Trump & Administration

Politifact’s Lie Of The Year

2017 Lie of the Year: Russian election interference is a ‘made-up story’

No, it’s not. We don’t know the extent of Russian interference, or whether anyone in the Trump campaign colluded in the interference, but it is not a “made up story”.  Politifact has made this assertion the “lie of the year”:

A mountain of evidence points to a single fact: Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election of 2016.

In both classified and public reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered actions to interfere with the election. Those actions included the cyber-theft of private data, the placement of propaganda against particular candidates, and an overall effort to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process.

Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have held open and closed door hearings to probe Russia’s actions. The congressional investigations are ongoing.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have investigated their own networks, and their executives have concluded — in some cases after initial foot-dragging — that Russia used the online platforms in attempts to influence the election.

After all this, one man keeps saying it didn’t even happen.

“This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won,” said President Donald Trump in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in May.

On Twitter in September, Trump said, “The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”

And during an overseas trip to Asia in November, Trump spoke of meeting with Putin: “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.” In the same interview, Trump referred to the officials who led the intelligence agencies during the election as “political hacks.”

Trump continually asserts that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election is fake news, a hoax or a made-up story, even though there is widespread, bipartisan evidence to the contrary.

When the nation’s commander-in-chief refuses to acknowledge a threat to U.S. democracy, it makes it all the more difficult to address the problem. For this reason, we name Trump’s claim that the Russia interference is a hoax as our Lie of the Year for 2017.

Readers of PolitiFact also chose the claim as the year’s most significant falsehood by an overwhelming margin.

It seems unlikely — though not impossible — that Russia interference changed the outcome of the election. We at PolitiFact have seen no compelling evidence that it did so.

Trump could acknowledge the interference happened while still standing by the legitimacy of his election and his presidency — but he declines to do so. Sometimes he’ll state firmly there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, an implicit admission that Russia did act in some capacity. Then he reverts back to denying the interference even happened.

It’s not so much that Trump trades in falsehoods — it’s more that he tries to create a different version of reality simply by asserting it.

Read the whole thing

The Russia lie won overwhelmingly in Politifact’s survey of readers:

 

Jones Beats Moore In Close Result

Moore has not conceded, but the margin of victory is high enough to ensure no automatic recount.

African-American turnout played an important role in Jones’ victory.

Race played a bigger factor than education as white men AND WOMEN(!) preferred Moore.

Of the 20 counties that saw their turnout rise in comparison to the 2014 midterm elections in Alabama, an election comparable in size to the Senate special election, half were rural counties in the state’s agricultural “Black Belt” where African Americans make up between 59% of registered voters (Hale) to 82% (Greene). Based on unofficial but complete returns in those counties, Jones received between 69% of the vote (Hale) to 88% (Greene and Macon).

Four of the highest turnout counties contain state’s four largest cities: Jefferson County has Birmingham, Montgomery County is home to the state capital, Montgomery, Madison County has Huntsville and Mobile County has Mobile. Both Jefferson and Montgomery counties also have high numbers of African-American voters, 41% and 57%, respectively. Madison, an engineering and research hub with the US Army Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center, has fewer African-American voters, 23%. What it has in abundance is well-off and well-educated voters: it ranks second in all of the state’s 67 counties for college-educated adults, 39%, and the median household income of the county’s residents is the second-highest in the state. Jefferson and Montgomery counties also have the fourth and fifth highest share of four-year college educated voters, roughly 31% each.

Jones carried Jefferson with 68% and won Montgomery with 72%. Both of those are relative Democratic strongholds and Moore has never had much of a following in those major metro counties. In the 2012 election for the chief justice of the state Supreme Court (which Moore narrowly won), Democrat Bob Vance won Jefferson and Montgomery with 63% and 71%, respectively.

Jones’ victory in Madison County stands out. While Hillary Clinton carried both Jefferson and Montgomery in 2016, Trump carried Madison 55%-38%. His margin over Clinton was more 26,000 votes. Jones flipped the county winning 57%-40% over Moore. His margin of more than 19,000 votes in Madison is almost equal to his current statewide margin of 20,715 votes.

Mobile County is one where the median household income and the percentage of college-educated voters are lower than the state average. Some 35% of its voters are African-Americans. Like Madison, this was a county Moore lost in his 2012 state Supreme Court election. But Trump won Mobile 55%-42%. And it had to be satisfying for Democrats to see Jones prevail here 56%-42%.

Jones also benefited from big turnout in urban areas.

Taken together, the four big metro counties — Jefferson, Montgomery, Madison and Mobile — which have urban cores and suburbs, were by far the biggest contributor to Jones’ victory. His combined margin over Moore in these big four was almost 149,000 votes. In 21 largely rural Black Belt counties, Jones’ margin over Moore was just over 37,000.

In 13 other suburban and exurban counties, places like Shelby outside of Birmingham, Limestone next door to Huntsville and Baldwin adjacent to Mobile, Jones only lost by about 57,000 votes. In the 29 white rural counties, all won by Moore, his margin over Jones was only 108,000 votes.

And how did these groupings fare in terms of turnout? The big four metro counties combined saw their turnout increase by roughly 6.5% above the 2014 midterm levels. Turnout in the 13 other suburban and exurban counties was essentially even with 2014’s levels. In the 21 rural Black Belt counties, turnout was actually down slightly overall. But in those 29 white rural counties, turnout was down 5.4%.

But other than race and urban, the rest of the demographics fell to where you might expect. Young voters preferred Jones, born-again Christians preferred Moore, etc.

The other primary reason for Jones’ win was strong antipathy toward Moore among white, suburban, college-educated conservatives. Many of them chose to sit out the election or follow the lead of Sen. Richard Shelby and write in an option other than Moore.

So who loses (besides, of course, Moore?  Well, Steve Bannon I would think. He went full bore for Moore. Bannon spoke at two rallies for Moore over the past week, campaigned for him during the GOP runoff, and spoke at the victory party when Moore captured the GOP nomination. Bannon was in attendance at the Alabama Republican’s Tuesday victory party and had been expected to speak in the event of a Moore victory — a plan that was ultimately scrapped.

“Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the president of the United States into his fiasco,” said Steven Law, who runs a “super PAC” controlled by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.

Of course, the Bannon wing of the GOP is blaming McConnell and the establishment GOP. “They colluded with the Democrats to undermine a pro-Trump candidate like Judge Moore just like they are going to try to do that in 2018 to myself and other pro-Trump candidates,” said Corey Stewart, who is challenging Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and attended Mr. Moore’s election night party. “We’re going through a civil war in the Republican Party.”

No kidding. 🙂

And what about Trump?  Yeah, not good for him either. He originally backed Moore’s primary challenger, Luther Strange. Strange lost. Then, Ignoring pleas from McConnell and other senior Republicans, Trump jumped in for Moore. Just days before the election, he went to the Florida Panhandle, just across the Alabama state line, to campaign for Moore. He also cut a robo-call for the candidate and he tweeted his support.

I guess the good news is that the Republican rift still exists, despite the loss for Bannon/Trump.

And good news for Democrats in general. Ever since the 2016 election, Dems have done very well, even in red states. Just look at how Democrats have overperformed from 2016 and previous races in these particular states and congressional districts:

  • KS-4 in 2016: Mike Pompeo 61%, Daniel Giroux 30% (R+31)
  • KS-4 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 60%, Clinton 33% (R+27)
  • KS-4 in 2017: Ron Estes 53%, James Thompson 46% (R+7)
  • GA-6 in 2016: Tom Price 62%, Rodney Stooksbury 38% (R+24)
  • GA-6 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 48%, Clinton 47% (R+1)
  • GA-6 in 2017 (initial round): Jon Ossoff 48%, Karen Handel 20%, Bob Gray 11%, Dan Moody 9%, Judson Hill 9%.
  • GA-6 in 2017 (runoff): Handel 52%, Ossoff 48% (R+4)
  • MT-AL in 2016: Ryan Zinke 56%, Denise Juneau 40% (R+16)
  • MT in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 36% (R+21)
  • MT-AL in 2017: Greg Gianforte 50%, Rob Quist 44% (R+6)
  • SC-5 in 2016: Mick Mulvaney 59%, Fran Person 39% (R+20)
  • SC-5 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 39% (R+18)
  • SC-5 in 2017: Ralph Norman 51%, Archie Parnell 48% (R+3)
  • NJ GOV in 2013: Chris Christie 60%, Barbara Buono 38% (R+22)
  • NJ in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 55%, Trump 41% (D+14)
  • NJ GOV in 2017: Phil Murphy 56%, Kim Guadagno 42% (D+14)
  • VA GOV in 2013: Terry McAuliffe 48%, Ken Cuccinelli 45% (D+3)
  • VA in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 50%, Trump 44% (D+6)
  • VA GOV in 2017: Ralph Northam 54%, Ed Gillespie 45% (D+9)
  • AL SEN in 2016: Shelby 64%, Crumpton 36% (R+28)
  • AL in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 62%, Clinton 34% (R+28)
  • AL SEN in 2017: Doug Jones 50%, Roy Moore 48% (D+2)

2018 is looking good.

All Eyes On Alabama Senator Elections

Roy Moore literally rides in on a horse to vote:

Moore’s final event/rally last night included a speaker who said he and Moore accidentally went to a brothel with child prostitutes, and a speech by his wife addressing charges of antisemitism with “We have a lawyer who is a JEEEEeeeeew.”  Also present:  Steve Bannon, Representative Louie Gohmert, Sheriff David Clarke, a woman performing an interpretive dance in front of a tree, and several inflatable alligators.

Nobody has any idea on who is going to win. The polls are generally useless and all over the place, but much will depend (I believe) on turnout.

Here’s another take:

Alabama Senate Race Benchmarks by County – December 12, 2017
If either candidate is consistently exceeding these targets as counties report votes, he’s on track to win.
Created by: David Wasserman, Cook Political Report
 Twitter: @Redistrict
Locality
Jones Vote Goal
Moore Vote Goal
Dem 2-Party Share
GOP 2-Party Share
Dem/GOP Break-Even Margin
Autauga County 6,244 10,168 38.0% 62.0% -23.9%
Baldwin County 20,357 40,703 33.3% 66.7% -33.3%
Barbour County 5,185 3,052 62.9% 37.1% 25.9%
Bibb County 2,007 3,782 34.7% 65.3% -30.7%
Blount County 3,182 12,823 19.9% 80.1% -60.2%
Bullock County 3,420 638 84.3% 15.7% 68.6%
Butler County 3,806 2,748 58.1% 41.9% 16.1%
Calhoun County 14,237 18,414 43.6% 56.4% -12.8%
Chambers County 5,984 4,397 57.6% 42.4% 15.3%
Cherokee County 2084 5020 29.3% 70.7% -41.3%
Chilton County 3,324 8,458 28.2% 71.8% -43.6%
Choctaw County 3254 2,304 58.5% 41.5% 17.1%
Clarke County 5,499 4,004 57.9% 42.1% 15.7%
Clay County 1,592 2,945 35.1% 64.9% -29.8%
Cleburne County 949 3,236 22.7% 77.3% -54.6%
Coffee County 5,050 8,875 36.3% 63.7% -27.5%
Colbert County 8,401 9,376 47.3% 52.7% -5.5%
Conecuh County 3038 1920 61.3% 38.7% 22.5%
Coosa County 1,916 1,897 50.2% 49.8% 0.5%
Covington County 3,119 7,437 29.5% 70.5% -40.9%
Crenshaw County 1,842 2,532 42.1% 57.9% -15.8%
Cullman County 5,395 18494 22.6% 77.4% -54.8%
Dale County 5,032 7,732 39.4% 60.6% -21.2%
Dallas County 12,343 3,245 79.2% 20.8% 58.4%
DeKalb County 4,927 12,013 29.1% 70.9% -41.8%
Elmore County 8,970 15,458 36.7% 63.3% -26.6%
Escambia County 4,883 5,572 46.7% 53.3% -6.6%
Etowah County 11,946 18,128 39.7% 60.3% -20.6%
Fayette County 1698 3766 31.1% 68.9% -37.8%
Franklin County 2961 5,308 35.8% 64.2% -28.4%
Geneva County 1,996 5,607 26.3% 73.7% -47.5%
Greene County 3,784 470 89.0% 11.0% 77.9%
Hale County 4,599 1,779 72.1% 27.9% 44.2%
Henry County 2804 3,155 47.1% 52.9% -5.9%
Houston County 11,895 17,193 40.9% 59.1% -18.2%
Jackson County 5,419 9348 36.7% 63.3% -26.6%
Jefferson County 144,162 75,122 65.7% 34.3% 31.5%
Lamar County 1,502 3,269 31.5% 68.5% -37.0%
Lauderdale County 11,994 15,602 43.5% 56.5% -13.1%
Lawrence County 4,544 6,077 42.8% 57.2% -14.4%
Lee County 20,660 19,299 51.7% 48.3% 3.4%
Limestone County 9,849 16,254 37.7% 62.3% -24.5%
Lowndes County 4,863 980 83.2% 16.8% 66.5%
Macon County 7,563 802 90.4% 9.6% 80.8%
Madison County 59,758 49,858 54.5% 45.5% 9.0%
Marengo County 5,373 2,929 64.7% 35.3% 29.4%
Marion County 2,138 6,330 25.2% 74.8% -49.5%
Marshall County 6500 16375 28.4% 71.6% -43.2%
Mobile County 70,811 53,193 57.1% 42.9% 14.2%
Monroe County 4,259 3,251 56.7% 43.3% 13.4%
Montgomery County 55,434 18,941 74.5% 25.5% 49.1%
Morgan County 13,178 20,972 38.6% 61.4% -22.8%
Perry County 3,848 788 83.0% 17.0% 66.0%
Pickens County 3,852 3,061 55.7% 44.3% 11.4%
Pike County 5,516 4,298 56.2% 43.8% 12.4%
Randolph County 2,789 4,323 39.2% 60.8% -21.6%
Russell County 9,048 5,163 63.7% 36.3% 27.3%
Shelby County 23,420 40,669 36.5% 63.5% -26.9%
St. Clair County 6,012 17,741 25.3% 74.7% -49.4%
Sumter County 4,599 883 83.9% 16.1% 67.8%
Talladega County 12253 11559 51.5% 48.5% 2.9%
Tallapoosa County 5,856 7,613 43.5% 56.5% -13.0%
Tuscaloosa County 30,058 26,642 53.0% 47.0% 6.0%
Walker County 6,107 13,618 31.0% 69.0% -38.1%
Washington County 2591 3,394 43.3% 56.7% -13.4%
Wilcox County 4,118 975 80.9% 19.1% 61.7%
Winston County 1,357 5,176 20.8% 79.2% -58.5%
Statewide 737,154 737,154 50.0% 50.0% 0.0%

The question at stake? Who do Republicans hate more: Pedophiles or Democrats?

The answer might surprise you.

And should the election be close, we have a problem.  No paper trail:

On Monday, a judge ordered local election officials to save digital images of ballots, AL.com reports. However, his decision was quickly reversed by the Alabama Supreme Court, which stayed his order Monday evening.

Alabama uses paper ballots in its elections, which is considered more secure than many digital voting machines. Once voters mark their choices on paper, the ballots are scanned by computers to tally the votes. This system isn’t set up properly for audits, according to Verified Voting, an election integrity organization.

“If the race goes to a recount following the election, Alabama’s recount laws won’t do enough to protect voters’ votes because it has no audit structure in place and relies on re-tabulation—where ballots that were tabulated by optical scanners are now re-tabulated by machine,” Verified Voting president Marian Schneider said in a statement. “If a recount occurs, it cannot be relied on to detect and correct a potential error in the computerized count unless it is done manually.”

Four Alabama voters sued in an effort to get ballot images preserved, according to AL.com, arguing that state and federal law requires election officials to preserve the digital ballot images for six months. In Alabama, the digital images are typically destroyed after an election.

“After hearing arguments and reviewing the filings, it appears that Plaintiffs and similarly situated voters would suffer irreparable and immediate harm if digital ballot images are not preserved,” Montgomery County Circuit Judge Roman Ashley Shaul wrote in his order requiring ballot images to be preserved.

However, the state Supreme Court overruled his decision, which Verified Voting says will limit the state’s ability to do election audits or catch hacking attempts.

“If every state’s election systems provided voter-verified paper ballots and post-election audits, we would be able to detect and correct errors or election tampering. But without the proper procedures in place, Alabama will be unable to do this,” Schneider said.

Meanwhile, in Trumpland, the swamp is getting deeper:

“Begging”?  “Would do anything?”  What is Trump insinuating?

Sexual Harassment Allegations Come To Doorstep of White House

This morning, three women who have accused Trump of sexual assaulting them appeared on Megyn Kelly’s talk show, sharing new details of what they say was abuse at the hands of the president. They are among at least 14 women who accuse Trump of sexual assault. In response, the White House issued a statement claiming these women are lying. Notably, the White House claims that the accusations were contradicted “in most cases” by eyewitnesses:

These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory. The timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes, and the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them.

This is a lie. Only one “eyewitness” has ever emerged to dispute a claim of sexual assault against Trump. That man, Anthony Gilberthorpe, is a serial fableist with a history of pushing false stories for a few minutes of attention.

At her press conference today, Sarah Sanders promised to produce a list of “eyewitnesses” that dispute the accounts of the women who accused Trump of sexual assault.

Let’s hold her to this.

UPDATE BELOW THE FOLD

Moore v Jones: The Showdown

Virtually all national news is focusing on the Alabama Senate race to fill the seat of Jeff Sessions.  On the one hand, you have Democrat Doug Jones — a prosecutor. On the other hand, you have disgraced judge Roy Moore, accused of feeling up (or as he calls it, “dating”) teenage girls while a prosecutor in his mid-thirties. Alabama is conservative, but also righteous morally, and the question really comes down to “can the voters put morality above politics”?  Many Alabama voters simply don’t believe Moore’s accusers, and the conservative media has done much to de-legitimize those women.

Others take the stance – astonishing as it is – that it is better to have a pedophile in the Senate than a “liberal Democrat” (Jones isn’t very liberal). Among those taking this position, it appears, is President Trump as well as the RNC, which initially pulled financial support, only to reverse course and assist Moore during the final week of campaigning.

A Fox Poll out this morning —

So is Moore up by 9 or down by 10 going into tomorrow?  Who knows?

Fox News seems to believe it has the better methodology:

Hopefully, they are right.

Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior senator, cast an absentee ballot for an unnamed Republican write-in candidate, and he’s now made multiple television appearances to say that he cannot vote for his party’s nominee. Shelby’s criticisms, which are already being featured prominently in Jones’s television ads, have created a permission structure for Republicans to defect, especially as the White House goes all-in for Moore. (President Trump recorded a robo-call that’s being delivered to GOP homes today, in which he says that his agenda will be “stopped cold” if Jones wins and that a Senator Moore will help him fix the problems caused by the “Obama disaster.”)

Shelby fears that Moore’s candidacy could hurt the state he has spent four decades in Congress trying to transform into a destination for manufacturing, biotechnology and aerospace. That argument, it is hoped, will hold sway. The image of Alabama — not a great one — will be forever tarnished if Moore gets elected. Shelby freely admits that he is anxious about how a Moore victory would affect the corporate world’s impressions of Alabama. “Is this a good place to live, or is it so controversial that we wouldn’t go there?” Shelby said. “You know, these companies are looking to invest. They are looking for a good place to live, a good place to do business, a good education system, opportunities, transportation. And we have come a long way; we’ve got to keep going. … We can’t live in the past.”

The discussions on news channels are simultaneously hysterical and depressing. Watch as this guy tries to defend Roy Moore’s recent comments that America was greatest during the time of slavery (and watch the woman’s facial expressions):

This will be over in 36 hours, but it’s amazing to live through.

UPDATE:  Monmouth Poll out today says who wins depends on level of turnout. Higher turnout benefits Doug Jones.

Pollster Nate Silver weighs in and explains:

There’s a massive spread in results from poll to poll — with surveys on Monday morning showing everything from a 9-point lead for Moore to a 10-point advantage for Democrat Doug Jones — and they reflect two highly different approaches to polling.

Most polls of the state have been made using automated scripts (these are sometimes also called IVR or “robopolls”). These polls have generally shown Moore ahead and closing strongly toward the end of the campaign, such as the Emerson College poll on Monday that showed Moore leading by 9 points. Recent automated polls from Trafalgar GroupJMC Analytics and PollingGravis Marketing and Strategy Research have also shown Moore with the lead.

But when traditional, live-caller polls have weighed in — although these polls have been few and far between — they’ve shown a much different result. A Monmouth University survey released on Monday showed a tied race. Fox News’s final poll of the race, also released on Monday, showed Jones ahead by 10 percentage points. An earlier Fox News survey also had Jones comfortably ahead, while a Washington Post poll from late November had Jones up 3 points at a time when most other polls showed the race swinging back to Moore. And a poll conducted for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in mid-November — possibly released to the public in an effort to get Moore to withdraw from the race — also showed Jones well ahead.1

What accounts for the differences between live-caller and automated polls? There are several factors, all of which are potentially relevant to the race in Alabama:

  1. Automated polls are prohibited by law from calling voters on cellphones.
  2. Automated polls get lower response rates and therefore may have less representative samples.
  3. Automated polls may have fewer problems with “shy” voters who are reluctant to disclose their true voting intentions.
  4. Automated pollsters (in part to compensate for issues No. 1 and 2 above) generally make more assumptions when modeling turnout, whereas traditional pollsters prefer to let the voters “speak for themselves” and take the results they obtain more at face value.

Click the link for the deep dive.

