Document Dump: Statement Of 12 Top Former Intelligence Officials

Ken AshfordMilitary Issues, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

It’s actually 12 now, because Leon Peneta signed on this morning.

The denunciations came in two waves.

Earlier yesterday, retired Adm. William McRaven wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, protesting Trump’s revoking of former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance and declaring—as if in an open letter to Trump himself—“I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.”

McRaven is a former Navy SEAL and commander of U.S. Special Operations Command who oversaw the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. By all accounts, he is as apolitical as they come and had not publicly criticized Trump, or any previous president, until now.

Then this:

Trump Campaign NDAs Might Be Invalid

Ken AshfordGeneral corruption, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Unless they deal with keeping classified information secure, government NDAs that extend beyond the scope one one’s employment are probably invalid as a matter of law.

But what about the NDAs signed with the Trump campaign (the one in 2016 or the one for 2020)?  That’s a tougher question.

Or maybe not.

A Manhattan judge issued a ruling on Thursday that thwarted the Trumpcampaign’s attempts to keep a lawsuit out of open court, with potential implications for the looming battle over fired Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman’s slow-motion revelations of her experiences in the Trump campaign and White House.

The decision came in a lawsuit filed by Jessica Denson, a former campaign staffer who filed a complaint last November that alleged she was subjected to “harassment and sexual discrimination” while she worked on Trump’s White House bid in 2016. Lawyers for the Trump campaign tried to force the case into private arbitration based on an agreement signed by staffers that included nondisclosure and nondisparagement provisions. In her decision, Judge Arlene Bluth of New York State Supreme Court disclosed flaws in the wording of the agreement that she said limited its scope.

The ruling exposes potential weaknesses in the non-disparagement and non-disclosure agreements that staff at Trump’s White House, his campaign, and the Trump Organization have been made to sign. These documents have made headlines this past week as Manigault Newman, a former White House staffer, claimed the White House was trying to use them to “silence” her after she went public with a tell-all book and a series of embarrassing tapes from her time in the West Wing and from working on Trump’s campaign.

I couldn’t find a copy of the actual NDA, but we get an insight into the problem with it.

Bluth’s ruling noted flaws in the agreement Denson was required to sign. The judge suggested the document was worded badly, and implied it could have done what the campaign’s attorneys wanted if it had been written better.

“As an initial matter, the Court observes that the arbitration clause confines arbitration to ‘any dispute arising under or relating to this agreement,’” Bluth wrote, adding with emphasis, “It does not require arbitration for any ‘dispute between the parties’ or even ‘any dispute arising out of plaintiff’s employment.’”

Bluth even took aim at the title of the document prepared by the Trump campaign. In the motion to compel arbitration, the campaign’s attorneys described the document signed by Denson as an “employment agreement.” The judge noted this wasn’t actually written down.
“The agreement is simply titled ‘Agreement’ — not ‘Employment Agreement,’” Bluth wrote.

The judge also found that the agreement only covers “a specific list of five prohibited acts” rather than all aspects of Denson’s employment. The document provided for  “no disclosure of confidential information, no disparagement, no competitive services, no competitive solicitation, and no competitive intellectual property claims.”

“There is simply no way to construe this arbitration clause in this agreement to prevent … pursuing harassment claims in court. The arbitration clause could have been written to require any disputes arising out of … employment to go to arbitration. … But it did not,” wrote Bluth.

This could have a big impact not only on the Omarosa situation, but on any other campaign folks who want to sue Trump.

Breaking: Trump Revoking Security Clearance Of Former CIA Director John Brennan

Ken AshfordBreaking News, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The Hill:

President Trump on Wednesday revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.


“As the head of the executive branch and the commander and chief, I have a unique constitutional responsibility to protect the nation’s classified information, including by controlling access to it,” Trump said in a statement, read by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at Wednesday’s press briefing.

Trump also said he is still reviewing access to classified information for several former intelligence officials, including James ClapperJames Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Bruce Ohr.

Each of those individuals has made statements critical of the president in the past.

Per CNN, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was not consulted about the revocation.

Some will say this is petty and peevish — to remove the security clearances of your critics is childish retaliation.  Others will say it is authoritarianism run amok.  Yes, to both of these.  But it is also dangerous.  Brennan needs to be kept up to speed because he often advises people — both future presidents as well as those in Congress.  This is a terrible move, and Trump is in for more blowback than I think he expects.

There is no allegation, nor could there be, that Brennan or anyone else misused or leaked classified information, or monetized his ability to access classified information.  But Rand Paul brought it up last month…

It really had nothing to do with Brennan monetizing his access, because look at the others on the list.  It’s all Trump-Russia people.

This is Brennan’s latest tweet prior to this news

And Brennan responds….

Manafort Trial In Closing Arguments

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

I don’t think the Manafort trial is all that interesting. I mean, it only has a bearing on the Mueller investigation IF Manafort is found guilty, and IF he foregoes a lengthy appeal and IF he then makes a deal with Mueller that implicates Trump or talks about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians… and none of those things are a certainty.

Nevertheless, I suppose it is newsworthy that the defense rested today without presenting any witnesses.  Not unusual.  They will simply argue that the government did not meet its burden.

He’s Unhinged

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

Nobody is even trying to calm him down.  Many many tweets about the Mueller probe (Agent Strzok), one misogynist/racist tweet calling Omarosa a “dog”, and ONE having to do with world affairs (a terrorist attack in London).

One of these days, he will spell “counsel” right consistently (he got it correct with the Lou Dobbs tweet, but not the Judicial Watch tweet)

I don’t know where Trump gets the idea that Strzok “started” the Mueller investigation.  I tried to find the basis for this, even going to a Fox News article entitled: “Strzok, Page and the FBI texting scandal explained” and all that is “explained” is that Strzok and Page were lovers, and both worked (for a time) on the Mueller investigation.  Nothing suggests that Strzok started it.

And that’s because he didn’t.  Trump is making shit up.

And I saw Rudy Guiliani on Hannity last night drop a “bombshell” that Strzok and Mueller are really just “puppets” and that former CIA Director John Brennan is really the whole “quarterback” of the whole Russia investigation as well as the stop to the Hillary email investigation.  Which is just weird since the CIA has no authority over the FBI.

I am assuming there is a calculated defensive strategy somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I can find it.  Trump’s defensive team, which includes Trump himself, is not on same page.  I can understand muddying the waters, but when you are internally inconsistent… aren’t you only muddying your OWN position?

I guess the other tweet of note was the one where he writes: “If we had a real Attorney General, this Witch Hunt would never have been started! Looking at the wrong people.”  That’s pretty amazing – a president mocking his own justice department.

Taken together, his tweets make it clear that he wants to: Shut down the Mueller investigation, purge the government of anyone not loyal to himself, and prosecute his enemies. It’s a showcase of dictatorial overreach. Putting aside the Mueller investigation, in any normal year these tweets alone would be reason to impeach.

