It just keeps getting worse. Yesterday, decent Americans watched in horror as Trump repeatedly insulted a gold star family and in the process politicized and diminished all fallen soldiers and their families. How much lower can he go? I guess we’ll find out, because there doesn’t seem to be anything too sacred for Trump to trash and disparage.
The Washington Post Editorial Board: Trump trivializes the deaths of four soldiers.
STAFF SGT. Bryan C. Black, 35, always relished a challenge. As a child, he drove himself to learn chess; as a teen, he excelled as a wrestler; and as an adult, he joined the Army, where he finished Ranger school and joined the Special Forces. Deployed to Niger, he learned the local dialect.
Before joining the Army, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah “J.W.” Wayne Johnson, 39, owned and operated a successful business. In uniform he became a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist. Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, was a good student and talented athlete. When he joined the Army he continued a family military legacy dating to 1812.
Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, was known to be both determined and playful, as demonstrated by how he commuted to a job at Walmart — removing the front wheel of his bike and becoming known as the “Wheelie King.”
These are the four soldiers who were killed Oct. 4 when their unit was ambushed by Islamist extremists in West Africa. Their lives, their brave service and the sacrifice of their grieving families should be discussed and honored. Instead — thanks to a president with a compulsive need to be the center of attention — their deaths have been trivialized. President Trump reduced condolences to a political competition and treated the grieving families who received them as pawns in a game.
You know the rest; if not you can read it at the Post. At this point, the entire world knows our shame–that the U.S. president is a disgrace and unfit for the office he holds.
Aaron Blake at the Washington Post: Trump’s unmoored week shows just how aimless he is.
President Trump’s most faithful supporters like to believe he’s always a step ahead of the media and the political establishment — that he’s playing three-dimensional chess while we’re stuck on checkers. Where we see utter discord, they see carefully orchestrated chaos.
This week should disabuse absolutely everybody of that notion.
On two issues — health care and calling the families of dead service members — the White House has shown itself to be clearly unmoored, careening back and forth based upon the unhelpful and impulsive comments and tweets of its captain.
Again, you probably know the rest. I spent the day yesterday on the verge of tears, trying desperately not to sink into depression. Unlike Trump, I’m capable of empathy. I have my own life issues to deal with, as we all do; but always the fear of what is happening to our country hangs over everything and makes it difficult to handle day-to-day worries.
I can’t imagine what White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and his family must be feeling. CNN reports: Sources: Kelly didn’t know Trump would publicize that Obama didn’t call when his son died.
Chief of Staff John Kelly told President Donald Trump that President Barack Obama never called him after his son’s death prior to Trump raising the issue in a Tuesday radio interview, multiple White House officials told CNN.
But, according to these sources, Kelly never thought the President would use that information publicly.
Kelly and much of the White House were caught off-guard by Trump’s comments, one official said, struck by how the President took a story Kelly has tried to keep private — the death of his son — and used it to defend his handling of four soldiers killed in Niger.
Trump, in defense of his own previous claim that Obama didn’t call the loved ones of fallen soldiers, floated the idea Tuesday that reporters ask Kelly, a retired general, whether Obama called him after his son died in Afghanistan.
“As far as other presidents, I don’t know, you could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? I don’t know what Obama’s policy was,” Trump said during a Fox News radio interview.
It’s not clear to me why Kelly expected Trump to keep his confidence. Trump is a sociopath. He doesn’t care any more about Kelly or his dead son than he does about any of the grieving families. He cares only for himself and filling the dark empty hole in his soul with flattery and praise from others.
Kelly should resign or at least begin working with other cabinet members to invoke the 25th amendment before it’s too late.
NBC News Opinion: The 25th Amendment Proves Why Trump’s Mental Health Matters, by Richard Painter and Leanne Watt.
The 25th Amendment is the ultimate constitutional “check” — a corrective mechanism for an American president who is physically or psychologically unable to lead. Most important, it grants legal authority to those closest to power — first, the vice president and Cabinet members, then members of Congress — to stage an intervention. At the very least, these individuals are authorized to call a temporary timeout if the president is judged unfit to govern.
Is America today in need of such an unprecedented intervention?
The amendment, ratified in 1967 after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, was constructed to assure a smooth transition when a president becomes incapable of leadership. (Its vague wording leaves room for both physical and psychological justifications.) By the 1960s, the dangers of an incapacitated president were far greater than at the founding of our country. But arguably, the stakes have only gotten higher. With tensions flaring around the globe, there can be no doubt as to the fitness of the man or woman in possession of U.S. nuclear codes.
Pundits and politicians alike have called for the amendment’s implementation over the past few months. But it is both practically and philosophically a tool of last resort. Unlike impeachment, which is controlled solely by Congress, the 25th Amendment requires action by the majority of the president’s Cabinet and potentially Congress. This means that even in today’s polarized climate, partisan removal is unlikely. In addition, the bar for diagnosing mental health conditions is quite high.
This is a deep dive into what would be required to invoke the amendment to rid the country of a dangerous president. I hope you’ll read the whole thing.
Today, Trump is off on a new tangent because he’s apparently worried about the Russia investigation again. It started yesterday with baseless attacks on former FBI Director James Comey and Hillary Clinton.
Today he actually accused the FBI of colluding with Russia and Clinton against him.
Those are all lies. Clinton did not sell uranium to Russia. Two people from Fusion GPS did take the 5th, because they have refused to accept the unilateral subpoena issued by Devin Nunes, who is supposedly recused from the Russia investigation. Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider: The founders of the firm behind the Trump Russia dossier appeared before the House Intel Committee and refused to testify.
The founders of the opposition-research firm that produced the dossier alleging ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia met behind closed doors with House Intel Committee staff on Wednesday and asserted their constitutional privileges not to testify.
The founders of Fusion GPS — Glenn Simpson, Thomas Catan, and Peter Fritsch — were required to appear before the committee by its chairman, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, who had subpoenaed them earlier this month.
Fusion’s counsel, Josh Levy, wrote a 17-page letter to Nunes earlier this week urging him not to force Simpson, Catan, and Fritsch to appear before the committee, because if they did they would have no choice but to assert their constitutional privileges not to testify.
