Thursday Reads: Happy Valentine’s Day

Les Pivoines 1907 par Henri Matisse

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sky Dancers!!

Andrew McCabe’s book The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump will be released on Tuesday, and he will be interviewed on 60 Minutes on Sunday night. This might be one 60 Minutes I decide to watch.

McCabe was deputy director of the FBI under James Comey and he became acting director after Trump fired Comey. Trump attacked McCabe repeatedly, and eventually succeeded in driving him out of office. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe one day before he could have retired with his full pension.

Today The Atlantic published an article adapted from McCabe’s book: Every Day Is a New Low in Trump’s White House.

On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, my first full day on the job as acting director of the FBI, I sat down with senior staff involved in the Russia case—the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. As the meeting began, my secretary relayed a message that the White House was calling. The president himself was on the line. I had spoken with him the night before, in the Oval Office, when he told me he had fired James Comey.

Bouquet on a Bamboo Table (1903) Henri Matisse

A call like this was highly unusual. Presidents do not, typically, call FBI directors. There should be no direct contact between the president and the director, except for national-security purposes. The reason is simple. Investigations and prosecutions need to be pursued without a hint of suspicion that someone who wields power has put a thumb on the scale.

The Russia team was in my office. I took the call on an unclassified line. That was another strange thing—the president was calling on a phone that was not secure. The voice on the other end said, It’s Don Trump calling. I said, Hello, Mr. President, how are you? Apart from my surprise that he was calling at all, I was surprised that he referred to himself as “Don.”

The president said, I’m good. You know—boy, it’s incredible, it’s such a great thing, people are really happy about the fact that the director’s gone, and it’s just remarkable what people are saying. Have you seen that? Are you seeing that, too?

He went on: I received hundreds of messages from FBI people—how happy they are that I fired him. There are people saying things on the media, have you seen that? What’s it like there in the building?

McCabe describes the reaction of FBI employees as one of shock and dismay. Trump then said he wanted to come to the FBI and “show all my FBI people how much I love them.” McCabe thought that was a terrible idea, but agreed to meet with Trump about it. Next, Trump:

Flowers and Fruit by Henri Matisse

…began to talk about how upset he was that Comey had flown home on his government plane from Los Angeles—Comey had been giving a speech there when he learned he was fired. The president wanted to know how that had happened.

I told him that bureau lawyers had assured me there was no legal issue with Comey coming home on the plane. I decided that he should do so. The existing threat assessment indicated he was still at risk, so he needed a protection detail. Since the members of the protection detail would all be coming home, it made sense to bring everybody back on the same plane they had used to fly out there. It was coming back anyway. The president flew off the handle: That’s not right! I don’t approve of that! That’s wrong! He reiterated his point five or seven times.

I said, I’m sorry that you disagree, sir. But it was my decision, and that’s how I decided. The president said, I want you to look into that! I thought to myself: What am I going to look into? I just told you I made that decision.

The ranting against Comey spiraled. I waited until he had talked himself out.

After that Trump taunted McCabe about his wife’s losing campaign for the Virginia Senate, asking McCabe, “How did she handle losing? Is it tough to lose?” and later saying “Yeah, that must’ve been really tough. To lose. To be a loser.”

I once had a boss who was a monstrous whack job like Trump. It was crazy-making. The entire department under this man functioned like an alcoholic family with an unpredictable, out-of-control father. You never knew what horrible thing would happen next. It was total chaos, as the White House seems to be. I’m glad McCabe is telling the truth about what he experienced.

Two more articles based on the McCabe book:

CBS News 60 Minutes: McCabe Says He Ordered the Obstruction of Justice Probe of President Trump.

The New York Times: McCabe Says Justice Officials Discussed Recruiting Cabinet Members to Push Trump Out of Office.

Bouquet of Flowers in a White Vase, 1909, by Henri Matisse

I expect Trump will be ranting about McCabe on Twitter and in the Oval Office, but he can’t do anything to shut McCabe up anymore.

Soon we’ll have a new U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, and already the corruption surrounding him has a very bad odor. CNN reports that Barr’s daughter and son-in-law are leaving the Justice Department for new jobs at FinCEN and the White House Counsel’s office respectively.

Mary Daly, Barr’s oldest daughter and the director of Opioid Enforcement and Prevention Efforts in the deputy attorney general’s office, is leaving for a position at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit, a Justice official said.

Tyler McGaughey, the husband of Barr’s youngest daughter, has been detailed from the powerful US attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, to the White House counsel’s office, two officials said.

It’s not clear if McGaughey’s switch is a result of Barr’s pending new role, and the kind of work he’ll be handling at the White House is not public knowledge.
Daly’s husband will remain in his position in the Justice Department’s National Security Division for now.

Henri Matisse: Les Anemones

The moves were by choice and are not required under federal nepotism laws, but Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, called them “a good idea” to “avoid the bad optics that could come from the appearance of them working for him.”
However, Shaub added that McGaughey’s detail to the White House counsel’s office was “concerning.”

“That’s troubling because it raises further questions about Barr’s independence,” Shaub said.

Read more at the CNN link.

If you listened to Rachel Maddow’s podcast about Spiro Agnew (or even if you didn’t) you should read this op-ed at The Washington Post by three attorneys who were involved in that corruption case: We should demand high standards from William Barr. Spiro Agnew’s case shows why, by Barnet D. Skolnik, Russell T. Baker Jr., and Ronald S. Liebman.

