Lazy Saturday Reads: Big Steps Forward in Russia Investigation

Coffee and Donuts, Scott Moore

Good Morning!!

It appears that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is getting closer to finding crimes committed foreign persons and by Trump’s closest advisers; and Jared Kushner may be at the center of it all. For Trump, the shit is about to get real.

It all centers around Facebook and microtargeting. As I’m sure you know, Mueller recently obtained a warrant for the content of ads that Facebook sold to a Russian source. CNN has the latest this morning: Facebook handed Russia-linked ads over to Mueller under search warrant.

Facebook gave Mueller and his team copies of ads and related information it discovered on its site linked to a Russian troll farm, as well as detailed information about the accounts that bought the ads and the way the ads were targeted at American Facebook users, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

The disclosure, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, may give Mueller’s office a fuller picture of who was behind the ad buys and how the ads may have influenced voter sentiment during the 2016 election.

Facebook did not give copies of the ads to members of the Senate and House intelligence committees when it met with them last week on the grounds that doing so would violate their privacy policy, sources with knowledge of the briefings said. Facebook’s policy states that, in accordance with the federal Stored Communications Act, it can only turn over the stored contents of an account in response to a search warrant.

Clark Kent Breakfast, Dave Seguin

“We continue to work with the appropriate investigative authorities,” Facebook said in a statement to CNN.

Facebook informed Congress last week that it had identified 3,000 ads that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to fake accounts. Those accounts, in turn, were linked to the pro-Kremlin troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.

This is significant, because it indicates that Mueller has evidence of crimes related to the Facebook data. Business Insider: Mueller just obtained a warrant that could change the entire nature of the Russia investigation.

FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the “inauthentic” accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016 election.

The warrant was first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal on Friday night and the news was later confirmed by CNN.

Legal experts say the revelation has enormous implications for the trajectory of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, and whether Moscow had any help from President Donald Trump’s campaign team.

“This is big news — and potentially bad news for the Russian election interference ‘deniers,'” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent.

Rangappa, now an associate dean at Yale Law School, explained that to obtain a search warrant a prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that there is reason to believe a crime has been committed. The prosecutor then has to show that the information being sought will provide evidence of that crime….

by Victor Ostrovsky

“The key here…is that Mueller clearly already has enough information on these accounts — and their link to a potential crime to justify forcing [Facebook] to give up the info,” she said. “That means that he has uncovered a great deal of evidence through other avenues of Russian election interference.”

It also means that Mueller is no longer looking at Russia’s election interference from a strict counterintelligence standpoint — rather, he now believes he may be able to obtain enough evidence to charge specific foreign entities with a crime.

Read more in this Twitter thread–click to read the rest:

And who was in charge of the data operation for the Trump campaign? Jared Kushner. He revealed a lot about how he did it in a Forbes article back in May 2017: Jared Kushner In His Own Words On The Trump Data Operation The FBI Is Reportedly Probing. A couple of excerpts:

— “We found that Facebook and digital targeting were the most effective ways to reach the audiences. After the primary, we started ramping up because we knew that doing a national campaign is different than doing a primary campaign. That was when we formalized the system because we had to ramp up for digital fundraising. We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world. And I asked them how to scale this stuff. Doing it state by state is not that hard. But scaling is a very, very hard thing. They gave me a lot of their subcontractors and I built in Austin a data hub that would complement the RNC’s data hub. We had about 100 people in that office, which nobody knew about, until towards the end. We used that as the nerve center that drove a lot of the deployment of our ground game resources….

Fabio Hurtado Spanish, b. 1960

— “We played Moneyball, where we were asking, ‘Which states are will be the most cost effective—ROI per electoral vote.’ We used a lot things to get much more bang for the buck… We got rid of a lot of the political people. That’s not who we hired. Our best people were mostly people who volunteered pro bono, people from the business world, people from nontraditional fields. We could squeeze the margin so that nobody was getting rich on it. And we only had people who were doing it for the right reasons, not because they wanted to go onto the next campaign, but because they felt passionately about getting Donald Trump elected.”

Yesterday Vanity Fair published a piece by Chris Smith that connects a lot of dots: Did Jared Kushner’s Data Operation Help Select Facebook Targets for the Russians?

Kushner’s chat with Forbes has provided a veritable bakery’s worth of investigatory bread crumbs to follow. Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.

Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.” (Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a request for comment.) ….

by PJ Crook

No evidence has emerged to link Kushner, Cambridge Analytica, or Manafort to the Russian election-meddling enterprise; all have denied colluding with foreign agents. (Kushner’s representatives declined to comment for this article. Manafort’s spokesman could not be reached.) Yet analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. “Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible,” said Mike Carpenter, an Obama administration assistant defense secretary who specialized in Russia and Eastern Europe. “But that’s not how they do this. And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”

Click on the Vanity Fair link to read the rest.

More on the Cambridge Analytica piece of this at CNBC:

Darren Bolding, chief technology officer of Cambridge Analytica, told the crowd at the third annual Internet Summit in San Francisco on Thursday that “algorithms will find the worst in us if you let them go nuts.”

His comments came during an interview onstage with Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig in front of several hundred people gathered to hear him discuss the campaign. The interview was led by Matthew Prince, the CEO of internet service provider Cloudflare, which removed a white supremacist website from its network in the wake of Trump’s comments after a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Arjona, Rafael-Lectora

Bolding — who worked at the Republican National Committee before joining Cambridge in January of 2017 — said that the RNC used 15 “issue models” to target political ads at Facebook users during the 2016 U.S. election campaign….The event came as Facebook faces growing criticism to release more details on the ads it sent to users that it says were bought by Russians looking to influence U.S. voters.

The ads were targeted using the same automated Facebook system used by Cambridge Analytica, and for the same purpose — to influence the U.S. presidential election.

And that’s not the only Russia Investigation story that broke yesterday.

Bloomberg: Russia Laundering Probe Puts Trump Tower Meeting in New Light. The Russian lawyer who met with Don Jr., Kushner and Paul Manafort in June 2016 was also involved in a huge money laundering case–could getting rid of that case have been the quid pro quo for Russian help in getting Trump elected?

when she stepped into Trump Tower, [Natalia] Veselnitskaya was also representing a client ensnared in a long-running U.S. investigation into an alleged web of Russian money-laundering. That criminal inquiry, opened by federal prosecutors in New York in 2013 and previously unreported, is still active, according to people familiar with the probe. There was no mention of an ongoing criminal inquiry when the U.S. settled a related civil lawsuit against Veselnitskaya’s client in May.

