Posted: March 29, 2018 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: China, corruption, David Shulkin, Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, John Bolton, John Dowd, Kim John Un, Latvia, Michael Flynn, North Korea, Paul Manafort, presidential pardons, privatization, Robert Mueller, Russia investigation, U.S. Constitution, Veterans Affairs
As usual in the horrifying new world of Trump, there is so much shocking news that there’s no way to deal with all of it. I guess the top story has to be that Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd dangled pardons in front of Michael Flynn and Paul Manifort last summer.
The New York Times: Trump’s Lawyer Raised Prospect of Pardons for Flynn and Manafort.
A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump’s pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.
The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.
The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.
Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes.
Flynn ultimately took the safe route and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation; but this could explain why Paul Manafort is holding out even though the evidence against him is overwhelming and he could face life in prison if convicted.
Cary Grant, 1960
Constitutional experts are now discussing whether Trump could get away with pardoning Manafort and others, even if he did it with corrupt intent. Some opinions:
Alex Whiting at Just Security: Why Dangling a Pardon Could Be an Obstruction of Justice—Even if the Pardon Power is Absolute. A brief excerpt:
Some experts have argued that the pardon power is absolute and that the President’s motives in issuing a pardon thus could not be questioned, while others contend that it could be a crime to issue a pardon for corrupt purposes (such as in exchange for cash). But the debate over the absolute nature of the pardon power is actually not relevant to the alleged incidents involving Trump’s lawyer. Indeed, that entire debate can be set aside for the moment. Why? Because there’s been no pardon. Instead, a pardon has only been dangled before Flynn and Manafort, and the analysis of whether that action could become part of an obstruction case against Trump raises entirely different considerations….
The pardon dangle works completely differently—and in important respects has the opposite effects. First, this kind of dangle is not a public act. Therefore, as long as it remained secret, it could be done without incurring any of the political downstream consequences that come with actually pardoning someone. It hides the President from scrutiny rather than exposes him to it as a potential check on the use of the power. Second, the objective of the dangle appears to have been to foreclose the prospect of Flynn and Manfort’s cooperating or testifying. Once again, this is the opposite effect of an actual exercise of the pardon. The message of the dangle was sufficiently clear: hang in there and keep fighting (do not cut a deal with the special counsel) because you will be pardoned before you spend a day in jail. The President and his lawyer’s hope would have been that with the threat of jail eliminated, neither former aid would feel compelled to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller to reduce his sentence. But, since they were not actually pardoned or not yet anyway, they still kept their Fifth Amendment privileges, and so Mueller could not simply demand they testify before the Grand Jury. In this way, the dangle could operate to stop any cooperation from Flynn and Manafort, who could then be pardoned later if and when they were indicted or even after their cases went through pretrial, trial and appeal. Indeed, you also have to put yourself back at the time these events all took place: before Manafort was indicted and Flynn pleaded guilty. That’s when the dangle could work its magic.
Because a pardon dangle is secret and seeks to discourage cooperation with an ongoing investigation without public scrutiny or consequences, it should be analyzed differently than a pardon when it comes to an obstruction case.
Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at The Washington Post: We may know why Paul Manafort has kept quiet. But his bet is still risky.
Manafort’s refusal to cooperate can’t be driven by a rational calculation that he has any reasonable chance of escaping conviction, multimillion-dollar legal fees and a prison sentence that will result in years behind bars.
The indictments against him lay out an overwhelming case of money laundering in particular. The meticulously gathered evidence will be as clear for the jury as a laundry detergent commercial: The jury will see the dirty money go in and the clean money come out. To the extent there had been a small risk, inherent in paper-driven chases, that the jury could become bored at the accounting presentation and tune out, Mueller now has a narrator for the trial in Manafort’s co-conspirator Rick Gates.
So is hoping for a Trump pardon a good bet for Manafort?
…the Times story does not definitively solve the Manafort mystery. First, Dowd’s reported overture, particularly if done with the president’s knowledge or consent, could have constituted a conspiracy to obstruct justice, a separate impeachable offense. That presumably is why the story includes a categorical denial from Dowd that he ever discussed pardons for the president’s former advisers with lawyers. For Dowd, the conduct would be putting his license at risk.
Second, Manafort surely recognizes that he can’t fully count on Trump, both because the president is a habitual liar and because the political dynamic is subject to such extreme and violent turns. (Of course, under this hypothesis, Manafort retains the valuable insurance policy of spilling the goods if Trump double-crosses him, leaving both huge losers in a real-life prisoners dilemma.)
Third, Manafort could still be required to testify after any pardon, when he would no longer be in federal jeopardy. Undoubtedly, the plan would be for him to deny assurances of a pardon from Trump. Still, were Mueller to catch him in a lie, the special counsel would surely come down on him.
Finally, it is likely that in the event of a pardon for federal crimes, which is all Trump can provide, some state attorneys general, such as New York’s Eric T. Schneiderman, would prosecute Manafort for financial crimes under their potent state statutes.
Maybe Manafort figures a possible pardon is a better bet than hoping Putin doesn’t send his goons to shut him (Manafort) up for good.
A few more pardon stories:
Bloomberg: Pardon Talk Could Put Trump Lawyer in Hot Water.
CNN: Emails reveal DOJ would have ‘very little involvement’ if Trump tweeted a pardon.
The Washington Post: This overlooked part of the Constitution could stop Trump from abusing his pardon power.
Another big story broke late yesterday. Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Today Shulkin is speaking out, claiming he was fired because he opposed privatizing the VA. Shulkin spoke to NPR’s Morning Edition:
Fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin tells NPR’s Morning Edition that political forces in the Trump administration want to privatize the VA — and that he was standing in the way.
“There are many political appointees in the VA that believe that we are moving in the wrong direction or weren’t moving fast enough toward privatizing the VA,” he said. “I think that it’s essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA. I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization.”
Those political forces may be why Shulkin says he wasn’t allowed to speak out to defend himself against an ethics controversy over use of funds on a trip to Europe that he says was overhyped and intended to weaken him.
“This was completely mischaracterized,” Shulkin said. “There was nothing improper about this trip, and I was not allowed to put up an official statement or to even respond to this by the White House. … I think this was really just being used in a political context to try to make sure that I wasn’t as effective as a leader moving forward.”
Shulkin argued his case in an op-ed at The New York Times: David J. Shulkin: Privatizing the V.A. Will Hurt Veterans.
That’s a lot of news, but I’ve barely touched on everything that’s happening. Here’s a shocking Trump corruption story that broke at The Guardian this morning: FBI looked into Trump plans to build hotel in Latvia with Putin supporter.
In 2010, a small group of businessmen including a wealthy Russian supporter of Vladimir Putin began working on plans to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex with Donald Trump in Riga, the capital of Latvia.
A senior Trump executive visited the city to scout for locations. Trump and his daughter Ivanka spent hours at Trump Tower with the Russian, Igor Krutoy, who also knows compatriots involved in arranging a fateful meeting at the same building during the 2016 US election campaign.
