Wednesday Reads: Strange Creatures then and now

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

JJ is spending time with her mother this week so BB and I will be taking her days so she can focus entirely on her journey at hand.  Please keep JJ, her mother, and their family in your kind thoughts as they go through this difficult transition.

Delphyne posted the work of this artist on JJ’s page earlier in the week. I loved it so much and I knew JJ’s day was the perfect day to post it.  So, thank you Delphyne for the great visual find on My Modern Met.  Links to Robert Benavidez’s pinata art, his shows and his gallery are in the article.  More can be found at the link clear at the end.  This is Mr. Benavidez’s site.  He also makes some gorgeous sugar skulls.

Contemporary artist Roberto Benavidez finds inspiration in imagery and literature from hundreds of years ago. Influenced by works like Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, he manages to fuse the famous source materials with elements that are significant to his own life. Benavidez grew up in rural southern Texas where the party piñata is commonplace. He uses the crepe paper creations as the basis for his sculptures. In the past, Benavidez recreated the strange beasts found in Bosch’s triptych but has more recently turned to the Luttrell Psalter, a famous medieval manuscript.

Among the writing in the Luttrell Psalter are illustrations of saints and Bible stories. They go beyond everyday scenes, however, and depict many fantastical hybrid creatures—a fact that Benavidez chooses to highlight. He calls this series Illuminated Piñata, and he crafts the three-dimensional beasts contained within the pages. They include oddities like a hare with a giraffe-like neck and hooved feet, as well as a dotted rodent with only one back leg and a tongue that looks like a tree branch.

The Trump Family Crime Syndicate and Paul Manafort’s jail time are squarely on page one.   ABC news has the information on today’s sentencing of Manafort in the DC court. This is reported by Allison Pecorin: “Paul Manafort’s sentence in DC case means he faces 81 months total behind bars.”

Paul Manafort was sentenced to 73 months in his Washington, D.C., unregistered foreign lobbying and witness tampering case on Wednesday.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced him to 60 months on the first count, running concurrently to 30 months of the 47-month sentence imposed in his Virginia case last week.

She also sentenced him to 13 months on the witness tampering count to be served consecutively with the count one sentence and his Virginia sentence.

That would mean an additional 43 months overall, bringing the total time he faces behind bars, including the nine months that he has already served in Virginia, to 81 months.

Put another way, the combined sentences of 90 months amount to seven-and-a-half years.

The judge also ordered Manafort to pay one-time restitution of $6.16 million to the Internal Revenue Service, the same amount he was sentenced to pay in the Virginia case.

The sentencing in the D.C. case is the latest chapter in the former Trump campaign chairman’s year-and-a-half-long legal battle.

The truly exciting headline comes from the New York Times where we learn that New York state is going after Manafort.  This is great because he cannot be pardoned by Trump in these crimes and if Trump does pardon him he will lose his 5th amendment privileges in these matters.  This is the headline from William K Rashbaum.  New York Charges Manafort With 16 Crimes. If He’s Convicted, Trump Can’t Pardon Him.”

Paul J. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, has been charged in New York with mortgage fraud and more than a dozen other state felonies, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., said Wednesday, an effort to ensure he will still face prison time if Mr. Trump pardons him for his federal crimes.

News of the indictment came shortly after Mr. Manafort was sentenced to his second federal prison term in two weeks; he now faces a combined sentence of more than seven years for tax and bank fraud and conspiracy in two related cases brought by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

The president has broad power to issue pardons for federal crimes, but has no such authority in state cases.

While Mr. Trump has not said he intends to pardon his former campaign chairman, he has often spoken of his power to pardon and has defended Mr. Manafort on a number of occasions, calling him a “brave man.”

The new state charges against Mr. Manafort are contained in a 16-count indictment that alleges a yearlong scheme in which he falsified business records to obtain millions of dollars in loans, Mr. Vance said in a news release after the federal sentencing.

“No one is beyond the law in New York,” he said, adding that the investigation by the prosecutors in his office had “yielded serious criminal charges for which the defendant has not been held accountable.”

The indictment grew out of an investigation that began in 2017, when the Manhattan prosecutors began examining loans Mr. Manafort received from two banks.

Last week, a grand jury hearing evidence in the case voted to charge Mr. Manafort with residential mortgage fraud, conspiracy, falsifying business records and other charges. A lawyer for Mr. Manafort could not immediately be reached for comment.

Another Manafort tale–showing the activities of a perpetual thug–has come across the desk of Betsy Woodruff writing for The Daily Beast. “The Wacky Tale of Paul Manafort, Anne Hathaway’s Fraudster Ex-Boyfriend, and a Vatican Land Scam. Manafort and his then-partner talked about their plans to do business with the Italian who lured in investors with phony claims about sweetheart deals on the church’s real estate.”

According to two people with knowledge of the conversations, Manafort and then-business partner Rick Davis said numerous times that they planned to go into business with a handsome Italian businessman named Raffaello Follieri, and that they expected to use his purported access to the Vatican to get a sweetheart deal on the Catholic Church’s real estate.

In 2008, Follieri pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering, as well as one conspiracy count. He was sentenced to more than four years in prison. The access he claimed to have to the Vatican was part of an elaborate, intercontinental scam that made international news and generated a tabloid feeding frenzy. Federal prosecutors said the Italian businessman, who dated actress Anne Hathaway for four years before his arrest, claimed to investors that he was the CFO of the Vatican and that he would use his connections in Rome to arrange lucrative real estate deals. He claimed the Vatican was eager to sell off unused properties to raise quick cash to help offset the costs related to its ballooning child sex abuse scandals, as New York magazine noted.

A host of political power-brokers got roped into Follieri’s scheme. The Wall Street Journal reported that he became close with Clinton ally Doug Band, and offered to help Hillary Clinton court Catholic voters in the lead-up to her 2008 presidential bid. Bill Clinton even invited him on stage at a Clinton Foundation event, per New York, to thank him for a donation commitment on which he never delivered. The Italian newspaper L’Immediato reportedthat American super-lobbyist Tony Podesta called him “un visionario.” And Sen. John McCain drew considerable heat after celebrating his 70th birthday aboard a yacht Follieri had rented, as The Nation reported. Hathaway was on hand for the festivities.

And according to New York, Follieri was staying at his parents’ apartment in Trump Tower when he got arrested.

Now, people with knowledge of Manafort’s businesses say he and Davis also looked to get in on Follieri’s purported Vatican real-estate fire sale.

The Vatican–and its bank–have been at the center of international crimes for about as long as it was invented by the Romans.

Boeing stock is not going to be worth much for awhile given the tragedy that occured in Ethiopia earlier in the week and the apparent cover up of problems with its newest version of the 737 max.  Politico has this headline with the story written by Kathryn A. Wolfe: “Pilots complained at least 5 times about Boeing 737 MAX problems, records show”.

Pilots in the U.S. complained at least 5 times in recent months about problems controlling their Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets during critical moments of flight, federal records show, adding to questions raised by deadly crashes involving that model of jetliner in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

Some of the incidents appear to involve the same anti-stall system that has come up as a potential cause of October’s Indonesia crash, according to a review of a Federal Aviation Administration incident database that lets pilots self-report trouble. Investigators have not said whether the same technology had emerged as a possible cause of Sunday’s crash in Ethiopia, although both involved airliners that mysteriously plunged to the ground minutes after takeoff.

For one U.S. incident in November 2018, a commercial airline pilot reported that during takeoff, the autopilot was engaged and “within two to three seconds the aircraft pitched nose down,” in a manner steep enough to trigger the plane’s warning system, which sounded “Don’t sink, don’t sink!”

