Trump & Administration

Trump Can’t Avoid Groping Lawsuit


As busy as Donald Trump is being president, he can’t avoid a former “Apprentice” contestant’s defamation lawsuit where he may be forced to respond under oath to allegations of sexual assault and his treatment of women.

It’s an issue that flared up during the election campaign and while he’s been president. Trump is separately embroiled in a scandal involving a $130,000 payment to an adult film actress — Stormy Daniels — who alleges he’s attempting to prevent her from discussing a sexual relationship she had with him in 2006. Daniels’s interview on “60 Minutes” is scheduled to air March 25.

Summer Zervos, a contender on The Apprentice in 2005, sued Trump in January 2017 in Manhattan state court, alleging he “ambushed” her on more than one occasion starting in 2007, kissing her, touching her breast and pressing his genitals against her.

Trump argued he should be shielded by the U.S. Constitution because it’s too much of a distraction for the nation’s chief executive to face civil claims in state court.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter on Tuesday denied the president’s request to throw out the lawsuit or delay it until he leaves office.

“No one is above the law,” Schecter said, citing the Paula Jones case against Bill Clinton that said the president doesn’t have immunity and is subject to the law for “purely private acts.”

“Nothing in the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution even suggests that the president cannot be called to account before a state court for wrongful conduct that bears no relationship to any federal executive responsibility,” Schecter wrote.

That’s just wrong. It’s going to cut into his Fox & Friends/tweeting time.

Updates On Cambridge Analytica

(1)  Score one for the Democrats on the House Intel Committee

The whistleblower who publicly revealed how Trump-affiliated data firm Cambridge Analytica used information mined from Facebook under false pretenses during the 2016 election cycle will give an interview to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee as part of their investigation of Russian interference in the election, including possible ties to Donald Trump’s campaign.

A lawyer for Christopher Wylie confirmed Tuesday that Wylie plans to accept the invitation from the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.).

Schiff said Monday that panel Democrats want to talk to Wylie to determine where and how the Facebook data was stored and used, and whether others — including Russian operatives — had access to it.

“Indeed, it may be that through Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign made use of illegitimately-acquired data on millions of Americans to help sway the election,” Schiff said in a statement.

Democrats on the House panel vowed last week to continue to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, despite the committee’s Republican leaders announcing that they had completed a draft report about the panel’s findings. The panel is expected to approve a final version of that report Thursday, although it will not be released publicly until the intelligence community reviews it and makes any necessary redactions.

House Democrats do not have independent power to subpoena witnesses to testify. But Wylie has been outspoken about how Cambridge Analytica — a company he helped build, according to a profile in the Guardian — planned to use the Facebook users’ data and an algorithm to build “psychographic” profiles that could be used to predict the political leanings of every potential American voter.

Facebook gave permission to University of Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan to access information on 270,000 users of the social media site to help build a quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” But the app’s reach went much further, ultimately allowing Kogan to access data on 50 million users. The information was passed on to Cambridge Analytica and Wylie, breaking the terms struck with Facebook for access to the data. Facebook found out about the events in 2015, but was told that Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan had deleted the data. Several days ago, Facebook discovered that they had not.

Last year, the House Intelligence Committee spoke with Wylie’s former boss Alexander Nix — the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica — by videoconference, as Nix is located in London.

Schiff stressed in his invitation to Wylie that his accounts of Cambridge Analytica’s data operations “raise serious questions about the veracity of the testimony” Nix gave to the committee.

This is gratifying for a couple of reasons. First, and most obviously, we might get some information on any Russia connection (Kogan being well-connected to Russia).

Secondly, it demonstrates how the Republicans on the House Intel Committee forced a premature ending to their investigation of Trump-Russia collusion. Might the Cambridge Analytica avenue be a dead end?  Perhaps. But it needs investigating, and since the House Intel Committee already saw fit to interview Nix, then Wylie’s testimony is also relevant.

(2) North Carolina GOP REALLY had ties to Cambridge Analytica

The North Carolina Republican party and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) paid the controversial British data firm Cambridge Analytica $345,000 for a direct mail campaign and consulting work, the News & Observer reported Monday.

Cambridge Analytica, which the Trump campaign used during the 2016 election, has recently come under fire after reports that it illegally obtained the private Facebook profiles of 50 million people, but there is no indication that the firm used any data from the breach in their work with the North Carolina Republicans.

The firm consulted Tillis on his successful 2014 campaign.

Dallas Woodhouse, the state’s GOP executive director, said the firm did not work on social media for the party and that the party does not plan to hire them again.

Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica on Friday following reports that it had violated its privacy policy.

An undercover investigation by London’s Channel 4 secretly filmed the CEO of the firm saying that he used bribes and sex workers to entrap politicians in compromising situations.

Cambridge Analytica has denied using bribes, entrapment “or so-called honey-traps” and said that it did not use data harvested from Facebook profiles for the Trump campaign.

The firm has also said that, contrary to reports, it deleted all the Facebook data it had accumulated.

Yup. North Carolina GOP was one of CA’s biggest non-presidential race clients. In fact, the NC GOP was the only state party client of Cambridge Analytica. It was the firm’s fourth-largest client in 2014.  These are the payments to CA from June 2014 to December 2016, according to FEC filings.

I wish we could find out exactly what it was FOR, but given the NC GOP’s penchant for minority voter suppression, I can give an educated guess.

Channel 4 Exposes Cambridge Analytica

The data firm behind Brexit, and the Trump Administration, gets an unflattering expose:

Make no mistake — Trump’s digital consultants admit to using bribes and sex workers to entrap political opponents.

This segment just aired on Channel 4 in Britain (and loaded up to YouTube) so it is breaking news.  And already, there are repercussions…

RELATED: Facebook has some questions to answer for, re the data that Cambridge Analytica used:

Breaking: Trump To Hire Attorney Who Holds Deep State Conspiracy Theory

Oh, this is getting good.  New York Times:

MANCHESTER, N.H. — President Trump has decided to hire the longtime Washington lawyer Joseph E. diGenova, who has pushed the theory on television that Mr. Trump was framed by F.B.I. and Justice Department officials, to bolster his legal team, according to three people told of the decision.

As seen on TV…. of course.

Mr. diGenova is not expected to take a lead role but will instead serve as a more aggressive player on the president’s legal team. Mr. Trump broke over the weekend from the longstanding advice of some of his lawyers that he refrain from directly attacking the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, a sign of his growing unease with the investigation.

I wonder what role he will take. He certainly will butt heads with other counsel, making Trump’s round table of legal counsel as chaotic as his White House.

The hire has not been announced, and Mr. Trump frequently changes his mind and sometimes adjusts his plans based on media coverage. It was not clear whether Mr. Trump planned to hire other lawyers.

Mr. diGenova has endorsed the notion that a secretive group of F.B.I. agents concocted the Russia investigation as a way to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president. “There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime,” he said on Fox News in January. He added, “Make no mistake about it: A group of F.B.I. and D.O.J. people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime.”

That’s an easy thing to say, but there clearly was a crime. The Russian hacked. The Russian manipulated social media. Those things happened, unless of course, you want to bring in the CIA and military intelligence into the conspiracy.  I’ll be the first to say that Trump personally may not have known or colluded with the crime, but let’s not say that there is merely a “falsely created crime” to begin with.

Little evidence has emerged to support that theory.

No shit.

Mr. diGenova is law partners with his wife, Victoria Toensing. Ms. Toensing has also represented Sam Clovis, the former Trump campaign co-chairman, and Erik Prince, the founder of the security contractor Blackwater and an informal adviser to Mr. Trump. Mr. Prince attended a meeting in January 2017 with a Russian investor in the Seychelles that the special counsel is investigating.

This could be a conflict of interest.

Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing have spent decades pushing smears of Democrats in the press. They played a key role in pushing debunked claims that the Obama administration was threatening Benghazi “whistleblowers.”  So, their addition to the team means this is another made-for-TV reality show.



In 1997, diGenova wrote an article advocating that a sitting president could be indicted — no need to wait for impeachment. I wonder if his views have changed since then….

Your Facebook Data, Cambridge Analytica, and Russia: Was There Collusion?

During an interview on TODAY this morning, Christopher Wylie, a former employee of U.K.-based data analytics company Cambridge Analytica, revealed the company worked with two key Trump campaign aides prior to President Donald Trump’s candidacy.

“Cambridge Analytica was meeting with Corey Lewandowski in 2015 before Trump had even announced and offering the services that I’m talking about right now,” Wiley said, referring to Trump’s first campaign manager.

Wiley also confirmed what a New York Times investigation revealed over the weekend, that Cambridge Analytica “harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission…making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history.”

The data obtained through Facebook was used to microtarget specific voters in order to persuade them to vote for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

As Wylie described it Monday morning:

This data was used to create profiling algorithms that would allow us to explore mental vulnerabilities of people and then map out ways to inject information into different streams or channels of content online so that people started to see things that may or may not be true. This is a company that took fake news to the next level.

Not only was that data used for microtargeting voters, Wiley claimed, but by tracking the response to those messages in real time on social media, the firm could advise the campaign where Trump should visit and what words would resonate most with voters in the region. In fact, Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for President Donald Trump and executive chairman of Breitbart News, told Bloomberg in late October of 2016, “I wouldn’t have come aboard, even for Trump, if I hadn’t known they were building this massive Facebook and data engine. Facebook is what propelled Breitbart to a massive audience. We know its power.”

Bannon previously served as Cambridge Analytica’s vice president before joining the Trump campaign.

Many of its methods were exposed in a recent piece from The Guardian that profiled Wylie, who along with consulting company Strategic Communication Laboratories (which is the parent to Cambridge Analytica) and University of Cambridge professor Dr. Aleksandr Kogan had their accounts suspended by Facebook on Friday night. Facebook is also looking into the ties between one of its employees, Joseph Chancellor, and Global Science Research, a company that helped Cambridge Analytica, according to CNN.

Cambridge Analytica, which is backed by billionaire conservative donor Robert Mercer, is already under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for possible connections to Russian interference in the election. It’s also under investigation by the U.K. Parliament for potential violations of data privacy and claims it did illegal work for the pro-Brexit campaign.

Facebook, in an unprecedented move Saturday, moved to suspend Cambridge Analytica from the social media site following the bombshell reports about the data breach. Facebook VP and deputy general counsel Paul Grewal has accused the firm of running “a scam and a fraud,” as he described it to the Times. However, he pushed back on claims of a data breach.

“The claim that this is a data breach is completely false,” Grewal said in a statement.

Wiley was also banned from Facebook this weekend.

One Facebook executive, Andrew Bosworth, took to Twitter to defend his company.

The full extent of Cambridge Analytica’s role in the controversy is unlikely to be known until Mueller completes his investigation.  But the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is looking into the matter.

Of note, Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly reports that Cambridge Analtyica and Russian bots used the same strategy to suppress voter turnout —

What Mueller and his team of investigators will be interested in is whether or not there was a connection between this voter profiling with the kind of intrusion into social media he has already included in recent indictments of Russians.

One clue that might merely be coincidence is the timing. Here is what we learn from the indictment:

Starting at least in or around 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to track and study groups on U.S. social media sites dedicated to U.S. politics and social issues. In order to gauge the performance of various groups on social media sites, the ORGANIZATION tracked certain metrics like the group’s size, the frequency of content placed by the group, and the level of audience engagement with that content, such as the average number of comments or responses to a post.

According to Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower who is the main source for the article linked above, he met Steve Bannon in the fall of 2013 and by 2014 their work was underway.

But there is another confluence of events that is even more interesting. Back in October 2016, just days before the election, Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg did some reporting on the Trump campaign and the work of Cambridge Analytica in particular. Here is how they described their strategy at the time:

Instead of expanding the electorate, Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans…

On Oct. 24, Trump’s team began placing spots on select African American radio stations. In San Antonio, a young staffer showed off a South Park-style animation he’d created of Clinton delivering the “super predator” line (using audio from her original 1996 sound bite), as cartoon text popped up around her: “Hillary Thinks African Americans are Super Predators.” The animation will be delivered to certain African American voters through Facebook “dark posts”—nonpublic posts whose viewership the campaign controls so that, as Parscale puts it, “only the people we want to see it, see it.” The aim is to depress Clinton’s vote total. “We know because we’ve modeled this,” says the official. “It will dramatically affect her ability to turn these people out.”

Those Facebook “dark posts” seem to be a favorite tool used by Parscale and the Cambridge Analytica consultants. I’d bet that we haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of how those were used during the campaign. But compare the above to what the Mueller investigation included in their indictment of the Russian bots.

In or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their ORGANIZATION-controlled personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.

In other words, in the final stages of the 2016 election, both the Trump campaign and the Russian bots engaged in a voter suppression strategy with core Clinton supporters. Is it possible that was merely a coincidence? You tell me.

No collusion???

The good news is that the spotlight is on this. CNN reports this about Aleksandr Kogan:

The data scientist who gathered information on millions of Americans for Cambridge Analytica, the controversial data firm that worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, says he would be happy to testify before Congress and speak to the FBI about the work he did for the company. Aleksandr Kogan made the remarks in an email he sent to colleagues at Cambridge University this weekend that was obtained by CNN.

“I’ve also seriously been asked if the FBI has reached out, if the two congressional committees in the United States have reached out, and if Parliament or any authorities in the UK have reached out. No one has—I suspect they realize I’m actually not a spy. Though if anyone does, I’d be more than happy to testify and speak candidly about the project,” he wrote in the email.

Kogan’s company provided data on millions of Americans to Cambridge Analytica beginning in 2014. The data was gathered through a personality test Facebook application built by Kogan. When Facebook users took the test they gave Kogan access to their data, including demographic information about them like names, locations, ages and genders, as well as their page “likes,” and some of their Facebook friends’ data.

Facebook says that Kogan told them he was gathering the data for academic purposes and that by providing the data to Cambridge Analytica he had breached Facebook policy. On Friday, Facebook suspended both Kogan and Cambridge Analytica from its platform. The suspension came ahead of reporting in The New York Times and The Observer in London on Saturday that alleged Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data when it was asked to do so by Facebook in 2015 — a claim Cambridge Analytica denies.

“It’s been honestly a surreal week,” Kogan wrote to his colleagues, “I’ve been asked quite seriously by reporters from the NY Times and the Guardian if I am a Russian spy. I really tried to explain that one seems just silly. If I am Russian spy, I am the world’s dumbest spy.”

Facebook has accused Kogan of lying about why he was collecting the data, a claim Kogan disputes in the email, writing, “we never claimed during the project that it was for academic research. In fact, we did our absolute best not to have the project have any entanglements with the University.”

I’m sure we’ll learn more.  And at least one guy is. Using British law, he is suing Cambridge Analytica to get information on… himself. What it is, how it was collected, etc.  See the pleading below:

Wonder what he will find.

And finally, Channel 4 News, a British news program, went undercover as prospective clients to infiltrate Cambridge Analytica and gather evidence of some of the abuses of trust that the company was apparently perpetrating with this stolen data. That is scheduled to air in Englad at 7:00 pm GMT (or 3:00 pm EST, or about 13 minutes from now as I write this).

Both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have threatened lawsuits against Channel 4 News if they air this segment.  Channel 4 has decided to take the chance and go forward with this highly anticipated exposé.

Revealed: Stormy Daniels Wasn’t The Only One Who Signed A Non-Disclosure Agreement With Trump

This weekend we learned that in the early months of the administration, at the behest of now-President Trump, who was furious over leaks from within the White House, senior White House staff members were asked to, and did, sign nondisclosure agreements vowing not to reveal confidential information and exposing them to damages for any violation. Some balked at first but, pressed by then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel’s Office, ultimately complied, concluding that the agreements would likely not be enforceable in any event.

A Washington Post reporter continues:

I haven’t been able to lay hands on the final agreement, but I do have a copy of a draft, and it is a doozy. It would expose violators to penalties of $10 million, payable to the federal government, for each and any unauthorized revelation of “confidential” information, defined as “all nonpublic information I learn of or gain access to in the course of my official duties in the service of the United States Government on White House staff,” including “communications . . . with members of the press” and “with employees of federal, state, and local governments.” The $10 million figure, I suspect, was watered down in the final version, because the people to whom I have spoken do not remember that jaw-dropping sum.

It would prohibit revelation of this confidential information in any form — including, get this, “the publication of works of fiction that contain any mention of the operations of the White House, federal agencies, foreign governments, or other entities interacting with the United States Government that is based on confidential information.”

As outlined in the document, this restriction would cover Trump aides not only during their White House service but also “at all times thereafter.”

The document: “I understand that the United States Government or, upon completion of the term(s) of Mr. Donald J. Trump, an authorized representative of Mr. Trump, may seek any remedy available to enforce this Agreement including, but not limited to, application for a court order prohibiting disclosure of information in breach of this Agreement.”

This is so ridiculously excessive, so laughably unconstitutional, that I doubted, when it first came my way, that anything like it was ever implemented — only to do some reporting and learn otherwise.

Public employees can’t be gagged by private agreements. These so-called NDAs are unconstitutional and unenforceable.

As the article suggests, everyone knew they were unenforceable — that’s why they signed them (you have to pick your battles, I guess).  But this means that the dumbest guy in the room was the President of the United States, who either believed the NDAs were enforceable OR believed that others would believe it.  Either way, he was and is wrong.

And even ASKING employees to sign these things is a problem for the administration:

Another peril of taking a guy who has never done public service of any kind, and making him president.

Trump Continues To Tweet Against Probe

New York Times headline reads “Newly Emboldened, Trump Says What He Really Feels”.  Fact check: True.

For months, President Trump’s legal advisers implored him to avoid so much as mentioning the name of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, in his tweets, and to do nothing to provoke him or suggest his investigation is not proper.

Ignoring that advice over the weekend was the decision of a president who ultimately trusts only his own instincts, and now believes he has settled into the job enough to rely on them rather than the people who advise him.

A dozen people close to Mr. Trump or the White House, including current and former aides and longtime friends, described him as newly emboldened to say what he really feels and to ignore the cautions of those around him.

That self-confidence has led to a series of surprising comments and actions that have pushed the Trump presidency in an ever more tumultuous direction.

If nothing else, Trump’s tweets act as a bellwether regarding how close Mueller is to hitting pay dirt. Seriously. If I were Mueller, all I would do is poke around, and whenever Trump starts tweeting “Witch hunt!”, I would know to stop at that place and dig deeper.

Trump was clearly watching Fox & Friends this morning, which reinforced everything he believes:

What is Trump doing?  Again, one of two things — laying the justification for the firing of Mueller, or trying to destroy the credibility of witnesses against him.  Maybe both.

Also, there is a tweet from yesterday which is, well, a lie.

He didn’t lie, because that was not what he was asked by “Senator G”. Here’s the relevant part of the transcript:

“Authorizing” and “knowing of” are two very different things.  But again, look at what Trump is doing — trying to impeach the credibility of a witness against him.

This all comes as news is around that Mueller is focusing on obstruction of justice, rather than collusion.  This is why Trump is trying to attack Comey, who is not only a witness, but the OBJECT of obstruction (the Comey firing).

The “newly emboldened Trump” makes the left nervous, as that once again puts a Mueller firing on the line. Trump’s lawyers have repeatedly said that Trump is not even considering firing Mueller, but nobody believes that. Part of the concern about a possible Mueller firing comes from the fact that very few Republicans — save Graham, Flake, McCain (probably) and a couple others — are NOT waiving Trump off the idea.  I don’t think they are scared of Trump. Rather, they are terrified of Trump’s voters, their own ostensible base, and Trump’s voters will back Trump to the hilt in any standoff with Mueller.

Trump’s Unhinged Tweets In Sunday Morning

I suppose there are two schools of thought regarding President Trump’s recent Twitter outbursts following the termination of Andrew McCabe. One is Trump is nervous about what Robert Mueller has in the works and whether or not he has anything on Trump himself. The other is Trump believes the pressure he put on Jeff Sessions worked to fire McCabe and now he’s going to try and get Mueller fired and James Comey, prosecuted.  Both of these scenarios could be true — he’s nervous and wants to fire Mueller.

Trump actually started his diatribe last night, not long after McCabe’s firing, covering the usual ground he’s been yelling about since forever. But his latest tweet takes direct aim at Robert Mueller. In fact, it’s the first time Trump mentioned Mueller by name. I suspect it will not be the last. His tweet:

That was followed up by more this morning: First, he returned to McCabe:

This just shows that Trump is simply ignorant, as usual about how things work. FBI guys are not stenographers who make notes during a meeting. They do so immediately after the fact, using their recollection to form the basis for what they write down, not “at a later date” like Trump suggests. All in all, he’s attempting to smear McCabe, a potential witness in any trial against Trump.

The president is ignoring one important fact: Robert S. Mueller III, who heads the team, is a longtime registered Republican. He was appointed by another Republican, Rod J. Rosenstein, whom Trump nominated as deputy attorney general. But publicly available voter registration information shows that 13 of the 17 members of Mueller’s team have previously registered as Democrats, while four had no affiliation or their affiliation could not be found.

Nine of the 17 made political donations to Democrats, their contributions totaling more than $57,000. The majority came from one person, who also contributed to Republicans. Six donated to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 race

Because some of his team has people who donated Hillary Clinton, they apparently cannot do their jobs efficiently and fairly. The “Hillary donors” smear doesn’t take into account the people on Mueller’s team are there because they’re pros, not because of a political agenda. Mueller is, after all, a Republican, appointed to his position as FBI director by a Republican (GWB).  The smear is the same smear used to taint FBI agents, the Page FISA warrant…. etc.

Whatever good Trump thinks he’s doing by engaging in his buffoonery, the people cringing are his attorneys and most other Republicans. Hopefully, some will take principled stands.

If Trump is testing the waters of a Mueller firing, he’s seeing some resistence:

Together, the comments raised the question once again about whether the president might be seeking to lay the groundwork to try to fire Mr. Mueller, a scenario that would almost surely set off a bipartisan storm of protest. Some Republicans expressed alarm on Sunday at the possibility that Mr. Trump would try to fire the special counsel.

“If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency, because we’re a rule-of-law nation,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has been an ally of the president, said on “State of the Union” on CNN.

“When it comes to Mr. Mueller, he is following the evidence where it takes him, and I think it’s very important he be allowed to do his job without interference, and there are many Republicans who share my view.” Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, said if the president was innocent, he should “act like it” and leave Mr. Mueller alone. Mr. Gowdy warned of dire repercussions if the president tried to fire the special counsel, which might require him to first fire his attorney general or deputy attorney general.“The president’s going to have a really difficult time nominating and having approved another attorney general,” Mr. Gowdy said on Fox News Sunday.” “I would just counsel the president — it’s going to be a very, very long, bad 2018, and it’s going to be distracting from other things that he wants to do and he was elected do. Let it play out its course. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.”

The shift in tone comes just days after The New York Times reported that Mr. Mueller has subpoenaed records from the Trump Organization. Mr. Trump’s lawyers met with Mr. Mueller’s team last week and received more details about how the special counsel is approaching the investigation, including the scope of his interest in the Trump Organization specifically…Mr. Trump evidently has grown tired of the strategy of being respectful and deferential to the special counsel.

And meanwhile, Jeff could be facing troubles of his own:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony that he opposed a proposal for President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team to meet with Russians has been contradicted by three people who told Reuters they have spoken about the matter to investigators with Special Counsel Robert Mueller or congressional committees.

