Thursday Reads: Media Works Tirelessly to Help Trump Destroy U.S. Democracy

Good Afternoon!!

If Trump succeeds in destroying our democracy and becoming Hitler 2.0, the responsibility will be equally shared between the GOP and the U.S. political media. Yesterday Robert Mueller confirmed that Trump has committed high crimes and implied that Congress should impeach him. The media responded by reviewing the style and “optics” of his presentation, paying little attention to its content.

The ever-shallow Chuck Todd led the charge on Twitter. I won’t subject you to the video.

So-called leftist Michael Moore agreed with Todd.

The Columbia Journalism Review critiqued Chuck Todd’s remarks as well as those of other MSNBC hosts: MSNBC public editor: The Chuck Todd show.

Todd’s focus on the “entertainment” aspect of politics coverage is often in evidence—for example, in his own recent performance as moderator in the Democratic presidential debate. He managed to talk more than all but three of the candidates, even as he demanded that they keep their own answers brief….

For Chuck Todd all the political world’s a stage, and he’s the star….

And it’s not just Todd. Other MSNBC anchors reacted to the Mueller hearings similarly, finding fault with the Democrats’, and Mueller’s, lack of pizazz as performers. Brian Williams referred to “the caffeine gap” in the Judiciary Committee’s questioning. I can’t help pointing out that excessive concern with caffeinated pizzazz can warp a journalist’s judgement pretty severely, and is best avoided.

At a moment of particular gravity for the country, with the sitting president credibly accused of obstructing justice, and many of his campaign staff and associates under investigation and indictment, may I suggest that if you, a journalist, are bored with the politics of this—if you are demanding somehow to be entertained, right now—you’re not doing your job.

Politics isn’t entertainment, it is not a performance to be critiqued. Reporting on national politics is a public trust of solemn importance that affects hundreds of millions of people.

A sample of headlines from the “savvy” Washington press:

Peter Baker at The New York Times: The Blockbuster That Wasn’t: Mueller Disappoints the Democrats. [I skimmed the story, and could find no quotes from Democrats holding elected office. Several prominent experts were quoted arguing Mueller’s testimony was valuable.]

Sharon LaFraniere, Michael S. Schmidt, Noah Weiland and Adam Goldman at The New York Times: Mueller’s Labored Performance Was a Departure From His Once-Fabled Stamina.

Susan Glasser at The New Yorker: “Accountability”? The Mueller Hearing Is How Trump Escapes. [FYI: Susan Glasser is married to Peter Baker of the NYT.]

Some serious reactions to Mueller’s testimony:

Former Republican Jennifer Rubin: Mueller didn’t fail. The country did.

Being thousands of miles away from home in Portugal, a country that 45 years ago was in the grasp of a brutal dictatorship, gives me an interesting perspective on former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Wednesday testimony and on the now nearly forgotten — was it only a week ago? — racist call for four nonwhite congresswomen to “go back” to where they came from.

Tom Toles Editorial Cartoon

I worry that we — the media, voters, Congress — are dangerously unserious when it comes to preservation of our democracy. To spend hours of airtime and write hundreds of print and online reports pontificating about the “optics” of Mueller’s performance — when he confirmed that President Trump accepted help from a hostile foreign power and lied about it, that he lied when he claimed exoneration, that he was not completely truthful in written answers, that he could be prosecuted after leaving office and that he misled Americans by calling the investigation a hoax — tells me that we have become untrustworthy guardians of democracy.

The “failure” is not of a prosecutor who found the facts but might be ill equipped to make the political case, but instead, of a country that won’t read his report and a media obsessed with scoring contests rather than focusing on the damning facts at issue.

David Corn at Mother Jones: Mueller Reminds the Public: Trump Betrayed the United States.

There’s an old saying in newsrooms: News is stuff that people have forgotten. Robert Mueller’s dramatic appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning was a striking reminder of this adage. The former special counsel did not drop any new revelations about the Trump-Russia affair. Yet in a simple but important manner, he reiterated the basics of this scandal—perhaps the most consequential political scandal in American history. These are the fundamentals that have often been subsumed by all the never-ending partisan squabbling and by the ongoing crusade mounted by Donald Trump and his defenders to distract from his perfidy. These are the facts that Trump has refused to acknowledge, and they are the facts that taint his presidency and undermine its legitimacy.

In his opening statement, Mueller emphasized the key finding from his report: “The Russian government interfered in our election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” And during the questioning, Mueller repeated the conclusion previously reached by the US intelligence community that Russia conducted this covert operation to help Trump get elected. “Did your investigation find that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from one of the candidates winning?” Mueller was asked by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). He replied with one word: “Yes.” Lofgren followed up: “And which candidate would that be?” Mueller responded, “Well, it would be Trump.”

So Russia attacked an American election to help Trump. And what did Trump do? “The Trump campaign wasn’t exactly reluctant to take Russian help,” Lofgren remarked to Mueller. “You wrote it expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, isn’t that correct.”

Mueller answered with another brief sentence: “That’s correct.” That is, Trump sought to exploit a foreign adversary’s clandestine assault. And as Mueller noted in his report, during the campaign Trump dismissed the notion that Russia was intervening in the election, and after he was elected he continued to deny “that Russia aided his election.”

Click the link to read the rest.

David Graham at The Atlantic: The Most Revealing Exchange of the Mueller Hearing.

