Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

Kitty on the Fence, photo by Andy Sewell

Kitty on the Fence, photo by Andy Sewell

Some big Trump criminality news broke yesterday, and today there’s more news on stories we’ve been following over the past week.  Here’s the latest:

This one was posted late last night at The New York Times: Trump Officials Failed to Provide Accounting of Foreign Gifts.

The Trump administration left office without providing the State Department with an accounting of the gifts former President Donald J. Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials received from foreign governments in 2020, the department disclosed late Friday.

The department said that as a result, it could not fully account for the gifts officials received, the latest example to emerge in recent months of how the Trump administration’s flouting of laws and norms about the day-to-day operations of government now makes it harder to determine whether anything improper took place.

“It’s flagrant and it looks terrible,” said Richard W. Painter, the former top ethics lawyer for George W. Bush’s administration. “Either it was really stupid or really corrupt.”

Under federal law, each government department and agency is legally required to submit a list to the State Department of gifts over $415 its officials received from foreign governments. The measure is intended to ensure that foreign governments do not gain undue influence over American officials.

LOL We already know that the Trumps were under “undue influence” from Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and likely more countries.

The department said it had tried to collect the information about the gifts Trump White House officials had received but had failed to come up with an accounting.

“As a result, the data required to fully compile a complete listing for 2020 is unavailable,” the State Department said in a footnote to its list of gifts government officials received that year….

Country Cats, Rosemary Margaret Daunis

Country Cats, Rosemary Margaret Daunis

In February, it was revealed that classified documents and gifts from the White House had been improperly taken to Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, a matter federal authorities are now in the preliminary stages of investigating. Around that time, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol learned that significant chunks of time were missing from White House call records from the day of the attack….

The State Department’s inspector general reported in November that tens of thousands of dollars in gifts given to Trump administration officials were missing. They included a 30-year-old Suntory Hibiki bottle of Japanese whiskey given to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, worth $5,800, and a 22-karat-gold commemorative coin valued at $560 given to another State Department official.

Many more items are missing–read about the rest at the NYT link.

Three interesting follow-up stories on the fake DHS guys who were busted for bribing Secret Service agents. 

CNN: Many questions remain in impersonation plot that duped federal agents, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors told a judge Friday that they still don’t know a motive for two men charged with impersonating federal agents, whether they are connected to any foreign government or whether they received anything from the federal agents they allegedly duped.

“This investigation is less than two weeks old, and every day it gets worse and worse as more and more evidence comes forward, and more and more witnesses come forward,” prosecutor Josh Rothstein told a federal judge on Friday.

The Justice Department is arguing that Haider Ali and Arian Taherzadeh should stay behind bars while the investigation continues. Judge Michael Harvey peppered prosecutors with questions, many of which they couldn’t answer.

The hearing will continue Monday, and the two men will remain behind bars over the weekend. Neither Taherzadeh nor Ali has entered a formal plea.

Cat and kittens, photo by Janet Tunget

Cat and kittens, photo by Janet Tunget

The two men spent more than two years impersonating Homeland Security agents, currying favor with federal law enforcement officers, some of whom lived in a swanky DC complex where they had apartments, and amassing a small arsenal of weapons and surveillance equipment, according to court documents.

Federal investigators are trying to unravel how the men paid for five apartments in a high-rent Washington neighborhood, as well as weapons and other equipment, a US law enforcement official said.

Among the questions for investigators is whether the money could have come from a foreign government, though they have noted that the effort didn’t appear to have the sophistication expected of trained foreign intelligence services.

Rothstein noted that one of the men, Ali, has citizenship status in Pakistan while also being a naturalized US citizen. Ali had traveled to Iran in the months before the scheme began, Rothstein said, and took five other trips abroad, including to Iraq and Pakistan.

(Highlighting added by me)

The Daily Mail: Stash of assault rifles, body armor, passports with multiple visas, and sham uniforms found in penthouse of ‘fake’ Homeland agents – including one with ‘links to Pakistani intelligence.’

A motion for detention of the two men who were arrested Wednesday for impersonating federal agents includes a slew of damning evidence, including images showing several different passports, visas and IDs.

The prosecutors are requesting Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Sher-Ali, 35, be detained due to a slew of evidence found in a raid of their units in a luxury apartment building in southeast Washington, D.C….

Taherzadeh told law enforcement in an interview after being taken into custody on Wednesday that Ali was the one funding their lavish lifestyle and seemingly endless stream of gifts, but claimed he wasn’t aware where the money was coming from.

best-spring-day-country-girl-cat-farm-landscape-debbie-criswell

Debbie Criswell, Best spring day

The question remains, however, on what Ali and Taherzadeh’s motives were in getting close to people with White House access by impersonating government agents.

Secret Service agents assigned to details for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence are among those being investigated for accepting lavish gifts and partying with Taherzadeh and Ali, who alleged they were agents with the Department of Homeland Security.

At least one of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) agents receiving free rent from Taherzadehand Ali was assigned to the detail protecting Harris’ residence at Number One Observatory Circle at the Naval Observatory, sources at the building told DailyMail.com.

Another, sources claim, was on the presidential protective detail and regularly traveled with President Biden on Air Force One.

The new information comes after an affidavit released Wednesday revealed that one of the witnesses in the case is a secret service agent that worked on First Lady Jill Biden’s protective detail.

Again, the added highlighting is mine. There’s much more at the link, including photos of the defendants and the evidence.

Justin Rohrlich of The Daily Beast interviewed a “former friend” of one of the imposters: Homeland Security Conman’s Arrest Is ‘Karma,’ Says Former Friend.

A man arrested this week for allegedly posing as a phony Homeland Security agent in a years-long ruse that fooled at least four members of the Secret Service—one of them on first lady Jill Biden’s security detail—has been busted for passing bad checks, allegedly created a fake company to win a city contract, and stiffed a close friend and business partner before skipping town, according to state court records and interviews with two former associates.

Arian Taherzadeh, 40, was arrested by the feds at his Washington, D.C., apartment complex on Wednesday….

