Friday, November 10, 2017

Last Call For It's Mueller Time, Con't

Time to check in with the Mueller team again, and we've got news that the investigation is expanding into new areas.  First, Mueller's interviews with Trump regime aides in the White House continue, this week moving closer to Trump himself by focusing on Trump speechwriter and white supremacist cheerleader Stephen Miller and his role in Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey.

White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller has been interviewed as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, according to sources familiar with the investigation. 
The interview brings the special counsel investigation into President Donald Trump's inner circle in the White House. Miller is the highest-level aide still working at the White House known to have talked to investigators. 
Miller's role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey was among the topics discussed during the interview as part of the probe into possible obstruction of justice, according to one of the sources. 
Special counsel investigators have also shown interest in talking to attendees of a March 2016 meeting where foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos said that he could arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin through his connections. Miller was also at the meeting, according to a source familiar with the meeting. 
Papadopoulos was recently charged with lying to the FBI about Russian contacts he had during the campaign. 
Earlier this year, Miller assisted Trump in writing a memo that explained why Trump planned to fire Comey, according to sources familiar with the matter. Eventually that memo was scrapped because of opposition by White House counsel Don McGahn, who said its contents were problematic, according to The New York Times. The Comey dismissal letter -- drafted during a May weekend at Trump's golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey -- has also drawn interest from the Mueller team. Sources tell CNN that White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who was also in New Jersey that weekend, did not oppose the decision to fire Comey. CNN has reported the special counsel's team is asking questions in interviews with witnesses about Kushner's role in Comey's firing. 
The Times reported in September that the Justice Department had turned over a copy of the letter, which was never sent, to special counsel Robert Mueller. That memo, according to a source, was very similar to a letter written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that was cited as the reason for firing Comey. Rosenstein's letter criticized Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server. 
But just days after the firing, Trump said he considered the Russia probe in his decision to fire Comey.

We know Miller was involved in Trump's now infamous May memo outlining his reasons to fire Comey, and now we know Mueller is definitely interested in that memo and Miller's role in it.  If Trump fired Comey in order to protect himself from the Russia investigation, that's obstruction of justice.  Comey interviewing Miller over this specifically is further evidence that possible obstruction charges are coming.

And speaking of coming charges, that brings us to story two this week:  Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn's lobbying for Turkey and President Erdogan may have turned into a channel to order the US to round up and extradite Erdogan's political foes in the states to Turkey.

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's alleged plan to forcibly extradite a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania is now a part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal
Why it matters: Flynn had previously done consulting work on behalf of the Turkish government, which he failed to disclose before joining the Trump administration. This meeting would have taken place during the transition and after he had accepted his position as Trump's national security advisor, which occurred on November 18.

The details: Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn, Jr., reportedly met with Turkish representatives in New York in December to discuss delivering cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living legally in the United States in exile, to Turkey in exchange for as much as $15 million. The plan would have involved transporting Gulen to a Turkish island prison via a private jet. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of fomenting 2016's failed coup attempt against him. 
And it's not the first time this plan came up as Flynn held a similar meeting with high-level Turks, including Turkey's foreign minister and Erdogan's son-in-law last September. Former CIA Director James Woolsey attended that meeting, telling the WSJ that the plan then involved "a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away." Woolsey later turned down his consulting fee for the meeting and alerted then-Vice President Joe Biden about its content.

Remember, Erdogan has been blaming last year's coup attempt on Gulen and his followers since it happened, and he kind of needs Gulen in order to crush the very real rumors that Erdogan planned the whole thing himself so he could crack heads.

The Flynn "kidnap and rendition" story we've known about since March and again, we now know that Mueller is looking into this as well.

But Flynn is in trouble on more than one front.  It's not just Erdogan, but his contact with other suspected Russian-influenced politicians like GOP Rep. Dana Rorhabacher.

Investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller are questioning witnesses about an alleged September 2016 meeting between Mike Flynn, who later briefly served as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a staunch advocate of policies that would help Russia, two sources with knowledge of the investigation told NBC News.

The meeting allegedly took place in Washington the evening of Sept. 20, while Flynn was working as an adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign. It was arranged by his lobbying firm, the Flynn Intel Group. Also in attendance were Flynn’s business partners, Bijan Kian and Brian McCauley, and Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, who worked closely with his father, the sources said.

