Friday, July 21, 2017

Last Call For Bevin Gets Away With It

News flash here in Kentucky: Ethics Panel majority-appointed by GOP Gov. Matt Bevin dismisses all ethics complaints against GOP Gov. Matt Bevin. Shocking, I know.

A Kentucky ethics commission has unanimously dismissed a pair of complaints filed against Republican Gov. Matt Bevin over his purchase of a home from a friend and campaign donor. 
The Executive Branch Ethics Commission says Bevin didn't do anything wrong when he bought a house from Neil Ramsey, a friend that Bevin has appointed to the Kentucky Retirement Systems board of trustees. 
However, the commission told Bevin he should let Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton decide whether to reappoint Ramsey to the board when his term expires to avoid a conflict of interest. 
The five-member commission includes three people appointed by Bevin and two people appointed by former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear. A spokesman for Bevin declined to comment, saying he would "let the dismissals speak for themselves."

And so the mystery of Bevin's multi-million dollar home sold to him by a friend for a fraction of the price becomes a moot point.  It's a good real estate deal if you can get it.

Trump Takes The Pole Position

We've seen this before: Donald Trump visits a foreign country, blesses its autocratic rulers, then a few weeks later those same rulers pull something obviously authoritarian.  In the case of Saudi Arabia, it was the tacit go-ahead to ostracize Qatar while giving Riyadh a pass on Sunni Wahhabist extremism.  Now it's happening in Europe, where in the wake of Trump's visit ahead of the G20 summit earlier this month, Poland's ruling party has now shifted to take over that country's Supreme Court.

Imagine a government deciding one day that the country’s supreme court is corrupt and needs to be purged completely. A bill is introduced that will force all of the court’s judges to retire and be replaced—and it is pushed through with lightning speed and without regard for procedures. Unthinkable? Yet this is exactly what is happening here in Poland, until recently considered one of the biggest success stories of democratic transition in Eastern Europe
This month the government’s most authoritarian tendencies were encouraged by the July 6 visit of U.S. President Donald Trump, and now a different sort of transition is underway—to what some call a “hybrid dictatorship.” 
For anyone who values the checks and balances essential to democracy wherever it exists, the events of the last few days present a frightening precedent. 
Shortly after Trump’s visit, which served as a ringing endorsement of the current illiberal government, the country is facing the most serious political crisis since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. 
The tensions between the government and the opposition have turned to unprecedented open hostility and threats; chaos and confusion reign in the parliament; and fears are widespread that the fate of Polish democracy itself may well hang in the balance.
The crisis started coming to a head last week when, emboldened by Trump’s visit and taking advantage of the summer holiday season, the populist government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party pushed through a reform of the judicial system and of the National Council of Judiciary (KRS), a body charged with nominating and promoting judges.

The amendment, widely considered unconstitutional and yet to be signed by president Andrzej Duda (also PiS), would give the government virtually unrestrained control over the body—and therefore much of the judicial system.
That wasn’t all, however. 
That same day a new, even more shocking law was introduced. Ostensibly aimed to eliminate corruption and the remnants of the old communist system from the judiciary, the bill amounts to a total purge of all 83 judges in the country’s supreme court, giving the minister of justice, Zbigniew Ziobro, a virtually free rein in appointing their successors.

And you can thank Trump directly for this.   After all, we did much the same thing here when Mitch McConnell and the GOP stole a Supreme Court nomination and nobody so much as batted an eye.  If America can do it, so can Poland.  After all, it's not like we're going to punish them.

Besides, it's what Putin wants.  And Trump makes sure Putin gets it.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

We talked yesterday about Trump's NY Times interview where he left the door open to firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller if Mueller didn't back off of Trump's business deals, that Trump considered it a "red line" and left it unsaid what fate would await the investigation if Mueller crossed it.  Well, turns out yesterday's late Trump/Russia news included new information implying strongly that the Mueller investigation of Russia has indeed now widened to include Trump's business interests.

The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.

The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on Thursday that he was unaware of the inquiry into Trump’s businesses by the two-months-old investigation and considered it beyond the scope of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be examining.

“Those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the Special counsel; are unrelated to the election of 2016 or any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and most importantly, are well beyond any Statute of Limitation imposed by the United States Code,” he wrote in an email.

The Trump regime's response last night was breathtaking and instantaneous:  Trump is now floating a Nixon-style Saturday Night Massacre scenario where Trump fires everyone involved in the investigation and is even openly considering blanket pardons.

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people
. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.

With the Russia investigation continuing to widen, Trump’s lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel’s work. They are actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, according to several of Trump’s legal advisers.

A conflict of interest is one of the possible grounds that can be cited by an attorney general to remove a special counsel from office under Justice Department regulations that set rules for the job.

The president is also irritated by the notion that Mueller’s probe could reach into his and his family’s finances, advisers said.

Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face. His primary frustration centers on why allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinizing many years of Trump dealmaking. He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.

Trump has repeatedly refused to make his tax returns public after first claiming he could not do so because he was under audit or after promising to release them after an IRS audit was completed. All presidents since Jimmy Carter have released their tax returns.

Further adding to the challenges facing Trump’s outside lawyers, the team’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, resigned on Thursday, according to two people familiar with his departure. Corallo did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

“If you’re looking at Russian collusion, the president’s tax returns would be outside that investigation,” said a close adviser to the president.

The NY Times is backing up the Washington Post on this, adding that the Trump legal team is looking for any dirt they can find in order to dismantle the Mueller investigation entirely without "firing" him...for now.

For weeks, Republicans have publicly identified what they see as potential conflicts among Mr. Mueller’s team of more than a dozen investigators. In particular, they have cited thousands of dollars of political donations to Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, made by Andrew Weissmann, a former senior Justice Department official who has expertise in fraud and other financial crimes. News reports have revealed similar donations by other members of Mr. Mueller’s team, which Mr. Trump’s allies have cited as evidence of political bias. Another lawyer Mr. Mueller has hired, Jeannie Rhee, represented the Clinton Foundation.

To seek a recusal, Mr. Trump’s lawyers can argue their case to Mr. Mueller or his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. The Justice Department has explicit rules about what constitutes a conflict of interest. Prosecutors may not participate in investigations if they have “a personal or political relationship” with the subject of the case. Making campaign donations is not included on the list of things that would create a “political relationship.”

The examination of Mr. Mueller’s investigators reflects deep concerns among the president’s aides that Mr. Mueller will mount a wide-ranging investigation in the mold of the inquiry conducted by the independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr during the 1990s. Mr. Starr’s investigation into President Bill Clinton began by reviewing an Arkansas land deal and concluded several years later with the president’s impeachment over a lie about a sexual affair.

By building files on Mr. Mueller’s team, the Trump administration is following in the footsteps of the Clinton White House, which openly challenged Mr. Starr and criticized what Mr. Clinton’s aides saw as a political witch hunt.

Of course, it didn't work then, and it's not going to work now.   The panic is starting to set in at the White House, and panicked people do stupid, stupid things.  But as I said before, this is the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end.  There's still a long way to go.


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