Document Dump: Cohen Sentencing Memos From Mueller and SDNY

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels & Karen McDougal Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Mueller’s recommendation for Cohen’s sentencing:

and the SDNY’s recommendation, which is far less kinder than Mueller’s:

Right now, it really looks like Trump aka Individual-1 has a huge problem not with Mueller (although we know Mueller holds his cards close to the vest), but with his own DOJ.  Campaign finance violations.  Illegal, and if he directed it, potentially fatal.

White House Shake-Ups And Shenanigans

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Trump started today with an anti-Mueller screed — something he started on last night.

He just sounds like a crazy old man.

He’s feeling the pressure.  More Mueller stuff expected today.  And the Kelly-Trump breakdown is complete — they aren’t even talking, and Kelly is expected to go.  Yeah, yeah. We have heard that before. But multiple outlets are reporting it.

Axios reports:

West Wing officials widely believe that chief of staff John Kelly’s departure is imminent and that Nick Ayers, chief of staff to Vice President Pence, will replace him. As we reported right after the midterms, Ayers’ backers have been telling the president he has the sharp political instincts to remake the West Wing to better combat the hazards ahead. Jared and Ivanka have boosted him. But he has a number of detractors who have been trying to convince the president he’d be a disaster.

CNN reports:

Seventeen months in, Kelly and President Donald Trump have reached a stalemate in their relationship and it is no longer seen as tenable by either party. Though Trump asked Kelly over the summer to stay on as chief of staff for two more years, the two have stopped speaking in recent days.

The expected departure would end a tumultuous tenure for Kelly, who was brought on to bring order to the White House but whose time as chief of staff has often been marked by the same infighting and controversy that has largely defined Trump’s presidency from its beginning. Many of the storms in which Kelly became embroiled were by his own making.

But, it seems we have an AG in line:

UPDATE:  Whoops. Forgot this one.

Now he’s just being an asshole for the attention.

UPDATE: Oh, now we know why Trump and Kelly aren’t talking….

White House chief of staff John Kelly was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in recent months, three people with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

Kelly responded to a narrow set of questions from special counsel investigators after White House lawyers initially objected to Mueller’s request to do the interview earlier this summer, the sources said. Kelly is widely expected to leave his position in the coming days and is no longer on speaking terms with President Donald Trump, CNN reported earlier Friday.

Kelly is the latest high-ranking White House official known to provide information for Mueller’s investigation, though his interview marks a departure of sorts since Kelly didn’t join the White House until July 2017. Most of the dozens of other interviews have been with people who were associated with the Trump campaign, were part of the transition or served in the early part of the administration.

Still, it could be worse….

Oh, and the Dow is down another 550 today, after weak monthly news indicating an economic slowdown.

UPDATE — Aaaaand now the playground antics continue.

Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who earlier today declared (on video) that his former boss is undisciplined, won’t read anything, much less his press briefings, and had to be talked about committing “illegal acts” multiple times.  According to Tillerson, “So often, the president would say here’s what I want to do & here’s how I want to do it and I would have to say to him, Mr. President I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.”

I guess Trump heard about it, because he responded —

Jesus Christ. Rex Tillerson was chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the most powerful industry titans in the world.  Couldn’t be THAT dumb, using Trump’s metric.

Also, Trump HIRED him.

This week’s damage: The Dow fell 1,150 points. Down 4.5% for the week.

“Shaken Us To The Core”

Ken AshfordElection 2018, Local Interest, Voter SuppressionLeave a Comment

What is happening in NC-9 even has Republicans upset.

Yesterday, Dallas Woodhouse, Executive Director of the North Carolina Republican Party,  and the North Carolina GOP were calling for the results to be certified.

But that’s different now….

TPM:

Of particular concern is an absentee voting operation apparently run by a local operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless, who was reportedly working as a contractor for a consulting firm hired by Harris’ campaign. Dowless is accused of paying workers to pick up absentee ballots it certain areas of the county. North Carolina law only allows the voters themselves or their close relatives to turn in their mail-in ballots.
A congressional candidate for whom Dowless reportedly worked in 2016 also performed extremely well in absentee voting, despite finishing third in the race.

Dowless has denied any wrongdoing, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Some of the Bladen County residents who believe they were approached by the workers told reporters that they didn’t request the absentee ballots they were sent and were asked to hand over the ballots for the workers to submit. Others reported turning over their absentee ballots to the workers, only to find out later from election officials that the ballot was never submitted to the state.

While state investigators continue their probe, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — who is likely to become House Speaker in January — has suggested that the House might not seat Harris if questions about his election remain.

Woodhouse in his email Thursday acknowledged this possibility, while discussing a possible delay in the certification if the board can’t come to a final conclusion this month.

“While this is a horrible outcome for the more than 750,000 people who would be unrepresented in Congress, that is already likely because U.S. House Democratic leadership have already said they are unlikely to seat Mr. Harris,” he said.

Related: The NC GOP paid 17K to the consulting group that employed McCrae Dowless, the convicted felon at the center of the controversy

UPDATE —

More Plunging

Ken AshfordEconomy & Jobs & Deficit, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The Dow closed down 799 points on Tuesday after it appeared that there really was no China trade deal like Trump said. Yesterday, the market was closed due to Bush 41’s funeral (in which it became all about Trump, because as everyone eulogized Bush 41, it was obvious that these were things nobody would say at Trump’s funeral.)

And do how about today?

That coincides with other bad economic news:

Let’s quote our president now: “Trade wars are good and easy to win”

UPDATE — it’s almost 9:50 am and stocks are rebounding a little. Still down 380 points. Dow is at 24674.90.  It started the year at 24824.01.

UPDATE #2 — Last hour rebound saves the day. Only down less than 79, but talk about volatility!

The Lame Duck Power Grabs

Ken AshfordElection 2018, Local Interest, Republicans, Voter SuppressionLeave a Comment

The entire country is witness to the blatant attempts by Republicans to break the rules — or worse — change them, in the interests of maintaining power despite the will of the people. It is brazen and in the open. It is happening in this state (again) and now in Michigan and Wisconsin.

A Slate article sums it up:

In 2012, North Carolina Republicans won a “trifecta” of legislative and executive power. They used their newfound power to aggressively gerrymander the electoral map and impose new restrictions on voting. In 2016, Democrats reversed those gains, narrowly toppling incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory—and the GOP Legislature responded by stripping the incoming executive of key powers and privileges. Before Democrats took their seats, Republicans ended the governor’s control of election boards, withdrew the office’s ability to make appointments to the state school board and the University of North Carolina’s Board of Trustees, slashed the overall number of jobs appointed by the governor from 1,500 to 300, and made Cabinet nominations subject to state Senate approval.
Rather than accept the will of the voters, who empowered the new governor to take the reins of the state government, Republicans entrenched their influence and undermined gubernatorial authority in an effort to avoid and undermine democratic accountability.

At the time, this anti-democratic maneuvering appeared exceptional to North Carolina. But in the wake of major Democratic victories in the 2018 midterm elections, it seems it was the canary in the coal mine.


Democrats won important victories in Republican-controlled Midwestern states that backed Donald Trump for president, in many instances, flipping the control of state legislatures. Democrats in Michigan won close races for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state while Democrats in Wisconsin won races for governor—sweeping incumbent Scott Walker out of office—and attorney general. Instead of allowing power to shift without contest, Republicans in both states are now fighting rear-guard actions to strip authority from these offices, using “lame duck” sessions to launch what are effectively legislative coup d’états.

In Wisconsin, GOP lawmakers have advanced bills to sharply limit the power of the incoming governor, Tony Evers. The measures will restrict his ability to run public benefits programs and curb his authority to set rules on the implementation of state laws. They’ve also placed a legislative veto on any effort to ban guns from the state capitol and ended gubernatorial control over the Walker-created agency that uses taxpayer-funded loans and subsidies to attract outside businesses.


Republicans have also planned an attack on the attorney general’s office. They’ve eliminated the (recently created) office of the solicitor general, established a new legislative power to intervene in any litigation challenging a state law (even allowing lawmakers to hire their own lawyers, at taxpayer expense, to undermine the attorney general), given legislators control over money from court settlements, and given the legislature’s budget committee, rather than the attorney general, the right to decide on continued legal action against the Affordable Care Act. The scope of these changes is a sign of the state GOP’s confidence in its ability to hold the Legislature—confidence that stems from the party’s extreme partisan gerrymandering that has created a firewall such that Republicans can resist anything short of a tsunami of opposition. To that end, Wisconsin Republicans also want new limits on early voting.

It’s an almost identical situation in Michigan, where Democrats have captured all three statewide offices—governor, attorney general, and secretary of state—for the first time in 28 years. There, Republican lawmakers have introduced several lame-duck proposals for wresting power from incoming Democratic officeholders. First is a bill that would allow the legislature to intervene in any legal proceedings involving state laws that the governor and attorney general may be reluctant to defend. A separate proposal would shift oversight of campaign finance law from the secretary of state to a six-person commission with members nominated by the state Republican and Democratic parties, a move that would produce deadlock in handling those issues, likely entrenching a status quo shaped by Republican officials.

Even the best defense of these moves—that they are simply an effort to protect the gains and accomplishments of the previous majority—accepts the anti-democratic reasoning that an outgoing majority is not bound by the results of an election, and instead has the right to change the rules of the game to preserve its power.

