Tuesday Reads

Solitude (Lonliness), Paul Delvaux, 1956

Solitude (Loneliness), Paul Delvaux, 1956

Good Morning!!

As Daknikat wrote yesterday, it looks as if Republicans will win enough seats to control the House with a very small majority. But they won’t be able to do much. I suppose they’ll spend their time and energy investigating Hunter Biden and any other crackpot problem they can dream up. The good news is than Lauren Bobert’s seat is still undecided for now.

AP News: California wins leave GOP poised to seize US House control.

Two threatened U.S. House Republicans in California triumphed over Democratic challengers Monday, helping move the GOP within a seat of seizing control of the chamber while a string of congressional races in the state remained in play.

In a bitter fight southeast of Los Angeles, Republican Rep. Michelle Steel defeated Democrat Jay Chen in a district that was specifically drawn to give Asian Americans, who comprise the largest group in the district, a stronger voice on Capitol Hill. It includes the nation’s largest Vietnamese community.

East of Los Angeles, Republican Rep. Ken Calvert notched a win over Democrat Will Rollins. With 80% of the votes tallied, Calvert, the longest serving Republican in the California congressional delegation, established a nearly 5,500-vote edge in the contest.

Ten races in the state remained undecided as vote-counting continued, though only a handful were seen as tight enough to break either way.

It takes 218 seats to control the House. Republicans have locked down 217 seats so far, with Democrats claiming 205.

Should Democrats fail to protect their fragile majority, Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield would be in line to replace Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

Read about the remaining undecided races at the link.

The Independent: Lauren Boebert – live: Republican under fire for ‘embarrassing’ tweet as she leads race by just 1,200 votes.

Lauren Boebert has taken aim at Nancy Pelosi and called for the House Speaker’s ousting while her own future in politics continues to hang in the balance.

“Waiting this long for election results is going to make firing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House that much sweeter,” she wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Automat, Edward Hopper

Automat, Edward Hopper

Republicans are just one seat away from control of the House of Representatives, with the balance of power potentially hinging on th eoutcome of Ms Boebert’s race among serveral others that have not yet been decided.

Ms Boebert’s race is still too close to call and it is unlikely that the outcome will be known until the end of the week – at the soonest.

The far-right Republican is currently leading Democratic challenger Adam Frisch by just 1,122 votes in what has shaped up to be an unexpectedly close race. The race could be headed for an automatic recount if neither candidate fails to win by a margin of more than 0.5 per cent.

If only she would lose! This is from Newsweek yesterday: Lauren Boebert in Danger as Rejected Mail-in Ballot Checks Could Help Rival.

The race for Colorado’s third congressional district remains too close to be called, as Trump-endorsed Rep. Lauren Boebert is currently only slightly ahead of her rival, Democrat Adam Frisch.

But the incumbent congresswoman’s narrow lead could once again be overturned if thousands of likely rejected votes in favor of her challenger were to be “cured”, as a recount looms over the Colorado race.

Every year in Colorado, thousands of ballots are reportedly rejected for issues related to signature verification, such as a missing signature or a discrepancy in the signature. Local officials then alert voters of the issue, giving them a week to fix the problem and make their vote count. The process, which is done in 23 other state besides Colorado, is called “ballot curing.”

Boebert was widely projected to win the midterms, with polling website FiveThirtyEight giving her a 97 in 100 chance of victory in the days ahead of the vote.

As of November 14 and with nearly all of the ballots being counted, Boebert is leading with 50.1 percent of the vote (162,040 votes) against Frisch’s 49.8 percent (160,918 votes).

A recount could be called if the final margin between Boebert and Frisch is less than or equal to 0.5 percent of the leading candidate’s vote total. At the moment, the gap between the two candidates is 0.38 percent.

Frisch could still oust the Republican incumbent, an election denier and one of Donald Trump‘s most ardent supporters, if thousands of votes likely rejected for signature verification were cast in support of the Democratic nominee.

So it’s still up in the air.

In Arizona, Katie Hobbs finally triumphed in the race for governor. AZ Central: Katie Hobbs elected Arizona’s 5th female governor, defeating election denier Kari Lake.

Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s Democratic election chief who built a national profile by standing up to false claims about the 2020 presidential election, has won the state’s race for governor.

The Associated Press, NBC News and CNN called the race for Hobbs shortly after 7 p.m. Monday, following a nail-biter week of election returns that highlighted the competitiveness of politics in the state.

the-lonely-ones-1935, edvard Munch

The Lonely Ones, by Edvard Munch, 1935

“Democracy is worth the wait,” Hobbs posted on social media before issuing a statement thanking her family, volunteers and staff for their work.

“This was not just about an election — it was about moving this state forward and facing the challenges of our generation,” the statement read, ending: “Let’s get to work.”

Late-in-the-race polling showed her Republican opponent Kari Lake, the former television news anchor, with the momentum as Nov. 8 neared. Instead, voters offered a stunning rebuke of Lake, who was one of the nation’s most prominent election deniers.

With Hobbs’ win, Arizonans followed voters in other battleground states who rejected gubernatorial candidates who pushed false claims about election results.

As Arizona’s 24th governor, Hobbs will be the fifth female to hold the top elected office, more than in any other state.

That’s amazing. We just finally got our first female governor here in Massachusetts.

Donald Trump is supposedly announcing that he’s running for president today, and The New York Times and Washington Post can hardly wait. The NYT even hired another “Trump whisperer” to go along with their star access journalist Maggie Haberman. This is from Emptywheel: In the Wake of Trump’s Third Electoral Failure, NY Times Boasts of Hiring a Third Trump Whisperer.

…Jonathan Swan is a good reporter. Indeed, his move to the NYT, which frees him to write like a human being rather than a McKinsey consultant (AKA Axios style), will likely be a significant improvement on his coverage of DC politics.

But it is downright insane that, at a time the GOP and Fox News are at least making noise about ditching Trump, the NYT pitched this hire — and their own political reporting — in terms of Trump.

Our insightful, authoritative and addictive coverage of the election this year drove home an essential truth: The Times’s political team is simply the best in the business.

Take our coverage of Republicans and Donald J. Trump.

We have Maggie Haberman, the dominant reporter of the Trump era, whose prolific, revealing and exclusive coverage has become indispensable to millions of readers. We have Michael Bender, whom Maggie admired as her “fierce competitor” from his days at The Wall Street Journal, and who has delivered exclusives on everything from the former president’s plans to buy Greenland to examinations of how Trumpism remade the Republican party.