Then the Latvian government’s anti-corruption bureau began asking questions.
The Guardian has learned that talks with Trump’s company were abandoned after Krutoy and another of the businessmen were questioned by Latvian authorities as part of a major criminal inquiry there – and that the FBI later looked into Trump’s interactions with them at Latvia’s request.
Those involved deny that the inquiry was to blame for the deal’s collapse.
Latvia asked the US for assistance in 2014 and received a response from the FBI the following year, according to a source familiar with the process. Latvian investigators also examined secret recordings in which Trump was mentioned by a suspect.
This means the FBI looked into Trump’s efforts to do business deals in the former Soviet Union earlier than was widely known. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is now investigating other Trump dealings with Russians as part of his wide-ranging criminal inquiry into alleged collusion between Moscow and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.
The Riga developers saw their potential partner in New York as a ticket to lucrative western revenues.
This shit just never ends. I haven’t even touched on the North Korea news or the Bolton mess or the fact that Trump wants to put his personal physician in charge of the VA. More headlines to check out:
The Washington Post: Who is Trump’s new Veterans Affairs pick, Ronny Jackson?
NBC News: Kim Jong Un met China’s Xi. What does it mean for Trump summit?
CNBC: China says North Korea wants denuclearization, but Kim Jong Un’s motives remain shrouded in mystery as Trump meeting approaches.
The Washington Post: Three big questions about a Trump-Kim summit.
Business Insider: Kim Jong Un became a regional power overnight by saying a single, meaningless word to Trump.
Vox: “Otherwise, they subpoena”: White House lawyer Ty Cobb on why Trump is cooperating with Mueller.
Bloomberg: Kelly Loses White House Clout as Trump Blazes Own Path.
CNN: Did Trump campaign and John Bolton PAC get help from overseas?
Talking Points Memo: WSJ: Kushner Has Phoned Bolton For Advice In The Past Year.
BBC News: Julian Assange has internet cut at Ecuadorean embassy in London.
The Daily Beast: ICE Now Detaining Pregnant Women, Thanks to Trump Order.
Slate: It’s Time to Stop Yammering About Liberal Bias.
Posted: November 10, 2017 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Andrew Fastow, Andrew Weissmann, Chinese president Xi Jinping, Donald Trump, Enron, Fethullah Gulen, George Papadopoulos, James Woolsey, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Keith Schiller, Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn Jr., Miss Universe Pageant Moscow 2013, Robert Mueller, Russia investigation, Russian trolls, Turkey, Twitter, Vladimir Putin
The Wall Street Journal has a story on Michael Flynn’s plot to kidnap Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen and “deliver” him to a Turkish prison. We knew about this plan, but the WSJ provides more details. The article is behind the paywall, but I go access by clicking on Twitter link.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating an alleged plan involving former White House National Security Adviser Mike Flynn to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have asked at least four individuals about a meeting in mid-December at the ‘21’ Club in New York City, where Mr. Flynn and representatives of the Turkish government discussed removing Mr. Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries. The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, according to one of the people who has spoken to the FBI….
The people who described the alleged proposal said they didn’t attend the December meeting and didn’t have direct knowledge from Mr. Flynn or his associates about its purported details. It isn’t clear how advanced Mr. Mueller’s investigation of the alleged plan to remove Mr. Gulen is, nor is there any indication that any money changed hands, according to those familiar with the discussions and the FBI investigation.
But federal investigators’ interest in whether Mr. Flynn was pursuing potentially illegal means to forcibly deal with Mr. Gulen indicates that the former Trump adviser faces another investigation stemming from his work on behalf of Turkish government interests, both before and after the presidential election.
One more interesting bit:
One person familiar with the alleged discussions about Mr. Gulen said Mr. Flynn also was prepared to use his influence in the White House to further the legal extradition of the cleric, who lives in Pennsylvania.
According to the WSJ, there were two meetings to discuss the kidnapping. The second one was attended by former former CIA Director James Woolsey, who was concerned enough to tell then Vice President Joe Biden about it. It seems both Mike Flynns are in serious trouble.
Randall D. Eliason of George Washington University Law School writes at The Washington Post: How Robert Mueller can play hardball with Michael Flynn.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team are no strangers to the practice of prosecutorial hardball. That skill may be coming into play once again if, as news reports indicate, the special counsel is turning his attention to former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and Flynn’s son Michael G. Flynn, who worked with his father’s lobbying firm and was also involved in the Trump transition. The elder Flynn has long been thought to be in Mueller’s sights, and CNN reported Wednesday that Flynn and his wife are worried about their son’s legal exposure as well.
If in fact prosecutors have built cases against both men, they now have a huge, juicy carrot to dangle in front of the elder Flynn: Plead guilty and testify against others, and we’ll go easy on your son. Given the former national security adviser’s prior positions with the Trump campaign and administration, that prospect has to make other potential targets of Mueller’s inquiry extremely uneasy.
Members of Mueller’s team are very familiar with — and have not been shy about employing — the tactic of persuading a witness to cooperate in exchange for leniency toward a family member. His chief deputy is Andrew Weissmann, a career prosecutor with a reputation for aggressiveness. More than a decade ago, Weissmann served on and ultimately headed the Enron task force, the team of prosecutors charged with investigating the financial collapse of the huge energy corporation. Weissmann and the other Enron prosecutors wanted the cooperation of Andrew Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer, whom they had indicted on dozens of federal charges. When prosecutors later added additional charges against Fastow, they also indicted a new defendant: Lea Fastow, Andrew’s wife, who had also worked at Enron. With the felony charges pending against Lea Fastow, the couple faced the prospect of spending years in prison while their two young sons were raised by others.
Eventually Andrew Fastow was sentenced to 10 years in prison and his wife got one year, which she was allowed to serve before Andrew went to prison so they could care for their children. It looks like we’re about to find out what Michael Flynn will do to protect his son.
A couple more Russia investigation stories:
ABC News reports that George Papadopoulos, who is cooperating with the Mueller investigation in return for a reduced sentence, initially lied to FBI investigators “out of loyalty to Trump.”
Trump had publicly denied that there had been any contact between his campaign and Russian officials, and Papadopoulos did not want to contradict the official line, the source said.
“It’s all fake news,” Trump said of any alleged connections in January. “It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”
Papadopoulos met with the FBI agents investigating those alleged ties shortly thereafter, and he later acknowledged that he lied during that meeting about the timing of certain contacts.
How may other advisers lied out of loyalty to the liar in chief? And how many of those advisers will end up turning on Trump? Mueller is on the case.
NBC News: Trump Bodyguard Keith Schiller Testifies Russian Offered Trump Women, Was Turned Down.
After a business meeting before the Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, a Russian participant offered to “send five women” to Donald Trump’s hotel room in Moscow, his longtime bodyguard told Congress this week, according to three sources who were present for the interview.
