Well, now we know why Trump was obsessed with low water toilets. It turns out he was trying to flush torn up documents in the White House bathrooms.
While President Trump was in office, staff in the White House residence periodically discovered wads of printed paper clogging a toilet — and believed the president had flushed pieces of paper, Maggie Haberman scoops in her forthcoming book, “Confidence Man.”
Why it matters: The revelation by Haberman, whose coverage as a New York Times White House correspondent was followed obsessively by Trump, adds a vivid new dimension to his lapses in preserving government documents. Axios was provided an exclusive first look at some of her reporting.
Haberman also revealed to Axios that Trump claims to be keeping in touch with one of his favorite dictators, Kim Jong Un.
Haberman reports Trump has told people that since leaving office, he has remained in contact with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — whose “love letters,” as Trump once called them, were among documents the National Archives retrieved from Mar-a-Lago.
The book will be published in October. Read more about it at Axios.
More on Trump’s destruction of documents:
The National Archives and Records Administration has asked the Justice Department to examine Donald Trump’s handling of White House records, sparking discussions among federal law enforcement officials about whether they should investigate the former president for a possible crime, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The referral from the National Archives came amid recent revelations that officials recovered 15 boxes of materials from the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida that were not handed back in to the government as they should have been, and that Trump had turned over other White House records that had been torn up. Archives officials suspected Trump had possibly violated laws concerning the handling of government documents — including those that might be considered classified — and reached out to the Justice Department, the people familiar with the matter said.
The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a politically sensitive request. The two people said the discussions about the matter remained preliminary, and it was not yet clear whether the Justice Department would investigate. The department also might be interested in merely reclaiming classified materials. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
The New York Times: Archives Found Possible Classified Material in Boxes Returned by Trump.
The National Archives and Records Administration discovered what it believed was classified information in documents Donald J. Trump had taken with him from the White House as he left office, according to a person briefed on the matter.
The discovery, which occurred after Mr. Trump returned 15 boxes of documents to the government last month, prompted the National Archives to reach out to the Justice Department for guidance, the person said. The department told the National Archives to have its inspector general examine the matter, the person said.
It is unclear what the inspector general has done since then, in particular, whether the inspector general has referred the matter to the Justice Department.
An inspector general is required to alert the Justice Department to the discovery of any classified materials that were found outside authorized government channels.
The Washington Post Editorial Board: Opinion: Documents weren’t the only things Trump tore up while in office.
Former president Donald Trump liked the feel of tearing things up — figuratively, as he did with laws and norms of public service; but also literally, as he did with documents that he was required to preserve under the Presidential Records Act. Having refused to give his elected successor a smooth and orderly transition, Mr. Trump then skulked away to Mar-a-Lago in Florida with 15 boxes of official documents and mementos that should have gone to the National Archives.
The Post reported this past weekend that Mr. Trump routinely destroyed briefing papers, schedules, articles, letters and memos, ripping them into quarters or smaller pieces, leaving the detritus on his desk in the Oval Office, in the trash can of his private West Wing study or on the floor of Air Force One. Mr. Trump’s aides were left to retrieve the pieces and piece them back together, sometimes hunting through special “burn bags” intended for classified material to find torn documents that needed to be reassembled and preserved. Recently, the committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection received documents from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) that appeared to have been torn apart and taped back together.
Mr. Trump broke the law. After President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation, Congress passed a number of laws intended to preserve the integrity of documents and other materials from Nixon’s presidency, and made the laws applicable to all future presidents. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 ended the practice of records belonging to former presidents and declared that the United States shall “reserve and retain complete ownership, possession, and control of presidential records.” The law requires a president to “take all such steps as may be necessary” to make sure the records are preserved — an important pillar of accountability in a democracy and also essential for historical understanding of the presidency….
Mr. Trump, who mercilessly attacked Hillary Clinton for using a private email server, turned out to be a slovenly steward of the people’s property. He regarded himself as above the law, but he was not. What’s left of the jigsawed and taped-up pages might not provide the thoroughgoing record of his presidency that the law demands, but they are a wrenching testament to his penchant for wanton destruction.
Here’s another bonkers story that The Washington Post broke yesterday: Giuliani asked Michigan prosecutor to give voting machines to Trump team.
Jacqueline Alemeny, one of the reporters on the WaPo story, appeared on MSNBC yesterday.
Antrim County prosecutor James Rossiter told the newspaper that Giuliani and others called him around Nov. 20, 2020, and pressed him to hand over the voting machines so they could be examined for fraud, as part of an ongoing scheme to undo Trump’s loss in Michigan, and journalist Jackie Alemany explained the significance of her colleagues’ findings to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“Well, it’s amazing, first of all, we are continuing to find so much new information that has yet to be uncovered, which is exactly what the Jan. 6 committee is doing,” Alemany said. “But this story especially is just fairly shocking because it shows them actually trying to implement some of their plans that we’ve seen sketched out in executive orders to seize voting machines. Here is a situation where they dialed in on a specific county and found a reason to do so despite it being obviously quite unconstitutional.”
