Posted: April 9, 2022 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, just because | Tags: Ali Alexander, Charles Donohoe, Department of Justice, Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr, foreign gifts, grand jury, January 6 investigation, Mark Meadows, Phony DHS investigation, Proud Boys, Secret Service, State Department, Trump administration
Kitty on the Fence, photo by Andy Sewell
Some big Trump criminality news broke yesterday, and today there’s more news on stories we’ve been following over the past week. Here’s the latest:
This one was posted late last night at The New York Times: Trump Officials Failed to Provide Accounting of Foreign Gifts.
The Trump administration left office without providing the State Department with an accounting of the gifts former President Donald J. Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials received from foreign governments in 2020, the department disclosed late Friday.
The department said that as a result, it could not fully account for the gifts officials received, the latest example to emerge in recent months of how the Trump administration’s flouting of laws and norms about the day-to-day operations of government now makes it harder to determine whether anything improper took place.
“It’s flagrant and it looks terrible,” said Richard W. Painter, the former top ethics lawyer for George W. Bush’s administration. “Either it was really stupid or really corrupt.”
Under federal law, each government department and agency is legally required to submit a list to the State Department of gifts over $415 its officials received from foreign governments. The measure is intended to ensure that foreign governments do not gain undue influence over American officials.
LOL We already know that the Trumps were under “undue influence” from Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and likely more countries.
The department said it had tried to collect the information about the gifts Trump White House officials had received but had failed to come up with an accounting.
“As a result, the data required to fully compile a complete listing for 2020 is unavailable,” the State Department said in a footnote to its list of gifts government officials received that year….
Country Cats, Rosemary Margaret Daunis
In February, it was revealed that classified documents and gifts from the White House had been improperly taken to Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, a matter federal authorities are now in the preliminary stages of investigating. Around that time, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol learned that significant chunks of time were missing from White House call records from the day of the attack….
The State Department’s inspector general reported in November that tens of thousands of dollars in gifts given to Trump administration officials were missing. They included a 30-year-old Suntory Hibiki bottle of Japanese whiskey given to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, worth $5,800, and a 22-karat-gold commemorative coin valued at $560 given to another State Department official.
Many more items are missing–read about the rest at the NYT link.
Three interesting follow-up stories on the fake DHS guys who were busted for bribing Secret Service agents.
CNN: Many questions remain in impersonation plot that duped federal agents, prosecutors say.
(Highlighting added by me)
The Daily Mail: Stash of assault rifles, body armor, passports with multiple visas, and sham uniforms found in penthouse of ‘fake’ Homeland agents – including one with ‘links to Pakistani intelligence.’
A motion for detention of the two men who were arrested Wednesday for impersonating federal agents includes a slew of damning evidence, including images showing several different passports, visas and IDs.
The prosecutors are requesting Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Sher-Ali, 35, be detained due to a slew of evidence found in a raid of their units in a luxury apartment building in southeast Washington, D.C….
Taherzadeh told law enforcement in an interview after being taken into custody on Wednesday that Ali was the one funding their lavish lifestyle and seemingly endless stream of gifts, but claimed he wasn’t aware where the money was coming from.
Debbie Criswell, Best spring day
The question remains, however, on what Ali and Taherzadeh’s motives were in getting close to people with White House access by impersonating government agents.
Secret Service agents assigned to details for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence are among those being investigated for accepting lavish gifts and partying with Taherzadeh and Ali, who alleged they were agents with the Department of Homeland Security.
At least one of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) agents receiving free rent from Taherzadehand Ali was assigned to the detail protecting Harris’ residence at Number One Observatory Circle at the Naval Observatory, sources at the building told DailyMail.com.
Another, sources claim, was on the presidential protective detail and regularly traveled with President Biden on Air Force One.
The new information comes after an affidavit released Wednesday revealed that one of the witnesses in the case is a secret service agent that worked on First Lady Jill Biden’s protective detail.
Again, the added highlighting is mine. There’s much more at the link, including photos of the defendants and the evidence.
Justin Rohrlich of The Daily Beast interviewed a “former friend” of one of the imposters: Homeland Security Conman’s Arrest Is ‘Karma,’ Says Former Friend.
A man arrested this week for allegedly posing as a phony Homeland Security agent in a years-long ruse that fooled at least four members of the Secret Service—one of them on first lady Jill Biden’s security detail—has been busted for passing bad checks, allegedly created a fake company to win a city contract, and stiffed a close friend and business partner before skipping town, according to state court records and interviews with two former associates.
