Trump & Administration

Mueller Finally Eyeing Trump It Seems

Finally.  This is the news I was waiting for.

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

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

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

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

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

Mueller Investigation Focuses on Manafort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BIG UPDATE:

Late breaking from the Washington Post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s UN Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Robert Mueller up to?

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

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

Top focus: Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn

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

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

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

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

Obstruction of justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trump Tower Meeting

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

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

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

The Facebook angle

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

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

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

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

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

Following the money

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

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

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

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

Hell Hath No Firy Like A Base Scorned

I’m not even sure what Trump did.

Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer announced after a dinner with the president Wednesday that they had reached a deal securing the protection of DACA. A “big, beautiful wall” that Trump campaigned on was reportedly not part of the agreement.

It’s not a done deal. Trump tweeted so, as did Chuck and Nancy.  However, Trrump’s tweets basically defended his decision to allow Dreamers to stay.

Trump’s base went ballistic:

One Republican in Congress, Rep. Steve King, told CNN Thursday morning that his “life’s work” would be undone if Trump truly struck a deal protecting DACA recipients. When asked what he would do if Trump handed a win over to Democrats without any policy consolations in return, King suggested he was powerless and that all he could do was move on to trade and tax reform.

King did say, however, that if Trump moves forward on this DACA deal, “the base will leave him.”

For its part, Fox News stayed in Trump’s corner.  Both Sean Hannity and the “Fox & Friends” crew tried to spin the latest news as a win for Trump because the agreement makes it look as if the White House is working with Democrats to move the country forward. Host Steve Doocy said that Trump was only reaching across the aisle to Democrats because he could get nothing done with Republicans.

But….

But keep in mind, Trump has made deals before and not gone through with them.  The question is… who has his ear? The Fox News Ass-kissers, or the Breitbart Banner fire-breathers?

Either way, it seems like a Dem win-by-triangulation.

Over at the conservative Redstate:

So much butthurt!

While I’m enjoying the schadenfreude, I have to say I’m mystified. Those who knew Trump’s past, and heard all the warnings from those of us who knew a B-list celebrity with liberal leanings and no real ideological foundation would flip, are falling all over themselves today, stunned that everything Never Trump said would happen, has actually happened.

Why? Did you think we were kidding?

In the meantime….

 

Although He’s Been Quiet On Twitter, Trump Still Rants About Mueller

Axios:

Behind the scenes in the West Wing, President Trump continues to rant and brood about former FBI Director Jim Comey and the Russia investigation that got him fired.

Trump tells aides and visitors that the probe now being run by special counsel Bob Mueller is a witch hunt, and that Comey was a leaker.

So White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was reflecting her boss’s moods when she attacked Comey at length from the podium yesterday, after being asked about Steve Bannon’s assertion to “60 Minutes” that the firing was one of the worst mistakes in modern political history:

  • I think there is no secret Comey, by his own self-admission, leaked privileged government information. … Comey leaked memos to the New York Times … He politicized an investigation by signaling he would exonerate Hillary Clinton before he ever interviewed her or other key witnesses.”
  • Sanders even suggested that Comey himself should be investigated: “His actions were improper and likely could have been illegal.”

Why it matters: The Mueller investigation is hitting ever closer to home for Trump, and he’s using the tools of his office to try to undermine the special counsel’s future findings.

Be smart: Trump allies plan to vilify Mueller the way the Clinton White House treated Ken Starr.

  • Watch for a common Trump theme to solidify: partisan overreach.
  • The president’s friends are most worried about Mueller digging into past business deals, which is why his team keeps raising concerns in public and private about the “scope” of the investigation.

Interesting that Sarah Sanders gave that rationale for firing Comey (exonerating Clinton before he interviewed her), since that was not known at the time, nor was that Trump’s stated reason at the time.

Trump raging about Mueller is amusing because Trump himself precipitated the events leading to Mueller’s appointment. After demanding Comey’s loyalty and demanding that Comey drop the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, he gave him the ax. (Trump also revealed publicly that he was furious with Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not protecting him from the investigation, apparently unaware of how inappropriate this was.) Trump’s claim that he had fired Comey on Rosenstein’s recommendation — followed by Trump’s public admission that he had in fact done so because of the Russia probe — left little doubt that he had tried to implicate Rosenstein in creating a cover story for the firing. These flagrant abuses of process and power are what led directly to Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller.

Does Trump grasp this chain of events and his own role in setting them in motion? It’s really not clear that he does.

Teflon Don? Not So Much

Politico, this morning:

Teflon Don confounds Democrats

Democrats tried attacking Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency. They’ve made the case that he’s ineffective, pointing to his failure to sign a single major piece of legislation into law after eight months in the job. They’ve argued that Trump is using the presidency to enrich himself, and that his campaign was in cahoots with Russia.

None of it is working.

Data from a range of focus groups and internal polls in swing states paint a difficult picture for the Democratic Party heading into the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election. It suggests that Democrats are naive if they believe Trump’s historically low approval numbers mean a landslide is coming.

Really?

In focus groups, most participants say they’re still impressed with Trump’s business background and tend to give him credit for the improving economy. The window is closing, but they’re still inclined to give him a chance to succeed.

More than that, no single Democratic attack on the president is sticking — not on his temperament, his lack of accomplishments or the deals he’s touted that have turned out to be less than advertised, like the president’s claim that he would keep Carrier from shutting down its Indianapolis plant and moving production to Mexico.

Voters are also generally unimpressed by claims that Trump exaggerates or lies, and they don’t see the ongoing Russia investigation adding up to much.

Well, these are the same pollsters who told us Trump would lose in the first place. Maybe they are overcompensating?

If you read further into the article, it almost seems to contradict itself:

“The question has to be what counts as working — the guy’s approval ratings are in the mid-30s,” Burton said of Trump. “So the other way of looking at this is, everything is working.”

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess.

Throughout the country, there have been 35 special elections in statewide races since Trump was elected.  In twenty-nine of them, the incumbent party (whether D or R) held the seat.  In the six that flipped, they ALL flipped from Republican to Democrat (three in OK, two in NH, and one in NY).  Two of these elections were yesterday.

More importantly, in almost all the special elections, the Democrat fared better — an average of 13% better — that Clinton did over Trump — even when they lost.  And 9% better on average than Obama over Romney in 2012.

Here’s the data (you might want to enlarge it):

That’s not a focus group.  That’s real data from real elections.

So yeah. Maybe Trump still is president. But he’s not helping Republicans.

Bogus Voting Commission Meets For Second Time

A few days before President Donald Trump’s “election integrity” commission meets in New Hampshire on Tuesday, its vice chair, Kris Kobach, published a column in Breitbart claiming “proof” that voter fraud in the state had tipped the election against Donald Trump and Republican Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte. Kobach cited numbers released by the state’s Republican House speaker showing that 6,540 people voted in New Hampshire on Election Day using out-of-state driver’s licenses as ID. “It seems that they never were bona fide residents of the State,” Kobach concluded. (This claim echoed one made in February by Trump, who told senators, with no evidence, that “thousands” were “brought in on buses” from Massachusetts to “illegally” vote in New Hampshire.)

But there’s a far simpler and less nefarious explanation for what happened: It’s legal to use an out-of-state driver’s license as ID at the polls in New Hampshire. Indeed, when the Washington Post put out a call for people to tell their stories of voting in New Hampshire after using an out-of-state license as ID, three college students stepped forward within an hour to explain that they had done so.

“Probably most of them [those who registered using an out-of-state license as ID] are college students, but it’s hard to tell how many,” Fergus Cullen, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party in 2007-2008, told us in a phone interview.

“What Kobach and the commission are conflating is a state law they don’t like with massive fraud, and they are two different things,” Cullen said.

Cullen said he’s not a fan of same-day registration and domicile laws. In the past, he said, there have been instances of paid political campaign workers using the addresses of elected officials or campaign offices to vote — only to leave the state shortly after the election.

“We call it drive-by voting,” Cullen said, adding that those kinds of cases number in the dozens, not the thousands.

“You may find that distasteful — I do,” Cullen said, “But there’s nothing illegal about it.”

As the commission meets Tuesday for the second time to discuss potential changes to the way Americans vote, its members have been busy promoting falsehoods like these, exacerbating concerns that they’ll use any pretense to restrict access to the ballot under the guise of eliminating voter fraud. The witness list for the meeting—100 percent white men—includes people who have floated radical ideas like requiring background checks for voting.

Since the commission first met on July 19, its members and their work have been mired in controversy. Here’s what’s happened since then:

  • After being almost universally rebuffed on its first attempt, the commission made a second request to all 50 states to hand over data on every American voter. Kobach wrote that “statistical conclusions [will be] drawn from the data.” But the statistics Kobach uses to support his claims of widespread voter fraud are almost always wrong. More than 5,000 voters in Colorado canceled their registrations after the commission initially asked for their data in June. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 8 states have declined to provide any data to the commission; 11 states have imposed conditions on the release of such data; 17 states have provided data that isn’t shielded by state law; and 15 states have not yet responded.
  • Legal filings revealed that commission members are using personal emails to conduct government work—the very transgression for which Republicans excoriated Hillary Clinton. According to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which filed a lawsuit against the commission in July, this violates the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which mandates the preservation of all presidential records.
  • Kobach signed on as a paid columnist for Breitbart, which Steve Bannon once called “the platform for the alt-right.” Ethics lawyers said that if Kobach used his column to promote the commission’s work, it would likely violate federal conflict-of-interest laws because he would profit from his position as head of a government task force.
  • On August 30, a federal judge strongly criticized the commission for failing to release documents to the public ahead of its first meeting and operate in a transparent manner. “You didn’t completely live up to the government’s representations,” Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly told Justice Department lawyers, calling their argument for the lack of disclosure “incredible.”
  • Following the attacks by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called for the commission to be shut downand said he’d introduce legislation to defund it. “If the president wants to truly show that he rejects the discrimination agenda of the white supremacist movement, he will rescind the Executive Order that created this commission,” Schumer wrote. “And if the president does not act, the Congress should prohibit its operation through one of the must-pass legislative vehicles in September.”

