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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
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.
Courthouse News Service: Feds to Hand Over Roger Stone Records to Media Outlets.
There are several articles at major news sources today claiming to describe the process by which Trump decided to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Trump doesn’t make decisions in the orderly manner in which aides and gullible reporters like to describe. I think this Twitter thread by The Hoarse Whisperer makes more sense.
This article at The Daily Beast supports Hoarse’s argument: Trump Told Mar-a-Lago Pals to Expect ‘Big’ Iran Action ‘Soon.’
In the five days prior to launching a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, Donald Trump roamed the halls of Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida, and started dropping hints to close associates and club-goers that something huge was coming.
According to three people who’ve been at the president’s Palm Beach club over the past several days, Trump began telling friends and allies hanging at his perennial vacation getaway that he was working on a “big” response to the Iranian regime that they would be hearing or reading about very “soon.” His comments went beyond the New Year’s Eve tweet he sent out warning of the “big price” Iran would pay for damage to U.S. facilities. Two of these sources tell The Daily Beast that the president specifically mentioned he’d been in close contact with his top national security and military advisers on gaming out options for an aggressive action that could quickly materialize.
“He kept saying, ‘You’ll see,’” one of the sources recalled, describing a conversation with Trump days before Thursday’s strike.
Meanwhile, he told Congress nothing. This thread that JJ pointed me too is also very helpful. I won’t post the whole thing because it’s long; but I highly recommend reading the whole thing on Twitter.
Read the rest on Twitter.
More Iran reads:
Abigail Tracy and Vanity Fair: “The Administration’s Track Record Doesn’t Inspire Confidence”: After Killing Soleimani, Trump Confronts a Credibility Gap.
The Washington defense and diplomatic communities are not exactly mourning the death of Qasem Soleimani, a powerful Iranian commander who was killed by a U.S. airstrike on Thursday night. “Soleimani was a murderer and the major source of violence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon for three decades,” said, former ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, echoing a near-unanimous position. “He was an enemy of the U.S., responsible for hundreds of American deaths.”
But many in Washington believe that the killing of this dangerous man made the world a much more dangerous place, and now, in a moment of ominous quiet, a new landscape is being mapped. Among diplomats I spoke with familiar with the region, there was little doubt that Iran would respond forcefully to Soleimani’s killing. “A real retaliation is going to come months from now,” a former ambassador to a country in the region said. And Iranian leadership left little doubt that this would be the case. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, called for three days of national mourning and vowed revenge. “His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands,” he said in a statement. Thus far, clarity is lacking as to how the decision to kill Soleimani was made, and the diplomatic corp, deeply skeptical of Trump to begin with, tends to see it as an impulsive act. “It was of course a serious escalation,” said a former diplomat who worked on Middle East issues, “and seemingly devoid of strategic rationale.”
Does Trump know what’s next? Of course not.
There is also an acute fear within the diplomatic community that the Trump administration has failed to plot its next moves on the chessboard. “The emphasis now should be on de-escalation. But we [have] every reason to assume that Trump has not thought through the full implications of this event and the repercussions it will unleash. In other words, there likely is no strategy in place to de-escalate,” Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and Iran expert, told me. “When Trump violated the Iran nuclear deal, official communications with Tehran were severed. There is no deconfliction channel. With a hollowed-out State Department, we do not have the capacity to carry out the intense diplomacy required to manage a spiraling crisis.”
Read more expert opinions at the Vanity Fair link.
Wesley Clark at The Washington Post: Killing a top Iranian military leader was a whack-for-tat move.
No doubt the attack was intended to be preemptive as well as punitive. Soleimani and his team were certainly planning responses to U.S. actions. But here the question is whether this strike prevented further Iranian strikes or simply made escalation inevitable. Regardless of Soleimani’s charisma or strategic genius, it’s unlikely that the loss of a leader will so cripple Iran’s capacity to strike back that the escalatory cycle will be broken.
More at the WaPo link.
David Corn and Matt Cohen at Mother Jones: With a War Against Iran Brewing, Don’t Listen to the Hawks Who Lied Us Into Iraq.
Shortly after the news broke that a US airstrike in Baghdad ordered by President Donald Trump had killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, Ari Fleischer went on Fox News and proclaimed, “I think it is entirely possible that this is going to be a catalyst inside Iran where the people celebrate this killing of Soleimani.”
Here we go again.
Fleischer was press secretary for President George W. Bush when the Bush-Cheney administration deployed a long stretch of false statements and lies—Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al Qaeda! Saddam had WMDs! Saddam intended to use WMDs against the United States! Saddam’s defeat would lead to peace and democracy in Iraq and throughout the region!—to grease the way to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. In that position, Fleischer was a key spokesperson for the war. Prior to the invasion, he promised the war would lead to a bright future: “Once the Iraqi people see that Saddam and those around him will be removed from power, they’ll welcome freedom, they’ll be a liberated people.” Instead, Iraq and the region were wracked with destabilization and death that continues to this day. About 200,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in the chaos and violence the Bush-Cheney invasion unleashed, and 4,500 US soldiers were killed in their war.