And today we are thrilled to tell you that Jonathan Swan, a gifted, dogged and high-impact reporter, will be joining The Times. Jonathan, a national political reporter at Axios, is one of the biggest news breakers and best-sourced reporters in Washington.

Even if you have never met Jonathan, you know his stories. He first reported that Trump would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris climate deal, that Steve Bannon would be fired and that Paul Ryan would retire from Congress.

Or perhaps you watched his riveting interview with then-President Trump in 2020, which won Jonathan an Emmy (and made his facial expressions famous.) Ben Smith, the former media columnist for The Times, wrote at the time that it was “perhaps the best interview of Mr. Trump’s term.’’

Jonathan’s nine-part written series on the final days of the Trump administration won broad acclaim, and the podcast on which it was based rose to No. 1 on the Apple charts. [my emphasis]

Alan_Parry_ Weekend Retreat

Weekend Retreat, by Alan Parry

Again, I think the Swan hire is a net good for reporting — but aside from the degree to which Swan is an improvement over Jonathan Martin, who just moved to become Politico’s Politics Bureau Chief — that has nothing to do with the NYT.

Particularly accompanied as it is by Maggie’s multiple efforts to suggest Trump is still The One, the pitch of Swan as a Trump-whisperer — rather than simply as a very good reporter of right wing politics — this announcement commits to keeping Trump (as a politician, rather than, for example, a criminal suspect, something none of these three are very good at reporting) the center of attention.

The Washington Post article hyping Trump’s announcement–two years ahead of the 2024 election–of courses features gossip reporters Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey: Trump campaign operation takes shape ahead of expected 2024 announcement.

Really, who the hell cares? Why don’t these newspapers cover President Biden, who is actually accomplishing plenty, while Trump is likely to be indicted before 2024? Or they could cover the fact that Russia is still working to influence our elections, which CNN reported this morning: CNN Exclusive: US intelligence suggests Russia put off announcing Kherson retreat until after midterm elections.

The US has intelligence that Russia may have delayed announcing its withdrawal from the Ukrainian city of Kherson in part to avoid giving the Biden administration a political win ahead of the midterm elections, according to four people familiar with the intelligence.

Senior Russian officials discussed the US midterms as a factor during deliberations about the withdrawal announcement, one person familiar with the intelligence said. Waiting until after the US election was always a “pre-planned condition” of Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson, a second person familiar with the intelligence told CNN.

Still, the election was far from the only consideration in Russia’s retreat, officials said. Military analysts say Russia had few other operational options and had been preparing to pull back for weeks, leading US officials to wonder when the Russians would officially acknowledge the withdrawal.

While the intelligence is not a formal assessment of Russia’s intentions, it is a sign that Russia has a continued interest in influencing the US political landscape — although the sources said Russia probably miscalculated the impact such an announcement would actually have on the elections.

“I doubt Americans would really have noticed,” said another source familiar with western intelligence.

President Joe Biden last week appeared to hint that the US believed that the timing of Russia’s announcement was more than mere coincidence.

“I find it interesting they waited until after the election to make that judgement, which we knew for some time they were going to be doing, and it’s evidence of the fact that they have some real problems – the Russian military,” Biden said at a press conference last Wednesday.

Carl_Gustav_Carus_-_Woman_on_the_Balcony_-_Google_Art_Project

Carl Gustav Carus, Woman on the Balcony

I’m going to end with this shocking story from The New York Times about Iran: Stymied by Protests, Iran Unleashes Its Wrath on Its Youth.

One girl, a 14-year-old, was incarcerated in an adult prison alongside drug offenders. A 16-year-old boy had his nose broken in detention after a beating by security officers. A 13-year-old girl was physically attacked by plainclothes militia who raided her school.

A brutal crackdown by the authorities in Iran trying to halt protests calling for social freedom and political change that have convulsed the country for the past two months has exacted a terrible toll on the nation’s youth, according to lawyers in Iran and rights activists familiar with the cases.

Young people, including teenage girls and boys, have been at the center of the demonstrations and clashes with security forces on the streets and university campuses and at high schools. Iranian officials have said the average age of protesters is 15.

Some have been beaten and detained, others have been shot and killed on the streets, or beaten in the custody of security services, and the lives of countless others have been disrupted as the authorities raid schools in an effort to crack down on dissent.

The authorities are targeting thousands of minors, under the age of 18, for participating in the protests, according to interviews with two dozen people, including lawyers in Iran involved in cases and rights activists, as well as parents, relatives and teenagers living in the country. Rights groups say that at least 50 minors have been killed.

The lawyers and many of the individuals interviewed for this article asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

The targeting of young people comes amid a broader crackdown on protesters in which 14,000 people have been arrested, according to the United Nations. On Sunday, state media said an unidentified person had been sentenced to death for setting fire to a government building.

There’s much more at the link. Sorry to hit you with this horrifying story, but I thought it was urgent. What can the U.S. do about this? The U.N.?

Please share your thoughts and any other stories that interest you in the comment thread.


Friday Reads: The Final Days

Andrea Kowch, Soiree

Soiree, by Andrea Kowch

Good Morning!!

The revelations about Trump’s final days just keep on coming. The Washington Post released another excerpt from the book by their reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig yesterday, and today The New Yorker a piece by Susan Glasser, who apparently has a book coming out next year. 

Among the stunning details in the Rucker/Leonnig excerpt is that Mike Pence didn’t trust all of the the members of his Secret Service detail, seemingly suspecting that they were aiding Trump’s attempted coup. 

At 2:13, Pence’s Secret Service detail removed the vice president from the Senate floor and took him through a side door to his ceremonial office nearby, along with his wife, Karen, their daughter Charlotte, and his brother, Greg, a congressman from Indiana. The Pences were hurried across one of the Capitol’s many ornate marble hallways to get there, but the path proved eerily close to danger. One or two minutes later, marauders chanting Pence’s name charged up the stairs to that precise landing in front of the hallway, and a quick-thinking Goodman led the rioters in a different direction, away from the Senate chamber. Had Pence walked past any later, the intruders who called him a traitor would have spotted him….

