Monthly Archives: July 2017

Trump White House Staff 2.0

Spicer gone.

Anthony Scaramucci in as White House Communications Director.

Reince Priebus gone.

Jon Kelly in as new Chief of Staff.

What do I think?  What everybody else thinks:

(1)  You need people with experience in their job. Scaramucci is a Wall Street bulldog, and has no experience at communications. This was made abundantly clear by giving a profanity-laced screed to Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker without specifying that he wanted it off-the-record.  That alone should have disqualified him, but Trump reportedly loved it (because Scaramucci swore, I guess). Likewise, Jon Kelly is ex-military, and running a military unit is not like running a civilian one. He can bark orders all he wants; this is not the military. It won’t stop leaks. Also, you need people who can work with Congress. Priebus had no strong congressional pull; Kelly has even less.

(2) The problem starts and ends with Trump.

In addition, it is clear that Ivanka’s role as adviser is virtually zero now, and Jared has little pull it seems as well. They are New York progressives — young adults of a different era, and despite their loyalty to Daddy Trump, they just don’t share his politics.  And they cannot move him.

And with Trump STILL trying to get rid of Sessions, we see a strange thing: Trump is slowing throwing everyone who helped him win under a bus.

Trump is weak and a loser.  Peggy Noonan took him to task by saying as much, insinuating that he was no more than a whiny sissy boy:

The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity.

He’s not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He’s a drama queen.

And that was just the opening paragraphs.

Trump doesn’t think of himself as a loser, despite having no major legislation passed, and seeing Obamacare repeal and replace go down in flames in dramatic fashion last week.  In fact, he STILL thinks it can be revived (he might be right about that, but most politicians would have moved on).

What Trump wants to do is keep his base – which hovers at around 30% — angry. So be prepared for scorched-earth politics from the Oval Office, including more savage verbal attacks on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, more baseless charges of voter fraud in the 2016 election, more specific threats to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, and further escalation of the culture wars.

Trump wants his base to become increasingly angry and politically mobilized so they’ll continue to exert an outsized influence on the Republican Party

Trump is already demanding that Mitch McConnell and senate Republicans obliterate the filibuster, thereby allowing anything to be passed with a bare majority.

On Saturday he tweeted “Republican Senate must get rid of 60 vote NOW!” adding the filibuster “allows 8 Dems to control country,” and “Republicans in the Senate will NEVER win if they don’t go to a 51 vote majority NOW. They look like fools and are just wasting time.”

It’s the same strategy as always. Overstate the wins, and de-legitimize the losses.

Clearly, Scaramucci is a Trump sycophant and will do Trump’s bidding. Kelly, on the other hand, is more of an unknown and perhaps can tame Trump (Trump has conferred with him privately in the past, and apparently trusts him), but that remains to be seen. I suspect Kelly, like Reince, will be relegated to damage control, a full time White House job these days.

UPDATE…. a few hours later:

Well, that was fast. I guess Kelly is making his presence known….

NYT confirms this was Kelly’s doing:

The decision to remove Mr. Scaramucci, who had boasted about reporting directly to the president not the chief of staff, John F. Kelly, came at Mr. Kelly’s request, the people said. Mr. Kelly made clear to members of the White House staff at a meeting Monday morning that he is in charge.

It was not clear whether Mr. Scaramucci will remain employed at the White House in another position or will leave altogether.

It Happened Last Night

It was dramatic.  Even for 1 a.m. But….

…it appears that any chance of repealing (and replacing?) the Affordable Care Act died last night as Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins were joined by John McCain in opposing the Senate’s “skinny repeal” bill.

Here’s how it went down.

Yesterday afternoon, the Senate voted against a straight repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It was a floor vote Mitch McConnell had promised after the failure of a joint repeal-and-replace bill last week, when defections from both the conservative and the moderate wings of the GOP caucus killed it before it reached a vote.

With both repeal-and-replace and the full repeal bills dead in the water, it was time for Plan C (or D or E or X at this point): “Skinny Repeal.”

“Skinny Repeal” was a frankly terrible bill that would get rid of some of the more problematic aspects of Obamacare, but come nowhere close to a full repeal. The idea was that taking away the individual mandate and the employer mandate, but leaving everything else for the time being, would have been enough to make sure the conservatives and the moderates were all on board.

But, it did not happen. The CBO almost immediately announced 16 million more people would go uninsured (because they would not be forced to buy insurance, but semantics and all that) and insurance companies complained skinny repeal would be disastrous for the market.

As a result, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and John McCain voted against the skinny repeal deal. The final vote was 49-51. Mike Pence had been in attendance in order to break the tie, but McCain’s defection from the caucus threw the bill onto the path of defeat that not even Pence could save it from.

After the vote, McConnell’s statement was simple: “It’s time to move on.”

The GOP has now been given the signal to go ahead and skip on to the next big project: tax reform – a subject I am sure will be much easier to tackle for a body that couldn’t even pass something it had campaigned on for the last 7 years.

The failure of every GOP health care reform initiative is significant because it shows a real weakness within the party in power, and it shows Donald Trump’s weakness as a leader of his party. Both of these weaknesses could potentially play against the GOP in 2018, a year that is (as of now) expected to be particularly harsh on House GOP members.

What’s next for health care reform is anyone’s guess at this point. McConnell has seemingly conceded that it won’t happen, but there are a good many conservative lawmakers who still want to keep that promise. We just don’t know where or when the time to keep that promise will come up again.

This may the only time that an article at Redstate speaks well for my thoughts.

The only thing I would add is… this should be a lesson to Republican politicians and voters about being the anti-everything party. There will come a time when you have to a solution, rather than complain. And if you don’t have a better alternative, you look like an ass.

Hot Mic: He’s Crazy

Awkward:

At the end of a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday morning, Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) didn’t switch off her microphone. Apparently speaking to Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the ranking Democrat of the committee, Collins discussed the federal budget — and President Trump’s lack of familiarity with the details of governing.

After Reed praises Collins’s handling of the hearing, held by the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she laments the administration’s handling of spending.

“I swear, [the Office of Management and Budget] just went through and whenever there was ‘grant,’ they just X it out,” Collins says. “With no measurement, no thinking about it, no metrics, no nothing. It’s just incredibly irresponsible.”

“Yes,” Reed replies. “I think — I think he’s crazy,” apparently referring to the president. “I mean, I don’t say that lightly and as a kind of a goofy guy.”

“I’m worried,” Collins replies.

“Oof,” Reed continues. “You know, this thing — if we don’t get a budget deal, we’re going to be paralyzed.”

“I know,” Collins replies.

“[Department of Defense] is going to be paralyzed, everybody is going to be paralyzed,” Reed says.

“I don’t think he knows there is a [Budget Control Act] or anything,” Collins says, referring to a 2011 law that defines the budget process.

“He was down at the Ford commissioning,” Reed says, referring to President Trump’s weekend event launching a new aircraft carrier, “saying, ‘I want them to pass my budget.’ Okay, so we give him $54 billion and then we take it away across the board which would cause chaos.”

“Right,” Collins replies.

“It’s just — and he hasn’t — not one word about the budget. Not one word about the debt ceiling,” Reed says.

“Good point,” Collins replies.

“You’ve got [Budget Director Mick] Mulvaney saying we’re going to put in all sorts of stuff like a border wall. Then you’ve got [Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin saying it’s got to be clean,” Reed continues. “We’re going to be back in September, and, you know, you’re going to have crazy people in the House.”

In a more salacious part of what was recorded, Collins then addressed a radio interview in which Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) suggested that if Collins were a man, he’d have challenged her to a duel for opposing the Senate Republicans’ Obamacare overhaul bill.

“Did you see the one who challenged me to a duel?” Collins asks.

“I know,” Reed replies. “Trust me. Do you know why he challenged you to a duel? ‘Cause you could beat the s— out of him.”

“Well, he’s huge,” Collins replies. “And he — I don’t mean to be unkind, but he’s so unattractive it’s unbelievable.”

BIG Vote Today On Something That Nobody Knows What It Is

In a few hours, Senate Republicans will vote whether to start debate on a plan to overhaul American health care, without knowing exactly what is in that plan or, by extension, how it will change the lives of millions of Americans.

There are few, if any, comparable examples of a bill with such wide-reaching consequences, being voted on so abruptly, with so many critical questions left unanswered less than 24 hours before it is taken up.

Senate leaders are bent on holding a vote. But after the plan was drafted in secret, it now needs substantial revisions under the Senate budget rules. And yet the White House and GOP leadership insist on forcing members to vote on Tuesday.

It is an unprecedentedly opaque process to try to pass legislation that overhauls an industry worth more than $3 trillion, which would undercut a law that has extended health coverage to more than 20 million middle-class and low-income Americans in the past seven years.

The fate of Obamacare, arguably the most significant domestic policy passed in a generation, hangs in the balance. Medicaid, a pillar of the American safety net since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, could be fundamentally changed by the Senate bill, with federal spending capped permanently for a program that covers more than 70 million of the most vulnerable people in the country.

But as the vote approaches, there is no final text, no Congressional Budget Office score. Senate Republicans at least acknowledge the absurdity, if you ask them — this, coming from a party that spent seven years eviscerating Democrats for passing Obamacare in the quote-unquote dead of night.

