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.
“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.
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….
“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….
— “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.) ….
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sebastian Gorka, an outspoken and combative defender of President Donald Trump’s national security agenda, has left his position as a White House counterterrorism adviser, two administration officials told CNN.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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…
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.
Trump left for a golfing vacation in New Jersey yesterday, but the insanity continues at the White House. The Bannon crowd is trying to get rid of H.R. McMaster and Bob Mueller’s investigation has reaching into the WH for the first time.
I’ll get to the McMaster story in a bit, but first, the latest on the Russia investigation. The New York Times broke another big Russia investigation story last night: Mueller Seeks White House Documents on Flynn.
Investigators working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, recently asked the White House for documents related to the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, and have questioned witnesses about whether he was secretly paid by the Turkish government during the final months of the presidential campaign, according to people close to the investigation.
Though not a formal subpoena, the document request is the first known instance of Mr. Mueller’s team asking the White House to hand over records.
In interviews with potential witnesses in recent weeks, prosecutors and F.B.I. agents have spent hours poring over the details of Mr. Flynn’s business dealings with a Turkish-American businessman who worked last year with Mr. Flynn and his consulting business, the Flynn Intel Group.
The company was paid $530,000 to run a campaign to discredit an opponent of the Turkish government who has been accused of orchestrating last year’s failed coup in the country.
Investigators want to know if the Turkish government was behind those payments — and if the Flynn Intel Group made kickbacks to the businessman, Ekim Alptekin, for helping conceal the source of the money.
The line of questioning shows that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry has expanded into a full-fledged examination of Mr. Flynn’s financial dealings, beyond the relatively narrow question of whether he failed to register as a foreign agent or lied about his conversations and business arrangements with Russian officials.
Read the rest at the NYT. A couple of days ago, Flynn had to correct his financial disclosure report once again. The Washington Post: Flynn files amended disclosure report showing additional payments.
Michael Flynn, who served briefly as President Trump’s national security adviser, filed an amended federal financial disclosure report late Thursday providing new details about his contracts with the Trump presidential transition, a company connected to an Iranian American businessman, and the parent company of a data science firm that worked for the Trump campaign.
In a letter accompanying his revised disclosure, Flynn noted that his initial disclosure reports were filed under rushed circumstances without the customary consultation and review provided by White House lawyers and the Office of Government Ethics. The letter said Flynn did not receive the attention afforded others because he was no longer a White House employee at the time….
In addition to the Russia-related income, Thursday’s filing showed that Flynn received at least $5,000 as a consultant to a project to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East. Flynn’s work on that project had been disclosed previously, but it was not known that he was paid.
The updated disclosure also confirms that Flynn had agreed to work with the SCL Group, at the time the British parent company of Cambridge Analytica, a data science company hired by Donald Trump’s campaign. One of Cambridge’s main financiers is hedge fund magnate Robert L. Mercer, whose daughter Rebekah is an influential conservative donor.
I guess that explains why Steve Bannon was so upset when Flynn was fired. And why Bannon is pushing to get rid of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. McMaster recently got rid of several Flynn appointees to the NSC, including Ezra Cohen Watnick, whom McMaster tried and failed to fire awhile back. The Bannon white supremacist crowd is boiling mad over McMaster’s purge of Flynn loyalists.
Rosie Gray at The Atlantic: The War Against H.R. McMaster.
Long-simmering tensions within the White House burst into public view this week after the firings of three National Security Council officials, resulting in National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster becoming Public Enemy No. 1 of the pro-Trump online brigades.
McMaster has cleaned house at the NSC over the past few weeks. Via his deputy Ricky Waddell, he fired director of strategic planning Rich Higgins last month over a memo Higgins wrote alleging a deep-state conspiracy against President Trump. McMaster then dismissed two top officials brought on by the previous national-security adviser, Michael Flynn: the NSC’s senior director for the Middle East, Derek Harvey, who was fired last week; and the senior director for intelligence programs, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was let go on Wednesday….
McMaster’s show of force has set off alarm bells among Bannon allies in the pro-Trump media sphere, who favored Flynn and regard the national-security adviser as a globalist interloper. Other White House officials have in the past been targets of theirs—Priebus was, for example—but the vitriol against McMaster has been notable for its speed and intensity….
It’s come from all corners. Breitbart News, the website Bannon controlled as executive chairman before joining the Trump campaign, has produced a flurry of negative stories about McMaster over the past two days, accusing him of “purging” dissenters and kowtowing to “holdovers” from the Obama administration. Fox News host Sean Hannity has tweeted about McMaster, saying he might need to go. Radio host Laura Ingraham has also weighed in, tweeting that “Obama holdovers at NSC or State Dept who are leaking shd do real time for these leaks. Why has McMasters fired actual Trump supporters?” The Daily Callerpublished an interview with two former NSC officials attacking him, accusing him of undermining the president’s foreign-policy agenda. Circa, a site owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting company, published a letter Thursday that McMaster sent months ago to his predecessor Susan Rice, in which he informed her that she could keep her security clearance. It’s a standard letter, but it has caused a furor in light of the ongoing controversy over unmasking.
