Attorney General Jeff Sessions is entertaining the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate a host of Republican concerns — including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the controversial sale of a uranium company to Russia — and has directed senior federal prosecutors to explore at least some of the matters and report back to him and his top deputy, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.
The revelation came in a response by the Justice Department to an inquiry from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who in July and again in September called for Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to investigate concerns he had related to the 2016 election and its aftermath.
The list of matters he wanted probed was wide ranging but included the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, various dealings of the Clinton Foundation and several matters connected to the purchase of the Canadian mining company Uranium One by Russia’s nuclear energy agency. Goodlatte took particular aim at former FBI director James B. Comey, asking for the second special counsel to evaluate the leaks he directed about his conversations with President Trump, among other things.
In response, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote that Sessions had “directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues raised in your letters,” and that those prosecutors would “report directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel.”
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:
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:
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.
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.) [….]
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.
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.
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:
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 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?
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.
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 Washington Post: North Korean spy chief’s visit to Washington shrouded in mystery.
So . . . what stories are you following today?
We’re having an incredible heat wave in Boston, and I know we’re not alone. It’s hot just about everywhere. Today it’s supposed to hit 100 degrees here. Anyone who believes the climate isn’t changing is delusional.
Maybe the sharks are affected too, because we’ve had some Great White close encounters here in Massachusetts lately. The Boston Globe: Shark sightings force swimmers out of the water in Plymouth, Cape Cod.
Swimmers at Plymouth and Wellfleet beaches looking to catch a break from the oppressive heat were forced out of the water Monday afternoon after sharks were spotted lurking nearby.
Plymouth beaches were closed after a great white shark was seen off Manomet Point. Red flags were flying at the beaches as crews investigated, the Plymouth harbormaster tweeted shortly after 2:30 p.m.
Researchers with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy were about a quarter-mile from Marconi Beach in Wellfleet when they saw a great white shark at around 1:45 p.m. They reported it to beach officials, and lifeguards promptly pulled everyone out of the water, Leslie Reynolds, chief ranger at the Cape Cod National Seashore, said. The beach was closed for an hour as a standard precautionary measure.
Also from the Globe: ‘It came right up, and opened its mouth’: Great white shark breaches water below boat.
State biologist Greg Skomal got an up-close look at a great white shark during a recent excursion off Cape Cod when one of the apex predators that researchers had been observing breached the water right beneath him, exposing its large teeth.
“Did you see that?! Did you see that?!” Skomal can be heard saying in a video posted by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Monday morning. “It came right up, and opened its mouth right at my feet!”
In the video, Skomal can be seen standing on the research boat’s pulpit, as the captain closes in on a shark. Skomal was using a long pole with a GoPro camera attached at the end so he could dip it into the water and capture footage of the shark. That’s when it suddenly breached the ocean’s surface.
“Oh!,” the boat’s captain, John J. King II, can be heard saying. “Holy crap! It dove right out of the water.”
Here’s the video. Be sure to put it on full screen and wait for the close-up.
Seriously though, have we already lost the fight to reverse climate change? That’s the argument put forth by Nathaniel Rich in last week’s New York Times Magazine: Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.
The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris climate agreement — the nonbinding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016 — hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by some miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called two-degree warming “a prescription for long-term disaster.” Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. Three-degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization.
Is it a comfort or a curse, the knowledge that we could have avoided all this?
Because in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions — far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.
Check out the full story at the NYT.
Today there are some interesting primary elections and one special election to watch. Will we see portents of a blue wave in November?
Voters head to the polls in five states Tuesday to test whether Democrats will get their “blue wave” on Election Day this fall.
The most heated race to watch is a special election in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, where a Democrat hasn’t won since the 1980s. Despite big spending by Republicans, a huge ground push, and even campaign appearances by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, polls show the Democrat, Danny O’Connor, might actually beat Republican Troy Balderson.
Washington state’s top-two primary will be a similar test of how Democrats might perform in historically conservative districts.
In a governor’s race in Michigan and a House race in Kansas, meanwhile, Democrats will test whether the future of the party is rooted in its progressive wing.
