Thursday Reads: Russia Investigation Cover Up Live Blog/Open Thread

Cover-up bunny

Good Morning!!

The Barr cover-up report reportedly will go public sometime today. The schedule is vague. At 9:30, Cover-Up General Barr plans to give a “press conference” about a report that no one except unknown DOJ officials and White House lawyers have read.

Yes, according the NYT, the White House has been briefed and very likely has had the full report for some time. In addition, DOJ attorneys have been helping the White House prepare their counter-report!

The New York Times: White House and Justice Dept. Officials Discussed Mueller Report Before Release.

Not all of Robert S. Mueller III’s findings will be news to President Trump when they are released Thursday.

Justice Department officials have had numerous conversations with White House lawyers about the conclusions made by Mr. Mueller, the special counsel, in recent days, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. The talks have aided the president’s legal team as it prepares a rebuttal to the report and strategizes for the coming public war over its findings.

Cover-up pup

A sense of paranoia was taking hold among some of Mr. Trump’s aides, some of whom fear his backlash more than the findings themselves, the people said. The report might make clear which of Mr. Trump’s current and former advisers spoke to the special counsel, how much they said and how much damage they did to the president — providing a kind of road map for retaliation.

Reporters should use the “press conference” to ask Barr about his past cover-ups, his connections to Russia, his conflicts of interest, and his general corruption. They won’t, of course. They also should not refer to whatever redacted mess the Cover-Up General releases as the Mueller Report, but of course they will do just that.

We have to keep reminding ourselves that it’s not the Mueller report; it’s the Barr report. If Robert Mueller wanted to endorse Barr’s cover-up, he would be appearing at the “press conference.” But his isn’t going to be there. Mueller has been muzzled.

Tom Scocca at Hmm Daily: It’s the Barr Report, Not the Mueller Report.

What could inspire more hope and despair than a whole bunch of people who messed something up being granted a do-over? Tomorrow, all the reporters and publications who gave Donald Trump his “MUELLER FINDS NO COLLUSION” headlines, based on a few sentence fragments in a letter from attorney general William Barr, are supposed to get another document to analyze and quickly write headlines about.

Cover-up kitty

Already, journalists are calling this document “the Mueller report.” It is not the Mueller report; that is, it will not be the report prepared by the special counsel investigating Russian election interference and the Trump campaign. It will be some other document. Its text, like the quotes used in the Barr letter, will be based on the text of the Mueller report, but it will have been edited down for release by William Barr, whose implicit and explicit theory of his job duties is that he is there to protect the president.

This isn’t speculation. It’s a description of what’s publicly known about the process, informed by Barr’s prior work with the Mueller report, his written record of his own thoughts on presidential immunity, and his history as a middleman in previous scandal coverage. Barr is a partisan, not a broker of facts, and it is a basic reporting error to treat material that’s passed through his control as definitive—a basic reporting error that major media outlets eagerly made, last time around.

The Daily Beast: Mueller Report Rollout Won’t Have Mueller.

The Justice Department will hold a press conference Thursday morning about the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report—but Mueller won’t be there and the document may not be released until after Attorney General William Barr speaks about the nearly 400 pages he went through to redact.

The House Judiciary Committee has been told it will not get the Mueller report from DOJ until 11 a.m. or noon—after Barr’s press conference scheduled for 9:30 a.m.

“They are making Al Capone look straight,” one committee member told The Daily Beast.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler ripped Barr’s plan to speak about the report before lawmakers, the media and public have a chance to review it.

“Rather than letting the facts of the report speak for themselves, the attorney general has taken unprecedented steps to spin Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation,” Nadler said at a press conference on Wednesday night.

“The Attorney General appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump, the very subject of the investigation at the heart of the Mueller report,” he added.

If the report is heavily redacted, Nadler said, “we will most certainly issue the subpoenas in very short order.” He said they “will probably find it useful” to ask Mueller and members of his team to testify.

Just send out the subpoenas as soon as you get the report. No more fooling around.

Axios insists on calling the Barr Report “the Mueller Report.”

Mueller report: What witnesses expect ahead of its release

Mueller witnesses and their lawyers say that they expect the special counsel’s report to include a mass of detailed scenes in which President Trump lashed out about Mueller, Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein and the FBI.

The big picture: They believe that if Mueller’s report presents the material in the same relentlessly detailed way as his prosecutors asked the questions, the accumulation could lead a casual observer to think that the president tried to obstruct justice.

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  • These sources expect Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, to star in many of the crucial conversations that the Mueller team considered part of their exploration of whether Trump sought to obstruct justice.

The bottom line: These sources don’t know whether the scenes the Mueller team quizzed them about were included in the report. And, of course, they don’t know what Attorney General Bill Barr redacted ahead of today’s release.