So what are Republicans throwing together at the last minute?

“Skinny repeal”.

No seriously. That’s what it’s being called.

The Senate is expected to bring to the floor a “skinny repeal” bill that would repeal Obamacare’s requirement to purchase insurance — and violate the health care promises that Republican leaders, including Trump, have spent more than seven years making.  It is just taking away the mandate for individuals to buy insurance. It would also repeal the ACA’s mandate that employers with 50 or more employees provide coverage, according to lobbyists and Senate aides, as well as eliminate the law’s tax on medical device manufacturers.

What will happen with skinny repeal? It would make premiums go up, not down (as some Republicans say). Insurance competition would decline as insurers worried about healthy Americans fleeing the individual market. Rather than all Americans gaining coverage, millions would lose the plans they currently rely on. This cartoon explains why.

When the Congressional Budget Office analyzed a bill similar to skinny repeal, which also rolled back this provision, it estimated that 15 million Americans would lose coverage. The agency estimated that “repealing the individual mandate would also result in higher health insurance premiums” for those who purchase their own coverage — by approximately 20 percent.

There is disagreement over whether or not Obamacare is in a “death spiral”, but this does not stop it. It might even CREATE a death spiral if not speed up an existing one.

John McCain is flying in from his brain cancer rehab, which one would HOPE would mean this thing doesn’t pass. And it might not. The first hurdle is the motion to put it on the table.

The Washington Post says Republicans are close to moving forward:

Senate Republican leaders appeared close to securing the support they needed Tuesday to begin debate on their plan to rewrite the Affordable Care Act, according to lawmakers and aides, though the proposal they would consider could change dramatically once senators begin voting.

Republican leaders now see a scaled-down version of the bill as perhaps their best chance of winning final passage on some kind of measure to overhaul Obamacare. If senators passed this stripped-down version — which some Republicans refer to as “skinny repeal” — they would set up a House-Senate conference to resolve the differences between the two proposals, buying Republicans more time.

The new strategy will allow Republicans to sustain their years-long effort to unwind the 2010 health-care law, though they have yet settle on a replacement for it. But it is also is a tacit acknowledgment that more sweeping efforts to revise or even simply repeal the law cannot succeed, even as Republicans control both Congress and the White House.

They’ll probably pass the motion to begin debate — and hail it as a great victory.

UPDATE:

Capito, Heller and Rand are the new yes votes. Watch: Murkowski, Lee.

Odd though.  The motion to proceed will pass and then what will they debate? A bill that is merely a concept at this point?

UPDATE #2:

Protests

Three GOP no votes stop the bill. Collins and Murkowski are “no”

It all comes down to Johnson, who is seen as being on the fence. (McCain is on his way in from the airport and expected to vote yes)

McCain votes “aye” after receiving a round of applause as he enters.

Johnson votes “aye” right after. It’s a done deal. Vote will be 50-50 and Pence will cast deciding “yes”

Dems are all voting “no”

Pence breaks the tie.

McCain with a scar on his head speaks about why he voted to allow debate on whether to take healthcare away from millions. Although he seems to be chastising partisan politics.  Announcing his retirement?

 

Now McCain railing against screaming AM radio pundits and urging cooperation.  Some applause, but not much.

He’s doing some preening about how GOP and Dems won’t work together, and he’s right, but the fault really lies with the Freedom Coalition in HIS party, and he needs to say so, without the “both sides”-ism.

McCain did say he won’t vote for a blind repeal of the ACA, even though he voted for the debate. Thank goodness.

EPILOGUE:

Trump Really DOES Want To Get Rid Of Sessions

Trump was VERY busy this morning on his Twitter machine.

It’s hard to deny that Trump does not want his AG Jeff Sessions to stay on when he disses him when you look at the second and third from the bottom tweets.

Trump raised similar questions over the weekend days after telling reporters in an interview that he had second thoughts about nominating Sessions because the former Alabama senator had recused himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

What’s going on here?

Well, typically, Trump tipped his hand in his tweets today. If he fires Sessions, he’s stuck with Rosenstein as acting AG who, like Sessions, won’t end the Russia investigation. Of course, it is the same result if he gets Sessions to quit, but it looks better if Sessions quits.  So he’s trying to humiliate Sessions.

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, says it’s “probably” correct that Trump wants Sessions gone. According to The Hill, he said didn’t want to speak for the President, but said he thinks Trump has a “certain style” and he is “obviously frustrated.”

Yeah, obviously.

Congress is not amused by Trump’s attacks on his own attorney general:

It’s a lesson that could cost him politically in a Senate where he badly needs Republican support for his lengthy agenda, starting with healthcare on Tuesday.

“I don’t understand it. There’s no more honorable person I’ve ever met in my life than Jeff Sessions,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a close friend of Sessions and his wife. “The only person who is more upset with Trump about this than me, is my wife.”

Sessions spent 20 years in the Senate, winning a reputation for affability and party loyalty. He understood and doggedly practiced the code of what’s been called the world’s most exclusive club: You can disagree without being disagreeable, but you protect the institution and its members.

***

Senators made it clear the attack on one of their own stands to color Trump’s relationship with Senate Republicans, said Inhofe, a senator since 1994.

“I’m 100 percent for the president, but I really have a hard time with this,” he said.

“That’s what he does, I don’t think he means harm with those tweets,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of Trump.

But Hatch added, “I’d prefer that he didn’t do that. We’d like Jeff to be treated fairly.”

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, agreed.

”I guess we all have our communication style and that’s one that I would avoid,” Tillis said, adding that the Russia investigation by an outside special counsel should proceed without interruptions: “The fewer distractions we have, the faster the investigation can proceed and the less confusion the electorate has to deal with,” he said.

”Sen. Sessions is showing the independence I expected of him and that’s a healthy thing,” Tillis said.

Even those who said they were nonplussed by Trump’s criticism made it clear they sided with Sessions’ recusal decision.

“Jeff made the right decision. It’s not only a legal decision, but it’s the right decision,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.

Senator Graham took to Twitter too:


Screwing around with the legal process is serious. So serious that even Republicans in Congress are drawing a red line, and that’s something they rarely have done when Trump is involved.

I hope Trump and Bannon consider that.

And there are even reports that Trump’s cabinet is ready to bail over this (as a last straw). If Erick Erickson can be believed, Tillerson isn’t the only cabinet member who is displeased with the president’s attacks on Sessions.

“If he can get treated that way, what about the rest of us?” one of the President’s Cabinet secretaries asked me with both shock and anger in his voice. I am told reports about Rex Tillerson (not who I talked to) are legitimate. He is quite perturbed with the President’s treatment of his Attorney General and is ready to quit. Secretary Mattis (also not who I talked to) is also bothered by it. They and other Cabinet members are already frustrated by the slow pace of appointments for their staffs, the vetoes over qualified people for not being sufficiently pro-Trump, and the Senate confirmation pace.

In fact, the Cabinet secretary I talked to raised the issue of the White House staff vetoes over loyalty, blasting the White House staff for blocking qualified people of like mind because they were not pro-Trump and now the President is ready to fire the most loyal of all the Cabinet members. “It’s more of a clusterf**k than you even know,” the Cabinet secretary tells me about dealing with the White House on policy. It is not just Tillerson ready to bail.

How’s Sessions handling this? Not well:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no plans to leave office, as friends say he’s grown angry with President Donald Trump following a series of attacks meant to marginalize his power and, potentially, encourage his resignation.

“Sessions is totally pissed off about it,” said a Sessions ally familiar with his thinking. “It’s beyond insane. It’s cruel and it’s insane and it’s stupid.”

Cruel, Insane and Stupid.  Trumpworld.

Trump’s Boorish Behavior

Everyone is talking about Trump’s horrible appearance before the Boy Scouts of America at their annual Jamboree yesterday. I agree with the criticism — I just am not very surprised or shocked.

In keeping with the Scouts’ traditions, all eight presidents and surrogates who have represented them have stayed far, far away from partisan politics.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the occasion to talk about good citizenship. Harry S. Truman extolled fellowship: “When you work and live together, and exchange ideas around the campfire, you get to know what the other fellow is like,” he said.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower invoked the “bonds of common purpose and common ideals.” And President George H.W. Bush spoke of “serving others.”

For a brief moment at this year’s jamboree in West Virgina, President Donald Trump indicated that he would follow that tradition — sort of.

This is how it started, with a lot of familiar elements.

It looks like about 45,000 people. You set a record today.
(APPLAUSE)
You set a record. That’s a great honor, believe me.
Tonight we put aside all of the policy fights in Washington, D.C. you’ve been hearing about with the fake news and all of that. We’re going to put that…
(APPLAUSE)
We’re going to put that aside. And instead we’re going to talk about success, about how all of you amazing young Scouts can achieve your dreams, what to think of, what I’ve been thinking about. You want to achieve your dreams, I said, who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts? Right?

