Tuesday Reads: Toni Morrison, Trump’s Gaslighting, and Other News

Gustav Klimt, Tree of Life

Good Morning!!

The news just broke that Toni Morrison has died. I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read her work; maybe now would be a good time to start. The Washington Post: Toni Morrison, Nobel laureate who transfigured American literature, dies at 88.

Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist who conjured a black girl longing for blue eyes, a slave mother who kills her child to save her from bondage, and other indelible characters who helped transfigure a literary canon long closed to African Americans, died Aug. 5 at a hospital in the Bronx. She was 88….

Ms. Morrison spent an impoverished childhood in Ohio steel country, began writing during what she described as stolen time as a single mother, and became the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. Critically acclaimed and widely loved, she received recognitions as diverse as the Pulitzer Prize and the selection of her novels — four of them — for the book club led by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

Ms. Morrison placed African Americans, particularly women, at the heart of her writing at a time when they were largely relegated to the margins both in literature and in life. With language celebrated for its lyricism, she was credited with conveying as powerfully, or more than perhaps any novelist before her, the nature of black life in America, from slavery to the inequality that went on more than a century after it ended.

Morrison begins the essay, published in 2015 in the 150th anniversary edition of The Nation, by recalling her despairing thoughts after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004. Was she foreshadowing our future under Trump?

Dictators and tyrants routinely begin their reigns and sustain their power with the deliberate and calculated destruction of art: the censorship and book-burning of unpoliced prose, the harassment and detention of painters, journalists, poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists. This is the first step of a despot whose instinctive acts of malevolence are not simply mindless or evil; they are also perceptive. Such despots know very well that their strategy of repression will allow the real tools of oppressive power to flourish. Their plan is simple:

1. Select a useful enemy—an “Other”—to convert rage into conflict, even war.

2. Limit or erase the imagination that art provides, as well as the critical thinking of scholars and journalists.

3. Distract with toys, dreams of loot, and themes of superior religion or defiant national pride that enshrine past hurts and humiliations.

Harmonia Rosales, the Birth of Eve

The Nation could never have existed or flourished in 1940s Spain, or 2014 Syria, or apartheid South Africa, or 1930s Germany. And the reason is clear. It was born in the United States in 1865, the year of Lincoln’s assassination, when political division was stark and lethal—during, as my friend said, times of dread. But no prince or king or dictator could interfere successfully or forever in a country that seriously prized freedom of the press. This is not to say there weren’t elements that tried censure, but they could not, over the long haul, win.

In these demoralizing days and nights in Trump world, we need artists and journalists so much more than in Bush’s awful presidency.

We are still feeling the aftershocks of the latest mass shootings in California, Texas, and Ohio. Yesterday Trump was forced to read someone else’s words from a teleprompter; it didn’t take long for him to go back to tweeting his resentments. We all knew he was gaslighting us. Nothing he could ever say or do will erase the damage he has done with the ugly racism, xenophobia, and hatred he has spewed since he announced his campaign for president in 2015. He words and deeds have enabled white supremacists and encouraged them to act out violently.

Politico: Trump attacks Obama for statement on shootings.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday attacked former President Barack Obama over the latter’s statement on the weekend’s mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, tweeting edited quotes from Fox News hosts to make his point and again claiming he is “the least racist person” in the world.

“From the Dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz to the Revolution – The Revolutionaries.” 1957-65, Diego Rivera

“‘Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook. President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of Control,’” Trump wrote online. “’Mass shootings were happening before the President even thought about running for Pres.’ @kilmeade @foxandfriends”

Trump’s message was a distillation of a sentiment “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade expressed on air shortly after 6 a.m. Tuesday morning. The president followed up that tweet with another post paraphrasing a comment from Kilmeade’s morning show colleague, Ainsley Earhardt.

“‘It’s political season and the election is around the corner. They want to continue to push that racist narrative.’ @ainsleyearhardt @foxandfriends,” Trump continued. “And I am the least racist person. Black, Hispanic and Asian Unemployment is the lowest (BEST) in the history of the United States!”

Obama on Monday afternoon lamented the violence that transpired Saturday morning in El Paso, Texas, and early Sunday morning in Dayton, Ohio, which left at least 31 people dead and injured dozens more.

In his statement, Obama called on Americans to “soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments.” The former president did not mention Trump, or any other politician, by name.

Obama simply did what Trump could not and would not do: act like a president.

Gizmodo: Trump Boosts Fired Google Engineer Who Proposed Richard Spencer Fundraiser, Suggested Skinheads Rebrand.

On Monday morning, President Donald Trump finally took the time to issue a (hollow and thoroughly unconvincing) denunciation of white supremacy in the wake of mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas over the weekend that collectively resulted in at least 31 deaths and scores of injuries—in the latter case involving a gunman whose manifesto clearly reflected Trump’s racist immigration rhetoric and reportedly targeted Hispanics.

Tree of Hope Remain Strong, Frida Kahlo

Of course, it never takes long for him to return to his usual bullshit. So it’s the opposite of surprising that by Monday evening, Trump was posting clips from a Fox News interview with a former Google engineer who claimed the company discriminated against him for his conservative political views. In reality, said employee had reportedly urged other Googlers to contribute to a “bounty” to find an individual who punched white supremacist Richard Spencer, as well as suggested that the Golden State Skinheads (GSS) rebrand so as to provide better “branding” for the “American nationalist Right.”

In the clip from Lou Dobbs Tonight posted to the president’s feed at 9:33 p.m. ET, former Google engineer Kevin Cernekee parroted debunked claims that the company’s executives “want to use all the power and all the resources that they have to control the flow of information to the public and make sure that Trump loses in 2020.” This dovetails nicely with Trump’s grudge against Google, which along with all of the president’s other perceived political enemies, he has targeted with baseless smears and doctored videos asserting a devious conspiracy against him.

While many news outlets were reporting on the stunning hypocrisy of Trump’s speech on the mass shootings, The New York Times chose to take Trump’s words at face value with a headline that was quickly attacked on Twitter.

The Washington Post: ‘The headline was bad’: New York Times amends front page on Trump’s response to mass shootings after backlash.

The New York Times weathered intense backlash Monday night for its front-page headline about President Trump’s response to the pair of mass shootings that read: “TRUMP URGES UNITY VS. RACISM.”

A preview of Tuesday’s front page shared to social media sparked instant criticism from members of the public, journalists and politicians, including several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, many of whom took issue with how the publication framed Trump’s comments on the weekend attacks in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, that left at least 31 people dead and dozens injured. In the aftermath of the tragedies, major media outlets have faced scrutiny from all sides over how they confront Trump and his often inflammatory rhetoric.

About an hour after the headline went viral, the Times announced it had amended its wording.

“The headline was bad and has been changed for the second edition,” a spokesperson for the Times told The Washington Post in an email.

Later editions of the print paper feature the words, “ASSAILING HATE BUT NOT GUNS.” Subheads above the two stories about Trump’s speech were also changed.

It’s the new “but her emails.” It’s time for executive editor Dean Baquet to resign.

The Washington Post story was more in line with reality: Teleprompter Trump meets Twitter Trump as the president responds to mass slayings.

Teleprompter Trump repudiated Twitter Trump in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Monday.

Speaking in the wake of two mass shootings in less than 24 hours that left at least 31 dead over the weekend, President Trump spoke of “the inherent worth and dignity of every human life” and the scourge of “destructive partisanship.”

