Posted: October 12, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Foreign Affairs, U.S. Politics | Tags: Andrey Kukushkin, Andrey Muraviev, David Correia, Dmytro Firtash, Donald Trump, Hunter Biden, Igor Fruman, Joe Biden, Lev Parnas, Marie Yovanovitch, Mike Pompeo, Rudy Giuliani, SDNY, State Department, Ukraine scandal, Vienna, Yuriy Lutsenko
Three Kittens Sitting & Watching by Jean-Louis Klein & Marie-Luce Hubert, Cyclades, Greece
The Ukraine scandal is unwinding into a massive conspiracy. Rudy Giuliani is in big trouble and the mob boss in the White House is on the verge of throwing him under the bus. The White House is struggling to deal with the tsunami of bad news–they once again sent out their Ukraine talking points to Democrats, according to The Hill.
Here’s what’s happening.
The New York Times: Giuliani Is Said to Be Under Investigation for Ukraine Work.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.
The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.
The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funneling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms. Yovanovitch.
Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Ms. Yovanovitch and other targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden. Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.
Trump advisers are pushing him to throw Rudy overboard, according to Politico.
Black Cat on a Windowsill, Korovin Konstantin
For weeks, prominent Republican advisers have been privately imploring President Donald Trump to sideline Rudy Giuliani after a barrage of inconsistent, combative and occasionally cringe-inducing media interviews, according to three people familiar with the conversations.
And that was before the arrest of two foreign-born businessmen who reportedly helped Giuliani try to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democrat to take on Trump in next year’s election. Several reports have indicated Giuliani himself may be caught up in the probe.
Yet Trump remains linked to Giuliani, who was initially hired to help fend of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigators, but who now may have pulled the president into another investigation — one that might lead to impeachment. While the president has long appreciated Giuliani’s pugnacious and never-back-down attitude, Trump allies fear Giuliani will damage Trump with his long-winded monologues and free-wheeling accusations.
The constant sniping from staff could ultimately force Trump to dump his long-valued fixer, as he has done with former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and countless other ousted officials, like ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
“Rudy Giuliani needs to stop talking,” said a former campaign official who remains close to Trump’s team.
Trump claims he doesn’t know Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two Ukrainian “businessmen” who were arrested on Wednesday night as they tried to flee to Vienna on one way tickets. Unfortunately for Trump, he has been photographed with the two thugs; and Parnas actually attended Trump’s private party celebrating his 2016 election.
Politico: Indicted Giuliani associate attended private ‘16 election night party for ‘friend’ Trump.
Buster Keaton in Electric House, 1922
Lev Parnas described himself to a foreign correspondent at the cash-bar event in midtown Manhattan as a friend of the president-elect who didn’t live far from his South Florida winter home.
Parnas arrived at Trump’s November 2016 election night party, which was held in a ballroom at the Midtown Hilton, with two other men in suits and their heavily made-up wives, according to a forgotten but newly relevant dispatch from the event published at the time in Le Figaro, France’s oldest daily newspaper.
The Ukrainian-born businessman told the paper that a friend from his hometown of Boca Raton, Fla., had hosted several fundraising events for Trump and that his daughter had traveled around the state singing on the candidate’s behalf. It is not clear what friend Parnas was referring to.
“We are confident,” Parnas, told the newspaper, “America wants a change.” The newspaper described Parnas as an insurer. (Parnas co-founded a company, Fraud Guarantee, that at some point retained Giuliani as a lawyer.)
I posted this one in the comments yesterday, but it bears repeating. Reuters: Indicted Giuliani associate worked on behalf of Ukrainian oligarch Firtash.
One of the two Florida businessmen who helped U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney investigate his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, also has been working for the legal team of a Ukrainian oligarch who faces bribery charges in the United States, according to attorneys for the businessmen and the oligarch.
Lev Parnas, one of the two associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, served as a translator for lawyers representing oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Parnas was arrested on Thursday along with the other Florida businessman, Igor Fruman, on unrelated charges that included illegally funneling $325,000 to a political action committee supporting pro-Trump candidates.
The Barn Cat by Ron McGinnnis
Both men had worked in an unspecified capacity for Firtash before Parnas joined the Ukrainian’s legal team, according to a person familiar with the Florida men’s business dealings with Firtash….
Firtash, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen, is battling extradition by U.S. authorities on bribery charges from Vienna, where he has lived for five years.
Federal prosecutors in Illinois said in court papers in 2017 that Firtash was an “upper-echelon” associate of Russian organized crime. He was indicted in 2013 and charged with bribing Indian officials for access to titanium mines. Firtash has denied any wrongdoing.
Firtash was “financing” the activities of Parnas and Fruman, the source familiar with their business dealings said. The source did not detail their specific work for the oligarch or how much money he had paid them and over what period.
