- Fans of the late LA Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant will pack the Staples Center on Monday as the team and the city says goodbye at a public memorial service.
- Donald and Melania Trump will make a state visit to India this week hosted by President Narendra Modi, Trump has several resort and hotel properties in India as well.
- South Korea, Italy, and Iran all report growing Wuhan coronavirus outbreaks over the weekend as cases of the virus outside China have risen sharply.
- The Pentagon confirms US forces attacked an Al-Shabaab terrorist compound in Somalia on Sunday, wounding three in drone strikes.
- NOAA's January temperature data finds the globe suffered yet another record average high for the month, noting that it happened without El Nino effects in the Pacific Ocean.
Monday, February 24, 2020
Sunday, February 23, 2020
We've seen a number of news outlets indicate that Donald Trump is actively purging the Justice, State, Homeland Security and Defense Departments with literal enemies' lists. Jon Swan:
The Trump White House and its allies, over the past 18 months, assembled detailed lists of disloyal government officials to oust — and trusted pro-Trump people to replace them — according to more than a dozen sources familiar with the effort who spoke to Axios.
Driving the news: By the time President Trump instructed his 29-year-old former body man and new head of presidential personnel to rid his government of anti-Trump officials, he'd gathered reams of material to support his suspicions.
While Trump's distrust has only intensified since his impeachment and acquittal, he has long been on the hunt for "bad people" inside the White House and U.S. government, and fresh "pro-Trump" options. Outside advisers have been happy to oblige.
In reporting this story, I have been briefed on, or reviewed, memos and lists the president received since 2018 suggesting whom he should hire and fire. Most of these details have never been published.
A well-connected network of conservative activists with close ties to Trump and top administration officials is quietly helping develop these "Never Trump"/pro-Trump lists, and some sent memos to Trump to shape his views, per sources with direct knowledge.
Members of this network include Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Republican Senate staffer Barbara Ledeen.
The big picture: Since Trump's Senate acquittal, aides say the president has crossed a psychological line regarding what he calls the "Deep State." He feels his government — from Justice to State to Defense to Homeland Security — is filled with "snakes." He wants them fired and replaced ASAP.
"I think it's a very positive development," said Rich Higgins, who served on Trump's National Security Council in 2017. H.R. McMaster removed Higgins after he wrote a memo speculating that Trump's presidency faced threats from Marxists, the "Deep State," so-called globalists, bankers, Islamists, and establishment Republicans. (This was long before the full scope of the FBI's Russia investigation was known to Trump and his aides.)
Higgins told me on Sunday he stands by everything he wrote in his memo, but "I would probably remove 'bankers' if I had to do it over and I would play up the intel community role — which I neglected."
Just a good ol' fashioned Soviet pogrom.
Trump is apparently taking his advice on who to fire and who to hire from Clarence Thomas's wife Ginny, who has a right-wing gravy train group called Groundswell. And Groundswell has been on the forefront of lunatic fringe conservatism since 2013. David Corn warned us about them seven years ago:
Believing they are losing the messaging war with progressives, a group of prominent conservatives in Washington—including the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and journalists from Breitbart News and the Washington Examiner—has been meeting privately since early this year to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for “a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation,” according to documents obtained by Mother Jones.
Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell—including aides to congressional Republicans—cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and “clueless” GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl Rove within Republican and conservative ranks. (For more on Groundswell’s “two front war” against Rove—a major clash on the right—click here.)
One of the influential conservatives guiding the group is Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a columnist for the Daily Caller and a tea party consultant and lobbyist. Other Groundswell members include John Bolton, the former UN ambassador; Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy; Ken Blackwell and Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council; Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch; Gayle Trotter, a fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum; Catherine Engelbrecht and Anita MonCrief of True the Vote; Allen West, the former GOP House member; Sue Myrick, also a former House GOPer; Diana Banister of the influential Shirley and Banister PR firm; and Max Pappas, a top aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Among the conveners listed in an invitation to a May 8 meeting of Groundswell were Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News Network; Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who resoundingly lost a Maryland Senate race last year (and is now running for a House seat); Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society; Sandy Rios, a Fox News contributor; Lori Roman, a former executive director of the American Legislative Exchange Council; and Austin Ruse, the head of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. Conservative journalists and commentators participating in Groundswell have included Breitbart News reporters Matthew Boyle and Mike Flynn, Washington Examiner executive editor Mark Tapscott, and National Review contributor Michael James Barton.
All these names should be depressingly familiar to ZVTS readers: especially Bannon and Bongino, and now they have Trump's attention and he's running the playbook they've wanted for almost a decade. It's going to get ugly, fast.
The good news is at least some of those soon-to-be-purged employees will have a story or two to tell.
The Trump regime loyalists are now openly calling the intelligence community liars, with National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien echoing Acting DNI Richard Grenell in saying there is "no intelligence" to indicate Russian interference in the 2020 elections on behalf of Donald Trump.
Last week, intelligence officials warned lawmakers in a briefing before the House Intelligence Committee that the Russians are continuing their efforts to interfere in the 2020 election, and that one prong is aimed at helping re-elect President Trump. But the president's top national security official said there's "no intelligence behind" such claims.
Speaking to "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien disputed the reports of what was presented during a House Intelligence Committee briefing that he said was "leaked" to members of the press. O'Brien said he had "not seen the finding" himself.
"From what I understand about the report....I get this second hand, but from Republican congressmen that were in the committee, there was no intelligence behind it," O'Brien said. "I haven't seen any intelligence to support the reports that were leaked out of the House. But it's just hard to comment on that because, again, I wasn't there. And these are leaks that were coming from a House Intel Committee hearing. I haven't seen any intelligence that would- would back up what I'm reading in the papers."
Following the congressional briefing, intelligence officials then briefed the White House on election security and offered the same assessment — that Russia is trying to help Mr. Trump win re-election in 2020 — a senior administration official told CBS.
Moscow has since denied that it's trying to interfere in the election and help Mr. Trump, and said the reports are the result of paranoia, according to the Reuters news service.