As rioters marauded through the Capitol, it was clear whom they were looking for. Some of them shouted, “Hang Mike Pence!” Trump didn’t exactly throw them off the hunt. At 2:24, the president tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

At that moment, Pence was still in his ceremonial office — protected by Secret Service agents, but vulnerable because the second-floor office had windows that could be breached and the intruding thugs had gained control of the building. Tim Giebels, the lead special agent in charge of the vice president’s protective detail, twice asked Pence to evacuate the Capitol, but Pence refused. “I’m not leaving the Capitol,” he told Giebels. The last thing the vice president wanted was the people attacking the Capitol to see his 20-car motorcade fleeing. That would only vindicate their insurrection.

The third time Giebels asked Pence to evacuate, it was more of an order than a request. “They’re in the building,” Giebels said. “The room you’re in is not secure. There are glass windows. I need to move you. We’re going.”

At 2:26, after a team of agents scouted a safe path to ensure the Pences would not encounter trouble, Giebels and the rest of Pence’s detail guided them down a staircase to a secure subterranean area that rioters couldn’t reach, where the vice president’s armored limousine awaited. Giebels asked Pence to get in one of the vehicles. “We can hold here,” he said.

“I’m not getting in the car, Tim,” Pence replied. “I trust you, Tim, but you’re not driving the car. If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I’m not getting in the car.”

The Pences then made their way to a secure underground area to wait out the riot.

Much as I can’t stand Pence, he did the right thing on that terrible day.

As we’ve learned, General Milly also came through, and even the much hated Bill Barr refused to support Trump’s authoritarian obsession.

Meanwhile, Trump was excitedly watching the MAGA attack on TV. He couldn’t have cared less that the Vice President and hundreds of Congresspeople were in danger.

Back at the White House, [Pence’s national security adviser, Retired Lt. General Keith] Kellogg was worried about Pence’s safety and went to find Trump.

“Is Mike okay?” the president asked him.

“The Secret Service has him under control,”  Kellogg told Trump. “Karen is there with the daughter.”

“Oh?” Trump asked.

“They’re going to stay there until this thing gets sorted out,” Kellogg said.

john-singer-sargent-a-siesta-young-girls

A Siesta, by John Singer Sargent

Trump said nothing more. He didn’t express any hope that Pence was okay. He didn’t try to call the vice president to check on him. He just stayed in the dining room watching television.

Around this time, Kellogg ran into Tony Ornato in the West Wing. Ornato, who oversaw Secret Service movements, told him that Pence’s detail was planning to move the vice president to Joint Base Andrews.

“You can’t do that, Tony,” Kellogg said. “Leave him where he’s at. He’s got a job to do. I know you guys too well. You’ll fly him to Alaska if you have a chance. Don’t do it.”

Pence had made clear to Giebels the level of his determination and Kellogg said there was no changing it.

“He’s going to stay there,” Kellogg told Ornato. “If he has to wait there all night, he’s going to do it.”

At this point, can anyone seriously doubt that Trump would have been OK with his thugs hanging Pence? Pence and Kellogg need to testify under oath before the January 6 committee.

If you haven’t read the Washington Post article yet, please do.

General Mark Milley was a significant source for the Rucker/Leonnig book, and he apparently talked extensively to Susan Glasser as well. Glasser writes at The New Yorker: “You’re Gonna Have a Fucking War”: Mark Milley’s Fight to Stop Trump from Striking Iran.

The last time that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with President Donald Trump was on January 3, 2021. The subject of the Sunday-afternoon meeting, at the White House, was Iran’s nuclear program. For the past several months, Milley had been engaged in an alarmed effort to insure that Trump did not embark on a military conflict with Iran as part of his quixotic campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 election and remain in power. The chairman secretly feared that Trump would insist on launching a strike on Iranian interests that could set off a full-blown war.

There were two “nightmare scenarios,” Milley told associates, for the period after the November 3rd election, which resulted in Trump’s defeat but not his concession: one was that Trump would try “to use the military on the streets of America to prevent the legitimate, peaceful transfer of power.” The other was an external crisis involving Iran. It was not public at the time, but Milley believed that the nation had come close—“very close”—to conflict with the Islamic Republic. This dangerous post-election period, Milley said, was all because of Trump’s “Hitler”-like embrace of the “Big Lie” that the election had been stolen from him; Milley feared it was Trump’s “Reichstag moment,” in which, like Adolf Hitler in 1933, he would manufacture a crisis in order to swoop in and rescue the nation from it.

Study for the Pigeons, by Henry Koerner

Study for the Pigeons, by Henry Koerner

To prevent such an outcome, Milley had, since late in 2020, been having morning phone meetings, at 8 a.m. on most days, with the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the hopes of getting the country safely through to Joe Biden’s Inauguration. The chairman, a burly four-star Army general who had been appointed to the post by Trump in 2019, referred to these meetings with his staff as the “land the plane” calls—as in, “both engines are out, the landing gear are stuck, we’re in an emergency situation. Our job is to land this plane safely and to do a peaceful transfer of power the 20th of January.”

This extraordinary confrontation between the nation’s top military official and the Commander-in-Chief had been building throughout 2020. Before the election, Milley had drafted a plan for how to handle the perilous period leading up to the Inauguration. He outlined four goals: first, to make sure that the U.S. didn’t unnecessarily go to war overseas; second, to make sure that U.S. troops were not used on the streets of America against the American people, for the purpose of keeping Trump in power; third, to maintain the military’s integrity; and, lastly, to maintain his own integrity. He referred back to them often in conversations with others.

As the crisis with Trump unfolded, and the chairman’s worst-case fears about the President not accepting defeat seemed to come true, Milley repeatedly met in private with the Joint Chiefs. He told them to make sure there were no unlawful orders from Trump and not to carry out any such orders without calling him first—almost a conscious echo of the final days of Richard Nixon, when Nixon’s Defense Secretary, James Schlesinger, reportedly warned the military not to act on any orders from the White House to launch a nuclear strike without first checking with him or with the national-security adviser, Henry Kissinger. At one meeting with the Joint Chiefs, in Milley’s Pentagon office, the chairman invoked Benjamin Franklin’s famous line, saying they should all hang together. To concerned members of Congress—including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—and also emissaries from the incoming Biden Administration, Milley also put out the word: Trump might attempt a coup, but he would fail because he would never succeed in co-opting the American military. “Our loyalty is to the U.S. Constitution,” Milley told them, and “we are not going to be involved in politics.”

