Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Turtle May Win The Race After All

While Trump is busy causing long-term damage to the country, Fred Barnes at the Weekly Standard is happily crowing about GOP Senate majority leader and human tortoise analogue Mitch McConnell finally revving up the federal judicial nomination machine that would allow Trump to appoint up to a third of federal judges and shift America's courts to the far right for a generation.

The Republican drive to confirm federal judges has gained momentum from a series of actions by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They seem modest but are likely to speed up the confirmation of both appeals and district court judges—conservatives, for the most part. 
Democrats won’t be pleased. The steps McConnell has taken in recent weeks are aimed at thwarting their efforts to block, sideline, or delay President Trump’s nominees.
Here’s what McConnell has done: 
  • Confirming judicial nominees has been elevated to a top priority in the Senate. “I decide the priority,” McConnell said in an interview. “Priority between an assistant secretary of State and a conservative court judge—it’s not a hard choice to make.”  
  • And when nominees “come out of committee, I guarantee they will be dealt with,” McConnell said. “Regardless of what tactics are used by Democrats, the judges are going to be confirmed.”  
  • No longer will “blue slips” be allowed to deny a nominee a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and vote on confirmation. In the past, senators have sometimes barred a nominee from their state by refusing to return their slip to the committee, thus preventing a hearing and confirmation.  
  • “The majority”—that is, Republicans—will treat a blue slip “as simply notification of how you’re going to vote, not as an opportunity to blackball,” McConnell told me. The use of blue slips, he noted, is not a Senate rule and has “been honored in the breach over the years.” Now it won’t be honored at all.  
  • The so-called “30 hours rule”—which provides for 30 hours of debate on a nominee—won’t be overturned. But McConnell vowed to set aside time for these debates. And he can make this happen because he sets the Senate schedule.  
The majority leader has been under pressure recently from conservative groups to get more court nominees approved by the Judiciary Committee—and more rapidly—and sent to the Senate floor. McConnell had long prodded the committee to increase the number of hearings, then report the nominees out as quickly as possible for Senate floor votes.

In other words, McConnell is going to blow up Senate rules and traditions and allow Trump to pack America's courts with lifetime appointments that will tilt the country into wingnut territory for decades, and it doesn't look like Democrats will be able to do anything to stop him.

The death of the "blue slip", the unspoken rule that both senators of a state needed to sign off on any judicial appointment, means states with split Senate delegations like Ohio, Florida, and Illinois could de facto block a party lackey from a term that could last 40 years or more, and both parties enforced it.

No longer.

McConnell has already engineered the theft of a Supreme Court seat, and now he is looking to do the same with a third of the federal district and appellate judiciary.  It would essentially mean the end of the Civil Rights era in a disturbingly large section of the country, and allow Trump to appoint judges who in turn would move to sign off on all his executive branch excesses.

It's the classic path to dictatorship, and we're careening down it at breakneck speed.  It's now a race to see whether Mueller can stop Trump before the GOP puts the framework for a semi-permanent dictatorship in place.

This is where America is in 2017.

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

If there was somehow any doubt left that computer anti-virus maker Kaspersky Labs was a Russian FSB front to steal data, that just got shattered this morning with the story of how the latest NSA breach revealed last week was discovered when the Israelis found Kaspersky Labs sitting on stolen NSA hacker tools.

It was a case of spies watching spies watching spies: Israeli intelligence officers looked on in real time as Russian government hackers searched computers around the world for the code names of American intelligence programs. 
What gave the Russian hacking, detected more than two years ago, such global reach was its improvised search tool — antivirus software made by a Russian company, Kaspersky Lab, that is used by 400 million people worldwide, including by officials at some two dozen American government agencies. 
The Israeli officials who had hacked into Kaspersky’s own network alerted the United States to the broad Russian intrusion, which has not been previously reported, leading to a decision just last month to order Kaspersky software removed from government computers. 
The Russian operation, described by multiple people who have been briefed on the matter, is known to have stolen classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who had improperly stored them on his home computer, on which Kaspersky’s antivirus software was installed. What additional American secrets the Russian hackers may have gleaned from multiple agencies, by turning the Kaspersky software into a sort of Google search for sensitive information, is not yet publicly known.
The current and former government officials who described the episode spoke about it on condition of anonymity because of classification rules.

