Thursday Reads: A Mixed BagPosted: January 12, 2023 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, just because | Tags: classified documents, CPAC, Herschel Walker staffer, Hunter Biden, hypocrisy, Jeff Beck, Jim Jordan, Joe Biden, Matt Schlapp 23 Comments
There isn’t any big overarching story dominating today’s news, so I have a mixed bag of articles to share.
I’m going to begin with a story that should be a huge scandal, but the mainstream media and cable news stations have been slow to cover it–I’m not sure why. I posted the story a couple of times here after Roger Sollenberger of The Daily Beast broke it on January 5: Herschel Walker Staffer: Matt Schlapp ‘Groped’ My Crotch.
A staffer for Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign has alleged to The Daily Beast that longtime Republican activist Matt Schlapp made “sustained and unwanted and unsolicited” sexual contact with him while the staffer was driving Schlapp back from an Atlanta bar this October.
The staffer said the incident occurred the night of Oct. 19, when Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union and lead organizer for the influential Conservative Political Action Conference, “groped” and “fondled” his crotch in his car against his will after buying him drinks at two different bars.
The staffer described Schlapp, who had traveled to Georgia for a Walker campaign event, as inappropriately and repeatedly intruding into his personal space at the bars. He said he was also keenly aware of his “power dynamic” with Schlapp, widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in national conservative politics.
Read more at the link. Yesterday, CNN finally picked up the story and discussed it extensively on the air; and The New York Daily News published an article about it. Maybe now it will get more attention.
From the CNN story: GOP strategist alleges powerful conservative Matt Schlapp sexually assaulted him.
A Republican strategist alleges that Matt Schlapp, the influential chairman of the American Conservative Union, groped and fondled his groin as he drove Schlapp back to an Atlanta hotel several weeks before the November midterm election.
The strategist, a male in his late thirties who was working for the Georgia GOP and Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign at the time, told CNN that Schlapp made the unwanted sexual advances on the ride back from two area bars on October 19. Schlapp allegedly invited the strategist, who was assigned to drive Schlapp, to join him in his hotel room. The staffer declined the offer, and hours later reported the incident to senior campaign staff….
The staffer says he called and texted friends in real time to tell them what happened. CNN reviewed a text exchange between the staffer and a friend in politics, where the staffer is clearly upset and wondering how to tell the campaign that one of their surrogates had allegedly assaulted him. The exchange is being made public for the first time.
“He’s pissed I didn’t follow him to his hotel room,” the staffer wrote.
“I’m so sorry man,” the acquaintance responded. “What a f**king creep.”
The staffer later texted, “I just don’t know how to say it to my superiors thst heir [sic] surrogate fondled my junk without my consent.” [….]
Schlapp runs the ACU, the organization most widely known for staging the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. Both Schlapp and the group occasionally butted heads with Donald Trump before he was elected president in 2016, but have since become fierce loyalists. Schlapp, who served in the George W. Bush White House as director of political affairs, took over the ACU in 2014. His wife, Mercedes Schlapp, worked as Trump’s communications director for nearly two years, from 2017 to 2019.
More on the text messages:
According to text messages reviewed by CNN, Schlapp suggested meeting the staffer for drinks.
“I have a dinner at 7. May grab a beer after if you want to join let me know,” Schlapp texted the staffer. The staffer told CNN he joined Schlapp because of the ACU leader’s standing in conservative political circles.
Once at the bar, the staffer says Schlapp began to inappropriately invade his personal space. After leaving the bar, the staffer alleges Schlapp sexually assaulted him as he was driving Schlapp back to his hotel. The staffer said he did not respond in the moment because he was stunned into silence and was focused on getting Schlapp out of the car as quickly as possible.
Later that evening, Schlapp called the staffer, according to a call log reviewed by CNN, to confirm the staffer would be driving him to another Walker event the next morning. After receiving the call, the staffer says he broke down and memorialized what happened by recording videos of himself describing the alleged assault.
