that Assange is the subject of sealed criminal charges in the U.S.
In a statement Friday, Manning blasted the process and said she plans to fight the subpoena, which was first reported by The New York Times.
The rest of the article is mostly whining from Manning and her attorneys. Frankly, I don’t see why should shouldn’t be willing to testify. Another former Julian Assange associate has done so.
Kevin Poulsen at The Daily Beast: WikiLeaks Veteran: I ‘Cooperated’ With Feds ‘in Exchange for Immunity.’
Chelsea Manning isn’t alone.
Late Thursday, Manning revealed that she’s fighting a subpoena to testify before a grand jury that’s been investigating Julian Assange for nearly nine years. But Manning isn’t the only one being dragged into the aging probe of WikiLeaks’ first big haul. A former WikiLeaks volunteer who was also personal friends with Manning was subpoenaed last May. But unlike Manning, he did not fight the subpoena. He accepted an immunity deal offered by prosecutors….
Manning’s subpoena is the latest surge of action in an old case given new life under the Trump administration. Though the paperwork doesn’t specify what she’s expected to testify about, a case number is visible at the top of the page. It’s the known case number for a grand jury probe into WikiLeaks that began nine years ago in the middle of Assange’s dump of the hundreds of thousand of diplomatic cables and Army field reports leaked to him by Manning.
Friends, by Ljudmila Vasina
The existence of case 10GJ3793 first became public in early 2011 when prosecutors were papering companies like Google and Twitter with demands for records of key WikiLeaks activists. With the government’s consent, Twitter notified five users that the feds were after their records, and three of them went to court to challenge the lawfulness of the search, backed by the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Paulsen expends quite a bit of verbiage on the history of the government’s pursuit of this case (I get the feeling he thinks it’s terrible) before he gets around to telling us who the cooperating witness is. His name is David House.
The Daily Beast has learned that David House, the former WikiLeaks volunteer and Manning friend, was subpoenaed last May for an encore appearance before the Alexandria grand jury. This time he didn’t take the Fifth. “I decided to cooperate in exchange for immunity,” said House, who provided a copy of the subpoena. “You know, I’m walking around on the street out here. I’m not in an embassy.”
House spoke briefly with prosecutors and then testified for about 90 minutes in front of the grand jury, he said. “They wanted to know about my meetings with Assange, they wanted to know broadly about what we talked about,” he recalled. Prosecutors seemed particularly interested in the potential for collateral damage in some of Assange’s leaks. The identities of some American collaborators were exposed in Assange’s release of State Department cables and Army field reports from Afghanistan, which triggered internal debate and led to the departure of some of WikiLeaks’ key staffers early on.
“They showed me chat logs in which I was arguing vehemently with him about releasing documents that would leave people vulnerable and put people’s lives at risk,” said House, a computer science graduate and political activist now working on a centrist movement called the Pilot Party. “That was the only thing they put in front of my face that made me think, ‘This may be what they’re going after him for.’”
That’s all I’ve got for you today. What stories are you following?
Posted: February 28, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Barbara McQuade, Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Joyce White Vance, Kim John Un, Matt Gaetz, Michael Cohen, Otto Warmbier, Vladimir Putin, women reading
Trump’s “summit” with Kim John Un accomplished nothing, but he did manage to disgrace himself and our country by once again sucking up to a murderous dictator.
The Daily Beast: Trump on Otto Warmbier: I Believe Kim Jong Un When He Says He Didn’t Know.
Donald Trump has sided with Kim Jong Un over the death of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea for 17 months for stealing a propaganda poster and died days after being returned home to his family in a coma. Trump said he discussed the case with Kim, and repeatedly absolved him of any blame. Trump said, “Those prisons are rough, rough places, and bad things happened, but I really don’t believe [Kim] knew about it… he felt badly about it, he felt very badly, he knew the case very well but he knew it later.” Trump, speaking at a press conference after talks aimed at persuading Kim to give up his nuclear weapons collapsed, added: “You have a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto. Some really, really bad things. But [Kim] tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.
Just like he took Putin’s word and MBS’s word over the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.
Trump also found time to call Rep. Matt Gaetz to think him for threatening Cohen before the hearing, so now we know who told Gaetz about Cohen’s alleged “girlfriends.”
So now Trump is implicated in Gaetz’s witness tampering.
Trump is also pissed off because the U.S. media largely ignored his kabuki theater in Hanoi in order to cover Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee yesterday.
The Wall Street Journal:Trump: Democrats Did a ‘Terrible Thing’ by Scheduling Cohen Hearing During Summit.
HANOI, Vietnam—President Trump on Thursday said the House Oversight Committee did a “terrible thing” by scheduling a hearing with his former lawyer Michael Cohen to coincide with the timing of his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Having it during this very important summit is sort of incredible,” Mr. Trump told reporters during a press conference in Hanoi after announcing that talks with Mr. Kim failed because of an impasse over sanctions relief.
It’s behind the paywall, but that’s all you need. Trump also said it was a “fake hearing.”
The Washington Post on the aborted summit: Trump and Kim abruptly cut short summit after failing to reach nuclear deal.
HANOI — President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly cut short their two-day summit Thursday after they were unable to reach an agreement to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.