Barn cats in Spring

Barn cats in Spring

In an interview with investigators following his arrest, prosecutors say Taherzadeh admitted to posing as a DHS agent and said he also falsely told others that he was an ex-Army Ranger. However, he put much of the onus on Ali, telling the feds that “Ali was the individual that funded most of their day-to-day operation but Taherzadeh did not know the source of the funds.”

“You could call it karma,” a former friend and business partner in Kansas City who started a now-defunct IT consultancy with Taherzadeh told The Daily Beast. “I got burned a couple of different times and I finally walked away.”

The friend said he’s extremely curious to know what Taherzadeh’s end-game was.

“Part of me just wants to tell you, it’s because he could,” he said.

The tale of the con is a long story. You can read it at the Daily Beast link.

January 6 investigation news

I know you’ve probably heard about this bombshell story from CNN yesterday: CNN Exclusive: ‘We control them all’: Donald Trump Jr. texted Meadows ideas for overturning 2020 election before it was called.

Two days after the 2020 presidential election, as votes were still being tallied, Donald Trump’s eldest son texted then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that “we have operational control” to ensure his father would get a second term, with Republican majorities in the US Senate and swing state legislatures, CNN has learned.

In the text, which has not been previously reported, Donald Trump Jr. lays out ideas for keeping his father in power by subverting the Electoral College process, according to the message reviewed by CNN. The text is among records obtained by the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021.

“It’s very simple,” Trump Jr. texted to Meadows on November 5, adding later in the same missive: “We have multiple paths We control them all.” [….]

Illustration by Erika Klein, 1964

Illustration by Erika Klein, 1964

Immediately before his text to Meadows describing multiple paths for challenging the election, Trump Jr. texted Meadows the following: “This is what we need to do please read it and please get it to everyone that needs to see it because I’m not sure we’re doing it.”

The November 5 text message outlines a strategy that is nearly identical to what allies of the former President attempted to carry out in the months that followed. Trump Jr. makes specific reference to filing lawsuits and advocating recounts to prevent certain swing states from certifying their results, as well as having a handful of Republican state houses put forward slates of fake “Trump electors.”

If all that failed, according to the Trump Jr. text, GOP lawmakers in Congress could simply vote to reinstall Trump as President on January 6.

“We have operational control Total leverage,” the message reads. “Moral High Ground POTUS must start 2nd term now.”

Lock him up. Please.

The New York Times: Pro-Trump Rally Planner Is Cooperating in Justice Dept.’s Jan. 6 Inquiry.

Ali Alexander, a prominent organizer of pro-Trump events after the 2020 election, has agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation of the attack on the Capitol last year, the first high-profile political figure known to have offered assistance to the government’s newly expanded criminal inquiry.

Speaking through a lawyer, Mr. Alexander said on Friday that he had recently received a subpoena from a federal grand jury that is seeking information on several broad categories of people connected to pro-Trump rallies that took place in Washington after the election.

In a statement from the lawyer, Mr. Alexander said he was taking “a cooperative posture” with the Justice Department’s investigation but did not know what useful information he could give. He also disavowed anyone who took part in or planned violence on Jan. 6.

While it remains unclear what Mr. Alexander might tell the grand jury, he was intimately involved in the sprawling effort to mount political protests challenging the results of the election, and had contacts with other organizers, extremist groups, members of Congress and, according to the House committee investigating Jan. 6, White House officials during the period after Election Day.

CAT-COUNTRY Rosemary Margaret Daunis

Cat Country by Rosemary Margaret Daunis

I actually think the NYT is underplaying the important of this development, but here’s a bit more from the article:

The grand jury subpoena Mr. Alexander received suggests that prosecutors have greatly widened the scope of their inquiry to include not only people who were at the Capitol, but also those who organized and spoke at pro-Trump events in November and December 2020 and on Jan. 6, 2021.

In an indication that the inquiry could reach into the Trump administration and its allies in Congress, the subpoena also seeks information about members of the executive and legislative branches who were involved in the events or who may have helped to obstruct the certification of the 2020 election….

Mr. Alexander took part in two so-called Stop the Steal rallies in Washington that preceded the former president’s event at the Ellipse, near the White House, on Jan. 6 — one on Nov. 14, 2020, and the other a few weeks later on Dec. 12 — as well as events in the key swing state of Georgia in December.

In the run-up to those gatherings, Mr. Alexander came into contact with a host of rally organizers and with right-wing groups like the Oath Keepers militia and the 1st Amendment Praetorian that provided both public and personal security at the events. 

The Washington Post on the plea deal with Proud Boy Charles Donohoe: Proud Boys leader admits plan to storm Capitol, will testify against others.

A North Carolina man who was one of the leaders of the far-right Proud Boys as they assaulted the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, pleaded guilty Friday to two felony counts with a minimum sentence of nearly six years in prison, but agreed to cooperate against his co-defendants in hopes of getting a lighter sentence.

Court records filed Friday show he has already provided numerous insights into the group’s plans and their intention to disrupt the congressional electoral vote confirmation….

Donohoe, 34, of Kernersville, N.C., admitted to conspiring to help organize an attack on Congress by angry supporters of then-president Donald Trump and to assaulting law enforcement officers. Donohoe is the first among six of the charged Proud Boys’ leaders, including longtime chairman Enrique Tarrio, to admit to both organizing an attack on Congress and assaulting law enforcement officers.

By Warren Kimble

By Warren Kimble

On the plans for and carrying out of the assault on the Capitol:

As early as Jan. 4, prosecutors said, “Donohoe was aware that members of MOSD leadership were discussing the possibility of storming the Capitol. Donohoe believed that storming the Capitol would achieve the group’s goal of stopping the government from carrying out the transfer of presidential power. Donohoe understood that storming the Capitol would be illegal.”

On the morning of Jan. 6, the Proud Boys marched away from the Ellipse before President Donald Trump began his speech, and did not return. Instead, they went to the Capitol shortly after 10 a.m., the statement of offense says, and Donohoe posted that his group numbered “200-300 PBs.” Co-defendants Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs mustered the group, the statement says, and “Donohoe understood that Nordean and Biggs were searching for an opportunity to storm the Capitol.”

