Thursday, December 13, 2018

It's Mueller Time...Around The World

A big scoop from Erin Banco at the Daily Beast: the Mueller investigation is set to indict foreign nationals from countries that tried to influence the Trump campaign, and it's a whole lot bigger than just Russia.

Over the past year, the indictments, convictions, and guilty pleas have largely been connected, in one way or another, to Russia. But now, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office is preparing to reveal to the public a different side of his investigation. In court filings that are set to drop in early 2019, prosecutors will begin to unveil Middle Eastern countries’ attempts to influence American politics, three sources familiar with this side of the probe told The Daily Beast.

In other words, the “Russia investigation” is set to go global.

While one part of the Mueller team has indicted Russian spies and troll-masters, another cadre has been spending its time focusing on how Middle Eastern countries pushed cash to Washington politicos in an attempt to sway policy under President Trump’s administration. Various witnesses affiliated with the Trump campaign have been questioned about their conversations with deeply connected individuals from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, according to people familiar with the probe. Topics in those meetings ranged from the use of social-media manipulation to help install Trump in the White House to the overthrow of the regime in Iran.

Now, according to those same sources, the Special Counsel’s Office is ready to outline what cooperating witnesses have told them about foreigners’ plans to help Trump win the presidency. Two sources with knowledge of the probe said Mueller’s team has for months discussed the possibility of issuing new charges on this side of the investigation.

“If this is going to be unveiled, this would be like the surfacing of the submarine but on the other plank which we haven’t seen,” said Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney. “I guess what Mueller has to date has turned out to be pretty rich and detailed and more than we anticipated. This could turn out to be a rich part of the overall story.”

The switch in focus comes as Mueller winds down cooperation with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who participated in 19 interviews with the special counsel’s team. In often-heavily redacted court documents made public over the last two weeks, the Special Counsel’s Office hinted at ways in which Flynn helped with its investigation into links between Trumpworld figures and the Russian government.

But Flynn was also involved in conversations with representatives and influential individuals from other foreign governments, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel—encounters The Daily Beast has reported over the last several months. Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller could bring new details about the scope of the special counsel’s probe into how individuals from those countries offered not only to help Trump win the presidential election, but also how they sought to influence foreign policy in the early days of the administration.

ZVTS readers shouldn't be surprised by this, I've told you this was coming for months.  The story first surfaced in June 2017, but really gelled in March 2018.

Hey look, it's our old friend Erik Prince, Blackwater founder and brother of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos!  If  the Times story seems familiar, that's because it should be. The CNN story that got retracted was really the other half of last year's Washington Post story from April on Prince attending this secret early January 2016 meeting with the Russians in the Seychelles.

Now we know who the UAE's broker was, George Nader...and he's cooperating with Mueller over possibly extremely illegal foreign campaign contributions to Trump. Kudos to the New York Times for putting these together.

Prince runs as a fixer for this meeting where money flows to Trump, and his sister ends up in Trump's cabinet.  Oh, and Prince gets access to the Pentagon to sell his latest mercenary war scheme just as the drums of war start up for North Korea.

Now imagine what Mueller's team knows about Nader, Prince, and DeVos, folks.  If Nader is getting a deal to talk to Mueller, the information he has is valuable to his investigation.  That means it's high-level stuff, like say, the Russians sending money to Trump's campaign through the UAE, and expecting things in return.

George Nader is the key to this side of the collusion and influence game.  He's been cooperating with Mueller for close to a year now., and yes, that includes Erik Prince's attempt to set up a Trump backchannel to Putin through the UAE.

Turns out that Robert Mueller knows all about that meeting because Nader is cooperating with Mueller's team, and that means there was far more to this January 2016 meeting than just a friendly chat.  We now know what that additional info is and what Nader is providing: it was a secret attempt at a backchannel between Trump and Putin and Nader was a witness to it all.

It also means that Prince lied to Congress straight up about the meeting when he testified.  Perjury is the kind of thing that puts you in federal prison.  Remember, Republicans impeached and attempted to remove Bill Clinton from office over his perjury.  We'll see what happens to Prince, but at this point, assume Robert Mueller has a nice box for him to live in for a while.

You, the ZVTS readers, knew about this nine months ago.  I told you then it was going to bear fruit, and it looks like the grim harvest is coming next month.

Stay tuned.

