Posted: February 28, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Barbara McQuade, Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Joyce White Vance, Kim John Un, Matt Gaetz, Michael Cohen, Otto Warmbier, Vladimir Putin, women reading
Trump’s “summit” with Kim John Un accomplished nothing, but he did manage to disgrace himself and our country by once again sucking up to a murderous dictator.
The Daily Beast: Trump on Otto Warmbier: I Believe Kim Jong Un When He Says He Didn’t Know.
Donald Trump has sided with Kim Jong Un over the death of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea for 17 months for stealing a propaganda poster and died days after being returned home to his family in a coma. Trump said he discussed the case with Kim, and repeatedly absolved him of any blame. Trump said, “Those prisons are rough, rough places, and bad things happened, but I really don’t believe [Kim] knew about it… he felt badly about it, he felt very badly, he knew the case very well but he knew it later.” Trump, speaking at a press conference after talks aimed at persuading Kim to give up his nuclear weapons collapsed, added: “You have a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto. Some really, really bad things. But [Kim] tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.
Just like he took Putin’s word and MBS’s word over the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.
Trump also found time to call Rep. Matt Gaetz to think him for threatening Cohen before the hearing, so now we know who told Gaetz about Cohen’s alleged “girlfriends.”
So now Trump is implicated in Gaetz’s witness tampering.
Trump is also pissed off because the U.S. media largely ignored his kabuki theater in Hanoi in order to cover Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee yesterday.
The Wall Street Journal:Trump: Democrats Did a ‘Terrible Thing’ by Scheduling Cohen Hearing During Summit.
HANOI, Vietnam—President Trump on Thursday said the House Oversight Committee did a “terrible thing” by scheduling a hearing with his former lawyer Michael Cohen to coincide with the timing of his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Having it during this very important summit is sort of incredible,” Mr. Trump told reporters during a press conference in Hanoi after announcing that talks with Mr. Kim failed because of an impasse over sanctions relief.
It’s behind the paywall, but that’s all you need. Trump also said it was a “fake hearing.”
The Washington Post on the aborted summit: Trump and Kim abruptly cut short summit after failing to reach nuclear deal.
HANOI — President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly cut short their two-day summit Thursday after they were unable to reach an agreement to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.
Talks collapsed unexpectedly amid a disagreement about economic sanctions, with the two leaders and their delegations departing their meeting site in Vietnam’s capital without sitting for a planned lunch or participating in a scheduled signing ceremony.
Kim said he was prepared in principle to denuclearize, and Trump said an agreement was “ready to sign.” But Trump said the main impediment to a deal was Kim’s requirement that the United States lift all economic sanctions on North Korea in exchange for the closure of only one nuclear facility, which still would have left Pyongyang with a large arsenal of missiles and warheads.
The New Book (1920). Harold Harvey (British 1874-1921)
“We had some options, but at this time we decided not to do any of the options,” Trump said. He added, “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.”
For Trump, the surprising turn of events amounted to a diplomatic failure. The president flew 20 hours to Vietnam with hopes of producing demonstrable progress toward North Korea’s denuclearization, building upon his first summit with Kim last summer in Singapore.
More from The New York Times:
The premature end to the negotiations leaves the unusual rapprochement between the United States and North Korea that has unfolded for most of a year at a deadlock, with the North retaining both its nuclear arsenal and facilities believed to be producing additional fissile material for warheads.
It also represents a major setback at a difficult political moment for Mr. Trump, who has long presented himself as a tough negotiator capable of bringing adversaries into a deal and had made North Korea the signature diplomatic initiative of his presidency.
Even as the talks began, Mr. Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, was delivering dramatic and damaging testimony in Congress, accusing him of an expansive pattern of lies and criminality.
Aaron Shikler 1922-2015
Word of the collapse of the Hanoi talks sent stocks lower in Asia, and Wall Street futures were down as the opening bell neared.
Mr. Trump had flown across the world to try to work face-to-face with Mr. Kim for the second time, an effort to reduce what American officials regard as one of the world’s foremost nuclear threats. Experts estimate that the North has 30 to 60 nuclear warheads as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles that can hit the United States, though it has not demonstrated the technology to protect warheads as they re-enter the atmosphere.
In other international news, Trump/Kushner close friend Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted. The Times of Israel: Netanyahu to stand trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending hearing.
In a decision that drastically shakes up Israeli politics less than six weeks before general elections, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be charged with criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe, pending a hearing.
The decision marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and casts a heavy shadow over Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.
by Iman Maleki, Iranian, born 1976
Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, unless he can persuade Mandelblit to reconsider in the course of the hearing process.
The attorney general detailed the allegations in a 57-page document that was released on Thursday evening.
Mandelblit, in his decision, wrote that according to suspicions the prime minister “damaged the image of the public service and public trust in it” and is suspected of abusing his position and status, and of “knowingly taking a bribe as a public servant in exchange for actions related to your position.”
If Israel can indict Netayahu, then the U.S. should be able to indict Trump.
Some reactions to Michael Cohen’s testimony:
Barbara McQuade at The Daily Beast: The Case Against Trump Has Never Been Stronger After Cohen Testimony.
One brick does not make a wall, but many bricks do.
When I was a federal prosecutor, a supervisor of mine frequently used this metaphor to remind us that one piece of evidence alone is rarely enough to prove a crime, but enough pieces of evidence are sufficient to prove guilt.
Michael Cohen’s public testimony on Wednesday did not constitute a wall of evidence, but it did provide several new bricks that could be used to build a case against President Donald Trump. Depending on other evidence in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, these pieces of evidence may be enough to prove Trump guilty of criminal or impeachable offenses.
Trump’s former lawyer testified about several facts that are significant bricks in the figurative wall of evidence.
by Edouard John Mentha
First, Cohen testified that he was present when Trump spoke to Roger Stone on speakerphone in July 2016, when Stone said that he had talked to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about an upcoming “massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” According to Cohen, this call came just days before the Democratic National Convention. If Cohen is correct on the timing, this event also occurred after the DNC had announced in June that it had been hacked by Russia, and so Russia’s involvement in the release would have been known by Trump. Cohen said that Trump responded by saying words to the effect of “wouldn’t that be great.”
Read the rest at the link. It’s interesting.
Joyce White Vance at The Washington Post: Yes, Michael Cohen’s a liar and a criminal. So how come you believed him?
Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday was a master class in how prosecutors can present cooperating witnesses who have lied and engaged in criminal conduct, and use their testimony to obtain convictions from juries. This is stock-in-trade for prosecutors because of one simple truth: Choirboys don’t often end up in the middle of criminal conspiracies. Prosecutors don’t pick their witnesses; defendants do.
Although Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer and personal attorney, did not testify in a criminal trial, under questioning from a prosecutor, but rather in a congressional proceeding, under questioning from lawmakers, what we saw was an example of how someone who has stood before a judge at the lowest moment of his life, acknowledging participation in criminal acts, can become a credible witness.
Shelley Thayer Layton, the Library Window
It is the very fact of a defendant’s criminality that creates the baseline for this transformation. Prosecutors require witnesses with firsthand knowledge. Witnesses with firsthand knowledge are mostly high-level participants in serious crimes. But how does the conversion take place? How does a defendant who has been involved in sustained criminal activity, who has threatened people, who has lied, who has participated in fraud and is generally subject to being excoriated on cross examination by the defense because of that behavior, become a witness whom jurors, or a country, can believe, even if they don’t like him or his conduct?
It starts with the nonnegotiable commitment by the defendant to cooperate fully and truthfully, to assist as requested in other investigations and cases. We know that the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III believes that Cohen did this — it told us so in its sentencing recommendation for him. Cohen himself told us on Wednesday that he was in “constant contact” with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. To be caught lying again can render the cooperator potentially unredeemable — a Paul Manafort, so to speak.
Again, there’s much more at the link.
Charles Pierce lambastes the Republicans who neither addressed Cohen’s testimony, nor defended Trump: The Republican Party Completely and Utterly Disgraced Itself at Michael Cohen’s Hearing.