Talks collapsed unexpectedly amid a disagreement about economic sanctions, with the two leaders and their delegations departing their meeting site in Vietnam’s capital without sitting for a planned lunch or participating in a scheduled signing ceremony.
Kim said he was prepared in principle to denuclearize, and Trump said an agreement was “ready to sign.” But Trump said the main impediment to a deal was Kim’s requirement that the United States lift all economic sanctions on North Korea in exchange for the closure of only one nuclear facility, which still would have left Pyongyang with a large arsenal of missiles and warheads.
The New Book (1920). Harold Harvey (British 1874-1921)
“We had some options, but at this time we decided not to do any of the options,” Trump said. He added, “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.”
For Trump, the surprising turn of events amounted to a diplomatic failure. The president flew 20 hours to Vietnam with hopes of producing demonstrable progress toward North Korea’s denuclearization, building upon his first summit with Kim last summer in Singapore.
More from The New York Times:
The premature end to the negotiations leaves the unusual rapprochement between the United States and North Korea that has unfolded for most of a year at a deadlock, with the North retaining both its nuclear arsenal and facilities believed to be producing additional fissile material for warheads.
It also represents a major setback at a difficult political moment for Mr. Trump, who has long presented himself as a tough negotiator capable of bringing adversaries into a deal and had made North Korea the signature diplomatic initiative of his presidency.
Even as the talks began, Mr. Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, was delivering dramatic and damaging testimony in Congress, accusing him of an expansive pattern of lies and criminality.
Aaron Shikler 1922-2015
Word of the collapse of the Hanoi talks sent stocks lower in Asia, and Wall Street futures were down as the opening bell neared.
Mr. Trump had flown across the world to try to work face-to-face with Mr. Kim for the second time, an effort to reduce what American officials regard as one of the world’s foremost nuclear threats. Experts estimate that the North has 30 to 60 nuclear warheads as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles that can hit the United States, though it has not demonstrated the technology to protect warheads as they re-enter the atmosphere.
In other international news, Trump/Kushner close friend Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted. The Times of Israel: Netanyahu to stand trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending hearing.
In a decision that drastically shakes up Israeli politics less than six weeks before general elections, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be charged with criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe, pending a hearing.
The decision marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and casts a heavy shadow over Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.
by Iman Maleki, Iranian, born 1976
Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, unless he can persuade Mandelblit to reconsider in the course of the hearing process.
The attorney general detailed the allegations in a 57-page document that was released on Thursday evening.
Mandelblit, in his decision, wrote that according to suspicions the prime minister “damaged the image of the public service and public trust in it” and is suspected of abusing his position and status, and of “knowingly taking a bribe as a public servant in exchange for actions related to your position.”
If Israel can indict Netayahu, then the U.S. should be able to indict Trump.
Some reactions to Michael Cohen’s testimony:
Barbara McQuade at The Daily Beast: The Case Against Trump Has Never Been Stronger After Cohen Testimony.
One brick does not make a wall, but many bricks do.
When I was a federal prosecutor, a supervisor of mine frequently used this metaphor to remind us that one piece of evidence alone is rarely enough to prove a crime, but enough pieces of evidence are sufficient to prove guilt.
Michael Cohen’s public testimony on Wednesday did not constitute a wall of evidence, but it did provide several new bricks that could be used to build a case against President Donald Trump. Depending on other evidence in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, these pieces of evidence may be enough to prove Trump guilty of criminal or impeachable offenses.
Trump’s former lawyer testified about several facts that are significant bricks in the figurative wall of evidence.
by Edouard John Mentha
First, Cohen testified that he was present when Trump spoke to Roger Stone on speakerphone in July 2016, when Stone said that he had talked to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about an upcoming “massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” According to Cohen, this call came just days before the Democratic National Convention. If Cohen is correct on the timing, this event also occurred after the DNC had announced in June that it had been hacked by Russia, and so Russia’s involvement in the release would have been known by Trump. Cohen said that Trump responded by saying words to the effect of “wouldn’t that be great.”
Read the rest at the link. It’s interesting.
Joyce White Vance at The Washington Post: Yes, Michael Cohen’s a liar and a criminal. So how come you believed him?
Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday was a master class in how prosecutors can present cooperating witnesses who have lied and engaged in criminal conduct, and use their testimony to obtain convictions from juries. This is stock-in-trade for prosecutors because of one simple truth: Choirboys don’t often end up in the middle of criminal conspiracies. Prosecutors don’t pick their witnesses; defendants do.
Although Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer and personal attorney, did not testify in a criminal trial, under questioning from a prosecutor, but rather in a congressional proceeding, under questioning from lawmakers, what we saw was an example of how someone who has stood before a judge at the lowest moment of his life, acknowledging participation in criminal acts, can become a credible witness.
Shelley Thayer Layton, the Library Window
It is the very fact of a defendant’s criminality that creates the baseline for this transformation. Prosecutors require witnesses with firsthand knowledge. Witnesses with firsthand knowledge are mostly high-level participants in serious crimes. But how does the conversion take place? How does a defendant who has been involved in sustained criminal activity, who has threatened people, who has lied, who has participated in fraud and is generally subject to being excoriated on cross examination by the defense because of that behavior, become a witness whom jurors, or a country, can believe, even if they don’t like him or his conduct?