The Barr cover-up people are claiming that the part of the report on obstruction of justice will only be “lightly redacted” (according to the WaPo). I can’t imagine why the Barr people think we should trust them on this. More from Axios:

Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, said: “We’re going to respond as quickly as we can to you all during the day, probably multiple times. … We’ll try to get something up very quick.”

– I asked Sekulow whether there could be a surprise. “This is a situation where we know what the conclusion is,” the lawyer replied.

– “The aircraft landed safely, there was no damage to the equipment or injury to the passengers, and now two weeks later the NTSB issues a video of the landing.”

– “I’m not concerned,” Sekulow added. “The inquiry is concluded.”

Fuck off Seculow. I hope you end up in prison.

Democrats are furious. Politico: ‘Keep your mouth shut’: Dems erupt over Barr’s Mueller report rollout.

House Democrats exploded in anger Wednesday over Attorney General William Barr’s plans to roll out special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, accusing the Justice Department of trying to spin the report’s contents and protect President Donald Trump.

Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will hold a news conference at 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning to review the report, which will include redactions. Reports that DOJ officials have already discussed Mueller’s findings with the White House only further inflamed tensions.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Barr had “thrown out his credibility & the DOJ’s independence with his single-minded effort to protect @realDonaldTrump above all else.“

“The American people deserve the truth, not a sanitized version of the Mueller Report approved by the Trump Admin,“ Pelosi wrote on Twitter while on an official trip in Ireland.

The House speaker joined with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to call for Mueller to testify publicly once the report is out, saying Barr’s “regrettably partisan handling of the Mueller report … and his indefensible plan to spin the report in a press conference” had created “a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality.”

“We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible,” they said.

Barr is going to release the report to Congress as hard copies and on CD’s! Barr is still stuck in the 1990s, apparently.

NBC News: Democrats blast timing of Mueller report release: ‘What are they trying to hide?’

A hard-copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report will be made available to members of Congress after 11 a.m. Thursday, but only after a news conference by the attorney general — timing that has infuriated Democratic lawmakers.

That means the document will be handed over to lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees 90 minutes after the press conference by Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about the contents of the 300-plus page report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign.

The report will be delivered on CDs. Sometime after that, it will be posted on the special counsel’s website and available to the public, a Department of Justice official said.

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Barr’s redactions on the Mueller report don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

As Washington prepared for the release of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s final report, a fight was brewing between House Democrats and the Justice Department about how much would be redacted. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has prepared a subpoena demanding disclosure of the whole document to Congress. Attorney General William P. Barr has steadfastly insisted that information that is classified, stemming from secret grand jury proceedings or otherwise sensitive would not be revealed publicly.

Mr. Barr is essentially asking Congress and the public to take him at his word that his redactions will be proper. There is already cause for wariness about Mr. Barr’s judgment, following reports that those who worked on the Mueller investigation felt that the summary the attorney general released last month inadequately represented their findings. The fact that Mr. Barr rejected the notion that Mr. Trump obstructed justice, even though Mr. Mueller made no determination on the matter, is another concerning sign about what the attorney general is thinking.

More importantly, Mr. Barr works for an administration preparingfor all-out war with Congress over all sorts of disclosure, which would be only the latest in a string of bad-faith rejections of federal rules and traditional norms. Regardless of the attorney general’s reputation, he still works for an administration that long ago lost any benefit of the doubt on transparency and fair play.

There may be no satisfying end to this national saga until an independent referee steps in to sort out the controversy. Reggie Walton, a U.S. district judge, raised on Tuesday one possibility for further review. Accusing Mr. Barr of creating “an environment that has caused a significant part of the public . . . to be concerned about whether or not there is full transparency,” the judge raised the possibility that he would demand an unredacted copy to review whether the Justice Department’s omissions were warranted. We hope he follows through. Mr. Walton could ensure that the redactions followed Freedom of Information Act procedures and were not influenced by political considerations.

More at the link.

Funny face of cute Jack Russell dog wrapped up in red warm blanket, focus on nose

One more from Natasha Bertrand at Politico: Post-Mueller report likely to target Russia dossier author Steele.

The frenzied anticipation around special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report has overshadowed another Justice Department report on the Russia probe that could land as soon as next month, and which will likely take direct aim at the former British spy behind an infamous “dossier” on President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

For the past year, the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has been examining the FBI’s efforts to surveil a one-time Trump campaign adviser based in part on information from Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 agent who had worked with the bureau as a confidential source since 2010.