On July 24, 1974, a congressman named Thomas Railsback leaned into the microphone in front of him on the broad, curving dais of the House Judiciary. Railsback was a Republican from Moline, Illinois. The issue before him that night was whether to vote to send to the full House of Representatives articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, a Republican from California who, at that moment, was the President of the United States. You could see the anguish on Railsback’s face the way you can see the current still running in a river that is only thinly iced. “I wish,” Railsback said in a ragged voice,”that the president could do something to absolve himself.” Then, Tom Railsback, Republican of Illinois, voted “Yea” on all three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.I mention this bit of history only to illustrate how utterly and completely the Republican Party disgraced itself on Wednesday when Michael Cohen, the current president*’s former king fixer, sat before the House Oversight Committee to describe some of the garish and baroque offenses against the law and the republic committed by Donald Trump. There was not a single Railsback to be found. Not one Republican asked a question about the specific offenses that Cohen had illuminated in his opening statement.Instead, they hammered away at Cohen’s own crimes—which, of course, did nothing but remind the folks watching at home on whose behalf Cohen had told so many lies and paid off so many women. They spent great chunks of their time trying to get Cohen to promise he wouldn’t sign a book deal after he gets out of the federal sneezer in three years. Rep. Michael Cloud of Texas told Cohen that any subsequent book deal would be “kind of sweet,” as though he’d be willing to spend three years in a federal prison if an editor from Random House would be waiting on the day he got out.
Nakamura Daizaburo [Japanese Nihonga painter 1898-1947
Read the rest at Esquire.
It’s been an exciting week so far. I wonder if we’ll get any news from the Special Counsel’s office tomorrow? What stories have you been following?
Posted: February 19, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Amy Berman Jackson, Andrew McCabe, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Robert Mueller, Roger Stone, Russia investigation, Vladimir Putin
I preordered the Andrew McCabe book, and I plan to read it today; but it appears that what he talks about in his interviews may turn out to be more revealing than anything in the book. I wonder if that’s because the FBI wouldn’t let him include some things (any book by an FBI agent has to be approved by the agency before publication) and, as Marcy Wheeler tweeted this morning, he just doesn’t give a fuck anymore? He didn’t include the fact that Rod Rosenstein offered to wear a wire in the White House or discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office even though we learned about it awhile ago.
Knox was referring to McCabe’s revelation that he briefed Congress’s gang of eight on why he opened a counterintelligence investigation of Trump. Natasha Bertrand says he did put that in the book though, so the FBI was apparently OK with it.
Wow! And not one of those eight people had the guts to speak out. And what about Mitch McConnell’s refusal in 2016 to allow a bipartisan announcement about the Russian interference in the election.Why didn’t Obama make the announcement anyway? Why didn’t the Democratic leadership speak out either before the election or afterwards when they were briefed about the FBI investigations in 2917? We deserve answers.
Trump has been following Putin’s orders and tearing down our country from within and destroying the Western alliance for two years and not one of these “leaders” has been willing to risk his or her career to let us know.
Here’s McCabe on the Today Show this morning:
Click this link to watch more of the Today interview.
Natasha Bertrand writes at The Atlantic: Andrew McCabe Couldn’t Believe the Things Trump Said About Putin.
In the months before President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, FBI counterintelligence agents investigating Russian election interference were also collecting evidence suggesting that Trump could be compromised by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director who oversaw the bureau’s Russia investigation, told me in an interview conducted late last week that concerns about Trump had been building “for some time”—and that he was convinced the FBI would have been justified in opening a case against the president.
“We felt like we had credible, articulable facts to indicate that a threat to national security may exist,” McCabe told me. And FBI officials felt this way, he said, even before Trump fired Comey. That firing set off a chain of events that, as McCabe put it, turned the world “upside down.” McCabe wrote contemporaneous memos describing “key” conversations he had during that chaotic period—with the president, with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and others—that are now in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
McCabe’s new book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, is not generally overstated in its approach to Trump. This reflects either an aversion to exaggeration on McCabe’s part—his self-image, it seems, is that of a just-the-facts-ma’am G-man—or an awareness that the Justice Department’s inspector general has, for all intents and purposes, branded him a fabulist, a charge he finds particularly wounding. McCabe, who was fired in March 2018, told me he’ll be filing a lawsuit against the Justice Department that will challenge the circumstances of his termination, which was ostensibly based on the inspector general’s findings that he had leaked information to the media without permission. In person, McCabe still seems awed by the “series of head-scratching, completely shocking events” that he witnessed two years ago.
You can read the interview at The Atlantic; here’s a brief excerpt:
Bertrand: Before Robert Mueller was appointed, Trump met with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister in the Oval Office, where he disclosed classified information. How did you react when you found out about that conversation?
McCabe: It was the latest in a string of head-scratching, completely shocking events. For counterintelligence investigators, the idea that the American president would have a Russian foreign minister and his media into the Oval Office and that he would make a comment like that—a comment that so clearly undermined the effectiveness of his chief law-enforcement and intelligence agency—was just confounding.
Bertrand: That reminds me of a passage that jumped out at me in your book: “He thought North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles. He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so … the president said he believed Putin despite the PDB [Presidential Daily Briefing] briefer telling him that this was not consistent with any of the intelligence that the US possessed.” How do you explain that?
McCabe: It’s inexplicable. You have to put yourself in context. So I am in the director’s chair as acting director. My senior executive who had accompanied the briefer to that briefing, who sat in the room with the president and others, and heard the comments, comes back to the Hoover Building to tell me how the briefing went. And he sat at the conference table, and he just looked down at the table with his hands out in front of him. I was like, “How did it go?” And he just—he couldn’t find words to characterize it. We just sat back and said, “What do we do with this now?” How do you effectively convey intelligence to the American president who chooses to believe the Russians over his own intelligence services? And then tells them that to their faces?
McCabe will be in studio with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell tonight.
In other news, Trump’s fake “national emergency” is accumulating lawsuits. The latest, from The New York Times: 16 States Sue to Stop Trump’s Use of Emergency Powers to Build Border Wall.
WASHINGTON — A coalition of 16 states, including California and New York, on Monday challenged President Trump in court over his plan to use emergency powers to spend billions of dollars on his border wall.
The lawsuit is part of a constitutional confrontation that Mr. Trump set off on Friday when he declared that he would spend billions of dollars more on border barriers than Congress had granted him. The clash raises questions over congressional control of spending, the scope of emergency powers granted to the president, and how far the courts are willing to go to settle such a dispute.
The suit, filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco, argues that the president does not have the power to divert funds for constructing a wall along the Mexican border because it is Congress that controls spending….
The lawsuit, California et al. v. Trump et al., says that the plaintiff states are going to court to protect their residents, natural resources and economic interests. “Contrary to the will of Congress, the president has used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction, military construction and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border,” the lawsuit says.
Today is day four of the “emergency,” and Trump has spent those four days golfing in Florida and sending out angry tweets about Andrew McCabe and the Russia investigation.
This is also happening.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Roger Stone after he posted a threatening message about the judge in his case yesterday. Buzzfeed News: Roger Stone Posted A Photo Of The Judge Presiding Over His Case Next To Crosshairs.
The post comes days after the judge, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, rejected Stone’s effort to get his case reassigned to a new judge.T
Jackson also previously ruled that Stone couldn’t talk to news outlets in front of her courthouse.
Stone, 66, took to Instagram to bring attention to special counsel Robert Mueller, saying he used “legal trickery” to place his case in front of Jackson, a US district judge in the District of Columbia. Stone’s case is being prosecuted jointly by Mueller’s office and the US attorney’s office in Washington.
“Through legal trickery Deep State hitman Robert Mueller has guaranteed that my upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson , an Obama appointed Judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges again [sic] Hillary Clinton and incarcerated Paul Manafort prior to his conviction for any crime,” Stone wrote in the caption to the photo, including the hashtag #fixisin….
The photograph — a version of which appeared earlier on a site pushing false conspiracy theories — featured a target symbol near the judge’s head. The symbol is also associated with the Zodiac killer.
