Dem Debates Lineup:

Ken AshfordDemocrats, Election 2020Leave a Comment

Wednesday, June 26:
Booker
Castro
de Blasio
Delaney
Gabbard
Inslee
Klobuchar
O’Rourke
Warren

Thursday, June 27:
Biden
Bennet
Buttigieg
Gillibrand
Harris
Hickenlooper
Sanders
Swalwell
Williamson
Yang

The first night is a gift to Warren, since she is among lower-level people, and it is the first night (more likely to get more viewers). Thursday looks like the heavy hitters, and for people like Harris (who I am currently favoring) may have a harder time shining.

Queen Of Gaslighting To Leave In Two Weeks

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Yup. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is leaving at the end of the month.

And why not? She has nothing to do. She is the press secretary that killed press conferences with the press secretary.

But that will not be her legacy. Her legacy will be, bluntly, lying.

Love this WaPo editorial:

When Sarah Sanders said Thursday that she hopes to be remembered for her transparency and honesty, the first impulse was to laugh.

But lying to citizens while being paid by them really isn’t all that funny.

Sanders took on an impossible job when she became Trump’s spokeswoman, a job that’s about to reach a welcome conclusion.

She would claim to represent the truth on behalf of a president who lies.

She did it disrespectfully, and apparently without shame or an understanding of what the role of White House press secretary should be.

She misled reporters or tried to, and through them, misled the American people. And all with her distinctive curled-lip disdain.

Thus, she delivered on what New York University professor Jay Rosen has called the “brand promise” of the Trump administration’s treatment of the press: “Watch, we will put these people down for you.”

Her quintessential moment came in the May 11, 2017, White House press briefing in which she was skeptically questioned by Michael Shear of the New York Times about her statements that she’d heard from “countless” FBI employees about how grateful they were that Trump had fired the agency’s director, James B. Comey.

“Really?” asked Shear.

She replied without a shred of doubt, and as if Shear were the dumbest guy she’d ever seen.

“Between, like, email, text messages, absolutely. Yes,” Sanders said. “We’re not going to get into a numbers game. I mean, I have heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said that they’re very happy with the president’s decision.”

Eventually, she was forced, under oath, to admit that this was made-up nonsense.

The report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III: “Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from ‘countless members of the FBI’ was a ‘slip of the tongue.’ . . .

She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything.”

Utterly unfounded, but insisted on as if it were carved on tablets, and don’t you dare doubt it. That is a pretty good description of gaslighting.

And gaslighting was a Sanders specialty, day in and day out. (After a while, of course, that became week in and week out, then month in and month out, and finally, not at all, as the once-daily briefings were phased out. The last one was more than 90 days ago.)

“Sanders failed at all aspects of the job,” Joe Lockhart, press secretary for President Bill Clinton, told me Thursday.

Lockhart elaborated: “She didn’t keep the public informed, including canceling the briefings, she was not honest, according to her own testimony to the special counsel, and she stood by and allowed the normalization of labeling the press the enemy of the people.”

In August, CNN’s Jim Acosta challenged Sanders publicly on Trump’s disparagement of the press.

“It would be a good thing if you were to state right here, at this briefing, that the press — the people who are gathered in this room right now, doing their jobs every day . . . are not the enemy of the people,” Acosta said. “I think we deserve that.”

Sanders refused, deflecting to say that she had suffered media criticism, putting her in danger. At other times, she parroted the president with more destructive language: Some media people were not enemies of the people — only the “fake news” types. (In Trump World, fake news is almost always coverage that reflects poorly on the president.)

And always, with Sanders, the sneering denials of the obvious:

In late 2017, for instance, Trump called Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) “a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them).”

Asked in the briefing about what sounded, in that tweet, a lot like sexual innuendo, Sanders went straight to gaslighting, telling the reporter, “Your mind is in the gutter.”
Undoubtedly, there were media people who enjoyed a friendly relationship with Sanders behind the scenes.

Some journalists defended her when she was mocked by comic Michelle Wolf at last year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

That’s all part of access journalism, mixed with some garden-variety humanity, and it shouldn’t matter a whit in any true evaluation of how she performed.

