Posted: April 27, 2021 Filed under: Republican politics | Tags: Arizona fake election audit, conspiracy theories, Cyber Ninjas, Fox News, John Singer Sargent portraits, Kamala Harris book conspiracy theory, Newsmax, OneAmerica, Peter Wehner, Q-Anon, red meat reduction conspiracy theory, Ron Watkins, Tucker Carlson
Nonchaloir (Repose), by John Singer Sargent
Yesterday Dakinikat posted this article by Peter Wehner in The Atlantic on the growing radicalization of the GOP. Wehner cites reporting by Sarah Longwell of The Bulwark that shows more formerly “normal” Republicans fleeing Fox News and tuning in to conspiracy-oriented outlets like Newsmax and OneAmerica network.
A second finding, according to Longwell, is that for the first time, she’s hearing people say they pretty regularly tune in to Newsmax or One America News Network, two conspiracy-theory-minded MAGA television news outlets. She’s heard from some people in her focus groups that “Fox has gone too far left.” Overall, what she sees isn’t Trump supporters fleeing Fox in huge numbers so much as experiencing some cooling of their enthusiasm and a willingness to look to other sources of information. (Tucker Carlson, the most malicious and influential figure at Fox News, does have a certain rock-star status in MAGA world.)
It appears that Fox is responding by airing even more insane conspiracy theories. For example, last night Tucker Carlson took his anti-mask crusade to a new level. You have to see this to believe it.
The Daily Beast: Tucker Carlson Tells Fox Viewers to Call the Cops if They See Kids Wearing Masks Outdoors.
Raging against face masks on Monday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson told his viewers they should openly harass anyone they see wearing masks outside and go so far as to call the police or social services on the parents of any children with masks on.
Carlson, who was a proponent of mask-wearing to help stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic as recently as last March, has since become a fierce critic of face masks and other COVID-19 restrictions, guidelines, and mitigation efforts.
“Masks have always been incompatible with a free society,” he fumed. “We used to know that. Masks strip people of their identity as individuals, transform people from citizens into drones. They isolate us and alienate us to shut us off from one another, they prevent intimacy and human contact. If I can’t see your face, I can’t know you.”
Portrait of Madame X, John Singer Sargent
Stating that a large portion of liberals suffer from an “actual mental health condition” because a recent Pew survey shows they are critical of others who don’t mask up near them, Carlson called on his audience to instead openly mock mask-wearers in public.
“The rest of us should be snorting at them first. They’re the aggressors. It’s our job to brush them back and restore the society we were born in,” he said. “So the next time you see someone in a mask on the sidewalk or on the bike path, do not hesitate. Ask politely but firmly, ‘Would you please take off your mask? Science shows there is no reason for you to be wearing it. Your mask is making me uncomfortable.’” [….]
Carlson then took it several steps further by urging his viewers to take far more drastic measures if they see children wearing masks.
“As for forcing children to wear masks outside, that should be illegal,” the Fox News star huffed. “Your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different from your response to seeing someone beat a kid in Walmart. Call the police immediately. Contact Child Protective Services. Keep calling until someone arrives. What you’re looking at is abuse, it’s child abuse, and you are morally obligated to attempt to prevent it.”
This is going to get people killed–either by the virus or by more violent interactions in between Trump crazies in businesses that require masks or just ordinary mask-wearing people going about their business.
Here are some are other MAGA conspiracy theories that have gone viral lately.
Yahoo News: How a false claim about beef and Biden’s climate plan spread.
On Sunday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted out a Fox News graphic about President Biden proposing a reduction in red meat consumption. “Not gonna happen in Texas!” proclaimed the Republican, who serves nearly 30 million constituents.
Abbott was retweeted by fellow Republican Gov. Brad Little, who said, “Idahoans also have beef with this agenda and for dinner!” The two governors followed in a line of conservative politicians, pundits and news outlets who spent days proudly stating their opposition to a provision of Biden’s climate plan that doesn’t exist.
The false narrative stems from coverage of Biden announcing his new climate goals last week in honor of Earth Day, including cutting U.S. carbon emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030 over 2005 levels. The plan drew immediate Republican condemnation, but the beef-specific narrative stems from a Thursday article in the Daily Mail, a conservative British tabloid. The lengthy headline reads, “How Biden’s climate plan could limit you to eat just one burger a MONTH, cost $3.5K a year per person in taxes, force you to spend $55K on an electric car and ‘crush’ American jobs.”
The piece cites a University of Michigan study that analyzes what different changes in the U.S. diet could mean for greenhouse gas emissions. This was translated into the Fox News graphic shared by Abbott and others, which stated that the Biden proposal would cut 90 percent of red meat from Americans’ diet, allowing them a maximum of 4 pounds per year and one burger a month.
A primary issue in using the paper to condemn the Biden climate plan is that it was published in January 2020, when Biden was involved in a tight Democratic primary and a year away from being sworn in as president. His climate plan does not have any provisions regulating citizens’ ability to consume meat.
Gregory A. Keoleian and Martin Heller, two of the study’s authors, told Yahoo News that “to our knowledge, there is no connection between our study and Joe Biden’s Climate plan.”
Smoke of Ambergris, 1880, by John Singer Sargent
The Washington Post: No, officials are not handing out Harris’s picture book to migrant kids.
“After learning officials are handing out Kamala Harris’ book to migrants in facilities at the border, it’s worth asking… Was Harris paid for these books? Is she profiting from Biden’s border crisis?”
— Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, in a tweet, April 26, 2021\“The Biden administration’s weakness caused a surge of illegal immigration. Now they’re forcing taxpayers to buy Kamala Harris’s book to give to those illegal immigrants?”\— Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), in a tweet linking to a report in the New York Post, April 25, 2021
“Harris’s children’s book Superheroes Are Everywhere is included in welcome packs for migrant children arriving at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, a recently converted influx facility, along with basic hygiene supplies and clothing, photographs show.”
