In Other News, More Evidence Of Money Laundering Shows Up

Ken AshfordCorporate Greed, L'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

McClatchy News has the goods:

Aleksandr Burman, a Ukrainian who engaged in a health care scheme that cost the federal government $26 million and was sentenced to a decade in prison, paid $725,000 cash for a condo at a Trump Tower I in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. in 2009.

Leonid Zeldovich, who has reportedly done extensive business in the Russian-annexed area of Crimea, bought four Trump units outright at a cost of more than $4.35 million, three of them in New York City between 2007 and 2010.

And Igor Romashov, who served as chairman of the board of Transoil, a Russian oil transport company subject to U.S. sanctions, paid $620,000 upfront for a unit at a building adorned with the future U.S. president’s name in Sunny Isles Beach in 2010.

Buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales — totaling nearly $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City, according to a new analysis shared with McClatchy. Many of them made purchases using shell companies designed to obscure their identities.

“The size and scope of these cash purchases are deeply troubling as they can often signal money laundering activity,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a former federal prosecutor. “There have long been credible allegations of money laundering by the Trump Organization which, if true, would pose a real threat to the United States in the event that Russia were able to leverage evidence of illicit financial transactions against the president.”

There’s nothing illegal about accepting cash for real estate. But transactions that do not involve mortgages — which account for one in four residential purchases in the country — raise red flags for law enforcement officials as it could be a way to commit fraud or launder money.

In 2016, the Treasury Department targeted Miami and New York — where cash purchases account for half of residential sales — for increased scrutiny, requiring title insurers to report the names behind the shell companies buying homes with cash. It was later expanded to include a handful of other localities, including Broward County, Fla., which includes Fort Lauderdale and its wealthy suburbs.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has spent more than a year investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, a widening probe that appears to include questions about his family business, the Trump Organization. “This is all about money laundering,” former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is quoted as saying about the Mueller inquiry in the book, Fire and Fury.

Glenn Simpson, co-founder of Fusion GPS, the firm behind a dossier alleging ties between Trump and Russians, told the House Intelligence Committee in November that his group uncovered “patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering” at Trump-branded properties around the globe. “Generally speaking, the patterns of activity that we thought might be suggestive of money laundering were … fast-turnover deals, and deals where there seemed to have been efforts to disguise the identity of the buyer,” he said.

The Trump Organization, the collective name for about 500 Trump businesses owned by the president and now run by his adult sons, did not respond to a request for comment about the data, which was compiled by the left-leaning group American Bridge 21st Century and focused on areas that the Treasury Department targeted. But company officials have previously told McClatchy that the company generally focuses on branding and management and is not involved with sales or development.

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Other news reports have looked at Russian buyers of Trump Organization properties but less attention has been paid to the all-cash purchases.

“We’ve long suspected that Donald Trump’s businesses were a front for money laundering and our research suggests it could be true,” said Harrell Kirstein, communicators director for the Trump War Room at American Bridge. “The millions of dollars in previously unreported, all-cash real estate deals we discovered raise troubling questions about who is funding his businesses, why, and what they’re getting in return.”

The group looked at real estate records at 2,769 condo units at 10 luxury buildings that the Trump Organization either develops or licenses in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in South Florida and New York City; three Trump Towers, Trump Palace and Trump Royale, all in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., Trump Hollywood in Hollywood, Fla. and Trump Soho, Trump Place, Trump World Tower and Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York — offering a snapshot into the buyers of Trump properties.

In New York, deeds explicitly state if purchases lack a mortgage. But in Florida, sales were deemed all cash if the property deed lacked a corresponding mortgage document. The group did not document how many total purchases were all cash.

Some of the buyers appeared to spend above market value — one of the signs, along with a lack of information about where the money comes from and properties sitting empty — that raises suspicion, said Elise Bean, former staff director of a Senate subcommittee that investigated money laundering.

In one case, a Florida-registered LLC, Unit 1101 Holdings, tied to Vadim Sachkov, paid $1.4 million for a unit in Trump Tower I in 2016 though the assessed market value was $1.2 million, according to the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser. In another case, Natalia Sivokozova spent $1.3 million for a unit in Trump Royale in 2016, though the assessed market value was $923,803, according to the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser.

The group looked at the 69 buyers or shell companies who indicated they were from Russia or a former Soviet republic, previously lived or studied in Russia or a former Soviet republic; had done extensive business in Russia or a former Soviet republic; or purchased a unit using a shell company whose registered agent or officer was from Russia or a former Soviet republic.

Several had questionable backgrounds, including:

  • Anatoly Golubchik was found guilty in 2013 of operating a sports betting ring for a Russian-American organized crime group, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. He purchased a unit in Trump Tower I for $830,000 in 2010, according to the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser.
  • Peter Kiritchenko, a Ukrainian businessman who prosecutors accused of laundering tens of millions of dollars alongside that country’s former prime minister Pavel Lazarenko. He pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of stolen property and testified against Lazarenko, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s for the North District of California. Kiritchenko’s daughter, Lidia, paid $1.25 million for a unit in Trump Tower II in 2013, acording to the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser.
  • Eduard Nektalov, a Uzbeki diamond dealer was arrested on charges he laundered drug money before he was killed in New York, according to multiple news reports. He purchased a unit at Trump World Tower for $1.6 million in 2003, according to the New York City Department of Finance.
  • The Sivokozov family, which has ties to organized crime, according to various Russian media reports. Patriarch Vasily Sivokozov was director of a Russian bank whose license was revoked, according to the reports. His son, Igor, went into business with a Russian-American criminal who had been convicted of fraud. Igor Sivokozov and his daughter, Natalia, paid $660,000 for a unit in Trump Royale in 2015 though the assessed market value was $483,223. Natalia Sivokozova bought two units at Trump Royale, one in 2015 for $675,000 — which had an assessed market value of $534,630 — and another for $1.3 million — which had an assessed market value of $923,803 — in 2016. Her sister, Ksenia Sivokozova, paid $675,000 for a fourth unit in 2015, though it had a market value of $474,474.
  • Burman, who does not have a medical license, opened six clinics in Brooklyn as part of a scheme to defraud Medicare and New York State Medicaid programs of more than $26 million between 2007 and 2013, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. It was during that time in 2009 that he paid $725,000 for a unit at Trump Tower I in Sunny Isles Beach, according to the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser. Burman, who was born in Kiev and came to the U.S. in 1992 , pleaded guilty and, in May 2017, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
  • Zeldovich, who according to social media is likely from Minsk, Belarus, had a company accused of violating anti-monopoly laws and may have continued to do business in Crimea, despite U.S. prohibitions about doing business there after Russia annexed it from Ukraine, according to Russian news reports. Zeldovich and his wife, Erna, purchased two Trump Place units in 2007, one for $790,000 and another for $995,000, according to the New York City Department of Finance. They spent $750,000 for a Trump Royale unit in 2008, making them one of the first buyers, according to the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser. Zeldovich Living Trust, which lists Zeldovich as a representative , spent $1.85 million on a unit at Trump Place in 2010, according to the New York City Department of Finance.
  • Romashov served as chairman of the board of Transoil when it was on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list in March 2014. Transoil was founded by Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, who has close ties to Putin and is under U.S. sanctions. Romashov paid $620,000 cash for a unit in Trump Tower I in Sunny Isles Beach in 2010, according to the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser.

Messages left for these buyers or their attorneys at homes, businesses and Facebook were not returned. Some could not be located. Reached by phone, Zeldovich said “No thank you. We sold those” before hanging up.

Thirty-six of the 86 sales were original purchases, earning Trump a licensing fee. But most of them continue to help the president’s business. The Trump Organization promotes all the buildings — except for Trump Soho, which the company no longer manages as part of a licensing agreement — as it tries to sell its brand around the world. About five of the 83 units sold were in buildings the company developed, according to the analysis.

Trump ignored calls after he was elected president to fully separate from his business interests and placed his holdings in a trust designed to hold assets for his “exclusive benefit.” He can receive money at any time without the public’s knowledge and retains the authority to revoke the trust. Trump earned at least $453 million and had assets valued at least $1.4 billion, according to his most recent financial disclosure statement, which covered the 2017 calendar year. But his licensing and management deals are private, making it difficult to determine how how much he makes from individual projects.

“Regardless of who bought these apartments, the Trump Organization received the same amount of licensing fee,” Dezer said. “So if the unit was bought by a Russian or a Chinese or a Brazilian or someone from Zimbabwe, the Trump Organization received the same fee on the sale. ”

Alma Angotti, an anti-money laundering consultant who worked in financial crimes enforcement for the federal government, said the South Florida and New York City markets attract all cash purchases because they offer nice places to live, stable economies and strong real estate markets.

“If you are trying to hide assets there is no safer place than London, New York and Florida,” Angotti said.

The Trump Organization signed deals in the early 2000s to brand several condo towers in South Florida. Dezer downplayed the numbers in Florida, saying the 86 cash purchases don’t even add up to 5 percent of the 2,000 buyers at the Trump buildings. By comparison, Brazilians bought more than 300 units in cash in 2011, he said.

“We work with real estate brokers around the world,” he said. “While we sell majority to South America we have real estate professionals from Hong Kong to Paris representing our properties.”

Jack Blum, a Washington lawyer and expert on financial crimes, said sellers — unlike lenders — bear little responsibility in an all cash sale unless they have information of a crime. “If you know something then you are in big trouble. You are part of the conspiracy,” he said.

Foreign buyers can have legitimate reasons for paying for real estate upfront, such as avoiding fees or unfavorable exchange rates, or keeping the money from being seized by rogue nations, but U.S. officials have become increasingly concerned with possible illegitimate reasons.

Since the 1970s, U.S. laws have required real estate professionals to screen clients for signs of money laundering. The Bank Secrecy Act and the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network require institutions that provide financing to examine their customers and their source of wealth. But those laws don’t pertain to sellers.

“Criminals can use all-cash purchases to make payments in full for properties and evade scrutiny — on themselves and the origin of their wealth — that is regularly performed by financial institutions in transactions involving mortgages,” according to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. “Many all-cash transactions are routine and legitimate; however, they also present significant opportunities for exploitation by illicit actors.”

In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, the USA Patriot Act required real estate professionals to adopt formal anti-money laundering programs, but lobbyists for the industry won a “temporary” exemption that remains in place.

“The evidence that corrupt officials, drug traffickers, and other wrongdoers are laundering criminal proceeds through cash purchases of U.S. real estate is overwhelming,” Bean said. “But Treasury continues to drag its feet on implementing the 2001 legal requirement to ensure real estate professionals aren’t taking dirty money.”

The publication of the Panama Papers — the massive 2016 leak of data that shows how the wealthy move money through offshore shell companies — prompted some to call on Congress to give federal agents more power to investigate money laundering. But the United States still fails to regulate most cash purchases in real estate.

Two bills have been introduced in the Senate to stop people from using shell companies to engage in illegal activities, including money laundering. Congress has yet to pass a bill.

Family Separation Policy Goes To Overboil

Ken AshfordImmigration and Xenophobia, Polls, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

There is no absence of opinion on the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” toward immigrants crossing the Southern border — a policy that includes separating children from their parents indefinitely, and detaining them in less-than-stellar conditions (including a “tent city” popping up in a region where the temperatures are often in the high 90s).  All living former first ladies have written against it. Republicans, for the most part, express displeasure but don’t seem willing to do anything about it, unless it is attached to a comprehensive immigration bill that includes a wall.  Democrats have a standalone bill that would take care of the immediate crisis, arguing (correctly) that you don’t need to overhaul immigration in one fell swoop to fix the immediate issue.  They also point out (correctly) that Trump is using the children as leverage to get what he wants in the immigration bill, as well as sending a message to would-be immigrants.  That, many say, only adds to the abhorrence — using children as political pawns.

