It has been another disastrous week in Trumpland. The “president” seems to be losing what control he ever had. He spends his days watching TV, throwing tantrums on Twitter, and dreaming up ways to punish his many “enemies.” He’s Nixon on steroids, and the Republicans continue to refuse to do anything to check his corruption and abuses of power.
On Wednesday, Trump unilaterally revoked the security clearance of former CIA chief John Brennan, and despite condemnations by former members of the intelligence community, he plans to keep revoking the clearances of anyone who dares to criticize him or who may have been in some way involved with the Russia investigation.
The Washington Post: White House drafts more clearance cancellations demanded by Trump.
The White House has drafted documents revoking the security clearances of current and former officials whom President Trump has demanded be punished for criticizing him or playing a role in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to senior administration officials.
Trump wants to sign “most if not all” of them, said one senior White House official, who indicated that communications aides, including press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Bill Shine, the newly named deputy chief of staff, have discussed the optimum times to release them as a distraction during unfavorable news cycles.
Yes, they admit these will be used to distract the public on bad news days for Trump!
Some presidential aides echoed concerns raised by outside critics that the threatened revocations smack of a Nixonian enemies list, with little or no substantive national security justification. Particular worry has been expressed inside the White House about Trump’s statement Friday that he intends “very quickly” to strip the clearance of current Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations….
It was unclear what the argument would be for revoking Ohr’s clearance, since Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, while not specifying Ohr’s current job, has said he has had no involvement in the Mueller investigation, begun last year.
But Ohr knew Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who was hired in 2016 by Fusion GPS, then working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia. Ohr’s wife also worked for Fusion GPS. According to news reports and congressional testimony, the two men discussed Trump before the election. Ohr later reported the conversation to the FBI.
Ohr is the only current official on the White House list of clearances Trump wants to lift. The others are former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.; former CIA director Michael V. Hayden; former FBI director James B. Comey; Obama national security adviser Susan E. Rice; former FBI officials Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok; and former acting attorney general Sally Yates. Several of them have said they no longer have clearances.
It’s difficult to believe that Trump’s actions could not be seen as obstruction of justice and witness tampering, since many of those on the “enemies list” are potential witnesses in Robert Mueller’s investigation. Yesterday, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake addressed the issue: How Trump’s security-clearance gambit could actually get him in deeper trouble with Mueller.
I was on an MSNBC panel Thursday night with Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, who suggested Trump’s revocation of security clearances could be construed as retaliation against witnesses. “It’s a federal crime — §1513 if anyone wants to look it up — to retaliate against someone for providing truthful information to law enforcement,” he said. “So he’s getting closer and closer to really dangerous ground here.”
Here’s the text of Section 1513(e):
Whoever knowingly, with the intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.
Honig explained to me Friday that he didn’t necessarily think Trump’s revocation of Brennan’s security clearance would be a violation, given Brennan isn’t a major figure on the probe’s key events. But if he presses on and does it with others, Honig argued, it could.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
Last night Rachel Maddow interviewed John Brennan. Talking Point Memo: Brennan On Revoked Clearance: ‘This Country Is More Important Than Mr. Trump.’
Former CIA Director John Brennan was defiant Friday night in response to President Donald Trump’s revocation of his security clearance, and to Trump’s threatening to revoke the clearances of several other former intelligence and national security officials who’ve become harsh critics of his.
“I think this is an egregious act that it flies in the face of traditional practice, as well as common sense, as well as national security,” Brennan told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “I think that’s why there’s been such an outcry from many intelligence professionals.”
Brennan told Maddow that he is thinking about taking legal action.
“A number of lawyers have reached out to say that there is a very strong case here, not so much to reclaim [my clearance] but to prevent this from happening in the future,” Brennan told Maddow, asked if he was considering legal action against the administration.
Some groups, including the ACLU, have alleged that revoking Brennan’s clearance in retaliation for his criticism of Trump, as the White House said was the case, was a violation of the former CIA director’s First Amendment rights.
Brennan repeated his accusation that Trump’s Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir was “nothing short of treasonous.”
And he said a Washington Post report that his clearance revocation had been timed “to divert attention from nonstop coverage of a critical book released by fired Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman” was “just another demonstration of [Trump’s] irresponsibility.”
“The fact that he’s using a security clearance of a former CIA director as a pawn in his public relations strategy, I think, is just so reflective of somebody who, quite frankly — I don’t want to use this term, maybe — but he’s drunk on power.”
Three reactions to Trump’s latest power grab to check out:
Tim Weiner at The New York Times: Trump Is Not a King.
In times of crisis, the leaders of the military and intelligence communities try to put aside their differences, often many and sundry, and work together for the good of the country. That’s what’s happening today with a remarkable group of retired generals, admirals and spymasters who have signed up for the resistance, telling the president of the United States, in so many words, that he is not a king.
Thirteen former leaders of the Pentagon, the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. have signed an open letter standing foursquare against President Trump, in favor of freedom of speech and, crucially, for the administration of justice. They have served presidents going back to Richard M. Nixon mostly without publicly criticizing the political conduct of a sitting commander in chief — until now.
They rebuked Mr. Trump for revoking the security clearance of John Brennan, the C.I.A. director under President Obama, in retaliation for his scalding condemnations and, ominously, for his role in “the rigged witch hunt” — the investigation into Russia’s attempt to fix the 2016 election, now in the hands of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. The president’s latest attempt to punish or silence everyone connected with the case, along with his fiercest critics in political life, will not be his last….
The president aims to rid the government and the airwaves of his real and imagined enemies, especially anyone connected with the Russia investigation. Somewhere Richard Nixon may be looking up and smiling. But aboveground, the special counsel is taking notes.
The list of the signatories to the open letter defending Mr. Brennan is striking for the length and breadth of their experience. I never expected to see William H. Webster — he’s 95 years old, served nine years as F. B.I. director under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, then four more as C.I.A. director under Reagan and President George H. W. Bush — sign a political petition like this. The same with Robert M. Gates, who entered the C.I.A. under President Lyndon Johnson, ran it under George H. W. Bush and served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. These are not the kind of men who march on Washington. These are men who were marched upon.
Read more at the NYT.
Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Trump Is Making the Department of Justice Into His Own Private Goon Squad.
One morning earlier this week during executive time, President Trump tweeted out his assessment of the Russia investigation. “The Rigged Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on as the ‘originators and founders’ of this scam continue to be fired and demoted for their corrupt and illegal activity,” he raged. “All credibility is gone from this terrible Hoax, and much more will be lost as it proceeds. No Collusion!”
Amid this torrent of lies, the president had identified one important truth. There has in fact been a series of firings and demotions of law-enforcement officials. The casualties include FBI director James Comey, deputy director Andrew McCabe, general counsel James Baker, and, most recently, agent Peter Strzok. Robert Mueller is probing the circumstances surrounding Trump’s firing of Comey for a possible obstruction-of-justice charge. But for Trump, obstruction of justice is not so much a discrete act as a way of life.
The slowly unfolding purge, one of the most vivid expressions of Trump’s governing ethos, has served several purposes for the president. First, it has removed from direct authority a number of figures Trump suspects would fail to provide him the personal loyalty he demanded from Comey and expects from all officials in the federal government. Second, it supplies evidence for Trump’s claim that he is being hounded by trumped-up charges — just look at all the crooked officials who have been fired! Third, it intimidates remaining officials with the threat of firing and public humiliation if they take any actions contrary to Trump’s interests. Simply carrying out the law now requires a measure of personal bravery.
Trump has driven home this last factor through a series of taunts directed at his vanquished foes. After McCabe enraged Trump by approving a flight home for Comey after his firing last May, the president told him to ask his wife (who had run for state legislature, unsuccessfully) how it felt to be a loser. This March, Trump fired McCabe and has since tweeted that Comey and McCabe are “clowns and losers.” The delight Trump takes in tormenting his victims, frequently calling attention to Strzok’s extramarital affair — as if Trump actually cared about fidelity! — underscores his determination to strip his targets of their dignity.
Click on the link to read the rest.
Bob Bauer at Lawfare: Richard Nixon, Donald Trump and the ‘Breach of Faith.’
Journalist and presidential historian Theodore H. White thought of Richard Nixon’s downfall as the consequence of a “breach of faith.” Perhaps it was a “myth,” but an important one, that “is responsibility,” White wrote. But it was important nonetheless that Americans believe that this office, conferring extraordinary power, would “burn the dross from [the president’s] character; his duties would, by their very weight, make him a superior man, fit to sustain the burden of the law, wise and enduring enough to resist the clash of all selfish interests.”