Several people interviewed by the Inspector General’s office over the past year tell POLITICO that Horowitz’s team has been intensely focused on gauging Steele’s credibility as a source for the bureau. One former U.S. official left the interview with the impression that the Inspector General’s final report “is going to try and deeply undermine” Steele, who spent over two decades working Russia for MI6 before leaving to launch his own corporate intelligence firm.

Read the rest at Politico.

I’m putting this post up early so we can discuss what’s happening in real time. It should be in interesting day.

 

 


Lazy Caturday Reads: Congress Must Stop The “Cover-Up General” Bill Barr

Hillary and Bill with Socks on the White House lawn

Good Morning!!

Some folks are beginning to catch on to the “Cover-Up General” Bill Barr. I’ve been writing about this for the past couple of weeks. Barr did what even Jeff Sessions wasn’t corrupt enough to do. He shut down the Russia investigation and now he’s stalling for time in order to keep the American people from learning what Robert Mueller found about Donald Trump, his crime family, and his evil goons.

Barr knows how to shut down an investigation and cover up the results. Way back in 1992, The New York Times’s William Safire raged in column after column against Barr’s cover-up of the Iraq-gate scandal, but Barr won in the end by getting George H.W. Bush to pardon the top conspirators.

Audrey Hepburn with Paris 1957

Read a recap of the scandal and Barr’s victory in The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 27, 1992: Iraqgate–A Case Study of a Big Story With Little Impact. Bush had illegally armed Saddam Hussein from 1986 and 1990. He handed Hussein “the very weapons he later used against American and allied forces in the Persian Gulf War.”

Bill Barr shut down both Iran Contra and Iraqgate by shutting the investigation down, first refusing to appoint a special prosecutor for Iraqgate and then recommending the pardons of the top Iran Contra officials.

NPR, Jan. 14, 2019: William Barr Supported Pardons In An Earlier D.C. ‘Witch Hunt’: Iran-Contra.

Barr….ran the Justice Department once before, under President George H.W. Bush.

Back then, the all-consuming, years-long scandal was called Iran-Contra. On Dec. 24, 1992, it ended when Bush pardoned six people who had been caught up in it.

“The Constitution is quite clear on the powers of the president and sometimes the president has to make a very difficult call,” Bush said then. “That’s what I’ve done.”

Then-Attorney General Barr supported the president’s decision in the Iran-Contra case, which gave clemency to people who had been officials in the administration of President Ronald Reagan, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. He had been set to go on trial to face charges about lying to Congress.

To the man who led the Iran-Contra investigation, however, the pardons represented a miscarriage of justice.

Cat Stevens

“It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office, deliberately abusing the public trust without consequences,” said Lawrence Walsh, the independent prosecutor in the case, at the time of the pardons.

Barr said later that he believed Bush had made the right decision and that he felt people in the case had been treated unfairly.

“The big ones — obviously, the Iran-Contra ones — I certainly did not oppose any of them,” Barr said as part of the Presidential Oral History Program of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

From Bloomberg, Jan. 19, 2019:

The most significant single act of Barr’s career in the Department of Justice was to advise President George H.W. Bush to pardon six officials from Ronald Reagan’s administration, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, for crimes associated with the Iran-Contra affair. At the time, Barr was — you guessed it — attorney general. His recommendation gave Bush the cover he needed to issue the pardons.

And Bush needed the cover. The investigation led by independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was closing in on the president himself. Walsh had demanded that Bush turn over a campaign diary that he kept in 1986. Bush failed to do so, presumably because the diary showed he knew more about Iran-Contra than he had let on. Walsh publicly condemned Bush’s failure to produce the diary as “misconduct” by the sitting president.

Jackie and Croline Kennedy, Hyannis Port, MA 1961

Issuing the pardons killed Walsh’s investigation — and saved Bush. When the targets of the investigation were off the hook, Walsh had no leverage to continue.

Don’t take my word for it. When the pardons came, Walsh went on ABC’s “Nightline” and said that Bush had “succeeded in a sort of Saturday Night Massacre.” The comparison was intended. Walsh was saying that Bush had saved himself by effectively ending an investigation that was leading to the Oval Office — the aim that Nixon failed to accomplish when he fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Leaving little to the imagination, Walsh also said at the time that he had “evidence of a conspiracy among the highest ranking Reagan administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public.”

The architect of this pardon strategy was Barr. In an oral history interview he gave in 2001, Barr said he didn’t consult with the pardon office at his own Department of Justice, which was playing its “usual role — naysayers” against issuing pardons.

Instead, Barr said he spoke to “some seasoned professionals” at Justice. Then, “based on those discussions, I went over and told the President I thought he should not only pardon Caspar Weinberger, but while he was at it, he should pardon about five others.”

