Thursday, June 7, 2018

Last Call For Plugging The Leaks

The New York Times is crying foul on the Trump regime for taking a reporter's email and phone records in the name of stopping leaks involving the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation of Trump and Russia.

Federal law enforcement officials secretly seized years’ worth of a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records this year in an investigation of classified information leaks. It was the first known instance of the Justice Department going after a reporter’s data under President Trump.

The seizure — disclosed in a letter to the reporter, Ali Watkins — suggested that prosecutors under the Trump administration will continue the aggressive tactics employed under President Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump has complained bitterly about leaks and demanded that law enforcement officials seek criminal charges against government officials involved in illegal and sometimes embarrassing disclosures of national security secrets.

Investigators sought Ms. Watkins’s information as part of an inquiry into whether James A. Wolfe, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s former director of security, disclosed classified secrets to reporters. F.B.I. agents approached Ms. Watkins about a previous three-year romantic relationship she had with Mr. Wolfe, saying they were investigating unauthorized leaks.

News media advocates consider the idea of mining a journalist’s records for sources to be an intrusion on First Amendment freedoms, and prosecutors acknowledge it is one of the most delicate steps the Justice Department can take. “Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection,” said Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman.

A prosecutor notified Ms. Watkins on Feb. 13 that the Justice Department had years of customer records and subscriber information from telecommunications companies, including Google and Verizon, for two email accounts and a phone number of hers. Investigators did not obtain the content of the messages themselves. The Times learned on Thursday of the letter, which came from the national security division of the United States attorney’s office in Washington.

The records covered years’ worth of Ms. Watkins’s communications before she joined The Times in late 2017 to cover federal law enforcement. During a seven-month period last year for which prosecutors sought additional phone records, she worked for Buzzfeed News and then Politico reporting on national security.

Shortly before she began working at The Times, Ms. Watkins was approached by the F.B.I. agents, who asserted that Mr. Wolfe had helped her with articles while they were dating. She did not answer their questions. Mr. Wolfe was not a source of classified information for Ms. Watkins during their relationship, she said.

Mr. Wolfe stopped performing committee work in December and retired in May.

Ms. Watkins said she told editors at Buzzfeed News and Politico about it and continued to cover national security, including the committee’s work. Ben Smith, the editor in chief of Buzzfeed News, said in a statement, “We’re deeply troubled by what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with a reporter’s constitutional right to gather information about her own government.”


1) Couldn't resist that dig on Obama, could you, NY Times?  Even after you know Trump and Jeff Sessions was demonstrably worse and far more sinister towards the media, you just have to continue to blame the black guy, huh?  Bet you wish he was back, assholes.

2)  A reporter should never, ever, ever, get romantically involved with a goddamn source, or somebody later used as a source.  That's journalism ethics 101, guys.

3) You do know that Watkins and Wolfe are being served up as a warning now that Mueller is closing in, right?  Keep you eyes on who the bad guy really is here.  (Hint: it's not Barack Obama.)


5)  Wolfe is going to prison.  Watkins probably isn't.  Probably.  I guess it's going to take Trump tossing reporters in jail before they understand the problem here isn't Obama, but whatever.

We'll see.

Virginia Is For (Healthcare) Lovers

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam today signed into law Virginia's Medicaid expansion, after a long a brutal battle under the state's Republican austerity scolds of the previous general assembly, but the fight with the Trump regime is just starting, and there's every reason to believe that the expansion will be rejected by the White House.

After five years of fierce, partisan battles, amid chants of “Yes we did” from the crowd of spectators, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill Thursday afternoon that will expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to cover up to 400,000 more low-income people in the state. 
“It has been a long road to get here,” Northam said. “It took longer than we would have liked. But I couldn’t be happier to sign this and give Virginians access to the care they need to live healthy and successful lives.”

Citing the Founding Father who designed the capitol building behind him, Northam thanked the lawmakers and advocates who made the passage of Medicaid expansion possible: “As Thomas Jefferson said, ‘Without health there is no happiness.'” 
But the triumphant bill signing on the capitol’s steps in Richmond will not be the culmination of the state’s Medicaid wars, but rather the beginning of a new chapter. The bumpy road ahead includes requesting permission from the Trump administration to implement work requirements and to require that Medicaid beneficiaries pay premiums. Those conservative policies won the GOP votes necessary to get the bill over the finish line, and, if approved, are likely to be the stuff of political and legal battles for years to come.

Under the new Virginia law, starting next January, state residents with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line will be able to enroll in Medicaid, massively boosting coverage among the currently uninsured. 
Some time later, depending on when the Trump administration approves the state’s waiver, Virginia will require those who depend on Medicaid to prove they are employed, studying or volunteering and to pay premiums for their health care. The work requirement will start at 20 hours per months and slowly ramp up to 80 hours, and will have a “three strikes and you’re out” enforcement approach — anyone who fails to certify for three months that they’ve met the work requirement will be booted from Medicaid and barred from reenrolling until the following year.

“That’s about as strict as you can get,” said Jill Hanken, a health law attorney and leader of the Health Care for All Virginians Coalition that campaigned for Medicaid expansion. 
“There are elements that are extremely punitive. Since most Medicaid enrollees are already working, we think setting up a whole new program for a very small slice of population isn’t the best use of those dollars, and we are quite concerned that people will lose benefits that they are entitled to because they get caught up in the red tape or make a small error.” 
As this process moves slowly forward, expansion advocates tell TPM they plan to make their voices heard on every step — lobbying the governor as he drafts the waiver, submitting comments to Trump’s health department as they weigh its approval, pressuring the state as it decides how to implement and enforce the rules, potentially challenging the measures in court, and launching education campaigns to help Virginians navigate the process. 
“If it’s approved, we’ll do our very best to make sure people eligible for coverage don’t lose coverage,” said Hanken. She added that should the balance of power shift in the state legislature, where Democrats came within one vote of controlling the lower chamber last year, groups will be calling on lawmakers to amend or scrap the restrictions. 
“Even if the federal government approves the waiver, the state can come back later and request any amendments they believe are necessary,” Hanken said. “Virginia has done that many times before with existing waivers.”