White House adviser and ghoul Stephen Miller is taking credit for the policy, saying disingenuously that it is actually “humane” because it stops people from stealing their neighbor’s kids and using them to cross the border in hopes of preferential treatment.  Again, it is BS, as even THAT doesn’t not require family separation.

A heartbreaking audio released by ProPublica released yesterday which records kids crying and pleading for their parents has only fueled the fire.

So where are the people on this?

A new Quinnipiac University poll, released Monday, asked voters, “As you may know, some families seeking asylum from their home country cross the U.S. border illegally and then request asylum. In an attempt to discourage this, the Trump administration has been prosecuting the parents immediately, which means separating parents from their children. Do you support or oppose this policy?” As my colleague Dara Lind notes, this characterizes most of the reason for family separation, though some families seeking asylum legally at ports of entry have also been separated.

Sixty-six percent of voters — including 91 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents — told Quinnipiac they opposed the policy. Whites with college degrees were likelier than non-college whites to oppose the policy, and young people of all races were likelier to oppose it than old people. Women were likelier to oppose the policy than men, and black and Hispanic Americans were more likely to oppose it than whites (though a large majority of whites still oppose the policy).

But by a large, 20-point (55 percent to 35 percent) margin, Republicans supported the policy:

A poll conducted by Ipsos exclusively for the Daily Beast found similar results. Ipsos asked respondents if they agreed with this statement: “It is appropriate to separate undocumented immigrant parents from their children when they cross the border in order to discourage others from crossing the border illegally.” The wording is slightly different from the Quinnipiac poll, foregrounding the deterrence rationale the Trump administration has used to defend the policy.

Fifty-five percent of respondents stated they disagreed (42 percent “strongly” disagreed), while 27 percent agreed. As in the Quinnipiac poll, women and nonwhite people were likelier to disagree with the policy; unlike the Quinnipiac poll, differences based on education were minimal, and 18- to 34-year-olds and 35- to 54-year-olds had similar opinions. (People 55 and up were likelier to support the policy.)

And as in the Quinnipiac poll, more Republicans approved of the policy than not (46 percent to 32 percent). Note that unlike the Quinnipiac poll, the Ipsos poll found only a plurality of Republicans supporting family separation, not a majority.

And finally, a CNN poll found the same thing — disapproval by all groups except Republicans:

Chris Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University, notes that both the Quinnipiac and Ipsos polling suggests the policy is less popular than any major policy proposal of recent American history, including the extremely unpopular Obamacare repeal bills of last summer:

Nonetheless, the polls find that Trump’s core Republican base supports family separation. But when interpreting party-based polling, one should keep in mind the finding by Emory political scientists Pablo Montagnes, Zachary Peskowitz, and Joshua McCrain that Trump’s unpopularity has coincided with fewer people identifying as Republicans.

That could mean that Republicans who disagree with Trump, and in particular his immigration policies, are likelier to identify as independents rather than Republicans now, which in turn artificially inflates support for Trump among self-identified Republicans. If you polled people who identified as Republicans as of November 2016 and asked what they think of the family separation policy, you might get different results.

Ben Sasse – Nine Points on the Trump Family Separation Policy

Ken AshfordImmigration and Xenophobia, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

From his Facebook page:

Many Nebraskans this weekend asked me about the kids at the border. Here’s a short version of what I told them. This is a bit over-simplified, but these are broad brushstrokes of how I understand the situation at present:

1) Family separation is wicked. It is harmful to kids and absolutely should NOT be the default U.S. policy. Americans are better than this.

2) This bad new policy is a reaction against a bad old policy. The old policy was “catch-and-release.” Under catch-and-release, if someone made it to the border and claimed asylum (whether true or not, and most of the time it wasn’t true), they were released into the U.S. until a future hearing date. Many folks obviously don’t show up at these hearings, so this became a new pathway into the U.S.

3) Catch-and-release – combined with inefficient deportation and other ineffective policies – created a magnet whereby lots of people came to the border who were not actually asylum-seekers. This magnet not only attracted illegal immigrants generally, but also produced an uptick in human trafficking across our border. (We now also have some limited evidence of jihadi recruiters spreading word about how to exploit the southwestern border.)

4) Human trafficking organizations are not just evil; they’re also often smart. Many quickly learned the “magic words” they needed to say under catch-and-release to guarantee admission into the U.S. Because of this, some of the folks showing up at the border claiming to be families are not actually families. Some are a trafficker with one or more trafficked children. Sometimes border agents can identify this, but many times they aren’t sure.

5) Any policy that incentivizes illegal immigration is terrible governance. But even more troubling is that catch-and-release rewarded traffickers, who knew they could easily get their victims to market in the U.S.

6) This foolish catch-and-release policy had to be changed. But changing from catch-and-release does not require adopting the wicked family separation policy. The choice before the American people does not have to be “wicked versus foolish.”

7) The administration’s decision to separate families is a new, discretionary choice. Anyone saying that their hands are tied or that the only conceivable way to fix the problem of catch-and-release is to rip families apart is flat wrong. There are other options available to them. The other options are all messy (given that some overly prescriptive judges have limited their administrative options), but there are ways to address this that are less bad than the policy of family separation they’ve chosen.

8) There are many senior folks in the administration who hate this policy, and who want to do something better.

9) But some in the administration have decided that this cruel policy increases their legislative leverage. This is wrong. Americans do not take children hostage, period.

So what happens next? Obviously the Congress is broken and clearly bears much of the blame for a broken immigration system. We have many different problems clustered together: The border is too porous. Our asylum and refugee polices are too subject to executive branch whim, rather than clear legislative debate before the American people. We don’t have any coherent policy for dealing with kids who were brought here as minors but who have never known any home but the U.S. And more broadly, we have no long-term agreement about what levels of legal immigration we should want, or what kinds of workers we should prioritize. The Congress clearly bears much of the blame.

But neither the horrors of family separation nor the stupidity of catch-and-release should be about leverage for a broader debate. We should start by tackling the specific problem before us in the narrowest way possible.

The President should immediately end this family separation policy. And he should announce to the Congress the narrowest possible way problems like the FIores consent decree and related decisions (which bias policy toward release into the U.S. within three weeks after capture) can be resolved.

I am also working on a possible solution with James Lankford of Oklahoma, a man of integrity who has been pouring great energy into addressing this human tragedy at the border.

This is quite true.  Immigration was broken long before Trump came along and weaponized it.  It is great that Congress could consider comprehensive reform, but that reform must include a ridiculous wall or else Trump will not sign it.  So here we are.

Separation of Families At The Border Overshadows Everything

Ken AshfordImmigration and Xenophobia, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Control of the narrative shifted away from the sitting president’s control over the weekend as the Trump administration, unaccustomed to concerted resistance, found itself outgunned and outflanked. The Administration took fire for its policy of separating families at border stations.

Teams from Congress and thousands of citizens converged on Texas immigrant processing stations along the Texas border and elsewhere to inspect, to protest, and to ask where the girls and toddlers are who were separated from parents at the border. Most of the reporting on detention centers to date has been on facilities holding boys 10 and older.

In Tornillo, TX, protesters held signs reading, “Fight ignorance, not immigrants” and “This is how the Holocaust started.” Texas Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, attended along with other Texas Democratic candidates and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA).

Don’t ever forget–and don’t forget to teach your children and your grandchildren–that this atrocity occurred thanks to, and with the full and undisputed consent of, 62 million American voters:

In South Texas, pediatricians started sounding the alarm weeks ago as migrant shelters began filling up with younger children separated from their parents after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

The concerned pediatricians contacted Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and she flew to Texas and visited a shelter for migrant children in the Rio Grande Valley. There, she saw a young girl in tears. “She couldn’t have been more than 2 years old,” Kraft says. “Just crying and pounding and having a huge, huge temper tantrum. This child was just screaming, and nobody could help her. And we know why she was crying. She didn’t have her mother. She didn’t have her parent who could soothe her and take care of her.”

The number of migrant children in U.S. government custody is soaring — partly the result of a policy decision by the Trump administration to separate children from their parents who are being prosecuted for unlawful entry. Hundreds of the children being held in shelters are under age 13.

Medical professionals, members of Congress and religious leaders are calling on the Trump administration to stop separating migrant families. They question whether these shelter facilities are appropriate for younger children.

President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions say the administration is enforcing immigration law. But House Republicans plan to vote next week on a bill that they say would end the practice of separating children from their parents.

Pediatricians and immigrant advocates are warning that separating migrant children from their families can cause “toxic stress” that disrupts a child’s brain development and harms long-term health.

This is nothing short of psychological murder, the asphyxiation of the soul. How could a compassionate people allow this to happen? The question, of course, presupposes that those who voted for Trump regarded compassion as anything other than a form of political correctness.

11,351 children are being subjected to this horror. 11,351 children being held in internment camps–oops, sorry, “shelters”–for no reason other than the color of their skin and the country where they were born. This is sickness. This is madness. And thanks to those 62 million voters, this is America.

Why did Attorney General Jeff Sessions even bother reaching for Biblical quotes to defend the moral cancer that is this policy? He doesn’t have to convince Trump’s supporters about the supposed Biblical morality of this policy; after all, it comes from the Book of Donald, so by definition it is good and righteous. May the Church of Trump say amen!

I also can’t help wondering why Playboy reporter Brian Karem even bothered asking White House spokesflack Sarah Huckabee Sanders if she has any empathy for the families Trump’s voters have split apart. Come on, Brian, you already know damn well she doesn’t. If she had any empathy, she never would have joined the Trump team.

As we witness this horror, we must also condemn media entities who gullibly report that some members of Trump’s fan club disagree with this policy. An example of such gullibility comes from the Washington Post:

The policy has cracked Trump’s usually united conservative base, with a wide array of religious leaders and groups denouncing it. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention issued statements critical of the practice.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who delivered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration, signed a letter calling the practice “horrible.” Pastor Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse, a vocal supporter of the president’s who has brushed aside past Trump controversies, called it “terrible” and “disgraceful.”

Rodriguez and Graham are obviously lying. They support this policy by virtue of their support of Trump. They signed on to the whole package. Their disavowals of the policy are all for show. Shame on the Post for not pointing that out.

The reality is that Trump’s “conservative base” is fully united behind this policy. They love this stuff. What rational and compassionate Americans view as ugly, they view as beautiful.

Weekly List 83

Ken AshfordWeekly ListLeave a Comment

This week the atrocities at our southern border finally garnered widespread attention, as stories on the scope and the devastating impact of the Trump regime’s zero-tolerance policy were reported. Sessions invoked the Bible to justify the regime’s practice of separating migrant children from their parents, and exacerbated the crisis by ordering immigration judges to stop granting asylum to most victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. Amid widespread condemnation, Trump repeated false claims blaming Democrats for the border crisis — continuing his pattern of constructing an alternative version of reality to feed his base.

Trump held a well choreographed summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore, which received media attention on the scale of a Super Bowl, but resulted in little in the way of substance. Trump continues his pattern of ignoring human rights abuses abroad, while cozying up to dictators and alienating former democratic allies. Trump’s capacity and culpability for human rights abuses at home may explain why.

