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

Good Afternoon!!

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

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

So-called leftist Michael Moore agreed with Todd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some serious reactions to Mueller’s testimony:

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

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

Tom Toles Editorial Cartoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click the link to read the rest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mueller: I think that generally is true.

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

Mueller: Where do you have that quote?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday Reads: Bad News and Bad Hair

Bad News, by Ethan Jack Harrington

Good Morning!!

Sorry for the possibly disturbing image–there was just something I liked about it. Anyway, it’s Tuesday, and two formerly great nations–the USA and Great Britain–are now led by doltish leaders with embarrassingly bad hair. Welcome to the 21st Century.

The Guardian: Boris Johnson elected new Tory leader.

Boris Johnson will become Britain’s next prime minister after winning a convincing victory over Jeremy Hunt in the Conservative party leadership race.

The former mayor of London, who has long cherished an ambition to lead his country, won 66% of the votes – 92,153, to Hunt’s 46,656. Turnout was 87.4% among 159,320 party members.

In a characteristically lighthearted acceptance speech, Johnson conceded that even some of his own supporters may “wonder quite what they have done”….

He reminded his audience of ministers and party staff of his campaign mantra: “Deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn.”

Saying “some wag” had pointed out that this spelled “dud”, he joked that the final e – “E for energise” – had been left out. “I say to all the doubters: dude, we are going to energise the country!”

And Johnson said he would “get Brexit done by 31 October” with a “new spirit of can-do”.

“We are once again going to believe in ourselves and what we can achieve, and like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy-ropes of self-doubt and negativity.”

Remember Cesar Sayoc? He’s the rabid Trump fan who sent mail bombs to people Trump attacked publicly on Twitter or elsewhere. Sayoc is on trial right now.

Ryan J. Reilly at HuffPost: Lawyers For Trump ‘Super Fan’ Cesar Sayoc Say Trump’s Rhetoric Inspired Terrorist Plot On Democrats.

Cesar Sayoc, the fanatical Donald Trump fan who mailed package bombs to the president’s political opponents, is a cognitively limited sexual abuse survivor who thought of the now-president as a “surrogate father” and came to believe in an “alternative reality” fueled in part by Trump’s attacks on his political opponents, his attorneys told a federal court on Monday.

Sayoc has admitted to mailing pipe bombs to Democratic politicians, media figures and celebrities he perceived as Trump’s enemies last fall, and pleaded guilty to several federal crimes in March. He could face life in prison when he’s sentenced on August 5, but his federal public defenders said Monday he should serve 10 years in prison followed by community supervision (as well as mental health counseling and drug treatment).

Cesar Sayoc’s van plastered with anti-Hillary and pro-Trump images

Sayoc, his attorneys wrote in a sentencing memo filed in federal court in New York on Monday, was a Trump “super fan” and “began to consider Democrats as not just dangerous in theory, but imminently and seriously dangerous to his personal safety.”

“President Trump did nothing to dissuade this message,” they write. Their filing cites Trump’s Twitter attacks on the figures Sayoc targeted.

Sayoc was a Trump fan before the reality television host ran for president, and viewed him as “everything he wanted to be: self-made, successful, and a ‘playboy,’” his attorneys wrote.

But Sayoc “began watching Fox News religiously,” started following political news on Facebook and and “threw himself into” Trump’s campaign once he announced his candidacy because he “came to view Trump as a personal champion—someone who had helped him through the most difficult periods of his life and who could do the same for other people across the country.”

Click on the link to read the rest.

The Trump administration is proposing a frightening new immigration policy.

The Washington Post: Trump administration to expand its power to deport undocumented immigrants.

The Trump administration on Tuesday will significantly expand its power to quickly deport undocumented immigrants who have illegally entered the United States within the past two years, using a fast-track deportation process that bypasses immigration judges.

Officials are calling the new strategy, which will take effect immediately, a “necessary response” to the influx of Central Americans and others at the southern border. It will allow immigration authorities to quickly remove immigrants from anywhere they encounter them across the United States, and they expect the approach will help alleviate the nation’s immigration-court backlog and free up space in Immigration and Customs Enforcement jails.

Trump HItler by Pegasus

The stated targets of the change are people who sneaked into the United States and do not have an asylum case or immigration-court date pending. Previously, the administration’s policy for “expedited removal” had been limited to migrants caught within 100 miles of the U.S. border who had been in the country for less than two weeks. The new rule would apply to immigrants anywhere in the United States who have been in the country for less than two years — adhering to a time limit included in the 1996 federal law that authorized the expedited process.