BREAKING: Russian Spy Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy

Russian spy Maria Butina's plea deal went through today and in a federal courtroom she pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States.

A Russian gun rights activist pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate the conservative movement in the United States as an agent for the Kremlin from 2015 until her arrest in July 2017.

Maria Butina, 30, became the first Russian national convicted of seeking to influence U.S. policy in the run-up and through the 2016 election as a foreign agent, agreeing to cooperate in a plea deal with U.S. investigators in exchange for less prison time.

Butina admitted to working with an American political operative and under the direction of a former Russian senator and deputy governor of Russia’s central bank to forge bonds with officials at the National Rifle Association, conservative leaders, and 2016 U.S. presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, whose rise to the Oval Office she presciently predicted to her Russian contact.

“Guilty,” Butina said with a light accent in entering her plea with U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan at a hearing Thursday morning in federal court in Washington.

As part of her plea, Butina admitted seeking to establish and use “unofficial lines of communication with Americans having influence over U.S. politics” for the benefit of the Russian government, through a person fitting the description of sanctioned Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, prosecutor Erik Kenerson said.

The court did not set a sentencing date pending Butina’s ongoing cooperation with prosecutors but set another hearing for Feb. 12 on the status of her case.

Butina is expected to provide evidence against a Republican Party consultant with whom she had a romantic relationship and worked closely with after they met while he visited Moscow in 2013. The operative, previously named as Paul Erickson, is a longtime GOP political advisor from South Dakota who managed the 1992 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan.

Here's your Russian collusion, right the hell there, and the NRA was in on it.

Merry Christmas, Donald.

The Turtle Gets Hemped In

After years of pressure from Kentucky's junior GOP Senator Rand Paul, Kentucky's senior senator, GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has finally given in on legalizing hemp across the US.

The US Congress on Wednesday approved the legalization of large-scale hemp cultivation and its removal from a list of controlled substances.

“This is the culmination of a lot of work by a number of us here in Washington but really the victory is for the growers, processors, manufacturers and consumers who stand to benefit from this growing market place,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

The measure was supported by both Republicans and Democrats who argued it was an opportunity for American farmers.

It appears in a major law on agriculture that was adopted by a clear majority in the House of Representatives (369-47) after comfortably passing the Senate (87-13) the day before.

The law has not yet been signed by President Donald Trump.

“I’ll be happy to loan him my hemp pen for the occasion,” joked McConnell, a conservative from the state of Kentucky who had vigorously defended the measure after already pushing for the authorization of pilot programs in 2014.

The real reason that it took so long is that McConnell didn't want President Obama getting credit for signing a bill into law that helped rural farmers in places like Kentucky.  Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has been pushing industrial hemp legalization legislation for even longer than Rand Paul, but the bill never got past the Senate Judiciary Committee while Obama was President.

Trump comes along though, and suddenly we have a smooth trip through in the lame duck session.

Anyway, it is what it is, and Kentucky farmers need a cash crop to replace tobacco.  They could have had it four years ago, but the President was black or something.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Last Call For May Or May Not

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has survived a no-confidence vote by her own party and will remain PM, but the fact is Brexit is continuing to hurtle off a cliff, and it will eventually take May with it into oblivion.

Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, survived the gravest threat yet to her embattled leadership on Wednesday, winning a confidence motion called by Conservative Party lawmakers angry at her handling of the country’s troubled departure from the European Union.

But the victory celebration, if any, is likely to be short-lived. While Mrs. May survived to fight another day, her win did nothing to alter the parliamentary arithmetic that forced her this week to delay a critical vote on her plan for withdrawal from the European Union, or Brexit.

John Springford, deputy director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based research institute, said that the size of the vote against her “is an even clearer signal that she won’t be able to get her deal through Parliament, and makes it even more likely that when she puts the deal to the vote she will lose that.”

Mrs. May won the support of 200 Conservative lawmakers, while 117 voted against her. The protest vote exceeded many forecasts, and is expected to compound her difficulties in Parliament. Her enemies were already pressuring her.

“This was a terrible result for the prime minister,” said Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leader of the hard-line pro-Brexit faction.

She won only after promising that she would step aside soon after the Brexit agonies were over, according to reports from a meeting of Conservative Party lawmakers preceding the vote. That removed the generally unwelcome possibility that she would stand as party leader in the next general election.