Even Haaretz has gotten involved in the story: Israeli Defense Officials Strongly Reject Criticism of McMaster as ‘anti-Israel.’
Far-right websites, namely Breitbart (formerly edited by Bannon), quoted two senior White House officials as saying that McMaster holds strong anti-Israel views and views it as an “illegitimate entity” and “occupying power.” The crisis is linked to McMaster’s decision to remove four Bannon allies from the National Security Council.
Senior Israeli defense officials told Haaretz on Saturday that the allegations against McMaster concerning Israel are false and baseless. McMaster accompanied Trump to Israel last May, during which he had a three-hour conversation with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem. The meeting was described by the Israeli side as excellent. McMaster and his staff keep regular contact with the top echelons of the IDF and Defense Ministry – particularly with the head of the Defense Ministry’s political-security department, Zohar Palti.
“All on our side who has met McMaster and keeps contact with him are constantly impressed by how pro-Israel he is. The relationship with him is excellent, and we really appreciate him,” one of the senior defense officials told Haaretz.
The New York Times’ Peter Baker reports that Trump is backing McMaster for now: Trump Defends McMaster as Conservatives Seek His Dismissal.
…after two days of unrelenting attacks on General McMaster by conservative activists and news sites, complete with the Twitter hashtag #FireMcMaster, the president weighed in to quash such talk. “General McMaster and I are working very well together,” he said in a statement emailed to The New York Times. “He is a good man and very pro–Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.”
A senior White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the president’s views, added that Mr. Trump has “total confidence” in his national security adviser.
In other Russia investigation news, Slate dug an interesting tidbit out of a recent CNN article: U.S. Reportedly Intercepted Suspected Russian Agents’ Chatter That Manafort Asked for Their Help With Clinton.
Buried in a long story on CNN Thursday recapping the current state of play in the Russia investigation was a reminder that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is largely out of the spotlight at the moment, may not be for long. Manafort, who had spent years on the political fringes helping dictators and strongmen get elected around the world and then lobbying on their behalf in Washington, came out of nowhere to join the Trump campaign, and then take over the reins when Cory Lewandowski was fired in June 2016. By that time, unusual communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials had pinged on U.S. intelligence agencies’ radar. As did Trump’s new right hand man.
In the summer of 2016, US intelligence agencies noticed a spate of curious contacts between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian intelligence, according to current and former US officials briefed on the investigation… CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious when they turned up intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, who served as campaign chairman for three months, to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects, the US officials say. The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.
One more story related to Russia from The Dallas News: Tangled web connects Russian oligarch money to GOP campaigns. I posted this in the comments yesterday, but it’s worth front-paging.
Party loyalty is often cited as the reason that GOP leaders have not been more outspoken in their criticism of President Donald Trump and his refusal to condemn Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Yet there may be another reason that top Republicans have not been more vocal in their condemnation. Perhaps it’s because they have their own links to the Russian oligarchy that they would prefer go unnoticed.
Donald Trump and the political action committees for Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and John McCain accepted $7.35 million in contributions from a Ukrainian-born oligarch who is the business partner of two of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s favorite oligarchs and a Russian government bank.
During the 2015-2016 election season, Ukrainian-born billionaire Leonid “Len” Blavatnik contributed $6.35 million to leading Republican candidates and incumbent senators. Mitch McConnell was the top recipient of Blavatnik’s donations, collecting $2.5 million for his GOP Senate Leadership Fund under the names of two of Blavatnik’s holding companies, Access Industries and AI Altep Holdings, according to Federal Election Commission documents and OpenSecrets.org.
Marco Rubio’s Conservative Solutions PAC and his Florida First Project received $1.5 million through Blavatnik’s two holding companies. Other high dollar recipients of funding from Blavatnik were PACS representing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at $1.1 million, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham at $800,000, Ohio Governor John Kasich at $250,000 and Arizona Senator John McCain at $200,000.
What stories are you following today?
Today is election day in Georgia’s 6th District, and the race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel is tied. The Washington Post reports: Georgia special election: Hard-fought House race in suburban Atlanta comes to an end as a referendum on Trump.
Polls in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District opened at 7 a.m. on a humid morning, with commuters casting ballots with iced coffees in their hands on their way to child-care centers, office parks and downtown Atlanta.
Back in Washington, party leaders — and Trump — were paying close attention to what has become the most expensive House race in history, hoping to make the case by day’s end that they were better positioned to jump-start Trump’s stalled agenda on Capitol Hill — or thwart it.