Immigrants apprehended in Iowa, Nebraska or other inland states would have to prove to immigration officials that they have been in the United States continuously for the past two years, or they could end up in an immigration jail facing quick deportation. And it could be relatively low-level immigration officers — not officers of a court — making the decisions.

What this means in reality is that anyone in the U.S. could be ordered by ICE/CBP to “show your papers.” From the article:

Immigrants’ advocates warned that the policy could ensnare longtime legal residents or even U.S. citizens who have been deported in error before. Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said she fears the rule will lead to increased racial profiling and turn ICE into a “show-me-your-papers militia.”

“This new directive flows directly from the racist rhetoric that the president has been using for the last week and indeed months, but this new rule is going to terrorize communities of color,” said Gupta, who was head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama.

U.S. citizens could be rapidly deported on the word of an ICE agent, without a court hearing. Read this story in The Dallas Morning News: A Dallas-born citizen picked up by the Border Patrol has been detained for three weeks.

An 18-year-old Dallas-born U.S. citizen has been in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for more than three weeks, his attorney says.

Now his family fears he may be deported.

Bully Culprit, by Robbie Conal

Francisco Erwin Galicia was detained at a CBP checkpoint in Falfurrias on June 27, said Claudia Galan, his attorney.

Galicia was traveling with his 17-year-old brother Marlon Galicia and a group of friends from Edinburg where they live to Ranger College in North Texas for a soccer scouting event when they came upon a CBP checkpoint, said Sanjuana Galicia, his mother.

It was about 8 p.m. Marlon, who was born in Mexico and lacked legal status, had only been through a border checkpoint on school trips and had never been pressed to provide travel documents.

But this time was different, Marlon said. He had only a school ID. His brother was carrying only his Texas ID, which can only be obtained with a Social Security number.

“We were confident that we’d be able to pass. We were going to do something good for our futures,” he said. “I didn’t imagine this could happen and now I’m so sad that I’m not with my family,” Marlon said by phone from Reynosa, Mexico, where he is staying with his grandmother.

After two days in detention, Marlon signed a voluntary deportation form.

“I signed because I wanted to talk with my mom. Now, we just have to wait and see and hope that they release my brother,” Marlon said.

Francisco Galicia told his mother, who lives in Edinburg, that he was detained because he didn’t have his U.S. passport. But she said he did present CBP with his Texas ID.

Read more at the link.

And of course Trump’s brown shirts are already torturing children in his concentration camps. NBC News reports: Abner, 17, describes 11 days of hunger and thirst at Yuma’s border station.

Abner, a 17-year-old Guatemalan boy, vividly recalls the first 48 hours he spent inside the U.S. Border Patrol station in Yuma, Arizona. He was awake for all of them because there was no space to lie down.

James Ostrer, Emotion Download

Packed into a cell with other migrant boys, Abner said the older children would give the 8, 9, and 10-year-olds space to lie down on the floor while they would try to sleep sitting or standing up. With nothing to cover him, Abner would tremble.

“I had to stay almost two days like this, standing. I didn’t sleep. And they didn’t treat me well because I would ask for at least food or water or something to cover myself with and they would deny it,” Abner told NBC News in Spanish.

Eventually, he learned to sleep on a pile of trash in the corner of the cell, said Abner, who does not want his full name or his face used out of fear he will be targeted for deportation….

In total Abner spent 11 days from late May to early June in the Yuma border station. He describes them as filled with hunger and thirst, extreme temperatures and fear of the guards manning the facility. They refused to give him food when he asked, mocked him if he asked what time it was, and, on one occasion, punched another boy in the stomach, Abner said.

Abner says the children were fed only twice a day.

The older boys in Abner’s cell learned to protect the younger children, whose cries would anger the guards.

“Sometimes, we would give one [hamburger] to the little ones. Because the little ones were the ones that wanted to eat more than others. At least, [the older kids could] stand the hunger a little more,” Abner said.

This is being done in our name, and the whole world is watching.

I haven’t yet said anything about Robert Mueller’s Congressional testimony tomorrow. I’m sure you’ve heard that what used to be called the Department of Justice but is now Donald Trump’s personal law firm is trying to put limits on what Mueller can say. Politico reports:

Justice Department officials have communicated to Robert Mueller that the department expects him to limit his congressional testimony this week to the public findings of his 448-page report, according to one current and one former U.S. official familiar with the preparations.

