Tuesday Reads: Democratic Debate and Trump’s Troubles

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 2008

Good Morning!!

The latest Democratic debate airs on CNN tonight at 8PM. You can read about what to expect in this piece at Vox.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but I have to admit that I’m far from enthused about watching it, although I’ll try to give it a chance. I’m sick of the irrelevant candidates like Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tom Steyer; and as for the top three–Biden, Warren, and Sanders–I still believe they are too old for the job.

If we are going to have a septuagenarian president, I would rather have it be Hillary. I guess I have to face the fact that I’ll never be as excited about a candidate as I was about her.

Another issue with tonight’s debate is the Biden campaign’s decision to allow Hunter Biden to participate in an ABC News interview today.

From The Daily Beast: Biden’s Rivals Are Utterly Perplexed at the Timing of Hunter’s Interview.

After months of staying silent amid an avalanche of attacks by President Trump and his team, Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president, made his first public comments in an interview Tuesday morning just about 12 hours before his father takes the debate stage Tuesday night.

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

For the majority of the Democrats running for president, and even one notable surrogate to Joe Biden himself, there is a sense of confusion as to why Hunter is choosing now to finally speak up about the extent of his business ties in Ukraine and China.

“I wouldn’t have put Hunter on the air,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top surrogate for Biden, told The Daily Beast. “I think the more you respond, the more you’re playing into Donald Trump.” [….]

For Team Biden, Hunter’s Biden’s interview, which aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America, was an opportunity to clear the air and turn the attention back to the widespread corruption running rampant in the Trump White House. It also gave the younger Biden a chance to present facts in his own words to counter Trump’s misinformation campaign.

In the interview, he admitted that he had shown “poor judgment” in taking the job with a Ukrainian natural gas company but insisted that he had done nothing unethical.

Does anyone believe that the debate moderators will ignore all this and focus on Donald Trump and his children’s blatant self-dealing? I don’t.

Meanwhile, Trump is burning down the post-WWII world order. That should be the subject of tonight’s debate, not Hunter Biden.

Edward Hopper, October on Cape Cod

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Trump’s Worst Betrayal Yet.

President Trump didn’t make a “mistake” in pulling troops out of northeastern Syria last week, as many have charged. It’s what he has long wanted to do. The mistake was not understanding—and, more to the point, not caring about—the consequences.

Trump’s fateful phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 6, giving him the green light to cross the Syrian border and crush the Kurds without U.S. resistance, did more than any single act has ever done to demolish the post-WWII global order and isolate America from the rest of the world. This, again, has been Trump’s goal since he entered the White House.

Until recently, one or more of his advisers—Jim Mattis, H.R.
McMaster, John Bolton, or Gen. Joseph Dunford—obstructed or dissuaded him from withdrawing. Now all of those advisers are gone, and their replacements lack either the clout or the gumption to push back.

Trump may believe that he’s doing the right thing, that abandoning the rest of the world’s problems will “make America great again.” He doesn’t realize that America’s might and wealth depend, in large measure, on the cooperation it receives from others—either offered or coerced—in pursuing its interests around the world.

He is also blind to the fact—or loath to admit—that he, in fact, is not getting out of the world. On Friday, days after abandoning the Kurdish allies to the Turks (and consequently, all of Syria to Bashar al-Assad and the Russians), Trump announced that he was sending 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia. But to Trump’s mind, there was a big difference in this deployment.
“Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we are doing to help them,” he told reporters. “That’s a first. We appreciate that.”

Georgia O’Kefee, Autumn Leaves, 1924

To Trump, the U.S. military is nothing more than a mercenary force to be rented out to the highest bidder.

It was as if sending American troops abroad doesn’t count as a commitment if taxpayers don’t have to pay for it. It was as if Trump were telling the world that the U.S. military is now a mercenary force. It was a message to any country currently hosting American troops at least in part at our largesse—because, say, previous presidents have considered it in U.S.
interests to keep troops there—that they should start rethinking their options for how to stay secure

Trump has made a practice of abrogating treaties, filching on commitments, and alienating allies, but, more than any single act, the betrayal of the Kurds should tell everyone that—as long as Trump is president and, who knows, perhaps beyond—there is no reason to trust the United States on anything.

I hope you’ll go read the rest at Slate.

From Axios, here’s a quote from deep thinker Trump on abandoning the Kurds:

“Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” read one of the president’s tweets. “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

He doesn’t seem at all concerned about getting U.S. troops out of Syria safely or getting our nukes out of Turkey.

Trump even tried to blame the Kurds for the release of Islamic State prisoners. From The Week:

It appears that President Trump was a bit off the mark Monday morning when he tweeted a theory that Kurdish forces were releasing prisoners with ties to the Islamic State in an attempt to get the U.S. to continue fighting alongside them. Trump’s suspicions were likely derived from the fact that the Kurds, longtime U.S. allies in the Middle East, were disappointed in Washington for removing U.S. troops from the region, providing Turkey — which considers Kurdish forces a national security threat — an opening to invade.

Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest I, 1902

U.S. officials have said that prisoners with ISIS ties are being deliberately released, but it’s actually Turkish proxy forces in the Free Syrian Army — a decentralized rebel group that has been linked to extremists groups and was once recruited by the CIA to aid the U.S. in its fight against ISIS — who are behind it, rather than the Kurds, Foreign Policy reports. The Free Syrian Army has also been accused of executing Kurdish prisoners and killing unarmed civilians.

As for the Kurds, one U.S. official said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have not abandoned or released any prisoners with ISIS ties and, in some cases, the SDF has reportedly moved detainees to other facilities further south.

Subsequently, Trump’s theory is not sitting well with U.S. and Kurdish forces. “That has enraged our forces in Syria,” another senior U.S. administration official said. “Kurds are still defending our bases. Incredibly reckless and dishonest thing to say.”

Yesterday, Trump’s former Russia and Ukraine adviser Fiona Hill testified at the Impeachment hearings. Here’s the latest on that.

The Washington Post: Trump’s ex-Russia adviser told impeachment investigators of Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators on Monday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump, according to people familiar with her testimony.

Hill, who served as the senior official for Russia and Europe on the National Security Council, was the latest witness in a fast-moving impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president abused his office by using the promise of military aid and diplomatic support to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.

