Tuesday Art and Reads

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

 

Breaking News

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

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

Today’s Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at the NYT.

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

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

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

Artist Do Fournier

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

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

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

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

Read more at ABC News.

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

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

Artist Do Fournier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artist Do Fournier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artist Do Fournier

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

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

More details at the TPM link.

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday had to be one of the worst days in the monstrous “presidency” of most evil and moronic man ever to hold the office.

In the morning we learned that Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, another one of Trump’s FBI targets, had stepped down. Then we learned the background. Trump ranted at McCabe that James Comey should have been left stranded in Los Angeles after his firing. Then when McCabe said he hadn’t been asked about Comey getting a ride hope in a government plane, the “president” told McCabe his wife was “a loser.”

Then we learned that the moron refused to impose the sanctions on Russia that he’s been dragging his feet on since August. How he thinks that aids his efforts to show he’s not colluding with Russia is a mystery. Perhaps he’s so afraid of what would happen if he stood up to Putin, that he simply doesn’t care.

Meanwhile, Congress is doing absolutely nothing to provide checks and balances on Trump’s unethical and possibly illegal actions. Instead, the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted to release a memo drafted by Rep. Devin Nunes’s staff–a memo that the DOJ says would be “extraordinarily reckless” and could be damaging to national security. And we learned that Trump had a tantrum on Air Force One when he learned about the DOJ letter.

It was a very bad day, and I really felt despairing until I read a Twitter thread by “The Hoarse Whisperer.”

You can read the whole thread on Twitter, and I recommend that you do. But the gist is that Wray seems to be eliminating the people that Trump has used as distractions and replacing them with FBI/Comey/Mueller loyalists who don’t have the same baggage. And get this: Bowditch is one of the people that Comey told contemporaneously about Trump’s demand for “loyalty.”

The Washington Post on Bowditch: The rise of David Bowdich, the former sniper in line to become the FBI’s new deputy director.

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is stepping down from his joband is expected to be replaced by David Bowdich, a senior official who headed the FBI’s response to the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., according to people familiar with the plans.

The article provides an extensive summary of Bowditch’s career. Here are some highlights:

Bowdich joined the FBI in 1995 as a special agent and served as a SWAT team member and sniper at the agency’s San Diego field office. There, he investigated violent crimes and gangs, according to an FBI news release.

One of his investigations included a year-long wiretap that resulted in the first federal criminal racketeering convictions brought against a street gang in Southern California, according to FBI officials. In 2005, he started leading a multiagency gang task force that through undercover operations and wiretaps investigated drug and racketeering cases against the Mexican Mafia, Bloods and Crips gangs and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, FBI officials said….

David Bowditch after the San Bernardino attack.

In 2014, he was named the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office — overseeing seven Southern California counties with a population of nearly 19 million people, according to Los Angeles Times….

After the December 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people and wounded 22 others, Bowdich asked the public at a January 2016 news conference for help in figuring out whether the husband and wife behind the attack — Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik — had communicated with anyone after the shooting. An 18-minute period after the shooting, from 12:59 p.m. to 1:17 p.m., puzzled investigators, who wondered if Farook and Malik went to a home or business or contacted anyone else.

Using traffic cameras, surveillance footage and witness accounts, Bowdich and investigators had already pieced together what Farook and Malik were doing in the four hours before the shooting, The Post’s Mark Berman reported at the time. And investigators knew that about 45 minutes after the shooting the couple visited the city’s Lake Seccombe. Divers were dispatched into the water to see what they could recover, but none of the items they found appeared to be relevant to the investigation, the FBI said.

Bowdich, who at the time still ran the FBI’s Los Angeles office, told reporters then that “until we close that gap, we just don’t know for sure.”

There’s much more at the link. It seems that Chris Wray really is trying to strengthen the FBI against Trump’s attacks. We can only hope it works. Luckily for the FBI and and for us, Trump really is a fucking moron.

Yes, Trump is giving a speech to Congress tonight and some members of the media will swoon over it and claim that the fucking moron has turned over a new leaf. Most Americans will find that ridiculous, and we’ll go back to the slow-motion coup attempt that Trump is trying to perpetrate with help from Paul Ryan and his hyenas in the House.

Frankly, it will be difficult for anyone to call the speech “presidential” when the “president” is going to be making money from it. Fortune: Trump Campaign Says Donor Names Will Flash During Livestream of State of the Union Speech.

In the latest reminder that it’s never too soon to start campaigning for reelection, President Donald Trump’s camp sent out a fundraising solicitation on Monday: pay at least $35 and your name will appear on the campaign’s livestream of the State of the Union address Tuesday night.

The solicitation reads: “This is a movement. It’s not about just one of us. It’s about ALL of us. Which is why your name deserves to be displayed during Tuesday night’s speech.” It invites donors to choose how much money to give—ranging from the minimum of $35, to a maximum of $2,700, which is the limit allowed per election.

