Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

early-september-green-mountains-frank-wilson

Early September Green Mountains (Vermont), by Frank Wilson

There’s a lot happening in the news today that isn’t about the British royal family; but you probably won’t see much about it on the cable channels–at least until the nighttime shows come on. Among other things, Ukraine is still winning the battle to get Russia to stop destroying their country; the Department of Justice is running multiple investigations of Trump and the January 6 conspiracies; the House January 6 Committee is getting up to speed for more hearings; and other Congressional investigations are cropping up.

Ukraine War

The Washington Post: ‘The Russians are in trouble,’ U.S. official says of latest war analysis.

A Ukrainian counteroffensive that has sent Russian forces into a hasty retreat could mark a turning point in the war and raise pressure on Moscow to call up additional forces if it hopes to prevent further Ukrainian advances, U.S. and Western officials said Monday.

Whether the gains are permanent depends on Russia’s next moves, especially whether President Vladimir Putin implements a military draft or orders reinforcements from elsewhere to offset heavy losses in Ukraine, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share recent intelligence analyses.

In mere days, Ukrainian military forces have retaken nearly all of the Kharkiv region that Russian forces occupied since the opening of the war. The rapidity of the pullback appears to have stunned Russian military troops and commanders, officials said.

“The Russians are in trouble,” one U.S. official said bluntly. “The question will be how the Russians will react, but their weaknesses have been exposed and they don’t have great manpower reserves or equipment reserves.”

Ukrainian forces appeared to be moving ahead carefully and consolidating their gains, another official said, noting that Russian forces seem to have recognized that they lacked the weapons and manpower to hold newly liberated towns and villages in the northeast of the country. Some Russian forces abandoned tanks, armored vehicles and ammunition as they fled.

Read more at the WaPo.

The New York Times: The Critical Moment Behind Ukraine’s Rapid Advance.

The strategy behind Ukraine’s rapid military gains in recent days began to take shape months ago during a series of intense conversations between Ukrainian and U.S. officials about the way forward in the war against Russia, according to American officials.

the-apple-gatherers-frederick-morgan

The Apple Gatherers, Frederick Morgan

The counteroffensive — revised this summer from its original form after urgent discussions between senior U.S. and Ukrainian officials — has succeeded beyond most predictions. Ukrainian forces have devastated Russian command and control, and appear poised to capitalize on their advances in the northeast of the country and in another campaign in the south.

The work began soon after President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine told his generals he wanted to make a dramatic move to demonstrate that his country could push back on the Russian invasion. Under his orders, the Ukrainian military devised a plan to launch a broad assault across the south to reclaim Kherson and cut off Mariupol from the Russian force in the east.

The Ukrainian generals and American officials believed that such a large-scale attack would incur immense casualties and fail to quickly retake large amounts of territory. The Ukrainians were already suffering hundreds of casualties a day in what had become a grinding conflict. The Russian forces were experiencing similar losses but were still inching forward, laying waste to Ukrainian towns in the eastern region of Donbas.

Long reluctant to share details of their plans, the Ukrainian commanders started opening up more to American and British intelligence officials and seeking advice.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, and Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Mr. Zelensky, spoke multiple times about the planning for the counteroffensive, according to a senior administration official. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and senior Ukrainian military leaders regularly discussed intelligence and military support.

The gist is that Americans helped the Ukrainians plan a strategy, and the Ukrainian army succeeded in carrying it out–beyond all expectations. Read more details at the NYT.

David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: What Happens to Russia After It Loses?

With reports of Russian troops fleeing like “Olympic sprinters,” leaving behind weapons, crashing their tanks into trees, and turning over more than 3,000 square kilometers of previously held territory to Ukraine, it is only natural to ask: How bad can it get for Russia?

Experts with whom I spoke all agreed that the war will have long-lasting implications for Russia and, as a consequence, for geopolitics. At the very least it puts to rest for the foreseeable future Putin’s notion that he will oversee the rebirth of Russian greatness, of a new Russian empire. At worst, it means that Russia’s decades-long slide that led to its Cold War collapse (and its struggles ever since) will be accelerated, and the country will be consigned by its floundering dictator to a period of greatly diminished global influence.

at-the-market-1895. Felix Vallotton

At the Market, 1985, by Felix Valloton

Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder described the stakes trenchantly: “Russia ceased being a great power a long time ago. It never really recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union, itself the product of a decaying ideology and system.” Daalder said Putin came to power when “Russia was in a state of deep dysfunction” and that he subsequently “set out to build a deeply kleptocratic system that benefited him and his cronies at the expense of the entire society.” This, according to Daalder, has manifested itself with “a military that is unable to engage in modern warfare of maneuver, which after six months still hasn’t established air superiority.” [….]

Stephen Sestanovich, who served during the Clinton administration as ambassador at large for the newly independent states of the former USSR and is currently a professor at Columbia University, offered a different analogy to a second-tier European state, “Russia’s claim to be a great power has long been tenuous, resting on nukes, land mass, and a UN veto. The revival of economic growth in Putin’s first decade helped restore a little luster to the claim. But he’s been largely on the ropes since 2014, and this absurd campaign to ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine has put his entire effort at risk. He wanted to make himself an equal of Catherine and Peter. Now it’s going to take quite a comeback to be more than [former Serbian President Slobodan] Milošević with missiles.”

Angela Stent, a Putin biographer and senior adviser at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service’s Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies, echoed that analysis, “After the war is over, Russia will still be the largest country in the world (assuming it does not disintegrate) and it will still have nukes, oil, and gas. But it is deglobalizing and returning to greater autarky.” Stent says that despite maintaining strong ties with many countries in the global south, “its relations with the collective West, which represents the lion’s share of global GDP, have largely collapsed.” Stent adds: “Putin came to power wanting to restore Russia’s role as a great power and have a seat on the global board of directors. He has now lost that. Russia will emerge from this demodernized and diminished in global stature.”

