Sunday, September 24, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

Presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has corresponded with other administration officials about White House matters through a private email account set up during the transition last December, part of a larger pattern of Trump administration aides using personal email accounts for government business.

Kushner uses his private account alongside his official White House email account, sometimes trading emails with senior White House officials, outside advisers and others about media coverage, event planning and other subjects, according to four people familiar with the correspondence. POLITICO has seen and verified about two dozen emails.

“Mr. Kushner uses his White House email address to conduct White House business,” Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Kushner, said in a statement Sunday. “Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account. These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”

Aides who have exchanged emails with Kushner on his private account since President Donald Trump took office in January include former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, and spokesman Josh Raffel, according to emails described to or shown to POLITICO. In some cases, those White House officials have emailed Kushner’s account first, said people familiar with the messages.

The decision to set up new, private accounts as Kushner was preparing to enter the White House came in the wake of a bitter election campaign in which Trump routinely excoriated his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for using a personal email account to handle government business when she was secretary of state.

There is no indication that Kushner has shared any sensitive or classified material on his private account, or that he relies on his private email account more than his official White House account to conduct government business. Aides say he prefers to call or text over using email.

And so we come full circle on "administration officials using private email addresses" and the same people who assured us this was a sign that Hillary Clinton was completely crooked and unfit for office won't lift a finger over multiple people in the Trump regime doing the exact same thing.

What's Kushner hiding from the American people?  Well, who knows.  But this has been going on for months now, and nobody seems to want to care enough to find out.

Fin. Exeunt stage right.

Trump's Sports Race To The Bottom

Even CNN's Chris Cillizza has figured out that Donald Trump is playing to white supremacy by attacking black NFL and NBA players as "disrepectful" and "ungrateful" for daring to protest.

On one level, this is classic Trump. He feels as though he is being disrespected -- whether by NFL players not standing for the national anthem or by Curry saying if it was up to him, the Golden State Warriors would not visit the White House. (The Warriors, in a statement Saturday afternoon, said they would come to Washington and do events to promote diversity and inclusiveness rather than meet with Trump.) 
They hit him, so he hit back. 
But, there's something far more pernicious here. Both the NFL and the NBA are sports in which the vast majority of the players are black and the vast majority of owners are white. In the NFL, there are 0 black owners of the 32 teams. In the NBA, Michael Jordan is the lone black owner of a team. 
Consider that in the context of what Trump said both Friday night and Saturday.
In Alabama, Trump called the players who refuse to stand for the anthem "sons of bitches" and insisted that any owner worth his or her salt should fire them immediately.
That got a lot of attention -- and rightly so. But it's what Trump said next that's really telling. "Total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for," he said --- adding for emphasis: "Everything that we stand for." 
Notice the use of "our heritage" and "we" in those two sentences above
But wait, there's more. In both his Curry tweet and his two NFL tweets, Trump expressed frustration that these lucky athletes felt the need to be ungrateful. 
Trump noted the "great honor" of going to the White House and the "privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL." You should just be thankful for what you have and not be making any trouble, Trump is telling these players. 
Here's the thing: Even if we lived in a color-blind society, that would be a dangerous sentiment. After all, freedom of expression is right there in the First Amendment. And our brave soldiers didn't fight and die so that everyone stood during the national anthem. They fought so people could have the right to make a choice about whether or not they wanted to stand. That's the whole damn point of the First Amendment. 
The thing is: We don't live in a color-blind society. Slavery sits at the founding roots of America. The goal of racial equality remains a goal, not an achievement. To pretend otherwise is to willfully blind yourself to hundreds years of history.

And I will say this again: it's so obvious that this is being driven by Trump's racial animus towards successful black people (and there's a slew of successful black people that Trump has personally singled out and attacked, reporter April Ryan,  Merck CEO Ken Frazier, sportscaster Jemelle Hill, now Colin Kaepernick and the NBA's Steph Curry)

Everything you need to know about this is that several NFL players not only took a knee during the anthem to protest this week, at least three teams, the Steelers, the Titans and Seahawks skipped the anthem altogether.  Meanwhile, NASCAR owners say they will happily take retribution out on drivers and crew who get the idea to join the protest.

Sports and protest, especially civil rights protests, have long been part of America.  For Trump to not see this coming is ridiculous. Some even say he's counting on it.

We'll see.