Henri Rousseau, Eiffel Tower at Sunset, 1910

In a closed-door session that lasted roughly 10 hours, Hill told lawmakers that she confronted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about Giuliani’s activities which, she testified, were not coordinated with the officials responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of her deposition.

Sondland played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations of the president’s political rivals, text messages obtained and later released by House Democrats show. Three congressional committees are now probing how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to damage Trump’s candidacy.

Sondland plans to testify on Thursday and the Committees are now talking about questioning John Bolton.

The New York Times: Bolton Objected to Ukraine Pressure Campaign, Calling Giuliani ‘a Hand Grenade.’

The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)

Read the rest at the NYT.

Finally, The Daily Beast reports that Trump Suspects a Spiteful John Bolton Is Behind Some of the Ukraine Leaks.

In recent weeks, numerous leaks have appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major papers and news outlets detailing the president’s attempts to enlist foreign leaders to help dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and also aid Trump’s quest to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s concluded investigation. And as is his MO, the media-obsessed president has been fixated on not just the identity of the whistleblower behind the internal complaint that brought this scandal to the fore, but also on who, exactly, has been namelessly feeding intel to the press.

In the course of casual conversations with advisers and friends, President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

I hope you’ll forgive a little childhood nostalgia from me this morning. Yesterday I came down with a cold and sought a little comfort by recalling the Beatrix Potter stories my parents read to me as a child. I googled Potter and came across this wonderful story about her life at The Guardian: The strange life of Beatrix Potter — how rabbits (and mushrooms) set her free, by Matthew Dennison. Dennison wrote a brief biography of Potter, Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter. Here’s the Amazon blurb of the book:

Inspired by the twenty-three “tales,” Matthew Dennison takes a selection of quotations from Potter’s stories and uses them to explore her multi-faceted life and character: repressed Victorian daughter; thwarted lover; artistic genius; formidable countrywoman. They chart her transformation from a young girl with a love of animals and fairy tales into a bestselling author and canny businesswoman, so deeply unusual for the Victorian era in which she grew up. Embellished with photographs of Potter’s life and her own illustrations, this biography will delight anyone who has been touched by Beatrix Potter’s work.

At The Guardian, Dennison writes that at 25, Potter was:

Unmarried, cripplingly shy, plagued by poor health, she passed empty days in the nursery of her childhood home in South Kensington, at the beck and call of her irritable parents. She would remain there until her unexpected marriage at the age of 45.

In place of friends, she had a “noisy cheerful” pet rabbit called Benjamin H Bouncer. On good days, she noted, he was “amiably sentimental to the point of silliness”; on bad days, he ate the insides of her paintbox. Beatrix even dreamt about him: “Bunny came to my bedside in a white cotton nightcap and tickled me with his whiskers.” Inspired by Pepys, she wrote her diary in a complicated code of her own invention, sometimes framing her entries as letters to an imaginary friend called Esther. In these diaries, she vented frustration at her comfortable, pointless existence. As young as 10, she recorded an intention to “do something”.

It took quite awhile, but Potter eventually broke away from her restrictive parents by studying nature and painting. Of course she was best known for her illustrations of rabbits, but she also wrote illustrated stories about cats. I’ve used some of those illustrations in this post.

Now to the latest news.

We’re moving rapidly toward impeachment and maybe we’ll actually be able to rid ourselves of the monster in the White House. The revelations about Trump administration corruption are coming out at warp speed. You’ve probably been following every twist and turn, just as I have.

The latest: Last night we learned that Trump’s meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office was even worse than previously reported. The Washington Post: Trump told Russian officials in 2017 he wasn’t concerned about Moscow’s interference in U.S. election.

President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries, an assertion that prompted alarmed White House officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people, according to three former officials with knowledge of the matter.

The comments, which have not been previously reported, were part of a now-infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which Trump revealed highly classified information that exposed a source of intelligence on the Islamic State. He also said during the meeting that firing FBI Director James B. Comey the previous day had relieved “great pressure” on him.

A memorandum summarizing the meeting was limited to a few officials with the highest security clearances in an attempt to keep the president’s comments from being disclosed publicly, according to the former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

A bit more:

White House officials were particularly distressed by Trump’s election remarks because it appeared the president was forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him, the three former officials said. Trump also seemed to invite Russia to interfere in other countries’ elections, they said.

The previous day, Trump had fired Comey amid the FBI’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia. White House aides worried about the political ramifications if Trump’s comments to the Russian officials became public.

Trump had publicly ridiculed the Russia investigation as politically motivated and said he doubted Moscow had intervened in the election. By the time he met with Lavrov and Kislyak, Trump had been briefed by the most senior U.S. intelligence officials about the Russian operation, which was directed by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and included the theft and publication of Democratic emails and the seeding of propaganda in social media, according to the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.

Apparently, no one told Robert Mueller about these remarks–unless they were redacted by Cover-Up General Bill Barr.

Another scoop from The New York Times: White House Classified Computer System Is Used to Hold Transcripts of Sensitive Calls.

The White House concealed some reconstructed transcripts of delicate calls between President Trump and foreign officials, including President Vladimir V. Putin and the Saudi royal family, in a highly classified computer system after embarrassing leaks of his conversations, according to current and former officials.

The handling of Mr. Trump’s calls with world leaders has come under scrutiny after questions over whether a transcript of a July 25 call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was improperly placed into this computer system.

The latest revelations show the focus that White House officials put o safeguarding not only classified information but also delicate calls with Mr. Trump, the details of which the administration did not want leaked.

In the case of the calls with the Saudi royal family, the restrictions were set beforehand, and the number of people allowed to listen was sharply restricted. The Saudi calls placed in the restricted system were with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Khalid bin Salman, who at the time was the Saudi ambassador to the United States….

The practice began after details of Mr. Trump’s Oval Office discussion with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, leaked to the news media, leading to questions of whether the president had released classified information, according to multiple current and former officials. The White House was particularly upset when the news media reported that Mr. Trump had called James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, a “nut job” during that same meeting, according to current and former officials.

The White House had begun restricting access to information after initial leaks of Mr. Trump’s calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia. But the conversation with Mr. Lavrov and Sergey I. Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, prompted tighter restrictions.