There’s still more expert opinion reported at the Daily Beast link.

Department of Justice Investigations

The New York Times: Justice Dept. Issues 40 Subpoenas in a Week, Expanding Its Jan. 6 Inquiry.

Justice Department officials have seized the phones of two top advisers to former President Donald J. Trump and blanketed his aides with about 40 subpoenas in a substantial escalation of the investigation into his efforts to subvert the 2020 election, people familiar with the inquiry said on Monday.

The seizure of the phones, coupled with a widening effort to obtain information from those around Mr. Trump after the 2020 election, represent some of the most aggressive steps the department has taken thus far in its criminal investigation into the actions that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

The extent of the investigation has come into focus in recent days, even though it has often been overshadowed by the government’s legal clash with Mr. Trump and his lawyers over a separate inquiry into the handling of presidential records, including highly classified materials, the former president kept at his residence in Florida, Mar-a-Lago.

Federal agents with court-authorized search warrants took phones last week from at least two people: Boris Epshteyn, an in-house counsel who helps coordinate Mr. Trump’s legal efforts, and Mike Roman, a campaign strategist who was the director of Election Day operations for the Trump campaign in 2020, people familiar with the investigation said.

Mr. Epshteyn and Mr. Roman have been linked to a critical element of Mr. Trump’s bid to hold onto power: the effort to name slates of electors pledged to Mr. Trump from swing states won by Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020 as part of a plan to block or delay congressional certification of Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory.

On others who got subpoenas:

The names of those receiving the latest round of subpoenas in the investigation related to Jan. 6 have dribbled out gradually, with investigators casting a wide net on a range of issues, including Mr. Trump’s postelection fund-raising and the so-called fake electors scheme.

Indigo Dreams, Adrian Paul Allinson

Indigo Dreams, Adrian Paul Allinson

One of the recipients, people familiar with the case said, was Dan Scavino, Mr. Trump’s former social media director who rose from working at a Trump-owned golf course to become one of his most loyal West Wing aides, and has remained an adviser since Mr. Trump left office. Stanley Woodward, one of Mr. Scavino’s lawyers, declined to comment.

Another was Bernard B. Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner. Mr. Kerik, who promoted claims of voter fraud alongside his friend Rudolph W. Giuliani, was issued a subpoena by prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, his lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, said on Monday. Mr. Parlatore said his client had initially offered to grant an interview voluntarily.

The subpoenas seek information in connection with the fake electors plan.

For months, associates of Mr. Trump have received subpoenas related to other aspects of the investigations into his efforts to cling to power. But in a new line of inquiry, some of the latest subpoenas focus on the activities of the Save America political action committee, the main political fund-raising conduit for Mr. Trump since he left office.

The fact that the Justice Department is now seeking information related to fund-raising comes as the House committee examining the Jan. 6 attack has raised questions about money Mr. Trump solicited under the premise of fighting election fraud.

The January 6 Committee Investigation

CNN: January 6 committee set to meet in person on Tuesday as it debates whether to invite Trump and Pence to appear.

As the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack nears its final chapter, members plan to meet in person on Tuesday and one of the most pressing questions they’ll address is whether the committee should formally request that former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence appear before them.

Such appearances are exceedingly rare in US history. According to multiple sources, the committee does not expect either man to testify, but some members and staff believe the invitations should be extended for the record.

“How do you create a historic record without including formal requests for the two top witnesses,” said one source familiar to the committee’s work.

Members of the committee, including Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, have consistently said they’d like to hear from Pence and would welcome Trump’s testimony should he offer it on their terms but internal discussions about formally reaching out to both men has intensified in recent weeks now that the panel’s investigation will soon come to an end, the sources said….

A source close to Pence’s team told CNN that there have been intermittent conversations between the committee and legal counsel for Pence, but nothing has changed, meaning it’s unlikely he would testify.

Whether the panel decides to call Trump or Pence could prove to be an important data point should the committee ultimately opt to submit a criminal referral for Trump – something members of the panel say they expect to seriously consider, while such a move would be largely symbolic in nature.

Red Sun, Arthur C. Dove

Red Sun, Arthur C. Dove

Insider: Jan. 6 committee believes former Secret Service agent Tony Ornato was responsible for attempts to discredit Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, CNN reported.

Members of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot believe former Secret Service agent Tony Ornato was personally involved in efforts to discredit former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, according to a report from CNN.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republican members of Congress on the committee, told the outlet this week that representatives on the panel think Ornato led the charge in contradicting parts of Hutchinson’s public testimony earlier this year while he was still at the agency and additional, unnamed agents then backed his claims.

The longtime Secret Service agent who ran former President Donald Trump’s security detail left the agency last month, saying in a statement that he retired in order to pursue a career in the private sector.

Ornato emerged as a key figure in Hutchinson’s bombshell testimony before the committee in June.

Hutchinson testified that Ornato told her Trump had tried to grab the steering wheel of the vehicle he was traveling in and lunged at a Secret Service agent while demanding to be taken to the Capitol during the chaos of January 6, 2021, as he said, “I’m the effing president!”

In the aftermath of Hutchinson’s testimony, anonymous sources began to reject her version of events in the press. Several media outlets reported that Secret Service agents were willing to testify that Trump did not try to lunge at them or take control of the vehicle on January 6 — though none have done so publicly.