That was completely irresponsible and could easily lead one of the Trump crazies to attack Judge Jackson. She will likely need protection from Federal marshals now. I hope she throws Stone in jail.
No word from the “president” on this as yet.
I’m sure you seen the embarrassing videos of Mike Pence’s appearance in Munich last week in which he was greeted with stony silence when he mentioned Trump and called for European countries to withdraw from the Iran deal. Well, the White House is claiming he did too get applause.
The Week: The White House says Pence was greeted with applause after mentioning Trump in a speech. He wasn’t.
Maybe they meant to type “(Crickets)”?
The White House has posted online the remarks made by Vice President Mike Pence last Friday at the Munich Security Conference, but there’s a glaring error. In the beginning of his address, Pence said it was his “great honor” to speak “on behalf of a champion of freedom and a champion of a strong national defense, the 45th president of the United States, President Donald Trump.” In the transcript, it says this was followed by “(Applause).” In reality, it was followed by (Silence).
As video from the event shows, Pence expected to be met with some sort of a reaction, as he paused, awkwardly, before moving on. The White House hasn’t said why it inserted this fabrication, or why they didn’t go with something more exciting, like (Audience starts chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” while twirling star-spangled rally towels) or (German Chancellor Angela Merkel dons a MAGA cap, initiates The Wave)
Nancy Pelosi had a different message for our allies. Politico:Nancy Pelosi to Europe: Trump is not the boss.
Pelosi and a delegation of U.S. lawmakers were in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday to reassure European partners at a time when transatlantic relations have been deeply fractured by Trump’s criticism of allies and his unpredictability in policymaking.
Among the messages that Pelosi said she brought to the EU capital was that the U.S. president is not all-powerful. Of course, it was a lesson Europeans watched her teach Trump in the standoff over a recent government shutdown — where she forced the president to back down.
“We’re not a parliamentary government even though we’re parliamentarians,” Pelosi said at a news conference. “We have Article 1, the legislative branch, the first branch of government, coequal to the other branches and we have asserted ourselves in that way.”
Pelosi said that one European colleague had asked why the House of Representatives had only recently adopted a resolution in support of NATO. She said that she explained it was because she and the Democrats had only retaken control of the majority at the start of the year.
“I said because we just got the majority and then we can control, we can manage what goes on to the floor,” Pelosi said. “But once the Republican colleagues had the opportunity to vote on this, H.R. 676 NATO Support Act — what was it? 357 to 22 no’s. I think that that sends a very clear message.”
One more bit of news: Unfortunately Bernie Sanders has decided to run for president, and he’s already attacking “identity politics.”
Good luck with that, Bernie. Goddess I hate that man.
So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?
Posted: January 22, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Covington Catholic School Boys, Donald Trump, GOP as Soviet Party, government shutdown, hugs, Karl Rove, Mitch McConnell, National Hugging Day, Nick Sandmann, Oleg Deripaska, Robert Foresman, Run/Switch PR firm, Scott Jennings, SCOTUS, transgender military ban, Vladimir Putin
Besides being the official celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, yesterday was National Hugging Day. I’m using that as an excuse to post pictures of creatures hugging each other in today’s post. From Psychology Today: National Hugging Day: Five Scientific Facts About Hugging, by Sebastian Ocklenburg. Excerpts:
No one knows exactly when the first hug occurred between two human beings, but we do know that hugs have been in the human behavioral repertoire for at least several thousand years. In 2007, a team of archeologist discovered the so-called “Lovers of Valdaro” in a Neolithic Tomb near Mantua in Italy (Stewart, 2007). The lovers are a pair of human skeletons that have been buried holding each other in a tight embrace (see Figure 1). They have been determined to be approximately 6000 years old, so we know for sure that people already hugged each other in Neolithic times….
When we hug, we wrap our arms around another person. Typically, we lead the hug with one arm. A German study in which I was a co-author analyzed whether people preferentially hug with their left or their right arm (Packheiser et al., 2018). In this study, we observed hugging couples at the arrivals or departure lounges at international airports and also analyzed videos of people who blindfold themselves and let strangers hug them on the street. We found that overall, most people hugged to the right….
A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.
A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.”
Here’s another piece by Ocklenburg on the ways that hugging increases well being. It turns out that hugging can reduce your chances of getting a cold, lower your blood pressure, and improve your mood.
So as we go into day 4 of the MAGA teens story and day 32 of the government shutdown, remember that hugs can help.
The New York Times: Government Shutdown: Updates on Where Things Stand.
It has been a month since the first day of the government shutdown.
Furloughed federal employees have started part-time jobs with delivery and ride-hailing apps and applied for other opportunities, such as yoga-instructor positions, to try to make ends meet without a government paycheck.
Some of the most vulnerable Americans — including the homeless, the elderly and people one crisis away from the streets — are feeling the burden. Without payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nonprofit groups that support low-income renters are also struggling. Many other social safety net programs are facing similar crises.
As a bone-chilling flash freeze swept through the Midwest and Northeast over the holiday weekend, hundreds of thousands of federal workers remain furloughed, and some continued to work without pay, including forecasters at the National Weather Service. Veterans of the emergency management field are worried about longer-term trouble, too.
Government workers are suffering.
When it began, the shutdown left about 800,000 federal workers without pay, with just over half continuing to work, including members of the Coast Guard and food safety inspectors. The number of people working has grown as the Trump administration reinterprets longstanding rules, often to the benefit of the president’s base.
Some of the employees who still have to report to work during the shutdown spoke with The New York Times about their experiences….
Many federal workers have filed for unemployment benefits. In Washington, local programs have sprouted up to support the city’s large, struggling federal work force. Nationally, an informal network of businesses has also mobilized to ease the pain.
The article notes that we are approaching the point when the federal courts will run out of money, and the economy is beginning to feel effects. Frankly, with Trump calling even more people back to work without pay, this is starting to feel criminal–it’s forced labor.
The shutdown is impeding law enforcement. No wonder Trump likes it.
Just one story on the MAGA teen Nick Sandmann from The Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville PR firm played a key role in Covington Catholic controversy. The firm is Run/Switch, and one of its partners is Scott Jennings, who is a paid commentator on CNN and also writes a column for the Courier Journal! From the article:
Lion rescued as a cub hugs her rescuer.
RunSwitch partners Steve Bryant and Gary Gerdemann said that Sandmann family asked people they knew over the weekend about getting help with handling the media.
“They reached out to our firm, and we responded,” said Bryant, adding that the business specializes in crisis management “all over the country.”
Scott Jennings, a conservative political commentator and a columnist for the Courier Journal, is the third partner in RunSwitch.
I’ve seen Jennings on CNN and interestingly, he routinely wears a smirk just like the one we all saw on Nick Sandmann’s face. Jennings smirks as other people are talking, no matter what is being said, and then he smirks as he defends whatever Trumpian thing is being discussed during his appearance. I find him utterly repulsive and infuriating.
So why was Jake Tapper the first shitty media man to tweet out the poor little Nick’s PR statement?
So Jennings worked for Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell too. How not surprising. I remember when CNN was a serious news channel, but now it’s just a Fox News wannabe that hires people like Oliver Darcy and Kaitlin Collins away from right wing sites (The Blaze and The Daily Caller respectively).
But I’ll move on to other news. This depressing story broke this morning. The Washington Post: Supreme Court allows Trump restrictions on transgender troops in military to go into effect as legal battle continues.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed President Trump’s broad restrictions on transgender people serving in the military to go into effect while the legal battle continues in lower courts.
Rescued Kangaroo hugs rescuer.
The justices lifted nationwide injunctions that had kept the administration’s policy from being implemented.
It reversed an Obama-administration rule that would have opened the military to transgender men and women, and instead barred those who identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth and who are seeking to transition.
The court’s five conservatives–Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh–allowed the restrictions to go into effect while tIhe court decides to whether to consider the merits of the case.
The liberal justices–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan–would have kept the injunctions in place.
I feel nauseated.
From The New York Times last night: Deripaska and Allies Could Benefit From Sanctions Deal, Document Shows.
