Yesterday, Dakinikat highlighted this article at The Independent in which the owner of a tanker that the Trump administration claims was attacked by Iran says the Trump folks are lying.
The ship operator said “flying objects” that may have been bullets were the cause of damage to the vessel, rather than mines used by Iranian forces, as the US has suggested.
Yutaka Katada, chief executive of the Japanese company operating the ship called Kokuka Courageous, one of two vessels attacked near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, said the damage could not have been caused by mines or torpedos that are shot underwater, since the damage was reportedly above the ship’s waterline.
Now Germany has chimed in. Newsweek: Germany Joins Chorus Casting Doubt on Trump Administration Claim that Iran was Behind Attack on Oil Tankers.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Friday cast doubt on evidence that the U.S. government claims is proof that Iran was behind an attack this week on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
The attack on the two vessels, one Japanese and one Norwegian, took place as Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran to try to calm tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The U.S. Navy later released a video that purported to show members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard sneaking over to the ship in the middle of the night to remove an unexploded mine. U.S. officials claimed this is evidence of Iran’s culpability, but Maas argued that the video was insufficient proof to pin the attack on Iran.
“The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me,” Maas told reporters during a press conference on Friday. The boat’s Japanese owner also cast doubt on the theory that a mine had been used to attack the ship, telling journalists that members of his crew had witnessed a flying object.
Iran has denied any role in the event, and some observers have raised questions about whether the intelligence was being used as a pretext for the U.S. to escalate conflict with the country.
Peter Baker writes at The New York Times: As Trump Accuses Iran, He Has One Problem: His Own Credibility.
For any president, accusing another country of an act of war presents an enormous challenge to overcome skepticism at home and abroad. But for a president known for falsehoods and crisis-churning bombast, the test of credibility appears far more daunting.
For two and a half years in office, Mr. Trump has spun out so many misleading or untrue statements about himself, his enemies, his policies, his politics, his family, his personal story, his finances and his interactions with staff that even his own former communications director once said “he’s a liar” and many Americans long ago concluded that he cannot be trusted.
Fact-checking Mr. Trump is a full-time occupation in Washington, and in no other circumstance is faith in a president’s word as vital as in matters of war and peace. The public grew cynical about presidents and intelligence after George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq based on false accusations of weapons of mass destruction, and the doubt spilled over to Barack Obama when he accused Syria of gassing its own people. As Mr. Trump confronts Iran, he carries the burden of their history and his own….
The task is all the more formidable for Mr. Trump, who himself has assailed the reliability of America’s intelligence agencies and even the intelligence chiefs he appointed, suggesting they could not be believed when their conclusions have not fit his worldview.
That’s an important point. Trump has been attacking the findings of the U.S. intelligence community since he was a candidate. He has repeatedly said he believes Vladimir Putin over his own FBI and CIA.
Again following up on Dakinikat’s post yesterday, here’s a brilliant essay by Virginia Heffernan at The Los Angeles Times: All the president’s lying ladies — Hicks, Sanders and Conway — make news.
The Trump White House is a bit like Shakespeare summer camp: not enough substantial parts for the girls. The female roles at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. are for craven ladies-in-waiting who are allotted very little moral agency, let alone opportunities for heroics. They subvert their ambitions to their overlord’s; they lie, in short.
Yes, there’s a Lady Macbeth, portrayed in Trumpworld as a waxen blonde sleepwalker, a ghostly daughter-wife whose veins are certifiably free of the milk of human kindness. (Ivanka’s understudy, the creepy Melania, has skipped so many rehearsals she’s been written off.)
A shrewd, unholy trinity has settled for lesser roles: the liar-handmaidens Hope Hicks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway. The president, according to Michael Wolff’s latest book, “Siege,” likes to see these three in a “cat fight,” in which each undermines the others as she competes to lie most robustly on his behalf.
The melancholic former White House Communications Director Hicks, choleric counselor Conway and splenetic Press Secretary Sanders aren’t just complicit in the president’s depravity. They have managed to advance it.
But the advantage this trio has over Lady Ivanka is that they can leave.
To further tempt you to read the whole thing, here is Heffernan’s characterization of Sarah Huckabee Sanders:
Sanders is known for her never-ending mendacity and her near-religious devotion to Trump, who, according to Wolff, calls her the “Huckabee Girl.”
Indeed, Trump has often treated Sanders as if she were the possession of her father, Mike Huckabee, on loan to him as a scullery maid. Scullery for Trump includes, above all, mendacity. Sanders is featured in the Mueller report for her “slip of the tongue” — the claim that “countless” FBI agents disliked former FBI Director James Comey.
Not only was this fabrication part of Sanders’ tireless effort to make it seem as though Trump is a normal law-and-order Republican (and not a carnie thug with well-documented contempt for the whole FBI), it was also an effort to obfuscate Trump’s reason for firing Comey. We all know it: to kill the Russia investigation.
Go read the rest. You won’t be sorry.
At Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson explains how the trial of a border patrol agent could expose the “toxic culture” of his agency: ‘Guats,’ ‘Tonks’ and ‘Subhuman Shit’: The Shocking Texts of a Border Patrol Agent.