In the winter of 1973, 46 years ago, the three of us were assistant U.S. attorneys in Baltimore starting a federal grand jury investigation of a corrupt Democratic county chief executive in Maryland. That investigation ultimately led to the prosecution of his corrupt Republican predecessor — the man who went on to become the state’s governor and then President Richard M. Nixon’s vice president, Spiro T. Agnew.

On Oct. 10, 1973, Agnew entered a plea to a criminal tax felony for failure to report the hundreds of thousands of dollars he’d received in bribes and kickbacks as county executive, governor and even vice president. All paid in cash, $100 bills delivered in white envelopes.

And he resigned.

Henri Matisse. Vase of Irises. 1912

From the beginning of our investigation, months before we had seen any indication that he had taken kickbacks, Agnew, along with top White House and administration officials and even Nixon himself, repeatedly tried to impede, obstruct and terminate the investigation in nefarious ways. Some of those efforts were unknown to us then and have come to light only now thanks to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and her “Bagman” podcast.

When newspapers began to report that he was under criminal investigation in the summer of 1973, Agnew aroused his base by screaming “witch hunt” and launching a vicious assault on the “lying” press, the “partisan” Justice Department, and the “biased” and “liberal Democrat” prosecutors in Baltimore.

If Agnew and Nixon had succeeded in derailing our investigation, the most corrupt man ever to sit a heartbeat away might have become the president of our country when Nixon was forced to resign less than a year later. But our investigation was protected — first, by our staunch and courageous boss, the late George Beall, the U.S. attorney for Maryland and a prominent Maryland Republican, and second, by the man who had become the new U.S. attorney general that spring, Elliot L. Richardson.

The authors then go on to explain why Barr should not be confirmed unless he commits to releasing Robert Mueller’s findings to the public. Read the whole thing at the WaPo.

There is so much more news! Here are some links to check out:

Flowers by Henri Matisse

Just Security: Who is Richard Burr, Really? Why the public can’t trust his voice in the Russia probe. (This is an incredibly important story. Corruption is all around us.)

NBC News: ‘Whistleblower’ seeks protection after sounding alarm over White House security clearances.

Politico: Judge rules Manafort lied to Mueller about contacts with Russian.

The New York Times: House Votes to Halt Aid for Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen.

Gulf News: Trump backer Tom Barrack defends Saudi Arabia.

The Washington Post: Trump confidant Thomas Barrack apologizes for saying U.S. has committed ‘equal or worse’ atrocities to killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The New York Times: Maria Ressa, Philippine Journalist Critical of Rodrigo Duterte, Is Released After Arrest.

HuffPost: I Wish I’d Had A ‘Late-Term Abortion’ Instead Of Having My Daughter. (Trigger warning for rape description)

Vice: Being Raised by Two Narcissists Taught Me How to Deal with Trump.

The New York Times: Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price.

Contemptor: Fox News Rejects Commercial for Documentary that Says Nazis are Bad.

So . . . what stories have you been following?

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Lazy Caturday Reads: Crazy is Our Daily Reality Now

Good Afternoon!!

Paul Newman and his Burmese caat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carole Lombard with black cat

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see, what else is happening?

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

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

Steve McQueen and friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucille Ball with cat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marlon Brando and his cat

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

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

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

Marilyn Monroe

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

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

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

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

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

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

Meryl Streep

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

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

I found this on Twitter.

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

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

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

Mary Tyler Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lazy Caturday Reads

Catsquatch by Syama Golden

Good Morning!!

There is so much news this morning that it’s difficult to know what to focus on. I guess I’ll begin with the followup to the story Dakinikat wrote about in yesterday’s post–Trump’s horrifying decision to withdraw from the INF treaty. This was nothing but a gift to Trump’s puppet master Putin–did they coordinate this?

Associated Press: Russia to pull plug on nuclear arms pact after US does same.

MOSCOW (AP) — Following in the footsteps of the U.S., Russia will abandon a centerpiece nuclear arms treaty but will only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump accused Moscow on Friday of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with “impunity” by deploying banned missiles. Trump said in a statement that the U.S. will “move forward” with developing its own military response options to Russia’s new land-based cruise missiles that could target Western Europe.

By Alfonso Rocchi

The collapse of the INF Treaty has raised fears of a repeat of a Cold War showdown in the 1980s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent. Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing as they only take a few minutes to reach their targets, leaving no time for decision-makers and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.

After the U.S. gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the treaty in six months, Putin said that Russia would do the same. He ordered the development of new land-based intermediate-range weapons, but emphasized that Russia won’t deploy them in the European part of the country or elsewhere unless the U.S. does so.

“We will respond quid pro quo,” Putin said. “Our American partners have announced they were suspending their participation in the treaty and will do the same. They have announced they will conduct research and development, and we will act accordingly.”

“Quid pro quo?” Is that shade from Putin? Because it’s obvious as this point that Trump is checking off everything on Putin’s wish list in order to repay him for the 2016 election and likely promises that he’ll eventually get that Trump Tower in Moscow.

And it’s not just the 2016 election. Natasha has a revealing post up at The Atlantic this morning on Robert Mueller’s latest court filing: Russia Is Attacking the U.S. System From Within.

new court filing submitted on Wednesday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed that a Russian troll farm currently locked in a legal battle over its alleged interference in the 2016 election appeared to wage yet another disinformation campaign late last year—this time targeting Mueller himself.

Didier Lourenço Lithograph, 2012

According to the filing, the special counsel’s office turned over one million pages of evidence to lawyers for Concord Management and Consulting as part of the discovery process. The firm is accused of funding the troll farm, known as the Internet Research Agency. But someone connected to Concord allegedly manipulated and leaked those documents to reporters, hoping the documents would make people think that Mueller’s evidence against the troll farm and its owners was flimsy. The tactic didn’t seem to convince anyone, but it appeared to mark yet another example of Russia exploiting the U.S. justice system to undercut its rivals abroad….