Trump’s Lawyers Wanted Kushner Out

Some of Trump’s legal team are looking at his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and coming to the conclusion that nepotism may work in business, but not so much in politics.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, earlier in the summer several of Trump’s legal team suggested that Kushner’s involvement with the ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election made him a liability, and as such, he should be asked to step down as adviser.

Press aides to Trump’s legal team allegedly even went so far as to draft a statement explaining why Kushner was leaving the White House.

The statement, meant to be issued by Kushner, blamed a toxic political environment for turning Kushner’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign into an attack on Trump.

Kushner has since appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about that June 2016 meeting, where he, along with Donald Trump Jr. and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort expected to be given some oppo-dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Along with worrying that Kushner might discuss the ongoing investigation with Trump or other aides, creating new legal troubles, there was a concern over his federal disclosure forms.

Kushner has had to revise those forms at least three times, and has added contacts with over 100 foreign officials that he somehow forgot about in his initial filing.

The idea that Kushner is poison isn’t limited to Trump’s legal team. The notion has been out there for some time, but Trump has staked a lot of responsibility and purpose in his golden boy.

Maybe Trump keeps him around because he is family and therefore above reproach.  Or maybe it is better to have him in the house and happy, as opposed to outside the house and disgruntled.

9/11 Plus 16 — What If Trump Was President?

Each year as 9/11 comes and goes, there is less added to the perspective. An entire generation is now politically aware, who cannot remember that horrible day.  Bizarre, to me.

We forget that Bush, like Trump, was in the infancy of his presidency. I remember thinking that he was over his head — partly because it was unprecedented, and partly because it was, frankly, Bush.

But at least he was surrounded (mostly) by smart people (mostly) and the crisis was handled deftly in the immediate days… until it became a war against Iraq (who did not attack us).

One wonders if the Trump Administration is prepared for something on that level. I suspect not, and I say that knowing that he has the benefit of a 9/11/ type attack no longer being “unprecedented”.  But consider this:

  • The White House is in constant disarray as key personnel are hired and fired at an unprecedented rate. One cost is that most basic measure of experience: days on the job. Another is an inability to forge sustained working relationships as colleagues are summarily dispatched in the manner of a reality-TV show. And how can those who remain do their best work when the boss at the top exhibits a management style that is as volatile and erratic as it is petty? Many dignified people have simply refused to consider working for him.
  • Huge numbers of important State Department positions are still unfilled, including key undersecretary positions; and the ability of the United States to conduct diplomacy or to draw on country-specific expertise seems to have atrophied.
  • The United States is crazy divided. And according to a recent Fox News poll, it isn’t just that a majority of Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing—56 percent say that he is “tearing the country apart.”
  • The Trump Organization’s murky asset portfolio, with heavy investments in numerous foreign countries, and the Trump family’s refusal to divest from it, makes it impossible for congressional overseers or the public to adequately discern when the Trump family’s business interests diverge from America’s interests.

And none of this gets to Trump’s incompetency.

One HOPES that there is enough institutional competency such that a terrorist attack would not flummox us. After all, at this very moment, Texas is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma just trampled Florida.  And FEMA seems to be doing fine (Trump’s role seems to be limited to tweeting).

So maybe we can get by without Trump’s leadership, even in a 9/11-type event.

I just would prefer not to test that theory.

New Lead on Trump’s Obstruction Of Justice

The New York Times has a story that might prove pivotal in any obstruction-of-justice case that Mueller may pursue against Trump:

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has obtained a letter that President Trump and a top political aide drafted in the days before Mr. Trump fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, which explains the president’s rationale for why he planned to dismiss the director.

The May letter had been met with opposition from Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, who believed that some of its contents were problematic, according to interviews with a dozen administration officials and others briefed on the matter.

Mr. McGahn successfully blocked the president from sending Mr. Comey the letter, which Mr. Trump had composed with Stephen Miller, one of the president’s top political advisers. A different letter, written by the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, and focused on Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, was ultimately sent to the F.B.I. director on the day he was fired.

The contents of the original letter appears to provide the clearest rationale that Mr. Trump had for firing Mr. Comey. It is unclear how much of Mr. Trump’s rationale focuses on the Russia investigation, although Mr. Trump told aides at the time he was angry that Mr. Comey refused to publicly say that Mr. Trump himself was not under investigation. Mr. Comey later said in testimony to Congress that the president was not under investigation.

Guess we’ll have to wait to find out what is IN the letter.

This comes on an offensive by the Trump team (using the media) to discredit Comey, arguing that Comey had drafted a memo exonerating Hillary Clinton before finishing his investigation.  The source of this information is Senators Grassley and Graham, although it is unclear where they got that information.

If true, it appears that Comey — who did not personally lead the investigation into Clinton — began circulating drafts of his statement to the investigation team as early as May for their feedback. The reason: Everything they had told him was leading to the outcome that there was going to be no criminal finding.

That in itself is not very scandalous. Said an anonymous person familiar with the Clinton investigation:

The person said back in spring 2016, agents and Justice Department officials were talking about how the investigation would end and there was a belief that the evidence was going in a direction to not support bringing charges. This individual said by April 2016 the FBI had reviewed most of the evidence and didn’t find evidence suggesting that Clinton had violated federal law. The person said the FBI wanted to interview her but didn’t believe it was going to change the outcome.

So… Comey prepared a draft memo. Big deal.

Meanwhile, it has become clear that the “official” reason for firing Comey, the memo written by Rod Rosenstein, was clearly after-the-fact bullshit.

Ivanka Is Either A Fake Or Stupid On Equal Pay

A few months ago:

From TPM:

First daughter Ivanka Trump, who made wage equality and workplace protections for women one of her signature issues on the campaign trail and in her personal brand, declared her support for the White House’s announcement Tuesday that it will halt a proposal requiring businesses to disclose employees’ pay, gender, race and ethnicity.

“While I believe the intention was good and agree that pay transparency is important, the proposed policy would not yield the intended results,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal. “We look forward to continuing to work with EEOC, OMB, Congress and all relevant stakeholders on robust policies aimed at eliminating the gender wage gap.”

Wait — information about employees’ pay and gender will not help provide information on gender wage gap?  It sounds to me like JUST the sort of things that is needed.

 

Maybe We’re Better Off With A Weak Trump?

Trump is a bad president, but he’s bad in two ways. He’s bad because his policies are evil, but he is also proving to be bad in the sense of being hopelessly ineffective.  The latter trait is a good thing if you are concerned about the former trait. The former trait was obvious to anyone paying attention during the campaign, but the latter trait — which couldn’t be known until he had actually taken office — is revealing itself everyday.

Let’s look at the bill of particulars, courtesy of Axios:

  • Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are going their own way on tax reform. Hill sources believe his original targets, including a 15% corporate rate, are dead.
  • SecDef Mattis didn’t immediately embrace his full ban on transgender troops.
  • His Justice Department won’t drop the Russia probe.
  • Courts won’t allow his full Muslim ban.
  • Mexico won’t pay for his wall.
  • Congress won’t pay for his wall.
  • The Senate won’t pass his promised health-care reform.
  • Gary Cohn and Sec State Tillerson won’t tolerate his Charlottesville response.
  • North Korea won’t heed his warnings.
  • China doesn’t fear his trade threats.
  • CEOs won’t sit on his councils.
  • Mexico and Canada won’t bend to his will on NAFTA.

And in fact, NOW Defense Secretary Mattis is “suspending” the transgender ban until he can fully assess the impact.  Although, he asserts that Trump’s order gave him the power to do this (and therefore, he is not contradicting Trump), he is… let’s be real… contradicting Trump.

Granted, a weak Trump isn’t ALWAYS a good thing.  North Korea, for example, not being threatened by him makes everyone a little unsteady.  But for the most part, Trump’s initiatives are DOA.

Greg Sargant notes that Trump is going to Missouri tonight to sell a “populist” tax plan, which is nothing more than trickle-down economics.

In reality, what we will actually hear at this speech is the death rattle of whatever pretensions to genuine economic populism Trump has ever harbored, if any. Trump will make it official that this rhetoric is merely a disguise for the same old trickle-down economics we have heard for decades — confirming that his economic agenda is in sync with the very same GOP economic orthodoxy that he so effectively used as a foil to get elected.

***

Trump’s plan, then, will be sold as targeting the well-connected few. But Axios reports on a remarkable quote about this from another White House official, who was pressed on how exactly Trump’s plan will target the well-connected few, given that it is expected to slash the top rate and corporate rate and repeal the estate tax.

“How I would look at this, from an American worker’s perspective, it’s basically a ‘made in America tax,’ “ the official said, adding that it would benefit workers to bring down the business tax rate to “level the playing field” with the “rest of the world.” Officials added that Trump’s plan would “un-rig” the economy by ending “special interest loopholes that have only benefited the wealthy and powerful few.”

But the broad strokes of that formulation, despite its packaging in the rhetoric of economic nationalism, actually constitute trickle-down economics.

“That’s trickle down,” Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told me today. “This whole notion that cutting taxes on rich guys and corporations is going to stimulate capital investment — that’s trickle down warmed over once again. We’ve seen this movie before. It always turns out badly.”

I hope enough congresscritters can prevent this from happening.

