Frantic Friday Reads: Epic Choices

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

We’re having another one of those mega news drop days so this thread will be a bit disjointed. However,chaos whispering is the rule of day for media.  It doesn’t seem to be rule of the day with the various Trump corruption, collusion, and constitution-breaking investigations plodding ever forward.  Paul Manafort chose poorly in the Grail search.  Even if does get to sip from the chalice of Pardons by Trump the Pretender, he’ll get the cold, dank dungeon from the State of New York.

“New York Has Prepared Paul Manafort Charges If Trump Pardons Him” is posted by Bloomberg Politics and written by Greg Farelle.

New York state prosecutors have put together a criminal case against Paul Manafort that they could file quickly if the former chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign receives a presidential pardon.

New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is ready to file an array of tax and other charges against Manafort, according to two people familiar with the matter, something seen as an insurance policy should the president exercise his power to free the former aide. Skirting laws that protect defendants from being charged twice for the same offense has been one of Vance’s challenges.

Manafort was convicted of eight felonies, pleaded guilty to two more and is scheduled to be sentenced next month for those federal crimes. Prosecutors working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller have recommended as long as 24 years, a virtual life sentence, for the 69-year-old political consultant.

The president, who has bemoaned Manafort’s treatment at the hands of Mueller, said in November that he has not ruled out a pardon. He has frequently talked of his broad pardon power, possibly extending even to himself, and acted to liberate two political allies previously.

Divvying out transgressions was an obvious strategy by those conducting the central DOJ investigations.  There was an overriding concern that it was just a matter of time before a Trump administration lackey would try to shut the entire operation down. We’ve learned a lot about that since the release of Andrew McCabe’s book.  Phillip Bump argues–for the Washington Post–that the Manfort report has been slowing writing itself in a series of indictments and page turns along the way.  Be sure to check out his graphic on the “product’ of the Mueller probe which consists of the stack of already filed indictments and guilty pleas.  It’s actually from Marcy Wheeler who has been doing a great investigative job herself.

President Trump has benefited enormously from the frog-in-hot-water nature of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into his campaign and possible overlap with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.

Imagine if, instead of Mueller releasing new public indictments as he went along, leveraging criminal charges to obtain more information from the targets of his probe, he instead had kept his information private. Imagine if he and his lawyers had been working in quiet for 20 months, submitting expenses to the Department of Justice and suffering the president’s tweeted ferocity.

And then, after all of that, they suddenly produced a dozen indictments and plea deals running into hundreds of pages, detailing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s illegal and questionable financial dealings, those of his deputy Rick Gates, full details of Russia’s alleged efforts to influence social media and to steal electronic information from Democratic targets and detailed a half-dozen people who admitted to lying to federal investigators.

Imagine if that had landed with a thud on the attorney general’s desk.

Yeah, but I’m still waiting for Don Jr’s turn in the handcuffs and I shall have it!  I will admit that watching Roger Stone get his comeuppance is mildly thrilling.  There is some speculation that a final “tell all” will happen during the next court sessions for Manafort.  He is due in March for the Virginia sentencing. This is from Katelyn Polentz reporting for CNN. The sentencing memo is due today to the DC District.

It is the last major requisite court filing in Mueller’s longest running case, a sprawling prosecution of the former Trump campaign manager that led investigators to gather exhaustive information about his hidden Cypriot bank accounts, Ukrainian political efforts in Europe and the US and into Manafort’s time on the 2016 presidential campaign.
Prosecutors are set to outline all facts they believe the judge should consider at his sentencing, now set for March 13. That will likely include Manafort’s criminal business schemes, his attempt to reach out to key contacts after his arrest and the lies he told to prosecutors and a grand jury after he agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.
Often, in filings like these, prosecutors will pull together a complete retelling of the defendant’s crimes, convictions and cooperation. Details about Manafort’s cooperation have been especially guarded by prosecutors, since his interviews are a significant part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
Prosecutors will also likely suggest a range the judge could give him in prison time.
The memo Friday will cover the two charges Manafort pleaded guilty to in September, conspiracy against the US and conspiracy witness tampering, which he committed after he was arrested by trying to reach out to former colleagues.
At the time of his plea, he also admitted to a litany of money laundering and foreign lobbying crimes that encompassed his work for Ukrainian politicians and other clients over several years. Co-conspirators, Manafort said, were his long-time colleagues Rick Gates, who is still cooperating with Mueller, and Konstantin Kilimnik, whom prosecutors say is connected to Russian intelligence and who is at the heart of their inquiry.
The memo will also likely cover his and Kilimnik’s alleged contact with potential witnesses in his case after Manafort’s October 2017 arrest, and his lies about his interactions with Kilimnik in 2016 and other topics.

arthurRepresentative Adam Schiff–chair of the House Intel Committee–has written an “open” letter to Republicans. It’s been published by WAPO.

This is a moment of great peril for our democracy. Our country is deeply divided. Our national discourse has become coarse, indeed, poisonous. Disunity and dysfunction have paralyzed Congress.

And while our attention is focused inward, the world spins on, new authoritarian regimes are born, old rivals spread their pernicious ideologies, and the space for freedom-loving peoples begins to contract violently. At last week’s Munich Security Conference, the prevailing sentiment among our closest allies is that the United States can no longer be counted on to champion liberal democracy or defend the world order we built.

For the past two years, we have examined Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its attempts to influence the 2018 midterms. Moscow’s effort to undermine our democracy was spectacularly successful in inflaming racial, ethnic and other divides in our society and turning American against American.

But the attack on our democracy had its limits. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not lead us to distrust our own intelligence agencies or the FBI. He could not cause us to view our own free press as an enemy of the people. He could not undermine the independence of the Justice Department or denigrate judges. Only we could do that to ourselves. Although many forces have contributed to the decline in public confidence in our institutions, one force stands out as an accelerant, like gas on a fire. And try as some of us might to avoid invoking the arsonist’s name, we must say it.

I speak, of course, of our president, Donald Trump.

Trump continues to have a devastating impact on our Country and all aspects of life and law. There is a lot of concern about what he will do in Vietnam while being tricked by the North Korean Dictator.  Eliana Johnson of Politico writes this:  “Trump aides worry he’ll get outfoxed in North Korea talks President Trump is excited to meet Kim Jong Un in Hanoi. Others fear he’ll give too much away.

The push for a second summit came almost entirely from the president himself, according to current and former White House officials — but Trump remains undeterred. He has gushed about the “wonderful letters” he has received from Kim, as well as the “good rapport” he has developed with the North Korean leader and the enormous media coverage the event in Vietnam’s capital is likely to attract. Trump even bragged, in a phone call Tuesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, that he is the only person who can make progress on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, according to a person briefed on the conversation, and complained about negative news coverage he has received.

Inside the administration, concern about the upcoming summit has come from predictable skeptics, including national security adviser John Bolton, a longtime opponent of diplomacy with North Korea, but also from unexpected corners. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the man charged with leading the negotiations, has expressed frustration to allies about the lack of diplomatic progress and voiced concern that his boss will get outmaneuvered, according to a source with direct knowledge of the conversations. Other top officials, such as former Defense Secretary James Mattis, simply worked to keep as much distance from the negotiations as possible.

“There is not optimism in the administration,” said Ian Bremmer, founder and president of the Eurasia Group. “Pompeo is deeply skeptical that we are going to get anything of substance on denuclearization from Kim Jong Un, and Pompeo believes the North Koreans are just playing for time.”

Jared’s busy heading off to the middle east to push through more bad policy but gee, his fortunes have suddenly taken off.

Kushner Cos., the family real-estate company of President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, said it has acquired a portfolio of rental apartments for $1.1 billion in the firm’s largest transaction in more than a decade.

The purchase comes less than a year after the company unloaded a Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue to Brookfield Asset Management Inc. in a deal that valued the property at about $1.25 billion.