Like most security software, Kaspersky Lab’s products require access to everything stored on a computer in order to scour it for viruses or other dangers. Its popular antivirus software scans for signatures of malicious software, or malware, then removes or neuters it before sending a report back to Kaspersky. That procedure, routine for such software, provided a perfect tool for Russian intelligence to exploit to survey the contents of computers and retrieve whatever they found of interest. 
The National Security Agency and the White House declined to comment for this article. The Israeli Embassy declined to comment, and the Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

The Washington Post is backing up the NY Times story on this as well and I have to ask at this point if we knew in 2015 that the Russians basically had the NSA's set of cyber-lockpicks dead to rights like this, what the hell did we do about it?  Apparently the answer was "not a damn thing" and the Russians happily came in and helped put Trump in the Oval Office.

Meanwhile on the congressional investigations side of things, former Trump regime foreign policy adviser Carter Page apparently plans on taking the Fifth rather than testify.

Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, informed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that he will not be cooperating with any requests to appear before the panel for its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and would plead the Fifth, according to a source familiar with the matter. 
A former naval-officer-turned-energy consultant, Page came under fire last year after reports emerged that he had met with high-level associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in 2016. While Page denied those meetings occurred, the Trump campaign distanced itself from the adviser not long after, with former officials saying that Page and Trump had never met.

Page also attracted attention earlier this year after it was revealed that he once came under scrutiny by the FBI for his contact with a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013. Page was never charged with a crime, and the association happened years before he came into Trump’s orbit. 
The Intelligence Committee has sought documents and testimony from Trump associates — including Page — as it seeks to piece together Russian efforts to manipulate and interfere with the 2016 presidential race. It has held high-profile closed-door meetings with several current White House and Trump-related officials, including Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr. But the panel has also signaled an interest in interviewing former campaign associates such as Page, to determine how, if at all, the Russians sought to infiltrate Trump's circle in the throes of the presidential race.

If Page is clamming up and pleading the Fifth, well as they say the smoke just became a five-alarm fire.  On the House side, it seems investigators there want to have a talk with Fusion GPS, the political information firm that gave us the Steele Dossier.

The chairman of the House intelligence committee has issued subpoenas to the partners who run Fusion GPS, the research firm that produced the dossier of memos on alleged Russian efforts to aid the Trump campaign, according to sources briefed on the matter. 
The subpoenas -- signed by California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes -- were issued Oct. 4, demanding documents and testimony later this month and early November. 
Earlier this year, Nunes announced that he was stepping aside from directing the committee's Russia inquiry after he became the subject of an ethics investigation into his handling of classified information. But more recently, he has made clear that he is still playing an influential role, despite announcing that he had delegated authority on the Russia matter to Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas. 
A source familiar with the matter told CNN that all Russia-related subpoenas have been approved by Conaway, and Conaway confirmed to CNN Monday he asked for the most recent subpoenas. 
But the subpoenas appear to be the latest fight in an investigation that has periodically been hobbled by controversy and infighting. 
A Democratic committee source said "the subpoenas were issued unilaterally by the majority, without the minority's agreement and despite good faith engagement thus far by the witnesses on the potential terms for voluntary cooperation." 
Indeed, the move blindsided some committee members, multiple sources told CNN. And it has angered some on the committee who say that Nunes is still seeking to direct an investigation he was supposed to have no involvement in leading. 
"He's not in any way, shape or form working on the investigation," said one Democratic committee member. "He's sitting outside the investigation and pushing it in a political direction." 
Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Nunes appeared to be "trying to undermine the investigation." 
"This would violate that recusal if this is indeed what he has done," Swalwell said.

The Grand Unifying Theory on the GOP covering up the Trump/Russia investigation starts with discrediting Fusion GPS as a Clinton front as a political hit job on the Trump campaign, and that it was Clinton colluding with Moscow to swing the election towards her or something, which is as stupid as it sounds, but it's not like Devin Nunes hasn't gotten in trouble over putting his thumb on the scale for Trump before.

Anyway, we'll see where all this takes us as the week is young still.


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