Monthly Archives: June 2017

The First Hard Evidence of Collusion

And it comes from the staunch conservative outlet, The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ writes:

Before the 2016 presidential election, a longtime Republican opposition researcher mounted an independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, likely by Russian hackers.

In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, the GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, implied he was working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump.

“He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?’” said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails.

Emails written by Mr. Smith and one of his associates show that his small group considered Mr. Flynn and his consulting company, Flynn Intel Group, to be allies in their quest.

What role, if any, Mr. Flynn may have played in Mr. Smith’s project is unclear. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Smith said he knew Mr. Flynn, but he never stated that Mr. Flynn was involved…

Mr. Smith died at age 81 on May 14, which was about 10 days after the Journal interviewed him. His account of the email search is believed to be his only public comment on it….

In the interview with the Journal, Mr. Smith said he and his colleagues found five groups of hackers who claimed to possess Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails, including two groups he determined were Russians.

“We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government,” Mr. Smith said…

Mr. Smith said he never intended to pay for any emails found by hackers.

He said he understood the risk in publishing the emails himself. If, under public scrutiny, they proved not to be genuine, “people would say we made them up,” he said, and the whole project would be dismissed as a Republican hit job on the Clinton campaign. In the early 1990s, Mr. Smith helped publicize Arkansas state troopers’ claims that then-Gov. Bill Clinton had enlisted them to arrange trysts with women, an unproven allegation denied by the Clinton White House…

The Journal also reported that “investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence.”

In sum, there is evidence that individuals connected to the Trump campaign were seeking stolen emails from Russian hackers and evidence that Russian hackers were trying to provide them to a top Trump adviser.

The Blackmail of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzenzski

The fallout from Trump’s Twitter attack yesterday on TV hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzenzski (mostly the latter) continues, and it doesn’t go well for Trump.  The couple wrote a devastating op-ed in WaPo, the title of which says it all:

They are quite right — Donald Trump is not well.  I question whether he ever was.  But it is what they said this morning on their show that caught my interest, and the interest of many others:

MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski claim President Trump and his White House used the possibility of a hit piece in the National Enquirer to threaten them.

But President Trump has a very different account of what happened. “FAKE NEWS,” he tweeted during “Morning Joe” Friday morning.
The editor in charge of the Enquirer, Dylan Howard, said “we have no knowledge of any discussions between the White House and Joe and Mika about our story, and absolutely no involvement in those discussions.”

Meanwhile, Scarborough says he has proof of the White House threats — “I have texts from your top aides and phone records.”
Scarborough and Brzezinski are essentially alleging a form of blackmail.

The accusation came during a wider discussion about the president’s offensive tweets targeting the co-hosts. It piqued the attention of journalists because it implies that the president is using a friendly media outlet to punish his opponents.

What’s definitely true is this: Trump and the publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, are friends and allies. Jeffrey Toobin documented the mutually beneficial relationship in this week’s edition of The New Yorker.

The Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid, frequently promotes the president’s agenda.

Here’s exactly what the co-hosts alleged on Friday’s “Morning Joe.”

“We got a call that, ‘Hey, the National Enquirer is going to run a negative story against you guys…’ And they said, ‘If you call the president up, and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike this story,” Scarborough said.

Scarborough didn’t name names, but he said “three people at the very top of the administration” called him about this.

“The calls kept coming and kept coming, and they were like ‘Call. You need to call. Please call. Come on, Joe. Just pick up the phone and call him.'”

In other words, grovel to the president and he’ll make the mean story disappear.

Scarborough did not immediately respond to a request from CNN for more details.

But he and Brzezinski also described the alleged discussion in a Washington Post column on Friday.

“This year,” they wrote, “top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas.”

Scarborough and Brzezinski are now engaged. The negative article was about their past marriages and the beginning of their relationship. It was published in early June.

Dylan Howard, the chief content officer for the Enquirer’s parent company American Media, said “we accurately reported” the story, but “at no time did we threaten either Joe or Mika or their children in connection with our reporting on the story.”

Brzezinski suggested otherwise.

“Let me explain what they were threatening,” she said. “They were calling my children. They were calling close friends.”

She said “these calls persisted for quite some time, and then Joe had the conversations that he had with the White House where they said ‘Oh, this could go away.'”

In response, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that he is “not aware” of White House officials pressing Scarborough to call up Trump and make nice.

Here’s the video:

The president himself weighed in via Twitter a few minutes later.

Scarborough responded quickly to Trump’s tweet with one of his own:

It get worse.

For Trump.

Redstate talked to Scarborough and asked him about it. This is what Scarborough reportedly said:

“NBC execs knew in real time about the calls and who made them to me. That’s why Mark Kornblau wrote about contemporaneous texts. I showed him and executives as they were coming in to keep them advised.”

Scarborough also said the calls about the National Enquirer story started in late April and early May but that he never placed a call to President Trump, contra Trump’s tweet. “I never called the President about this,” he said. “I challenge him to reveal any phone records showing that I called him. He can’t because I didn’t.”

Blackmail is a very serious charge. The administration will likely face questions about in their latest press briefing and how they respond will be telling.

UPDATE: NY Magazine has news on this, with sources. This seems to be the story — it contradiction that Joe called him to discuss the Enquirer story.

According to three sources familiar with the private conversations, what happened was this: After the inauguration, Morning Joe’s coverage of Trump turned sharply negative. “This presidency is fake and failed,” Brzezinski said on March 6, for example. Around this time, Scarborough and Brzezinski found out the Enquirer was preparing a story about their affair. While Scarborough and Brzezinski’s relationship had been gossiped about in media circles for some time, it was not yet public, and the tabloid was going to report that they had left their spouses to be together.

In mid-April, Scarborough texted with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about the pending Enquirer story. Kushner told Scarborough that he would need to personally apologize to Trump in exchange for getting Enquirer owner David Pecker to stop the story. (A spokesperson for Kushner declined to comment). Scarborough says he refused, and the Enquirer published the story in print on June 5, headlined “Morning Joe Sleazy Cheating Scandal!”

The Daily Beast (which apparently published just before NYMag) has basically the same story.

UPDATE:  A Vanity Fair story adds come color. This is Mika’s perspective…

Healthcare Update

Yesterday was a strange news day and not just because of the Trump’s tweets about Morning Joe.  I want to cover much of it, and it is going to take a couple of posts.

First, healthcare.

The Senate Health Care bill looks dead.  McConnell wanted to get the Senate bill, BCRA, passed before the July 4 extended break.  He wanted it passed without hearings, without debate, without amendments. The CBO score on the bill was horrible, and McConnell could not bridge the gap between the Freedom Caucus (Rand Paul) who thought the Senate version didn’t go far enough, and the moderate Republicans (Susan Collins) who rightly saw the bill as barbaric.  A last ditch effort yesterday led to nothing, and the Senate adjourned.

That didn’t stop Trump from tweeting about health care this morning.

Why this tweet is extraordinary: It’s literally the opposite of what then president-elect Trump told Paul Ryan after he won the election and shortly before Congress went into session. Part of the reason why the House GOP leadership didn’t run with a clean repeal vote, as they’d done many times under President Obama, was because Trump had made it clear to Ryan he wouldn’t sign the bill.

Behind Trump’s tweet: He’s frustrated, like every other Republican involved in the jammed-up health care negotiations. HHS Secretary Tom Price met with senior officials at the White House yesterday, and a source familiar with the meeting said the mood was far more negative than the day before.

Looks like the break is coming and GOP lawmakers are going to get an earful in town meetings at home

I Wonder Why Trump Gets Negative Press

This morning:

This, apparently, is what set him off:

Not too bad. I mean, it’s not like they claimed he wasn’t born in America. I guess it was the “little hands” thing that may have done it.

Then again, maybe it was the fact that Hannity went after Joe last night.

In any event, Mr. Unpresidential Thinskin’s response was horrible.

Since I am speechless, I will let Jay Caruso over at the conservative Redstate speak for me:

Unfortunately, for the people who are upset Donald Trump receives very little positive media coverage, they need to cast their gaze at the President and not the media because he brings it on himself time and time again.

Remember, he is the President of The United States of America. He is the Commander-In-Chief. He is the de facto leader of the free world.

***

First of all, that he’s bellowing about Morning Joe means he was watching the show this morning. Why say something about a show you don’t watch?

Second, when the President tweets high school drivel such as this, the media is going to talk about it because it is what he is discussing. Kellyanne Conway tried to argue the media is “obsessed” over the President’s tweets, but the White House said his tweets are official statements. It is not Donald Trump, the reality television host popping off about Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. It is an official statement issued by the President of The United States.

What President Trump said about Mika supposedly bleeding from a facelift is low-grade trash, worthy of anonymous Internet trolls, not the most powerful man in the world.

People will argue, “Oh that’s just the President trolling, and guys like you fell for it.” Yes, silly me. I expect the President of the United States to concern himself with matters related to his office and to conduct himself with a little character and dignity.

How gauche. 

Naturally, what will happen, is the media will focus on this (tada!) because the President thinks tweeting the way guys scribble on the bathroom wall in the 9th grade is the proper way to conduct his daily business. Meanwhile, the people in his administration who are doing real work, aren’t getting credit or media coverage for the work they’re doing because President Jeff Spicoli is too busy making Mr. Hand speculate if he’s on dope.

Grow up, Mr. President.

This is bullying. This is sexist. It may even indicate mental instability.  He thinks that when you read these Mika tweets, you’ll be on his side. In his mind, he’s being persuasive. Imagine being that awful.

Personally, I would love to see him censured by Congress.

Backlash is universally negative.  Mika herself responded this way:

MSNBC:

MSNBC’s competitor:

And from others:

(Lynn Jenkins is a GOP Congresswoman from Kansas)

Coming to his defense:

I’m so glad he has his hands on the red button.  Also,

********************************************************************

MORE:

For the record, “Morning Joe” enjoyed its highest ratings ever in the second quarter of this year and has increased viewership in nine consecutive quarters.  And….

What? You mean Trump lied?