Sunday Long Read: Just The Facts, Ma'am

This week's Sunday Long Read delves into the arguably the last real bastion of fact-checking in the internet era: the man behind fake news-debunking website Snopes. In the era of Trump, they are being inundated more than ever by falsities to debunk, and they're trying their hardest to be up to the task.

IT WAS EARLY March, not yet two months into the Trump administration, and the new Not-Normal was setting in: It continued to be the administration’s position, as enunciated by Sean Spicer, that the inauguration had attracted the “largest audience ever”; barely a month had passed since Kellyanne Conway brought the fictitious “Bowling Green massacre” to national attention; and just for kicks, on March 4, the president alerted the nation by tweet, “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower.”

If the administration had tossed the customs and niceties of American politics to the wind, there was one clearly identifiable constant: mendacity. “Fake news” accusations flew back and forth every day, like so many spitballs in a third-grade classroom.

Feeling depressed about the conflation of fiction and fact in the first few months of 2017, I steered a car into the hills of Calabasas to meet with one person whom many rely on to set things straight. This is an area near Los Angeles best known for its production of Kardashians, but there were no McMansions on the street where I was headed, only old, gnarled trees and a few modest houses. I spotted the one I was looking for—a ramshackle bungalow—because the car in the driveway gave it away. Its license plate read SNOPES.

David Mikkelson, the publisher of the fact-checking site, answered the door himself. He was wearing khakis and a polo shirt, his hair at an awkward length, somewhere between late-­career Robert Redford and early-­career Steve Carell. He had been working alone at the kitchen table, with just a laptop, a mouse, and the internet. The house, which he was getting ready to sell, was sparsely furnished, the most prominent feature being built-in bookcases filled with ancient hardcovers—“there’s a whole shelf devoted to the Titanic and other maritime disasters,” Mikkelson told me—and board games, his primary hobby.

Since about 2010, this house has passed for a headquarters, as Snopes has no formal offices, just 16 people sitting at their laptops in different rooms across the country, trying to swim against the tide of spin, memes, and outright lies in the American public sphere. Just that morning Mikkelson and his staff had been digging into a new presidential tweet of dubious facticity: “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” Trump had the correct total, but the overwhelming number of those detainees had been released during the George W. Bush administration. “There’s a whole lot of missing context to just that 122 number,” Mikkelson said.

There are other fact-checking outfits, like PolitiFact, which is operated by the Tampa Bay Times, or at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. But Snopes has kicked around the internet since 1994—which makes it almost as old as what we once called the World Wide Web. In this age of untruth, it has become an indispensable resource. Should your friend’s sister start a conspiracy trash fire in a Facebook comment thread, Snopes is a reliable form of extinguisher. Because of this reputation, Snopes was listed as a partner in a Facebook fact-­checking effort announced last fall after the social media giant acknowledged it had become a conduit for fake news. Potentially false stories could be flagged by users and an algorithm, and then organizations like Snopes, ABC News, and the Associated Press would be tasked with investigating them.

As pretty much anyone knows, the truth can be a slippery bastard. Getting to the bottom of something requires what you might generously call a fussy personality. Mikkelson possesses that trait. He spends hours writing a detailed analysis of a claim and feels frustrated when readers just want a “true” or “false” answer. He’s got the world­view of Eeyore, had Eeyore been obsessed with cataloging the precise history, variety, and growing seasons of thistles in the Hundred Acre Wood. He can even get pessimistic about whether his work makes a difference. “Since a lot of this stuff is really complicated, nuanced stuff with areas of gray, it requires lengthy and complex explanations,” he said. “But a lot of the audience, their eyes just tend to glaze over, and it’s just, they don’t want to have to follow all of that. So they just fall back on their preconceptions.”

Among those preconceptions is the right-wing view that Snopes is anti-Trump, its efforts to separate fact from fiction merely a cover for liberal bias. Mikkelson disputes this, saying that if you look at the totality of the posts Snopes has written on the subject of the president, “the vast majority of them are debunking false claims made about him, not affirming negative things said about him or disproving positive things said about him.” But nobody is looking at the totality; if that sort of intellectual honesty ever existed in the public sphere, it’s gone now. And sure enough, the week before I went to Calabasas, Tucker Carlson on Fox News had been jeering at “those holy men at Snopes, those gods of objectivity.”

Like an order of medieval monks recording history in the midst of chaos of the Dark Ages, the crew at Snopes are trying to preserve fact in a world of perception, manipulation, and obfuscation. And they need help.