“KAREN HANDEL FOR Congress,” Trump tweeted as day broke Tuesday, touting the Republican candidate and former Georgia secretary of state. “She will fight for lower taxes, great health care strong security — a hard worker who will never give up! VOTE TODAY!”
Democrats spoke excitedly about Democrat Jon Ossoff, 30, a polished former congressional staffer who has raised more than $23 million and built a devoted grassroots following, all while courting Republicans by bemoaning “wasteful” spending. They see his competitive candidacy in ruby-red suburbia as a possible harbinger ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when Democrats need to win 24 GOP-held seats to reclaim the House majority.
Specifically, the race is being seen in Washington as a referendum on the awful GOP “health care” bill.
Republicans are laboring to agree on legislation to revise the Affordable Care Act. A GOP win on Tuesday could bring new momentum to their push to pass a bill in the Senate, while a defeat could embolden those who are concerned about the bill to more forcefully oppose it.
Handel and Ossoff are vying to fill the seat vacated by Tom Price, who held it from 2005 until he joined Trump’s Cabinet this year as health and human services secretary.
At The Cut, Rebecca Traister writes about how women are leading the fight for Democrats in Georgia’s 6th: Can the New Activist Passion of Suburban White Women Change American Politics?
At Hearth, a restaurant in Sandy Springs, Georgia, about 30 people — most of them women, most of them white — are sitting at a long table on Saturday night, drinking white wine and beer, scarfing pizzas and salads and talking at a frenzied pitch. One woman is describing, with a tired smile on her face, the contours of her life these days: “If I’m not knocking doors, I’m making calls; if I’m not making calls, I’m writing postcards; if I’m not writing postcards, I’m replacing my lawn sign.” Everyone laughs. “They can’t believe we live here,” says another woman, in reference to the local media and local Republican Party. “They think we must be shipped in from California, because we can’t be their neighbors.”
These women do live here, in Georgia’s affluent, suburban, predominantly white sixth district, where a special election to replace Republican congressman Tom Price, whom Donald Trump tapped to run the Department of Health and Human Services, has drawn the attention of the nation. They are dedicating their time — in many cases, nearly all their time — to campaigning for Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old Democrat who came within spitting distance of winning a majority in April, and is now facing Republican Karen Handel in the runoff, which will take place on Tuesday. That Ossoff has come as close as he has is a startling signal of liberal vigor in Trump’s America: The sixth district is a longtime conservative stronghold that has sent Republicans to Congress since 1979; Price won his November reelection by 23 points. But in the days before the runoff, Ossoff is polling neck and neck with Handel; many on the ground don’t even venture a prediction of what’s going to happen, calling the outcome a “coin flip.”
Especially surprising is that the closeness of the race can largely be attributed to the obsessive energies of the sixth district’s women, an army of mostly white, suburban working mothers who had until now lived politically somnambulant lives. In the wake of Donald Trump’s November defeat of Hillary Clinton, many of these Georgia women have remade their lives, transforming themselves and their communities through unceasing political engagement. To visit Georgia’s sixth in the days before the runoff is to land on a planet populated by politically impassioned women, talking as if they have just walked off the set of Thelma & Louise, using a language of awakening, liberation, and political fury that should indeed discomfit their conservative neighbors, and — if it is a harbinger of what’s to come — should shake conservative America more broadly.
“No matter the outcome on Tuesday, the real story of this campaign is the story of women organizing, standing up, fighting,” Jon Ossoff tells me from his campaign’s Chamblee office two days before the runoff.
“There’s something of a renaissance of civic engagement and political activism afoot, and it’s being led by women.”
A few bits and pieces of the GOP “health care” bill are leaking out, and they are horrifying.
Michael Hiltzik at the LA Times: In secret Obamacare repeal bill, Senate Republicans plan even harsher cuts to Medicaid than House GOP.
In the all-out quest for ways to strip health coverage from millions of people in order to deliver a huge tax cut to the richest Americans, Senate Republicans have been regarded as more moderate than their House colleagues. But a proposal leaked from the Senate GOP’s closed-door drafting sessions on an Obamacare repeal bill may put that notion to rest: The Senate is contemplating a change in Medicaid that would cut it even more than the $830-billion proposed by the House.
That news comes from The Hill, which reported Monday that the Senate is contemplating imposing a lower inflation growth rate on Medicaid, which would be capped in both proposals. The Senate’s idea is to allow Medicaid to grow at the rate of the overall consumer price index (specifically, the CPI for all urban consumers, the most commonly used variant).
That’s a much lower growth rate than the index in the American Health Care Act, which House Republicans passed in May as a measure to repeal the the Affordable Care Act. The House caps growth in the Medicaid budget at the CPI for medical care, which grows much faster.
