Where to begin? Each day since the 2016 election brings with it more insanity, more chaos, more despair. What are we to do with a president-elect who is utterly unqualified for the office as well as shockingly dishonest and seemingly mentally incompetent? We are headed into dangerous waters in a ship with no captain.
Yesterday Donald Trump held his first press conference since last July, and it was a doozy. Dan Balz at The Washington Post: After an aggressive news conference, questions linger about Trump’s readiness.
President-elect Donald Trump’s first news conference in six months was a vintage performance. He was self-assured, aggressive, combative, at times willing to offend and at times trying to sound conciliatory. What it added up to was a reminder of the challenges he will face in gaining and maintaining full public trust once he is sworn in as president.
No president in memory has come to the brink of his inauguration with such a smorgasbord of potential problems and unanswered questions, or with the level of public doubts that exist around his leadership. Though he dealt with the issues directly on Wednesday, what he could not answer — what he cannot answer until he is in the Oval Office — is whether he can avoid having these kinds of questions plague and possibly debilitate his presidency over the next four years.
Trump and his advisers have dismissed much of the pre-inaugural controversy as part of an effort to delegitimize his election victory and undermine his presidency even before he takes office. Still, the questions swirling around him as he came to the lobby of Trump Tower were an unprecedented mixture of the personal, the financial and the substantive.
Has he been compromised by the Russians, the most explosive and newest of allegations? (He denied all as fake news.) Are he and his party in conflict over U.S.-Russia relations? Will he truly separate himself from his sprawling business empire in a way that avoids conflicts of interest? Can he and Congress find common ground on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act? Will he live up to the promises he made as a candidate?
The news conference put on display everything the country has come to recognize in Trump from the presidential campaign….Right from the start, he swung back hard against salacious and unsubstantiated claims of personal misbehavior contained in a document prepared by a former Western intelligence officer and now in the hands of the federal government. He aggressively chastised BuzzFeed for publishing the entire document online and CNN for promoting the story about its existence (though CNN did not publish the document).
BTW, Trump referred to Buzzfeed as a “failing pile of garbage.” The site is now selling T-shirts and limited edition trash cans bearing Trump’s words.
One of the stranger moments in Wednesday’s deeply strange Donald Trump press conference came when the president-elect got into a shouting match with CNN’s Jim Acosta, who was trying to ask him a question.
Earlier in the presser — his first one since July — Trump had attacked CNN for disseminating “fake news” because it broke the story that both the sitting president and the president-elect had been briefed on allegations that Russia has “compromising personal and financial information” regarding Trump.
“Since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question?” Acosta asked during a Q&A portion of the presser. Trump replied, “Not you, not you, your organization is terrible.”
“I am not going to give you a question,” the president-elect said. “You are fake news.” ….
Shortly after he successfully shouted down Acosta, Trump took a question from Breitbart News — a website closely associated with the white nationalist “alt-right,” and an avid promulgator of misleading or inaccurate information that supports hard-right beliefs. Trump’s top adviser, Steve Bannon, is the former chairman of Breitbart.
I have to assume there won’t be many more press conferences from this thin-skinned wannabe dictator.
Quite a few reporters who gloatingly published unverified hacked emails from the DNC and John Podesta condemned Buzzfeed for publishing the salacious dossier of supposedly compromising information the Russians may have on Trump. But the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review disagrees: BuzzFeed was right to publish Trump-Russia files.
EARLY TUESDAY EVENING, spurred by a CNN story, BuzzFeed published a 35-page dossier on Donald Trump’s alleged long-term relationship with Russia. The documents contain references to compromising information the Russians purportedly gathered about the president-elect and accusations that Trump’s campaign was in regular contact with Russian officials. Within hours, The Guardian,The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among many others, slammed the digital powerhouse for its decision, while pointing out that they, too, had seen the documents but declined to make them public.