— Reporting on Fox News, April 24, 2021
“Unaccompanied migrant kids brought from the U.S.-Mexico border to a new shelter in Long Beach, Calif., will be given a copy of her 2019 children’s book, ‘Superheroes are Everywhere,’ in their welcome kits.”
— Reporting in the New York Post, April 23, 2021
It’s like a bad game of telephone.
The New York Post reported that a children’s picture book written by Vice President Harris was being handed out in “welcome kits” to young migrants at a shelter in Long Beach, Calif.
Fox News, which is owned by the same family as the New York Post, then amplified the story with its own version of the article.\Cotton and McDaniel ran with these reports and posted critical tweets. But they should have dug deeper.
Long Beach city officials told The Washington Post that Harris’s book is not being handed out in welcome kits. A single copy of the book was donated during a citywide donation drive, officials said.
Posted: April 10, 2021 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Alligators, Boston Public Garden, CDC, coronavirus pandemic, Covid-19 vaccines, Donald Trump, Fox News, Matt Gaetz, Racism, Tucker Carlson, U.S. Marines, White supremacists
Jean Metzinger, French, 1883-1956
Before I get to today’s news, here’s a little comic relief. This was in yesterday’s Boston Globe, but I can’t get past their rigid paywall. But I found the story at The Pest Control Daily: Boston Public Backyard used to have child alligators — sure, alligators — and other people fed them rodents. The “public backyard” is the Boston Public Garden, adjacent to the Boston Common. I had heard about cows grazing on the Common, but not about alligators in the Public Garden.
There are several newspaper articles from this period referring to the alligators who lived in a basin – or pond – near the entrance to Arlington Street amid a “magnificent” row of lilies. Reports vary, but for some time there were between three and four alligators on the site, strikingly complementing the many other exotic features of the public garden at the time.
A story in the September 19, 1901 issue of the Boston Post said three of the city’s alligators were given by “a Charlestown woman” who “became afraid of them and introduced them to the city of Boston.” The fourth alligator was given to the city by a man from Chelsea, though it’s just unclear why.
An article that appeared in an August 9, 1901 issue of the Boston Globe said the alligators – known as babies – belonged to William Doogue, the city’s superintendent for common and public reasons.
Doogue oversaw the public garden from 1878 to 1906, according to Friends of the Public Garden, a nonprofit advocating Boston Common, the public garden, and the nearby Commonwealth Avenue Mall and known for its exceptional green thumb….
The alligators have certainly rubbed some city dwellers the wrong way. But it wasn’t so much their presence that was annoying – people often huddled around the pool looking for them – it was how they were sometimes fed.
“Some objections to feeding live rats and mice to those in the public garden pond,” read the headline of the August Globe article.
The newspaper reported that in “warm weather” the alligators were put in the public garden and fed by park officials once a week….
“Live rats exposed to hungry alligators,” read a headline in the Boston Post on August 9, 1901. “The public garden exhibit attracts morbid interest from women and children.”
The article says, “The city doesn’t feed them in the summer … the city doesn’t have to” because “the alligators make their own living by entertaining the public”.
The story included an illustration of primitively dressed people gathered around a small pond-like structure and watched a man kneel to feed the alligators with the animals’ mouths wide open.
Apparently this was seen as a low-life activity. There is much more detail at the link about the feeding of the alligators. Apparently they were moved to the Franklin Park Zoo during the colder months, and their presence in the Boston Garden lasted for about 6 years.
White Supremacist News
Remember those neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us?” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson was trending on Twitter all day yesterday after he parroted a white supremacist conspiracy theory that liberals are trying to replace white people with immigrants.
Fortunato Depero, Elasticità di gatti (1936–1939)
Media Matters: Tucker Carlson, the face of Fox News, just gave his full endorsement to the white nationalist conspiracy theory that has motivated mass shootings.
For decades, white nationalists have invoked the specter of nonwhite immigration, multiculturalism, and declining birthrates to argue for the existence of a vast conspiracy aimed at eliminating white populations as a dominant demographic. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson is distributing the language, grievances, goals, and inherent call to action of the conspiracy theory to massive audiences.
On the April 8 broadcast of Fox News Primetime, Carlson offered perhaps his most explicit justification yet for the core belief of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory: that a wave of “Third World” invaders is coming to replace you and reshape your environment, and that you, the audience, should do something about it.
The Fox News host claimed that “what’s true” is that “the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” and no one should “sit back and take that.”
More from Media Matters: White nationalists praise Tucker Carlson’s full embrace of their “replacement” conspiracy theory.
After the Anti-Defamation League called on Fox News to fire Carlson for his remarks, white supremacist and far-right personalities were quick to make their approval known.
White supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes explained what Carlson actually meant in his statements, lamenting that Carlson wasn’t more direct and theorizing that he probably had to dial it back in order to avoid consequences at Fox….
Other racist and extreme far-right media personalities and social media accounts also backed Carlson, celebrating him for broadcasting “what nationalists have been talking about for decades” and defending him against criticism.
Matt Gaetz Updates
The Washington Post: House opens ethics investigation into Florida Republican Matt Gaetz.
The House Ethics Committee announced Friday it would investigate claims that Rep. Matt Gaetz engaged in sexual misconduct and illicit drug use and showed images of naked women on the House floor, opening a new front in the growing scandal enveloping the Florida Republican.
Jean Metzinger, Still Life with Cat and Fish, 1950
Gaetz responded hours later with a defiant speech before a welcoming crowd at former president Donald Trump’s Miami-area hotel and golf club, dismissing the claims against him as an attempt by the political establishment to silence his political views.