Meanwhile, Trump himself seems to be understanding that he is ineffective.

Of course, he takes a shot at the media, but this time it is of a whine (“All I Want To Do Is MAGA”, which is a terrible song title, by the way).

Trump’s Ego Fires Social Director

Donald Trump is the kind of emotionally unstable individual that would see a crowd of 4,000 to 10,000 and consider it rejection, so he lashed out, and a longtime aide paid the price.

From Bloomberg:

As his surrogates warmed up the audience, the expanse of shiny concrete eventually filled in with cheering Trump fans. But it was too late for a longtime Trump aide, George Gigicos, the former White House director of advance who had organized the event as a contractor to the Republican National Committee. Trump later had his top security aide, Keith Schiller, inform Gigicos that he’d never manage a Trump rally again, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Gigicos, one of the four longest-serving political aides to the president, declined to comment.

So Trump took the stage annoyed, and began his tirade against the media (of course), nonsensically defended his remarks regarding Charlottesville, threatened to shut down the government if they didn’t approve funding for the border wall (that Mexico was supposed to pay for), and then went after the two sitting Arizona senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake.

So what did Gigicos do wrong, that earned him the ire of the mad king?

Gigicos had staged the event in a large multipurpose room. The main floor space was bisected by a dividing wall, leaving part of the space empty. There were some bleachers off to the side, but otherwise the audience was standing — and the scene appeared flat, lacking the energy and enthusiasm of other rallies.

Gigicos has been in charge of arranging Trump’s campaign events for the past two years, and rallies, since he took office. But no more.

Trump shouldn’t be campaigning anyway, and he shouldn’t be wasting his time (on our dollar) with rallies. This presidency is just a reality show with an audience of one: Trump.

This is a good time to check in on the polls, because Pew just conducted a major survey.  I’ll dump the whole thing here, but here’s some major takeaways:

  1. Nearly a third of Republicans say they agree with the president on only a few or no issues, while a majority expresses mixed or negative feelings about his conduct as president.
  2. Issues aside, a majority of all those surveyed (58%) say they do not like the way Trump conducts himself as president, while 25% have mixed feelings about his conduct. Just 16% say they like the way he conducts himself as president.
  3. 58 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning Americans think Trump should be listening more to the more experienced members of his party, while just 34 percent say he should listen less.  (So much for the anti-elite movement)
  4. Among those who approve of Trump’s job performance (36% of the public), more than half (54%) volunteer something about his personality or general approach as what they like most; mentions of Trump’s policies or agenda are a distant second, at 14%.
  5. Half of Americans say they are very or somewhat confident in Trump to negotiate favorable trade agreements with other countries; nearly as many (46%) are at least somewhat confident he can make good appointments to federal courts. Trump draws less confidence in his ability to make wise decisions about immigration and the use of nuclear weapons (40% each). Majorities say they are not too or not at all confident in Trump’s handling of these two issues.
  6. A majority of Americans say prejudiced describes Trump at least fairly well (55%), compared with 42% who think it does not describe him well. And by 65% to 32%, the public thinks selfish is an apt descriptor of the president, including 46% who think it describes Trump “very well.”

  7. Large majorities of Republicans and Republican leaners think intelligent (87%) and decisive (76%) describe Trump at least fairly well. And most Republicans (71%) also think the word honest describes Trump well.  For Dems, it is 23%, 28%, and 10%, respectively.

But there is oh so much more. Dive deep.

As Houston Struggles, The Trump-Russia Collusion Story Deepens

Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States, is essentially paralyzed. Residents had to be rescued by helicopters and boats as streets turned into raging rivers and made evacuation all but impossible. Rain is expected for a few more days.  But the rescue efforts seem to be running along without Katrina-like snafus.

Seriously, the rain amount is insane for Houston:

Obviously, all media attention is turned to this, but as it happens, there is another big development in the Trump-Russia collusion story.

The New York Times reports:

A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.

The business associate, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which he boasted about his ties to Mr. Putin and predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would be a political boon to Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Mr. Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

The emails show that, from the earliest months of Mr. Trump’s campaign, some of his associates viewed close ties with Moscow as a political advantage. Those ties are now under investigation by the Justice Department and multiple congressional committees.

There is no evidence in the emails that Mr. Sater delivered on his promises. Mr. Sater, a Russian immigrant, was a broker for the Trump Organization at the time, which means he was paid to deliver real estate deals.

In another email, Mr. Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting in Moscow. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote.

Here is part of that email:

The Washington Post picks up the thread:

A top executive from Donald Trump’s real estate company emailed Vladi­mir Putin’s personal spokesman during the U.S. presidential campaign last year to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow, according to documents submitted to Congress Monday.

Michael Cohen, a Trump attorney and executive vice president for the Trump Organization, sent the email in January 2016 to Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s top press aide.

“Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower – Moscow project in Moscow City,” Cohen wrote Peskov, according to a person familiar with the email. “Without getting into lengthy specifics. the communication between our two sides has stalled.”

“As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon,” Cohen wrote.

Cohen’s email marks the most direct interaction yet documented of a top Trump aide and a similarly senior member of Putin’s government.

The email shows the Trump business official directly seeking Kremlin assistance in advancing Trump’s business interests, in the same months when Trump was distinguishing himself on the campaign trail with his warm rhetoric about Putin.

In a statement Cohen submitted to Congressional investigators, he said he wrote the email at the recommendation of Felix Sater, a Russian-American businessman who was serving as a broker on the deal.

This is relevant in context:

We have been told – not credibly – for more than a year that Donald Trump doesn’t have any properties or business interests in Russia. But for the first six months of his presidential campaign he was actively trying to secure a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and in early 2016 a top Trump business executive solicited the assistance of one of Vladimir Putin’s top aides in making the deal happen. This of course was happening while Trump was singing Putin’s praises on the campaign trail.

This is, to put it mildly, a big deal.

UPDATE: A third shoe…

Wall Street Journal enters the fray:

Michael Cohen, an attorney for the Trump Organization, discussed a prospective real-estate deal in Moscow with Donald Trump on three occasions during the presidential campaign, Mr. Cohen said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

In 2015, Mr. Cohen said, he informed the then-candidate that he was working on a licensing deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. He subsequently asked for and received Mr. Trump’s signature on a nonbinding letter of intent for the project in October 2015. And in January 2016, he said, he informed the then-candidate that he had killed the proposal. Mr. Cohen said each conversation was brief.

Mr. Cohen’s communication with the president about the Moscow project may come under scrutiny because of a January 2016 email Mr. Cohen sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top press official to ask for “assistance” in arranging the deal. Mr. Cohen said he didn’t inform Mr. Trump that he had sent the email to the press official, Dmitry Peskov. He didn’t respond when asked why he hadn’t done so.

In the email to Mr. Peskov, Mr. Cohen said communication between the Trump Organization and a Russia-based company that was the prospective developer of the tower had “stalled” and said, “As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals.”

The email was reported by the Washington Post on Monday and was confirmed by a person familiar with the exchange.

Mr. Cohen said in the Journal interview that he didn’t recall receiving a response from Mr. Peskov and opted to abandon the project weeks later. Mr. Peskov didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

The White House declined to comment and referred questions to Mr. Cohen’s attorney, who didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

So Trump was in the loop.

Hurricane Harvey

There’s a good reason why Mashable’s Andrew Freedman dubbed Hurricane Harvey—now barreling toward Texas and Louisiana—“the meteorological equivalent of a White Walker from Game of Thrones.”  This is no joke.  Harvey is likely to be the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2005. Harvey will make landfall late Friday or early Saturday.  The storm is expected to hit middle Texas coast. After that, Harvey will likely stall over the state, which could lead to catastrophic flooding. In fact, the storm surge of 20+ inches is the highest ever predicted.

Harvey was upgraded to Category 3 (winds of 111 to 129 mph) less than an hour ago.

One HOPES that FEMA and other regulatory agencies are consistent despite changes of the President, but with Trump, you just don’t know. Trump has been active on the twitter front regarding the hurricane as well, re-tweeting a photo of his conversation with Texas Governor Greg Abbot, and a video of Trump meeting being briefed by various FEMA officials ahead of the impending storm.  But that’s PR.

Will FEMA handle Harvey as poorly as Katrina? Probably not. In the wake of Katrina, significant changes have been made to ensure more efficiency on the part of the agency, typified by their ability to work effectively with several state, local, and federal organizations in the wake of Superstorm Standy.  Regardless, FEMA faces its first major challenge in some time, and the first under the Trump Administration. All eyes are on the response, relief, and recovery of this forthcoming natural disaster.

So far, though, so good. Dallas News reports FEMA has also set up a command center at an Airfield near Seguin TX, stationed trailers containing supplies, food, and water in San Antonio, and placed FEMA staff at Texas’s State Operation center to make coordination efforts as seamless as possible – while letting Texas officials take the lead. Gov. Abbott activated 700 or so members of the national guard ,the Houston School District announced multiple closing ahead of the storm, a state of disaster has already been declared for multiple counties, and those in power are speaking directly to the citizens regarding what to expect, how to prepare, and how to get out.

Two Trump Speeches

Well, Monday night we got Teleprompter Trump on live TV, giving an address about his Afghanistan plans. What was remarkable about it? Very little except that he did admit that presidenting is different from campaigning, which is why he is reversing his stance on getting the 100,000 troops out of Afghanistan.  You see, he learned that if you remove troops, you might create a power vacuum, which allows terrorists to grow and eventually come here.  Just like the Iraq power vacuum led to ISIS.

It’s NOT a horrible rationale, and obviously, Trump was listening to his military advisers (although he took credit). But realistically, what Trump proposed — a troop increase of undefined numbers, staying for an undefined amount of time — is just what he campaigned against: infinite war.