After the autopilot was disengaged, the plane climbed as normal, according to the report.

The reports are submitted anonymously to help improve reporting of safety problems and so do not include any information about which airline was involved. In addition, though the reports have a spot to note what airport was involved, often pilots do not fill out that field.

The Trump Administration and its appointees have really done a job on this.  The FAA doesn’t have a real director and the Secretary of Transportation is best known for being Mitch McConnell’s beard. Plus, Trump evidently took a phone call from the head of Boeing who asked he not ground the jetline. Boeing’s CEO has recently become a Mar a Loga crony along with the Maraloga Day Spa Madam and other grifters.

This is from WAPO:  “FAA doubles down on decision not to ground the Boeing 737 Max, as counterparts around the world have done” with several bylines.

U.S. aviation safety officials found themselves virtually alone Tuesday, after their counterparts in Europe and around the world ordered hundreds of Boeing aircraft grounded while investigators work to find the cause of an Ethio­pian Airlines crash that killed 157 this week.

The Trump administration resisted bipartisan calls to temporarily suspend use of the Boeing 737 Max 8, even as President Trump consulted by phone with the besieged company’s CEO.

With the European Union and others following China’s move to bar flights by some of the American aviation giant’s most important airplanes, former transportation safety officials said the Federal Aviation Administration risked losing its status as the world’s aviation safety leader. India became the latest country to ground the aircraft late Tuesday, declaring that none of the planes will be allowed to enter or transit airspace starting Wednesday afternoon. Hong Kong, New Zealand and United Arab Emirates have followed suit.

Is this quid pro quo and pay for play or what?

Mr. Trump jumped into the fray on Tuesday morning, posting Twitter messages deploring what he described as the technological complexities of modern commercial aircraft. “Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT,” Mr. Trump said. Much of what he asserted, however, was misleading or lacked context, aviation experts said.

The Boeing chief, Mr. Muilenburg, in his conversation with the president reiterated that the plane was safe, outlining the company’s position. He also updated Mr. Trump on the status of the 737 Max models. The call came after the Mr. Trump’s tweets, but was in the works the night before, according to one of the people.

Mr. Muilenburg has worked to cultivate a relationship with the president, although it has sometimes been uneasy.

Shortly after he was elected president, Mr. Trump assailed Boeing for the estimated cost of its program to build new Air Force One planes that serve as mobile command centers for the president.

The “costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter a month after winning the election but before he took office. A couple of weeks later, Mr. Muilenburg visited Mr. Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., to try to smooth things over.

“It was a terrific conversation,” Mr. Muilenburg told reporters after the meeting, explaining that he had given Mr. Trump “my personal commitment” that Boeing would build new Air Force One planes for less than the $4 billion estimate. Weeks after the conversation, Boeing donated $1 million to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee. The company had donated the same amount to help finance President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2013.

The Senate may actually act on this.  Elizabeth Warren is acting presidential.  Let’s hope she can elbow out Sanders and Biden so the she and the others can run without these two old leather bags in the way.

In the United States, calls to ban the plane are mounting.

Several senators, including Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, and the Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have called on the F.A.A. to ground the Boeing planes until the investigation into the Ethiopia crash is completed.

“The world has now witnessed the second tragic crash of one of these planes in less than six months. While we do not know the causes of these crashes, serious questions have been raised about whether these planes were pressed into service without additional pilot training in order to save money,” Ms. Warren, who is running for president, said in a statement. “Today, immediately, the F.A.A. needs to get these planes out of the sky.”

So, these are the two stories that seem to be defining today.  I’m waiting to hear from my mechanic and doing grading and prep work for my lecture tonight.

All of our love and thoughts are with you, JJ!  Just take care of yourself!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?  And again, check out these pinatas!!

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Friday Tightie Whitie Snow Blindness: “He has otherwise lived a blameless life.”

It’s Mueller Friday!

We live in a Thugocracy these days. I have a series of headlines that should not be normal headlines for any news items applying to the United States of America.  This includes a federal judge giving a rich white guy a pass on a career of selling out his country to the Russians for incredible sums of money.  People that smoke and sell small bags of weed have done more time for that crime than Paul Manafort will  for the absolute malice with which he treated the elections and the people of our country.  Of course, he’s white, he’s rich, and he just bilked us out of money and freedom. It wasn’t like he lifted a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter from a convenience  store to feed himself.  If he were caught doing that while black he likely would’ve been shot dead.

Franklin Foer–writing for The Atlantic--provides this lede:  “The ‘Otherwise Blameless Life’ of Paul Manafort. Trump’s former campaign chair has always acted with impunity, as if the laws never applied to him.”    The judge in the Virginia Court proved Manafort’s assumption correct.

In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded, accused of inflating his expenses and cutting his partners out of deal

In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort came to adopt the lifestyle and corrupt practices of his Ukrainian clients as his own.

In an otherwise blameless life, he produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.

In an otherwise blameless life, he stood mute as Yanukovych’s police killed 130 protesters in the Maidan.

In an otherwise blameless life, he found himself nearly $20 million in debt to a Russian oligarch. Instead of honestly accounting for the money, he simply stopped responding to the oligarch’s messages.

In an otherwise blameless life, he tried to use his perch atop the Trump campaign to help salvage his sorry financial situation. He installed one of his protégés as the head of the pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America. His friend allegedly funneled $125,000 from the super PAC to pay off one of Manafort’s nagging debts.

There’s more on this list at the link.  And there are more “this isn’t normal” headlines in every paper.  Let’s sample a few.

More on this story that BB covered yesterday: Congress, DHS investigating if U.S. border agents targeted journalists NBC News and KNSD revealed Wednesday that U.S. border agents in California had a list of reporters, lawyers and activists to be questioned at the border.

The list includes 10 journalists, seven of them U.S. citizens, a U.S.-based attorney and others labeled as organizers and “instigators,” 31 of whom are American.

The Homeland Security Committee, led by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D.-Miss., asked CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to provide a copy of the list with the 59 names, a copy of any dossiers on the individuals, an explanation of why each person was included on the list, an account of who had been stopped for screening and an account of any cell phone seizures.

“The appearance that CBP is targeting journalists, lawyers, and advocates, and particularly those who work on immigration matters or report on border and immigration issues, raises questions about possible misuse of CBP’s border search authority and requires oversight to ensure the protection of Americans’ legal and constitutional rights,” the letter said.

CBP said Thursday the DHS Inspector General is investigating the list. CBP is part of DHS.

From the Daily Beast: “CLEAN-CUT KIDS, ‘Whiter Every Election Cycle’: How Identity Evropa, a Far-Right Hate Group, Joined the GOP. According to leaked chat logs, the white-supremacist group has actively reinvented itself as a ‘respectable’ group in order to entice Republicans.”

The white nationalist group Identity Evropa is so cozy with the Republican Party that members led their College Republican clubs and campaigned in support of GOP congressional candidates.

At least one Identity Evropa fan, who is not a member of the group, attended CPAC last weekend where he demanded an autograph from a leftist podcaster who, tripping on acid, signed the book “eat shit.”

Identity Evropa is a fascist organization. Its members have been involved in violent street brawls, including 2017’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. While other white supremacist organizations imploded after the rally, Identity Evropa attempted to cast aside the alt-right’s tarnished image and rebrand as a “clean-cut” organization. The makeover was an attempt to appeal to the mainstream Republican Party, according to chat logs released Wednesday by the media collective Unicorn Riot.

But despite its new face, the group stayed true to its fascist heart, the leaked conversations reveal.