“Hell” in front of Boy Scouts is not presidential (to say the least), but after that, he talked about politics — Obamacare (boooo!), “fake news” (boooo!), crowd size, etc. This may be the first speech ever delivered to a Boy Scout Jamboree that referenced the stock market, job numbers, and covered electoral results at the state level. That the speech was well received by a majority of the attendees–it was interrupted with chants of “We Love Trump” and “USA, USA”–doesn’t make it right or appropriate.

At one point, Trump told a rambling story about a conversation he had at a New York cocktail party with a once-successful home builder who “lost his momentum.” The lesson, apparently: “You have to know whether or not you continue to have the momentum. And if you don’t have it, that’s okay.

The Boy Scouts are defending the invitation, but so far have not disavowed anything Trump said.  This is causing a big backlash everywhere, like on their Facebook page.


Trumpers See Whatever They Want To See In Trump – Exhibit A

“He is unashamed in standing up for increasing an awareness of God in the United States. He recognizes how important that is and that that is a basis of Western civilization. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I could not be more happy with what I am seeing coming out of the Trump White House. This is beyond my wildest expectations.

“The president himself is man of prayer and man who loves to receive prayer. He is a man who, I do believe, understands who the God of the Bible is and he wants to lift up the God of the Bible here in the United States.

“The Lord is working mightily in our government and I believe it is because God is being reverenced, God is being lifted up. Prayer is not foreign in the White House, it’s not foreign in the Executive Office Building; looking to God, looking through Bible studies, this is not foreign anymore.” – Michele Bachmann, speaking this weekend on Christian radio.

From Joe. My God.

There are few certainties in life, but there is no doubt that Trump is NOT NOW and NEVER WAS a man of God.

Can A Sitting President Be Indicted?

The conventional wisdom has always said that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Under current law, a President is immune from civil lawsuits in federal court, when it comes to his official acts as president.  This is because of Nixon v. Fitzgerald, a 1982 Supreme Court ruling.  There, the Supreme Court wrote: “The ‘singular importance of the President’s duties’ warrants a stay where civil actions, such as this one, ‘frequently could distract a President from his public duties to the detriment of not only the President and his office but also the Nation that the President was designed to serve.’”

From this case it was always thought that an indictment would similarly be barred.

However, nothing in the Constitution or federal law explicitly says presidents are immune from indictment while they remain in office.  So what’s the answer?

A legal memo unearthed by the New York Times and written for special prosecutor Kenneth Starr during the Clinton Administration concludes that the indictment of a President for acts done prior to taking office, is constitutional.  Here is that memo (after the NYT letters):

Beleaguered Attorney General

Trump could always pick up the phone and ask his “beleaguered” Attorney General this question, although I think the answer in all cases was that the Committees and investigators looked into Hillary’s stuff ad nauseum.

Still, the use of the adjective “beleaguered” has some thinking that Sessions might be replaced…. with Rudy Giuliani.

UPDATE: 

But with this administration, who knows?

Kushner Releases Statement Of Testmony

Main takeaways:

  • Kushner says he had four contacts with Russians last year. The first was a handshake with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before a Trump speech in April. The second was the highly controversial meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June. The third was a meeting with Kislyak during the transition. And the fourth was with Russian state-run banker Sergey Gorkov during the transition.
  • These four interactions were already known from previous news reports, though Kushner added new details in his statement on Monday, including information about relevant emails and logistics.
  • He says none of these interactions were about collusion or election interference, saying, “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government.”
  • Kushner denied reading the full email forwarded to him by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting. That email explained that the Russian lawyer wanted to meet with Trump campaign officials to give them information from the Kremlin that would hurt Clinton, as part of its effort to help Trump.
  • He says that he was late to the meeting and only in the room for 10 minutes while the issue of Russian adoptions was discussed. The statement says he emailed an assistant, asking that person to call his cell phone so he would have an excuse to walk out of the meeting. Kushner didn’t publicly release the email but did provide it to the House and Senate intelligence committees.
  • Kushner denied a Reuters report that said he spoke with Kislyak on the phone twice during the campaign. That report cited seven unnamed sources saying Kushner spoke with Kislyak on the phone at least twice between April and November 2016. Kushner’s lawyers denied the story when it came out in May. Kushner said in his statement that he checked some of his phone records and that his team hasn’t found “any calls to any number known to be associated with Ambassador Kislyak.”
  • The statement adds clarity on what Kushner and Kislyak discussed during their December 1 meeting. Kushner denies attempting to create a “secret back channel” between the Trump transition and the Kremlin. But he acknowledges asking Kislyak “if they had an existing communication channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting” sensitive military information about Syria with the Trump transition. Kislyak couldn’t accommodate that request, so they tabled the idea, Kushner says in the statement.
  • Kushner says Kislyak also encouraged him to meet with Gorkov, and that he agreed to do it “because the ambassador has been so insistent.” During the meeting, Kushner says he broadly discussed improving US-Russia relations but did not talk about “any private business of any kind.” This explanation clashes with previous statements from the bank itself, and from a Kremlin spokesman, who said the meeting was about business and that Gorkov met with Kushner in his capacity as “the head of Kushner companies,” not as a member of the incoming administration.
  • Kushner acknowledges shaking hands with Kislyak before a Trump speech at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016. This event has attracted scrutiny from investigators on Capitol Hill, who have been trying to figure out the extent of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ interactions with Kislyak the same day. Sessions testified last month that he didn’t recall any such meeting.
  • For the first time, Kushner said he got an email one week before the election from someone he didn’t recognize called “Guccifer400.” The email threatened to release Trump’s tax returns unless Kushner paid hush money. Kushner says he ignored the email at the advice of a Secret Service agent. The US government says Russia created an online persona called Guccifer 2.0 as a front to release emails it stole during the campaign, but there is no indication that Guccifer400 was part of the Russian meddling effort.

My brief observations:

(1) He conspicuously uses an “I did nothing wrong” statement, not a “We did nothing wrong” statement — perhaps he is throwing Don Jr. under the bus?

(2)  Several of the denials have curious caveats, or deny things with no legal meaning — this is unusual for such a heavily lawyered document.  For example, he denies there was no “secret backchannel with the Russians” but also says this:

(3) Still many things we do not know —

a) Meeting Russia’s ambassador at the Mayflower Hotel: Kislyak’s disclosure of the contact with Trump campaign officials to Moscow piqued the attention of U.S. officials who intercepted those conversations, CNN reported. We don’t know how Kislyak described the encounters or what exactly was discussed, or why Kushner waited until now to acknowledge this brief encounter.

b) Trump Tower meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer: Kushner says he read the email changing the meeting time, but hasn’t said whether the subject line “FW: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential” on that email caught his attention. He also does not explain why, as a senior campaign official with a packed schedule, he would agree to attend a meeting organized by his brother-in-law with no knowledge of who would be present, what would be discussed, or why he needed to participate. Other participants, including Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr., have said Kushner departed the room early, but it’s also unclear when Kushner arrived and what he overheard. Kushner’s statement said he arrived “a little late,” but Veselnitskaya said he was “only present in the meeting for probably the first seven to 10 minutes,” which is when Trump Jr. said she presented the information about Clinton.

c) Trump Tower meeting with Russia’s ambassador: Setting aside the oddness of Kushner emailing a contact for Kislyak’s name rather than doing a quick Google search, his statement doesn’t address the fact that the media and Democratic lawmakers had been raising concerns about the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia for months by the time he agreed to the meeting with Kislyak. It’s also unknown if Kushner and the ambassador had additional conversations over the phone. Reuters reported that the pair had two calls between April and November 2016; Kushner said in his statement that he could not find records of those conversations and is “highly skeptical these calls took place.”

d) Trump Tower meeting with a Russian banker: It’s unclear why Gorkov and White House officials differed on which hat Kushner was wearing during the meeting: campaign official or real estate tycoon. It’s also unclear how much Kushner knew about Gorkov, who has close ties to Putin, before taking the meeting, or why he agreed to meet with the banker days after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had worked to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

Here’s the document:

Kushner will be testifying behind close doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, and the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow.  He will not be under oath, but lying to Congress is a crime whether under oath or not.  What is great that it is behind bars is that staffers (not the grand-standing Senators) will be asking questions, and those questions will tend to be smarter.  Unfortunately, we won’t know for sure what is said (although you can count on leaks).

Donald Trump Jr and Paul Manafort will testify, not under oath, later this week.

Breaking: Sean Spicer Resigns

The same morning that Anthony Scaramucci is appointed as White House Communications Director, Sean Spicer resigns. Reports are that he vehemently opposed Scaramucci’s appointment.

Trump offered Scaramucci the job at 10 a.m. Trump requested that Spicer stay on, but Spicer told Trump that he believed the appointment was a major mistake, according to a person with direct knowledge of the exchange.

Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus and top adviser Steve Bannon had also resisted the appointment, according to NBC.

“This was a murdering of Reince and Bannon. They said Anthony would get this job over their dead bodies,” said one top White House official.

This….

But Scaramucci is said to be very close to the Trump family and that Trump likes him.

Anthony Scaramucci rose through the financial ranks of New York, ardently defending Wall Street and founding a global hedge fund.

A Goldman Sachs alum, and named Wall Streeter of the Year by Yahoo Finance in 2016, Scaramucci founded and co-managed SkyBridge Capital, a fund of hedge funds with a reported $11.8 billion in assets.  Skybridge may or may not have violated Russian sanctions.