From The Guardian this morning: Trump’s Ukraine call sparks new questions over intelligence chief’s firing.

Three days after his now infamous phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Donald Trump abruptly fired his director of national intelligence in favour of an inexperienced political loyalist.

According to a New York Times report, the White House learned within days that the unorthodox call on 25 July with Zelenskiy had raised red flags among intelligence professionals and was likely to trigger an official complaint.

That timeline has raised new questions over the timing of the Trump’s dismissal by tweet of the director of national intelligence (DNI), Dan Coats, on 28 July and his insistence that the deputy DNI, Sue Gordon, a career intelligence professional, did not step into the role, even in an acting capacity.

Instead, Trump tried to install a Republican congressman, John Ratcliffe, who had minimal national security credentials but had been a fierce defender of the president in Congress. Trump had to drop the nomination after it emerged that Ratcliffe had exaggerated his national security credentials in his biography, wrongly claiming he had conducted prosecutions in terrorist financing cases.

Despite the collapse of the Ratcliffe nomination, Gordon was forced out. She was reported to have been holding a meeting on election security on 8 August when Coats interrupted to convinceher that she would have to resign.

According to The New York Times, Trump knew about the whistleblower complaint “Soon After Trump’s Call” with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, so it appears that Trump fired Coats and Gordon to keep them from getting involved in the situation. 

The Washington Post reports that Trump may have been trying to get China to investigate Hunter Biden’s activities there: Trump says he raised Hunter Biden allegations with his China go-between.

President Trump, who has alleged that Hunter Biden got the Chinese to put $1.5 billion into an investment fund, said during private remarks this week that he raised the matter with a U.S. executive who has served as his intermediary on trade talks with Beijing….

In remarks to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations on Thursday morning, Trump said he discussed Biden’s China work with Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive of the investment company Blackstone.

“I was with the head of Blackstone . . . Steve Schwarzman,” Trump said, according to a video of the remarks obtained by The Washington Post. After alleging that Hunter Biden got $1.5 billion from the Chinese, Trump said he asked Schwarzman, “Steve, is that possible?” Trump said Schwarzman asked, “Who got that?” and Trump responded, “Biden’s son.”

Trump said he asked Schwarzman how that could happen, and the executive responded: “Maybe I shouldn’t get involved, you know it’s very political.”

I wonder how many other countries Trump has tried to solicit for help with the 2020 election?

More stories to check out, links only:

Gary Kasparov at The New York Daily News: The dam is breaking: Trump’s true character is revealed, more fully than ever.

Michael Cohen at The Boston Globe: Forget impeachment. Donald Trump needs to resign.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: The Ukraine Scandal Is a Fitting Symbol of Trump’s Presidency. It May Finally Be His Downfall.

Anne Applebaum at The Washington Post: Americans spent decades discussing rule of law. Why would anyone believe us now?

The Washington Post: Deep Throat’s identity was a mystery for decades because no one believed this woman.

CNN: Democrats say White House stonewalling won’t drag out inquiry and will boost case for impeachment.

HuffPost: Now One Of Trump’s Court Picks Is Tied Up In This Ukraine Scandal.

The Washington Post: Amateur pro-Trump ‘sleuths’ scramble to unmask whistleblower: ‘Your president has asked for your help.’

The Daily Beast: Pompeo Grapples for Ways to Outlast Hurricane Rudy.

Have a great Caturday, Sky Dancers!!


Thursday Reads: Joe Biden Is Not An Ally To Women (And Other News)

Good Morning!!

I’ve never been a fan of Joe Biden, so maybe I’ve just ignored his stance on reproductive rights. I did not know Biden was wobbly on the issue. I had even forgotten that Biden is a Catholic.

I couldn’t find anything recent on Biden’s abortion stance, except this piece at HuffPost from March 6: Biden In 1974: Women Don’t Have Sole Right To Say What Should Happen To Their Bodies.

When former Vice President Joe Biden was a freshman senator he said in a 1974 interview with Washingtonian that he believed the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling clearing the way for legal first-trimester abortions “went too far,” and that he didn’t “think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

In the interview, which took place just two years after Biden’s wife and two-year-old were killed in a car accident, Biden — then the youngest senator in U.S. history — said his anti-abortion views were part of his “socially conservative” outlook.

“My wife said I was the most socially conservative man she had ever known,” he said. “When it comes to issues like abortion, amnesty, and acid, I’m about as liberal as your grandmother.”

Biden claims his remarks were “taken out of context.”

But Biden didn’t limit his anti-abortion views to rhetoric. He also advanced legislation on the subject.

In 1981, for example, Biden proposed the Foreign Assistance Act, which barred U.S. aid from being used for any medical research on abortion. It’s still in effect to this day. He has also voted in support of the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortion procedures.

Joe Biden interview with American Magazine, September 2015

“Those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them,” Biden wrote to a constituent in 1994.

He also supported former President Ronald Reagan’s “Global Gag Rule,” which prohibits the U.S. funding any nongovernmental organizations that offer or advise on reproductive health care if they also offer abortion. President Trump was quick to revive it in 2017.

Biden’s approval rating from the pro-choice activist group NARAL has fluctuated throughout his career. In the 1990s, his score wavered between 34 and 46 percent ― a pretty abysmal scorecard for a Democrat. In recent years, however, it’s shot up to 100 percent.

Biden has also consistently voted in support of banning so-called “partial-birth” abortions ― the medical term for which is “dilation and extraction.” These procedures are often politicized despite heart-wrenching stories from women whose lives were saved because of them.

Two articles on Biden and abortion from 2015:

America Magazine: Vice President Biden’s comments about abortion in America interview kick off new conversations.

In an exclusive interview with America released at the beginning of this week, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. affirmed that pro-life people “absolutely, positively” are welcome in the Democratic party and that he believes, as a Catholic, that “abortion is always wrong.” His comments, very different from most contributions to the political conversation about abortion, are blurring some long-established lines in the culture wars and generating significant interest in the media and among commentators….

“It has been hard…I’m prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there’s human life and being, but I’m not prepared to say that to other God­-fearing [and] non­-God­-fearing people that have a different view,” Biden said. He continued, “Abortion is always wrong…But I’m not prepared to impose doctrine that I’m prepared to accept on the rest of [the country].” (See the exchange, which begins at the 13:30 mark, in the full interview embedded at the bottom of this post.)