Now, Kinzinger is accusing Ornato of being one of the anonymous culprits behind the backlash.

Other Congressional Investigations

The New York Times: Archives Is Unsure Whether Trump Surrendered All Records, Panel Says.

The National Archives has informed congressional aides that it is still unsure whether former President Donald J. Trump has surrendered all the presidential records he removed from the White House, even after months of negotiations, a subpoena and a search of his Florida property, according to the House Oversight Committee.

The archives staff “recently informed the committee that the agency is not certain whether all presidential records are in its custody,” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the committee, wrote in a letter on Tuesday to Debra Steidel Wall, the acting national archivist.

Ms. Maloney said the archives staff had informed the committee staff during a call in late August of its uncertainty about the status of the material, which Mr. Trump was required by law to return.

autumn-on-the-seine-at-argenteuil.jpg!Large

Autumn on the Seine at Argenteuil, by Claude Monet

In her letter, Ms. Maloney requested a formal assessment from the archives of what presidential records, if any, removed from the White House by Mr. Trump remained unaccounted for and whether the archives believed they were potentially still in his possession.

The committee is requesting that the agency “conduct an urgent review of presidential records from the Trump administration to identify any presidential records or categories of presidential records, whether textual or electronic, that NARA has reason to believe may still be outside of the agency’s custody and control,” Ms. Maloney wrote, referring to the National Archives and Records Administration. “Please also assess any other limitations on the completeness, accuracy and accessibility of presidential records provided to NARA by the Trump administration.”

The letter asked the archives to complete an initial assessment and provide its findings to the committee by Sept. 27.

Ms. Maloney also requested that the archives “seek a personal certification from Donald Trump that he has surrendered all presidential records that he illegally removed from the White House after leaving office.”

The New York Times: Senate to Investigate Charge That Trump Meddled in Prosecutor’s Office.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will investigate allegations that the Justice Department under President Donald J. Trump sought to use the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan to support Mr. Trump politically and pursue his critics, the committee’s chairman said on Monday.

The allegations are in a new book by Geoffrey S. Berman, who was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2018 through June 2020, when he was fired by Mr. Trump.

The chairman, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, made the announcement in a letter sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland, which cited a New York Times report on Thursday detailing the book’s allegations.

Mr. Berman’s book portrays Trump Justice Department officials as motivated by partisan concerns as they tried to initiate criminal investigations or block them, The Times reported.

The book, “Holding the Line,” was obtained by The Times in advance of its scheduled publication on Tuesday.

Mr. Durbin said in his letter, “These reported claims indicate astonishing and unacceptable deviations from the department’s mission to pursue impartial justice, which requires that its prosecutorial decisions be free from political influence.”

He added that the allegations “also compound the already serious concerns” raised by then-Attorney General William P. Barr’s efforts in 2020 “to replace Mr. Berman with a Trump loyalist.”

Wow! This post got really long, so take what you want and leave the rest. I hope you all have a terrific Tuesday!!


Thursday Reads: McConnell Blinks; New Report on Trump Coup Attempt

Armin Glatter, Reading Girl, Hungarian, 1861-1916

Armin Glatter, Reading Girl, Hungarian, 1861-1916

Good Morning!!

Yesterday Mitch McConnell backed down and offered the Democrats a short-term agreement on raising the debt ceiling. This morning AP reports: Schumer: Agreement reached on short-term debt ceiling fix.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday an agreement has been reached with Republicans to extend the government’s borrowing authority into December, temporarily averting a debt crisis.

“We’ve reached agreement,” Schumer announced as he opened the Senate. “Our hope is to get this done as soon as today.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican and Democratic leaders edged back from a perilous standoff over lifting the nation’s borrowing cap, with Democratic senators signaling they were receptive to an offer from Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell that would allow an emergency extension into December.

McConnell made the offer late Wednesday shortly before Republicans were prepared to block legislation to suspend the debt limit until December of next year and as President Joe Biden and business leaders ramped up their concerns that an unprecedented federal default would disrupt government payments to millions of people and throw the nation into recession.

The emerging agreement sets the stage for a sequel of sorts in December, when Congress will again face pressing deadlines to fund the government and raise the debt limit before heading home for the holidays.

A procedural vote — on the longer extension the Republicans were going to block — was abruptly delayed late Wednesday and the Senate recessed so lawmakers could discuss next steps. Democrats emerged from their meeting more optimistic that a crisis would be averted.

Politico speculates that McConnell gave in because he feared the Democrats would finally decide to get rid of the filibuster.

McConnell backed down after Democratic threats of nuking the filibuster for the debt ceiling started to become more real. At their Tuesday lunch, Democratic senators discussed how McConnell’s blockade on the debt ceiling was boosting the case of filibuster reformers. Later that day, Biden, generally a skeptic of filibuster reform, said such a change for the debt ceiling was now a “real possibility.”

George Cochran Lambdin, Girl Reading

George Cochran Lambdin, Girl Reading

McConnell took notice. Our friend Manu Raju at CNN reported, “McConnell told his colleagues he’s concerned about pressure on [JOE] MANCHIN and [KYRSTEN] SINEMA to gut [the] filibuster in order to raise [the] debt ceiling, I’m told. He pointed to this as reason why he is floating short-term increase in order to ease pressure on and push Democrats to use reconciliation.”

McConnell himself alluded to how filibuster reform was the key issue at play. “It’s not clear whether the Democratic leaders have wasted two-and-a-half months because they simply cannot govern, or whether they are intentionally playing Russian roulette with the economy to try to bully their own members into going back on their word and wrecking the Senate,” he said on the Senate floor.

