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.
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.
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.
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 Comey, etc.
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:
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?
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.
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?
The rest of the illustrations in this post are from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
What is going on with MSNBC? First they hire Hugh Hewitt and Peggy Noonan, then they dump Joan Walsh two days before Christmas.
Decision makers at MSNBC are taking a beating on Twitter after it was revealed late Friday night that they had fired longtime contributor Joan Walsh just days before Christmas.
Taking to Twitter on Saturday morning, Walsh, confirmed her dismissal from the network, writing, “So it’s true: after 12 years on MSNBC, six on contract, I learned Friday night they are not renewing. I’ve given my heart and soul to the network, from the George W. Bush years through today. I’m proud of the work I did.”
She later added that the firing came out of the blue.
“Yes, it’s Christmas weekend,” she tweeted. “I was baking pies with my daughter, who is home for the holidays, when I got the news. It didn’t feel too good. But all of your support helps, a lot. I’m grateful to the people who have fought for me.”
Walsh, who has a large following both online and since she was once an editor at Salon and The Nation, received a wave of support with #KeepJoanWalsh trending on Twitter, as the network was attacked for dropping the liberal commentator while still employing conservative Hugh Hewitt who inexplicably was given his own show.
Why would MSNBC keep Peggy Noonan over Joan Walsh? Are Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell next? Shame on MSNBC!
As an antidote to all the bad news, here’s an interesting long read from the Literary Hub: Charles Dickens Had Serious Beef With America and Its Bad Manners and How It Led to His Writing A Christmas Carol.
Charles Dickens’ unfettered joy at first arriving in Boston Harbor in 1842 reads like Ebenezer Scrooge’s awakening on Christmas morning. Biographer Peter Ackroyd reports that he flew up the steps of the Tremont House Hotel, sprang into the hall, and greeted a curious throng with a bright “Here we are!” He took to the streets that twinkling midnight in his shaggy fur coat, galloping over frozen snow, shouting out the names on shop signs, pulling bell-handles of doors as he passed—giddy with laughter—and even screamed with (one imagines) astonishment and delight at the sight of the old South Church. He had set at last upon the shores of “the Republic of my imagination.”
America returned his ardor. Though not quite 30, Dickens was a literary rock star, the most famous writer in the world, who landed like a conquering hero in a country swept up in an extreme “Boz-o-mania”—the hype of his tour then unprecedented in American history. He wrote his best friend, John Forster, that he didn’t know how to describe “the crowds that pour in and out the whole day; of the people that line the streets when I go out; of the cheering when I went to the theatre; of the copies of verse, letters of congratulations, welcomes of all kinds, balls, dinners, assemblies without end?” When Bostonians renamed their city “Boz-town,” New Yorkers determined to “outdollar . . . and outshine them.” Their great Boz Ball boasted flags, flowers, festoons, wreaths, a huge portrait of the author with a bald eagle overhead, chandeliers hung by gilded ropes, 22 tableaux from the great author’s works, and 3,000 guests, who consumed 50 hams, 50 tongues, 38,000 stewed and pickled oysters, and 4,000 candy kisses. “If I should live to grow old,” Dickens said, “the scenes of this and other evenings will shine as brightly to my dull eyes 50 years hence as now.” [….]
His love affair with an idealized America was short-lived and hard-felt. Apart from the country’s great writers, he found Americans malodorous, ill-mannered and invading his privacy. “I am so enclosed and hemmed about with people, that I am exhausted from want of air,” Dickens complained to Forster. “I go to church for quiet, and there is a violent rush to the neighborhood of the pew I sit in. I take my seat in a railroad car, and the very conductor won’t leave me alone. I can’t drink a glass of water without having a hundred people looking down my throat.” On a tour of the Great Lakes he woke to a crowd gawking through his steamboat cabin window while his wife slept and he washed.
He was repulsed by Americans’ table manners and the tobacco spit everywhere he looked—on even the sidewalks of the nation’s capital, where he found party politics contaminating everything, its leaders “the lice of God’s creation,” and “despicable trickery at elections; under-handed tamperings with public officers; and cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous newspapers for shields, and hired pens for daggers.”
Even worse, everyone wanted a piece of the action, from Tiffany’s selling unauthorized copies of his bust, to a barber selling locks of his hair. He found Americans vulgar and insensitive, braggarts, hypocrites, and acquisitive beyond all imagining. “I never knew what it was to feel disgust and contempt,” Dickens said, “‘till I travelled in America.” When he departed in June, he left behind all notions of an Arcadian realm he now regarded as “a vast countinghouse” full of nothing but “humbugs and bores.” (See: A Christmas Carol.)
It sounds a lot like Donald Trump’s American, doesn’t it?
Speaking of Dear Leader, he’s now down in Palm Beach where his handlers will be unable to keep him from talking to his wingnut pals and making impulsive decisions.
Minutes before President Donald Trump departed the White House on Friday for his languid Florida hideaway, he appeared to exasperate aides who had hoped he might avoid holding court with the press.
“Helicopter is running out of gas,” his chief of staff, John Kelly, announced, not-so-gently nudging the assembled reporters and cameramen from the Oval Office as Trump continued to happily answer their questions.
White House aides, wishing for the President to depart Washington without venting about the Russia probe or his other political woes, were largely successful in avoiding pratfalls that might obscure the Republicans’ tax victory this week.