BuzzFeed explained that it was publishing the dossier “so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.” But the Post’s Erik Wemple countered that “Americans can only ‘make up their own minds’ if they build their own intelligence agencies, with a heavy concentration of operatives in Russia and Eastern Europe.” The Guardian, meanwhile, complained that BuzzFeed’s “decision…forced other media outlets to repeat the allegations or ignore a story that lit up the internet.” That writer was quick to note that his paper, too, “had obtained and reviewed the documents in recent weeks but declined to publish because there was no way to independently verify them.”
The media’s full-throated condemnation of BuzzFeed is both self-righteous and self-serving. BuzzFeed noted up front that the documents contained “explosive—but unverified—information,” and Editor in Chief Ben Smith convincingly defended the decision in a staff memo, arguing that the dossier was being read and talked about “at the highest levels of American government and media. It seems to lie behind a set of vague allegations from the Senate Majority [sic] Leader to the director of the FBI and a report that intelligence agencies have delivered to the president and president-elect.”
I think that was supposed to be a reference to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s letter to James Comey in October. CJR argued that Buzzfeed has now made itself a strong candidate to receive future leaks.
Meanwhile, BBC News reporter Paul Wood says there is more than one source claiming Russia has compromising information on Trump. BBC News: Trump ‘compromising’ claims: How and why did we get here?
I understand the CIA believes it is credible that the Kremlin has such kompromat – or compromising material – on the next US commander in chief. At the same time a joint taskforce, which includes the CIA and the FBI, has been investigating allegations that the Russians may have sent money to Mr Trump’s organisation or his election campaign.
Claims about a Russian blackmail tape were made in one of a series of reports written by a former British intelligence agent, understood to be Christopher Steele.
As a member of MI6, he had been posted to the UK’s embassy in Moscow and now runs a consultancy giving advice on doing business in Russia. He spoke to a number of his old contacts in the FSB, the successor to the KGB, paying some of them for information.
They told him that Mr Trump had been filmed with a group of prostitutes in the presidential suite of Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. I know this because the Washington political research company that commissioned his report showed it to me during the final week of the election campaign….
And the former MI6 agent is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by “the head of an East European intelligence agency”.
Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file – they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was “more than one tape”, “audio and video”, on “more than one date”, in “more than one place” – in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg – and that the material was “of a sexual nature”.
Read the rest at the link.
The other news from the press conference was Trump’s ludicrous plan to deal with his massive conflicts of interest. A good start would be to release his tax returns, but he reiterated yesterday that he’s not going to do that. Instead he had his lawyer make a bizarre presentation that did nothing to deal with the problem.
For this I’m going to turn to Deadspin, a sports website that seemingly is not as fearful of the incoming tin-pot dictator and some mainstream outlets: This Is Why You Don’t Kiss The Ring, by Hamilton Nolan.
Today we saw a “press conference” by our incoming president at which he put forth a farcical plan to allow his own sons to continue running his vast business empire while he is president, and spoke at length about his belief that as president it is impossible for him to have meaningful conflicts of interest, which is why he felt comfortable presenting his decision to turn down a $2 billion business deal with a Middle Eastern real estate mogul as something noble, rather than as an obvious decision that would be made as a matter of course under a normal presidential administration. He dismissed serious reporting that reflected poorly on him as “fake news,” and promised to retaliate against news outlets that displeased him. These things are not normal. These things are not okay. These are actions that flout well-established ethical and civil norms. Admittedly, there is something thrilling about watching him do this. What will he do next? It always keeps us tuning in, in the same way that a violent alcoholic father will always keep his children on his toes. But we should not fool ourselves about what is happening in front of our eyes. We are all coming to realize that our civil society institutions may not be strong enough to protect the flawed but fundamentally solid democracy that we thought we had. We are witnessing the rise to power of a leader who does not care about norms. Since these norms were created to prevent political, social, economic, and cultural disasters, we do not need to wonder how this will end. It will end poorly.
