Tuesday Reads: 97 Days Until November 3

Good Morning!!

Trump personal attorney Bill Bar will testify before the House Judiciary Committee today. The hearing will begin around 10:45. I should watch it, but I’m going to spare myself that maddening experience. Megan Mineiro of Courthouse News will be tweeting about it, so I’ll check her timeline for updates.

Barr has released his opening statement. CNN: Barr calls Russia scandal ‘bogus,’ says he acts independently of Trump in blistering opening statement: Barr calls Russia scandal ‘bogus,’ says he acts independently of Trump in blistering opening statement.

In Barr’s prepared remarks, which were provided to CNN by the Justice Department on Monday, the attorney general says he has acted independently of President Donald Trump in the decisions he’s made in several criminal cases he’s handled.

“Ever since I made it clear that I was going to do everything I could to get to the bottom of the grave abuses involved in the bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal, many of the Democrats on this Committee have attempted to discredit me by conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the President’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions. Judging from the letter inviting me to this hearing, that appears to be your agenda today,” Barr says in his written remarks.

Barr’s testimony on Tuesday is his first before the House Judiciary Committee, where Democrats have accused him of committing numerous abuses. It comes after he did not appear at a hearing before the panel last year and a March date was postponed. Democrats plan to push Barr on his intervention into the prosecutions of two Trump allies, his move last month to oust a prominent and powerful US attorney, and the Justice Department’s use of force against protesters to Barr’s threats to state and local officials over their handling of coronavirus. A Democratic committee counsel told reporters Monday that Democratic lawmakers will seek to paint Barr as repeatedly overruling career staff to serve the President’s interests first.

Barr will also face questions on his role in the administration’s crackdown on the protests across the country that followed George Floyd’s killing in May, including the decision to forcibly disperse a peaceful demonstration at Lafayette Square in June and the dispatching of federal officers to Portland, Oregon, where rioters have clashed with authorities nightly outside a complex of federal buildings.

In his opening statement, Barr said the President “has not attempted to interfere” in the criminal decisions he’s made, which would include lessening the sentencing recommendation for Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone and to move to dismiss charges against Trump’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn.

He’s lying, of course. Just Security: “He’s Lying.” New Book Reveals Havoc Bill Barr Wrought Inside Congress.

On Tuesday morning, when Attorney General William Barr finally appears before the House Judiciary Committee, a book will be released covering one of Barr’s most controversial and most consequential actions to date: the attorney general’s grossly misleading summary of the Mueller Report.

The book’s author is Ambassador Norman Eisen, who served as special counsel to the Judiciary Committee during the impeachment hearings of Donald J. Trump. His was not simply a ringside seat; Eisen was a key player. That’s why this behind-the-scenes account sheds new light on the history-shaping impact of Barr’s actions.

“He’s lying.” Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler privately told Eisen and other staff as they tried to make sense of Barr’s 4-page summary without the benefit of the Mueller Report itself. The Chairman “saw right through Barr’s fabrications and was blunt about it,” writes Eisen in the book.

Not everyone else did. Former FBI Director James Comey said in a CNN interview at the time that “Bill Barr, our attorney general, deserves the benefit of the doubt.”

Nadler would be proven correct once the Mueller Report was released, but that would be more than three weeks later—a lifetime in American politics. And it would be almost an exact year before a federal court would weigh in. Judge Reggie B. Walton used part of his opinion in March of this year to call out Barr for the attorney general’s “misleading” and “distorted” account of Mueller’s findings.

That was a harsh assessment with added weight due to its legal significance. As Lisa Gilbert observed at Just Security, “To underscore the significance of Judge Walton’s findings: Barr’s summary of the Mueller Report was not simply a lie told to the media or public. It was a statement Barr submitted to Congress.”

More books about Trump’s and Barr’s corrupt behavior are coming. Andrew Weissmann, one of the top prosecutors in the Mueller investigation has a book coming out on September 29. And now a book by Trump FBI nemesis Peter Strzok has been announced. AP: Ex-FBI agent Strzok due out with book about Trump, Russia.

Former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, who played a key role in the Russia investigation but whose pejorative text messages about Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign made him a target of the president’s wrath, is releasing a book on his concerns the president could be compromised.

“Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump” is due out Sept. 8, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books & Media said in a statement to The Associated Press.

The book will offer an insider’s view on some of the most sensational and politically freighted investigations in modern American history, including into whether the 2016 Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to sway the presidential election. Due out two months before the November election, the book adds to the list of first-person accounts from other senior FBI and Justice Department officials during the Trump era.

“Russia has long regarded the United States as its ‘Main Enemy,’ and I spent decades trying to protect our country from their efforts to weaken and undermine us,” Strzok said Tuesday in a statement accompanying the book announcement.

“In this book,” he added, “I use that background to explain how the elevation by President Trump and his collaborators of Trump’s own personal interests over the interests of the country allowed Putin to succeed beyond Stalin’s wildest dreams, and how the national security implications of Putin’s triumph will persist through our next election and beyond.”

Remember when Trump claimed he was invited to throw out the first pitch at a NY Yankees game and later cancelled the appearance because he supposedly is working so hard to defeat the coronavirus pandemic? It turns out the Yankees never actually invited him. The New York Times: Trump Announced, Then Canceled, a Yankees Pitch. Both Came as a Surprise.

An hour before Dr. Anthony S. Fauci threw the first pitch at the season opener between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals, President Trump stood on the briefing room stage at the White House and declared that he, too, had been invited to throw out his own opening pitch.

