Tuesday Reads: Trump Has Put American Foreign Policy Up For Sale.

Good Morning!!

The corruption is right out in the open now. American foreign policy is for sale to highest bidder. On Sunday Trump posted a startling tweet:

EuroNews: Trump tells Commerce Department to help Chinese telecom ZTE.

President Donald Trump said Sunday he has instructed his Commerce Department to help get a Chinese telecommunications company “back into business” after the U.S. government cut off access to its American suppliers.

At issue is that department’s move last month to block the ZTE Corp., a major supplier of telecoms networks and smartphones based in southern China, from importing American components for seven years. The U.S. accused ZTE of misleading American regulators after it settled charges of violating sanctions against North Korea and Iran….

ZTE has asked the department to suspend the seven-year ban on doing business with U.S. technology exporters. By cutting off access to U.S. suppliers of essential components such as microchips, the ban threatens ZTE’s existence, the company has said.

Trump with Chinese president Xi Jinping during China trip

During recent trade meetings in Beijing, Chinese officials said they raised their objections to ZTE’s punishment with the American delegation, which they said agreed to report them to Trump.

The U.S. imposed the penalty after discovering that Shenzhen-based ZTE, which had paid a $1.2 billion fine in the case, had failed to discipline employees involved and paid them bonuses instead.

Why is Trump suddenly so concerned about Chinese jobs? It’s not about U.S. national security; it’s about Trump’s business. HuffPost: Trump Orders Help For Chinese Phone-Maker After China Approves Money For Trump Project.

A mere 72 hours after the Chinese government agreed to put a half-billion dollars into an Indonesian project that will personally enrich Donald Trump, the president ordered a bailout for a Chinese-government-owned cellphone maker….

…on Thursday, the developer of a theme park resort outside of Jakarta had signed a deal to receive as much as $500 million in Chinese government loans, as well as another $500 million from Chinese banks. Trump’s family business, the Trump Organization, has a deal to license the Trump name to the resort, which includes a golf course and hotels.

Trump and family with Indonesian business partners

Trump, despite his promises to do so during the campaign, has not divested himself of his businesses, and continues to profit from them.

“You do a good deal for him, he does a good deal for you. Quid pro quo,” said Richard Painter, the White House ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush and now a Democratic candidate for Senate in Minnesota.

It sure does look like a quid pro quo, doesn’t it? Or is it just that Trump is a bad deal-maker? We can’t be sure because Trump chose to maintain control of his businesses and refuses to release his tax returns. Read more about Trump’s Indonesia project at the South China Morning Post: Trump Indonesia project is latest stop on China’s Belt and Road.

Gordon Chang at the Daily Beast: Trump Cuts a Great Deal—For China.

The White House looks like it is prepared to give relief to ZTE Corp., the embattled Chinese telecom-equipment maker, in exchange for Beijing lifting tariffs on, and easing non-tariff barriers against, U.S. agricultural products. Moreover, China’s Commerce Department will restart its long-stalled review of Qualcomm’s proposed acquisition of NXP Semiconductors, the Dutch firm.

In addition, The Daily Beast has learned there will be either no penalties or only light ones imposed on China for stealing U.S. intellectual property.

This is a great deal—for China. China gets relief for ZTE for doing nothing more than what it should have been doing all along. And its massive theft of U.S. technology and intellectual property—undoubtedly in the hundreds of billions of dollars a year—goes mostly unpunished.

If the reports of the outlines of the impending agreement are correct, the Trump administration, which prides itself on deal-making, will have accepted one of the worst trade arrangements this century.

Josh Rogin at The Washington Post: China gave Trump a list of crazy demands, and he caved to one of them.

After top Trump officials went to Beijing last month, the Chinese government wrote up a document with a list of economic and trade demands that ranged from the reasonable to the ridiculous. On Sunday, President Trump caved to one of those demands before the next round of negotiations even starts, undermining his own objectives for no visible gain.

The Chinese proposal is entitled, “Framework Arrangement on Promoting Balanced Development on Bilateral Trade,” and I obtained an English version of the document, which is the Chinese government’s negotiating position heading into the next round of talks. That round begins this week when Xi Jinping’s special economic envoy Liu He returns to town.

Bullet point 5 is entitled, “Appropriately handing the ZTE case to secure global supply chain.”

So Trump agreed to reverse US policy, but was it really about rewarding China for funding the Trump project in Indonesia? I’d say that’s pretty likely, wouldn’t you?