And yeah. I know some people are saying Trump is trying to distract everyone from the horrible healthcare thing, but that doesn’t make sense.  People can focus on more than one thing.  Besides, distract us from what?  Are things happening that we can see or discuss?  Not yet.

UPDATE:  From the Sarah Huckabee press briefing —

I wish someone would ask what it is with Trump and visions of women bleeding.

BONUS UPDATE — Even Hannity!!

… but he adds that he can nevertheless understand how Trump is upset with “Morning Joe” coverage. And then calls media “crybabies”…

How’s “Energy Week” Going?

The White House said this was “Energy Week”, but it just seems to be more bad-news-on-healthcare week.

The Ashford Zone’s correspondent*, Amy Da Luz is in Raleigh outside Senator Burr’s office at an anti-BCRA rally.  It is a pretty decent turnout.

* She doesn’t know she’s our correspondent.

By the way, I wrote something large on Facebook which I will share here:

The New O’Keefe Video

So, the White House spokesman wants people to watch a video even though she doesn’t know if it is accurate.  How’s that for devotion to the truth?

The video is by James O’Keefe, and it is itself about the truth.  But O’Keefe and his outfit, Project Veritas, have been known to use slick editing procedures to distort the truth, rather than expose it.  Let’s see what O’Keefe has this time.

Interesting. What O’Keefe, who has been hit with a $1 million conspiracy lawsuit, doesn’t tell you is that Bonifield has held many positions at CNN, most recently serving as a supervising producer for CNN Health, a position he has held since 2015.

CNN Health.

Other than that, there’s not much there there.

Does CNN’s coverage drive its ratings? I’m sure it does.  Just like as Fox.

Is the Trump-Russia collusion things bullshit?  This CNN supervisor says it could be.  And you know what? IT COULD BE.

But isn’t that why we have an investigation?  Isn’t that the point?

The opinion of a CNN Health producer means nothing.  You know who doesn’t think the Russia investigation is “a hoax”? The CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the DNI, the House Intel Committee, the Senate Intel Committee, and Robert Mueller.

Senate Health Care Bill Off Fast Track

It looks like BHCA (the Better Health Care Act, which isn’t) is not going to be voted on before the July 4 break, as Senator McConnell had hoped. I don’t see how he thought he could put such a terrible bill through committee, without hearings, without almost no debate, without amendments, and get a vote passed.  The horrible CBO score did him in.  Chaos broke loose.

Here’s a nice summary of the the bill:

Trump has invited Senators from both parties over to the White House to discuss health care. I would love to be a fly on that wall.  To discuss the issue, you have to understand the issue.

Breaking: The Senate Health Care Bill Gets Scored

The House Bill said 23 million would lose insurance under the House GOP plan to replace Obamacare.

Now the Senate version has been scored and it is…. just as bad.

The Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026, a figure that is only slightly lower than the 23 million more uninsured that the House version would create, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday.

Next year, 15 million more people would be uninsured compared with current law, the budget office said.

Silver lining?

The legislation would decrease federal deficits by a total of $321 billion over a decade, the budget office said.

Good news unless you are uninsured and get sick.  The deficits mostly come from GOP bill cuts, i.e., the spending cut on Medicaid by 26% by 2026

To be honest, I really thought it would be somewhere around 15 million after 10 years.  Nope, it’s 22 million.  A disaster for the GOP.  And most of that — well, 15 million — would happen right away.  That would have a huge impact on the 2018 elections if this gets passed.

Trump Again Tweets Against His Self-Interest

Sooooo…… is Trump finally admitting that Russia meddled?  Because he rarely admits that.

Maybe this says it best:

It is an interesting shift by Trump, as well as Fox News.

All Hail ACHA 2.0

Well, after weeks of secrecy, the Senate version of Obamacare “Repeal and Rewhatever” (PDF) is here. Remember, the House version of the ACHA would result in 23 million people becoming uninsured, and even Trump called it “mean”.  Is the Senate version any better?  Not much:

Here is how the Senate bill works:

  • The Senate bill begins to phase out the Medicaid expansion in 2021 — and cuts the rest of the budget’s program too. The Senate bill would end the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid to millions of low-income Americans. This program has provided coverage to more Americans than the private marketplaces
  • It would also cut the rest of the public insurance program. Better Care would also limit government spending on the rest of the Medicaid program, giving states a set amount to spend per person rather than the insurance program’s currently open-ended funding commitment.
  • The Senate bill provides smaller subsidies for less generous health insurance plans with higher deductibles. The Affordable Care Act provides government help to anyone who earns less than 400 percent of the federal poverty line ($47,550 for an individual or $97,200 for a family of four). The people who earn the least get the most help. The Senate bill would make those subsidies much smaller for many people, and only provide the money to those earning less than 350 percent of the poverty line ($41,580 for individuals and $85,050 for a family of four). The Senate bill will tether the size of its tax credits to what it takes to purchase a skimpier health insurance plan than the type of plans Affordable Care Act subsidies were meant to buy. Essentially, these tax credits buy less health insurance.
  • The Senate bill repeals the individual mandate — and replaces it with nothing. The bill gets rid of the Affordable Care Act’s unpopular requirement that nearly all Americans carry health coverage or pay a fine. This could cause significant disruption in the individual market because it takes away a key incentive healthy people have to buy coverage, meaning only sick people may sign up.  This drives up premiums, deductibles, and co-pays.
  • The bill would cut taxes for the wealthy. Obamacare included tax increases that hit wealthy Americans hardest in order to pay for its coverage expansion. The AHCA would get rid of those taxes. Obamacare was one of the biggest redistributions of wealth from the rich to the poor; the AHCA would reverse that.
  • The Senate bill defunds Planned Parenthood for one year. This would mean Medicaid patients could no longer seek treatment at Planned Parenthood clinics. Experts expect this would result in low-income Americans getting less medical care and having more unintended pregnancies, as access to contraceptives would decline.
  • All in all, the replacement plan benefits people who are healthy and high-income, and disadvantages those who are sicker and lower-income. The replacement plan would make several changes to what health insurers can charge enrollees who purchase insurance on the individual market, as well as changing what benefits their plans must cover. In aggregate, these changes could be advantageous to younger and healthier enrollees who want skimpier (and cheaper) benefit packages. But they could be costly for older and sicker Obamacare enrollees who rely on the law’s current requirements, and would be asked to pay more for less generous coverage.

Shorter story: the rich get tax breaks, the poor and sick get screwed. It’s a reverse Robin Hood bill.

Let’s recall what Sen. Mitch McConnell said about the Affordable Care Act in January:

MCCONNELL: Well, what you need to understand is that there are 25 million Americans who aren’t covered now. If the idea behind Obamacare was to get everyone covered, that’s one of the many failures. In addition to premiums going up, copayments going up, deductibles going up. And many Americans who actually did get insurance when they did not have it before have really bad insurance that they have to pay for, and the deductibles are so high that it’s really not worth much to them. So it is chaotic. The status quo is simply unacceptable.

McConnell was right in every criticism he made of the ACA. Then he turned around and wrote a bill that made every single problem he identified worse.

Republicans have a mere 52-48 advantage in the Senate, so if there are two “no” Republicans, the bill could pass with VP Pence breaking the tie.  But 3 “no” Republicans would kill it (assuming, as I do, that every Dem is a “no”).  Senator Rand Paul (R) has already said “no” because it doesn’t go far enough in repealing Obamacare, but that might be posturing.

I wonder if Trump will endorse it.  After all, this is going to be thrown in his face:

Initial reaction is not good, and there are already some bad optics, like Capital Police dragging away protesters who are wheelchair-bound:

GA-6 Fallout

Ossoff lost in the 6th District of Georgia last night. With 99 percent of the vote counted, Handel leads Ossoff 53 percent to 47 percent in a race that many expected to be much closer. Handel had 127,021 votes to the Democrat’s 114,390 ballots.

And so now the Republicans are gloating…

… and the Democrats are engaged in a circular firing squad.

What’s the lesson?  Why did the Democrats lose Georgia 6th and South Carolina 5th?  And the other two special elections that were supposedly referenda on Trump?

I said it yesterday…. WHEN YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO WIN, YOU SHOULDN’T MOURN THE LOSS.

The story isn’t “Dems Lost”. It is “Dems Making Huge Gains Into Republican Districts”.

Look at these special election results:

The GOP drops by double digits since Election Day 2016.  That’s double digit drop in seven months!!

Nate Silver does a lot of number crunching and concludes:

As compared to the 2016 presidential results, Democrats have outperformed their benchmarks by an average of 14 percentage points so far across the four GOP-held districts to have held special elections to date. As compared to the 2012 presidential election, their overperformance is even larger, at almost 18 points. They’ve also outperformed their results from the 2016 and 2014 U.S. House elections by roughly 11 points, after one accounts for the fact that the special elections were open-seat races rather than being held against incumbents.

DEMOCRATIC SWING IN SPECIAL ELECTION RELATIVE TO BENCHMARK*
DISTRICT 2016 PRESIDENT 2012 PRESIDENT 2016 HOUSE 2014 HOUSE
Kansas 4 +22.5 +22.6 +17.8 +15.8
Montana +16.6 +11.5 +2.7 +7.3
Georgia 6 -0.1 +23.5 +12.5 +17.5
South Carolina 5 +17.4 +12.2 +10.1 +3.6
Average +14.1 +17.5 +10.8 +11.1
Democrats continue to substantially outperform their benchmarks
* Result relative to national popular vote, also adjusted for incumbency in the case of congressional incumbents.

How might this translate for Democrats next November, when all 435 seats are up for grabs? The results simultaneously suggest that an impressively wide array of Republican-held seats might be competitive next year — perhaps as many as 60 to 80 — and that Democrats are outright favorites in only a fraction of these, perhaps no more than a dozen. To some extent, this configuration is a result of Republican-led gerrymandering in 2010. Republicans drew a lot of districts where their members are safe under normal conditions, but not in the event of a massive midterm wave.