Mueller is reviewing emails sent from Flynn Intel Group to Rohrabacher’s congressional staff thanking them for the meeting, according to one of the sources, as part of his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Rohrabacher, a California Republican, has pushed for better relations with Russia, traveled to Moscow to meet with officials and advocated to overturn the Magnitsky Act, the 2012 bill that froze assets of Russian investigators and prosecutors. The sources could not confirm whether Rohrabacher and Flynn discussed U.S. policy towards Russia in the alleged meeting.

The Washington Post reported in May that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, also a California Republican, was secretly recorded telling other party members, in what seemed to be a joke, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump."

In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that Rohrabacher offered Trump a deal that to protect Julian Assange, creator of WikiLeaks, which released emails damaging to Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2016 election, from legal peril. In return for not prosecuting him for his group's 2010 leak of State Department emails, Assange would allegedly provide proof that Russia was not the source of the hacked Democratic emails. The intelligence community has pointed to Russia as the secret provider of the email trove to WikiLeaks.

Rohrabacher's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As I keep saying, expect more charges as the dominoes fall and things get closer to Donald Trump.  We're coming up on the one year in office mark and there's already talk of reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic again.

The White House is bracing for another staff shakeup upon President Donald Trump’s return from Asia, with senior-level staff moves that could further consolidate chief of staff John Kelly’s power in the West Wing. 
Deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn — a former top aide to Jeff Sessions in the Senate who played a central role during the presidential transition — is expected to be reassigned to the Commerce Department or another federal agency, according to multiple administration officials and outside advisers familiar with plans for the staff change.

Dearborn’s portfolio over the past year has covered high-level assignments, including helping to organize the president’s schedule. But that job has since been passed to another deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin, while Dearborn has become increasingly marginalized internally since Kelly’s arrival in late July. 
Dearborn’s departure would make him the latest in a growing conga line of West Wing aides who started on Inauguration Day but failed to last a full year. It would help Kelly clear the ranks of staffers he inherited from his predecessor Reince Priebus, whose tenure was marked by infighting and competition between loyalists brought in from the Republican National Committee and alumni of Trump’s renegade campaign.

Keep in mind Mueller is talking to many of these departed aides.  Don't be surprised if Dearborn's name comes up in Mueller's hunt either.  He's a direct link between Trump and Sessions during the 2016 campaign, and he would have had access to both during the March-June 2016 timeframe that Mueller is concentrating on.

Stay tuned.

The Lessons Of Tuesday Night, Con't

Ron Brownstein at the Atlantic makes the argument that for Dems to win, they definitely need black voters and high turnout.  But to win the House back through gerrymandering, dog whistles, and voter suppression, Dems need college-educated white voters, and in Virginia and New Jersey this week, they did that.

The soaring wave of discontent translated into solid turnout and crushing margins for Democrats in their key voter groups, all of which have expressed intense resistance to Trump in polls. Although they declined in number from last year’s presidential race, Millennials slightly increased their share of the vote in both states compared with the 2013 gubernatorial races there. Sixty-nine percent of those young people gave their votes to Northam, and 75 percent gave their votes to Murphy. That’s a chilling trend for Republicans, given that more Millennials will be eligible to vote than baby boomers in 2018 and 2020. Turnout among African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities was also solid. In both states, Democrats carried roughly four out of five non-white voters.

But the principal engine of the Democratic sweep was a suburban tsunami in white-collar communities in Northern Virginia, Northern New Jersey, and even the suburbs of Seattle, where Democrats convincingly captured a state Senate seat that flipped control of that chamber to them. Those results will surely unnerve every U.S. House Republican holding a well-educated suburban seat.

“Tonight, college-educated white voters … collectively stood up and said, ‘Enough,’” said Jesse Ferguson, a former communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “If I was a Republican representing a suburb, I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight because there’s a storm brewing.”

Four years after Republican Chris Christie carried almost two-thirds of whites in New Jersey with at least a four-year college education, Murphy won 52 percent of them. In Virginia, Democrats had won between 42 percent and 45 percent of college-educated whites in each of their recent victories there, including Barack Obama’s in 2012, Governor Terry McAuliffe’s in 2013, Senator Mark Warner’s in 2014, and Hillary Clinton’s in 2016. But Northam blew past them to capture 51 percent of college-educated whites against Republican Ed Gillespie.