Trump took a big step in that direction Sunday when he tweeted that he had instructed the Commerce Department to help get ZTE “back into business, fast,” only weeks after the Commerce Department cut off its supply of American components because it violated U.S. sanctions on sales to North Korea and Iran. Trump’s tweet set off a panic both inside and outside the administration among those who worry that Trump is backing down from his key campaign promise to stand up to China’s unfair trade practices and economic aggression.

As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pointed out Monday, the problems with ZTE go well beyond sanctions-busting. The Federal Communications Commission has proposed cutting ZTE and other Chinese “national champion” companies off from U.S. infrastructure development funds because the U.S. intelligence community views their technology as a national security risk.

Guess what folks? Trump doesn’t give a shit about U.S. national security. He cares about money for himself. Period.

Michael Avenatti has had a busy past few days, and I’ve been following the revelations pretty closely. On Sunday Avenatti posted some stills from a C-Span video of Trump Tower during the transition.

Later, he revealed that a Quatari official apparently met with Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn on Dec. 12, 2016.

Mother Jones: Qatari Investor Accused in Bribery Plot Appears With Michael Cohen in Picture Posted by Stormy Daniels’ Lawyer.

Members of the Trump transition team appear to have met on December 12, 2016, with a group from Qatar that included Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, the former Qatari diplomat and current head of a division of Qatar’s massive sovereign wealth fund, who is accused in a recent lawsuit of scheming to bribe Trump administration officials.

Ahmed Al-Rumaihi

On the lawsuit:

Ice Cube, the rapper and actor, and his business partner, Jeff Kwatinetz, recently filed a $1.2 billion lawsuit that includes an allegation that Al-Rumaihi and other Qatari officials who invested in the men’s BIG3 basketball league indicated interest in gaining access to people connected to Trump. “Mr Al-Rumaihi requested I set up a meeting between him, the Qatari government, and Stephen Bannon, and to tell Steve Bannon that Qatar would underwrite all of his political efforts in return for his support,” Kwatinetz said in the court filing. Kwatinetz says he rejected the offer, which he viewed as a bribe.

In response, Kwatinetz claims, “Al-Rumaihi laughed and then stated to me Buthat I shouldn’t be naive, that so many Washington politicians take our money, and stated ‘do you think Flynn turned down our money?’” That’s a reference to Michael Flynn, who was fired as Trump’s national security adviser after lying about his contacts with then Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But it appears that other Quatari officials were also in the Dec. 12, 2016 meeting, according to knowledgeable people on Twitter.

Here’s the Wikipedia article on Quatari the foreign minister.

And a third person from Quatar who is also involved in the lawsuit filed by Ice Cube and Kwatinetz was also present.

What the hell is going on? A couple of useful reads:

Slate: Michael Cohen’s Meetings With Michael Flynn and a Qatari Diplomat Might Be the Key to Unlocking the Steele Dossier.

The founder of a three-on-three basketball league who claims he was offered a bribe by a one-time Qatari diplomat to arrange access to Steve Bannon said on Monday that the former diplomat is the same person photographed with Michael Cohen at Trump Tower in December 2016.

Big 3 basketball league co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz told Slate that he recognized Ahmed Al-Rumaihi in photos with Cohen that were tweeted Sunday by attorney Michael Avenatti.

“Yes, 100 percent,” Kwatinetz said when asked if he thought the videos and photos were of Ahmed Al-Rumaihi. Last week, Kwatinetz, who is a co-founder of Big 3 with Ice Cube, accused Al-Rumaihi in a sworn court declaration of making an attempted bribe and of suggestively boasting that Flynn had not refused “our money.” [….]

[Michael] Avenatti tweeted the images that appeared to show Al-Rumaihi entering an elevator in Trump Tower on Dec. 12, 2016, five days after news broke of the multibillion-dollar sale of 19.5 percent of the Russian fossil fuel giant Rosneft to Swiss trading firm Glencore and Qatar’s sovereign investment fund. (Glencore and Qatar sold off a major stake of Rosneft to China last year, but earlier this month Qatar bought back in to the Russian company for a total stake of 19 percent.)

The Rosneft deal features prominently in an investigative dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. A central claim of the Steele dossier was that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, during an alleged meeting with Rosneft officials in summer 2016, promised that a Trump administration would undo sanctions against Russia, in part, in exchange for brokerage of the Rosneft deal. In May 2016, Al-Rumaihi reportedly took over as head of a major division of the wealth fund ultimately involved in the Rosneft deal.

