Busting-the-Filibuster Friday

It’s been 2 Fridays since our Last Mueller Friday (March 22nd).

Where’s the damned report?

Every day we don’t see the report represents an obstruction of justice.  But then, that’s what Bill Barr was hired to do, right?   From The Guardian: Barr invited to meet DoJ officials on day he submitted memo critical of Mueller. Revealed: The attorney general, then a private lawyer, called the special counsel’s obstruction of justice inquiry into Trump ‘fatally misconceived’”

William Barr was invited to meet justice department officials last summer, on the same day he submitted an “unsolicited” memo that heavily criticized special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into obstruction of justice by Donald Trump.

Barr, who was a private attorney at the time, met the officials for lunch three weeks later and was then nominated to serve as Trump’s attorney general about six months later.

The revelation about the meeting, which was arranged by Steve Engel, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, and which has not previously been publicly disclosed, raises new questions about whether the White House’s decision to hire Barr was influenced by private discussions he had about his legal views on Mueller’s investigation.

None of this surprises me. I’m sure the right. chair of the right committee–most likely oversight and Rep. Elijah Cummings–will get to the bottom of this.  Every appointment Trump makes to anything just drips of cronyism.

Today, a Federal Court of Appeals court shortened the time that a decision will be made by the judiciary.  This is via Politico and Josh Gerstein:  “Appeals court narrows path for disclosure of grand jury info in Mueller report. Court splits, 2-1, in a closely watched case that could affect the release of the special counsel’s review.”

A Federal appeals court on Friday tossed an obstacle in the way of grand jury information in special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report being released directly to the public, but the decision may not slow disclosure of that material to Congress.

The decision from a divided three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals did not directly address Mueller’s report, but involved a grand jury investigation more than six decades ago into the disappearance of a Columbia University professor and political activist, Jesús Galíndez.

In the new ruling, the panel majority concluded that federal district court judges lack the authority to order the release of typically secret grand jury material except in situations specially authorized in a federal court rule.

While there is no exception that covers cases of intense political or historical interest, courts have repeatedly held that they have “inherent authority” to make such disclosures in unusual cases.

However, the D.C. Circuit decision Friday sided with a long-standing Justice Department position that those rulings were mistaken and a formal change to the grand jury secrecy rule would be needed to give judges that power.

“We agree with the Government’s understanding of the Rule,” Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote, joined by Judge Greg Katsas. “The contrary reading … which would allow the district court to create such new exceptions as it thinks make good public policy — would render the detailed list of exceptions merely precatory and impermissibly enable the court to ‘circumvent’ or ‘disregard’ a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure.”

The impact of the new decision in the current battle over disclosure of the Mueller report could be limited, however, because the Democrat-controlled House is already demanding the special counsel’s full submission including grand jury information.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed a resolution authorizing Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) to subpoena the full report and all supporting materials. Such a subpoena may be sufficient to give the House access to grand jury information under an existing exception covering material sought in connection with “judicial proceedings.”

I wanted to make sure we had a good look and discussion about the various ways that Mitch McConnell is changing the SOP of the Senate. To no one’s real surprise, the Senate did go Nuclear somewhat quietly on Wednesday on a 51-48 vote.  ABC and other media outlets covered it but not to the extent that it deserved.

The Senate has gone “nuclear,” voting 51-48 Wednesday afternoon to change its own rules and slash debate time for some nominees from 30 hours to two hours, paving the way to fast-track certain Trump picks. Republicans — led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — have long lamented what they have termed Democratic obstruction of the president’s nominations, particularly judicial nominations.

All Republicans vote for the rule change except Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Susan Collins, who voted with Democrats, and no Democrats voted with Republicans.

This is what Senator Elizabeth Warren has to say about that even though she her last vote did not reflect this discussion.  It’s something to thing on.  I really appreciate Warren’s bringing the beef to the hamburger.  It’s the women that are discussing actual policy and it’s time they all get some air time and ink.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is expected to issue the strongest indictment of the Senate filibuster of her campaign for president thus far during a speech at the National Action Network convention on Friday morning.

“Last year the Senate passed a bill that would make lynching a federal crime,” Warren will say, according to prepared remarks viewed by The Daily Beast. “Last year. In 2018. Do you know when the first bill to make lynching a federal crime was introduced? 1918. One hundred years ago. And it nearly became the law back then. It passed the House in 1922. But it got killed in the Senate—by a filibuster. And then it got killed again. And again. And again. More than 200 times. An entire century of obstruction because a small group of racists stopped the entire nation from doing what was right.”
Warren goes on to say that the filibuster has been used in recent years “by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything.”

“I’ve only served one term in the Senate—but I’ve seen what’s happening,” she says, according to the remarks. “We all saw what they did to President Obama. I’ve watched Republicans abuse the rules when they’re out of power, then turn around and blow off the rules when they’re in power.”

Democrats running for president in 2020 have been debating Senate rules for months, as activists push for a change that would not necessitate a 60-vote supermajority to pass sought-after legislation like Medicare for All or the Green New Deal, both of which have been endorsed by a large share of the Democratic candidates currently running. But many of the same candidates, including the senators in the race, have been resistant to institutional changes. The one candidate who has affirmatively campaigned on its elimination in order to address climate change is Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Many others, like Warren before Friday, had said they’d consider it, and she previously said “all the options are on the table.”

Schumer believes other wise. This is from CSPAN. “Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell debate the GOP’s decision to make a change to rules reducing the length of post-Cloture debate time of federal district court judges and sub-Cabinet nominations from 30 hours to two hours. ” It happened on April 3rd, the day of the vote.

From Vox and Li Zhou: “Senate Republicans have officially gone “nuclear” in order to confirm more Trump judges.
It’s a win for Republicans in the short term, but Democrats could also capitalize on the change in the future.”

Senate Republicans have officially gone nuclear again this week.

Once more, they’ve changed Senate rules so they can confirm President Donald Trump’s nominees more expeditiously — a string of actions first kicked off by Democratic leader Harry Reid in 2013. It marks the third time in less than a decade that the Senate majority has used the so-called “nuclear option” — a term used for parliamentary procedure that sets a new precedent with only a simple majority of lawmaker votes.

This time, Republicans have amended Senate rules in order to further limit the amount of time lower-level nominees could be debated on the floor. Previously, if lawmakers voted to limit debate on a nominee, that back-and-forth would still be able to continue for 30 hours. Practically speaking, because there is only so much time the Senate is in session, this meant that there were a finite number of nominees that Republicans could get through — and that’s something they wanted to change.

Republicans argued that this rules change is necessary because Democrats have gone out of their way to slow-walk consideration of Trump’s nominees. Democrats, meanwhile, say that Republicans have gutted other processes, like “blue slips,” that would enable them to otherwise vocalize their concern with different nominees.

“Senate Democrats spent the first two years of the Trump administration dragging out the confirmation process to not only deny the president his team, but also to waste hours of floor time that should have been spent focusing on the American people’s priorities,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said in a statement. “This has been nothing more than obstruction for the sake of obstruction and it is outrageous.”

That assertion, however, is laughable to many Democrats, who have noted that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s supposed outrage over the way Democrats have blocked Republican nominees is hypocritical, given the lengths he went to in order to prevent President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland from even getting considered for a Supreme Court seat.

