Tuesday, April 3, 2018

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

The question rattling around Washington is who Mueller's next big indictment will be, and while I still believe the next major link in the chain is Jared Kushner, you can make the case that Roger Stone is now directly in Mueller's crosshairs too.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into claims made by Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone that he met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. 
WikiLeaks released thousands of documents during the 2016 campaign that U.S. intelligence agencies believe came from Russian operatives and were aimed to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. 
In an email to fellow former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg dated Aug. 4, 2016, Stone claims that he “dined with Julian Assange last night,” according to the Journal.
Nunberg told The Washington Post earlier this month that investigators working for Mueller asked him to describe his conversation with Stone about meeting with Assange.
Stone has said that the email was a joke and that he never spoke with Assange.

Mueller’s team investigating Russia's election meddling has asked about the email during testimony before a grand jury, a source familiar with the matter told the Journal.

Stone said he was flying out to Los Angeles the night before he sent the email. The Journal confirmed that a flight from Miami to Los Angeles matches a screenshot of the flight information Stone provided, but could not confirm he was on it. 
Stone has been inconsistent about any contact he has had with Assange and WikiLeaks. He previously stated that he communicated with Assange but told the Journal on Friday that was not the case.

The Roger Stone/Julian Assange connection is bad news for Trump, and at this point Stone has lied so many times about it that he's not sure which story he has to keep straight anymore in order to avoid Mueller.  You can bet Stone's already been contacted, and Sam Nunberg has already given Stone up.

There's no real doubt that WikiLeaks is being used as a Russian front for intelligence laundering at this point, and since we now know that the Guccifer 2.0 hack was a product of Russian intelligence as well, the release of John Podesta's emails in order to attack the Clinton campaign was no accident.

But that was just the warm-up.  We now know why Trump has been attacking Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos on Twitter, Bezos owns the Washington Post, and the paper just dropped this bombshell this evening.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III informed President Trump’s attorneys last month that he is continuing to investigate the president but does not consider him a criminal target at this point, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

In private negotiations in early March about a possible presidential interview, Mueller described Trump as a subject of his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors view someone as a subject when that person has engaged in conduct that is under investigation but there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges.

The special counsel also told Trump’s lawyers that he is preparing a report about the president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice,
according to two people with knowledge of the conversations.

Mueller reiterated the need to interview Trump — both to understand whether he had any corrupt intent to thwart the Russia investigation and to complete this portion of his probe, the people said.

Mueller’s description of the president’s status has sparked friction within Trump’s inner circle as his advisers have debated his legal standing. The president and some of his allies seized on the special counsel’s words as an assurance that Trump’s risk of criminal jeopardy is low. Other advisers, however, noted that subjects of investigations can easily become indicted targets — and expressed concern that the special prosecutor was baiting Trump into an interview that could put the president in legal peril.

John Dowd, Trump’s top attorney dealing with the Mueller probe, resigned last month amid disputes about strategy and frustration that the president ignored his advice to refuse the special counsel’s request for an interview, according to a Trump friend.

Trump’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, and Dowd declined to comment for this report. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred questions to White House attorney Ty Cobb.

“Thank you, but I don’t discuss communications with the president or with the Office of Special Counsel,” Cobb said Tuesday.

If you want to know the reason for "Trump's war on Amazon" it's because of this story, 99.997% chance.  Trump actually wants this interview, his ego won't allow him not to talk to Mueller, and his lawyers know full well if he does he's going to be screwed.

The problem is of course is if he doesn't, he's still screwed.

Stay tuned.  I told you things were moving quickly and they are.

Bibi's Big Deal Breaks Down

In a sign of just how precarious the political situation of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is right now as he faces a massive bribery and corruption scandal and calls for resignation as well as growing international pressure after Israel's deadly response to Gaza protests in the last few days, it's no surprise then that a deal with the UN to resettle African migrants in order to prevent the deportation of tens of thousands has collapsed hours after being announced when Netanyahu's own party made it very clear that such a deal would lead to his ouster.

In a head-spinning turnaround, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel announced on Monday that he had reached an extraordinary deal with the United Nations refugee agency to resettle thousands of African asylum seekers in Western countries. Within hours Mr. Netanyahu suspended the deal after coming under heavy criticism from his coalition partners.

The flip-flop appeared to reflect Mr. Netanyahu’s fear of losing support from those partners or from his right-wing constituency, who call the asylum seekers infiltrators and want them gone. His opponents on the left described the prime minister’s behavior as an embarrassing and cowardly surrender under pressure.

Mr. Netanyahu, who is battling for his political future under the cloud of multiple corruption scandals and faces possible charges of bribery, had apparently failed to consult with most of his own conservative Likud Party colleagues or coalition allies before announcing the migrant deal.

If the deal with the United Nations refugee agency bought Israel some international good will, diverting attention from Friday’s flare-up along the border with Gaza when Israeli forces killed at least 15 Palestinians and wounded many more, the effect was short-lived.

The agreement with the United Nations was meant to replace a contentious Israeli plan that had offered the migrants a stark choice: forced deportation to Africa or prison. That plan fell through after Rwanda, the African country meant to receive the deportees, announced that it would accept only those who left Israel voluntarily.