There’s a logical disconnect in volume 2 of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that is unmissable to any careful reader.

As Mueller explains in the report, a charge of obstruction of justice requires three elements: an obstructive act, a nexus with an official proceeding, and corrupt intent. And in the report, Mueller’s team laid out several cases where President Donald Trump committed an obstructive act, in connection with an official proceeding, with what Mueller’s team concluded could be a corrupt intent.

But because Mueller had decided at the outset of his report that he could not and would not charge the president with crimes, thanks to Justice Department guidance and in the interest of fairness, Mueller did not make the otherwise obvious jump from laying out the ways that Trump’s behavior met the three-prong test to actually stating that Trump obstructed justice.

During today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries sought to demonstrate the disconnect by walking Mueller through the three-prong test.

“Let me refer you to page 87 and 88 of volume 2 where you conclude the attempt to remove the special counsel would qualify as an obstructive act if it would naturally obstruct the investigation and any grand-jury proceedings that might flow from the inquiry. Correct?” Jeffries asked.

“Yes,” Mueller said, confirming the obstructive act.

“Yes,” Mueller said, confirming the obstructive act.

“Your report found on page 89, volume 2, that substantial evidence indicates that by June 17, the president knew his conduct was under investigation by a federal prosecutor who would present any evidence of federal crimes to a grand jury. True?” Jeffries asked.

“True,” Mueller said, confirming the nexus to an official proceeding.

Jeffries then moved on to the third element, corrupt intent, and Mueller once again effectively affirmed the point:

Jeffries: Is it fair to say the president viewed the special counsel’s investigation as adverse to his own interest?

Mueller: I think that generally is true.

Jeffries: The investigation found evidence, quote, “that the president knew that he should not have directed Don McGahn to fire the special counsel.” Correct?

Mueller: Where do you have that quote?

Jeffries: Page 90, volume 2. “There’s evidence that the president knew he should not have made those calls to McGahn,” closed quote.

Mueller: I see that. Yes, that’s accurate.

Mueller, seeing the trick, tried to cut it off. “Let me just say, if I might, I don’t subscribe necessarily to your—the way you analyzed that. I’m not saying it’s out of the ballpark, but I’m not supportive of that analytical charge,” he said.

Graham writes that Mueller tried to backtrack, but the cat was out of the bag. Ted Lieu did something similar; head over the The Atlantic to read more.

This piece by Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg is worth a read: Worst Part of the Mueller Hearings? Republican Conspiracy Theories.

Instead of reading carefully into the evidence and finding contradictions or loose ends, House Republicans largely busied themselves with conspiracy theories. It wasn’t Donald Trump and his campaign who welcomed and benefited from Russian interference in the 2016 election; it was Hillary Clinton! Never mind what U.S. intelligence agencies and Senate investigators have concluded. Never mind that this reality-denying line of inquiry left lawmakers defending Wikileaks and even, seemingly, the Russian agents indicted by Mueller.

For these Republicans, it’s still supposedly inexplicable that the FBI started investigating in the first place. In their stated conception of things, only partisanship and hatred of the president could explain such an otherwise odd decision to look into the rich web of shady contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. And yet those partisan and hateful investigators didn’t leak anything about the probe when it would’ve put Trump’s election in jeopardy; didn’t indict or recommend impeachment of the president; and didn’t rush to testify to Congress about any of it.

Meanwhile, with the notable exception of Texas Representative Will Hurd, Republicans showed no interest at all in the national-security implications of Russia’s interference. And remember, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still blocking bipartisan legislation to strengthen U.S. defenses against future attacks.

These are the same Republicans, after all, who spent years looking into conspiracy theories about the deaths of Americans in Benghazi in 2012 without ever attending to the real security vulnerabilities that contributed to them. It was far more important to feed the Republican marketplace with loony ideas about how President Barack Obama (or Hillary Clinton) actively welcomed the disaster than to figure out what had actually gone wrong or what to do about it.

I’ll end with this tweet from the woman who should be president, written after Trump’s latest Nazi/KKK rally.


Thursday Reads: Will the Mueller Investigation Go Out “Not With A Bang, But A Whimper”?

Good Morning!!

Trump’s handpicked Attorney General has been in place for just a few days, and suddenly multiple news organizations are reporting that the Mueller investigation is ending soon. Interestingly, The New York Times has not yet reported this story.

What’s going on? There are multiple outstanding cases. Roger Stone was only recently arrested and the Special Counsel’s Office can’t possibly have gone through all the materials they collected in searches at three different locations. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the mystery foreign company that is resisting the  SCO’s subpoena. Andrew Miller is still fighting a grand jury subpoena. What about the case of Jerome Corsi, who said he was told he’d be indicted? What about Donald Trump Jr.?

I think we have to ask if in fact the Trump obstruction has finally worked. I’d also like to know why reporters are so gleeful about the purported end of the investigation? Why is there no skepticism about how coincidental this all seems.

There’s also this:

WTF? Note that Matt Schlapp’s wife Mercedes is the White House Director of Strategic Communications.

One more coincidence: the new politics editor at CNN is Sarah Isgur Flores, a right wing conspiracy theorist who most recently worked as Jeff Sessions’ spokesperson at DOJ. Could she be a source for these stories about the end of the Mueller probe?

Vanity Fair: “She Was Pitching her Intimate Knowledge of the Mueller Probe”: Sarah Isgur Flores, Former Trumper, Talked to MSNBC Before Signing with CNN.

