Monday, August 13, 2018

Last Call For Trump's State Media

FOX News is Trump State Media, and they're not even pretending anymore that there's any separation between the White House and the cable network.

It is “in the public interest” for the White House's top communicator to be excused from federal ethics laws so he can meet with Fox News, according to President Donald Trump’s top lawyer.

Bill Shine, Trump’s newly minted communications director, and Larry Kudlow, the White House’s top economist, who worked at CNBC before his White House post, have both been excused from provisions of the law, which seeks to prevent administration officials from advancing the financial interests of relatives or former employers.

“The Administration has an interest in you interacting with Covered Organizations such as Fox News,” wrote White House counsel Don McGahn in a July 13 memo granting an ethics waivers to Shine, a former Fox executive. “[T]he need for your services outweighs the concern that a reasonable person may question the integrity of the White House Office’s programs and operations.”

Kudlow, a former CNBC host, received a similar waiver allowing him to communicate with former colleagues.

Including Shine and Kudlow, the White House has granted a total of 20 waivers to provisions of various federal ethics laws and the ethics pledge that President Trump instituted by executive order the week he took office. Federal agencies have granted many more such waivers.

The news media has been a particular object of those waivers. Early in the administration, after The Daily Beast questioned the propriety of then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s communications with employees of Breitbart News, the pro-Trump outlet he led before and after his White House tenure, the White House issued a blanket ethics waiver allowing all senior West Wing appointees to freely communicate with the press.

That move was widely seen as an effort to retroactively cover Bannon for previous meetings that would’ve otherwise run afoul of ethics rules—a move that may itself have constituted a violation of those rules.

FOX News employees run the White House, and the White House runs FOX News.  Considering nearly half of Republicans want Trump to have the power to exterminate news organizations, it won't be long before FOX News is the only game left in DC.  Who will stop him?  A Roberts Court with Kavanaugh on board as the fifth vote?  A GOP Congress?  None of the checks and balances work right now.  Our last chance is November, and both sides know it.

Should Trump succeed in making sure the Democrats don't control the House or Senate in January, we're done as a nation and a republic.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who was one of the lead FBI investigators into the Trump-Russia case, has been fired by Trump-appointed Deputy FBI Director David Bowdich despite the agency policy recommending his temporary suspension.

The FBI has fired Agent Peter Strzok, who helped lead the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election until officials discovered he had been sending anti-Trump texts.

Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s lawyer, said FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowdich ordered the firing on Friday — even though the director of the FBI office that normally handles employee discipline had decided Strzok should face only a demotion and 60-day suspension. Goelman said the move undercuts the FBI’s repeated assurances that Strzok would be afforded the normal disciplinary process.

“This isn’t the normal process in any way more than name,” Goelman said.

The FBI declined to comment.

The termination marks a remarkable downfall for Strzok, a 22-year veteran of the bureau who investigated Russian spies, defense officials accused of selling secrets to China and myriad other important cases. In the twilight of his career, Strzok was integral to two of the bureau’s most high-profile investigations: the Russia case, and the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.

But when a Justice Department inspector general investigation uncovered politically charged messages that Strzok had exchanged with another FBI official, he was relegated to a position in human resources. Conservatives soon made Strzok the face of their attacks against the special counsel investigation into the president’s campaign, and the FBI took steps to remove him from its ranks.

The Trump regime finally got their head for the wall in a chilling message to the rest of the Justice Department: if you do your job and investigate this regime's criminality, you will be targeted and your career destroyed.  Add Strzok to the list along with Andrew McCabe, Sally Yates and of course James Comey.

Strzok’s position in the bureau had been precarious since last summer, when Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz told Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III that the lead agent on his team had been exchanging anti-Trump messages with an FBI lawyer. The next day, Mueller expelled Strzok from the group.

The lawyer, Lisa Page, had also been a part of Mueller’s team, though she left a few weeks earlier and no longer works for the FBI. She and Strzok were having an affair.