To win back a House majority in November, Democrats will have to triumph in historically red districts, as they did in Pennsylvania earlier this year when Conor Lamb pulled off a surprise victory. Some big wins on Tuesday night could be another sign that a wave year is possible.
Read the details at Vox.
On Sunday, we watched Trump incriminate himself and throw his own son under the bus on Twitter. Will Don Jr. be indicted? Charles Savage at The New York Times: Donald Trump Jr.’s Potential Legal Troubles, Explained.
“I did not collude with any foreign government and did not know anyone who did,” Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017. But his participation in the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, as well as another meeting, has put that claim under scrutiny.
Ahead of the meeting with Russians, an intermediary promised Donald Trump Jr. that a “Russian government attorney” would provide “very high level” dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” He wrote back, “If it’s what you say I love it.”
In a meeting three months before the election, Donald Trump Jr. met with another small group offering to help his father win the election. It included an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes who run Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. The younger Mr. Trump responded approvingly, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The New York Times.
Of course we all know by now that “collusion” is just another word for “conspiracy,” which can be a crime.
….lawyers instead talk about conspiracy: an agreement by two or more people to commit a crime — whether or not they end up doing so. A powerful tool for prosecutors, conspiracy charges allow them to hold each conspirator responsible for illegal acts committed by others in the circle as part of the arrangement. To convict someone of such a conspiracy, prosecutors would need to obtain evidence of an agreement to commit a specific crime….
A provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act, Section 30121 of Title 52, broadly outlaws donations or other contributions of a “thing of value” by any foreigner in connection with an American election — or even an express or implied promise to take such action, directly or indirectly.
Depending on how a grand jury interprets the facts the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has gathered about the two Trump Tower meetings, it could find that the foreigners violated that law — and that Donald Trump Jr. conspired in that offense.
Another provision of the same statute makes it illegal for an American to solicit a foreigner for such illicit campaign help — again, even indirectly. If a grand jury were to interpret the evidence about Donald Trump Jr.’s words and actions as a solicitation, he could also be vulnerable to direct charges under that law, experts said.
Notably, the statute can be violated even if the promised or requested help is never provided.
Read the rest at the NYT.
At The Washington Post, William Ruckleshaus, who served as deputy attorney general under Nixon writes about Trump’s behavior: Only one other president has ever acted this desperate.
President Trump is acting with a desperation I’ve seen only once before in Washington: 45 years ago when President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Nixon was fixated on ending the Watergate investigation, just as Trump wants to shut down the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
A lesson for the president from history: It turned out badly for Nixon. Not only could he not derail the investigation, but also, 10 months later, he was forced to resign the presidency.
In fact, in some ways, Trump is conducting himself more frantically than Nixon, all the while protesting his innocence. Nixon fought to the end because he knew that what was on the tape recordings that the prosecutor wanted would incriminate him. We don’t know what Trump is hiding, if anything. But if he is innocent of any wrongdoing, why not let Robert S. Mueller III do his job and prove it?
On the way Trump and his minions are attacking the investigation:
…the cynical conduct of this president, his lawyers and a handful of congressional Republicans is frightening to me and should be to every citizen of this country. We are not playing just another Washington political game; there is much more at stake.
The vehemence and irresponsibility of the rhetoric attacking the Mueller investigation tear at the very structure of our governance. Men who have sworn to use and protect our institutions of justice are steadily weakening them. Should the president finally decide to fire Mueller and put in place someone who will do his bidding, the country could be thrown into a political crisis that would scar our democracy and further erode the trust of our people in our governmental institutions.
We need leaders who tell the truth. This is not now happening. Mueller is living up to his superior reputation as a model public servant. His is a search for the truth; we should not complicate his job. Support him, and when he has finished his work, listen to what he has found.
Read the whole thing at the WaPo.
There are a lot more interesting reads out there today. Some to check out:
Rolling Stone: Rick Wilson: Trump’s Tweets May Actually Be His Undoing.
The Washington Post: Trump’s political base is weaker than it seems, our new study finds.
Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: How Trump Radicalized ICE.
What stories are you following today?
I’m tired . . . so tired. Life in Trump world is exhausting. We’ve reached the point where it’s obvious that Trump’s family and campaign conspired witIh Russia to win the White House, and yet we still have to listen to Trump rant “no collusion” in his ugly, blaring voice. Have you noticed his Queens accent really comes out when he’s apoplectic like he was on Fox and Friends on Thursday? It seems his rosacea gets worse when he’s angry too. If only I never had to hear that honking voice or see his ugly orange face ever again!
I think maybe Angela Merkel agrees with me. Bess Levin at Vanity Fair: All the Times Angela Merkel’s Face Said “STFU You Dumkopf Orange Oaf.”
On Friday, German chancellor Angela Merkel arrived at the White House for a three-hour “working session” with Donald Trump, the goal of which was to convince the American to resist his impulses and not do anything stupid on a host of issues ranging from trade to Iran to the environment. Picking up where French president Emmanuel Macron left off—which is to say, at square one—Merkel’s visit was expected to be much less of a lovefest, meaning no hugging, kissing, hand-holding, fancy dinners, 21-gun salutes, or animal-kingdom mating rituals. The best anyone could hope for, experts warned, was that through small words and simple sentence construction, the chancellor could make Trump understand that so many of his threats—particularly the ones on trade—would hurt not only the targets for which they were intended, but the U.S. as well.
Even then, expectations were extremely low, given the 45th president’s inability to understand complex, nuanced issues, or the freaking difference between a trade deficit and a surplus. Still, when the two took to a pair of podiums to hold a joint press conference on Friday afternoon, the vibe seemed slightly better than expected. For one thing, Trump was neither foaming at the mouth nor actively refusing to shake Merkel’s hand. For another, Merkel dug deep and paid Trump some compliments using words and phrases you know he just ate up, mentioning the “strength” of his sanctions on North Korea, and claiming that last year’s tax legislation has made the U.S. a “very interesting place for our companies” to invest. Still, one need only take a gander at Merkel’s notoriously weak poker face to understand that inside, she was screaming I can’t believe I have to occupy the same airspace as this knuckle-dragger.
Watch videos and read more snark at Vanity Fair. I can’t even begin to imagine how Macron could bear to have Trump’s hands all over him during their visit. Just the thought of it makes me gag.
On the “no collusion” front . . .
Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: The new House GOP report on Russia is revealing. But not in a good way for Trump.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee on Friday released a report on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. Although it is meant to exonerate President Trump and everyone around him, what it actually does is bring the utter degradation and disgrace of that committee to its fullest expression.
By contrast, there may be real news in the Democrats’ response to the report. In particular, the Democrats detailed new information that appears to shed light on what Republicans would not do in their investigation.
The response by Democrats makes this important charge: That Republicans refused to follow up on a lead that could have demonstrated whether, despite his denials, Trump had advance knowledge of the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between a group of Russians and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort.
Specifically, it appears very likely that Trump talked to Don Jr. on the phone while Jr. was setting up the meeting.
According to the Democratic response, right after Trump Jr. set up the specifics of the meeting, he had two calls with a number in Russia belonging to Emin Agalarov. Between those two calls, the Democratic response recounts, Trump Jr. received a third call from a blocked number. Who might it have been? [….]
“We sought to determine whether that number belonged to the president, because we also ascertained that then-candidate Trump used a blocked number,” Schiff said during our interview. “That would tell us whether Don Jr. sought his father’s permission to take the meeting, and [whether] that was the purpose of that call.”
Schiff added that Democrats asked Republicans to subpoena phone records to determine whose number it was, but Republicans “refused,” Schiff said. “They didn’t want to know whether he had informed his father and sought his permission to take that meeting with the Russians.”
Raise your hand if you think the call from the blocked number was from someone other than Daddy Trump. I’m sure Robert Mueller and his team already know whose number that was.
A direct line of communication between the Kremlin-connected Agalarov family and the Trump family was open during the transition after President Donald Trump’s presidential election, BuzzFeed News has learned.