From  Axios:  “Scoop: White House leak to House Dems on Jared and Ivanka’s clearances.”   I still can’t believe we let this pair of grifters represent us abroad and we let them near the White House Silver.

From a White House source, the House Oversight Committee has obtained documents related to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s security clearances that the Trump administration refused to provide, according to a senior Democratic aide involved in handling the documents.

Why it matters: The Trump administration’s problems with leaks will now benefit Congress, making it harder for the White House to withhold information from Democratic investigators.

The news: The White House this week rejected the committee’s request for documents on the process for granting security clearances to staffers.

  • The twist: But the House Oversight Committee in early February had already obtained the leaked documents that detail the entire process, from the spring of 2017 to the spring of 2018, on how both Kushner and Trump were ultimately granted their security clearances.

  • The senior Democratic aide who was involved in handling the documents told Axios that two staffers on the Oversight Committee said the documents are “part of the puzzle that we would be asking for” from the White House, “so we appreciate having this upfront.”

     

And we got more folks …

From the Miami Herald this morning: “Trump cheered Patriots to Super Bowl victory with founder of spa where Kraft was busted.

Seated at a round table littered with party favors and the paper-cutout footballs that have become tradition at his annual Super Bowl Watch Party, President Donald Trump cheered the New England Patriots and his longtime friend, team owner Robert Kraft, to victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Feb. 3.

Sometime during the party at Trump’s West Palm Beach country club, the president turned in his chair to look over his right shoulder, smiling for a photo with two women at a table behind him.

The woman who snapped the blurry Super Bowl selfie with the president was Li Yang, 45, a self-made entrepreneur from China who started a chain of Asian day spas in South Florida. Over the years, these establishments — many of which operate under the name Tokyo Day Spas — have gained a reputation for offering sexual services.

Nineteen days after Trump and Yang posed together while rooting for the Patriots, authorities would charge Kraft with soliciting prostitution at a spa in Jupiter that Yang had founded more than a decade earlier.

From The New Yorker today and Susan B. Glasser:  “The “Enemies of the People” Have a Few Questions for the President. The White House press briefing is dead. It was awful, but we should still mourn it.”

The Administration, of course, never formally announced that it was killing off the White House press briefing—that would have caused too great an outcry. But that is nonetheless what it has done, as Trump himself admitted in a January tweet, saying that “the reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the ‘podium’ much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately.” The last official briefing by Sanders was on January 28th; it was the first such briefing in forty-one days. All told, there was one press briefing in November, one in December, two in January, and none at all in February, or, so far, in March. This is not just a White House policy. The State Department, which used to give a near-daily press briefing that was considered significant by journalists from around the world, had six “department press briefings” briefings in November, two in December, none in January, two in February, and one so far in March.

This is not how it should work in a democracy, and there is no explanation other than a bad one for why this is happening. The Administration’s elimination of regular on-the-record press briefings is part of a broader war on truth and transparency by a President who will go down as the most publicly mendacious American leader we’ve yet had. (Trump’s epic speech at cpac over the weekend was both the longest and, according to the Washington Post Fact Checker, the most untruthful of his tenure, clocking in at more than two hours and approximately a hundred lies, misstatements, and falsehoods.)

That highlighted sentence part is one I keep repeating daily right after I say “What Fresh Hell is this?” “This is not how it should work in a democracy …”

In news related to the disappearance of the White House Briefing we now have the disappearance of Bill Shine who is the ex Fox Executive acting as the de facto White House Communications Director.  We got a really nice bunch of background on Shine in Jane Mayer’s article at the beginning of the week.  This is from CNN.

White House deputy chief of staff and de facto communications director Bill Shine has stepped down to join the Trump campaign, press secretary Sarah Sanders announced in a statement Friday.

Shine, a former Fox News executive, joined the White House in July 2018, the sixth person to fill or be tapped for the top communications role. Jason Miller, Sean Spicer, Mike Dubke, Anthony Scaramucci and Hope Hicks all came before him.

He offered his resignation to President Donald Trump on Thursday but was spotted on the White House South Lawn on Friday ahead of the President’s trip to Alabama. He will be joining the 2020 re-election campaign as a senior adviser.

“Serving President Trump and this country has been the most rewarding experience of my entire life. To be a small part of all this President has done for the American people has truly been an honor. I’m looking forward to working on President Trump’s re-election campaign and spending more time with my family,” Shine said in a statement.

Shine has been shuttled over to the Trump  version of CREEP to probably wine and dine Fox news so it can continue to act as a State propaganda outlet for Trump.  The Why is not known but Fox lost any right to a Democratic Campaign debate over the news. 

I seriously can’t take much more of this.  We’ve just devolved into a Banana Republic so quickly that I feel we should all be wearing Panama hats and smoking cigars while we wait in our bread lines.

So, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?  I’m hoping for some better results from Manafort in the DC court  which is U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman to whom I dedicate all these beautiful tarot card illustrations of justice.  Come on Mueller!  Come on Amy!!  Come on Democratic Congressional Hearings!  Who will rid us of these meddlesome kleptocrats?

 


Thursday Reads: A Mish-Mash of Stories

By Maugham Casorati, born 1897 in London, UK died 1982 in Turin, Italy

Good Morning!!

I wish we could go back to the days when we weren’t overwhelmed with breaking news every single morning. I’ve got a mish-mash of articles for your this morning.

The biggest news today will probably be what happens at Paul Manafort’s sentencing hearing at 3:30 this afternoon in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Courthouse News: Manafort Faces Decades in Prison at Virginia Sentencing.

Manafort, 69, faces up to 24 years in prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. During his trial last August, spread over 12 rigorous days, prosecutors unfurled a complex web of fraud he coordinated in multiple countries with the help of his business associate, Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and testified against Manafort as the star witness.

Accused of failing to report roughly $16.5 million in income from his political lobbying work on behalf of Ukraine and its onetime President Viktor Yanukovych, the jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud after four days of deliberations….

By Bego Tojo

Though none of the charges Manafort faced in Virginia directly involved any of his work on President Donald Trump’s campaign, Mueller’s underlying task – to unearth American activity connected to Russian meddling in the election – placed the spotlight firmly on the president’s onetime campaign chairman….

Manafort will go before Judge Ellis on Thursday afternoon for his sentencing.

Federal sentencing guidelines in the Virginia case suggest Manafort should serve 19 to 24 years in prison but Judge Ellis can impose any sentence he sees fit – including one well below the guidelines. Mueller has recommended Manafort be sentenced in the upper range of the guidelines.

As you probably recall, Judge Ellis is kind of eccentric and usually makes very blunt remarks. Remember, he asked prosecutors whether they had considered charging Mike Flynn with treason and told him “You sold your country out.” Read Ellis quotes at CNN: Baked Alaska and birthday cake: Memorable lines from the Manafort trial judge, T.S. Ellis.

I really dislike the conservative site Axios, but they have a good piece today: The biggest political scandal in American history.

Historians tell Axios that the only two scandals that come close to Trump-Russia are Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and the Teapot Dome scandal of the early 1920s, in which oil barons bribed a corrupt aide to President Warren Harding for petroleum leases.

Mueller has already delivered one of the biggest counterintelligence cases in U.S. history, author Garrett Graff points out — up there with Aldrich Ames (a former CIA officer convicted in 1994 of being a KGB double agent), or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (executed in 1953 for spying for the Soviets).

By Guillermo Marti Ceballos (Barcelona 1958)

Watergate yielded more charges than Mueller has so far: A total of 69 people were charged in Watergate; 48 people and 20 corporations pleaded guilty. Mueller so far has indicted 27 people; seven have been convicted or pleaded guilty.