When Mueller indicted Concord Management and Consulting in February 2018, along with two other corporate entities and 13 Russian nationals allegedly connected to the Internet Research Agency, it seemed highly unlikely that the indictment would result in a trial because Russians cannot be extradited to the United States. But Concord unexpectedly hired the well-connected American law firm, Reed Smith, to fight Mueller, arguing that the charges should be dropped because the special counsel was illegally appointed. The judge in the case, Dabney Friedrich, has twice refused to dismiss the case and recently lambasted Concord’s American  lawyers for submitting “unprofessional, inappropriate and ineffective” court filings, and the legal battle has raged on.

Now, according to the Mueller filing this week, unidentified actors working out of Russia appear to have weaponize the U.S. discovery process to Concord’s benefit. Over 1,000 files on the website that hosted the leaked documents “match those produced in discovery,” the special counsel said.  The documents were published from a computer with a Russian IP address, according to Mueller, and whoever released them clearly “had access to at least some of the non-sensitive discovery produced by the government.” But forged documents were mixed in to the trove, too, apparently in an attempt to accuse Mueller of characterizing American websites and Facebook pages like Occupy Democrats as Russian disinformation operations. The website also inserted irrelevant documents into the unique folder names—known only to those with access to the discovery materials—and characterized them as the sum-total of Mueller’s evidence “in an apparent effort to discredit the investigation,” the special counsel said.

It’s complicated, so I hope you’ll go read the rest at The Atlantic.

Girl With a Cat, 2012, by Ju Hong Chen

Yesterday, the The Virginian-Pilot broke the news that Governor Ralph Northam included a racist photo of himself and another man in his medical school yearbook. I’m not going to post the photo; I’m sure you’ve seen it by now.

Ralph Northam admits he’s in “clearly racist” photo; vows to serve out term amid calls for resignation.

A photo from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook shows him and another person in racist costumes — one wearing blackface and one a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood, though it was not clear which person was the future governor.

Hours after the 35-year-old photo came to light Friday, Northam apologized for his decision to appear in it. Elected officials and activist groups from across the political spectrum called for him to resign.

But in a video posted to Twitter Friday evening, Northam said he had spent the past year “fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people” and he would continue to do so throughout the rest of his term, which ends in January 2022.

Northam admitted that he appears in the photo, but for some reason did not say which of the costumed men he is. It’s obvious he is going to have to step down, but as of this morning he’s apparently still hanging on. Multiple Democratic politicians, including former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe have called for his resignation.

Shortly after this news broke, CBS New reported that the yearbook also lists a racist nickname for Northam, who was 25 years old at the time.

CBS News uncovered a page from Northam’s yearbook at the Virginia Military Institute that had nicknames listed underneath his name. One of them was “Coonman,” a racial slur.

Woman with a black cat, by Pablo Picasso

Northam has to go, but the upside of this is that his Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax is a rising star and would be Virginia’s second black governor if Northam resigns. The Washington Post:

Justin Fairfax is an Ivy League-educated lawyer descended from slaves, who as lieutenant governor of Virginia was known mostly for sitting out tributes to Confederate leaders in the historic Capitol in Richmond.

He could now become the commonwealth’s 74th governor, if fellow Democrat Ralph Northam resigns over a racist photo he included in his medical school yearbook in 1984.

Fairfax, 39, was elected as Northam’s deputy in the 2017 blue wave in which Democrats won all three statewide offices and picked up 15 seats in the House of Delegates.

He would be the second African American governor of Virginia, following L. Douglas Wilder, who held the office from 1990 to 1994. Only two other African Americans have been governors in modern U.S. history.

Read more about Northam’s background at the WaPo. Also check out this powerful piece at the Root: Justin Fairfax, The King of Confederate Shade, Shuts Down 100-Year Tribute to American Traitors.

For more than 100 years, the Virginia State Senate has had a little tradition, where they honor Confederate “heroes” Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee at the close of a Senate session sometime near the birthdays of two men. Now if you didn’t take Treason 101 in high school, you probably missed the part where Jackson and Lee were part of the Confederacy that broke away from the United States and started the Civil War by firing on Fort Sumter. Perhaps you also didn’t learn that Robert E. Lee, as head of the Confederate Army, is responsible for more American deaths than the Nazis, The Vietcong, ISIS, the LAPD, Cobra, Hydra, and high blood pressure.

The point is, at the time and by modern standards, Jackson and Lee were horrible men. They also happen to have birthdays very close to each other (Jackson, January 21; Lee, January 19) and Jackson occasionally shares a birthday with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

By François Batet 1921

Consequently, for years, on or around the birthdays of these two Confederates, a member of the Virginia Senate would announce, “I would like to adjourn in honor of General Lee or Stonewall Jackson.”

The Senate would agree, someone would take the podium to speak a couple of words, and then everyone would break for orange slices and Mint Julip Capri-Suns. All of this has gone off without a hitch for decades, even after the first African Americans got elected to the Virginia Senate; even after the state adopted the ridiculous Lee-Jackson-King Holiday from 1984 to 2000; even after Virginia elected its first black governor, Doug Wilder, from 1990-1994. However, Justin Fairfax didn’t come to Richmond to play footsie with Confederates and he is very much his great-grandfather’s child….