When the Trump administration announced last month that it was lifting sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, it cast the move as tough on Russia and on the oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted.
Sea hugs baby seal toy
But a binding confidential document signed by both sides suggests that the agreement the administration negotiated with the companies controlled by the oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, may have been less punitive than advertised.
The deal contains provisions that free him from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while leaving him and his allies with majority ownership of his most important company, the document shows.
With the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election continuing to shadow President Trump, the administration’s decision to lift sanctions on Mr. Deripaska’s companies has become a political flash point. House Democrats won widespread Republican support last week for their efforts to block the sanctions relief deal. Democratic hopes of blocking the administration’s decision have been stifled by the Republican-controlled Senate.
From ABC News: US banker with ties to Putin’s inner circle sought access to Trump transition: Sources.
Nine days after Donald Trump won the presidency, as scores of supporters clamored for meetings with his transition team, the Hollywood producer of “The Apprentice,” Mark Burnett, reached out to one of Trump’s closest advisers to see if he would sit down with a banker who has long held ties to Russia.
The banker, Robert Foresman, never got the role he was seeking with the fledgling Trump administration. But he has recently attracted the attention of congressional investigators as one more name on an expanding list of Americans with established ties inside the Kremlin who appears to have been seeking access to the newly elected president’s inner circle, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
Foresman, who is now vice chairman of the Swiss bank UBS’s investment arm, lived for years in Moscow, where he led a $3 billion Russian investment fund and was touted by his new company as someone who maintains connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Reached by phone, Foresman declined to comment. Attorneys he has hired, including one in Washington who was hired to deal with the congressional probe, also declined to discuss the matter.
One more and then I’ll wrap this up. Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: The GOP has become the Soviet party.
Once upon a time, Ayn Rand-reading, red-baiting Republicans denounced Soviet Russia as an evil superpower intent on destroying the American way of life.
My, how things have changed.
The Grand Old Party has quietly become the pro-Russia party — and not only because the party’s standard-bearer seems peculiarly enamored of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Republican leadership, the United States is starting to look an awful lot like the failed Soviet system the party once stood unified against.
Supposedly middle-class workers — people who have government jobs that are supposed to be stable and secure — are waiting in bread lines. Thanks to government dysfunction and mismanagement, those employed in the private sector may also be going hungry, since 2,500 vendors nationwide are unable to participate in the food stamp program while the government is shuttered and unable to renew licenses for the Electronic Benefit Transfer debit card program.
Why? Because of the whims of a would-be autocrat who cares more about erecting an expensive monument to his own campaign rhetoric than about the pain and suffering of the little people he claims to champion.
And for now, at least, most of those little people are too frightened of the government’s wrath to fight back overtly. Instead, desperate to keep jobs that might someday offer them a paycheck again, the proletariat protest in more passive ways: by calling in sick in higher numbers.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
Now, what stories have you been following? Please share in the comment thread below.
Posted: January 17, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr, Robert Mueller, Rudy Giuliani, Russia investigation, Russian agent, useful idiot, Vladimir Putin
Last night I was thinking about when Obama was president and we would have days when there was nothing earth shattering in politics to talk about. There would be quiet Fridays and weekends with no significant news about the government. Now there are terrifying crises in the government every single day, including weekends. If only we could go back to those relatively peaceful times! Instead we have Trump.
This morning, there are so many significant stories, that I can’t possibly get to all of them, so I’ll begin with this stunning headline from Wired: Trump Must Be a Russian Agent; The Alternative is Too Awful, by Garrett Graff.
The pattern of his pro-Putin, pro-Russia, anti-FBI, anti-intelligence community actions are so one-sided, and the lies and obfuscation surrounding every single Russian meeting and conversation are so consistent, that if this president isn’t actually hiding a massive conspiracy, it means the alternative is worse: America elected a chief executive so oblivious to geopolitics, so self-centered and personally insecure, so naturally predisposed to undermine democratic institutions and coddle authoritarians, and so terrible a manager and leader, that he cluelessly surrounded himself with crooks, grifters, and agents of foreign powers, compromising the national security of the US government and undermining 75 years of critical foreign alliances, just to satiate his own ego.
In short, we’ve reached a point in the Mueller probe where there are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised by the Russian government and has been working covertly to cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016 election—or Trump will go down in history as the world’s most famous “useful idiot,” as communists used to call those who could be co-opted to the cause without realizing it.
At least the former scenario—that the president of the United States is actively working to advance the interests of our country’s foremost, long-standing, traditional foreign adversary—would make him seem smarter and wilier. The latter scenario is simply a tragic farce for everyone involved.
We’re left here—in a place unprecedented in American political history, wondering how much worse the truth is than we already know—after four days of fresh revelations in the public drip-drip-drip of the Russia investigation. The past two months have seen the public understanding of the case advance into almost unthinkable territory. Now we’re simply trying to figure out how bad things really are.
That’s about it. And will be eventually learn that a large proportion of Republicans in Congress are also either compromised by Russia or too stupid to see that their president is? After all, they did vote yesterday to lift sanctions on Paul Manafort’s buddy Oleg Derapaska’s businesses.
And did you see Rudy Giuliani’s meltdown on CNN last night? In case you missed it:
Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Rudy Giuliani just contradicted nearly all the Trump team’s past collusion denials.
President Trump’s legal spokesman Rudolph W. Giuliani on Wednesday night appeared to grant the possibility that members of Trump’s campaign did, in fact, collude with the Russians during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
And in the process, he contradicted dozens of previous denials that both the Trump team (and Trump himself) have offered.
“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, before getting cut off.
“Yes, you have,” Cuomo said.
Giuliani shot back: “I have not. I said ‘the president of the United States.’”
But while Giuliani himself might not have assured that nobody on the campaign colluded, others including Trump sure have. In fact, the Trump team has moved the goal posts on this question no fewer than 10 times after initially denying any contact at all with “foreign entities.” Trump has said dozens of times that there was “no collusion,” full stop. This appears to be the first time anyone has acknowledged the possibility that someone colluded without Trump’s knowledge.
Read the rest for a list of Rudy’s successive walkbacks on whether there was collusion with Russia in the Trump campaign. Is this just a response to the many revelations about Paul Manafort or is Trump getting ready to throw Don Jr. under the bus? From Raw Story:
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s stunning interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night is still making waves, and a CNN panel agreed on Thursday morning that it could spell big trouble for Donald Trump Jr.
While discussing Giuliani’s latest admission that there may have been some collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian government agents, host John Berman asked whether Trump Jr. should be worried that his father is preparing to throw him under the bus for potentially conspiring with a hostile foreign power.
“Would you be nervous if you’re Donald Trump Jr. or Jared Kushner?” Berman asked. “Did Giuliani just send a signal that… the president’s legal defense team isn’t here for you?”
“That’s what I heard,” replied New York Times reporter Astead Herndon. “Everyone under [Trump’s] level can now be considered fair game, if we’re talking about the political signaling.”
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent discussed Giuliani’s meltdown with attorney Neal Kayal.
Former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal told me that this appears to be a tacit admission of serious vulnerability — as well as an effort to lay the groundwork for a last-ditch defense of Trump, should more come out. It also makes the nonstop claims that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is leading a “witch hunt” look ridiculous.
“They’ve been saying for two years that this is a witch hunt,” Katyal told me. “As a lawyer, given the recent revelations, Giuliani now has to pivot and outline the next line of defense.”
“This is straight out of the organized-crime playbook,” Katyal continued. “The boss says, ‘There was no conspiracy.’ Then prosecutors prove there was a conspiracy between your subordinates and a criminal organization. Then the defense shifts to, ‘Okay, there was a conspiracy, but the boss didn’t know anything about it.’”
Sargent also asked Obama’s white house counsel Bob Bauer about Giuliani’s statements.
Bob Bauer, the White House counsel under former president Barack Obama, told me that Giuliani “must have some continuing hope” that Mueller cannot prove Trump knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort attended in the expectation of gaining dirt on Hillary Clinton produced by the Russian government.