Read more of Barr’s corrupt history in this piece by Lloyd Green at The Guardian from March 25, 2019: William Barr: attorney general plays Republican spear-catcher again. From the article, some examples of Barr’s obfuscation techniques:

Doris Day

House Democrats demanded Barr appoint an independent counsel to investigate the sins of the Bush administration. They were rebuffed. In a letter to the House judiciary committee, Barr tossed around such phrases as “not a crime”, “simply not criminal in any way”, “nothing illegal”, and “far from being a crime.”

As to the separate question of whether administration officials deliberately altered commerce department documents in an effort to conceal military sales to Iraq and purposely misled Congress about Iraq policy, Barr contended the Department of Justice was up to that task.

He wrote: “These are the kinds of allegations that are routinely investigated by the Public Integrity Section and there is no conflict of interest that precluded their handling these matters in the normal course.” [….]

From the looks of things, Trump has the attorney general of his dreams. Like the supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh, Barr is a loyal conservative who comes with a Bush family seal of approval. For this president, it doesn’t get better than that.

Fortunately, this time we have more engaged House members than in 1992. Let’s hope they’ve researched Cover-Up General Barr’s history and are ready to fight back. We have to stand with Adam Schiff.

 

 

Two more relevant reads:

The Washington Post: Sally Yates: William Barr should release the full Mueller report as soon as possible.

America’s justice system is built upon one thing — truth. When witnesses give testimony, they are sworn to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” The word “verdict” derives from the Latin term “veredictum,” meaning “to say the truth.” Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, a public servant with impeccable integrity, was entrusted to find the truth regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election and has spoken through a comprehensive report that details the facts that he uncovered.

Christina Ricci

Yet a week after Mueller issued his report, we don’t know those facts and have only been provided with Attorney General William P. Barr’s four-page summary of Mueller’s estimated 400-page report. It is time for the American people to hear the whole truth. We need to see the report itself.

First, as the attorney general’s letter to Congress notes, the Mueller report “outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts.” Congress has a solemn responsibility to protect our democracy. Without access to the full factual record of what the special counsel uncovered, it cannot fulfill that mandate. As you read this, the Russian government is undoubtedly hard at work to undermine our next election. Each day that passes without Congress having access to the full Mueller report is a day that Congress is prevented from doing its job of keeping our elections free from Russian espionage efforts.

Second, Barr’s letter leaves important questions unanswered concerning what then-candidate Donald Trump and his associates knew about Russian interference, and how they responded to Russian overtures to assist the campaign. While Barr’s letter states that the investigation did not establish that the campaign reached an agreement with the Russian government to take actions to impact the election in Trump’s favor, it reveals that the campaign did field “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” Yet President Trump and others have repeatedly claimed that they had no contact with Russians, or knowledge that Russians were acting to assist his campaign.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

David Corn at Mother Jones: Here’s the Real Trump-Russia Hoax.

Elvis Presley

Two fundamental facts were established long before Mueller completed his investigation. First, the Russians attacked an American election in order to sow chaos, hurt Hillary Clinton, and help Donald Trump. Second, Trump and his top advisers during the campaign repeatedly denied this attack was underway, echoing and amplifying Moscow disinformation (the false claim that Russia was not attacking). Whether or not the Trumpers were directly in cahoots with the Russian government, they ran interference for Vladimir Putin’s assault on the United States, and they even did so after the intelligence community had briefed Trump on Russia’s culpability.

So to determine if the Barr triumphalists are acting in good faith, you need only ask them a simple question: do you accept these basic facts and acknowledge the profound seriousness of each one?

The Russian attack on the 2016 election was an attempt to subvert the foundation of American society: the democratic process. How can Americans have faith in their government, if elections are undermined by secret schemers, including a foreign government? It is certainly arguable that the Russian intervention—particularly the stealing and drip-drip-drip dumping of the John Podesta emails across the final four weeks of the election—was one of several decisive factors in a contest that had a narrow and tight finish. Consequently, there is a strong case that Moscow helped shift the course of US history by contributing to the election of Trump….

Jimmy Stewart, with Piewackit from Bell Book and Candle

During the campaign and afterward, some Trump backers and some critics on the left, including columnist and media scold Glenn Greenwald, questioned whether the Russians indeed engaged in such skulduggery. (The Nation, where I once worked, published an articlepromoting a report that claimed the Russians did not hack the Democratic National Committee—and then had to backtrack when that report turned out to be bunk.)

For many of these scandal skeptics, it hasn’t seemed to matter that the charge against Moscow has been publicly confirmed by the Obama administration, the US intelligence community (which concluded that Putin’s operation intended to help Trump), both Republicans and Democrats on the congressional intelligence committees, and Robert Mueller, who indicted a mess of Russians for participating in this covert operation. True, there often is cause to question officialdom and government sources. Yet anyone citing the Mueller report, as it is narrowly capsulized by Barr, must also accept his key finding: Russia attacked the United States and intervened in the election. (They must also accept that, as the Barr letter disclosed, Mueller found evidence suggesting Trump obstructed justice but did not reach a final judgment on this question.)