The difference would produce a massively larger cut in Medicaid than the House bill. That’s remarkable, because the House bill would drive 14 million people out of Medicaid by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate version, which hasn’t been presented in its entirely to the CBO because it’s still being worked on in secret, is certain to cost many more Americans their coverage.
Please go read the rest at the above link. Read more about what is believed to be in the bill at the Washington Post: The Health 202: Here’s what we know about the Senate health-care bill. But the simple truth is that the purpose of this bill is to transfer money from needy people to a few super-rich families.
Huffington Post: The Not-So-Secret Truth About the Senate GOP’s Secret Health Care Bill.
Senate Republicans are hurling themselves toward passing an incredibly unpopular set of health care reforms that even they don’t understand, haven’t seen and likely won’t see until just before it hits the floor.
This rightly has raised the hackles not only of Senate Democrats and the media, but anyone who values transparency in government or is anxious about the consequences of reordering the American health care system and taking away health coverage from millions of people.
But as important as the legislation’s details will turn out out to be, there’s a simple, fundamental, incontrovertible fact about whatever the Senate health care reform bill winds up looking like: The purpose of this bill is to dramatically scale back the safety net so wealthy people and health care companies can get a massive tax cut….
That’s true of the House-passed version of the American Health Care Act, which the Congressional Budget Office projects would lead to 23 million fewer people being insured over the next decade, severely weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions and put health coverage out of reach for older, sicker and poorer people who won’t be able to afford insurance or, in some cases, to even access it at any price.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his handpicked cohort of backroom negotiators are advancing a measure that will look pretty much like the House legislation and do pretty much the same thing. McConnell wants a vote before July 4, and he’ll probably get it if something doesn’t alter the trajectory. There’s little Democrats can do beyond try to slow Senate business to a crawl to draw out the process and keep health care in the public eye for as long as possible.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to cozy up to Putin as the Russia investigation continues. This story at Newsweek is just unbelievable: Rex Tillerson to Work with Russia on Cybersecurity (Even After Hacking).
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly has a three-point plan to both improve relations and work with Russia, one of which includes facing global threats posed by the Syrian civil war, the proliferation of North Korea’s missile and defense program and a third that could seem strange to some: Cybersecurity and cyber-espionage.
A BuzzFeed report published Monday detailed the former ExxonMobil CEO turned U.S. statesman’s plan, which included each side vowing to avoid “aggressive actions” that wouldn’t be productive for anyone as well as a third point called “strategic stability” meant to bundle together problems the two superpowers face.
But the second tenet, aimed at cybersecurity and cyberespionage, seems particularly odd given not only the investigations surrounding President Donald Trump and his former campaign but also the conclusion reached by the U.S. intelligence community that Russia intentionally meddled in last year’s election in order to ascend Trump’s candidacy.
Please go check out this story and the one at BuzzFeed too.
News on the Russia investigation:
Talking Points Memo: Report: Feds Now Interested In Flynn’s Former Business Partner.
Federal investigators are now interested in the role Bijan Kian, co-founder of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn’s consulting firm, played in their lobbying work, Reuters reported Tuesday.
The report was based on information from an anonymous individual recently interviewed by the FBI, who said that agents from the criminal division asked as many questions about Kian and his involvement with a lobbying contract carried out by the firm that primarily benefitted the Turkish government as they did about Flynn.
Kian was responsible for securing and carrying out that work for Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, as Reuters and the Associated Press have reported. It netted Flynn Intel Group $530,000. Two other sources with knowledge of the probe told Reuters that investigators were looking at whether the payments Flynn and his firm received from foreign clients were lawful and whether they made the proper disclosures with the federal government to perform this work.
Both men retroactively registered as foreign agents for their Turkey lobbying, which involved producing negative public relations materials about an exiled cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt last summer.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a former federal prosecutor, believes that Flynn is likely cooperating with the FBI. From Real Clear Politics:
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island suggests that fired national security Mike Flynn has made a deal with the FBI and will testify against President Trump….
“All the signals are suggesting [Flynn] is already cooperating with the FBI, and may have been for some time. First of all, they had him dead to rights on a felony false statement, on the statement they took from him at the White House on the Kislyak conversations. Second, Comey reported that one of the things the FBI does with cooperators is get them to go back and clean up areas of non-compliance. Flynn, who will never be hired by a foreign government again, went back and cleaned up his foreign agent filings. Third, all of the reporting of the Eastern District of VA on subpoenas is one hop away from Flynn. He is the hole in a donut of subpoenas,” he sad.
He continued: “One of the most talkative people in Trumpland [Flynn] has gone absolutely silent. That is exactly what a prosecutor would strongly encourage a cooperating witness to do… in order to avoid lengthy imprisonment.”
