Friday, December 8, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

Time for our pretty regular Friday round-up of this week's news dumps on Trump/Russia collusion, and once again our star is America's favorite knucklehead son, Donald Trump Jr.  Young Donnie can't seem to tell the truth, and he was grilled this week by the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors, and the conversation was on Donald Trump Jr's conversations with WikiLeaks.  CNN posted a story on an email Junior got on it, but The Washington Post followed up on the CNN story, clarifying that the email in question was sent September 104h, not on September 4th of last year, meaning it was after the DNC leak was made public.

A 2016 email sent to President Trump and top aides pointed the campaign to hacked documents from the Democratic National Committee that had already been made public by the group WikiLeaks a day earlier. 
The email — sent the afternoon of Sept. 14, 2016 — noted that “Wikileaks has uploaded another (huge 678 mb) archive of files from the DNC” and included a link and a “decryption key,” according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post. 
The writer, who said his name was Michael J. Erickson and described himself as the president of an aviation management company, sent the message to the then-Republican nominee as well as his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and other top advisers.
The day before, WikiLeaks had tweeted links to what the group said was 678.4 megabytes of DNC documents. 
The full email — which was first described to CNN as being sent on Sept. 4, 10 days earlier — indicates that the writer may have simply been flagging information that was already widely available.

The message also noted that information from former secretary of state Colin Powell’s inbox was available “on” That development, too, had been publicly reported earlier that day. 
Alan S. Futerfas, an attorney for Trump Jr., described it as one of “a ton of unsolicited emails like this on a variety of topics.” 
Futerfas said Erickson was unknown to Trump Jr. or the campaign. The message was one of thousands turned over to the House Intelligence Committee and others investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, emails that included spam and junk emails. Trump Jr. was asked about the email Wednesday, when he spent about seven hours behind closed doors answering questions from members of the committee. 
“The email was never read or responded to — and the House Intelligence Committee knows this,” he said. “It is profoundly disappointing that members of the House Intelligence Committee would deliberately leak a document, with the misleading suggestion that the information was not public, when they know that there is not a scintilla of evidence that Mr. Trump Jr. read or responded to the email.” 
Futerfas said that he and Trump Jr. had been required to surrender their electronic devices during the interview for security reasons. He expressed anger that details of the session leaked out before it had even concluded.

“We are concerned that these actions, combined with the deliberate and misleading leak of a meaningless email, undermines the credibility of the serious work the House Intelligence Committee is supposedly undertaking,” he said.

And while CNN definitely got it wrong (again) it doesn't change the fact that the Trumps are in real trouble.  Meanwhile, Jon Chait believes the Mueller firing is imminent:

The administration and its allied media organs, especially those owned by Rupert Murdoch, have spent months floating a series of rationales, of varying degrees of implausibility, for why a deeply respected Republican law-enforcement veteran is disqualified to lead the inquiry: He is friends with James Comey, who is biased because Trump fired him; Comey is biased because he pursued leads turned up in Christopher Steele’s investigation, which was financed by Democrats; Mueller has failed to investigate Hillary Clinton’s marginal-to-nonexistent role in a uranium sale.

The newest pseudo-scandal fixates on the role of Peter Strzok, an FBI official who helped tweak the language Comey employed in his statement condemning Clinton’s carelessness and has also worked for Mueller. 
His alleged crime is a series of text messages criticizing Trump. Mueller removed Strzok from his team, but that is not enough for Trump’s supporters, who are seizing on Strzok’s role as a pretext to discredit and remove Mueller, too. The notion that a law-enforcement official should be disqualified for privately expressing partisan views is a novel one, and certainly did not trouble Republicans last year, when Rudy Giuliani was boasting on television about his network of friendly agents. Yet in the conservative media, Mueller and Comey have assumed fiendish personae of almost Clintonian proportions. 
When Mueller was appointed, legal scholars debated whether Trump had the technical authority to fire him, but even the majority who believed he did assumed such a power existed only in theory. Republicans in Congress, everyone believed, would never sit still for such a blatant cover-up. 
Josh Blackman, a conservative lawyer, argued that Trump could remove the special counsel, but “make no mistake: Mueller’s firing would likely accelerate the end of the Trump administration.” Texas representative Mike McCaul declared in July, “If he fired Bob Mueller, I think you’d see a tremendous backlash, response from both Democrats but also House Republicans.” Such a rash move “could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency,” Senator Lindsey Graham proclaimed. 
In August, members of both parties began drawing up legislation to prevent Trump from sacking Mueller. “The Mueller situation really gave rise to our thinking about how we can address the current situation,” explained Republican senator Thom Tillis, a sponsor of one of the bills. By early autumn, the momentum behind the effort had slowed; by Thanksgiving, Republican interest had melted away. “I don’t see any heightened kind of urgency, if you’re talking about some of the reports around Flynn and others,” Tillis said recently. “I don’t see any great risk.” 
In fact, the risk has swelled. Trump has publicly declared any investigation into his finances would constitute a red line, and that he reserves the option to fire Mueller if he investigates them. Earlier this month, it was reported that Mueller has subpoenaed records at Deutsche Bank, an institution favored both by Trump and the Russian spy network.