In order to win a net of 24 seats next year — enough to flip the House — Democrats may therefore need to target dozens of Republican-held seats and see where the chips fall. They can variously attempt anti-Trump, anti-Republican or anti-incumbent messages depending on the district.

They say the same thing over at The Cook Political Report:

Measured against the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index (PVI), Democrats have outperformed the partisan lean of their districts by an average of eight points in the past five elections:

A Smarter Way to Interpret 2017’s Special Elections

If Democrats were to outperform their “generic” share by eight points across the board in November 2018, they would pick up 80 seats. Of course, that won’t happen because Republican incumbents will be tougher to dislodge than special election nominees. But these results fit a pattern that should still worry GOP incumbents everywhere, regardless of Trump’s national approval rating and the outcome of the healthcare debate in Congress.

Yes, I like the way this looks.

Georgia 6th On My Mind

Well today is the big day.  Georgia-6th, a strong Republican district, might actually flip to Democratic in what many see as a referendum on Trump’s presidency.

The truth is, whether Joel Ossoff wins today or loses, it is almost irrelevant.  Polls show him barely ahead but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that a district which “split” on Trump and Hillary (Trump won over Hillary 48% to 47%) but is otherwise a Republican stronghold:

Election results from presidential races:

Year Office Results
2000 President George W. Bush 68% – Al Gore 32%
2004 President George W. Bush 70% – John Kerry 29%
2008 President John McCain 62% – Barack Obama 37%
2012 President Mitt Romney 61% – Barack Obama 38%
2016 President Donald Trump 48% – Hillary Clinton 47%

Tom Price, who left his seat to become Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, has held that seat since 2004, taking 64.5%, 66.0%, and 61.7% in the last three elections (2012, 2014, and 2016).

Even if Ossloff comes close to winning, and he will, this means that many congressional seats that went for Hillary or slightly Trump are in play, and the House can be flipped in 2018.  And THAT means… impeachment.

Breaking: Otto Warmbier Has Died

From ABC News yesterday:

Over and over, Otto Warmbier apologized and begged — at first calmly, then choking up and finally in tears — to be reunited with his family.

North Korean officials seated at long tables watched impassively, with cameras rolling and journalists taking notes, as the adventuresome, accomplished 21-year-old college student from suburban Cincinnati talked animatedly about the “severe crime” that had put him there: trying to take a propaganda banner for someone back home, supposedly in return for a used car and to impress a semi-secret society he wanted to join, and all under the supposed direction of the U.S. government.

“I have made the worst mistake of my life!” he exclaimed as his formally staged Feb. 29, 2016, “confession” to anti-state activities ended in Pyongang.

More than 15 months later, he has finally been reunited with his parents and two younger siblings.

Whether he is even aware of that is uncertain.

“His neurological condition can be best described as a state of unresponsive wakefulness,” said Dr. Daniel Kanter, director of neurocritical care for the University of Cincinnati Health system. Doctors say he has suffered “severe neurological injury,” with extensive loss of brain tissue and “profound weakness and contraction” of his muscles, arms and legs. His eyes will open and blink, but without signs of understanding verbal commands or his surroundings.

Warmbier, now 22, remains hospitalized at the UC Medical Center immediately after his arrival late Tuesday aboard a medevac flight following North Korea’s decision to release him for what it called humanitarian reasons — and under strong pressure after the Trump administration learned of his condition in a special U.S. envoy’s June 6 meeting in New York with North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations.

His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, were told he had been in a coma since shortly after being sentenced March 16, 2016, to 15 years of prison with hard labor.

If life had gone to plan, he today would be in his first month as a new graduate of the University of Virginia.

So basically, the DPRK tortured and murdered a US Citizen for allegedly taking a propaganda poster off a wall.  Will this become an international incident?

Senate Republicans Getting Hit From All Over

This screenshot from Memeorandum gives a sense of the bind that Senate Republicans are in over their very long and VERY SECRET internal negotiating (by 13 white men) over their healthcare bill.

House Republicans insist that their terrible mean bill (which knocks 23 million off of healthcare) doesn’t get altered too much, and Democrats — well, they just want to see the bill.  This is all revving up each day, as Senate Republicans cannot seem to decide how to fix healthcare.

I was worried this might go under the radar, but I think not. Especially if it goes into August.

Trust The GOP, Do You?

Well, read this:

Political data gathered on more than 198 million US citizens was exposed this month after a marketing firm contracted by the Republican National Committee stored internal documents on a publicly accessible Amazon server.

The data leak contains a wealth of personal information on roughly 61 percent of the US population. Along with home addresses, birthdates, and phone numbers, the records include advanced sentiment analyses used by political groups to predict where individual voters fall on hot-button issues such as gun ownership, stem cell research, and the right to abortion, as well as suspected religious affiliation and ethnicity. The data was amassed from a variety of sources—from the banned subreddit r/fatpeoplehate to American Crossroads, the super PAC co-founded by former White House strategist Karl Rove.

Deep Root Analytics, a conservative data firm that identifies audiences for political ads, confirmed ownership of the data to Gizmodo on Friday.

Another Terrorist Attack In London

Last night, a van with three people drove into a crowd of worshipers in Finsbury Park, a district in North London. One person was killed, ten were injured.

It was a terrorist attack, but not a typical one that garnishes worldwide press attention. Because this time, the terrorists were white and the targets were Muslim.

Here’s what is known so far:

— The driver of the van, a 48-year-old white man, was wrestled to the ground by people at the scene and held until police arrived. He has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, according to police.
— Muslim Welfare House CEO Toufik Kacimi said the attacker shouted “I did my bit, you deserve it.”
— Imam Mohammed Mahmoud of the Muslim Welfare House stopped an angry crowd from turning on the van driver, telling the furious mob: “Do not touch him.”  This will, and should, get much notice. The imam followed Islam and protected the man from the furious mob.
— Police have not named the man arrested, but the van bears the logo and phone number for Pontyclun Van Hire in south Wales.
— UK Security Minister Ben Wallace, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s World At One, said, “This individual, so far as we know at the moment, was not known to us.”
— All of the victims were from the Muslim community, police said.
— One man was found dead at the scene, according to police, but it’s not clear if he was killed during the attack. Police said he was already receiving first aid when the attack unfolded.
— Two people were treated at the scene, May said, and eight others have been taken to three hospitals. Two of them are seriously injured.
— Islington’s Seven Sisters Road, where the attack took place, is home to at least four mosques, and would have likely been filled with worshipers leaving late-night taraweeh prayers.
— The Islington borough of north London, of which Finsbury Park is a part, is home to a large Muslim community. Around 10% of the borough’s population is Muslim.
— It’s been nearly 24 hours and Trump and the White House have not talked about it.

Then there is this:

The death of a Virginia teenager who police say was assaulted and then disappeared after leaving a mosque in the Sterling area isn’t being investigated as a hate crime, authorities said Monday.

On Sunday, police found the girl’s remains and a 22-year-old man has been charged with murder in connection with the case.

The mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling, and relatives identified the girl as 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen of Reston.

Fairfax County police identified the man charged with murder in her death as Darwin Martinez Torres of Sterling. On Monday, they did not release any explanation as to why they weren’t investigating the murder as a hate crime.

Relatives identified the slain teen as Nabra Hassanen, 17, right, of Reston, seen in a social media post with a filter. (All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center)

According to accounts from police and a mosque official, a group of four or five teens were walking back from breakfast at IHOP early Sunday when they were confronted by a motorist. All but one of the teens ran to the mosque, where the group reported that the girl had been left behind, according to Deputy Aleksandra Kowalski, a spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.

“Immediately thereafter, the ADAMS’ personnel notified both Loudoun County and Fairfax County authorities who immediately began an extensive search to locate the missing girl,” the mosque said in a statement.

Loudoun and Fairfax police jointly conducted an hours-long search around Dranesville Road and Woodson Drive in Herndon, which is in Fairfax. Remains thought to be the girl’s were found about 3 p.m. Sunday in a pond in the 21500 block of Ridgetop Circle in Sterling. During the search, an officer spotted a motorist driving suspiciously in the area and arrested Torres, police said.

Police said they collected several articles of evidence but declined to provide further details.

The girl’s mother said detectives told her that Nabra was struck with a metal bat.

The ISIS-type terrorists want to start a holy war. It looks like some stupid whiteys are willing to play into that.

UPDATE:   Aaaaand this is happening in France

This was a car loaded with explosives which rammed into a police van on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. The driver of the car was killed. No explosion. No other injuries, but it appears to be a botched terrorist attack.

Supreme Court Notes

Some US Supreme Court news this morning:
 
(1) North Carolina has – um, HAD — a law that said registered sex offenders could not go to certain sites on the Intertubes. The Supreme Court struck down that law, saying it violated First Amendment. The decision was 8-0, although there was sharp disagreement about how much states can regulate Internet use.  The opinion is here.
 
(2) The US Trademark Office cannot prevent an Asian-American rock group called “The Slants” from registering that name, even though it might be offensive. Another First Amendment victory.
 
(3) The Supreme Court took a case on political gerrymandering (where the party in power gets to redraw districts that favor themselves). They’ve never struck down a political gerrymandering case before, but some say they just might this time. The case started when Republicans gained complete control of Wisconsin’s government in 2010 for the first time in more than 40 years. It was a redistricting year, and lawmakers promptly drew a map for the State Assembly that helped Republicans convert very close statewide vote totals into lopsided legislative majorities.

In 2012, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote for Assembly candidates but captured 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats. In 2014, 52 percent of the vote yielded 63 seats.

Verdict in on Philando Castile Killing

Remember this? I wrote about it last year.

A Minnesota jury has reached a verdict in the manslaughter trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop last year.  Yanez is on trial for one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of firearm that endangers safety because Castile’s girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter were also in the car.

Announcement soon.

UPDATE: NOT GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS

Of course.

What’s This Tweet About?

Trump’s not busy enough. He’s got free time to watch TV and get defensive. His tweets this morning railed against the “fake news” media and how there was no proof that his campaign (or, in his phrasing, he himself) colluded with Russia to affect the outcome of the election. (He also incorrectly claimed that the investigation had only been going for seven months: It began last July.)