Venceremos (We Will Win), Rina Lazo, 1954

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy,” the president said, reading from a script that scrolled on a teleprompter in front of him. He added, “Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion and love.”

That unifying message stood in stark contrast tomore than 2½ years of name-calling, demonizing minorities and inflaming racial animus, much of it carried out on Twitter. Just two hours before his White House speech, Trump tweeted an attack on the “Fake News” media for contributing to a culture of “anger and rage.” And in another set of tweets, the president suggested pairing “strong background checks” with “desperately needed immigration reform” — then dropped the matter entirely during his speech.

Such is the picture of a divisive leader trying to act as a healer, particularly in the aftermath of Saturday’s anti-immigrant attack in El Paso, where officials are still investigating but believe the alleged gunman posted a manifesto that echoed Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigrants, including describing his attack as “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Trump, in tweets and in rallies, has repeatedly decried the “invasion” of undocumented immigrants across the nation’s southern border.

More stories to check out:

Max Fisher at The New York Times: White Terrorism Shows ‘Stunning’ Parallels to Islamic State’s Rise.

Ali Soufan at The New York Times: I Spent 25 Years Fighting Jihadis. White Supremacists Aren’t So Different.

The Daily Beast: DHS Official: Trump Can’t Admit ‘This Is Terrorism.’

Los Angeles Times: Foreign countries are warning their citizens about U.S. travel after mass shootings.

Los Angeles Times: Trump officials have redirected resources from countering far-right, racism-fueled domestic terrorism.

USA Today: Hypocritical talk, worse action: Trump dismantled tools to fight white supremacist terrorism.

The Dallas News: Donald Trump, who’s going to El Paso this week, owes city more than $500K for his February rally.

The Texas Tribune: A racist manifesto and a shooter terrorize Hispanics in El Paso and beyond.

The Texas Tribune: Running while brown: How Julián Castro is navigating white presidential politics.

The Washington Post: Ex-girlfriend says Dayton shooter heard voices, talked about ‘dark, evil things.


Thursday Reads: “They Are Not That Smart.”

Michelle Obama speaks at The Royal Festival Hall on December 3 in London. Jack Taylor, Getty

Good Morning!!

The title of this post is a quote from Michelle Obama. In an interview in London, Obama discussed “impostor syndrome,” that feeling many women struggle with that we are undeserving of success. From Newsweek:

The former first lady opened up about how the struggle with self-doubt “never goes away,” during a sold-out talk with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in London, which drew lines of tens of thousands of people.

Asked at the event how Obama felt about being seen as a “symbol of hope,” she said: “I still have a little imposter syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me,” according to the BBC.

“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”

“If I’m giving people hope then that is a responsibility, so I have to make sure that I am accountable,” Obama said.

But here’s the quote I just loved:

Obama offered a “secret” to young women everywhere: “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.”

It’s so true. And as long as mediocre white men are promoted over smarter and more experienced women, we will continue to be ruled by people who “are not that smart.”

You only need to look at the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton–a brilliant, experienced woman–was constantly denigrated in favor of two barely mediocre white men, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. And now that an ignorant, corrupt white man is “president,” that Hillary is repeatedly told to shut up and sit down, while mediocre, old white men like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden–who have already failed in primary races–are promoted by the media.

I’ve avoided day-time cable news this week so I didn’t have to listen to the endless, over-the-top praise of the late George H.W. Bush. But I have to admit that Bush at least knew how to behave like a human being, unlike the current resident of the White House.

Trump attended Bush’s funeral, but he didn’t seem comfortable. Still he is being praised in some quarters for not making a complete fool of himself. Apparently he has been unhappy about having to go through an entire week when the media focus wasn’t on him. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Trump has been snappish with aides most of the week, according to administration officials, miffed in part by so many ceremonial events not related to him. He was impatient for the memorials to end but expressed pride in himself for remaining publicly civil. People close to the president called it a course correction after his peevish reaction to Mr. McCain’s death.

What a pathetic asshole. He did the bare minimum, didn’t sing hymns or recite the Apostle’s Creed, and was the only person in the room who didn’t put his hand over his heart when the coffin was carried out.

At The Washington Post, Rick Wilson writes that George W. Bush’s invitation to Trump to attend the funeral prevented the asshole from ruining the solemn event.

By insisting on his successor’s inclusion in the proceedings, Bush forced the current White House occupant to briefly abandon his unfrozen cave-man act, denying him the chance to further debase the office of president by siphoning the dignity out of 41’s final hours in D.C. — something 45 likely would have relished, given the opportunity.

We’ll still be hearing about Poppy Bush for a couple more days because there is going to be another funeral in Texas today.

Mike Pence didn’t look too happy at the funeral yesterday either. Maybe this is why.

Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: “They’re Beginning to Think About Whether Mike Pence Should Be Running Again.” As the Mueller Fire Nears, Trump Ponders Jettisoning His Loyal V.P.

On Monday, Trump hosted a 2020 strategy meeting with a group of advisers. Among the topics discussed was whether Mike Pence should remain on the ticket, given the hurricane-force political headwinds Trump will face, as demonstrated by the midterms, a source briefed on the session told me. “They’re beginning to think about whether Mike Pence should be running again,” the source said, adding that the advisers presented Trump with new polling that shows Pence doesn’t expand Trump’s coalition. “He doesn’t detract from it, but he doesn’t add anything either,” the source said. Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump had been privately asking advisers if Pence could be trusted, and that outside advisers have been pushing Nikki Haley to replace Pence. One veteran of Trump’s 2016 campaign who’s still advising Trump told me the president hasn’t been focused enough on 2020. “What he needs to do is consider his team for 2020 and make sure it’s in place,” the adviser said. “He has to have people on his team that are loyal to his agenda.”

Trump’s doubts about Pence are surprising given Pence’s frequent public encomiums and professions of loyalty. “Trump waxes and wanes on everyone,” a prominent Republican close to the White House explained. Part of what’s driving the debate over Pence’s political value is Trump’s stalled search for a chief of staff to replace John Kelly. According to a source, Kelly has recently been telling Trump that Pence doesn’t help him politically. The theory is that Kelly is unhappy that Pence’s 36-year-old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, has been openly campaigning for Kelly’s job. “Kelly has started to get more political and he’s whispering to Trump that Trump needs a running mate who can help him more politically,” the source said. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

I wonder how Evangelical voters would feel about pious Pence getting dumped?

There has been lots of Russia investigation news this week despite the wall-to-wall coverage of Bush’s passing. Some stories to check out:

David Ignatius at The Washington Post: Michael Flynn appears to have come full circle.

The Trump campaign warrior of 2016 who led chants of “lock her up” deriding Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and then lied to the FBI after President Trump’s inauguration about his secret contacts with Russia, once again became an “exemplary” figure whose example, Mueller says, encouraged others to do the right thing.

“The defendant deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government,” writes Mueller in the sentencing memo. Mueller praises Flynn’s “early cooperation” as a spur to others. “The defendant’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming [with the special counsel’s office] and cooperate,” the memo notes.

This denouement, in which Flynn is once again on the side of law enforcement and truth-telling, is fascinating to me as someone who followed his career for more than a decade and remembers hearing his blisteringly honest briefings as a combat intelligence commander in Afghanistan. Flynn became disoriented during his years in Trump’s orbit, but the sentencing memo suggests that he recovered his balance and sense of duty after Mueller began his investigation.