In the afternoon, in a televised news conference, Mr. Netanyahu triumphantly announced the new deal, under which the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees committed to persuading countries in the West to take at least 16,250 migrants over five years, while Israel would grant official status as temporary residents to most who remained.

Estimates of the population of African asylum seekers in Israel, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, range from 35,000 to 39,000.

But the agreement to let many stay in Israel drew harsh criticism from some of Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition allies, who were taken by surprise. Naftali Bennett, the education minister and leader of the far-right Jewish Home party, said the deal would “turn Israel into an infiltrator’s paradise.”

Mr. Netanyahu backtracked.

In a late-night Facebook post he said he was “attentive” to critics and wanted to explain the sequence of events. Rwanda, he said, had withdrawn from its agreement with Israel under pressure from the New Israel Fund — a nonprofit organization that promotes liberal democracy in Israel and is loathed by the right wing here — and “elements in the European Union.”

He said he was suspending the deal with the United Nations refugee agency pending a meeting on Tuesday morning with the veteran residents of south Tel Aviv, where many of the African migrants are concentrated, and that he would then review the understandings reached with the agency

I'm no trained expert on Israeli politics, but given the situation it's painfully obvious that Netanyahu was given an ultimatum by the right wing of his coalition that he drop the deal or his government was over.  Given the embarrassing speed of his retreat after signing the deal, Netanyahu may have used up the last of his political capital here and could now be in an untenable position.

We'll see where this goes, as now the equally important question as to Bibi's fate is the fate of the tens of thousands of African refugees in the country, but my guess is the clock may finally be up on Netanyahu's term and soon.  No matter what he does at this point, he's in a corner and any action he takes will only lead to calls for his head.

Don't rule out anything at this point, including major military action in Gaza and/or the West Bank.

Meanwhile In Bevinstan...

As the final days of the 2018 legislative session come to a close, Kentucky Republicans are passing major new tax legislation and nobody knows exactly what's in the damn bill.

House and Senate Republicans unveiled the most significant changes to Kentucky’s tax code in more than a decade Monday in attempts to provide funding in a tight budget year.
The full bill is not yet available to the public. House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne and House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell declined to speak to the Herald-Leader. 
“The whole way this was done is unconscionable,” said Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville. “It’s heavy handed, it’s done by an elite and it’s done behind closed doors without any opportunity for the public to voice opinions or to vet these ideas.” 
The Senate passed the budget and tax bill after hours of discussion on Monday afternoon. The tax bill passed without the support of seven Republicans, while only two Republicans voted against the budget. 
Despite Republicans having complete control of the budget process for the first time in recent history, the bill did not win the support of Kentucky’s Republican Governor, Matt Bevin. 
“I am very concerned that the current proposals from the General Assembly may not meet these basic standards of fiscal responsibility,” Bevin said in a prepared statement. “It is our obligation to ensure that any budget and tax changes put Kentucky on a stronger financial foundation.”

We do know part of what's in the bill however: a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy by reducing both to 5% across the board, and a major new tax hike on Kentucky consumers by adding sales taxes to multiple goods and services that weren't taxed before.

The bill cuts the individual and corporate tax code to a flat 5 percent tax. Currently, anyone who makes more than $8,000 pays 5.8 percent on their individual income tax. Those who make more than $75,000 pay 6 percent. 
The income tax changes cost the state $114.1 million over the next two years, while the corporate tax changes cost the state $80 million over the next two years. Some of the changes are cuts, while others are increases like removing the $10 individual income tax credit. 
The Legislative Research Commission analysis of the revenue bill does not contain a breakdown of how much the tax cuts would cost the state. 
“We all agree we need comprehensive tax reform,” Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, told the budget committee. “This is the step to move Kentucky way up the ladder of competitiveness. 
The bulk of the new revenue comes from the tax on select services. While the bill avoided levying taxes on any of the large services in Kentucky—attorneys, accountants and hospitals in particular—through a series of taxes on smaller services, the state estimates it will bring in $436.3 million in revenue. 
The state will also bring in $244.7 million over the two-year budget with a 50 cent increase to the cigarette tax and a 15 percent tax on electronic cigarettes.

Even if GOP Gov. Matt Bevin vetoes the bill, the legislature most likely has the votes to override it, and it's going to take Kentucky down the road that destroyed Kansas's economy. Most K-12 education funding has been spared, and I mean most because there's still no money for textbooks (it was zeroed out) while colleges and universities and basically every other state department is getting Bevin's 6.25% axe.

The goal is to fund Kentucky's pension system, the reality is that the draconian state function cuts and tax increases are going to pay for the state's massive new corporate tax cut.  And all this happened under the cover of the teacher protests in Frankfort.  Oh, and there's no such thing as tenure in Kentucky's universities now, they're the first to go in order to make ends meet.

I hope Kentucky voters are paying attention in 2018 to vote out the massive sales and cig tax increase we're about to get and in 2019 when Bevin's up for re-election.

We'll see.  It's not the full Brownback here, but it's close.


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