But one tweet is confusing many people, including myself.

Who is he referring to? We know that the “FBI director” is James B. Comey, whom he fired in early May. But who is “the man who told me to fire the FBI director”?

We know two things about that second person from Trump’s tweet. That person told him to fire the FBI director, and that person is investigating him.

At first pass, that would seem to indicate that he’s referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel, leading the independent investigation into the Russia affair.

Rosenstein also wrote a letter last month outlining concerns about Comey that Attorney General Jeff Sessions then passed on to Trump with the recommendation that Comey be fired.

While that seems like it fits with Trump’s description, then — it actually doesn’t. First of all, Rosenstein’s letter never called for Comey’s firing. (It’s also worth noting that Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he planned to fire Comey anyway.)  Obviously, Trump is trying to rewrite the record here, albeit badly.

Second of all, the description of Rosenstein as investigating Trump is a bit off. The special counsel is investigating Trump, and Rosenstein can fire Mueller if he wishes, but he’s not in charge of that investigation. Rosenstein also has jurisdiction over the FBI’s investigation into the Russia matter.

So maybe Trump’s actually referring to Mueller? Mueller’s certainly investigating him — but there’s no indication that Mueller told Trump to fire Comey.

The safest answer: Trump is referring to Rosenstein — and trying to impugn the deputy attorney general by ensnaring him in the firing of Comey at the outset. Which raises another question …

2. Is Rosenstein’s role in the matter tainted? WaPo’s Matt Zapotosky raised this point on Twitter.

This issue of his letter to Trump about Comey was not a point of concern when Rosenstein first appointed Mueller. Of course, at that point the investigation wasn’t into Trump’s alleged attempt to lean on Comey to curtail the investigation into Michael Flynn. ABC News reported that Rosenstein had privately acknowledged to friends that he might need to recuse himself for that reason.

Which could be true. If Rosenstein letter was part of a “plot” to provide justification for Comey’s firing, that’s problematic for Rosenstein… even if he was not part of the plot.  He may have a conflict being Mueller’s higher-up.

What would happen if Rosenstein were to recuse himself from oversight of the special counsel?

The duty would fall to the associate attorney general who was recently appointed, Rachel Brand. A 44 year old conservative, Brand was barely alive when Nixon tried to fire his special counsel.  It is expected that Brand, unlike Rosenstein might be the one to do Trump’s bidding, if he ever decides to fire Mueller.

So, with Trump repeatedly tweeting about this being a “witch hunt”, does that “mystery tweet” today suggest that Trump knows the path to getting rid of the special counsel?

Yes, this IS a reality show.

UPDATE from… uh…. Fox News:

Fox News reports:

A source confirmed to Fox News that Trump’s tweet was referring to Rosenstein. However, a seperate source close to Trump’s legal team said the president was NOT confirming he was under investigation. He was simply referring to the content of a recent Washington Post story.

Trump Does Not Deny He Is Under Investigation

Amid a terrible day involving attempted assassination of Congressmen, one piece of news managed to break through: Trump is under investigation by special counsel Mueller for obstruction of justice.  The obstruction of justice investigation into the president began days after Comey was fired on May 9 with the team actively pursuing potential witnesses inside and outside the government. The White House is referring all questions about the Russia investigation to Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz.

Already, there is pushback, as the RNC leaked its talking points.

These are horrible talking points. The argument that the investigation is a distraction that is preventing them from carrying out their agenda should be tossed in the trash since an overwhelming majority disapprove of this president, his party, and their agenda. And when the White House’s best defense is complaining about Hillary Clinton while ranting about leaks, they will better off not saying anything. The talking points are bad and likely only to make things worse for Trump.

I will save for some other time another common observation: why the hell is the RNC and Republicans in general hitching their wagon to this sinking ship?

Last night and this morning it looks like there is a concerted effort to smear Mueller.  Hannity got the ball rolling by arguing that Mueller had conflicts and that this was a witch hunt.

This sentiment was echoed this morning by Trump himself…

and Newt Gingrich…

… even thought Newt had a different opinion of Mueller less than a month ago:

And again there is more invocation of this term “deep state”, a nonsense scare phrase which is just a lament USA is a democracy with checks and balances. It’s both deeply silly and profoundly anti-America. Never forget that when Trump sycophants attack “the deep state,” they mean “a government of laws.”

One problem for Trump is that his push back fails to assess the extent of trouble he is in.  It’s not JUST obstruction of justice. As the WaPo article notices, it looks like Mueller is following the money:

Mueller is overseeing a host of investigations involving people who are or were in Trump’s orbit, people familiar with the probe said. The investigation is examining possible contacts with Russian operatives as well as any suspicious financial activity related to those individuals.

So it could get much worse.

Whining about the “deep state” and a “witch hunt” will not win converts and only shore up the most hardcore of his base.  Trump’s approval rating is at 36% and sinking, with a disapproval rating of %60 and climbing.

Trump and his defenders are going with the “they are just making things up to get me” tactic. It won’t work with obstruction of justice, because so much of the evidence against him is known to be true.  Let me explain.

It’s important to remember that, in obstruction investigations, the sum total or pattern of facts is often critical. When you’re doing an obstruction investigation, all the facts are important. Mueller won’t look at this as a discrete series of interactions, and instead is likely to ask, “Is there some pattern of behavior that constitutes obstruction?” If you’re looking for a pattern of behavior that constitutes obstruction, you want to know the entire pattern.

To be sure, some of these facts are in dispute. Trump has denied demanding Comey’s loyalty, and his advisers have said (ludicrously) that Trump merely asked Comey to drop the Flynn probe.

But there is a set of shared facts that are not in dispute, which we can now consult, and those already constitute a pattern of conduct that is deeply problematic, whether or not it ends up amounting to obstruction.

Here are those facts: Trump did fire Comey. Trump and the White House did contradict themselves about the rationale for that firing. They both did originally say that Trump fired Comey at the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rod J. Rosenstein, who created a memo detailing that recommendation rooted in Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe. After that story fell apart, Trump did subsequently tell NBC News that he was going to fire Comey regardless of any recommendation and that he did so over the Russia probe. Thus, Trump and the White House themselves did create the strong impression that Sessions and Rosenstein may have been involved in creating a cover story for the Comey firing, and this (among other things) did leave Rosenstein no choice but to appoint a special counsel.

That’s a lot that we know about. And who knows who else Trump talked to about firing Comey.

UPDATE:   A late afternoon mini-rant from Trump on Twitter. He’s sticking to the talking points.

Talking point:

Trump:

Wife Melania and their son Barron have now moved into the White House now that the school year is over. it was hoped their presence would calm him down. It didn’t.

The Sessions Sessions

Ok, I’ll liveblog SOME of Sessions hearing before the Senate Intel Committee, but again, I expect he’ll talk about what he wants to talk about and then filibuster (or rely on executive privilege) when trapped in a corner.

2:56 pm

Sessions has no recollection of meeting, talking to Russian ambassador or other Russian official at the Mayflower hotel.


(Kislyak must be the gray-haired guy on the right)

Never discussed anything with any foreign agent about any campaign ever.

Sessions says he was victim of Franken’s “rambling question” after six hours of testimony.  Getting a little faux outraged in his opening statement here. (What Sessions is leaving out is that AFTER his hearing answer to Franken, he also left it out of written answers, which staff vet carefully.)

Sessions says it’s “absurd” to say his recusal should have kept him from participating in the Comey firing. He’s claiming he can narrow his stated recusal *from* campaign matters to *only* the Trump campaign.

Sessions appears to stand by his earlier assertion — that he recommended firing Comey due to his handling of Hillary email investigation.

Sessions pretty much confirms Comey’s conversation with Sessions about problems with the White House (Trump) talking directly to Comey about Russia. Except…

And now he’s talking about drugs and crime and gangs.  Talking a lot about it.  His favorite subject.

Aaaaaand that’s the gist of his statement.  I don’t doubt most of it. In fact, I don’t think Sessions was ever involved in any collusion (even though his inability to remember meetings with Russians is… uh…. troubling).

I’ll update if he says anything different under questioning, but I suspect this is all we will get out of him.

Sessions will not talk about conversations with President — NOT based on executive privilege but based on long-standing Department of Justice “policy”.

I think this is a good summary so far:

Wait…. that’s different from “longstanding DOJ policy”. I mean, it’s bullshit too, but it’s also different.

Oh my God. That’s disconcerting. As is this:

Tom Cotton is really reprehensible.

Kamala Harris is up. She wants to ask questions and he wants to stall and take long answers. She wants documents.

And the Chair admonishes her.

Yup.

The Trumpcare Fight

It was thought that Trumpcare, having passed the House, would die when it got to the grown-ups in the Senate.

Nope.  They’re trying to pass it.  Or something.

I can’t criticize the Senate version of Trumpcare.  Because nobody knows what it is.

We only know a few things. All reports say there will be no hearings on the text of the bill. There will be no amendments. Republicans are hoping to rush through an up-or-down vote on their version of the American Health Care Act passed by the House before the July 4th recess to avoid facing angry crowds who will build pressure for wavering members to vote no.

The best way to make those crowds angry? Give them something specific to be angry about. Look at the reaction to the House bill, which threatens protections for people with pre-existing conditions, would gut Medicaid and would – according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office – strip 23 million people of their health insurance.

Of course people were furious. The bill is an exercise in man’s inhumanity to man. The AHCA isn’t really a health care bill at all; it’s a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans funded by taking health insurance away from the people who need it most. It’s designed to do as much damage as possible while still garnering the votes it needed to pass.

And pass it did in the House of Representatives, by the skin of its teeth, with both President Trump and Speaker Ryan and his whipping team going full stiff peaks on the Republican caucus. But even though the reconciliation process means the bill needs only 50 votes instead of the usual filibuster-busting 60, the House bill as passed didn’t have a chance in the Senate.