Nancy Pelosi threw some serious shade at a reporter who evidently wasn’t aware that there is a law that says the IRS will hand over tax returns of whoever certain chairs of congress request.

Donald Trump is doing his usual hold it up routine. “All the way to the Supreme Court, Alice!!!”

And, I’m giving the last word today to my “I’m just a country lawyer” Senator who just can’t seem to keep the folksy routine sounding sane.

With that, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Happy Valentine’s Day

Les Pivoines 1907 par Henri Matisse

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sky Dancers!!

Andrew McCabe’s book The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump will be released on Tuesday, and he will be interviewed on 60 Minutes on Sunday night. This might be one 60 Minutes I decide to watch.

McCabe was deputy director of the FBI under James Comey and he became acting director after Trump fired Comey. Trump attacked McCabe repeatedly, and eventually succeeded in driving him out of office. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe one day before he could have retired with his full pension.

Today The Atlantic published an article adapted from McCabe’s book: Every Day Is a New Low in Trump’s White House.

On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, my first full day on the job as acting director of the FBI, I sat down with senior staff involved in the Russia case—the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. As the meeting began, my secretary relayed a message that the White House was calling. The president himself was on the line. I had spoken with him the night before, in the Oval Office, when he told me he had fired James Comey.

Bouquet on a Bamboo Table (1903) Henri Matisse

A call like this was highly unusual. Presidents do not, typically, call FBI directors. There should be no direct contact between the president and the director, except for national-security purposes. The reason is simple. Investigations and prosecutions need to be pursued without a hint of suspicion that someone who wields power has put a thumb on the scale.

The Russia team was in my office. I took the call on an unclassified line. That was another strange thing—the president was calling on a phone that was not secure. The voice on the other end said, It’s Don Trump calling. I said, Hello, Mr. President, how are you? Apart from my surprise that he was calling at all, I was surprised that he referred to himself as “Don.”

The president said, I’m good. You know—boy, it’s incredible, it’s such a great thing, people are really happy about the fact that the director’s gone, and it’s just remarkable what people are saying. Have you seen that? Are you seeing that, too?

He went on: I received hundreds of messages from FBI people—how happy they are that I fired him. There are people saying things on the media, have you seen that? What’s it like there in the building?

McCabe describes the reaction of FBI employees as one of shock and dismay. Trump then said he wanted to come to the FBI and “show all my FBI people how much I love them.” McCabe thought that was a terrible idea, but agreed to meet with Trump about it. Next, Trump:

Flowers and Fruit by Henri Matisse

…began to talk about how upset he was that Comey had flown home on his government plane from Los Angeles—Comey had been giving a speech there when he learned he was fired. The president wanted to know how that had happened.

I told him that bureau lawyers had assured me there was no legal issue with Comey coming home on the plane. I decided that he should do so. The existing threat assessment indicated he was still at risk, so he needed a protection detail. Since the members of the protection detail would all be coming home, it made sense to bring everybody back on the same plane they had used to fly out there. It was coming back anyway. The president flew off the handle: That’s not right! I don’t approve of that! That’s wrong! He reiterated his point five or seven times.

I said, I’m sorry that you disagree, sir. But it was my decision, and that’s how I decided. The president said, I want you to look into that! I thought to myself: What am I going to look into? I just told you I made that decision.

The ranting against Comey spiraled. I waited until he had talked himself out.

After that Trump taunted McCabe about his wife’s losing campaign for the Virginia Senate, asking McCabe, “How did she handle losing? Is it tough to lose?” and later saying “Yeah, that must’ve been really tough. To lose. To be a loser.”

I once had a boss who was a monstrous whack job like Trump. It was crazy-making. The entire department under this man functioned like an alcoholic family with an unpredictable, out-of-control father. You never knew what horrible thing would happen next. It was total chaos, as the White House seems to be. I’m glad McCabe is telling the truth about what he experienced.

Two more articles based on the McCabe book:

CBS News 60 Minutes: McCabe Says He Ordered the Obstruction of Justice Probe of President Trump.

The New York Times: McCabe Says Justice Officials Discussed Recruiting Cabinet Members to Push Trump Out of Office.

Bouquet of Flowers in a White Vase, 1909, by Henri Matisse

I expect Trump will be ranting about McCabe on Twitter and in the Oval Office, but he can’t do anything to shut McCabe up anymore.

Soon we’ll have a new U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, and already the corruption surrounding him has a very bad odor. CNN reports that Barr’s daughter and son-in-law are leaving the Justice Department for new jobs at FinCEN and the White House Counsel’s office respectively.

Mary Daly, Barr’s oldest daughter and the director of Opioid Enforcement and Prevention Efforts in the deputy attorney general’s office, is leaving for a position at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit, a Justice official said.

Tyler McGaughey, the husband of Barr’s youngest daughter, has been detailed from the powerful US attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, to the White House counsel’s office, two officials said.

It’s not clear if McGaughey’s switch is a result of Barr’s pending new role, and the kind of work he’ll be handling at the White House is not public knowledge.
Daly’s husband will remain in his position in the Justice Department’s National Security Division for now.

Henri Matisse: Les Anemones

The moves were by choice and are not required under federal nepotism laws, but Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, called them “a good idea” to “avoid the bad optics that could come from the appearance of them working for him.”
However, Shaub added that McGaughey’s detail to the White House counsel’s office was “concerning.”

“That’s troubling because it raises further questions about Barr’s independence,” Shaub said.

Read more at the CNN link.

If you listened to Rachel Maddow’s podcast about Spiro Agnew (or even if you didn’t) you should read this op-ed at The Washington Post by three attorneys who were involved in that corruption case: We should demand high standards from William Barr. Spiro Agnew’s case shows why, by Barnet D. Skolnik, Russell T. Baker Jr., and Ronald S. Liebman.

In the winter of 1973, 46 years ago, the three of us were assistant U.S. attorneys in Baltimore starting a federal grand jury investigation of a corrupt Democratic county chief executive in Maryland. That investigation ultimately led to the prosecution of his corrupt Republican predecessor — the man who went on to become the state’s governor and then President Richard M. Nixon’s vice president, Spiro T. Agnew.

On Oct. 10, 1973, Agnew entered a plea to a criminal tax felony for failure to report the hundreds of thousands of dollars he’d received in bribes and kickbacks as county executive, governor and even vice president. All paid in cash, $100 bills delivered in white envelopes.

And he resigned.

Henri Matisse. Vase of Irises. 1912

From the beginning of our investigation, months before we had seen any indication that he had taken kickbacks, Agnew, along with top White House and administration officials and even Nixon himself, repeatedly tried to impede, obstruct and terminate the investigation in nefarious ways. Some of those efforts were unknown to us then and have come to light only now thanks to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and her “Bagman” podcast.

When newspapers began to report that he was under criminal investigation in the summer of 1973, Agnew aroused his base by screaming “witch hunt” and launching a vicious assault on the “lying” press, the “partisan” Justice Department, and the “biased” and “liberal Democrat” prosecutors in Baltimore.

