Thursday Reads: Grim Reaper Trump

Good Morning!!

The Grim Reaper

Mary Trump’s book was released on Tuesday, and the court affirmed her right to freedom of speech, so she is now speaking out about her the horrific family that produced Donald Trump. She’ll be interviewed tonight by Rachel Maddow–that should be interesting. She gave an interview to The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker yesterday: Mary Trump says the U.S. has devolved into a version of her ‘incredibly dysfunctional family.

Mary L. Trump, President’s Trump’s niece, said that watching the country’s leadership devolve into “a macro version of my incredibly dysfunctional family” was one of the factors that compelled her to write her book, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.”

In an interview Wednesday with The Washington Post, Mary Trump said she blames “almost 100 percent” her grandfather, Fred Trump — the family patriarch whom she describes as a “sociopath” in her 214-page memoir of sorts — for creating the conditions that led to Trump’s rise and, ultimately, what she views as his dangerous presidency.

Much like in her extended family, Mary Trump said, a similar dynamic is now playing out on the national stage, with Trump simultaneously possessing “an unerring instinct for finding people who are weaker than he is,” while also being “eminently usable by people who are stronger and savvier than he is” and eager to exploit him.

Cemetery Gates, Marc Chagall

Assessing the current moment, in which Trump has amplified racism and stoked the flames of white grievance and resentment, Mary Trump said that the president is “clearly racist,” but that his behavior stems from a combination of upbringing and political cynicism.

“It comes easily to him and he thinks it’s going to score him points with the only people who are continuing to support him,” she said.

Mary Trump said that growing up in her family, her experience was one of “a knee-jerk anti-Semitism, a knee-jerk racism.”

“Growing up, it was sort of normal to hear them use the n-word or use anti-Semitic expressions,” she said.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

It seems that the majority of Americans are finally waking up to the truth about Trump. After what happened in 2016, I won’t feel confident until after the election, but things are looking very bad for a second Trump term. Here’s the latest:

NBC News: Biden opens up 11-point national lead over Trump in NBC News/WSJ poll.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holds a double-digit lead nationally over President Donald Trump, with 7 in 10 voters saying the country is on the wrong track and majorities disapproving of the president’s handling of the coronavirus and race relations.

Those are the major findings of a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that comes 3½ months before the presidential election, amid a pandemic that has killed about 140,000 people in the U.S. and during protests and debates over race across the country.

Colonial Graveyard at Lexington, MA, Frederick Childe Hassam

The poll shows Biden ahead of Trump by 11 points among registered voters, 51 percent to 40 percent, which is well outside the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Biden’s lead in last month’s poll was 7 points, 49 percent to 42 percent.

In addition, the poll shows Democrats enjoying an intensity advantage heading into November, and it has Trump’s job rating declining to 42 percent — its lowest level in two years.

“The atmosphere and the attitudes toward Donald Trump are the most challenging an incumbent president has faced since Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Lyndon Johnson in 1968,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, whose firm conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

Nate Cohn at The New York Times: Even if the Polls Are Really Off, Trump Is Still in Trouble.

With Joe Biden claiming almost a double-digit lead in national polls, one question still seems to loom over the race: Can we trust the polls after 2016?

It’s a good question. But for now, it’s not as important as you might guess. If the election were held today, Mr. Biden would win the presidency, even if the polls were exactly as wrong as they were four years ago.

Edouard Manet, The Funeral

The reason is simple: His lead is far wider than Hillary Clinton’s was in the final polls, and large enough to withstand another 2016 polling meltdown.

This is not to say that President Trump can’t win. There are still nearly four months to go until the election — more than enough time for the race and the polls to change. The race changed on several occasions over the final months in 2016. And this race has already changed significantly in the last four months. According to FiveThirtyEight, three months ago Mr. Biden held a lead of only about four points.

Read more at the NYT link.

Yesterday, Trump demoted campaign manager Brad Parscale and replaced him with Bill Stepian, the guy who helped Chris Christie with Bridgegate. The Daily Beast: Trump Campaign Chief Was Edged Out ‘Weeks Ago.’ Now He’s Officially Demoted.

President Donald Trump has removed Brad Parscale as his campaign manager, installing instead Bill Stepien, his former second-in-command, in the role. Parscale had held the position since February 2018.

Parscale will remain a part of the campaign as a senior adviser overseeing digital operations, per a Facebook post from the commander-in-chief….

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, delivered the news, according to ABC.

Graveyard, Ernest Lawson

The move was the culmination of multiple elevations and additions to Team Trump earlier this year that amounted to alleviating Parscale of certain key responsibilities, even if he remained at the time as a campaign manager in title. For instance, Stepien and Jason Miller, another top Trump 2020 official who previously worked as a senior aide on the 2016 team and Trump presidential transition, had for weeks largely taken the helm on strategy, with Parscale generally focusing on duties that the president tweeted on Wednesday evening would remain in his portfolio after the demotion, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

In substance and assignments, “this ‘shakeup’ happened weeks ago,” one of these individuals said. “Difference [tonight] is that it’s now official in everyone’s titles.”

Of course Jared is really the one in charge of the campaign.

Trump’s planned convention in Florida keeps shrinking. Axios: RNC to restrict attendance at Florida convention amid coronavirus surge.

