Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Trump began the day with another Twitter meltdown, attacking the Special Counsel’s investigation and then railing against Kirsten Gillibrand and Hillary Clinton.

Gillibrand “would do anything for” campaign contributions? Referring to Hillary as “Crooked,” and what’s the meaning of “USED?”

Senator Gillibrand responded:

About 90 minutes later, Trump tweeted his usual lying attack on Doug Jones and once again endorsed a man who sexually abused young women and wants to return the U.S. to the days of slavery.

This is how degraded the U.S. presidency is in 2017.

I first saw Trump’s tweets when I turned on MSNBC at about 8:30. It amazed to see Mika Brzezinski’s response. She even told men on the panel to stop interrupting her, and interrupted Joe Scarborough. Watch her rants at MSNBC. (You have to sit through remarks from other people on the panel to get all of what Mika had to say).

Tonight we’ll find out whether Mitch McConnell is going to have to deal with Roy Moore representing Alabama in the U.S. Senate. Some Republicans must be hoping that somehow Democrat Doug Jones can win. No one really knows what is going to happen. The polls are all over the place. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight: What The Hell Is Happening With These Alabama Polls?

What we’re seeing in Alabama goes beyond the usual warnings about minding the margin of error, however. There’s a massive spread in results from poll to poll — with surveys on Monday morning showing everything from a 9-point lead for Moore to a 10-point advantage for Democrat Doug Jones — and they reflect two highly different approaches to polling.

Most polls of the state have been made using automated scripts (these are sometimes also called IVR or “robopolls”). These polls have generally shown Moore ahead and closing strongly toward the end of the campaign, such as the Emerson College poll on Monday that showed Moore leading by 9 points. Recent automated polls from Trafalgar GroupJMC Analytics and PollingGravis Marketing and Strategy Research have also shown Moore with the lead.

But when traditional, live-caller polls have weighed in — although these polls have been few and far between — they’ve shown a much different result. A Monmouth University survey released on Monday showed a tied race. Fox News’s final poll of the race, also released on Monday, showed Jones ahead by 10 percentage points. An earlier Fox News survey also had Jones comfortably ahead, while a Washington Post poll from late November had Jones up 3 points at a time when most other polls showed the race swinging back to Moore. And a poll conducted for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in mid-November — possibly released to the public in an effort to get Moore to withdraw from the race — also showed Jones well ahead.1

These differences are significant, according to Silver, because automated polls cannot call cell phones and may have less representative samples because so many people just hang up on them.

Last night a heartbroken Alabama father spoke outside Roy Moore’s final rally before the election. The Washington Post reports:

Perhaps it was the man’s strong but plain-spoken rebuke outside a Roy Moore rally on the campaign’s final night, condemning the Republican candidate’s past comments lambasting homosexuality.

Perhaps it was the admission of the man, a peanut farmer, that he too, had harbored some of the same anti-gay feelings.

Perhaps it was his sign, a photograph of his daughter, a lesbian who, he said, had killed herself when she was 23.

Whatever it was, the two-minute video of Nathan Mathis struck a nerve, traveling far and wide as a sort of emotional coda to a wrenching U.S. Senate race in Alabama that has captivated the country.

And here’s an energized Doug Jones voter speaking this morning:

Interesting tweets this morning from former Alabama U.S. Attorney Joyce Alene:

Here’s the link Alene responded to:

A couple of weird things happened during Moore’s closing argument.

New York Magazine: Roy Moore’s Wife: We’re Not Anti-Semitic, ‘One of Our Attorneys Is a Jew’

Roy Moore’s stance on Jewish people probably isn’t at the top of anyone’s list of reasons not to vote for the Alabama Senate candidate. Yet on the eve of Tuesday’s election, his wife, Kayla Moore, attempted to shoot down one of the lesser-known allegations against her husband.

“Fake news would tell you that we don’t care for Jews,” Kayla Moore said Monday night while introducing her husband at a rally in Midland City, Alabama.

“I tell you all this because I’ve seen it all, so I just want to set the record straight while they’re here,” she said, gesturing to members of the media.

“One of our attorneys is a Jew,” she continued, pausing for cheers and laughter from the crowd.

“We have very close friends that are Jewish, and rabbis, we also do fellowship with them.”

Um . . . okay . . .

Another speaker “joked” about how he and Roy Moore “accidentally” ended up in a brothel full of underage girls in Vietnam. Think Progress:

One of the introductory speakers was Bill Staehle, who said he served with Moore in Vietnam. Staehle told the story of a night he spent with Moore and a third man, who he did not name. According to Staehle, it was the third man’s last night in Vietnam and the man invited them to a “private club” in the city to celebrate with “a couple of beers.”

Moore and Staehle agreed. According to Staehle, they didn’t expect there was anything untoward going on at the “private club” because “there were legitimate private clubs” in Vietnam. The third man drove them to the club in his Jeep.

Staehle said that, when he and Moore arrived, they soon realized the man had taken them to a brothel. The third man, Staehle suggested, essentially tricked them. “I could tell you what I saw but I don’t want to,” Staehle said mischievously.

“There were certainly pretty girls. And they were girls. They were young. Some were very young,” Staehle acknowledged. But according to Staehle, Moore was shocked by what he saw. “We shouldn’t be here, I’m leaving,” Moore said, according to Staehle.

They asked the third man to leave with them but he didn’t want to. So Staehle and Moore took his Jeep and left him there all night with sex workers, who they agreed were underage. The man returned to base the next morning on the back of a motorcycle, Staehle said with a grin.

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan must be so proud.

 

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, the “president’s” men are plotting against Robert Mueller.

Mike Allen at Axios: Trump lawyers want second special counsel appointed now.

President Trump’s legal team believes Attorney General Jeff Session’s Justice Department and the FBI — more than special counsel Robert Mueller himself — are to blame for what they see as a witch hunt.

The result: They want an additional special counsel named to investigate the investigators.

Trump officials outlined their new line of thinking to me last night.

— The new demand was prompted by a Fox News article last evening by James Rosen and Jake Gibson: “A senior Justice Department official [Bruce Ohr] demoted last week for concealing his meetings with the men behind the anti-Trump ‘dossier’ had even closer ties to Fusion GPS, the firm responsible for the incendiary document, than have been disclosed: … The official’s wife [Nellie Ohr] worked for Fusion GPS during the 2016 election.”

— Jay Sekulow, a member of the President’s legal team, tells me: “The Department of Justice and FBI cannot ignore the multiple problems that have been created by these obvious conflicts of interests. These new revelations require the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate.”

More at the link.

At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky asks: Will the Senate Still Protect Robert Mueller From Donald Trump’s Ax?

Remember the first round of gossip about whether President Trump would fire special prosecutor Robert Mueller, back during the summer? Republican senators were quick to say what a grave error this would be. Susan Collins said in June it would be “an extraordinarily unwise move” back. In July, Lindsey Graham said that “any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong.”

Most of them chimed in along similar lines. Consequently we were all assured: Yes, maybe they’ve been in the tank for Trump up to now, but surely they would never tolerate that. That is the moment when they’d say enough.

Well. We may find out about that very soon.

People keep saying “we’re close to a crisis.” No we’re not. We’re in it. We have a president who already obstructed justice on national television…..

A former national security adviser copped a felony plea. Three former campaign officials are under indictment. This has never happened in the first year of a modern presidency. Probably any presidency. And that’s just the legal stuff. Then there are all the lies. Obama spied on Trump (this one still has legs among the creatures of the black-ops lagoons of the far right). Trump has no Russia ties. Hillary sold our plutonium to Putin.

And finally, there’s the madness, which is slightly different from lies. The current madness is that Russia is great and can do no wrong, while the FBI is suddenly a subversive and un-American organization. And Robert Mueller is a partisan, pro-Clinton, Never-Trump pawn of the liberal order….