Ultimately, Silver says this, although it is his intuition more than anything else:

Because you’ve read so much detail about the polls, I don’t want to leave you without some characterization of the race. I still think Moore is favored, although not by much; Jones’s chances are probably somewhere in the same ballpark as Trump’s were of winning the Electoral College last November (about 30 percent).

The reason I say that is because in a state as red as Alabama, Jones needs two things to go right for him: He needs a lopsided turnout in his favor, and he needs pretty much all of the swing voters in Alabama (and there aren’t all that many of them) to vote for him. Neither of these are all that implausible. But if either one goes wrong for Jones, Moore will probably win narrowly (and if both go wrong, Moore could still win in a landslide). The stakes couldn’t be much higher for the candidates — or for the pollsters who surveyed the race.

Not that I have any credentials like Silver, but I think it will hinge on turnout.  High turnout is good for Jones; low is good for Moore. Democrats, of which there are fewer, are more “fired up” and a significant amount of Republicans are conflicted about Moore (a SurveyMonkey series of polls confirm this). But are they fired up and conflicted ENOUGH?  Who knows?

If Trump Told Flynn To Lie To The FBI, That’s The Ballgame

As NBC reports: “Trump’s legal team and senior White House aides are refusing to say when and how the president first learned that Flynn had lied to the FBI.”

After the news broke that Flynn had made a plea deal admitting to these lies, Trump tweeted that he’d fired Flynn because he lied to the FBI, suggesting he knew of this lying at the time, though his attorney has since insisted that this isn’t what he meant. This has raised questions as to why Trump would press his former FBI director to drop the investigation into Flynn (as James B. Comey has testified, and Trump denies) in the apparent knowledge that he’d lied to the FBI, which could constitute obstruction of justice.

But beyond that important question, there is also the question of what Trump knew about the lying itself and when. And Mueller is looking at this, per NBC:

Mueller is trying to determine why Flynn remained in his post for 18 days after Trump learned of Yates’ warning, according to two people familiar with the probe. He appears to be interested in whether Trump directed him to lie to senior officials, including Pence, or the FBI, and if so why, the sources said.

If Trump knew his national security adviser lied to the FBI in the early days of his administration it would raise serious questions about why Flynn was not fired until Feb. 13, and whether Trump was attempting to obstruct justice when FBI Director James Comey says the president pressured him to drop his investigation into Flynn.

Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel, emailed me this about the NBC report:

“This is a potentially serious development in this investigation. Should there be evidence that the president directed or encouraged Flynn to lie, he faces an obstruction charge, and the constitutional defenses his supporters have been claiming are irrelevant. Of course, this legal exposure extends to any other officials who were involved in a decision to have Flynn make these false statements.”

That line about “constitutional defenses” is a reference to an argument that prominent Trump supporters have made: That Trump cannot by definition obstruct justice if he is simply exercising his constitutional authority, as he was when he fired Comey. That argument is itself questionable, since, as some experts have noted, he might have done this with corrupt intent. But beyond this, directing Flynn to lie to the FBI would not constitute such a legitimate exercise of authority, and could constitute obstruction of justice.

“This would mean we’re now looking at potential criminality that cannot be justified as an exercise of the president’s authority,” Paul Rosenzweig, a senior counsel on Ken Starr’s investigation into Bill Clinton who is now a lecturer in law at George Washington University, told me today. “That could be obstruction of justice, or aiding and abetting a false statement to the FBI, or conspiracy to do the same.”

Another possibility, Rosenzweig noted, is that Trump or other top officials may have merely may have been made aware of Flynn’s lying soon after the fact. If so, the question would be why they did not try to correct the record with the FBI, which might not be criminal but could potentially be “impeachable,” Rosenzweig says. A third possibility, he says, is that Trump or top officials tacitly approved of this lying beforehand, which could constitute “a conspiracy to obstruct justice.” The bottom line, as Randall Eliason, a professor of white collar criminal law at GWU, told me, is that if the NBC story is true, “Mueller may be looking at possible obstruction of justice by Trump.”

To be clear, it is possible that Flynn freelanced in lying to the FBI, and that no one else either directed him to do it or was made aware of it at the time. So this could end up meaning little.

Time will tell.

Hope Hicks In The Spotlight

The New York Times is breaking two separate pieces of news regarding White House Communications Director Hope Hicks.

First is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team finally has conducted its much-anticipated interview with Hicks, meeting with her Thursday and Friday.

Second is that the F.B.I. warned Hicks that Russian operatives had been trying to make contact with her during the transition:

There is no evidence that Ms. Hicks did anything improper. According to former officials, American intelligence and law enforcement agencies became alarmed by introductory emails that Ms. Hicks received from Russian government addresses in the weeks after Mr. Trump’s election.

After he took office, senior F.B.I. counterintelligence agents met with Ms. Hicks in the White House Situation Room at least twice, gave her the names of the Russians who had contacted her, and said that they were not who they claimed to be. The F.B.I. was concerned that the emails to Ms. Hicks may have been part of a Russian intelligence operation, and they urged Ms. Hicks to be cautious.

(…)

The contents of the emails to Ms. Hicks are unclear, as are the identities of the Russians who sent them.

Senior F.B.I. officials warned all senior aides in the early days of the administration about possible espionage efforts but then returned to speak further with Hicks and “at least one other person close to the president:”

In a meeting in the Situation Room in February, Ms. Hicks was told generally about the Russian intelligence efforts and pressed them for more information. A senior F.B.I. agent met again with Ms. Hicks, and provided her several names of Russians who had contacted her and whom the F.B.I. was concerned about.

Ms. Hicks informed Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, about her meetings with the F.B.I.

The F.B.I. meetings with Ms. Hicks occurred at the time of a brewing controversy involving Michael T. Flynn, then the national security adviser, and his calls during the transition with the Russian ambassador at the time. Mr. Flynn lied to the F.B.I. about those discussions, and intelligence officials worried that his lies made him susceptible to Russian blackmail.

Trump Hits New Low In Pew Polls

President Donald Trump has hit rock bottom again in a new poll.

The Pew Research Center finds that only 32 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance, the lowest level in any Pew poll measuring his job approval since he took office in January. Sixty-three percent disapprove.

Trump’s approval rating has declined slightly since October when it was 34 percent, and it has decreased markedly since February when it was 39 percent.

Fifty-nine percent of Americans say improper contact between senior Trump officials and Russia during the 2016 campaign “definitely or probably occurred,” and 30 percent say it “definitely or probably did not happen.”

Accusations of such collusion are being investigated by Congress and by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Some other details that could be troubling for Trump if the trends continue: His approval rating among white evangelical Protestants, a key part of his political base, has fallen since February to 61 percent from 78 percent. Overall, Trump’s support among white voters has declined since February to 41 percent from 49 percent, and his approval among white voters without college degrees has declined to 46 percent from 56.

Yet voters who identify themselves as conservative still back Trump although by smaller margins. Seventy-six percent of Republicans and Republican leaners approve of his job performance, compared with 84 percent in February.

Forty percent of men approve, down from 45 in February, and 25 percent of women approve, down from 33 percent.

Trumps Worked Directly With Wikileaks During Campaign

CNN has today’s blockbuster:

Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were emailed a decryption key and website address for documents hacked by WikiLeaks in the fall of 2016, CNN reported Friday.

Congressional investigators are seeking to determine whether the Sept. 4 email to the Trumps, which was turned over by the Trump Organization, is the latest example of entities or individuals associated with WikiLeaks trying to boost the GOP candidate’s campaign and tarnish Hillary Clinton’s.

Just three weeks after the email was sent, as previously reported, Wikileaks initiated an exchange of direct messages with Trump Jr., who occasionally responded to or acted on the messages the group sent him.

The early September message came from a man who listed his name as “Mike Erickson” and was sent to Trump Jr., his personal assistant, an email address set up for then-candidate Trump, and others at the Trump organization, according to CNN.

It reportedly suggested that recipients could have access to records associated with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose hacked emails were leaked 10 days later. CNN reported that a Russian front group was behind that release.

Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, told CNN that the President’s eldest son did not recall receiving the message and took no action on it.

The punchline?

After the story’s publication, Futerfas issued a statement, reiterating that the team did “not know who Mike Erickson is” and “never responded to the email.”

UPDATE: CNN blew it?

This makes the email far less significant since the documents the email offered were public, or became public that day.

The Republican Machine and Fox’s pro-Trump Hosts Are Working Hard To Discredit Robert Mueller

Yesterday left no doubt: Fox News and Trump Republicans are willing to destroy America’s institutions as long as it keeps them in power.

It starts with Fox News. It starts with Sean Hannity, who’s hearing that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is “illegitimate and corrupt.” That it’s led by a “band of merry Trump-haters” who are trying to reverse the results of the election. And that it must be stopped.

He’s also hearing that the FBI is becoming “America’s secret police,” akin to the KGB in Russia, full of “sickness” and “corruption.”

The overarching message from “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity” is unmistakable: Mr. President, you’re the victim of a “deep state” plot to take you down. Don’t let it happen.

In recent weeks, there’s been a big increase in reporting about Mueller’s probe and how it could affect Trump’s inner circle. At the same time, there’s also been a sharp escalation in the anti-Mueller rhetoric coming from right wing media sources.  With four of Trump’s associates now charged by Mueller’s team, and congressional probes also proceeding in many different directions, other channels are filled with the latest twists and turns about the intensifying investigations.

But viewers who stick to Fox might not know that. The nightly focus is on Mueller’s alleged partisanship, not Trump’s potential problems.

Last weekend, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that Mueller had removed FBI official Peter Strzok from his team of investigators due to text messages from Strzok that could be interpreted as anti-Trump. Even though Strzok was reassigned to FBI human resources, the story is the centerpiece of the current anti-Mueller hits.

Newt Gingrich, who praised Mueller’s appointment back in May, now sounds like a different person altogether. “Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt,” he told Laura Ingraham on Wednesday night.

One hour earlier, the banners on Sean Hannity’s show read “MUELLER’S PARTISAN ATTACK TEAM” and “THE DEEP STATE,” so even if viewers had the volume down, they still saw the message. Channel surfers who stumbled on Fox by mistake might think they had landed in an alternate universe. Hannity began the hour by slamming “Robert Mueller’s partisan, extremely biased, hyper-partisan attack team,” calling the accomplished lawyers “an utter disgrace.” He invoked the U.S. Constitution and said “they now pose a direct threat to you, the American people, and our American republic.” Repeating something he has said dozens of times before, Hannity said, “this entire witch-hunt needs to be shut down — and shut down immediately.”

Then Hannity brought in news anchor turned “legal analyst” Gregg Jarrett, who appears on the program almost every night to savage Mueller and company. “I think we now know that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt,” Jarrett said. “And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America’s secret police. Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats. It’s like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door.”

“This is not hyperbole you are using here,” Hannity said, credulously.

Yes, Sean. It is the very definition of hyperbole.

“No. Ask Paul Manafort, they came for him and broke through his front door,” Jarrett said. Jarrett and Hannity commented that if it can happen to Manafort, it can happen to anyone.

Well, it DOES happen to anyone.

The rhetoric doesn’t spew from Fox News. It continues in Congress. FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his agency yesterday in his first public appearance since President Donald Trump said the bureau is “in tatters.”  Wray told the House Judiciary Committee his agents work hard “protecting the American people and upholding the rule of law in all 50 states and in about 80 countries around the world.”
Throughout the hearing, Republican lawmakers have seized on the actions of Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of the Clinton email server as the No. 2 official in the FBI’s counterintelligence division.  He left the Mueller team this past summer after an internal investigation found messages he sent that could be interpreted as showing political bias for Hillary Clinton and against Trump, according to US officials briefed on the matter.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, asked Wray about what he’s doing to clear the ranks of the FBI by people “tainted” by bias.

“I think these matters are being looked at, as they should be, by somebody outside the FBI, and when those findings come to me, I will take appropriate action if necessary,” Wray said, referencing the ongoing inspector general investigation. “The first thing I’m doing is respecting the outside independent investigations that are underway. … My preference is to be one of these people who is not an act first and ask questions later guy.”

The allegation of bias is, of course, ridiculous. The assumption is that if you have a political leaning, you cannot be fair and impartial. But is that true? What does say about the Republican Congressmen on the committee?

It’s clear why Fox and some Republicans in Congress are attacking Mueller and the FBI. It is because the heat is on with Trump. They need him. And once Mueller passes a certain point (he may have already passed it), and the investigation moves into litigation, then we are riding a train to Trump’s demise, and even Mueller cannot stop it. So they need to discredit Mueller and the investigators NOW.  That’s what is happening.

But it is a very dangerous game. A Russia kind of propaganda game. When you discredit the FBI, and get a large segment of the country to believe there is no law and order, you create chaos.  Trump will come and go. The damage being done won’t.

Pretty Sure You Need To Have An Attorney To Claim Attorney-Client Privilege

Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. cited attorney-client privilege and refused to discuss a phone call he had with his father about how to handle the fallout from his June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. He told the House Intelligence Committee that a lawyer was in the room during the call. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters: “I don’t believe you can shield communications between individuals merely by having an attorney present,” adding “that’s not the purpose of attorney-client privilege” and that “the presence of counsel does not make communications between father and son a privilege.”  What, if anything, the president knew about the Trump Tower meeting as a presidential candidate — and his role in drafting a misleading statement about it once he was president and it became public — are key questions for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating Russian interference in the election.

L’il Trump told the committee about his earlier discussions with the White House adviser Hope Hicks about how to respond to the coming New York Times article about the June meeting, first published on July 8. As you recall, his initial statement said the Trump Tower meeting was primarily about the ability of Americans to adopt Russian children. It made no mention of any promise of incriminating information from the Russian government against Mrs. Clinton.

Whistleblower Says Flynn Was Excited For Russia Plans To Build Nuclear Plants In Mideast

Full letter below:

The Democrats are now asking Gowdy to sign off on subpoenas for various White House officials, associates of Flynn’s and others involved in the nuclear project.

“If you choose to continue blocking our Committee’s investigation of General Flynn and allowing the White House to defy our bipartisan requests, the Oversight Committee will be faced with allegations of hypocrisy that are extremely difficult to defend,” Cummings said.  “The integrity of this Committee’s work will be questioned, and the credibility of its investigations will be severely degraded.”

In other Trump-Russian collusion news. Don Jr testified before the House committee today:

I don’t believe that, but at least he is consistent.

UPDATE – Apparently Don Jr is getting grilled:

The Abramson Theiory

I’ve been following, and also quoting, Seth Abramson, a University of New Hampshire professor — also a lawyer and criminal defense attorney — and his prolific (arguably TOO prolific) tweets about Trump and the Russian Collusion scandal.

The Washington Post did an expose on Abramson, and his sometimes sensible, sometimes not, theory:

As Seth Abramson tells it, Donald Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russian government is not in doubt, not hard to understand and happens to read like a crime thriller.

The University of New Hampshire professor has become virally popular by reframing a complex tangle of public reporting on the Russia scandal into a story so simple it can be laid out in daily tweets — and so dramatic his fans can’t stop reading, even if critics point out the plot holes.

It goes, in short, like this:

After trying for many years to expand his business empire into Russia, Abramson asserts, Trump visited Moscow in 2013 to personally meet agents of Russian President Vladmir Putin, using his beauty pageant as cover.

There, Abramson writes, a secret deal was struck: Putin agreed to open up his country’s rich real estate market to Trump, and Trump agreed to campaign for president while promoting pro-Russian policies.

Simple as that. And everything that has happened since — the election hacking, Trump’s improbable win and a special counsel’s investigation into his campaign and administration — follows from that deal, in Abramson’s telling.

***

Abramson’s tweets link copiously to sources, but they range in quality from investigative news articles to off-the-wall Facebook posts and tweets from Tom Arnold. The New Republic and Atlantic have both dismissed the professor as a conspiracy theorist.

***

Abramson will be the first to tell you he has no special knowledge of the investigation. Much of his analysis is based on his experience as a criminal defense lawyer in the 2000s.

But sound or not, his theory of the Trump Russia scandal has won thousands of devotees and appears to be breaking into the mainstream.

“I don’t like conspiracy theorists,” Abramson told The Washington Post. “Their answer to every situation is some dramatic explanation.”

That said, he acknowledged his explanation for the Trump campaign’s many ties to Russia is as dramatic as possible: that the president of the United States has been corrupted by a foreign power. And he’s often conflated with the cranks he despises.

“Yes, I have a dramatic reading from what did happen here and what’s going to happen here. And that’s because I consider this to be an extraordinary criminal investigation and prosecution,” Abramson said. “It’s a singular event.”

So singular that he repeatedly warns his readers they need to prepare for a political scandal the likes of which the United States has never seen.

Part of his appeal is that he purports to boil the special prosecutor’s opaque investigation — and the confusing web of Trump businesses, Kremlin associates and conflicting explanations that intersect with it — down to a few key names and dates and a simple motive: greed.

“The CORE NARRATIVE is simple,” as Abramson wrote in a typically styled Twitter thread over the weekend. “America was SOLD OUT by men who wanted POWER and were willing to trade U.S. POLICY to get it.”

Citing news reports that date back to the late 20th century, Abramson argues that Trump has long wanted to expand his real estate holdings into Russia’s lucrative markets.

On this point, at least, he’s in good company. Many mainstream writers, have argued the same, including David Ignatius in The Washington Post.

But Abramson departs from those writers in his description of a weekend trip Trump took to Moscow in 2013, when he brought his Miss Universe pageant to the Russian capital.

Trump ended up spending part of the weekend with Russians associated with the Crocus Group. While Ignatius describes the company as a “shopping mall developer,”

Abramson calls it “essentially the Kremlin’s no-bid real estate developer.”

***

Ignatius and others have noted that Trump returned from the trip crowing about his plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, and The Post has reported on his company’s pursuit of the hotel deal two years later, when he was running for president.

Abramson’s theory squares the circle: He argues that Trump signed a real estate contract with Putin’s agents on the 2013 visit and “used his run for the presidency as a chit — a valuable asset to be offered to Putin — to ensure Putin’s assistance with the multibillion-dollar Trump Tower Moscow deal.”

The fact that Trump Tower Moscow was never actually built Abramson blames on an accident of history: Trump never expected to win the election and conflict himself out of the deal.

His evidence isn’t so clear cut. Abramson cites a 2014 tweet from a Russian lifestyle blogger  (“I’m sure @realDonaldTrump will be great president! We’ll support you from Russia!“)  as “proof” that Trump’s companions on the Moscow trip knew he’d run for president long before he announced it.

But this ignores that Trump was openly flirting with a presidential run for years. Indeed, his own Twitter feed at the time was filled with people hoping and assuming he’d run.

Other parts of Abramson’s analysis may be better grounded. A Forbes article supports his contention that Putin-connected developers talked about a real estate deal with Trump during the Moscow trip. And Abramson notes that one of Trump’s hosts in 2013, Emin Agalarov, was later implicated in arranging a meeting in which Trump campaign officials sought to obtain politically helpful information from Russia.

But these facts are sprinkled into his threads with more fantastic sounding claims. Read deep down into Abramson’s Twitter feed and you’ll find what he describes as a “confession” from a “Kremlin agent,” who detailed a five-year plot to help Trump win the election in a public Facebook post.

It’s dramatic stuff. But would those involved in a Kremlin-orchestrated plot to put Trump in the White House really spill the beans unprompted on Facebook?

Absolutely, says Abramson — and tried to explain the difference between a conspiracy theory, which he deplores, and the “criminal conspiracy” he asserts Trump involved himself in during the campaign.

“This was very unsophisticated and the people involved were largely moronic,” he told The Post. “I’ve represented thousands of criminal defendants and what they have in common is they were very unsophisticated, and we might say stupid. Watergate was stupid. The people involved were stupid. President Nixon was very stupid, and that’s how he got caught.”

There are, as the article suggests, a lot of holes in Abramson’s theory, but I have warmed up to the notion that Trump’s relationship with Putin — or perhaps Putin’s oligarchs — goes back long before Trump ran for President in 2016. It has been reported (and disputed by Trump’s lawyers) that Mueller has subpoenaed Trump’s records from Deutsche Bank, the only bank in the world still willing to deal with Trump because of his bad credit. So it appears that Mueller is thinking along the same lines (that Trump’s issues go back several years).

In any event, history will prove Abramson right or wrong, or somewhere in the middle.  In the meantime, stay tuned.

Trump Announces Plans To Undo Natural Monuments

As I type this, Trump is in Salt Lake City announcing his plans to be the anti-Teddy Roosevelt.

Trump’s actions are a dramatic departure from conventional interpretations of the 1906 Antiquities Act, on which the monument designations are based. The act, advocated by President Theodore Roosevelt, was designed to provide safeguards to exceptional historic, cultural, and natural landscapes across the country, most of them located in the West’s public domain. 

The Antiquities Act provides broad authority to presidents to act alone in establishing national monuments. Presidents have declared more than 150 national monuments, many of which became national parks. Four of Utah’s five national parks started as national monuments.

Though previous presidents have adjusted national monuments more than 40 times, all but 14 of those changes were made to expand monument boundaries. No prior president has revoked a national monument designation. None has come close to reducing boundaries by the nearly 2 million acres that Trump is removing from the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. This is all part of a gift to the drilling, mining and fracking industries.

Public opinion surveys have consistently found that Utah residents are about evenly divided on whether to shrink or maintain the existing boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

It is an open question whether a President even has the authority to take away national monuments, or whether that power rests with Congress.

In Trump’s way is the Antiquities Act of 1906 (which does not give the President power to revoke) and the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which says the Interior Secretary “shall not .. modify or revoke any withdrawal (to protect land) creating national monuments under the Act of June 8, 1906.”