“We cannot in good conscience do anything but advise our clients to stand on their constitutional privileges, the attorney work product doctrine and contractual obligations,” Levy wrote.
Nunes required them to appear anyway, prompting Levy to release a blistering statement accusing Nunes — who stepped aside from the committee’s Russia investigation in April but still has subpoena power — of abusing his power as chairman.
“No American should have to experience today’s indignity,” Levy wrote. “No American should be required to appear before Congress simply to invoke his constitutional privileges. But that is what Chairman Nunes did today with our clients at Fusion GPS, breaking with the practice of his committee in this investigation. The committee has not imposed this requirement on any other witness, including the president’s men.”
He added that the “disparate treatment and abuse of power” by Nunes was “unethical, according to the DC Bar rules.”
That Trump would accuse the FBI of conspiring with Russia against him is beyond belief. How can anyone doubt that this man is mentally incompetent?
I just noticed that George W. Bush gave a speech this morning that seems directed at the dangers of Trump’s presidency. Excerpts from The Hill:
Former President George W. Bush said Thursday that “bigotry seems emboldened” in the modern U.S.
“Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts,” he observed during a speech for the George W. Bush Institute. “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”
Bush also said that public confidence in the country’s institutions has declined in recent decades.
“Our governing class has often been paralyzed in the face of obvious and pressing needs. The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy,” he said.
There are signs, Bush said, that the intensity of support for democracy itself has “waned.”
Former President George W. Bush said Thursday that America should not downplay Russia’s attempts to meddle in the U.S. election.
“Our country must show resolve and resilience in the face of external attacks on our democracy,” Bush said in a speech sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute and others in New York. “And that begins with confronting a new era of cyberthreats.”
“America has experienced a sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country’s divisions,” he said. “According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systemic and stealthy. It’s conducted a range of stealthy media platforms.”
“Ultimately, this assault won’t succeed,” he added. “But foreign aggressions, including cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence should never be downplayed or tolerated.”
That Bush is speaking out seems like a good sign. Will Republicans in Washington DC listen?
That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer had dinner with Trump last night and some kind of “deal” was worked out, but no one can figure out what it was. Trump has been sending conflicting tweets about it and saying confusing things about it in Florida this morning.
The Washington Post: Trump, top A Democrats agree to work on deal to save ‘dreamers’ from deportation.
Democratic leaders announced late Wednesday that they agreed with President Trump to pursue a legislative deal that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and enact border security measures that don’t include building a physical wall.
The president discussed options during a dinner at the White House with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that also included talks on tax reform, infrastructure and trade. Trump has showed signs of shifting strategy to cross the aisle and work with Democrats in the wake of the high-profile failures by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
We’re working on a plan for DACA,” Trump said as he left the White House on Thursday for a trip to survey hurricane damage in Florida.
Trump said that he and Congress are “fairly close” to a deal and that Republican leaders Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are “very much on board” with a deal that would address DACA. The agreement must include “massive border security,” Trump said in response to shouted questions about whether he had reached a deal on the terms Schumer and Pelosi had described.
“The wall will come later” [link to Axios added] he said, apparently confirming a central element of the Democrats’ account.
There was instant backlash from Trump’s Cro-Magnon supporters, and the White House quickly tried to walk back whatever Trump agreed to when his handlers weren’t around.
Earlier Thursday, amid backlash from conservative supporters, Trump had sought Thursday to reach out to his GOP base with messages claiming his agenda would remain intact on signature issues such as the border wall.
In a series of tweets, Trump wrote that “no deal” was made on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program that has allowed 690,000 dreamers to work and go to school without fear of deportation. He further wrote that agreements on “massive border security” would have to accompany any new DACA provisions, and insisted that “the WALL will continue to be built.”
I guess we’ll find out what’s going on eventually. It would certainly be a good thing if Congress can get its act together and do something to keep the Dreamers in the U.S.
Manu Raju of CNN had a great scoop last night that makes Devin Nunes look like even more of an idiot than ever before: Exclusive: Rice told House investigators why she unmasked senior Trump officials.
Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, multiple sources told CNN.
The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.
The crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, arrived in New York last December in the transition period before Trump was sworn into office for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including Michael Flynn, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top strategist Steve Bannon, sources said.
The Obama administration felt misled by the United Arab Emirates, which had failed to mention that Zayed was coming to the United States even though it’s customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the US government about their travels, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Rice, who served as then-President Obama’s national security adviser in his second term, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally, a practice officials in both parties say is common.
Rice’s previously undisclosed revelation in a classified setting shines new light on a practice that had come under sharp criticism from the committee chairman, California Rep. Devin Nunes, and President Donald Trump, who previously accused Rice of committing a crime.Ja
Once again, Trump people were caught trying to communicate secretly with Putin, because of course foreign visitors are routinely monitored by the intelligence community.
In other Russia news, Michael Flynn’s son is now a subject in the investigation. NBC News reports:
Michael G. Flynn, the son of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, is a subject of the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, according to four current and former government officials.
The inquiry into Flynn is focused at least in part on his work with his father’s lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group, three of the officials said. It’s unclear when the focus on Flynn began.
Barry Coburn, who said he is serving as the younger Flynn’s legal counsel, said he couldn’t comment on the matter.
Flynn’s status as a subject of the Russia investigation widens the publicly known scope of the probe. NBC News has reported that those under investigation have included the elder Flynn and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Others under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller include Carter Page, a Trump campaign ally; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser; and the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr.
Yesterday White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that James Comey committed a crime when he leaked his personal memos about interactions with Trump to The New York Times, and called on the Justice Department to investigate him. She also called on ESPN to fire a reporter who tweeted that Trump is a white supremacist. In any other White House, Sanders herself would be fired by now. The White House is not supposed to get involved in decisions by the DOJ and the White House calling for the firing of a journalist for dissing POTUS is wildly inappropriate.
From Politico, a response to the recent attacks on Comey by the Trump crowd: The Hapless Smear Campaign Against Jim Comey.
