Before I get started on the political news, I want to note the passing of one of the great pioneers of rock and roll. Rolling Stone: Little Richard, Founding Father of Rock Who Broke Musical Barriers, Dead at 87.
Little Richard, a founding father of rock and roll whose fervent shrieks, flamboyant garb, and joyful, gender-bending persona embodied the spirit and sound of that new art form, died Saturday. He was 87. The musician’s son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the pioneer’s death to Rolling Stone, but said the cause of death was unknown.
Starting with “Tutti Frutti” in 1956, Little Richard cut a series of unstoppable hits – “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up” that same year, “Lucille” in 1957, and “Good Golly Miss Molly” in 1958 – driven by his simple, pumping piano, gospel-influenced vocal exclamations and sexually charged (often gibberish) lyrics. “I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it,” Elton John told Rolling Stone in 1973. “I didn’t ever want to be anything else. I’m more of a Little Richard stylist than a Jerry Lee Lewis, I think. Jerry Lee is a very intricate piano player and very skillful, but Little Richard is more of a pounder.”
Although he never hit the top 10 again after 1958, Little Richard’s influence was massive. The Beatles recorded several of his songs, including “Long Tall Sally,” and Paul McCartney’s singing on those tracks – and the Beatles’ own “I’m Down” – paid tribute to Little Richard’s shredded-throat style. His songs became part of the rock and roll canon, covered over the decades by everyone from the Everly Brothers, the Kinks, and Creedence Clearwater Revival to Elvis Costello and the Scorpions.
Little Richard’s stage persona – his pompadours, androgynous makeup and glass-bead shirts – also set the standard for rock and roll showmanship; Prince, to cite one obvious example, owed a sizable debt to the musician. “Prince is the Little Richard of his generation,” Richard told Joan Rivers in 1989 before looking at the camera and addressing Prince. “I was wearing purple before you was wearing it!”
Read about Little Richard’s (born Richard Wayne Penniman) life and career at the Rolling Stone link.
Now to other news of the day.
As Trump and his personal attorney general Bill Barr take steps to erase the rule of law and establish a fascist dictatorship in the U.S., is President Obama finally getting ready to speak out publicly? Michael Isakoff at Yahoo News: Exclusive: Obama says in private call that ‘rule of law is at risk’ in Michael Flynn case.
Former President Barack Obama, talking privately to ex-members of his administration, said Friday that the “rule of law is at risk” in the wake of what he called an unprecedented move by the Justice Department to drop charges against former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
In the same chat, a tape of which was obtained by Yahoo News, Obama also lashed out at the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as “an absolute chaotic disaster.”
“The news over the last 24 hours I think has been somewhat downplayed — about the Justice Department dropping charges against Michael Flynn,” Obama said in a web talk with members of the Obama Alumni Association.
“And the fact that there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places.”
The Flynn case was invoked by Obama as a principal reason that his former administration officials needed to make sure former Vice President Joe Biden wins the November election against President Trump. “So I am hoping that all of you feel the same sense of urgency that I do,” he said. “Whenever I campaign, I’ve always said, ‘Ah, this is the most important election.’ Especially obviously when I was on the ballot, that always feels like it’s the most important election. This one — I’m not on the ballot — but I am pretty darn invested. We got to make this happen.”
Obama misstated the charge to which Flynn had previously pleaded guilty. He was charged with false statements to the FBI, not perjury.
Click the Yahoo link to read the rest.
And from Caleb Ecarma at Vanity Fair: As the DOJ Drops Flynn’s Case, Trumpworld’s Next Target is Obama Alums.
Conservative media figures who spent months insisting on Michael Flynn’s innocence, after he twice pleaded guilty to lying to investigators, are taking a gleeful victory lap in response to the Justice Department moving to drop its criminal case against the retired lieutenant general and former Trump national security adviser. But the reversal is not enough to placate the right-wing media rabble, as they are now calling for Attorney General William Barr to prosecute members of the Barack Obama administration and its judicial allies for their roles in the case….