“Matt Schlapp, of the CPAC, grabbed my junk and pummeled it at length. And I’m sitting there (in the car) saying, ‘What the hell is going on that this person with a wife and kids is literally doing this to me, from Manuel’s Tavern to the Hilton Garden Inn there at the Atlanta Airport,’” the staffer says in one of the self-recorded clips, which CNN reviewed. “He literally has his hands on me. And I feel so f**king dirty. Feel so f**king dirty. So I don’t know what to do in the morning.”
The next morning, the staffer told top Walker campaign officials about the alleged incident and they immediately directed him not to drive Schlapp and to pass on a number of a car service.
Why isn’t this story getting more traction? Is it because Schlapp is so powerful within the GOP? He heads up organizations that are virulently anti-gay. I’m waiting for it to come out in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Next, Joe Biden’s lawyers found a second batch of classified documents in Delaware. There’s no comparison with what Trump did, but I’m worried that this may prevent the DOJ from prosecuting Trump for actually stealing government documents and refusing to return them.
The New York Times: Second Set of Classified Documents Were Found at Biden’s Wilmington Home, White House Says.
The second set of classified documents from President Biden’s time as vice president were discovered at a storage space in the garage of his home in Wilmington, Del., a top White House lawyer said on Thursday….
The White House statement, by Richard Sauber, a special counsel to Mr. Biden, did not answer fundamental questions about the contents of the documents, who packed them and whether anyone had gained access to them after he left office. It also did not say when the second batch had been found.
The statement came after the White House acknowledged this week that an earlier batch had been discovered on Nov. 2 in the closet of an office at a think tank that Mr. Biden had used after leaving the vice presidency.
The statement added that the Biden team immediately notified the Justice Department and arranged for it to take possession of the documents.
Mr. Sauber said Mr. Biden’s team had also searched a house the president owned in Rehoboth Beach, Del., but found no documents stored there.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden told reporters in Mexico City that he was “surprised” to learn in the fall that his lawyers had found classified government documents in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
He said his staff had fully cooperated with the National Archives and the Justice Department, but made no mention of the documents later found in Delaware.
Mr. Biden’s lawyers discovered “a small number” of classified documents in his former office at a Washington think tank last fall, the White House said on Monday, prompting the Justice Department to scrutinize the situation to determine how to proceed.
As you probably know, the Justice Department is investigating and will eventually decide whether a special counsel should be appointed. So far, there isn’t any comparison between what Trump and Biden did, but of course Republicans will make that claim. Here’s a good thread on the differences between the two.
Read the rest on Twitter.
Jim Jordan, who will be in charge of the Judiciary Committee and the so-called “weaponization of government” subcommittee, is probably salivating over this story. This is from Loch K. Johnson, Frederick Baron, and Dennis Aftergut at The Bulwark: Jim Jordan, Church Committee Pretender.
Members of the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives are trying to stick a civil libertarian label on the subcommittee they’re creating to “investigate the investigators.” Its formal name will be the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. But when talking about it to the press, some Republicans have taken to calling it a reincarnated “Church committee.”
They are invoking the 1975-76 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities chaired by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho). That committee was launched after a bombshell 1974 New York Times report about Nixon-era CIA domestic surveillance on anti-war activists and other dissident American citizens.
Two of us (Johnson and Baron) served in key staff positions on the Church committee. The comparison is preposterous. The new House subcommittee is not remotely up to the Church committee standard—in origin, composition, or purpose.
To begin with, the Church committee bore serious moral authority, which arose from its truly bipartisan mission: tough-minded rethinking of intelligence agency activities under administrations of both parties stretching back almost twenty years.
Indispensable to its credibility was the energetic participation of steely moderate Republican senators like Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), Charles Mathias (R-Md.), and Richard Schweiker (R-Penn.). These were statesmen—intellectually honest and adept. In particular, Baker performed an indispensable, fair-minded role for Church committee Republicans, as he had done on the Senate Watergate Committee.
