Lazy Saturday Reads: Big Steps Forward in Russia Investigation

Coffee and Donuts, Scott Moore

Good Morning!!

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.

Facebook did not give copies of the ads to members of the Senate and House intelligence committees when it met with them last week on the grounds that doing so would violate their privacy policy, sources with knowledge of the briefings said. Facebook’s policy states that, in accordance with the federal Stored Communications Act, it can only turn over the stored contents of an account in response to a search warrant.

Clark Kent Breakfast, Dave Seguin

“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.

The warrant was first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal on Friday night and the news was later confirmed by CNN.

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….

by Victor Ostrovsky

“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….

Fabio Hurtado Spanish, b. 1960

— “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.) ….

by PJ Crook

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.

More on the Cambridge Analytica piece of this at CNBC:

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.

Arjona, Rafael-Lectora

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 AGCitigroup 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.

Ana Maria Leão

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.

Karin Jurick

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?

 

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

Trump Chaos

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more details at the link.

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

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

The feeling is not mutual.

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

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

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

Read the whole thing at TPM.

What stories are you following this morning?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Trump’s Worst Week So Far?

Good Afternoon!!

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.

Anthony and Deirdre Scaramucci

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.

NPR: Don’t Look Away: Stuff Happens Fast In Trump’s First Summer In Washington.

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 kicked off the week by tweeting his frustrations with his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and asking why Sessions isn’t investigating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton….

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.

John McCain votes no on Trumpcare bill

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?


Tuesday Reads: Trump Trashes 80 Year Tradition and Other News

The First U.S, National Scout Jamboree was held in 1937 on the ground of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Here the boys are around the Washington Mounument on the morning of July 4th for religious services. Later there was a fire works display, a tradition on the Mall for Independence Day.

Good Morning!!

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, NBCCBS, 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.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the fi.rst National Boy Scout Jamboree in 1937

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.

Hitler Youth

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.

Hitler Youth uniform

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.

Politico: Kushner, Manafort providing information to congressional investigators Tuesday.

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 Guardian: Senate issues subpoena to Paul Manafort for testimony on Russia.

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:

CNN: Trump slams Sessions, rips DOJ in Twitter outburst.

McClatchy: Trump messes with Sessions, and Senate Republicans are not pleased.

Axios: Trump in phone call: “What would happen if I fired Sessions?”

Finally, there is supposedly going to be a vote on consideration of the Senate heath care clusterf*ck sometime today.

Business Insider: The Senate will vote to start its repeal of Obamacare in a few hours — and the process is still in chaos.

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?


Lazy Saturday Reads

Key West Chairs, Dorine MacLauchlan

Good Afternoon!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goldfish Window, Childe Hassam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Afternoon, William Gunning King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Trump received about $1.7 million in payments from T International Realty, the family’s luxury brokerage agency, as well as two other real estate companies for various management, consulting and licensing work, the documents show. Those payments, for work done in 2016, were based on the companies’ performance.

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

More at the link.

Brookside Park Pasadena on a Saturday Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madeline in a Wheat Field, Daniel Ridgway Knight

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Afternoon, Mark Arian

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at the WaPo.

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

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


Lazy Saturday Reads: Escape to Hope Island

Hope Island off the coast of Maine is for sale

Good Afternoon!!

Remember when we used to talk about finding a haven where we Sky Dancers could retreat from the world? If only we could raise $7.9 million, we could own this beautiful estate on an 86 acre private island, all we would have to do is to contact a west vancouver realtor and let him take care of everything else. From Boston.com:

A 25-minute boat ride from Portland, Maine, this estate on Casco Bay comes with more than just a three-bedroom, six-bathroom, 11,000-square-foot-plus main house.

Its $7,950,000 price tag also includes the 86-acre island on which it sits — Hope Island — along with a boathouse with an apartment; a barn with apartments; a carriage house; a tavern; a chapel; a stable; and a variety of other buildings all really well constructed and roofed by Roofing Chattanooga so water is never a problem. As you might assume, the home boasts some pretty incredible water views….

The island, with 11,050 feet of water frontage, has a rocky coastline, as well as sand beaches, a deepwater pier, and eight ponds.

In the main house, you’ll find two full stories and an unfinished basement. The kitchen boasts a center island with granite countertops with many different appliances from Zozanga.com on top it, two bar sinks, cherry cabinetry, and a large pantry. The central entertainment room features custom millwork, a circular bar, built-ins, and French doors that lead to a terrace.