But the American Enterprise Institute disagrees.  “Under Article I of the Constitution, only Congress can enact domestic statutes with any degree of per­manence,” they write. “A basic principle of the Constitution is that a branch of government can reverse its earlier actions using the same process originally used.”

In response to the argument that the Antiquities Act says nothing about revoking a designation, the AEI notes that the Constitution is similarly silent about passing laws in general. It grants Congress the power to make laws, but there’s no explicit power for it to undo them. (Except by passing a new law.)

They also said that no president can bind a future president.  “Presidents commonly issue executive orders reversing, modifying, or even extending the executive orders of past presidents, and no court has ever questioned that authority, even when it is used to implement statutorily delegated powers,” the AEI writes.

As for that 1976 land management law, the AEI says it only applies to the interior secretary, not the president.

Courts will settle this eventually.

Trump Endorses Accused Child Molester For Senate

The chyrons say it all:

Kayla Moore (Roy’s wife) confirms:

This is not normal. Can you imagine, in any other time, what would happen if a President endorsed a child molester as a candidate for Senate?

Polls have the two pretty close….

… BUT I am not sure how much to trust these polls. I think many people will lie about whether they are voting for Roy Moore to a pollster, out of embarrassment.

Corrections And Updates And Backtracks To Last Week’s Bombshells

As I posted here last week, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition last December. Flynn is the fourth Trump associate to be charged in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. As I also posted, Flynn promised “full cooperation” with Mueller’s investigation and was prepared to testify that Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians.

That second part was almost correct.  Turns out, Brian Ross at ABC got it wrong:

Now, the only thing that Ross got wrong was the part that Flynn will testify that Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians. It doesn’t mean that Trump DIDN’T do that — just that the anonymous source is not good enough to confirm.

Trump seized on it, of course:

Nnnnnno. It doesn’t make the Russia thing a “witch hunt”. Flynn DID plead guilty, after all.

But the other big news from the weekend was this tweet from Trump:

Why was this significant?  Because this was the first time that Trump has said that he knew Flynn lied to the FBI. Up until now, the White House position was that Flynn lied to Pence… period!  The timeline here is critical:

  1. Flynn lied to the FBI on January 24 2017
  2. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates tells White House (through WH lawyer Don McGahn) that Flynn lied and may be subject to blackmail on January 26 2017
  3. Trump has lunch with FBI Director Comey — “I need loyalty” Trump says — on January 27 2017
  4. Photo of Trump with Flynn and others in Oval Office on January 29 2017
  5. Sally Yates fired on January 30 2017

Flynn isn’t fired until February 13 for lying to Pence (what we’re told at the time) and the next day, in another unusual Trump-Comey meeting alone in the Oval, Trump says to Comey that he hope he’ll “let Flynn go”.

The fact that Trump knew that Flynn lied to the FBI indicates that his subsequent actions could be characterized as “obstruction of justice”.  Therefore, Trump’s tweet that he knew Flynn lied to the FBI is a HUGE and damning admission…. which Trump made AGAIN Saturday evening at 9:06 pm

Meanwhile, the lawyers were doing damage control.  This happened:

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, told CNN on Sunday that he wrote a tweet for the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account about the firing of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” the Saturday tweet reads. “He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

Dowd said he drafted the tweet and believes White House social media director Dan Scavino posted it online. He declined to answer additional questions about whether Trump reviewed the tweet before it was posted.

“Enough already,” he said in an email. “I don’t feed the haters.”

The Washington Post reported Saturday that Dowd drafted the tweet, citing two people familiar with the Twitter message. NBC News’ Chuck Todd also reported Sunday on “Meet the Press” that Dowd confirmed he authored the message.

Does Dowd have proof?

Although the mainstream media seems to accept Dowd’s assertion as true, I am not so sure. A criminal defense attorney tweeting on behalf of a client?  I doubt that.  And if he did this tweet, he should have been fired.

In any event, Dowd needs to repeat his assertion (that he authored the tweet) under oath, and Scavino needs to own up to it (under oath) as well. No, it is not attorney-client privileged.

But according to The Washington Post, Dowd is also saying that “Trump knew generally that Flynn’s account to the FBI and Pence (his claim to have never spoken with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions) were similar…”

Pardon me if I don’t see how this latest revelation helps Dowd’s client. Even with this new explanation, we are left with the impression that Trump assumed Flynn had committed a felony. That didn’t stop Trump from pressuring then-FBI director James Comey to go easy on him—or from firing Comey when he didn’t.

So Dowd’s saving tweet doesn’t change the ballgame, because legally, the distinction that Trump believed something as opposed to knowing it might not quell the allegations that he obstructed justice.

And now, this morning, we get this odd legal theory from Dowd, in an interview in Axios:

John Dowd, President Trump’s outside lawyer, outlined to me a new and highly controversial defense/theory in the Russia probe: A president cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice.

The “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case,” Dowd claims.

Dowd says he drafted this weekend’s Trump tweet that many thought strengthened the case for obstruction: The tweet suggested Trump knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when he was fired, raising new questions about the later firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Dowd: “The tweet did not admit obstruction. That is an ignorant and arrogant assertion.”

Ooookay. The ever-increasingly bonkers Alan Dershowitz has been saying the same thing.

Let’s post this from the Brookings Institute (see pp 76-76)

BREAKING — Well, this seems to settle it:

The White House’s chief lawyer told President Donald Trump in January he believed then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled the FBI and lied to Vice President Mike Pence and should be fired, a source familiar with the matter said Monday.

The description of the conversation raises new questions about what Trump knew about Flynn’s situation when he urged then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn and whether anyone in the White House, including the President himself, attempted to obstruct justice. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians, a probe led by Comey until Trump fired him.

White House counsel Donald McGahn told Trump that based on his conversation with then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates, he believed Flynn had not told the truth in his interview with the FBI or to Pence, the source said. McGahn did not tell the President that Flynn had violated the law in his FBI interview or was under criminal investigation, the source said.

Emphasis mine.

The more we learn, the more likely it seems that the incriminating tweet Trump sent out on Saturday was accurate, regardless of who wrote it.  If Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI, refused to fire Flynn until later when the news media found out, asked Comey to back off Flynn, then fired Comey after that failed, then the stunning admission in the tweet is true, regardless of who wrote it.

Flynn Pleads Guilty* In Trump-Russia “Witchhunt”

* Well, he’s about to plead guilty… 10:30 am today.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed court documents Friday indicating that he was bringing charges against former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn for lying to FBI agents about his Russian contacts.

The information charges Flynn with one count of making a false statement.

Here is the court filing – Seth Abramson is calling it “the most significant historic document in our lifetime”:

The White House spin? “Meh, everyone lies”

Yeah, that’s not going to fly.

This timeline is so damning for Trump:

January 24 – Flynn lies to the FBI.
January 26 – Sally Yates warns the White House about Flynn.
January 27 – Trump responds not by firing Flynn, but asking Comey for a loyalty pledge.
January 30 – Sally Yates fired.

UPDATES:  Things are moving fast…

11:25 am

WHOA!  THIS IS HUGE!!!

Contact about what?  This could be the ballgame!

Fox tries to bury it:

11:44 am

As show below, WH lawyers are downplaying this:

Yeah, that’s not how this works. The false statements involved have nothing to do with what Flynn is telling the Mueller team right now.

Bad news for Kushner.

Dow plummets at Flynn news:

Statement from Flynn now out:

This just might be the best press news today:

Comey weighs in:


The White House claimed the pool spray got on the schedule “by accident”.

Here is the Flynn plea agreement:

12:25pm

More White House cancellations posed as “mistakes”

And this is fun

I read an analysis by Andrew McCarthy at The National Review. He wrote:

McCarthy does not understand how this works.  You don’t plead guilty to serious offenses if you are cooperating.  You plead guilty to lesser offenses (or none at all). The Sword of Damocles goes OVER the head.

BIG UPDATE:

Bloomburg is reporting “Kushner Is Said to Have Ordered Flynn to Contact Russia”:

This was the context of Kushner’s instruction to Flynn last December. One transition official at the time said Kushner called Flynn to tell him he needed to get every foreign minister or ambassador from a country on the U.N. Security Council to delay or vote against the resolution. Much of this appeared to be coordinated also with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose envoys shared their own intelligence about the Obama administration’s lobbying efforts to get member stats to support the resolution with the Trump transition team.

I’m not sure I like this article (in the “Opinion” section). It is written in the passive tense. And doesn’t seem well-sourced.

Good analysis here:

Former federal prosecutors told TPM that this Special Counsel Robert Mueller made a calculated move to keep Flynn’s charge limited, and that, given what is known about Flynn’s myriad inappropriate foreign dealings, they wouldn’t have done so unless the former intelligence official had divulged some very juicy secrets.

“What’s interesting to me is what he’s not charged with,” said Steven Miller, a former anti-corruption federal prosecutor. “This is a very narrowly drawn structural plea bargain. By virtue of a single count he can’t get more than a five-year sentence. You don’t get that unless you’re giving something serious to the government. And the number of players left are relatively small: it’s [Jared] Kushner, it’s [Donald] Trump Jr., it’s the Trump campaign, and it’s the President. So I think this is something that would cause all of them to be extraordinarily worried.”

“It’s a neon sign that there’s massive cooperation underway by Flynn,” Miller added.

Jens Ohlin, an expert in criminal law at Cornell Law School, concurred, saying what essentially amounts to a “sweetheart deal” would not be offered unless Flynn could incriminate a bigger fish.

“The government would not agree to this deal if Flynn was merely providing information on someone who is in a peripheral place in the criminality,” Ohlin said. “So if he’s providing information in exchange to this deal its because it’s someone who is even more centrally located than Flynn.”

Yup.

2:50 pm

Seems to be confirmation that Kushner is deep doodoo

3:10 pm

Trump’s first tweet since all this broke… (has he been told?)

This Is Not Just A Bad Tax Bill; This Is A Bill That Will Make America Worse In Many Ways

NY Times:

The tax plan has been marketed by President Trump and Republican leaders as a straightforward if enormous rebate for the masses, a $1.5 trillion package of cuts to spur hiring and economic growth. But as the bill has been rushed through Congress with scant debate, its far broader ramifications have come into focus, revealing a catchall legislative creation that could reshape major areas of American life, from education to health care.

Some of this re-engineering is straight out of the traditional Republican playbook. Corporate taxes, along with those on wealthy Americans, would be slashed on the presumption that when people in penthouses get relief, the benefits flow down to basement tenements.

Some measures are barely connected to the realm of taxation, such as the lifting of a 1954 ban on political activism by churches and the conferring of a new legal right for fetuses in the House bill — both on the wish list of the evangelical right.

With a potentially far-reaching dimension, elements in both the House and Senate bills could constrain the ability of states and local governments to levy their own taxes, pressuring them to limit spending on health care, education, public transportation and social services. In their longstanding battle to shrink government, Republicans have found in the tax bill a vehicle to broaden the fight beyond Washington.

The result is a behemoth piece of legislation that could widen American economic inequality while diminishing the power of local communities to marshal relief for vulnerable people — especially in high-tax states like California and New York, which, not coincidentally, tend to vote Democratic.

This bill is what Republicans wanted for years, if not decades. Not just changes to benefit their donors, but social changes in ways that have little to do with tax policy (i.e. gifts to the religious right).  It hopes to undo the social safety net in FDR’s programs. For instance, it could trigger rules mandating cuts to Medicare, the government health care program for seniors, the Congressional Budget Office warned. Some 13 million people could lose health care via the elimination of a key plank of Obamacare. Insurance premiums are also expected to rise by 10 percent.

I think this has to do with Trump, who the Republican elites are tolerating only because they had hoped that they could push this agenda through. Many of them might think (with good reason) that Trump’s days are numbered, and so they are trying to do a ‘Hail Mary’, squeeze a 4 to 8 year agenda into one bill.  Never mind that (as we just learned seconds ago) it will increase the deficit by $1 trillion dollars (that’s for future generations to worry about).And they might pull it off.

White House Shake-up

“I’ll hire the best people, believe me” – Trump, many times on the campaign trail

“Tensions escalate after Tillerson calls Trump ‘moron'” – CNN headline, October 5, 2017

The New York Times is reporting that the Trump Administration has developed a plan to force out Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, whose relationship with Trump has been strained, and replace him with Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director.

Pompeo would be replaced at the C.I.A. by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who has been a key ally of the president on national security matters. Reportedly, Cotton said that he would accept the job if offered.

John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, developed the transition plan and has discussed it with other officials. Under his plan, the shake-up of the national security team would happen around the end of the year or shortly afterward.

The ouster of Tillerson would end a turbulent reign at the State Department for the former Exxon Mobile chief executive, who has been largely marginalized over the last year. Trump and Tillerson have been at odds over a host of major issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, the confrontation with North Korea and a clash between Arab allies. The secretary was reported to have privately called Trump a “moron” and the president publicly criticized Tillerson for “wasting his time” with a diplomatic outreach to North Korea.

Here’s why Tillerson is on the way out:

  • Trump can’t stand him and has contradicted him on many major policy issues — from North Korea, to Iran, to Qatar, to Saudi Arabia.
  • He has no allies in the White House, few if any in the State Department beyond his innermost circle and he’s managed to alienate even his tiny number of supporters on Capitol Hill.
  • His natural constituency would’ve been Democrats and moderates who view him and General Mattis as restraints on the president, but he lost that crowd because of what he’s done to the State Department — a bungled reorganization and a failure to appoint people to top jobs.
  • He never had favor among mainstream Republicans in foreign policy circles because he’s got a history of ignoring the human rights agenda to get business done.
Most damning of all: When foreign leaders and diplomats hear Tillerson speak, they know he’s not speaking for the president. They know this because Trump makes it abundantly clear, in public.

Since It Is Sexual Harassment Day

Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor have joined the ranks of men getting fired for sexual harassment.  That’s just TODAY… so far.

So I thought I would up a recent Washington Post article about our President:

President Trump and accusations of sexual misconduct: The complete list

Here’s a list of 13 women who have publicly come forward with claims that Trump had physically touched them inappropriately in some way, and the witnesses they provided. We did not include claims that were made only through Facebook posts or other social media, or in lawsuits that subsequently were withdrawn.

We also did not include the accounts of former beauty contestants who say Trump walked in on them when they were half nude because there were no allegations of touching. Trump had bragged on the Howard Stern show of his “inspections” during the pageants: “You know they’re standing there with no clothes. Is everybody OK? And you see these incredible looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that.”

Two or more contemporary corroborators

Natasha Stoynoff

Allegation: While she was interviewing Trump in 2005 for an article for People magazine about the first anniversary of his third marriage, Trump lured her into a room at Mar-a-Lago, forced her against a wall and abruptly kissed her, forcing his tongue into her mouth. He then said they were going to have an affair.

Corroborators: 
Marina Grasic, who has known Stoynoff for more than 25 years. She said she got a call from her friend the day after the alleged attack, detailing exactly how Trump pushed Stoynoff against a wall.
Liz McNeil, at the time a reporter for People (she is now an editor). She said that she heard about the incident the day after Stoynoff returned from her assignment. “She was very upset and told me how he shoved her against a wall,” she said.
Mary Green, another People reporter (now editor) who had just returned to New York. “In an early conversation we had in her office, she told me about what happened with Donald Trump,” Green said. “She was shaky, sitting at her desk, relaying that, ‘He took me to this other room, and when we stepped inside, he pushed me against a wall and stuck his tongue down my throat. Melania was upstairs and could have walked in at any time.’ ”
Liza Hamm, part of a “tight-knit’ group of friends. “Natasha has always been a vivacious person who wants to believe in the best of people, and this experience definitely messed with that outlook,” she said.
Paul McLaughlin, Stoynoff’s former journalism professor. He said Stoynoff called him at the time of the alleged incident seeking advice on how to handle it: “She didn’t know what to do, she was very conflicted, she was angry, she was really confused about how to deal with this.” After a discussion, he said, Stoynoff decided it would be best if she kept the incident to herself.

Response: Anthony Senecal, Trump’s former butler, denied the incident: “No, that never happened. Come on, that’s just bull crap.” Trump said: “Why didn’t she do this 12 years ago? She’s a liar. … It never happened. It’s a lie.”

Rachel Crooks

Allegation: Trump in 2005 kissed her directly on the lips after she introduced herself and said she was a receptionist who worked for a company that did business with Trump.

Corroborators: 
Brianne Webb, her sister. She said Crooks called her about the incident as soon as she returned to her desk. “Being from a town of 1,600 people, being naive, I was like, ‘Are you sure he didn’t just miss trying to kiss you on the cheek?’ She said, ‘No, he kissed me on the mouth.’ I was like, ‘That is not normal.’ ”
Clint Hackenburg, her boyfriend at the time. After he asked her that evening how her day had gone, “she paused for a second, and then started hysterically crying.”

Response: Shouting at the New York Times reporter who called for comment, Trump said, “None of this ever took place.” He then told the reporter, “You are a disgusting human being.”

Cathy Heller

Allegation: While having Mother’s Day brunch at Mar-a-Lago in 1997 or 1998, her mother-in-law introduced her to Trump. She extended her hand to greet him and he grabbed her and kissed her on the mouth. She did turn her head slightly and so he wasn’t able to “get my whole mouth.”

Corroborators:
Lloyd Heller, her husband. He said that she immediately told him. He said he told her that “you should have punched him” and he remembers being “puzzled” by why Trump would do something like that in a public space.
A relative who was there, but wanted to stay unnamed. This person said Heller was immediately shocked and asked whether he or she had seen what happened. The two then talked about the incident asking, “Who does he think he is?”

Response: Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller told People Magazine: “There is no way that something like this would have happened in a public place on Mother’s Day at Mr. Trump’s resort.”

One contemporary corroborator, one additional witness

Kristin Anderson

Allegation: While she was at a Manhattan nightclub in the early 1990s, Trump slid his fingers under her miniskirt, moved up her inner thigh and touched her vagina through her underwear.

Corroborators: 
Kelly Stedman, a friend. She said she was told about the incident at a women’s brunch a few days later. The women found themselves “laughing at how pathetic it was” on Trump’s part.
Brad Trent, a New York photographer. He says he heard the story from Anderson at a dinner in 2007. “It was just girls saying stories about how they got hit on by creepy old guys,” Trent said of the conversation around the table.

Response: The Trump campaign, in an emailed statement, said Anderson had fabricated the story: “Mr. Trump strongly denies this phony allegation by someone looking to get some free publicity. It is totally ridiculous.”

One corroborator

Summer Zervos

Allegation: Trump kissed Zervos on the lips when he met her in his New York office, which upset Zervos, who had been a contestant on Season 5 of Trump’s “The Apprentice.” She then met Trump at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007 for what she thought would be dinner; instead, she was escorted to his private bungalow. “I stood up and he came to me and started kissing me open-mouthed as he was pulling me toward him,” she said. “He then grabbed my shoulder and started kissing me again very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast.” He kept pursuing her, she said, at one point “thrusting his genitals” against her as he tried to kiss her. She said she again rebuffed him.

Corroborator:
Ann Russo, friend: She said that Zervos told her in 2010 that Trump had been “verbally, physically, and sexually aggressive with her” but that she had rebuffed his advances. “It was apparent she was conflicted with what Mr. Trump had done to her,” she said, adding that Zervos was torn between her admiration for Trump and Trump’s behavior.

(In her lawsuit against Trump, Zervos says that in 2007 she “spoke to a friend and her parents about [the initial kiss], all of whom concluded that this must just be the way that Mr. Trump greeted people.” She then told her father about the hotel incident, the lawsuit says.)

Response: Trump issued a statement by John Barry, a cousin of Zervos’s: “I think Summer wishes she could still be on reality TV, and in an effort to get that back she’s saying all of these negative things about Mr. Trump. That’s not how she talked about him before. I can only imagine that Summer’s actions today are nothing more than an attempt to regain the spotlight at Mr. Trump’s expense, and I don’t think it reflects well.”

Mindy McGillivray

Allegation: McGillivray said she was groped by Trump at Mar-a-Lago in 2003, when she was 23, at a photo shoot during a concert by Ray Charles.  “All of a sudden I felt a grab, a little nudge. I think it’s Ken’s camera bag, that was my first instinct. I turn around and there’s Donald. He sort of looked away quickly. I quickly turned back, facing Ray Charles, and I’m stunned.’’ She told the Palm Beach Post she was certain it was not an accident. “This was a pretty good nudge. More of a grab,’’ she said. “It was pretty close to the center of my butt. I was startled. I jumped.’’

Corroborator:
Ken Davidoff, photographer: He vividly remembers when McGillivray pulled him aside moments after the alleged incident and told him, “Donald just grabbed my ass!’’ He did not witness the incident himself.

Jill Harth 

Allegation: In the early 1990s, Jill Harth and her boyfriend at the time, George Houraney, worked with Trump on a beauty pageant in Atlantic City, and later accused Trump of inappropriate behavior toward Harth during their business dealings. She said that Trump pursued her and groped her; she alleged attempted rape in a sexual harassment suit that was withdrawn as a condition for settling a contract dispute. (We are including her account here because she gave interviews making these charges even after the lawsuit was withdrawn.) Trump had “his hands all over me,” Harth told the New York Times. “He was trying to kiss me. I was freaking out.”

Corroborator:
George Houraney, her boyfriend and later husband. The two are divorced but he confirmed her account in an interview with Nicholas Kristof: “Houraney and Harth haven’t spoken in years, but they offered almost identical accounts when I interviewed them separately, and their stories match Harth’s deposition and her sexual harassment lawsuit from the time.”