That emphatic shift undoubtedly reflected a backlash against Gillespie’s turn toward Trump-like themes of cultural confrontation on so-called “sanctuary cities” and Confederate monuments. But it also quantified how much of a potential burden Trump poses for the GOP among those well-educated voters: Fully 58 percent of Virginia’s college-educated whites said they disapproved of his job performance in the exit poll.

Not only did white-collar voters shift toward the Democrats, but they also registered their discontent in astonishing numbers. Northam won populous and affluent Fairfax County by about twice as many votes as McAuliffe in 2013 and Warner in 2014—and, incredibly, by even more than Obama in 2012. Northam bested the McAuliffe and Warner margins by 50 percent or more in Arlington and Alexandria counties just outside of D.C. Just as important, the stampede toward the Democrats extended to suburban Richmond counties, including Henrico and Chesterfield, where the GOP had remained much stronger than in Northern Virginia. It also extended down the ballot to the state House of Delegates. Democrats not only captured several open seats, but they also defeated enough Republican incumbents holding suburban seats to create a dead-even split in the chamber, pending recounts.

“In these urban areas, Trump has taken over the Republican brand, like it or not,” said former Republican Representative Tom Davis, whose district was in Northern Virginia. “The immigrant [policy], his language, his rhetoric—everything is tailored here to that white, non-college[-educated] base in everything he does. He just has no appeal to those suburban people, either personally or politically.”

It's a fair argument, as much as it makes me grumble trying to rely on "college-educated" voters who somehow thought Donald Trump was a good idea for the country.  But the Obama coalition does include younger white voters who turned out for him in 2008 and 2012.  Maybe 2016 was an error on their part and we need them in 2018 to expand the base.

I'm willing to entertain that to an extent, and that extent is "college-educated white women did give Northam a 16-point lead."  But these were also the exact voters who were supposed to materialize for Hillary Clinton in swing states in the Midwest.  Overall, Trump won college-educated white voters 48-45% last year.

They failed us a year ago on their judgment of Trump.  Let's try for them, but we cannot depend too much on them going forward and must continue to prioritize efforts to expand the number of voters of color instead.

Meanwhile, Tuesday's ass-kicking in Virginia means the number of GOP congressional retirements ahead of 2018 is now up to 30.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Thursday that he will not seek reelection, becoming the latest in a string of GOP lawmaker retirements. 
Goodlatte, 65, is the third term-limited House committee chairman to announce his plans to leave the chamber within the past week. 
"With my time as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee ending in December 2018, this is a natural stepping-off point and an opportunity to begin a new chapter of my career and spend more time with my family, particularly my granddaughters," Goodlatte said in a letter to supporters.

Goodlatte's district is pretty safely in GOP hands, but not as safely as it was on Monday.   We'll see.

The Tale Of A Lesser Moore

Alabama's special election for Jeff Sessions's old seat is next month, and the candidates are two lawyers: Democrat Doug Jones, who successfully prosecuted the two remaining KKK members who committed the infamous 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, and Roy Moore, a man removed from the Alabama Supreme Court not once but twice over failure to follow the law and who now faces allegations of sexual contact with 3 teenage girls in 1979.

Leigh Corfman says she was 14 years old when an older man approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Ala. She was sitting on a wooden bench with her mother, they both recall, when the man introduced himself as Roy Moore.

It was early 1979 and Moore — now the Republican nominee in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat — was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. He struck up a conversation, Corfman and her mother say, and offered to watch the girl while her mother went inside for a child custody hearing.

“He said, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,’ ” says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. “I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.”

Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.

“I wanted it over with — I wanted out,” she remembers thinking. “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.” Corfman says she asked Moore to take her home, and he did.

Two of Corfman’s childhood friends say she told them at the time that she was seeing an older man, and one says Corfman identified the man as Moore. Wells says her daughter told her about the encounter more than a decade later, as Moore was becoming more prominent as a local judge.

Aside from Corfman, three other women interviewed by The Washington Post in recent weeks say Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was in his early 30s, episodes they say they found flattering at the time, but troubling as they got older. None of the three women say that Moore forced them into any sort of relationship or sexual contact.

The Post's story on Moore's odious conduct is extremely well-sourced.  Moore denies the allegations and literally calls the story "fake news", hoping to fundraise off the outrage factor of being attacked by the evil Democrats, but other Alabama Republicans are shrugging and saying that even if he did it, it shouldn't and doesn't actually matter and that the women are all liars anyway.