CNN’s hiring of Sarah Isgur Flores, a longtime G.O.P. operative who has worked for Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz, and most recently served as a spokeswoman for Jeff Sessions in the Justice Department (a position that reportedly involved a loyalty pledge to Donald Trump), caused an immediate and fairly predictable media firestorm. Unlike Corey Lewandowski, who was hired to great consternation during the 2016 election cycle (and then terminated), Flores won’t simply be an ideological talking head—she’ll be playing a larger role in the editorial process. Despite a lack of journalism experience, she will be helping to coordinate CNN’s political coverage across platforms, as well as occasionally appearing on-air as a political analyst, which is the more customary role for former politicians and government officials. Within the media world, she is seen as a controversial and unorthodox appointment. Moreover, Isgur apparently has a history of lambasting the mainstream media on Twitter, including CNN, which she once termed the “Clinton News Network.”

Sarah Isgur Flores

All of this has led to a fair amount of bafflement as to why CNN would hire her in a senior editorial role reporting to political director David Chalian.“Why CNN made this move to begin with is the deeper and more troubling question,” Margaret Sullivan wrote Wednesday in The Washington Post.

As far as how the talks came about in the first place, it appears that Isgur, as she was preparing to exit the D.O.J., wasn’t only shopping around for a media gig at CNN. Cable-news sources told me that she also passed through 30 Rock to discuss a potential role at MSNBC, where she met with top newsroom management in recent months. “She had a detailed idea of what she wanted to do,” someone with knowledge of the discussions told me. “She wanted to do something on-air combined with some sort of quasi-management, behind-the-scenes planning kind of work. I think she looked at Dave Chalian and said, I wanna do that.” A second source with direct knowledge of the talks said that such a role “was never under consideration.” This person added, “She was pitching her intimate knowledge of the Mueller probe as a selling point.”

Read the rest at Vanity Fair.

Here’s some speculation from Emptywheel: The Significance of the Rod Rosenstein/William Barr Window.

This is happening in the window of time when Rod Rosenstein is still around and — because William Barr has presumably not been through an ethics review on the investigation — presumably back in charge of sole day-to-day supervision of the investigation. But it is happening after Barr has been confirmed, and so any problems with the investigation that might stem from having an inferior officer (an unconfirmed hack like the Big Dick Toilet Salesman) supervising Mueller are gone.

I’m fairly certain the concerns about Barr coming in and forcing Mueller to finish this are misplaced. I say that, in part, because Mueller seemed to be preparing for this timing. I say it, too, because Barr is too close to Mueller to do that to him.

That says that Mueller is choosing this timing (and choosing not to wait for the appeals to be done). Whatever reason dictates this timing, by doing it in this window, Mueller can ensure the legitimacy of what happens, both legally (because Barr will be in place) and politically (because it will be clear Rosenstein presided over it).

I still don’t get it. It looks to me like we are going to have to count on the Democrats in the House to continue the investigation. Meanwhile Andrew McCabe is just beginning his book tour and he clearly thinks that Trump is a Russian asset.

This afternoon, Roger Stone will learn whether he is going to jail for threatening the judge in his case or if he at least will have to pay some bail instead of continuing to be free on his own recognizance. It’s also still possible there could be indictments tomorrow. And Mueller could file a detailed “report” in the sentencing memo for Paul Manafort on Friday. It’s also possible that Mueller isn’t really wrapping up. We’ll have to wait and see.

Two More Reads on Mueller’s Supposed End

Neal Kaytal at The New York times: The Mueller Report Is Coming. Here’s What to Expect.

The special counsel Robert Mueller will apparently soon turn in a report to the new attorney general, William Barr. Sure, there is still a lot of activity, including subpoenas, flying around, but that shouldn’t stop Mr. Mueller.

The report is unlikely to be a dictionary-thick tome, which will disappoint some observers. But such brevity is not necessarily good news for the president. In fact, quite the opposite.

For months, the president’s lawyers have tried to discredit Mr. Mueller and this report, but their efforts may have backfired. A concise Mueller report might act as a “road map” to investigation for the Democratic House of Representatives — and it might also lead to further criminal investigation by other prosecutors. A short Mueller report would mark the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.

The report is unlikely to be lengthy by design: The special counsel regulations, which I had the privilege of drafting in 1999, envision a report that is concise, “a summary” of what he found. And Mr. Mueller’s mandate is limited: to look into criminal activity and counterintelligence matters surrounding Russia and the 2016 election, as well as any obstruction of justice relating to those investigations.

The regulations require the attorney general to give Congress a report, too. The regulations speak of the need for public confidence in the administration of justice and even have a provision for public release of the attorney general’s report. In a world where Mr. Mueller was the only investigator, the pressure for a comprehensive report to the public would be overwhelming.

This is where the “witch hunt” attacks on Mr. Mueller may have backfired. For 19 months, Mr. Trump and his team have had one target to shoot at, and that target has had limited jurisdiction. But now the investigation resembles the architecture of the internet, with many different nodes, and some of those nodes possess potentially unlimited jurisdiction. Their powers and scope go well beyond Mr. Mueller’s circumscribed mandate; they go to Mr. Trump’s judgment and whether he lied to the American people. They also include law enforcement investigations having nothing to do with Russia, such as whether the president directed the commission of serious campaign finance crimes, as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have already stated in filings. These are all critical matters, each with serious factual predicates already uncovered by prosecutors.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Garrett Graff at Wired: 7 Scenarios for how the Mueller Probe Might “Wrap Up.”