The minority leader seemed skittish enough about where filibuster reform fever was headed in the Democratic caucus that he vetted his compromise plan with Manchin and Sinema, report Burgess Everett, Marianne LeVine and Anthony Adragna.

Democratic supporters of filibuster reform have taken note of how the issue seems to have moved McConnell. “The filibuster is McConnell’s instrument of obstruction,” one Democratic senator told Playbook. “He wants to protect that at all costs. He was at real risk of overplaying his hand as he faced the growing prospect that we would have 51 votes to waive it for the purpose of dealing with debt. He wanted to avoid creating that precedent. Still, would have been better for us to just do it.”

Jennifer Rubin has a good column on McConnell’s possible motivations at The Washington Post: Opinion: Mitch McConnell ‘blinked’ on the debt ceiling. Here’s what that means.

Besides the debt ceiling mess, the biggest story this morning is a report issued by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Trump’s plans to attempt a coup after he lost the 2020 election.

Katie Benner at The New York Times: Report Cites New Details of Trump Pressure on Justice Dept. Over Election.

Even by the standards of President Donald J. Trump, it was an extraordinary Oval Office showdown. On the agenda was Mr. Trump’s desire to install a loyalist as acting attorney general to carry out his demands for more aggressive investigations into his unfounded claims of election fraud.

Young Mother in the Garden, Mary Cassatt

Young Mother in the Garden, Mary Cassatt

On the other side during that meeting on the evening of Jan. 3 were the top leaders of the Justice Department, who warned Mr. Trump that they and other senior officials would resign en masse if he followed through. They received immediate support from another key participant: Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel. According to others at the meeting, Mr. Cipollone indicated that he and his top deputy, Patrick F. Philbin, would also step down if Mr. Trump acted on his plan.

Mr. Trump’s proposed plan, Mr. Cipollone argued, would be a “murder-suicide pact,” one participant recalled. Only near the end of the nearly three-hour meeting did Mr. Trump relent and agree to drop his threat.

Mr. Cipollone’s stand that night is among the new details contained in a lengthy interim report prepared by the Senate Judiciary Committee about Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure the Justice Department to do his bidding in the chaotic final weeks of his presidency.

More details on the report:

The report draws on documents, emails and testimony from three top Justice Department officials, including the acting attorney general for Mr. Trump’s last month in office, Jeffrey A. Rosen; the acting deputy attorney general, Richard P. Donoghue, and Byung J. Pak, who until early January was U.S. attorney in Atlanta. It provides the most complete account yet of Mr. Trump’s efforts to push the department to validate election fraud claims that had been disproved by the F.B.I. and state investigators.

The interim report, released publicly on Thursday, describes how Justice Department officials scrambled to stave off a series of events during a period when Mr. Trump was getting advice about blocking certification of the election from a lawyer he had first seen on television and the president’s actions were so unsettling that his top general and the House speaker discussed the nuclear chain of command.

“This report shows the American people just how close we came to a constitutional crisis,” Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “Thanks to a number of upstanding Americans in the Department of Justice, Donald Trump was unable to bend the department to his will. But it was not due to a lack of effort.”

Mr. Durbin said that he believes the former president, who remains a front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2024, would have “shredded the Constitution to stay in power.”

The Washington Post: Senate report gives new details of Trump efforts to use Justice Dept. to overturn election.

On Jan. 3, then-acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, his deputy Richard Donoghue, and a few other administration officials met in the Oval Office for what all expected to be a final confrontation on Trump’s plan to replace Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, a little-known Justice Department official who had indicated he would publicly pursue Trump’s false claims of mass voter fraud.

Alabaster, Vera, 1889-1964; Girl Reading

Vera Alabaster, 1889-1964; Girl Reading

According to testimony Rosen gave to the committee, Trump opened the meeting by saying, “One thing we know is you, Rosen, aren’t going to do anything to overturn the election.”

For three hours, the officials then debated Trump’s plan, and the insistence by Rosen and others that they would resign rather than go along with it.

The Senate report says that the top White House lawyer, Pat Cipollone, and his deputy also said they would quit if Trump went through with his plan.

During the meeting, Donoghue and another Justice Department official made clear that all of the Justice Department’s assistant attorneys general “would resign if Trump replaced Rosen with Clark,” the report says. “Donoghue added that the mass resignations likely would not end there, and that U.S. Attorneys and and other DOJ officials might also resign en masse.”

A key issue in the meeting was a letter that Clark and Trump wanted the Justice Department to send to Georgia officials warning of “irregularities” in voting and suggesting the state legislature get involved. Clark thought the letter should also be sent to officials in other states where Trump supporters were contesting winning Biden vote totals, the report said.ther DOJ officials might also resign en masse.”

Rosen and Donoghue had refused to send such a letter, infuriating Trump. According to the report, the president thought that if he installed Clark as the new attorney general, the letter would go out and fuel his bid to toss out Biden victories in a handful of states.

Two more interesting articles about the Senate report:

CNN: Senate Judiciary Committee issues sweeping report detailing how Trump and a top DOJ lawyer attempted to overturn 2020 election.

Politico: Senate Judiciary probe of Trump’s 2020 machinations zeroes in on Pennsylvania House Republican.

Also breaking this morning, Politico’s Betsy Woodruff Swan reports: ‘The intelligence was there’: Law enforcement warnings abounded in the runup to Jan. 6.

On Dec. 24, a private intelligence company that works with law enforcement issued a grave warning: Users of a pro-Trump internet forum were talking about turning violent on Jan. 6.

“[A] supposedly violent insurrection by [Trump’s] supporters has ‘always been the plan,’” read a briefing by that company, SITE Intelligence Group. SITE sent this bulletin and others to its numerous subscribers, including U.S. federal law enforcement.