There’s a bizarre irony here. Trump pleaded with James B. Comey, the FBI director at the time the investigation of Flynn began, to consider “letting this go.” That was a grossly improper attempt to interfere with the investigation and prosecution of Flynn’s false statements. How strange that it was Mueller, in the end, who decided in effect to “let this go” by recommending no jail time, after the investigation had run its course and Flynn had pleaded guilty and cooperated.

Frank Figliuzzi

Did Michael Flynn wear a wire for Mueller? MSNBC counterintelligence expert Frank Figliuzzi suggested as much yesterday. Hill Reporter.com:

MSNBC’s Morning Joe called on Frank Figluzzi to come in and help explain the memo. Figliuzzi was formerly an Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI and is familiar with Robert Mueller’s methods.

He began the segment by explaining that the extensive redactions meant that the info inside was sensitive. After stating that redactions are out of character for Mueller, Figluzzi said, “We saw lots of redaction. You do that in the FBI either when you have classified information or you are at such a sensitivity level that you cannot expose it.”

Figluzzi also felt the light sentence and amount of redactions meant the investigation was aiming for convictions at the highest levels. He continued, “I think, in fact, that underneath these redactions, if we were to lift these black magic marker points out, we would see people with the last name Trump or Kushner.”

Finally, Figluzzi ended the segment with a bombshell suggestion; Flynn may have worn a wire. He told the panel, “We see reference here to quick cooperation by Flynn. What does that mean? Did it happen in what we call the golden hour, where you could even wire somebody up and have him share communications in real time?”

At The Guardian, Marcia Chambers and Charles Kaiser made the same suggestion.

The least-noticed sentence in Michael Flynn’s plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller may also be the most important one.

Section eight of the deal reached by Donald Trump’s former national security adviser in the inquiry into Russian meddling in the US election is entitled “cooperation”. It specifies that as well as answering questions and submitting to government-administered polygraph tests, Flynn’s cooperation “may include … participating in covert law enforcement activities”.

Long-time students of federal law enforcement practices agreed, speaking anonymously, that “covert law enforcement activities” likely refers to the possibility of wearing a concealed wire or recording telephone conversations with other potential suspects. It is not known whether Flynn has worn a wire at any time.

“If the other subjects of investigation have had any conversations with Flynn during the last few months, that phrase must have all of them shaking in their boots,” said John Flannery, a former federal prosecutor in the southern district of New York.

“The one who must be particularly terrified is [Trump son-in-law and adviser] Jared Kushner, if he spoke to the special counsel’s office without immunity about the very matter that is the subject of Flynn’s plea. I think he must be paralyzed if he talked to Flynn before or after the investigators debriefed him.”

More Russia reads, links only:

Garrett M. Graff at Wired: 14 Questions Robert Mueller Knows the Answers To.

Vox: The Mueller investigation has gotten closer to Donald Trump.

Renato Mariotti at Time: Don’t Expect Mueller to Charge a Grand Conspiracy.

The Atlantic: The White House Has No Plan for Confronting the Mueller Report.

Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast: Senate Intelligence Committee Grilled Steve Bannon About Cambridge Analytica.

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


Thursday Reads: Constitutional Crisis in Crazytown

Good Morning!!

It’s difficult to know where to begin. Trump is isolated, melting down, we are certainly in a Constitutional crisis. Here’s a summary of the current situation from Politico: Trump, Alone.

LINE OF THE MORNING … THE WASHINGTON POST’S PHIL RUCKER, ASHLEY PARKER and JOSH DAWSEY said the combination of the Woodward book and the Times op-ed “landed like a thunder clap, portraying Trump as a danger to the country that elected him and feeding the president’s paranoia about whom around him he can trust. … According to one Trump friend, he fretted after Wednesday’s op-ed that he could trust only his children.” WaPo

IN SOME WAYS, this is a version of the same story we’ve been living for the past three years. The Washington establishment appalled, and Trump unmoved. This will, of course, heighten Trump’s distaste for the media, and fuel the media-and-swamp-out-to-get-me narrative.

THINK OF IT LIKE THIS: Trump’s own administration is criticizing him behind the cloak of anonymity. Whereas TRUMP HAS NO ARTIFICE. He just says what he thinks publicly. JUST THIS WEEK HE …

— SAID he might shut down the government if he doesn’t get what he wants on immigration policy. This came after SPEAKER PAUL RYAN sheepishly said Trump knew better than that.

— LASHED OUT AT ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS for allowing the indictment of two Trump supporters in Congress.

— INTIMATED he wouldn’t be terribly critical of Nike because it paid him big rent for its Midtown Manhattan store.

JUST LOOK HOW HE RESPONDED ON TWITTER — @realDonaldTrump at 6:11 p.m.: “TREASON?”

… at 7:40 p.m.: “Does the so-called ‘Senior Administration Official’ really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source? If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!”

… at 11:22 p.m.: “I’m draining the Swamp, and the Swamp is trying to fight back. Don’t worry, we will win!”

WHAT’S THIS MEAN FOR THE FUTURE? How is it sustainable for the president to operate in an environment in which he trusts nobody? We’re about to find out.

Right now Democrats are staging a rebellion in the Senate Judiciary Committee over the unprecedented way that Republicans are trying to ram through Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh while keeping secret hundreds of thousands of documents about the nominee’s past history.

Cory Booker threatened to release a document having to do with racial profiling, and he challenged Republicans to bring charges against him if he has broken a committee rule. Most other Democrats are supporting him.

Several Democrats have spoken about the process by which an outside private attorney, Bill Burck, who used to work for the nominee and currently works for George W. Bush has been permitted to decide which documents will be made public. Burck is also the criminal attorney for Don McGahn, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon in the Russia investigation!

Vox: Who is Bill Burck? Meet the former Bush attorney vetting Kavanaugh documents.

Bill Burck, a private attorney employed by former president George W. Bush and a longtime Republican, is a key linchpin in the process for reviewing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s lengthy paper trail. In fact, he’s running the show — and Democrats see his involvement as yet another sign of how far norms have shifted in the way the Republican majority has conducted Kavanaugh’s confirmation process.

Bill Burck

Burck’s name may sound familiar because he’s a deeply entrenched player in Republican legal circles. Not only is he reportedly a longtime friend of Kavanaugh’s, he’s also more recently represented at least three current or former Trump White House officials — Don McGahn, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon — regarding special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He’s currently a co-managing partner at the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

Burck’s representation of McGahn has particularly raised eyebrows, since McGahn is the main Trump White House official in charge of getting Kavanaugh confirmed. It’s also prompted questions given the potential role that Kavanaugh himself could have in ruling on elements of the Mueller investigation, if he advances to the high court.

What’s more, Burck and Kavanaugh were once colleagues in the Bush White House. He was a former special counsel and deputy counsel to President George W. Bush, while Kavanaugh served as White House counsel and staff secretary for the same administration. Certain Democrats argue that his ties across all these venues make him “triply conflicted,” per the Washington Post.

Democrats have also questioned why Burck — a private attorney as well as a very politically charged figure — has now been authorized to analyze and filter through all of Kavanaugh’s former White House records, documents that could include damning evidence about the nominee’s involvement in decisions on wiretapping, torture, and the detention of enemy combatants.

