Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Last Call For The State(s) Of Fake News

Why should the Trump Regime, Fox News, the Russians and Sinclair Broadcast Group have all the fun with fake news and propaganda when Republican governors want to benefit from it too? The solution if you're the Republican Governors Association? Make your own propaganda news outlet, of course.

Republican governors are getting into the “news” business.

The Republican Governors Association has quietly launched an online publication that looks like a media outlet and is branded as such on social media. The Free Telegraph blares headlines about the virtues of GOP governors, while framing Democrats negatively. It asks readers to sign up for breaking news alerts. It launched in the summer bearing no acknowledgement that it was a product of an official party committee whose sole purpose is to get more Republicans elected.

Only after The Associated Press inquired about the site last week was a disclosure added to The Free Telegraph’s pages identifying the publication’s partisan source.

The governors association describes the website as routine political communication. Critics, including some Republicans, say it pushes the limits of honest campaign tactics in an era of increasingly partisan media and a proliferation of “fake news” sites, including those whose material became part of an apparent Russian propaganda effort during the 2016 presidential campaign.

It’s propaganda for sure, even if they have objective standards and all the reporting is 100 percent accurate,” said Republican communications veteran Rick Tyler, whose resume includes Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The website was registered July 7 through Domains By Proxy, a company that allows the originators of a website to shield their identities. An AP search did not find any corporate, Federal Election Commission or IRS filings establishing The Free Telegraph as an independent entity.

As of early Monday afternoon, The Free Telegraph’s Twitter account and Facebook page still had no obvious identifiers tying the site to RGA. The site described itself on Twitter as “bringing you the political news that matters outside of Washington.” The Facebook account labeled The Free Telegraph a “Media/News Company.” That’s a contrast to the RGA’s Facebook page, which is clearly disclosed as belonging to a “Political Organization,” as is the account of its counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association.

RGA Chairman Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, deferred questions through a spokesman to the group’s national staff. At RGA, spokesman Jon Thompson said the site is “just another outlet to share those positive results” of the GOP’s 34 Republican governors.

And remember, this site had been in operation for months before any actual news outlet had bothered to check out its credentials, even given our current climate of proraganda saturation bombing.

But that's how Republicans roll. Everything is a possible outlet for more pro-Republican, anti-Democratic party manipulation.

Hey, they learned from the best, right Donny?

The Trump Doctrine, World Tour '17 Edition

Donald Trump's speech at the UN today was just as idiotically belligerent and mind-numbingly awful as I expected it to be, if not worse as he openly threatened the genocide of North Korea in front of an audience of world leaders.

President Donald Trump condemned authoritarian regimes in harsh and Trumpian terms during his first United Nations speech, lashing out at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” lamenting Iran’s "pursuit of death and destruction,” and warning that major portions of the world are “going to hell.” 
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 Tuesday in a major address before the U.N. General Assembly. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

The president insisted that the U.S. is “ready, willing and able” but cautioned that “hopefully this will not be necessary.” 
“That’s what the United Nations is all about. That’s what the United Nations is for,” he said. “Let’s see how they do. It is time for North Korea to realize that the denuclearization is its only acceptable future.” 
Trump also singled out Iran as he called on “the righteous many” to “confront the wicked few” to prevent “evil” from prevailing. 
“It is far past time for the nations of the world to confront another reckless regime, one that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room,” Trump said. “The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy.”

If the leaders of the world's countries somehow weren't convinced that America is now the most dangerous rogue nation on earth before, this speech sealed the deal.  We're under control of a madman with a nuclear arsenal that can wipe out every human on the planet dozens of times over again and he can use them at any time.

Daniel Larison zeroed in on the problem with Trump:

Trump’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly this morning contained a lot of ill-advised and dangerous remarks, but this one stood out:

If the righteous many don’t confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph. 
U.S. foreign policy already suffers from far too much self-congratulation and excessive confidence in our own righteousness, so it was alarming to hear Trump speak in such stark, fanatical terms about international affairs. Paired with his confrontational rhetoric directed towards North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Syria, Trump’s choice to cast these states as the “wicked few” portends more aggressive and meddlesome policies and gives the leaders of all of these governments reason to assume the worst about our intentions. It was similar to Bush’s foolish “axis of evil” remarks in 2002. The statement itself is also rather odd in that it talks about the many being righteous, when religious texts normally present the righteous as being the relatively few and embattled against the wicked multitude. If the “wicked” are so few, they must be badly outnumbered and don’t pose as much of a threat as Trump claims elsewhere. It also strains credulity that Trump speaks on behalf of righteousness when he embraces so many abusive despots and enables Saudi-led coalition crimes in Yemen. 
Trump declared the nuclear deal an “embarrassment,” which strongly suggests that he won’t agree to recertify the deal when the next deadline comes up in mid-October. He emphasized the importance of sovereignty for the U.S., but in everything else he had to say he showed that he was happy to trample on the sovereignty of other states when it suited him. While his threat to “destroy” North Korea was framed as a defense of the U.S. and allies, it will only make the North Korean government more determined than ever to develop its nuclear arsenal and missiles. He hinted that the U.S. would interfere more in Venezuela, which will almost certainly be used by Maduro and his allies to their advantage.

In 2017, America is a founding member of the "wicked few".  The rest of the world will not tolerate us for long should we end up in wars with Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela as we are in Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen now.

By the way, note who did not receive any criticism whatsoever from Trump:  Russia.  A country we know who tried to influence our elections and possibly a lot more, and Trump gave them a pass because of course he did, he's using Putin's rhetoric now in public.

