Thursday Reads: Russia News and Natural Disasters

Goldie Hawn reading a newspaper

Good Morning!!

Naegeli court reporters investigation is getting closer and closer to Trump. Here are the stories that broke just last night, with brief excerpts:

The New York Times: Mueller Seeks White House Documents Related to Trump’s Actions as President.

In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s office sent a document to the White House that detailed 13 areas in which investigators are seeking information. Since then, administration lawyers have been scouring White House emails and asking officials whether they have other documents or notes that may pertain to Mr. Mueller’s requests.

One of the requests is about a meeting Mr. Trump had in May with Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, was fired. That day, Mr. Trump met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, along with other Russian officials. The New York Times reported that in the meeting Mr. Trump had said that firing Mr. Comey relieved “great pressure” on him.

Mr. Mueller has also requested documents about the circumstances of the firing of Michael T. Flynn, who was Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. Additionally, the special counsel has asked for documents about how the White House responded to questions from The Times about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. That meeting was set up by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son,Th to get derogatory information from Russians about Hillary Clinton.

Jane Fonda

The Washington Post: Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire ‘private briefings’ on 2016 campaign.

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.

Interesting Twitter posts on this subject:

Isn’t that fascinating? Trump and Putin are obviously still collaborating.

One more from the NYT last night: Manafort Working on Kurdish Referendum Opposed by U.S.

Paul J. Manafort, the former campaign chairman for President Trump who is at the center of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, is working for allies of the leader of Iraq’s Kurdish region to help administer and promote a referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq.

The United States opposes the referendum, but Mr. Manafort has carved out a long and lucrative career advising foreign clients whose interests have occasionally diverged from American foreign policy. And he has continued soliciting international business even as his past international work has become a focus of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into ties between Russia and Mr. Trump and his associates, including possible collusion between them to influence the presidential election.

In fact, the work for the Kurdish group appears to have been initiated this summer around the time that federal authorities working for Mr. Mueller raided Mr. Manafort’s home in Virginia and informed him that they planned to indict him.

Catherine Deneuve

Manafort is in serious trouble. It’s hard to believe he’s still refusing to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. It also looks like Trump is royally f**cked at least in terms of obstruction of justice, thanks to his own loose lips in the Lester Holt interview and his chummy Oval Office meeting with the Russians.

More Russia-related stories from this morning:

Politico: Manafort used Trump campaign account to email Ukrainian operative.

Former Donald Trump aide Paul Manafort used his presidential campaign email account to correspond with a Ukrainian political operative with suspected Russian ties, according to people familiar with the correspondence.

Manafort sent emails to seek repayment for previous work he did in Ukraine and to discuss potential new opportunities in the country, even as he chaired Trump’s presidential campaign, these people said….

In the emails to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort protégé who has previously been reported to have suspected ties to Russian intelligence, the longtime GOP operative made clear his significant sway in Trump’s campaign, one of the people familiar with the communications said. He and Kilimnik also met in the United States while Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, which he chaired until an August 2016 shake-up.

Mike Allen at Axios: Another potential Mueller honey pot: Spicer’s notebooks.

Now we can tell you about another potential honey pot for Mueller. Former colleagues of Sean Spicer tell Axios that he filled “notebook after notebook” during meetings at the Republican National Committee, later at the Trump campaign, and then at the White House.

When Spicer worked at the RNC, he was said to have filled black books emblazoned with the party’s seal. Spicer was so well-known for his copious notes that underlings joked about him writing a tell-all.
  • One source familiar with the matter said that the records were just to help him do his job.
  • “Sean documented everything,” the source said.
  • That surprised some officials of previous White Houses, who said that because of past investigations, they intentionally took as few notes as possible when they worked in the West Wing.

Allen texted Spicer about this story and Spicer flipped out, telling Allen to stop contacting him or he would “report to the appropriate authorities.” What authorities? Spicer thinks it’s illegal to text another private citizen–Allen says he has been on friendly terms with Spicer for “more than a dozen years.”

Marlon Brando

Axios also has a terrific timeline of Manfort’s activities beginning in 2006: How the Russia probe closed in on Paul Manafort.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at the LA Times: Trump will fire Robert Mueller eventually. What will happen next?

Here’s predicting flat out that yes, at some point Trump will try to oust Mueller.