Both the Strzok poutrage and Deutsche Bank financial dealings lead Chait to believe that this is a concerted effort to influence Trump to pull the trigger on his Saturday Night Massacre, and a GOP that not only blithely accepts Roy Moore but actively champions him won't take any action whatsoever when he does.

If that's the case, it's a good think Mueller is taking precautions.

As Mueller’s probe has gotten closer to Trump’s inner orbit, speculation has risen over whether Trump might find a way to shut it down. The Flynn deal may make that harder. For one thing, it shows that Mueller is making progress. “Any rational prosecutor would realize that in this political environment, laying down a few markers would be a good way of fending off criticism that the prosecutors are burning through money and not accomplishing anything,” says Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor now at Duke Law School.

The Flynn plea also makes it difficult for Trump to fire Mueller without inviting accusations of a cover-up and sparking a constitutional crisis, says Michael Weinstein, a former Department of Justice prosecutor now at the law firm Cole Schotz. “There would be a groundswell, it would look so objectionable, like the Saturday Night Massacre with Nixon,” Weinstein says, referring to President Richard Nixon’s attempt to derail the Watergate investigation in 1973 by firing special prosecutor Archibald Cox. 
Even if Mueller goes, his team is providing tools that other prosecutors or investigators can use to continue inquiries. Flynn’s deal requires him to cooperate with state and local officials as well as with federal investigators. That includes submitting to a polygraph test and taking part in “covert law enforcement activities.” Mueller also has provided a road map to state prosecutors interested in pursuing money laundering charges against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. 
Mueller’s case against Manafort lays out a series of irregular wire transfers made from Manafort’s bank accounts in Cyprus to a variety of companies in the U.S. The sums that Manafort transferred suggest the possibility that some of the money was diverted for other purposes. Mueller stopped short of filing charges related to where the money went. But by including the details in his indictment, he left open the possibility of bringing charges in a follow-up indictment and perhaps left breadcrumbs for state authorities to pursue.

Mueller's not stupid, he knows Trump is going to try to fire him and end the investigation.  I'm confident he has mutually assured destruction tactics set up just in case.

Let Them Eat Austerity

With Republicans feeling very confident now that they can pass their horrid tax scam bill, talk is moving towards the long-predicted other shoe dropping: Paul Ryan's cruel and draconian austerity budget for 2018.  Republicans are feeling so confident right now that Ryan is openly saying now that he will destroy Medicare, Medicaid, and federal welfare programs and he fully expects to make it happen.

The House GOP caucus plans to work on entitlement reform next year as a way to "tackle the debt and the deficit," according to House Speaker Paul Ryan. 
Speaking to Ross Kaminsky on his talk radio show, the Wisconsin Republican said Wednesday that the House would be working to reform health care entitlements in 2018, calling them "the big drivers of our debt," during a discussion about the Republican tax bill. 
"Tax reform grows the economy," Ryan said. "So we basically planned in this term three big budget bills: two entitlement reform bills, one economic growth tax reform bill. The first one passed the House, failed the Senate, this one, both tax bills have passed the House and the Senate, we're on track with that, and then next year we're going to have to get back at entitlement reform." 
Ryan specifically mentioned Medicare as being the "biggest entitlement that's got to have reform." 
"Really, what it is is we need to convert our health care system to a patient-centered system, so that people have more choices, we have more competition," Ryan later said. 
Ryan also noted that, in addition to health care, the GOP plans to work on reforming the US welfare system
"We think it's important to get people from welfare to work," Ryan said. "We have a welfare system that's basically trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work, and we've got to work on that." 
Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders responded to Ryan's comments critically on Twitter, arguing that the Republican Party planned to pay for its tax bill with cuts to entitlements. 
"There it is. Paul Ryan just admitted that after providing $1 trillion in tax breaks to the top 1% and large corporations, Republicans will try to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and help for the most vulnerable Americans," Sanders wrote.