“Randy Levine is a great friend of mine from the Yankees,” Mr. Trump, referring to the president of the baseball team, told reporters on Thursday as Dr. Fauci was preparing to take the mound. “And he asked me to throw out the first pitch, and I think I’m doing that on Aug. 15 at Yankee Stadium.”

There was one problem: Mr. Trump had not actually been invited on that day by the Yankees, according to one person with knowledge of Mr. Trump’s schedule. His announcement surprised both Yankees officials and the White House staff.

But Mr. Trump had been so annoyed by Dr. Fauci’s turn in the limelight, an official familiar with his reaction said, that he had directed his aides to call Yankees officials and make good on a longtime standing offer from Mr. Levine to throw out an opening pitch. No date was ever finalized.

Trump just can’t stand it when he isn’t the center of attention. He took a break last night from his “hard work” to retweet vile conspiracy theories that were removed by both Facebookand

The Washington Post: Facebook deleted a viral video full of false coronavirus claims. Then Trump shared it on Twitter.

On Monday evening, Facebook scrubbed from its site a viral video showing a group of doctors making misleading and false claims about the coronavirus pandemic after more than 14 million people had watched it. Hours later, President Trump tweeted out multiple clips of the same video to his 84.2 million followers.

Trump shared the video — which claims that face masks and lockdowns are not needed to stop the disease — as he shared 14 tweets over a half-hour span defending the use of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug that the president has repeatedly promoted, and attacking Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert.

Twitter soon followed Facebook and YouTube in removing the videos, deleting several of the tweets that Trump shared, and even adding a note to its trending topics warning about the potential risks of hydroxychloroquine use….

The video Trump shared Monday night showed a collection of doctors speaking in favor of treating covid-19 patients with the antimalarial drug. The clip focused on the testimony of a woman named Stella Immanuel, who received a medical license in Texas last November, according to state records. The doctor did not return a request for comment.

NBC News: Twitter removes tweet highlighted by Trump falsely claiming COVID-19 ‘cure.’

Twitter removed a tweet that had been retweeted by President Donald Trump that falsely said that there was a cure for the coronavirus.

Late Monday night, Trump retweeted the tweet from an account with the handle “@stella_immanuel” that said: “Covid has cure. America wake up.”

Twitter soon after removed the tweet and replaced it with a gray box that says, “This Tweet is no longer available.”

A cure for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, doesn’t exist and scientists have been working on developing both a range of treatments as well as vaccines. They and the Trump administration are racing to have a vaccine ready by the end of the year….

Trump also retweeted tweets defending the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine, including one that accused Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, of misleading the public by dismissing the drug.

“Doctor” Immanuel has quite a resume. The Daily Beast: Trump’s New Favorite COVID Doctor Believes in Alien DNA, Demon Sperm, and Hydroxychloroquine.

A Houston doctor who praises hydroxychloroquine and says that face masks aren’t necessary to stop transmission of the highly contagious coronavirus has become a star on the right-wing internet, garnering tens of millions of views on Facebook on Monday alone. Donald Trump Jr. declared the video of Stella Immanuel a “must watch,” while Donald Trump himself retweeted the video.

Before Trump and his supporters embrace Immanuel’s medical expertise, though, they should consider other medical claims Immanuel has made—including those about alien DNA and the physical effects of having sex with witches and demons in your dreams.

Immanuel, a pediatrician and a religious minister, has a history of making bizarre claims about medical topics and other issues. She has often claimed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches.

She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by “reptilians” and other aliens.

Immanuel gave her viral speech on the steps of the Supreme Court at the “White Coat Summit,” a gathering of a handful of doctors who call themselves America’s Frontline Doctors and dispute the medical consensus on the novel coronavirus. The event was organized by the right-wing group Tea Party Patriots, which is backed by wealthy Republican donors.

Read more at the link.

That’s all from me today. What stories are you following?


Thursday Reads: Pink Houses For You And Me (Ain’t That America?)

By Richard Ernst Eurich

Good Morning!!

The fake “president” claims to love the Second Amendment, but he’s not so fond of the First Amendment–or, for that matter, the Constitution itself.

Trump is trying to take steps to shut down free speech.

Reuters: Trump executive order takes aim at social media firms: draft.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to order a review of a law that has long protected Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet’s Google from being responsible for the material posted by their users, according to a draft executive order and a source familiar with the situation.

News of the order comes after Trump threatened to shut down websites he accused of stifling conservative voices. It follows a dispute with Twitter after the company decided to tag Trump’s tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.

The order, a draft copy of which was seen by Reuters, could change before it is finalized. On Wednesday, officials said Trump will sign an executive order on social media companies on Thursday. It was not, however, listed on Trump’s official schedule for Thursday released by the White House.

What’s in the draft order?

The executive order would call for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to propose and clarify regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law largely exempting online platforms from legal liability for the material their users post. Such changes could expose tech companies to more lawsuits.

The pink house, Newburyport, MA, by Melissa Abbott

The order asks the FCC to examine whether actions related to the editing of content by social media companies should potentially lead to the firms forfeiting their protections under section 230.

It requires the agency to look at whether a social media platform uses deceptive policies to moderate content and if its policies are inconsistent with its terms of service.