If Agnew and Nixon had succeeded in derailing our investigation, the most corrupt man ever to sit a heartbeat away might have become the president of our country when Nixon was forced to resign less than a year later. But our investigation was protected — first, by our staunch and courageous boss, the late George Beall, the U.S. attorney for Maryland and a prominent Maryland Republican, and second, by the man who had become the new U.S. attorney general that spring, Elliot L. Richardson.

The authors then go on to explain why Barr should not be confirmed unless he commits to releasing Robert Mueller’s findings to the public. Read the whole thing at the WaPo.

There is so much more news! Here are some links to check out:

Flowers by Henri Matisse

Just Security: Who is Richard Burr, Really? Why the public can’t trust his voice in the Russia probe. (This is an incredibly important story. Corruption is all around us.)

NBC News: ‘Whistleblower’ seeks protection after sounding alarm over White House security clearances.

Politico: Judge rules Manafort lied to Mueller about contacts with Russian.

The New York Times: House Votes to Halt Aid for Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen.

Gulf News: Trump backer Tom Barrack defends Saudi Arabia.

The Washington Post: Trump confidant Thomas Barrack apologizes for saying U.S. has committed ‘equal or worse’ atrocities to killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The New York Times: Maria Ressa, Philippine Journalist Critical of Rodrigo Duterte, Is Released After Arrest.

HuffPost: I Wish I’d Had A ‘Late-Term Abortion’ Instead Of Having My Daughter. (Trigger warning for rape description)

Vice: Being Raised by Two Narcissists Taught Me How to Deal with Trump.

The New York Times: Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price.

Contemptor: Fox News Rejects Commercial for Documentary that Says Nazis are Bad.

So . . . what stories have you been following?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Trump “Drunk on Power” — John Brennan

Blue Iris, Vian Risanto

Good Afternoon!!

It has been another disastrous week in Trumpland. The “president” seems to be losing what control he ever had. He spends his days watching TV, throwing tantrums on Twitter, and dreaming up ways to punish his many “enemies.” He’s Nixon on steroids, and the Republicans continue to refuse to do anything to check his corruption and abuses of power.

On Wednesday, Trump unilaterally revoked the security clearance of former CIA chief John Brennan, and despite condemnations by former members of the intelligence community, he plans to keep revoking the clearances of anyone who dares to criticize him or who may have been in some way involved with the Russia investigation.

The Washington Post: White House drafts more clearance cancellations demanded by Trump.

The White House has drafted documents revoking the security clearances of current and former officials whom President Trump has demanded be punished for criticizing him or playing a role in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to senior administration officials.

Trump wants to sign “most if not all” of them, said one senior White House official, who indicated that communications aides, including press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Bill Shine, the newly named deputy chief of staff, have discussed the optimum times to release them as a distraction during unfavorable news cycles.

Cocktail dress, Vian Risanto

Yes, they admit these will be used to distract the public on bad news days for Trump!

Some presidential aides echoed concerns raised by outside critics that the threatened revocations smack of a Nixonian enemies list, with little or no substantive national security justification. Particular worry has been expressed inside the White House about Trump’s statement Friday that he intends “very quickly” to strip the clearance of current Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations….

It was unclear what the argument would be for revoking Ohr’s clearance, since Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, while not specifying Ohr’s current job, has said he has had no involvement in the Mueller investigation, begun last year.

But Ohr knew Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who was hired in 2016 by Fusion GPS, then working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia. Ohr’s wife also worked for Fusion GPS. According to news reports and congressional testimony, the two men discussed Trump before the election. Ohr later reported the conversation to the FBI.

Ohr is the only current official on the White House list of clearances Trump wants to lift. The others are former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.; former CIA director Michael V. Hayden; former FBI director James B. Comey; Obama national security adviser Susan E. Rice; former FBI officials Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok; and former acting attorney general Sally Yates. Several of them have said they no longer have clearances.

It’s difficult to believe that Trump’s actions could not be seen as obstruction of justice and witness tampering, since many of those on the “enemies list” are potential witnesses in Robert Mueller’s investigation. Yesterday, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake addressed the issue: How Trump’s security-clearance gambit could actually get him in deeper trouble with Mueller.

Green chair, Vian Risanto

I was on an MSNBC panel Thursday night with Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, who suggested Trump’s revocation of security clearances could be construed as retaliation against witnesses. “It’s a federal crime — §1513 if anyone wants to look it up — to retaliate against someone for providing truthful information to law enforcement,” he said. “So he’s getting closer and closer to really dangerous ground here.”

Here’s the text of Section 1513(e):

Whoever knowingly, with the intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

Honig explained to me Friday that he didn’t necessarily think Trump’s revocation of Brennan’s security clearance would be a violation, given Brennan isn’t a major figure on the probe’s key events. But if he presses on and does it with others, Honig argued, it could.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Last night Rachel Maddow interviewed John Brennan. Talking Point Memo: Brennan On Revoked Clearance: ‘This Country Is More Important Than Mr. Trump.’

Former CIA Director John Brennan was defiant Friday night in response to President Donald Trump’s revocation of his security clearance, and to Trump’s threatening to revoke the clearances of several other former intelligence and national security officials who’ve become harsh critics of his.

Vian Risanto

“I think this is an egregious act that it flies in the face of traditional practice, as well as common sense, as well as national security,” Brennan told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “I think that’s why there’s been such an outcry from many intelligence professionals.”

Brennan told Maddow that he is thinking about taking legal action.

“A number of lawyers have reached out to say that there is a very strong case here, not so much to reclaim [my clearance] but to prevent this from happening in the future,” Brennan told Maddow, asked if he was considering legal action against the administration.

Some groups, including the ACLU, have alleged that revoking Brennan’s clearance in retaliation for his criticism of Trump, as the White House said was the case, was a violation of the former CIA director’s First Amendment rights.

Brennan repeated his accusation that Trump’s Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir was “nothing short of treasonous.”

And he said a Washington Post report that his clearance revocation had been timed “to divert attention from nonstop coverage of a critical book released by fired Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman” was “just another demonstration of [Trump’s] irresponsibility.”

“The fact that he’s using a security clearance of a former CIA director as a pawn in his public relations strategy, I think, is just so reflective of somebody who, quite frankly — I don’t want to use this term, maybe — but he’s drunk on power.”

Three reactions to Trump’s latest power grab to check out:

A night out, Vian Risanto

Tim Weiner at The New York Times: Trump Is Not a King.

In times of crisis, the leaders of the military and intelligence communities try to put aside their differences, often many and sundry, and work together for the good of the country. That’s what’s happening today with a remarkable group of retired generals, admirals and spymasters who have signed up for the resistance, telling the president of the United States, in so many words, that he is not a king.

Thirteen former leaders of the Pentagon, the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. have signed an open letter standing foursquare against President Trump, in favor of freedom of speech and, crucially, for the administration of justice. They have served presidents going back to Richard M. Nixon mostly without publicly criticizing the political conduct of a sitting commander in chief — until now.

They rebuked Mr. Trump for revoking the security clearance of John Brennan, the C.I.A. director under President Obama, in retaliation for his scalding condemnations and, ominously, for his role in “the rigged witch hunt” — the investigation into Russia’s attempt to fix the 2016 election, now in the hands of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. The president’s latest attempt to punish or silence everyone connected with the case, along with his fiercest critics in political life, will not be his last….