“Let me assure you, I have not yet begun to fight for the country I love, and for the nation that I know benefits from America First principles,” he said to cheers at an event sponsored by Women for America First, a group that sponsored the rally at the White House Ellipse before the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. “I’m built for the battle, and I’m not going anywhere. The smears against me range from distortions of my personal life to wild — and I mean wild — conspiracy theories.”
The news of the investigation came a day after Gaetz’s friend, Joel Greenberg, who has been charged with sex trafficking of a minor among other offenses, signaled to a federal judge through his lawyer that he was negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors that could help them in an ongoing probe into whether Gaetz paid for sex or trafficked a woman across state lines for sex.
Click the link for more details.
Fred Grimm at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Scandal leaves Florida’s congressional provocateur with few friends.
His fellow congressional Republicans have risen as one to defend Matt Gaetz.
Oh, sorry. My bad. Make that two.
Jim Jordan of Ohio — Abbott to Gaetz’s Costello in their Capitol Hill clown act — came through for Matt. Sort of. After Gaetz denied allegations that he had been galivanting with escorts and even a 17-year-old girl, with allusions to orgies and illicit drug use, Jordan managed a four-word tweet: “I believe Matt Gaetz.” Which seemed an understated reaction from the likes of Jordan, whose usual outbursts have been unfettered by propriety, truth or the national interest.
You’d think the pugnacious Jim Jordan, of all people, would have come up with a more defiant defense of his fellow provocateur. But no.
Still life with cat and lobster, Pablo Picasso
Which left Marjorie Taylor Greene from Planet QAnon as his defender-in-chief. “Take it from me rumors and headlines don’t equal truth. I stand with @mattgaetz,” tweeted the Georgia congresswoman, a propagator of astounding untruths, slanders and conspiracy theories. Not sure that character references from the woman who suggested California wildfires had been ignited by Jewish space lasers can rehabilitate Gaetz’s mucky reputation.
Support was also slow coming from Mar-a-Lago, although Gaetz had been Donald Trump’s most outlandish congressional defender through two impeachments and an insurrection. Yet, the ex-president kept quiet in the week after The New York Times reported that the FBI has widened an investigation of former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg — who faces a slew of federal charges — to include his former best buddy and fellow philanderer. The Times said the FBI is looking into allegations that Greenberg and Gaetz arranged sexual trysts with paid escorts, including a 17-year girl. (Which Gaetz denies.)
It wasn’t until reports surfaced that, during Trump’s final days in office, Gaetz had sought a preemptive pardon for any federal charges that might come his way, that the ex-president finally said something. Not much, but something. His office issued a carefully worded, unTrumpian statement: “Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” adding, like an afterthought, “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
I just can’t get enough of Gaetzgate.
The Washington Post: Trump officials celebrated efforts to change CDC reports on coronavirus, emails show.
Trump appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services last year privately touted their efforts to block or alter scientists’ reports on the coronavirus to more closely align with President Donald Trump’s more optimistic messages about the outbreak, according to newly released documents from congressional investigators.
Still life with grey cat, Jean Metzinger
The documents provide further insight into how senior Trump officials approached last year’s explosion of coronavirus cases in the United States. Even as career government scientists worked to combat the virus, a cadre of Trump appointees was attempting to blunt the scientists’ messages, edit their findings and equip the president with an alternate set of talking points.
Science adviser Paul Alexander wrote to HHS public affairs chief Michael Caputo on Sept. 9, touting two examples of where he said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had bowed to his pressure and changed language in their reports, according to an email obtained by the House’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus outbreak.
Pointing to one change — in which CDC leaders allegedly changed the opening sentence of a report about the spread of the virus among younger people after Alexander pressured them — Alexander wrote to Caputo, calling it a “small victory but a victory nonetheless and yippee!!!”
In the same email, Alexander touted another example of a change to a weekly report from the CDC that he said the agency made in response to his demands. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, or MMWRs, which offer public updates on scientists’ findings, had been considered sacrosanct for decades and untouchable by political appointees in the past.
Two days later, Alexander appealed to White House adviser Scott Atlas to help him dispute an upcoming CDC report on coronavirus-related deaths among young Americans.
“Can you help me craft an op-ed,” Alexander wrote to Atlas on Sept. 11, alleging the CDC report was “timed for the election” and an attempt to keep schools closed even as Trump pushed to reopen them.
Posted: April 1, 2021 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, just because, U.S. Politics | Tags: David McGee, DOJ, Don Gaetz, FBI, Fox News, iran, Joel Greenberg, Matt Gaetz, Robert Levinson, sex trafficking, Tucker Carlson
Saad Yagan, 2017
What on Earth is going on with Matt Gaetz? The story just keeps growing stranger by the day. It all began with this New York Times story published on Tuesday: Matt Gaetz Is Said to Face Justice Dept. Inquiry Over Sex With an Underage Girl.
Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida and a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, according to three people briefed on the matter.
Investigators are examining whether Mr. Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, the people said. A variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. The Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences.
It was not clear how Mr. Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing, according to two of the people.
The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William P. Barr, the two people said. Given Mr. Gaetz’s national profile, senior Justice Department officials in Washington — including some appointed by Mr. Trump — were notified of the investigation, the people said.
Then Gaetz appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox and made everything worse for himself.
Aaron Rupar at Vox: Matt Gaetz’s disastrous Tucker Carlson interview, explained.
Hours after the New York Times broke the news that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking, he was given a platform by Fox News host Tucker Carlson to tell his side of the story. But Gaetz ended up botching the softball interview so thoroughly that Carlson ended up telling his millions of viewers it was “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”
Pablo Picasso, 1939
At various points during the interview, Gaetz — who denies the allegations — volunteered the existence of criminal allegations against him that aren’t yet part of the public record, brought up sexual misconduct allegations against Carlson that most of his viewers probably weren’t aware of, and went out of his way to involve Carlson in stories about his personal life.