The peaceful uncontested transfer of power is the cornerstone of representative democracy—the critical moment where we see if political actors have embraced the spirit of cooperation and adherence to the rules that make self-government possible. There are laws for how we accomplish the orderly transfer of power, but the moment itself, the choice of a party or politician to honor to the will of the voters, is an act of democratic faith—a statement of belief in the American idea. It’s why Donald Trump earned wide condemnation when he hinted, during the 2016 election, that he would not concede the election in the event of a loss to Hillary Clinton. To reject the outcome of a fair election is to directly undermine the entire democratic project.

Republicans in Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina haven’t gone as far as to challenge the results of their respective elections, but their actions, which serve to hamstring the incoming body of duly elected officials, are movement in that direction. In national politics, Republican lawmakers are openly questioning the legitimacy of the Democratic House of Representatives victory, casting ordinary acts—the counting of ballots—as potentially insidious. Indeed, much of the Republican Party has already embraced voter suppression, extreme gerrymandering, and other methods to preserve legislative majorities in the face of popular opposition. The lame-duck power grab is just a natural next step.
For all the attention on Donald Trump as a threat to American democracy, it’s these actions—from ordinary, almost anonymous, Republican politicians, uncontested by anyone of influence in the party—that are much more ominous. It’s one thing to jockey for partisan advantage, it’s something much more dangerous to treat democracy like a game of Calvinball, where the rules only count when they suit your interests.

Calvinball.

It might succeed too, but I can’t believe it will endear the Republican party to future generations.  It reeks of desperation — a flailing stab from a dying party.

The Flynn Sentencing Memo

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

A lot of energy was spent by the media in anticipation of the sentencing memo form General Michael Flynn which was filed in court yesterday. Such memos from the Office of the Special Counsel often offer insight into the state of the Mueller investigation, and what Mueller knows.

Not this time.

The heavily redacted documents provide no such insight.

The Special Counsel’s office notes that Flynn has been helpful not only to its ongoing Trump-Russia investigation, but for another unknown criminal investigation as well.  But we don’t know the extent of his involvement or how he helped in either of those things.

In other words, not much there….

…unless you read between the lines. And that might spell trouble for Jared Kushner.

There is a portion of the memo covering “interactions between the transition team and Russia” that is completely redacted, leaving some bread crumbs for speculation. Keeping in mind that the memo specifically references the transition, it is helpful to remember what we know about Flynn’s activities during that time period. Reuters touched on the issue in May 2017:

Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters…

Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.

Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.

A couple of weeks later, the Washington Post reported this:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

We also know that in January 2017 – prior to Trump’s inauguration – Erik Prince (who worked closely with Michael Flynn during the transition) was dispatched to Seychelles for a clandestine meeting with Kirill Dmitriev to discuss a back channel line of communication between Russia and the Trump administration. That meeting was arranged and attended by George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who advises Crown Prince Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, and who is also cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

Given that one of Flynn’s main tasks during the transition period was to set up back channel communications between Trump and his Russian handlers that would bypass US intelligence services, it is very likely that the redacted portions of the sentencing memo are related to that endeavor. If so, Jared Kushner has reason to be very concerned.

Forget Mueller — Here’s Where The Action Lies

Ken AshfordPolitical Scandals, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

AP:

The attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland plan to file subpoenas seeking records from the Trump Organization, the Internal Revenue Service and dozens of other entities in their lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of profiting off the presidency.

The Maryland attorney general’s office confirmed the subpoena details to The Associated Press as they were being prepared on Tuesday.

Their case alleges that foreign and domestic government spending at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel amounts to gifts to the president in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clause.

The Justice Department has indicated it plans to appeal to a higher court. It declined to comment.

The subpoenas target more than 30 Trump-linked private entities and the federal agency that oversees the lease for Trump’s D.C. hotel, plus multiple federal agencies.

The Justice Department is doing Trump’s bidding here.

Stock Market Volatility Is Insane

Ken AshfordEconomy & Jobs & Deficit, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Down, up down, up wayy down, wayyy up.  If this was a roller coaster, everyone would be sick.

Yesterday the stock market surged, supposedly on news that a trade deal with China was in the works. Today, the stock market has plummeted 650  points (right now), supposedly on news that Trump lied about how likely a deal really is. If all this is actually true, it means that Wall Street investors are idiots. They can’t possibly still be taking Trump’s tweets at face value, can they?

There’s no telling, really. In any case, explanations of why the market has gone up or down on any particular day should always be taken with a shaker of salt. The more likely explanation is shown in this chart:

I’m no expert here, but I think the stock market wants to go down, but it gets artificially boosted by fake Trump news like the lifting of tariffs.  Savvy investors might realize that the news is bogus, but they believe that less savvy investors will buy into it (literally), so they start the boost, which in effect, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then everyone realizes it was a stupid buy, they cash in their short term profits, and sell.  

UPDATE: Dow closes down 791 points

And maybe, speaking of trade, Trump’s tweets this morning had something to do with the stock plunge and investor concerns:

Document Dump: Cohen Sentencing Memo

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The sentencing memo for Michael Cohen, written by his attorneys in the hopes that the judge will grant leniency (due to Cohen’s cooperation), is a trove of interesting tidbits.

Cohen, the brief takes pains to argue, is all in on cooperation. The brief begins with a lengthy recitation of Cohen’s cooperation, emphasizing the following key points:

  • “Beginning before the entry of his plea on August 21, 2018, and continuing thereafter through late November, Michael participated in seven voluntary interview meetings with the Special Counsel’s Office of the Department of Justice (‘SCO’). He intends to continue to make himself available to the SCO as and when needed for additional questioning. He also agreed to plead guilty to an additional count, namely, making false statements to Congress, based in part on information that he voluntarily provided to the SCO in meetings governed by a limited-use immunity proffer agreement.”
  • Cohen, his lawyers argue, has also voluntarily cooperated with the New York Attorney General’s office, in connection with its “state court action in which the NYAG has sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation and certain individual defendants, including Donald J. Trump” and another matter; he has also cooperated, his lawyers say, with New York tax authorities.
  • What’s more, he is cooperating under difficult circumstances. The president is attacking the investigation, Cohen’s lawyer’s argue, and he is attacking Cohen too. “In the context of this raw, full-bore attack by the most powerful person in the United States, Michael, formerly a confidante and adviser to Mr. Trump, resolved to cooperate, and voluntarily took the first steps toward doing so even before he was charged in this District,” the memo argues. In an obvious effort to contrast their client with Manafort, Cohen’s lawyers write that Cohen “took these steps, moreover, despite regular public reports referring to the President’s consideration of pardons and pre-pardons in the SCO’s investigation.”

Interestingly, the memo also answers the question of why Cohen’s initial plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York did not include a formal cooperation provision with that office or with the special counsel.

Cohen’s lawyers state in the sentencing memo that their client “respectfully declined to pursue conventional cooperation” to avoid the delay in his sentencing that would result from such an agreement, in order to get a faster start on the process of rebuilding his life post-sentencing. Such delays should be familiar to observers of L’Affaire Russe who have watched Michael Flynn’s sentencing date be pushed back five times as Flynn cooperates with Mueller. By contrast, Cohen is going to sentencing very quickly after his plea.

Cohen’s legal team emphasizes that “[t]his personal decision does not signal any intention on Michael’s part to withhold information or his availability to respond to additional inquiry. To the contrary, he expects to cooperate further.” In other words, the special counsel’s office—and the many other prosecutors to whom Cohen is providing information—need not worry that Cohen will cease cooperating with once he receives his sentence, his lawyers stress. He was cooperating before his plea. And he’ll keep cooperating afterwards.

On the substance, the memo suggests that Cohen has had a lot to say to prosecutors, especially about the conduct of the president of the United States. The memo goes out of its way to emphasize just how much of Cohen’s criminal conduct is traceable either to direct instructions from Donald Trump or to overzealous assistance of him. “Michael regrets,” his lawyers write,” that his vigor in promoting Client-1’s interests in the heat of political battle led him to abandon good judgment and cross legal lines.” (If anyone had any doubt as to the identity of “Client-1,” a footnote detailing “Michael’s loyal service to his famous former client” quotes a friend of Cohen’s describing Cohen’s “loyalty to Mr. Trump.”)

As the memo describes it, Cohen acted directly on Trump’s instructions in coordinating agreements and payoffs to “Woman-1” and “Woman-2” (identified  when Cohen pleaded guilty in August as Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels by the New York Times, among others) to prevent both women from going public with information on their sexual relationships with Trump. This is further confirmation of what Cohen said in court while pleading guilty in August: that he had made these arrangements “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.” While the August criminal information itself did not allege coordination with Trump personally, the memo states that Cohen “participated in planning discussions with Client-1 and the Chairman and CEO of Corporation-1” regarding the arrangement with Karen McDougal, in which Cohen helped convince McDougal to sell her story to a tabloid that then refused to publish it. The memo also states that Cohen “made a payment to the lawyer for Woman-2 in coordination with and at the direction of Client-1, and others within the Company.” And it says explicitly that Cohen’s reimbursements for the Stormy Daniels payment, which were arranged so they would appear to be payments for invoiced legal fees, were coordinated “with the approval of Client-1.”

In what is perhaps good news for the president, the memo’s language regarding Trump changes when it begins to describe Cohen’s false statements to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow Project. Rather than characterizing Cohen as acting on Trump’s direction, Cohen’s lawyers write that their client lied in order “to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging”—messaging that they describe Cohen as picking up from public statements by the president and his supporters, rather than any private discussions, though they do write that “Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1.”