The president aims to rid the government and the airwaves of his real and imagined enemies, especially anyone connected with the Russia investigation. Somewhere Richard Nixon may be looking up and smiling. But aboveground, the special counsel is taking notes.

Lily, Vian Risanto

The list of the signatories to the open letter defending Mr. Brennan is striking for the length and breadth of their experience. I never expected to see William H. Webster — he’s 95 years old, served nine years as F. B.I. director under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, then four more as C.I.A. director under Reagan and President George H. W. Bush — sign a political petition like this. The same with Robert M. Gates, who entered the C.I.A. under President Lyndon Johnson, ran it under George H. W. Bush and served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. These are not the kind of men who march on Washington. These are men who were marched upon.

Read more at the NYT.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Trump Is Making the Department of Justice Into His Own Private Goon Squad.

One morning earlier this week during executive time, President Trump tweeted out his assessment of the Russia investigation. “The Rigged Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on as the ‘originators and founders’ of this scam continue to be fired and demoted for their corrupt and illegal activity,” he raged. “All credibility is gone from this terrible Hoax, and much more will be lost as it proceeds. No Collusion!”

Amid this torrent of lies, the president had identified one important truth. There has in fact been a series of firings and demotions of law-enforcement officials. The casualties include FBI director James Comey, deputy director Andrew McCabe, general counsel James Baker, and, most recently, agent Peter Strzok. Robert Mueller is probing the circumstances surrounding Trump’s firing of Comey for a possible obstruction-of-justice charge. But for Trump, obstruction of justice is not so much a discrete act as a way of life.

The slowly unfolding purge, one of the most vivid expressions of Trump’s governing ethos, has served several purposes for the president. First, it has removed from direct authority a number of figures Trump suspects would fail to provide him the personal loyalty he demanded from Comey and expects from all officials in the federal government. Second, it supplies evidence for Trump’s claim that he is being hounded by trumped-up charges — just look at all the crooked officials who have been fired! Third, it intimidates remaining officials with the threat of firing and public humiliation if they take any actions contrary to Trump’s interests. Simply carrying out the law now requires a measure of personal bravery.

Trump has driven home this last factor through a series of taunts directed at his vanquished foes. After McCabe enraged Trump by approving a flight home for Comey after his firing last May, the president told him to ask his wife (who had run for state legislature, unsuccessfully) how it felt to be a loser. This March, Trump fired McCabe and has since tweeted that Comey and McCabe are “clowns and losers.” The delight Trump takes in tormenting his victims, frequently calling attention to Strzok’s extramarital affair — as if Trump actually cared about fidelity! — underscores his determination to strip his targets of their dignity.

Click on the link to read the rest.

Bob Bauer at Lawfare: Richard Nixon, Donald Trump and the ‘Breach of Faith.’

Red couch, Vian Risanto

Journalist and presidential historian Theodore H. White thought of Richard Nixon’s downfall as the consequence of a “breach of faith.” Perhaps it was a “myth,” but an important one, that “is responsibility,” White wrote. But it was important nonetheless that Americans believe that this office, conferring extraordinary power, would “burn the dross from [the president’s] character; his duties would, by their very weight, make him a superior man, fit to sustain the burden of the law, wise and enduring enough to resist the clash of all selfish interests.”

A president who frustrates this expectation, failing to exhibit the transformative effects of oath and office, will have broken faith with the American public. And yet, White believed that Nixon’s presidency had been an aberration. “[M]any stupid, hypocritical and limited men had reached that office,” he wrote. “But all, when publicly summoned to give witness, chose to honor the legends” of what the office required of a president’s behavior in office.

White’s understanding of what constitutes a “breach of faith” is well worth recalling in considering the presidency of Donald Trump. As White understood it, the term encompassed more than illegal conduct or participation in its cover-up. It was a quality of leadership—or more to the point, the absence of critical qualities—that defined a president’s “betrayal” of his office. What elevated Nixon’s misdeeds to a fatal constitutional flaw, forcing him to surrender his presidency, was the breaking of faith with the American people. Nixon brushed the legal and ethical limits on pursuing his own political and personal welfare. He held grudges and was vindictive; he looked to destroy his enemies rather than simply prevailing over them in hard, clean fights. He lied repeatedly to spare himself the costs of truth-telling.

All of this may be said of Donald Trump, but for a key difference: Nixon was anxious to conceal much of this behavior from public view.

Much has been said and written about Trump’s leadership style: the chronic resort to false claims; the incessant tweeting of taunts and personal attacks on his adversaries; the open undermining of members of his own administration; the abandonment of norms; the refusal to credit, respect or support the impartial administration of justice where his personal or political interests are stake; and the use of office to promote his personal business enterprises. By now, almost two years into his administration, it is clear that this is who he is.

Like Nixon, Trump seems to believe that his behavior is justified by the extraordinary and ruthless opposition of an “establishment”—comprised mainly of the media, the opposition party, and intellectuals—to his election and his politics.

Please go read the rest at Lawfare.

That’s all I have for you today. Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.


Friday Reads: An Emotionally Exhausted Nation watches Despot Worship and a Frog March

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

My day started with a disaster. I knocked the coffee pot full of water straight to the floor where it shattered into pieces. I’m hopeless before coffee. Just ask any of the attendees of my early morning lectures. I did not plan on having to arrange a trip to Dollar Ghetto for a new one. Fortunately, my friend Michelle did that deed while I cleaned up the mess. I did not want to face the day with out my coffee. I knew I’d have the news on during my Friday grading session. Yes! Summer school started! At least my class size is it’s usual smaller size. But, it’s going to be an insane news day for me and many weary Americans.

So, I got about a half a cup of coffee in when the news broke that Manafort’s ass is in jail and he’s facing obstruction of justice charges which are a BFD. Bye Felicia!

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will await his trial for foreign lobbying crimes from jail.

Two weeks after Robert Mueller’s prosecutors dropped new accusations of witness tampering on him, a federal judge Friday revoked Manafort’s current bail, which allowed him out on house arrest.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s order marks an end to months of attempts from Manafort to lighten his house arrest restrictions after he was charged and pleaded not guilty to foreign lobbying violations.
Three US marshals led Manafort out of the courtroom into the prisoner holding area immediately after the judge’s ruling. He was not placed in handcuffs. Before he disappeared through the door, he turned toward his wife and supporters and gave a stilted wave.
Minutes later, a marshal returned to give his wife, Kathleen, still standing in the courtroom’s front row, Manafort’s wallet, belt and the burgundy tie he wore Friday.

We’ve got one more court appearance today by Micheal Cohen. I stocked up on popcorn and I have red wine for later. We have some interesting gossip on that front. Cohen appears to be signal willingness to cooperate and KKKremlin Caligula told the press that Cohen is no longer his lawyer.

President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen has indicated to family and friends he is willing to cooperate with federal investigators to alleviate the pressure on himself and his family, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Cohen has expressed anger with the treatment he has gotten from the President, who has minimized his relationship with Cohen, and comments from the President’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the source said. The treatment has left him feeling isolated and more open to cooperating, the source said.
Asked by reporters Friday if he was worried about Cohen cooperating, Trump said, “I did nothing wrong, nothing wrong.” He also said he hasn’t spoken with Cohen “in a long time,” adding, “I always liked Michael and he’s a good person.”