The Republican National Committee will move to significantly limit attendance at its nominating convention events in Jacksonville, Fla., next month, party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wrote in a Thursday letter to members, Politico reports.

What’s happening: Only delegates will be able to attend the convention on the first three nights. On the fourth night, when President Trump will give his acceptance speech — which may take place outdoors — delegates will be able to bring a guest, while alternate delegates will also be permitted to attend.

— “Adjustments must be made to comply with state and local health guidelines,” McDaniel wrote. “I want to make clear that we still intend to host a fantastic convention celebration in Jacksonville.”

— Florida’s coronavirus outbreak has continued to worsen in recent weeks. The state reported 15,299 new coronavirus cases on Sunday — a single-day record for any state</blockquote

By Diana Salina-Sandoval

The coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen, while Trump refuses to do anything to help states where the virus is raging out of control. The latest alarming coronavirus stories:

NBC News: Russia is attempting to steal coronavirus vaccine research, U.S., U.K. and Canada claim.

Hackers from Russia’s intelligence services have attempted to steal information related to COVID-19 vaccine development from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, British officials said Thursday.

A group called “APT29, also known as “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear” has been using malware to target various groups across the three countries, the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre said in a statement.

It said the United States’ National Security Agency agrees with the assessment.

This is a breaking news report. Please check back for updates.

The Atlantic: A Second Coronavirus Death Surge Is Coming. There was always a logical explanation for why cases rose through the end of June while deaths did not.

There is no mystery in the number of Americans dying from COVID-19.

Despite political leaders trivializing the pandemic, deaths are rising again: The seven-day average for deaths per day has now jumped by more than 200 since July 6, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. By our count, states reported 855 deaths today, in line with the recent elevated numbers in mid-July.

By William Bell Scott

The deaths are not happening in unpredictable places. Rather, people are dying at higher rates where there are lots of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations: in Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California, as well as a host of smaller southern states that all rushed to open up.

The deaths are also not happening in an unpredictable amount of time after the new outbreaks emerged. Simply look at the curves yourself. Cases began to rise on June 16; a week later, hospitalizations began to rise. Two weeks after that—21 days after cases rose—states began to report more deaths. That’s the exact number of days that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated from the onset of symptoms to the reporting of a death.

Many people who don’t want COVID-19 to be the terrible crisis that it is have clung to the idea that more cases won’t mean more deaths. Some Americans have been perplexed by a downward trend of national deaths, even as cases exploded in the Sun Belt region. But given the policy choices that state and federal officials have made, the virus has done exactly what public-health experts expected. When states reopened in late April and May with plenty of infected people within their borders, cases began to grow. COVID-19 is highly transmissible, makes a large subset of people who catch it seriously ill, and kills many more people than the flu or any other infectious disease circulating in the country.

CNN: As Trump refuses to lead, America tries to save itself.

President Donald Trump isn’t leading America much as its pandemic worsens. But that’s not stopping Walmart — along with Kroger, Kohl’s, and city and state leaders and officials — from making the tough decisions that the President has shirked.

The Graveyard, by Uko Post

Given Trump’s approach, if the country is to exit the building disaster without many more thousands dead, it will fall to governors, mayors, college presidents and school principals, teachers and grocery store managers to execute plans balancing public health with the need for life to go on.

There were growing indications Wednesday that such centers of authority across the country are no longer waiting for cues from an indifferent President whose aggressive opening strategy has been discredited by a tsunami of infections and whose poll numbers are crashing as a result.

More school districts — in Houston and San Francisco, for example — are defying the President’s demand for all kids to go back to class in the fall.

Head over to CNN to read more examples of state and local leaders acting on their own.

It’s just another sad and frustrating day in an American held hostage by Trump’s dysfunctional “presidency.” Hang in there, Sky Dancers! We will survive this somehow.


Tuesday Reads

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP/Shutterstock

Good Morning!!

Today, members of the White House coronavirus task force will testify in the House of Representatives. The hearing starts at 11AM, and I expect it will be shown on the cable news channels. Here’s the C-Span link.

The Washington Post: Fauci, other health officials expected to caution at hearing that coronavirus could continue for ‘some time.’

With cases rising in nearly half of the states and a White House eager to return to normal, Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, and three other key officials are scheduled to appear before a House panel overseeing the administration’s response.

The testimony will be Fauci’s first since a highly anticipated appearance a month ago, and it comes on the heels of President Trump’s comments at a controversial campaign rally over the weekend that he asked officials to slow testing to show fewer cases. Aides later said the comment was made in jest, but it prompted a fresh round of criticism that Trump is seeking to minimize the challenges that loom in recovering from the virus.

In a joint statement submitted on behalf of the four witnesses, the Department of Health and Human Services says “while it remains unclear how long the pandemic will last, COVID-19 activity will likely continue for some time.”

The statement warns that if coronavirus activity continues into the upcoming flu season, “this could place a tremendous burden on the health care system related to bed occupancy, laboratory testing needs, personal protective equipment and health care worker safety.”

The statement also calls testing “an essential component of our nation’s response” and says a “safe and effective vaccine” will be “essential to stopping the spread of infection, reducing rates of morbidity and mortality, and preventing future outbreaks.”

Fauci is scheduled to be joined before the House Energy and Commerce Committee by Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control; Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration; and Brett Giroir, head of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Meanwhile, Trump and his goons apparently plan to blame the CDC for the mess they made. Polico: Trump team weighs a CDC scrubbing to deflect mounting criticism.