“Even in the conversations I’ve had just in the past few months there are still a lot of people involved with this effort who believed that these voting machines needed to be seized to be protected so they could prove fraud,” she added. “These people are true believers.””That’s why those clips that were just played are so important for everyone to remember, especially when this investigation might potentially lead to whether or not this was negligence or actually intentional behavior,” Alemany said. “But it is clear that the former president knew exactly what was wrong with doing these things. He called up Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton on ripping up documents, taking classified information, accepting gifts, mischaracterizations because he knew it was politically damaging and gave the appearance of being corrupt. That’s what I think ultimately the DOJ is going to have to do if they decide ultimately to investigate the 15 boxes taken from Mar-A-Lago, which is what the archives has asked them to do according to our reporting yesterday.”
More on the Trumpist efforts to seize voting machines from Betsey Woodruff at Politico: Read the emails showing Trump allies’ connections to voting machine seizure push.
Leaked emails obtained by POLITICO reveal the connection of two outside Trump allies — Washington lawyer Katherine Friess and Texas entrepreneur Russell Ramsland — to the failed push to seize voting machines as part of a desperate bid to overturn the 2020 election.
The emails show then-President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and another former military officer workshopping the draft of a Trump executive order to seize voting machines. The emails between Flynn, retired Army Col. Phil Waldron and others provide new details about the events that preceded the assault on the Capitol last Jan. 6.
It is unclear if the Capitol riot select committee has obtained the emails. POLITICO is publishing them here, solely redacting the senders’ and recipients’ email addresses. We are also publishing two draft versions of the executive order that would have directed authorities to seize voting equipment. CBS News previously reported on the contents of the emails and published one of the drafts.
All three emails were sent to multiple people, including Friess, who appears to have lobbied for a variety of clients, including groups linked to Puerto Rico and the telecommunications industry. Friess’ visibility into the efforts to overturn the election results on Trump’s behalf has drawn comparatively little scrutiny. She did not respond to requests for comment. Ramsland, Waldron, Flynn and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani — also a central player in the election subversion effort — also did not respond to requests for comment.
Head over to Politico to read the emails.
At The Religion News Service, a report on how right win Christians and the January 6 insurrection: New report details the influence of Christian nationalism on the insurrection.
A team of scholars, faith leaders and advocates unveiled an exhaustive new report Wednesday (Feb. 9) that documents in painstaking detail the role Christian nationalism played in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and calling it an unsettling preview of things to come.
Christian nationalism was used to “bolster, justify and intensify the January 6 attack on the Capitol,” said Amanda Tyler, head of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which sponsored the report along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Tyler’s group is behind an initiative called Christians Against Christian Nationalism.
The organizations touted the report as “the most comprehensive account to date of Christian nationalism and its role in the January 6 insurrection,” compiled using “videos, statements, and images from the attack and its precursor events.”
The report, written chiefly by Andrew L. Seidel, an author and director of strategic response at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, details Christian nationalist rhetoric and symbols that cropped up at events that preceded the insurrection, such as the Million MAGA March and Jericho Marches that took place in Washington in Dec. 2020 and Jan. 2021.
Christian nationalist symbols and references, Seidel writes, were ubiquitous at those gatherings, as well as the insurrection itself: flags with superimposed American flags over Christian symbols; “An Appeal to Heaven” banners; prayers recited by members of the extremist group Proud Boys shortly before the attack or by others as they stormed the Capitol.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Seidel highlighted what he called the preponderance of “openly militant” rhetoric that conflated religion and violence. He pointed to William McCall Calhoun Jr., a Georgia lawyer who reportedly claimed on social media that he was among those who “kicked in Nancy Pelosi’s office door” on Jan. 6. (Calhoun later claimed in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he did not personally enter any office.)
What are your thoughts on all this insanity? What other stories are you following today?
Hurricane Dorian is still hovering over the Bahamas, moving at one mph. The New York Times is providing regular updates: Storm Pounds the Bahamas and Threatens Florida.
Hurricane Dorian, now a Category 3 storm, finally began to slowly inch away from the Bahamas early Tuesday, after pummeling the islands with unrelenting rain and winds as the United States waited to see what destructive path it would take.
The storm, which hit the Northern Bahamas as one of the strongest on record in the Atlantic, remained stationary just north of Grand Bahama Island, delivering 120 mile-per-hour winds and ceaseless downpours that have flooded neighborhoods, destroyed homes and killed at least five people. The hurricane was expected to start turning north near Florida’s eastern coast by Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
It is highly unusual for a storm of Dorian’s magnitude to halt and hover over land, bringing what officials fear could be catastrophic damage to the Caribbean islands. It crawled along at just one mile an hour on Monday before all but standing still, moving just 14 miles from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Some residents were able to send video from the Abaco Islands, which took the full brunt of the hurricane. Stunned residents could be seen among crumpled cars, smashed homes, piles of debris and contorted trees.
On Grand Bahama Island, the waters rose quickly over much of the main city, Freeport, trapping people on top of their houses. Messages pleading for rescue ricocheted over WhatsApp, a messaging app, but the wind gusts and racing currents made it impossible to reach many people.
Grand Bahama was set to endure another day of dire conditions on Tuesday, with wind gusts of up to 150 m.p.h., storm surges as much as 15 feet above normal tide levels and devastating flooding from up to 30 inches of rain, the National Hurricane Center said.