A president who frustrates this expectation, failing to exhibit the transformative effects of oath and office, will have broken faith with the American public. And yet, White believed that Nixon’s presidency had been an aberration. “[M]any stupid, hypocritical and limited men had reached that office,” he wrote. “But all, when publicly summoned to give witness, chose to honor the legends” of what the office required of a president’s behavior in office.
White’s understanding of what constitutes a “breach of faith” is well worth recalling in considering the presidency of Donald Trump. As White understood it, the term encompassed more than illegal conduct or participation in its cover-up. It was a quality of leadership—or more to the point, the absence of critical qualities—that defined a president’s “betrayal” of his office. What elevated Nixon’s misdeeds to a fatal constitutional flaw, forcing him to surrender his presidency, was the breaking of faith with the American people. Nixon brushed the legal and ethical limits on pursuing his own political and personal welfare. He held grudges and was vindictive; he looked to destroy his enemies rather than simply prevailing over them in hard, clean fights. He lied repeatedly to spare himself the costs of truth-telling.
All of this may be said of Donald Trump, but for a key difference: Nixon was anxious to conceal much of this behavior from public view.
Much has been said and written about Trump’s leadership style: the chronic resort to false claims; the incessant tweeting of taunts and personal attacks on his adversaries; the open undermining of members of his own administration; the abandonment of norms; the refusal to credit, respect or support the impartial administration of justice where his personal or political interests are stake; and the use of office to promote his personal business enterprises. By now, almost two years into his administration, it is clear that this is who he is.
Like Nixon, Trump seems to believe that his behavior is justified by the extraordinary and ruthless opposition of an “establishment”—comprised mainly of the media, the opposition party, and intellectuals—to his election and his politics.
Please go read the rest at Lawfare.
That’s all I have for you today. Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.
Remember Peter Smith, the guy who was trying to help the Trump campaign get Hillary Clinton’s emails? He ended up supposedly committing suicide in a Minnesota hotel room in July, 2017, shortly after he was interviewed by Shane Harris of The Wall Street Journal. After the story broke, Matt Tait published an article at Lawfare about his involvement in the story. Today Buzzfeed News reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier have a new story on Smith: GOP Operative Made “Suspicious” Cash Withdrawals During Pursuit Of Clinton Emails.
In one of the most intriguing episodes of the 2016 presidential campaign, Republican activist Peter W. Smith launched an independent effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails to help defeat her and elect Donald Trump. His quest, which reportedly brought him into contact with at least two sets of hackers that he himself believed were Russian, remains a key focus of investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
Now, BuzzFeed News has reviewed documents showing that FBI agents and congressional investigators have zeroed in on transactions Smith made right as his effort to procure Clinton’s emails heated up. Just a day after he finished a report suggesting he was working with Trump campaign officials, for example, he transferred $9,500 from an account he had set up to fund the email project to his personal account, later taking out more than $4,900 in cash. According to a person with direct knowledge of Smith’s project, the Republican operative stated that he was prepared to pay hackers “many thousands of dollars” for Clinton’s emails — and ultimately did so….
The money trail, made public here for the first time, sheds new light on Smith’s effort, in which he told people he was in touch with both Russians on the dark web and Trump campaign officials — particularly Michael Flynn, who was then a top adviser to the Trump campaign and later served as national security adviser before having to resign after misleading White House officials about his meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Intelligence agencies have given the FBI information that Russian hackers talked about passing Clinton’s emails to Flynn through a cutout, according to two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the matter. It is not known if that cutout was in any way connected to Smith.
Smith claimed that the Russians had hacked Hillary’s private server and he was determined to get his hands on the emails.
Smith assembled a group of people including experts in technology, lawyers, and even a Russian-speaking investigator to figure out how to obtain Clinton’s emails, according to the Journal. On the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, Smith incorporated a company called KLS Research. In a proposal Smith put together describing the effort to obtain the emails, he named the company as the “preferred vehicle” for the research into Clinton’s email, and Smith would tell Tait that KLS Research would also help “avoid campaign reporting.”
Smith and his longtime business partner, John Szobocsan, were the two signers for a bank account linked to KLS Research….
Soon after Labor Day, Smith appears to have finished an operational plan, which included the names of top Trump campaign officials, some of whom have denied speaking with Smith anytime during the campaign. Smith’s report is dated Sept. 7.
The next day, Smith withdrew $9,500 from the KLS Research account and deposited it into his personal bank account, both held at Northern Trust. From there, Smith took out a little more than $4,900 in cash and sent checks to an accountant and an LLC controlled by a private real estate company. Later in September, Smith made withdrawals of $500 and $700 from KLS Research.
These transactions came to light after Northern Trust received a subpoena from the FBI for Smith’s records last December. The subpoena specifically sought information about the $9,500 withdrawal from KLS Research’s account.
After scouring nine accounts that Smith controlled, Northern Trust turned over documents showing 88 suspicious cash withdrawals totaling about $140,000 between January 2016 and April 2017, including a $3,000 withdrawal six days after the election. Northern Trust found these transactions suspicious because officials could not determine the purpose of the withdrawals and because some of them took place over the time Smith was engaged in his project to obtain Clinton’s emails. Many of the cash transactions, the bank noted, were less than $10,000, small enough not to trigger an automatic alert to the government. After receiving the subpoena, the bank sent a report to Treasury’s financial crimes unit, which shared its findings with the FBI, special counsel Robert Mueller, and Senate Intelligence Committee investigators.
The story reports that “three US law enforcement officials” confirmed that Smith is still “an important figure” in the investigation and that Mueller’s investigators have interviewed people involved with Smith. I wonder if Mike Flynn is helping out with this aspect of the investigation?
Head over to Buzzfeed News to read the rest of the story.
Lawfare has a lengthy post up about the Buzzfeed story: Peter Smith’s Search for Hillary Clinton’s Emails: The Subplot Thickens. Here’s just a taste:
On its own, the Buzzfeed story might not be a groundbreaking development. But the article doesn’t stand alone. It comes in the wake of Mueller’s indictments of Russians involved in the Kremlin’s social media manipulation operation and, more importantly for present purposes, the hacking and leaking of Democratic Party materials during the 2016 campaign. In that context, it is highly significant that Buzzfeed reports that Smith’s efforts are actively being investigated by the special counsel’s team. Not only has Mueller’s team interviewed “people who Smith tried to recruit and others who worked on his operation to obtain Clinton’s emails,” it has also “tried to determine if [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn assisted Smith in his operation”—a question that Smith’s possible payments to hackers are “key” to answering, Buzzfeed writes.
So how do the facts reported in the Peter Smith stories, particularly Buzzfeed’s latest, line up with Mueller’s indictments? Mueller’s allegations describe, in detail, a complex Russian conspiracy to shape the 2016 U.S. elections—a conspiracy that involved an influence operation conducted on social media, the publication of hacked information, and outreach to a person in contact with the Trump campaign, reportedly Roger Stone.
The Peter Smith stories—between the Journal’s reporting, Tait’s Lawfare account and the latest report from Buzzfeed—describe another plot, one that took shape on this side of the Atlantic. Whether this second plot amounts to a conspiracy is a legal question beyond the scope of this post, but it appears to have involved, at a minimum, an agreement among a number of actors to obtain illegally hacked emails, perhaps by buying them. Tait wrote that he specifically warned Smith that the person purporting to have Clinton’s emails was likely part of Russia’s campaign against the United States and that Smith didn’t care about the source, as long as he got the emails. So it’s certainly plausible that the Smith operation also involved a conspiracy of some sort.
Meanwhile, Russian state TV is getting more and more blatant about Putin’s influence on Trump. Raw Story: Russian state TV warns Trump to ‘do what we say’ if you want ‘support in the elections.’
Julia Davis, who runs the Russian Media Monitor website, reports via Twitter that news show “60 Minutes” this week held a panel discussion about actions Russia should take to retaliate against the latest round of American sanctions.
Vitaly Tretyakov, the dean of the Moscow State University’s School of Television, argued that the Russian government should use whatever leverage it had over Trump to bend the president to its will.
“Let’s turn this into a headache for Trump,” he said, according to Davis’ translation. “If you want us to support you in the elections, do what we say.”
At The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum asks if American institutions are really strong enough to stop Trump: Are you still sure there’s no need to worry?