That’s it for me. What else is happening? 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?


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

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

There’s also this:

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

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

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

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

Sarah Isgur Flores

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

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

Read the rest at Vanity Fair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two More Reads on Mueller’s Supposed End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at the NYT.

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

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

But what would “Mueller wrapping up” actually mean?

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

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

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

Head over to Wired to read the rest.

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

 

 

 


Tuesday Reads: Andrew McCabe Reveals the Real National Emergency (and Other News)

Good Morning!!

I preordered the Andrew McCabe book, and I plan to read it today; but it appears that what he talks about in his interviews may turn out to be more revealing than anything in the book. I wonder if that’s because the FBI wouldn’t let him include some things (any book by an FBI agent has to be approved by the agency before publication) and, as Marcy Wheeler tweeted this morning, he just doesn’t give a fuck anymore? He didn’t include the fact that Rod Rosenstein offered to wear a wire in the White House or discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office even though we learned about it awhile ago.

Knox was referring to McCabe’s revelation that he briefed Congress’s gang of eight on why he opened a counterintelligence investigation of Trump. Natasha Bertrand says he did put that in the book though, so the FBI was apparently OK with it.

Wow! And not one of those eight people had the guts to speak out. And what about Mitch McConnell’s refusal in 2016 to allow a bipartisan announcement about the Russian interference in the election.Why didn’t Obama make the announcement anyway? Why didn’t the Democratic leadership speak out either before the election or afterwards when they were briefed about the FBI investigations in 2917? We deserve answers.

Trump has been following Putin’s orders and tearing down our country from within and destroying the Western alliance for two years and not one of these “leaders” has been willing to risk his or her career to let us know.

Here’s McCabe on the Today Show this morning:

Click this link to watch more of the Today interview.

Natasha Bertrand writes at The Atlantic: Andrew McCabe Couldn’t Believe the Things Trump Said About Putin.

In the months before President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, FBI counterintelligence agents investigating Russian election interference were also collecting evidence suggesting that Trump could be compromised by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director who oversaw the bureau’s Russia investigation, told me in an interview conducted late last week that concerns about Trump had been building “for some time”—and that he was convinced the FBI would have been justified in opening a case against the president.

“We felt like we had credible, articulable facts to indicate that a threat to national security may exist,” McCabe told me. And FBI officials felt this way, he said, even before Trump fired Comey. That firing set off a chain of events that, as McCabe put it, turned the world “upside down.” McCabe wrote contemporaneous memos describing “key” conversations he had during that chaotic period—with the president, with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and others—that are now in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

McCabe’s new book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, is not generally overstated in its approach to Trump. This reflects either an aversion to exaggeration on McCabe’s part—his self-image, it seems, is that of a just-the-facts-ma’am G-man—or an awareness that the Justice Department’s inspector general has, for all intents and purposes, branded him a fabulist, a charge he finds particularly wounding. McCabe, who was fired in March 2018, told me he’ll be filing a lawsuit against the Justice Department that will challenge the circumstances of his termination, which was ostensibly based on the inspector general’s findings that he had leaked information to the media without permission. In person, McCabe still seems awed by the “series of head-scratching, completely shocking events” that he witnessed two years ago.

You can read the interview at The Atlantic; here’s a brief excerpt:

Bertrand: Before Robert Mueller was appointed, Trump met with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister in the Oval Office, where he disclosed classified information. How did you react when you found out about that conversation?

McCabe: It was the latest in a string of head-scratching, completely shocking events. For counterintelligence investigators, the idea that the American president would have a Russian foreign minister and his media into the Oval Office and that he would make a comment like that—a comment that so clearly undermined the effectiveness of his chief law-enforcement and intelligence agency—was just confounding.

Bertrand: That reminds me of a passage that jumped out at me in your book: “He thought North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles. He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so … the president said he believed Putin despite the PDB [Presidential Daily Briefing] briefer telling him that this was not consistent with any of the intelligence that the US possessed.” How do you explain that?

McCabe: It’s inexplicable. You have to put yourself in context. So I am in the director’s chair as acting director. My senior executive who had accompanied the briefer to that briefing, who sat in the room with the president and others, and heard the comments, comes back to the Hoover Building to tell me how the briefing went. And he sat at the conference table, and he just looked down at the table with his hands out in front of him. I was like, “How did it go?” And he just—he couldn’t find words to characterize it. We just sat back and said, “What do we do with this now?” How do you effectively convey intelligence to the American president who chooses to believe the Russians over his own intelligence services? And then tells them that to their faces?