“It could be a huge deal. Who knows what Trump has said to him?” Whitehouse speculated. “Both during the campaign and the early days of the presidency.”
I’m running out of space, but I’ll add more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?
I’m having one of those days when I just don’t want to deal with the news, and now WordPress has made my day even worse. I was plugging along and had written quite a bit, when suddenly my entire post disappeared from the editor. I had been saving it, but there were no saved edits, no way to recover what I’d done. So now I’ll try again.
Recapping the breaking news from last night:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The special counsel investigating possible ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia’s government has taken over a separate criminal probe involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and may expand his inquiry to investigate the roles of the attorney general and deputy attorney general in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, The Associated Press has learned.
The Justice Department’s criminal investigation into Manafort, who was forced to resign as Trump campaign chairman in August amid questions over his business dealings years ago in Ukraine, predated the 2016 election and the counterintelligence probe that in July began investigating possible collusion between Moscow and associates of Trump.
The move to consolidate the matters, involving allegations of kleptocracy of Ukrainian government funds, indicates that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is assuming a broad mandate in his new role running the sensational investigation. The expansiveness of Mueller’s investigation was described to the AP. No one familiar with the matter has been willing to discuss the scope of his investigation on the record because it is just getting underway and because revealing details could complicate its progress.
In an interview separately Friday with the AP, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein acknowledged that Mueller could expand his inquiry to include Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ and Rosenstein’s own roles in the decision to fire Comey, who was investigating the Trump campaign. Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel to take over the investigation, wrote the memorandum intended to justify Trump’s decision to fire Comey. Sessions met with Trump and Rosenstein to discuss Trump’s decision to fire him despite Sessions’ pledge not to become involved in the Russia case.
Rosenstein told the AP that if he were to become a subject of Mueller’s investigation, he would recuse himself from any oversight of Mueller.
Reuters via CNBC: Special counsel Mueller to probe ex-Trump aide Flynn’s Turkey ties.
Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible ties between the Trump election campaign and Russia, is expanding his probe to include a grand jury investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, three sources told Reuters.
The move means Mueller’s politically charged inquiry will now look into Flynn’s paid work as a lobbyist for a Turkish businessman in 2016, in addition to contacts between Russian officials and Flynn and other Trump associates during and after the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Federal prosecutors in Virginia are investigating a deal between Flynn and Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin as part of a grand jury criminal probe, according to a subpoena seen by Reuters.Alptekin’s company, Netherlands-based Inovo BV, paid Flynn’s consultancy $530,000 between September and November to produce a documentary and research on Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric living in the United States. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan blames Gulen for a failed coup last July.
Alptekin, an ally of Erdogan, told Reuters he hired Flynn to provide research on how Gulen is “poisoning the atmosphere” between Turkey and the United States. Gulen has denied any role in the coup and dismisses Turkey’s allegations that he heads a terrorist organization.
The grand jury in Virginia has issued subpoenas to some of Flynn’s business associates involved in the work for Inovo, two people familiar with the probe say. The subpoena seen by Reuters seeks bank records, documents and communications related to Flynn, his company, Flynn Intel Group, Alptekin and Inovo.
Pete Williams at NBC News: Special Counsel Robert Mueller Taking Close Control of Russia Investigation.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is already closely managing the Russian election meddling investigation he was appointed to oversee, receiving daily briefings and weighing in on investigative tactics, a spokesman told NBC News Friday….
Because Mueller is only the second special counsel appointed under rules drawn up nearly two decades ago, there were few precedents to guide how he would oversee the investigation. He could have chosen to take a more removed role, instead of overseeing developments closely.
“Is he going to play a direct role? Yes, he’s very involved in supervising the investigation,” said Peter Carr, the spokesman for the special counsel.
Federal rules specify that a special counsel will have “the full power and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States attorney.”
Mueller will act much as a U.S. attorney would in supervising a local FBI investigation, Carr added.
Excellent! And to top off the schadenfreude, Trump toady Devin Nunes is in trouble again.
The Washington Post: Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee asked for ‘unmaskings’ of Americans.
The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee asked U.S. spy agencies late last year to reveal the names of U.S. individuals or organizations contained in classified intelligence on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, engaging in the same practice that President Trump has accused the Obama administration of abusing, current and former officials said.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), has since cast the practice of “unmasking” of U.S. individuals and organizations mentioned in classified reports as an abuse of surveillance powers by the outgoing Obama administration.
Trump has argued that investigators should focus their attention on former officials leaking names from intelligence reports, rather than whether the Kremlin coordinated its activities with the Trump campaign, an allegation he has denied. “The big story is the ‘unmasking and surveillance’ of people that took place during the Obama administration,” Trump tweeted Thursday.