“I can say that actually you and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine — you’ll remember her — and she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme, that could face trouble,” Gaetz said. “So I do believe there are people at the Department of Justice that are trying to smear me. Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime.”
It sounds like he’s admitting he paid for travel and hotel rooms for a person he was dating, doesn’t it?
…more importantly than the bizarreness of the interview is the fact that Gaetz didn’t do a very convincing job trying to refute the very serious criminal allegations underpinning the federal investigation. His defense basically amounts to claims that he’s the victim of a vast conspiracy….
During the interview with Carlson, Gaetz denied improper conduct, but he did so in a very limited and specific way, using language that raised more questions than it answered.
Butterflies and Poppies, Vincent Van Gogh
“The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman, and that is verifiably false; people can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case,” Gaetz said — even though a 17-year-old is not a “woman,” the allegations go beyond mere “traveling,” and it’s unclear how “travel records” could disprove any of them.
Gaetz went on to allege that word of the investigation was leaked as part of an extortion plot, saying “what is happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former Department of Justice official” who demanded $25 million in exchange for making the sex trafficking allegations go away.
But during an MSNBC interview a short time later, one of the Times reporters bylined on the Gaetz story, Katie Benner, debunked one of Gaetz’s central claims, saying unequivocally that the former official Gaetz accused by name of being part of an extortion plot isn’t even involved in the investigation.
I’m still very confused.
Washington Post fact checker Salvador Rizzo explains why travel records could not prove the allegations against Gaetz are false. Basically, these records aren’t available to the public.
Here’s the bottom line: House members’ personal travel and expenses are not subject to disclosure, so there would be no public records to check regarding Gaetz’s private life.“If this was just personal travel, and he wasn’t using campaign or official funds, there’s no disclosure,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Airline flight manifests and personal credit card or bank statements would chart who went where with whom at what times and at whose expense, but those sensitive records are not public. Only law enforcement investigators could look through them by getting subpoenas.
Philip Bump at The Washington Post: The Matt Gaetz allegation, explained.
“The Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz — a Florida Republican considered a close political ally of former president Donald Trump — over an alleged sexual relationship with an underage girl,” The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett explain. That relationship allegedly included paying for the girl to travel, potentially across state lines, adding the complexity of potential federal charges related to sex trafficking, according to the Times. Both the Post and Times stories are constrained for fairly obvious reasons, including the limits of available information and the need to accurately convey the potential risk Gaetz faces.
Landscape with Butterflies, 1956, by Salvador Dali
The investigation apparently spun out of another sex-trafficking probe in Florida. That one focused on a former county official named Joel Greenberg, who was charged in the summer with a number of federal offenses, including sex trafficking of a minor.
“According to an indictment in the case, Greenberg abused his access to a statewide database, using it to look up the personal information of people with whom he was in ‘sugar daddy’ relationships, including the minor, and to help produce fake identification documents to ‘facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts,’ ” Zapotosky and Barrett report. “He was also accused of seeking to undermine a political opponent by surfacing fabricated evidence of racism and misconduct.”
It’s worth noting that questions about Gaetz’s relationships have emerged in the past. A Mother Jones article from 2019 documents concerns raised by a former member of Gaetz’s staff about a 21-year-old he was then dating and who was apparently posting photos of the two of them on Instagram alongside other photos showing not-conservative-politician-friendly activities.
There’s more explanation and confusion at the link. What is clear is that there are two different investigations that Gaetz is trying to combine in his defense. Other than that, I’m still confused.
Gaetz’s father chimed in at Politico yesterday: Matt Gaetz’s dad says he wore a wire for FBI probe into DOJ extortion claims.
Rep. Matt Gaetz’s father, Don, a former Florida Senate president, said he is working with the FBI, including wearing a wire on more than one occasion as part of an investigation into an alleged extortion plot that the pair said was organized by former federal prosecutor David McGee.
Herons and Lilies, 1934, by Frank W. Benson
“The FBI asked me to try and get that information for Matt and an indication we would transfer money to Mr. David McGee,” Don Gaetz said in an interview late Tuesday, without specifying what information he was referring to.
McGee, who is now in private practice with a Pensacola, Fla.-based law firm, did not respond to a POLITICO request seeking comment, but told other media outlets there is no truth to the alleged extortion plot.
Don Gaetz said in the interview he wore a wire during a meeting earlier this month with McGee and said he was set to meet Wednesday with Stephen Alford, a local developer who he said is also part of the alleged extortion scheme. During that meeting, Don Gaetz said, he was again set to wear a wire and try to get Alford to talk about payments he allegedly was to make to McGee, but the meeting fell apart when news broke that his son was being investigated by the Justice Department. Alford did not respond to text messages seeking comment.
In separate interviews, Don and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) acknowledged a Justice Department probe involving the younger Gaetz, 38, into whether he had improper involvement with a 17-year-old girl. The Gaetzes say they are the target of an extortion plot seeking money to keep the DOJ investigation quiet.
Today The Washington Post reported that the scandal involves Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran and is believed to be dead. Here’s a summary at The Week: The Matt Gaetz case now involves a missing FBI agent last seen in Iran.
When Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-Fla.) father received a message that referred to a Justice Department investigation into his son and asked for help funding the search for Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran 14 years ago, he thought the request was suspicious and went to the FBI, people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post on Wednesday.
On Tuesday night, The New York Times reported that in the waning months of the Trump administration, the DOJ launched an investigation into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him out of state. Gaetz, who denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes, released a statement saying his family had been targeted by extortionists, and his father wore a wire at the insistence of the FBI.