And from Boston Magazine:

Hope Island

The allure of Hope Island doesn’t rest on natural beauty alone, though. “No expense was spared in creating this magical island kingdom,” reads its property listing. What does that mean, exactly? For starters, there’s a more than 10,000-square-foot main house with six bathrooms, as well as several guest houses with tall fences from AAA-Fence Master, a pier, a sizable boat house, a 10-stall horse stable, a couple of barns, concrete roads, a chapel, and even a tavern.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the island is powered by generators and submerged marine cables from nearby Long Island. There are also 15 water wells and nine separate septic systems. And if you ever needed to run an errand on the mainland, Portland Harbor is only a 25-minute boat ride away.

And to top it off, it’s called “Hope Island.” If only we could escape from the nightmarish Trump world we currently inhabit to a beautiful island close to Canada.

Our latest national nightmare includes Republicans who now say that colluding with the Russian government to help elect a president of the U.S. is no big deal. In fact, it’s just politics as usual and anyone would do it in order to win. Yesterday Jennifer Rubin posted a scathing takedown of her party: The GOP’s moral rot is the problem, not Donald Trump Jr.

The key insight from a week of gobsmacking revelations is not that the Russia scandal may finally have an underlying crime but that, as David Brooks suggests, “over the past few generations the Trump family built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.” (Remember when the media collectively oohed and ahhed that, “Say what you will about Donald Trump, but his kids are great!”?Add that to the heap of inane media narratives that helped normalize Trump to the voters.) We now see that, sure enough, the Trump legal team (the fastest-growing segment of the economy) has trouble restraining its clients, explaining away initial, false explanations and preventing self-incriminating statements. (The biggest trouble, of course, is that the president lied that this is all “fake news” and arguably committed obstruction of justice to hide his campaign team’s misdeeds.)

Hope Island

Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.” [….]

Indeed, for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, giving us anti-immigrant hysteria, promulgating disrespect for the law (how many “respectable” conservatives suggested disregarding the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage?), elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party, as Brooks said of the Trump clan, with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.

Please go read the rest. Other than the fact that she quotes David Brooks and she characterizes Hillary as “ethically challenged,” I can’t disagree with much in Rubin’s op-ed. The Republican Party has completely lost its moral compass over the past half-century, to the point that they now believe that winning and money are the only things that matter and that basic morality, Constitutional norms, even common human decency and compassion are utterly irrelevant.

Here’s the latest on Don Jr.’s Trump Tower collusion meeting from CNN:

Trump Tower Russia meeting: At least eight people in the room.

Hope Island

The June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort included at least eight people.

The revelation of additional participants comes as The Associated Press first reported Friday that a Russian-American lobbyist named Rinat Akhmetshin said he also attended the June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. CNN has reached out to Akhmetshin for comment.

So far acknowledged in attendance: Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Akhmetshin and publicist Rob Goldstone, who helped set up the meeting. A source familiar with the circumstances told CNN there were at least two other people in the room as well, a translator and a representative of the Russian family who had asked Goldstone to set up the meeting. The source did not provide the names.

That meeting is getting bigger and bigger with each passing day. How many more people were actually in attendance?

People on Twitter had a lot of fun with the expanding numbers yesterday:

I should be posting articles about the people who attended that meeting, but I just don’t have the stomach for much more today. I’ll post some links in the comment thread. I have two more pieces to share and then I’ll end for today and try to get involved in some escapist fiction.

Edward Price at Politico: Why Does Jared Kushner Still Have a Security Clearance?

…the latest revelations undeniably have raised additional questions about the judgment of key figures in President Trump’s orbit, namely his eldest son Donald Jr., his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Only Kushner, however, holds an administration position and, as a result, a Top Secret security clearance.

The fact that Kushner, by all accounts, retains that clearance is an affront to America’s national security and a slap in the face to the career professionals subject to a different set of rules. I know this because, as a career CIA officer and later a spokesman for the National Security Council, I used to be one of them.

First, let’s review what we’ve learned about Kushner. He is among several Trump administration officials and associates to have acknowledged, long after the fact, his contacts with then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak. In one such previously undisclosed meeting with Kislyak, Kushner reportedly sought to establish a covert backchannel with Moscow, employing Russian communication equipment in an apparent effort to evade U.S. surveillance. At the ambassador’s request, moreover, Kushner also met with the head of a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions, a discussion that went unreported for months. The banker, Sergei Gorkov, has close ties to Russia’s intelligence services.