The allegations in the Steele dossier, made in October 2016, suggested a future quid-pro-quo deal between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump has been conspicuously resistant to Russian sanctions despite widespread congressional support from both parties. As Jed Shugerman has noted in Slate, during congressional testimony Page acknowledged meeting with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft, during his July 2016 trip to Russia and acknowledged “briefly” discussing the sale of Rosneft as well as there being “some general reference” to sanctions. As Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand has reported, Page also acknowledged meeting with top Rosneft managers in Moscow on Dec. 8—four days before the apparent Cohen–Al-Rumaihi meeting and one day after the completion of the Rosneft deal.

Jed Shugarman has posted a detailed Russia/Qatar/Trump Timeline in a Google doc that will be updated with new information. On his blog, Shugarman posted this introduction to the timeline:

I have produced a Google Doc timeline, based on publicly available reports and documents, of the alleged bribery scheme between Russia and Trump associates, possibly through Qatar’s purchase of Rosneft….

Russia’s sale of Rosneft Gas is the key event in the Steele Dossier’s quid pro quo allegation. On June 2016, Russians allegedly offer Trump associates a massive payout derived from the commissions on Russia’s sale of 19.5% of state energy giant Rosneft ($11 billion), in return for lifting sanctions. Weeks after the election, Flynn and Kushner are in contact with Russian officials. Then Russia sells a 19.5% stake in Rosneft in a concealed deal, eventually revealed to be with Qatar. Immediately after the deal, a Qatari diplomat allegedly met with Cohen and Flynn at Trump Tower.

In January 2017, payments from Russian oligarch to Michael Cohen begin, and Flynn reportedly texts associates that Trump will lift Russian sanctions, opening up huge personal profits. But around this time, the Dossier is published. Kushner sought money directly from Qatar, because it is possible that Qatar was backing off of the deal, wary of its exposure. In April 2017, Kushner reportedly escalated a Gulf state crisis between Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar with a risk of regional war. A few months later, the Qatar-backed Apollo Group delivers $184 million to Kushner, who has been in financial crisis over a disastrous purchase of 666 5th Ave.

Remember, Robert Mueller and his investigators have likely known all this for a long time and they probably know many more details. Michael Flynn has been cooperating for months, and indictments involving Michael Cohen are very likely in the works.

What stories are you following today?

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Thursday Reads: Trump Has Major Meltdown on Fox and Friends

Good Morning!!

The pressure is building on Trump. This morning he had a major meltdown on Fox and Friends. It was so bad that the hosts couldn’t hide their embarrassment and they finally had to cut off the call. Trump publicly accused James Comey and Andrew McCabe of committing crimes and for the first time he said the words “Stormy Daniels” and admitted that Michael Cohen was representing him (Trump) in Cohen’s dealings with Daniels. He also admitted that he spent the night in Moscow in 2013, despite what he told Comey. Finally, he said that he wasn’t going to keep his hands off the DOJ much longer.

Yahoo News: Trump sounds off on Comey, Cohen, Kanye and more in freewheeling ‘Fox and Friends’ interview.

President Trump called into his favorite morning show for a wide-ranging interview during which an animated — and, at times, angry — Trump weighed in on several scandals swirling around his administration. Chief among them: special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.

The president chastised the Justice Department for greenlighting the Russia probe into his campaign’s alleged ties with Russia rather than pursuing a separate investigation into former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

“Our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from, but at some point, I won’t, our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia,” Trump said. “There is no collusion with me with Russia and everyone knows it.”

On Michael Cohen:

Asked about the extent to which Cohen handles his legal affairs, Trump characterized his involvement as “a tiny, tiny little fraction.” But there was a notable exception.

“He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal,” Trump said, marking the first time he had ever spoken the porn actress’ name publicly. The disclosure also raised further questions about his earlier assertion that he had no knowledge that Cohen paid the porn actress $130,000 in hush money during the 2016 presidential campaign.

On Comey:

“He leaked classified information to get a special counsel and leaked the memos which are classified — the memos were about me and he didn’t write those memos accurately. He wrote a lot of phony stuff,” Trump said as the Fox & Friends hosts looked on in silence. “For instance, I went to Russia for a day or so, a day or two, because I own the Miss Universe pageant, so I went there to watch it because it was near Moscow. So I go to Russia, now, I didn’t go there, everybody knows the logs are there the planes are there. He said I didn’t stay there a night. Of course I stayed there. I stayed there a very short period of time but of course I stayed there. Well his memo said I left immediately, I never said that. I never said I left immediately.”

Trump also said of Comey: “I did a great thing for the American people by firing him.”