Two of the sources said the bodyguard, Keith Schiller, viewed the offer as a joke, and immediately responded, “We don’t do that type of stuff.”
The two sources said Schiller’s comments came in the context of him adamantly disputing the allegations made in the Trump dossier, written by a former British intelligence operative, which describes Trump having an encounter with prostitutes at the hotel during the pageant. Schiller described his reaction to that story as being, “Oh my God, that’s bull—-,” two sources said.
The conversation with the Russian about the five women took place after a morning meeting about the pageant in Moscow broke up, two sources said.
That night, two sources said, Schiller said he discussed the conversation with Trump as Trump was walking back to his hotel room, and Schiller said the two men laughed about it as Trump went to bed alone. Schiller testified that he stood outside Trump’s hotel room for a time and then went to bed.
One source noted that Schiller testified he eventually left Trump’s hotel room door and could not say for sure what happened during the remainder of the night.
Schiller is one of Trump’s closest and longest-term employees. He would probably lie for his boss. So why didn’t he just say there was nothing to the story at all? A couple of legal experts on TV have suggested that Schiller may be afraid that someone else overheard the offer and thus he’s afraid to give a complete denial.
AP Exclusive: Russia Twitter trolls deflected Trump bad news.
Disguised Russian agents on Twitter rushed to deflect scandalous news about Donald Trump just before last year’s presidential election while straining to refocus criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to an Associated Press analysis of since-deleted accounts.
Tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as “America_1st_” and “BatonRougeVoice” on Oct. 7, 2016, actively pivoted away from news of an audio recording in which Trump made crude comments about groping women, and instead touted damaging emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
Since early this year, the extent of Russian intrusion to help Trump and hurt Clinton in the election has been the subject of both congressional scrutiny and a criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. In particular, those investigations are looking into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
AP’s analysis illuminates the obvious strategy behind the Russian cyber meddling: swiftly react, distort and distract attention from any negative Trump news.
Read the rest at the AP link above.
Meanwhile Trump is bumbling through his Asia trip, working on destroying U.S. credibility around the world.
Quartz: Beijing is playing Trump “like a fiddle,” an ex-ambassador to China says.
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s recent hosting of Donald Trump was a masterclass in how to make the US president comfortable—feed him familiar food, take him on his favorite outing, golf, and tell him how much you like him.
U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter – RC1F6C531670
But Chinese president Xi Jinping added a creamy layer of pomp and circumstance to the mix when the White House delegation reached Beijing. Trump has been feted with everything from an unprecedented private dinner in the Forbidden City to a red carpet welcome in Tiananmen Square, the Beijing landmark where hundreds of students were killed by the Chinese military in 1989.
Trump has responded in kind, calling Xi a “very special man” with whom he has “great chemistry.” While US businessmen had high hopes that Trump and his back-to-the-1980s China advisors would wring concessions from Xi to cut the $350 billion trade deficit, the only concrete result has been a mish-mash of previously announced deals and non-binding agreements that probably aren’t worth the $250 billion both governments claim….
Beyond the numbers, it’s Trump’s embrace of Xi that has diplomats and human rights activists around the world concerned. China’s government is “playing Trump like a fiddle,” said Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s ambassador to China from 2007 to 2013. “You don’t have good chemistry with a Chinese leader who doesn’t speak your language and is geared to not develop chemistry,” he said.
Read more at Quartz.
Putin is playing Trump too. Trump has been dying to meet with him again, but it’s not going to happen. Putin was just jerking him around and trying (successfully) to humiliate him.
Da Nang, Vietnam (CNN)President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will not hold a formal meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit here in Vietnam, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday.
But the two world leaders did briefly meet during the so-called APEC class photo, where all the heads of state come together to take a photo before the summit officially starts. Trump and Putin shook hands and had a briefly spoke before the photo was snapped….
Citing “scheduling conflicts on both sides,” though, Sanders said no formal meeting will take place during the two-day gathering, but that an informal interaction between the two world leaders was likely to happen, a notion reinforced by her Russian counterparts.
“Regarding a Putin meeting, there was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides,” Sanders said. “There is no formal meeting or anything scheduled for them.”
Sure Sarah. Poor Donald was so looking forward to a private audience with his idol. But it was not to be.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?
Posted: October 28, 2017 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Donald Trump, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Robert Mueller, Trump Russia investigation
The news hit last night on CNN: First charges filed in Mueller investigation.
A federal grand jury in Washington on Friday approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources briefed on the matter.
The charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge. Plans were prepared Friday for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday, the sources said. It is unclear what the charges are.
A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment. The White House also had no comment, a senior administration official said Saturday morning…..
On Friday, top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the DC federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.
Reporters present saw a flurry of activity at the grand jury room, but officials made no announcements.
The story has now been confirmed by other news organizations, including Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. Now we know why the Trump administration has been trying to change the narrative using bogus attacks on Hillary Clinton.
Speculation will be rife in the media now, as we wait to learn who has been indicted. Most people think it could be Paul Manafort or Michael Flynn. I hope it will be someone big, but it could also be someone charged with lying to the FBI or Special Counsel. Either way, Mueller’s goal will likely be to get someone to talk in turn for reducing charges.
Mike Allen at Axios:
Why it matters, from MSNBC’s Ari Melber: “[W]e’re moving away from a political fight, where everyone can see it the way they want, and into … a legal process — where there are rules of evidence, facts are established. … Bob Mueller is known to be a pretty careful prosecutor.” [….]
Matt Miller — former Obama Justice Department official, and close Mueller watcher, emails me: “I think it means this will be a rolling investigation. Rather than conduct his entire investigation and then wrap things up with indictments and possibly a report at the end, he is doing it in stages, the way the Justice Department might attack a drug cartel or a mafia family.” [….]
Miller adds that this “is a watershed moment for the politics surrounding the investigation. In less than six months on the job, Mueller has already returned indictments.
The Hill: CNN legal analyst: Charges filed in Mueller probe means it will last ‘well into 2018.’
CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Friday that news of the first charges reportedly being filed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference means the probe will last “well into 2018.”
“If anybody thinks the Mueller investigation is going to be wrapping up in the next couple of months, this decision today pretty much guarantees the Mueller office will be up and running well into 2018,” Toobin said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” [….]
Toobin called the news “a major landmark in the course of this investigation” and said the indictments will likely be aimed at garnering cooperation in the probe.
“In white-collar investigations, usually the first indictments are against individuals that you hope will plead guilty and cooperate against others,” Toobin said. “You don’t indict the big fish first, you indict smaller fish in hopes of getting the big fish.”
Vox: Why the Trump-Russia indictments are being kept secret — for now.
Because the indictments are sealed, we don’t yet know who is being charged or what they are being charged with.
Ken White, a libertarian-leaning lawyer and former assistant US attorney who tweets and blogs as “Popehat,” walked through a brief explainer on Saturday morning, after the news that the first criminal charges in Mueller’s investigation of possible Russian government collusion with the Trump presidential campaign had been approved by a federal grand jury.