Mr. Trump was also dismissive, tweeting Friday, "Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa."
Sources tell CBS News that Mr. Trump was unaware of the classified House briefing and was furious when he found out about it from House Republicans.
Now, this seems like a huge hedge, and Grenell is actually saying the same thing: neither of them have seen intelligence, neither of them attended the briefings. It doesn't mean the intel doesn't exist, but let's face fact, it absolutely does.
For all his faults, former DNI Dan Coats never said the intelligence that Russia was interfering on behalf of Trump in 2016 didn't exist, it 100% did and we've known about the internet farm in St. Petersburg that did exactly that, along with the social media manipulation, and the repeated hacks into state voter registration servers, plus the DNC email hack laundered through WikiLeaks.
Grenell and O'Brien aren't going quite that far, yet. But Trump is too busy ordering mass purges of the intel community anyhow for the distinction to matter too much. I fully expect whoever did brief House Democrats and Bernie Sanders on Russian interference will find themselves manning a desk somewhere in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands before the end of the year.
The point of these denials is precisely that, to set up plausible deniability. They're "not aware of" intelligence so when the inevitable leaks happen they can say they weren't aware of it, and it will justify purges going forward in order to "stop future leaks".
The ultimate goal is to discredit the Mueller probe and to smokescreen the Trump regime getting help from Russia in 2020, and the seed that the people who absolutely have seen the intelligence haven't "seen" it is now planted.
Tom Nichols may be a Never Trump scold, but he's right on one thing, his book The Death of Expertise describes our current internet culture where people online purport to be smarter than the trained doctors, lawyers, scholars and engineers, and more and more folks are turning to these internet "experts" rather than the actual ones for advice.
Often these internet geniuses are so toxic towards the actual experts that it actively dissuades people from listening to the actual masters of their field at all (asee the anti-vax movement as a primary example).
And sometimes, as in our Sunday Long Read about internet advice on "freebirth", that toxicity can be fatal.
Judith has wavy chocolate-colored hair, matching almond eyes and a mouth that naturally sits in an upturned, playful smile. As she sits on her living room sofa nine months after her loss, her freshly bitten fingernails offer a clue to the anxiety that often overwhelms her.
Judith asked that NBC News not use her full name, fearing a backlash from the trolls, paid-per-click bloggers and well-meaning health advocates who congregate in online spaces to debate birth choices. Judith is terrified they’ll say the things she already tells herself in the darkest moments.
“I can’t take any more guilt,” she said.
It’s impossible to know whether Judith’s baby would be alive if she had induced at 42 weeks or scheduled a cesarean section or made any choices other than the ones she did. The hospital didn’t perform an autopsy, and doctors couldn’t explain exactly why her baby’s heart stopped beating. Even so, Judith has spent every day since then replaying different scenarios, imagining a better outcome and asking herself just how she got here.
As well as she can figure, it started with the podcasts.
Judith worked at a flower shop. The daily drive was an hour outside of town, time she filled by listening to podcasts. When she got pregnant, she devoured episodes of “The Birth Hour” and “Indie Birth,” popular programs on which women shared their childbirth stories, which ranged from hospital to home births. But it was the “Free Birth Podcast” that really spoke to Judith.
Billed as “a supportive space for people who are learning, exploring and celebrating their autonomous choices in childbirth,” the podcast features Emilee Saldaya, 35, a Los Angeles freebirth advocate and founder of the Free Birth Society. The group has 46,000 followers on Instagram, and its podcast hit a million downloads last year.
On the podcast, Saldaya interviews mothers about their freebirth stories. These women reminded Judith of herself; they were college educated, spiritual, creative types who spoke about their births in powerful, radical terms: as euphoric events that happened in bathtubs, in nature or in their own beds, surrounded by their partners and family. Women in these podcasts weren’t listening to doctors but to their bodies. They weren’t lying on their backs waiting for someone to pull a baby from them but bringing their babies into the world with their own two hands.
Judith tore through some 70 episodes. She relistened to her favorites, one of which featured a woman who had given birth by candlelight in an off-the-grid yurt in the California mountains with only her husband and a dog she called her “midwolf.”
While she listened, Judith would daydream, imagining herself as a future guest on the podcast.
“I became obsessed,” Judith said. “I would just wonder, ‘What's my story going to be like?’ and think, ‘I want my story to be as badass as their stories.’”
Given the massive uptick in child mortality in the United States in the last twenty years, especially among black women giving birth, this seems massively irresponsible. I have nothing but empathy for Judith and her story. It's the people who convinced her that this was the right thing to do that will forever earn my ire.
With a substantial win thanks to Hispanic voters in Nevada's caucuses yesterday, unless something dramatic changes in the next two weeks or so, Bernie Sanders will be in a commanding position position after Super Tuesday as the opposition to him is hopelessly split. That should be reminding people of Donald Trump's 2016 run in many, many more ways than just one...
Put "Bernie Bros" on the back-burner.
It's the army of sobrinos and sobrinas — the Spanish words for nephews and nieces — who should strike fear in the hearts of Bernie Sanders' rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination and party elites after he ran up the score among Latino voters in the Nevada caucuses Saturday. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and other Latinx backers of Sanders refer to him fondly as their "tío," or uncle.
Sanders was the choice of 54 percent of Hispanic caucus-goers Saturday on his way to steamrolling to the most convincing victory of the primary season, according to an NBC entrance poll. His closest competitor, former Vice President Joe Biden, racked up 14 percent, with no other candidate cracking double digits.
Those results signaled that the energy Sanders has poured into building a more diverse coalition than his failed 2016 campaign is paying off at just the right time. He can now stake the first claim — less than two weeks before the "Super Tuesday" contests in 14 states — to having won a state where white, Hispanic and black voters are all represented in substantial numbers.
"If you can’t put two out of those three together, you should start figuring out your exit plan," Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said of most of Sanders' rivals — excluding Biden and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg — in a telephone interview with NBC News.
Gallego added that he is "not surprised" that Sanders performed so well because the candidate and his campaign learned from missteps in 2016 and organized early and effectively in the Latino community.