The text message version of the solicitation adds another message: “Enough of the Fake News Media. It’s time for them to hear from the AMERICAN PEOPLE.”

A good take on the speech by Peter Hamby at The Atlantic: Why Trump’s State of the Union Speech Will be Meaningless.

Here’s a useful question as you prepare to spend the next two days suffocating in a fog of hot takes and snap reactions to Donald Trump’s first official State of the Union address. Which of these two things is more consequential: the annual pageantry of the State of the Union, or any single one of Trump’s tweets? The answer is painfully clear. Trump’s staccato-burst missives on Twitter have the power to shake markets, launch congressional inquiries, offend entire nations, and stoke so much cultural grievance that N.F.L. owners are forced to contemplate whether signing a certain free-agent backup quarterback will spark racial unrest in their stadiums. At the very least, Trump’s tweets make you wonder why white Republicans are so obsessed with Black Unemployment (all-caps). Trump’s State of the Union address, meanwhile, will do approximately zero of these things.

The declining relevance of the State of the Union is partly a function of Trump and what we all know about him. “He is who he is” has become a go-to dictum of the Washington cocktail circuit, and no scripted-teleprompter performance can disguise the truth that our president would much rather be back at the White House residence feasting on Big Macs and Lou Dobbs. “Trump hasn’t changed, and won’t,” Mike Allen of Axios wrote this week. Allen writes some variation of this point every week—and he’s right every time. The Trump who will stand before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening isn’t fooling anyone, except some Beltway pundits who insist on always adding something new to “the conversation.” Washington journalists are among the few dead-enders eager to ascribe meaning to a night that faded long ago into meaningless ritual. White House aides have promised reporters, on the condition of anonymity of course, that the president will deliver a “unifying” speech on Tuesday….

The State of the Union—with its applause lines and cutaway shots and carefully selected special guests—stopped being about the speech a long time ago. Political stagecraft is about “moments”—moments you’ll probably forget about in a couple days, anyway. A handful of smart people fell prey to this plainly avoidable sand trap last year, but none more so than Van Jones, a usually sharp-eyed contrarian who declared on CNN after the speech that Trump “became president of the United States in that moment, period.” Jones claimed it was “one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics,” which besides being flatly untrue—honoring our military heroes is among the most shopworn staples of political theater—sets an awfully low bar for the word “extraordinary.”

That kind of analysis, pegged to a vestigial ceremony obsessed about only by the kind of people who spend their weekends on Twitter, was bound to collapse under the reality of a Trump’s presidency.

Amazingly, Chuck Todd et. al.’s take at “first reads” is pretty powerful today: The state of our union has become increasingly fragile.

On the day that President Trump delivers his first State of the Union address, the political news over the last 24 hours suggests that the state of our republic — the checks and balances, the separation of law enforcement from the White House, and the danger of foreign interference in our elections — has become increasingly fragile.

The authors enumerate in great detail the stark situation we find ourselves in. It’s well worth a read. Here’s something I left out of my list at the top of the post:

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has lectured senior Justice Department officials “to convey Trump’s displeasure”:Bloomberg News: “Kelly held separate meetings or phone calls with senior Justice Department officials last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to convey Trump’s displeasure and lecture them on the White House’s expectations, according to the people. Kelly has taken to ending such conversations with a disclaimer that the White House isn’t expecting officials to do anything illegal or unethical.”

Read the rest at NBC News.

I’d like to hear Trump explain this in his speech. NPR: FEMA To End Food And Water Aid For Puerto Rico.

In a sign that FEMA believes the immediate humanitarian emergency has subsided, on Jan. 31 it will, in its own words, “officially shut off” the mission it says has provided more than 30 million gallons of potable water and nearly 60 million meals across the island in the four months since the hurricane. The agency will turn its remaining food and water supplies over to the Puerto Rican government to finish distributing.

Some on the island believe it’s too soon to end these deliveries given that a third of residents still lack electricity and, in some places, running water, but FEMA says its internal analytics suggest only about 1 percent of islanders still need emergency food and water. The agency believes that is a small enough number for the Puerto Rican government and nonprofit groups to handle.

And what is FEMA’s excuse for terminating food and water aid? They supposedly want to help local businesses.

The decision to end the delivery of aid is part of the agency’s broader plan to transition away from the emergency response phase of its work on the island. In the weeks and months to come, the focus will be longer-term recovery. De La Campa said that includes finding ways to jumpstart the island’s troubled economy.

“If we’re giving free water and food, that means that families are not going to supermarkets to buy,” De La Campa said. “It is affecting the economy of Puerto Rico. So we need to create a balance. With the financial assistance we’re providing to families and the municipalities, they’re able to go back to the normal economy.”

I’ll have a few more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today? What will you be doing instead of watching the moron’s speech?