Tuesday Art and Reads

Good Morning!!

The paintings in today’s post are by Do Fournier, a contemporary French painter. Here’s a little information about her:

Do Fournier (French, b.1951) is a Contemporary painter, originally from Guerande, Brittany, France. She began her career as a successful illustrator, and, in 1984, changed her focus to the creation of her own paintings. Her works were well received, and numerous prestigious exhibitions of her artworks have been mounted in France. In addition, she has frequently been invited to exhibit at the Salon d’Automne in Paris.

Fournier creates fantastic, colorful, and intimate works inspired by her home in France, which overlooks the sea. Her family and pets, as well as her collection of objects d’art, rugs, and textiles, are her primary subjects.

As the noted French critic Gerard Xuriguera has observed: “Her approach in an uneasy society is not to describe it’s pain but the potential it still has for joy, it’s fragile moments of charm and peacefulness stolen from a routine existence. To do this she expresses reality in its most intimate, sensual, peaceful and carnal form. Not as imitation but as a vision filtered through her observations and cast in the exuberance of her blazing colours. What she is trying to capture is fleeting emotion, to immobilize it and express it as simply as possible.

 

Breaking News

Right now I’m watching a press conference by House Leader Nancy Pelosi and the chairs of the five House committees involved in the impeachment investigation.

In yesterday’s impeachment hearing, Rep Eric Swalwell spelled out the case against Trump in no uncertain terms.

Today’s Reads

The New York Times: Another Inquiry Doesn’t Back Up Trump’s Charges. So, on to the Next.

President Trump and his allies spent months promising that a report on the origins of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation would be a kind of Rosetta Stone for Trump-era conspiracy enthusiasts — the key to unlocking the secrets of a government plot to keep Mr. Trump from being elected in 2016.

On that point, the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, did not deliver, even as it found serious problems with how F.B.I. officials justified the surveillance of a Trump campaign aide to a federal court.

But by the time it was released, the president, his attorney general, his supporters in Congress and the conservative news media had already declared victory and decamped for the next battle in the wider war to convince Americans of the enemies at home and abroad arrayed against the Trump presidency.

They followed a script they have used for nearly three years: Engage in a choreographed campaign of presidential tweets, Fox News appearances and fiery congressional testimony to create expectations about finding proof of a “deep state” campaign against Mr. Trump. And then, when the proof does not emerge, skew the results and prepare for the next opportunity to execute the playbook.

That opportunity has arrived in the form of an investigation by aRea Connecticut prosecutor ordered this year by Attorney General William P. Barr — and the president and his allies are now predicting it will be the one to deliver damning evidence that the F.B.I., C.I.A. and even close American allies conspired against Mr. Trump in the 2016 election.

Read the rest at the NYT.

One startling revelation from the IG report was that Ivanka Trump has been friends with Christopher Steele for years.

ABC News: ‘Dossier’ author Chris Steele met Ivanka Trump years before Russia scandal, source says.

Nearly a decade before the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka met a British intelligence officer who ran the Russia desk — and when the agent left his covert service and moved into private practice in 2010, she stayed in touch, ABC News has learned.

Artist Do Fournier

The two exchanged emails but never worked together, and the man, Christopher Steele, would one day re-emerge in a most unexpected way, taking a central role in the Russia scandal that consumed the early years of her father’s presidency, according to a source familiar with their past contacts.

The prior relationship came to light as investigators with the Department of Justice Inspector General’s office was looking into allegations of political bias at the origins of the Russia investigation since May 2018….

In 2007, Ivanka Trump met Steele at a dinner and they began corresponding about the possibility of future work together, the source said. The following year, the two exchanged emails about meeting up near Trump Tower, according to several emails seen by ABC News. And the two did meet at Trump Tower according to the source. The inspector general’s report mentions a meeting with a “Trump family member” there. They suggest Ivanka Trump and Steele stayed in touch via emails over the next several years. In one 2008 exchange they discussed dining together in New York at a restaurant just blocks from Trump Tower.

Ivanka Trump worked as an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, managing a range of foreign real estate projects, including in parts of the world where Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence touted expertise. She and Steele discussed services Orbis could offer to the Trump Organization regarding its planned expansion into foreign markets, according to two sources familiar with the meetings.

Read more at ABC News.

Also from ABC News: FBI Director Chris Wray reacts to DOJ watchdog report on Russia investigation: Exclusive.

FBI Director Christopher Wray offered mixed reactions to a Justice Department watchdog report that uncovered “serious performance failures” on the part of agents involved in the Russia investigation but ultimately determined the bureau was justified in launching its probe.