We have never been here. Richard Nixon and his henchmen subverted the law. They did not attempt to subvert reality itself. Nixon did not go around saying that in fact it was George McGovern who belonged in prison. A news network did not exist to scream on a daily basis that McGovern should face indictment, peddling false “scandals” about him. In the summer and fall of 1973, before Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, influential congressional Republicans and prominent former congressional Republicans did not go around saying that there wasn’t one honest investigator on Cox’s staff or that Cox was corrupt.

Please read the rest at the link.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?

 

Advertisements

Lazy Saturday Reads

Mostly empty area for Trump speech in Pensacola, FL last night

Good Afternoon!!

The snow has finally begun falling here, and now they say it will continue all night and into tomorrow. We expect around 6-8 inches. That still may not be as bad as what happened down where JJ lives in Georgia and other parts of the South. The LA Times reports: Snowmen in Alabama? Sledding in Mississippi? From Texas to Georgia, snow blankets the South.

Snow blanketed a vast swath of the Deep South on Friday, triggering a flurry of winter weather warnings that closed businesses and schools, canceled hundreds of flights and caused traffic gridlock. It also unleashed a flurry of snowman construction and sledding in places more accustomed to sunshine than snow.

The storm dropped a rare coating of snow as far south as Brownsville, Texas — near the border of Mexico — up through southern Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the southern Appalachians.

“This is an unusual event — to see snow falling this early in the season all the way from Texas and the Gulf Coast region to Georgia,” said Laura Pagano, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Atlanta/Peachtree City office. “It has happened before, but not often.”

More than 200,000 customers across the region lost power as snow downed branches and power lines.

People walk along Shiloh Road in Kennesaw after a snowstorm hit metro Atlanta and North Georgia.

Since I can’t go out, I plan to escape into a good book. I finished reading Luke Harding’s excellent Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, and I’ve begun reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser.

Fraser is a brilliant writer, and so far the book is fascinating. She adds context to the sentimental version of Wilder’s life portrayed in the “Little House” books. Of course in many ways it’s a tragic story of the horrendous treatment of Native Americans as well as the hardships suffered by poor people like the Ingalls family who were lured west by promised of free or cheap land. Anyway, I’m glad to have a good book to help me escape from our dreadful current reality.

As the mainstream media continues to demonstrate the tremendous progress the Mueller investigation has been making, the Trump state media made up of Fox News, Breitbart, and other right wing outlets has turned up the heat with their fake news.

Please read this excellent piece by Jonathan Chait: The Mueller Investigation Is in Mortal Danger. Chait opens by describing the process by which the GOP first claims to be shocked by bad behavior (e.g. the Access Hollywood tape), but within begins denying and finally excusing that same behavior. We’ve seen this again and again, and now it’s happening with Roy Moore. Here’s the gist of Chait’s argument:

The next step in the sequence is almost insultingly obvious. Trump is preparing to shut down Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian intervention in the 2016 election.

The administration and its allied media organs, especially those owned by Rupert Murdoch, have spent months floating a series of rationales, of varying degrees of implausibility, for why a deeply respected Republican law-enforcement veteran is disqualified to lead the inquiry: He is friends with James Comey, who is biased because Trump fired him; Comey is biased because he pursued leads turned up in Christopher Steele’s investigation, which was financed by Democrats; Mueller has failed to investigate Hillary Clinton’s marginal-to-nonexistent role in a uranium sale.

Peter Strzok

The newest pseudo-scandal fixates on the role of Peter Strzok, an FBI official who helped tweak the language Comey employed in his statement condemning Clinton’s email carelessness and has also worked for Mueller.

His alleged crime is a series of text messages criticizing Trump. Mueller removed Strzok from his team, but that is not enough for Trump’s supporters, who are seizing on Strzok’s role as a pretext to discredit and remove Mueller, too. The notion that a law-enforcement official should be disqualified for privately expressing partisan views is a novel one, and certainly did not trouble Republicans last year, when Rudy Giuliani was boasting on television about his network of friendly agents. Yet in the conservative media, Mueller and Comey have assumed fiendish personae of almost Clintonian proportions.

It’s happening, folks. Yesterday we learned that Hope Hicks was interviewed by Mueller’s team all day Thursday and Friday. Hicks knows everything that has happened. There is no way Trump is going to sit still while she either tells the truth or may get caught in a lie and have to cooperate with Mueller. The investigation is getting closer and closer to Trump and his family.

The New York Times: F.B.I. Warned Hope Hicks About Emails From Russian Operatives.

F.B.I. officials warned one of President Trump’s top advisers, Hope Hicks, earlier this year about repeated attempts by Russian operatives to make contact with her during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the events.

The Russian outreach efforts show that, even after American intelligence agencies publicly accused Moscow of trying to influence the outcome of last year’s presidential election, Russian operatives were undaunted in their efforts to establish contacts with Mr. Trump’s advisers….

Hope Hicks with Trump and Kushner

After he took office, senior F.B.I. counterintelligence agents met with Ms. Hicks in the White House Situation Room at least twice, gave her the names of the Russians who had contacted her, and said that they were not who they claimed to be. The F.B.I. was concerned that the emails to Ms. Hicks may have been part of a Russian intelligence operation, and they urged Ms. Hicks to be cautious.

The meetings with Ms. Hicks, what the F.B.I. calls a “defensive briefing,” went beyond the standard security advice that senior White House officials routinely receive upon taking office. Defensive briefings are intended to warn government officials about specific concerns or risks.

Meanwhile, as Dakinikat wrote yesterday, the Justice Department has announced “investigations” into fake scandals like Planned Parenthood supposedly selling fetal body parts and the Uranium One non-scandal. And the GOP Congress is going to turn the sexual harassment scandal into a Democratic problem. The Democrats pushed Al Franken out without due process for minor accusations that may have been orchestrated, and now more Democrats are going to be revealed as abusers so the public will forget about Trump and Moore.

Roll Call: Exclusive: Taxpayers Paid $220K to Settle Case Involving Rep. Alcee Hastings.

The Treasury Department paid $220,000 in a previously undisclosed agreement to settle a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment that involved Florida Democrat Alcee L. Hastings, according to documents obtained by Roll Call.

Alcee Hastings

Winsome Packer, a former staff member of a congressional commission that promotes international human rights, said in documents that the congressman touched her, made unwanted sexual advances, and threatened her job. At the time, Hastings was the chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, where Packer worked.

Hastings has called Packer’s charges “ludicrous” and in documents said he never sexually harassed her.

“Until this evening, I had not seen the settlement agreement between the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and Ms. Packer,” the congressman said in a statement Friday night. “This matter was handled solely by the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment. At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made.”

Hastings said that the lawsuit that Packer filed against him and an investigation by the House Ethics Committee were ultimately dismissed.

“I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needlessly paid to Ms. Packer,” he said.

Will another member of the Black Caucus be forced out now?

Sarah Kendzior issued a stark waning this morning in response to this tweet:

Here’s a Trump scandal; will it gain any traction? The New York Times: Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears National Monument.

A uranium company launched a concerted lobbying campaign to scale back Bears Ears National Monument, saying such action would give it easier access to the area’s uranium deposits and help it operate a nearby processing mill, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Ryan Zinke

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and top Utah Republicans have said repeatedly that questions of mining or drilling played no role in President Trump’s announcement Monday that he was cutting the site by more than 1.1 million acres, or 85 percent. Trump also signed a proclamation nearly halving the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is also in southern Utah and has significant coal deposits.

“This is not about energy,” Zinke told reporters Tuesday. “There is no mine within Bears Ears.”

But the nation’s sole uranium processing mill sits directly next to the boundaries that President Barack Obama designated a year ago when he established Bears Ears. The documents show that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, urged the Trump administration to limit the monument to the smallest size needed to protect key objects and areas, such as archeological sites, to make it easier to access the radioactive ore.