The “first of a series” of text messages was sent between Emin Agalarov and Donald Trump Jr. two days after the 2016 election, a source familiar with the communications told BuzzFeed News.
The communications continued through at least mid-December 2016, according to information made public Friday.
It is not clear how many messages were sent, whether Trump Jr. sent any of them, or how many were sent by either party — although BuzzFeed News confirmed that multiple messages were sent.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee revealed one of the text messages, from Dec. 13, 2016, in their “minority views” report on Friday — one of several new pieces of information that suggest that the Trumps’ relationship with the Agalarovs was much closer than the president and his family have said.
Many more details at the Buzzfeed link.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Friday that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya reached out to the Trump family after the election with a request to follow up on efforts to repeal the Magnitsky Act, the 2012 Russian sanctions the US enacted over human rights abuses.
Veselnitskaya was the Russian lawyer at the center of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where Donald Trump Jr. expected to receive damaging information on Hillary Clinton but instead Veselnitskaya focused on the repeal of the sanctions.
“Clearly, there’s an expectation there on the Russian side that they may now have success with the Magnitsky Act, given that the prior meeting and communications dealt with the offer of help,” Schiff said. “It certainly seems like the Russians were ready for payback.”
In addition, another effort to reach out to Trump’s team after the election came from Aras Agalarov, the Azerbaijani-Russian oligarch who also has ties to the Trump Tower meeting. Agalarov, along with his pop-star son, Emin Agalarov, also worked with Trump to bring the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow….
Democrats cite a November 28, 2016, email from publicist Rob Goldstone to Trump’s assistant, Rhona Graff, which said that “Aras Agalarov has asked me to pass on this document in the hope it can be passed on to the appropriate team.”
“Later that day, Graff forwarded to Steve Bannon the email with Agalarov’s document regarding the Magnitsky Act as an attachment, explaining, ‘The PE [President Elect] knows Aras well. Rob is his rep in the US and sent this on. Not sure how to proceed, if at all.'”
Trump’s team has denied there was any follow up after the Trump Tower meeting.
While Trump claims credit for the meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jon Un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, Max Boot points out at The Washington Post that this has happened before: Don’t let the Korea summit hype fool you. We’ve been here before.
The meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea was acclaimed as “historic.” The two leaders hugged, “smiled broadly, shook each other’s hand vigorously and toasted each other with glasses of champagne.” Reporters noted that the “opening formalities seemed surprisingly relaxed, exceeding the expectations of many people, including perhaps those of the principals themselves. The South Korean leader said we must “proceed together on a path of reconciliation and cooperation.” The North Korean leader replied that “you will not be disappointed.”
Sound familiar? It should, because the news coverage of the 2000 meeting between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang parallels the euphoria over Friday’s meeting in Panmunjom between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s son. If anything, the 2000 meeting produced more tangible results: Not only declarations about ending the Korean War and uniting the two countries, but also concrete steps toward creating a joint South Korean-North Korean industrial park in Kaesong , allow South Korean tourists to visit the North, and to reunify families long divided by the demilitarized zone. Between 1998 and 2008, South Korea provided some $8 billion in economic assistance to North Korea in the hope that all of this aid would create a kinder, gentler regime. Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts.
And yet the Sunshine Policy, so widely heralded at the time, is now widely judged a failure. Despite North Korea’s promises, it did nothing to ease the repression of its populace or to end its nuclear and missile programs. It turned out Kim Dae-jung only achieved that “historic” 2000 summit by offering Kim Jong Il a $500 million bribe. Another summit was held in 2007, arranged by Moon Jae-in, then an aide to President Roh Moo-hyun, and it too was rapturously acclaimed. But the next year, a conservative government took power in Seoul and ended the Sunshine Policy.
Read the rest at the link.
Finally, a little schadenfreude. The Independent reports that there was a fire in the Trump Tower in Azerbaijan. Fortunately, there were no injuries.
A skyscraper that was slated to become a Trump International Hotel in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku has caught fire.