I don’t claim to know what is best to do about Afghanistan: quagmires be quagmires. I can’t second-guess the correctness of Trump’s “policy”. I just note that it is bizarre to see an isolationist learn in real time about the virtues of globalism.

And then came last night — the Trump Rally in Phoenix. It was pure campaign Trump, and although it was ostensibly for the 2020 election, it was really for Trump’s ego.

Clearly, Charlottesville was on Trump’s mind.  Four speakers took turns carefully denouncing hate, calling for unity and ever so subtly assuring the audience that the president is not racist. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proclaimed that “our lives are too short to let our differences divide us.” Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., led everyone in singing a few lines of “How Great Thou Art.” Evangelist Franklin Graham prayed for the politically and racially divided nation and asked the Lord to shut the mouths of “those in this country who want to divide, who want to preach hate.” And Vice President Pence declared that “President Trump believes with all his heart … that love for America requires love for all its people.” Meanwhile, a supporter seated directly behind stage even wore a T-shirt that stated: “Trump & Republicans are not racist.”

Okay, then.

Trump launched into one angry rant after another, repeatedly attacking the media and providing a lengthy defense of his response to the violent clashes in Charlottesville, between white supremacists and neo-Nazis and the counterprotesters who challenged them. He threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t receive funding for a wall along the southern border….

He announced that he will “probably” get rid of the North American Free Trade Agreement, attacked the state’s two Republican senators, repeatedly referred to protesters as “thugs” and coyly hinted that he will pardon Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted in July of criminal contempt in Arizona for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants.

Many of his “facts” were… well, false.  There’s not other word for it.

But he kept coming back to Charlottesville, and bashing the media for his response.  It was like Lenny Bruce when Lenny Bruce stopped being funny and simply started reading his trial transcripts.

At one point, Trump blamed the media for not properly covering his initial statement on the violence in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, and proceeded to read portions of his initial remarks.

“This is my exact words. ‘I love all the people of our country’ …. They (the media say), ‘Is he a racist?’ ” Trump said.

But Trump did not read the portion of his comments that were criticized by Republicans and Democrats for not explicitly condemning the racist, anti-Semitic protesters.

Here’s what Trump said in that first response to the chaos:

“We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Va.. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.”

Trump ignored the “on many sides, on many sides” — something that post-rally pundits were quick to point out. Said one, “Does he not think we have video of what he ACTUALLY said?”

Ten Navy sailors were killed in a terrible at-sea collision between a destroyer and a freighter. Trump said nothing about that.

And in all his rants about Charlottesville, he never mentioned Heather Hayer, the woman killed by a Neo-Nazi.  Not once.

I guess that’s why Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer could hardly contain his glee:

WaPo reports that the sheen was lost after a while, even among his supporters:

But as the night dragged on, many in the crowd lost interest in what the president was saying.

Hundreds left early, while others plopped down on the ground, scrolled through their social media feeds or started up a conversation with their neighbors. After waiting for hours in 107-degree heat to get into the rally hall — where their water bottles were confiscated by security — people were tired and dehydrated and the president just wasn’t keeping their attention.

Don Lemon’s post-rally lead-in spoke for millions:

But as many pointed out, this wasn’t NEW — this was Rally Trump. The guy we saw on the campaign trail. Whining, defensive, divisive.  It’s not like he is going to get impeached for any of this.  In fact, this is why he got elected.

Day’s Unfolding Events

(1) Protest in Durham NC:

Scheduled for noon and 4 pm.  I’m following live feeds and the anti-protesters seem to have taken over downtown Durham. Not much of a fascist presence. Looks peaceful at the moment — some minor vandalism of base of statue that once had confederate monument.  Basically everything postponed until 4 pm.

(2) By the way, this is Infrastructure Week at the White House, but it’s been overshadowed by racism in the Oval Office of the White House. Being Infrastructure Week, this news is particularly embarrassing:

(3)  BREAKING — Bannon Out:

Yup, it’s true. WaPo:

President Trump has decided to dismiss his embattled chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, an architect of his 2016 general election victory, in a major White House shake-up that follows a week of racial unrest, according to two people familiar with the move.

Trump had been under mounting pressure to dispatch with Bannon, who many officials view as a political Svengali but who has drawn scorn as a leading internal force encouraging and amplifying the president’s most controversial nationalist impulses.

Bannon told friends on Friday that he expected to soon be informed whether he is being cut loose from the White House, according to multiple people close to him. One of them said Bannon is resigned to that fate, and has said he is determined to continue to advocate for Trump’s agenda on the outside.

“No matter what happens, Steve is a honey badger,” said this person, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. “Steve’s in a good place. He doesn’t care. He’s going to support the president and push the agenda, whether he’s on the inside or the outside.”

And this has gotta hurt:

Not surprising, since Bannon wanted a trade war with China.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Bannon was not pulling the strings on Trump. Trump was weened on rightwing and fake news, email forwards, and general bullshit. Bannon simply was a kindred spirit in ideology.  His removal was good in the sense that he was one of the few who could actually put some of the shit into action.

Remember, Bannon was not a party loyalist or even a Trump loyalist. Trump served Bannon’s interest. But Bannon, the ideologue, is unchained, and he has a mouthpiece in Breitbart News. This could get ugly:

Our Bigoted President: An Historical Week of Shame

It’s Friday, and it’s still difficult for me to comment on the fallout from Trump’s moral equivalence press conference on Tuesday.  Having tucked into his pocket some notes about what he was SUPPOSED to say…

Trump “went rogue” (i.e., was himself) and spoke some of the most upsetting words of any President ever.

The national discussion is all on my Twitter feed and there are so many angles:

(1) Bannon — Does he stay or go?
(2) Trump’s Councils — Mass resignations, including this one today (read the first letter of each paragraph)

(3)  Where the hell are Ivanka and Jared (they’re JEWISH for crying out loud)? (They are on vacation in Vermont, but still… they need to weigh in)
(4)  The movement to take down confederate statues. Personally, I think this is important, but only in a symbolic way. There are actual neo-nazis in our presence and they have the implicit support of our President. That’s a much bigger deal. However, they are coming down as communities demand it.
(5) The public silence from Republicans.  Many Republicans are willing to talk to reporters off-the-record, saying what everyone else says: that Trump has lost it, that he is damaging to the GOP and the country, that he is incapable of executing his duties as President, etc. Butmost (not all) lack the moral courage to go public.
(6)  Impeachment? Resignation? Censure?
(7)  Trump’s continued lies: his vineyard in Charlottesville, the General Pershing lie….
(8)  The terrorist attack in Barcelona — and how Trump can call out terrorists when they are Muslim
(9)  Oh those magazine covers

Charlottesville

I did not know it was even going on. I should have been paying attention to social media.  But I woke up on Saturday to news of skirmishes in Charlottesville. White nationalists gathered for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, ostensibly choosing that town because of the statute of Robert E. Lee, which was going to be taken down. It had little to do with Robert E. Lee.

The signs were in the making. The Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists had a spontaneous rally on Friday night, complete with tiki torches from Party City. The images invoked Nazi rallies from the 1930s.

As an aside, I would note that many of these racists are being identified, outed and facing the consequences.

A friend of mine suggested this was McCarthyism. It’s not. McCarthyism used the government to destroy people who were communists (and his political enemies). This is citizen action. And I argued that it could not lead to wide-spread firing of people for their political views (on ANY topic), because white supremacy is not simply a position on a single TOPIC; it is an ideology on the relative value of PEOPLE.

Day 2 was the schedule white nationalist protest in Charlottesville at noon. But the trouble started before then. The white nationalists were met by counterprotesters. Taunting led to shoving, which escalated into brawling.  Police allowed much of it to happen, and the planned whitey bigot rally was order cancelled.  Everyone dispersed, and the events of the day, troubling as they were, seemed over.

Then, around 1:45 p.m., a car plowed into another vehicle near a group of counterprotesters, creating a chain reaction that sent people flying. (Initial reports said the car had run directly into the crowd.)

Videos:



Officials identified the driver of the car as James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, a city near Toledo. One of Mr. Fields’s former history teachers called him “a very bright kid, but very misguided and disillusioned,” noting that he had written a report that was “very much along the party lines of the neo-Nazi movement.”

Nineteen people were hospitalized. One was dead, 32 year old Heather D. Heyer, of Charlottesville.

Then came what may be the most egregious thing of the whole weekend: the opffensivle tepid response from the President. On Saturday afternoon, he condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” but, conspicuously, did not single out white nationalists or neo-Nazis. Pressed on whom Mr. Trump was blaming, an unnamed White House spokesman told reporters on Saturday: “The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counterprotesters today.”

WaPo editorial board:

HERE IS what President Trump said Saturday about the violence in Charlottesville sparked by a demonstration of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.

Here is what a presidential president would have said:

“The violence Friday and Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., is a tragedy and an unacceptable, impermissible assault on American values. It is an assault, specifically, on the ideals we cherish most in a pluralistic democracy — tolerance, peaceable coexistence and diversity.

“The events were triggered by individuals who embrace and extol hatred. Racists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and their sympathizers — these are the extremists who fomented the violence in Charlottesville, and whose views all Americans must condemn and reject.

“To wink at racism or to condone it through silence, or false moral equivalence, or elision, as some do, is no better and no more acceptable than racism itself. Just as we can justly identify radical Islamic terrorism when we see it, and call it out, so can we all see the racists in Charlottesville, and understand that they are anathema in our society, which depends so centrally on mutual respect.

