Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Having a childish, incompetent madman in charge of the government is so exhausting. How much more of this can we take? Today, Donnie is headed for the Texas border with Mexico to do something or other. Who knows what insane gibberish will spew from his deformed lips. All I know for sure is that it won’t make sense.

Donnie has been touting his “steel slat” fence for the past week, but guess what? Those slats can be cut through with a common household saw.

NBC News: Test of steel prototype for border wall showed it could be sawed through.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated for a steel slat design for his border wall, which he described as “absolutely critical to border security” in his Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday. But Department of Homeland Security testing of a steel slat prototype proved it could be cut through with a saw, according to a report by DHS.

A photo exclusively obtained by NBC News shows the results of the test after military and Border Patrol personnel were instructed to attempt to destroy the barriers with common tools.

The Trump administration directed the construction of eight steel and concrete prototype walls that were built in Otay Mesa, California, just across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. Trump inspected the prototypes in March 2018. He has now settled on a steel slat, or steel bollard, design for the proposed border barrier additions. Steel bollard fencing has been used under previous administrations.

However, testing by DHS in late 2017 showed all eight prototypes, including the steel slats, were vulnerable to breaching, according to an internal February 2018 U.S. Customs and Border Protection report.

Photos of the breaches were not included in a redacted version of the CBP report, which was first obtained in a Freedom of Information Act Request by San Diego public broadcaster KPBS.

Gail Collins mocks Donnie’s wall obsession at The New York Times: Trump Hits the Wall. And what’s all that sniffling about?

We need to look at the bright side of Donald Trump’s border wall fixation.

Sure, he’s shut down the government and thrown the nation into chaos. But it could be worse. He could be demanding a fiery moat between us and Canada. Or building a 36,000-foot-deep barrier across the Pacific Ocean to drive home his commitment to tariffs.

See? There’s always a silver lining.

On Trump’s strange oval office address:

Maybe all this wall obsessing makes Trump tired. He certainly seemed low-energy during his Oval Office address. “He makes Jeb Bush look like a combination of Mighty Mouse and Bruce Springsteen,” a friend of mine said after the president finished his nine-minute speech to the American people.

For every viewer whose response to the talk was “Wow, we should do something about immigration!” there must have been a hundred whose first reaction was “Why does this man keep sniffing?” Deviated septum? Nasal polyps? Trump’s breathing has actually sounded strange for a long time, but most of us have chosen to ignore it rather than engage in a national conversation about the president’s nose.

If you watched the address — and really, you could have, it was only about as long as it takes to microwave popcorn — you saw a 72-year-old guy squinting at the teleprompter and making rather alarming breathing sounds while reading a speech about how we need a wall to protect women who are “sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico.”

This is not a man who should wrap his arguments around the idea of protecting women from sexual assault. But also, gee, he sounded like Uncle Fred who you haven’t seen for a while and suddenly he shows up for Thanksgiving with weird colored hair and vacant eyes and he’s talking into his mashed potatoes.

As the Trump shutdown continues, the administration has been giving tone-deaf advice to government employees who are going without pay.

The Washington Post: Coast Guard families told they can have garage sales to cope with government shutdown.

Employees of the U.S. Coast Guard who are facing a long U.S. government shutdown just received a suggestion: To get by without pay, consider holding a garage sale, babysitting, dog-walking or serving as a “mystery shopper.”

The suggestions were part of a five-page tip sheet published by the Coast Guard Support Program, an employee-assistance arm of the service often known as CG SUPRT. It is designated to offer Coast Guard members help with mental-health issues or other concerns about their lives, including financial wellness.

“Bankruptcy is a last option,” the document said.

The Coast Guard receives funding from the Department of Homeland Security and is subjected to the shuttering of parts of the government along with DHS’s other agencies. That stands in contrast to other military services, which are part of the Defense Department and have funding.

This is interesting, from Buzzfeed News: ICE Might Be Violating Federal Law By Keeping Immigrants Detained During The Shutdown.

A lengthy government shutdown over border wall funding has potentially put Immigration and Customs Enforcement at risk of violating a more than 100-year-old law that could not only require the release of “non-dangerous” individuals in the agency’s custody but also stop it from continuing to arrest and detain certain people, according to former senior ICE officials and experts.

The potential violation could complicate ICE’s operations at a time when President Donald Trump has argued that the shutdown is necessary to force Democrats to implement tougher immigration policies, such as building a wall on the US–Mexico border.

ICE contracts with nonfederal detention facilities, like county jails and private detention contractors, across the country to hold individuals detained by immigration agents. The agency pays for the bed space in various ways, including monthly payments or, in some cases, in advance.

As of Jan. 1, the agency was detaining more than 48,000 individuals, which is 8,000 more than the levels that had been provided for by the now-expired congressional funding. But nearly three weeks after its funding lapsed because of the shutdown, ICE has likely run out of money to pay contractors for the detention space it uses.

And while ICE has some non-appropriated funds it can lean on, those are not enough to pay for the overall detention space for more than a few weeks, said Kevin Landy, who was appointed during the Obama administration to run ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning, a position he held for more than six years, up until 2017.

In other news, Kamala Harris is close to announcing a run for president in 2020.

KCBS Radio: Kamala Harris Ready To Enter Race For President, Sources Say.

Sen. Kamala Harris has decided to run for president in 2020 and will announce her candidacy on or around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, probably at a campaign rally in Oakland, sources close to the freshman senator from California tell KCBS Radio.

Harris, 54, has been making the rounds of television talk shows and appearing at several events this week as part of a brief tour to promote her new book, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.”

At every stop, when asked about running for president, Harris has answered with some variation of “I’m not ready yet” to announce her decision, citing family considerations. But several sources knowledgeable about her plans say she is ready, and has in fact decided to run, with the enthusiastic blessing of her husband and two stepchildren.

The debate within her camp is how, and where, to launch her campaign. The tentative plan is for Harris to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination with a campaign rally, most likely in Oakland, where she was born and began her legal career.

And the media continues to belatedly vet Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign. Politico: Top Bernie Sanders 2016 adviser accused of forcibly kissing subordinate.

On the final night of the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016, Bernie Sanders’ staffers went out to a Mediterranean restaurant and hookah bar in Center City Philadelphia to celebrate and mourn the end of the campaign.

Sitting at the bar sometime after midnight, convention floor leader Robert Becker—who oversaw Sanders’ Iowa campaign, then helped lead his efforts in Michigan, California, and New York as deputy national field director—began talking with a female staffer who had worked under him along with her boyfriend.

Becker, now 50 years old, told the 20-something woman that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a reference to riding his “pole,” according to the woman and three other people who witnessed what happened or were told about it shortly afterward by people who did. Later in the night, Becker approached the woman and abruptly grabbed her wrists. Then he moved his hands to her head and forcibly kissed her, putting his tongue in her mouth as he held her, the woman and other sources said.

The woman said she didn’t come forward at the time, because Sanders’ campaign was over. But when she was recently contacted by Becker about 2020 the women felt she had to speak up.

“Candidates who allow people like Robert Becker to lead their organizations shouldn’t earn the highest office in our government,” said the woman, who was granted anonymity because she feared retaliation from supporters of Sanders and Becker, who has a loyal following of his own.

“It just really sucks because no one ever held him accountable and he kept pushing and pushing and seeing how much he could get away with. This can’t happen in 2020. You can’t run for President of the United States unless you acknowledge that every campaign demands a safe work environment for every employee and volunteer.”

 

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Thursday Reads: “They Are Not That Smart.”