One more day until 2020 begins. Here’s what’s happening right now:
As 2019 draws to a close with “Death to America” is trending on Twitter. The New York Times: Protesters Attack U.S. Embassy in Iraq, Chanting ‘Death to America.’
BAGHDAD — Protesters broke into the heavily guarded compound of the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday and lit fires inside to express their anger over American airstrikes that killed 24 members of an Iranian-backed militia over the weekend.
The men did not enter the main embassy buildings and later withdrew from the compound, joining thousands of protesters and militia fighters outside who chanted “Death to America,” threw rocks, covered the walls with graffiti and demanded that the United States withdraw its forces from Iraq.
The situation remained combustible, with protesters vowing to camp outside the compound indefinitely. Their ability to storm the most heavily guarded zone in Baghdad suggested that they had received at least tacit permission from Iraqi security officials sympathetic to their demands.
The American airstrikes on Sunday have resulted in the most serious political crisis in years for the United States in Iraq, stoking anti-Americanism and handing an advantage to Iran in its competition for influence in the country.
The airstrikes targeted an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, Kataib Hezbollah, which the United States accused of carrying out a missile attack on an Iraqi military base that killed an American contractor and wounded American and Iraqi service members. A spokesman for the militia denied involvement in the attack.
But the size of the American response — five strikes in Iraq and Syria that killed two dozen fighters and wounded dozens of others — prompted condemnation from across the political spectrum and accusations that the United States had violated Iraqi sovereignty.
Trump is blaming Iran, The Washington Post reports:
President Trump responded angrily Tuesday to the protesters’ actions, charging that Iran was behind a deadly militia attack that led to the airstrikes and blaming Tehran for the embassy siege.
“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many,” Trump tweeted from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. “We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!”
A spokesman for the Kataib Hezbollah militia said the demonstrators intend to besiege the embassy until the facility shuts down and U.S. diplomats leave Iraq.
But the angry demonstrators defied appeals delivered over loudspeakers by the group’s leaders not to enter the embassy compound and smashed their way into one of the facility’s reception areas, breaking down fortified doors and bulletproof glass and setting fire to the room.
American guards inside the embassy fired tear gas to keep the militia supporters at bay. U.S. troops could be seen nearby and on rooftops, their weapons drawn, but they did not open fire. Embassy civil defense workers just inside the gates attempted to put out the fires with water hoses.
The protesters also smashed security cameras, set two guardrooms ablaze and burned tires. They made a bonfire out of a pile of papers and military MREs (meals ready to eat) found in the reception area, where guards normally search visitors. Kataib Hezbollah flags were draped over the barbed wire protecting the embassy’s high walls.
So much for Trump and Kushner’s plans for peace in the Middle East. And didn’t American taxpayers spend $750 million to make the Baghdad embassy impenetrable?
Here’s a little comic relief from The Daily Beast: Team Trump’s Furious Hunt to Find Out Who ‘Liked’ a Chelsea Clinton Tweet.
On the evening of July 10, 2017, staffers at the U.S. embassy in Brussels—the official office for the ambassador to the European Union—received an unusual call from the seventh floor of the State Department back in Washington. The office of then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was irate. Someone in Brussels with access to the mission’s Twitter account had liked the wrong tweet. It had set off alarm bells in Foggy Bottom.
The tweet wasn’t just any tweet. It was one written by Chelsea Clinton and directed at President Donald Trump in a public spat that took the internet by storm.
That week in July, Trump drew criticism for his decision to let his daughter Ivanka fill his seat at the G-20 meeting of top economic powers in Hamburg, Germany. After days of the pile-on, Trump took to Twitter the morning of July 10 to claim his decision to have Ivanka represent the U.S. at the G-20 was “very standard” and that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany agreed. Not more than 15 minutes later, he switched his tenor and began attacking Clinton and the press. “If Chelsea Clinton were asked to hold the seat for her mother, as her mother gave our country away, the Fake News would say CHELSEA FOR PRES!,” Trump said.
Clinton shot back: “It would never have occurred to my mother or my father to ask me. Were you giving our country away? Hoping not.”
That tweet garnered more than half a million likes, including by the account for the U.S. mission to the European Union. That kickstarted a weeks-long investigation, prompted by the secretary’s office, into who exactly at the Brussels mission had access to the Twitter account and hit “Like” on Clinton’s tweet, according to two former U.S. officials. (Full disclosure: Clinton sits on the board of IAC, The Daily Beast’s parent company.) Nearly 10 people were interviewed about whether they, as administrators of the account, had mistakenly or deliberately pressed the “Like” button. All of them denied any wrongdoing, those sources said. One individual familiar with the exchanges said the secretary of state’s top managers in Washington “wanted blood” and called Brussels numerous times demanding the name of the culprit.
U.S. officials in Belgium were never able to give Tillerson’s office a name and soon after, the embassy restructured the Twitter account and limited access to just two individuals.
The Trumpies know what’s really important–protecting their boss’s fragile ego.
At The Washington Post, Greg Sargent explains why Mitch McConnell is counting on the political media to help him protect Trump in a fraudulent impeachment trial: Explosive new revelations just weakened Trump’s impeachment defenses.