McCabe Is Fired And Responds In Statement

Donald Trump fired former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe today. Technically, of course, it was Jeff Sessions who did the firing, but I don’t think anyone believes that it was anybody but Trump who was really at the controls. After all, it’s Trump who made up the inane conspiracy theory that McCabe was a Hillary Clinton mole during the 2016 campaign. It was Trump who panicked when McCabe testified that he could corroborate James Comey’s incriminating account of his conversations with Trump. And firing McCabe two days before his retirement in order to attack his pension—well, that kind of petty vengefulness has Trump written all over it, doesn’t it?

This whole affair has been contemptible from the start. Trump knows perfectly well that he won the election solely because of the FBI’s interference. This is something he finds intolerable, so he has invented a fantasy in which that never happened. In fact, he’s spent the entire past year spreading the preposterous lie that the FBI actually helped Hillary. Then he went about defaming and firing all the people whose very existence was a continuing rebuke to his election triumph. McCabe is one of them.

It’s possible, of course, that McCabe actually did something wrong and deserved to be fired for it. But the rushed nature of the whole thing, combined with the default assumption that Trump lies about everything, suggests otherwise. Speaking for myself, I don’t believe it for a second. This is a plain old Trump vendetta, pure and simple.

Under the circumstances, it’s worth giving McCabe’s full statement wide and prominent publication. Here it is.

I have been an FBI Special Agent for over 21 years. I spent half of that time investigating Russian Organized Crime as a street agent and Supervisor in New York City. I have spent the second half of my career focusing on national security issues and protecting this country from terrorism. I served in some of the most challenging, demanding investigative and leadership roles in the FBI. And I was privileged to serve as Deputy Director during a particularly tough time.

For the last year and a half, my family and I have been the targets of an unrelenting assault on our reputation and my service to this country. Articles too numerous to count have leveled every sort of false, defamatory and degrading allegation against us. The president’s tweets have amplified and exacerbated it all. He called for my firing. He called for me to be stripped of my pension after more than 20 years of service. And all along we have said nothing, never wanting to distract from the mission of the FBI by addressing the lies told and repeated about it.

No more.

The investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has to be understood in the context of the attacks on my credibility. The investigation flows from my attempt to explain the FBI’s involvement and my supervision of investigations involving Hillary Clinton. I was being portrayed in the media over and over as a political partisan, accused of closing down investigations under political pressure. The FBI was portrayed as caving under that pressure, and making decisions for political rather than law enforcement purposes. Nothing was further from the truth. In fact, this entire investigation stems from my efforts, fully authorized under FBI rules, to set the record straight on behalf of the Bureau and to make it clear that we were continuing an investigation that people in DOJ opposed.

The OIG investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor. As Deputy Director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter. It was the same type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times per week. In fact it was the same type of work that I continued to do under Director Wray, at his request. The investigation subsequently focused on who I talked to, when I talked to them, and so forth. During these inquiries, I answered questions truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me. And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct them.

But looking at that in isolation completely misses the big picture. The big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those institutions and people.

Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the President. The OIG’s focus on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented effort by the Administration, driven by the President himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn. The accelerated release of the report, and the punitive actions taken in response, make sense only when viewed through this lens. Thursday’s comments from the White House are just the latest example of this.

This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work.

I have always prided myself on serving my country with distinction and integrity, and I have always encouraged those around me to do the same. Just ask them. To have my career end in this way, and to be accused of lacking candor when at worst I was distracted in the midst of chaotic events, is incredibly disappointing and unfair. But it will not erase the important work I was prevailed to be a part of, the results of which will in the end be revealed for the country to see.

I have unfailing faith in the men and women of the FBI and I am confident that their efforts to seek justice will not be deterred.

Stormy Isn’t The Only One

The Hill:

Stormy Daniels’s lawyer said on Thursday that he has been approached by six other women with stories about President Trump similar to that of the adult-film actress.

Michael Avenatti cautioned in an appearance on CNN that he had not yet vetted the cases “to any great degree,” but said that at least two of the women have nondisclosure agreements.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is suing to void a nondisclosure agreement that she says prevents her from speaking publicly about an alleged extramarital affair she had with Trump more than a decade ago.

“The initial consultations, the initial information that we’re receiving indicates that there are some striking similarities between their stories and that of my client, Ms. Clifford,” Avenatti said.

Avenatti is ecstatic, as any lawyer in his position would be.

Trump has been very quiet about this. I guess maybe he believes it won’t hurt him politically, since everybody already knows he is a pig. He might be right. And while there may be campaign violations involved in the “hush money”, that’s probably not enough to impeach him. In fact, he can just say that he wasn’t aware and he left everything to his “fixer”.

Then again, he could be in trouble for this — Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars:

Stunning. Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti disclosed on Morning Joe this morning that Stormy Daniels was physically threatened regarding the NDA she signed.

Knowing Trump henchman/thug Michael Cohen’s pseudo-Godfather persona and past history, I’m gonna guess it was the classic “You won’t be so pretty if someone throws acid in your face” kind of coercion — which, if it happened before she signed, may invalidate the agreement. But we won’t know until after the 60 Minutes interview appears on March 25.

“Was she threatened in any way?” Mika asked.

“Yes,” Avenatti said.

“Was she threatened physical harm?”


“Was her life threatened?”

“Again, I won’t answer that. People will have to tune in to ’60 Minutes.'”

Avenatti refused any details. He would not say whether the threat came from the president (I doubt that, he uses Cohen for that sort of thing), although when asked directly if the physical effects came from Trump, he said, “I will neither confirm nor deny.”

The 60 Minutes interview is set to air on March 25. So… nine days.

Who’s Next?


President Donald Trump consumed Thursday morning’s TV headlines with amusement. Reports of tumult in the administration were at a feverish pitch — even on his beloved Fox News — as the president reflected on the latest staff departures during an Oval Office conversation with Vice President Mike Pence and Chief of Staff John Kelly.

With a laugh, Trump said: “Who’s next?”

It’s the very question that has the whole White House on edge.

Indeed.  And from reports, a lot of gallows humor.

It looks like Kelly is safe —

But it does look like Trump is ready to oust Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and find a new national security adviser before the North Korea meetings in May.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders pushed back on reports that McMaster may be headed out the door in a tweet, saying,”Just spoke to @POTUS and Gen. H.R. McMaster – contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC.”

But she seems to be the only one who says that. However, the move may be delayed because there’s no final decision on a replacement, sources say. The timing of an announcement is unclear — one source said it could come as soon as today, though others say that is unlikely.

The most talked-about replacement for McMaster is John Bolton, who is more than just a hawk. He’s an outright war monger. He pushed the whole “Iraq has WMDs” back in the Bush days, and is a proponent of the pre-emptive strike.

Another observation — Trump seems to be replacing his cabinet with people he sees on TV. Larry Kudlow replaces outgoing economic advisor Gary Cohn, for example. And it’s not that Kudlow isn’t qualified, but I don’t think that is the issue. He was picked because Trump “knows” him — and Trump know him from TV.  A leading contender to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is Pete Hegseth, the co-host of “Fox and Friends Weekend.”  Same deal, I suspect, with Bolton, a commentator on Fox News.

Who else? Well, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on the chopping block, rumor has it. To be replaced by Scott Pruitt, who is doing zero at the EPA. But Sessions is reviewing a recommendation to fire the former F.B.I. deputy director, Andrew G. McCabe, just days before he is scheduled to retire on Sunday. McCabe is ensnared in an internal review that includes an examination of his decision in 2016 to allow F.B.I. officials to speak with reporters about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. The Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that McCabe was not forthcoming during the review, according to the people briefed on the matter. That yet-to-be-released report triggered an F.B.I. disciplinary process that recommended his termination — leaving Mr. Sessions to either accept or reverse that decision.

So a guy who might be fired probably won’t be fired until he fires another guy.

All this, of course, gives rise to the sense of chaos and unease in the White House. Trump reportedly like this, but you can’t run a country this way.  Kelly, who is the Chief of STAFF may be safe in his job, but he can’t control his boss’s desire to mess with the staff. He’s working for a man who thrives on creating chaos and division. He’s working for a man who just told a group of donors that not only does he not know the basics of his job, but that he lies to allies about it, and is willing to betray allies, based on the made-up facts rambling around in his best brain.

With that in mind, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine Kelly throwing up his hands and getting out with his dignity intact.

UPDATE: At the regular press briefing, Sanders tamps down rumors:

Breaking: Mueller Subpoenas Trump Organization for Russia Documents

From The New York Times reporting:

WASHINGTON — The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has subpoenaed the Trump Organization to turn over documents, including some related to Russia, according to two people briefed on the matter. The order is the first known time that the special counsel demanded documents directly related to President Trump’s businesses, bringing the investigation closer to the president.

The breadth of the subpoena was not clear, nor was it clear why Mr. Mueller issued it instead of simply asking for the documents from the company, an umbrella organization that oversees Mr. Trump’s business ventures. In the subpoena, delivered in recent weeks, Mr. Mueller ordered the Trump Organization to hand over all documents related to Russia and other topics he is investigating, the people said.

The subpoena is the latest indication that the investigation, which Mr. Trump’s lawyers once regularly assured him would be completed by now, will drag on for at least several more months. Word of the subpoena comes as Mr. Mueller appears to be broadening his investigation to examine the role foreign money may have played in funding Mr. Trump’s political activities. In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s investigators have questioned witnesses, including an adviser to the United Arab Emirates, about the flow of Emirati money into the United States.

Neither White House officials nor Alan S. Futerfas, a lawyer representing the Trump Organization, immediately responded to requests for comment. The Trump Organization has typically complied with requests from congressional investigators for documents for their own inquiries into Russian election interference, and there was no indication the company planned to fight Mr. Mueller about it.

Much more at the link, but the real outstanding question is why use the subpoena rather than the normal investigator to corporate legal counsel request letter or letters. The reason for the Special Counsel’s decision to go this route is unclear and/or unknown at this time.

UPDATE: This might be the answer…

Another big consideration: In July Trump told NYT that Mueller would be “crossing a red line” if he investigated his family’s finances, which he argues is outside of the scope of Russia-related matters. This subpoena crosses that line. It is the first known demand for Trump’s business records.

Two people familiar with the subpoena told NYT that Mueller is requesting some documents related to Russia from the Trump Organization, though the organization maintains that they have never had real estate in Russia.

  • But in 2015 Felix Sater, one of Trump’s longtime business associates, sent an email to Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, bragging about his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also encouraged Trump to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, saying it would help him win the election. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in the email, according to NYT. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
  • NYT notes that Trump signed off on a “letter of intent” for the Trump Tower project in Moscow in 2015 (though it was nonbinding) and he later discussed it with Cohen three times.
  • Witnesses recently interviewed by Mueller’s team have been asked about this real estate deal, per NYT.

Will Mueller get fired for crossing the line? One way to get a sense of the White House reaction to this revelation is to turn on Fox News.

Immediately after the report, Fox News turned to its chief intelligence correspondent, Catherine Herridge. Herridge revealed she had already spoken to Trump’s lawyers about the the New York Times report. She then articulated a harsh criticism of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. 

Herridge noted that it has already been reported that Mueller has been investigating whether the United Arab Emirates tried to financially influence the Trump campaign. This, Herridge claimed, meant that Mueller had already exceeded the authority granted to him by the Justice Department.

She then set her sights on Rod Rosenstein. “Every time Mr. Mueller goes beyond that mandate,” Herridge said, “it’s not like he’s a rogue actor. He has to get the permission of the deputy attorney general. What we know is that he’s had Rod Rosenstein’s permission to go beyond that original mandate…”

Herridge suggested the subpoenas could indicate another expansion of the investigation approved by Rosenstein.

Another consideration — this subpoena was served WEEKS AGO, so Trump has known about it for a while

The knives are out….

Trump Organization Lawyer Was Involved In Effort To Silence Stormy Daniels

An attorney tied to the Trump Organization has been listed on recent documents in arbitration proceedings preventing porn star Stormy Daniels from speaking publicly about her alleged 2006 affair with Donald Trump.

The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Rothfeld and Joe Palazzolo report that Jill Martin, a Trump Organization lawyer, is listed on confidential arbitration documents as representing Essential Consultants, LLC, which is the Delaware-based limited liability corporation Trump attorney Michael Cohen created to pay Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) $130,000 in hush money ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.

This is a big deal because it ties a top Trump Organization lawyer directly to the scandal for the first time. Cohen has said that he personally paid Daniels the $130,000 in exchange for her silence, but has denied that the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign had anything to do with it.

“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Cohen said in a statement to the New York Times in February. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”

Martin responded Wednesday with a statement from the Trump Organization that indicated she was working on the Daniels matter in a private capacity. “The Trump Organization is not representing anyone and, with the exception of one of its California based attorneys in her individual capacity facilitating the initial filing … the company has had no involvement in the matter,” the statement read.

Nevertheless, Martin’s connections to the Trump Organization are clear. Her LinkedIn page lists her as the vice president and general counsel for the Trump Organization, and as the Wall Street Journal detailed:

In the arbitration proceedings, Ms. Martin signed a declaration listing her office address as One Trump National Drive, which is at the Trump Organization’s Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

Ms. Martin, a lawyer for the Trump Organization since 2010, has defended Mr. Trump both in court and in the media. She was a lead attorney for the Trump Organization in lawsuits alleging Mr. Trump’s real-estate seminars, Trump University, had defrauded customers.

Martin was not directly involved in the Trump campaign, but CNN reports that she publicly defended Trump during the campaign, including on television.

Of course, Martin’s name appears on this very recent demand for arbitration dated February 22, 2018 — long after the “hush agreement” with Daniels. It is not yet clear whether she had any role in the Daniels case before last month.

Still, the arbitration documents Martin submitted included the request for a restraining order to keep Daniels from talking openly about her alleged encounter with Trump. The restraining order was issued on February 27; its existence was made public only after Daniels’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, filed a lawsuit claiming the hush agreement was invalid because Trump had never signed it.


Buzzfeed sued by Trump attorney and porn star “fixer” Michael Cohen for defamation, but Buzzfeed has turned this around by seeking discovery related to Stormy Daniels


Trump Administration (Finally) Imposes Sanctions On Russia

… although the President himself remains mute.

The Trump administration announced today it is enacting new sanctions on Russia, including individuals indicted last month by special counsel Robert Mueller, in a sweeping new effort to punish Moscow for its attempts to interfere in the 2016 US election.

The measures come a month-and-a-half after the administration missed a congressionally mandated deadline to impose the new sanctions, which led to questions over President Donald Trump’s willingness to punish Moscow for its cyber intrusion. The new measures, however delayed, amount to the most stringent punishment yet by Trump for Russia’s election interference.

In announcing the measures, the administration also disclosed a Russian attempt to penetrate the US energy grid, and said the new sanctions would punish actors for their participation in other major cyberattacks.

The new punishments include sanctions on the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm that produced divisive political posts on American social media platforms during the 2016 presidential election. Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, a financial backer to the Internet Research Agency with deep ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is also included.

Known as “Putin’s chef,” Prigozhin was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year for his involvement with the Russian troll farm. Sanctions were also applied on 13 other individuals who were indicted by Mueller for their participation in the election meddling efforts.

“The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in US elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement.

In total, the administration applied new sanctions on five entities and 19 individuals on Thursday, including Russians who posed as Americans and posted content online as part of the IRA’s attempts to sow discord ahead of the presidential contest. They came as the US joined European allies in blaming Russia for a nerve agent attack in Britain, deeming the action a “clear violation” of international law.

“The recent use of a military-grade nerve agent in an attempt to murder two UK citizens further demonstrate the reckless and conduct of its government,” a senior US national security official said on Thursday.

That’s all well and good (albeit waaay late), but it’s time for the president to address the Russian attack in his own words on and off camera. If Trump doesn’t take this opportunity to show a bare minimum of presidential leadership, then he will be proving his most virulent opponents correct when they say the president has something to hide about his relationship to Russia.

In the back of my mind, I have this tweet kicking around:

Are the sanctions on Russia going to be a way to mute criticism when Mueller is fired?

Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.
Caesar: What man is that?
Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March…
Caesar: What say’st thou to me now? Speak once again.
Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.
Caesar: He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.”

UPDATE — Well, this is a start:

President Donald Trump said Thursday it “certainly looks like” the Kremlin was behind the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in England last week, adding that the U.S. takes the matter “very seriously.”

“It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it, something that should never ever happen and we’re taking it very seriously as I think are many others,” Trump said of the attack during a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland in the Oval Office.

Trump added that he was in “deep discussions” with British Prime Minister Theresa May over how to respond to the attack on Sergei Skripal, an ex-spy, and his daughter in Salisbury last week.

Trump Admits (In Private Fundraising Event To Donors) That He Makes Up Facts

Trump’s modus operandi is revealed. I love this:

President Trump boasted in a fundraising speech Wednesday that he made up information in a meeting with the leader of a top U.S. ally, saying he insisted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the United States runs a trade deficit with its neighbor to the north without knowing whether that was true.

“Trudeau came to see me. He’s a good guy, Justin. He said, ‘No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,’ ” Trump said, mimicking Trudeau, according to audio of the private event in Missouri obtained by The Washington Post. “Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in — ‘Donald, we have no trade deficit.’ He’s very proud because everybody else, you know, we’re getting killed.

“… So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. … And I thought they were smart. I said, ‘You’re wrong, Justin.’ He said, ‘Nope, we have no trade deficit.’ I said, ‘Well, in that case, I feel differently,’ I said, ‘but I don’t believe it.’ I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out, I said, ‘Check, because I can’t believe it.’

‘Well, sir, you’re actually right. We have no deficit, but that doesn’t include energy and timber. … And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year.’ It’s incredible.”

The Office of the United States Trade Representative says the United States has a trade surplus with Canada. It reports that in 2016, the United States exported $12.5 billion more in goods and services than it imported from Canada, leading to a trade surplus, not a deficit.

Did you catch that? He thought there was a trade deficit because the US is “stupid” and Canada was “smart”. It was based his factual assertion on his opinions (and can we address the fact that his opinion of America was negative?) rather than actual data.

Trump’s lying, on the one hand, is not news. What is unusual here is that he BOASTS about it.  Clearly, he sees lying as an *assertion of power.* The brazenness of Trump’s lying is not a mere by-product of his desire to mislead. It is absolutely central to the whole project of declaring the power to say what reality is.

Hours after the Post published its report about Trump’s speech, the president took to Twitter to try and defend himself.

That doesn’t make it better. NOW Trump is saying there is a trade deficit with Canada because… we have a trade deficit with most countries.

THAT’S how he reaches that conclusion???

Fact: We have a trade SURPLUS with Canada.

Here’s why Trump is wrong, and this is from Politifact:

Trump seems to be referring to a deficit in goods, which tells only part of the picture. (The White House did not respond to an inquiry.)

In 2017, the United States had a $23.2 billion deficit with Canada in goods. In other words, Canada in 2017 bought more goods from the United States than the United States bought from Canada.

However, the United States had a $25.9 billion surplus with Canada in services — and that was enough to overcome that deficit and turn the overall balance of trade into a $2.8 billion surplus for the United States in 2017. The same pattern occurred in 2016.

Those unhappy with current trends in trade, such as Trump, tend to highlight the balance of trade in goods, since that subset of trade is the one that shows just how much manufacturing activity the United States has lost to foreign countries in recent years. By contrast, the United States has fared much better in services, which includes finance, insurance, legal services, business consulting and entertainment.

Trump said other crazy things in his Missouri speech too. He was actually supposed to be fundraising for Missouri candidate Josh Hawley, but just as he did for Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania, it really is all about him.

According to WaPo, he barely mentioned Hawley. He did mention how bad Hawley’s opponent, Claire McCaskill is, but everything else was self-praise, including boasting of his 2016 win.

He did mention meeting with Kim Jong-Un, and wanted those in attendance to know that he was making history.

“They couldn’t have met” with Kim, he said, after mocking former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. “Nobody would have done what I did.”

“It’s called appeasement, please don’t do anything,” he said of other presidents.

“They say, maybe he’s not the one to negotiate,” he said, mocking a voice of a news anchor. “He’s got very little knowledge of the Korean Peninsula. Maybe he’s not the one … Maybe we should send in the people that have been playing games and didn’t know what the hell they’ve been doing for 25 years.”

While attacking Japan, he created this scenario of how Japan uses gimmicks and tricks to avoid allowing U.S. auto makers from selling to their consumers.

“It’s the bowling ball test. They take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and drop it on the hood of the car,” Trump said of Japan. “If the hood dents, the car doesn’t qualify. It’s horrible,” he said. It was unclear what he was talking about.

He was talking about the voices in his head, because that’s some next-level mental breakdown stuff, right there.

He went on to say that he didn’t care to have Japan pay the tariffs, as long as they agreed to build more cars in the U.S.

The so-called free-trade globalists, he said, are against his trade moves because “they’re worldly people, they have stuff on the other side.” Gary Cohn, the president’s top economic adviser, recently quit over the tariffs and was derisively labeled by his critics as a “globalist.”

Trump mocked other politicians for wanting to keep the NAFTA, calling Mexico “spoiled” and saying that Canada had outsmarted the United States. “The best deal is to terminate it and make a new deal,” he said.

Pure protectionist horse flop.

Trump desperately wants to be seen as “historical” and he will be. No doubt about that.

The House Intelligence Committee Has, After A 14 Month Long In-Depth Investigation, Found No Evidence Of Collusion Or Coordination Between The Trump Campaign And Russia To Influence The 2016 Presidential Election

Or, as Trump would put it…

Yup. And except for the word “in-depth”, I guess what he tweets is true. (Well, also, the committee only worked six months out of the “14 month long” investigation)

While special counsel Robert Mueller’s work may seem to be reaching a boiling point, the House Intelligence Committee as thrown in the towel, as far as their part in the Russia probe.

On Monday evening, they released their findings.

“We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians,” the committee said in a one-page summary of its findings released Monday afternoon.

They also decided to give the president a bit of ammunition in their fight to discredit the nation’s intelligence community.

In addition, the committee took issue with the Intelligence Community assessment of Russian motivations in the 2016 election. The committee agrees with the assessment that the Russians did, in fact, try to interfere — the findings cite “Russian cyberattacks on U.S. political institutions in 2015-2016 and their use of social media to sow discord.” But the committee disagrees with the Intelligence Community judgment that Russian leader Vladimir Putin specifically tried to help Donald Trump win the election.

Rep. Mike Conway said that they found bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, and inappropriate judgment in taking meetings, but no actual collusion.

In other words, the Trump train was staffed by idiots.

Speaking of idiots…

“But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, or meetings, whatever, and weave that into a some sort of fictional page-turner spy thriller,” Conaway continued. “But we’re not dealing with fiction, we’re dealing with facts. And we found no evidence of any collusion, of anything that people were actually doing, other than taking a meeting they shouldn’t have taken or inadvertently being in the same building.”

Yes, we can assume he’s talking about Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump Tower meeting with Russians.

The findings and release were led by Chairman Devin Nunes – a rabid Trump loyalist – and passed along very partisan lines. In fact, Democrats on the committee were not even informed of the announcement:

In a sign of how badly relations between the two sides have broken down, Republicans on the committee briefed reporters on their initial findings on Monday before notifying their Democratic partners what was coming.

As an aside, note how that is framed. After all we’ve seen from Republicans on this committee, including failure to even inform Democrats of this decision, we are told that “relations between the two sides have broken down.” Both siderism is alive and well.