The earlier transaction, in which Brookfield leased the office building for 99 years, relieved Kushner Cos. of $1.1 billion in debt due this year. That liability had been hanging over the firm and had raised questions about whether Kushner Cos. had the means to transact any large deals.

The acquisition of more than 6,000 rental apartments in Maryland and Virginia from the private-equity firm Lone Star Funds is the clearest sign yet that Kushner Cos. is re-emerging after that period of uncertainty.

The firm, headed by Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, has faced increased scrutiny over potential conflicts of interest since Mr. Trump took office and Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, began working in the White House.

So that’s happening here, while this is going on in the MENA region.  This is from the UK Independent. “Trump administration ‘pushing Saudi nuclear deal’ which could benefit company linked to Jared Kushner. Congressional report cites ‘abnormal acts’ in White House regarding proposal to build reactors in kingdom.”

Senior Trump administration officials pushed a project to share nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia over the objections of ethics officials, according to a congressional report, in a move that could have benefitted a company which has since provided financial relief to the family of Jared Kushner.

Citing whistleblowers within the US government, the report by the Democrat-led House oversight and reform committee alleges “abnormal acts” in the White House regarding the proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors across the kingdom.

The committee on Tuesday opened an investigation into the allegations, which include concerns over whether White House officials in the early months of the Trump administration sought to work around national security procedures to push a Saudi deal that could have financially benefited close supporters of the US president.

According to the report, the nuclear effort was pushed by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired in early 2017 and is awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation.

Derek Harvey, a National Security Council official brought in by Flynn, continued work on the proposal, which has remained under consideration by the Trump administration.

Susan Glasser–writing for the New Yorker– analyzes Trump’s Foreign Policy and its correlation with flattering Trump the Pretender. “Audience of One: Why Flattery Works in Trump’s Foreign Policy” is the lede.

Slavishly praising Trump in public, of course, is a signature tactic of his advisers and others who seek his favor. This week, though, Presidential flattery as a tool of foreign policy seemed particularly prominent. In Japan, a mini political uproar broke out when a newspaper reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had secretly nominated Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize, at Trump’s request. (Abe, who eagerly flew to New York for a Trump Tower session only days after the 2016 election, did not deny the reports.) Among Trump’s men in Munich, the performance of Vice-President Mike Pence, who has always been an especially avid practitioner of public boss-praising, stood out. He admiringly mentioned President Trump at least thirty times in his Saturday address to the conference (far more attention, tweeters quickly pointed out, than the vice-chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, who spoke later, gave to his boss). In a separate appearance meant to honor McCain, Pence paused for applause after he uttered his usual boilerplate line, “I bring greetings from the President of the United States.” Even in a room that included a couple dozen Republican members of Congress, Graham among them, no one clapped. Not surprisingly, the video of the moment, which the Pence and Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio described to me as “self-emasculating,” went viral on Twitter, a perfect metaphor at an annual forum that has, for decades, both celebrated and ratified America’s leadership in the West.

This wasn’t just a matter of a speech that flopped, though. This latest dance of the Republicans overseas was a reminder of why the bipartisan effort to convince the rest of the world that America’s commitments are unchanged, even under its America-First President, just doesn’t work. The U.S. may be the world’s leading power, but its foreign policy has become contorted, and essentially overtaken, by the toxic court politics of Trump. There’s a reason, after all, for all that over-the-top flattery, and it’s not just that Graham and Pence are particularly brazen in their use of this political art. Telling the truth in public can have real consequences in Trumpworld, and those who surround him are under no illusions about it. Just this week, reports continued to emanate from the White House that Trump was considering firing the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, whose sin was to have testified truthfully about the contradictions between Trump’s foreign-policy assumptions and the conclusions of Trump’s own intelligence agencies.

Contrast his standing with that of Lindsey Graham, whose public obsequiousness once again appears to have paid off. By this Thursday evening, Graham’s office was sending out a delighted press release, headlined “Graham Applauds Trump Decision to Leave Troops in Syria,” as wire services reported that the President had apparently conceded to lobbying by Graham and others, deciding to leave around two hundred troops in Syria after the April pullout. At least for now. But there was no ambiguity in Graham’s praise for the modest move. “Well done Mr. President,” his statement concluded.

But of course there’s an element of fatal self-absorption to it all. In Washington, it’s as if the city is permanently turned inward on the escalating distractions of the Trump Presidency, the investigations that threaten him, and the Democratic political contest to defeat him. Meanwhile, the rest of the world wonders what to make of a President who chides his closest allies and speaks warmly of its foes. There are real consequences to this; new survey data from the Pew Research Center found that Europeans are now more likely to trust Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping than Trump in world affairs, and by a significant margin.

Well, that’s enough torture for every one today.  Meanwhile, let’s wait for  that sentencing memo and see what it brings!

I’d like to shout out some love to JJ whose Mom had to enter the hospital with a severe drug interaction and is hopefully doing better.  We love you JJ!!!!

What’s on your reading and blogging list?

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Monday Reads: Puppet! Puppet! Puppet!

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

Putin’s puppet is in New Orleans today visiting the folks at the Farm Bureau’s convention whose idea of clean water and vague climate change concern pretty much lines up with the party of greed and irrationality. Yes we like clean water! Who doesn’t!  But we don’t need no stinking regulations!  Yes we like animals!  We kill them all the time including those pesky things on the overrated Endangered Species Act list.  And what, us?  Cancer causing chemicals?  That sounds like a lot of hippie BS to us.!  Lots of folks here will be protesting.  I’m wondering if any of the farmers attending will have awoken to the need for preparation H yet.  If not, they’ll need it by the time they sit through whatever mishigas he spews.

So, the media is finally waking up to the notion that we have a Russian Potted Plant in the oval office.  Yeah, like a former Secretary of State running for President telling them wasn’t enough.  But, oops there it is!

From Max Boot at WAPO: we get this opinion piece: “Here are 18 reasons Trump could be a Russian asset”.  There’s a fairly long list but here’s the top few points.

Here is some of the evidence suggesting “Individual 1” could be a Russian “asset”:

— Trump has a long financial history with Russia. As summarized by Jonathan Chait in an invaluable New York magazine article: “From 2003 to 2017, people from the former USSR made 86 all-cash purchases — a red flag of potential money laundering — of Trump properties, totaling $109 million. In 2010, the private-wealth division of Deutsche Bank also loaned him hundreds of millions of dollars during the same period it was laundering billions in Russian money. ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,’ said Donald Jr. in 2008. ‘We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,’ boasted Eric Trump in 2014.” According to Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty pleaof lying to Congress, Trump was even pursuing his dream of building a Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign with the help of a Vladimir Putin aide. These are the kind of financial entanglements that intelligence services such as the FSB typically use to ensnare foreigners, and they could leave Trump vulnerable to blackmail.

— The Russians interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to help elect Trump president.

— Trump encouraged the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails on July 27, 2016 (“Russia, if you’re listening”), on the very day that Russian intelligence hackers tried to attack Clinton’s personal and campaign servers.

— There were, according to the Moscow Project, “101 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia linked operatives,” and “the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them.” The most infamous of these contacts was the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign high command and a Kremlin emissary promising dirt on Clinton. Donald Trump Jr.’s reaction to the offer of Russian assistance? “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

— The Trump campaign was full of individuals, such as Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Michael Flynn, with suspiciously close links to Moscow.

From Strobe Talbott at Politico: “It’s Already Collusion. We don’t need news reports to tell us that Trump is giving Putin what he wants. Take it from this longtime Russia hand: It’s staring us in the face.”

America’s 45th president has accused his twelve predecessors, going back to Harry Truman, of making Uncle Sam “a sucker of the world.” In place of that legacy, he is shutting down America’s global franchise while building up literal and virtual walls.

In Europe, Trump has made it vastly easier for Putin to bury the Gorbachev-Yeltsin concept of partnership with the West and roll back what he sees as its incursion into Russia’s sphere of domination. Instead of shoring up key Atlantic allies, Trump is bullying and belittling them, thereby making them even more vulnerable to the rise of right-wing nationalists who now have a booster and exemplar in Trump.