Michelle Obama speaks at The Royal Festival Hall on December 3 in London. Jack Taylor, Getty

Good Morning!!

The title of this post is a quote from Michelle Obama. In an interview in London, Obama discussed “impostor syndrome,” that feeling many women struggle with that we are undeserving of success. From Newsweek:

The former first lady opened up about how the struggle with self-doubt “never goes away,” during a sold-out talk with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in London, which drew lines of tens of thousands of people.

Asked at the event how Obama felt about being seen as a “symbol of hope,” she said: “I still have a little imposter syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me,” according to the BBC.

“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”

“If I’m giving people hope then that is a responsibility, so I have to make sure that I am accountable,” Obama said.

But here’s the quote I just loved:

Obama offered a “secret” to young women everywhere: “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.”

It’s so true. And as long as mediocre white men are promoted over smarter and more experienced women, we will continue to be ruled by people who “are not that smart.”

You only need to look at the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton–a brilliant, experienced woman–was constantly denigrated in favor of two barely mediocre white men, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. And now that an ignorant, corrupt white man is “president,” that Hillary is repeatedly told to shut up and sit down, while mediocre, old white men like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden–who have already failed in primary races–are promoted by the media.

I’ve avoided day-time cable news this week so I didn’t have to listen to the endless, over-the-top praise of the late George H.W. Bush. But I have to admit that Bush at least knew how to behave like a human being, unlike the current resident of the White House.

Trump attended Bush’s funeral, but he didn’t seem comfortable. Still he is being praised in some quarters for not making a complete fool of himself. Apparently he has been unhappy about having to go through an entire week when the media focus wasn’t on him. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Trump has been snappish with aides most of the week, according to administration officials, miffed in part by so many ceremonial events not related to him. He was impatient for the memorials to end but expressed pride in himself for remaining publicly civil. People close to the president called it a course correction after his peevish reaction to Mr. McCain’s death.

What a pathetic asshole. He did the bare minimum, didn’t sing hymns or recite the Apostle’s Creed, and was the only person in the room who didn’t put his hand over his heart when the coffin was carried out.

At The Washington Post, Rick Wilson writes that George W. Bush’s invitation to Trump to attend the funeral prevented the asshole from ruining the solemn event.

By insisting on his successor’s inclusion in the proceedings, Bush forced the current White House occupant to briefly abandon his unfrozen cave-man act, denying him the chance to further debase the office of president by siphoning the dignity out of 41’s final hours in D.C. — something 45 likely would have relished, given the opportunity.

We’ll still be hearing about Poppy Bush for a couple more days because there is going to be another funeral in Texas today.

Mike Pence didn’t look too happy at the funeral yesterday either. Maybe this is why.

Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: “They’re Beginning to Think About Whether Mike Pence Should Be Running Again.” As the Mueller Fire Nears, Trump Ponders Jettisoning His Loyal V.P.

On Monday, Trump hosted a 2020 strategy meeting with a group of advisers. Among the topics discussed was whether Mike Pence should remain on the ticket, given the hurricane-force political headwinds Trump will face, as demonstrated by the midterms, a source briefed on the session told me. “They’re beginning to think about whether Mike Pence should be running again,” the source said, adding that the advisers presented Trump with new polling that shows Pence doesn’t expand Trump’s coalition. “He doesn’t detract from it, but he doesn’t add anything either,” the source said. Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump had been privately asking advisers if Pence could be trusted, and that outside advisers have been pushing Nikki Haley to replace Pence. One veteran of Trump’s 2016 campaign who’s still advising Trump told me the president hasn’t been focused enough on 2020. “What he needs to do is consider his team for 2020 and make sure it’s in place,” the adviser said. “He has to have people on his team that are loyal to his agenda.”

Trump’s doubts about Pence are surprising given Pence’s frequent public encomiums and professions of loyalty. “Trump waxes and wanes on everyone,” a prominent Republican close to the White House explained. Part of what’s driving the debate over Pence’s political value is Trump’s stalled search for a chief of staff to replace John Kelly. According to a source, Kelly has recently been telling Trump that Pence doesn’t help him politically. The theory is that Kelly is unhappy that Pence’s 36-year-old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, has been openly campaigning for Kelly’s job. “Kelly has started to get more political and he’s whispering to Trump that Trump needs a running mate who can help him more politically,” the source said. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

I wonder how Evangelical voters would feel about pious Pence getting dumped?

There has been lots of Russia investigation news this week despite the wall-to-wall coverage of Bush’s passing. Some stories to check out:

David Ignatius at The Washington Post: Michael Flynn appears to have come full circle.

The Trump campaign warrior of 2016 who led chants of “lock her up” deriding Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and then lied to the FBI after President Trump’s inauguration about his secret contacts with Russia, once again became an “exemplary” figure whose example, Mueller says, encouraged others to do the right thing.

“The defendant deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government,” writes Mueller in the sentencing memo. Mueller praises Flynn’s “early cooperation” as a spur to others. “The defendant’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming [with the special counsel’s office] and cooperate,” the memo notes.

This denouement, in which Flynn is once again on the side of law enforcement and truth-telling, is fascinating to me as someone who followed his career for more than a decade and remembers hearing his blisteringly honest briefings as a combat intelligence commander in Afghanistan. Flynn became disoriented during his years in Trump’s orbit, but the sentencing memo suggests that he recovered his balance and sense of duty after Mueller began his investigation.

There’s a bizarre irony here. Trump pleaded with James B. Comey, the FBI director at the time the investigation of Flynn began, to consider “letting this go.” That was a grossly improper attempt to interfere with the investigation and prosecution of Flynn’s false statements. How strange that it was Mueller, in the end, who decided in effect to “let this go” by recommending no jail time, after the investigation had run its course and Flynn had pleaded guilty and cooperated.

Frank Figliuzzi

Did Michael Flynn wear a wire for Mueller? MSNBC counterintelligence expert Frank Figliuzzi suggested as much yesterday. Hill Reporter.com:

MSNBC’s Morning Joe called on Frank Figluzzi to come in and help explain the memo. Figliuzzi was formerly an Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI and is familiar with Robert Mueller’s methods.

He began the segment by explaining that the extensive redactions meant that the info inside was sensitive. After stating that redactions are out of character for Mueller, Figluzzi said, “We saw lots of redaction. You do that in the FBI either when you have classified information or you are at such a sensitivity level that you cannot expose it.”

Figluzzi also felt the light sentence and amount of redactions meant the investigation was aiming for convictions at the highest levels. He continued, “I think, in fact, that underneath these redactions, if we were to lift these black magic marker points out, we would see people with the last name Trump or Kushner.”

Finally, Figluzzi ended the segment with a bombshell suggestion; Flynn may have worn a wire. He told the panel, “We see reference here to quick cooperation by Flynn. What does that mean? Did it happen in what we call the golden hour, where you could even wire somebody up and have him share communications in real time?”

At The Guardian, Marcia Chambers and Charles Kaiser made the same suggestion.

The least-noticed sentence in Michael Flynn’s plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller may also be the most important one.

Section eight of the deal reached by Donald Trump’s former national security adviser in the inquiry into Russian meddling in the US election is entitled “cooperation”. It specifies that as well as answering questions and submitting to government-administered polygraph tests, Flynn’s cooperation “may include … participating in covert law enforcement activities”.

Long-time students of federal law enforcement practices agreed, speaking anonymously, that “covert law enforcement activities” likely refers to the possibility of wearing a concealed wire or recording telephone conversations with other potential suspects. It is not known whether Flynn has worn a wire at any time.