Response: Trump said it was Harth who had pursued him, and his office shared email messages in which Harth thanked Trump for helping her personally and professionally. The campaign said she was a “pawn” in a lawsuit created by her ex-husband.

Jessica Leeds

Allegation: Trump attacked her while seated next to her on an airline flight. More than three decades ago, when she was a traveling business executive at a paper company, Leeds told the New York Times in 2016, she sat beside Trump in the first-class cabin of a flight to New York. They had never met before. About 45 minutes after takeoff, Trump lifted the armrest and began to touch her. Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt. “He was like an octopus,” Leeds said. “His hands were everywhere.” She fled to the back of the plane. “It was an assault,” she said.

Corroborator: Leeds told the story to at least four people close to her, who also spoke with the New York Times. But most appear to have heard about it more recently. Linda Ross, a neighbor and friend, heard about it six months before Leeds went public, for instance.

Reaction: The Trump campaign offered the perspective of a British man who claimed to have sat near the two on the plane and three decades later remembered the incident in detail. “She was the one being flirtatious,” he said.

Other accusers

Temple Taggart McDowell: The 1997 Miss Utah USA said Trump kissed her directly on the lips, at a time he was married to Marla Maples and McDowell was 21. Later, when she visited Trump Tower to discuss a modeling contract, she says Trump again embraced and kissed her on the lips, this time in front of two pageant chaperones and a receptionist. The New York encounter made one of the chaperones so “uncomfortable” that she advised McDowell not to go into any rooms with Trump alone, McDowell told NBC News.

Karena Virginia: A yoga instructor said Trump harassed and groped her during a chance encounter at the U.S. Open in 1998. Virginia said Trump, a total stranger, then grabbed her arm and touched her breast. “I was in shock,” Virginia said. “I flinched. He said, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ I felt intimidated and powerless. I said ‘yes.’”

Jennifer Murphy: A former Apprentice contestant said Trump in 2004 kissed her on the lips. “He walked me to the elevator, and I said goodbye. I was thinking ‘oh, he’s going to hug me,’ but … he pulled my face in and gave me a smooch.”

Ninni Laaksonen: A former Miss Finland said Trump in 2006 grabbed her bottom shortly after he had married Melania. “Trump stood right next to me and suddenly he squeezed my butt. He really grabbed my butt.”

Jessica Drake: A porn star and sex educator said that during a 2006 golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Trump “grabbed” her and two other unnamed women tightly and kissed them on the lips “without asking permission.” He then offered Drake $10,000 and the use of his private plane, she said, if she would agree to come back to his room and accompany him to a party.

Today Feels Like A Test

I don’t know. Everything really is awful.

Matt Lauer, long-standing host of the Today Show, was abruptly fired last night, after execs at NBC received notice of a credible claim of sexual harassment.  This #MeToo reckoning, as I’ve said before, but it really is disappointing to see otherwise good people go down.  Perhaps even more disappointing is that the only segment of society that isn’t holding its icons in line are GOP politicians and their followers.

But NBC handled it in a way that Fox didn’t. Fox let O’Reilly settle a lawsuit for $32 million and then kept him on, despite repeated allegations. Which makes this video from only three months ago pretty ironic.

Not one to miss an opportunity to be a grade-A asshole, the president tweeted the following:

Pretty ironic since Trump engaged in pussy-grabbing himself. And speaking of “unsolved mysteries”, he’s STILL going around questioning Obama’s birth certificate.

But the Lauer posts from Trump were nothing compared to these retweets:

The first video (bottom) is captioned: “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches.”

The second post (middle) features a clip showing a Muslim man appearing to destroy a statue of the Virgin Mary.

The third and final tweet re-posted by the US President (top) claims to show a group of men killing a youngster and is titled: “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death.”

Who is this Jayda Fransen that Trump retweeted?  A racist.

Fransen is the deputy leader of far right group Britain First, an anti-Islam, anti-immigration and nationalist political party. It is known for its anti-Islam political stunts, including “invading” mosques and launching “Christian patrols.”

The group has used social media to disseminate its message, posting anti-Islam and anti-immigrant propaganda on Twitter and videos of provocative stunts designed to antagonize Muslims on YouTube and Facebook.

She is on bail facing four charges of causing religiously aggravated harassment as part of a Kent Police investigation into the distribution of leaflets and the posting of online videos during a trial held at Canterbury Crown Court in May.

London-born Fransen was arrested earlier this month and flown to Belfast over an anti-terrorism speech made in Northern Ireland in the summer.

Fransen will also appear in court in Northern Ireland in December charged with using threatening and abusive language in connection with a speech she made at an anti-terrorism demonstration in Belfast on August 6.

Here’s an interesting observation:

No kidding. But the guy who tweeted this (Paul Watson) is editor-in-chief of the nutso far-right-wing Infowars! And even he has a problem with Trump’s islamophobic tweets.

Full statement from the Anti-Defamation League:

UPDATE: Speaking of Matt Lauer behaving badly…

 

Who Is In Charge Of The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau?

Richard Cordray. the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said that he would be leaving as head of the CFPB at the end of this month. Last Friday, November 24, he sent a letter to President Trump, declaring that he’s officially done leading the federal government’s controversial consumer watchdog agency once the clock strikes midnight.

In a separate letter to his staff, Cordray, who is the first-ever director of the fledgling CFPB, announced that chief of staff Leandra English will serve as the bureau’s acting director.

Shortly after Cordray’s announcement Friday, President Trump named Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as the CFPB’s interim director. The back-to-back moves set up a clash over who is in charge of the bureau. Mulvaney, like many Republicans, has been a staunch critic of the CFPB. While serving in Congress, he voted in favor of killing the agency. He and other opponents argue the agency — which was created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to keep an eye on Wall Street — has too much power and installs unduly harsh regulations.

In a tweet Friday night, Senator Elizabeth Warren, an architect of the consumer agency, said that under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the agency’s deputy director assumes the role of acting director if there’s a vacancy.

Sunday night, lawyers for Leandra English, filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to halt the appointment of Mick Mulvaney, who serves as head of the Office of Management and Budget and is also named in the lawsuit.

Which brings us to today, the first workday since the whole thing broke.

Both Mulvaney and English were present at the CFBP this morning. Mulvaney was given full access to the CFPB director’s office with “full cooperation” from its staff, a senior White House official told CNN, adding that the OMB director brought doughnuts for his new staff. English, according to a source familiar with the matter, also was present at the bureau Monday morning, but it was not immediately clear if she and Mulvaney interacted. Mulvaney’s communications director tweeted a photo of his boss “hard at work” in his new position.

Mulvaney running the CFPB is the most literal interpretation of “fox guarding the henhouse” possible. That said, it is typical for the Trump Administration, that puts climate change deniers in charge of the EPA, or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson slowly dismantling the State Department. But unfortunately, the law does not turn on who would be best for the CFPB.

Who’s right? Unfortunately, one needs to get into the weeds to figure that out. This memo by Mary MacLeod, general counsel of the CFPB, does a good job laying out both sides of the legal argument, which turns on whether the position is open due to the “absence” or “vacancy” of the former director. She concludes that the position properly belongs to Mulvaney:

It is a convincing argument, but not everyone agrees

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., a lead author of the Dodd-Frank Act, which created the CFPB, had this to say:

The president still has the ability to appoint a successor, said Frank, but only one who would not destroy the agency, as such a nominee would not get through the Senate. “The way it works, the acting director stays in until a confirmed successor appointed. I don’t think the Senate would confirm someone like Mulvaney, who would destroy the agency. Remember, Sen. Collins is in there and she voted for it. Republicans would like to get rid of the agency legislatively, but they don’t have the votes,” he said.

Former Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., the lead champion of the CFPB provision in the House, also said it was the intent of the bill’s authors to keep the acting director independent of the president. “We were very much about the task of trying to create an independent agency that would not be captured by its opponents,” he said. “The statute’s pretty clear. What happens if there’s a vacancy in the director’s spot, the deputy director steps up and serves until the Senate confirms a replacement.”

Laurence Tribe, a renowned constitutional scholar at Harvard Law School, agreed that the statute is clear.
The OLC, in the memo filed [over the weekend], to its credit, admits that the references to unavailability and absence encompass vacancy. They’re not trying to argue that the statute doesn’t cover this. They’re trying to have it both ways. They’re arguing that the president retains an option under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act to override subsequent legislation. They’re trying to have half a loaf and make it a whole loaf. It’s an interesting position but it collapses on itself. It’s completely incoherent. Laws are not typically written that way.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., pushed back against the Mulvaney pick. “The process for succession laid out in Dodd Frank is clear: Leandra English, not Mick Mulvaney, is the acting director of the CFPB. By attempting to install Mr. Mulvaney as director, the Trump administration is ignoring the established, proper, legal order of succession that we purposefully put in place, in order to put a fox in charge of a hen house,” he said in a statement.

The courts will have the last say.

UPDATE: Press secretary Sarah Sanders insists that Mulvaney is in charge of the CFPB

Trump Finally Weighs In On Moore

As for the open Alabama seat, Trump has remained unusually quiet, ignoring questions from reporters. But today, he couldn’t help himself.

This is worth noting because WH spokesperson Sarah Sanders had said on several occasions that Trump supported the RNC’s decision to cut off support for Roy Moore. Yeah, she lied.

When asked if it is better to have a child predator than a Democrat in that seat, Trump responded…

It’s better on video —

FCC Announces End Of Net Neutrality

Very bad news:

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Tuesday that it planned to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, clearing the way for companies to charge more and block access to some websites.

The proposal, put forward by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration that prohibited high-speed internet service providers from blocking or slowing down the delivery of websites, or charging extra fees for the best quality of streaming and other internet services for their subscribers.

The clear winners from the move would be telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast that have lobbied for years against regulations of broadband and will now have more control over the online experiences of American consumers. The losers could be internet sites that will have to answer to telecom firms to get their content in front of consumers. And consumers may see their bills increase for the best quality of internet service.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Mr. Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

This is not good for consumers and the way you can tell is that the businesses are cheering, while the consumers are storming the castle.

A couple of comments to the NY TImes reflect my feelings exactly:

Scott Mooneyham- Fayetteville NC

Pai’s words are absurd and he knows it. The big, incumbent telecom providers are virtual monopolies and he knows it. As such, government has always had a role in significant regulation of such utility companies, and that is what they are. To suggest that all small businesses’ need is technical information to succeed is more deception and absurdity. The big telecoms will continue to block innovation, squeeze out middle-mile/data storage tech companies, take over and dominate content providers, and the result will be that the US economy will fall further behind as government treats infrastructure critical to all US businesses like it is Sears or Best Buy. Why not give the Interstate system to a single company and let them dictate which companies can transport which goods down it? Ten years from now, when people are writing about the demise of the US as a world economic power, they will be writing about this decision. We are indeed following the Russian model.

Tom Krebsbach – Washington

The only way to view this decision is to view it as a gratuitous gift to the plutocracy and a total subjugation of the common man to the desires of powerful corporate interests. At a time when this country is trying to deal with the dramatic increase in inequality between the ordinary person and those who harvest the riches of this society, this decision is a giant slap in the face to the common man and woman. We can blame Trump and the Republicans for this. 

If Trump supporters actually believe that he cares about the ordinary citizen, this decision should disabuse them of that notion. Is this guy and his appointees capable of doing anything good? I haven’t seen it yet.

smurphy – Massachusetts

This is the beginning of the end of any hope of truth in media and our rights to free speech. The throttling, re-direction and micro-management of discussion and access to issues belonging in the “public square” will be killed by this move. The sale of our country to the corporatists has been completed.

Trump Cabinet Cannot Decide If President Is A “Moron” Or An “Idiot”

In October, NBC News and other outlets reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the president a “moron” in a July meeting at the Pentagon. Today we learn this:

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster mocked President Trump’s intelligence at a private dinner with a powerful tech CEO, according to five sources with knowledge of the conversation.

Over a July dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz — who has been mentioned as a candidate for several potential administration jobs — McMaster bluntly trashed his boss, said the sources, four of whom told BuzzFeed News they heard about the exchange directly from Catz. The top national security official dismissed the president variously as an “idiot” and a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner,” the sources said.

A sixth source who was not familiar with the details of the dinner told BuzzFeed News that McMaster had made similarly derogatory comments about Trump’s intelligence to him in private, including that the president lacked the necessary brainpower to understand the matters before the National Security Council.

Both Oracle and the Trump administration heatedly denied the comments that Catz later recounted.

But isn’t it possible that President Trump is a “moron” and ALSO an “idiot” and a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner” — none of those things are mutually exclusive.

The Moore Accuser Count Is Up To 8

Via WaPo:

Roy Moore. Born in 1947. He moved out of Gadsden, Ala., in 1954, returning after his service in Vietnam in 1977. He joined the office of the district attorney that year. In 1982, he again left Gadsden, returning in 1985, the year he married his wife, Kayla. She was 24, and he was 38. In 1992, he was appointed to the circuit court.

Leigh Corfman. Born in 1965. Corfman alleges that in 1977, when she was 14, Moore introduced himself to her outside a child custody hearing at the local courthouse. He later called her and asked her on a date, during which, she alleges, he took her to his house and tried to initiate sexual contact. Moore was 32.

Wendy Miller. Born in 1963. Miller alleges that Moore first started talking to her while she was working as an elf at Gadsden Mall at the age of 14. Two years later, he began to ask her on dates. Her mother prevented her from doing so. Moore was 32.

Debbie Gibson. Born in 1964. Gibson alleges that Moore came to her civics class at Etowah High School to talk about serving as an assistant district attorney before asking her out on a date. They dated for several months while she was 17. Moore was 34.

Gloria Thacker. Born in 1961. Thacker alleges that she was working at a store at the mall at the age of 18 when Moore asked her out. They dated off and on for several months. Moore was 32.

Beverly Young Nelson. Born in 1961. Nelson was 16 when she worked at a restaurant called Old Hickory House in 1977. Moore, she said during a news conference this week, was a regular customer who, at one point, signed her high school yearbook. On one evening, he offered her a ride home. Nelson alleges that he instead drove behind the restaurant and assaulted her. Moore was 30.

Gena Richardson. Born in 1959. Richardson alleges that she was working at Gadsden Mall in 1977, at age 18, when Moore introduced himself. He called her at school, interrupting her trigonometry class, to ask her out. He was 30.

Tina Johnson. Born in 1963. Johnson told AL.com that she was 28 when she visited Moore’s office for a legal issue in 1991. Moore, she says, made several inappropriate comments and, as she was leaving, groped her. He was 44.

Moore has specifically denied the allegations levied by Corfman and Nelson.

That’s where things stand today — this morning.

 

In Fairness, It Is Hard To Keep All These Mass Shootings Straight

This week saw another mass shooting, this time in Northern California (4 dead, shooter killed — UPDATE: 5 dead — they found his wife’s bodied hidden in his house).

Trump, returning from his Asia stint, tweeted this in response late last night:

Unfortunately, the Sutherland Springs Texas shooting was LAST week’s mass shooting.  He deleted the above tweet, although it does look remarkably like a tweet he sent out on November 5:

Embarrassing.

It actually wasn’t the only embarrassing tweet from Trump in the past 12 hours.  There was another one.  First, the backstory. Three UCLA basketball players were arrested in China for shoplifting last week. When Trump was in China, he asked President Xi to intervene. The three basketball players, all black, are coming back to America.  And Trump tweeted this about an hour ago:

WHO DOES THIS?  It is almost as if he is being critical of them, expecting them not to be thankful. I’m sure they are.

I have no doubt that if the three student athletes were white, he would not have tweeted this. This is Trump signaling his supporters that black people are ungrateful, and should be grateful.  It’s disgusting.

Don Trump Jr And Wikileaks

On Oct. 14, 2016, soon-to-be-Vice President Pence took to Fox News and flat-out denied that the Trump campaign was “in cahoots” with WikiLeaks. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Pence said.

Turns out Pence’s answer is pretty far from the truth.

Below is a timeline breaking it all down:

Sept. 20: WikiLeaks sends its first direct messages to Trump Jr., sharing a password it discovered for a new anti-Trump PAC’s website, putintrump.org.

Sept. 21: Trump Jr. responds by saying, “Off the record I don’t know who that is but I’ll ask around. Thanks.”

Oct. 3: WikiLeaks inquires about getting the Trump campaign’s help to push a story about Hillary Clinton allegedly suggesting that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be droned. Trump Jr. says the campaign “already did that earlier today.” He then asks about a rumored “Wednesday leak I keep reading about.” WikiLeaks doesn’t respond.

Oct. 12 8:31 a.m.: WikiLeaks suggests Trump Jr. promote its leaked Democratic documents: “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us wlsearch.tk.” WikiLeaks suggests tweeting the link will get Trump supporters to dig through the hacked emails to find things the media had missed.

Oct. 12 9:46 a.m.:

Oct. 14 morning: Pence denies the campaign is working with WikiLeaks.

Fox News host Steve Doocy: “Some have suggested on the left that it’s all this bad stuff about Hillary, nothing bad about Trump — that your campaign is in cahoots with WikiLeaks.”

Pence: “Nothing could be further from the truth. All of us have had concerns about WikiLeaks over the years, and it’s just a reality of American life today and of life in the wider world.”

Oct. 14 9:34 a.m.:

(Note: The web address in this tweet is identical to the one WikiLeaks recommended two days earlier, including the lack of an “http://”)

It’s worth noting here that Trump had been talking about WikiLeaks even shortly before his Oct. 12 tweet. Here’s what he tweeted just the day before:

WikiLeaks’s Oct. 12 message to Trump Jr. also noted how the candidate had been talking about it (“great to see you and your dad talking about our publications”). So it’s possible the juxtaposition of Trump Sr.’s Oct. 12 tweet and the WikiLeaks message to Trump Jr. is just a coincidence. But if you look at what Trump Jr. tweeted two days later, it’s basically precisely what WikiLeaks had suggested.

It’s worth noting that in other cases, Trump Jr. didn’t respond to WikiLeaks or didn’t take its advice. For example, WikiLeaks at one point suggested the Trump campaign leak “one or more” of Trump’s tax returns. But at the very least, Trump Jr. exchanged messages talking about campaign strategy with WikiLeaks, which has been linked to the Russian government and which American intelligence says was used to disseminate emails hacked by Russia. Trump Jr. clearly asks for inside information about leaks that might be coming from WikiLeaks.

The totality of the messages yet again call into serious question the Trump campaign and White House’s denials of coordination with unsavory characters and even, by extension, Russia. And unlike that June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, in this case this coordination appeared to lead to a specific strategic action. The question from there is how directly WikiLeaks is linked to the Russian government.

“Sessions Considering Second Special Counsel To Investigate Republican Concerns, Letter Shows”

That’s the headline in a Washington Post article today, which begins:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is entertaining the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate a host of Republican concerns — including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the controversial sale of a uranium company to Russia — and has directed senior federal prosecutors to explore at least some of the matters and report back to him and his top deputy, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

Uh-huh.  Here’s the letter:

Take note: the letter is NOT written by Sessions, but By Stephen Boyd, an Assistant Attorney General.

Some on the left think this shows Sessions inappropriately bending to political pressure, perhaps to save his job, from Trump and Republicans in Congress. The possible reigniting of a probe of Clinton is likely to draw especially fierce criticism, even as it is welcomed by Trump’s supporters.  It certainly was the BIG THING on Fox News last night.

But that is not what is going on.

As the letter points out, certain Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have requested (by letter) that Sessions look into dealings involving Hillary Clinton, the so-called “Uranium One” scandal in particular. (It’s a nothing-burger, as I explain here). It also wants a Comey investigation for how he handled the Clinton emails.

Sessions, wisely, has no intention of doing either investigation. There is no scandal involving the Uranium One deal. Same with Comey. Both investigations would, if they happened, involve going after one’s political enemies.

Many of the issues raised in the letter are silly, at least as starting points for a criminal investigation. For one thing, many of them are past the statute of limitations for federal crimes, which is generally five years.

Other things that are raised in the Congressional letter are not crimes at all, such as the FBI’s reliance on a dossier for leads in an investigation. It’s unclear why the DOJ would look into whether the FBI relied on a particular piece of evidence in an investigation.

It is also unusual for the FBI to reopen investigations that are closed, particularly without a very good reason to do so. The letters from Congress don’t provide any specific reasons to reopen FBI investigations into Uranium One, Clinton’s emails, and so on.

It is also unusual for DOJ (or the FBI) to investigate its own internal decision making processes absent evidence of wrongdoing. The letters from Congress do not even make specific allegations of wrongdoing by DOJ officials regarding immunity or charging decisions. They also provide no rationale regarding why a special counsel should be appointed. 28 CFR 600.1 limits appointment of a special counsel to cases that “would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances.”

Now, Sessions SHOULD have pointed all this out in his letter above. But he didn’t. Why not? Probably because he’s widely perceived in the Trump Administration as “not a team player” (he hasn’t locked up Hillary, etc). So he can’t shoot down these “investigations”.

But Sessions is going to testify before the House Judiciary Committee today, and these issues was definitely going to be raised.  So what was Sessions to do?

Answer: this letter, which is best understood not as a hint to Trump that Sessions will do as the President wants, but as a way of shunting the matter to a mechanism that will enable him not to act—or, to be more precise, that will enable Rod Rosenstein not to act.

“The Department has forwarded a copy of your letters to the IG so he can determine whether he should expand the scope of his investigation based on the information contained in those letters,” Boyd wrote. “Once the IG’s review is complete, the Department will assess what, if any, additional steps are necessary to address any issues identified by that review.”