Artist Do Fournier

In an exclusive broadcast interview with ABC News, Wray lamented “actions described in this report that [he] considered unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution.” But, he said it was “important that the inspector general found that, in this particular instance, the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization.” [….]

But the president and his allies have called it “a major SPY scandal” and accused those involved of working on behalf of the “Deep State.”

Wray did not respond directly to the president, but pushed back on the “Deep State” characterization of the bureau’s work.

“I think that’s the kind of label that’s a disservice to the men and women who work at the FBI who I think tackle their jobs with professionalism, with rigor, with objectivity, with courage,” Wray said. “So that’s not a term I would ever use to describe our work force and I think it’s an affront to them.”

Naturally, Trump is enraged at Wray’s remarks. Will he fire another FBI Director?

The Washington Post: Trump lashes out at FBI director in wake of Justice Department inspector general’s report.

President Trump lashed out Tuesday morning at FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, suggesting that “he will never be able to fix the FBI” based on his reaction to a Justice Department inspector general’s report examining the bureau’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me,” Trump tweeted. “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!”

Artist Do Fournier

The 434-page report rebutted conservatives’ accusations that top FBI officials were driven by political bias to illegally spy on Trump advisers as part of the probe into Russian election interference, but it also found broad and “serious performance failures” requiring major changes.

In a statement Monday, Wray, a Trump appointee, said he had ordered more than 40 corrective steps to address the report’s recommendations,” adding that he would not hesitate to take “appropriate disciplinary action if warranted.”

Cover-up General Bill Barr is also attacking the report by his own independent Inspector General.

Talking Points Memo: How The DOJ Watchdog Forced Barr To Scramble To Undermine Trump-Russia Probe.

Attorney General Bill Barr scrambled on Monday to keep a main anti-DOJ conspiracy theory going, after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a 476-page report finding that the FBI was justified in opening its Trump-Russia investigation.

Horowitz found that there was unanimous support within the Justice Department and FBI in July 2016 for opening an investigation into potential contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and found no evidence that anti-Trump bias played a role in the investigation’s start.

Horowitz opened his probe amid allegations from right-wing talking heads and politicos that partisan bias had propelled FBI officials into investigating the Trump campaign….

The result of the whirlpool of allegations arrived in the form of the Horowitz report, which substantively rebutted the accusations and affirmatively found that FBI officials were justified in opening an investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign.

Artist Do Fournier

So, upon the report’s release, both Barr and Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham issued statements disagreeing with Horowitz’s finding.

“Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened,” Durham said in his statement, adding that he was relying on evidence beyond the “component parts of the Justice Department.”

More details at the TPM link.

Vanity Fair: “It Is Not What The Department of Justice Does”: Barr and Durham Go Rogue On The Inspector General’s Report.

…what was truly surprising to some veterans of the Robert F. Kennedy building and the DC bar was the reaction from Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney for Connecticut John Durham, who Barr tapped to run a parallel investigation of Crossfire Hurricane and related investigations. Both issued statements throwing significant shade at Horowitz’s report, though, technically, Barr is Horowitz’s boss. “I’ve never seen such an internal DOJ effort to challenge and undermine the IG’s findings,” Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney, told me Monday. “It is not what the Department of Justice does.” [….]

“The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Barr wrote in a statement. “It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory. Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration.”

Barr’s decision to publicly distance himself from Horowitz’s findings was met with some astonishment. “No law enforcement purpose is served by the Attorney General announcing that he disagrees with the inspector general’s conclusion that the FBI had an adequate predicate for its investigation of Russia’s contacts with the Trump campaign,” William Jeffress, a white-collar defense attorney who worked on the Valerie Plame leak case, told me. Barr’s missive was reminiscent of the now infamous four-page summary of Robert Mueller’s report, respinning the results of an exhaustive investigation in ways favorable to the president. “The statement by Barr will only deepen the sense that he is a Trump partisan who lacks the independence to lead the Department of Justice,” Jeffress added.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Monday Reads: Clearly Unfit to Serve

Not a float. Not satire. Actually the @realDonaldTrump. #BeAshamed

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

Every day releases a new barrage of evidence and reasons to throw every thing we’ve got into the arsenal of removing this unfit and clearly illegitimate president. The latest Dumped Trump appointment went on Sixty Minutes to discuss the many ways he experienced an unsuitable personality for any serious job actively chip away at American law, constitutional values, and norms. I’m not sure if I’ll actually read former FBI Director Andrew McCabe’s book since it just verifies what we know.  However, it is certainly yet another Tell-All that shows us how deeply in trouble the we are because the Republican Party refuses to act on its sins. We clearly are reaching the point where ridding the country of this parasite is our only way to a decent future.

