Lazy Caturday Reads: Crazy is Our Daily Reality Now

Good Afternoon!!

Paul Newman and his Burmese caat

There are four Democratic women running for president and the media is working overtime to take them all down. Meanwhile, elderly white males Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders get kid glove treatment.

Let me see if I can get this straight: Elizabeth Warren believed her family when they told her she had a Native American ancestor. Kamala Harris was a prosecutor (horrors!), she dated an older black man but married a white man. Amy Klobuchar is mean to her staff. Kirsten Gillibrand is “too transparently opportunistic.”

Each one of these women has now been assigned a “her emails” story that will dominate her campaign if reporters are successful. But two elderly white men with problematic political records and a younger man with few qualifications (Beto O’Rourke) are treated as viable candidates.

Sigh . . . Will I live to see a woman president? I’m still hoping.

In other news, Trump had his physical and surprise! He’s in perfect health!

The Washington Post: Trump’s doctor says he is in ‘very good health’ after exam by 11 specialists.

President Trump is “in very good health” and is expected to remain healthy for “the duration of his Presidency, and beyond,” the president’s doctor reported Friday after a physical exam that lasted nearly four hours and included 11 specialists.

Carole Lombard with black cat

The White House did not release details of the exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and did not say whether more details would be released.

Trump was seen by a “panel of 11 different board certified specialists,” Sean P. Conley wrote in a brief memorandum released by the White House.

The memo did not include the disciplines of any of the specialists. Typically, a physical exam includes checks of height, weight, blood pressure and other standard measures. Trump said last year that he takes a statin drug to manage his cholesterol.

Trump did not undergo any procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia, Conley reported.

I wonder if he is still 6’3 and 239 pounds? The doctor doesn’t say. Maybe his height increased again–so rare for a 72 year old man, but possible for a wannabe dictator.

Let’s see, what else is happening?

The New York Times: Trump Defies Congressional Deadline on Khashoggi Report.

President Trump refused to provide Congress a report on Friday determining who killed the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, defying a demand by lawmakers intent on establishing whether the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was behind the grisly assassination.

Steve McQueen and friend

Mr. Trump effectively bypassed a deadline set by law as his administration argued that Congress could not impose its will on the president. Critics charged that he was seeking to cover up Saudi complicity in the death of Mr. Khashoggi, an American resident and a columnist for The Washington Post.

“Consistent with the previous administration’s position and the constitutional separation of powers, the president maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate,” the Trump administration said in a statement. The statement said the administration had taken action against the killers and would consult with Congress.

But Democrats said Mr. Trump was violating a law known as the Magnitsky Act. It required him to respond 120 days after a request submitted in the fall by committee leaders — including Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — a period that expired Friday.

The illegitimate “president” of the U.S. is protecting a foreign despot who ordered the brutal murder of a Washington Post journalist. And there are suggestions that the “president” used Saudi Arabia and his pals at The National Enquirer to get revenge on Jeff Bezos, who owns the Post.

CNN: Bezos flags ‘Saudi angle’ in alleged AMI extortion attempt.

Jeff Bezos’ stunning accusation that the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him mentioned the close ties between the paper’s publisher, David Pecker, and President Donald Trump — and a second, less well-known connection.

Lucille Ball with cat

Bezos flagged the link between the New York tabloid’s parent company, American Media, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, returning to it several times.

While Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir denied any connection between his country and AMI to CNN, Bezos said in his Thursday statement that the link between the Kingdom and the media company is not yet fully understood. He carefully laid out a web of connections.

The trigger for Bezos’ post was his decision to hire a respected investigator to find out how texts to his girlfriend were obtained and published by the National Enquirer — and to determine why the paper and Pecker, the AMI chairman, had made him a target.

“Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation,” Bezos wrote. “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” he continued.

A couple of articles on the National Enquier story to check out:

The Washington Post: Federal prosecutors reviewing Bezos’s extortion claim against National Enquirer, sources say.

The Daily Beast: Private Eyes Detail Inner Workings of National Enquirer ‘Blackmail’ Machine.