CBS News reported Thursday that Cohen believes Trump and his allies are turning against him.

Again, tRump is indicating Cohen was just a covfefe boy and isn’t his lawyer.

President Trump on Friday sought distance from Michael Cohen, his longtime personal attorney, who is under criminal investigation in New York.

“I haven’t spoken to Michael in a long time,” the president told reporters outside of the White House.

“No, he’s not my lawyer anymore, but I always liked Michael. And he’s a good person,” Trump added.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told Politico last month that Cohen was not representing Trump, following an FBI raid in April on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room.

Trump was furious over the FBI raid, calling it a “disgrace” and “an attack on our country in a true sense.”

Sing little birds! Sing!

Meanwhile, industrialized gaslighting and weaponized lying emanates like nuclear waste from the White House. We’re also getting the impression KKKremlin Caligula masturbates daily to the pinup boyz in Despots Today.

So the first shocking quote this morning was this: “Trump says he wants “my people” to sit at attention for him like people do for Kim Jong Un”.

President Trump declared in a spur-of-the-moment interview with “Fox and Friends” Friday morning that he wants people to sit at attention for him like they do for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

It was just one of the surprising things the president said in the roughly 50 minutes he spent on the White House lawn speaking to the Fox News show and other reporters in a surprise appearance. The spur-of-the-moment White House lawn interview was, in the memory of those present, unprecedented.

Here are the highlights from Friday morning’s surprise free-for-all press availability and TV interview:

Kim stands accused of leading a murderous regime that starves its own people. But Mr. Trump has heaped praise on Kim since meeting with him in Singapore, saying repeatedly that the two have “good chemistry.”

“Hey, he is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head,” Mr. Trump told Fox News’ Steve Doocy on the White House lawn Friday. “Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

Pressed by a reporter about those remarks moments later, Mr. Trump said he was “kidding.”

F”I’m kidding, you don’t understand sarcasm,” the president said.

This latest Burning Despotman him so charged up he’s gung ho on a similar Putin Summit.

Fresh off his showy Singapore summit with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, President Trump is pushing his team to arrange another dramatic one-on-one meeting, this time with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, as soon as this summer. Negotiations with the Kremlin have bee under way for weeks. “There’s no stopping him,” a senior Administration official familiar with the internal deliberations said. “He’s going to do it. He wants to have a meeting with Putin, so he’s going to have a meeting with Putin.”

Ever since Putin’s reëlection to another six-year term in March, Trump has been pressing for a Putin summit, dismissing advisers’ warnings about the political dangers of such a meeting, given the ongoing special counsel investigation into whether Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia as it interfered in the 2016 U.S. election on Trump’s behalf. With the Russia allegations swirling, Trump never had the formal meeting he wanted with Putin last year—settling for just two brief encounters on the sidelines of international gatherings—but he has clearly never given up on his campaign vision of closer ties with the Russian strongman, whose autocratic rule he has often praised. The North Korea summit this week, which Trump jubilantly declared a “historic” encounter that will lead to the end of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, has likely sealed the deal for an equally high-profile Putin meeting. Now Russia experts inside and outside the U.S. government are bracing themselves for a formal announcement of the summit, which is likely to happen as early as July, when Trump will be in Europe for the annual meeting of the nato alliance that Putin considers his country’s mortal enemy.

And, of course, our policies are going beyond Orwellian to throwbacks to our worst acts in history. From WAPO: “Sessions cites Bible passage used to defend slavery in defense of separating immigrant families”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday used a Bible verse to defend his department’s policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the border from Mexico, suggesting that God supports the government in separating immigrant parents from their children.

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said during a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Ind. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”

Government officials occasionally refer to the Bible as a line of argument — take, for instance, the Republicans who have quoted 2 Thessalonians (“if a man will not work, he shall not eat”) to justify more stringent food stamps requirements.

But the verse that Sessions cited, Romans 13, is an unusual choice.

“There are two dominant places in American history when Romans 13 is invoked,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. “One is during the American Revolution [when] it was invoked by loyalists, those who opposed the American Revolution.”

The other, Fea said, “is in the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong. I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.”

Scott Pruitt’s grift and quid pro scam is moving right along coupled with his plan to roll back all kinds of laws in place to protect the environment. Say goodbye to the 21st and 20th century in America!

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is expected on Friday to send President Trump a detailed legal proposal to dramatically scale back an Obama-era regulation on water pollution, according to a senior E.P.A. official familiar with the plan. It is widely expected to be one of his agency’s most significant regulatory rollback efforts.

And, as soon as Monday, the same official said, Mr. Pruitt is expected to publish another major change: his agency’s legal proposal to gut President Barack Obama’s rule to reduce climate-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes. That proposal risks triggering a court battle with California and raises the prospect that the American car market could be split in two, with different groups of states enforcing different pollution rules.

Mr. Pruitt’s two moves come as he is dogged by allegations of legal and ethical violations and is seeking to burnish his reputation in the eyes of his boss, the president. While Mr. Pruitt has initiated the rollback of dozens of environmental rules over the past year and a half, the latest one-two push comes as he is battling allegations that he improperly used his government post to secure a job for his wife.

This week, the chorus of critics calling for Mr. Pruitt’s resignation swelled to include the conservative National Review, which once championed his appointment. And on Wednesday, Mr. Pruitt’s onetime political mentor, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, told the conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham that Mr. Pruitt needed to move past his management blunders and that it may be “time for him to go.”

There seems to be not one iota of conscientious or morality in this twit. From WAPO: “Energy PR executive helped get Scott Pruitt and his family Rose Bowl tickets”.

The head of an Oklahoma-based public relations firm with a large energy practice helped Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt secure tickets for his family to go to the Rose Bowl in January, agency officials confirmed Friday.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) detailed the transaction Friday morning in a letter he sent to Renzi Stone, a member of Oklahoma University’s Board of Regents and head of the communications firm Saxum, requesting information “regarding your actions in assisting EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in obtaining highly sought-after tickets to attend the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.” The Oklahoma Sooners played the Georgia Bulldogs that day in the national semifinals.

Cummings cites Millan Hupp, Pruitt’s former director of scheduling and advance, who told House Oversight Committee staffers during an interview last month that Stone had provided Pruitt’s family with the coveted tickets. EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox confirmed Friday that Stone had put Pruitt in contact with Oklahoma University’s athletics department so that he could purchase the tickets “at face value.”

Trump’s popularity has plummeted since his election in all fifty states no matter what he says.. He’s less popular overall but it really varies state to state. He’s been pacing on the White House lawn and attacking the FBI and Comey over the release of the IG Report.

There were several juicy revelations in the report, including critical insight into former FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. But Trump chose to first rebuke the text exchange between two former agents, in which former agent Peter Strzok said “we’ll stop” Trump from winning the election.

I have no idea who buys Trumps’ complaints other than his idiot cult followers since TWO Comey actions basically elected him. But, the right wing state media is desperate to keep him in office.