The draft order also states that the White House Office of Digital Strategy will re-establish a tool to help citizens report cases of online censorship. The tool will collect complaints of online censorship and submit them to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

It requires the FTC to look into whether complaints violate the law, develop a report describing such complaints and make the report publicly available….

The draft order also requires the attorney general to establish a working group including state attorneys general that will examine the enforcement of state laws that prohibit online platforms from engaging in unfair and deceptive acts.

Congressional Republicans are helping out. The Hill: Republicans working on legislation to strip Twitter of federal liability protections.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) on Wednesday separately announced they were both working on legislation to strip Twitter of federal protections that ensure the company is not held liable for what is posted on its platform.

The lawmakers began work on legislation following Twitter’s decision to add warnings to two tweets by President Trump this week in which he railed against California’s decision to expand mail-in voting. Trump tweeted without evidence that mail-in voting could increase voter fraud.

Plum Island Pink, by Heather Karp

Both Hawley and Gaetz argued that Twitter’s decision to flag the tweets called its legal liability protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act into question. Section 230 protects social media platforms from facing lawsuits over what users post.

Hawley sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Wednesday questioning why the platform should be given Section 230 protections and tweeted that he would soon introduce legislation to end “government giveaways” under the legal shield.

“If @Twitter wants to editorialize & comment on users’ posts, it should be divested of its special status under federal law (Section 230) & forced to play by same rules as all other publishers,” Hawley tweeted. “Fair is fair.”

Hawley questioned Dorsey on whether Twitter’s “fact check” was part of an effort to “target the President for political reasons” and raised concerns that Twitter fact-checkers were biased against Trump.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted yesterday that Twitter will continue to correct false information about elections that is posted to his platform.

From the Associated Press: Trump continues to claim broad powers he doesn’t have.

Threatening to shut down Twitter for flagging false content. Claiming he can “override” governors who dare to keep churches closed to congregants. Asserting the “absolute authority” to force states to reopen, even when local leaders say it’s too soon.

As he battles the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump has been claiming extraordinarily sweeping powers that legal scholars say the president simply doesn’t have. And he has repeatedly refused to spell out the legal basis for those powers….

First it was Trump’s assertion that he could force governors to reopen their economies before they felt ready. “When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he claimed.

Pink House, by Julia Kamenskikh

Trump soon dropped the threat, saying he would instead leave such decisions to the states. But he has revived the idea in recent days as he has tried to pressure governors to allow churches and other places of worship to hold in-person services, even where stay-at-home orders and other limits on large gatherings remain in effect.

Asked Tuesday what authority he had to enforce such a mandate, Trump was cagey.

“I can absolutely do it if I want to,” he said. “We have many different ways where I can override them and if I have to, I’ll do that.”

Trump simply doesn’t care about any constitutional limits on his powers. He will continue to push the limits and get away with more than any past president.

Trump “certainly does not have the power under any reasonable reading of the Constitution or federalism to order places of worship to open,” said Matthew Dallek, a historian at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management who specializes in the use of presidential power.

But Dallek said that just because Trump doesn’t have the authority to do most of the things he’s threatened, doesn’t mean he won’t, for instance, try to sign executive orders taking such action anyway — even if they are later struck down by the courts.

“What has limited Trump previously? Not very much. So I think he will do whatever seems to be in his best interest at any particular moment,” Dallek said.

Trump, he said, also could try to abuse his powers to leverage other instruments of government, from the Department of Justice to the IRS, to push for investigations or launch regulatory crackdowns to punish states, cities or companies. Trump also has showed he’s willing to exercise powers that modern presidents have largely avoided, including his recent purging of inspectors general.

Brian Klaas at The Washington Post: Why does Trump get away with everything?

In January 2016, Donald Trump said something unintentionally profound: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” We’ll hopefully never find out whether Trump really could get away with murder. But we now know he can at least falsely accuse someone of murder without triggering a political exodus.

Pink House, by Carol Bouville

This “Fifth Avenue problem” is a central puzzle of the Trump presidency. Somehow, Trump can tweet something that would destroy any other politician when he wakes up, and it’s forgotten by lunchtime.

Don’t believe me? In the last week, Trump didn’t just make a false accusation of murder. He also praised one of the United States’ most virulent anti-Semites as a man who bestowed “good bloodlines” on his descendants. He retweeted a man who called Hillary Clinton, the first woman to be a major-party candidate for president, a “skank.” Trump shared an image with Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as House speaker, with duct tape over her mouth and then mocked her physical appearance. And he repeatedly fabricated lies about voter fraud.

If Joe Biden behaved like that, it would destroy his career. But when Trump does it, it has no significant impact on his support. His depravity is now just widely assumed. It’s baked in.

That presents a paradox: The last three years have felt like we’re collectively strapped into the world’s worst roller coaster — of endless scandals, tweets in search of reality and new lows for presidential conduct. Yet for all those disorienting twists and turns,and the seemingly endless plunge of presidential standards, Trump’s approval rating has remained pretty much the same.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

We passed a terrible milestone yesterday, and that is likely the reason for Trump’s attempts to distracts us with his wannabe dictator claims.

Meghan O’Rourke at The Atlantic: Grappling With a Terrible Milestone: One Hundred Thousand Dead.

