Friday, April 13, 2018

Last Call For Wag The Dog

It was a devastating news day for Donald Trump today.

First, came the obvious message pitch across Robert Mueller's bow that Trump will reward loyalty with pardons, as he pardoned former Dick Cheney Chief of Staff Scooter Libby.

In his decision Friday to pardon a former Bush administration official convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, President Trump telegraphed his open hostility to the criminal justice system and his desire to use the power of the presidency as a personal political tool.

As with his controversial pardon last year of a former Arizona county sheriff, Joe Arpaio, who had been held in contempt of court, Trump effectively thumbed his nose at the judiciary by pardoning I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. The Justice Department was not involved in either case, officials said.

Trump acknowledged Friday that he has no personal relationship with Libby, but the George W. Bush administration veteran has powerful allies in the conservative movement who lobbied Trump over many months. Trump concluded that Libby had been unfairly convicted in 2007 because of an overzealous prosecutor who investigated the leak of a covert CIA officer’s identity and was deserving of a pardon.

When that's the lede in your story on the Libby pardon, you've already lost.  Trump knew it.  And the day only got worse for him when the cycle turned to his lawyer, Michael Cohen.

The FBI seized recordings President Donald Trump's attorney made of his conversations with a lawyer representing two women who had alleged affairs with Trump, a source familiar with the matter tells CNN. 
The recordings could prove valuable to the government's criminal investigation of Michael Cohen. The President's personal attorney is under scrutiny in part for his role in seeking to suppress the alleged affair through a hush deal with porn star Stormy Daniels. The warrant sought information about that payment along with any information that connected Cohen with efforts to suppress disclosure of Trump's alleged affair with Playboy model Karen McDougal. 
The warrant for the raids also specified that Cohen was being investigated for bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance issues, CNN reported earlier this week. 
While Cohen has admitted to no wrongdoing, the intensity of the government's investigation will put significant pressure on one of the President's closest confidants. If Cohen chooses to cooperate rather than fight a potential case against him, then his knowledge about the President's activities could create serious problems for Trump as special counsel Robert Mueller continues his investigation. 
The source said Cohen recorded some calls he had with attorney Keith Davidson, who at the time represented both Daniels and McDougal. Davidson no longer represents either woman. Their deals to keep their stories about alleged affairs quiet are now the subject of litigation, with each seeking to be released from their agreements. 

Again, Cohen is definitely under a major federal investigation and has been for months, and the FBI has pretty much everything as far as evidence.  Trump knows the walls are closing in.

It only got worse for him.

A major donor with close ties to the White House resigned on Friday as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee after the revelation that he had agreed to pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair.

The deal was arranged in the final months of 2017 by President Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen.

Under the terms of the deal, the Republican donor, Elliott Broidy, would pay the woman in installments over the course of two years, and she would agree to stay silent about their relationship, two people with knowledge of the arrangement told The New York Times. The deal was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The agreement with Mr. Broidy is the latest instance to come to light of Mr. Cohen’s involvement in efforts to suppress negative information. On Monday, as part of a wide-ranging federal inquiry into Mr. Cohen’s activities, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the lawyer’s Manhattan office and hotel room. The F.B.I. was seeking, among other things, business records, emails and documents relating to Mr. Cohen’s role in paid confidentiality agreements during the presidential campaign with two other women, who said they had had sexual relationships with Mr. Trump.

Another deal, this time a massive payout to cover for a major GOP donor and deputy finance chairman of the RNC.  The Republicans are neck-deep in a titanic campaign finance scandal, and it looks like everything revolved around Michael Cohen.

The Trump regime though has struck back, first, trying to discredit Andrew McCabe by choosing today to release the section of the Justice Department's Inspector General report on McCabe's firing.

The Justice Department inspector general delivered to Congress on Friday a scathing report that accused Andrew G. McCabe, the former F.B.I. deputy director, of violating the federal law enforcement agency’s media policy and then repeatedly misleading investigators about his actions.

The inspector general found that Mr. McCabe, 50, had lacked candor on four occasions when questioned by investigators and faulted his decision to authorize the disclosure of information to a reporter with The Wall Street Journal in October 2016 as self-serving.