White House officials are putting a target on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, positioning the agency as a coronavirus scapegoat as cases surge in many states and the U.S. falls behind other nations that are taming the pandemic.

Trump administration aides in recent weeks have seriously discussed launching an in-depth evaluation of the agency to chart what they view as its missteps in responding to the pandemic including an early failure to deploy working test kits, according to four senior administration officials. Part of that audit would include examining more closely the state-by-state death toll to tally only the Americans who died directly of Covid-19 rather than other factors. About 120,000 people in the U.S. have died of the coronavirus so far, according to the CDC’s official count.

Aides have also discussed narrowing the mission of the agency or trying to embed more political appointees within it, according to interviews with 10 current and former senior administration officials and Republicans close to the White House. One official said the overall goal would be to make the CDC nimble and more responsive.

Politically, Trump aides have also been looking for a person or entity outside of China to blame for the coronavirus response and have grown furious with the CDC, its public health guidance and its actions on testing, making it a prime target. But some wonder whether the wonky-sounding CDC, which the administration directly oversees, could be an effective fall guy on top of Trump’s efforts to blame the World Health Organization….

The moves are among the White House’s efforts to deflect attacks on President Donald Trump and place them elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy. Protecting the president is seen as increasingly important by political aides as the general election approaches in just over four months and criticism mounts from former Vice President Joe Biden, other Democrats and even former national security adviser John Bolton who say the blame rests squarely on Trump himself.

The U.S. is losing the battle against the virus, and the blame should fall on Trump’s shoulders. This monster has cast a pall over the country and the rolling health crisis and the accompanying economic disaster are likely to get much worse.

Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: America Is Too Broken to Fight the Coronavirus.

Graphs of the coronavirus curves in Britain, Canada, Germany and Italy look like mountains, with steep climbs up and then back down. The one for America shows a fast climb up to a plateau. For a while, the number of new cases in the U.S. was at least slowly declining. Now, according to The Times, it’s up a terrifying 22 percent over the last 14 days.

As Politico reported on Monday, Italy’s coronavirus catastrophe once looked to Americans like a worst-case scenario. Today, it said, “America’s new per capita cases remain on par with Italy’s worst day — and show signs of rising further.”

This is what American exceptionalism looks like under Donald Trump. It’s not just that the United States has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths of any country in the world. Republican political dysfunction has made a coherent campaign to fight the pandemic impossible.

At the federal level as well as in many states, we’re seeing a combination of the blustering contempt for science that marks the conservative approach to climate change and the high tolerance for carnage that makes American gun culture unique.

The rot starts at the top. At the beginning of the crisis Trump acted as if he could wish the coronavirus away, and after an interval when he at least pretended to take it seriously, his administration has resumed a posture of blithe denial.

Head over to the NYT to read the rest of this powerful piece.

Fallout continues after Trump’s disastrous rally in Tulsa on Saturday night, but he’s still planning to head to Arizona–another coronavirus hot spot–today.

Jonathan Lemire at AP: After Tulsa, Trump heads to virus hotspot Arizona and border.

Regrouping after a humbling weekend rally, President Donald Trump faces another test of his ability to draw a crowd during a pandemic Tuesday as he visits Arizona and tries to remind voters of one of his key 2016 campaign promises….

First, the president will travel to Yuma to mark the construction of more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, an issue that he built his campaign on four years ago. Later, he’ll address a group of young Republicans at a Phoenix megachurch, where event organizers have pledged thousands will attend.

Throughout the trip, the COVID-19 pandemic will shadow Trump. The Democratic mayor of Phoenix made clear that she does not believe the speech can be safely held in her city — and urged the president to wear a face mask.

“Everyone attending tomorrow’s event, particularly any elected official, should set an example to residents by wearing a mask,” said Mayor Kate Gallego. “This includes the President.”

The “Students for Trump” event will be held at the Dream City Church and broadcast to groups across the nation. Students for Trump is a special project of Turning Point Action, a grouped chaired by Trump ally Charlie Kirk, which is hosting the president for his address. Organizers said health and safety measures still were being finalized and it was unclear if attendees would be asked to wear masks or keep socially distant.

More on the rally from NPR:

The church, which can hold about 3,000 people, released a statement saying it only found out that Trump would be speaking at the event after it agreed to rent its facilities.

“Dream City’s facility rental does not constitute endorsement of the opinions of its renters,” the statement said….

Students for Trump includes a waiver similar to the one the Trump campaign gave to attendees of the Tulsa rally, acknowledging the health risks.

“By attending this convention, you and any guest voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Turning Point Action, their affiliates, Dream City Church, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury,” it reads.

Three articles on the fallout from Tulsa and other problems with the Trump campaign, including lackluster fund-raising:

The Washington Post: Trump’s anger over Tulsa rally underscores growing problems within his campaign.

A sea of empty seats in a Tulsa arena on Saturday set off a furious round of finger-pointing and recriminations around President Trump’s campaign that continued through Monday, amplifying the president and his team’s struggle to find their footing amid national and political crises.

Trump has fumed about his campaign manager Brad Parscale over the half-empty arena, campaign officials are engaged in whisper campaigns against their colleagues, and some Trump allies are calling for a dramatic reorganization of the reelection machine, according to several current and former administration and campaign officials.