By 1 p.m., the Proud Boys were being instructed in messages to “Push inside!” Donohoe reposted the message to other group leaders. Donohoe admitted throwing two water bottles at police trying to prevent the mob’s advance. At 1:37 p.m., Donohoe took a picture of co-defendant Dominic Pezzola holding a riot shield that had been snatched from police.

Donohoe then found another Proud Boy who “initiated an altercation at the front of the crowd,” the statement says. “Donohoe pushed forward to advance up the concrete stairs toward the Capitol. The crowd overwhelmed law enforcement who were attempting to stop their advance.”

Despite all the whining from Twitter lawyers, it sure looks like the DOJ is conducting a serious investigation that could reach all the way to Trump.

Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers! Spring is on the way.


Monday Reads

Happy Monday!!

Over the weekend we lost two giants of biology and the study of biodiversity.

The New York Times: E.O. Wilson, a Pioneer of Evolutionary Biology, Dies at 92.

Edward O. Wilson, a biologist and author who conducted pioneering work on biodiversity, insects and human nature — and won two Pulitzer Prizes along the way — died on Sunday in Burlington, Mass. He was 92.

His death was announced on Monday by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. A cause of death was not given….

“Ed’s holy grail was the sheer delight of the pursuit of knowledge,” Paula J. Ehrlich, chief executive and president of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation said in a statement. “A relentless synthesizer of ideas, his courageous scientific focus and poetic voice transformed our way of understanding ourselves and our planet.”

When Dr. Wilson began his career in evolutionary biology in the 1950s, the study of animals and plants seemed to many scientists like a quaint, obsolete hobby. Molecular biologists were getting their first glimpses of DNA, proteins and other invisible foundations of life. Dr. Wilson made it his life’s work to put evolution on an equal footing.

“How could our seemingly old-fashioned subjects achieve new intellectual rigor and originality compared to molecular biology?” Dr. Wilson recalled in 2009. He answered his own question by pioneering new fields of research.

As an expert on insects, Dr. Wilson studied the evolution of behavior, exploring how natural selection and other forces could produce something as extraordinarily complex as an ant colony. He then championed this kind of research as a way of making sense of all behavior — including our own.

As part of his campaign, Dr. Wilson wrote a string of books that influenced his fellow scientists while also gaining a broad public audience. “On Human Nature” won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1979; “The Ants,” which Dr. Wilson wrote with his longtime colleague Bert Hölldobler, won him his second Pulitzer in 1991.

Dr. Wilson also became a pioneer in the study of biological diversity, developing a mathematical approach to questions about why different places have different numbers of species. Later in his career, Dr. Wilson became one of the world’s leading voices for the protection of endangered wildlife.

National Geographic: Thomas Lovejoy, renowned biologist who coined ‘biological diversity,’ dies at 80.

Thomas Lovejoy, a well-known American conservation biologist who coined the term “biological diversity” in 1980, died on December 25 at the age of 80. Lovejoy, who lived in northern Virginia, spent more than 50 years working in the Amazon rainforest, founding the nonprofit Amazon Biodiversity Center and bringing worldwide attention to the threats of tropical deforestation. In 1971, he received his first grant from the National Geographic Society, becoming an Explorer at Large in 2019.

“To know Tom was to know an extraordinary scientist, professor, advisor, and unyielding champion for our planet,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, the Society’s CEO, in a statement. “He was also a consummate connector, helping bring people and organizations together to preserve and protect some of our most fragile ecosystems and cornerstone species.”

In 1980, he also published the first estimate of global extinction rates, correctly projecting that by the early 21st century a huge number of species would be lost forever. Lovejoy, who held a Ph.D. in biology from Yale University, advised three administrations, the United Nations Foundation, the World Bank, and other organizations on how to protect species and advance the field of conservation biology. Since 2010, Lovejoy served as a professor in environmental science and policy at George Mason University in Virginia.

“Tom was a giant in the world of ecology and conservation,” said Enric Sala, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence. “But most importantly, he was a wonderful mentor and extremely generous with his students, colleagues, and friends.”

Despite his focus on some of the world’s toughest environmental challenges, Lovejoy remained an optimist. “We all have an interest in fixing this before it gets badly out of hand, and it’s getting close to that,” Lovejoy told National Geographic in 2015, speaking about climate change. “There are things we can do together. There are energy and innovation possibilities. There are biological solutions that would benefit everyone.

Politics News

Donald Trump Jr. recently slammed the teaching of Jesus. Relevant: Biblical Scholar Donald Trump Jr. Tells Young Conservatives That Following the Bible Has ‘Gotten Us Nothing.’

On Sunday [December 19], Turning Point USA hosted Donald Trump Jr. where he praised a crowd of young conservatives as “the frontline of freedom” but cautioned that following biblical teaching like “turn the other cheek” was holding them back and has “gotten us nothing.”

“If we band together, we can take on these institutions,” Trump told the crowd in Arizona. “That’s where we’ve gone wrong for a long time.”

Jean Metzinger, Tea Time

Jean Metzinger, Tea Time

“They cannot cancel us all,” he continued. “This will be contrary to a lot of our beliefs because I’d love not to have to participate in cancel culture. I’d love that it didn’t exist. But as long as it does, folks, we better be playing the same game.”

“We’ve turned the other cheek and I understand sort of the biblical reference — I understand the mentality — but it’s gotten us nothing,” Trump said. “OK? It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution.”

Trump is more correct than he probably knows here. Christianity is a poor device for gaining worldly influence. Nearly every page of the Gospels has stories of Jesus refusing earthly power and exhorting his followers to do the same. In fact, there are few things Jesus talked as much about as the upside down Kingdom of God where “the last shall be first” and “blessed are the meek.” Moreover, he cautioned against seeking earthly influence, going so far as to proclaim “woe to you who are rich.” The most cursory reading of Scripture would leave anyone with the sense that this is not a manual for getting stuff.

Peter Wehner wrote about Don Jr.’s “values” at The Atlantic: The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.

Donald Trump Jr. is both intensely unappealing and uninteresting. He combines in his person corruption, ineptitude, and banality. He is perpetually aggrieved; obsessed with trolling the left; a crude, one-dimensional figure who has done a remarkably good job of keeping from public view any redeeming qualities he might have.