Here is a summary of the initial findings from Republicans:

* A pattern of Russian attacks on America’s European allies;
* Russian cyberattacks on U.S. political institutions in 2015-2016 and their use of social media to sow discord;
* A lackluster pre-election response to Russian active measures;
* Concurrence with the Intelligence Community Assessment’s judgments, except with respect to Putin’s supposed preference for candidate Trump;
* We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians;
* How anti-Trump research made its way from Russian sources to the Clinton campaign; and
* Problematic contacts between senior Intelligence Community officials and the media.

Republicans can’t even admit that Russia’s interference included efforts to support Trump, much less that the campaign colluded with their efforts.

Nunes has been working to undermine, and ultimately shut down the investigation from the very beginning, even consulting with the White House early on, attempting to present a case for stopping it before it started.

Ultimately, he was unsuccessful, but he and some fellow Republicans have worked overtime to discredit the investigation.

The idea that the investigation was “in-depth” is profoundly wrong.

In their 73 interviews—many of them conducted three at a time and miles away from Washington so that no congressman need worry about hearing the answers—the House Committee didn’t talk to Paul Manafort, the chair of the Trump campaign. They didn’t talk to Rick Gates, the former number two person in the campaign and deputy chair of Trump’s transition team. They didn’t talk to Michael Flynn, who was one of Trump’s earliest supporters and led the “Lock her up” chant at the Republican Convention. They didn’t talk to George Papadopoulus, who represented Trump to multiple governments around the world.

Of those people that the committee did interview, several were allowed to pick and choose which questions they would answer or answer nothing at all. Hope Hicks, Donald Trump’s closest assistant and press secretary during the campaign got through the day with a few sentences. Corey Lewandoski, who ran the campaign before Manafort came on stage, was also allowed to both select his own questions, and to refuse to answer any he didn’t like. Campaign CEO Steve Bannon not only got to write his own list of questions, but answered each of them with the single word “No.”

The actions of the Nunes-led committee—failing to question the most central witnesses, allowing witnesses to claim a privilege that the House does not recognize, failing to subpoena documents and records, refusing to hold uncooperative witnesses in contempt, allowing witnesses to actually write their own list of questions, issuing partisan statements without even notifying the minority that a statement was in the works—all that looks bad. The only thing worse is the actions of Paul Ryan.

Because what Ryan has done is absolute proof that Republicans will never, ever take action against Trump.

Furthermore, they made the committee itself, and the HOUSE itself, into a laughing stock.

At least one Republican on the committee, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) admitted that it was all a joke.

Rooney argued that the investigation needed to end because the committee was losing its credibility.

“We’ve gone completely off the rails and now we are just basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day’s news,” Rooney said. “We’ve lost all credibility and we are going to issue probably two different reports, unfortunately.”

And THAT may be the reason why it is probably best that the House Intel Committee just exit the stage.  History will not be kind to it.

Rexit (and Pompin)

And now, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is out. To show you how ineffective this White House is, there isn’t a straight story about when/how this occurred.

The news reported Tillerson found out due to a tweet, according to Steve Goldstein, undersecretary for public diplomacy:

And here Trump’s tweet:

But Goldstein also said this:

This conflicted with the White House narrative that Tillerson was told on Friday, and he cut his Africa trip short.

The truth (apparently) is this:

So, Tillerson (who once called Trump a “moron” and never denied it) didn’t really know what he was going to be fired, although he may have suspected. And now, within the past hour, Goldstein (4th highest in State Department) has now been fired.

Apparently President Trump didn’t appreciate this sudden burst of telling the truth.


So let’s see… Tillerson is out at State. CIA Director Mike Pompeo will replace him. Gina Haspel, currently the deputy CIA director, will replace Pompeo and become the first woman to lead the CIA.

Haspel is somewhat controversial because she once ran a off-the-books torture prison in Thailand, overseeing the torture of two al Queda operatives. One of them, Abu Zubaydah, nearly died from constant waterboarding, but subsequently declassified CIA medical files assessed that Zubaydah was likely to have cooperated with his interrogators before his waterboarding, as he had with his FBI interrogators, who did not torture him. Those torture shops are now illegal.


As for Tillerson, his departure is not terribly surprising. He was not in the same lane as Trump — often contradicting him. Tillerson spoke out against Russian election-meddling; Tillerson believed in negotiation with North Korea and often tamped down Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric against Kim Jung-un. They disagreed on the the wall, and Trump’s latest tariff-raising. I thought Tillerson was correct on most issues, but I agree with his critics that he ran a horrible State Department. He basically gutted it, and tried to run it by fiat. We still have no ambassadors to many places, and lack diplomats.  Most State Department people agree, according to Politico:

State Department employees had one main reaction to Rex Tillerson’s ouster as secretary of state on Tuesday: “Good riddance.”

President Donald Trump’s decision to fire the top U.S. diplomat sent a wave of hope through a department battered by low morale under Tillerson, who dismissed the expertise of career diplomats and sought to downsize the department.

“There is strong sense of relief at State. The last year has been traumatic to put it mildly. It was as though ‘T-Rex’ stomped through Foggy Bottom devouring staff and structures,” said Brett Bruen, a former State Department official.

Several current State officials said they also hope to bid farewell to Tillerson’s top aides, including chief of staff Margaret Peterlin and policy chief Brian Hook, whom they criticize for forming a protective and secretive clique around the secretary during his nearly 14-month tenure.

“People see this as a chance for a clean sweep,” said one staffer, who like most others spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid losing his job. “This team has proven itself incapable of managing the State Department.”

Multiple Foreign and Civil Service officers struck an optimistic note about Tillerson’s chosen replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Many hope that Pompeo’s close relationship with Trump will mean that the State Department will gain more influence with a president who has often sidelined it.

I hope that is true, although Pompeo is a true hawk, and I am not sure he will beef up the State Department. In fact, he might adopt views closer to Trump, but still reject diplomacy as a tool. Pompeo, like Trump, hates the Iran nuclear deal. While Tillerson has advocated for keeping the Barack Obama-era deal in place, Pompeo is more willing to question its value.

On the other hand, how Pompeo will deal with the threat from Russia is another open question. The CIA chief has called out Russia over its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential race. But he’s also managed to stay in Trump’s good graces even as the president has downplayed intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win.  Time will tell. Maybe next year Pompeo will be gone as well.

There was another dismissal making much less news — that of Trump’s personal body man (think Charlie from “The West Wing”):

John McEntee, who has served as President Trump’s personal assistant since Mr. Trump won the presidency, was forced out of his position and escorted from the White House on Monday after his security clearance was revoked, officials with knowledge of the incident said.

But Mr. McEntee will remain in the president’s orbit despite his abrupt departure from the White House. Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign announced Tuesday that Mr. McEntee has been named Senior Adviser for Campaign Operations, putting him in a position to remain as a close aide during the next several years.

The campaign’s decision underscores Mr. Trump’s tolerance for — and often encouragement of — dueling centers of power around him. And it highlights the extent to which the re-election campaign has already become a landing pad for former Trump associates who have left the White House but remain loyal to the president.

Officials declined to say what issues prompted the security concerns about Mr. McEntee.

John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has said in recent weeks that too many staff members were operating on interim security clearances because they could not pass F.B.I. background checks. A White House spokesman declined to comment on Mr. McEntee’s firing.

But a senior administration official said that many of the president’s top aides were shocked and dismayed by the abrupt departure, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss personnel issues, said Mr. McEntee had been expected to travel with Mr. Trump — as he always does — when the president departed for a trip to California Tuesday morning.

The striking part is that he was escorted out by security. Other reports say the departure was so sudden that he left his suit jacket behind.

I guess this is it:

Moments From Sec of Education Betsy Devos’ Crash-And-Burn Interview On 60 Minutes


Stormy Daniels Offers to Return Payment to End Deal for Her Silence

This is cute and clever. Stormy Daniels, the porn star who says she had an affair with President Trump, offered to return $130,000 she received from Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer in 2016 for agreeing not to discuss the alleged relationship.

In exchange, the actress (aka Stephanie Clifford) seeks an end to her deal to keep quiet about what she says was an affair with Mr. Trump that started in 2006 and lasted for several months.

Under the terms of the deal detailed in the letter, the (alleged) contract ensuring Ms. Clifford’s silence would be “deemed null and void’’ once she returned the sum called for in her original contract.

Under the offer, Ms. Clifford would then be allowed to “(a) speak openly and freely about her prior relationship with the President and the attempts to silence her and (b) use and publish any text messages, photos and/or videos relating to the President that she may have in her possession, all without fear of retribution and/or legal liability for damages.”

Which is convenient because she just gave an interview to Anderson Cooper of 60 Minutes which is to be aired sometime in the near future.

The offer puts the president and Mr. Cohen — who deny that Mr. Trump had an affair with Ms. Clifford — in a challenging position.

If they agree to Mr. Avenatti’s terms, Ms. Clifford can speak openly about not only the sexual relationship she claims to have had with Mr. Trump shortly after his wife, Melania, gave birth to the couple’s son, Barron, but also about what she describes as an effort to silence her “hush money.’’

The money, which Mr. Cohen has said came from his own personal funds, is the subject of complaints lodged by the group Common Cause with the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department. Common Cause argues that the payment violated campaign finance laws.

If they reject the offer, they could be seen as effectively acknowledging the existence of a continuing effort to keep Ms. Clifford silent about an affair that Mr. Cohen and the president say did not happen.

All this is part of an aggressive media effort by Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ attorney, to Trump to let her speak.  Here was a tweet from Avenatti over the weekend:


Trump’s Lawyer Used Trump.Org Emails To Negotiate Payment To Porn Star


President Donald Trump’s personal attorney used his Trump Organization email while arranging to transfer money into an account at a Manhattan bank before he wired $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence.

The lawyer, Michael Cohen, also regularly used the same email account during 2016 negotiations with the actress — whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford — before she signed a nondisclosure agreement, a source familiar with the discussions told NBC News.

And Clifford’s attorney at the time addressed correspondence to Cohen in his capacity at the Trump Organization and as “Special Counsel to Donald J. Trump,” the source said.

Why does that matter?  Well, since this whole thing became public, Cohen has tried to distance his dealings with the porn star from Trump. “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Cohen said in a statement last week.

But the email below (which is partially redacted) that deals with the transfer of funds, shows that the Trump Organization WAS involved as it employs the TRUMP.ORG email address.

The email, dated Oct. 26, 2017, was sent to Cohen by an assistant to First Republic Bank senior managing director Gary Farro. The email appears to have been a reply to Cohen; the subject was “RE: First Republic Bank Transfer” and the message confirmed that “the funds have been deposited into your checking account.”

The email did not provide any more details about the accounts the money was transferred from or into and it was not clear whether or not they were personal accounts or corporate accounts. It also did not specify the amount.

The next day, Cohen wired money from First Republic to the City National Bank account of lawyer Keith Davidson, who was representing Clifford at the time.

The $130,000 question, however, is from whose account was the money transferred on Oct. 26, 2017.

The email “suggests” it might have been a Trump Organization account since the correspondence was through Cohen’s Trump email. It is “curious” that after Cohen got the email, he immediately forwarded it to his personal gmail and then used gmail to forward it to Davidson, presumably to show the money was ready to be wired.

Looks like the truth is closing in on Trump, but you wouldn’t know it if you had been following right wing news.

Yesterday morning, there was not one article about the latest Stormy Daniels developments featured prominently on the Fox News homepage. A search in TV Eyes, a media monitoring search engine, returned only two segments in which the unfolding drama was discussed on the network Thursday morning.

On the web, there was a similar blackout. The Drudge Report, a highly-trafficked conservative news website from which the right-wing press frequently takes its editorial cues, featured zero stories on the matter.

Breitbart, the pro-Trump website previously headed by Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, had a pair of stories on its homepage, but they were not given prime placement.

Similarly, there was one story on the homepage of The Daily Caller, a conservative news website founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, but it was buried under a slew of other stories.

The problem is this: this is not something that can be blamed on Hillary.

Trump To Meet With N. Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un


Flashforward to present

The White House didn’t make the announcement. It was made by the South Korean envoys on the White House driveway (this Administration really can’t do PR right). But everyone agrees (for a change) on one thing — it is potentially historic:

WASHINGTON — North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has invited President Trump to meet for negotiations over its nuclear program, an audacious diplomatic overture that would bring together two strong-willed, idiosyncratic leaders who have traded threats of war.

The White House said that Mr. Trump had accepted the invitation, and Chung Eui-yong, a South Korean official who conveyed it, told reporters that the president would meet with Mr. Kim within two months.

“He expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible,” Mr. Chung said at the White House on Thursday evening after meeting the president. Mr. Trump, he said, agreed to “meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.”

The president expressed his optimism about the meeting in a post on Twitter, saying that Mr. Kim had “talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze.”

“Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time,” Mr. Trump added. “Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!”

Most see this as a breathtaking gamble. No sitting American president has ever met a North Korean leader, and Mr. Trump himself has repeatedly vowed that he would not commit the error of his predecessors by being drawn into a protracted negotiation in which North Korea extracted concessions from the United States but held on to key elements of its nuclear program.

The highest-level American official to meet with a North Korean leader was Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who visited Pyongyang in 2000, near the end of the Clinton administration. Dr. Albright had planned to arrange a visit by President Bill Clinton.

But it fell apart when Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader, would not agree to a missile deal in advance; he wanted to negotiate it face-to-face with the president. Mr. Clinton decided not to take the risk, skipped the trip, and used his last weeks in office to make a race for Middle East peace instead.

The immediate response falls to how much faith you have in Trump to not cause an international incident.

Those who see Trump as some kind of messiah are dancing around and praising Trump for bringing world peace.

But the rest of us are considering Trump’s long, detailed history of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and completely offending somebody, in the process. He is uninformed and we don’t have a diplomatic corps to bring him up to speed. Seriously though — who would be advising Trump? Our ambassador to South Korea just resigned. Tillerson is persona non grata (he was out of the loop on the whole thing yesterday), McMaster is on his way out, and Jared doesn’t have clearance OR expertise.  Although, Trump eschews experts anyway, so perhaps it matters little.  And that’s what makes many nervous.

Voice of America published an interesting analytical piece detailing the problems facing the US in dealing with the DPRK. Specifically, the US’s dearth of expertise.

Aaron David Miller, a senior analyst at the Wilson Center, has advised a number of Republican and Democratic secretaries of state.

Miller told VOA he believes if this recent offer of direct talks does represent a transformative change in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s position, then it is too valuable an opportunity to waste, and the U.S. should test it — first through discreet dialogue before any structured negotiations take place.

Asked who in the Trump administration could prepare and conduct sensitive, complicated and grueling direct talks with North Korea, Miller drew a blank.

“Right now, it is hard to identify any single individual or team of individuals that has both the negotiating experience and knowledge of the history, the cultural and political sensitivity, and knowledge of how the North Koreans behave and how they see the world,” he said.

He added: “In this republic, you might have to reach for people who have had experience and who are part of another administration. This administration may not be willing to do that.”

Miller said if this offer of talks becomes serious, it would mean months, if not years, of negotiations. He said the president has created some “running room” for diplomacy, and that all sides are in a better position than they were before.

Perhaps, but the mere agreement to meet with Kim is a diplomatic failure, in my view. Most presidents would refuse to make a deal with North Korea while it holds three American prisoners.  President Trump has handed the North Koreans that greatest propaganda coup in their history by elevating their status. Trump is giving Kim Jong-Un exactly what North Korea has always wanted—a meeting as equals with few or no preconditions. Following on the heels of North Korea being feted at the Winter Olympics, complete with round-the-world broadcasts of Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-Jong looming above Mike Pence, Trump’s agreement completes not just the normalization of North Korea, but the elevation of the rogue state to major player on the world stage.

And what exactly will happen when they meet?

The president’s deal-making skills, one of his aides said on Thursday, could produce an outcome different from previous rounds of diplomacy, which have always ended in failure and disappointment.

Most of the president’s business deals have also ended up in failure. So has his presidential attempts at negotiation (how’s that gun control bill coming?) He gets very easily rolled, as we have seen many times.

What is odd is that we have two people who deal BADLY. In Trump we have a guy that makes an agreement on DACA or guns and then backs away from it within hours. Kim knows this. And Kim’s word isn’t any more reliable. He really has no incentive to give up his nukes and every reason to keep producing them. After all, he has gotten Trump’s attention by having them.

In the end, we may get some prisoners, but any serious talks would take months to negotiate, and Trump/Kim are not going to do that. Even if they agree on broad outlines, they negotiations are likely to break down when it comes to working out the deets.  In the end, it will just be one big PR thing, which works to the benefit of Kim more than Trump.  Suzanne DiMaggio, who has been leading unofficial talks between the United States and North Korea, agrees:

Let’s hope “more spectacle than substance” is the worst possible outcome.

Preet truth:

Opinion editorial by Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College:

Before thinking about all the ways this summit could go wrong, the president’s critics owe it to him to try and consider the few ways it could go right. At the least, this decision forestalls war for the moment. Another day of peace on the Korean peninsula is a worthy goal and a far better approach than the childish taunts that have characterized the president’s approach so far.


Denuclearization is almost certain to fall off the table quickly, but one positive outcome would be if North Korea tries a bait-and-switch, in which they backtrack from denuclearization but agree to halt, indefinitely, all testing and production of an ICBM in exchange for sanctions relief. If the president manages even this much, his gamble might pay off, at least for a while.

Most likely, however, is that the White House is about to walk right into a trap the North Koreans have been laying for American presidents since the 1990s. A one-on-one summit between a U.S. president and one of the world’s weirdest and most irresponsible leaders would be a huge reward for a regime that has long chided other rogues and dictators for their weakness in dealing with the United States. (When Moammar Gadhafi of Libya was torn to pieces by his own people after NATO weakened his army, Kim taunted the world by noting that Gadhafi should have kept his nuclear program.)

Such a meeting would legitimize not only Kim’s regime, but his methods. No matter how the White House spins it, the North Koreans will claim a huge victory in getting Trump to bend to their will.

This isn’t to say that direct meetings are not a good idea. Sanctions are biting deeply in North Korea, and China is clearly fed up with its bizarre ally. But a summit should be a reward for months, even years, of careful work and actual progress. Meetings at lower levels should progress to more senior principals, and then to the heads of state.

Instead, we have yet another decision, much like the recent and incoherent announcement of tariffs, that looks like sheer impulse from a commander-in-chief who seems frustrated that his advisers keep telling him that nuclear diplomacy is more complicated than running a hotel or a golf course.

Worse yet, the short fuse for a meeting in May — and why the hurry?— means that this will be a summit without an agenda and with no time to devise one, which always increases the chances of a diplomatic train wreck. There is no evidence that this move was given any kind of serious analysis by military or diplomatic advisers. The Pentagon seems to be in the dark, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made clear just hours before the announcement that no such meeting was even on the horizon.

Given North Korea’s track record, here is what is more likely to happen. Kim and Trump will meet, and Kim’s regime will reap hours of footage of an American president shaking the hand of the Supreme Leader that will run forever in North Korea and go viral around the world. Kim will play the gracious host, and agree to everything, knowing that this kind of flattery will trigger a torrent of praise from Trump and perhaps even elicit reckless talk about lifting sanctions. (The North Koreans will surely have done their homework on the president’s psyche, which is on display all day, every day, on social media.)

After the summit, Pyongyang will then dig in on further talks. When those talks fail, Kim will blame Trump, leaving the president bewildered and angry. Trump will go back to his insulting ways, which will pave the way for Kim to exit any preliminary agreements. The whole business will fall apart, and North Korea will look like the sure winner: the co-equal of a United States president who has been humbled in front of America’s allies and embarrassed in front of its enemies. The unveiling of a functional, nuclear-armed North Korean ICBM will follow.

I hope I’m wrong. Talking to the North Koreans is certainly a far better idea than war. Trump and Kim could surprise us all and begin the process of removing nuclear weapons from North Korea. But it’s far too early to think about any calls to Oslo just yet.

Pretty much what I said.

Trump Talks To Witnesses Who Talked To Mueller

For a man unconcerned about Russia collusion, Trump seems very concerned.  This reminds me of Nixon, who just COULD NOT keep Watergate off his mind and meddled in it to the point that he became part of it.

New York Times tells us:

The special counsel in the Russia investigation has learned of two conversations in recent months in which President Trump asked key witnesses about matters they discussed with investigators, according to three people familiar with the encounters.

In one episode, the president told an aide that the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, should issue a statement denying a New York Times article in January. The article said Mr. McGahn told investigators that the president once asked him to fire the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. McGahn never released a statement and later had to remind the president that he had indeed asked Mr. McGahn to see that Mr. Mueller was dismissed, the people said.

In the other episode, Mr. Trump asked his former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, how his interview had gone with the special counsel’s investigators and whether they had been “nice,” according to two people familiar with the discussion.

There is nothing wrong with Trump talking to witnesses, although it is VERY inadvisable, and I am sure Trump’s lawyers have advised him not to do this.  Why? Because depending on what is said, it could be viewed as witness tampering. The whole incident with McGhan, for example,  Trump was attempting to change the narrative and make McGahn do things that were contrary to his memory.

Is this evidence that Trump has serious memory issues (or an extraordinary capacity for self-delusion), or was he telling McGahn how to recall events, in essence instructing him as to the official storyline?

These interactions (depending on how you interpret the McGahn conversation) may not be illegal, but they raise serious questions. And does anyone really think these are the only two people who Trump has asked about their testimony? There’s a pattern here of Trump constantly meddling with this investigation, and he keeps showing by his actions how worried he is about it. At the very least, Trump is providing Mueller with a mound of evidence of what prosecutors call consciousness of guilt. In any case, the conversations surely underscore that Trump is indifferent to his lawyers’ advice, and therefore would be a loose cannon if ever questioned by Mueller.

Trump is also unhappy about another scandal, and how it was handled internally:

President Donald Trump is upset with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders over her responses Wednesday regarding his alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, a source close to the White House tells CNN.

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, filed suit against Trump this week alleging he hadn’t signed a nondisclosure agreement that would have prevented her from discussing their alleged sexual affair.

On Wednesday, Sanders told reporters that the arbitration was won “in the President’s favor.” The statement is an admission that the nondisclosure agreement exists, and that it directly involves the President. It is the first time the White House has admitted the President was involved in any way with Daniels.

“POTUS is very unhappy,” the source said. “Sarah gave the Stormy Daniels storyline steroids yesterday.”

Yes, we’re ALL a bit weary from the constant scandals, but we didn’t create them.

A New Russia Collusion Angle: George Nader

Last night the New York Times reported that George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who advises Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, is cooperating with the Mueller investigation and gave testimony last week to a grand jury.

The reason why this is significant is that Nader was actually present at two meetings that could be key in proving that the Trump campaign conspired with Russians (and possibly other foreign governments), not simply to influence the election, but on U.S. foreign policy. The first meeting Nader attended occurred at Trump Tower in December, during the transition period, and included Mohammed bin Zayed (known as MBZ), Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, and Jared Kushner. The meeting aroused suspicion because MBZ breached protocol in failing to notify the Obama administration of his visit to the U.S.

It is worth noting another meeting at Trump Tower that took place at about the same time.

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

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

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

A few days after that, Kushner met with Sergei N. Gorkov, a Russian banker with close ties to Putin.