This report directly plays to those of us that believe–along with the reasonable data and minds supporting this–that Trump’s presidency is illegitimate. My guess is that trump will spend days ruminating over this and might sing his own little song of total

Matthew Miller is right when he says that this is infuriating.

But couple that with the fact that 23 days later, on October 28th, Comey sent a letter to Congress announcing that the Clinton email investigation had been re-opened. Apparently, the windows hadn’t closed for an official statement on that one.

There are two other ways Comey could have gone. He could have applied his standard on the Trump/Russia investigation to the one about Clinton’s emails and not announced either one. Or, he could have made statements about both of them. But he chose the lopsided route that gave Trump a pass and hurt Clinton. Data guru Nate Silver documented the results.

What a clusterfuck!

So, all day we’re going to be deep in birdie do do. Let’s hope a few have useful songs to sing! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Wednesday Morning Takedown

“Tis the infirmity of his age, yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.”

JJ’s schedule is a bit full today so I thought I’d pop up with a bit of a news dump to give her some space and breathing room.  I personally see no way for the current administration to get through all this latest Russia news.  It will take time to clear the Trumps out of the White House but it will happen.

Here’s some of today’s headlines.  It’s all Russia basically. It’s not going away.

From McClatchy:  Trump-Russia investigators probe Jared Kushner-run digital operation.

Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries.

Also under scrutiny is the question of whether Trump associates or campaign aides had any role in assisting the Russians in publicly releasing thousands of emails, hacked from the accounts of top Democrats, at turning points in the presidential race, mainly through the London-based transparency web site WikiLeaks,

From Phillip Rucker and WAPO: ‘Category 5 hurricane’: White House under siege by Trump Jr.’s Russia revelations.

The White House has been thrust into chaos after days of ever-worsening revelations about a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a lawyer characterized as representing the Russian government, as the president fumes against his enemies and senior aides circle one another with suspicion, according to top White House officials and outside advisers.

President Trump — who has been hidden from public view since returning last weekend from a divisive international summit — is enraged that the Russia cloud still hangs over his presidency and is exasperated that his eldest son and namesake has become engulfed by it, said people who have spoken with him this week.

The disclosure that Trump Jr. met with a Russian attorney, believing he would receive incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s effort to boost his father’s candidacy, has set back the administration’s faltering agenda and rattled the senior leadership team.

On Wednesday, in his first Twitter posts since the email disclosures, Trump defended his son as “open, transparent and innocent” and repeated past claims that his administration is the subject of a “witch hunt” fueled by leakers.

Kevin Hall writing for McClatchy: Lawyer that met Don Jr. had ties to Russian government, spy agency.

The Russian lawyer at the center of Donald Trump Jr.’s scandal over possible collusion with Kremlin election meddlers has denied she has ties to the Russian government.

But she threatened action by the Russian security service, the FSB, against a rights group working to expose corruption by Russian government officials, according to information in the possession of U.S. prosecutors who had been investigating a large and complex money laundering case involving Russian funds.

The New York Times first reported over the weekend that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya met in June 2016 with Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law Jared Kushner and incoming campaign chief Paul Manafort at Trump Tower.

In emails, an acquaintance billed the meeting as an opportunity for Trump Jr. to obtain — courtesy of the Russian government — damaging material about Hillary Clinton, his father’s Democratic rival. Trump Jr. responded excitedly: “If it’s what you say I love it,” he wrote back. The emails were released Tuesday by Trump Jr. as The New York Times was about to print them.

From Politico:  White House aides feeling ‘helpless’ as Trump Jr. scandal explodes

White House aides feel blindsided by the bombshell revelations around Donald Trump Jr.’s campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer, while the president is using his relatively light schedule to watch TV and fume about the latest scandal, according to interviews with half a dozen White House officials and advisers.

Unlike prior Russia-related controversies, the White House is not minimizing the political ramifications of Trump’s eldest son’s decision to meet with the Kremlin-linked lawyer after being offered information that he was told would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

But top West Wing aides are exasperated by their limited ability to steer the damage control and the risk that more damaging news has yet to emerge.

One Trump adviser said the White House was “essentially helpless” because the conduct happened during an “anything goes” campaign that had few rules. This person said he had spoken to several people in the White House on Tuesday and that “none of them knew anything about Donald Trump Jr.’s meetings,” despite the fact that top adviser Jared Kushner was also present for the controversial Trump Tower sit-down.

Many of the White House aides had previously dismissed the Russia stories as “conspiracy bullshit,” this person said, but that this development was not being dismissed as that.

Martin Sutovec / Slovakia

Meanwhile, Jared and Ivanka want Priebus gone as reported in The Hill.

Three of the most influential figures in President Trump’s inner circle are lobbying the president to oust his Chief of Staff Reince PriebusThe Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Trump’s wife Melania, eldest daughter and senior adviser Ivanka and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner have privately pushed him to shake up his West Wing staff, most notably by replacing Priebus.

Priebus, who served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee before joining Trump’s White House, has been rumored for months to be on his way out as the president’s top assistant.

and Kremlin Caligula has reached peak catatonia. This is beginning to remind me of King Lear,

Donald Trump’s public schedule has gone blank once again, as the amorphous Republican retreats behind the walls of the White House.

His strange disappearing act comes as Trump’s family becomes deeply embroiled in the Russia collusion story, and while the Republican Party is trying to generate momentum to pass its health care bill.

Instead of having a full schedule in the wake of a multiple-day trip last week to the G20 summit in Europe, Trump has disappeared. He hasn’t had an official public, stateside appearance in more than a week.

The current vanishing act stands in stark contrast to the way Trump routinely made public appearances during his first 100 days in office, generating headlines with executive order ceremonies, fake signing ceremonies, and round table meetings with business leaders.

The events were widely covered in the press, which helped the White House project the image of a robust, hard-working president. “Top White House aides even bragged about media access to the President,” CNN once noted.

But no more.

Speaking of King Lear, this is a blog after my own heart. I’ve loved Shakespeare since Fifth Grade.

Shakespeare knew of other Trumps. In King Lear, Regan says of her father, “Tis the infirmity of his age, yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.”

Trump comes into office riding a wave of adrenaline, of enormous rallies of cheering supporters who love his brand of anarchy, his wealth, his refusal to be hemmed in by convention. He comes into office riding his wave of promises and his destruction of his adversaries. He is the master of a singular moment in American history, a President whose election received the assistance of a former KGB Lieutenant Colonel, a dictator who has ordered the murder of journalists and political opponents.

Then Trump discovers that he will be held to his words, that he has created a fervent, attentive opposition, that his actions as President will be hemmed in by precedent, by legislation, by law, by officeholders who owe him nothing, by a free press. Recently he spoke of his life before becoming President: “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.’*

He strikes out at anyone who questions or opposes him. Instead of building alliances, he destroys any possibility of them. He is not King. No one told him he would not be King

This story is breaking so fast that we should probably consider this a live blog for the day.

Love you JJ and hugs to your Mom!


Friday Reads: Our National Nightmare continues …

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

We’re going further down the Nixon road to impeachment hearings except we’re not getting rid of Indiana Spiro Pence first.  It’s difficult to imagine who is going to be # 46 at this point.  Kremlin Caligula appears to be headed for the Nixon paranoia zone–if you read his tweets–while continuing to do untold damage to the basic functioning of our government and society in the mean time.  It’s difficult to find a place to start every time I blog these days.