There’s a case to be made that he’s worth ignoring, except for this: Don Jr. has been his father’s chief emissary to MAGA world; he’s one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party; and he’s influential with Republicans in positions of power. He’s also attuned to what appeals to the base of the GOP. So, from time to time, it is worth paying attention to what he has to say.

Trump spoke at a Turning Point USA gathering on December 19. He displayed seething, nearly pathological resentments; playground insults (he led the crowd in “Let’s Go, Brandon” chants); tough guy/average Joe shtick; and a pulsating sense of aggrieved victimhood and persecution, all of it coming from the elitist, extravagantly rich son of a former president.

Hermann Max Pechstein

By Hermann Max Pechstein

Wehner notes Jr.’s reference to Jesus’s teachings of loving our enemies and “turning the other cheek” when they attack us.

Throughout his speech, Don Jr. painted a scenario in which Trump supporters—Americans living in red America—are under relentless attack from a wicked and brutal enemy. He portrayed it as an existential battle between good and evil. One side must prevail; the other must be crushed. This in turn justifies any necessary means to win. And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go….

The problem is that the Trumpian ethic hasn’t been confined to the Trump family. We saw that not just in the enthusiastic and at times impassioned response of the Turning Point USA crowd to Don Jr.’s speech but nearly every day in the words and actions of Republicans in positions of power. Donald Trump and his oldest son have become evangelists of a different kind.

While we’re on the subject of Trumpian so-called “christians,” MSNBC opinion columnist Jarvis DeBerry writes: White evangelicals dying of Covid after denouncing vaccines are wasting martyrdom.

This year we’ve seen a number of conservative personalities, including the late evangelical leaders Marcus Lamb and Jimmy DeYoung, who succumbed to Covid-19 after minimizing the risks of the disease or making disparaging remarks about the vaccines. What is such opposition if not an arrogant attempt to put God to the test, no less problematic, say, than stepping off a great height and counting on being caught by angels?

A personal decision not to take Covid-19 seriously is bad enough. Even worse, though, is a personnel decision to fire those who do. When evangelical Christian radio host Dave Ramsey fired video editor Brad Amos on July 31, Amos responded with a lawsuit against Ramsey Solutions that claims Ramsey thought taking steps to avoid infection showed a “weakness of spirit.” A spokesperson for the company told McClatchy News that Amos was “fired during a meeting to discuss his poor performance with his leaders, where he insulted his most senior leader. He was not terminated for his religious beliefs or how he wanted to handle COVID.”

Weeks later, the National Religious Broadcasters fired spokesperson Daniel Darling after he said in a USA Today op-ed and on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that getting vaccinated was his way of obeying the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. The NRB has stated that on the matter of vaccines, it is “neutral.”

Time for Tea, Angela Brittain

Time for Tea, Angela Brittain

The demands for religious exemptions to Covid-19 vaccination mandates may have Americans convinced that to be religious in America means to be recklessly indifferent to Covid’s dangers. But a December poll from the Public Religion Research Institute finds that at least 60 percent of Jewish Americans, Hispanic Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, white Catholics, Latter-day Saints and “other Christians” believe “there are no valid religious reasons to refuse a vaccine.” The PRRI also finds that at least 50 percent of Black Protestants, other Protestants of color, white mainline Protestants and “other non-Christian religious Americans” share that view.

That leaves white evangelicals by themselves as the only religious group in the country in which fewer than half — in this case, 41 percent — agree that there are no valid religious reasons for such a refusal.

Read the rest at MSNBC.

More Reads

Stephen Collinson at CNN: Trump and the January 6 committee are now locked in a full-on confrontation.

Hugo Lowell at The Guardian: Capitol panel to investigate Trump call to Willard hotel in hours before attack.

Kelly Weill at The Daily Beast: Pro-Trump Group Invented Voter Fraud Claims Months Before Election.

Evan Osnos at The New Yorker: Dan Bongino and the Big Business of Returning Trump to Power.

Ian Millhiser at Vox: Just how much is Trump’s judiciary sabotaging the Biden presidency?

Raw Story: Biden-slurring dad Jared Schmeck goes full MAGA on Steve Bannon’s podcast: ‘The election was 100% stolen’

ABC News: Fauci warns omicron cases ‘likely will go much higher’

CNN: Between Christmas and New Year’s, doctors expect the US Omicron surge to grow.

What’s on your mind today?


Tuesday Reads: GOP National Hatefest, Day 1

Good Morning!!

I didn’t watch any of the first night of the GOP convention; but from what I’m reading this morning, it was as bad as I expected.

Holly Baxter at The Independent: The first night of the Republican National Convention was deeply, disturbingly weird.

Most of us knew the Republican National Convention was going to be deeply weird before we tuned in; expecting normalcy from this kind of event is like opening your mouth next to a UV light and expecting it to cure you of coronavirus. Nevertheless, what we saw tonight was so especially weird that it’s worth discussing beyond the usual, “Wow, was that a fever dream?” or, “Did you get anything from that word salad?” Because this was a glimpse of what we’re in for over the next four years if Trump continues the usual trend and wins himself a second term — and it’s both darkly funny and horribly dangerous.

Who to mention first? Natalie Harp, the woman who survived a diagnosis of terminal bone cancer because of experimental treatment and who claimed that “when Democrats say free healthcare, they mean marijuana, opioids” and “death panels” for the disabled? Representative Matt Gaetz, who referred to Democrats as “woketopians” (what?) ready to “disarm you, unlock the prisons” and “invite MS13 to live nextdoor” (a racist dog-whistle if ever I heard one)? The speaker opening the convention who reeled off a list of “Democrat policies” which would harm the country, none of which were actual Democrat policies? Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley saying that “Joe Biden is good for Iran and Isis, great for communist China”? Don Jr claiming that “the left” is trying to “cancel” the Founding Fathers? The nurse from a 2,000-person town in Virginia who said “I don’t want the media taking my story and twisting it so let me be clear: Donald Trump saved countless lives” during the pandemic, as the death rate surpassed 177,000? Or perhaps the St Louis couple who famously pointed their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters showing up to complain they’re facing charges and claim Democrats want to “abolish the suburbs”? Oh, I don’t know, Mom, don’t make me choose!