So a team of Republicans (and only Republicans) is cooking up a cauldron of tweaks and adjustments known only to them. The rest of us – the ones whose lives are going to be changed, damaged by whatever bubbling potion they concoct – don’t get to find out what’s inside. We don’t rate.

Ah, but what about those pesky reporters, always digging for the truth?  Well, this might be a clue:

So now they can hide.

New levels of low.

UPDATE:

Sessions To Testify Before Senate Intelligence Committee

2:30 today.

The thing to remember is that Sessions WANTED this testimony. So this is likely to his benefit. Or Trump’s.

Sessions was once on the periphery of the Trump-Russia scandal. I mean, sure, he failed to disclose at his confirmation hearings that he met with the Russians twice during the campaign. But he fixed that as soon as the Washington Post reported it.

But now there are reports of a third meeting with the Russians. He will be asked about that.

He will be asked to confirm or deny Comey’s testimony — like, did Trump clear the room to talk to Comey alone (as Comey testified).  If he directly contradicts Comey’s testimony, that will be the big story coming out of the hearing today.

He will be asked about Comey’s firing and why he was involved in it. He shouldn’t have been if he had recused himself.

The open question is whether or not Sessions will assert executive privilege relating to the Comey stuff.  And even THAT is problematic for several reasons. First of all, it is the President’s privilege to assert; Sessions cannot assert it for himself or on the President’s behalf. Has he gotten guidance from the President (or the President’s lawyers) on this?  Last week, Deputy AG Robinson tried to assert executive privilege even though the President never gave it with respect to their testimony.

And even if the President asserted executive privilege with respect to his private conversations with Comey, he waived much of that privilege with his tweets, so it is questionable to what extent the privilege exists at all.  Of course, that fight won’t be resolved in the hearing today, so Sessions can assert the privilege all he wants, they will fight about it, but in the end, he can refuse to testify. I don’t think they will try to hold him in contempt of Congress.

So that’s what will happen today. I don’t expect bombshells.

Can Trump Fire Mueller?

This is complicated and I don’t have much time. So hold on.

Trump does not have the legal authority to fire special prosecutor Mueller directly, but that doesn’t mean Trump can’t TRY.  For Trump to fire Mueller, he TECHNICALLY must order the Attorney General to fire Mueller.  If Trump tried to fire Mueller directly, Mueller could (and probably would) choose not to “recognize” Trump’s independent authority to fire him.

But wait, there’s another problem. If Trump asked Attorney General Sessions to fire Mueller — well, Sessions technically can’t either, because he recused himself from all matters relating to Russia… and that would presumably mean that he is recused from hiring or firing the special counsel looking into Trump-Russia collusion. Then again, Sessions was the one who fired Comey, and he probably should not have for the same reason.  So if Sessions tried to fire Mueller on Trump’s order, Mueller could choose not to “recognize” Mueller’s independent authority to fire him.

The correct person to fire Mueller (on order from Trump) is deputy AG Rob Rosenstein, the one who appointed Mueller to special prosecutor.

Whoever does it, it is very much like the Saturday Night massacre in Watergate.  There, Nixon told his attorney general Elliott Richardson to fire independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused so Nixon fired him.  Nixon then told Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also refused and Nixon fired him too. Nixon then ordered the Solicitor General of the United States, Robert Bork, as acting head of the Justice Department, to fire Cox. Both Richardson and Ruckelshaus had given personal assurances to Congressional oversight committees that they would not interfere, but Bork had not. On November 14, 1973, federal district judge Gerhard Gesell ruled firing Cox was illegal absent a finding of extraordinary impropriety as specified in the regulation establishing the special prosecutor’s office.

It was a constitutional crisis.

The situations between now and then are strikingly comparable. The question is if Rosenstein will carry out Trump’s bidding, or if Sessions would, or if Trump would simply try to do it directly…. if he tried at all.

When questioned last week by Senator Kamala Harris of the Senate Intelligence Committee (who seemed to be looking well down the road), Rosenstein refused to say whether he would exercise his authority to fire Mueller if it ever came down to that.  At least, he refused to say in open session.

With all that said, I don’t think Trump will try to fire Mueller, despite what Newt Gingrich and others are saying.  Not only are the minefields legally (see above), but the political fallout just might be too much — even for Republicans.  After Nixon tried to fire Cox, public support crashed for Nixon (what little remained) and impeachment rose rapidly in the polls.

At that point, Republicans in Congress would join Democrats to appoint an independent counsel (just like they did in Watergate, where they appointed Jaworski).  Heck, it could be Mueller again.

So huge risk, low reward. I don’t think Trump would try this, but God knows what advice he is getting, and whether he will follow it.

UPDATE:  Rosenstein just happens to be testifying before the Appropriations Committee today.

He also says AG Sessions “theoretically” has power to fire Mueller.

Aw, Susan Collins goes to the direct question:

Maryland And DC Attorneys General File Lawsuit Against Trump Under Emoluments Clause

Although CREW currently has a lawsuit going, the attorneys general of Maryland and DC have filed a lawsuit today against President Trump, citing a constitutional violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.  The damage? Well, they claim, the US is effectively not living up to the Constitution, a document that Maryland signed onto in part because of the Emoluments Clause.  Also, they are losing tax revenue.

Here is the full complaint:

The Comey Memos — Part Two

So some idiot at Redstate is making the argument that the Comey Memos were leaked in contravention of the law:

The documents leaked by Comey were official government records. Period. They were created by a government employee (Comey) while acting in his official capacity (FBI director) on a government-issued laptop while sitting in a government car driven by another government employee and probably in the company of a government security detail.

See how he pulled a Spicer there (“Period.”)?  As if saying “period” makes his argument stronger.

Still, he has a point. The Comey memo is an official government record.

You know what else is an official government record? A social security check. A letter from the IRS. Lots of things.

The moron continues:

The documents are not “unclassified.” The documents, by the very fact that they recorded a conversation with the president, would have carried a ‘confidential’ classification.

Ummmmm…. No, it wouldn’t.  Or as we say in the fact-checking business, CITATION NEEDED.

Here’s the deal — private conversations with the President are not automatically classified.  They’re just not.  Classification is based on the content, not on the parties.  If that were the case, then forget the memos.  Even TESTIFYING about any private conversation with the President would be a no-no.

Once you recognize that a private conversation with the President is not classified, you can see that a memo summarizing a private conversation with the President is also not classified.

Another thing about classification — who does this idiot think makes classification calls in the first place? Comey is the head of the FBI. He can classify or declassify anything he damn well wants, including his own work product.

But the moron continues:

There is zero way it would not have been classified ‘for official use only’ as the conversation was inarguably covered by executive privilege. The memos were the property of the US government and are clearly covered under the Federal Records Act.

Well, there is a difference between documents that are classified, documents that are subject to executive privilege, and documents covered by the Federal Records Act. The Comey memos were not classified; they were not subject to executive privilege (and if they were, Trump waived that privilege); and the Federal Records Act only deals with maintaining and preserving those documents (I’m sure the FBI has copies, so, no problem there).

He then goes on to discuss 18 U.S. Code § 641, which says:

Whoever embezzles, steals, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use or the use of another, or without authority, sells, conveys or disposes of any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any department or agency thereof, or any property made or being made under contract for the United States or any department or agency thereof… Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; but if the value of such property in the aggregate, combining amounts from all the counts for which the defendant is convicted in a single case, does not exceed the sum of $1,000, he shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

The word “value” means face, par, or market value, or cost price, either wholesale or retail, whichever is greater.

A rather dumb argument. I suppose Comey did steal the paper that he printed or made photocopies on.  But the he didn’t “convert” or “convey” the actual RECORD itself, which presumably is still on his laptop.

And then he finally links to an FBI website which says that that the FBI has policy and procedures regarding discretionary release of information in accordance with the Privacy Act.  Guess who has discretion?

HUGE Redstate fail. Embarrassing.

How Britain Voted

It’s a hung parliament folks. PM Theresa May thought she had more conservative support, called for a snap election, and was unable to find a conservative majority, thanks largely to large amounts of young voters going Labour, and the decline of smaller parties.

What is going to happen? With the blessing of the Queen, it looks like the Conservative Party will try to form a minority government with help from a party in Northern Ireland.  We’ll see.  Either way, Britain is dazed and confused as it enters Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Meanwhile, Republicans Are Giving America Back To Wall Street

Republicans in the House of Representatives passed the Choice Act yesterday, a sweeping deregulation of the financial sector. It passed 233-186, with no Democratic support. One Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina, voted no. This bill rolls back or weakens most of the protections put in place since the 2008 financial crisis through President Barack Obama’s Dodd-Frank Act.

Though it is very unlikely to gain the 60 votes it needs to pass in the Senate, important parts of it could pass through the budget reconciliation process. But even if it goes nowhere, it reveals a Republican Party that is focused on destroying reform based on a false narrative of the crisis, largely to the benefit of the financial sector.

The Choice Act isn’t a matter of conservatives simply preferring less regulation than liberals, or Congress readjusting reform in light of new evidence. What passed today isn’t a result of liberals turning the financial reform dial up to 11 and conservatives want to turn the dial down. Instead, it’s a surgical strike, gutting specific parts of the reforms that have been effective in preventing another crisis.

Take the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the strongest pieces of Dodd-Frank, which has brought transparency to previously opaque financial markets. It has applied enforcement and accountability not just to consumer financial products but also to markets where consumers are the financial product, like mortgage servicing, debt collection and credit scoring.

Before the crisis, consumer protection was fragmented across 10 regulators, and because it was everyone’s job, it was nobody’s job. This meant no agency built the expertise or interest in standing up for consumers and, worse, there would be a race to the bottom in enforcement, with financial firms seeking out the most lax regulators. The C.F.P.B. solved these institutional problems by consolidating enforcement in a dedicated agency.