Read the rest at The New Yorker.

Raw Story has an investigative article on the January 6 Capitol attack: Anatomy of an insurrection: How military veterans and other rioters carried out the Jan. 6 assault on democracy, by Jordan Green.

The slow-moving tedium of prosecutorial legal machinery and the GOP campaign to deflect responsibility can make it easy to lose sight of the big picture of what transpired on Jan. 6. But based on an aggregate review of individuals cases, along with other sources, a Raw Story analysis of the critical events in the Jan. 6 siege reveals a striking degree of coordination, sustained and intentional violence, planning and preparation, and determined effort to disable the United States’ critical governance apparatus by participants, including many with recent military experience. Many of the rioters who played critical roles in breaching the Capitol came away from the experience vowing to wage war against the United States. Few among those who are being prosecuted have expressed any remorse for their actions.

William Haskell

Day Trip, by William Haskell

Amid the hundreds of prosecutions of Trump supporters motivated by the big lie, the GOP has punished lawmakers who fail to bear allegiance to the former president and run afoul of the party line that the election was stolen, while thwarting the House investigation into the events of Jan. 6. GOP intransigence makes it likely that the Democratic-led investigation will become reduced to another partisan snipe-fest, undermining its potential to hold people accountable and prevent future attempts to overturn democracy….

A handful of defendants, including Oath Keepers members, have pleaded guilty, as fresh arrests fatten the docket weekly. Those recently charged are not minor players: In addition to people who trashed media equipment and assaulted reporters, they include the first boogaloo-identified rioter, with hints that there are more to come, and a man who organized a resistance cell under the cover of a Bible study. Critically, the FBI has yet to make an arrest for bombs that were planted outside the Democratic and Republican headquarters on the eve of the insurrection. Even under the most optimistic scenario, the prosecutions are likely to drag on for years: Among the few cases set for trial, white nationalist Christian Secor isn’t scheduled to begin deliberations until January 2022.

Beyond the chaotic events that took place when hundreds of Trump supporters unleashed mayhem on the Capitol, it remains unknown to what degree, if any, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers coordinated their actions. And beyond Trump’s feverish promotion of the Jan. 6 “Save America” rally and instruction to his followers to “walk down to the Capitol,” it also remains to be seen whether the siege may have been directed by the president or his surrogates through intermediaries such as Trump confidant Roger Stone or “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander.

Notably, the mob began its advance on the Capitol well before Trump had finished speaking at the Ellipse, suggesting that key players had decided in advance to disrupt the certification of the electoral vote, while Trump’s exhortations mobilized thousands more to reinforce the riot that was already unfolding at the seat of American government.

This is a very long and interesting article. I hope you’ll check it out.

I’m sorry to have to keep focusing on Trump news, but that’s what’s out there today. As always, this is an open thread. What’s on your mind?


Thursday Reads: Matt Gaetz’s Wild and Crazy Scandal

Saad Yagan, 2017

Saad Yagan, 2017

Good Afternoon!!

What on Earth is going on with Matt Gaetz? The story just keeps growing stranger by the day. It all began with this New York Times story published on Tuesday: Matt Gaetz Is Said to Face Justice Dept. Inquiry Over Sex With an Underage Girl.

Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida and a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Investigators are examining whether Mr. Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, the people said. A variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. The Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences.

It was not clear how Mr. Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing, according to two of the people.

The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William P. Barr, the two people said. Given Mr. Gaetz’s national profile, senior Justice Department officials in Washington — including some appointed by Mr. Trump — were notified of the investigation, the people said.

Then Gaetz appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox and made everything worse for himself.

Aaron Rupar at Vox: Matt Gaetz’s disastrous Tucker Carlson interview, explained.

Hours after the New York Times broke the news that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking, he was given a platform by Fox News host Tucker Carlson to tell his side of the story. But Gaetz ended up botching the softball interview so thoroughly that Carlson ended up telling his millions of viewers it was “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”

Pablo Picasso, 1939

Pablo Picasso, 1939

At various points during the interview, Gaetz — who denies the allegations — volunteered the existence of criminal allegations against him that aren’t yet part of the public record, brought up sexual misconduct allegations against Carlson that most of his viewers probably weren’t aware of, and went out of his way to involve Carlson in stories about his personal life.

“I can say that actually you and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine — you’ll remember her — and she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme, that could face trouble,” Gaetz said. “So I do believe there are people at the Department of Justice that are trying to smear me. Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime.”

It sounds like he’s admitting he paid for travel and hotel rooms for a person he was dating, doesn’t it?

…more importantly than the bizarreness of the interview is the fact that Gaetz didn’t do a very convincing job trying to refute the very serious criminal allegations underpinning the federal investigation. His defense basically amounts to claims that he’s the victim of a vast conspiracy….

During the interview with Carlson, Gaetz denied improper conduct, but he did so in a very limited and specific way, using language that raised more questions than it answered.

Butterflies and Poppies, Vincent Van Gogh

Butterflies and Poppies, Vincent Van Gogh

“The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman, and that is verifiably false; people can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case,” Gaetz said — even though a 17-year-old is not a “woman,” the allegations go beyond mere “traveling,” and it’s unclear how “travel records” could disprove any of them.

Gaetz went on to allege that word of the investigation was leaked as part of an extortion plot, saying “what is happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former Department of Justice official” who demanded $25 million in exchange for making the sex trafficking allegations go away.

But during an MSNBC interview a short time later, one of the Times reporters bylined on the Gaetz story, Katie Benner, debunked one of Gaetz’s central claims, saying unequivocally that the former official Gaetz accused by name of being part of an extortion plot isn’t even involved in the investigation.

I’m still very confused.

Washington Post fact checker Salvador Rizzo explains why travel records could not prove the allegations against Gaetz are false. Basically, these records aren’t available to the public.

Here’s the bottom line: House members’ personal travel and expenses are not subject to disclosure, so there would be no public records to check regarding Gaetz’s private life.“If this was just personal travel, and he wasn’t using campaign or official funds, there’s no disclosure,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Airline flight manifests and personal credit card or bank statements would chart who went where with whom at what times and at whose expense, but those sensitive records are not public. Only law enforcement investigators could look through them by getting subpoenas.