We'll see how long they can hold on.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Not Getting Away Scott Free This Time

Florida GOP Gov. Evil Batboy Skeletor Rick Scott is in a heap of trouble after it turns out his office deleted the voice mails from the nursing home that requested immediate assistance after losing power during Hurricane Irma. Eight people died because of lack of ability to keep cool in the blistering heat, and it's looking more and more like Scott completely failed his constituents.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is facing criticism after his office revealed that four voicemails sent from a nursing home where eight residents died in the aftermath Hurricane Irma were deleted.

CBS Miami reported on Saturday that Scott's office said the four voicemails, which were all received during a 36-hour period before the first resident died, were handed off to the appropriate agency and then deleted.

Eight people died at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a nursing home that lost power and air conditioning during Hurricane Irma. Authorities said the deaths were heat-related.“The voicemails were not retained because the information from each voicemail was collected by the governor’s staff and given to the proper agency for handling," the governor's office told CBS in a statement.

A vice president at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills told CBS that she requested "immediate assistance" for the residents at the nursing home.

Last week, Scott's office denied that the nursing home ever indicated its residents were in immediate danger, and stressed that the calls were referred to the appropriate authorities.

“Every call made to the governor from facility management was referred to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Health and quickly returned,” Scott’s spokesman said last week in a statement to the CBS affiliate.

Two weeks ago it was "the nursing home is at fault, they never contacted us."  Last week it was "They contacted us but we referred them to the Department of Health" (which is blaming the nursing home for not evacuating all residents to a nearby hospital.) Now it's "we deleted the voice mails." 


Except this oops cost eight lives.  And remember, the nursing home called four times in 36 hours saying they needed help.

Rick Scott is in trouble, and he should be.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Meanwhile, more evidence is pouring in that our good friends the Russians definitely wanted to help Donald Trump win by any means necessary.

Russians attempted to hack elections systems in 21 states in the run-up to last year's presidential election, officials said Friday.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified states of the attempted breaches on Friday, said Michael Haas, director of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The attempt in Wisconsin was unsuccessful, he said.

Homeland Security officials said the effort was conducted by “Russian government cyber actors," according to Haas. He said he did not know which states other than Wisconsin were part of the hacking attempt.

According to a tally by the Associated Press, election officials in 19 states confirmed their election systems were targeted by hackers last year.

The states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

North Dakota was the only state that failed to provide answers, the AP said. Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger says he “can’t be specific at this time what the situation is.” He says he’s trying to get more information from Washington.

A response also wasn't available from the District of Columbia.

Homeland Security officials first reported in June that election systems in 21 states had been targeted during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. At that hearing, Haas told the committee he had concluded Wisconsin was not one of the targeted states, at least in part because Homeland Security had not alerted him to any attempted breach.

State officials are seeking more information about the incident and why they were not notified sooner, Haas said.

“This scanning had no impact on Wisconsin’s systems or the election,” Haas said in a statement. “Internet security provided by the state successfully protected our systems. Homeland Security specifically confirmed there was no breach or compromise of our data.”

Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, said the announcement "confirms what we already knew, which is Wisconsin held an honest and fair election with no interference."

The attempts were made, however.  And while Wisconsin seems very confident that no damage was done, if anyone in the Trump campaign knew about the attempts, and helped enable them, well, there's a word for that.

Treason.  You know, the Article III of the Constitution "or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort" part.

How very strange that the Trump regime seems to not care about this at all.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Last Call For The Gang's All Here

If anyone thinks that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going to do anything about Trump's odious malfeasance, well, Jeff's too busy using the position given to him to turn American into shivering wrecks too afraid to go outside their doors because of an imaginary child army of deadly Latino gangbangers waiting to decapitate your family.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is warning that many unaccompanied minors trying to enter the U.S. across its southern border are gang members whom the country should view as “wolves in sheep's clothing.” 
In a speech to local and national law enforcement this afternoon in Boston, Sessions said transnational gangs like Central America-based MS-13, use what’s known as the ‘unaccompanied refugee minors’ program to “as a means by which to recruit new members.”