The call for to stop the Mueller investigation to stop, and to investigate Hillary is beyond ridiculous. The Justice Department and Congress investigated Benghazi for 4 years. There were zero indictments and no findings of wrongdoing. The DOJ also investigated Hillary Clinton’s emails for 2 years.  Again, zero indictments.  In the first 15 months of the Mueller investigation, there have been 32 indictments and 5 plea-deals. And the subject of this investigation wants the Mueller investigation to stop? Really?

UPDATE:

Well, it seems that calling Omarosa a “dog” didn’t shut her up, as Omarosa has released a tape to CBS:

But a new recording, obtained by CBS News overnight, seems to back up Omarosa’s story that several Trump advisers discussed an alleged tape during the 2016 campaign.   

Trump campaign advisers denied on Monday that any conversations took place. CBS News has not been able to verify the authenticity of the recording – though it appears to confirm Omarosa’s claims that Trump campaign officials were aware of a tape in which then-candidate Trump uses a racial slur, and they talked about how to handle it.

***

Omarosa claims the Trump campaign was aware of the existence of the tape. She describes an October 2016 phone conversation with Lynne Patton, then-assistant to Eric Trump, spokesperson Katrina Pierson and campaign communications director Jason Miller in which they discuss how to deal with the potential fallout from its release. 

“I am trying to find at least what context it was used in to help us maybe try to figure out a way to spin it,” Pierson is heard saying.

Patton then described a conversation she had with then-candidate Trump about making the slur.

Patton: “I said, ‘Well, sir, can you think of anytime where this happened?’

And he said, ‘no.'”

Omarosa: “Well, that is not true.”

Patton: “He goes, how do you think I should handle it and I told him exactly what you just said, Omarosa, which is well, it depends on what scenario you are talking about. And he said, well, why don’t you just go ahead and put it to bed.”

Pierson: “He said. No, he said it. He is embarrassed by it.”

You know, here is the thing. Even if Omarosa has an actual tape of Trump saying the N-word, I think it will be a two-day story. We’ll all be shocked, and then we will move on. That’s how low we’ve gotten.

UPDATE #2 — From the Washington Examiner

President Trump’s campaign organization Tuesday filed charges against friend-turned-enemy Omarosa Manigault Newman, claiming that she broke a 2016 nondisclosure contract by disparaging the president in her new book and revealing private talks from the ultra-secret White House Situation Room.

In New York, Trump campaign lawyers filed for arbitration to force the former star of “The Apprentice” to abide by the agreement they say she signed when joining the 2016 campaign.

According to a sample of the agreement provided to Secrets, she was required to keep proprietary information about the president, his companies or his family confidential and to never “disparage” the Trump family “during the term of your service and at all times thereafter.”

Ugh. The Washington Examiner is such a bad newspaper, but it leans right, so it’s no wonder they got the “exclusive” on this. Here’s where the story is wrong — no, the Trump campaign did not “file charges” against Omarosa.  That’s a little dramatic.  They have sought arbitration with the America Arbitration Association per the 2016 NDA she (allegedly) signed during the campaign.

UPDATE #3

Um.. okay.  I don’t know if I believe her, but if she told all this to Mueller, and she lied…. oooooo, man.

They Have To Explain Time Zones To Our “Very Stable Genius President”

Ken AshfordForeign Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Politico’s Daniel Lippman rounds up several harrowing new details of Trump’s attempts to interact with world leaders.

Trump’s shortcomings as a global strategist include, but are not limited to, the following areas:

Knowing all the countries. Maps indicate the world contains a bunch of countries whose existence Trump was never made aware of previously. “Trump appeared confused by Nepal and Bhutan, which lie sandwiched between India and China,” a person familiar with one meeting tells Lippman. “He didn’t know what those were. He thought it was all part of India. He was like, ‘What is this stuff in between and these other countries?’” One of the things they don’t tell you when you start running for president is, there are just so many countries.

Knowing how to read the names of the countries after seeing them. “In one case, Trump, while studying a briefer’s map of South Asia ahead of a 2017 meeting with India’s prime minister, mispronounced Nepal as ‘nipple’ and laughingly referred to Bhutan as ‘button,’ according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting.”

Time zones work, how do they work? Trump reportedly gets the urge to dial up foreign leaders, and has trouble understanding that they may not be working or awake at that moment if they are located on the opposite side of the planet. “He wasn’t great with recognizing that the leader of a country might be 80 or 85 years old and isn’t going to be awake or in the right place at 10:30 or 11 p.m. their time,” a former Trump National Security Council official tells Lippman. “When he wants to call someone, he wants to call someone. He’s more impulsive that way. He doesn’t think about what time it is or who it is.”

A source tells Lippman the time zone problem comes up on “a constant basis.” Holding their daylight hours during inconvenient times is just another one of the ways all these foreign countries are ripping us off.

Which countries don’t like each other. Trump can intuitively grasp the concept that some countries will have better or worse relations with the United States. The idea that these countries may have different levels of relations with each other, independent of the United States, is a far trickier concept. During one meeting with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Trump repeatedly praised Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, reports a source, who notes that “everyone was cringing.”

Why world leaders have phone calls. Traditional world leaders have busy schedules, and use phone calls to focus on specific points of negotiations. Trump just calls world leaders for no reason. He especially likes to stalk French president Emmanuel Macron. Trump has developed “what one former Trump national security official calls a ‘bizarre’ fascination with calling French President Emmanuel Macron,” reports Lippman. “He wanted to talk to him constantly … Macron would be like: ‘Hey what are we talking about?’”

Strzok Fired

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

This isn’t news.

Peter Strzok, the FBI counterintelligence agent who came under withering criticism from Republicans for a series of anti-Trump text messages he sent during the 2016 campaign, was fired on Friday, his attorney said.

According to Strzok’s lawyer, Aitan Goelman, an internal disciplinary review had recommended Strzok’s demotion and a 60-day suspension. But Goelman said Monday that the deputy director of the FBI overruled that determination and decided to fire him.

At this time two years ago when the FBI began investigating a far-flung foreign conspiracy to throw the 2016 presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor, James Comey was Director of the FBI; Andrew McCabe was 2nd in command and Peter Strzok was Chief of the Bureau’s Counterespionage Section. There was ample suspicion then and ample evidence now that candidate Trump’s associates were deeply involved in the conspiracy. Comey, McCabe and Strzok have now each been fired. The President has threatened each with prosecution.

To listen to the Trumpsters, you would think that Peter Strzok — an FBI agent who had an affair with another FBI agent and who worked on the Clinton email investigation AND the Mueller investigation until July 2017 — was the mastermind of the entire Deep State, the Mueller investigation and, well everything.

The FBI fired him today for… well, who knows. It was a sacrifice to the insane rhetoric against him. No, he shouldn’t have had an affair, and although the APPEARANCE of pro-Hillary bias in his emails didn’t actually affect his work, he shouldn’t have written them in the first place.  But none of that is a fire-able offense.