Philip Bump at The Washington Post: The Matt Gaetz allegation, explained.

“The Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz — a Florida Republican considered a close political ally of former president Donald Trump — over an alleged sexual relationship with an underage girl,” The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett explain. That relationship allegedly included paying for the girl to travel, potentially across state lines, adding the complexity of potential federal charges related to sex trafficking, according to the Times. Both the Post and Times stories are constrained for fairly obvious reasons, including the limits of available information and the need to accurately convey the potential risk Gaetz faces.

landscape with butterflies, 1956, Salvidor Dali

Landscape with Butterflies, 1956, by Salvador Dali

The investigation apparently spun out of another sex-trafficking probe in Florida. That one focused on a former county official named Joel Greenberg, who was charged in the summer with a number of federal offenses, including sex trafficking of a minor.

“According to an indictment in the case, Greenberg abused his access to a statewide database, using it to look up the personal information of people with whom he was in ‘sugar daddy’ relationships, including the minor, and to help produce fake identification documents to ‘facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts,’ ” Zapotosky and Barrett report. “He was also accused of seeking to undermine a political opponent by surfacing fabricated evidence of racism and misconduct.”

It’s worth noting that questions about Gaetz’s relationships have emerged in the past. A Mother Jones article from 2019 documents concerns raised by a former member of Gaetz’s staff about a 21-year-old he was then dating and who was apparently posting photos of the two of them on Instagram alongside other photos showing not-conservative-politician-friendly activities.

There’s more explanation and confusion at the link. What is clear is that there are two different investigations that Gaetz is trying to combine in his defense. Other than that, I’m still confused.

Gaetz’s father chimed in at Politico yesterday: Matt Gaetz’s dad says he wore a wire for FBI probe into DOJ extortion claims.

Rep. Matt Gaetz’s father, Don, a former Florida Senate president, said he is working with the FBI, including wearing a wire on more than one occasion as part of an investigation into an alleged extortion plot that the pair said was organized by former federal prosecutor David McGee.

Herons and Lilies, 1862 by Frank W. Benson

Herons and Lilies, 1934, by Frank W. Benson

“The FBI asked me to try and get that information for Matt and an indication we would transfer money to Mr. David McGee,” Don Gaetz said in an interview late Tuesday, without specifying what information he was referring to.

McGee, who is now in private practice with a Pensacola, Fla.-based law firm, did not respond to a POLITICO request seeking comment, but told other media outlets there is no truth to the alleged extortion plot.

Don Gaetz said in the interview he wore a wire during a meeting earlier this month with McGee and said he was set to meet Wednesday with Stephen Alford, a local developer who he said is also part of the alleged extortion scheme. During that meeting, Don Gaetz said, he was again set to wear a wire and try to get Alford to talk about payments he allegedly was to make to McGee, but the meeting fell apart when news broke that his son was being investigated by the Justice Department. Alford did not respond to text messages seeking comment.

In separate interviews, Don and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) acknowledged a Justice Department probe involving the younger Gaetz, 38, into whether he had improper involvement with a 17-year-old girl. The Gaetzes say they are the target of an extortion plot seeking money to keep the DOJ investigation quiet.

Today The Washington Post reported that the scandal involves Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran and is believed to be dead. Here’s a summary at The Week: The Matt Gaetz case now involves a missing FBI agent last seen in Iran.

When Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-Fla.) father received a message that referred to a Justice Department investigation into his son and asked for help funding the search for Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran 14 years ago, he thought the request was suspicious and went to the FBI, people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, The New York Times reported that in the waning months of the Trump administration, the DOJ launched an investigation into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him out of state. Gaetz, who denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes, released a statement saying his family had been targeted by extortionists, and his father wore a wire at the insistence of the FBI.

Boy with butterfly net Henri Mattisse, 1907

Boy with butterfly net, by Henri Mattisse, 1907

People familiar with the matter told the Post that Gaetz’s wealthy father, Don Gaetz, received a text message and document from two men who said if he gave them money to help with the search for Levinson, Matt Gaetz would be seen as a hero and his legal troubles would likely go away. Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island in 2007 while trying to get information on the country’s nuclear program, and was last seen alive in a 2010 hostage video. His family has said the U.S. government told them they believe Levinson is dead.

When Don Gaetz received these messages, the DOJ investigation into his son was not known publicly. It isn’t clear how the men learned about the investigation, and they do not appear to have any direct connection with the investigation. People with knowledge of the matter told the Post it will be hard to prove this was an extortion attempt because the men did not threaten to expose Gaetz’s DOJ investigation if the family did not give them money.

Matt Gaetz appeared on Fox News Tuesday night and accused a lawyer named David McGee of being involved in this effort. McGee has represented the Levinson family for years, and on Tuesday night he said Don Gaetz called him and they had a “pleasant conversation” about “the trouble his son was in.” McGee denied being involved in any extortion attempt, and his law firm on Wednesday called the allegation “false and defamatory.” Catherine Garcia

One more Gaetz story from ABC News: In investigation of Rep. Gaetz’s alleged sexual relationship with minor, feds looking beyond Florida, sources say.

Sources told ABC News the investigation has been going on for months and began during the Trump administration. Former Attorney General Bill Barr was briefed on the investigation’s progress several times, the sources said.

One source told ABC News that federal authorities have already interviewed multiple witnesses as part of their probe.

Morning Bird Dance, Edvard Munch

Morning Bird Dance, Edvard Munch

Gaetz has reportedly told confidants he is considering retiring from Congress and possibly joining the right-wing media outlet Newsmax, according to an Axios report earlier Tuesday.

Yet within the last several weeks Gaetz started reaching out to prominent attorneys, according to one source. The source said that one of the attorneys Gaetz asked to represent him was Washington attorney Bill Burck, who represented Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Don McGahn during the Mueller probe. Burck turned down the case, according to a person familiar with the decision.

So this story keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. One interesting point is that apparently Gaetz is very unpopular with Republicans and they are rooting for him to go down in flames. A few more links to check out:

Jeff Stein at Spy Talk: Gaetz ‘Extortion’ Figure’s Levinson Obsession.

The Daily Beast: The Creepy, Disturbing Case That Ensnared Matt Gaetz.

Ben Jacobs at New York Magazine: Matt Gaetz Gets a Scandal As Wild As Him.