The other meeting Nader attended was held around January 11, just days before the inauguration. It is the clandestine meeting arranged by the United Arab Emirates in the Seychelles islands. At that one, Nader was representing MBZ, while Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian investor, represented Putin and Erik Prince was there on behalf of the Trump team. The connection is that Nader had once worked as a consultant to Prince’s company Blackwater, a private security firm now known as Academi. Here is what the Washington Post reported about that meeting back in April 2016:

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

…Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.

One thing seems clear now: running from right after the election all the way through January 2017, there were several attempts to set up back channel communications between Trump and Moscow that would bypass this country’s national security apparatus. The first came during Michael Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador. That was followed by the two meetings described above.

Jared Kushner was up to his eyeballs in all of this at the same time that his family business had gone in search of foreign investment in their failing 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York City. Just recently we learned that at least four countries have discussed ways that Kushner could be manipulated because of that, as well as his lack of experience in foreign affairs. One of those countries is the United Arab Emirates. The Washington Post story on that pointed this out:

H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign officials that he did not coordinate through the National Security Council or officially report.

Apparently those contacts are of interest to Robert Mueller.

Mueller has also asked numerous witnesses about how the president’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, set up calls with foreign leaders and whether he bypassed normal protocols that kept records of the contacts and the content of the discussions.

There is a whole other line of thought about why Mueller would be interested in Nader that has to do with the possibility of illegal foreign campaign contributions. Those would precede these meetings, given that they occurred after the election. Back channel lines of communication that would escape the scrutiny of U.S. intelligence services is much more likely to be Mueller’s focus. We don’t know at this point what the Trump team wanted to talk about over those back channels. But investments in the family businesses in exchange for sanctions relief and/or a foreign policy favorable to the investor seems to be an emerging theme. And it might relate to the exchange of information on campaign influencing.

Mueller’s Legal Theory

I am uploading this essay by Ben Wittes and Emma Kohse on where Mueller is going with his latest indictment.  Briefly, he has taken the abstract word “collusion” — a word Trump and others use, but is legally meaningless to Mueller and other legal eagles — and pinned several statutes to it, most notably 18 U.S.C. §371, the conspiracy statute.

It applies here in many aspects:

  • conspiracy to thwart the Federal Election Commission, who must receive accurate information from the candidates and political committees that are required to file reports under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA)
  • conspiracy to defraud the Justice Department in its regularly capacity with respect to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)
  • conspiracy to defraud the State Department in its role issuing visas

These conspiracy charges do all the “heavy lifting” as the essay says. Now, in addition to the Russian already indicted here, you can add to it anyone else who participated in the conspiracy, including those on this side of the Atlantic (e.g., anyone who passed on stolen DNC emails, anyone who gave information about which states to target for Facebook fake-newsing, etc.)

It’s a grand theory, in more than one way:

The Porn Star Sues The President


The first thing that jumps out at me is this: if you’re going to contest a nondisclosure agreement in court, you should be filing with the court under seal so the NDA isn’t breached unless/until the plaintiff—the person subject to the NDA—prevails in court. Avenatti (Stormy Daniel’s lawyer) didn’t do this and I am sure it was intentional. Because now, win or lose in the case, the subject matter is… disclosed!  It also goes without saying that Avenatti shouldn’t be going on The Today Show confirming that Daniels and Trump had a sexual relationship, but again, that’s intentional.

Daniels clearly intends to disclose the breach the NDA — or rather, admit the sexual relationship because (in her view) there is no NDA. If she does, and if Trump/Cohen are stupid enough to sue her, (a) it’ll open up Trump/Cohen to new public disclosures and liabilities and (b) they may or may not be able to recoup more money than Daniels makes for breaching. So she’s hoping they WON’T sue.

But let’s take her case on its face. Does Daniels have a case to have a judge declare her NDA null and void—clearing her to tell her story for cash without any fear of a lawsuit from Cohen or Trump? On CNN, Paul Callan and Jeffery Toobin said Daniels has no chance because a) Trump wasn’t required to sign the NDA—which is Daniels’ argument for it being null and void (i.e., his refusal to sign it), and b) it’s common for third parties to sign contracts on another’s behalf. And even if a judge finds the contract was no contract at all, Cohen sending Daniels $130,000 and Daniels accepting that money could well turn what otherwise would have been a legally infirm contract into something binding.

What’s the counterargument? Well, although it is true that a third party can sign on behalf of another, there still has to be — in Contract 101 law — “a meeting of the minds” in that both parties must know what is agreed to in the NDA. Daniels could argue that she didn’t even know who she entered into an agreement with. Cohen, to obscure—or perhaps to hedge his bets about—whether he’d decide to (or had) told Trump about the “Hush Agreement,” writes that the parties bound are Daniels on the one hand and, on the other, his shell corporation “and/or” Donald Trump.  What the hell does “and/or” mean?

Did Daniels contract with Trump? Maybe not, per the contract. Did she contract with “EC, LLC,” Cohen’s shell corp? Maybe not. Should a court encourage parties to so word their contracts that there’s no clarity whatsoever—indeed no force of law—as to who the contract binds?

Cohen’s phrasing makes for awkward interpretation. Take a look at paragraph 1.1 (“Parties”) in the “Confidential Settlement Agreement”:

But the contract had three signature lines—Daniels, “EC, LLC,” and Trump—and by “EC, LLC” signing but not Trump, it means that the “and/or” in paragraph 1.1 is automatically nullified, such that the contract is formally between “EC, LLC” and Daniels. David Dennison (or his representative) did not sign.

Had Cohen signed this as Trump’s lawyer, different story. But he didn’t — the DD signature is blank. If Cohen were there as Trump’s lawyer, why didn’t he sign that agreement at the same time he signed it as EC’s lawyer?

Instead of doing that, he created a corporation, then wrote a contract that makes representations on Trump’s behalf and seeks to bind Trump legally although Trump is (arguably) not a party to the contract and his tie to EC LLC is zero.

And THAT is a problem for Trump.

But again, win or lose this case, the Stormy story is now out, and Trump is boxed in a little bit about what to do next.

From the public standpoint, this is interesting titillation. But there is a serious legal issue: the lawsuit suggests that Trump was aware of the agreement and that the money was intended to influence the election’s outcome. That intimation bolsters two complaints filed with the Federal Election Commission that say the payment violated election law because it was not reported as an in-kind campaign donation.

Footnote: Yes, I am aware if the “EC” initials over the “DD” in the lower right hand corner of every page. But that does not resolve the problem — it only muddies it.  If that means that “EC” was Trump’s agent, then why didn’t “EC” or EC’s agent (Cohen) sign the actual NDA itself?

This Week’s Resignation: Gary Cohn

The sad story:

Serve Donald Trump at your own risk. Being a top aide in his administration doesn’t usually work out well.

Some former advisers, like Michael Flynn, are in legal trouble. Others, like Sean Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci, became laughing stocks. Still others have tarnished once-sterling reputations.

Gary Cohn falls into the last category. Before working for Trump, Cohn had an underdog story good enough for a best-selling book. He overcame dyslexia, talked his way into a job at Goldman Sachs and rose to the No. 2 job at the firm.

Shortly after Trump’s election, Cohn accepted a job as the top White House economic adviser. He took it, everyone seems to understand, in the hope that Trump would later name him Federal Reserve chairman. That didn’t happen.

After Trump praised white supremacists last summer, Cohn offered a lukewarm criticism that managed to fall short of courageous while also infuriating his boss. Cohn was never again a leading candidate for the Fed job, which went instead to Jerome Powell, another former banker then serving not under Trump but as a Fed official.

Over the last 14 months, Cohn has served alongside Trump as the president has refused to defend the United States against Russian attacks; continued his string of racist insults; repeatedly tried to undermine the rule of law; and, to quote former President George W. Bush, trafficked in “outright fabrication.” None of this, evidently, stirred Cohn’s conscience enough to warrant resigning on principle.

Yesterday afternoon, he finally did announce his resignation. Quietly, other administration officials signaled that it was related — sort of — to Trump’s recent announcement of tariffs, a policy that Cohn opposes. Publicly, however, he was loyal to Trump.

For the rest of Gary Cohn’s career, whenever his name comes up, people will think of Donald Trump. The relationship worked out much better for Trump than for Cohn.

In The Times, the editorial board comments on Cohn’s departure. Elsewhere: Slate’s Jordan Weissmann notes that Cohn did have one big accomplishment in the job — the corporate tax cut he helped design. “Gary Cohn: The man who swallowed the president’s racism and personal humiliation in order to guide tax cuts for his old employer at Goldman Sachs, and then quit over some steel tariffs,” Weissmann writes.

I don’t know that he will be forever tarnished with the Trump brand. He was critical of Trump and unlike others, he left on principle. It is the ones who are still there and deal with him every day that will suffer long-term humiliation.

In early February, after President Trump’s well-received State of the Union address and Davos trip, economic adviser Gary Cohn was having lunch with the president and Chief of Staff John Kelly, in the small dining room off the Oval Office.

For a year, Cohn had felt like he was beating his head against a brick wall, leading Groundhog Day tutorials on the benefits of free trade and the danger of tariffs. After helping steer Trump’s victory on tax cuts, Cohn wanted another big assignment, commensurate with the skills, experience and appetite of a former president of Goldman Sachs. 
Advocating for Trump’s infrastructure plan, which is dead on the Hill, wasn’t juicy enough. Cohn said that if Trump could put him in a role where he would use 80% or 90% of his brain capacity, he’d stay. Otherwise, he should go.

“I’ve got to tell you. I’m working at like 20 percent of my capacity.”
— Gary Cohn to President Trump, according to West Wing sources

Then Trump announced this week that he planned to impose sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum — an embarrassment to Cohn, who had boasted to his Wall Street and Hamptons buddies that he had kept the president on the right track on trade.

Cohn had planned to leave last week, according to the sources. But then with the departure announcements by Hope Hicks and Josh Raffel, Cohn didn’t want to pile on, the sources said. Yesterday — with the details of the tariffs plan up in the air, but with Cohn convinced Trump was going big — he told POTUS that he’d leave in coming weeks. Trump would be willing to entertain calling Cohn back for a big job (White House chief of staff?), and Cohn would consider it, the sources said.

Look, the Trump White House is bleeding talent, losing a half dozen or more officials who helped advise and contain the president. Worse, it is quite obvious there is little to no succession planning to quickly fill vacancies with top-flight talent.  This leaves the Trump White House understaffed and devoid of the moderating forces that helped shape his first 14 months in office. What remains is a more pliant, nationalistic staff, one much more aligned with Trump on trade, immigration and other issues.

One source close to the White House said: “POTUS rightly pointed out from the podium [yesterday] that he likes competition inside. They fight it out, he makes a decision. … What happens when the dissent is gone?”

So increasingly, the restraints are off. In this midterm year, and looking ahead to the reelection race, look for Trump to be more Trump — more Trump, The Nationalist.  Hardliner Stephen Miller’s influence may grow, on immigration and other issues. And now there’ll be one fewer Dem telling Trump to cool it on the culture wars.

There’s going to be a power vacuum in the West Wing. People will fill it — and they’re much more likely to be people who agree with Trump on trade and immigration than a person, like Cohn, who opposes him and is willing to tell the president to his face that he’s wrong.

OK Then

Unauthorized Use Of Presidential Seal Is Illegal

In recent weeks, the Trump Organization has ordered the manufacture of new tee markers for golf courses that are emblazoned with the seal of the president of the United States. Under federal law, the seal’s use is permitted only for official government business. Misuse can be a crime under 18 U.S. Code § 713.

Past administrations have policed usage vigilantly. In 2005 the Bush administration ordered the satirical news website The Onion to remove a replica of the seal. Grant M. Dixton, associate White House counsel, wrote in a letter to The Onion that the seal “is not to be used in connection with commercial ventures or products in any way that suggests presidential support or endorsement.”

Eagle Sign and Design, a metalworking and sign company with offices in New Albany, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky, said it had received an order to manufacture dozens of round, 12-inch replicas of the presidential seal to be placed next to the tee boxes at Trump golf course holes. Two tee markers are placed on the ground at the start of a hole on golf courses to indicate where golfers should stand to take their first swing.

“We made the design, and the client confirmed the design,” said Joseph E. Bates, who owns Eagle Sign, declining to say who the client was. But an order form for the tee markers reviewed by ProPublica and WNYC says the customer was “Trump International.” The Facebook page for Eagle Sign and Design shows a photo of the markers in an album with the caption “Trump International Golf Course.”

Just another Trump family illegality.

Sam Nunberg, Former Trump Aide, Becomes Unhinged On Live TV

This just happened and I didn’t see it, so I’m pulling it together. Apparently Katy Tur of MSNBC was talking to Sam Nunberg, former campaign adviser to Trump. Nunberg just got a subpoena from Mueller. Nunberg lost it.  Here’s some video released by MSNBC:

Other accounts….

By the way, Preet is right about this:

And he keeps on going….

… I’m half-expecting the FBI to reply “OK”

And Nunberg, a lawyer, actually asked this of a new anchor —

Of course, Trump himself seems to be feeling pressure today (response is by the normally soft-spoken former CIA Director John Brennan (2013-2017)

UPDATE: The full Katy Tur interview:


Well, when alll was said and done, Nunberg did several interviews everywhere. Here’s how Axios summed it up:

MSNBC dubbed it “a historic interview.” CNN’s Jake Tapper called it “a wild edition of ‘The Lead.'” Drudge’s banner headline, with a cable screengrab: “cRaZy!”

Here’s what it was: A sad, epic meltdown — a troubled Trump flunky, pecked at and picked apart like roadkill on the Russia Interstate, in his last gasps of public fame and shame.

Sam Nunberg, an early Trump campaign aide who was fired in 2015 but has remained a vocal alumnus, melted down cable interview by cable interview yesterday as he declared his refusal (later retracted) to comply with a subpoena by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Finally, CNN’s Erin Burnett said during an on-set interview with Nunberg: “Talking to you, I have smelled alcohol on your breath. … I know it’s awkward.”

Nunberg replied he hadn’t consumed anything “besides my meds — antidepressants. Is that OK?”‘

In a cry for help, Nunberg kept trying to top himself, giving longer and longer interviews (including a call-in to cable’s NY1 in New York!).

Nunberg provided the subpoena anonymously to Jonathan Swan over the weekend, then gave it on the record to the N.Y. Times’ Maggie Haberman, then waved the wrinkled subpoena on-air with MSNBC’s Ari Melber, with a close-up shown on air.

And he contradicted every piece of news he made, telling AP last night: “I’m going to end up cooperating with them.”

That’s right. At the end of the day, he decided he should cooperate.  I thought the Melber interview was by far the best.

So what was it about? Attention? Was he drunk? Having a manic attack?  Who knows.  But I think this from the Atlantic might explain it:

It was just after 8:00 p.m. on Monday night, and the suddenly-famous Sam Nunberg had phoned me from Dorrian’s Red Hand Restaurant, a yuppie hangout on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where he was reveling in his triumph.

After announcing earlier that day his intention to defy a grand-jury subpoena he says he received in the Russia investigation (“Arrest me,” he’d dared prosecutors), the former Trump aide had spent the day conducting a manic media blitz—popping up on multiple cable-news programs, granting interviews to dozens of journalists, and hijacking the news cycle with a car-crash procession of blustery soundbites. Legal experts were warning that his failure to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s  investigation could put him in serious legal jeopardy—but at this moment, it seemed, Nunberg was in a celebratory mood.


I won’t venture a guess as to which theory best explains his actions. But as anyone who’s known Nunberg for a while can attest, his behavior Monday doesn’t necessarily require special explanation. He’s been pulling stunts like this for years—this is just the first time he’s gotten the kind of audience he’s always craved.

I first met Nunberg in person in 2014, when he arranged for me to interview his boss, Donald Trump, on a flight from New Hampshire to New York. Thanks to an unexpected blizzard that effectively shut down LaGuardia Airport, we ended up flying to Palm Beach instead, where I spent 36 hours marooned at Mar-a-Lago with Trump as my host and Nunberg as my sidekick.

At the time, what most struck me about Nunberg was the way he seemed to mimic Trump’s speaking cadences (“fantastic,” “huge,” “loser”) and sartorial aesthetic (wide lapels, shiny ties, thick knots). But, as I would later learn, his true mentor was actually Roger Stone.

As Nunberg told it, he was sitting in a law-school class one day when someone emailed him a Weekly Standard profile of the notorious Republican operative. Stone was described in the piece as a “Nixon-era dirty trickster” and “professional lord of mischief,” and he was quoted talking about politics as “performance art … sometimes for its own sake.”

Nunberg was enthralled by the mythology surrounding Stone, and seemed determined to develop a similar reputation for himself. Soon enough, he was studying under the dark-arts master, and experimenting with his own low-stakes “dirty tricks.” The maxims of amorality espoused by his mentor—canonized as “Stone’s Rules”—included, “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack,” and, “Nothing is on the level.”


We only spoke for about 20 minutes Monday night—he said he was with his father, “who’s about to kill me,” and his lawyer—but as our conversation wound down, I tried to get Nunberg to grapple more seriously with the potential repercussions of his actions. I noted that Susan McDougal had spent 18 months in jail on contempt charges in the 1990s for failing to answer questions before a grand jury during Kenneth Starr’s investigation into President Bill Clinton.

“Have you thought this through?” I pressed him. “Are you actually willing to go to jail over this?”

“I’ve thought it through, and I don’t think Mueller’s willing to send me to jail,” he said. “If Mueller sends me to jail, I will laugh and I’ll be out within two days.”

How would you pull that off? I asked.

“Because I’ll give him my fucking emails!”

Some other, less Stone-ian political operative might have hesitated to admit that he’d just single-handedly dominated American political news for a day by issuing an empty threat he had no intention of following through with—but not Nunberg. He simply went on about the next stages of the stunt, musing about how he might be willing to spend a day or two in jail before handing over his emails just to “show that this whole thing is a joke and Mueller’s an asshole.”

Still, he doubted it would come to that. “They don’t know what to do,” he said, proudly. “Nobody’s done a spectacle like this before.”

I’m not sure anything Nunberg has done will show that Mueller is the asshole here

WSJ Reporting Indicates Trump Campaign Violation

Remember how Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid $130,000 of his own money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of the campaign so her past affair with Trump wouldn’t come out? And how there was question about exactly how often Cohen had paid people off for Trump using his own money, whether this was a campaign contribution, and what Trump knew about it? The Wall Street Journal continues to fill in the blanks of this story:

The bank used by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer to wire $130,000 to a former adult-film actress flagged the transaction as suspicious and reported it to the Treasury Department, according to a person familiar with the matter. […]

Mr. Cohen said he missed two deadlines earlier that month to make the $130,000 payment to Ms. Clifford because he couldn’t reach Mr. Trump in the hectic final days of the presidential campaign, the person said. […]

After Mr. Trump’s victory, Mr. Cohen complained to friends that he had yet to be reimbursed for the payment to Ms. Clifford, the people said.

There’s a lot here, from the transaction being flagged as suspicious to Trump not paying Cohen back in a timely manner.

But more important than that timing, is the meaning:

Deep Dive On Christopher Steele

This New Yorker piece by Jane Mayer is a must-read: “Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier.” It’s very long, so don’t expect anyone in the Fox News office to read it, digest it, and incorporate it in their punditry.

But there are several things to note:

1. The article details how Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Charles Grassley “referred Steele’s name to the Department of Justice, for a possible criminal investigation”, despite the fact that it was “merely a political stunt.”  That’s not news to most of us, but even it is nevertheless disgusting how the “grown-ups” of the Senate were engaging in these tactics.

Their behavior makes it much less likely that even freelance (and/or mercenary) intelligence operatives will share information with U.S. intelligence now, which is pretty significant, especially when Donald Trump’s indiscretion has made foreign governments less inclined to share intel with the U.S.

2. This passage (emphasis mine):

Steele talked at length with Mueller’s investigators in September. It isn’t known what they discussed, but, given the seriousness with which Steele views the subject, those who know him suspect that he shared many of his sources, and much else, with the Mueller team.

One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.”

The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would cooperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy — and an incoming President.

As fantastical as the memo sounds, subsequent events could be said to support it. In a humiliating public spectacle, Trump dangled the post before Romney until early December, then rejected him.

There are plenty of domestic political reasons that Trump may have turned against Romney. Trump loyalists, for instance, noted Romney’s public opposition to Trump during the campaign. Roger Stone, the longtime Trump aide, has suggested that Trump was vengefully tormenting Romney, and had never seriously considered him. (Romney declined to comment. The White House said that he was never a first choice for the role and declined to comment about any communications that the Trump team may have had with Russia on the subject.)

In any case, on December 13, 2016, Trump gave Rex Tillerson, the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, the job. The choice was a surprise to most, and a happy one in Moscow, because Tillerson’s business ties with the Kremlin were long-standing and warm. (In 2011, he brokered a historic partnership between ExxonMobil and Rosneft.) After the election, Congress imposed additional sanctions on Russia, in retaliation for its interference, but Trump and Tillerson have resisted enacting them.

This is the first thing I have read that suggests that Russian insertion into our politics went even PAST the election, even to the point of weighing into Trump’s cabinet choices.  While I don’t think there is anything wrong with the Russians having an opinion about who serves as US Secretary of State, the fact that Trump may have *considered* that “advice” is politically problematic for him, to say the least.

3.  This passage (emphasis mine):

Steele believed that the Russians were engaged in the biggest electoral crime in U.S. history, and wondered why the F.B.I. and the State Department didn’t seem to be taking the threat seriously. Likening it to the attack on Pearl Harbor, he felt that President Obama needed to make a speech to alert the country. He also thought that Obama should privately warn Putin that unless he stopped meddling the U.S. would retaliate with a cyberattack so devastating it would shut Russia down.

Steele wasn’t aware that by August, 2016, a similar debate was taking place inside the Obama White House and the U.S. intelligence agencies. According to an article by the Washington Post, that month the C.I.A. sent what the paper described as “an intelligence bombshell” to President Obama, warning him that Putin was directly involved in a Russian cyber campaign aimed at disrupting the Presidential election—and helping Trump win. Robert Hannigan, then the head of the U.K.’s intelligence service the G.C.H.Q., had recently flown to Washington and briefed the C.I.A.’s director, John Brennan, on a stream of illicit communications between Trump’s team and Moscow that had been intercepted. (The content of these intercepts has not become public.) But, as the Post noted, the C.I.A.’s assessment that the Russians were interfering specifically to boost Trump was not yet accepted by other intelligence agencies, and it wasn’t until days before the Inauguration that major U.S. intelligence agencies had unanimously endorsed this view.

It could be related to the Don Jr meeting at Trump Tower.  I would like to know.

Forget About L’Affaire Russe; Let’s Talk About Good Old Fashioned Corruption

Matt Yglesious is right:

The potential for serious corruption was always implicit in Trump’s presidential bid. We have had wealthy presidents before. But the Bushes, Kennedys, and Roosevelts were heirs to large, diversified fortunes consisting of stocks and bonds that could be placed into blind trusts in relatively straightforward ways.

Barack Obama just owned index funds. Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm to avoid placing himself in the situation where the president was also the owner/manager of an ongoing business enterprise. Trump never committed to liquidating the Trump business empire, which meant the country would find itself in an unprecedented situation fraught with peril.

But he brushed off these concerns with a range of arguments that critical masses of voters evidently found persuasive. He admitted that he’d been greedy his whole life, but said that as president, “I want to be greedy for the United States.” He promised to separate himself from his businesses and put his assets in a blind trust.