But historians say that both Watergate and Teapot Dome were more limited because a foreign power wasn’t a central player, and a much narrower band of potential offenses was under investigation.
A fourth notable scandal, the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s — in which arms were traded for hostages held by Iran, with the money usRed to fund rebels in Nicaragua — also involved a more limited range of issues.

Read the rest at Axios. It’s actually quite a bit more comprehensive than most of their stories.

J.T. Smith, who was executive assistant to Attorney General Elliot Richardson under Nixon, has an op-ed at The New York Times today: What if the Mueller Report Demands Bold Action?

Most people take for granted that both Mr. Mueller and the new attorney general, William Barr, accept the current Justice Department legal position — reached in a 2000 opinion — that a sitting president cannot be indicted. In a June 2018 memo, Mr. Barr said that under “the Framers’ plan,” the “proper mechanism for policing the president’s” actions “is the political process — that is, the People, acting either directly, or through their elected representatives in Congress.”

Yet since 1973, the Justice Department has revisited its position five times on the question of indicting a sitting president and reached different conclusions. In fact, as executive assistant to President Richard Nixon’s attorney general, Elliot Richardson, I can speak to the circumstances that delivered that first opinion: The principal purpose of the 1973 Watergate-era legal opinion — which concluded that a sitting president cannot be indicted — was to aid in removal from office of a criminally tainted vice president, who, the memo concluded, could be indicted.

But it was not intended to set an ironclad precedent that would forever shape how a president might be treated.

By Jerry Weiss

My experience makes me believe that Attorney General Barr should reconsider Justice Department policy. If the evidence gathered by the Mueller investigation on the actions of the president and his advisers indicates a crime, an indictment might be the proper course to hold the president accountable. Further, the indictment policy does not stand in isolation: It has repercussions for a Mueller report and access to it for Congress and the American public.

As Rachel Maddow reported recently, the 1973 policy was written when Nixon’s VP Spiro Agnew was being investigated for “bribery, extortion and tax evasion.” (he was subsequently indicted and forced to resign). You can read more details about the history at the link. Smith’s conclusion:

Mr. Mueller’s investigation has brought us to face similar questions of institutional integrity and transparency for the American public. If Mr. Barr determines that Mr. Mueller’s findings compel legal action, he should reconsider the policy against indictment of a sitting president.

But if Mr. Barr holds to the view that a president’s actions should be policed by the political and not criminal process, it will be imperative that he share a Mueller report with Congress and, to the extent practicable, with the public, redacting only information that is classified or otherwise prohibited by statute.

In light of the gravity of our circumstances, it would be timely and appropriate for the Justice Department to reconsider the shaky policy regarding indictability of a sitting president and provide Congress and the public with the Mr. Mueller’s full findings and conclusions. Only through sunlight and transparency can we preserve confidence in our national institutions and leadership.

Yesterday the DNC announced that they will not hold a primary debate in conjunction with Fox News, citing Jane Mayer’s New Yorker Article. This is nothing unusual; the Democrats have refused to work with Fox News since 2007, but mainstream journalists are criticizing the decision.

Now media critic Margaret Sullivan has weighed in at The Washington Post: It’s time — high time — to take Fox News’s destructive role in America seriously.

Chris Wallace is an exceptional interviewer, and Shepard Smith and Bret Baier are reality-based news anchors.

By Dibujo de Eduardo Estrada

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the overall problem of Fox News, which started out with bad intentions in 1996 and has swiftly devolved into what often amounts to a propaganda network for a dishonest president and his allies.

The network, which attracts more viewers than its two major competitors, specializes in fearmongering and unrelenting alarmism. Remember “the caravan”?

At crucial times, it does not observe basic standards of journalistic practice: as with its eventually retracted, false reporting in 2017 on Seth Rich, which fueled conspiracy theories that Hillary Clinton had the former Democratic National Committee staffer killed because he was a source of campaign leaks.

Fox, you might recall, was a welcoming haven for “birtherism” — the racist lies about President Barack Obama’s birthplace. For years, it has constantly, unfairly and inaccurately bashed Hillary Clinton.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Jared Kushner recently traveled to the Middle East and met privately with Saudi prince MBS. Now he won’t tell anyone what went on in his meetings. The Daily Beast: Embassy Staffers Say Jared Kushner Shut Them Out of Saudi Meetings.

Officials and staffers in the U.S. embassy in Riyadh said they were not read in on the details of Jared Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia or the meetings he held with members of the country’s royal court last week, according to three sources with knowledge of the trip. And that’s causing concern not only in the embassy but also among members of Congress.

By Henry McGrane

On his trip to the Middle East, Kushner stopped in Riyadh. While there, he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman to discuss U.S.-Saudi cooperation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and economic investment in the region, according to the White House.

But no one from the embassy in Riyadh was in the meetings, according to those same sources. The State Department did have a senior official in attendance, but he was not part of the State Department team in Saudi. He is a senior member of the department focused on Iran, according to a source with direct knowledge of the official’s presence in Riyadh.

“The Royal Court was handling the entire schedule,” one congressional source told The Daily Beast, adding that officials in the U.S. embassy in had insight into where Kushner was when in Saudi Arabia. “But that is normal for his past trips.”

Click the link to read the rest. A related article from the WaPo editorial board: Trump is covering up for MBS. The Senate must push for accountability.

New York Times gossip columnist Maggie Haberman relays former WH Chief of Staff John Kelly’s attempted cleanup of his mangled reputation following the revelations about Jared and Ivanka’s security clearances: John Kelly, Out of White House, Breaks With Trump Policies.

The former White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, on Wednesday declined to answer questions about the existence of a memo he wrote saying that President Trump had ordered officials to give his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a security clearance in May 2018.

By Mario Tozzi 1920

Mr. Kelly also broke with Mr. Trump on key aspects of his approach to immigration and the NATO alliance, and said that his top concern about decisions made by the president was whether they were objectively right for the country when divorced from political concerns.

Mr. Kelly, who kept his voice level during a 90-minute question-and-answer session at Duke University, would not specifically address Mr. Kushner’s clearance being ordered by Mr. Trump, which The New York Times reported last week.

“I couldn’t — and I’m not dodging — I couldn’t comment on that for a couple of reasons,” Mr. Kelly said, citing clearances being among the things that he could not discuss, and that conversations with the president “at that level would certainly” be kept confidential under executive privilege.

Some of what Kelly did talk about:

Mr. Kelly, who left at the end of December, also made clear he did not consider himself working for Mr. Trump, but doing his civic duty to serve. If Hillary Clinton had won, he said, he probably would have worked for her as well.

Mr. Kelly defended the utility of the NATO alliance, which Mr. Trump has often criticized as an unfair financial drain on the United States.

On a wall at the border with Mexico, Mr. Kelly said that there were specific areas where it could be effective but constructing one “from sea to shining sea” was a “waste of money.”

The issuance of the zero-tolerance policy for border crossings that resulted in family separations “came as a surprise” to him and to other officials, Mr. Kelly said, defending his replacement as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, from criticism. He appeared to place most of the blame on the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who announced the policy.

I have a few more links to share, but this post is getting long. I’ll put them in the comment thread. What stories have you been following?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Weather and Russia Investigation Tidbits

By Didier Lourenço

Good Morning!!

It’s March 2, but winter is still hanging on. It’s snowing here in the Boston area, and we expect several more inches on top of what we got earlier this week. It’s also supposed to snow again tomorrow night. I guess that’s going to come from this major cross-country storm.

USA Today: Major weekend winter storm packing heavy snow begins 2,500-mile cross-country sprint.