He became fodder for Trump and the Trumpsters.  The President, who seems not to be working today, is tweeting about him:

Trump apparently thinks there is a “fighting back” exception to obstruction of justice.

“Unite The Right 2” Weekend

Ken AshfordRace, Rightwing Extremism/Violence, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

A lot of ink and video was spilled this weekend covering the Unite The Right 2 event in DC and Charlottesville, one year after all the Nazis went to Charlottesville to have their tiki torch march.  This year was pretty pathetic, as about 18 alt-right Nazis showed up in Washington, heavily protected by police against the literally thousands who went there to oppose them.  Some minor scuffles with the media by the anti-Nazi protesters, but other then that, not much to write about that hasn’t been said a thousand times.

For myself, I watched Spike Lee’s excellent new film, BlackKklansman, which was, among other things, an assault on Trump.  An amazing film, and an instant Spike Lee classic.

Do I REALLY Have To Write A Post About Omarosa And Her Inside Scoop (Book) About The Trump White House, A Job For Which She Was Remarkably Unqualified, And That’s A Pretty Low Bar To Begin With?

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

No.

Okay, fine….

UPDATE… Yeah, even Trump can’t leave it alone…. Here he is saying that Omarosa (a senior staffer paid $180,000 by taxpayers) skipped work, missed meetings, was vicious and not smart, but he kept her employed for a year because she said nice things about him

Weekly List 91

Ken AshfordWeekly ListLeave a Comment

This was a week of widespread and outrageous corruption in the Trump orbit — from Congressman Chris Collins and insider trading, to Secretary Wilbur Ross and grifting, to Secretary of State Kris Kobach miscounting votes, to the “Mar-a-Lago Crowd” controlling the Department of Veterans Affairs, and more. The phrase “drain the swamp” has disappeared from Trump’s vernacular, as he and his apostles appear to be squarely inside the swamp.

As Paul Manafort’s trial sped along, several associates of Roger Stone were subpoenaed, suggesting he is a point of focus in the Mueller probe. Trump and his surrogates continued to ramp up attacks on the Mueller probe, and related areas like the FBI — and several plan to focus on a new shiny coin: Bruce Ohr. A surreptitiously taped and leaked audio of a Republican fundraiser revealed House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes’ plans to protect Trump at all costs, including the possible impeachment of deputy AG Rod Rosenstein.

Themes of white nationalism were front and center this week with a diatribe by Fox News host Laura Ingraham on changing demographics, and the regime’s continued efforts to whiten America, while ignoring brown live lost in Puerto Rico and inhumanely separated at our Southern border. As the week came to a close, on the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville, Trump condemned “all types of racism,” in simpatico with white nationalist leader Jason Kessler who stated, “White people should be able to have the same rights as other groups.”