As the probe advances, the likelihood increases that Mueller will uncover evidence of a serious offense by Trump. With the recent search of former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s home, Mueller has shown his willingness to follow the money trail aggressively. (The latest reports suggest that Mueller’s team is planning to indict Manafort for possible tax and financial crimes.) And Mueller has begun to negotiate interviews with up to a dozen White House aides as well as former White House officials. Trump likely fears that Mueller will zero in on something sleazy or criminal whose revelation could cripple his presidency. Each turn of the screw of the Mueller investigation — and there will be many — increases the pressure on Trump to act preemptively.

The odds also seem great that the erratic, power-consumed and thin-skinned Trump, who every week launches a new Twitter attack on a real or imagined enemy, will be unable to stay his hand month after month as the Mueller investigation unfolds. Like the fabled scorpion who stings the frog even though it dooms him, Trump, being Trump, won’t be able to endure domination by Mueller over the long term. Of course, Trump likely fails to appreciate that it is not Mueller personally, but the law, that is asserting its dominance.

Let’s say Trump snaps.

Angelina Jolie

To fire Mueller, Trump would need to order Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein to remove him. But Rosenstein, a career prosecutor with a strong dedication to the values of the Department of Justice, would likely resign his office rather than comply with the order, as would the department’s third-ranking official, Rachel Brand.

Eventually Trump, moving down the hierarchy, would find someone willing to fire Mueller (as Nixon found Robert Bork, the then-solicitor general, to fire Archibald Cox).

From there, Mueller could launch a legal challenge to the ouster (potentially with the support of the Department of Justice). It’s by no means clear that Mueller, an ex-Marine of legendary rectitude, would choose to sue. Assuming he did, though, he would need to overcome a series of constitutional arguments by the president’s lawyers that any restrictions on the president’s ability to terminate him would impinge on presidential power under Article II.

Click on the link to read the rest.

The natural disasters continue as Hurricane Maria devastates Puerto Rico and moves on the fresh destruction and Mexico City struggles to recover from the recent earthquake.

NBC News: Hurricane Maria Leaves Puerto Rico Facing Months Without Power.

Millions of people across Puerto Rico woke up Thursday to a grim new reality.

Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to hit the U.S. territory in almost a century, ravaged the island, demolishing homes and knocking out all electricity. It could take half a year to restore power to the nearly 3.5 million people who live there.

The eye of the storm moved offshore overnight, but the danger remained Thursday: Intense flooding was reported, particularly in San Juan, where many residential streets looked like rushing rivers.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said the devastation in the capital city was unlike any she had ever seen.

“The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there,” Cruz told MSNBC. “We’re looking at 4 to 6 months without electricity.”

Elizabeth Taylor

The Washington Post: Mexico anxiously awaits the fate of a 12-year-old schoolgirl after deadly earthquake.

 A sprawling earthquake recovery effort spanning several states turned intensely personal Thursday as Mexicans were riveted by an effort to save a 12-year-old girl who was pinned in the rubble of her elementary school.

The drama played out live late Wednesday and early Thursday on the major news channels here, with television cameras tracking every movement of the Mexican marines and others who sought to rescue the girl now known as “Frida Sofia.” Under a soft rain, the work was delicate and painstaking, relying on thermal cameras and other technology to try to locate and remove young children trapped for more than 30 hours after their school collapsed on Tuesday afternoon.

At one dramatic point in Wednesday night’s broadcast, Televisa reporter Danielle Dithurbide learned from the marine admiral leading the recovery effort that Frida Sofia — which may not be her real name — was able to tell rescuers that five other students were possibly trapped with her. It was unclear whether they were alive.

I’ll end with this from Grist, via Mother Jones: This Is the Hurricane Season Scientists Tried to Warn Us About.

There is evidence that we are emerging from an era of messy meteorological data, where we were blind to warming seas strengthening hurricanes because the really damaging ones were rare. If that’s true, weather historians may look to this year as the beginning of a frightening new phase of superstorms.

About 85 percent of all damage done by hurricanes is attributable to “major” storms—those stronger than Category 3, so roughly one-quarter of all storms. While relatively infrequent, they are by far the most destructive—a Category-5 cyclone has 500 times the power of a Category 1. Globally, major hurricanes have become slightly more common in recent decades, even as overall numbers have held steady.