I have plenty of problems with Sanders, but he's 100% right about Ryan's plans.  As it is the GOP tax bill will make hundreds of billions in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid over the next decade, and Republicans will not stop the carnage there.  Anyone my age or younger can forget about retirement or health care at age 70, and that's if we make it there at all.

This is why tens of millions of Americans, including myself, said that we needed Hillary Clinton to stop Ryan and the GOP from doing exactly what they are planning right now. Another four years of gridlock would be preferable to Ryan's scorched earth economics and trillion in austerity spending cuts.

Instead, America said "Hey, let's elect Trump, he's a populist.  He won't screw us over."

Still feeling good about that choice, guys?

The GOP Handmaid's Tale Simulator, 2017 Edition

What a lot of guys don't get about harassment is that it's about power at its core, power derived from being an employer or political figure or religious figure or from other sources, that is being used against women to put them in situations that makes them powerless.  It's not always physical, although it most often is.  It can very much be verbal, social, mental, and/or emotional or a combination of that too.  Any situation where you have power over somebody else can be harassment.

That brings us to the latest iteration of the GOP's Handmaid's Tale Simulation program, apparently being run out of Arizona Rep. Trent Franks's office.

Arizona Republican Trent Franks said Thursday he is resigning from Congress effective Jan. 31 amid an Ethics Committee investigation into discussions he had with two female staffers about surrogacy.

In a lengthy statement Thursday evening, Franks said he and his wife struggled with fertility.

“I have recently learned that the Ethics Committee is reviewing an inquiry regarding my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable,” Franks said. “I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”

Rather than allowing “a sensationalized trial by media damage those things I love most,” he said he had notified House leadership he would resign effective Jan. 31. 
Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s office said in a statement the speaker had accepted Franks’ resignation letter. Ryan was first briefed about the allegations Nov. 30. In a meeting with Franks the following day, he told the Arizona lawmaker he needed to step down and Ryan later referred the allegations to the House Ethics Committee.

“The speaker takes seriously his obligation to ensure a safe workplace in the House,” Ryan’s office said.

Franks said that in “this current cultural and media climate,” he was “deeply convinced” he would be unable “to complete a fair House Ethics investigation before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation.”

The Arizona Republican said he had “absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.”

That's right, Franks asked not one, but at least two of the female staffers in his office if they would bear his children as surrogates.  And he thought nothing of it.  I can certainly appreciate the struggles and heartbreak of infertility, but you don't get to ask one of your employees if you can rent their wombs, especially if you're a public servant.  That's a brutal misuse of power over employees and over women.

And given the speed at which Franks is resigning (imagine that, a Republican resigning over harassment of women) and his statements, I believe honestly that it didn't even occur to Franks at the time that this was a wildly awful idea, that it would (correctly) be perceived as Franks believing he has agency over the uterus of a female employee because "Hey, I'm Trent Franks, I'm so awesome that surely you want to help your boss have children" and that he thought they would say yes, otherwise he wouldn't have asked in the first place.

That level of stunning arrogance is astounding.  And note that Franks's statement mentioned "former subordinates", women who had come to work for him but left, obviously over being asked to give Franks not only their work but their bodies as well, as if he was entitled to them.

I'm not sure what kind of level of privilege you have to have in order to say to yourself that it's okay to ask an employee about having your kid for you, but nobody with that broken a soul needs to be anywhere near politics or near making laws for anybody, but especially laws for what women are allowed to do with their bodies. Of course Franks voted for the latest House GOP legislation calling for a national ban on abortion procedures later than 20 weeks.

[UPDATE] And Franks is resigning immediately due to this story:

Arizona Rep. Trent Franks allegedly made unwanted advances toward female staffers in his office and retaliated against one who rebuffed him, according to House GOP sources with knowledge of a complaint against him. 
The allegations, which reached Speaker Paul Ryan and top GOP leaders in recent days, led to Franks' sudden resignation this week. Franks originally announced that he would resign on Jan. 31, 2018. But just hours after POLITICO inquired about the allegations, he sped up his resignation and left office Friday.

The sources said Franks approached two female staffers about acting as a potential surrogate for him and his wife, who has struggled with fertility issues for years. But the aides were concerned that Franks was asking to have sexual relations with them. It was not clear to the women whether he was asking about impregnating the women through sexual intercourse or in vitro fertilization. Franks opposes abortion rights as well as procedures that discard embryos. 
A former staffer also alleged that Franks tried to persuade a female aide that they were in love by having her read an article that described how a person knows they’re in love with someone, the sources said. One woman believed she was the subject of retribution after rebuffing Franks. While she enjoyed access to the congressman before the incident, that access was revoked afterward, she told Republican leaders.

Scumbags, all of them.


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