Firtash’s attorneys are Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, who also have been working for Trump. Parnas and Fruman are being represented by former Trump attorney John Dowd.
I’ll be honest, I’m still trying to sort all these stories out. It’s kind of like reading a Russian novel–it’s difficult to keep all the names straight. I’m just sharing the latest news I’ve read.
CBS San Francisco reports on another arrest in the SDNY Ukraine/Giuliani investigation: Ukrainian Andrey Kukushkin, Linked To Giuliani Associates, Arrested In San Francisco On Campaign Finance Violations.
Andrey Kukushkin, 46, is one of four people named in a grand jury indictment announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York.
The others, all Florida residents, include two associates of presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas, 47, and Belarus-born Igor Fruman, 54, and a fourth defendant, David Correia, who was born in the United States. The four men are all U.S. citizens….
From The Circus, Merna Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin, 1928
Kukushkin was arrested in San Francisco Thursday morning, according to William Sweeney, assistant chief of the FBI’s New York field office. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco and was ordered to be held in custody until a detention hearing on Friday, according to court records.
He is expected to be transferred to New York at a later date to face the charges there.
All four defendants are accused of conspiring in a scheme to disguise contributions of $10,000 each to two Nevada state office candidates from an unnamed Russian businessman who wanted to obtain licenses for marijuana businesses. Federal law prohibits campaign contributions from foreign nationals.
Everyone is trying to find out who the unnamed “Russian businessman” in the SNDY indictment is. David Corn speculates at Mother Jones: Who’s the Secret Russian in the Indictment of Giuliani’s Pals? We Found Some Clues.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman—who had been helping Giuliani search for dirt on Joe Biden and the Democrats in Ukraine—and David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, who were each identified as businessmen, were charged in what seems to be overlapping capers. Parnas and Fruman allegedly made secret donations to Republicans in an effort to advance their business interests and promote the agenda of one or more Ukrainian officials (which included firing the US ambassador to Ukraine). And these two Giuliani confederates also teamed up with Correia, a business partner of Parnas, and Kukushkin and allegedly made donations secretly financed by a Russian national to Republican candidates for state offices in Nevada to buy influence they could use to set up a cannabis business there. This Russian, who would be part of their legal marijuana venture, sent $1 million from overseas accounts to Fruman that was to be used for contributions to federal and state candidates in Nevada and other states, according to the indictment. It’s illegal for a foreigner to funnel donations to US candidates.
Painting by Mischa Askenazy, 1888-1961
The mystery: Who is this wealthy Russian who allegedly tried to make illegal contributions to US politicians in pursuit of launching a cannabis venture?
The indictment does not say. It refers to this individual only as “Foreign National-1.” And the question cannot be yet answered definitively. But California state records and emails obtained by Mother Jones indicate that a Russian businessman named Andrey Muraviev had previously worked with Kukushkin to develop a cannabis enterprise.
It’s complicated so if you’re interested, head over to Mother Jones and read all about it.
NBC News has a scoop on the ousting of former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch: Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged 2 Giuliani associates to push for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador.
The unnamed Ukrainian official referenced in a federal indictment as directing a plot to oust the then-U.S. ambassador is Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, according to a U.S. official familiar with the events.
According to the source, Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged two associates of Rudy Giuliani to push for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was forced out in May.
The associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested Wednesday night as they prepared to board a one-way flight out of the country at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.
Painting by Peter Adderley
“They sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests, but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official — a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine,” Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a Thursday news conference.
The indictment says the efforts by Parnas and Fruman to remove then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, a respected diplomat with deep knowledge of Ukraine, were “conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”
Read the rest at NBC News. Lutsenko is the prosecutor that Trump urged Ukraine’s President Zelinsky not to fire in the July 25th phone call.
One more from Foreign Policy: Pompeo’s State Department Reels as Impeachment Inquiry Sinks Morale.
The fast-moving impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump has dragged the State Department into the center of the scandal and further wrecked morale at Foggy Bottom, presenting a stress test for how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will balance his relationship with America’s diplomats against his relationship with the president.
The ever-expanding probe into the Trump administration’s apparent efforts to coerce foreign governments into digging up dirt on political rivals has even lower-level State Department officials wondering if they, too, need to lawyer up, with the foreign service officers’ union starting a legal defense fund for career officials caught in the impeachment crossfire.
The latest State Department drama came on Friday as Marie Yovanovitch—a decorated career diplomat forced out of her job as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May following a pressure campaign from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his now indicted associates—testified before Congress. The White House sought to ban her voluntary testimony, but she went ahead after a subpoena from the House of Representatives.