Now we know why convalescent plasma was suddenly given FDA approval this morning: it was central to quite a few speeches vaunting Trump as the hero of Covid-19 (“without him, millions would have died,” said Natalie Harp, without irony.) The fact that this important medical turning-point was timed perfectly for the beginning of the Republican convention really should give us all pause. Plenty have opined that a vaccine might be rushed through right before Election Day in November for the same reasons. Trump’s buddy Vladimir Putin made a similar PR move himself in August, announcing that the country had won the race for an inoculation despite the fact that only 24 percent of Russian doctors say they would take the vaccine themselves — so, y’know, it has precedent. Still, it beats injecting bleach into your veins.

Read the whole thing at The Independent.

Many people who watched the proceedings thought Donald Trump Jr. looked stoned during his convention speech.

Bob Brigham at Raw Story: Was Donald Trump, Jr. ‘coked out of his mind’ during RNC speech?

Donald Trump, Jr. addressed the Republican National Committee on Monday, urging Americans to trust his father with four more years in office.

But instead of focusing on the words coming out of his mouth, many Twitter users were focused on his eyes, with many wondering if he might have been on drugs.

Examples:

Read more tweets about Don Jr.’s speech at Raw Story.

Junior’s girlfriend also gave a speech last night.

Eric Lach at The New Yorker: Kimberly Guilfoyle’s High-Volume Trumpism at the Republican National Convention.

Quietly, Guilfoyle has become a key figure in the preservation and furthering of Trumpism. This week, the journalist Jason Zengerle wrote in the Times Magazine that Guilfoyle and Donald, Jr., “have become fund-raising powerhouses,” helping to amass the war chest that is keeping Trump—despite a pandemic, an economic crisis, and widespread civil unrest—within at least striking distance of a win in November. In early March, in what might go down as one of the final pre-pandemic fêtes of Trump’s first term in office, Guilfoyle celebrated her fifty-first birthday during a big donor retreat at Mar-a-Lago, the President’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida. “It was like a Gatsbyesque extravaganza,” one guest told Zengerle. The President stood by Guilfoyle as the crowd of a hundred people sang “Happy Birthday.” Afterward, Trump kissed her on the head. “Four more years!” Guilfoyle shouted.

On Monday, Guilfoyle shouted some more things. Earlier in the day, the Trump campaign held a call with reporters, one of whom asked whether Guilfoyle, in her prerecorded speech, might go after Kamala Harris, the California senator and Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee. (Guilfoyle was formerly married to California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has been described as Harris’s political “sibling.”) The campaign demurred, not wanting to give anything away. But the expectation that Guilfoyle might be deployed in some kind of surgical political strike proved misguided. At the podium, she delivered a short speech whose tone might be described as high-key dystopian. Going into the Convention, the Trump campaign had suggested that it was looking to strike a note of sunny optimism. Guilfoyle’s speech wasn’t it. “They want to destroy this country, and everything that we have fought for and hold dear,” she said. “They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think, and believe, so that they can control how you live! They want to enslave you to the weak, dependent, liberal, victim ideology, to the point that you will not recognize this country or yourself.” Howard Dean’s Presidential aspirations are popularly remembered as falling apart after one misdeployed yelp. On Monday, Guilfoyle went on for six minutes.

 

More on Guilfoyle from Ed Mazza at HuffPost: Kimberly Guilfoyle’s ‘Screams’ Scare Stephen Colbert Right Off His Chair.

Colbert was stunned by the speeches from Donald Trump Jr. ― son of President Donald Trump ― and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle. Trump Jr. delivered a sweaty rant that name-checked the Loch Ness Monster while Guilfoyle fired off a screaming speech that had Colbert reaching for the volume control. Or, as Colbert described it, “some very nuanced screams.”

Then he rolled clips of Guilfoyle’s loud address.

“And that wasn’t her only story to shriek,” he said before throwing to footage of her even louder closing lines in which she told viewers that Trump “emancipates you and lifts you up to live your American dream!”

When the camera came back to Colbert, he was in hiding.

“Is the loud lady gone?” he asked as he reemerged. “I’m scared. It’s the first time in my life I’ve had to turn down the volume on C-SPAN. God, I’m glad we already had our kids because I was too close to the TV, I might’ve been sterilized by that.”

Later, Colbert discussed Trump Jr.’s speech. He couldn’t get over “Junior’s sweaty face and wet, bloodshot eyes.”

“Either he’s high or that’s what happens when you live in the splash zone of Screamin’ Guilfoyle,” he said. “Just bring a poncho.”

 

Politico pointed out that the first night of Trump’s convention highlight the very few people of color who support his racist campaign: A GOP convention surprise: Trump goes all-in on race.

Tim Scott waxed about his family arc — “from cotton to Congress in one lifetime” — and invoked George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Nikki Haley spoke of her Indian roots and alluded to her decision to take down the Confederate flag. Herschel Walker said he’s seen “racism up close” — and it’s not Donald Trump.

For a president credibly accused of stoking racial fears and divisions throughout his term, Trump, with his choice of speakers, leaned hard into the topic during the first night of his convention on Monday. One Republican after another defended Trump’s record on race, while highlighting Joe Biden’s race-related gaffes and history pushing the 1994 crime bill.

But even as speakers such as Scott and Haley attempted to soften Trump’s image on race — while essentially making the case that the racial justice movement has gone too far in its views of policing — others took a harder-edged tack that undercut the message of inclusion. In an ominous presentation that warned suburbanites that their safety is at risk if Democrats win, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the couple who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters outside their home in St. Louis, made clear that the president’s outreach would go only so far.

“What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country,” Patricia McCloskey said. “Make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”

More reporting on the RNC convention:

AP: Republican Convention takeaways: All Trump, all the time.

CNN: Fact check: First night of the Republican National Convention features more dishonesty than four nights of DNC.

The Washington Post: Fact-checking the first night of the 2020 Republican National Convention.

The New Republic: Republicans Invite America to Play the “Dear Leader” Lottery.

The New York Times: Nominating Trump, Republicans Rewrite His Record.

I don’t think I can bear to watch day 2 of RNC either.

Take care of yourselves today, Sky Dancers!