Haley Mills

Further, there’s nothing in recorded history that resembles what Irma and Maria have inflicted on Caribbean islands in recent days. Since Sept. 6, the two hurricanes have made six separate landfalls at Category-5 strength. Before this month, just 18 such landfalls had happened in the previous 165 years (and never more than three in a single year). Clearly there’s something happening here—and there’s a developing consensus among scientists about what factors are responsible.

There have been only 33 Category 5 storms in the Atlantic since hurricane records began in 1851. Twenty-three of them have formed since 1961; 11 in only the last 14 years. Part of that uptick comes from better weather monitoring equipment, like satellites that help us spot hurricanes before they make landfall. But even since we developed satellite technology, there’s been a measurable increase in major storms.

The strongest hurricanes require an exceptionally warm ocean to intensify, and with water temperatures currently near record highs in the Caribbean, it’s providing conditions ripe for Category 5s. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, since 1970, the oceans have retained more than 90 percent of the excess energy generated from global warming. That’s a lot of extra fuel for stronger storms.

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?

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Lazy Saturday Reads: Epic Disasters and Russia Investigation News

Couch on the Porch by Frederick Childe Hassam

Good Morning!!

The news today is full of disasters, and it looks like that will continue over the weekend.

The New York Times has live updates on Hurricane Irma: Hurricane Irma Live Updates: ‘The Storm Is Here,’ Florida Governor Says.

Hurricane Irma churned toward Florida on Saturday, leaving a trail of death and destruction across the Caribbean and prompting one of the largest emergency evacuations in American history.

The storm shifted west, putting the Florida Keys in its cross hairs and prompting officials to open more shelters. By 7 a.m., the outer bands of Irma had begun moving into Miami-Dade County.

“Expect damaging winds and heavy rain,” the National Weather Service warned.

At least 20 people were confirmed dead by Friday night, when Irma made landfall in Cuba as a Category 5, lashing the island’s northern coast with a direct hit.

The hurricane was downgraded to Category 4 around 5 a.m. but was expected to strengthen before reaching Florida. About 5.6 million people — more than a quarter of the state’s population — have been ordered to leave their homes.

“The storm is here,” Gov. Rick Scott said at news conference Saturday morning, noting that 25,000 people had already lost power.

He said the storm surge could reach 12 feet. “This will cover your house,” he said. “You will not survive all this storm surge.”

The Boston Globe: How Hurricane Irma became so huge and destructive.

Claude Monet (1840-1926)

As Hurricane Irma barrels dangerously toward Florida, scientists say that a perfect mix of meteorological conditions has conspired over the past week to make the storm unusually large and powerful.

“You need just the right ingredients for a hurricane of this magnitude to last for so long,” said Phil Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University. “And Irma has had them all.”

Weather forecasters had already expected this summer to be an active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean because of warmer-than-average ocean surface temperatures, which provide fuel for hurricanes, as well as weaker-than-average wind shear, which can help to dissipate storms.

But even in that context, Irma was special.

Read the rest at the Globe.

Also worth reading is this meditation on Florida’s history by Michael Gruenwald at Politico: A Requiem for Florida, the Paradise That Should Never Have Been.

ORLANDO, Fla.—The first Americans to spend much time in South Florida were the U.S. Army men who chased the Seminole Indians around the peninsula in the 1830s. And they hated it. Today, their letters read like Yelp reviews of an arsenic café, denouncing the region as a “hideous,” “loathsome,” “diabolical,” “God-abandoned” mosquito refuge.

“Florida is certainly the poorest country that ever two people quarreled for,” one Army surgeon wrote. “It was the most dreary and pandemonium-like region I ever visited, nothing but barren wastes.” An officer summarized it as “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.” The future president Zachary Taylor, who commanded U.S. troops there for two years, groused that he wouldn’t trade a square foot of Michigan or Ohio for a square mile of Florida. The consensus among the soldiers was that the U.S. should just leave the area to the Indians and the mosquitoes; as one general put it, “I could not wish them all a worse place.” Or as one lieutenant complained: “Millions of money has been expended to gain this most barren, swampy, and good-for-nothing peninsula.”