The takeaway was: Sealing charges is pretty routine. It prevents the target of an indictment from knowing they’re about to be charged and arrested, which limits the risk of defendants destroying evidence or any shenanigans when they are eventually brought in.
Read Popehat’s twitter thread at Vox.
At Slate, Jeremy Stahl provides a rundown of possible candidates who might be in the Special Counsel’s crosshairs: Mueller Has Reportedly Issued His First Charges. Who Might Be Indicted?
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort was under investigation by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office for possible money laundering. In July, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a pre-dawn raid on his home.
Former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page spoke with Senate investigators for five hours on Friday, according to NBC News. Last summer, the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to monitor his communications as part of its investigation into Russia.
Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen testified before both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees this week. According to NBC, “there was an extended focus on 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.” At the time, Sater wrote to Cohen: “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
Read more at the link.
Last night folks on twitter noted that while CNN and MSNBC were focusing on the Mueller news, Fox was still claiming that Hillary Clinton was the one who colluded with Russia. For example,
Someone also posted this hilarious video.
If only . . .
Trump’s lawyers are apparently less interesting in Clinton conspiracy theories than what Mueller might have in store for their client. Politico: Trump legal team scrambles to prepare for new stage of Russia probe.
President Donald Trump’s White House and personal lawyers scrambled Saturday to learn where the knife might fall in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, triggering a guessing game among aides after days of trying to turn attention away from allegations of collusion with Russia during the election.
Attorneys involved in the case said their cellphones have been ringing nonstop as they connected with each other, and with reporters, trying to gather more concrete details after a CNN report Friday night that a federal grand jury had approved the first charges in the Russia investigation.
While the report did not cite names, attorneys close to the case said they were discussing whether the indictment was for two known Mueller targets: former campaign chairman Paul Manafort or former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Several attorneys who said they were in touch with the Manafort and Flynn lawyers said they had not been notified of any matter related to an indictment — which is customary in a white-collar criminal investigation — leading them to believe it wasn’t either of those two former high-ranking Trump aides. An attorney for Manafort did not respond to a request for comment. Michael Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, declined to comment.
The attorneys close to the case also said they wouldn’t be surprised if the charges were targeting Flynn or Manafort family members, or a longtime accountant or lawyer.
Read more speculation at Politico.
Breaking on MSNBC as I write this:
I have to admit I’m excited.
Another important Russia story broke yesterday at The New York Times: Talking Points Brought to Trump Tower Meeting Were Shared With Kremlin.
Natalia V. Veselnitskaya arrived at a meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 hoping to interest top Trump campaign officials in the contents of a memo she believed contained information damaging to the Democratic Party and, by extension, Hillary Clinton. The material was the fruit of her research as a private lawyer, she has repeatedly said, and any suggestion that she was acting at the Kremlin’s behest that day is anti-Russia “hysteria.”
But interviews and records show that in the months before the meeting, Ms. Veselnitskaya had discussed the allegations with one of Russia’s most powerful officials, the prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika. And the memo she brought with her closely followed a document that Mr. Chaika’s office had given to an American congressman two months earlier, incorporating some paragraphs verbatim.
The coordination between the Trump Tower visitor and the Russian prosecutor general undercuts Ms. Veselnitskaya’s account that she was a purely independent actor when she sat down with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Paul J. Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman.
It also suggests that emails from an intermediary to the younger Mr. Trump promising that Ms. Veselnitskaya would arrive with information from Russian prosecutors were rooted at least partly in fact — not mere “puffery,” as the president’s son later said.
In the past week, Ms. Veselnitskaya’s allegations — that major Democratic donors were guilty of financial fraud and tax evasion — have been embraced at the highest levels of the Russian government. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia repeated her charges at length last week at an annual conference of Western academics. A state-run television network recently made them the subject of two special reports, featuring interviews with Ms. Veselnitskaya and Mr. Chaika.
The matching messages point to a synchronized information campaign. Like some other Russian experts, Stephen Blank, a senior fellow with the nonprofit American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, said they indicate that Ms. Veselnitskaya’s actions “were coordinated from the very top.”
Read the rest at the NYT.
I also want to call attention to this NYT story from late Thursday: U.S. Soldiers Were Separated From Unit in Niger Ambush, Officials Say.
In the chaotic moments after an Army Special Forces team and 30 Nigerien troops were ambushed by militants in a remote corner of West Africa three weeks ago, four of the Americans were separated from the larger group.
Their squad mates immediately alerted commanders that they were under attack — then called for help nearly an hour later, as a top Pentagon official said this week — and ground forces from Niger’s army and French Mirage jets were both dispatched.
About two hours later, the firefight tapering off, French helicopters from nearby Mali swooped in to the rescue on the rolling wooded terrain. But they retrieved only seven of the 11 Americans. The four others were inexplicably left behind, no longer in radio contact and initially considered missing in action by the Pentagon, a status that officials say raises the possibility they were still alive when the helicopters took off without them.
United States officials insisted that other American, French and Nigerien forces were in the area when the helicopters lifted off. When Americans suffer casualties in an operation, the wounded are typically evacuated before the dead, officials said.
The bodies of three dead Americans and the team’s interpreter were found hours later. But American military officials still cannot explain why it took two more days and an exhaustive search by troops from all three countries to find the body of the fourth soldier, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, discovered by Nigerien troops in the woods near the ambush site.
This morning The Wall Street Journal reports that a request that an armed drone accompany the mission was denied. The story is behind a paywall, but here’s the report from The Hill: Forces in Niger denied use of armed drone: report.
A request by U.S. military officials to send an armed drone near a patrol of Green Berets in Niger before a deadly ambush earlier this month was denied, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
That the request was blocked in the approval process – which goes through the Pentagon, State Department and the Nigerien government – throws into further question whether the Green Berets had adequate cover on the Oct. 4 mission that ended in the deaths of four U.S. soldiers.
Since the ambush, the troops’ mission has been revealed to have been potentially more dangerous than U.S. officials initially let on….
According to the Journal, that assignment was considered relatively low-risk, and there hadn’t been any attacks on U.S. forces in the area in the past year.
But that the U.S. sought to send an armed drone to the area suggests that military officials were aware of a change in the security situation in the country, the Journal reported.
What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great weekend. On Monday it will be Mueller time!
Posted: September 16, 2017 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Brad Parscale, Cambridge Analytica, Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr, Facebook, Jared Kushner, Jordan, King Abdullah II, Michael Flynn, Natalia Veselnitskaya, nuclear reactors, Paul Manafort, Preet Bharara, Renato Mariotti, Robert Mercer, Robert Mueller, Russia investigation, Steve Bannon
Coffee and Donuts, Scott Moore
It appears that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is getting closer to finding crimes committed foreign persons and by Trump’s closest advisers; and Jared Kushner may be at the center of it all. For Trump, the shit is about to get real.