It starts with the nonnegotiable commitment by the defendant to cooperate fully and truthfully, to assist as requested in other investigations and cases. We know that the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III believes that Cohen did this — it told us so in its sentencing recommendation for him. Cohen himself told us on Wednesday that he was in “constant contact” with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. To be caught lying again can render the cooperator potentially unredeemable — a Paul Manafort, so to speak.
Again, there’s much more at the link.
Charles Pierce lambastes the Republicans who neither addressed Cohen’s testimony, nor defended Trump: The Republican Party Completely and Utterly Disgraced Itself at Michael Cohen’s Hearing.
On July 24, 1974, a congressman named Thomas Railsback leaned into the microphone in front of him on the broad, curving dais of the House Judiciary. Railsback was a Republican from Moline, Illinois. The issue before him that night was whether to vote to send to the full House of Representatives articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, a Republican from California who, at that moment, was the President of the United States. You could see the anguish on Railsback’s face the way you can see the current still running in a river that is only thinly iced. “I wish,” Railsback said in a ragged voice,”that the president could do something to absolve himself.” Then, Tom Railsback, Republican of Illinois, voted “Yea” on all three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.I mention this bit of history only to illustrate how utterly and completely the Republican Party disgraced itself on Wednesday when Michael Cohen, the current president*’s former king fixer, sat before the House Oversight Committee to describe some of the garish and baroque offenses against the law and the republic committed by Donald Trump. There was not a single Railsback to be found. Not one Republican asked a question about the specific offenses that Cohen had illuminated in his opening statement.Instead, they hammered away at Cohen’s own crimes—which, of course, did nothing but remind the folks watching at home on whose behalf Cohen had told so many lies and paid off so many women. They spent great chunks of their time trying to get Cohen to promise he wouldn’t sign a book deal after he gets out of the federal sneezer in three years. Rep. Michael Cloud of Texas told Cohen that any subsequent book deal would be “kind of sweet,” as though he’d be willing to spend three years in a federal prison if an editor from Random House would be waiting on the day he got out.
Nakamura Daizaburo [Japanese Nihonga painter 1898-1947
Read the rest at Esquire.
It’s been an exciting week so far. I wonder if we’ll get any news from the Special Counsel’s office tomorrow? What stories have you been following?
Posted: February 26, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Foreign Affairs, just because, U.S. Politics
Building A House in the Woods, Inga Moore
If only I could go live in a children’s book surrounded by bunnies and other wild creatures. Sadly, I have to be an adult living in the time of Trump. But I can still enjoy these illustrations and imagine being in a safe and sane world.
Trump has gone to Vietnam to meet the evil dictator he fell in love with. Instead of consulting with his intelligence community and national security advisers, Trump asked the Kremlin for advice before his meeting with Kim Jong Un. Newsweek reports:
As the Trump administration prepared for the upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it reached out to the Kremlin for advice, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told Interfax news.
Illustration by Brian Patterson
The Kremlin representative did not specify what guidance the Trump administration sought or whether the Russian government had offered the U.S. any specific advice. The White House did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
This would not be the first time that Russia had gotten involved in Trump’s ongoing negotiations with North Korea over the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Previous reports claimed that Russia had offered North Korea nuclear power plants in exchange for denuclearization. And in his recently published book The Threat, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe said that Trump listened to Putin’s theories about North Korea’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles over the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community.
“He thought that North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles. He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so,” McCabe wrote.
According to James Hohmann at The Washington Post Daily 202, Trump has embraced Nixon’s “madman theory” in his dealings with Kim, and Trump thinks it’s working.
Trump is not wrong that his threats have packed more of a punch because foreign leaders think he might go through with them. For example, no one would have believed Barack Obama or George W. Bush if either of them threatened to scuttle NATO or NAFTA to prod allies to spend more on defense or improve the terms of existing trade deals. People also wouldn’t have believed past presidents if they had tweeted they were going to impose stiff tariffs on all Chinese imports.
Yet many serious people really thought a year ago that there was some possibility Trump might actually go through with a preemptive strike on Pyongyang after all his charged rhetoric, despite American military commanders warning that such a move could lead to tens of thousands being killed. In other words, Trump’s intimidations have seemed more credible because he’s gladly encouraged the global perception that he’s quarrelsome.
The president has preached the virtue of strategic unpredictability as a lever to gain the upper hand in negotiations. “We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” Trump said as a candidate in 2016. “We have to be unpredictable!”
A bit more from Hohman:
Trump has even advised his own aides to tell people on the outside that he is “crazy” if they think it will help in negotiations. During an Oval Office meeting in September 2017, Trump told chief trade negotiator Bob Lighthizer that he should threaten to have the U.S. withdraw from its free trade agreement with South Korea. Axios reported this exchange at the time:
“You’ve got 30 days, and if you don’t get concessions, then I’m pulling out,” Trump told Lighthizer.
“Okay, well I’ll tell the Koreans they’ve got 30 days,” Lighthizer replied.
