Thursday, October 31, 2019

Last Call For It's About Suppression, Con't

Democrats, realizing that voter suppression is still robbing millions of Americans of the right to vote (and the fact that most of those voters being disenfranchised happen to be Democratic) are taking to the courts with new efforts to battle Republican efforts in red states.

Democratic groups launched a blitz of voting rights lawsuits in three states this week, in a likely sign of how aggressive the party intends to be in challenging voting restrictions ahead of the 2020 elections.

The three suits target different policies and states, but share a common thread: They all take aim at laws that place restrictions on people who seek to cast ballots in ways other than in person on Election Day. Those policies could play a big role in 2020, when experts expect record-setting voter turnout.

Two of the federal suits filed this week came from state Democratic parties in North Carolina and Texas, as well as the Democratic campaign arms of the House and Senate. In Texas, the groups want to strike down a state law that prohibits temporary polling places during early voting. The law, the groups say, makes it more difficult for college students and rural voters to cast a ballot. The relatively new law follows increased voter turnout both overall and among young people in Texas.

“The gains Texas made in boosting turnout prove that when we remove obstacles to voting, more people cast their ballots ― and that’s a good thing,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement Wednesday. “We won’t stand by while others work to disenfranchise Texans who want to lawfully participate in our democracy and will fight to protect their rights as well as the integrity of the early voting program.”

In North Carolina, the groups are challenging a new state law eliminating early voting on the Saturday before Election Day ― a popular day to cast ballots, especially among young voters and voters of color. (The lawsuit could be mooted after North Carolina lawmakers approved a measure this week to restore early voting that day.)

Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, also filed a federal suit in Michigan this week challenging the state law that requires election officials to throw out an absentee ballot if they determine the signature on it doesn’t match the one on file. The suit argues that signatures change over time, and that clerks are not handwriting experts and get no guidance on how to review signatures, which could result in them throwing out ballots from valid voters. It’s not clear how many ballots have been rejected because of the policy.

Marc Elias, known as a top Democratic election lawyer, is helping represent the plaintiffs in all three cases. Elias teased on Twitter that more lawsuits are coming, but did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Like I said, it's a start.  It's going to take decades to roll back the damage from the Trump era, and Democrats have to get started now.  It's good to see them doing so.

The Reach To Impeach, Con't

Nancy Pelosi's vote to set the ground rules for impeachment hearings passed easily this morning but along party lines, with two Democrats voting no and independent Justin Amash, run out of the GOP, voting yes in the 232-196 final tally.

At issue is whether Trump abused the power of his office to pressure a foreign leader to investigate his domestic political rivals.

In remarks before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described the impeachment inquiry as a “solemn” and “prayerful” process — “not cause for any glee or comfort.”

At the same time, Pelosi said, “I don’t know why Republicans are afraid of the truth.”

“Every member should support the American people hearing the facts for themselves,” she said in a floor speech. “That is what this vote is about. It’s about the truth. And what is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy.”

Republicans immediately moved the goalposts of "why won't you formalize the impeachment process?!?" to the vicinity of Saturn.

The White House blasted Democrats’ “unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding” in a statement following the vote.

“The Democrats are choosing every day to waste time on a sham impeachment — a blatantly partisan attempt to destroy the President,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham stated.

Trump, who had no public events on his daily schedule, tweeted: “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”

House Republicans echoed the White House in their criticism, describing the inquiry as an effort aimed at removing Trump from office. 
“Democrats are trying to impeach the president because they are scared they can’t defeat him at the ballot box,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on the floor before the vote, calling the opposing party’s approach a “disaster for democracy.”

“To my colleagues on the other side, I say this: Give the people back their power. Let them choose the next leader of the free world. Follow the principles of our Constitution. And do not dilute our democracy by interfering in elections from Washington,” McCarthy said.

The House’s resolution clears the way for nationally televised hearings as Democrats look to make their case to the American people that Trump should be impeached.

Still "illegitimate, illegal, unconstitutional and un-American" even with the formal vote, according to the GOP.  Surprise!  Still, we all know this is going to a Senate trial, and Trump is already setting the stage for jury tampering.

President Donald Trump is rewarding senators who have his back on impeachment — and sending a message to those who don't to get on board.