These storms endanger animals as well as people, and one woman decided to homeless dogs. ABC News: Bahamas woman opens her home to 97 rescue dogs during Hurricane Dorian.
Amid Hurricane Dorian, one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the Bahamas, Chella Phillips opened her Nassau home to 97 homeless and abandoned dogs.
“It was either leave the dogs on the street to fend for themselves…or do something about it,” said Phillips on a phone interview with ABC News. “I just want these dogs to be safe. I could care less about the dog poop and pee in my house.”
Ugh. Oh well . . .
On Sunday, Phillips described her experience wrangling the dogs in a Facebook post, saying that 79 of the dogs were in her bedroom to ride out the storm.
“Each island has abundance of homeless dogs, my heart is so broken for the ones without a place to hide a CAT 5 monster and only God can protect them now,” she wrote.
Read more and see more photos at the link.
Meanwhile the Dotard-in-chief played golf, sent out idiotic tweets and pretended to be a weatherman.
From the NYT story:
Over the long weekend, President Trump monitored Hurricane Dorian from a golf cart at his club in Virginia, calling for regular updates from an aide trailing him around the course. By 8 p.m. Monday, as Dorian churned toward Florida and Mr. Trump’s boarded-up Mar-a-Lago resort, the president had golfed twice and since Saturday morning pelted the American public with 122 tweets.
As he has done during other hurricanes, Mr. Trump awaited landfall by assuming the role of meteorologist in chief, adding weatherman-style updates to a usual weekend routine of attacking his enemies, retweeting bits of praise and critiquing the performance of his cable news allies.
Starting with his first weekend tweet at 7:45 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Trump’s Dorian-related tweets were delivered with the speed of a hailstorm.
With his reality-show approach to the presidency, Mr. Trump has a habit of weighing in on the day’s most-covered news stories with his own running commentary. As Dorian approached, Mr. Trump switched into town-crier mode, updating the public on what he had learned — or, what he thought he’d learned — from government officials as Dorian threatened the coast of the state of Florida, where he has owned property for decades.
He’s such a useless idiot. Even Putin must be sick of him and Kim Jong Un is treating him like a doormat.
Trump has repeatedly downplayed North Korea’s missile test launches in recent weeks. But The New York Times reported Monday that U.S. intelligence officials now think Trump’s stance has actually allowed Kim to “test missiles with greater range and maneuverability that could overwhelm American defenses in the region.”
The development sparked anger on Twitter, where MSNBC political analyst Rick Tyler said it was “hard to know who deserves more credit: Kim for successfully completing tests of a rapidly-deployable solid-fuel rockets that threaten the region including American bases or POTUS for allowing it to happen.”
Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” tweeted it was “shocking how easily Donald Trump got played by the most tyrannical communist leader in the world.”
The New York Times: North Korea Missile Tests, ‘Very Standard’ to Trump, Show Signs of Advancing Arsenal.
As North Korea fired off a series of missiles in recent months — at least 18 since May — President Trump has repeatedly dismissed their importance as short-range and “very standard” tests. And although he has conceded “there may be a United Nations violation,” the president says any concerns are overblown.
Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, Mr. Trump explained recently, just “likes testing missiles.”
Now, American intelligence officials and outside experts have come to a far different conclusion: that the launchings downplayed by Mr. Trump, including two late last month, have allowed Mr. Kim to test missiles with greater range and maneuverability that could overwhelm American defenses in the region.
Japan’s defense minister, Takeshi Iwaya, told reporters in Tokyo last week that the irregular trajectories of the most recent tests were more evidence of a program designed to defeat the defenses Japan has deployed, with American technology, at sea and on shore.
Mr. Kim’s flattery of Mr. Trump with beguiling letters and episodic meetings offering vague assurances of eventual nuclear disarmament, some outside experts say, are part of what they call the North Korean leader’s strategy of buying time to improve his arsenal despite all the sanctions on North Korea.
You’d think Republicans would notice that Trump is endangering our national security, but all they do is shrug.
Remember last week when Trump tweeted that classified image?
Amateur satellite trackers say they believe an image tweeted by President Trump on Friday came from one of America’s most advanced spy satellites.
The image almost certainly came from a satellite known as USA 224, according to Marco Langbroek, a satellite-tracker based in the Netherlands. The satellite was launched by the National Reconnaissance Office in 2011. Almost everything about it remains highly classified, but Langbroek says that based on its size and orbit, most observers believe USA 224 is one of America’s multibillion-dollar KH-11 reconnaissance satellites.
“It’s basically a very large telescope, not unlike the Hubble Space Telescope,” Langbroek says. “But instead of looking up to the stars, it looks down to the Earth’s surface and makes very detailed images.”
The image tweeted by Trump on Friday, showing the aftermath of an accident at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center, was so detailed that some experts doubted whether it really could have come from a satellite high above the planet.
Iran had been preparing to launch a rocket known as the Safir with a small satellite aboard, but experts believe it exploded during fueling. The image showed crisp writing painted on the edge of the launch pad, the scorched truck that had been used to move the rocket and other details.
Trump seemed to be using the sensitive reconnaissance image to troll the Iranians.