Trump has an affinity for dictators—as he himself reportedly acknowledged only this week during a lunch with senators, “I don’t know why I get along with all the tough ones and not the soft ones.” He actually does know why: He’s a wannabe. He envies their unchecked power, use of intimidation and penchant for operating in secret, apparently because he doesn’t trust the advisers and agencies who work for him.

This weekend’s Post article zeroed in on the Trump-Putin “one-on-one” last July in Helsinki, without aides or note-takers. Gross, the State Department interpreter, was the only American other than Trump who knows what was said, and she is under wraps. Whatever Trump told his own staff afterward, it would be likely what he wants people to believe, especially if he is hiding something. Take his claim that he “couldn’t care less” if his conversation with Putin became public for what it is worth: nothing. What’s more telling was the smug look on Putin’s face and an uncertain one on Trump’s after the meeting. 

The Russian interpreter, in any event, would have probably transcribed the tête-à-tête from memory and notes immediately after the meeting. Putin, moreover, is a skilled interrogator who would have back-briefed his inner team. As a result, the Russian side has yet another advantage in its handling of Putin’s admiring would-be friend.

Tom Nichols from USA Today writes this: “All signs point the same way: Vladimir Putin has compromising information on Donald Trump”.

For apparently the first time in history, the president of the United States himself was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation. This means that his ties to a hostile power were significant enough to overcome the high bar the FBI would have to clear to investigate any American for possibly being influenced or compromised by another country — much less its own chief executive.

We have also learned that the president has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal his discussions with an enemy foreign leader not only from intelligence and foreign policy figures in his own administration, but even from the senior officials of his own Oval Office. It should go without saying that he has tried, in this area as in so many others, to wall himself off from congressional oversight.

The president himself is always a reliable barometer of the importance of such revelations, and his panicky tweeting and a subsequent bizarre interview on Fox News(where else?) suggest that these reports are indeed bombshells.

The president’s enablers are dismissing all of this as just more of a Deep State conspiracy set in motion by an FBI aggrieved by the firing of James Comey. The enraged Trump opponents who call themselves the Resistance are convinced that this is evidence not only of Russian influence, but of a Manchurian Candidate who is now the Red President.

The Deep State story is nonsense. The Mole in the Oval image, meanwhile, is too extreme — but not as crazy a theory as it was a year or two ago. The president clearly has something to hide. As I have written many times over the past two years, it is highly unlikely that there is any innocent explanation for the remarkable frequency and depth of the Trump coterie’s interactions with Russia for some 30 years, and especially during the campaign.

While Trump is not an “agent” of the Russian Federation (too many people use this kind of language without knowing what it means to counterintelligence officials), it seems at this point beyond argument that the president personally fears Russian President Vladimir Putin for reasons that can only suggest the existence of compromising information.

This is Tara Palmari from ABC News:  “Interpreter from Trump-Putin summit may be forced into congressional spotlight. Only one American was a firsthand witness to Trump’s summit with Putin.”

But a senior Democratic aide on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said a new report in The Washington Post has “changed the calculus.” It describes the president going to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Putin, including moves Trump allegedly took to seize notes from the interpreter at a meeting he held with Putin in Hamburg.

“This raises a new host of questions,” the aide said. “We’re looking into the legal implications of that and we’ll discuss our options. Our lawyers are sitting down with intel committee lawyers to hash it out.”

Trump denied Saturday that he was trying to conceal details from the meeting.

“I’m not keeping anything under wraps,” Trump told Fox News. “Anybody could have listened to that meeting, that meeting is up for grabs.”

Brett Bruen, who served as the White House director of global engagement from 2013 to 2015, said the move to interview Gross would be unusual but is within the scope of Congress’ oversight authority.

“I don’t ever recall an interpreter being subpoenaed — I don’t see how they wouldn’t be subjected like anyone else who is a government employee or contractor,” said Bruen, who served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council staff.

CNN reporters highlight this transcript from the FBI:

 The congressional transcripts obtained by CNN reveal new details into how the FBI launched the investigation into Trump and the discussions that were going on inside the bureau during a tumultuous and pivotal period ahead of the internal investigation and special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment.

Republicans view the officials’ comments as evidence that top officials at the FBI were planning all along to investigate Trump and that the probe wasn’t sparked by the Comey firing, according to a Republican source with knowledge of the interviews.
While the FBI launched its investigation in the days after Comey’s abrupt dismissal, the bureau had previously contemplated such a step, according to testimony from former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

Peter Strzok, the former FBI agent who was dismissed from Mueller’s team and later fired over anti-Trump text messages, texted Page in the hours after Comey’s firing and said: “We need to open the case we’ve been waiting on now while Andy is acting,” a reference to then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

Page was pressed on the meaning of the message in her interview with congressional investigators, and she confirmed that the text was related to the Russia investigation into potential collusion.

Page told lawmakers the decision to open the case was not about “who was occupying the director’s chair,” according to a source. While FBI lawyers limited her answers about the text, she said the text wasn’t suggesting that the case couldn’t be opened with Comey as director.

“It’s not that it could not have been done,” Page told lawmakers. “This case had been a topic of discussion for some time. The ‘waiting on’ was an indecision and a cautiousness on the part of the bureau with respect to what to do and whether there was sufficient predication to open.”

The Epoch Times has Lisa Page’s interview here.  You’ll remember that Trump was itching to get Page and Strzok fired and succeeded. After all, they were adulterous and said a few nice things about Hillary!

Included in the transcripts provided to us is information suggesting Brennan was aware of the so-called Steele dossier in early August 2016, and that he included information regarding the dossier in a briefing given to then-Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Other key points in Page’s testimony before Congress:

• The FBI appears to have considered investigating President Trump for obstruction of justice both before and after FBI Director James Comey was fired.

• Page says the DOJ refused to pursue “gross-negligence” charges against Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server to send classified information.

• FBI agent Michael Gaeta, head of the Eurasian Crime Squad, who received the dossier from former MI6 spy Christopher Steele in July 2016 is referred to in the transcript as Steele’s handler.

• The FBI maintained a previously unknown verification file for the Steele dossier. Congressional investigators didn’t previously know of its existence.

• John Carlin, the head of the DOJ’s National Security Division, was kept abreast of the FBI’s investigative activities through contact with then-Deputy FBI Director McCabe.

• Page worked directly for DOJ official Bruce Ohr for at least five years and had met his wife, Nellie, once.

• The role of FBI agent Jonathan Moffa and DOJ official George Toscas may have been greater than initially assumed.

I personally believe a lot of reticence to do anything to Trump by Republicans has to do with this Betsy Woodruff headling: “Kremlin Blessed Russia’s NRA Operation, U.S. Intel Report Says. When Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin brought NRA bigwigs to Moscow, it wasn’t a rogue mission. It was OKed from the very top, according to a report reviewed by The Daily Beast.”  Republicans have literally gone from fearing reds under beds to being co-opted by by them.  McConnell was the biggest recipient of laundered Russian money and held the purse strings for its dispersal.

The Kremlin has long denied that it had anything to do with the infiltration of the NRA and the broader American conservative movement. A U.S. intelligence report reviewed by The Daily Beast tells a different story.

Alexander Torshin, the Russian central bank official who spent years aggressively courting NRA leaders, briefed the Kremlin on his efforts and recommended they participate, according to the report. Its existence and contents have not previously been reported.

While there has been speculation that Torshin and his protegée, Maria Butina, had the Kremlin’s blessing to woo the NRA—and federal prosecutors have vaguely asserted that she acted “on behalf of the Russian federation”—no one in the White House or the U.S. intelligence community has publicly stated as much. Senior Russian government officials, for their part, have strenuously distanced themselves from Butina’s courtship of the NRA, which she did at Torshin’s direction. 

The report, on the other hand, notes that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was fine with Torshin’s courtship of the NRA because the relationships would be valuable if a Republican won the White House in 2016.