Shortly after the news broke on Thursday, right-wing radio host Mark Levin appeared on Fox News to boast, and to accuse Obama of conducting a vast shadow operation against the Trump administration. “You know what this is? This is Barack Obama’s blue dress. That’s what that is without the DNA on it,” he told Sean Hannity, referencing Monica Lewinsky’s infamous garment. “[The Flynn case documents] tells us that Obama knew…. Obama was working with the FBI and the intelligence agencies.” Levin also tweeted that “the perps responsible for trying to destroy” Flynn should be prosecuted, a talking point Hannity is now pushing too. “All this does is exonerate General Flynn,” the Fox News host declared on his Thursday radio program. “Now, it’s time to investigate Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s Department of Justice…and what they did here is they targeted an innocent man, and they—this is prosecutorial abuse.” Hannity’s colleague Tucker Carlson called Flynn’s case “demonstrably and provably unfair” and accused federal prosecutors of wanting “Flynn crushed purely because he happened to be away from the power they seek, and that’s why they’re still trying to put Roger Stone behind bars…. But the question is: How many other inconvenient Americans would they bankrupt and imprison if they could?”
A Daily Beast report found that numerous Trump administration and campaign officials are hoping to see Flynn resume work for the president in an official capacity. “Years ago when Nelson Mandela came to America after years of political persecution he was treated like a rock star by Americans,” Trump pollster John McLaughlin said Thursday while discussing the possibility of a Flynn–Trump reunion with the Daily Beast. “Now after over three years of political persecution General Flynn is our rock star. A big difference is that he was persecuted in America.” [….]
On Thursday, Trump described Flynn as “an innocent man” and “an even greater warrior,” before appearing on Fox & Friends the following morning to praise his attorney general’s efforts. “Bill Barr is a man of unbelievable credibility and courage, and he’s going to go down in the history books,” he told Fox News, adding that Fox hosts Hannity, Carlson, and Laura Ingraham “should get the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes” for leading the Flynn-innocence media campaign.
Wow. That is through the looking glass stuff. But the way things are going, it could happen. But through the looking glass is where Trump lives. Even with cases popping up in the White House, he still thinks the coronavirus will magically disappear.
President Trump on Friday broke with health experts, telling reporters that the coronavirus will “go away without a vaccine.”
“This is going to go away without a vaccine, it’s gonna go away, and we’re not going to see it again, hopefully, after a period of time,” Trump said at the White House. “You may have some flare-ups, and I guess I would expect that.”
Just days ago the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed, a project to accelerate the production of a vaccine for the coronavirus, which as of Friday had infected at least 1.2 million Americans and killed more than 76,000 here….
Asked what led him to believe that the virus would disappear without a vaccine, Trump claimed he had received that information from medical professionals.
“I just rely on what doctors say. They say it’s going to go. That doesn’t mean this year. It doesn’t mean, frankly, it’s going to be gone before the fall or after the fall, but eventually it’s going to go away. The question is whether we will need a vaccine. At some point it will probably go away by itself.”
Who are these mysterious “medical professionals?”
Trump doesn’t think testing for the virus is important either–unless you are Trump, Pence and people working around them. The Washington Post: Trump plays down coronavirus testing as U.S. falls far short of level scientists say is needed.
The president has played down the need for testing as he overrides public health recommendations that would prolong the closures of schools, businesses and much of daily life. Although he is now tested every day with a rapid-result machine, Trump has questioned the value of extensive testing as the gap between available capacity and the amount that would be required to meet public health benchmarks has become clearer.
Trump’s comments came as a second employee in the White House complex tested positive for the coronavirus, a development that prompted increased testing for staff and other precautions not generally available to most Americans.
“This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily great,” Trump said at the White House, as he confirmed a positive test result “out of the blue” for a top staffer, Vice President Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller.
During a Friday morning interview on Fox News, Trump ticked approvingly through the current testing figures but did not say what level he thinks is optimal or safe to use as a national benchmark for economic reopening.
Asked about the positive test result for one of his Navy valets, the president said that he himself remains negative but that the valet’s experience is instructive.
“And this is why testing isn’t necessary. We have the best testing in the world, but testing’s not necessarily the answer because they were testing them,” Trump said of the staff members.
WTF?! He found out these people had contracted the virus because they were being tested! What a fucking moron!
I’ll end with this. The AP has learned definitively that the President and his buddies were behind the shelving of the CDC reopening report: AP Exclusive: Docs show top WH officials buried CDC report.
The decision to shelve detailed advice from the nation’s top disease control experts for reopening communities during the coronavirus pandemic came from the highest levels of the White House, according to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press.
