Sunday Reads: FFS, It has to stop.

 

Today’s post is a bit all over the place…so I hope you can follow it…my brain is feeling the effects of the tRump presidency and it has become almost debilitating. I feel like I have some form of OCD, there is the constant itch in my thoughts. I can’t get rid of it. Like some kind of diseased earworm that has set root deep in my mind. I cannot stop thinking about tRump and what he is destroying. Everything is crumbling before me. The itch is so bad, that I almost feel like grabbing an ice pick and jamming it in my ear. If only to get these tRumptonian thoughts out of my mind.

So let’s try and get through this thread…

China Says All Trade Progress Is Off If U.S. Imposes Tariffs – Bloomberg

All commitments made so far in talks with the U.S. over trade will be withdrawn if President Donald Trump carries out his threat to impose tariffs, China said Sunday.

While both sides reported some progress in discussions this weekend about how to reduce China’s $375 billion goods-trade surplus with the U.S., Trump’s revival last week of a plan to slap tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports has cast the talks into turmoil.

“If the U.S. rolls out trade measures including tariffs, all the agreements reached in the negotiations won’t take effect,” state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday, citing a statement from the Chinese team that met with a U.S. delegation led by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Does that also include the agreements made regarding the new tRump Tower and all those convenient new trademarks Ivanka was granted…(which we will touch on in a moment.)

The Xinhua report came after Ross met Sunday with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He for talks that Ross called “friendly and frank, and covered some useful topics about specific export items.” At the same time as negotiators focus on technical steps to reduce the U.S. deficit, Trump’s swerve has rattled Beijing as it raises the possibility that any agreement made could be simply torn up by the president.

“China is concerned over the U.S.’s unpredictability, especially after Trump turned an about-face on tariffs,” said Gai Xinzhe, an analyst at Bank of China’s finance institute in Beijing. “Trump needs to give out more goodwill in exchange for really productive negotiations. Bluff, threat, and willful moves might work in business bargaining, but they could backfire in talks among nations.”

Yada, Yada, Yada…haven’t we heard this before? I think someone who is very fond of pantsuits brought this particular negative trait of tRump’s personality up during the debates? I don’t know…maybe I am wrong, but I know we have talked about it countless times here on the blog before that anus-lipped tangerine turd was installed in the White House.

‘Speed dating’: Critics worry Trump is already handing propaganda victories to North Korea – The Washington Post

When former president Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea in 2009 on a humanitarian mission to free two U.S. journalists, he delivered strict instructions to his team ahead of their meeting with dictator Kim Jong Il: “We’re not smiling.”

In several photos, including a formal portrait with their hosts in Pyongyang, Clinton and his aides kept their game faces on — looking serious and determined, befitting the tone of the mission, according to a person familiar with the trip.

President Trump took a decidedly different approach on Friday when he welcomed a North Korean official to the White House for the first such meeting in 18 years. Trump beamed as Kim Yong Chol — a former spy chief accused of masterminding the sinking of a South Korean navy vessel in 2010 that killed 46 sailors — presented him with a cartoonishly oversize envelope containing a letter from Kim Jong Un, the nation’s current dictator.

The two posed for a photo in the Oval Office with Trump proudly showing off the envelope — an image that White House aides promptly distributed to the public.

The warm display left some former U.S. officials who’ve negotiated with North Korea arguing that Trump had already handed Pyongyang another public relations victory before winning concessions on its nuclear program.

“No question this is speed dating,” said Christopher R. Hill, a former State Department diplomat who led the U.S. delegation in the Six-Party Talks with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration. He recalled being rebuffed in his bid to personally deliver a letter from Bush to Kim Jong Il — in a standard business-size envelope.

By contrast, Hill said, the North Koreans already “have gotten the whole enchilada” from Trump.

So tRump is fucking us with his outright dangerous display of foreign relations and execution of foreign policy…

Yeah…what else is new?

 

Did you see this bit?

 

 

I feel like we have been on some kind of hamster wheel of that replays itself every day…this cycle of tRump chaos and scandal and destruction of democracy…is leading to one thing. Desensitization.

Sort of like that opening scene in Boyz in the Hood, where the kids are desensitized to the violence in the street…as they walk home from school. Calmly explaining the process of decay in a bloody crime scene.

Which later comes to a point where the bloody scene has moved beyond this to an actual dead body lying beside a railroad track, as young teens discover the body and young adults play football. The violence and murder is no longer an issue for the young adults…the teenagers are disturbed by the smell but do not react more than that, as they too are desensitized to the fact that murder and death is a common occurrence in there everyday world.

Boyz n the Hood Turns 25 – Blog – The Film Experience

That link will give you a look at the scene…from a film critic perspective. I thought it was a good one. Like I said my post is all over today.

My point being, this is a tactic. A tRump way of controlling and manipulating things, an authoritative government…administration at work. And the media is complicit in its actions in bringing about the downfall of democracy.

 

Donald Trump Has Been Lying to the American Public, and Journalists Need to Call Him Out | Teen Vogue

President Donald Trump’s lies are well documented. PolitiFact estimated that from June 2015, when he announced his campaign, until November 2016, when he won the election, almost 70% of the things he said publicly were “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” On May 1, The Washington Post reported that as of that date he had issued 3,001 false or misleading statements since taking office, averaging almost 6.5 a day, up from 4.9 over the first 100 days, when the newspaper first started keeping track. The president of the United States is basically an anti-reality Pez dispenser. So why does the media often avoid using the word “lie” when reporting on all of his false claims?

Lately there has been a reinvigorated conversation around labeling something a lie. The debate boils down to a question of intent: Journalists who are most cautious with the “lie” label argue that we cannot truly know Trump’s purpose for shitting on the very concept of facts. Is he working off of misinformation? Is he exaggerating with his “Art of the Deal” tactic of “truthful hyperbole”? Is he hallucinating an anthropomorphic pumpkin that is telling him what to say? We are not inside the president’s brain, they argue, and so we cannot know.

One such journalist is Maggie Haberman, a White House correspondent for The New York Times. On Sunday, May 27, she responded to criticism about her frequent refusal to use the word “lie” in her work with a series of tweets. “I have written stories about his lies, falsehoods, whoppers, half-truths, salesman-like stretches,” she tweeted. “The reality is that what he does can be hard to label because, as anyone who has worked for him will tell you in candor, he often thinks whatever he says is what’s real.” As far as I’m concerned, all of those euphemisms for “lies” still mean lies, and if, as Haberman asserts, he really believes them, then she should report that it is also possible that the president is out touch with reality.

By the way, Haberman is one of the authors of an article in the New York Times that is getting a lot of attention recently…I have more on that later on in the thread.

Duca continues:

As the leader of the country, Trump is the core source for our perception of the state of the union. Once he took office, his abusive relationship with the truth came with the official seal of the White House, and that is of crucial importance. The Trump administration is now waging an unprecedented campaign of disinformation on the American people. The president of the United States is working to undermine our shared foundation of truth so that we have no choice but to accept his version of reality.

Trump himself has reportedly admitted that this is his aim. On stage at the Deadline Club Awards Dinner on May 21, 60 Minutes host Leslie Stahl told PBS Newshouranchor Julie Woodruff that Trump told her he undermines the press so that the public will have no grasp on what is true. During an informal meeting with then candidate Trump in 2016, Stahl said, she asked Trump why he was constantly attacking the media. “He said, ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you,’” she told Woodruff. If this is true, and those are Trump’s intentions, the endgame is to deprive journalism of any value whatsoever.

Read the rest of the piece, it brings up the Matthew Pottinger shit too….

 

Much of Trump’s war on the truth appears to be based in exploiting widespread media illiteracy among the citizenry. Journalism is not about striving to appear fair, but maintaining a rigorous objectivity for the purpose of serving the public. The ultimate allegiance of the press is to our fellow citizens. It is crucial that journalists do a better job at explaining our purpose and be radically transparent with all editorial decision-making. That means calling a lie a lie, and if we don’t, then fully providing readers with the reason why the word “lie” is not appropriate, along with context for understanding this administration’s abusive relationship with the truth.

[…]

Authoritarianism works to corrode our shared foundation of truth, pushing us to a point where we so doubt our own sanity, it becomes too much of a chore to even care what is true. Such is the goal of the Trump administration: to bombard us with so many conflicting versions of reality that we throw our hands in the air and give up on being certain about anything at all. The falsehoods, whoppers, and salesman-like stretches all come down to this: Without the truth, we have no foundation from which to resist.