That number—100,000 dead from the coronavirus—is hard to grasp. For those who have lost someone, the pandemic’s scope is not just a statistic; within the abstraction lies an intimately life-changing event. For the rest of us, it is a fact we must try to wrestle into perspective. One hundred thousand people is nearly the population of the city I now live in; it is a neighborhood’s worth of people in Brooklyn, my longtime home; it is perhaps 10 times the total number of people most of us will cross paths with in our entire lives. It is graveyard upon graveyard upon graveyard. It is mass burials at Hart Island, bodies stacked in refrigerated trucks outside hospitals and nursing homes. It is PTSD for the nurses and doctors in the hardest-hit areas. Mostly, it is the shocking echo that follows the loss of even one person: zero, zero, zero, zero, zero. A lament: O, O, O, O, O.

Please go read the whole essay at The Atlantic.

Melinda Saminski The Pink House in Cape May

Ed Pilkington at The Guardian: As 100,000 die, the virus lays bare America’s brutal fault lines – race, gender, poverty and broken politics.

A country that prides itself on its exceptionalism can now without ambiguity claim that title for its experience of the virus. The United States stands head and shoulders at the top of the world league table of confirmed cases, as well as the total number of deaths.

There will be much to analyse in coming years about how the US responded to this contagion, including how many lives have been lost needlessly as a result of Trump’s maverick response.

Already one lesson of the pandemic is clear: America’s deep and brutal fault lines – of race, partisanship, gender, poverty and misinformation – rendered the country ill-prepared to meet the challenges of this disease. The ravages of Covid-19 have revealed the deep cracks in the glittering facade of the richest and most powerful nation on Earth.

Head over to the Guardian and read the rest.

More stories to check out, links only:

The Washington Post: For a numbers-obsessed Trump, there’s one he has tried to ignore: 100,000 dead.

Tony Schwartz at Medium: The Psychopath in Chief.

NBC News: George Floyd protest turns deadly; Minneapolis mayor requests National Guard.

MPR News: Photos: Fires, looting devastate Minneapolis after George Floyd’s death.

The Washington Post: ‘This invokes a history of terror’: Central Park incident between white woman and black man is part of a fraught legacy.

The New York Times: Trump’s ‘Horrifying Lies’ About Lori Klausutis May Cross a Legal Line.

NBC News: Asymptomatic COVID-19 cases may be more common than suspected.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?

 


Thursday Reads: Another Crazy Day in Trump World

Good Morning!!

Trump apparently worked himself up into a frenzy last night. He woke up an sent out a series of angry tweets, in one of which he admitted for the first time that Russia helped him get elected. He actually deleted the first tweet but sent out another in which he made the same admission.

A little later Trump emerged from the White House and unleashed a rage-filled 17 minute rant in which he angrily denigrated Robert Mueller. He also contradicted his own tweet, claiming that Russia didn’t help him in 2016.

The Washington Post: Trump attacks Mueller, says he would have brought charges if he had evidence of a crime.

“Robert Mueller should have never been chosen,” Trump said of the former special counsel, who was appointed by former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein, a Republican Trump appointee.

Trump told reporters that he considered Mueller “totally conflicted” because he had discussions about the position of FBI director early in the Trump administration and is friendly with former FBI director James B. Comey, whom Trump fired in 2017.

“He loves Comey,” Trump claimed. “Whether it’s love or a deep like, he was conflicted.” [….]

Trump also cited a “business dispute” with Mueller on which he did not elaborate. In the past, White House aides have pointed to an alleged dispute over membership fees at Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia….

“You know who got me elected? I got me elected,” he said. “Russia didn’t help me at all. Russia, if anything, I think, helped the other side.” [….]

In his comments to reporters, Trump downplayed the prospect of impeachment. A growing number of Democrats were advocating that course on Wednesday after Mueller’s appearance.

“It’s a dirty, filthy disgusting word and it has nothing to do with me,” Trump said. “There was no high crime and there was no misdemeanor.”

This morning’s rant continued as Trump unleashed a number of insults about McCain and how Trump was “never a fan.” He also denied demanding that John McCain’s name be hidden on the U.S. Navy battleship named after McCain’s father and grandfather while Trump was in Japan.

The New York Times: White House Asked Navy to Hide John McCain Warship During Trump’s Visit.

The White House asked the Navy to hide a destroyer named after Senator John McCain in order to avoid having the ship appear in photographs taken while President Trump was visiting Japan this week, White House and military officials said Wednesday.

Although Navy officials insisted they did not hide the ship, the John S. McCain, they did give all of the sailors aboard the day off on Tuesday as Mr. Trump visited Yokosuka Naval Base.

USS Battleship John McCain

Two Navy sailors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that the McCain sailors were not invited to hear Mr. Trump speak that day aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp, while sailors from other American warships at the base were.

A Navy service member based on Yokosuka said that all of the American warships in the harbor were invited to send 60 to 70 sailors to hear Mr. Trump’s address, with the exception of the McCain. When several sailors from the McCain showed up anyway, wearing their uniforms with the ship’s insignia, they were turned away, the service member said.

White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly, confirmed the request was made but said that Mr. Trump did not know about it. A United States official said on Wednesday that the White House sent an email to the Navy with the request on May 15.

[Emphasis added] Raise your hand if you believe Trump had nothing to do with the request.

On the other hand, sailors wearing MAGA patches in support of Trump were allowed to attend the speech.

CNN: Navy reviewing ‘Make Aircrew Great Again’ patches worn by sailors during Trump visit.

The Navy is conducting a review to examine whether President Donald Trump-themed patches worn by sailors on their uniforms during the President’s visit to the USS Wasp violated Navy rules.