Translation: “We’re looking at it and we’ll get back to you”

Better translation: “No investigation but we’ll make the motions”

UPDATE: At his hearing today, Sessions is disappointing the Radical Right a little:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw some cold water on the idea of appointing a special counsel to investigate various matters related to Hillary Clinton and Democrats, as some Republicans have called for.

At a House Judiciary hearing Tuesday, Sessions stressed the “factual basis” that must be met to warrant a special counsel, as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) grilled him on what Jordan said “looks like” the FBI working with Democrats to push the Trump-Russia dossier.

“‘Looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel,” Sessions said.

Jordan has led the charge of GOP lawmakers calling for a special counsel investigation to be launched in addition to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. On Monday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd responded to a request by House Judiciary Republicans for a new special counsel in a letter that said senior  Justice Department prosecutors would evaluate the matter.

Jordan grilled Sessions on various claims that the Obama-era FBI colluded with Democrats to elevate the dossier put together by ex-British spy Christopher Steele that made various Russian-related allegations about President Trump. Sessions would not say whether the dossier was used by the FBI to obtain warrants to surveil Trump associates, nor would he comment on any hypothetical investigation into Justice Department leaks to the media about the dossier.

Asked by Jordan what it would take to get a special counsel investigation into the dossier or various Clinton-related accusations, Sessions pointed to department policies on the procedure, as well as to the fact that there has only been two special counsel investigations.

“Each of those are pretty special factual situations, and we will use the proper standards, and that’s the only thing I can tell you, Mr. Jordan” Sessions said. “You can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard that requires a special counsel.”

No Pee Tape, BUT….

Breaking from NBC:

WASHINGTON — After a business meeting before the Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, a Russian participant offered to “send five women” to Donald Trump’s hotel room in Moscow, his longtime bodyguard told Congress this week, according to three sources who were present for the interview.

Two of the sources said the bodyguard, Keith Schiller, viewed the offer as a joke, and immediately responded, “We don’t do that type of stuff.”

The two sources said Schiller’s comments came in the context of him adamantly disputing the allegations made in the Trump dossier, written by a former British intelligence operative, which describes Trump having an encounter with prostitutes at the hotel during the pageant. Schiller he described his reaction to that story as being, “Oh my God, that’s bull—-,” two sources said.

The conversation with the Russian about the five women took place after a morning meeting about the pageant in Moscow broke up, two sources said.

That night, two sources said, Schiller said he discussed the conversation with Trump as Trump was walking back to his hotel room, and Schiller said the two men laughed about it as Trump went to bed alone. Schiller testified that he stood outside Trump’s hotel room for a time and then went to bed.

One source noted that Schiller testified he eventually left Trump’s hotel room door and could not say for sure what happened during the remainder of the night.

Two other sources said Schiller testified he was confident nothing happened.

Schiller said he and Trump were aware of the risk that hotel rooms in Moscow could be set up to capture hidden video, two sources said.

Schiller was grilled about the Moscow trip as part of four hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. The questioning around the Moscow trip took a significant amount of time, the sources said. Schiller was also asked about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and Russians, two of the sources said. He testified that he did not recall much about that day.

This doesn’t mean the tape exists, but it DOES mean that the salacious allegations in the dossier were not ENTIRELY made up out of thin air.

The Time Warner-AT&T Merger: Trump’s Waterloo?

Politico reports:

AT&T and Time Warner are under pressure from the Justice Department to offload CNN to win the Trump administration’s approval of their $85 billion merger, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

DOJ is demanding the sale of Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting, which includes CNN as well as networks like TBS and TNT, one of the sources said — adding that it’s clear the real sticking point is CNN, a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s anger.

“The only reason you would divest CNN would be to kowtow to the president because he doesn’t like the coverage,” another source said. “It would send a chilling message to every news organization in the country.”

The Justice Department declined to comment.

AT&T and Time Warner see no legal basis for selling any media properties at stake in the deal, and their lawyers are preparing for a court battle should the Justice Department ultimately reject the merger, the sources said. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that DOJ is preparing a lawsuit in the event it can’t reach a settlement with the companies.

The question is…. why would Time Warner have to divest itself of CNN? Yes, if Comcast (which owns NBC) and Disney (which owns ABC) were to merge, then it would make sense for the DOJ to ask one of them to divest itself of a TV network. But there is no problem of a monopoly with Time Warner and AT&T, because the latter does not own a news network.

Yes, there are critics — myself included — that the telecom/media industry is blurring too much, and maybe that would be a reason why the merger should not go through. But selling CNN does not seem to fix that particular objection.

What this appears to be is retaliation by the Trump Administration against CNN for their so-called “fake news”. The New York Times reported in July that White House advisers had discussed using the merger as “a potential point of leverage over their adversary”:

White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary, a senior administration official said: a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department will decide whether to approve the merger, and while analysts say there is little to stop the deal from moving forward, the president’s animus toward CNN remains a wild card.

This prompted Democratic senators to warn the White House against exerting any “political interference” in the deal.

Lawmakers and the public should demand answers from the Administration. There had better be a very good reason for this request, and there doesn’t appear to be one.

And it looks like the blowback on the DOJ has already begun:

To be continued….

Attorney General Sessions Caught In Yet Another Lie

Jeff Sessions is either the most forgetful man on the planet, or the most deceitful. Either way, he’s not fit to be the attorney general.

Standing before reporters in February, President Trump said unequivocally that he knew of nobody from his campaign who was in contact with Russians during the election. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has told the Senate the same thing.

Court documents unsealed this week cast doubt on both statements and raised the possibility that Mr. Sessions could be called back to Congress for further questioning.

It’s not just that Sessions was personally present at a meeting between Trump and George Papadopoulos where the 29-year-old adviser informed the room that he was working to arrange a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin. It’s not just that those present recall Sessions personally intervening to tell Papadopoulos to shut up about the topic.

At a March 31, 2016, meeting between Mr. Trump and his foreign policy team, Mr. Papadopoulos introduced himself and said “that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin,” according to court records.

“He went into the pitch right away,” said J. D. Gordon, a campaign adviser who attended the meeting. “He said he had a friend in London, the Russian ambassador, who could help set up a meeting with Putin.”

Mr. Trump listened with interest. Mr. Sessions vehemently opposed the idea, Mr. Gordon recalled. “And he said that no one should talk about it,” because Mr. Sessions thought it was a bad idea that he did not want associated with the campaign, he said.

It’s that the one thing Sessions did not do was to tell Papadopoulos to stop working on arranging meetings between Russia and the Trump team.

Atlantic:

Yup.

Seven Points Which Make The Beginnings Of A Trump-Russia Collusion Case

1) Russia stole Democratic emails. US intelligence agencies have confirmed that emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta were stolen by Russian hackers. The emails were ultimately released in a smartly sequenced way to maximize damage to Hillary Clinton.

2) At least one Trump adviser knew of the theft in advance, and lied about it. Shortly after the emails were hacked, George Papadopoulos, one of Trump’s five listed foreign policy advisers, was told of their existence by a Russian professor whom he knew to have deep contacts in the Russian government. Papadopoulos subsequently lied to investigators about the timing of the revelation. This is from the indictment (emphasis mine):

Papadopoulos acknowledged that the Professor had told him about the Russians possessing dirt on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails but stated multiple times that he learned that information prior to joining the campaign. In truth and in fact, however, defendant Papadopoulos learned he would be an advisor to the campaign in early March and met the Professor on or about March 14, 2016; the professor only took interest in defendant Papadopoulos because of his status with the Campaign, and the Professor told defendant Papadopoulos about the thousands of emails on or about April 26, 2016.

We don’t know if Papadopoulos shared this knowledge with others in Trump’s orbit, or if others in Trump’s orbit were also approached by Russian intermediaries with this information. But it’s worth noting that Trump advisor Roger Stone sent a series of tweetssuggesting he knew the stolen Podesta emails were coming weeks in advance.

3) Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was a paid operative of a Russia-linked political party in Ukraine. According to Mueller’s indictment, Paul Manafort, who would go on to lead Trump’s campaign, was a longtime paid operative of a Ukrainian political party with deep ties to the Kremlin. Manafort hid both the extent of his payments and the extent of his work on behalf of this party; ultimately, more than $75 million flowed through offshore accounts related to the work, and at least $18 million was laundered by Manafort.

Among other things, this placed Manafort — and his deputy, Richard Gates — in a highly compromised position, as they had both taken huge amounts of illegal money from a foreign government and lied about it to the US government. Manafort would go on to run Trump’s campaign and bring Gates into the operation too.

The Trump administration has subsequently tried to distance itself from Manafort — in March, then-press secretary Sean Spicer said Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” — but the reality is Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016 and ran it from June to August (he was ultimately fired when news of his Ukraine payments began leaking out) and was widely understood to be a linchpin of the operation. In August, Newt Gingrich, a close Trump adviser, told Fox News, “Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this [Trump] campaign to where it is right now.”

4) In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a Russian operative who promised them dirt on Clinton. The email Trump Jr. received was crystal clear. It came from Rob Goldstone and alleged that a Russian prosecutor had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful.” Trump Jr. wrote back, “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Trump Jr. then set up a meeting, and on an email thread titled “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential,” he invited Kushner and Manafort. The meeting took place on June 9. As Andrew Prokop wrote, “it’s hard to read these emails and not conclude that the top echelons of the Trump campaign were well aware of the Russian government’s support for Trump and willing to collaborate in the effort.”

At it happens, “later in the summer” is exactly when the hacked emails would ultimately be released.

5) In July 2016, Trump publicly asked the Russian government to find and release other emails Clinton deleted. Separately from the hacked emails of the DNC and Podesta, another Clinton email scandal related to 33,000 messages her team had judged unrelated to her work as secretary of state and deleted. In late July, Trump said during a press conference, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” He said this after Papadopoulos was informed by the Russians that they possessed Clinton-related emails.

6) Russians released emails to help Trump, planted fake news and social media bots to help Trump, and tried to hack election systems in 21 states. What’s most striking about the Russian operations on Trump’s behalf is how sophisticated they were about American politics. As the Democratic National Convention began, for instance, Russia released hacked DNC emails meant to stoke conflict among Bernie Sanders’s supporters. The Podesta emails were dribbled out in the campaign’s final weeks and were laundered through WikiLeaks, which made them irresistible to the media. The social media efforts were far-reaching and surprisingly savvy for a foreign government. Both the timing of the operations and the specific points of attack chosen reflected the Trump campaign’s needs and obsessions.

7) After being elected president, Donald Trump fired the director of the FBI to end his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. President Trump has certainly acted like someone with much to fear from the various investigations into Russia’s role in the election. After taking office, he lashed out at the CIA, which had concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election on his behalf — “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the Trump administration said.

Trump subsequently fired FBI Director James Comey, whose agency was investigating Russia’s role in 2016. Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt he did it because “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” It later emerged that Kushner and Vice President Mike Pence, both of whom can usually be counted on to push Trump toward more normal behavior, supported firing Comey.

A list like this can get much longer — I haven’t mentioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s habit of forgetting meetings with Russian officials, for instance, or the notably pro-Russian policy positions Trump adopted during the campaign — but the bottom line is: We do not yet have hard evidence of actual collusion between the Trump operation and Russia. But given what we do know, it would truly be remarkable if all this happened and yet the two sides never explicitly worked together.

Mueller’s investigation, meanwhile, is far from over. The question now is what Manafort, Gates, and Papadopoulos know, and whether Mueller’s indictments are enough to get them to talk.

Papadopoulos, for one, is believed to be cooperating with Mueller.

The Pushback On Mueller Began A Week Before The Indictments

Fox News really is now the Trump network. It is not even the GOP network.  Just Trump.  They have been questioning Mueller’s credibility. Vox explains the evolution:

To put it bluntly: As Mueller brings charges against top Trump officials, Fox News is trying to plant doubt in its viewers’ minds.

We analyzed the past week of Fox News transcripts, measuring them against those of Fox’s cable news rivals CNN and MSNBC.

What we found was striking:

  • Fox News was unable to talk about the Mueller investigation without bringing up Hillary Clinton, even as federal indictments were being brought against top Trump campaign officials.
  • Fox also talked significantly less about George Papadopoulos — the Trump campaign adviser whose plea deal with Mueller provides the most explicit evidence thus far that the campaign knew of the Russian government’s efforts to help Trump — than its competitors.
  • Fox News repeatedly called Mueller’s credibility into question, while shying away from talking about the possibility that Trump might fire Mueller.

Fox News started early in questioning Mueller’s credibility.

As early as last Tuesday, days before we learned Mueller would bring indictments later in the week, Fox News’s Hannity called for Mueller’s resignation.

“Back in 2009, he was the FBI director. This was when the bureau, the FBI, so clearly had this information [about Uranium One.] He had conflicts of interest. There’s no way the American people can trust Robert Mueller to investigate anything Russian-related,” he said.

Hannity was, of course, referring to a report in the Hill questioning why the Obama administration approved the sale of a Canadian uranium company to Russia, despite the FBI previously uncovering misconduct by the Russian nuclear industry. The story also asserts that Russian nuclear officials gave millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation, perhaps to sway then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who served in the group that approved the deal. The story stems from an anti-Hillary Clinton book published during the election called Clinton Cash, and many experts say it has been presented in a misleading manner.

Let’s talk about that the Uranium One deal.  We need to because Fox News in particular has taken up the conspiracy theory with gusto, with Fox & Friends, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Martha MacCallum all running lengthy segments devoted to the story. Conservative radio darling Laura Ingraham tweeted out a link to an article about the supposed uranium scheme in the conservative National Review. The conservative Daily Caller website has run several articles on the subject, as has Breitbart, the right-wing outlet run by former Trump senior strategist Steve Bannon.

Trump himself has added new fuel by taking the highly unusual step of encouraging the Justice Department to allow a former FBI informant to testify about the case before Congress — a rare and nearly unprecedented act. The informant’s lawyer claimed, per the Post, that he would tell lawmakers about his work “uncovering the Russian nuclear bribery case and the efforts he witnessed by Moscow to gain influence with [former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] in hopes of winning favorable uranium decisions from the Obama administration.”

There’s just one problem: The GOP claim that Clinton gave 20 percent of America’s uranium to Russia is incorrect and clearly misleading now, just as it was when Trump raised it in the past.

The key event that the myth is based on is Russia’s nuclear power agency purchasing a majority stake in a Toronto-based energy company between 2009 and 2013. The company had mines and land in a number of US states with huge uranium production capacity — a move the US State Department signed off on. But PolitiFact did a thorough fact-check of the claim last year when Trump first made it on the campaign trail, and found the following faults with it:

  1. The mines, mills, and land the company holds in the US account for 20 percent of the US’s uranium production capacity, not actual produced uranium.
  2. The State Department was one of nine federal agencies and a number of additional independent federal and state regulators that signed off on the deal.
  3. President Barack Obama, not Clinton, was the only person who could’ve vetoed the deal.
  4. Since Russia doesn’t have the legal right to export uranium from the US, its main goal was likely to gain access to the company’s uranium assets in Kazakhstan.
  5. Crucially, the main national security concern was not about nuclear weapons proliferation, as Trump has suggested, but actually ensuring the US doesn’t have to depend too much on uranium sources from abroad, as the US only makes about 20 percent of the uranium it needs. An advantage in making nuclear weapons wasn’t the main issue because, as PolitiFact notes, “the United States and Russia had for years cooperated on that front, with Russia sending enriched fuel from decommissioned warheads to be used in American nuclear power plants in return for raw uranium.”

Trump’s misleading comments are in service of a broader goal: to push back against the growing investigations into his administration’s possible collusion with Moscow, which have hit a new fever pitch with news of Monday’s guilty plea from campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who told the FBI that he’d met with a Russian-linked professor who said Russia had “dirt” on Clinton, including thousands of her stolen emails. Special counsel Robert Mueller unsealed the guilty plea yesterday alongside wide-ranging indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and campaign aide Rick Gates.

BUT… could Fox News talk about firing Mueller?

Nope.  They seemed to understand that it was the third rail.  It would be Trump’s undoing. So they focused on Mueller’s credibility.

Fox News is the main source of news for 19 percent of 2016 voters, including 40 percent of Trump voters. There’s academic evidence that Fox News is more powerful than we ever imagined. It is quite possibly the main news source for President Trump. There is evidence that the hosts see their jobs as advising Trump — talking directly to him.  And what they seem to be saying is — attack Mueller’s credibility.

Will it work? I can’t say for sure, but I see a number of obvious problems.  Mueller is a Republican for one.  It’s hard to say say he is in the tank for Hillary.  Moreover, he’s got an inestimably high reputation — so much so that the Trump Administration considered him for head of the DOJ.  But mostly, I don’t think it will work because, well, because it is so OBVIOUS.  Indictments get handed down, and suddenly Mueller isn’t credible?  Really?

RELATED:  Many are unhappy at Fox News

Some employees at Fox News were left embarrassed and humiliated by their network’s coverage of the latest revelations in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling, according to conversations CNN had with several individuals placed throughout the network.

“I’m watching now and screaming,” one Fox News personality said in a text message to CNN as the person watched their network’s coverage. “I want to quit.”

“It is another blow to journalists at Fox who come in every day wanting to cover the news in a fair and objective way,” one senior Fox News employee told CNN of their outlet’s coverage, adding that there were “many eye rolls” in the newsroom over how the news was covered.

The person said, “Fox feels like an extension of the Trump White House.”

The employees spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. A Fox News spokesperson declined to comment.

***

Additionally, Fox News aired segments that questioned Mueller’s credibility and many were framed around how Trump and his allies were responding to the news. On Fox News’ homepage, the lead story at one point was focused on Trump slamming the indictment. Another lead story cited Manafort’s lawyer, and asked, “Mueller’s ‘ridiculous’ claims?”

“This kind of coverage does the viewer a huge disservice and further divides the country,” one Fox News personality told CNN.

Fox News journalists took significant issue with their network’s opinion hosts, who deflected from the news and, in Sean Hannity’s case, characterized Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” a term Trump used on Sunday in a angry tweet to describe the probe.

“That segment on Outbumbered [questioning Mueller’s integrity] was absurd and deserves all the scorn it can get,” a Fox News employee told CNN, referring to the network’s noontime talk show.

The person added that it was “laughable seeing Hannity and [Laura] Ingraham,” two Fox News opinion hosts who are openly supportive of Trump, “tripping over themselves saying [Mueller’s team has] found nothing thus far.”

“It’s an embarrassment,” another Fox News employee echoed to CNN. “Frankly, there are shows on our network that are backing the President at all costs, and it’s that short term strategy that undermines the good work being done by others.”

Nice to know there is SOME integrity at Fox, but… you dance with the devil… this is what happens.

Mueller Time

Well, life has been busy. I wasn’t able to blog about yesterday’s big news: the indictments of Paul Manafort and his assistant Richard Gates — as well as the indictment and guilty plea of George Papadopolous.  The talking heads are correct — it is the Papadopolous news that should scare the White House since it goes to collusion. On the other hand, the Manafort indictment, which deals mostly with pre-campaign shenanigans, shows that Mueller is willing to look into financial dealings from a long time ago that have nothing to do with the 2016 election. That might worry Trump as well.

Anyway, the document dump —

The biggest reveal from the PapaD business is this:

The guilty plea of a 30-year-old campaign aide — so green that he listed Model United Nations in his qualifications — shifted the narrative on Monday of the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia: Court documents revealed that Russian officials alerted the campaign, through an intermediary in April 2016, that they possessed thousands of Democratic emails and other “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

That was two months before the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee was publicly revealed and the stolen emails began to appear online.

So did the Trump campaign team run to the FBI and say “we have knowledge of international hacking and espionage”?  Of course not!

In fact, at least five members of the Trump campaign thought that the Russian government was interfering in the 2016 election on the mogul’s behalf at some point last year. That’s not counting Michael Flynn, who is under investigation for allegedly participating in an effort to secure stolen Clinton emails from Russian hackers.

Are we supposed to believe that none of them ever mentioned any of this to Trump — that, when the president was castigating the CIA for the absurd suggestion that Russia wanted him to be elected, his son and son-in-law never raised a peep?

The only plausible, “innocent” explanation for Trump’s incessant denials is this: The idea of having his electoral triumph tarnished by Russian meddling was painful to his ego; so, even though he had independent verification of the CIA’s core claim, he chose to ridicule the agency to protect his public image and self-esteem.

Yesterday was Mueller’s opening salvo, and it was a doozy.  Better than I expected.

Fox News Trying Hard To Smear Mueller

The Fox News Headline reads:

Mueller facing new Republican pressure to resign in Russia probe

Wow.  Who is pressuring him to do this?  And on what basis?  So here’s the story:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is facing a fresh round of calls from conservative critics for his resignation from the Russia collusion probe, amid revelations that have called into question the FBI’s own actions and potentially Mueller’s independence.

This week’s bombshell that a controversial anti-Trump dossier was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign has Republicans asking to what extent the FBI – which received some of the findings and briefly agreed to pay the same researcher to gather intelligence on Trump and Russia – used the politically connected material.

Hill investigators also are looking into a Russian firm’s uranium deal that was approved by the Obama administration in 2010 despite reports that the FBI – then led by Mueller – had evidence of bribery involving a subsidiary of that firm.

Critics question whether Mueller’s own ties to the bureau as well as fired FBI director James Comey now render him compromised as he investigates allegations of Russian meddling and collusion with Trump officials in the 2016 race.

“The federal code could not be clearer – Mueller is compromised by his apparent conflict of interest in being close with James Comey,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who first called for Mueller to step down over the summer, said in a statement to Fox News on Friday. “The appearance of a conflict is enough to put Mueller in violation of the code. … All of the revelations in recent weeks make the case stronger.”