Read the rest at Vox.

Democrats on the Judiciary committee claimed last night that they have evidence that Kavanaugh lied in a previous confirmation hearing. In addition, they are suggesting that Kavanaugh discussed the Mueller investigation with someone in the a law firm that represents Donald Trump, Kasowitz Benson Torres. Kamala Harris questioned Kavanaugh about this last night and he was visibly rattled.

Vox: Kamala Harris’s mysterious Kasowitz question during the Kavanaugh hearings, explained.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday had the entire hearing room on tenterhooks, as she opened her questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh with a somewhat mysterious inquiry. Her question centered on a meeting Kavanaugh may have had about the Mueller investigation — with a member of a law firm founded by President Trump’s personal lawyer.

A meeting like this could underscore an inappropriately cozy relationship between Kavanaugh and the Trump administration, adding yet another potential conflict of interest to those that Democrats have been hammering throughout the hearing. And it’s one that a Democratic aide told Vox they believe might have taken place. (Democrats have argued that Kavanaugh’s nomination by Trump already poses a conflict of interest since he could potentially rule on elements of the Russia investigation.)

Kavanaugh, meanwhile, didn’t do much to settle the issue as he repeatedly deflected questions on the subject.

“Have you discussed the Mueller investigation with anyone at Kasowitz Benson Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump’s personal lawyer?” Harris asked. “Be sure about your answer, sir.”

“I’m not remembering but if you have something, you want to …” Kavanaugh said, adding, “I’m not sure if I know everyone who works at that law firm … I’m not remembering.”

Harris continued this line of questioning for roughly five minutes, a move that not only seemed to make Kavanaugh uncomfortable but also elicited some broader confusion in the hearing room since she declined to provide immediate specifics about a person or meeting. “I think you’re thinking of someone and don’t want to tell us,” she said.

Democrats said last night that they believe a meeting did take place and they are working to get more information about it.

It looks to be another big news day today and tomorrow the Mueller grand jury meets. ABC News: Two Roger Stone associates to appear before Mueller grand jury Friday.

Two past associates of President Donald Trump ally and veteran political operative Roger Stone are expected to appear before a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. on Friday in response to subpoenas from special counsel Robert Mueller, ABC News has learned.

Jerome Corsi, who until recently served as D.C. bureau chief for InfoWars, the alt-right program hosted by right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and political humorist and radio show host Randy Credico are the two latest Stone associates to be summoned to testify in Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Read more at the link.

There is so much to read today that I’m going to list some stories of possible interest, links only.

Historian Sean Wilentz at The New York Times: Why Was Kavanaugh Obsessed With Vince Foster?

The Washington Post: ‘The sleeper cells have awoken’: Trump and aides shaken by ‘resistance’ op-ed.

The New York Times: Trump Lashes Out After Reports of ‘Quiet Resistance’ by Staff.

LA Times: Now Trump is targeting Vietnamese refugees.

The Washington Post: Trump administration to circumvent court limits on detention of child migrants.The Washington Post: McCain’s former chief of staff says he’s considering Senate bid as a Democrat.

There has been a shooting in Cincinnati, so cable new switched over to covering that. I’m going to keep watching the Kavanaugh hearing on C-Span. What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings and Woodward’s New Book

Good Morning!!

I had difficulties with my internet connection this morning, so I watched the beginning of the Kavanaugh hearing. The Democrats raised quite a ruckus over the Republicans–and Trump’s–refusal to make documents available from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House. Democrats moved to adjourn the hearing until the documents could be reviewed. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley refused to hold a vote on the motion.

The committee has now begun opening statements by Senators. Awhile ago, Grassley said the committee would adjourn after the opening statements and resume tomorrow. The opening statements are limited to 10 minutes each.

Raw Story: Kavanaugh hearing spirals into chaos as Democrats refuse to let GOP chair read opening statement.

The confirmation hearing for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, began in chaos as several Democratic senators interrupted the opening remarks.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) tried to welcome Kavanaugh and was immediately interrupted by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“Good morning. I welcome everyone to this confirmation hearing on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to serve as associate justice,” Grassley said.

“Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman? I would like to be recognized for a question before we proceed,” Harris said.

“Mr. Chairman I would like to be recognized for a question before we proceed. Mr. Chairman. I would like to be recognized to ask a question before we proceed. The committee received [requested documents] just last night, less than 15 hours ago,” Harris said. “We believe this hearing should be postponed.”

Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) gave a long speech appealing to Grassley to stop the hearing.

“You are taking advantage of my decency and integrity,” Grassley said.

There was much more after that. I have to at least give the Democrats credit for speaking up.

More from NBC News: Fireworks as Kavanaugh confirmation hearings get underway.

Sen Kamala Harris (D-CA)

The Senate confirmation hearing for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh launched with chaotic scenes Tuesday morning as Democrats pushed to adjourn, and protesters repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.

The Senate confirmation hearing for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh launched with chaotic scenes Tuesday morning as Democrats pushed to adjourn, and protesters repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.

The complaints from Democrats on the panel and protester fireworks that lasted through the hearing’s first hour followed the late-night release of tens of thousands of documents related to Kavanaugh’s time in the George W. Bush White House.

“The committee received just last night, less than 15 hours ago, 42,000 pages of documents that we have not had an opportunity to read, review or analyze,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said moments after the hearing opened. “We cannot possibly move forward with this hearing.”

Sen. Amy Kobuchar (D-MN)

Sen. Amy Klobluchar, D-Minn., chimed in, agreeing with Harris and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., then added, “Mr. Chairman, if we cannot be recognized, I move to adjourn…we had been denied real access to the real documents we need” and also said that Republicans have turned the hearing into a “mockery.”

Other Democrats began to add to the chorus of concerns, interrupting Grassley. “What are we trying to hide? Why are we rushing?” asked Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

“This process will be tainted and stained forever” if the proceedings were not delayed, said Blumenthal. Grassley eventually denied Blumenthal’s repeated request for a roll call vote to adjourn the hearing.

As the Democratic pushback stretched into the hearing’s second hour, Grassley expressed mounting frustration. “Do you want to go on all afternoon?” he asked the panel’s Democrats.

Much more with background at the link.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed reports on the withholding of documents on Kavanaugh’s time in the White House: The Justice Department Was Behind The Decision To Keep 100,000 Pages Of Kavanaugh’s Record Secret.

After two days of questions about how it was decided that more than 100,000 pages of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s White House work would be withheld from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s review, the Justice Department took responsibility for the decision on Monday night.

“The Department of Justice, which has advised both Democratic and Republican administrations on the application of the Presidential Records Act and constitutional privileges, was responsible for determining which documents were produced to the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said….

The news that the documents were being kept from the public and the committee was reported on Friday night, when the lawyer overseeing the review sent a letter to congressional leaders about the final status of his review. The development was just the latest step in a series of fights over the millions of documents from Kavanaugh’s time working in George W. Bush’s White House from 2001 until when he was confirmed to his seat on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

The office of former president Bush has been producing some of those documents to the committee in advance of the hearing — a decision that went outside of the usual process for congressional requests under the Presidential Records Act, which is handled by the National Archives.

Instead, lawyers for Bush, led by William Burck of Quinn Emanuel, reviewed the documents requested and then provided the presidential records they found to the Justice Department for review.