This week Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, was sent to jail, pending his trial, and Trump insider Michael Cohen lost his legal representation, amid persistent rumors that he may cooperate. As the week came to a close, Rudy Giuliani bragged that Trump would clean things up by issuing pardons.

  1. Late Saturday, after departing the G7 summit early, Trump announced that he was backing out of the joint communique, repeating his mantra, “We must put the American worker first!”
  2. Late Saturday, while aboard Air Force One, Trump lashed out at Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau in a tweet, calling him “Very dishonest & weak.”
  3. On Sunday, Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to Trump, further escalated the rhetoric against Trudeau on “Fox News Sunday,” saying, “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy.”
  4. On Sunday, top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told “State of the Union” that Trudeau “stabbed us in the back,” saying, “He did a great disservice to the whole G7.”
  5. On Monday, Kudlow was hospitalized after suffering a mild heart attack.
  6. On Sunday, other G7 leaders issued statements in support of Trudeau, with Britain’s Prime Minister May saying she is “fully supportive of Justin Trudeau,” and France and Germany issuing similar statements.
  7. On Sunday, NYT reported Trump did not want to go to the G7, but aides pushed him to do so. He rebelled byshowing up late and leaving early, as well as by acting out by crossing his arms and swiveling in his seat.
  8. On Sunday, Axios reported that at a White House visit in April, French President Macron told Trump that France and the U.S. should work together on their “China problem,” Trump said the European Union is “worse than China.”
  9. Rep. Louie Gohmert told “Fox & Friends Weekend” that Mueller is “covering up” for Hillary Clinton, and “he’s trying to have a coup against” against Trump.
  10. On Sunday, NYT reported while Trump was at the G7 summit, burned-out White House staffers are considering resigning, including chief of staff John Kelly and one of his deputies, Joe Hagin. Turnover is at 51%.
  11. Trump does not mind people leaving, and is comfortable removing barriers that might challenge him. Trump believes he can function as his own chief of staff, communications director, and HR manager.
  12. Trump is re-energized, and feels he gained ground in dictating the narrative of news coverage. He continues to be paranoid about leakers — aides seeking his favor try to identify people who could be disloyal.
  13. On Monday, Canada’s House of Commons unanimously condemned the personal attacks on Trudeau by Trump and his surrogates.
  14. AP conducted a fact check of Trump’s statements on trade, and found his examples to be factually incorrect, adding Trump glossed over the parts of the economy “that don’t support his faulty contention.”
  15. On Tuesday, amid growing tensions with Canada, Trump’s Department of Homeland Security announced a “strengthened” Northern Border Strategy to help “combat terrorism” and “help facilitate travel and trade” at its border.
  16. WAPO reported on mass trials in courtrooms packed with parents in the Southwest who were separated from their children after crossing the border. The number of defendants has soared under Trump’s new crackdown.
  17. Migrant parents face the decision of pleading guilty and hoping to be reunified with their children, or pleading innocent and waiting days or weeks for trial without their children.
  18. In McAllen, Texas alone, 415 children had been separated from their parents between May 21 and June 5. In one day in court, the judge sentenced 100 people, including 28 parents.
  19. On Sunday, WAPO reported that 206 undocumented immigrants were transferred last week to the Federal Detention Center in Seattle, 174 of which were women. The women were kept in three concrete pods.
  20. Rep. Pramila Jayapal said half the women said they were forcibly separated from their children. Some said children as young as 12 months had been taken away — some heard their children screaming for them in the next room.
  21. The women were fleeing threats of rape and gang violence in Cuba, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. ICE confirmed it has moved 1,600 migrants to federal prisons due to the surge of illegal crossings and implementation of the zero-tolerance policy.
  22. On Monday, Jeff Sessions ordered immigration judges to stop granting asylum to most victims of domestic abuse and gang violence, continuing the regime’s efforts to change immigration laws to make them less friendly.
  23. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there was a backlog of 311,000 asylum claims in late January. Immigration attorneys said a substantial portion fall under the categories Sessions targeted.
  24. WAPO reported the Honduran father, Marco Antonio Muñoz, who killed himself in Week 82 after being separated from his wife and son, was seeking asylum after the murder of his brother-in-law in Honduras.
  25. The parents also have a older son who is an American citizen who they put in a plane to flee, while the couplewent by land with the younger son.
  26. AP reported U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency which oversees immigration applications, will focus on identifying Americans suspected of cheating to get their citizenship and seek to strip them of it.
  27. Up until now, the agency pursued cases as they arose, but not through a coordinated effort. The new steps come as the regime cracks down on illegal immigration and looks to reduce legal immigration to the U.S.
  28. On Tuesday, McClatchy reported the Trump regime is looking to erect tent cities at military posts around Texas to shelter the growing number of children separated from their parents crossing the border.
  29. Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services confirmed they are looking at the Fort Bliss site along with Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo to hold between 1,000 and 5,000 children.
  30. The Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS is responsible for the care of more than 11,200 migrant children and growing. The approximately 100 shelters designated for children are 95% full.
  31. CNN interviewed an attorney in McAllen, Texas who said an undocumented immigrant from Honduras saidfederal authorities took her daughter while she was breastfeeding in a detention center.
  32. When the mother tried to resist, she was handcuffed. An assistant public defender in Texas said some parents also claim they have been told their children are being taken to be bathed or cleaned up, then disappear.
  33. On Thursday, images inside a migrant children center at a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, revealed a large mural of Trump with a quote — in English and Spanish — from his 1987 book The Art of the Deal.
  34. DHS said the mural is one of 20 depicting U.S. presidents at shelters. The others feature inspiring quotes about immigration, while Trump’s quote reads, “Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.”
  35. On Thursday, NBC News reported the regime will house the overflow of migrant children in tents in Tornillo, Texas. The DHS will erect a “tent city” full of large tents, which are estimated to hold 450 beds for children.
  36. On Thursday, Daily Beast reported that MVM Inc., a scandal plagued defense contractor company, is set to benefit from the migrant children detention centers. The company is advertising to hire all sorts of personnel, in fields not in their expertise.
  37. MVM bills itself as an “extensive domain expertise in counter-narcotics, criminal and civil investigations,public safety, and national security,” and has no relevant experience with the care of migrant children.
  38. On Thursday, WAPO reported House Republicans are circulating a proposal to limit Trump’s policy of separating migrant children. The policy has been criticized by human rights groups, clergy, and lawmakers on both sides.
  39. On Thursday, Sessions continued to defend the policy in a speech in Indiana, saying the previous policyamounted to “a declaration of open borders,” and the short-term separation was “not unusual or unjustified.”
  40. Sessions countered a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church who called the policy, “immoral,” by citing Romans 13 in the Bible: “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
  41. On Friday, DHS revealed that in the six weeks since Sessions’ zero tolerance policy took effect, 1,995 children have been separated from 1,940 adults.
  42. On Friday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a nonpartisan fact-finding agency, issued a letter asking Sessions and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to halt the family separations, saying the policy raises “grave concerns” about due process and coercive tactics.
  43. On Friday, in a speech in Scranton, PA, Sessions criticized Philadelphia and its mayor over the city’s ‘sanctuary’ status, saying the city is coddling dangerous criminals and refusing to turn them over to ICE.
  44. On Friday, NPR reported pediatricians are sounding the alarm, saying migrant children separated from their parents suffer “irreparable harm,” including “toxic stress” that disrupts a child’s brain development and harms long-term health.
  45. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who saw a young girl crying, was told bystaff that federal regulations prevented them from touching or holding the child to soothe her.
  46. Antar Davidson, an employee of Southwest Key, which operates more than two dozen shelters for migrant children from Texas to California, quit his job, saying staffers are not trained to handle the influx of younger, more traumatized children.
  47. Davidson said the breaking point was when he was called over the radio and asked to translate for two siblings, ages 6 and 10, that they couldn’t hug each other after being separated from their parents.
  48. The U.S. is expected to quit the U.N. human rights panel when sessions open on Monday. The U.S. had long played a “leadership role” in the council, which was set up in 2006.
  49. The ACLU highlighted Tiana Smalls, who reported that on a Greyhound bus to Las Vegas, as the bus approached an agricultural checkpoint at the Nevada state line, the bus driver said, “We are being boarded by Border Patrol. Please be prepared to show your documentation upon request.”
  50. Smalls stood and said, “This is a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights… We are not within 100 miles of a border.” She used Google translate to repeat her message in Spanish. The agents left.
  51. On Tuesday, Rep. Steve King linked to an anti-immigrant tweet by Mark Collett, Britain’s most high-profile white supremacists, and added, “Europe is waking up… Will America… in time?”
  52. Bloomberg reported that according to advocacy group Alliance for Justice, so far 88% of Trump’s additions to the federal bench are white and 76% are male. There is only one Hispanic justice.
  53. During Obama’s presidency, just 38% of judicial nominees were white males. Trump’s picks are the least diverse in 24 years — since Ronald Reagan was in office.
  54. On Monday, Politico reported Steven Cheung, a senior communications directed, resigned. Cheung was one of the last remaining campaign-era Trump aides still working at the White House.
  55. On Tuesday, WAPO reported Joel McElvain, who has worked at the Justice Department for more than 20 years, resigned last Friday, the morning after Sessions notified Congress the agency will not defend the ACA.
  56. Sessions defended himself, saying he acknowledged the executive branch “has a long-standing tradition of defending the constitutionality of duly enacted statutes,” but said the move is not unprecedented.
  57. CBS News reported both press secretary Sarah Sanders and deputy press secretary Raj Shah are planning to resign. Sanders has told friends she plans to leave at the end of the year. Shah has not settled on a date.
  58. Politico reported Trump’s White House is hosting a jobs fair amid the exodus of employees. The “Executive Branch Job Fair” was advertised with an email that was blasted out widely to Republicans on the Hill.
  59. Politico reported despite requirement under the Presidential Records Act that the White House must preserve all memos, letters, emails, and papers that Trump touches, Trump has a routine habit of ripping every paper up.
  60. Solomon Lartey, a career government official, and his colleagues have had to tape together large piles of shredded paper and send them to the National Archives to be properly filed away.
  61. On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Ohio can purge voters from voter rolls if they fail to return a card sent after their first missed election. Other conservative states are expected to follow.
  62. On Tuesday, Trump praised the ruling from Singapore, tweeting, “Just won big Supreme Court decision on Voting! Great News!”
  63. According to financial disclosure forms released Monday, Jared Kushner and Ivanka brought in at least $82 million during 2017 while serving as senior White House advisers.
  64. Ivanka earned almost $ 3.9 million from the Trump Hotel DC. The couple earned immense sums from other enterprises, which ethics experts say could create conflicts of interest.
  65. Acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney changed the name of the agency founded by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to BCFP, which stands for the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.
  66. Foreign Policy reported Mari Stull, a former food and beverage lobbyist recently hired as a senior adviser in the State Department, is quietly vetting career diplomats and American employees of international institutions to determine if they are loyal to Trump.
  67. Sources say Stull is gathering intel and making lists. She has the full support of her boss, Kevin Moley, who was appointed by the White House in January. One State Department official said, “Everyone is looking to bail.”
  68. NPR reported the Commerce Department released 1,320 pages of internal memos, emails and other documents as part of a lawsuit related to Wilbur Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
  69. A July 2017 email reveals “at the direction of Steve Bannon,” Kris Kobach and Ross spoke on the phone. Kobach told Ross including “aliens” in census numbers for congressional reapportionment is a “problem.”
  70. On Friday, WAPO reported that Pence’s VP office is a gateway to influence the Trump regime. Under Pence,twice as many companies and other interests hired lobbyists contacted the office than under Biden or Cheney.
  71. Lobbyists, who rake in millions for access, also donate to Trump or advocates for Pence, in one case helping him get on the ticket. Actions taken by Pence and his staff as a result of lobbying are not disclosed in federal filings.
  72. On Wednesday, WAPO reported last year Scott Pruitt enlisted Samantha Dravis, a top aide, to contact Republican donors to help his wife find a job. Pruitt’s wife landed a temporary position with conservative group.
  73. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to Renzi Stone, founder of public relations firm Saxum, asking for documentation on how he helped Pruitt get tickets for the Rose Bowl.
  74. Saxum, which is based in Oklahoma, represented Plains All American Pipeline LP, a company which has a petition pending before the EPA.
  75. On Friday, the Office of Government Affairs Director David Apol said in a letter he is considering “formal corrective action proceeding” regarding alleged improper behavior by Pruitt, an unprecedented step against a sitting Cabinet member.
  76. Apol urged the EPA’s in-house watchdog to expand its ongoing investigations to review the latest allegationsabout Pruitt, including that he used EPA resources to find a job for his wife.
  77. On Monday, McClatchy reported in addition to Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina, other prominent Russian officials — Dmitry Rogozin and Sergei Rudov — met with NRA representatives, mostly in Moscow, during the 2016 campaign.
  78. The NRA reported $30 million in donations to the Trump campaign, $21 million from its lobbying arm which does not disclose donors. NRA insiders said the group spent $70 million overall, including field operations and online advertising.
  79. The NRA also spent $24.4 million to back Republican candidates for Congress in 2016.
  80. It is a crime to donate or use foreign money in U.S. election campaigns. Mueller’s team and the Senate Intelligence Committee are both investigating whether Russian money was donated to Trump’s campaign.
  81. On Tuesday, Vanity Fair reported that within the next month, Mueller is reportedly planning to deliver his findings in the obstruction of justice investigation to Rod Rosenstein, and per sources, “Donald is very worried.”