The outline of the criminal investigation, stretching from Switzerland to Cyprus, is laid out deep within the 734 filings in the civil case. Several countries have supplied documents to the U.S., as have Deutsche Bank AGCitigroup Inc. and other global banks that aren’t targets. U.S. prosecutors in the case are seeking to track parts of more than $200 million they say left Russia after a massive fraud, and to identify who was involved in the scheme.

The revelation adds a new element to the Trump Tower meeting, which has emerged as a focus of congressional investigators and a U.S. special counsel inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Recall that Trump fired former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had brought the case in 2013 and later the Justice Department settle the case for peanuts:

After years of court wrangling over the civil case, the Prevezon matter was set for trial in May 2017, promising a public view of prosecutors’ full allegations about the Russian money flows. But just days before opening arguments, the U.S. announced it had settled the case for $5.9 million.

Ana Maria Leão

The prosecutors called it a victory. So did Prevezon lawyer Gay, who called the U.S. settlement “almost an apology by the government.”

Several Democratic lawmakers looked at the Prevezon settlement in a new light two months later, when news emerged about the Veselnitskaya meeting in Trump Tower. In a letter, they asked whether the Russian lawyer, or members of the Trump team, may have put pressure on prosecutors in the matter.

Natasha Bertrand has more at Business Insider: New details about major Russian money-laundering investigation raise the stakes of Trump Tower meeting.

The criminal investigation had not yet been disclosed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Bharara in March, and there was no mention of it when the civil case was settled in May for $5.9 million.

Veselnitskaya has staunchly denied discussing the Prevezon case during the Trump Tower meeting. But the developments suggest the stakes for her client were higher than previously known.

In September 2016, Bharara had issued a grand-jury subpoena to Andrei Alekseevich Pavlov — a person “central to the Government’s case against Prevezon,” according to an emergency appeal filed at the time by Prevezon counsel Michael Mukasey, who wanted to depose him.

Citigroup, Deutsche Bank AG, UBS AG, and TD Bank were also issued grand-jury subpoenas, according to Bloomberg, which did not provide further details.

Grand-jury testimonies are a key stage in a federal criminal investigation. The subpoena issued by Bharara to Pavlov, and provided to Business Insider on Friday, ordered him to hand over documents related to a series of cases connected to the Prevezon investigation.

The subpoena also asked Pavlov to provide “all non-privileged correspondence” with Veselnitskaya and others relevant to the case.

This was all short-circuited when the DOJ settled the case. Read more details at BI.

In the days leading up to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, when his soon-to-be national security adviser Michael Flynn was reportedly pushing a multibillion-dollar deal to build nuclear reactors in Jordan and other Middle East nations, Flynn and two other top Trump advisers held a secret meeting with the king of Jordan.

Karin Jurick

meeting — details of which have never been reported — is the latest in a series of secret, high-stakes contacts between Trump advisers and foreign governments that have raised concerns about how, in particular, Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner handled their personal business interests as they entered key positions of power. And the nuclear project raised additional security concerns about expanding nuclear technology in a tinderbox region of the world. One expert compared it to providing “a nuclear weapons starter kit.”

On the morning of Jan. 5, Flynn, Kushner, and former chief strategist Steve Bannon greeted Mi at the Four Seasons hotel in lower Manhattan, then took off in a fleet of SUVs and a sedan to a different location.

People close to the three Trump advisers say that the nuclear deal was not discussed. But a federal official with access to a document created by a law enforcement agency about the meeting said that the nuclear proposal, known as the Marshall Plan, was one of the topics the group talked about.

Read the rest at the link. It sure looks like Mueller is getting closer to nailing Trump and his gang.

What stories are you following today?

 

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Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Hurricane Irma is still headed for Florida and then will move up the coast. The Weather Channel: States of Emergency Issued, Evacuations Ordered as Florida, Georgia, Carolinas Prepare for Irma.

As the dangerous Category 5 Hurricane Irma barrels toward southeast of Florida, officials in the Sunshine State, Georgia and the Carolinas have declared disasters and ordered evacuations.

The storm, which has undergone rapid intensification in the past several days is now the strongest Atlantic hurricane in the last 10 years, a dangerous Category 5, which made landfall overnight packing winds of 185 mph on the Caribbean island of Barbuda.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a news conference Wednesday that Irma can still go anywhere and the entire state needs to be prepared.

“The storm is massive and the storm surge is predicted to go for miles. In some instances, it could cover homes and go very far inland,” Scott said.

He urged urgent preparation:

  • “Every family needs to have a plan. …Do not sit and wait. Prepare right now.”
  • “Do not ignore evacuation orders.”
  • “Take what you need to evacuate. Don’t take extra.”

Read more about Florida’s preparations at the link.

Cars sit on a flooded street on the island of Saint-Martin after Hurricane Irma passed through

The Miami Herald: South Florida comes under hurricane watch with weekend strike likely.

South Florida came under hurricane and storm surge watches Thursday morning as powerful Hurricane Irma steamed toward the peninsula on track for a weekend strike.

Tropical storm force winds could begin battering the Keys and South Florida Saturday afternoon, National Hurricane Center forecasters said in their latest advisory. The fierce center of the Cat 5 storm is also increasingly likely to plow across the state’s crowded east coast, and it’s more than 6 million residents, in three to four days.

The hurricane and storm surge watches cover much of the South Florida coast, from Jupiter Inlet south and up the west coast to Bonita Beach, including the Keys. Water levels could reach from between five and 10 feet above ground level in the storm surge watch area, forecasters said.

Because Irma is such a large hurricane, the storm surge could be widespread and life-threatening, said senior hurricane specialist Mike Brennan, with waters moving further inland along the Gulf.

Presumably, the storm will keep moving on up the coast. It’s not clear yet how it will impact us up here in New England, but environmental experts are trying to prepare Boston for future storms as the sea level rises from climate change. The Boston Globe: What a future sea barrier in Boston would look like.

According a city-sponsored report published last December, sea levels are forecasted to rise eight inches from 2000 to 2030 due to climate change. By 2050, they are expected to increase up to 1.5 feet — and by 2070, up to three feet.

Palm trees buckle under winds and rain as Hurricane Irma slammed across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico Sept. 6, 2017.

The chances of a Harvey-esque 50 inches of rain are minuscule in Boston. But with the expected sea level rise, a one-in-100- or one-in-10-year storm (Harvey was a one-in-1,000-year storm) would put many Boston neighborhoods underwater, according to the report, Climate Ready Boston. Even monthly high tides would flood 5 percent of the city’s real estate market value toward the end of the century, officials said.

With the sea level rise expected within roughly 30 to 50 years, major storms could make neighborhoods including East Boston, the South End, and the Seaport “unviable.” This interactive map shows what exact places could be threatened (and it doesn’t look great for Faneuil Hall).