“Don’t worry, the institutions will stop him.” Or: “Don’t worry, he hasn’t done any real damage yet, the institutions have stopped him.” How many times have you heard some version of this analysis since the election of President Trump? Sometimes, the speaker is an optimist, someone with faith in the U.S. Constitution. Sometimes, the speaker is a skeptic, someone who dislikes the alleged “hysteria” of those who think Trump’s corrupt habits, autocratic language and authoritarian behavior are doing lasting damage. Either way, they are reassured, and reassuring: Congress will stop him. The judiciary will stop him. The FBI, the Republican Party, the Constitution will stop him. Don’t worry.
But America’s federal institutions are not the only ones designed to prevent someone like Trump from undermining the Constitution. We have other kinds of institutions, too — legal organs, regulatory bodies, banks — that are supposed to prevent men like Trump from staying in business, let alone acquiring political power. The truth is that many of these equally important American institutions failed a long time ago. Trump is not the cause of their failure. He is the result.
One example: Paul Manafort.
Here is a man who is alleged to have declared income as “loans,” concealed foreign bank accounts and lied about money that Ukrainian oligarchs were paying him via shell companies in Cyprus. For decades, in other words, U.S. law enforcement institutions were unable to spot the money-laundering, tax evasion and fraud that his partner Rick Gates spent several hours describing, even when carried out by a prominent person. As long ago as 1985, Manafort’s name featured in Jacob Weisberg’s still-famous New Republic cover story about Roger Stone, then his consulting partner. The headline: “The State-of-the-Art Washington Sleazeball.”
For decades, Manafort’s “political consultancy” has helped crooks and autocrats retain power. But even leaving aside the question of morality: Why wasn’t Manafort put out of business for suspected fraud years ago? Did the police not have the resources? The motivation? Whatever the reason, here, for the optimists and skeptics, is a clear institutional failure: A society allegedly obsessed with “law and order,” so much so that it has the highest incarceration rates in the world, couldn’t be bothered to investigate a famously sleazy man who was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on antique rugs and men’s suits in Northern Virginia.
And what about Trump’s career?
Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, Trump employed 200 illegal Polish workers to destroy the Bonwit Teller department store, a historic building on Fifth Avenue, to make way for what would become Trump Tower. The men earned half the union wage and worked 12-hour shifts without hard hats; at one point, their contractor stopped paying them. Eventually they sued. In 1998, Trump paid $1.375 million to settle the case.
Trump broke immigration law and employment law, and he violated union rules, too. Yet neither immigration authorities nor employment regulators nor union bosses put him out of business. Why not? Why were the terms of that settlement kept confidential? Why, with his track record, was he allowed to get a casino license? Building permits? Wall Street banks did, it is true, stop lending to him. But when he began looking abroad for cash — doing extremely dodgy deals in Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example — no one stopped him.
Read the whole thing at the Post.
What else is happening? What stories are you following?
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
I’m going to share linky goodness on three story lines today. The first is the tit for tat tariff war with China. Don’t forget Hair Loser told us that “winning trade wars is easy”. Unfortunately, he ignores those of us that practice the economic dark arts of econometrics!
This minor trade war could escalate into something far worse. We have had the tit-for-tat: China has responded with its own list of tariffs to America’s so-called 232 measures (on steel and aluminium). We have had the same relatively proportionate exchanges on America’s 301 actions (on technology). In each case the steps have been modest. Economists estimate that America’s more extensive list, which omits key consumer items such as iPhones, will add just $12.5bn to the roughly $500bn in Chinese annual imports to the US. This is small potatoes. If Washington and Beijing simply stopped here, the world could carry on as normal. But dynamic situations do not normally halt of their own accord. That is why the markets have reacted so badly. They see the potential for escalation. A Chinese official was quoted as saying: “It is only polite to reciprocate”. Whatever Trump does, China will match. The ball is now in Trump’s court, which is never an ideal place for it to be. For more, readers should go to Shawn Donnan’s always excellent “Free trade” newsletter.
So, let’s look at Hair Loser’s blatherings on his ongoing list of Making America Gilded Again. This one is from CBS: “Trump says trade war is “already lost,” and he “probably won’t” attend White House Correspondents Dinner”. And is it his fault? Ohhhhh, of course not.
President Trump said in a radio interview aired Friday that the U.S. isn’t in a trade war because the trade war is “already lorst,” and said he “probably won’t” attend the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington later this month because the press is “so fake.”
Mr. Trump made those comments in an interview with WABC’s “Bernie and Sid in the Morning,” taped Thursday. The interview took place before the president’s Air Force One comments denying any knowledge of a hush money payment by his lawyer to porn actress.
Mr. Trump explained why he is going after China on tariffs. On Thursday night, Mr. Trump announced he has directed the U.S. Trade Representative to considerin new tariffs on China, in response to China’s decision to slap $50 billion in tariffs on U.S. imports. China’s $50 billion was a response to the White House’s announcement of $50 billion in tariffs on China. But Mr. Trump insisted that the U.S. isn’t in a trade war — in the past he has called trade wars “good, and easy to win” — because the U.S. already “lost” a trade war.
“Well, fellas, we’ve already lost the trade war,” the president said. “We don’t have a trade war. We’ve lost the trade war because for many years, whether it’s Clinton or the Bushes, Obama, all of our presidents before, for some reason it just got worse and worse. And now it’s $500 billion in deficits and a theft of $300 billion in intellectual property. So you can’t have this.”
The president said the stock market might take a bit of a hit in the short term —— but the country will be stronger in the long run, he insisted.
“Now we could—the easiest thing for me to do would be just to close my eyes and forget it,” Mr. Trump said. “If I did that, then I’m not doing my job. I’m not saying there won’t be a little pain but the market’s gone up 40 percent, 42 percent—so we might lose a little bit of it—but we’re going to have a much stronger country when we’re finished. And that’s what I’m all about. We have to do things that other people wouldn’t do.”
Of course, he also denied we were in a trade war with China. Hair Loser has such mental acuity! Why, he’s a stable genius!
“We are not in a trade war with China,” President Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.
The president is correct. What looks like a trade war is really a struggle for the control of the technologies that will dominate coming decades.
The trade war narrative seems at first glance to fit the facts. On March 8, the United States, pursuant to Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from China and other countries.
On March 22, President Trump issued a memorandum directing Lighthizer to consider 301 tariffs on China. Beijing, within a few hours, announced tariffs of its own on $3 billion of U.S. goods.
This Wednesday, Beijing made another announcement, this time proposing tariffs on $50 billion of imports from America.
This looks frightening because no one knows what happens when a dispute engulfs the planet’s two largest economies. As Neil Irwin of The New York Timeswrote Thursday referring to China, “a trade war with such a major trading partner is without precedent in modern times.”
President Trump, whether he ends up in a trade war or not, has zeroed in on the core of the competition between China and the U.S. Lighthizer’s proposed tariff list Tuesday includes duties on some mundane items but especially goes after the Chinese aerospace, information and communications tech, and robotics sectors. As Zhou Hao of Commerzbank in Singapore told Bloomberg, “The U.S. list suggests that the government is targeting the ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative.”
That initiative, announced in 2015 by China’s State Council, seeks to make that country nearly self-sufficient in 10 crucial industries, including aircraft, robots, electric cars, and computer chips. Beijing has set out specific goals for market shares by industry.
The plan aims for near self-sufficiency in components by 2020 and materials five years later. Moreover, Beijing, stepping into trade-violation territory, wants Chinese industries to possess 80 percent of their home market in the listed sectors.
CM2025, as the initiative is known in China, calls for jumbo-sized, low-interest loans from state investment funds and development banks, aid for the purchase of foreign competitors, and research subsidies.
Raise your hand if you think Hair Loser knows anything about the details of CM2025. He may know enough to think if they’re getting out of those import areas to be more secure, maybe he can riff on that idea too! But, better he should focus on a cyber wall. The literal stuff only makes us weaker. From The Hill: “Trump says ‘pain’ from China tariffs will make US ‘much stronger’”. Feel the pain!!!! Are we winning now? Are we great again?
President Trump says in a new interview that tariffs targeting China over intellectual property theft could cause some “pain” in the U.S. economy, but promised that America would emerge stronger as a result.
“I’m not saying there’s not gonna be any pain,” Trump said Friday in an interview with “Bernie & Sid in the Morning” on 77 WABC in New York City.
He also acknowledged the initial reaction from markets is likely to be negative.
