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.

 

 

 

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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.


Thursday Reads: “They Are Not That Smart.”

Michelle Obama speaks at The Royal Festival Hall on December 3 in London. Jack Taylor, Getty

Good Morning!!

The title of this post is a quote from Michelle Obama. In an interview in London, Obama discussed “impostor syndrome,” that feeling many women struggle with that we are undeserving of success. From Newsweek:

The former first lady opened up about how the struggle with self-doubt “never goes away,” during a sold-out talk with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in London, which drew lines of tens of thousands of people.

Asked at the event how Obama felt about being seen as a “symbol of hope,” she said: “I still have a little imposter syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me,” according to the BBC.

“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”

“If I’m giving people hope then that is a responsibility, so I have to make sure that I am accountable,” Obama said.

But here’s the quote I just loved:

Obama offered a “secret” to young women everywhere: “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.”

It’s so true. And as long as mediocre white men are promoted over smarter and more experienced women, we will continue to be ruled by people who “are not that smart.”

You only need to look at the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton–a brilliant, experienced woman–was constantly denigrated in favor of two barely mediocre white men, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. And now that an ignorant, corrupt white man is “president,” that Hillary is repeatedly told to shut up and sit down, while mediocre, old white men like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden–who have already failed in primary races–are promoted by the media.

I’ve avoided day-time cable news this week so I didn’t have to listen to the endless, over-the-top praise of the late George H.W. Bush. But I have to admit that Bush at least knew how to behave like a human being, unlike the current resident of the White House.

Trump attended Bush’s funeral, but he didn’t seem comfortable. Still he is being praised in some quarters for not making a complete fool of himself. Apparently he has been unhappy about having to go through an entire week when the media focus wasn’t on him. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Trump has been snappish with aides most of the week, according to administration officials, miffed in part by so many ceremonial events not related to him. He was impatient for the memorials to end but expressed pride in himself for remaining publicly civil. People close to the president called it a course correction after his peevish reaction to Mr. McCain’s death.

What a pathetic asshole. He did the bare minimum, didn’t sing hymns or recite the Apostle’s Creed, and was the only person in the room who didn’t put his hand over his heart when the coffin was carried out.

At The Washington Post, Rick Wilson writes that George W. Bush’s invitation to Trump to attend the funeral prevented the asshole from ruining the solemn event.

By insisting on his successor’s inclusion in the proceedings, Bush forced the current White House occupant to briefly abandon his unfrozen cave-man act, denying him the chance to further debase the office of president by siphoning the dignity out of 41’s final hours in D.C. — something 45 likely would have relished, given the opportunity.

We’ll still be hearing about Poppy Bush for a couple more days because there is going to be another funeral in Texas today.

Mike Pence didn’t look too happy at the funeral yesterday either. Maybe this is why.

Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: “They’re Beginning to Think About Whether Mike Pence Should Be Running Again.” As the Mueller Fire Nears, Trump Ponders Jettisoning His Loyal V.P.

On Monday, Trump hosted a 2020 strategy meeting with a group of advisers. Among the topics discussed was whether Mike Pence should remain on the ticket, given the hurricane-force political headwinds Trump will face, as demonstrated by the midterms, a source briefed on the session told me. “They’re beginning to think about whether Mike Pence should be running again,” the source said, adding that the advisers presented Trump with new polling that shows Pence doesn’t expand Trump’s coalition. “He doesn’t detract from it, but he doesn’t add anything either,” the source said. Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump had been privately asking advisers if Pence could be trusted, and that outside advisers have been pushing Nikki Haley to replace Pence. One veteran of Trump’s 2016 campaign who’s still advising Trump told me the president hasn’t been focused enough on 2020. “What he needs to do is consider his team for 2020 and make sure it’s in place,” the adviser said. “He has to have people on his team that are loyal to his agenda.”

Trump’s doubts about Pence are surprising given Pence’s frequent public encomiums and professions of loyalty. “Trump waxes and wanes on everyone,” a prominent Republican close to the White House explained. Part of what’s driving the debate over Pence’s political value is Trump’s stalled search for a chief of staff to replace John Kelly. According to a source, Kelly has recently been telling Trump that Pence doesn’t help him politically. The theory is that Kelly is unhappy that Pence’s 36-year-old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, has been openly campaigning for Kelly’s job. “Kelly has started to get more political and he’s whispering to Trump that Trump needs a running mate who can help him more politically,” the source said. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

I wonder how Evangelical voters would feel about pious Pence getting dumped?

There has been lots of Russia investigation news this week despite the wall-to-wall coverage of Bush’s passing. Some stories to check out:

David Ignatius at The Washington Post: Michael Flynn appears to have come full circle.