The role of press secretary is, at its core, a public-facing one.

On that stage — whether in the briefing room or in an informal driveway gaggle with reporters — Sanders was set up to fail by a president who doesn’t value the truth or the press.

And oh, how she rose to that challenge.

Announcing her exit, Trump tweeted warm praise: “She is a very special person with extraordinary talents, who has done an incredible job.”

Since incredible literally means “impossible to believe,” he got that part exactly right.

In-credible. Not credible. Yes.

Office of Special Counsel Recommends Kellyanne Conway Be Removed

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Wow.

Not surprisingly, the White House is doping nothing:

It’s also incorrect to paint the OSC as biased. Henry Kerner, who Trump nominated to run the OSC, is a member of the Federalist Society who worked as a staffer for Issa and Chaffetz.

Trump: No Collusion, No Collusion, But Would I Collude? You Bet!

Ken AshfordElection 2020, L'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

In an Oval Office interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump said he would consider accepting information on his political opponents from a foreign government, despite the concerns raised by the intelligence community and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump also said he wouldn’t necessarily alert the FBI if a foreign country approached his campaign with “oppo research” about his Democratic challenger.

“I think you might want to listen; there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump said. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”

When Stephanopoulos asked the president whether he’d want that kind of “interference” in American politics, Trump pushed back on the word.

“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump said. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.”

“You’re a congressman, someone comes up and says, ‘I have information on your opponent,’ do you call the FBI?” Trump asked.

“If it’s coming from Russia, you do,” Stephanopoulos said, pointing out that Al Gore’s campaign contacted the FBI when it received a stolen briefing book in 2000 and that the FBI director said recently that the agency should have been notified when the Trump campaign received an offer of information on Clinton.

“The FBI director is wrong,” Trump said.

“I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI — in my whole life,” Trump says. “You don’t call the FBI”

Yeah. That’s what mobsters say.

Politico makes the following observations:

FAR BE IT FROM US TO DIVINE why the president said this, and what exactly is going through his head. But the people we spoke to Wednesday night said it is rooted in a win-at-any-and-all-costs mentality — a life-is-complicated vibe that tries to paint everyone else as rubes, and yet ignores the guts of American law. Furthermore, it reflects his thinking that he hates the idea the 2016 election was stolen from him, so he tries to rationalize the very things he and his campaign stand accused of doing.

IN OUR TIME COVERING CONGRESS — going on a decade — we’ve never heard anyone ever even privately say they would accept foreign assistance in an election. Ever. And a lot of members have said crazy stuff to us privately!

THE PRESIDENT IS RIGHT on one element here: Oppo research is absolutely a part of every election, and it’s often not pretty. But that dirt-digging is not conducted by foreign governments. It is conducted by political professionals who spend all day on Nexis, and digging through clips and county court filings. Many of them are Playbookers.

This adds pressure on Pelosi to impeach. Many Democrats have condemned the statement; Republicans are mute.

Sean Hainnity’s spin is a meaningless argle-bargle, calling it “the greatest setup Donald Trump has ever made.”

He then pivotted to Hillary:

You know I call them the media mob, right? They lie to us for two years, conspiracy theories, a hoax. So, Donald Trump, if you’re outraged in the media over that, him saying, “I might want to listen and if need be report to the FBI.” If you’re outraged over that then how could you not be outraged over Hillary Clinton literally empowered a foreign agent who produced a dossier full of Russian lies, that was used to infiltrate our electoral process, first by influencing the American people but more importantly they used a British foreign national, a spy, it was never verified, they used it then to spy on Americans… It’s far worse what Hillary Clinton did and they show no outrage in this fake media environment we live in.

Yeah. Well, first of all, Steele wasn’t a representative of any foreign government. Secondly, even if he was, England is not an adversary. And thirdly, STEELE DID GO TO THE FBI!

A president’s job is to uphold laws, not twist or ignore them depending on his campaign prospects. And Trump’s stance puts him at odds with the political appointees he’s installed at the nation’s top law-enforcement agencies. Last month, when Attorney General William Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was asked if a campaign contacted by, say, North Korea should alert the FBI. Barr hesitated before giving his answer, but said that if a foreign intelligence service made the overture, calling the FBI would be the right move.

