Friday Reads: Smoking Canons

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

This promises to be another of those weeks where we breach the outer limits of Republican tolerance of presidential criminality. We have yet more evidence and smoking guns combined with the cunning of a very wise Amy Klobucher who  got the incoming AG to admit that a president that suborns perjury is a president that commits high crimes and misdemeanors. But then we knew that. It is exactly what finally got Nixon out of the Oval Office way back when I was busy graduating from high school.

Not only do we know that Michael Cohen can testify to these acts but it’s corraborated by hard evidence. He admitted to his complicity after he was shown hard evidence.  This Buzz Feed article that dropped late last night may be the signal of the end of the Trump Family Crime Syndicate. 

Here’s the Headline and lede: “President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project. Trump received 10 personal updates from Michael Cohen and encouraged a planned meeting with Vladimir Putin.”

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.

This revelation is not the first evidence to suggest the president may have attempted to obstruct the FBI and special counsel investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

But Cohen’s testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.

On the campaign trail, Trump vehemently denied having any business interests in Russia. But behind the scenes, he was pushing the Moscow project, which he hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million. The two law enforcement sources said he had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign.

As Jonathan Chait writes at NY Mag, “Trump Ordered Michael Cohen to Perjure Himself. It’s Even Worse Than It Sounds.”  Remember Senator Amy Klobucher’s questions for William Barr?  Yup, she trapped him into going on record on this very behavior.

1. Attorney General William Barr has already defined this behavior as obstruction of justice. In the secret memo Barr wrote to the Department of Justice questioning Robert Mueller’s obstruction inquiry, Barr allowed that of course it was possible the president could obstruct justice if he did something incredibly obvious, such as instruct people to lie in sworn testimony:

At his Senate confirmation hearings, Barr reiterated that suborning perjury would obviously constitute obstruction.

So whatever legal shield Trump believes he is getting in Barr will not help him escape this allegation.

Yes, all those folks saying Senator Klobuchar was a little relaxed with her questions can now go eat shit.  She was laying a nice little trap there and he walked straight into it.  It makes me wonder if it was women’s intution, the skill of a seasoned prosecutor or student of political history, or a bit of the old insider information.  Any which way, it was a brilliant snap of a trap!

Adam Sewer–writing for The Atlantic–believes this is a “straightforwardly impeachable offense”.  If only the Republicans will act.  It is probably a matter of getting the insane base off of their Fox News habit.  Fox News lies are the addiction that is killing our democracy and rule of law.

While evidence that the Trump campaign sought to assist the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 election, and that the president then sought to hamper the federal investigation into that effort, has been in public view for some time, evidence that the president directed Cohen to lie to Congress would be something different entirely, a claim that the president conspired to commit a crime in pursuit of personal financial gain. Republicans have tried their best to set expectations so that only the clearest and most shocking of acts would qualify as criminal—and Trump’s reported actions not only meet but exceed them.

The report, if verified, provides a potentially simple narrative for a story that has often seemed complicated: Trump sought to profit from a real-estate deal in Moscow, and so defended Russia against accusations of interference, and then directed his personal attorney to commit perjury to cover up what he had done.

Obstruction of justice and perjury are crimes that turn on state of mind, but the details in the BuzzFeed News report would leave Trump with few defenses. “If President Trump instructed Michael Cohen to testify to Congress, giving an account of the Russia project that Trump knew to be false, that’s obstruction of justice,” said Bruce Green, a law professor at Fordham and a former associate counsel in the Iran-Contra investigation. “It’s hard to imagine that Trump would have had an innocent ‘state of mind.’ The only viable legal defense would be ‘It didn’t happen.’”

During the 2016 election, U.S. intelligence agencies have said, the Russian government ordered a campaign of disinformation and hacking designed to hamper the candidacy of Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and to help put Trump in the White House. The theft and release of emails from the Democratic National Committee and from the Clinton adviser John Podesta were major factors in the election—damaging Clinton’s reputation and altering the news cycle during periods in which the Trump campaign was dealing with negative coverage, and ultimately affecting what turned out to be a startlingly close election in which Trump failed to win the popular vote. Throughout the election, and even his presidency, Trump has used his influence to dismiss the conclusion of American intelligence agencies that the Russian government was responsible for the hacking.

Shortly after becoming president, Trump pressured then–FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into Trump’s former campaign surrogate and national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, who had lied to federal investigators about his contacts with Russian officials. Comey refused and was later fired by Trump. Although the Trump administration initially said Comey was fired for improperly disclosing information about the federal investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified emails, he later told Russian officials in the Oval Office and an NBC reporter in a televised interview that he had done so because of the Russia investigation. Trump publicly fumed that his choice for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had recused himself from that investigation after misleading Congress about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, rather than protecting Trump.