Presumably, if Cohen’s lawyers had any information that Cohen lied to Congress at Trump’s specific direction or with his or his family’s active encouragement, they would have shared it here—as they did in the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal cases. So it seems notable that they declined to do so.

Here then, the memo:

Trump Doing Deals With Russia — A Timeline

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

While Trump pursued financial dealings with Russia that he kept concealed from voters, Trump publicly absolved Russia of blame for DNC hack.Then he called on Russia to hack Hillary’s emails.

But over the weekend, the legal team working for Michael Cohen, President Trump’s estranged fixer and personal lawyer, filed a new document requesting leniency, now that Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress to conceal efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow that continued at least into June 2016, around when Trump clinched the nomination. The new filing says Cohen was in “close and regular contact” with White House advisers and Trump’s legal team while he prepared to lie to Congress — raising the possibility that they were actively consulted on this plan.

Why would Cohen want to conceal that timeline, which Trump, too, lied about? Because as Democrats pointed out on the Sunday shows, revealing it would show that Trump was likely compromised, because the Russians knew that Trump had concealed that he had pursued lucrative financial dealings with Russia even as he publicly called for an end to sanctions on them, giving them potential leverage over him.

To get a sense of just how corrupt this really was, we need to look at those seven weeks. With the help of this great new timeline of the Russia scandal by The Washington Post’s fact-checking team, Glen Sargent isolated those key occurrences:

  • June 3, 2016: Donald Trump Jr. learns by email that Russians want to give the Trump campaign “very high level and sensitive information,” provided by the Russian government, that could “incriminate Hillary.” He responds: “If it’s what you say I love it.”
  • June 7: Donald Trump promises a “major speech” about “all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.” Trump sets the speech for the following week.
  • June 9: The meeting takes place, but by most accounts, nothing of value on Clinton is offered. Still, the fact that it did take place — and was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort — confirms the campaign’s eagerness to conspire with Russian attempts to interfere in the election on Trump’s behalf.
  • June 14-15: It becomes public, thanks to reporting in The Post and a statement from the cyber-sleuth firm hired by the Democratic National Committee, that Russian government hackers penetrated the DNC’s network.
  • June 15: Trump puts out a statement claiming that the DNC faked the hacking — in effect absolving Russia of any role.
  • July 22: WikiLeaks releases the stolen emails, shedding light on all sorts of embarrassing internal details involving Clinton and the DNC.
  • July 24-25: Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. both once again absolve Russia of any blame for the hack. Trump Jr. dismisses the idea as a “lie,” and his father dismisses it as a “joke.”
  • July 26: Donald Trump tweets that he has “ZERO investments in Russia.” According to BuzzFeed News, the Russian-born developer working on the project takes this as the signal that the deal isn’t going to happen.
  • July 27: Trump says this about Clinton’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” By coincidence or not, that same day, according to an indictment filed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Russian intelligence tried to hack Clinton’s personal servers.

One of the big unknowns of this whole affair remains whether Trump himself was informed of the Trump Tower meeting at the time. His vow of a “major speech” suggests he might have been. This is now potentially more serious: Trump might have known that the Russian government was trying to sabotage our election and then after this kept up his pursuit of a lucrative real estate deal in Moscow (one that according to Cohen’s plea agreement involved direct talks with Putin’s office) that he kept concealed.

It seems hard to believe that Don Jr and/or Cohen did not inform Trump about the upcoming meeting. Indeed, we know that Don Jr. made a phone call to an unlisted number just after the meeting.

But as Sargent concludes:

It remains to be seen whether Mueller will establish a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign that amounts to criminality. But whatever is to be on that front, we now know that not only does this confluence of political and financial self-dealing with a foreign adversary appear much worse than we thought, but also Trump actively tried to keep it concealed by denying its existence.

As Vladeck put it: “If there are innocuous explanations for why these things were all happening at the same time, what are they?”

Indeed.

Yup. There IS Such A Thing As Voter Fraud In NC

Ken AshfordElection 2018, Local Interest, Republicans, Voter SuppressionLeave a Comment

TheWe may have to do a “do-over” in the North Carolina 9th Congressional District.

It is alleged that – shock! – Republicans cheated in order to prevent black voters from casting their ballots. But the cheating goes far beyond the everyday voter suppression rampant in red states.

It is alleged that those who wanted the Republican in the race to win, went door-to-door posing as election officials to collect absentee ballots from African-American senior citizens. Those ballots are now unaccounted for. Of course.

The New Yorker:

On Tuesday, the state’s Board of Elections—made up of four Democrats, four Republicans, and one Independent—which tabulates and verifies every vote in the weeks after an election, shocked North Carolina’s political establishment by voting unanimously not to certify [Republican Congressional Candidate] Harris’s win. “I’m very familiar with unfortunate activities that have been happening down in my part of the state,” Joshua Malcolm, the board’s vice-chairman and a Democratic resident of the Ninth District, said during the meeting. “I’m not going to turn a blind eye to what took place. To the best of my understanding, which has been ongoing for a number of years, that has been repeatedly referred to the United States Attorney and district attorneys to take action and clean it up.”

If this is proven true there are people who should go to prison for fraud.

Republicans are wanting to put this behind them

Roll Call reports:

Republicans in North Carolina are pressuring the state elections board there to certify the 9th District results, even as officials continue to investigate irregularities in absentee voting. Officials are collecting sworn statements from voters in Bladen and Robeson Counties about people who went door to door collecting absentee ballots, even if they were not complete. It is illegal for a third party to turn in absentee ballots. Other people who signed sworn affidavits have said they received absentee ballots in the mail even though they didn’t request them.

An unidentified woman has been implicated in the affidavits for illegally rounding up absentee ballots from voters at their doorsteps. In two of the sworn statements, Bladen County official Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., who has been wrapped up in previous allegations of voter fraud, has also been accused of wrongdoing. One of the signed affidavits alleges that Dowless worked for Harris and would receive a $40,000 bonus if he won.

Popular Information reports:

Typically, there would be a wide variety of witnesses for absentee ballots. A random assortment of voters chose to vote by mail-in absentee and then have family, friends or co-workers serve as witnesses.

The ballots obtained by Popular Information, however, show that a small group of people served as witnesses for these Bladen County ballots. Some of the witnesses signed more than 40 absentee envelopes.

Several of the witnesses are related to Leslie McCrae Dowless, the man at the center of the controversy who has previously been convicted of felony fraud. In 2016, McCrae Dowless admitted to running an operation where he paid people for each absentee ballot they were able to collect.

This isn’t going to be swept under the rug.

Aaaand We’re Back: Witness Tampering Before Our Very Eyes

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

After a relatively crazy week last week, tempered by the somberness of the death of former president Geroge H.W. Bush, and the quietness of Trump being at the G20 summit, he’s back again railing on what is clearly weighing heavy on his Mind: Bob Mueller.

First of all, who is Scott Free?

Whoops, as I write this, he added another….

That’s the President of the United States making a sentencing recommendation about an ongoing investigation where he is one of the individuals being investigated, while praising the “guts” of a witness who refuses to cooperate with authorities. The clear INTENT is to intimidate Stone and any other person considering of testifying against Trump. He’s telling them that “guts” will be rewarded, while he will use the full powers of his bully pulpit to get the harshest possible penalties for those who testify against him.

Here’s from Lawfare, which wrote about Trump’s witness tampering over the summer… because Trump has publicly engaged in witness tampering before:

First, encouraging witness misbehavior, unlike firing officials or directing the conduct of federal law enforcement, is not plausibly within the president’s Article II functions. In urging a potential witness not to cooperate with a federal investigation that touches on his own conduct, the president is much more like a normal citizen before the justice system and much less distinctive, as even those most skeptical of the application of obstruction laws to the president concede. “The president can obstruct justice,” Josh Blackman makes clear, even in arguing that he “cannot obstruct justice when he exercises his lawful authority that is vested by Article II of the Constitution.” Tampering with a witness is not a lawful authority vested in Trump by Article II.

Second, to the extent that Mueller appears to be considering a pattern of obstructive behavior that includes internal executive-branch management abuses and public communications about law enforcement officials, the additional element of public communications directed at a particular potential witness to encourage that person’s non-cooperation seems significant. Not only does it show that the aggregate pattern does not consist wholly of Article II-authorized behavior, it also widens the scope and breadth of the corrupt behavior at issue.


If Trump isn’t guilty of witness tampering then “witness tampering” laws are inoperative against the rest of us.

It’s such a different tactic than Nixon used. Nixon was concerned and wanted to get to the bottom of things (at least outwardly). Trump does not engage in that. He thinks people are out to get him, which wouldn’t worry an innocent man — even a paranoid innocent man.

Bu there we have it in three tweets. Disparaging those who have and reveal evidence, and praising those who withhold evidence. Seems like the president is nervous about what people know.

Trump seems to get agitated about things before we know what is going on, so this indicates another shoe is about to drop.

Or maybe he just picked up today’s USA Today in the hotel:

Mueller is building a conspiracy case that’s likely to ensnare Trump and his family

It appears that the Mueller investigation is reaching its endgame. After a two-month hiatus for the midterms, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is prepared to once again show its work. These developments are ominous for President Donald Trump. In short order, expect to see a case of conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election to be laid out in court. 
Defenders of the president have, despite the obvious progress of the Mueller investigation — more than 30 indictments or guilty pleas, including Trump’s campaign chairman, personal lawyer, national security adviser, deputy campaign manager and foreign policy adviser — consistently argued that “no collusion” has been proved. While it is true that the charges made public have not alleged conspiracy (there is no crime of “collusion”) it should be clear to all but the most obtuse by now that the endgame is drawing near. Mueller is laying out the predicate for a wide-ranging conspiracy case that will likely ensnare the president’s family and, quite likely, Trump himself.