Fr. Malone also asked Mr. Biden if there was room for people who are pro-life in the Democratic party. The Vice President responded resolutely: “Absolutely. Absolutely, positively. And that’s been my position for as long as I’ve been engaged.”

No. Just no. Anyone who is “pro-life” in the sense of opposing women’s reproductive rights should not be welcome in the Democratic Party.

Mother Jones: Biden’s Abortion Record Could Cause Him Problems in a Presidential Bid.

Biden has been an inconsistent supporter of reproductive rights, sometimes backing the legal right of women to choose how to handle a pregnancy, while often hewing to his Catholic faith and moralizing against all abortions. Even today, when he and Clinton would most likely agree on most of the policy substance of ensuring access to abortion clinics, Biden sticks to a pro-life view in his personal politics.

Biden the gaffe machine

During the early part of his career, abortion rights groups griped about Biden as an unreliable ally. “Joe Biden moans a lot and then usually votes against us,” a Planned Parenthood official said in 1986.

When he first entered national politics, Biden was willing to stand alongside politicians who wanted to make abortion illegal. In a Washingtonian profilepublished the year after the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established a nationwide right to abortion, Biden unequivocally criticized the ruling. “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion,” he said. “I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

He put that view into practice in 1982, voting in the Judiciary Committee for a proposed constitutional amendment that would have overturned Roe v. Wade by declaring that the Constitution offered women no inherent right to abortion, and that the federal government and states would be free to regulate or ban abortion as they pleased. Under that amendment, state laws that restricted abortions would have superseded more permissive federal laws.

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

As Biden continues to agonize about getting into the 2020 presidential race, this is something that needs to be spread far and wide among Democrats. With Roe v. Wade likely to be overturned soon, Women cannot accept a candidate who doesn’t wholeheartedly support women’s right to control their own bodies.

The Kushners and the Trumps

Charles and Jared Kushner

I’m reading the new book by Vicky Ward, Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. I can tell you that the Kushner family can definitely compete with the Trump’s in terms of corruption. Until now I had no idea just how much of a monster Charles Kushner is. No wonder Trump likes Jared so much. Ward was interviewed on Democracy Now this morning.

The New York Times has a story on the Kushners this morning: The Kingdom and the Kushners: Jared Went to Riyadh. So Did His Brother.

In late October 2017, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, dropped into Saudi Arabia for an unannounced visit to the desert retreat of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was in the process of consolidating his power. The two men talked privately late into the night.

Just a day earlier, Mr. Kushner’s younger brother, Josh, then 32, was flying out of the kingdom.

Jared came to talk policy, but Josh was there on business.

The founder of an eight-year-old venture capital firm, Josh Kushner had spent the three days before his brother’s arrival at an investor conference, where Prince Mohammed had promised to spend billions of dollars on a high-tech future for Saudi Arabia.

As others sat through speeches in a gilded conference hall, several participants said, the younger Mr. Kushner frequently ducked out for more exclusive conversations with Saudi officials.

Some government ethics lawyers say those conversations — never hidden, but not previously reported — create the appearance of a potential conflict of interest. Although Jared Kushner severed his ties with his brother’s company and divested his interest in his brother’s funds around the time he entered the White House, he was nonetheless discussing American policy with the rulers of the kingdom at virtually the same time that his brother was talking business with their top aides.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Mike Pence and Russia?

Franklin Graham and Mike Pence

Check out this creepy scoop from Think Progress: Why was Franklin Graham schmoozing with a sanctioned Russian official this month?

Franklin Graham, America’s most prominent evangelical leader, says Vice President Mike Pence signed off on his trip to Russia earlier this month. While there, Graham met with sanctioned Kremlin officials — even as U.S. investigations ramped up into Moscow’s election interference efforts. One official Russian governmental social media account touted the meeting as a way to “[intensify] contacts between the State Duma and the U.S. Congress.”

In an interview with RIA Novosti, a major Russian state-run outlet, Graham said he called Pence directly to tell him of the trip. “He was very happy to hear the news,” Graham said. “And he admitted that he fully supported my decision.”

Neither Pence’s office nor the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association responded to ThinkProgress’s requests for comment.

According to interviews in Russian media and photos on his own social media accounts, Graham, currently the chair of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, traveled to Moscow earlier this month to meet with a number of prominent Russian figures. Most notably, Graham had a sit-down meeting with Russian Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, who is close to President Vladimir Putin and who has been sanctioned by the U.S. since 2014 for his role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Click on the link to read the rest.

More stories to check out, links only:

The New Republic: Nihilist In Chief: The Banal, Evil, All-Destructive Reign of Mitch McConnell.

Fast Company: Amazon could soon force you to go on a diet,according to one futurist.

Palm Beach Post: Not just Cindy Yang: Royals, felon, pop stars, others got access to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.

Seattle Times: FBI joining criminal investigation into certification of Boeing 737 MAX.

The New York Times: Doomed Boeing Jets Lacked 2 Safety Features That Company Sold Only as Extras.

Miami Herald: Two mystery parties try to restrict release of documents in Jeffrey Epstein civil suit.

Trump Inc: Trump’s Moscow Tower Problem.

Politico: Aides struggle to see strategy in Trump’s Conway, McCain fights.

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


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Latest News, Accompanied By Library Cats

Sir Eli, Los Robles Elementary School Library, Porterville, CA

Good Morning!!

Yesterday I called Dakinikat early in the morning to tell her about a long investigative piece at The Miami Herald: Trump cheered Patriots to Super Bowl victory with founder of spa where Kraft was busted. She posted a brief excerpt from it in her Friday post. It was just one more example of the corruption Trumph has enabled since becoming “president,” right? Well it looks like there’s a lot more to this story and it could blow up into a huge scandal.

Yesterday multiple photos of prominent Republicans posing with Li “Cindy” Yang, the subject of the Miami Herald story, were posted on Twitter.

Yang founded a chain of “Asian day spas” in Florida, including Orchids of Asia Day Spa, which was recently busted for sex trafficking. Yang is no longer the owner of Orchids, but she and her family members still own numerous such “massage parlors” called Tokyo Day Spas, which are known for providing “sexual services.”