In extensive discussions since the former special counsel was subpoenaed on June 25 to testify, department officials have emphasized that they consider any evidence he gathered throughout the course of his investigation to be “presumptively privileged” and shielded from public disclosure.

Of course this is complete bullshit. Mueller is a private citizen now and doesn’t have to take orders from Bill Barr or Trump. Also from Politico: Nadler calls DOJ ‘incredibly arrogant’ for trying to limit Mueller’s testimony.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler on Tuesday blasted President Donald Trump’s Justice Department as “incredibly arrogant” for instructing Robert Mueller to limit the scope of his upcoming congressional testimony.

But the New York Democrat predicted that the Justice Department’s Monday directive would not affect Wednesday’s highly anticipated pair of hearings with the former special counsel.

“I don’t think it’s much of an impediment, simply because Bob Mueller had indicated repeatedly that he was going to do exactly that,” Nadler said on CNN. “I think it’s incredibly arrogant of the department to try to instruct him as to what to say. It’s a part of the ongoing cover-up by the administration to keep information away from the American people, but I think that it’s not going to have a real impact.”

Here are some articles on Muller’s long-anticipated testimony:

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Here’s how Mueller’s testimony could damage Trump.

Carol Lee at NBC News: Among the questions for Mueller: Why wasn’t Donald Trump Jr. interviewed?

Neil Kaytal at The New York Times: With Three Simple Answers, Mueller Can Speak Volumes.

In June, Mimi Rocha wrote at NBC News Think: What Barr’s ongoing smear campaign against Robert Mueller is really about.

The Daily Beast: Can Mueller Cut Through Barr’s ‘Fog of Propaganda’?

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Thursday Reads: Another Crazy Day in Trump World

Good Morning!!

Trump apparently worked himself up into a frenzy last night. He woke up an sent out a series of angry tweets, in one of which he admitted for the first time that Russia helped him get elected. He actually deleted the first tweet but sent out another in which he made the same admission.

A little later Trump emerged from the White House and unleashed a rage-filled 17 minute rant in which he angrily denigrated Robert Mueller. He also contradicted his own tweet, claiming that Russia didn’t help him in 2016.

The Washington Post: Trump attacks Mueller, says he would have brought charges if he had evidence of a crime.

“Robert Mueller should have never been chosen,” Trump said of the former special counsel, who was appointed by former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein, a Republican Trump appointee.

Trump told reporters that he considered Mueller “totally conflicted” because he had discussions about the position of FBI director early in the Trump administration and is friendly with former FBI director James B. Comey, whom Trump fired in 2017.

“He loves Comey,” Trump claimed. “Whether it’s love or a deep like, he was conflicted.” [….]

Trump also cited a “business dispute” with Mueller on which he did not elaborate. In the past, White House aides have pointed to an alleged dispute over membership fees at Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia….

“You know who got me elected? I got me elected,” he said. “Russia didn’t help me at all. Russia, if anything, I think, helped the other side.” [….]

In his comments to reporters, Trump downplayed the prospect of impeachment. A growing number of Democrats were advocating that course on Wednesday after Mueller’s appearance.

“It’s a dirty, filthy disgusting word and it has nothing to do with me,” Trump said. “There was no high crime and there was no misdemeanor.”

This morning’s rant continued as Trump unleashed a number of insults about McCain and how Trump was “never a fan.” He also denied demanding that John McCain’s name be hidden on the U.S. Navy battleship named after McCain’s father and grandfather while Trump was in Japan.

The New York Times: White House Asked Navy to Hide John McCain Warship During Trump’s Visit.

The White House asked the Navy to hide a destroyer named after Senator John McCain in order to avoid having the ship appear in photographs taken while President Trump was visiting Japan this week, White House and military officials said Wednesday.

Although Navy officials insisted they did not hide the ship, the John S. McCain, they did give all of the sailors aboard the day off on Tuesday as Mr. Trump visited Yokosuka Naval Base.

USS Battleship John McCain

Two Navy sailors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that the McCain sailors were not invited to hear Mr. Trump speak that day aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp, while sailors from other American warships at the base were.

A Navy service member based on Yokosuka said that all of the American warships in the harbor were invited to send 60 to 70 sailors to hear Mr. Trump’s address, with the exception of the McCain. When several sailors from the McCain showed up anyway, wearing their uniforms with the ship’s insignia, they were turned away, the service member said.

White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly, confirmed the request was made but said that Mr. Trump did not know about it. A United States official said on Wednesday that the White House sent an email to the Navy with the request on May 15.

[Emphasis added] Raise your hand if you believe Trump had nothing to do with the request.