Scaramucci made headlines in 2010 when he asked Obama during a televised town hall meeting when he was going to “stop whacking at the Wall Street piñata.”

The fact that Scaramucci was appointed over the objections of Priebus, Bannon AND Spicer just shows how difficult managing Trump has been. Spicer’s defection, coming on the heels of defections by the spokesman for Trump’s legal team (as well as Trump’s longtime lawyer from that team) shows that there are definitely HUGE rifts in the administration.

He wasn’t always a Trump fan:

He supporter Walker initially in 2016, but became a Trump supporter eventually.

Spicer is over.

UPDATE — Jesus Christ, read this:

UPDATE #2 — Interesting tweets from Scaramucci

The Constitutional Crisis Cloud

It’s been an insane few days for me personally (with work) and insane in the world of Trump.  I wanted to write at some length about the bizarre Trump interview in the New York Times — and how he dissed his attorney general for recusing himself from the Russian collusion investigation and his veiled threats to Bob Mueller, the independent counsel investigating collusion… and how all that came after Ty Cobb was brought to head all the legal teams and apparently imposed message disciple the day before… and the Trump gave this interview.  I found the whole thing scary for what it says about Trump’s apparent disregard for, well, not only our political institutions, but the law in general.

But that is two days old now, and other things have intervened. So as for the Trump interview, I can only applaud the NYT editorial about it yesterday:

In less than an hour on Wednesday afternoon, President Trump found a way to impugn the integrity and threaten the livelihoods of nearly all of the country’s top law enforcement officials, including some he appointed, for one simple reason: They swore an oath to defend the Constitution, not him.

For a president who sees the rule of law as an annoyance rather than a feature of American democracy, the traitors are everywhere.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions endured the worst abuse, which came during Mr. Trump’s gobsmacking Oval Office interview with The Times. Mr. Sessions’s offense? Recusing himself in March from all investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign, a decision that infuriated Mr. Trump. “If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” the president said. He called the recusal “extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

Never mind that Mr. Sessions had no real choice but to step aside. Given his proximity to the campaign — Mr. Sessions was one of Mr. Trump’s earliest and most vocal supporters — his ability to be impartial was reasonably in doubt. The “unfairness,” as Mr. Trump saw it, was that Mr. Sessions’s partiality was exactly what he hoped to exploit, mainly to help quash the F.B.I.’s inquiry into his campaign’s possible ties to the Russian government, whose meddling was aimed at tipping the election in Mr. Trump’s favor.

Mr. Sessions said on Thursday that he would continue as attorney general “as long as that is appropriate.” But propriety left the building long ago. It’s hard to imagine he will be there much longer, since the president has, in so many words, invited him to resign for failing to block the Russia investigation. That inquiry lives on for now, but all those associated with it would be justified in fearing that they could well end up like James Comey, the F.B.I. director Mr. Trump fired in May in the hope of shutting it down.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who took charge after Mr. Sessions’s recusal, and Robert Mueller, the special counsel Mr. Rosenstein appointed to run the investigation after Mr. Comey’s firing, were also in the president’s sights. Both men, he complained, were guilty of “conflicts of interest” — which Mr. Trump seems to define as anything that conflicts with his own interests.

For Mr. Mueller, who led the F.B.I. for more than a decade and who is one of the most respected law enforcement officials in the country, Mr. Trump had a clear message: Watch your back. Any investigation into the Trump family’s finances, unrelated to Russia, the president said, would constitute a “violation” of Mr. Mueller’s mandate, and possibly would be grounds for his dismissal. That’s simply wrong. The special counsel is authorized to investigate “any matters” that might arise during the course of the Russia investigation — in fact, he’s already doing so.

In the end, Mr. Trump is concerned with nothing so much as saving his own hide, which means getting rid of the Russia inquiry for good. He previously said this was why he fired Mr. Comey, and it may yet be the undoing of Mr. Sessions, Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Mueller.

The one person who avoided the president’s wrath was the only one who has not yet had the chance to defy him: Christopher Wray, Mr. Trump’s pick to replace Mr. Comey. “I think we’re going to have a great new F.B.I. director,” Mr. Trump said Wednesday.

Perhaps he forgot that Mr. Wray told senators during his confirmation hearing that he would not hesitate to prosecute the Trump Organization for foreign-corruption crimes if the evidence pointed that way. Or perhaps he thinks he can bend Mr. Wray to his will because, as he told The Times, “the F.B.I. person really reports directly to the president.”

Wrong again: The F.B.I. director reports to the attorney general, precisely to protect the independence of which Mr. Trump is so openly contemptuous. It’s true that the president may fire the director, but that power is, or used to be, reserved for the most extraordinary circumstances.

Mr. Trump’s cavalier attitude toward this carefully designed system is an affront to the people who have spent their careers respecting and protecting it. It’s also the clearest sign yet that he values the rule of law only to the extent that it benefits him personally.

I am more taken with the story in last night’s Washington Post, and particularly this paragraph:

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Although the story downplays Trump’s questions as “This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ”, the fact that this is even remotely on his mind is troubling. As is the suggestion that he might fire Mueller.

Theoretical or not, we could get to that point, which would be a constitutional crisis because there is no clear answer to the question “Can a president pardon himself?”

The constitutional language governing pardons reads, “The President … shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That vagueness is part of the reason the boundaries of the authority would need to be interpreted by the courts in unusual cases, like the one at hand.

Some note that the Constitution does not explicitly prohibit a president from pardoning himself. On the other side, experts say that by definition a pardon is something you can only give to someone else.  That’s what “grant” means.  I tend to agree with that.

There is also a common-law canon that prohibits individuals from serving as a judge in their own case. … ‘This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question,’ said Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert at Michigan State University who has written extensively on the question. … No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it.”

One thing is for sure — Impeachment itself is specifically carved out of the presidential pardon power within the Constitution, so if Trump were impeached, he’d have no counter to that action.

But like many, I worry if Republicans are so in the tank for Trump and so unprincipled, that they wouldn’t impeach him even if he pardoned himself.  They certainly are very quiet on the subject today.

On the Democatic side,  Rep. Adam Schiff of California and Mark Warner of Virginia reacted to the news that Trump’s legal team is exploring the possibility of pardons. Schiff called the reports “disturbing” and said it is something the president “should rule out categorically.” Warner said pardoning individuals “at this early stage in these ongoing investigations” would be “crossing a fundamental line.”

They are also taking stands against the firing of Mueller.

And personally, I believe that the oppo research being done on Mueller is very close to obstruction of justice.  I don’t think Mueller can be intimidated, and this is a very bad legal tactic in this situation.  Heck, Mueller was under consideration for Comey’s replacement as the head of the FBI.

To be continued….

UPDATE:  Well, this is reassuring.

Person No 8 In The Trump Tower Meeting Is Identified

WaPo:

An American-based employee of a Russian real estate company took part in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., bringing to eight the number of known participants at the session that has emerged a key focus of the investigation of the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian.

Ike Kaveladze’s presence was confirmed by Scott Balber, an attorney for Emin and Aras Agalarov, the Russian developers who hosted the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant in 2013. Balber said Kaveladze works for the Agalarovs’ company and attended as their representative.

Balber said Tuesday that he received a phone call from a representative of Special Counsel Robert Mueller over the weekend requesting the identity of the Agalarov representative , which he said he provided. The request is the first public indication that Mueller’s team is investigating the meeting.

Donald Trump Jr. agreed to take the meeting on the promise that he would be provided damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government to help his father’s presidential campaign, according to emails released by Trump Jr. last week.

Rob Goldstone, a music promoter, told Trump Jr. in an email that his client, Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star, requested that Trump Jr. meet with the lawyer.

The full list of the participants has remained a mystery until now, despite a statement from Trump Jr. that he was releasing his emails in an effort to be “transparent” about the meeting, which he has said amounted to nothing.

Balber said Kaveladze works as a vice president focusing on real estate and finance for the Agalarov’s company, the Crocus Group. Aras Agalarov requested that Kaveladze attend the meeting on his behalf, Balber said. Kaveladze is a U.S. citizen and has lived in this country for many years, according to Balber, who is said he is representing the man.

Balber said Kaveladze believed he would act as a translator, but arrived to discover that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya had brought her own translator, a former State Department employee named Anatoli Samochornov. Samochornov has declined to comment, citing a non-disclosure agreement he signed as a professional translator. Balber said he believes the list of participants known to the public is now complete.

Trumpcare Declared Dead But GOP Not Finished Screwing America

So this happened:

Republican senator from Kansas and his Republican colleague from Utah said “no” to the GOP plan to replace Obamacare. This comes even before the CBO had scored it, but it would have resulted in tens of millions losing healthcare and higher premiums. That doesn’t include all those who would get crappy healthcare that is useless when they actually have a catastrophic illness.

The Senate vote was supposed to be this week and it was right on the edge. Only one more Republican Senator (besides the two nay-sayers already) needed to step up and say “no” and the thing was dead. Senate Majority Leader McConnell put off voting until August while Senator McCain had some pretty nasty eye/brain surgery which apparently accounted for his odd behavior recently at the Comey hearing.