From the moment Steve Bannon stated in his 60 Minutes interview that President Donald Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey was the biggest political mistake in modern presidential history, there simply was no chance that this week would proceed without a fair amount of political insanity. The fact that the president’s former chief strategist would publicly and brazenly disparage that decision was bound to result in a fierce White House pushback. And so it has. But over the past three days, the White House has repeatedly advanced flawed and in some instances preposterous legal arguments that don’t stand up to informed scrutiny.
The hijinks began on Monday, when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that information divulged after Comey was fired served as retroactive justification for the president’s decision. She alleged, among other things, that Comey had given “false testimony” and leaked “privileged information to journalists.” On Tuesday, Sanders did not repeat the “false testimony” claim, but she did reiterate the assertion that Comey had “leaked privileged government information” and speculated that his actions “could have been illegal.”
In Wednesday’s news briefing, reading from what appeared to be prepared notes, Sanders explained what she meant by “illegal”:
“The memos that Comey leaked were created on an FBI computer while he was the director,” she said. “He claims they were private property, but they clearly followed the protocol of an official FBI document, leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case regardless of classification violates federal laws including the Privacy Act, standard FBI employment agreement and nondisclosure agreement all personnel must sign.”
These talking points were presumably provided to Sanders by the White House Counsel’s Office, but as a litigator with considerable experience representing government officials and contractors (including whistleblowers) of all ideological persuasions, trust me: They are nonsense.
Click on the link to read the explanation.
Have you heard the latest outrage from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his trophy wife Louise Linton? The Washington Post reports: ‘The moochin’ Mnuchins’: Treasury secretary again is fodder for rich humor.
Just based on a quick Google search, the August exchange between Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and a critic of Linton’s fashion-bragging, mean-girl Instagram post seemed to be fading, along with memories of the eclipse, which the couple was lucky enough to have observed at Fort Knox.
But it all came rushing back when ABC News reported Wednesday evening that the Treasury Department had in fact requested a government jet for Mnuchin’s European honeymoon in Scotland, France and Italy. If the request had been granted, the plane would have cost the taxpayers roughly $25,000 per hour to operate.
A Treasury Department spokesman said in a statement that the request was made so that Mnuchin, who is a member of the National Security Council, would have access to secure communications as he traveled abroad.
Remember Linton’s attack on the woman who criticized her Instagram post after the Mnuchins used a government plane to fly to Fort Knox so they could watch the solar eclipse from the rooftop?
As the news rushed across social media, so did the memory of the Instagram episode, with one line in particular standing out among the now-regretted post by Linton:
“Adorable! Do you think the U.S. govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol.”
Now for a change of pace, I thought you might like this archaeology story. The AP via The Toronto Sun: Well-preserved Viking sword found in Norwegian mountains.
COPENHAGEN — A Norwegian archaeologist says a well-preserved, if rusty, iron sword dating to the Viking erahas been found in southern Norway.
Lars Holger Piloe says the nearly one-metre-long sword was found slid down between rocks with the blade sticking out, and may have been left by a person who got lost in a blizzard and died on the mountain from exposure.
Piloe said Thursday the sword, dating from about 850-950 A.D., was found in Lesja, some 275 kilometres north of Oslo.
Piloe said the sword’s preservation was likely due to the quality of the iron, as well as the cold, dry conditions. It was found in late August by two men who were on a reindeer hunt some 1,640 metres above sea level.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?
As as become the norm, two new Trump Russia stories dropped last night and another one this this morning.
Despite the ongoing investigation, Trump is considering reversing one of the punishments that Obama meted out to Russia for its interference in the 2016 election.
The Washington Post reports: Trump administration moves to return Russian compounds in Maryland and New York.
The Trump administration is moving toward handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
President Barack Obama said Dec. 29 that the compounds were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and gave Russia 24 hours to vacate them. Separately, Obama expelled from the United States what he said were 35 Russian “intelligence operatives.”
Early last month, the Trump administration told the Russians that it would consider turning the properties back over to them if Moscow would lift its freeze, imposed in 2014 in retaliation for U.S. sanctions related to Ukraine, on construction of a new U.S. consulate on a certain parcel of land in St. Petersburg.
Two days later, the U.S. position changed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a meeting in Washington that the United States had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate, according to several people with knowledge of the exchanges.
Could they be any more obvious? It looks like Trump caved on getting anything in return for making it easier for Russia to spy on us. What did Putin threaten him with?
In Moscow on Wednesday, Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov said Russia was “taking into account the difficult internal political situation for the current administration” but retained the option to reciprocate for what he called the “expropriation” of Russian property “if these steps are not somehow adjusted by the U.S. side,” the news outlet Sputnik reported….
Any concessions to Moscow could prove controversial while administration and former Trump campaign officials are under congressional and special counsel investigation for alleged ties to Russia.
Late last night, CNN broke the news that Jeff Sessions is suspected of having another undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador. First on CNN: Sources: Congress investigating another possible Sessions-Kislyak meeting.
Congressional investigators are examining whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions had an additional private meeting with Russia’s ambassador during the presidential campaign, according to Republican and Democratic Hill sources and intelligence officials briefed on the investigation.
Investigators on the Hill are requesting additional information, including schedules from Sessions, a source with knowledge tells CNN. They are focusing on whether such a meeting took place April 27, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, where then-candidate Donald Trump was delivering his first major foreign policy address. Prior to the speech, then-Sen. Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak attended a small VIP reception with organizers, diplomats and others.
In addition to congressional investigators, the FBI is seeking to determine the extent of interactions the Trump campaign team may have had with Russia’s ambassador during the event as part of its broader counterintelligence investigation of Russian interference in the election.
The FBI is looking into whether there was an additional private meeting at the Mayflower the same day, sources said. Neither Hill nor FBI investigators have yet concluded whether a private meeting took place — and acknowledge that it is possible any additional meeting was incidental.
If this is true, Sessions needs to resign.
This morning The Guardian reports that Nigel Farage is under investigation by the FBI.
Nigel Farage is a “person of interest” in the US counter-intelligence investigation that is looking into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the Guardian has been told.
Sources with knowledge of the investigation said the former Ukip leader had raised the interest of FBI investigators because of his relationships with individuals connected to both the Trump campaign and Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder whom Farage visited in March. He’s right in the middle of these relationships. He turns up over and over again….