He said he would put forward a tax plan that would cost him a “fortune” and bragged that as a wealthy business owner he bought and sold politicians, but as a politician he’d be too rich to be bought.

This shtick became sufficiently embedded in the conventional wisdom around Trump that it even persuaded some prominent leftists who by no means actually agreed with the substance of Trump’s agenda.

The reality of Trump’s presidency has been just the reverse.

There is nothing blind about his finances — his business empire is merely managed on a day-to-day basis by his adult sons, with whom he is in regular contact and who also work as leading members of his political operation.

His daughter and son-in-law serve as high-ranking officials in the White House, he operates a hotel in the nation’s capital that serves as an informal headquarters for his administration, and he spends a majority of his weekends at his private resorts in Florida, Virginia, and New Jersey.

Some of the grifting that results from this is almost comical, as in the periodic stories about the Secret Service spending thousands of dollars at a time renting golf carts from clubs that the president owns.

But lining his pockets with vast sums of public money is the least of the problems with Trump’s conduct in this regard. The real issue is that by joining one of Trump’s private clubs, wealthy individuals are putting cash directly in the president’s pocket while also gaining access to him. Trump seems to regularly — and quite openly — poll Mar-a-Lago members for their thoughts on the issues of the day. But it’s also an opportunity for more subtle lobbying in unprecedented ways.

Republicans are, in a curious way, often less vulnerable to standard money-in-politics corruption narratives. There’s always a solid baseline case that the reason the party of business and small government is making business-friendly regulatory decisions is ideological rather than pecuniary.

Trump’s regressive tax bill, for example, has almost certainly been a huge financial windfall to his club members. But to suggest a corrupt motive for a Republican president to push a regressive tax bill ignores the fact that all Republican politicians for the past couple of generations have pushed regressive tax bills. That Trump used to promise that he would raise taxes on the rich only to flip-flop later is striking, but ultimately not evidence of corruption.

Not everything the administration does is so cut-and-dried. They proposed a bailout of the coal industry that so flagrantly violated free market principles, for example, that Trump’s own appointees at the Federal Electrical Regulatory Commission ended up vetoing it. Trump’s affinity for coal is, of course, well known. But the fact that the National Mining Association cut a big check to the Trump International Hotel in October can’t have hurt.

The White House is also actively considering a proposal from the Commerce Department to impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. This idea is apparently hotly opposed by most of Trump’s foreign and economic policy advisers. Yet as the administration deliberates, the fact that the Metals Service Center Institute, a trade group that favors anti-import measures, held last year’s annual confab at the Trump Doral resort in Miami may play a role.

These examples, of course, are drawn from what’s publicly known based on trade groups’ formally announced events. The basic arrangement through which trade associations, political campaigns, and others seeking to curry favor with the president announce major events at Trump properties is obviously corrupt. But in any situation, the most corrupt behavior will be what’s taking place in secret.

The governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey are on the list of foreign powers that have held parties or conferences at Trump clubs and hotels. And though Trump promised that his family company would stop doing deals abroad during his presidency, Donald Trump Jr. recently took a shockingly corrupt trip to India, where he openly mixed his roles as a government spokesperson and as a salesperson.

But the greater danger is that the same channels through which detectable flows of money travel can also be used for secret payments.

Politicians have been bribed in the past, of course. But traditionally, to pull it off requires a level of subterfuge that is itself illegal and courts detection. Bribe money cannot be reported as such to the IRS, but hidden untaxed income — the proverbial cash in the freezer — has a way of getting you caught.

Trump owns dozens of legitimate businesses, however, so bribe payments can be duly reported to the IRS as hotel rentals or real estate investments or whatever else. And he’s broken with decades of precedent by declining to make his tax returns available to the public, while all his financial disclosure forms reveal is that he owns a lot of shell companies named after himself.

One of the cardinal rules of American election law is that politicians cannot take campaign funds for personal use. That’s a critical line between a legitimate contribution and an illegitimate bribe. Trump, however, has erased this line. This weekend, he’s expected to pop down to Mar-a-Lago not only to relax and charge the government for use of his golf carts but also to appear at fundraisers for the RNC and his reelection campaign.

For a politician to personally pocket campaign contributions is a serious crime, but hosting RNC fundraisers at Trump-owned properties completely eviscerates the spirit of those laws. Meanwhile, taking cues from the top, a general tendency toward poor ethics is spiraling down throughout the government.

An early Trump administration controversy that now seems almost quaint came when presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway used a television news appearance from the White House grounds to tout Ivanka Trump’s shoe brand. It wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but this kind of low-level legal violation keeps happening in the Trump era, right up to an apparent Hatch Act violation from Jared Kushner as he touted Brad Parscale’s appointment as campaign manager of the Trump 2020 reelection bid.

But the list gets longer and contains more serious violations:

These kinds of problems will only grow worse the longer Trump’s own conflicts of interests are permitted to go unabated. Maintaining a high standard of ethical conduct across a sprawling bureaucracy overseen by dozens of political appointees is genuinely challenging, even when elected officials are trying to do it.

When the president of the United States doesn’t care about ethics and the predominant attitude of his co-partisans in Congress is that ignorance is bliss, corruption will grow like mushrooms in the shade.

Democrats running in 2018 obviously must and will talk about their ideas on health care, jobs, education, environmental regulation, and more. Still, there is fundamentally no escaping the reality that Trump himself is the central political issue of our time. That’s especially the case as long as the economic and military environment remains basically benign.

And while there’s plenty about Trump to criticize, not every target out there is actually all that sound.

In particular, while dwelling on Trump’s racism is probably smart in some parts of the country, it runs the risk of implicitly conceding that Trump is on white America’s side. The truth, however, is that Trump is on Trump’s side. He’s governing fully within the contours of a baseline pro-business agenda that differs from standard Republican fare largely insofar it involves personal enrichment in an unusual way.

And, critically, the entire congressional Republican Party is in on it. Republicans can easily distance themselves from Trump’s temperamental issues — Paul Ryan often sniffily declines to comment on stray Trump tweets — or dismiss the Russia issue as some kind of “deep state” conspiracy. But the basic reality is that the reason we don’t know who is paying Trump is because Republicans in Congress don’t want us to know.

And importantly, when Democrats are seeking to motivate their own base to turn out, checking Trump’s corruption is a promise they can actually deliver on in the short term. Trump’s clubs’ financial records can be subpoenas. His tax returns can be released. Current and former government officials can be brought in to testify.

None of that will eradicate the inherent conflicts of interest involved in the current arrangement — for that, Trump himself will have to be defeated — but the veil of secrecy around Trump and money truly can be lifted. But to get there, Democrats will need to elevate the issue out of its current sleeper status and find a way to put it on the front pages.

Trump’s Tariff Follies

Trump said yesterday he plans to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum. However, he didn’t elaborate on the details, saying the formal announcement will come next week. In a tweet on Friday morning, the president said “trade wars are good and easy to win.”

Even White House insiders were caught off guard. The idea had not been “settled”; the numbers (25% and 10%) were not set in stone — or so they thought. There had been no legal analysis to accompany the announcement.  No economic analysis.

There are even reports that Trump was “unglued” — frustrated by other news — when he announced the plan. He wanted a war, something hje could win, so he chose a trade war (it is better than a real one, I suppose)

So the stock market yesterday took a dive of a few hundred points.  It was down another 350 points earlier today.

What is responding to? Well, competition from foreign markets that import steel and aluminum.  But America imports half its steel and 90 percent of its aluminum for a reason, and that reason is simply the workings of the market. If it were cheaper for companies who pay for the imports to buy these goods in the United States, they would be made in the United States. But it isn’t. Protectionists like the president claim we’re being taken by other countries, which are “dumping” their goods on us at unreasonably low prices.

As an economic concept, “dumping” describes the act of selling something at a price lower than the cost to produce it. This isn’t what’s happening with steel or aluminum. What’s happening is that it’s cheaper for these countries to produce steel at a lower price point and make a profit.

The fact they can do this is a benefit to American consumers, who pay lower prices for the goods they buy because the global market allows manufacturers and retailers to provide these goods at a more reasonable price.

But Trump is concerned about American steel workers and American aluminum workers. The problem? Let’s say this works and over the course of a decade, 150,000 more people are employed producing steel. That sounds terrific — except there are 330 million American consumers. Think of it this way: Every single person in the United States is a consumer.

And it hurts other workers.  As the Wall Street Journal noted:

Mr. Trump seems not to understand that steel-using industries in the U.S. employ some 6.5 million Americans, while steel makers employ about 140,000. Transportation industries, including aircraft and autos, account for about 40% of domestic steel consumption, followed by packaging with 20% and building construction with 15%. All will have to pay higher prices, making them less competitive globally and in the U.S.

Emphasis added.

So now, with the tariffs or US-made steel and aluminum, the products that use steel and aluminum, everything from cars to soda cans, are going to get more expensive.  How much more expensive is a matter of debate.  But I assure you, Detroit — i.e., Michigan — is not loving this.

The National Retail Federation called the tariffs a “tax on American families,” who will pay higher prices for canned goods and even beer in aluminum cans. Another name for this is the Trump voter tax.

This is to say nothing of the retaliation — hence, the “trade war”. The economic damage will quickly compound because other countries can and will retaliate against U.S. exports. Not steel, but against farm goods, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Cummins engines, John Deere tractors, and much more.


The EU is targeting products with political punch, revisiting a list compiled during George W. Bush-era trade disputes of symbolic American brands.

Potentially in the EU’s sights: items such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles, whose corporate headquarters is in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin. Bourbon is another target, having enjoyed a surge in exports to the EU. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky exported $154 million worth of bourbon to the EU, up from $128 million in 2016, according to data from the International Trade Commission.

Agriculture products such as cheese, orange juice, tomatoes and potatoes are also targets for retaliation.

So…. well done, Mr. Trump.

Oh, and there may be an insider trading problem for Trump’s friends:

A week before President Trump announced his intention to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports, his longtime confidant and one-time adviser Carl Icahn had already cut almost 1 million shares of Wisconsin-based crane manufacturer Manitowoc Company Inc., ThinkProgress reports. The timing of Icahn’s $31.3 million dump is suspect, because Manitowoc is a heavily steel-dependent company.

“Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross publicly released a report on Feb. 16 calling for a 24 percent tariff,” notes ThinkProgress. “But, as the chart in the [Securities and Exchange Commission] filing indicates, Icahn started selling his Manitowoc stock on Feb. 12, prior to the public release of that report.” Icahn made the SEC filing on Feb. 22.

The NRA Owns Trump

I praised Trump — I really did — on Facebook two days ago for his televised meeting with Congressional leaders. He actually took some reasonable pro-gun stances, like universal background checks, and “red flag” restraining orders (which would allow police to take guns from people who are believed to be violent or mentally unstable).  But that was Trump, that day. Today, he’s shown that he is owned:

One word marks President Trump’s statements on gun laws since the Florida school shooting: confusion.

Consider just this week. On Wednesday, Trump shocked conservative allies by appearing to publicly back a comprehensive set of strict new rules on guns—only to have apparently have had his mind changed by Thursday after a meeting with the National Rifle Association’s top brass, where—according to one lobbyist—the president said he was against gun control, and even lauded it as a “great” meeting on Twitter.

Enter press secretary Sarah Sanders, who, on Friday morning, tried to clear up Trump’s stance on guns, but, if anything, made the president’s position even more opaque. Sanders said the NRA has no concerns about the president’s approach, but that Trump still wants to “take guns way from people who shouldn’t have them.” She said Trump wanted “to improve the background-check system,” but rejected the idea that he supported universal background checks.

“Universal means something different to a lot of people,” she told reporters.

The fresh intervention came just hours after NRA Executive Director Chris Cox tweeted: “I had a great meeting tonight with [Trump] and [Pence]. We all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control.”

On Fox & Friends on Friday morning, Sanders said: “I don’t think the NRA has had concerns with this president. He’s been very committed to supporting the Second Amendment, but also looking for ways that we can promote school safety and reduce gun violence. This is something that we’ll been having ongoing conversations with.”

Sanders’ statement is significantly weaker than what Trump appeared to be proposing Wednesday afternoon, when, in a televised meeting with Senate leaders, he said: “I like taking guns away early. Take the guns first, go through due process second.”

Gun-rights advocates heavily condemned those comments, with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) taking a shot at Trump, saying: “Strong leaders do not automatically agree with the last thing that was said to them. We have the Second Amendment and due process of law for a reason. We’re not ditching any constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them.”

But asked Friday specifically what action Trump is seeking to take on gun safety, Sanders said the president supports the bill introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), which would hold government agencies accountable if they failed to upload individuals’ criminal histories to the FBI’s background-check system.

However, in another U-turn, the press secretary appeared to retract Trump’s stated support for Sen. Pat Toomey’s bill that would bring much stricter background checks. In the Wednesday meeting, Trump suggested using the Pennsylvania Republican’s bill as “a base” and attaching other proposals for “one great piece of legislation,” describing the proposed Toomey-Manchin law as “the best we’ve ever done” on gun control.

Trump even went so far as telling Toomey to strengthen the bill, asking if he left out a proposal to raise the gun-purchasing age to 21 from his bill because senators are “afraid of the NRA.”

“The president has already expressed support for Sen. Cornyn’s legislation, he’s also supported the Stop Gun Violence Act,” said Sanders. “Those are two pieces of legislation in their current form that the president supports.”

However, Sanders added: “The Toomey bill he has not fully gotten on board with. They’re still kind of working out some of the final pieces of that legislation. Until it gets to its final stage, we’re not going to weigh in, but we’re going to continue to closely watch that and engage with a number of members of Congress to help improve the system.”

Finally, asked to explain some individual measures the president supports rather than bills, the press secretary said Trump was primarily focused on improving the background-check system.

“Some of the things he’d like to see are improving on how the background system works as largely done through Senator Cornyn’s bill and that’s one of the big reason he supports that,” said Sanders.

“He’s looking for ways we can improve the mental-health system so that we can take guns way from people who shouldn’t have them. These are all the types of things he’s looking for and hope are reflected in legislation that Congress puts forward.”

Well, that was short-lived.

Trump To Send Missiles to Ukraine

The news services are reporting that the United States plans to arm Ukraine with Javelin armor-piercing missiles and other lethal military equipment to help Kiev battle Russian-backed separatists in the east.

The Trump administration wants to approve a $47 million military aid package to Ukraine, including 210 anti-tank missiles and 35 Javelin launchers. Russia has warned that the plan, a departure from the previous administration’s commitment to non-lethal aid, would “directly push Ukrainian forces to war.”

The thing that I found curious? You could have read this story last week in the Moscow Times.

Russia wants to escalate the fighting against Ukraine and even occupy it. Trump just gave him a reason.

Another One Flies The Coop


WASHINGTON — The White House is preparing to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser as early as next month in a move orchestrated by chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to five people familiar with the discussions.

The move would be the latest in a long string of staff shakeups at the White House over the past year and comes after months of strained relations between the president and McMaster.

A leading candidate to become President Donald Trump’s third national security adviser is the auto industry executive Stephen Biegun, according to the officials.

An auto executive as national security adviser?  Sure why not.

Devin Nunes, GOP Head of House Intel Committee, Is Subject Of Leak Complaint By Senate Intel Committee

The Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee were behind the leak of private text messages between the Senate panel’s top Democrat and a Russian-connected lawyer, according to two congressional officials briefed on the matter.

Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the committee’s Republican chairman, and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat, were so perturbed by the leak that they demanded a rare meeting with Speaker Paul D. Ryan last month to inform him of their findings. They used the meeting with Mr. Ryan to raise broader concerns about the direction of the House Intelligence Committee under its chairman, Representative Devin Nunes of California, the officials said.

To the senators, who are overseeing what is effectively the last bipartisan investigation on Capitol Hill into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the leak was a serious breach of protocol and a partisan attack by one intelligence committee against the other.

The text messages were leaked just days after the same House Republicans had taken the extraordinary step of publicly releasing, over the objections of the F.B.I., a widely disputed memorandum based on sensitive government secrets. Taken together, the actions suggested a pattern of partisanship and unilateral action by the once-bipartisan House panel.

Fox News published the text messages, which were sent via a secure messaging application, in early February. President Trump and other Republicans loyal to him quickly jumped on the report to try to discredit Mr. Warner, suggesting that the senator was acting surreptitiously to try to talk with the former British spy who assembled a dossier of salacious claims about connections between Mr. Trump, his associates and Russia.

In dealing with incredibly sensitive material vital to the nation’s defense and safety, the committee has a responsibility to use that information for the greater good. To use it for a petty partisan squabble is way beyond foolish — it is downright dangerous.

Were this a Democrat, Republicans would be calling for that Democrats’ head. It is not a Democrat, however. It is a Republican and one whose values are increasingly in line with whatever Trump feels at a particular moment.

Nunes is compromised by his partisanship. He must step down or be forced to step down immediately. Not getting rid of his presence on this committee sends a clear message to other politicians and to either side’s base voters that this type of behavior is okay. We cannot tolerate this behavior, however, because of the nature of the intelligence committee’s job.

For all its talks about leaks, the White House and Fox News partnership was wonderfully happy to exploit this one.

And it’s not like anything big was leaked.

The Senate committee has conducted its investigation primarily in private, and Mr. Burr and Mr. Warner remained in lock step both publicly and privately. When Fox News published Mr. Warner’s text messages, for example, an aide to Mr. Burr told the network that he had been aware of Mr. Warner’s contacts with Mr. Waldman, and the two senators issued a joint statement condemning the leak.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and another member of the Intelligence Committee, also defended Mr. Warner.

The Wild West Of The West Wing

It is the first day of March 2018. I wrote a lot of posts yesterday, and I didn’t even it HALF of the things going on. The breaking news that would be major scandals in any other White House. It was insane.

Here’s what happened JUST YESTERDAY:

  • Hope Hicks — without question, the aide (family aside) with whom Trump is closest — resigned one day after she admitted in closed-door Hill testimony that she told white lies for the president.
  • White House Chief of Staff John Kelly cracked down on Jared Kushner, stripping his top security clearance, and watching anonymous aides leak about and trash him, while offering no public defense of the president’s son-in-law.
  • Jared, Ivanka and Don Jr. let it be known to friends they are furious with Kelly and his allies.
  • Jared loses his internal P.R. guru, Josh Raffel, when he needs him most.
  • Economic adviser Gary Cohn is at war with trade policy adviser Peter Navarro.
  • Trump is at war with Attorney General Sessions. … N.Y. Times lead story: “Trump Tears Into Sessions Over Russia Investigation.” … WashPost: “Behind the scenes, Trump has derisively referred to Sessions as ‘Mr. Magoo,’ a cartoon character who is elderly, myopic and bumbling.”
  • Intelligence chiefs use every chance possible to contradict the commander-in-chief on Russia.

What did I get? Hope Hicks for one.

Oh, and a follow-up to Hope Hicks?  Buzzfeed is reporting that many staffers in the White House are looking for the exits.

I also got Trump’s war with Jeff Sessions. (Oh, an update on that. Sessions went to dinner in a very public place with his Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, the one who has the power to fire Mueller. The photo of them eating was on social media very quickly, and widely seen as a FUCK YOU from Sessions to the President).

Oh, speaking of Sessions:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has been investigating a period of time last summer when President Trump seemed determined to drive Attorney General Jeff Sessions from his job, according to people familiar with the matter who said that a key area of interest for the inquiry is whether those efforts were part of a months-long pattern of attempted obstruction of justice.

In recent months, Mueller’s team has questioned witnesses in detail about Trump’s private comments and state of mind in late July and early August of last year, around the time he issued a series of tweets belittling his “beleaguered” attorney general, these people said. The thrust of the questions was to determine whether the president’s goal was to oust Sessions in order to pick a replacement who would exercise control over the investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump associates during the 2016 election, these people said.

But that’s not all in the L’Affaire Russe front — here’s another story — Katy Tur and Carol E. Lee at NBC News: Mueller Asking If Trump Knew About Hacked Democratic Emails Before Release.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is asking witnesses pointed questions about whether Donald Trump was aware that Democratic emails had been stolen before that was publicly known, and whether he was involved in their strategic release, according to multiple people familiar with the probe.

Mueller’s investigators have asked witnesses whether Trump was aware of plans for WikiLeaks to publish the emails. They have also asked about the relationship between GOP operative Roger Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and why Trump took policy positions favorable to Russia.

The line of questioning suggests the special counsel, who is tasked with examining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, is looking into possible coordination between WikiLeaks and Trump associates in disseminating the emails, which U.S. intelligence officials say were stolen by Russia.

…In one line of questioning, investigators have focused on Trump’s public comments in July 2016 asking Russia to find emails that were deleted by his then-opponent Hillary Clinton from a private server she maintained while secretary of state. The comments came at a news conference on July 27, 2016, just days after WikiLeaks began publishing the Democratic National Committee emails. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said.

Exhibit A in: The collusion was right out in the open!

More from yesterday?  Yes!

Yesterday (as well as Tuesday) was a very very very bad day for Kushner. He lost his security clearance making him useless.  And this, as explained by Caitlin MacNeal at TPM:

Family Company Got Loans After Kushner Met with Businesses at White House.

“Two major loans to the Kushner Companies for real estate projects came after Jared Kushner, a senior adviser in the Trump administration, met with officials from those financial institutions at the White House… [Kushner] met with Joshua Harris, one of the founders of Apollo Global Management, several times at the White House early last year… In November, Apollo lent the Kushner Companies $184 million to refinance a mortgage on a building in Chicago, per the New York Times. …Kushner met with Michael Corbat, chief executive at Citigroup, in the spring of 2017 at the White House… After that meeting, Citigroup lent Kushner Companies $325 million to finance buildings in Brooklyn, the Times reported.”

Naughty boy, Jared.

And finally, Ben Carson, Secretary of HUD:

Senior White House aides are furious about a series of negative stories about frivolous spending at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and have taken a more hands-on role in trying to stem the tide of negative news, sources with knowledge of the situation tell CNN.
The decision to assert more control comes a day after reports that the former chief administrative officer at HUD filed a complaint saying she demoted after refusing to spend more than was legally allowed to redecorate Secretary Ben Carson’s new office.
The former staffer, Helen Foster, said she was told to “find money” beyond the legal $5,000 limit for redecorating. In one instance, she says a supervisor said that “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.”
HUD also spent $31,000 last year to replace a dining room set in Carson’s office, according to federal records and a whistleblower. A department official said that the dining set in the secretary’s dining room at HUD headquarters was replaced because it was in a state of disrepair.
The sources told CNN that the stories infuriated top White House aides, who have had to deal with a sting of stories about questionable behavior and spending by Cabinet secretaries.

So…. that was yesterday. It was exhausting.

Breaking: Hope Hicks Resigning


Hope Hicks, the White House communications director and one of President Trump’s longest-serving advisers, said Wednesday that she was resigning.

Ms. Hicks, 29, a former model who joined Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign without any experience in politics, became known as one of the few aides who understood his personality and style and could challenge the president to change his views.

Ms. Hicks had been considering leaving for several months. She told colleagues that she had accomplished what she felt she could with a job that made her one of the most powerful people in Washington, and that there would never be a perfect moment to leave, according to White House aides.