“No, no, no,” Trump interjected. “That’s not how you negotiate. You don’t tell them they’ve got 30 days. You tell them, ‘This guy’s so crazy he could pull out any minute!’”
“That’s what you tell them: Any minute,” Trump continued.
Of course, as Hohmann points out, the “madman theory” didn’t work for Nixon. I’m sorry, I don’t buy that Trump is even trying to protect American interests in this “summit.” He’s obviously doing Putin’s bidding.
Kim wasn’t happy when he found out that U.S. reporters were in his Hanoi hotel. The Washington Post: In Hanoi, Kim Jong Un and a culture clash with the White House press corps.
As Kim’s motorcade was barreling into Hanoi for the final leg of his nearly 70-hour journey from Pyongyang — which included a 65-hour train ride through China — authorities were scrambling behind the scenes to avert an all-out culture clash over the boundaries of free speech for a leader accustomed to an obedient state-controlled media.
Kim was staying at the Melia hotel tower in the heart of the city, but the hotel also happened to have been booked by the White House as the filing center for the traveling press corps to cover the summit.
Not long before Kim arrived, a notice was distributed to the press corps that the filing center would be moved to a separate site for the international press corps at the Cultural Friendship Palace.
A tweet from the Vietnamese government, complete with three megaphone emojis, confirmed the switch.
Bunny rabbit and mouse, Lisi Martin
That left the U.S. press contingent scrambling to make the move. Television network producers had spent weeks setting up cameras, lights, monitors and other equipment shipped halfway across the world. A person with knowledge of the situation said the networks were told they could no longer do liveshots from the Melia, although the correspondents booked to stay in the hotel were not told they had to leave.
While Trump is on the other side of the world talking to his NK boyfriend, his former fixer Michael Cohen will be testifying in three Congressional committees over the next three days.
Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Michael Cohen’s three days of Capitol Hill testimony, explained.
Cohen is testifying for three straight days, but only one of the hearings will be public. After testifying behind closed doors on Tuesday to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he has a public date Wednesday with the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee, and then will go back behind closed doors Thursday with the House Intelligence Committee….
Cohen is the first member of Trump’s inner circle to provide eyewitness testimony about alleged misdeeds by the president. While other former aides have flipped and spoken to prosecutors, Cohen has spoken publicly and indicated that he thinks it’s his duty to atone for his own wrongdoing. And now that Democrats control the House, he has been given a platform.
Illustration by Susan Wheeler
Even before testifying, Cohen has spoken out repeatedly about Trump, has helped prosecutors implicate him in campaign finance violations and has reached a key plea deal with Mueller in which he admitted to lying about the Trump Tower Moscow effort.
Cohen is not just a former campaign aide, but also someone who had been around Trump years before by serving as his personal lawyer and “fixer.” In other words, he is someone who could speak to many different facets of Trump. That combination and Cohen’s stated desire to hold Trump accountable makes him a one-of-a-kind witness. Although Cohen has spoken publicly, it has been infrequent, and we don’t know what celse he might be prepared to disclose or allege.
Click on the link to read Blake’s speculations about what Cohen will discuss.
The New York Times’s gossip girl Maggie Haberman’s take: Planned in Michael Cohen’s Testimony: A Litany of Accusations Against Trump.
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, is planning on portraying his onetime client in starkly negative terms when he testifies Wednesday before a House committee, and on describing what he says was Mr. Trump’s use of racist language, lies about his wealth and possible criminal conduct.
Mr. Cohen’s plans were laid out in broad strokes by a person familiar with what he intends to say in his testimony. And they indicate that Mr. Cohen will use documents and his personal experiences to support his statements….
Among the most explosive and potentially damning aspects of Mr. Cohen’s testimony will be providing evidence of potential criminal conduct since Mr. Trump became president, according to the person familiar with the plans.
That potential conduct stems from reimbursements that were made to Mr. Cohen in 2017 for hush money payments that he made to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress. In October 2016, during the height of the presidential campaign, Mr. Cohen paid Ms. Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her claims of a previous affair with Mr. Trump….
He will also discuss how long Mr. Trump continued to ask about plans for a Trump Tower project in Moscow after the Iowa caucuses had taken place in February 2016. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty last November to lying to Congress in testimony in 2017 about the duration of time over which the Moscow project discussions took place….
He is prepared to describe Mr. Trump making racist statements, as well as lying or cheating in business. Last fall, Mr. Cohen told Vanity Fair that Mr. Trump frequently used racist language, telling the magazine that his former boss said during the 2016 campaign that “black people are too stupid to vote for me.”
He will also describe the president inflating or devaluing his net worth, referring to a financial statement of Mr. Trump’s that Mr. Cohen has in his possession, the person said. Those financial statements cannot be independently verified without Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which he has never made public, the person said.
More gossipy details at the NYT link.
Yesterday a couple of stories broke that could be problematic for Trump’s DOJ mole Matthew Whitaker.
Buzzfeed’s Trump’s Memo Appointing Matthew Whitaker Raises Questions About When He Actually Took Over DOJ.
Carol of the Field Mice from The Wind in the Willows, by Inga Moore
A newly released document regarding former acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker’s appointment shows that, at the earliest, President Donald Trump authorized Whitaker to lead the Justice Department a day later than officials previously said was the case….