Republicans have been deaf dumb and blind to the orange pinball.  Congressional Democrats are preparing an investigation (via AP).

The Democratic chairmen of two House committees pledged Friday to investigate a report that President Donald Trump directed his personal attorney to lie to Congress about negotiations over a real estate project in Moscow during the 2016 election.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said “we will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.” He said the allegation that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie in his 2017 testimony to Congress “in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date.”

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, said directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime.

“The @HouseJudiciary Committee’s job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work,” Nadler tweeted.

It will be interesting to watch the minority members response as the committee hearings unfold.

Susan Glasser’s thought piece in The  New Yorker Is worth a read. “Are We Really Where We Are?”: Trump, Putin, and Washington’s Unbelievable New Normal. Regardless of whether Trump ends up making a speech on Capitol Hill on January 29th, the state of the union is not strong, and everyone knows it.”

Sunday will mark the second anniversary of Donald Trump’s Presidency. The U.S. government has been partially shut down for weeks, with no end in sight. The White House is on its third chief of staff, nearly a half-dozen Cabinet seats are empty, and the First Daughter Ivanka, previously known for her fashionable yet affordable line of high heels, appears to be in charge of picking the new head of the World Bank. Since the Defense Secretary quit, in protest over Trump’s withdrawal from Syria, the President has been reported to be unilaterally considering pulling out of Afghanistan and the nato alliance, as well. Congressional Democrats, days into their new House majority, are talking about impeachment, and their leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, effectively disinvited Trump from giving the annual State of the Union address, citing the shutdown. This past Friday, we learned, via the Times, that the F.B.I. opened a counterintelligence investigation of Trump to determine whether he was a Russian intelligence asset.

On Monday, which marked a year and three hundred and fifty-nine days since his Inauguration, President Trump had his “I am not a crook” moment. All weekend, he had avoided giving even a simple denial of what, for any other American President, would have been an unimaginable revelation. Now, on the snow-covered White House drive, after discoursing on the fast-food hamburgers he planned to serve the Clemson University football team that night, Trump told reporters, “I never worked for Russia.” He added, “Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it’s a disgrace that you even asked that question because it’s a whole big fat hoax.”

Regardless of whether Trump ends up making his speech on Capitol Hill, which is scheduled for January 29th, the state of the union is not strong, and everyone knows it. Almost every day since Trump was elected, someone, somewhere, has asked if this is the constitutional crisis we have been waiting for. Was his firing of the F.B.I. director, James Comey, in what seemed to be an effort to stop the investigation into his campaign, the constitutional crisis? Or his continual talk of firing the special counsel, or his actual firing of the attorney general? Days before the midterm elections, when Trump deployed thousands of U.S. troops to the border, to combat a nonexistent “invasion” by a caravan of poor Central American migrants, I thought that might finally be the crisis. But, of course, every day of the last two years has brought something that would have previously been unthinkable. When will we finally learn that just because it is unthinkable doesn’t mean it can’t happen?

It’s really difficult to believe there isn’t enough evidence out there to end all of this and it’s really difficult to quietly sit and wait for a Mueller report that may or may not come depending on the whims of an Trump appointed AG.  However, it appears Trump’s due diligence on finding his own Roy Cohn may not have given him peace this time out.  From CNN: “Trump startled by cozy Barr-Mueller relationship”.

President Donald Trump was startled Tuesday as he watched television coverage of his nominee for attorney general describing a warm relationship with the special counsel Robert Mueller in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to three people familiar with the matter.

During the first day of his confirmation hearing, William Barr described telling the President the first time he met him in June 2017 that he was friends with Mueller, referring to him on a first name basis.

“I told him how well I knew Bob Mueller and that the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this was all over,” Barr said. “Bob is a straight-shooter and should be dealt with as such.”

While Barr said during his hearing that Trump “was interested” in hearing about the friendship, the details that emerged this week caught the President off guard, the three sources said. He bristled at Barr’s description of the close relationship, complaining to aides he didn’t realize how much their work overlapped or that they were so close.

There is no indication Trump’s surprise will jeopardize the nomination, however.

Later, Trump privately rationalized the relationship between Barr and Mueller as stemming from both having worked in the Washington legal establishment for years, according to one of the people.