Farage has not been accused of wrongdoing and is not a suspect or a target of the US investigation. But being a person of interest means investigators believe he may have information about the acts that are under investigation and he may therefore be subject to their scrutiny.
Sources who spoke to the Guardian said it was Farage’s proximity to people at the heart of the investigation that was being examined as an element in their broader inquiry into how Russia may have worked with Trump campaign officials to influence the US election.
“One of the things the intelligence investigators have been looking at is points of contact and persons involved,” one source said. “If you triangulate Russia, WikiLeaks, Assange and Trump associates the person who comes up with the most hits is Nigel Farage.
“He’s right in the middle of these relationships. He turns up over and over again. There’s a lot of attention being paid to him.”
The source mentioned Farage’s links with Roger Stone, Trump’s long-time political adviser who has admitted being in contact with Guccifer 2.0, a hacker whom US intelligence agencies believe to be a Kremlin agent.
More Trump Russia news
Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker: Trump’s ‘Good Job’ Call to Roger Stone.
On May 11th Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s on-again, off-again political adviser for several decades, had just wrapped up a pair of morning television appearances when, according to two sources with direct knowledge, he received a call from the President.
Just a night earlier, Trump claimed that he was no longer in touch with Stone. In the weeks and months ahead, the relationship between Trump and Stone is expected to be a significant focus of investigators, and their call raises an important question: Why is the President still reaching out to figures in the middle of the Russia investigations? Previous reports have noted that Trump has also been in touch with Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, two figures targeted by the F.B.I.’s Russia probe. Add Stone to the list of former top Trump aides who, despite being under investigation, are still winning attention from the President….
On May 9th, Trump fired Comey. Stone’s role in advising Trump on the abrupt dismissal of the person investigating the President’s campaign and advisers, including Stone himself, immediately became a subject of intrigue.
CNN reported that Stone “was among those who recommended to the President that he fire Comey,” a potentially explosive revelation that was also reported by Politico. Firing the F.B.I. director, according to several legal scholars, could be obstruction of justice. This made it worse. The President of the United States was not just talking to one of the subjects of the F.B.I. probe but also, if the CNN and Politico reports were accurate, colluding with Stone to terminate the head of the investigation. Trump quickly tried to contain the damage.
“The Roger Stone report on @CNN is false – Fake News,” he tweeted. “Have not spoken to Roger in a long time – had nothing to do with my decision.”
Stone himself was more circumspect. “I am not the source of Politico/CNN stories claiming I urged @realDonaldTrump 2 fire Comey,” he tweeted. “Never made such claim. I support decision 100%.” As for Trump’s claim that the two men haven’t spoken “in a long time,” Stone insisted they had actually spoken “fairly recently.”
Trump seems unable to stop himself from reaching out to those who apparently helped him coordinate with Russia during the campaign. Is he trying to get forced out of the presidency or is he just plain stupid?
…aside from contradicting Trump’s claim of not talking to Stone, the call is unusual for another reason. “The conventional wisdom is that when someone has exposure to obstruction-of-justice liability, as Trump certainly does, he should avoid unnecessary reaching out to others involved in the investigation, lest he make things worse for himself,” Norman Eisen, the ethics counsel in the Obama White House, said. “But Trump is famously unorthodox. Indeed, that is how he got into this mess in the first place.”
He added, “Trump just added another item to the investigators’ checklist.”
The one-time foreign policy advisor to President Donald Trump, who has since been swept up in the congressional investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential campaign, told lawmakers this week that he is eager to come to Washington, D.C., to testify.
“In the interest of finally providing the American people with some accurate information at long last, I hope that we can proceed with this straight dialogue soon,” Page wrote in a letter to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Page told ABC News that the committee told him they are not yet ready to interview him.
For his part, Page said he told ABC News he is “more than cooperating” with the congressional probe.
But is he talking to the FBI?
One more before I wrap this up. Politico: Russia escalates spy games after years of U.S. neglect.
In the throes of the 2016 campaign, the FBI found itself with an escalating problem: Russian diplomats, whose travel was supposed to be tracked by the State Department, were going missing.
The diplomats, widely assumed to be intelligence operatives, would eventually turn up in odd places, often in middle-of-nowhere USA. One was found on a beach, nowhere near where he was supposed to be. In one particularly bizarre case, relayed by a U.S. intelligence official, another turned up wandering around in the middle of the desert. Interestingly, both seemed to be lingering where underground fiber optics cables tend to run.
According to another U.S. intelligence official, “They find these guys driving around in circles in Kansas. It’s a pretty aggressive effort.”
It’s a trend that has led intelligence officials to conclude the Kremlin is waging a quiet effort to map the United States’ telecommunications infrastructure, perhaps preparing for an opportunity to disrupt it.
“Half the time they’re never confronted,” the official, who declined to be identified discussing intelligence matters, said of the incidents. “We assume they’re mapping our infrastructure.”
Now that is scary.
As the country — and Washington in particular — borders on near-obsession over whether affiliates of Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Kremlin to swing the 2016 presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials say Moscow’s espionage ground game is growing stronger and more brazen than ever.
It’s a problem that’s sparking increasing concern from the intelligence community, including the FBI. After neglecting the Russian threat for a decade, the U.S. was caught flat-footed by Moscow’s election operation. Now, officials are scrambling to figure out how to contain a sophisticated intelligence network that’s festered and strengthened at home after years’ worth of inattention.
Please read the rest at Politico.
What else is happening? Let us know in the comment thread below and have a tremendous Thursday!
I’m filling in for Dakinikat, who is trying to wrap up her grades today. There was so much news yesterday, but today is Friday and there is likely to be more coming out based on what’s happened the past few Fridays.
Already this morning, Trump has threatened former FBI director James Comey on Twitter and claimed the Russia investigation is a story made up by Democrats. In addition, Trump basically incriminated himself in a strange-but-true interview with NBC’s Lester Holt yesterday.
The biggest news out of Donald Trump’s Thursday interview with NBC was his confession that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he fired FBI director James Comey. Undercutting 48 hours of denials by his aides, the president said: “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”
But what may ultimately get Trump into bigger trouble is his story about Comey assuring him he was not under investigation during a one-on-one dinner at the White House. Lester Holt asked the president to elaborate on his claim, made in the letter firing Comey, that he’d been told three times he was not under federal investigation. “He wanted to stay at the FBI, and I said I’ll, you know, consider and see what happens,” Trump said. “But we had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, ‘You are not under investigation.’” (Watch a 13-minute video of Holt’s sit-down here.)