The outcome among Hispanic voters here could easily portend success for Sanders in delegate-rich California and other heavily Hispanic states and congressional districts coming up on the primary calendar. At the same time, Sanders has closed Biden's lead with African-American voters to 31 percent to 29 percent nationally, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Friday.
If things hold true, in two weeks pundits are going to start attaching "presumptive nominee" in front of "Bernie Sanders" and it's going to be true. After tonight, it's time for the second-stringers to drop out: Steyer, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and I hate to say it, Warren. Bloomberg won't go anywhere, but the only way anyone can stop Bernie at this point is everyone else bailing and leaving the road open for somebody, and that somebody should be Biden at this point.
It won't happen, of course. Too much ego involved, and by splitting the opposition among five opponents, Sanders now has an open, if not easy path to Milwaukee in five months.
Sanders still isn't pulling in majorities, which means there's still a chance for somebody to rise up to challenge him. But everyone still in the race believes they are one who will win, and all but one of them are 100% wrong...
Saturday, February 22, 2020
Donald Trump will do everything he can to stop John Bolton's tell-all book from coming out about his crooked regime, and when that succeeds, he'll block every other tell-all book from coming out too.
President Trump has directly weighed in on the White House review of a forthcoming book by his former national security adviser, telling his staff that he views John Bolton as “a traitor,” that everything he uttered to the departed aide about national security is classified and that he will seek to block the book’s publication, according to two people familiar with the conversations.
The president’s private arguments stand in contrast to the point-by-point process used to classify and protect sensitive secrets and appears to differ from the White House’s public posture toward Bolton’s much-anticipated memoir. The National Security Council warned Bolton last month that his draft “appears to contain significant amounts of classified information,” some of it top secret, but pledged to help him revise the manuscript and “move forward as expeditiously as possible.”
“We will do our best to work with you to ensure your client’s ability to tell his story in a manner that protects U.S. national security,” Ellen Knight, senior director of the council’s records office, wrote in a Jan. 23 letter to Bolton’s attorney.
But the president has insisted to aides that Bolton’s account of his work in Trump’s White House, “The Room Where It Happened,” should not see the light of day before the November election, according to the two people familiar with the conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.
Trump has told his lawyers that Bolton should not be allowed to publish any of his interactions with him about national security because they are privileged and classified, these people said. He has also repeatedly brought up the book with his team, asking whether Bolton is going to be able to publish it, they said.
Trump told national television anchors on Feb. 4 during an off-the-record lunch that material in the book was “highly classified,” according to notes from one participant in the luncheon. He then called him a “traitor.”
I agree with Steve M. here, the book will never see the light of day as long as Trump is in power and neither will any other book about Trump written by anyone connected with the White House. As I said earlier, it's all about purging the unloyal so that they are not only silenced, but possibly imprisoned as well.
We're deep into that autocracy, guys. It already may be too late.
Well ahead of the very real possibility that in June, the Roberts Court ends both legalized abortion and the separation between church and state, the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court are already doing the Trump regime's bidding openly, and Justice Sotomayor is calling them out on it.
On Friday evening, by a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration’s wealth test for immigrants to take effect in Illinois. All four liberal justices dissented from the order, which changes relatively little: Thanks to the conservative justices’ intervention in January, the wealth test was poised to take effect in 49 states, and Friday’s vote lets the government apply it in the last state left. What’s most remarkable about the decision is Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s withering dissent, which calls out—with startling candor—a distressing pattern: The court’s Republican appointees have a clear bias toward the Trump administration.
Trump’s wealth test marks a brazen attempt to limit legal immigration by forcing immigrants to prove their financial status to enter, or remain in, the United States. It goes far beyond any statute passed by Congress, forcing immigrants to demonstrate that they will be not a “public charge”—that is, they won’t rely on any public assistance, including Medicaid, housing vouchers, and food stamps. Because the policy departs so dramatically from federal law, several courts blocked its implementation in 2019. In January, however, the Supreme Court allowed the wealth test to take effect over the dissent of all four liberals. The majority did not explain its reasoning. But Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote a concurrence complaining that a district court had blocked it across the country, decrying the “rise of nationwide injunctions.”
Gorsuch’s opinion raised the possibility that the conservative justices disapproved of the scope of the district court’s injunction, not the reasoning behind it. If that were true, the conservatives should not have unsettled a narrower injunction limited to Illinois. But they did just that on Friday, once again without explaining themselves. Once again, the liberals dissented, but only Sotomayor wrote separately, in an opinion notable for its caustic tone and candid assessment of her colleague’s prejudices. “Today’s decision follows a now-familiar pattern,” Sotomayor began. “The Government seeks emergency relief from this Court, asking it to grant a stay where two lower courts have not. The Government insists—even though review in a court of appeals is imminent—that it will suffer irreparable harm if this Court does not grant a stay. And the Court yields.” In other words, SCOTUS rewarded the Department of Justice for short-circuiting the appellate process and demanding immediate relief.
“But this application is perhaps even more concerning than past ones,” Sotomayor continued. Previously, the DOJ “professed urgency because of the form of relief granted in the prior case—a nationwide injunction.” Now there’s no nationwide injunction, so there’s no apparent “urgency.” The DOJ “cannot state with precision any of the supposed harm that would come from the Illinois-specific injunction, and the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has scheduled oral argument for next week.” Yet SCOTUS lifted the injunction anyway. “It is hard,” Sotomayor wrote, “to say what is more troubling: that the Government would seek this extraordinary relief seemingly as a matter of course, or that the Court would grant it.”
Normally, “to justify upending the normal rules,” the government “must also show a likelihood of irreparable harm.” And “it has not made that showing here.” But this shortcut to SCOTUS has become “the new normal”; it has happened over and over and over again, as the DOJ leapfrogs over the lower courts to seize a victory at the Supreme Court. Sotomayor explained:
Claiming one emergency after another, the Government has recently sought stays in an unprecedented number of cases, demanding immediate attention and consuming limited Court resources in each. And with each successive application, of course, its cries of urgency ring increasingly hollow.