“If the other subjects of investigation have had any conversations with Flynn during the last few months, that phrase must have all of them shaking in their boots,” said John Flannery, a former federal prosecutor in the southern district of New York.

“The one who must be particularly terrified is [Trump son-in-law and adviser] Jared Kushner, if he spoke to the special counsel’s office without immunity about the very matter that is the subject of Flynn’s plea. I think he must be paralyzed if he talked to Flynn before or after the investigators debriefed him.”

More Russia reads, links only:

Garrett M. Graff at Wired: 14 Questions Robert Mueller Knows the Answers To.

Vox: The Mueller investigation has gotten closer to Donald Trump.

Renato Mariotti at Time: Don’t Expect Mueller to Charge a Grand Conspiracy.

The Atlantic: The White House Has No Plan for Confronting the Mueller Report.

Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast: Senate Intelligence Committee Grilled Steve Bannon About Cambridge Analytica.

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


Thursday Reads: Trump Anxiety, QAnon, and the Manafort Trial

Good Afternoon!!

Ever since my mom had her stroke, I’ve been struggling more than ever in dealing with Trump news. When I sit down to write a post, I feel paralyzed by feelings of fear, dread and disgust. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that I’m not alone. I think the majority of Americans are feeling something like this even if they’re not following the news as closely as we do.

NBC News: Barnes & Noble says sales of books related to anxiety are soaring. Here’s why.

Shoppers are increasingly looking at workbooks that help them cope with anxiety, Barnes & Noble senior director of merchandising, Liz Hardwell, said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon. Although times may be tough, wrought with political tension, “the good news is that book buyers across the country are also looking for solutions to their stress,” she said.

Top-selling titles, based on the bookseller’s sales data, include “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook” by Edmund Bourne, “The Anxiety Toolkit: Strategies for Fine-Tuning Your Mind and Moving Past Your Stuck Points” by Alice Boyes, and “The Anxiety and Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution” by David Clark and Aaron Beck.

New York-based Barnes & Noble…said the state of California has had the largest increase in interest in anxiety books in stores over the past year. The next largest increases were in Michigan and Massachusetts. Meanwhile, shoppers in Texas, North Carolina and Florida had the biggest decrease in interest in anxiety books, according to the bookseller’s sales data.

That has to be related to Trump, right? The highest interest books about anxiety is in blue states and the lowest in red states.

Of course the Trumpists have their own sources of anxiety, but their fears are based on fake “news.” I tried to read this Washington Post article yesterday, and had to stop for fear my head would explode: The mystery of ‘Q’: How an anonymous conspiracy-monger launched a movement (if the person exists).

From somewhere in the vast and mysterious “deep state,” a dissident agent rises up to give the people cryptic clues about how their heroic president will push back the forces of evil and make America great again. The renegade informant is known only as “Q,” and if such a person actually exists, it’s not in a movie, but somewhere in the Washington bureaucracy.

Energized by Q’s complex web of conspiracy notions about the forces aligned against President Trump, Q’s followers have spread virally both online and now out in real life, too, forming a movement known as QAnon that is making itself visible at Trump’s rallies and other public gatherings.

QAnon is something old — the latest in a string of conspiracy ideas that take hold of the public’s imagination in times of social stress and technological change. And QAnon is something new — a leaderless popular movement made up of people who believe in no one and therefore are willing to believe almost anything.

Apparently, these Q people think they are getting secret messages from things Trump says or does.

To believers, Q is a pseudonym for a well-placed U.S. government agent who is posting online distress messages and bits of intel, known as “bread crumbs,” in an effort to save the country — and Trump — from hostile forces within the government. Q’s missives started appearing last October on 4chan, the mostly anonymous website where fringe ideas incubate and blossom.

In messages written in a telegraphic, cryptic style, Q called on Americans to rally behind Trump as he planned a counteraction against forces that would investigate him and remove him from office. Some QAnon followers believe Trump himself inspired their movement with a comment he made last October at a photo session with military leaders. The president pointed to the officers’ uniforms and said, “You know what this represents? Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”

In far-flung corners of the Internet, some speculated that that storm was a counterstrike against the deep state. Then along came Q to turn that speculation into concrete predictions — of the arrest of Hillary Clinton, of a roundup of anti-Trump liberals, of a crackdown on child-sex-trafficking rings.

There’s much more at the link, if you can manage to wade through all the crazy. These people are turning up with their Q signs and T-shirts at Trump rallies, as you could see in the news coverage of the Tampa rally this week.

This story at the Daily Beast is really wacky: QAnon, the Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theorists, Now Believe JFK Jr. Faked His Death to Become Their Leader.

Believers in the bizarre pro-Trump conspiracy theory called QAnon were out in force at the president’s rally in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, waving signs and cut-outs of the letter “Q” in front of the television cameras.

Trump points at a man in a Q shirt at a Duluth, MN rally.

The surprisingly large number of Trump supporters who believe in the off-the-wall conspiracy theory and the attendant media attention marks a new height for QAnon, which grew from the internet swamps of 4Chan and 8Chan….

For QAnon believers, special counsel Robert Mueller isn’t really investigating the Trump campaign—he’s actually working with Trump to take down a cabal of deep-state plotters and pedophiles. Soon, QAnon fans believe, Trump will team up with the military to throw top Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama into Guantanamo Bay.

But what QAnon believers actually believe is constantly changing. After taking advantage of the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich and promoting dangerous ideas like Pizzagate, QAnon supporters have found a new tragedy to exploit: the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., son of the late president.

Until July, QAnon supporters believed that “Q,” the anonymous online forum poster whose cryptic clues make up the conspiracy theory, was a high-ranking Trump administration official, or maybe even Trump himself. But now, a good portion of QAnon believers have become convinced that Q is none other than JFK Jr, even though he died in a plane crash nearly 20 years ago.

Click on the link to read the rest.

In other news, today is day three of the first Paul Manafort trial. Some interesting reads:

Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: A Hell of a Performance by Paul Manafort.

A week ago, while lawyers futzed with pretrial motions, Manafort arrived in court wearing a green jumpsuit. But the trial is the show of his lifetime. His oversize frame is once again permitted to occupy a suit—a fact that everyone in the courtroom incessantly noticed, given how much of the afternoon’s testimony came from his former clothiers, one of whom described submitting Manafort invoices that exceeded $800,000.

Paul Manafort’s $15,000 ostrich jacket

Whatever the outward signs that Paul Manafort is experiencing public torment, the presence of other men in tailored suits seems to have allowed Manafort to elevate himself into a strange sense of ease. The most compelling drama of the trial so far is watching Manafort comport himself. And the spectacle is pure Manafort.

He stands trial for abusing money he received as a world-renowned political consultant. Jurors have heard from witnesses who have described him as a master craftsman of public image; old colleagues have testified to his narrative gifts. These talents were so often used to smooth over the reputations of awful men—the kleptocrats, strongmen, and oligarchs whom he ingratiated with the American elite. Now, it’s his own image and his own narrative that he must manage, with an audience of expressionless jurors tucked away at the side of the room. And as the jury of his peers comes and goes from the room, Manafort makes a point of flashing his well-buffed smile. It’s the look of a man projecting confidence. It’s kind of convincing.

Foer, who has followed Manafort’s corrupt career for many years, describes a man who may believe he’ll get away with his criminality one more time:

When Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors laid out their case in opening arguments, they correctly diagnosed Manafort’s sense of impunity. He’d kept right on scheming, they argued, because he believed that he would get away with it. Today, the presiding judge in the case, T. S. Ellis III, made a point of constantly chiding the government. He blamed prosecutors for describing Manafort’s clients as “oligarchs,” a term he called unfairly “pejorative.”