On Monday, the campaign announced that two additional staff members tested positive for the novel coronavirus after attending the Tulsa rally. Six members of the campaign advance team tested positive before the rally.

Publicly, the White House and Trump campaign declared the rally a success and denied claims that Trump — who has long fixated on crowd size — was upset about the crowd of 6,200 at the 19,000-seat arena in Tulsa. Before the event, Trump said he expected tens of thousands of supporters to be there.

The Daily Beast: Trump’s Rally Was a ‘Disaster.’ But It Wasn’t Even His Biggest One.

President Trump complained to top advisers about being put in a position where the media could mock him. He ordered his team to immediately find out what went wrong. And two of the sources said the president suggested there would be major consequences for campaign staff if this wasn’t “fixed” and if he saw too many empty seats at his next coronavirus-era mega-rally.

Among various Trump associates and staff—as well as GOP veterans—the blame was directed at Michael Glassner, the campaign’s chief operating officer, and Brad Parscale, the campaign manager….

the lackluster rally attendance came as cracks appear to be forming in one of the president’s key political assets—his formidable, and for a time unmatched, grassroots appeal—and as his Democratic rival overtakes him in an area dominated by Trump in 2016: small-dollar fundraising.

As Trump was on stage in Tulsa, his campaign filed its most recent financial report with the Federal Election Commission, revealing that it had brought in just under $25 million last month, well short of the nearly $37 million in receipts reported by the Biden campaign. The real concerns for the Trump campaign, though, were in the details. For the second time in three months, Biden’s campaign reported beating Trump’s in small dollar donations, both in terms of gross receipts—Biden more than tripled the $5.4 million that Trump brought in in May from donations of under $200—and as a share of total individual contributions. All told, 38.2 percent of individual donations to the Trump campaign in May came via contributions of less than $200, compared to 47.2 percent for Biden.

Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: “Brad Really S–t the Bed Saturday Night”: After Tulsa Catastrophe, Parscale–and Kushner–is at the Top of Trump’s Hit List.

Donald Trump’s exhausted trudge from Marine One toward the White House after his botched rally in Tulsa, his red tie undone, a grim look on his face, a crumpled MAGA hat in his hand, is now an iconic image of his presidency. And as always with Trump, he’s already looking for someone to blame. The most obvious candidate, according to sources, is his embattled campaign manager, Brad Parscale. “Brad really shit the bed Saturday night. You have to remember, execution is 95% of presidential politics,” a Republican close to the White House told me over the weekend. Parscale committed a cascade of errors, from overhyping expected turnout to blaming the half-filled arena on protesters. Trump was so furious when he saw how thin the crowd was that he threatened to not go onstage, two sources briefed on the discussions told me. The sources said that Parscale, reading the tea leaves, is planning to step down. “He knows he can’t survive,” one source told me.

Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said Parscale is safe. “Brad is the campaign manager, and he’s the one in charge,” Miller said.

But one thing is for sure: The blame game has shifted into high gear. Trump insiders told me Trump was presented with five options of where to hold his rally. “The president chose Tulsa,” a source said. Sources also told me that if Parscale is forced out, he likely won’t be the only casualty of the rally fiasco. Trump is debating revoking his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s control over the campaign, sources said. As I previously reported, Trump has been frustrated with Kushner’s oversight of the campaign in light of polling that consistently shows Trump losing to Joe Biden. Another source of friction has been campaign spending and reports Trump has gotten that Parscale is making millions of dollars. “Did Jared allow this?” Trump asked advisers recently, according to a source. (Kushner declined to comment.)

More gossip at the link.

There is much more news today; I’ll add some links in the comment thread. What stories have you been following? Please share.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Gorilla TV

Patrick, a lowland gorilla, at the Dallas Zoo watching a National Geographic special on gorillas on T.V.

Good Morning!!

For the past few days, the media and we political junkies have been obsessed with the new book by Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. TV talking heads have spent hours discussing the whether Donald Trump is temperamentally and cognitively fit for the office he holds. Of course most of us concluded during the 2016 campaign that he was not. But now Trump himself has definitively answered the question in one of his morning tweet storms.

Oh. Ohhh-kaaay. I’m convinced. Are you?

One person who apparently will defend Trump until the bitter end is Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

Share Blue: Sarah Sanders: Americans who aren’t “celebrating” Trump are “mentally unfit.”

Donald Trump and his allies are fiercely resisting the allegations in Michael Wolff’s explosive new book, “Fire and Fury,” that Trump lacks the basic mental competence for the day-to-day functions of the presidency — a question that even before the book’s release, was being hotly debated.

But White House attempts to beat back the allegations are not going well.

Appearing on Fox News to discuss the book’s charges of Trump’s unfitness, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders essentially resorted to the argument of “I know you are, but what am I?”

KILMEADE: That’s the president’s position on that. What’s yours?

SANDERS: Look, I think it’s absolutely insane to think all of these individuals, reporters and others, who suddenly have a medical degree and think that they can diagnose somebody, many times who they’ve never even had a conversation with. It’s absolutely outrageous to make these types of accusations, and it’s simply untrue, and it’s sad that people are going and making these desperate attempts to attack the president. What I think is really mentally unstable is people that don’t see the positive impact that this president is having on the country. The economy is booming, we’re crushing ISIS, day after day things are getting better for Americans all over this country. And I think it’s really sad that these people don’t see that, and that they’re not celebrating and trying to join in the president’s efforts to turn our country around.