It was thought that key swing-votes were Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, or maybe Cory Gardner of Colorado.

But Lee and Moran stepped up and killed this. They joined Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in opposition, denying GOP leaders the support to even bring the bill to the floor and upending Republicans’ seven-year goal of repealing Obamacare.

But apparently McConnell had a backup plan: he announced that the chamber would vote to take up a House bill from 2015 that repeals the Affordable Care Act and then provides for a two-year delay while the Senate develops a plan to replace it.

“[I]n the coming days,” McConnell said in a statement Monday night, “the Senate will vote to take up the House bill with the first amendment being what a majority of the Senate has already supported in 2015 and that was vetoed by then-President Barack Obama: A repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay to provide for a stable transition period to a patient-centered health care system that gives Americans access to quality, affordable care.”

This is a terrible idea. Repealing Obamacare without implementing a replacement would have even more devastating consequences than Trumpcare. It would result in 18 million people losing their coverage the first full year after the bill’s enactment. That number would rise to 32 million by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which scored the repeal and delay plan when it was proposed in 2015.

Repeal and delay would also significantly increase premiums, the CBO said. In the first year following enactment of the law, premiums purchased through the marketplaces or directly from insurers would increase 20 to 25 percent relative to projections under the current law.

In the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and subsidies provided by the ACA, that increase would reach about 50 percent, with premiums doubling by 2026.

The widespread confusion that repeal and delay would create would be detrimental even as the current law stays in place during the proposed two years the Senate would have to develop a replacement.

Insurers use projections to set prices, and knowing the industry is going to dramatically change but not knowing how is expected to cause insurers to pull out of the ACA marketplaces. This means higher premiums and, ultimately, a death spiral that would result in Americans losing their health insurance.

But the two defectors from last night are for repeal (right now), and so is this guy:

Trump clearly doesn’t care what the bill is.  He just wants to declare a “win”.  But this repeal-and-replace-later is a non-starter. I don’t think anybody thinks Congress will come up with a better idea in two years.  Plus, repeal will be hard since part so it require a 60-senator vote.

So the watch word on the left is: “Yay for us, but remain vigilant”.

UPDATE:  Yeah, it might be dead before this morning is out.

Trump Hits Record Unpopularity — But Does It Matter?

Six months into the Trump presidency.

An ABC/WaPo poll this weekend put Trump’s approval rating at 36%, an all-time low for any president since they started polling.  It’s even lower than Nixon’s was when Nixon resigned.

At 538, Harry Enten put this chart out:

What astounds me is that there has been no crisis to cause it to go down.  Ford is low on that chart because he pardoned Nixon in his first six months.

But Trump came in as an unpopular president, after a run as an unpopular candidate.  His net approval rating was slightly positive (+4) when he first took office, and he averaged a net approval rating of -2 over the first month of his term. That means his net approval rating has fallen 14 points since his first month in office, or a bit less than three points per month.  Steadily.

Given his failure to get any major legislation done, his annoying tweets (which gets almost universal condemnation in the polls), and the Trump-Russia scandal, it’s a wonder his polls are not lower. But what is going on here, I think, is that Trump has two “bottoms”.  The 35-39% approval rating is made up of (1) actual Trump supporters and (2) people who are anti-anti-Trump (i.e., people who hate liberals and the media and will support anybody who they see as hating liberals and the media).  I suspect group 2 is bigger than group 1, but I don’t know what it would take to get them to peel off.  Certainly, that is the group that Trump is playing too, and they remain his big defenders — even AFTER the “fake news” about Trump-Russia collusion became much closer to real news.

In the end, Trump’s historical unpopularity means nothing as long as House and Senate Republicans back him. And they will, as long as he can be the useful idiot to them.

So Much For Don Junior’s “Transparency”

Whatever position you take on the Trump-Russia Collusion Scandal, one thing is hard to argue with: the crisis management team at the White House is ineffective and probably non-existent.

The first rule of crisis management is to avoid the drip-drip-drip of damaging evidence. Get out in front of the stories, explain everything — EVERYTHING — there is to explain and then move on.  Because drip-drip-drip keeps things in the headlines.

The Trump plan is to deny deny deny and attack the media.  It’s not working.  That plan fails when the media has you dead-to-rights, as the New York Times did last weekend when it had emails from Donald Trump Jr. setting up a June 9 meeting with Russians to get Hillary dirt — what many would call “collusion with Russia” if not a willingness to collude.

Back against the wall, Trump Jr released the emails and did a tell-all (albeit softball) interview with Sean Hannity. The President praised his son for his transparency.

Except Trump Jr omitted that there was one, and possibly two, more people in that meeting:

Rinat Akhmetshin told the Associated Press on Friday he accompanied Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to the June 9, 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort. Trump’s attorney confirmed Akhmetshin’s attendance in a statement.

Akhmetshin’s presence at Trump Tower that day adds another layer of controversy to an episode that already provides the clearest indication of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. In the run-up to that rendezvous, Donald Trump Jr. was promised “very high level and sensitive information” on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Who is Rinet Akmetshin?

On one level, he is a Russian-born American lobbyist who served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U.S., where he holds dual citizenship.

Or, you could say he is a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence.

Or, you could say he is a former Soviet counterintelligence officer previously accused in federal and state courts of orchestrating an international hacking conspiracy:

In court papers filed with New York Supreme Court in November 2015, Akhmetshin was described as “a former Soviet military counterintelligence officer” by lawyers for International Mineral Resources (IMR), a Russian mining company who alleged that they had been hacked.

Those documents accuse Akhmetshin of hacking into two computer systems and stolen sensitive and confidential materials as part of an alleged black ops smear campaign against IMR. The allegations were later withdrawn.

The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. was told in July 2015 that Akhmetshin had arranged the hacking of a mining company’s private records—stealing internal documents and then disseminating them. The corporate espionage case was brought by IMR, who alleged that Akhmetshin was hired by Russian oligarch Andrey Melinchenko, an industrialist worth around $12 billion.

A New York law firm paid Akhmetshin $140,000, including expenses, to organize a public relations campaign targeting IMR. Shortly after he began that work, IMR suffered a sophisticated and systematic breach of its computers, and gigabytes of data allegedly stolen in the breach wound up the hands of journalists and human rights groups critical of the mining company. IMR accused Akhmetshin of paying Russian hackers to carry out the hack attack.

IMR went so far as to hire a private investigator to follow Akhmetshin on a trip to London. That private eye, Akis Phanartzis, wrote in a sworn declaration to the court that he eavesdropped on Akhmetshin in a London coffee shop and heard Akhmetshin boast that “he organized the hacking of IMR’s computer systems” on behalf of Melinchenko’s fertilizer producer Eurochem. “Mr. Akhmetshin [noted] that he was hired because there were certain things that the law firm could not do,” Phanartzis said.

Akhmetshin denied the accusation, but admitted passing around a “hard drive” filled with data on IMR’s owners. He said the information was all open source material  that he’d gotten from the former prime minister of Kazakhstan, Akezhan Kazhegeldin.  The private investigator, through, said he recovered a copy of the data on a thumb drive provided by an anonymous source, and found it consisted of gigabytes of private files stolen in the computer intrusion. A computer forensics expert examined the thumb drive and found metadata indicating some of the files had last been opened by a user with the initials “RA.”

Lawyers acting for Akhmetshin deny that he allegedly confessed to hacking. They did not deny that he had bragged about his investigatory techniques in a public place, but claimed that his methods did not involve computer intrusion.

These court disputes came after IMR had originally filed an application in the U.S. in April 2014 requesting that Akhmetshin, a resident of Washington, D.C., give a deposition and share documents with the company as part of discovery for a case being heard in the Dutch courts. That case was won in the Netherlands without needing evidence from Akhmetshin.

That changed a year later, when the verdict was appealed and an American judge granted IMR’s request for a subpoena to be issued. During Akhmetshin’s deposition, he refused to answer a number of questions and declined to produce the 261 requested documents, citing attorney-client privilege and non-testifying expert witness privilege.

MR successfully argued that his claim of privilege should be reviewed by a judge—out of the courtroom, in the judge’s private chambers—because there was no such protection in a “crime-fraud” case.

In 2015, citing emails and records it obtained in the federal case, International Mineral Resources filed a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court directly accusing Akhmetshin of hacking the company. But early last year the company abruptly withdrew “all allegations made by it against Defendants in the Complaint,” according to a court document. The withdrawal included “allegations therein that Defendants […] have engaged in any unlawful or improper acts against IMR, including but not limited to hacking any information from IMR’s computer systems, disseminating any information as part of a smear campaign against IMR.” The lead attorney in the case  did not return a phone call from The Daily Beast about the lawsuit.

So, yeah…… him.

And the long-term fallout isn’t Don Jr.  It’s Jared Kushner, who was at the meeting.  He’s amended his security clearance form so many times now.  13 times, by one count.  Democrats on the hill are calling for his security clearance to be removed.

UPDATE:  Oh for the love of….

They can’t ALL be translators!

UPDATE #2: This is great…

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

I guess it was bound to happen — the ultimate constitutional question: What happened when the top law enforcement agency refuses to comply with the courts?