McCabe will be in studio with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell tonight.

In other news, Trump’s fake “national emergency” is accumulating lawsuits. The latest, from The New York Times: 16 States Sue to Stop Trump’s Use of Emergency Powers to Build Border Wall.

WASHINGTON — A coalition of 16 states, including California and New York, on Monday challenged President Trump in court over his plan to use emergency powers to spend billions of dollars on his border wall.

The lawsuit is part of a constitutional confrontation that Mr. Trump set off on Friday when he declared that he would spend billions of dollars more on border barriers than Congress had granted him. The clash raises questions over congressional control of spending, the scope of emergency powers granted to the president, and how far the courts are willing to go to settle such a dispute.

The suit, filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco, argues that the president does not have the power to divert funds for constructing a wall along the Mexican border because it is Congress that controls spending….

The lawsuit, California et al. v. Trump et al., says that the plaintiff states are going to court to protect their residents, natural resources and economic interests. “Contrary to the will of Congress, the president has used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction, military construction and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border,” the lawsuit says.

Today is day four of the “emergency,” and Trump has spent those four days golfing in Florida and sending out angry tweets about Andrew McCabe and the Russia investigation.

This is also happening.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Roger Stone after he posted a threatening message about the judge in his case yesterday. Buzzfeed News: Roger Stone Posted A Photo Of The Judge Presiding Over His Case Next To Crosshairs.

The post comes days after the judge, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, rejected Stone’s effort to get his case reassigned to a new judge.T

Jackson also previously ruled that Stone couldn’t talk to news outlets in front of her courthouse.

Stone, 66, took to Instagram to bring attention to special counsel Robert Mueller, saying he used “legal trickery” to place his case in front of Jackson, a US district judge in the District of Columbia. Stone’s case is being prosecuted jointly by Mueller’s office and the US attorney’s office in Washington.

“Through legal trickery Deep State hitman Robert Mueller has guaranteed that my upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson , an Obama appointed Judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges again [sic] Hillary Clinton and incarcerated Paul Manafort prior to his conviction for any crime,” Stone wrote in the caption to the photo, including the hashtag #fixisin….

The photograph — a version of which appeared earlier on a site pushing false conspiracy theories — featured a target symbol near the judge’s head. The symbol is also associated with the Zodiac killer.

That was completely irresponsible and could easily lead one of the Trump crazies to attack Judge Jackson. She will likely need protection from Federal marshals now. I hope she throws Stone in jail.

No word from the “president” on this as yet.

I’m sure you seen the embarrassing videos of Mike Pence’s appearance in Munich last week in which he was greeted with stony silence when he mentioned Trump and called for European countries to withdraw from the Iran deal. Well, the White House is claiming he did too get applause.

The Week: The White House says Pence was greeted with applause after mentioning Trump in a speech. He wasn’t.

Maybe they meant to type “(Crickets)”?

The White House has posted online the remarks made by Vice President Mike Pence last Friday at the Munich Security Conference, but there’s a glaring error. In the beginning of his address, Pence said it was his “great honor” to speak “on behalf of a champion of freedom and a champion of a strong national defense, the 45th president of the United States, President Donald Trump.” In the transcript, it says this was followed by “(Applause).” In reality, it was followed by (Silence).

As video from the event shows, Pence expected to be met with some sort of a reaction, as he paused, awkwardly, before moving on. The White House hasn’t said why it inserted this fabrication, or why they didn’t go with something more exciting, like (Audience starts chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” while twirling star-spangled rally towels) or (German Chancellor Angela Merkel dons a MAGA cap, initiates The Wave)

Nancy Pelosi had a different message for our allies. Politico:Nancy Pelosi to Europe: Trump is not the boss.

Pelosi and a delegation of U.S. lawmakers were in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday to reassure European partners at a time when transatlantic relations have been deeply fractured by Trump’s criticism of allies and his unpredictability in policymaking.

Among the messages that Pelosi said she brought to the EU capital was that the U.S. president is not all-powerful. Of course, it was a lesson Europeans watched her teach Trump in the standoff over a recent government shutdown — where she forced the president to back down.

“We’re not a parliamentary government even though we’re parliamentarians,” Pelosi said at a news conference. “We have Article 1, the legislative branch, the first branch of government, coequal to the other branches and we have asserted ourselves in that way.”

Pelosi said that one European colleague had asked why the House of Representatives had only recently adopted a resolution in support of NATO. She said that she explained it was because she and the Democrats had only retaken control of the majority at the start of the year.