Please go read the whole thing.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of today’s news, but I’m out of space and I’m still very tired from moving. I’ll leave it to you to post your own links in the comment thread below.
Secretary of State John Kerry is under fire for making a frank statement in a closed-door meeting that he believed to be private. Politico’s Dylan Byers reports: John Kerry’s private remarks allegedly taped by Daily Beast reporter.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s private remarks to a meeting of influential world leaders last week were allegedly taped by a reporter from The Daily Beast, a fact that led to a personal apology from Trilateral Commission chairman Joseph S. Nye on Monday.
In a letter to Sec. Kerry, obtained by POLITICO, Nye expressed “my deep apology and dismay that a reporter form The Daily Beast, Josh Rogin, somehow sneaked into the meeting room in which you were speaking to the Commission this past Friday.”
“He was not invited,” Nye wrote. “Althought how Mr. Rogin slipped past both Commission staff and Diplomatic Security is unclear to me, we have confirmed that he indeed was present and apparently recorded the session.”
Rogin, who somehow sneaked into the meeting and taped Kerry’s remarks, soon began posting “exclusives” at The Daily Beast.
Within minutes of Kerry’s remarks on Friday, Rogin posted an exclusive to The Daily Beast in which he reported that Kerry had “warned that [a] new round of American financial assaults on Russia were on the way.”
On Sunday, Rogin posted another exclusive headlined, “Kerry Warns Israel Could Become ‘An Apartheid State’.” The report earned Sec. Kerry fierce criticism from Jewish organizations such as AIPAC, which called the remarks “offensive and inapropriate,” and the Anti-Defamation League, which called them “incendiary.”
In the first article, Rogin attributed his knowledge of Sec. Kerry’s remarks to “an attendee.” In the second article, he attributed them to “a recording… obtained by The Daily Beast.” Rogin did not mention his presence at the event in either article.
Is that okay according to journalistic ethics? I don’t know, but this definitely demonstrates to me the need for some secrecy in government diplomacy. I think the Greenwaldian notion of government as absolute enemy has rubbed off on reporters like Rogin. His first “exclusive” was on a breakdown of communications between the White House and the Kremlin and the second was about Kerry’s comments on Israel. Rogin writes:
If there’s no two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon, Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state,” Secretary of State John Kerry told a room of influential world leaders in a closed-door meeting Friday.
It wasn’t the only controversial comment on the Middle East that Kerry made during his remarks to the Trilateral Commission, a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast. Kerry also repeated his warning that a failure of Middle East peace talks could lead to a resumption of Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens. He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible. He lashed out against Israeli settlement-building. And Kerry said that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders share the blame for the current impasse in the talks.
Kerry also said that at some point, he might unveil his own peace deal and tell both sides to “take it or leave it.”
“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state,” Kerry told the group of senior officials and experts from the U.S., Western Europe, Russia, and Japan. “Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two-state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.”
It’s hard for me to find much fault with that. I guess the use of the term “apartheid” is a no-no, Kerry is not the first to use it. As Rogin notes, former President Jimmy Carter wrote a book in 2007 with the title Palestine: Peace or Apartheid. Carter was forced to backtrack somewhat, and Kerry has had do it also. Michael Gordon at The New York Times: Kerry Apologizes for Remark That Israel Risks Apartheid
In the statement that Mr. Kerry issued Monday, which bore the title “On Support for Israel,” he said that he had been a staunch supporter of Israel during his years as a senator and had spent many hours since working with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.
“For more than 30 years in the United States Senate, I didn’t just speak words in support of Israel,” Mr. Kerry said in his statement. “I walked the walk when it came time to vote and when it came time to fight.”
Mr. Kerry added that he did not believe that Israel was an “apartheid state” or intended to become one. Mr. Kerry did not dispute he had used the phrase but said it had led to a “misimpression” about his views.
“If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution,” he said.