In a May 25 letter to the Interior Department, Chief Operating Officer Mark Chalmers wrote that the 1.35 million-acre expanse Obama created “could affect existing and future mill operations.” He later noted, “There are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the [original boundaries] that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future.”

There is soooo much news today. I’ll have to add some links in the comment thread, but I’ll end this post with the latest NYT gossipy insider report on Trump’s defensive maneuvers: Inside Trumps Hour-by-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation.

Around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House’s master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to “Fox & Friends” for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” because, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day.

Energized, infuriated — often a gumbo of both — Mr. Trump grabs his iPhone. Sometimes he tweets while propped on his pillow, according to aides. Other times he tweets from the den next door, watching another television. Less frequently, he makes his way up the hall to the ornate Treaty Room, sometimes dressed for the day, sometimes still in bedclothes, where he begins his official and unofficial calls.

As he ends his first year in office, Mr. Trump is redefining what it means to be president. He sees the highest office in the land much as he did the night of his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton — as a prize he must fight to protect every waking moment, and Twitter is his Excalibur. Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously, according to interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress.

For other presidents, every day is a test of how to lead a country, not just a faction, balancing competing interests. For Mr. Trump, every day is an hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation. He still relitigates last year’s election, convinced that the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russia’s interference is a plot to delegitimize him. Color-coded maps highlighting the counties he won were hung on the White House walls.

Read more about the madman in the White House at the NYT link.

What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: “Puppet Meets Puppet Master.”

C

Good Morning!!

Look at the photo above with Trump standing next to Putin at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam. That is the closest thing to a genuine smile I have ever seen on Trump’s ugly face.

Trump is literally enraptured by the murderous dictator of Russia. And today Trump made it clear that he believes Putin’s denials a interfering in the 2016 election over the unanimous conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Axios: Trump sides with Putin over intelligence agencies on Russian meddling.

President Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he believes Vladimir Putin’s denials about election meddling, and doesn’t want to press further because he thinks the U.S. and Russia can work together on issues that include North Korea, Syria and Ukraine. But the Kremlin reportedly said they did not discuss this issue during their brief conversation.

Axios provides the full transcript:

Reporter: Did Russia’s attempts to meddle in US elections come up in the conversations?

Trump: “He said he didn’t meddle, he said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times.”

Reporter: Today?

Trump: “I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election, he did not do what they are saying he did.”

Reporter: Do you believe him?

Trump: “Well, look, I can’t stand there and argue with him, I would rather have him get out of Syria, I would rather get to work with him on the Ukraine rather than arguing about whether or not… that whole thing was set up by the Democrats. Look at Podesta, look at all the things that they have done with the phony dossier. Those are the big events. But Putin said he did not do what they said he did. But we have a good feeling toward getting things done. If we had a relationship with Russia, that would be a good thing. In fact it would be a great thing, not a bad thing, because he could really help us on North Korea. We have a big problem with North Korea and China is helping us. And because of the lack of the relationship that we have with Russia, because of this artificial thing that’s happening with this Democratic-inspired thing. We could really be helped a lot with Russia having to do with North Korea. You know you are talking about millions and millions of lives. This isn’t baby stuff, this is the real deal. And if Russia helped us in addition to China, that problem would go away a lot faster.”

Reporter: On election meddling, did you ask him the question?

Trump: “Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says I didn’t do that. I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country. Because again, if we had a relationship with Russia, North Korea which is our single biggest problem right now, it would help a lot. I think they are doing very well with respect to China, they have cut off financing, they have cut off lots of oil and lots of other things, lots of trade and it’s having a big impact. But Russia on the other hand may be making up the difference. And if they are, that’s not a good thing. So having a relationship with Russia would be a great thing especially as it relates to North Korea.”

“Hillary had her stupid reset button that she spelled the word wrong, but she does not have what it takes to have that kind of relationship where you could call or you could do something. But this is really an artificial barrier that’s put in front of us for solving problems with Russia. He says that very strongly, he really seems to be insulted by it and he says he didn’t do it. He is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. You have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he has nothing to do with that. Now, you are not going to get into an argument, you are going to start talking about Syria and the Ukraine.”

Trump is a traitor to our country. There is just no way to deny it at this point.

More from Politico:

Trump dismissed the meddling allegations as driven by Democrats, warning that the heavy focus on the issue threatens the United States’ ability to partner with Russia on key issues. He asserted that the allegations could fray the U.S.-Russia relationship so badly that the country could be less willing to cooperate on North Korea, Syria and other international crises — an outcome that would put lives at risk.

“This artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way and that’s a shame because people will die because of it,” he said. “And it’s a pure hit job.”

“Everybody knows there was no collusion,” he continued. “I think it’s a shame that something like this can destroy a very important potential relationship between two countries that are very important countries Russia could really help us.”

(Emphasis added.)

From the NYT, Here’s  a full transcript of all of Trump’s remarks on Air Force One between Danang and Hanoi. It’s just unbelievable.

From Twitter:

 

Meanwhile, back in the USA, there is plenty of news on the Russia investigation front.

The New York Times: A London Meeting of an Unlikely Group: How a Trump Adviser Came to Learn of Clinton ‘Dirt.’

At midday on March 24, 2016, an improbable group gathered in a London cafe to discuss setting up a meeting between Donald J. Trump, then a candidate, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

There was George Papadopoulos, a 28-year-old from Chicago with an inflated résumé who just days earlier had been publicly named as a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign. There was Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic in his mid-50s with a faltering career who boasted of having high-level contacts in the Russian government.

And, perhaps most mysteriously, there was Olga Polonskaya, a 30-year-old Russian from St. Petersburg and the former manager of a wine distribution company. Mr. Mifsud introduced her to Mr. Papadopoulos as Mr. Putin’s niece, according to court papers. Mr. Putin has no niece.

The interactions between the three players and a fourth man with contacts inside Russia’s Foreign Ministry have become a central part of the inquiry by the special prosecutor, Robert S. Mueller III, into the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere with the presidential election. Recently released court documents suggest that the F.B.I. suspected that some of the people who showed interest in Mr. Papadopoulos were participants in a Russian intelligence operation.

The March 2016 meeting was followed by a breakfast the next month at a London hotel during which Mr. Mifsud revealed to Mr. Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” That was months before the theft of a trove of emails from the Democratic National Committee by Russian-sponsored hackers became public.

Please go read the whole thing. And there is further evidence that George Papadopoulos was not just a “low level” “coffee boy” in the Trump campaign (summarized from the NYT story quoted above).

George Papadopoulos

The Hill: Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report.

The campaign aide who suggested that President Trump journey to Russia to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign was in regular contact with now-White House aide Stephen Miller, The New York Times reported Friday.

George Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Miller during the spring of 2016, a period during which Papadopoulos also helped edit a major foreign policy speech Trump delivered, according to the Times.

The speech in question was the one at the Mayflower Hotel, the one attended by Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and at which Kislyak and Jeff Sessions discussed “campaign-related matters.” On July 21, 2017, The Washington Post reported:

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he had no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Sam Clovis with Trump

New this morning from Reuters: Investigators probe Trump knowledge of campaign’s Russia dealings: sources.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has questioned Sam Clovis, co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s election campaign, to determine if Trump or top aides knew of the extent of the campaign team’s contacts with Russia, two sources familiar with the investigation said on Friday.

The focus of the questions put to Clovis by Mueller’s team has not been previously reported.

“The ultimate question Mueller is after is whether candidate Trump and then President-elect Trump knew of the discussions going on with Russia, and who approved or even directed them,” said one source. “That is still just a question.” [….]

One of the sources described Clovis as “another domino” after former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI over his own contacts with Russians during the 2016 election campaign.“

The investigators now know what Papadopoulos was doing on the Russian front, which he initially tried to conceal, and who he told that to,” said the other source. “Now [they] want to know whether Clovis and others reported these activities and others related to Russia, and if so, to whom,” this source said.