From the Miami Herald story linked above:

Bradford Public Library in Bradford, Pennsylvania, has a cat named Miss Whispurr

Before the 2016 general election, Yang offered no evidence of political engagement. She hadn’t voted in 10 years, records showed. But she has now become a fixture at Republican political events up and down the East Coast. Her Facebook is covered in photos of herself standing with President Trump, his two sons, Eric and Donald Jr., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott, Sarah Palin, the president’s campaign manager and an assortment of other high-level Republican operators she has met at charity events, political fundraisers and galas, many of which require hefty donations to attend. She sometimes carries a rhinestone encrusted MAGA clutch purse.

Yang has shown considerable political largesse. Since 2017, she and her close relatives have contributed more than $42,000 to Trump Victory, a political action committee, and more than $16,000 to the president’s campaign.

In February 2018, Yang was invited by the White House to participate in an event hosted by the Asian American and Pacific Islander Initiative, an advisory commission Trump established by executive order the year before. Later in the year, she attended at least two more AAPI events in Washington, D.C., according to her Facebook page.

The article says that Yang is planning to get out of the day spa business and plans to move to Washington, DC. More on Yang from the Herald piece:

Catniss Evergreen, Akron Carnegie Public Library, Akron, Indiana

When Donald Trump became a serious candidate for president, politics began to dominate her social media presence.

In January 2017, she was in the crowd at Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. Later that year, she snapped a photo with Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. In December, she attended her first elite event at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, a poolside steak lunch.

In September 2018, Yang received a personalized note from the president and first lady. It read: “Thank you for your friendship and dedication to our cause. Leaders like you in Florida are the key to fulfilling our bold agenda to Make America Great Again!” [….]

Over the past two years, Yang has racked up a who’s who of photos with politicians at more than a dozen political events. She has enough pictures of the president’s private clubs to fill an album.

In 2018, she attended a Safari Night at Mar-a-Lago hosted by the president’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, as well as the White House’s celebration of the Lunar New Year at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. She took photos with Florida’s soon-to-be-governor, Ron DeSantis, at a pro-Israel gala held at Mar-a-Lago, met U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in Washington, D.C., and posed with Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz and former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. She also posted a photograph of herself with DeSantis at a restaurant, saying she was having “brunch this morning with Florida’s next Governor.”

She was photographed with Donald Trump Jr. at a winter Mar-a-Lago gala for Turning Points USA, the conservative college organization, and met Eric Trump last month.

Kuzya, Novorossiysk Library, Russia

Yang claims she doesn’t know Trump personally and is just a volunteer at campaign events. But it turns out there’s a lot more to this story. David Corn at Mother Jones this morning: A Florida Massage Parlor Owner Has Been Selling Chinese Execs Access to Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

…there is another angle to the strange story of Yang: She runs an investment business that has offered to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family. And a website for the business—which includes numerous photos of Yang and her purported clients hobnobbing at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach—suggests she had some success in doing so.

Yang, who goes by Cindy, and her husband, Zubin Gong, started GY US Investments LLC in 2017. The company describes itself on its website, which is mostly in Chinese, as an “international business consulting firm that provides public relations services to assist businesses in America to establish and expand their brand image in the modern Chinese marketplace.” But the firm notes that its services also address clients looking to make high-level connections in the United States. On a page displaying a photo of Mar-a-Lago, Yang’s company says its “activities for clients” have included providing them “the opportunity to interact with the president, the [American] Minister of Commerce and other political figures.” The company boasts it has “arranged taking photos with the President” and suggests it can set up a “White House and Capitol Hill Dinner.” (The same day the Herald story about Yang broke, the website stopped functioning.) [….]

Ernie, Bealton Librrary, Bealton, VA

The GY US Investments website lists upcoming events at Mar-a-Lago at which Yang’s clients presumably can mingle with Trump or members of his family. This includes something called the International Leaders Elite Forum, where Trump’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, will supposedly be the featured speaker. Attendees, the site says, will include “Chinese elites from various countries, including the US states, as well as elite leaders from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, Europe and other countries and regions.” Another event for which Yang’s firm says it can provide access is Trump’s annual New Year’s celebration at Mar-a-Lago. Elsewhere on the website, the firm boasts that “GY Company arranged a number of guests to attend the 2019 New Year’s Eve dinner. All the guests took photos with” members of Trump’s family. This page displays photos of Chinese executives and a Chinese movie star with Donald Trump Jr., suggesting that these pics were arranged by the company, and also includes a photo of Yang with Elizabeth Trump Grau.

I wonder if Yang has anything to do with all those Chinese licensing agreements and trademarks Ivanka keeps getting? Honestly, there is no bottom to the Trump family’s corruption, and there are probably more grifters like Yang picking up the scraps.

In other news, Gabriel Sherman has background on why former Fox News exec Bill Shine is no longer in charge of the White House communications shop: “Trump has been calling him Bill “no shine”: Why Roger Ailes’s Former Right Hand is Leaving the West Wing.

“Bill was iced out,” a Republican close to the White House told me, echoing the view of multiple sources that the president had been souring on the former Fox News co-president for months. “Trump has been calling him Bill ‘No Shine,’” one source briefed on the conversations told me.

Mimi the Blueskin Bay library cat, Dunedin, New Zealand

Trump’s decision to hire Shine last July completed the Fox-ification of the West Wing. Shine got the job after his close friend Sean Hannity lobbied Trump to name Shine chief of staff. “The relationship was always Hannity based,” a former West Wing official explained. “When Trump hired him it was like he thought, ‘I’m getting Hannity.’ I’m like, no you’re getting the guy who produced Hannity.” Trump put Shine in charge of the beleaguered White House press operation with a mandate to plug leaks and improve his image. Shine accomplished neither. In Shine’s defense, the brief was impossible given Trump’s destructive Twitter habits. “Trump needs someone to blame for his bad press,” another former West Wing official said.