Fucking Hell…

I really should end the post on that huge point alone…but there are a few other things I want to bring to your attention…real quick.:

Trump’s Lawyers, in Confidential Memo, Argue to Head Off a Historic Subpoena – The New York Times

You have probably already read the article…here are a few thoughts on it:

 

 

Since I’ve started writing this post, the tangerine turd has hit twitter again.

 

 

A few responses to that:

 

 

Philippines Duterte tells U.N. human rights expert: ‘Go to hell’ | Reuters

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has told a U.N human rights expert who said the country’s judicial independence was under threat to ‘go to hell’, warning against interference in domestic affairs.

If the UN ever sends a human rights expert to the US to check up on the obvious offenses going on at our southern border…I bet we would hear the same shit coming out of tRump’s mouth.

Let’s take a look at some more tweet shit storms:

 

 

As far as tRump using Melania’s twitter account…there is precedent:

 

 

But…keep this in mind, as BB wrote about yesterday as well…:

 

 

On Ivanka Trump and her trademarks…

 

On the New York Times Bullshit:

 

 

My head is spinning…I need to stop this post now.

This is an open thread…try to have a good day.

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Friday Reads: Frankly, I can think of worse things to call Ivanka Trump

Roman Empress Aggripina Great-Granddaughter Of Emperor Augustus, Great-Niece; Adoptive Granddaughter Of Emperor Tiberius, Sister Of Emperor Caligula, Niece & Fourth Wife Of Emperor Claudius, Mother Of Emperor Nero!

Happy “yet another Tempest in a Teapot while America Burns” Day!

First, I’d like to remind y’all that vaginas are deep and warm and Ivanka Trump is neither so I suggest we think of a better set of words to describe KKKremlin Caligula’s daughter than “feckless cunt”.  We could adopt Demoness reincarnation of Diva August or good ol’ Aunt Livia to keep it all in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Historically, Livia was the mother of Tiberius and if you know anything about Roman history of the time, you’ll know he was as perverted and evil as the rest of them. Remember, Rome was still supposed to be a Republic at the time but that dreadful set of ghouls–including the fiddling Nero–ruined nearly everything within a few generations.  We could give her a nick name based on Agrippina but that would be a weirder sexual dynamic than I’m prepared to put through my mind.  However, I am praying for a few good men with lean and hungry looks to end our Trumpvian nightmare.

So, let me do a shout out for Samantha Bee whose ‘feckless cunt’ description was probably kinder than Ivanka deserved but who timed the use of the c word badly. I’ve never particularly liked the word when used by American men because it completely drips of toxic masculinity, the patriarchy and misogyny.  Canadians–of which Bee is one–and the English use the word differently and profusely.  But, as Childish Gambino raps, “This is America”.   Still, there’s is no way it’s misogynistic in this context or equivalent to the virulent, ongoing racism displayed by Roseanne Barr.

Rebecca Traister explains it best at The Cut.

As a left-leaning feminist, I agree with Sarah Huckabee Sanders that “silence” on the matter of Bee’s comedic critique — and its connection to ABC’s recent cancellation of Roseanne is inexcusable. So even though I am on the last day of my leave from New York/the Cut and am supposed to be finishing the book I’ve been writing — which is not coincidentally about women’s rage — it is important to be clear about the dynamics at play in these situations, which are absolutely not remotely in any way equivalent to each other.

Language’s ability to inflict harm depends on the power of who’s wielding it and against whom it is being wielded. I’m not talking simply about the power of the individuals in question. For example, it’s not about the damage done by Samantha Bee to Ivanka Trump or Roseanne Barr to Valerie Jarrett, all of whom are individuals with various kinds of power. It’s not about them. Rather, it’s about considering the relative degrees of power of the entities and ideas that those individuals are representing.

It is true that in her critique of Ivanka Trump, Bee used an expletive that is explicitly misogynistic; it is wholly reasonable to object to the word cunt for feminist reasons. It is also reasonable and worthwhile to consider why a term for female anatomy has become such a potent pejorative; why does a word that means vagina also mean “very bad person,”? That’s a valid question, but it’s crucial to consider it in this context. Bee was not reinforcing or replicating the crude harm that “cunt” has been used to inflict historically: the patriarchal diminishment and vilification of women. In fact, Bee was using it to criticize a woman precisely because that woman is acting on behalf of that patriarchy, one that systematically diminishes women, destroys families, and hurts children.

This context makes the situation fundamentally different from Roseanne Barr comparing Valerie Jarrett to an ape, as she did earlier this week. That comparison was an explicitly racist locution with explicitly racist roots, but unlike Bee’s deployment of “cunt” against a misogynistic and racist administration, Barr’s racism has been deployed in support of that racist and misogynistic administration. That administration, as well as the party that has helped to build and shield it, came to power in part on explicitly racist and misogynistic rhetoric that both vilified and promised revenge against the previous, historic administration of Barack Obama, of which Jarrett was a member. That context matters, as does the fact that the Trump administration is using the power it so gained to inflict real-world racist and misogynistic harm on human beings.

Russian proclaimed Emperor KKKremlin Caligula

Yes.  This!

While all the little Trumpsterfires around the country and in the West Wing call for Samantha Bee’s head, Chealsea Clinton reminds us that they’ve all called her mother worse!  Specifically, that subhuman asswipe known as Ted Nugent–bless his little heart– called Hillary Clinton a ‘toxic cunt” and got invited to the White House for tea and cake!

Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Clinton, on Thursday resurfaced a photo of President Trump meeting with Ted Nugent, who once called her mother a “toxic c—,” after the White House condemned Samantha Bee for using the slur about Ivanka Trump.

Clinton shared a tweet by Shareblue writer Oliver Willis, who put a transcript of Nugent’s use of the crude term next to an image of the musician with Trump. Willis captioned the photos “something something something samantha bee fake outrage something.”

“I keep hoping for consistency too, Oliver. Though I’m not holding my breath!” Clinton tweeted.

Nugent had used the term to describe then-first lady Hillary Clinton during a 1994 interview with music magazine “Westword.”

“You probably can’t use the term ‘toxic c—’ in your magazine, but that’s what she is,” Nugent said of Hillary Clinton. “Her very existence insults the spirit of individualism in this country. This bitch is nothing but a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.”

Bee apologized Thursday after she called Ivanka Trump a “feckless c—” during her show Wednesday night.

The White House had sharply condemned Bee’s comments, saying TBS’s “Full Frontal” is “not fit for broadcast.”

Livia Drusilla (58 BCE – 29 CE) the third wife of emperor Augustus of Rome, mother of emperor Tiberius, and grandmother of emperor Claudius.

No one ever asks for an apology for all that Trump called Hillary Clinton.  She still hasn’t gotten any from the press either for endlessly repeating it.

Frankly, Sister Huckabuck and White House Mommy don’t get to complain about any of this given they both suck patriarchal dick and send women to the ash-heap of male property with glee. Ivanka was supposedly different but she evidently is okay with her 40 shekel payment in terms of Chinese Trademarks on her lousy products along with the continued use of child labor.

Nice ladies do not employ companies that enslave children.  Am I right?

First daughter Ivanka Trump has billed herself as an advocate in the White House for women’s rights. But the first daughter, who owns her namesake brand but no longer closely manages it, did not speak out when three men with New York nonprofit China Labor Watch were arrested while investigating low wages, forced overtime, and physical and verbal abuse at Chinese factories producing shoes for her company.

The men were accused of using secret recording devices illegally and jailed, leaving the wife of one of them, Deng Guilian, with no choice but to work an overnight shift at a karaoke parlor that gave her only three days off a month to see her two young children, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

“They seem accustomed to not having their mom,” Deng said of her 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

Trump’s company did not respond to a request for comment from Newsweek.

“As a public figure, she has the ability and resources to not only work on labor conditions at her own brand’s factories, but also to help improve labor conditions of the global supply chain as a whole,” China Labor Watch founder Li Qiang said of Trump. “However, she did not use her influence to do these things.”

Rome’s 3rd Emperor Caligula

Oh, and about those Chinese patents and a distinct lack of ethics …

“We have recently seen a surge in trademark filings by unrelated third parties trying to capitalize on the name and it is our responsibility to diligently protect our trademark.” That’s somewhat mitigating, in that it does not suggest that Ms. Trump is engaged in aggressive new trading on her name, but she’s still trading on it.