Read the rest at Reuters.

One more before I wrap this up:

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Cambridge Analytica Denies Working With Russia, Unconvincingly.

Alexander Nix

There are several channels through which Donald Trump’s campaign apparently cooperated with Russian efforts to help him win the presidency. The first, and best known, is a Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 to pursue Russian promises of providing dirt on Hillary Clinton. A second is Roger Stone, a frequent Trump adviser who had clear advance notice of the publication of stolen emails. A third is Trump himself openly asking Russia to obtain Clinton’s State Department emails. The final channel is the efforts by Cambridge Analytica, the campaign’s data firm. This channel is less well known to the public, in part because reporting about it has been dominated by The Wall Street Journal, and its stories hidden behind a paywall. But Cambridge Analytica’s role has come into much clearer focus.

Two weeks ago, the Journal reported that Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to help him better organize the stolen Democratic emails his site was publishing. On Friday, the Journal found that this contact came as Cambridge Analytica was joining the Trump campaign.

Nix denies the allegation: “We did not work with Russia in this election, and moreover we would never work with a third-party state actor in another country’s campaign.” But Nix also denies Russia had anything to do with the campaign at all. (“On Thursday, Mr. Nix called the notion that Russians “significantly interfered” in the U.S. election “frankly absurd,” the Journalnotes.) That second denial, which is silly, saps the other denials of some of their credibility.

Please go read the rest. It’s not long.

Now what stories are you following today?


Extra Lazy Saturday Reads: Happy Birthday Dakinikat!!

Good Afternoon!!

The illustrations in this post are by comic illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti.

Wannabe dictator Donald Trump has left the country, and he’ll be gone for 12 days. Maybe we’ll get a little peace here in the USA while he’s gone. Of course he’ll probably manage to stir up trouble in other countries. The Guardian: North Korea looms large as Donald Trump embarks on Asia trip.

Donald Trump’s five-nation trip to Asia may take him away from his battles with opponents and prosecutors in Washington, but it will inject his volatile, combative personality into the heart of the most dangerous nuclear standoff in the world.

The president has broken precedent by clearly and repeatedly threatening to carry out a first strike against North Korea. On the eve of his Sunday departure, he did it again.

“We have one problem. That’s called North Korea,” Trump told Fox News. “I must tell you North Korea’s a thing that I think we will solve and if we don’t solve it, it’s not going to be very pleasant for them. It’s not going to be very pleasant for anybody.”

As usual on Fridays in the Trump era, we got some breaking news on the Russia investigation last night. The New York Times reported: Trump Campaign Adviser Met With Russian Officials in 2016.

As with previous threats of “fire and fury”, being “locked and loaded” and ready to “totally destroy” North Korea, Trump did not elaborate, but the comments were made in the context of significant escalation on both sides. North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test in September, most probably of a thermonuclear bomb, marking a significant step up in its capabilities. It has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles over the summer.

The US has boosted military exercises with its partners and for the first time in a decade, it has three aircraft car

Click on the link to read the rest.

Back here at home we got some breaking news on the Russia investigation last night. Remember when Friday nights were slow except for occasional government news dumps? The New York Times reports: Trump Campaign Adviser Met With Russian Officials in 2016.

Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign, met Russian government officials during a July 2016 trip he took to Moscow, according to testimony he gave on Thursday to the House Intelligence Committee.

Shortly after the trip, Mr. Page sent an email to at least one Trump campaign aide describing insights he had after conversations with government officials, legislators and business executives during his time in Moscow, according to one person familiar with the contents of the message. The email was read aloud during the closed-door testimony.

The new details of the trip present a different picture than the account Mr. Page has given during numerous appearances in the news media in recent months and are yet another example of a Trump adviser meeting with Russians officials during the 2016 campaign. In multiple interviews with The New York Times, he had either denied meeting with any Russian government officials during the July 2016 visit or sidestepped the question, saying he met with “mostly scholars.”

Mr. Page confirmed the meetings in an interview on Friday evening, but played down their significance.

“I had a very brief hello to a couple of people. That was it,” he said. He said one of the people he met was a “senior person,” but would not confirm the person’s identity.

We’re also learning more about George Papadopoulos’s role in the campaign; it seems he was much more than a “coffee boy.” NBC News: Papadopoulos Repeatedly Represented Trump Campaign, Record Shows.

…the public record shows that Papadopoulos, who attempted to set up a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, was a more prominent figure than previously understood.

Papadopoulos was in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention where he was invited by the American Jewish Committee to speak on a panel about U.S. foreign policy, organizers said….

“Among the panelists in our 2016 Republican National Convention program — in a session titled ‘Defining America’s Role in Global Affairs’ — was George Papadopolous, then a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser”….

Papadopoulos’ public role for the Trump campaign continued. In late September, just six weeks before Election Day, he gave an interview as a Trump campaign official to the Russian Interfax News Agency, where he said that Trump will “restore the trust” between the U.S. and Russia.

And he met with Israeli leaders during the inauguration in January as a foreign policy adviser for the newly-sworn in president. “We are looking forward to ushering in a new relationship with all of Israel, including the historic Judea and Samaria,” Papadopoulos told the Jerusalem Post the following day.

Read more at NBC News.

More breaking news from last night: CBS news revealed that La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger, “may have been kidnapped by Islamic militants.”

CBS News has learned one of the four American soldiers killed in the ambush in Niger may have been kidnapped by Islamic militants who opened fire on a group of U.S. and Nigerien troops in early October.

The Pentagon has not said how Sgt. La David Johnson became separated from the other soldiers….

According to “village elder” Adamou Bububaker, after the battle ended:

“Two of the bodies were in the vehicle and another on the ground,” he said. They had been stripped of their uniforms.

But Johnson’s body was found two days later, about a half a mile away. Nigerien military sources tell CBS News they believe ISIS fighters decided to try and kidnap Johnson.

The fighters later shot him and dumped his body in the bushes, his hands roped together.

This is the man whose widow Trump shamefully called a liar and whose mentor was publicly smeared by former general John Kelly.

The Republican tax plan is obviously a disaster; but some of the things we’re learning about it are just unbelievable. Check this out from The Chronicle of Higher Education: Republican Tax Proposal Gets Failing Grade From Higher-Ed Groups.

“The House tax-reform proposal released today would discourage participation in postsecondary education, make college more expensive for those who do enroll, and undermine the financial stability of public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education and under secretary of education in the Obama administration, in a written statement.

In broad terms, the bill would eliminate or consolidate a number of tax deductions meant to offset the costs of higher education for individuals and companies, including the Lifetime Learning Credit, which provides a tax deduction of up to $2,000 for tuition, a credit for student-loan interest, and a $5,250 corporate deduction for education-assistance plans.

The bill proposes new taxes on some private-college endowments and on compensation for the highest-paid employees at nonprofit organizations, including colleges and nonprofit academic hospitals. The plan would also tax the tuition waivers that many graduate students receive when they work as teaching assistants or researchers.

Imagine if I had had to pay taxes on the tuition waver I got from Boston University during my Teaching fellowships? I would have had to pay income taxes on around $40,000 per year in addition to my teaching income! I would not have been able to go to graduate school at all. Much more at the link.

Yesterday Trump mused about being able to control law enforcement in the U.S. He hasn’t even been “president” for a year, and he’s already publicly expressing his desire to be a dictator. Tina Nguyen at Vanity Fair’s The Hive: Trump Subtly Wonders If The F.B.I Would Please Jail His Enemies.