The files also show that after the AP reported Thursday that the guidance document had been buried, the Trump administration ordered key parts of it to be fast-tracked for approval.
The trove of emails show the nation’s top public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spending weeks working on guidance to help the country deal with a public health emergency, only to see their work quashed by political appointees with little explanation.
The document, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. It included detailed “decision trees,” or flow charts aimed at helping local leaders navigate the difficult decision of whether to reopen or remain closed.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that the documents had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. The new emails, however, show that Redfield cleared the guidance.
This new CDC guidance — a mix of advice already released along with newer information — had been approved and promoted by the highest levels of its leadership, including Redfield. Despite this, the administration shelved it on April 30.
Read the rest at the AP link.
So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?
I would love to know who is leaking info about Michael Flynn. Apparently Flynn reached out to Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz while he was supposedly cooperating with the Mueller investigation.
While he was cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn contacted at least one member of Congress who was publicly criticizing the special counsel probe, according to messages obtained by CNN.
Flynn sent Twitter direct messages to Rep. Matt Gaetz, encouraging the Florida Republican to “keep the pressure on.” It’s not clear if Flynn sent additional messages to other lawmakers.
“You stay on top of what you’re doing. Your leadership is so vital for our country now. Keep the pressure on,” Flynn wrote in an April 2018 message to Gaetz, which was obtained by CNN.
On the evening Flynn sent the message to Gaetz, the lawmaker had appeared on Fox Business’ “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” where he criticized the Mueller investigation.
“We’ve got to play a far stronger role in exposing the hypocrisy at the Department of Justice,” Gaetz said in the April 3, 2018, appearance. “With no evidence of collusion, with no evidence of any crime whatsoever, they unleashed Bob Mueller to go investigate things that happened before Donald Trump was even contemplating running for president.”
That same hour, Flynn sent Gaetz the direct message.
Gaetz also received a message in February of this year. On the day that Attorney General William Barr was confirmed, Flynn sent Gaetz GIFs of a bald eagle and an American flag, without any accompanying text.
Flynn is still “cooperating,” and he hasn’t been sentenced yet. As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, new information has been revealed by order of the judge in Flynn’s case Emmet Sullivan. Did the DOJ leak the incriminating info about Flynn contacting Gaetz in response to the new Mueller report info to make Flynn look bad? I wonder what Judge Sullivan will have to say about this?
There’s also this Devin Nunes tweet from 2016:
Here’s another interesting story I missed from a couple of days ago. This one is about Felix Sater, who was involved with Trump for years and, along with Michael Cohen working on the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Natasha Bertrand at Politico: Judge confirms Trump associate gave feds Osama bin Laden’s number.
A federal judge has confirmed for the first time that Felix Sater, a former Donald Trump business associate who drove Trump Tower Moscow negotiations during the 2016 election, helped the U.S. government track down Osama bin Laden.
During a hearing on Thursday in the Eastern District of New York — held as part of a lawsuit brought by First Look Media to unseal records related to Sater’s longtime cooperation with the government on various national security issues — Judge I. Leo Glasser said the media group already knew all of the “very interesting and dangerous things” Sater had done through his decade as an FBI informant.
“He cooperated,” Glasser said. “And you know what he did over the 10, 11 years, because you told me that you know. He provided the telephone number of Osama bin Laden. He has done an awful lot of very interesting and dangerous things.”
The detail is just another bizarre side plot that has emerged over the two-plus years that federal investigators, lawmakers and journalists have tried to uncover every detail about possible interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian intermediaries during the 2016 election. The probes have put spotlights on a cast of figures in Trump’s extended orbit, many of whom possess unusual backgrounds.
Trump’s “Roy Cohn” AKA Cover-Up General Bill Barr appeared on state TV on Friday to publicly trash the investigation into Russia’s interference in our elections.
Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Barr Again Casts Doubt on Russia Inquiry’s Origins, Aligning With Trump’s Attacks.
When Attorney General William P. Barr described the early stages of the Russia investigation as “spying” on the Trump campaign, he prompted questions about whether he had used that word spontaneously — or whether he was deliberately fueling conspiracy theories.
That question flared anew on Friday after Mr. Barr went even further in casting doubt on the legitimacy of the investigation in two interviews that, by design or coincidence, provided fresh ammunition for President Trump and allies to attack law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Mr. Barr told Fox News he had been asking whether “government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” in opening the Russia inquiry. “A lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together,” he added.