One Conservative lawmaker, George Freeman, said that Mrs. May had made clear “that she has listened, heard and respects the will of the party that once she has delivered an orderly Brexit, she will step aside for the election of a new leader.”

The problem of course is that May cannot deliver anything close to an "orderly Brexit" and she doesn't have the votes and likely never will.  Yes, the bluff by the Tories was called and May survived the no-confidence measure, but there's no visible Brexit solution, and when it all blows up in a few months, it's going to be a disaster of epic proportions.

And somewhere, Vladimir Putin is laughing his ass off.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

President Trump's former lawyer and current convicted felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for three years.

A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen to three years in prison for financial crimes and lying to Congress, as the disgraced former “fixer” apologized but said he felt it was his duty to cover up the “dirty deeds” of his former boss.

Cohen made an emotional apology to U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III, taking responsibility for what the judge called a “veritable smorgasbord of criminal conduct” — crimes that included tax violations, lying to a bank and buying the silence during the 2016 campaign of women who claimed that they once had affairs with the future president.

The downfall of the hard-charging, high-profile lawyer has potential consequences far beyond Cohen, as authorities have alleged Trump directed him in violating campaign finance laws. Facing his day of reckoning, Cohen laid plenty of the blame at the president’s feet, and his lawyer said he would continue to cooperate with the ongoing special counsel investigation of the president’s campaign.

“My weakness could be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump,” Cohen told the packed courtroom. He stood, sniffling and fighting back tears as he spoke, and paused occasionally to regain his composure.

Cohen had faced as much as five years and three months in prison, but Pauley said his sentence should reflect two key elements of Cohen’s case — punishing those who repeatedly break the law while rewarding those who cooperate and provide truthful testimony. Cohen has provided information to investigators about Trump and the Trump campaign, but prosecutors said he refused to tell them everything he knew.

“Our democratic institutions depend upon the honesty of our citizenry in dealing with the government,” Pauley said, calling Cohen’s crimes serious, particularly given his profession.

As a lawyer, Mr. Cohen should have known better,” the judge said. “While Mr. Cohen is taking steps to mitigate his criminal conduct by pleading guilty and volunteering useful information to prosecutors, that does not wipe the slate clean." 
“Mr. Cohen selected the information he disclosed to the government,” Pauley said. “This court cannot agree with the defendant’s assertion that no jail time is warranted. In fact, this court firmly believes that a significant term of imprisonment is fully justified in this highly publicized case to send a message.”

The judge also ordered Cohen, a multimillionaire who owns pricey real estate and a taxi medallion business, to pay nearly $2 million in financial penalties.

And off to prison he goes, along with a hefty fine that will probably bankrupt him.  Oh, but it gets better:

Separately, New York prosecutors announced Wednesday that they had struck a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, the company that produces the National Enquirer tabloid, for its role in squelching stories of women who said they had relationships with Trump. AMI paid $150,000 to one of the women before the 2016 election. As part of the agreement, AMI admitted it made the payment principally “in concert” with Trump’s campaign to “suppress the women’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

So Trump's pals at the National Enquirer are rolling over on his deal to pay them to silence his mistresses, and because this is a state case, there's not a goddamn thing Trump can do about it. 

Meat The Press, Con't

Once again, Donald Trump is putting America's reputation in the toilet by supporting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan, despite last week's intelligence briefings that had even Republican senators agreeing that MBS ordered the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he stood by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince despite a CIA assessment that he ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and pleas from U.S. senators for Trump to condemn the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi’s death more than two months ago.

“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office.

Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by the prince, known as MbS, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”

Some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent MbS from becoming king, sources close to the royal court have told Reuters, and believe that the United States and Trump could play a determining role.

“I just haven’t heard that,” Trump said. “Honestly, I can’t comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I’ve heard that he’s very strongly in power.”

While Trump has condemned the murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist who was often critical of MbS, he has given the benefit of the doubt to the prince with whom he has cultivated a deep relationship.

Trump again reiterated on Tuesday that the “crown prince vehemently denies” involvement in a killing that has sparked outrage around the world.

Trump has come under fierce criticism from fellow Republicans in the Senate over the issue, particularly after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed them. Last month, the CIA assessed that MbS ordered the killing, which Trump called “very premature.”

“You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MbS,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said last week.

Trump is willfully blind here, the question is why.  The answer of course is that Trump is neck deep in Saudi money laundering along with his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and it looks like House Democrats are more ready to stick a fork in Jared come January.