A major, fast-moving winter storm is racing across the country this weekend, bringing forecasts of heavy snow from California to New England and threats of heavy rain and severe thunderstorms along the 2,500-mile path….

In parts of the Midwest, the snow — falling at up to 1 or 2 inches per hour — could pile up fast enough to strand motorists along major highways, AccuWeather warns.

Sections of Pennsylvania, New York and northern and western New England could see up to a foot of snow.

The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings Saturday for parts of Colorado, northern New Mexico, southern Wyoming and much of Kansas.

By Galina Kim

Snow was expected to move into the Central Rockies on Saturday and develop over parts of the Northern and Central Plains by Saturday evening, the NWS says. The snow will expand into parts of the Southern Plains and Middle Mississippi Valley overnight as it rolls eastward.

We didn’t get any new indictments from Robert Mueller yesterday, but there’s still quite a bit of Russia investigation news.

Roger Stone apparently failed to tell Judge Amy Berman Jackson that he has a book coming out that may violate his gag order. Late last night she ordered him to explain WTF is going on.

The Washington Post: Judge orders Roger Stone to explain imminent release of book that may violate gag order.

Republican operative and longtime Trump friend Roger Stone faced fresh legal trouble Friday after a federal judge ordered his attorneys to explain why they failed to tell her before now about the imminent publication of a book that could violate his gag order by potentially criticizing the judge or prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The order by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia late Friday came barely eight days after Jackson barred Stone from speaking publicly about his case, prompted by a photo posted on Stone’s Instagram account that placed a crosshairs next to a photo of Jackson’s head….

By Adrie Martens

In the new controversy, Jackson, in a brief order posted on the court’s electronic docket after office hours Friday, said she was allowing Stone’s defense team to file under seal a motion apparently to clarify the court’s gag order and an unspecified accompanying exhibit, and ordered a court clerk to make public Stone’s request.

But Jackson also ordered Stone’s attorneys to explain by Monday why they waited until now in making that request to disclose the “imminent general rel[e]ase” of a book, which Jackson said “was known to the defendant.” [….]

On Jan. 16, Stone announced via Instagram that he would be publishing a book titled “The Myth of Russian Collusion: The Inside Story of How Trump Really Won.” He included an image of the book cover. At the time, a source familiar with the publication plans told The Washington Post that the book consisted of a new introduction attached to a previous book that Stone had written about the 2016 presidential campaign. On Feb. 15, he announced via Instagram that the book would be published March 1, and he accompanied the post with hashtags such as #noconspiracy and #norussiancollusion.

According to Bloomberg, this may be an updated version of a 2017 Stone book.

At Buzzfeed News, Zoe Tillman writes about Paul Manafort’s latest sentencing memo: Paul Manafort Didn’t Just Ask For Less Prison Time In His Latest Court Filings — He’s Attacking Mueller Too.

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort on Friday continued to attack special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing Mueller’s office of not only vilifying him, but also of “spreading misinformation.”

Manafort and his lawyers have used pre-sentencing memos not only to lobby for a lower prison sentence, but also to criticize the special counsel’s office — something they’ve had limited opportunities to do, given a gag order imposed early on. In a sentencing memo filed Friday in Manafort’s case in federal court in Virginia, his lawyers wrote that Mueller had unfairly impugned Manafort’s character.

By Catriona Millar

“The Special Counsel’s attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this Court,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote. “The Special Counsel’s conduct comes as no surprise, and falls within the government’s pattern of spreading misinformation about Mr. Manafort to impugn his character in a manner that this country has not experienced in decades.”

Manafort’s lawyers repeated their claim that Mueller pursued Manafort for crimes largely unrelated to his work on President Donald Trump’s campaign in order to pressure Manafort to flip on the president. Political and legal pundits have speculated that Manafort is angling for a pardon; Trump in November told the New York Post that a pardon for Manafort was not “off the table.”

“The Special Counsel’s strategy in bringing charges against Mr. Manafort had nothing to do with the Special Counsel’s core mandate — Russian collusion — but was instead designed to ‘tighten the screws’ in an effort to compel Mr. Manafort to cooperate and provide incriminating information about others,” his lawyers wrote, quoting language Manafort’s judge in Virginia, US District Judge T.S. Ellis III, had previously used to question the special counsel’s office’s motivations.

Manafort is due for sentencing in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on March 7. Earlier this month, Mueller’s office said in a sentencing memo that it believed Manafort should face a sentencing range of between 19.5 to 24 years in prison. It also wrote that Manafort’s penalty could include a fine of up to $24 million.

Lock him up!

At The New York Times, John Dean has suggestions for Michael Cohen: John Dean: I Testified Against Nixon. Here’s My Advice for Michael Cohen.

There are several parallels between my testimony before Congress in 1973, about President Richard Nixon and his White House, and Michael Cohen’s testimony this week about President Trump and his business practices. Setting aside the differences regarding how we got there, we both found ourselves speaking before Congress, in multiple open and closed venues, about criminal conduct of a sitting president of the United States. This is not a pleasant place to be, particularly given the presidents involved.

The field cat, by Isabella Bryer

There are some differences: Unlike Mr. Cohen, who testified in public for a day, I testified for five days. His prepared statement was about 4,000 words; mine was some 60,000 words. Nielsen reports over 16 million people watched his testimony. I am told over 80 million people watched all or part of mine….

Mr. Cohen should understand that if Mr. Trump is removed from office, or defeated in 2020, in part because of his testimony, he will be reminded of it for the rest of his life. He will be blamed by Republicans but appreciated by Democrats. If he achieves anything short of discovering the cure for cancer, he will always live in this pigeonhole. How do I know this? I am still dealing with it.

Just as Mr. Nixon had his admirers and apologists, so it is with Mr. Trump. Some of these people will forever be rewriting history, and they will try to rewrite it at Mr. Cohen’s expense. They will put words in his mouth that he never spoke. They will place him at events at which he wasn’t present and locations where he has never been. Some have tried rewriting my life, and they will rewrite his, too.

There’s much more at the link.

This isn’t a Mueller case, but it could be related: Chelsea Manning has been subpoenaed. Politico: Chelsea Manning fights grand jury subpoena seen as linked to Assange.

Lawyers for convicted WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning are asking a federal court to block a grand jury subpoena she received in what her supporters believe is a federal investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Manning’s attorneys filed the motion Friday morning in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., a spokesperson for Manning said. The motion was put under seal and no information about it was immediately available from the court clerk’s office.

By Peter Mitchev, Bulgarian painter

The subpoena sent to Manning in January does not specify any crimes or particular investigation, but it was issued at the request of a federal prosecutor assigned to handle the fallout from an error that led to the disclosure late last year of the strongest indication so far that Assange is the subject of sealed criminal charges in the U.S.

In a statement Friday, Manning blasted the process and said she plans to fight the subpoena, which was first reported by The New York Times.

The rest of the article is mostly whining from Manning and her attorneys. Frankly, I don’t see why should shouldn’t be willing to testify. Another former Julian Assange associate has done so.

Kevin Poulsen at The Daily Beast: WikiLeaks Veteran: I ‘Cooperated’ With Feds ‘in Exchange for Immunity.’

Chelsea Manning isn’t alone.

Late Thursday, Manning revealed that she’s fighting a subpoena to testify before a grand jury that’s been investigating Julian Assange for nearly nine years. But Manning isn’t the only one being dragged into the aging probe of WikiLeaks’ first big haul. A former WikiLeaks volunteer who was also personal friends with Manning was subpoenaed last May. But unlike Manning, he did not fight the subpoena. He accepted an immunity deal offered by prosecutors….