Trump is tapping his vast fundraising network for a handful of loyal senators facing tough reelection bids in 2020. Each of them has signed onto a Republican-backed resolution condemning the inquiry as “unprecedented and undemocratic.”
Conspicuously absent from the group is Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a politically vulnerable Republican who’s refused to support the resolution and avoided taking a stance on impeachment. With his new push, Trump is exerting leverage over a group he badly needs in his corner with an impeachment trial likely coming soon to the Senate — but that also needs him.

Republican senators on the ballot next year are lagging in fundraising, stoking uncertainty about the GOP’s hold on the chamber, and could use the fundraising might of the president. Trump’s political operation has raked in over $300 million this year.

On Wednesday, the Trump reelection campaign sent a fundraising appeal to its massive email list urging donors to provide a contribution that would be divided between the president and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis. Each of the senators are supporting the anti-impeachment resolution despite being endangered in 2020.

“If we don’t post strong fundraising numbers,” the message warned, “we won't be able to defend the President from this baseless Impeachment WITCH HUNT.”

Next week, Trump will lend a hand to Georgia Sen. David Perdue, a staunch ally who has also spoken out against impeachment. On Nov. 8, the president will host an Atlanta fundraising lunch that will jointly benefit his campaign, the Republican National Committee, and Perdue’s reelection effort. Attendees are being asked to give up to $100,000, according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO.
Trump is also set to appear next week at a reception for Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely aligned with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and party leadership.

The offensive comes as Trump presses Republicans to remain united behind him. During a cabinet meeting last week, the president implored Republicans to “get tougher and fight” while lamenting that Democrats “stick together. You never see them break off.

So the President is fundraising to buy off Republican senators with millions in fundraising cash as long as they support his acquittal before the Senate trial even begins.

Seems about right.

Deportation Nation, Con't

The Trump regime has finally found a loophole in the law governing who is eligible to fill federal cabinet appointments big enough to drive a Ken Cuccinelli nomination through for Secretary of Homeland Security, but the problem is the same one from six months ago: Republican senators hate the guy, and he doesn't even have 50 votes for confirmation.

Cuccinelli, acting head of the relatively obscure U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is one of the president’s top lieutenants because of his aggressive immigration agenda. But he is loathed by McConnell and other Republicans to the point that he probably could not be confirmed for a permanent job.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he has heard "doubts" about Senate Republicans' appetite to see Cuccinelli elevated and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said "he’d have difficulty being confirmed” to a permanent slot and that putting him in an acting role would be "a problem."

“We need somebody who knows the department really well. Somebody who understands the complexities and the realities of the challenges of balancing all that has," she said.

Trump has been pushed to give the job to Cuccinelli, a newcomer to the administration who has quickly developed direct access to the president, according to people familiar with the situation.

“If Ken was as liked by the White House as he thinks he is, he would’ve been nominated months ago," said a senior administration official. "The problem for Ken is that he is a nonstarter with Mitch McConnell and has a less than zero chance of being confirmed by the Senate.”

But Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the most senior Republican in the Senate, said under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act there's no legal way to put Cuccinelli in the position after acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan leaves his post.

“There’s some opposition to Senate confirmation. I have not heard anything about some go-around. But it’s my understanding that the existing law would not permit him to” lead the organization, Grassley said in an interview. “I don’t know how you get around that. I don’t think it’s possible because of what the law says, not because of anything else.”

The administration is considering bypassing a federal law governing agency succession that makes Cuccinelli ineligible for acting secretary by naming someone to be assistant secretary of the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, which was recently vacated, and then elevating that person to be the acting secretary of Homeland Security, according to two people familiar with the situation. The loophole comes from language from a bipartisan bill that was inserted into the National Defense Authorization Act in fiscal year 2017, according to a person familiar with the situation. The New York Times first reported the effort to appoint Cuccinelli.

These guys really, really want Cuccinelli atop DNS, so he can start the mass deportations during an election year, something to get Trump's base all fired up surely.  We're going to see very soon who's in charge of the Senate GOP, Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump.

Trump loses this fight unless he's willing to slag McConnell's re-election chances.  He may just do it.  We'll see.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Last Call For Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

So yeah, yesterday we learned that the White House lied about the Ukraine transcript and intentionally left out the part where Trump incriminated himself, because it's 1974 and Nixon erased the tapes again.