This headline just about knocked me off my chair.  I’m beginning to think that Trump thinks all Black Americans grew up in subsidized housing and therefore are experts on it.  I don’t know how else to explain this.  Here’s the headline from NYDN: ‘President Trump chooses inexperienced woman who planned his son Eric’s wedding to run N.Y. federal housing programs’.   This follows his odd appointment of Dr. Ben Carsons as the head of HUD.  It speaks volumes about what he thinks about the life experiences of African American to me.

She’s arranged tournaments at Trump golf courses, served as the liaison to the Trump family during his presidential campaign, and even arranged Eric Trump’s wedding.

Now President Trump has appointed longtime loyalist Lynne Patton — who has zero housing experience and claims a law degree the school says she never earned — to run the office that oversees federal housing programs in New York.

Patton was appointed Wednesday to head up the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Region II, which includes New York and New Jersey, where she’ll oversee distribution of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Patton’s tight relationship with the Trump clan dates back to 2009, when she began serving as the family’s “event planner.”

“Responsible for organizing, executing and assisting with upscale events and celebrity golf tournaments,” her LinkedIn profile says. “Handle celebrity talent acquisition for various marketing projects with a specialized digital marketing agency, philanthropic events and golf tournaments.”

He seems to value whatever he thinks loyalty is over competence which explains the series of failed businesses his left in his wake.  Charles Pierce has some interesting analysis in his Trumplandia Chronicles.

The deconstruction of the administrative state continues apace, and descends to low comedy, unless you happen to live in federally subsidized housing in the city of New York. Then, it’s not funny at all.

No. It’s not funny at all.

Meanwhile, we have more headlines about the Griftopia set out by the first family of greed and thuggery.  Jared Kushner’s business dealings are under investigation by the Mueller team. This should get interesting.  This may unravel a number of money laundering scams.  It’s likely to involve offshore banking havens.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, as part of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

FBI agents and federal prosecutors have also been examining the financial dealings of other Trump associates, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Carter Page, who was listed as a foreign-policy adviser for the campaign.

The Washington Post previously reported that investigators were scrutinizing meetings that Kushner held with Russians in December — first with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and then with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a state-owned Russian development bank. At the time of that report, it was not clear that the FBI was investigating Kushner’s business dealings.

The officials who described the financial focus of the investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Chris Britt / Illinois Times

There’s a dream team of specialists going after the Trump Criminal Enterprises and it’s a doozy.  The woman investigating money laundering has already dug into the ugly world of Paul Manafort.  The Vox article highlights the experience of both the Mueller team and the few lawyers that are willing to take on the Trump Syndicate’s defense.

In a spartan office at the Justice Department, a team of experienced prosecutors is conducting a rapidly expanding probe into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia — and into whether President Donald Trump himself may be guilty of obstruction of justice.

Led by special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, the team includes heavy hitters like Michael Dreeben, an expert on criminal law who has argued more than 100 cases in front of the Supreme Court, and Andrew Weissmann, a seasoned prosecutor who’s spent his career going after organized crime.

Adding to the firepower are James Quarles, a former assistant special prosecutor for the Watergate investigation; Jeannie Rhee, a former senior adviser to former Attorney General Eric Holder and a white-collar crime specialist; and Aaron Zebley, a cybersecurity expert who spent decades in the FBI before joining a private practice.

The appointments come amid growing signs that Trump himself is in Mueller’s crosshairs: On Tuesday night, the Washington Post reported that the special counsel was directly investigating whether the president’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey was an effort to obstruct justice.

The Mueller team is setting up interviews with the nation’s top intelligence officials to find out whether Trump had asked them to try to persuade Comey to drop the FBI’s probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to the Post. The New York Times, meanwhile, reported Tuesday night that Mueller was also looking into possible money laundering by Trump campaign staffers and associates.

The fact that Mueller’s team can conduct such a broad probe — one apparently looking into every possible angle of the Trump-Russia scandal, from possible financial crimes to outright collusion with the Kremlin — is a reflection of just how much legal firepower he has assembled.

Mike Luckovich / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Mueller Team now includes 13 lawyers.

The special counsel’s investigators are looking into questions of Russian interference in last year’s election, and plan to speak to senior intelligence officials, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

Mueller is also investigating whether President Donald Trump attempted to obstruct justice, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The Post reported that the interviews represent a widening of the probe to include looking into whether the President obstructed justice in suggesting to his former FBI Director James Comey that Comey drop the investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, as well as for his firing of Comey.

Mueller’s investigators have asked for information and will talk to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers, according to a source, who said they have also sought information from recently retired NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett. Coats and Rogers have testified that they were not pressured by the Trump administration.

The interviews are some of the first indications of the efforts of Mueller’s newly assembled team

Trump is tweeting his life away and likely many lines of potential defense.  It seriously reminds me of the final days of the Nixon White House.  I keep wondering if some one is going to have to stop him from nuking the Clinton Library at some point.  He’s back attacking the Hillary Clinton again as well as fuming about the number of people taking a look at his actions and words.  At some point, we will start to see his tax statements and his financial statements.  This could be one of those things that goes down as a case study in psychology as much as politics.

President Trump issued an eyebrow-raising tweet Friday morning.

“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” he wrote.

Trump’s tweet comes less than a day after another strange statement from a senior official in his administration.

On Thursday night, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued a statement in which he cautioned Americans against believing stories about the DOJ Russia investigation that cited unnamed sources:

“Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country – let alone the branch or agency of government – with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.”

Though Rosenstein did not explain what prompted the statement, many political observers connected it to recent reports that special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Department of Justice investigation into Russian election meddling, is also investigating whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice — though USA Today also noted that it came shortly after a Washington Post report that Mueller’s team is also investigating Jared Kushner’s business dealings.

Indiana Spiro Pence has lawyered up.  You absolutely cannot convince me–at this point–that he does not know where the bodies are buried. His Sargent Schulz act isn’t going to go far but he did get a good, experienced lawyer.  He’s also fundraising today for his PAC which means he’s going to be paying top dollar for said lawyer.  They go for about $1000+ an hour these days.

The night before, on the eve of Trump’s first foreign trip—and Pence’s private speech—two news outlets published a pair of eyebrow-raising stories that reflected mounting anxiety within the vice president’s inner circle. The sourcing and strategy seemed clearly choreographed. First, both articles aimed to distance Pence from the chaos engulfing Trump’s White House; CNN quoted “a senior administration adviser” who said Pence “looks tired” and never expected such mayhem on the job, while NBC cited “a source close to the administration” who complained of a “pattern” of Pence being kept in the dark on matters relating to the scandal-plagued former national security adviser, Mike Flynn. Second, both stories were authored by former Pence “embeds,” reporters who had spent months traveling with him and are expertly sourced among the vice president’s tight-knit team. And third, the news accounts cast Pence in a sympathetic light at the very moment when the D.C. media was, for the first time, beginning to hammer him. The New York Timeshad reported the day earlier that Flynn informed the Pence-run transition team before Inauguration Day that he was under federal investigation; the implications for Pence were staggering, and the White House categorically denied the story. But Pence had also courted trouble the week earlier by insisting that Trump’s decision to fire Comey was based on the deputy attorney general’s recommendation—a claim Trump promptly contradicted in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, embarrassing the vice president and sending an awkward question echoing around Washington: Is Pence being kept out of the loop, or is he being deceitful?