It would be a big dang deal if the FBI director was discussing an ongoing investigation with the president — generally prohibited by Justice Department policy — at the same time he was also asking to keep his job.
Naturally, the leaks are coming thick and fast out of the FBI.
The New York Times: In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey Demurred.
Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief.
The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.
As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.
Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense.
By Mr. Comey’s account, his answer to Mr. Trump’s initial question apparently did not satisfy the president, the associates said. Later in the dinner, Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty.
Mr. Comey again replied that he would give him “honesty” and did not pledge his loyalty, according to the account of the conversation.
But Mr. Trump pressed him on whether it would be “honest loyalty.”
“You will have that,” Mr. Comey told his associates he responded.
One day after the acting attorney general warned the White House that its national security adviser was subject to blackmail, the president summoned the FBI director to dinner at the White House, sources close to James Comey told NBC News….
It’s not known whether the men talked about national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI a few days before, on Jan. 24 — grilled about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak….
Trump suggested, in an exclusive interview Thursday with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, that he had the FBI’s Russia collusion investigation on his mind when he decided to remove Comey.
“When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,'” Trump said.
Trump gave Holt an entirely different account of the dinner, saying that Comey requested it to seek job security, and told the president he was not under investigation.
None of that is true, Comey’s associates insist.
A former senior FBI official said Comey would never have told the president he was not under investigation — contradicting what Trump said.
“He tried to stay away from it [the Russian-ties investigation],” said the former official, who worked closely with Comey and keeps in touch with him. “He would say, ‘Look sir, I really can’t get into it, and you don’t want me to.'”
CBS News reports on another leak: Source: There is “whole lot of interfering” in Russia investigation.
Although President Trump has now stated and written that fired FBI Director James Comey told him on three separate occasions that he was not the subject of an investigation, sources cast doubt on that claim.
It would be out of character for Comey to have made that statement even once, much less three times, to the president, one law enforcement source told CBS News. Along with his firing, the source noted a high level of “interfering” in the Russia probe.
As for the White House assertions that “countless” FBI rank-and-file employees wanted Comey out, the source said that was a “load of cr*p” to think that agents wanted to see him ousted. That sentiment is shared by acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe in less colorful language. He told a congressional panel Thursday, “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day. We are a large organization. We are 36,500 people across this country, across this globe. we have a diversity of opinions about many things, but I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority of employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”
This was the case in spite of the divided opinion within the agency over Comey’s July 2016 announcement that he would not recommend Hillary Clinton be charged for mishandling classified information, in the investigation into her use of a private server for her email.
Within the FBI, the Russia investigation is considered to be “a crisis,” the source said, and “there is a whole lot of interfering.” The succession of events surrounding Comey’s firing is not considered to be a coincidence by the agency. In the week before he was terminated, Comey asked Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein for additional resources to pursue the Russia investigation.
I cannot wait until Comey testifies again in public.
At Lawfare, Benjamin Wittes writes that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must resign.
“He made—he made a recommendation,” Donald Trump said yesterday of his Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein in an interview with NBC News. “He’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him; the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation, but regardless of the recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.
”There it is, directly from the presidential mouth: Trump happily traded the reputation of Rosenstein, who began the week as a well-respected career prosecutor, for barely 24 hours of laughably transparent talking points in the news cycle. The White House sent out person after person—including the Vice President—to insist that Rosenstein’s memo constituted the basis for the President’s action against the FBI director. The White House described a bottoms-up dissatisfaction with Comey’s leadership, which Rosenstein’s memo encapsulated and to which the President acceded. And then, just as casually as Trump and his people set Rosenstein up as the bad guy for what was obviously a presidential decision into whose service Rosenstein had been enlisted, Trump revealed that Rosenstein was, after all, nothing more than a set piece…. [read the full excerpt from the interview at the link.]
Note that Trump did not merely reveal Rosenstein as a set piece here; he revealed him as a set piece in Trump’s own effort to frustrate the Russia investigation. The story as told by the president to NBC now is that Trump decided to fire Comey in connection with saying to himself that the Russia investigation was a made up story, and that it was in that context that he got Rosenstein to write a pretextual memo….
Trump’s idea of correcting the record was to say publicly exactly the thing about a law enforcement officer that makes his continued service in office impossible: That Trump had used his deputy attorney general as window dressing on a pre-cooked political decision to shut down an investigation involving himself, a decision for which he needed the patina of a high-minded rationale.
Once the President has said this about you—a law enforcement officer who works for him and who promised the Senate in confirmation hearings you would show independence—you have nothing left. These are the costs of working for Trump, and it took Rosenstein only two weeks to pay them.
The only decent course now is to name a special prosecutor and then resign.
I have no doubt that more news will be breaking all day long and into tonight. I’m already exhausted. What stories are you following today?
I woke up around 3AM and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I turned on my computer and opened Twitter. I wasn’t expecting breaking news, but I found it anyway. You’ve probably heard by now that James Comey was caught lying to Congress about Hillary’s emails.
FBI director James Comey generated national headlines last week with his dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, explaining his “incredibly painful” decision to go public about the Hillary Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.
Perhaps Comey’s most surprising revelation was that Huma Abedin — Weiner’s wife and a top Clinton deputy — had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Comey testified that Abedin had done this so that the disgraced former congressman could print them out for her boss….
Much of what Comey said about this was inaccurate. Now the FBI is trying to figure out what to do about it.
FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found. On Monday, the FBI was said to be preparing to correct the record by sending a letter to Congress later this week. But that plan now appears on hold, with the bureau undecided about what to do.
So how much did Comey exaggerate?
According to two sources familiar with the matter — including one in law enforcement — Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband for printing — not the “hundreds and thousands” cited by Comey. It does not appear Abedin made “a regular practice” of doing so. Other officials said it was likely that most of the emails got onto the computer as a result of backups of her Blackberry.