“You’re not going to escape it,” Curt Spalding, New England’s regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, told Boston.com last year regarding sea level rise, after Boston’s waterfront was inundated by simple king tides.

According to a 2013 report by the World Bank, Boston ranked eighth out of 136 coastal cities for risk of flood damage.

Local officials are thus faced with a dilemma: how to manage the characteristic that historically made Boston a thriving commercial hub — its favorable port location — when that same asset now contributes to a potentially existential threat?

Head to the Globe to read the rest. I imagine many coastal cities are looking at possible protections from future flooding.

Donald Trump Jr. is being interviewed by investigators from the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning. MSNBC reports that he has changed his story again–now claiming he took a June 2016 meeting with Russians to get information that would help him assess Hillary Clinton’s “fitness for office.” From The New York Times:

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, is set to meet with Senate Judiciary Committee investigators behind closed doors on Thursday to answer questions about his June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, committee officials said.

Homes are damaged after Hurricane Irma struck in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Martin on Sept. 6, 2017. Netherlands Ministry of Defense via AFP – Getty Images

Committee aides said the interview, Mr. Trump’s first with congressional investigators, will be transcribed and could last for much of the day. It will largely focus on the meeting in Trump Tower, which appears to have been set up to deliver harmful information about Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign, according to emails disclosed in June.

Democrats, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, said on Wednesday that Mr. Trump had also agreed to testify at a public hearing before the committee and that he would probably be subpoenaed if he did not follow through on that agreement. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s chairman, declined to discuss the committee’s dealings with Mr. Trump. Lawyers for Mr. Trump could not be reached for comment.

The closed-door interview is the clearest indication yet that the Senate Judiciary Committee — after months of being eclipsed by the Senate and House intelligence committees — is emerging into a higher-profile role in investigating the president, his family and his associates in the coming months.

The committee is trying to get answers about the firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director this spring and has staked out a broad investigation that aims to look at everything from the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia to the Obama Justice Department’s handling of the Clinton email case last year.

More Russia news broke last night in The Washington Post: Russian firm tied to pro-Kremlin propaganda advertised on Facebook during election.

Sea water rises to a water deck as hurricane Irma approaches Puerto Rico in Fajardo. Ricardo Arduengo AFP Getty Images

Representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators Wednesday that the social network has discovered that it sold ads during the U.S. presidential campaign to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters, according to several people familiar with the company’s findings.

Facebook officials reported that they traced the ad sales, totaling $100,000, to a Russian “troll farm” with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda, these people said.

A small portion of the ads, which began in the summer of 2015, directly named Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the people said, although they declined to say which candidate the ads favored.

Most of the ads, according to a blog post published late Wednesday by Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

The acknowledgment by Facebook comes as congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III are probing Russian interference in the U.S. election, including allegations that the Kremlin may have coordinated with the Trump campaign.

Read more at the WaPo.

The other big story from last night is that Trump suddenly aligned himself with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on raising the debt ceiling and threw Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell under the bus. Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker: How Democrats Rolled Trump on the Debt Ceiling.

A man drives through rain and strong winds during the passage of hurricane Irma, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017.

For weeks, Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, had been plotting a strategy to use the debt-ceiling vote to extract concessions from Donald Trump and his fellow-Republicans. Over the weekend, the White House and Senate Republicans indicated that they wanted a debt-ceiling increase attached to a bill to provide immediate aid for areas of Texas and Louisiana affected by Hurricane Harvey. The plan was perfect for the G.O.P. The House would pass a “clean” debt ceiling that most Republicans would probably support. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader, would add the Harvey money and pass the two bills together with the help of Democrats. The plan was to raise the debt ceiling for eighteen months, which would kick the next difficult vote past the 2018 midterm elections. In the House, such a bill likely would have lost some votes from both parties, but, given the urgency of the hurricane aid, it was a decent bet to pass. Best of all, for G.O.P. leaders, the bill would have taken away the Democrats’ debt-ceiling leverage from the coming debates on immigration, government spending, and health care.

But, when conservative Republicans came out vocally against McConnell and Ryan’s plan, Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, saw an opening. They called for the three-month debt-ceiling deal, which would kick the issue into mid-December, allowing them to maintain their leverage as Congress worked out agreements on other agenda items.

At his morning press conference, Ryan had been withering about this idea. “Let’s just think about this,” he said. “We’ve got all this devastation in Texas. We’ve got another unprecedented hurricane about to hit Florida. And they want to play politics with the debt ceiling? That will strand the aid that we need to bring to these victims of these storms that have occurred or are about to occur. And then they also want to threaten default on our debt? I think that’s ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics with the debt ceiling at this moment.”

He added that the idea was “unworkable,” and, speaking for Trump, noted, “What the President doesn’t want to do is to give more leverage where it shouldn’t occur on the debt ceiling.”

But Ryan spoke too soon.

An hour later, in the Oval Office, Ryan, McConnell, Schumer, and Pelosi sat down with Trump and Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, to negotiate. The Republican leaders—at first—stuck to their demand for an eighteen-month debt-ceiling increase. But the Democrats held fast as the Republicans dropped their request to twelve months and then to six months. Mnuchin argued that the financial markets needed a long-term deal. Trump cut him off and abruptly sided with Schumer and Pelosi on their three-month request.

Read the rest at The New Yorker.

Hurricanes Irma and Jose stacked over the Caribbean and Atlantic on September 6.

Lots of media people are outraged that Hillary Clinton dared to write a book detailing the challenges she faced during the 2016 election. Never mind that Clinton won the popular vote and her book has been number 1 on Amazon for months. Those of us who voted for her are still invisible to the media. Politico: Democrats dread Hillary’s book tour.

President Donald Trump may be the only person in politics truly excited about Hillary Clinton’s book tour.

Democratic operatives can’t stand the thought of her picking the scabs of 2016, again — the Bernie Sanders divide, the Jim Comey complaints, the casting blame on Barack Obama for not speaking out more on Russia. Alums of her Brooklyn headquarters who were miserable even when they thought she was winning tend to greet the topic with, “Oh, God,” “I can’t handle it,” and “the final torture.”

Political reporters gripe privately (and on Twitter) about yet another return to the campaign that will never end. Campaign operatives don’t want the distraction, just as they head into another election season. And members of Congress from both parties want the focus on an agenda that’s getting more complicated by the week.

But with a new NBC News poll showing her approval rating at 30 percent, the lowest recorded for her, Clinton kicks it off on Tuesday with a signing at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York. She’ll keep it going all the way through December, all across the country.

Do the Democrats really think they can win elections without Hillary’s hard core supporters? They seem to be going all in with Bernie, who lost to Hillary in the primaries by 4 million votes. Do these people know anything about math?