THE BREAKING NEWS hit a snowy Washington on Wednesday: Newly installed attorney general William Barrappears to be preparing to announce the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

But what would “Mueller wrapping up” actually mean?

And does the rapid movement, soon after Barr was installed at the Justice Department, indicate that he shut down the Mueller probe prematurely? A recent New York Times article documenting Trump’s two-year-long campaign to obstruct and muddy the investigation exacerbated those fears, as did an ominous tweet by conservative commentator—and White House spouse—Matt Schlapp pronouncing that “Mueller will be gone soon.”

The tea leaves around Mueller in recent weeks seem especially hard to read—and they’re conflicting at best. CNN’s special counsel stakeout has spotted prosecutors working long hours, through snow days and holidays—just as they were in the days before Michael Cohen’s surprise guilty plea last fall for lying to Congress—yet there’s also been no apparent grand jury movement since Roger Stone’s indictment. So even as CNN’s stakeout spotted DC prosecutors entering Mueller’s offices—the type of people who Mueller might hand off cases to as he winds down—and the special counsel’s staff carting out boxes, there’s also recent evidence that Mueller still has a longer game in mind. The Roger Stone prosecution is just getting underway. Mueller is still litigating over a mystery foreign company. And he’s pushing forward trying to gain testimony from a Stone associate, Andrew Miller.

In fact, the list of loose threads at this point is, in some ways, longer than the list of what Mueller has done publicly. There’s conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi’s aborted plea deal; would-be Middle East power broker George Nader’s lengthy cooperation with Mueller, which has resulted in no public charges; the mysterious Seychelles meeting between Blackwater mercenary founder Erik Prince and a Russian businessman; and then—of course—the big question of obstruction of justice. Add to that the host of recent witness testimony from the House Intelligence Committee that representative Adam Schiff has turned over to Mueller’s office, in which other witnesses, Schiff says, appear to have lied to Congress. And besides, there are a host of breadcrumbs that Mueller left in the more than 500 pages of his court filings that would all prove superfluous if further action didn’t lie ahead.

Head over to Wired to read the rest.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.

 

 

 


Lazy Saturday Reads: Trump is Scrooge Beyond Redemption

Good Afternoon!!

The rest of the illustrations in this post are from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

What is going on with MSNBC? First they hire Hugh Hewitt and Peggy Noonan, then they dump Joan Walsh two days before Christmas.

TBogg at Raw Story: ‘F*ck you MSNBC’: Network hammered with #KeepJoanWalsh after stunning pre-Christmas firing of commentator.

Decision makers at MSNBC are taking a beating on Twitter after it was revealed late Friday night that they had fired longtime contributor Joan Walsh just days before Christmas.

Taking to Twitter on Saturday morning, Walsh, confirmed her dismissal from the network, writing, “So it’s true: after 12 years on MSNBC, six on contract, I learned Friday night they are not renewing. I’ve given my heart and soul to the network, from the George W. Bush years through today. I’m proud of the work I did.”

She later added that the firing came out of the blue.

“Yes, it’s Christmas weekend,” she tweeted. “I was baking pies with my daughter, who is home for the holidays, when I got the news. It didn’t feel too good. But all of your support helps, a lot. I’m grateful to the people who have fought for me.”

Walsh, who has a large following both online and since she was once an editor at Salon and The Nation, received a wave of support with #KeepJoanWalsh trending on Twitter, as the network was attacked for dropping the liberal commentator while still employing conservative Hugh Hewitt who inexplicably was given his own show.

Why would MSNBC keep Peggy Noonan over Joan Walsh? Are Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell next? Shame on MSNBC!

As an antidote to all the bad news, here’s an interesting long read from the Literary Hub: Charles Dickens Had Serious Beef With America and Its Bad Manners and How It Led to His Writing A Christmas Carol.

Charles Dickens’ unfettered joy at first arriving in Boston Harbor in 1842 reads like Ebenezer Scrooge’s awakening on Christmas morning. Biographer Peter Ackroyd reports that he flew up the steps of the Tremont House Hotel, sprang into the hall, and greeted a curious throng with a bright “Here we are!” He took to the streets that twinkling midnight in his shaggy fur coat, galloping over frozen snow, shouting out the names on shop signs, pulling bell-handles of doors as he passed—giddy with laughter—and even screamed with (one imagines) astonishment and delight at the sight of the old South Church. He had set at last upon the shores of “the Republic of my imagination.”

America returned his ardor. Though not quite 30, Dickens was a literary rock star, the most famous writer in the world, who landed like a conquering hero in a country swept up in an extreme “Boz-o-mania”—the hype of his tour then unprecedented in American history. He wrote his best friend, John Forster, that he didn’t know how to describe “the crowds that pour in and out the whole day; of the people that line the streets when I go out; of the cheering when I went to the theatre; of the copies of verse, letters of congratulations, welcomes of all kinds, balls, dinners, assemblies without end?” When Bostonians renamed their city “Boz-town,” New Yorkers determined to “outdollar . . . and outshine them.” Their great Boz Ball boasted flags, flowers, festoons, wreaths, a huge portrait of the author with a bald eagle overhead, chandeliers hung by gilded ropes, 22 tableaux from the great author’s works, and 3,000 guests, who consumed 50 hams, 50 tongues, 38,000 stewed and pickled oysters, and 4,000 candy kisses. “If I should live to grow old,” Dickens said, “the scenes of this and other evenings will shine as brightly to my dull eyes 50 years hence as now.” [….]