It was not clear how many, if any, of the forwarded emails were among the 12 “classified” emails Comey said had been found on Weiner’s laptop. None of the messages carried classified markings at the time they were sent.
WTF?! Has everyone in the federal government gone insane? How can we rely on Comey to properly investigate Trump and Russia after this? And why are we just learning about this?
More insanity, this time emanating from tRump.
For the Washington establishment, President Donald Trump’s decision to make General H.R. McMaster his national security adviser in February was a masterstroke. Here is a well-respected defense intellectual, praised by both parties, lending a steady hand to a chaotic White House. The grown-ups are back.
But inside the White House, the McMaster pick has not gone over well with the one man who matters most. White House officials tell me Trump himself has clashed with McMaster in front of his staff….
…White House officials…tell me this is not the sentiment the president has expressed recently in private. Trump was livid, according to three White House officials, after reading in the Wall Street Journal that McMaster had called his South Korean counterpart to assure him that the president’s threat to make that country pay for a new missile defense system was not official policy. These officials say Trump screamed at McMaster on a phone call, accusing him of undercutting efforts to get South Korea to pay its fair share.
This was not an isolated incident. Trump has complained in front of McMaster in intelligence briefings about “the general undermining my policy,” according to two White House officials. The president has given McMaster less face time. McMaster’s requests to brief the president before some press interviews have been declined. Over the weekend, McMaster did not accompany Trump to meet with Australia’s prime minister; the outgoing deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, attended instead.
I have no doubt that tRump would like to have Russian spy Mike Flynn back as National Security Adviser.
White House staff called the Prime Minister’s Office last month to urge Justin Trudeau to persuade President Donald Trump not to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to multiple Canadian government sources.
The unconventional diplomatic manoeuvre — approaching the head of a foreign government to influence your own boss — proved decisive, as Trump thereafter abandoned his threat to pull out of NAFTA unilaterally, citing the arguments made by Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as pivotal.
But the incident highlights the difficulties faced by governments all over the world when it comes to dealing with a president as volatile as Trump.
tRump is an embarrassment to the once-great United States of America. Read the whole pathetic story at the link.
In a brief defending its ban on citizens from six Muslim-majority countries, President Donald Trump’s Justice Department approvingly cited a segregation-era Supreme Court decision that allowed Jackson, Mississippi, to close public pools rather than integrate them.
In the early 1960s, courts ordered Jackson to desegregate its public parks, which included five swimming pools. Instead, the city decided to close the pools. Black residents of Jackson sued. But in 1971, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, decided that closing the pools rather than integrating them was just fine.
The dissents, even at the time, were furious. “May a State in order to avoid integration of the races abolish all of its public schools?” Justice William O. Douglas asked in his dissent.
“I had thought official policies forbidding or discouraging joint use of public facilities by Negroes and whites were at war with the Equal Protection Clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment, Justice Byron White wrote in another dissent.
How did the tRump lawyers use this case? The ruling argued that courts should not consider the motives for a government decision.
“It is difficult or impossible for any court to determine the ‘sole’ or ‘dominant’ motivation behind the choices of a group of legislators,” the majority opinion said. “Furthermore, there is an element of futility in a judicial attempt to invalidate a law because of the bad motives of its supporters.”
The Trump administration emphasizes this in its citation of the case, arguing that looking into “governmental purpose outside the operative terms of governmental action and official pronouncements” is “fraught with practical ‘pitfalls’ and ‘hazards’ that would make courts’ task ‘extremely difficult.’”
The tRump Justice Department is now an embarrassment too.
Other Insane News
I’m still not sure if this is a joke or not, but knowing the New York Times, it could very well be for real.
The suggestion was made in a column by Michael Kinsley, who used to be relatively sane: The Upside to the Presidential Twitter Feed.
Surely, if there is a “party line” among the establishment media in the United States, it is anti-Trump, not pro. That doesn’t make it wrong. In fact, it’s largely right. But the venom, the obsession, the knife-twisting are hard to understand.
It must be partly a matter of bad timing. Mr. Trump came along just as the mainstream media, especially newspapers, were trying to come to terms with the internet. Hoary concepts like “objectivity” and “balance” were giving way. This was a good thing, believe it or not. Reporters no longer had to pretend that after spending weeks or months on a story, they had emerged with no opinion about it. The word “I” could now be used to refer to oneself, rather than “a reporter.” Mr. Trump, already dislikable, became the first test case of the new mind-set.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, though, and even Donald Trump can’t be wrong all the time.
With that in mind, we’re looking for a few positive words about the president, and we’re asking for your help. This is not about Trump the family man. It’s not another forum for debating the issues. It is a place to point out positive things Mr. Trump has said or done from the viewpoint of The New York Times and its readers. (And don’t tell me Times readers are too diverse to classify. You know who you are.)
I’m pretty sure this is meant to be humorous, but it’s really not funny. I like this NYT column by David Leonhardt a little better: A French Lesson for the American Media.
The hacked emails from Emmanuel Macron’s French campaign appear to be spectacularly mundane, according to people who have read them. They include briefings on issues, personal exchanges and discussions of the weather. No doubt they also include some embarrassing thoughts, but so far they are notably lacking in scandal.
Does this description remind you of anything?
Ah, yes. Last year, Russian agents stole thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and published them via WikiLeaks. The dominant feature of the emails was their ordinariness.
They contained no evidence of lawbreaking, major hypocrisy or tawdry scandal. Even the worst revelation — a Democratic official and CNN contributor fed a town hall question to the campaign in advance — qualified as small beer. Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign engaged in much more consequential debate skulduggery. The Clinton emails were instead full of staff members jockeying for position, agonizing over strategy, complaining about their bosses and offering advice to those same bosses….
The overhyped coverage of the hacked emails was the media’s worst mistake in 2016 — one sure to be repeated if not properly understood. Television was the biggest offender, but print media was hardly blameless. The sensationalism exacerbated a second problem with the coverage: the obsession with Clinton’s private email server.
Apparently, there are sane people in the French media.
Late Friday, two days before the election, hackers released the Macron campaign emails. French media laws are stricter than American laws, and government officials argued against publication of the hacked information. But only the campaigns themselves were legally barred from making statements during the final weekend. Publications could have reported on the substance of the emails.