This should give you plenty of reading before we hear from Michael Cohen testifying before Congress.  (updated)

Here’s what you need to know about Cohen’s committee appearance:

What day: The hearing is set for Thursday, Feb. 7.

What time: House committee hearings usually begin between 9:30 a.m. ET and 10 a.m. ET. The time for Cohen’s hearing has not been announced. Check back here for updates.

What channel: The hearing will be broadcast live on cable news channels.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Live from NOLA Convention Center!!!!


Tuesday Reads

Great white shark swims beneath paddleboarding man on Cape Cod last week.

Good Morning!!

We’re having an incredible heat wave in Boston, and I know we’re not alone. It’s hot just about everywhere. Today it’s supposed to hit 100 degrees here. Anyone who believes the climate isn’t changing is delusional.

Maybe the sharks are affected too, because we’ve had some Great White close encounters here in Massachusetts lately. The Boston Globe: Shark sightings force swimmers out of the water in Plymouth, Cape Cod.

Swimmers at Plymouth and Wellfleet beaches looking to catch a break from the oppressive heat were forced out of the water Monday afternoon after sharks were spotted lurking nearby.

Plymouth beaches were closed after a great white shark was seen off Manomet Point. Red flags were flying at the beaches as crews investigated, the Plymouth harbormaster tweeted shortly after 2:30 p.m.

Researchers with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy were about a quarter-mile from Marconi Beach in Wellfleet when they saw a great white shark at around 1:45 p.m. They reported it to beach officials, and lifeguards promptly pulled everyone out of the water, Leslie Reynolds, chief ranger at the Cape Cod National Seashore, said. The beach was closed for an hour as a standard precautionary measure.

Also from the Globe: ‘It came right up, and opened its mouth’: Great white shark breaches water below boat.

State biologist Greg Skomal got an up-close look at a great white shark during a recent excursion off Cape Cod when one of the apex predators that researchers had been observing breached the water right beneath him, exposing its large teeth.

“Did you see that?! Did you see that?!” Skomal can be heard saying in a video posted by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Monday morning. “It came right up, and opened its mouth right at my feet!”

In the video, Skomal can be seen standing on the research boat’s pulpit, as the captain closes in on a shark. Skomal was using a long pole with a GoPro camera attached at the end so he could dip it into the water and capture footage of the shark. That’s when it suddenly breached the ocean’s surface.

“Oh!,” the boat’s captain, John J. King II, can be heard saying. “Holy crap! It dove right out of the water.”

Here’s the video. Be sure to put it on full screen and wait for the close-up.

Holy crap!

Seriously though, have we already lost the fight to reverse climate change? That’s the argument put forth by Nathaniel Rich in last week’s New York Times Magazine: Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.

The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris climate agreement — the nonbinding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016 — hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by some miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called two-degree warming “a prescription for long-term disaster.” Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. Three-degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization.

Is it a comfort or a curse, the knowledge that we could have avoided all this?

Because in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions — far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.

Check out the full story at the NYT.

Today there are some interesting primary elections and one special election to watch. Will we see portents of a blue wave in November?

Vox: Every August 7 primary election you should know about, briefly explained.

Voters head to the polls in five states Tuesday to test whether Democrats will get their “blue wave” on Election Day this fall.

Danny O’Connor

The most heated race to watch is a special election in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, where a Democrat hasn’t won since the 1980s. Despite big spending by Republicans, a huge ground push, and even campaign appearances by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, polls show the Democrat, Danny O’Connor, might actually beat Republican Troy Balderson.

Washington state’s top-two primary will be a similar test of how Democrats might perform in historically conservative districts.

In a governor’s race in Michigan and a House race in Kansas, meanwhile, Democrats will test whether the future of the party is rooted in its progressive wing.

To win back a House majority in November, Democrats will have to triumph in historically red districts, as they did in Pennsylvania earlier this year when Conor Lamb pulled off a surprise victory. Some big wins on Tuesday night could be another sign that a wave year is possible.

Read the details at Vox.

On Sunday, we watched Trump incriminate himself and throw his own son under the bus on Twitter. Will Don Jr. be indicted? Charles Savage at The New York Times: Donald Trump Jr.’s Potential Legal Troubles, Explained.

“I did not collude with any foreign government and did not know anyone who did,” Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017. But his participation in the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, as well as another meeting, has put that claim under scrutiny.

Ahead of the meeting with Russians, an intermediary promised Donald Trump Jr. that a “Russian government attorney” would provide “very high level” dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” He wrote back, “If it’s what you say I love it.”

In a meeting three months before the election, Donald Trump Jr. met with another small group offering to help his father win the election. It included an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes who run Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. The younger Mr. Trump responded approvingly, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The New York Times.

Of course we all know by now that “collusion” is just another word for “conspiracy,” which can be a crime.

….lawyers instead talk about conspiracy: an agreement by two or more people to commit a crime — whether or not they end up doing so. A powerful tool for prosecutors, conspiracy charges allow them to hold each conspirator responsible for illegal acts committed by others in the circle as part of the arrangement. To convict someone of such a conspiracy, prosecutors would need to obtain evidence of an agreement to commit a specific crime….

A provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act, Section 30121 of Title 52, broadly outlaws donations or other contributions of a “thing of value” by any foreigner in connection with an American election — or even an express or implied promise to take such action, directly or indirectly.

Depending on how a grand jury interprets the facts the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has gathered about the two Trump Tower meetings, it could find that the foreigners violated that law — and that Donald Trump Jr. conspired in that offense.

Another provision of the same statute makes it illegal for an American to solicit a foreigner for such illicit campaign help — again, even indirectly. If a grand jury were to interpret the evidence about Donald Trump Jr.’s words and actions as a solicitation, he could also be vulnerable to direct charges under that law, experts said.

Notably, the statute can be violated even if the promised or requested help is never provided.

Read the rest at the NYT.

At The Washington Post, William Ruckleshaus, who served as deputy attorney general under Nixon writes about Trump’s behavior: Only one other president has ever acted this desperate.

President Trump is acting with a desperation I’ve seen only once before in Washington: 45 years ago when President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Nixon was fixated on ending the Watergate investigation, just as Trump wants to shut down the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

A lesson for the president from history: It turned out badly for Nixon. Not only could he not derail the investigation, but also, 10 months later, he was forced to resign the presidency.

In fact, in some ways, Trump is conducting himself more frantically than Nixon, all the while protesting his innocence. Nixon fought to the end because he knew that what was on the tape recordings that the prosecutor wanted would incriminate him. We don’t know what Trump is hiding, if anything. But if he is innocent of any wrongdoing, why not let Robert S. Mueller III do his job and prove it?

On the way Trump and his minions are attacking the investigation:

…the cynical conduct of this president, his lawyers and a handful of congressional Republicans is frightening to me and should be to every citizen of this country. We are not playing just another Washington political game; there is much more at stake.

The vehemence and irresponsibility of the rhetoric attacking the Mueller investigation tear at the very structure of our governance. Men who have sworn to use and protect our institutions of justice are steadily weakening them. Should the president finally decide to fire Mueller and put in place someone who will do his bidding, the country could be thrown into a political crisis that would scar our democracy and further erode the trust of our people in our governmental institutions.

We need leaders who tell the truth. This is not now happening. Mueller is living up to his superior reputation as a model public servant. His is a search for the truth; we should not complicate his job. Support him, and when he has finished his work, listen to what he has found.

Read the whole thing at the WaPo.

There are a lot more interesting reads out there today. Some to check out:

Forbes: New Details About Wilbur Ross’ Business Point To Pattern Of Grifting.

Rolling Stone: Rick Wilson: Trump’s Tweets May Actually Be His Undoing.

NBC News: Now the Trump administration wants to limit citizenship for legal immigrants.

Politico: Manafort prosecution’s frustration with judge leads to fiery clashes.

The Washington Post: Trump’s political base is weaker than it seems, our new study finds.