Her resignation came a day after she testified for eight hours before the House Intelligence Committee, telling the panel that in her job, she had occasionally been required to tell white lies but had never lied about anything connected to the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

She did not say what her next job would be, and her departure date was unclear, but it is likely to be in the next few weeks.

Yeah, this sounds like something she would have written herself.  While she “could have left at any time” and “there would never be a perfect moment to leave”, probably the WORST time to leave from an optics standpoint is the day after she testified, invoked executive privilege a lot (actually, not even THAT), and revealed how she had to tell white lies to her boss, the President.

I’m sure there is more to the story. I suspect this move is not of her own volition. I don’t think it is because of her testimony, but rather, because she may be in over her head. Hard to believe that a 29-year-old former model might find herself over her head in this line of work, but yup, she probably is.

Then again….

It really doesn’t make sense. She’s only been White House Communication Director for 5-6 months, so how can she “have been considering leaving for several months”?

Here’s her rise to fame:

This is no small thing. Throughout his career, Trump likes to have someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off. That has always been a pretty woman (because… Trump).  In the White House, that was Hope Hicks.  She was a steady influence throughout the campaign and in the first year.  You remember that listening session of the victims of mass gun shootings that Trump had in the White House… and those notes telling him how to be empathetic?

That is the handwriting of Hope Hicks.

She was unhappy though. Didn’t like Washington.  And last week, her boyfriend Rob Porter, the White House Staff Secretary, was fired because of wife-beating allegations.

Then came her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee where she admitted that she had told “white lies” to the press. Well, what else could she say?  She was under oath.  But reportedly, Trump reamed her out (“How could you be so stupid?!?) and that was the last straw.

But besides being out of the public for the most part (until now), Hicks has some legal problems — mostly relating the incident about Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with the Russians. She reportedly said “those emails will never get out”, talking about the emails between Don Jr and those setting up the meeting.  And as Trump’s confidante, she probably knows a LOT about a LOT of things.

Some people feel bad for Hicks, a nice pretty girl in way over her head.  Others, like this guy in the New Yorker, don’t agree:

Hicks, however, is kidding herself if she thinks that her tenure will be judged only for harmless, situational untruths. The white lie is a phrase that goes back to the sixteenth century, at least. “Shakespeare’s World,” a collaboration between the Oxford English Dictionary and the Folger Shakespeare Library, reports that, in 1567, one Ralph Adderly wrote of his brother-in-law, “I do assure you he is unsuspected of any untruth or other notable crime (except a white lie) which is taken for a Small fault in these parts.”

The President’s daily communications are a tangle of falsehoods, defamations, and tall tales, and Hicks was his facilitator, his defender, his explainer. That line of work goes far beyond the scope of “white lies.” Sissela Bok, in “Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life,” writes that white lies are “the most common and the most trivial forms that duplicity can take.” They are lies “not meant to injure anyone.”

The Administration’s penchant for deception is injurious in many ways, not least because it devalues truth as a value in public discourse. Like Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Hicks, even in her camera- and microphone-shy way, spent years being loyal to Trump and his mendacities. She was always prepared to do his bidding, including when there was an ugliness to the bidding: She pushed back hard against the Pope when he dared to criticize the President’s hopes to wall off Mexico. She cast her lot with him and stayed with him as the injuries he inflicted multiplied. A well-reported Politico profile of Hicks portrayed her loyalty as eerily absolute: “Colleagues described Hicks as someone who communicates with Trump in a similar way to his daughter Ivanka––she can express her disagreements to the president privately, but ultimately supports his decisions unquestioningly.”

I don’t know. Power is seductive. You might overlook dysfunction to be near it. I can see the appeal. Glad she is getting out.

FEMA Is A Boy’s Club?

This won’t make headlines, but it concerns me because it relates to a governmental body that I consider important. FEMA flourished under the Obama years — it has been less than stellar so far during the Trump Administration, especially its (non)handling of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.  And now this:

Two top public-affairs officers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency have resigned over the past month, with one complaining that as the agency faced unprecedented challenges in responding to hurricanes, its top public-affairs official was excluded from meetings because of her gender.

Former FEMA press secretary Paul McKellips, who resigned on February 12, wrote in his resignation letter that FEMA’s front office was a “boys club” that excluded the former head of external affairs, Susan Phalen. “When the front office shut her out, you effectively shut me out as well,” McKellips wrote. Phalen announced her resignation in early February.

The letter suggests Phalen was excluded from key meetings and that her strategies for promoting the agency were ignored because senior FEMA leaders favored male executives over female executives. “No matter how hard or how often she asked for a seat at the table, she was neither invited to strategic planning meetings nor given access to leadership,” McKellips wrote.


The resignations come as FEMA has faced significant pressure over its response to a historic hurricane season with a trio of hurricanes causing immense damage in Florida, Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Congress has given FEMA over $40 billion since last year, with the most recent infusion of $23.5 billion coming earlier this month.

In his two-page resignation letter dated February 12 and obtained by POLITICO through a person close to FEMA, McKellips wrote that FEMA was not properly using its resources, including “expensive camera equipment,” to promote the agency and criticized FEMA Administrator Brock Long for not appreciating social media. But he also wrote that he “observed firsthand that [Phalen] was unable to penetrate the ‘boys club’ in your front office. Female executives are not treated the same way as their male counterparts at FEMA.”

He concluded, “The blatant disregard for the role of External Affairs is astonishing.”

The accusation that FEMA leadership treated female executives different than male ones comes amid a broader societal reckoning with gender disparities inside and outside the workplace. Last week, during a Black History Month event at the Department of Agriculture, Rosetta Davis, a longtime USDA employee, said she had consensual sex with a former boss in exchange for a promotion and named several other former USDA executives as contributing to a hostile work environment.

McKellips, who joined FEMA in September after previously working as a public affairs officer with the U.S. Army, wrote that he was informed by Phalen that FEMA wanted a “clean slate” and he was therefore resigning as press secretary. He did not make any allegations of sexual harassment at FEMA.

Booher, in his statement to POLITICO, did not address the accusations but said, “FEMA is thankful for all of our personnel who served and supported disaster survivors during the historic 2017 season.”

Phalen joined FEMA in August just before Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston. According to her LinkedIn profile, she had spent the previous six years as a communications director for two committees in Congress and before that served as the director of strategic communications and public affairs for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Hurricane Harvey dropped over 50 inches of rain on the Houston region, leading to a massive response from federal and state emergency management authorities. Two weeks later, Hurricane Irma struck the west coast of Florida, pummeling the Florida Keys and Tampa. Then, on September 20, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, leaving millions of Puerto Rican residents without power. Six months later, roughly a sixth of the island remains without power.

According to the person close to FEMA, Long and others in FEMA’s leadership team were upset with the external affairs department over the news coverage of the agency’s response to Hurricane Maria.

FEMA’s efforts were often depicted as inadequate, with many former FEMA officials and military leaders suggesting that the agency underestimated the storm. FEMA argued that its response was effective, noting that the historic hurricane stressed the agency’s resources and that the island’s outdated infrastructure created unprecedented response challenges.

Trump And Sessions Play Tennis

It’s always a little strange when Trump attacks Sessions. But I guess it means he has learned his lesson about interacting with an independent Justice Department.

Some Republicans are coming to the defense of Sessions (or IG Horowitz)

Trey Gowdy answered Trump’s tweet in a statement.

Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz “has been fair, fact centric, and appropriately confidential with his work.”

“He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate without a single dissent. I have complete confidence in him,” Gowdy added in a statement, saying he hopes Horowitz gets “the time, the resources and the independence to complete his work.”

Horowitz is already looking into the FBI’s handling of the 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.

Even former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who left Congress for Fox News broke script to muse about Trump’s cry for help:

Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the previous head of the Oversight committee, said on Fox News’s “America’s Newsroom” that Trump’s Twitter attacks against Sessions were “mind-boggling” and “almost embarrassing.”

What is additionally strange is that Trump is using phrases that he wouldn’t know off the top of his head — like “prosecutorial power”. He must be reading a memo, or talking with someone as he tweets this.  Or watching TV.

UPDATE — Ah, Hannity used the phrase last night. Trump must have been watching the TIVO.

Breaking: Before, During And After The Election, Wikileaks Corresponded With Stone, Trump’s Confidante

If what The Atlantic is reporting is true, we have a connection between Trump and Russia.

Trump——-friends with Roger Stone—-> tweeted to Wikileaks/Assange —-> received emails stole by Russia

Here’s the story:

On March 17, 2017, WikiLeaks tweeted that it had never communicated with Roger Stone, a longtime confidante and informal adviser to President Donald Trump. In his interview with the House Intelligence Committee last September, Stone, who testified under oath, told lawmakers that he had communicated with WikiLeaks via an “intermediary,” whom he identified only as a “journalist.” He declined to reveal that person’s identity to the committee, he told reporters later.

Private Twitter messages obtained by The Atlantic show that Stone and WikiLeaks, a radical-transparency group, communicated directly on October 13, 2016—and that WikiLeaks sought to keep its channel to Stone open after Trump won the election. The existence of the secret correspondence marks yet another strange twist in the White House’s rapidly swelling Russia scandal. Stone and Trump have been friends for decades, which raises key questions about what the president knew about Stone’s interactions with Wikileaks during the campaign. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The depth of Stone’s relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange has been closely scrutinized by congressional investigators examining whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia—or anyone serving as a cut-out for Moscow—to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Stone confirmed the authenticity of the messages, but called them “ridiculously out of context” and “a paste up.” He said that he provided the complete exchange to the House Intelligence Committee, but did not immediately respond to a request to provide his own record of the conversation to The Atlantic.

A screenshot of the exchange, which has not been previously reported, was provided to the House Intelligence Committee last year by a third-party source. The private messages confirm that Stone considered himself a “friend” of WikiLeaks, which was branded a “non-state hostile intelligence service” by CIA Director Mike Pompeo last April. Stone insisted that the messages vindicated his account. “They prove conclusively that I had no advance knowledge of content or source of WikiLeaks publications,” he said. “I merely had confirmed Assange’s public claim that he had information on Hillary Clinton and he would publish it.” He also narrowed the scope of his earlier denials, saying that he’d only denied having communicated directly with Assange, not with Wikileaks. Wikileaks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I have never said or written that I had any direct communication with Julian Assange and have always clarified in numerous interviews and speeches that my communication with WikiLeaks was through the aforementioned journalist,” Stone told the committee in his prepared statement in September. The full hearing was held behind closed doors and the transcript has not been made public. At least one lawmaker had already obtained a screenshot of the exchange before Stone testified, according to two sources familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

The correspondence raises questions about whether Stone—who served as Trump’s lobbyist in Washington in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and had been encouraging him to run for president for over a decade—has kept secret any interactions that may be of interest to congressional investigators examining Russia’s election interference.

Not THE smoking gun, but it’s smoking nonetheless.

Man Connected To L’Affaire Russe Goes Underground And A Foreign Escort Lands In Thai Jail


Joseph Mifsud, the professor who allegedly told former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that Russia had obtained leaked emails related to Hillary Clinton, has completely vanished — and even his fiancee can’t find him.

BuzzFeed News reporter Alberto Nardelli this month traveled to Ukraine in search of Mifsud, who has not been seen since being caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

While in Kiev, Nardelli encountered a 31-year-old woman named Anna, who claims that Mifsud is the father of her newborn child — and who says she has not seen him for months.

“Anna… says she was seven months pregnant and engaged to Mifsud when he became the focus of world media attention as the professor who told Papadopoulos that Russia had ‘dirt’ on Clinton,” reports Nardelli. “Shortly thereafter, he dropped from sight. He also cut off all contact with Anna, including phone calls and WhatsApp messages. That silence has held, even six weeks after the daughter Anna says he fathered was born.”

Although Anna was first contacted by BuzzFeed last year, she only decided to speak out recently because she felt that her estranged fiance had deceived her. She also showed the publication a series of text messages sent by Mifsud boasting of having dinner with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Intriguingly, the messages with Anna reveal that Mifsud also traveled to Saudi Arabia last spring at the exact same time that President Donald Trump traveled there for his first overseas trip.

Buzzfeed has the full story.

Speaking of spy-novel-like intrigue, there’s also this today:

A self-described sex expert whose videos highlighted the ties between one of Russia’s richest men and the Kremlin has been jailed in Thailand and is calling for U.S. help, claiming she has information about links between Russia and President Trump.

Anastasia Vashukevich, an escort-service worker from Belarus who catapulted to a certain measure of fame after filming a yacht trip with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko, was detained in Thailand over the weekend in a police raid on her “sex training” seminar. While still in custody on Tuesday, she published Instagram videos asking U.S. journalists and intelligence agencies to help her.

Deripaska, with whom Vashukevich said she had an affair, used to employ former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. But Vashukevich, better known by the alias Nastya Rybka, provided no evidence on Tuesday to back up the claim that she had new information to offer related to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. A post to her Instagram account showed her sitting on the floor of what was described as a Thai jail cell and said she was sick.

“I am the only witness and the missing link in the connection between Russia and the U.S. elections — the long chain of Oleg Deripaska, Prikhodko, Manafort, and Trump,” Vashukevich said in a live Instagram video Tuesday, apparently shot as she was driven in an open-air police van through the Thai resort city of Pattaya. “In exchange for help from U.S. intelligence services and a guarantee of my safety, I am prepared to provide the necessary information to America or to Europe or to the country which can buy me out of Thai prison.”

Vashukevich said in her video that she had already given an interview to U.S. broadcaster NBC. Representatives for Vashukevich and Deripaska did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman declined to comment.

It’s hard to know what to make of this. It could be some woman just angling to get out of jail. But I hope someone is looking into it.

Kushner Can’t See The Secret Stuff

Politico has the story:

Presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has had his security clearance downgraded — a move that will prevent him from viewing many of the sensitive documents to which he once had unfettered access.

Kushner is not alone. All White House aides working on the highest-level interim clearances — at the Top Secret/SCI-level — were informed in a memo sent Friday that their clearances would be downgraded to the Secret level, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

The SCI acronym stands for sensitive compartmentalized information, a category of information that comes from sensitive intelligence sources and must be walled off.

The memo was not signed by chief of staff John Kelly, but it comes as the retired Marine general and other top White House aides are grappling with the fallout of a scandal involving former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, which revealed that dozens of White House aides had yet to receive permanent clearances but nonetheless had access to some of the country’s deepest secrets.

Trump has been saying that he will leave the decision on these matters to Kelly, even though he has the power to override that decision and give anyone security clearance that he damn well wishes.

This puts the President in a tight spot as his responsibilities as president bump up against his familial relationship — which is yet another reason why his nepotism has always been a terrible idea.  If he does not give Kushner a pass, then Kushner — who has an extensive portfolio including Middle East peace — cannot do his job and basically becomes a wall ornament.  On the other hand, if Trump gives Kushner a waiver, what about all the others in the White House?

In related news:

Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci reiterated his call for the ouster of Chief of Staff John Kelly, citing low White House morale.

“He’s lost the locker room,” Scaramucci said at the NewCo Shift Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday. “The morale in the White House, on a scale of 1-10, is minus 15. You cannot run the White House through fear and intimidation.”

Yeah. I can’t imagine a worse place to work, even as a Trump supporter. Dysfunction AND bad pay.

Trump Spent An Hour This Morning Watching Sunday Morning News Shows And Tweeting Angrily

Nervous much?

The WITCH HUNT one is my favorite. It’s just so raw.

Maybe he’s unhinged, or maybe it’s a distraction from this, reported by CNN’s White House correspondent:

Anyway, it’s Tuesday.  Trump Tuesdays are always hectic. Buckle up.

Belated Post: Oh Look — The Democratic Response To The Nunes Memo

A few weeks after the Nunes memo, the Democrats on the House Intel have finally been allowed to release their response memo. It eviscerates the Nunes memo of course, and is heavily sourced, although much of the sources lie in classified documents. It also questions, as it should, the motives of Devin Nunes.

Here is the memo:

The President was quick to weigh in.

These are inaccurate, or misleading at best.

Here are several takeaways.

The first important—and, we should add, hilarious—aspect of the Democratic memo is its claim that the guy who brought us the “unmasking scandal” is now upset, at least in this instance, about the absence of unmasking. This point is not merely an amusing irony, though it certainly is that. The Nunes memo, which focuses on information taken from the dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, claims that the Justice Department and the FBI hid Steele’s bias against Trump from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court when it sought the FISA warrant and hid also the fact that Steele’s work was supported financially by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. If Schiff & Co. are to be believed, the explanation for this obscurity was nothing more than routine minimization of U.S. person identities—and the FBI did a reasonable job conveying in general terms who Steele was and for whom he was working.

In the earlier controversy, Nunes fretted that Obama administration officials had allegedly sought the unmasking of U.S. persons whose identities had been “minimized”—masked by generic words like “U.S. Person #1” in intelligence reporting—for supposedly political reasons. Leave aside for the time being that there appears to be no evidence that anyone behaved inappropriately in whatever unmaskings took place during that episode. Here Nunes’s complaint appears to be exactly the opposite: that the FBI was not unmasking the identities of U.S. persons and entities in its interactions with the FISA court.

The significance of these non-unmaskings is that they formed the basis for the Nunes memo’s allegations that the Justice Department and the FBI omitted from the Carter Page FISA application information on who created and funded the dossier that would have brought its reliability into question. While the application did indicate that “Steele was working for a named U.S. person,” the Nunes memo complained, it “did not name Fusion GPS and principal Glenn Simpson.” The committee majority also argued that neither the original application nor any of the renewal applications “disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.”

The Democratic Memo, by contrast, states that the decision not to directly identify Simpson stemmed from “longstanding [Justice Department] practice of protecting U.S. citizen information by purposefully not ‘unmasking’ U.S. person and entity names, unless they were themselves the subject of a counterintelligence investigation.” The Democratic memo doesn’t resist the opportunity of poking the majority on the contradiction of faulting the Obama-era investigation both for unmasking some Trump-related subjects and for not unmasking others, noting that “the Committee Majority … earlier accused Obama Administration officials of improper ‘unmasking.’” If the explanation is really as benign as the Democratic memo suggests, the poke is justified.

On the merits, the Democratic memo also seems compelling in its claim that the FISA application, in fact, communicated reasonably to the court the information about Steele and his funders that the government had in its possession. The committee minority quotes the relevant section of the initial application to surveil Page:

[Steele] was approached by an identified U.S. Person, who indicated to Source #1 [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. Person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. (The identified U.S. Person and Source #1 have a long-standing business relationship.) The identified U.S. person hired Source #1 to conduct this research. The identified U.S. Person never advised Source #1 as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. Person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign” (emphasis in original).

More generally, the Democratic memo claims that the Justice Department “informed the Court accurately that Steele was hired by politically-motivated U.S. persons and entities and that his research appeared intended for use ‘to discredit’ Trump’s campaign.”

In other words, even though the FISA application didn’t identify the DNC and the Clinton campaign by name, it made very clear that Steele’s research was politically motivated. This is exactly what David Kris, who knows a thing or two about FISA, suggested when the Nunes memo first broke: While Nunes’s allegations were “potentially problematic,” he said, “the FISA applications would be fine” if the Justice Department informed the court that Steele had been funded by people working against the Trump campaign, even if the DNC was not identified by name.

The second important feature of the Democratic memo is that it clarifies not only that the Steele dossier was not the origin story of the Russia investigation (which we already knew and which the Nunes memo actually admits) but that Steele’s information wasn’t even the origin story of the Carter Page investigation, which itself began significantly after Page left the Trump campaign. Although the FBI first applied for a FISA warrant against Page in October 2016, the Democratic memo contends that the bureau was concerned well before about Page’s contacts with Russians. Agents interviewed Page “multiple times” before the FBI became aware of the Steele dossier in September 2016, including in March of that year—the same month Trump named Page as a campaign adviser.

As this history suggests, the Democratic memo claims that Steele’s information came in the context of a large amount of other material about Page, some of which the public has known about. Indeed, the Democratic memo claims that the Steele information fit comfortably with preexisting information the FBI had developed on Page. In other words, the Steele information might have been the precipitating event for the FISA application, but it was not the sum total of its contents, the Democrats contend.

This is consistent with what is known of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s testimony before the intelligence committee in December 2017: The Nunes memo paraphrases McCabe’s testimony as suggesting that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.” The implication was that McCabe was admitting that the dossier was the principal source of intelligence used in the FISA application—a characterization of McCabe’s testimony that the Democrats have disputed. But another way to read McCabe’s comment, consistent with Schiff’s rebuttal of the Nunes memo, is that the Steele information functioned as some kind of tipping point in the FBI’s decision to apply for a warrant even though it didn’t constitute the full body of information the bureau had on Page.

Notably, the Democratic memo claims that the surveillance on Page was productive from an intelligence point of view. We suspected this before as a matter of inference from the fact, reported in the Nunes memo, that the warrant was renewed three times. But the Democratic memo makes the claim explicitly, saying that “[t]he Court-approved surveillance of Page allowed FBI to collect valuable intelligence. The FISA renewals demonstrate that the FBI collected important investigative information and leads by conducting Court-approved surveillance.” The Democratic memo also asserts that the renewals included other strands of information on Page from “multiple independent sources.”

Finally, the Democratic memo claims that by September 2016, the probe of L’Affaire Russe had divided into several sub-inquiries—and the document apparently identifies these subsidiary investigations, though the identification is redacted:

On Twitter, Matt Tait suggests that the redaction may reference “four” Trump campaign officials (you can almost make out the word “four” in the badly-redacted section).

Whether or not that’s correct, the clear implication here is that by September 2016, the bureau had some number of distinct open counterintelligence probes related to L’Affaire Russe, each tied to a different individual. The question, of course, is who those individuals might be. Notably, this section of the memo includes a citation to an endnote, which reads: “Under the Special Counsel’s direction, [Michael] Flynn and [George] Papadopoulos have both pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators and are cooperating with the Special Counsel’s investigation, while Manafort and his long-time aide, former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, have been indicted on multiple counts and are awaiting trial. . . .”

So perhaps Flynn and Manafort are among those into whom the FBI had opened sub-inquiries—and possibly Gates, though the use of his full name in the footnote suggests that this is the first reference to him in the memo. Roger Stone may also be a candidate: New York Times reporter Adam Goldman notes that, in January 2017, the Times reported on FBI investigations into Stone, Manafort and Flynn.

It seems likely, in any event, that this passage in the memo refers to Trump campaign figures already publicly known to have come under scrutiny. Schiff and the Democrats, after all, intended this document for public release, so presumably they were unlikely to name new investigative subjects previously unknown to the public to be under investigation. At the same time, it’s also possible that the redaction here might hide the name of someone not previously known to have been under investigation in that time frame. As Robert Mueller continually reminds us, there’s a lot we don’t know about this investigation.

Should we believe the Democratic memo? There’s one very good reason to believe that it is, broadly speaking, factually accurate — the Republican members of the House intelligence committee aren’t contesting its factual claims. In a document released by the majority Saturday, the Republicans cite a letter released by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham to argue that the dossier, in fact, made up “the bulk of” the FISA application. That’s a genuine disagreement with the Democratic memo, which says that the FBI “made only narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities in 2016”—and that dispute is impossible to resolve without seeing the FISA application itself.

But otherwise, the Republican talking points seem to be what Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee famously termed a “non-denial denial.” The Republicans argue that the FISA application does not mention Steele’s personal antipathy toward Trump, in addition to Simpson’s political motivations; that the FBI “buried” the information on the partisan cast of Steele’s work in a “convoluted” footnote; and that the Steele dossier was the only source for the FBI’s claim that Page had met with particular Russians while in Moscow.