When Donald Trump famously asked F.B.I. director James Comey to kindly drop all inquiries into Michael Flynn, and then fired him when he did not, the president triggered a series of events that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation into Russian collusion has now resulted in three indictments and the potential for many more. Thursday afternoon in the White House, Trump indicated that he has learned the dangers of attempting to use the Justice Department as his personal goon squad. “The saddest thing is, because I am the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I’m not supposed to be involved with the F.B.I.,” he told WMAL radio host Larry O’Connor. Still, he said he is “very frustrated” that he can’t use law-enforcement agencies to do what he really wants: investigate the Obama administration‘s Uranium One deal, which the right is scrambling to position as “clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence.”

“I look at what’s happening with the Justice Department, why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton with her e-mails and with her dossier, and the kind of money—I don’t know, is it possible that they paid $12.4 million for the dossier . . . which is total phony, fake, fraud and how is it used?” he railed, expressing how “unhappy” he was with the way the justice system is supposed to work. “But you know as president, and I think you understand this, as a president you’re not supposed to be involved in that process.”

He admits he’s not supposed to be doing this, but he’s continuing to call on the DOJ to prosecute Hillary Clinton in interviews and on twitter. At the Washington Post, Ann Applebaum reminds us that Totalitarian ideologies never die. Not even in America.

Nothing is ever over. No historic trauma is ever resolved. No historic villain is ever buried, and no historic lessons are permanently learned. Everything and everyone can be revived, and anything can be unlearned — even in the most settled civilizations.

Evidence of this is all around us. After two generations of atonement, an elected German politician — Björn Höcke, speaker of the parliamentary group of the new far-right party Alternative for Germany — wants Germans to stop apologizing for Nazi crimes; he describes the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a “monument of shame.” In China, a government once embarrassed by Maoism is peddling a sanitized version. Last year, 17 million Chinese made pilgrimages to the chairman’s home to pay homage to the man whose madness starved far more of his countrymen than that.

In Russia, Stalin has returned. Nearly half the country now views him with sympathy, respect or admiration. Stalin sent millions of Russians — and others — to die in labor camps, deprived millions of food so they starved to death, ordered hundreds of thousands executed, and left his country stunted and impoverished. In his own lifetime, Russians were terrified of him; soon after his death, he was denounced by his successors. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, it seemed, briefly, as if the victims of his terror might finally come to terms with his legacy.

For a long time, Americans thought they were immune to this sort of thing. But are we really? In the United States of my childhood, there seemed no more settled question than the Civil War. In school I was taught that slavery had been defeated, that Lincoln was a hero and that the remaining wrongs were at least partly righted by the civil rights movement. Even the Old South/“Gone With the Wind” nostalgia had faded and shrunk to a small group of battlefield-visiting enthusiasts.

But it never faded away altogether — and now it’s back. With a president who looks at white-supremacist marchers and sees “very fine people” and a White House chief of staff who describes Robert E. Lee as an “honorable man” who “gave up his country to fight for his state,” we may not be as far as we once thought from a revival of Southern exceptionalism, and even treachery on a broader scale. Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the Senate in Alabama, has said repeatedly that the “law of God” is higher than the law of the Constitution itself.

Please go read the whole thing.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great weekend!


Friday Reads

Good Morning!!

I finally got around to reading Donna Brazile’s nutty screed at Politico, and I still have no idea what she’s going on about. Basically, she says that Obama bankrupted the DNC and Clinton bailed it out. The Clinton campaign signed an agreement to raise money for the DNC and in return the DNC would have to live within its budget.

Hillary also raised millions for down-ballot Democrats, but the money couldn’t be released to the states until Bernie admitted he’d lost, and he refused to do so until the bitter end. We know that Bernie raised zero money for the DNC, so I don’t get what the accusation is. Hillary tried to rescue the party, and now they are busily working on self-destructing again.

Here’s what Elizabeth Warren had to say about this yesterday:

“This is a real problem,” Warren said. “But what we’ve got to do as Democrats now, is we’ve got to hold this party accountable.”

Warren said the moment is a test of DNC Chair Tom Perez’s leadership.

“And either he’s going to succeed by bringing Bernie Sanders and Bernie Sanders representatives into this process and they’re going to say, ‘It’s fair, it works, we all believe it.’ Or, he’s going to fail, and I very much hope he succeeds,” Warren said. “I hope for Democrats everywhere, I hope for Bernie and for all of Bernie’s supporters that he’s going to succeed.”

As far as I can tell Bernie Sanders supporters are already controlling the direction of the party with their constant whining and caterwauling. But since Bernie refuses to join the party or raise money for it, I fail to see how handing him control of the DNC will lead to success in 2018–particularly since Bernie is determined to ignore women and people of color and focus on winning Trump-supporting white men.

But what do I know? I only know this: I’m done with the DNC and I still don’t regret changing my registration to unenrolled after 2008.

Unfortunately, Brazile and Warren have handed a huge gift to Trump and his gang; and he is reveling in it. His tweets are crazier than ever this morning.

Apparently Trump is focused on the Mueller inquiry in and prosecuting his political enemies rather than on his upcoming foreign trip. Because everything is always and only about him. Check this out:

ShareBlue: Donald Trump to Fox News: “The one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters.”

In what barely passes for an interview — with almost no questions, but plenty of praise — Donald Trump told new Fox News host Laura Ingraham why he hasn’t bothered to fill a number of empty positions at the State Department….

INGRAHAM: Your state department still has some unfilled positions. Are you worried that the state department doesn’t have enough Donald Trump nominees in there to push your vision through? Because other state departments, including Reagan’s at times, undermined agendas. There is a concern that the State Department is currently undermining your agenda.

TRUMP: So we don’t need all the people that they want. You know, don’t forget, I’m a business person and I tell my people, when you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them. But we have some people that I’m not happy with there.

INGRAHAM: But assistant secretary of state – you’re not getting rid of that position.

TRUMP: Let me tell you — the one that matters is me. I am the only one that matters. Because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy will be. You have seen that strongly. We are filling up.

Remember how Trump and Huckabee Sanders claimed that George Papadopoulos was just a “low level volunteer” who only attended one meeting during the campaign? Scott Dworkin has been hunting down the truth and posting photos of Papadopoulos’ campaign activities:

Papadopoulos was pretty busy for a low-level volunteer coffee boy; and as a result of the focus on his campaign activities, Jeff Sessions is now in trouble. CNN: Sessions under renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is once again under scrutiny on Capitol Hill regarding his candor about Russia and the Trump campaign amid revelations that he rejected a suggestion to convene a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump last year.

According to court filings unsealed this week, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos suggested at a March 2016 meeting that he could use his connections to set up a meeting between Putin and Trump with the then-GOP candidate’s national security team. An Instagram picture on Trump’s account shows Sessions attended the meeting at which Papadopoulos made the suggestion.

I posted that photo at the top of my Tuesday post. Here it is again.

Back to the CNN article:

After Trump declined to rule out the idea, Sessions weighed in and rejected the proposed meeting, according to a person who attended.

But Sessions, who was a top surrogate for Trump during the campaign, did not disclose these discussions despite a persistent set of questions from Democrats and some Republicans about Russia during multiple hearings on Capitol Hill. The new information is renewing attention to how forthcoming Sessions has been with Congress.

There is interest from Democrats on both the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees for Sessions to formally clarify his remarks made before both committees given what’s now known about his interactions with Papadopoulos, a Senate aide told CNN. The source said the request for clarification could take several forms, such as having Sessions testify again or submitting a clarification in writing, but that has not yet been determined.

Lock him up!

This from The New York Times is even more damning: Trump and Sessions Denied Knowing About Russian Contacts. Records Suggest Otherwise.

At a March 31, 2016, meeting between Mr. Trump and his foreign policy team, Mr. Papadopoulos introduced himself and said “that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin,” according to court records.

“He went into the pitch right away,” said J. D. Gordon, a campaign adviser who attended the meeting. “He said he had a friend in London, the Russian ambassador, who could help set up a meeting with Putin.”