They “could lose a little bit,” he said
Dow Jones industrial average futures plummeted on Thursday after news broke that Trump has asked officials in the administration to prepare tariffs on another $100 billion of imports from China, escalating a fight with Beijing.
Futures on the index fell 222 points, suggesting the market would open down 271.22 points on Friday, CNBC reported.
A relatively poor jobs report released Friday that found the nation added 103,000 jobs in March is also likely to push markets lower, but Trump said he was not worried about a negative reaction from his move on trade.
“We’re gonna be much stronger for it,” he added later in the interview.
China has responded to the latest round of tariff plans with a statement threatening an all-out trade war.
“We do not want to fight, but we are not afraid to fight a trade war,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Oh, wait, that sounds more like losing again. So, let’s head over to Trump’s Best and Brightest and Most Corrupt Cabinet. Pruitt is now labelled as “too corrupt to be corrupted” by Ryan Cooper at The Week.
As defined by Congress, the EPA is supposed to protect the health of Americans by enforcing environmental law, but Administrator Pruitt’s tenure has been focused almost entirely on dismantling as much of the existing architecture of environmental protections as possible. More than any previous EPA head, he has worked to accomplish the exact opposite of the intended purpose of the agency. He has rolled back President Obama’s automobile efficiency standards, the Clean Power Plan, and stacked scientific advisory boards with science deniers and partisan hacks. Overall there have been 41 instances of EPA deregulation under Pruitt as of early February alone. His EPA insists that a gigantic toxic waste dump in Puerto Rico is fine, despite the fact that it was badly flooded during Hurricane Maria and many locals have suspicious illnesses.
And where he can’t simply torch regulation (because it’s often wildly illegal), he’s stalled implementation as long as possible, through administrative delays, legal red tape, and simply refusing to staff tons of positions.
Perhaps most deviously, as Emily Atkin writes, he recently changed the scientific basis for EPA rulemaking to disqualify any research not based on public data, following a trail blazed by notorious climate change denier Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). That superficially reasonable-sounding policy rules out most air quality research of any kind, which are based on medical datasets that are not public because of federal privacy law.
The objective, obviously, is to come up with any sort of pretext to make it easier for polluters to pollute. This one places a handy Catch-22 in the face of nearly anybody who wants to do serious science on pollution and health.
Oh and also Pruitt has an unprecedented 24/7 squad of bodyguards, a $25,000 secret phone booth in his office, spent $9,000 sweeping his office for surveillance bugs, and took multiple charter, private, and first-class flights costing at least $163,000 in total.
If there’s one silver lining to Pruitt’s effort to leave no American child brain un-poisoned, it’s how he demonstrates the extent to which a committed ideologue can bend an agency to his will. The EPA is supposed to follow the latest science in carrying out its legal mandate, but by tendentiously disqualifying science that doesn’t reach a prearranged ideological conclusion, Pruitt has effectively gutted the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
Navarro, who kept accidentally calling Steve Mnuchin Steve Munchkin,” noted that Pruitt’s problem is that his flubs aren’t happening in a vacuum, other cabinet secretaries are doing the same.
“There is one more chapter in this telenovela,” she said. “In the sense that we’ve heard about excesses by Ben Carson, by Munchkin-Mnuchin-whatever. It is $130,000 doors or $130,000 lunch tables or jetting around to see an eclipse. This is one more instance of what we’re seeing after Donald Trump promised to be different, and the Republican Party again and again looks the other way. Whether it’s Stormy Daniels or tariffs or deficits or overspending. They look the other way. If this were a Democratic administration, people would be brought in to testify and there would be investigations.”
“I will say to you, the problem with that [Scott Pruitt] interview is — I mean first of all, it was so bad it made Betsy DeVos look like Albert Einstein,” she continued. “But more than that, he went around the White House to give his buddies and cronies a huge pay raise despite the White House was saying not to do it. That should really bother us, as republicans, as Americans, as taxpayers. That is our money that he is misspending and it should bother all of us despite partisanship.”
Pruitt definitely acts like a worse demigod than Trump. My guess is Hair Loser wants no competition from jerks like him.
Several weeks after taking the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Scott Pruitt was running late and stuck in Washington, D.C., traffic. Sources tell CBS News that he wanted to use his vehicle’s lights and sirens to get to his official appointment, but the lead agent in charge of his security detail advised him that sirens were to be used only in emergencies.
Less than two weeks later that agent was removed from Pruitt’s detail, reassigned to a new job within the EPA.
Still, recently Trump has shown more preference to Pruitt over Sessions even suggesting he might replace Sessions with Pruitt.
President Donald Trump floated replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Scott Pruitt as recently as this week, even as the scandal-ridden head of the Environmental Protection Agency has faced a growing list of negative headlines, according to people close to the President.
“He was 100% still trying to protect Pruitt because Pruitt is his fill-in for Sessions,” one source familiar with Trump’s thinking told CNN.
Though the President has, at times, floated several people a day for multiple positions in his administration that are already occupied, the proposition reveals just how frustrated Trump remains with Sessions because of his decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation more than a year ago, while signaling how confident he has remained in Pruitt despite a dizzying number of ethics issues.
So, the third headline comes from the US Treasury and sanctions imposed on Russian Oligarchs. We’re waiting for Hair Loser’s pissing wisdom on this via Twitter.
The Trump administration announced new sanctions on Russian tycoons, companies and key allies of President Vladimir Putin, hitting the crucial energy sector and adding to a flurry of moves by Western powers against Moscow in recent weeks.
“The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Friday. “The Russian government engages in a range of malign activity around the globe, including continuing to occupy Crimea and instigate violence in eastern Ukraine, supplying the Assad regime with material and weaponry as they bomb their own civilians, attempting to subvert Western democracies, and malicious cyber activities.”
Those penalized include seven Russian oligarchs, 12 companies and 17 senior government officials under provisions of a law Congress passed last year to retaliate against Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Among the most prominent Russian tycoons identified Friday is metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, the billionaire founder and majority shareholder of En+ Group. Deripaska, 50, made headlines last year due to his links to Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. The tycoon has had difficulties in the past in getting a U.S. visa.
Friday’s announcement builds on a string of punitive actions taken by the U.S. against the Kremlin. Congress and Trump’s national security advisers have pushed for tougher sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2016 U.S. election and its prolonged, destructive cyberattacks in Ukraine and elsewhere.
But in a farewell speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington this week, Trump’s outgoing national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the U.S. has “failed to impose sufficient costs” on Putin’s government for its military and political aggression worldwide.
The Kremlin continues to call for dialogue with Trump. Speaking in Moscow Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov complained about America’s increasingly hostile diplomatic stance towards Russia but expressed hope that Trump and Putin could conduct a “broad dialogue” so long as it does not “fall victim to domestic political intrigues” in Washington.
Other individuals targeted on Friday include members of Putin’s inner circle, some of whom are under scrutiny from U.S. investigators for activities related to the 2016 presidential election.
Among them are Suleiman Kerimov, a top Putin adviser; Kirill Shamalov, who married Putin’s daughter in 2013; and financier Viktor Vekselberg, who attended Trump’s presidential inauguration.
Sanctions target Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, who reportedly is under investigation in the U.S. on suspicion of funneling money to the National Rifle Association to assist the Trump campaign.
And, just in case you missed it … “EXCLUSIVE: Saudi crown prince bragged that Jared Kushner gave him CIA intelligence about other Saudis saying ‘here are your enemies’ days before ‘corruption crackdown’ which led to torture and death”
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
As usual in the horrifying new world of Trump, there is so much shocking news that there’s no way to deal with all of it. I guess the top story has to be that Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd dangled pardons in front of Michael Flynn and Paul Manifort last summer.
The New York Times: Trump’s Lawyer Raised Prospect of Pardons for Flynn and Manafort.
A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump’s pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.
The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.
The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.
Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes.
Flynn ultimately took the safe route and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation; but this could explain why Paul Manafort is holding out even though the evidence against him is overwhelming and he could face life in prison if convicted.
Constitutional experts are now discussing whether Trump could get away with pardoning Manafort and others, even if he did it with corrupt intent. Some opinions:
Alex Whiting at Just Security: Why Dangling a Pardon Could Be an Obstruction of Justice—Even if the Pardon Power is Absolute. A brief excerpt:
Some experts have argued that the pardon power is absolute and that the President’s motives in issuing a pardon thus could not be questioned, while others contend that it could be a crime to issue a pardon for corrupt purposes (such as in exchange for cash). But the debate over the absolute nature of the pardon power is actually not relevant to the alleged incidents involving Trump’s lawyer. Indeed, that entire debate can be set aside for the moment. Why? Because there’s been no pardon. Instead, a pardon has only been dangled before Flynn and Manafort, and the analysis of whether that action could become part of an obstruction case against Trump raises entirely different considerations….