In the days before he allegedly struck a 23-year-old undocumented Guatemalan man with a government-issued Ford F-150, Border Patrol agent Matthew Bowen sent a text to a fellow agent. In the exchange, which federal prosecutors now claim offers “insight into his view of the aliens he apprehends,” Bowen railed against unauthorized migrants who’d thrown rocks at a colleague as “mindless murdering savages” and “disgusting subhuman shit unworthy of being kindling for a fire.” The text message also includes a plea to the president: “PLEASE let us take the gloves off trump!”
Two weeks later, on December 3rd, 2017, Bowen was on patrol near Nogales, Arizona, when he spotted a suspected unauthorized border crosser. Identified as Antolin Rolando Lopez-Aguilar in a federal affidavit, the man had been hiding but took off running back toward the Nogales point of entry, “in an apparent effort to avoid apprehension,” the affidavit states.
Instead of pursuing Lopez-Aguilar on foot, Bowen chased after him in his federal vehicle, known as a “Kilo Unit” in Border Patrol lingo. As caught on camera, Bowen maneuvered “the front grille of the truck directly behind Lopez-Aguilar,” according to the affidavit. With the F-150 bearing down on him, Lopez-Aguilar reached back “to ‘push off’ of the hood” before Bowen “accelerated the… Kilo Unit directly into the back of Lopez-Aguilar’s body, knocking Lopez-Aguilar to the ground,” the document states. The Ford’s tires came to a full stop “within inches of running Lopez-Aguilar over where he lay on the ground.”
Bowen, now 39, was indicted in May 2018, on two counts — one, a civil rights crime, for what prosecutors call Bowen’s choice to use “deadly force against a person who was running away from him and posed no threat,” and the other, an obstruction charge, for his alleged effort to “cover up his crime.” Bowen has pleaded not guilty to both counts. (Lopez-Aguilar was scraped up, but not seriously injured according to court documents, and reportedly sentenced to 30 days for the misdemeanor offense of illegal entry into the United States.)
Bowen’s trial is due to begin in August. But the case is already shining a spotlight on a troubled culture at Border Patrol, the law enforcement arm of Customs and Border Protection, at a moment when both agencies have been grappling with a surge in migrants, and faced allegations of widespread wrongdoing, ranging from physical and sexual abuse of minors to housing migrants in substandard shelters, including one likened to “a human dog pound.”
Read the rest at Rolling Stone.
At The Washington Post, David Von Drehle examines the differential treatment given to rich men in the U.S. justice system: Jeffrey Epstein’s scandal of secrecy points to a creeping rot in the American justice system.
When rich people are credibly accused of crimes, does the public have a right to know? Should multimillionaires be allowed to silence their accusers with cash?
According to superlawyer David Boies, “dozens” of women who could give testimony about being sexually assaulted as girls by mysterious financier Jeffrey Epstein are silenced by settlements they reached with their alleged assailant. The exact number is yet another secret in this least transparent of criminal cases. “Three dozen or eight dozen, I don’t know, but there are dozens,” Boies told me recently. He himself represents two alleged Epstein victims bound by “non-disclosure agreements” (NDAs).
Because Epstein can afford to buy silence, he may succeed in shuttering the window of accountability pried open in a South Florida court back in February. U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that federal prosecutors — led by the current labor secretary, Alexander Acosta — broke the law by entering a secret sweetheart deal to allow Epstein to serve a cushy sentence without facing evidence that he assaulted more than 30 underage girls in Palm Beach.
That ruling may prove hollow, however, if the alleged victims are now gagged by their settlements with Epstein. What a galling next chapter that would be in this appalling story.
Epstein, whose enormous and unexplained wealth attracted a circle of friends that included Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, actor Kevin Spacey and Britain’s Prince Andrew, travels from mansion to mansion while poor men accused of lesser crimes rot in prison.
This scandal of secrecy points to a creeping rot in the American justice system. Too many cases involving potential felonies are resolved through civil settlements that include ironclad NDAs. Once the money changes hands, witnesses can no longer testify to crimes; indeed, penalties for telling the truth after a settlement often run to the millions of dollars — ruinous for most crime victims. It’s a short step removed from silencing witnesses with cement shoes.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a nice weekend!
I’m filling in for Dakinikat, who is trying to wrap up her grades today. There was so much news yesterday, but today is Friday and there is likely to be more coming out based on what’s happened the past few Fridays.
Already this morning, Trump has threatened former FBI director James Comey on Twitter and claimed the Russia investigation is a story made up by Democrats. In addition, Trump basically incriminated himself in a strange-but-true interview with NBC’s Lester Holt yesterday.
The biggest news out of Donald Trump’s Thursday interview with NBC was his confession that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he fired FBI director James Comey. Undercutting 48 hours of denials by his aides, the president said: “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”
But what may ultimately get Trump into bigger trouble is his story about Comey assuring him he was not under investigation during a one-on-one dinner at the White House. Lester Holt asked the president to elaborate on his claim, made in the letter firing Comey, that he’d been told three times he was not under federal investigation. “He wanted to stay at the FBI, and I said I’ll, you know, consider and see what happens,” Trump said. “But we had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, ‘You are not under investigation.’” (Watch a 13-minute video of Holt’s sit-down here.)