Mr. Trump listened with interest. Mr. Sessions vehemently opposed the idea, Mr. Gordon recalled. “And he said that no one should talk about it,” because Mr. Sessions thought it was a bad idea that he did not want associated with the campaign, he said.

In other words, because it might leak out.

Lock him up!

Sam Clovis with Trump during campaign.

Is it possible that George Papadopoulos’s supervisor on the Trump campaign, Sam Clovis, could also be cooperating with Special Counsel Mueller? Why else would he have failed to tell the administration he had been questioned?

ABC News: White House was unaware top adviser testified before grand jury.

The White House first learned one of its senior staffers met with the grand jury hearing the case presented by the special counsel into alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 election not from the staffer but from media reports, sources with knowledge of the investigation tell ABC News.

Former Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis recently testified before that grand jury into his role on President Donald Trump’s campaign. Clovis currently serves as the senior White House adviser to the Department of Agriculture.

Clovis’ testimony comes on the heels of another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleading guilty to lying to federal authorities. As part of Papadopoulos’ admission of guilt, details of emails were disclosed that showed him describing to top Trump campaign officials communications he had with contacts in Russia.

The correspondence between Papadopoulos and a group of foreign nationals detail that within weeks of being described by Trump as an important part of his national security team, Papadopoulos was in London meeting with people who said they could deliver “dirt” on rival candidate Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.”

The emails indicate multiple top level campaign officials that Papadopoulos communicated with including one listed as a “campaign supervisor”.

Sources familiar with the emails tell ABC News the “campaign supervisor” was Sam Clovis.

Clovis appeared to encourage Papadopoulos to engage with Russian contacts; in one instance Clovis responded directly to Papadopoulos, hailing him for his “great work” and saying “I would encourage you” to “make the trip, if it is feasible”, referring to a trip the young campaign adviser pitched to go abroad.

Since it’s Friday, there could be new breaking stories coming. I’m hoping for another indictment.

I’ll end with this: Allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault by powerful men are still coming thick and fast. Here are the latest, links only:

Vulture: Man Comes Forward to Describe an Alleged Extended Sexual Relationship He Had at Age 14 With Kevin Spacey.

Radar: Kevin Spacey Accused Of Groping Filmmaker In Bar: ‘He Grabbed My Whole Package.’

People: Kevin Spacey Accused of Sexual Misconduct by Eight House of Cards Employees: Report.

Hollywood Reporter: Dustin Hoffman Sexually Harassed Me When I Was 17 (Guest Column).

Slate: Meryl Streep Once Said Dustin Hoffman GropedHer Breast the First Time They Met.

Variety: ‘Genius’ Producer Accuses Dustin Hoffman of Sexually Harassing Her in 1991 (EXCLUSIVE).

Politico: David Corn investigated for inappropriate workplace behavior.

AP: Female lawmakers allege harassment by colleagues in House.

In my state: On Beacon Hill, Female Reps Press Action In Wake Of Sexual Harassment Report. (NPR)

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?

 

 


Lazy Saturday Reads: It’s Mueller Time!

Good Afternoon!!

The news hit last night on CNN: First charges filed in Mueller investigation.

A federal grand jury in Washington on Friday approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources briefed on the matter.

The charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge. Plans were prepared Friday for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday, the sources said. It is unclear what the charges are.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment. The White House also had no comment, a senior administration official said Saturday morning…..

On Friday, top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the DC federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.

Reporters present saw a flurry of activity at the grand jury room, but officials made no announcements.

The story has now been confirmed by other news organizations, including Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. Now we know why the Trump administration has been trying to change the narrative using bogus attacks on Hillary Clinton.

Speculation will be rife in the media now, as we wait to learn who has been indicted. Most people think it could be Paul Manafort or Michael Flynn. I hope it will be someone big, but it could also be someone charged with lying to the FBI or Special Counsel. Either way, Mueller’s goal will likely be to get someone to talk in turn for reducing charges.

Mike Allen at Axios:

Why it matters, from MSNBC’s Ari Melber: “[W]e’re moving away from a political fight, where everyone can see it the way they want, and into … a legal process — where there are rules of evidence, facts are established. … Bob Mueller is known to be a pretty careful prosecutor.” [….]

Matt Miller — former Obama Justice Department official, and close Mueller watcher, emails me: “I think it means this will be a rolling investigation. Rather than conduct his entire investigation and then wrap things up with indictments and possibly a report at the end, he is doing it in stages, the way the Justice Department might attack a drug cartel or a mafia family.” [….]

Miller adds that this “is a watershed moment for the politics surrounding the investigation. In less than six months on the job, Mueller has already returned indictments.

The Hill: CNN legal analyst: Charges filed in Mueller probe means it will last ‘well into 2018.’

CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Friday that news of the first charges reportedly being filed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference means the probe will last “well into 2018.”

“If anybody thinks the Mueller investigation is going to be wrapping up in the next couple of months, this decision today pretty much guarantees the Mueller office will be up and running well into 2018,” Toobin said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” [….]

Toobin called the news “a major landmark in the course of this investigation” and said the indictments will likely be aimed at garnering cooperation in the probe.

“In white-collar investigations, usually the first indictments are against individuals that you hope will plead guilty and cooperate against others,” Toobin said. “You don’t indict the big fish first, you indict smaller fish in hopes of getting the big fish.”

Vox: Why the Trump-Russia indictments are being kept secret — for now.

Because the indictments are sealed, we don’t yet know who is being charged or what they are being charged with.

Ken White, a libertarian-leaning lawyer and former assistant US attorney who tweets and blogs as “Popehat,” walked through a brief explainer on Saturday morning, after the news that the first criminal charges in Mueller’s investigation of possible Russian government collusion with the Trump presidential campaign had been approved by a federal grand jury.

The takeaway was: Sealing charges is pretty routine. It prevents the target of an indictment from knowing they’re about to be charged and arrested, which limits the risk of defendants destroying evidence or any shenanigans when they are eventually brought in.

Read Popehat’s twitter thread at Vox.

 

At Slate, Jeremy Stahl provides a rundown of possible candidates who might be in the Special Counsel’s crosshairs: Mueller Has Reportedly Issued His First Charges. Who Might Be Indicted?

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort was under investigation by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office for possible money laundering. In July, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a pre-dawn raid on his home.

Former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page spoke with Senate investigators for five hours on Friday, according to NBC News. Last summer, the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to monitor his communications as part of its investigation into Russia.

Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen testified before both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees this week. According to NBC, “there was an extended focus on emails he received in 2015 from Felix Sater, a former Trump associate with a criminal past, about a potential deal to open a Trump Tower in the Russian capital.” At the time, Sater wrote to Cohen: “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

Read more at the link.

Last night folks on twitter noted that while CNN and MSNBC were focusing on the Mueller news, Fox was still claiming that Hillary Clinton was the one who colluded with Russia. For example,

Someone also posted this hilarious video.

If only . . .

Trump’s lawyers are apparently less interesting in Clinton conspiracy theories than what Mueller might have in store for their client. Politico: Trump legal team scrambles to prepare for new stage of Russia probe.

President Donald Trump’s White House and personal lawyers scrambled Saturday to learn where the knife might fall in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, triggering a guessing game among aides after days of trying to turn attention away from allegations of collusion with Russia during the election.

Attorneys involved in the case said their cellphones have been ringing nonstop as they connected with each other, and with reporters, trying to gather more concrete details after a CNN report Friday night that a federal grand jury had approved the first charges in the Russia investigation.

While the report did not cite names, attorneys close to the case said they were discussing whether the indictment was for two known Mueller targets: former campaign chairman Paul Manafort or former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Several attorneys who said they were in touch with the Manafort and Flynn lawyers said they had not been notified of any matter related to an indictment — which is customary in a white-collar criminal investigation — leading them to believe it wasn’t either of those two former high-ranking Trump aides. An attorney for Manafort did not respond to a request for comment. Michael Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, declined to comment.