Manafort paid $12,000 for this suit from House of Bijan.

The Republican-appointed judge warned Mueller’s team against trying Manafort for “his lavish lifestyle.” As Manafort heard these arguments, I watched him from across the room. I saw him gazing ever so thoughtfully and detected a flicker of something else, too. In that moment, it wasn’t” hard to imagine him believing that he might just get away with it one more time.

Read the whole thing at The Atlantic.

TPM has posted photos of Manafort’s Fancy Clothes, Including The Ostrich Jacket.

If there was anything prosecutors at Paul Manafort’s trial were trying to impress on the jury Wednesday, it’s that he liked to spend money wired from his foreign bank accounts on fancy things — items that could not conceivably be considered business expenses and thus tax deductible.

Things like a $21,000 Limited Edition black titanium Royal Way watch with crystal, a Mercedes Benz for his wife, and a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich. Judge T.S. Ellis was not a fan of the prosecution’s focus on Manafort’s lavish lifestyle, and would often cut off questioning if it delved too into the details of the luxury items Manafort was purchasing, allegedly with income he failed to discloAse on federal tax forms and money he wired from foreign bank counts that he didn’t report to the U.S. government….

Luckily, photos of Manafort’s high-end apparel, taken during a FBI raid of his home last summer, were made public by Special Counsel Robert Mueller Wednesday.

Check out the photos at TPM.

Yesterday, prosecutors said they weren’t sure they would call Rick Gates as a witness. Today they announced that he will appear. Again, from TPM:

A day after giving a coy answer to the judge about whether it would call Rick Gates as a witness, the prosecution confirmed Thursday that the plan remains for Gates to testify in the ongoing Virginia trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Rick Gates

“We have every intention to call him as witness,” prosecutor Greg Andres said in court before the jury was ushered into the room.

For months, Gates has been shaping up to be the key government witness in the case, after he agreed in February to cooperate with investigators. Gates was a longtime protege of Manafort’s, and was originally indicted with him by separate federal grand juries in Virginia and Washington, DC.

During opening statements, Manafort’s lawyer signaled his defense would largely be built on not only tearing down Gates’ credibility but pinning the blame for alleged financial misdeeds on Gates, including claiming that Gates embezzled money from Manafort.

One more Manafort-related article by Dana Millbank: The deep cynicism of Bernie Sanders’s chief strategist.

Tad Devine, during his run as chief strategist for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, railed against the corrupting influence of money in politics.

He repeatedly echoed the Sanders message that “our economy is rigged,” that “special interests” buy politicians, that “all of the new wealth is going to the top of America,” that there is a “corrupt system of campaign finance” of which Hillary Clinton offered an “egregious” example. Sanders, by contrast, “supported the little guy.”

Bernie Sanders and Tad Devine

Those who heard Devine’s interviews and watched his Sanders TV ads therefore may be surprised to know that, in the years and months leading up to the Sanders presidential campaign, Devine was making gobs of money to secure the election of one of the world’s most corrupt political figures and then his allies.

Thanks to Robert S. Mueller III’s prosecution of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman and sometime business associate of Devine, we now have an unusual glimpse into the role the Democratic ad man had in electing and preserving the power of Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych, a crooked pro-Putin autocrat. Though American political consultants routinely rake in cash from foreign leaders — even shady ones — Devine’s seamless pivot from advocate for antidemocratic thug to champion of a principled democratic reformer shows extraordinary flexibility.

Of course we all knew Bernie was fraud all along; I wonder if the media will ask him to rationalize his choice of Devine to run his 2016 campaign?

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


Thursday Reads: Trump Wants to Arm Teachers, and Other News

President Trump holds a card with talking points during a listening session with high school students and teachers on gun violence on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Good Morning!!

Yesterday afternoon, Trump held a “listening session” for victims of school shootings. (He was invited to the CNN town hall, but chose not to attend.) The Washington Post: This photo of Trump’s notes captures his empathy deficit better than anything.

President Trump held a worthwhile listening session Wednesday featuring a range of views on how to combat gun violence in schools. And while Trump’s at-times-meandering comments about arming teachers will certainly raise eyebrows, for the most part he did listen.

Thanks in part, it seems, to a helpful little reminder.

Washington Post photographer Ricky Carioti captured [an] image of Trump’s notes [see photo above].

Yep, right there at No. 5 is a talking point about telling those present that he was actually listening to them. After what appear to be four questions he planned to ask those assembled, No. 5 is an apparent reminder for Trump to tell people, “I hear you.”

Even No. 1 is basically a reminder that Trump should empathize. “What would you most want me to know about your experience?” the card reads.

Activists and students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attended a rally at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fl on Wednesday. Don Juan Moore Getty Images

I was surprised that the people at Trump’s White House meeting were permitted to speak honestly about their experiences. But when Trump himself spoke, it was clear he wasn’t really listening to their pain. You know who wouldn’t have needed those notes? Hillary Clinton.

After teenagers cried about losing friends and being terrorized by a person with an AR-15, after angry, heartbroken parents spoke of losing their children to senseless gun violence, Trump’s brilliant solution was to give teachers with handguns and expect them to kill suicidal shooters with semi-automatic weapons.

Trump must have seen some of the media reaction to this insane suggestion, because this morning he was on twitter claiming he never said it–but then he said it again.

And would these armed teachers be paid extra for this dangerous duty? Would the government pay for training them? Wouldn’t all this time spent training take away from their actual job of classroom teaching, which requires plenty of preparation and time spend grading papers? Trump isn’t concerned about all that: “far more assets at much less cost.” Trump sees teachers as slave labor!

Trump must have heard from his supporters at the NRA, because he later tweeted this:

Trump learned absolutely nothing from his “listening session.” Last night Lawrence O’Donnell explain why Trump’s idea is utterly insane. Check it out if you didn’t see it.

More from @Lawrence:

Philip Bump at The Washington Post: The economics of arming America’s schools. Bump begins with Trump’s proposal:

“A lot of people are talking about it — it’s certainly a point that we’ll discuss,” Trump said. “But concealed-carry for teachers and for people of talent — of that type of talent — so let’s say you had 20 percent of your teaching force. Because that’s pretty much the number, and you said it — an attack has lasted, on average, about three minutes. It takes five to eight minutes for responders — for the police to come in. So the attack is over. If you had a teacher with — who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly.”

How would that work and how much would it cost?

Data from the Department of Education indicates that there are an estimated 3.1 million public school and 400,000 private-schoolteachers in the United States. In total, there are about 3.6 million teachers.

One-fifth of that total is 718,000 — a bit fewer than the number of people in the Army and the Navy combined as of last December. We’d essentially be adding 50 percent to the size of the military by mandating that three-quarters of a million people be trained and prepared to take up arms to defend civilians.

The first cost that needs to be considered is training. What sort of training would be required isn’t clear. Do we want to simply teach the teachers how to target an individual and fire a weapon? Or do we want something more expansive?

Let’s say we want the bare minimum, just enough to pass the safety requirement for gun ownership. In Maryland, there’s a company that will charge you $100 for that training. The cost, then, would be about $71.8 million for all of our teachers.

I’ll let you read the rest at the link. I think the proposal is idiotic. Would Trump expect teachers to pay for this training? It’s a good thing teachers have unions.