The fact that China granted some of these valuable intellectual property rights just a few days before the president agreed to relax U.S. sanctions on Chinese telecom giant ZTE only fortifies the appearance that foreign governments seek to influence the U.S. government by bestowing business favors on the president’s daughter. This is an inference of impropriety that most ethical people, whether in business or in government, would go to the greatest possible lengths to dispel, but — so far, at least — not Ms. Trump.

And, she’s no friend of other women as Elizabeth Spiers writes for The Chicago Tribune: “Ivanka Trump wants power with no accountability'”

“Ivanka Trump is the president’s visible right-hand woman, and she stands by her man no matter what.”

As an adviser, Ivanka Trump has traveled the globe (on the taxpayers’ dime, no less) claiming to be an advocate for women’s rights and speaking on behalf of the country. Whether the president — who aside from being her father is also her boss — has sexually assaulted 19 women is obviously relevant for an administration that just this month dismissed senior aide Rob Porter over reports that he allegedly abused his ex-wives. It’s an obvious question for any senior White House adviser. But Ivanka Trump wants to put it off limits because the president is her dad. She acts like a sort of ersatz first lady, while Trump’s actual wife, Melania Trump, occupies more of a seen-and-not-heard role usually relegated to children. Ivanka Trump is the president’s visible right-hand woman, and she stands by her man no matter what.

Why else does she work at the White House despite her total and absolute lack of political and policy experience? Or despite her refusal to divest herself fully of her businesses and relationships to the Trump Organization, or the inability of either Ivanka Trump or her husband to get a full security clearance (possibly because of her business relationships and the conflicts of interest and potential for corruption they present)? Because she and Kushner are related to the president. And because they wanted powerful jobs they could simply take even though they weren’t qualified for them.

The desire to have it both ways extends beyond convenient vacillation between her role as a daughter and adviser to the administration. Ivanka Trump also implausibly attaches herself to disparate and often contradictory political agendas. She came to the White House a socially liberal Democrat who espoused better policies for working women and environmentally friendly approaches to climate change, and she supposedly found the administration’s immigration ban abhorrent. But her convictions on these issues haven’t been so strong that they have stopped her from continuing to publicly support and enable a White House with an appalling record on what she’s supposed to believe.

But she has no problem with the dissonance because she has never known how to be authentic in the first place. She’s been in the spotlight since she was a child; she was a runway model as a teenager. She evaluates everything she does in terms of optics. If she has or had any strongly held beliefs or values, they’re secondary to her utilitarianism.

Livia Drusilla

The bottom line–writes Peggy Drexler of CNN–is Samantha Bee is right. And, I might add, Roseanne Barr is a repeat racist and bigot PERIOD.

But Bee is not Barr — she is not spewing random and racist, anti-Semitic, conspiracy-theory views over years on Twitter, as Barr has, and often in the service of supporting the President’s policies. Nor, let’s be honest, are we living in a time of particularly polite discourse.

It’s important, too, to remember that Bee is a comedian known for delivering a standup monologue which, like that of other comedians, often uses outrageous, boundary-pushing and, to some, offensive comedy to make strong points about politics. In Bee’s case, though, and unlike in Barr’s, these points are usually made on behalf of those harmed by this President’s policies.
Which is why there’s a difference between Bee and Barr. Directing a single insult, even a vulgar one, at one person, for reasons of defending the disenfranchised, as Bee did, is one thing; promoting racist beliefs, specifically calling a black person “an ape” in response to, well, nothing, is quite another.

All of which is why it’s a shame that Bee’s message has been largely overshadowed by debate over this single word, whether she should have used it, how and if she should be reprimanded and whether her show should be canceled.

Although she apologized Wednesday — sincerely, it seems — for using the word about the President’s daughter, in truth, perhaps the biggest problem with her calling first daughter Ivanka Trump a “feckless c***” Wednesday night on her TBS show “Full Frontal” is that the comedian undercut her own message.

The point Bee was attempting to make was that Ivanka Trump, a close presidential adviser, should be held accountable for her failure to influence her father to end his cruel immigration policies, which include separating immigrant parents from children.
As such, the overall point was valid: Sitting idly by when you’re in a position to help is as bad as carrying out the actions yourself.
What sent Bee over the edge though, it seems, was Ivanka’s tone-deaf tweet Sunday in which the first daughter pictured herself cuddling with her 2-year-old son Theodore, even as reports swirled that the government had lost track of some 1,500 immigrant children it had placed with sponsors in recent years.

Emperor Claudius

So, yeah, she is a feckless cunt and worse. She’s sat by and done or said nothing.  We now these things because of her father and she’s a senior policy advisor.

1. Resurrected and radically expanded the global gag rule

2. Banned U.S. funding for the UN reproductive health and rights agency

3. Slashed funding for international family planning programs

4. Installed an anti-abortion extremist to represent the U.S.

5. Tried to hire a staunch opponent of women’s health and rights

6. Puts people’s lives at risk with broad refusal policy

7. Broke a Senate deadlock to install Sam Brownback as Ambassador for International Religious Freedom

8. Slammed the door on immigrants fleeing violence

9. Endangered underserved women by withdrawing from Paris Climate Agreement

10. Censoring the State Department’s annual human rights report

In his first 100 days alone, women and children were hurt by her inaction as a women’s policy advisor.  There’s a list of 100 things there. They are all under these broad headlines.

  • Eroding family economic security

  • Putting children at risk

  • Attacking reproductive rights

  • Undermining women’s legal rights

  • Weakening protections against gender-based violence

  • Undermining women’s leadership

  • Tearing families apart

  • Endangering healthy communities

  • Slashing health benefits

Seriously, go read all the things Ivanka enabled her father to do that made the lives of women and children worse all around the world. So, scrape the freaking bottom of the barrel for all the possible invectives we could hurl at Ivanka and use them resplendently.  The entire realm is under siege by this shit show.

So, I, Claudius remains one of my favorite Brit series.  It led me to do a lot of studying about that time period and little did I know that I would live this 1976 TV series starting in 2016.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: This Sh**t Never Ends!

Bette Davis

Good Afternoon!!

As usual in the horrifying new world of Trump, there is so much shocking news that there’s no way to deal with all of it. I guess the top story has to be that Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd dangled pardons in front of Michael Flynn and Paul Manifort last summer.

The New York Times: Trump’s Lawyer Raised Prospect of Pardons for Flynn and Manafort.

A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump’s pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.

The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.

Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes.

Flynn ultimately took the safe route and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation; but this could explain why Paul Manafort is holding out even though the evidence against him is overwhelming and he could face life in prison if convicted.

Cary Grant, 1960

Constitutional experts are now discussing whether Trump could get away with pardoning Manafort and others, even if he did it with corrupt intent. Some opinions:

Alex Whiting at Just Security: Why Dangling a Pardon Could Be an Obstruction of Justice—Even if the Pardon Power is Absolute. A brief excerpt:

Some experts have argued that the pardon power is absolute and that the President’s motives in issuing a pardon thus could not be questioned, while others contend that it could be a crime to issue a pardon for corrupt purposes (such as in exchange for cash). But the debate over the absolute nature of the pardon power is actually not relevant to the alleged incidents involving Trump’s lawyer. Indeed, that entire debate can be set aside for the moment. Why? Because there’s been no pardon. Instead, a pardon has only been dangled before Flynn and Manafort, and the analysis of whether that action could become part of an obstruction case against Trump raises entirely different considerations….

The pardon dangle works completely differently—and in important respects has the opposite effects. First, this kind of dangle is not a public act. Therefore, as long as it remained secret, it could be done without incurring any of the political downstream consequences that come with actually pardoning someone. It hides the President from scrutiny rather than exposes him to it as a potential check on the use of the power. Second, the objective of the dangle appears to have been to foreclose the prospect of Flynn and Manfort’s cooperating or testifying. Once again, this is the opposite effect of an actual exercise of the pardon. The message of the dangle was sufficiently clear: hang in there and keep fighting (do not cut a deal with the special counsel) because you will be pardoned before you spend a day in jail. The President and his lawyer’s hope would have been that with the threat of jail eliminated, neither former aid would feel compelled to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller to reduce his sentence. But, since they were not actually pardoned or not yet anyway, they still kept their Fifth Amendment privileges, and so Mueller could not simply demand they testify before the Grand Jury. In this way, the dangle could operate to stop any cooperation from Flynn and Manafort, who could then be pardoned later if and when they were indicted or even after their cases went through pretrial, trial and appeal. Indeed, you also have to put yourself back at the time these events all took place: before Manafort was indicted and Flynn pleaded guilty. That’s when the dangle could work its magic.