Here’s his rant on McCabe.

I hope McCabe’s lawyer was listening, because I think he has a case for defamation.

Think Progress: Trump made 2 costly legal errors during unhinged Fox & Friends interview.

First, Trump claimed that Cohen — his longtime personal lawyer and fixer — only represented him in “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his overall legal work….

Trump’s comments come a day after a lawyer representing him told a federal judge that Trump himself “is ready to help recommend what materials seized from his personal attorney that relate to him should be withheld from federal investigators because of attorney-client privilege,” according to the Associated Press.

The day after the raid on his longtime personal attorney, Trump suggested that it shouldn’t even have happened because of attorney-client privilege.

But Trump’s claim that Cohen only deals with “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his legal work will likely complicate his lawyers’ efforts to shield seized documents from federal investigators in prosecutors.

The second legal goof:

Trump acknowledged during the Fox & Friends interview that Cohen did represent him during his dealings with Daniels. Trump recently claimed he had no knowledge of the payment at the time.

“Michael would represent me and represent me on some things,” Trump said. “He represented me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me. He represented me and you know, from what I see he did absolutely nothing wrong.”

But Cohen’s story about the secret Daniels hush payment — which may have been illegal if it was meant to help Trump’s campaign — is that he made it from his personal funds, without Trump being looped in at all. Trump’s acknowledgement that Cohen “represented me” in the “crazy Stormy Daniels deal” undermines the repeated public claims of his own lawyer.

Read more details at the link above. Also see this piece at The Guardian: Trump admits Michael Cohen was his lawyer in Stormy Daniels matter.

You can watch a long clip from the interview at this Business Insider link. If you can’t stand to listen to Trump’s voice, at least watch it with the sound muted to see the embarrassed looks on the faces of the Fox hosts.

Here’s what Trump whisperer Maggie Haberman had to say about Trump’s meltdown.

And here we go. The government’s attorneys quoted Trump’s Fox and Friends rant in their filing for the court hearing in the Michael Cohen case today at noon.

Click on that link to read the entire document.

One more related story from The New York Times: Michael Cohen to Take Fifth Amendment in Stormy Daniels Lawsuit.

Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, will invoke his Fifth Amendment right in a lawsuit filed against the president by Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film star better known as Stormy Daniels.

Mr. Cohen’s decision, disclosed Wednesday in a court filing in California, where the suit was filed, came a day before a federal judge in Manhattan was set to hold a hearing regarding materials seized from Mr. Cohen during an F.B.I. raid earlier this month.

Mr. Cohen cited the Manhattan investigation in his filing on Wednesday, saying that, if called as a witness in Ms. Clifford’s lawsuit, “I will assert my 5th Amendment rights in connection with all proceedings in this case due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the F.B.I. and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.” [….]

Citing the Fifth Amendment in the Clifford case allows Mr. Cohen to avoid being deposed and revealing sensitive information in the more important criminal investigation.

In Trump “I know the best people” news, The White House has withdrawn the nomination of Ronny Jackson to run the VA. The Washington Post:

The White House withdrew the nomination of Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician, to lead the Veterans Affairs Department on Thursday after lawmakers went public with a torrent of accusations leveled against him by nearly two dozen current and former colleagues from the White House medical staff.

In a statement released Thursday morning, Dr. Jackson announced that he was withdrawing his name for consideration to be the secretary of Veteran Affairs.

“Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this president and the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes,” Dr. Jackson said in a statement provided by the White House press office.

He said that the charges against him were “completely false and fabricated.”

Within minutes of the withdrawal, President Trump lamented the loss of his nomination, and said that Senator Jon Tester of Montana, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, would “have a big price to pay” for undercutting Dr. Jackson.

Happening right now: Scott Pruitt is testifying before Congress. He faces two hearings today.

Vox: Congress is grilling Scott Pruitt about his ethical breaches.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt will face a double whammy of hearings on Capitol Hill Thursday that could make or break his career at the EPA. You can watch the C-SPAN livestream here.

The hearings were originally intended to give Pruitt the chance to pitch his agency’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. But members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, including some Republicans, are expected to grill Pruitt over his growing list of alleged ethical lapses.

A tsunami of accusations of improper dealings has emerged since Pruitt’s last trip to the Hill in January, from using sirens to get to dinner reservations to a sweetheart condo deal with a lobbyist to ousting staffers who questioned his luxury travel. These allegations have led to investigations from Congress, the White House, and government watchdogs. The Government Accountability Office already found that the $43,000 phone booth in Pruitt’s office broke the law.