As an antidote to all this insanity, here’s a Tweet from Barack Obama:

In other news, Bernie Sanders is on the defensive after indictments from Robert Mueller made it clear that the Russians supported Sanders’ primary campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Politico: Bernie blames Hillary for allowing Russian interference.

Bernie Sanders on Wednesday blamed Hillary Clinton for not doing more to stop the Russian attack on the last presidential election. Then his 2016 campaign manager, in an interview with POLITICO, said he’s seen no evidence to support special counsel Robert Mueller’s assertion in an indictment last week that the Russian operation had backed Sanders’ campaign.

The remarks showed Sanders, running for a third term and currently considered a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, deeply defensive in response to questions posed to him about what was laid out in the indictment. He attempted to thread a response that blasts Donald Trump for refusing to acknowledge that Russians helped his campaign — but then holds himself harmless for a nearly identical denial.

In doing so, Sanders and his former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, presented a series of self-serving statements that were not accurate, and that track with efforts by Trump and his supporters to undermine the credibility of the Mueller probe.“The real question to be asked is what was the Clinton campaign [doing about Russian interference]? They had more information about this than we did,” Sanders said in the interview with Vermont Public Radio.

Some Twitter reactions:

According to CNN, HR McMaster could be on the way out: McMaster could leave WH after months of tension with Trump.

With tensions flaring between President Donald Trump and national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the Pentagon is considering options that would allow the President to potentially move the three-star general out of his current role and back into the military, according to half a dozen defense and administration officials.

A search is quietly being conducted by the Pentagon to see if there is a four-star military job suited for McMaster, these officials said.

Several sources told CNN that the push for a replacement comes after months of personal tension between McMaster and Trump. The task of easing McMaster out of his role as national security adviser presents a unique challenge for the White House.

While administration officials have privately said the preference is to move McMaster into a position within the Army or Defense Department that qualifies as a promotion, some within the Pentagon feel he has become politicized in the White House and have expressed reservations about him returning to the military in a prominent role. Some defense officials caution that the President could also go as far as not to offer him a fourth star and force him to retire.

Read more at the CNN link.

I’ll end with a bit of positive news from the Dallas Morning News: Fueled by a Democratic surge, Texans turn out in force on first day of early voting.

AUSTIN — Of the 51,249 Texans who cast ballots Tuesday on the first day of early voting, more than half voted in the Democratic primary.

The total number of voters from the 15 counties with the most people registered is high for a midterm year. In 2016, a presidential election year, 55,931 Texans voted on the first day of early voting for the primary. But in the last midterm election in 2014, only 38,441 Texans voted on the first day.

Even more surprising is the turnout among Democrats. Since the last midterm election, the party saw a 51 percent increase in first-day early voting turnout, while Republicans saw a 16 percent increase….

Political experts attribute much of Texas’ increased voter turnout as a reaction to the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, as well as the state’s eight open congressional seats.

“In general, there seems to be more energy, largely stemming from people’s reactions to President Trump and a lot of Democrat-leaning groups trying to get people out and organized,” said Robert Lowry, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. “It’s maybe more Democrats than Republicans, but people who oppose him and don’t like the results of the election and can’t believe he won, [saying] ‘We obviously can’t vote against him this time but we can try to get more Democrats elected to respond to him.'”

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

 


Friday Reads

Good Morning!!

I finally got around to reading Donna Brazile’s nutty screed at Politico, and I still have no idea what she’s going on about. Basically, she says that Obama bankrupted the DNC and Clinton bailed it out. The Clinton campaign signed an agreement to raise money for the DNC and in return the DNC would have to live within its budget.

Hillary also raised millions for down-ballot Democrats, but the money couldn’t be released to the states until Bernie admitted he’d lost, and he refused to do so until the bitter end. We know that Bernie raised zero money for the DNC, so I don’t get what the accusation is. Hillary tried to rescue the party, and now they are busily working on self-destructing again.

Here’s what Elizabeth Warren had to say about this yesterday:

“This is a real problem,” Warren said. “But what we’ve got to do as Democrats now, is we’ve got to hold this party accountable.”

Warren said the moment is a test of DNC Chair Tom Perez’s leadership.

“And either he’s going to succeed by bringing Bernie Sanders and Bernie Sanders representatives into this process and they’re going to say, ‘It’s fair, it works, we all believe it.’ Or, he’s going to fail, and I very much hope he succeeds,” Warren said. “I hope for Democrats everywhere, I hope for Bernie and for all of Bernie’s supporters that he’s going to succeed.”

As far as I can tell Bernie Sanders supporters are already controlling the direction of the party with their constant whining and caterwauling. But since Bernie refuses to join the party or raise money for it, I fail to see how handing him control of the DNC will lead to success in 2018–particularly since Bernie is determined to ignore women and people of color and focus on winning Trump-supporting white men.

But what do I know? I only know this: I’m done with the DNC and I still don’t regret changing my registration to unenrolled after 2008.

Unfortunately, Brazile and Warren have handed a huge gift to Trump and his gang; and he is reveling in it. His tweets are crazier than ever this morning. For other promotions, take a look at Akropolis ICO and its reviews.

Apparently Trump is focused on the Mueller inquiry in and prosecuting his political enemies rather than on his upcoming foreign trip. Because everything is always and only about him. Check this out:

ShareBlue: Donald Trump to Fox News: “The one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters.”

In what barely passes for an interview — with almost no questions, but plenty of praise — Donald Trump told new Fox News host Laura Ingraham why he hasn’t bothered to fill a number of empty positions at the State Department….

INGRAHAM: Your state department still has some unfilled positions. Are you worried that the state department doesn’t have enough Donald Trump nominees in there to push your vision through? Because other state departments, including Reagan’s at times, undermined agendas. There is a concern that the State Department is currently undermining your agenda.

TRUMP: So we don’t need all the people that they want. You know, don’t forget, I’m a business person and I tell my people, when you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them. But we have some people that I’m not happy with there.

INGRAHAM: But assistant secretary of state – you’re not getting rid of that position.

TRUMP: Let me tell you — the one that matters is me. I am the only one that matters. Because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy will be. You have seen that strongly. We are filling up.

Remember how Trump and Huckabee Sanders claimed that George Papadopoulos was just a “low level volunteer” who only attended one meeting during the campaign? Scott Dworkin has been hunting down the truth and posting photos of Papadopoulos’ campaign activities:

Papadopoulos was pretty busy for a low-level volunteer coffee boy; and as a result of the focus on his campaign activities, Jeff Sessions is now in trouble. CNN: Sessions under renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is once again under scrutiny on Capitol Hill regarding his candor about Russia and the Trump campaign amid revelations that he rejected a suggestion to convene a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump last year.

According to court filings unsealed this week, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos suggested at a March 2016 meeting that he could use his connections to set up a meeting between Putin and Trump with the then-GOP candidate’s national security team. An Instagram picture on Trump’s account shows Sessions attended the meeting at which Papadopoulos made the suggestion.

I posted that photo at the top of my Tuesday post. Here it is again.

Back to the CNN article:

After Trump declined to rule out the idea, Sessions weighed in and rejected the proposed meeting, according to a person who attended.

But Sessions, who was a top surrogate for Trump during the campaign, did not disclose these discussions despite a persistent set of questions from Democrats and some Republicans about Russia during multiple hearings on Capitol Hill. The new information is renewing attention to how forthcoming Sessions has been with Congress.

There is interest from Democrats on both the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees for Sessions to formally clarify his remarks made before both committees given what’s now known about his interactions with Papadopoulos, a Senate aide told CNN. The source said the request for clarification could take several forms, such as having Sessions testify again or submitting a clarification in writing, but that has not yet been determined.