He has to go! But our alternatives seem to be three other septuagenarians: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. I for one am not enthused. I’ll vote for Warren if I have to, but the other two . . . ugh. Bernie is an authoritarian and whiny press critic like Trump; and Biden not as careless with the truth as Trump, but his constant gaffes are disturbing–to me anyway.
His campaign is focused on a mission to “restore the soul of this nation.”
That’s also why the former vice president does not think anyone should get bogged down in the small details he mixes up on the campaign trail.
“That has nothing to do with judgment of whether or not you send troops to war, the judgment of whether you bring someone home, the judgment of whether you decide on a healthcare policy,” Biden told the NPR Politics Podcast and Iowa Public Radio in a wide-ranging interview.
Biden is prone to flubs and gaffes, and has been for years. Most recently, the Washington Post reportedthat a dramatic story he told about the war in Afghanistan conflated and confused facts from multiple different incidents.
Biden has said that he was not intentionally trying to mislead anyone with that story, and he argues that kind of mistake has nothing to do with his ability to serve as president.
“The details are irrelevant in terms of decision-making,” Biden told NPR.
I don’t buy it.
So . . . what stories have you been following?
As we all expected, Trump got played by Kim Jong Un in Singapore. Trump laid the flattery on thick and gave away the store while Kim gave nothing specific in return. According to The Guardian’s live blog, Trump already invited Kim to the White House. Here’s the statement they both signed:
President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new US-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Convinced that the establishment of new US-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following:
2. The United States and DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
Having acknowledged that the US-DPRK summit — the first in history — was an epochal event of great significance in overcoming decades of tensions and hostilities between the two countries and for the opening up of a new future, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un commit to implement the stipulations in the joint statement fully and expeditiously. The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the US-DPRK summit.
President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have committed to cooperate for the development of new US-DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and the security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.
DONALD J. TRUMP
President of the United States of America
KIM JONG UN
Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
June 12, 2018
You’ll notice there are no specifics–no definition of “denuclearization,” no mention of a timetable or inspections. Yet Trump has already promised to stop the joint U.S-South Korean military exercises in South Korea. The Washington Post reports:
Trump sounded triumphant following his meeting with Kim, expressing confidence that the North Korean leader was serious about abandoning his nuclear program and transforming his country from an isolated rogue regime into a respected member of the world community.
But Trump provided few specifics about what steps Kim would take to back up his promise to denuclearize his country and how the United States would verify that North Korea was keeping its pledge to get rid of its nuclear weapons, saying that would be worked out in future talks….
Kim, it seems, got at least one benefit up front.
Trump announced that he will order an end to regular “war games” that the United States conducts with ally South Korea, a reference to annual joint military exercises that are an irritant to North Korea.
Trump called the exercises “very provocative” and “inappropriate” in light of the optimistic opening he sees with North Korea. Ending the exercises would also save money, Trump said.
The United States has conducted such exercises for decades as a symbol of unity with Seoul and previously rejected North Korean complaints as illegitimate. Ending the games would be a significant political benefit for Kim, but Trump insisted he did not give up leverage.
South Korea and Japan can’t be very happy about that, but Trump has already said that he wants to pull all the troops out of South Korea.
President Trump wrapped up his improbable summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday, vowing to “start a new history” with the nuclear-armed nation after signing a vaguely worded agreement that contained no concrete plan for disarmament.
Later, at a 65-minute news conference, Trump said he had agreed to North Korea’s longtime demands to stop joint U.S. military exercises with South Korea. The war games have been a mainstay of the U.S. alliance with Seoul for decades.
Trump said halting the drills would save “a lot of money” and he called them “provocative,” the complaint North Korea often made. He also said he hopes eventually to withdraw the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, although not as part of the current agreement with Kim….
He lavished praise on Kim as a “great talent,” denied concerns about treating him as an equal and painted a rosy picture of North Korea’s potential future — one laid out in a bizarre, propaganda-style video that the White House had prepared for the North Korean leader.
Asked why he trusted a ruler who had murdered family members and jailed thousands of political prisoners, Trump lauded Kim for taking over the regime at age 26, when his father died in 2011, and being “able to run it, and run it tough.”
While Trump repeatedly portrayed his two-page agreement with Kim as “comprehensive,” it contained little new except a commitment by both sides to continue diplomatic engagement, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leading the U.S. side in future talks.
There’s much more at the LA Times link. That is probably the most realistic article I’ve read about the summit.
More North Korea summit links to check out:
ABC News Exclusive: ‘I do trust him’: Trump opens up about Kim after historic summit.
Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times: Trump Was Outfoxed in Singapore.
Robert Kuttner at The American Prospect: The Lasting Damage Of Trump’s Disastrous Diplomacy.
This one is an argument for women world leaders. Yahoo News: ‘Alpha male’ handshakes as Trump, Kim meet, but body language shows some nerves.
In other news . . .
Kellyanne Conway’s husband George Conway has a piece at Lawfare in which he defends the Muller investigation: The Terrible Arguments Against the Constitutionality of the Mueller Investigation. Iran has Trump’s number alright.
In an early-morning tweet last week, President Trump took aim once again at Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but with a brand new argument: “The appointment of the Special Councel,” the president typed, “is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!” [….]