Woman Reading by Jean Leon Henri Gouweloos

Woman Reading by Jean Leon Henri Gouweloos

That briefing is among a host of previously unreported documents that circulated among law enforcement officials in the weeks before Jan. 6 — laying out, some with jarring specificity, the threats that culminated in the attack on the Capitol. They showed just how much of a danger far-right extremists posed to federal buildings and lawmakers. And they bolster the argument that Jan. 6 was not an intelligence failure.

“A potpourri of communities overtly strategized to storm the Capitol building and arrest — if not outright kill — public officials and carry out a coup,” said Rita Katz, the founder and executive director of SITE, which supplied many of the most detailed and specific warnings ahead of Jan. 6She said Jan. 6 represented the most “profound failure to act” she has ever seen in decades of sharing intelligence with the U.S. government.

“Law enforcement officials were alerting their superiors and other agencies to the threats SITE had identified—many of which ended up manifesting that day, just as they were written,” she said. “These warnings were distributed by the FBI and other agencies well before January 6.”

The new documents come from a variety of sources in addition to SITE, including an industry group that tracks threats to rail transportation, the New York City Police Department, a state-government intelligence-sharing hub and the FBI itself. SITE shared its briefings with POLITICO. Property of the People, a transparency watchdog group focused on national security, obtained the other documents through open-records requests.

The documents mirror a flood of public warnings about the gathering danger posed by the outer fringes of the Trump movement in the months leading up to Jan. 6. The congressional select committee probing the attack is scrutinizing the failure of law enforcement to protect the Capitol that day.

There’s much more at the Politico link.

Have a great Thursday, Sky Dancers!!


Thursday Reads: Cover-Up General Barr Commits Crimes for Mob Boss Trump

Good Afternoon!!

Once again, I hardly know where to begin. Yesterday Cover-Up General Barr made a complete ass of himself during his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Here’s a good summary of what happened from NBC News:

Just to put all of the news of Barr’s Senate testimony yesterday into one place, here are our seven highlights:

1. He said a president could replace an independent counsel if he thought in the investigation was unfair: “If the president is being falsely accused, which the evidence now suggests that the accusations against him were false, and he knew they were false, and he felt that this investigation was unfair, propelled by his political opponents, and was hampering his ability to govern, that is not a corrupt motive for replacing an independent counsel,” Barr said.

2. He admitted he didn’t review the underlying evidence in the Mueller report on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice: “We accepted the statements in the report as the factual record,” Barr said in an exchange with Kamala Harris. “We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurately accepted as accurate.

3. He indicated he didn’t read the full Mueller report or even its executive summaries: “Polling data was shared, sir,” said Cory Booker. “It’s in the report; I can cite you the page.” Barr responded, “With who?” (Answer: Paul Manafort shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik – revealed on page 7 of Mueller’s executive summary of Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.)

4. He dodged Kamala Harris’ question on whether the president or anyone at the White House asked him or suggested to him to open an investigation into anyone: “I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest.’ I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that… they have not asked me to open an investigation,” he said.

5. He said the Mueller report was his “baby” after Mueller submitted it: “At that point, it was my baby… It was my decision how and when to make it public.”

6. He said Mueller’s concern to him about his March 24 summary was inaccurate media reporting: “And I called Bob and said, you know, what’s the issue here? Are you — and I asked him if he was suggesting that the March 24th letter was inaccurate, and he said no, but that the press reporting had been inaccurate.” (But here’s Mueller’s letter complaining about Barr’s summary: It “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions.”

7. And/but he called Mueller’s letter “snitty”: “The letter’s a bit snitty, and I think it was written by one of his staff people.”

Afterward, he announced that he would refuse to attend a scheduled hearing before the House Judiciary Committee today.

Kamala Harris was the star of the show. Here’s her full examination of Barr in which she got him to stammer and stumble and finally admit he never looked at the evidence of Trump’s obstruction of the Russia investigation.

As noted in the NBC list, Cory Booker got Barr to admit that he didn’t know that Paul Manafort had shared internal polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik–who is connected to Russian intelligence services–indicating that Barr didn’t even read Mueller’s report or even the executive summaries! In fact, in his exchange with Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse, it appeared that Barr did not even know who Oleg Deripaska is!

Here’s Twitter thread from David Rothkopf on the long-term implications of Cover-Up Barr’s claims about presidential power.

I don’t think we fully realize the profundity of Barr’s assertions yesterday. The ideas that a president can determine whether or not he ought to be investigated or that a president is incapable of committing obstruction are not just outrageous assaults on Constitutional values.

Taken in the context of this administration’s systematic rejection of the oversight role of Congress and of the law–whether it is the emoluments clause of Constitution or the obligation of the IRS to hand over tax returns to the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee–what we are seeing is nothing less than a coup, to use a word the president has grown fond of. Trump and Barr are seeking to eliminate the checks and balances that are a hallmark of our system and to effectively render the Congress subservient to the presidency.

Combine this with the efforts of the Senate to load the courts with judicial candidates loyal to the president and the implication of McConnell, Graham & Co. that they will not fulfill their own Constitutional obligations, and you see a devastating picture.

Please click on the link and read the rest.

Some reactions to yesterday’s horror show

Neal Kaytal: Why Barr Can’t Whitewash the Mueller Report.

Many who watched Attorney General William Barr’s testimony on Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which followed the revelation that the special counsel Robert Mueller had expressed misgivings about Mr. Barr’s characterization of his report, are despairing about the rule of law. I am not among them. I think the system is working, and inching, however slowly, toward justice.