The FBI offers generic defensive briefings to campaigns, warning them of foreign influence efforts. At a May 7 Senate hearing, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said any suspected attempts should be reported.

“I think my view is that if any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation-state or anybody acting on behalf of a nation-state about influencing or interfering with our election, then that is something that the FBI would want to know about,” Wray said.

It is illegal to accept foreign campaign contributions, although an exchange of information is a more murky matter.

But that is beside the point. Security experts have warned about how dangerous this is. It puts a price tag on the presidency—whoever helps Trump get reelected will then be able to call in favors. It is Trump’s “Russia, are you listening?” on steroids, an invitation amplified around the world. And given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s success in bending Trump to his will, why wouldn’t others get in the game? China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine, Poland, who knows? The options for foreign influence are endless.

And yes, our most committed foreign adversaries could actually get into a bidding war over which government and their hackers could help Trump the most. In other words, Trump put a fricking target on our 2020 elections, and Mitch McConnell is now conveniently blocking an election security bill designed to help protect our elections from being breached by outside actors.

This morning, Trump tries to save himself by doing contrary things — doubling down while also shouting FAKE NEWS

FYI: He fixed his type about “Prince of Whales” but it is fodder for humor, as you can imagine.

I’m not sure what Trump is talking about with regard to Warner and Schiff. Probably this, in which case, Trump has his facts wrong.

UPDATE: Schiff responds:

He is referring to this:

In this audio posted on YouTube by Russian pranksters, Rep. Adam Schiff can be heard discussing claims that the FSB has naked pictures of President Trump. Assume these Russians are involved with intelligence operations. 

The Daily Mail reports that Schiff sent his staff to try and collect “classified materials for the FBI” after the prank callers told him Putin has naked blackmail pictures of President Trump. 

Schiff can be heard discussing the Russia investigation with a man who claimed to be Andriy Parubiy, the chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament.


The call, made a year ago, was reportedly from two Russian comedians nicknamed ‘Vovan’ and ‘Lexus’ who have become notorious for their phony calls to high-ranking American officials and celebrities, including UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Elton John. The call was first reported in The Atlantic’s Jan/Feb 2018 issue, where a spokesman for Schiff said: “Before agreeing to take the call, and immediately following it, the committee informed appropriate law-enforcement and security personnel of the conversation, and of our belief that it was probably bogus.” 

“There were pictures of naked Trump,” one of the pranksters told Schiff, explaining that they were obtained by Putin’s goddaughter. 

Schiff asks: “And the materials you can provide to the committee and to the FBI, would they corroborate this allegation? … So you have recordings… where they’re discussing the compromising material?”

It wasn’t election meddling, and Schiff called the FBI about it. I can believe top GOP leaders no longer understand the difference between opposition research and soliciting stolen property because they seem to have lost all capability to distinguish crimes from not-crimes in general.

More reactions:

The Steele dossier is being thrown around a lot, but it is quite different. For one thing, Steele informed the FBI. For another thing, it was the GOP who hired Fusion GPS which is based in Washington, DC, which then subcontracted oppo research to Steele, the former head of MI6’s Russia desk.

On the Dem side:

Information obtained by interviewing people and other lawful methods = research Information obtained via the major felony of hacking servers and stealing contents = espionage

UPDATE #2:

Don Jr Testifies Behind Closed Doors

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

He’s sticking to his story, which contradicts previous testimony of Gates and Cohen:

Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday that he did not tell his father about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting and that he didn’t pay close attention to the Trump Tower Moscow project that was one of many potential deals that had been in the works, according to a source close to Trump Jr.

The source said that Trump Jr. also reiterated that he did not tell anyone ahead of time besides the participants about the Trump Tower meeting where a Russian lawyer offered dirt on Hillary Clinton, telling the panel that he did not know what campaign deputy Rick Gates was talking about after Gates told the special counsel that the President’s eldest son mentioned a potential offer of negative information at a campaign meeting.

Trump Jr. told reporters after the two-and-a-half hour closed-door session Wednesday that he did not have to correct his previous testimony and was “not at all” worried about perjury.