A slightly more intelligent response to the book from David Remnick at The New Yorker: The Increasing Unfitness of Donald Trump.

What made the Emperor Nero tick, Suetonius writes in “Lives of the Caesars,” was “a longing for immortality and undying fame, though it was ill-regulated.” Many Romans were convinced that Nero was mentally unbalanced and that he had burned much of the imperial capital to the ground just to make room for the construction of the Domus Aurea, a gold-leaf-and-marble palace that stretched from the Palatine to the Esquiline Hill. At enormous venues around the city, he is said to have sung, danced, and played the water organ for many hours—but not before ordering the gates locked to insure that the house would remain full until after the final encore. Driven half mad by Nero’s antics, Romans feigned death or shimmied over the walls with ropes to escape.

Chaotic, corrupt, incurious, infantile, grandiose, and obsessed with gaudy real estate, Donald Trump is of a Neronic temperament. He has always craved attention. Now the whole world is his audience. In earlier times, Trump cultivated, among others, the proprietors and editors of the New York tabloids, Fox News, TMZ, and the National Enquirer. Now Twitter is his principal outlet, with no mediation necessary.

The President recently celebrated the holidays at Mar-a-Lago, the Domus Aurea of Palm Beach, and nearly every day, before setting out for the golf course, he thumbed his bilious contempt for . . . such a long list! Science itself did not escape his scorn:

In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!

Future scholars will sift through Trump’s digital proclamations the way we now read the chroniclers of Nero’s Rome—to understand how an unhinged emperor can make a mockery of republican institutions, undo the collective nervous system of a country, and degrade the whole of public life.

Click on the link to read the rest.

Trump is at Camp David right now with his cabinet (except for Jeff Sessions, who has been frozen out) and Republican leadership supposedly to discuss the administration’s agenda for the coming year.

Last night Rachel Maddow suggested that perhaps Sessions was left out because the rest of the Trump crowd might be planning to fire him.

Other Twitter folks think it’s because Sessions might interfere with the planned activities.

The New York Daily News: Jeff Sessions not invited to Trump meet, as EPA chief Scott Pruitt reportedly voices interest in attorney general post.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is one of the few cabinet members who will not attend an inner-circle legislative meeting hosted by President Trump this weekend, fueling speculation about growing tensions between the two men.

Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who will attend the meeting at Camp David, indicated this week that he’d be willing to lead the Justice Department, according to a report.

Pruitt has been telling close associates at the EPA that he would be up to fill Sessions’ shoes if Trump gives him the boot, one person familiar with the matter told Politico….

Trump’s weekend meeting will focus on national security, immigration and economic legislation priorities for this year, according to a White House statement. In addition to Pruitt, the sit down will be attended by senior House and Senate Republicans as well as a majority of Trump’s cabinet, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Sessions’ absence is particularly conspicuous since an attorney general is usually deeply involved in the issues that will be discussed during the Camp David rendezvous.

Kumbuka the gorilla may have been recaptured – but Donald Trump is still on the loose | The Independent

I hate to say this, but I almost think Sessions would preferable to Scott Pruitt as Attorney General.

Philip Ewing at NPR: The Russia Investigations: Sessions On Edge, Bannon Exiled And Internecine Combat.

Following the heavy cyclone of news this week, dawn in Washington, D.C., on Saturday found Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the slippery sand — and that could also mean peril for Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

An explosive New York Times scoop revealed that Sessions tried to smear then-FBI Director James Comey before he was fired. The report, by Michael Schmidt, also said President Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to lean on Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia probe, and when Sessions did recuse, the president fustigated him. Sessions offered to quit but Trump said no.

So not only is Sessions persona non grata with the president — that’s been the case for months. Now the public and people inside the Justice Department know Sessions was actively trying to undermine his own FBI director, as part of a pattern of conduct directed by Trump — who himself had asked Comey to lay off then-national security adviser Mike Flynn, then fired Comeyetc.

Ewing notes that Pruitt has been angling for Sessions’ job, apparently thinking Trump’s AG could be gone soon.

What does it all mean? Sessions has been in hot water before with Trump but came through it, in part thanks to steadfast support from his longtime allies in the Senate. How strong is that firewall now? Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said he had no plans to confirm a new attorney general. And Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., has threatened to hold up all Justice Department nominees after Sessions rescinded earlier permissive guidelines on marijuana enforcement.

So if Sessions were to go for real this time, Trump might not be able to quickly and easily appoint someone else — someone not recused from the Russia probe — to wrangle the Justice Department on the president’s behalf. But if the political dynamics change, that could change the play for the White House. As NPR’s Carrie Johnson has reported, replacing the leadership at Justice is one way that Trump could try to control or get rid of Mueller.

Meanwhile the Russia investigation continues, along with the GOP’s efforts to interfere with it. A few updates:

LA Times: Mueller calls back at least one participant in key meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has recalled for questioning at least one participant in a controversial meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016, and is looking into President Trump’s misleading claim that the discussion focused on adoption, rather than an offer to provide damaging information about Hillary.

Some defense lawyers involved in the case view Mueller’s latest push as a sign that investigators are focusing on possible obstruction of justice by Trump and several of his closest advisors for their statements about the politically sensitive meeting, rather than for collusion with the Russians.