Manning’s subpoena is the latest surge of action in an old case given new life under the Trump administration. Though the paperwork doesn’t specify what she’s expected to testify about, a case number is visible at the top of the page. It’s the known case number for a grand jury probe into WikiLeaks that began nine years ago in the middle of Assange’s dump of the hundreds of thousand of diplomatic cables and Army field reports leaked to him by Manning.

Friends, by Ljudmila Vasina

The existence of case 10GJ3793 first became public in early 2011 when prosecutors were papering companies like Google and Twitter with demands for records of key WikiLeaks activists. With the government’s consent, Twitter notified five users that the feds were after their records, and three of them went to court to challenge the lawfulness of the search, backed by the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Paulsen expends quite a bit of verbiage on the history of the government’s pursuit of this case (I get the feeling he thinks it’s terrible) before he gets around to telling us who the cooperating witness is. His name is David House.

The Daily Beast has learned that David House, the former WikiLeaks volunteer and Manning friend, was subpoenaed last May for an encore appearance before the Alexandria grand jury. This time he didn’t take the Fifth. “I decided to cooperate in exchange for immunity,” said House, who provided a copy of the subpoena. “You know, I’m walking around on the street out here. I’m not in an embassy.”

House spoke briefly with prosecutors and then testified for about 90 minutes in front of the grand jury, he said. “They wanted to know about my meetings with Assange, they wanted to know broadly about what we talked about,” he recalled. Prosecutors seemed particularly interested in the potential for collateral damage in some of Assange’s leaks. The identities of some American collaborators were exposed in Assange’s release of State Department cables and Army field reports from Afghanistan, which triggered internal debate and led to the departure of some of WikiLeaks’ key staffers early on.

“They showed me chat logs in which I was arguing vehemently with him about releasing documents that would leave people vulnerable and put people’s lives at risk,” said House, a computer science graduate and political activist now working on a centrist movement called the Pilot Party. “That was the only thing they put in front of my face that made me think, ‘This may be what they’re going after him for.’”

That’s all I’ve got for you today. What stories are you following?


Frantic Friday Reads: Epic Choices

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

We’re having another one of those mega news drop days so this thread will be a bit disjointed. However,chaos whispering is the rule of day for media.  It doesn’t seem to be rule of the day with the various Trump corruption, collusion, and constitution-breaking investigations plodding ever forward.  Paul Manafort chose poorly in the Grail search.  Even if does get to sip from the chalice of Pardons by Trump the Pretender, he’ll get the cold, dank dungeon from the State of New York.

“New York Has Prepared Paul Manafort Charges If Trump Pardons Him” is posted by Bloomberg Politics and written by Greg Farelle.

New York state prosecutors have put together a criminal case against Paul Manafort that they could file quickly if the former chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign receives a presidential pardon.

New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is ready to file an array of tax and other charges against Manafort, according to two people familiar with the matter, something seen as an insurance policy should the president exercise his power to free the former aide. Skirting laws that protect defendants from being charged twice for the same offense has been one of Vance’s challenges.

Manafort was convicted of eight felonies, pleaded guilty to two more and is scheduled to be sentenced next month for those federal crimes. Prosecutors working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller have recommended as long as 24 years, a virtual life sentence, for the 69-year-old political consultant.

The president, who has bemoaned Manafort’s treatment at the hands of Mueller, said in November that he has not ruled out a pardon. He has frequently talked of his broad pardon power, possibly extending even to himself, and acted to liberate two political allies previously.

Divvying out transgressions was an obvious strategy by those conducting the central DOJ investigations.  There was an overriding concern that it was just a matter of time before a Trump administration lackey would try to shut the entire operation down. We’ve learned a lot about that since the release of Andrew McCabe’s book.  Phillip Bump argues–for the Washington Post–that the Manfort report has been slowing writing itself in a series of indictments and page turns along the way.  Be sure to check out his graphic on the “product’ of the Mueller probe which consists of the stack of already filed indictments and guilty pleas.  It’s actually from Marcy Wheeler who has been doing a great investigative job herself.

President Trump has benefited enormously from the frog-in-hot-water nature of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into his campaign and possible overlap with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.

Imagine if, instead of Mueller releasing new public indictments as he went along, leveraging criminal charges to obtain more information from the targets of his probe, he instead had kept his information private. Imagine if he and his lawyers had been working in quiet for 20 months, submitting expenses to the Department of Justice and suffering the president’s tweeted ferocity.

And then, after all of that, they suddenly produced a dozen indictments and plea deals running into hundreds of pages, detailing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s illegal and questionable financial dealings, those of his deputy Rick Gates, full details of Russia’s alleged efforts to influence social media and to steal electronic information from Democratic targets and detailed a half-dozen people who admitted to lying to federal investigators.

Imagine if that had landed with a thud on the attorney general’s desk.

Yeah, but I’m still waiting for Don Jr’s turn in the handcuffs and I shall have it!  I will admit that watching Roger Stone get his comeuppance is mildly thrilling.  There is some speculation that a final “tell all” will happen during the next court sessions for Manafort.  He is due in March for the Virginia sentencing. This is from Katelyn Polentz reporting for CNN. The sentencing memo is due today to the DC District.

It is the last major requisite court filing in Mueller’s longest running case, a sprawling prosecution of the former Trump campaign manager that led investigators to gather exhaustive information about his hidden Cypriot bank accounts, Ukrainian political efforts in Europe and the US and into Manafort’s time on the 2016 presidential campaign.
Prosecutors are set to outline all facts they believe the judge should consider at his sentencing, now set for March 13. That will likely include Manafort’s criminal business schemes, his attempt to reach out to key contacts after his arrest and the lies he told to prosecutors and a grand jury after he agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.
Often, in filings like these, prosecutors will pull together a complete retelling of the defendant’s crimes, convictions and cooperation. Details about Manafort’s cooperation have been especially guarded by prosecutors, since his interviews are a significant part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
Prosecutors will also likely suggest a range the judge could give him in prison time.
The memo Friday will cover the two charges Manafort pleaded guilty to in September, conspiracy against the US and conspiracy witness tampering, which he committed after he was arrested by trying to reach out to former colleagues.
At the time of his plea, he also admitted to a litany of money laundering and foreign lobbying crimes that encompassed his work for Ukrainian politicians and other clients over several years. Co-conspirators, Manafort said, were his long-time colleagues Rick Gates, who is still cooperating with Mueller, and Konstantin Kilimnik, whom prosecutors say is connected to Russian intelligence and who is at the heart of their inquiry.
The memo will also likely cover his and Kilimnik’s alleged contact with potential witnesses in his case after Manafort’s October 2017 arrest, and his lies about his interactions with Kilimnik in 2016 and other topics.

arthurRepresentative Adam Schiff–chair of the House Intel Committee–has written an “open” letter to Republicans. It’s been published by WAPO.

This is a moment of great peril for our democracy. Our country is deeply divided. Our national discourse has become coarse, indeed, poisonous. Disunity and dysfunction have paralyzed Congress.

And while our attention is focused inward, the world spins on, new authoritarian regimes are born, old rivals spread their pernicious ideologies, and the space for freedom-loving peoples begins to contract violently. At last week’s Munich Security Conference, the prevailing sentiment among our closest allies is that the United States can no longer be counted on to champion liberal democracy or defend the world order we built.

For the past two years, we have examined Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its attempts to influence the 2018 midterms. Moscow’s effort to undermine our democracy was spectacularly successful in inflaming racial, ethnic and other divides in our society and turning American against American.