“[T]he White House and the Department of Justice have identified certain documents of the type traditionally protected by constitutional privilege,” Burck wrote. “The White House, after consultation with the Department of Justice, has directed that we not provide these documents for this reason.”

I don’t know what the basis is for a claim of “constitutional privilege” or “executive privilege” or why a lawyer who is not connected to the government would be able to make such a claim. Maybe someone else can enlighten me. Senator Dick Durbin said he’d never heard of it.

The mysterious and powerful William Burck of Quinn Emanuel.

The Bush lawyers released 42,000 pages of documents last night, too late for Senators to realistically review the material. Chuck Grassley ludicrously claimed that committee staff for the Republican had reviewed every page of the documents by this morning.

So we’ll see what happens. We know the Republicans are probably going to cram this nomination through, despite what the public wants. The biggest issue is that Kavanaugh would likely vote to overturn Roe V. Wade. According to Aída Chávez at The Intercept: There is No Grassroots Energy Rallying for Brett Kavanaugh. None.

LAST SUNDAY, SEVERAL hundred protestors rallied in Civic Center Park in Denver, Colorado, against President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh. Local reporters were on hand, and the protest earned a two-minute segment on that night’s local CBS broadcast. The “Unite for Justice” rally in Denver was just one of dozens held across the country that same day, and viewers of that evening’s news learned that the rally-goers were taking a stand against confirming a justice who would be the fifth vote to repeal Roe v. Wade.

The network’s attempt at balance, however, was foiled by advocates of Kavanaugh — or, more precisely, the lack of them. The anchor, at the end of the segment, deadpanned to the Denver metro viewership and said, “A pro-life rally was scheduled to run in opposition to the protest, but no one attended.”

Abortion opponents’ inability to gather even a handful of counter protesters in Denver made for an awkward aside, but it also underscored the near total absence of organic grassroots energy from a supposedly rabid anti-choice movement. As the Senate began confirmation hearings Tuesday, the politics of the nomination are being shaped by a myth that has been constructed over decades by a small minority of fervent abortion rights opponents: that the country is evenly divided when it comes to abortion.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)

In reality, the politics are lopsided. Voters want Roe protected by more than a 2-1 margin, and even oppose overturning it in states like North Dakota, where Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is up for re-election. The opposition that does exist, meanwhile, is concentrated among a minority of hardcore Republicans who consider it a moral travesty to vote for Democrats — not the kind of voter Heitkamp could win over by supporting Kavanaugh.

All of this has been evident for years, yet the sophisticated political antenna of Democratic leaders in Washington suddenly fail them when it comes to reading polls on the question of abortion. Instead, Democratic leadership is worried about the political consequences for Democrats in red states who vote no. If all Democrats vote no, Republicans would need to win Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, Republicans from Maine and Alaska, respectively, who publicly support abortion rights.

Click on the link to read the rest.

In other news, people are already talking about Bob Woodward’s book on the Trump White House, which is scheduled for release next Tuesday. The Washington Post: Bob Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency.

John Dowd was convinced that President Trump would commit perjury if he talked to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. So, on Jan. 27, the president’s then-personal attorney staged a practice session to try to make his point.

In the White House residence, Dowd peppered Trump with questions about the Russia investigation, provoking stumbles, contradictions and lies until the president eventually lost his cool.

Bob Woodward

“This thing’s a goddamn hoax,” Trump erupted at the start of a 30-minute rant that finished with him saying, “I don’t really want to testify.”

The dramatic and previously untold scene is recounted in “Fear,” a forthcoming book by Bob Woodward that paints a harrowing portrait of the Trump presidency, based on in-depth interviews with administration officials and other principals.

Woodward depicts Trump’s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting, at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days. Learning of the appointment of Mueller in May 2017, Trump groused, “Everybody’s trying to get me”— part of a venting period that shellshocked aides compared to Richard Nixon’s final days as president.

A bit more:

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward reconts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’”

I’d say that’s being generous. a sixth grader would surely be able to understand that explanation. Read more at the WaPo.

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


Thursday Reads: Time to Invoke the 25th Amendment

Elisabeth Macke, August; 1887-1914. “Unser Wohnzimmer in Tegernsee”, 1909/10.

Good Afternoon!!

It just keeps getting worse. Yesterday, decent Americans watched in horror as Trump repeatedly insulted a gold star family and in the process politicized and diminished all fallen soldiers and their families. How much lower can he go? I guess we’ll find out, because there doesn’t seem to be anything too sacred for Trump to trash and disparage.

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Trump trivializes the deaths of four soldiers.

STAFF SGT. Bryan C. Black, 35, always relished a challenge. As a child, he drove himself to learn chess; as a teen, he excelled as a wrestler; and as an adult, he joined the Army, where he finished Ranger school and joined the Special Forces. Deployed to Niger, he learned the local dialect.

Before joining the Army, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah “J.W.” Wayne Johnson, 39, owned and operated a successful business. In uniform he became a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist. Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, was a good student and talented athlete. When he joined the Army he continued a family military legacy dating to 1812.

Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, was known to be both determined and playful, as demonstrated by how he commuted to a job at Walmart — removing the front wheel of his bike and becoming known as the “Wheelie King.”

These are the four soldiers who were killed Oct. 4 when their unit was ambushed by Islamist extremists in West Africa. Their lives, their brave service and the sacrifice of their grieving families should be discussed and honored. Instead — thanks to a president with a compulsive need to be the center of attention — their deaths have been trivialized. President Trump reduced condolences to a political competition and treated the grieving families who received them as pawns in a game.

You know the rest; if not you can read it at the Post. At this point, the entire world knows our shame–that the U.S. president is a disgrace and unfit for the office he holds.

Reading aloud, Julius LeBlanc Stewart

Aaron Blake at the Washington Post: Trump’s unmoored week shows just how aimless he is.

President Trump’s most faithful supporters like to believe he’s always a step ahead of the media and the political establishment — that he’s playing three-dimensional chess while we’re stuck on checkers. Where we see utter discord, they see carefully orchestrated chaos.

This week should disabuse absolutely everybody of that notion.

On two issues — health care and calling the families of dead service members — the White House has shown itself to be clearly unmoored, careening back and forth based upon the unhelpful and impulsive comments and tweets of its captain.

Again, you probably know the rest. I spent the day yesterday on the verge of tears, trying desperately not to sink into depression. Unlike Trump, I’m capable of empathy. I have my own life issues to deal with, as we all do; but always the fear of what is happening to our country hangs over everything and makes it difficult to handle day-to-day worries.

I can’t imagine what White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and his family must be feeling. CNN reports: Sources: Kelly didn’t know Trump would publicize that Obama didn’t call when his son died.

Chief of Staff John Kelly told President Donald Trump that President Barack Obama never called him after his son’s death prior to Trump raising the issue in a Tuesday radio interview, multiple White House officials told CNN.

But, according to these sources, Kelly never thought the President would use that information publicly.

Kelly and much of the White House were caught off-guard by Trump’s comments, one official said, struck by how the President took a story Kelly has tried to keep private — the death of his son — and used it to defend his handling of four soldiers killed in Niger.

Roberto Ploeg, 1955

Trump, in defense of his own previous claim that Obama didn’t call the loved ones of fallen soldiers, floated the idea Tuesday that reporters ask Kelly, a retired general, whether Obama called him after his son died in Afghanistan.