Rep. Eliot Engel, who is poised to lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee, plans to conduct a thorough review of US policy towards Saudi Arabia -- and that could include Jared Kushner's ties to the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, according to a Democratic aide. 
Engel is "committed to conducting a top-to-bottom review of U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia and that includes what has driven the US response to the Jamal Khashoggi murder," said spokesman Tim Mulvey, referring to the October killing of The Washington Post journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. 
Asked if that meant probing the ties between Kushner and the crown prince, Mulvey said: "Everything is on the table." 
The comments are the latest sign that the White House's handling of the Khashoggi murder is bound to face fresh scrutiny in the new Congress -- beyond this month in the final days of an all-Republican controlled Capitol.

In the Senate of course, things are more "complicated".

The Senate could vote this week to withdraw US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is also weighing whether to also vote on legislation to suspend arm sales with the country and sanction individuals responsible for the murder of Khashoggi -- including potentially the crown prince and his alleged role in ordering the killing. But "intense" negotiations between Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and the ranking Democrat, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, over the contents of the sanctions bill are still ongoing, according to an aide familiar with the process. 
Corker objects to the language in the bill by Menendez and Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, that would impose mandatory sanctions on people involved in the Khashoggi murder under the Global Magnitsky Act. The law currently requires the administration to make a determination about a human rights violation and then the US can impose sanctions.
"Our nation typically has tried to punish the countries for that type of behavior but not the individuals. So, I'm actually trying to keep it strong because I think what would happen (under the Menendez-Young bill) is if the administration knew they had to sanction, they would likely not find him responsible for the killing. I'd rather them find him responsible for the killing, him become an ever-greater pariah in the world and us find other ways of pushing back on what they've done," Corker said. 
But Menendez told CNN about Corker: "He wants to neuter the Global Magnitsky mandatory (sanctions under the bill) -- and that's really one of the significant parts of the bill. A deal is always possible but right now we are not there." 
Corker warned the Menendez bill could have broader impact around the world beyond Saudi Arabia. 
"He's trying to add language that says if the crown prince is found guilty then sanctions be automatically be put in place. That changes the entire relationship that we've had with world leaders. We ... know Putin has tried to kill people with chemical weapons, but we typically have not sanctioned the leaders, we've sanctioned the countries," Corker explained.

Corker's afraid other countries could start sanctioning Trump, his family, and members of Congress.   He should be afraid, frankly.  Of course, the larger problem is that Donald Trump still doesn't care about intelligence briefings because they bore him, and he has a narrative to get out, and if it means attacking his own intelligence agencies, then so be it.

The President’s Daily Brief (PDB), a document that for decades has been drawn up specifically for the commander in chief, “has become more important for Cabinet-level officials than the president,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official who until earlier this year was involved in drafting such documents. The official, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

He has "people" for that.

Stay tuned.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Last Call For It's About Suppression, Con't

The GOP jig in Bladen County in the stolen NC-9 election is now so far up that the International Space Station has to dodge it.

Bladen County election workers tallied the results of early voting before Election Day in violation of state rules and are accused of allowing outsiders to view them, a precinct worker wrote in an affidavit released by state Democrats.

The allegations raise new questions about missteps in an election fraud case in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District race that has garnered national attention and held up certification of the U.S. House contest.

The report showing totals from Bladen County’s only early voting location was run on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018 from 1:44 p.m. to 1:46 p.m., according to a copy released by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, which is investigating voting irregularities among mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties.

Due to the investigation, the board has refused to certify the results of the election between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. The board plans to hold an evidentiary hearing before Dec. 21, but no date or location has been announced.

Under North Carolina election law, “if one-stop ballots ... are counted electronically, that count shall commence at the time the polls close.” Polls closed in North Carolina on Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. “One-stop voting,” which is what early voting is called in North Carolina, ended on Nov. 3, according to the state board. A 2016 memo from the state board reinforced those policies.

“Recent events have highlighted the need to ensure that the critical responsibilities of canvassing an election are as uniform across the state as our polling place procedures, wrote Kim Strach, the executive director of the state board to county boards of elections in a June 7, 2016 memo.

A section of the nine-page memo is headlined: “Counting of Absentee Ballots on Election Day.”

But the procedures laid out in the memo were not followed in Bladen County in 2018, according to documents released by the state board and an affidavit signed by a precinct worker.