Some nine current and former officials said many in the State Department are shocked and angry that Pompeo did little to shield her. No senior State Department official, including Pompeo, defended Yovanovitch as she was thrust into the spotlight amid the impeachment scandal. The State Department, again at the behest of the White House, also blocked the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, from testifying before Congress on Tuesday, though his lawyer said Friday that he will testify next week.
“You don’t get credit for saying something about swagger, then caving the first time you get heat,” said Daniel Fried, who served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs under former President George W. Bush, referring to Pompeo’s promise last year to restore the State Department’s “swagger.”
Read more at FP.
I have no doubt there will be more news breaking this weekend and I can’t wait! What do you think?
Posted: June 7, 2018 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: 2018 midterm elections, alienating allies, Angela Merkel, blue wave, Bobby Kennedy, Canada, D-Day, Donald Trump, family separation, G7, Germany, golf, Heather Nauert, ICE, immigration, John Bolton, Kim Jong Un, North Korea summit, State Department, tariffs, trade war, US troops in South Korea, World War II
Here’s some good news for a change: a judge in the Southern District of California will allow a lawsuit by the ACLU challenging the Trump administration policy of separating parents and children at the border to go forward.
Bloomberg: Judge Calls Trump’s Border Separations of Children ‘Brutal.’
The Trump administration failed to kill a legal challenge to its practice of separating undocumented parents and children who seek to enter the U.S. to flee persecution at home, with a judge handing an early victory to civil rights activists who say the policy is unconstitutional and cruel.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego on Wednesday denied a motion to dismiss the suit, in which the American Civil Liberties Union argues that splitting up families at the border violates their due process rights.
The practice, spearheaded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, caused widespread outrage after images of children in detention centers circulated on social media. The government argues separations are necessary to properly prosecute adults who cross into the U.S. illegally, while activists say children are being used as pawns in an informal policy intended to deter migrants.
“These allegations sufficiently describe government conduct that arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child,” the judge wrote. The conduct, if true, “is brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency.” [….]
Sabraw said the ACLU’s claims are particularly troubling because the plaintiffs in the case had allegedly come to the U.S. seeking asylum out of fear for their well-being in their home countries. The suit applies to migrants who formally present themselves at ports of entry as political refugees as well as those who seek asylum after they are apprehended during illegal border crossings.
“The government actors responsible for the ‘care and custody’ of migrant children have, in fact, become their persecutors,” the judge said.
Read more at the link. The entire filing can be read here.
More good news: a new NBC/WSJ poll found that voters are much more likely to support candidates who stand up to Trump.
NBC News: Poll: Economic satisfaction under Trump isn’t helping his party’s 2018 chances.
By a whopping 25-point margin, voters say they’re more likely to back a congressional candidate who promises to serve as a check on President Donald Trump, according to a new national poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.
And by a similar margin, they say they’re less likely to vote for someone who has supported the president on most issues.
At the same time, six-in-10 are satisfied with the U.S. economy, and a plurality of voters give Trump credit for the economic improvement.
Despite that economic optimism, however, the poll shows that Democrats enjoy a 10-point advantage on congressional preference, with 50 percent of registered voters wanting a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 40 percent who want a GOP-controlled one.
Now if national Democrats would just wake up and realize that standing up to Trump is the best mid-term strategy!
The summit with North Korea is coming up next week, but Trump isn’t listening to advice from experts on how to proceed, according to Politico: Trump and Bolton spurn top-level North Korea planning.
National Security Adviser John Bolton has yet to convene a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with North Korea next week, a striking break from past practice that suggests the Trump White House is largely improvising its approach to the unprecedented nuclear talks.
For decades, top presidential advisers have used a methodical process to hash out national security issues before offering the president a menu of options for key decisions. On an issue like North Korea, that would mean White House Situation Room gatherings of the secretaries of state and defense along with top intelligence officials, the United Nations ambassador, and even the treasury secretary, who oversees economic sanctions.
But since Trump agreed on a whim to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on March 8, the White House’s summit planning has been unstructured, according to a half-dozen administration officials. Trump himself has driven the preparation almost exclusively on his own, consulting little with his national security team outside of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Senior officials from both the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations called the absence of a formal interagency process before such a consequential meeting troubling. Peter Feaver, a former National Security Council (NSC) official in the George W. Bush White House, said his colleagues would likely have held “quite a few” meetings of the so-called Principals Committee of Cabinet-level NSC members in a comparable situation. A former top Obama White House official echoed that point, calling the lack of top-level NSC meetings “shocking.”
Trump has also not presided personally over a meeting of those senior NSC officials, as a president typically does when making the most important decisions.