One example: Concerned about the Church committee’s probe into FBI activities against Martin Luther King Jr., Baker sought evenhandedness without obstruction. “Let’s have a balance, not just focus on King,” Baker said. “Perhaps a session on FBI infiltration of the KKK, too.”
On the Church committee, GOP senators—including the committee’s vice chairman, the conservative John Tower (R-Texas)—were willing to pursue the truth about the actions of Republican administrations. In turn, Democratic senators, including Church, Walter Mondale (D-Minn.), and Gary Hart (D-Col.), were willing to probe the actions of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. That commitment to nonpartisan inquiry catalyzed the committee’s powerful, evidence-based critique of intelligence agency misconduct, and serious proposals for agency reforms later adopted in the Ford and Carter administrations.
What the Church Committee did:
The Church committee unearthed dramatic breaches of law and American norms:
- CIA assassination plots against foreign leaders such as Fidel Castro in Cuba and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo.
- FBI COINTELPRO surveillance, infiltration, and disruption targeting King, his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the anti-Vietnam War movement.
- CIA and FBI mail-opening programs that snooped on broad swaths of U.S. citizens.
Those legitimate subjects of investigation are a far cry from what the new House subcommittee is setting out to do: fishing for stories about the mythical deep state and looking into “ongoing criminal investigations”—that is, going after the law enforcement officials investigating the January 6th insurrection.
Read the rest at the link.
Republicans are also salivating about the opportunity to “investigate” Hunter Biden. That could come back to bite Trump though.
The New York Times: Hunter Biden’s Tangled Tale Comes Front and Center.
The way Republicans tell it, President Biden has been complicit in a long-running scheme to profit from his position in public life through shady dealings around the world engineered by his son, Hunter Biden.
Taking a first step in their long-promised investigation, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday demanded information about the Bidens’ banking transactions from the Treasury Department. And in an earlier report on the Bidens intended to lay the groundwork for hearings they plan to hold, they said they had evidence “demonstrating deliberate, repeated deception of the American people, abuse of the executive branch for personal gain, use of government power to obstruct the investigation” and more.
The real Hunter Biden story is complex and very different in important ways from the narrative promoted by Republicans — but troubling in its own way.
After his father became vice president, Hunter Biden, a 52-year-old Yale-educated lawyer, forged business relationships with foreign interests that brought him millions of dollars, raised questions about whether he was cashing in on his family name, set off alarms among government officials about potential conflicts of interest, and provided Republicans an opening for years of attacks on his father.
And after the death of his brother, Beau, in 2015, Hunter descended into a spiral of addiction and tawdry and self-destructive behavior.
He is sober now and no longer entangled in foreign business deals. He is a visible presence in his father’s life — his oldest daughter was married at the White House in November, and he attended a state dinner last month.
But the investigation into his previous dealings may be coming to a head.
David C. Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware, is closing in on a decision about whether to prosecute Hunter Biden on charges stemming from his behavior during his most troubled years.
Investigators have pored over documents related to and questioned witnesses about his overseas business dealings. They include his role on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company led by an oligarch who at the time was under investigation for corruption — a position that Hunter accepted while his father, as vice president, was overseeing Obama administration policy in Ukraine.
They also include his equity stake in a Chinese business venture, and his failed joint venture with a Chinese tycoon who had courted well-connected Americans in both parties — at one point he gave Hunter Biden a large diamond as a gift — but was later detained by Chinese authorities.
Investigators have similarly sought information about interactions between Hunter Biden’s business associates and his father.
But Mr. Weiss, people familiar with the investigation say, appears to be focused on a less politically explosive set of possible charges stemming from his failure to meet filing deadlines for his 2016 and 2017 tax returns, and questions about whether he falsely claimed at least $30,000 in deductions for business expenses.
Mr. Weiss is also said to be considering charging Hunter Biden, who has openly acknowledged his years of struggle with drugs and alcohol, with lying on a U.S. government form that he filled out to purchase a handgun in 2018. On the form, he answered that he was not using drugs — an assertion that prosecutors might be able to challenge based on his erratic behavior and possible witness accounts of his drug use around that period.