Since being elected Lt. Governor of Virginia in 2017, Fairfax has served as the president of the state Senate and has quietly left the podium whenever state senators have attempted to honor Stonewall or Lee at the end of the session. He did it last Friday when a Republican senator stepped up to honor Robert E. Lee. The reasons are obvious. First, no one should be honoring American traitors in a government building, no matter where that traitor was born. Secondly, Justin Fairfax, a man who literally took his oath of office with his three-greats-ago grandfather’s Freedom papers in his pocket, knows history and knows power.

It sounds like Fairfax would do just fine as governor; he was expected to run in 2021 after Northam completed his term-limited governorship anyway.

I’m post a few more important reads in the comment thread, but I want to call attention to this one from Raw Story: ‘Incredibly dangerous’: Yale psychiatrist warns Trump will resort to ‘extreme measures’ as Mueller closes in.

‘La Sieste’ by Magalie Bucher

On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared that he was not concerned about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

He claimed that departing Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein had told him he was not a person of interest in the investigation.

“He told the attorneys that I’m not a subject, I’m not a target,” Mr. Trump told the New York Times.

Nevertheless, the probe seems to be circling closer to the president and his family. The arrest of long-time Trump ally Roger Stone—and wording in his indictment that suggested he’d been directed to perform criminal acts by a more senior campaign official—spurred discussion that Donald Trump Jr. or even Trump himself would be implicated in Stone’s alleged crimes.

Trump also told the Times that he would build a wall along the Southwest border with Mexico regardless of Congress.

Raw Story spoke with Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee about how the latest developments are likely to impact the president. Lee’s views are her own, not a reflection of Yale’s position.

I hope you’ll go read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

Bandy X. Lee: His anxieties are palpable, as he resorts to more and more extreme measures and unreal justifications for building a wall. We had the extended shutdown that put us at real security risk, according to the FBI, and declaring a national emergency is a very real possibility.

He needs to maintain his shrinking base as well as to give himself a sense of victory, and he will go to all lengths to achieve it. What concerns me, however, is our own lack of readiness for when the real crisis comes. As a nation, we continue merely to react, while dangers escalate, and underestimate the profound effects that mental instability can have.

With all the negative news for Mr. Trump, “rational” people may feel relief, as he is finally held to account, but while being driven to a corner, the president’s only desperate remaining diversion may be war. Forces around the globe—the Israelis and the Saudis, for example—want that for their own reasons, and with a foreign policy team that now reflects his psychology, times could turn incredibly dangerous.

What stories have you been following?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Pelosi Wiped the Floor with Trump and Roger Stone is Going Down

Albrecht Durer, Hare and Cat

Good Afternoon!

The artwork in today’s post is by Svetlana Petrova of Fat Cat Art. “I insert my ginger cat into famous paintings.”

Yesterday was quite a day. We saw Trump fold like a cheap suit in the face of Nancy Pelosi’s determined refusal to give in to his childish tantrums and, thanks to CNN, we saw Roger Stone frogmarched by FBI agents who weren’t getting paid because of Trump’s government shutdown.

The word of the day was “cave,” and Merriam-Webster wondered why so many people had to look up it’s meaning.

What does cave mean?

Cave is defined as “a natural chamber or series of chambers in the earth or in the side of a hill.” But that’s of course just the noun version. The one seemingly being used by every headline writer on the Internet right now is the verb sense defined as “to cease to resist; to submit.”

Cave has been used since the early 19th century in the “submit” sense, and there is evidence of its application in political matters shortly thereafter.

The genuine Douglas Democracy will not support it, but we see that a few shilly wally politicians are caving in.
— The Shippenberg News (Shippenberg, PA), 7 May 1859

Yes, he caved.

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street Rainy Day

The Daily Beast: Trump Caves, Ends Longest Government Shutdown in History Without His Precious Wall.

President Donald Trump agreed on Friday to fund the government without money for his much-desired border wall, effectively bringing an end to the longest shutdown in American history.

The deal extends funding for the government at current levels until February 15  and include a “vehicle” for lawmakers to begin discussions between the two congressional chambers over a larger bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security and border security specifically.

The president presented the end result was a triumph for his administration, insisting that Democrats had come to his position on the need for a border barrier (they hadn’t)….

Though Trump spoke defiantly, the consensus view from officials of both parties on Capitol Hill was the Trump’s clock had been cleaned. The president had insisted to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that he would not sign any bill to open the government that did not include $5.7 billion in wall funding. But amid sagging poll numbers and partial closures of critical government functions—including, on Friday morning, flights in and out of LaGuardia Airport in New York—Trump committed on Friday to doing just that.

Please keep reading for Nancy Pelosi’s characterizations of Trump and Senate Republicans. Here’s just a sample:

Pelosi was also critical of Republican lawmakers for letting the situation get to its current point. In particular, she singled out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who had insisted it was pointless to move any government funding measure through the Senate if Trump had not committed to signing it—including reintroducing a clean funding bill that the Senate had overwhelming backed in December.

“I know he is a professional,” Pelosi said of McConnell. “So It is particularly painful to see him kowtowing to the president of the United States. And I said to him, ‘Do you just want to abolish the Congress or maybe just the United States Senate? Because that is effectively what you’re doing.’”

Asked what McConnell said in response, Pelosi replied: “What does he ever say? Nothing.”

Also from The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky writes: Trump’s Zombies Applaud as He Lights Himself on Fire.

Donald Trump is in this so far above his head he’s like Danny DeVito in the Lakers’ locker room. To extend the metaphor, Nancy Pelosi is LeBron, and Chuck Schumer is, uh, whoever their second-best player is these days. But the two of them, Pelosi in particular, have just made the president of the United States look like 1) a fool and 2) a moral eunuch, which you might say shouldn’t be hard, because he is obviously both of those things, but he is the president and he has the bully pulpit and all that, along with a propaganda network that every night tells millions of Americans that he farts roses, so actually it is kind of hard, what they did.