Lock him up!

This from The New York Times is even more damning: Trump and Sessions Denied Knowing About Russian Contacts. Records Suggest Otherwise.

At a March 31, 2016, meeting between Mr. Trump and his foreign policy team, Mr. Papadopoulos introduced himself and said “that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin,” according to court records.

“He went into the pitch right away,” said J. D. Gordon, a campaign adviser who attended the meeting. “He said he had a friend in London, the Russian ambassador, who could help set up a meeting with Putin.”

Mr. Trump listened with interest. Mr. Sessions vehemently opposed the idea, Mr. Gordon recalled. “And he said that no one should talk about it,” because Mr. Sessions thought it was a bad idea that he did not want associated with the campaign, he said.

In other words, because it might leak out.

Lock him up!

Sam Clovis with Trump during campaign.

Is it possible that George Papadopoulos’s supervisor on the Trump campaign, Sam Clovis, could also be cooperating with Special Counsel Mueller? Why else would he have failed to tell the administration he had been questioned?

ABC News: White House was unaware top adviser testified before grand jury.

The White House first learned one of its senior staffers met with the grand jury hearing the case presented by the special counsel into alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 election not from the staffer but from media reports, sources with knowledge of the investigation tell ABC News.

Former Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis recently testified before that grand jury into his role on President Donald Trump’s campaign. Clovis currently serves as the senior White House adviser to the Department of Agriculture.

Clovis’ testimony comes on the heels of another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleading guilty to lying to federal authorities. As part of Papadopoulos’ admission of guilt, details of emails were disclosed that showed him describing to top Trump campaign officials communications he had with contacts in Russia.

The correspondence between Papadopoulos and a group of foreign nationals detail that within weeks of being described by Trump as an important part of his national security team, Papadopoulos was in London meeting with people who said they could deliver “dirt” on rival candidate Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.”

The emails indicate multiple top level campaign officials that Papadopoulos communicated with including one listed as a “campaign supervisor”.

Sources familiar with the emails tell ABC News the “campaign supervisor” was Sam Clovis.

Clovis appeared to encourage Papadopoulos to engage with Russian contacts; in one instance Clovis responded directly to Papadopoulos, hailing him for his “great work” and saying “I would encourage you” to “make the trip, if it is feasible”, referring to a trip the young campaign adviser pitched to go abroad.

Since it’s Friday, there could be new breaking stories coming. I’m hoping for another indictment.

I’ll end with this: Allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault by powerful men are still coming thick and fast. Here are the latest, links only:

Vulture: Man Comes Forward to Describe an Alleged Extended Sexual Relationship He Had at Age 14 With Kevin Spacey.

Radar: Kevin Spacey Accused Of Groping Filmmaker In Bar: ‘He Grabbed My Whole Package.’

People: Kevin Spacey Accused of Sexual Misconduct by Eight House of Cards Employees: Report.

Hollywood Reporter: Dustin Hoffman Sexually Harassed Me When I Was 17 (Guest Column).

Slate: Meryl Streep Once Said Dustin Hoffman GropedHer Breast the First Time They Met.

Variety: ‘Genius’ Producer Accuses Dustin Hoffman of Sexually Harassing Her in 1991 (EXCLUSIVE).

Politico: David Corn investigated for inappropriate workplace behavior.

AP: Female lawmakers allege harassment by colleagues in House.

In my state: On Beacon Hill, Female Reps Press Action In Wake Of Sexual Harassment Report. (NPR)

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

 

 


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Hurricane Irma is still headed for Florida and then will move up the coast. The Weather Channel: States of Emergency Issued, Evacuations Ordered as Florida, Georgia, Carolinas Prepare for Irma.

As the dangerous Category 5 Hurricane Irma barrels toward southeast of Florida, officials in the Sunshine State, Georgia and the Carolinas have declared disasters and ordered evacuations.

The storm, which has undergone rapid intensification in the past several days is now the strongest Atlantic hurricane in the last 10 years, a dangerous Category 5, which made landfall overnight packing winds of 185 mph on the Caribbean island of Barbuda.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a news conference Wednesday that Irma can still go anywhere and the entire state needs to be prepared.

“The storm is massive and the storm surge is predicted to go for miles. In some instances, it could cover homes and go very far inland,” Scott said.

He urged urgent preparation:

  • “Every family needs to have a plan. …Do not sit and wait. Prepare right now.”
  • “Do not ignore evacuation orders.”
  • “Take what you need to evacuate. Don’t take extra.”

Read more about Florida’s preparations at the link.

Cars sit on a flooded street on the island of Saint-Martin after Hurricane Irma passed through

The Miami Herald: South Florida comes under hurricane watch with weekend strike likely.

South Florida came under hurricane and storm surge watches Thursday morning as powerful Hurricane Irma steamed toward the peninsula on track for a weekend strike.

Tropical storm force winds could begin battering the Keys and South Florida Saturday afternoon, National Hurricane Center forecasters said in their latest advisory. The fierce center of the Cat 5 storm is also increasingly likely to plow across the state’s crowded east coast, and it’s more than 6 million residents, in three to four days.

The hurricane and storm surge watches cover much of the South Florida coast, from Jupiter Inlet south and up the west coast to Bonita Beach, including the Keys. Water levels could reach from between five and 10 feet above ground level in the storm surge watch area, forecasters said.

Because Irma is such a large hurricane, the storm surge could be widespread and life-threatening, said senior hurricane specialist Mike Brennan, with waters moving further inland along the Gulf.

Presumably, the storm will keep moving on up the coast. It’s not clear yet how it will impact us up here in New England, but environmental experts are trying to prepare Boston for future storms as the sea level rises from climate change. The Boston Globe: What a future sea barrier in Boston would look like.

According a city-sponsored report published last December, sea levels are forecasted to rise eight inches from 2000 to 2030 due to climate change. By 2050, they are expected to increase up to 1.5 feet — and by 2070, up to three feet.

Palm trees buckle under winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico Sept. 6, 2017.

The chances of a Harvey-esque 50 inches of rain are minuscule in Boston. But with the expected sea level rise, a one-in-100- or one-in-10-year storm (Harvey was a one-in-1,000-year storm) would put many Boston neighborhoods underwater, according to the report, Climate Ready Boston. Even monthly high tides would flood 5 percent of the city’s real estate market value toward the end of the century, officials said.

With the sea level rise expected within roughly 30 to 50 years, major storms could make neighborhoods including East Boston, the South End, and the Seaport “unviable.” This interactive map shows what exact places could be threatened (and it doesn’t look great for Faneuil Hall).

“You’re not going to escape it,” Curt Spalding, New England’s regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, told Boston.com last year regarding sea level rise, after Boston’s waterfront was inundated by simple king tides.

According to a 2013 report by the World Bank, Boston ranked eighth out of 136 coastal cities for risk of flood damage.

Local officials are thus faced with a dilemma: how to manage the characteristic that historically made Boston a thriving commercial hub — its favorable port location — when that same asset now contributes to a potentially existential threat?

Head to the Globe to read the rest. I imagine many coastal cities are looking at possible protections from future flooding.

Donald Trump Jr. is being interviewed by investigators from the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning. MSNBC reports that he has changed his story again–now claiming he took a June 2016 meeting with Russians to get information that would help him assess Hillary Clinton’s “fitness for office.” From The New York Times:

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, is set to meet with Senate Judiciary Committee investigators behind closed doors on Thursday to answer questions about his June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, committee officials said.