The pardon dangle works completely differently—and in important respects has the opposite effects. First, this kind of dangle is not a public act. Therefore, as long as it remained secret, it could be done without incurring any of the political downstream consequences that come with actually pardoning someone. It hides the President from scrutiny rather than exposes him to it as a potential check on the use of the power. Second, the objective of the dangle appears to have been to foreclose the prospect of Flynn and Manfort’s cooperating or testifying. Once again, this is the opposite effect of an actual exercise of the pardon. The message of the dangle was sufficiently clear: hang in there and keep fighting (do not cut a deal with the special counsel) because you will be pardoned before you spend a day in jail. The President and his lawyer’s hope would have been that with the threat of jail eliminated, neither former aid would feel compelled to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller to reduce his sentence. But, since they were not actually pardoned or not yet anyway, they still kept their Fifth Amendment privileges, and so Mueller could not simply demand they testify before the Grand Jury. In this way, the dangle could operate to stop any cooperation from Flynn and Manafort, who could then be pardoned later if and when they were indicted or even after their cases went through pretrial, trial and appeal. Indeed, you also have to put yourself back at the time these events all took place: before Manafort was indicted and Flynn pleaded guilty. That’s when the dangle could work its magic.
Because a pardon dangle is secret and seeks to discourage cooperation with an ongoing investigation without public scrutiny or consequences, it should be analyzed differently than a pardon when it comes to an obstruction case.
Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at The Washington Post: We may know why Paul Manafort has kept quiet. But his bet is still risky.
Manafort’s refusal to cooperate can’t be driven by a rational calculation that he has any reasonable chance of escaping conviction, multimillion-dollar legal fees and a prison sentence that will result in years behind bars.
The indictments against him lay out an overwhelming case of money laundering in particular. The meticulously gathered evidence will be as clear for the jury as a laundry detergent commercial: The jury will see the dirty money go in and the clean money come out. To the extent there had been a small risk, inherent in paper-driven chases, that the jury could become bored at the accounting presentation and tune out, Mueller now has a narrator for the trial in Manafort’s co-conspirator Rick Gates.
So is hoping for a Trump pardon a good bet for Manafort?
…the Times story does not definitively solve the Manafort mystery. First, Dowd’s reported overture, particularly if done with the president’s knowledge or consent, could have constituted a conspiracy to obstruct justice, a separate impeachable offense. That presumably is why the story includes a categorical denial from Dowd that he ever discussed pardons for the president’s former advisers with lawyers. For Dowd, the conduct would be putting his license at risk.Second, Manafort surely recognizes that he can’t fully count on Trump, both because the president is a habitual liar and because the political dynamic is subject to such extreme and violent turns. (Of course, under this hypothesis, Manafort retains the valuable insurance policy of spilling the goods if Trump double-crosses him, leaving both huge losers in a real-life prisoners dilemma.)
Third, Manafort could still be required to testify after any pardon, when he would no longer be in federal jeopardy. Undoubtedly, the plan would be for him to deny assurances of a pardon from Trump. Still, were Mueller to catch him in a lie, the special counsel would surely come down on him.
Finally, it is likely that in the event of a pardon for federal crimes, which is all Trump can provide, some state attorneys general, such as New York’s Eric T. Schneiderman, would prosecute Manafort for financial crimes under their potent state statutes.
Maybe Manafort figures a possible pardon is a better bet than hoping Putin doesn’t send his goons to shut him (Manafort) up for good.
A few more pardon stories:
Bloomberg: Pardon Talk Could Put Trump Lawyer in Hot Water.
The Washington Post: This overlooked part of the Constitution could stop Trump from abusing his pardon power.
Another big story broke late yesterday. Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Today Shulkin is speaking out, claiming he was fired because he opposed privatizing the VA. Shulkin spoke to NPR’s Morning Edition:
Fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin tells NPR’s Morning Edition that political forces in the Trump administration want to privatize the VA — and that he was standing in the way.
“There are many political appointees in the VA that believe that we are moving in the wrong direction or weren’t moving fast enough toward privatizing the VA,” he said. “I think that it’s essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA. I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization.”
Those political forces may be why Shulkin says he wasn’t allowed to speak out to defend himself against an ethics controversy over use of funds on a trip to Europe that he says was overhyped and intended to weaken him.
“This was completely mischaracterized,” Shulkin said. “There was nothing improper about this trip, and I was not allowed to put up an official statement or to even respond to this by the White House. … I think this was really just being used in a political context to try to make sure that I wasn’t as effective as a leader moving forward.”
Shulkin argued his case in an op-ed at The New York Times: David J. Shulkin: Privatizing the V.A. Will Hurt Veterans.
That’s a lot of news, but I’ve barely touched on everything that’s happening. Here’s a shocking Trump corruption story that broke at The Guardian this morning: FBI looked into Trump plans to build hotel in Latvia with Putin supporter.
In 2010, a small group of businessmen including a wealthy Russian supporter of Vladimir Putin began working on plans to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex with Donald Trump in Riga, the capital of Latvia.
A senior Trump executive visited the city to scout for locations. Trump and his daughter Ivanka spent hours at Trump Tower with the Russian, Igor Krutoy, who also knows compatriots involved in arranging a fateful meeting at the same building during the 2016 US election campaign.
Then the Latvian government’s anti-corruption bureau began asking questions.
The Guardian has learned that talks with Trump’s company were abandoned after Krutoy and another of the businessmen were questioned by Latvian authorities as part of a major criminal inquiry there – and that the FBI later looked into Trump’s interactions with them at Latvia’s request.
Those involved deny that the inquiry was to blame for the deal’s collapse.
Latvia asked the US for assistance in 2014 and received a response from the FBI the following year, according to a source familiar with the process. Latvian investigators also examined secret recordings in which Trump was mentioned by a suspect.
This means the FBI looked into Trump’s efforts to do business deals in the former Soviet Union earlier than was widely known. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is now investigating other Trump dealings with Russians as part of his wide-ranging criminal inquiry into alleged collusion between Moscow and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.
The Riga developers saw their potential partner in New York as a ticket to lucrative western revenues.
This shit just never ends. I haven’t even touched on the North Korea news or the Bolton mess or the fact that Trump wants to put his personal physician in charge of the VA. More headlines to check out:
The Washington Post: Who is Trump’s new Veterans Affairs pick, Ronny Jackson?
The Washington Post: Three big questions about a Trump-Kim summit.
Talking Points Memo: WSJ: Kushner Has Phoned Bolton For Advice In The Past Year.
The Daily Beast: ICE Now Detaining Pregnant Women, Thanks to Trump Order.
Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!
Now this is a national day of observance that I can go all in on! I’m thrilled BB let me know about the reason for the season having taken two days of morning naps in a row!
National Napping Day is observed annually the day following the return of daylight saving time. National Napping Day provides everyone with the opportunity to have a nap and catch up on the hour of sleep they lost due to the spring forward time change.
So, now that we’ve established a visual and emotional happy place, let’s move into the utter display of corruption and incompetence presented by Education Secretary “I’m mostly misunderstood” DeVos. Can any one be more clueless about a job than this woman other than KKKremlin Caligula himself? Leslie Stahl managed to ask her basic questions that left the Secretary flummoxed and stumbling on 60 Minutes.
The reason Betsy DeVos wanted to be secretary of education was so she could promote school choice, offering parents options other than traditional public schools – where 90 percent of kids go. She has proposed massive cuts in public education funding and wants to shift billions to alternative players like private, parochial and charter schools.
Betsy DeVos: We have invested billions and billions and billions of dollars from the federal level And we have seen zero results.
Lesley Stahl: But that really isn’t true. Test scores have gone up over the last 25 years. So why do you keep saying nothing’s been accomplished?
Betsy DeVos: Well actually, test scores vis-à-vis the rest of the world have not gone up. And we have continued to be middle of the pack at best. That’s just not acceptable.
Lesley Stahl: No it’s not acceptable. But it’s better than it was. That’s the point. You don’t acknowledge that things have gotten better. You won’t acknowledge that, over the–
Betsy DeVos: But I don’t think they have for too many kids. We’ve stagnated
Lesley Stahl: Okay, so there’s the big argument. So what can be done about that?