That seems unlikely, given the latest from The New York Times on Trump’s black box meetings with Vladimir Putin: Trump and Putin Have Met Five Times. What Was Said Is a Mystery. The story recounts the meetings and phone calls Trump has had with Putin, beginning right after he was elected. But here’s the highlight of the story:
The inaugural meeting [in Hamburg, Germany] came at a sensitive time. Mr. Trump’s team learned that day that one of the biggest secrets of his presidential bid was about to become public: At the height of the campaign, his son, son-in-law and campaign chairman had met at Trump Tower with Russians on the promise of obtaining dirt on Mrs. Clinton from the Russian government. Mr. Trump’s team was scrambling to respond to a request for comment by The Times.
Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin that day lasted more than two hours. Afterward, Mr. Trump took his interpreter’s notes and instructed the interpreter not to brief anyone. Mr. Tillerson told reporters that the leaders discussed everything from Syria to Ukraine, but he also described “a very robust and lengthy exchange” on the election hacking.
A few hours later, Mr. Trump sought out Mr. Putin again during a dinner for all the leaders. Videotape later made public showed Mr. Trump pointing at Mr. Putin, who was seated across and down a long table, then pointing at himself and then making a pumping motion with his fist.
Mr. Trump later told The Times that he went over to see his wife, Melania Trump, who was sitting next to Mr. Putin, and the two leaders then talked, with Mr. Putin’s interpreter translating. No American officials were present, and the White House did not confirm the encounter until more than 10 days later, after it was independently reported.
Here’s the shocker:
The day after the two meetings, as Mr. Trump was on Air Force One taking off from Germany heading back to Washington, he telephoned a Times reporter and argued that the Russians were falsely accused of election interference. While he insisted most of the conversation be off the record, he later repeated a few things in public in little-noticed asides.
He said that he raised the election hacking three times and that Mr. Putin denied involvement. But he said Mr. Putin also told him that “if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten caught because we’re professionals.” Mr. Trump said: “I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world” at hacking.
Asked how he weighed Mr. Putin’s denials against the evidence that had been presented to him by Mr. Comey; John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director; and James R. Clapper Jr., then director of national intelligence, he said that Mr. Clapper and Mr. Brennan were the “most political” intelligence chiefs he knew and that Mr. Comey was “a leaker.”
Later on the same flight Trump dictated a statement to the NYT about Don Jr.’s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.
Mr. Trump huddled with aides to decide how to respond to the emerging story by other Times reporters about the Trump Tower meeting. He personally dictated a misleading statement, saying the meeting was about Russian adoptions without admitting that it was actually intended to accept Moscow’s aid for his campaign, as emails obtained by The Times later documented.
You may have seen this footage from the dinner in Hamburg, in which Trump signals to Putin and then clenches his fist. Was he signaling that he needed to talk to Putin about the NYT story?
More stories to check out:
Michael McFaul at The Washington Post: Sorry, but Trump is not ‘tough on Russia’
The Wall Street Journal: Poll-Rigging for Trump and Creating @WomenForCohen: One IT Firm’s Work Order.
The Epoch Times: EXCLUSIVE: In Closed-Door Testimony, Papadopoulos Identified Alleged Spy in Trump Campaign.
The Daily Beast: Rick Gates Tells Mueller About Trump Team’s Dealings With Israeli Intelligence Firm.
The Washington Post: North Korean spy chief’s visit to Washington shrouded in mystery.
CNN: Trump is fraying nerves inside the Pentagon.
Raw Story: Stephen Miller was writing SOTU to blame Democrats for shutdown — until Nancy Pelosi pulled the rug out: report.
So . . . what stories are you following today?
Posted: December 8, 2018 Filed under: Crime, Criminal Justice System, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Department of Justice, Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, Mike Pence, Paul Manafort, political synergy, presidential pardons, Robert Mueller, Russia, Southern District of New York, Vladimir Putin
After the release of three court filings yesterday (a sentencing recommendation for Michael Cohen from SDNY, another Cohen sentencing recommendation from Robert Mueller, and a statement from the Special Counsel of the lies from Paul Manafort that justify ending his plea agreement) the consensus of legal and political pundits is that Trump is essentially finished. How long he will continue as fake “president” is unclear, but he has been credibly accused of a crime by his own Justice Department.
I’ve gathered a number of opinion pieces that I think are very good. It’s difficult to excerpt these long pieces, so I’m just giving you the highlights. You’ll have to go to the sources for more details.
Jonathan Chait: The Department of Justice Calls Donald Trump a Felon.
Federal prosecutors released sentencing recommendations for two alleged criminals who worked closely with Donald Trump: his lawyer Michael Cohen, and campaign manager Paul Manafort. They are filled with damning details. But the most important passage by far is this, about Trump’s fixer: “Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.”
The payments in question, as the document explains, concern a payoff to two women who claimed to have affairs with Trump. The payments, according to prosecutors, were intended to influence the campaign, and thereby constituted violations of campaign finance law. They have not formally charged Trump with this crime — it is a sentencing report for Cohen, not Trump — but this is the U.S. Department of Justice calling Trump a criminal….the fact that he is being called a felon by the United States government is a historic step. And it is likely the first of more to come…..
Cohen is providing helpful information on other crimes. Cohen reportedly gave the special counsel “useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during them.” And this contact continued into 2018. Cohen was not locked out and probably has access to some secrets….
The special counsel sentencing recommendation for Cohen also reveals that Russian contact with the Trump campaign began as early as 2015, not the following spring. And Russians promised “political synergy” — which is essentially a synonym for campaign collusion — and “synergy on a government level.” That means a quid pro quo in which Russia would help Trump win the election and Trump, if elected, would give Russia favorable policy. This is the heart of Mueller’s very much ongoing investigation.
There are suggestions in both the Cohen filings that The Trump Organization was involved in crimes, and that is very significant. As Emptywheel pointed out recently, even if Trump were to pull a Nixon and make a deal with Pence–the presidency in return for pardons–Pence could not pardon Trump’s company.
Marcy writes that the sentencing memorandum released by Cohen’s attorneys on November 30,
…puts Trump’s eponymous organizations — his company and his foundation — squarely in the bullseye of law enforcement. The known details of all those puts one or the other Trump organization as an actor in the investigation. And we’ve already seen hints that the Trump Organization was less than responsive to some document requests from Mueller, such as this detail in a story on the Trump Tower deal:
According to a person familiar with the investigation, Cohen and the Trump Organization could not produce some of the key records upon which Mueller relies. Other witnesses provided copies of those communications.
If there’s a conspiracy to obstruct Mueller’s investigation, I’m fairly certain the Trump Organization was one of the players in it….
But the Trump Organization did not get elected the President of the United States (and while the claims are thin fictions, Trump has claimed to separate himself from the Organization and Foundation). So none of the Constitutional claims about indicting a sitting President, it seems to me, would apply.
If I’m right, there are a whole slew of implications, starting with the fact that….it utterly changes the calculation Nixon faced as the walls started crumbling. Nixon could (and had the historical wisdom to) trade a pardon to avoid an impeachment fight; he didn’t save his presidency, but he salvaged his natural person. With Trump, a pardon won’t go far enough: he may well be facing the criminal indictment and possible financial ruin of his corporate person, and that would take a far different legal arrangement (such as a settlement or Deferred Prosecution Agreement) to salvage. Now throw in Trump’s narcissism, in which his own identity is inextricably linked to that of his brand. And, even beyond any difference in temperament between Nixon and Trump, there’s no telling what he’d do if his corporate self were also cornered.
In other words, Trump might not be able to take the Nixon — resign for a pardon — deal, because that may not be enough to save his corporate personhood.
Head over to Emptywheel for more details.
Ken White (AKA Popehat) at The Atlantic: Manafort, Cohen, and Individual 1 Are in Grave Danger.