That feature is exactly what the Choice Act targets. The act would gut the C.F.P.B.’s supervisory authority, sending it back to regulators who missed the crisis and recreating the broken pre-crisis regulatory structure. With this authority, the C.F.P.B. has returned about $12 billion from bad bank behavior to 29 million citizens. The Choice Act would repeal the C.F.P.B.’s ability to stop unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices — an authority that was essential, for example, in going after Wells Fargo’s creation of fake accounts for its clients.

But Choice goes far beyond this. The Dodd-Frank rollback is shaped by a false diagnosis of the financial crisis, by which the crisis posed no problems to the American economy. As the influential conservative Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute noted, the Choice Act is a natural result of believing, as he and most Republicans do, “that the Dodd-Frank Act was completely unnecessary.”

So now we’re back to the way we were before the financial crisis we just spent the last 8 years digging out of.

The Republicans argue that the Choice Act makes Wall Street angry. It’s tough to imagine how, when the vast number of changes amount to an industry wish list of the biggest banks. It repeals the miniature Glass-Steagall reform known as the Volcker Rule, which separates out high-risk proprietary trading from commercial banks. It removes the F.D.I.C.’s role of reviewing banks’ living wills — new procedures that make banks and regulators plan for a potential bank failure, presumably because the F.D.I.C. demands that they be stronger. It takes out language requiring firms that got bailouts to continue to be subject to stronger regulations. It allows industry to choose to ignore a wide range of regulations if they decide to adopt a single, easy-to-manipulate, balance-sheet metric. It eliminates a consumer complaint database the C.F.P.B. maintains.

It isn’t just the largest players who win under this bill. The Choice Act would remove the requirement that private equity firms register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and be subject to reviews. These types of firms were previously opaque, even though they are a major source of investment funds and exert a large amount of influence over the corporate sector. Preliminary examinations by the S.E.C. into private equity’s fees and expenses found abuses, conflicts of interest and fraud in over half of the cases, things that make the capital markets not work for investors or for companies.

Did Comey Break The Law By Revealing His Memo Contents To The Press?

No, and in fact, if Trump goes after Comey for dong that, Trump could get in deeper trouble. Here’s why:

As the news broke, I was on the phone with Stephen Kohn, partner at a law firm focused on whistleblower protection. We’d been talking about where the boundaries lay for Comey in what he could and couldn’t do with the information about his conversations with the president. Kohn’s response to the story about Kasowitz, though, was visceral.

“Here is my position on that: Frivolous grandstanding,” he said. “First of all, I don’t believe the inspector general would have jurisdiction over Comey any more, because he’s no longer a federal employee.” The inspector general’s job is to investigate wrongdoing by employees of the Justice Department, of which Comey is no longer, thanks to Trump.

“But, second,” he continued, “initiating an investigation because you don’t like somebody’s testimony could be considered obstruction. And in the whistleblower context, it’s both evidence of retaliation and, under some laws, could be an adverse retaliatory act itself.”

In other words, Comey, here, is an employee who is blowing the whistle, to use the idiom, on his former boss. That boss wants to punish him for doing so. That’s problematic — especially if there’s no evidence that Comey actually violated any law that would trigger punishment.

Not To Be Forgotten

One of the most telling and damaging points Comey made was that even after being informed there was absolutely no doubt Russia had mounted a huge effort to interfere with and undermine the credibility of the US election process, Donald Trump never even asked what was being done to prevent further interference by Russia. He was completely incurious about how to stop this from happening again.

Happy Comey Day

Well, we already know in essence what Comey will testify about, since we have his written statement (which has been dissected to death). I don’t expect a lot of “news” but maybe so more fleshing out.

It will be in sharp contrast to yesterday, where two intelligence chiefs repeatedly refused to say whether Trump asked them to intervene in the Russia probe during their public Senate intelligence committee testimony. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers declined to discuss the specifics of private conversations they had with Trump and whether they had been asked to push back against an FBI probe into collusion between the campaign and the Russian government. Both hinted that they would share more information with senators privately.

The RNC has put out some rather odd talking points…

… which are rather contradictory (Comey vindicates Trump…. but he is a liar!)

Anyway…. as the day progresses, I will TRY to update with news and opinion, but again, I think we’ve hit 90-95% of the pay dirt here.  One thing to be sure: Comey is smart and already has answers for the Republican critics who will try to trip him up.

Either way, we’ll definitely learn (we hope) the answers to these questions

  1. How will Mr. Comey explain his silence on his interactions with Mr. Trump? (My guess: He thought he could “teach” Trump the proper parameters)
  2. Will Comey be a ‘showboat’? (My guess: No.)
  3. Will Republicans offer the president a lifeline?  (My guess: Some will. Some will even bring up Hillary’s emails)
  4. Will Democrats overplay their hand? (My guess: No)
  5. Will Trump tweet? (My guess: No, but if he does, it is because he feels the heat)
  6. Did the president violate guidelines that prevent interference in F.B.I. investigations? (My guess: Comey will punt on this)

AND WE’RE OFF….

10:00 am

The line to Shaw’s Tavern, a popular DC bar which is showing the hearing and offering free drinks for everytime Trump tweets, goes a full city block

Comey talking about how Trump said FBI was in disarray under Comey:

I note Comey’s voice is wavering. He’s pissed. Says Trump defamed him and FBI

And we’re at questions. Burr asking…

The country is riveted…

…. good to know?

Warner up. Going through each Trump meeting.

Risch(R), a former prosecutor, now asking questions….

Feinstein (D) up. Asking about why Comey believes he was fired (Answer: Russia investigation)

And Donnie Jr. weighs in…

Not when it is the President.

Rubio(R) up. Asks why Comey didn’t tell President “That’s wrong.” Comey says he was stunned and didn’t have the presence of mind.

Wyden (D) is up….

Let me just jump in here and say that I was wrong about one thing (at least).  I thought Comey would leave his personal impressions (“I felt…” “I got the impression….”) out of it.  I was clearly wrong. He’s giving his impressions.

Collins (R) is up….

I have not seen much from this vaunted “rapid response team” of Trump. I THINK the Republican response, if Rubio is any indication, is that Comey didn’t do anything, and he should have. But I think Comey’s answer is perfectly reasonable.

Nice tweet here….

Henirich (D) up….

Blunt (R) up…


Blunt seems to be rehashing the written statement.

Angus King (I) is up….

Lankford (R) is up….
He asks Comey how a president would end an investigation. Comey says, by simply telling it to end, but says he’s not a legal scholar. That might be used by GOP, i.e., Trump did what he is empowered to do.

And now we’re back to Lynch-Clinton.

Manchin (D) is up…

Cotton (R) is up…


I don’t think that is the answer Cotton wanted.


That’s not an excuse, Paul.

Harris (D) is up….
She’s asking a lot about Sessions recusal

Meanwhile… at White House briefing

Cornyn(R) is up and bringing up the Clinton investigation, saying Lynch had a conflict of interest. Zzzzzzz

McCain (R) is up….
Carrying water for GOP, I think. This is bizarre.


I think McCain had a stroke. He appeared to be under the impression that the election was still ongoing, called Comey President, and then couldn’t understand why Clinton was not prosecuted for helping the Russians elect Trump.

Hearing adjourned.  No tweets from President.

Takeaways:

(1) Trump is a liar.  Some more examples:

A. Trump was asked on Fox News last month whether he ever asked Comey for his loyalty. Trump responded, “No, I didn’t.” We now have reason to believe this was a lie.

B. Trump was asked at a White House press conference last month, “Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?” Trump replied, “No. No. Next question.” We now have reason to believe this was a lie, too.

C. Trump was asked by NBC News’ Lester Holt about the private dinner he had with Comey, and the president said the FBI director “asked for the dinner.” We now have reason to believe this was also a lie.

(2)  No clear defense strategy from GOP (but don’t expect impeachment)

(3) Comey and all of us want those tapes (if they exist)

(4)  Senator McCain has gone ’round the bend.

Of course. And now it goes to closed door session, which will leak about an hour later.

Breaking: Full Text of Comey Prepared Remarks Tomorrow

Chairman Burr, Ranking Member Warner, Members of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today. I was asked to testify today to describe for you my interactions with President-Elect and President Trump on subjects that I understand are of interest to you. I have not included every detail from my conversations with the President, but, to the best of my recollection, I have tried to include information that may be relevant to the Committee.

January 6 Briefing

I first met then-President-Elect Trump on Friday, January 6 in a conference room at Trump Tower in New York. I was there with other Intelligence Community (IC) leaders to brief him and his new national security team on the findings of an IC assessment concerning Russian efforts to interfere in the election. At the conclusion of that briefing, I remained alone with the President- Elect to brief him on some personally sensitive aspects of the information assembled during the assessment.

The IC leadership thought it important, for a variety of reasons, to alert the incoming President to the existence of this material, even though it was salacious and unverified. Among those reasons were: (1) we knew the media was about to publicly report the material and we believed the IC should not keep knowledge of the material and its imminent release from the President-Elect; and (2) to the extent there was some effort to compromise an incoming President, we could blunt any such effort with a defensive briefing.

The Director of National Intelligence asked that I personally do this portion of the briefing because I was staying in my position and because the material implicated the FBI’s counter-intelligence responsibilities. We also agreed I would do it alone to minimize potential embarrassment to the President-Elect. Although we agreed it made sense for me to do the briefing, the FBI’s leadership and I were concerned that the briefing might create a situation where a new President came into office uncertain about whether the FBI was conducting a counter-intelligence investigation of his personal conduct.

It is important to understand that FBI counter-intelligence investigations are different than the more-commonly known criminal investigative work. The Bureau’s goal in a counter-intelligence investigation is to understand the technical and human methods that hostile foreign powers are using to influence the United States or to steal our secrets. The FBI uses that understanding to disrupt those efforts. Sometimes disruption takes the form of alerting a person who is targeted for recruitment or influence by the foreign power. Sometimes it involves hardening a computer system that is being attacked. Sometimes it involves “turning” the recruited person into a double-agent, or publicly calling out the behavior with sanctions or expulsions of embassy-based intelligence officers. On occasion, criminal prosecution is used to disrupt intelligence activities.