Shine was in over his head from the beginning. As Roger Ailes’s right hand, he had virtually no direct contacts with reporters and no involvement in Fox’s P.R. department. “Bill’s not a strategist,” a former Fox executive told me. That lack of experience was evident last September when Shine was caught flat-footed during the rollout of Bob Woodward’s book Fear. “Trump started complaining to people there was no advance prep on Woodward’s book,” the Republican close to the White House said. “Trump let Shine know he wasn’t happy.”

Trump should just hire Hannity as chief of staff and be done with it.

Medhi Hasan of The Intercept did a hard-hitting interview with Erik Prince and got him to admit to attending a high-level meeting at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. (The New York Times reported on the meeting in May 2018). Here’s a summary of the story at HuffPost: Ex-Mercenary CEO Erik Prince Admits To Trump Tower Meet With Donald Jr. And Saudi Emissary.

 

Shadow, Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Erik Prince, former head of mercenary business Blackwater, revealed in a bombshell interview Friday that he attended a meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and a representative of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss “Iran policy” during the presidential campaign.

The interview marked the first time Prince has publicly acknowledged such a meeting. Prince said in congressional testimony in 2017 that he had no “official” or “unofficial” role in the campaign — other than a “yard sign” and writing “papers” — according to the transcript of his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Nor did he mention the meeting in his testimony, according to transcripts.

The New York Times reported last year that Prince organized the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with President Donald Trump’s eldest son and Lebanese-American businessman George Nader. Nader revealed at the meeting that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wanted to aid Trump in his bid for the presidency, according to the newspaper.

The meeting also reportedly included now-top White House aide Stephen Miller and Israeli social media expert Joel Zamel.

The August meeting is yet another secret huddle with a representative of foreign governments that may have provided illegal international aid to sway the American election.

More stories to check out, links only:

Addison Nash, University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma library cat

Buzzfeed News: Military Doctors Told Them It Was Just “Female Problems.” Weeks Later, They Were In The Hospital.

NBC News: Trump administration responsible for even more separated children, judge rules.

USA Today: Judge: Trump administration may have to reunite thousands of additional migrant families.

Anne Applebaum at The Washington Post: The more we learn about Brexit, the more crooked it looks.

The Washington Post: Trump budget to propose slashing domestic spending, boosting defense.

The Washington Post: A Trump official said seismic air gun tests don’t hurt whales. So a congressman blasted him with an air horn.

Bloomberg: Russian Trolls Shift Strategy to Disrupt U.S. Election in 2020.

The New York Times: Chelsea Manning Is Jailed for Refusing to Testify in WikiLeaks Case.

The New York Times: The Daintiest Slap on Paul Manafort’s Wrist.

The Los Angeles Times: How could anyone think Paul Manafort lived an ‘otherwise blameless’ life?

What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: Happy Valentine’s Day

Les Pivoines 1907 par Henri Matisse

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sky Dancers!!

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

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

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

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

Bouquet on a Bamboo Table (1903) Henri Matisse

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

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

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

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

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

Flowers and Fruit by Henri Matisse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two more articles based on the McCabe book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henri Matisse: Les Anemones

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

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

Read more at the CNN link.

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

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

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

And he resigned.

Henri Matisse. Vase of Irises. 1912

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

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

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

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

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

Flowers by Henri Matisse

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

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

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

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

Gulf News: Trump backer Tom Barrack defends Saudi Arabia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So . . . what stories have you been following?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Crazy is Our Daily Reality Now

Good Afternoon!!

Paul Newman and his Burmese caat

There are four Democratic women running for president and the media is working overtime to take them all down. Meanwhile, elderly white males Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders get kid glove treatment.

Let me see if I can get this straight: Elizabeth Warren believed her family when they told her she had a Native American ancestor. Kamala Harris was a prosecutor (horrors!), she dated an older black man but married a white man. Amy Klobuchar is mean to her staff. Kirsten Gillibrand is “too transparently opportunistic.”

Each one of these women has now been assigned a “her emails” story that will dominate her campaign if reporters are successful. But two elderly white men with problematic political records and a younger man with few qualifications (Beto O’Rourke) are treated as viable candidates.

Sigh . . . Will I live to see a woman president? I’m still hoping.

In other news, Trump had his physical and surprise! He’s in perfect health!

The Washington Post: Trump’s doctor says he is in ‘very good health’ after exam by 11 specialists.

President Trump is “in very good health” and is expected to remain healthy for “the duration of his Presidency, and beyond,” the president’s doctor reported Friday after a physical exam that lasted nearly four hours and included 11 specialists.

Carole Lombard with black cat

The White House did not release details of the exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and did not say whether more details would be released.

Trump was seen by a “panel of 11 different board certified specialists,” Sean P. Conley wrote in a brief memorandum released by the White House.

The memo did not include the disciplines of any of the specialists. Typically, a physical exam includes checks of height, weight, blood pressure and other standard measures. Trump said last year that he takes a statin drug to manage his cholesterol.

Trump did not undergo any procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia, Conley reported.

I wonder if he is still 6’3 and 239 pounds? The doctor doesn’t say. Maybe his height increased again–so rare for a 72 year old man, but possible for a wannabe dictator.

Let’s see, what else is happening?

The New York Times: Trump Defies Congressional Deadline on Khashoggi Report.

President Trump refused to provide Congress a report on Friday determining who killed the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, defying a demand by lawmakers intent on establishing whether the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was behind the grisly assassination.

Steve McQueen and friend

Mr. Trump effectively bypassed a deadline set by law as his administration argued that Congress could not impose its will on the president. Critics charged that he was seeking to cover up Saudi complicity in the death of Mr. Khashoggi, an American resident and a columnist for The Washington Post.

“Consistent with the previous administration’s position and the constitutional separation of powers, the president maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate,” the Trump administration said in a statement. The statement said the administration had taken action against the killers and would consult with Congress.

But Democrats said Mr. Trump was violating a law known as the Magnitsky Act. It required him to respond 120 days after a request submitted in the fall by committee leaders — including Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — a period that expired Friday.

The illegitimate “president” of the U.S. is protecting a foreign despot who ordered the brutal murder of a Washington Post journalist. And there are suggestions that the “president” used Saudi Arabia and his pals at The National Enquirer to get revenge on Jeff Bezos, who owns the Post.

CNN: Bezos flags ‘Saudi angle’ in alleged AMI extortion attempt.