White provides a very good summary of the yesterday’s three court filings, which you can read at the link. Here’s his conclusion:
The president said on Twitter that Friday’s news “totally clears the President. Thank you!” It does not. Manafort and Cohen are in trouble, and so is Trump. The Special Counsel’s confidence in his ability to prove Manafort a liar appears justified, which leaves Manafort facing what amounts to a life sentence without any cooperation credit. The Southern District’s brief suggests that Cohen’s dreams of probation are not likely to come true. All three briefs show the Special Counsel and the Southern District closing in on President Trump and his administration. They’re looking into campaign contact with Russia, and campaign finance fraud in connection with paying off an adult actress, and participation in lying to Congress. A Democratic House of Representatives, just days away, strains at the leash to help. The game’s afoot.
Another very good summary of the filings can be read at Lawfare, this one by Victoria Clark, Mikhaila Fogel, Quinta Jurecic, and Benjamin Wittes: ‘Totally Clears the President’? What Those Cohen and Manafort Filings Really Say. Here’s a short excerpt on Trump’s culpabililty:
In short, the Department of Justice, speaking through the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is alleging that the president of the United States coordinated and directed a surrogate to commit a campaign finance violation punishable with time in prison. While the filing does not specify that the president “knowingly and willfully” violated the law, as is required by the statute, this is the first time that the government has alleged in its own voice that President Trump is personally involved in what it considers to be federal offenses.
And it does not hold back in describing the magnitude of those offenses. The memo states that Cohen’s actions, “struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows.” His sentence “should reflect the seriousness of Cohen’s brazen violations of the election laws and attempt to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.”
One struggles to see how a document that alleges that such conduct took place at the direction of Individual-1 “totally clears the president.”
Garrett M. Graff at Wired: The Mueller Investigation Nears the Worst Case Scenario.
WE ARE DEEP into the worst case scenarios. But as new sentencing memos for Trump associates Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen make all too clear, the only remaining question is how bad does the actual worst case scenario get?
The potential innocent explanations for Donald Trump’s behavior over the last two years have been steadily stripped away, piece by piece. Special counsel Robert Mueller and investigative reporters have uncovered and assembled a picture of a presidential campaign and transition seemingly infected by unprecedented deceit and criminality, and in regular—almost obsequious—contact with America’s leading foreign adversary.
A year ago, Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic outlined seven possible scenarios about Trump and Russia, arranged from most innocent to most guilty. Fifth on that list was “Russian Intelligence Actively Penetrated the Trump Campaign—And Trump Knew or Should Have Known,” escalating from there to #6 “Kompromat,” and topping out at the once unimaginable #7, “The President of the United States is a Russian Agent.”
After the latest disclosures, we’re steadily into Scenario #5, and can easily imagine #6.
Read a detailed analysis at the link. Graff is the author of a book on Robert Mueller’s time as FBI Director.
Another highly recommended analysis from Ryan Goodman and Andy Wright at Just Security: Mueller’s Roadmap: Major Takeaways from Cohen and Manafort Filings. Goodman and Write offer eight “takeaways.”
1. SDNY Prosecutors named the President of the United States as a direct participant, if not the principal, in felonies….
2. Other Trump Campaign and Trump Organization officials may face criminal charges for the hush money scheme….
3. The Special Counsel ties Trump directly to possible Russia collusion….
4. Russian contacts began during the GOP Primary….
5. The Special Counsel targets many Manafort lies but is silent on the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians….
6. Some potential hints of obstruction and suborning perjury….
7. Mueller’s M.O.: What he’ll do with lying to the public (and lies in writing)….
8. Why Cohen was more forthcoming with Mueller than SDNY, and SDNY wants him to serve a significant prison sentence.
I’ll just share one interesting excerpt from point 7, on lies that are put in writing and lies to the public. Both of these could apply to Trump himself.
In terms of perjury and false statements, Mueller seizes on fact that Cohen lies were in written testimony rather than arising “spontaneously from a line of examination or heated colloquy.” That’s a danger sign for people like Trump, who may have thought they had greater safety in written responses to Mueller, and people like Roger Stone, whose apparent lies to Congress are on the face of his written testimony.
Another important insight is how Mueller seizes on Cohen’s lies made to the public.
First, Mueller’s theory of the case recognizes that public statements are methods of communication with other witnesses. That’s important for potential conspiracies to commit perjury or otherwise obstruct justice. This also increases the likelihood that Mueller will regard public statements by President Trump and his lawyers as signals to other witnesses–such as publicly dangling pardons and favoring the “strength” of uncooperative witnesses.
Second, Mueller considers lies to the public can be an attempt to undermine the investigation. The memo states, “By publicly presenting this false narrative, the defendant deliberately shifted the timeline of what had occurred in the hopes of limiting the investigations into possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” That sounds awfully similar to the creation of a cover story about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, which the President himself reportedly directed from aboard Airforce One.
Third, Mueller considers Cohen’s false statements to be even more significant because he “amplified” them by “by releasing and repeating his lies to the public.” That approach spells trouble for several Trump campaign associates including Roger Stone, Donald Trump Jr., Erik Prince, and Michael Caputo.
Barry Berke, Noah Bookbinder and Norman Eisen at The Washington Post: Is This the Beginning of the End for Trump? A brief excerpt:
The special counsel focuses on Mr. Cohen’s contacts with people connected to the White House in 2017 and 2018, possibly further implicating the president and others in his orbit in conspiracy to obstruct justice or to suborn perjury. Mr. Mueller specifically mentions that Mr. Cohen provided invaluable insight into the “preparing and circulating” of his testimony to Congress — and if others, including the president, knew about the false testimony or encouraged it in any way, they would be at substantial legal risk.
Mr. Trump’s legal woes do not end there. The special counsel also advanced the president’s potential exposure under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for activities relating to a potential Trump Tower Moscow. Mr. Mueller noted that the Moscow project was a lucrative business opportunity that actively sought Russian government approval, and that the unnamed Russian told Mr. Cohen that there was “no bigger warranty in any project than the consent” of Mr. Putin.
If recent reports that Mr. Cohen floated the idea of giving Mr. Putin a $50 million luxury apartment in a future Trump Tower Moscow prove true, both the president and his company could face substantial jeopardy.
There’s much more analysis at the WaPo link.
It has been quite a week, ending with a bang yesterday. As Trump often says, “we’ll see what happens.” What stories have you been following?
Posted: July 19, 2018 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Donald Trump, Russia, Vladimir Putin
Baby reading for an apple, Mary Cassatt
I’m not too with it this morning. My mother is in the hospital and we still don’t know what is wrong with her. A few days ago, she started feeling weak and tired and she suddenly was unable to tie her shoes. Her blood pressure has been too high and her oxygen levels are too low. At the hospital the physical therapist found that her left hand wasn’t working properly, so that might explain the shoe-tying problem.
Whatever is wrong, it doesn’t seem to be life-threatening, because she has had all kinds of tests that have so far shown nothing wrong. She had an MRI yesterday and today they are going to check for blockage in her carotid artery she will work more with the physical therapist. A neurologist told my sister and my niece that she doesn’t think it’s serious, but they still don’t understand why her blood pressure is so high.
Anyway, I’ve been very anxious about Mom, and between that and the Trump madness. I can’t really think straight.
So what’s happening in the news today?
Mother and child, by Mitra Shadfar
I’m sure you’ve heard about the shocking story that broke in The New York Times last night: From the Start, Trump Has Muddied a Clear Message: Putin Interfered.
Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.
The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.
Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed.
So Trump saw specific information proving that Vladimir Putin ordered the interference into our election to help him win, and he has spent his entire administration so far attempting to cover up for what his buddy Putin did.
The Jan. 6, 2017, meeting, held at Trump Tower, was a prime example. He was briefed that day by John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director; James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence; and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and the commander of United States Cyber Command.
The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, was also there; after the formal briefing, he privately told Mr. Trump about the “Steele dossier.” That report, by a former British intelligence officer, included uncorroborated salacious stories of Mr. Trump’s activities during a visit to Moscow, which he denied.
The briefing revealed that a highly sensitive source close to Putin had provided information.
Mother and child, Pablo Picasso, 1901
According to nearly a dozen people who either attended the meeting with the president-elect or were later briefed on it, the four primary intelligence officials described the streams of intelligence that convinced them of Mr. Putin’s role in the election interference.