“In the long term, a unitary, binational state cannot be the democratic Jewish state that Israel deserves or the prosperous state with full rights that the Palestinian people deserve,” he added.
Rogin’s latest “exclusive,” published this morning, reveals (surprise, surprise!) that the U.S. is spying on calls between Russia and it’s spies on the ground in Eastern Ukraine. You’d think that would be a good thing, but in the age of Greenwaldian “advocacy journalism,” maybe not. Rogin:
“Intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow and everybody can tell the difference in the accents, in the idioms, in the language. We know exactly who’s giving those orders, we know where they are coming from,” Kerry said at a private meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Washington. A recording of Kerry’s remarks was obtained by The Daily Beast.
Kerry didn’t name specific Russian officials implicated in the recordings. But he claimed that the intercepts provided proof of the Russians deliberately fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine—and lying about it to U.S. officials and the public.
“It’s not an accident that you have some of the same people identified who were in Crimea and in Georgia and who are now in east Ukraine,” said Kerry. “This is insulting to everybody’s intelligence, let alone to our notions about how we ought to be behaving in the 21st century. It’s thuggism, it’s rogue state-ism. It’s the worst order of behavior.”
Rogin goes on to speculate on whether the NSA has now corrected issues that prevented them from receiving accurate intelligence on Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine and annex Crimea and explains the methods NSA uses to collected such information. I guess they will have to go back to the drawing board again now? In the latest piece, Rogin still does not state that he is the source of the tapes of Kerry’s remarks.
Reuters has an article this morning on Israel’s latest plans: Israeli politicians seek to bypass talks, set own boundaries.
With Middle East peace talks frozen and expectations of a negotiated deal at an all-time low, a growing number of Israeli politicians believe it is time for the government to set the nation’s own borders unilaterally.
Some seek the annexation of most of the occupied West Bank, others say only the big Jewish settlement blocs should be brought under Israeli sovereignty, while a third group calls for a partial pullout to create a de facto Palestinian state.
Such actions would break the dynamics of the U.S.-driven peace process, which has been bogged down by years of failure and recrimination. By the same token, it would likely unleash a firestorm of protest at home and abroad.
Isn’t that just ducky? Read lots of details at the link.
This is just breaking (9AM EST) . . . there has been a mass shooting at a FedEx location in Georgia.
From NBC News: FedEx Facility Shooting Prompts Massive Police Response
At least six people were injured in a shooting early Tuesday at a FedEx facility in Kennesaw, Ga., officials said.
The male gunman remained at large, and police said they are sweeping the surrounding area, reported NBC affiliate WXIA-TV.
Cobb County police said the call came in at 5:44 a.m., prompting a lockdown of the facility on Airport Road and more than 50 emergency vehicles to arrive at the scene. The injured were taken to the hospital, and at least one person was taken immediately to the operating room, WXIA reported.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 6 patients taken to WellStar after FedEx shooting in Cobb; suspect dead.
Authorities are characterizing this as a workplace shooting. So far the suspect has not been named.
Other News . . .
USA Today, Nancy Armour: Silver better get it right with Donald Sterling’s punishment.
That’s all I have for you today–I hope you’ll also post your links in the comment thread.
United Auto Workers (UAW) President Bob King and the Center for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) will hold a press conference at 2PM today to announce that they are filing formal ethics charges against Mitt Romney with the US Office of Government Ethics for
improperly hid[ing] a profit of $15.3 million to $115.0 million in Ann Romney’s so-called “blind” trust.
The union chief says, “The American people have a right to know about Gov. Romney’s potential conflicts of interest, such as the profits his family made from the auto rescue,” “It’s time for Gov. Romney to disclose or divest.”
The Romneys’ gigantic windfall was hidden inside an offshore corporation inside a limited partnership inside a trust which both concealed the gain and reduces taxes on it.