His love affair with an idealized America was short-lived and hard-felt. Apart from the country’s great writers, he found Americans malodorous, ill-mannered and invading his privacy. “I am so enclosed and hemmed about with people, that I am exhausted from want of air,” Dickens complained to Forster. “I go to church for quiet, and there is a violent rush to the neighborhood of the pew I sit in. I take my seat in a railroad car, and the very conductor won’t leave me alone. I can’t drink a glass of water without having a hundred people looking down my throat.” On a tour of the Great Lakes he woke to a crowd gawking through his steamboat cabin window while his wife slept and he washed.

He was repulsed by Americans’ table manners and the tobacco spit everywhere he looked—on even the sidewalks of the nation’s capital, where he found party politics contaminating everything, its leaders “the lice of God’s creation,” and “despicable trickery at elections; under-handed tamperings with public officers; and cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous newspapers for shields, and hired pens for daggers.”

Bob Chratchit and Tiny Tim, by Frederick Barnard, 1877

Even worse, everyone wanted a piece of the action, from Tiffany’s selling unauthorized copies of his bust, to a barber selling locks of his hair. He found Americans vulgar and insensitive, braggarts, hypocrites, and acquisitive beyond all imagining. “I never knew what it was to feel disgust and contempt,” Dickens said, “‘till I travelled in America.” When he departed in June, he left behind all notions of an Arcadian realm he now regarded as “a vast countinghouse” full of nothing but “humbugs and bores.” (See: A Christmas Carol.)

It sounds a lot like Donald Trump’s American, doesn’t it?

Speaking of Dear Leader, he’s now down in Palm Beach where his handlers will be unable to keep him from talking to his wingnut pals and making impulsive decisions.

CNN: Trump reunites with his kitchen cabinet in Mar-a-Lago.

Minutes before President Donald Trump departed the White House on Friday for his languid Florida hideaway, he appeared to exasperate aides who had hoped he might avoid holding court with the press.

“Helicopter is running out of gas,” his chief of staff, John Kelly, announced, not-so-gently nudging the assembled reporters and cameramen from the Oval Office as Trump continued to happily answer their questions.

White House aides, wishing for the President to depart Washington without venting about the Russia probe or his other political woes, were largely successful in avoiding pratfalls that might obscure the Republicans’ tax victory this week.

Marley’s Ghost

Vacationing in Florida for the first extended period in months, however, Trump isn’t likely to find himself under as strict restraints. At Mar-a-Lago, an oceanfront paean to Trump himself, the President is prone to holding court at will, consulting advisers both real and self-imagined, and basking in the knowledge that he’s the only man in charge.

Topics on the table include the future of key Cabinet officials like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Middle East policy and the makeup of his political team.

And of course the Russia investigation. Read the rest to learn who’s in the “kitchen cabinet.”

I wonder if Trump cares about this from The Washington Post: Russian submarines are prowling around vital undersea cables. It’s making NATO nervous.

Russian submarines have dramatically stepped up activity around undersea data cables in the North Atlantic, part of a more aggressive naval posture that has driven NATO to revive a Cold War-era command, according to senior military officials.

The apparent Russian focus on the cables, which provide Internet and other communications connections to North America and Europe, could give the Kremlin the power to sever or tap into vital data lines, the officials said. Russian submarine activity has increased to levels unseen since the Cold War, they said, sparking hunts in recent months for the elusive watercraft.

“We are now seeing Russian underwater activity in the vicinity of undersea cables that I don’t believe we have ever seen,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Andrew Lennon, the commander of NATO’s submarine forces. “Russia is clearly taking an interest in NATO and NATO nations’ undersea infrastructure.”

NATO has responded with plans to reestablish a command post, shuttered after the Cold War, to help secure the North Atlantic. NATO allies are also rushing to boost anti-submarine warfare capabilities and to develop advanced submarine-detecting planes.

The Last of the Spirits by Harry Furniss

Yesterday we learned that federal prosecutors in New York are looking into Jared Kushner’s finances.

The New York Times: Prosecutors Said to Seek Kushner Records From Deutsche Bank.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have sought bank records about entities associated with the family company of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, according to four people briefed on the matter.

In recent weeks, prosecutors from the United States attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, the giant German financial institution that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner family real estate business.

Mr. Kushner, who was the Kushner Companies’ chief executive until January, still owns part of the business after selling some of his stake….

There is no indication that the subpoena is related to the investigation being conducted by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russian meddling in the 2016 United States presidential election. Three prosecutors on Mr. Mueller’s team previously worked at the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn, one as recently as this year. Federal prosecutors around the country typically check with Justice Department headquarters when their investigations may overlap.

The Brooklyn United States attorney has been investigating the Kushner businesses’ use of a program known as EB-5. It offers visas to overseas investors in exchange for $500,000 investments in real estate projects.

So if Trump pardons Jared, he’ll still be in legal jeopardy. Good!

There’s tons more news even though we’re going into a big holiday weekend. That’s the new normal in Trump’s America. What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Trump’s Worst Week So Far?

