Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Last Call For May Or May Not

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has survived a no-confidence vote by her own party and will remain PM, but the fact is Brexit is continuing to hurtle off a cliff, and it will eventually take May with it into oblivion.

Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, survived the gravest threat yet to her embattled leadership on Wednesday, winning a confidence motion called by Conservative Party lawmakers angry at her handling of the country’s troubled departure from the European Union.

But the victory celebration, if any, is likely to be short-lived. While Mrs. May survived to fight another day, her win did nothing to alter the parliamentary arithmetic that forced her this week to delay a critical vote on her plan for withdrawal from the European Union, or Brexit.

John Springford, deputy director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based research institute, said that the size of the vote against her “is an even clearer signal that she won’t be able to get her deal through Parliament, and makes it even more likely that when she puts the deal to the vote she will lose that.”

Mrs. May won the support of 200 Conservative lawmakers, while 117 voted against her. The protest vote exceeded many forecasts, and is expected to compound her difficulties in Parliament. Her enemies were already pressuring her.

“This was a terrible result for the prime minister,” said Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leader of the hard-line pro-Brexit faction.

She won only after promising that she would step aside soon after the Brexit agonies were over, according to reports from a meeting of Conservative Party lawmakers preceding the vote. That removed the generally unwelcome possibility that she would stand as party leader in the next general election.

One Conservative lawmaker, George Freeman, said that Mrs. May had made clear “that she has listened, heard and respects the will of the party that once she has delivered an orderly Brexit, she will step aside for the election of a new leader.”

The problem of course is that May cannot deliver anything close to an "orderly Brexit" and she doesn't have the votes and likely never will.  Yes, the bluff by the Tories was called and May survived the no-confidence measure, but there's no visible Brexit solution, and when it all blows up in a few months, it's going to be a disaster of epic proportions.

And somewhere, Vladimir Putin is laughing his ass off.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

President Trump's former lawyer and current convicted felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for three years.

A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen to three years in prison for financial crimes and lying to Congress, as the disgraced former “fixer” apologized but said he felt it was his duty to cover up the “dirty deeds” of his former boss.

Cohen made an emotional apology to U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III, taking responsibility for what the judge called a “veritable smorgasbord of criminal conduct” — crimes that included tax violations, lying to a bank and buying the silence during the 2016 campaign of women who claimed that they once had affairs with the future president.

The downfall of the hard-charging, high-profile lawyer has potential consequences far beyond Cohen, as authorities have alleged Trump directed him in violating campaign finance laws. Facing his day of reckoning, Cohen laid plenty of the blame at the president’s feet, and his lawyer said he would continue to cooperate with the ongoing special counsel investigation of the president’s campaign.

“My weakness could be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump,” Cohen told the packed courtroom. He stood, sniffling and fighting back tears as he spoke, and paused occasionally to regain his composure.

Cohen had faced as much as five years and three months in prison, but Pauley said his sentence should reflect two key elements of Cohen’s case — punishing those who repeatedly break the law while rewarding those who cooperate and provide truthful testimony. Cohen has provided information to investigators about Trump and the Trump campaign, but prosecutors said he refused to tell them everything he knew.

“Our democratic institutions depend upon the honesty of our citizenry in dealing with the government,” Pauley said, calling Cohen’s crimes serious, particularly given his profession.

As a lawyer, Mr. Cohen should have known better,” the judge said. “While Mr. Cohen is taking steps to mitigate his criminal conduct by pleading guilty and volunteering useful information to prosecutors, that does not wipe the slate clean." 
“Mr. Cohen selected the information he disclosed to the government,” Pauley said. “This court cannot agree with the defendant’s assertion that no jail time is warranted. In fact, this court firmly believes that a significant term of imprisonment is fully justified in this highly publicized case to send a message.”

The judge also ordered Cohen, a multimillionaire who owns pricey real estate and a taxi medallion business, to pay nearly $2 million in financial penalties.

And off to prison he goes, along with a hefty fine that will probably bankrupt him.  Oh, but it gets better:

Separately, New York prosecutors announced Wednesday that they had struck a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, the company that produces the National Enquirer tabloid, for its role in squelching stories of women who said they had relationships with Trump. AMI paid $150,000 to one of the women before the 2016 election. As part of the agreement, AMI admitted it made the payment principally “in concert” with Trump’s campaign to “suppress the women’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

So Trump's pals at the National Enquirer are rolling over on his deal to pay them to silence his mistresses, and because this is a state case, there's not a goddamn thing Trump can do about it. 