In a point-by-point rebuttal of the report, Mr. McCabe said that he had full authorization to share this information with the news media as deputy director and that he did not intentionally mislead investigators. He also argued that his decision to release information about an investigation into the financial dealings of the Clinton Foundation was justified and in the public’s interest.

Mr. McCabe, a 21-year F.B.I. veteran, was fired in March after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected an appeal that would have let him retire with a full government pension.

At the time, Mr. Sessions said that Mr. McCabe had repeatedly shown a lack of candor under oath. Mr. McCabe disputed that, saying his firing was meant to undermine the special counsel investigation being led by Robert S. Mueller III, and to discredit him as a witness.

The report is brutal on McCabe, basically accusing him of leaking the details of the Clinton email investigation to the Wall Street Journal in October 2016 and crucifying him for it, serving him up as the Judas goat that ruined Clinton's chances (and neatly exonerating any Russian connection or Trump, according to the White House, anyway.)  The dastardly villain who wrecked the Clinton campaign with an October surprise was caught and fired, case closed, investigation over!

That Trump "victory" turned to ashes though this evening when an even bigger Cohen story hit the wire.

The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to a retired British spy’s report that Cohen strategized there with a powerful Kremlin figure about Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

It would also be one of the most significant developments thus far in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of whether the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House. Undercutting Trump’s repeated pronouncements that “there is no evidence of collusion,” it also could ratchet up the stakes if the president tries, as he has intimated he might for months, to order Mueller’s firing.

Cohen caught cold considering collusion!  My my my, this story certainly will be the headline tomorrow morning, won't it?  Trump knows the walls are closing in certainly now.  Mueller and Rosenstein are no longer the threat.

President Trump’s advisers have concluded that a wide-ranging corruption investigation into his personal lawyer poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the special counsel’s investigation, according to several people close to Mr. Trump.

As his lawyers went to court in New York on Friday to try to block prosecutors from reading files that were seized from the personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, this week, Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated in mounting a response. He continued to struggle to hire a new criminal lawyer, and some of his own aides were reluctant to advise him about a response for fear of being dragged into a criminal investigation themselves.

The raids on Mr. Cohen came as part of a monthslong federal investigation based in New York, court records show, and were sweeping in their breadth. In addition to searching his home, office and hotel room, F.B.I. agents seized material from Mr. Cohen’s cellphones, tablet, laptop and safe deposit box, according to people briefed on the warrants. Prosecutors revealed in court documents that they had already secretly obtained many of Mr. Cohen’s emails

Mr. Trump called Mr. Cohen on Friday to “check in,” according to two people briefed on the call. Depending on what else was discussed, the call could be problematic, as lawyers typically advise their clients against discussing investigations.

Mr. Cohen has publicly declared that he would defend the president to the end, but court documents show that prosecutors are building a significant case that could put pressure on him to cooperate and tell investigators what he knows.

The documents seized by prosecutors could shed light on the president’s relationship with a lawyer who has helped navigate some of Mr. Trump’s thorniest personal and business dilemmas. Mr. Cohen served for more than a decade as a trusted fixer and, during the campaign, helped tamp down brewing scandals about women who claimed to have carried on affairs with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump, Mr. Cohen and their teams were still scrambling on Friday to assess the damage from the raid early Monday morning. They remained unsure what had been taken, an uncertainty that has heightened the unease around Mr. Trump.

Trump is in the bunker, up against the clock.  And he made the only move he figured he had left.

For tonight, Friday the 13th of April, 2018, we just declared war on Syria.

The United States and European allies launched strikes against Syrian targets, President Trump announced on Friday, seeking to punish President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected chemical attack near Damascus last weekend that killed more than 40 people.

Mr. Trump said Britain and France had joined the United States in the strikes, which he said were underway

“These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead,” Mr. Trump, in a televised nighttime address from the White House Diplomatic Room, said of the chemical attacks that he blamed on Mr. Assad.

He said the allied strikes of precision weapons sought to deter the production, spread and use of chemical weapons as “a vital national security interest of the United States.”

We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Mr. Trump said.

The strikes risked pulling the United States deeper into the complex, multi-sided war in Syria from which Mr. Trump only last week said he wanted to withdraw. They also raised the possibility of confrontation with Russia and Iran, both of which have military forces in Syria to support Mr. Assad.

