Friday, May 26, 2017

Last Call For The Return Of The Steve

The unstoppable Steve M. notes that the Trump regime is hitting the mattresses after Donny's global embarrassment tour, and that means the return to power of Steve Bannon:

So Bannon -- who is allegedly "super savvy" -- is responsible for "misdirections" like trying to change the subject to Bill Clinton's decades-old sexual behavior after Trump's Access Hollywood tape broke. Here's my question: How effective was that misdirection effort? Apart from any Fox-addicted wingnuts you know, did you hear anyone talking about it? If so, was anyone talking about it for days and days? Whereas we all talked about the Trump "grab 'em by the pussy" tape for days and days -- longer, in fact. We're still talking about it.

My point is that Bannon might not actually change what most Americans are talking about. What he's skilled at doing is changing what right-wingers are talking about. And maybe that's worth it to Trump, because he seems to believe he can save his presidency as long as 80+ percent of Republicans still support him without question

So if you have even a glancing exposure to right-wing media, expect to hear a lot of names that make you ask, "Isn't this person completely out of power now?" Susan Rice. Valerie Jarrett. Donna Brazile. (Why, here's a story about Donna Brazile at Joe the Plumber's website right now.) Expect even more on Seth Rich. Expect terror scares and "knockout game" scares and Black-Lives-Matter-is-going-to-kill-all-white-people scares. The Russia investigations might strike more and more pay dirt, but your right-wing relatives won't even know.

Steve's right on this.  What you and I think about Trump is irrelevant as to whether or not Trump stays in power until the end of his term.  What the people who voted for Trump think of him -- and what those Republican voters can do to GOP members of Congress -- is now the only thing that matters.

As long as Bannon can keep Trump's numbers up among the faithful, he will survive politically due to the power of the office, and due to the cowardice of the GOP that brought him to power.  Nobody wants to be the "Traitor That Brought Down Trump" because they know good and well what they've been saying needs to happen to "traitors" in this country.

So why is that important?  Because of tonight's Friday night news dump.

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

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

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

The White House disclosed the fact of the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

This is pretty much as bad as it gets for Kushner right now. Neither the WH nor the Russians are denying this story tonight.

But it gets worse for them.

Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch once close to President Trump’s former campaign manager, has offered to cooperate with congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but lawmakers are unwilling to accept his conditions, according to congressional officials.

Mr. Deripaska’s offer comes amid increased attention to his ties to Paul Manafort, who is one of several Trump associates under F.B.I. scrutiny for possible collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign. The two men did business together in the mid-2000s, when Mr. Manafort, a Republican operative, was also providing campaign advice to Kremlin-backed politicians in Ukraine. Their relationship subsequently soured and devolved into a lawsuit.

Mr. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate who is a member of the inner circle of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, recently offered to cooperate with congressional intelligence committees in exchange for a grant of full immunity, according to three congressional officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. But the Senate and House panels turned him down because of concerns that immunity agreements create complications for federal criminal investigators, the officials said.

Mr. Deripaska, who lives in Moscow, has long had difficulty traveling to the United States. The State Department has refused to issue him a business visa because of concerns over allegations that he was connected to organized crime, according to a former United States government official, which Mr. Deripaska has denied.

A lot of Trump's inner circle are going down and soon.  But Trump?  Trump's not going anywhere.

Not yet.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

As expected, the story last week that "a White House official in Trump's inner circle" was under FBI investigation now has a name attached to it: Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News. 
Investigators believe Kushner has significant information relevant to their inquiry, officials said. That does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him. 
The FBI's scrutiny of Kushner places the bureau's sprawling counterintelligence and criminal investigation not only on the doorstep of the White House, but the Trump family circle. The Washington Post first reported last week that a senior White House official close to Trump was a "person of interest," but did not name the person. The term "person of interest" has no legal meaning. 
The officials said Kushner is in a different category from former Trump aides Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who are formally considered subjects of the investigation. According to the Justice Department's U.S. Attorneys' Manual, "A 'subject' of an investigation is a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury's investigation." 
Records of both Manafort and Flynn have been demanded by grand jury subpoenas, NBC News has reported.