The Times agreed with its source not to name the individual who has been called back for more questioning.

Investigators also are exploring the involvement of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who did not attend the half-hour sit-down on June 9, 2016, but briefly spoke with two of the participants, a Russian lawyer and a Russian-born Washington lobbyist. Details of the encounter were not previously known.

It occurred at the Trump Tower elevator as the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, were leaving the building and consisted of pleasantries, a person familiar with the episode said. But Mueller’s investigators want to know every contact the two visitors had with Trump’s family members and inner circle.

That’s interesting. So did Ivanka get advance notice of the meeting? And did her father send her down to exchange “pleasantries” with her brother’s guests?

Good old George Papadopoulos is still in the news. Sydney Morning News: ‘Romantic encounter’ set off Australia’s role in triggering Donald Trump investigation.

It was a chance romantic encounter by George Papadopoulos that set in train the events that led to the Australian government tipping off Washington about what it knew of Russian hacking efforts to swing the US presidential election.

Fairfax Media can reveal a woman in London with whom Papadopoulos became involved happened to know Alexander Downer and told the Australian High Commissioner about Papadopoulos, a newly signed staffer for Donald Trump. Downer, being a canny diplomat, followed it up and arranged a meeting with the young American, who was mostly living in London at the time.

What followed was the now infamous May 2016 conversation over many glasses of wine at the swanky Kensington Wine Rooms, during which the 28-year-old Papadopoulos spilled to Downer that he knew of a Russian dirt file on the rival Clinton campaign consisting of thousands of hacked emails.

That night was a key moment that helped spark the FBI probe – since taken over by respected former FBI director Robert Mueller as a special counsel – into possible Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin, including its hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

Read more at the link.

The Trump campaign’s digital director sent out a series of interesting tweets yesterday. Natasha Bertrand wrote up the story at Business Insider: Trump campaign digital director: ‘Not one person made a decision’ without Kushner and Eric Trump’s ‘approval.’

The digital director of the Trump campaign said Friday that the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and son Eric Trump “were joint deputy campaign managers” whose “approval” was required for every decision before the 2016 election.

“Nobody else. Not one person made a decision without their approval,” the digital director, Brad Parscale, tweeted. “Others just took credit for this family’s amazing ability. I’m done with all these lies. They will be embarrassed!”

Kushner was Parscale’s “patron,” according to a person familiar with the campaign’s inner workings, which could explain their closeness.

Kushner got Parscale hired, the person said, “despite the fact that a number of people in the campaign wondered whether he had any idea what he was doing.”

“He’s Jared’s boy,” the person added. “I had [campaign] deputies telling me they couldn’t question anything the guy did or said, and they were unhappy about that.”

But Eric Trump? Who knew he was so central to the operation?

Parscale’s tweet also raises new questions about how involved Kushner and Eric Trump were in episodes that have drawn the most scrutiny from investigators probing the campaign’s ties to Russia.

Those include agreeing to with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and other Russian nationals at Trump Tower in June 2016; green-lighting a trip to Moscow for Carter Page, an early campaign aide, in July 2016; and altering the GOP’s Ukraine platform during the Republican National Convention that month.

Page told the House Intelligence Committee last year that days before the convention, Corey Lewandowski, then the campaign manager, gave him permission to travel to Russia. Lewandowski has denied that, but Page has said he has emails to prove it. It is not clear whether Lewandowski consulted with Kushner beforehand.

Parscale’s statement also raises questions about what Kushner and Eric Trump knew about George Papadopoulos, the former campaign aide who was charged late last year with making false statements to the FBI.

Interesting. On the GOP obstruction side:

The New York Times: Republican Senators Raise Possible Charges Against Author of Trump Dossier.

More than a year after Republican leaders promised to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election, two influential Republicans on Friday made the first known congressional criminal referral in connection with the meddling — against one of the people who sought to expose it.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior committee member, told the Justice Department that they had reason to believe that a former British spy, Christopher Steele, lied to federal authorities about his contacts with reporters regarding information in a dossier, and they urged the department to investigate. The committee is running one of three congressional investigations into Russian election meddling, and its inquiry has come to focus on, in part, Mr. Steele’s explosive dossier that purported to detail Russia’s interference and the Trump campaign’s complicity.

The decision by Mr. Grassley and Mr. Graham to single out the former intelligence officer behind the dossier infuriated Democrats and raised the stakes in the growing partisan battle over the investigations into Mr. Trump, his campaign team and Russia.

The Senate Judiciary Committee effort played into a far broader campaign waged by conservatives to cast doubt on the Trump-Russia investigations, and instead turn the veracity of the dossier and the credibility of its promulgators into the central issue.

The story goes on to describe other GOP attempts at obstruction and distraction–including efforts to once again investigation Hillary Clinton.

USA Today: FBI documents: Andrew McCabe had no conflict in Hillary Clinton email probe.

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whom President Trump has blamed for influencing the decision not to criminally charge Hillary Clinton for her use of private email server, did not oversee that inquiry while his wife was running for state office in Virginia as a Democrat, according to bureau records released Friday.

The internal documents, published on the FBI’s website, support what the bureau has asserted previously: that McCabe had no conflicts when he assumed oversight of the Clinton investigation. His role began in February 2016, following his appointment as deputy director and three months after his wife, Jill McCabe, lost her bid for a state Senate seat.