But the Supreme Court’s conservatives repeatedly accept the DOJ’s declarations of an “emergency,” giving Donald Trump whatever he wants.
Expect a lot more of this in the future, and then, well, a lot less of it as it won't be necessary to enjoin federal judges who are all working for Trump. The damage to the Ninth Circuit, for example, has turned it into one of the most conservative appellate courts in the nation in just three years.
Here's the biggest problem:
When President Trump ticks off his accomplishments since taking office, he frequently mentions his aggressive makeover of a key sector of the federal judiciary — the circuit courts of appeal, where he has appointed 51 judges to lifetime jobs in three years.
In few places has the effect been felt more powerfully than in the sprawling 9th Circuit, which covers California and eight other states. Because of Trump’s success in filling vacancies, the San Francisco-based circuit, long dominated by Democratic appointees, has suddenly shifted to the right, with an even more pronounced tilt expected in the years ahead.
Trump has now named 10 judges to the 9th Circuit — more than one-third of its active judges — compared with seven appointed by President Obama over eight years.
“Trump has effectively flipped the circuit,” said 9th Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., an appointee of President George W. Bush.
Democratic appointees still make up the majority of active judges — 16 to 13. But the court also has judges on “senior status” who continue to sit on panels that decide cases. Senior status rank gives judges more flexibility but allows them to continue to work, even full time.
Of the senior judges who will be deciding cases on “merits” panels — reading briefs and issuing rulings — 10 are Republicans and only three are Democratic appointees, Smith said.
“You will see a sea change in the 9th Circuit on day-to-day decisions,” Smith predicted.
The biggest change will come in controversial cases that test the constitutionality of laws and the legal ability of presidents to establish contentious new rules. The 9th Circuit is weighing challenges to Trump on a wide array of issues, from immigration to reproductive rights, and the rightward tilt is likely to make it easier for the president to prevail.
And eight of the ten federal judges Trump has appointed have no experience being judges at all. None.
It'll take the rest of my lifetime to fix the damage Trump has done, and that will take the miracle of getting him out of office in November. Most likely America as we know it is lost, headed back to a functional autocracy based on white supremacy and where everyone else is considered an optional citizen.
The Great Purge of "disloyal" staff across the entire executive branch is now upon us, and Trump is hunting for anyone and everyone who serves the United States and not Dear Leader.
President Trump has instructed his White House to identify and force out officials across his administration who are not seen as sufficiently loyal, a post-impeachment escalation that administration officials say reflects a new phase of a campaign of retribution and restructuring ahead of the November election.
Johnny McEntee, Trump’s former personal aide who now leads the effort as director of presidential personnel, has begun combing through various agencies with a mandate from the president to oust or sideline political appointees who have not proved their loyalty, according to several administration officials and others familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The push comes in the aftermath of an impeachment process in which several members of Trump’s administration provided damning testimony about his behavior with regard to Ukraine. The stream of officials publicly criticizing Trump’s actions frustrated the president and caused him to fixate on cleaning house after his acquittal this month.
“We want bad people out of our government!” Trump tweeted Feb. 13, kicking off a tumultuous stretch of firings, resignations, controversial appointments and private skirmishes that have since spilled into public view.
The National Security Council, the State Department and the Justice Department are targets of particular focus, according to two administration officials, and there have recently been multiple resignations and reassignments at each of those agencies.
John C. Rood, the official in charge of Defense Department policy who had certified that Ukraine had met anti-corruption obligations, was let go this week. Victoria Coates, the deputy national security adviser who was viewed with suspicion by some White House aides, was removed from her post and was moved to an advisory position in the Energy Department.
McEntee spent part of this week asking officials in various Cabinet agencies to provide names of political appointees working in government who are not fully supportive of Trump’s presidency, according to administration officials.
The president instructed McEntee to find people in the administration who aren’t aligned with Trump and “get rid” of them, according to someone familiar with the president’s directive. Trump did not provide additional specificity on what exactly he wanted beyond a workforce that more fully reflects his instincts, the person said, and it is unclear what criteria are being used to determine an official’s fealty to the president. McEntee’s discussions with Cabinet agencies were first reported by Axios.
The 29-year-old former campaign aide is planning to prepare a presentation for Trump about what he has found. While Sean Doocey, the former director of presidential personnel, reported to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s deputy, McEntee reports directly to the president, according to a senior administration official.
The only thing that matters now is loyalty to Trump, not loyalty to the country or rule of law. Anyone left with a principled stance will be dragged out into the street and made and example of. I fully expect dozens, if not hundreds of people to be scrapped in the next month or so. Toadies will be rewarded with positions of power. The adults in the room who were supposed to be keeping an eye on Trump, and using the power of institutional memory to keep the country on course, will be the first on the block.
The American autocracy isn't an exercise in "what if", folks. The 2000+ posts with the Trump Regime tag aren't snappy nomenclature, it's an accurate description. It's happening right now. With a compliant executive, compliant judicial and SCOTUS, and complaint Senate who has already bent their knee to him, we are inches away from being back into the darkest parts of American history.
Richard Grenell is just the start of these agents of chaos, his job is to lay the groundwork for Bill Barr to discredit the Mueller probe entirely so that when the arrests start, there's justification already in place.
Richard Grenell’s tenure as the nation’s top intelligence official may be short-lived, but he wasted no time this week starting to shape his team of advisers, ousting his office’s No. 2 official — a longtime intelligence officer — and bringing in an expert on Trump conspiracy theories to help lead the agency, according to officials.
Mr. Grenell has also requested the intelligence behind the classified briefing last week before the House Intelligence Committee where officials told lawmakers that Russia was interfering in November’s presidential election and that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia favored President Trump’s re-election. The briefing later prompted Mr. Trump’s anger as he complained that Democrats would use it against him.
Joseph Maguire, the former acting director of national intelligence, and his deputy, Andrew P. Hallman, resigned on Friday. Mr. Grenell told Mr. Hallman, popular in the office’s Liberty Crossing headquarters, that his service was no longer needed, according to two officials. Mr. Hallman, who has worked in the office or at the C.I.A. for three decades, expressed confidence in his colleagues in a statement but also referred to the “uncertainties that come with change.”