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: Last Week’s White House Chaos Isn’t Over Yet

Trump Chaos

Good Morning!!

This week is on track to be as insane as last week in the Trump White House. Yesterday retired general John Kelly was sworn in as chief of staff, replacing Reince Priebus. Kelly apparently accepted the job from hell on the conditions that the entire WH staff would report to him and on the dismissal of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. But those stories were eclipsed last night by a Washington Post story about how Donald Trump Jr.’s initial statement about his June 9, 2016, meeting with Russian government representatives was formulated.

The Washington Post: Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer.

On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.

The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.” [….]

The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup.

Trump’s direct involvement in composing his son’s false statement could be more evidence of obstruction of justice.

Although misleading the public or the news media is not a crime, advisers to Trump and his family told The Washington Post that they fear any indication that Trump was seeking to hide information about contacts between his campaign and Russians almost inevitably would draw additional scrutiny from Mueller.

Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.

“He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.” [….]

Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.

That’s idiotic. Even if there is no underlying crime, which is unlikely, Trump’s behavior demonstrates obstruction–and that’s a separate crime

This morning NBC news has more details on the Scaramucci firing: What Really Happened to Anthony Scaramucci.

Two sources close to President Donald Trump said Scaramucci’s profane remarks last week to The New Yorker magazine “disgusted” and “offended” some close to the president, including Melania Trump, and — crucially — Ivanka Trump, who had initially advocated for Scaramucci’s hiring.

Scaramucci was ousted Monday, the first day on the job for Trump’s new chief of staff, the retired Marine general John Kelly.

One source said both Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner supported Kelly and his move to dismiss Scaramucci.

And it wasn’t just the expletive-filled interview: Some in the West Wing believe Scaramucci overplayed his hand altogether, believing he could do no wrong in the eyes of the president.

While the White House didn’t initially decry Scaramucci’s vulgar comments to The New Yorker, by Friday the president was getting an earful from confidantes outside the administration. The blowback built. Even for a president who’s no stranger to salty language, Scaramucci’s interview, with its f-bombs and anatomical references, apparently came off as too lowbrow.

By mid-morning on Monday, Scaramucci was sacked and Kelly, a 40-year Marine, had conveyed to the rest of the staff that the chain of command now runs through him.

Any bets on how long that will last? Can Kelly really block Ivanka and Jared from walking into the oval office?

John Podesta, who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton offered advice to Kelly: don’t take the job. The Washington Post: The best advice I could have given to John Kelly: Don’t do it!

First, discipline. There’s no doubt the decision to replace Reince Priebus with Kelly was based on the hope that a former four-star Marine general could get this menagerie in line. You don’t have to compare the Trump White House to no-drama Obama or the buttoned-down Bush operations to know there is simply no precedent in modern history for the current White House culture of factionalism, infighting and lack of respect among senior staff members. Of course, most of Trump’s team are simply modeling their behavior on that of the boss. His demeaning treatment of Priebus and Attorney General Jeff Sessions signals that there are no boundaries in Trumpland, leading to the unprofessional actions of now-former communications director Anthony Scaramucci. Indeed, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders informed the public that the president “encourages” such behavior.

Kelly is walking into a White House that looks more like a cock fight than an episode of “The West Wing.” (See Mooch, you can use that word without being profane.) The White House culture will have to be shaken to its core. Kelly must be able to fire anyone at will, including to enforce a no-tolerance policy for behavior unbecoming a senior government official. Scaramucci’s departure Monday is a good start, but Kelly will have to keep a tight rein on a White House staff that is used to few boundaries. And if there is going to be an exception for Trump’s relatives, Kelly should get an explicit commitment that even Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump report through him — no end arounds.

The most difficult discipline problem for Kelly, though, will not be the staff but Trump himself. Early signs are not auspicious. The day after appointing Kelly, Trump ranted on Twitter against Senate Republicans for failure to pass their horrific health-care bill, which would have denied care to millions of Americans and raised costs for millions more. I have no doubt that Kelly, unlike Priebus, can say no to power, but whether power will listen is another matter.

Read about Kelly’s two other major tasks at the WaPo link.

Trump spent the weekend trolling Senate Republicans for their failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but Politico reports that Trump’s tweets aren’t having much effect: Republicans ignore Trump’s Obamacare taunts.

Senate Republicans have no plans to revive their party-line attempts to repeal Obamacare this summer, despite President Donald Trump’s increasing frustration over the chamber’s failed attempts last week to gut the law.

“Until somebody shows us a way to get that elusive 50th vote, I think it’s over,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican. “Maybe lightning will strike and something will come together but I’m not holding my breath.” [….]

For one, they’re down one vote in the short term, with Sen. John McCain being treated for cancer in Arizona.

But as the collapse of the repeal effort in the Senate last week showed, even with McCain the GOP majority is so narrow that it may never be possible to pass major, partisan health care reform through the chamber. That increasingly appears to be the case despite White House efforts to promote a bill by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would send federal health care funding to the states in the form of block grants.

Privately, Republican aides said there is essentially no chance McConnell will take another shot at repealing Obamacare soon. On Monday, there was discussion among Senate staffers of a “hard pivot to tax reform,” one Senate aide said.

JULY 31: Jared Kushner… arrives in the Capitol Visitor Center to participate in a lecture series with Hill interns on July 31, 2017. Congressional aide Katie Patru, appears at left. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Foreign Policy reports that Jared Kushner made “off the record remarks” to Congressional interns yesterday, and they quickly obtained notes from the meeting. Anyone who doesn’t believe Kusher is the leaker, please raise your hand.

Kushner to Interns: Trump Team Too Disorganized to Collude With Russia.

Donald Trump’s election team could not have colluded with Russia because they were barely talking to each other, according to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top White House advisor.

“They thought we colluded, but we couldn’t even collude with our local offices,” Kushner told congressional interns during a private talk at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington on Monday afternoon….

A source provided a copy of written notes on Kushner’s talk and question-and-answer session to Foreign Policy.

For investigators attempting to determine whether Trump’s associates knowingly worked with Russia to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a defense claiming chaos and confusion might be the key difference between criminal behavior and incompetence.

As chaos reigns in the White House, Russia is continuing to threaten its neighbors. The New York Times: Russia’s Military Drills Near NATO Border Raise Fears of Aggression.

WASHINGTON — Russia is preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by President Vladimir V. Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War.

The troops are conducting military maneuvers known as Zapad, Russian for “west,” in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The drills will feature a reconstituted armored force named for a storied Soviet military unit, the First Guards Tank Army. Its establishment represents the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that so much offensive power has been concentrated in a single command.