Homes are damaged after Hurricane Irma struck in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Martin on Sept. 6, 2017. Netherlands Ministry of Defense via AFP – Getty Images

Committee aides said the interview, Mr. Trump’s first with congressional investigators, will be transcribed and could last for much of the day. It will largely focus on the meeting in Trump Tower, which appears to have been set up to deliver harmful information about Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign, according to emails disclosed in June.

Democrats, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, said on Wednesday that Mr. Trump had also agreed to testify at a public hearing before the committee and that he would probably be subpoenaed if he did not follow through on that agreement. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s chairman, declined to discuss the committee’s dealings with Mr. Trump. Lawyers for Mr. Trump could not be reached for comment.

The closed-door interview is the clearest indication yet that the Senate Judiciary Committee — after months of being eclipsed by the Senate and House intelligence committees — is emerging into a higher-profile role in investigating the president, his family and his associates in the coming months.

The committee is trying to get answers about the firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director this spring and has staked out a broad investigation that aims to look at everything from the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia to the Obama Justice Department’s handling of the Clinton email case last year.

More Russia news broke last night in The Washington Post: Russian firm tied to pro-Kremlin propaganda advertised on Facebook during election.

Sea water rises to a water deck as hurricane Irma approaches Puerto Rico in Fajardo. Ricardo Arduengo AFP Getty Images

Representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators Wednesday that the social network has discovered that it sold ads during the U.S. presidential campaign to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters, according to several people familiar with the company’s findings.

Facebook officials reported that they traced the ad sales, totaling $100,000, to a Russian “troll farm” with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda, these people said.

A small portion of the ads, which began in the summer of 2015, directly named Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the people said, although they declined to say which candidate the ads favored.

Most of the ads, according to a blog post published late Wednesday by Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

The acknowledgment by Facebook comes as congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III are probing Russian interference in the U.S. election, including allegations that the Kremlin may have coordinated with the Trump campaign.

Read more at the WaPo.

The other big story from last night is that Trump suddenly aligned himself with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on raising the debt ceiling and threw Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell under the bus. Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker: How Democrats Rolled Trump on the Debt Ceiling.

A man drives through rain and strong winds during the passage of hurricane Irma, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017.

For weeks, Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, had been plotting a strategy to use the debt-ceiling vote to extract concessions from Donald Trump and his fellow-Republicans. Over the weekend, the White House and Senate Republicans indicated that they wanted a debt-ceiling increase attached to a bill to provide immediate aid for areas of Texas and Louisiana affected by Hurricane Harvey. The plan was perfect for the G.O.P. The House would pass a “clean” debt ceiling that most Republicans would probably support. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader, would add the Harvey money and pass the two bills together with the help of Democrats. The plan was to raise the debt ceiling for eighteen months, which would kick the next difficult vote past the 2018 midterm elections. In the House, such a bill likely would have lost some votes from both parties, but, given the urgency of the hurricane aid, it was a decent bet to pass. Best of all, for G.O.P. leaders, the bill would have taken away the Democrats’ debt-ceiling leverage from the coming debates on immigration, government spending, and health care.

But, when conservative Republicans came out vocally against McConnell and Ryan’s plan, Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, saw an opening. They called for the three-month debt-ceiling deal, which would kick the issue into mid-December, allowing them to maintain their leverage as Congress worked out agreements on other agenda items.

At his morning press conference, Ryan had been withering about this idea. “Let’s just think about this,” he said. “We’ve got all this devastation in Texas. We’ve got another unprecedented hurricane about to hit Florida. And they want to play politics with the debt ceiling? That will strand the aid that we need to bring to these victims of these storms that have occurred or are about to occur. And then they also want to threaten default on our debt? I think that’s ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics with the debt ceiling at this moment.”

He added that the idea was “unworkable,” and, speaking for Trump, noted, “What the President doesn’t want to do is to give more leverage where it shouldn’t occur on the debt ceiling.”

But Ryan spoke too soon.

An hour later, in the Oval Office, Ryan, McConnell, Schumer, and Pelosi sat down with Trump and Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, to negotiate. The Republican leaders—at first—stuck to their demand for an eighteen-month debt-ceiling increase. But the Democrats held fast as the Republicans dropped their request to twelve months and then to six months. Mnuchin argued that the financial markets needed a long-term deal. Trump cut him off and abruptly sided with Schumer and Pelosi on their three-month request.

Read the rest at The New Yorker.

Hurricanes Irma and Jose stacked over the Caribbean and Atlantic on September 6.

Lots of media people are outraged that Hillary Clinton dared to write a book detailing the challenges she faced during the 2016 election. Never mind that Clinton won the popular vote and her book has been number 1 on Amazon for months. Those of us who voted for her are still invisible to the media. Politico: Democrats dread Hillary’s book tour.

President Donald Trump may be the only person in politics truly excited about Hillary Clinton’s book tour.

Democratic operatives can’t stand the thought of her picking the scabs of 2016, again — the Bernie Sanders divide, the Jim Comey complaints, the casting blame on Barack Obama for not speaking out more on Russia. Alums of her Brooklyn headquarters who were miserable even when they thought she was winning tend to greet the topic with, “Oh, God,” “I can’t handle it,” and “the final torture.”

Political reporters gripe privately (and on Twitter) about yet another return to the campaign that will never end. Campaign operatives don’t want the distraction, just as they head into another election season. And members of Congress from both parties want the focus on an agenda that’s getting more complicated by the week.

But with a new NBC News poll showing her approval rating at 30 percent, the lowest recorded for her, Clinton kicks it off on Tuesday with a signing at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York. She’ll keep it going all the way through December, all across the country.

Do the Democrats really think they can win elections without Hillary’s hard core supporters? They seem to be going all in with Bernie, who lost to Hillary in the primaries by 4 million votes. Do these people know anything about math?

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


Thursday Reads: “And Now His Voice Is Everywhere.”

Eastman Johnson (American genre painter, 1824-1906)

Good Morning!!

I’m going to begin today by quoting a NYT newsletter that arrives in my email every day even though I never requested it. This one is from Times columnist Roger Cohen:

You grow numb. You grow weary. I recall discovering a few weeks back that President Trump had lied about two phone calls, one from the president of Mexico and one from the head of the Boy Scouts. The calls, supposedly to congratulate him, did not exist. They never happened. They were pure inventions. Asked if Trump had lied, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said, “I wouldn’t say it was a lie.”

I actually remember shrugging. The shrug was terrifying. This is how autocrats — or would-be autocrats — cement their power. They wear you down with their lies. They distract you. They want you to believe that 2+2=5. They want you to forget that freedom withers when the distinction between truth and falsehood dies. In a dictatorship there is a single font of “truth”: the voice of the dictator. Remember Trump at the Republican National Convention a little over a year ago: “I am your voice.” And now his voice is everywhere.

There’s the scripted Trump voice, which is fake. There’s the unscripted voice, which is genuine. The two tend to alternate; call this the choreography of disorientation. It’s confusing, like having a president who isn’t really a president but instead acts like the leader of a rabble-rousing movement. The Oval Office is a useful prop, no more than that. He’s held eight rallies since becoming president in January. The latest was in Phoenix, where he called the media “very dishonest people.” He led the crowd in a chant of “CNN sucks.” He attacked the “failing New York Times.”

It’s familiar. That familiarity is menacing. It led me to think of my half-repressed shrug at the beginning of this month. Trump has one fundamental talent: a ruthless ability to mess with people’s minds and turn their anger into the engine of his ambition. A dishonest president calls the media that report on his dishonesty dishonest for doing so. This is where we are. This is the danger that Trump represents.