The ouster of Mr. Hallman and exit of Mr. Maguire, who also oversaw the National Counterterrorism Center, allowed Mr. Grenell to install his own leadership team.
One of his first hires was Kashyap Patel, a senior National Security Council staff member and former key aide to Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Patel will have a mandate to “clean house,” CBS News reported, citing a person close to the matter.
Mr. Patel was best known as the lead author of a politically charged memo two years ago that accused F.B.I. and Justice Department leaders of abusing their surveillance powers to spy on a former Trump campaign adviser. The memo was widely criticized as misleading, though an inspector general later found other problems with aspects of the surveillance.
Working with Mr. Nunes, Mr. Patel began what they called Objective Medusa to examine the F.B.I.’s investigation into whether anyone associated with the Trump campaign conspired with Russia’s election interference in 2016.
“I hired him to bust doors down,” Mr. Nunes told the author Lee Smith for his book “The Plot Against the President,” which chronicles Mr. Patel’s investigations on behalf of the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Patel was interviewed extensively in the book, which claims without proof that journalists, diplomats, law enforcement and intelligence officials engaged in a vast plot to undermine Mr. Trump’s campaign and then bring him down as president.
Things are moving at frightening speed at this point, and again there is nothing to make me believe we will have a free and fair election in 2020, if we have an election at all. When this happens, not if, Trump will have the support of his base. History tells us that the results will be absolutely horrific.
There will be nobody left to stop Trump. And tens of millions of your neighbors have no intention of doing so. The danger I've been warning about for more than three years is happening in real time, folks.
Michael Flynn was compromised by a long history with Russian oligarchs and corruption, Paul Manafort was compromised by a long history with the same from the Ukraine, and it seems newly minted Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell is compromised by a long history with crooks and strongmen from Moldova.
President Donald Trump’s new acting intelligence director, Richard Grenell, used to do consulting work on behalf of an Eastern European oligarch who is now a fugitive and was recently barred from entering the U.S. under anti-corruption sanctions imposed last month by the State Department.
In 2016, Grenell wrote several articles defending the oligarch, a Moldovan politician named Vladimir Plahotniuc, but did not disclose that he was being paid, according to records and interviews. Grenell also did not register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which generally requires people to disclose work in the U.S. on behalf of foreign politicians.
FARA is the same law that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates were convicted of violating. (Manafort went to trial. Gates pleaded guilty.)
It’s not clear whether the articles were directly part of Grenell’s paid consulting work for Plahotniuc. Unpaid work could still require disclosures under FARA if it was directed by or primarily benefited a foreign politician, according to Matthew Sanderson, a lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale who advises people on complying with FARA. FARA contains several exemptions, such as for lawyers and businesses, Sanderson said, but none appear to apply to Grenell’s op-eds about Plahotniuc.
“There is real reason to believe that Mr. Grenell should have registered here,” Sanderson said after ProPublica described the circumstances to him. “This is exactly the type of circumstances I’d expect the Department of Justice to investigate further.”
Craig Engle, an attorney with the law firm Arent Fox, said he was responding to ProPublica’s questions on Grenell’s behalf. Engle declined to say what Grenell’s paid consulting work involved but said he did not have to register under FARA “because he was not working at the direction of a foreign power.”
“Ric was not paid to write these stories, in fact he has written hundreds of stories on his own time to express his own views,” Engle said. “But to be clear: he was not working for any individual, he was working for himself and was advocating the ideal of a pro-western political party that was emerging.”
Undisclosed work for a foreign politician would ordinarily pose a problem for anyone applying for a security clearance or a job in a U.S. intelligence agency because it could make the person susceptible to foreign influence or blackmail, according to the official policy from the office that Trump tapped Grenell to lead.
The policy specifies that among the “conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying” are:
“That’s really easy, he should not have a clearance,” said Kel McClanahan, a Washington-area lawyer specializing in security clearances. “If he were one of my clients and just a normal [federal employee], he would almost assuredly not have a clearance.”
- “Failure to report or fully disclose, when required, association with a foreign person, group, government or country.”
- “Substantial business, financial, or property interests in a foreign country … that could subject the individual to a heightened risk of foreign influence or exploitation or personal conflict of interest.”
- “Acting to serve the interest of a foreign person, group, organization or government in any way that conflicts with U.S. national security interests.”
McClanahan said it’s unclear how Grenell could have already gotten a clearance as an ambassador. The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether the Trump administration has overruled career officials in granting security clearances to political appointees.
It's not an accident that Trump keeps appointing people who are compromised by eastern European strongmen in Putin's orbit to lead his government. Just saying.
At the very least, Grenell should be canned, in a just world, he'd be in jail along with Rick Gates and Paul Manafort for being an unregistered foreign agent who has been compromised.
That'll never happen though. Our government is about past the point of no return, where we become an autocracy under Trump, no different from North Korea.
Friday, February 21, 2020
In news that shouldn't surprise any of you, dear readers, the Russians are trying to screw with the Democratic primary by promoting Bernie Sanders.
U.S. officials have told Sen. Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic contest, according to people familiar with the matter.
President Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have also been informed about the Russian assistance to the Vermont senator, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.
It is not clear what form that Russian assistance has taken. U.S. prosecutors found a Russian effort in 2016 to use social media to boost Sanders’s campaign against Hillary Clinton, part of a broader effort to hurt Clinton, sow dissension in the American electorate and ultimately help elect Donald Trump.
“I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement to The Washington Post. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.
“In 2016, Russia used Internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”
A spokesperson for the Sanders campaign declined to comment on the briefing by U.S. officials on Russia’s attempts to help the Sanders campaign.
Sanders’s opponents have blamed some of his most vocal online supporters for injecting toxic rhetoric into the primaries. At a Democratic candidates debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Sanders indirectly blamed Russia, saying it was possible malign actors were trying to manipulate social media to inflame divisions among Democrats.