Think Progress: Here’s what a new trove of Russian Twitter accounts tell us about Moscow’s support for Jill Stein.

Buzzfeed News: Accused Russian Agent’s Journey To Washington Began In South Dakota.

Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: How Trump Radicalized ICE.

What stories are you following today?


Friday Reads: An Emotionally Exhausted Nation watches Despot Worship and a Frog March

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

My day started with a disaster. I knocked the coffee pot full of water straight to the floor where it shattered into pieces. I’m hopeless before coffee. Just ask any of the attendees of my early morning lectures. I did not plan on having to arrange a trip to Dollar Ghetto for a new one. Fortunately, my friend Michelle did that deed while I cleaned up the mess. I did not want to face the day with out my coffee. I knew I’d have the news on during my Friday grading session. Yes! Summer school started! At least my class size is it’s usual smaller size. But, it’s going to be an insane news day for me and many weary Americans.

So, I got about a half a cup of coffee in when the news broke that Manafort’s ass is in jail and he’s facing obstruction of justice charges which are a BFD. Bye Felicia!

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will await his trial for foreign lobbying crimes from jail.

Two weeks after Robert Mueller’s prosecutors dropped new accusations of witness tampering on him, a federal judge Friday revoked Manafort’s current bail, which allowed him out on house arrest.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s order marks an end to months of attempts from Manafort to lighten his house arrest restrictions after he was charged and pleaded not guilty to foreign lobbying violations.
Three US marshals led Manafort out of the courtroom into the prisoner holding area immediately after the judge’s ruling. He was not placed in handcuffs. Before he disappeared through the door, he turned toward his wife and supporters and gave a stilted wave.
Minutes later, a marshal returned to give his wife, Kathleen, still standing in the courtroom’s front row, Manafort’s wallet, belt and the burgundy tie he wore Friday.

We’ve got one more court appearance today by Micheal Cohen. I stocked up on popcorn and I have red wine for later. We have some interesting gossip on that front. Cohen appears to be signal willingness to cooperate and KKKremlin Caligula told the press that Cohen is no longer his lawyer.

President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen has indicated to family and friends he is willing to cooperate with federal investigators to alleviate the pressure on himself and his family, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Cohen has expressed anger with the treatment he has gotten from the President, who has minimized his relationship with Cohen, and comments from the President’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the source said. The treatment has left him feeling isolated and more open to cooperating, the source said.
Asked by reporters Friday if he was worried about Cohen cooperating, Trump said, “I did nothing wrong, nothing wrong.” He also said he hasn’t spoken with Cohen “in a long time,” adding, “I always liked Michael and he’s a good person.”

CBS News reported Thursday that Cohen believes Trump and his allies are turning against him.

Again, tRump is indicating Cohen was just a covfefe boy and isn’t his lawyer.

President Trump on Friday sought distance from Michael Cohen, his longtime personal attorney, who is under criminal investigation in New York.

“I haven’t spoken to Michael in a long time,” the president told reporters outside of the White House.

“No, he’s not my lawyer anymore, but I always liked Michael. And he’s a good person,” Trump added.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told Politico last month that Cohen was not representing Trump, following an FBI raid in April on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room.

Trump was furious over the FBI raid, calling it a “disgrace” and “an attack on our country in a true sense.”

Sing little birds! Sing!

Meanwhile, industrialized gaslighting and weaponized lying emanates like nuclear waste from the White House. We’re also getting the impression KKKremlin Caligula masturbates daily to the pinup boyz in Despots Today.

So the first shocking quote this morning was this: “Trump says he wants “my people” to sit at attention for him like people do for Kim Jong Un”.

President Trump declared in a spur-of-the-moment interview with “Fox and Friends” Friday morning that he wants people to sit at attention for him like they do for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

It was just one of the surprising things the president said in the roughly 50 minutes he spent on the White House lawn speaking to the Fox News show and other reporters in a surprise appearance. The spur-of-the-moment White House lawn interview was, in the memory of those present, unprecedented.

Here are the highlights from Friday morning’s surprise free-for-all press availability and TV interview:

Kim stands accused of leading a murderous regime that starves its own people. But Mr. Trump has heaped praise on Kim since meeting with him in Singapore, saying repeatedly that the two have “good chemistry.”

“Hey, he is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head,” Mr. Trump told Fox News’ Steve Doocy on the White House lawn Friday. “Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

Pressed by a reporter about those remarks moments later, Mr. Trump said he was “kidding.”

F”I’m kidding, you don’t understand sarcasm,” the president said.

This latest Burning Despotman him so charged up he’s gung ho on a similar Putin Summit.

Fresh off his showy Singapore summit with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, President Trump is pushing his team to arrange another dramatic one-on-one meeting, this time with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, as soon as this summer. Negotiations with the Kremlin have bee under way for weeks. “There’s no stopping him,” a senior Administration official familiar with the internal deliberations said. “He’s going to do it. He wants to have a meeting with Putin, so he’s going to have a meeting with Putin.”

Ever since Putin’s reëlection to another six-year term in March, Trump has been pressing for a Putin summit, dismissing advisers’ warnings about the political dangers of such a meeting, given the ongoing special counsel investigation into whether Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia as it interfered in the 2016 U.S. election on Trump’s behalf. With the Russia allegations swirling, Trump never had the formal meeting he wanted with Putin last year—settling for just two brief encounters on the sidelines of international gatherings—but he has clearly never given up on his campaign vision of closer ties with the Russian strongman, whose autocratic rule he has often praised. The North Korea summit this week, which Trump jubilantly declared a “historic” encounter that will lead to the end of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, has likely sealed the deal for an equally high-profile Putin meeting. Now Russia experts inside and outside the U.S. government are bracing themselves for a formal announcement of the summit, which is likely to happen as early as July, when Trump will be in Europe for the annual meeting of the nato alliance that Putin considers his country’s mortal enemy.

And, of course, our policies are going beyond Orwellian to throwbacks to our worst acts in history. From WAPO: “Sessions cites Bible passage used to defend slavery in defense of separating immigrant families”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday used a Bible verse to defend his department’s policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the border from Mexico, suggesting that God supports the government in separating immigrant parents from their children.

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said during a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Ind. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”

Government officials occasionally refer to the Bible as a line of argument — take, for instance, the Republicans who have quoted 2 Thessalonians (“if a man will not work, he shall not eat”) to justify more stringent food stamps requirements.

But the verse that Sessions cited, Romans 13, is an unusual choice.

“There are two dominant places in American history when Romans 13 is invoked,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. “One is during the American Revolution [when] it was invoked by loyalists, those who opposed the American Revolution.”

The other, Fea said, “is in the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong. I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.”

Scott Pruitt’s grift and quid pro scam is moving right along coupled with his plan to roll back all kinds of laws in place to protect the environment. Say goodbye to the 21st and 20th century in America!

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is expected on Friday to send President Trump a detailed legal proposal to dramatically scale back an Obama-era regulation on water pollution, according to a senior E.P.A. official familiar with the plan. It is widely expected to be one of his agency’s most significant regulatory rollback efforts.

And, as soon as Monday, the same official said, Mr. Pruitt is expected to publish another major change: his agency’s legal proposal to gut President Barack Obama’s rule to reduce climate-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes. That proposal risks triggering a court battle with California and raises the prospect that the American car market could be split in two, with different groups of states enforcing different pollution rules.

Mr. Pruitt’s two moves come as he is dogged by allegations of legal and ethical violations and is seeking to burnish his reputation in the eyes of his boss, the president. While Mr. Pruitt has initiated the rollback of dozens of environmental rules over the past year and a half, the latest one-two push comes as he is battling allegations that he improperly used his government post to secure a job for his wife.

This week, the chorus of critics calling for Mr. Pruitt’s resignation swelled to include the conservative National Review, which once championed his appointment. And on Wednesday, Mr. Pruitt’s onetime political mentor, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, told the conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham that Mr. Pruitt needed to move past his management blunders and that it may be “time for him to go.”