And he doubled down on the innuendo-laden formulation he used in congressional testimony last month, telling The Wall Street Journal, “Government power was used to spy on American citizens.”
The statements were the latest in a series of actions and comments by Mr. Barr expressing skepticism about how the F.B.I. began investigating during the 2016 presidential campaign whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia’s election interference. The attorney general has appointed a federal prosecutor to review aspects of the investigation, rather than await the results of an independent inspector general inquiry due in the coming weeks, and he has invoked the term “spying” on multiple occasions.
Are we stuck with Joe Biden as the 2020 Democratic nominee for president? The media in general seems to believe he’s the anointed one. But anointed by whom? Obama hasn’t endorsed him. Who really wants this guy to be POTUS?
Jill Filipovic at The New York Times: Does Anyone Actually Want Joe Biden to Be President?
The most important requirement for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee? Electability. It matters more, we keep hearing, than nominating a candidate who has good policies. It matters more than nominating a candidate with a track record of passing progressive legislation. It certainly matters more than nominating a candidate who could be the first female president.
Unfortunately, very few people who say they are putting electability first seem to understand what “electability” means, or what today’s electorate actually looks like.
Case in point: In a field crowded with nearly two dozen candidates, no answer to the electability question is offered more regularly and with more conviction than “Joe Biden.”
Mr. Biden, whose campaign officially kicks of this Saturday in Philadelphia, is the kind of guy you could see sitting behind a big desk, acting as a wise custodian of our democracy without posing any threat of changing much. He is from one of those scrappy Rust Belt cities fetishized by so many pundits — people who believe that the imaginary working-class white voter who is going to deliver the White House to the Democrats wants Joe Biden, which is what, in turn, makes Joe Biden electable.
But what about the rest of us–Democrats who aren’t white males living in the rust belt? What about women who still dream of a women president in their lifetimes? We don’t count when it comes to “electability” supposedly. Read more at the NYT.
Now, with Obama’s blessing if not his formal endorsement, Biden has sought the presidency himself for the third time in 30 years, and this time, he’s enjoying a solid and in some case growing lead over a historically huge field of Democratic contenders. The backbone of his support comes from the most reliable and one of the most coveted Democratic primary voting blocs: African-Americans.
Most of the cable news commentary has approached this fact with the condescending assertion that Biden’s black support is mostly due to name recognition and his proximity to Obama. Some have suggested that older black voters, who are traditionally more moderate, may be attracted to his centrism.
But these hot takes overlook something less tangible and quantifiable: how much the sincere, integrated friendship of Biden and Obama (and their families) was cathartic and inspirational. It was the personification of the post-racial utopia some hoped Obama’s election victories would deliver but never did, and probably never could.
Their platonic bromance provided comfort during the confounding period when Obama’s popularity seemed to grow simultaneously with the rise and improbable election of a man who championed a racist campaign to discredit him.
Howard suggests that Biden could loose African American support as the campaign goes on. He doesn’t specifically address the attitudes of black women or provide any evidence for his arguments. The piece is based on his own personal opinions. I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.
I’ll end with this article at The Washington Post on Nevada, where women are now in control of the legislature: Where women call the shots.
She didn’t plan to say it. Yvanna Cancela, a newly elected Democrat in the Nevada Senate, didn’t want to “sound crass.” But when a Republican colleague defended a century-old law requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions whether they’re married, Cancela couldn’t help firing back.
“A man is not asked his marital status before he gets a vasectomy,” she countered — and the packed hearing room fell silent.
Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.
Cancela, 32, is part of the wave of women elected by both parties in November, many of them younger than 40. Today, women hold the majority with 23 seats in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate, or a combined 52 percent.
No other legislature has achieved that milestone in U.S. history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47 percent of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman. And in Alabama, which just enacted an almost complete ban on abortion, women make up just 15 percent of lawmakers.
The female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?
The title of this post is a quote from Michelle Obama. In an interview in London, Obama discussed “impostor syndrome,” that feeling many women struggle with that we are undeserving of success. From Newsweek:
The former first lady opened up about how the struggle with self-doubt “never goes away,” during a sold-out talk with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in London, which drew lines of tens of thousands of people.