On the other hand, sailors wearing MAGA patches in support of Trump were allowed to attend the speech.

CNN: Navy reviewing ‘Make Aircrew Great Again’ patches worn by sailors during Trump visit.

The Navy is conducting a review to examine whether President Donald Trump-themed patches worn by sailors on their uniforms during the President’s visit to the USS Wasp violated Navy rules.

“Navy leadership is aware of the incident and reviewing to ensure the patch doesn’t violate DoD policy or uniform regulations,” US Navy spokesperson Lt. Sam Boyle told CNN.
Several service members aboard the USS Wasp were seen wearing the patches when Trump addressed sailors on Tuesday. The patches showed a Trump-like image and the slogan “Make Aircrew Great Again.” [….]

Close-up of the MAGA patch

Military personnel often wear unofficial unit patches, sometimes imbued with humorous images, as part of an effort to build unit cohesion and morale.

However, service members are prohibited from exhibiting political messages while in uniform.
Unit commanders are usually responsible for ensuring that the unofficial patches do not violate military regulations.
Department of Defense guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

Trump faces more legal trouble about that massage parlor owner in Florida Cindy Yang.

The Miami Herald: Federal prosecutors demand Cindy Yang records from Mar-a-Lago, Trump campaign.

Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., this week sent subpoenas to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, and Trump Victory, a political fundraising committee, demanding they turn over all records relating to Republican Party donor Li “Cindy” Yang and several of her associates and companies, the Miami Herald has learned.

Cindy Yang with Donald Trump

Yang, a South Florida massage-parlor entrepreneur, is the target of a public corruption investigation seeking to determine if she funneled money from China to the president’s re-election campaign or otherwise violated campaign-finance laws. She became a GOP donor in the 2016 election cycle and opened a consulting company that promised Chinese businesspeople the chance to attend events at Mar-a-Lago and gain access to Trump and his inner circle. Some of those events were campaign fundraisers that required guests to buy tickets for entry, payments that are considered political contributions. Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to U.S. political campaigns.

Investigators are seeking evidence from Mar-a-Lago and Trump Victory as they build a potential case against Yang and possibly others close to her. The president’s club and the fundraising committee are not the targets of the investigation. The subpoenas cover records from January 2017 to the present. A spokeswoman for Yang did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One subpoena, issued by a federal grand jury in West Palm Beach, compels Mar-a-Lago to turn over all documents, records and communications relating to Yang, as well as 11 other people, one charity and seven companies affiliated with her, according to a person familiar with the investigation who asked for anonymity to discuss an ongoing probe. The people named in that subpoena include Yang’s family members, former employees at her massage parlors and several donors to Trump Victory. Prosecutors were trying to serve the subpoena to Mar-a-Lago through a South Florida law firm, the source said.

The second subpoena, for Trump Victory, was served to attorneys at a Washington, D.C., law firm. It seeks campaign-finance records relating to Yang and her associates.

Click the link to read the rest.

As Trump focuses on attacking the people on his enemies list, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are moving us closer to war with Iran.

USA Today: Escalating Iran crisis looks a lot like the path US took to Iraq war.

March 20, 2003 – War With Iraq – Shock & Awe . . . And Then Invasion.

The U.S. military’s guided bombs brought “shock and awe” to Baghdad in 2003 when American forces invaded Iraq 16 years ago to hunt for weapons of mass destruction. They never found any. Many observers, today, consider that war a failure.

Now, half of all Americans believe the U.S. will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released in late May amid increased tensions between the two countries, longtime geopolitical foes.

The escalating Tehran-Washington crisis comes as the White House claims, without providing detail or public evidence, that Iran poses an increased threat to American forces and facilities in the Middle East – one year after Trump withdrew from an accord between Iran and world powers aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.

Is Iran doomed to be an Iraq redux? This is just one of the questions raised by a crisis that has eerie parallels to the missteps that led to the Iraq War in 2003, where the buildup to conflict was precipitated by faulty intelligence and confrontational foreign policymakers such as John Bolton in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Read all about it at the link above. Meanwhile, does anyone know what Trump foreign policy is?

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Who Speaks for the United States?

Tuesday’s New York Times story on the serious disagreements between President Donald Trump and national security adviser John Bolton misses the bigger picture—namely, that Trump is having disagreements with his entire foreign policy team. To put it another way, it is impossible to say just what U.S. foreign policy is—or, to put it more starkly still, the United States has no foreign policy.