On the other hand, Trump has given serious thought to whether he should invite Kim Jong Un to play golf with him in Florida if the summit goes well. The Daily Beast reports:
Trump has floated hitting the links with his counterpart as he considers a secondary charm offensive to complement the diplomatic tête-à-tête. The president has already told those close to him and advisers that he is open to inviting Kim to a follow-up summit at Trump’s famous Mar-a-Lago estate and private club in Palm Beach, Florida, as Bloomberg first reported this week.
And, according to two administration officials, Trump has also raised the possibility of a leisurely activity and, perhaps, getting in 18 holes with Kim if the two end up getting along.
“He has also discussed [possibly] golfing with Kim,” a senior Trump administration official said.
It is unclear if such an outing would or could occur during a potential follow-up meeting or the one planned, then canceled, then planned again for Singapore. The site of the upcoming Singapore talks, a five-star hotel on Sentosa Island, is located near a theme park, resorts, and—as luck would have it—multiple golf courses.
The article says no one actually know if Kim even plays golf.
I suppose Kim would agree with Trump on this though. At The Washington Post, Josh Rogin writes that Trump still wants to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea.
For almost two years, President Trump has been talking about withdrawing large numbers of U.S. troops from South Korea, where there are currently around 28,000 stationed. The president’s advisers have repeatedly argued against a large-scale reduction, but he remains unpersuaded. And after his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump will have another big chance to push the issue.
Less publicly, but still privately, Trump continues to say he doesn’t agree with the argument that U.S. troops in South Korea are strategically necessary, and he thinks the United States gets nothing back from paying to keep them there, according to administration officials and people who have spoken to Trump directly about the issue. He often asks his generals to explain the rationale for America’s deployments in Asia and expresses dissatisfaction with their answers.
At Trump’s direction, the Pentagon has taken a hard line in ongoing negotiations with the South Korean government over a new cost-sharing agreement for U.S. troops there. If those negotiations fail, Trump could have another excuse to move forward with large reductions….
Inside the administration, top officials have been trying — and failing — to convince the president of the strategic value of the South Korea-based troops since the beginning of his administration. In February, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly reportedly talked Trump down from starting a withdrawal.
Trump has picked fights with most of our allies at this point. Now he’s whining about having to to the Canada on Friday because he’s mad at Justin Trudeau.
The president has vented privately about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as their trade tensions have spilled into public view. He has mused about finding new ways to punish the United States’ northern neighbor in recent days, frustrated with the country’s retaliatory trade moves.
And Trump has complained to aides about spending two days in Canada for a summit of world leaders, believing the trip is a distraction from his upcoming Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to three people familiar with Trump’s views.
In particular, the president said Tuesday to several advisers that he fears attending the Group of Seven summit in rural Charlevoix, Quebec, may not be a good use of his time because he is diametrically opposed on many key issues with his counterparts — and does not want to be lectured by them.
Additionally, Trump has griped periodically both about German Chancellor Angela Merkel — largely because they disagree on many issues and have had an uneasy rapport — as well as British Prime Minister Theresa May, whom he sees as too politically correct, advisers say.
Awwww . . . poor baby. BTW, have you heard that State Department spokesperson and former Fox and Friends host Heather Nauert thinks Germany was our ally during World War II? Rachel Maddow discussed this at the beginning of her show last night.
Please watch the video–even if you already saw it last night. These are the people who are running our foreign policy!
Politico reports that many foreign leaders are beginning to wake up to Trump’s insanity: Foreign leaders who embraced Trump now feel burned.
Trump calls Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who visits the White House Thursday, his “good friend.” French president Emmanuel Macron is a “great friend.” And Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a “great friend, neighbor, and ally.” All have sought to butter up Trump through friendly face time, recognizing that the quickest way to the president’s heart is through his ego.
But all, to varying degrees, are exasperated with Trump.
The president is moving ahead with a June 12 summit with North Korea despite Abe’s grave concerns about its wisdom. He has also threatened to slap tariffs on imported Japanese cars and metals. It’s hardly what Abe expected when he became the first foreign leader to meet with Trump after the November election or when he flew with Trump on Air Force One in February 2017 for golfing at his Mar a Lago resort.
Macron treated Trump to a military parade in Paris last summer. He and Trump also exchanged hugs and handshakes during an April visit by the French leader, during which Trump said of his guest: “He is perfect.” But a few weeks later, Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal despite French pleas, and shows no sign of heeding Macron’s request that he rejoin the Paris climate accords, which Trump rejected last year.
Trump has also threatened trade sanctions on the European Union, and is already slapping them on Canada — prompting Trudeau to call Trump’s tariffs on steel imports “insulting and unacceptable.” That’s a change of tune from the early months of Trump’s presidency, when Trudeau avoided criticizing Trump, and even took Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to a Broadway play in March 2017.
All have paid a domestic political price back home for their efforts to make nice with a highly divisive U.S. president. One French parliamentarian fumed after Macron’s visit that France had “prostituted” and “humiliated” itself.