“On Saturday, 11/3/18, the last day of early voting, the ‘tape’ showing election results at the one-stop polling site was run after the polls closed, and was viewed by officials at the one-stop site who were not judges. It is my understanding that this was improper,” precinct worker Agnes Willis wrote in a affidavit dated Nov. 29.

Bottom line: There's now no longer any doubt that the NC-9 election was 100% fraudulent and that Mark Harris's reelection is illegitimate. He cannot be seated in the House come January, and North Carolina must hold a new election.

The NC GOP is now scrambling to try to save what little dignity they have left to save Harris's shredded political career.

North Carolina Republican Party chair Robin Hayes released a statement on Tuesday saying that if these allegations were true, they alone would be cause to hold a new election.

“This action by election officials would be a fundamental violation of the sense of fair play, honesty, and integrity that the Republican Party stands for,” he said in a statement. “We can never tolerate the state putting its thumb on the scale. The people involved in this must be held accountable and should it be true, this fact alone would likely require a new election.”

Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the state Republican party, said it was likely early votes were leaked.

"We're almost sure those early vote totals were leaked out," Woodhouse told POLITICO. "That's where we are. The [state elections] board's got to do whatever it does."

In a press conference later Tuesday afternoon, Woodhouse echoed the call for a new election to be held if the allegations proved true and said that the state board of elections needed to take over any special election. He also defended Harris.

"We have seen nothing that makes us think Mark Harris participated or would condone this behavior," Woodhouse said at the press conference. "We believe it is against his character."

Except of course Harris freely hired a convicted fraudster to run his GOTV operation in Bladen County, and the election officials there leaked vote info directly to the Harris campaign four days before the vote so that they could make a final fudge of the absentee ballot numbers.

Mark Harris stole this election.

He cannot be allowed to get away with it.

The Revenge Of The Return Of The Orange Son Of Shutdown Countdown

With a December 21 deadline for a government shutdown, and right before the holidays too, here's a reminder that Donald Trump is terribly bad at this presidenting thing.

Prior to his meeting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, President Trump brought reporters into the Oval Office and — in an extended, heated exchange before the cameras — clashed with the two Democratic leaders over congressional support for funding for his border wall, declaring that he is "proud to shut down the government for border security."
Why it matters: The president taking ownership of any potential government shutdown takes away a key Republican talking point to pin the blame on Democrats, while also giving a glimpse into what his negotiating style with a Democrat-controlled House may look like over the next two years. Trump has demanded $5 billion for the border wall, but Schumer has drawn a red line on providing no more than $1.3 billion — not for a wall, but for border security. "This temper tantrum that [Trump] seems to throw will not get him his wall and it will hurt a lot of people because he will cause a shutdown," Schumer said in a press conference following the Oval Office altercation.

I mean it was really a lot worse for Trump if you watch it.

And Mike Pence sitting there trying as hard as he could to teleport to Mars with his mind, just to get out of there.  Schumer actually acquitted himself for once, but Pelosi just crushed poor Donald.

Please enjoy the Trump Shutdown, I guess.

Turnout For What?

CNN's Harry Enten recaps the momentous turnout of the 2018 midterms, topping 50% for the first time in a century.

President Donald Trump solved a problem that no other president before him could: Getting people to vote in a midterm election. 
Whether they were voting for or against his agenda, it is now clear that voters turned out in record numbers in 2018. Professor Michael McDonald of the University of Florida, who is a guru of sorts on turnout, estimates that approximately 118 million people turned out to vote. He further calculates that to be 50.1% turnout of the voting eligible population. 
That percentage is stunning when compared to other midterms that have occurred since 18- to 20-year-olds got the right to vote in 1971 through the 26th Amendment. The average turnout in midterms from 1974 to 2014 was just 39.4%. This year's turnout looks to be 11 points higher. 
More than that, the turnout in midterms had previously been fairly consistent. It never dropped below 36.7% or rose above 42%. This year's turnout was 8 points higher than the previous ceiling. 
If we look only at the raw number, remember that turnout in the 2014 midterm was only a little more than 83 million. This year, about 35 million more people turned out to vote.
The turnout is even more amazing is when you expand out the timeframe. The 50.1% turnout is higher than for any midterm in the last 100 years
. This despite the fact that many of those elections took place when those under 21 were not eligible to vote. Remember, those younger than 21 are the least likely to vote, so you'd expect that the the turnout rate of eligible voters would have been higher before the youngest were eligible (in years such as 2018). 
Indeed, the turnout in 2018 is actually more comparable to presidential elections than midterms. The 50.1% turnout is closer to the average presidential turnout (56.5%) than midterm turnout (39.4%) since the 26th Amendment was enacted and it nearly exceeds the turnout in the 1988 election (52.8%) and 1996 election (51.7%). 