The Azadliq newspaper reported that the blaze broke out on the middle floors of the 33-storey building, which is locally known as Trump Tower, and spread.
Etibar Mirzoev, deputy head of the Emergency Situations Ministry, said there were no injuries and authorities were working to establish the cause of the of the fire.
What stories are you following today?
Once again, there is so much news breaking that it’s difficult to decide what to focus on. So I’ll begin with what’s happening right now, and take it from there.
Right now Attorney General Jeff Sessions is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. Guess what? He doesn’t remember the meeting where he is pictured with George Papadopoulos and at which Papadopoulos discussed setting up a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. That’s really strange, because just a short time ago, he claimed to remember objecting to the proposal.
Vanity Fair on Nov. 2: Sessions Suddenly Remembers Russia Conversation He Said Didn’t Happen.
Back in June, there was some cause for concern that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was having memory problems. When questioned from multiple angles during multiple appearances before Congressional investigators about the Trump campaign‘s relationship to Russia, Sessions‘s consistent refrain was: “I don’t recall.”
He gave an equally evasive response when Minnesota Senator Al Franken specifically asked whether surrogates from the Trump campaign had communicated with Russians during the 2016 election in October. “I did not, and I’m not aware of anyone else that did, and I don’t believe it happened,” Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee under oath. (He made similar statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee.)
Now, however, Sessions has reportedly changed his tune. Citing a source familiar with Sessions’s thinking, NBC News reported on Thursday that the attorney general—who served as a top Trump surrogate and headed the then-presidential hopeful’s national security team—does in fact recall rejecting George Papadopoulos’s offer to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin, after the Republican candidate stopped short of ruling out the idea.
“The March 31 comments by this Papadopoulos person did not leave a lasting impression,” the source told NBC News. “As far as Sessions seemed to be concerned, when he shut down this idea of Papadopoulos engaging with Russia, that was the end of it and he moved the meeting along to other issues.” The source added that Papadopoulos was viewed by those in attendance “as someone who didn’t have a lot of credibility.”
The Washington Post, among other news outlets is reporting that Jeff Sessions is thinking about appointing a second special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton.
In today’s hearing, Sessions said he can’t confirm or deny any investigation involving the DOJ. It’s important to note that during his confirmation hearing, Sessions pledged to recuse himself from any matters involving Hillary Clinton.
The New York Times has published some direct quotes from Sessions’ testimony this morning: Jeff Sessions Displays Unsteady Recall on Trump-Russia Matters.
Mr. Sessions denied that he lied in October when he testified that he knew of nobody in the Trump campaign who had contacts with Russians during the presidential campaign. “And I don’t believe it happened,” he said.
Court records later revealed that Mr. Sessions led a March 2016 meeting in which George Papadopoulos, a campaign aide, discussed his Russian ties and suggested setting up a meeting between Mr. Trump. and Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president.
“I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports,” Mr. Sessions said.
Mr. Sessions testified Tuesday that was still hazy on the details about what Mr. Papadopoulos had proposed.
But on one matter, he said his memory is clear: he said he shot down Mr. Papadopoulos’ idea of a Trump-Putin meet-up. And he said he told Mr. Papadopoulos that he was not authorized to represent the campaign in such discussions.
To sum up: Mr. Sessions said he could not remember much about Russian influence on the Trump campaign, except when he could block such influence.
In other news, Don Jr. is in more trouble. You’ve probably read the article by Julia Ioffe in The Atlantic: The Secret Correspondence Between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks.
Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.)
The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.”
The messages, obtained by The Atlantic, were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long—and largely one-sided—correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017.
Read the rest at the link if you haven’t already. Julian Assange, who controls the Wikileaks Twitter account has responded by claiming he was just “Trying to ‘Beguile’ Donald Trump Jr. Into Leaking.”
There’s another hearing going on simultaneously with the Sessions hearing on Trump’s ability to use nuclear weapons. Quartz: Watch live: Should Trump have control of US nuclear weapons?