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, told House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that the White House transcript of a July call between President Trump and Ukraine’s president omitted crucial words and phrases, and that his attempts to include them failed, according to three people familiar with the testimony.

The omissions, Colonel Vindman said, included Mr. Trump’s assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption, and an explicit mention by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of Burisma Holdings, the energy company whose board employed Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.

Colonel Vindman, who appeared on Capitol Hill wearing his dark blue Army dress uniform and military medals, told House impeachment investigators that he tried to change the reconstructed transcript made by the White House staff to reflect the omissions. But while some of his edits appeared to have been successful, he said, those two corrections were not made.

Colonel Vindman did not testify to a motive behind the White House editing process. But his testimony is likely to drive investigators to ask further questions about how officials handled the call, including changes to the transcript and the decision to put it into the White House’s most classified computer system — and whether those moves were meant to conceal the conversation’s most controversial aspects.

The phrases do not fundamentally change lawmakers’ understanding of the call, which was first reported by the C.I.A. whistle-blower whose complaint set off the impeachment inquiry. There are plenty of other examples of Mr. Trump referring to Ukraine-related conspiracy theories and asking for investigations of the Biden family. But Colonel Vindman’s account offered a hint to solving a mystery surrounding the conversation: what Mr. Trump’s aides left out of the transcript in places where ellipses indicated dropped words.

We knew about the quid pro quo before.  We knew about the plot to get Zelensky to announce an investigation of Hunter Biden to help Donald Trump's 2020 chances.  What we didn't have before was the indication of what was missing in the call summary the White House put out saying the call was "perfect" and normal.

The idiots covered it up and here's a NSC Ukraine expert testifying under oath that yes, the White House omitted the incriminating parts on purpose.

The Wall Street Journal is backing up the NY Times story on this as well.  The transcript that the Republicans have been yelling about for a month now is bogus.  Greg Sargent explains what this means:

“This doesn’t change our understanding of the underlying betrayal,” Ned Price, a former senior director at the National Security Council, told me. “But it makes it much harder for Trump to argue that this was about ‘corruption.’ The omitted edits underscore the fact that Trump was singularly focused on the Bidens.”

Note that Trump’s claim that the “transcript” totally exonerates him is central to his demand that Republicans defend him on the substance. Trump wants Republicans to forcefully argue that he did nothing wrong by pointing to that transcript, as he is doing.

But not only do they know that the conduct it revealed was indefensible; and not only is the quid pro quo for military aid closer to getting nailed down; it’s now even harder to point to the “transcript,” because it has been overshadowed by the omissions from it. What’s more, these omissions will remind Republicans that they are flying blind about how bad this could get, making them still more skittish.

It's getting worse for the GOP here and they know it.

It's Nobody's Business But The Turks, Con't

Meanwhile, the US House has overwhelmingly voted to recognize the Armenian genocide by Turkey 100 years ago, a point of historical contention that the US has threatened to do for years against Ankara but didn't have the votes for until Erdogan started wiping out Syrian Kurdish allies this month.  The resolution is part of a new US sanctions bill against Turkey and in response, Turkey has called US Ambassador David Satterfield on the carpet and is warning the US that Ankara's NATO alliance is now definitely in jeopardy.

Turkey has summoned the U.S. ambassador after lawmakers in Washington voted to recognize Ottoman-era mass killings of Armenians as a genocide and called for sanctions against Ankara.

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution recognizing the genocide — which Ankara denies — and passed a bill aiming to impose fresh sanctions on Turkey over its military operation against Syrian Kurdish forces.

In response, the Turkish government on Wednesday morning summoned David Satterfield, the U.S. representative in Ankara, the state news agency Anadolu reported.

The Turkish foreign ministry rejected the genocide recognition as "meaningless" and "devoid of any historical or legal basis" in a statement issued late Tuesday, suggesting that lawmakers had approved the resolution to "take vengeance" against Turkey over its incursion into Syria.

"Undoubtedly, this resolution will negatively affect the image of the U.S. before the public opinion of Turkey as it also brings the dignity of the U.S. House of Representatives into disrepute," the statement added.

Considering the bill passed 403 to 16, Turkey's probably right to be concerned.  Where the bill goes in the Senate nobody knows, the Senate hasn't tipped their hand yet, but I would think it would pass.

We'll see.