Vacationing in Florida for the first extended period in months, however, Trump isn’t likely to find himself under as strict restraints. At Mar-a-Lago, an oceanfront paean to Trump himself, the President is prone to holding court at will, consulting advisers both real and self-imagined, and basking in the knowledge that he’s the only man in charge.
Topics on the table include the future of key Cabinet officials like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Middle East policy and the makeup of his political team.
And of course the Russia investigation. Read the rest to learn who’s in the “kitchen cabinet.”
I wonder if Trump cares about this from The Washington Post: Russian submarines are prowling around vital undersea cables. It’s making NATO nervous.
Russian submarines have dramatically stepped up activity around undersea data cables in the North Atlantic, part of a more aggressive naval posture that has driven NATO to revive a Cold War-era command, according to senior military officials.
The apparent Russian focus on the cables, which provide Internet and other communications connections to North America and Europe, could give the Kremlin the power to sever or tap into vital data lines, the officials said. Russian submarine activity has increased to levels unseen since the Cold War, they said, sparking hunts in recent months for the elusive watercraft.
“We are now seeing Russian underwater activity in the vicinity of undersea cables that I don’t believe we have ever seen,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Andrew Lennon, the commander of NATO’s submarine forces. “Russia is clearly taking an interest in NATO and NATO nations’ undersea infrastructure.”
NATO has responded with plans to reestablish a command post, shuttered after the Cold War, to help secure the North Atlantic. NATO allies are also rushing to boost anti-submarine warfare capabilities and to develop advanced submarine-detecting planes.
Yesterday we learned that federal prosecutors in New York are looking into Jared Kushner’s finances.
The New York Times: Prosecutors Said to Seek Kushner Records From Deutsche Bank.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have sought bank records about entities associated with the family company of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, according to four people briefed on the matter.
In recent weeks, prosecutors from the United States attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, the giant German financial institution that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner family real estate business.
Mr. Kushner, who was the Kushner Companies’ chief executive until January, still owns part of the business after selling some of his stake….
There is no indication that the subpoena is related to the investigation being conducted by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russian meddling in the 2016 United States presidential election. Three prosecutors on Mr. Mueller’s team previously worked at the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn, one as recently as this year. Federal prosecutors around the country typically check with Justice Department headquarters when their investigations may overlap.
The Brooklyn United States attorney has been investigating the Kushner businesses’ use of a program known as EB-5. It offers visas to overseas investors in exchange for $500,000 investments in real estate projects.
So if Trump pardons Jared, he’ll still be in legal jeopardy. Good!
There’s tons more news even though we’re going into a big holiday weekend. That’s the new normal in Trump’s America. What stories are you following today?
I’m having another one of those mornings when my head is spinning from trying to sort out all the nutty news out there. We truly are living in Bizarro World now. If you want proof, just try reading Carter Page’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee (pdf). I’ve read some of it, and hope to read more this afternoon. Some insights journalists have noted:
The Washington Post: Trump adviser sent email describing ‘private conversation’ with Russian official.
Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to President Trump’s campaign whose visit to Moscow during the election has drawn scrutiny, sent an email to fellow Trump aides during his trip describing “a private conversation” with a senior Russian official who spoke favorably of the Republican candidate, according to records released late Monday by congressional investigators.
The email appeared to contradict earlier statements by Page, who had said he had only Page also wrote that he had been provided “incredible insights and outreach” by Russian lawmakers and “senior members” of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration during the trip.
The email appeared to contradict earlier statements by Page, who had said he had only exchanged brief greetings with the senior Russian official, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, after he delivered a speech at a Russian university.
In his July 2016 note, Page wrote that Dvorkovich had “expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work together toward devising better solutions in response to a vast range of current international problems.”
Page had withheld the email from the Committee, claiming a 5th Amendment right to turn over some information while holding back anything that would incriminate him. Page was unaware that the Committee already had his emails.
Page’s email was read aloud by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) when Page met behind closed doors last week with the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 president election….
Confronted with his email, Page told the committee that he had not meant that he met with any officials but rather that he had learned of their views about the U.S. election from local media and scholars. He maintained that his interaction with Dvorkovich consisted of a brief greeting, and that he had learned his views on the campaign while listening to Dvorkovich’s public address. Page told the committee that he had not worked with the Russians to hack emails or otherwise influence the election.
OK . . . ?? Page’s testimony reads like something written out of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.
Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider: Carter Page’s testimony is filled with bombshells — and supports key portions of the Steele dossier.
Page revealed during his testimony that he met with both members of Russia’s presidential administration and with the head of investor relations at the state-owned Russian oil giant Rosneft during his trip to Moscow last July.
He also congratulated members of the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team on July 14 for their “excellent work” on the “Ukraine amendment” — a reference to the Trump campaign’s decision to “intervene” to water down a proposed amendment to the GOP’s Ukraine platform….
Page also revealed that Trump campaign adviser Sam Clovis had asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement upon joining the campaign — and that he discussed his July Moscow trip with Clovis both before he went and after he returned.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff confronted Page with an email he wrote on July 8 from Moscow to Trump campaign adviser J.D. Gordon saying that he had received “incredible insights and outreach from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the presidential administration here.”
Former British spy Christopher Steele wrote in the dossier that an “official close to Presidential Administration Head, S. IVANOV, cornfided in a compatriot that a senior colleague in the Internal Political Department of the PA, DIVYEKIN (nfd) also had met secretly with PAGE on his recent visit.”