Today (Nov. 14), expert witnesses will testify before senators on US national “authority and process” over its nuclear arsenal. The hearing follows a tense few months, in which North Korea has continued nuclear testing, and Donald Trump has responded with belligerent improvisational statements, threatening “fire and fury” and warning that a military response was “locked and loaded.”
Could the US president start a nuclear war with North Korea? That’s what the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing aims to figure out. The hearing will be broadcast on public-service network C-SPAN at 10am US Eastern Time. You can watch it online here.
There’s also the ongoing Roy Moore scandal. Some links to check out if you haven’t already:
CBS News: New accuser steps forward in Roy Moore case.
AL.com also posted an editorial yesterday: Our view: Roy Moore grossly unfit for office.
Roy Moore simply cannot be a U.S. Senator. Even if his party and many of its adherents still think it possible, it is unthinkable — for his state, and his country.
Last week, four women described Moore’s unseemly taste for dating high school girls when he was a single man in his 30s. Another described what can only be seen as a sexual assault on her when she was 14. In a radio interview last week, Moore himself suggested that he may have dated teenage women during his 30s, though he vehemently denied the claims made by these women.
Today, even as those women face disgusting attacks on their motives and credibility, a fifth brave Alabama woman stepped forward and described how when she was 16, Moore violently sexually assaulted her in his car. She said she felt it to be an attempted rape, and that it ended with her bruised from either falling from or being pushed from the car, with Moore warning her he was a powerful man and that no one would believe her if she told anyone.
The seriousness of these incidents cannot be overstated. They should not be parsed with talk of statutes of limitations or whether proof exists. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a consideration for the courtroom, not the ballot box. When choosing our representative before the rest of the world, character matters….
We believe these women.
As a news organization, we have independently investigated as many of these claims as possible and have found no reason to doubt the accounts outlined in the Washington Post. If anything, the stories we’ve heard in Etowah County have only further corroborated them.
In our view, Moore has already revealed himself as grossly unfit to be a U.S. Senator before these revelations.
At The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg suggests that past accusations against Bill Clinton should be reevaluated in the light of recent revelations about powerful men harassing and assaulting women: I Believe Juanita. The title is explosive, but Goldberg’s only reason for believing Juanita Broaddrick’s accusations is that they are similar to recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
Of the Clinton accusers, the one who haunts me is Broaddrick. The story she tells about Clinton recalls those we’ve heard about Weinstein. She claimed they had plans to meet in a hotel coffee shop, but at the last minute he asked to come up to her hotel room instead, where he raped her. Five witnesses said she confided in them about the assault right after it happened. It’s true that she denied the rape in an affidavit to Paula Jones’s lawyers, before changing her story when talking to federal investigators. But her explanation, that she didn’t want to go public but couldn’t lie to the F.B.I., makes sense. Put simply, I believe her.
What to do with that belief? Contemplating this history is excruciating in part because of the way it has been weaponized against Hillary Clinton. Broaddrick sees her as complicit, interpreting something Hillary once said to her at a political event — “I want you to know that we appreciate everything you do for Bill” — as a veiled threat instead of a rote greeting. This seems wildly unlikely; Broaddrick was decades away from going public, and most reporting about the Clinton marriage shows Bill going to great lengths to hide his betrayals. Nevertheless, one of the sick ironies of the 2016 campaign was that it was Hillary who had to pay the political price for Bill’s misdeeds, as they were trotted out to deflect attention from Trump’s well-documented transgressions.
And now they’re being trotted out again. It’s fair to conclude that because of Broaddrick’s allegations, Bill Clinton no longer has a place in decent society. But we should remember that it’s not simply partisan tribalism that led liberals to doubt her. Discerning what might be true in a blizzard of lies isn’t easy, and the people who spread those lies don’t get to claim the moral high ground. We should err on the side of believing women, but sometimes, that belief will be used against us.
To say that Bill Clinton “no longer has a place in decent society” is a bit much at this point, IMHO. I don’t know much about Broaddrick’s claims; but apparently these old accusations are going to be recycled. Will Jeff Sessions appoint another special prosecutor?
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So much news happening–what will today bring? What stories are you following?