But the Republican talking points largely don’t contest the factual statements made in the Democratic memo. That is a damning omission about a document that itself alleges a set of damning omissions.

Washington State Governor Calls Out Trump On His Stupid Armed Teachers Idea (and Tweeting)

President and Armchair Warrior Trump writes a script of what he THINKS — without talking to experts or the people effected.

He gets taken down, and he doesn’t like it (arms folded)

Armchair Warrior, you ask…

Why yes.

Superseding Manafort/Gates Indictment

Mueller’s team just dropped, literally minutes ago, its superseding indictment on Manafort and Gates.  You can just look at the cover page to see who is indicted for what. 32 counts, mostly dealing with financial transactions and bank fraud and tax fraud (money laundering, basically) all before Manafort was Trump campaign manager.

I did a search for “Trump” — his name does not appear in the document.

But it seems that Manafort and Gates are caught by the short hairs.  They have to cut a deal.

Gun Debate Continues

Last night’s “town hall” on CNN was riveting. The students asked better questions than the adults, and I’m not the only one to note that they would not allow the responder to filibuster or waiver.  For example, student Emma Gonzalez asked NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, “Do you believe that it should be harder to obtain the semi-automatic and – – weapons and the modifications for these weapons to make them fully automatic like bump stocks?”

Loesch talked for several things for several minutes (how she feels the student’s pain, mental illness, etc) before Emma interrupted politely but forecfully:  “I think I’m gonna interrupt you real quick and remind you that the question is actually, do you believe it should be harder to obtain these semi-automatic weapons and modifications to make them fully automatic, such as bump stocks?”, and incredibly, she got a direct two sentence answer (well, pretty close to a direct answer –  Loesch said she was there to represent the NRA’s 5 million members, not offer her opinion, but she did comment on the fact that the ATF is looking into bump stocks).

Marco Rubio was eaten alive, especially in trying weasel his “no” response to the direct question of whether he would refuse NRA campaign contribution. That said, the students gave him credit for showing up all, which I suppose is true (although technically, it’s his job since they are his constituents).

All in all, my biggest take-away was that if these kids are representative of the future, I’m highly optimistic and hope I’m around to see what happens.

But again, the most tension-filled moments were when the NRA, in the form of Loesch, took the stage.  Normally, an incendiary speaker, Loesch was toned down significantly for this stage. Twice this year, Loesch has come under criticism from a range of viewers, including a few gun owners, who say her public service announcements about the purported left-wing war on decent Americans have crossed the line.

June video shows clips of protests and riots with Loesch warning of a societal collapse while ominous music plays in the background.

“They use their media to assassinate real news,” she warns. “They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.”

“The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country, and our freedom,” she concludes, “is to fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth.”

But that Loesch was not there last night. Clearly, she prepared to go full force on mental illness and avoid any discussion of bans on guns, or fixing loopholes with background checks, or raising the age limit for gun buyers to 21.

She shared the “panel” with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, a remarkable man who called on Loesch at one point, interjecting: “You just told this group of people you’re standing up for them. You’re not standing up for them until you say, ‘I want less weapons.’ ”

The crowd roared in approval. Loesch sat silently, her hands folded in her lap.

This morning, speaking before CPAC, Loesch spoke again. Talking of last night, she reminded conservatives that the real victim last night was her.  “I had to have a security detail to get out,” Loesch said, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland. “I wouldn’t have been able to exit if I didn’t have a private security detail. There were people rushing the stage and screaming ‘burn her.’ And I came there to talk solutions, and I still am going to continue that conversation on solutions, as the NRA has been doing since before I was alive.”

Meanwhile, on the gun control front, Trump is coming to the defense of the…. you guessed it… the NRA.

I believe that THEY believe they are doing the right thing, but they are biased. Sure, MAYBE unintentionally, but they are still biased. Nobody wants to believe they work for the devil.

As for proposals, Trump wants to arm teachers.  Except… well.. he has a problem with that characterization:

Right. So Trump never said “give teachers guns” but he wants to give teachers guns.

I’m not sure I need to point out how ridiculous this idea is. It won’t solve mass shootings (arming teachers would not have prevented the Las Vegas shooting or Pulse nightclub shooting), and it counts on teachers being in the right place at the right time. A student with an AR-15 can kill dozens of students before a teacher can pull his or her handgun from his safe.

Not to mention, that MORE guns never solves the problem.  And who wants to go to a school where adults are armed?  That’s a prison, not a school. The NRA has been so successful at focusing our attention on the “bad guy with a gun,” who can only be stopped by a “good guy with a gun,” that some people are willing to turn the whole enterprise designed to educate our kids into a defensive battlefield.

Plus, it’s not thought through. Let’s say you’re an armed teacher, and 90% of the time you’re going to be in your classroom with your kids. Something happens. Do you then leave your kids and go bad guy hunting? Pretty bad ethical dilemma to put somebody in.

Also, teachers won’t do it, and who can blame them? National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, said bringing more guns into schools would not make them safer. “Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms,” she said in a statement. “Parents and educators overwhelmingly reject the idea of arming school staff.”

Which brings us to CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, which is going on today. ACU’s Matt Schlapp said this morning that Wayne LaPierre’s speech would be part of an effort to address gun violence with “the right and appropriate tone. But LaPierre, the executive vice president of the nation’s most prominent gun-rights lobbying organization (NRA), got onstage with a strange Orwellian diatribe about political enemies.  He started by saying that gun control advocates care more about destroying liberty than protecting kids (“Opportunists wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain”)

He then gave red meat for conservatives and attacks on Democrats, calling for increased school security, repeatedly ripping the “rogue” leadership of the FBI and blasting the left for promoting a “socialist” agenda. Name-checking a long list of prospective Democratic 2020 presidential candidates and lawmakers like Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a leading advocate for gun control measures, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, along with the “national media,” LaPierre condemned those he said were “eager to smear” the NRA.

This provoked a response from Schumer:

The gun debate rages on.

Oh, and speaking of CPAC —

Trump Attacks His Own AG In Russia Tweet This Morning

Say what?

(In a now-deleted tweet, he misspelled “Sessions”, and wrote “Session”)

It looks like Trump is reviving his offensive on Mr. Sessions, whom he once called “beleaguered,” and continued his days-long Twitter comments on the ongoing special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling.

The idea that Obama didn’t do something about meddling is, once again, ridiculous. While some former Obama administration officials have said they could have done more to respond to the interference as evidence grew, Obama expelled Russian diplomats and did seek sanctions. Obama was also blocked by Mitch McConnell, who threatened to accuse Obama of tampering with the 2016 election.  Trump has yet to enact sanctions against the Kremlin, which Congress overwhelmingly approved last year.

But as for Jeff Sessions and the “Dem crimes”?  There aren’t any. That’s why Sessions isn’t doing anything.  These are right wing memes and have no basis in fact. Even Sessions knows this.

Sarah Sanders Press Conference – 2/20/2018

Her first press conference since the shooting —

Asked about the tweet that the FBI would have got the killer if it hadn’t been focusing on “collusion”

Sanders is listing things that Trump is going to do re: mass shooting. Listening session with students, meeting with governors, etc. Sounds like a lot of talk.

Sanders says Trump opposes bump stocks. That is a reg thing, which means no new laws (statutes) coming out of Congress. Trump isn’t going to push for it either, because GOP.

She says “Unfortunately, when horrific tragedies like this happen, everybody wants a quick and a simple answer. But there isn’t one.”

Quick and simple? Sandy Hook was six years ago.  Orlando, last year. Las Vegas, this year. This isn’t a one-off event.

Well, that was a quick presser.


The Wall Street Journal reports:

The White House said Tuesday there was “an incident” last week which will be revealed in the coming days that will show how President Donald Trump is “tough on Russia.” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the comment at the daily briefing, but offered no more details. Trump has suggested on Twitter that President Barack Obama’s administration didn’t do enough to counter meddling in the 2016 election, and called himself “much tougher on Russia than Obama.”

I must have missed that. In any event, if we don’t know about it, it probably isn’t that big.

Trump’s Behavior Continues To Offend And Baffle

In the days following the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland Florida, and with Mueller clearly breathing down Trump’s neck, his behavior has been frenzied and offensive.

Here’s how Time described it:

The weekend began with what many considered a victory of the smallest order. The typically chatty President bypassed the reporters to board his waiting helicopter without saying a word about the Mueller indictments. Trump ignored the shouted questions and climbed into the green-and-white helo. (First Lady Melania Trump traveled separately to Andrews Air Force Base, a development her staff attributed to scheduling convenience but which inevitably raised questions about her reaction to the latest reports of the President’s infidelities, including one published hours earlier.)

The presidential silence was short-lived, however.

As soon as Trump was in the air, aboard a Marine helicopter that reaches speeds of 150 miles per hour and has anti-missile systems at the ready, the President unleashed the first of 22 tweets to come between Friday afternoon and Sunday night. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!” the initial tweet read, incorrectly stating what the filings actually said — especially for him. It was merely the prelude to what would be many, many tweets that the President would send in obvious frustration with the chaos surrounding him.


Even by Trumpian standards, the President’s weekend in Florida was a class apart. In angry, sometimes profane and occasionally misspelled outbursts, the President gave the world a glimpse into what was going through his head at a moment certain to draw scrutiny for generations. It also brought to light what it’s like to work for this Leader of the Free World who is increasingly feeling isolated.

Let’s have a rundown.

First off, Trump was planning to visit his resort at Mar-a-Lago, but it really seems like the Florida high school shooting but a wrench in those plans. How could he go to Florida and play gold at a place only 40 minutes away?  Plus, he had other things on his mind….

Trump is referring of course to the Mueller indictment of 17 Russian people and entities for their social media electioneering and influencing.  That was his best attempt at spin, now that he could no longer claim that the Russia thing was a hoax. Of course, he is right that there was no mention of collusion IN THIS INDICTMENT, as everyone pointed out.

Trump eventually went to a hospital, visited only two patients and stayed about 35 minutes.  Mostly he met with doctors and nurses and first responders.

But the next day, prohibited from playing golf because it would have made him look bad, Trump took to Twitter and got defensive and crazed:

Again, Trump focuses on the “no collusion” aspect, which makes him look silly. (At the end of the day, there may prove to actually be “no collusion” on his part, but you can’t say that definitively NOW).

Trump points out that the Russia group was formed in 2014, before he began to run for President. The problem was that Trump has always toyed with the idea of running for President, since 2000. Also, the goal of the Russia group, as the Mueller indictment points out, wasn’t to elect Trump so much as it was to NOT elect Hillary, and so discord in America. Trump’s entrance into the race was fortuitous.

Then, you have this tweet, from 2014:

and this tweet, also from 2014, by Yulya Alferova—ex-wife of Russian oligarch Artem Klyushin and a member of Trump’s entourage in Moscow in 2013:

Well, that’s awkward.

So much for Trump’s claim that nobody knew he was running back in 2014. Apparently, Russia knew.

Trump also tweeted about Rob Goldman, the ad exec at Facebook, who said that the majority of Russia’s ad spend came after the election, and that the majority of the ads were not intended to sway the elections. Both Trump and Goldman make an obvious error — they are asserting that one could understand the scope of the Russian propaganda campaign just through the ads. Russia’s ads were viewed roughly 11 million times, while posts by Russia-controlled accounts had been viewed 150 million times. Leaving aside pure numbers, anyone who had read the indictment knew that ads were a minute part of the operation. Facebook likes to point out that the Russians only spent a hundred thousand dollars on all their ads, a rather small number in comparison to the $1.25 million that the indictment reveals Russia’s Internet Research Agency was spending monthly on its election influence campaign.

Later that day, Rob Goldman seemed to come to the same understanding, and posted internally at Facebook a message that read as follows: “I wanted to apologize for having tweeted my own view about Russian interference without having it reviewed by anyone internally. The tweets were my own personal view and not Facebook’s. I conveyed my view poorly. The Special Counsel has far more information about what happened [than] I do—so seeming to contradict his statements was a serious mistake on my part.”

But Trump wasn’t done for the day. Next came what I consider to be one of his most offensive tweets to date:

That tweet alone, many thought, was all that was needed to impeach the president. He was using the death of 17 people and making it about him.  The FBI was under scrutiny — it had received a tip about Nikolaus Cruz and failed to follow up, but in all honesty, even if the FBI *had* followed up, there was nothing that they could have done under current law. Also, it goes without saying, that the Florida office of the FBI probably isn’t swamped with Russian “collusion” work. The FBI employs tens of thousands of agents.


H.R. McMaster is Trump’s National Security Advisor and also a lieutenant general in the U.S. Army. At a conference in Germany, he said that there was “incontrovertible” evidence that Russia had meddled in the U.S. election. McMaster was citing Friday’s federal indictments, stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, that said Russian operatives conducted a sophisticated internet campaign to sow chaos in the American political scene.

Trump’s drivel about Clinton and the DNC being the REAL conspirators is, of course, senseless.

Trump’s tweets continued into the next day.


Schiff, by the way, did criticize Obama, and perhaps in hindsight, Obama should have done more. The problem is that by doing so, he would have been accused of swaying the election (by none other than Trump).  Kind of a Catch-22 that Obama was in.

And Trump has denied Russian involvement over and over again.

June 2016: “It was the D.N.C. that did the ‘hacking.’”

September 2016: “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the D.N.C.”

October 2016: “Maybe there is no hacking.”

December 2016: “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point.”

January 2017: “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyberinfrastructure of our governmental institutions.”

May 2017: “If Russia did anything having to do with our election, I want to know about it.”

July 2017: “Somebody did say if he did do it, you wouldn’t have found out about it.”

November 2017: “Every time he [Putin] sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’”

Anyway, on and on Trump’s tweets went.

… with Trump trying to revive those days when he was running for President.

And uinto the next day

By the way, there is absolutely zero evidence that companies are coming back into the country AT ALL.  And as for Obama not doing anything about Russian meddling, he did. Obama expelled Russian diplomats, seized their compounds, and signed the Magnitsky Act in Dec 2016. Trump has refused to enforce the 2017 sanctions that Congress enacted after Magnitsky and is doing NOTHING about Russia’s ongoing attack on our democracy.

Which brings us to today

Again, more Obama attacks (by the way, the Parkland Florida high school shootings is still very much in the news, although you wouldn’t know it from Trump’s feed).  First of all, Obama was talking in October 2016, long before the facts had been gathered. It was only two days after the Carter Page FISA warrant, so it is unlikely that the extent of Russian involvement was known.

Trump’s next tweets followed along with what they were talking about on Fox & Friends this morning:

No, Republicans are not leading in the generic polling (although Republicans have made gains, the Generic Congressional Ballot at Real Clear Politics has Dems up by an average of 6.9 points.

[UPDATE: This happened today —


The idea that Trump has been tougher on Russia than Obama is ridiculous.

And finally….

That makes it sound a lot like he might have given it a try were it not for those pesky security cameras! Also, one person who might try something like this in the lobby of a building would be the owner of the building itself. Just saying — it was Trump Tower, after all.

And we also know that this is Trump’s modus operandi from the Access Hollywood tape:

You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

Which is pretty much how the woman describes it.

The woman in question is Rachel Crooks, and the incident did not take place in the lobby of Trump Tower.  It was in a hallway.  The story plainly says this.  And Rachel isn’t scared.

Trump tweets are often thought to have diversionary intent, but all he does is jump from one controversy to another.

Another Mueller Indictment

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has charged Dutch lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan with making false statements to FBI investigators. Van Der Zwaan, who was officially charged on Feb. 16 in a federal court in Washington, has a plea hearing scheduled for Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. EST.

According to the indictment, the false statements came when Mueller’s team probed Van Der Zwaan’s work for the Ukraine Ministry of Justice, and include lying about his interactions with Rick Gates, the Paul Manafort associate and former Trump campaign adviser who was indicted by Mueller last fall.

Van Der Zwaan was charged with lying to investigators about conversations related to a report he helped prepare on the trial of a Ukrainian politician, Yulia Tymoshenko.

The lawyer also reportedly lied about his talks with someone else, named “Person A” in the indictment. 

Prosecutors said Van Der Zwaan also deleted and failed to turn over emails requested by the special counsel and a law firm.

Alex Van der Zwaan is the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan, an owner of Alfa Group. Khan and his Alfa Bank partners filed a $75K defamation suit against Glen Simpson and Fusion GPS over the firm’s role in producing the Steele dossier.

Here’s the backstory: In the early 2010s, van der Zwaan was working in the London office of Skadden Arps, one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporate law firms. His work seemed to focus on the former Soviet Union.

During this same time period, Manafort and Gates were working for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych — a Kremlin-backed leader with dubious democratic credentials.

Yanukovych was in the midst of a power struggle with another prominent Ukrainian politician, which he decided to solve by jailing her in the fall of 2011. Manafort and Gates’s job was to run cover for this clearly undemocratic prosecution. So they retained a team from Skadden Arps, which included van der Zwaan, to put together a “report” that conveniently concluded that there was no political motive for putting her in jail.

This was a big deal in Ukraine but a relatively obscure issue for most of the rest of the world. Manafort and Gates continued their work for Yanukovych afterward, and van der Zwaan moved on to other things — most notably marrying Eva Khan, the daughter of Ukrainian-Russian billionaire German Khan, in the summer of 2017. (One of Khan’s companies is, somewhat curiously, mentioned in the infamous Steele dossier.)

But the Mueller investigation would soon deliver van der Zwaan an unhappy honeymoon. In the process of looking into Manafort and Gates’s ties to the Kremlin, Mueller’s team started investigating the Skadden Arps report. According to the indictment, FBI agents personally questioned van der Zwaan in November 2017 about his communications with Gates and an unidentified Person A (which seems likely to be Manafort, though that’s not 100 percent clear).

Van der Zwaan told them that his last communication with Gates was in August 2016 and was an “innocuous text message,” and that he hadn’t spoken to Person A since 2014. This, according to the indictment, is a lie — van der Zwaan was actually secretly communicating with Gates and Person A about the Skadden report.

“In or about September 2016, he spoke with both Gates and Person A regarding the Report, and surreptitiously recorded the call,” the indictment says.

The indictment also alleges that van der Zwaan deleted an email between himself and Person A sent around the same time as those conversations — and told the FBI that he “did not know” where the email was.

This clearly relates to Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who finds himself in very hot water. Federal law enforcement officials have identified more than $40 million in “suspicious” financial transactions to and from companies controlled by Manafort — a much larger sum than was cited in his October indictment on money laundering charges.

The vast web of transactions was unraveled mainly in 2014 and 2015 during an FBI operation to fight international kleptocracy that ultimately fizzled. The story of that failed effort — and its resurrection by special counsel Robert Mueller as he investigated whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election — has never been fully told.

But it explains how the special counsel was able to swiftly bring charges against Manafort for complex financial crimes dating as far back as 2008 — and it shows that Mueller could still wield immense leverage as he seeks to compel Manafort to cooperate in the ongoing investigation.

Last week, Mueller’s team told a judge that it had evidence Manafort committed bank fraud, and news organizations have reported that the special counsel may be preparing additional charges.

The atty who was charged by Mueller today, Alex Van Der Zwaan, was 1 of 8 Skadden Arps attorneys involved in writing a report commissioned by manafort that whitewashed Yanukovych’s record, according to Ukrainian prosecutors.

I can’t emphasize how unusual and shocking it is that an attorney for a prestigious, international law firm was charged by Mueller for lying about his work at the firm.  Lawyers — particularly lawyers at a top law firm — should know better than to lie to the FBI. His conduct as described in the charging document suggests he had something to hide. As others have reported, his father-in-law is a Russian oligarch. This charge sends a message to every potential witness in the Mueller investigation—you will be charged if you lie to the FBI. It raises the stakes for “minor” witnesses, suggesting that Mueller will charge any probable violation related to obstructing his investigation.

Details Of Another Trump Affair Shows How Trump Attempts To Keep His Transgressions Secret

A report out from the New Yorker Friday morning about President Donald Trump’s alleged affair with model Karen McDougal more than a decade ago shows how Trump’s allies paid women who had affairs with him to stay silent.

Trump and McDougal began an affair in 2006 after he met her at a party at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, where he taped an episode of “The Apprentice,” according to notes about their relationship the New Yorker obtained from McDougal.

McDougal’s account of her affair with Trump is strikingly similar to reports about Trump’s affair with porn star Stephanie Clifford, who uses the screen name Stormy Daniels.

According to McDougal’s and Clifford’s accounts, Trump pursued both women while married to Melania Trump, and both women met up with him in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. (Former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos alleged in 2016 that Trump inappropriately kissed and groped her at the same hotel years earlier.)

His allies also arranged payments to both McDougal and Clifford in exchange for their silence, according to reports, and the same lawyer — Keith Davidson — represented both women.

The Wall Street Journal reported in January that Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen paid Clifford $130,000 as part of an agreement for her to keep quiet about her relationship with Trump. Cohen on Wednesday confirmed that he made a payment in that amount to Clifford, though he would not say why.

According to the New Yorker’s report, American Media, Inc. (AMI), the company that owns the Trump-friendly National Enquirer, purchased the rights to McDougal’s story — for $150,000, as the Wall Street Journal reported in November 2016 — but has yet to run her account.

McDougal told the New Yorker that Davidson represented her when she sold the rights to her story to AMI, and said he encouraged her to sign the deal. McDougal said that she now regrets signing the contract, in which AMI promised to feature her on two covers and publish regular columns by McDougal about fitness.

“It took my rights away,” she told the New Yorker. “At this point I feel I can’t talk about anything without getting into trouble, because I don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about. I’m afraid to even mention his name.”

McDougal said that she did not fully understand the contract when she signed it. According to emails obtained by the New Yorker, Davidson pushed her to sign the deal to get things “wrapped up.” She also told the New Yorker that AMI has not upheld its commitment to publish her columns regularly, though AMI contended that McDougal did not submit the promised columns.

Trump has denied that he had an affair with either woman. A White House official in January told the Wall Street Journal that allegations of an affair between Trump and Clifford were “old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.” Cohen in January also said that Trump “vehemently” denied having a sexual relationship with Clifford.

A White House spokesperson told the New Yorker that McDougal’s account was “fake news,” and said, “The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal.”

Read the New Yorker’s full report here.

Trump’s Inaugural Committee Money

A lingering question of the Trump Administration is the money that was raised for his inauguration.  There was A LOT raised, and plenty left over.  From NPR in April 2017:

An inauguration is an expensive party to throw, and President Trump got plenty of help putting his on. Financial Election Commission disclosures released on Wednesday show that some uberwealthy donors helped Trump defray the cost: Million-dollar givers included investment firm founder Charles Schwab, mining entrepreneur Christopher Cline and Bank of America. Investor and casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson spent $5 million.

Those megadonors contributed to Trump’s monster inauguration haul of nearly $107 million, the FEC forms show. That sum doubles President Barack Obama’s then-record inauguration donations in 2009, which totaled around $53 million.

Though this report shows how much money Trump’s inauguration brought in, it does not detail exactly how that money was spent. Presidential inauguration committees do not have to disclose that to the FEC.


Trump’s committee has said that any leftover money from this year’s inauguration will be given to charity, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

For his part, Fischer thinks the Inauguration Day donations should have some of the strictures of campaign donations.