Then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, whose departure as the head of DOJ was forced by Trump, resigned by way of an undated letter made public Nov. 7, 2018. Trump tweeted that afternoon that Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, would be taking over as the acting attorney general until a replacement was confirmed.
The obtained presidential memorandum, dated Nov. 8, does not make clear when Sessions’ resignation took effect or when Whitaker actually began serving as acting attorney general….
The memorandum signed by Trump appointing Whitaker to the role, however, was not dated until the next day, Nov. 8, and the DOJ’s Executive Secretariat — the office with the “responsibility for controlling and managing correspondence emanating to and from” top DOJ officials — did not mark its receipt of the memorandum until 11:59 p.m. Nov. 13.
Why that’s a problem: Whitaker was taking actions as if he were the official acting director.
Notably, on Nov. 8, Whitaker, along with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, issued the asylum rule that preceded Trump’s Nov. 9 move seeking to limit asylum applications from along the southern border.
Read the rest at Buzzfeed.
Even more problematic for Whitaker, The Wall Street Journal (behind the paywall) reported that House investigators are suggesting that Whitaker may have committed perjury when he claimed that Trump had not put pressure on him to interfere in investigations.
The Week: House committee thinks it has evidence Trump asked Whitaker to put an ally in charge of Cohen probe.
The House Judiciary Committee believes it has evidence that President Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to put an ally in charge of an investigation into his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, The Wall Street Journal reports.
This follows a report from The New York Times that Trump made this request of Whitaker, asking him whether he could get attorney Geoffrey Berman to head the Southern District of New York’s ongoing investigation, even though Berman is a Trump supporter who donated to his campaign and used to work with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Berman had also previously recused himself from the probe, which has looked into Trump’s inaugural committee and has led to charges against Cohen, who implicated Trump in a crime.
The Judiciary Committee is also reportedly examining whether Whitaker may have committed perjury when he told Congress, “At no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation.” The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake points out that Whitaker also said no one from the White House contacted him to express “dissatisfaction” with the SDNY probe.
Trump will have plenty to be nervous about while he’s out of the country.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.
Posted: February 23, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, just because, U.S. Politics
I’m in desperate need of cheering up this morning. Everything that is happening in the news is so depressing! I’m usually an optimist, but this morning everything feels hopeless. I do need to be concerned, because I have a lifelong history of severe depression. I’ll be trying to find ways back to equanimity this weekend.
Now here are some stories to check out today.
An opinion piece at The New York Times by Thomas T. Cullen, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia: The Grave Threats of White Supremacy and Far-Right Extremism.
Last week, federal agents in Maryland arrested a United States Coast Guard officer and said he was plotting to assassinate Democratic members of Congress, prominent television journalists and others. The officer, Lt. Christopher Hasson, apparently was inspired by a right-wing Norwegian terrorist who slaughtered 77 people in 2011, stockpiled firearms and ammunition and researched locations around Washington to launch his attacks, according to investigators. Fortunately, the F.B.I. arrested him before he could act.
Illustration by Colette Bruniliere
This frightening case is just one of several recent reminders that white supremacy and far-right extremism are among the greatest domestic-security threats facing the United States.
Regrettably, over the past 25 years, law enforcement, at both the federal and state levels, has been slow to respond. This is in part because of the limited number of enforcement tools available to prosecutors. But there are steps that can be taken to help the police and prosecutors address this growing threat — including, on the federal level, a domestic terrorism law.
In 2017, hate crimes, generally defined as criminal acts motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, or gender,
Killings committed by individuals and groups associated with far-right extremist groups have risen significantly. Seventy-one percent of the 387 “extremist related fatalities in the United States” from 2008 to 2017 were committed by members of far-right and white-supremacist groups, according the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Islamic extremists were responsible for 26 percent.
Read the rest at the NYT. Anyone who doesn’t see that the rise of right wing hate is linked to Trump willfully blind.
Of course Trump has spent his life wallowing in racism, misogyny, and criminality, and his corruption is reflected in the people he surrounds himself with. The most recent shocking story is about Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.
Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown laid bare the corrupt deal that Acosta cut with serial child sexual abuser and human trafficker Jeffrey Epstein: How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime.
On a muggy October morning in 2007, Miami’s top federal prosecutor, Alexander Acosta, had a breakfast appointment with a former colleague, Washington, D.C., attorney Jay Lefkowitz.
It was an unusual meeting for the then-38-year-old prosecutor, a rising Republican star who had served in several White House posts before being named U.S. attorney in Miami by President George W. Bush.
Instead of meeting at the prosecutor’s Miami headquarters, the two men — both with professional roots in the prestigious Washington law firm of Kirkland & Ellis — convened at the Marriott in West Palm Beach, about 70 miles away. For Lefkowitz, 44, a U.S. special envoy to North Korea and corporate lawyer, the meeting was critical.
His client, Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, 54, was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day, the Town of Palm Beach police found..
Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life.
Brown appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show Last Night. If you missed the interview, you can watch it here: Acosta deal for Epstein treated victims as ‘throw-away girls.’