Good Afternoon!!

I know I’ve said this before, but it’s more true than ever: I don’t know how much more Trump bullshit I can take. This past week may have been the worst yet; how much worse can it get? I’m afraid that it can and will get a whole lot worse.

Last night Brian Williams ran this video that briefly summarizes the  events of the past week. It feels to me as though Trump’s horrific speech to the boy scouts was a long time ago, but no. It was just a few action-packed days ago.

Oh, and this morning we learned that North Korea’s ICBM could reach Los Angeles or even Chicago. From the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Based on current information, today’s missile test by North Korea could easily reach the US West Coast, and a number of major US cities.

Reports say that North Korea again launched its missile on a very highly lofted trajectory, which allowed the missile to fall in the Sea of Japan rather than overflying Japan. It appears the ground range of the test was around 1,000 km (600 miles), which put it in or close to Japanese territorial waters. Reports also say the maximum altitude of the launch was 3,700 km (2,300 miles) with a flight time of about 47 minutes.

If those numbers are correct, the missile flown on a standard trajectory the missile would have a range 10,400 km (6,500 miles), not taking into account the Earth’s rotation.

However, the rotation of the Earth increases the range of missiles fired eastward, depending on their direction. Calculating the range of the missile in the direction of some major US cities gives the approximate results in Table 1.

Table 1 shows that Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago appear to be well within range of this missile, and that Boston and New York may be just within range. Washington, D.C. may be just out of range.

It is important to keep in mind that we do not know the mass of the payload the missile carried on this test. If it was lighter than the actual warhead the missile would carry, the ranges would be shorter than those estimated above.

Many news outlets published stories about how bad the week was, often including even more horrible events that The 11th Hour video left out. Raw Story included the Anthony Scaramucci clusterfuck:

Thursday. New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci started off his day by delivering a rambling interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo in which he compared himself and Reince Priebus to Cain and Abel.

Later in the day, the New Yorkerpublished an interview with Scaramucci in which the new White House official ranted about Priebus — calling him a “f*cking paranoid schizophrenic” — and top White House political strategist Steve Bannon, whom he said regularly tries to “suck his own c*ck.” In the same interview, Scaramucci threatened to fire the entire White House communications staff, while vowing to “kill all the f*cking leakers” within the Trump administration.

Anthony and Deirdre Scaramucci

Oh, and have you heard? Scaramucci’s wife has filed for divorce because of the relationship with Trump, according to gossip site Page Six:

Deidre Ball, who worked as a vice president in investor relations for SkyBridge Capital, the firm he founded in 2005 and sold to ascend to the White House, has filed for divorce from “The Mooch” after three years of marriage after getting fed up with his ruthless quest to get close to President Trump, whom she despises.

One source told Page Six, “Deidre has left him and has filed for divorce. She liked the nice Wall Street life and their home on Long Island, not the insane world of D.C. She is tired of his naked ambition, which is so enormous that it left her at her wits’ end. She has left him even though they have two children together.”

Scaramucci and Ball, 38, began dating in 2011 and are believed to have married in 2014.

NPR: Don’t Look Away: Stuff Happens Fast In Trump’s First Summer In Washington.

The week had almost ended when the Twitter item crossed. Minutes before quitting time, less than an hour after the markets closed: Gen. John Kelly named White House chief of staff.

The secretary of Homeland Security was replacing Reince Priebus at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

After about six months and a week, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee had been removed as the No. 1 aide to President Trump….

Priebus had been embattled almost from the beginning. He was said to be at odds with senior adviser Steve Bannon, to be less than close to first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.

He was too old school, too Midwestern, too conventional. When Anthony Scaramucci arrived as the new White House director of communications in mid-July, he was reporting directly to the president — not to Priebus. Bad sign.

So in Washington, among those who watch the White House, there could be little surprise. And yet the spectacle of the chief of staff sitting alone in a van in the rain at Joint Base Andrews on Friday evening — detailed in a pool report — was still, somehow, shocking.

We don’t know yet how Priebus found out. Did he read it on Twitter?

HuffPost included more about Trump’s trolling of Jeff Sessions. Yes, that was on Monday of this week.

Trump kicked off the week by tweeting his frustrations with his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and asking why Sessions isn’t investigating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton….

Trump attacked Sessions again — this time in a newspaper interview [Tuesday]. The president told The Wall Street Journal that he’s “very disappointed” in Sessions, but stopped short of saying he’ll fire the early Trump loyalist.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Then on Wednesday:

For the third day in a row, Trump publicly humiliated his attorney general and the Justice Department. This time, the president questioned Sessions’ decision to not fire Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and falsely claimed McCabe’s wife had accepted a campaign donation from Hillary Clinton.

The Financial Times weighs in: Trump’s week staggers from bad to worse.

It was the week that Donald Trump’s new communications director was meant to reset the White House after six turbulent months. Instead, the fight-to-the-death between Anthony Scaramucci and chief of staff Reince Priebus framed a week that shed the harshest light yet on the chaos at the heart of the administration.

From Mr Trump’s tweeted attacks on his own attorney-general to the resignation of Mr Priebus, days of rolling controversy have shown up the divisions wracking the senior levels of his team and reinforced concerns about the trajectory of his presidency.

Having once welcomed Mr Trump’s November victory for putting the levers of American power in Republican hands, conservatives now are aghast at the disarray threatening the president’s agenda.