People got involved, and more importantly, people voted.  Now we look towards 2020, and I'm hoping we have another election with massive turnout.  It's the only way we clean out the pool filter on this mess.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Last Call For A Baltimore Hate Thing

Donald Trump has bailed on his planned Wednesday visit to a black church in Baltimore because the white supremacists in his base weren't too happy about it.

planned visit by President Donald Trump to Baltimore on Wednesday has been called off, and a discussion of the administration’s urban revitalization policies will take place at the White House instead. 
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said Monday that the change was for scheduling reasons and that the event would still include people from Baltimore. 
Deere said the president would make remarks “highlighting the administration’s agenda to expand the economic boom to all Americans, especially those in distressed communities — both rural and urban.” 
At the invitation of a Baltimore pastor, Trump had been planning to come to the city to discuss opportunity zones, poor neighborhoods singled out for special tax breaks under Republicans’ rewrite of the federal tax code. 
The Rev. Donte Hickman, the pastor who extended the invitation, said White House officials told him early Monday that changes underway at the White House due to the recently announced departure of Chief of Staff John Kelly meant the visit would no longer be possible for scheduling reasons. 
But, Hickman said, the White House told him that officials want to reschedule a visit to Baltimore in the new year. 
The visit would have brought Trump to one of the most struggling city neighborhoods. The blocks surrounding Hickman’s Southern Baptist Church in Broadway East are home to dozens of vacant houses, though Hickman’s North Chester Street church has sponsored new housing in the neighborhood. That includes an apartment building and community center that was under construction when it was destroyed in a suspected arson during the rioting of April 2015, after the death of Freddie Gray. But the church managed to rebuild the Mary Harvin Senior Center within the next year. 
Hickman said Monday he was disappointed that the president would not be visiting.
“I think this was a major opportunity for the president and for Baltimore,” he said.

Again, the Baltimore visit is exactly what Trump says he wants to highlight for black voters, Christian outreach, community leadership, and rebuilding after the Obama administration.  Weird then that Trump can't bring himself to actually go there.

Why, it's almost like Trump's outreach to black voters is complete bullshit, considering he can't get enough signaling to white supremacists on a constant basis.

Who knew, right?

It's Mueller Time, Con't

The endgame continues as Mueller has now rolled up a major prize: arrested Russian spy Maria Butina appears to be copping a plea deal, and that means she can supply Mueller with Trump's connections to Russia and the NRA.

Maria Butina, an accused Russian spy who nuzzled up to the National Rifle Association before the 2016 election, appears to have reached a plea deal with the Justice Department, according to a new court filing in her criminal case. 
Her attorneys and prosecutors filed a two-page request on Monday for a "change of plea" hearing before a federal judge as soon as Tuesday. "The parties have resolved this matter," the filing in DC federal court said Monday morning. Butina's case was brought by federal prosecutors in DC and not by Robert Mueller's team in the special counsel's office. 
A plea hearing has not yet been set. The notice Monday comes after several weeks of hints that Butina might negotiate an end to her case -- and after bumps in the case where federal prosecutors, at the height of attention on Russia's influence in American politics, accused the former graduate student of infiltrating Republican organizations in order to advance Russian interests. 
Until now, Butina, 30, maintained her innocence and insisted she was simply a foreign student interested in bettering relations between the US and Russia. Butina previously pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy and a second count of acting as an agent of a foreign government when she was arrested in July
Her case first became public amid a furor of US-Russia developments. She was arrested two days after the Justice Department separately indicted Russian military intelligence for hacking the Democratic Party, and her case became public the same day President Donald Trump met with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, and declined to endorse US intelligence findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Butina's not stupid.  She knows that if she ever beat the rap, Putin might snuff her out anyway.  A deal including protection is her only chance, and has been ever since she was picked up.  Vlad doesn't like loose ends.

Still, it means she has something Mueller wants, and it almost certainly has to involve the NRA laundering Russian money to funnel to Trump.