The attorney general said the Department of Justice is working with the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to “examine the unaccompanied minors issue and the exploitation of this program by the gang members who come to this country as wolves in sheep's clothing.” 
The program was developed in the 1980s to assist with thousands of children in Southeast Asia without parents, according to the Department for Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. Since 1980, more than 13,000 children have entered the unaccompanied refugee minors program. 
The Obama administration allowed certain minors in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to be considered for refugee status in the United States after tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from those countries flooded into the United States. In August, DHS canceled the approvals of 2,700 kids who had been conditionally approved for parole but had not received final sign-off. 
Sessions described MS-13’s activities in brutal terms. 
“This is America. We will not allow the likes of MS-13 or any other gang to prey upon our communities, to decapitate individuals with machetes, baseball bats and chains,” Sessions said.

Jeff seems awfully convinced that the largest law enforcement problem in America in 2017 is somehow "Americans being decapitated by baseball bats wielded by scary brown teenagers" or something rather than, you know, a President grifting millions and pissing on the Constitution he's sworn to protect, but far be it from me to tell a racist Confederate elf how to do his job or something.

Seems to be a lot of that "fear of people darker than a paper bag" thing going around these days.

So Deafening, These Drums Of Bore

At this point the whole "big macho manly men want to start a war thousands of miles away and want to pay for it with our tax dollars and the blood of our sons and daughters" thing should be considered a regular feature of the Republican party, not a bug.

Rep. Duncan Hunter said that the United States needs to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea in order to prevent the rogue nation from harming the U.S. first. 
“You could assume, right now, that we have a nuclear missile aimed at the United States, and here in San Diego. Why would they not aim here, at Hawaii, Guam, our major naval bases?” Hunter, an Alpine Republican, said during an appearance on a KUSI television Thursday. 
“The question is, do you wait for one of those? Or, two? Do you preemptively strike them? And that’s what the president has to wrestle with. I would preemptively strike them. You could call it declaring war, call it whatever you want,” Hunter continued. 
Hunter, a member of a House Armed Services Committee and the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the United States’ nuclear arsenal, did not say if the military should strike North Korea with conventional or nuclear weapons.

Hunter or his spokesman could not be reached for further comment Thursday night.
His comments come after President Donald Trump, in his first address to the United Nations General Assembly, said that the U.S. is prepared to attack North Korea.

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said. 
Hunter called the president’s remarks “great” and not “wishy-washy.” He added that North Korea should join the UN in order to bring them into dialogue with stable countries. He also said that would expose North Korea officials to New York City, the home of the UN's headquarters, and show them what the prosperity they could achieve with reforms.

The hundreds of thousands, possibly millions dead from this aren't the issue.  The issue is Duncan Hunter has a microscopic penis and a brain to go along with it, and he's going to help get a ridiculously high number of people killed in very short order.

Understand that if the US attacks Pyongyang, Seoul becomes a parking lot in 48 hours, and whether or not that parking lot is created just from the saturation of the air with conventional high-explosive artillery fire or the blackened glass of a nuclear blast or three (or both, yay!) is really the only question.

After that, well, things get kinda bad from there.

Mueller needs to move fast or there may not be much of the place left to defend the Constitution for.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

It's been a hell of a week for developments in the Trump/Russia case: Manafort's wiretapping and possible indictment (they would of course be sealed at this point), Mueller's document load from the White House, and evidence that Manafort was funneling US political info to Putin's oligarch circle.

Now we have another big story, and it's back to that now infamous June 9, 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr, Manafort, Kushner, and the Russians and Donald Trump's reactions and statements resulting from it.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has sought phone records concerning the statement written aboard Air Force One defending a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians at Trump Tower last year that was set up by Donald Trump Jr., according to two people familiar with the investigation
Mueller has also asked the White House for documents and emails connected to a May 3 press briefing where Sean Spicer said the president had confidence in James Comey as FBI director, these people said. The request seeks to determine what White House officials – particularly Spicer – knew about the president’s plans to fire Comey in the days before it happened, according to one of the people familiar with it.

The requests, first reported by the New York Times, are the latest indication that Mueller's probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election is expanding to include what has happened in the White House since Trump took office, including questions of obstruction of justice. 
Most of the requests, one of these people said, focus on what happened inside the White House after Jan. 20. 
White House officials are expected to be interviewed in upcoming weeks by Mueller’s office, but the interviews have not been set, according to one of the people with knowledge of the investigation. 
The special counsel’s office has also asked for documents related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his meetings with Russian officials, one of these people said. 
Investigators are particularly interested in what happened inside the White House after former deputy attorney general Sally Yates told White House lawyer Don McGahn of the Flynn meeting with Russians. Flynn was said to have misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

We know that Mueller has asked for White House records, but asking for the AF1 communication records in regard to Trump's now infamous initial statement is a GIGANTIC RED FLAG that Mueller is looking into obstruction of justice charges involving the person who wrote the statement.