He didn’t explain what his argument was, or where he got it, but a good guess is that it came from some recent writings by a well-respected conservative legal scholar and co-founder of the Federalist Society, professor Steven Calabresi. Unfortunately for the president, these writings are no more correct than the spelling in his original tweet. And in light of the president’s apparent embrace of Calabresi’s conclusions, it is well worth taking a close look at Calabresi’s argument in support of those conclusions.
Calabresi has made his argument in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, on a Federalist Society teleconference and in a more detailed paper he styles as a “Legal Opinion.” He contends that all of Special Counsel Mueller’s work is unconstitutionally “null and void” because, in Calabresi’s view, Mueller’s appointment violates the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2.
The Appointments Clause distinguishes between two classes of executive-branch “officers”—principal officers and inferior officers—and specifies how each may be appointed. As a general rule, the clause says that “Officers of the United States”—principal officers—must be nominated by the president and appointed “with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” At the same time, however, the Appointments Clause allows for a more convenient selection method for “inferior officers”: It goes on to add, “but the Congress may by law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of law, or in the Heads of Departments.”
Read the rest at Lawfare. I wonder how Kellyanne is dealing with her husbands differences of opinion with the Trump gang?
There has been some progress in the case against Trump’s violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. The New York Times: Judge in Emoluments Case Questions Defense of Trump’s Hotel Profits.
GREENBELT, Md. — A federal judge on Monday sharply criticized the Justice Department’s argument that President Trump’s financial interest in his company’s hotel in downtown Washington is constitutional, a fresh sign that the judge may soon rule against the president in a historic case that could head to the Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland, charge that Mr. Trump’s profits from the hotel violate anti-corruption clauses of the Constitution that restrict government-bestowed financial benefits, or emoluments, to presidents beyond their official salary. They say the hotel is siphoning business from local convention centers and hotels.
The judge, Peter J. Messitte of the United States District Court in Maryland, promised to decide by the end of July whether to allow the plaintiffs to proceed to the next stage, in which they could demand financial records from the hotel or other evidence from the president. The case takes aim at whether Mr. Trump violated the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, which prevent a president from accepting government-bestowed benefits either at home or abroad. Until now, the issue of what constitutes an illegal emolument has never been litigated.
Attorneys general for the District of Columbia and Maryland say that by allowing foreign officials to patronize the five-star Trump International Hotel blocks from the White House, Mr. Trump is violating the Constitution’s ban on payments from foreign governments to federal officeholders. They also claim the president is violating a related clause that restricts compensation, other than his salary, from the federal government or from state governments.
Read the rest at the NYT link.
Finally, from Mother Jones: Sessions Makes It Vastly Harder for Victims of Domestic Abuse and Gang Violence to Receive Asylum.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has just made it dramatically harder for victims of violence to receive asylum in the United States. Using his authority over the US immigration court system, Sessions decided Monday that people fleeing gangs and domestic violence will generally not qualify for asylum.
To receive asylum, applicants have to show they were persecuted because of characteristics such as their race, religion, or membership in a “particular social group.” Sessions wrote Monday that a gang’s victims have not necessarily “been targeted ‘on account of’ their membership” in a social group just because the gang harassed a certain geographical area. He expressed similar skepticism about domestic violence claims, overturning a 2014 case that established that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” can count as a social group.
Sessions’ decision requires asylum seekers to show that their government has “condoned” the violence committed by non-governmental actors or demonstrated an “inability” to protect victims. “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” he wrote. “While I do not decide that violence inflicted by non-governmental actors may never serve as the basis for an asylum or withholding application based on membership in a particular social group, in practice such claims are unlikely to satisfy the statutory grounds for proving group persecution.”
Michelle Brané, the director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, calls the decision a “devastating blow” to families who come to the United States seeking protection. “What this means in practical terms is that the United States is turning its back on our commitment to never again send people back to a country where their life is at risk,” she says in an email. “Women and children will die as a result of these policies.”
Now, what stories are you following today?
Here’s some good news for a change: a judge in the Southern District of California will allow a lawsuit by the ACLU challenging the Trump administration policy of separating parents and children at the border to go forward.
The Trump administration failed to kill a legal challenge to its practice of separating undocumented parents and children who seek to enter the U.S. to flee persecution at home, with a judge handing an early victory to civil rights activists who say the policy is unconstitutional and cruel.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego on Wednesday denied a motion to dismiss the suit, in which the American Civil Liberties Union argues that splitting up families at the border violates their due process rights.
The practice, spearheaded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, caused widespread outrage after images of children in detention centers circulated on social media. The government argues separations are necessary to properly prosecute adults who cross into the U.S. illegally, while activists say children are being used as pawns in an informal policy intended to deter migrants.
“These allegations sufficiently describe government conduct that arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child,” the judge wrote. The conduct, if true, “is brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency.” [….]
Sabraw said the ACLU’s claims are particularly troubling because the plaintiffs in the case had allegedly come to the U.S. seeking asylum out of fear for their well-being in their home countries. The suit applies to migrants who formally present themselves at ports of entry as political refugees as well as those who seek asylum after they are apprehended during illegal border crossings.
“The government actors responsible for the ‘care and custody’ of migrant children have, in fact, become their persecutors,” the judge said.