They largely did not. “It was a manipulation attempt — people trying to manipulate our voting process,” Gilles van Kote, deputy chief editor of Le Monde, told me.
French journalists rightly did not focus on what seemed like big news, because the emails surely did. They evaluated what truly was major news. Material released by a hostile foreign government, with the aim of confusing voters and evidently without significant new information, failed to qualify. Van Kote said reporters are continuing to read the emails to see if they warrant future stories.
NBC News has a story on how Bernie Sanders, who is not a Democrat, has thrown the Democratic Party into chaos: Democrats Stumble Into Abortion Rift. I’ll let you read that at the link if you’re interested. Here’s one more Sanders story, because Karma is so satisfying. Jane’s problems are now national news.
Federal investigators are looking into allegations that Sen. Bernie Sanders‘s (I-Vt.) wife, Jane Sanders, falsified loan documents while she served as the president of Burlington College, according to multiple reports.
The small Vermont liberal arts school closed down in May 2016, after going bankrupt and failing to meet accreditation standards.
The college began to face financial difficulties during Sanders’s tenure from 2004 to 2011, falling $10 million into debt when the school purchased a new campus in 2010.
Sanders has been accused of falsifying the information on the loan documents in order to expand the college grounds.
The VTdigger.org reported that some of the donors Sanders appealed to for help with loans are now in contact with the FBI and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
Sanders left her leadership role in 2011 for undisclosed reasons.
She claimed the college could count on $2.6 million in donations to pay for the purchased land, according to a 2010 loan application. But she ultimately raised only a fourth of that, making $676,000 in donations over the next four years, putting the college into bankruptcy in May 2016.
What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!
As usual these days, I don’t know where to begin. We are living through something so strange and unprecedented that I just find myself shaking my head at each new revelation. Once again, I’m going to illustrate this post with baby animal pics, just because.
One crazy-making thing for me is the fact that the Senate is currently grilling a candidate for the Supreme Court who has been nominated by a man who may have committed treason. Neil Gorsuch should not be approved until the investigation of Trump’s involvement with Russia’s interference in the election is complete. I’m actually having difficulty watching the Gorsuch hearing. The word I think of when I look at and listen to him is “oily.” I hope some of you are following the questioning and can share your impressions.
I did watch the entire “Comey hearing” yesterday, and I’m still processing the latest revelations. I expect the press will be on this now and news outlets will compete to give us new information on a daily basis. We may have to function during political chaos for months and years to come. I can only hope the Republicans begin to develop spines as the 2018 election gets closer.
While the House Intelligence Committee testimony by FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers was still going on, White House spokesman Sean Spicer bizarrely continued to defend Trump’s accusation that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. He also claimed that Michael Flynn was only “volunteer” for the Trump campaign and that Paul Manafort had only a “limited role.”
During the campaign, Flynn was a top adviser and, at one point, was vetted to become Trump’s running mate. He later accepted a job as national security adviser, one of the most important roles in the West Wing, before resigning 24 days into the new administration, after it was revealed that he had not been entirely forthcoming about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
“General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign,” Spicer said on Monday, brushing off concerns that Flynn had been a high-level Trump campaign adviser with any degree of influence while maintaining ties to Russia.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer incorrectly diminished the role of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, remarks made at the same time as a House Intelligence Committee hearing investigated whether campaign aides colluded with Russia during last year’s presidential race.Spicer, pressed on a number of Trump associates’ connections to Russian operatives, claimed Manafort played a “limited role (in the campaign) for a very limited amount of time.”
Manafort was hired by the Trump campaign in March 2016 to lead the delegate operation on the floor of the Republican National Committee in Cleveland.
Manafort was promoted in May to campaign chairman and chief strategist. And when campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired in June, Manafort — who butted heads with Lewandowski — was widely seen as the campaign’s top official.
Manafort is largely credited with securing Trump the Republican nomination, through a mix of deep ties in the Republican establishment and tireless organizing to win the Republican delegate fight which almost derailed Trump one year ago.
I wonder why the White House is so desperate to disown Manafort, who is a close friend of Trump buddy Roger Stone and has lived in Trump Tower since for more than a decade? The Washington Post may have provided a partial answer this morning: New documents show Trump aide laundered payments from party with Moscow ties, lawmaker alleges.
KIEV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian lawmaker released new financial documents Tuesday allegedly showing that a former campaign chairman for President Trump laundered payments from the party of a disgraced ex-leader of Ukraine using offshore accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan.
The new documents, if legitimate, stem from business ties between the Trump aide, Paul Manafort, and the party of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who enjoyed Moscow’s backing while he was in power. He has been in hiding in Russia since being overthrown by pro-Western protesters in 2014, and is wanted in Ukraine on corruption charges.
The latest documents were released just hours after the House Intelligence Committee questioned FBI Director James B. Comey about possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow. The hearing that also touched on Manafort’s work for Yanukovych’s party in Ukraine.
Comey declined to say whether the FBI is coordinating with Ukraine on an investigation of the alleged payments to Manafort.
More details at the link.
Another Russia fan who is still in the Trump administration is good old Rex Tillerson. Have you hear about the recent changes to his travel schedule? This seems odd after what we heard at the Intel Committee hearing yesterday.
America’s smaller European allies have expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s mixed signals on whether he would protect them against Russia.
The uncertainty threatened to deepen late Monday when U.S. officials said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to skip what would have been his first official meeting with NATO in April.
However, Tillerson will travel later in the month to a series of unspecified meetings in Russia, a State Department spokesman confirmed to NBC News.
Here’s an interesting opinion piece by Walter Shapiro at Roll Call: James Comey and the Art of the Shiv.
Before Comey returned to his offstage role, he dropped enough bombshells to solidify his reputation as the most significant FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover. Joined by his crusty sidekick, Adm. Michael Rogers, who heads the National Security Agency, Comey gave an artful lesson in how to stick a shiv into a sitting president without ever raising his voice or making a specific accusation.
Early in the hearing, Comey shredded Trump’s cockamamie Twitter claim that Barack Obama had wiretapped him before the election. As Comey solemnly stated, “I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”
Comey had arrived at the hearing with his own smoking gun that he brandished at the beginning of his opening statement — official confirmation that the FBI is investigating “any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russian efforts.”