While the week of rancour was bookended by the departure of Mr Priebus on Friday afternoon, its lowest point may have come in the early hours of the day when Republican senator John McCain, suffering from cancer, cast the vote that killed the president’s dream of repealing Obamacare after weeks of Republican wrangling over the plans.

“I don’t think there’s a clear understanding of what the party is any more and what it stands for,” said Adam Brandon, head of FreedomWorks, a conservative group with close ties to the lawmakers.

John McCain votes no on Trumpcare bill

The LA Times focused on the health care debacle: The week the wheels fell off in Trump’s Washington.

For six months and change, the Trump administration has careened down a bumpy road, seldom far from a crash. This week, the wheels fell off.

The precise moment could be seen on nationwide television by anyone still awake — 1:29 a.m. in Washington, as Sen. John McCain of Arizona walked to the well of the Senate, stood in front of the clerk’s desk, stretched out his right arm and turned down his thumb, squashing the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare.

For Trump, who had campaigned loudly, but ineffectually, for the repeal, the defeat jeopardized an entire legislative agenda. It came toward the end of a week in which his administration had never felt weaker or more riven with self-defeating factions.

More at the link.

We’ll probably learn more over the weekend about what happened with Priebus, but here’s one cringe-inducing anecdote about Trump’s methods of torture from The Washington Post:

Trump’s demeaning of Priebus came through in other ways, too. At one point, during a meeting in the Oval Office, a fly began buzzing overhead, distracting the president. As the fly continued to circle, Trump summoned his chief of staff and tasked him with killing the insect, according to someone familiar with the incident. (The West Wing has a regular fly problem.)

Click on the link to read much more about the Trump gang’s sadistic behavior.

That’s all I have for you today. I know this isn’t much of a post, but I was too exhausted after this hellish week to do any more. What stories are you following?


Thursday Reads: Berning Down The Democratic Party

Good Morning!!

Finally some journalists are beginning to understand that Bernie Sanders is serious about trying to destroy the Democratic Party in hope that his “political revolution” will emerge from the chaos he and his supporters create. The Party should be focusing on how to beat Donald Trump, but Bernie is enjoying being the center of attention so much that he just can’t stop himself.

When he started running for president, I’m convinced that Sanders didn’t think he had a chance, but once the donations started flowing in and he saw the cheering crowd and read the article lionizing him, he began to believe he would win the nomination and actually be able to run the country his way.

Now that he has lost, Sanders seems determined to take everyone else down with him and hand the presidency to a seriously insane person with no experience in politics or government and no interest in learning about either.

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Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast: Bernie and Jane Sanders: The Democratic Party’s Thelma and Louise.

Now we are forced to ask whether Bernie Sanders has decided he wants to destroy the Democratic Party. I’m sure he would say he wants to save it. The way we saved villages in Vietnam. You know the quote.

I don’t allege that he decided to run as a Democrat for this reason. He did so, I’m told by those who’d know, because he did not want to be the 21st-century Ralph Nader and because he knew that running against Hillary Clinton would give him a much bigger stage on which to inveigh against the parasites.

That was then. But now, after the Nevada fracas and his gobsmacking statement in the wake of it, it’s remorselessly clear that he wants to obliterate the Democratic Party. Revolutions take on lives of their own. Robespierre never thought back in 1790 or ’91 that the guillotine would be needed. But as the dialecticians like to say, historical circumstances change. By 1793, those little sheep who’d been misled by sellouts like Danton were part of the…corrupt establishment.

Tomasky explains what he thinks is motivating Bernie and Jane Sanders and Jeff Weaver’s vicious attack on the Democratic Party.

Most things that happen in campaigns tell us something about people as politicians. This statement told us something about Sanders—and, I suspect, about his wife, Jane, and Jeff Weaver, his campaign manager—as human beings. Everything is subordinated to ideology. Basic human impulses are buried. There is only politics, only ideology, only the movement. I’m really glad we’re not in Romania in 1965. I know where I’d be.

I know this because I’ve known lots of people like this. Leftists like Sanders regard the Democratic Party as a far bigger problem in the world than the Republican Party. The thinking goes like this: The Republicans, sure, everybody knows they’re evil. That’s obvious. But the Democrats, they’re evil too. They adopt a few attractive positions, say nice things on certain issues as long as saying those nice things doesn’t really threaten the established economic order, so they’re even worse, finally, because they fool people into thinking they’re on their side. I heard this a hundred times from the old guys who used to hector me at the Socialist Scholars Conference in Manhattan 25 years ago when I used to speak there.

That’s what Bernie is. If he’d stayed in Brooklyn, he’d have been a Social Scholars Conference hectorer. He had the wisdom to move to a podunk state, and the luck to do so just as it was becoming the place where all the aging hippies were moving, and so he became a mayor and then a House member and, finally and exaltedly, a senator.

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So many liberal bloggers and journalists have been saying nice things about Bernie throughout the primaries. Yesterday, Josh Marshall finally woke up to reality: It Comes From the Very Top.

Over the last several weeks I’ve had a series of conversations with multiple highly knowledgable, highly placed people. Perhaps it’s coming from Weaver too. The two guys have been together for decades. But the ‘burn it down’ attitude, the upping the ante, everything we saw in that statement released today by the campaign seems to be coming from Sanders himself. Right from the top.

This should have been obvious to me. The tone and tenor of a campaign always come from the top. It wasn’t obvious to me until now.