Ava Gardner

Because a pardon dangle is secret and seeks to discourage cooperation with an ongoing investigation without public scrutiny or consequences, it should be analyzed differently than a pardon when it comes to an obstruction case.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at The Washington Post: We may know why Paul Manafort has kept quiet. But his bet is still risky.

Manafort’s refusal to cooperate can’t be driven by a rational calculation that he has any reasonable chance of escaping conviction, multimillion-dollar legal fees and a prison sentence that will result in years behind bars.

The indictments against him lay out an overwhelming case of money laundering in particular. The meticulously gathered evidence will be as clear for the jury as a laundry detergent commercial: The jury will see the dirty money go in and the clean money come out. To the extent there had been a small risk, inherent in paper-driven chases, that the jury could become bored at the accounting presentation and tune out, Mueller now has a narrator for the trial in Manafort’s co-conspirator Rick Gates.

So is hoping for a Trump pardon a good bet for Manafort?

…the Times story does not definitively solve the Manafort mystery. First, Dowd’s reported overture, particularly if done with the president’s knowledge or consent, could have constituted a conspiracy to obstruct justice, a separate impeachable offense. That presumably is why the story includes a categorical denial from Dowd that he ever discussed pardons for the president’s former advisers with lawyers. For Dowd, the conduct would be putting his license at risk.

Second, Manafort surely recognizes that he can’t fully count on Trump, both because the president is a habitual liar and because the political dynamic is subject to such extreme and violent turns. (Of course, under this hypothesis, Manafort retains the valuable insurance policy of spilling the goods if Trump double-crosses him, leaving both huge losers in a real-life prisoners dilemma.)

Marcello Mastroianni

Third, Manafort could still be required to testify after any pardon, when he would no longer be in federal jeopardy. Undoubtedly, the plan would be for him to deny assurances of a pardon from Trump. Still, were Mueller to catch him in a lie, the special counsel would surely come down on him.

Finally, it is likely that in the event of a pardon for federal crimes, which is all Trump can provide, some state attorneys general, such as New York’s Eric T. Schneiderman, would prosecute Manafort for financial crimes under their potent state statutes.

Maybe Manafort figures a possible pardon is a better bet than hoping Putin doesn’t send his goons to shut him (Manafort) up for good.

A few more pardon stories:

Bloomberg: Pardon Talk Could Put Trump Lawyer in Hot Water.

CNN: Emails reveal DOJ would have ‘very little involvement’ if Trump tweeted a pardon.

The Washington Post: This overlooked part of the Constitution could stop Trump from abusing his pardon power.

Another big story broke late yesterday. Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Today Shulkin is speaking out, claiming he was fired because he opposed privatizing the VA. Shulkin spoke to NPR’s Morning Edition:

Fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin tells NPR’s Morning Edition that political forces in the Trump administration want to privatize the VA — and that he was standing in the way.

“There are many political appointees in the VA that believe that we are moving in the wrong direction or weren’t moving fast enough toward privatizing the VA,” he said. “I think that it’s essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA. I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization.”

Lauren Bacall

Those political forces may be why Shulkin says he wasn’t allowed to speak out to defend himself against an ethics controversy over use of funds on a trip to Europe that he says was overhyped and intended to weaken him.

“This was completely mischaracterized,” Shulkin said. “There was nothing improper about this trip, and I was not allowed to put up an official statement or to even respond to this by the White House. … I think this was really just being used in a political context to try to make sure that I wasn’t as effective as a leader moving forward.”

Shulkin argued his case in an op-ed at The New York Times: David J. Shulkin: Privatizing the V.A. Will Hurt Veterans.

That’s a lot of news, but I’ve barely touched on everything that’s happening. Here’s a shocking Trump corruption story that broke at The Guardian this morning: FBI looked into Trump plans to build hotel in Latvia with Putin supporter.

In 2010, a small group of businessmen including a wealthy Russian supporter of Vladimir Putin began working on plans to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex with Donald Trump in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

A senior Trump executive visited the city to scout for locations. Trump and his daughter Ivanka spent hours at Trump Tower with the Russian, Igor Krutoy, who also knows compatriots involved in arranging a fateful meeting at the same building during the 2016 US election campaign.

Then the Latvian government’s anti-corruption bureau began asking questions.

The Guardian has learned that talks with Trump’s company were abandoned after Krutoy and another of the businessmen were questioned by Latvian authorities as part of a major criminal inquiry there – and that the FBI later looked into Trump’s interactions with them at Latvia’s request.

Michael Caine

Those involved deny that the inquiry was to blame for the deal’s collapse.

Latvia asked the US for assistance in 2014 and received a response from the FBI the following year, according to a source familiar with the process. Latvian investigators also examined secret recordings in which Trump was mentioned by a suspect.

This means the FBI looked into Trump’s efforts to do business deals in the former Soviet Union earlier than was widely known. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is now investigating other Trump dealings with Russians as part of his wide-ranging criminal inquiry into alleged collusion between Moscow and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.

The Riga developers saw their potential partner in New York as a ticket to lucrative western revenues.

This shit just never ends. I haven’t even touched on the North Korea news or the Bolton mess or the fact that Trump wants to put his personal physician in charge of the VA. More headlines to check out:

The Washington Post: Who is Trump’s new Veterans Affairs pick, Ronny Jackson?

NBC News: Kim Jong Un met China’s Xi. What does it mean for Trump summit?

CNBC: China says North Korea wants denuclearization, but Kim Jong Un’s motives remain shrouded in mystery as Trump meeting approaches.

The Washington Post: Three big questions about a Trump-Kim summit.

Business Insider: Kim Jong Un became a regional power overnight by saying a single, meaningless word to Trump.

Vox: “Otherwise, they subpoena”: White House lawyer Ty Cobb on why Trump is cooperating with Mueller.

Bloomberg: Kelly Loses White House Clout as Trump Blazes Own Path.

CNN: Did Trump campaign and John Bolton PAC get help from overseas?

Talking Points Memo: WSJ: Kushner Has Phoned Bolton For Advice In The Past Year.

BBC News: Julian Assange has internet cut at Ecuadorean embassy in London.

The Daily Beast: ICE Now Detaining Pregnant Women, Thanks to Trump Order.

Slate: It’s Time to Stop Yammering About Liberal Bias.

 


Lazy Saturday Reads: Gorilla TV

Patrick, a lowland gorilla, at the Dallas Zoo watching a National Geographic special on gorillas on T.V.

Good Morning!!

For the past few days, the media and we political junkies have been obsessed with the new book by Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. TV talking heads have spent hours discussing the whether Donald Trump is temperamentally and cognitively fit for the office he holds. Of course most of us concluded during the 2016 campaign that he was not. But now Trump himself has definitively answered the question in one of his morning tweet storms.

Oh. Ohhh-kaaay. I’m convinced. Are you?

One person who apparently will defend Trump until the bitter end is Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

Share Blue: Sarah Sanders: Americans who aren’t “celebrating” Trump are “mentally unfit.”

Donald Trump and his allies are fiercely resisting the allegations in Michael Wolff’s explosive new book, “Fire and Fury,” that Trump lacks the basic mental competence for the day-to-day functions of the presidency — a question that even before the book’s release, was being hotly debated.

But White House attempts to beat back the allegations are not going well.

Appearing on Fox News to discuss the book’s charges of Trump’s unfitness, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders essentially resorted to the argument of “I know you are, but what am I?”

KILMEADE: That’s the president’s position on that. What’s yours?

SANDERS: Look, I think it’s absolutely insane to think all of these individuals, reporters and others, who suddenly have a medical degree and think that they can diagnose somebody, many times who they’ve never even had a conversation with. It’s absolutely outrageous to make these types of accusations, and it’s simply untrue, and it’s sad that people are going and making these desperate attempts to attack the president. What I think is really mentally unstable is people that don’t see the positive impact that this president is having on the country. The economy is booming, we’re crushing ISIS, day after day things are getting better for Americans all over this country. And I think it’s really sad that these people don’t see that, and that they’re not celebrating and trying to join in the president’s efforts to turn our country around.

A slightly more intelligent response to the book from David Remnick at The New Yorker: The Increasing Unfitness of Donald Trump.

What made the Emperor Nero tick, Suetonius writes in “Lives of the Caesars,” was “a longing for immortality and undying fame, though it was ill-regulated.” Many Romans were convinced that Nero was mentally unbalanced and that he had burned much of the imperial capital to the ground just to make room for the construction of the Domus Aurea, a gold-leaf-and-marble palace that stretched from the Palatine to the Esquiline Hill. At enormous venues around the city, he is said to have sung, danced, and played the water organ for many hours—but not before ordering the gates locked to insure that the house would remain full until after the final encore. Driven half mad by Nero’s antics, Romans feigned death or shimmied over the walls with ropes to escape.