One more sad story for us old fans of 1960’s rock. Yesterday, guitar legend Jeff Beck died suddenly of bacterial meningitis.
From the NYT obit: Jeff Beck, Guitarist With a Chapter in Rock History, Dies at 78.
Jeff Beck, one of the most skilled, admired and influential guitarists in rock history, died on Tuesday in a hospital near his home at Riverhall, a rural estate in southern England. He was 78.
The cause was bacterial meningitis, Melissa Dragich, his publicist, said.
During the 1960s and ’70s, as either a member of the Yardbirds or as leader of his own bands, Mr. Beck brought a sense of adventure to his playing that helped make the recordings by those groups groundbreaking.
In 1965, when he joined the Yardbirds to replace another guitar hero, Eric Clapton, the group was already one of the defining acts in Britain’s growing electric blues movement. But his stinging licks and darting leads on songs like “Shapes of Things” and “Over Under Sideways Down” added an expansive element to the music that helped signal the emerging psychedelic rock revolution.
Three years later, when Mr. Beck formed his own band, later known as the Jeff Beck Group — along with Rod Stewart, a little-known singer at the time, and the equally obscure Ron Wood on bass — the weight of the music created an early template for heavy metal. Specifically, the band’s 1968 debut, “Truth,” provided a blueprint that another former guitar colleague from the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page, drew on to found Led Zeppelin several months later.
In 1975, when Mr. Beck began his solo career with the “Blow by Blow” album, he reconfigured the essential formula of that era’s fusion movement, tipping the balance of its influences from jazz to rock and funk, in the process creating a sound that was both startlingly new and highly successful. “Blow by Blow” became a Billboard Top 5 and, selling a million or more copies, a platinum hit.
Along the way, Mr. Beck helped either pioneer or amplify important technical innovations on his instrument. He elaborated the use of distortion and feedback effects, earlier explored by Pete Townshend; intensified the effect of bending notes on the guitar; and widened the range of expression that could be coaxed from devices attached to the guitar like the whammy bar.
Drawing on such techniques, Mr. Beck could weaponize his strings to hit like a stun gun or caress them to express what felt like a kiss. His work had humor, too, with licks that could cackle and leads that could tease.
Click the NYT link to read the rest. I saw the Jeff Beck Group at The Boston Tea Party in 1968 or 1969. The warm-up group was Buddy Miles. Rod Stewart was impressive as the lead singer. That was before he went more mainstream. Anyway, it was a great show. The Tea Party was a great big hall–no seats or anything and it was LOUD.
Have a great Thursday everyone!!
Thursday Reads: Will the Mueller Investigation Go Out “Not With A Bang, But A Whimper”?Posted: February 21, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Andrew McCabe, Andrew Miller, CNN, Donald Trump, Jerome Corsi, Matt Schlapp, Mercedes Schlapp, MSNBC, mystery foreign corporation, Robert Mueller, Roger Stone, Russia investigation, Sarah Isgur Flores, Special Counsel, T. S. Elliot, William Barr 37 Comments
Trump’s handpicked Attorney General has been in place for just a few days, and suddenly multiple news organizations are reporting that the Mueller investigation is ending soon. Interestingly, The New York Times has not yet reported this story.
What’s going on? There are multiple outstanding cases. Roger Stone was only recently arrested and the Special Counsel’s Office can’t possibly have gone through all the materials they collected in searches at three different locations. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the mystery foreign company that is resisting the SCO’s subpoena. Andrew Miller is still fighting a grand jury subpoena. What about the case of Jerome Corsi, who said he was told he’d be indicted? What about Donald Trump Jr.?
I think we have to ask if in fact the Trump obstruction has finally worked. I’d also like to know why reporters are so gleeful about the purported end of the investigation? Why is there no skepticism about how coincidental this all seems.
There’s also this:
WTF? Note that Matt Schlapp’s wife Mercedes is the White House Director of Strategic Communications.