Arian Taherzadeh, 40, was arrested by the feds at his Washington, D.C., apartment complex on Wednesday….
Barn cats in Spring
In an interview with investigators following his arrest, prosecutors say Taherzadeh admitted to posing as a DHS agent and said he also falsely told others that he was an ex-Army Ranger. However, he put much of the onus on Ali, telling the feds that “Ali was the individual that funded most of their day-to-day operation but Taherzadeh did not know the source of the funds.”
“You could call it karma,” a former friend and business partner in Kansas City who started a now-defunct IT consultancy with Taherzadeh told The Daily Beast. “I got burned a couple of different times and I finally walked away.”
The friend said he’s extremely curious to know what Taherzadeh’s end-game was.
“Part of me just wants to tell you, it’s because he could,” he said.
The tale of the con is a long story. You can read it at the Daily Beast link.
January 6 investigation news
I know you’ve probably heard about this bombshell story from CNN yesterday: CNN Exclusive: ‘We control them all’: Donald Trump Jr. texted Meadows ideas for overturning 2020 election before it was called.
Cat Country by Rosemary Margaret Daunis
I actually think the NYT is underplaying the important of this development, but here’s a bit more from the article:
The grand jury subpoena Mr. Alexander received suggests that prosecutors have greatly widened the scope of their inquiry to include not only people who were at the Capitol, but also those who organized and spoke at pro-Trump events in November and December 2020 and on Jan. 6, 2021.
In an indication that the inquiry could reach into the Trump administration and its allies in Congress, the subpoena also seeks information about members of the executive and legislative branches who were involved in the events or who may have helped to obstruct the certification of the 2020 election….
Mr. Alexander took part in two so-called Stop the Steal rallies in Washington that preceded the former president’s event at the Ellipse, near the White House, on Jan. 6 — one on Nov. 14, 2020, and the other a few weeks later on Dec. 12 — as well as events in the key swing state of Georgia in December.
In the run-up to those gatherings, Mr. Alexander came into contact with a host of rally organizers and with right-wing groups like the Oath Keepers militia and the 1st Amendment Praetorian that provided both public and personal security at the events.
The Washington Post on the plea deal with Proud Boy Charles Donohoe: Proud Boys leader admits plan to storm Capitol, will testify against others.
A North Carolina man who was one of the leaders of the far-right Proud Boys as they assaulted the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, pleaded guilty Friday to two felony counts with a minimum sentence of nearly six years in prison, but agreed to cooperate against his co-defendants in hopes of getting a lighter sentence.
Court records filed Friday show he has already provided numerous insights into the group’s plans and their intention to disrupt the congressional electoral vote confirmation….
Donohoe, 34, of Kernersville, N.C., admitted to conspiring to help organize an attack on Congress by angry supporters of then-president Donald Trump and to assaulting law enforcement officers. Donohoe is the first among six of the charged Proud Boys’ leaders, including longtime chairman Enrique Tarrio, to admit to both organizing an attack on Congress and assaulting law enforcement officers.
By Warren Kimble
On the plans for and carrying out of the assault on the Capitol:
As early as Jan. 4, prosecutors said, “Donohoe was aware that members of MOSD leadership were discussing the possibility of storming the Capitol. Donohoe believed that storming the Capitol would achieve the group’s goal of stopping the government from carrying out the transfer of presidential power. Donohoe understood that storming the Capitol would be illegal.”
On the morning of Jan. 6, the Proud Boys marched away from the Ellipse before President Donald Trump began his speech, and did not return. Instead, they went to the Capitol shortly after 10 a.m., the statement of offense says, and Donohoe posted that his group numbered “200-300 PBs.” Co-defendants Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs mustered the group, the statement says, and “Donohoe understood that Nordean and Biggs were searching for an opportunity to storm the Capitol.”
By 1 p.m., the Proud Boys were being instructed in messages to “Push inside!” Donohoe reposted the message to other group leaders. Donohoe admitted throwing two water bottles at police trying to prevent the mob’s advance. At 1:37 p.m., Donohoe took a picture of co-defendant Dominic Pezzola holding a riot shield that had been snatched from police.
Donohoe then found another Proud Boy who “initiated an altercation at the front of the crowd,” the statement says. “Donohoe pushed forward to advance up the concrete stairs toward the Capitol. The crowd overwhelmed law enforcement who were attempting to stop their advance.”
Despite all the whining from Twitter lawyers, it sure looks like the DOJ is conducting a serious investigation that could reach all the way to Trump.
Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers! Spring is on the way.
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?