It all centers around Facebook and microtargeting. As I’m sure you know, Mueller recently obtained a warrant for the content of ads that Facebook sold to a Russian source. CNN has the latest this morning: Facebook handed Russia-linked ads over to Mueller under search warrant.
Facebook gave Mueller and his team copies of ads and related information it discovered on its site linked to a Russian troll farm, as well as detailed information about the accounts that bought the ads and the way the ads were targeted at American Facebook users, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.
The disclosure, first reported by the Wall Street Journal
, may give Mueller’s office a fuller picture of who was behind the ad buys and how the ads may have influenced voter sentiment during the 2016 election.
Clark Kent Breakfast, Dave Seguin
“We continue to work with the appropriate investigative authorities,” Facebook said in a statement to CNN.
Facebook informed Congress last week that it had identified 3,000 ads that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to fake accounts. Those accounts, in turn, were linked to the pro-Kremlin troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.
This is significant, because it indicates that Mueller has evidence of crimes related to the Facebook data. Business Insider: Mueller just obtained a warrant that could change the entire nature of the Russia investigation.
FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly 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.
The warrant was first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal on Friday night and the news was later confirmed by CNN.
Legal experts say the revelation has enormous implications for the trajectory of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, and whether Moscow had any help from President Donald Trump’s campaign team.
“This is big news — and potentially bad news for the Russian election interference ‘deniers,'” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent.
Rangappa, now an associate dean at Yale Law School, explained that to obtain a search warrant a prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that there is reason to believe a crime has been committed. The prosecutor then has to show that the information being sought will provide evidence of that crime….
by Victor Ostrovsky
“The key here…is that Mueller clearly already has enough information on these accounts — and their link to a potential crime to justify forcing [Facebook] to give up the info,” she said. “That means that he has uncovered a great deal of evidence through other avenues of Russian election interference.”
It also means that Mueller is no longer looking at Russia’s election interference from a strict counterintelligence standpoint — rather, he now believes he may be able to obtain enough evidence to charge specific foreign entities with a crime.
Read more in this Twitter thread–click to read the rest:
And who was in charge of the data operation for the Trump campaign? Jared Kushner. He revealed a lot about how he did it in a Forbes article back in May 2017: Jared Kushner In His Own Words On The Trump Data Operation The FBI Is Reportedly Probing. A couple of excerpts:
— “We found that Facebook and digital targeting were the most effective ways to reach the audiences. After the primary, we started ramping up because we knew that doing a national campaign is different than doing a primary campaign. That was when we formalized the system because we had to ramp up for digital fundraising. We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world. And I asked them how to scale this stuff. Doing it state by state is not that hard. But scaling is a very, very hard thing. They gave me a lot of their subcontractors and I built in Austin a data hub that would complement the RNC’s data hub. We had about 100 people in that office, which nobody knew about, until towards the end. We used that as the nerve center that drove a lot of the deployment of our ground game resources….
Fabio Hurtado Spanish, b. 1960
— “We played Moneyball, where we were asking, ‘Which states are will be the most cost effective—ROI per electoral vote.’ We used a lot things to get much more bang for the buck… We got rid of a lot of the political people. That’s not who we hired. Our best people were mostly people who volunteered pro bono, people from the business world, people from nontraditional fields. We could squeeze the margin so that nobody was getting rich on it. And we only had people who were doing it for the right reasons, not because they wanted to go onto the next campaign, but because they felt passionately about getting Donald Trump elected.”
Yesterday Vanity Fair published a piece by Chris Smith that connects a lot of dots: Did Jared Kushner’s Data Operation Help Select Facebook Targets for the Russians?
Kushner’s chat with Forbes has provided a veritable bakery’s worth of investigatory bread crumbs to follow. Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.
Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.” (Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a request for comment.) ….
by PJ Crook
No evidence has emerged to link Kushner, Cambridge Analytica, or Manafort to the Russian election-meddling enterprise; all have denied colluding with foreign agents. (Kushner’s representatives declined to comment for this article. Manafort’s spokesman could not be reached.) Yet analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. “Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible,” said Mike Carpenter, an Obama administration assistant defense secretary who specialized in Russia and Eastern Europe. “But that’s not how they do this. And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”
Click on the Vanity Fair link to read the rest.
More on the Cambridge Analytica piece of this at CNBC:
Darren Bolding, chief technology officer of Cambridge Analytica, told the crowd at the third annual Internet Summit in San Francisco on Thursday that “algorithms will find the worst in us if you let them go nuts.”
His comments came during an interview onstage with Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig in front of several hundred people gathered to hear him discuss the campaign. The interview was led by Matthew Prince, the CEO of internet service provider Cloudflare, which removed a white supremacist website from its network in the wake of Trump’s comments after a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Bolding — who worked at the Republican National Committee before joining Cambridge in January of 2017 — said that the RNC used 15 “issue models” to target political ads at Facebook users during the 2016 U.S. election campaign….The event came as Facebook faces growing criticism to release more details on the ads it sent to users that it says were bought by Russians looking to influence U.S. voters.
The ads were targeted using the same automated Facebook system used by Cambridge Analytica, and for the same purpose — to influence the U.S. presidential election.
And that’s not the only Russia Investigation story that broke yesterday.
Bloomberg: Russia Laundering Probe Puts Trump Tower Meeting in New Light. The Russian lawyer who met with Don Jr., Kushner and Paul Manafort in June 2016 was also involved in a huge money laundering case–could getting rid of that case have been the quid pro quo for Russian help in getting Trump elected?
when she stepped into Trump Tower, [Natalia] Veselnitskaya was also representing a client ensnared in a long-running U.S. investigation into an alleged web of Russian money-laundering. That criminal inquiry, opened by federal prosecutors in New York in 2013 and previously unreported, is still active, according to people familiar with the probe. There was no mention of an ongoing criminal inquiry when the U.S. settled a related civil lawsuit against Veselnitskaya’s client in May.
The outline of the criminal investigation, stretching from Switzerland to Cyprus, is laid out deep within the 734 filings in the civil case. Several countries have supplied documents to the U.S., as have Deutsche Bank AG, Citigroup Inc. and other global banks that aren’t targets. U.S. prosecutors in the case are seeking to track parts of more than $200 million they say left Russia after a massive fraud, and to identify who was involved in the scheme.
The revelation adds a new element to the Trump Tower meeting, which has emerged as a focus of congressional investigators and a U.S. special counsel inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Recall that Trump fired former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had brought the case in 2013 and later the Justice Department settle the case for peanuts:
After years of court wrangling over the civil case, the Prevezon matter was set for trial in May 2017, promising a public view of prosecutors’ full allegations about the Russian money flows. But just days before opening arguments, the U.S. announced it had settled the case for $5.9 million.
Ana Maria Leão
The prosecutors called it a victory. So did Prevezon lawyer Gay, who called the U.S. settlement “almost an apology by the government.”