“Navy leadership is aware of the incident and reviewing to ensure the patch doesn’t violate DoD policy or uniform regulations,” US Navy spokesperson Lt. Sam Boyle told CNN.
Several service members aboard the USS Wasp were seen wearing the patches when Trump addressed sailors on Tuesday. The patches showed a Trump-like image and the slogan “Make Aircrew Great Again.” [….]

Close-up of the MAGA patch

Military personnel often wear unofficial unit patches, sometimes imbued with humorous images, as part of an effort to build unit cohesion and morale.

However, service members are prohibited from exhibiting political messages while in uniform.
Unit commanders are usually responsible for ensuring that the unofficial patches do not violate military regulations.
Department of Defense guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

Trump faces more legal trouble about that massage parlor owner in Florida Cindy Yang.

The Miami Herald: Federal prosecutors demand Cindy Yang records from Mar-a-Lago, Trump campaign.

Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., this week sent subpoenas to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, and Trump Victory, a political fundraising committee, demanding they turn over all records relating to Republican Party donor Li “Cindy” Yang and several of her associates and companies, the Miami Herald has learned.

Cindy Yang with Donald Trump

Yang, a South Florida massage-parlor entrepreneur, is the target of a public corruption investigation seeking to determine if she funneled money from China to the president’s re-election campaign or otherwise violated campaign-finance laws. She became a GOP donor in the 2016 election cycle and opened a consulting company that promised Chinese businesspeople the chance to attend events at Mar-a-Lago and gain access to Trump and his inner circle. Some of those events were campaign fundraisers that required guests to buy tickets for entry, payments that are considered political contributions. Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to U.S. political campaigns.

Investigators are seeking evidence from Mar-a-Lago and Trump Victory as they build a potential case against Yang and possibly others close to her. The president’s club and the fundraising committee are not the targets of the investigation. The subpoenas cover records from January 2017 to the present. A spokeswoman for Yang did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One subpoena, issued by a federal grand jury in West Palm Beach, compels Mar-a-Lago to turn over all documents, records and communications relating to Yang, as well as 11 other people, one charity and seven companies affiliated with her, according to a person familiar with the investigation who asked for anonymity to discuss an ongoing probe. The people named in that subpoena include Yang’s family members, former employees at her massage parlors and several donors to Trump Victory. Prosecutors were trying to serve the subpoena to Mar-a-Lago through a South Florida law firm, the source said.

The second subpoena, for Trump Victory, was served to attorneys at a Washington, D.C., law firm. It seeks campaign-finance records relating to Yang and her associates.

Click the link to read the rest.

As Trump focuses on attacking the people on his enemies list, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are moving us closer to war with Iran.

USA Today: Escalating Iran crisis looks a lot like the path US took to Iraq war.

March 20, 2003 – War With Iraq – Shock & Awe . . . And Then Invasion.

The U.S. military’s guided bombs brought “shock and awe” to Baghdad in 2003 when American forces invaded Iraq 16 years ago to hunt for weapons of mass destruction. They never found any. Many observers, today, consider that war a failure.

Now, half of all Americans believe the U.S. will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released in late May amid increased tensions between the two countries, longtime geopolitical foes.

The escalating Tehran-Washington crisis comes as the White House claims, without providing detail or public evidence, that Iran poses an increased threat to American forces and facilities in the Middle East – one year after Trump withdrew from an accord between Iran and world powers aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.

Is Iran doomed to be an Iraq redux? This is just one of the questions raised by a crisis that has eerie parallels to the missteps that led to the Iraq War in 2003, where the buildup to conflict was precipitated by faulty intelligence and confrontational foreign policymakers such as John Bolton in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Read all about it at the link above. Meanwhile, does anyone know what Trump foreign policy is?

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Who Speaks for the United States?

Tuesday’s New York Times story on the serious disagreements between President Donald Trump and national security adviser John Bolton misses the bigger picture—namely, that Trump is having disagreements with his entire foreign policy team. To put it another way, it is impossible to say just what U.S. foreign policy is—or, to put it more starkly still, the United States has no foreign policy.

The Times story focuses on disputes over Iran and North Korea.
Bolton has described North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s latest short-range missile tests as violations of a U.N. Security Council resolution; Trump says they’re no big deal. Bolton has called for regime change in Iran; Trump said last week in Japan that he’s fine with the current regime, as long as it stays away from nuclear weapons.

But this dispute involves more players than Trump and Bolton. State Department spokespeople, as well as National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, have said—in agreement with Bolton—that the North Korean tests violated a Security Council resolution. Trump stands utterly alone in his view that Kim is an honorable, trustworthy partner.

On Iran, in contrast with what Trump says now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently laid out 12 preconditions for holding talks. Among the demands were that Tehran stop testing ballistic missiles, stop assisting militias in the region, and make several other concessions that would amount, in effect, to a regime change.

And of course, there are his long-standing disputes, over a host of issues, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, various combatant commands, and pretty much the entire intelligence community.

Imagine if you were a world leader who wants to align, or improve relations, with the United States. What do you do? Do you agree with—and act in ways that advance the policies of—the president, the secretary of state, or the national security adviser? It’s impossible to placate all of them simultaneously. So you begin to wonder: Who speaks for the United States?

Please read the whole thing.

So . . . that’s what’s happening so far this morning. What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Breton Children Reading, Emile Vernon, 1913

Good Afternoon!!