I spent Saturday night at the Krewe de Vieux parade in my first chance to do Carnival Season where I could avoid the news but not politics. I’m going to share some photos of the floats and krewes which are clearly political.  This is not exactly a G rated krewe so be care viewing some of the videos if you’re sensitive to crass stuff.

 

And this was clearly my favorite. My friend Grace snapped a pic of her in the den.

Back to the Paley interview and this link that will let you watch it if you missed it.

McCabe is a lifelong Republican who had a sterling 21-year career at the FBI; serving as head of counter-terrorism and number two under Comey. But he was fired last year for allegedly lying to his own agents about a story he leaked to a newspaper. Not since Watergate has the FBI been drawn so deeply into presidential politics. Andrew McCabe was pulled into the center of the tempest on May 9, 2017 when he was summoned by the president hours after Comey was fired.

This is probably the best look we’ve had to date of what started the Mueller probe. It seems to have come directly from the number of Trump Campaign-Russian interactions that we’ve heard about for the past 3 years.  This is from Carrie Johnson at NPR.

“I don’t know that we have ever seen in all of history an example of the number, the volume and the significance of the contacts between people in and around the president, his campaign, with our most serious, our existential international enemy: the government of Russia,” McCabe told NPR’s Morning Edition. “That’s just remarkable to me.”

McCabe left the FBI after 21 years last March, when he was dismissedfor an alleged “lack of candor” in a media leak probe unrelated to the special counsel investigation.

While he declined to conclude that Trump or his advisers colluded with Russia, McCabe said the evidence special counsel Robert Mueller has made public to date — including new disclosures about an August 2016 meeting between former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the FBI has linked to Russian intelligence — “is incredibly persuasive.”

 

Trump worried McCabe from the outset with what CBS characterizes as a “bizarre” interview.

Before he was fired from the FBI, Andrew McCabe was summoned to the Oval Office to interview for the position of FBI director. “It was a bit of a bizarre experience,” says McCabe, recalling his meeting with President Trump.

“He began by talking to me about his Electoral College results in the state of North Carolina, which I didn’t really know about or understand how that related to the position of FBI director,” says McCabe.

Mr. Trump also talked about “the support that he enjoyed within the FBI,” says McCabe. “He estimated that 80% of FBI employees must have voted for him, and he asked me if I thought that was true. I said, ‘I have no idea who people in the FBI voted for. It’s not something that we discuss at work.'”

There are more really strange anectdotes including Trump indicating that he wanted McCabe to say that every one in the FBI supported the Comey firing which was clearly not true.  But meanwhile, we have bigger fish to fry at the DOJ in its current state. From Morgan Chalfani at The Hill: “Five things to watch as Barr takes the reins of Justice, Mueller probe.”

Barr is expected to make major changes at the Justice Department, beginning with his choice for deputy.

Rod Rosenstein, who had been overseeing Mueller’s investigation, is expected to depart in the coming weeks after two years on the job. Barr told lawmakers last month that Rosenstein had informed him of those plans and that he had agreed to stay on for the transition.

Various names have been floated as potential candidates for the role, which is subject to Senate confirmation. The New York Times reported that Barr intends to name Jeffrey Rosen, the current deputy secretary of Transportation, to serve as his No. 2.

It is unclear whether Barr will keep on Matthew Whitaker, the controversial figure whom Trump appointed acting attorney general following Sessions’s ouster. Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa who worked as Sessions’s chief of staff, quickly emerged as a top target of Democrats as a result of statements he made criticizing Mueller’s investigation before joining the Justice Department.

Whitaker tangled with House Democrats in a testy hearing earlier this month, during which he defended his decision not to recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation and insisted he had done nothing to interfere with the probe. Whitaker also frustrated lawmakers by refusing to answer various questions about the investigation and his conversations with Trump.

Even if Barr does not decide to keep Whitaker, some say it’s possible he could find a new home in the White House.

“He had to navigate some pretty treacherous waters and he did that very skillfully and if the president is looking for someone else to serve the administration that brings some excellent experience under fire, then I think Matt would be somebody that would fit that description,” said Ian Prior, who worked with Whitaker as a department spokesman under Sessions.

Even though real evil is resident in the White House, Republicans clearly want to put and keep Democratic politicians on the defensive.  From Cheryl Gay Stolberg at the NYT:  “Republicans Hope to Sway Voters With Labels That Demonize Democrats”.