Several Democratic lawmakers looked at the Prevezon settlement in a new light two months later, when news emerged about the Veselnitskaya meeting in Trump Tower. In a letter, they asked whether the Russian lawyer, or members of the Trump team, may have put pressure on prosecutors in the matter.
Natasha Bertrand has more at Business Insider: New details about major Russian money-laundering investigation raise the stakes of Trump Tower meeting.
The criminal investigation had not yet been disclosed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Bharara in March, and there was no mention of it when the civil case was settled in May for $5.9 million.
Veselnitskaya has staunchly denied discussing the Prevezon case during the Trump Tower meeting. But the developments suggest the stakes for her client were higher than previously known.
In September 2016, Bharara had issued a grand-jury subpoena to Andrei Alekseevich Pavlov — a person “central to the Government’s case against Prevezon,” according to an emergency appeal filed at the time by Prevezon counsel Michael Mukasey, who wanted to depose him.
Citigroup, Deutsche Bank AG, UBS AG, and TD Bank were also issued grand-jury subpoenas, according to Bloomberg, which did not provide further details.
Grand-jury testimonies are a key stage in a federal criminal investigation. The subpoena issued by Bharara to Pavlov, and provided to Business Insider on Friday, ordered him to hand over documents related to a series of cases connected to the Prevezon investigation.
The subpoena also asked Pavlov to provide “all non-privileged correspondence” with Veselnitskaya and others relevant to the case.
This was all short-circuited when the DOJ settled the case. Read more details at BI.
In the days leading up to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, when his soon-to-be national security adviser Michael Flynn was reportedly pushing a multibillion-dollar deal to build nuclear reactors in Jordan and other Middle East nations, Flynn and two other top Trump advisers held a secret meeting with the king of Jordan.
meeting — details of which have never been reported — is the latest in a series of secret, high-stakes contacts between Trump advisers and foreign governments that have raised concerns about how, in particular, Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner handled their personal business interests as they entered key positions of power. And the nuclear project raised additional security concerns about expanding nuclear technology in a tinderbox region of the world. One expert compared it to providing “a nuclear weapons starter kit.”
On the morning of Jan. 5, Flynn, Kushner, and former chief strategist Steve Bannon greeted Mi at the Four Seasons hotel in lower Manhattan, then took off in a fleet of SUVs and a sedan to a different location.
People close to the three Trump advisers say that the nuclear deal was not discussed. But a federal official with access to a document created by a law enforcement agency about the meeting said that the nuclear proposal, known as the Marshall Plan, was one of the topics the group talked about.
Read the rest at the link. It sure looks like Mueller is getting closer to nailing Trump and his gang.
What stories are you following today?
Posted: September 14, 2017 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: archaeology, Chuck Schumer, DACA, Department of Justice, Devin Nunes, Donald Trump, Dreamers, ESPN, James Comey, Louise Linton, Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn Jr., Nancy Pelosi, Russia investigation, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Steven Mnuchin, Susan Rice, the wall, unmasking, Vikings
Trump’s new BFFs
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer had dinner with Trump last night and some kind of “deal” was worked out, but no one can figure out what it was. Trump has been sending conflicting tweets about it and saying confusing things about it in Florida this morning.
The Washington Post: Trump, top A Democrats agree to work on deal to save ‘dreamers’ from deportation.
Democratic leaders announced late Wednesday that they agreed with President Trump to pursue a legislative deal that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and enact border security measures that don’t include building a physical wall.
The president discussed options during a dinner at the White House with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that also included talks on tax reform, infrastructure and trade. Trump has showed signs of shifting strategy to cross the aisle and work with Democrats in the wake of the high-profile failures by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
We’re working on a plan for DACA,” Trump said as he left the White House on Thursday for a trip to survey hurricane damage in Florida.
Trump said that he and Congress are “fairly close” to a deal and that Republican leaders Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are “very much on board” with a deal that would address DACA. The agreement must include “massive border security,” Trump said in response to shouted questions about whether he had reached a deal on the terms Schumer and Pelosi had described.
“The wall will come later” [link to Axios added] he said, apparently confirming a central element of the Democrats’ account.
There was instant backlash from Trump’s Cro-Magnon supporters, and the White House quickly tried to walk back whatever Trump agreed to when his handlers weren’t around.
Earlier Thursday, amid backlash from conservative supporters, Trump had sought Thursday to reach out to his GOP base with messages claiming his agenda would remain intact on signature issues such as the border wall.
In a series of tweets, Trump wrote that “no deal” was made on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program that has allowed 690,000 dreamers to work and go to school without fear of deportation. He further wrote that agreements on “massive border security” would have to accompany any new DACA provisions, and insisted that “the WALL will continue to be built.”
I guess we’ll find out what’s going on eventually. It would certainly be a good thing if Congress can get its act together and do something to keep the Dreamers in the U.S.
Manu Raju of CNN had a great scoop last night that makes Devin Nunes look like even more of an idiot than ever before: Exclusive: Rice told House investigators why she unmasked senior Trump officials.
Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, multiple sources told CNN.
The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan
The crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, arrived in New York last December in the transition period before Trump was sworn into office for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including Michael Flynn, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top strategist Steve Bannon, sources said.
The Obama administration felt misled by the United Arab Emirates, which had failed to mention that Zayed was coming to the United States even though it’s customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the US government about their travels, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Rice, who served as then-President Obama’s national security adviser in his second term, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally, a practice officials in both parties say is common.
Rice’s previously undisclosed revelation in a classified setting shines new light on a practice that had come under sharp criticism from the committee chairman, California Rep. Devin Nunes, and President Donald Trump, who previously accused Rice of committing a crime.Ja
Once again, Trump people were caught trying to communicate secretly with Putin, because of course foreign visitors are routinely monitored by the intelligence community.
In other Russia news, Michael Flynn’s son is now a subject in the investigation. NBC News reports:
Michael G. Flynn, the son of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, is a subject of the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, according to four current and former government officials.
The inquiry into Flynn is focused at least in part on his work with his father’s lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group, three of the officials said. It’s unclear when the focus on Flynn began.
Barry Coburn, who said he is serving as the younger Flynn’s legal counsel, said he couldn’t comment on the matter.
Flynn’s status as a subject of the Russia investigation widens the publicly known scope of the probe. NBC News has reported that those under investigation have included the elder Flynn and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Others under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller include Carter Page, a Trump campaign ally; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser; and the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr.
Yesterday White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that James Comey committed a crime when he leaked his personal memos about interactions with Trump to The New York Times, and called on the Justice Department to investigate him. She also called on ESPN to fire a reporter who tweeted that Trump is a white supremacist. In any other White House, Sanders herself would be fired by now. The White House is not supposed to get involved in decisions by the DOJ and the White House calling for the firing of a journalist for dissing POTUS is wildly inappropriate.
From Politico, a response to the recent attacks on Comey by the Trump crowd: The Hapless Smear Campaign Against Jim Comey.