There seems to be not one iota of conscientious or morality in this twit. From WAPO: “Energy PR executive helped get Scott Pruitt and his family Rose Bowl tickets”.

The head of an Oklahoma-based public relations firm with a large energy practice helped Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt secure tickets for his family to go to the Rose Bowl in January, agency officials confirmed Friday.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) detailed the transaction Friday morning in a letter he sent to Renzi Stone, a member of Oklahoma University’s Board of Regents and head of the communications firm Saxum, requesting information “regarding your actions in assisting EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in obtaining highly sought-after tickets to attend the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.” The Oklahoma Sooners played the Georgia Bulldogs that day in the national semifinals.

Cummings cites Millan Hupp, Pruitt’s former director of scheduling and advance, who told House Oversight Committee staffers during an interview last month that Stone had provided Pruitt’s family with the coveted tickets. EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox confirmed Friday that Stone had put Pruitt in contact with Oklahoma University’s athletics department so that he could purchase the tickets “at face value.”

Trump’s popularity has plummeted since his election in all fifty states no matter what he says.. He’s less popular overall but it really varies state to state. He’s been pacing on the White House lawn and attacking the FBI and Comey over the release of the IG Report.

There were several juicy revelations in the report, including critical insight into former FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. But Trump chose to first rebuke the text exchange between two former agents, in which former agent Peter Strzok said “we’ll stop” Trump from winning the election.

I have no idea who buys Trumps’ complaints other than his idiot cult followers since TWO Comey actions basically elected him. But, the right wing state media is desperate to keep him in office.

This report directly plays to those of us that believe–along with the reasonable data and minds supporting this–that Trump’s presidency is illegitimate. My guess is that trump will spend days ruminating over this and might sing his own little song of total

Matthew Miller is right when he says that this is infuriating.

But couple that with the fact that 23 days later, on October 28th, Comey sent a letter to Congress announcing that the Clinton email investigation had been re-opened. Apparently, the windows hadn’t closed for an official statement on that one.

There are two other ways Comey could have gone. He could have applied his standard on the Trump/Russia investigation to the one about Clinton’s emails and not announced either one. Or, he could have made statements about both of them. But he chose the lopsided route that gave Trump a pass and hurt Clinton. Data guru Nate Silver documented the results.

What a clusterfuck!

So, all day we’re going to be deep in birdie do do. Let’s hope a few have useful songs to sing! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads: ру́сский Tяumpсский

Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star Tribune

If you can find any kind of innocent explanation for these headlines and meetings, then I frankly will dub you the champion of Double Speak. Let’s see White House Mommy wiggle her way out of these latest headlines on relationships between the Trump Family, the campaign, and Russian election hacking.

From NBC NewsFormer Soviet Counter Intelligence Officer at Meeting With Donald Trump Jr. and Russian Lawyer .

The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and others on the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist — a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, NBC News has learned.

The lobbyist, first identified by the Associated Press as Rinat Akhmetshin, denies any current ties to Russian spy agencies. He accompanied the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; and Paul Manafort, former chairman of the Trump campaign.

Born in Russia, Akhmetshin served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U.S., where he holds dual citizenship. He did not respond to NBC News requests for comment Friday, but he told the AP the meeting was not substantive. “I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest,” he told the AP.

He had been working with Veselnitskaya on a campaign against the Magnitsky Act, a set of sanctions against alleged Russian human rights violators. That issue, which is also related to a ban on American adoptions of Russian children, is what Veselnitskaya told NBC News she discussed with the Trump team.

But, given the email traffic suggesting the meeting was part of a Russian effort help Trump’s candidacy, the presence at the meeting of a Russian-American with suspected intelligence ties is likely to be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate panels investigating the Russian election interference campaign.

This dude has some special skills.  This is from The Daily Beast: Trump Team Met Russian Accused of International Hacking Conspiracy. “Rinat Akhmetshin allegedly stole sensitive documents from a corporation years before he joined Natalia Veselnitskaya to meet Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner.”  Wow, he has mad hacking skills or knows folks that do. Imagine that!

The alleged former Soviet intelligence officer who attended the now-infamous meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign officials last June was previously accused in federal and state courts of orchestrating an international hacking conspiracy.

Rinat Akhmetshin told the Associated Press on Friday he accompanied Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to the June 9, 2016, meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort. Trump’s attorney confirmed Akhmetshin’s attendance in a statement.

Akhmetshin’s presence at Trump Tower that day adds another layer of controversy to an episode that already provides the clearest indication of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. In an email in the run-up to that rendezvous, Donald Trump Jr. was promised “very high level and sensitive information” on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Akhmetshin had been hired by Veselnitskaya to help with pro-Russian lobbying efforts in Washington. He also met and lobbied Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee for Europe, in Berlin in April.

In court papers filed with the New York Supreme Court in November 2015, Akhmetshin was described as “a former Soviet military counterintelligence officer” by lawyers for International Mineral Resources (IMR), a Russian mining company that alleged it had been hacked.

Meanwhile, back in Stoogeсский Tower, Trump lawyers admit to knowing about the emails for weeks now.  (There is never a dull Friday these days.) This is from Yahoo News.

President Trump’s legal team was informed more than three weeks ago about the email chain arranging a June 2016 meeting between his son Donald Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer, two sources familiar with the handling of the matter told Yahoo News.

Trump told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that he learned just “a couple of days ago” that Donald Jr. had met with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, hoping to receive information that “would incriminate Hillary” and was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” A day earlier, on Tuesday, Donald Jr. released the email exchanges himself, after learning they would be published by the New York Times

Trump repeated that assertion in a talk with reporters on Air Force One on his way to Paris Wednesday night. “I only heard about it two or three days ago,” he said, according to a transcript of his talk, when asked about the meeting with Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in June 2016 attended by Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, then Trump’s campaign chief, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

But the sources told Yahoo News that Marc Kasowitz, the president’s chief lawyer in the Russia investigation, and Alan Garten, executive vice president and chief legal officer of the Trump Organization, were both informed about the emails in the third week of June, after they were discovered by lawyers for Kushner, who is now a senior White House official.

The exchange apparently was initiated on June 3, 2016, when a Trump family associate, publicist Rob Goldstone, emailed Donald Jr. with an offer of something “very interesting” … “official documents and information” that “would be very useful to your father.” On June 8, 2016, Trump Jr. forwarded an email to Kushner and Manafort about the upcoming meeting with the subject line: “FW: Russia-Clinton-private & confidential.” Trump Jr. wrote back later that day, telling Goldstone “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

The discovery of the emails prompted Kushner to amend his security clearance form to reflect the meeting, which he had failed to report when he originally sought clearance for his White House job. That revision — his second — to the so-called SF-86, was done on June 21. Kushner made the change even though there were questions among his lawyers whether the meeting had to be reported, given that there was no clear evidence that Veselnitskaya was a government official. The change to the security form prompted the FBI to question Kushner on June 23, the second time he was interviewed by agents about his security clearance, the sources said.

So, this makes THREE changes to Kushner’s form with an additional 100 or so names.  Gee, that doesn’t just sound like a bad memory does it?  Democrats are trying to have his security clearance revoked by passing a law. Republicans are blocking it and his father in law controls his access atm.

President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner updated a federal disclosure form needed to obtain a security clearance three times and added more than 100 names of foreign contacts through the updates after initially providing none at all, reports CBS News’ Major Garrett.

The first form had no foreign names on it even though people applying for a security clearance need to list any contact with foreign governments. Kushner’s team said it was prematurely sent.

Then the team submitted the second one after they updated it with all of the names except for one — the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya who met with Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman in June 2016.

After omitting her name in the second form, that meeting was then conveyed to the FBI in the third revamping of the form before July.