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Latest News, Accompanied By Library Cats

Sir Eli, Los Robles Elementary School Library, Porterville, CA

Good Morning!!

Yesterday I called Dakinikat early in the morning to tell her about a long investigative piece at The Miami Herald: Trump cheered Patriots to Super Bowl victory with founder of spa where Kraft was busted. She posted a brief excerpt from it in her Friday post. It was just one more example of the corruption Trumph has enabled since becoming “president,” right? Well it looks like there’s a lot more to this story and it could blow up into a huge scandal.

Yesterday multiple photos of prominent Republicans posing with Li “Cindy” Yang, the subject of the Miami Herald story, were posted on Twitter.

Yang founded a chain of “Asian day spas” in Florida, including Orchids of Asia Day Spa, which was recently busted for sex trafficking. Yang is no longer the owner of Orchids, but she and her family members still own numerous such “massage parlors” called Tokyo Day Spas, which are known for providing “sexual services.”

From the Miami Herald story linked above:

Bradford Public Library in Bradford, Pennsylvania, has a cat named Miss Whispurr

Before the 2016 general election, Yang offered no evidence of political engagement. She hadn’t voted in 10 years, records showed. But she has now become a fixture at Republican political events up and down the East Coast. Her Facebook is covered in photos of herself standing with President Trump, his two sons, Eric and Donald Jr., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott, Sarah Palin, the president’s campaign manager and an assortment of other high-level Republican operators she has met at charity events, political fundraisers and galas, many of which require hefty donations to attend. She sometimes carries a rhinestone encrusted MAGA clutch purse.

Yang has shown considerable political largesse. Since 2017, she and her close relatives have contributed more than $42,000 to Trump Victory, a political action committee, and more than $16,000 to the president’s campaign.

In February 2018, Yang was invited by the White House to participate in an event hosted by the Asian American and Pacific Islander Initiative, an advisory commission Trump established by executive order the year before. Later in the year, she attended at least two more AAPI events in Washington, D.C., according to her Facebook page.

The article says that Yang is planning to get out of the day spa business and plans to move to Washington, DC. More on Yang from the Herald piece:

Catniss Evergreen, Akron Carnegie Public Library, Akron, Indiana

When Donald Trump became a serious candidate for president, politics began to dominate her social media presence.

In January 2017, she was in the crowd at Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. Later that year, she snapped a photo with Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. In December, she attended her first elite event at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, a poolside steak lunch.

In September 2018, Yang received a personalized note from the president and first lady. It read: “Thank you for your friendship and dedication to our cause. Leaders like you in Florida are the key to fulfilling our bold agenda to Make America Great Again!” [….]

Over the past two years, Yang has racked up a who’s who of photos with politicians at more than a dozen political events. She has enough pictures of the president’s private clubs to fill an album.

In 2018, she attended a Safari Night at Mar-a-Lago hosted by the president’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, as well as the White House’s celebration of the Lunar New Year at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. She took photos with Florida’s soon-to-be-governor, Ron DeSantis, at a pro-Israel gala held at Mar-a-Lago, met U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in Washington, D.C., and posed with Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz and former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. She also posted a photograph of herself with DeSantis at a restaurant, saying she was having “brunch this morning with Florida’s next Governor.”

She was photographed with Donald Trump Jr. at a winter Mar-a-Lago gala for Turning Points USA, the conservative college organization, and met Eric Trump last month.

Kuzya, Novorossiysk Library, Russia

Yang claims she doesn’t know Trump personally and is just a volunteer at campaign events. But it turns out there’s a lot more to this story. David Corn at Mother Jones this morning: A Florida Massage Parlor Owner Has Been Selling Chinese Execs Access to Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

…there is another angle to the strange story of Yang: She runs an investment business that has offered to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family. And a website for the business—which includes numerous photos of Yang and her purported clients hobnobbing at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach—suggests she had some success in doing so.

Yang, who goes by Cindy, and her husband, Zubin Gong, started GY US Investments LLC in 2017. The company describes itself on its website, which is mostly in Chinese, as an “international business consulting firm that provides public relations services to assist businesses in America to establish and expand their brand image in the modern Chinese marketplace.” But the firm notes that its services also address clients looking to make high-level connections in the United States. On a page displaying a photo of Mar-a-Lago, Yang’s company says its “activities for clients” have included providing them “the opportunity to interact with the president, the [American] Minister of Commerce and other political figures.” The company boasts it has “arranged taking photos with the President” and suggests it can set up a “White House and Capitol Hill Dinner.” (The same day the Herald story about Yang broke, the website stopped functioning.) [….]

Ernie, Bealton Librrary, Bealton, VA

The GY US Investments website lists upcoming events at Mar-a-Lago at which Yang’s clients presumably can mingle with Trump or members of his family. This includes something called the International Leaders Elite Forum, where Trump’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, will supposedly be the featured speaker. Attendees, the site says, will include “Chinese elites from various countries, including the US states, as well as elite leaders from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, Europe and other countries and regions.” Another event for which Yang’s firm says it can provide access is Trump’s annual New Year’s celebration at Mar-a-Lago. Elsewhere on the website, the firm boasts that “GY Company arranged a number of guests to attend the 2019 New Year’s Eve dinner. All the guests took photos with” members of Trump’s family. This page displays photos of Chinese executives and a Chinese movie star with Donald Trump Jr., suggesting that these pics were arranged by the company, and also includes a photo of Yang with Elizabeth Trump Grau.

I wonder if Yang has anything to do with all those Chinese licensing agreements and trademarks Ivanka keeps getting? Honestly, there is no bottom to the Trump family’s corruption, and there are probably more grifters like Yang picking up the scraps.

In other news, Gabriel Sherman has background on why former Fox News exec Bill Shine is no longer in charge of the White House communications shop: “Trump has been calling him Bill “no shine”: Why Roger Ailes’s Former Right Hand is Leaving the West Wing.

“Bill was iced out,” a Republican close to the White House told me, echoing the view of multiple sources that the president had been souring on the former Fox News co-president for months. “Trump has been calling him Bill ‘No Shine,’” one source briefed on the conversations told me.