Edmond François Aman-Jean (French artist, 1858–1936) Women Reading 1922

Today, Florida’s southern thumb has been transformed into a subtropical paradise for millions of residents and tourists, a sprawling megalopolis dangling into the Gulf Stream that could sustain hundreds of billions of dollars in damage if Hurricane Irma makes a direct hit. So it’s easy to forget that South Florida was once America’s last frontier, generally dismissed as an uninhabitable and undesirable wasteland, almost completely unsettled well after the West was won. “How far, far out of the world it seems,” Iza Hardy wrote in an 1887 book called Oranges and Alligators: Sketches of South Florida. And Hardy ventured only as far south as Orlando, which is actually central Florida, nearly 250 miles north of Miami. Back then, only about 300 hardy pioneers lived in modern-day South Florida. Miami wasn’t even incorporated as a city until 1896. And even then an early visitor declared that if he owned Miami and hell, he would rent out Miami and live in hell.

Head over to Politico to read the rest.

Mexico is dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake. NBC News: Mexico Earthquake Death Toll Climbs as Dozens Sleep on Streets.

JUCHITAN, Mexico — The death toll from one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in Mexico rose to at least 61 early Saturday as workers scrambled to respond to the destruction just as Hurricane Katia struck its coastline.

The 8.1 quake off the southern Pacific coast just before midnight Thursday toppled hundreds of buildings in several states. Hardest-hit was Juchitan, Oaxaca, where 36 people died and a third of the city’s homes collapsed or were otherwise rendered uninhabitable, President Enrique Pena Nieto said late Friday in an interview with the Televisa news network.

Edward Dufner (1871-1957), USA, 1938

In downtown Juchitan, the remains of brick walls and clay tile roofs cluttered streets as families dragged mattresses onto sidewalks to spend a second anxious night sleeping outdoors. Some were newly homeless, while others feared further aftershocks could topple their cracked adobe dwellings.

“We are all collapsed, our homes and our people,” said Rosa Elba Ortiz Santiago, 43, who sat with her teenage son and more than a dozen neighbors on an assortment of chairs. “We are used to earthquakes, but not of this magnitude.”

And that’s not all.

Even as she spoke, across the country, Hurricane Katia was roaring onshore north of Tecolutla in Veracruz state, pelting the region with intense rains and winds.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center reported Katia’s maximum sustained winds had dropped to 75 mph, making it a Category 1 storm when it made landfall. And it rapidly weakened even further over land into a tropical storm. The center said Katia was expected to dissipate over the course of Saturday.

But it was still expected to bring life-threatening floods and storm surge off the Gulf of Mexico, though the extent of the storm’s impact was unclear in the dark of night.

The Washington Post: Jose, ‘still a dangerous Category 4 hurricane,’ threatens second blow to Irma-ravaged islands.

CABARET, Haiti — Hurricane Jose, a powerhouse tropical cyclone barreling northwest toward the Caribbean islands already hammered by Irma, is now a “little weaker but still a dangerous Category 4 hurricane,” officials said.

The National Hurricane Center said Saturday morning that Jose’s maximum sustained wind speed is at 145 mph, as the storm churned toward the northern Leeward Islands. That’s down by 10 mph from late Friday, when officials said the hurricane was just shy of a Category 5 storm. Forecasters, however, cautioned that “some fluctuation in intensity, up or down, could occur during the next 24 hours.”

A hurricane warning is in effect for Sint Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barts.

Nora Heysen (1911-2003) London breakfast, 1935

Barbuda, which had been obliterated by Irma, has been downgraded to a tropical storm warning, the hurricane center said. The islands of Anguilla, Saba and St. Eustatius are also under a tropical storm warning.

Antigua and the British Virgin Islands are under a tropical storm watch.

Once Jose passes the northern Leeward Islands, Jose is projected to hook north and steadily lose muscle. It will, however, likely throw off tropical-storm strength weather felt Saturday night in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, which also sustained heavy damage during Irma.

The disasters caused by Hurricane Harvey have fallen off the front pages, but here’s an update at The New York Times: In Houston After the Storm, a City Split in Two.

HOUSTON — Natural disasters are capricious, carving a hopscotching path of destruction that can swamp one neighborhood but spare another, destroy a city block but leave one lone house untouched.