“The reality was there’s nothing to change,” Trump Jr. told reporters after emerging from the committee’s secure spaces. “I don’t think I changed anything of what I said because there was nothing to change. I’m glad this is finally over and we’re able to put final clarity on that. And I think the committee understands that.”

Trump Jr. added that if he needed to clarify anything it was due to President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, whom he noted was “serving time right now for lying to these very investigative bodies.”

In the Mueller report, Cohen said that he spoke to Trump Jr. about the Trump Tower Moscow project on multiple occasions. And Cohen told Congress that he believed he had heard Trump Jr. whispering to his father about the Trump Tower meeting in the days leading up to it.

In Wednesday’s interview, Trump Jr. told the committee that he would never whisper in his dad’s ear about the meeting, the source said, because if he had wanted to say something he wouldn’t have kept it a secret.

Trump Jr. dismissed that he was extensively briefed by Cohen about the Trump Tower Moscow project, saying that Cohen rarely executed a deal so he had little reason to pay attention to anything he may have been pitching, according to the source

Trump Jr. was also questioned about whether he was aware of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s conversations with Russians and Roger Stone’s discussions with WikiLeaks, the source said. The source said that several topics did not come up during Wednesday’s interview included the initial misleading statement crafted on Air Force One about the Trump Tower meeting and the hush money payments Cohen facilitated in the run up to the 2016 election to silence allegations that Trump had affairs with two women.

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and the panel’s top Democrat Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia declined to comment on Trump Jr.’s testimony Wednesday after they left the interview.

“I’m not going to comment on anything but let him take him at his word,” Burr said when asked about Trump Jr.’s public comments.

The President’s eldest son on Wednesday appeared for a second time before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which issued a subpoena for Trump Jr.’s testimony after he resisted coming voluntarily.

The subpoena to Trump Jr. — the first issued to a member of the President’s family — prompted a sharp backlash from GOP allies of Trump Jr. against Burr, a Republican, including from the President.

Burr has declined repeatedly to comment on his decision to subpoena Trump Jr. since it was revealed last month, but the committee did not back down in response to the criticism that his committee needed to speak to Trump Jr. again. Ultimately, the panel struck a deal with Trump Jr. for him to testify for two-to-four hours on roughly a half-dozen topics.

The Daily Mail is saying that Trump Jr answered some committee question over the objections of his counsel. His counsel knows when their client might be stepping into perjury. I wonder if little Donnie did.

House Judiciary Committee Voting Now On Contempt For AG Barr And Commerce Secretary Ross

Ken AshfordBreaking News, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

This relates to refusal to turn over documents relating to the citizenship question on the census.

So weird that the administration is going to such lengths to not disclose how they came to a census question that was/is totally benign.

The census is in Article 1 of the Constitution, you know, the part about Congress. The idea that the Congress isn’t allowed oversight over something that is specifically designated as within Congress’s purview is just ludicrous.

Aaaaaand….

Rep. Amash joins Oversight Dems in recommending that Barr and Ross be held in contempt for defying census probe subpoenas. Amash had previously joined Dems in approving the subpoenas themselves

Actually, It Seems The President IS Above The Law

Ken AshfordCongress, Courts/Law, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

It is worth noting that, while Attorney General Barr has apparently negotiated an agreement to provide the House Judiciary Committee with access to Robert Mueller’s “most important files” related to the obstruction inquiry, Trump’s lawyers continue to fight in court against the release of the president’s financial records. It is very likely that the latter poses the bigger threat to Trump, who has already suggested that an investigation into his finances would cross a so-called “red line.”

The president’s personal attorney, William Consovoy, filed a brief in the D.C. court of appeals to halt a congressional subpoena of Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm. As part of the rationale against releasing the president’s financial records, Consovoy affirmed the previous argument that Congress can only investigate matters related to legislation. He goes on to say that Congress does not have the authority to investigate whether the president broke the law—only the executive branch can do that.

We now have a complete bubble of protection around Trump. According to his team, the Justice Department has the authority to investigate whether the president broke the law, but cannot indict her or him. Meanwhile, Congress is actually barred from investigating whether a president broke the law.