When it comes to investigating a president, the special counsel regulations I had the privilege of drafting in 1998-99 say that such inquiries have one ultimate destination: Congress. That is where this process is going, and has to go. We are in the fifth inning, and we should celebrate a system in which our own government can uncover so much evidence against a sitting president….

The underappreciated story right now is that we’ve not only learned that it was Mr. Barr — and pointedly not Mr. Mueller — who decided to clear President Trump of the obstruction charges, but also discovered the reasoning behind Mr. Barr’s decision. The American public and Congress now have the facts and evidence before them. The sunlight the regulations sought is shining.

Mr. Barr tried to spin these facts. He hid Mr. Mueller’s complaints, which were delivered to him in writing more than a month ago, even when Congress asked in a previous hearing about complaints by members of the special counsel’s team. And the four-page letter that Mr. Barr issued in March and supposedly described the Mueller report omitted the two key factors driving the special counsel’s decision (which were hard to miss, as they were on the first two pages of the report’s volume about obstruction): First, that he could not indict a sitting president, so it would be unfair to accuse Mr. Trump of crimes even if he were guilty as sin; and second, Mr. Mueller could and would clear a sitting president, but he did not believe the facts cleared the president.

These two items came out because the special counsel regulations allowed for public release of this information (and not, as Mr. Barr testified on Wednesday, because he “overrode” the regulations to give the information to the public). The attorney general was misleading through and through, not just about the investigation, but about the special counsel regulations themselves.

Read the rest at The New York Times. I hope Kaytal is right; I’m having a little trouble being optimistic right now.

Greg Sargent: William Barr is helping to cover up Trump’s biggest crime of all.

As the political world struggles to digest the enormity of Attorney General William P. Barr’s profound corruption of his role on President Trump’s behalf, it’s worth stepping back and surveying a distilled version of what we know, now that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s redacted report has been released:

  • Russia launched a massive attack on our political system, undermining the integrity of our elections, to elect Donald Trump president.
  • U.S. law enforcement launched an investigation primarily aimed at getting to the bottom of that attack so that we could fully reckon with what happened and ensure the integrity of future elections.
  • Trump tried in multiple ways to derail that accounting of this massive attack on our political system — and then tried to bury the truth about that derailment effort — in a manner that was at best corrupt, and at worst criminal.

The simplest way to understand much of what Barr has done — and what Trumpworld will be doing to impede inquiries going forward — is that it’s mainly aimed at obscuring the broad contours of that larger story.

The point here is not that everything they’re doing is deliberately aimed at this end. It’s that this bigger story is at the center of everything — and by “biggest crime of all,” I mean Trump’s most monstrous wrong — and thus efforts to keep smaller truths from coming out will inevitably be about obscuring that larger story.

Read the rest at The Washington Post.

Politico: Pelosi: Barr committed a crime by lying to Congress.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday accused Attorney General William Barr of committing a crime by lying to Congress, blasting him in a closed-door meeting and later at a news conference.

“We saw [Barr] commit a crime when he answered your question,” Pelosi told Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) during a private caucus meeting Thursday morning, according to two sources present for the gathering.

“He lied to Congress. He lied to Congress,” Pelosi said soon after at a news conference. “And if anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime. Nobody is above the law. Not the president of the United States, and not the attorney general.“

Pelosi’s comments were an apparent reference to Barr’s response to Crist last month during a House Appropriations Committee hearing, during which the attorney generals aid he was not aware of any concerns that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team might have expressed about his four-page summary of Mueller’s findings.

More reactions, links only

The Washington Post: Hillary Clinton: ‘China, if you’re listening, why don’t you get Trump’s tax returns?’

Jamie Bouie at The New York Times: Bill Barr’s Perverse Theory of Justice.

Aaron Blake at The Washingotn Post: William Barr’s ‘snitty’ slip-up gives away his game.

EJ Dionne at the Washington Post: William Barr has shamelessly corrupted the debate over the Mueller report.

Amanda Marcotte at Salon: Bill Barr runs from House Judiciary hearing — will Democrats let him hide?

Benjamin Wittes at The Atlantic: The Catastrophic Performance of Bill Barr.

Jennifer Rubin: Barr’s testimony was a low point in Justice Department history.

ABC News: Hillary Clinton: Barr is acting as Trump’s ‘defense lawyer.’

I expect there will be more news breaking today. What stories have you been following?

 


Thursday Reads: Horror Show on the Hill

Good Morning!!

Today beginning at 10AM, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a brief hearing in which one of the women who has accused SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, will tell her story and Kavanaugh will respond by lying and obfuscating.

I can’t imagine anything useful could come out of the hearing, since each questioner will have only 5 minutes to address complex issues. At best, the spectacle of 11 white men hiding behind a woman prosecutor might lead to more public outrage against the GOP and their deeply flawed nominee. It’s not clear what how Democrats will handle the questioning; they’ve kept their plans close to the vest.

I wanted to get this post up early so we can follow the hearing and aftermath together. I hope people will join in. Here are some reads to check out today.

The Daily Beast: ‘Disaster’: Trumpworld Starting to Sweat Over Brett Kavanaugh’s Mounting Sexual Assault Allegations. Excerpt:

Going into this past weekend, the Trump White House was sounding self-assured about Kavanaugh’s prospects, with senior aides saying they felt he could weather the allegations and horrifically bad press. Since then, two other female accusers have come forward, and the swagger from Team Trump has been replaced with, at best, a shaken confidence.