  82. According to a source, Michael Cohen has told friends he expects to be arrested any day now. Trump is concerned that Cohen might flip. In the meantime, Trump is enjoying acting on his impulses, unchecked.
  83. Kushner reportedly is also flaunting his status in front of Kelly since he had his security clearance restored. Republican sources say Kushner recently stood up and walked out of a meeting that Kelly was leading.
  84. On Tuesday, Mueller’s team filed a motion to limit evidence-sharing in its case against 13 Russians and three Russian entities, citing the risk of revealing the identities of “uncharged co-conspirators.”
  85. The motion also indicates the investigation is far from over, mentioning “uncharged individuals and entities” which are believed to be “continuing to engage in interference operations” in the U.S.
  86. On Tuesday, Fox News reported that according to two unnamed House Intelligence Committee staffers, at a January 2018 meeting, Rosenstein threatened to use the power of his office to subpoena Devin Nunes and the committee.
  87. CNN reported according to a DOJ staffer, Rosenstein plans to “request that the House general counsel conduct an internal investigation of these Congressional staffers’ conduct” when he returns from a foreign trip.
  88. On Wednesday, a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll showed Mueller’s public image was at an all-time low after months of attacks by Trump, with 36% of voters seeing him unfavorably.
  89. By party, 53% of Republicans, 24% of Democrats and 33% of Independents see Mueller unfavorably. The biggest spike came from Republicans, with unfavorable up 26% from July.
  90. On Wednesday, ABC News reported Cohen’s legal team from McDermott, Will & Emery LLP are expected to leave the case. A source familiar said the change in counsel is due to a fee dispute. No replacement has been named.
  91. On Thursday, WSJ reported federal prosecutors are investigating whether Cohen illegally engaged in secret lobbying. Prosecutors have contacted companies that hired Cohen as a consultant, including AT&T and Novartis.
  92. On Thursday, CBS News reported sources say Cohen is feeling increasingly isolated and believes Trump and his allies are turning on him. Cohen is especially upset over statements made by Rudy Giuliani.
  93. On Friday, CNN reported Cohen has expressed anger at his treatment by Trump, and indicated to family and friends he is willing to cooperate with federal investigators to alleviate pressure on himself and his family.
  94. Cohen has not yet met with prosecutors to discuss a deal. He is currently trying to find a new legal team, as his current lawyers have until Friday at noon to complete the review of 3.7 million files seized in the FBI raid.
  95. On Friday, federal prosecutors told the court they have reassembled 16 pages of shredded documents and recovered 731 pages of encrypted text messages seized in the Cohen raid.
  96. On Friday, a federal judge revoked Manafort’s bail and sent him to jail to await trial, citing charges that Manafort tried to influence testimony of two government witnesses.
  97. Judge Amy Berman said Manafort cannot remain free, even under the strictest conditions, saying, “This is not middle school. I can’t take away his cellphone.” Manafort’s first trial is scheduled for next month.
  98. Two hours later, Trump tweeted that jailing Manafort was a “tough sentence” and “very unfair.”
  99. Trump also tweeted that he “Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob,” and then continued his attack on Comey, “What about Comey and Crooked Hillary and all of the others?”
  100. Trump also tweeted that Manafort “represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns.”
  101. On Friday, when asked about Manafort, Giuliani told the New York Daily News, “When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.”
  102. Giuliani also said he didn’t understand “the justification” for putting Manafort in jail, adding the Mueller probe “should not go forward,” and “It’s time for Justice to investigate the investigators.”
  103. On Monday, the repeal of net neutrality, which had required internet service providers to offer equal access to all web content, took effect.
  104. As of late May, 29 state legislatures had introduced bills to ensure net neutrality. Two governors have signed executive orders to force net neutrality, and Washington state has signed net neutrality into law.
  105. On Monday, George Conway, husband of Kellyanne Conway, penned an op-ed defending the constitutionality of the Mueller probe, after Trump tweeted “the Special Councel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”
  106. On Tuesday, Trump met with Kim Jong Un in Singapore. All major U.S. media attended the well choreographed event, which was dubbed “historic,” with non-stop coverage on every major outlet.
  107. As Trump and Kim both declared the summit a success, the two sides differed on what was agreed to publicly, and their agreement was summarized in a short document which lacked details.
  108. Trump said in a series of tweets, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” adding, everybody “can now feel much safer than the day I took office” and people could “sleep well tonight!”
  109. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the regime expected “major disarmament” before the end of Trump’s first term. Kim described the beginning of a “step-by-step and simultaneous” process towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
  110. As Trump and Kim were signing the document in front of reporters, CNN’s Jim Acosta asked, “did he agree to denuclearize?” Trump responded, “We’re starting that process very quickly.” Acosta then asked if Trump and Kim had discussed Otto Warmbier. Trump did not respond.
  111. On Tuesday, Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign manager, tweeted, “Jim @Acosta should immediately have his press credentials suspended. He is an absolute disgrace!”
  112. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos after the summit, Trump said of Kim Jong Un, a brutal dictator, “His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.”
  113. On Tuesday morning, in a stunning concession, Trump said the U.S. will halt joint military exercises with South Korea, an announcement which baffled allies, military officials, and lawmakers from the GOP.
  114. Reuters reported leaders of U.S. ally South Korean were caught by surprise. The South Korean presidential office said “we need to find out the precise meaning or intentions” of Trump announcement.
  115. A January 2018 WSJ article noted Trump may have gotten this idea from a conversation with Putin: “If the U.S. stopped joint military exercises with the South Koreans, it could help moderate Kim Jong Un’s behavior.”
  116. KPNA, North Korea’s official news agency, described the summit as an “epoch-making meeting,” andasserted Trump had “expressed his intention” to lift sanctions when nukes are no longer a factor.
  117. On Tuesday, Trump held his first official solo press conference in 16 months.
  118. As reporters waited for Trump to come on stage, two huge screens came down instead, with a movie type production portraying North Korea as a paradise. The film lasted four minutes. Reporters thought it was North Korean propaganda
  119. The film then looped and played in English. The film was made in America, by or on the orders of his White House, for the benefit of Kim. Trump then came on stage and said, “I hope you liked it. I thought it was good.”
  120. Trump said Kim, “is very talented. Anybody that takes over a situation like he did, at 26 years of age, and is able to run it, and run it tough.” An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people are imprisoned in North Korea.
  121. Trump also lauded North Korea’s “great beaches,” and said he told Kim, “You know, instead of doing that (develop nuclear weapons), you could have the best hotels in the world right there.”
  122. On Wednesday, upon returning to the U.S., in a series of tweets, Trump called the press America’s “biggest enemy” — singling out “Fake News, especially NBC and CNN” for downplaying his deal with North Korea.
  123. On Thursday, Trump faced a backlash after he was seen in a 42-minute video of the summit, first broadcast by North Korea’s state news channel, saluting a North Korean general. Sanders called it a “common courtesy.”
  124. Military and intelligence experts said U.S. leaders typically do not salute military officials from adversarial nations. U.S. ally South Korea is still technically at war with North Korea.
  125. On Sunday, at the Tony Awards, actor Robert DeNiro said expletives about Trump, “First, I wanna say: ‘F — — Trump.’ It’s no longer ‘down with Trump,’ it’s ‘f — — Trump.’”
  126. On Tuesday, Trump attacked DeNiro in two tweets, calling him a “very Low IQ individual,” who has “received to many shots to the head by real boxers in movies,” adding, “Wake up Punchy!”
  127. On Tuesday, after GOP leaders blocked a vote on legislation which would give Congress veto power over certain Trump tariffs, Sen. Bob Corker accused the GOP of cowering to Trump, “let’s don’t do anything that might upset” him.
  128. On Friday, Trump unilaterally imposed tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese products. Within an hour, the Ministry of Commerce in Beijing pledged to erect trade barriers of the “same scale and the same strength.”
  129. On Thursday, the New York attorney general filed a civil lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation, accusing the campaign and family of violating campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign.
  130. The lawsuit seeks to dissolve the foundation and bar Trump, Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric from serving on nonprofit organizations. The attorney general also sent referrals to the IRS and FEC for further action.
  131. The lawsuit gives numerous examples of Trump using foundation monies to win political favor or settle legal claims against his various businesses, as well as pay off his legal bills and promote Trump hotels.
  132. The lawsuit also claims that $2.8 million raised by the foundation at an Iowa event in 2016 was allocated by senior campaign officials to veteran groups, making it an “improper in-kind contribution” to the campaign.
  133. NY AG Barbara Underwood tweeted, “Our investigation found that the Trump Foundation raised in excess of $2.8 million in a manner designed to influence the 2016 presidential election.”
  134. On Thursday, the Justice Department inspector general issued a report rebuking James Comey for breaking FBI and Justice Department protocol in his handling of the 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.
  135. The 568-page report by IG Michael Horowitz found Comey was not motivated by political bias when he cleared Hillary Clinton of criminal wrongdoing.
  136. Horowitz wrote Comey acted “unilaterally” and outside the scope of his authority when he held the July 2016 press conference, and rebuked Comey for sending a letter to Congress in late October 2016.
  137. The report also included previously unreported text messages between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok in which Page asked, Trump’s “not ever going to become president, right?,”and Strzok responded, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”
  138. Horowitz wrote Strzok, Page, and three other bureau staffers were being passed on to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility for possible disciplinary action. Strzok is still with the FBI. Page left last month.
  139. On Friday, Trump told reporters that he is “totally exonerated” by Justice Department IG report. He also accused the FBI of “plotting against my election,” saying Comey was the ringleader in a “den of thieves.”
  140. Trump also claimed the Mueller investigation “has been totally discredited,” by the report. The Mueller probe was not mentioned in the report.
  141. On Friday, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is vying to win House leadership when Paul Ryan resigns, told “Fox and Friends” that “I think the Mueller investigation has got to stop,” citing the texts.
  142. On Friday, in a wide-ranging surprise interview with “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy on the North Lawn of the White House, Trump said he opposes the immigration bill cobbled together by House Republicans.
  143. Trump’s opposition caught House Republican leaders by surprise. Ryan had told members he had been briefing Trump on their legislative strategy, and Trump was on board.
  144. The bill would have provided $25 billion for Trump’s border wall and a new visa program to give Dreamers a path to residency and citizenship, but would have ended the regime’s practice of separating migrant children from parents.
  145. Trump also said, “I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.” Sanders had also blamed the Democrats at the daily briefing on Thursday. These statements are untrue.
  146. Later Friday, the White House changed positions, saying Trump “fully supports both the Goodlatte bill and the House leadership bill,” saying Trump has misunderstood the question by Doocy.
  147. Later Friday, the White House issued a statement by Trump on “Democrats’ Dangerous Immigration Policies,” blaming “CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS’ FAMILY SEPARATION POLICY.”
  148. On Saturday, for the fourth time in 24 hours, Trump falsely blamed Democrats for “their forced family breakup at the Border,” and accusing them of “High Crime and Obstruction. Sad!”
  149. Trump also told Doocy that Kim Jong Un is a “strong head” of his country, adding of Kim, “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”
  150. When pressed on his comment, Trump insisted it was a joke and attacked the media, saying, “I’m kidding. You don’t understand sarcasm. Hey, who are you with? …You’re with CNN? Hey, you are the worst.”
  151. Trump also said “Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign,” adding that he felt “a little badly” that prosecutors were targeting the longtime Republican operative, “He worked for many other Republicans.”
  152. After naming other Republicans (Reagan, Dole, McCain) Trump said Manafort worked for him “for 49 days or something? A very short period of time.” Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager for 114 days.
  153. Trump also said of Michael Flynn, “Some people say [Flynn] lied and some people say he didn’t lie.” Flynn pled guilty to lying.
  154. On Friday, Trump also told a CBS News reporter who was asking questions to “quiet” at least five time. He also said to reporters, “She’s so obnoxious.”
  155. MSNBC host Katy Tur detailed a total of 19 lies or misleading statements in Trump’s interview with Doocyon her show Friday.
  156. AP reported at least four former Cambridge Analytica employees affiliated with Data Propria, a new company specializing in voter and consumer targeting work, have been quietly working for the 2020 Trump campaign.
  157. In a conversation overheard by AP, Matt Oczkowski, who led Cambridge Analytica data team, said he and Parscale were “doing the president’s work for 2020.” Parscale is a part owner of Data Propria’s parent company, Cloud Commerce.
  158. Cloud Commerce is also paying Parscale other amounts. A former FEC chair said it was unusual for an incumbent’s campaign to direct large amounts of business to outside firms tied to his campaign manager.
  159. On Thursday, Rob Rogers, who joined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as an editorial cartoonist in 1993 and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 1999, was fired, as the paper has shifted to the right.
  160. Rogers cartoons had appeared in the paper roughly five times a week, but around Memorial Day, started disappearing. Rogers said in the past three months, 19 cartoons or proposals for cartoons were rejected.
  161. On Saturday, in an op-ed, Rogers said he was fired for making fun of Trump. He said starting in March, management said his cartoons on Trump were “too angry” and said he was “obsessed with Trump.”
  162. Russian news agency TASS reported that according to a White House spokesperson, Moscow and Washington are exploring “the opportunity of a meeting” between Putin and Trump, with Austria as a possible venue.
  163. On Saturday, WAPO reported Trump is planning to meet with Putin in July, after months of prodding by Trump, who has faced resistance from senior political aides and diplomats questioning the value of a meeting.
  164. A U.S. official said after meeting with Kim Jong Un, Trump said he wanted to invite Putin to the White House. The official said, “We ignored it.” Trump has become a strong public advocate for engagement with Russia.
  165. According to a new Ipsos poll, for Global News and Reuters, Americans approve of how Trudeau is handling the trade dispute over Trump, by a 57-37 margin.