McCabe has been repeatedly targeted by Trump and some Republican lawmakers, who accuse the long-time FBI official of exerting undue and partisan influence over the Clinton probe.

As recently as last month, Trump seized on McCabe’s role in the Clinton inquiry and his wife’s political bid, noting that Jill McCabe received nearly $470,000 from a political action committee associated with Clinton ally and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers! What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Big Steps Forward in Russia Investigation

Coffee and Donuts, Scott Moore

Good Morning!!

It appears that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is getting closer to finding crimes committed foreign persons and by Trump’s closest advisers; and Jared Kushner may be at the center of it all. For Trump, the shit is about to get real.

It all centers around Facebook and microtargeting. As I’m sure you know, Mueller recently obtained a warrant for the content of ads that Facebook sold to a Russian source. CNN has the latest this morning: Facebook handed Russia-linked ads over to Mueller under search warrant.

Facebook gave Mueller and his team copies of ads and related information it discovered on its site linked to a Russian troll farm, as well as detailed information about the accounts that bought the ads and the way the ads were targeted at American Facebook users, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

The disclosure, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, may give Mueller’s office a fuller picture of who was behind the ad buys and how the ads may have influenced voter sentiment during the 2016 election.

Facebook did not give copies of the ads to members of the Senate and House intelligence committees when it met with them last week on the grounds that doing so would violate their privacy policy, sources with knowledge of the briefings said. Facebook’s policy states that, in accordance with the federal Stored Communications Act, it can only turn over the stored contents of an account in response to a search warrant.

Clark Kent Breakfast, Dave Seguin

“We continue to work with the appropriate investigative authorities,” Facebook said in a statement to CNN.

Facebook informed Congress last week that it had identified 3,000 ads that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to fake accounts. Those accounts, in turn, were linked to the pro-Kremlin troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.

This is significant, because it indicates that Mueller has evidence of crimes related to the Facebook data. Business Insider: Mueller just obtained a warrant that could change the entire nature of the Russia investigation.

FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the “inauthentic” accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016 election.

The warrant was first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal on Friday night and the news was later confirmed by CNN.

Legal experts say the revelation has enormous implications for the trajectory of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, and whether Moscow had any help from President Donald Trump’s campaign team.

“This is big news — and potentially bad news for the Russian election interference ‘deniers,'” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent.

Rangappa, now an associate dean at Yale Law School, explained that to obtain a search warrant a prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that there is reason to believe a crime has been committed. The prosecutor then has to show that the information being sought will provide evidence of that crime….

by Victor Ostrovsky

“The key here…is that Mueller clearly already has enough information on these accounts — and their link to a potential crime to justify forcing [Facebook] to give up the info,” she said. “That means that he has uncovered a great deal of evidence through other avenues of Russian election interference.”

It also means that Mueller is no longer looking at Russia’s election interference from a strict counterintelligence standpoint — rather, he now believes he may be able to obtain enough evidence to charge specific foreign entities with a crime.

Read more in this Twitter thread–click to read the rest:

And who was in charge of the data operation for the Trump campaign? Jared Kushner. He revealed a lot about how he did it in a Forbes article back in May 2017: Jared Kushner In His Own Words On The Trump Data Operation The FBI Is Reportedly Probing. A couple of excerpts:

— “We found that Facebook and digital targeting were the most effective ways to reach the audiences. After the primary, we started ramping up because we knew that doing a national campaign is different than doing a primary campaign. That was when we formalized the system because we had to ramp up for digital fundraising. We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world. And I asked them how to scale this stuff. Doing it state by state is not that hard. But scaling is a very, very hard thing. They gave me a lot of their subcontractors and I built in Austin a data hub that would complement the RNC’s data hub. We had about 100 people in that office, which nobody knew about, until towards the end. We used that as the nerve center that drove a lot of the deployment of our ground game resources….

Fabio Hurtado Spanish, b. 1960

— “We played Moneyball, where we were asking, ‘Which states are will be the most cost effective—ROI per electoral vote.’ We used a lot things to get much more bang for the buck… We got rid of a lot of the political people. That’s not who we hired. Our best people were mostly people who volunteered pro bono, people from the business world, people from nontraditional fields. We could squeeze the margin so that nobody was getting rich on it. And we only had people who were doing it for the right reasons, not because they wanted to go onto the next campaign, but because they felt passionately about getting Donald Trump elected.”

Yesterday Vanity Fair published a piece by Chris Smith that connects a lot of dots: Did Jared Kushner’s Data Operation Help Select Facebook Targets for the Russians?

Kushner’s chat with Forbes has provided a veritable bakery’s worth of investigatory bread crumbs to follow. Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.

Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.” (Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a request for comment.) ….

by PJ Crook

No evidence has emerged to link Kushner, Cambridge Analytica, or Manafort to the Russian election-meddling enterprise; all have denied colluding with foreign agents. (Kushner’s representatives declined to comment for this article. Manafort’s spokesman could not be reached.) Yet analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. “Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible,” said Mike Carpenter, an Obama administration assistant defense secretary who specialized in Russia and Eastern Europe. “But that’s not how they do this. And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”

Click on the Vanity Fair link to read the rest.