Officials inside the White House, as well as outside advisers, told the The Daily Beast that mood has become less bullish. Senior aides fear delivering Trump a major failure and humiliation that he can—and likely will—pin on those around him and squeamish Republican lawmakers. There is palpable fear that the party’s base will turn on Republicans should the Kavanaugh nomination fail.

Top donors, meanwhile, have said that they will continue writing checks out of a growing fear that the party could lose the Senate in addition to the House this coming fall. But one major contributor warned that lawmakers had to show them that they had put up a sufficient fight to get Kavanaugh on to the Court or else the checks wouldn’t come….

At this point, Trump’s team and Kavanaugh’s camp are publicly maintaining calm and privately encouraging allies to do the same. On a Monday conference call with White House surrogates, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, had insisted that the “president and this White House continue to stand strongly behind Judge Kavanaugh,” according to a person on the line. By Wednesday, a senior West Wing official said that the president’s posture remained unchanged.

But aides also acknowledge that Kavanaugh’s prospects were growing more endangered. “Thursday could be a disaster or it could be…a victory, we don’t know,” one aide said, referencing the planned testimony Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford plan to give to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Yesterday during his deranged press conference, Trump seemed to suggest that he could decide to dump Kavanaugh. But he was all over the map in his embarrassing, manic performance. Todd Purdum summarizes Trump’s 81-minute rant at The Atlantic: President Trump’s Surreal News Conference Didn’t Do Kavanaugh Any Favors.

In more than 80 surreal minutes of what seemed less like a news conference than a public free-association session on a therapist’s couch, the president of the United States dismissed accusations of sexual misconduct against Judge Brett Kavanaugh as “all false to me,” then insisted he wanted to hear Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony because “I can be convinced of anything. Maybe she will say something.”

He portrayed Kavanaugh’s Democratic Senate opponents as the organizers of a “big, fat con job,” then acknowledged without missing a beat that he would withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination “if I thought he was guilty of something like this, sure.” He praised Kavanaugh as “one of the highest-quality people that I have ever met,” then suggested that the judge’s life was not so spotless, allowing that even George Washington may have had “a couple of things in his past.” [….]

Who can say whether Trump’s apparently unbridled, even unhinged, display of id amounted to just that? Or to a free-form, last-ditch effort to defend the nomination on the eve of crucial testimony from Ford and Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday? Or to a calculated trial balloon for withdrawing it (“I could pick a woman, and she could have charges made from many years ago also,” he said at one point)? Or to some combination of all of the above? The assessment of Nicolle Wallace, the former George W. Bush and John McCain aide, was succinct, and indisputable.

“I suspect,” she tweeted, “that the 25th Amendment might be discussed more widely if there were daily press conferences.”

Yesterday, Morning Consult released a news poll on the Kavanaugh nomination: Republican Women Lose Faith in Kavanaugh — and Trump — After Week of Accusations.

Public support for Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat has dropped to its lowest point since President Donald Trump nominated him in July, driven in large part by a sector of the president’s base: Republican women.

new Morning Consult/Politico poll, conducted Sept. 20-23, found support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation is underwater among registered voters for the first time since his nomination, with 37 percent opposing the Senate confirming him and 34 percent supporting it.

The new finding marks a 5-percentage-point drop in net support since a poll conducted last week, after Christine Blasey Ford detailed her allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while the two were in high school, a charge he has repeatedly denied.

Read more at the link above.

Important reads from women writers:

Lili Loofbourow at Slate: Brett Kavanaugh and the Cruelty of Male Bonding.

For what it’s worth, and absent evidence or allegations to the contrary, I believe Brett Kavanaugh’s claim that he was a virgin through his teens. I believe it in part because it squares with some of the oddities I’ve had a hard time understanding about his alleged behavior: namely, that both allegations are strikingly different from other high-profile stories the past year, most of which feature a man and a woman alone. And yet both the Kavanaugh accusations share certain features: There is no penetrative sex, there are always male onlookers, and, most importantly, there’s laughter. In each case the other men—not the woman—seem to be Kavanaugh’s true intended audience. In each story, the cruel and bizarre act the woman describes—restraining Christine Blasey Ford and attempting to remove her clothes in her allegation, and in Deborah Ramirez’s, putting his penis in front of her face—seems to have been done in the clumsy and even manic pursuit of male approval. Even Kavanaugh’s now-notorious yearbook page, with its references to the “100 kegs or bust” and the like, seems less like an honest reflection of a fun guy than a representation of a try-hard willing to say or do anything as long as his bros think he’s cool. In other words: The awful things Kavanaugh allegedly did only imperfectly correlate to the familiar frame of sexual desire run amok; they appear to more easily fit into a different category—a toxic homosociality—that involves males wooing other males over the comedy of being cruel to women.

In both these accounts, Kavanaugh is laughing as he does something to a woman that disturbs or traumatizes her. Ford wrote in her letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, “Kavanaugh was on top of me while laughing with [Mark] Judge, who periodically jumped onto Kavanaugh. They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe me in their highly inebriated state. With Kavanaugh’s hand over my mouth, I feared he may inadvertently kill me.”

“Brett was laughing,” Ramirez says in her account to the New Yorker. “I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.” She recalled another male student shouting about the incident. “Somebody yelled down the hall, ‘Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face,’ ” she said.

If these allegations are true, one of the more shocking things about them is the extent to which the woman being mistreated exists in a room where the men are performing for each other—using the woman to firm up their own bond.

Please read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

Alexandra Lescaze, also at Slate: We Didn’t Call It Rape. Lescase writes that the allegations against Kavanaugh are very familiar to her as a graduate of a DC-area private school.