Wow.  If this isn’t silly, I don’t know what is.

It is talking about TWO DIFFERENT THINGS! On the one hand, you have a fake scandal in which Clinton and/or the DNC paid for opposition research which led to the Steele dossier.  This has nothing to do with Special Counsel Mueller at all, except that Mueller is presumably tracking down the same things alleged in the dossier and independently confirming them (or not).  No conflict of interest there.

The second thing is the long-debunked issue with Russia and the approved “Uranium One” deal and UNCONFIRMED “reports” that the FBI (led by Mueller at the time) was investigating bribery involving a subsidiary of that firm.  This too is not a conflict of interest, in that it has nothing to do with collusion and the 2016 campaign.

This is ridiculous tactics — throw everything at the wall (whether relevant or irrelevant, regardless of whether it is substantiated), get some partisan flunkies to throw in the phrase “conflict of interest” and that’s a Fox News story, ready to be digested by people who don’t know — or don’t care about the truth, or what “conflict of interest” means, or anything like that.

 

Kelly Enters GrievingWidowGate And Reveals Himself To Be Trumpist

Well, I have, in the past, given General John Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, too much credit. I thought he was the grown-up in the room.

But yesterday, he gave a press conference – an admittedly moving one – talking about what it is like to have a son killed in combat. He knows. And then he laid into the Congresswoman Wilson who criticized Trump for saying to the grieving Gold Star family that “this is what he [their dead son] signed up for”.

Interestingly, he did not deny that Trump said that. In fact, he had used those words TO TRUMP when Trump asked him what he should say.

But Kelly got so much wrong, according to Wilson’s (and the family’s) hometown paper, the Miami Herald“In attack on Frederica Wilson over Trump’s call to widow, John Kelly gets facts wrong”:

… Kelly criticized Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson for claiming “she got the money” for the new building during the 2015 ceremony while he and others in the audience were focused on the heroism of agents Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, killed during a 1986 shootout with bank robbers south of Miami…

In 2015, Wilson won praise from Miami Republicans for sponsoring the bill to name the long anticipated federal building after two agents who became legends in local law enforcement.

At the dedication ceremony, James Comey, then director of the FBI, lauded Wilson’s legislation, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama three days before the April 2015 ceremony…

Johnson was a constituent of Wilson’s who participated in a program founded by the longtime legislator called the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, which mentors African-American boys and young men.

“Sgt. Johnson was a member of my community and of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project that I founded to help boys of color build successful futures,” Wilson said in a statement. “He was killed while on a mission to provide training and security assistance to West African armed forces battling vicious insurgents like Boko Haram, the group whose defeat I’ve been fighting for since it abducted nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls more than three years ago.”

Kelly said he was “shocked” that the Congresswoman “listened in” to the call, when in fact, she was in the car when the call came in and it was put on speakerphone.  Now TRUMP is running with that false story.

Look, Kelly is a bonafide general officer and combat veteran. When he speaks about military sacrifice we listen. We should. He speaks with some authority, from experience, unlike the President. But the rhetorical spine of Kelly’s remarks was unmistakable: Attacks on President Trump are attacks on the sanctity of heroism and patriotic sacrifice itself. Again, attacking President Trump is attacking the troops. It’s the same maneuver driving Trump’s war on the NFL. Kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism and police misconduct really isn’t about police brutality or racism it all. It’s spitting on the sacrifice of American soldiers.

Kelly has swallowed some KoolAid, and bowed to the altar of Trumpism.

What is it about the President that makes everything turn to shit?

Trump’s New Target: Family Of A Fallen Soldier

WaPo:

The mother of a soldier killed in an ambush in Africa said Wednesday that President Trump “did disrespect my son” with remarks in a condolence telephone call.

Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, told The Washington Post that she was present during the call from the White House on Tuesday to Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson. Johnson’s mother also stood by an account of the call from Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) that Trump told Johnson’s widow that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”

“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Jones-Johnson said.

Trump lashed back. He denied Wilson’s account in a Twitter message Wednesday. He said he had “proof” that the exchange did not go as Wilson had described. Trump did not elaborate, but the claim again raised questions about whether the president tapes calls and conversations.

Wilson had said that the Johnson family was “astonished” by Trump’s remarks during the phone call, which Wilson said she heard via a speaker phone while riding in a car with the Johnson family.

Wilson told MSNBC on Wednesday that Johnson’s widow was shaken by the exchange.

“She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.”

On Tuesday, Wilson told The Washington Post that Trump had told Johnson’s widow, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

Wilson said she was riding in a limousine with Johnson when the president called, and said she heard the conversation on speakerphone.

“He made her cry,” Wilson said.

It’s hard to know how to weigh in on this. But it is not altogether surprising that the fallen soldier, his mother and family, are all black. It’s just plain ODD how Trump seems to have a problem with fallen soldiers OF COLOR.

It’s deeply sad a grieving family is about to be dragged through a national debate in which their claims are a partisan loyalty test, but the mother has weighed in now

So now we have it from the family as well.  Confirmation.

Trump continued to deny on camera.

When asked for his “proof” — Trump would not say what it was:

… because like the Comey tape, there is not proof.  Trump the bluffer, caught again.

This is coming right on the heels of football players kneeling at the National Anthem, which Trump and his minions say shows disrespect to our soldiers.  And also on the heels of Trump saying he calls the spouses of fallen soldiers and maligning past presidents, particularly Barack Obama, for not calling during their tenure (a veritably false claim that Trump had to back off from when pressed). He backed THAT up by invoking the death of the son of his Chief of Staff John Kelly even though Kelly doesn’t like his son’s death being used for political purposes:

No matter. We see now that soldiers are mere props to Trump — people who signed up for whatever happens to them (so don’t blame Trump, you widows and orphans!)

Marshall is right:

President Trump is poison. Everything around him gets damaged and degraded. It’s not any one thing. It’s everything. It’s hard to evaluate the dynamics of this call out of the context of waiting ten days, lying about his predecessors, creating this hideous spectacle with John Kelly’s son. Was the family prepped for something off because of the preceding three days? Probably. Was Trump angry about all the criticism? Probably so. It’s a perfect storm. And it all builds out of one man, Donald Trump.

There’s a big debate about Trump and clinical diagnoses. Malignant narcissism is the one most clinicians refer to. But that’s a distraction. You’re talking about someone with a profound selfishness, a jarring inability to experience empathy and a kind of ravenous emotional predation. Someone who is a profound narcissist is inherently erratic and destructive to those around him since he is acting according to his own impulses, angers and appetites with a relative indifference or even a sort of blindness to those around him. They don’t exist. Lots of wreckage is inevitable. That’s what it’s like living, trapped, in a house with an abuser. This is what it’s like living in a country with a President who’s a predator.

He poisons everything. No one gets out undamaged. Some are damaged profoundly.

An inability to experience empathy.

UPDATE — Aaaaand he’s back to the NFL again

Also…. from today’s press conference:

UPDATE: As I write this, Whitney Hunter, another Gold Star widow, on CNN says she was told to wait by her phone because Trump would call her “in a few days” to offer condolences on her loss and he never did. Says she wasn’t so much upset if he hadn’t called at all, but rather about the fact that she was told he would call and he didn’t follow through.

In fact, Trump lied:

Like presidents before him, Trump has made personal contact with some families of the fallen but not all. What’s different is that Trump, alone among them, has picked a political fight over who’s done better to honor the war dead and their families.

He placed himself at the top of the list, saying on Tuesday, “I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died” while past presidents didn’t place such calls.

But AP found relatives of four soldiers who died overseas during Trump’s presidency who said they never received calls from him. Relatives of two also confirmed they did not get letters. And proof is plentiful that Barack Obama and George W. Bush — saddled with far more combat casualties than the roughly two dozen so far under Trump — took painstaking steps to write, call or meet bereaved military families.

And now the floodgates are opening:

President Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.

Chris Baldridge, the father of Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, told The Washington Post that Trump called him at his home in Zebulon, N.C., a few weeks after his 22-year-old son and two fellow soldiers were gunned down by an Afghan police officer in a suspected insider attack June 10. Their phone conversation lasted about 15 minutes, Baldridge said, and centered for a time on the father’s struggle with the manner in which his son was killed.

“I said, ‘Me and my wife would rather our son died in trench warfare,’ “ Baldridge said. “I feel like he got murdered over there.”

Trump’s offer of $25,000 adds another dimension to the president’s relations with Gold Star families, an honorific given to those whose loved ones die while serving in support of the nation’s wars. The disclosure follows questions about how often the president has called or written to grieving military families.

Document Dump: Federal Court Blocks Trump’s Travel Ban… Yet Again

Tired of winning…?

UPDATE: A second federal court rules the same

A federal judge in Maryland early Wednesday issued a second halt on the latest version of President Trump’s travel ban, asserting that the president’s own comments on the campaign trail and on Twitter convinced him that the directive was akin to an unconstitutional Muslim ban.

Trump Sabotage Of Obamacare In Full Swing

Remember the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it.

The gutting of Obamacare continues, and it’s serious:

President Donald Trump plans to cut off subsidy payments to insurers selling Obamacare coverage in his most aggressive move yet to undermine his predecessor’s health care law.

The subsidies, which are worth an estimated $7 billion this year and are paid out in monthly installments, may stop almost immediately since Congress hasn’t appropriated funding for the program.

The decision — which leaked out only hours after Trump signed an executive order calling for new regulations to encourage cheap, loosely regulated health plans — delivered a double whammy to Obamacare after months of failed GOP efforts to repeal the law. With open enrollment for the 2018 plan year set to launch in two weeks, the moves seem aimed at dismantling the law through executive actions.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the decision in a statement emailed to reporters Thursday night.

Trump has spent months toying with the idea of ending these payments, which are drawn from a $7 billion fund set up specifically to cover these costs. House Republicans have challenged these payments in court, arguing that they were never appropriated in Obamacare and thus being illegally distributed.

Most of the changes will not occur until federal agencies write and adopt regulations implementing them. The process, which includes a period for public comments, could take months. That means the order will probably not affect insurance coverage next year, but could lead to major changes in 2019.

But it destabilizes the insurance market, as it adjusts for the coming effects. And that;s where trouble comes:

  • It will raise Obamacare premiums by an estimated 20 percent in 2018, as health plans have to charge more to make up the lost funds. By 2020, premiums would increase 25 percent due to this change.
  • Pulling the plug actually increases the national deficit. As those insurance plans make double-digit rate increases, the government will have to spend billions more on the other subsidies that 10 million Americans receive to purchase that coverage.
  • The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this move will ultimately cost the government $194 billion over the next decade.
  • The number of uninsured Americans would rise by one million people in 2018, in the CBO’s estimate.
  • Insurance companies lose out, too, particularly those that assumed Trump would pay these subsidies and set their premiums accordingly. They now stand to face significant financial loses on the Obamacare marketplaces.

In a statement from six physician groups, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the doctors predicted that “allowing insurers to sell narrow, low-cost health plans likely will cause significant economic harm to women and older, sicker Americans who stand to face higher-cost and fewer insurance options.”

While many health insurers remained silent about the executive order, some voiced concern that it could destabilize the market. The Trump proposal “would draw younger and healthier people away from the exchanges and drive additional plans out of the market,” warned Ceci Connolly, the chief executive of the Alliance of Community Health Plans.

As the Supreme Court discovered when it was asked to question the constitutionality of the mandate, Obamacare is like a machine. If you pull out or change one gear, the whole thing topples.  This is the toppling.

So that makes 12 ways that the Trump Administration has undermined Obamacare on its own. The tally:

  1. Said it would end subsidies to health insurance companies that help low-income people pay out-of-pocket medical costs. Announced on Oct. 12.
  2. Opened the door for sales of less expensive plans with fewer benefits and fewer protections for consumers. Signed executive order on Oct. 12.
  3. Decided not to send health department officials to local open enrollment events in states. First reported on Sept. 27.
  4. Decided to shut down the Affordable Care Act website for 12 hours nearly every Sunday during open enrollment. First reported in September.
  5. Said it would cut by 40 percent funding to groups that help people enroll. Announced on Aug. 31.
  6. Said it would slash spending on advertising and promotion for enrollment to $10 million from $100 million. Announced on Aug. 31.
  7. Made videos criticizing the health law and posted them on YouTube. In June and July.
  8. Posted infographics criticizing the health law on Twitter. Mostly in late June and mid-July.
  9. Made tax credits for premiums less generous. Finalized in April.
  10. Used news releases to spread negative information about the law. As early as February.
  11. Weakened enforcement of the individual mandate. Reported in February.
  12. Removed useful guidance for consumers about the law from its website. As early as Jan. 20.

The politics of Trump’s move is interesting.  By way of background, Trump may not be wrong on the merits for halting the payments. They are the subject of an ongoing battle over whether they are legal, and even some legal types who are sympathetic to the ACA think they probably aren’t. (That said, there is no chance this is what is motivating Trump. We know this, because he previously said he believed threatening to cut off the payments — and more broadly, that letting Obamacare “fail” — would give him leverage over Democrats. It doesn’t, but this still confirms what is really driving Trump)

Trump tweets:

The truth is that the pressure is actually on Republicans (who run Congress) to step up and make those subsidies “legal”. It would not be that hard to reach a bipartisan deal to do this, at which point the question will become whether GOP leaders and Trump will support it. If not, it is likely that Trump and Republicans will take the blame for any disruptions that ensue.  Trump may not understand that, but Republicans in Congress certainly do.

By the way, when Trump says Obamacare is “imploding,” which will allegedly pressure Dems, he’s lying: The exchanges were stabilizing, and many of their travails are largely attributable to his own multiple efforts to sabotage them. The public understands this: Large majorities say Trump and Republicans will own the ACA’s problems going forward and want them to make the law work.

Trump: Blaming The Victim

This is outright inhumane:

Trump is laying the groundwork for abandoning Puerto Rico, and blaming it for its infrastructure problems that existed pre-hurricane. Lost in his “analysis” is that the people suffering there (still no power or clean water on most of the Island) are AMERICANS.

If Bush was negligent with Katrina response, Trump is being outright punishing.

According to some sources, there are now 117 people listed missing in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria struck the island on Sept. 20. (I’m trying to verify)

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz — who hasn’t been shy about calling out the President for the federal response to the devastation in Puerto Rico, which she thinks has been inadequate — pushed back.

She called his comments “unbecoming” of a commander-in-chief and said they seem “more to come from a ‘Hater in Chief.’”

He really is a hater.  This is proof.  This has little to do with the fact that Puerto Rico is a territory, not a state, and everything to do with the fact that the people there are Latino.

UPDATE:  More words from the San Juan Mayor — scathing:

And for comparison:

And the White House contradicts Trump:

Asked for a response to Trump’s remarks, the White House later said it was “committed to helping Puerto Rico” and working with local leaders and Congress “to identify the best fiscally responsible path forward.”

“Successful recoveries do not last forever; they should be as swift as possible to help people resume their normal lives,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reiterated during a Thursday news briefing that the Trump administration would “stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done.”

The Trump Administration Guts Clean Air

On Monday, as had been expected, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said at an event in Kentucky that he would formally move to repeal what the E.P.A.’s Web site referred to as “the so-called ‘Clean Power Plan.’ ” That plan had been central to the United States’ commitment, under Paris, to reduce power-plant emissions by an estimated thirty per cent in coming years. Without it, there is no hope of meeting those goals even outside the framework of the accord; the decision will have a negative effect on the world’s chances of keeping the increase in global temperature below certain calamitous thresholds, on America’s influence in the world, and, as other countries move ahead on more sustainable technologies, on the competitiveness of the nation’s industries. Pruitt put aside estimates that the cleaner air resulting from the implementation of the plan would have prevented tens of thousands of deaths from respiratory diseases. The E.P.A. press release also celebrated the grand isolationism of the move, saying that the agency, in calculating the costs of the rules, would no longer account for certain “supposed global benefits.”

“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said in Kentucky, where he was joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Clean Power Plan, as he saw it, had really just been “about picking winners and losers”—as if the whole climate-change thing had been concocted as the result of a grudge against fossil fuels (Pruitt’s past skepticism about climate science suggests that he might believe this) or to help China triumph (as his boss has implied). Pruitt complained that rules led to things like lawsuits, which slowed down the economy. (The implementation of the Clean Power Plan had already been delayed, as it happens, by a lawsuit that Pruitt had helped bring as the attorney general of Oklahoma.) Pruitt, one of several members of the Administration whose use of private planes has come under scrutiny, further praised the move against the Clean Power Plan in a broad paean to small government. “Let me tell you something, the E.P.A.—and no federal agency—should ever use its authority to say to you we’re going to declare war on any sector of our economy. That’s wrong.”

As Pruitt spoke about winners and losers, wildfires were consuming thousands of homes in Northern California, killing at least fifteen people and scorching more than a hundred thousand acres. Puerto Ricans, meanwhile, were still struggling to get clean water. Three weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, the electric grid on the island is still largely down; most of those who have power are getting it from diesel-burning backup generators. As Jon Lee Anderson writes in a report from Puerto Rico, Trump’s visit there last week did little to counter the residents’ sense of abandonment. It may be hard to isolate the cause of a single storm or fire, but the science makes it clear that climate change increases the intensity and the frequency of both. If, as expected, Tropical Storm Ophelia reaches hurricane strength later this week, it will be the tenth consecutive such storm to become a hurricane—the highest number in more than a century. (There have been five major hurricanes this year, and three that hit land as Category 4 hurricanes—another record.) The Miami Herald pointed to a different measure: the current accumulated cyclone energy, which, it noted, is “254 percent higher than average with seven weeks left in the season.”

Following Pruitt’s statement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman vowed to sue the administration. “By seeking to repeal the Clean Power Plan — especially without any credible plan to replacing it — the Trump administration’s campaign of climate change denial continues, once again putting industry special interests ahead of New Yorkers’ and all Americans’ safety, health, and the environment,” he said in a statement. Environmental groups were already threatening legal action and protests prior to Pruitt’s comments on Monday. “Trump can’t reverse our clean energy and climate progress with the stroke of a pen, and we’ll fight him and Scott Pruitt in the courts, in the streets, and at the state and local level across America to protect the health of every community,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement on Friday.

Trump’s Bizarre Puerto Rico Visit On Tuesday

He accused Puerto Ricans of throwing the federal budget “out of whack.”

He suggested Puerto Rico had not experienced a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina, since a mere “16 people” had been confirmed dead.

He told a family of hurricane victims to “have a good time.”

He tossed paper towels to another group of victims, in a church, as if he was shooting basketball free throws.

He told a third group of victims that they don’t need flashlights any longer, though 90 per cent of the island was still without power.

He refused to speak to the mayor of San Juan.

And, as usual, Donald Trump congratulated himself.

Facing withering criticism for his delayed and then belligerent response to the Puerto Rican hurricane crisis, Trump’s Tuesday visit to San Juan was a chance to begin to repair the wounds he had caused over a week of tweeted insults.

Instead he casually tore them open, a smile on his face.

In a frequently abnormal afternoon on the island, Trump showed none of the scripted gravitas of his sombre Monday response to the massacre in Las Vegas. Speaking without notes, he behaved as if the ongoing crisis had long since been fixed by his own doing.

It was vintage Trump — informal, freewheeling, self-centred, detached from facts, wholly unlike the behaviour of any other modern president.

His supporters applauded again, pointing to his authenticity and moments of empathy. Puerto Ricans already upset with him before he landed were infuriated.

He was a national embarrassment.

More Trump Administration Dysfunction

Oh no.  What’s stuck in his craw now?  This:

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on the verge of resigning this past summer amid mounting policy disputes and clashes with the White House, according to multiple senior administration officials who were aware of the situation at the time.

The tensions came to a head around the time President Donald Trump delivered a politicized speech in late July to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson once led, the officials said.

Just days earlier, Tillerson had openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a “moron,” after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials, according to three officials familiar with the incident.

While it’s unclear if he was aware of the incident, Vice President Mike Pence counseled Tillerson, who is fourth in line to the presidency, on ways to ease tensions with Trump, and other top administration officials urged him to remain in the job at least until the end of the year, officials said.

Actually, here’s a tweet from another NBC journalist:

Whoa. Trump just now….

He’s talking now about Tillerson giving a press conference in which he gives a non-denial denial that he ever called Trump a fucking moron:

In a press conference full of effusive praise for President Trump on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that he had never considered leaving the Trump administration, despite an NBC News report earlier in the day that claimed otherwise.

My commitment to the success of our president and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as secretary of state,” Tillerson said, addressing the report, which also claimed Tillerson had “openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a ‘moron,’ after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon.” 

When pressed about the report’s contents, Tillerson responded, “I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that. This is what I don’t understand about Washington. I’m not from this place. The place I come from, we don’t deal with that petty nonsense. It is intended to do nothing but divide people, and I’m just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration.”

Tillerson did not deny calling Trump a “moron.”

Folks, we have the Streisand Effect going on….

Yup.

Bonus — a Trump tweet from 2014:

UPDATE — it’s the afternoon and these people don’t know how to make this non-story go away

Trump’s Disastrous Trip To Puerto Rico Not Much Better Than Maria

This man cannot do public service without sounding tone-deaf.  For Trump, it’s about optics, and how good HE looks.

“Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here and what is your death count? Sixteen people, versus in the thousands,” Trump said. “You can be very proud. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.”