They included stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee that had been seen in Russian military intelligence networks by the British, Dutch and American intelligence services. Officers of the Russian intelligence agency formerly known as the G.R.U. had plotted with groups like WikiLeaks on how to release the email stash.
And ultimately, several human sources had confirmed Mr. Putin’s own role.
That included one particularly valuable source, who was considered so sensitive that Mr. Brennan had declined to refer to it in any way in the Presidential Daily Brief during the final months of the Obama administration, as the Russia investigation intensified.
Instead, to keep the information from being shared widely, Mr. Brennan sent reports from the source to Mr. Obama and a small group of top national security aides in a separate, white envelope to assure its security.
Mr. Trump and his aides were also given other reasons during the briefing to believe that Russia was behind the D.N.C. hacks.
I was exhausted last night and fell asleep early. I woke up about 3:30AM and check Twitter. A number of people were saying that this story was likely leaked to the NYT in response to Trump’s performance in Helsinki and afterwards and that the highly placed source must have been burned–possibly by Trump–or the story would not have been leaked.
No one except the interpreters knows what Trump gave away to Putin during their more than two hour meeting in Helsinki, and now Russia is claiming Trump and Putin made a number of deals.
The Washington Post: As Russians describe ‘verbal agreements’ at summit, U.S. officials scramble for clarity.
Two days after President Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian officials offered a string of assertions about what the two leaders had achieved.
Delfina Flores Y Su Sobrina Modesta, Diego Rivera
“Important verbal agreements” were reached at the Helsinki meeting, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, told reporters in Moscow Wednesday, including preservation of the New Start and INF agreements, major bilateral arms control treaties whose futures have been in question. Antonov also said that Putin had made “specific and interesting proposals to Washington” on how the two countries could cooperate on Syria.
But officials at the most senior levels across the U.S. military, scrambling since Monday to determine what Trump may have agreed to on national security issues in Helsinki, had little to no information Wednesday.
At the Pentagon, as press officers remained unable to answer media questions about how the summit might impact the military, the paucity of information exposed an awkward gap in internal administration communications. The uncertainty surrounding Moscow’s suggestion of some sort of new arrangement or proposal regarding Syria, in particular, was striking because Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, is scheduled to brief reporters on Syria and other matters Thursday.
This is interesting:
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis did not attend Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting with Trump and has not appeared in public this week or commented on the summit.
One thing Trump and Putin apparently discussed was allowing Russia to question 11 American citizens, including former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.
The Washington Post: Outrage erupts over Trump-Putin ‘conversation’ about letting Russia interrogate ex-U.S. diplomat Michael McFaul.
At this week’s summit in Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed what President Trump described as an “incredible offer” — the Kremlin would give special counsel Robert S. Mueller III access to interviews with Russians who were indicted after they allegedly hacked Democrats in 2016. In return, Russia would be allowed to question certain U.S. officials it suspects of interfering in Russian affairs.
One of those U.S. officials is a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, a nemesis of the Kremlin because of his criticisms of Russia’s human rights record.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to rule out the Kremlin’s request to question McFaul and other Americans. Asked during the daily press briefing whether Trump is open to the idea of having McFaul questioned by Russia, Sanders said President Trump is “going to meet with his team” to discuss the offer.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
The Daily Beast: U.S. Officials ‘at a Fucking Loss’ Over Latest Russia Sellout.
Sunshine Mother And Child, by Shijun Munns
Current and former American diplomats are expressing disgust and horror over the White House’s willingness to entertain permitting Russian officials to question a prominent former U.S. ambassador.
One serving diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was “at a fucking loss” over comments that can be expected to chill American diplomacy in hostile or authoritarian countries – a comment echoed by former State Department officials as well.
“It’s beyond disgraceful. It’s fundamentally ignorant with regard to how we conduct diplomacy or what that means. It really puts in jeopardy the professional independence of diplomats anywhere in the world, if the consequence of their actions is going to be potentially being turned over to a foreign government,” the U.S. diplomat told The Daily Beast.
During President Trump’s press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Putin pivoted a question about extraditing the 12 Russian intelligence officers whom Robert Mueller has indicted into a quid pro quo for going after longtime betes noire currently beyond his reach.
Putin singled out Bill Browder, whose exposure of widespread Russian tax fraud led to the passage of a U.S. human rights sanctions law Putin hates. Standing next to Trump, the Russian president accused Browder of masterminding an illegal campaign contribution to Hillary Clinton and alleging vaguely that he had “solid reason to believe that some intelligence officers guided these transactions.” Should Trump permit the Russians to question people around Browder, Putin hinted, he will let Mueller’s people be “present at questioning” of the intelligence officers.
I’ll end with this piece by David Frump at The Atlantic: The Crisis Facing America. The country can no longer afford to wait to ascertain why President Trump has subordinated himself to Putin—it must deal with the fact that he has.
Mother with children by Dattatraya Thombare
We still do not know what hold Vladimir Putin has on Donald Trump, but the whole world has now witnessed the power of its grip.
Russia helped Donald Trump into the presidency, as Robert Mueller’s indictment vividly details. Putin, in his own voice, has confirmed that he wanted Trump elected. Standing alongside his benefactor, Trump denounced the special counsel investigating Russian intervention in the U.S. election—and even repudiated his own intelligence appointees….
The reasons for Trump’s striking behavior—whether he was bribed or blackmailed or something else—remain to be ascertained. That he has publicly refused to defend his country’s independent electoral process—and did so jointly with the foreign dictator who perverted that process—is video-recorded fact.
And it’s a fact that has to be seen in the larger context of his actions in office: denouncing the European Union as a “foe,” threatening to break up nato, wrecking the U.S.-led world trading system, intervening in both U.K. and German politics in support of extremist and pro-Russian forces, and continually refusing to act to protect the integrity of U.S. voting systems—it all adds up to a political indictment, whether or not it quite qualifies as a criminal one.
America is a very legalistic society, in which public discussion often deteriorates into lawyers arguing about whether any statutes have been violated. But confronting the country in the wake of Helsinki is this question: Can it afford to wait to ascertain why Trump has subordinated himself to Putin after the president has so abjectly demonstrated that he has subordinated himself? Robert Mueller is leading a legal process. The United States faces a national-security emergency.
Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a nice Thursday!
Posted: June 5, 2018 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Donald Trump, Hapsburg group, Konstantin Kilimnik, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Robert Mueller, Vladimir Putin, witness tampering
There has quite a bit of breaking news on the Russia investigation front this week, and it’s only Tuesday. We learned last night that Paul Manafort tried to suborn perjury from witnesses in his case. Perhaps that’s why Trump has been madly tweeting about Manafort and the investigation generally.
The Washington Post: Mueller accuses Paul Manafort of witness tampering.
Federal prosecutors accused former Trump presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort of witness tampering late Monday in his criminal case and asked a federal judge to consider revoking or revising his release.
Prosecutors accused Manafort and a longtime associate they linked to Russian intelligence of repeatedly contacting two members of a public relations firm and asking them to falsely testify about secret lobbying they did at Manafort’s behest.
The firm of former senior European officials, informally called the “Hapsburg group,” was secretly retained in 2012 by Manafort to advocate for Ukraine, where Manafort had clients, prosecutors charged.
In court documents, prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III allege that Manafort and his associate — referred to only as Person A — tried to contact the two witnesses by phone and through encrypted messaging apps. The description of Person A matches his longtime business colleague in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik.
So Manafort could soon be headed for jail unless he decides to cooperate with Mueller. Read the rest at the WaPo. Some commentary:
John Cassidy at The New Yorker: More Legal Trouble for Paul Manafort—and Donald Trump.
Coincidences do happen, but this seems to be an unlikely one. On Sunday morning, seemingly apropos of nothing, Donald Trump posted a messageon Twitter that stated the following: “As only one of two people left who could become President, why wouldn’t the FBI or Department of ‘Justice’ have told me that they were secretly investigating Paul Manafort (on charges that were 10 years old and had been previously dropped) during my campaign? Should have told me!”