Cohen’s plea on Thursday provides a key ingredient — motive. For those who long wondered why throughout the presidential campaign Trump could not bring himself to say a critical word about Russian President Vladimir Putin, we now know the answer: Trump was hoping to do business in Russia, and doing so would require the approval of Putin.
The putative Moscow project helps provide motive for Trump to have curried favor with Putin. And once Trump repeatedly and publicly denied having any business interests in Russia, Putin had leverage over Trump, because he knew this claim was an easily disprovable lie.    

Cohen’s disclosure exposes not just Trump as having lied about his business interests in Russia, it potentially also exposes his family as well. Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner have both testified before Congress. We know Trump Jr. was asked about his role in negotiations about building Trump Tower Moscow, and while a transcript of Kushner’s testimony has not been made public, it is hard to imagine that he was not also asked about the Trump Organization’s business ties to Russia. 

We now know that Cohen “briefed family members of” Trump about the progress of the venture. Did they testify truthfully about this? Mueller either knows or no doubt soon will find out.

The accumulation of evidence against the president seems to grow each week. Already facing potential charges of obstructing justice, Trump gave Mueller further ammunition this week when he publicly dangled the possibility of a presidential pardon for Paul Manafort, asking a reporter, “Why would I take it off the table?”

A better question is the one Mueller will likely ask: “Why would the president publicly dangle the possibility of a pardon in front of Paul Manafort, who Trump clearly fears will flip on him?” The answer is obvious, and it will likely add to the mountain of accumulating evidence of Trump’s intent to obstruct the investigation into his conduct, and will no doubt be included in Mueller’s final report.

Other shoes will almost certainly drop in the very near future. Mueller has informed the court that he will be filing a statement supporting his assertion that Manafort has repeatedly lied to the government while he was ostensibly cooperating with the Mueller team. Expect this filing to be detailed and fully supported by emails, phone and bank records, as well as other witness statements. 

This pleading could well provide Mueller the opportunity to do an “end run” around Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who many fear would have the ability to deep-six Mueller’s report, and report directly to the court — and the public — the complete case against Manafort. After all, to establish that Manafort has lied, Mueller will have to lay out in detail what was asked, what Manafort said, and why it is that Mueller believes the responses to be false.  

And so it goes.

UPDATE: He’s really on a roll….

As are the reactions….

Yes, that IS a signal, and isn’t that witness tampering?

Kellyanne Conway’s attorney husband thinks so….

UPDATE #2  Stone weighs in….

Lawfare responds:

Stone is wrong. Even if we believe his representations about having not been contacted, Stone is at an absolutely minimum aware of the existence of grand jury proceedings—whether investigators have contacted him personally isn’t legally relevant here. Additionally, to the extent Stone wants to brush up on his legal research, legislative history suggests that Congress specifically wrote § 1512 so as not to include any particular standard for who constitutes a “witness”—in fact, the statute refers only to “another person” or “any person.” The Second Circuit has held explicitly that § 1512(b) covers potential witnesses—even those who, as the earlier Lawfare group wrote, “have neither previously cooperated with the government nor expressed any intention or desire to cooperate.” And judging by his comments to the press, this would certainly seem to describe Stone.

Still, calling Trump’s tweets witness tampering is far from a slam dunk. Any prosecutor actually pursuing these charges would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump specifically intended to intimidate witnesses or dissuade them from testifying against him through his tweets. And there are many more questions raised by the potential application of § 1512(b) to the president’s statements, including whether the statute could be implicated by a publicly posted tweet and whether Trump’s “encouraging someone not to lie” at some point becomes an implicit promise of a pardon if that person stays strong, a fact pattern that would bear a resemblance to the promise of financial reward that the even Third and Ninth Circuits understand as “corrupt.” Interested readers can take a look at the August Lawfare piece for more on those issues as well.

Our colleagues concluded their article by noting that “Mueller’s prosecutors would be foolish to focus on the president’s comments about Manafort as a stand-alone obstruction matter” but that those comments “could form part of a larger obstructive pattern—a part that exists outside of the exercise of core Article II presidential functions.” We agree with that assessment as a practical matter, but there is a risk here of missing the trees for the the forest.

Yes, the president’s larger course of conduct is relevant to demonstrating his overall obstructive intent, and it helps smooth some of the edges of legal theories that don’t neatly apply to the exercise of Article II powers:  examining a larger pattern of behavior means there’s no need to get bogged down in the question of, for example, whether a president can obstruct justice by giving the FBI director an order that it is his constitutional prerogative to give. But wholly apart from the president’s larger course of conduct, discrete violations of criminal statutes are important for a number of reasons. The principle way a president defends the “rule of law,” after all, is by actually following the law. We’d suggest that the president attempting to influence witnesses in the broad daylight of Twitter is as significant a breach of his constitutional duty as it would be if he were to secretly promise pardons in private—both are, in and of themselves, impeachable offenses.

So there!

Weekly List 107

Ken AshfordWeekly ListLeave a Comment

This week started with escalations, both between Russia and Ukraine, and at the U.S.-Mexico border. Heartbreaking images and video surfaced from Tijuana of migrants from Central America, including women and children, some in diapers, being showered with tear gas from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. As Trump and the regime sought to justify the use of force, and Republicans remained almost universally silent, other condemned the action, including the Auschwitz Museum which invoked the uprise of Hitler. This, as data and reporting continues to point to a dangerous uptick in right-wing violence and acts of, and normalization of, hate.

This week the Mueller probe was center stage, as Trump stepped up his attacks to discredit Mueller ahead of the findings being released. The week started with focus on Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone as possible conduits between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. Until a bombshell Thursday, when Michael Cohen outlined in a plea agreement how he misled Congress about negotiating on the Trump Tower Moscow. Cohen said negotiations continued until June 2016, and that Trump and his children were also in the loop. Cohen’s documents made clear that other members of the regime, including Donald Jr., may have lied to Congress, and also called into question Trump’s written answers in the Mueller probe, submitted under oath in recent days, on his and his campaign’s contact with Russians.