And so, less than two weeks after wanting to completely cut and run from Syria, Donald Trump has played the "wag the dog" card in order to save his presidency.

Tonight, America and the world just became an exponentially scarier place.  All of this happened in less than 24 hours.

At this point, all bets are off.  Here there be dragons.

Godspeed. Where we go from here is anyone's guess.

So Fast It'll SNAP Your Head Back

Trump and the GOP are now turning to "welfare reform" after giving corporations their huge tax cut and wrecking Obamacare.  House Republicans want to start by imposing a three month limit and an 80-hours-per-month work requirement on all SNAP recipients, not just those without dependents.

Republicans controlling the House are proposing sweeping new work mandates on the nation’s more than 40 million food stamp recipients as they kick off debate on a politically-freighted election-year overhaul of the government’s food and farm programs. 
Legislation released Thursday would require able-bodied adults aged 18-59 to work or participate in job training for 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamp benefits that average about $450 a month for a family of four.

The measure, which ignored recommendations outlined in President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal, has already sparked opposition from Democrats, whose support is generally needed to pass the measure through Congress. They say the tougher work requirements would drive millions of people off of the program.

That's the point, of course.  Can't find anyone to watch your kids while you work 20 hours a week in a minimum wage job?  Too bad, you're off SNAP and so are your kids.  Better hope school lunches fill in the gap...oh wait, Republicans want to trash that too.

Of course the whole point of criminalizing poverty is because our prison system always needs more bodies.

The latest proposal on food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, would require states to impose stricter uniform work requirements for SNAP recipients between 18 and 59. 
Currently, adults 18-59 are required to work part-time or agree to accept a job if they’re offered one. Stricter rules apply to able-bodied adults without dependents between the ages of 18 and 49, who are subject to a three-month limit of benefits unless they meet a work requirement of 80 hours per month. Under the new bill, that requirement would be expanded to apply to all work-capable adults, mandating that they either work or participate in work training for 20 hours per week with the exception of seniors, pregnant women, caretakers of children under the age of six, or people with disabilities. 
The new work requirements would take effect in 2021, and increase to 25 hours per week in 2026. Each new SNAP recipient would have one month to comply with the rule. 
The measure also limits circumstances under which families who qualify for other poverty programs can automatically be eligible for SNAP.

So it gets even worse, especially for anyone new to SNAP.  Another massive recession, caused by say, an unstable narcissist sociopath and his terrible trade, economic, and housing policies, would drive millions of families to SNAP, where they would have to work or starve.  Sorry, no free lunch in America, citizen.  You can have your food, or your job and freedom to earn minimum wage so that you can't afford anything else, but not both.

Try feeding that to voters in 2020.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Looks like the Mueller investigation will move forward without Mueller interviewing Donald Trump as the Trump lawyer Michael Cohen raid on Monday means the White House is now refusing to make Trump available to talk.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office and President Donald Trump’s legal team are now proceeding with strategies that presume a presidential interview will likely not take place as part of the Russia investigation, after months of talks between the two sides collapsed earlier this week, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

On Monday Trump’s lawyers were discussing a possible interview with Mueller's team and had begun to hash out the final sticking points, including the timing, scope and length, according to people familiar with the discussions. One person familiar with the strategy said the president’s lawyers had over the weekend sought to expand his legal team to include individuals who would prepare him for an interview. Another person familiar with the matter, however, said preparations had not yet gone that far. 
But the prospects for a presidential interview dramatically dimmed once the FBI raided the home, office and hotel room of Trump’s long-time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen on Monday, these people said. The president criticized the raid as out of bounds in Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump aides.

So, petulant, petty Trump is picking up his ball and going home.  That's fine, Mueller never really needed to interview Trump to make his case, especially now that he's holding all the cards from the Cohen raid.  But now that the White House has told Mueller to go pound sand, Mueller can just smile and say "Well, we gave Mr. Trump the option to present his side of the story and he refused to do so."

It'll make it all the more damning when the truth all comes out.  And that truth could come faster than expected with the Washington Post revelation that Michael Cohen liked to record his clients...and his only client right now is Donald Trump.

President Trump’s personal attorney Michael D. Cohen sometimes taped conversations with associates, according to three people familiar with his practice, and allies of the president are worried that the recordings were seized by federal investigators in a raid of Cohen’s office and residences this week.