Betsy DeVos: What can be done about that is empowering parents to make the choices for their kids. Any family that has the economic means and the power to make choices is doing so for their children. Families that don’t have the power, that can’t decide: “I’m gonna move from this apartment in downtown whatever to the suburb where I think the school is gonna be better for my child” if they don’t have that choice – and they are assigned to that school, they are stuck there. I am fighting for the parents who don’t have those choices. We need all parents to have those choices.
Like most right wing extremist theocrats, DeVos isn’t interested in the truth about a train wreck in Michigan she helped create. Choice is a code word for publicly funded Christian Madrassas that are segregated by social class and race.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, former chair of Michigan’s Republican Party, appeared taken aback when asked during a 60 Minutes interview Sunday whether her home state’s school’s have become better under policies she pushed.
As chair of the American Federation for Children in Michigan, DeVos worked to expand chartered private schools in the state. Most of the reading and math scores among students at charter schools in Michigan are below average and overall academic progress lags behind other states.
“Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?” 60 Minutes journalist Lesley Stahl asked DeVos in the interview, pointing out that public schools also haven’t flourished under policies she championed.
“I don’t know. Overall—I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better,” DeVos replied.
Along with her husband Dick DeVos, a billionaire heir to the Amway fortune, DeVos has backed state bills in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Florida for voucher programs where students can get public funding to subsidize the cost of attending a private or religious school. She proposes expansion of that system and has pushed for it in Michigan for decades.
“Your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better, is not working in Michigan where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here,” Stahl said.
“I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them,” DeVos replied. She said she had “not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming” to find out what is going wrong.
DeVos will be heading up the Task Force on School Safety. Wonder if that means Blackwater units in every school? And what about those Grizzlies?
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will lead a commission tasked with broadly examining ways to protect schools from gun violence, the White House said Sunday.
Administration officials also said the White House would support arming school personnel who volunteer for the job, offering federal funds to provide “rigorous firearms training” to qualified employees.
The proposal has angered education groups, who have said arming educators could put both adults and students at risk. National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García last month said, “Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence.”
But DeVos, who has met with students, teachers and families in the wake of the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., said little progress had been made protecting students over the past several years. “No student, no family, no teacher and no school should have to live the horror of Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine again,” she said.
While not immediately committing to any ideas or timetables, DeVos said, “No stone will be left unturned” in the effort to uncover and highlight evidence-based approaches proven to reduce violence.
“We’ve had to talk about this topic way too much over the years,” DeVos told reporters during a conference call Sunday. “And there’s been a lot of talk in the past but very little action.”
Still not convinced she’s like one of the worst people in the world. Take her student loan storm trooper attitude and link it to this headline: ‘Education Department awards debt collection contract to company once tied to DeVos’.
A company that once had financial ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was one of two firms selected Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education to help the agency collect overdue student loans. The deal could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The decision to award contracts to Windham Professionals and Performant Financial Corp. – the company in which DeVos invested before becoming secretary – arrives a month after a federal judge ordered the department to complete its selection of a loan collector to put an end to a messy court battle. Windham and Performant beat out nearly 40 other bidders for contracts valued at up to $400 million, but their win may be short-lived if the losing companies fight the decision.
The selection of only two [companies] opens the door to protests from the unsuccessful bidders,” wrote Michael Tarkan, senior research analyst at Compass Point, in a research note on Performant. “Based on prior contract awards, we would not be surprised to see protests, lawsuits and appeals which could all delay the start date for the new contract.”
Historically, the department has used as many as 17 companies to recoup past-due student loans. Earlier attempts to whittle down the number of firmshave been met with resistance. Companies that lost out on a 2016 debt collection contract have been embroiled in a lawsuit that has prevented the federal government from assigning new accounts.
But, hey, she’s “conservative” so Twink DeVos should be all about state’s right! Am I right? Uhmmmmm, nope!
The Education Department issued guidance Friday informing state regulators to back off the companies managing its $1.3 trillion portfolio of student loans, arguing that only the federal government has the authority to oversee its contractors.
“State regulation of the servicing of direct loans impedes uniquely federal interests,” the department wrote. “State regulation of the servicing of the Federal Family Education Loan Program is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.”
The notice arrives as states have stepped in to fill what many see as a void in the federal oversight of student loan servicers, the companies the Education Department pays nearly $1 billion to handle debt payments. The move has created consternation within the industry, which has lobbied Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Congress to prevent states from imposing additional rules and regulations. Now the department is taking action, but some legal experts say the declaration is a hollow gesture.
“Nowhere in this document does the Department of Education quote a statute from Congress that says the department is authorized to block states from stopping deceptive debt collection practices. That’s because such a law does not exist,” said Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah and former enforcement attorney at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Many states are likely to view this document as legally dubious . . . and will wait for courts to weigh in with their own interpretation.”
California, Connecticut and the District of Columbia require servicers to obtain a license to operate within their borders as a way to bring the companies under their regulatory purview. Their local agencies have the authority to monitor loan servicers’ compliance with federal laws, investigate their behavior and refer cases to the attorney general.
And from that radical rag Forbes Magazine“4 Ways Betsy DeVos Plans To Make It Harder For Ripped-Off Students To Get Loan Forgiveness.” Trump University any one?
With thousands of “borrower defense to repayment” applications pending, Betsy DeVos wants to impose a higher burden of proof for defrauded students seeking student loan forgiveness.
Borrower defense offers federal student loan forgiveness for students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, including the now-closed Corinthian Colleges.
If this revision from the Department of Education goes through, students will face bigger hurdles along the path to borrower defense student loan forgiveness.
Although it’s unclear whether the proposal would affect existing applications, it would at least introduce four major challenges for future applicants.
Other headlines guaranteed to drive you back under the covers via Memeorandum:
John Bacon from USA Today: Death penalty for drug dealers? Count Trump in
Anita Kumar from McClatchy DC: Ivanka Trump never cut ties with the Trump Organization. That’s turned into a problem.
Jake Pearson from Associated Press: Trump Jr., donor have longtime undisclosed ties
Annie Gowen from The Washington Post: Hillary Clinton says ‘follow the money’ in the Trump-Putin relationship
And now, you can close your eyes and repeat after me: Let’s make America and America again!
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!
I wake up these mornings to thinking this reminds me of 1968. There are students protesting in streets for one. But, the news these days reminds me more of those classic 60s TV shows with classic Russian spy meanies and bumbling Americans mixed in with the classic series about the FBI. There are so many instances of crime, intrigue, spying, investigations and the notorious double agents these days that I doubt even the best TV writing team would come up with any of this.
Then, there’s the classic 60s Soaps with scheming family members, bleach blondes galore, and some mean old geezer every one hates. We appear to be stuck in the reality show version of really whacky 60s TV programming. I fully believe there is a jail cell waiting with Jared Kushner’s name on it and it’s just around the corner.
Jared is in heaps of trouble. It appears the next set of indictments will be against the Russian Hackers of the Podesta emails. Just like two weeks ago, Mueller & Friends are laying the ground work on a crime against this country. Soon, we’ll see if any Americans supported that conspiracy. But, there’s also a ton of evidence of financial irregularities involving JarVanka that can be prosecuted at the state level in New York ensuring jail time, fines, and no promise of Presidential pardon. The golden children are on a slow turning spit with increasing fuel on the fire. Just this moring, the AP broke this little gem of a quid pro quo.
The Securities and Exchange Commission late last year dropped its inquiry into a financial company that a month earlier had given White House adviser Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm a $180 million loan.
While there’s no evidence that Kushner or any other Trump administration official had a role in the agency’s decision to drop the inquiry into Apollo Global Management, the timing has once again raised potential conflict-of-interest questions about Kushner’s family business and his role as an adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.
The SEC detail comes a day after The New York Times reported that Apollo’s loan to the Kushner Cos. followed several meetings at the White House with Kushner.
“I suppose the best case for Kushner is that this looks absolutely terrible,” said Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Without presuming that there is any kind of quid pro quo … there are a lot of ways that the fact of Apollo’s engagement with Kushner and the Kushner businesses in a public and private context might cast a shadow over what the SEC is doing and influence consciously or unconsciously how the agency acted.”
Apollo said in its 2018 annual report that the SEC had halted its inquiry into how the firm reported the financial results of its private equity funds and other costs and personnel changes. Apollo had previously reported that the Obama administration SEC had subpoenaed it for information related to the issue.