In the 116th Congress, if you’re a Democrat, you’re either a socialist, a baby killer or an anti-Semite.

That, at least, is what Republicans want voters to think, as they seek to demonize Democrats well in advance of the 2020 elections by painting them as left-wing crazies who will destroy the American economy, murder newborn babies and turn a blind eye to bigotry against Jews.

The unusually aggressive assault, which Republican officials and strategists outlined in interviews last week, is meant to strangle the new Democratic majority in its infancy. It was set in motion this month by President Trump, who used his State of the Union address to rail against “new calls to adopt socialism in our country” and mischaracterize legislation backed by Democrats in New York and Virginia as allowing “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”

Then last week, Republicans amped it up, seizing on a Twitter post by a freshman representative, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, which even some Democrats condemned as anti-Semitic, and ridiculing the “Green New Deal,” an ambitious economic stimulus plan unveiled by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist. Suddenly even Jewish Democrats were abetting anti-Semitism and moderate Democrats in Republican districts were Trotskyites and Stalinists.

“Socialism is the greatest vulnerability by far that the House Democrats have,” Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in an interview, adding that he had also instructed his team to spotlight “all the extreme wild ideas” that Democrats espouse, “on a daily basis, on an hourly basis if it’s available.”

House Republicans have identified 55 Democrats they regard as vulnerable, including many freshmen. Some flipped Republican seats last year, some represent districts carried by Mr. Trump in 2016, and some are in districts held by Republicans until recently. Bruised by their losses last year, Republicans are determined to start earlier and be more aggressive on the offense in 2020, and are hoping to exploit the Democratic presidential candidates’ courtship of the left.

An advertising offensive is already underway. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee affiliated with House Republican leaders, began running digital ads last week that link two freshmen who flipped Republican districts, Representatives Colin Allred of Texas and Antonio Delgado of New York, to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her “radical Green New Deal assault on the American economy.”

 

But, they have the crazy to deal with all the same and the latest bit sinking Republican Policy is the obvious failure of the tax cuts to deliver to any one but the very rich among us.

Jonathan Swan–writing for Axios–characterizes it like this: “Governing on the edge.”  My stomach frankly can’t take any more of this. I’m an old lady that wants a peaceful retirement and a stable social security income.

A senior government official who was involved in the spending negotiations over the past few weeks told me the experience taught them something disturbing.

“We’re going to go to the edge on everything,” the official said on Friday, shortly after Trump signed the bill to fund the 25% of the government that had shut down for 35 days on his watch.

Why it matters: The White House has just gotten through a spending fight that pushed Congress — and the federal workforce affected by the shutdown — to the brink. But even uglier skirmishes are imminent, including whether to raise the federal government’s debt limit and break Congress’ self-imposed budget caps.

What’s next? In a phone conversation this morning, I asked a senior White House official if he thought the shutdown had any benefit for the Trump administration.

  • “I think it’s absolutely been effective, because the president is winning the message on border security,” the senior official said.
  • Trump “was able to use that 35-day period to highlight that issue and all the polling data that we’ve got seems to indicate that while we did get blamed for a shutdown, the numbers moved dramatically in our favor on the issue of border security,” the official said. “And that never would’ve happened if we’d signed the bill back in December.”
  • (FYI: I’m not aware of public polling that shows a dramatic improvement for the president on border security; though the White House has mentioned private polling that shows numbers moving in their direction in key swing districts.)

I also asked the senior official if he would dispute that characterization that this administration will “go to the edge on everything” — especially on impending battles over 2020 spending levels and raising the debt limit.

  • “If you get the impression that it’s going to be intentional, I think that’s unfair,” the official said. “If you think that’s the practical outcome, that’s probably accurate.
  • “If we know one thing about Congress, it waits to the very last minute to do everything anyway.”

I certainly hope Marcie can make sense of all of this for me.  Here’s her take on the McCabe interview.  Check out her latest dissection of  the four big Trump turncoats or three if you want to dump Manafort.

Four times so far in this investigation, Trump’s aides have started the sentencing process for their crimes designed to obstruction Robert Mueller’s investigation. All four times, before four different judges, their misplaced loyalty to Trump above country has come up. And with both Flynn and Manafort — where the judges have seen significant amounts of non-public information about the crimes they lied to cover-up — two very reasonable judges have raised explicit questions about whether Trump’s aides had betrayed their country.

Trump wants this to be a case of contested claims of betrayal. But the judges who have reviewed the record have used striking language about who betrayed their country.

I doubt we’re going to get any resolution of anything soon but I will say that I hope the Democratic committee chairs in Congress get the lead out!  For some more video and fun on Krewe du View you can check this out!