According to that official in the dossier, Diveykin told Page that the Kremlin had a dossier of kompromat on Hillary Clinton that they wanted to give to the Trump campaign.
Read the rest at Business Insider.
Former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page, who has come under scrutiny in the investigation of Russian election interference, told a House committee that he sought permission for a July 2016 trip to Moscow from senior Trump campaign officials, and reported to other Trump officials about the trip when he returned.
It’s long been known that Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016, but he has said it was in his private capacity, unrelated to his role with the Trump campaign.
Page, whose sworn testimony was released Monday night, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that he sought permission to make the trip from campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and also notified Hope Hicks, who is now the White House communications director.
Lewandowski told Page he was clear to go on the trip as long as the travel was not associated with his work on the campaign, Page told the committee.
Page also acknowledged that he had been aware that another volunteer campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had been meeting with a professor with links to the Kremlin, according to the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Check out this lengthy Twitter thread for more details on Page’s testimony.
And a reminder:
Prior to Carter Page’s bravura piece of surreal performance art on Monday before the House Select Committee On Intelligence, there was Casey Stengel in 1958, that was looking into removing professional baseball’s exemption from the country’s anti-trust regulations. And then, 15 years later, Tony Ulasewicz, the hangdog ex-NYPD cop-turned-Nixonian bagman, explained to Sam Ervin and the special committee looking into Watergate how he handled the payoffs to the original Watergate burglars—including the piquant detail that, while he was roaming Washington with paper bags full of cash, he wore a subway motorman’s change dispenser on his belt because he was doing so much business in public phone booths.
But neither of them came anywhere close to the kung-fu fighting that Page did with the English language on Monday. The committee wisely released a transcript of Page’s testimony, and chunks of it were flying around the Intertoobz all Monday night. I found that the best way to read it was to dim all the lights and play all my Hawkwind albums really loud.
There’s just so much chewy goodness. For example, Page refers to the “so-called Putin regime,” but has no compunction of referring to “the Obama-Clinton regime” without the qualifying modifier. He also seems to believe that the Senate “Gang of Eight” was an actual gang, with Harry Reid as its jefe. His testimony begins with a long letter he’d written in response to the committee. Here, from that letter, he presents as evidence that he and the Russians were guiltless of ratfcking the 2016 election the fact that he is not yet wealthy.
If our government had a better understanding of Russia and the way business is now conducted in Russia, the 2016 Dodgy Dossier which alleged that I should have received a multi-million dollar bribe after President Trump’s victory in November would have been easily dismissed as a work of fiction by these supposed subject-matter experts.
The letter also refers to the “gangster tactics” of “the transnational veritable organized crime network that Reid leveraged during the Clinton/Obama regime,” so you can pretty much figure out that we’ve turned a pretty dark bend in a pretty strange river.
Read the rest at the Esquire link above.
Other Bizarro World News:
Something strange is happening in Saudi Arabia and it seems likely Trump and Jared Kushner are involved. David Ignatius wrote on Sunday:
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says he’s cracking down on corruption. But the sweeping arrests of cabinet ministers and senior princes Saturday night looked to many astonished Arab observers like a bold but risky consolidation of power.
MBS, as the headstrong 32-year-old ruler is known, struck at some of the kingdom’s most prominent business and political names in a new bid to gain political control and drive change in the oil kingdom. By the count of the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel, the arrests included 11 princes, four ministers and several dozen others.
“He’s creating a new Saudi Arabia,” said one Saudi business leader contacted Sunday. He noted that the anti-corruption campaign follows other aggressive but controversial moves, including a royal decree allowing women to drive and limits on the religious police.
“This is very risky,” the business leader said, because MBS is now challenging senior princes and religious conservatives simultaneously. The executive, who strongly supports MBS’s liberalization efforts, worried that “he’s fighting too many wars at once.”
This followed a secret visit by Kushner in October.
MBS is emboldened by strong support from President Trump and his inner circle, who see him as a kindred disrupter of the status quo — at once a wealthy tycoon and a populist insurgent. It was probably no accident that last month, Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, made a personal visit to Riyadh. The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy.
President Donald Trump again showed how quickly his tweets can outrun U.S. foreign policy planning, after he backed Saudi Arabia’s king and crown prince over the arrests of dozens of officials before the State Department had completed its review of the moves.
While Trump had talked with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about Saudi Arabia as they toured Tokyo together Nov. 5 and 6, there was no formal consultation before he tweeted early Tuesday that King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman “know exactly what they are doing.” [….] A second tweet said “some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!”
Trump and Kushner are running their own foreign policy out of the White House, probably based on their business interests.
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE Pompeo met late last month with a former U.S. intelligence official who has become an advocate for a disputed theory that the theft of the Democratic National Committee’s emails during the 2016 presidential campaign was an inside job, rather than a hack by Russian intelligence.
Pompeo met on October 24 with William Binney, a former National Security Agency official-turned-whistleblower who co-authored an analysispublished by a group of former intelligence officials that challenges the U.S. intelligence community’s official assessment that Russian intelligence was behind last year’s theft of data from DNC computers. Binney and the other former officials argue that the DNC data was “leaked,” not hacked, “by a person with physical access” to the DNC’s computer system.