Marlon Brando and his cat

The illegitimate “president’s” fake attorney general made an ass of himself in front of the Congressional committee and the world yesterday and the “president” is very pleased. Natasha Bertrand at The Atlantic: Matthew Whitaker Plays to an Audience of One.

It took about five minutes of questioning for the acting attorney general to provoke gasps and jeers in the congressional hearing room. “Your five minutes are up,” Matthew Whitaker, an ex-U.S. Attorney-turned toilet salesman, told the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman Jerry Nadler. Nadler cracked a smile, but from that point on the rules of engagement seemed clear: Whitaker, just days remaining in his legally dubious role as the interim head of the Justice Department, appeared to be playing to an audience of one…..

Despite the lingering questions about his resume and suspicions about why he was appointed over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who would have  been Sessions’s natural replacement, Whitaker presented himself to Nadler, a 13-term congressman, with the same aloofness and disdain for tradition that often seems typical of the Trump White House. And that may have been on purpose. Whitaker, whose tenure ends when Bill Barr is confirmed as attorney general next week, will need a new job. He has reportedly been considered for the role of Trump’s chief of staff. And though he testified under oath that he had “not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation,” he repeatedly declined to contradict Trump’s claims that Mueller is on a “witch hunt.”

Marilyn Monroe

Chuck Rosenberg, a former senior Justice Department official who resigned in 2017, said it would have been “easy” for Whitaker to say that Mueller’s investigation is legitimate, as Barr did during his recent confirmation hearings. “I don’t know how somebody could be that cowardly,” he added. But doing so would have undermined what is arguably his boss’s most important talking point—and that would not have been a good move for Whitaker if he was, in fact, auditioning for his next position.

Instead, Whitaker had a boilerplate response prepared for the myriad of questions posed by Democrats about the Mueller probe: “It would be inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation,” he said. Democrats, though, found that disingenuous—Whitaker had discussed the probe publicly earlier this month, going as far as to speculate that it would be wrapping up soon.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

Here’s a Trump/Whitaker/Russia scandal that is new to me. Raw Story:

Taking to Twitter on Friday night, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) hinted that there will be an investigation into a donor who gifted the Judicial Network with $18 million to steal the Supreme Court seat belonging to Merrick Garland.

As part of his observations on the Matt Whitaker hearing where he was confronted about a mysterious $1.2 million donation that funded his salary, Whitehouse said Democrats shouldn’t stop there.

Meryl Streep

‘Whitaker did political hit work for a front group called FACT that does not reveal its donors. Today he admitted that its donor was Donors Trust, an entity that hides the identity of right-wing donors. That means the unknown real donor hid behind two entities,” Whitehouse tweeted….

Whitehouse then put conservatives on notice that he expects an investigation into the dark money that was used to fund a campaign to keep Judge Merrick Garland from even getting a hearing — only to see his seat go to conservative Neil Gorsuch after Donald Trump was elected.

I found this on Twitter.

Could this be true? I don’t know, but I hope Whitehouse finds out. At this point, nothing about Trump, Republicans, and Russia would surprise me.

I’ll end with something more hopeful from The New York Times: John Dingell: My last words for America.

John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

Mary Tyler Moore

One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Click on the link to read Dingell’s final thoughts. How amazing that he chose to speak out publicly from his deathbed. He was a true public servant.

That’s all I have for today. I hope you all enjoy the weekend in spite of the insanity that surrounds us.

Advertisements

Lazy Saturday Reads: What Does the Allen Weisselberg Immunity Deal Mean?

Summer Afternoon (Tea in the Garden), Théo van Rysselberghe

Good Afternoon!!

This has been a disastrous week for Trump. The Guardian summarizes: Trump’s terrible week: stunning news and whispers of impeachment.

…even by the standards of the Trump universe, this week has been a blur. And at its heart was a single, devastating hour on Tuesday 21 August that effectively turned the president of the United States into an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal crime….

…first, there was Rudy Giuliani. Trump’s lawyer, the former New York mayor, set the tone last Sunday with an Orwellian comment on the NBC network’s Meet the Press. Asked whether the president would give his version of events in testimony to Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Giuliani warned of a perjury trap and said: “Truth isn’t truth.”