If you haven’t read this from The Atlantic  with the lede “When James Comey Was Fired” please do so.

 I wrote memos about my interactions with President Trump for the same reason that Comey did: to have a contemporaneous record of conversations with a person who cannot be trusted.

People do not appreciate how far we have fallen from normal standards of presidential accountability. Today we have a president who is willing not only to comment prejudicially on criminal prosecutions but to comment on ones that potentially affect him. He does both of these things almost daily. He is not just sounding a dog whistle. He is lobbying for a result. The president has stepped over bright ethical and moral lines wherever he has encountered them. Every day brings a new low, with the president exposing himself as a deliberate liar who will say whatever he pleases to get whatever he wants. If he were “on the box” at Quantico, he would break the machine.

This quote came via my friend Adrastosno at his blog First Draft who basically headlined his thoughts the same way. “Unfit President”.  You can also read more at BB’s  Valentine’s Day thread here.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today? 

 


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?


Groundhog Day Reads

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

Another day! Another Constitutional Crisis!  It’s Groundhog Day KKKrelim Caligula Style!

Ezra Klein of VOX has written an extensive article based on How Democracies DieHis basis is the book and an interview with the authors available in podcast.

Where Levitsky and Ziblatt make their mark is in weaving together political science and historical analysis of both domestic and international democratic crises; in doing so, they expand the conversation beyond Trump and before him, to other countries and to the deep structure of American democracy and politics.

They also offer a lesson that should ring in our minds as we watch congressional Republicans agitate to release a memo designed to smear the FBI — setting up a confrontation between a president with authoritarian impulses and the FBI that’s investigating him — and cheer lustily as Trump delivers his State of the Union address.

Demagogues and authoritarians do not destroy democracies. It’s established political parties, and the choices they make when faced with demagogues and authoritarians, that decide whether democracies survive.

“2017 was the best year for conservatives in the 30 years that I’ve been here,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week. “The best year on all fronts. And a lot of people were shocked because we didn’t know what we were getting with Donald Trump.”

The best year on all fronts. Think about that for a moment. If you want to know why congressional Republicans are opening an assault on the FBI in order to protect Trump, it can be found in that comment. This was a year in which Trump undermined the press, fired the director of the FBI, cozied up to Russia, baselessly alleged he was wiretapped, threatened to jail his political opponents, publicly humiliated his attorney general for recusing himself from an investigation, repeatedly claimed massive voter fraud against him, appointed a raft of unqualified and occasionally ridiculous candidates to key positions, mishandled the aftermath of the Puerto Rico hurricane, and threatened to use antitrust and libel laws against his enemies.

And yet McConnell surveyed the tax cuts he passed and the regulations he repealed and called this not a mixed year for his political movement, not a good year for his political movement, but the best year he’d ever seen.

Speaking of Republicans who have completely sold out our country, you may read Rep. Devin Nunes (R- RUSSIA) at this link at WAPO.

The Nunes memo is a document created by the staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) that alleges the FBI abused its surveillance authority, particularly when it sought a secret court order to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser. The FBI and the Justice Department had lobbied strenuously against its release. On Wednesday, the FBI had said it was “gravely concerned” that key facts were missing from the memo. President approves release of GOP memo criticizing FBI surveillance

The White House released the memo with no redactions but a lot of stern tweet lying and shaming.

President Donald Trump has declassified the GOP memo and approved its release by the House Intelligence Committee without redactions, a White House official tells ABC News.

The White House transmitted the president’s opinion to the committee in a letter this morning, the official said.

As ABC News has previously reported, the memo is critical of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his role in renewing a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page after Trump took office.

Trump’s Republican allies have suggested that Rosenstein — who is also overseeing the Mueller investigation — is guilty of political bias toward the president because he supported surveillance on Page based in part on information from a Democrat-funded dossier.

“Does it make you more likely to fire Rosenstein? Do you still have confidence in him after reading the memo?” a reporter asked the president in the Oval Office.

“You figure that one out,” Trump responded.

Here’s some VOX analysis of why the Republicans (RUSSIA) think the memo will destroy the credibility of Mueller and his team.9

1) A FISA court judge reviewed evidence and approved a warrant to wiretap a Trump associate

In fall 2016, FBI investigators applied for a warrant with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to wiretap Carter Page, a former Trump adviser. They presented evidence that Page may be acting as a Russian agent and the judge approved the warrant.

There isn’t much disagreement up to this point.

2) The core of the Nunes argument

The FBI says it got its evidence from several sources, and typically FISA warrant applications require corroboration of the information.