Chaotic, corrupt, incurious, infantile, grandiose, and obsessed with gaudy real estate, Donald Trump is of a Neronic temperament. He has always craved attention. Now the whole world is his audience. In earlier times, Trump cultivated, among others, the proprietors and editors of the New York tabloids, Fox News, TMZ, and the National Enquirer. Now Twitter is his principal outlet, with no mediation necessary.

The President recently celebrated the holidays at Mar-a-Lago, the Domus Aurea of Palm Beach, and nearly every day, before setting out for the golf course, he thumbed his bilious contempt for . . . such a long list! Science itself did not escape his scorn:

In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!

Future scholars will sift through Trump’s digital proclamations the way we now read the chroniclers of Nero’s Rome—to understand how an unhinged emperor can make a mockery of republican institutions, undo the collective nervous system of a country, and degrade the whole of public life.

Click on the link to read the rest.

Trump is at Camp David right now with his cabinet (except for Jeff Sessions, who has been frozen out) and Republican leadership supposedly to discuss the administration’s agenda for the coming year.

Last night Rachel Maddow suggested that perhaps Sessions was left out because the rest of the Trump crowd might be planning to fire him.

Other Twitter folks think it’s because Sessions might interfere with the planned activities.

The New York Daily News: Jeff Sessions not invited to Trump meet, as EPA chief Scott Pruitt reportedly voices interest in attorney general post.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is one of the few cabinet members who will not attend an inner-circle legislative meeting hosted by President Trump this weekend, fueling speculation about growing tensions between the two men.

Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who will attend the meeting at Camp David, indicated this week that he’d be willing to lead the Justice Department, according to a report.

Pruitt has been telling close associates at the EPA that he would be up to fill Sessions’ shoes if Trump gives him the boot, one person familiar with the matter told Politico….

Trump’s weekend meeting will focus on national security, immigration and economic legislation priorities for this year, according to a White House statement. In addition to Pruitt, the sit down will be attended by senior House and Senate Republicans as well as a majority of Trump’s cabinet, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Sessions’ absence is particularly conspicuous since an attorney general is usually deeply involved in the issues that will be discussed during the Camp David rendezvous.

Kumbuka the gorilla may have been recaptured – but Donald Trump is still on the loose | The Independent

I hate to say this, but I almost think Sessions would preferable to Scott Pruitt as Attorney General.

Philip Ewing at NPR: The Russia Investigations: Sessions On Edge, Bannon Exiled And Internecine Combat.

Following the heavy cyclone of news this week, dawn in Washington, D.C., on Saturday found Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the slippery sand — and that could also mean peril for Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

An explosive New York Times scoop revealed that Sessions tried to smear then-FBI Director James Comey before he was fired. The report, by Michael Schmidt, also said President Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to lean on Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia probe, and when Sessions did recuse, the president fustigated him. Sessions offered to quit but Trump said no.

So not only is Sessions persona non grata with the president — that’s been the case for months. Now the public and people inside the Justice Department know Sessions was actively trying to undermine his own FBI director, as part of a pattern of conduct directed by Trump — who himself had asked Comey to lay off then-national security adviser Mike Flynn, then fired Comeyetc.

Ewing notes that Pruitt has been angling for Sessions’ job, apparently thinking Trump’s AG could be gone soon.

What does it all mean? Sessions has been in hot water before with Trump but came through it, in part thanks to steadfast support from his longtime allies in the Senate. How strong is that firewall now? Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said he had no plans to confirm a new attorney general. And Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., has threatened to hold up all Justice Department nominees after Sessions rescinded earlier permissive guidelines on marijuana enforcement.

So if Sessions were to go for real this time, Trump might not be able to quickly and easily appoint someone else — someone not recused from the Russia probe — to wrangle the Justice Department on the president’s behalf. But if the political dynamics change, that could change the play for the White House. As NPR’s Carrie Johnson has reported, replacing the leadership at Justice is one way that Trump could try to control or get rid of Mueller.

Meanwhile the Russia investigation continues, along with the GOP’s efforts to interfere with it. A few updates:

LA Times: Mueller calls back at least one participant in key meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has recalled for questioning at least one participant in a controversial meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016, and is looking into President Trump’s misleading claim that the discussion focused on adoption, rather than an offer to provide damaging information about Hillary.

Some defense lawyers involved in the case view Mueller’s latest push as a sign that investigators are focusing on possible obstruction of justice by Trump and several of his closest advisors for their statements about the politically sensitive meeting, rather than for collusion with the Russians.

The Times agreed with its source not to name the individual who has been called back for more questioning.

Investigators also are exploring the involvement of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who did not attend the half-hour sit-down on June 9, 2016, but briefly spoke with two of the participants, a Russian lawyer and a Russian-born Washington lobbyist. Details of the encounter were not previously known.

It occurred at the Trump Tower elevator as the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, were leaving the building and consisted of pleasantries, a person familiar with the episode said. But Mueller’s investigators want to know every contact the two visitors had with Trump’s family members and inner circle.

That’s interesting. So did Ivanka get advance notice of the meeting? And did her father send her down to exchange “pleasantries” with her brother’s guests?

Good old George Papadopoulos is still in the news. Sydney Morning News: ‘Romantic encounter’ set off Australia’s role in triggering Donald Trump investigation.

It was a chance romantic encounter by George Papadopoulos that set in train the events that led to the Australian government tipping off Washington about what it knew of Russian hacking efforts to swing the US presidential election.

Fairfax Media can reveal a woman in London with whom Papadopoulos became involved happened to know Alexander Downer and told the Australian High Commissioner about Papadopoulos, a newly signed staffer for Donald Trump. Downer, being a canny diplomat, followed it up and arranged a meeting with the young American, who was mostly living in London at the time.

What followed was the now infamous May 2016 conversation over many glasses of wine at the swanky Kensington Wine Rooms, during which the 28-year-old Papadopoulos spilled to Downer that he knew of a Russian dirt file on the rival Clinton campaign consisting of thousands of hacked emails.

That night was a key moment that helped spark the FBI probe – since taken over by respected former FBI director Robert Mueller as a special counsel – into possible Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin, including its hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

Read more at the link.

The Trump campaign’s digital director sent out a series of interesting tweets yesterday. Natasha Bertrand wrote up the story at Business Insider: Trump campaign digital director: ‘Not one person made a decision’ without Kushner and Eric Trump’s ‘approval.’

The digital director of the Trump campaign said Friday that the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and son Eric Trump “were joint deputy campaign managers” whose “approval” was required for every decision before the 2016 election.

“Nobody else. Not one person made a decision without their approval,” the digital director, Brad Parscale, tweeted. “Others just took credit for this family’s amazing ability. I’m done with all these lies. They will be embarrassed!”

Kushner was Parscale’s “patron,” according to a person familiar with the campaign’s inner workings, which could explain their closeness.

Kushner got Parscale hired, the person said, “despite the fact that a number of people in the campaign wondered whether he had any idea what he was doing.”

“He’s Jared’s boy,” the person added. “I had [campaign] deputies telling me they couldn’t question anything the guy did or said, and they were unhappy about that.”

But Eric Trump? Who knew he was so central to the operation?

Parscale’s tweet also raises new questions about how involved Kushner and Eric Trump were in episodes that have drawn the most scrutiny from investigators probing the campaign’s ties to Russia.

Those include agreeing to with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and other Russian nationals at Trump Tower in June 2016; green-lighting a trip to Moscow for Carter Page, an early campaign aide, in July 2016; and altering the GOP’s Ukraine platform during the Republican National Convention that month.

Page told the House Intelligence Committee last year that days before the convention, Corey Lewandowski, then the campaign manager, gave him permission to travel to Russia. Lewandowski has denied that, but Page has said he has emails to prove it. It is not clear whether Lewandowski consulted with Kushner beforehand.

Parscale’s statement also raises questions about what Kushner and Eric Trump knew about George Papadopoulos, the former campaign aide who was charged late last year with making false statements to the FBI.

Interesting. On the GOP obstruction side:

The New York Times: Republican Senators Raise Possible Charges Against Author of Trump Dossier.