Angela Merkel knew who she was dealing with from day one, evidence that we need more women in leadership positions around the world.
That’s it for me today. What stories have you been following?
Posted: April 24, 2018 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: CIA, Donald Trump, EPA, Grandview Golf Club, Mike Pompeo, Ronny Jackson, Scott Pruitt, Secret Service, State Department, Travis Reinking, Veterans Administration, white privilege
White privilege is a powerful thing, and here’s some proof.
WGN9 Chicago: Waffle House shooting suspect held on $2M bail.
A man accused of killing four people with an AR-15 rifle at a Tennessee Waffle House has been formally charged with four counts of criminal homicide and is being held on $2 million bail.
Court records say 29-year-old Travis Reinking was charged Monday. He is due in court Wednesday.
Police say Reinking was wearing a green jacket and nothing else Sunday when he stormed the restaurant in southeast Nashville and opened fire with the military assault-style rifle, first in the parking lot and then inside. Police credited a quick-thinking customer who wrestled the gun away from preventing more bloodshed.
Authorities say Reinking fled the scene after the scuffle with the restaurant patron. The suspect was captured Monday after an intense manhunt with local and federal police officers that lasted more than a day.
And yet, the judge gave him bail. Let’s hope his father (who reportedly returned the assault weapon to his son after the Secret Service took it away during an arrest at the White House) doesn’t raise the money to get him released.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, a golf club called the police on four black women members for allegedly playing too slowly. AP:
“I felt we were discriminated against,” one of the women, Myneca Ojo, told the York Daily Record. “It was a horrific experience.”
Sandra Thompson and four friends met up Saturday to play a round of golf at the Grandview Golf Club, where they are all members, she told the newspaper.
At the second hole, a white man whose son co-owns the club came up to them twice to complain that they weren’t keeping up with the pace of play. Thompson, an attorney and the head of the York chapter of the NAACP, told the newspaper it was untrue.
On the same hole, another member of the group, Sandra Harrison, said she spoke with a Grandview golf pro, who said they were fine since they were keeping pace with the group ahead of them.
Despite that, the women skipped the third hole to avoid any other issues, she said….
The five are part of a larger group of local women known as Sisters in the Fairway. The group has been around for at least a decade, and all of its members are experienced players who have golfed all over the county and world, Thompson said. They’re very familiar with golf etiquette, she said.
After the ninth hole, where it is customary to take a break before continuing on the next nine holes, three of the group decided to leave because they were so shaken up by the earlier treatment, the women told the paper.
Thompson said the man from the second hole, identified as former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister, his son, club co-owner Jordan Chronister and several other white, male employees approached the remaining two women and said they took too long of a break and they needed to leave the course.
Then the police arrived, but they took no action. Read more at the link.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly told his followers that he knew “the best people” and would hire the very best to work for his administration. That’s not working out so well.
EPA chief Scott Pruitt is still hanging in there, but for how much longer?
CNBC: Embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt faces public grilling this week as GOP support erodes.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reports to Capitol Hill on Thursday for a pair of hearings on his agency’s 2018 budget proposal, but the embattled Trump deputy is likely to face as many questions about his personal conduct as EPA’s spending priorities.
Since the hearings were announced, revelations about Pruitt’s rental of a Washington apartment linked to an energy lobbyist have sparked a near-daily trickle of reports detailing alleged ethics abuses and lavish spending that have put the EPA chief’s political future in peril.
In just the last few weeks, Pruitt has been accused of retaliating against EPA staff, arranging official trips to fulfill his personal travel whims and orchestrating pay raises for aides in defiance of the White House. The number of investigations into his conduct has expanded to five, and the government’s top watchdog determined last week that the agency violated the law by installing a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office.
The hearings could be a make-or-break moment for Pruitt, who has already sat through a combative Fox News interview that reportedly bruised his standing in the administration. Pruitt goes before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on Environment in the morning and the Committee on Appropriation’s subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies in the afternoon.
And, according to Bloomberg, the White House is telling Republicans not to defend Pruitt.
White House officials are cautioning Republican lawmakers and other conservative allies to temper their defense of Scott Pruitt, according to two people familiar with the discussions, in a sign that administration support for the embattled EPA chief may be waning.
The warnings come as several top GOP lawmakers have stepped forward to publicly criticize Pruitt in recent days, marking a dramatic turn of fortune for one of the most conservative members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet who has been heralded for dismantling Obama-era regulations.
Republicans are now sharpening their criticisms about Pruitt amid a revelation that he met at least once with the lobbyist whose wife rented him a bedroom on Capitol Hill.
Last night the news broke that White House physician Ronny Jackson, Trump’s pick to lead the VA, is in trouble.