Trump looked so terrible at that Rose Garden… well, it wasn’t a press conference. It wasn’t exactly a speech, either. Event. Of course he had his goons around, so that when he said right off the bat that there was a deal to end the shutdown, we heard applause. Applause! Can you imagine?

He just got taken to the house and forced to humiliate himself on national television, and these zombies applaud? He singlehandedly shut down the government. Cost hundreds of thousands of people their paychecks through his bluster and buffoonery. Sent air-traffic controllers who already work hellish 50- and 60-hour weeks out to find part-time work. And they applaud?

Then he just carried on and on and on, well past the point that most Americans might actually have been listening. Okay, dude, you lost. We got it. Now you’re still going to make us listen to all this word-salad of yours about left turns and right turns and women with duct tape? Where did that come from? Probably some TV movie he watched. Or maybe James Woods told him.

Read the rest at the link.

Adam Davidson at The New Yorker: Robert Mueller Got Roger Stone.

On Friday morning, Roger Stone, President Trump’s longtime political adviser and ally, who has been a fixture in Republican politics since the Nixon Administration, was arrested by the F.B.I. The office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, issued a seven-count indictment, which charges Stone with obstruction of an official proceeding, false statements, and witness tampering. It also makes the case that Stone acted as a conduit of information between the Trump campaign and Julian Assange as Assange’s organization, WikiLeaks, released e-mails that the Russian government had stolen from the Democratic Party and members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in an effort to help Trump win the Presidential election.

The charges stem not from the original acts themselves but from Stone’s alleged lies about them. In September, 2017, Stone testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that he had “no e-mails, no texts, no documents whatsoever” or any other materials that discussed hacked documents or conversations about Assange. As in the case of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager (and Stone’s former business partner), and that of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, we see that it is not wise to lie when asked, under oath, if you have any specific e-mails and texts. Once again, the government had all the incriminating receipts.

Perhaps the most surprising detail of the indictment is that Stone, a famous braggart, often downplayed the significance of his role as a conduit between the Trump campaign and Assange. He was not, as he has previously said, simply guessing and making vague predictions about the actions WikiLeaks was likely to take; he was an active participant in its attempts to cause chaos in the 2016 Presidential election. In texts sent on or about October 2, 2016, Stone expressed confusion that WikiLeaks had not released e-mails related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as he had expected. That same day, he sent an e-mail to a friend, who is identified in the indictment as Person 2 and appears to be the radio host Randy Credico, with the subject line “WTF?,” in which he asked why Assange had cancelled a press conference.

The first week of October, 2016, was a crucial one for the Trump campaign and for the country. Trump was trailing Clinton by about four points in the polls, and the conventional wisdom was that he had no chance of winning the Presidency. In the e-mails quoted in the indictment, Stone began that week by complaining that a high-ranking official on Trump’s campaign wouldn’t return his calls. By October 4th, the official—who has been identified by CNBC and in previous reporting by the Times as Steve Bannon, who was the head of Trump’s campaign at the time—had contacted Stone directly, asking when Assange planned his next e-mail release. Stone reassured him that Assange would release “a load every week going forward.” On October 7th—shortly after the Washington Post published the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump brags about sexually assaulting women—Assange began releasing e-mails stolen from Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta. An unnamed associate of Bannon wrote, in a text to Stone, “well done.”

Read the whole thing at The New Yorker.

At The Washington Post, John Podesta gets his revenge: John Podesta: It might now be Roger Stone’s time in the barrel.

Despite my Italian roots, vengeance doesn’t run deep in my veins. But I admit I smiled when Roger Stone’s arrest was announced Friday morning.

To give some context: On Oct. 7, 2016, WikiLeaks began leaking emails from my personal inbox that had been hacked by Russian intelligence operatives. A few days earlier, Stone — a longtime Republican operative and close confidant of then-candidate Donald Trump — had mysteriously predicted that the organization would reveal damaging information about the Clinton campaign. And weeks before that, he’d even tweeted: “Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

Stone’s connection with and boasting about WikiLeaks during the campaign has always been fishy. But thanks to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, the truth is finally coming out. Friday’s indictment alleges that a senior campaign official “was directed” (and by whom?) to contact Stone about the WikiLeaks releases even after it was widely reported that they were a Russian hacking operation.

Revenge aside, the accusations against Stone are serious. He faces a seven-count indictment: five counts of false statements, one count of obstruction and one count of witness tampering.

The details of the indictment are devastating and, characteristically of Stone, quite colorful. According to the filing, Stone emailed a confederate labeled “Person 2” (identified by the media as radio host Randy Credico) to dissuade him from testifying truthfully about WikiLeaks before the House Intelligence Committee: “You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends-run your mouth my lawyers are dying Rip you to shreds” and “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die [expletive].” Stone instructs Person 2 to do a “Frank Pentangeli” — a character from “The Godfather Part II” who famously lies to congressional investigators — and, my nostalgic favorite, Stone paraphrases a quote from President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate coverup: “Stonewall it. Plead the Fifth. Anything to save the plan.”

Read more at the WaPo.

More stories to check out, links only:

The New York Times: Trump and His Associates Had More Than 100 Contacts With Russians Before the Inauguration.

The Washington Post: ‘Prisoner of his own impulse’: Inside Trump’s reversal to end shutdown without wall.