“As far as other presidents, I don’t know, you could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? I don’t know what Obama’s policy was,” Trump said during a Fox News radio interview.

It’s not clear to me why Kelly expected Trump to keep his confidence. Trump is a sociopath. He doesn’t care any more about Kelly or his dead son than he does about any of the grieving families. He cares only for himself and filling the dark empty hole in his soul with flattery and praise from others.

Kelly should resign or at least begin working with other cabinet members to invoke the 25th amendment before it’s too late.

NBC News Opinion: The 25th Amendment Proves Why Trump’s Mental Health Matters, by Richard Painter and Leanne Watt.

The 25th Amendment is the ultimate constitutional “check” — a corrective mechanism for an American president who is physically or psychologically unable to lead. Most important, it grants legal authority to those closest to power — first, the vice president and Cabinet members, then members of Congress — to stage an intervention. At the very least, these individuals are authorized to call a temporary timeout if the president is judged unfit to govern.

Is America today in need of such an unprecedented intervention?

The amendment, ratified in 1967 after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, was constructed to assure a smooth transition when a president becomes incapable of leadership. (Its vague wording leaves room for both physical and psychological justifications.) By the 1960s, the dangers of an incapacitated president were far greater than at the founding of our country. But arguably, the stakes have only gotten higher. With tensions flaring around the globe, there can be no doubt as to the fitness of the man or woman in possession of U.S. nuclear codes.

Pundits and politicians alike have called for the amendment’s implementation over the past few months. But it is both practically and philosophically a tool of last resort. Unlike impeachment, which is controlled solely by Congress, the 25th Amendment requires action by the majority of the president’s Cabinet and potentially Congress. This means that even in today’s polarized climate, partisan removal is unlikely. In addition, the bar for diagnosing mental health conditions is quite high.

This is a deep dive into what would be required to invoke the amendment to rid the country of a dangerous president. I hope you’ll read the whole thing.

Today, Trump is off on a new tangent because he’s apparently worried about the Russia investigation again. It started yesterday with baseless attacks on former FBI Director James Comey and Hillary Clinton.

Today he actually accused the FBI of colluding with Russia and Clinton against him.

Those are all lies. Clinton did not sell uranium to Russia. Two people from Fusion GPS did take the 5th, because they have refused to accept the unilateral subpoena issued by Devin Nunes, who is supposedly recused from the Russia investigation. Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider: The founders of the firm behind the Trump Russia dossier appeared before the House Intel Committee and refused to testify.

The founders of the opposition-research firm that produced the dossier alleging ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia met behind closed doors with House Intel Committee staff on Wednesday and asserted their constitutional privileges not to testify.

The founders of Fusion GPS — Glenn Simpson, Thomas Catan, and Peter Fritsch — were required to appear before the committee by its chairman, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, who had subpoenaed them earlier this month.

Fusion’s counsel, Josh Levy, wrote a 17-page letter to Nunes earlier this week urging him not to force Simpson, Catan, and Fritsch to appear before the committee, because if they did they would have no choice but to assert their constitutional privileges not to testify.

Edouard Vuillard, Lucy Hessel_Reading

“We cannot in good conscience do anything but advise our clients to stand on their constitutional privileges, the attorney work product doctrine and contractual obligations,” Levy wrote.

Nunes required them to appear anyway, prompting Levy to release a blistering statement accusing Nunes — who stepped aside from the committee’s Russia investigation in April but still has subpoena power — of abusing his power as chairman.

“No American should have to experience today’s indignity,” Levy wrote. “No American should be required to appear before Congress simply to invoke his constitutional privileges. But that is what Chairman Nunes did today with our clients at Fusion GPS, breaking with the practice of his committee in this investigation. The committee has not imposed this requirement on any other witness, including the president’s men.”

He added that the “disparate treatment and abuse of power” by Nunes was “unethical, according to the DC Bar rules.”

That Trump would accuse the FBI of conspiring with Russia against him is beyond belief. How can anyone doubt that this man is mentally incompetent?

I just noticed that George W. Bush gave a speech this morning that seems directed at the dangers of Trump’s presidency. Excerpts from The Hill:

Former President George W. Bush said Thursday that “bigotry seems emboldened” in the modern U.S.

“Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts,” he observed during a speech for the George W. Bush Institute. “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

Vanessa Bell, Interior with artist’s daughter

Bush also said that public confidence in the country’s institutions has declined in recent decades.

“Our governing class has often been paralyzed in the face of obvious and pressing needs. The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy,” he said.

There are signs, Bush said, that the intensity of support for democracy itself has “waned.”

More from The Washington Examiner:

Former President George W. Bush said Thursday that America should not downplay Russia’s attempts to meddle in the U.S. election.

“Our country must show resolve and resilience in the face of external attacks on our democracy,” Bush said in a speech sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute and others in New York. “And that begins with confronting a new era of cyberthreats.”

“America has experienced a sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country’s divisions,” he said. “According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systemic and stealthy. It’s conducted a range of stealthy media platforms.”

“Ultimately, this assault won’t succeed,” he added. “But foreign aggressions, including cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence should never be downplayed or tolerated.”

That Bush is speaking out seems like a good sign. Will Republicans in Washington DC listen?

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


Thursday Reads: “That Was Some Weird Sh*t” — GW Bush

Good Afternoon!!

The quote of the day comes from George W. Bush and his immediate reaction to tRump’s Inauguration speech.

New York Magazine:

The inauguration of Donald Trump was a surreal experience for pretty much everyone who witnessed it, whether or not they were at the event and regardless of who they supported in the election. On the dais, the stoic presence of Hillary Clinton — whom candidate Trump had said he would send to prison if he took office — underlined the strangeness of the moment. George W. Bush, also savaged by Trump during the campaign, was there too. He gave the same reason for attending that Bill and Hillary Clinton did: to honor the peaceful transfer of power….

Following Trump’s short and dire speech, Bush departed the scene and never offered public comment on the ceremony.

But, according to three people who were present, Bush gave a brief assessment of Trump’s inaugural after leaving the dais: “That was some weird shit.” All three heard him say it.

The “weird sh*t” has continued during the first weeks of the tRump presidency, and it’s likely to remain that way. Every day Americans are flustered by new revelations about Russia’s aid to tRump during the election campaign as well as tRump’s wacko tweets and executive orders. We’ve watched the House Intelligence Committee devolve into chaos as its chairman worked with the White House to sabotage his own committee’s investigation. Every day we witness Sean Spicer’s bizarre press briefings, in which he repeatedly attacks reporters and blatantly lies in response to their questions. We’ve even found ourselves in partial agreement with people like GW Bush and Dick Cheney.

Today the Senate Intelligence Committee is holding a public hearing on Russia’s involvement in the election (It’s on C-Span 3 right now). Will tRump try to compromise their efforts too?

CNN: Senate intelligence leaders: 20 people to be questioned, first hearing Thursday.

The Senate intelligence committee has asked 20 people to be questioned in its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the panel’s chairman said Wednesday.

“This one is one of the biggest investigations the Hill has seen in my time here,” Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said at a news conference with committee vice-chairman Mark Warner. Burr’s been in the Senate since 2005, and served in the House since 1995.