From the moment Steve Bannon stated in his 60 Minutes interview that President Donald Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey was the biggest political mistake in modern presidential history, there simply was no chance that this week would proceed without a fair amount of political insanity. The fact that the president’s former chief strategist would publicly and brazenly disparage that decision was bound to result in a fierce White House pushback. And so it has. But over the past three days, the White House has repeatedly advanced flawed and in some instances preposterous legal arguments that don’t stand up to informed scrutiny.
The hijinks began on Monday, when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that information divulged after Comey was fired served as retroactive justification for the president’s decision. She alleged, among other things, that Comey had given “false testimony” and leaked “privileged information to journalists.” On Tuesday, Sanders did not repeat the “false testimony” claim, but she did reiterate the assertion that Comey had “leaked privileged government information” and speculated that his actions “could have been illegal.”
In Wednesday’s news briefing, reading from what appeared to be prepared notes, Sanders explained what she meant by “illegal”:
“The memos that Comey leaked were created on an FBI computer while he was the director,” she said. “He claims they were private property, but they clearly followed the protocol of an official FBI document, leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case regardless of classification violates federal laws including the Privacy Act, standard FBI employment agreement and nondisclosure agreement all personnel must sign.”
These talking points were presumably provided to Sanders by the White House Counsel’s Office, but as a litigator with considerable experience representing government officials and contractors (including whistleblowers) of all ideological persuasions, trust me: They are nonsense.
Click on the link to read the explanation.
Have you heard the latest outrage from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his trophy wife Louise Linton? The Washington Post reports: ‘The moochin’ Mnuchins’: Treasury secretary again is fodder for rich humor.
Just based on a quick Google search, the August exchange between Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and a critic of Linton’s fashion-bragging, mean-girl Instagram post seemed to be fading, along with memories of the eclipse, which the couple was lucky enough to have observed at Fort Knox.
But it all came rushing back when ABC News reported Wednesday evening that the Treasury Department had in fact requested a government jet for Mnuchin’s European honeymoon in Scotland, France and Italy. If the request had been granted, the plane would have cost the taxpayers roughly $25,000 per hour to operate.
A Treasury Department spokesman said in a statement that the request was made so that Mnuchin, who is a member of the National Security Council, would have access to secure communications as he traveled abroad.
Remember Linton’s attack on the woman who criticized her Instagram post after the Mnuchins used a government plane to fly to Fort Knox so they could watch the solar eclipse from the rooftop?
As the news rushed across social media, so did the memory of the Instagram episode, with one line in particular standing out among the now-regretted post by Linton:
“Adorable! Do you think the U.S. govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol.”
Now for a change of pace, I thought you might like this archaeology story. The AP via The Toronto Sun: Well-preserved Viking sword found in Norwegian mountains.
COPENHAGEN — A Norwegian archaeologist says a well-preserved, if rusty, iron sword dating to the Viking erahas been found in southern Norway.
Lars Holger Piloe says the nearly one-metre-long sword was found slid down between rocks with the blade sticking out, and may have been left by a person who got lost in a blizzard and died on the mountain from exposure.
Piloe said Thursday the sword, dating from about 850-950 A.D., was found in Lesja, some 275 kilometres north of Oslo.
Piloe said the sword’s preservation was likely due to the quality of the iron, as well as the cold, dry conditions. It was found in late August by two men who were on a reindeer hunt some 1,640 metres above sea level.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?
Posted: August 26, 2017 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: ACLU, DACA program, Donald Trump, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Dreamers, Hurricane Harvey, Joe Arpaio, Michael Flynn, Nazis, Paul Manafort, Racism, Robert Mueller, Russia investigation, Sebastian Gorko, Trump's transgender ban
Edgar Degas (French artist, 1834–1917)
I’m getting the feeling that Trump realizes his days as “president” are numbered, and he has decided to do as much evil as he possibly can while he’s still in power.
Last night, while the decent people in the country were focused on the devastating hurricane approaching Texas, Trump overwhelmed our concern for our fellow Americans with a Friday news dump from hell.
He signed an order to prevent transgender people from serving in the military and ordered that any medical care being provided to transgender individuals already serving be stopped.
The New York Times: Trump Gives Mattis Wide Discretion Over Transgender Ban.
President Trump signed a long-awaited directive on Friday that precludes transgender individuals from joining the military but gives Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wide discretion in determining whether those already in the armed forces can continue to serve.
Mr. Mattis’s decisions will be based on several criteria, including military effectiveness and budgetary concerns, a senior White House official said in briefing reporters.
1927 Jane Rogers Interior Scene
Left unclear was how many of the thousands of transgender service personnel estimated to be in the military might keep serving. By putting the onus on Mr. Mattis, the president appeared to open the door to allowing at least some transgender service members to remain in the military.
Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said that Mr. Mattis had received the guidance but did not indicate how he would proceed.
Soon after that news broke, the White House announced that Trump had pardoned evil racist former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Slate: Trump’s Pardon of Joe Arpaio Is a Clear and Ugly Message to Hispanic Americans.
On Friday night, minutes before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, Donald Trump issued the first presidential pardon of his administration to Joe Arpaio, the longtime Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff whose record of proudly tough, sometimes brutal, and ultimately illegal policing of Latino immigrants made him among the nation’s most admired and reviled lawmen.
In 2011, a federal judge ordered Arpaio to stop targeting Latino drivers. He refused. In July, a judge found he had willingly resisted that order, and could serve up to six months in jail for criminal contempt. He had yet to be sentenced, and the pardon ends the possibility that the 85-year-old Arpaio will see jail time.
Herbert Badham (Australian artist, 1899-1961) Breakfast Piece
In a tightly worded two-paragraph statement, Trump praised Arpaio’s “admirable service to our nation.” The statement doesn’t mention his conviction, or the various human rights scandals that plagued his 24-year tenure as the sheriff of Arizona’s most populous county, which includes Phoenix. The county spent tens of millions defending Arpaio in court from various charges and settling cases resulting from inhumane jail conditions.
“Pardoning Joe Arpaio is a slap in the face to the people of Maricopa County,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton wrote on Friday night. “Sheriff Joe Arpaio targeted and terrorized Latino families because of the color of their skin. He was ordered by a federal judge to stop and he refused. He received a fair trial and a justifiable conviction, and there’s nothing the President can do to change that awful legacy and the stain he had left on our community.”
I also highly recommend reading this Slate piece on Trump’s suggestion he would pardon Arpaio by Mark Joseph Stern, written Aug. 15: White Nationalist Rule Is Already Here.
As a number of people have pointed out, Trump’s pardon of Arpaio is also a further attack on the judiciary by a lawless “president.” He went ahead with the pardon without even consulting the Justice Department. Others have noted that this action by Trump sends a message to all his criminal cronies that they can lie to the FBI and Special Counsel Mueller and in return he will pardon them.