In an interview with The Intercept, Binney said Pompeo told him that President Donald Trump had urged the CIA director to meet with Binney to discuss his assessment that the DNC data theft was an inside job. During their hour-long meeting at CIA headquarters, Pompeo said Trump told him that if Pompeo “want[ed] to know the facts, he should talk to me,” Binney said.
A senior intelligence source confirmed that Pompeo met with Binney to discuss his analysis, and that the CIA director held the meeting at Trump’s urging.
Pompeo and Trump are apparently running an alternative CIA investigation!
Finally, The Guardian reports from the Paradise Papers: Offshore cash helped fund Steve Bannon’s attacks on Hillary Clinton.
Eighteen months before guiding Donald Trump to election victory, Steve Bannon delivered the opening shot in the ruthless Republican campaign to paint their Democratic opponent as corrupt.
The future White House chief strategist produced a book in May 2015 accusing Hillary Clinton of trading favours for donations to her charitable foundation. Its questionable central charge, on the sale of a uranium company to Russia, recently became the subject of a House inquiry and feverish talk on conservative media.
But the financial arrangements of another foundation, which bankrolled Bannon’s creation of the book, Clinton Cash, have received less scrutiny.
Leaked documents and newly obtained public filings show how the billionaire Mercer family built a $60m war chest for conservative causes inside their family foundation by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid US tax.
The offshore vehicle was part of a network of companies in the Atlantic tax haven of Bermuda led by Robert Mercer, the wealthy hedge-fund executive and Bannon patron whose spending helped put Trump in the White House and aided a resurgence of the Republican right.
Read the rest at The Guardian link.
So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?
It appears that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is getting closer to finding crimes committed foreign persons and by Trump’s closest advisers; and Jared Kushner may be at the center of it all. For Trump, the shit is about to get real.
It all centers around Facebook and microtargeting. As I’m sure you know, Mueller recently obtained a warrant for the content of ads that Facebook sold to a Russian source. CNN has the latest this morning: Facebook handed Russia-linked ads over to Mueller under search warrant.
Facebook gave Mueller and his team copies of ads and related information it discovered on its site linked to a Russian troll farm, as well as detailed information about the accounts that bought the ads and the way the ads were targeted at American Facebook users, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.The disclosure, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, may give Mueller’s office a fuller picture of who was behind the ad buys and how the ads may have influenced voter sentiment during the 2016 election.
“We continue to work with the appropriate investigative authorities,” Facebook said in a statement to CNN.
Facebook informed Congress last week that it had identified 3,000 ads that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to fake accounts. Those accounts, in turn, were linked to the pro-Kremlin troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.
This is significant, because it indicates that Mueller has evidence of crimes related to the Facebook data. Business Insider: Mueller just obtained a warrant that could change the entire nature of the Russia investigation.
FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the “inauthentic” accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016 election.
Legal experts say the revelation has enormous implications for the trajectory of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, and whether Moscow had any help from President Donald Trump’s campaign team.
“This is big news — and potentially bad news for the Russian election interference ‘deniers,'” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent.
Rangappa, now an associate dean at Yale Law School, explained that to obtain a search warrant a prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that there is reason to believe a crime has been committed. The prosecutor then has to show that the information being sought will provide evidence of that crime….
“The key here…is that Mueller clearly already has enough information on these accounts — and their link to a potential crime to justify forcing [Facebook] to give up the info,” she said. “That means that he has uncovered a great deal of evidence through other avenues of Russian election interference.”
It also means that Mueller is no longer looking at Russia’s election interference from a strict counterintelligence standpoint — rather, he now believes he may be able to obtain enough evidence to charge specific foreign entities with a crime.
Read more in this Twitter thread–click to read the rest:
And who was in charge of the data operation for the Trump campaign? Jared Kushner. He revealed a lot about how he did it in a Forbes article back in May 2017: Jared Kushner In His Own Words On The Trump Data Operation The FBI Is Reportedly Probing. A couple of excerpts:
— “We found that Facebook and digital targeting were the most effective ways to reach the audiences. After the primary, we started ramping up because we knew that doing a national campaign is different than doing a primary campaign. That was when we formalized the system because we had to ramp up for digital fundraising. We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world. And I asked them how to scale this stuff. Doing it state by state is not that hard. But scaling is a very, very hard thing. They gave me a lot of their subcontractors and I built in Austin a data hub that would complement the RNC’s data hub. We had about 100 people in that office, which nobody knew about, until towards the end. We used that as the nerve center that drove a lot of the deployment of our ground game resources….
— “We played Moneyball, where we were asking, ‘Which states are will be the most cost effective—ROI per electoral vote.’ We used a lot things to get much more bang for the buck… We got rid of a lot of the political people. That’s not who we hired. Our best people were mostly people who volunteered pro bono, people from the business world, people from nontraditional fields. We could squeeze the margin so that nobody was getting rich on it. And we only had people who were doing it for the right reasons, not because they wanted to go onto the next campaign, but because they felt passionately about getting Donald Trump elected.”
Yesterday Vanity Fair published a piece by Chris Smith that connects a lot of dots: Did Jared Kushner’s Data Operation Help Select Facebook Targets for the Russians?
Kushner’s chat with Forbes has provided a veritable bakery’s worth of investigatory bread crumbs to follow. Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.
Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.” (Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a request for comment.) ….