I wish I were surprised. A week ago Sunday when Ford first shed her anonymity, detailing her sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh to the Washington Post, I wrote a note in the Facebook alumni group of my high school, National Cathedral School. I told my 1988 classmates that Ford’s story was bringing back disturbing high school memories. Apparently, I was not alone. A lot of women now in their 40s and 50s, who went to these single-sex D.C. prep schools in the 1980s, have been reaching out to each other in fraught emails and chats over the past week. Not only did the Holton-Arms alumnae start a petition in support of Ford, their fellow alum; there’s also one for anyone to sign who survived that toxic time and place.

I don’t personally know Ford now, and I didn’t know her in high school. But as the Holton women wrote, what Ford is alleging is “all too consistent with what we heard and lived while attending Holton. Many of us are survivors ourselves.” And what Elizabeth Rasor alleges Mark Judge told her is not foreign to me, either. Whether and how the nation comes to hear more about these specific stories, they have evoked a collective scream.

A large part of my high school experience were the parties at cavernous houses with multiple bedrooms, huge dark basements with enormous sofas and yards, and lots and lots of beer. No parents—thinking back on it now, as a parent myself—were ever around. We traveled in groups and knew never to leave a friend alone at a party, but there was so much drinking that we sometimes lost track of each other. It could be difficult to know where your friends were and—if they were in a room with a boy—what was going on in there.

Every June, we had Beach Week—a tradition also described in a Washington Post piece about Ford—in which teenagers actually rent houses to party at the beach, something I still don’t quite comprehend. I distinctly remember being at a Beach Week party with my then-boyfriend when it dawned on us that there was a drunk girl in a room down the hall, and boys were “lining up” to go in there and, presumably, have their way with her. We didn’t know for sure, but my boyfriend and my friend’s boyfriend went to interrupt it and sent her on her way down the stairs. All I remember about her is that she was in the class above us and had dark hair. My friend has told me she remembers boys saying, “I’m next,” which was why our boyfriends went to stop it.

More to check out, links only:

Emily Jane Fox at The Atlantic: “I Was Ashamed”: After Ford’s Accusation, Holton-Arms Alumnae Wrestle With Their Own Truths—Together.

Jessica Valenti: How Very Bad Men Get Away With Rape. “It takes one person to commit a rape, but a village to let them get away with it over and over.”

Kate Manne at The New York Times: Brett Kavanaugh and America’s ‘Himpathy’ Reckoning.

Amanda Marcotte: GOP will still confirm Brett Kavanaugh — because of allegations, not in spite of them.

If you watch the hearing, I hope you’ll share your reactions in the comment thread below.


Thursday Reads: Women’s Righteous Rage

Good Morning!!

Two new books explore the power of women’s rage. One is already available and the other will be released on October 2. The first is Rage Becomes Her, by Soraya Chemaly. The second is Good and Mad, by Rebecca Traister. There couldn’t be a more appropriate time for these books and for women to embrace their righteous rage.

Just a short time ago, we saw Serena Williams viciously attacked for defending herself against an unfair tennis umpire in milder ways then men have been getting away with for decades. And now we have the spectacle of old white Republican men bullying a survivor of sexual abuse because she dared to speak out publicly about the man they desperately want to install on the Supreme Court.

Women are sick and tired of being pushed around–at least millions of us are. We are sick of being treated like property and being told we shouldn’t be able to make choices about our own bodies and our own futures. After hundreds of years of struggle, women are finally “allowed” to hold positions previously forbidden to us–doctors, lawyers, professors, Senators. But we still earn less money than men and we are still expected to accept being sexually harassed on the job, sexually assaulted, and beaten by our husbands and boyfriends. When we dare to speak out about male violence, we are expected to deal with death threats, rape threats and having our personal information posted on the internet.

On Tuesday I wrote about being triggered by the Brett Kavanaugh attempted rape controversy and the ugly reaction by the old white men of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Yesterday, my rage at this situation became so all-consuming that I felt as if I were having an out-of-body experience. Today, I’m a little calmer, but still angry as hell. I know I should try to detach from this controversy, but I can’t. It feels too important.

That’s all I can write for today. I’m going to list some important articles I’ve read yesterday and this morning. I just don’t have the strength to do excerpts, sorry.

Please don’t miss this one by Elizabeth Bruenig at The Washington Post: Twelve years ago, Amber Wyatt reported her rape. Few believed her.  Her hometown turned against her. The authorities failed her.

Isaac Chotiner at Slate: An Interview With the Psychiatrist Who Says White House Officials Called Her With Concerns About Trump.

The New York Times: From the Anonymity of Academia to the Center of a Supreme Court Confirmation.

The Washington Post: ‘These are the stories of our lives’: Prep school alumni hear echoes in assault claim.

Vanity Fair: The Toxic Politics of the GOP’s Plan to Save Brett Kavanaugh.

Sandra Newman at The Washington Post: Want to help prevent rape? Withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination.

HuffPost: Brett Kavanaugh Liked Female Clerks Who Looked A ‘Certain Way,’ Yale Student Was Told.

Thiru Vignarajah at The Washington Post: Kavanaugh’s accuser deserves a fair criminal investigation.

Washington Post Fact Checker: Brett Kavanaugh’s unlikely story about Democrats’ stolen documents.

The Boston Globe: Elizabeth Warren for president? New survey shows Mass. voters don’t love that idea.

Lili Loofbourow at Slate: Men Are More Afraid Than Ever. Why Kavanaugh advocates would rather defend malfeasance than deny it.

HuffPost: Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong.

Business Insider: ‘We’re in the fourth quarter’: James Comey says Mueller may be about to finish his investigation into Trump.

This is an open thread. Have a nice day and embrace your anger!