“I said because we just got the majority and then we can control, we can manage what goes on to the floor,” Pelosi said. “But once the Republican colleagues had the opportunity to vote on this, H.R. 676 NATO Support Act — what was it? 357 to 22 no’s. I think that that sends a very clear message.”

One more bit of news: Unfortunately Bernie Sanders has decided to run for president, and he’s already attacking “identity politics.”

Good luck with that, Bernie. Goddess I hate that man.

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


Thursday Reads: Trump Russia, Giuliani’s Meltdown, and Other News

Good Morning!!

Last night I was thinking about when Obama was president and we would have days when there was nothing earth shattering in politics to talk about. There would be quiet Fridays and weekends with no significant news about the government. Now there are terrifying crises in the government every single day, including weekends. If only we could go back to those relatively peaceful times! Instead we have Trump.

This morning, there are so many significant stories, that I can’t possibly get to all of them, so I’ll begin with this stunning headline from Wired: Trump Must Be a Russian Agent; The Alternative is Too Awful, by Garrett Graff.

It would be rather embarrassing for Donald Trump at this point if Robert Mueller were to declare that the president isn’t an agent of Russian intelligence.

The pattern of his pro-Putin, pro-Russia, anti-FBI, anti-intelligence community actions are so one-sided, and the lies and obfuscation surrounding every single Russian meeting and conversation are so consistent, that if this president isn’t actually hiding a massive conspiracy, it means the alternative is worse: America elected a chief executive so oblivious to geopolitics, so self-centered and personally insecure, so naturally predisposed to undermine democratic institutions and coddle authoritarians, and so terrible a manager and leader, that he cluelessly surrounded himself with crooks, grifters, and agents of foreign powers, compromising the national security of the US government and undermining 75 years of critical foreign alliances, just to satiate his own ego.

In short, we’ve reached a point in the Mueller probe where there are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised by the Russian government and has been working covertly to cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016 election—or Trump will go down in history as the world’s most famous “useful idiot,” as communists used to call those who could be co-opted to the cause without realizing it.

At least the former scenario—that the president of the United States is actively working to advance the interests of our country’s foremost, long-standing, traditional foreign adversary—would make him seem smarter and wilier. The latter scenario is simply a tragic farce for everyone involved.

We’re left here—in a place unprecedented in American political history, wondering how much worse the truth is than we already know—after four days of fresh revelations in the public drip-drip-drip of the Russia investigation. The past two months have seen the public understanding of the case advance into almost unthinkable territory. Now we’re simply trying to figure out how bad things really are.

That’s about it. And will be eventually learn that a large proportion of Republicans in Congress are also either compromised by Russia or too stupid to see that their president is? After all, they did vote yesterday to lift sanctions on Paul Manafort’s buddy Oleg Derapaska’s businesses.

And did you see Rudy Giuliani’s meltdown on CNN last night? In case you missed it:

Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Rudy Giuliani just contradicted nearly all the Trump team’s past collusion denials.

President Trump’s legal spokesman Rudolph W. Giuliani on Wednesday night appeared to grant the possibility that members of Trump’s campaign did, in fact, collude with the Russians during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

And in the process, he contradicted dozens of previous denials that both the Trump team (and Trump himself) have offered.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, before getting cut off.

“Yes, you have,” Cuomo said.

Giuliani shot back: “I have not. I said ‘the president of the United States.’”

But while Giuliani himself might not have assured that nobody on the campaign colluded, others including Trump sure have. In fact, the Trump team has moved the goal posts on this question no fewer than 10 times after initially denying any contact at all with “foreign entities.” Trump has said dozens of times that there was “no collusion,” full stop. This appears to be the first time anyone has acknowledged the possibility that someone colluded without Trump’s knowledge.

Read the rest for a list of Rudy’s successive walkbacks on whether there was collusion with Russia in the Trump campaign. Is this just a response to the many revelations about Paul Manafort or is Trump getting ready to throw Don Jr. under the bus? From Raw Story:

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s stunning interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night is still making waves, and a CNN panel agreed on Thursday morning that it could spell big trouble for Donald Trump Jr.

While discussing Giuliani’s latest admission that there may have been some collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian government agents, host John Berman asked whether Trump Jr. should be worried that his father is preparing to throw him under the bus for potentially conspiring with a hostile foreign power.

“Would you be nervous if you’re Donald Trump Jr. or Jared Kushner?” Berman asked. “Did Giuliani just send a signal that… the president’s legal defense team isn’t here for you?”

“That’s what I heard,” replied New York Times reporter Astead Herndon. “Everyone under [Trump’s] level can now be considered fair game, if we’re talking about the political signaling.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent discussed Giuliani’s meltdown with attorney Neal Kayal.