Comey’s offensive against the White House even extended to refuting a presidential tweet about the ongoing hearing. Connecticut Democratic Rep. Jim Himes asked Comey to respond to a Trump tweet claiming, “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process.” Comey dismissed Trump’s fanciful version of the truth by saying, “It wasn’t certainly our intention to say that today.”
Shapiro thinks Comey’s “role in upending” Hillary Clinton gives him credibility against Trump. I’m not so sure. Still, the piece is worth a read.
This morning Trump went to Capitol Hill in person and tried to convince hostile House Republicans to vote for his disastrous health care bill. If this is how he negotiates deals, it’s surprised he didn’t have more than 6 bankruptcies.
The Washington Post: Trump to GOP critics of health care bill: ‘I’m gonna come after you.’
Assuring Republicans they would gain seats if they passed the bill, the president told Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, to stand up and take some advice.
“I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’” said the president, according to several Republican lawmakers who attended the meeting. “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.”
But after the meeting, Meadows told reporters that the president had not made the sale, that the call-out was good-natured, and that conservative hold-outs would continue pressing for a tougher bill.
“I’m still a ‘no,’” he said. “I’ve had no indication that any of my Freedom Caucus colleagues have switched their votes.”
House Republicans made some changes to the bill yesterday, but according to Ezra Klein: The new Republican health care bill doesn’t fix the old bill’s problems.
There are three problems you could have imagined the manager’s amendment to the American Health Care Act trying to fix:
- The Congressional Budget Office estimates the AHCA will lead 24 million more Americans to go uninsured, push millions more into the kind of super-high-deductible care Republicans criticized in the Affordable Care Act, and all that will happen while the richest Americans get hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. Voters — including the downscale rural whites who propelled Donald Trump into the presidency — aren’t going to like any of that.
- Virtually every health policy analyst from every side of the aisle thinks the AHCA is poorly constructed and will lead to consequences even its drafters didn’t intend. Avik Roy argues there are huge implicit tax increases for the poor who get jobs that lift them out of Medicaid’s ranks. Bob Laszewski thinks the plan will drive healthy people out of the insurance markets, creating even worse premium increases than we’re seeing under Obamacare. Implementing this bill, as drafted, would be a disaster.
- As written, the AHCA is unlikely to pass the House, and so GOP leadership needs to give House conservatives more reasons to vote for the bill, even if those reasons leave the legislation less likely to succeed in the Senate. For this bill to fail in the House would embarrass Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump.
Of the three problems in the AHCA, the third is by far the least serious — but it’s the only one the manager’s amendment even attempts to solve. These aren’t changes that address the core problems the GOP health care bill will create for voters, insurers, or states; instead, it’s legislation that tries to solve some of the problems the bill creates for conservative legislators. It might yet fall short on even that count.
This is a trap for Republicans. Both the process and the substance of the American Health Care Act have revealed a political party that has lost sight of the fact that the true test of legislation isn’t whether it passes, but whether it works.
One more from Mother Jones on the Trump kleptocracy:
The week after Donald Trump’s inauguration, as questions swirled about the ethics ramifications of his refusal to divest from his business holdings, the Trump Organization announced that it had created a system for vetting new deals that could benefit the president. The company said it had tapped George Sorial, a Trump Organization executive, to be chief compliance counsel and Bobby Burchfield, a Washington-based corporate lawyer, to serve as an outside ethics adviser who would scrutinize new Trump company transactions for potential conflicts of interest. Trump’s private lawyer, Sheri Dillon, had pledged in early January that Trump would “build in protections” to assure Americans that his actions as president “are for their benefit and not to support his financial interests.” But two months into Trump’s presidency, there are serious questions about the rigor and transparency of the Trump Organization’s vetting process.
The first deal completed after Trump’s swearing-in suggested the vetting procedures are weak. This transaction, as Mother Jones reported, was the sale of a $15.8 million condo to a Chinese American businesswoman who peddles access to Chinese elites and who has ties to a front group established by China’s military intelligence apparatus. Angela Chen’s connections to Chinese officials and military intelligence evidently weren’t a cause for concern to the Trump Organization. The condo sale went through on February 21, with Chen apparently paying the $15.8 million in cash—roughly $2 million more than a unit one floor below. (Chen had lived in the same Trump-owned Park Avenue building in a smaller apartment for years. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump lived in the same building before their move to Washington.) Contacted by Mother Jones earlier this month, Burchfield, the Trump Organization’s outside ethics adviser, declined to comment on the sale or how it was vetted.
Robert Weissman, president of the good-government group Public Citizen, says the Chen deal raises questions about whether any real vetting happened. “Here, where we actually need extreme vetting, it appears to be absent,” he says. “It’s absolutely unclear if Burchfield or anybody else is doing anything pursuant to what they alleged they would do. And if they are, we don’t know what it is. But we should not presume it’s happening.”
On Thursday, Burchfield, a veteran corporate litigator who specializes in political law and largely represents Republican clients, declined to comment regarding the vetting process for new Trump deals. He would not talk about any transactions approved or denied since he began advising the Trump Organization. At Trump’s January 11 press conference, Dillon promised that the outside ethics adviser would provide “written approval” of any new deal, ostensibly explaining why a transaction does not pose a conflict for the president. Burchfield has not publicly disclosed details about the written approval process.
Read more details at Mother Jones.
What stories are you following today?
That vintage cartoon panel sure would have made me laugh a year ago…I would have used it in one of my cartoon mash-ups, depicting the populous fleeing a GOP debate. Now I can only think how prophetic that little drawn rectangle frame could be. If I had a way, I’d be gone. Wouldn’t you?
So, soon Comey is supposed to come out and speak.
Before I get to the political cartoons, let me put a couple more tweets here:
Below is the copy of that above link, via TwitLonger:
Now the cartoons.
The one thing I love about the cartoonist Pat Bagley, if you follow his twitter…he will post many comments and statements aside from his wonderful cartoons.
Here is a link to the past 10 cartoons by Pat Bagley:
That’s all, because it is 1pm…go time?