Boy with butterfly net, by Henri Mattisse, 1907
People familiar with the matter told the Post that Gaetz’s wealthy father, Don Gaetz, received a text message and document from two men who said if he gave them money to help with the search for Levinson, Matt Gaetz would be seen as a hero and his legal troubles would likely go away. Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island in 2007 while trying to get information on the country’s nuclear program, and was last seen alive in a 2010 hostage video. His family has said the U.S. government told them they believe Levinson is dead.
When Don Gaetz received these messages, the DOJ investigation into his son was not known publicly. It isn’t clear how the men learned about the investigation, and they do not appear to have any direct connection with the investigation. People with knowledge of the matter told the Post it will be hard to prove this was an extortion attempt because the men did not threaten to expose Gaetz’s DOJ investigation if the family did not give them money.
Matt Gaetz appeared on Fox News Tuesday night and accused a lawyer named David McGee of being involved in this effort. McGee has represented the Levinson family for years, and on Tuesday night he said Don Gaetz called him and they had a “pleasant conversation” about “the trouble his son was in.” McGee denied being involved in any extortion attempt, and his law firm on Wednesday called the allegation “false and defamatory.” Catherine Garcia
One more Gaetz story from ABC News: In investigation of Rep. Gaetz’s alleged sexual relationship with minor, feds looking beyond Florida, sources say.
Sources told ABC News the investigation has been going on for months and began during the Trump administration. Former Attorney General Bill Barr was briefed on the investigation’s progress several times, the sources said.
One source told ABC News that federal authorities have already interviewed multiple witnesses as part of their probe.
Morning Bird Dance, Edvard Munch
Gaetz has reportedly told confidants he is considering retiring from Congress and possibly joining the right-wing media outlet Newsmax, according to an Axios report earlier Tuesday.
Yet within the last several weeks Gaetz started reaching out to prominent attorneys, according to one source. The source said that one of the attorneys Gaetz asked to represent him was Washington attorney Bill Burck, who represented Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Don McGahn during the Mueller probe. Burck turned down the case, according to a person familiar with the decision.
So this story keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. One interesting point is that apparently Gaetz is very unpopular with Republicans and they are rooting for him to go down in flames. A few more links to check out:
Jeff Stein at Spy Talk: Gaetz ‘Extortion’ Figure’s Levinson Obsession.
The Daily Beast: The Creepy, Disturbing Case That Ensnared Matt Gaetz.
Ben Jacobs at New York Magazine: Matt Gaetz Gets a Scandal As Wild As Him.
Raw Story: Here are 7 new bombshell details from the complex and unraveling Matt Gaetz investigation story.
The Daily Beast: Republicans Have Been Waiting for a Matt Gaetz Scandal to Break.
The Hill: Fox has no interest in hiring Matt Gaetz.
I’ll be keeping an eye on this story, because it’s still so confusing to me. I guess we’ll be learning more soon. So what’s on your mind today? As always, this is an open thread.
Posted: March 13, 2021 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: abuse of power, Andrew Cuomo, Donald Trump, Fox News, Joe Biden, Peter Alexancer, presidential press conferences, Rebecca Traister, Sexual harassment, stimulus checks, TD bank, vaccine rollout
Franz Marc, Cat with Kittens
Everyone wants to know when they will be getting their $1400 stimulus check. Some people were posting on Twitter last night that they had already gotten their direct deposit. People are also saying on Twitter that TD Bank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America are holding the deposits until Wednesday. WTF? My bank is TD Bank.
So I guess I can stop checking my bank balance for the time being. They have the deposits, but they are going to collect a few days’ interest before they let us have our money.
On Monday, we should be able to track our payments on-line. Forbes:
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could start sending stimulus checks as early as this weekend. If you got a first stimulus check or second stimulus check, you know how important it is to check the status of your stimulus payment. You can check the status of your third stimulus check using the Get My Payment Tool, which is available on the IRS website.
Beginning Monday, March 15, 2021, it is expected that you can use the Get My Payment Tool to check the status of the American Rescue Plan stimulus payments, also known as an Economic Impact Payment. The IRS website says that the IRS is reviewing the tax provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11, 2021.
In other news, the Washington DC media is working very hard to find ways to criticize Joe Biden. They have all been harping on why Biden hasn’t yet held a press conference. The Washington Post: After 50 days as president, Biden still hasn’t given a news conference. Critics and allies wonder why.
Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both did their first one after just nine days in office.
Barack Obama waited 20 days.
The Checkered Blouse, Pierre Bonnard, 1892
And Donald Trump had been president for only a week before giving his first news conference, where he fielded questions alongside then-British Prime Minister Theresa May.
But Joe Biden still hasn’t had a formal news conference since his inauguration on Jan. 20. Thursday was his 50th full day in office.
The seven-week stretch is the longest a new president has gone without meeting the press in the past 100 years, dating back to when Calvin Coolidge, a man known as “Silent Cal,” was president, according to research by the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Biden delivered his first prime-time address to the nation Thursday night — but it appears the nation will wait longer to see him respond to questions at his first presidential news conference. He has often taken a question or two from reporters at the end of speeches or statements, as he did Wednesday after remarks about an increase in the coronavirus vaccine supply. But his record as president so far mirrors his behavior as a candidate, when Biden gave several interviews but rarely interacted with a roomful of reporters.
His reluctance to do so since becoming president has attracted comment and criticism from allies and foes alike.
Of course he’s been kind of busy rolling out vaccines and helping pass a huge stimulus bill. In addition his press secretary has been holding daily briefings. But the press has to find something to complain about.
The latest thing is the media asking why Biden isn’t giving Trump credit for the millions of vaccines have have now been distributed.
And it’s not just Fox News either. Here’s The New York Times: Biden Got the Vaccine Rollout Humming, With Trump’s Help.
When President Biden pledged last week to amass enough vaccine by late May to inoculate every adult in the United States, the pronouncement was greeted as a triumphant acceleration of a vaccination campaign that seemed to be faltering only weeks earlier.