This week a federal judge in Florida found that prosecutors in the Epstein case broke the law with the sweetheart deal. The New York Times: Prosecutors Broke Law in Agreement Not to Prosecute Jeffrey Epstein, Judge Rules.
Prosecutors led by Alexander R. Acosta, who is now the secretary of labor, violated federal law when they failed to tell victims about an agreement not to prosecute Jeffrey E. Epstein, a wealthy New York financier accused of molesting dozens of underage girls, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.
The agreement not to pursue federal sex trafficking charges, negotiated in secret while prosecutors told victims that a case against Mr. Epstein was still possible, violated the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act, ruled Judge Kenneth A. Marra of Federal District Court in West Palm Beach, Fla. He gave the government and the two victims who sued 15 days to discuss what remedy should apply in the case.
Federal prosecutors had initially drafted a 53-page indictment against Mr. Epstein, but under the deal negotiated in 2008, he pleaded guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution and served 13 months at the Palm Beach County Stockade. While there, Mr. Epstein was allowed to leave custody and work out of his office six days a week.
The court’s ruling on Thursday could nullify the non-prosecution agreement and subject Mr. Epstein and any co-conspirators in the case to new federal charges, said Jack Scarola, a lawyer for the two victims who challenged the agreement.
What does the Trump administration have to say about Acosta? CBS News: Trump praises labor secretary accused of illegally concealing sex offender’s plea.
President Trump on Friday praised Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, whom a federal judge says broke the law when he concealed the plea agreement of a wealthy, well-connected sex offender during his days as a prosecutor….
Mr. Trump claimed he didn’t know much about the case specifically, but praised Acosta’s job as labor secretary.
“I really don’t know too much about it,” the president said. “I know he’s done a great job as labor secretary and that seems like a long time ago, but I know he’s been a fantastic labor secretary, but that’s all I can really tell you.”
I’ll bet that evil monster knows plenty about it.
Guess who else was on Epstein’s defense team? Ken Starr. Here’s Charles Pierce: Ken Starr Is Now the Biggest Fish in the Barrel of Mockery.
Somehow, in the ungodly mess that is the Jeffrey Epstein scandal—and I use ungodly in the fullest sense of the word—I somehow have missed one of the greatest proofs yet that the Deity has a whopping good sense of humor. And it’s right there in the latest filings, the one where the judge teed up the federal prosecutors for having broken the law in how they let this monster skate as smoothly as he did. And it’s not the fact that one of the law-breaking federal prosecutors is Alexander Acosta, the current Secretary of Labor and now perhaps moving up to being the fourth-worst cabinet official down at Camp Runamuck.
No, it’s not that. Seriously. From the Miami Herald:
Acosta, in 2011, would explain that he was unduly pressured by Epstein’s heavy-hitting lawyers—Lefkowitz, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Jack Goldberger, Roy Black, former U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis, Gerald Lefcourt, and Kenneth Starr, the former Whitewater special prosecutor who investigated Bill Clinton’s sexual liaisons with Monica Lewinsky.
Is the cosmos jerking my chain? One of Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyers was Ken Fcking Starr? The sanctimonious sheet-sniffing yahoo who presented to the Congress a soft-core porn novel in the hopes it would be enough to defenestrate a sitting president, who then went on to a career turning a blind eye to sexual assaults at Baylor University, and who now apparently took up working for a serial sex-maniac predatory pedophile?
And Alan Dershowitz. Gee, I wonder why that slimeball keeps defending Trump? And check this out:
That’s right, newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr and his prospective deputy AG were Alex Acosta’s colleagues.
One more good article on the Epstein/Acosta scandal by Virginia Heffernan at the LA Times: Uncovering the deal Trump’s Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta gave to a Florida sex abuser. Heffernan talked to the women who are now speaking out about the abuse they experienced. Please go read it.
Acosta is only the most recent Trump cabinet member to be engulfed in scandal. More from the annals of Trump corruption:
Bloomberg: Top Ethics Watchdog Rejects Ross’s Financial Disclosure Form.
The top federal ethics watchdog has rejected U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s 2017 financial disclosure form.
The Office of Government Ethics declined to certify Ross’s latest financial disclosure because after reporting that he had sold off his shares in BankUnited Inc. that year, he actually sold the stock in October 2018. According to a later filing, he said he mistakenly believed that the shares had been sold earlier.
In a letter
sent to the Commerce Department’s top ethics officer, OGE Director Emory Rounds wrote that Ross’s 2017 report,“inaccurately reported that he sold all of his stock when in fact he had not done so.” Rounds also said that Ross was not in compliance with his ethics agreement when he filed the annual report in 2018.
Prosecutors have begun presenting evidence to a grand jury in Washington in their probe of whether former interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to federal investigators, according to two individuals briefed on the matter.
The closed-door deliberations are focused on Zinke’s decision not to grant a petition by two Indian tribes to operate a commercial casino in Connecticut, according to these individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because grand jury proceedings are not public.
The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ push to run a gambling facility in East Windsor, Conn., had sparked a lobbying campaign by MGM Resorts International, a competitor that opposed the planned casino. The proposal was the subject of intense scrutiny at Interior and the White House during President Trump’s first months in office.