  1. On Saturday, at a rally in Ohio, Trump staked out a new position on U.S. elections interference, saying, “It’s a lot of people…Russia is there, China is there. We are doing well with North Korea, but they’re probably there.”
  2. Trump said the meddling will “happen really big now” because the U.S. is “taking our wealth back.” Trump also criticized the media and the “elite” class, saying “it drives them crazy” that he won the presidency.
  3. On Sunday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar told “Meet the Press” that she is very concerned the midterm elections could come under digital assault, adding Trump is still “undermining this on national TV” and saying “it’s a hoax.”
  4. Klobuchar also said the Russians are not stopping with election interference, saying she would “love to see” concerns “broadened out” to discuss the threats to our power grid system and our financial system.
  5. On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Times reported Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said Russian operatives have “penetrated certain counties in the state” ahead of the midterms, and “they now have free rein to move about.”
  6. Nelson and GOP Sen. Marco Rubio wrote a letter in July to 67 county election supervisors about potential threats. Nelson is running for re-election against Gov. Rick Scott, who denied knowledge of the allegations.
  7. Sen. Mark Warner, ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement, “Russian activities continue to pose a threat…I hope all state and local elections officials, including Florida’s, will take this issue seriously.”
  8. Security activists filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia that included exhibits from activists and voters who experienced a series of irregularities in the 2016 election and May 2017 primary.
  9. The lawsuit comes amid swelling public concern for the security of Georgia’s voting systems. Mueller’s July 2018 indictment indicated that Russian operatives visited county election websites in Georgia.
  10. Cybersecurity experts warned there were security flaws on the state election website leading up to the 2016 contest that permitted the download and manipulation of voter information.
  11. On Monday, Sen. Rand Paul led a U.S. delegation to visit Moscow in what he characterized as a continuation of Trump’s diplomatic outreach to Putin. Paul met with members of the Russian Council.
  12. Paul met with Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the council’s foreign policy panel, who was put under U.S. sanction for Russia’s actions against the U.S. government in April 2018.
  13. Paul said Monday he invited Russian lawmakers to visit Washington. When asked by CNN whether the issue of Russian interference came up, Paul said he had “general discussions about a lot of issues.”
  14. Paul was joined by Texas State Sen. Don Huffines, and his twin brother Phillip who ran unsuccessfully for a Texas state senate seat. On Tuesday, Sen. Huffines took to Twitter to defend his visit to Moscow.
  15. On Wednesday, Paul delivered a letter from Trump to Putin that Paul said “emphasized the importance of further engagement” between the two leaders on issues such as countering terrorism.
  16. On Saturday, WAPO reported Trump is privately brooding about the widening fallout of the Russia probe, and fretting that he is not getting enough credit for what he claims are political triumphs.
  17. Trump is concerned the Mueller probe could ruin the lives of what he calls “innocent and decent people,” including Donald Jr. who he believes may have inadvertently wandered into legal jeopardy with the June 9 meeting.
  18. On Sunday, Trump tweeted about the WAPO story, saying the “Fake News” is reporting “a complete fabrication” about the meeting “my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower.”
  19. Trump also admitted, “this was a meeting to get information on an opponent,” and falsely claiming it was “totally legal and done all the time in politics.” Trump also added, “I did not know about it!”
  20. Trump also tweeted, without evidence, “Mueller and the 17 Angry Democrats” are biased, saying, “This is the most one sided Witch Hunt in the history of our country,” calling it again a “Rigged Witch Hunt.”
  21. On Sunday, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told “This Week” that he made a mistake by denying Trump was involved in a misleading statement last year on Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting, saying he had “bad information.”
  22. Hope Hicks, who was reportedly visiting Ivanka and Jared at Trump’s Bedminster golf club, ended up joining Trump aboard Air Force One on Saturday to attend his rally in Ohio that evening.
  23. Hicks’ presence sparked speculation she might rejoin the regime, but also noted was her role in July 2017 in helping Trump draft a misleading statement on Air Force One about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting.
  24. On Saturday, First Lady Melania Trump issued a statement in support of LeBron James, saying he is doing “good things on behalf of our next generation,”after Trump disparaged James in Week 90.
  25. On Sunday, Portland, Oregon’s police chief ordered a review of her officers’ behavior at a far-right rally Saturday, after accusations the police were heavy-handed in their crackdown against anti-fascist protesters.
  26. On Wednesday, Fox News host Laura Ingraham complained that changing U.S. demographics have been “foisted” on the American people, saying “it does seem like the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”
  27. Ingraham also said of the demographic changes, “none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like,” adding, “much of this is related to both illegal, and in some cases, legal immigration that, of course, progressives love.”
  28. On Thursday, Ingraham tried to distance herself from the white supremacists cheering her comments, saying her comments had “nothing to do with race or ethnicity” but a “shared goal of keeping America safe.”
  29. On Friday, Trump slammed the NFL players who knelt during preseason games, tweeting, “the NFL players are at it again — taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem.”
  30. Trump suggested players who “make a fortune doing what they love” should “Be happy, be cool,” adding, “Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!”
  31. On Sunday, Trump again attacked the media, tweeting “it’s true” that they are “the Enemy of the People,” saying they “purposely cause great division & distrust,” can also “cause War,” and they are “very dangerous & sick!”
  32. On Sunday, Fox News’ Chris Wallace challenged national security adviser John Bolton about Trump’s tweet, asking “What wars have we started?” Bolton avoided the question, and said media bias has been around for a long time.
  33. Newseum issued an apology for selling “You Are Very Fake News” t-shirts in its gift shop and online, saying, “ A free press is an essential part of our democracy and journalists are not the enemy of the people.”
  34. On Monday, GOP strategist Karl Rove told Fox News that Trump should “tone down” his attacks on the media, comparing Trump’s use of the phrase “enemy of the people” to that of Stalin against his enemies.
  35. Politico reported the networks are boosting security staff for the first time to protect reporters at Trump’s rallies. Reporters say at recent events there is a sense that violence could easily break out at any time.
  36. Guardian reported the Trump regime rescinded an Obama-era ban which prohibited farmers from planting biotech crops engineered to resist insects. The pesticides are linked to declining bee populations.
  37. Rolling Stone reported the EPA is evaluating allowing asbestos, enacting the Significant New Use Rule, which allows the government to evaluate use on a case-by-case basis. Trump has long supported the use of asbestos.
  38. Not included in the evaluation process are the potential effects of exposure to chemicals in the air, ground, or water, allowing the EPA to circumvent an Obama-era law for evaluating potentially dangerous chemicals.
  39. Until recently, 95% of asbestos used in the U.S. came from Brazil, with the balance from Russia. Brazil recently banned asbestos, leaving Russia. A Russian asbestos company shared an image featuring Trump on Facebook.
  40. On Friday, NYT reported, according to internal emails, the EPA’s in-house scientists and lawyers objected to the agency’s new rules on a measure to review applications for using asbestos in consumer products.
  41. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is leading an effort among Democratic state attorneys to fight the asbestos plan. Exposure to asbestos has been linked to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other ailments.
  42. Reuters reported that the second annual ‘America First Energy Conference’ this week was attended by some of the country’s most vocal climate change doubters, as well as by a handful of Trump administration officials.
  43. The presence of Trump officials gave a boost to outlandish ideas such as pumping carbon dioxide into the air makes the planet greener, and the United Nations produces fake science to control the global energy market.
  44. On Friday, Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education released a document outlining a proposal to scrap an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting students from career training programs.
  45. The “Gainful Employment” regulations required programs at for-profit-colleges that prepare students for careers to prove graduates were earning enough to repay the debt they incurred to complete the program.
  46. On Sunday, WSJ reported Canadians, upset with Trump over tariffs and treatment of their prime minister, are boycotting products made in the U.S. and buying Canadian.
  47. On Monday, South Carolina TV-maker Element Electronics said it will close its Winnsboro plant in response to tariffs imposed by Trump.
  48. On Monday, NBC News reported the limited number of H-2B visas being issued by the Trump regime isleaving companies that depend on foreign seasonal workers, like landscaping and crabbing businesses, struggling to stay afloat.
  49. Small business owners are losing revenue, saying American workers don’t want temporary jobs, leaving them unable to fill positions. The Trump family continues to use H-2B visas for their businesses.
  50. First lady Melania Trump’s parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, were sworn in as U.S. citizens, obtaining citizenship through a path referred to by Trump as “chain migration,” which Trump is currently trying to eliminate.
  51. The Knavses were eligible for green cards and to apply for citizenship because their daughter Melania is a citizen, the most common way immigrants to the U.S. get green cards and eventually become citizens.
  52. Trump’s paternal grandfather and mother, who migrated from Germany and Scotland, also used chain migration to become citizens, as did Ivana, Trump’s first wife and mother to his three oldest children.