The attorneys close to the case also said they wouldn’t be surprised if the charges were targeting Flynn or Manafort family members, or a longtime accountant or lawyer.

Read more speculation at Politico.

Breaking on MSNBC as I write this:

I have to admit I’m excited.

Another important Russia story broke yesterday at The New York Times: Talking Points Brought to Trump Tower Meeting Were Shared With Kremlin.

Natalia V. Veselnitskaya arrived at a meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 hoping to interest top Trump campaign officials in the contents of a memo she believed contained information damaging to the Democratic Party and, by extension, Hillary Clinton. The material was the fruit of her research as a private lawyer, she has repeatedly said, and any suggestion that she was acting at the Kremlin’s behest that day is anti-Russia “hysteria.”

But interviews and records show that in the months before the meeting, Ms. Veselnitskaya had discussed the allegations with one of Russia’s most powerful officials, the prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika. And the memo she brought with her closely followed a document that Mr. Chaika’s office had given to an American congressman two months earlier, incorporating some paragraphs verbatim.

The coordination between the Trump Tower visitor and the Russian prosecutor general undercuts Ms. Veselnitskaya’s account that she was a purely independent actor when she sat down with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Paul J. Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman.

It also suggests that emails from an intermediary to the younger Mr. Trump promising that Ms. Veselnitskaya would arrive with information from Russian prosecutors were rooted at least partly in fact — not mere “puffery,” as the president’s son later said.

In the past week, Ms. Veselnitskaya’s allegations — that major Democratic donors were guilty of financial fraud and tax evasion — have been embraced at the highest levels of the Russian government. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia repeated her charges at length last week at an annual conference of Western academics. A state-run television network recently made them the subject of two special reports, featuring interviews with Ms. Veselnitskaya and Mr. Chaika.

The matching messages point to a synchronized information campaign. Like some other Russian experts, Stephen Blank, a senior fellow with the nonprofit American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, said they indicate that Ms. Veselnitskaya’s actions “were coordinated from the very top.”

Read the rest at the NYT.

I also want to call attention to this NYT story from late Thursday: U.S. Soldiers Were Separated From Unit in Niger Ambush, Officials Say.

In the chaotic moments after an Army Special Forces team and 30 Nigerien troops were ambushed by militants in a remote corner of West Africa three weeks ago, four of the Americans were separated from the larger group.

Their squad mates immediately alerted commanders that they were under attack — then called for help nearly an hour later, as a top Pentagon official said this week — and ground forces from Niger’s army and French Mirage jets were both dispatched.

About two hours later, the firefight tapering off, French helicopters from nearby Mali swooped in to the rescue on the rolling wooded terrain. But they retrieved only seven of the 11 Americans. The four others were inexplicably left behind, no longer in radio contact and initially considered missing in action by the Pentagon, a status that officials say raises the possibility they were still alive when the helicopters took off without them.

United States officials insisted that other American, French and Nigerien forces were in the area when the helicopters lifted off. When Americans suffer casualties in an operation, the wounded are typically evacuated before the dead, officials said.

The bodies of three dead Americans and the team’s interpreter were found hours later. But American military officials still cannot explain why it took two more days and an exhaustive search by troops from all three countries to find the body of the fourth soldier, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, discovered by Nigerien troops in the woods near the ambush site.

 

This morning The Wall Street Journal reports that a request that an armed drone accompany the mission was denied. The story is behind a paywall, but here’s the report from The Hill: Forces in Niger denied use of armed drone: report.

A request by U.S. military officials to send an armed drone near a patrol of Green Berets in Niger before a deadly ambush earlier this month was denied, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

That the request was blocked in the approval process – which goes through the Pentagon, State Department and the Nigerien government – throws into further question whether the Green Berets had adequate cover on the Oct. 4 mission that ended in the deaths of four U.S. soldiers.

Since the ambush, the troops’ mission has been revealed to have been potentially more dangerous than U.S. officials initially let on….

According to the Journal, that assignment was considered relatively low-risk, and there hadn’t been any attacks on U.S. forces in the area in the past year.

But that the U.S. sought to send an armed drone to the area suggests that military officials were aware of a change in the security situation in the country, the Journal reported.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great weekend. On Monday it will be Mueller time!


Lazy Saturday Reads: Epic Disasters and Russia Investigation News

Couch on the Porch by Frederick Childe Hassam

Good Morning!!

The news today is full of disasters, and it looks like that will continue over the weekend.

The New York Times has live updates on Hurricane Irma: Hurricane Irma Live Updates: ‘The Storm Is Here,’ Florida Governor Says.

Hurricane Irma churned toward Florida on Saturday, leaving a trail of death and destruction across the Caribbean and prompting one of the largest emergency evacuations in American history.

The storm shifted west, putting the Florida Keys in its cross hairs and prompting officials to open more shelters. By 7 a.m., the outer bands of Irma had begun moving into Miami-Dade County.

“Expect damaging winds and heavy rain,” the National Weather Service warned.

At least 20 people were confirmed dead by Friday night, when Irma made landfall in Cuba as a Category 5, lashing the island’s northern coast with a direct hit.

The hurricane was downgraded to Category 4 around 5 a.m. but was expected to strengthen before reaching Florida. About 5.6 million people — more than a quarter of the state’s population — have been ordered to leave their homes.

“The storm is here,” Gov. Rick Scott said at news conference Saturday morning, noting that 25,000 people had already lost power.

He said the storm surge could reach 12 feet. “This will cover your house,” he said. “You will not survive all this storm surge.”

The Boston Globe: How Hurricane Irma became so huge and destructive.

Claude Monet (1840-1926)

As Hurricane Irma barrels dangerously toward Florida, scientists say that a perfect mix of meteorological conditions has conspired over the past week to make the storm unusually large and powerful.

“You need just the right ingredients for a hurricane of this magnitude to last for so long,” said Phil Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University. “And Irma has had them all.”

Weather forecasters had already expected this summer to be an active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean because of warmer-than-average ocean surface temperatures, which provide fuel for hurricanes, as well as weaker-than-average wind shear, which can help to dissipate storms.

But even in that context, Irma was special.

Read the rest at the Globe.

Also worth reading is this meditation on Florida’s history by Michael Gruenwald at Politico: A Requiem for Florida, the Paradise That Should Never Have Been.

ORLANDO, Fla.—The first Americans to spend much time in South Florida were the U.S. Army men who chased the Seminole Indians around the peninsula in the 1830s. And they hated it. Today, their letters read like Yelp reviews of an arsenic café, denouncing the region as a “hideous,” “loathsome,” “diabolical,” “God-abandoned” mosquito refuge.

“Florida is certainly the poorest country that ever two people quarreled for,” one Army surgeon wrote. “It was the most dreary and pandemonium-like region I ever visited, nothing but barren wastes.” An officer summarized it as “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.” The future president Zachary Taylor, who commanded U.S. troops there for two years, groused that he wouldn’t trade a square foot of Michigan or Ohio for a square mile of Florida. The consensus among the soldiers was that the U.S. should just leave the area to the Indians and the mosquitoes; as one general put it, “I could not wish them all a worse place.” Or as one lieutenant complained: “Millions of money has been expended to gain this most barren, swampy, and good-for-nothing peninsula.”

Edmond François Aman-Jean (French artist, 1858–1936) Women Reading 1922

Today, Florida’s southern thumb has been transformed into a subtropical paradise for millions of residents and tourists, a sprawling megalopolis dangling into the Gulf Stream that could sustain hundreds of billions of dollars in damage if Hurricane Irma makes a direct hit. So it’s easy to forget that South Florida was once America’s last frontier, generally dismissed as an uninhabitable and undesirable wasteland, almost completely unsettled well after the West was won. “How far, far out of the world it seems,” Iza Hardy wrote in an 1887 book called Oranges and Alligators: Sketches of South Florida. And Hardy ventured only as far south as Orlando, which is actually central Florida, nearly 250 miles north of Miami. Back then, only about 300 hardy pioneers lived in modern-day South Florida. Miami wasn’t even incorporated as a city until 1896. And even then an early visitor declared that if he owned Miami and hell, he would rent out Miami and live in hell.