Asked at the event how Obama felt about being seen as a “symbol of hope,” she said: “I still have a little imposter syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me,” according to the BBC.
“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”
“If I’m giving people hope then that is a responsibility, so I have to make sure that I am accountable,” Obama said.
But here’s the quote I just loved:
Obama offered a “secret” to young women everywhere: “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.”
It’s so true. And as long as mediocre white men are promoted over smarter and more experienced women, we will continue to be ruled by people who “are not that smart.”
You only need to look at the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton–a brilliant, experienced woman–was constantly denigrated in favor of two barely mediocre white men, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. And now that an ignorant, corrupt white man is “president,” that Hillary is repeatedly told to shut up and sit down, while mediocre, old white men like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden–who have already failed in primary races–are promoted by the media.
I’ve avoided day-time cable news this week so I didn’t have to listen to the endless, over-the-top praise of the late George H.W. Bush. But I have to admit that Bush at least knew how to behave like a human being, unlike the current resident of the White House.
Trump attended Bush’s funeral, but he didn’t seem comfortable. Still he is being praised in some quarters for not making a complete fool of himself. Apparently he has been unhappy about having to go through an entire week when the media focus wasn’t on him. The New York Times reports:
Mr. Trump has been snappish with aides most of the week, according to administration officials, miffed in part by so many ceremonial events not related to him. He was impatient for the memorials to end but expressed pride in himself for remaining publicly civil. People close to the president called it a course correction after his peevish reaction to Mr. McCain’s death.
What a pathetic asshole. He did the bare minimum, didn’t sing hymns or recite the Apostle’s Creed, and was the only person in the room who didn’t put his hand over his heart when the coffin was carried out.
At The Washington Post, Rick Wilson writes that George W. Bush’s invitation to Trump to attend the funeral prevented the asshole from ruining the solemn event.
By insisting on his successor’s inclusion in the proceedings, Bush forced the current White House occupant to briefly abandon his unfrozen cave-man act, denying him the chance to further debase the office of president by siphoning the dignity out of 41’s final hours in D.C. — something 45 likely would have relished, given the opportunity.
We’ll still be hearing about Poppy Bush for a couple more days because there is going to be another funeral in Texas today.
On Monday, Trump hosted a 2020 strategy meeting with a group of advisers. Among the topics discussed was whether Mike Pence should remain on the ticket, given the hurricane-force political headwinds Trump will face, as demonstrated by the midterms, a source briefed on the session told me. “They’re beginning to think about whether Mike Pence should be running again,” the source said, adding that the advisers presented Trump with new polling that shows Pence doesn’t expand Trump’s coalition. “He doesn’t detract from it, but he doesn’t add anything either,” the source said. Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump had been privately asking advisers if Pence could be trusted, and that outside advisers have been pushing Nikki Haley to replace Pence. One veteran of Trump’s 2016 campaign who’s still advising Trump told me the president hasn’t been focused enough on 2020. “What he needs to do is consider his team for 2020 and make sure it’s in place,” the adviser said. “He has to have people on his team that are loyal to his agenda.”
Trump’s doubts about Pence are surprising given Pence’s frequent public encomiums and professions of loyalty. “Trump waxes and wanes on everyone,” a prominent Republican close to the White House explained. Part of what’s driving the debate over Pence’s political value is Trump’s stalled search for a chief of staff to replace John Kelly. According to a source, Kelly has recently been telling Trump that Pence doesn’t help him politically. The theory is that Kelly is unhappy that Pence’s 36-year-old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, has been openly campaigning for Kelly’s job. “Kelly has started to get more political and he’s whispering to Trump that Trump needs a running mate who can help him more politically,” the source said. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)
I wonder how Evangelical voters would feel about pious Pence getting dumped?
There has been lots of Russia investigation news this week despite the wall-to-wall coverage of Bush’s passing. Some stories to check out:
David Ignatius at The Washington Post: Michael Flynn appears to have come full circle.
The Trump campaign warrior of 2016 who led chants of “lock her up” deriding Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and then lied to the FBI after President Trump’s inauguration about his secret contacts with Russia, once again became an “exemplary” figure whose example, Mueller says, encouraged others to do the right thing.
“The defendant deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government,” writes Mueller in the sentencing memo. Mueller praises Flynn’s “early cooperation” as a spur to others. “The defendant’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming [with the special counsel’s office] and cooperate,” the memo notes.