  53. On Tuesday, NBC News reported that White House senior adviser Stephen Miller is working on a plan to limit the number of migrants who obtain legal status in the U.S. His plan would circumvent Congress.
  54. According to a draft, immigrants living legally in the U.S. who have used, or whose households have used, popular public welfare programs like Obamacare or food stamps would be blocked from becoming citizens.
  55. On Tuesday, the ACLU sued Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others over policies instructing asylum officers that claims based on domestic or gang violence will not establish the basis for asylum or refugee status.
  56. The ACLU claims asylum seekers will be deported to places where they face grave danger. The Trump regime claim the asylum process is exploited by immigrants to pass credible fear screenings and be released into the country.
  57. The Texas Observer reported an ICE transport company van transporting eight Central American mothers separated from their children under “zero-tolerance” crashed in July. ICE denied the incident happened.
  58. When pressed further by the Observer, citing a San Marcos Police Department report on the accident and significant injuries to migrant mothers, ICE changed the story to the incident being a “fender bender.”
  59. On Thursday, Helen Aguirre Ferré, the White House director of media affairs for Latino and African-American news outlets, quietly resigned. The White House did not comment on her reason for leaving or her future.
  60. The Trump regime still does not offer a Spanish version of the White House website, available under the W. Bush and Obama administrations. The Spanish site was supposed to launch in late 2017.
  61. On Thursday, a federal judge in Washington halted a deportation of a woman and her daughter while a hearing appealing their deportations was underway, and threatened to hold Sessions in contempt of court.
  62. The ACLU said government attorneys in another case informed them that the pair was on a flight to El Salvador. When Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington was informed, he ordered the government to “turn the plane around.”
  63. WAPO reported, according to government data, the number of migrant families taken into custody along the border remained nearly unchanged from June to July, suggesting separating families did not deter migrants.
  64. WAPO reported, as of August 9, 559 of the 2,551 children separated from their parents remain separated. Since the July 26 deadline imposed by the court, the Trump regime has made almost no progress in reunificiations.
  65. The latest figures provided by the Trump regime show just 34 migrant parents waived the right to be reunified with their children, compared with the 120 that the government reported a week prior.
  66. On Thursday, NYT reported in a report to Congress, the Puerto Rico government acknowledged that Hurricane Maria killed an estimated 1,427, far more than the official death toll of 64.
  67. The estimate comes from comparing deaths in the last four months of 2017 to previous years. Officials say they await the outcome of the George Washington University study to provide certainty around final numbers.
  68. On Monday, Trump quoted Dan Bongino on “Fox & Friends,” saying “Collusion with Russia was very real,” and repeating his false claims that “Hillary Clinton and her team 100% colluded with the Russians.”
  69. Trump also parroted Bongino’s claim without evidence,“so did Adam Schiff,” saying he tried to collude with Russians “to obtain compromising material on DJT,” and adding “ we should demand a full investigation.”
  70. On Monday, Bloomberg reported the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe is likely to extend beyond the midterms, longer than chairman Richard Burr had hoped, for the panel plans to interview more witnesses for its final report.
  71. On Monday, at the Manafort trial, Rick Gates testified he and and Manafort had 15 foreign accounts which were not disclosed to the federal government. Gates said they also did not submit required forms at Manafort’s direction.
  72. Gates testified he committed crimes alongside and at the direction of Manafort. Gates said Ukraine former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych’s backers moved money from accounts in Cyprus to Manafort.
  73. Gates also testified he cheated Manafort out of “several hundred thousand” dollars by submitting false expense reports. The monies were taken out of some of the undisclosed foreign bank accounts in Cyprus.
  74. On Tuesday, Gates admitted on cross-examination to having an affair, as Manafort’s defense team continued to try to hammer Gates’ credibility. Gates denied using company money for his affair.
  75. Gates testified that Manafort was paid $4 million a year to help Yanukovych govern after he was elected president in 2010. Yanukovych pivoted towards Moscow, which led to protests and his ouster in 2014.
  76. On Wednesday, the forensic accountant showed Manafort controlled or had a stake in 31 bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and the U.K., opened by Manafort, Gates, and Konstantin Kilimnik.
  77. On Wednesday, Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said Judge T.S. Ellis has shown “an extraordinary bias” against prosecutors in the Manafort trial, and added, “He’s making too much of the case about him.”
  78. On Thursday, Judge Ellis apologized to jurors after berating prosecutors for allowing a witness to watch the proceedings, despite having given his earlier approval, saying, “It appears I may well have been wrong.”
  79. On Thursday, in a court filing, Mueller’s team asked to keep a discussion between trial attorneys and the judge regarding a question to Gates secret, signaling Gates may also be assisting in Mueller’s Russia probe.
  80. On Friday, for the second time in two days, prosecutors asked Judge Ellis to take back a critical remark directed at them in front of the jury, saying it could “sow confusion among the jurors about the merits of that charge.”
  81. On Friday, Dennis Raico, a former senior vice president at Federal Savings Bank, testified CEO Steve Calk “expedited” approval of $16 million in loans for Manafort, adding it “made me very uncomfortable.”
  82. On Friday, there was an unexplained five-hour delay in the Manafort trial. Before the lunch break, Judge Ellis stressed to jurors the importance of not discussing the case and told them to “keep an open mind.”
  83. NBC News reported Kristin Davis, the “Manhattan Madam” is scheduled to testify this week before Mueller’s grand jury in Washington. Davis said in July she believed it was in regard to her relationship with Roger Stone.
  84. On Thursday, MSNBC host Ari Melber reported Mueller’s office had “indicated” it plans to subpoena Randy Credico, the associate of Stone who was his alleged connection to Wikileaks during the 2016 election.
  85. On Friday, Credico said that he had received a subpoena to testify before the grand jury in Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference on September 7, and said he did not plan to fight it.
  86. On Friday, U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl Howell found Andrew Miller, a Stone associate, in contempt for refusing to testify before the grand jury. Miller’s attorney plans to appeal the decision.
  87. According to a June court transcript, the subpoena of Miller seeks information about Stone and key figures in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and the release of Democrats’ emails by Wikileaks.
  88. On Friday, Stone told the NYT, “the ongoing attempt to interrogate them appears to be an effort to fabricate some other ‘crime’ to pressure me into testifying” against Trump, adding, “It really has the smell of a witch hunt.”
  89. On Friday, BuzzFeed reported FBI agents and congressional investigators are examining a series of transactions which GOP operative Peter W. Smith made as his effort to procure Clinton’s emails heated up.
  90. A day after he finished a report saying he was working with Trump campaign officials, he transferred $9,500 from an account to fund the email project to his personal account, and withdrew $4,900 in cash.
  91. Responding to an FBI subpoena, Smith’s bank, Northern Trust turned over documents showing 88 suspicious cash withdrawals totaling about $140,000 between January 2016 and April 2017.
  92. On Wednesday, Politico reported, according to a Russian document, Putin presented Trump with a series of requests in Helsinki, including new talks on controlling nuclear arms and prohibiting weapons in space.
  93. Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov complained about the document being leaked. U.S. officials have yet to be fully briefed by Trump on the contents of his two hour meeting with Putin.
  94. On Wednesday, more than a month past a statutory deadline and after being called out by Republican members of Congress, the Trump regime issued new sanctions against Russia for the U.K. Skripal poisoning.
  95. The U.S. had joined European countries in publicly blaming Moscow within days of the March attack, but the Trump regime had yet to issue the formal determination that triggers automatic sanctions in a 1991 law.
  96. The Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 will impose sanctions in two tranches: the first has little impact, the second, if Russia does not provide “reliable assurances” will be substantial.
  97. On Wednesday, WAPO reported the White House is drafting a sanctions order to punish foreign interference in U.S. elections, in an effort to appear serious about combatting Russian disinformation and hacking.
  98. The draft order is meant to stave off aggressive legislation introduced in the Senate in Week 90, and to answer continuing criticism that Trump has sided with Putin over U.S. intelligence on Russian hacking.
  99. In an effort to make the order palatable to Trump, Russia is not singled out, and reference is made to past attempts by the “Soviet Union” to interfere in U.S. elections. The draft grants Trump discretion on sanctions.
  100. A recent Gallup Poll found 40% of Republicans regard Russia as an ally or at least as a country friendly to the U.S., double the percentage from 2014.
  101. A new public opinion survey conducted by Ipsos found 43% of Republicans said that they believed Trump “should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.” Just 36% disagreed.
  102. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted congratulating “Troy Balderson on a great win in Ohio, and took credit for the win. The race remains undecided at the week’s end in a traditionally safe GOP district that Trump won by 11 points.
  103. On Tuesday, after election primary victories, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan was poised to become the first Muslim woman in Congress, and Sharice Davids of Kansas the first Native American. Davids is also openly gay.
  104. On Wednesday, Corey Stewart, the neo-Confederate Republican nominee for Senate in Virginia tweeted about Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed who lost his primary, calling him an “ISIS commie.”
  105. On Wednesday, in a tape obtained by “The Rachel Maddow Show” of a July GOP fundraiser, Rep. Devin Nunes said impeaching Rosenstein would delay the Senate’s ability to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