Breaking: Paul Manafort Order To Jail

Ken AshfordBreaking News, L'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

CNN:

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will await his trial for foreign lobbying crimes from jail.

Two weeks after Robert Mueller’s prosecutors dropped new accusations of witness tampering on him, a federal judge Friday revoked Manafort’s current bail, which allowed him out on house arrest.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s order marks an end to months of attempts from Manafort to lighten his house arrest restrictions after he was charged and pleaded not guilty to foreign lobbying violations.

On the plus side, he gets to remove his two ankle bracelets.

UPDATE — Trump, with nothing on his schedule today (seriously!), is feeling the heat:

The bottom tweet is hilarious. Hot takes:

(1) Manafort wasn’t sentenced. He hasn’t even gone to trial.

(2) Lots of people associated with Reagan went to jail

(3) Uh…. “mob”?

(4) Well, I don’t think Trump has Manafort’s loyalty anymore.

Takeaways From The IG Report

Ken AshfordClinton Email Faux Scandal, L'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

In a light most favorable to Trump, one key takeaway from the IG Report was that Comey, while well-meaning, was not only “insubordinate” (to quote the report) but also incompetent. Trump allies will use this to justify Comey’s firing, but we all know why Comey was fired — because of what Trump said: he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.

Just as important, it is imperative to understand WHY Comey was incompetent. He was incompetent because rather than following FBI procedure, he made decisions based the political climate — the climate created by Trump and his allies in Congress. In other words, they were then (as now) attempting to the brand the FBI as a rogue institution, biased against Trump and in favor of Hillary. Not biased as individuals, but biased as an institution.  The FBI procedures about when to talk, what to talk about, etc. were specifically designed to shield the FBI from those kinds of political pressures, and Comey ignored them.

Now, if Trump wants to say that he fired Comey because he succumbed to outside political pressure and a disingenuous re-branding attempt that Trump himself (among others) foisted upon the FBI, he can. But it doesn’t pass the laugh test.  Nor does it comport to Trump’s on-air admission to Lester Holt that the reason was the Russia investigation.

That’s my main hot take.

Here are a few more.  First, the NY Times opinion page:

For starters, Team Trump is using the report’s criticism of Comey (which I think is justified) to suggest Comey can’t be trusted on other matters — like the Russia investigation. But the report doesn’t question Comey’s honesty, ethical standards or motives. It questions his judgment in publicly discussing a different matter.

Even more, Trump’s allies are focusing on the report’s criticism of two F.B.I. agents who were involved in both the Clinton email and Trump/Russia investigations. The text messages between the two, who were in a romantic relationship, suggest that they were deeply, and inappropriately, biased against Trump. But they did not have the authority to make major decisions about the Clinton investigation. And the one who was still involved in the Russia investigation was removed from the case once his supervisor learned of his attitude.

A banner headline on the Fox News website, not surprisingly, has a good example of Trumpworld’s effort at confusion: “DOJ IG report reveals FBI agent’s ‘stop’-Trump text, calls Comey ‘insubordinate.’ ” Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, offered another example on Thursday afternoon: “It reaffirmed the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and the political bias among some of the members of the F.B.I.”

And then Trump himself delivered the expected tweet on Friday morning: “The IG Report is a total disaster for Comey, his minions and sadly, the FBI.”

The real story of the report is quite different. It finds that Trump’s claims of a “rigged system” to protect Clinton are outright fabrications. They are, as is so often the case with Trump, lies. And the report finds no reason to lose confidence in Robert Mueller’s continuing investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

That investigation appears to be rigorous, fair and nonpartisan — which is precisely why it scares Trump and his enablers so much.

Finally, I would be remiss to omit Lawfare’s excellent essay. The emphases are mine.

The following observations about the report are thus not meant as any kind of exhaustive account; they are nine major takeaways from our initial review of the material.

First, the report validates the essential integrity of the investigation. It offers no reason to believe that, in the main, the Clinton email investigation was not a genuine effort by the FBI to learn the facts and apply the law to them in a fashion consistent with Justice Department policy and practice. This point will tend to get lost in the politics of competitive victimization, in which the Clinton forces want to blame their candidate’s ultimate electoral defeat on the bureau and the president wants to ascribe to federal law enforcement a “deep state” conspiracy to conduct a “WITCH HUNT!” against him and go easy on his opponent’s “crimes.” But it is actually the critical starting place. For all that the document finds fault with the bureau—disagreeing with key judgments, accusing the FBI director of “insubordination,” and charging individual agents and employees of “cast[ing] a cloud” over the agency—it never questions that the FBI as an institution was pursuing its proper mission: conducting a serious investigation in good faith.

Second, and relatedly, the IG broadly concludes that the investigation’s judgments were not influenced by politics. Time after time, when the inspector general evaluates how individual decisions were made, he concludes that there were legitimate reasons for the manner in which the FBI obtained evidence and interviewed witnesses—reasons that were consistent with past practice and with Justice Department policy. There are some important caveats: The IG’s office questions the decision to let Clinton be interviewed in the presence of two of her lawyers—a decision the report describes as “inconsistent with typical investigative strategy,” though it notes that there is “no persuasive evidence” their presence “influenced Clinton’s interview.” More importantly, as we discuss below, the inspector general was rightly disturbed by the highly political text-message exchanges between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok. Even here, though, the investigation “did not find evidence to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions that we reviewed.” Those steps, the investigation finds, were made by a larger team and “were not unreasonable.” More broadly, although the report is unsparing toward Comey, it finds explicitly that his actions were not influenced by political preferences.

Third, the IG broadly validates the investigation’s conclusion: to decline to seek charges against Clinton or anyone else. The report spends a number of pages detailing the prosecutors’ reasons for not recommending charges. The prosecutors told the IG of a host of reasons why they couldn’t establish the necessary criminal intent to bring charges under the relevant statutes. Not one of the emails in question had the required classification markers, for example. No evidence supported the notion that Clinton or the people sending emails to her knew the contents were classified. Clinton and her correspondents sent the emails to government officers in support of official business, and there exists no history of charging people under such circumstances. None of the subjects intended to send classified information to unauthorized parties or to store such information on unauthorized networks. The senders frequently refrained from using specific classified details, facts or terms in their emails. Mishandling of classified information at the State Department was such a widespread practice that it was difficult for prosecutors to establish specific criminal intent on behalf of Clinton or the other senders. The report concludes that prosecutors applied those facts to the relevant statutes and the Justice Department’s policies on those statutes in a sober and unbiased manner: “We found that the prosecutors’ decision was based on their assessment of the facts, the law, and past Department practice in cases involving these statutes. We did not identify evidence of bias or improper considerations.”

Fourth, while the investigation was broadly conducted with integrity and reached the right answer, there were significant errors in the conduct of the probe. This is unsurprising with such a complex undertaking done under intense pressure; mistakes happen when human systems function under stressful conditions. That said, some of the errors were significant and fateful.