It's All About Revenge Now, Con't

As I mentioned over the weekend, California Democratic Rep. Katie Hill was run out of town after conservative websites leaked her having an affair with a staffer, including some very explicit pictures.  The goal of this was not just to get Hill, one of the freshmen Dems who devastated the GOP last year, out of office in less than a year, but to rally California's GOP and clear the path for convicted Trump regime felon George Papadopoulos to run.

Convicted former Donald Trump advisor George Papadopoulos has filed paperwork to run for Congress in California as a Republican.

Papadopoulos is running for the state’s 25th congressional district, which will be an open seat following the announcement by Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) that she will not run for re-election after being targeted with revenge porn.

In October of 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to make false statements to the FBI. He served twelve days in a federal prison.

Trump has said his former advisor was just a “coffee boy.”

State Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who is a Democrat running for the seat, blasted Papadopoulos.

“If he pled guilty to lying to the FBI – how do we know he’ll tell us the truth? We deserve someone from our community serving as our voice – not Trump’s wannabe political hack,” Smith said.

Again, Hill was forced out of office by the political equivalent of revenge porn by her estranged husband.

Rep. Katie Hill, D-California, announced her resignation Sunday evening, following the publication of a nude image of Hill by conservative website RedState and an announcement Wednesday that the House Committee on Ethics announced it was opening an investigation into allegations that she engaged in an improper relationship with a House staffer in possible violation of House rules. Hill denied that relationship alleged by the conservative blog, and indicated that the photos -- which may amount to revenge porn, which is illegal in California -- were published without her consent as part of an abusive campaign being waged against Hill by her soon-to-be ex-husband. In her resignation letter, Hill made clear that she will focus on fighting against revenge porn when she leaves office. She has called what happened to her "electronic assault." CNN has reached out to Hill's husband for comment but has not heard back. Hill has given no evidence connecting her husband to the circulation of the photo. 
Much of the conversation surrounding Hill over the past week has focused on allegations made by Hill against her estranged husband, Kenny Heslep. Hill, one of the first members of Congress who identifies as bisexual, has admitted to having had a consensual relationship with a woman who worked on her congressional campaign, which some have characterized as a "throuple" involving the 32-year-old congresswoman, her estranged husband and the 26-year-old campaign staffer. In a letter to supporters Wednesday, Hill acknowledged the relationship, saying that it happened "during the final tumultuous years of (an) abusive marriage" and characterized the relationship, while consensual, as "inappropriate." Heslep has not responded to requests for comment from multiple media outlets. 
No one could argue that Hill's actions with the campaign staffer demonstrated good judgment, were professional, or even ethical. Having an affair with a subordinate, regardless of where that person works, is wrong. But what has been done to her over the past week -- the nonconsensual release of nude images of herself -- is against the law in many places. As of October 2019, 46 states, along with the District of Columbia and Guam, have enacted laws against revenge porn.

This is only the beginning, I suspect.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Last Call For The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Republicans are making drowning noises at Team WIN THE MORNING 2.0 as they come to terms with the fact that anyone not named Trump is going to be destroyed by him over the next 12 months.

A growing number of Republicans are privately warning of increasing fears of a total wipeout in 2020: House, Senate, and White House.

Why it matters: All of this is unfolding while the economy still looks strong, and before public impeachment proceedings have officially begun.

House Republicans in swing districts are retiring at a very fast pace, especially in the suburbs of Texas and elsewhere. (Republicans talk grimly of the "Texodus.") Rep. Greg Walden — the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the only Republican in Oregon's congressional delegation — yesterday shocked the party by becoming the 19th GOP House member to not seek re-election. 
The Republican Senate majority, once considered relatively safe, suddenly looks in serious jeopardy. Democrats are raising more money, and polling better, than Republican incumbents in battleground after battleground
President Trump trails every major Democratic candidate nationally and in swing states — and his favorable ratings remain well under 50%.

The biggest recent change is Republicans' increasingly precarious hold on the Senate.
National Journal's Josh Kraushaar writes in his "Against the Grain" column that "the pathway for a narrow Democratic takeover of the upper chamber is looking clearer than ever": "If Trump doesn’t win a second term, Democrats only need to net three seats to win back the majority."

Scott Reed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior political strategist, tells me that third-quarter fundraising reports showing three Republican senators being out-raised by Democratic challengers (in Arizona, Iowa and Maine) "are a three-alarm fire."