Ivanka’s business dealings are also part of an investigation as reported by CNN.
US counterintelligence officials are scrutinizing one of Ivanka Trump’s international business deals, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The FBI has been looking into the negotiations and financing surrounding Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, according to a US official and a former US official. The scrutiny could be a hurdle for the first daughter as she tries to obtain a full security clearance in her role as adviser to President Donald Trump.
It’s standard procedure to probe foreign contacts and international business deals as part of a background check investigation. But the complexity of the Trump Organization’s business deals, which often rely on international financing and buyers, presents a challenge.
The FBI has been looking closely at the international business entanglements of both Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, to determine whether any of those deals could leave them vulnerable to pressure from foreign agents, including China, according to a US official.
The development — a 616-foot beacon dotting the Vancouver skyline and featuring a trademarked Ivanka Trump spa — opened in February 2017, just after Trump took office.
Ivanka, too, has her own set of problems. While the First Couple braced for an Intercept story that Kushner’s father had failed to secure a loan from the Qatari government just weeks before Kushner backed a blockade of Qatar, CNN dropped another bombshell: United States counterintelligence officials are probing a Trump Organization real-estate deal in Canada in which Ivanka played a leading role.
The financing and negotiations surrounding the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver have come under F.B.I. scrutiny, according to current and former U.S. officials who spoke with CNN. It’s unclear why the F.B.I. is interested in the deal, which dates back to 2013, and in which Ivanka played a key role. But CNN reports that foreign buyers involved, as well as the timing of the $360 million project’s opening in February 2017, may have caught the agency’s attention. Like many Trump Organization deals, the New York-based company does not own the building but rather is paid licensing and marketing fees by the developer, the Holborn Group. Joo Kim Tiah, a member of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest families, runs the Canada-based development firm, and said in October 2015 that the First Daughter was closely involved: “Ivanka and myself approved everything, everything in this project,” he said during an interview.
The Intercept reports Kushner Monkey Business in Qatar. This is the bombshell story mentioned in the Vanity Fair bit.
THE REAL ESTATE firm tied to the family of presidential son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner made a direct pitch to Qatar’s minister of finance in April 2017 in an attempt to secure investment in a critically distressed asset in the company’s portfolio, according to two sources. At the previously unreported meeting, Jared Kushner’s father Charles, who runs Kushner Companies, and Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi discussed financing for the Kushners’ signature 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York City.
The 30-minute meeting, according to two sources in the financial industry who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the potential transaction, included aides to both parties, and was held at a suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.
A follow-up meeting was held the next day in a glass-walled conference room at the Kushner property itself, though Al Emadi did not attend the second gathering in person.
The failure to broker the deal would be followed only a month later by a Middle Eastern diplomatic row in which Jared Kushner provided critical support to Qatar’s neighbors. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries, with Kushner’s backing, led a diplomatic assault that culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring an end to the standoff.
Philip Rucker–writing for WAPO–calls the couple “diminished”. Everything I’ve been reading indicates orange jumpsuits in their future with diminished assets.
Kushner no longer receives the President’s Daily Brief, a daily digest that’s restricted to Trump and about a dozen other top officials, these people said. Kushner also was removed from a number of less-exclusive but still highly classified intelligence reports that are sent daily to senior administration officials, because he no longer has sufficient clearance to read them. His chances of eventually having his clearance access restored or made permanent remain unclear.
“It’s amazing how Rob Porter taking Hope Hicks out on a date and getting a picture taken in that British paper led to so many unintended consequences,” said a Republican strategist in frequent touch with the White House, speaking anonymously to share a candid opinion.
For months now, Kelly has been considering changes to professionalize the security clearance process, alarmed by how many staffers had interim clearances and how lax the enforcement of access to classified materials seemed to be, according to White House officials.
Jared Kushner has problems.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators are reportedly interested in the senior White House adviser for a plethora of reasons — including, but not limited to, the central topic of whether the Trump team worked with Russia to interfere with the 2016 campaign.
Meanwhile, Kushner’s security clearance was recently downgraded. For unclear reasons, the FBI has refused to grant him full “top secret” status — throwing his position in the White House into doubt.
Additionally, and probably not coincidentally, more and more questions have been raised about Kushner’s efforts in recent years to drum up investments in his family’s real estate projects — and whether those efforts inappropriately overlapped with his work in the Trump transition or White House.
This week alone, the New York Times reported that Kushner’s family business got big loans from two US financial institutions shortly after he met with their executives in the White House, and the Washington Post reported that foreign officials have discussed using his business entanglements to manipulate him. Meanwhile, and separately from Mueller’s probe, federal prosecutors and state regulators have both recently sought documents on Kushner Companies’ finances.
Looming over so much of this is the fact that the Kushner company owes $600 million on a money-losing Manhattan tower that’s fully due in just one year. The Kushners have spent much of the past few years trying to get wealthy foreigners to finance an expensive redevelopment plan for the property — but so far, all those efforts have failed.
The 37-year-old presidential son-in-law has not been officially accused of anything. There haven’t been any reports that charges against him are imminent. He and Kushner Companies have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. And for now, Jared continues to hold his high-level White House job, in which he is tasked with, among other things, making peace in the Middle East.
A New York Times column by Maggie Haberman and Mark Landler claims President Donald Trump asked his chief of staff John Kelly for help in ousting first daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner from their advisory roles at the White House.
The column alleges that Trump’s managerial style, dubbed “chaos theory” by the writers, has caused emotional grief for the White House staff. It further claims that aides have “expressed frustration” that Kushner and Ivanka Trump have remained as senior advisers and that President Trump has “privately asked” Kelly for help in moving them out.
It is unclear if the president is asking them to leave out of compassion or, as the Times hints, concerns about Kushner’s potential legal issues over various business dealings. The Times story also reports that President Trump has spoken to Kushner and Ivanka Trump and asked them to stay on at the White House but privately has claimed they “never should have come” to work there. Thus, he has asked Kelly to be the instigator of their departure.
So, describing this huge morass of corruption, entitlement and crime sprees must make these reporters need whiskey and showers. But, it’s rewarding to see all this come out at the time we know Mueller’s sight is on the Trump family. This comes from Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine.
So what can we take away? One safe conclusion is that the investigation is probably not near done. Another is that Trump and his family are not safe. Mueller has only so far charged people outside Trump’s family — his campaign manager, national security adviser, and 13 Russian internet trolls — which the president and his defenders have weirdly treated as a kind of vindication.
The big picture is that, after Trump burned enough creditors that American banks stopped dealing with him, he became deeply reliant on Russian capital. The Russian economy is deeply connected to Vladimir Putin, and uses its leverage to advance political goals. For instance, Vnesheconombank, which works closely with Putin, financed a Trump hotel in Toronto. Trump’s finances are totally opaque, and he has been willing to endure a great deal of critical media coverage — the thing he most hates in the world — in order to avoid publishing his tax returns.
Kushner is also an important figure. He has his own web of business ties with Russia, and had assumed a lead role in communicating with the Russians secretly. Remember the secret backchannel he conducted with Russia during the transition, designed to elude American intelligence? If a new development arose in recent weeks, that probably bodes poorly for the president’s son-in-law.
Meanwhile, as Steve Bannon sloppily confessed, after Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with a Russian promising dirt on Hillary Clinton in June 2016, it is overwhelmingly likely that he proceeded immediately to tell the father whose approval is the thing he most craves. That may or may not be provable by Mueller. But he is certainly going to try.
Veteran journalist Carl Bernstein claimed Tuesday night that White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is “in the crosshairs” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation after the White House adviser had his security clearance downgraded.
“Jared Kushner is in the crosshairs of special prosecutor Mueller’s investigation, which is focused in part on Jared Kushner like a laser,” Bernstein said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
“And there is every expectation in the White House and among lawyers that are representing other people in Mueller’s investigation that Jared Kushner has many, many strikes lining up against him in the Mueller investigation,” the Watergate reporter continued.
Oh, well, grab the popcorn. It continues.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Is this finally the beginning of the end? Trump has been attacking fellow Republicans for months, and this time one of them finally hit back hard. Yesterday Trump lashed out at Tennessee Senator Bob Corker on Twitter.
Of course none of that is true. Corker’s office said that Trump had repeatedly asked him to run for reelection, and offered to endorse him. As for the Secretary of State job, Corker withdrew his name from contention after his interview with Trump.