“All of us remember 2016, and what we remember is efforts by Russians and others to try to interfere in our elections and divide us up,” Sanders said. “I’m not saying that’s happening, but it would not shock me.”
Bernie Sanders would get pummeled by Trump. Hell, even the Trump people are freely admitting they want to run against Bernie at this point. What bothers me the most is that the Sanders campaign was told about these efforts last month and made no effort to share that info or to denounce it until somebody leaked it to the Washington Post today. The Sanders campaign's defense is that the briefing was classified, but that means then that Bernie lied openly in the debates earlier this month when asked about Russian interference.
The bigger issue is of course that Russia continues to openly interfere in US elections, and that the Trump regime keeps actively blocking efforts to beef up defenses against them, saying they are "partisan" machinations to in fact help Democrats win (by stopping Republican cheating!)
Nothing will be done about that while Trump is in charge and Mitch is running blocks for him in the Senate though. There's a reason they keep leaving the front door unlocked and the lights on.
We're only now finding out about the depth of Russian operations in the 2016 election in places like Florida.
A ransomware attack apparently corrupted some of the data at the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office in 2016, but state and federal officials were not told about the attack for years.
The cyberattack — which became public this week after current Palm Beach County elections supervisor Wendy Sartory Link discussed it in a Palm Beach Post editorial board meeting — raises questions not only about what could happen if other elections offices across the state are hit with ransomware attacks, but also about whether the public would know if they were.
Then-Gov. Rick Scott, who is now a U.S. senator, was not notified of the reported ransomware attack in 2016, his Senate office said. The Florida Department of State also said it was not told about the attack in 2016.
The previously unreported incursion occurred in September 2016, Link told the Tampa Bay Times, under the watch of her predecessor, Susan Bucher. Link said she found out about the attack in November 2019 from one of her IT specialists after her former IT director had been fired. Link said she then reported the cyber incident to the state, the FBI and Homeland Security.
Link said she has since been told the office had been infected with a type of ransomware known as a zepto virus. She said she did not believe the attack was tied to Russian interference efforts in the 2016 election.
The Times was not able to reach Bucher on Thursday. In a Thursday interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Bucher, who was suspended in 2019 by Gov. Ron DeSantis after he said she failed to properly conduct recounts in the 2018 election, said she can “swear on a stack of Bibles” that the cyberattack described by her successor did not happen.
Link, who was appointed by DeSantis to replace Bucher, said she has spoken with the fired IT director as well as employees in her office regarding the attack, saying they described seeing files that suddenly couldn’t be accessed or whose names had changed, and pop-up text boxes demanding payments in order to get the files back. She said employees described moving frantically to contain the infection, saying the IT director at the time screamed for employees to shut down the servers.
She lied about the attack happening, so if you believe it wasn't the Russian, despite the overwhelming evidence of voter registration bamboozling in Florida over the last several years, then there's not much I can do.
Under Trump, America has done nothing to stop another round of Russian interference. At this point the Trump regime is actively gaslighting the world and screaming that the entire thing was a hoax.
There's no way anyone should believe 2020 elections will be fair, free, or accurate.
As Jamelle Bouie reminds us in this NY Times piece, we don't have to image an all new dystopian future or foreign country to see where Trump's America is headed. We know exactly where it's going, and it's going back to the pre-civil-rights era of the Jim Crow south and America's darkest chapters of authoritarian history.
Jim Crow did not emerge immediately after the Compromise of 1877 — in which Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South in return for the presidency — and the end of Reconstruction. It arose, instead, as a response to a unique set of political and economic conditions in the 1890s.
By the start of the decade, the historian C. Vann Woodward argued in his influential 1955 book “The Strange Career of Jim Crow,” opposition to “extreme racism” had relaxed to the point of permissiveness. External restraining forces — “Northern liberal opinion in the press, the courts, and the government” — were more concerned with reconciling the nation than securing Southern democracy. And within the South, conservative political and business elites had abandoned restraint in the face of a radical challenge from an agrarian mass movement.
Mickey notes how the Farmers’ Alliance and Populist Party “clashed with state and national Democratic parties on major economic issues, including debt relief for farmers and the regulation of business.” What’s more, “A Colored Farmers’ Alliance grew rapidly as well, and held out the possibility of biracial coalition-building.” This possibility became a reality in states like Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina, where Populists joined with a majority-black southern Republican Party to support common lists of candidates in “fusion” agreements against an explicitly elitist and white supremacist Democratic Party. Populists and Republicans won their greatest victories in that era in North Carolina, where they captured the state legislature and governor’s mansion, as well as local and county offices.
Democrats, among them large landowners and “New South” industrialists, responded with violence. Democratic paramilitary organizations — called “Red Shirts” — attacked populist and Republican voters, suppressing the vote throughout the state. In Republican-controlled Wilmington, N.C., writes Mickey, “Democratic notables launched a wave of violence and killings of Republicans and their supporters, black and white, to take back the state’s largest city; hundreds fled for good.”
This basic pattern repeated itself throughout the South for the next decade. Working through the Democratic Party, conservative elites “repressed Populists, seized control of the state apparatus, and effectively ended credible partisan competition.” They rewrote state constitutions to end the vote for blacks as well as substantially restrict it for most whites. They gerrymandered states to secure the political power of large landowners, converted local elective offices into appointed positions controlled at the state level, “and further insulated state judiciaries from popular input.” This could have been stopped, but the North was tired of sectional conflict, and the courts had no interest in the rights of blacks or anyone else under the boot of the Democracy.
The southern Democratic Party didn’t just control all offices and effectively staff the state bureaucracy. It was gatekeeper to all political participation. An aspiring politician could not run for office, much less win and participate in government, without having it behind him. “What is the state?” asked one prominent lawyer during Louisiana’s 1898 Jim Crow constitutional convention, aptly capturing the dynamic at work, “It is the Democratic Party.” Statehood was conflated with party, writes Mickey, “and party disloyalty with state treason.”