The New York Times: Ronny Jackson, Trump’s V.A. Nominee, Faces Claims of Overprescription and Hostile Work Environment.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is examining allegations that President Trump’s nominee to lead the Veterans Affairs Department oversaw a hostile work environment as the White House physician and allowed the overprescribing of drugs, according to congressional officials briefed on the committee’s work.
They have also received claims that Dr. Ronny L. Jackson drank too much on the job.
The allegations, which have been under investigation since last week, forced the postponement of Dr. Jackson’s confirmation hearing, planned for this Wednesday as senators scrutinize the nominee’s time leading the White House medical staff. Officials familiar with the allegations against Dr. Jackson declined to offer precise details but said that they suggest a pattern of behavior, not just one or two isolated incidents.
How do you “drink too much on the job” at the White House? Shouldn’t any drinking on the job be forbidden?
Dr. Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy who serves as the White House physician, was already expected to face difficult questioning during his testimony before the committee. Last month, Mr. Trump fired his first Veterans Affairs secretary, David J. Shulkin, an experienced hospital administrator and veteran of the V.A. medical system, and then chose Dr. Jackson largely out of personal affinity.
The White House did little or no vetting of his background before announcing his nomination on Twitter. Before serving as a White House physician, Dr. Jackson had deployed as an emergency medicine physician to Taqaddum, Iraq, during the Iraq war.
The Senate only received paperwork from the Trump administration formalizing Dr. Jackson’s nomination last week.
Read more at the NYT. Do you suppose this job could have been a bribe to get Jackson to lie about Trump’s height and weight and the state of his health? Or did Trump knew about the drinking and use it as blackmail?
And then there’s Mike Pompeo, current Director of the CIA and nominee for Secretary of State. Frankly, I think this guy is terrifying; and, unfortunately, it looks like he’ll be confirmed. Here’s some background on Pompeo and his scary religious beliefs:
Michelle Golberg at Slate, January 2017: “This Evil Is All Around Us.” Trump’s pick for the CIA, Mike Pompeo, sees foreign policy as a vehicle for holy war.
In June 2015, Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas congressman, headlined a “God and Country Rally” at Wichita’s Summit Church. “To worship our lord and celebrate our nation at the same place is not only our right, it is our duty,” he began. Pompeo’s speech was a mishmash of domestic culture war callouts and dark warnings about the danger of radical Islam. He cited an inflammatory prayer that a pastor named the Rev. Joe Wright once delivered before the Kansas State Legislature: “America had worshipped other Gods and called it multiculturalism. We’d endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.” He lamented government efforts to “rip faith from our schools” and then segued immediately into a discussion of the jihadi threat: “This evil is all around us.” Pompeo concluded by describing politics as “a never-ending struggle … until the rapture.” [….]
Like Trump, Pompeo has been a fierce critic of efforts to rein in the CIA’s torture program and a champion of keeping Guantanamo Bay open. While in Congress, he was a frequent guest on the radio show of famously paranoid Frank Gaffney, a man disinvited from the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference after claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated its parent organization, the American Conservative Union. (In the Trump era, Gaffney has been brought in from the cold: After the election, the New York Times reported that he was informally advising Trump’s inner circle on national security hires.) Gaffney once called Pompeo “one of the most intelligent men I know in public life,” and the two see the world similarly. In February 2015, they spoke about President Obama’s use of the term “violent extremism” instead of “radical Islam,” a linguistic choice that some on the right see as a secret message of solidarity with jihad. Gaffney suggested that Obama might be conveying “an affinity” for ISIS’s cause, if not all its tactics: “the raising up of the Muslim Ummah, a grand rebalancing of America’s role in the world.” Pompeo relied, “Frank, every place you stare at the president’s policies and statements, you see what you just described … every policy of this administration has treated America as if we are the problem and not the solution.”
Like Gaffney, Pompeo believes that radical networks have wormed their way into every corner of the country. “There are organizations and networks here in the United States tied to radical Islam in deep and fundamental ways,” he said on Gaffney’s show. “They’re not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout America.”
From Vox, March 15, 2018: Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick for secretary of state, talks about politics as a battle of good and evil.
That Pompeo is an evangelical Christian is, on its face, not particularly notable; 25 percentof Americans are. But Pompeo’s specific brand of evangelical Christianity, with its insistence on seeing Muslim-Christian relations as an apocalyptic holy war, makes him an unnerving choice for such a senior foreign policy position.
During his tenure as CIA director, and before that as a member of the House of Representatives, Pompeo has consistently used language that casts the war on terrorism as a cosmic divine battle of good and evil. He’s referred to Islamic terrorists as destined to“continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world.”