“Under whatever labels and using whatever code words — ‘heritage,’ ‘tradition,’ ‘nationalism’ — the idea that whites or any other ethnic, national or racial group is superior to another is not acceptable. Americans should not excuse, and I as president will not countenance, fringe elements in our society who peddle such anti-American ideas. While they have deep and noxious roots in our history, they must not be given any quarter nor any license today.

“Nor will we accept acts of domestic terrorism perpetrated by such elements. If, as appears to be the case, the vehicle that plowed into the counterprotesters on Saturday in Charlottesville did so intentionally, the driver should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The American system of justice must and will treat a terrorist who is Christian or Buddhist or Hindu or anything else just as it treats a terrorist who is Muslim — just as it treated those who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

“We may all have pressing and legitimate questions about how the violence in Charlottesville unfolded — and whether it could have been prevented. There will be time in coming days to delve further into those matters, and demand answers. In the meantime, I stand ready to provide any and all resources from the federal government to ensure there will be no recurrence of such violence in Virginia or elsewhere. Let us keep the victims of this terrible tragedy in our thoughts and prayers, and keep faith that the values enshrined in our Constitution and laws will prevail against those who would desecrate our democracy.”

The President was wrong, but he’s never been interested in facts. There was not “many sides” there. There was the Nazi side, and the anti-Nazi side, and it is not hard to pick a side, even with the 140 character limit of Twitter.

Let’s examine this more closely:

The right-wing protesters were relatively homogenous — in ideology and appearance — and largely ready for violence. They ranged from old-line racists like the Ku Klux Klan to the ones who wear polo shirts instead of hoods who try to brand themselves “alt-right.” There was no ambiguity about their cause — they demand the nation become whiter, and they are emboldened by a White House administration they believe makes that promise when the president yells “America first.”

The counterprotesters, in contrast, represented a far broader spectrum of the American center and left. There were self-identified “anti-fascists”; Black Lives Matter activists from around the country; religious leaders, including around 100 Christian ministers wearing their clerical collars; furious Charlottesville residents; and garden-variety liberals from as far away as Seattle. A handful of the “anti-fascists” wore Black Bloc garb — black shirt, black pants, black balaclava — to conceal their identities from police, though most did not.

The right-wingers were more prepared for violence. Most white supremacist and Nazi groups arrived armed like a paramilitary force — carrying shields, protective gear, rods, and yes, lots of guns, utilizing Virginia’s loose firearm laws. They used militarized defensive maneuvers, shouting commands at one another to “move forward” or “retreat,” and would form a line of shields or a phalanx — it’s like they watched 300 a few times — to gain ground or shepherd someone through projectiles. It seemed that they had practiced for this. Virginia’s governor said that the right’s weaponry was better than that of the state police. The opposition was largely winging it, preferring to establish bases in other parks with water, coffee, food, first aid, and comfort. Conflict would start much the same as it has at other alt-right rallies: two people, one from each side, screaming, goading each other into throwing the first punch.

By Sunday, even among the most radical voices on the left, there was incredulity at attempts — from various swaths of the mainstream to pro-Trump media, and of course, the president himself — to compare them to their enemies. This is Trump’s “many sides.”

A no-brainer on which side came to fight and suppress.

Pressure on the President is huge. But so far, he and VP Pence have doubled down. Pence, for example, has issued statements condemning violence from the far-right and far-left — again with the false equivalence.

The fallout? It means white supremacists will feel emboldened by the events of this weekend. This cannot be disputed. They say it, others say it of them, and the evidence is right before our eyes. If you see a conservative online saying this isn’t so, that person is lying. They felt and feel emboldened. It’s simply a fact.

During the campaign, Donald Trump needed to distance himself very publicly from the “alt-right,” a movement which is just a glorified white supremacist movement. This was due in no small part to his ties to Bannon-bart, but also just his own personality cult. His campaign talking points and promises were dog-whistles to these self-identified white nationalists, who have not been mainstream for decades.

However, now they feel like they are mainstream, and yes, to a certain extent, that is on the President. His hesitation to call their movement by name this weekend, something many GOP lawmakers criticized him over, is an utter failure on his part and the part of those attempting to advise and guide him. When David Duke says a rally of racist neo-Nazis is a “fulfillment” of your campaign’s promise, your immediate reaction should be to publicly state that, as a matter of fact, it is not. This is not me or us. He didn’t do that.

Calls for the ouster of Trump adviser Steve Bannon, as well as Stephen Miller and neo-Nazi Alexander Gorka, are approaching fever pitch. The rift on the right is stronger than it has ever been.  The Bannon supporters seem to be pushing hard on National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

This, on top of everything, is going to dog Trump (as it should)

Trump’s tweets this morning?

And then the chief executive of Merck said this morning in a tweet that he was resigning from President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council, saying he was doing so “as CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience” and that “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”

Within an hour after the statement was first issued, Trump tweeted his response. “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

UPDATE 1 pm – Under pressure, Trump gave a 5 minute statement – no questions – condemning racism (“Racism is evil”). It’s not enough. He did it under pressure and everyone (including his neo-Nazi fans) know it. Even then, he denounced hate groups “including” white nationalists, implying there were others (BLM)

Oh, it was of course read from a teleprompter. He couldn’t speak from the heart.

Locked And Loaded? Really?

“Locked and loaded”?  This macho shit is insane. I don’t even know what that means.

LATE UPDATE FROM AN AFTERNOON PRESS CONFERENCE:

Look, giving Trump credit which he doesn’t deserve, he COULD be acting that madman. Nixon and Kissinger did that with Vietnam — Kissinger would go to the North Vietnamese and say “Hey, you better back down because I can’t control the President and how knows what the fuck he’ll do” or words to that effect.  So some have speculated that Trump is playing that game.

The problem is… we don’t have a Kissinger.  In fact, we don’t have that much of a diplomatic corps at all. Trump has gutted it, or plans to.

Also, Trump, whether he intends it or not, is drawing a red line in the sand. And he might have to back up his words with action someday — a situation he is not accustomed to.

Past presidents have sent warnings to Kim Jong Un, just not through Twitter. Between them and the UN (which just passed huge sanctions), that has avoided war. I’m not sure Trump is interested in avoiding war.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Defense accused the United States of stirring regional conflict and suggested that such operations bolstered China’s case for building military facilities across the sea to defend its claimed territory. Vietnam, the Philippines and other governments also claim islands and adjacent waters in the sea.

“We strongly urge the United States to immediately mend its ways and end illegal provocations in the name of so-called freedom of navigation,” Senior Col. Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defense, said on its website on Friday. “The American military provocation will only induce the Chinese military to further build up various defensive capacities.”

But in an editorial, The Global Times said China should make it clear to both sides: “when their actions jeopardize China’s interests, China will respond with a firm hand.”

“China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral,” it added. “If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.”

And Homeland Security in Guam sent out this disturbing bulletin to civilians. The advice includes tips such as: “Do not look at the flash or fireball – It can blind you” and “Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.”

Yikes.

Is there anyone DE-escalating this thing?  Apparently so….

WASHINGTON (AP) — Beyond the bluster, the Trump administration has been quietly engaged in back channel diplomacy with North Korea for several months, addressing Americans imprisoned in the communist country and deteriorating relations between the long-time foes, The Associated Press has learned.

It had been known the two sides had discussions to secure the June release of an American university student. But it wasn’t known until now that the contacts have continued, or that they have broached matters other than U.S. detainees.

People familiar with the contacts say the interactions have done nothing thus far to quell tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile advances, which are now fueling fears of military confrontation. But they say the behind-the-scenes discussions could still be a foundation for more serious negotiation, including on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, should President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un put aside the bellicose rhetoric of recent days and endorse a dialogue.

… but I wish I had more confidence on who they are and where they are getting their marching orders from.

 

Don’t Let Trump Read This

It’s now becoming routine — Trump’s advisers have to walk back his off-the-cuff statements… this time to avert war.

From Jon Chait:

The New York Times has much more detail. Trump improvised his threat without advance consultation with his advisers, none of whom support it. The paper he was holding when he made the statement was about the opioid crisis. Trump “was in a bellicose mood” when he made the statement, due to a Washington Post report that morning about North Korea having miniaturized a nuclear warhead.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis have issued more normal-sounding statements intended to supersede the president’s improvised one. (Mattis’s statement redraws the red line, threatening reprisal in return for North Korean actions, rather than threats.) The message of this cleanup is that Trump’s statements do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S. government – a reality most American political elites in both parties already recognize, but which needs to be made clear to other countries that are unaccustomed to treating their head of state like a random Twitter troll.

It is humiliating for the world’s greatest superpower to disregard its president as a weird old man who wanders in front of microphones spouting off unpredictably and without consequence. But at this point, respect for Trump’s capabilities is a horse that’s already fled the barn. New chief of staff John Kelly has supposedly instilled military-style order and message discipline into the administration, but Trump is unteachable. Minimizing the havoc means getting everybody to pretend Trump isn’t really president.

Emphasis mine.

 

Interesting Poll Numbers From North Carolina — Trump Underwater

From PPP:

PPP’s new North Carolina poll finds strong, bipartisan opposition to cuts the General Assembly has made to the budget of the North Carolina Department of Justice. Only 18% of voters support the 10 million dollars in cuts that have been made, to 60% who say they are opposed to them. This opposition is shared by independents (9/68), Democrats (18/65), and Republicans (26/48) alike. Concern about the cuts is fueled by a sense that they will have the effect of making the state less safe- 59% of voters believe that will be the outcome of cuts to funding for the DOJ, while only 12% say they think the cuts will make the state safer.