It's an ugly mess of an expansion, but it's better than no coverage at all for thousands.  However, the race will now be to throw as many of those 400,000 off the state's rolls as possible, and as quickly as possible, and the work requirements will unfortunately pare a big chunk of people from that group.

But it's a partial win, at least.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

In the two states where Donald Trump is the most popular (Alabama and West Virginia, where Morning Consult has Trump at 62-26%), Democratic senators are running for re-election, in this case Doug Jones and Joe Manchin.  In order to survive, they both believe that they have to acknowledge Trump's popularity among their constituents.  Manchin has been walking this tightrope for a lot longer than Jones, and at this point he's not shy about fully embracing Trump.

Joe Manchin wants you to know he really likes Donald Trump.

The West Virginia senator doesn’t put it quite that way. But more than any other Democrat in Congress, he's positioned himself as a vocal Trump ally. In fact, the senator, up for reelection in a state Trump won by more than 40 points, told POLITICO he isn’t ruling out endorsing Trump for reelection in 2020 — a position practically unheard of for a politician with a “D” next to his name.

“I’m open to supporting the person who I think is best for my country and my state,” Manchin said this week from the driver’s seat of his Grand Cherokee, insisting he’s game to work with any president of either party. “If his policies are best, I’ll be right there.”

Trump’s popularity in West Virginia has Republicans salivating over the prospect of knocking off the legendary 70-year-old senator and former governor this fall. In response, Manchin is sidling up to the president — his policies, his nominees, at times even Trump himself — as the independent-minded Democrat prepares for the toughest race of his career against GOP state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

The president recently mocked Manchin in front of the Senate GOP caucus as trying to hug him all the time — only a slight exaggeration, by Manchin’s telling.

“We just kind of do the man-bump type thing. That’s it. And I think he’s pulling me as much as I’m pulling him,” Manchin said in describing his physical embraces with the president.

Despite Trump’s recent criticisms of him, Manchin maintains a line with Trump. They last talked two weeks ago — after Trump teased him in front of GOP senators — and the Democratic senator is hopeful that Trump will treat him with kid gloves this fall. In Manchin’s estimation, he is often the “only thing” keeping the president from becoming a down-the-line partisan.

At times, Manchin was the only Democrat who clapped during Trump’s State of the Union address. This spring, Manchin killed liberals’ hopes of blocking Gina Haspel for CIA director by getting behind her early. Manchin supported Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, voted for now-embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and even backed the president’s hard-line immigration proposal.

“I’m with him sometimes more than other Republican senators are with him,” Manchin said.

But Manchin has been frustrated that every time he thinks he's got the president in a moderate place on immigration or background checks for guns, Trump goes to the right. And he hasn’t always been there for Trump, most conspicuously on the GOP’s tax reform bill, which attracted no Democratic votes. He also voted against Betsy DeVos to be education secretary, Tom Price to lead the Health and Human Services Department and Obamacare repeal.

And that gives the GOP enough of a lane to attack the centrist Democrat as someone who will never be a reliable ally of the president compared to a Republican.

“Joe Manchin is not fully supportive of the Trump agenda. If Joe Manchin says that he votes with the president 50-60 percent of the time? In my book that’s a failure,” Morrisey said in a telephone interview.

Technically, Manchin is a Democrat. In reality, he’s a man without a party. His discomfort is apparent all around: He needs to appeal to Trump voters in a historically Democratic state that’s turned blood red. He had an infamously chilly relationship with President Barack Obama — he still refuses to talk about who he voted for in 2012 — and now has regrets about supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016.

At this point, Joe Manchin is the guy behind the adage "If you walk down the center of the road, eventually you're going to get run over."  I'm pretty sure Manchin is going to get run over in November, but if he survives, I can't say he'd even stick with Chuck Schumer.

In the eternal battle between "more Democrats" vs "better Democrats", Manchin just might be neither.

Meanwhile, things are looking a bit better for Dems nationally as June polling starts coming in.

So far, however, the president's party has been unable to effectively link positive news to its effort to preserve control of Congress. Democrats hold a 10 percentage point edge over Republicans, 50 percent to 40 percent, when voters are asked which party they want to win midterm elections in November. 
More than that, Democrats hold a significant advantage in voter enthusiasm. Fully 63 percent of Democrats express the highest levels of interests in the fall election, compared to 47 percent of Republicans
"Democrats' enthusiasm matches Republicans' in 2014 and 2010," said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducts the Journal/NBC poll with his Democratic counterpart Peter Hart. In 2010, Republicans captured control of the House; in 2014, they took over the Senate. 
Democrats have built that edge on their leads among independents (7 percentage points), voters under 35 (20 points), white college graduates (24 points), Latinos (24 points), and African-Americans (81 points). Republicans retain a narrow edge among whites (3 points) and a large one among white men who have not graduated from college (37 points).

It's worth noting that if the Republican edge among white voters overall is down to just 3 points, they are in serious trouble, but again, the key is going to be white college graduates.  Clinton won them, but not by enough.  a 24-point margin however is definitely a problem for the GOP.

We'll see.


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