  1. WAPO reported right-wing violence is on the rise. Terrorism researchers say the trend started with white anxiety about Obama’s presidency, and has accelerated in the era of Trump.
  2. From 2010 through 2017, 92 of the 263 incidents of domestic terrorism were committed by right-wing attackers. Researchers say at least 20 people have died so far in 2018 in suspected right-wing attacks.
  3. On Saturday, The Guardian reported the British Parliament used its legal powers to seize internal Facebook documents, including confidential emails between senior executives, and with CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
  4. The move is unprecedented. The documents allegedly contain significant revelations about Facebook decisions on data and privacy controls that led to Cambridge Analytica being able to collect user data.
  5. On Sunday, the Independent reported the U.K. High Court will rule as early as Christmas whether Brexit should be declared “void,” citing a legal case by the criminal investigation into Leave funder Arron Banks.
  6. The superintendent of the Baraboo School District told parents the district is “not in a position to punish” students who made an apparent Nazi salute in a prom photo, saying “we cannot know the intentions in the hearts.”
  7. The 10-day investigation involved local authorities, parents, and others. The letter states, “because of students’ First Amendment rights, the district is not in a position to punish the students for their actions.”
  8. Police in Alabama fatally shot Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., a 21 year-old Black man who formerly served in the U.S. Army, at a Birmingham mall, after they mistook him for the gunman in a mall shooting.
  9. On Monday, a day before the run-off race for senator in Mississippi, two nooses were found hanging from trees, along with six “hate signs” at the state Capitol in Jackson.
  10. Dallas Morning News reported Ro Lockett, a 28 year-old Black man shopping with a friend and their sons,was handcuffed outside a Stonebriar Centre store after being falsely accused of shoplifting.
  11. WAPO reported an autopsy of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a transgender asylum seeker, who died in ICE custody weeks after arriving in the U.S. from Honduras, revealed she was beaten while in custody.
  12. Hernandez was part of a group of migrants that arrived in early May as she tried to escape violence she faced as a transgender woman. Transgender Law Center, on behalf of her family, plans to file a lawsuit.
  13. On Wednesday, AP reported the Trump regime has waived FBI checks on 2,100 caregivers and short-staffing mental health workers, putting the safety of 2,300 migrant teens living in tent cities at risk.
  14. Initially, the Department of Health and Human Services had planned to keep migrant children in the tent city in Tornillo for just a few days, but as the migrant children population ballooned, now talk is of making the detention camp 10 times as big.
  15. BCFS, a San Antonio nonprofit, runs Tornillo. The cost per night per child is $1,200, significantly higher than the $775 officials have publicly disclosed, and almost five times the cost of a typical youth migrant shelter.
  16. On Wednesday, Elizabeth Midlarsky, a Jewish professor and Holocaust scholar at Columbia Teachers College, found two spray-painted red swastikas, and the word “YID” scrawled on a wall outside her office.
  17. On Thursday, Sen. Tim Scott, the sole black GOP senator, gave the deciding opposition vote to Trump nominee Thomas Farr to the federal bench, citing Farr’s support of racially discriminatory election policies.
  18. In the New York Review of Books, Columbia professor Bernard Harcourt argued Trump is fueling a toxic blendof antebellum white supremacy, twentieth-century fascism, and European far-right movements of the 1970s.
  19. Harcourt warned Trump has enabled an upsurge of white nationalists and extremist organizations like Atomwaffen, Proud Boys, and Rise Above Movement, that threatens to push the country into violent social conflict.
  20. Two New York University researchers found that Trump in 2016 appealed to men who are secretly insecure about their manhood, calling it the “fragile masculinity hypothesis.” The same pattern continued in 2018 House races.
  21. The study measured search terms, like “erectile dysfunction,” “penis size, and “hair loss.” Fragile masculinity was not a factor for Republicans Mitt Romney in 2012, John McCain in 2008, or House races in 2014 and 2016.
  22. On Sunday, Trump congratulated himself on falling oil prices, tweeting, “So great that oil prices are falling (thank you President T).” Trump also issued a warning to the Fed, “Inflation down (are you listening Fed)!”
  23. On Sunday, a judge denied George Papadopoulos’ request to delay the start of his prison time, saying he must report to a federal prison camp in Oxford, Wisconsin to begin his 14-day sentence on Monday.
  24. On Sunday, attorney Alan Dershowitz told “ABC This Week” the Mueller report is going to be “devastating” to Trump. Dershowitz added that he knows that Trump’s “team is already working on a response to the report.”
  25. On Sunday, Russia opened fire on and seized three Ukrainian ships that were sailing off the coast of Crimea. Ukraine said it was a Russian “act of aggression.” Moscow said the ships had illegally entered its waters.
  26. On Sunday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection fired tear gas into Mexico to repel Central American migrants approaching the border. Traffic in both directions was suspended at the port between San Diego and Tijuana.
  27. Tensions had been rising as thousands of migrants arrived in Tijuana, and camped outside a sports stadium.Mexican police broke up the migrants’ daily protests on Sunday, triggering a rush toward the U.S. border.
  28. CBP was backed by U.S. military police, San Diego police, and the California Highway Patrol. Migrants, many with young children who were sick and hungry, were trapped between U.S. and Mexican forces.
  29. Hundreds of mostly Honduran migrants were subjected to a volley of canisters of tear gas. Photos and videos emerged of young children, some in diapers, suffering from exposure to tear gas.
  30. An AP reporter noted “Children screamed and coughed. Fumes were carried by the wind toward people who were hundreds of feet away.” A mother trying to run with her baby, said the gas “asphyxiates you more.”
  31. Mexico’s Interior Department said about 500 people attempted to rush the border. U.S. authorities put the number at 1,000. Mexico said it would deport 98 of the migrants.
  32. On Monday, Trump tweeted “Would be very SMART if Mexico would stop the Caravans long before they get to our Southern Border,” adding, “We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!”
  33. On Monday, when asked by reporters if he was comfortable with tear-gassing children at the border, Trump responded “They had to use [it] because they were being rushed by some very tough people.”
  34. Trump also said there was “tremendous violence” during the confrontation with authorities,” adding “three Border Patrol people yesterday were very badly hurt through getting hit with rocks and stones.”
  35. A statement by CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan on Monday contradicted Trump, saying four agents were struck by rocks “but were wearing protective gear and did not suffer serious injuries.”
  36. Trump also falsely claimed “Obama had a separation policy; we all had the same policy. I tried to do it differently.” Obama did not have a separation policy, but Trump officially did with his “zero tolerance” policy.
  37. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement some migrants “sought to harm CBP personnel,” and some “women and children in the caravan are being used by the organizers as human shields.”
  38. On Monday, the Auschwitz Museum tweeted the Holocaust did not start with gas chambers, it “gradually developed from words, stereotypes & prejudice through legal exclusion, dehumanisation & escalating violence.”
  39. On Tuesday, WAPO reported the tear gas used on migrants, commonly known as CS gas, is considered a chemical weapon, and has been outlawed on the battlefield by nearly every nation, including the U.S.
  40. According to a biological and chemical weapons expert, research has noted that an infant exposed to CS gas develops severe pneumonitis and requires a month of hospitalization. Effects are not yet well documented.
  41. On Monday, in two tweets, Trump complained about CNN’s coverage and suggested that the U.S. government start its own worldwide television network in order to “show the World the way we really are, GREAT!”
  42. The Daily Beast reported according to emails obtained by the Sierra Club through the Freedom of Information Act, then EPA Chief Scott Pruitt chose topics for interviews on “Fox & Friends,” and knew questions in advance.
  43. In response to the reporting, Fox said it is disciplining employees involved in the email exchange with an aide to Pruitt. Fox would not say who was being disciplined or how, noting that it was a personnel matter.
  44. Sinclair Broadcasting distributed a two-minute commentary to its 200 local television stations featuring former Trump White House official Boris Epshteyn defending the use of tear gas on migrants at the border.
  45. Echoing language used by Trump, Epshteyn said, “The fact of the matter is that this is an attempted invasion of our country.” As of Wednesday morning, the segment had aired on at least two dozen Sinclair stations.
  46. Later Wednesday, Sinclair tried to distance itself from Epshteyn, tweeting, “The opinions expressed in this segment do not reflect the views of Sinclair Broadcast,” and “they are labeled clearly as commentary.”
  47. Author Margaret Atwood announced she will write a sequel to her landmark book “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which is also a popular TV-series. “The Testaments,” set 15 years later, will be released September 2019.
  48. Atwood tweeted, “Dear Readers, everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.
  49. Christine Blasey Ford, who has received continued death threats, moved houses four times, and hired private security since testifying, said she would donate remaining GoFundMe money to sexual assault survivors.
  50. Blasey Ford, who has not been able to return to work, said of testifying, “Although coming forward was terrifying, and caused disruption to our lives, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to fulfill my civic duty.”
  51. On Monday, Solicitor General Noel Francisco urged the Supreme Court to turn down cases on whether Trump had legally installed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, saying the lower courts should weigh in first.
  52. On Monday, ABC News reported Jared Kushner was behind the push to inflate the Saudi arms deal to $110 billion, well over the actual number which is closer to $15 billion, to solidify the new alliance with crown prince MBS.
  53. On Tuesday, national security adviser John Bolton defended his decision to not listen to tape of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, telling reporter, “I don’t speak Arabic,” and adding “What do you think I’ll learn from it?”
  54. On Tuesday, The Guardian reported that the White House is preventing CIA director Gina Haspel from briefing the Senate on Jamal Khashoggi’s death.
  55. Instead, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis will brief the Senate on U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, ahead of a vote on whether to support the Saudi’s military campaign in Yemen.
  56. On Monday, Trump attacked the Mueller probe in two tweets, saying, “When Mueller does his final report, will he be covering all of his conflicts of interest in a preamble.” There is no evidence of conflicts of interest.
  57. Trump also tweeted, “many campaign workers, people inside from the beginning, ask me why they have not been called (they want to be),” adding “there was NO Collusion & Mueller knows it!”
  58. On Monday, Jerome Corsi told CNN he is refusing to sign a plea deal with Mueller’s team, saying “They can put me in prison the rest of my life. I am not going to sign a lie.”
  59. In a statement following Corsi’s comments, Roger Stone said the special counsel was harassing Corsi “not for lying, but for refusing to lie,” and continued to maintain his own innocence.
  60. On Monday, the special counsel said in a filing that Paul Manafort had breached the plea agreement he signed two months ago by repeatedly lying, saying he should be sentenced immediately.
  61. The filing notes Manafort’s “crimes and lies” about “a variety of subject matters” relieve the special counselof all promises they made to him in the plea agreement. Defense lawyers disagreed Manafort had violated the deal.
  62. On Tuesday, The Guardian reported Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2013, 2015, and in March 2016. Manafort joined the Trump campaign on March 29, 2016.
  63. An internal document by Ecuador’s intelligence agency described Manafort as “one of several well-known guests. It also mentions “Russians.” In a statement, Manafort denied meeting Assange.
  64. On Tuesday, Trump again attacked Mueller in two morning tweets, saying the probe is a “Phony Witch Hunt” and that “Mueller and his gang of Angry Dems are only looking at one side, not the other.”
  65. Later Tuesday, Trump tweeted “at least 3 major players are intimating that the Angry Mueller Gang of Dems is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts & they will get relief,” adding, “This is our Joseph McCarthy Era!”
  66. On Tuesday, NYT reported that Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Manafort, repeatedly briefed Trump’s lawyers on discussions with Mueller’s team after Manafort agreed to cooperate — a highly unusual arrangement.
  67. Rudy Giuliani defended the briefings, telling NYT they provided valuable insights about the probe and where it was headed, adding the information could help shape a legal defense strategy and public relations campaign.
  68. The briefings did not break the law, but did contribute to a deteriorating relationship between lawyers for Manafort and Mueller’s team. Downing assured Trump’s team that Manafort had not implicated him in wrongdoing.
  69. Last year, John Dowd broached the idea of pardoning Manafort and Michael Flynn. When asked by reporters Tuesday, press secretary Sarah Sanders said she had no knowledge of any conversations about a pardon for Manafort.
  70. NBC News reported according to legal experts the arrangement could amount to obstruction of justice or witness tampering if Manafort disclosed confidential information or Trump’s team discussed a pardon.
  71. On Tuesday, Corsi provided WAPO with a copy of a draft document of his statement of offense prepared by Mueller’s team as part of the plea deal, detailing ties between WikiLeaks and key associates in Trump’s orbit.
  72. According to the document, Corsi emailed Stone in early August 2016 about WikiLeaks’ plans. Nearly 10 weeks later the group published John Podesta’s hacked emails in October.
  73. Also in the document, Stone wrote to Corsi on July 25, 2016, urging him to find out Assange’s plans: “Get to [Assange] [a]t Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending [WikiLeaks] emails.”
  74. Giuliani said Trump does not recall speaking to either Stone or Corsi about WikiLeaks, and that Trump’s legal team lodged a complaint last month with the DOJ about the Corsi document including Trump’s name.
  75. In the document, Mueller offered to let Corsi plead guilty to a single felony count of lying to federal investigators. Corsi rejected the deal. Giuliani said Mueller overplayed his hand: “They’ve screwed it up.”
  76. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted about the Mueller probe, saying “Wait until it comes out how horribly & viciously they are treating people, ruining lives for them refusing to lie. Mueller is a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue….”
  77. On Wednesday, CNN reported in Trump’s written answers to Mueller’s questions, he claimed Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks, and that he was not told about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Jr.
  78. Both inquiries are central in the probe of whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump’s written answers could be subject to criminal charges if they are found to be false.
  79. On Wednesday, Trump told the New York Post that he never discussed a pardon with Manafort, adding “but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?”
  80. Trump also ripped the Mueller probe, claiming Manafort, Stone, and Corsi were all asked to lie by the special counsel, saying “If you told the truth, you go to jail.” Trump also repeated his charge, “this is McCarthyism.”
  81. On Wednesday, WSJ reported that Manafort allegedly lied to Mueller’s team about his personal business dealings and about his contacts with his associate, Konstantin Kilimnik.
  82. The context is these statements do not appear to be central to the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. It is unclear if Mueller’s team plans to accuse Manafort of additional lies.
  83. On Wednesday, WAPO reported that Mueller is looking into Trump’s late night calls to Stone from a blocked number during the campaign, to see whether Stone served as a bridge between Trump and WikiLeaks.
  84. According to the draft document of Corsi statement, Stone was in regular contact with Trump campaign officials, including “then-candidate Donald J. Trump.” Stone said Trump initiated the calls.
  85. Stone told the Post that he never discussed WikiLeaks with Trump, adding phone conversations are not that important, saying “unless Mueller has tape recordings of the phone calls, what would that prove?”