The Washington Post Editorial Board: The shutdown was proof of Trump’s stark incapacity for leadership.

Harry Enten at CNN: The numbers show Trump lost the shutdown and Pelosi won.

Jim Newell at Slate: The Pelosi Method.

Harry Cheadle at Vice: Nancy Pelosi Mopped the Floor with Trump.

Just Security: Roger Stone Indictment Implicates Trump Campaign in Election Law Violations.

Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast: ‘I Will Piss on Your Grave’: Emails Reveal Roger Stone’s Abuse of Frenemy Randy Credico.

Emptywheel: Things Not Said In Roger Stone’s Indictment: “Trump Directed” and Other More Damning Details.

Bloomberg: Roger Stone Draws the Judge Who Threw Paul Manafort in Jail.

Ben Zimmer at Politico: Roger Stone and ‘Ratf—ing’: A Short History.

Chuck Rosenberg at Lawfare: Roger Stone’s Arrest Was Appropriate, Not Heavy-Handed.

That’s it for me today. What stories are you following?

 


Tuesday Reads: Hugs Help

Good Morning!!

Besides being the official celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, yesterday was National Hugging Day. I’m using that as an excuse to post pictures of creatures hugging each other in today’s post. From Psychology Today: National Hugging Day: Five Scientific Facts About Hugging, by Sebastian Ocklenburg. Excerpts:

No one knows exactly when the first hug occurred between two human beings, but we do know that hugs have been in the human behavioral repertoire for at least several thousand years. In 2007, a team of archeologist discovered the so-called “Lovers of Valdaro” in a Neolithic Tomb near Mantua in Italy (Stewart, 2007). The lovers are a pair of human skeletons that have been buried holding each other in a tight embrace (see Figure 1). They have been determined to be approximately 6000 years old, so we know for sure that people already hugged each other in Neolithic times….

When we hug, we wrap our arms around another person. Typically, we lead the hug with one arm. A German study in which I was a co-author analyzed whether people preferentially hug with their left or their right arm (Packheiser et al., 2018). In this study, we observed hugging couples at the arrivals or departure lounges at international airports and also analyzed videos of people who blindfold themselves and let strangers hug them on the street. We found that overall, most people hugged to the right….

A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.

A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.”

Here’s another piece by Ocklenburg on the ways that hugging increases well being. It turns out that hugging can reduce your chances of getting a cold, lower your blood pressure, and improve your mood.

So as we go into day 4 of the MAGA teens story and day 32 of the government shutdown, remember that hugs can help.

The New York Times: Government Shutdown: Updates on Where Things Stand.

It has been a month since the first day of the government shutdown.

Furloughed federal employees have started part-time jobs with delivery and ride-hailing apps and applied for other opportunities, such as yoga-instructor positions, to try to make ends meet without a government paycheck.

Some of the most vulnerable Americans — including the homeless, the elderly and people one crisis away from the streets — are feeling the burden. Without payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nonprofit groups that support low-income renters are also struggling. Many other social safety net programs are facing similar crises.

As a bone-chilling flash freeze swept through the Midwest and Northeast over the holiday weekend, hundreds of thousands of federal workers remain furloughed, and some continued to work without pay, including forecasters at the National Weather Service. Veterans of the emergency management field are worried about longer-term trouble, too.

Government workers are suffering.

When it began, the shutdown left about 800,000 federal workers without pay, with just over half continuing to work, including members of the Coast Guard and food safety inspectors. The number of people working has grown as the Trump administration reinterprets longstanding rules, often to the benefit of the president’s base.

Some of the employees who still have to report to work during the shutdown spoke with The New York Times about their experiences….

Many federal workers have filed for unemployment benefits. In Washington, local programs have sprouted up to support the city’s large, struggling federal work force. Nationally, an informal network of businesses has also mobilized to ease the pain.

The article notes that we are approaching the point when the federal courts will run out of money, and the economy is beginning to feel effects. Frankly, with Trump calling even more people back to work without pay, this is starting to feel criminal–it’s forced labor.

The shutdown is impeding law enforcement. No wonder Trump likes it.

Just one story on the MAGA teen Nick Sandmann from The Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville PR firm played a key role in Covington Catholic controversy. The firm is Run/Switch, and one of its partners is Scott Jennings, who is a paid commentator on CNN and also writes a column for the Courier Journal! From the article:

Lion rescued as a cub hugs her rescuer.

RunSwitch partners Steve Bryant and Gary Gerdemann said that Sandmann family asked people they knew over the weekend about getting help with handling the media.

“They reached out to our firm, and we responded,” said Bryant, adding that the business specializes in crisis management “all over the country.”

Scott Jennings, a conservative political commentator and a columnist for the Courier Journal, is the third partner in RunSwitch.

I’ve seen Jennings on CNN and interestingly, he routinely wears a smirk just like the one we all saw on Nick Sandmann’s face. Jennings smirks as other people are talking, no matter what is being said, and then he smirks as he defends whatever Trumpian thing is being discussed during his appearance. I find him utterly repulsive and infuriating.

So why was Jake Tapper the first shitty media man to tweet out the poor little Nick’s PR statement?

So Jennings worked for Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell too. How not surprising. I remember when CNN was a serious news channel, but now it’s just a Fox News wannabe that hires people like Oliver Darcy and Kaitlin Collins away from right wing sites (The Blaze and The Daily Caller respectively).

But I’ll move on to other news. This depressing story broke this morning. The Washington Post: Supreme Court allows Trump restrictions on transgender troops in military to go into effect as legal battle continues.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed President Trump’s broad restrictions on transgender people serving in the military to go into effect while the legal battle continues in lower courts.