  106. In the audio from fundraiser for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Nunes said “Rosenstein deserves to be impeached,” and added, “if Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones.”
  107. Nunes also suggested the Republicans must keep the House majority to protect Trump from the Mueller probe, saying, “We have to keep all these seats…We have to keep the majority.”
  108. Nunes also said, hypothetically, if a campaign received and released stolen emails from a foreign government — using an example of McMorris Rodgers and the country of Portugal — “Well, if that’s the case, then that’s criminal.”
  109. On Tuesday, Forbes reported on numerous allegations against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from his business days which have sparked lawsuits, reimbursements, and an SEC fine of more than $120 million.
  110. Mother Jones reported ex-Trump campaign aides Jason Osborne and Mike Rubino are lobbying for a Russian-backed Serbian separatist party in Bosnia, whose leader has been sanctioned by the Treasury Department.
  111. The two registered with the Justice Department to lobby for the political party of Milorad Dodik. Party officials have met with Steve Bannon, Corey Lewandowski, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.
  112. On Tuesday, WSJ reported Michael Cohen is under investigation by federal prosecutors for possible tax fraud, for underreporting income for his taxi-medallion business in federal tax returns.
  113. Prosecutors also are looking into whether any employees at the Sterling National Bank, which provided financing for Cohen’s taxi-medallion business, allowed Cohen to inflate collateral value to obtain loans.
  114. ProPublica reported three of Trump’s Palm Beach cronies — Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, Bruce Moskowitz, and Marc Sherman — have had significant influence in shaping veteran’s policies.
  115. None of the three have any military or government experience. VA insiders refer to them as the “Mar-a-Lago Crowd.” Trump has been a powerful ally— speaking on the phone and dining with Perlmutter frequently.
  116. Hundreds of documents obtained under the FOIA reveal the three hovered over public servants without transparency, accountability, or oversight, and have been calling the shots at Veterans Affairs since Trump took office.
  117. An analysis done by NBC News of revenue at Trump Hotel DC based on public filings and social media foundsubstantial spending at the hotel by federal agencies, Trump’s political allies, and foreign governments.
  118. Trump took in more than $40 million in revenues from the hotel in 2017, and Ivanka took in $3.9 million. Trump loyalists and senior aides like Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani, Larry Kudlow, and Lewandowski frequent the hotel.
  119. PACs and GOP campaigns have spent the most at the hotel. Religious groups and lobbyists for the petroleum and banking industries have held events there, as have foreign governments like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
  120. On Wednesday, Rep. Chris Collins, the first member of Congress to endorse Trump in February 2016, was charged with insider trading. In Trump‘s early days, Collins served as an informal liaison to Congress.
  121. A video was uncovered of what appears to be Collins calling his son to tell him to sell stock in Australian biotech company Innate while at the White House picnic on June 22, 2017.
  122. On Saturday, Rep. Collins reversed course and suspended his bid for re-election in 2018, saying he had decided it was “in the best interests” of his district, the Republican Party, and Trump’s agenda.
  123. On Wednesday, Reuters reported the Trump regime cut 40 jobs at the Office of Financial Research, a government agency tasked with identifying looming financial risks, created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
  124. On Thursday, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer called on his opponent Secretary of State Kris Kobach to recuse himself from vote counting after multiple counties reported voting totals on the secretary of state’s website were inaccurate.
  125. Kobach was ahead by just 191 votes on election night, but at least two known errors had cost Colyer roughly 100 votes. Late Thursday, Kobach agreed to recuse himself.
  126. On Wednesday, Daily Beast reported Omarosa Manigault-Newman, the former “Apprentice” star who followed Trump to the White House, has secret recordings she made of Trump — the contents of which will be in her upcoming book.
  127. Omarosa said the tapes reveal Trump frequently used the word “nigger” while he was the host of the reality television show “Celebrity Apprentice,” although she did not personally hear him use the word.
  128. On Friday, WAPO reported Omarosa was offered a $15,000-a-month contract by Trump campaign adviser Lara Trump to stay silent after being fired from her job as a White House aide in December 2017.
  129. The West Hollywood city council unanimously approved a proposal to remove Trump’s star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, citing costs of acts of vandalism and demonstrations.
  130. On Thursday, Tribune Media terminated its merger agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group, and sued the owner, alleging it failed to make sufficient efforts to get their $3.9 billion deal approved by regulators.
  131. After over a year of supporting the merger, Trump’s FCC Chair had soured on it in Week 88. The Hollywood Reporter noted Fox News, a competitor to Sinclair, was the big winner of the deal not going through.
  132. On Thursday, NYT reported senior American national security officials pushed to complete the NATO deal before the July 11 summit in Brussels began, to protect from Trump blowing up the deal while at the summit.
  133. National security adviser Bolton communicated through U.S. ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison. On July 4, NATO’s secretary general told ambassadors the usual infighting over the agreement had to be dropped.
  134. The new agreement, completed in advance of the summit, gives American national security officials the ability to assure the public and skittish allies, even while Trump continues to publicly bash NATO.
  135. On Wednesday, the 45th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, Giuliani told Fox News host Sean Hannity in contrast to Nixon’s downfall, this time the wrongdoing is on the side of the investigator, not the president.
  136. Giuliani said, “In this case, the investigation was much worse than the no-crime,” and called the Mueller probe “Corrupt investigations through and through,” that is “going to lead to some very big reforms.”
  137. On Thursday, Trump lashed out, tweeting the Mueller probe is “an illegally brought Rigged Witch Hunt run by people who are totally corrupt and/or conflicted,” and ended his tweet with a foreboding, “Stay tuned!”
  138. On Thursday, the special master appointed after the Cohen raid said she “has concluded her review” of four million items to determine what is subject to attorney-client privilege.
  139. In the last batch of items reviewed, Cohen claimed 4,808 were privileged, while the special master agreed with the designation for about half. The documents have been turned over to federal prosecutors in New York.
  140. The Hill reported House Judiciary Committee chair Bob Goodlatte is preparing to subpoena people connected to the Steele dossier, including DOJ official Bruce Ohr, his wife Nellie Ohr, and Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson.
  141. Bruce Ohr is under GOP scrutiny for his contacts with Simpson and Steele during the 2016 election, while Nellie Ohr worked for Fusion GPS at that time. The committee will also go subpoena former FBI and DOJ officials.
  142. Sekulow and Nunes are also speaking out. Sekulow told “This Week” on Sunday that Ohr’s ties to Steele and Fusion GPS “concerned” him, and Nunes said Monday on “Hannity” that Ohr’s involvement is troubling.
  143. It is unclear why Ohr has become the focus of attention from Trump allies. Ohr was removed from the Deputy Attorney’s office when his ties to Steele came to public light. Most of the allegations have been public for months.
  144. On Friday, Sekulow and Giuliani hosted Sean Hannity’s afternoon radio show. The lawyers criticized Mueller’s Russia investigation, with Giuliani claiming Mueller’s investigation was “born in corruption.”
  145. WAPO reported although on vacation this week in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump continued to actively tweet about the Mueller probe, and ancillary subjects such as the FBI and collusion, sending 10 tweets as of Friday.
  146. On Friday, Trump quoted Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo on the Mueller probe, tweeting, “No evidence to launch even an investigation into potential collusion…and here we are, a year and a half later.” This is false.
  147. Trump also quoted Jenna Ellis of the Washington Examiner, tweeting, “FBI thought they wouldn’t get caught because they thought that Hillary was going to win. There is overt bias…a double standard that needs to stop.”
  148. On Saturday, Trump attacked the FBI’s handling of Andrew McCabe’s text messages in a pair of tweets, asking “What are they hiding? McCabe wife took big campaign dollars from Hillary people…..”
  149. Trump threatened he may “get involved,” and asked, “Will the FBI ever recover it’s once stellar reputation, so badly damaged by Comey, McCabe, Peter S and his lover… FBI have been hurt by these clowns and losers!”
  150. On Wednesday, Donald Jr. posted a poll graphic to his Instagram account which doctored Trump’s approval from 40% up to 50%, ahead of Obama’s 45%, backing his father’s claim that he has better approval than Obama.
  151. After the doctored post was reported on, Donald Jr. deleted it on Friday, but not until after tens of thousands of people had seen, shared, or endorsed the false 50% approval rating.
  152. On Thursday, Vice President Pence laid out Trump’s plans for the Space Force, which would become the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, equal to the other five. The new branch needs to be approved by Congress.
  153. Shortly after Pence’s speech, Trump tweeted, “Space Force all the way!” and his campaign sent supporters an email asking them to vote on a Space Force logo, and to consider making a campaign donation.
  154. States of emergency were declared for the Commonwealth of Virginia and Charlottesville at the one-year anniversary of the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally and counter-protests that turned deadly last year.
  155. On Saturday, Trump tweeted “The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division,” and, reminiscent of his “both sides” remarks, said he condemns, “all types of racism and acts of violence.”
  156. Jason Kessler, a white nationalist leader who is organizing the Unite the Right 2018 rally in Lafayette Square on Sunday, said, “White people should be able to have the same rights as other groups.