Even by Trump’s standards, this message seemed a bit weird. A few minutes later, the President posted another one, which said, Paul Manafort came into the campaign very late and was with us for a short period of time (he represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole & many others over the years), but we should have been told that Comey and the boys were doing a number on him, and he wouldn’t have been hired!”
Trump says a lot of things on Twitter, of course. But prior to this outburst, he hadn’t talked much recently about Manafort, who made millions of dollars working as a political consultant for despots around the world and is facing trial in two federal courts on charges that include money laundering, bank fraud, and failing to disclose his U.S. lobbying work for a foreign government—all of which were brought by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Why Trump’s sudden interest? One possible inference was that the President had somehow heard that there was more bad news coming about Manafort, and he was trying to limit some of the damage in advance of its release. If that was indeed the case, we now know the source of Trump’s concern.
In a filing made in U.S. district court, in Washington, on Monday night, Mueller’s office accused Manafort, who is out on bail, of trying to tamper with potential witnesses earlier this year, and asked a judge to consider jailing him before his trial. At this stage, obviously, we don’t know how the court will rule. But Manafort is already facing considerable pressure to coöperate with the special counsel’s investigation. If the court were to revoke his freedom, this pressure would sharply increase.
Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: Paul Manafort Loses His Cool.
At the height of his powers as a political consultant, Paul Manafort was known for his cool. In fact, the value of his counsel increased at moments of crisis. While others panicked, Manafort rarely evinced a hint of frazzle. He could still think strategically, detach himself from emotion, and issue clearheaded guidance. But he could afford to keep his head at such moments, because the problems he was called on to solve belonged to others.
Robert Mueller’s allegation that Manafort attempted to tamper with a witness permits us to peer inside Manafort’s mind as it has functioned in a very different set of circumstances. When it comes to Manafort’s own deep problems—his moment of legal peril—he seems unable to muster strategic thinking. He has shown himself capable of profoundly dunderheaded miscalculations.
It’s hard to understand how he could have attempted the scheme described by Mueller in the midst of the highest-profile, most scrutinized criminal inquiry of the century. But that alone fails to capture the depths of his blundering.
Foer describes how each of Mueller’s filings in Manafort’s case has made it clear that Manafort’s every move is being closely watched by federal investigators, and yet Manafort apparently thought he could get away with contacting witnesses.
Each of Mueller’s new filings has further revealed the extent to which he is surveilling Manafort and his closest associates. A week before Manafort apparently attempted to tamper with the witness, Mueller stated plainly that he was watching their encrypted communication channels. And before that, Mueller showed that he was keeping tabs on Manafort’s email when he exposed an op-ed that Manafort had ghostwritten in his own defense, in violation of a judge’s gag order.
If we look back on Robert Mueller’s strategy over the past few months, the special prosecutor seems to repeatedly signal to Manafort: Look, I know everything; you have no choice but cooperation. It’s a pattern that continues with this filing, the first instance in which Mueller has deployed material supplied by Manafort’s old alter ego, Rick Gates. When Gates agreed to cooperate with Mueller, he handed over a raft of emails. We can see in the exhibits that Mueller attached to this filing that Gates possesses a comprehensive archive of Manafort’s dealings, a blueprint of his operation. There will be no ellipses in the Manafort trial. Gates can fill all the gaps.
There is another suggestive fact that Mueller posits in passing. Manafort’s witness-tampering scheme featured a co-conspirator. Mueller doesn’t name the accomplice, but his identity is not hard to discern from Mueller’s description. Manafort tried to contact his Hapsburg Group collaborators through his old Russo-Ukrainian aide, Konstantin Kilimnik.
Why did Manafort think he could get away with continuing to communicate with Kilimnik? Mueller is slowly but surely ensuring that Manafort will either cooperate or spend the rest of his life in prison.
Meanwhile, at Mother Jones, David Corn warns that the simple narrative of Russia’s attack on our democracy is getting lost in the details as Trump, Fox News, and Devin Nunes work constantly to obfuscate the truth with big lies: Donald Trump Is Getting Away With the Biggest Scandal In American History.
The other evening I was on a cable news show to cover the latest Russia news of the day—and I had an epiphany.
We were talking about a recent scoop from Michael Isikoff, the co-author of my latest book, Russian Roulette. He had reported that a Spanish prosecutor had handed the FBI wiretapped transcripts of a Russian official who was suspected of money laundering and for years had been trying to gain influence within the American conservative movement and the National Rifle Association. We then discussed a New York Times article revealing that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s longtime fixer, had met with a Russian oligarch in January 2017, around the time a US company affiliated with this tycoon began making $500,000 in payments to Cohen. Next we turned to the latest in the so-called Spygate nonscandal—the false claim, championed by Trump and his defenders, that the FBI infiltrated a spy into his presidential campaign for political purposes.
Then the show moved on. We had spent 15 or so minutes on these important developments, delving into the details—but without referring to the essence of the story. And it hit me: Though it’s clear Trump’s presidency has been hobbled by the Russia scandal, the manner in which this matter plays out in the media has helped Trump.
Meanwhile Trump, backed up by Fox News, keeps pushing out his propaganda.
Michael Isakoff and David Corn
The other side—the accurate perspective—isn’t that complicated. In 2016, Vladimir Putin’s regime mounted information warfare against the United States, in part to help Trump become president. While this attack was underway, the Trump crew tried to collude covertly with Moscow, sought to set up a secret communications channel with Putin’s office, and repeatedly denied in public that this assault was happening, providing cover to the Russian operation. Trump and his lieutenants aligned themselves with and assisted a foreign adversary, as it was attacking the United States. The evidence is rock-solid: They committed a profound act of betrayal. That is the scandal.
But how often do you hear or see this fundamental point being made? The media coverage of the Trump-Russia scandal—which has merged with Cohen’s pay-to-play scandal, the Stormy Daniels scandal, and a wider foreign-intervention-in-the-2016-campaign scandal—has yielded a flood of revelations. Yet the news reporting tends to focus on specific components of an unwieldy and ever-expanding story: a Trump Tower meeting between Trump aides and a Kremlin emissary; what special counsel Robert Mueller may or may not be doing; the alleged money-laundering and tax-evasion skullduggery of Paul Manafort; a secret get-together in the Seychelles between former Blackwater owner Erik Prince and a Russian financier; the Kremlin’s clandestine exploitation of social media; Russian hackers penetrating state election systems; Michael Flynn’s shady lobbying activities; Trump’s attempted interference in the investigation; and so much more. It is hard to hold on to all these pieces and place them into one big picture.
Please go read the rest–it’s fairly lengthy. I’m not sure what the solution to this is; It’s not likely that non-Fox news sources are going to start hammering a simple narrative to push back on the Trump big lies. I can only hope that when Mueller issues his report, it will pull all the complex details together into a coherent and understandable story.
Finally, get this–Vladimir Putin is now bragging publicly about his “close relationship” with Trump. Axios reports:
Russian President Vladimir Putin tells Austrian TV that he and President Trump have a close working relationship, although it’s complicated by U.S. politics.
“You should ask our colleagues in the United States. In my opinion, this is the result of the ongoing acute political struggle in the United States. Indeed, Donald Trump and I have, firstly, met more than once at various international venues and secondly, we regularly talk over the phone.”
Interviewer: “You and Donald Trump talk so nicely over the telephone, but Trump has been President for a year and a half and there still has not been a bilateral summit between you, in contrast to Bush and Obama with whom you met within the first six months of their presidencies. Why is it taking so long?”
“Our foreign affairs departments and special services are working fairly well together in areas of mutual interest, above all in the fight against international terrorism. This work is ongoing.”
“As for personal meetings, I think that the possibility of these meetings depends to a large extent on the internal political situation in the United States….”
“In a recent telephone conversation, Donald said he was worried about the possibility of a new arms race. I fully agree with him.”
“[W]e will do all we can to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. So of course we pin great hopes on the personal meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, because mutual claims have gone way too far.”
Putin calls the “president” *Donald.* And I guess if “Donald” does achieve any success with North Korea, Putin expects to share the glory.
So . . . what stories are you following today?