“I have known Bob Mueller for 30 years,” Barr said Tuesday. “We worked closely together throughout my previous tenure at the Department of Justice under President Bush. We’ve been friends since. And I have the utmost respect for Bob and his distinguished record of public service. And when he was named special counsel, I said his selection was ‘good news’ and that, knowing him, I had confidence he would handle the matter properly. And I still have that confidence today.”

On Tuesday, Barr repeatedly sought to reassure senators that he would not interfere with Mueller’s investigation, claiming he wouldn’t be “bullied” into doing anything he deemed improper.

“I am not going to do anything that I think is wrong, and I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong,” Barr told the panel. “By anybody. Whether it be editorial boards, or Congress or the President. I’m going to do what I think is right.”

That doesn’t give me much peace given all the pardons doled out on his recommendations on the Iran Contra Scandal startng with Caspar Weinberger. I’m closing with this quote via NPR with the man who was charged with the prosecution.

To the man who led the Iran-Contra investigation, however, the pardons represented a miscarriage of justice.

“It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office, deliberately abusing the public trust without consequences,” said Lawrence Walsh, the independent prosecutor in the case, at the time of the pardons.

Will any of this history repeat on us and will it be the good outcomes instead of those miscarriages of justice?

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

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Saturday Reads: America’s Greatest Mystery

JFK Assassination

Good Morning!!

In less than two weeks, our nation will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently reading books and articles about the assassination and it’s aftermath. I have wanted to write a post about it, but I just haven’t been able to do it. For me, the JFK assassination is still a very painful issue–in fact, it has become more and more painful for me over the years as I’ve grown older and wiser and more knowledgeable about politics and history. Anyway, I thought I’d take a shot at writing about it this morning. I may have more to say, as we approach the anniversary. I’m going to focus on the role of the media in defending the conclusions of the Warren Commission.

I think most people who have read my posts in the past probably know that I think the JFK assassination was a coup, and that we haven’t really had more than a very limited form of democracy in this country since that day. We probably will never know who the men were who shot at Kennedy in Dallas in 1963, but anyone who has watched the Zapruder film with anything resembling an open mind, has to know that there was more than one shooter; because Kennedy was shot from both the front and back.

The reasons Kennedy died are varied and complex. He had angered a number of powerful groups inside as well as outside the government.

– Powerful members of the mafia had relationships with JFK’s father Joseph Kennedy, and at his behest had helped carry Illinois–and perhaps West Virginia–for his son. These mafia chiefs expected payback, but instead, they got Bobby Kennedy as Attorney General on a crusade to destroy organized crime. In the 1960s both the CIA and FBI had used the mafia to carry out operations.

– FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover hated Bobby Kennedy for “interfering” with the FBI by ordering Hoover to hire more minorities and generally undercutting Hoover’s absolute control of the organization.

– Elements within the CIA hated Kennedy for his refusal to provide air support for the Bay of Pigs invasion (which had been planned by Vice President Nixon well before the 1960 election), and for firing CIA head Allen Dulles.

– Texas oil men like H.L. Hunt and Clint Murchison hated Kennedy for pushing for repeal of the oil depletion allowance.

– The military hated Kennedy because of the Bay of Pigs, his decision to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis by pulling U.S. missiles out of Turkey in return for removal of the missiles from Cuba instead of responding with a nuclear attack, his efforts to reach out to both the Nikita Krushchev of the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro of Cuba, his firing of General Edward Walker, and his decision to pull the military “advisers” out of Vietnam.

– Vice President Lyndon Johnson hated both Kennedys, and he knew he was on the verge of being dropped from the presidential ticket in 1964. In addition, scandals involving his corrupt financial dealings were coming to a head, and the Kennedys were pushing the stories about Johnson cronies Bobby Baker and Billy Sol Estes in the media.

What I know for sure is that after what happened to Kennedy (and to Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy), there is no way any president would dare to really challenge the military and intelligence infrastructure within the government. Richard Nixon found that out when a number of the same people who were involved in the Kennedy assassination helped to bring him down.

To long-term government bureaucracies, the POTUS is just passing through the government that they essentially control. Any POTUS who crosses them too often is asking for trouble. People who think President Obama should simply force the CIA, NSA, FBI and the military to respect the rights of American citizens should think about that for a minute. Can we as a nation survive the assassination of another president?
Read the rest of this entry »


Tuesday Reads: Daniel Inouye, Richard Engel, and Fiscal Slope Trial Balloons and Lead Balloons

Sen. Dan Inouye reads with children

Sen. Dan Inouye reads with children

Good Morning!!