But the attack on our democracy had its limits. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not lead us to distrust our own intelligence agencies or the FBI. He could not cause us to view our own free press as an enemy of the people. He could not undermine the independence of the Justice Department or denigrate judges. Only we could do that to ourselves. Although many forces have contributed to the decline in public confidence in our institutions, one force stands out as an accelerant, like gas on a fire. And try as some of us might to avoid invoking the arsonist’s name, we must say it.

I speak, of course, of our president, Donald Trump.

Trump continues to have a devastating impact on our Country and all aspects of life and law. There is a lot of concern about what he will do in Vietnam while being tricked by the North Korean Dictator.  Eliana Johnson of Politico writes this:  “Trump aides worry he’ll get outfoxed in North Korea talks President Trump is excited to meet Kim Jong Un in Hanoi. Others fear he’ll give too much away.

The push for a second summit came almost entirely from the president himself, according to current and former White House officials — but Trump remains undeterred. He has gushed about the “wonderful letters” he has received from Kim, as well as the “good rapport” he has developed with the North Korean leader and the enormous media coverage the event in Vietnam’s capital is likely to attract. Trump even bragged, in a phone call Tuesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, that he is the only person who can make progress on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, according to a person briefed on the conversation, and complained about negative news coverage he has received.

Inside the administration, concern about the upcoming summit has come from predictable skeptics, including national security adviser John Bolton, a longtime opponent of diplomacy with North Korea, but also from unexpected corners. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the man charged with leading the negotiations, has expressed frustration to allies about the lack of diplomatic progress and voiced concern that his boss will get outmaneuvered, according to a source with direct knowledge of the conversations. Other top officials, such as former Defense Secretary James Mattis, simply worked to keep as much distance from the negotiations as possible.

“There is not optimism in the administration,” said Ian Bremmer, founder and president of the Eurasia Group. “Pompeo is deeply skeptical that we are going to get anything of substance on denuclearization from Kim Jong Un, and Pompeo believes the North Koreans are just playing for time.”

Jared’s busy heading off to the middle east to push through more bad policy but gee, his fortunes have suddenly taken off.

Kushner Cos., the family real-estate company of President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, said it has acquired a portfolio of rental apartments for $1.1 billion in the firm’s largest transaction in more than a decade.

The purchase comes less than a year after the company unloaded a Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue to Brookfield Asset Management Inc. in a deal that valued the property at about $1.25 billion.

The earlier transaction, in which Brookfield leased the office building for 99 years, relieved Kushner Cos. of $1.1 billion in debt due this year. That liability had been hanging over the firm and had raised questions about whether Kushner Cos. had the means to transact any large deals.

The acquisition of more than 6,000 rental apartments in Maryland and Virginia from the private-equity firm Lone Star Funds is the clearest sign yet that Kushner Cos. is re-emerging after that period of uncertainty.

The firm, headed by Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, has faced increased scrutiny over potential conflicts of interest since Mr. Trump took office and Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, began working in the White House.

So that’s happening here, while this is going on in the MENA region.  This is from the UK Independent. “Trump administration ‘pushing Saudi nuclear deal’ which could benefit company linked to Jared Kushner. Congressional report cites ‘abnormal acts’ in White House regarding proposal to build reactors in kingdom.”

Senior Trump administration officials pushed a project to share nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia over the objections of ethics officials, according to a congressional report, in a move that could have benefitted a company which has since provided financial relief to the family of Jared Kushner.

Citing whistleblowers within the US government, the report by the Democrat-led House oversight and reform committee alleges “abnormal acts” in the White House regarding the proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors across the kingdom.

The committee on Tuesday opened an investigation into the allegations, which include concerns over whether White House officials in the early months of the Trump administration sought to work around national security procedures to push a Saudi deal that could have financially benefited close supporters of the US president.

According to the report, the nuclear effort was pushed by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired in early 2017 and is awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation.

Derek Harvey, a National Security Council official brought in by Flynn, continued work on the proposal, which has remained under consideration by the Trump administration.

Susan Glasser–writing for the New Yorker– analyzes Trump’s Foreign Policy and its correlation with flattering Trump the Pretender. “Audience of One: Why Flattery Works in Trump’s Foreign Policy” is the lede.

Slavishly praising Trump in public, of course, is a signature tactic of his advisers and others who seek his favor. This week, though, Presidential flattery as a tool of foreign policy seemed particularly prominent. In Japan, a mini political uproar broke out when a newspaper reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had secretly nominated Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize, at Trump’s request. (Abe, who eagerly flew to New York for a Trump Tower session only days after the 2016 election, did not deny the reports.) Among Trump’s men in Munich, the performance of Vice-President Mike Pence, who has always been an especially avid practitioner of public boss-praising, stood out. He admiringly mentioned President Trump at least thirty times in his Saturday address to the conference (far more attention, tweeters quickly pointed out, than the vice-chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, who spoke later, gave to his boss). In a separate appearance meant to honor McCain, Pence paused for applause after he uttered his usual boilerplate line, “I bring greetings from the President of the United States.” Even in a room that included a couple dozen Republican members of Congress, Graham among them, no one clapped. Not surprisingly, the video of the moment, which the Pence and Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio described to me as “self-emasculating,” went viral on Twitter, a perfect metaphor at an annual forum that has, for decades, both celebrated and ratified America’s leadership in the West.

This wasn’t just a matter of a speech that flopped, though. This latest dance of the Republicans overseas was a reminder of why the bipartisan effort to convince the rest of the world that America’s commitments are unchanged, even under its America-First President, just doesn’t work. The U.S. may be the world’s leading power, but its foreign policy has become contorted, and essentially overtaken, by the toxic court politics of Trump. There’s a reason, after all, for all that over-the-top flattery, and it’s not just that Graham and Pence are particularly brazen in their use of this political art. Telling the truth in public can have real consequences in Trumpworld, and those who surround him are under no illusions about it. Just this week, reports continued to emanate from the White House that Trump was considering firing the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, whose sin was to have testified truthfully about the contradictions between Trump’s foreign-policy assumptions and the conclusions of Trump’s own intelligence agencies.

Contrast his standing with that of Lindsey Graham, whose public obsequiousness once again appears to have paid off. By this Thursday evening, Graham’s office was sending out a delighted press release, headlined “Graham Applauds Trump Decision to Leave Troops in Syria,” as wire services reported that the President had apparently conceded to lobbying by Graham and others, deciding to leave around two hundred troops in Syria after the April pullout. At least for now. But there was no ambiguity in Graham’s praise for the modest move. “Well done Mr. President,” his statement concluded.

But of course there’s an element of fatal self-absorption to it all. In Washington, it’s as if the city is permanently turned inward on the escalating distractions of the Trump Presidency, the investigations that threaten him, and the Democratic political contest to defeat him. Meanwhile, the rest of the world wonders what to make of a President who chides his closest allies and speaks warmly of its foes. There are real consequences to this; new survey data from the Pew Research Center found that Europeans are now more likely to trust Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping than Trump in world affairs, and by a significant margin.

Well, that’s enough torture for every one today.  Meanwhile, let’s wait for  that sentencing memo and see what it brings!

I’d like to shout out some love to JJ whose Mom had to enter the hospital with a severe drug interaction and is hopefully doing better.  We love you JJ!!!!

What’s on your reading and blogging list?


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 Caturday Reads

By Jackie Morris

Good Afternoon!!

The lies come thick and fast from the Trump administration. It’s not just Trump; it’s his entire gang of shameless prevaricators.

Remember those MAGA hats that Trump signed for service members in Iraq? The White House swore up and down to CNN that they didn’t distribute the campaign merchandise, but people who were there say otherwise.