“There’s no reason to think that a million-dollar contribution made after Election Day would be any less corrupting or pose any less risk of influence than a million-dollar contribution made before Election Day,” he said.

But there has been no indication about the charities the leftover money went to.

Until today.  The Inauguration Committee filed its taxes and via the New York Times, we know (sort of) what was spent:

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s inaugural committee paid nearly $26 million to an event planning firm started by an adviser to the first lady, Melania Trump, while donating $5 million — less than expected — to charity, according to tax filings released on Thursday.

The nonprofit group that oversaw Mr. Trump’s inauguration and surrounding events in January 2017, the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee, had been under pressure from liberal government watchdog groups to reveal how it spent the record $107 million it had raised from wealthy donors and corporations.

Its chairman, Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a longtime friend of Mr. Trump, had pledged that the committee would be thrifty with its spending, and would donate leftover funds to charity.

But the mandatory tax return it filed with the Internal Revenue Service indicates that the group’s charitable donations included only an already publicized $3 million for hurricane relief, plus a total of $1.75 million to groups involved in decorating and maintaining the White House and the vice president’s residence.

That’s not even $5 million to charities.

So where did the rest go?  Mostly between two companies:

One of the companies, WIS Media Partners of Marina del Rey, California, was created by a longtime friend of Mrs. Trump, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, according to a person familiar with the firm. Records show that the firm was created in December 2016, but otherwise there is very little information available about it.

Ms. Winston Wolkoff made her name planning Manhattan society galas and has subsequently been brought on as a senior adviser to the first lady’s official government office.


Much of the money paid to Ms. Winston Wolkoff’s firm and other event production companies likely was passed through to other vendors who provided goods or services on a subcontractor basis.

Ms. Winston Wolkoff personally received $1.62 million for her work, according to one official from the inaugural committee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the details publicly. The official said that Ms. Winston Wolkoff’s firm paid the team used by Mark Burnett, the creator of “The Apprentice,” whose involvement in the inaugural festivities was requested by Mr. Trump.

Christ. Nice work if you can get it.  Sounds like it all went through middlemen, each one taking their cut, before trickling down to the actual people who did the work, if there were any.

And the other company?

Also reaping payments for event production services was Hargrove, Inc., of Lanham, Md., a company that plans trade shows and other events, which was paid $25 million. David Monn of New York, who also is known for orchestrating society events and planned a state dinner for former President Barack Obama, was paid $3.7 million, and a company called Production Resource Group of New Windsor, N.Y., was paid $2.7 million, according to the tax return.

So $27 million to a fake friend-of-Melania business, and $25 million to an ACTUAL event planner.  That’s $52 million.  $5 million to charities.  That’s $57 million.  That leaves us $50 million short.

Other expenses for which the committee paid directly included ticketing, on which it spent $4.1 million, and promotional gifts, on which it spent $560,000.

It also spent heavily on payroll and administrative expenses, including spending $9.4 million on travel, $4.6 million on salaries and benefits for its 208 employees, $500,000 on legal fees and $237,000 on fund-raising.

It strikes me that these are the legitimate expenses, totaling roughly another $25 million.  And they still have $2.8 million in the bank.  So…. I still don’t understand why it is $20 million short.

I don’t know. Even if my number-rounding accounting is flawed, it doesn’t make sense why an inauguration with smaller crowds and fewer pop stars than Obama should cost twice as much.

Trump’s Lawyer Paid $130,000 To A Porn Star To Keep Her Quiet About Nothing?

A longtime personal attorney for President Trump said Tuesday that he paid $130,000 to an adult-film star who had told people she had an affair with Trump a decade before he won the presidency (and while Trump’s wife Melania was several months pregnant).

Michael Cohen, who had previously dismissed reports about the payment, said he paid Stormy Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — using his own money, rather than involving the Trump Organization or the Trump presidential campaign. His comments came after a watchdog group argued that the payout should be viewed as an unreported campaign expense, which Cohen denied.

Here’s some of what Cohen said yesterday:

In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford [Daniels’s real name]. Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.

You might notice that he doesn’t explain WHY he paid Ms. Clifford, which leaves a big question hanging in the air. In fact, as law professor Orin Kerr notes, Cohen’s statement also leaves unclear whether he is saying he paid the $130,000 himself or simply saying that he paid for her to receive the funds.

But perhaps more importantly from a legal standpoint, there is one main Trump-related entity that Cohen doesn’t deny was “party to the transaction” or reimbursed Cohen, and that’s Trump himself. It’s also noteworthy that Cohen uses the word “facilitate” — a word that seems to leave open to the possibility that the chain doesn’t end at the use of “my own personal funds.”

So, in short, I have several questions for Mr. Cohen:

(1) Was the $130,000 itself from your personal funds?
(2) For what reason(s) was Ms. Clifford paid?
(3) Who, if anybody, asked/told you to pay (or facilitate payment of) Ms. Clifford?
(4) How/when was the amount of $130,000 determined or negotiated?
(5) Was Donald Trump personally “a party to the transaction”?
(6) Did Donald Trump personally= reimburse you “either directly or indirectly”?
(7) Was the payment in any way caused by publicity — or to avoid publicity — that would affect the Trump campaign or presidency?

This last question goes to the heart of campaign finance laws.

The watchdog group Common Cause announced last month that it was filing federal complaints alleging that the reported $130,000 payout may have violated campaign finance laws. The group argued that the payment was an unreported in-kind contribution to Trump’s campaign. In a letter to federal authorities, Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert with Common Cause, said the settlement should have been considered a campaign expense “because the funds were paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election.”

The pair of complaints filed by Common Cause said that regardless of where the $130,000 payment originated — even “if Donald J. Trump provided the funds” — the money was aimed at affecting the election and then never reported.

After Cohen’s statement last night, Ryan said that “the timing and circumstances” of the payment “make it appear that the hush money was paid to Daniels in an effort to influence the election.” Ryan called again for the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department to investigate.

“Questions about the payment and the circumstances behind it must be answered, and they must be answered under oath,” Ryan said in a statement.

Cohen said Common Cause’s claims of campaign finance violations “are factually unsupported and without legal merit, and my counsel has submitted a response to the” Federal Election Commission.

“The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone,” Cohen said, noting that he did not plan to make any further comments on the issue.

He added: “Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump.”

It’s difficult to dismiss the payment either as a coincidence, given Cohen is a lawyer (Trump’s “fix-it” guy, by his own admission) and has carefully parsed his comments throughout this situation. He has regularly offered what seemed to be denials but didn’t totally deny the details of what has been reported.

To be honest, the lion’s share of that “narrative” has now been confirmed by Cohen himself. And whether Trump actually engaged in an affair with Clifford/Daniels is kind of beside the point — at least legally speaking.

But therein lies a problem… it’s not necessarily proof that the payment was a campaign contribution. Remarkably, if Cohen as part of his duties at the Trump Organization regularly made similar payments to other people in the same context — if, that is, he regularly paid tens of thousands of dollars to women to buy their silence — it would suggest that this particular payment might simply be business as usual and not related to Trump’s electoral efforts.

Let’s consider five different possibilities for who might have paid Daniels, working from outside in: a business outside of the campaign, an individual outside of the campaign, someone working for the campaign, the campaign itself or the candidate.

If the money was in fact meant to aid the campaign, here are the implications if any of the above parties were the source of the money.

(1) A business outside the campaign. If the source of the $130,000 was a business, Noble says, and the contribution was considered a campaign contribution, it would be illegal. Businesses can’t make payments of that size to a campaign.

(2) An individual outside of the campaign. Let’s say that some random wealthy Trump supporter stumbled onto the Daniels story and decided to offer her payment to stay quiet. Interestingly, Noble said, this might not be a violation of campaign finance laws. Instead, it would function more as an independent expenditure on behalf of the Trump campaign.

But it’s essential that this person have no connection to the campaign.

(3) Someone working for the campaign. It can be hard to determine who counts as an “agent” of a political campaign. Someone on payroll, certainly. Someone reimbursed for expenses, yes. But does Cohen count? He wasn’t paid by the campaign, though he regularly appeared on television on Trump’s behalf.

That said, in Cohen’s most infamous media appearance he clearly presented himself as working with the campaign and explaining staff changes the campaign was making.

(4) The campaign itself. The Trump campaign could have made this payment legally. It would simply have had to report it, which it didn’t. (That reporting in this case would have presumably been a payment to Essential Consultants LLC, the corporation Cohen created.) It would be spending $130,000 of money contributed by donors, which might carry some political risks.

(5) The candidate. Unless the contributor was the candidate himself. Trump gave millions to his own campaign and could legally have given $130,000, which was then paid out to Daniels through the LLC.

But, again, it would have to be reported, which it wasn’t.

So what are we looking at if there was a violation? Potentially. Certainly a civil violation, but it could rise to a criminal violation, depending on who knew what, and when. For example, the DOJ does pursue people for filing (or causing to be filed) false reports to the Federal Election Commission.  Here’s a recent example.

For the sake of future reference….

Of note:

Stormy Daniels has suddenly changed her position and is ready to spill all the tea regarding her alleged affair with Donald Trump, and it all has to do with the president’s personal attorney allegedly breaching a contract he negotiated with the porn star.

Sources close to Daniels tell The Blast that her legal team notified President Trump’s legal team, including attorney Michael Cohen, that they are in violation of the agreement they made back in 2016.

Cohen said on Tuesday that he had paid a pornographic actress $130,000 out of his own pocket in 2016 who had claimed to have had an affair with Trump. Cohen stressed that “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.”

We’re told Daniels — real name Stephanie Clifford — believes Cohen’s admission is a breach of their contract, and that she is now excused from “further performance of the non-disclosure agreement” between the two parties.

Knives Are Out For Chief Of Staff John Kelly, They Say

The media seems to be in a frenzy about the Rob Porter-wife beating scandal, as the White House enters Day 7 of being unable to explain the timeline of events about Porter’s firing, and why he was allowed to stay on as the right-hand man to President Trump even though he couldn’t get a security clearance.

To recap….. Rob Porter, Trump’s staff secretary, who has since resigned, was accused earlier this month of abusing both Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby. Holderness, Porter’s first wife, said she was punched in the face by Porter in 2005 and shared photos of the black eye with CNN and other outlets. In an extensive interview last week, Holderness said Porter repeatedly choked her and threw her on the bed while putting his body weight on her using a limb. She revealed that she did not realize the severity of the situation until years into the marriage, when a trained counselor told her Porter’s behavior was unacceptable. Porter denies these claims.

But as I say, the continued mishandling of the Porter matter is what is plaguing the White House now.

Here — based on CNN’s reporting from more than a dozen sources with knowledge of the Porter fallout and public statements made by top Trump officials — is what Trump’s team actually knew when they were trying to clean up the Porter controversy:

Tuesday, February 6

What happened: The Daily Mail publishes its first report on the allegations leveled by staff secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby, at 7:09 p.m. The ex-wives allege physical and emotional abuse, but no photos of the abuse are published in the news article.

What the White House said: White House chief of staff John Kelly tells the Daily Mail that Porter “is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tells the outlet that Porter is “someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character.”

What they actually knew:  Top White House aides knew this story was coming and many — including communications director Hope Hicks and Kelly — worked to prepare a response to the story before it was published. But even though Kelly and Sanders lauded Porter, the White House had months earlier received both Porter’s partial and full background investigation, FBI Director Chris Wray told senators on Tuesday. Wray said the partial report was sent to the White House in March, while the full report was completed in July.

Additionally, CNN has reported previously that it was widely known among Trump’s top aides — including Kelly — both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the security clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. Kelly took no action on this information and, instead, saw that Porter’s standing inside the White House was elevated.

And Porter told White House counsel Don McGahn in early 2017 that his background check could include derogatory information from the ex-wives, Holderness and Willoughby.

Wednesday, February 7

What happened: Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for The Intercept, tweets a photo of Holderness’ black eye, which she says Porter caused while on vacation in Florence, Italy. The photos were tweeted at 1:53 a.m., marking the first time the disturbing photos were made public.

What the White House said:  The photos sent the White House scrambling, even as some top officials remained staunch supporters of Porter. The Daily Mail then published another story — with the photos — at 10:47 a.m.

Sanders, less than 24 hours after issuing a glowing statement about Porter, announces at the afternoon press briefing that Porter had resigned, but that his departure “won’t be immediate.”

Sanders — at a briefing that started at 1:32p ET — maintains that “Rob has been effective in his role as staff secretary, and the President and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance.”

Sanders reads a statement from Porter that includes a forceful denial: “These outrageous allegations are simply false.”

Kelly did not revise his glowing statement of Porter until 9:28 p.m., when he issued a new statement that said he was “shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter.” The statement includes a condemnation of domestic violence — “There is no place for domestic violence in our society” — but Kelly continues to stand by his previously positive comments about Porter.

Kelly would later say that it took only 40 minutes for him to see the photos and get Porter out.

What they actually knew: By this point, the White House had seen the photos and was well aware of the gravity, but Porter, who had resigned, was allowed to stay on at the White House until a successor could be named.

Though Kelly would later claim that it took him less than an hour to take action on Porter, it took him close to 24 hours to revise the glowing statement he issued about the now-departed Trump aide — and Porter was not dismissed immediately in light of the photos.

Additionally, Porter sat down for an interview with the FBI in the fall of 2017 and the domestic abuse allegations against him were brought up. After the interview, Porter provided more detail to McGahn about what his ex-wives are claiming, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

McGahn later learned in September, the source said, that the domestic violence allegations against Porter were causing his full security clearance to be delayed.

Thursday, February 8

What happened: White House spokesman Raj Shah, filling in for Sanders, declines to get into details about how much Kelly knew about the allegations and when he first learned of them. “He became fully aware of these allegations yesterday. I am not going to get into the specifics of who may have known,” Shah said.

What the White House said:  At the White House briefing that started at 3:40 p.m., Shah announced that Porter’s last day at the White House was Wednesday — despite the initial plan for him to stay on to find a replacement — and that he cleaned out his desk on Thursday morning. Shah also claimed that Porter’s background investigation “was ongoing” when he resigned.

What they actually knew: Wray’s testimony on February 13 undercut Shah’s claim that Porter’s background check was “ongoing” when he resigned.

Wray told senators that the FBI delivered its final report on Porter in July and closed its file on the aide in January, well before the White House claimed to have first learned of the gravity of the allegations against Porter.

Friday, February 9

What happened: During a regular morning meeting on Friday, Kelly tells aides that he was responsible for securing Porter’s decision to step down from his position and claims he took action within 40 minutes of seeing the photos that had surfaced overnight showing one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye.

The timeline Kelly provided is countered by how top White House aides acted on Wednesday.

What the White House said: Trump, during a meeting in the Oval Office with a supporter, makes his first on-camera statement about Rob Porter around 1p.m. ET:

“We wish him well, he worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well. It’s obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he’s also very sad now. Now he also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, so you’ll have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well, he did a very good job when he was at the White House.”

What they actually knew: Trump’s claim that he “found out about it recently” is undercut by a wealth of reporting that shows the FBI informed the White House about its concerns regarding Porter, including information that it obtained during interviews with his ex-wives.

In March 2017, when the FBI delivered its first report about Porter to the White House, the FBI flagged concerns over Porter’s clearance, according to two law enforcement officials.

And Kelly’s claim that it took him only 40 minutes after seeing the photos on Wednesday to force Porter’s resignation is also untrue, given the facts known. Porter was initially expected to stay on until a successor was found — a process that could have taken weeks — and Kelly left his glowing statement about Porter unedited for nearly 20 hours after the photos were first published on Twitter.

Saturday, February 10

What happened: Trump laments — via a tweet at 10:33 a.m. — that people’s “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” an apparent reference to Porter.

What they actually knew: By Saturday, Trump’s top aides were aware of the details and the seriousness with which the FBI and others had treated the allegations against Porter.

Trump, though, decided not to mention victims of domestic assault in his tweet, and instead focused on people like Porter, whose “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”

Sanders said on February 12 that “the President and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously, and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly. Above all, the President supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.”

Sunday, February 11

What the White House said: Marc Short, Trump’s top legislative aide, tells NBC that the White House “had not received a final investigation” when Porter resigned. “The FBI has the ongoing investigations,” Short says. “They have not completed that investigation.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway adds that Trump is “very disturbed” by the allegations against Porter. “I think he’s very disappointed,” she tells CNN. “I think he believes that the resignation was appropriate.”

What they actually knew: Wray told the Senate on February 13 that the background investigation into Porter was, in fact, complete well before Porter resigned.

He told the senators that the FBI completed its background investigation in late July. He also said that the FBI was asked for follow up information on Porter in November and closed the file on Porter in January.

And though Conway said Trump was supportive of Porter stepping down, his tweet one day earlier seemingly expressed sympathy for Porter.

Monday, February 12

What the White House said: Sanders, again, declines to answer key questions about how the White House handled allegations against Porter, but she does claim that the White House “learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening.”

“We learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening,” she said. “And within 24 hours his resignation had been accepted and announced.”

What they actually knew: Wray’s testimony on February 13 calls Sanders’ claim into question. The FBI says it informed the White House about its concerns regarding Porter in March and later in July.

Additionally, around Thanksgiving, Porter’s ex-girlfriend called McGahn to express concerns about his romantic relationship with Hope Hicks and detailed the ex-wives’ abuse allegations.

And McGahn was told by the White House Security Office in November 2017 that there are “domestic issues” in Porter’s background, according to a source familiar with the matter. Kelly and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin were also made aware of the domestic issues, the source said, but the White House contends that the “full nature” of the allegations did not come out until later.

Tuesday, February 13

What happened: Wray, in brief comments about Porter before the Senate Intelligence Committee, contradicts the White House’s suggestion that the delay in processing Porter’s security clearance was with the FBI.

What the White House said: Wray’s comments meant Sanders would have to change her story, so on Tuesday, she admitted that the FBI did complete their investigation. But, she added, the White House Personnel Security office — which Sanders said was staffed by “career officials” — “had not completed their process” on Porter yet.

What they actually knew: This directly contradicts what Sanders said 24 hours earlier, when she looked to blame the FBI for the backlog in security clearances. “Look, this is a process that doesn’t operate within the White House,” Sanders said. “It’s handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community.”

Which brings us to today. Clearly, it looks like Chief of Staff Kelly was protecting Porter for a long time, and his story is belied by Wray’s testimony yesterday. On top of that, a number of White House officials appear to have blabbed to reporters about what a mess Kelly has made of things. Wray’s FBI timeline makes one thing clear: the Kelly coverup is unraveling right before our eyes.

It’s so bad that CNN has an article up speculating about Kelly’s successor:

While the source said there was no indication on Friday that Trump would ask Kelly to resign over the matter, another source told CNN’s Gloria Borger that Trump has been asking friends and associates over the phone about various potential replacements for the chief of staff position.
Those would-be candidates include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows. Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and CIA Director Mike Pompeo could also be on the list of potential replacements.

I don’t know. The decision is Trump’s and the reports that he wants Kelly out seems thin. Trump respects and is in awe of the military. Besides, we’ve learned that Kelly is very much like Trump, right down to the racism and sexism.

Maybe the Senate inquiry might push Trump to do something.  This came from Trey Gowdy yesterday.

You really have to laugh — and cry — when you recall that Trump was the one who said he would drain the swamp in DC.

National Threat Assessment

It may not be in the news much today, but there is an important open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where the directors of the all the intelligence agencies testify:

Director Daniel R. Coats – Director of National Intelligence (DNI)
Director Michael Pompeo – Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Director Admiral Michael Rogers – Director of the National Security Agency (NSA)
Director Lieutenant General Robert Ashley – Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
Director Chris Wray – Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Director Robert Cardillo – Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

I imagine the closed hearing that follows will be even more important.

Already there is news. Coats calls cyber threats “one of my greatest concerns and top priorities.” “Frankly,” he adds, “the United States is under attack” in cyberspace. In fact, every single intelligence agency head has said that there is no change in Russia’s interference in American politics. They are just as active now as they were over the last year.

This is DNi Coats’s “opening statement”:

This is troubling…

This is very interesting…

The Rob Porter issue continues to plague the White House — he did not have security clearance (because of the ex-wife abuse), yet he was handling documents to and from the President.  There are many questions to be raised about this. The White House’s position on the Porter background check was that it was an on-going process, so in key ways out of their hands. FBI Director Christopher Wray just confirmed that that is not true – that the check was mainly completed last year and that the file was officially closed in January, before any of the scandal broke. Here’s Dana Bash explaining.

Senator Angus King lashes out —

Speaking of things spy-like, three Russian intelligence chiefs came to US a couple of weeks ago.  This was mentioned in the American press, like the New York Times….

The two Russian officials who came to Washington were Alexander V. Bortnikov, who runs the Federal Security Bureau, the domestic intelligence service that is the successor to the K.G.B., and Sergey Naryshkin, the chief of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, who was placed under sanctions by the American government under President Barack Obama.

…but in the RUSSIAN press, we learned that the head of the Russian GRU agency — they are the ones who hacked into the DNC data and stole data that had a massive affect on our election — also came.  He apparently wasn’t at the meeting with CIA Chief Pompeo. Why he was here and where he went is also a mystery.

Some think that the meeting was about terrorism which affects both countries.  Others think that the reason of terrorism was a pretext, and the Naryshkin delegation was likely sent to give info to help coordinate efforts to discredit Mueller’s Russia investigation.

No questions were asked about this by the Senate Intelligence Committee today in open session.  I HOPE it will be raised in closed session.

Rachel Brand Out At DOJ

Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand was the third most powerful person in law enforcement, right behind Attorney General Jeff Session and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein.

And since Sessions had recused himself from any actions related to the Trump-Russia investigation, Brand was much more high profile, especially since reports were being floated that Trump was seeking to remove Rosenstein.

That all ended Friday when Brand resigned to take a position with Walmart as the company’s executive vice president of global governance and corporate secretary, a job change that had been in the works for some time, the sources said.

The Justice Department’s No.3 attorney had been unhappy with her job for months, according to sources. As far back as last fall, Brand had expressed to friends that she felt overwhelmed and unsupported in her job, especially as many key positions under her jurisdiction had still not been filled with permanent, Senate-confirmed officials.

It will be key to look at how fast Trump will move to replace her, and — of course — who he chooses to replace her. All this will be a sign of whether or not he intends to interfere with the Russia investigation.

Will Trump Allow The Release Of The Dem Memo?

I know it is old in terms of Trump scandal cycle — like a week or so — but not too long ago, Devin Nunes (R-Ca) wrote a self-serving and ultimately incorrect — memo (he had to admit its central tenet was wrong) regarding how the FISA warrant application against Carter Page was conducted. Nunes said, among other things, that the FBI did not inform the FISA judge that the Steele Dossier was the product of opposition research, even though:

(1) the FBI DID inform the FISA judge of that fact; and
(2) the Steele Dossier probably was not the only thing that comprised the FBI’s 50-60 page warrant application; and
(3) Carter Page was already suspected of assisting the Russians long before the 2016 election

The minority member of the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff, wrote a response to the Nunes memo, but the “Dem Memo” (as I am calling it) — like the Nunes memo before it — cannot be released until the President okays it. And today is the deadline for him to okay it. Obviously, the narrative does not help Trump, but that should not be a factor. His concern should only be that it does not reveal classified information.

So let’s return to the question: will Trump allow the release of the Dem Memo?

It doesn’t look like it.

Update — Nope.