One more coincidence: the new politics editor at CNN is Sarah Isgur Flores, a right wing conspiracy theorist who most recently worked as Jeff Sessions’ spokesperson at DOJ. Could she be a source for these stories about the end of the Mueller probe?
Vanity Fair: “She Was Pitching her Intimate Knowledge of the Mueller Probe”: Sarah Isgur Flores, Former Trumper, Talked to MSNBC Before Signing with CNN.
CNN’s hiring of Sarah Isgur Flores, a longtime G.O.P. operative who has worked for Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz, and most recently served as a spokeswoman for Jeff Sessions in the Justice Department (a position that reportedly involved a loyalty pledge to Donald Trump), caused an immediate and fairly predictable media firestorm. Unlike Corey Lewandowski, who was hired to great consternation during the 2016 election cycle (and then terminated), Flores won’t simply be an ideological talking head—she’ll be playing a larger role in the editorial process. Despite a lack of journalism experience, she will be helping to coordinate CNN’s political coverage across platforms, as well as occasionally appearing on-air as a political analyst, which is the more customary role for former politicians and government officials. Within the media world, she is seen as a controversial and unorthodox appointment. Moreover, Isgur apparently has a history of lambasting the mainstream media on Twitter, including CNN, which she once termed the “Clinton News Network.”
All of this has led to a fair amount of bafflement as to why CNN would hire her in a senior editorial role reporting to political director David Chalian.“Why CNN made this move to begin with is the deeper and more troubling question,” Margaret Sullivan wrote Wednesday in The Washington Post.
As far as how the talks came about in the first place, it appears that Isgur, as she was preparing to exit the D.O.J., wasn’t only shopping around for a media gig at CNN. Cable-news sources told me that she also passed through 30 Rock to discuss a potential role at MSNBC, where she met with top newsroom management in recent months. “She had a detailed idea of what she wanted to do,” someone with knowledge of the discussions told me. “She wanted to do something on-air combined with some sort of quasi-management, behind-the-scenes planning kind of work. I think she looked at Dave Chalian and said, I wanna do that.” A second source with direct knowledge of the talks said that such a role “was never under consideration.” This person added, “She was pitching her intimate knowledge of the Mueller probe as a selling point.”
Read the rest at Vanity Fair.
Here’s some speculation from Emptywheel: The Significance of the Rod Rosenstein/William Barr Window.
This is happening in the window of time when Rod Rosenstein is still around and — because William Barr has presumably not been through an ethics review on the investigation — presumably back in charge of sole day-to-day supervision of the investigation. But it is happening after Barr has been confirmed, and so any problems with the investigation that might stem from having an inferior officer (an unconfirmed hack like the Big Dick Toilet Salesman) supervising Mueller are gone.
I’m fairly certain the concerns about Barr coming in and forcing Mueller to finish this are misplaced. I say that, in part, because Mueller seemed to be preparing for this timing. I say it, too, because Barr is too close to Mueller to do that to him.
That says that Mueller is choosing this timing (and choosing not to wait for the appeals to be done). Whatever reason dictates this timing, by doing it in this window, Mueller can ensure the legitimacy of what happens, both legally (because Barr will be in place) and politically (because it will be clear Rosenstein presided over it).
I still don’t get it. It looks to me like we are going to have to count on the Democrats in the House to continue the investigation. Meanwhile Andrew McCabe is just beginning his book tour and he clearly thinks that Trump is a Russian asset.
This afternoon, Roger Stone will learn whether he is going to jail for threatening the judge in his case or if he at least will have to pay some bail instead of continuing to be free on his own recognizance. It’s also still possible there could be indictments tomorrow. And Mueller could file a detailed “report” in the sentencing memo for Paul Manafort on Friday. It’s also possible that Mueller isn’t really wrapping up. We’ll have to wait and see.
Two More Reads on Mueller’s Supposed End
Neal Kaytal at The New York times: The Mueller Report Is Coming. Here’s What to Expect.