Read more at the link. The entire filing can be read here.
More good news: a new NBC/WSJ poll found that voters are much more likely to support candidates who stand up to Trump.
By a whopping 25-point margin, voters say they’re more likely to back a congressional candidate who promises to serve as a check on President Donald Trump, according to a new national poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.
And by a similar margin, they say they’re less likely to vote for someone who has supported the president on most issues.
Despite that economic optimism, however, the poll shows that Democrats enjoy a 10-point advantage on congressional preference, with 50 percent of registered voters wanting a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 40 percent who want a GOP-controlled one.
Now if national Democrats would just wake up and realize that standing up to Trump is the best mid-term strategy!
The summit with North Korea is coming up next week, but Trump isn’t listening to advice from experts on how to proceed, according to Politico: Trump and Bolton spurn top-level North Korea planning.
National Security Adviser John Bolton has yet to convene a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with North Korea next week, a striking break from past practice that suggests the Trump White House is largely improvising its approach to the unprecedented nuclear talks.
For decades, top presidential advisers have used a methodical process to hash out national security issues before offering the president a menu of options for key decisions. On an issue like North Korea, that would mean White House Situation Room gatherings of the secretaries of state and defense along with top intelligence officials, the United Nations ambassador, and even the treasury secretary, who oversees economic sanctions.
But since Trump agreed on a whim to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on March 8, the White House’s summit planning has been unstructured, according to a half-dozen administration officials. Trump himself has driven the preparation almost exclusively on his own, consulting little with his national security team outside of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Senior officials from both the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations called the absence of a formal interagency process before such a consequential meeting troubling. Peter Feaver, a former National Security Council (NSC) official in the George W. Bush White House, said his colleagues would likely have held “quite a few” meetings of the so-called Principals Committee of Cabinet-level NSC members in a comparable situation. A former top Obama White House official echoed that point, calling the lack of top-level NSC meetings “shocking.”
Trump has also not presided personally over a meeting of those senior NSC officials, as a president typically does when making the most important decisions.
On the other hand, Trump has given serious thought to whether he should invite Kim Jong Un to play golf with him in Florida if the summit goes well. The Daily Beast reports:
Trump has floated hitting the links with his counterpart as he considers a secondary charm offensive to complement the diplomatic tête-à-tête. The president has already told those close to him and advisers that he is open to inviting Kim to a follow-up summit at Trump’s famous Mar-a-Lago estate and private club in Palm Beach, Florida, as Bloomberg first reported this week.
“He has also discussed [possibly] golfing with Kim,” a senior Trump administration official said.
It is unclear if such an outing would or could occur during a potential follow-up meeting or the one planned, then canceled, then planned again for Singapore. The site of the upcoming Singapore talks, a five-star hotel on Sentosa Island, is located near a theme park, resorts, and—as luck would have it—multiple golf courses.
The article says no one actually know if Kim even plays golf.
I suppose Kim would agree with Trump on this though. At The Washington Post, Josh Rogin writes that Trump still wants to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea.
For almost two years, President Trump has been talking about withdrawing large numbers of U.S. troops from South Korea, where there are currently around 28,000 stationed. The president’s advisers have repeatedly argued against a large-scale reduction, but he remains unpersuaded. And after his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump will have another big chance to push the issue.
Less publicly, but still privately, Trump continues to say he doesn’t agree with the argument that U.S. troops in South Korea are strategically necessary, and he thinks the United States gets nothing back from paying to keep them there, according to administration officials and people who have spoken to Trump directly about the issue. He often asks his generals to explain the rationale for America’s deployments in Asia and expresses dissatisfaction with their answers.
At Trump’s direction, the Pentagon has taken a hard line in ongoing negotiations with the South Korean government over a new cost-sharing agreement for U.S. troops there. If those negotiations fail, Trump could have another excuse to move forward with large reductions….
Inside the administration, top officials have been trying — and failing — to convince the president of the strategic value of the South Korea-based troops since the beginning of his administration. In February, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly reportedly talked Trump down from starting a withdrawal.
Trump has picked fights with most of our allies at this point. Now he’s whining about having to to the Canada on Friday because he’s mad at Justin Trudeau.
The president has vented privately about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as their trade tensions have spilled into public view. He has mused about finding new ways to punish the United States’ northern neighbor in recent days, frustrated with the country’s retaliatory trade moves.
And Trump has complained to aides about spending two days in Canada for a summit of world leaders, believing the trip is a distraction from his upcoming Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to three people familiar with Trump’s views.
In particular, the president said Tuesday to several advisers that he fears attending the Group of Seven summit in rural Charlevoix, Quebec, may not be a good use of his time because he is diametrically opposed on many key issues with his counterparts — and does not want to be lectured by them.
Additionally, Trump has griped periodically both about German Chancellor Angela Merkel — largely because they disagree on many issues and have had an uneasy rapport — as well as British Prime Minister Theresa May, whom he sees as too politically correct, advisers say.
Awwww . . . poor baby. BTW, have you heard that State Department spokesperson and former Fox and Friends host Heather Nauert thinks Germany was our ally during World War II? Rachel Maddow discussed this at the beginning of her show last night.