According to ethics law expert Dan Curry who drafted the ethics complaint, Ann Romney does not have a federally-approved blind trust. An approved “blind” trust may not be used to hide a major investment which could be affected by Romney if he were to be elected President. Other groups joining the UAW and CREW include Public Citizen, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Public Campaign, People for the American Way and The Social Equity Group….
In 2009, Ann Romney partnered with her husband’s key donor, billionaire Paul Singer, who secretly bought a controlling interest in Delphi Auto, the former GM auto parts division. Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management, threatened to cut off GM’s supply of steering columns unless GM and the government’s TARP auto bailout fund provided Delphi with huge payments. While the US treasury complained this was “extortion,” the hedge funds received, ultimately, $12.9 billion in taxpayer subsidies.
Singer’s fund ended up making $1.27 billion, after which he moved all Dephi production to Mexico along with 25,000 UAW jobs. The goal of the ethics complaint is to force the Romneys to reveal how much profit the made off this sleazy deal.
Feel free to use this as an open thread.
It’s a little late but still well deserved. Louisiana Senator David Vitter suddenly has a higher profile because of the way Anthony Weiner was unceremoniously hustled out of the House of Representatives. Now a conservative Christian Group is calling on Vitter to resign, and an ethics group has accused him of bribery.
The president of the Christian conservative Family Policy Network sent Sen. David Vitter, R-La., a letter Monday (June 20) calling on him to follow the lead of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., and resign rather than leave Republicans and conservatives open to charges of hypocrisy.
Vitter admitted to a “serious sin” in 2007 after his phone number was found in the 2001 client records of a D.C. madam, when he was a member of the House.
Weiner resigned after first lying about and then admitting to “inappropriate” online communication with various women.
“There are a lot of people that I think are committing outright hypocrisy and are forced to do so as long as he (Vitter) remains in office,” said Joe Glover, the president of the Family Policy Network, based in Forest, Va. “I don’t think the senator should put those folks in the untenable position of having to pragmatically defend his presence in the Senate.”
In addition, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee, alleging that Vitter tried to “bribe” Ken Salazar, Obama’s Interior Secretary.
The complaint, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), cites a letter that Vitter wrote to Salazar last month. In the letter Vitter said he would continue to oppose increasing Salazar’s paycheck by $19,600 until the secretary issued permits for new exploratory deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
In a five-page letter to committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), CREW’s executive director Melanie Sloan detailed the allegation of Vitter’s “quid pro quo” and recommended that the committee refer matters to the Justice Department if they found the senator guilty of wrongdoing.
“Our country’s criminal laws apply to everyone, including senators,” said Sloan in the letter. “There is no exception to the bribery law allowing a senator to influence a department secretary’s official acts by withholding compensation.”
I believe that, and I know you believe that too. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if the Senates agrees with us.
Karma works in mysterious ways.
According to Roll Call, Michele Bachmann and three other right-wing Congresspeople used money from the their Congressional office accounts to pay for equipment and a sound system for a tea party rally on November 5, 2009 that was organized to protest President Obama’s health care bill.
According to House expense reports, Bachmann and three conservative GOP colleagues — Reps. Tom Price (Ga.), Steve King (Iowa) and Todd Akin (Mo.) — each paid $3,407.50 that day, a total of $13,630, to a sound and stage company called National Events, apparently for the sound system used at the rally.
The money came from the Members’ taxpayer-funded office accounts, despite House rules prohibiting the use of these funds for political activities. Bachmann’s office insists the expense was a proper use of official funds.
Bachmann billed the event as a “press conference,” which can be funded from official accounts. But no questions were taken from the press and, unlike most press conferences, it opened with a prayer, the national anthem and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
A press conference? According to the article, Bachmann also hyped the rally on Fox News and Minnesota Public Radio and posted an announcement of the event on her House website, which is also against House ethics rules. She apparently also used these funds for travel expense to media appearances and to pay political consultants and a speechwriter for her “response” to the State of the Union address.