The Trump campaign warrior of 2016 who led chants of “lock her up” deriding Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and then lied to the FBI after President Trump’s inauguration about his secret contacts with Russia, once again became an “exemplary” figure whose example, Mueller says, encouraged others to do the right thing.

“The defendant deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government,” writes Mueller in the sentencing memo. Mueller praises Flynn’s “early cooperation” as a spur to others. “The defendant’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming [with the special counsel’s office] and cooperate,” the memo notes.

This denouement, in which Flynn is once again on the side of law enforcement and truth-telling, is fascinating to me as someone who followed his career for more than a decade and remembers hearing his blisteringly honest briefings as a combat intelligence commander in Afghanistan. Flynn became disoriented during his years in Trump’s orbit, but the sentencing memo suggests that he recovered his balance and sense of duty after Mueller began his investigation.

There’s a bizarre irony here. Trump pleaded with James B. Comey, the FBI director at the time the investigation of Flynn began, to consider “letting this go.” That was a grossly improper attempt to interfere with the investigation and prosecution of Flynn’s false statements. How strange that it was Mueller, in the end, who decided in effect to “let this go” by recommending no jail time, after the investigation had run its course and Flynn had pleaded guilty and cooperated.

Frank Figliuzzi

Did Michael Flynn wear a wire for Mueller? MSNBC counterintelligence expert Frank Figliuzzi suggested as much yesterday. Hill Reporter.com:

MSNBC’s Morning Joe called on Frank Figluzzi to come in and help explain the memo. Figliuzzi was formerly an Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI and is familiar with Robert Mueller’s methods.

He began the segment by explaining that the extensive redactions meant that the info inside was sensitive. After stating that redactions are out of character for Mueller, Figluzzi said, “We saw lots of redaction. You do that in the FBI either when you have classified information or you are at such a sensitivity level that you cannot expose it.”

Figluzzi also felt the light sentence and amount of redactions meant the investigation was aiming for convictions at the highest levels. He continued, “I think, in fact, that underneath these redactions, if we were to lift these black magic marker points out, we would see people with the last name Trump or Kushner.”

Finally, Figluzzi ended the segment with a bombshell suggestion; Flynn may have worn a wire. He told the panel, “We see reference here to quick cooperation by Flynn. What does that mean? Did it happen in what we call the golden hour, where you could even wire somebody up and have him share communications in real time?”

At The Guardian, Marcia Chambers and Charles Kaiser made the same suggestion.

The least-noticed sentence in Michael Flynn’s plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller may also be the most important one.

Section eight of the deal reached by Donald Trump’s former national security adviser in the inquiry into Russian meddling in the US election is entitled “cooperation”. It specifies that as well as answering questions and submitting to government-administered polygraph tests, Flynn’s cooperation “may include … participating in covert law enforcement activities”.

Long-time students of federal law enforcement practices agreed, speaking anonymously, that “covert law enforcement activities” likely refers to the possibility of wearing a concealed wire or recording telephone conversations with other potential suspects. It is not known whether Flynn has worn a wire at any time.

“If the other subjects of investigation have had any conversations with Flynn during the last few months, that phrase must have all of them shaking in their boots,” said John Flannery, a former federal prosecutor in the southern district of New York.

“The one who must be particularly terrified is [Trump son-in-law and adviser] Jared Kushner, if he spoke to the special counsel’s office without immunity about the very matter that is the subject of Flynn’s plea. I think he must be paralyzed if he talked to Flynn before or after the investigators debriefed him.”

More Russia reads, links only:

Garrett M. Graff at Wired: 14 Questions Robert Mueller Knows the Answers To.

Vox: The Mueller investigation has gotten closer to Donald Trump.

Renato Mariotti at Time: Don’t Expect Mueller to Charge a Grand Conspiracy.

The Atlantic: The White House Has No Plan for Confronting the Mueller Report.

Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast: Senate Intelligence Committee Grilled Steve Bannon About Cambridge Analytica.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Mostly Manafort

Good Morning!!

Lots of news breaking on Paul Manafort after the Mueller filing yesterday informing the court that Manafort lied repeatedly to the FBI after agreeing to a plea deal. The Guardian just released a blockbuster story, although quite several Intelligence experts on Twitter are questioning whether it’s legit.

The Guardian: Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy.

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, the Guardian has been told.

Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 – during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House.

It is unclear why Manafort wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

A well-placed source has told the Guardian that Manafort went to see Assange around March 2016. Months later WikiLeaks released a stash of Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers.