But the Nunes memo implies the case was primarily built on the Steele dossier — and points out that it was funded partially by a law firm on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

And here’s the important part: Nunes says investigators misled the judge by not saying they were relying on the Steele dossier.

3) Rod Rosenstein is dragged into this as well

The Nunes memo points out that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approved the application for a renewal of the warrant knowing they were relying heavily on the DNC-funded Steele dossier.

This part is crucial because it is saying Rosenstein knew about the warrant and approved of it. And since Nunes believes the warrant application was mostly from a DNC- and Clinton-funded report, he is trying to imply Rosenstein has an anti-Trump bias.

This is clearly a move to remove Rosenstein and replace him with some one that will fire Mueller.  It’s also beyond Nixonian.

It’s always been held–but not determined by the Supreme Court–that a sitting President cannot be indicted. This is being challenged by two lawyers with connections to lawyers familiar with the investigation.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation has gathered enough steam that some lawyers representing key Donald Trump associates are considering the possibility of a historic first: an indictment against a sitting president.

While many legal experts contend that Mueller lacks the standing to bring criminal charges against Trump, at least two attorneys working with clients swept up in the Russia probe told POLITICO they consider it possible that Mueller could indict the president for obstruction of justice.

Neither attorney claimed to have specific knowledge of Mueller’s plans. Both based their opinions on their understanding of the law; one also cited his interactions with the special counsel’s team, whose interviews have recently examined whether Trump tried to derail the probe into his campaign’s Russia ties.

“If I were a betting man, I’d bet against the president,” said one of the lawyers.

The second attorney, who represents a senior Trump official, speculated that Mueller could try to bring an indictment against Trump even if he expects the move to draw fierce procedural challenges from the president’s lawyers – if only to demonstrate the gravity of his findings.

“It’s entirely possible that Mueller may go that route on the theory that, as an open question, it should be for the courts to decide,” the attorney said. “Even if the indictment is dismissed, it puts maximum pressure on Congress to treat this with the independence and intellectual honesty that it will never, ever get.”

I’m sure will hear all about this on news today. Meanwhile, share what you think and what you’re hearing!

 

 


Friday Reads: Countdown to Impeachment

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

We learned yesterday that we might have been closer to a repeat Saturday Night Massacre than we thought.  KKKremlin Caligula tried to fire Robert Mueller only to back off when the White House Council threatened to resign.  We have entered the Nixon Zone.

Here’s some analysis of the NYT investigative piece by Lawfare.

The  reported Thursday evening that President Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June and was only dissuaded when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than transmit the order to the Justice Department. Mueller has reportedly become aware of the attempt to dismiss him in the course of investigating possible obstruction of justice by Trump and his associates.

According to the Times, Trump claimed that multiple conflicts of interests disqualified Mueller from overseeing the Russia investigation—including a fee dispute with a Trump golf club, his prior firm’s representation of Jared Kushner, and the fact that Trump had interviewed Mueller to potentially again become FBI director the day before he was appointed as special counsel. In May, career Justice Department ethics officials  Mueller to lead the probe, determining that he did not have disqualifying conflicts. In a follow-up story, the Washington Post  that McGahn “did not deliver his resignation threat directly to Trump, but was serious about his threat to leave.”

The Times also noted that Trump considered firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, in order to place Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand in charge of the investigation.

At the time Trump ordered Mueller’s firing, he was still represented by his longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz, who took an adversarial approach to the Russia investigation. Reportedly, Trump’s new counsel, Ty Cobb, has convinced the president that “the quickest way to clear the cloud of suspicion was to cooperation with Mr. Mueller, not to fire him.” Nevertheless, the Times reports that Trump has wavered in the intervening months over the decision to fire Mueller and that in his public comments on the subject Trump has kept open the possibility of dismissing Mueller.

A few observations:

First, the Times’s reporting demonstrates just how out of control the president had become in June, less than a month after firing James Comey as FBI director. A few of his tweets from that time offer a stark reminder that the special counsel’s investigation—and Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller—weighed heavily even in his public statements …

Here’s the highpoints from Axios:

  • “Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials.” (Including the counsel who threatened to resign, Don McGahn!)

  • Key point: McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump’s presidency.”

  • “McGahn also told White House officials that Mr. Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. The president then backed off.”

  • “Amid the first wave of news media reports that Mr. Mueller was examining a possible obstruction case, the president began to argue that Mr. Mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him.”

  • “First, [Trump] claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., had prompted Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time, to resign his membership. The president also said Mr. Mueller could not be impartial because he had most recently worked for the law firm that previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Finally, the president said, Mr. Mueller had been interviewed to return as the F.B.I. director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May.”