Jeff Bezos’ stunning accusation that the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him mentioned the close ties between the paper’s publisher, David Pecker, and President Donald Trump — and a second, less well-known connection.

Lucille Ball with cat

Bezos flagged the link between the New York tabloid’s parent company, American Media, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, returning to it several times.

While Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir denied any connection between his country and AMI to CNN, Bezos said in his Thursday statement that the link between the Kingdom and the media company is not yet fully understood. He carefully laid out a web of connections.

The trigger for Bezos’ post was his decision to hire a respected investigator to find out how texts to his girlfriend were obtained and published by the National Enquirer — and to determine why the paper and Pecker, the AMI chairman, had made him a target.

“Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation,” Bezos wrote. “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” he continued.

A couple of articles on the National Enquier story to check out:

The Washington Post: Federal prosecutors reviewing Bezos’s extortion claim against National Enquirer, sources say.

The Daily Beast: Private Eyes Detail Inner Workings of National Enquirer ‘Blackmail’ Machine.

Marlon Brando and his cat

The illegitimate “president’s” fake attorney general made an ass of himself in front of the Congressional committee and the world yesterday and the “president” is very pleased. Natasha Bertrand at The Atlantic: Matthew Whitaker Plays to an Audience of One.

It took about five minutes of questioning for the acting attorney general to provoke gasps and jeers in the congressional hearing room. “Your five minutes are up,” Matthew Whitaker, an ex-U.S. Attorney-turned toilet salesman, told the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman Jerry Nadler. Nadler cracked a smile, but from that point on the rules of engagement seemed clear: Whitaker, just days remaining in his legally dubious role as the interim head of the Justice Department, appeared to be playing to an audience of one…..

Despite the lingering questions about his resume and suspicions about why he was appointed over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who would have  been Sessions’s natural replacement, Whitaker presented himself to Nadler, a 13-term congressman, with the same aloofness and disdain for tradition that often seems typical of the Trump White House. And that may have been on purpose. Whitaker, whose tenure ends when Bill Barr is confirmed as attorney general next week, will need a new job. He has reportedly been considered for the role of Trump’s chief of staff. And though he testified under oath that he had “not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation,” he repeatedly declined to contradict Trump’s claims that Mueller is on a “witch hunt.”

Marilyn Monroe

Chuck Rosenberg, a former senior Justice Department official who resigned in 2017, said it would have been “easy” for Whitaker to say that Mueller’s investigation is legitimate, as Barr did during his recent confirmation hearings. “I don’t know how somebody could be that cowardly,” he added. But doing so would have undermined what is arguably his boss’s most important talking point—and that would not have been a good move for Whitaker if he was, in fact, auditioning for his next position.

Instead, Whitaker had a boilerplate response prepared for the myriad of questions posed by Democrats about the Mueller probe: “It would be inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation,” he said. Democrats, though, found that disingenuous—Whitaker had discussed the probe publicly earlier this month, going as far as to speculate that it would be wrapping up soon.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

Here’s a Trump/Whitaker/Russia scandal that is new to me. Raw Story:

Taking to Twitter on Friday night, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) hinted that there will be an investigation into a donor who gifted the Judicial Network with $18 million to steal the Supreme Court seat belonging to Merrick Garland.

As part of his observations on the Matt Whitaker hearing where he was confronted about a mysterious $1.2 million donation that funded his salary, Whitehouse said Democrats shouldn’t stop there.

Meryl Streep

‘Whitaker did political hit work for a front group called FACT that does not reveal its donors. Today he admitted that its donor was Donors Trust, an entity that hides the identity of right-wing donors. That means the unknown real donor hid behind two entities,” Whitehouse tweeted….

Whitehouse then put conservatives on notice that he expects an investigation into the dark money that was used to fund a campaign to keep Judge Merrick Garland from even getting a hearing — only to see his seat go to conservative Neil Gorsuch after Donald Trump was elected.

I found this on Twitter.

Could this be true? I don’t know, but I hope Whitehouse finds out. At this point, nothing about Trump, Republicans, and Russia would surprise me.

I’ll end with something more hopeful from The New York Times: John Dingell: My last words for America.

John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

Mary Tyler Moore

One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Click on the link to read Dingell’s final thoughts. How amazing that he chose to speak out publicly from his deathbed. He was a true public servant.

That’s all I have for today. I hope you all enjoy the weekend in spite of the insanity that surrounds us.


Tuesday Reads: The Humiliation of the Fake “President”

Good Morning!!

 

As if the fake “president” didn’t have enough humiliations to deal with this morning, Time Magazine has delivered a crushing blow to his ego, announcing Jamal Khashoggi and other journalists as their “Person of the Year.”

The Washington Post: Time’s Person of the Year: ‘Guardians’ of the truth, including slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Time magazine has announced its 2018 Person of the Year is “The Guardians,” four individuals and one group — all journalists — who this year helped expose “the manipulation and the abuse of truth” around the world.

They are the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributing columnist who was killed inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October; the staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland; journalist Maria Ressa, the CEO of the Rappler news website, who has been made a legal target in the Philippines; and journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been jailed in Myanmar for nearly a year for their work exposing the mass killing of Rohingya Muslims.

“As we looked at the choices, it became clear that the manipulation and the abuse of truth is really the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories, from Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley,” Time magazine editor Edward Felsenthal said on the “Today” show Tuesday morning, where the announcement was made.

“The manipulation and abuse of truth” is a pretty clear reference to Trump’s governing style.

Here’s Time’s cover story: The Guardians and the War on Truth.

The stout man with the gray goatee and the gentle demeanor dared to disagree with his country’s government. He told the world the truth about its brutality toward those who would speak out. And he was murdered for it.

Every detail of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing made it a sensation: the time stamp on the surveillance video that captured the Saudi journalist entering his country’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2; the taxiway images of the private jets bearing his assassins; the bone saw; the reports of his final words, “I can’t breathe,” recorded on audio as the life was choked from him.

But the crime would not have remained atop the world news for two months if not for the epic themes that Khashoggi himself was ever alert to, and spent his life placing before the public. His death laid bare the true nature of a smiling prince, the utter absence of morality in the Saudi-U.S. alliance and—in the cascade of news feeds and alerts, posts and shares and links—the centrality of the question Khashoggi was killed over: Whom do you trust to tell the story?