Manafort denies the report. More from The Guardian story:

Manafort’s first visit to the embassy took place a year after Assange sought asylum inside, two sources said.

A separate internal document written by Ecuador’s Senain intelligence agency and seen by the Guardian lists “Paul Manaford [sic]” as one of several well-known guests. It also mentions “Russians”.

According to two sources, Manafort returned to the embassy in 2015. He paid another visit in spring 2016, turning up alone, around the time Trump named him as his convention manager. The visit is tentatively dated to March.

Manafort’s 2016 visit to Assange lasted about 40 minutes, one source said, adding that the American was casually dressed when he exited the embassy, wearing sandy-coloured chinos, a cardigan and a light-coloured shirt….

The revelation could shed new light on the sequence of events in the run-up to summer 2016, when WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of emails hacked by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. Hillary Clinton has said the hack contributed to her defeat.

One expert Twitter skeptic:

I’m sure other reporters are already trying to confirm the Guardian story. A strong argument in favor of the piece is that the primary author is Luke Harding, a writer with excellent sources in Russian in Ukraine. He’s the author of Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, a terrific book. Natasha Bertrand’s take:

Others are discussing why Manafort would have lied to the Mueller team. It could be he’s betting on a pardon, but more likely he’s terrified of being murdered by Putin and other oligarchs. Here’s something interesting:

Listen to the full podcast at Slate.

The notion that Manafort fears Russian oligarchs more than he fears Mueller and prison makes sense, it fits with this story by Betsy Woodruff from a year ago: Mueller Reveals New Manafort Link to Organized Crime.

Buried deep in Robert Mueller’s indictment of Paul Manafort is a new link between Donald Trump’s former campaign and Russian organized crime.

The indictment (PDF), unsealed on Monday, includes an extensive look into Paul Manafort’s byzantine financial dealings. In particular, it details how he used a company called Lucicle Consultants Limited to wire millions of dollars into the United States.

The Cyprus-based Lucicle Consultants Limited, in turn, reportedly received millions of dollars from a businessman and Ukrainian parliamentarian named Ivan Fursin, who is closely linked to one of Russia’s most notorious criminals: Semion Mogilevich.

Semion Mogilevich in Moscow court, 2008

Mogilevich, who also has ties to Trump, is easily the most powerful man in the Russian mafia.

Mogilevich is frequently described as “the most dangerous mobster in the world.” Currently believed to be safe in Moscow, he is, according to the FBI, responsible for weapons trafficking, contract killings, and international prostitution. In 2009, he made the bureau’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

“Ivan Fursin was a senior figure in the Mogilevich criminal organization,” Taras Kuzio, a non-resident fellow at Johns Hopkins-SAIS’ Center for Transatlantic Relations and a specialist on the region told The Daily Beast.

Martin Sheil, a retired criminal investigator for the IRS, said the indictment, with its connections to Fursin, helps illuminate the murky world Manafort operated in before taking the reins of Trump’s presidential bid.

“This indictment strongly indicates the existence of a previously unknown relationship between an alleged Russian organized crime leader and Mr. Manafort,” Sheil told The Daily Beast.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Trump is freaking out this morning, tweeting insane attacks on Mueller.

This post at Alternet summarizes some of Marcy Wheeler’s recent arguments about Manafort and Mueller: This reporter argues that Trump used Manafort as a ‘mole’ inside Mueller’s investigation — but it just blew up in their faces.

Marcy Wheeler, one of most astute Mueller watchers who once provided as yet undisclosed information to the FBI about the investigation, argued compellingly that Manafort has been acting as a mole within the investigation for President Donald Trump. Even more intriguingly, though, she believes Mueller knew this and may have used Manafort against the president.

Marcy Wheeler

The only sane reason, she claimed in a new blog post, that Manafort would lie to Mueller even after taking a plea deal, is that he’s banking on a pardon from Trump, which would, in any case, cover only federal and not state crimes.

“Just about the only explanation for Manafort’s actions are that — as I suggested — Trump was happy to have Manafort serve as a mole in Mueller’s investigation,” she wrote.

If this is right, it could be devastating for Trump. He finally turned in his answers to the special counsel’s investigation last week — and he may have relied on Manafort’s “insider knowledge.”

“But Mueller’s team appears to have no doubt that Manafort was lying to them,” Wheeler explained. “That means they didn’t really need his testimony, at all. It also means they had no need to keep secrets — they could keep giving Manafort the impression that he was pulling a fast one over the prosecutors, all while reporting misleading information to Trump that he could use to fill out his open book test. Which increases the likelihood that Trump just submitted sworn answers to those questions full of lies.”