More than a year after Republican leaders promised to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election, two influential Republicans on Friday made the first known congressional criminal referral in connection with the meddling — against one of the people who sought to expose it.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior committee member, told the Justice Department that they had reason to believe that a former British spy, Christopher Steele, lied to federal authorities about his contacts with reporters regarding information in a dossier, and they urged the department to investigate. The committee is running one of three congressional investigations into Russian election meddling, and its inquiry has come to focus on, in part, Mr. Steele’s explosive dossier that purported to detail Russia’s interference and the Trump campaign’s complicity.

The decision by Mr. Grassley and Mr. Graham to single out the former intelligence officer behind the dossier infuriated Democrats and raised the stakes in the growing partisan battle over the investigations into Mr. Trump, his campaign team and Russia.

The Senate Judiciary Committee effort played into a far broader campaign waged by conservatives to cast doubt on the Trump-Russia investigations, and instead turn the veracity of the dossier and the credibility of its promulgators into the central issue.

The story goes on to describe other GOP attempts at obstruction and distraction–including efforts to once again investigation Hillary Clinton.

USA Today: FBI documents: Andrew McCabe had no conflict in Hillary Clinton email probe.

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whom President Trump has blamed for influencing the decision not to criminally charge Hillary Clinton for her use of private email server, did not oversee that inquiry while his wife was running for state office in Virginia as a Democrat, according to bureau records released Friday.

The internal documents, published on the FBI’s website, support what the bureau has asserted previously: that McCabe had no conflicts when he assumed oversight of the Clinton investigation. His role began in February 2016, following his appointment as deputy director and three months after his wife, Jill McCabe, lost her bid for a state Senate seat.

McCabe has been repeatedly targeted by Trump and some Republican lawmakers, who accuse the long-time FBI official of exerting undue and partisan influence over the Clinton probe.

As recently as last month, Trump seized on McCabe’s role in the Clinton inquiry and his wife’s political bid, noting that Jill McCabe received nearly $470,000 from a political action committee associated with Clinton ally and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers! What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Breton Children Reading, Emile Vernon, 1913

Good Afternoon!!

Thank goodness the “holidays” are almost over now, and soon a new year will begin. What will 2018 bring? Will Trump continue his goal of destroying democracy or will we somehow manage to keep it alive? First we have to get through the journalistic ritual of looking back over the year that is ending.

Eugene Robinson posted his evaluation of 2017 last night: Trump’s first year was even worse than feared.

Grit your teeth. Persevere. Just a few more days and this awful, rotten, no-good, ridiculous, rancorous, sordid, disgraceful year in the civic life of our nation will be over. Here’s hoping that we all — particularly special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — have a better 2018.

Many of us began 2017 with the consoling thought that the Donald Trump presidency couldn’t possibly be as bad as we feared. It turned out to be worse.

Did you ever think you would hear a president use the words “very fine people” to describe participants in a torch-lit rally organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan? Did you ever think you would hear a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations thuggishly threaten that she would be “taking names” of countries that did not vote on a General Assembly resolution the way she wanted? Did you ever think the government of the world’s biggest military and economic power would reject not just science but also empiricism itself, preferring to use made-up “alternative facts” as the basis for major decisions?

We knew that Trump was narcissistic and shallow, but on Inauguration Day it was possible to at least hope he was self-aware enough to understand the weight that now rested on his shoulders, and perhaps grow into the job. He did not. If anything, he has gotten worse.

Read the rest at The Washington Post.

Paul Krugman still has hope: America Is Not Yet Lost.

Auguste reading to her daughter, by Mary Cassatt

Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected; he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office, morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party — including so-called moderates — turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have expected. At this point it’s evidently composed entirely of cynical apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle — and every shred of their own dignity — as long as their donors get big tax cuts.

Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda….

What we’ve seen instead is the emergence of a highly energized resistance. That resistance made itself visible literally the day after Trump took office, with the huge women’s marches that took place on Jan. 21, dwarfing the thin crowds at the inauguration. If American democracy survives this terrible episode, I vote that we make pink pussy hats the symbol of our delivery from evil….

Let’s be clear: America as we know it is still in mortal danger. Republicans still control all the levers of federal power, and never in the course of our nation’s history have we been ruled by people less trustworthy.

This obviously goes for Trump himself, who is clearly a dictator wannabe, with no respect whatsoever for democratic norms. But it also goes for Republicans in Congress, who have demonstrated again and again that they will do nothing to limit his actions. They have backed him up as he uses his office to enrich himself and his cronies, as he foments racial hatred, as he attempts a slow-motion purge of the Justice Department and the F.B.I.

I count it as a good sign that journalists are coming right out and calling Trump a wannabe dictator. Also a good sign: both Robinson and Krugman acknowledge that if we are to survive Trump, women’s leadership will be the reason. How ironic that a woman had to be excoriated and mocked by abusive male journalists for this awakening of women’s power to happen.

Jan Van Eyck – Madonna with the Child Reading (1433)

It’s also a good sign that journalists finally recognized the Russian threat, although this only happened after a monster was installed as POTUS. Yesterday The Washington Post published a breathtaking analysis of what the Russians accomplished last year and the danger they still pose to our democracy: Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options. Here’s a brief excerpt; please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.

One previously unreported order — a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats — prompted U.S. spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat. But one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act, intelligence officials said….

The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential electiontrace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a “third-rate regional power” that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery.

Senior U.S. officials didn’t think Russia would dare shift its focus to the United States.

“I thought our ground was not as fertile,” said Antony J. Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. “We believed that the truth shall set you free, that the truth would prevail. That proved a bit naive.”

Much more at the WaPo link.

From former CIA Deputy Director and Acting Director Michael Morrell: Russia never stopped its cyberattacks on the United States.

Every first-year international-relations student learns about the importance of deterrence: It prevented a Soviet invasion of Western Europe during the height of the Cold War. It prevented North Korea from invading South Korea in the same time frame. Today, it keeps Iran from starting a hot war in the Middle East or other nations from initiating cyberattacks against our infrastructure.

The Reader, by Federico Zandomeneghi (Italian, 1841)

And yet, the United States has failed to establish deterrence in the aftermath of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. We know we failed because Russia continues to aggressively employ the most significant aspect of its 2016 tool kit: the use of social media as a platform to disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation.

There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social-media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections. But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election and they continue to this day.

This should alarm everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. Foreign governments, overtly or covertly, should not be allowed to play with our democracy.

Read about the continuing threats from Russia at the WaPo link.

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Jonathan Peters reports on the work of NYT master’s student to examine Trump’s Twitter attacks on the media.

Trump’s prolificacy on Twitter is well documented, and some of his press-related tweets have captured vast public attention. For example, Trump tweeted in July a doctored video in which he wrestled a man whose head had been replaced by the CNN logo. It got hundreds of thousands of retweets.

Off Twitter, of course, Trump has waged a rhetorical war on the press, threatening to sue various newspapers and calling journalists “the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” all while characterizing as “fake news” any story he dislikes.

That’s what prompted an NYU master’s student to start tracking Trump’s tweets critical of the press. “I took it on as a labor of love and hate, and I suffered through his tweets every few days to log them,” says Stephanie Sugars, who is pursuing a joint MA in journalism and international relations. “It seemed important to maintain a record of what has appeared to be a deliberate and sustained campaign to discredit the media as an institution.”

By Zulia Gotay de Anderson

Sugars was working as a researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists last spring when she created the Trump-tweet spreadsheet that she recently shared with me. She was helping to launch a website that documents press freedom incidents in the US. (CJR is a partner.) Originally, she and others at CPJ thought it would include not only arrests and equipment seizures but also anti-press social media posts.

“That just wasn’t manageable,” Sugars says. “We decided to pare the site back and not focus on tweets. I kept up with the spreadsheet, though, and continued to add to it, even after leaving [CPJ] when my term as a researcher there ended.”

Peters then assigned his students a the University of Georgia to “review the spreadsheet and to help me identify notable items and trends in the data.” Read the rest at the CJR link to see the results.

One more interesting read: could Ivanka be in trouble with the law? GQ: Ivanka Trump’s Old Jewelry Business Is Now Caught Up in an Alleged Fraud Scheme. Author Ben Schreckenger begins by asking, “Why do people looking to launder money seem to find Trump family businesses so appealing?”

Throw a dart at a map of the world and there’s a solid chance it will land near a spot where a Trump family business has allegedly gotten caught up in a money laundering scheme.

There’s Panama, where the Trump Ocean Club is said to have washed dirty cash for Russian gangsters and South American drug cartels. There’s Azerbaijan and the Trump Baku, where the money allegedly being laundered was said to belong to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. And of course, there’s the Trump Soho in Manhattan, a magnet for money from Kazakhstan and Russia, and a property that one former executive on the project now calls “a monument to spectacularly corrupt money-laundering and tax evasion.”