No evidence has emerged to link Kushner, Cambridge Analytica, or Manafort to the Russian election-meddling enterprise; all have denied colluding with foreign agents. (Kushner’s representatives declined to comment for this article. Manafort’s spokesman could not be reached.) Yet analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. “Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible,” said Mike Carpenter, an Obama administration assistant defense secretary who specialized in Russia and Eastern Europe. “But that’s not how they do this. And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”
Click on the Vanity Fair link to read the rest.
Darren Bolding, chief technology officer of Cambridge Analytica, told the crowd at the third annual Internet Summit in San Francisco on Thursday that “algorithms will find the worst in us if you let them go nuts.”
His comments came during an interview onstage with Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig in front of several hundred people gathered to hear him discuss the campaign. The interview was led by Matthew Prince, the CEO of internet service provider Cloudflare, which removed a white supremacist website from its network in the wake of Trump’s comments after a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Bolding — who worked at the Republican National Committee before joining Cambridge in January of 2017 — said that the RNC used 15 “issue models” to target political ads at Facebook users during the 2016 U.S. election campaign….The event came as Facebook faces growing criticism to release more details on the ads it sent to users that it says were bought by Russians looking to influence U.S. voters.
The ads were targeted using the same automated Facebook system used by Cambridge Analytica, and for the same purpose — to influence the U.S. presidential election.
And that’s not the only Russia Investigation story that broke yesterday.
Bloomberg: Russia Laundering Probe Puts Trump Tower Meeting in New Light. The Russian lawyer who met with Don Jr., Kushner and Paul Manafort in June 2016 was also involved in a huge money laundering case–could getting rid of that case have been the quid pro quo for Russian help in getting Trump elected?
when she stepped into Trump Tower, [Natalia] Veselnitskaya was also representing a client ensnared in a long-running U.S. investigation into an alleged web of Russian money-laundering. That criminal inquiry, opened by federal prosecutors in New York in 2013 and previously unreported, is still active, according to people familiar with the probe. There was no mention of an ongoing criminal inquiry when the U.S. settled a related civil lawsuit against Veselnitskaya’s client in May.
The outline of the criminal investigation, stretching from Switzerland to Cyprus, is laid out deep within the 734 filings in the civil case. Several countries have supplied documents to the U.S., as have Deutsche Bank AG, Citigroup Inc. and other global banks that aren’t targets. U.S. prosecutors in the case are seeking to track parts of more than $200 million they say left Russia after a massive fraud, and to identify who was involved in the scheme.
The revelation adds a new element to the Trump Tower meeting, which has emerged as a focus of congressional investigators and a U.S. special counsel inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Recall that Trump fired former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had brought the case in 2013 and later the Justice Department settle the case for peanuts:
After years of court wrangling over the civil case, the Prevezon matter was set for trial in May 2017, promising a public view of prosecutors’ full allegations about the Russian money flows. But just days before opening arguments, the U.S. announced it had settled the case for $5.9 million.
The prosecutors called it a victory. So did Prevezon lawyer Gay, who called the U.S. settlement “almost an apology by the government.”
Several Democratic lawmakers looked at the Prevezon settlement in a new light two months later, when news emerged about the Veselnitskaya meeting in Trump Tower. In a letter, they asked whether the Russian lawyer, or members of the Trump team, may have put pressure on prosecutors in the matter.
Natasha Bertrand has more at Business Insider: New details about major Russian money-laundering investigation raise the stakes of Trump Tower meeting.
The criminal investigation had not yet been disclosed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Bharara in March, and there was no mention of it when the civil case was settled in May for $5.9 million.
Veselnitskaya has staunchly denied discussing the Prevezon case during the Trump Tower meeting. But the developments suggest the stakes for her client were higher than previously known.
In September 2016, Bharara had issued a grand-jury subpoena to Andrei Alekseevich Pavlov — a person “central to the Government’s case against Prevezon,” according to an emergency appeal filed at the time by Prevezon counsel Michael Mukasey, who wanted to depose him.
Citigroup, Deutsche Bank AG, UBS AG, and TD Bank were also issued grand-jury subpoenas, according to Bloomberg, which did not provide further details.
Grand-jury testimonies are a key stage in a federal criminal investigation. The subpoena issued by Bharara to Pavlov, and provided to Business Insider on Friday, ordered him to hand over documents related to a series of cases connected to the Prevezon investigation.
The subpoena also asked Pavlov to provide “all non-privileged correspondence” with Veselnitskaya and others relevant to the case.
This was all short-circuited when the DOJ settled the case. Read more details at BI.
In the days leading up to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, when his soon-to-be national security adviser Michael Flynn was reportedly pushing a multibillion-dollar deal to build nuclear reactors in Jordan and other Middle East nations, Flynn and two other top Trump advisers held a secret meeting with the king of Jordan.
meeting — details of which have never been reported — is the latest in a series of secret, high-stakes contacts between Trump advisers and foreign governments that have raised concerns about how, in particular, Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner handled their personal business interests as they entered key positions of power. And the nuclear project raised additional security concerns about expanding nuclear technology in a tinderbox region of the world. One expert compared it to providing “a nuclear weapons starter kit.”
On the morning of Jan. 5, Flynn, Kushner, and former chief strategist Steve Bannon greeted Mi at the Four Seasons hotel in lower Manhattan, then took off in a fleet of SUVs and a sedan to a different location.