And it is true that production of two of the three federally authorized vaccines has sped up in part because of the demands and directives of the new president’s coronavirus team.
But the announcement was also a triumph of another kind: public relations. Because Mr. Biden had tamped down expectations early, the quicker timetable for vaccine production conjured an image of a White House running on all cylinders and leaving its predecessor’s effort in the dust.
“On Saturday, we hit a record of 2.9 million vaccinations in one day in America, and beyond the numbers are the stories,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday at a White House event to celebrate the latest vaccine advancements. “A father who says he no longer fears for his daughter when she leaves to go to work at the hospital. The children are now able to hug their grandparents. The vaccines bring hope and healing in so many ways.”
Beyond the triumphant tone, a closer look at the ramp-up offers a more mixed picture, one in which the new administration expanded and bulked up a vaccine production effort whose key elements were in place when Mr. Biden took over for President Donald J. Trump. Both administrations deserve credit, although neither wants to grant much to the other.
NBC News got in on it too. Mediaite: WATCH: NBC News’ Peter Alexander Literally Wrote a Statement for Biden to Credit Trump on Vaccines, Read it Aloud at Briefing.
NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander took the initiative to compose a statement that President Joe Biden could use in order to give former President Donald Trump some credit for the success of the vaccination program that’s currently underway.
Several news outlets, including ABC News and The New York Times, criticized President Biden’s address to the nation on the anniversary of the Covid pandemic shutdown for failing to credit Trump.
Theodore Duret in His Study, Edouard Vuillard, 1912
At Friday’s White House daily briefing, Alexander asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki about that aspect of the speech, and went a step further by reading his own version of what Biden could have said to credit Trump.
Alexander said that Biden “spent a lot of time touting the success of vaccines, yet there was no mention of the president under whose administration these vaccines were developed,” and asked, “Does former President Trump not deserve any credit on vaccines?”
Psaki noted that the President and his team have praised the development of vaccines as “a Herculean incredible effort by science and by medical experts. And certainly, we have applauded that in the past, and we are happy to applaud that again.”
“But, I would say there is a clear difference, clear steps that have been taken since the president took office, that have put us on a trajectory that we were not on when he was inaugurated,” she added. “And leadership starts at the top, it includes mask-wearing, it includes acknowledging it is a pandemic, it includes getting a vaccine in public.”
Psaki went on to say that most of the infrastructure to vaccinate people was not in place when Biden took office.
Alexander conceded some of Psaki’s points, and said: “But on the development of the vaccines, it was Operation Warp Speed that was invented, executed, initiated under the former president.”
“So in the spirit of bipartisanship and unity last night, as opposed to the first comments which were about the denials in the first days weeks or months, why not just say, ‘With credit to the previous administration and the former president for putting us in this position, we are glad that we have been able to move it forward?’” Alexander asked.
“That is an excellent recommendation as a speechwriter,” Psaki said with a smile, then restated much of her previous answer, and told Alexander the purpose of the speech, as she saw it.
It’s looking worse for Andrew Cuomo as more women come forward and more people talk about his bullying and incompetence. Definitely check out Rebecca Traister’s long article at New York Magazine’s The Cut.
Traister also gave an interview to Audie Cornish at NPR: Gov. Cuomo’s Pattern Of Abuse Of Power.
CORNISH: Let’s just start with some of the common threads. What did you hear from some of these women?
TRAISTER: Well, I spoke to women and men, and I heard of a variety of ways in which Andrew Cuomo wields his power and in many cases, I think, abuses it both within the office, how he treats personnel and employees, and in terms of how he governs.
In terms of what I heard from some of the women who have worked for him, there were all kinds of common patterns – the feeling of being objectified, in some cases being hired because of how they looked. There is a woman who tells the story of meeting him at a party for two minutes and then getting invited in for a job offer two days later for no other reason she says she understood at the time except that he liked the way she looked at the party, a meeting where he also sort of grabbed her uncomfortably and did a dance move in front of a photographer.
Marc Chagall, The cat transformed into a woman,
There was a lot of women talking about how he touched them uncomfortably – again, not necessarily the kind of groping that he has reportedly been accused of by one woman in Albany in an incident that’s been reported to police, but touching them at weddings, kissing them on their heads. And then one thing is…
CORNISH: And you stress this a couple of times. You talk about the idea of diminishment, tokenization, and that sometimes that takes a sexualized form but doesn’t always.
TRAISTER: Yes, some of it is objectification. A lot of women talked about his constant commentary on how they were dressed, how they looked, whether they’d done their makeup that morning, questions about their dating life, use of nicknames or – not just from Cuomo but from some of his high-up staffers – a refusal to sort of learn their real names or refer to them by names. It’s all various forms of making other people feel small, in part to emphasize his own power and maintain these hierarchies within his administration.
CORNISH: Another thing you noted is that there was a sense that there was no information-sharing, that it allowed the governor’s office to evade responsibility on some things. Can you talk about how and why you see a link between this – the allegations we’re hearing now and the problems that Cuomo is having when it comes to the deaths at nursing homes, for example?
TRAISTER: Well, I think so much of it is about his approach to power and how he wields it. He’s often been written about for years as somebody with a hard-knuckled style of politics, which sort of refers to this kind of old white male brute patriarchy in which toughness is read as strength, you know, in which – and in some cases abuse, I think, is read as strength. But what’s common there is this sense of impunity, and I think you can see that – that he’s so powerful that he can get away with things.
Read more or listen at the link. A couple more new articles:
The New York Times: For Some Women, Working for Cuomo Is the ‘Worst Place to Be’
In interviews over the past week, more than 35 people who have worked in Mr. Cuomo’s executive chamber described the office as deeply chaotic, unprofessional and toxic, especially for young women.
It is a workplace, the current and former employees said, where tasks are assigned not based on job titles, but on who is liked by Mr. Cuomo and his top aides.