  86. According to phone records Trump’s team turned over to Mueller, there were numerous calls between Stone and Trump throughout the campaign. In midsummer, Trump associates wanted to know WikiLeaks’ plans.
  87. Corsi forwarded a request from Stone to Ted Malloch, an informal Trump adviser in London, to visit Assange and see what he has planned for the weeks leading up the election. It is not clear if Malloch did visit.
  88. On Wednesday, Trump retweeted a image posted by account “@The_Trump_Train,” which depicted Mueller, Obama, the Clintons, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, and others behind bars.
  89. Trump also retweeted a false claim from this account, “Illegals can get up to $3,874 a month under Federal Assistance program…RT if you agree: If you weren’t born in the United States, you should receive $0 assistance.”
  90. On Wednesday, Trump defended his retweeting a photo of Rosenstein behind bars, telling the New York Postin an interview, “He should have never picked a special counsel.”
  91. On Wednesday, legislation brought to the floor to protect Mueller by Sens. Jeff Flake, Chris Coons ,and Cory Booker was blocked. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “solution in search of a problem.”
  92. A new analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found 84 farms in the Upper Midwest filed for bankruptcies in the 12 months ended June 2018, double the number from the same period in 2013–2014.
  93. On Monday, GM announced it plans to cut 14,800 jobs U.S. and Canada and end production at several North American factories, the first significant downsizing since its bankruptcy, citing lower sedan sales.
  94. The cuts would reduce GM’s annual costs by $4.5 billion by the end of 2020, freeing up money to invest in electric and self-driving vehicles. In reaction to the news, the company’s stock rose 4.8% on Monday.
  95. On Monday, Trump told GM CEO Mary Barra to stop making cars in China and open a plant in Ohio, “They better damn well open a new plant there very quickly,” adding, “You’re playing around with the wrong person.”
  96. On Tuesday, GM stock tumbled after Trump threatened the company, tweeting, “Very disappointed with General Motors and their CEO…We are now looking at cutting all @GM subsidies, including for electric cars.”
  97. It was not clear what subsidies Trump was referring to. The only related item is a $7,500 plug-in tax credit, which goes to the consumer, not the company. GM is also close to the 200,000 electric car cap on the credit.
  98. On Tuesday, in a wide-ranging, 20-minute interview with WAPO, Trump blamed Democrats, the Chinese government and the central bank for any economic weakness and recent declines in the stock market.
  99. He had especially tough words for his appointee Fed Chair Jerome “Jay” Powell, saying “So far, I’m not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay. Not even a little bit,” adding, “the Fed is way off-base with what they’re doing.”
  100. When asked why he did not reappoint Janet Yellen, he said she impressed him greatly during an interview, but he believed that the 5-foot-3-inch economist was not tall enough to lead the central bank.
  101. Trump also bragged that the stock market was up 38% since he took office. This is false: the Dow Jones industrial average is up 25%, a smaller increase than during Obama’s first two years in office.
  102. Trump again questioned the CIA’s assessment that the Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, saying “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. But he denies it. And people around him deny it.
  103. Trump said of the recent climate change report, “One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence,” and “You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean.”
  104. On Wednesday, Fed Chair Powell said he now sees current interest rates “just below” neutral, a departure from his remarks two months ago, suggesting the Fed was near the end of raising rates.
  105. On Thursday, Trump again attacked GM, tweeting “General Motors is very counter to what other auto…companies are doing,” adding they are “pouring into the U.S.” and BMW “just announced a major new plant.”
  106. In the tweet, Trump also repeated his frequent false claims that “Big Steel is opening and renovating plants all over the country” — a claim which has been repeatedly debunked by fact checkers.
  107. BMW issued a statement in response to Trump’s tweet, saying, “We can confirm that we are considering building an engine plant in the U.S.,” saying the option has been under consideration for the past few years.
  108. On Wednesday, at 11:39 p.m., Trump continued his attacks on the Mueller probe, tweeting, “So much happening with the now discredited Witch Hunt. This total Hoax will be studied for years!”
  109. On Thursday, at 6:54 a.m., Trump again attacked the Mueller probe in two tweets, saying “Did you ever see an investigation more in search of a crime?” and calling it “a total disgrace.”
  110. Trump called the probe an “illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt,” which he said “has shattered so many innocent lives,” and falsely claimed has wasted more than $40 million (a tweet Tuesday claimed $30 million).
  111. On Thursday, German authorities raided Deutsche Bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt over allegations of money laundering. The public prosecutors office said 170 officials were involved in the raid.
  112. The investigation is directed at two employees and other individuals, and is based on details in the Panama Papers; although prosecutors alleged there were “sufficient indications” for the suspicious nature before that.
  113. On Thursday, Michael Cohen made a surprise appearance before a federal judge in the Southern District of New York to plead guilty to lying to Congress about his role and timing related to the Trump Tower Moscow.
  114. Cohen said he lied about negotiations on Trump Tower Moscow ending January 2016, before the Iowa Caucuses, saying they continued until June 2016, after Trump had secured the Republican nomination.
  115. Cohen gave false answers in 2017 to both the Senate and House intelligence committees in order to be consistent with Trump’s “political message.” Trump said, “I have ZERO investments in Russia,” in January.
  116. Cohen said he also lied in saying he “never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow project and ‘never considered’ asking Individual 1 to travel for the project.” Individual 1 is Trump.
  117. Cohen said he also “discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1 on more than the three occasions,” and “briefed family members of Individual 1 within the Company about the project.”
  118. Cohen continued discussions on the project with “Individual 2,” Felix Sater, as late as June 2016. Cohen discussed traveling to Russia in May, and having Trump travel there after the Republican National Convention.
  119. Cohen also lied about not receiving a response and thinking the project was halted, admitting he had a 20 minute phone conversation with an assistant to Dmitry Peskov, a senior aide to Putin, on land and financing.
  120. Cohen told the judge he lied to “to be loyal to Individual 1 .” A prosecutor from Mueller’s team was present in the courtroom. Cohen’s lawyer said he has cooperated in the Mueller probe, and will continue to cooperate.
  121. When asked about Cohen’s plea deal as he left for the G20 summit, Trump said “Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me,” adding, “He’s a very weak person.”
  122. Trump also told reporters, “This was a project that we didn’t do, I didn’t do . . . There would be nothing wrong if I did do it.” This contradicts his earlier statements to reporters and on the campaign trail.
  123. On Thursday, in a tweet sent while aboard Air Force One, Trump canceled his scheduled meeting with Putin at the G20, citing “the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia.”
  124. Earlier in the day, as he left the White House, Trump told reporters the meeting with Putin was still on. Russian officials were caught off guard by Trump’s abrupt cancelation.
  125. On the flight to Argentina, Trump tweeted plugs for several favorable books, including ones “by@GreggJarrett and @JudgeJeanine Pirro” saying “Go get them now, the phony Witch Hunt is well explained!”
  126. As Trump arrived at the G20, a giant Baby Trump blimp was launched by activists. The blimp was created for Trump’s visit to London, and was also used at his recent trip to Paris, before being shipped to Buenos Aires.
  127. That evening, just after Fox News host Sean Hannity’s show was over, Trump quoted Alan Dershowitz, tweeting, “He (Mueller) has no authority to be a roving Commissioner. I don’t see any evidence of crimes.”
  128. On Thursday, Yahoo News reported Mueller’s team is additionally looking at Ivanka and Donald Jr.’s roles in Trump Tower Moscow, which sources say was independent of Cohen’s efforts
  129. On Thursday, BuzzFeed reported as part of the negotiations, Cohen discussed plans to give Vladimir Putin the $50 million penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow in a conversation with a representative of Dmitry Peskov.
  130. On Thursday, WAPO reported Trump has tried to expand his real estate brand to Russia for 30 years, including traveling to Moscow and unveiling four ultimately unsuccessful attempts before running for president.
  131. The latest attempt began in September 2015, and according to court documents ended on June 14, 2016, the day WAPO reported Russia was suspected to be behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee.
  132. On Thursday, federal agents stormed the City Hall office of Alderman Ed Burke in Chicago, papering over office windows. Burke was recently defeated in his re-election over his property-tax reduction work for Trump.
  133. Over 12 years of working for Trump, Burke’s law firm, Klafter & Burke was allegedly able to cut the property taxes on Trump’s downtown tower by more than $14 million. Burke stopped working for Trump last summer.
  134. On Friday, Trump sent two tweets, admitted he “lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia,” saying “Against all odds, I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool.”
  135. On Friday, NPR reported Donald Jr.’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017 conflicts with Cohen’s account. Donald Jr. claimed there was no contact on Trump Tower Moscow during 2016.
  136. On Friday, at the G20 summit in Argentina, Saudi crown prince MBS and Putin were seen greeting each other by smiling, having an exuberant handshake, then firmly embracing.
  137. On Friday, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr said his committee has worked with and made multiple referrals to Mueller for criminal prosecution, saying, “If you lie to us, we’re going to go after you.”
  138. On Friday, at a hearing for Manafort, Mueller’s team said they are considering new criminal charges, contending Manafort obstructed justice and committed additional federal crimes since entering a plea agreement.
  139. Manafort’s attorneys denied that he violated the plea deal and said they will rebut the government’s filing after they see it. Manafort, who is currently in prison, waived his right to appear in court.
  140. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered Mueller’s team to provide a report by December 7 detailing how Manafort breached the agreement, and tentatively scheduled March 5 for Manafort’s sentencing.
  141. On Friday, CNN reported that after visiting Trump at Mar-a-Lago in March 2018, Cohen believed Trump would pardon him if he stayed on message and protected his boss. Lawyers for both were in steady communications.
  142. In the days following the raid on Cohen’s home and office, Trump started to distance himself from Cohen, saying Cohen only did a “tiny, tiny little fraction” of his legal work. Cohen knew the game had changed.
  143. On Friday, in a filing seeking a lenient sentence, Cohen claimed he was in “close and regular contact” with Trump’s White House staff and legal team as he prepared a statement for Congress on Trump Tower Moscow.
  144. Cohen said his false statement was based on Trump team efforts to portray that contact by Trump, his campaign, and company with Russia “as having effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of February 1, 2016.”
  145. Cohen’s lawyers claim Cohen kept Trump “apprised” of his contacts with Russia during the campaign, and that his false statement to Congress arose from his loyalty to Trump, who they referred to throughout as “Client-1.”
  146. Cohen’s lawyers asked for a sentence of time served, citing his cooperation with Mueller, guilty pleas on payments to silence women, and cooperation in the ongoing federal investigation into the Trump Foundation.
  147. Late Friday, Trump again plugged Hannity’s show, tweeting, “Watch @seanhannity on @FoxNews NOW. Enjoy!”
  148. On Wednesday, California Democrat TJ Cox declared victory, giving Democrats their 40th pick up in the House in the midterm elections. Democrats picked up seven seats in California alone.
  149. On Thursday, retiring House Majority Leader Paul Ryan cast doubt on the “bizarre” California election results, saying “This election system they have — I can’t begin to understand what ‘ballot harvesting’ is.”
  150. On Friday, AP retracted its call in a North Carolina 9th Congressional race, saying the board of elections delayed certifying results over “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail voting.”
  151. The race was called for Republican Mark Harris, after Democrat Dan McCready conceded on November 9.Harris had a lead of 905 votes out of 283,000 counted. The GOP has held this district since the early 1960s.
  152. Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Maggie Hassan, along with survivors, called on Education Department Secretary Betsy DeVos to rescind the just released campus sexual abuse policies, calling it a major step backwards.
  153. On Wednesday, NBC News reported the Veterans Affair Department privately told Congress that veterans who did not receive their full GI bill payments due to a computer glitch, would not be reimbursed.
  154. On Thursday, after pressure from members of both parties of Congress, the VA reversed course and promised pay veterans the full amount of benefits they are due under the Forever GI Bill.
  155. On Friday, six additional White House officials were reprimanded for violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits public employees from conducting political activity in their official roles.
  156. The staffers included Raj Shah, Jessica Ditto, Madeleine Westerhout, Helen Aguirre Ferré, Alyssa Farah, and Jacob Wood. All deleted their social media posts that were in violation for supporting Trump
  157. The Office of Special Counsel also issued guidelines Friday, warning federal workers to avoid workplace talk about impeachment and #resistance for the next 705 days — until the day after Election Day 2020.
  158. On Friday, according to a Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by Politico, Secretary Nielsen requested the deployment of civilian law enforcement officers to the U.S.-Mexico border as early as next week.
  159. Current and former U.S. officials described the request, which would draw officers from other cabinet departments who in most cases have duties entirely unrelated to border security, as unprecedented.
  160. On Friday, documents released under the FOIA revealed months after joining the advisory board of World Patent Marketing in 2014, Whitaker fielded angry complaints from customers that they were being defrauded.
  161. One customer even showed up at Whitaker’s office in Iowa. As a U.S. attorney, Whitaker was a spokesperson for the company for three years, even participating in national television ads promoting the company.
  162. When the FTC subpoenaed Whitaker for his records in October 2017, he missed the deadline to reply, then made clear he had been named chief of staff for Jeff Sessions. Whitaker never provided any of his records.
  163. The FTC eventually filed a complaint against the company for cheating customers and making false promises. Some clients lost their life savings. In May 2018, the company paid a $25 million settlement and shut down.
  164. On Friday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said Whitaker will appear before his committee in January, when a new Democratic majority will begin ramping up oversight of the Trump regime.
  165. On Friday, a federal judge for the Southern District of New York ruled against the Trump regime’s move to withhold grant funding from law enforcement agencies of so-called sanctuary cities.
  166. Judge Edgardo Ramos called the move illegal and unconstitutional. The ruling blocked the regime from enforcing those conditions on New York, New York City, and the six states that challenged the requirements.
  167. On Friday, a federal judge put off an immediate ruling on James Comey’s request to invalidate a subpoena from House Republicans to appear at a closed-door session, asking for additional legal briefs over the weekend.
  168. In the first half of Affordable Care Act registration, enrollment is down from 2.8 million last year to 2.4 million, with the biggest drops in Pennsylvania (down 25%), Missouri (down 25%), and Ohio (down 20%).
  169. Advocates note the enrollment period has been cut in half to just 45 days, less advertising, and government spending to help consumer has dropped from $63 million in 2016, to $36 million in 2017 to $10 million this year.
  170. On Saturday, WSJ reported that the CIA has intercepted at least 11 messages sent by crown prince MBS to his closest adviser, who oversaw the team that killed Khashoggi.
  171. Trump spoke briefly to the Saudi crown prince at the G20 summit. The exchange between the two leaders was not scheduled. A White House official sought to downplay the interaction as exchanging pleasantries.