A plurality of voters- 46%- think the Republicans in the General Assembly made the cuts just because the Attorney General is a Democrat. Only 21% think they did it because it’s good for the state, and 33% aren’t sure one way or another. This is one of several issues driving the popularity of the General Assembly- and the Republicans in it in particular- into the ground. Only 18% of voters approve of the job the General Assembly is doing, to 58% who disapprove. While the Democrats in the body aren’t popular- a 37/46 favorability rating- they come out far better than the Republicans who just 32% of voters see positively, with 55% viewing them in a negative light.

Democrats have an early 46-40 lead on the generic legislative ballot for next year. That includes a double digit lead among independent voters, at 39/29. One thing that’s particularly good news for the party is that enthusiasm is on their side- 57% of Democrats say they’re ‘very excited’ to vote in the election next year, compared to only 47% of Republicans who say that. Among just voters who say they’re ‘very excited’ about turning out in 2018, the generic ballot lead for Democrats more than doubles to 13 points at 52/39.

There continues to be a strong bipartisan consensus in support of nonpartisan redistricting in North Carolina. Overall 56% of voters support it, to just 14% who are opposed. Majorities of independents (63/10), Republicans (55/15), and Democrats (53/17) alike are in favor of shifting to that model for drawing district lines.

Roy Cooper:

Roy Cooper is off to a much better start as Governor than his two immediate predecessors. 48% of voters approve of the job he’s doing, to 33% who disapprove. He’s on solid ground with independents at 45/26, and his -32 approval with Republicans at 22/54 is actually well ahead of the curve for a politician across party lines in these heavily polarized times.

Cooper’s numbers look particularly good when compared to what PPP found for Pat McCrory and Bev Perdue in August of their first terms. Cooper’s the only one of the trio who hadn’t become unpopular within 7 months of taking office. His net approval is 27 points better than McCrory’s was at the same time, and 40 points better than Perdue’s was at the same time.

Governor Approval Rating, August of First Year in Office Net Approval
Roy Cooper 48/33 +15
Pat McCrory 39/51 -12
Bev Perdue 27/52 -25

Speaking of McCrory, voters say by a 44/37 spread that they think Cooper has been a better Governor than he was. Voters are closely divided in their feelings both about McCrory, and whether he should run again in 2020. 40% of voters see him favorably, to 41% with an unfavorable opinion of him. 41% of voters think he should run again for Governor in 2020, to 44% who think he should sit it out. Notably, among Republican voters McCrory has a 66/15 favorability rating while Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest’s is just 29/14.

National Issues:

-Donald Trump is unpopular in North Carolina, although his numbers are at least better than they are nationally. 44% of voters approve of the job he’s doing, to 50% who disapprove. Only 37% of voters think Trump has succeeded in his signature promise to ‘Make America Great Again,’ with 52% saying they believe he has failed on that front. 49% of North Carolinians say they wish they could have Barack Obama back as President, to just 45% who are happier with Trump.

One issue that’s not helping his image- or that of Republican Senators- in the state is health care. 47% of North Carolinians now support the Affordable Care Act, to only 38% who opposed to it. Repeal efforts have made it more and more popular. By contrast just 29% of voters say they support the health care repeal bill recently considered in Congress, to 51% who express opposition to that. 55% think the best path forward on health care is to keep the Affordable Care Act and make changes to it as necessary, to just 37% who think the best thing to do is repeal the ACA.

The health care vote could have long term implications for Thom Tillis. He already has weak approval numbers, with just 28% of voters approving of the job he’s doing to 45% who disapprove. By a 16 point margin voters say they’re less likely to vote in the future for someone who supported the health care repeal bill in Congress- 46% say being on the record in support of that makes them less likely to vote for someone, to only 30% who say it makes them more likely to vote for someone. That could be a problem for Tillis in 2020, and more short term for some Republican House members up for reelection next year, especially when the anger over health care is combined with the enthusiasm advantage Democrats are currently enjoying.

Full results here

Fire and Fury

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state. And as I said they will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.

Trump was reading from a statement when he said this, and nobody is quite sure who wrote it. Probably Trump himself since he sans advisers at his Bedminster Golf Course. Bannon is a non-interventionist, and his wiser military advisers would definitely have urged Trump use softer (and non-public) language and perhaps try to DE-escalate the situation.

UPDATE —

Instead, what we have is one narcissistic lunatic facing off against another, each one making grand pronouncements from which it is difficult to back down.

North Korea returns rhetoric:

The president’s comments came as North Korea earlier in the day escalated its criticism of the United States, as well as its neighboring allies, by warning that it will mobilize all its resources to take “physical action” in retaliation against the latest round of United Nations sanctions.

The statement, carried by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, was the strongest indication yet that the country could conduct another nuclear or missile test, as it had often done in response to past United Nations sanctions. Until now, the North’s response to the latest sanctions had been limited to strident yet vague warnings, such as threatening retaliation “thousands of times over.”

“Packs of wolves are coming in attack to strangle a nation,” the North Korean statement said. “They should be mindful that the D.P.R.K.’s strategic steps accompanied by physical action will be taken mercilessly with the mobilization of all its national strength.”

“Fire and fury” versus “pack of wolves”.  How long before “winter is coming”?

North Korea followed up with a threat against Guam, which has two US military bases:

North Korea said on Wednesday it is “carefully examining” a plan to strike the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam with missiles…
A spokesman for the Korean People’s Army, in a statement carried by the North’s state-run KCNA news agency, said the strike plan will be “put into practice in a multi-current and consecutive way any moment” once leader Kim Jong Un makes a decision.

In another statement citing a different military spokesman, North Korea also said it could carry out a pre-emptive operation if the United States showed signs of provocation.

Earlier Pyongyang said it was ready to give Washington a “severe lesson” with its strategic nuclear force in response to any U.S. military action.

Resolution 2371 was a proper response, and a rare Trump victory.  It was unanimously supported in a vote by the UN Security Council several days ago. As a result of its passage, “the regime of Kim Jong Un will be banned from exporting any goods or services. The BBC estimates that the sanctions will reduce North Korean exports from $3 billion to $2 billion annually. That $2 billion will be retained by continued illicit trading with nations such as China”. The sanctions also “ban[s] member countries from importing coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood from North Korea. They also prohibit member nations from hosting any additional workers from the North above their current levels.”

How serious is this? Well, we are (once again, with Trump) in unknown waters. He is determined to have something in the “win” column, and he is determined to do things different than his predecessors. That does not bode well.

Nor does he seem to understand that consequences of using nuclear weapons, even in a preventative way. The United States, if it acts nuclearly and preventatively, will be a pariah for history, ceding its world leadership position to Russia and China. Which is what Russia and China, and maybe even Bannon, want.  Trump seems rather ho-hum about proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries (“I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us“) and has not ruled using nukes against ISIS. That does not bode well.

Of course, it might be rhetoric used to intimidate our enemies, but in many ways, it becomes a red line that he will be forced to cross or not cross. Keep in mind, North Korea knows that Trump lies — i.e., says things he does not mean. He has a credibility problem. So now Trump’s unfaithfulness to truth is more than just an annoyance to voters; it now plays a factor in a potential nuclear standoff.  THAT does not bode well.

Trump would be better off speaking softly and carrying a big stick.  John McCain believes the situation is serious, but he warns that the president’s rhetoric is not helpful.

McCain is right, the situation is serious, but it’s not Cuban Missile Crisis serious.  First of all, only one intelligence agency thinks that North Korea has miniature nuclear weapon capabilities. Secondly, we really CAN wipe out North Korea if it strikes at all, and Kim Jung Un knows that. I HOPE.  Rex Tillerson tells everyone to take a chill pill. Via AP:

Only hours before Trump’s tweets, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged calm and said Americans should have “no concerns” despite the exchange of threats between the president and North Korea. Aboard his plane as he flew home from Asia, Tillerson insisted the developments didn’t suggest the U.S. was moving closer to a military option to dealing with the crisis.

“Americans should sleep well at night,” Tillerson said. He added: “Nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours.”

In more tranquil terms than Trump, Tillerson sought to explain the thinking behind Trump’s warning. He said the president was trying to send a strong and clear message to North Korea’s leader so that there wouldn’t be “any miscalculation.”

“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un can understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said. “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the U.S. unquestionable ability to defend itself.” He said the U.S. “will defend itself and its allies.”

I’m not sure that is calming.  This is not going away tomorrow, or two months from now.  We have severe sanctions and a good shot at getting China on our side more. Let’s go with that policy and not blow it up (literally) with over-the-top touch talk from a luxury resort.

UPDATE:  Here’s a sobering reminder…

As former Secretary of Defense William Perry told the podcast Radiolab, “the system is set up so only the president has the authority to order a nuclear war. Nobody has the right to countermand that decision.”

Nobody. Not the Defense Secretary. Not the vice president. Not the generals. Not the individual officers tasked with launching the missiles. Donald Trump alone decides whether to set off a nuclear holocaust.

The reason for this is that our nuclear protocols were designed for a very different era, when the threat of an external enemy loomed much larger than the threat of a madman president.

On the other hand, you always gotta laugh…

Will The Attorney General’s Investigation Into Leaks Snare Trump And Fox News?

Here is a tweet from Fox News this morning at 5:30 a.m.:

By the way, that’s some serious shit, but let’s set aside the content and just note that Fox & Friends linked to a Fox News site talking about information that came from “sources”.

And Donald Trump retweeted it:

There’s one problem. The information from Fox News was actually confidential information from intel sources, i.e., the kind of leak that Trump and Sessions said they would go after.

Look at the awkwardness a few hours later when Fox & Friends interview UN Representative Nikki Haley about the North Korea issue, and she tells them it is confidential.