The tribes allege that Zinke decided not to grant their application because of political pressure, and Interior’s Office of Inspector General opened an investigation into the matter a year ago.
Investigators with the Interior Department’s inspector general’s office came to believe Zinke had lied to them in the course of that inquiry and referred the matter to the Justice Department late last year.
House and Senate Democrats say they have obtained evidence that a senior official at the Department of Education tried to oust the department’s independent watchdog after she pushed back on an attempt to interfere in an active investigation of Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Lawmakers from four House and Senate committees who oversee the department sent a letter to DeVos on Tuesday, suggesting that the effort to replace the department’s acting inspector general, Sandra Bruce, had been related to her duties in overseeing the probe of DeVos’ decision to reinstate ACICS, an accreditor that had been stripped of its certification by the Obama administration.
“We have now received correspondence between the Department and the (Office of Inspector General) that reveals troubling efforts by the Department to influence the ACICS investigation,” House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., wrote to DeVos.
Scott was joined by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who serves on the House Appropriations Committee; Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee; and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate committee handling education.
That’s all I’ve got for you today. I know the cat illustrations are in sharp contrast to the content of this post, but I’m using them anyway. What stories are you following?
Posted: February 21, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Andrew McCabe, Andrew Miller, CNN, Donald Trump, Jerome Corsi, Matt Schlapp, Mercedes Schlapp, MSNBC, mystery foreign corporation, Robert Mueller, Roger Stone, Russia investigation, Sarah Isgur Flores, Special Counsel, T. S. Elliot, William Barr
Trump’s handpicked Attorney General has been in place for just a few days, and suddenly multiple news organizations are reporting that the Mueller investigation is ending soon. Interestingly, The New York Times has not yet reported this story.
What’s going on? There are multiple outstanding cases. Roger Stone was only recently arrested and the Special Counsel’s Office can’t possibly have gone through all the materials they collected in searches at three different locations. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the mystery foreign company that is resisting the SCO’s subpoena. Andrew Miller is still fighting a grand jury subpoena. What about the case of Jerome Corsi, who said he was told he’d be indicted? What about Donald Trump Jr.?
I think we have to ask if in fact the Trump obstruction has finally worked. I’d also like to know why reporters are so gleeful about the purported end of the investigation? Why is there no skepticism about how coincidental this all seems.
There’s also this:
WTF? Note that Matt Schlapp’s wife Mercedes is the White House Director of Strategic Communications.
One more coincidence: the new politics editor at CNN is Sarah Isgur Flores, a right wing conspiracy theorist who most recently worked as Jeff Sessions’ spokesperson at DOJ. Could she be a source for these stories about the end of the Mueller probe?
Vanity Fair: “She Was Pitching her Intimate Knowledge of the Mueller Probe”: Sarah Isgur Flores, Former Trumper, Talked to MSNBC Before Signing with CNN.
CNN’s hiring of Sarah Isgur Flores, a longtime G.O.P. operative who has worked for Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz, and most recently served as a spokeswoman for Jeff Sessions in the Justice Department (a position that reportedly involved a loyalty pledge to Donald Trump), caused an immediate and fairly predictable media firestorm. Unlike Corey Lewandowski, who was hired to great consternation during the 2016 election cycle (and then terminated), Flores won’t simply be an ideological talking head—she’ll be playing a larger role in the editorial process. Despite a lack of journalism experience, she will be helping to coordinate CNN’s political coverage across platforms, as well as occasionally appearing on-air as a political analyst, which is the more customary role for former politicians and government officials. Within the media world, she is seen as a controversial and unorthodox appointment. Moreover, Isgur apparently has a history of lambasting the mainstream media on Twitter, including CNN, which she once termed the “Clinton News Network.”
Sarah Isgur Flores
All of this has led to a fair amount of bafflement as to why CNN would hire her in a senior editorial role reporting to political director David Chalian.“Why CNN made this move to begin with is the deeper and more troubling question,” Margaret Sullivan wrote Wednesday in The Washington Post.
As far as how the talks came about in the first place, it appears that Isgur, as she was preparing to exit the D.O.J., wasn’t only shopping around for a media gig at CNN. Cable-news sources told me that she also passed through 30 Rock to discuss a potential role at MSNBC, where she met with top newsroom management in recent months. “She had a detailed idea of what she wanted to do,” someone with knowledge of the discussions told me. “She wanted to do something on-air combined with some sort of quasi-management, behind-the-scenes planning kind of work. I think she looked at Dave Chalian and said, I wanna do that.” A second source with direct knowledge of the talks said that such a role “was never under consideration.” This person added, “She was pitching her intimate knowledge of the Mueller probe as a selling point.”
Read the rest at Vanity Fair.
Here’s some speculation from Emptywheel: The Significance of the Rod Rosenstein/William Barr Window.
This is happening in the window of time when Rod Rosenstein is still around and — because William Barr has presumably not been through an ethics review on the investigation — presumably back in charge of sole day-to-day supervision of the investigation. But it is happening after Barr has been confirmed, and so any problems with the investigation that might stem from having an inferior officer (an unconfirmed hack like the Big Dick Toilet Salesman) supervising Mueller are gone.