For example, on Oct. 30, 2016, the team conducting the email investigation—code-named the Midyear inquiry—obtained a search warrant for the laptop of Anthony Weiner. The IG report finds that every fact that was cited in the justification for the warrant was known by FBI executives, and the FBI Midyear team, no later than Sept. 29. Some portion of the criticism Comey received for his decision to notify Congress on Oct. 28 about the reopened investigation stems from the fact that this notification came only 12 days before the presidential election. And when Comey sent his letter to Congress, it was unclear whether the investigation could be resolved before voters went to the polls. The IG report makes clear that  Comey’s revelation could have taken place a month earlier, when the stakes would have been significantly lower.

The report does not explain precisely why this happened. But the timeline is fairly clear. On Sept. 26, 2016, the New York Field Office obtained a search warrant for Weiner’s iPhone, iPad and laptop computer. In reviewing the laptop later that day, the case agents realized there were more than 300,000 emails on the computer, including one between Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and 39 other senior FBI executives were briefed on the existence of Weiner’s laptop and the potentially relevant emails on Sept. 28, and McCabe says he told Comey about the laptop “right around the time” he found out about it—but the IG found no evidence that anyone at the FBI took action on the laptop until Oct. 24. The issue came up again only because a New York field agent raised serious concerns with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York about the lack of action.

The inspector general dismisses various explanations offered for this error by FBI leadership and the Midyear team as “unpersuasive” and “illogical.” The report does sound a note of concern here regarding Strzok’s involvement in light of his political text messages to Page: Strzok played a role in the logjam that kept action on the laptop from moving forward, and the report states that, “we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the Midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.”

But broadly speaking, the report makes the error look mostly like a bureaucratic screw-up. Leadership was busy and distracted: McCabe’s September description of the laptop issue to Comey was either so brief or so inaccurate that Comey said it “didn’t index” with him that the laptop was a potentially significant piece of new information. Meanwhile, so many different corners of the Justice Department were involved with the laptop that no one quite knew who was handling what. As a result, the New York Field Office was waiting for the Midyear team to follow up on the laptop after the Sept. 28 meeting, and the Midyear team—many of its members by now engrossed in the Russia investigation—was waiting for the New York Field Office to follow up.

Fifth, the report portrays Comey’s conduct at key junctures in an exceedingly negative light, but it slams him in a fashion that doesn’t break new ground either factually or analytically. Because of Comey’s congressional testimony and book, there isn’t much here that we didn’t already know. The IG’s factual findings square entirely with Comey’s version of what occurred—in fact, in some places his testimony to the inspector general’s office matches statements in his book and on his press tour almost word for word. Although the overall impression is certainly different from the former director’s account of his own behavior, the report’s criticism mirrors the critique of Comey that many people have been making, loudly, since October 2016.

The first significant event at issue is Comey’s move to unilaterally announce the decision to not charge Clinton, to include criticism of her in his statement, and to do so without conferring with the attorney general or deputy attorney general. As he has said in prior forums, Comey told the OIG that he included criticism of Clinton’s uncharged conduct because “unusual transparency … was necessary for an unprecedented situation” and that such transparency “was the best chance we had of having the American people have confidence that the justice system works[.]” An FBI official told the OIG that the decision to include the criticism “was a signal that … we weren’t just letting her off the hook.”

Comey also ordered FBI staff not to inform the Justice Department about his decision to make a statement because he did not want the deputy attorney general to tell him not to do so. “Comey told the OIG that he did not credibly think that [Attorney General Loretta] Lynch and [Deputy Attorney General Sally] Yates were going to stop him when he informed them about his plans on the morning of his press conference, and that he wrestled with whether to tell them at all.” The OIG notes that “Comey did not raise any of these concerns with Lynch or Yates” and is clear that investigators think he should have.

Comey has repeatedly described his dilemma regarding the newly discovered emails shortly before the election as a choice between concealing or revealing what the FBI was doing—and he appears to have used that metaphor once again in his testimony here. The IG report is emphatic that this was a false choice and insists that Comey’s actual choice was between adhering to or departing from Justice Department practice. The report makes clear the OIG’s belief that he was wrong to choose the latter course.

What is important in the criticism of Comey is not any revelation about his behavior but the judgment.

One revelation that seems to have picked up steam is the OIG finding that Comey “used a personal email account to conduct unclassified FBI business” and that he did so in circumstances that were “inconsistent with Department policy.” Hillary Clinton herself has seized the moment, tweeting the tidbit with the line “But my emails.” As juicy as this may seem to some, it does not have the makings of a genuine scandal. According to the report, Comey used his personal email for unclassified matters, and there isn’t the slightest hint that he discussed anything sensitive or remotely close to classified information on that account. There is no comparison to what Clinton was accused of having done. It is squarely in the category of minor breach of protocol, rather than possible security infraction.

Sixth, the inspector general’s portrait of Lynch and Yates is gentler than his treatment of Comey, but the portrait is unflattering in a mirror-image sort of way. Comey draws the report’s fire because he arrogated to himself the power to make decisions that properly belonged to Yates and Lynch. But the report is also clear that Yates and particularly Lynch were excessively passive in asserting their own authority. Faced with an FBI director whose modus operandi was to make important decisions on his own authority and dare his superiors to order him to stop, they consistently failed to take that action. If Comey’s behavior in July 2016 was insubordination, they tolerated it. And if his October letter was bad judgment, they didn’t try to stop him.

The report calls out Lynch for failing to address the image concerns generated by her tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton in June 2016, though it stops short of saying she should have recused herself from the email investigation entirely. Lynch told investigators that she chose not to step away from the investigation out of fear that it would “create a misimpression” about the tarmac meeting. But if her intention was to remain an active part of the probe moving forward, she failed to fulfil that role. When Comey told Lynch he was holding a July 5 press conference on the investigation, she didn’t ask him what he planned to announce. Similarly, after Comey informed the Justice Department—through his chief of staff, Jim Rybicki—of his decision to notify Congress on Oct. 28, neither Lynch nor Yates told Comey he should not send the letter. On multiple occasions, Lynch and Yates chose not to engage with Comey directly. At key moments, the problem was not that Comey chose to disobey direct orders but, rather, that he did not have any direct orders to obey. “We found it extraordinary,” the report says, that “the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General conclud[ed] that it would be counterproductive to speak directly with the FBI Director.”

Seventh, the report documents significant instances of bad behavior by particular individuals, which are sure to feed distrust of federal law enforcement at precisely the time when Trump and his allies are seeking to stoke it. Beyond the fault the report finds with FBI and Justice Department leaders, it cites in detail politically charged texts, instant messages and emails exchanged by five FBI employees that raised doubts about the work of those individuals and the bureau more broadly in its handling of the Clinton email investigation. Much has previously been said about the exchanges between Strzok, a counterintelligence agent who later worked on the FBI’s investigation into Russian election interference in 2016, and Page, who was special counsel to then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe as well as liaison to the 2016 Russia investigation and the Clinton email investigation. The three other FBI employees cited in the report are identified as Agent 1, one of four case agents assigned to the Clinton email investigation; Agent 5, who was assigned to the filter team on the email investigation; and Attorney 2, a lawyer assigned to the Clinton email investigation, the 2016 Russia investigation and the Mueller investigation.

“At a minimum,” the report says, “we found that the employees’ use of FBI systems and devices to send the identified messages demonstrated extremely poor judgment and a gross lack of professionalism.” All five told the IG that they had viewed their conversations as personal and private, even though some exchanges took place on their FBI-issued phones.

The report notes that “our review did not find documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific investigative decisions we reviewed.” But the inspector general is not wrong that “when one senior FBI official, Strzok, who was helping to lead the Russia investigation at the time, conveys in a text message to another senior FBI official, Page, that ‘we’ll stop’ candidate Trump from being elected—after other extensive text messages between the two disparaging candidate Trump—it is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”

“This is,” the report notes, “antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice” and the employees’ conduct stoked public doubts about the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation and its political independence.

In addition to citing these agents’ political conversations, the report discusses FBI employees’ use of personal email for official business and the growth in communication between FBI employees and journalists, though bureau policy limits the number of employees who are authorized to speak to the media. The report found that the number of FBI employees who had access to leaked information is substantial. Citing the “harm caused by leaks, fear of potential leaks and a culture of unauthorized media contacts,” the report says the leaks highlight the need to change the cultural attitude at the bureau regarding unauthorized media contacts.

Eighth, interestingly, the report’s conclusions are so far being widely accepted by those it concerns. The FBI’s formal response to the report, included within the document, states that the bureau accepts the OIG findings and is working to take remedial action. Director Christopher Wray held a press conference Thursday afternoon in which he underscored the same point. For his part, Comey published an op-ed in the New York Times shortly after the report was released. He said, “I do not agree with all of the inspector general’s conclusions, but I respect the work of his office and salute its professionalism. All of our leaders need to understand that accountability and transparency are essential to the functioning of our democracy, even when it involves criticism. This is how the process is supposed to work.”

Finally, the narrative Trump will use this report to advance has no actual merit—but enough incidents within the IG’s narrative will seem to give credence to it so as to give it continued political effect. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that the OIG report “reaffirmed the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and about the political bias of some members of the FBI.” Rep. Jim Jordan, an ally of the president, tweeted that “The FBI didn’t want Trump to be President … This is as wrong as it gets.”

Trump’s lawyer and adviser Rudy Giuliani put it more colorfully: “So, I believe that Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions have a chance to redeem themselves. And that chance comes tomorrow. It doesn’t go beyond tomorrow. Tomorrow, Mueller should be suspended, and honest people should be brought in, impartial people, to investigate these people like Strzok. Strzok should be in jail by the end of next week.”

It is perhaps too much to ask that people—particularly the president—embrace the complexity of this story. But if the IG report shows one thing, it is that the story of the Clinton email investigation has no simple narrative arc.

Yes to all of that.

Breaking: New York Attorney Files Suit Against Trump & His Kids

Ken AshfordBreaking News, General corruption, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The New York attorney general just filed suit against Trump and his three eldest children alleging “persistently illegal conduct” at the president’s personal charity, saying Trump repeatedly misused the nonprofit — to pay off his businesses’ creditors, to decorate one of his golf clubs and to stage a multimillion dollar giveaway at his 2016 campaign events.

In the suit, attorney general Barbara Underwood asked a state judge to dissolve the Donald J. Trump Foundation. She asked that its remaining $1 million in assets be distributed to other charities and that Trump be forced to pay at least $2.8 million in restitution and penalties. Underwood also asks that Trump be banned from leading any other New York nonprofit for 10 years — seeking to apply a penalty usually reserved for the operators of small-time charity frauds to the president of the United States.

She also asked the judge to go further, and require Trump to pay millions more. She said a 20-month state investigation found that Trump had repeatedly violated laws that set the ground rules for tax-exempt foundations — most importantly, that their money is meant to serve the public good, and not to provide private benefits to their founders.

Here is the document:


Good point this:

Response:

There’s no way the top two tweets, with regular capitalization and no spelling errors, was authored by Trump.

The Inspector General’s Report Is Due Today

Ken AshfordBreaking News, Election 2016, L'Affaire Russe, Obama & Administration, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Right wing media and Trump have a lot riding on the IG Report today. They are hoping that it will expose the Deep State and the bias in the Mueller investigation. Fat chance.

Bloomburg has an advance (leaked?) copy and although it basically concludes that above: that Comey screwed up by having press conferences about the Clinton emails so close to the election.