So it seems Nunes is still *colluding* with Trump to derail the Russia investigation. A couple more Nunes stories to check out:
The Atlantic: The Unrecusal of Devin Nunes.
All of the above investigations are great, but I have to believe that the investigation of Jared Kushner is the one that will finally bring down Trump.
Here are the latest Kushner stories, along with one relevant old article.
In the middle of December last year, Jared Kushner, the smooth-skinned, impeccably tailored and inscrutable son-in-law of Donald Trump, was riding high. He was basking in the glow of having helped his father-in-law become the most powerful man on earth; was about to take up the role of senior adviser to the President of the United States, which would make him one of the most influential people in the administration; and on the home front he and his wife Ivanka Trump were sitting on a real estate pile worth up to $740m.
If he’d just let his elegantly thin-lapelled suits and pinstriped ties do the talking, he might still be atop that wave, lauded by some as the one voice of reason and calm in a wild and unpredictable White House. But he didn’t rest there.
Instead, he allowed himself to be lured by the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, to a meeting with a top Russian banker, an alumnus of the country’s top spy academy with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Details of the discussion with Sergey Gorkov remain sketchy, but according to Gorkov himself Kushner was present in his capacity as CEO of Kushner Companies, the family real estate empire from which he had yet to step aside in preparation for his move into the White House.
Gorkov’s description suggests that money matters may have been on the table between the two men. Even more incendiary was the alleged proposal that passed between the two men about setting up a back-channel between the Trump inner circle and the Kremlin, as revealed by the Washington Post.
With that one encounter, barely 30 minutes long, Kushner eviscerated his carefully cultivated image and propelled himself into the center of the inquiry into possible links between Trumpworld and the Russians. He now finds himself as a person of interest, though not a target, of the FBI investigation.
Savor the rest at the Guardian.
The New York Times Editorial Board: The Problem With Jared Kushner.
What are we supposed to make of the news that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, met with the Russian ambassador in December to discuss establishing a back channel between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities?
Start with the reactions from America’s intelligence community, whose job it is to monitor foreign actors’ attempts to steal the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.
Michael Hayden, the former C.I.A. director, said this: “What manner of ignorance, chaos, hubris, suspicion, contempt would you have to have to think that doing this with the Russian ambassador was a good or an appropriate idea?” Another former top intelligence official called it “extremely naïve or absolutely crazy.” [….]
Stupidity, paranoia, malevolence — it’s hard to distinguish among competing explanations for the behavior of people in this administration. In the case of Mr. Kushner’s meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the ambassador, and his meeting that month with Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker with close ties to the Kremlin and Russian intelligence, even the most benign of the various working theories suggests that Mr. Kushner, who had no experience in politics or diplomacy before Mr. Trump’s campaign, is in way over his head.
Click on the link to read the rest.
The old (March 29) but relevant story is by Trump biographer Timothy L. O’Brien at Bloomberg: Senators, Please Ask Jared Kushner About 666 Fifth Avenue.
In a happy moment in the otherwise cloudy world of the Trump family and the flood of financial conflicts they’ve carted into Washington, a major Chinese investor has decided not to pour billions of dollars into a Manhattan skyscraper owned by the Jared Kushner clan.
Had this deal gone forward — the effect would have been to bail Kushner out of a huge, misbegotten investment while letting his family take home at least $400 million and retain a minority ownership stake in the building — it would have compromised President Donald Trump’s diplomacy with China.
The background: Anbang, an insurer and prolific deal-maker close to China’s government, had considered investing $4 billion in 666 Fifth Avenue. Kushner had overpaid for the building in 2007, when he bought it with the help of bank loans for $1.8 billion. The financial crisis ensued, occupancy rates plummeted and Kushner had to be rescued by outside investors to keep the troubled building afloat. Anbang’s investment would have valued the building at a handsome $2.85 billion, and also refinanced about $1.15 billion in debt.
The possibility of a transaction brought scrutiny from two Bloomberg news reporters, Caleb Melby and David Kocieniewski, as well as from Congress and the New York Times. I discussed it in a column here two weeks ago. And for good reason: Kushner is a senior White House adviser who has Trump’s ear on foreign policy. The math of Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law being saved from a reckless investment by China presented all sorts of conflicts of interest and the potential for disastrous policy moves by the White House.
So Anbang is now gone and all has been made right? Well, no.
Kushner’s family still owns a building that needs a financial lifeline, so 666 Fifth Avenue presents something that Congress may want to examine more closely when Jared Kushner meets with the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of an inquiry into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
It seems pretty likely that Kushner’s meeting with that *sanctioned* Russian banker was about finding money for the Kusnher family business.
The Washington Post: Explanations for Kushner’s meeting with head of Kremlin-linked bank don’t match up.