You know, Donald Trump.

Have a nice day.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Huge Serving Of Baked Alaska

How bad is the Graham-Cassidy Trumpcare bill in the Senate?  It's so awful, Republicans are trying to buy off GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski's vote by letting Alaska keep Obamacare.

Let that sink in for a bit.

According to the aide, here is a summary of what the new draft of the bill entails:
"This draft includes 3 separate provisions benefitting Alaska.

Alaska (along with Hawaii) will continue to receive Obamacare’s premium tax credits while they are repealed for all other states. It appears this exemption will not affect Alaska receiving its state allotment under the new block grant in addition to the premium tax credits.

Delays implementation of the Medicaid per capita caps for Alaska and Hawaii for years in which the policy would reduce their funding below what they would have received in 2020 plus CPI-M [Consumer Price Index for Medical Care].

Provides for an increased federal Medicaid matching rate (FMAP) for both Alaska and Hawaii."

The changes aren't final, and it remains to be seen whether they'll be enough to win Murkowski's vote.

Who knows if she'll vote for it, but Republicans are willing to let Alaska (and Hawaii) keep Obamacare and avoid massive Medicaid cuts just to get one vote.

So why isn't that good enough for everyone else in America, you ask?

Good question.

That's Some Funny-Looking Economic Anxiety You Got There

We've now reached the point where in the Trump era here in the Tri-State, the coal jobs are never coming back, but the white supremacists are coming in.

A burly young man pulls into the parking lot of a Walmart on a weekday afternoon. He leans out the window of his beat-up white sedan and grins. 
“Ya’ll looking for some neo-Nazis?” 
Meet Matthew Heimbach, the white nationalist who has set up shop in this small town an hour northwest of Louisville. From Paoli, he controls the Traditionalist Worker Party, a small but growing white nationalist organization. 
In the last few years, Heimbach, 26, has emerged as a leader for the “alt-right,” a movement that espouses racist, anti-semitic and nationalist ideologies. He has played a key role in uniting the fractious movement, an effort that coalesced with the deadly rally last month in Charlottesville, Va. 
“Heimbach is a well-known figure in the white supremacist community,” said Marilyn Mayo, who tracks hate groups for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “He bridges the gap between what I call the academic racists and the hard-core neo-Nazis.”

The Traditionalist Worker Party is a white-rights advocacy group that is anti-capitalist, anti-semitic and anti-diversity. The group’s ultimate goal is the creation of an all-white ethno-state that people of other races would need a visa to visit.

Young Matt here wants an apartheid state.  Charming guy, he just wants to kick me out of where I live because I'm black.  No big deal.

Heimbach’s plan to appeal to white working-class voters focuses less on Confederate statues and rallies, and more on grassroots community organizing. He said the Traditionalist Worker Party plans to start health clinics, support small businesses, combat food insecurity and work with those affected by the opioid crisis in under-served communities. 
That recruitment approach, Heimbach said, is modeled after “Hamas, Hezbollah, (and) traditionally, the Irish Republican movement.” 
The U.S. State Department considers those groups terrorist organizations. They have used bombings, assassinations and violent uprisings to advance their nationalist goals in Palestine, Lebanon and Ireland, respectively. They also have gained local influence by offering community services, building schools and providing food to families.
The community building is the part Heimbach hopes to emulate. 
“When the system is unable or unwilling to fulfill the needs of the community, the nationalists step up,” he said. 
Heimbach’s group held a canned food drive before the Pikeville rally. He said a few members in Texas helped out with Hurricane Harvey relief. Beyond that, though, the group hasn’t built any social service infrastructure. 
The Traditionalist Worker Party bills itself as nonviolent, except when provoked. Heimbach recently pleaded guilty to shoving a protester at a March 2017 Trump rally in Louisville, and the group has been involved in rallies that turned violent. 
The terrorists groups cited by Heimbach also legitimized themselves by winning elections. In 2016, the Traditionalist Worker Party endorsed a candidate in a Tennessee congressional race. Rick Tyler’s “Make America White Again” campaign garnered only 1.9 percent of the vote. In Heimbach’s version of events, he recalled it being closer to 5 percent. 

Worked for Sinn Fein, worked for Hamas, worked for Golden Dawn in Greece, why not the TWP?