This denouement, in which Flynn is once again on the side of law enforcement and truth-telling, is fascinating to me as someone who followed his career for more than a decade and remembers hearing his blisteringly honest briefings as a combat intelligence commander in Afghanistan. Flynn became disoriented during his years in Trump’s orbit, but the sentencing memo suggests that he recovered his balance and sense of duty after Mueller began his investigation.
There’s a bizarre irony here. Trump pleaded with James B. Comey, the FBI director at the time the investigation of Flynn began, to consider “letting this go.” That was a grossly improper attempt to interfere with the investigation and prosecution of Flynn’s false statements. How strange that it was Mueller, in the end, who decided in effect to “let this go” by recommending no jail time, after the investigation had run its course and Flynn had pleaded guilty and cooperated.
Did Michael Flynn wear a wire for Mueller? MSNBC counterintelligence expert Frank Figliuzzi suggested as much yesterday. Hill Reporter.com:
MSNBC’s Morning Joe called on Frank Figluzzi to come in and help explain the memo. Figliuzzi was formerly an Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI and is familiar with Robert Mueller’s methods.
He began the segment by explaining that the extensive redactions meant that the info inside was sensitive. After stating that redactions are out of character for Mueller, Figluzzi said, “We saw lots of redaction. You do that in the FBI either when you have classified information or you are at such a sensitivity level that you cannot expose it.”
Figluzzi also felt the light sentence and amount of redactions meant the investigation was aiming for convictions at the highest levels. He continued, “I think, in fact, that underneath these redactions, if we were to lift these black magic marker points out, we would see people with the last name Trump or Kushner.”
Finally, Figluzzi ended the segment with a bombshell suggestion; Flynn may have worn a wire. He told the panel, “We see reference here to quick cooperation by Flynn. What does that mean? Did it happen in what we call the golden hour, where you could even wire somebody up and have him share communications in real time?”
At The Guardian, Marcia Chambers and Charles Kaiser made the same suggestion.
The least-noticed sentence in Michael Flynn’s plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller may also be the most important one.
Section eight of the deal reached by Donald Trump’s former national security adviser in the inquiry into Russian meddling in the US election is entitled “cooperation”. It specifies that as well as answering questions and submitting to government-administered polygraph tests, Flynn’s cooperation “may include … participating in covert law enforcement activities”.
Long-time students of federal law enforcement practices agreed, speaking anonymously, that “covert law enforcement activities” likely refers to the possibility of wearing a concealed wire or recording telephone conversations with other potential suspects. It is not known whether Flynn has worn a wire at any time.
“If the other subjects of investigation have had any conversations with Flynn during the last few months, that phrase must have all of them shaking in their boots,” said John Flannery, a former federal prosecutor in the southern district of New York.
“The one who must be particularly terrified is [Trump son-in-law and adviser] Jared Kushner, if he spoke to the special counsel’s office without immunity about the very matter that is the subject of Flynn’s plea. I think he must be paralyzed if he talked to Flynn before or after the investigators debriefed him.”
More Russia reads, links only:
Garrett M. Graff at Wired: 14 Questions Robert Mueller Knows the Answers To.
Renato Mariotti at Time: Don’t Expect Mueller to Charge a Grand Conspiracy.
Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast: Senate Intelligence Committee Grilled Steve Bannon About Cambridge Analytica.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?
Remember Peter Smith, the guy who was trying to help the Trump campaign get Hillary Clinton’s emails? He ended up supposedly committing suicide in a Minnesota hotel room in July, 2017, shortly after he was interviewed by Shane Harris of The Wall Street Journal. After the story broke, Matt Tait published an article at Lawfare about his involvement in the story. Today Buzzfeed News reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier have a new story on Smith: GOP Operative Made “Suspicious” Cash Withdrawals During Pursuit Of Clinton Emails.
In one of the most intriguing episodes of the 2016 presidential campaign, Republican activist Peter W. Smith launched an independent effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails to help defeat her and elect Donald Trump. His quest, which reportedly brought him into contact with at least two sets of hackers that he himself believed were Russian, remains a key focus of investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
Now, BuzzFeed News has reviewed documents showing that FBI agents and congressional investigators have zeroed in on transactions Smith made right as his effort to procure Clinton’s emails heated up. Just a day after he finished a report suggesting he was working with Trump campaign officials, for example, he transferred $9,500 from an account he had set up to fund the email project to his personal account, later taking out more than $4,900 in cash. According to a person with direct knowledge of Smith’s project, the Republican operative stated that he was prepared to pay hackers “many thousands of dollars” for Clinton’s emails — and ultimately did so….