Cohen, who served for a decade as a lawyer at the Trump Organization and is a close confidant of Trump, was known to store the conversations using digital files and then replay them for colleagues, according to people who have interacted with him.

“We heard he had some proclivity to make tapes,” said one Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. “Now we are wondering, who did he tape? Did he store those someplace where they were actually seized? . . . Did they find his recordings?”

Cohen did not respond to requests for comment. Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Cohen, declined to comment. A White House spokeswoman referred a request for comment to Cohen and his attorney.

If Donald Trump wasn't seething before, he is now.  Again, Mueller is holding all the cards and Trump damn well knows it.

Somebody else who has quite a handful of cards?  Former FBI Director James Comey, whose tell-all book A Higher Loyalty is out next week.  The reviews and excerpts are out now, and dear lord, is Donald Trump going to be extra pissed this weekend.

Former FBI Director James Comey blasts President Donald Trump as unethical and “untethered to truth” in a sharply critical new book that describes Trump as fixated in the early days of his administration on having the FBI debunk salacious rumors he insisted were untrue but could distress his wife.

In the forthcoming book, Comey compares Trump to a mafia don and calls his leadership of the country “ego driven and about personal loyalty.”

He also reveals new details about his interactions with Trump and his own decision-making in handling the Hillary Clinton email investigation before the 2016 election. He casts Trump as a mobster-like figure who sought to blur the line between law enforcement and politics and tried to pressure him personally regarding his investigation into Russian election interference.

The book adheres closely to Comey’s public testimony and written statements about his contacts with Trump and his growing concern about Trump’s integrity. It also includes strikingly personal jabs at Trump that appear sure to irritate the president.

The 6-foot-8 Comey describes Trump as shorter than he expected with a “too long” tie and “bright white half-moons” under his eyes that he suggests came from tanning goggles. He also says he made a conscious effort to check the president’s hand size, saying it was “smaller than mine but did not seem unusually so.”

Now Comey's tale is self-serving to a point, as far as I'm concerned Comey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are about as responsible as it comes for putting Trump in the White House in the last 30 days of the 2016 campaign, and both men are searching for absolution that will never come.  But the revelations here are guaranteed to make Trump volcanically furious.

And now Trump will absolutely need to lash out and punish someone. Trump and company are now seriously going after Rod Rosenstein as the base is being tilled and seeded for his inevitable firing.

The White House is preparing talking points designed to undermine Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's credibility, according to sources familiar with the plan. 
The plan calls on President Donald Trump's allies to cast Rosenstein as too conflicted to fairly oversee the Russia investigation
The talking points are still in their preliminary form, and not yet finalized, people familiar with their preparation said. The White House and the Justice Department declined to comment. 
Already, a number of Trump's associates have called for Rosenstein's firing in appearances on television and in public remarks over the past few days, but not all of them did so at the request of the White House.

Again, there's no need to do this unless the plan is to put pressure on Rosenstein to convince him to resign or to prep the narrative for his firing.  Note that Trump did the same for pushing Jeff Sessions into firing Andrew McCabe.  Something similiar and much more sinister is happening here, as of course this is deliberately interference in the investigation against Trump and at worse, clearly obstruction of justice.

Efforts to undermine Rosenstein in the media come as the President is weighing whether to fire the top official overseeing the Russia investigation. 
Trump is still livid about the raid on his private attorney Michael Cohen -- "He'll be pissed about it until he dies," another source said -- and he and his allies are increasingly convinced that Mueller and Rosenstein have overstepped their bounds. 
One area of conflict the White House wants its surrogates to highlight: Rosenstein's role as a key witness to the Comey firing, sources said. Rosenstein wrote the memo justifying Comey's dismissal. It centered on his conduct in investigating Hillary Clinton's use of private email. 
The White House is also hoping Trump's defenders will paint Rosenstein and Comey as close colleagues and argue that Rosenstein is approving an ever-expanding investigation against Trump and his associates as retribution.

This is what the White House wants.  Trump wants Rosenstein gone, and with him, Robert Mueller.  There should be no doubt that the move will be made in the next few weeks, if not days. Whether or not Congress or the American people act as a result, we'll see.


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