The military exercise, planned for many months, is not a reaction to sweeping new economic sanctions on Russia that Congress passed last week. So far, Russia has retaliated against the sanctions by forcing the expulsion of several hundred employees in American diplomatic posts in the country.

But the move is part of a larger effort by Mr. Putin to shore up Russia’s military prowess, and comes against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive Russia. Beyond Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election in support of the Trump campaign, which has seized attention in the United States, its military has in recent years deployed forces to Syria, seized Crimea and intervened in eastern Ukraine, rattled the Baltic States with snap exercises and buzzed NATO planes and ships.

Read more details at the link.

Finally, Talking Points Memo has an interesting post about Trump’s Russian mafia pal Felix Stater: Stinger Missiles And Shady Deals: Ex-Biz Partner To Trump Has A Tall Tale To Tell.

In December 2015, an Associated Press reporter asked Donald Trump why he had appointed Felix Sater, a man who’d been convicted for stock fraud, his senior advisor. “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” Trump told the AP. “I’m not that familiar with him.”

The feeling is not mutual.

“My last Moscow deal [for the Trump Organization] was in October of 2015,” Sater recalled. “It didn’t go through because obviously he became President.” Sater had told the New York Times that he was working on the deal that fall, but over the course of several conversations with TPM, he gave a slightly more detailed timeline. “Once the campaign was really going-going, it was obvious there were going to be no deals internationally,” Sater said. “We were still working on it, doing something with it, November-December.”

That deal was for “The Trump Tower, to develop in Moscow.” It was a similar proposition to the one Trump himself tried to broker with the Agalarovs, a family of vastly wealthy Russian oligarchs who brought Miss Universe 2013 to Moscow and were behind the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the President’s oldest son and an attorney said to work for the Russian government. Sater said he never worked with the Agalarovs on a Moscow deal for Trump, but did work with others who he declined to name. Those aren’t Sater’s connections, he said. “That’s not me. I don’t work with them and I’ve never worked with them.” When asked who he was working with, Sater chuckled. “A couple of people I’d like to continue working with, and that’s why I don’t want their names in the newspaper. People say, ‘I care about you and love you but why do I need my name in the press?’”

The Trump Organization did not respond to multiple requests for comment from TPM. But to understand Trump and the type of people his real estate empire did business, it’s worth trying to understand Sater, the Russian-American émigré whose connections span not only the worlds of Russian and Italian organized crime—which Sater said are in part a result of not being able to find legitimate work after two criminal convictions—but the FBI and, now, the presidency.

Read the whole thing at TPM.

What stories are you following this morning?


Lazy Saturday Reads

Key West Chairs, Dorine MacLauchlan

Good Afternoon!!

Another huge story broke last night at the Washington Post, and this one appears to have been leaked by people in the intelligence community or the White House who are trying to damage Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show.

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The Goldfish Window, Childe Hassam

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Current and former U.S. officials said that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations during two encounters over the course of the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.

It would be interesting to know who leaked this–could it possibly have come from Michael Flynn? In any case, this is highly sensitive information that the Post reportedly had in June but held it until last night.

The Post also published a damaging story about Jared and Ivanka’s lies of omission: In revised filing, Kushner reveals dozens of previously undisclosed assets.

Jared Kushner failed to disclose dozens of financial holdings that he was required to declare when he joined the White House as an adviser to President Trump, his father-in-law, according to a ­revised form released Friday.

separate document released Friday also showed that Kushner’s wife, presidential daughter Ivanka Trump, had been paid as much as $5 million from her outside businesses over an 84-day span this spring around the time she entered the White House as a senior adviser and pledged to distance herself from her private holdings.

Saturday Afternoon, William Gunning King

Kushner’s new disclosure, released by the White House, detailed more than 70 assets that his attorneys said he had inadvertently left out of earlier filings. The new document comes as the presidential aide faces increasing scrutiny as part of investigations into alleged Russian influence in the 2016 campaign….

The new filing reveals Kushner’s past and current investments in an array of entities, including a real estate trading platform now valued at $800 million in which he continues to hold a large stake. He and his wife also disclosed that their contemporary art collection is valued at between $5 million and $25 million.

Kushner’s financial disclosure has been updated 39 times since his first filing in March.

From today’s New York Times: Ivanka Trump Received at Least $12.6 Million Since 2016, Disclosure Shows.

Ivanka Trump or her trust received at least $12.6 million since early 2016 from her various business ventures and has an arrangement to guarantee her at least $1.5 million a year even as she serves in a top White House position, according to her first ethics disclosure made public late Friday.

The report was released alongside an updated filing by her husband, Jared Kushner, who is also serving as a top adviser to President Trump. It shows that the couple benefit from an active business empire worth as much as $761 million to them, an arrangement that ethics experts warn poses potentials for conflicts of interest as the couple have been given a wide-ranging portfolio of government responsibilities.

Ms. Trump, who resigned from nearly 300 leadership positions at various entities within the family real estate businesses and at her fashion brand, has continued to receive millions of dollars from both streams, including more than $2.4 million from her stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington and more than $2.5 million in salary and severance from the Trump Organization.

Ms. Trump received about $1.7 million in payments from T International Realty, the family’s luxury brokerage agency, as well as two other real estate companies for various management, consulting and licensing work, the documents show. Those payments, for work done in 2016, were based on the companies’ performance.

But going forward, she will receive fixed payments — a change that her advisers say was developed in consultation with the Office of Government Ethics to minimize her potential conflicts by removing her interest in how well her family’s business performs.

More at the link.

Brookside Park Pasadena on a Saturday Afternoon

I was really looking forward to seeing Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort testify publicly, but unfortunately it will be behind closed doors now. CNN: Trump Jr. and Manafort reach deal with Senate panel to avoid public hearing.

The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee have cut a deal with President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to avoid being subpoenaed for a high-profile public hearing next week, with the two men agreeing to provide records to the panel and to be privately interviewed ahead of any public session.

In a joint statement, panel Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein said, “(W)e will not issue subpoenas for them tonight requiring their presence at Wednesday’s hearing but reserve the right to do so in the future.”

Feinstein tweeted later Friday evening, “The Judiciary Committee will talk to Trump Jr. & Manafort before they testify in public, but we will get answers.”

Last week, Trump Jr. told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he would testify under oath about his recently revealed 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians, where he attempted to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But after the Senate Judiciary Committee invited him to attend a public hearing, the President’s eldest struck the agreement to avoid it, instead going behind closed doors.

Sources familiar with the matter say no date has been set for his and Manafort’s private interviews with the committee.

It seems as if Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr is getting more serious about his Russia investigation. Yesterday he publicly criticized House Intel chair Devin Nunes.