And though his prepared statement for the Energy and Commerce Committee completely ignores the controversies around him, the New York Times reported that Pruitt is preparing for a confrontation with a set of talking points on his long list of scandals. He will argue, among other things, that he flew first class based on recommendations from his security staff and that he wasn’t involved in the decision to bypass the White House to get massive raises for two close aides.NB

Meanwhile, EPA employees protested outside the agency’s headquarters on Wednesday, decrying budget cuts alongside activists and lawmakers who want to “Boot Pruitt” out of office.

NBC News’ First Read suggests that Trump’s biggest problem might be the competency question.

This morning, President Trump’s pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs withdrew his nomination after new allegations against him surfaced. Today, Congress is expected to grillthe president’s EPA administrator over alleged ethical lapses. And the president’s personal lawyer and fixer is pleading the Fifth Amendment.

 Yes, it’s chaos and controversy, which we’ve constantly chronicled here. But it’s also a matter of competency. According to this month’s NBC/WSJ poll, a majority of Americans — 56 percent — said that Trump’s administration isn’t competent, including 39 percent who said it isn’t competent at all. By contrast, 43 percent said it was competent, including 16 percent who said “very competent.”

To put those numbers into perspective, 50 percent of American said Barack Obama’s administration was competent in June 2014 (so after the Obamacare website crash during his second term), and 53 percent said George W. Bush’s administration was competent in March 2006 (after Hurricane Katrina).

So for all the potential dangers to Trump’s presidency — the Russia investigation, historically low approval ratings, Democrats possibly winning the House (and Senate) in November — the biggest could very well be the competency question.

Indeed, majorities of women (61 percent), seniors (58 percent), millennials (57 percent), independents (57 percent) and men (51 percent) said the Trump administration wasn’t too competent or not competent at all. Even whites were split down the middle — 50-50.

That’s a big problem.

That’s all I have for you this morning. I know I’ve only touched on a small part of what’s happening. So . . . what stories are you following today?


Monday Reads: Let’s talk about Comey and Culpability since he really didn’t

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

Well, I watched the ABC interview of disgraced FBI Director James Comey  by George Stephanpolous and came away underwhelmed.  I really don’t feel any news was made. The only thing I saw was a good case study of the White Male Savior prototype who just refuses to embrace the idea that he’s done wrong, he didn’t save the world, and likely caused an assault on all he says he holds dear. Comey is fighting to stay in denial. His demeanor spoke volumes.

My basic question remains despite the supposed answer of because he was saving Clinton from entering the Presidency under a cloud. Why did he say he’d do it all over again?  Why didn’t he listen to Yates and Lynch who said don’t do it?  I mean sheesh… he had to know the Republicans would make hay with all of that. They were gunning for Clinton for years. Why ignore Yates and Lynch (read this Vanity Fair piece for a good reminder) and tell Chavetz of all pseudo people? One hint to Chavetz that both candidates were under investigation would have knocked the wind right out of Chavetz leaking shit. The finer points of game theory do not mean you’re putting your finger on a scale. It just directs responses to a more manageable path. If you’re going to play great white male savior at least set the chess board up right. My answer keeps coming back to the white male savior complex.  He ignored the advice of the powerful women around him convincing himself he’d be able to rescue the powerful damsel in distress and save the country.

Anyway, the only heads exploding over this interview are in the FBI itself.  I’m just gobsmacked by the level of hubris personally even though it was wrapped up in a body language and facially expression that suggested a lot of counselling is required.

FBI sources who did not support Comey’s decision to announce the reopening of the Clinton email investigation still stood by him at the time and were outraged at the way in which Trump fired the director. He learned of his dismissal after reading it on a television screen inside the Los Angeles FBI building where he was speaking to agents.

Those same current and former FBI agents and officials—and others—did not respond well to Comey’s interview Sunday night.

Support for Comey has dwindled as those who worked closely with him and initially supported him began to see his book and his public interactions—including Twitter selfies in Iowa—as self-serving and gauche, four sources said.

Their anger has grown in recent months as agents have come to see Comey as the reason for the “current shitshow… that is the Trump presidency,” one former official, who voted for Trump, explained.

Here’s Lanny Davis writing Op Ed for The Hill that portrays Comey as a liar. The White House has been screaming “Leaker” and “Liar” for weeks now. Frankly, I think the only one Come has lied to is himself. 