  • Why it matters: “The White House has denied nearly a dozen times since June that Mr. Trump was considering firing Mr. Mueller.”

Be smart: As we told you Wednesday in our piece about Mueller following Trump like a dark cloud: These actions were taken in office knowing the whole world is watching for a cover-up. It’s the ultimate unforced error — and reason many around Trump fear him testifying.

P.S. CNN’s Groundhog Day headline this morning: “TRUMP TRIP OVERSHADOWED BY CONTROVERSY.”

Julian Zelzer of The Atlantic has the Nixonian take calling the Drumpf regime “The runaway President.”

The reason that so many Americans react badly to the news about Trump is similar to what drove the outrage about President Richard Nixon’s famous Saturday Night Massacre, as the Washington Post reporter David Broder named it, in October of 1973. The path to that scandal started when Alexander Butterfield, a former aide to H.R. Haldeman, revealed to the Watergate congressional committee that the president had recorded secret Oval Office conversations. Archibald Cox, the Harvard professor who had been appointed as an independent special prosecutor in May to investigate Watergate, wanted those tapes. He wanted to know just what they revealed about the June 1972 break in to the Democratic National Headquarters. On October 12, a U.S. Court of Appeals ordered Nixon to comply. Nixon tried to broker an agreement with Cox to release a small portion of the tapes, but the negotiations broke down.

Nixon was livid when he heard that Cox was demanding that the White House release all the recordings. It was bad enough that the Ivy-League professor was being so aggressive with him, but now Cox seemed to be taking the investigation to a new level that could be extremely damaging. Nixon, who believed that his office gave him the power to do almost anything, ordered that Attorney General Eliot Richardson fire Cox. The problem was that Richardson refused. “Let it be on your head,” the president angrily told the attorney general when they met. Soon after, Nixon turned to the next person in command, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who also refused to carry out the order. “I am, of course, sorry that my conscience will not permit me to carry out your instruction to discharge Archibald Cox,” he wrote in his resignation letter. It wasn’t until Solicitor General Robert Bork said yes that Nixon found someone to do what he wanted. “I am, as instructed by the President, discharging you, effective at once, from your position as Special Prosecutor, Watergate Special Prosecution Force,” Bork wrote in a letter. Cox’s staff of 38 lawyers and 50 staff was immediately dismantled.

The response was sheer outrage all over the country. “It was a terrifying night. It felt like we were in a banana republic,” the journalist Elizabeth Drew later recounted in an interview. The fact that the president took it upon himself to try to kill the investigation by getting rid of the investigator was evidence that Nixon was out of control. NBC Newscaster John Chancellor told his viewers: “The country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious constitutional crisis in its history.”

Here’s some other news. From WAPO, we learned the Guggenheim trolled the White House with total finesse. “The White House asked to borrow a van Gogh. The Guggenheim offered a gold toilet instead.”  The  artist “Cattelan has also suggested that he had in mind the wealth that permeates aspects of society, describing the golden toilet “as 1 percent art for the 99 percent.”

The emailed response from the Guggenheim’s chief curator to the White House was polite but firm: The museum could not accommodate a request to borrow a painting by Vincent van Gogh for President and Melania Trump’s private living quarters.

Instead, wrote the curator, Nancy Spector, another piece was available, one that was nothing like “Landscape With Snow,” the 1888 van Gogh rendering of a man in a black hat walking along a path in Arles, France, with his dog.

The curator’s alternative: an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet — an interactive work titled “America” that critics have described as pointed satire aimed at the excess of wealth in this country.

For a year, the Guggenheim had exhibited “America” — the creation of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan — in a public restroom on the museum’s fifth floor for visitors to use.

But the exhibit was over and the toilet was available “should the President and First Lady have any interest in installing it in the White House,” Spector wrote in an email obtained by The Washington Post.

The artist “would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan,” wrote Spector, who has been critical of Trump. “It is, of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care.”

You’ll have to get this Dutch article translated but it has a particularly interesting bit of news exposing Dutch intelligence on the “cozy bear” hackers and the Russian hacking of our 2016 election.

Hackers from the Dutch intelligence service AIVD have provided the FBI with crucial information about Russian interference with the American elections. For years, AIVD had access to the infamous Russian hacker group Cozy Bear. That’s what de Volkskrant and Nieuwsuur have uncovered in their investigation.

It’s a fascinating read worthy of a Le Carre novel.  It actually begins around 2014.