More to come… this will be updated throughout the day.

1:30 pm — Report expected at 3 pm but some of it has leaked.  NY Times headline is:

Much gaslighting will be coming out from Fox and Trump about what the report says, but it CLEARLY says “no political bias” — just bad behavior.

UPDATE — Full report is too big to embed, but you can download by clicking here

Here is the executive summary:

3:15 pm — these hot takes are interesting:

Comey seems okay with the report:

And this is a VERY important point which Fox et al overlook on a daily basis:

If Strzok was so politically biased, why did he advocate for use of stronger measures in the Clinton investigation? And why didn’t he advocate telling the world about the Trump investigation?

And finally, the gaslighting begins:

They Called Obama An Inexperienced, Self-Serving Celebrity. Then Their Party Chose Trump.

Ken AshfordRepublicans, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Boy I wish I wrote this:

Remember when Republicans feared the bungling diplomacy of a vain, inexperienced president and vowed to stop him before he destroyed our security? In 2014, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) warned that President Barack Obama was “inflexibly clinging to campaign promises.” If the novice president expected Congress to “stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) said a year later, he and his party had two words for Obama: “Hell no!”

“Our allies don’t trust us; our enemies don’t fear us; and the world doesn’t know where America stands,” went a 2015 presidential campaign ad for Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). And one Republican foreign policy analyst even wrotethat negotiations — with Iran, not North Korea — have “become humiliating, not least because our diplomatic body language is telegraphing an eagerness for a deal — any deal — with such clumsy obviousness that only the dumbest opponent could fail to notice it.”

I’m fairly sure I’m quoting that last one correctly, because I wrote it, back in early 2015. And I think I was right: I remain deeply skeptical about the way the Iran deal was negotiated. But compared with the unconscionable mess that President Trump just left behind at his Singapore “summit” with Kim Jong Un, Obama’s long and arduous discussions with Iran look like Klemens von Metternich convening the Congress of Vienna.

When it comes to foreign affairs — when it comes to everything, really — Trump is weighed down by inexperience, bedeviled by vanity and hobbled by impulsiveness. He’s a celebrity playing at president.

He’s everything, in other words, that Republicans feared Obama would be.

Going all the way back to the 2008 presidential race, Republicans were certain that Obama would be more attuned to the needs of America’s worst enemies than willing to discuss the shared interests of America’s best friends; this captures the destructive arc of Trump’s actions from last week’s Group of Seven meeting in Quebec to the spectacle in Singapore.

Republicans were scathing about Obama’s immense (and obvious) self-regard. But Trump has shown himself to be beyond any of the GOP’s worst nightmares about Obama. A political narcissist transfixed by his own image and utterly addicted to television coverage, Trump is unwilling to be briefed, incapable of being educated and has now blundered into a summit with a monster in exactly the way Republicans were once certain Obama would do if a camera was pointed at him.

Trump supporters will object here and argue that Obama was as bad as they think he was — and on the Iran deal, they have a point. Whatever one thinks of it now, how we got there was a lesson in bad diplomacy, with Obama quietly, desperately mortgaging American interests all over the globe to reach a grand bargain with Iran.

The difference is that Obama was pursuing a strategy. It might have been the wrong strategy, but it was a purposeful approach directed toward a major objective of his administration’s policy. Indeed, his critics — with me among them — might argue that Obama was so completely focused on the execution of his overarching vision that he made avoidable mistakes and lost sight of the escalating diplomatic costs.

Trump, by contrast, has approached North Korea exactly as Republicans once feared Obama would: without a strategy, driven by TV coverage, interested only in the short-term ego boost of a photo op that does more harm than good — who gets the better end of the deal, after all, when a two-bit dictator poses side by side with the putative leader of the free world? Obama’s critics screeched about pallets of cash being delivered to Iran — I didn’t like it, either — but that seems a masterstroke of diplomacy compared with Trump declaring the inhabitants of North Korea’s gulags “the great winners” of the summit and halting U.S. “war games” with South Korea because, as Trump bafflingly explained Tuesday, it will save us “a tremendous amount of money” and because they’re “provocative,” besides. (Until now, American presidents refused to adopt the nomenclature of our enemies, referring to such operations as “joint exercises,” not war games. It’s exactly the kind of ignorant mistake that Republicans were certain Obama would make, starting from his first day in office.)

Trump talking to Kim, some Republicans will retort, is no worse than Obama going to a ballgame with Raúl Castro. But that comparison is merely sullen whataboutism. Unlike the Iran deal, I think Obama was right to normalize relations with Cuba, not least because the moral double-think of isolating Cuba while trading with China was a ridiculous game that even our allies refused to play after the Cold War.

More to the point, the Cuban embargo had achieved its purpose, which was to increase the costs of empire to the former Soviet Union and make the Cold War unbearably expensive. Once the Soviet hammer and sickle was lowered for the last time, America’s Cuba policy had accomplished its mission.

A lot of the Republicans, however, still appalled at Obama’s awkward handshake with a Cuban leader, seem to have no such unease about Trump fawning over the “talented” North Korean dictator who he says is “funny,” “smart” and really “loves his country.” Kim loves it so much, apparently, that it drove him, allegedly, to have his half brother killed in public with a chemical weapon and to hold American Otto Warmbier hostage, in a coma, sending him home only when he could no longer be saved. Throughout the pageantry in Singapore, Trump played it all down.

It’s tiresome to have to keep noting that Obama would’ve been impeached for far less. But it’s important to ask Republicans now: If Trump is everything you said Obama would be, what will you do about it? Some Republicans have insisted that any deal with North Korea be ratified by the Congress. Good luck with that, since Trump, like Obama, has a pen and a phone and won’t hesitate to use them.

They might consider, instead, what they’d do differently if they had a chance to stop a second Obama, one who embodies everything they ever feared in foreign policy, in mid-catastrophe. They have that chance now. The only question is w­hether they’ll take it or again succumb to blind partisanship.

Cohen Will Probably Flip

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The man who once boasted that he would never turn on Trump seems likely to turn on Trump. Lawyers representing Michael Cohen in a federal criminal investigation into his financial dealings may soon jump ship, ABC News reported Wednesday.

“A source representing this matter” told ABC that Stephen Ryan and Todd Harrison of McDermott, Will & Emery LLP are expected to end their representation of President Trump’s longtime fixer.

This move would come at a very sensitive time for Cohen, who is being investigated for a host of potential financial crimes. Cohen’s lawyers were given a Friday deadline to finish reviewing hundreds of thousands of documents seized from his premises by federal agents to determine which should be covered by attorney-client privilege.

If they miss the deadline, a government “taint” team uninvolved in the Cohen probe will take over the review, per a ruling by Judge Kimba Wood.

Cohen’s team had gone to court to prevent exactly that outcome from occurring, expressing concern that federal prosecutors would not make appropriate privilege designations. Wood and federal prosecutors have countered that the use of a taint team was standard practice in federal criminal investigations and would be capable of carrying out the task.

ABC reported that no replacement counsel for Cohen has yet been identified.

Also, MSNBC is reporting that papers are being drawn up for Cohen’s arrest:

Cart Before The Horse

Ken AshfordNorth Korea, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Wow.  Trump seems to think North Korea is no longer a threat and that it is a done deal.

In reality, Trump returned to America from the Singapore meeting having secured only a vague promise, not unlike others the North Koreans have broken in the past, about working toward the goal of denuclearization. Yet North Korea has just as many nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and nuclear facilities and personnel, and precisely as much fissile material, as before Trump and Kim shook hands and signed a document in which North Korea vowed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

Not only that, but the North Koreans have come away from the summit with a much more immediate pledge from the president to suspend U.S.-South Korea military exercises that the North has long viewed as a threat. The North Koreans may view their denuclearization commitment as a pie-in-the-sky pledge to give up their nuclear weapons once the nuclear-armed United States withdraws its protection for South Korea and ceases all hostile behavior toward North Korea. The statement they endorsed includes no details on how denuclearization will be implemented, how long it will take, or even what first moves the North will make toward that objective.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top U.S. officials are now poised to engage in a series of talks with their North Korean counterparts to determine how serious Kim is about denuclearizing and what the United States and its allies will need to offer in return. The Trump administration did indeed succeed, both before and during the summit, in securing several goodwill gestures from North Korea: a suspension of nuclear and missile tests, the closure (if not the verifiable destruction) of a nuclear-test site, and, according to Trump, a promise by Kim in Singapore to shutter a missile-engine testing site. All of these things, plus the mere fact that U.S. and North Korean leaders are now talking to each other instead of threatening to blow each other up like they were last summer and fall, diminishes the nuclear threat to the United States from North Korea for the moment.

None of them, however, changes the reality that North Korea remains very much on the cusp of being capable of striking the U.S. with long-range nuclear missiles, if it has not already reached this milestone. And it has taken no steps to reverse this basic fact.

Does Trump not know this? Or is he intent on claiming a foreign-policy victory if it benefits him politically, whether or not his negotiations with North Korea ultimately make Americans safer? “Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, even though fears of war mounted after Trump took office, as North Korea nuclear program advanced rapidly and Trump and his advisers threatened military action to stop it. “President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer—sleep well tonight!”

Quite the contrary, North Korea remains a big and dangerous problem. And it’s also dangerous that Trump, in his recent tweets at least, doesn’t seem fully aware of the pitfalls that American officials have repeatedly encountered over the last 25 years of nuclear talks with North Korea. Hours before Trump’s summit with Kim, the Republican Senator Jim Risch, who has discussed North Korea with the president and his top aides numerous times in recent weeks, told me that “nobody” in the Trump administration was wearing “rose-colored glasses.” “We have been taken by the North Koreans at least a couple of times [in previous rounds of negotiations], and that’s not going to happen again,” he said. “We’re [not] at a point right now where they say, ‘Okay, we’re going to denuclearize the peninsula,’ and then the president says, ‘Well, okay, we’re going to lift the sanctions.’ That is not going to happen. The president has been very, very clear that there is going to have to be positive, doable, ongoing things that are happening before anything happens from our side.” And yet, in Singapore, North Korea said exactly what Risch predicted: Sure, we’d love to eventually denuclearize the peninsula. And Donald Trump responded by proclaiming an end to the nuclear threat from North Korea.

It’s one thing for Trump to declare the summit a victory despite its modest results. But it’s quite another thing to pretend to have solved a threat decades in the making with a few handshakes and a 403-word statement. One has to imagine that, in Pyongyang right now, Kim Jong Un and his advisers are pulling up Trump’s Twitter feed. Fresh off a meeting in which they committed to nothing concrete and the president of the United States implicitly acknowledged North Korea as a nuclear-weapons power by noting their “very powerful nuclear weapons” at a press conference, they might be marveling at Trump’s boasts and asking themselves, “Is that all it took?”

Yeah, We Got Hoodwinked In Singapore

Ken AshfordNorth Korea, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Kristof:

It sure looks as if President Trump was hoodwinked in Singapore.

Trump made a huge concession — the suspension of military exercises with South Korea. That’s on top of the broader concession of the summit meeting itself, security guarantees he gave North Korea and the legitimacy that the summit provides his counterpart, Kim Jong-un.

Within North Korea, the “very special bond” that Trump claimed to have formed with Kim will be portrayed this way: Kim forced the American president, through his nuclear and missile tests, to accept North Korea as a nuclear equal, to provide security guarantees to North Korea, and to cancel war games with South Korea that the North has protested for decades.