Raw Story: Here are 7 new bombshell details from the complex and unraveling Matt Gaetz investigation story.

The Daily Beast: Republicans Have Been Waiting for a Matt Gaetz Scandal to Break.

The Hill: Fox has no interest in hiring Matt Gaetz.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this story, because it’s still so confusing to me. I guess we’ll be learning more soon. So what’s on your mind today? As always, this is an open thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Cat playing, Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe

Cat playing, by Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe

Good Afternoon!!

With just 53 more days until the inauguration, Trump is dreaming up ways to make things more difficult for Joe Biden and for the American people by undermining U.S. foreign policy, hurting the military, damaging the environment and public health, hurting federal employees, and making sure the coronavirus pandemic kills as many people as possible. He even plans to troll Biden’s inauguration.

It’s not clear what Trump had to do with the murder of an Iranian nuclear scientist, but he isn’t objecting to it. Pompeo was traveling around the Middle East shortly before it happened.

The Guardian: Iran scientist’s assassination appears intended to undermine nuclear deal.

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh may not much have impact on the Iranian nuclear programme he helped build, but it will certainly make it harder to salvage the deal intended to restrict that programme, and that is – so far – the most plausible motive.

Israel is widely agreed to be the most likely perpetrator. Mossad is reported to have been behind a string of assassinations of other Iranian nuclear scientists – reports Israeli officials have occasionally hinted were true.

Photo by  Walker Evans

Photo by Walker Evans

According to former officials, the Obama administration leaned on Israel to discontinue those assassinations in 2013, as it started talks with Tehran that led two years later to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), by which Iran accepted constraints on its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

It would be a fair guess that Joe Biden would also oppose such assassinations when he takes office on 20 January and tries to reconstitute the JCPOA – which has been left wounded but just about alive in the wake of Donald Trump’s withdrawal in 2018.

If Mossad was indeed behind the assassination, Israel had a closing window of opportunity in which to carry it out with a green light from an American president, and there seems little doubt that Trump, seeking to play a spoiler role in his last weeks in office, would have given approval, if not active assistance. He is reported to have asked for military options in Iran, in the aftermath of his election defeat.

“I think they would have had to get a green light from Washington. I don’t think they would do it without,” Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at the Century Foundation, said. “In terms of motive, I think it’s just pushing Iran to do something stupid to ensure that the Biden administration’s hands are tied when they come in to pursue negotiations and de-escalation.’

CNN: Iran’s supreme leader vows revenge after top nuclear scientist apparently assassinated.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has vowed revenge and to continue the country’s “scientific” activities after the killing of the country’s chief nuclear scientist, as top Iranian officials pile blame on Israel over the killing.

A-Feline-Family-Agnes-Augusta-Talboys-private-collection

A Feline Family, by Agnes Augusta Talboys

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who became the face of Iran’s controversial nuclear program, was killed in a district east of Tehran on Friday, in what Iranian officials are calling an assassination.

“There are two matters that people in charge should put in their to do list: 1- To follow up the atrocity and retaliate against those who were responsible for it. 2- To follow up Martyr Fakhrizadeh’s scientific and technical activities in all fields in which he was active,” Khamenei wrote Saturday in a tweet from an account often attributed to him, making a veiled reference to the country’s nuclear activities.

He added: “Our distinguished nuclear scientist in the defense of our country, Mr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed by the oppressive enemies. This rare scientific mind lost his life for his everlasting great scientific work. He lost his life for God and the supreme leader. God shall reward him greatly.”

Trump is rushing to damage environmental protections and public health before he leaves office, and EPA employees are fighting back. The New York Times: E.P.A.’s Final Deregulatory Rush Runs Into Open Staff Resistance.

President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rushing to complete one of its last regulatory priorities, aiming to obstruct the creation of air- and water-pollution controls far into the future, when a senior career scientist moved to hobble it.

Jane Brown, Cat in a restaurant window, Penzance, circa 1060

Photo by Jane Brown, Cat in a restaurant window, Penzance, circa 1060

Thomas Sinks directed the E.P.A.’s science advisory office and later managed the agency’s rules and data around research that involved people. Before his retirement in September, he decided to issue a blistering official opinion that the pending rule — which would require the agency to ignore or downgrade any medical research that does not expose its raw data — will compromise American public health.

“If this rule were to be finalized it would create chaos,” Dr. Sinks said in an interview in which he acknowledged writing the opinion that had been obtained by The New York Times. “I thought this was going to lead to a train crash and that I needed to speak up.”

With two months left of the Trump administration, career E.P.A. employees find themselves where they began, in a bureaucratic battle with the agency’s political leaders. But now, with the Biden administration on the horizon, they are emboldened to stymie Mr. Trump’s goals and to do so more openly.

The filing of a “dissenting scientific opinion” is an unusual move; it signals that Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., and his politically appointed deputies did not listen to the objections of career scientists in developing the regulation. More critically, by entering the critique as part of the official Trump administration record on the new rule, Dr. Sinks’s dissent will offer Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s E.P.A. administrator a powerful weapon to repeal the so-called “secret science” policy.

Trump is threatening to veto a defense bill because it includes instructions to remove Confederate names from military bases. NBC News:

President Donald Trump is threatening to veto legislation to fund the military as one of his final acts in office unless a widely supported, bipartisan provision to rename military bases honoring Confederate military leaders is removed, according to White House, defense and congressional sources.

Dream of a Cat, by Norbertine Breslern-Roth

Since the Nov. 3 election, Trump has privately told Republican lawmakers that he won’t back down from his position during the campaign that he would veto the annual National Defense Authorization Act if it includes an amendment to rename the bases….

Trump’s stance has put in doubt legislation that had been agreed to by Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate. It has sent members of Trump’s party scrambling to find a path for the defense bill, which outlines military policy and funding, and put them on a collision course with Democrats.

Trump is working to destroy protections for civil service employees. The Washington Post: Trump moves to strip job protections from White House budget analysts as he races to transform civil service.

The outgoing Trump administration is racing to enact the biggest change to the federal civil service in generations, reclassifying career employees at key agencies to strip their job protections and leave them open to being fired before Joe Biden takes office.

The move to pull off an executive order the president issued less than two weeks before Election Day — affecting tens of thousands of people in policy roles — is accelerating at the agency closest to the White House, the Office of Management and Budget.