Ah yes…. and now a flashback:

Trump’s Vacation Doesn’t Stop The Tweets (and Leaks)

Nine tweets so far today from Trump — several attacking the “failing” New York Times for an article about 2020 Republicans contenders against Trump, a few trying to reassure everyone that he is actually “working” on his vacation, and this…

… which seems to unintentionally confirm that there was… collusion?  Ah well.

Why did Trump go after Blumenthal? Probably this:

The last tweet was Blumenthal’s response to Trump today, but the first two tweets talk about Trump’s financials.  Trump REALLY REALLY does not want anybody to go in there.

We seem to have stopped the silly game of staff shake-up, and Kelly is in charge. The Attorney General has asserted that he will crack down on leaks by prosecuting journalists, an odd way to go about it.

Of course, as everyone says, there are leaks of two varieties: (1) run-of-the-mill leaks (gossip and palace intrigue about the process, etc.) and (2) leaks of classified information. I doubt Trump distinguishes between the two.

Of course, some leaks of classified information MIGHT be considered whistleblowing, although I don’t think we’ve seen any of that type yet. In any event, Mother Jones has provided a list of wonderful things we wouldn’t know about were it not for the leaks:

Former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn lied about his contacts with the then-Russian ambassador. On February 9, the Washington Post reported that US intelligence intercepts showed that, despite denials to his colleagues, Flynn had spoken during the transition period to Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador at the time, about US sanctions on Russia. Flynn had previously told Vice President Mike Pence that there had been no discussion of sanctions, and Pence repeated the claim in nationally televised interviews.

Intelligence and Justice Department officials knew that Flynn had lied, and they warned the White House that Flynn’s lie could be used by the Russian government as blackmail—meaning that Trump’s National Security Adviser was, himself, an apparent national security risk. Flynn stayed on the job for another 18 days before Trump fired him. Trump said he fired Flynn not for the contact with Kislyak, but for lying to Pence about it. Flynn might still be working in the White House if the Washington Post hadn’t received that leaked information.

Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn. On May 16, the New York Times reported that in February, after a meeting with several top national security officials, Trump asked Comey to stick behind in the Oval Office. When they were alone, the president allegedly told Comey that he hoped he “could see [his] way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”

Comey documented the encounter in a contemporaneous memo that was later read to the Times, and Comey then talked about the request in June during testimonybefore the Senate Intelligence Committee. Those memos were the subject of another New York Times story, this one alleging that Trump had asked Comey for “loyalty.” The White House denied Comey’s characterization of the request.

Two days after the Times revealed the existence of the memos, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government.

Trump called Comey “crazy” and “a nut job” in a meeting with top Russian officials and said that firing Comey relieved pressure from the Russia investigation. The day after Trump fired Comey, he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Kislyak at the White House. During the meeting, Trump reportedly told the Russians, “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job…I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

The official White House account didn’t include this exchange, but on May 19 the New York Times published the comments thanks to an “American official” who read notes of the meeting to a Times reporter. Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not dispute the account when asked by the Times for a response.

Jared Kushner reportedly sought to establish a secret line of communication with the Russian government during the transition using Russian-government equipment. On May 26, the Washington Post reported that Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of his key White House advisors, discussed with the Russian ambassador the possibility of “setting up a secret and secure communications channel” between the Trump team and the Russian government, “using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to US officials briefed on the intelligence reports.” Kushner later denied the Post’s characterization of his meeting, saying instead that he merely sought to engage the Russians on how to solve problems in Syria.

Donald Trump Jr., hoping to get dirt on Clinton, arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer. Then President Trump helped craft a misleading description of his son’s meetingOn July 8, the New York Times, using “confidential government records,” reported that Donald Trump Jr. arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer, Kushner, former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, and several other people. The next day, the Times reported that the meeting was arranged via email with an explicit promise from a Russian associate of the Trump family that dirt on Hillary Clinton originating from the Russian government would be offered.

Under pressure, Trump Jr. released the email chain to the public—confirming the story—and said the meeting was minor and no big deal. Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, denied that the president had anything to do with crafting the response. But then on July 31, the Washington Post, using anonymous sourcesreported that the president was involved in crafting White House’s response to the original story—a response that misleadingly claimed that the meeting was about the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that sanctioned Russian officials thought to be involved in killing a Russian lawyer. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders then acknowledged that the president was involved, proving that the president’s lawyer misled the public about the president’s role in the matter.

Sessions, too, was the subject of leaks. On July 21, citing “current and former US officials,” the Washington Post reported that Sessions had discussed campaign-related matters with the Russian ambassador last year, contrary to what Sessions had said after it was revealed in March that he had met with Russian officials. The day after those revelations came out in March, Sessions recused himself from all Russia-related matters. Trump has since said that he regrets choosing Sessions as his AG and that he would have picked someone else if he had known that Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. The president hasn’t fired Sessions yet, but the attorney general has extra incentive to crackdown on leaks after unauthorized disclosures put his job in jeopardy.

This last leak cannot be underestimated. Without the leak, Sessions stays as AG, and there is probably no special counsel after Comey is fired.

It’s hard to know if more leaks will come. Reince Priebus, no doubt, was the source of many of them. But I suspect other sources as well. They may have to lay low, or become deeper, like Deep Throat.

 

Breaking: Mueller Empanels DC Grand Jury

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The grand jury, which began its work in recent weeks, is a sign that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry is ramping up and that it will likely continue for months. Mr. Mueller is investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign or associates colluded with the Kremlin as part of that effort.

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller, Joshua Stueve, declined to comment. Moscow has denied seeking to influence the election, and Mr. Trump has vigorously disputed allegations of collusion. The president has called Mr. Mueller’s inquiry a “witch hunt.”

Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said he wasn’t aware that Mr. Mueller had started using a new grand jury. “Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Mr. Cobb said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly.…The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”

As many people know, there already has been a grand jury in Virginia, focusing on Michael Flynn.

Before Mr. Mueller was tapped in May to be special counsel, federal prosecutors had been using at least one other grand jury, located in Alexandria, Va., to assist in their criminal investigation of Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser. That probe, which has been taken over by Mr. Mueller’s team, focuses on Mr. Flynn’s work in the private sector on behalf of foreign interests.

So what’s the big deal with THIS new one in D.C?:

Grand juries are powerful investigative tools that allow prosecutors to subpoena documents, put witnesses under oath and seek indictments, if there is evidence of a crime. Legal experts said that the decision by Mr. Mueller to impanel a grand jury suggests he believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses.

A grand jury in Washington is also more convenient for Mr. Mueller and his 16 attorneys—they work just a few blocks from the U.S. federal courthouse where grand juries meet—than one that is 10 traffic-clogged miles away in Virginia.

“This is yet a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas. “If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy. This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.”

It also suggests that Mueller is ready to move to the next phase of his investigation. It reflects that Mueller believes there’s a certain level of “there” there to justify a GJ investigation. You don’t talk to witnesses until you have a pretty good idea as to what the “truth” is (from wiretaps, etc.). That way, you can catch them in a lie.

Document Dump: Protecting Mueller

This bill — from Sens. Lindsey Graham, Cory Booker, Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal — us actually one of two bipartisan bills designed to protect the special counsel from removal by the President or Attorney General. The other bill — by Sens. Thom Tillis and Chris Coons (both on the Senate Judiciary Committee) — does essentially the same thing: it says the DC Circuit Court panel of 3 judges must approve any removal… and only for cause.

The “Fake News” Is Coming From Inside The (White) House

I have avoided writing about the Seth Rich conspiracy theory being propped up by Fox. It was just too disgusting. But now it has political, rather than journalistic, implications.

Seth Rich was murdered in Washington, D.C. in July 2016 in what police describe as a botched robbery attempt.

But the conspiracy-lovin’ right-wing manipulation machine, sensing intrigue — he was MURDERED! — used his death to make the case that it was not Putin who leaked emails to Wikileaks — it was Seth Rich. Fox News and others (the type who spread the story that Hillary Clinton was running a child-sex-slave ring in a D.C. pizza joint) ate it up.

Naturally, this accusation upset the family of Seth Rich. Not only did they have to deal with his unsolved murder, but now he was basically being libeled as a turncoat, with not one shred of evidence.  Eventually, Fox News had to discredit and retract the story (except for Sean Hannity who said he’d just stop talking about it — for now — out of “respect” for the family).

Now there’s a lawsuit filed by a private detective, Rod Wheeler, who was hired to investigate the murder.  Wheeler alleges that Fox News worked with White House officials to push the case to undermine allegations of Russian collusion with Trump’s presidential campaign. Fox News used quotes from Rod Wheeler.  But Wheeler he claims he never said those things. He even has recordings with the Trump supporter, Ed Butkowski who paid him to investigate, where Butowsky acknowledges the quotes are fake. Butowsky is a frequent guest on Fox business programs.

According to the lawsuit, Wheeler and Butkowski met with Sean Spicer during the investigation, Spicer has confirmed this, contradicting what he said last May that he didn’t know anything about the story. Butowsky messaged Wheeler before their meeting with Spicer, “We have the full attention of the White House on this.” Butowsky also claimed in emails to Wheeler that he was keeping the president informed, and that Trump really wanted the story published.

Reflect on that. The President who rails against fake news wanted a fake news story published to deflect the Russian collusion story.

On Tuesday night, Butowsky went on CNN to yell at Chris Cuomo and defend his statements as “jokes.” Again, with the jokes. Like Trump’s speech approving of police brutality — that was a joke too. These people really need to work on their humor.

I’m sure the odds of Fox News colluding with the White House is total bunk and we could get a statement from Sean Hannity assuring us it’s just crazy talk, or “fake news.” Except, Sean is probably too busy having a secret dinner with Trump in the White House. Whatever do they talk about over the meatloaf?