Because the nature of the hostile foreign nation is well known, counter- intelligence investigations tend to be centered on individuals the FBI suspects to be witting or unwitting agents of that foreign power. When the FBI develops reason to believe an American has been targeted for recruitment by a foreign power or is covertly acting as an agent of the foreign power, the FBI will “open an investigation” on that American and use legal authorities to try to learn more about the nature of any relationship with the foreign power so it can be disrupted.

In that context, prior to the January 6 meeting, I discussed with the FBI’s leadership team whether I should be prepared to assure President-Elect Trump that we were not investigating him personally. That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him. We agreed I should do so if circumstances warranted. During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President- Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.

I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past. I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) – once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016. In neither of those circumstances did I memorialize the discussions. I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months – three in person and six on the phone.

January 27 Dinner

The President and I had dinner on Friday, January 27 at 6:30 pm in the Green Room at the White House. He had called me at lunchtime that day and invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time, with the whole family coming the next time. It was unclear from the conversation who else would be at the dinner, although I assumed there would be others.

It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.

The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.

My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.

I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten- year term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.

A few moments later, the President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.

At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House. I said it was a paradox: Throughout history, some Presidents have decided that because “problems” come from Justice, they should try to hold the Department close. But blurring those boundaries ultimately makes the problems worse by undermining public trust in the institutions and their work.

Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, “I need loyalty.” I replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” He paused and then said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” I paused, and then said, “You will get that from me.” As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term – honest loyalty – had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.

During the dinner, the President returned to the salacious material I had briefed him about on January 6, and, as he had done previously, expressed his disgust for the allegations and strongly denied them. He said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen. I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren’t, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative. He said he would think about it and asked me to think about it.

As was my practice for conversations with President Trump, I wrote a detailed memo about the dinner immediately afterwards and shared it with the senior leadership team of the FBI.

February 14 Oval Office Meeting

On February 14, I went to the Oval Office for a scheduled counter- terrorism briefing of the President. He sat behind the desk and a group of us sat in a semi-circle of about six chairs facing him on the other side of the desk. The Vice President, Deputy Director of the CIA, Director of the National Counter- Terrorism Center, Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and I were in the semi-circle of chairs. I was directly facing the President, sitting between the Deputy CIA Director and the Director of NCTC. There were quite a few others in the room, sitting behind us on couches and chairs.

The President signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair. As the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the Attorney General lingered by my chair, but the President thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me. The last person to leave was Jared Kushner, who also stood by my chair and exchanged pleasantries with me. The President then excused him, saying he wanted to speak with me.

When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” Flynn had resigned the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.

The President then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information – a concern I shared and still share. After he had spoken for a few minutes about leaks, Reince Priebus leaned in through the door by the grandfather clock and I could see a group of people waiting behind him. The President waved at him to close the door, saying he would be done shortly. The door closed.

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”

The President returned briefly to the problem of leaks. I then got up and left out the door by the grandfather clock, making my way through the large group of people waiting there, including Mr. Priebus and the Vice President.

I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.

The FBI leadership team agreed with me that it was important not to infect the investigative team with the President’s request, which we did not intend to abide. We also concluded that, given that it was a one-on-one conversation, there was nothing available to corroborate my account. We concluded it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations. (He did so two weeks later.) The Deputy Attorney General’s role was then filled in an acting capacity by a United States Attorney, who would also not be long in the role.

After discussing the matter, we decided to keep it very closely held, resolving to figure out what to do with it down the road as our investigation progressed. The investigation moved ahead at full speed, with none of the investigative team members – or the Department of Justice lawyers supporting them – aware of the President’s request.

Shortly afterwards, I spoke with Attorney General Sessions in person to pass along the President’s concerns about leaks. I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened – him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind – was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply. For the reasons discussed above, I did not mention that the President broached the FBI’s potential investigation of General Flynn.

March 30 Phone Call

On the morning of March 30, the President called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as “a cloud” that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to “lift the cloud.” I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to our having done the work well. He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him.

Then the President asked why there had been a congressional hearing about Russia the previous week – at which I had, as the Department of Justice directed, confirmed the investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. I explained the demands from the leadership of both parties in Congress for more information, and that Senator Grassley had even held up the confirmation of the Deputy Attorney General until we briefed him in detail on the investigation. I explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those Congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump. I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, “We need to get that fact out.” (I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.)

The President went on to say that if there were some “satellite” associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren’t investigating him.

In an abrupt shift, he turned the conversation to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, saying he hadn’t brought up “the McCabe thing” because I had said McCabe was honorable, although McAuliffe was close to the Clintons and had given him (I think he meant Deputy Director McCabe’s wife) campaign money. Although I didn’t understand why the President was bringing this up, I repeated that Mr. McCabe was an honorable person.

He finished by stressing “the cloud” that was interfering with his ability to make deals for the country and said he hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn’t being investigated. I told him I would see what we could do, and that we would do our investigative work well and as quickly as we could.

Immediately after that conversation, I called Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente (AG Sessions had by then recused himself on all Russia- related matters), to report the substance of the call from the President, and said I would await his guidance. I did not hear back from him before the President called me again two weeks later.

April 11 Phone Call

On the morning of April 11, the President called me and asked what I had done about his request that I “get out” that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back. He replied that “the cloud” was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. He said that perhaps he would have his people reach out to the Acting Deputy Attorney General. I said that was the way his request should be handled. I said the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel.

He said he would do that and added, “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” I did not reply or ask him what he meant by “that thing.” I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.

That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.

Previewing Comey’s Big Testimony On Thursday

Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony Thursday to the Senate Intelligence Committee promises to be one of the most highly anticipated congressional appearances in years. Indeed, for a comparable high-stakes hearing, you have to go back to 2015, when Hillary Clinton testified before the House Benghazi Committee. Or 1991, when Anita Hill testified in Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Or 1987, when Oliver North testified on the Iran-Contra scandal. So Thursday is THAT big. And there will be four storylines to watch:

  1. Why does Comey think President Trump fired him? Did it have anything to do with the Russia investigation and a possible obstruction of justice?
  2. Does Comey confirm that Trump asked him to let go of the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn?
  3. Does Comey confirm that Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty to the president?
  4. And do Trump and his administration try to stop Comey’s testimony by invoking executive privilege? On Friday, the New York Times, citing two senior administration officials, reported that Trump doesn’t plan to prevent Comey’s testimony.

I believe the fourth one is not going to happen.  Trump may want it to happen, but he doesn’t understand that it would backfire.

[UPDATE — Yup:

]

The other question Comey is sure to get asked is “Why did you testify before (under oath) that you did not feel any pressure to drop the Russia investigation?”  It is quite possible that Comey’s views on whether or not there was pressure have changed when you had one salient factor: HE GOT FIRED.  Sometimes you don’t realize the warning lights on the car are for real until the engine falls out.

Keep in mind: Comey knows how to tell a story, as the Washington Post’s Paul Kane recounted several years ago about the former FBI director’s congressional testimony into his intervention when Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized. “… Comey wanted to tell this amazing story about a constitutional crisis in the hospital room of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2004. So [former Chuck Schumer staffer Preet] Bharara arranged for Comey to testify before a Senate subcommittee. The usually loquacious Schumer stopped asking Comey questions and just let him give a long statement telling the tale of something that seemed like a movie plot. You could hear a pin drop in the Dirksen hearing room, and in fact we did, when one reporter — stunned at what he was hearing — literally just dropped his pen onto the press table.”

I predict a bombshell.

Trump’s Tweets Today Are The Most Unhinged And SELF-Destructive (And It’s Only 10:00 AM)

God knows why they just don’t take his phone away. Or give him a fake phone with a fake Twitter account.

This is how bad it has gotten: Trump’s own advisers have gone on television and stated that Trump’s tweets are not his policy.  Well, who knows? How can we tell? Would Trump agree with that?

Even this morning, Kellyanne Conway said that the media is obsessed with Trump’s tweets, implying that people should not place emphasis on them.  But that is in contradiction from what others in the White House – and Trump himself — have said:

“This obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little what he does as president …” Conway said during that interview.

“That’s his preferred method of communication with the American people,” said Craig Melvin, the show’s co-host.

“That’s not true,” Conway interjected.

“Well, he hasn’t given an interview in three weeks, so lately it has been his preferred method,” Melvin replied.

Even setting aside that three-week modification, Melvin is correct that the administration has touted Twitter as being more important than media coverage. After Trump won the presidency in November, he and his team were asked if he would stop tweeting so much as president. The answer? No — because the media can’t be trusted.

Shortly after the election, Trump spoke with CBS’s Leslie Stahl, telling her how he planned to moderate his Twitter use once he was sworn in.

“I’m going to do very restrained, if I use it at all, I’m going to do very restrained,” he said. “I find it tremendous. It’s a modern form of communication. There should be nothing you should be ashamed of. It’s — it’s where it’s at.”

By January, his description of his Twitter habit was a bit less enthusiastic.

“Look, I don’t like tweeting. I have other things I could be doing. But I get very dishonest media, very dishonest press. And it’s my only way that I can counteract,” Trump told Reuters in January. That’s the theme: The media is the enemy, so Trump will tweet to the people directly.

On ABC’s “This Week” in January, incoming press secretary Sean Spicer made that same case.

And more to the point, even if his tweets are not policy, they sometimes contradict policy.  And that makes for headaches for Trump’s team.

Today being a prime example. Let’s start with his first four tweets of the day (which apparently were made while watching Morning Joe on MSNBC):

Let’s start with the first tweet at the bottom, where he calls “it” a “travel ban” and a “watered down, politically correct” version of his original executive order which banned all travel from 7 mostly-Muslim nations. Arguably, Trump is showing his intent to disfavor Muslims by the executive order, a point that has doomed the executive orders in court so far. In court briefs, DOJ lawyers have said the orders are “religion-neutral” in operation, drawing “distinctions among countries based on national-security risks identified by Congress and the Executive Branch, not religion, and applies evenhandedly in the six designated countries.”