In each of those cases, the Trump Organization has denied any wrongdoing and has sought to distance itself—and the Trump family—from the property, saying they merely licensed ​the Trump name. But as it turns out, it’s not just Trump-branded real estate developments that perhaps have attracted the wrong kinds of money.

Thanks to an overlooked filing made in federal court this past summer, we can now add a jewelry business to the list of Trump family enterprises that allegedly served as vehicles to fraudulently hide the assets of ultra-rich foreigners with checkered backgrounds. In late June, the Commercial Bank of Dubai sought—and later received—permission to subpoena Ivanka Trump’s now-defunct fine jewelry line, claiming its diamonds were used in a massive scheme to hide roughly $100 million that was owed to the bank, according to filings at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Read the rest at GQ.

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


Tuesday Reads: Last Week’s White House Chaos Isn’t Over Yet

Trump Chaos

Good Morning!!

This week is on track to be as insane as last week in the Trump White House. Yesterday retired general John Kelly was sworn in as chief of staff, replacing Reince Priebus. Kelly apparently accepted the job from hell on the conditions that the entire WH staff would report to him and on the dismissal of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. But those stories were eclipsed last night by a Washington Post story about how Donald Trump Jr.’s initial statement about his June 9, 2016, meeting with Russian government representatives was formulated.

The Washington Post: Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer.

On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.

The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.” [….]

The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup.

Trump’s direct involvement in composing his son’s false statement could be more evidence of obstruction of justice.

Although misleading the public or the news media is not a crime, advisers to Trump and his family told The Washington Post that they fear any indication that Trump was seeking to hide information about contacts between his campaign and Russians almost inevitably would draw additional scrutiny from Mueller.

Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.

“He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.” [….]

Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.

That’s idiotic. Even if there is no underlying crime, which is unlikely, Trump’s behavior demonstrates obstruction–and that’s a separate crime

This morning NBC news has more details on the Scaramucci firing: What Really Happened to Anthony Scaramucci.

Two sources close to President Donald Trump said Scaramucci’s profane remarks last week to The New Yorker magazine “disgusted” and “offended” some close to the president, including Melania Trump, and — crucially — Ivanka Trump, who had initially advocated for Scaramucci’s hiring.

Scaramucci was ousted Monday, the first day on the job for Trump’s new chief of staff, the retired Marine general John Kelly.

One source said both Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner supported Kelly and his move to dismiss Scaramucci.

And it wasn’t just the expletive-filled interview: Some in the West Wing believe Scaramucci overplayed his hand altogether, believing he could do no wrong in the eyes of the president.

While the White House didn’t initially decry Scaramucci’s vulgar comments to The New Yorker, by Friday the president was getting an earful from confidantes outside the administration. The blowback built. Even for a president who’s no stranger to salty language, Scaramucci’s interview, with its f-bombs and anatomical references, apparently came off as too lowbrow.

By mid-morning on Monday, Scaramucci was sacked and Kelly, a 40-year Marine, had conveyed to the rest of the staff that the chain of command now runs through him.

Any bets on how long that will last? Can Kelly really block Ivanka and Jared from walking into the oval office?

John Podesta, who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton offered advice to Kelly: don’t take the job. The Washington Post: The best advice I could have given to John Kelly: Don’t do it!

First, discipline. There’s no doubt the decision to replace Reince Priebus with Kelly was based on the hope that a former four-star Marine general could get this menagerie in line. You don’t have to compare the Trump White House to no-drama Obama or the buttoned-down Bush operations to know there is simply no precedent in modern history for the current White House culture of factionalism, infighting and lack of respect among senior staff members. Of course, most of Trump’s team are simply modeling their behavior on that of the boss. His demeaning treatment of Priebus and Attorney General Jeff Sessions signals that there are no boundaries in Trumpland, leading to the unprofessional actions of now-former communications director Anthony Scaramucci. Indeed, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders informed the public that the president “encourages” such behavior.

Kelly is walking into a White House that looks more like a cock fight than an episode of “The West Wing.” (See Mooch, you can use that word without being profane.) The White House culture will have to be shaken to its core. Kelly must be able to fire anyone at will, including to enforce a no-tolerance policy for behavior unbecoming a senior government official. Scaramucci’s departure Monday is a good start, but Kelly will have to keep a tight rein on a White House staff that is used to few boundaries. And if there is going to be an exception for Trump’s relatives, Kelly should get an explicit commitment that even Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump report through him — no end arounds.

The most difficult discipline problem for Kelly, though, will not be the staff but Trump himself. Early signs are not auspicious. The day after appointing Kelly, Trump ranted on Twitter against Senate Republicans for failure to pass their horrific health-care bill, which would have denied care to millions of Americans and raised costs for millions more. I have no doubt that Kelly, unlike Priebus, can say no to power, but whether power will listen is another matter.

Read about Kelly’s two other major tasks at the WaPo link.

Trump spent the weekend trolling Senate Republicans for their failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but Politico reports that Trump’s tweets aren’t having much effect: Republicans ignore Trump’s Obamacare taunts.

Senate Republicans have no plans to revive their party-line attempts to repeal Obamacare this summer, despite President Donald Trump’s increasing frustration over the chamber’s failed attempts last week to gut the law.

“Until somebody shows us a way to get that elusive 50th vote, I think it’s over,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican. “Maybe lightning will strike and something will come together but I’m not holding my breath.” [….]

For one, they’re down one vote in the short term, with Sen. John McCain being treated for cancer in Arizona.

But as the collapse of the repeal effort in the Senate last week showed, even with McCain the GOP majority is so narrow that it may never be possible to pass major, partisan health care reform through the chamber. That increasingly appears to be the case despite White House efforts to promote a bill by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would send federal health care funding to the states in the form of block grants.

Privately, Republican aides said there is essentially no chance McConnell will take another shot at repealing Obamacare soon. On Monday, there was discussion among Senate staffers of a “hard pivot to tax reform,” one Senate aide said.

JULY 31: Jared Kushner… arrives in the Capitol Visitor Center to participate in a lecture series with Hill interns on July 31, 2017. Congressional aide Katie Patru, appears at left. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Foreign Policy reports that Jared Kushner made “off the record remarks” to Congressional interns yesterday, and they quickly obtained notes from the meeting. Anyone who doesn’t believe Kusher is the leaker, please raise your hand.

Kushner to Interns: Trump Team Too Disorganized to Collude With Russia.

Donald Trump’s election team could not have colluded with Russia because they were barely talking to each other, according to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top White House advisor.

“They thought we colluded, but we couldn’t even collude with our local offices,” Kushner told congressional interns during a private talk at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington on Monday afternoon….

A source provided a copy of written notes on Kushner’s talk and question-and-answer session to Foreign Policy.

For investigators attempting to determine whether Trump’s associates knowingly worked with Russia to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a defense claiming chaos and confusion might be the key difference between criminal behavior and incompetence.

As chaos reigns in the White House, Russia is continuing to threaten its neighbors. The New York Times: Russia’s Military Drills Near NATO Border Raise Fears of Aggression.

WASHINGTON — Russia is preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by President Vladimir V. Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War.

The troops are conducting military maneuvers known as Zapad, Russian for “west,” in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The drills will feature a reconstituted armored force named for a storied Soviet military unit, the First Guards Tank Army. Its establishment represents the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that so much offensive power has been concentrated in a single command.

The military exercise, planned for many months, is not a reaction to sweeping new economic sanctions on Russia that Congress passed last week. So far, Russia has retaliated against the sanctions by forcing the expulsion of several hundred employees in American diplomatic posts in the country.

But the move is part of a larger effort by Mr. Putin to shore up Russia’s military prowess, and comes against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive Russia. Beyond Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election in support of the Trump campaign, which has seized attention in the United States, its military has in recent years deployed forces to Syria, seized Crimea and intervened in eastern Ukraine, rattled the Baltic States with snap exercises and buzzed NATO planes and ships.

Read more details at the link.

Finally, Talking Points Memo has an interesting post about Trump’s Russian mafia pal Felix Stater: Stinger Missiles And Shady Deals: Ex-Biz Partner To Trump Has A Tall Tale To Tell.

In December 2015, an Associated Press reporter asked Donald Trump why he had appointed Felix Sater, a man who’d been convicted for stock fraud, his senior advisor. “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” Trump told the AP. “I’m not that familiar with him.”