Corker’s Twitter response:
Then last night Corker gave a stunning interview to the New York Times: Bob Corker Says Trump’s Recklessness Threatens ‘World War III’
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”
In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”
“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”
Mr. Corker’s comments capped a remarkable day of sulfurous insults between the president and the Tennessee senator — a powerful, if lame-duck, lawmaker, whose support will be critical to the president on tax reform and the fate of the Iran nuclear deal….
The senator views Mr. Trump as given to irresponsible outbursts — a political novice who has failed to make the transition from show business.
Mr. Trump poses such an acute risk, the senator said, that a coterie of senior administration officials must protect him from his own instincts. “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” Mr. Corker said in a telephone interview.
…Mr. Corker, speaking carefully and purposefully, seemed to almost find cathartic satisfaction by portraying Mr. Trump in terms that most senior Republicans use only in private….
Without offering specifics, he said Mr. Trump had repeatedly undermined diplomacy with his Twitter fingers. “I know he has hurt, in several instances, he’s hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out,” Mr. Corker said.
All but inviting his colleagues to join him in speaking out about the president, Mr. Corker said his concerns about Mr. Trump were shared by nearly every Senate Republican.
“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” he said, adding that “of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”
Two Media reactions:
ABC News The Note: What’s dangerously serious about Trump’s feud with Corker
What happened to the calm part? The storms have begun, and just might spill over into real wars before they’re done. Sen. Bob Corker’s public feud with President Trump is no mere war of words, even in the Trumpian insult era. Corker is blowing the lid off of months of private frustrations and worries, harbored by erstwhile allies of the president, that the commander-in-chief is reckless, dishonest and could put the nation “on the path to World War III,” as Corker told The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation,” Corker said. Combine that with the tensions between Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly, and this has far bigger consequences than your typical Twitter feud. Just words? Perhaps. But they are words that are spurring confrontation with a nuclear-armed North Korea, and more words will come this week that could lead Iran to restart its own nuclear program. Corker’s reference to the White House as an “adult day care center” suggests that grown-ups are ultimately in charge. This may be the week that tests that proposition, and sorts out high-level presidential strategy from absolute and dangerous recklessness.
Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, referring to the NYT interview: Bob Corker just confirmed it: Republicans know Trump is unfit.
Corker declined to answer when asked if he believes Trump is unfit for the presidency. But the only reasonable way to read all these comments is as a declaration that Trump is indeed unfit — and that most Republicans know it. After all, Corker had previously said that Trump’s inner circle is helping to “separate our country from chaos.” Now he has added that Trump needs to be restrained by his inner circle from devolving into conduct that could end up unleashing untold global destruction — and that most Republicans know it.
Corker is getting a lot of press plaudits for his unvarnished appraisal. But as James Fallows writes, there is a good deal that Corker can actually do right nowif he wants to mitigate the threat that he himself says Trump poses. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has a range of powers that could help constrain Trump, including the power to hold public hearings to draw public attention to the ways in which Trump’s temperament threatens untold damage. At a minimum, Corker can be asked whether he intends to do these things, and if not, why not.
But whatever Corker says and does now, his new comments should precipitate a fundamental change in the way the press treats the ongoing GOP enabling of Trump. Corker has forced out into the open the fact that Republicans recognize the sheer abnormality and danger to the country of the situation we’re in, which opens the door for much tougher media questioning of them about their awareness of — and acquiescence to — this state of affairs.
This can start with a simple query: Do Republicans agree with Corker that Trump regularly needs to be constrained by his top advisers from engaging in conduct that threatens severe damage to the country and the world? If so, what are Republicans prepared to do about itrgent mentions.
People are still talking about Mike Pence’s ridiculous display at the Indianapolis Colts game yesterday on a day that was supposed to be dedicated to honoring long-time Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
As I’m sure you’re aware, Trump and Pence cooked up a public relations stunt. Knowing that a number of players for the Colts’ opponent the SF 49ers would kneel during the national anthem, the two agreed that Pence would fly to Indy from Las Vegas and then abruptly walk out on the game after the anthem. The press knew this, because Pence told them to wait outside for him because he’d be leaving soon. Pence then flew back out to California for a fund-raiser for Putin’s favorite Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and other Republicans.
Pence is getting plenty of criticism for using taxpayer money to fly back and forth across the country for a political stunt.
How much did Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to Indianapolis to watch — and then abruptly leave — a football game Sunday between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers cost?
Here is an estimate of just the air costs (which does not include costs of advance personnel, Secret Service or support on the ground):According to the Air Force, flying a C-32, the model of plane used for Air Force 2, for one hour costs about $30,000. Pence’s flight from Las Vegas to Indianapolis Saturday took about three hours and 20 minutes, so it cost about $100,000.\
Pence then flew from Indianapolis to Los Angeles on Sunday, which took about four hours and 45 minutes, costing about $142,500.Some costs of the flight into Los Angeles will be reimbursed by the Republican National Committee because Pence is attending a political event there.
If he had flown just from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, a trip lasting about 90 minutes, the cost would have been about $45,000.
I don’t usually like Connor Friedersdorf, but he has a good reaction at The Atlantic: Mike Pence’s Flagrant Waste of Taxpayer Money.
On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence made a big show of leaving an NFL game early. He declared himself upset that some players knelt during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. “I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem,” he declared, as if attacking those things was the intent of the athletes.
The NFL players knelt in protest because they believe that African Americans are being denied their self-evident rights to life and liberty by a prejudiced criminal-justice system.
“This is not about the military, this is not about the flag, this is not about the anthem,” 49ers Safety Eric Reid later told reporters. “My mother served in the armed forces. Three of my uncles served … I have the utmost respect for the military, for the anthem, for the flag … This is about systemic oppression that has been rampant in this country … I will keep doing what I feel is necessary, to use the platform that I have, to make changes. It’s really disheartening when everything you were raised on, everything I was raised on, was to be the best person I can be, to help people who need help, and the vice president of the United States is trying to confuse the message that we’re trying to put out there. I don’t know what to say about it.”
Pence is not compelled to agree with how players protest. But by fleeing the entire NFL game, he adopted the tactics of a childish, petulant snowflake who reacts to speech he dislikes by misrepresenting it, expressing umbrage, and retreating to a “safe space.”
The major difference?
When an immature teenager makes a show of fleeing from expression that he regards as politically incorrect, he’s typically evading ideas he ought to confront on his own dime. Whereas Pence spent taxpayer money to get to that NFL game. Lots of it.
There is so much more news, and so little time and space to discuss it. Most notably, Puerto Rico is still in agony, and the Trump administration seems determined not to help.
VIEQUES, Puerto Rico—Joe and Maria Bernard cook in the dark over a gas stove outside their small hotel, the Tropical Guest House. “The days feel shorter,” says Maria, “we just have 12 hours of daylight to get everything done.”
When it gets dark, the entire island of Vieques is dark.
This is life on the world-renowned tourist island. And it’s going to be life for at least the next six to eight months, if not longer, before electricity is restored here.
“We’re in denial,” says Maria, “we’re going to give it another two weeks maybe a month, then maybe we’ll have to go back to the States.”
In 2005, the couple traded in the bustle of New York and jobs in the television industry for a more rewarding future in Puerto Rico, which offered triple-tax exemption for resettling here. With their savings, they got a loan to buy their turnkey hotel.
Read more painful stories at the link.
Oh, and today is Columbus Day. From the New York Times: Why People Have Protested Columbus Day Almost From Its Start.
A reverend at Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan appeared on the front page of The New York Times after he criticized Christopher Columbus, the Italian navigator who sailed to the Americas on behalf of Spain in 1492.
The reverend, R. S. MacArthur, said Columbus was “cruel, and guilty of many crimes.”
That complaint may sound familiar to those who condemn the explorer for opening a door to European colonialism, which brought disease, destruction and catastrophic wars to the people who already lived here.
But Mr. MacArthur said those words more than a century ago, in 1893. His comments suggested he was more affronted by Spain, which he called “the poorest and most ignorant country in Europe,” than concerned about Native Americans.
He was one of many to have questioned the legacy of the explorer, whose arrival in the Americas has been celebrated in the United States for hundreds of years.
Read the rest at the NYT.
What’s left of Hurricane Nate has arrived in New England this morning giving us lots of rain and 40mph winds. I’m glad because it has been hot here for the past few days.
What’s happening where you are? What stories are you following today?