Meat The Press, Con't

Once again, Donald Trump is putting America's reputation in the toilet by supporting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan, despite last week's intelligence briefings that had even Republican senators agreeing that MBS ordered the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he stood by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince despite a CIA assessment that he ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and pleas from U.S. senators for Trump to condemn the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi’s death more than two months ago.

“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office.

Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by the prince, known as MbS, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”

Some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent MbS from becoming king, sources close to the royal court have told Reuters, and believe that the United States and Trump could play a determining role.

“I just haven’t heard that,” Trump said. “Honestly, I can’t comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I’ve heard that he’s very strongly in power.”

While Trump has condemned the murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist who was often critical of MbS, he has given the benefit of the doubt to the prince with whom he has cultivated a deep relationship.

Trump again reiterated on Tuesday that the “crown prince vehemently denies” involvement in a killing that has sparked outrage around the world.

Trump has come under fierce criticism from fellow Republicans in the Senate over the issue, particularly after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed them. Last month, the CIA assessed that MbS ordered the killing, which Trump called “very premature.”

“You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MbS,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said last week.

Trump is willfully blind here, the question is why.  The answer of course is that Trump is neck deep in Saudi money laundering along with his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and it looks like House Democrats are more ready to stick a fork in Jared come January.

Rep. Eliot Engel, who is poised to lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee, plans to conduct a thorough review of US policy towards Saudi Arabia -- and that could include Jared Kushner's ties to the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, according to a Democratic aide. 
Engel is "committed to conducting a top-to-bottom review of U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia and that includes what has driven the US response to the Jamal Khashoggi murder," said spokesman Tim Mulvey, referring to the October killing of The Washington Post journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. 
Asked if that meant probing the ties between Kushner and the crown prince, Mulvey said: "Everything is on the table." 
The comments are the latest sign that the White House's handling of the Khashoggi murder is bound to face fresh scrutiny in the new Congress -- beyond this month in the final days of an all-Republican controlled Capitol.

In the Senate of course, things are more "complicated".

The Senate could vote this week to withdraw US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is also weighing whether to also vote on legislation to suspend arm sales with the country and sanction individuals responsible for the murder of Khashoggi -- including potentially the crown prince and his alleged role in ordering the killing. But "intense" negotiations between Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and the ranking Democrat, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, over the contents of the sanctions bill are still ongoing, according to an aide familiar with the process. 
Corker objects to the language in the bill by Menendez and Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, that would impose mandatory sanctions on people involved in the Khashoggi murder under the Global Magnitsky Act. The law currently requires the administration to make a determination about a human rights violation and then the US can impose sanctions.
"Our nation typically has tried to punish the countries for that type of behavior but not the individuals. So, I'm actually trying to keep it strong because I think what would happen (under the Menendez-Young bill) is if the administration knew they had to sanction, they would likely not find him responsible for the killing. I'd rather them find him responsible for the killing, him become an ever-greater pariah in the world and us find other ways of pushing back on what they've done," Corker said. 
But Menendez told CNN about Corker: "He wants to neuter the Global Magnitsky mandatory (sanctions under the bill) -- and that's really one of the significant parts of the bill. A deal is always possible but right now we are not there." 
Corker warned the Menendez bill could have broader impact around the world beyond Saudi Arabia. 
"He's trying to add language that says if the crown prince is found guilty then sanctions be automatically be put in place. That changes the entire relationship that we've had with world leaders. We ... know Putin has tried to kill people with chemical weapons, but we typically have not sanctioned the leaders, we've sanctioned the countries," Corker explained.

Corker's afraid other countries could start sanctioning Trump, his family, and members of Congress.   He should be afraid, frankly.  Of course, the larger problem is that Donald Trump still doesn't care about intelligence briefings because they bore him, and he has a narrative to get out, and if it means attacking his own intelligence agencies, then so be it.

The President’s Daily Brief (PDB), a document that for decades has been drawn up specifically for the commander in chief, “has become more important for Cabinet-level officials than the president,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official who until earlier this year was involved in drafting such documents. The official, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

He has "people" for that.

Stay tuned.


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