Cat with Cactus Flower’, 1921, Dorothea Maetzel-Johannsen
Those interviewed described an environment where the senior executive staff regularly deride junior workers, test their dedication to the governor and make them compete to earn his affection and avoid his wrath.
The workers, for the most part, said they did not personally witness overt sexual harassment. But many said they believed that Mr. Cuomo and other officials seemed to focus on how employees looked and how they dressed. Twelve young women said they felt pressured to wear makeup, dresses and heels, because, it was rumored, that was what the governor liked.
One high-ranking current official and two former aides said they believed they had been denied opportunities because they did not dress in the preferred manner.
The workplace culture described by the employees is not uncommon in Albany, a state capital with a long history of sexual misconduct scandals and a reputation for after-hours mingling among lobbyists, elected officials and their aides at bars and fund-raisers. But the issues are notable for a governor who has cast himself as a champion for workers and women.
Michael Shnayerson at Vanity Fair: “I Started to Think, This is a Bad Guy”: Andrew Cuomo’s Biographer on the Governor’s Brutish History.
In 2012, I began writing an unauthorized biography of the governor of New York, who’d been in office a year. I talked to his associates and enemies. I gathered a dossier on his bullying ways and confrontational tactics. I pored over court documents surrounding his nasty split, a decade before, from his wife, Kerry Kennedy, a member of another powerful Democratic dynasty. As I plunged into writing, I hoped he might even agree to sit for an interview—and he did agree, sort of.
By the time I was about to hand in my manuscript, the governor had a book of his own in the works. It was titled All Things Possible. And his intention was to beat me to market. But I was ahead. Back came word that if I would let his book appear first, he would grant me all the interview time I wanted. So I agreed. But the governor pulled a fast one. I never did get that interview; his book came out in October 2014, a full five months ahead of mine. And there was, after all, no longer anything he needed from me. It was a quintessential Cuomo move: underhanded, stealthy, self-serving, and hard-ass.
This week I decided to dip back into the pages of my 2015 Cuomo biography, The Contender—and to do some additional reporting, given the news swirling around the governor. And I discovered that much of Cuomo’s M.O. and many of his character flaws—some of which have resurfaced as he’s been upended by the nursing home scandal and claims of sexual harassment, workplace misconduct, and predatory behavior (currently under investigation by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, and prompting an impeachment investigation by state legislators)—have been evident for years.
Here, then, are 12 hard truths I learned about Andrew Cuomo while writing The Contender.
Read the rest at Vanity Fair.
Those are my suggested reads for today. What’s on your mind?
Posted: November 12, 2020 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Military, U.S. Politics | Tags: & Wilmer, Department of Defense, Donald Trump, Fox News, intelligence agencies, Jones Day, Porter, Robert O'Brien, Trump tantrums, Wright Morris & Arthur
Prospects are not looking good for Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, but that doesn’t mean he won’t do serious damage to the government in his remaining lame duck weeks. The biggest problem for the transition to a real president is that Trump’s staff and most GOP elected officials are living in fear of Trump’s tantrums.
The Daily Beast: Trump’s National Security Adviser Tells Staff: Don’t Even Mention Biden’s Name.
President Donald Trump continues to refuse to cede the election. His national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, is enabling the mayhem, four senior officials told The Daily Beast.
O’Brien—once viewed as a potential check on Trump’s erratic national security demands—endorsed the installation of a pair of Trumpists at the Pentagon’s highest levels, while a defense secretary O’Brien has long opposed was fired by tweet.
One official claimed that O’Brien has been supportive of a peaceful transfer of power, joking in a Monday event about Trump’s loss and directing his staff to begin drafting transition materials. But three other officials told The Daily Beast that O’Brien has emerged as one of Trump’s biggest enablers at a decisive moment, supporting the president’s bid to retain power even though it is being waged through a nationwide disinformation campaign….
This week, officials say, O’Brien supported the removal of several top officials at the Pentagon and favored Christopher Miller, a former NSC official who moved to the National Counterterrorism Center, to replace Esper as secretary of defense. He also approved of the installation of Kash Patel as Miller’s chief of staff, officials said. Patel worked previously under O’Brien at the National Security Council. One senior official described Miller and Patel as “O’Brien’s boys.” Patel is also said to be close with another former NSC colleague, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who is now the Pentagon’s senior intelligence official.
A bit more:
Other officials familiar with the matter noted that O’Brien has also pushed national security officials to publicly embrace the absurd Trump message that the election has not been certified and that there are still legal battles playing out across the country that could turn in the president’s favor.
“If you even mention Biden’s name… that’s a no-go, you’d be fired,” one national security official said. “Everyone is scared of even talking about the chance of working with the [Biden] transition.”
Asked if officials in the White House feel comfortable saying Biden’s name in the West Wing, one senior White House official said, half-jokingly, “Sure, you can say his name. If you’re talking about who lost the election to the president.”
Behind closed doors, one official claimed, O’Brien has been much more forthcoming about Trump’s loss and the need to prepare for a transition. The problem, the other officials said, is that O’Brien hasn’t made that known to the commander in chief.
There’s much more interesting gossip at the Daily Beast link.
On the other hand, some right wingers are speaking up, including John Yoo, Mike DeWine, and John Bolton.
The law firms representing Trump are also getting antsy. The New York Times: Growing Discomfort at Law Firms Representing Trump in Election Lawsuits.
Jones Day is the most prominent firm representing President Trump and the Republican Party as they prepare to wage a legal war challenging the results of the election. The work is intensifying concerns inside the firm about the propriety and wisdom of working for Mr. Trump, according to lawyers at the firm.
Doing business with Mr. Trump — with his history of inflammatory rhetoric, meritless lawsuits and refusal to pay what he owes — has long induced heartburn among lawyers, contractors, suppliers and lenders. But the concerns are taking on new urgency as the president seeks to raise doubts about the election results.