Burr and Warner say they have 20 witnesses they plan to interview and have scheduled interviews with five of them so far. The committee leaders said that they are happy that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort have agreed to testify, but they have not yet decided when they will bring them in.

“To date, we have made 20 requests for individuals to be interviewed by the committee,” Burr said. “As we stand here today, five are already scheduled on the books, and probably within the next 10 days the remaining 15 will have a scheduled date for those individuals to be interviewed by our staff. We anticipate inviting additional individuals to come and be interviewed, and ultimately some of those interviewed individuals may turn into private or public hearings by the committee, but yet to be determined.”

Among those the committee appears to have talked to: Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned after he misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

“It would be safe to say we have had conversations with a lot of people, and it would be safe to say Gen Flynn is a part of that list,” Burr said.

General Flynn has been talking to them? How very interesting. The Committee is also negotiating with Christopher Steele about testifying. He is the former British spy who compiled the famous Trump “dossier.”

There are new Russia stories out in the media too.

Sergei Millian

The Washington Post: Who is ‘Source D’? The man said to be behind the Trump-Russia dossier’s most salacious claim.

In June, a Belarusan American businessman who goes by the name Sergei Millian shared some tantalizing claims about Donald Trump.

Trump had a long-standing relationship with Russian officials, Millian told an associate, and those officials were now feeding Trump damaging information about his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Millian said that the information provided to Trump had been “very helpful.”

Unbeknownst to Millian, however, his conversation was not confidential. His associate passed on what he had heard to a former British intelligence officer who had been hired by Trump’s political opponents to gather information about the Republican’s ties to Russia.

The allegations by Millian — whose role was first reported by the Wall Street Journal and has been confirmed by The Washington Post — were central to the dossier compiled by the former spy, Christopher Steele. While the dossier has not been verified and its claims have been denied by Trump, Steele’s document said that Millian’s assertions had been corroborated by other sources, including in the Russian government and former intelligence sources.

The most explosive allegation that the dossier says originally came from Millian is the claim that Trump had hired prostitutes at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton and that the Kremlin has kept evidence of the encounter.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

BBC News: Trump Russia dossier key claim ‘verified.’ The subhead: “The BBC has learned that US officials “verified” a key claim in a report about Kremlin involvement in Donald Trump’s election – that a Russian diplomat in Washington was in fact a spy.” This is a long article, so please click on the link and read the whole thing. Here’s a taste:

The roadmap for the investigation, publicly acknowledged now for the first time, comes from Christopher Steele, once of Britain’s secret intelligence service MI6….At one point he wrote: “A leading Russian diplomat, Mikhail KULAGIN, had been withdrawn from Washington at short notice because Moscow feared his heavy involvement in the US presidential election operation… would be exposed in the media there.”

There was no diplomat called Kulagin in the Russian embassy; there was a Kalugin….

Mikhail Kalugin

If anyone looks like a harmless economist, rather than a tough, arrogant KGB man, it is the bland-faced Kalugin.

But sources I know and trust have told me the US government identified Kalugin as a spy while he was still at the embassy.

It is not clear if the American intelligence agencies already believed this when they got Steele’s report on the “diplomat”, as early as May 2016.

But it is a judgment they made using their own methods, outside the dossier.

A retired member of a US intelligence agency told me that Kalugin was being kept under surveillance before he left the US.

Read the rest at BBC News.

Is the tRump administration already failing? Ezra Klein writes at Vox: 70 days in, Donald Trump’s presidency is flailing.

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump broke every rule of politics — and he won anyway.

He dominated the Republican primary by running against the Republican Party. He repulsed the GOP’s key leaders and emerged all the stronger for it. He delighted in conspiracy theories and schoolyard insults. He contradicted himself routinely, but managed to sell his flip-flops as evidence of pragmatism rather than proof of dishonesty. He knew nothing about policy, didn’t bother to learn more, and profited from the uncertainty about his true positions. His campaign was clearly assisted by Russian hackers, but the story was overwhelmed by the obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails.

And then, of course, there was the election itself — Trump trailed in the polls, barely built a field operation, lost the popular vote, and then won the presidency.

Like many who covered Trump, I found it hard, after all this, to predict the likely path of his presidency. Perhaps he could defy every norm and succeed there too. But with every day that passes, Trump is looking more bound by the political system he promised to upend. The outcomes we’re seeing look like what you’d expect from an inexperienced, unfocused president who’s more interested in tweeting out cable news commentary than learning about the government he runs and the policies he wants to change. Merely 10 weeks into his term, the processes, skills, and institutions Trump flouted as a candidate are breaking him as a president.

Read the the details of Klein’s argument at Vox.

Ivanka becomes “Assistant to the President”

I have lots of stories for you today; the rest will be links only.

Foreign Policy podcast: Has Moscow Already Taken Down the Trump Administration?

Newsweek: FBI Director James Comey Tried to Reaveal Russian Tampering Months before Election.

New York Times: Ivanka Trump, Shifting Plans, Will Become a Federal Employee.

Reuters: Seattle sues Trump administration over threat to ‘sanctuary’ cities.

NBC News: Hawaii Judge Extends Order Blocking Trump ‘Travel Ban.’

CNN: Trump’s Outlook Going from Bad to Worse.

What stories are you following today?

 


Thursday Reads: A Quick Rundown

woman-reading (1)

Good Morning!!

This is going to be a quick post, because I think my tooth is getting infected. This is the tooth I was supposed to get a temporary crown for on Tuesday. I’m going to have to call the dentist’s office and see if I can get in on an emergency basis. My Mesa Dentist just opened a practice here and she is already on a wait. Probably from all my referrals. She called me personally Tuesday and chastised me for not making my appointment. I can’t wait to hear what she tells me when I call and tell her it is infected. There’s lots of news this morning, so I’m going to give you a quick rundown, and I’ll try to do something more substantive later on.

First, a dispatch from the “forever war,” intelligence sources in the U.S. and Great Britain are claiming that the recent crash of a Russian plane was caused by an ISIS bomb. CNN reports:

Days after authorities dismissed claims that ISIS brought down a Russian passenger jet, a U.S. intelligence analysis now suggests that the terror group or its affiliates planted a bomb on the plane.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said his government believes there is a “significant possibility” that an explosive device caused the crash. And a Middle East source briefed on intelligence matters also said it appears likely someone placed a bomb aboard the aircraft.

Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed Saturday in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after breaking apart in midair, killing all 224 people on board. It was en route to St. Petersburg from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The latest U.S. intelligence suggests that the crash was most likely caused by a bomb planted on the plane by ISIS or an affiliate, according to multiple U.S. officials who spoke with CNN.

The officials stressed that no formal conclusion has been reached by the U.S. intelligence community and that U.S. officials haven’t seen forensic evidence from the crash investigation.

Intelligence also suggests someone at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport helped get a bomb onto the plane, one U.S. official said.

henri-matisse-reading-girl-white-yellow

We’re never going to get out of the Middle East, thanks Bush and Cheney. Speaking of those two, there’s a new book out in which George H.W. Bush claims that Dubya was betrayed by his advisers–you know, all those long-time Bush family pals that George senior passed on to his son?

In “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey Of George Herbert Walker Bush,” author Jon Meacham quotes Bush as saying that Cheney and Rumsfeld were too hawkish and that their harsh stance damaged the reputation of the United States, the cable news network said.