“If we can go from 5 percent of the vote and in the next election cycle get 9 percent of the vote and then 12 percent of the vote, that’s the snowball starting to go down the mountain,” he said. 
He said he has lined up Traditionalist Worker Party candidates to run in 2018 for an Indiana county council seat and several local, nonpartisan races in Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee. 
Voters won’t hear claims of “Make America White Again” or see TWP logos on any campaign mailers. Instead, they’re likely to hear Heimbach catchphrases like “securing a future for our children,” “advocating for the silent majority” or appeals to “those left behind by globalism.” No one will use the word “white.” 
Heimbach said TWP doesn’t shy away from discussing race, but candidates are looking to avoid what he calls the “media firestorm of voting TWP.” 
“I think in 2018 we’re going to win at least several of these races and it’s not going to be a big media spectacle, because they’re not having to identify with a party, they just identify with their ideas,” said Heimbach.

They just have to identify with the idea of white supremacy.  Considering the majority of white voters already do (hi Trump!) they can probably get that 3, 6, 12% down to road.  How that will affect the Republican Party is anyone's guess.

But hey,  if they can make the trains run on time, right?

Russian To Judgment, Con't

We're apparently not waiting until Fridays anymore for the news dumps on Trump/Russia anymore, and Tuesday afternoon was a big one.  First up, confirmation that Team Mueller definitely has the White House square in the crosshairs.

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, has asked the White House for documents about some of President Trump’s most scrutinized actions since taking office, including the firing of his national security adviser and F.B.I. director, according to White House officials. 
Mr. Mueller is also interested in an Oval Office meeting Mr. Trump had with Russian officials in which he said the dismissal of the F.B.I. director had relieved “great pressure” on him.

Why yes, Mueller is going after Trump for obstruction of justice.  And there's a lot of obstruction there to bust through.

The document requests provide the most details to date about the breadth of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, and show that several aspects of his inquiry are 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 at the time, 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. 
Mr. Mueller has also requested documents about the circumstances of the firing of Michael T. Flynn, who was Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. Additionally, the special counsel has asked for documents about how the White House responded to questions from The Times about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. That meeting was set up by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, to get derogatory information from Russians about Hillary Clinton.

Let me repeat this for the folks in the cheap seats: Trump is definitely a target in this investigation. There are three aspects here, the Russia money laundering, the Russian interference with the election, and the obstruction of justice to cover those first two up.  Kushner and the Trump kids (Eric and Don Jr.) are neck deep in the first, Flynn and Manafort are neck deep in the second, and Trump himself is neck deep in the third.  On top of that, there's a significant chance that all of these clowns are involved in all three aspects, and that Pence was brought in and up to speed on the last two.

And speaking of Manafort, there should be zero doubt now that he was a Russian asset

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.

Several of the ex­changes, which took place between Manafort and a Kiev-based employee of his international political consulting practice, focused on money that Manafort believed he was owed by Eastern European clients.

The notes appear to be written in deliberately vague terms, with Manafort and his employee, Konstantin Kilimnik, never explicitly mentioning Deripaska by name.

Investigators believe that key passages refer to Deripaska. The billionaire is referenced in some places by his initials, “OVD,” and one email invokes an expensive Russian delicacy in what investigators believe is a veiled reference to Manafort’s past work with Deripaska.

Deripaska is bad news, by the way.  Had him flagged all the way back in August 2016 when it became clear that Manafort was on his way out.  He's arguably one of the most powerful members of Putin's circle of oligarchs, and he hired Manafort before.  In fact, Manafort's business dealings with Deripaska go all the way back to 2006, which if you'll recall is also the date when Mueller's investigation of Manafort stretches back to.

But yeah, at this point we've got to be getting close to the point where Mueller makes his recommendations about possible charges, "close" being "later this year" in this case.  We'll see.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Return Of The Revenge Of The Son Of Trumpcare, Con't

The Graham-Cassidy GOP Trumpcare But Worse legislation being rushed through the Senate right now that will effectively end not only the ACA but Medicaid as well, is, as Scott Lemieux points out, old-school perfidious "states' rights" garbage.