Mimi the Blueskin Bay library cat, Dunedin, New Zealand

Trump’s decision to hire Shine last July completed the Fox-ification of the West Wing. Shine got the job after his close friend Sean Hannity lobbied Trump to name Shine chief of staff. “The relationship was always Hannity based,” a former West Wing official explained. “When Trump hired him it was like he thought, ‘I’m getting Hannity.’ I’m like, no you’re getting the guy who produced Hannity.” Trump put Shine in charge of the beleaguered White House press operation with a mandate to plug leaks and improve his image. Shine accomplished neither. In Shine’s defense, the brief was impossible given Trump’s destructive Twitter habits. “Trump needs someone to blame for his bad press,” another former West Wing official said.

Shine was in over his head from the beginning. As Roger Ailes’s right hand, he had virtually no direct contacts with reporters and no involvement in Fox’s P.R. department. “Bill’s not a strategist,” a former Fox executive told me. That lack of experience was evident last September when Shine was caught flat-footed during the rollout of Bob Woodward’s book Fear. “Trump started complaining to people there was no advance prep on Woodward’s book,” the Republican close to the White House said. “Trump let Shine know he wasn’t happy.”

Trump should just hire Hannity as chief of staff and be done with it.

Medhi Hasan of The Intercept did a hard-hitting interview with Erik Prince and got him to admit to attending a high-level meeting at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. (The New York Times reported on the meeting in May 2018). Here’s a summary of the story at HuffPost: Ex-Mercenary CEO Erik Prince Admits To Trump Tower Meet With Donald Jr. And Saudi Emissary.

 

Shadow, Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Erik Prince, former head of mercenary business Blackwater, revealed in a bombshell interview Friday that he attended a meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and a representative of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss “Iran policy” during the presidential campaign.

The interview marked the first time Prince has publicly acknowledged such a meeting. Prince said in congressional testimony in 2017 that he had no “official” or “unofficial” role in the campaign — other than a “yard sign” and writing “papers” — according to the transcript of his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Nor did he mention the meeting in his testimony, according to transcripts.

The New York Times reported last year that Prince organized the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with President Donald Trump’s eldest son and Lebanese-American businessman George Nader. Nader revealed at the meeting that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wanted to aid Trump in his bid for the presidency, according to the newspaper.

The meeting also reportedly included now-top White House aide Stephen Miller and Israeli social media expert Joel Zamel.

The August meeting is yet another secret huddle with a representative of foreign governments that may have provided illegal international aid to sway the American election.

More stories to check out, links only:

Addison Nash, University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma library cat

Buzzfeed News: Military Doctors Told Them It Was Just “Female Problems.” Weeks Later, They Were In The Hospital.

NBC News: Trump administration responsible for even more separated children, judge rules.

USA Today: Judge: Trump administration may have to reunite thousands of additional migrant families.

Anne Applebaum at The Washington Post: The more we learn about Brexit, the more crooked it looks.

The Washington Post: Trump budget to propose slashing domestic spending, boosting defense.

The Washington Post: A Trump official said seismic air gun tests don’t hurt whales. So a congressman blasted him with an air horn.

Bloomberg: Russian Trolls Shift Strategy to Disrupt U.S. Election in 2020.

The New York Times: Chelsea Manning Is Jailed for Refusing to Testify in WikiLeaks Case.

The New York Times: The Daintiest Slap on Paul Manafort’s Wrist.

The Los Angeles Times: How could anyone think Paul Manafort lived an ‘otherwise blameless’ life?

What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: Trump Russia, Giuliani’s Meltdown, and Other News

Good Morning!!

Last night I was thinking about when Obama was president and we would have days when there was nothing earth shattering in politics to talk about. There would be quiet Fridays and weekends with no significant news about the government. Now there are terrifying crises in the government every single day, including weekends. If only we could go back to those relatively peaceful times! Instead we have Trump.

This morning, there are so many significant stories, that I can’t possibly get to all of them, so I’ll begin with this stunning headline from Wired: Trump Must Be a Russian Agent; The Alternative is Too Awful, by Garrett Graff.

It would be rather embarrassing for Donald Trump at this point if Robert Mueller were to declare that the president isn’t an agent of Russian intelligence.

The pattern of his pro-Putin, pro-Russia, anti-FBI, anti-intelligence community actions are so one-sided, and the lies and obfuscation surrounding every single Russian meeting and conversation are so consistent, that if this president isn’t actually hiding a massive conspiracy, it means the alternative is worse: America elected a chief executive so oblivious to geopolitics, so self-centered and personally insecure, so naturally predisposed to undermine democratic institutions and coddle authoritarians, and so terrible a manager and leader, that he cluelessly surrounded himself with crooks, grifters, and agents of foreign powers, compromising the national security of the US government and undermining 75 years of critical foreign alliances, just to satiate his own ego.

In short, we’ve reached a point in the Mueller probe where there are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised by the Russian government and has been working covertly to cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016 election—or Trump will go down in history as the world’s most famous “useful idiot,” as communists used to call those who could be co-opted to the cause without realizing it.

At least the former scenario—that the president of the United States is actively working to advance the interests of our country’s foremost, long-standing, traditional foreign adversary—would make him seem smarter and wilier. The latter scenario is simply a tragic farce for everyone involved.

We’re left here—in a place unprecedented in American political history, wondering how much worse the truth is than we already know—after four days of fresh revelations in the public drip-drip-drip of the Russia investigation. The past two months have seen the public understanding of the case advance into almost unthinkable territory. Now we’re simply trying to figure out how bad things really are.

That’s about it. And will be eventually learn that a large proportion of Republicans in Congress are also either compromised by Russia or too stupid to see that their president is? After all, they did vote yesterday to lift sanctions on Paul Manafort’s buddy Oleg Derapaska’s businesses.

And did you see Rudy Giuliani’s meltdown on CNN last night? In case you missed it:

Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Rudy Giuliani just contradicted nearly all the Trump team’s past collusion denials.

President Trump’s legal spokesman Rudolph W. Giuliani on Wednesday night appeared to grant the possibility that members of Trump’s campaign did, in fact, collude with the Russians during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

And in the process, he contradicted dozens of previous denials that both the Trump team (and Trump himself) have offered.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, before getting cut off.