Senator Dan Inouye, who died yesterday at age 88 was a Japanese American who fought for the U.S. in World War II. From Time Magazine:

On Dec. 7, 1941, high school senior Daniel Inouye knew he and other Japanese-Americans would face trouble when he saw Japanese dive bombers, torpedo planes and fighters on their way to bomb Pearl Harbor and other Oahu military bases.

He and other Japanese-Americans had wanted desperately to be accepted, he said, and that meant going to war.

“I felt that there was a need for us to demonstrate that we’re just as good as anybody else,” Inouye, who eventually went on to serve 50 years as a U.S. Senate from Hawaii, once said. “The price was bloody and expensive, but I felt we succeeded.”

Inouye had wanted to become a surgeon, but he lost his right arm in a firefight during the war. He was elected to the House in 1959 after Hawaii became a state. Inouye became well known nationally as a member of the Senate Watergate Committee and later as chairman of the Congressional committee that investigated the Iran Contra scandal.

In one of the most memorable exchanges of the Watergate proceedings, an attorney for two of Nixon’s closest advisers, John Ehrlichman and Bob Haldeman, referred to Inouye as a “little Jap.”

The attorney, John J. Wilson, later apologized. Inouye accepted the apology, noting that the slur came after he had muttered “what a liar” into a microphone that he thought had been turned off following Ehrlichman’s testimony.

Inouye achieved celebrity status when he served as chairman of the congressional panel investigating the Iran-Contra affair in 1987. That committee held lengthy hearings into allegations that top Reagan administration officials had facilitated the sale of weapons to Iran, in violation of a congressional arms embargo, in hopes of winning the release of American hostages in Iran and to raise money to help support anti-communist fighters in Nicaragua….

The panel sharply criticized Reagan for what it considered laxity in handling his duties as president. “We were fair,” Inouye said. “Not because we wanted to be fair but because we had to be fair.”

NBC foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his production team have been released after five days in captivity in Syria. The Guardian reports:

The group disappeared shortly after crossing into north-west Syria from Turkey last Thursday (13 December). NBC had no contact with the kidnappers and asked for a news blackout about the incident, which was observed by mainstream news outlets.

There was no request for a ransom during the time Engel and his crew were missing.

After being abducted they were put into the back of a truck and blindfolded before being transported to an unknown location, believed to be near the small town of Ma’arrat Misrin.

Throughout their captivity they were blindfolded and bound, but otherwise not physically harmed, said the network.

Read more at the link.

According to Beltway Bob (AKA Ezra Klein), a deal between President Obama and Speaker Boehner is in the offing, and it isn’t a good deal for old ladies who are trying to survive on Social Security.

Boehner offered to let tax rates rise for income over $1 million. The White House wanted to let tax rates rise for income over $250,000. The compromise will likely be somewhere in between. More revenue will come from limiting deductions, likely using some variant of the White House’s oft-proposed, oft-rejected idea for limiting itemized deductions to 28 percent. The total revenue raised by the two policies will likely be a bit north of $1 trillion. Congress will get instructions to use this new baseline to embark on tax reform next year. Importantly, if tax reform never happens, the revenue will already be locked in.

On the spending side, the Democrats’ headline concession will be accepting chained-CPI, which is to say, accepting a cut to Social Security benefits. Beyond that, the negotiators will agree to targets for spending cuts. Expect the final number here, too, to be in the neighborhood of $1 trillion, but also expect it to lack many specifics. Whether the cuts come from Medicare or Medicaid, whether they include raising the Medicare age, and many of the other contentious issues in the talks will be left up to Congress.

Now how is that a win for Democrats? If we go over the cliff, Republicans are going to be blamed, and taxes will go up on everyone until Republicans give in to public outcry in early January. But Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid cuts will inevitably be blamed on Democrats, who are supposed to fight for the social safety net. Then in 2014, Republicans will attack them for those cuts, and it will work–just as it did when Romney and Ryan falsely accused Obama of cutting Medicare benefits in the recent presidential campaign. Back to Beltway Bob:

The deal will lift the spending sequester, but it will be backed up by, yes, another sequester-like policy. I’m told that the details on this next sequester haven’t been worked out yet, but the governing theory is that it should be more reasonable than the current sequester. That is to say, if the two parties can’t agree on something better, then this should be a policy they’re willing to live with.

On stimulus, unemployment insurance will be extended, as will the refundable tax credits. Some amount of infrastructure spending is likely. Perversely, the payroll tax cut, one of the most stimulative policies in the fiscal cliff, will likely be allowed to lapse, which will deal a big blow to the economy.

Again, that doesn’t sound like a win for Obama at all. Let’s hope Beltway Bob is wrong again.