Please watch the video–even if you already saw it last night. These are the people who are running our foreign policy!
Politico reports that many foreign leaders are beginning to wake up to Trump’s insanity: Foreign leaders who embraced Trump now feel burned.
Trump calls Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who visits the White House Thursday, his “good friend.” French president Emmanuel Macron is a “great friend.” And Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a “great friend, neighbor, and ally.” All have sought to butter up Trump through friendly face time, recognizing that the quickest way to the president’s heart is through his ego.
But all, to varying degrees, are exasperated with Trump.
The president is moving ahead with a June 12 summit with North Korea despite Abe’s grave concerns about its wisdom. He has also threatened to slap tariffs on imported Japanese cars and metals. It’s hardly what Abe expected when he became the first foreign leader to meet with Trump after the November election or when he flew with Trump on Air Force One in February 2017 for golfing at his Mar a Lago resort.
Macron treated Trump to a military parade in Paris last summer. He and Trump also exchanged hugs and handshakes during an April visit by the French leader, during which Trump said of his guest: “He is perfect.” But a few weeks later, Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal despite French pleas, and shows no sign of heeding Macron’s request that he rejoin the Paris climate accords, which Trump rejected last year.
Trump has also threatened trade sanctions on the European Union, and is already slapping them on Canada — prompting Trudeau to call Trump’s tariffs on steel imports “insulting and unacceptable.” That’s a change of tune from the early months of Trump’s presidency, when Trudeau avoided criticizing Trump, and even took Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to a Broadway play in March 2017.
All have paid a domestic political price back home for their efforts to make nice with a highly divisive U.S. president. One French parliamentarian fumed after Macron’s visit that France had “prostituted” and “humiliated” itself.
Angela Merkel knew who she was dealing with from day one, evidence that we need more women in leadership positions around the world.
That’s it for me today. What stories have you been following?
The news has been overwhelming since Monday morning dawned. I’m feeling overwhelmed and I was going to go with baby animals, but then I found some great historical photos on Twitter.
Trump just finished his insane speech to the UN. I couldn’t stand to listen to him, but I watched with the sound off and closed captions.
The headline from the speech was that Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and again called Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man.” He also called for complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. That obviously will not happen. So should we prepare for nuclear war?
In addition, Trump ranted about “America first” and said every nation should put itself first–except when he was ranting about Syria, Afghanistan, ISIS, and North Korea. He also threatened to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. According to the talking heads on MSNBC, there were audible gasps from the audience during at some points in the speech.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria has already devastated Dominica and is headed for Puerto Rico. The Washington Post: ‘Extremely dangerous’ Hurricane Maria churns toward Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico; Jose to scrape Northeast coast.
The wicked 2017 hurricane season began delivering more punishing blows Tuesday as Hurricane Maria raked across the Caribbean with “potentially catastrophic” winds of 160 mph. To the north, Hurricane Jose churned on a path to brush the Northeast coast with raging surf and potentially damaging gusts.
Maria strengthened to the highest-level Category 5 on Tuesday after making landfall on the island of Dominica. The storm carries the potential to cause widespread destruction along its path from the central Lesser Antilles through Puerto Rico, including some areas battered earlier this month by the huge Hurricane Irma.
“Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane while it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday.
Jose is capable of producing coastal flooding and pockets of damaging wind from eastern Long Island to coastal Massachusetts, its effects are most likely to resemble those of a strong nor’easter — rather than a devastating hurricane.
It’s already pouring rain here, and I guess that’s going to continue through tomorrow. We haven’t seem much of the sun here lately, but that’s not a big deal. I just hope Maria slows down before she gets to you all down South.
We got big news in the Russia investigation last night. We learned that Paul Manafort was under surveillance under a FISA warrant beginning in 2014 and again before and after the inauguration while Trump was still talking to him on the phone. If you haven’t read the NYT and CNN stories, be sure to check them out. We also learned that the FBI raid on Manafort’s home was a “no-knock” warrant and agents surprised him in his bedroom.
Three reactions to these stories:
As Jim Comey might put it: Lordy, there appear to be tapes….
The Times’ revelation that Manafort has been informed that he will be indicted involves a pretty spare set of reported facts. In fact, there’s really only one fact: “The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.” The language here is not legally precise. It could mean that Manafort has been formally informed that he is an investigative “target”—a designation that means that prosecutors intend to ask a grand jury to indict him. It could, instead, suggest something less than that—a kind of verbal aggressiveness designed to put pressure on him to cooperate.
The significance of this is that it means that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has reached a critical stage—the point at which he may soon start making allegations in public. Those allegations may involve conduct unrelated to L’Affaire Russe—that is, alleged bad behavior by Manafort and maybe others that does not involve the Trump campaign—but which may nonetheless serve to pressure Manafort to cooperate on matters more central. Or they may involve conduct that involves his behavior with respect to the campaign itself. Note that if Manafort cooperates, we may not see anything public for a long time to come. Delay, that is, may be a sign of success. But in the absence of cooperation, the fireworks may be about to begin.
This is not the first indication in recent weeks that the Mueller investigation is nearing the litigation stage. The fact that Mueller’s staff executed a search warrant against Manafort in July—which was first reported Aug. 9 by the Washington Post—was telling, implying that the special counsel had shown a court probable cause of criminal activity.