This might be because he’s temperamentally like that. There’s some evidence for that. It may also be that, like many other presidential contenders, once you get close it is simply impossible to let go. I don’t know which it is. That would only be my speculation. But this is coming from Bernie Sanders. It’s not Weaver. It’s not driven by people around him. It’s right from him. And what I understand from knowledgable sources is that in the last few weeks anyone who was trying to rein it in has basically stopped trying and just decided to let Bernie be Bernie.

Some journalists, like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell have basically been surrogates for the Sanders campaign. I’m not sure where Hayes and Maddow stand on burning down the Democratic Party, but Lawrence O’Donnell made it clear last night that he’s on board with Bernie’s plan.

Too bad Marshall didn’t start asking questions sooner.

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Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum is still holding onto the fantasy that Sanders is basically a good guy who has gotten caught up in power-seeking: The Sad Decline and Fall of Bernie Sanders.

The one thing I do keep wondering about is what happened to Bernie Sanders. Before this campaign, he was a gadfly, he was a critic of the system, and he was a man of strong principles. He still is, but he’s also obviously very, very bitter. I wonder if all this was worth it for him? By all objective measures he did way better than anyone expected and had far more influence than anyone thought he would, and he should feel good about that. Instead, he seems more angry and resentful with every passing day….

I don’t even blame anyone in particular. Maybe Hillary’s team played too rough. Maybe Bernie’s team is too thin-skinned. I just don’t know. But it’s sort of painful to see a good person like Bernie turned into such a sullen and resentful man. And doubly painful to see him take his followers down that path too.

Usually these things fade with a bit of time. Politics is politics, after all. But for Bernie, it’s always been more than politics. I wonder if he’s ever going to get over this?

“Hillary’s team played too rough?” Give me a break. They have held back on many of the attacks they could have used.

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Some journalists, like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell, have basically acted as surrogates for the Sanders campaign. I’m not sure where Hayes and Maddow stand after Bernie’s latest disgraceful behavior, but Lawrence O’Donnell made clear last night that he is still in the Sanders camp.

On last night’s show, O’Donnell hyped the latest Fox News poll that had Trump leading Clinton by a couple of points; of course he failed to point out that poll sample included a larger proportion of Republicans than is contained in the population as a whole.

O’Donnell noted that Bernie Sanders still leads Trump in the Fox poll. He claimed that Hillary Clinton has never been able to raise her standing in polls–she always goes down. He actually went on to advocate that Democratic superdelegates should overturn the will of the voters and make Sanders the nominee!

Here’s Greg Sargent, who has been Bernie-friendly for most of the campaign: Will Bernie Sanders burn it all down?

In an interview with me today, top Sanders adviser Tad Devine — while stressing that Sanders would support the eventual nominee — demurred on the broader question of whether he would, in the end, do everything necessary to persuade his supporters of the legitimacy of the process.

At the same time, in a separate interview, a top supporter of Sanders — Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon — bluntly told me that if Sanders finishes behind in pledged delegates and the popular vote, he should not continue to try to win over super-delegates, and should concede rather than take the battle to the convention.

I asked Devine: If Clinton wins the nomination after all the votes have been cast, will Sanders issue an unequivocal declaration that the outcome was legitimate?

“We’re still involved in this process, so it’s hard for me to declare what’s going to happen at the end,” Devine said. “As we look forward, there are a lot of issues of deep concern.”

Devine cited the DNC’s appointment of former Rep. Barney Frank as the chairman of the Democratic National Convention’s Rules Committee and the appointment of Connecticut governor Dan Malloy as the co-chair of the Platform Committee, arguing that both had been “partisan” in their “attacks” on Sanders.

So the answer is no. The Sanders campaign will continue to whip up the Bernie bros and encourage protests and perhaps even violence at the Democratic convention in July. Democratic leaders need to act now to head these people off at the pass.

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The Hill reports that Democrats held a closed-door meeting on Tuesday to discuss the Sanders threat: How Senate Democrats are trying to deal with Sanders.

Democrats in the room decided the best course would be to let Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) handle the delicate task of talking to Sanders about the increasingly negative tone of supporters of his presidential bid, according to sources familiar with what happened at the meeting.

“I’m leaving it up to Reid. That’s what the caucus did yesterday. We said he would be the lead on it,” said one Democratic senator. “There was some suggestion that we would all make calls. And everybody said the best idea is to let the leader handle it.”

A senior Democratic aide said that thinking reflects an acknowledgement among the senators that Reid is the one member of the caucus who “has an actual relationship with him.”

Sanders is a political independent who caucuses with Democrats. That’s made him a bit of an outsider with his colleagues, something highlighted by the Vermont senator’s rebuke this week of a Democratic Party he says should open its doors to political independents.

The presidential candidate is not chummy with his colleagues.

 Fellow senators have been known to roll their eyes at his idealistic — some say unrealistic — jeremiads in private meetings. Sanders is known for speaking out at the sessions.

Reid, however, has always been a helpful ally. He gave Sanders the full benefits of membership in the Democratic caucus after his election to the Senate in 2006, rewarding him with the committee assignments he wanted even though he was not a registered Democrat.

Well, Harry Reid tried and failed to reason with Bernie. To paraphrase the famous quote from Jaws, I think the Democrats are gonna need a bigger plan.

So . . . what stories are you following today?