People close to the three Trump advisers say that the nuclear deal was not discussed. But a federal official with access to a document created by a law enforcement agency about the meeting said that the nuclear proposal, known as the Marshall Plan, was one of the topics the group talked about.
Read the rest at the link. It sure looks like Mueller is getting closer to nailing Trump and his gang.
What stories are you following today?
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.
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.
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?
I know I’ve said this before, but it’s more true than ever: I don’t know how much more Trump bullshit I can take. This past week may have been the worst yet; how much worse can it get? I’m afraid that it can and will get a whole lot worse.
Last night Brian Williams ran this video that briefly summarizes the events of the past week. It feels to me as though Trump’s horrific speech to the boy scouts was a long time ago, but no. It was just a few action-packed days ago.
Oh, and this morning we learned that North Korea’s ICBM could reach Los Angeles or even Chicago. From the Union of Concerned Scientists:
Based on current information, today’s missile test by North Korea could easily reach the US West Coast, and a number of major US cities.
Reports say that North Korea again launched its missile on a very highly lofted trajectory, which allowed the missile to fall in the Sea of Japan rather than overflying Japan. It appears the ground range of the test was around 1,000 km (600 miles), which put it in or close to Japanese territorial waters. Reports also say the maximum altitude of the launch was 3,700 km (2,300 miles) with a flight time of about 47 minutes.
If those numbers are correct, the missile flown on a standard trajectory the missile would have a range 10,400 km (6,500 miles), not taking into account the Earth’s rotation.
However, the rotation of the Earth increases the range of missiles fired eastward, depending on their direction. Calculating the range of the missile in the direction of some major US cities gives the approximate results in Table 1.
Table 1 shows that Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago appear to be well within range of this missile, and that Boston and New York may be just within range. Washington, D.C. may be just out of range.
It is important to keep in mind that we do not know the mass of the payload the missile carried on this test. If it was lighter than the actual warhead the missile would carry, the ranges would be shorter than those estimated above.
Many news outlets published stories about how bad the week was, often including even more horrible events that The 11th Hour video left out. Raw Story included the Anthony Scaramucci clusterfuck:
Thursday. New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci started off his day by delivering a rambling interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo in which he compared himself and Reince Priebus to Cain and Abel.
Later in the day, the New Yorkerpublished an interview with Scaramucci in which the new White House official ranted about Priebus — calling him a “f*cking paranoid schizophrenic” — and top White House political strategist Steve Bannon, whom he said regularly tries to “suck his own c*ck.” In the same interview, Scaramucci threatened to fire the entire White House communications staff, while vowing to “kill all the f*cking leakers” within the Trump administration.
Oh, and have you heard? Scaramucci’s wife has filed for divorce because of the relationship with Trump, according to gossip site Page Six:
Deidre Ball, who worked as a vice president in investor relations for SkyBridge Capital, the firm he founded in 2005 and sold to ascend to the White House, has filed for divorce from “The Mooch” after three years of marriage after getting fed up with his ruthless quest to get close to President Trump, whom she despises.
One source told Page Six, “Deidre has left him and has filed for divorce. She liked the nice Wall Street life and their home on Long Island, not the insane world of D.C. She is tired of his naked ambition, which is so enormous that it left her at her wits’ end. She has left him even though they have two children together.”
Scaramucci and Ball, 38, began dating in 2011 and are believed to have married in 2014.
The week had almost ended when the Twitter item crossed. Minutes before quitting time, less than an hour after the markets closed: Gen. John Kelly named White House chief of staff.
The secretary of Homeland Security was replacing Reince Priebus at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
After about six months and a week, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee had been removed as the No. 1 aide to President Trump….
Priebus had been embattled almost from the beginning. He was said to be at odds with senior adviser Steve Bannon, to be less than close to first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.
He was too old school, too Midwestern, too conventional. When Anthony Scaramucci arrived as the new White House director of communications in mid-July, he was reporting directly to the president — not to Priebus. Bad sign.
So in Washington, among those who watch the White House, there could be little surprise. And yet the spectacle of the chief of staff sitting alone in a van in the rain at Joint Base Andrews on Friday evening — detailed in a pool report — was still, somehow, shocking.
We don’t know yet how Priebus found out. Did he read it on Twitter?
HuffPost included more about Trump’s trolling of Jeff Sessions. Yes, that was on Monday of this week.
Trump attacked Sessions again — this time in a newspaper interview [Tuesday]. The president told The Wall Street Journal that he’s “very disappointed” in Sessions, but stopped short of saying he’ll fire the early Trump loyalist.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Then on Wednesday:
For the third day in a row, Trump publicly humiliated his attorney general and the Justice Department. This time, the president questioned Sessions’ decision to not fire Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and falsely claimed McCabe’s wife had accepted a campaign donation from Hillary Clinton.
The Financial Times weighs in: Trump’s week staggers from bad to worse.
It was the week that Donald Trump’s new communications director was meant to reset the White House after six turbulent months. Instead, the fight-to-the-death between Anthony Scaramucci and chief of staff Reince Priebus framed a week that shed the harshest light yet on the chaos at the heart of the administration.
From Mr Trump’s tweeted attacks on his own attorney-general to the resignation of Mr Priebus, days of rolling controversy have shown up the divisions wracking the senior levels of his team and reinforced concerns about the trajectory of his presidency.