Hope Island

In recent days, moreover, the Trump administration confirmed that Kushner also attended a June 9, 2016, meeting with a Russian, who—in an email forwarded to Kushner—was described as a “government lawyer” privy to Moscow’s effort to denigrate Hillary Clinton and advantage Trump. In the face of persistent questions, Trump administration officials had—until last weekend—maintained for months that no campaign operatives had held any meetings with Russians. Kushner, it seems, was content to allow his White House colleagues to make liars of themselves as he left himself open to being compromised by the Kremlin, which has almost certainly known the truth all along.

I am confident in saying that my clearance would have been immediately revoked had I, as a career CIA officer, been accused of a fraction of these activities. In my case, the clearance process culminating in my first day at Langley lasted approximately a year, fairly standard for the period. It consisted of interviews, psychological exams and a lie detector test, while my family, friends and neighbors were subjected to questions about everything from my financial health to my drinking habits by humorless federal agents. When I ultimately was cleared to join the ranks of the CIA, the imperatives of unimpeachable integrity and sound judgment were stressed at every turn. It’s a mantra that becomes an ethos for our national security officials.

Read the rest at Politico.

Joy Reid at The Daily Beast: So This Is What American Greatness Really Looks Like?

This week, Garry Kasparov, former Russian chess champion and perennial critic of Vladimir Putintweeted about what autocrats do when caught: “1: Deny, lie, slander accusers. 2: Say it was a misunderstanding. 3. Boast & say ‘What are you going to do about it?’”

The day after that tweet, Donald Trump stood on a dais in Paris beside the French president and said of his son’s now-confirmed willingness to receive campaign help for his father from Russia: “I think it’s a meeting that most people in politics probably would have taken.”

That would be jaw dropping and bizarre coming from a mob boss at his pretrial hearing, let alone from the president of the United States. But that line is now standard issue among much of Trump’s political party, which has come around to the notion that collusion with a foreign power—even an adversarial one like Russia—is no big deal.

Trump, his family, and his defenders in the once Grand Old Party have mounted various defenses for his campaign’s collusion with Russians and their cutouts to win the 2016 presidential election. They have tried to ignore Russiagate. They have said collusion with Russia never happened. They have blamed Hillary ClintonBarack Obama, and Loretta Lynch (Trump now says the Russian government lawyer who met with Donald Jr. was only in the country because Lynch let her in. It will surprise no one to discover that’s not true.) And they have landed on the notion that even if collusion did happen, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Check off all three of the Kasparov boxes.

Click on the link and read the rest.

I hope all you Sky Dancers have a nice weekend and that Robert Mueller is working hard to rescue our once-great nation.


Wednesday Morning Takedown

“Tis the infirmity of his age, yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.”

JJ’s schedule is a bit full today so I thought I’d pop up with a bit of a news dump to give her some space and breathing room.  I personally see no way for the current administration to get through all this latest Russia news.  It will take time to clear the Trumps out of the White House but it will happen.

Here’s some of today’s headlines.  It’s all Russia basically. It’s not going away.

From McClatchy:  Trump-Russia investigators probe Jared Kushner-run digital operation.

Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries.

Also under scrutiny is the question of whether Trump associates or campaign aides had any role in assisting the Russians in publicly releasing thousands of emails, hacked from the accounts of top Democrats, at turning points in the presidential race, mainly through the London-based transparency web site WikiLeaks,

From Phillip Rucker and WAPO: ‘Category 5 hurricane’: White House under siege by Trump Jr.’s Russia revelations.

The White House has been thrust into chaos after days of ever-worsening revelations about a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a lawyer characterized as representing the Russian government, as the president fumes against his enemies and senior aides circle one another with suspicion, according to top White House officials and outside advisers.

President Trump — who has been hidden from public view since returning last weekend from a divisive international summit — is enraged that the Russia cloud still hangs over his presidency and is exasperated that his eldest son and namesake has become engulfed by it, said people who have spoken with him this week.

The disclosure that Trump Jr. met with a Russian attorney, believing he would receive incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s effort to boost his father’s candidacy, has set back the administration’s faltering agenda and rattled the senior leadership team.

On Wednesday, in his first Twitter posts since the email disclosures, Trump defended his son as “open, transparent and innocent” and repeated past claims that his administration is the subject of a “witch hunt” fueled by leakers.

Kevin Hall writing for McClatchy: Lawyer that met Don Jr. had ties to Russian government, spy agency.