It would be a big dang deal if the FBI director was discussing an ongoing investigation with the president — generally prohibited by Justice Department policy — at the same time he was also asking to keep his job.
Naturally, the leaks are coming thick and fast out of the FBI.
The New York Times: In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey Demurred.
Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief.
The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.
As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.
Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense.
By Mr. Comey’s account, his answer to Mr. Trump’s initial question apparently did not satisfy the president, the associates said. Later in the dinner, Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty.
Mr. Comey again replied that he would give him “honesty” and did not pledge his loyalty, according to the account of the conversation.
But Mr. Trump pressed him on whether it would be “honest loyalty.”
“You will have that,” Mr. Comey told his associates he responded.
One day after the acting attorney general warned the White House that its national security adviser was subject to blackmail, the president summoned the FBI director to dinner at the White House, sources close to James Comey told NBC News….
It’s not known whether the men talked about national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI a few days before, on Jan. 24 — grilled about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak….
Trump suggested, in an exclusive interview Thursday with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, that he had the FBI’s Russia collusion investigation on his mind when he decided to remove Comey.
“When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,'” Trump said.
Trump gave Holt an entirely different account of the dinner, saying that Comey requested it to seek job security, and told the president he was not under investigation.
None of that is true, Comey’s associates insist.
A former senior FBI official said Comey would never have told the president he was not under investigation — contradicting what Trump said.
“He tried to stay away from it [the Russian-ties investigation],” said the former official, who worked closely with Comey and keeps in touch with him. “He would say, ‘Look sir, I really can’t get into it, and you don’t want me to.'”
CBS News reports on another leak: Source: There is “whole lot of interfering” in Russia investigation.
Although President Trump has now stated and written that fired FBI Director James Comey told him on three separate occasions that he was not the subject of an investigation, sources cast doubt on that claim.
It would be out of character for Comey to have made that statement even once, much less three times, to the president, one law enforcement source told CBS News. Along with his firing, the source noted a high level of “interfering” in the Russia probe.
As for the White House assertions that “countless” FBI rank-and-file employees wanted Comey out, the source said that was a “load of cr*p” to think that agents wanted to see him ousted. That sentiment is shared by acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe in less colorful language. He told a congressional panel Thursday, “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day. We are a large organization. We are 36,500 people across this country, across this globe. we have a diversity of opinions about many things, but I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority of employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”
This was the case in spite of the divided opinion within the agency over Comey’s July 2016 announcement that he would not recommend Hillary Clinton be charged for mishandling classified information, in the investigation into her use of a private server for her email.
Within the FBI, the Russia investigation is considered to be “a crisis,” the source said, and “there is a whole lot of interfering.” The succession of events surrounding Comey’s firing is not considered to be a coincidence by the agency. In the week before he was terminated, Comey asked Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein for additional resources to pursue the Russia investigation.
I cannot wait until Comey testifies again in public.
At Lawfare, Benjamin Wittes writes that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must resign.
“He made—he made a recommendation,” Donald Trump said yesterday of his Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein in an interview with NBC News. “He’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him; the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation, but regardless of the recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.
”There it is, directly from the presidential mouth: Trump happily traded the reputation of Rosenstein, who began the week as a well-respected career prosecutor, for barely 24 hours of laughably transparent talking points in the news cycle. The White House sent out person after person—including the Vice President—to insist that Rosenstein’s memo constituted the basis for the President’s action against the FBI director. The White House described a bottoms-up dissatisfaction with Comey’s leadership, which Rosenstein’s memo encapsulated and to which the President acceded. And then, just as casually as Trump and his people set Rosenstein up as the bad guy for what was obviously a presidential decision into whose service Rosenstein had been enlisted, Trump revealed that Rosenstein was, after all, nothing more than a set piece…. [read the full excerpt from the interview at the link.]
Note that Trump did not merely reveal Rosenstein as a set piece here; he revealed him as a set piece in Trump’s own effort to frustrate the Russia investigation. The story as told by the president to NBC now is that Trump decided to fire Comey in connection with saying to himself that the Russia investigation was a made up story, and that it was in that context that he got Rosenstein to write a pretextual memo….
Trump’s idea of correcting the record was to say publicly exactly the thing about a law enforcement officer that makes his continued service in office impossible: That Trump had used his deputy attorney general as window dressing on a pre-cooked political decision to shut down an investigation involving himself, a decision for which he needed the patina of a high-minded rationale.
Once the President has said this about you—a law enforcement officer who works for him and who promised the Senate in confirmation hearings you would show independence—you have nothing left. These are the costs of working for Trump, and it took Rosenstein only two weeks to pay them.
The only decent course now is to name a special prosecutor and then resign.
I have no doubt that more news will be breaking all day long and into tonight. I’m already exhausted. What stories are you following today?