Head over to Politico to read the rest.

Mexico is dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake. NBC News: Mexico Earthquake Death Toll Climbs as Dozens Sleep on Streets.

JUCHITAN, Mexico — The death toll from one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in Mexico rose to at least 61 early Saturday as workers scrambled to respond to the destruction just as Hurricane Katia struck its coastline.

The 8.1 quake off the southern Pacific coast just before midnight Thursday toppled hundreds of buildings in several states. Hardest-hit was Juchitan, Oaxaca, where 36 people died and a third of the city’s homes collapsed or were otherwise rendered uninhabitable, President Enrique Pena Nieto said late Friday in an interview with the Televisa news network.

Edward Dufner (1871-1957), USA, 1938

In downtown Juchitan, the remains of brick walls and clay tile roofs cluttered streets as families dragged mattresses onto sidewalks to spend a second anxious night sleeping outdoors. Some were newly homeless, while others feared further aftershocks could topple their cracked adobe dwellings.

“We are all collapsed, our homes and our people,” said Rosa Elba Ortiz Santiago, 43, who sat with her teenage son and more than a dozen neighbors on an assortment of chairs. “We are used to earthquakes, but not of this magnitude.”

And that’s not all.

Even as she spoke, across the country, Hurricane Katia was roaring onshore north of Tecolutla in Veracruz state, pelting the region with intense rains and winds.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center reported Katia’s maximum sustained winds had dropped to 75 mph, making it a Category 1 storm when it made landfall. And it rapidly weakened even further over land into a tropical storm. The center said Katia was expected to dissipate over the course of Saturday.

But it was still expected to bring life-threatening floods and storm surge off the Gulf of Mexico, though the extent of the storm’s impact was unclear in the dark of night.

The Washington Post: Jose, ‘still a dangerous Category 4 hurricane,’ threatens second blow to Irma-ravaged islands.

CABARET, Haiti — Hurricane Jose, a powerhouse tropical cyclone barreling northwest toward the Caribbean islands already hammered by Irma, is now a “little weaker but still a dangerous Category 4 hurricane,” officials said.

The National Hurricane Center said Saturday morning that Jose’s maximum sustained wind speed is at 145 mph, as the storm churned toward the northern Leeward Islands. That’s down by 10 mph from late Friday, when officials said the hurricane was just shy of a Category 5 storm. Forecasters, however, cautioned that “some fluctuation in intensity, up or down, could occur during the next 24 hours.”

A hurricane warning is in effect for Sint Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barts.

Nora Heysen (1911-2003) London breakfast, 1935

Barbuda, which had been obliterated by Irma, has been downgraded to a tropical storm warning, the hurricane center said. The islands of Anguilla, Saba and St. Eustatius are also under a tropical storm warning.

Antigua and the British Virgin Islands are under a tropical storm watch.

Once Jose passes the northern Leeward Islands, Jose is projected to hook north and steadily lose muscle. It will, however, likely throw off tropical-storm strength weather felt Saturday night in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, which also sustained heavy damage during Irma.

The disasters caused by Hurricane Harvey have fallen off the front pages, but here’s an update at The New York Times: In Houston After the Storm, a City Split in Two.

HOUSTON — Natural disasters are capricious, carving a hopscotching path of destruction that can swamp one neighborhood but spare another, destroy a city block but leave one lone house untouched.

Across swaths of Houston, buzzing lawn mowers, crowded running paths and reopened Tex-Mex restaurants dishing out queso dip are the mile markers of a dried-out city hustling back to business.

Standing woman, reading under a tree René de Groux

But Nikki Thomason’s Houston feels like a different city altogether, one where Harvey never left.

Nearly two weeks had passed since the storm blew through, but on Thursday, brown, rancid water still filled the streets around her home in the Thornwood neighborhood, eddying around her front door and lapping at her living room windows.

“There’s two Houstons right now,” Ms. Thomason, 37, said. “We’re watching all these people begin to rebuild their lives and we’re stuck in this weird purgatory. We can’t even get our things.”

After a storm as widespread and devastating as Hurricane Harvey, which ground much of Texas to a dead stop for days and caused at least 60 deaths and up to $180 billion in damage, regular life in Houston now comes with a twinge of survivor’s guilt. It is only amplified by the knowledge that even as Houston cleans up, Florida is bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma.

In Russia investigation news, Bob Mueller has signaled his intention to question Trump current and former staffers. The Washington Post: Mueller gives White House names of 6 aides he expects to question in Russia probe.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has alerted the White House that his team will probably seek to interview six top current and former advisers to President Trump who were witnesses to several episodes relevant to the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the request.

Mueller’s interest in the aides, including trusted adviser Hope Hicks, former press secretary Sean Spicer and former chief of staff Reince Priebus, reflects how the probe that has dogged Trump’s presidency is starting to penetrate a closer circle of aides around the president.

John Lavery (Irish Painter, 1856-1941) Girl in a Red Dress Reading by a Swimming Pool

Each of the six advisers was privy to important internal discussions that have drawn the interest of Mueller’s investigators, according to people familiar with the probe, including his decision in May to fire FBI Director James B. Comey. Also of interest is the White House’s initial inaction after warnings about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s December discussions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States….

Roughly four weeks ago, the special counsel’s team provided the White House with the names of the first group of current and former Trump advisers and aides whom investigators expect to question.

In addition to Priebus, Spicer and Hicks, Mueller has notified the White House he will probably seek to question White House counsel Don McGahn and one of his deputies, James Burnham. Mueller’s office has also told the White House that investigators may want to interview Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

From expert on Russia Anne Applebaum at the Washington Post: The case for Trump-Russia collusion: We’re getting very, very close.

We now know the motives. In backing Donald Trump, Russia’s oligarchical class sought not only to disrupt U.S. politics but also to reverse sanctions, both those applied in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and those connected to the Magnitsky Act, which targeted officials involved in human rights violations. In seeking Russian support, Trump sought not only to become president but also to make money: Even as he launched his presidential campaign, he hoped to receive a major influx of money from a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.

Frank Dicey (1838-1888) The Novel, A Lady in a Garden reading a book.

Along with the motives, we know the methods. As the New York Times has just graphically demonstrated, professional Russian Internet trolls, probably operating out of St. Petersburg, set up hundreds of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts during the election campaign. The trolls then posted thousands of fake stories, memes and slogans, supported anti-Clinton hashtags and narratives, and linked back to DCLeaks, the website that posted emails that Russian hackers stole from the Clinton campaign.  The emails “revealed” by that hack were utterly banal. But the fake operatives said they contained “hidden truths,” hinted that they were part of a secret “Soros” operation, after liberal financier George Soros, and persuaded people to click. This is a method Russian operatives had used before. Previous elections, in Poland and Ukraine, demonstrated that stolen material — any stolen material — can be used to foment conspiracy theories that never die.

We know what happened next: The fake stories, memes and slogans moved from the network of Russian-sponsored “American” accounts into the networks of real Americans. Some, such as “pizzagate,” the theory that Hillary Clinton was part of a pedophile ring being run out of Washington pizza parlor, got a lot of attention. Others, such as the theory that Barack Obama founded the Islamic State, or the theory that the Google search engine was working on Clinton’s behalf, got less attention but were notable for another reason: They were not only promoted on the fake Russian network, which bought advertising in order to push them further, but also were promoted on open Russian news networks, including the Sputnik English-language news services. Afterwards, they were repeated, also openly, by candidate Trump.

Click on the link to read more.

So . . . what stories are you following today?