Even that is not enough for these executive authority extremists. The brief goes on to suggest that, were Congress to launch in investigation in order to consider legislation regarding presidential conflicts of interest, any resulting legislation would be unconstitutional.

Trump launches into a broader argument that Congress is “severely constrained in the ways it can regulate the President.”

“Extending federal conflict-of-interest laws to the President (or imposing new ones on him) would exceed Congress’s narrow legislative authority over the office,” the filing reads.

Taken all together:

  • Congress can’t pass conflict-of-interest laws regulating the president.
  • Congress can’t investigate whether the president broke the law.
  • The Justice Department, which can investigate whether the president broke the law, cannot indict her or him.

While the brief does acknowledge that Congress has the constitutional authority to impeach and remove a president from office, they issue a dire warning, saying that it “entails massive costs to our nation’s economy, national security, diplomacy, and political health.”

Consovoy’s brief is 54 pages long. He could have saved all of us (including himself) a lot of time if he’d simply written, “the president is above the law.”

2020 Election Polls Continue To Bash Trump

Ken AshfordElection 2020, PollsLeave a Comment

Note that all six of the candidates mentioned here bet out Trump OVER the margin of error.

That’s not all.

After a devastating 17-state poll conducted by his campaign, Trump was also behind in key states to Biden.

What did Trump do? He told aides to deny that his internal polling showed him trailing Mr. Biden even though he is also trailing in public polls from key states like Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Sarah Sanders went to great pains to avoid denial:

“Did the president tell his aides to deny that internal polling showed him trailing Joe Biden?” Johns asked Sanders, who briefed reporters on the White House driveway.
“Look, I think the polling got it completely wrong in 2016, I don’t think it’s right now,” Sanders said, seeming to try to veer away from the internal polling topic but also not denying the reported conversation.

“I’m not going to get into a lot of details,” Sanders continued. “But we feel incredibly good about what the president has been able to accomplish in the first two years of his administration.”

Sanders listed what she considers accomplishments by the president, including “unprecedented success,” a booming economy, “making better trade deals” than ever before, and rebuilding the military.

“The president’s got a great story to tell, and we feel very comfortable about where we are,” Sanders said.

Johns tried to get Sanders back on addressing his question.

“This is his internal polling,” he said.

“I’m sorry?” Sanders replied.

“That’s his internal polling,” Johns reiterated.

The press secretary responded: “Again, I’m not worried about polling.”

Hmmmm.

Barr Caves; Mueller Evidence To Go To House Judiciary Committee

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Breaking:

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler on Monday said he has struck a deal with the Justice Department to begin providing Congress with some documents from the Mueller Report related to obstruction of justice.

Nadler announced the agreement ahead of a vote scheduled for Tuesday, when the House is expected to approve a resolution to go to court to enforce its subpoenas of Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn.

But a court fight appears to be no longer necessary for the Barr subpoena — at least for the time being — as a result of the agreement the committee struck with the Justice Department. The details of which documents would be provided to the committee were not disclosed, but Nadler said the agreement would allow all Judiciary Committee members to see “Robert Mueller’s most important files … providing us with key evidence that the Special Counsel used to assess whether the President and others obstructed justice or were engaged in other misconduct.”

“These documents will allow us to perform our constitutional duties and decide how to respond to the allegations laid out against the President by the Special Counsel,” Nadler said.

The agreement is the first sign of a thaw between the House Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department, which have been battling over the special counsel’s report since Robert Mueller ended his investigation in March.

The House Judiciary Committee had issued a subpoena for Mueller’s unredacted report and all of the special counsel’s evidence, and then voted to hold Barr in contempt last month. The committee also fought with Barr over the format of his hearing, prompting the attorney general to skip his appearance.

I’m not sure what the “deal” is — you get a request from a congressional committee; you respond to it. Maybe they agreed not to hold Barr in contempt.

UPDATE: Yup….

Meanwhile John Dean is testifying today (see live feed below) and Trump is not happy:

Dean is actually one of four witnesses (including one brought in by Republicans) and the Republicans seem to be focusing on Dean/Watergate.