Friday, November 16, 2018

Last Call For Sing A Song Of Sick Pence, Con't

Trump's "Nixon in the Bunker" routine has gotten so bad now that he's openly questioning if VP Mike Pence is after his job and maybe helping Mueller behind his back or something.

President Trump’s post-midterm election news conference at the White House last week took a surprising turn when a reporter asked about locking down his 2020 ticket.

“Mike, will you be my running mate?” Mr. Trump asked Vice President Pence, who stood up, raised his hand, and nodded.

“Will you? Thank you. O.K., good,” the president said. “That was unexpected, but I feel very fine.”

But in private Mr. Trump is apparently not feeling so fine. In recent weeks, with his electoral prospects two years from now much on his mind, Mr. Trump has focused on the person who has most publicly tethered his fortunes to him. In one conversation after another he has asked aides and advisers a pointed question: Is Mike Pence loyal?

Mr. Trump has repeated the question so many times that he has alarmed some of his advisers. The president has not openly suggested dropping Mr. Pence from the ticket and picking another running mate, but the advisers say those kinds of questions usually indicate that he has grown irritated with someone.

The answers Mr. Trump gets to his question have varied, depending on whom he asks.

Within the White House, most people he has talked to have assured the president that Mr. Pence has been a committed soldier, engaging in activities that Mr. Trump has eschewed, such as traveling to Hawaii to receive the remains of veterans of the Korean War, or visiting parts of the globe that Mr. Trump has avoided.

But some Trump advisers, primarily outside the White House, have suggested to him that while Mr. Pence remains loyal, he may have used up his utility. These advisers argue that Mr. Trump has forged his own relationship with evangelical voters, and that what he might benefit from more is a running mate who could help him with women voters, who disapprove of him in large numbers.

Now perhaps this is just a trial balloon fed to Maggie Haberman by Trump to see if anyone wants Pence's job, maybe it's a test of Pence's loyalty through what's coming, or maybe Trump's just looking for someone to blame for the coming storm and Pence is a novel target.  But maybe Trump is breaking down completely and seeing ghosts in the walls and he's one step short of talking to White House portraits, too.

At this point any of those are real possibilities.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Robert Mueller's flip of two of Trump's biggest fixers, Michael Cohen and George Nader, are the gifts that keep on giving (and we know Rick Gates continues to provide information too).  We've yet to see the real fruits of these efforts but they are coming, Cohen has led to the Trump Organization case currently being run by the AG of New York's office, and Nader's turn has led to some major international players.

On that last front, now we're learning that Nader is leading us to back to the Trump transition team and Republican operatives who are now in boatloads of trouble, starting with Dick Cheney's former national security aide, John Hannah.

Dick Cheney’s former top national-security aide has come under scrutiny from special counsel Robert Mueller, two people with knowledge of the probe tell The Daily Beast. It’s the latest sign that Mueller’s probe has expanded beyond the narrow bounds of Russian interference in American politics.

Mueller’s team has been looking into the communications and political dealings of John Hannah, the former Cheney adviser who later worked on Trump’s State Department transition team. This includes interactions with Lebanese-American businessman and fixer George Nader, who brokered meetings between foreign dignitaries and Team Trump, and Joel Zamel, a self-proclaimed social-media guru with deep ties to Israeli intelligence. The Daily Beast previously reported that the three men met with a top Saudi general in the days leading up to Trump’s inauguration to discuss plans to undermine and overthrow the government of Iran.

Hannah, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, is close with Nader and Zamel, both of whom the special counsel has questioned, according to two people with knowledge of those relationships. Hannah is listed on the website of one of Zamel’s firms, Wikistrat, as a member of its advisory council. Nader worked with Hannah on Iraq policy during the George W. Bush administration, according to four people who worked with the two or who knew of their interactions during the war. Hannah is now a senior counselor for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a pro-Israel think tank known for its criticism of the Iranian regime.

Hannah and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment for this story. The Special Counsel’s Office declined to comment. A representative for Nader declined to comment. And a lawyer for Zamel did not respond to requests for comment.

Nader and Zamel have both been questioned by the Special Counsel’s Office and are reportedly cooperating with its probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Nader has been questioned about his ties to high-level officials in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, his relationship with Zamel, and his interactions with the Trump campaign. Mueller has questioned Zamel about his role pitching top campaign officials on an influence operation to help Trump win the election—which could have broken federal election laws.

Mueller’s interest in Hannah’s communications and interactions with the two suggest the special counsel’s probe is broader than previously understood.

Mueller might be opening another front here,” said John McLaughlin, the former acting director of the CIA. “His mandate is to examine Russian collusion, but there’s the clause in his mandate that’s very open-ended—to the effect of ‘and any associated matters.’ It could be a separate line of inquiry about efforts to influence the election by foreigners.”

Everyone is expecting more indictments soon.  They could come at any time, but my experience tells me Mueller likes to ruin people's weekends on Friday afternoons.

We'll see.

A Heaping Helping Of Julian Fries, Or Wacky Leaks

The DoJ is coming for WikiLeaks founder (and Russian disinformation peddler) Julian Assange.  And we know this because the Justice Department appears to have...well...leaked...the information.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal, prosecutors inadvertently revealed in a recently unsealed court filing — a development that could significantly advance the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and have major implications for those who publish government secrets.

The disclosure came in a filing in a case unrelated to Assange. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer, urging a judge to keep the matter sealed, wrote that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.” Later, Dwyer wrote the charges would “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”

Dwyer is also assigned to the WikiLeaks case. People familiar with the matter said what Dwyer was disclosing was true, but unintentional.

Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, said, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.

Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia have long been investigating Assange and, in the Trump administration, had begun taking a second look at whether to charge members of the WikiLeaks organization for the 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents that the anti-secrecy group published. Investigators also had explored whether WikiLeaks could face criminal liability for the more recent revelation of sensitive CIA cybertools.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III also has explored WikiLeaks’ publication of emails from the Democratic National Committee and the account of Hillary Clinton’s then-campaign chairman, John D. Podesta. Officials have alleged that the emails were hacked by Russian spies and transferred to WikiLeaks. 

So I'm not sure if this was an amazingly dimwitted accident, or something done on purpose to give Assange a major heads up that he should get gone.  If this is the first really big leak out of the Mueller probe, more indictments and charges could be coming, but something about this entire mess stinks.

We'll see.


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