The news dump also included the “resignation” of White House Nazi Sebastian Gorka.
CNN: Sebastian Gorka gone from White House.
1938 Sandra Bierman (American artist)
The news, which came late Friday evening, was widely expected in the West Wing, which has now seen high-profile departures on successive Fridays for several weeks.
Gorka was one of Trump’s most prominent cheerleaders, frequently hitting the airwaves to defend the President’s policies and public statements.
But his role outside of television hits was unclear. He did not play a major policymaking role, according to administration officials, and was not a member of the National Security Council.
Two White House Nazis down (Bannon and Gorka), two more to go–Stephen Miller and Trump.
It looks like Trump also plans to end Obama’s program to help immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
NBC News: Trump Likely to End DACA Immigrant Program.
President Donald Trump appears likely to pull the plug on DACA, the Obama-era program allowing young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children to remain here, several government officials said Friday.
Administration officials said Friday that the Homeland Security secretary, Elaine Duke, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed the program with senior officials Thursday during a meeting at the White House. Sessions has been a consistent opponent of the program.
As many as 1 million immigrants could be affected.
Trump is said to be weighing whether to let DACA gradually expire or end it immediately, but the officials said it is not yet clear which option Trump may choose.
Fuck everyone who voted for this cruel monster and everyone who voted third party.
Hurricane Harvey so far
The LA Times last night: Collapsed roofs and downed trees as Hurricane Harvey brutalizes its way across Texas.
The storm slammed onto shore Friday evening as a powerful Category 4 hurricane and powered its way north of Corpus Christi.
Carl Larsson, Lady Reading Newspaper
Shortly after midnight, the storm made a second landfall along the northeastern shore of Copano Bay and downgraded once again to a Category 3 storm, the National Weather Service reported.
Initial reports suggested the staggering strength of the storm.
At least 10 people were treated for injuries at a local jail in the town of Rockport, about 31 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, after the roof of a senior citizens’ complex collapsed, local media reported.
Part of a local high school also collapsed, and a portion of the exterior of a hotel peeled off in the heavy winds, KXAN reported.
“People are trapped inside at least one collapsed building. We can’t get rescue teams to them right now,” Rockport City Manager Kevin Carruth told KIII News.
Emergency officials reported large numbers of downed trees and more than 86,000 people around the state without power.
The Atlantic this morning: ‘The Rainfall Threat Is Only Beginning.
Harvey arrived near Corpus Christi as a Category 4 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center, the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in a dozen years. A few hours later, the hurricane made a second landfall near Copano Bay as a Category 3 hurricane. Harvey lost strength as it moved inland over south Texas, and was downgraded to Category 1 early Saturday morning, sustaining winds at 90 miles per hour. The hurricane will likely keep slowing down and become a tropical storm later Saturday, the center said.
But the danger is far from over. Even as it weakens steadily, Harvey’s slow-motion churn is expected to create life-threatening conditions for the next several days as torrential rain continues until Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. Harvey is predicted to dump 15 inches to 30 inches of rain on southern Texas, with some parts getting as much as 40 inches, leading to “catastrophic” flooding. Storm-surge flooding may reach nine to 13 feet above ground along parts of the Texas coast between Port Aransas and Port O’Conner.
#Harvey has made landfall, the rainfall threat is only beginning,” the National Hurricane Center said in a tweet Friday night.
The flooding could leave neighborhoods underwater for days and, as previous hurricanes have done, surface sewage, coffins, and even alligators seeking safety on higher ground.
Here’s a lovely prayer that Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes posted on Facebook (h/t Delphyne on Twitter).
Laurie Kersey, Woman Reading
Dear Brave Souls, Please join me in strong prayer for the people at the coastline of Texas, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Houston and all surrounds.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated in the devastation of wind and flood of a hurricane that made landfall earlier tonight, putting out electricity, flooding the land and homes, washing away so much, fouling the water in many places.C
Please especially prayer for the poor who often have little to no resource to evacuate [no car or stores of food to take with.]
Please pray for all pregnant women and those trying to help them who are scared.
Please pray for all the old and frail in hospital and nursing homes and those who care for them with great heart.
Please pray for all children and inocentes
Please pray for all the horses, dogs and cats and other companions of feathers and fur, as well as wild birds and the fourleggeds
Please pray for help to come, shelter to come, clean water to come, food to come as quickly as possible.
Please help those without papers not be afraid to evacuate, to safeguard their lives utterly.
I send love and my tears to bless this prayer… Texas being Mexico long ago, and the land still loved as well as its people who are often farmers and fisherpeople, small business people, many often in the villages surrounding the larger towns listed above, living often in many of the old ways of our ancestors still.
May all be kept safe, may all be fed and watered that is, the human beings and the animals,
may the storm’s 130 mph wind exhaust itself as it walks screeching overland,
may the winds die,
may the flood waters that have reached over 6′ tall at this writing, recede in ways least damaging to all creatures, humans and structures.
And may the foundations and pillars of fundaments be secure,
may the guardian trees whose roots and earth have been soaked with the rains and thereby softened, drive their roots even deeper, and remain standing in these winds.
May all be held close and know that strangers pray every health onto them now, and in coming days…
This we ask in the name of all that is Holy and of Source without source.
And with love beyond love,
The good news is that the Russia investigation is progressing.
Vox: Robert Mueller is looking into Michael Flynn’s potential ties to Russian hackers.
At issue is an effort by Peter Smith, a Trump-supporting GOP operative and private equity executive, to track down Hillary Clinton’s infamous 30,000 or so deleted emails during the fall of 2016.
Paul Cezanne, The artist’s father reading his newspaper
The effort, described on the record to Harris by Smith (the 81-year-old man died a week and a half after their interview), entailed outreach to several hacker groups, including at least two that Smith believed to be Russian-tied, to see if they had hacked the emails and could release them.
The emails — which Clinton said she deleted because they were personal and unrelated to her work as secretary of state — never surfaced. And Smith didn’t work for the Trump campaign.
But there is a potential connection to the campaign — through Flynn. Smith repeatedly claimed that he was in contact with Flynn about the effort to find Clinton’s emails, per Harris’s sources…
NBC News: Mueller Seeks Grand Jury Testimony from PR Execs Who Worked With Manafort.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas in recent days seeking testimony from public relations executives who worked on an international campaign organized by Paul Manafort, people directly familiar with the matter told NBC News.
This is the first public indication that Mueller’s investigation is beginning to compel witness testimony before the grand jury — a significant milestone in an inquiry that is examining the conduct of President Donald Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, among others.
It is also further indication that Manafort, Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, could be in serious legal jeopardy.
According to one executive whose firm received a subpoena, Mueller’s team is closely examining the lobbying campaign, which ran between 2012 and 2014. Some of the firms involved in the campaign received subpoenas for documents weeks ago, the executive said, and now the Mueller team is seeking testimony.
That’s all I have for today. What stories are you following? If you are in the path of the hurricane, please stay safe.