Pompeo clarified that only a small percentage of Muslims were, in fact, terrorists (although in a 2013 speech, he called them potentially complicit in terrorism). Still, his language echoes a wider point: that the war against terrorism can be fought, in part, with Christian faith.
In other speeches, he’s characterized American domestic politics as a similarly apocalyptic struggle between good and evil, in which other (non-Christian) faiths and political views were signs of cultural decay. He cited a sermon previously delivered by Pastor Joe Wright in front of the Kansas state legislature: “‘America had worshipped other Gods and called it multiculturalism. We’d endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.’” Sources inside the CIA told Foreign Policy that Pompeo’s speeches within the CIA are no less loaded with explicitly religious language.
Please go read the rest.
Now, what else is happening? What stories are you following today?
Posted: February 4, 2017 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Department of Homeland Security, District Court Judge James L. Robart, Donald Trump, John Kelly, muslim ban, Noah Purcell, State Department, Steve Bannon, Vincent Viola
The so-called president.
Last night a federal judge in Washington state blocked Donald tRump’s executive order on immigration nationwide. The Washington Post reported:
The federal judge’s ruling, which was broader than similar ones before it, set up a high-stakes legal confrontation between the new president and the judicial branch over his temporary ban on entry by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries as well as refugees. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart wrote that “fundamental” to the court’s work was “a vigilant recognition that it is but one of three equal branches of our federal government.”
“The court concludes that the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tripart government,” he wrote.
The ruling is temporary, and the ultimate question of whether Trump’s executive order will pass constitutional muster will fall to higher-level courts. Legal analysts have said the ban could be difficult to permanently undo because the president has broad authority to set immigration policy.
Robart granted a request from the state of Washington who had asked him to stop the government from acting on critical sections of Trump’s order. Justice and State department officials had revealed earlier Friday that about 60,000 — and possibly as many as 100,000 — visas already have been provisionally revoked as a result of Trump’s order. A U.S. official said that because of the court case, officials would examine the revoking of those visas so that people would be allowed to travel, Learn more here.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson hailed the case as “the first of its kind” and declared that it “shuts down the executive order immediately.” Robart, a judge appointed by George W. Bush, said in his written order that U.S. officials should stop enforcing the key aspects of the ban: the halting of entry by refugees and citizens from certain countries. He did not specifically address the matter of those whose visas already had been revoked.
U.S. District Judge James L. Robart
Nevertheless the Department of Homeland Security has suspended tRump’s Muslim ban for now. CNN:
The Department of Homeland Security announced it has suspended all actions to implement the immigration order and will resume standard inspections of travelers as it did prior to the signing of the travel ban.
Also, a State Department official tells CNN the department has reversed the cancellation of visas that were provisionally revoked following the President’s executive order last week — so long as those visas were not stamped or marked as canceled.
The State Department has said fewer than 60,000 visas were revoked since the signing of the order. It was not immediately clear how many from that group will continue to be without their visas because their visas were physically canceled.
Following the judge’s ruling — before the government’s announcements Saturday morning — the International Air Transportation Association, a leading airline industry group, wrote to its members to follow procedures “as if the executive order never existed.”
But tRump doesn’t like this one bit. As usual, he broadcast his tantrums on Twitter. Business Insider: Trump blasts ‘so-called judge’ who temporarily blocked immigration ban in morning tweetstorm.
President Donald Trump on Saturday blasted the federal judge who issued a nationwide hold on the executive order temporarily barring immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries.
“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” Trump tweeted.
“Interesting that certain Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban,” the president continued. “They know if certain people are allowed in it’s death & destruction!”
Yes folks, tRump referred to a Republican federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush as a “so-called judge.” Are we having a constitutional crisis yet?
Yesterday we learned that the tRump administration secretly ordered the revocation of as many as 100,000 legally issued visas. For now, that order has been reversed. The Washington Post:
The State Department says previously banned travelers will be allowed to enter the United States after a federal judge in Washington state on Friday temporarily blocked enforcement of President Trump’s controversial immigration ban.
“We have reversed the provisional revocation of visas under” Trump’s executive order, a State Department spokesman said Saturday. “Those individuals with visas that were not physically canceled may now travel if the visa is otherwise valid.”
Department of Homeland Security personnel “will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure.”
Immigrant advocates said they were encouraging travelers from the affected countries to get on planes as soon as possible, since the Trump administration has said it plans to appeal the stay on the travel ban.
Solicitor General Noah Purcell (C) and Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson (R) speak at a press conference outside U.S. District Court, Western Washington, on Feb. 3, 2017
Now what? Supposedly the White House plans to fight the judge’s order, but they are going to have to come up with better arguments than what DOJ lawyers argued yesterday–basically that a president’s orders cannot be questioned. From MyNorthwest.com:
The DOJ argued that Washington’s case has no standing, or injury because of case-by-case waivers included in the executive order. The DOJ argued that the president is granted broad powers over immigration. The federal lawyer said that the ban does not target any religion, but favors those facing religious persecution.