More on the Cambridge Analytica piece of this at CNBC:

Darren Bolding, chief technology officer of Cambridge Analytica, told the crowd at the third annual Internet Summit in San Francisco on Thursday that “algorithms will find the worst in us if you let them go nuts.”

His comments came during an interview onstage with Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig in front of several hundred people gathered to hear him discuss the campaign. The interview was led by Matthew Prince, the CEO of internet service provider Cloudflare, which removed a white supremacist website from its network in the wake of Trump’s comments after a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Arjona, Rafael-Lectora

Bolding — who worked at the Republican National Committee before joining Cambridge in January of 2017 — said that the RNC used 15 “issue models” to target political ads at Facebook users during the 2016 U.S. election campaign….The event came as Facebook faces growing criticism to release more details on the ads it sent to users that it says were bought by Russians looking to influence U.S. voters.

The ads were targeted using the same automated Facebook system used by Cambridge Analytica, and for the same purpose — to influence the U.S. presidential election.

And that’s not the only Russia Investigation story that broke yesterday.

Bloomberg: Russia Laundering Probe Puts Trump Tower Meeting in New Light. The Russian lawyer who met with Don Jr., Kushner and Paul Manafort in June 2016 was also involved in a huge money laundering case–could getting rid of that case have been the quid pro quo for Russian help in getting Trump elected?

when she stepped into Trump Tower, [Natalia] Veselnitskaya was also representing a client ensnared in a long-running U.S. investigation into an alleged web of Russian money-laundering. That criminal inquiry, opened by federal prosecutors in New York in 2013 and previously unreported, is still active, according to people familiar with the probe. There was no mention of an ongoing criminal inquiry when the U.S. settled a related civil lawsuit against Veselnitskaya’s client in May.

The outline of the criminal investigation, stretching from Switzerland to Cyprus, is laid out deep within the 734 filings in the civil case. Several countries have supplied documents to the U.S., as have Deutsche Bank AGCitigroup Inc. and other global banks that aren’t targets. U.S. prosecutors in the case are seeking to track parts of more than $200 million they say left Russia after a massive fraud, and to identify who was involved in the scheme.

The revelation adds a new element to the Trump Tower meeting, which has emerged as a focus of congressional investigators and a U.S. special counsel inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Recall that Trump fired former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had brought the case in 2013 and later the Justice Department settle the case for peanuts:

After years of court wrangling over the civil case, the Prevezon matter was set for trial in May 2017, promising a public view of prosecutors’ full allegations about the Russian money flows. But just days before opening arguments, the U.S. announced it had settled the case for $5.9 million.

Ana Maria Leão

The prosecutors called it a victory. So did Prevezon lawyer Gay, who called the U.S. settlement “almost an apology by the government.”

Several Democratic lawmakers looked at the Prevezon settlement in a new light two months later, when news emerged about the Veselnitskaya meeting in Trump Tower. In a letter, they asked whether the Russian lawyer, or members of the Trump team, may have put pressure on prosecutors in the matter.

Natasha Bertrand has more at Business Insider: New details about major Russian money-laundering investigation raise the stakes of Trump Tower meeting.

The criminal investigation had not yet been disclosed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Bharara in March, and there was no mention of it when the civil case was settled in May for $5.9 million.

Veselnitskaya has staunchly denied discussing the Prevezon case during the Trump Tower meeting. But the developments suggest the stakes for her client were higher than previously known.

In September 2016, Bharara had issued a grand-jury subpoena to Andrei Alekseevich Pavlov — a person “central to the Government’s case against Prevezon,” according to an emergency appeal filed at the time by Prevezon counsel Michael Mukasey, who wanted to depose him.

Citigroup, Deutsche Bank AG, UBS AG, and TD Bank were also issued grand-jury subpoenas, according to Bloomberg, which did not provide further details.

Grand-jury testimonies are a key stage in a federal criminal investigation. The subpoena issued by Bharara to Pavlov, and provided to Business Insider on Friday, ordered him to hand over documents related to a series of cases connected to the Prevezon investigation.

The subpoena also asked Pavlov to provide “all non-privileged correspondence” with Veselnitskaya and others relevant to the case.

This was all short-circuited when the DOJ settled the case. Read more details at BI.

In the days leading up to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, when his soon-to-be national security adviser Michael Flynn was reportedly pushing a multibillion-dollar deal to build nuclear reactors in Jordan and other Middle East nations, Flynn and two other top Trump advisers held a secret meeting with the king of Jordan.

Karin Jurick

meeting — details of which have never been reported — is the latest in a series of secret, high-stakes contacts between Trump advisers and foreign governments that have raised concerns about how, in particular, Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner handled their personal business interests as they entered key positions of power. And the nuclear project raised additional security concerns about expanding nuclear technology in a tinderbox region of the world. One expert compared it to providing “a nuclear weapons starter kit.”

On the morning of Jan. 5, Flynn, Kushner, and former chief strategist Steve Bannon greeted Mi at the Four Seasons hotel in lower Manhattan, then took off in a fleet of SUVs and a sedan to a different location.

People close to the three Trump advisers say that the nuclear deal was not discussed. But a federal official with access to a document created by a law enforcement agency about the meeting said that the nuclear proposal, known as the Marshall Plan, was one of the topics the group talked about.

Read the rest at the link. It sure looks like Mueller is getting closer to nailing Trump and his gang.

What stories are you following today?