Southern conservatives beat back Populism and biracial democracy to build a one-party state and ensure cheap labor, low taxes, white supremacy and a starkly unequal distribution of wealth. It took two decades of disruption — the Great Depression, the Great Migration and the Second World War — to even make change possible, and then another decade of fierce struggle to bring democracy back to the South.
It’s not that we can’t learn from the experiences of other countries, but that our past offers an especially powerful point of comparison. Many of the same elements are in play, from the potent influence of a reactionary business elite to a major political party convinced of its singular legitimacy. A party that has already weakened our democracy to protect its power, and which shows every sign of going further should the need arise. A party that stands beside a lawless president, shielding him from accountability while he makes the government an extension of his personal will.
The comparisons are apt. From the 1890's through the 1960's, America was a sham democracy where the veneer of polite systemic racism was the shiny cover that bound the country together, a country where anyone who wasn't white was a second-class citizen at best. We're rocketing backwards to that era again.
Civil rights in this country is a relatively recent development in US history, and a very fragile one.
Donald Trump is just the symptom of the cancer of white supremacy across the globe, and that includes a country that had a major issue with it 75 years ago and again now, and the world paid the price.
A man suspected of shooting dead nine people in shisha bars in a German town before killing himself and his mother had posted a manifesto online including conspiracy theories and deeply racist views, prosecutors said on Thursday.
The presumed attacker - a 43-year-old German man identified as Tobias R. - was found dead close to a gun soon after the shootings late on Wednesday in Hanau, near Frankfurt, authorities said.
At least five of the victims were Turkish nationals, Ankara’s ambassador to Berlin told state broadcaster TRT Haber as his government demanded robust action.
Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the “poison” of racism. Her deputy, Olaf Scholz, took to Twitter to say: “Politically, nobody can deny that 75 years after the Nazi dictatorship there is real terror again”.
The gunman burst into in a bar in downtown Hanau then drove to a second bar in town and opened fire again, police and witnesses said.
“First we heard five or six rounds of gunfire,” a German-Turkish survivor who gave his name as Muhammed told Reuters from his hospital bed in Hanau.
“Then I saw the man entering. I was eating my meal at that time. We were all eating. We gave orders. The man entered,” he said, sobbing.
“We were 10 to 12 people. Two, three or four people managed to survive. I am one of them.”
Officers chased a car leaving the scene of the last shooting to another address, where they found the bodies of the suspect and his 72-year-old mother, both with gunshot wounds, police said.
“On the suspected perpetrator’s home page, he had put up video messages and a kind of manifesto that, in addition to obscure thoughts and absurd conspiracy theories, pointed to deeply racist views,” said Prosecutor General Peter Frank.
The suspect gunned down people in two separate locations. This wasn't a spur of the moment attack against an individual, he was trying to kill as many people as he could, and in this case they were Turks.
If even the Germans are admitting that there's a white supremacist problem in the Western world, then it's gotten pretty universally bad.
- The University of Nebraska at Omaha medical center reports 11 of 13 US evacuees of the Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess tested positive for Wuhan coronavirus.
- British police say a stabbing incident at a Mosque this week is not a terrorist attack, the victim is expected to recover and the 29-year-old suspect has been arrested.
- Struggling retailer Sears has secured a $100 million lifeline from a hedge fund, one year after the company was rescued from bankruptcy by billionaire Eddie Lampert.
- As Ireland's political parties try to form a coalition government, Sinn Fein has been locked out of talks for now as it has been unable to form a government itself.
- Sony will back out of at least two major gaming conferences at PAX East in Boston this weekend and the Game Development Conference in mid-March due to coronavirus fears.
Thursday, February 20, 2020
As I said last night, the story that Julian Assange was offered a pardon by Trump if he would denounce the fact that Russia was behind the 2016 DNC email hack was a huge deal if it was true. Supposedly former GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher was the intermediary who offered the deal to Assange in 2017.
It's looking more and more like it's true as Rohrabacher confirmed the story to Yahoo News.
Former California Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher confirmed in a new interview that during a three-hour meeting at the Ecuadorian Embassy in August 2017, he told Julian Assange he would get President Trump to give him a pardon if he turned over information proving the Russians had not been the source of internal Democratic National Committee emails published by WikiLeaks.
In a phone interview with Yahoo News, Rohrabacher said his goal during the meeting was to find proof for a widely debunked conspiracy theory: that WikiLeaks’ real source for the DNC emails was not Russian intelligence agents, as U.S. officials have since concluded, but former DNC staffer Seth Rich, who was murdered on the streets of Washington in July 2016 in what police believe was a botched robbery.
A lawyer for Assange in London on Wednesday cited the pardon offer from Rohrabacher during a court hearing on the U.S. government’s request to extradite the WikiLeaks founder.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham immediately denounced the claim about a pardon discussion with Assange as a “complete fabrication,” adding that the president “barely knows Dana Rohrabacher” and has “never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject.”
Rohrabacher said that not only did talk of a Trump pardon take place during his meeting, but he also followed up by calling then White House chief of staff John Kelly to discuss the proposal. He did not, however, ever speak to Trump about it, he said.
“I spoke to Julian Assange and told him if he would provide evidence about who gave WikiLeaks the emails I would petition the president to give him a pardon,” Rohrabacher said. “He knew I could get to the president.”
When he spoke to Kelly, the then chief of staff was “courteous” but made no commitment that he would even raise the matter directly with the president. “He knew this had to be handled with care,” Rohrabacher said, and that it could be spun by the news media in ways that would be “harmful” to the president. In fact, Rohrabacher said he never heard anything further from Kelly about the matter, nor did he ever discuss the subject directly with Trump.
Rohrabacher, who was defeated when he ran for reelection in 2018 and is now a consultant to the cannabis industry, long had a reputation as one of the few members of Congress willing to defend Russian President Vladimir Putin.
So at least now the story looks like Rohrabacher, not Trump, was behind the effort to defend Putin by using Assange to advance the ridiculous and ghoulish Seth Rich conspiracy theory, he talked to then White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and it never got any further than that.
This is completely in-line for Rorhabacher, who has long been Putin's best friend in the House until he lost his usefulness to him along with his House seat in 2018.