Attorney Noah Purcell argued the case for the state.
“I did say at one point the Department of Justice’s argument was frightening,” Purcell said. “And the argument was, essentially, that if the president says, ‘I’m doing this in national security interest,’ then a court cannot review if that was the real reason, or if there is any rational reason for the president’s action. Our view is that’s not the law. That’s a scary view of the law. Luckily, the judge rejected that idea.”
While hearing arguments, Judge Robarts stated that he must decide if Trump’s executive order is “rationally based” in facts. The DOJ, however, disagreed that was necessary.
Wow. We’re way past Watergate at this point, and tRump has only been in office for two weeks. Josh Rogin has some background on the machinations that have been going on between the administration over the Muslim ban: Inside the White House-Cabinet battle over Trump’s immigration order.
On the evening of Saturday, Jan. 28, as airport protests raged over President Trump’s executive order on immigration, the man charged with implementing the order, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, had a plan. He would issue a waiver for lawful permanent residents, a.k.a. green-card holders, from the seven majority-Muslim countries whose citizens had been banned from entering the United States.
White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon wanted to stop Kelly in his tracks. Bannon paid a personal and unscheduled visit to Kelly’s Department of Homeland Security office to deliver an order: Don’t issue the waiver. Kelly, according to two administration officials familiar with the confrontation, refused to comply with Bannon’s instruction. That was the beginning of a weekend of negotiations among senior Trump administration staffers that led, on Sunday, to a decision by Trump to temporarily freeze the issuance of executive orders.
The confrontation between Bannon and Kelly pitted a political operator against a military disciplinarian. Respectfully but firmly, the retired general and longtime Marine told Bannon that despite his high position in the White House and close relationship with Trump, the former Breitbart chief was not in Kelly’s chain of command, two administration officials said. If the president wanted Kelly to back off from issuing the waiver, Kelly would have to hear it from the president directly, he told Bannon.
John Kelly and Steve Bannon in the foreground
Bannon left Kelly’s office without getting satisfaction. Trump didn’t call Kelly to tell him to hold off. Kelly issued the waiver late Saturday night, although it wasn’t officially announced until the following day.
That did not end the dispute. At approximately 2 a.m. Sunday morning, according to the two officials, a conference call of several top officials was convened to discuss the ongoing confusion over the executive order and the anger from Cabinet officials over their lack of inclusion in the process in advance.
On the call were Bannon, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, White House Counsel Donald McGahn, national security adviser Michael Flynn, Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State designee Rex Tillerson, who had not yet been confirmed.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
I’ll wrap this up with some corruption news.
The New York Times: Trust Records Show Trump Is Still Closely Tied to His Empire.
While the president says he has walked away from the day-to-day operations of his business, two people close to him are the named trustees and have broad legal authority over his assets: his eldest son, Donald Jr., and Allen H. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer. Mr. Trump, who will receive reports on any profit, or loss, on his company as a whole, can revoke their authority at any time.
What’s more, the purpose of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust is to hold assets for the “exclusive benefit” of the president. This trust remains under Mr. Trump’s Social Security number, at least as far as federal taxes are concerned….
While the trust structure, outlined in documents made public through a Freedom of Information Act request by ProPublica, may give the president the appearance of distance from his business, it drew sharp criticism from experts in government ethics.
“I don’t see how this in the slightest bit avoids a conflict of interest,” said Frederick J. Tansill, a trust and estates lawyer from Virginia who examined the documents at the request of The New York Times. “First it is revocable at any time, and it is his son and his chief financial officer who are running it.”
Click on the link to read the rest.
Again from The New York Times: Vincent Viola, Nominee for Army Secretary, Drops Out.
Vincent Viola, a billionaire Wall Street trader and President Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Army, abruptly withdrew his name for the post on Friday night after concluding it would be too difficult to untangle himself from his business ties, two government officials said.
Mr. Viola is an owner of the Florida Panthers hockey club and a majority shareholder in Virtu Financial and Eastern Air Lines, among a number of other business interests. This week The New York Times reported that Mr. Viola had been negotiating to swap his stake in Eastern Air Lines for a stake in Swift Air, an airline with government subcontracts.
If his nomination had continued, he would have faced certain scrutiny for potentially becoming a government official who benefits from federal contracts.
The Trump administration did not announce his withdrawal, which was first reported Friday by The Military Times, but a senior administration official and a Pentagon official separately confirmed his decision, which the White House accepted Friday. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.
That’s all I have for you today. Now I’m going back to bed to nurse my ongoing terrible cold. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below, and have a nice weekend.