Dean Baker on the chained CPI: He argues that the chained CPI is not really applicable to seniors.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has constructed an experimental elderly index (CPI-E) which reflects the consumption patterns of people over age 62. This index has shown a rate of inflation that averages 0.2-0.3 percentage points higher than the CPI-W.

The main reason for the higher rate of inflation is that the elderly devote a larger share of their income to health care, which has generally risen more rapidly in price than other items. It is also likely that the elderly are less able to substitute between goods, both due to the nature of the items they consume and their limited mobility, so the substitutions assumed in the chained CPI might be especially inappropriate for the elderly population.

Baker explains for the umpteenth time that it is wrong to use Social Security cuts to lower the deficit.

It is important to remember that under the law Social Security is supposed to be treated as a separate program that is financed by its own stream of designated revenue. This means that it cannot contribute to the budget deficit under the law, because it is only allowed to spend money from the Social Security trust fund.

This is not just a rhetorical point. There is no commitment to finance Social Security out of general revenue. The projections from the Social Security trustees show the program first facing a shortfall in 2033 after which point it will only be able to pay a bit more than 75 percent of scheduled benefits. While this date is still fairly far in the future, at some point it will likely be necessary to address a shortfall.

It is reasonable to expect that the changes needed to keep the program fully funded will involve some mix of revenue increases and benefit cuts. However if the chained CPI is adopted as part of a budget deal unconnected to any larger plan for Social Security then it effectively means that there will have been a substantial cut to Social Security benefits without any quid pro quo in terms of increased revenue. This hardly seems like a good negotiating move from the standpoint of those looking to preserve and strengthen the program.

There is much much more at the link. Digby has been writing about this issue for months, and she had another good post on it yesterday.

There has always been some fantasy, mostly held by people who are about to be fleeced by Wall Street sharpies, that this country should be run like a cash business. It cannot and should not be done that way. (Ask Mitt Romney about the role of debt in a modern economy.) The problem is that this focus on debt is making it impossible to do the things we need to do to spur economic growth in the short term, which would close the deficit, and apparently the only way anyone in Washington can see to get around that is to sell off the future security of American citizens as some sort of human sacrifice for no good reason. It simply is not necessary, as Krugman shows.

John Boehner came up with a new “offer” this week-end to raise the rates on those who make a million or more each year and also agreed to take the debt ceiling off the table for the next year. Krugman thinks this is a bad deal which Obama has no good reason to take — and I would agree with him if I didn’t still see a very dangerous possibility that the administration wants to pursue some unacceptable spending cuts in order to deliver on that “balanced approach.” A looming debt ceiling fight is a very good excuse for them to do that. If kicking the can down the road another year will stop them from cutting more spending, then I’m inclined to say take the deal.

Obviously, this whole thing is ridiculous. They should get rid of this idiotic debt ceiling vote altogether: after all once they appropriate the funds they’ve agreed to pay for them whether through taxation or borrowing. This yearly vote allows them to get credit for the goodies and then later refuse to pick up the tab. But unless they are willing to give it up completely, I’d be glad to at least see it be delayed until the White House stops talking about cutting vital programs.

And yes, the taxes should go up for all income over $250,000. They can afford it. But not if the price is changing to the Chained CPI which will take the food out of the mouths of 90 year old women and squeeze veterans and disabled people who can’t afford it. In other words, the devil is in the details. If Obama hangs tough as Krugman prescribes and wins on all these points without giving up the store (also known as “making tough choices ” his own base “won’t like”) then I say go for it. I’m just not sure I have much faith that’s the game plan. If it isn’t, then maybe he should take Boehner’s offer, repeal the sequester and put this to bed for the time being. There’s been more than enough cutting already to drag this economy down. Let’s see what happens if we stop the austerity insanity for a while.

Dr. Dakinikat would probably agree with that.

Meanwhile, most Americans disapprove of the the proposed cuts to safety net programs, so maybe this will turn out to be another trial balloon that goes over like a lead balloon.

Most Americans want President Obama and congressional Republicans to compromise on a budget agreement, though they, too, are unhappy about the options that would avert the “fiscal cliff,” according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The strong support for compromise belies widespread public opposition to big spending cuts that are likely to be part of any deal.

Most Americans oppose slashing spending on Medicaid and the military, as well as raising the age for Medicare eligibility and slowing the increase of Social Security benefits, all of which appear to be on the table in negotiations. Majorities call each of these items “unacceptable.”

Wow. I’m running out of space already? Suddenly, a week before Xmas there’s more happening in the news. We’ll have to discuss other items in in the comments. So what’s on your reading list today?