That’s just a taste. Head over to Lawfare to read the whole thing. You won’t be sorry.
Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider: Raids, warrants, and wiretaps: The Trump-Russia probe ‘has reached a critical stage.’
Recent revelations about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference and potential collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign team indicate that the case has reached the point where Mueller may soon start announcing criminal charges.
The Wall Street Journal and CNN reported on Friday that Mueller had 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 said the warrant meant Mueller had been able to convince a federal judge that there was good reason to believe a foreign entity had committed a crime by making campaign contributions in the form of ads and the spread of fake news and that evidence of that crime would be found on Facebook.
Three days later, The New York Times reported that Mueller told Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, he was going to be formally charged with a crime following a raid on his Virginia home over the summer.
Mueller has also issued subpoenas to a Manafort spokesman, Jason Maloni, and former attorney, Melissa Laurenza, to testify before a federal grand jury.
Bertrand’s piece is partially a summary of the longer Lawfare article.
The Washington Post: The Daily 202: Mueller tightening the screws on Manafort. This one is useful summary of the stories that broke yesterday.
Mueller is also “turning up the heat on Facebook.” Vanity Fair:
Facebook is facing an unusual degree of scrutiny as Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors makes the social media a central focus of the Justice Department’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including how the platform was used to disseminate foreign propaganda and misleading news stories. There are lots of attempts these days to get the attention of many people on various social media accounts, so have even started buying YouTube views to gain popularity. Earlier this month, Facebook told congressional investigators that it sold about $100,000 worth of ads to a pro-Kremlin Russian troll farm that targeted U.S. voters. But while some lawmakers appeared frustrated by Facebook’s overly general answers to their inquiries, Mueller isn’t asking nicely.
The latest revelation could mark a turning point in Mueller’s investigation. In order to obtain a search warrant, the former F.B.I. director would have had to prove that he has evidence suggesting a crime occurred and that it occurred on Facebook. “He would have to sort of lay out evidence showing that this crime had occurred, not just merely say so, but records that he had obtained, testimony that had been given, or interviews that people gave to the F.B.I.,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told CBS News on Sunday. “It’s a very serious and significant move forward for the Mueller investigation.” Anyone who was part of that effort could be criminally liable, he added. Because Mueller has been looking at relatively specific, narrow crimes, Mariotti said he believes the special counsel’s office is “closing in on charging foreign individuals.” As Chris Smithwrote for Vanity Fair on Friday, some lawmakers believe that investigation could include a closer look at the election data operation run by Jared Kushner and Trump’s digital campaign chief, Brad Parscale, as well as their work with the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica.
More at the link.
Finally, long-time Trump toady Michael Cohen [was scheduled to appear] before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning. NBC News:
Cohen, who served as executive vice president and special counsel at the Trump Organization and continues to serve as the president’s personal attorney, is perhaps the closest associate to Trump outside of his immediate family. He will speak with professional staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday weeks after the president’s son and son-in-law spoke with it and other congressional panels looking into Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections.
According to congressional sources, the committee intends to pursue several lines of questioning with Cohen, with the goal of putting him on the record on key topics that have drawn scrutiny during the investigation, including potential direct contacts between Trump associates and people with close ties to the Kremlin.
Cohen had been mentioned by name in a dossier on Trump prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele, alleging he attended a secret meeting in Prague in August 2016 to discuss Russia’s hacking of Democratic targets. Cohen has adamantly denied such a meeting, and his own attorney called the allegations “wholly unsubstantiated” and even “libelous” in a letter to leaders of the House Intelligence Committee in August.
Committee staff will also likely ask Cohen about emails he received in 2015 from Felix Sater, a former Trump associate with a criminal past, about a potential deal to open a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. Some of the emails were published by the New York Times in August.
UPDATE: Cohen’s appearance was cancelled because he violated an agreement not to speak to the media. He will now be subpoenaed.
As you know, the Republicans are making a last ditch effort to take health care away from Americans. Margaret Sanger-Katz at the NYT The Upshot: One Reason to Take the Latest Obamacare Repeal Seriously, and Three Reasons It Could Fail.
How seriously should Americans take the Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act?
The party has until the end of the month to repeal the health law without needing 60 Senate votes. That’s why the latest proposal, by Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is getting so much attention.
Their bill would eliminate the two big coverage programs created by Obamacare, and instead give blocks of money to state governments, with few limitations on how they can distribute them to provide health coverage to their residents. States would be free to eliminate Obamacare rules requiring that insurance cover a minimum package of benefits, and they could charge sick customers more than healthy customers.
It would also make major changes to Medicaid, reducing federal funding even for populations that were covered before Obamacare. The results would most likely be substantial reductions in the number of Americans with health coverage, and new challenges for Americans with pre-existing health conditions in some states.
There are elements of the bill that are likely to attract support from Republican lawmakers, and from some Republican governors. The policy is in line with many Republican lawmakers’ views that states are better able to manage their health programs than the federal government.
But the bill faces substantial challenges, both political and procedural. Here are three reasons the effort may not succeed — and one very important reason it might.
Read the reasons at the NYT link.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.