If Mitch McConnell is going to pull off his scheme to turn President Trump’s impeachment trial into a quick and painless sham with no witnesses, the Senate majority leader needs the story to be covered as a conventional Washington standoff — one that portrays both sides as maneuvering for advantage in an equivalently political manner.
But extraordinary new revelations in the New York Times about Trump’s corrupt freezing of military aid to Ukraine will — or should — make this much harder to get away with.
McConnell badly needs the media’s both-sidesing instincts to hold firm against the brute facts of the situation. If Republicans bear the brunt of media pressure to explain why they don’t want to hear from witnesses, that risks highlighting their true rationale: They adamantly fear new revelations precisely because they know Trump is guilty — and that this corrupt scheme is almost certainly much worse than we can currently surmise.
That possibility is underscored by the Times report, a chronology of Trump’s decision to withhold aid to a vulnerable ally under assault while he and his henchmen extorted Ukraine into carrying out his corrupt designs.
The report demonstrates in striking detail that inside the administration, the consternation over the legality and propriety of the aid freeze — and confusion over Trump’s true motives — ran much deeper than previously known, implicating top Cabinet officials more deeply than we thought.
Please go read the rest at the link. It’s long but important.
I’ve been pretty successfully ignoring the news during these two holiday weeks, except for when I’ve had a blog post to write. Susan Glasser of The New Yorker had more trouble doing that, and now she has found a word to describe life in Trumpworld: Our Year of Trumpschmerz.
So much for the holidays. In the quiet of Christmas and New Year’s, the President of the United States has repeatedly attacked “Crazy Nancy” Pelosi and her family, inveighed against the “bogus Impeachment Scam” and circulated the alleged name of the C.I.A. whistle-blower whose complaint triggered it, retweeted an account that described former President Barack Obama as “Satan’s Muslim Scum,” hosted the accused war criminal he recently pardoned over the objections of military leaders, and promoted a post calling himself “the best President of all time.” He even accused the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, of personally ordering Canadian television to cut a seven-second snippet of the schmaltzy Christmas movie “Home Alone 2” that features Trump, an accusation the President refused to retract, although it was quickly proven that the scene was one of many edited out as a time-saver back in 2014, long before either Trudeau or Trump was anywhere close to power.
Even now, three years into the Trump Presidency, there is no language to fully capture the madness of all this, though many of my journalistic colleagues have gone to great lengths to record and codify just how disturbingly nutty 2019 has been. The Washington Post reports that Trump ended the year having made more than fifteen thousand four hundred false and misleading statements since his inauguration. CNN’s “Inside Politics” produced a four-page, single-spaced list of all the people and institutions Trump has attacked by name this year. There are online trackers for the unprecedented levels of turnover in Trump’s Administration and for the rapidly proliferating array of lawsuits involving Trump’s assertions of sweeping executive authority. By any measure, 2019 will go down as a remarkable year in the annals of the American Presidency: Trump began it by causing the longest-ever federal government shutdown in history, after Congress refused to spend billions on his proposed border wall, and ended it as only the third President in history to be impeached by the House of Representatives.
Glasser searched for a word to encompass the horrors of living in Trump’s world.
There must be one of those long German words for all that soul-sickening worry, right? Some tortured mouthful of consonants that captures the ceaseless anxiety and absurdity of Washington in the age of Trump? I asked my friend, the German scholar and writer Constanze Stelzenmüller, an astute observer of Trumpism at the Brookings Institution and especially of its toxic effect on the troubled transatlantic relationship. She said that, even in Trump-skeptical Berlin, there was no single, widely accepted word that describes this phenomenon but gamely offered up her own stab at it. The word she came up with is “Trumpregierungsschlamasselschmerz.”
Her word has pretty much everything that has come to characterize this uniquely dysfunctional moment in America’s troubled capital: Trump and his Administration (“regierung” means government); the slow-motion car crash of constant controversies (“schlamassel”); and the continuous pain or ache of the soul that results from excessive contemplation of it all (“schmerz”). Sure, it’s a mouthful, but that’s the point: there should be one word that sums up the Trumpian disruption we are experiencing, not merely a jumble of different ones. It’s the tweets and the other stuff, too: the endless attacks on enemies, real and imagined; the torrent of lies; the eroding of the basic functions of government; and the formerly unimaginable assault on our institutions. It’s impeachment and the Mueller Report and migrant children in cages, the bullying of allies, and the lavish praise of adversaries. It’s the uncertainty and worry that comes with all of the above.
On the brink of a new year, Trumpregierungsschlamasselschmerz has come to dominate our collective psyche. There is no taking a vacation from it. I confess that I have not yet figured out how to pronounce this unwieldy linguistic invention that so deftly captures our national Trump-soul-sickness. Luckily, I received a follow-up e-mail from Constanze, in which she proposed a shortened version that gets right to the angsty, anxious point: If “Trumpregierungsschlamasselschmerz” is too much, she said, you can just use “Trumpschmerz.” Either way, in German or in English, it’s my nominee for the word of the year in 2019. I suspect it will be in 2020 as well.
And with that I’ll turn the floor over to you, Sky Dancers. What stories are you following, if any?