Nunes Admits That He’s An Accomplice In Protecting Trump From Mueller Probe

Ken AshfordCongress, L'Affaire Russe, Republicans, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Greg Sargent has a nice concise write-up:

Last night, Rachel Maddow reported on leaked audio of Rep. Devin Nunes, who is perhaps President Trump’s staunchest bodyguard against accountability on Capitol Hill, in which he candidly revealed that Republicans hope to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein after the elections. Nunes is already leading such an impeachment drive — which hasn’t generated much GOP support — but Nunes added that he expected many Republicans to back Rosenstein’s impeachment down the line.

In case the meaning of this isn’t clear enough, Nunes also candidly stated that maintaining the GOP majority in Congress is imperative — to protect Trump from the Russia investigation.

In so doing, the California Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee inadvertently made a very powerful case for a Democratic takeover of Congress. Nunes’s comments also point to a way that Democrats can make the midterms about Trump corruption, while also making the Russia story — and the handling of it by Trump and Congressional Republicans — an important strand in that argument.

Maddow obtained the audio from a representative of a progressive group who attended a fundraiser for GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state. The key quote comes when Nunes worries about a GOP loss in the midterms, given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions still remains recused from matters involving the Russia probe:
“If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones. Which is the real danger … we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.”

This is a straight-up declaration that the imperiled GOP congressional majority is the last line of protection for Trump, given that his attorney general is not defending the president from the Russia investigation, and given that the investigation could, in fact, pose a threat to him.

Fox Prime Time Not Even Trying To Hide Racism Now

Ken AshfordRace, Right Wing and Inept Media, Rightwing Extremism/ViolenceLeave a Comment

Ingraham basically blamed brown people for ruining the country she once loved.  Her remarks bear more than a passing resemblance to the notorious white supremacist “14 Words” slogan about how “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

But Former KKK Grandwizard David Duke liked it, so….

But Ingraham’s blatantly racist sentiment has been expressed more than once during Fox News’ prime-time programming this summer. While discussing immigration policy in June, Tucker Carlson — host of that show that begins two hours before Ingraham’s — advised his viewers that “no matter what they tell you, this isn’t about helping children. A lot of people yelling at you on TV don’t even have kids, so don’t for a second let them take moral high ground. Their goal is to change your country forever.”

Why is this all happening now?

It’s the one year anniversary of Charlottesville.  That’s NOT a coincidence.

The Veterans Administration Is Run By Three Guys At Mar-A-Lago. Seriously.

Ken AshfordGeneral corruption, Health Care, Military IssuesLeave a Comment

This is amazing

Last February, shortly after Peter O’Rourke became chief of staff for the Department of Veterans Affairs, he received an email from Bruce Moskowitz with his input on a new mental health initiative for the VA. “Received,” O’Rourke replied. “I will begin a project plan and develop a timeline for action.”

O’Rourke treated the email as an order, but Moskowitz is not his boss. In fact, he is not even a government official. Moskowitz is a Palm Beach doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-service “concierge” medical care.

More to the point, he is one-third of an informal council that is exerting sweeping influence on the VA from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida. The troika is led by Ike Perlmutter, the reclusive chairman of Marvel Entertainment, who is a longtime acquaintance of President Trump’s. The third member is a lawyer named Marc Sherman. None of them has ever served in the U.S. military or government.

Yet from a thousand miles away, they have leaned on VA officials and steered policies affecting millions of Americans. They have remained hidden except to a few VA insiders, who have come to call them “the Mar-a-Lago Crowd.”

Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman declined to be interviewed and fielded questions through a crisis-communications consultant. In a statement, they downplayed their influence, insisting that nobody is obligated to act on their counsel. “At all times, we offered our help and advice on a voluntary basis, seeking nothing at all in return,” they said. “While we were always willing to share our thoughts, we did not make or implement any type of policy, possess any authority over agency decisions, or direct government officials to take any actions… To the extent anyone thought our role was anything other than that, we don’t believe it was the result of anything we said or did.”

VA spokesman Curt Cashour did not answer specific questions but said a “broad range of input from individuals both inside and outside VA has helped us immensely over the last year and a half.” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters also did not answer specific questions and said Perlmutter, Sherman and Moskowitz “have no direct influence over the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

But hundreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials tell a different story — of a previously unknown triumvirate that hovered over public servants without any transparency, accountability or oversight. The Mar-a-Lago Crowd spoke with VA officials daily, the documents show, reviewing all manner of policy and personnel decisions. They prodded the VA to start new programs, and officials travelled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views. “Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring,” a former administration official said.

If the bureaucracy resists the trio’s wishes, Perlmutter has a powerful ally: The President of the United States. Trump and Perlmutter regularly talk on the phone and dine together when the president visits Mar-a-Lago. “On any veterans issue, the first person the president calls is Ike,” another former official said. Former administration officials say that VA leaders who were at odds with the Mar-A-Lago Crowd were pushed out or passed over. Included, those officials say, were the secretary (whose ethical lapses also played a role), deputy secretary, chief of staff, acting under secretary for health, deputy under secretary for health, chief information officer, and the director of electronic health records modernization.