Wheeler’s lawyers would like to depose Trump (fat chance it’ll happen), but Spicer and Butowsky clearly will have to be deposed under oath. Perhaps even Hannity.  Keep an eye on this.

Trump Quietly Signs Russian Sanctions Bill

No big ceremony this time, although it is arguably the most important piece of legislation he has signed in his administration so far. He did issue a statement, calling the bill “seriously flawed”:

Statement by President Donald J. Trump on Signing the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”

Today, I signed into law the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” which enacts new sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia. I favor tough measures to punish and deter bad behavior by the rogue regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang. I also support making clear that America will not tolerate interference in our democratic process, and that we will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization.

That is why, since taking office, I have enacted tough new sanctions on Iran and North Korea, and shored up existing sanctions on Russia.

Since this bill was first introduced, I have expressed my concerns to Congress about the many ways it improperly encroaches on Executive power, disadvantages American companies, and hurts the interests of our European allies.

My Administration has attempted to work with Congress to make this bill better. We have made progress and improved the language to give the Treasury Department greater flexibility in granting routine licenses to American businesses, people, and companies. The improved language also reflects feedback from our European allies – who have been steadfast partners on Russia sanctions – regarding the energy sanctions provided for in the legislation. The new language also ensures our agencies can delay sanctions on the intelligence and defense sectors, because those sanctions could negatively affect American companies and those of our allies.

Still, the bill remains seriously flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking. By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together. The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President. This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice.

Yet despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity. It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.

Further, the bill sends a clear message to Iran and North Korea that the American people will not tolerate their dangerous and destabilizing behavior. America will continue to work closely with our friends and allies to check those countries’ malignant activities.

I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.

It is heavily parsed to kiss Russia’s ass.

Meanwhile, everyone is agog at the transcript of Trump’s interview with the Wall Street Journal. It happened on July 25, before the defeat of repeal and replace of Obamacare.  Again, we see that Trump has the attention span of a fly, jumping off subject over and over again, preening himself, lying, and well, being Trump.  As Drum explains:

Politico has gotten hold of a transcript of Donald Trump’s interview with the Wall Street Journal a few days ago. It started out with a question about the Republican health care bill:

MR. BAKER: What have you been doing, Mr. President, sort of behind the scenes?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: A lot. A lot.

Good to know! Then we got Trump’s thoughts on taxes:

I want to achieve growth. We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world, essentially, you know, of the size. But we’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. We have – nobody knows what the number is. I mean, it used to be, when we talked during the debate, 2 ½ trillion (dollars), right, when the most elegant person – right? I call him Mr. Elegant. I mean, that was a great debate. We did such a great job. But at that time I was talking $2 ½ trillion. I guess it’s 5 trillion (dollars) now. Whatever it is, it’s a lot more. So we have anywhere from 4 to 5 or even more trillions of dollars sitting offshore.

Who is Mr Elegant? Lester Holt? Then this:

You know, a lot of people say – they say, well, but the United States is large. And then you call places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and you say, you know, how many people do you have? And it’s pretty amazing how many people they have.

It’s amazing! They have so many people! Then this about trade talks with Britain:

WSJ: Can you tell us more about what’s going on?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, but I can say that we’re going to be very involved with the U.K. I mean, you don’t hear the word Britain anymore. It’s very interesting. It’s like, nope.

Wut? Then this about NAFTA:

WSJ: What are you looking for specifically –

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I’m looking for fairness.

WSJ: But what does that – can you give an example?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, it means – look, our automobile industry has just left us and gone to Mexico – I mean, a big chunk of it. And it’s very unfair for them to take our companies, build their cars, and then sell the car back into our country with no tax. It’s very unfair. They fire all our people in Michigan and Ohio, and they take it, and they build a car. And now they sell the car back in with no tax. It’s not fair.

This demonstrates Trump’s famous command of detail. In just this one interview, in fact, Trump demonstrated that he knows nothing about (a) health care, (b) taxes, (c) trade in general, and (d) NAFTA in particular. On none of these subjects could he dredge up more than the vaguest generalities. It’s like watching a middle-schooler trying to bluff his way through a book report on a book he hasn’t read.

And for closers, here’s a quick review of Trump’s relationships:

I have unbelievable relationships with all of the foreign leaders….I have a very good relationship with the prime minister [Theresa May]….I have a very good relationship with the EU people….I was with President Xi, who I have a very good relationship with….I have a lot of respect for Rex and his people, good relationship.

Everybody loves Donald Trump! Hooray!

To that I would add this:

WSJ: We were in West Virginia yesterday.

TRUMP: Oh, you did? Was that a scene, though? Huh?

WSJ: That was a scene, yes. (Laughter.)

TRUMP: Biggest crowd they’ve ever had. What did you think?

WSJ: I thought it was an interesting speech in the context of the Boy Scouts.

TRUMP: Right.

WSJ: They seemed to get a lot of feedback from former scouts and –

TRUMP: Did they like it?

WSJ: It seemed mixed.

TRUMP: They loved it. [Laughter.] It wasn’t — it was no mix. That was a standing –

WSJ: In the — you got a good — you got a good reaction in –

TRUMP: I mean, you know, he writes mostly negative stuff. But that was a standing ovation –

WSJ: You got a good reaction inside the arena, that’s right.

TRUMP: … from the time I walked out on the stage — because I know. And by the way, I’d be the first to admit mixed. I’m a guy that will tell you mixed. There was no mix there. That was a standing ovation from the time I walked out to the time I left, and for five minutes after I had already gone. There was no mix.

WSJ: Yeah, there was a lot of supporters in the arena.

TRUMP: And I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful. So there was — there was no mix.

No mix. Why not? Because the head of the Boy Scouts called and said otherwise. One problem there:

President Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal that after his controversial speech at the Boy Scouts National Jamboree in West Virginia, the head of the Boy Scouts called him and told him it was “the greatest speech that was ever made to them.” But the organization told TIME they are unaware of any call from national leadership placed to the White House.

This only happened last week. So again, obviously, Trump is lying.

Trump White House Staff 2.0

Spicer gone.

Anthony Scaramucci in as White House Communications Director.

Reince Priebus gone.

Jon Kelly in as new Chief of Staff.

What do I think?  What everybody else thinks:

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

(2) The problem starts and ends with Trump.

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

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

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

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

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

And that was just the opening paragraphs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE…. a few hours later:

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

NYT confirms this was Kelly’s doing:

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

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

Hot Mic: He’s Crazy

Awkward:

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

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

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

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

“I’m worried,” Collins replies.

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

“I know,” Collins replies.

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

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

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

“Right,” Collins replies.

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

“Good point,” Collins replies.

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

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

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

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

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

BIG Vote Today On Something That Nobody Knows What It Is

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are Republicans throwing together at the last minute?

“Skinny repeal”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Washington Post says Republicans are close to moving forward:

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

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

UPDATE #2:

Protests

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

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

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

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

Dems are all voting “no”

Pence breaks the tie.

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

 

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

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

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

EPILOGUE:

Trump Really DOES Want To Get Rid Of Sessions

Trump was VERY busy this morning on his Twitter machine.

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

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

What’s going on here?

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

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

Yeah, obviously.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senator Graham took to Twitter too:


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

I hope Trump and Bannon consider that.

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

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

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

How’s Sessions handling this? Not well:

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

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

Cruel, Insane and Stupid.  Trumpworld.

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

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

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

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

From Joe. My God.

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

Beleaguered Attorney General

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

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

UPDATE: 

But with this administration, who knows?

Kushner Releases Statement Of Testmony

Main takeaways:

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

My brief observations:

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

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

(3) Still many things we do not know —

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

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

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

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

Here’s the document:

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

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

Breaking: Sean Spicer Resigns

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

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

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

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

This….

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

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

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

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

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

He wasn’t always a Trump fan:

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

Spicer is over.

UPDATE — Jesus Christ, read this:

UPDATE #2 — Interesting tweets from Scaramucci

Person No 8 In The Trump Tower Meeting Is Identified

WaPo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Hits Record Unpopularity — But Does It Matter?

Six months into the Trump presidency.

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

At 538, Harry Enten put this chart out:

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

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

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

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

So Much For Don Junior’s “Transparency”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Rinet Akmetshin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, yeah…… him.

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

UPDATE:  Oh for the love of….

They can’t ALL be translators!

UPDATE #2: This is great…

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE – – 2 pm:

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

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

Sessions checked “No.”

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

Trump Participated In Lie To Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, Trump lied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collusion, Baby!

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, Trump Jr’s statement:

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

Now the emails in reverse chron order:

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

A bit of a sting to many journalists:

Fallout is serious and you know this for two reasons:

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

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

 

List of Shifting Stories On Russia Meetings

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

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

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

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

The Time Chelsea Snarked Back

With so much else going on, this happened too:

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

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

Get Your Head In The Game!

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

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

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

Podesta responded by Twitter (read from the bottom up)

:

Pretty insane what is on Trump’s mind.

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

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

Here are the possible outcomes as I see it:

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

We’re doomed.

UPDATE #2:

It lasted 2 and a half hours.

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

UPDATE #3:

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

CNN’s Jeff Zelny:

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

Then there’s this:

UPDATE #4:

And now this….

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

We’re screwed in 2018.

BONUS:

U.S. Government Ethics Chief Resigns

Because of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seems pretty stupid to be dismissive of their conclusions.

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

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

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

Did CNN Blackmail The Trump/CNN Wrestling GIF Creator?

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t.  

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

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

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

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

But as Think Progress says:

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

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

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

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

This should be the final word:

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

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

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

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

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

The presidency has been hijacked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last week, CNN reported:

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

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

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

Truth.