Thank goodness the “holidays” are almost over now, and soon a new year will begin. What will 2018 bring? Will Trump continue his goal of destroying democracy or will we somehow manage to keep it alive? First we have to get through the journalistic ritual of looking back over the year that is ending.

Eugene Robinson posted his evaluation of 2017 last night: Trump’s first year was even worse than feared.

Grit your teeth. Persevere. Just a few more days and this awful, rotten, no-good, ridiculous, rancorous, sordid, disgraceful year in the civic life of our nation will be over. Here’s hoping that we all — particularly special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — have a better 2018.

Many of us began 2017 with the consoling thought that the Donald Trump presidency couldn’t possibly be as bad as we feared. It turned out to be worse.

Did you ever think you would hear a president use the words “very fine people” to describe participants in a torch-lit rally organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan? Did you ever think you would hear a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations thuggishly threaten that she would be “taking names” of countries that did not vote on a General Assembly resolution the way she wanted? Did you ever think the government of the world’s biggest military and economic power would reject not just science but also empiricism itself, preferring to use made-up “alternative facts” as the basis for major decisions?

We knew that Trump was narcissistic and shallow, but on Inauguration Day it was possible to at least hope he was self-aware enough to understand the weight that now rested on his shoulders, and perhaps grow into the job. He did not. If anything, he has gotten worse.

Read the rest at The Washington Post.

Paul Krugman still has hope: America Is Not Yet Lost.

Auguste reading to her daughter, by Mary Cassatt

Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected; he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office, morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party — including so-called moderates — turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have expected. At this point it’s evidently composed entirely of cynical apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle — and every shred of their own dignity — as long as their donors get big tax cuts.

Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda….

What we’ve seen instead is the emergence of a highly energized resistance. That resistance made itself visible literally the day after Trump took office, with the huge women’s marches that took place on Jan. 21, dwarfing the thin crowds at the inauguration. If American democracy survives this terrible episode, I vote that we make pink pussy hats the symbol of our delivery from evil….

Let’s be clear: America as we know it is still in mortal danger. Republicans still control all the levers of federal power, and never in the course of our nation’s history have we been ruled by people less trustworthy.

This obviously goes for Trump himself, who is clearly a dictator wannabe, with no respect whatsoever for democratic norms. But it also goes for Republicans in Congress, who have demonstrated again and again that they will do nothing to limit his actions. They have backed him up as he uses his office to enrich himself and his cronies, as he foments racial hatred, as he attempts a slow-motion purge of the Justice Department and the F.B.I.

I count it as a good sign that journalists are coming right out and calling Trump a wannabe dictator. Also a good sign: both Robinson and Krugman acknowledge that if we are to survive Trump, women’s leadership will be the reason. How ironic that a woman had to be excoriated and mocked by abusive male journalists for this awakening of women’s power to happen.

Jan Van Eyck – Madonna with the Child Reading (1433)

It’s also a good sign that journalists finally recognized the Russian threat, although this only happened after a monster was installed as POTUS. Yesterday The Washington Post published a breathtaking analysis of what the Russians accomplished last year and the danger they still pose to our democracy: Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options. Here’s a brief excerpt; please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.

One previously unreported order — a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats — prompted U.S. spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat. But one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act, intelligence officials said….

The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential electiontrace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a “third-rate regional power” that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery.

Senior U.S. officials didn’t think Russia would dare shift its focus to the United States.

“I thought our ground was not as fertile,” said Antony J. Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. “We believed that the truth shall set you free, that the truth would prevail. That proved a bit naive.”

Much more at the WaPo link.

From former CIA Deputy Director and Acting Director Michael Morrell: Russia never stopped its cyberattacks on the United States.

Every first-year international-relations student learns about the importance of deterrence: It prevented a Soviet invasion of Western Europe during the height of the Cold War. It prevented North Korea from invading South Korea in the same time frame. Today, it keeps Iran from starting a hot war in the Middle East or other nations from initiating cyberattacks against our infrastructure.

The Reader, by Federico Zandomeneghi (Italian, 1841)

And yet, the United States has failed to establish deterrence in the aftermath of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. We know we failed because Russia continues to aggressively employ the most significant aspect of its 2016 tool kit: the use of social media as a platform to disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation.

There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social-media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections. But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election and they continue to this day.

This should alarm everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. Foreign governments, overtly or covertly, should not be allowed to play with our democracy.

Read about the continuing threats from Russia at the WaPo link.

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Jonathan Peters reports on the work of NYT master’s student to examine Trump’s Twitter attacks on the media.

Trump’s prolificacy on Twitter is well documented, and some of his press-related tweets have captured vast public attention. For example, Trump tweeted in July a doctored video in which he wrestled a man whose head had been replaced by the CNN logo. It got hundreds of thousands of retweets.

Off Twitter, of course, Trump has waged a rhetorical war on the press, threatening to sue various newspapers and calling journalists “the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” all while characterizing as “fake news” any story he dislikes.

That’s what prompted an NYU master’s student to start tracking Trump’s tweets critical of the press. “I took it on as a labor of love and hate, and I suffered through his tweets every few days to log them,” says Stephanie Sugars, who is pursuing a joint MA in journalism and international relations. “It seemed important to maintain a record of what has appeared to be a deliberate and sustained campaign to discredit the media as an institution.”

By Zulia Gotay de Anderson

Sugars was working as a researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists last spring when she created the Trump-tweet spreadsheet that she recently shared with me. She was helping to launch a website that documents press freedom incidents in the US. (CJR is a partner.) Originally, she and others at CPJ thought it would include not only arrests and equipment seizures but also anti-press social media posts.