The Times story focuses on disputes over Iran and North Korea.
Bolton has described North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s latest short-range missile tests as violations of a U.N. Security Council resolution; Trump says they’re no big deal. Bolton has called for regime change in Iran; Trump said last week in Japan that he’s fine with the current regime, as long as it stays away from nuclear weapons.

But this dispute involves more players than Trump and Bolton. State Department spokespeople, as well as National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, have said—in agreement with Bolton—that the North Korean tests violated a Security Council resolution. Trump stands utterly alone in his view that Kim is an honorable, trustworthy partner.

On Iran, in contrast with what Trump says now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently laid out 12 preconditions for holding talks. Among the demands were that Tehran stop testing ballistic missiles, stop assisting militias in the region, and make several other concessions that would amount, in effect, to a regime change.

And of course, there are his long-standing disputes, over a host of issues, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, various combatant commands, and pretty much the entire intelligence community.

Imagine if you were a world leader who wants to align, or improve relations, with the United States. What do you do? Do you agree with—and act in ways that advance the policies of—the president, the secretary of state, or the national security adviser? It’s impossible to placate all of them simultaneously. So you begin to wonder: Who speaks for the United States?

Please read the whole thing.

So . . . that’s what’s happening so far this morning. What stories are you following?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Dali Atomicus, by Salvador Dali and Philippe-Halsman (photographer)

Good Morning!!

I would love to know who is leaking info about Michael Flynn. Apparently Flynn reached out to Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz while he was supposedly cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

CNN: Flynn contacted GOP Mueller critic while cooperating with special counsel.

While he was cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn contacted at least one member of Congress who was publicly criticizing the special counsel probe, according to messages obtained by CNN.

Flynn sent Twitter direct messages to Rep. Matt Gaetz, encouraging the Florida Republican to “keep the pressure on.” It’s not clear if Flynn sent additional messages to other lawmakers.
“You stay on top of what you’re doing. Your leadership is so vital for our country now. Keep the pressure on,” Flynn wrote in an April 2018 message to Gaetz, which was obtained by CNN.

By Amy Hill

On the evening Flynn sent the message to Gaetz, the lawmaker had appeared on Fox Business’ “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” where he criticized the Mueller investigation.

“We’ve got to play a far stronger role in exposing the hypocrisy at the Department of Justice,” Gaetz said in the April 3, 2018, appearance. “With no evidence of collusion, with no evidence of any crime whatsoever, they unleashed Bob Mueller to go investigate things that happened before Donald Trump was even contemplating running for president.”

That same hour, Flynn sent Gaetz the direct message.

Gaetz also received a message in February of this year. On the day that Attorney General William Barr was confirmed, Flynn sent Gaetz GIFs of a bald eagle and an American flag, without any accompanying text.

Flynn is still “cooperating,” and he hasn’t been sentenced yet. As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, new information has been revealed by order of the judge in Flynn’s case Emmet Sullivan. Did the DOJ leak the incriminating info about Flynn contacting Gaetz in response to the new Mueller report info to make Flynn look bad? I wonder what Judge Sullivan will have to say about this?

There’s also this Devin Nunes tweet from 2016:

Here’s another interesting story I missed from a couple of days ago. This one is about Felix Sater, who was involved with Trump for years and, along with Michael Cohen working on the Trump Tower Moscow project.

Natasha Bertrand at Politico: Judge confirms Trump associate gave feds Osama bin Laden’s number.

A federal judge has confirmed for the first time that Felix Sater, a former Donald Trump business associate who drove Trump Tower Moscow negotiations during the 2016 election, helped the U.S. government track down Osama bin Laden.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Percy, by David Hockney, 1970-71

During a hearing on Thursday in the Eastern District of New York — held as part of a lawsuit brought by First Look Media to unseal records related to Sater’s longtime cooperation with the government on various national security issues — Judge I. Leo Glasser said the media group already knew all of the “very interesting and dangerous things” Sater had done through his decade as an FBI informant.

“He cooperated,” Glasser said. “And you know what he did over the 10, 11 years, because you told me that you know. He provided the telephone number of Osama bin Laden. He has done an awful lot of very interesting and dangerous things.”

The detail is just another bizarre side plot that has emerged over the two-plus years that federal investigators, lawmakers and journalists have tried to uncover every detail about possible interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian intermediaries during the 2016 election. The probes have put spotlights on a cast of figures in Trump’s extended orbit, many of whom possess unusual backgrounds.

Trump’s “Roy Cohn” AKA Cover-Up General Bill Barr appeared on state TV on Friday to publicly trash the investigation into Russia’s interference in our elections.

Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Barr Again Casts Doubt on Russia Inquiry’s Origins, Aligning With Trump’s Attacks.

Still Life with Cat And Lobster 1962 Painting by Pablo Picasso; Still Life with Cat And Lobster 1962 Art Print for sale

When Attorney General William P. Barr described the early stages of the Russia investigation as “spying” on the Trump campaign, he prompted questions about whether he had used that word spontaneously — or whether he was deliberately fueling conspiracy theories.

That question flared anew on Friday after Mr. Barr went even further in casting doubt on the legitimacy of the investigation in two interviews that, by design or coincidence, provided fresh ammunition for President Trump and allies to attack law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Mr. Barr told Fox News he had been asking whether “government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” in opening the Russia inquiry. “A lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together,” he added.

And he doubled down on the innuendo-laden formulation he used in congressional testimony last month, telling The Wall Street Journal, “Government power was used to spy on American citizens.”

The statements were the latest in a series of actions and comments by Mr. Barr expressing skepticism about how the F.B.I. began investigating during the 2016 presidential campaign whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia’s election interference. The attorney general has appointed a federal prosecutor to review aspects of the investigation, rather than await the results of an independent inspector general inquiry due in the coming weeks, and he has invoked the term “spying” on multiple occasions.

Grey Matter, by Amy Jo Hill

Are we stuck with Joe Biden as the 2020 Democratic nominee for president? The media in general seems to believe he’s the anointed one. But anointed by whom? Obama hasn’t endorsed him. Who really wants this guy to be POTUS?

Jill Filipovic at The New York Times: Does Anyone Actually Want Joe Biden to Be President?

The most important requirement for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee? Electability. It matters more, we keep hearing, than nominating a candidate who has good policies. It matters more than nominating a candidate with a track record of passing progressive legislation. It certainly matters more than nominating a candidate who could be the first female president.

Unfortunately, very few people who say they are putting electability first seem to understand what “electability” means, or what today’s electorate actually looks like.

Case in point: In a field crowded with nearly two dozen candidates, no answer to the electability question is offered more regularly and with more conviction than “Joe Biden.”

Mr. Biden, whose campaign officially kicks of this Saturday in Philadelphia, is the kind of guy you could see sitting behind a big desk, acting as a wise custodian of our democracy without posing any threat of changing much. He is from one of those scrappy Rust Belt cities fetishized by so many pundits — people who believe that the imaginary working-class white voter who is going to deliver the White House to the Democrats wants Joe Biden, which is what, in turn, makes Joe Biden electable.

But what about the rest of us–Democrats who aren’t white males living in the rust belt? What about women who still dream of a women president in their lifetimes? We don’t count when it comes to “electability” supposedly. Read more at the NYT.

At The Daily Beast, Adam Howard tries to explain Biden’s current appeal to African Americans: Why Black Voters Are Gravitating to Biden.

Haiku, by Albena Vatcheva

Now, with Obama’s blessing if not his formal endorsement, Biden has sought the presidency himself for the third time in 30 years, and this time, he’s enjoying a solid and in some case growing lead over a historically huge field of Democratic contenders. The backbone of his support comes from the most reliable and one of the most coveted Democratic primary voting blocs: African-Americans.

Most of the cable news commentary has approached this fact with the condescending assertion that Biden’s black support is mostly due to name recognition and his proximity to Obama. Some have suggested that older black voters, who are traditionally more moderate, may be attracted to his centrism.

But these hot takes overlook something less tangible and quantifiable: how much the sincere, integrated friendship of Biden and Obama (and their families) was cathartic and inspirational. It was the personification of the post-racial utopia some hoped Obama’s election victories would deliver but never did, and probably never could.

Their platonic bromance provided comfort during the confounding period when Obama’s popularity seemed to grow simultaneously with the rise and improbable election of a man who championed a racist campaign to discredit him.

Howard suggests that Biden could loose African American support as the campaign goes on. He doesn’t specifically address the attitudes of black women or provide any evidence for his arguments. The piece is based on his own personal opinions. I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.

I’ll end with this article at The Washington Post on Nevada, where women are now in control of the legislature: Where women call the shots.

by Amy Hill

She didn’t plan to say it. Yvanna Cancela, a newly elected Democrat in the Nevada Senate, didn’t want to “sound crass.” But when a Republican colleague defended a century-old law requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions whether they’re married, Cancela couldn’t help firing back.