Khashoggi put his faith in bearing witness. He put it in the field reporting he had done since youth, in the newspaper editorship he was forced out of and in the columns he wrote from lonely exile. “Must we choose,” he asked in the Washington Post in May, “between movie theaters and our rights as citizens to speak out, whether in support of or critical of our government’s actions?” Khashoggi had fled his homeland last year even though he actually supported much of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s agenda in Saudi Arabia. What irked the kingdom and marked the journalist for death was Khashoggi’s insistence on coming to that conclusion on his own, tempering it with troubling facts and trusting the public to think for itself.

Such independence is no small thing. It marks the distinction between tyranny and democracy. And in a world where budding authoritarians have advanced by blurring the difference, there was a clarity in the spectacle of a tyrant’s fury visited upon a man armed only with a pen. Because the strongmen of the world only look strong. All despots live in fear of their people. To see genuine strength, look to the spaces where individuals dare to describe what’s going on in front of them.

Trump and his gullible son-in-law Jared Kushner won’t be happy about this. Plus, yesterday CNN published quotes from the transcript of the recording of the Kashoggi murder: ‘I can’t breathe.’ Jamal Khashoggi’s last words disclosed in transcript, source says.

“I can’t breathe.” These were the final words uttered by Jamal Khashoggi after he was set upon by a Saudi hit squad at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, according to a source briefed on the investigation into the killing of the Washington Post columnist.

The source, who has read a translated transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi’s painful last moments, said it was clear that the killing on October 2 was no botched rendition attempt, but the execution of a premeditated plan to murder the journalist.
During the course of the gruesome scene, the source describes Khashoggi struggling against a group of people determined to kill him.

“I can’t breathe,” Khashoggi says.

“I can’t breathe.”

“I can’t breathe.”

The transcript notes the sounds of Khashoggi’s body being dismembered by a saw, as the alleged perpetrators are advised to listen to music to block out the sound.

And, according to the source, the transcript suggests that a series of phone calls are made. Turkish officials believe the calls were placed to senior figures in Riyadh, briefing them on progress.

Nick Ayers and John Kelly

In other humiliations, the fake “president” decided to humiliate Chief of Staff John Kelly by announcing his firing without any warning, and then the fake “president” was in turn humiliated by his choice to replace Kelly. Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair:

On Friday night, members of Donald Trump’s West Wing gathered for drinks at the Trump International Hotel following a holiday dinner at the White House. As they mingled in the lobby, Bill Shine, Stephen MillerKellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and others grappled with the latest West Wing upheaval: Trump had changed the plan and fired Chief of Staff John Kellyearlier that afternoon. “It got back to Trump that Kelly was bad-mouthing him and Trump had decided he’d had enough. His attitude was, ‘fuck him,’” an attendee told me.

Kelly’s defenestration surprised few people—Trump had wanted to fire him for months—but the lingering problem had been finding a replacement whom Trump felt comfortable with (and who wanted the job). “The president really wanted someone he knows. He didn’t want to gamble,” a former West Wing official said. After weeks of lobbying by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Trump had been convinced that Mike Pence’s 36-year-old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, was the best candidate. On Friday afternoon, Trump met with Ayers, Pence, and Kelly and finalized the transition, a source briefed on the meeting said. A press release announcing Ayers’s hiring was reportedly drafted and ready to go for when Trump planned to announce Kelly’s departure on Monday.

But Trump’s frustration with Kelly boiled over after Kelly pressed him to name his deputy Zachary Fuentes interim chief of staff. “Trump didn’t like how Kelly was trying to dictate the terms of his departure,” a Republican briefed on the discussions told me. Trump blew up the carefully orchestrated announcement and told reporters on Saturday as he walked to Marine One that Kelly would be leaving by the end of the year. “John wanted to announce his own departure. This was a humiliation,” a former West Wing official said.

Trump’s impulsive announcement quickly became an even bigger problem when it turned out that Kelly’s replacement was not sewn up; Ayers surprised Trump later that day by insisting that he only wanted the job short term. “Trump was pissed, he was caught off guard,” a former West Wing official briefed on the talks said.

And to make sure the humiliation of the fake “president” was complete, Ayers announced his departure on Twitter.

Now Trump is left with no one to humiliate in the formerly prestigious Chief of Staff job. The Washington Post: ‘There was no Plan B’: Trump scrambles to find chief of staff after top candidate turns him down.

After announcing the exit of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and being turned down by his pick to replace him, Nick Ayers, Trump found himself Monday in an unexpected predicament — scrambling to recruit someone to help run the executive branch of the federal government and guide the administration through the political tumult and possible legal peril ahead.

“Will you be my Chief of Staff?”

In any White House, the chief of staff is arguably the most punishing position. But in this White House — a den of disorder ruled by an impulsive president — it has proved to be an especially thankless job. The two people to hold the job were left with their reputations diminished after failing to constrain the president, who often prefers to function as his own chief of staff.

Three members of Trump’s Cabinet who have been discussed inside the West Wing as possible chiefs of staff — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer — each signaled Monday that they were not interested in the position.

Considerable buzz has centered on two other contenders. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) noted his interest in the job by issuing a statement saying that “serving as Chief of Staff would be an incredible honor.”

“It is not something I have been campaigning for,” Meadows told reporters Monday on Capitol Hill, adding that his phone “blew up” after the Ayers news broke. “The president has a good list of candidates. I’m honored to be one of those.”

And acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, who traveled with Trump to Kansas City, Mo., last week , is seen by the president and his allies as a loyalist.

But Trump’s advisers and aides cautioned that there was not yet a front-runner.

Although aides said the president is committed to finding a replacement for Kelly before the Christmas holiday, they said he has been vacillating — casting about in all corners for potential picks and frustrated by news coverage depicting his White House as a place where talented people do not want to work.

Why would anyone want to work for Trump? I guess it will have to be someone whose reputation is already in tatters. I can’t imagine anyone who has hopes for a future career being interested. That description could apply to Whitaker, but how could he get a security clearance when he’s associated with a company that is under investigation for fraud?

Of course Trump is claiming he has multiple applicants for the job.

Hahahahahahahaha!

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