Talking Points Memo: Senate Intel Chair: ‘The Unmasking Thing Was All Created By Devin Nunes.’

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) on Friday accused his counterpart in the House, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), of creating a false narrative about Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice.

Madeline in a Wheat Field, Daniel Ridgway Knight

Speaking to CNN after Rice was interviewed by the panel in closed session, Burr said he asked no questions about whether she improperly requested and revealed the identities of U.S. individuals swept up in intelligence reports—an accusation Nunes has made repeatedly.

“The unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes, and I’ll wait to go through our full evaluation to see if there was anything improper that happened,” Burr told CNN. “But clearly there were individuals unmasked. Some of that became public which it’s not supposed to, and our business is to understand that, and explain it.”

With an assist from the White House, the House Intelligence chairman in March embarked on a one-man crusade to accuse Rice of improperly unmasking the identities of members of Trump’s campaign in intelligence reports. Though President Donald Trump said he believed Rice’s actions broke the law, bipartisan lawmakers who viewed the same classified reports from which Nunes drew his conclusions said they saw no evidence of wrongdoing. National security experts also told TPM that it was within Rice’s purview as national security adviser to request that names be unmasked as she tried to determine the extent of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Nunes ended up temporarily stepping aside from the House investigation after ethics watchdogs accused him of improperly disclosing classified information in his public statements about Rice. He recently told CNN that he remains fully “read-in” to the House probe and never formally recused himself, however.

Trump has reportedly been asking his lawyers if he can pardon himself and members of his family and staff. Here’s a response in a Washington Post op-ed by Lawrence Tribe, Richard Painter, and Norman Eisen: No, Trump can’t pardon himself. The Constitution tells us so.

Saturday Afternoon, Mark Arian

Can a president pardon himself? Four days before Richard Nixon resigned, his own Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel opined no, citing “the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.” We agree.

The Justice Department was right that guidance could be found in the enduring principles that no one can be both the judge and the defendant in the same matter, and that no one is above the law.

The Constitution specifically bars the president from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal. It adds that any official removed through impeachment remains fully subject to criminal prosecution. That provision would make no sense if the president could pardon himself.

The pardon provision of the Constitution is there to enable the president to act essentially in the role of a judge of another person’s criminal case, and to intervene on behalf of the defendant when the president determines that would be equitable. For example, the president might believe the courts made the wrong decision about someone’s guilt or about sentencing; President Barack Obama felt this way about excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses. Or the president might be impressed by the defendant’s subsequent conduct and, using powers far exceeding those of a parole board, might issue a pardon or commutation of sentence.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

This has been an mind-boggling week for Trump Russia news. I’m kind of relieved to have the weekend to process everything, since I assume Trump will be golfing. Next week could be even worse. Will Trump try to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Will Jeff Sessions have to resign? We’ll have to wait and see.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Escape to Hope Island

Hope Island off the coast of Maine is for sale

Good Afternoon!!

Remember when we used to talk about finding a haven where we Sky Dancers could retreat from the world? If only we could raise $7.9 million, we could own this beautiful estate on an 86 acre private island, all we would have to do is to contact a west vancouver realtor and let him take care of everything else. From Boston.com:

A 25-minute boat ride from Portland, Maine, this estate on Casco Bay comes with more than just a three-bedroom, six-bathroom, 11,000-square-foot-plus main house.

Its $7,950,000 price tag also includes the 86-acre island on which it sits — Hope Island — along with a boathouse with an apartment; a barn with apartments; a carriage house; a tavern; a chapel; a stable; and a variety of other buildings all really well constructed and roofed by Roofing Chattanooga so water is never a problem. As you might assume, the home boasts some pretty incredible water views….

The island, with 11,050 feet of water frontage, has a rocky coastline, as well as sand beaches, a deepwater pier, and eight ponds.

In the main house, you’ll find two full stories and an unfinished basement. The kitchen boasts a center island with granite countertops with many different appliances from Zozanga.com on top it, two bar sinks, cherry cabinetry, and a large pantry. The central entertainment room features custom millwork, a circular bar, built-ins, and French doors that lead to a terrace.

And from Boston Magazine:

Hope Island

The allure of Hope Island doesn’t rest on natural beauty alone, though. “No expense was spared in creating this magical island kingdom,” reads its property listing. What does that mean, exactly? For starters, there’s a more than 10,000-square-foot main house with six bathrooms, as well as several guest houses with tall fences from AAA-Fence Master, a pier, a sizable boat house, a 10-stall horse stable, a couple of barns, concrete roads, a chapel, and even a tavern.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the island is powered by generators and submerged marine cables from nearby Long Island. There are also 15 water wells and nine separate septic systems. And if you ever needed to run an errand on the mainland, Portland Harbor is only a 25-minute boat ride away.

And to top it off, it’s called “Hope Island.” If only we could escape from the nightmarish Trump world we currently inhabit to a beautiful island close to Canada.

Our latest national nightmare includes Republicans who now say that colluding with the Russian government to help elect a president of the U.S. is no big deal. In fact, it’s just politics as usual and anyone would do it in order to win. Yesterday Jennifer Rubin posted a scathing takedown of her party: The GOP’s moral rot is the problem, not Donald Trump Jr.

The key insight from a week of gobsmacking revelations is not that the Russia scandal may finally have an underlying crime but that, as David Brooks suggests, “over the past few generations the Trump family built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.” (Remember when the media collectively oohed and ahhed that, “Say what you will about Donald Trump, but his kids are great!”?Add that to the heap of inane media narratives that helped normalize Trump to the voters.) We now see that, sure enough, the Trump legal team (the fastest-growing segment of the economy) has trouble restraining its clients, explaining away initial, false explanations and preventing self-incriminating statements. (The biggest trouble, of course, is that the president lied that this is all “fake news” and arguably committed obstruction of justice to hide his campaign team’s misdeeds.)

Hope Island

Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.” [….]

Indeed, for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, giving us anti-immigrant hysteria, promulgating disrespect for the law (how many “respectable” conservatives suggested disregarding the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage?), elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party, as Brooks said of the Trump clan, with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.

Please go read the rest. Other than the fact that she quotes David Brooks and she characterizes Hillary as “ethically challenged,” I can’t disagree with much in Rubin’s op-ed. The Republican Party has completely lost its moral compass over the past half-century, to the point that they now believe that winning and money are the only things that matter and that basic morality, Constitutional norms, even common human decency and compassion are utterly irrelevant.

Here’s the latest on Don Jr.’s Trump Tower collusion meeting from CNN:

Trump Tower Russia meeting: At least eight people in the room.

Hope Island

The June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort included at least eight people.