Monday passed with just an embarrassing White House event to celebrate ICE during which Trump

…said that a border patrol agent, who is Latino, “speaks perfect English” as he beckoned him to the stage. He also misstated the acronym for US Customs and Border Protection at least eight times, referring to it as “CBC”, as in Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

On Tuesday, the shit really hit the fan.

But then came, to use primary election parlance, Super Tuesday. At around 4.30pm, in courtrooms 200 miles apart, a pair of Trump associates delivered a one-two punch that stunned the White House and revived whispers of impeachment.

In New York, Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen implicated the president in a crime to influence the 2016 presidential election. Pleading guilty to dodging taxes and campaign finance violations, he alleged that Trump directed him to pay hush money to prevent two women – a Playboy model and pornographic actor – speaking out about extramarital affairs.

In Alexandria, Virginia, Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was found guilty of eight tax and bank fraud charges and could now spend the rest of his life behind bars – unless Trump chooses to pardon him.

On Wednesday morning, Fox aired Trump’s interview in which he claimed that the campaign finance violations Cohen had pleaded guilty to were not crimes and that it should be illegal for people accused of crimes to turn states evidence in order to reduce their sentences. Then on Wednesday night he watched Tucker Carlson’s show.

There he saw a spurious Tucker Carlson report pushing a white nationalist conspiracy theory that white farmers in South Africa are being persecuted and murdered in Zimbabwe-style land grabs. Trump tweeted his outrage and promised to consult the state department, whose own human rights report on South Africa had made no mention of the issue.

It was one more white grievance dog whistle to add to all the rest. The South African government issued a swift rebuke and summoned US officials. Patrick Gaspard, the former US ambassador to South Africa, described the intervention as “astounding and deeply disturbing”. He said: “I can draw a line from the irresponsible statements he made in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville and him lifting up tropes from white nationalists in South Africa.”

On Thursday,

It emerged that David Pecker, chairman of American Media Inc, which owns the pro-Trump National Enquirer, had been granted immunity to provide information about Cohen and Trump’s involvement with payments to the two women who allege sexual affairs. The Associated Press added fuel to the fire by reporting thatthe Enquirer kept such secrets locked in a safe, lending it extraordinary power.

That night, the New York Times reported that the Manhattan district attorney’s office was considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with one of the hush money payments.

The coup de grâce came with the news that Allen Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization had been given immunity to testify against Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Clearly the news about Weisselberg is the most damaging to Trump, but it’s not clear exactly kind of immunity the long-time “financial gatekeeper” has. According the The New York Times, it’s limited to the case against Cohen .

The person briefed on the deal said that it was narrow in scope, protecting Mr. Weisselberg from self-incrimination in sharing information with prosecutors about Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to tax and campaign finance charges. The latter charges stemmed from payments during the campaign to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. It was not, the person said, a blanket immunity extending beyond the information he shared, and Mr. Weisselberg remains in his job at the Trump Organization.

Allen Weisselberg

Mr. Weisselberg figured into the charges filed against Mr. Cohen this week, having facilitated the processing of what prosecutors described as “sham invoices” at the Trump Organization, through which Mr. Cohen was reimbursed for the money he had paid to quiet one of the women alleging an affair with Mr. Trump, the pornographic film actress Stephanie Clifford.

It sounds like it’s use immunity, which protects Weisselberg from being prosecuted based on the specific information he provided about the hush money deals. It’s likely that Weisselberg indicated he would take the fifth and prosecutors used immunity to force him to talk. Weisselberg could still be charged with a crime if investigators find independent evidence that he was involved in criminal activities. If he’s eventually charged with a crime, Weisselberg might agree to cooperate fully with prosecutors, but so far that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Nevertheless, the fact that prosecutors have gotten testimony from the man who supposedly “knows where the bodies are buried” in the Trump Organization is huge. And some knowledgeable writers are claiming Weisselberg has agreed to cooperate fully and are speculating about what he could reveal about Trump.

On Twitter, Renato Mariotti says he would be surprised if Weisselberg only got use immunity.

Obviously he knows a hell of a lot more than I do.

Luppe B. Luppen (AKA @NYCsouthpaw) and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News: For Trump, Allen Weisselberg may be the man who knew too much.