Her lawyers had said her interactions with the NRA and others were typical of an ambitious student anxious to network and eager to build better relations between the United States and her country. They had at one point argued her outreach should be covered by constitutional protections for free speech and noted that she was not accused of attempting to steal U.S. secrets or working with Russian intelligence.

But prosecutors said her goal was to advance the foreign policy aims of the Kremlin and that she was acting at the direction of a Russian government official, Alexander Torshin, a former senator who now serves as deputy director of the Russian central bank.

Butina has been jailed for nearly five months since her July arrest. In that time, her case had been embraced by the Russian government, which had vigorously protested that she was an innocent student whose incarceration was unjust. With the plea deal, Butina could be released in coming months and deported to Russia.

Butina was prosecuted by the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, rather than special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — an indication that Mueller may have determined that her activities did not directly connect to his investigation, which involves scrutinizing any links between Russia and President Trump’s campaign.

Still, Butina intersected with Trump’s campaign several times before the 2016 election. In June 2015, she wrote a column for an American magazine in which she argued that only the election of a Republican president would result in better ties between the United States and Russia. A month later, at a public town hall event in Las Vegas, she was able to ask a question directly to Trump, inquiring about how he viewed sanctions imposed on Russia after its 2014 invasion of Crimea.

“We get along with Putin,” he told Butina, referring to the Russian president. “I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.”

Butina was then involved with an unsuccessful effort to organize a meeting between Torshin and Trump at an NRA convention in May 2016. Instead, she and Torshin briefly interacted with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, at the event, according to documents turned over to Congress.

Yes, it's true that maybe Putin wants her back, but Butina knows how this game works.  A blown agent who makes plea deals and gets her face plastered all over international newspapers isn't exactly an asset anymore.

The bigger news is that Butina is the link between Russia and the NRA, and Trump: international money laundering on the scale of millions, paid to Trump to benefit both Moscow and the gun lobby.  It's going to get a lot worse for Trump and the NRA from here on out, and everyone knows it.

Lies, Damn Lies, And Trump Lies

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post has finally gotten so fed up with Donald Trump's ridiculous lies that he's literally invented a whole new category of liar just for him in the annals of the paper's fact checking columns.

It was President Trump’s signature campaign promise: he would build a wall along the nation’s southern border and it would be paid for by Mexico.

Shortly after becoming president, Trump dropped the Mexico part, turning to Congress for the funds instead. When that too failed — Congress earlier this year appropriated money for border security that could not be spent on a concrete wall — Trump nevertheless declared victory: “We’ve started building our wall,” he said in a speech on March 29. “I’m so proud of it.”

Despite the facts, which have been cited numerous times by fact checkers, Trump repeated his false assertion on an imaginary wall 86 times in the seven months before the midterm elections, according to a database of false and misleading claims maintained by The Post.

Trump’s willingness to constantly repeat false claims has posed a unique challenge to fact checkers. Most politicians quickly drop a Four-Pinocchio claim, either out of a duty to be accurate or concern that spreading false information could be politically damaging.

Not Trump. The president keeps going long after the facts are clear, in what appears to be a deliberate effort to replace the truth with his own, far more favorable, version of it. He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.

To accurately reflect this phenomenon, The Washington Post Fact Checker is introducing a new category – the Bottomless Pinocchio. That dubious distinction will be awarded to politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.

The bar for the Bottomless Pinocchio is high: the claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from The Fact Checker and they must have been repeated at least 20 times. Twenty is a sufficiently robust number that there can be no question the politician is aware his or her facts are wrong. The list of Bottomless Pinocchios will be maintained on its own landing page.

The Fact Checker has not identified statements from any other current elected official who meets the standard other than Trump. In fact, 14 statements made by the president immediately qualify for the list. 

Among Trump's Bottomless Pinocchio claims so far: building the wall will stop drugs when the DEA has repeatedly said it won't help (tunnels, subs and planes bring in nearly all drugs, not cars and trucks) that US Steel is building new American plants when it has made no such announcement, and my favorite, that ICE and the Border Patrol have apprehended and deported more MS-13 gang members than actually exist.

I'm not surprised that it took two years for Kessler to finally stop arguing whether or not Trump is lying and lying on purpose, he is, and it looks like finally our media is starting to get it.

Sadly, it's years too late.  The damage to America has already been wrought, and there's far more to come.
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