Essentially, Republicans are claiming that many people lack access to affordable healthcare because federal politicians haven’t been creative enough, and allowing the states to experiment will solve the problem. 
But this is abject nonsense. The politics of healthcare reform in America are difficult because powerful actors have a vested interest in an inefficient and inequitable status quo. But the policy question is not difficult. Under a market system, many people cannot afford access to basic medical care, and all but the most affluent cannot afford expensive treatment for a serious illness. To get needy people access to healthcare requires some combination of public expenditure and cross-subsidization of the sick by the healthy. (During his brief “Kimmel” phase, Cassidy understood this.) 
Though the ACA did not go far enough, it used tighter regulation and more generous subsidies to provide access to tens of millions of people. Cassidy-Graham would destroy this progress. States are no more likely to find a way to provide effective coverage to more people with less money and fewer rules than they are to discover a formula to convert urine into fine Cabernet Sauvignon. It can’t be done. 
Supporters of universal healthcare in California and other states that have used the ACA to cover as many people as possible might be tempted to find a silver lining here. Couldn’t states use the increased flexibility to create a single-payer system? Almost certainly not, because the block grants aren’t generous enough. As Sarah Kliff of Vox observes, states such as California and New York would have to spend a lot more money just to retain the coverage levels of the ACA. The “flexibility” offered by Cassidy-Graham is a ruse — it would make it easy for states to cover fewer people but exceptionally difficult for states to cover more people.

And Republicans are selling this as "giving power to the states" just like reactionaries did with, you know, slavery. Jim Crow, and interracial marriage.  It's weird then that so many Republican governors are against the legislation because they understand they're going to get screwed by it.

Understand that Graham-Cassidy is there for two reasons: to destroy President Obama's signature achievement by erasing him from the history books, and to brutally punish those who voted for him so that we never dare raise our voices, our hands, or our votes against the GOP ever again, and remember, the GOP doesn't get paid until they do it.

There's a significant chance that both will be successful results of this bill becoming law.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Two more developments in Trump/Russia over the last day or so, first, Robert Mueller's office has interviewed the man who appointed Mueller to the office of special counsel to begin with, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, about Rosenstein's role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office interviewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein over the summer about his role in President Donald Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey, according to a person familiar with the matter. 
The questioning by investigators of the top DOJ official overseeing the probe is a rare occurrence, but the source said that Rosenstein has no plans to immediately recuse himself, an indication Mueller's office does not view him as a key witness in the obstruction of justice probe. 
Rosenstein wrote a memo detailing his concerns about Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email server investigation that the White House initially cited as the reason for firing Comey. 
Ian Prior, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said in a statement, "As the deputy attorney general has said numerous times, if there comes a time when he needs to recuse, he will. However, nothing has changed."

Whether or not Rosenstein does need to recuse himself is a battle that will probably come later, but for now I would think that while the Comey firing is definitely a source of possible obstruction of justice charges, I don't think Rosenstein is the target.

But there may be some new wrinkles in what Mueller can go after if this story from Reuters is true.

U.S. President Donald Trump is using money donated to his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee to pay for his lawyers in the probe of alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Following Reuters exclusive report on Tuesday, CNN reported that the Republican National Committee paid in August more than $230,000 to cover some of Trump's legal fees related to the probe.

RNC spokesperson Cassie Smedile confirmed to Reuters that Trump's lead lawyer, John Dowd, received $100,000 from the RNC and that the RNC also paid $131,250 to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, the law firm where Jay Sekulow, another of Trump's lawyers, is a partner.

The RNC is scheduled to disclose its August spending on Wednesday. The Trump campaign is due for a disclosure on Oct. 15.

The U.S. Federal Election Commission allows the use of private campaign funds to pay legal bills arising from being a candidate or elected official.

While previous presidential campaigns have used these funds to pay for routine legal matters such as ballot access disputes and compliance requirements, Trump would be the first U.S. president in the modern campaign finance era to use such funds to cover the costs of responding to a criminal probe, said election law experts.

Smedile said the RNC payments to Trump's lawyers were "from a pre-existing legal proceedings account and do not reduce by a dime the resources we can put towards our political work."

It was not clear how Trump's legal costs related to the Russia probe would be allocated between the campaign and the RNC, one of the sources said.

Dowd declined to say how the president's legal bills were being paid, adding: "That's none of your business."

If that money was donated by any Russians connected to this case, things could get real interesting fast on that front.  Remember that Mueller is definitely focusing on the money aspect of Trump/Russia, so Trump using the RNC to pay his legal bills, especially if the lawyers themselves may be connected to anything criminal Trump may have done, may be another avenue for Mueller to explore.  Yes, it's legal to use the money to pay for legal fees, but if the money came from illegal sources, well, that's another mess for Trump.

Stay tuned, kids.
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