The Dutch access to the Russian hackers’ network soon pays off. In November, the Russians prepare for an attack on one of their prime targets: the American State Department. By now, they’ve obtained e-mail addresses and the login credentials of several civil servants. They manage to enter the non-classified part of the computer network.

The AIVD and her military counterpart MIVD inform the NSA-liaison at the American embassy in The Hague. He immediately alerts the different American intelligence services.

What follows is a rare battle between the attackers, who are attempting to further infiltrate the State Department, and its defenders, FBI and NSA teams – with clues and intelligence provided by the Dutch. This battle lasts 24 hours, according to American media.

The Russians are extremely aggressive but do not know they’re being spied on. Thanks to the Dutch spies, the NSA and FBI are able to counter the enemy with enormous speed. The Dutch intel is so crucial that the NSA opens a direct line with Zoetermeer, to get the information to the United States as soon as possible.

Finally, Phillip Bump  looks at and talks with Hillary voters.  Finally!  We get our due!!

And then, there’s this one too:

No, life on these blocks centers around a joint on Carpenter Lane called Weavers Way, the venerable corner food co-op that launched in the twilight of the hippie era in 1972, where today senior citizens and young social workers wander down from rambling old-stone houses with their reusable canvas bags to load up on bulk spices, home-baked muffins, or maybe a treat like pumpkin gingersnap ice cream.

It’s the kind of place where the regulars pause on the front steps to check out ads for dog walkers or fiddle lessons, then trade friendly banter with familiar neighbors in the narrow aisles. And so Brittany Barbato, a 29-year-old writer and photographer for mission-driven publications who lives nearby, was when she strolled into Weavers Way on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016 — just hours after Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States.

“Usually there’s a buzz — you can hear people chatting, the bulk canisters flowing with what people are buying — and the cashiers are all chipper and friendly,” said Barbato, standing outside the food co-op in the January chill. “That’s why we love living here, the community. But I remember coming into the store and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so eerie, so quiet.’ It did feel as if something had died. And I remember thinking, ‘This is how I feel, too.’ ”

More than a year after that funereal morning in Mount Airy, the neighborhood has a bit of a feel of an occupied territory. Behind ancient stone walls, on the narrow, sloping yards, stand the signs of resistance at home after home: “Impeach Trump,” or “Black Lives Matter/Philly Children’s March,” with more than a smattering of “Hillary” yard signs that owners refuse to take down, and one that declares: “In This House, We Believe: Black Lives Matter/Women’s Rights Are Human Rights/No Human Is Illegal/Science Is Real/Love Is Love/No Matter Your Faith Or Ability/Kindness Is Everything.”

Boston Boomer will undoubtedly have a lot to say on Tuesday on why we will not be live blogging the SOTU address.  This is something we have done for years but not this one. I, for one, can’t bear to hear or watch him mangle the English language and our American values.   However, we might give some consideration to listening to Representative Joseph Kennedy’s response.  Let us know how you feel.

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, one of the Democratic Party’s rising political stars, has been tapped by top party leaders to deliver the official Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address next week.

The choice thrusts the 37-year-old, three-term congressman from Brookline into the national spotlight more squarely than he has ever been before. The job will put him on national television as the face of the Democratic Party and the voice of chief Trump critic at an extraordinary moment in the country’s politics. For many Americans, it will be their first introduction to the latest Kennedy on the political scene.

“Congressman Kennedy is a relentless fighter for working Americans,” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a press release announcing the move. “While President Trump has consistently broken his promises to the middle class, Congressman Kennedy profoundly understands the challenges facing hard-working men and women across the country.”

The Republicans and Drumpf continue their assault on the FBI. Slate’s Impeach-O-meter is going off once more but stuck at 45% after the probing of Andrew McCabe’s 2016 voting records. He definitely is stuck on finding all of his men.

Not that I really care about what Bob Woodward thinks but in a recent interview with Poynter he says we’re still not reaching peak Watergate.

Bob Woodward would know better than most of us if Donald Trump was the new Richard Nixon.

But he’s not, said the reporting icon responsible for breaking the Watergate scandal during a talk at the Mahaffey Theater on Wednesday night. At least, it’s too early to tell.

“We talk about maybe what Russia did or the extent to which they did — it’s not clear — meddle in our election,” he said to a predominantly older audience of several hundred people. “But in 1972 we had the real thing: the inside destruction of our electoral system, funded, organized, championed, led by Richard Nixon.”

Woodward insists we still don’t know where it’s going. I think we’re inching closer to definite ‘Obstruction of justice’ charges.  We’ll be in a better place after a Blue Wave to take this menace out of office and his little dog Pence too.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?