The feeling is not mutual.

“My last Moscow deal [for the Trump Organization] was in October of 2015,” Sater recalled. “It didn’t go through because obviously he became President.” Sater had told the New York Times that he was working on the deal that fall, but over the course of several conversations with TPM, he gave a slightly more detailed timeline. “Once the campaign was really going-going, it was obvious there were going to be no deals internationally,” Sater said. “We were still working on it, doing something with it, November-December.”

That deal was for “The Trump Tower, to develop in Moscow.” It was a similar proposition to the one Trump himself tried to broker with the Agalarovs, a family of vastly wealthy Russian oligarchs who brought Miss Universe 2013 to Moscow and were behind the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the President’s oldest son and an attorney said to work for the Russian government. Sater said he never worked with the Agalarovs on a Moscow deal for Trump, but did work with others who he declined to name. Those aren’t Sater’s connections, he said. “That’s not me. I don’t work with them and I’ve never worked with them.” When asked who he was working with, Sater chuckled. “A couple of people I’d like to continue working with, and that’s why I don’t want their names in the newspaper. People say, ‘I care about you and love you but why do I need my name in the press?’”

The Trump Organization did not respond to multiple requests for comment from TPM. But to understand Trump and the type of people his real estate empire did business, it’s worth trying to understand Sater, the Russian-American émigré whose connections span not only the worlds of Russian and Italian organized crime—which Sater said are in part a result of not being able to find legitimate work after two criminal convictions—but the FBI and, now, the presidency.

Read the whole thing at TPM.

What stories are you following this morning?


Lazy Saturday Reads

Key West Chairs, Dorine MacLauchlan

Good Afternoon!!

Another huge story broke last night at the Washington Post, and this one appears to have been leaked by people in the intelligence community or the White House who are trying to damage Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show.

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The Goldfish Window, Childe Hassam

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Current and former U.S. officials said that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations during two encounters over the course of the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.

It would be interesting to know who leaked this–could it possibly have come from Michael Flynn? In any case, this is highly sensitive information that the Post reportedly had in June but held it until last night.

The Post also published a damaging story about Jared and Ivanka’s lies of omission: In revised filing, Kushner reveals dozens of previously undisclosed assets.

Jared Kushner failed to disclose dozens of financial holdings that he was required to declare when he joined the White House as an adviser to President Trump, his father-in-law, according to a ­revised form released Friday.

separate document released Friday also showed that Kushner’s wife, presidential daughter Ivanka Trump, had been paid as much as $5 million from her outside businesses over an 84-day span this spring around the time she entered the White House as a senior adviser and pledged to distance herself from her private holdings.

Saturday Afternoon, William Gunning King

Kushner’s new disclosure, released by the White House, detailed more than 70 assets that his attorneys said he had inadvertently left out of earlier filings. The new document comes as the presidential aide faces increasing scrutiny as part of investigations into alleged Russian influence in the 2016 campaign….

The new filing reveals Kushner’s past and current investments with an OFOM miner in an array of entities, including a real estate trading platform now valued at $800 million in which he continues to hold a large stake. He and his wife also disclosed that their contemporary art collection is valued at between $5 million and $25 million.

Kushner’s financial disclosure has been updated 39 times since his first filing in March.

From today’s New York Times: Ivanka Trump Received at Least $12.6 Million Since 2016, Disclosure Shows.

Ivanka Trump or her trust received at least $12.6 million since early 2016 from her various business ventures and has an arrangement to guarantee her at least $1.5 million a year even as she serves in a top White House position, according to her first ethics disclosure made public late Friday.

The report was released alongside an updated filing by her husband, Jared Kushner, who is also serving as a top adviser to President Trump. It shows that the couple benefit from an active business empire worth as much as $761 million to them, an arrangement that ethics experts warn poses potentials for conflicts of interest as the couple have been given a wide-ranging portfolio of government responsibilities.

Ms. Trump, who resigned from nearly 300 leadership positions at various entities within the family real estate businesses and at her fashion brand, has continued to receive millions of dollars from both streams, including more than $2.4 million from her stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington and more than $2.5 million in salary and severance from the Trump Organization.

Ms. Trump received about $1.7 million in payments from T International Realty, the family’s luxury brokerage agency, as well as two other real estate companies for various management, consulting and licensing work, the documents show, these companies all are one of the best because they use hoa software to keep themselves organized. Those payments, for work done in 2016, were based on the companies’ performance.

But going forward, she will receive fixed payments — a change that her advisers say was developed in consultation with the Office of Government Ethics to minimize her potential conflicts by removing her interest in how well her family’s business performs.

More at the link.

Brookside Park Pasadena on a Saturday Afternoon

I was really looking forward to seeing Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort testify publicly, but unfortunately it will be behind closed doors now. CNN: Trump Jr. and Manafort reach deal with Senate panel to avoid public hearing.

The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee have cut a deal with President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to avoid being subpoenaed for a high-profile public hearing next week, with the two men agreeing to provide records to the panel and to be privately interviewed ahead of any public session.

In a joint statement, panel Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein said, “(W)e will not issue subpoenas for them tonight requiring their presence at Wednesday’s hearing but reserve the right to do so in the future.”

Feinstein tweeted later Friday evening, “The Judiciary Committee will talk to Trump Jr. & Manafort before they testify in public, but we will get answers.”

Last week, Trump Jr. told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he would testify under oath about his recently revealed 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians, where he attempted to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But after the Senate Judiciary Committee invited him to attend a public hearing, the President’s eldest struck the agreement to avoid it, instead going behind closed doors.

Sources familiar with the matter say no date has been set for his and Manafort’s private interviews with the committee.

It seems as if Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr is getting more serious about his Russia investigation. Yesterday he publicly criticized House Intel chair Devin Nunes.

Talking Points Memo: Senate Intel Chair: ‘The Unmasking Thing Was All Created By Devin Nunes.’

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) on Friday accused his counterpart in the House, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), of creating a false narrative about Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice.

Madeline in a Wheat Field, Daniel Ridgway Knight

Speaking to CNN after Rice was interviewed by the panel in closed session, Burr said he asked no questions about whether she improperly requested and revealed the identities of U.S. individuals swept up in intelligence reports—an accusation Nunes has made repeatedly.

“The unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes, and I’ll wait to go through our full evaluation to see if there was anything improper that happened,” Burr told CNN. “But clearly there were individuals unmasked. Some of that became public which it’s not supposed to, and our business is to understand that, and explain it.”

With an assist from the White House, the House Intelligence chairman in March embarked on a one-man crusade to accuse Rice of improperly unmasking the identities of members of Trump’s campaign in intelligence reports. Though President Donald Trump said he believed Rice’s actions broke the law, bipartisan lawmakers who viewed the same classified reports from which Nunes drew his conclusions said they saw no evidence of wrongdoing. National security experts also told TPM that it was within Rice’s purview as national security adviser to request that names be unmasked as she tried to determine the extent of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Nunes ended up temporarily stepping aside from the House investigation after ethics watchdogs accused him of improperly disclosing classified information in his public statements about Rice. He recently told CNN that he remains fully “read-in” to the House probe and never formally recused himself, however.

Trump has reportedly been asking his lawyers if he can pardon himself and members of his family and staff. Here’s a response in a Washington Post op-ed by Lawrence Tribe, Richard Painter, and Norman Eisen: No, Trump can’t pardon himself. The Constitution tells us so.

Saturday Afternoon, Mark Arian

Can a president pardon himself? Four days before Richard Nixon resigned, his own Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel opined no, citing “the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.” We agree.

The Justice Department was right that guidance could be found in the enduring principles that no one can be both the judge and the defendant in the same matter, and that no one is above the law.

The Constitution specifically bars the president from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal. It adds that any official removed through impeachment remains fully subject to criminal prosecution. That provision would make no sense if the president could pardon himself.

The pardon provision of the Constitution is there to enable the president to act essentially in the role of a judge of another person’s criminal case, and to intervene on behalf of the defendant when the president determines that would be equitable. For example, the president might believe the courts made the wrong decision about someone’s guilt or about sentencing; President Barack Obama felt this way about excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses. Or the president might be impressed by the defendant’s subsequent conduct and, using powers far exceeding those of a parole board, might issue a pardon or commutation of sentence.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

This has been an mind-boggling week for Trump Russia news. I’m kind of relieved to have the weekend to process everything, since I assume Trump will be golfing. Next week could be even worse. Will Trump try to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Will Jeff Sessions have to resign? We’ll have to wait and see.

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