There are several reasons Wheeler’s argument is compelling. First, as she previously noted, Manafort’s plea agreement did not include a provision to limit him from speaking with outside parties about the investigations, even though Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy who also pleaded guilty in the probe, was forced to agree to such a provision. For some reason, Mueller wasn’t worried about Manafort’s lawyers communicating with Trump — which he has been doing.

Click the link to read the rest.

I wonder how long his lawyers will be able to prevent Trump from pardoning Manafort?

A couple of other stories, one recent and very disturbing and one historical.

The Daily Beast: Trans Woman Was Beaten in ICE Custody Before Death, Autopsy Finds.

Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez

Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez, 33, a transgender woman from Honduras, died on May 25, nine days after being transferred to a dedicated unit for transgender women at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico, which is operated under contract by CoreCivic, the second-largest private prison company in the United States.

“There she developed severe diarrhea and vomiting over the course of several days,” wrote forensic pathologist Kris Sperry, “and finally was emergently hospitalized, then transported to Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she remained critically ill until her death.” [….]

The autopsy concluded that Hernández Rodriguez’s cause of death was most likely “severe complications of dehydration superimposed upon HIV infection,” which made her susceptible to the physiologic effects of untreated dehydration.

“According to observations of other detainees who were with Ms. Hernández Rodriguez, the diarrhea and vomiting episodes persisted over multiple days with no medical evaluation or treatment, until she was gravely ill,” Sperry wrote.

Sperry’s autopsy, the second conducted on Hernández Rodriguez’s body following her death, also found evidence of physical abuse, with “deep bruising” on her hands and abdomen, evidence of blunt-force trauma “indicative of blows, and/or kicks, and possible strikes with blunt object.” An accompanying diagram illustrated long, thin bruises along Hernández Rodriguez’s back and sides, as well as extensive hemorrhaging on Hernández Rodriguez’s right and left wrists, which Dr. Sperry found were “typical of handcuff injuries.”

Horrifying. I’m sure we’ll being hearing many shocking stories about ICE abuses in the coming months and years.

Michael Isakoff at Yahoo News: In the closet in the White House: The tortured history of the gay man who touched off the purge of gays in government.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, left, and Robert Cutler, his special assistant for national security affairs. Photo by Joseph Scherschel, the Life Picture Collection, Getty Images

In the annals of presidential directives, few were more chilling than a document signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in April 1953. Crafted during the height of the Cold War, Executive Order 10450 declared that alongside Communism, “sexual perversion” by government officials was a threat to national security. The order became the trigger for a massive purge of the federal workforce. In the years that followed, thousands of government employees were investigated and fired for the “crime” of being gay.

The full story of Executive Order 10450 and its terrible consequences has only started to surface in more recent years as a result of books like “The Lavender Scare” and films like “Uniquely Nasty,” a 2015 Yahoo News documentary that this reporter co-wrote and directed. But it turns out there was an untold personal drama behind the making of the anti-gay White House order — a saga that is recounted for the first time in a new book to be published next week, “Ike’s Mystery Man: The Secret Lives of Robert Cutler.”

Written by Peter Shinkle, a former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it tells the life story of the author’s great uncle, a central character in the creation of Executive Order 10450. A blue blood liberal Republican from a prominent Boston family, a Harvard graduate and member of the elite Porcellian Club, a wealthy banker and U.S. Army general during World War II, Robert “Bobby” Cutler Jr. became a close adviser to Eisenhower during his 1952 presidential campaign. He then was tapped by Ike to serve as White House special assistant for national security affairs, the forerunner to the position of national security adviser.

In that post, Cutler, who prided himself on never talking to the press, was a pivotal figure, helping to direct U.S. foreign policy during an era of tense global confrontation with the Soviet Union. And it was Cutler who oversaw the drafting of Executive Order 10450 — a role all the more remarkable because, as Shinkle reveals, Cutler was a gay man who secretly pursued a passionate, yearslong relationship with a young naval intelligence officer on the national security council staff.

Please go read the whole thing. It’s fascinating.

That’s it for me today. What stories are you following?


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

Blue Iris, Vian Risanto

Good Afternoon!!

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

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

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

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

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

Cocktail dress, Vian Risanto

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green chair, Vian Risanto

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

Here’s the text of Section 1513(e):

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

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

Read the rest at the WaPo.

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

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

Vian Risanto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A night out, Vian Risanto

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

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

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

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

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

Lily, Vian Risanto

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

Read more at the NYT.

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

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

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

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

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

Click on the link to read the rest.

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

Red couch, Vian Risanto

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please go read the rest at Lawfare.

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