Across swaths of Houston, buzzing lawn mowers, crowded running paths and reopened Tex-Mex restaurants dishing out queso dip are the mile markers of a dried-out city hustling back to business.

Standing woman, reading under a tree René de Groux

But Nikki Thomason’s Houston feels like a different city altogether, one where Harvey never left.

Nearly two weeks had passed since the storm blew through, but on Thursday, brown, rancid water still filled the streets around her home in the Thornwood neighborhood, eddying around her front door and lapping at her living room windows.

“There’s two Houstons right now,” Ms. Thomason, 37, said. “We’re watching all these people begin to rebuild their lives and we’re stuck in this weird purgatory. We can’t even get our things.”

After a storm as widespread and devastating as Hurricane Harvey, which ground much of Texas to a dead stop for days and caused at least 60 deaths and up to $180 billion in damage, regular life in Houston now comes with a twinge of survivor’s guilt. It is only amplified by the knowledge that even as Houston cleans up, Florida is bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma.

In Russia investigation news, Bob Mueller has signaled his intention to question Trump current and former staffers. The Washington Post: Mueller gives White House names of 6 aides he expects to question in Russia probe.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has alerted the White House that his team will probably seek to interview six top current and former advisers to President Trump who were witnesses to several episodes relevant to the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the request.

Mueller’s interest in the aides, including trusted adviser Hope Hicks, former press secretary Sean Spicer and former chief of staff Reince Priebus, reflects how the probe that has dogged Trump’s presidency is starting to penetrate a closer circle of aides around the president.

John Lavery (Irish Painter, 1856-1941) Girl in a Red Dress Reading by a Swimming Pool

Each of the six advisers was privy to important internal discussions that have drawn the interest of Mueller’s investigators, according to people familiar with the probe, including his decision in May to fire FBI Director James B. Comey. Also of interest is the White House’s initial inaction after warnings about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s December discussions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States….

Roughly four weeks ago, the special counsel’s team provided the White House with the names of the first group of current and former Trump advisers and aides whom investigators expect to question.

In addition to Priebus, Spicer and Hicks, Mueller has notified the White House he will probably seek to question White House counsel Don McGahn and one of his deputies, James Burnham. Mueller’s office has also told the White House that investigators may want to interview Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

From expert on Russia Anne Applebaum at the Washington Post: The case for Trump-Russia collusion: We’re getting very, very close.

We now know the motives. In backing Donald Trump, Russia’s oligarchical class sought not only to disrupt U.S. politics but also to reverse sanctions, both those applied in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and those connected to the Magnitsky Act, which targeted officials involved in human rights violations. In seeking Russian support, Trump sought not only to become president but also to make money: Even as he launched his presidential campaign, he hoped to receive a major influx of money from a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.

Frank Dicey (1838-1888) The Novel, A Lady in a Garden reading a book.

Along with the motives, we know the methods. As the New York Times has just graphically demonstrated, professional Russian Internet trolls, probably operating out of St. Petersburg, set up hundreds of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts during the election campaign. The trolls then posted thousands of fake stories, memes and slogans, supported anti-Clinton hashtags and narratives, and linked back to DCLeaks, the website that posted emails that Russian hackers stole from the Clinton campaign.  The emails “revealed” by that hack were utterly banal. But the fake operatives said they contained “hidden truths,” hinted that they were part of a secret “Soros” operation, after liberal financier George Soros, and persuaded people to click. This is a method Russian operatives had used before. Previous elections, in Poland and Ukraine, demonstrated that stolen material — any stolen material — can be used to foment conspiracy theories that never die.

We know what happened next: The fake stories, memes and slogans moved from the network of Russian-sponsored “American” accounts into the networks of real Americans. Some, such as “pizzagate,” the theory that Hillary Clinton was part of a pedophile ring being run out of Washington pizza parlor, got a lot of attention. Others, such as the theory that Barack Obama founded the Islamic State, or the theory that the Google search engine was working on Clinton’s behalf, got less attention but were notable for another reason: They were not only promoted on the fake Russian network, which bought advertising in order to push them further, but also were promoted on open Russian news networks, including the Sputnik English-language news services. Afterwards, they were repeated, also openly, by candidate Trump.

Click on the link to read more.

So . . . what stories are you following today?