The Russian lawyer at the center of Donald Trump Jr.’s scandal over possible collusion with Kremlin election meddlers has denied she has ties to the Russian government.

But she threatened action by the Russian security service, the FSB, against a rights group working to expose corruption by Russian government officials, according to information in the possession of U.S. prosecutors who had been investigating a large and complex money laundering case involving Russian funds.

The New York Times first reported over the weekend that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya met in June 2016 with Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law Jared Kushner and incoming campaign chief Paul Manafort at Trump Tower.

In emails, an acquaintance billed the meeting as an opportunity for Trump Jr. to obtain — courtesy of the Russian government — damaging material about Hillary Clinton, his father’s Democratic rival. Trump Jr. responded excitedly: “If it’s what you say I love it,” he wrote back. The emails were released Tuesday by Trump Jr. as The New York Times was about to print them.

From Politico:  White House aides feeling ‘helpless’ as Trump Jr. scandal explodes

White House aides feel blindsided by the bombshell revelations around Donald Trump Jr.’s campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer, while the president is using his relatively light schedule to watch TV and fume about the latest scandal, according to interviews with half a dozen White House officials and advisers.

Unlike prior Russia-related controversies, the White House is not minimizing the political ramifications of Trump’s eldest son’s decision to meet with the Kremlin-linked lawyer after being offered information that he was told would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

But top West Wing aides are exasperated by their limited ability to steer the damage control and the risk that more damaging news has yet to emerge.

One Trump adviser said the White House was “essentially helpless” because the conduct happened during an “anything goes” campaign that had few rules. This person said he had spoken to several people in the White House on Tuesday and that “none of them knew anything about Donald Trump Jr.’s meetings,” despite the fact that top adviser Jared Kushner was also present for the controversial Trump Tower sit-down.

Many of the White House aides had previously dismissed the Russia stories as “conspiracy bullshit,” this person said, but that this development was not being dismissed as that.

Martin Sutovec / Slovakia

Meanwhile, Jared and Ivanka want Priebus gone as reported in The Hill.

Three of the most influential figures in President Trump’s inner circle are lobbying the president to oust his Chief of Staff Reince PriebusThe Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Trump’s wife Melania, eldest daughter and senior adviser Ivanka and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner have privately pushed him to shake up his West Wing staff, most notably by replacing Priebus.

Priebus, who served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee before joining Trump’s White House, has been rumored for months to be on his way out as the president’s top assistant.

and Kremlin Caligula has reached peak catatonia. This is beginning to remind me of King Lear,

Donald Trump’s public schedule has gone blank once again, as the amorphous Republican retreats behind the walls of the White House.

His strange disappearing act comes as Trump’s family becomes deeply embroiled in the Russia collusion story, and while the Republican Party is trying to generate momentum to pass its health care bill.

Instead of having a full schedule in the wake of a multiple-day trip last week to the G20 summit in Europe, Trump has disappeared. He hasn’t had an official public, stateside appearance in more than a week.

The current vanishing act stands in stark contrast to the way Trump routinely made public appearances during his first 100 days in office, generating headlines with executive order ceremonies, fake signing ceremonies, and round table meetings with business leaders.

The events were widely covered in the press, which helped the White House project the image of a robust, hard-working president. “Top White House aides even bragged about media access to the President,” CNN once noted.

But no more.

Speaking of King Lear, this is a blog after my own heart. I’ve loved Shakespeare since Fifth Grade.

Shakespeare knew of other Trumps. In King Lear, Regan says of her father, “Tis the infirmity of his age, yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.”

Trump comes into office riding a wave of adrenaline, of enormous rallies of cheering supporters who love his brand of anarchy, his wealth, his refusal to be hemmed in by convention. He comes into office riding his wave of promises and his destruction of his adversaries. He is the master of a singular moment in American history, a President whose election received the assistance of a former KGB Lieutenant Colonel, a dictator who has ordered the murder of journalists and political opponents.

Then Trump discovers that he will be held to his words, that he has created a fervent, attentive opposition, that his actions as President will be hemmed in by precedent, by legislation, by law, by officeholders who owe him nothing, by a free press. Recently he spoke of his life before becoming President: “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.’*

He strikes out at anyone who questions or opposes him. Instead of building alliances, he destroys any possibility of them. He is not King. No one told him he would not be King

This story is breaking so fast that we should probably consider this a live blog for the day.

Love you JJ and hugs to your Mom!