Of course we can’t be sure these tweets are legit, but come on! Who actually believes these soldiers bought Trump hats and banners and had them shipped to Iraq? Give me a break. I know this is a minor scandal in the scheme of things Trump, but still…

And besides, this was supposed to be a secret, surprise visit, so are we supposed to believe these folks always carry their MAGA hats and banners around with them and to the mess hall?

OK, I know I’m beating a dead horse, but I get so tired of all the gaslighting.

Now check this out. Remember that NYT story awhile back about undocumented immigrants working at Trump’s New Jersey golf club?

The New York Daily News: New Jersey AG has obtained evidence of possible crimes at Trump’s golf club — and Mueller, FBI are involved in probe.

New Jersey prosecutors have collected evidence that supervisors at President Trump’s Garden State golf club may have committed federal immigration crimes — and the FBI as well as special counsel Robert Mueller have played part in the inquiry, the Daily News has learned.

Anibal Romero, a Newark attorney who represents several undocumented immigrants who used to work at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, said Friday he recently met with investigators from the state attorney general’s office and handed over fraudulent green cards and Social Security numbers that management at the club allegedly procured and gave his clients, Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz.

Before he met with the state prosecutors, Romero said he reached out to Mueller’s office because, while he wanted to contact federal authorities, he was concerned about looping in the Justice Department, which was headed by Jeff Sessions at the time.

Mueller’s office got back to Romero and said the issue was out of their jurisdiction, but they apparently passed the information on to the FBI.

A few weeks later, an FBI agent in New Jersey called Romero.

“He said to me that he had received a referral from Robert Mueller’s office and that he already knew the specifics and that he wanted to meet with me in person,” Romero said.

By S. Telari, Deviant Art

Romero then met with two agents at a federal office in Branchburg, N.J., and outlined the same evidence he had already given the AG prosecutors. The agents said they would “coordinate” with the AG’s office, according to Romero.

Romero said he’s stayed in touch with the FBI and the attorney general’s office but declined to confirm whether either of the agencies have formally opened investigations.

“I’m confident that federal and state authorities will conduct a complete and thorough investigation,” Romero said.

How many states is Trump under investigation in now? I’ve lost count.

Here’s a funny media story from by Ashley Feinberg at HuffPost: The Thinnest Skins In Media In 2018. Their diapers runneth over. You’ll have to click on the link to read the details, but here’s the list of included media figures:

Jake Tapper, CNN Anchor And Respecter Of Troops

Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine Columnist And Scab

Jim VandeHei, Axios CEO And Co-founder, Unofficial Spokesman For Zuckerberg 2020

Maggie Haberman, Nonpartisan New York Times Non-non-reporter

Jonathan Swan, Axios-Branded Dictaphone

Chris Cillizza, CNN Something-Or-Other

Glenn Greenwald, Prophet Of Civil Liberties And Ironic Capitalization

Salena Zito, Gas Station Oracle

Chris Cuomo, Famous Brother Haver

Ben Wittes, Prose Torturer

Ashley Feinberg, Professional Corncob

Now go read. You won’t be sorry.

Here in Massachusetts, the Governor just signed a new law regulation short-term rentals. The Boston Globe: Baker signs long-awaited Airbnb bill, opening new era for industry.

Governor Charlie Baker on Friday signed first-of-its-kind legislation to tax and regulate the short-term housing rental market in Massachusetts, capping years of debate over how to navigate an industry that has exploded through companies like Airbnb.

The new rules will take effect July 1 and could transform a market that spans the state, from Cape Cod summer homes to Boston apartment buildings to Western Massachusetts vacation retreats.

The bill requires every rental host to register with the state, mandates they carry insurance, and opens the potential for local taxes on top of a new state levy. A chief negotiator for the House said the goal is to register every short-term rental in the state by September, and local officials, including in Boston, say the new law will help buttress their own efforts to regulate the booming market.

Airbnb is fighting back.

But before Baker’s ink could dry, the law drew a sharp rebuke from Airbnb, which called it “flawed” and unnecessarily complex. Advocates who have closely followed the process — including Airbnb’s decision to sue in federal court to overturn Boston’s municipal regulations — warn a lawsuit against the state could also follow.

More details on the law:

Beyond requiring all hosts to register and carry insurance, it also subjects short-term rentals to the same 5.7 percent state levy now paid by hotels — but exempts people who rent their homes 14 or fewer nights a year. Officials have estimated that tax could raise at least $25 million annually.

It also would allow cities and towns to impose their own taxes of up to 6 percent, except in Boston, where it would be 6.5 percent, with occasional hosts also exempted.

Additional taxes would be levied on hosts who own multiple units. And an extra fee would also fall on units in Boston, Cambridge, and a handful of other cities that support the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, but only after bonds are paid off on the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston.

Some cities, including New York and San Francisco, have used short-term rental registries to rein in the industry, but this law makes Massachusetts the first state to require all hosts to register. That, more than the taxes, has been the focus of debate in recent months.

It will be interesting to see how this works out.

Time Magazine has a new story on Paul Manafort: Exclusive: Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch.

When the U.S. government put out its latest sanctions list on Dec. 19, the man named at the top did not seem especially important. Described in the document as a former Russian intelligence officer, he was accused of handling money and negotiations on behalf of a powerful Russian oligarch. The document did not mention that the man, Victor Boyarkin, had links to the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump.

Jackie Morris for Amnesty International

A months-long investigation by TIME, however, found that Boyarkin, a former arms dealer with a high forehead and a very low profile, was a key link between a senior member of the Trump campaign and a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In his only interview with the media about those connections, Boyarkin told TIME this fall that he was in touch with Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in the heat of the presidential race on behalf of the Russian oligarch. “He owed us a lot of money,” Boyarkin says. “And he was offering ways to pay it back.”

The former Russian intelligence officer says he has been approached by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Boyarkin’s response to those investigators? “I told them to go dig a ditch,” he says. Peter Carr, the spokesman for the Special Counsel’s Office, declined to comment. Through his spokesman, Manafort likewise declined to comment on his alleged connections with Boyarkin.

But those connections could be potentially important to the Special Counsel’s inquiry. They would mark some of the clearest evidence of the leverage that powerful Russians had over Trump’s campaign chairman. And they may shed light on why Manafort discussed going right back to work for pro-Russian interests in Eastern Europe after he crashed out of the Trump campaign in August 2016, according to numerous sources in the TIME investigation.

Read the rest at the link. It’s a long story.

One more from Buzzfeed: These Are 50 Of The Biggest Fake News Hits On Facebook In 2018.

By Max Carlier

After spending two years launching third-party fact-checking programs, rolling out News Feed updates, and investing in other anti-misinformation initiatives, Facebook is still the home of viral fake news.

For the third year in a row, BuzzFeed News compiled a list of 50 of the most viral false stories on Facebook and measured their total engagement on the platform. And in spite of a prediction from Facebook’s top anti-misinformation product manager that these articles would see a decline in engagement in 2018, this year’s top-performing hoaxes generated almost as many shares, reactions, and comments as last year’s.

The top 50 fake stories of 2018 identified by BuzzFeed News generated roughly 22 million total shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook between Jan. 1 and Dec. 9, 2018, according to data from BuzzSumo and Trendolizer. This was only 7% fewer engagements than the 23.5 million engagements generated by to top 50 of 2017, and slightly more than the top 50 fakes identified by BuzzFeed News in 2016, when those links generated 21.5 million engagements.

Read the whole thing at Buzzfeed. How long before Facebook goes the way of AOL?

So . . . what else is happening on this long holiday weekend? Post your recommendations in the comment thread below.