It has happened on the state level — with desegregation. The governors refused to comply with Brown v Board of Education. So the federal government was sent in, in the form of the US Department of Justice. They sent in the National Guard.

But what happens if the US Department of Justice itself doesn’t comply with a court order? We’re about to find out. And it is such a small matter, too:

In defiance of a court order, the Justice Department is refusing to release part of a security form dealing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ contacts with the Russian government.

On June 12, a judge had ordered the agency to provide the information within 30 days, a deadline that passed on Wednesday.

A recently launched ethics watchdog group called American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request in March for sections of the Standard Form 86 relating to Sessions’ contact “with any official of the Russian government.”

The group then filed a lawsuit in April after it said the government didn’t provide the documents.

“Jeff Sessions is our nation’s top law enforcement officer, and it is shocking one of his first acts after being named Attorney General was to mislead his own agency about a matter of national security,” the group’s executive director, Austin Evers, said in a statement.

He continued: “The court gave DOJ thirty days to produce Attorney General Sessions’s security clearance form, DOJ has already confirmed its contents to the press and Sessions has testified about it to Congress, so there is no good reason to withhold this document from the public.”

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Justice Department had told NPR that the documents would be released by the deadline, NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly reports.

The Standard Form 86, more commonly called SF86, is a very detailed form required to be filled out for obtaining security clearance for certain government positions. It’s the same form presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has recently had to revise after omitting meetings with Russian officials.

Sessions has admitted speaking with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, at least twice in 2016, which he did not disclose at his confirmation hearing. But in June, Sessions testified to senators that the “suggestion that I participated in any collusion” with the Russian government “is an appalling and detestable lie.”

American Oversight says it’s nonpartisan, but its staff has connections to Democrats, according to USA Today.

A status conference in the case is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

This is all under-the-radar right now. I don’t imagine it can remain that way for very long.  To be continued…..

UPDATE – – 2 pm:

In a filing this morning with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department released that part of Sessions’ form which poses the question:

“Have you or any of your immediate family in the past seven (7) years [bold font in original] had any contact with a foreign government, its establishment (such as embassy, consulate, agency, military service, intelligence or security service, etc.) or its representatives, whether inside or outside the U.S.?”

Sessions checked “No.”

Well, at least he’s on the record now.

5.8 Earthquake off North Korea Coast

Normally, I wouldn’t care, but I have to wonder if this is an earthquake.  Info coming in….

 

  • The quake was very deep – 348.2 miles (560km) below the seabed off the coast
  • Its epicenter was 125 miles (201 km) southeast of North Korean city of Chongjin
  • Early speculation indicated quake was man-made, as has been the case in past

Yeah… the problem is that it is 348.2 miles under the sea.  You can’t put a nuke there.

 

 

Trump Participated In Lie To Media

The New York Times didn’t make this the headline today, but it should have:

As Air Force One jetted back from Europe on Saturday, a small cadre of Mr. Trump’s advisers huddled in a cabin helping to craft a statement for the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to give to The New York Times explaining why he met last summer with a lawyer connected to the Russian government. Participants on the plane and back in the United States debated how transparent to be in the statement, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Ultimately, the people said, the president signed off on a statement from Donald Trump Jr. for The Times that was so incomplete that it required day after day of follow-up statements, each more revealing than the last. It culminated on Tuesday with a release of emails making clear that Mr. Trump’s son believed the Russian lawyer was seeking to meet with him to provide incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

The president signed off on it?  Those first statement from Don Jr. were so “incomplete” as to be lies. The statement from Trump Jr. that the president signed off on only said that the meeting was primarily about “a program about the adoption of Russian children.” This was before the Times disclosed that according to sources who had seen the email chain, it revealed that the meeting was really about sharing material about Hillary Clinton that came from the Russian government.

This is confirmed by Trump’s lawyer. As WaPo reports:

President Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, just made the rounds on the morning shows, armed with a clear message: The president was only made aware of the email chain incriminating his son in the last few days, and only saw it when the imminent publication of the email chain compelled Donald Trump Jr. to release it himself.

So, Trump lied.

By the way, there is supposed to be a wall between Don Jr and the White House, remember? Why is the White House crafting his statement?

Trump-Russia Collusion: An Incomplete [For Now} Timeline

June 16th, 2015: Donald Trump announces his candidacy for President of the United States.

Circa Summer 2015: The US government alleges that Russian hackers first gain access to DNC computer networks.

Circa August 2015: Trump staff arranges first meeting between Trump and General Flynn, according to Flynn’s account in an August 2016 interview with The Washington Post. “I got a phone call from his team. They asked if he would be willing meet with Mr. Trump and I did. … In late summer 2015.”

August 8th, 2015: Roger Stone leaves formal role in Trump campaign. Whether he quits or was fired is disputed. Stone will continue as a key, albeit informal advisor, for the remainder of the campaign.

December 10th, 2015: Michael Flynn attends conference and banquet in Moscow to celebrate the 10th anniversary of RT (formerly Russia today). Flynn is seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the concluding banquet.

March 19th, 2016: Hackers successfully hack into Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta’s email.

March 21st, 2016: In a meeting with The Washington Post editorial board, Trump provides a list of five foreign policy advisors. The list includes Carter Page but not Michael Flynn. The list is Walid Phares, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Joe Schmitz, and ret. Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg.

March 28th, 2016: Trump campaign hires Paul Manafort to oversee delegate operations for campaign. Manafort becomes the dominant figure running the campaign by late April and takes over as campaign manager on June 21st with the firing of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

February-April 2016: Flynn advisory relationship with Trump appears to have solidified over the Spring of 2016. In late January Flynn is mentioned as an advisor who has “regular interactions” with Trump. There are similar mentions in Februaryand March. Yet as late as mid-March, Flynn appeared to downplay his ties to Trump. By May Flynn is routinely listed as an advisor and by late May is even being mooted as a possible vice presidential pick.

April 2016: DNC network administrators first notice suspicious activity on Committee computer networks in late April, 2016, according to The Washington Post. The DNC retains the services of network security firm Crowdstrike which expels hackers from the DNC computer network. Crowdstrike tells The Washington Post it believes hackers had been operating inside the DNC networks since the Summer of 2015.

April 19th, 2016: “DCLeaks.com” url/address registered.

May 3rd, 2016: Donald J. Trump becomes becomes presumptive nominee after Ted Cruz and John Kasich withdraw from race.

May 26th, 2016: Donald J. Trump officially secure majority of GOP delegates, officially clinching the nomination of the Republican party.

June 3rd, 2016: First email contact between Rob Goldstone and Donald Trump Jr. about meeting with “Russian government lawyer” with damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

June 7th, 2016: Donald J Trump gives speech in which he promises a major speech about Hillary Clinton’s crimes on June 13th. “I am going to give a major speech on … probably Monday [June 13th] of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

June 8th, 2016: First tweet posted to “DCLeaks” Twitter account.

June 9th, 2016: Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya. Trump agreed to take the meeting after being told by Trump associate Rob Goldstone that Veselnitskaya had damaging information about Hillary Clinton which came from a Russian government operation to help his father Donald J. Trump.

June 12th, 2016: Julian Assange first announces that Wikileaks has Clinton emails which are soon to be released. “Wikileaks has a very big year ahead … We have emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication.”

June 14, 2016Washington Post publishes first account of hacking of the DNC computer networks, allegedly by hackers working on behalf of the Russian government.

June 15th, 2016: “Guccifer 2.0”, later identified by US government officials and other private sector analysts as a fictive persona created by Russian intelligence operatives, contacts The Smoking Gun to take credit for hacking the DNC.

June 27th, 2016: First hacked DNC emails posted to “DCLeaks” website.

July 11th-12th, 2016: Trump campaign officials intervene to remove language calling for providing Ukraine with lethal aid against Russian intervention is Crimea and eastern Ukraine. It is, reportedly, the only significant Trump campaign intervention in the platform in which the Trump campaign has allowed activists a free hand.

July 12th, 2016: Official publication date, The Field of Fight by Michael Flynn and Michael Ledeen.

July 22, 2016: Wikileaks releases first tranche of DNC emails dating from January 2015 to May 2016.

July 27th, 2016: Donald Trump asks Russia to hack Clinton’s email to find 33,000 alleged lost emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you can find the 33,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

August 1st, 2016: Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort denies Trump campaign changed GOP platform on Russia and Ukraine.

August 8th, 2016: Trump Advisor Roger Stone tells Southwest Broward Republican Organization “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.”

August 14th, 2016: The New York Times publishes story detailing handwritten ledgers showing “$12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau.”

August 17th, 2016: Nominee Donald Trump receives his first intelligence briefingwith Gen. Michael Flynn and Gov. Chris Christie in attendance.

August 19, 2016: Paul Manafort resigns from Trump campaign.

August 21, 2016: Trump advisor Roger Stone tweets: “Trust me, it will soon [sic] the Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

September 26th, 2016: Trump Russia-Europe Policy Advisor Carter Page steps down from campaign while disputing allegations that he engaged in private communications with Russian government officials. A Yahoo News article from three days earlier reported that US intelligence officials were probing whether he met privately with Russian officials in Moscow in July, including an alleged meeting with close Putin ally Igor Sechin, Chairman of Russian oil company Rosneft.