President Trump has derided the pair as “FBI lovers,” and he and his conservative allies have pointed to their conduct in an attempt to discredit the Mueller probe. As recently as Saturday, Trump tweeted an attack on Strzok, Page and former FBI director James B. Comey and deputy director Andrew McCabe.

“Will the FBI ever recover it’s once stellar reputation, so badly damaged by Comey, McCabe, Peter S and his lover, the lovely Lisa Page, and other top officials now dismissed or fired?” Trump wrote. “So many of the great men and women of the FBI have been hurt by these clowns and losers!”

This time though, Strzok has a case.  Trump has tweeted on more than one occasion that Strzok needed to be fired.  If I'm Goelman, I'm seeing if Trump violated civil service protections.

The bigger issue is of course firing agents investigating the White House because they said mean things about the White House in private.

Nobody's Business But The Turks, Con't

The Trump regime's economic sanctions and tariffs on Turkey this month has quickly gone from punishment over a detained US pastor to an economic wildfire in Ankara as the Turkish lira has collapsed, losing more than 40% of its value compared to the US dollar in just a few weeks.  But the main problem is Erdogan himself, who is treating this as an opportunity to remake Turkey's economic sector in his image by letting it be demolished.

Turkey is set for another week of financial-market turmoil with its face-off with the U.S. showing no sign of abating.

While officials in Ankara, Istanbul and Washington have the means to stem the mayhem that sent the lira down 25 percent in the past month, the will to deploy them was absent through much of the weekend, with Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintaining his defiance toward the U.S. and financial-market orthodoxy in speeches Sunday.

Pressured by U.S. sanctions and a new constitutional order that concentrates power in Erdogan’s hands, Turkey’s central bank and finance ministry did little more than monitor the worst market beating since the rout that took out much of the country’s financial sector in 2001. The nation’s Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency did step in early Monday to limit the amount of foreign currency and lira swaps, and swap-like transactions, to 50 percent of banks’ legal shareholder equity.

Finance Minister Berat Albayrak sought to calm investors Sunday evening in a newspaper interview. He said the ministry has prepared an action plan that will be announced Monday, with the nation’s institutions ready to take the “necessary steps” to calm markets.

Turkey is “living very dangerously,” Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “If the central bank in Ankara was truly independent, I think that it’d be raising interest rates now and rapidly so.

Turkey’s lira extended its precipitous slide Monday, with the selloff spreading to other emerging market currencies. It weakened past 7.23 per dollar to a new record low in thin trading in Asia, before paring losses to 7.0060 at 11:09 a.m. in Singapore. The South African rand also fell to its weakest in more than two years, while the Mexican peso dropped almost 2 percent against the greenback.

While investors are pleading for dramatic central bank action to bolster the lira, Turkish officials fear that even a huge increase in borrowing costs could be quickly offset by another round of U.S. sanctions, according to two people familiar with the thinking of the country’s economic administration.

The bottom line in this line of thinking in Ankara: Until relations between the two NATO allies are restored, no policy lever is worth pulling

As of Sunday, Erdogan showed no willingness to meet President Donald Trump’s condition for mending ties: releasing a U.S evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, who’s been imprisoned in Turkey for almost two years on charges of participating in a 2016 attempted coup.

Given Erdogan’s rhetoric — he called for resistance and vowed not to give in to threats — a solution requires either a gesture from the Trump administration allowing Erdogan to save face, or a humiliating reversal by the Turkish president. Neither looks likely.

Erdogan wants to allow as much damage as possible, to blame Trump for it, and to swoop in and claim even more power for himself.  He's done it before when his "failed coup" vaulted him from strongman to dictator two years ago. But let's keep in mind that the real reason Trump and Erdogan hate each other is that Turkey is Michael Flynn's former employer, and Ankara is neck-deep in the Mueller probe.

If you think Trump is going to lift a finger to save the Erdogan regime, you're nuts.  Erdogan is playing with thermite and nitroglycerine, and when it all blows up, a lot of people are going to get hurt.

Stay tuned.


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