Sovereignty is not a point prior American presidents have pressed. When global leaders invoke sovereignty, they usually mean that no one possesses the right to oppose what they unleash within their borders. American presidents typically tailor their speeches at the UN to counterbalance a due respect for national sovereignty with calls for collective action against genocide, terrorism, disease, poverty, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

But now, Putin finally has an American president who considers national sovereignty as the end of the discussion, or at least in the cases where it serves their purposes. Trump’s call for a “respect for law, a respect for borders, a respect for culture” sounds unobjectionable – until it becomes clear that Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea will enjoy no such respect from Washington for their own sovereignty. Much as Putin said in 2015 that Russia recognizes “the fact that we can no longer tolerate the current state of affairs in the world,” Trump’s conception of sovereignty is inevitably reserves the U.S. the right to impose its will.

But the question remains: what will happen when the rest of the world decides something needs to be done about us?

I'm pretty sure that day is coming if we don't find a way to rein Trump in.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

We now have a lot more on the Paul Manafort FBI raid from July, and as you can imagine Trump's former campaign manager getting a no-knock lockpick special during breakfast, it's pretty amazing stuff.

Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.

The moves against Mr. Manafort are just a glimpse of the aggressive tactics used by Mr. Mueller and his team of prosecutors in the four months since taking over the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election, according to lawyers, witnesses and American officials who have described the approach. Dispensing with the plodding pace typical of many white-collar investigations, Mr. Mueller’s team has used what some describe as shock-and-awe tactics to intimidate witnesses and potential targets of the inquiry.

Mr. Mueller has obtained a flurry of subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify before a grand jury, lawyers and witnesses say, sometimes before his prosecutors have taken the customary first step of interviewing them. One witness was called before the grand jury less than a month after his name surfaced in news accounts. The special counsel even took the unusual step of obtaining a subpoena for one of Mr. Manafort’s former lawyers, claiming an exception to the rule that shields attorney-client discussions from scrutiny.

“They are setting a tone. It’s important early on to strike terror in the hearts of people in Washington, or else you will be rolled,” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, who was deputy independent counsel in the investigation that led to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. “You want people saying to themselves, ‘Man, I had better tell these guys the truth.’”

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment. Lawyers and a spokesman for Mr. Manafort also declined to comment. 

And if there was somehow any doubt at all that Manafort is rolling over on the boss because of that threat of an indictment, well it may not be just a threat as CNN follows up:

US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe. 
The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump
Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive. 
Special counsel Robert Mueller's team, which is leading the investigation into Russia's involvement in the election, has been provided details of these communications. 
A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine's former ruling party, the sources told CNN. 

Manafort's long been the center of Mueller's investigation, and while we've long suspected he was facing an involuntary stay in decidedly substandard federal housing, we now have confirmation that Mueller knows everything, even if somehow Manafort isn't rolling over.

There is a big caveat on that CNN leak story though, as the team at Lawfare blog reveals:

The CNN story is a different matter. The story discloses FISA wiretaps against a named U.S. person. Whatever Paul Manafort may have done, he is a citizen of this country, and this is an egregious civil liberties violation. It’s also a significant compromise of national security information. Simply put, FISA information should never leak. When it does, it erodes the systems through which the government protects national security—and it rightly erodes public confidence that the systems designed to protect civil liberties work as intended.

Political leaking of wiretapping information is the stuff of the Hoover era. It has no legitimate place in our politics.

That's a fair point to make, and something to keep in mind.  Leaking existence of a FISA warrant against a specific US person is a huge, huge deal, guys.

Still, I'm betting Trump is pissing himself tonight.  He knows that he's in real trouble.  This is the point in the chess match where the midgame is being fought and Trump's side just lost a rook, two knights and bishop, and Mueller maybe sacrificed a pawn or two, and that's because at this point we have to assume that Robert Mueller has Donald Trump's tax returns as part of his investigation.

In fact, people familiar with the type of investigation that Mueller is now running signal the near-certainty that Mueller has access to the president's tax returns. The purpose would be to use the tax returns as a road map to investigate potential Russian financial influence within Trump Organization limited liability companies.

"I believe Mueller has already obtained tax returns in the Russia investigation," Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in the Securities and Commodities Fraud Section of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, said on Twitter on Aug. 10. He later wrote in The Hill he often used tax returns in his own federal investigations, and that it is almost a necessity in an investigation like Mueller's. It's also done without knowledge of the subjects of the investigation.

"A federal prosecutor obtains tax returns by seeking an ex parte order from a federal judge. That means that the person who is being investigated doesn't know that the tax returns are being sought or if the judge issues the order," he said. "Basically, it's done in secret."

Mariotti also said that "the July FBI raid at the home of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort tells us a great deal about the status of … Mueller's investigation."

Before taking "an aggressive, public action" like having the FBI search a subject's home, Mariotti wrote, a "typical step" federal prosecutors take in white-collar investigations is obtaining tax returns.

"A prosecutor would first take steps that can be done covertly, without the subject knowing, to gather evidence that can serve as the basis for more aggressive actions like search warrants," he wrote. "I worked with federal prosecutors who obtained tax returns in every single white-collar investigation they worked on."

Mariotti also said it ordinarily would require a senior Justice Department official to sign off on a request to the IRS for tax returns in a non-tax federal investigation. But, in this case, Mueller already has that authority.

"Mueller has authority to do so because the statute permits 'United States attorneys' to obtain tax returns and he has the power of a 'United States attorney' pursuant to the special counsel regulations," he wrote, noting that "even the tax return of someone other than Manafort" could be helpful to Mueller, and that "he could have tax return information for many individuals."

A lot of people in the White House are suddenly wondering if it's too late to talk to Mueller.  It probably is, all the good deals I'm betting are taken.  What remains, well.

We'll see.


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