The budget office sent a list this week of roles identified by its politically appointed leaders to the federal personnel agency for final sign-off. The list comprises 88 percent of its workforce — 425 analysts and other experts who would shift into a new job classification called Schedule F.

The employees would then be vulnerable to dismissal before Trump leaves office if they are considered poor performers or have resisted executing the president’s priorities, effectively turning them into political appointees that come and go with each administration.

1_jamiecampbell_Saddest-Kitten-2012

Photo by Jamie Campbell: Saddest Kitten

Trump’s Treasury secretary is working to make it harder for Biden to help Americans impacted by the pandemic. Fox Business: Mnuchin plans to move $455B in coronavirus relief out of Biden’s reach.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to move $455 billion in unspent coronavirus stimulus money into a fund that the incoming Biden administration cannot deploy without congressional approval, Bloomberg reported.

The CARES Act funding will be placed in the agency’s General Fund, a Treasury Department spokesperson told Bloomberg. If Mnuchin’s successor — Biden is widely expected to pick former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to fill the role — wants to access that money, she will need to receive Congress’ blessing….

Last week, Mnuchin said he would not extend several emergency loan programs set up with the Federal Reserve, prompting a rare criticism from the U.S. central bank. While the lending facilities have been little used so far, they were viewed as a vital backstop for the pandemic-ravaged economy.

The money is part of the $500 billion Treasury Department fund created at the end of March by the CARES Act. The Treasury Fund set aside $46 billion for loans and loan guarantees to the airline industry, and the remainder was designated to support Fed lending programs to businesses, states and municipalities.

And of course there’s the raging pandemic that Trump has not only ignored but enabled with his rallies and his mocking of public restr

CNN: US is ’rounding the corner into a calamity,’ expert says, with Covid-19 deaths projected to double soon.

As Thanksgiving week draws to an end, more experts are warning the Covid-19 pandemic will likely get much worse in the coming weeks before a possible vaccine begins to offer some relief.

Agnes Miller Parker, Siamise cat, 1950

Agnes Miller Parker, Siamise cat, 1950

More than 205,000 new cases were reported Friday — which likely consists of both Thursday and Friday reports in some cases, as at least 20 states did not report Covid-19 numbers on Thanksgiving.

The US has now reported more than 100,000 infections every day for 25 consecutive days, with a daily average of more than 166,000 across the last week — almost 2.5 times higher than the summer’s peak counts in July.

The number of Covid-19 patients in US hospitals is just off record levels: more than 89,800 on Friday, only a few hundred lower than the peak set a day earlier, according to the COVID Tracking Project….

Based on the current Covid-19 numbers in the US, the country is far from rounding the corner, she said.

“If anything, we are rounding the corner into a calamity,” Wen said. “We’re soon going to exceed well more than 2,000 deaths, maybe 3,000, 4,000 deaths every single day here in the US.”

That projection has been echoed by other experts including Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, who predicted Wednesday the country’s daily death toll would likely double in 10 days, and soon see “close to 4,000 deaths a day.”

Finally, Trump wants to cause problems for Biden’s inauguration and first term. I doubt if it will work, but it will be a national embarrassment. The Daily Beast: Trump’s Already Gaming Out a 2024 Run—Including an Event During Biden’s Inauguration.

In the twilight of his presidency, Donald Trump is discussing different ways to disrupt the impending Joe Biden era, chief among them by announcing another run against him.

According to three people familiar with the conversations, the president, who refuses to acknowledge he lost the 2020 election as he clearly did, has not just talked to close advisers and confidants about a potential 2024 run to reclaim the White House but about the specifics of a campaign launch. The conversations have explored, among other things, how Trump could best time his announcement so as to keep the Republican Party behind him for the next four years. Two of these knowledgeable sources said the president has, in the past two weeks, even floated the idea of doing a 2024-related event during Biden’s inauguration week, possibly on Inauguration Day, if his legal effort to steal the 2020 election ultimately fails.

According to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter, the president has privately bragged that he’d still remain in the spotlight, even if Biden is in the Oval Office, in part because the news media will keep regularly covering him since—as Trump has assessed—he gets the news outlets ratings and those same outlets find Biden “boring.”

That’s it for me today. I hope you all are having a relaxing holiday weekend!


Tuesday Reads: Lying Dotard Precipitates Apocalypse

Coffee, by Pierre Bonnard

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday, Dakinikat eloquently articulated the mess Trump has made of our once powerful nation. I have to agree with her that it looks like the “American Century” is ending. Will the U.S. go the of the British empire? Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we could get rid of Trump and McConnell and elect leaders who are committed to upholding the Constitution and protecting democracy.

Who knows what will happen? But right now we are dealing with a possible apocalypse led by an demented old man who spends most of his time either playing golf or watching Fox News. There are no more “adults” advising him–if there ever were–and two of the most powerful people in his administration are end-of-the-world evangelicals Pence and Pompeo. And those two seem just fine with Trump starting a war with Iran.

We have a long way to go before the November election and I don’t have a lot of faith in any of the Democratic presidential candidates. I hope I’m wrong.

As for impeachment, we still don’t know if there will be a real trial in the Senate. Bolton says he will testify, but he knows it’s unlikely the Republican Senate will ask him to.

So that’s where things stand today. Here’s the latest news and opinion from around the internet.

Tsuguaru Fujita At the Cafe

There’s been another natural disaster in Puerto Rico. The Washington Post: Puerto Rico earthquake Tuesday morning triggers blackout, reports of injuries and at least one dead.

A powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake off Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast early Tuesday morning has triggered a widespread blackout, interrupted telecommunications and sent homeowners scrambling out of collapsing homes in towns near the epicenter.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the shaking began about 4:24 a.m. and was followed by intense aftershocks, including a 6.0-magnitude shock wave that also was felt across the U.S. territory. As the sun rose on Puerto Rico, reports of significant damage and injuries were beginning to emerge from areas already impacted by a 5.8-magnitude quake on Monday that destroyed homes and a natural rock formation that was a signature coastal tourist attraction. The Tuesday morning earthquake briefly triggered tsunami-warning sirens and authorities alerted residents that a tsunami was possible — but that warning was later canceled.

Gov. Wanda Vásquez Garced told government employees to stay home as more aftershocks are expected throughout the day. Emergency personnel are evaluating the damage and inspecting Puerto Rico’s power generation plants — all of which are located along the southern coast near the origin of the seismic activity.