Having once welcomed Mr Trump’s November victory for putting the levers of American power in Republican hands, conservatives now are aghast at the disarray threatening the president’s agenda.
While the week of rancour was bookended by the departure of Mr Priebus on Friday afternoon, its lowest point may have come in the early hours of the day when Republican senator John McCain, suffering from cancer, cast the vote that killed the president’s dream of repealing Obamacare after weeks of Republican wrangling over the plans.
“I don’t think there’s a clear understanding of what the party is any more and what it stands for,” said Adam Brandon, head of FreedomWorks, a conservative group with close ties to the lawmakers.
The LA Times focused on the health care debacle: The week the wheels fell off in Trump’s Washington.
For six months and change, the Trump administration has careened down a bumpy road, seldom far from a crash. This week, the wheels fell off.
The precise moment could be seen on nationwide television by anyone still awake — 1:29 a.m. in Washington, as Sen. John McCain of Arizona walked to the well of the Senate, stood in front of the clerk’s desk, stretched out his right arm and turned down his thumb, squashing the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare.
For Trump, who had campaigned loudly, but ineffectually, for the repeal, the defeat jeopardized an entire legislative agenda. It came toward the end of a week in which his administration had never felt weaker or more riven with self-defeating factions.
More at the link.
We’ll probably learn more over the weekend about what happened with Priebus, but here’s one cringe-inducing anecdote about Trump’s methods of torture from The Washington Post:
Trump’s demeaning of Priebus came through in other ways, too. At one point, during a meeting in the Oval Office, a fly began buzzing overhead, distracting the president. As the fly continued to circle, Trump summoned his chief of staff and tasked him with killing the insect, according to someone familiar with the incident. (The West Wing has a regular fly problem.)
Click on the link to read much more about the Trump gang’s sadistic behavior.
That’s all I have for you today. I know this isn’t much of a post, but I was too exhausted after this hellish week to do any more. What stories are you following?
My father was an Eagle Scout, and in 1937 he attended the first National Scout Jamboree in Washington DC. Whatever you may think of today’s boy scout movement, becoming an Eagle Scout is extremely challenging and an achievement to be proud of, in my humble opinion.
The national Scout jamboree is a gathering, or jamboree, of thousands of members of the Boy Scouts of America, usually held every four years and organized by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Referred to as “the Jamboree”, “Jambo”, or NSJ, Scouts from all over the nation and world have the opportunity to attend. They are considered to be one of several unique experiences that the Boy Scouts of America offers. The first jamboree was scheduled to be held in 1935 in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Scouting, but was delayed two years after being cancelled due to a polio outbreak. The 1937 jamboree in Washington attracted 25,000 Scouts, who camped around the Washington Monument and Tidal Basin. The event was covered extensively by national media and attended by President Franklin D. Roosevelt….
The first national jamboree was held in Washington, D.C. for ten days in July 1937, attended by 25,000 Scouts, most of whom arrived by train. Region campsites were set up around the Washington Monument and Tidal Basin. The event was covered extensively by radio and newspapers. A press tent accommodated 626 news media reporters, photographers, and broadcasters. Sixty-four news releases were issued and the BSA assisted in the making of 11 newsreels and 53 magazine articles.
The three major U.S. radio networks of the time, NBC, CBS, and Mutual, had broadcasting studios near the jamboree headquarters to produce almost 19 hours of live, on-site jamboree coverage broadcast coast-to-coast. Celebrities also visited the jamboree, including well-known broadcaster Lowell Thomas and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. While at the jamboree, Scouts also attended a three-game baseball series between the Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox at Griffith Stadium, as well as toured nearby Mount Vernon.
President Franklin Roosevelt was a long-time, strong supporter of the scouting movement.
In 1915, FDR was the young assistant secretary of the Navy when Chief Scout Executive James E. West solicited his support of the five-year-old Boy Scouts of America. West asked FDR to serve as a member of the Special Committee on Nautical Scouting.
In 1921, shortly after agreeing to become more active in New York City Scouting, FDR was disabled by polio, losing the use of his legs. During his effort to regain his health and mobility in the years that followed, his involvement in Scouting grew. His political activities also increased, and during the 1920’s he became a prominent national figure.
FDR played a major role in the effort to obtain a permanent camp for New York City Scouts, and in 1927, he was one of a group credited with opening Ten Mile River Scout Camps.
He enjoyed visiting the camp even as governor of New York. In August 1930, during a ceremony at camp, FDR was presented the Silver Buffalo Award, the BSA’s highest national honor for service to youth. During another visit three years later, he was inducted into the Order of the Arrow and posed for photographs proudly wearing his OA sash.
Boy Scouts of America is not a partisan organization, despite some recent fumbles over gay rights. But yesterday “president” Trump trashed one more American institution with his foul, corrupt behavior.
The Washington Post: Trump’s Boy Scouts speech broke with 80 years of presidential tradition.
For 80 years, American presidents have been speaking to the National Scout Jamboree, a gathering of tens of thousands of youngsters from around the world eager to absorb the ideas of service, citizenship and global diplomacy.
In keeping with the Scouts’ traditions, all eight presidents and surrogates who have represented them have stayed far, far away from partisan politics.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the occasion to talk about good citizenship. Harry S. Truman extolled fellowship: “When you work and live together, and exchange ideas around the campfire, you get to know what the other fellow is like,” he said.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower invoked the “bonds of common purpose and common ideals.” And President George H.W. Bush spoke of “serving others.”