The Hill says that, while the use of taxpayer funds for political purposes is questionable, it isn’t absolutely clear that she did anything wrong. But certainly this shows that Bachmann may have a tendency to cut corners when it comes to ethics.
On Saturday, the Guardian published a profile of Bachmann following her appearance at the New Hampshire Republican Debate.
They quote Stillwater, MN blogger Karl Bremer on a particularly troubling episode in Bachmann’s political history:
“She has got plenty of skeletons in her closet,” he said. One of those skeletons could be her relationship with Frank Vennes, a man who served time in jail for cocaine distribution and money-laundering after being convicted in 1987. After his release, and apparently after finding God while in prison, Vennes became a friend of Bachmann and a big campaign donor for her elections. However, Vennes has recently been indicted on charges stemming from a Ponzi scheme and could end up behind bars again.
That is a juicy story. As are Bachmann’s links to the mysterious “Bobby Charles Thompson”, who disappeared after the collapse of his apparently fraudulent fundraising organisation, which had been portrayed as a navy veterans’ group. Arrest warrants have now been issued for Thompson, whose real identity is not known. But what is known is that Thompson’s group donated campaign funds to Bachmann.
Then there is the issue of the Bachmann family farm in Wisconsin. The large rural property has been the recipient of considerable government largesse in the form of agricultural subsidies, despite the fact that Bachmann is a vociferous critic of government handouts. Yet Bremer’s blog has reported that the farm has reaped the Bachmanns about $154,000 of government cash since 2001. That is obviously not illegal but – given Bachmann’s virulent dislike of state welfare – it could make for some interesting headlines.
But will the media cover Bachmann’s “skeletons,” or are they going to give her a pass like the one they gave Obama in 2008? Frankly, I’m worried about it. It’s easy to dismiss Bachmann and treat her as a joke, and she deserves that. But she is driven and a very hard worker; the tea party crowd find her charismatic and inspiring; and she is one of the best fund-raisers around.
In three congressional terms, presidential contender Michele Bachmann has made a name for herself as a formidable fundraiser. As of her latest filing with the Federal Election Commission, Bachmann had $2.8 million cash on hand (compared with, say, veteran Ron Paul’s $1.6 million). And she took in $13.5 million in the 2010 election cycle, out-raising the leader of her own party, John Boehner, by almost $4 million and making Bachmann the most prolific fundraiser in the House. So how is she getting all that money?
Bachmann is increasingly getting money from individuals making smallish donations, a feat that helps solidify her status as a grass-roots, Tea Party–fueled outsider rather than another Establishment fixture. Of the $1.7 million she reported raising last quarter, only $1,500 came from non-individuals, and the average donation was just $619.34.
The Washington Post reports today that Bachmann is increasingly using a new fundraising technique for which is is uniquely qualified, called “money blurts.”
Here’s how it works: An up-and-coming politician blurts out something incendiary, provocative or otherwise controversial. The remark bounces around the blogs and talk shows and becomes a sensation.
And in the midst of it all, the politician’s fundraisers are manning the phones and raking in the donations.
Consider Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the tea party favorite and newly minted presidential candidate, who has made a specialty of raising money in the wake of bold and well-placed remarks. Shortly after accusing President Obama of having “anti-American views” during one cable-news appearance, for example, Bachmann took in nearly $1 million.
I’ve spent the past few days reading extensively about Bachmann’s personal and political history. I’ve learned two important things from all this reading: 1) Bachmann is a dangerous extremist with serious psychological problems; and 2) She should never be underestimated.
I will continue to write about her, because I think that with the dearth of exciting Republican candidates, the growing strength of the crazy right, and the increasing tendency for the media to ignore facts and accept lies at face value, she could actually win the nomination. We can ridicule her all we want, but we dismiss her chances at our peril.
Here’s some video of Bachmann’s “press conference” on November 5, 2009.