I’m fairly certain the concerns about Barr coming in and forcing Mueller to finish this are misplaced. I say that, in part, because Mueller seemed to be preparing for this timing. I say it, too, because Barr is too close to Mueller to do that to him.
That says that Mueller is choosing this timing (and choosing not to wait for the appeals to be done). Whatever reason dictates this timing, by doing it in this window, Mueller can ensure the legitimacy of what happens, both legally (because Barr will be in place) and politically (because it will be clear Rosenstein presided over it).
I still don’t get it. It looks to me like we are going to have to count on the Democrats in the House to continue the investigation. Meanwhile Andrew McCabe is just beginning his book tour and he clearly thinks that Trump is a Russian asset.
This afternoon, Roger Stone will learn whether he is going to jail for threatening the judge in his case or if he at least will have to pay some bail instead of continuing to be free on his own recognizance. It’s also still possible there could be indictments tomorrow. And Mueller could file a detailed “report” in the sentencing memo for Paul Manafort on Friday. It’s also possible that Mueller isn’t really wrapping up. We’ll have to wait and see.
Two More Reads on Mueller’s Supposed End
Neal Kaytal at The New York times: The Mueller Report Is Coming. Here’s What to Expect.
The special counsel Robert Mueller will apparently soon turn in a report to the new attorney general, William Barr. Sure, there is still a lot of activity, including subpoenas, flying around, but that shouldn’t stop Mr. Mueller.
The report is unlikely to be a dictionary-thick tome, which will disappoint some observers. But such brevity is not necessarily good news for the president. In fact, quite the opposite.
For months, the president’s lawyers have tried to discredit Mr. Mueller and this report, but their efforts may have backfired. A concise Mueller report might act as a “road map” to investigation for the Democratic House of Representatives — and it might also lead to further criminal investigation by other prosecutors. A short Mueller report would mark the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.
The report is unlikely to be lengthy by design: The special counsel regulations, which I had the privilege of drafting in 1999, envision a report that is concise, “a summary” of what he found. And Mr. Mueller’s mandate is limited: to look into criminal activity and counterintelligence matters surrounding Russia and the 2016 election, as well as any obstruction of justice relating to those investigations.
The regulations require the attorney general to give Congress a report, too. The regulations speak of the need for public confidence in the administration of justice and even have a provision for public release of the attorney general’s report. In a world where Mr. Mueller was the only investigator, the pressure for a comprehensive report to the public would be overwhelming.
This is where the “witch hunt” attacks on Mr. Mueller may have backfired. For 19 months, Mr. Trump and his team have had one target to shoot at, and that target has had limited jurisdiction. But now the investigation resembles the architecture of the internet, with many different nodes, and some of those nodes possess potentially unlimited jurisdiction. Their powers and scope go well beyond Mr. Mueller’s circumscribed mandate; they go to Mr. Trump’s judgment and whether he lied to the American people. They also include law enforcement investigations having nothing to do with Russia, such as whether the president directed the commission of serious campaign finance crimes, as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have already stated in filings. These are all critical matters, each with serious factual predicates already uncovered by prosecutors.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Garrett Graff at Wired: 7 Scenarios for how the Mueller Probe Might “Wrap Up.”
THE BREAKING NEWS hit a snowy Washington on Wednesday: Newly installed attorney general William Barrappears to be preparing to announce the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
But what would “Mueller wrapping up” actually mean?
And does the rapid movement, soon after Barr was installed at the Justice Department, indicate that he shut down the Mueller probe prematurely? A recent New York Times article documenting Trump’s two-year-long campaign to obstruct and muddy the investigation exacerbated those fears, as did an ominous tweet by conservative commentator—and White House spouse—Matt Schlapp pronouncing that “Mueller will be gone soon.”
The tea leaves around Mueller in recent weeks seem especially hard to read—and they’re conflicting at best. CNN’s special counsel stakeout has spotted prosecutors working long hours, through snow days and holidays—just as they were in the days before Michael Cohen’s surprise guilty plea last fall for lying to Congress—yet there’s also been no apparent grand jury movement since Roger Stone’s indictment. So even as CNN’s stakeout spotted DC prosecutors entering Mueller’s offices—the type of people who Mueller might hand off cases to as he winds down—and the special counsel’s staff carting out boxes, there’s also recent evidence that Mueller still has a longer game in mind. The Roger Stone prosecution is just getting underway. Mueller is still litigating over a mystery foreign company. And he’s pushing forward trying to gain testimony from a Stone associate, Andrew Miller.
In fact, the list of loose threads at this point is, in some ways, longer than the list of what Mueller has done publicly. There’s conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi’s aborted plea deal; would-be Middle East power broker George Nader’s lengthy cooperation with Mueller, which has resulted in no public charges; the mysterious Seychelles meeting between Blackwater mercenary founder Erik Prince and a Russian businessman; and then—of course—the big question of obstruction of justice. Add to that the host of recent witness testimony from the House Intelligence Committee that representative Adam Schiff has turned over to Mueller’s office, in which other witnesses, Schiff says, appear to have lied to Congress. And besides, there are a host of breadcrumbs that Mueller left in the more than 500 pages of his court filings that would all prove superfluous if further action didn’t lie ahead.
Head over to Wired to read the rest.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.