September 26th, 2016: At first presidential debate, Donald Trump casts doubt on Russian role in hacking campaign: “It could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

October 7, 2016: A “Joint Statement from the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence” officially accuses the Russian government of being behind hacking of the DNC “to interfere with the US election process.”

October 7, 2016: Wikileaks releases first batch of Podesta emails – one hour after release of Access Hollywood Trump tape.

October 12th, 2016: Stone says he has been in contact with Assange through an intermediary.

October 30th, 2016: In response to FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress about new developments in the Clinton email server probe, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid writes a public letter to Comey in which he claims: “In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.”

December 9th, 2016: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) hand delivers a selection of memos(aka ‘the Steele dossier’) to FBI Director James Comey.

December 29th, 2016: President Barack Obama outlines a wave a sanctions and expulsions of Russian diplomat in response to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.

December 29th, 2016: Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov vows retaliation for sanctions.

December 29th, 2016: Incoming National Security Michael Flynn has multiple phone conversations with Russian Sergey Kislyak. It is later reported that the calls covered US sanctions and suggestions that Obama’s punitive actions could be undone in a matter of weeks. Trump administration officials had repeatedly denied that the conversations involved more than pleasantries and logistics about future meetings.

December 29th-30th, 2016: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announces preliminary plans to expel American diplomats.

December 30th, 2016: Russian President Vladimir Putin says he will not retaliate against sanctions and expulsions but await presidency of Donald Trump.

January 19th, 2017: The New York Times reports that the FBI is leading an interagency task force probing ties between Russia and three close Trump associates: Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone.

January 26th, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and a senior intelligence official visit to White House Counsel Donald McGahn to deliver the message that National Security Advisor Flynn has deceived the Vice President about the subject matter of his calls and may be subject to Russian blackmail.

February 13th, 2017: Michael Flynn resigns as National Security Advisor.

Collusion, Baby!

With a few days off for breathless recovery, the Trump-Russia collusion scandal has been a steady stream of bombshells.

A bug one dropped yesterday: Donald Trump Jr (a minor player up until this point) met with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer to acquire damaging information about Hillary Clinton in June 2016 at Trump Tower in New York City. On Saturday, Trump Jr. said the meeting was about the issue of US adoptions of Russian children and not the campaign.

However, in March, Trump Jr. claimed he never met with any Russians while working in a campaign capacity. The meeting – attended by Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner – was disclosed when Kushner filed a revised form in order to obtain a security clearance. Manafort also recently disclosed the meeting, and Trump Jr.’s role in organizing it, to congressional investigators looking into his foreign contacts.

Trump Jr. tried to downplay his meeting while hiring a lawyer to represent him in the Russia probe. He tweeted that “obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent.” He added that there was “no inconsistency” in his two statements, saying the meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions  (specifically, the Magnitsky Act — sanctions against Russia which prevented adoptions from Russia to the US). Trump Jr. hired Alan Futerfas, a criminal defense attorney that’s represented organized crime and cybercrime cases. I know Alan a little bit, and I know his wife Bettina (who is apparently also on the defense team) very very well from my days as an NYC attorney.

The New York Times had the actual emails from Rob Goldstone, a promoter, who set the meeting up, so this morning, Don Trump Jr. tweeted them all in a pre-emptive attempt to show how stupid he is.

The Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, denied in an interview with NBC News having ever acted on behalf of the Russian government.
And despite Goldstone’s promises, both Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr. say the lawyer offered no consequential information on Clinton.

First, Trump Jr’s statement:

He is basically saying this didn’t matter because it was before hacking and who cared if Russia was an enemy threatening our allies and engaging in human rights abuses and invading Ukraine.

Now the emails in reverse chron order:

Note: Kushner and Manafort were cc’d. They already knew about it.

A bit of a sting to many journalists:

Fallout is serious and you know this for two reasons:

(1)  President Trump has not tweeted about this AT ALL

(2) The Dow took a 100 point hit as soon as Don Jr released the emails:

 

List of Shifting Stories On Russia Meetings

With the revelation this weekend that Trump Jr met with Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, things are starting to fray.  For their insistence that there is nothing to the Russian collusion scandal, there does seem to be an odd history of people in this administration forgetting Russia meetings.

Yeah, we need to keep these things in a list now.  Here’s a list of the times Trump campaign and/or administration officials have changed their stories (or where facts have since contradicted statements) about Russian interactions.

  • In January, during the transition, incoming vice president Mike Pence asked incoming national security adviser Mike Flynn if Flynn had been in contact with the Russians regarding sanctions against the country in late December by the outgoing Obama administration. On January 15, Pence said on CBS’s Face the Nation that Flynn had not discussed these sanctions with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, in late December. Flynn later admitted that he and Kislyak had discussed the sanctions, and also that the two had had more conversations during the transition than he had previously told Pence.
  • On the same Face the Nation appearance, Pence categorically denied that anyone in the Trump campaign had “any contact with the Russians.”
  • In March the New Yorker reported that Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn had met with Kislyak at Trump Tower in early December in order to create “a more open line of communication in the future,” according to the White House. The Washington Post reported in May that Kislyak reported on his Kushner-Flynn meeting, which took place on either December 1 or December 2, to his superiors in Russia in a communication intercepted by U.S. intelligence. Kislyak told Moscow Kushner had discussed the idea of “setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities.” The White House did not comment on this report.
  • Kushner’s meeting with Kislyak was among several meetings with Russian officials the 36-year-old White House aide did not disclose on a form he filled out to receive a security clearance. (Another transition-era meeting was with the head of a Russian state-owned bank.)
  • During his confirmation hearing on January 10, soon-to-be attorney general Jeff Sessions was asked what he would do if there were “any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign.” Sessions responded that he was unaware of any such activities and that in his own role on the campaign he “did not have communications with the Russians.”
  • But it was quickly discovered that Sessions had met Sergey Kislyak twice since endorsing Trump for president in February 2016. The first was a brief encounter after an event at which Sessions was speaking at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The second was on September 8 in Sessions’ Capitol Hill office. Sessions defenders noted that the first encounter was a talk with several ambassadors, of which Kislyak was just one, and that the second was listed on the Alabama senator’s public schedule and a reasonable meeting for a member of the Senate Armed Services committee to hold.

Since we’re keeping lists, here’s a helpful timeline:

The Time Chelsea Snarked Back

With so much else going on, this happened too:

If all Ivanka did was hold the President’s seat at the G20 session for 20 minutes, no big deal.  Of course, I don’t think anyone else is making a big deal of it either, except those (like Trump himself) who would rather have the topic be about anything OTHER than Russian collusion (which is why Trump tweeted about this at all).

And by the way, Chelsea, with a PhD in international relations would actually be more qualified to sit in that G20 seat than Ivanka, or even the President himself.  Just saying.

Get Your Head In The Game!

At this week’s G-20 summit in Germany, one subject the world’s most powerful leaders are discussing is why Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman did not cooperate with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials as they investigated cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee, President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter this morning.

He did not explain why Podesta, who did not work for the DNC, would have been responsible for its email server.

Also, it is very unlikely that people were discussing this at the G20.

Podesta responded by Twitter (read from the bottom up)

:

Pretty insane what is on Trump’s mind.

And God knows he and Putin are discussing. The meeting is between the two men, Tillerson, a Putin cabinet member, and the translators.

There’s no way Trump “wins” this meeting with Putin, which is probably why Trump wants as few leaks as possible.

Here are the possible outcomes as I see it:

(1)  Trump makes no promises or offers about anything, because he knows he is hamstrung by domestic politics. Putin can conclude that Trump is therefore weak.

(2) Trump can agree to work with Putin despite a list of Russian transgressions beginning with the annexation of Crimea and ending with its interference in the 2016 presidential election. Putin can claim that he reconstructed the relationship, again emerging as the stronger of the two.

And then of course, Trump can commit all kinds of faux pas, reveal top secret information, etc. (like before).  Also a win for Putin.

Let’s be real – Putin has years of experience and he has a set of talking points and a strategy. Trump is winging it, literally.  This will not go well.

UPDATE:

We’re doomed.

UPDATE #2:

It lasted 2 and a half hours.

I expect any moment an announcement that Alaska is now Russian territory.

UPDATE #3:

And already, Russia and U.S. are contradicting each other about what happened.

CNN’s Jeff Zelny:

But Lavrov (Russian foreign minister) seems to be emphasizing something else.

Then there’s this:

UPDATE #4:

And now this….

The problem is, Lavrov echoes what Trump says in public, so he’s more believable.

We’re screwed in 2018.

BONUS:

U.S. Government Ethics Chief Resigns

Because of course.

Being the ethics chief in the Trump Administration must be a thankless and busy job.  And clearly, Shaub took a swipe at Trump in the second paragraph there.

Shaub clashed with the White House over and over again regarding financial conflicts of interest, Kellyanne Conway promoting Ivanka’s jewelry, Hatch Act violations, etc.  He was always ignored.