Those three pickups could very well be Arizona, NC, and Maine.  Colorado's Cory Gardner losing would make four and be countered by Doug Jones losing to Jeff Sessions in Alabama, who is looking to get his old seat back.  But the way things are going?  Sessions might not get through the primary.

Joni Ernst is in trouble in Iowa, and Georgia has two Senate elections this year with a special election and a regular one.  And then there's Mitch.

Gary Peters is vulnerable in Michigan, but in a wave year like I foresee in 2020, it's going to be a lot of fun to watch Dems get the Senate back.  Pick up 4 seats? Five?  Six is not out of the question.

Could be 2008 all over again.

All Your Base, Con't

Donald Trump's base hasn't wavered an inch in the last two months, and his hard-core supporters continue to keep his approval rating at about 40%, which is about where the number of Americans who will support Trump through Armageddon itself remains unchanged.

Even as support for his impeachment grows, President Donald Trump continues to be backed by a seemingly unshakable core of supporters who deny he has done anything wrong and agree that he is the target of a political "lynching," a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds.

Americans are split in the survey about whether Trump should be convicted by the Senate in an impeachment trial and removed from office: 46% in favor and 47% against. Having close to half of registered voters support his eviction from the White House is politically perilous territory for any president, of course.

Despite damaging new testimony, however, 30% to 40% of those surveyed remain solidly on Trump’s side. That is a significant asset for the president as the House of Representatives prepares to vote Thursday to affirm the formal impeachment investigation.

“Let’s look at the economy, wages, unemployment, foreign affairs, tariffs and other things like that,” said Steven Kay, 67, of Riverside County, California, a retiree and a Republican who was among those surveyed. “His rhetoric might be a little much, but he is making good policy.” 
William Skelskey, 84, a Republican and retired real-estate agent from Mission Viejo, California, blamed Democrats' "negativity" for Trump's troubles and called him "one of the top three presidents since Washington and Reagan."

The president’s solid core of supporters don’t comprise a majority of the electorate, but they do provide a political foundation that energizes him – witness his speeches that stretch an hour and longer at raucous rallies – and helps limit defections from other GOP officials.

In the poll, nearly four in 10 say his phone call pressuring the Ukrainian president to meddle in U.S. politics is itself an impeachable offense. But another 31% say there was nothing wrong with the conversation, echoing Trump’s insistence that it was "perfect." Thirty-seven percent say the House should stop investigating the president and his administration entirely.

“It seems like the inquiry is a tremendous waste of time and money,” said George Roma, 55, a small business owner from central Florida and a Republican. “I’m baffled why they continue to do this for three years.”

They will never care about his criminality, they are overwhelmingly white Boomers and Silent Generation , and they see Trump as the last bastion of America's 400-year white supremacy streak.  If he goes down, America might actually progress towards equality again.

And yet, Trump has shown that with enough third-party nonsense, Russian help, and last minute surprises, he can win a second term with 47% of the vote.

Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

Depositions of executive agency personnel involved in the Trump Ukraine scandal continue this week, and up today is National Security Council Ukraine expert, Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, who will offer the first testimony of someone actually on the now fateful July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

A White House national security official who is a decorated Iraq war veteran plans to tell House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that he heard President Trump appeal to Ukraine’s president to investigate one of his leading political rivals, a request the aide considered so damaging to American interests that he reported it to a superior.

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman of the Army, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, twice registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine, out of what he called a “sense of duty,” he plans to tell the inquiry, according to a draft of his opening statement obtained by The New York Times.

He will be the first White House official to testify who listened in on the July 25 telephone call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry, in which Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”

Burisma Holdings is an energy company on whose board Mr. Biden’s son served while his father was vice president.

“This would all undermine U.S. national security,” Colonel Vindman added, referring to Mr. Trump’s comments in the call.

The colonel, a Ukrainian-American immigrant who received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq by a roadside bomb and whose statement is full of references to duty and patriotism, could be a more difficult witness to dismiss than his civilian counterparts.

“I am a patriot,” Colonel Vindman plans to tell the investigators, “and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country irrespective of party or politics.”

He was to be interviewed privately on Tuesday by the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform Committees, in defiance of a White House edict not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

The colonel, who is represented by Michael Volkov, a former federal prosecutor, declined to comment for this article.