This comes as some Democrats call for Kushner’s security clearance to be revoked. On Thursday, House Republicans reportedly in the Appropriations Committee blocked a Democratic amendment to a spending bill that targeted Kushner. It would have prevented the government from issuing or maintaining a security clearance for a White House employee under criminal investigation by a federal law enforcement agency for aiding a foreign government.

The Chicago Tribune has an in depth look at Peter W Smith. He’s the guy that was trying to put together a team of Russian hackers who committed suicide shortly after spilling the beans to the WSJ. This part of his suicide note alone makes me suspicious.  Can’t you just here Kremlin Caligula ordering up this?

In the note recovered by police, Smith apologized to authorities and said that “NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER” was involved in his death

And, oh wait we do know what icky Campaign mommy will say about all of this.

White House aide Kellyanne Conway accused critics of the Trump administration of moving the goalposts on the ongoing investigations into possible coordination between members of the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.

The goalposts have been moved,” Conway told “Fox & Friends” Friday morning. “We were promised systemic — hard evidence of systemic, sustained, furtive collusion that not only interfered with our election process but indeed dictated the electoral outcome. And one of the only people who says that seriously these days is still Hillary Clinton and nobody believes it.”

However, authorities investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election have long asserted that there is no evidence votes were physically changed as part of the effort. 

Conway’s analysis came in response to coverage of Donald Trump Jr., who admitted to meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign. Campaign manager Paul Manafort and top aide Jared Kushner were also in attendance.

So far, all the right wing media can say is it’s either Hillary’s fault or Lorretta Lynch’s fault. SAD!  I’m still wrapping my mind around the number of right wing Republicans that actually find Putin and Russia to be respectable.  Try read this from the NYT to understand the allure. Jeremy Peters believe the ‘revere’ Putin.

Mr. Putin is no archvillain in this understanding of America-Russian relations. Rather, he personifies many of the qualities and attitudes that conservatives have desired in a president of their own: a respect for traditional Christian values, a swelling nationalist pride and an aggressive posture toward foreign adversaries.

In this view, the Russian president is a brilliant tactician, a slayer of murderous Islamic extremists — and not incidentally, a leader who outmaneuvered and emasculated President Barack Obama on the world stage. And because of that, almost any other transgression seems forgivable.

“There are conservatives here who maybe read into Russia things they wish were true in the United States,” said Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University. “And they imagine Russia and Putin as the kind of strong, traditional conservative leader whom they wish they had in the United States.” To these conservatives, she added, “Russia is the true defender of Christian values. We are decadent.”

Mr. Trump’s opponents have tried repeatedly to make an issue of the mutual admiration between him and the Russian president, anticipating that Republicans would not tolerate any whiff of sympathy from one of their own toward the leader of what Ronald Reagan called the “evil empire.” But Mr. Trump has never had to wait long for conservatives to leap to his defense — and often Mr. Putin’s as well.

Mr. Putin is no archvillain in this understanding of America-Russian relations. Rather, he personifies many of the qualities and attitudes that conservatives have desired in a president of their own: a respect for traditional Christian values, a swelling nationalist pride and an aggressive posture toward foreign adversaries.

In this view, the Russian president is a brilliant tactician, a slayer of murderous Islamic extremists — and not incidentally, a leader who outmaneuvered and emasculated President Barack Obama on the world stage. And because of that, almost any other transgression seems forgivable.

“There are conservatives here who maybe read into Russia things they wish were true in the United States,” said Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University. “And they imagine Russia and Putin as the kind of strong, traditional conservative leader whom they wish they had in the United States.” To these conservatives, she added, “Russia is the true defender of Christian values. We are decadent.”

Mr. Trump’s opponents have tried repeatedly to make an issue of the mutual admiration between him and the Russian president, anticipating that Republicans would not tolerate any whiff of sympathy from one of their own toward the leader of what Ronald Reagan called the “evil empire.” But Mr. Trump has never had to wait long for conservatives to leap to his defense — and often Mr. Putin’s as well.

There’s a strange connection between Russia and white xtianists. (Via BB) They were allowed to basically invade the country once the USSR failed and they haven’t forgotten it. However, this has changed. Curiously, the Xtianist right still worships Putin.

While there are parts of the world where the persecution of religious minorities, including Christians, is a real problem, the United States is not one of them. Russia, on the other hand, has enacted laws that bar Protestant groups from proselytizing on penalty of fines, and has even gone so far as to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses entirely.

At first blush, then, it might seem odd that one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s leading hierarchs, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk—who was staying at the Trump International Hotel—not only participated in BGEA’s summit yesterday, but also, as first reported by Time, met privately with the vice president. Curiously enough, a key talking point from their meeting was that America and Russia should work together to fight international terrorism, a hallmark of the Trump campaign’s election season foreign policy rhetoric.

Metropolitan Hilarion heads the ROC’s Department of External Relations, and in this capacity he has worked tirelessly in recent years to cultivate relationships with Catholic and Protestant supporters of “traditional values” abroad, in order to work with them to promote Christian supremacy at the expense of women’s and LGBTQ rights—an example of what I call “bad ecumenism.” Such efforts are coordinated with the Kremlin’s foreign policy, which seeks to foster relationships with anti-democratic forces outside Russia. While Moscow made similar efforts during Soviet times, Russian President Vladimir Putin has rebranded post-Soviet Russia into the global standard bearer for “traditional values conservatism,” and in this capacity attracts primarily right-wing fellow travelers.

On the one hand, this policy would seem to make President and CEO of BGEA Franklin Graham a natural partner for Putin and the ROC, and, indeed, Graham has warmed considerably to both in recent years. In October 2015, Graham met with both Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia, after which Patriarch Kirill declared Christians of all confessions who oppose marriage equality to be “confessors of the faith.” Graham reminded his followers on social media of his connections to Russia last month

There’s a good article to read about this unholy alliance from Talk Progress.

To fully understand how some members of the Religious Right came to appreciate Putin, it’s important to asses how Putin came to appreciate the role of organized religion — particularly brands that oppose LGBTQ equality.

Russia, after all, is hardly a bastion of religious freedom. The 2016 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report listed the country as one with an increasingly “negative trajectory in terms of religious freedom,” pointing to policies that limit the activities of Muslims and other minority religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals.

Yet Graham’s remarks are the result of a years-long international power consolidation effort by Putin, who is is well known for using faith — particularly the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), a subset of Eastern Orthodox Christianity whose reach extends beyond Russian borders — as a mechanism to expand his country’s influence and antagonize Western opponents.

According to Christopher Stroop, a visiting instructor at the University of South Florida honors college and a published expert on modern Russian history, Putin became close with the ROC after beginning his third term in 2012.

“The Orthodox church domestically shores up the [Putin] regime, but it also works internationally to push the party line in pursuit of its own goals as well — and the church hierarchs are genuinely socially conservative,” Stroop told ThinkProgress, noting that Putin’s embrace of the ROC coincided with a broader shift toward right-wing populism.

“Putin has rebranded himself [and Russia] as a Champion of traditional values,” Stroop said.

Putin and the church are technically two entities with different agendas, but Stroop said they’ve developed a codependent strategy that benefits both parties. The Russian president often grants the ROC privileges not afforded to other faith groups to help him win domestic debates, for instance. Meanwhile, Russian priests in countries like Moldova and Montenegro have pushed back against efforts to align those nations with Western powers, and a Kremlin-funded spiritual center now sits near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

And as the New York Times reported last fall, Putin lifts up the church’s moral authority as a “traditional” answer to the west’s increasing liberalism, positioning Russia as an opponent to progressive causes such as LGBTQ rights and multiculturalism. This allows Putin to perpetuate the idea that Europe and America — not Russia — are faithless nations by comparison.

So, once again, the idea is that as long as “Traditional Values” are enshrined in law somehow, they don’t care who does it.  There’s been a piety show at the White House with a gross, disgusting laying of hands (more grabby grabby) and a cuckoo Pat Robertson.  Trump’s best base is the folks who fell for the longest running conspiracy theory every so they’re easy prey.