Shaub will leave the agency this month to take up his new position as a senior director for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, a nonpartisan group that advocates campaign finance reform and litigates voting rights cases. Mr. Shaub will have more freedom to comment on the government’s ethics program and propose changes to it.  I’m sure we will hear from him.

Trump Doesn’t Consider Intelligence Agencies To Be On His Team

This is a very interesting exchange between a reporter and President Trump in Poland earlier today:

Note Trump’s response to Hallie Jackson.  He notes the reports that 17 intelligence agencies said it was Russia who did the hacking.  He then says “We looked into that, and there are only 3 intelligence agencies.”

I will get to the substance of what Trump said in a moment, but first — note his phrasing.  Who is “we”?  Obviously, not the intelligence agencies.  Apparently, over 5 months into his term, Trump considers his “team” to be his and his aides, not the executive branch, not the American people. That’s a stunning admission.

It is true that only 4 intelligence agencies said Russia did the hacking and even the NY Times had to retract a story that said “17”.  But don’t me mislead by that.  The other 13 (like the Office of Naval Intelligence) didn’t contradict — they just didn’t investigate because it wasn’t in their wheelhouse.

Who made the conclusion? Only the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  The BIG four.

Seems pretty stupid to be dismissive of their conclusions.

But remember, this all took place in Poland, where Trump is at the G20.  Quite simply, he mocked U.S. intelligence services in front of the whole world by suggesting that he doesn’t believe their reports on Russian interference by comparing it to this:

“When I was sitting back listening about Iraq … Weapons of mass destruction, how everybody was 100 percent sure,” Trump said. “They were wrong and it led to a mess.”

I think we all get it. He needs to preserve the integrity of his election and protect himself against whatever it is that Vladimir Putin has on him.  Or maybe it is just insecurity. But whatever it is, he’s willing to trash the United States of America on the world stage in order to do so. I can think of nothing more contemptible.

Did CNN Blackmail The Trump/CNN Wrestling GIF Creator?

This is a 21st century story.  Future historians won’t be able to make sense of this.

So after Trump tweeted a GIF of himself in his days as an occasional WWE character tackling and beating a wrestler with the CNN logo edited onto his face….

… CNN found the Reddit user who initially created the image.  The same Reddit user, named HanAssholeSolo by the way, previously posted pictures of CNN staff with Stars of David next to their heads and the text “Something strange about CNN…can’t quite put my finger on it.”

The user apologized after CNN published the story saying they knew his identity.

The apology ended with a call for peace: “This is one individual that you will not see posting hurtful or hateful things in jest online. This is my last post from this account and I wanted to do it on a positive note and hopefully it will heal the controversy that this all caused.”

It didn’t.  

Why not? Because CNN said they wouldn’t publish his name due to his remorse, but that “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

Trumpers said the apology was essentially forced by CNN’s “blackmail”. #CNNBlackmail was the top trending Twitter topic this morning, thanks to the efforts of a furious Trump Internet, who had concluded that HanAssholeSolo’s apology was forced by a “threat” from CNN.  The (untrue) news being circulated by Trumpers is that the meme creator is a 15 year old kid (CNN has confirmed that he is a grown man).

There is, I suppose, an ethical question of whether a news outlet should withhold the identity of a private citizen who posted extremely offensive things online on the apparent condition that they behave better in the future. CNN said there has been no agreement with the man at all, but Trumpers insist the “extortion” is inferred.  I personally don’t have a problem with it.

Sure, the optics of it look bad. It looks like a multi-billion dollar corporation is dangling a potentially damaging story over a private individual unless he cooperates is where the network runs into trouble. Were CNN to simply explained why it wasn’t publishing the identity of the user, without adding a caveat that the network “reserves the right” to change its mind later, this wouldn’t have been a story.

But as Think Progress says:

First things first: Posting things online that you don’t want associated with your name—whether because they are stupid, racist, or just plain embarrassing—is generally not a great idea. Only the most careful of internet users can avoid detection by online sleuths, and there is no right to privacy if you are posting things publicly.

Secondly, racists, sexists, anti-Semites and other bigots are not entitled to anonymity just because they are private citizens. Most trolls aren’t as lucky as HanAssholeSolo: Their names are typically plastered across the internet, and quickly find themselves out of a job and unemployable by anyone with enough wherewithal to run a Google search on applicants. Employers—to say nothing of friends and family—arguably have a right to know about an individual’s judgment in widely sharing their personal beliefs online.

There is some irony here, considering that President Donald Trump himself was recently accused of blackmailing MSNBC personalities Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski (an accusation that seems to have the left some trolls unmoved).

But the meme that Trump supporters have picked up and spread is a mix of fact and fiction, and it seems an odd thing for Trumpers to hang their hat on.  Not only are the hostile toward actual REAL news, but they are hostile when actual REAL news exposes those who are hostile.  These people do not like the light.

This should be the final word:

It’s Not Just The President That Sucks: It’s The Institution He Is Degrading

This NY op-ed is timely.  We should remember that this is not merely a bad president, but one who is destroying the institution and norms.  It comes on a day when another publication, The Hill, informs that 70% of the U.S. population believes that civility has gotten WORSE since Trump took office.  It comes on a day after a weekend where the President of the United States tweeted a fake memed WWF video of “himself” wrestling CNN to the ground (actually, another person with the CNN logo digitally imposed on his head).  The original tweet game from an anti-Semitic Reddit user.  This and other things has caused writer Charles Blow to acknowledge that the presidency has been hijacked:

Every now and then we are going to have to do this: Step back from the daily onslaughts of insanity emanating from Donald Trump’s parasitic presidency and remind ourselves of the obscenity of it all, registering its magnitude in its full, devastating truth.

There is something insidious and corrosive about trying to evaluate the severity of every offense, trying to give each an individual grade on the scale of absurdity. Trump himself is the offense. Everything that springs from him, every person who supports him, every staffer who shields him, every legislator who defends him, is an offense. Every partisan who uses him — against all he or she has ever claimed to champion — to advance a political agenda and, in so doing, places party over country, is an offense.

We must remind ourselves that Trump’s very presence in the White House defiles it and the institution of the presidency. Rather than rising to the honor of the office, Trump has lowered the office with his whiny, fragile, vindictive pettiness.

The presidency has been hijacked.

Last week, when Donald Trump attacked two MSNBC hosts, people were aghast. The condemnation came quickly and from all quarters.

But his words shouldn’t have shocked. His tweet was just another pebble on a mountain of vulgarities. This act of coarseness was in fact an act of continuity. Trump was being Trump: the grossest of the gross, a profanity against propriety.

This latest episode is simply part of a body of work demonstrating the man’s utter contempt for decency. We all know what it will add up to: nothing.

Republicans have bound themselves up with Trump. His fate is their fate. They have surrendered any moral authority to which they once laid claim — rightly or not. If Trump goes down, they all do.

It’s all quite odd, this moral impotence, this cowering before the belligerent, would-be king. A madman and his legislative minions are holding America hostage.

There are no new words to express it; there is no new and novel way to catalog it. It is what it is and has been from day one: The most extraordinary and profound electoral mistake America has made in our lifetimes and possibly ever.

We must say without ceasing, and without growing weary by the redundancy, that what we are witnessing is not normal and cannot go unchallenged. We must reaffirm our commitment to resistance. We must always remember that although individual Americans made the choice to vote affirmatively for him or actively withhold their support from his opponent, those decisions were influenced, in ways we cannot calculate, by Russian interference in our election, designed to privilege Trump.

We must remember that we now have a president exerting power to which he may only have access because a foreign power hostile to our interests wanted him installed. We must remember that he has not only praised that foreign power, he has proven mysteriously averse to condemning it or even acknowledging its meddling.

We must remember that there are multiple investigations ongoing about the degree of that interference in our election — including a criminal investigation — and that those investigations are not constrained to collusion and are far from fake news. These investigations are deadly serious, are about protecting the integrity of our elections and the sovereignty of our country and are about a genuine quest for truth and desire for justice.

Every action by this administration is an effort to push forward the appearance of normality, to squelch scrutiny, to diminish the authority and credibility of the ongoing investigations.

Last week, after a growing list of states publicly refused to hand over sensitive voter information to Trump’s ironic and quixotic election integrity commission, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasted the pushback as a “political stunt.”

But in fact the commission itself is the political stunt. The committee is searching for an illegal voting problem that doesn’t exist. Trump simply lied when he said that he would have won the popular vote were it not for millions of illegal votes. And then he established this bogus commission — using taxpayer money — to search for a truth that doesn’t exist, to try to prove right a lie that he should never have told.

This commission is classic Trump projection: There is a real problem with the integrity of our last election because the Russians helped power his win, but rather than deal with that very real attack on this country, he is instead tilting at windmills concerning in-person voter fraud.

Last week, CNN reported:

“The Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Multiple senior administration officials said there are few signs the president is devoting his time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.”

Donald Trump is depending on people’s fatigue. He is banking on your becoming overwhelmed by his never-ending antics. He is counting on his capacity to wear down the resistance by sheer force.

We must be adamant that that will never come to pass. Trump is an abomination, and a cancer on the country, and none of us can rest until he is no longer holding the reins of power.

Truth.