Rescued Kangaroo hugs rescuer.

The justices lifted nationwide injunctions that had kept the administration’s policy from being implemented.

It reversed an Obama-administration rule that would have opened the military to transgender men and women, and instead barred those who identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth and who are seeking to transition.

The court’s five conservatives–Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh–allowed the restrictions to go into effect while tIhe court decides to whether to consider the merits of the case.

The liberal justices–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan–would have kept the injunctions in place.

I feel nauseated.

From The New York Times last night: Deripaska and Allies Could Benefit From Sanctions Deal, Document Shows.

When the Trump administration announced last month that it was lifting sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, it cast the move as tough on Russia and on the oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted.

Sea hugs baby seal toy

But a binding confidential document signed by both sides suggests that the agreement the administration negotiated with the companies controlled by the oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, may have been less punitive than advertised.

The deal contains provisions that free him from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while leaving him and his allies with majority ownership of his most important company, the document shows.

With the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election continuing to shadow President Trump, the administration’s decision to lift sanctions on Mr. Deripaska’s companies has become a political flash point. House Democrats won widespread Republican support last week for their efforts to block the sanctions relief deal. Democratic hopes of blocking the administration’s decision have been stifled by the Republican-controlled Senate.

From ABC News: US banker with ties to Putin’s inner circle sought access to Trump transition: Sources.

Nine days after Donald Trump won the presidency, as scores of supporters clamored for meetings with his transition team, the Hollywood producer of “The Apprentice,” Mark Burnett, reached out to one of Trump’s closest advisers to see if he would sit down with a banker who has long held ties to Russia.

The banker, Robert Foresman, never got the role he was seeking with the fledgling Trump administration. But he has recently attracted the attention of congressional investigators as one more name on an expanding list of Americans with established ties inside the Kremlin who appears to have been seeking access to the newly elected president’s inner circle, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Foresman, who is now vice chairman of the Swiss bank UBS’s investment arm, lived for years in Moscow, where he led a $3 billion Russian investment fund and was touted by his new company as someone who maintains connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Reached by phone, Foresman declined to comment. Attorneys he has hired, including one in Washington who was hired to deal with the congressional probe, also declined to discuss the matter.

One more and then I’ll wrap this up. Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: The GOP has become the Soviet party.

Once upon a time, Ayn Rand-reading, red-baiting Republicans denounced Soviet Russia as an evil superpower intent on destroying the American way of life.

My, how things have changed.

The Grand Old Party has quietly become the pro-Russia party — and not only because the party’s standard-bearer seems peculiarly enamored of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Republican leadership, the United States is starting to look an awful lot like the failed Soviet system the party once stood unified against.

Supposedly middle-class workers — people who have government jobs that are supposed to be stable and secure — are waiting in bread lines. Thanks to government dysfunction and mismanagement, those employed in the private sector may also be going hungry, since 2,500 vendors nationwide are unable to participate in the food stamp program while the government is shuttered and unable to renew licenses for the Electronic Benefit Transfer debit card program.

Why? Because of the whims of a would-be autocrat who cares more about erecting an expensive monument to his own campaign rhetoric than about the pain and suffering of the little people he claims to champion.

And for now, at least, most of those little people are too frightened of the government’s wrath to fight back overtly. Instead, desperate to keep jobs that might someday offer them a paycheck again, the proletariat protest in more passive ways: by calling in sick in higher numbers.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Now, what stories have you been following? Please share in the comment thread below.


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

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, you have,” Cuomo said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the shocker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

More stories to check out:

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

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

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

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

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

CNN: Trump is fraying nerves inside the Pentagon.

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

So . . . what stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Having a childish, incompetent madman in charge of the government is so exhausting. How much more of this can we take? Today, Donnie is headed for the Texas border with Mexico to do something or other. Who knows what insane gibberish will spew from his deformed lips. All I know for sure is that it won’t make sense.

Donnie has been touting his “steel slat” fence for the past week, but guess what? Those slats can be cut through with a common household saw.

NBC News: Test of steel prototype for border wall showed it could be sawed through.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated for a steel slat design for his border wall, which he described as “absolutely critical to border security” in his Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday. But Department of Homeland Security testing of a steel slat prototype proved it could be cut through with a saw, according to a report by DHS.

A photo exclusively obtained by NBC News shows the results of the test after military and Border Patrol personnel were instructed to attempt to destroy the barriers with common tools.

The Trump administration directed the construction of eight steel and concrete prototype walls that were built in Otay Mesa, California, just across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. Trump inspected the prototypes in March 2018. He has now settled on a steel slat, or steel bollard, design for the proposed border barrier additions. Steel bollard fencing has been used under previous administrations.

However, testing by DHS in late 2017 showed all eight prototypes, including the steel slats, were vulnerable to breaching, according to an internal February 2018 U.S. Customs and Border Protection report.

Photos of the breaches were not included in a redacted version of the CBP report, which was first obtained in a Freedom of Information Act Request by San Diego public broadcaster KPBS.

Gail Collins mocks Donnie’s wall obsession at The New York Times: Trump Hits the Wall. And what’s all that sniffling about?

We need to look at the bright side of Donald Trump’s border wall fixation.

Sure, he’s shut down the government and thrown the nation into chaos. But it could be worse. He could be demanding a fiery moat between us and Canada. Or building a 36,000-foot-deep barrier across the Pacific Ocean to drive home his commitment to tariffs.

See? There’s always a silver lining.