In an interview airing Thursday, Trump sat down with Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network. The aging icon of the religious right has been outspoken in his support for Trump, calling him “God’s man for this job.” It will be Trump’s second interview with CBN since he became president.

And earlier this week, photos surfaced from an impromptu Oval Office prayer session in which two dozen evangelicals laid their hands on the President and petitioned the Almighty on his behalf.

We were praying that God would give him guidance and direction and protect him,” said Richard Land, who served on Trump’s evangelical advisory board and is president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The images of hands praying over the President’s distinctive coiffure caught fire on social media. To some, the timing seemed suspicious. Though raised Presbyterian, Trump is not affiliated with a church, nor does he attend worship services most Sundays. Was he “getting religion” just as the waters were rising around his White House? Was it a repeat of President Bill Clinton conspicuously carrying a Bible and meeting with religious leaders during the Monica Lewinsky scandal?

The White House disputes that interpretation. “The idea that someone would pray only when they’re in crisis is ridiculous,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy White House press secretary.

Land agrees. “That’s a very cynical and negative connotation of what happened.”

Instead, Land, a Southern Baptist who has been active in presidential politics since the Reagan administration, said he and two dozen fellow evangelicals were summoned to Washington for a “work day.”

The group, many of whom advised Trump during the campaign, heard reports from administration officials and gave feedback on issues like Israel’s security, judicial nominations and the Senate’s health care bill. Jared Kushner dropped by, as did Vice President Mike Pence — a fellow evangelical — who said the President invited the group to visit the Oval Office that afternoon and say hello, Land recalled.

As evangelicals gathered around Trump’s desk, he asked how their work meeting was going, Land said, and several praised his recent speech in Warsaw, in which the President pledged to protect Western values.

Okay. I need another shower.  This all creeps me out to no end. It’s like a terrifically bad movie plot.

So, let me know what you’re reading today?


Wednesday Morning Takedown

“Tis the infirmity of his age, yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.”

JJ’s schedule is a bit full today so I thought I’d pop up with a bit of a news dump to give her some space and breathing room.  I personally see no way for the current administration to get through all this latest Russia news.  It will take time to clear the Trumps out of the White House but it will happen.

Here’s some of today’s headlines.  It’s all Russia basically. It’s not going away.

From McClatchy:  Trump-Russia investigators probe Jared Kushner-run digital operation.

Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries.

Also under scrutiny is the question of whether Trump associates or campaign aides had any role in assisting the Russians in publicly releasing thousands of emails, hacked from the accounts of top Democrats, at turning points in the presidential race, mainly through the London-based transparency web site WikiLeaks,

From Phillip Rucker and WAPO: ‘Category 5 hurricane’: White House under siege by Trump Jr.’s Russia revelations.

The White House has been thrust into chaos after days of ever-worsening revelations about a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a lawyer characterized as representing the Russian government, as the president fumes against his enemies and senior aides circle one another with suspicion, according to top White House officials and outside advisers.

President Trump — who has been hidden from public view since returning last weekend from a divisive international summit — is enraged that the Russia cloud still hangs over his presidency and is exasperated that his eldest son and namesake has become engulfed by it, said people who have spoken with him this week.

The disclosure that Trump Jr. met with a Russian attorney, believing he would receive incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s effort to boost his father’s candidacy, has set back the administration’s faltering agenda and rattled the senior leadership team.

On Wednesday, in his first Twitter posts since the email disclosures, Trump defended his son as “open, transparent and innocent” and repeated past claims that his administration is the subject of a “witch hunt” fueled by leakers.

Kevin Hall writing for McClatchy: Lawyer that met Don Jr. had ties to Russian government, spy agency.

The Russian lawyer at the center of Donald Trump Jr.’s scandal over possible collusion with Kremlin election meddlers has denied she has ties to the Russian government.

But she threatened action by the Russian security service, the FSB, against a rights group working to expose corruption by Russian government officials, according to information in the possession of U.S. prosecutors who had been investigating a large and complex money laundering case involving Russian funds.

The New York Times first reported over the weekend that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya met in June 2016 with Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law Jared Kushner and incoming campaign chief Paul Manafort at Trump Tower.

In emails, an acquaintance billed the meeting as an opportunity for Trump Jr. to obtain — courtesy of the Russian government — damaging material about Hillary Clinton, his father’s Democratic rival. Trump Jr. responded excitedly: “If it’s what you say I love it,” he wrote back. The emails were released Tuesday by Trump Jr. as The New York Times was about to print them.

From Politico:  White House aides feeling ‘helpless’ as Trump Jr. scandal explodes

White House aides feel blindsided by the bombshell revelations around Donald Trump Jr.’s campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer, while the president is using his relatively light schedule to watch TV and fume about the latest scandal, according to interviews with half a dozen White House officials and advisers.

Unlike prior Russia-related controversies, the White House is not minimizing the political ramifications of Trump’s eldest son’s decision to meet with the Kremlin-linked lawyer after being offered information that he was told would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

But top West Wing aides are exasperated by their limited ability to steer the damage control and the risk that more damaging news has yet to emerge.

One Trump adviser said the White House was “essentially helpless” because the conduct happened during an “anything goes” campaign that had few rules. This person said he had spoken to several people in the White House on Tuesday and that “none of them knew anything about Donald Trump Jr.’s meetings,” despite the fact that top adviser Jared Kushner was also present for the controversial Trump Tower sit-down.

Many of the White House aides had previously dismissed the Russia stories as “conspiracy bullshit,” this person said, but that this development was not being dismissed as that.

Martin Sutovec / Slovakia

Meanwhile, Jared and Ivanka want Priebus gone as reported in The Hill.

Three of the most influential figures in President Trump’s inner circle are lobbying the president to oust his Chief of Staff Reince PriebusThe Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Trump’s wife Melania, eldest daughter and senior adviser Ivanka and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner have privately pushed him to shake up his West Wing staff, most notably by replacing Priebus.

Priebus, who served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee before joining Trump’s White House, has been rumored for months to be on his way out as the president’s top assistant.

and Kremlin Caligula has reached peak catatonia. This is beginning to remind me of King Lear,

Donald Trump’s public schedule has gone blank once again, as the amorphous Republican retreats behind the walls of the White House.

His strange disappearing act comes as Trump’s family becomes deeply embroiled in the Russia collusion story, and while the Republican Party is trying to generate momentum to pass its health care bill.

Instead of having a full schedule in the wake of a multiple-day trip last week to the G20 summit in Europe, Trump has disappeared. He hasn’t had an official public, stateside appearance in more than a week.

The current vanishing act stands in stark contrast to the way Trump routinely made public appearances during his first 100 days in office, generating headlines with executive order ceremonies, fake signing ceremonies, and round table meetings with business leaders.

The events were widely covered in the press, which helped the White House project the image of a robust, hard-working president. “Top White House aides even bragged about media access to the President,” CNN once noted.

But no more.

Speaking of King Lear, this is a blog after my own heart. I’ve loved Shakespeare since Fifth Grade.

Shakespeare knew of other Trumps. In King Lear, Regan says of her father, “Tis the infirmity of his age, yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.”

Trump comes into office riding a wave of adrenaline, of enormous rallies of cheering supporters who love his brand of anarchy, his wealth, his refusal to be hemmed in by convention. He comes into office riding his wave of promises and his destruction of his adversaries. He is the master of a singular moment in American history, a President whose election received the assistance of a former KGB Lieutenant Colonel, a dictator who has ordered the murder of journalists and political opponents.

Then Trump discovers that he will be held to his words, that he has created a fervent, attentive opposition, that his actions as President will be hemmed in by precedent, by legislation, by law, by officeholders who owe him nothing, by a free press. Recently he spoke of his life before becoming President: “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.’*

He strikes out at anyone who questions or opposes him. Instead of building alliances, he destroys any possibility of them. He is not King. No one told him he would not be King

This story is breaking so fast that we should probably consider this a live blog for the day.

Love you JJ and hugs to your Mom!