Prosecutors investigating Trump’s inner circle reportedly now reportedly have a limited deal with Weisselberg, who has provided testimony against former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. If his cooperation expanded, it could play a crucial role in multiple ongoing investigations.

According to the Wall Street Journal, federal prosecutors granted immunity to Weisselberg in exchange for information about payments to Cohen, which were made to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign in order to suppress their stories of alleged affairs with Trump….

The Associated Press subsequently reported that the immunity deal was “restricted to Weisselberg’s grand jury testimony last month in the Cohen case.”

What could Weisselberg reveal if he were forced to cooperate fully?

If Weisselberg decided to fully open his kimono and reveal all he knows, the federal investigation in the Southern District of New York would be the most obvious potential beneficiary. However, in some ways, the nature of that office’s interest in Trump is the most mysterious. As of Friday afternoon, it is not known what other subjects that federal investigation is pursuing. If Trump Organization executives, or even the president, are in its cross hairs, then Weisselberg could offer key insights.

Special counsel Mueller’s investigation, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is another potential beneficiary. For Mueller’s investigators, Weisselberg could detail the nature and extent of the financing the Trump Organization has received from sources connected to Russia. He could also offer them insight into any investments or potential investments Trump has made either in Russia or with Russian partners. A spokesperson for the special counsel’s office declined to comment for this story.

Weisselberg could also potentially be a valuable material witness in the New York attorney general’s state-level investigation into President Trump’s charitable foundation. In June, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation alleging a “pattern of illegal conduct,” including “willful self-dealing.” Weisselberg has long been the treasurer of the Trump Foundation. In preparation for its lawsuit, the attorney general’s office conducted a lengthy interview with Weisselberg and obtained his emails. The investigators allege that Weisselberg collaborated with Trump and campaign officials in advance of the 2016 Iowa primary to use the charity’s funds to benefit the campaign.

At The New Yorker, the very knowledgeable Adam Davidson has more:

As the C.F.O., Weisselberg tracked the money that came into the Trump Organization and the money that went out of it, former employees told me. I often found myself wondering what the Weisselberg part of the operation looked like. (I called and e-mailed him a few times, but, not surprisingly, never heard back.) Some told me he had a couple of bookkeepers, but that he personally handled most of the paperwork. Weisselberg knew who was paying or lending money to Trump, and he knew to whom Trump was giving money. When Trump became President, he placed his business interests in a revocable trust overseen by his son Donald Trump, Jr., and Weisselberg….

Trump with his wife, daughter, Karen Mcdougal (far right) and other playboy models.

This summer…Weisselberg’s role in the organization came into sharper focus. In a recording that Michael Cohen made of a conversation he had with Donald Trump about a payment to keep secret an affair, Cohen described setting up a shell company to pay hush money during the 2016 campaign to Karen McDougal, a woman who claimed to have had an affair with Trump. This week, Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign-finance laws, in part by setting up this secretive payment. He said that he knew at the time that it was illegal to secretly make a payment for campaign-related activity, but he did so anyway at Trump’s direction. Strikingly, Cohen makes it clear on the tape that Weisselberg also knew about the shell company and payment. “I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Cohen explains to Trump.

It is difficult to hear the tape and not wonder how Weisselberg developed this particular expertise and whether he had deployed it before.

Here’s what Davidson has to say about Weisselberg’s immunity deal:

The Journal story and other news coverage suggest that Weisselberg has narrow immunity, related, solely, to the payments that Michael Cohen made to silence two women with whom Trump had affairs. With evidence of that crime in hand, prosecutors can subpoena other records from the company. If they have a reasonable basis to believe another crime has been committed, they can ask Weisselberg about it. Weisselberg, fearing jail time himself, could broaden his coöperation. The fact that Weisselberg has “flipped”— and may flip further—could shift the calculus of other figures in the Trump orbit as well. Weisselberg is a big fish—perhaps the biggest fish of all. Fearing that Weisselberg might implicate them in a crime, any cronies, dealmakers, attorneys, and others who might want to exchange information for leniency from prosecutors, will now do so.

If you’re interested in what kinds of crimes Weisselberg might know about, I’d suggest reading the entire article as well as Davidson’s other New Yorker pieces about Trump’s business dealings.

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