“That just wasn’t manageable,” Sugars says. “We decided to pare the site back and not focus on tweets. I kept up with the spreadsheet, though, and continued to add to it, even after leaving [CPJ] when my term as a researcher there ended.”

Peters then assigned his students a the University of Georgia to “review the spreadsheet and to help me identify notable items and trends in the data.” Read the rest at the CJR link to see the results.

One more interesting read: could Ivanka be in trouble with the law? GQ: Ivanka Trump’s Old Jewelry Business Is Now Caught Up in an Alleged Fraud Scheme. Author Ben Schreckenger begins by asking, “Why do people looking to launder money seem to find Trump family businesses so appealing?”

Throw a dart at a map of the world and there’s a solid chance it will land near a spot where a Trump family business has allegedly gotten caught up in a money laundering scheme.

There’s Panama, where the Trump Ocean Club is said to have washed dirty cash for Russian gangsters and South American drug cartels. There’s Azerbaijan and the Trump Baku, where the money allegedly being laundered was said to belong to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. And of course, there’s the Trump Soho in Manhattan, a magnet for money from Kazakhstan and Russia, and a property that one former executive on the project now calls “a monument to spectacularly corrupt money-laundering and tax evasion.”

In each of those cases, the Trump Organization has denied any wrongdoing and has sought to distance itself—and the Trump family—from the property, saying they merely licensed ​the Trump name. But as it turns out, it’s not just Trump-branded real estate developments that perhaps have attracted the wrong kinds of money.

Thanks to an overlooked filing made in federal court this past summer, we can now add a jewelry business to the list of Trump family enterprises that allegedly served as vehicles to fraudulently hide the assets of ultra-rich foreigners with checkered backgrounds. In late June, the Commercial Bank of Dubai sought—and later received—permission to subpoena Ivanka Trump’s now-defunct fine jewelry line, claiming its diamonds were used in a massive scheme to hide roughly $100 million that was owed to the bank, according to filings at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Read the rest at GQ.

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


Friday Reads

Good Morning!!

The Wall Street Journal has a story on Michael Flynn’s plot to kidnap Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen and “deliver” him to a Turkish prison. We knew about this plan, but the WSJ provides more details. The article is behind the paywall, but I go access by clicking on Twitter link.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating an alleged plan involving former White House National Security Adviser Mike Flynn to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have asked at least four individuals about a meeting in mid-December at the ‘21’ Club in New York City, where Mr. Flynn and representatives of the Turkish government discussed removing Mr. Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries. The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, according to one of the people who has spoken to the FBI….

The people who described the alleged proposal said they didn’t attend the December meeting and didn’t have direct knowledge from Mr. Flynn or his associates about its purported details. It isn’t clear how advanced Mr. Mueller’s investigation of the alleged plan to remove Mr. Gulen is, nor is there any indication that any money changed hands, according to those familiar with the discussions and the FBI investigation.

But federal investigators’ interest in whether Mr. Flynn was pursuing potentially illegal means to forcibly deal with Mr. Gulen indicates that the former Trump adviser faces another investigation stemming from his work on behalf of Turkish government interests, both before and after the presidential election.

Fethullah Gulen

One more interesting bit:

One person familiar with the alleged discussions about Mr. Gulen said Mr. Flynn also was prepared to use his influence in the White House to further the legal extradition of the cleric, who lives in Pennsylvania.

According to the WSJ, there were two meetings to discuss the kidnapping. The second one was attended by former former CIA Director James Woolsey, who was concerned enough to tell then Vice President Joe Biden about it. It seems both Mike Flynns are in serious trouble.

Randall D. Eliason of George Washington University Law School writes at The Washington Post: How Robert Mueller can play hardball with Michael Flynn.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team are no strangers to the practice of prosecutorial hardball. That skill may be coming into play once again if, as news reports indicate, the special counsel is turning his attention to former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and Flynn’s son Michael G. Flynn, who worked with his father’s lobbying firm and was also involved in the Trump transition. The elder Flynn has long been thought to be in Mueller’s sights, and CNN reported Wednesday that Flynn and his wife are worried about their son’s legal exposure as well.

Andrew Weissmann

If in fact prosecutors have built cases against both men, they now have a huge, juicy carrot to dangle in front of the elder Flynn: Plead guilty and testify against others, and we’ll go easy on your son. Given the former national security adviser’s prior positions with the Trump campaign and administration, that prospect has to make other potential targets of Mueller’s inquiry extremely uneasy.

Members of Mueller’s team are very familiar with — and have not been shy about employing — the tactic of persuading a witness to cooperate in exchange for leniency toward a family member. His chief deputy is Andrew Weissmann, a career prosecutor with a reputation for aggressiveness. More than a decade ago, Weissmann served on and ultimately headed the Enron task force, the team of prosecutors charged with investigating the financial collapse of the huge energy corporation. Weissmann and the other Enron prosecutors wanted the cooperation of Andrew Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer, whom they had indicted on dozens of federal charges. When prosecutors later added additional charges against Fastow, they also indicted a new defendant: Lea Fastow, Andrew’s wife, who had also worked at Enron. With the felony charges pending against Lea Fastow, the couple faced the prospect of spending years in prison while their two young sons were raised by others.