“A man is not asked his marital status before he gets a vasectomy,” she countered — and the packed hearing room fell silent.

Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.

Cancela, 32, is part of the wave of women elected by both parties in November, many of them younger than 40. Today, women hold the majority with 23 seats in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate, or a combined 52 percent.

No other legislature has achieved that milestone in U.S. history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47 percent of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman. And in Alabama, which just enacted an almost complete ban on abortion, women make up just 15 percent of lawmakers.

The female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Friday Reads

Illustration by Alan Baker

Good Morning!!

Dakinikat has a doctor’s appointment, so I’m filling in for her today. I’m illustrating this post with fantasy animal houses (mostly bunnies), just because.

So what’s happening?

House Democrats are inching toward impeachment hearings. They aren’t going to have much choice, since Trump and Cover-Up General Barr are stonewalling on releasing the full Mueller report along with the underlying evidence.

The New Yorker: House Democrats Debate Impeachment. The article notes that after two years of caution about impeachment from Democratic leaders, even moderate Democrats are now calling for it.

In recent days, however, even more moderate Democrats have begun speaking about impeachment, in response to Trump’s stonewalling of House investigations. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” he told reporters last week. “Look, these aren’t like impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win in 2020.” In response, Representative Jamie Raskin, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told the Times that he is open to a limited impeachment inquiry, adding, “President Trump’s defiance of Congress is far more comprehensive and sweeping than anything Congress experienced during the Watergate period.”

Bunny Dream House by Sandra Steffensen

After Attorney General William Barr refused to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, rejecting the committee’s condition that staff attorneys question him, other House members echoed Raskin’s warning. That morning, on CNN, Representative Ted Lieu said, “If the Trump Administration wants impeachment, they’re doing a good job of pushing Democrats there, because we want to first gather facts to decide if we should impeach. If we can’t gather facts, then we’re going to launch an impeachment.” Of the three articles of impeachment presented against Richard Nixon after Watergate, Lieu noted, the third was contempt of Congress.

For now, Democrats are pursuing a strategy that, in practice, could easily turn out to be the first, informal phase of an impeachment inquiry. They’re investigating, but without formally signalling that they believe Trump committed impeachable offenses. When I spoke to several members of the House Judiciary Committee last week, none ruled out the possibility of impeachment. “That’s another possible reasonable course,” Representative Madeleine Dean said. “I happen to like the course we’re on better, and here’s why. I have several key takeaways from the Mueller report that, for me, demand answers to questions. So I’d rather not pre-frame it with ‘We’re doing it in order to impeach or with the hope of impeaching.’ ”

Read more at the link.

Yesterday, Gerry Nadler gave a strong speech at the Judiciary Committee hearing that Barr was supposed to attend. I hope you’ll listen to it.

Nadler has a long history with Trump in New York, and I don’t think he is going to put up with Trump’s and Barr’s obstruction much longer. Yesterday we learned that his committee is in direct talks with Robert Mueller about testifying. The Hill reports:

Bunny tree house

Special counsel Robert Mueller‘s team is in direct talks with the House Judiciary Committee about whether he will testify before Congress, according to multiple reports.

NBC News and ABC News reported that the committee is now speaking with Mueller’s team when it was previously dealing with the Justice Department. NBC reports that a hearing has not been finalized and a date was not set.

That’s good news. It’s about time Mueller started speaking out. He really should have done so sooner.

CNN: Mueller’s silence let Trump supporters fill the void.

All his life, the Vietnam War Marine veteran has lived out a code of discreet personal values — elevating government service, the rule of law and respect for the chain of command.

But now, the uproar triggered in the wake of Mueller’s Russia investigation raises the question of whether his time-honored methods have left him vulnerable to exploitation in a new political era of hyper-partisanship and self-aggrandizing.

And the discord is increasing calls for Mueller to break his silence in the most public way — in hearings being demanded by House Democrats, which would become one of the most hotly anticipated congressional appearances in years.

Pookie house, by Ivy Wallace

Mueller’s habitual reticence earned him a reputation for integrity that made him the ideal choice for the radioactive mission of investigating a sitting president’s campaign.
But in retrospect, it let others — who do not necessarily follow his blueprint for life — tell his story themselves.

Ultimately, the special counsel’s absence allowed Attorney General William Barr to step in and provide his own interpretation of Mueller’s report — with which Mueller now differs.
That left the long-held assumption that Mueller’s words in his report would speak for themselves undermined — to the political advantage of President Donald Trump, who is claiming blanket exoneration that the report does not confer.