Speaking of Cheney, who was vice president under President George W. Bush, the senior Bush said: “I don’t know, he just became very hard-line and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with,” according to the report….

“The reaction (to Sept. 11), what to do about the Middle East. Just iron-ass. His seeming knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East,” Bush told Meacham in the book to be published next Tuesday….

On Rumsfeld, secretary of defense for most of the two terms served by his son, Bush is even more critical. He is quoted as saying: “I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the President,” referring to his son.

“I’ve never been that close to him anyway. There’s a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He’s more kick ass and take names, take numbers. I think he paid a price for that. Rumsfeld was an arrogant fellow,” he was quoted as saying in the biography. Read more about the book and the Bush interview at The New York Times.

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The Democratic Party is in deep trouble, as demonstrated by Tuesday’s election results. Greg Sargent: A brutal reality check for the Democratic Party.

The news that Tea Party Republican Matt Bevin snatched the Kentucky governor’s mansion away from Democrats is a particularly stark reminder of how deep a hole Democrats have dug for themselves at the state level, and of the consequences that could have for the long-term success of the liberal and Democratic agenda.

Bevin will replace Democratic governor Steve Beshear, who was perhaps the leading evangelist for the Affordable Care Act in the South. Beshear famously set up a Kentucky health insurance exchange and opted in to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion amid a region of hostility towards the law. Bevin has pledged to transition people off of the exchange to the federal one, and to shut down the state’s Medicaid expansion. But in Kentucky, the law has succeeded at its primary goal: Early on it successfully brought health coverage to some of the state’s (and the country’s) poorest and unhealthiest counties, and Gallupfound earlier this year that Kentucky boasted the second largest drop in the uninsured rate of any state in the country.

Now those policy gains may be in some doubt.

Read the Rest at the WaPo. And from Chris Cillizza: Matt Bevin is the next governor of Kentucky. He has President Obama to thank.

Matt Bevin, the Republican nominee in the Kentucky governor’s race, wasn’t a very good candidate.  By all accounts, he was standoffish and ill at ease on the campaign trail, and inconsistent — to put it nicely — when it came to policy.  The Republican Governors Association, frustrated with Bevin and his campaign, pulled its advertising from the state.  Polling done in the runup to today’s vote showed Bevin trailing state Attorney General Jack Conway (D).

And yet, Bevin won going away on Tuesday night. How? Two words: Barack Obama.

Obama is deeply unpopular in Kentucky. He won under 38 percent of the vote in the Bluegrass State in 2012 after taking 41 percent in 2008. In the 2012 Democratic primary, “uncommitted” took 42 percent of the vote against the unchallenged Obama. One Republican close to the Kentucky gubernatorial race said that polling done in the final days put Obama’s unpopularity at 70 percent.

figurative_oil_painting__coffee_and_matisse__woman_bbe47bdd9e2d0011afd80be22fc3f47a

Again, read the rest at the WaPo. Too bad Obama didn’t stick with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, while the Republicans ran with it.

Some updates on 2016 GOP primary campaigns . . .

David Wasserman at FiveThirtyEight: The GOP Primary Rules Might Doom Carson, Cruz, and Trump.

In a few months, after Iowa and New Hampshire begin to winnow the field, the GOP nomination race could boil down to an epic final between a candidate with a more pragmatic image, such as Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina or Jeb Bush, and a more conservative one, such as Ted Cruz, Ben Carson or Donald Trump.1

If that happens, the moderate finalist — like Mitt Romney and John McCain before him or her — will have a hidden structural advantage: the party’s delegate math and geography.

There are plenty of reasons to be cautious of national polls that show Trump and Carson leading. They may fail to screen out casual voters, for instance, and leaders at this point in past years have eventually tanked. But perhaps the biggest reason to ditch stock in these polls is that they’re simulating a national vote that will never take place.

In reality, the GOP nominating contest will be decided by an intricate, state-by-state slog for the 2,472 delegates at stake between February and June. And thanks to the Republican National Committee’s allocation rules, the votes of “Blue Zone” Republicans — the more moderate GOP primary voters who live in Democratic-leaning states and congressional districts — could weigh more than those of more conservative voters who live in deeply red zones. Put another way: The Republican voters who will have little to no sway in the general election could have some of the most sway in the primary.

As The New York Times’ Nate Cohn astutely observed in January, Republicans in blue states hold surprising power in the GOP presidential primary process even though they are “all but extinct in Washington, since their candidates lose general elections to Democrats.” This explains why Republicans have selected relatively moderate presidential nominees while the party’s members in Congress have continued to veer right.

The key to this pattern: “Blue-state Republicans are less religious, more moderate and less rural than their red-state counterparts,” Cohn concluded after crunching Pew Research survey data. By Cohn’s math, Republicans in states that Obama won in 2012 were 15 percentage points likelier to support Romney in the 2012 primary and 9 points likelier to support McCain in 2008 than their red-state compatriots. Romney and McCain’s advantage in blue states made it “all but impossible for their more conservative challengers to win the nomination,” Cohn wrote.

Read much more interesting stuff at the link.

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Ed Kilgore’s take on Ben Carson from TPM: Why Ben Carson Isn’t Going Away — And What Makes That So Scary.

During the last month the long-awaited, heavily-promoted decline in Donald Trump’s standing in the Republican presidential nominating contest has finally begun to occur. But aside from a small reshuffling of the order in the “lanes” (e.g., Rubio moving past Bush among Establishment Republicans and Cruz moving past Huckabee, Santorum and Jindal among experienced Christian Right candidates) to which the candidates have been assigned by the punditocracy, the big beneficiary of softening support for Trump has been another candidate with no experience in elected office, Dr. Ben Carson. He is running either first or a strong second in virtually everynational poll, and is now routinely leading polls of Iowa as well. His approval ratings, moreover, are extremely high, and best in the field. It’s safe to say he is almost universally admired by GOP voters.

The conventional wisdom is that Carson is beloved for being a genial, soft-spoken figure and a non-politician with a distinguished biography. That may be true, though this does not necessarily distinguish him from many thousands of his fellow Americans. An equally obvious factor is that he is African American, and Republicans frustrated with being accused of white identity politics if not outright racism love being able to support a black candidate who is as conservative as they are.

Less obvious — and finally being recognized by political reporters spending time in Iowa — is that Carson is a familiar, beloved figure to conservative evangelicals, who have been reading his books for years.

Another factor, and one that I emphasized in my own take here two months ago, is that Carson is a devoted believer in a number of surprisingly resonant right-wing conspiracy theories, which he articulates via dog whistles that excite fellow devotees (particularly fans of Glenn Beck, who shares much of Carson’s world-view) without alarming regular GOP voters or alerting the MSM.

As David Corn of Mother Jones has patiently explained, the real key for understanding Carson (like Beck) is via the works of Cold War-era John Birch Society member and prolific pseudo-historian W. Cleon Skousen, who stipulated that America was under siege from the secret domestic agents of global Marxism who masqueraded as liberals. Carson has also clearly bought into the idea that these crypto-commies are systematically applying the deceptive tactics of Saul Alinsky in order to destroy the country from within—a theme to which he alluded in the famous National Prayer Breakfast speech that launched his political career and in the first Republican presidential candidates’ debate.

Head over to TPM and read the rest.

There’s plenty more news this morning; I’ll try to put a few links in the comments. What stories are you following today?