In exchange for these concessions, Trump seems to have won astonishingly little. In a joint statement, Kim merely “reaffirmed” the same commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that North Korea has repeatedly made since 1992.

“They were willing to de-nuke,” Trump crowed at his news conference after his meetings with Kim. Trump seemed to believe he had achieved some remarkable agreement, but the concessions were all his own.

The most remarkable aspect of the joint statement was what it didn’t contain. There was nothing about North Korea freezing plutonium and uranium programs, nothing about destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles, nothing about allowing inspectors to return to nuclear sites, nothing about North Korea making a full declaration of its nuclear program, nothing about a timetable, nothing about verification, not even any clear pledge to permanently halt testing of nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.

Kim seems to have completely out-negotiated Trump, and it’s scary that Trump doesn’t seem to realize this. For now Trump has much less to show than past negotiators who hammered out deals with North Korea like the 1994 Agreed Framework, which completely froze the country’s plutonium program with a rigorous monitoring system.

Trump made a big deal in his news conference about recovering the remains of American soldiers from the Korean War, but this is nothing new. Back in 1989, on my first trip to North Korea, officials there made similar pledges about returning remains, and indeed North Korea has returned some remains over the years. It’s not clear how many more remain.

Trump claimed an “excellent relationship” with Kim, and it certainly is better for the two leaders to be exchanging compliments rather than missiles. In a sense, Trump has eased the tensions that he himself created when he threatened last fall to “totally destroy” North Korea. I’m just not sure a leader should get credit for defusing a crisis that he himself created.

There’s still plenty we don’t know and lots of uncertainty about the future. But for now, the bottom line is that there’s no indication that North Korea is prepared to give up its nuclear weapons, and Trump didn’t achieve anything remotely as good as the Iran nuclear deal, which led Iran to eliminate 98 percent of its enriched uranium.

There was also something frankly weird about an American president savaging Canada’s prime minister one day and then embracing the leader of the most totalitarian country in the world.

“He’s a very talented man,” Trump said of Kim. “I also learned that he loves his country very much.”

In an interview with Voice of America, Trump said “I like him” and added: “He’s smart, loves his people, he loves his country.”

Trump praised Kim in the news conference and, astonishingly, even adopted North Korean positions as his own, saying that the United States military exercises in the region are “provocative.” That’s a standard North Korean propaganda line. Likewise, Trump acknowledged that human rights in North Korea constituted a “rough situation,” but quickly added that “it’s rough in a lot of places, by the way.” (Note that a 2014 United Nations report stated that North Korean human rights violations do “not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”)

Incredibly, Trump told Voice of America that he had this message for the North Korean people: “I think you have somebody that has a great feeling for them. He wants to do right by them and we got along really well.”

Here is the full “commitment”-related text of the document both leaders signed overnight:

1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.

2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

In subsequent comments, Trump stated repeatedly that his expectation is total denuclearization, presumably including inspections and verification, before which no sanctions relief would arrive. (Is this what Kim has in mind, too? We don’t know.)

There’s a lot more in this exchange with George Stephanopoulos (emphasis added)…

GS: What other kinds of security guarantees did you offer, did you put on the table?

Trump: Well, we’ve given him, I don’t wanna talk about it specifically, but we’ve given him, he’s going to be happy. His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor. They’re gonna put it together, and I think they’re going to end up with a very strong country, and a country which has people — that they’re so hard working, so industrious. I think if you look at South Korea, someday, maybe in the not too distant future, it will be something that.

What jumps out first is Trump’s claim that Kim is loved by his people and that they have great “fervor” for him. That’s quite a statement since the only thing we see out of North Korea are the cult of personality type public rallies where people scream and weep and cheer for the leader in a kind of whipped up or feigned delirium. This seems in line with Trump’s general support and praise for dictators and autocrats.

But there’s a second part of this exchange. He seems to imply that he offered Kim some sort of secret or unofficial security guarantees. Indeed, he says this explicitly. What were they?

Notably, even Ben Shapiro is throwing water on the right wing victory lap.

“If you thought of the flag that was next to the American flag as a Nazi flag rather than a North Korean flag, everybody would see the concern. This is slave state with 25 million prisoners and gulag system hundreds of thousands people wide. The president’s praise for the dictator of North Korea was disquieting. The triumphalism that seems to be appearing in so many places this morning, where everybody is excited that President Trump met with Kim, that’s not justified by the outcome yet.

“The piece of paper that got signed yesterday is frankly weak. This is not a strong piece of paper. I’m deeply skeptical that Kim Jong Un and President Trump are going to be besties and that this will suddenly change the world. But I’m happy to be proved wrong.” – Ben Shapiro, speaking today on Fox & Friends.

Lindsay Graham has a few issues:

“I don’t think cancelling a war game is going to matter over the arc of time. One thing I would violently disagree with is removing our troops. I can’t imagine I would vote for any agreement that requires us to withdraw our forces. That would destabilize Asia. That is what China wants. That doesn’t make the world more peaceful, it makes it more dangerous. The goal is for them to give us the weapons program, missiles and bombs in return for security and prosperity.”

– Sen. Lindsey Graham, speaking this morning to NBC News.

And Erick Erickson, son of Erick (after some liberal-bashing to show he’s still a red meat conservative) writes:

The whole design of this is offensive. The President pees in the punch bowl of the G7, insists the Russians come back into the organization, then flies off to Singapore to make kissy face with a man who routinely murders his own people.

Had Barack Obama done that, Republicans would be demanding his impeachment.

I generally think Donald Trump has run a pretty mature foreign policy that works for American interests. But this past week has been a diplomatic farce, and I suspect those generic ballot numbers that have had Democrats panicking are suddenly going to swing back in their direction.

Having the American President abdicate his leadership of the G7 to flirt with a communist monster is unacceptable. Diplomacy to get rid of North Korea’s nukes would be great. But that’s not what happened. Instead, we gave the North Koreans a considerable PR win in Asia, gave them credibility in South Korea, and came home with just a participation trophy.

Maybe what happened in Singapore doesn’t matter, because (as usual) the Trump Administration can’t even come to a consensus as to what happened:

Russia And The NRA

Ken AshfordCampaign Finance Reform, Crime, Gun Control, L'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

McClatchy:

Several prominent Russians, some in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle or high in the Russian Orthodox Church, now have been identified as having contact with National Rifle Association officials during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, according to photographs and an NRA source.

The contacts have emerged amid a deepening Justice Department investigation into whether Russian banker and lifetime NRA member Alexander Torshin illegally channeled money through the gun rights group to add financial firepower to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.

Other influential Russians who met with NRA representatives during the campaign include Dmitry Rogozin, who until last month served as a deputy prime minister overseeing Russia’s defense industry, and Sergei Rudov, head of one of Russia’s largest philanthropies, the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation. The foundation was launched by an ultra-nationalist ally of Russian President Putin.

Even as the contacts took place, Kremlin cyber operatives were secretly hacking top Democrats’ emails and barraging Americans’ social media accounts with fake news stories aimed at damaging the image of Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton and boosting the prospects of Republican Donald Trump.

It is a crime, potentially punishable with prison time, to donate or use foreign money in U.S. election campaigns.

***

Last month on Capitol Hill, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who examined Russian interactions with the NRA reached a preliminary conclusion that “the Kremlin may also have used the NRA to secretly fund Mr. Trump’s campaign.”

Citing that finding, Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Kathleen Rice of New York asked FBI Director Christopher Wray in a May 24 letter to expand the inquiry to also explore whether Kremlin money flowed illegally to the NRA for use in influencing House and Senate races.

“Illegal campaign contributions by a foreign nation, especially one whose interests stand in stark contrast to those of the United States, threaten the very underpinnings of our democracy and cannot remain unchallenged,” Lieu and Rice wrote.

The NRA reported spending $24.4 million to back Republican candidates for Congress in 2016.

Spokespeople for the FBI and Mueller’s office declined to comment on the letter.

***

Lieu, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview that he finds it “very odd for Putin’s allies to meet with the NRA, because they don’t actually have a similar interest in making sure that people bear arms.”

The Russian government has generally restricted citizens to owning a shotgun and, after five years of licensed use, a hunting rifle.

Given the web of contacts between top Russians and the NRA during the presidential race, Lieu said, it appears that “something very bad happened in 2016.”

In a year inundated with scandals, this may be the most under-reported and significant.

Trump In Singapore

Ken AshfordNorth Korea, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

In the simplest form of nuclear weapon, two portions of uranium are hurled together to reach “critical mass” resulting in a enormous explosion. With Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un both in Singapore on Monday morning, on the brink of being face-to-face, the world is braced for what happens with that critical mass of ego, ignorance and plain-old mass is achieved.

Expectations for the Trump–Kim meeting are exceptionally low, but concerns are frighteningly high. For most world leaders, “just don’t break anything,” might seem to be a low bar. But as Kim and Trump come together, that bar may prove to be miles over their heads.

Still, US media is laboring mightily to give Trump not just the benefit of the doubt, but a guaranteed victory. CNN on Monday declared the meeting “an opportunity granted to few historic figures” and that it was an “opening awaited for 70 years.” This follows an article on Sunday where the New York Times waxed lyrical over Trump’s “deal making swagger” and how, in his own very, very special way, “Mr. Trump has been preparing for this encounter his entire adult life.”

If Trump could be recalled at this point, his followers could resume their Nobel Prize submission and the media could go on discussion the landmark, once in a lifetime, utterly unique, and extra-crispy meeting without any actual consequences. Unfortunately, in a matter of hours, Trump and Kim will actually meet.

A press release from the White House has indicated that Trump and Kim will first meet one-on-one, chaperoned only by a pair of translators. Exactly why this seemed like the best way to begin isn’t clear, though it may relate to Trump’s deep insight that he would know whether he and Kim were sympatico within the first minute. And at least it’s better than the meeting Trump held with Vladimir Putin, in which only Putin’s translator was along.

But as Trump and Kim sit on the ground in Singapore, both have their own obsessions. For Trump, that’s continuing to attack the leaders of America’s long-term allies. Overnight, Trump continued laying into Canada, Germany, and the whole NATO alliance. Which is not the same as the G-7, though it’s unclear if Trump knows that. On the other hand, Kim’s concerns were more … earthy.

First to arrive in Singapore was an IL-76 transport plane carrying food and other essentials for Kim as well as his bullet-proof limousine and a portable toilet that will deny determined sewer divers insights into to the supreme leader’s stools.

If your own job seems difficult, you can be happy that at least your title is not “sewer diver.” And, so far as we know, Trump left his golden toilet at home.

What CNN describes as a meeting “awaited for 70 years” is actually a face-to-face that any American president of that period could have had for the asking. In fact, it’s a meeting that American presidents have explicitly refused. They’ve refused because giving Kim that meeting would do for him exactly what Trump has already done—elevate the isolationist dictator of a tiny, closed-off nation into an accepted world ruler to be dealt with as a legitimate power among the the community of nations.

Kim has every reason to come into this meeting smiling. He’s already achieved everything he could hope for. However, there’s a reason to be worried that Kim will come out of his one-on-one with Trump happier still.

Trump is coming off a disastrous G-7 meeting in which he showed disdain for America’s allies, behaved in the most boorish, uncivil manner possible, and despite massive attempts by both media and all involved governments, could not finish the meeting with even the appearance of adult behavior. He left Quebec an unrelieved failure.

So Trump may be out to get a “win” in Singapore. Some kind of achievement that he can hang his big golden name on. And that should be a point of major concern.