At times, Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman have created headaches for VA officials because of their failure to follow government rules and processes. In other cases, they used their influence in ways that could benefit their private interests. They say they never sought or received any financial gain for their advice to the VA.

No financial gain.  Well….  How about nepotism and favors for friends?  

Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman acted like board members pounding a CEO to turn around a struggling company, a former administration official said. In email after email, officials sought approval from the trio: for an agenda Shulkin was about to present to Trump for a research effort on suicide prevention and for a plan to recruit experts from academic medical centers. “Everything needs to be run by them,” the first former official said, recalling the process. “They view themselves as making the decisions.”

The Mar-a-Lago Crowd bombarded VA officials with demands, many of them inapt or unhelpful. On phone calls with VA officials, Perlmutter would bark at them to move faster, having no patience for bureaucratic explanations about why something has to be done a certain way or take a certain amount of time, former officials said. He issued orders in a thick, Israeli-accented English that can be hard to understand.

In one instance, Perlmutter alerted Shulkin to what he called “another real-life example of the issues our great veterans are suffering with when trying to work with the VA.” The example came from Karen Donnelly, a real estate agent in Palm Beach who manages the tennis courts in the luxury community where Perlmutter lives. Donnelly’s son was having trouble accessing his military medical records. After a month of dead ends, Donnelly said she saw Perlmutter on the tennis court and, knowing his connection to Trump, asked him for help. Perlmutter told her to email him the story because he’s “trying to straighten things out” at the VA, she recalled. (Donnelly separately touched off a nasty legal dispute between Perlmutter and a neighbor, Canadian businessman Harold Peerenboom, who objected to her management of the tennis courts. In a lawsuit, Peerenboom accused Perlmutter of mounting a vicious hate mail campaign against him, which Perlmutter’s lawyer denied.)

Perlmutter forwarded Donnelly’s email to Shulkin, Moskowitz and Sherman. “I know we are making very good progress, but this is an excellent reminder that we are also still very far away from achieving our goals,” Perlmutter wrote.

Shulkin had to explain that they were looking in the wrong place: Since the problem was with military service records, it lay with the Defense Department, not the VA.

Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman defended their intervention, saying, “These were the types of stories of agency dysfunction and individual suffering that drove us to offer our volunteer experience in the first place — veterans who had been left behind by their government. These individual cases helped raise broader issues for government officials in a position to make changes, sometimes leading to assistance for one veteran, sometimes to broader reforms within the system.”

Right after meeting Shulkin, Moskowitz connected him with his friend Michael Zinner, director of the Miami Cancer Institute and a member of the American College of Surgeons’ board of regents. (Zinner declined to comment.) The conversation led to a plan for the American College of Surgeons to evaluate the surgery programs at several VA hospitals. The plan came very close to a formal announcement and contract, internal emails show, but stalled after Shulkin was fired, according to the organization’s director, David Hoyt.

Hmmmm. What about self-dealing?

Besides advocating for friends’ interests, some of the Mar-a-Lago Crowd’s interventions served their own purposes. Starting in February 2017, Perlmutter convened a series of conference calls with executives at Johnson & Johnson, leading to the development of a public awareness campaign about veteran suicide. They planned to promote the campaign by ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange around the time of Veterans Day.

The event also turned into a promotional opportunity for Perlmutter’s company. Executives from Marvel and its parent company, Disney, joined Johnson & Johnson as sponsors of the Veterans Day event at the stock exchange. Shulkin rang the closing bell standing near a preening and flexing Captain America, with Spider-Man waving from the trading pit, and Marvel swag distributed to some of the attendees. “Generally the VA secretary or defense secretary don’t shill for companies,” the leader of a veterans advocacy group said.

The VA was aware of the ethical questions this event raised because of Shulkin’s relationship with Perlmutter. An aide to Shulkin sought ethics advice from the agency’s lawyers about the appearance. In an email, the aide noted, “the Secretary is friends with the President of Marvel Comics, Mr. Ike Perlmutter, but he will not be in attendance.” The VA redacted the lawyer’s answer, and the agency’s spokesman would not say whether the ethics official approved Shulkin’s participation in the event.

Perlmutter did not answer specific questions about this episode. His joint statement with Moskowitz and Sherman said, “None of us has gained any financial benefit from this volunteer effort, nor was that ever a consideration for us.”

Well, that’s debate-able.  And what’s this — ACTUAL nepotism:

Perlmutter also facilitated a series of conference calls with senior executives from Apple. VA officials were excited about working with the company, but it wasn’t immediately obvious what they had to collaborate on.

As it turned out, Moskowitz wanted Apple and the VA to develop an app for veterans to find nearby medical services. Who did he bring in to advise them on the project? His son, Aaron, who had built a similar app. The proposal made Apple and VA officials uncomfortable, according to two people familiar with the matter, but Moskowitz’s clout kept it alive for months. The VA finally killed the project because Moskowitz was the only one who supported it.

Moskowitz, in the joint statement, defended his son’s involvement, calling him a “technical expert” who participated in a single phone call alongside others. “Any development efforts, had they occurred, would not have involved Aaron or any of us. There was no product of Dr. Moskowitz’s or Aaron’s that was promoted or recommended in any way during the call,” the trio said. “Again, none of us, including Aaron, stood to receive any financial benefit from the matters discussed during the conversation — and any claims to the contrary are factually incorrect.”

Moskowitz had more success pushing a different pet cause. He has spent years trying to start a national registry for medical devices, allowing patients to be notified of product recalls. Moskowitz set up the Biomedical Research and Education Foundation to encourage medical institutions to keep track of devices for their patients to address what he views as a dangerous hole in oversight across the medical profession. At one point, the foundation built a registry to collect data from doctors and patients. Moskowitz chaired the board, and Perlmutter’s wife was also a member. Moskowitz’s son earned $60,000 a year as the executive director, according to tax disclosures.

Moskowitz pushed the VA to pick up where he left off. He joined officials on weekly 7:30 a.m. conference calls in which officals discussed organizing a summit of experts on device registries and making a public commitment to creating one at the VA. In an email to Shulkin, the VA official in charge of the project referred to it as the “Bruce Moskowitz efforts.”

When the summit arrived, on June 4, Moskowitz and his son did not attend. It’s not clear what role they will have in setting up the VA’s registry going forward — their foundation has shut down, according to its website, and Moskowitz’s son said he’s no longer involved. But in his opening remarks at the summit, Peter O’Rourke, then the acting secretary, offered a special thanks to “Dr. Bruce Moskowitz and Aaron Moskowitz of the Biomedical Research and Education Foundation” as “driving forces” behind it.

So basically, you have three guys trying to fix the VA, with no accountability at all.

Read the whole thing…. and welcome to the swamp.