The money trail, made public here for the first time, sheds new light on Smith’s effort, in which he told people he was in touch with both Russians on the dark web and Trump campaign officials — particularly Michael Flynn, who was then a top adviser to the Trump campaign and later served as national security adviser before having to resign after misleading White House officials about his meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Intelligence agencies have given the FBI information that Russian hackers talked about passing Clinton’s emails to Flynn through a cutout, according to two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the matter. It is not known if that cutout was in any way connected to Smith.
Smith claimed that the Russians had hacked Hillary’s private server and he was determined to get his hands on the emails.
Smith assembled a group of people including experts in technology, lawyers, and even a Russian-speaking investigator to figure out how to obtain Clinton’s emails, according to the Journal. On the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, Smith incorporated a company called KLS Research. In a proposal Smith put together describing the effort to obtain the emails, he named the company as the “preferred vehicle” for the research into Clinton’s email, and Smith would tell Tait that KLS Research would also help “avoid campaign reporting.”
Smith and his longtime business partner, John Szobocsan, were the two signers for a bank account linked to KLS Research….
Soon after Labor Day, Smith appears to have finished an operational plan, which included the names of top Trump campaign officials, some of whom have denied speaking with Smith anytime during the campaign. Smith’s report is dated Sept. 7.
The next day, Smith withdrew $9,500 from the KLS Research account and deposited it into his personal bank account, both held at Northern Trust. From there, Smith took out a little more than $4,900 in cash and sent checks to an accountant and an LLC controlled by a private real estate company. Later in September, Smith made withdrawals of $500 and $700 from KLS Research.
These transactions came to light after Northern Trust received a subpoena from the FBI for Smith’s records last December. The subpoena specifically sought information about the $9,500 withdrawal from KLS Research’s account.
After scouring nine accounts that Smith controlled, Northern Trust turned over documents showing 88 suspicious cash withdrawals totaling about $140,000 between January 2016 and April 2017, including a $3,000 withdrawal six days after the election. Northern Trust found these transactions suspicious because officials could not determine the purpose of the withdrawals and because some of them took place over the time Smith was engaged in his project to obtain Clinton’s emails. Many of the cash transactions, the bank noted, were less than $10,000, small enough not to trigger an automatic alert to the government. After receiving the subpoena, the bank sent a report to Treasury’s financial crimes unit, which shared its findings with the FBI, special counsel Robert Mueller, and Senate Intelligence Committee investigators.
The story reports that “three US law enforcement officials” confirmed that Smith is still “an important figure” in the investigation and that Mueller’s investigators have interviewed people involved with Smith. I wonder if Mike Flynn is helping out with this aspect of the investigation?
Head over to Buzzfeed News to read the rest of the story.
Lawfare has a lengthy post up about the Buzzfeed story: Peter Smith’s Search for Hillary Clinton’s Emails: The Subplot Thickens. Here’s just a taste:
On its own, the Buzzfeed story might not be a groundbreaking development. But the article doesn’t stand alone. It comes in the wake of Mueller’s indictments of Russians involved in the Kremlin’s social media manipulation operation and, more importantly for present purposes, the hacking and leaking of Democratic Party materials during the 2016 campaign. In that context, it is highly significant that Buzzfeed reports that Smith’s efforts are actively being investigated by the special counsel’s team. Not only has Mueller’s team interviewed “people who Smith tried to recruit and others who worked on his operation to obtain Clinton’s emails,” it has also “tried to determine if [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn assisted Smith in his operation”—a question that Smith’s possible payments to hackers are “key” to answering, Buzzfeed writes.
So how do the facts reported in the Peter Smith stories, particularly Buzzfeed’s latest, line up with Mueller’s indictments? Mueller’s allegations describe, in detail, a complex Russian conspiracy to shape the 2016 U.S. elections—a conspiracy that involved an influence operation conducted on social media, the publication of hacked information, and outreach to a person in contact with the Trump campaign, reportedly Roger Stone.