There is also a glaring problem: the revised travel ban was authored by Trump’s administration and signed by Trump himself — the Justice Department’s role is merely defending its legality.  Why is he taking umbrage with the Justice Department?

In any event, his tweets this morning on the subject of the travel ban hurt his already weak case.

Next up on this morning’s hit parade, this:

Again, he was watching Fox & Friends and they were apparently talking about vacancies.  Odd that he would blame the Democrats, since they do not control the Senate (who has to improve Ambassadors and other certain posts).

Almost two months ago, Politico did a story on why this is taking so long, and it has nothing to do with the Democrats:

Hundreds of key jobs across the federal government remain vacant as a result of an overworked White House personnel office that is frustrating Cabinet secretaries and hampering President Donald Trump’s ability to carry out his ambitious legislative agenda.

The process is bogged down as a result of micromanaging by the president and senior staff, turf wars between the West Wing and Cabinet secretaries and a largely inexperienced and overworked staff, say more than a dozen sources including administration insiders, lobbyists, lawyers and Republican strategists.

Trump personally oversees the hiring process for agency staff by insisting on combing through a binder full of names each week and likes to sign off on each one, according to two people with knowledge of the administration’s hiring process. Also weighing in on the names — and not always agreeing on final picks — are leaders of sometimes warring factions, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior strategist Steve Bannon, Cabinet secretaries and, sometimes, the White House’s top lawyer, Don McGahn.

“It’s like a medieval court,” said one person advising potential nominees through the confirmation process. “The White House meets once a week to go over personnel in some attempt to create uniformity, but in this White House, you just have to smile at that. … It’s hard to impose uniformity among the White House’s different coalitions.”

The only uniformity is that potential hires must show fealty to the president. One person close to the White House said a sense of “paranoia” has taken over amid fears that disloyal hires might undercut Trump’s agenda or leak to the press.

Another reason they are having a hard time getting positions filled? People don’t want to serve under Trump. especially with a special counsel investigation and FBI probe hanging over the White House.

Even if it were true that Dems were somehow slowing up the confirmation process, that doesn’t explain the vacancies. From the LA Times:

What’s the effect? Just eight of 120 State Department posts, including ambassadorships, that require Senate confirmation have been filled, according to the Partnership for Public Service. As a result, foreign officials and diplomats struggle to find someone to discuss trade and security issues with.

We have officially entered hurricane season with no head of NOAA and no head of FEMA.

And in the Pentagon, Trump has filled only five of the 53 top jobs – the slowest pace for nominations and confirmations in over half a century. No Army Secretary. No Navy Secretary.

The hold-up, insiders say, is Trump’s insistence on absolute loyalty… to him.

The Washington Post has a wonderful database tracker page to keep up with Trump’s lack of progress on filling key positions.

And finally, Trump’s final tweet of the morning (we hope):

This is Trump engaging in an attack against London mayor Sadiq Khan (a Muslim) when Khan said that is “no reason to be alarmed”. Trump attacked that quote, complaining that London had just had a terrorist attack, and they should be freaking out (I guess).

What happened here? Trump watched Fox News, which had truncated the quote and changed its meaning:

But Mr Trump’s criticism is based on a quotation entirely removed from its context. He appears to be confused about what happened in part because Fox News repeated the same short quote but without the full remarks from the mayor of London.

What Mr Khan actually said was that there is no reason to be alarmed about the increased police presence on the streets after the attack.

“My message to Londoners and visitors to our great city is to be calm and vigilant today,” Mr Khan said. “You will see an increased police presence today, including armed officers and uniformed officers.

“There is no reason to be alarmed by this. We are the safest global city in the world. You saw last night as a consequence of our planning, our preparation, the rehearsals that take place, the swift response from the emergency services tackling the terrorists and also helping the injured.”

There is no reason to be alarmed by this… with “this” referring to the increased police presence.

Rather than admit he was misquoting Khan, Trump doubled down… on the mayor of a city just attacked by terrorists.

Could it be because this particular mayor is Muslim?

Today could have been a good day for Trump — he intended to announce an infrastructure bill (which Dems could get behind). But he squandered it with these Tweets.  With Comey testifying in a few days, Trump does not have many more chances to have “good days”.

Trump To Drop US From Paris Accords

It looked for a moment like he was reconsidering this campaign promise to leave the Paris Accord on climate change, but no.  In a few minutes, Trump will announce from the Rose Garden that the US is out.

Nero, fiddle, Rome burning, yada yada yada

It will be interesting to hear HOW the accord is “bad”.  Is it bad for polluting businesses?  Yyyyyyyeah.  That’s kind of the point.

Here’s the split in the White House about whether to stay or go.  Looks like Bannon won the day:

I don’t think Trump is aware of how popular this is on the left AND even the right.

Here are talking points given to Congress.  They make no sense.  The deal won’t help the climate but also it does too much but also we’re already doing that stuff

Yes it is.


The good news? Paris Accord entered into force on 11/4/16. So the earliest that Trump can complete exit from Paris Accord is 11/4/2020, i.e., the day after the 2020 election. Paris will be a campaign issue.

UPDATE:

CREW and The Emoluments Case

Back in January, I wrote about a lawsuit brought against Donald Trump, filed by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) which sought a declaratory judgment that Donald Trump, having not divested himself of his hotels in DC, is in violations of the Emoluments Clause of the US Constitution.

As I wrote back then, one of the problems for the lawsuit had to do with the fact that the plaintiff, CREW, did not have standing by virtue of the fact that it cannot claim actual injury by the fact that Trump has violated — and continues to violate — the Emoluments Clause.

I write now to update the reader on that point.  Since that time, other plaintiffs have joined the suit — most notably and recently, Eric Goode, a hotel owner, who can and does assert that he will lose guests from foreign governments to Trump’s hotels, as other governments will go to Trump or Trump-brand hotels to curry favor with the President.

I attach the Second Amended Complaint below.

The “Unmasking” Diversion

Over at Fox News, they use the word “unmasking” a lot. To me, it looks like they haven’t realized it is a common practice in the intelligence community. They just use the word a lot so that their low-information viewers will think it is bad.

“Unmasking”, of course, is the process whereby a redacted name of an American citizen is unredacted for someone who is reading an intelligence report.  A request is made to unmask the name so that the reader can better understand and perhaps act on the information (or fully advise another)

Unmasking is not leaking.  When the name of a U.S. person is unmasked, that information is provided only to the intelligence official who requested that unmasking. There’s no equivalence between so-called unmasking and leaking.  Of course, the recipient of unmasked information could then illegally disclose it through a leak. But that’s leaking.

Unmasking is not a crime. The process for unmasking vary from agency to agency and case by case depending on how the information was collected. But the exact procedures are not publicly known and may be classified.

Even if it turns out that procedures weren’t followed, people would most likely be subject to administrative discipline. It’s still not a crime.

But Trump and obedient Republicans have to switch focus to something other than possible Russia collusion, so “unmasking” is their go-to.  In the recent subpoenas sent out by the House Intelligence Committee, half of them were related to investigations of “improper unmasking.”

Never mind that these allegations have already been thoroughly debunked. In April, numerous media outlets, citing both Republican and Democratic congressional sources, reported that intelligence reports pertaining to the communications of Trump’s advisers with foreign agents were “normal and appropriate” and contained “no evidence of wrongdoing.”

Even Trump is pimping the unmasking. His tweet today:

It’s really not.  As I said, even improper unmasking is an administrative slap on the wrist.

But Trump has a bigger problem.  Pushing the “unmasking and surveillance” line only leads to more information about why requests were made. And when that information comes to the surface, well, that’s a path that’s been harmful to Trump’s cause thus far.

I don’t think he sees that many moves ahead.

To These Guys Everything Is A Partisan Conspiracy Against Their Perfect Great Idea

To these guys everything is a partisan, somebody else to blame conspiracy against their perfect, great idea:

It’s become the knee-jerk reaction for Republicans, in light of an ugly Congressional Budget Office analysis of their Obamacare repeal bill, to point the finger at the non-partisan research agency instead.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney took it a step further this week, by questioning the abilities of Holly Harvey, the head of its health analysis division, to be non-partisan.

“At some point, you’ve got to ask yourself, has the day of the CBO come and gone?” Mulvaney told the Washington Examiner Wednesday. “How much power do we give to the CBO under the 1974 Budget Act? We’re hearing now that the person in charge of the Affordable Health Care Act methodology is an alum of the Hillarycare program in the 1990s who was brought in by Democrats to score the ACA.”

Prior to coming on to the CBO in 2009, Harvey served in the Clinton administration’s Health and Human Services Department, according to the Examiner.

The CBO director, Keith Hall, who signed off on the CBO score of the GOP health bill, was the chief economist for the  Council of Economic Advisers in the George W. Bush White House and was handpicked by then House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price (who is now Trump’s HHS secretary) to lead the CBO.

Mulvaney, in the Examiner interview, said that the CBO’s assumptions about Medicaid cuts were “just absurd,” while suggesting a bias in favor of Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which the GOP bill would eliminate.

“If the same person is doing the score of undoing Obamacare who did the scoring of Obamacare in the first place, my guess is that there is probably some sort of bias in favor of a government mandate,” he said.

The CBO has found that that the Republican health bill, the American Health Care Act, would lead to 23 million people losing coverage, cut $664 billion in taxes (mostly for high-earners and the industry), while saving the government $119 billion. It also found the legislation would lower premiums considerably in some places, but with the trade-off of making health coverage more expensive for older consumers and those with pre-existing conditions.

it’s problematic when one side of the debate simply argues, “Well, the other side is biased and therefore you can’t trust them.”  That’s not a fact-based argument.  And it certainly doesn’t raise counterfactuals.

One has to wonder why someone, whether it is an economist with the CBO or a climate scientist, would stake every bit of their learning and status in order to achieve a political result.  Most academics aren’t like that — in fact, it’s hard to find one willing to toss aside their expertise for the sake of reaching a pre-desired outcome.  Who does that?

Maybe conservatives do.  Maybe that’s why they think everyone else is biased and partisan — because that’s how they are.