The revelation of additional participants comes as The Associated Press first reported Friday that a Russian-American lobbyist named Rinat Akhmetshin said he also attended the June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. CNN has reached out to Akhmetshin for comment.

So far acknowledged in attendance: Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Akhmetshin and publicist Rob Goldstone, who helped set up the meeting. A source familiar with the circumstances told CNN there were at least two other people in the room as well, a translator and a representative of the Russian family who had asked Goldstone to set up the meeting. The source did not provide the names.

That meeting is getting bigger and bigger with each passing day. How many more people were actually in attendance?

People on Twitter had a lot of fun with the expanding numbers yesterday:

I should be posting articles about the people who attended that meeting, but I just don’t have the stomach for much more today. I’ll post some links in the comment thread. I have two more pieces to share and then I’ll end for today and try to get involved in some escapist fiction.

Edward Price at Politico: Why Does Jared Kushner Still Have a Security Clearance?

…the latest revelations undeniably have raised additional questions about the judgment of key figures in President Trump’s orbit, namely his eldest son Donald Jr., his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Only Kushner, however, holds an administration position and, as a result, a Top Secret security clearance.

The fact that Kushner, by all accounts, retains that clearance is an affront to America’s national security and a slap in the face to the career professionals subject to a different set of rules. I know this because, as a career CIA officer and later a spokesman for the National Security Council, I used to be one of them.

First, let’s review what we’ve learned about Kushner. He is among several Trump administration officials and associates to have acknowledged, long after the fact, his contacts with then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak. In one such previously undisclosed meeting with Kislyak, Kushner reportedly sought to establish a covert backchannel with Moscow, employing Russian communication equipment in an apparent effort to evade U.S. surveillance. At the ambassador’s request, moreover, Kushner also met with the head of a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions, a discussion that went unreported for months. The banker, Sergei Gorkov, has close ties to Russia’s intelligence services.

Hope Island

In recent days, moreover, the Trump administration confirmed that Kushner also attended a June 9, 2016, meeting with a Russian, who—in an email forwarded to Kushner—was described as a “government lawyer” privy to Moscow’s effort to denigrate Hillary Clinton and advantage Trump. In the face of persistent questions, Trump administration officials had—until last weekend—maintained for months that no campaign operatives had held any meetings with Russians. Kushner, it seems, was content to allow his White House colleagues to make liars of themselves as he left himself open to being compromised by the Kremlin, which has almost certainly known the truth all along.

I am confident in saying that my clearance would have been immediately revoked had I, as a career CIA officer, been accused of a fraction of these activities. In my case, the clearance process culminating in my first day at Langley lasted approximately a year, fairly standard for the period. It consisted of interviews, psychological exams and a lie detector test, while my family, friends and neighbors were subjected to questions about everything from my financial health to my drinking habits by humorless federal agents. When I ultimately was cleared to join the ranks of the CIA, the imperatives of unimpeachable integrity and sound judgment were stressed at every turn. It’s a mantra that becomes an ethos for our national security officials.

Read the rest at Politico.

Joy Reid at The Daily Beast: So This Is What American Greatness Really Looks Like?

This week, Garry Kasparov, former Russian chess champion and perennial critic of Vladimir Putintweeted about what autocrats do when caught: “1: Deny, lie, slander accusers. 2: Say it was a misunderstanding. 3. Boast & say ‘What are you going to do about it?’”

The day after that tweet, Donald Trump stood on a dais in Paris beside the French president and said of his son’s now-confirmed willingness to receive campaign help for his father from Russia: “I think it’s a meeting that most people in politics probably would have taken.”

That would be jaw dropping and bizarre coming from a mob boss at his pretrial hearing, let alone from the president of the United States. But that line is now standard issue among much of Trump’s political party, which has come around to the notion that collusion with a foreign power—even an adversarial one like Russia—is no big deal.

Trump, his family, and his defenders in the once Grand Old Party have mounted various defenses for his campaign’s collusion with Russians and their cutouts to win the 2016 presidential election. They have tried to ignore Russiagate. They have said collusion with Russia never happened. They have blamed Hillary ClintonBarack Obama, and Loretta Lynch (Trump now says the Russian government lawyer who met with Donald Jr. was only in the country because Lynch let her in. It will surprise no one to discover that’s not true.) And they have landed on the notion that even if collusion did happen, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Check off all three of the Kasparov boxes.

Click on the link and read the rest.

I hope all you Sky Dancers have a nice weekend and that Robert Mueller is working hard to rescue our once-great nation.


Friday Reads: ру́сский Tяumpсский

Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday Reads: A Neoconfederacy of Dunces

The more we find out about the Trump Family Crime syndicate, the more we understand their distinct lack of brains.  They don’t, however, lack chutzpah. If they’ve got one foot in the grave, they’ll dig deeper with inane tweets.  The little nuts do not fall far from the big ol’ nut tree.

Dumbo Jr. has basically confessed to collusion with the Russians.

Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged Sunday that he met with a Russian lawyer who had promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton in June 2016.

The news, which was first reported by the New York Times, represents the most direct suggestion to date of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and it is the first indication that someone from President Trump’s inner circle met with Russians during the campaign. Trump Jr. also brought then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law and now-top White House adviser Jared Kushner to the meeting.

But the information isn’t just troubling because it suggests the Trump campaign sought out the help of Russians to win the presidency. It also contradicts a number of claims made by the White House, the campaign and Trump Jr. himself — claims made as recently as this weekend. For an administration and campaign that have repeatedly denied contact with Russians and had their denials blow up in their faces, it’s yet another dubious chapter.

Read the rest of the article for what we’ve learned so far.  Then, think on this bit from The New Yorker.

So, unless we are grading on a curve that even the most forgiving god would discount, innocence in the matter of collusion does not bring the Trump Administration nearer to the gates of heaven. But the issue is hardly the closed matter that Trump would propose it to be. Thanks to new reporting from theTimes, we are starting to see evidence that fits the theory. Within two days of the President’s dispiritingly weak and erratic performance in Hamburg––his winsome meeting with Vladimir Putin, the disheartening spectacle of the Europeans treating the United States with suspicion on issues ranging from global security to the fate of the global environment––we learn that Trump associates, including the President’s son, met during the 2016 campaign with one Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected lawyer, on the promise that she could provide them information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The meeting took place on June 9, 2016, at Trump Tower. Trump’s emissaries included Donald Trump, Jr., who now helps to run the family businesses; Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who now helps to run the country; and his then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who has a long history of business ties to Russia and pro-Russia Ukrainians, as well as a variety of political kleptocrats including Jonas Savimbi, Mobuto Sese Seko, and Ferdinand Marcos. The Trump team said there was nothing untoward about the meeting.