The White House and a Russian state-owned bank have very different explanations for why the bank’s chief executive and Jared Kushner held a secret meeting during the presidential transition in December.
The bank maintained this week that the session was held as part of a new business strategy and was conducted with Kushner in his role as the head of his family’s real estate business. The White House says the meeting was unrelated to business and was one of many diplomatic encounters the soon-to-be presidential adviser was holding ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The contradiction is deepening confusion over Kushner’s interactions with the Russians as the president’s son-in-law emerges as a key figure in the FBI’s investigation into potential coordination between Moscow and the Trump team.
I’ll end there, because this post is getting way too long.
What stories are you following today?
First, a public service announcement: Dakinikat told me about a digital demonstration that is happening today called “Fire the Fool.” You can read about it at this website. It doesn’t seem to be getting any news coverage (I can find no articles on Google News), so I don’t know how successful it will be. I’m going to pass, but I encourage anyone who thinks it would be fun to join in. It can’t hurt. Here’s their statement of purpose:
#Flood45 is YOUR chance to make it clear that you are ready to FIRE THE FOOLS in government who have abandoned the most sacred American ideals!
Download the PINK SLIP graphic at the bottom of this page and fill out why you want to FIRE trump. Then on APRIL 1st, attach a picture or video of yourself holding the pink slip on twitter at 12PM EST with this tweet:
.@realDonaldTrump We the People are serving you with your termination notice. You represent nothing that we stand for. YOU’RE FIRED #Flood45
To download the graphics, point your cursor over the image and right-click OR control click. Select “save as” and type in the location on your computer you wish to save and you will have a printable graphic!
Have fun with it! We’ll be online all day sharing all the pics and vids that come scrolling through the feed.
This is going to be such a fun day where We the People deliver a powerful statement to those FOOLS in government who have chosen their party and pocketbooks over the needs and safety of the American people.
The group’s FAQ explains that this isn’t aimed specifically at Trump–on of my problems with the idea–and “fire the fool” applies to officials in either party. They also claim that the women’s march was not directed at Trump. That wasn’t my understanding. If so, why was it planned for the day after the inauguration? The FAQ also reveals that this group is based in Nevada, but no names are provided. There is also a list of speakers, but no information about when and where they will speak. Perhaps you have to sign up to find out. If anyone has more information, please post it in the comment thread.
One clever touch on the “declaration” page is a set of playing cards that depict members of the Trump administration. I’ve used some of those to illustrate this post.
Now on to today’s news.
Yesterday, the Guardian had an interesting article about former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn revealing new information on why the intelligence community was concerned about Flynn long before Trump appointed him the the top post.
US and British intelligence officers discussed Flynn’s “worrisome” behaviour well before his appointment last year by Donald Trump, multiple sources have said.
They raised concerns about Flynn’s ties to Russia and his perceived obsession with Iran. They were also anxious about his capacity for “linear thought” and some actions that were regarded as highly unusual for a three-star general….
One concern involved an encounter with a Russian-British graduate student, Svetlana Lokhova, whom Flynn met on a trip to Cambridge in February 2014.
At the time, Flynn was one of the top US spies and the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which provides information to the Pentagon about the military strengths and intentions of other states and terrorist groups.
Lokhova claimed to be writing a book about the GRU and said she had had access to the secretive spy agency’s archives, something that other historians say is “…basically impossible.” Flynn was quite taken with this woman and kept in touch with her for some time.
Flynn and Lokhova were introduced to each other at the end of a dinner attended by 20 guests who included Sir Richard Dearlove – the former head of MI6 – and Prof Christopher Andrew, the official MI5 historian.
Flynn says the meeting with Lokhova was “incidental” and lasted just 20 minutes. However, Andrew has said Flynn invited Lokhova to accompany him on his next official visit to Moscow to help with simultaneous translation. The trip fell through soon afterwards because of Putin’s annexation of Crimea, Andrew wrote in the Sunday Times.
The Guardian understands Flynn and Lokhova remained in email contact, conducted through an unclassified channel. In one email exchange described by Andrew, Flynn signed himself as “General Misha”, Russian for Mike.
Lokhova also listed Flynn as one of four referees who would provide selective endorsements for her book, which is expected to detail how Russian spies penetrated the US atomic weapons programme.
Not 100 days into the Trump presidency, one thing is abundantly clear: it is completely unsustainable as it is operating today.
There are even rumblings in the seams of Washington that Trump may not last the summer, including Republican consultant Michael Steele, the former RNC chairman, reportedly telling clients to prepare for President Pence.