Harold Knight. (English artist, 1874 – 1961) Morning Sun

He said of the Charlottesville violence: “There is blame on both sides.” He equated neo-Nazi bigots with blood on their hands and leftist protesters. For this president, they stand on the same moral place. But when the press reminds him of that, he lashes out. Phoenix was a reminder of that. Don’t shrug.

“And now his voice is everywhere.” That is chilling and of course Orwellian. I never shrug off Trump’s words or deeds, and I suppose that’s why I get so tired. But we must stay conscious and aware of what is happening. Trump is a buffoon, but he still has dedicated followers and he is actively attempting to push the U.S. toward tyranny. He would love to be the American Putin.

And guess who helped put Trump in the White House? Newsweek: Bernie Sanders Voters Helped Trump Win and Here’s Proof.

Bernie Sanders supporters switched their allegiance to Donald Trump in large enough numbers last November to sway the election for the real estate billionaire, according to an analysis of voter data released Tuesday by the blog Political Wire. Since Trump’s shock victory over Hillary Clinton, much discussion has focused on the degree to which passionate Sanders supporters’ refusal to embrace Clinton led to the Republican winding up in the White House.

According to the analysis of the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, fewer than 80 percent of those who voted for Sanders, an independent, in the Democratic primary did the same for Clinton when she faced off against Trump a few months later. What’s more, 12 percent of those who backed Sanders actually cast a vote for Trump….

The impact of those votes was significant. In each of the three states that ultimately swung the election for Trump—Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton was smaller than the number of Sanders voters who gave him their vote.

Francesco Nétti (Italian artist, 1832- 1894)

Please go check it out. It’s an interesting piece. Of course the Hillary-hating media will continue to blame her for everything under the sun, but we know the truth.

CNN broke an important Trump Russia story last night: Exclusive: Top Trump aide’s email draws new scrutiny in Russia inquiry.

Congressional investigators have unearthed an email from a top Trump aide that referenced a previously unreported effort to arrange a meeting last year between Trump campaign officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

The aide, Rick Dearborn, who is now President Donald Trump’s deputy chief of staff, sent a brief email to campaign officials last year relaying information about an individual who was seeking to connect top Trump officials with Putin, the sources said.

The person was only identified in the email as being from “WV,” which one source said was a reference to West Virginia. It’s unclear who the individual is, what he or she was seeking, or whether Dearborn even acted on the request. One source said that the individual was believed to have had political connections in West Virginia, but details about the request and who initiated it remain vague.

Probably Jim Justice, the Governor of West Virginia–the guy who switched parties briefly and then re-registered as a Republican and then appeared at a WV rally with Trump. In 2009 Justice “sold the family’s coal operations in West Virginia to Mechel, a Russian company, and in 2015 bought the operations back for about a penny on the dollar,”

Returning to the CNN story:

Sources said the email occurred in June 2016 around the time of the recently revealed Trump Tower meeting where Russians with Kremlin ties met with the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner as well as then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
While many details around the Dearborn email are unclear, its existence suggests the Russians may have been looking for another entry point into the Trump campaign to see if there were any willing partners as part of their effort to discredit — and ultimately defeat — Hillary Clinton.

Bo von Zweigbergk, 1921. (Swedish painter, 1897 – 1940) Woman in Cafe 1921

Guess who Dearborn worked for before he went to the White House?

Dearborn’s name has not been mentioned much as part of the Russia probe. But he served as then-Sen. Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, as well as a top policy aide on the campaign. And investigators have questions about whether he played a role in potentially arranging two meetings that occurred between the then-Russia ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, and Sessions, who has downplayed the significance of those encounters.

Dearborn was involved in helping to arrange an April 2016 event at the Mayflower Hotel where Trump delivered a major foreign policy address, sources said. Kislyak attended the event and a reception beforehand, but it’s unclear whether he interacted with Sessions there.

Interesting . . .

Another casualty of the White House purge, according Politico:

W.H. RAPID RESPONSE DIRECTOR IS OUT — ANDY HEMMING left his job on Monday as the White House director of rapid response, according to multiple sources. A source familiar with the move told us it was a “mutually agreed upon” separation, and Hemming now plans to take a vacation (in which golf may play a big part) and then explore future opportunities. Right before his departure, he was profiled by Annie Karni (http://politi.co/2g79s6m) as the staffer the White House pays “$89,000 a year to spot and distribute positive stories from the mainstream media.”

HEMMING WAS SENIOR ADVISER for research at the RNC in the 2016 cycle and director of research on the Trump campaign. At the White House, he worked from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. every weekday and was a regular in reporters’ inboxes, blasting out stories favorable to the administration. Hemming declined to comment. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told us that it was a “[m]utual decision that he could best help promote the president’s agenda on the outside. Andy is smart and very talented and we wish him all the best.”

So who will put those favorable stories on Trump’s desk every day now that Hemming is gone?

I came across an excellent article on Twitter–posted by Republican never-Trumpers. David Roth at The Baffler: The President of Blank Sucking Nullity. The main point of the piece is that Trump’s behavior can be explained by the fact that he’s an asshole. I can’t do it justice with an excerpt, so I hope you’ll go read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

Malcolm T. Liepke American artist, b 1953

 

It is not quite fair to say that Donald Trump lacks core beliefs, but to the extent that we can take apart these beliefs they amount to Give Donald Trump Your Money and Donald Trump Should Really Be on Television More. The only comprehensible throughline to his politics is that everything Trump says is something he’s said previously, with additional very’s and more-and-more’s appended over time; his worldview amounts to the sum of the dumb shit he saw on the cover of the New York Post in 1985, subjected to a few decades of rancid compounding interest and deteriorating mental aptitude. He watches a lot of cable news, but he struggles to follow even stories that have been custom built for people like him—old, uninformed, amorphously if deeply aggrieved.

There’s a reason for this. Trump doesn’t know anything or really believe anything about any topic beyond himself, because he has no interest in any topic beyond himself; his evident cognitive decline and hyperactive laziness and towering monomania ensure that he will never again learn a new thing in his life. He has no friends and no real allies; his inner circle is divided between ostensibly scandalized cynics and theatrically shameless ones, all of whom hold him in low regard and see him as a potential means to their individuated ends. There is no help on the way; his outer orbit is a rotation of replacement-level rage-grandpas and defective, perpetually clammy operators.

Trump now “executes” by way of the The Junior Soprano Method. When he senses that his staff is trying to get him to do one thing, Trump defiantly does the opposite; otherwise he bathes in the commodified reactionary grievance of partisan media, looking for stories about himself. It takes days for his oafish and overmatched handlers to coax him into even a coded and qualified criticism of neo-Nazis, and an instant for him to willfully undo it. Of course he brings more vigor to the latter than the former; he doesn’t really understand why he had to do the first thing, but he innately and deeply understands why he did the second. The first is invariably about someone else—some woman, there was a car accident, like during or maybe after that thing—and therefore, as an asshole, he does not and cannot really care about it. The second is about him and therefore, as an asshole, he really, really does.

To understand Trump is also to understand his appeal as an aspirational brand to the worst people in the United States. What his intransigent admirers like most about him—the thing they aspire to, in their online cosplay sessions and their desperately thirsty performances for a media they loathe and to which they are so helplessly addicted—is his freedom to be unconcerned with anything but himself. This is not because he is rich or brave or astute; it’s because he is an asshole, and so authentically unconcerned.

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