The Peter Smith stories—between the Journal’s reporting, Tait’s Lawfare account and the latest report from Buzzfeed—describe another plot, one that took shape on this side of the Atlantic. Whether this second plot amounts to a conspiracy is a legal question beyond the scope of this post, but it appears to have involved, at a minimum, an agreement among a number of actors to obtain illegally hacked emails, perhaps by buying them. Tait wrote that he specifically warned Smith that the person purporting to have Clinton’s emails was likely part of Russia’s campaign against the United States and that Smith didn’t care about the source, as long as he got the emails. So it’s certainly plausible that the Smith operation also involved a conspiracy of some sort.
Meanwhile, Russian state TV is getting more and more blatant about Putin’s influence on Trump. Raw Story: Russian state TV warns Trump to ‘do what we say’ if you want ‘support in the elections.’
Julia Davis, who runs the Russian Media Monitor website, reports via Twitter that news show “60 Minutes” this week held a panel discussion about actions Russia should take to retaliate against the latest round of American sanctions.
Vitaly Tretyakov, the dean of the Moscow State University’s School of Television, argued that the Russian government should use whatever leverage it had over Trump to bend the president to its will.
“Let’s turn this into a headache for Trump,” he said, according to Davis’ translation. “If you want us to support you in the elections, do what we say.”
At The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum asks if American institutions are really strong enough to stop Trump: Are you still sure there’s no need to worry?
“Don’t worry, the institutions will stop him.” Or: “Don’t worry, he hasn’t done any real damage yet, the institutions have stopped him.” How many times have you heard some version of this analysis since the election of President Trump? Sometimes, the speaker is an optimist, someone with faith in the U.S. Constitution. Sometimes, the speaker is a skeptic, someone who dislikes the alleged “hysteria” of those who think Trump’s corrupt habits, autocratic language and authoritarian behavior are doing lasting damage. Either way, they are reassured, and reassuring: Congress will stop him. The judiciary will stop him. The FBI, the Republican Party, the Constitution will stop him. Don’t worry.
But America’s federal institutions are not the only ones designed to prevent someone like Trump from undermining the Constitution. We have other kinds of institutions, too — legal organs, regulatory bodies, banks — that are supposed to prevent men like Trump from staying in business, let alone acquiring political power. The truth is that many of these equally important American institutions failed a long time ago. Trump is not the cause of their failure. He is the result.
One example: Paul Manafort.
Here is a man who is alleged to have declared income as “loans,” concealed foreign bank accounts and lied about money that Ukrainian oligarchs were paying him via shell companies in Cyprus. For decades, in other words, U.S. law enforcement institutions were unable to spot the money-laundering, tax evasion and fraud that his partner Rick Gates spent several hours describing, even when carried out by a prominent person. As long ago as 1985, Manafort’s name featured in Jacob Weisberg’s still-famous New Republic cover story about Roger Stone, then his consulting partner. The headline: “The State-of-the-Art Washington Sleazeball.”
For decades, Manafort’s “political consultancy” has helped crooks and autocrats retain power. But even leaving aside the question of morality: Why wasn’t Manafort put out of business for suspected fraud years ago? Did the police not have the resources? The motivation? Whatever the reason, here, for the optimists and skeptics, is a clear institutional failure: A society allegedly obsessed with “law and order,” so much so that it has the highest incarceration rates in the world, couldn’t be bothered to investigate a famously sleazy man who was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on antique rugs and men’s suits in Northern Virginia.
And what about Trump’s career?
Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, Trump employed 200 illegal Polish workers to destroy the Bonwit Teller department store, a historic building on Fifth Avenue, to make way for what would become Trump Tower. The men earned half the union wage and worked 12-hour shifts without hard hats; at one point, their contractor stopped paying them. Eventually they sued. In 1998, Trump paid $1.375 million to settle the case.
Trump broke immigration law and employment law, and he violated union rules, too. Yet neither immigration authorities nor employment regulators nor union bosses put him out of business. Why not? Why were the terms of that settlement kept confidential? Why, with his track record, was he allowed to get a casino license? Building permits? Wall Street banks did, it is true, stop lending to him. But when he began looking abroad for cash — doing extremely dodgy deals in Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example — no one stopped him.
Read the whole thing at the Post.
What else is happening? What stories are you following?
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:
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?