“After pleasantries were exchanged,” Trump, Jr., told the Times, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.” Trump, Jr., went on to claim that the discussion was largely about the Russian ban on foreign adoptions. Reince Priebus, the President’s chief of staff, described the meeting on “Fox News Sunday” as a “big nothing burger.” For her part, Veselnitskaya said that the meeting did not concern the campaign at all and that Manafort and Kushner left the room after ten minutes.

This follows the Wall Street Journal’s story last week that investigators have reviewed reports from intelligence agencies on Russian hackers discussing how to hack Clinton’s e-mails and get the material to Michael Flynn, the former national-security adviser, via an intermediary, and that Peter Smith, a longtime Republican operative, had undertaken an effort to obtain the Clinton e-mails and suggested to those around him that he was working with Flynn. The excuse the Trump Administration had for that one was that Smith “didn’t work for the campaign” and that if Flynn was working with him “in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual.”

There has also been a great deal of solid journalism committed by Adam Davidson, of The New Yorker, Timothy O’Brien, of Bloomberg, and others on Trump’s business history and his links to disreputables in Russia and the former Soviet Union. All this begins to add up to an unlovely portrait of the President and his associates. In addition, the F.B.I. and congressional investigators are sorting through what, if any, relationship there might have been between the hundreds of Internet trolls who pumped out false, undermining stories about Clinton, Russian sponsors, and the Trump campaign. It is unlikely that the full story of the role of WikiLeaks in this saga has been told yet, either.

Representative  Adam Schiff  who is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee announced his desire to question Donald Trump Jr.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on CNN on Sunday that the meeting raises “a variety of questions” because Trump has denied having any kind of meetings like this.

“They claimed this meeting had nothing to do with the campaign, and yet the Trump campaign manager is invited to come to the meeting and there’s no reason for this Russian government advocate to be meeting with Paul Manafort or Mr. Kushner or the President’s son if it wasn’t about the campaign and Russia policy,” he said.

He said the meeting is indicative of the fact that Russia was “obviously” trying to “influence one of the candidates” and that the explanations given from the administration so far don’t “make sense.” He said his committee would like to “get to the bottom” of what happened at the meeting and he plans to question everyone who was at the meeting.

“By trying to frame this about adoptions ignores what it sounds like the meeting might have been about and that was the Magnitsky Act, which is legislation, very powerful sanctions legislation, that goes against Russian human rights abusers,” he said.

“So if this was an effort to do away with that sanctions policy, that is obviously very significant that the President’s team, then-candidate Trump’s team, that contradicts of course what the President and his people have said about whether they’ve been meeting with any members of the Russian government,” he said.

Former Ethics lawyer for the Bush Administration  Richard Painter believes the news on Don Con Jr. “borders on treason”.

An ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush blasted Donald Trump Jr. for meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have compromising information on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the campaign, saying it “borders on treason.”

“This was an effort to get opposition research on an opponent in an American political campaign from the Russians, who were known to be engaged in spying inside the United States,” Richard Painter said Sunday on MSNBC.

“We do not get our opposition research from spies, we do not collaborate with Russian spies, unless we want to be accused of treason.”

Painter said the Bush administration would not have allowed the meeting, which was attended by Trump Jr., then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a White House senior adviser, to happen.

“If this story is true, we’d have one of them if not both of them in custody by now, and we’d be asking them a lot of questions,” he said. “This is unacceptable. This borders on treason, if it is not itself treason.”

Painter’s comments follow a Sunday report from The New York Times that Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer, who has ties to the Kremlin, came after the lawyer promised damaging information about Clinton.

He attended the meeting with the expectation that he would receive compromising information about Clinton, three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two other sources with knowledge of the matter told the Times.

Meanwhile, we learn exactly why Republicans are such idiots.  They’ve decided that colleges have a negative impact on the country. Can there be anything more pathetic than hating education because the facts continually prove you wrong?  I’d like to add that I think it’s the Churches attended by Republicans that have the worst impact on the country. Along with Fox News, they hash out more crap than pig eating prunes.

Republicans and Democrats offer starkly different assessments of the impact of several of the nation’s leading institutions – including the news media, colleges and universities and churches and religious organizations – and in some cases, the gap in these views is significantly wider today than it was just a year ago.PP_17.06.30_institutions_lede_party

While a majority of the public (55%) continues to say that colleges and universities have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days, Republicans express increasingly negative views.

A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year. By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.

The national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted June 8-18 among 2,504 adults, finds that partisan differences in views of the national news media, already wide, have grown even wider. Democrats’ views of the effect of the national news media have grown more positive over the past year, while Republicans remain overwhelmingly negative.

About as many Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents think the news media has a positive (44%) as negative (46%) impact on the way things are going in the country. The share of Democrats holding a positive view of the news media’s impact has increased 11 percentage points since last August (33%).

Republicans, by about eight-to-one (85% to 10%), say the news media has a negative effect. These views have changed little in the past few years.

Let’s hope our media gets and stays ‘woke’.

There’s more than Watergate that makes Kremlin Caligula Nixonion.  There’s his enemies list.

Donald Trump is less than six months into his presidency, yet one of the organizing principles of his political operation is already becoming clear: payback.

In private, Trump has spoken of spending $10 million out of his own pocket to defeat an incumbent senator of his own party, Jeff Flake of Arizona, according to two sources familiar with the conversation last fall. More recently, the president celebrated the attacks orchestrated by a White House-sanctioned outside group against another Republican senator, Dean Heller of Nevada, who has also been openly critical of him.

Fear of Trump reprisals has led one Republican congresswoman, Martha Roby of Alabama, to launch an intense campaign to win over a president who remembers every political slight — and especially those who abandoned him following the October release of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women.

At the time, Roby called Trump “unacceptable” and said she wouldn’t vote for him. But the president, who is popular in Alabama, ended up carrying her district by a wide margin. And since the inauguration, she has gone to the White House four times to attend Trump-hosted events and on two other occasions to meet with his daughter Ivanka. During the Rose Garden celebration following the House’s passage of the health care bill, the four-term congresswoman offered the president a personal compliment while shaking his hand: “Good job,” she told him, according to a source close to Roby who was briefed on the exchange.

White House officials have taken notice of Roby’s efforts to make amends and view her efforts with some skepticism. While in the Oval Office for a NASA bill signing in March, Roby sidled up next to Trump — putting her front-and-center for the photo-op. Behind her push for the president’s approval is a stark political reality: She is facing a fierce primary challenge from a Trump stalwart who has turned her past opposition to the president into the focal point of his campaign.

And now I need a shower …  but, I will leave you with a question from the brilliant Joy Reid.

 

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?