Some senior lawyers at Jones Day, one of the country’s largest law firms, are worried that it is advancing arguments that lack evidence and may be helping Mr. Trump and his allies undermine the integrity of American elections, according to interviews with nine partners and associates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs.
At another large firm, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, based in Columbus, Ohio, lawyers have held internal meetings to voice similar concerns about their firm’s election-related work for Mr. Trump and the Republican Party, according to people at the firm. At least one lawyer quit in protest.
Read more at the NYT.
Yesterday another large law firm withdrew from a case in Arizona. Westlaw Today: Snell & Wilmer withdraws from election lawsuit as Trump contests Arizona results.
(Reuters) – The largest law firm representing the Trump campaign or its allies in post-election litigation challenging votes in key states has withdrawn from an election lawsuit in Maricopa County, Arizona.
Associate Presiding Civil Judge Daniel Kiley on Tuesday granted Snell & Wilmer’s request to withdraw as counsel of record for the Republican National Committee. The RNC had teamed-up with the Trump campaign and the Arizona Republican Party in the case, which alleges that Maricopa County incorrectly rejected some votes cast on Election Day.
Snell & Wilmer partners Brett Johnson and Eric Spencer first moved to withdraw on Sunday, a day after the case was filed. Johnson and Spencer did not respond to requests for comment. Snell & Wilmer chairman Matthew Feeney said the firm doesn’t comment on its client work.
Two other large law firms that have represented the Trump campaign in election litigation, Jones Day and Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, have faced an onslaught of online criticism this week from critics who say the cases erode confidence in the democratic process, sparked by a Monday New York Times story focused on the firms’ roles.
This story at The Washington Post by Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, and Ashley Parker suggests that Trump may be beginning to accept reality: Trump insists he’ll win, but aides say he has no real plan to overturn results and talks of 2024 run.
Trump aides, advisers and allies said there is no grand strategy to reverse the election results, which show President-elect Joe Biden with a majority of electoral college votes, as well as a 5 million-vote lead in the national popular vote.
Asked about Trump’s ultimate plan, one senior administration official chuckled and said, “You’re giving everybody way too much credit right now.”
Republican officials have scrambled nationwide to produce evidence of widespread voter fraud that could bolster the Trump campaign’s legal challenges, but no such evidence has surfaced. And Biden’s lead in several states targeted by the Trump campaign has expanded as late-counted votes are reported. In all-important Pennsylvania, the Democrat now leads by more than 50,000 votes….
Trump has been spending his days largely on the phone, calling advisers, allies and friends. The president has been “trying to find people who will give him good news,” one adviser said.
Still, Trump has indicated in some of these conversations that he understands Biden will take over the presidency on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. Rather than talking about a second term, Trump has been matter-of-factly discussing a possible 2024 campaign — an indication that he knows his time as president is coming to an end, at least for now.
“I’m just going to run in 2024. I’m just going to run again,” Trump has been saying, according to a senior administration official who has spoken with him this week.
In 2024, Trump will be 79 years old and his dementia will have gotten much worse. But he’ll likely try to continue making our lives a living hell after he leaves the White House.
According to Mike Allen at Axios, Trump plans to form his own media company: Scoop: Trump eyes digital media empire to take on Fox News.
President Trump has told friends he wants to start a digital media company to clobber Fox News and undermine the conservative-friendly network, sources tell Axios.
The state of play: Some Trump advisers think Fox News made a mistake with an early call (seconded by AP) of President-elect Biden’s win in Arizona. That enraged Trump, and gave him something tangible to use in his attacks on the network.
- “He plans to wreck Fox. No doubt about it,” said a source with detailed knowledge of Trump’s intentions…..
Here’s Trump’s plan, according to the source:
There’s been lots of speculation about Trump starting a cable channel. But getting carried on cable systems would be expensive and time-consuming.
Instead, Trump is considering a digital media channel that would stream online, which would be cheaper and quicker to start.
Trump’s digital offering would likely charge a monthly fee to MAGA fans. Many are Fox News viewers, and he’d aim to replace the network — and the $5.99-a-month Fox Nation streaming service, which has an 85% conversion rate from free trials to paid subscribers — as their top destination.
I’ll believe that when I see it. Everyone needs to remember that Trump is a terrible businessman. Besides, he will have to deal with his massive debts and likely criminal charges in New York.
In the meantime, Trump has decapitated the top leadership of the Department of Defense and he may soon finish his takeover of the U.S. intelligence infrastructure.
The New York Times: Trump Stacks the Pentagon and Intel Agencies With Loyalists. To What End?
President Trump’s abrupt installation of a group of hard-line loyalists into senior jobs at the Pentagon has elevated officials who have pushed for more aggressive actions against Iran and for an imminent withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan over the objections of the military.
Mr. Trump made the appointments of four top Pentagon officials, including a new acting defense secretary, this week, leaving civilian and military officials to interpret whether this indicated a change in approach in the final two months of his presidency.
At the same time, Mr. Trump named Michael Ellis as a general counsel at the National Security Agency over the objections of the director, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone.
There is no evidence so far that these new appointees harbor a secret agenda on Iran or have taken up their posts with an action plan in hand. But their sudden appearance has been a purge of the Pentagon’s top civilian hierarchy without recent precedent.
Administration officials said the appointments were partly about Afghanistan, where the president has been frustrated by what he sees as a military moving too slowly to fulfill his promise that all American troops will be home by Christmas. The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel and fierce proponent of ending American involvement in Afghanistan, would serve as a senior adviser.
Read the rest at the NYT.
I’ll end there, and add a few more links in the comment thread. I hope everyone is doing OK. Please check in with us today if you have the time and inclination–we love to hear from you!