“Yes, you have,” Cuomo said.

Giuliani shot back: “I have not. I said ‘the president of the United States.’”

But while Giuliani himself might not have assured that nobody on the campaign colluded, others including Trump sure have. In fact, the Trump team has moved the goal posts on this question no fewer than 10 times after initially denying any contact at all with “foreign entities.” Trump has said dozens of times that there was “no collusion,” full stop. This appears to be the first time anyone has acknowledged the possibility that someone colluded without Trump’s knowledge.

Read the rest for a list of Rudy’s successive walkbacks on whether there was collusion with Russia in the Trump campaign. Is this just a response to the many revelations about Paul Manafort or is Trump getting ready to throw Don Jr. under the bus? From Raw Story:

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s stunning interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night is still making waves, and a CNN panel agreed on Thursday morning that it could spell big trouble for Donald Trump Jr.

While discussing Giuliani’s latest admission that there may have been some collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian government agents, host John Berman asked whether Trump Jr. should be worried that his father is preparing to throw him under the bus for potentially conspiring with a hostile foreign power.

“Would you be nervous if you’re Donald Trump Jr. or Jared Kushner?” Berman asked. “Did Giuliani just send a signal that… the president’s legal defense team isn’t here for you?”

“That’s what I heard,” replied New York Times reporter Astead Herndon. “Everyone under [Trump’s] level can now be considered fair game, if we’re talking about the political signaling.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent discussed Giuliani’s meltdown with attorney Neal Kayal.

Former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal told me that this appears to be a tacit admission of serious vulnerability — as well as an effort to lay the groundwork for a last-ditch defense of Trump, should more come out. It also makes the nonstop claims that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is leading a “witch hunt” look ridiculous.

“They’ve been saying for two years that this is a witch hunt,” Katyal told me. “As a lawyer, given the recent revelations, Giuliani now has to pivot and outline the next line of defense.”

“This is straight out of the organized-crime playbook,” Katyal continued. “The boss says, ‘There was no conspiracy.’ Then prosecutors prove there was a conspiracy between your subordinates and a criminal organization. Then the defense shifts to, ‘Okay, there was a conspiracy, but the boss didn’t know anything about it.’”

Sargent also asked Obama’s white house counsel Bob Bauer about Giuliani’s statements.

Bob Bauer, the White House counsel under former president Barack Obama, told me that Giuliani “must have some continuing hope” that Mueller cannot prove Trump knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort attended in the expectation of gaining dirt on Hillary Clinton produced by the Russian government.

That seems unlikely, given the latest from The New York Times on Trump’s black box meetings with Vladimir Putin: Trump and Putin Have Met Five Times. What Was Said Is a Mystery. The story recounts the meetings and phone calls Trump has had with Putin, beginning right after he was elected. But here’s the highlight of the story:

The inaugural meeting [in Hamburg, Germany] came at a sensitive time. Mr. Trump’s team learned that day that one of the biggest secrets of his presidential bid was about to become public: At the height of the campaign, his son, son-in-law and campaign chairman had met at Trump Tower with Russians on the promise of obtaining dirt on Mrs. Clinton from the Russian government. Mr. Trump’s team was scrambling to respond to a request for comment by The Times.

Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin that day lasted more than two hours. Afterward, Mr. Trump took his interpreter’s notes and instructed the interpreter not to brief anyone. Mr. Tillerson told reporters that the leaders discussed everything from Syria to Ukraine, but he also described “a very robust and lengthy exchange” on the election hacking.

A few hours later, Mr. Trump sought out Mr. Putin again during a dinner for all the leaders. Videotape later made public showed Mr. Trump pointing at Mr. Putin, who was seated across and down a long table, then pointing at himself and then making a pumping motion with his fist.

Mr. Trump later told The Times that he went over to see his wife, Melania Trump, who was sitting next to Mr. Putin, and the two leaders then talked, with Mr. Putin’s interpreter translating. No American officials were present, and the White House did not confirm the encounter until more than 10 days later, after it was independently reported.

Here’s the shocker:

The day after the two meetings, as Mr. Trump was on Air Force One taking off from Germany heading back to Washington, he telephoned a Times reporter and argued that the Russians were falsely accused of election interference. While he insisted most of the conversation be off the record, he later repeated a few things in public in little-noticed asides.

He said that he raised the election hacking three times and that Mr. Putin denied involvement. But he said Mr. Putin also told him that “if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten caught because we’re professionals.” Mr. Trump said: “I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world” at hacking.

Asked how he weighed Mr. Putin’s denials against the evidence that had been presented to him by Mr. Comey; John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director; and James R. Clapper Jr., then director of national intelligence, he said that Mr. Clapper and Mr. Brennan were the “most political” intelligence chiefs he knew and that Mr. Comey was “a leaker.”

Later on the same flight Trump dictated a statement to the NYT about Don Jr.’s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.

Mr. Trump huddled with aides to decide how to respond to the emerging story by other Times reporters about the Trump Tower meeting. He personally dictated a misleading statement, saying the meeting was about Russian adoptions without admitting that it was actually intended to accept Moscow’s aid for his campaign, as emails obtained by The Times later documented.

You may have seen this footage from the dinner in Hamburg, in which Trump signals to Putin and then clenches his fist. Was he signaling that he needed to talk to Putin about the NYT story?

More stories to check out:

Michael McFaul at The Washington Post: Sorry, but Trump is not ‘tough on Russia’

The Wall Street Journal: Poll-Rigging for Trump and Creating @WomenForCohen: One IT Firm’s Work Order.

The Epoch Times: EXCLUSIVE: In Closed-Door Testimony, Papadopoulos Identified Alleged Spy in Trump Campaign.

The Daily Beast: Rick Gates Tells Mueller About Trump Team’s Dealings With Israeli Intelligence Firm.

The Washington Post: North Korean spy chief’s visit to Washington shrouded in mystery.

CNN: Trump is fraying nerves inside the Pentagon.

Raw Story: Stephen Miller was writing SOTU to blame Democrats for shutdown — until Nancy Pelosi pulled the rug out: report.

So . . . what stories are you following today?