Gladyra Archilla, a spokesperson for the city of Ponce, confirmed that a 77-year-old man was killed when a wall in his home fell on top of him. Emergency personnel are trying to rescue one other person in that home who is pinned under debris. Archilla said that many local buildings in the southern city were damaged.

Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times on the dire U.S. political situation: The Nightmare Stage of Trump’s Rule Is Here.

After three harrowing years, we’ve reached the point many of us feared from the moment Donald Trump was elected. His decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s second most important official, made at Mar-a-Lago with little discernible deliberation, has brought the United States to the brink of a devastating new conflict in the Middle East.

Mickalene Thomas, Portrait of Mnonja, 2010

We don’t yet know how Iran will retaliate, or whether all-out war will be averted. But already, NATO has suspended its mission training Iraqi forces to fight ISIS. Iraq’s Parliament has voted to expel American troops — a longtime Iranian objective. (On Monday, U.S. forces sent a letter saying they were withdrawing from Iraq in response, only to then claim that it was a draft released in error.) On Sunday, Iran said it will no longer be bound by the remaining restrictions on its nuclear program in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal that Trump abandoned in 2018. Trump has been threatening to commit war crimes by destroying Iran’s cultural sites and tried to use Twitter to notify Congress of his intention to respond to any Iranian reprisals with military escalation.

The administration has said that the killing of Suleimani was justified by an imminent threat to American lives, but there is no reason to believe this. One skeptical American official told The New York Times that the new intelligence indicated nothing but “a normal Monday in the Middle East,” and Democrats briefed on it were unconvinced by the administration’s case. The Washington Post reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who last year agreed with a Christian Broadcasting Network interviewer that God might have sent Trump to save Israel from the “Iranian menace” — has been pushing for a hit on Suleimani for months.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Also at The New York Times, David Leonhardt writes: No One Believes Trump.Which isn’t good in an international crisis.

“This is where having credibility — and having a president who didn’t lie about everything — would be really, really helpful,” Samantha Power, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, wrote recently.

Jean Edouard Vuillard, Lucy Hessel reading

A president with credibility would be better able to persuade foreign governments to help protect American diplomats and military members who are now at risk.

A president with credibility would be more likely to beat Iran in the global court of public opinion.

A president with credibility would be able to set clear red lines that might influence Iran’s behavior in coming weeks.

But President Trump has no credibility. His political rise was built on a lie (about Barack Obama’s birthplace). He has told thousands of untruths since becoming president. He appears to be lying again — about why he ordered the assassination of Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most significant military leader.

To emphasize Trump’s lack of credibility, here’s stunning piece of fact-checking at The Washington Post: Anatomy of a Trump rally: 67 percent of claims are false or lacking evidence.

We’re kicking off the new year with a line-by-line fact check of President Trump’s longest rally to date.

It was the Moby Dick of fact-checking assignments, a two-hour tornado of false and bewildering claims. Trump was in rare form. The rally was held Dec. 18, just as the House was voting to impeach him.

The president surpassed 15,400 false or misleading claims as of Dec. 10, according to our database tracking all of his suspect statements. But it’s worth drilling down on his rallies. They’ve gotten longer over time, and they’re a key part of Trump’s reelection bid, drawing supporters by the thousands.

By Ron Francis

We wanted to do the math and find out whether the president speaks more fictions or facts in front of his crowds. We focused only on statements of material fact at the December rally in Michigan, avoiding trivialities and opinions. We didn’t double-count statements when the president repeated himself.

According to our analysis, the truth took a beating once again. From a grand total of 179 factual statements we identified, 67 percent were false, mostly false or unsupported by evidence.

Read the detailed analysis of the rally at the WaPo link.

At Rolling Stone, Mark Binelli attempts to explain what happened to the old Lindsey Graham: How Lindsey Graham Lost His Way.

Over the course of his three terms representing South Carolina in the Senate, Graham had become predominantly known for two things: extreme hawkishness on foreign policy, following the lead of his close friend and mentor, the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, and a bipartisan streak that resulted in high-profile attempts to cut big deals on issues like immigration reform and climate change. A former senior staffer for a Democratic senator who has worked alongside Graham on bipartisan legislation tells me, “Like John McCain, he was a conservative Republican, but it was always worth asking where he was going to be on a particular issue, because he wasn’t completely beholden to party orthodoxy. He’d often be way out ahead of his staff, negotiating on the Senate floor unbeknownst to them, and they would be playing catch-up.”

Will Folks, a conservative political blogger in South Carolina, says, “The joke here is Graham has a ‘count to six’ approach to governing: He spends the first four years of his term doing whatever he wants, veering off toward the left, and then the last two years, when the electorate is paying more attention, he comes right.”

On the Green Bank, Sanary, 1911 Hanri Lebasque

Graham is “never flustered, and just a natural at dealing with people who don’t like him,” says David Woodard, a political-science professor at Clemson University who ran Graham’s first two campaigns for the House of Representatives and recalls the first-term congressman as quickly becoming the unofficial social director for his freshman class, though he added, “You’re going to find Lindsey knows a lot of people, but he’s not close to anybody.”

Like much of the GOP establishment, Graham had opposed Trump during the 2015 primary, but he spoke out more forcefully than most, and in the general election, he wrote in third-party candidate Evan McMullin. Which has made his subsequent capitulation all the more breathtaking, even in the context of a modern Republican Party completely transformed into the party of Trump.

Read the rest at Rolling Stone.

More stories of possible interest, links only:

CNN: Senate GOP swing votes sidestep questions about Bolton testimony.

Neal Katyal and Joshua Geltzer at The Washington Post: Trump wants us to trust him on Iran. Without a real impeachment trial, we can’t.

The Texas Tribune: Former Castro supporters in Texas switch to Biden after Castro drops out.

The New York Times: Pentagon Rules Out Striking Iranian Cultural Sites, Contradicting Trump.

Reuters: Iran considering 13 ‘revenge scenarios’ after U.S. strike: report.

The Washington Post: Russian trolls are targeting American veterans, and Trump’s government isn’t helping, group says.

Courthouse News Service: Feds to Hand Over Roger Stone Records to Media Outlets.

The Washington Post: The old Nikki Haley called for civility. The new one just said Democrats are ‘mourning’ a terrorist.