On Trump’s strange oval office address:

Maybe all this wall obsessing makes Trump tired. He certainly seemed low-energy during his Oval Office address. “He makes Jeb Bush look like a combination of Mighty Mouse and Bruce Springsteen,” a friend of mine said after the president finished his nine-minute speech to the American people.

For every viewer whose response to the talk was “Wow, we should do something about immigration!” there must have been a hundred whose first reaction was “Why does this man keep sniffing?” Deviated septum? Nasal polyps? Trump’s breathing has actually sounded strange for a long time, but most of us have chosen to ignore it rather than engage in a national conversation about the president’s nose.

If you watched the address — and really, you could have, it was only about as long as it takes to microwave popcorn — you saw a 72-year-old guy squinting at the teleprompter and making rather alarming breathing sounds while reading a speech about how we need a wall to protect women who are “sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico.”

This is not a man who should wrap his arguments around the idea of protecting women from sexual assault. But also, gee, he sounded like Uncle Fred who you haven’t seen for a while and suddenly he shows up for Thanksgiving with weird colored hair and vacant eyes and he’s talking into his mashed potatoes.

As the Trump shutdown continues, the administration has been giving tone-deaf advice to government employees who are going without pay.

The Washington Post: Coast Guard families told they can have garage sales to cope with government shutdown.

Employees of the U.S. Coast Guard who are facing a long U.S. government shutdown just received a suggestion: To get by without pay, consider holding a garage sale, babysitting, dog-walking or serving as a “mystery shopper.”

The suggestions were part of a five-page tip sheet published by the Coast Guard Support Program, an employee-assistance arm of the service often known as CG SUPRT. It is designated to offer Coast Guard members help with mental-health issues or other concerns about their lives, including financial wellness.

“Bankruptcy is a last option,” the document said.

The Coast Guard receives funding from the Department of Homeland Security and is subjected to the shuttering of parts of the government along with DHS’s other agencies. That stands in contrast to other military services, which are part of the Defense Department and have funding.

This is interesting, from Buzzfeed News: ICE Might Be Violating Federal Law By Keeping Immigrants Detained During The Shutdown.

A lengthy government shutdown over border wall funding has potentially put Immigration and Customs Enforcement at risk of violating a more than 100-year-old law that could not only require the release of “non-dangerous” individuals in the agency’s custody but also stop it from continuing to arrest and detain certain people, according to former senior ICE officials and experts.

The potential violation could complicate ICE’s operations at a time when President Donald Trump has argued that the shutdown is necessary to force Democrats to implement tougher immigration policies, such as building a wall on the US–Mexico border.

ICE contracts with nonfederal detention facilities, like county jails and private detention contractors, across the country to hold individuals detained by immigration agents. The agency pays for the bed space in various ways, including monthly payments or, in some cases, in advance.

As of Jan. 1, the agency was detaining more than 48,000 individuals, which is 8,000 more than the levels that had been provided for by the now-expired congressional funding. But nearly three weeks after its funding lapsed because of the shutdown, ICE has likely run out of money to pay contractors for the detention space it uses.

And while ICE has some non-appropriated funds it can lean on, those are not enough to pay for the overall detention space for more than a few weeks, said Kevin Landy, who was appointed during the Obama administration to run ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning, a position he held for more than six years, up until 2017.

In other news, Kamala Harris is close to announcing a run for president in 2020.

KCBS Radio: Kamala Harris Ready To Enter Race For President, Sources Say.

Sen. Kamala Harris has decided to run for president in 2020 and will announce her candidacy on or around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, probably at a campaign rally in Oakland, sources close to the freshman senator from California tell KCBS Radio.

Harris, 54, has been making the rounds of television talk shows and appearing at several events this week as part of a brief tour to promote her new book, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.”

At every stop, when asked about running for president, Harris has answered with some variation of “I’m not ready yet” to announce her decision, citing family considerations. But several sources knowledgeable about her plans say she is ready, and has in fact decided to run, with the enthusiastic blessing of her husband and two stepchildren.

The debate within her camp is how, and where, to launch her campaign. The tentative plan is for Harris to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination with a campaign rally, most likely in Oakland, where she was born and began her legal career.

And the media continues to belatedly vet Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign. Politico: Top Bernie Sanders 2016 adviser accused of forcibly kissing subordinate.

On the final night of the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016, Bernie Sanders’ staffers went out to a Mediterranean restaurant and hookah bar in Center City Philadelphia to celebrate and mourn the end of the campaign.

Sitting at the bar sometime after midnight, convention floor leader Robert Becker—who oversaw Sanders’ Iowa campaign, then helped lead his efforts in Michigan, California, and New York as deputy national field director—began talking with a female staffer who had worked under him along with her boyfriend.

Becker, now 50 years old, told the 20-something woman that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a reference to riding his “pole,” according to the woman and three other people who witnessed what happened or were told about it shortly afterward by people who did. Later in the night, Becker approached the woman and abruptly grabbed her wrists. Then he moved his hands to her head and forcibly kissed her, putting his tongue in her mouth as he held her, the woman and other sources said.

The woman said she didn’t come forward at the time, because Sanders’ campaign was over. But when she was recently contacted by Becker about 2020 the women felt she had to speak up.

“Candidates who allow people like Robert Becker to lead their organizations shouldn’t earn the highest office in our government,” said the woman, who was granted anonymity because she feared retaliation from supporters of Sanders and Becker, who has a loyal following of his own.

“It just really sucks because no one ever held him accountable and he kept pushing and pushing and seeing how much he could get away with. This can’t happen in 2020. You can’t run for President of the United States unless you acknowledge that every campaign demands a safe work environment for every employee and volunteer.”