Eventually Andrew Fastow was sentenced to 10 years in prison and his wife got one year, which she was allowed to serve before Andrew went to prison so they could care for their children. It looks like we’re about to find out what Michael Flynn will do to protect his son.

A couple more Russia investigation stories:

George Papadopoulos

ABC News reports that George Papadopoulos, who is cooperating with the Mueller investigation in return for a reduced sentence, initially lied to FBI investigators “out of loyalty to Trump.”

Trump had publicly denied that there had been any contact between his campaign and Russian officials, and Papadopoulos did not want to contradict the official line, the source said.

“It’s all fake news,” Trump said of any alleged connections in January. “It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”

Papadopoulos met with the FBI agents investigating those alleged ties shortly thereafter, and he later acknowledged that he lied during that meeting about the timing of certain contacts.

How may other advisers lied out of loyalty to the liar in chief? And how many of those advisers will end up turning on Trump? Mueller is on the case.

NBC News: Trump Bodyguard Keith Schiller Testifies Russian Offered Trump Women, Was Turned Down.

After a business meeting before the Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, a Russian participant offered to “send five women” to Donald Trump’s hotel room in Moscow, his longtime bodyguard told Congress this week, according to three sources who were present for the interview.

Two of the sources said the bodyguard, Keith Schiller, viewed the offer as a joke, and immediately responded, “We don’t do that type of stuff.”

The two sources said Schiller’s comments came in the context of him adamantly disputing the allegations made in the Trump dossier, written by a former British intelligence operative, which describes Trump having an encounter with prostitutes at the hotel during the pageant. Schiller described his reaction to that story as being, “Oh my God, that’s bull—-,” two sources said.

Keith Schiller

The conversation with the Russian about the five women took place after a morning meeting about the pageant in Moscow broke up, two sources said.

That night, two sources said, Schiller said he discussed the conversation with Trump as Trump was walking back to his hotel room, and Schiller said the two men laughed about it as Trump went to bed alone. Schiller testified that he stood outside Trump’s hotel room for a time and then went to bed.

One source noted that Schiller testified he eventually left Trump’s hotel room door and could not say for sure what happened during the remainder of the night.

Schiller is one of Trump’s closest and longest-term employees. He would probably lie for his boss. So why didn’t he just say there was nothing to the story at all? A couple of legal experts on TV have suggested that Schiller may be afraid that someone else overheard the offer and thus he’s afraid to give a complete denial.

AP Exclusive: Russia Twitter trolls deflected Trump bad news.

Disguised Russian agents on Twitter rushed to deflect scandalous news about Donald Trump just before last year’s presidential election while straining to refocus criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to an Associated Press analysis of since-deleted accounts.

Tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as “America_1st_” and “BatonRougeVoice” on Oct. 7, 2016, actively pivoted away from news of an audio recording in which Trump made crude comments about groping women, and instead touted damaging emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

Since early this year, the extent of Russian intrusion to help Trump and hurt Clinton in the election has been the subject of both congressional scrutiny and a criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. In particular, those investigations are looking into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

AP’s analysis illuminates the obvious strategy behind the Russian cyber meddling: swiftly react, distort and distract attention from any negative Trump news.

Read the rest at the AP link above.

Meanwhile Trump is bumbling through his Asia trip, working on destroying U.S. credibility around the world.

Quartz: Beijing is playing Trump “like a fiddle,” an ex-ambassador to China says.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s recent hosting of Donald Trump was a masterclass in how to make the US president comfortable—feed him familiar food, take him on his favorite outing, golf, and tell him how much you like him.

U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter – RC1F6C531670

But Chinese president Xi Jinping added a creamy layer of pomp and circumstance to the mix when the White House delegation reached Beijing. Trump has been feted with everything from an unprecedented private dinner in the Forbidden City to a red carpet welcome in Tiananmen Square, the Beijing landmark where hundreds of students were killed by the Chinese military in 1989.

Trump has responded in kind, calling Xi a “very special man” with whom he has “great chemistry.” While US businessmen had high hopes that Trump and his back-to-the-1980s China advisors would wring concessions from Xi to cut the $350 billion trade deficit, the only concrete result has been a mish-mash of previously announced deals and non-binding agreements that probably aren’t worth the $250 billion both governments claim….

Beyond the numbers, it’s Trump’s embrace of Xi that has diplomats and human rights activists around the world concerned. China’s government is “playing Trump like a fiddle,” said Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s ambassador to China from 2007 to 2013. “You don’t have good chemistry with a Chinese leader who doesn’t speak your language and is geared to not develop chemistry,” he said.

Read more at Quartz.

Putin is playing Trump too. Trump has been dying to meet with him again, but it’s not going to happen. Putin was just jerking him around and trying (successfully) to humiliate him.

Da Nang, Vietnam (CNN)President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will not hold a formal meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit here in Vietnam, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday.

But the two world leaders did briefly meet during the so-called APEC class photo, where all the heads of state come together to take a photo before the summit officially starts. Trump and Putin shook hands and had a briefly spoke before the photo was snapped….

Citing “scheduling conflicts on both sides,” though, Sanders said no formal meeting will take place during the two-day gathering, but that an informal interaction between the two world leaders was likely to happen, a notion reinforced by her Russian counterparts.

“Regarding a Putin meeting, there was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides,” Sanders said. “There is no formal meeting or anything scheduled for them.”

Sure Sarah. Poor Donald was so looking forward to a private audience with his idol. But it was not to be.

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