The special counsel Robert Mueller will apparently soon turn in a report to the new attorney general, William Barr. Sure, there is still a lot of activity, including subpoenas, flying around, but that shouldn’t stop Mr. Mueller.
The report is unlikely to be a dictionary-thick tome, which will disappoint some observers. But such brevity is not necessarily good news for the president. In fact, quite the opposite.
For months, the president’s lawyers have tried to discredit Mr. Mueller and this report, but their efforts may have backfired. A concise Mueller report might act as a “road map” to investigation for the Democratic House of Representatives — and it might also lead to further criminal investigation by other prosecutors. A short Mueller report would mark the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.
The report is unlikely to be lengthy by design: The special counsel regulations, which I had the privilege of drafting in 1999, envision a report that is concise, “a summary” of what he found. And Mr. Mueller’s mandate is limited: to look into criminal activity and counterintelligence matters surrounding Russia and the 2016 election, as well as any obstruction of justice relating to those investigations.
The regulations require the attorney general to give Congress a report, too. The regulations speak of the need for public confidence in the administration of justice and even have a provision for public release of the attorney general’s report. In a world where Mr. Mueller was the only investigator, the pressure for a comprehensive report to the public would be overwhelming.
This is where the “witch hunt” attacks on Mr. Mueller may have backfired. For 19 months, Mr. Trump and his team have had one target to shoot at, and that target has had limited jurisdiction. But now the investigation resembles the architecture of the internet, with many different nodes, and some of those nodes possess potentially unlimited jurisdiction. Their powers and scope go well beyond Mr. Mueller’s circumscribed mandate; they go to Mr. Trump’s judgment and whether he lied to the American people. They also include law enforcement investigations having nothing to do with Russia, such as whether the president directed the commission of serious campaign finance crimes, as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have already stated in filings. These are all critical matters, each with serious factual predicates already uncovered by prosecutors.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Garrett Graff at Wired: 7 Scenarios for how the Mueller Probe Might “Wrap Up.”
THE BREAKING NEWS hit a snowy Washington on Wednesday: Newly installed attorney general William Barrappears to be preparing to announce the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
But what would “Mueller wrapping up” actually mean?
And does the rapid movement, soon after Barr was installed at the Justice Department, indicate that he shut down the Mueller probe prematurely? A recent New York Times article documenting Trump’s two-year-long campaign to obstruct and muddy the investigation exacerbated those fears, as did an ominous tweet by conservative commentator—and White House spouse—Matt Schlapp pronouncing that “Mueller will be gone soon.”
The tea leaves around Mueller in recent weeks seem especially hard to read—and they’re conflicting at best. CNN’s special counsel stakeout has spotted prosecutors working long hours, through snow days and holidays—just as they were in the days before Michael Cohen’s surprise guilty plea last fall for lying to Congress—yet there’s also been no apparent grand jury movement since Roger Stone’s indictment. So even as CNN’s stakeout spotted DC prosecutors entering Mueller’s offices—the type of people who Mueller might hand off cases to as he winds down—and the special counsel’s staff carting out boxes, there’s also recent evidence that Mueller still has a longer game in mind. The Roger Stone prosecution is just getting underway. Mueller is still litigating over a mystery foreign company. And he’s pushing forward trying to gain testimony from a Stone associate, Andrew Miller.
In fact, the list of loose threads at this point is, in some ways, longer than the list of what Mueller has done publicly. There’s conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi’s aborted plea deal; would-be Middle East power broker George Nader’s lengthy cooperation with Mueller, which has resulted in no public charges; the mysterious Seychelles meeting between Blackwater mercenary founder Erik Prince and a Russian businessman; and then—of course—the big question of obstruction of justice. Add to that the host of recent witness testimony from the House Intelligence Committee that representative Adam Schiff has turned over to Mueller’s office, in which other witnesses, Schiff says, appear to have lied to Congress. And besides, there are a host of breadcrumbs that Mueller left in the more than 500 pages of his court filings that would all prove superfluous if further action didn’t lie ahead.
Head over to Wired to read the rest.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.