Former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal told me that this appears to be a tacit admission of serious vulnerability — as well as an effort to lay the groundwork for a last-ditch defense of Trump, should more come out. It also makes the nonstop claims that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is leading a “witch hunt” look ridiculous.

“They’ve been saying for two years that this is a witch hunt,” Katyal told me. “As a lawyer, given the recent revelations, Giuliani now has to pivot and outline the next line of defense.”

“This is straight out of the organized-crime playbook,” Katyal continued. “The boss says, ‘There was no conspiracy.’ Then prosecutors prove there was a conspiracy between your subordinates and a criminal organization. Then the defense shifts to, ‘Okay, there was a conspiracy, but the boss didn’t know anything about it.’”

Sargent also asked Obama’s white house counsel Bob Bauer about Giuliani’s statements.

Bob Bauer, the White House counsel under former president Barack Obama, told me that Giuliani “must have some continuing hope” that Mueller cannot prove Trump knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort attended in the expectation of gaining dirt on Hillary Clinton produced by the Russian government.

That seems unlikely, given the latest from The New York Times on Trump’s black box meetings with Vladimir Putin: Trump and Putin Have Met Five Times. What Was Said Is a Mystery. The story recounts the meetings and phone calls Trump has had with Putin, beginning right after he was elected. But here’s the highlight of the story:

The inaugural meeting [in Hamburg, Germany] came at a sensitive time. Mr. Trump’s team learned that day that one of the biggest secrets of his presidential bid was about to become public: At the height of the campaign, his son, son-in-law and campaign chairman had met at Trump Tower with Russians on the promise of obtaining dirt on Mrs. Clinton from the Russian government. Mr. Trump’s team was scrambling to respond to a request for comment by The Times.

Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin that day lasted more than two hours. Afterward, Mr. Trump took his interpreter’s notes and instructed the interpreter not to brief anyone. Mr. Tillerson told reporters that the leaders discussed everything from Syria to Ukraine, but he also described “a very robust and lengthy exchange” on the election hacking.

A few hours later, Mr. Trump sought out Mr. Putin again during a dinner for all the leaders. Videotape later made public showed Mr. Trump pointing at Mr. Putin, who was seated across and down a long table, then pointing at himself and then making a pumping motion with his fist.

Mr. Trump later told The Times that he went over to see his wife, Melania Trump, who was sitting next to Mr. Putin, and the two leaders then talked, with Mr. Putin’s interpreter translating. No American officials were present, and the White House did not confirm the encounter until more than 10 days later, after it was independently reported.

Here’s the shocker:

The day after the two meetings, as Mr. Trump was on Air Force One taking off from Germany heading back to Washington, he telephoned a Times reporter and argued that the Russians were falsely accused of election interference. While he insisted most of the conversation be off the record, he later repeated a few things in public in little-noticed asides.

He said that he raised the election hacking three times and that Mr. Putin denied involvement. But he said Mr. Putin also told him that “if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten caught because we’re professionals.” Mr. Trump said: “I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world” at hacking.

Asked how he weighed Mr. Putin’s denials against the evidence that had been presented to him by Mr. Comey; John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director; and James R. Clapper Jr., then director of national intelligence, he said that Mr. Clapper and Mr. Brennan were the “most political” intelligence chiefs he knew and that Mr. Comey was “a leaker.”

Later on the same flight Trump dictated a statement to the NYT about Don Jr.’s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.

Mr. Trump huddled with aides to decide how to respond to the emerging story by other Times reporters about the Trump Tower meeting. He personally dictated a misleading statement, saying the meeting was about Russian adoptions without admitting that it was actually intended to accept Moscow’s aid for his campaign, as emails obtained by The Times later documented.

You may have seen this footage from the dinner in Hamburg, in which Trump signals to Putin and then clenches his fist. Was he signaling that he needed to talk to Putin about the NYT story?

More stories to check out:

Michael McFaul at The Washington Post: Sorry, but Trump is not ‘tough on Russia’

The Wall Street Journal: Poll-Rigging for Trump and Creating @WomenForCohen: One IT Firm’s Work Order.

The Epoch Times: EXCLUSIVE: In Closed-Door Testimony, Papadopoulos Identified Alleged Spy in Trump Campaign.

The Daily Beast: Rick Gates Tells Mueller About Trump Team’s Dealings With Israeli Intelligence Firm.

The Washington Post: North Korean spy chief’s visit to Washington shrouded in mystery.

CNN: Trump is fraying nerves inside the Pentagon.

Raw Story: Stephen Miller was writing SOTU to blame Democrats for shutdown — until Nancy Pelosi pulled the rug out: report.

So . . . what stories are you following today?


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.