RIP George H.W. Bush

Ken AshfordIn PassingLeave a Comment

It has been twelve years since the passing of a former president — it was Gerald Ford back then.  This morning, we were greeted with the news of the passing of President Bush 41, the last president to serve in WWII.  He lived to be a remarkable 94 years old.

He is being remembered as a simple and kind man, and although he only served one term — generally thought to mean an unsuccessful presidency — it was in sharp contrast to the president he followed — Ronald Reagan — but also in many ways an extension of Reagan’s policies. 

Mostly, the civility with which Bush 41 ran the country is being noted in sharp contrast to the divisiveness of the Trump presidency.  Humble and reflective of self-glory, Bush 41 was appalled at Trump’s self-centeredness.  

Unlike Trump, Bush 41 understood what public service meant, from his time as a WWII fighter pilot all the way through his term as President. 
As a young man he volunteered to fight in World War II; as an old man, he undertook important post-presidential disaster-relief efforts. These and other acts showed courage and class. At times—in working with Democrats on clean-air legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the 1990 deal to tame the debilitating Reagan-era budget deficits—he acted humanely and even nobly. 

But his career bore the marks of his struggle to square his patrimony of social liberalism and responsible statesmanship with the new demand from Republican voters for a more zealous and populistic conservatism. By launching his career not in New England but in his adopted state of Texas, where he had moved to make his fortune in oil, Bush would find himself continually pressed to sacrifice his Yankee principles of noblesse oblige and social moderation. Most famously, he did this in 1964, when running for Senate amid the great civil rights struggle. Regarded by many Texas conservatives as an Eastern carpetbagger, Bush denounced the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlawed racial discrimination in schools, employment and public accommodations. At other times, as with his congressional vote in 1968 for a fair-housing bill, he incurred his constituents’ wrath. Too often though, the former choice, not the latter, served as Bush’s template in making decisions.