On Saturday night, the great Wolf Blitzer interviewed one of his panelists about James Comey’s justification for violating over a half-century of Justice Department policies in Republican and Democratic administrations when he sent his October 28 letter to Congress in 2016, which cost Hillary Clinton the presidency.

Comey has repeatedly claimed that he was “obligated” to write his speculative letter because of a promise he had made to Congress to do so if “anything new” came up after his July 5, 2016, press conference announcing a new prosecutable case could be brought against Clinton.

When one of Blitzer’s panelists on Saturday night inaccurately repeated the Comey lie that Comey was “obligated” to send his game-changing letter to Congress because he had promised to do so, Blitzer should have interrupted and corrected the record. “No that is not correct — Comey only promised to ‘look at’ any new evidence, not to write his letter in the closing days of the election.”

Another form of a lie is by omission.

Comey knows — and knows that we all now know — that if he had done what in fact he had told Congress he would do, i.e., looked first before writing his letter, he and the FBI would have completed their review within six days, as we know happened between Oct 30, 2016, when they first began to look at Clinton emails on Anthony Wiener’s laptop, and Nov. 5, when they completed their review. And we know that they would have determined — as they announced on Nov. 6, two days before the election— that there was no “there” there in the Clinton emails, i.e., nothing new to change their July 5 non-prosecution decision. Thus, there would have been no need for Comey to write the history-changing Oct. 28 letter. And hence, Hillary Clinton, as all the data prove over the last 11 days in crucial battleground states, would be president today. During the interview, Comey also said that his decision to announce shortly before the election that the FBI was going to reopen the case was influenced by his belief that Clinton would beat Trump and his desire to make sure that the election During the interview, Comey also said that his decision to announce shortly before the election that the FBI was going to reopen the case was influenced by his belief that Clinton would beat Trump and his desire to make sure that the election results were viewed as legitimate.results were viewed as legitimate.

Of course the Trump Hate machine was locked and loaded this morning.

President Trump took fresh aim at fired FBI director James B. Comey on Monday, lambasting his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server and asserting again that Comey and another FBI official had committed crimes.

Trump’s comments on Twitter were his first since Comey’s high-profile television interview Sunday night in which he said he believes Trump is “morally unfit” to be president and that he hopes Trump will be voted out of office.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump had watched “bits and pieces” of the interview but not the entire thing.

In his tweet, Trump complained that Comey “drafted the Crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her” and asserted that in deciding how to handle the case, Comey “based his decisions on her poll numbers.”

This was the statement that galled me most. So, I’m calling it out again.  This allowed the Trump Team venom to target Clinton again.

During the interview, Comey also said that his decision to announce shortly before the election9 that the FBI was going to reopen the case was influenced by his belief that Clinton would beat Trump and his desire to make sure that the election results were viewed as legitimate.

There is a lot of other news today. Cohen hasn’t released his client list and is headed back to court hoping a Trump-filed injunction will save his ass from its destiny in jail.  The EPA chief is in serious trouble for all kinds of things.

I will likely watch the Consigliere match up this afternoon.

Withstanding the hearing is only the beginning of what could be an ugly legal situation for Cohen. No charges have been filed against him, but prosecutors asserted that he is under criminal investigation. Cohen, who professes a devout fealty to his boss, has spent more than a decade working alongside the Trumps, devoting his professional life to protecting them. He may now be in a position where he could be forced to choose between continuing that line of defense, or putting himself and his own family first. In my interviews with Cohen, he has always stated plainly, repeatedly, and in a Godfather-esque lingua franca, how unfailingly loyal he is to the president and to the Trump family. Over the summer, Cohen told me that he would take a bullet for Trump. In February, as the Stormy Daniels controversy heated up, he told me that he would do it again today for Trump and again for him tomorrow. “No question,” he said. Last month, he told me that it was his job to protect his client—his friend—and the Trump family.

Maybe, I’ll just take a nap instead.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Tuesday Reads: After A Quiet Weekend, Back to Non-Stop News

Sofia Loren playing pool, circa 1950s

Good Morning!!

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.

James Dean signing autographs

“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.

NYT: With a Picked Lock and a Threatened Indictment, Mueller’s Inquiry Sets a Tone.

CNN: Exclusive: US government wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman.

Three reactions to these stories:

Lawfare: The Latest Scoops from CNN and the New York Times: A Quick and Dirty Analysis.

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.

Helen Keller meets Charlie Chaplin 1919

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.

Washing day in NYC, 1934

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.

Miles Davis defining cool in 1947.

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.

Pablo Picasso & Brigitte Bardot, 1956

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.