Donald Trump wasn’t a boy scout and he couldn’t possibly care less about American traditions.
For a brief moment at this year’s jamboree in West Virgina, President Donald Trump indicated that he would follow that tradition — sort of.
“Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” he said.
Then, standing before all 40,000 of them, he bragged about the “record” crowd size, bashed President Barack Obama, criticized the “fake media” and trashed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. In the lengthy 35-minute speech, the president threatened to fire his health and human services secretary if he couldn’t persuade members of Congress to vote for the Republican health-care bill.
At one point, he told a rambling story about a conversation he had at a New York cocktail party with a once-successful home builder who “lost his momentum.” The lesson, apparently: “You have to know whether or not you continue to have the momentum. And if you don’t have it, that’s okay.”
Click on the WaPo link to read more history about presidents and the Boy Scout Jamboree.
Trump is a monster without a single shred of human decency. We need Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Congress to force him into retirement before he destroys every proud American institution and tradition. Honestly, when I heard about this disgusting speech yesterday, I felt sick at heart. I wondered if Trump is hoping to enlist young people in a modern day Hitler Youth.
The Kansas City Star: Outraged Boy Scouts call on organization to disavow Trump speech.
Sitting presidents have come to give a nonpartisan speech at the Boy Scouts National Jamboree since 1937. President Donald Trump came to give a speech – but many say he still broke the tradition in a “nauseating” way.
During the 35-minute speech Monday night to about 40,000 scouts in West Virginia, Trump threatened to fire Secretary of Health Tom Price if the Senate did not approve repealing and replacing Obamacare, railed against journalists and “fake news,” talked about getting invited to parties with Hollywood celebrities, sought praise for his election victory and bashed Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama.
“We won and won. So when they said, there is no way to victory, there is no way to 270. I went to Maine four times because it’s one vote, and we won,” Trump said. “But we won – one vote. I went there because I kept hearing we’re at 269. But then Wisconsin came in. Many, many years – Michigan came in.” [….]
And while Boy Scouts in the crowd cheered and applauded during Trump’s speech, long-standing Boy Scouts were not pleased. One Eagle Scout who attended the National Jamboree in 1989 took to Twitter to talk about his family’s history within the organization – he said his grandfather was a scoutmaster for 40 years and awarded a silver beaver, while his father was also an Eagle Scout and attended the National Jamboree in 1957 – and criticize Trump’s speech. He said his son, a star scout on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, had wanted to attend this year’s Jamboree.
Read the rest at the link.
Sorry to take up so much space with this, but I truly believe Trump’s behavior yesterday is an important example of how he is tearing down everything that has made America “great” so that he can turn our beloved country into a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trump Russia coalition.
In other news, Jared Kushner went back to Capital Hill this morning; and Paul Manafort has been subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were both set on Tuesday to provide congressional investigators with information about the heavily scrutinized meeting with a Russian lawyer they attended last year as advisers to President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, was scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed session on Tuesday. He took questions from Senate Intelligence Committee members on Monday and, according to prepared remarks he made public, told them he did “not collude” in Russia’s suspected attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Manafort spoke to investigators after reaching an agreement with the Senate Intelligence Committee to avoid a subpoena, though a separate committee has issued a subpoena compelling his testimony. He finished a meeting with the Senate panel on Tuesday morning and “answered their questions fully,” spokesman Jason Maloni said.
The Senate judiciary committee has issued a subpoena to Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager, seeking his testimony at a public hearing on Wednesday.
The Republican senator Chuck Grassley and the Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein said they were unable to reach an agreement with Manafort for a voluntary transcribed interview with the committee.
The two said that late Monday night they issued a subpoena to compel Manafort’s participation in Wednesday’s hearing.
The committee wanted Manafort to testify on enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and Russia’s attempts to influence US elections.
Trump is continuing to torture Attorney General Jeff Sessions with public comments and tweets.
The Washington Post: Trump leaves Sessions twisting in the wind while berating him publicly
President Trump and his advisers are privately discussing the possibility of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and some confidants are floating prospects who could take his place were he to resign or be fired, according to people familiar with the talks.
Members of Trump’s circle, including White House officials, have increasingly raised the question among themselves in recent days as the president has continued to vent his frustration with the attorney general, the people said.
Replacing Sessions is viewed by some Trump associates as potentially being part of a strategy to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and end his investigation of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.
Three more related stories to check out:
Finally, there is supposedly going to be a vote on consideration of the Senate heath care clusterf*ck sometime today.
On Monday night, Sen. John McCain said he would return to Washington to vote on key issues — most notably, on the Senate’s push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
The dramatic return of McCain, a week after announcing his diagnosis of brain cancer, seems to indicate that Tuesday’s vote on the Senate healthcare push is extremely close for Republican leaders.
At the same time, though, no one is quite sure of what they’re pushing for.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Monday that there would be a vote on a motion to proceed with the House healthcare bill, the first step in a likely multiday process of debate and dealmaking in an attempt to come through on the long-held Republican promise of repealing the law, also known as Obamacare.
The question is whether McConnell’s plan is to bring up the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the bill to repeal and replace the law; the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act, the bill to repeal now and replace later; or some modified version of either.
More at the link.
So . . . what stories are you following today?