The willingness to put aside conviction for political opportunity resurfaced in 1980 when Bush, after running a surprisingly strong second in the 1980 Republican presidential primaries to Ronald Reagan, recanted his well-known denunciation of supply-side economics as “voodoo economics” and his longstanding pro-choice politics in order to be chosen as Reagan’s running-mate. Throughout his career, Bush often said that while he might take the low road in campaigning, he hewed to his ideals while governing. But here he had done the opposite: trumpeting his true views while seeking the nomination, then abandoning them once in office. With Bush’s acquiescence to Reagan’s more-conservative politics, the last hope for a restoration of Rockefeller Republicanism perished. Never again would the party boast a major national leader who defended reproductive rights or questioned the merits of supply-side economics.

During his own bid for the presidency eight years later, Bush remained under parole from the right. To placate his party’s die-hards that year, he chose as vice president Indiana Senator Dan Quayle, who was pro-life, hawkish and opposed to new civil rights measures.  Quayle’s unreadiness for the presidency soon became evident, and, much like John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running-mate two decades later, it was judged to be a short-sighted, irresponsible move.

An even more fateful bid to satisfy conservative skeptics that summer was Bush’s pledge at the GOP convention: “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Fighting what Newsweek billed as the “wimp factor,” Bush felt pressured to demonstrate his Reagan-like machismo with what the pundits were calling a Clint Eastwood moment. The ironclad vow not to raise tax rates shored up support from the right, but in a time of skyrocketing deficits, it hamstrung the president after he took office. Eventually, in 1990, Democrats, who controlled the House and Senate, forced Bush to accept some new taxes as part of a massive budget compromise. The administration called them “revenue enhancements.” In his reelection campaign in 1992, Bush would renounce not the original pledge but his violation of it as his worst mistake.

Many of the encomiums published today dwell on the president’s grace and magnanimity,but his campaigns showed a less attractive side of his personality. Bush’s 1988 presidential bid has been widely deemed the ugliest in modern times. Under the tutelage of hardballers Roger Ailes, James Baker and Lee Atwater, Bush impugned the Americanism of his opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, and pandered to prejudice in making hay of Dukakis’ honorable decision to accept a Massachusetts Supreme Court judgment that deemed mandatory pledge-of-allegiance recitals in public schools to be unconstitutional. “What is it about the Pledge of Allegiance that upsets him so much?” Bush taunted. Then came the “Willie Horton” ads that hyped the scare-story of an African-American criminal, released on furlough from a Massachusetts prison, who raped a woman and assaulted her husband. Never mind that Reagan, as governor of California, had signed a similar furlough bill.

Bush’s 1992 campaign against Bill Clinton was almost as scurrilous. The sitting president trashed his opponent for protesting the Vietnam War while at graduate school in England and made unwholesome insinuations about Clinton’s motives for visiting Moscow while backpacking. Clinton shot back in a debate: “When Joe McCarthy went around this country attacking people’s patriotism, he was wrong. And a senator from Connecticut stood up to him named Prescott Bush. Your father was right to stand up to Joe McCarthy. You were wrong to attack my patriotism.”

In between, Bush continued to put politics ahead of the national good in many of his appointments. Most notably, in 1991, when Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice, announced his retirement, Bush could have honored his legacy by naming a respected African-American judge or legal scholar such as Amalya Kearse or Leon Higginbotham. But he selected a staunch conservative in Clarence Thomas—served up with the implausible assertion that he was the most qualified person for the job. Given that Bush had appointed David Souter to the Court, expecting him to name a more moderate black justice is hardly unreasonable.

In foreign policy, Bush has generally been given higher marks, and in some cases fairly so—particularly for his management of European relations at the start of the post-Cold War era. But he also made terrible mistakes, which were likewise rooted in cynicism. As Saddam Hussein was preparing to invade Kuwait, Bush sent the Iraqi strongman clear signals, through the American ambassador, that the United States had no interest in intra-Arab disputes—the exact opposite position of the one he took very shortly thereafter, in which he drew a “line in the sand.” Bush commendably built international support for a military campaign against Saddam, but by leaving the dictator in power at the war’s end, he fobbed off the problem onto his successors. By 1998, in violation of the cease-fire agreement, Saddam was refusing to let international weapons inspectors carry out their job, making it impossible to know if he would resume a nuclear weapons program. One need not support George W. Bush’s rash decision to invade the country to concede that he was addressing a problem that his father had left—in the words of Dick Cheney, a top official in both men’s administrations—unfinished.

As distressing as giving Saddam a new lease on power was Bush’s treatment of the Shiite and Kurdish minorities who had suffered under his rule. Early in 1991, Bush had actively encouraged Shiites in Iraq’s south and Kurds in the north to rise up and depose Saddam, but after the successful expulsion of Saddam’s forces from Kuwait, Bush concluded he didn’t want to see the country fractured. He declined to provide more than humanitarian aid, and tens of thousands of both groups were slaughtered or dispossessed. A similar embrace of realpolitik shaped his tepid response to the Chinese government’s massacre of student protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Perhaps the worst act of Bush’s career came at the end of his presidency when he pardoned a bevy of Iran-Contra defendants—including Caspar Weinberger, Robert MacFarlane and Elliot Abrams—to protect himself from further investigation. As vice president, Bush had been present at key meetings about the arms-for-hostages deal that would become the Reagan administration’s greatest scandal, but he had never been fully candid about his support for the policy, insisting disingenuously that he had been “out of the loop.” Late in Bush’s presidency, Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh had learned of diaries that Bush had kept, which he hoped to introduce as evidence at Weinberger’s upcoming trial. Bush’s pardons thus shielded himself from any additional investigation. Walsh fumed that “the Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.”

Needless to say, the above litany will inevitably come across to some as one-sided. In no way is it meant to gainsay Bush’s achievements in office or afterwards or diminish his attractive personal qualities. It’s to note that over many decades Bush often surrendered to instincts of political self-promotion and self-preservation, including acceding to the demands of an increasingly right-wing conservative movement whose basic tenets he didn’t necessarily share.

Despite knowing better, George Bush often slunk aside to create space in the Republican Party for right-wing ideologues and practitioners of the politics of personal destruction. It shouldn’t surprise us to see that others—made of far more malignant stuff than he—have now taken over that space.

Are More Raids Happening RIGHT NOW?

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

As Trump is in the air to the G-20 summit, two things are happening which may or may not be related to the Mueller-Russia probe.

First, German police raided Deutsche Bank in connection with money laundering exposed in the Panama Papers.

“Police officers and tax inspectors entered Deutsche Bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt early Thursday morning and seized documents,” reports NPR. “Prosecutors are investigating two employees of the bank who allegedly assisted customers in setting up offshore firms to avoid anti-money laundering safeguards when transferring money to accounts at Deutsche Bank.”

Apparently the raid concerns 900 customers who took advantage of these offshore arrangements as outlined in the Panama Papers. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that Deutsche Bank was the single bank that stood by Donald Trump when all the others bailed. It’s also impossible to ignore the fact that Paul Manafort maintained offshore accounts where he was stashing Russian money and using it to fund his lavish lifestyle.

Executive Editor Timothy O’Brien, writing for Bloomberg Opinion, explains:

Trump’s relationship with Deutsche briefly soured in a dispute over the Chicago project. When the financial crisis landed in 2008 and imperiled that development, Trump sued Deutsche to avoid paying the $40 million he had guaranteed (claiming, in part, that Deutsche was responsible for the global economic distress unleashed by the crisis). A clash like that can permanently unwind a real estate partnership, but Deutsche and Trump agreed to settle, with the bank extending a loan from its private banking division to allow Trump to pay back its real estate lending unit, according to the New York Times.

Deutsche’s private banking arm has hung in there ever since, with Rosemary Vrablic as the Deutsche banker serving as Trump’s primary liaison there. She also has helped Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House adviser, as well as his mother, arrange multimillion-dollar loans and lines of credit at Deutsche. In recent years, Deutsche’s private banking unit has loaned Trump money — about $300 million, according to Bloomberg News and Trump’s government financial disclosure forms — for such projects as his Washington hotel and the Trump National Doral golf course.

And the second thing to happening today is in Chicago and happens to relate to a person connected to Trump and Trump Tower in Chicago.

The feds raided the offices of Chicago Alderman Edward Burke, who worked on Trump property tax matters for 12 years or so, but quit in 2018. In 2017, Burke filed a lawsuit to try and force the city to waive $14 million in taxes on Trump Tower Chicago.

We don’t know anything about the nature of today’s raid. The Feds showed up, told everyone to leave, and put brown paper on the windows to block reporters from seeing what they were doing. When a reporter knocked on the door, a man opened it and said, “No comment.”

To summarize, these things have happened this week:

  1. Robert Mueller blew up Paul Manafort’s cooperator agreement, calling him a liar. Part of Manafort’s crimes include money laundering and failing to report payments from Russians Manafort stashed in offshore accounts.
  2. Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress, admitting that negotiations for Trump Tower Moscow were ongoing even after Trump won the Republican nomination.
  3. German police closed in and raided Deutsche Bank in relation to the investigation of a huge money laundering operation where employees set up offshore accounts to launder funds on behalf of wealthy clients. Deutsche Bank is Trump’s go-to lender, loaning money for Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. and Trump Tower in Chicago, among others.
  4. Chicago alderman Edward Burke’s offices were raided. Burke worked with Trump to mitigate property taxes on Trump’s Chicago property.

Are they related or are they coincidental? I don’t know. But it sure seems like there must be a bigger picture here that we just can’t quite see. Yet.