That statement is problematic in several ways. The idea that Maria was not a “real catastrophe” defies all evidence, and any discussion of the death toll is premature. While the official number remains at 16, where it has been for several days without update, officials have acknowledged it will end up much higher. The Center for Investigative Journalism reported Monday that “dozens” of people are dead, with bodies piling up in morgues, even as the official count has not kept pace. Trump’s decision to use Hurricane Katrina as a benchmark also makes little sense and belittles the suffering in Puerto Rico. Katrina is both the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history since 1928 and a prime example of a mismanaged disaster. Trump also overstated the toll of Katrina, which was less than 2,000.

Trump also misstated Maria’s strength at landfall. “Few people have ever even heard of a Category 5 hitting land, but it hit land, and boy did it hit land,” he said, but the storm was a Category 4 storm when it struck. Trump also said the Coast Guard had saved 16,000 lives in Texas. It’s unclear where he got that number; the Coast Guard has claimed 11,000 rescues.

Throughout the aftermath of the storm, Trump has often appeared more interested in the political ramifications of the storm than on the human effects, focusing on approval of himself and the federal government (though he doesn’t really draw a distinction between the two). This was also true at Muniz Air Force Base. In praising Governor Ricardo Rosselló, for example, Trump reached for the lens of partisan affiliation.

“He’s not even from my party and he started right at the beginning appreciating what we did,” Trump said. “Right from the beginning, this governor did not play politics. He was saying it like it was, and he gave us the highest rates.”

This was an implicit jab at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who has been critical of relief efforts, and whom Trump claimed over the weekend was doing so because Democrats had put her up to it. His broadside against Yulín serves as a warning to politicians like Rosselló not to follow her lead, lest Trump punish them too. (Speaking in Washington Tuesday, before taking off, Trump said of Yulín, “Well, I think she’s come back a long way. I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done, and people are looking at that.” It’s unclear what he is referring to. She attended Tuesday’s briefing.)

Trump also greeted Jenniffer González-Colón, a Republican who is Puerto Rico’s delegate to the U.S. House, and asked her to praise federal efforts.

“I watched the other day and she was saying such nice things about a lot of the people who are working so hard,” he said. “Jenniffer, do you think you could say a little bit what you said about us? It’s not about me, it’s about these incredible people from the military, from FEMA, the first responders.”

Yet as with his premature celebration of the death toll, Trump’s comments about Puerto Rico and Maria still fell far short of empathy, and were in some cases strangely tone-deaf. Before leaving for Puerto Rico, Trump complained that rather than the federal government not doing enough, it was Puerto Rican authorities who weren’t doing enough to hasten the recovery.

“On a local level, they have to give us more help,” he said in Washngton. “But I will tell you, the first responders, the military, FEMA, they have done an incredible job in Puerto Rico.”

During his briefing, he made an apparent attempt at joke about the cost of recovery. “I hate to tell you Puerto Rico but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” he said. “That’s fine. We saved a lot of lives.” Yet the remark comes in the context of Trump repeatedly mentioning Puerto Rico’s debts as both a reason for the slow recovery and a reason to think hard about reconstruction there. Nor did he make similar remarks after hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

Meanwhile, after thanking an Air Force general present at the briefing, Trump went on a strange digression about the F-35 fighter jet, a troubled boondoggle whose cost Trump negotiated down with the manufacturer. The discussion of the plane was roughly as lengthy as the president’s discussion of the victims of the storm, and it had nothing to do with the hurricane. If the Puerto Rico visit sought to reverse the impression that Trump has not taken Maria seriously and does not feel empathy for its victims, Tuesday’s briefing did not help the cause.

UPDATE:

Jesus….

Breaking: More Trump-Russia Contacts

WaPo:

Associates of President Trump and his company have turned over documents to federal investigators that reveal two previously unreported contacts from Russia during the 2016 campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.

In one case, Trump’s personal attorney and a business associate exchanged emails weeks before the Republican National Convention about traveling to an economic conference in Russia that would be attended by top Russian financial and government leaders, including President Vladi­mir Putin, according to people familiar with the correspondence.

In the other case, the same Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, received a proposal in late 2015 for a Moscow residential project from a company founded by a billionaire who once served in the Russian Senate, these people said. The previously unreported inquiry marks the second proposal for a Trump-branded Moscow project that was delivered to the company during the presidential campaign and has since come to light.

Cohen declined the invitation to the economic conference, citing the difficulty of attending so close to the GOP convention, according to people familiar with the matter. And Cohen rejected the Moscow building plan.

Nonetheless, the information about the interactions has been provided to congressional committees as well as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as they investigate whether Trump associates coordinated with Russian efforts to interfere in the U.S. election, according to people familiar with the inquiries who, like others cited in this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the inquiry.

Details of the communications were turned over by the Trump Organization in recent days to the White House, defense lawyers and government investigators and described to The Washington Post.

Though there is no evidence that these Russia-related entreaties resulted in further action, the email communications about them show that Trump’s inner circle continued receiving requests from Russians deep into the presidential campaign.

A Scandal Too On-The-Nose

It’s hard to keep track of all the scandals plaguing the Trump Administration, any one of which would be a HUGE scandal in any other previous administration.  Right now, there is a lot of focus on HHS Secretary Tom Price, who has been using private jets and military aircraft to get from place to place — at taxpayer expense.  Price tried to get ahead of the scandal by saying that he would pay for “his seat” on those flights, which turned about to be literal.  He chartered entire planes, but agreed to pay only for “his seat”, which he calculated to be roughly $51,000.  When you add up all of the more than two dozen private and chartered jets Price has taken since May, the pricetag — ahem — is now north of $1 million taxpayer dollars, according to calculations made by Politico.

Then there’s Scott Pruit, head of the EPA, also has been flying around in expensive planes on the taxpayer’s dime, and installing a $25,000 soundproof room in the EPA for unknown reasons.

Even those stories are being overshadowed by Trump’s failure to adequately respond to the hurricane damage in Puerto Rico (“Trump’s Katrina”), his race-based attacks on NFL protests, and his new tax plan (a gift to the rich).

So I’m not surprised — but still a little surprised — that more isn’t being made of the “private emails” scandal.  We just went through a presidential election where all anybody would talk about — on the right and in the media — was Hillary Clinton’s private emails and her private server.  Now, we learn that Jared and Ivanka Trump conducted official White House business from their own private server.

Then, as the NY Times reports:

But Mr. Kushner was not alone. Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief White House strategist, and Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, also occasionally used private email addresses. Other advisers, including Gary D. Cohn and Stephen Miller, sent or received at least a few emails on personal accounts, officials said.

What the hell?

It is just so bizarre. These people are either incredibly corrupt or incredibly stupid and probably both.

Now it is quite possible that there was no classified material exchanged.  But it is a violation of the Presidential Records Act, something that these people themselves pointed out time and time again through their candidate during the campaign.  It’s astounding — simply astounding — that they would engage in the same activities (and so soon!) after hearing millions of their followers shout “LOCK HER UP” when Hillary did the same thing.

I know. Hypocrisy is the least of this administration’s wrongdoings.  But it amazes me anyway.

P.S. I forgot to mention other Clinton-esque scandals like Foundation donations, pay-for-play, etc

New PPP Poll Shows Republicans Are In Trouble

There is so much poll-y goodness in the new and deep PPP poll.  But I’ll just print the PPP summary and docdump the full results.  One thing buried deep in the poll — 76% of Trump voters think he should remain in office even if it is proven that he colluded with Russia!

2018 Shaping Up Big For Democrats

Democrats picked up big wins in special elections in Florida and New Hampshire this week, and PPP’s newest national poll finds there might be a lot more where that came from. Democrats continue to hold a double digit lead on the generic Congressional ballot at 48-37, which should position them to pick up a lot of seats across the country next year.

One reason for the strong position Democrats are in is fallout from the GOP’s failed efforts on health care, and our new poll makes it clear Jimmy Kimmel won the health care battle in the court of public opinion. By a 47/34 spread, voters say they trust Kimmel more than the Republicans in Congress when it comes to health care issues. Kimmel has a 47/30 favorability rating nationally. By contrast Paul Ryan is at a 25/51 approval rating, Mitch McConnell is at 14/61, and Congress as a whole has a 9/76 approval.

Only 27% of voters support the most recent Republican health care bill to 53% who oppose it. By contrast the Affordable Care Act continues to have new found popularity with 48% of voters in favor of it and 34% against. Asked which of the bills they prefer the Affordable Care Act beats out the Graham-Cassidy repeal bill 53-34, and only 32% of voters think the best path forward on health care is to repeal the Affordable Care Act while 62% think it’s best to keep it and makes fixes as necessary.

The health care debate is having a bad impact on Republicans electorally. By a 19 point margin voters say they’re less likely to support a member of Congress who voted for the health care repeal bill- 48% say they’re less likely to vote for such an incumbent next year to only 29% who say they’re more likely to.

Donald Trump continues to be unpopular with 42% of voters approving of him to 53% who disapprove. Some new issues that have cropped up in the last few weeks are causing him problems in addition to the ongoing issues causing his unpopularity. Only 37% of voters think it’s appropriate for him to refer to a foreign leader as ‘Rocket Man’ to 56% who think it’s inappropriate. Only 24% of voters think it’s appropriate for him to use campaign funds to pay for his legal expenses, to 64% who think it’s inappropriate. And only 20% of voters think it’s appropriate for his cabinet secretaries to fly on taxpayer funded private plans, to 71% who say it’s inappropriate.

Beyond those specific issues voters continue to have concerns with Trump’s general temperament. Only 39% of voters think he’s honest, to 54% who consider him to be dishonest. A plurality of voters- 47%- consider Trump to be mentally unbalanced to only 45% who consider him to be mentally stable. 58% of voters still want to see Trump’s tax returns, to only 35% who think it isn’t necessary for him to release them. Only 35% of voters think Trump has fulfilled his core campaign promise to ‘Make America Great Again’ to 53% who think he has not delivered. And for the fifth month in a row we find voters in support of impeachment- 48% favor it, to 43% who are opposed.

Without Hillary Clinton to kick around anymore Trump has tried to turn the media into his foil, but we continue to find that he is losing all of his battles with the media. For the first time we added ESPN to the list of outlets we compared Trump with this month, and voters say they trust ESPN over him by a 48/38 spread. A plurality of voters- 37%- nationally have no opinion about ESPN with 33% seeing it favorably and 30% unfavorably. Clinton voters give it a 44/11 favorability, while it comes in at 20/54 with Trump voters. Trump is losing the rest of his media fights by similar margins to what we’ve typically found:

Do you have a higher opinion of Donald Trump or… Winner
CBS CBS, 53/38
NBC NBC, 52/39
ABC ABC, 52/39
Washington Post Washington Post, 52/39
CNN CNN, 51/38
New York Times New York Times, 52/40
ESPN ESPN, 48/38

Trump continues to fare very poorly in possible match ups against Democrats for 2020. We tested Hillary Clinton against Trump this month for the first time, mostly as a baseline for comparison against other possible Democratic candidates, and Clinton leads Trump by 5 points at 47/42. 3 Democrats we tested clearly perform more strongly against Trump than Clinton- Joe Biden who leads by 13 points at 53/40, Bernie Sanders who leads by 11 points at 51/40, and Michelle Obama who leads by 10 points at 51/41. Biden and Sanders both win over 10% of people who voted for Trump last fall while losing almost no Clinton voters.

Other Democrats we tested against Trump are Cory Booker who leads him 47/40, Elizabeth Warren who leads him 47/41, Kirsten Gillibrand who leads him 42/39, and Kamala Harris who leads him 41/40. The percentage support the Democrat gets in these match ups varies from 41% to 53% probably depending on their name recognition, but Trump’s support is pretty constant in the 39-42% range against all of these possible challengers.

Voters also wish by a 52/41 margin that Barack Obama was still President instead of Trump.

Trump may be doing poorly with the overall electorate but he’s still in pretty firm control of the Republican Party. By a 34 point margin, 61/27, GOP voters say they’d rather have Trump be their candidate for President in 2020 than anyone else. His margins against specific potential Republican challengers are even more emphatic. He leads Mike Pence by 38 points at 59/21, John Kasich by 50 points at 68/18, and Ted Cruz by 53 points at 68/15. His leadership style might not be doing much to help him win over Americans in the middle but it’s helping him keep a strong hold on his party base.Other notes from our national poll:

-Only 15% of voters think Mexico is actually going to pay for a wall with the United States, to 71% who don’t believe that’s going to happen. Even among Trump’s voters just 32% think he will be able to deliver on his promise to make Mexico pay for the wall. Most Americans don’t want the wall anyway though- just 33% support it to 56% who say they are opposed.

-A rare thing that really does bring together Americans across the political spectrum is support for DACA- 74% of voters think children brought to the US by their immigrant parents and raised in the country should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship to only 18% who don’t think they should be allowed to. That includes 92/5 support from Clinton voters and 52/34 support even from Trump voters.

-Sean Spicer has not been able to rehabilitate his image since leaving the White House. Only 23% of voters see him favorably to 41% who have an unfavorable opinion of him. Those numbers are a little worse even than the 24/37 spread he had in January right after prominently lying about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration.

-Finally we find that the Trump era has ushered in a huge divide among Americans…about awards shows. Overall there is a pretty dim view of awards shows, with 22% of voters seeing them favorably to 49% who have a negative opinion about them. Clinton voters have mixed feelings about them- 31% favorable, 31% unfavorable. But Trump voters absolutely hate them- just 11% see awards shows positively with 73% having an unfavorable opinion of them.

Trump’s Tax Plan Is A Gift For The Wealthy

Overhauling the tax code is a task Republicans in Congress have been attempting to accomplish for 30 years. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump unveiled his administration’s tax plan, called the “Unified Framework For Fixing Our Broken Tax Code.” The plan is reported to cost an upwards of $5 trillion dollars and has been described by his officials as “completely designed with the middle class in mind.”

Trump has promised he would “cut taxes tremendously for the middle class” while also promising as recently as September 14 that the wealthiest Americans “will not be gaining at all with this plan,” but the framework provided by his administration proves otherwise.

Here are more details about the plan, per senior administration officials.

Individual tax reform: 

  • Creates three tax brackets — 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent — and gives the option for congressional committees to add a fourth rate on the highest earners. Doesn’t define the income ranges to which these rates apply.
  • Currently, there are seven individual rate brackets ranging from 10 percent to 39.6 percent.
  • Almost doubles the standard deduction to $12,000 for a single person and $24,000 for a married couple.
  • Increases the child tax credit to something “substantially higher” than the current $1,000 per child. Increases the income level at which the credit phases out.
  • Creates a $500 tax credit for non-child dependents.
  • Repeals the alternative minimum tax.
  • Repeals the personal exemption.
  • Eliminates most itemized deductions, but keeps those for mortgage interest and charitable contributions.
  • Repeals the estate tax.
  • Eliminates state and local tax deduction.
Corporate tax reform:
  • Maximum small business rate of 25 percent. Right now, it’s generally taxed at the individual level.
  • 20 percent corporate rate. Currently, it’s 35 percent.
  • Repeals the corporate alternative minimum tax.
  • Allows businesses to immediately write off the cost of new investments over five years.
  • Partially limits interest deductibility.
  • Keeps the research and development tax credit, along with the low income housing credit.
International tax reform: 
  • Moves to a “territorial system,” which doesn’t tax business profits made outside the country.
  • As a transition, there will be a one-time tax on profits accumulated overseas. Higher rate for cash profits than liquid assets, but doesn’t say what the rates are.

Here’s what the tax plan actually does.

Repealing the individual alternative minimum tax

The alternative minimum tax (AMT) will be eliminated under Trump’s tax plan. The AMT, which was created to ensure that wealthy taxpayers pay their fair share and don’t take advantage of all the deductions in the current tax code, is the only reason Trump paid significant taxes in his leaked tax return from 2005. In 2005, he paid a total tax rate of about 24% on $150 million of income; without the AMT, he would have paid less than 4%.

Since it was enacted, the AMT has gone under several iterations and now affects roughly over 4 million taxpayers, mainly those who earn $250,000 in adjusted gross income. Tax policy experts have concerns that repealing it would result in a federal budget shortfall.

Progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders have also proposed to eliminate the AMT, but replacing it with a flat tax on the wealthy of around 28 percent.

Repealing the tax deduction for state and local taxes

This is the tax measure that will cause the biggest trouble for state lawmakers. The Trump tax plan includes repealing itemized deductions for state and local taxes as a way to help pay for the massive tax cuts provided to individuals and corporations.

This is good news for Republicans, as the state and local tax deduction (SALT) is most valuable in blue states like New York and New Jersey, but bad news for tax payers in those states. Rep. Steve King (R-NY) a Trump loyalist, has said he can’t vote for any bill that repeals the SALT. In New Jersey, losing the break would cost taxpayers an upwards of $3,500, and Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) told Bloomberg he has the “gravest reservations” on voting for a bill that includes a repeal of the SALT.

There are 52 Republicans from districts in blue states that use the state tax deduction disproportionately, just enough to stop any legislation in the House that repeals the state and local tax deduction.

Eliminating the estate tax

Trump’s tax plan includes a tax reform measure many Republicans have wanted to repeal for a long time: the estate tax. It’s a 40 percent levy on assets that exceed the $5.49 million exemption per person and $10.98 million for a married couple. This measure is only really utilized by the country’s wealthiest tax payers, affecting less than half of a percent of all estates today, according to IRS figures. This is another tax break to the wealthiest Americans.

Slashing corporate tax rates

Some good news for Trump’s friends in the business world: the corporate tax rate will be lowered nearly 15 points, from 35 percent to 20 percent. When Trump was on the campaign trail, however, he repeatedly promised a 15 percent tax rate, which many experts saw as nearly impossible.

The plan also includes a special income tax rate for “pass-through” businesses, which include partnerships and LLCs. These businesses don’t pay the corporate rate, rather their owners pay taxes on their share of the profits from the business at their own personal rate, which now will be lowered to 35 percent under the Trump plan.  There’s a provision in the Trump plan that would cap the rate on income from pass-through businesses at 25 percent.

The Trump Organization, which still has ownership of, owns more than 500 pass through business entities. This loophole would slash the tax rate on the profits from these businesses by more than a third.

Raising the bottom tax rate and cutting the top rate (while doubling standard deductions)

Republicans have agreed on raising the bottom tax rate two percentage points to 12 percent in order to offset a huge tax cut for the top individual tax rate, down nearly five points to 35 percent from 39.6 percent. However many tax experts say this doesn’t come anywhere near close enough to paying for those massive tax cuts for wealthier individuals.

By raising the bottom rate to 12 percent, the plan consolidates the seven current tax brackets into just three, set at 12 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent, with the option of including a fourth tax bracket should the tax writing committees in Congress deem it necessary to include one, but the plan doesn’t detail at what  income levels these individual brackets will be set at, also leaving that up to congressional committees.

Trump’s tax plan also proposes doubling the standard deduction, which is generally good for lower to middle income families, but when paired with other tax measures, like the elimination of the personal exemption, can end up actually raising taxes on middle-income families.

Eliminating personal exemptions

The personal exemption, currently at $4,050, will be eliminated under the White House’s tax plan. Bloomberg estimates that a middle-class couple with three kids would actually have to add $20,250 to their taxable income to make up for this. That amounts to nearly double the “benefit” they would receive by a doubled standard deduction. It’s again hard to determine the exact impact on a particular family because the plan lacks critical details.

The White House plan also proposes an increased child tax credit of over $1,000 dollars while also creating a $500 dollar tax credit for tax payers with non-child dependents, which they hope will offset the elimination of the personal exemption. However, because the White House didn’t provide at what income level the three individual tax brackets will be set at, middle-income families will just have to take the administration’s word for it and depend on the work of the tax writing committees.

Why Is Trump Tweeting About The NFL?

Thursday night in Alabama, at a rally, Trump went off on a tangent about the NFL and its bad ratings and how players who refused to stand for the national anthem (i.e., Colin Kaepernick) should be fired by the owners.  This got cheers from the Alabamians, because they are Alabamians.  And it made headlines on Friday (since he never says anything of substance), so Trump doubled down this weekend.  And tripled down.  And 4X downed. Etc.  Here’s SOME of those tweets, which are continuing into this morning:

For its part, the NFL stood united. For the Sunday games, many owners released statements supporting their players’ right to protest.  And of course, there was kneeling.  Players kneeled.  An owner kneeled.  A singer of the National Anthem kneeled on the last line.  Many in the crowds kneeled or stayed seated.  Some booed.  Others cheered.  Some teams, rather than take part in a political spectacle, decided to stay in the locker room during the anthem.  Players who didn’t kneel locked arms with those who did, in a sign of solidarity (including Trump’s friend, Tom Brady).

All-in-all, there was significant pushback.  And what was once a smattering of kneels became an overwhelming number of them. Trump seemed please with those who booed.

Later, many players spoke out.  They spoke of being “disappointed” or “disheartened”. A Seattle Seahawks wide receiver minced no words:

Trump does not seem to understand (or care) why some players had been choosing to kneel in the first place.  It is not a stand against American ideals, the flag, or the Anthem.  It is that the American ideals symbolized by the flag and the Anthem are not being applied to all of America’s citizens — black people in particular.

And now Trump is creating  fight, challenging the patriotism of those who kneel. Trump is making clear his moral priorities. He is infinitely more offended by the sight of a black ballplayer quietly, peacefully protesting racism in the United States than he is by racism itself.

The question is why, e.g., why would Trump continue to poke at the players and, as he did Sunday night, call for the NFL to change its policies to ban any sort of protests surrounding the anthem?

The most basic (and right) answer is because he knows that, for his base, this fight is a winner for him. Specifically:

1. The players are rich. Remember that Trump, despite being a billionaire, sees himself (and is regarded) as the voice of the Average Joe. And he knows that lots of Average Joes resent how much money these players make for playing a game.