Yeah. That’s the question alright.  Pence is circling the paleoconservative wagons.

As the Russia investigation continues to expand, for example, Pence took steps this week to protect himself, hiring former U.S. attorney and Virginia attorney general Richard Cullen as his own outside legal counsel, just as Trump has retained attorney Marc Kasowitz.

The vice president’s advisers are also discussing bringing on an additional aide to help with strategy — likely either Nick Ayers, a senior strategist to Pence who is chairman of the vice president’s newly launched super PAC; Marc Short, who currently heads up legislative affairs in the White House; or Marty Obst, the former manager of Pence’s Indiana gubernatorial campaign who is executive director of the super PAC.

The heat is also on the Justice Department’s Deputy Attorney General who released that odd statement on leaks.  It sounds like it came from Trump more than a seasoned lawyer.  Every one is still trying to decode it.  Let me just repeat it so you can see it stand alone.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia probe due to Jeff Sessions’ recusal, released an unorthodox statement Thursday night:

“Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country — let alone the branch or agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations.

The general reaction,summed up by the NY Times’ Maggie Haberman, “Have literally never seen a statement like this.”

Rosenstein may be on his way to recusing himself.

The senior Justice Department official with ultimate authority over the special counsel’s probe of Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election has privately acknowledged to colleagues that he may have to recuse himself from the matter, which he took charge of only after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ own recusal, sources tell ABC News.

Those private remarks from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are significant because they reflect the widening nature of the federal probe, which now includes a preliminary inquiry into whether President Donald Trump attempted to obstruct justice when he allegedly tried to curtail the probe and then fired James Comey as FBI director.

Rosenstein, who authored an extensive and publicly-released memorandum recommending Comey’s firing, raised the possibility of his recusal during a recent meeting with Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the Justice Department’s new third-in-command, according to sources.

Although Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to lead the federal probe, he still makes the final decisions about resources, personnel and — if necessary — any prosecutions.

In the recent meeting with Brand, Rosenstein told her that if he were to recuse himself, she would have to step in and take over those responsibilities. She was sworn-in little more than a month ago.

This seems like the summer of 1973 on steroids.  We shall see.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday: Live Blog–James Comey Testimony


Good Morning!

James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee will begin soon. This day is likely to go down in history as the beginning of the end of the treasonous Trump administration. Please join us in documenting the hearing and our reactions in real time. Here is Comey’s opening statement, for reference.

Some relevant reads

Philip Allen Lacovara at The Washington Post: I helped prosecute Watergate. Comey’s statement is sufficient evidence for an obstruction of justice case.

Philip Allen Lacovara, a former U.S. deputy solicitor general in the Justice Department, served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski.

In prepared testimony released on the eve of his appearance Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI director James B. Comey placed President Trump in the gunsights of a federal criminal investigation, laying out evidence sufficient for a case of obstruction of justice.

Comey proved what Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers carefully avoided admitting in their testimony on Wednesday — that the president had specifically attempted to shut off at least a major piece of what Trump calls the “Russia thing,” the investigation into the misleading statements by fired national security adviser Michael Flynn concerning his role in dealings with the Russians. This kind of presidential intervention in a pending criminal investigation has not been seen, to my knowledge, since the days of Richard Nixon and Watergate.

Comey’s statement meticulously detailed a series of interventions by Trump soliciting his assistance in getting the criminal probe dropped. These details are red meat for a prosecutor. Presumably, the team of experienced criminal prosecutors that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has assembled will be following up on this crucial testimony, which rests on contemporaneous memorandums that Comey was sufficiently alarmed to prepare immediately after receiving the president’s requests.

That both Coats and Rogers denied that they “felt pressured” provides no comfort for the president’s position. The obstruction of justice statute prohibits not only successful interference with pending criminal investigations but also any use of “threats” to “endeavor” to obstruct an investigation. Thus, it is the attempt or objective that is criminal, and Coats and Rogers were apparently unable to deny that the president had solicited their interference in the pending FBI investigation. If Coats and Rogers did not yield to the endeavor, kudos for them, but that is no excuse for the president.

Moreover, Comey’s testimony also supplies the element of “threats.” He vividly describes a dinner with the president on Jan. 27, which the president surprisingly limited to just the two of them. The president asked Comey whether he liked his job and wanted to continue in it, even though, before the inauguration, the president had asked Comey to stay on the job, and Comey had eagerly accepted.

Leaving little doubt about the price of continued retention, the president twice, according to Comey, told him that he expected “loyalty” from Comey, just as he did from everyone else around him.

Head over to the WaPo to read the rest.

The New York Times: ‘Must-See TV’: Free Drinks and Canceled Meetings for Comey’s Testimony.

The schedule has been cleared and the popcorn readied at Evergreen Partners, a strategic communications firm in central New Jersey, where the rule for employees on Thursday morning is simple: No client talk while James B. Comey is speaking.

“We canceled meetings when we saw what time it was on,” said the firm’s president, Karen J. Kessler, who is planning a cheese-and-crackers spread by her office’s 60-inch screen. “It’s must-see TV.”

Americans do not agree on much these days. But millions are expected to pause on Thursday to take in a spectacle already being compared to other political-cultural touchstones, like the Army-McCarthy hearings and Anita Hill’s testimony about Clarence Thomas. This time, Mr. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, will dish to the Senate Intelligence Committee about President Trump, the man who fired him.

By the time details from Mr. Comey’s prepared remarks surfaced on Wednesday — revealing an anxious president pressing his F.B.I. director about a continuing investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russia — the hearing had leapt from Beltway curiosity to required viewing, a cliffhanger episode of the nation’s real-life reality show.

C-Span, this is not. (Although C-Span will be covering it.) Every national broadcast network — along with an alphabet soup of cable stations from CNBC to HLN — plans to carry the 10 a.m. hearing live. Bars in Houston, San Francisco and Washington are opening early. Schoolteachers are remaking lesson plans to discuss the testimony instead.

Adding to the anticipation: Mr. Trump is expected to be among the viewers, and there is speculation that he may respond to Mr. Comey on Twitter in real-time — “Mystery Science Theater 3000” in the West Wing.

“They really should declare a national holiday,” said Sally Quinn, the journalist and the doyenne of Washington’s social circuit, “since no work is going to get done.”

But this is serious business, and here are a couple of links to serious discussions of Comey’s statement.

Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare: Initial Comments on James Comey’s Written Testimony.

Jack Goldsmith at Lawfare: Two Reflections on the Comey Statement.

I’m planning to watch the entire hearing and re-read the recent posts about it on the company website of North Shore Advisory Inc.. The cable networks have already begun their coverage. Even the broadcast networks are cancelling programming to show the Comey testimony, which begins at 10AM. Will Republicans continue to support Trump after this? Probably. But how much longer can they last before they accept the inevitable?

Please post your thoughts and any recommended links in the comment thread. And away we go!