Read the rest at CNN.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: Mueller Can’t Get Away With Silence Anymore. The gist:

If Attorney General William Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday demonstrated anything, it was that a deep rupture has yawned open between these two old friends and Washington lifers. It wasn’t just that Barr denigrated Mueller as a “political appointee” or dismissed his March 27 letter as “snitty,” and thus clearly the work of underlings. It wasn’t just that Barr implied that Mueller was either too timid or too incompetent to come to a conclusion on the question of whether Donald Trump had obstructed justice. And it wasn’t just that Barr suggested that since the entire Mueller probe had been proven to be “based on false accusations,” it was illegitimate, which certainly suggests that Mueller devoted two long years to a—you guessed it—witch hunt. Presumably, from now on, if the president decides any legal investigation is “based on false accusations,” he can just go ahead and impede it, a framing that makes a hash of everything Mueller sought to do. When pressed Wednesday on Mueller’s bona fides, Barr snapped that “Bob Mueller is the equivalent of a U.S. Attorney. … His work concluded when he sent his report to the attorney general. At that point, it was my baby.” This is not how you talk about a colleague you respect.

Secret World of Rabbits Above and Below, by Vince Desjardins

But it’s not just that. At the most basic level, Barr has distorted Mueller’s actual work product, including his polite and confidential and lawyerly letter asking (twice) that Barr correct his inaccurate summary of Mueller’s careful report. It’s a letter that Wired’s Garrett Graff, who wrote a book about Mueller, described thusly: “I’ve read just about every word Bob Mueller has ever said publicly or published. He’s written precisely one letter like the angry one he sent to Barr: It excoriated Scotland for letting the Pan Am 103 bomber out of prison.”

Read the whole thing at Slate.

Last night, Rachel Maddow made an argument for what I’ve been saying all along. Cover-Up General Barr effectively fired Mueller for Trump. He likely shut down the investigation, with the help of Rod Rosenstein. Here’s Rachel’s take on it, in case you missed it.

In other news, The media is vetting Bernie Sanders this time. The Washington Post has a big story on Bernie’s honeymoon in the Soviet Union: Inside Bernie Sanders’s 1988 10-day ‘honeymoon’ in the Soviet Union: Inside Bernie Sanders’s 1988 10-day ‘honeymoon’ in the Soviet Union.

Bernie Sanders was bare-chested, towel-draped, sitting at a table lined with vodka bottles, as he sang “This Land Is Your Land” to his hosts in the Soviet Union in the spring of 1988.

The just-married socialist mayor from Vermont was on what he called “a very strange honeymoon,” an official 10-day visit to the communist country, and he was enthralled with the hospitality and the lessons that could be brought home.

“Let’s take the strengths of both systems,” he said upon completing the trip. “Let’s learn from each other.”

The Soviet sojourn has long been an extraordinary, if little understood, chapter in Sanders lore. He has for years used it to help explain his views about foreign policy, citing it as recently as last month….

As he stood on Soviet soil, Sanders, then 46 years old, criticized the cost of housing and health care in the United States, while lauding the lower prices — but not the quality — of that available in the Soviet Union. Then, at a banquet attended by about 100 people, Sanders blasted the way the United States had intervened in other countries, stunning one of those who had accompanied him.

“I got really upset and walked out,” said David F. Kelley, who had helped arrange the trip and was the only Republican in Sanders’s entourage. “When you are a critic of your country, you can say anything you want on home soil. At that point, the Cold War wasn’t over, the arms race wasn’t over, and I just wasn’t comfortable with it.”

I imagine Trump will have fun with that.

More stories to check out, links only:

Bloomberg: Someone Did Get to Look at Trump’s Tax Returns: Deutsche Bankers.

The Washington Post: Trump is already set to use the government to destroy the Democratic nominee.

Heather Digby Parton at Raw Story: Will Trump order Bill Barr to sabotage Joe Biden?

The New York Times: The Coming Subpoena Fights Between Trump and Congress, Explained.

The Washington Post: Watergate had the Nixon tapes. Mueller had Annie Donaldson’s notes.

Media Matters: Study: Major media outlets’ Twitter accounts amplify false Trump claims on average 19 times a day.

The New York Times: Woody Allen Pitched a Memoir. Publishers Weren’t Interested.

Vanity Fair: Apparently, No One Wants Woody Allen’s New Memoir.

The Daily Beast: Mark Halperin Enlists Pals Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, and Michael Smerconish to Rehab His Career After Sexual Misconduct Scandal.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories have you been following?