I said last Friday that Kushner or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would make the most sense as the "person of interest" as they are the ones who have the major ties to Russian business interests if the FBI is playing follow the money, Kushner with real estate, and Tillerson with oil.

Still, it means the grand jury investigation into Trump and Russia now has reached Kushner.  Things are moving pretty quickly at this point, and it means the investigation is expanding, not "going away" like the GOP is claiming.

Meanwhile lawmakers want to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller, and soon.

A growing number of key lawmakers in both parties are calling on Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller to detail what specifically his Russia investigation is targeting, with one Democratic senator warning bluntly that failing to do so could jeopardize the criminal probe into President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn. 
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the top Democrat on a Judiciary subcommittee, told CNN Thursday that it's possible Flynn is cooperating with the Justice Department -- and that Capitol Hill has not been kept in the loop. He warned that congressional probes that have subpoenaed Flynn for records could undercut Mueller's investigation if the former national security adviser is secretly working with the Justice Department as part of its broader investigation into possible collusion between Russian officials and Trump associates during the campaign season. 
"There is at least a reasonable hypothesis that Mike Flynn is already cooperating with the DOJ investigation and perhaps even has been for some time," said Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.

Pay attention to what Sen. Whitehouse is saying here.  Why would Flynn be cooperating with Mueller when he's not with Congress?

We know at this point that while Flynn is resisting congressional subpoenas, it doesn't mean he's not talking to Mueller, which actually makes sense.  If Flynn is trying to get a deal, things could start going south fast for Trump and the rest.  There's only one possible target that Flynn could deliver to make the FBI even begin to consider this, and it's Tang the Conqueror himself.

Question is does Flynn actually have the goods? And is everyone at the FBI willing to bet their careers on Flynn actually having enough evidence to bring down a president?

Either way, it looks like Trump's real boss is going to get his payoff soon regardless.

President Trump is weighing changes to U.S. sanctions against Russia
, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said Wednesday.

"I think the president is looking at it," Cohn told reporters aboard Air Force One, when asked about the president's position on Russian sanctions. "Right now, we don’t have a position."

Drip, drip, drip, Donny.

Slamming Home The Point

So how did Montana Republican Greg Gianforte win last night's special election to replace Trump Interior Secretary' Ryan Zinke's House seat by 7 points, despite being charged with assault the day before the election?

I'm glad you asked.

One, Montana went for Trump by 21 points in November.  Gianforte ran and won by 7.  That was a huge swing away from Trump, but it wasn't quite enough for Democrat Rob Quist to get the win.  It should still worry the hell out of the GOP though.  13-14 point swings towards the Dems in the generic Congressional ballot means a huge Dem takeover in November 2018 if that holds.

Two, Libertarian Mark Wicks got 6% of the vote.  If Wicks wasn't in the race at all, this would have been much closer.  Yes, Quist still would have lost as Gianforte got more than 50% +1 of the vote, but it would have been a 2-3 point win rather than 7-8.  And that would have been a complete shocker.  If you assume that Wicks got a healthy amount of anti-Gianforte votes that would have gone to Quist, Wicks definitely helped Gianforte.

Three, Dems gave up on this race far too early.

C'mon.  Quist was outspent almost 10-1.  And yet when Dems chose to spend money to help Dem Gov. Steve Bullock win re-election and stayed competitive on campaign spending, Bullock was able to beat Gianforte by 4 points even as Trump got a 21 point win in the state.

Dems abandoned Quist, period.  The money wasn't there.  The GOP money was and they won.  By the time the Dems realized they had a race on their hands, the GOP upped the money they spent on it again.

Yes, it cost the GOP $5 million to defend Montana's at-large House seat.  But they won.

Here endeth the lesson.


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