Of course, Rohrabacher could be lying and Trump absolutely had him make the offer. That would be in-line for him too. John Kelly would know for sure. Maybe somebody should, I dunno, ask him.
And speaking of Russian operatives...
President Trump erupted at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in the Oval Office last week over what he perceived as disloyalty by Maguire’s staff, which ruined Maguire’s chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief, according to people familiar with the matter.
Trump announced on Wednesday that he was replacing Maguire with a vocal loyalist, Richard Grenell, who is the U.S. ambassador to Germany.
Maguire had been considered a leading candidate to be nominated for the post of DNI, White House aides had said. But Trump’s opinion shifted last week when he heard from a GOP ally that the intelligence official in charge of election security, who works for Maguire, gave a classified briefing last Thursday to the House Intelligence Committee on 2020 election security.
It is unclear what the official, Shelby Pierson, specifically said at the briefing that angered Trump, but the president erroneously believed that she had given information exclusively to Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, and that the information would be helpful to Democrats if it were released publicly, the people familiar with the matter said. Schiff was the lead impeachment manager, or prosecutor, during Trump’s Senate trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The president was furious with Maguire and blamed him for the supposed transgression involving Pierson when the two met the next day.
“There was a dressing down” of Maguire, said one individual, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. “That was the catalyst” that led to the sidelining of Maguire in favor of Grenell, the person said.
What information could have set Trump off like that, pray tell? Why, the fact that Russia is openly helping Trump in 2020.
Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, five people familiar with the matter said, a disclosure to Congress that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.
The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, Mr. Trump berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said. Mr. Trump cited the presence in the briefing of Representative Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who led the impeachment proceedings against him, as a particular irritant.
During the briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Trump’s allies challenged the conclusions, arguing that he has been tough on Russia and strengthened European security. Some intelligence officials viewed the briefing as a tactical error, saying that had the official who delivered the conclusion spoken less pointedly or left it out, they would have avoided angering the Republicans.
That intelligence official, Shelby Pierson, is an aide to Mr. Maguire who has a reputation of delivering intelligence in somewhat blunt terms. The president announced on Wednesday that he was replacing Mr. Maguire with Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and long an aggressively vocal Trump supporter.
Though some current and former officials speculated that the briefing may have played a role in the removal of Mr. Maguire, who had told people in recent days that he believed he would remain in the job, two administration officials said the timing was coincidental. Mr. Grenell had been in discussions with the administration about taking on new roles, they said, and Mr. Trump had never felt a kinship with Mr. Maguire.
Spokeswomen for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and its election security office declined to comment. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
So yes, as I said earlier today, Maguire is being ousted because he was actually doing his job. Trump will never allow that, as he wants an intelligence apparatus that is to be used exclusively against his political enemies. And under Grenell and Barr, it will be.
As I said yesterday, the notion that Attorney General William Barr is going to resign is absolute nonsense, and the bogus reports that Barr would even consider stepping down was in response to defuse the hastily-called meeting of the Federal Judges Association. The plan worked beautifully as the meeting scheduled for Wednesday has been postponed until further notice.
A group of federal judges hastily postponed an emergency meeting that was scheduled to take place Wednesday to discuss concerns about President Donald Trump and the Justice Department's intervention in politically charged cases.
Megan Cruz, the executive director of the Federal Judges Association, said the meeting was set to occur Wednesday afternoon and the group was considering whether to issue a statement afterwards. But later in the day, Cruz said that the conference call between the 14 judges who serve as officers on the Executive Committee had been postponed.
Cruz offered no further details and did not respond to questions asking whether the group had been asked to reschedule the meeting.
The fact that the little known independent group -- originally established in the 1980s to respond to issues concerning judicial compensation -- was having the meeting in the first place drew the attention in Washington on Tuesday and Trump made it the subject of one of his tweets.
"I hope the Federal Judges Association will discuss the tremendous FISA Court abuse that has taken place with respect to the Mueller Investigation Scam, including the forging of documents and knowingly using the fake and totally discredited Dossier before the Court. Thank you!" the President tweeted.
Judge Cynthia Rufe, the group's president, told USA Today that there were "plenty of issues we are concerned about." Her comments drew some criticism as judges are barred from commenting on pending controversies.
The cancellation came after a source told CNN's Kaitlan Collins Tuesday night that Attorney General William Barr had considered resigning over Trump's tweets discussing ongoing controversies and attacking the judge hearing the case.
Mission accomplished. The meeting will now most likely never happen, as I said yesterday, Trump has already appointed nearly a quarter of all serving federal judges in the last three years. Some of those judges are in the FJA, and there's got to be influence among the executive committee there.
The rumors around Barr were enough to stop the meeting. Barr couldn't have asked for a better outcome.
Meanwhile, all indications are that the Trump regime pardon machine is becoming the new normal.
President Donald Trump is considering issuing additional pardons and commutations and has assembled a team of advisers to recommend and vet candidates for clemency, a White House official confirmed Thursday.
The process is normally handled by the Department of Justice, but the White House has taken the lead, with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, heading the effort, and is joined by White House counsel Pat Cipollone.
The Washington Post first reported Wednesday night that Trump had put together this team, which the report said is basically an informal task force of at least a half-dozen allies of the president. According to the report, the group has been meeting since late last year.
This comes as speculation swirls around whether Trump will pardon his longtime ally Roger Stone who is expected to be sentenced by a federal judge on Thursday. Early in the morning, Trump tweeted a video clip from a segment on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News that suggested the president is considering pardoning Stone.
Stone got 40 months, a far cry from the 7-9 years originally recommended. It's important to note that all of this: the pardons from this week and the ones certainly coming later for Stone, Manafort and Flynn, the Justice Department prosecutors leaving high profile cases, the investigations into those cases by the DoJ, and the coming mass purge of everyone involved in the Mueller probe, all of this is going through Bill Barr. He could stop this at any point, but he won't.
Trump isn't the problem. It's the people who continue to enable his worst impulses, like Bill Barr, who are the real villains.