Indeed, something fundamental seemed to shift in the zeitgeist this week with General Michael Flynn’s Hail Mary offer to testify about Russiagate in exchange for immunity. The Senate intelligence community has already turned down Flynn’s offer, and it’s hard to imagine the House committee, led by the thoroughly compromised Devin Nunes, having the political capital to say yes. For the FBI to agree, Flynn would have to offer up someone bigger than him to make it worth the agency’s while. One wonders who that could be: Paul Manafort? He’s been around the political block much longer than Flynn and knows where more bodies are buried. Wouldn’t he be a better immunity target if you’re an elected Republican? Donald Trump? What would Flynn claim Trump personally did to advance Russia’s interference in our election, other than dutifully repeat Kremlin talking points, which we already know? Does he have some proof that Trump took a bribe? Broke a law? Made an incriminating phone call?
And if he doesn’t, what would be the point of merely hearing the “story he has to tell.”
Read the rest at the link above. Reid doesn’t even mention the “woman” problem, but there’s plenty else there that looks very bad for Flynn and Trump.
According to Politico, Trump is looking to “reorganize” his administration after the epic failure of the Trump-Ryan “health care” bill.
In interviews over the last week, several senior aides said they were carefully examining how the beleaguered administration functions as they weigh possible fixes. Among the top concerns: The circular firing squad continually playing out in the press pitting top aides against one another — a dynamic that one senior adviser described as increasingly unsustainable.
“It will have to either stop or there will have to be Motorcycle Accident Lawyer,” this person said, hinting that more serious changes would be made if the incessant shooting doesn’t end.
The discussions provide a window into an embattled administration that is scrambling to find answers. It’s also an acknowledgment that the White House is not the “fine-tuned machine” that Trump has sought to portray.
Of course the Trump gang claims there’s nothing to this story, but two top advisers were already shown the door yesterday. Boris Epshteyn left a few days ago. The other top adviser who’s leaving is Katie Walsh.
Walsh became the West Wing’s first casualty, when it was announced on Thursday that she would be departing to help run a pro-Trump outside group. Within the White House, the departure was seen as a blow to the influence of chief of staff Reince Priebus, who counted Walsh as a longtime lieutenant.
Those who have spoken with Priebus in recent days said he has expressed frustration with his own diminished power in the West Wing and with Walsh’s departure. One person close to the president described Walsh, who was an accomplished Republican fundraiser before becoming Priebus’s top aide, as the chief of staff’s “oxygen tank.”
White House aides strenuously deny that Priebus’s job is in jeopardy. But Trump, who churned through three campaign managers in 18 months, has a history of shuffling through top staff – sometimes abruptly. And one senior adviser said that aides with political and campaign backgrounds would gradually “fall off” and make way for others.
Read more at the Politico link.
More gossip from Politico: Kushner’s privileged status stokes resentment in White House.
In a White House where President Donald Trump commands reverence, Jared Kushner often refers to the president by one name: Donald. And while cable TV can dominate the president’s mood and set the agenda for senior administration staff, Kushner usually keeps his large flat-screen TV in his office turned off, a stark departure from other top aides.
Kushner, the president’s 36-year-old son-in-law and White House senior adviser, does essentially what he wants, having the benefit of not only Trump’s ear but — as a family member — his implicit trust.
That trust has resulted in a vast portfolio that so far includes negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, helping oversee relations with Canada, China and Mexico and, as of this week, reinventing the federal government through the new White House Office of American Innovation.
But Kushner’s status as the big-issue guru has stoked resentment among his colleagues, who question whether Kushner is capable of following through on his various commitments and complain that his dabbling in myriad issues and his tendency to walk in and out of meetings have complicated efforts to instill more order and organization into the chaotic administration. These people also say Kushner can be a shrewd self promoter, knowing how to take credit — and shirk blame — whenever it suits him.
“He’s saving the government and the Middle East at the same time,” one senior administration official quipped.
Much more at the link.
And from don’t forget “first lady” Ivanka’s role in the family kleptocracy: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Still Benefiting From Business Empire, Filings Show.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, will remain the beneficiaries of a sprawling real estate and investment business still worth as much as $740 million, despite their new government responsibilities, according to ethics filings released by the White House Friday night.
Ms. Trump will also maintain a stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. The hotel, just down the street from the White House, has drawn protests from ethics experts who worry that foreign governments or special interests could stay there in order to curry favor with the administration.
It is unclear how Ms. Trump would earn income from that stake. Mr. Kushner’s financial disclosures said that Ms. Trump earned between $1 million and $5 million from the hotel between January 2016 and March 2017, and put the value of her stake at between $5 million and $25 million.
The disclosures were part of a broad, Friday-night document release by the White House that exposed the assets of as many as 180 senior officials to public scrutiny. The reports showed the assets and wealth of senior staff members at the time they entered government service.
Read about all the other financial filings at the NYT link a above.
What else is happening. Plenty! Let us know what stories you are following in the comment thread below, and have a terrific weekend!