2. The players are playing a game. Spend 10 minutes talking about football (or any pro sport) with a group of people, and I guarantee that you will hear someone (if not several) say something like: “Man, they get to play a game for their job. I’d do that for free.” (Obviously points No. 1 and No. 2 are closely tied.)

3. The players are (mostly) black. Trump insisted on Sunday night that “this has nothing to do with race.” But that simply doesn’t fly. The vast majority of the players in the NFL are black. Ditto the players in the NBA, whom Trump also went after over the weekend. Trump knows that. And he also knows that when he uses phrases such as “our heritage” to describe what’s allegedly under assault in the anthem protests, many of his supporters see that in racial terms. You don’t simply get to repeatedly flick at racial animus — in the campaign and as President — and then plead total innocence when those code words trigger a reaction.

4. Trump can paint this as a battle for patriotism. The anthem protest was begun last year by then-San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who cited concerns about the deaths of African-American men at the hands of police as the motivation for his stance. Trump has seized on the protests as some sort of slap in the face to the military, which it’s not. By painting the players as insufficiently loyal to the country, Trump can make an appeal to patriotism — a powerful emotion not just in his base but in the country.

It certainly does not appear to be working. Yes, maybe it pleases his base, but most people recognize it as being divisive, even if they disagree with the protests. It is stirring a hornet’s nest, plain and simple.

Others are wondering about his priorities. Days after Maria struck, Puerto Rico remains crippled by widespread destruction and catastrophic flooding. Villages were razed and communications ruined, leaving officials unable to tally an accurate toll of the death and devastation. Power is out, and restoration of the electrical grid may take months, not weeks. A dam was compromised, threatening major flooding and a loss of drinking water.

There is no food.

There is no agriculture.

Although Puerto Rico cannot vote for president and has no voting representatives in Congress, its citizens are entitled to the same federal emergency funds and resources that Washington has been funneling to the far more politically powerful and economically resilient states of Texas and Florida in their hurricane miseries.

The same holds true for the US Virgin Islands.

Yet Trump has said (or tweeted) nothing these past few days on the subject.  Instead, he throws oil on the fire of an already too-polarized country.  It’s difficult to see the benefit in rending this country apart in a culture war.  But apparently the White House sees this as good.

Clearly, this is why Russia wanted him to be president – to start wars in his own country.

FLASHBACK: From an owner of the USFL football team in Tampa Bay:

UPDATE:  Conservatives, republicans and old white people have Trump’s back, but all told, only 38% agree with Trump

UPDATE: Props to Greg Popovich, head coach for the Spurs (basketball) for saying this at NBA Media Day:

Not A Hoax

That’s an odd assertion for Trump to make.  Sure, he can make the argument that there was no collusion, but to say that Russia never bought ads on Facebook?  How would TRUMP know that’s not true?  Mueller isn’t saying it… Facebook itself is:

Under growing pressure from Congress and the public to reveal more about the spread of covert Russian propaganda on Facebook, the company said on Thursday that it was turning over more than 3,000 Russia-linked ads to congressional committees investigating the Kremlin’s influence operation during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity,” Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said during an appearance on Facebook Live, the company’s video service. He added that he did not want anyone “to use our tools to undermine democracy.”

“That’s not what we stand for,” he said.

The announcement that Facebook would share the ads with the Senate and House intelligence committees came after the social network spent two weeks on the defensive. The company faced calls for greater transparency about 470 Russia-linked accounts — in which fictional people posed as American activists — which were taken down after they had promoted inflammatory messages on divisive issues. Facebook had previously angered congressional staff by showing only a sample of the ads, some of which attacked Hillary Clinton or praised Donald J. Trump.

Facebook’s admission on Sept. 6 that Russian agents covertly bought ads on the site during last year’s campaign has brought intense scrutiny on the social network and on Twitter, entangling both companies in the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. Both companies have turned over detailed data to Mr. Mueller.

I’m not sure “it’s a hoax” is the way to go. It happened. The Intel Committees have documentation, as does Mueller.  Soon, we all will get to see it.  Then Trump will have to move the goalposts.

Mueller Finally Eyeing Trump It Seems

Finally.  This is the news I was waiting for.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has asked the White House for records pertaining to some of Donald Trump’s “most scrutinized actions” as president, including his firing of former FBI director James Comey and his Oval Office confab with Russian operatives in which he bragged that axing Comey had “taken off” the pressure of the Russia probe. The New York Times reports the requests suggest the investigation is “focused squarely on Mr. Trump’s behavior in the White House.”

In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s office sent a document to the White House that detailed 13 different areas that investigators want more information about. Since then, administration lawyers have been scouring White House emails and asking officials whether they have other documents or notes that may pertain to Mr. Mueller’s requests.

One of the requests is about a meeting Mr. Trump had in May with Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, was fired. That day, Mr. Trump met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak, along with other Russian officials. The New York Times reported that in the meeting Mr. Trump had said that firing Mr. Comey relieved “great pressure” on him.

Mueller also wants any documents related to the ousting of former Trump campaign aide and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, as well as the Trump Tower meeting last year between Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Kremlin-linked lawyer. Trump took it upon himself to personally craft the media response to that meeting, which was so inaccurate that the White House had to amend it several times.

Will Trump have a response? I suspect he will, against the advice of his lawyers. Maybe another offensive on how “corrupt” Mueller is (watch for that on Fox News in the next few days.)  And tweets.  My God, more tweets.

Mueller Investigation Focuses on Manafort

There are so many prongs to Mueller’s investigation of the Trump Administration, that it is hard to keep up sometimes.  There are many branches and many players.,  Fortunately, a new website, investigaterussia.org, is a good one-stop place for the latest news, timelines, and “players” bios.  So bookmark that.

With all the natural disasters going on, there has been some Trump investigation news.

It turns out that FISA warrants were issued for Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.  And while this may vindicate Trump’s controversial tweet that he, himself, was “wiretapped”, it hardly helps Trump in the overall controversy.

A new report from CNN, however, explains that not only has Paul Manafort been under investigation by the FBI for three years (You know, pre-campaign), but that the recent pre-dawn raid on Manafort’s home was part of a probe that could be extending back as far as 11 years.

So if Trump was recorded, it was incidental, not intentional.

Manafort has previously denied financial wrongdoing regarding his Ukraine-related payments, his bank accounts in offshore tax shelters, and his various real estate transactions over the years.

Last year, authorities determined there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Manafort or anyone else involved in their Ukraine-related probe with anything. Mueller’s team, however, is working on a deadline, and some of the moves they’ve made seem to indicate they are in the advance stages of an investigation.

The period mentioned in the search warrant covers much of the decade that Manafort worked as a consultant for Ukraine’s former ruling party. It’s that work, which extended beyond the ouster of the president, Viktor Yanukovych, amid street protests in 2014, that prompted the FBI’s interest in Manafort. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was accused of corruption and the FBI sought to learn whether the American consultants hired by the Ukrainian party, which also included Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group, were involved. The Justice Department probe also looked into whether the US firms violated the federal law that requires registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

All three firms earlier this year filed retroactive registrations with the Justice Department.

Besides the documents seized from Manafort’s home in the raid, Mueller has also subpoenaed his financial reports.

Also, Manafort’s notes from the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Russian attorney have been collected.

So far, it seems that very little was gathered from those, as they mostly centered on the Magnitsky Act.

The notes portray a meeting largely focused on a Russian lawyer’s complaints about investment fund manager William Browder and his role in pushing sanctions legislation to punish Russia. The Russian lawyer repeated claims that Browder made campaign donations to both parties as a way to pass a Russia sanctions law, according to sources briefed on the notes.

The notes are disjointed, the sources who have seen them said, and appear to focus on Russia’s frustration over a law passed in 2012 that led to frozen assets of powerful Russian officials.

Earlier news reports about the reference to political contributions in the notes have led to speculation that the meeting attended by Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner included a request for donations.

But people who have seen the notes say the reference is to political contributions that the Russian lawyer alleged Browder made.

Again, any connection to Trump seems to be incidental, at most. Manafort is the target, because he has a background that raises red flags, and he has been under investigation for several years. It doesn’t matter that he’s known Trump for a number of years. Trump was not running for office when the investigation into Manafort’s dealings began.

The question now must be, why does Donald Trump surround himself with such shady characters?

The CNN report is unconfirmed by other news organizations (save CBS).  Manafort’s lawyers pushed back by pointing out (correctly) that FISA warrants are secret and it is a crime to leak them.  Yup.  Okay.  But Manafort is still in deep doodoo.  He has been informed that he is likely to be indicted and must decide if he will “flip” or face jail time.

BIG UPDATE:

Late breaking from the Washington Post:

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.

The emails are among tens of thousands of documents that have been turned over to congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team as they probe whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia as part of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.

There is no evidence in the documents showing that Deripaska received Manafort’s offer or that any briefings took place. And a spokeswoman for Deripaska dismissed the email ex­changes as scheming by “consultants in the notorious ‘beltway bandit’ industry.”

Nonetheless, investigators believe that the exchanges, which reflect Manafort’s willingness to profit from his prominent role alongside Trump, created a potential opening for Russian interests at the highest level of a U.S. presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the probe. Those people, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss matters under investigation.

No Russia connection? Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager, and he offered to give ROUTINE briefings to a Russian billionaire with ties to Putin.

Trump’s UN Speech

Let’s be clear about Trump’s speech to the United Nations yesterday — it was an example of what he was elected for. Bombastic and in-your-face. That’s what people who voted for Trump wanted, and that’s what he displayed.

It was “bad” in the sense that it was Trumpian.

It was also “bad” in the sense that it projected a horrible Republican philosophy — nationalism.

And it was “bad” in the sense that it was often incoherent and contradictory.

So let’s try to break it down. In short, the speech was a 40-minute mixture of bombast, insults, threats, praise for the ideals of the UN, and a declaration of his belief that America’s pursuit of its own interests was in America’s best interests and the world’s.

Making headlines was Trump’s most explicit warning to date to North Korea about its continuing efforts to develop nuclear weapons that could reach the U.S. The president warned that America would “totally destroy” North Korea if forced to “defend itself or its allies.” Though that declaration elicited gasps from the diplomats and criticism from the media, it was a more explicit version of his earlier threat that Pyongyang would be met with “fire and fury” if it continued threatening America and its allies with its nuclear and missile tests. In vintage Trumpian (childish) form, he mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “rocket man” on a “suicide mission.” Demanding the “denuclearization” of the peninsula, Trump did not call for a resumption of negotiations to achieve that goal.

One has to ask: “Does Trump actually think that if he issues a few more bellicose threats then North Korea will agree to give up its nuclear weapons?” I can’t imagine any reasonable person would. It would not be unreasonable for Kim to believe that his nuclear weapons are the only thing keeping the United States from launching a war against him.

In fact, when Trump criticized the “deal” with Iran as an “embarrassment”, it clearly sent a message the North Korea that the ONLY way Trump was going to deal with it — if he had to deal with it — is through complete destruction of North Korea, meaning millions of men, women and children.

Trump did not come across as someone that our potential enemies were willing to work with.  If anything, he made it clear: this is an administration that does not do deals.  Which is odd for a president who touted his deal-making abilities.

Of course, Trump’s North Korea bluster may be posturing, and it will be seen as posturing.  In other words, Trump is making a line in the sand which he cannot keep.  And if he can and intends to, woe to the United States.

And therein lies a serious flaw with Trumpism — it is words, not policy. With North Korea, Iran, and other “rogue nations”, Trump offered no specific proposals for countering the threat he claims they pose.

The president’s speech elicited some applause from the assembled diplomats, but mostly uncomfortable silence. His shrill tone and bombast was reminiscent of his campaign rallies. But his base undoubtedly welcomed his assertion that the rogue states menacing America’s and world stability were “going to hell,” and that America was being “taken advantage of” in paying 22 percent of the UN’s expenses.

But all of his belligerent and confrontational rhetoric just raises tensions in several different parts of the world, and it appears to commit the U.S. to more meddling around the world and potentially risks getting the U.S. into more avoidable wars. None of that has anything to do with putting American interests first. Much of Trump’s speech was an assertion of a desire to dictate terms to other states, and as such it is likely to be poorly received by most of the governments of the world.

As some have pointed out, Trump’s speech contained literally dozens of uses of the word ” sovereign” or “sovereignty”.  It was an odd theme: emphasizing — in an increasingly interconnected and globalizing world — the need for greater sovereignty. “The nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition,” he said. The subtext was that walls, along every nation’s borders, were the keys to prosperity and international security.

The line baffled veteran American diplomats. “The President kept talking about sovereignty as if it were imperiled,” Richard Haass, the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the head of the State Department’s policy-planning staff under the George H. W. Bush Administration, told me. “The last I checked, we still have a veto at the U.N. We set our own limits in the Paris climate pact. No one is forcing us to adhere to trade agreements. It seemed to me it was something of a red herring. U.S. sovereignty is not imperiled. It’s an odd emphasis at the U.N., where our goal is to generate collective effort against common problems. It seemed to me inherently contradictory.”

So…. What’s Mueller Doing And Where Are We On Russia Collusion

Renato Mariotti, a former prosecutor, puts it together at Politico:

What is Robert Mueller up to?

Although the scope of the special counsel’s investigation is vast, public reporting of his activities indicate the direction his investigation is taking and gives us a good sense of the types of charges that could result. But most of the breathless speculation about what he will ultimately do is likely wrong—the result of a misunderstanding of how the law works, a misreading of the public evidence we’ve seen so far or wishful thinking by those who would either like to see the president driven from office or see everyone on his team exonerated.

As a starting point, it’s important to keep in mind what prosecutors do: They investigate discrete crimes. Although the media often throws around phrases like “Russian collusion,” that term has no legal meaning whatsoever. Mueller won’t charge one grand conspiracy involving everyone he’s looking at. If he brings charges, expect to see individuals charged separately unless they committed a crime together.

Top focus: Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn

The person in the greatest legal jeopardy, given what we know from media reports, is former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, whose home was searched by the FBI. When the bureau executes a search warrant at your home, that means the prosecutor has already convinced a judge that there is good reason to believe a crime was committed and that evidence of that crime was at your house. That’s bad news for Manafort.

But that doesn’t mean Mueller’s search warrant application alleged that Manafort is or was conspiring with Moscow. There are crimes that are much more straightforward to prove, such as false statements in disclosures made by Manafort. It’s more likely that Mueller is focused on easy wins like this.

The same is true of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who is under scrutiny for failing to disclose income from Russia-related entities. Proving that Flynn lied on a form is much more straightforward than proving an agreement between him and foreigners. Recent news that Flynn’s son is also in Mueller’s sights suggests that the former FBI chief might be developing a case against the son in the hopes that Flynn will cooperate to obtain leniency for his son, which is called “vicarious cooperation.”

Neither of these two pieces of the Mueller investigation has any apparent connection to the rest of what his team is investigating, and if either results in charges, they would be contained in stand-alone indictments that are unconnected to the other matters they are looking at.

Obstruction of justice

The other aspect of Mueller’s investigation that appears to be fairly advanced is his obstruction investigation. We know Mueller is looking at obstruction related to the firing of James Comey for many reasons—most recently, the Justice Department refused to permit a Senate committee to interview two FBI officials who were witnesses on this issue, and when asked about the matter, referred questions to Mueller. This indicates that Mueller believes the FBI officials are potential witnesses. (If Mueller thinks he might use their testimony later, he would want to reduce the risk that potential defendants and their counsel can learn about it in advance. He also doesn’t want to generate inconsistent accounts from witnesses that can be used to undermine them at trial.)

Mueller also has set up interviews with White House officials who were reportedly involved in the decision to fire Comey, and Trump lawyers reportedly sent a memo to Mueller making legal arguments about obstruction and claiming that Comey is not a credible witness. This suggests Trump’s legal team believes Mueller is focused on obstruction. They wouldn’t waste their time otherwise.

The strength of the obstruction case against the president is still an open question, however. On the day Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, I told the New York Times that “a prudent prosecutor would want more facts before bringing this case against a president.” Since then, many more facts have been disclosed, including Thursday’s revelation that the president erupted at Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he learned of Mueller’s appointment, calling him an “idiot” and demanding his resignation.

The intensity of Trump’s reaction to the appointment is unusual and will prompt questions about why he cared so deeply about losing control over the Russia investigation. Moreover, former White House aides Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Vice President Mike Pence will likely be questioned about what they told the president to convince him not to fire Sessions, and what he said in response. The president’s words could be used by Mueller as evidence of his “corrupt” intent, which he would need to prove obstruction of justice.

The most significant testimony could come from White House Counsel Don McGahn, who reportedly looked at a letter justifying Comey’s firing that was drafted by White House aide Stephen Miller at Trump’s direction. McGahn made numerous deletions and comments in the draft and also discussed his concerns verbally, according to the New York Times, but it was never published. Mueller has that letter, the Justice Department has confirmed.

McGahn’s comments could be extremely important. If McGahn counseled Trump that firing Comey for the reasons he originally stated could create legal liability for the president, that could be powerful evidence for Mueller. Alternatively, if McGahn’s concerns were focused solely on the tone or language used by Miller, Trump would have an “advice of counsel” defense—he could say that the fact that his lawyer did not raise these concerns led him to believe there was no legal jeopardy associated with firing Comey.

At this point, too little is known to evaluate the strength of the obstruction case, particularly against anyone other than the president himself. Because most legal scholars believe a sitting president cannot be indicted, any legal liability for Trump himself would likely come via impeachment proceedings, a political process that would require votes from a GOP House majority as well as at least votes from 19 GOP senators—assuming Democrats vote in lockstep—to convict. For that reason, any legal action by Mueller on the obstruction front would likely come against others who aided an obstruction effort, not against the president. While some legal scholars—including one who provided an opinion to then-independent counsel Kenneth Starr—believe the president could be indicted while in office, Mueller would likely follow Starr’s approach of presenting a report for Congress to consider.

What we’ve discussed so far is consistent with a Sept. 6 email that White House lawyer Ty Cobb sent in reply to someone who used a spoof email account to pretend to be his colleague. Cobb indicated that Manafort and Flynn have “issues” but he believes the president and White House would be cleared. That could be spin, but it acknowledges that—based on what he knows, which is more than we do—the Manafort and Flynn issues are distinct.

Another person facing his own distinct liability is the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has come under scrutiny for failing to disclose contacts with foreign individuals. The government would need to prove that those omissions were made “knowingly” and “willfully,” and as I’ve analyzed elsewhere, Kushner’s legal team asserts that the omissions were inadvertent.

The Trump Tower Meeting

Another major aspect of the Mueller investigation is the meeting at Trump Tower that was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort. Trump Jr.’s many statements about the meeting, one of which was highly misleading and allegedly dictated by the president, has created problems for him that could result in a charge if his statements to Congress (which I dissected here) were false.

As for the meeting itself, what Trump Jr. and Kushner have admitted publicly is insufficient to establish liability. Whether that encounter results in charges depends on whether Mueller can prove that more happened within the meetingor that there were more meetings.

Of course, meeting with Russians is not itself a crime. To bring charges, Mueller would need to prove there was an agreement to commit a crime and that one of the Trump associates joined that effort, or that they knew that a crime had been committed (like hacking a U.S. server) and helped it succeed. It is also a crime to offer or agree to trade an official act (such as repealing sanctions) in exchange for something of value. In addition, it can be a crime to knowingly receive stolen property.

The Facebook angle

Until recently, there was very little that indicated Mueller was far along in investigating the efforts of Russian operatives to undermine our election. That changed when the Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller obtained information from Facebook via search warrant. That news is extraordinarily important because it indicates he presented evidence that convinced a federal judge there was good reason to believe that foreign individuals committed a crime by making a “contribution” in connection with an election and that evidence of that crime existed on Facebook.

Before we knew of the search warrant, Mueller’s efforts to obtain information about Russian interference in the election could have been an effort to gather counterintelligence or run out every lead. Now, it looks like he has his sights on specific foreign individuals and their interference in our election.

That also open up Trump associates to criminal liability. Someone is guilty of “aiding and abetting” when they know a crime is being committed and actively help to make it succeed. So if a Trump associate knew about the foreign contributions that Mueller’s search warrant focused on and helped that effort in a tangible way, they could be charged.

In addition, anyone who agreed to be part of the Russian effort in any way could be charged with criminal conspiracy. They wouldn’t need to be involved in the whole operation or know who else was involved. but they would have to agree to be part of some piece of it.

If Mueller brings charges against Americans who worked with Russians to undermine in the election, those could potentially be the most explosive and wide-ranging charges but also the most difficult to defend legally. I doubt jurors would have much patience for technical legal defenses, however, if there were solid evidence that the American worked with a Russian operative.

Following the money

Lastly, there have been reports that Mueller has subpoenaed numerous financial records, and his decision to involve the IRS criminal investigation unit indicates that he is looking at tax charges against someone. But it’s unlikely that he would bring very wide-ranging tax or money laundering charges. Money laundering can be difficult to prove because it requires a prosecutor to prove an underlying crime, such as bribery or tax evasion.

Mueller’s investigation appears to be proceeding at a rapid pace, but we should not expect it to conclude this year. When it does, any charges that Mueller brings will likely be narrower and more targeted than many observers expect, although the recent Facebook search warrant could result in explosive charges involving cooperation with Russian operatives.

Regardless of what charges are ultimately brought, you can expect them to be carefully considered and limited to what Mueller can readily prove. Proving criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury is a weighty burden, and a veteran prosecutor like Mueller will not bring charges unless he is confident he can prove them.

Um… I guess so.  I was hoping this would congeal, rather than be so scattershot.