“I think it’s just a bunch of bull,” Perry Hooper Jr., President Trump’s Alabama state chairman, told TPM. “Mitch McConnell should know better to make a statement like he made unless he gets all the answers. We’re right in the political zone right now, the election’s December 12th. This is the same campaign issue the left ran against Donald Trump on, they’re doing the same thing against Roy Moore.”

Hooper, who’d backed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) over Moore in the primary, called the allegations “ludicrous” and “gutter politics” unless they could be proven.

“The same thing went on when President Trump ran for office, there was about 15 ladies who ran to the press and said the same thing,” he said.

When asked how the claims could be proven, he suggested the woman take a polygraph.

“Maybe she just needs to take a polygraph test. And the people who are pushing her, they need to take the same test too to see if they’re telling the truth,” he said.

Alabama State Rep. Ed Henry (R), Trump’s other Alabama campaign co-chairman, was even harsher.

“I believe it is very opportunistic and they are just looking for their chance to get on some liberal talk show. I’m sure they’ve probably been offered money by entities that surround the Clintons and that side of the world. We know they will pay to dirty anyone’s name that’s in their way. If you believe for a second that any of these are true then shame on these women for not coming forward in the last 30 years, it’s not like this guy hasn’t been in the limelight for decades. I call B.S. myself. I think it’s all lies and fabrication,” Henry told TPM.

When asked about McConnell’s comments, he erupted.

“Mitch McConnell, and you can quote me on this, is a dumbass, a coward, a liar himself and exactly what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. He would love for Roy Moore not to be in Washington, he’d much rather have a Democrat. Mitch McConnell is scum,” he said, putting the chances at “zero” that the state party would un-endorse Moore.

And he said he’d need photographic evidence to believe the women.

“They got some pictures? That’ll do,” he said. “You can’t sit on something like this for thirty-something years with a man as in the spotlight as Roy Moore and all of a sudden three weeks before a senatorial primary all of a sudden these three or four women are going to talk about something in 1979? I call bull. It’s as fabricated as the day is long.”

Indeed, Donald Trump has been accused by over a dozen women of sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault, and the official position of the White House and the Republican Party is that every single one of the claims is fabricated by lying women.

But at this point, the election is 32 days away and there's no chance Moore will drop out or be removed, so as with Trump, we're about to see if Republican voters believe allegations of sex crimes are a dealbreaker or not.  We know racism isn't, and we've got plenty of evidence that sex crimes aren't either, so my prediction that Moore wins easily next month remains.

We're dealing with voters in a state like this.

While dozens of Republicans in Washington are calling on Moore to step aside if the allegations are true, Republicans in Alabama don’t think the story will resonate the same way for voters. Instead, they focused on the timing of the allegations, which come just four weeks before the election.

Paul Reynolds, the Republican National Committeeman from Alabama, told The Hill that something about the timing of the accusation and the Post’s role breaking the story “doesn’t smell right.”

“My gosh, it's The Washington Post. If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of Putin or The Washington Post, Putin wins every time,” he said.

“This is going to make Roy Moore supporters step up to the plate and give more, work more and pray more."

They believe this is a good thing for Roy Moore.

Chuck Todd (yes, that Chuck Todd) argues that Doug Jones can win this race.

Now you might say that there’s no way (or little way) that a Republican could lose in Alabama, a state Trump won by a whopping 28 points in 2016. But consider:
  • Before yesterday, Moore’s lead was just in the high single digits or low double digits, according to the polls. That isn’t a bulletproof lead;
  • Moore has been a controversial figure in Alabama for more than a decade;
  • Democratic opponent Doug Jones has owned the TV airwaves for an entire month, with ads like this: “I can work with Republicans better than Roy Moore can work with anyone”;
  • And the race is a one-on-one special election that takes place two weeks before Christmas, so it will be a low-turnout affair. There is no other race on the ballot.
This isn’t to say that it’s a slam dunk that Moore loses after yesterday. But we’re not sure enough people realize how dangerous the political situation is for the GOP. 

Yes, Jones isn't facing a 28 point blowout.  But if loses by 5 points instead of 12, he still loses.  That's where I see things going.  The situation can change and I hope that I'm wrong and Jones wins.

I don't see that happening unless there's a major collapse of Moore's support and that collapse hasn't come yet.

We'll see.


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