In his testimony, Colonel Vindman plans to say that he is not the whistle-blower who initially reported Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. But he will provide an account that corroborates and fleshes out crucial elements in that complaint, which prompted Democrats to open their impeachment investigation

Vindman essentially turning states' evidence here on Trump means two things: one, White House employees are now openly defying Trump, and two, as I said yesterday John Bolton's mustache's eventual testimony can't be far behind.  If one of his former NSC experts is talking to House Democrats, and Bolton remains in talks for his own deposition, I suspect the White House is sweating bullets right now.

Still, today's testimony could be the most damaging yet.  Vindman was on the call directly.  His prepared statement says he reported the concerns about the call to his superiors twice.  It's going to be bad.

Stay tuned.


Monday, October 28, 2019

Last Call For The Reach To Impeach, Con't

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling the bluff of the House GOP and Trump regime by holding a formal impeachment inquiry floor vote later this week.

The Thursday vote will push back against a White House and Republican congressional talking point that the impeachment inquiry is not legitimate because it hasn't been formally authorized, which comes as Democrats are facing off for the first time with a witness defying a subpoena as part of the inquiry. 
The resolution, which will be introduced and marked up in the House Rules Committee, would be the first vote the full House will take related to impeachment, after the House did not vote to formally authorize an impeachment inquiry earlier this month. 
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday in a "Dear Colleague" letter that the resolution was not legally necessary, but the House would take the vote "to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives." 
"This week, we will bring a resolution to the Floor that affirms the ongoing, existing investigation that is currently being conducted by our committees as part of this impeachment inquiry, including all requests for documents, subpoenas for records and testimony, and any other investigative steps previously taken or to be taken as part of this investigation," Pelosi wrote. 
Pelosi said that the resolution would establish the procedure for open hearings, authorize the release of deposition transcripts and outline how the Intelligence Committee can transfer evidence to the Judiciary Committee, which would be the panel that would take up potential articles of impeachment. 
The Rules Committee website says the resolution is "directing certain committees to continue their ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry into whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its Constitutional power to impeach Donald John Trump." 
The text of the resolution has not been released, but House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement that the measure will lay out how the House is "ensuring transparency" as it moves toward the "public phase" of the impeachment inquiry. 
"This is the right thing to do for the institution and the American people," McGovern said in a statement.

I can see Pelosi's argument that it's the right thing to do, but if she actually believes this will get the Trump regime to cooperate in any way, well I've got some seaside cottages in Kansas to sell her. Pelosi's too smart to think this will get the White House to turn over a single page of documents, but again, this is all 100% a political process, not a legal one.  It gives the appearance of good politics.

Having said that, by the end of the week, the White House will have their excuse for refusing to cooperate ready to go, and the media will then spend the weekend reading way too much into any non-party line votes from Thursday's proceedings.

I'm unsure about Pelosi buying into the GOP framing, as Democrats are often wont to do, but Pelosi's been doing a great job stewarding this so far, and besides, it's just as likely that the Trumpies overplay their hand.

Lot of nervous Republicans having to go on record defending Trump in a few days, too.   On the other hand, there a quite a few Republicans who have already announced their retirement, including 20-year veteran Oregon Republican Greg Walden just today, who maybe, maybe might do the right thing.

We'll see.  It's all academic without Senate conviction anyway.

Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

It seems like every day we learn that the Trump regime lied about some part of the Ukraine story, and this time it's the White House lies that Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky didn't know of any pressure by Trump until the August 25 phone call.  It turns out that Zelensky's people raised questions almost immediately all the way back in May.

The White House was alerted as early as mid-May — earlier than previously known — that a budding pressure campaign by Rudy Giuliani and one of President Donald Trump's ambassadors was rattling the new Ukrainian president, two people with knowledge of the matter tell NBC News.

Alarm bells went off at the National Security Council when the White House's top Europe official was told that Giuliani was pushing the incoming Ukrainian administration to shake up the leadership of state-owned energy giant Naftogaz, said the sources. The official, Fiona Hill, learned then about the involvement of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Giuliani associates who were helping with the Naftogaz pressure and also with trying to find dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.

Hill quickly briefed then-National Security Adviser John Bolton about what she'd been told, said the individuals with knowledge of the meeting.

The revelation significantly moves up the timeline of when the White House learned that Trump's allies had engaged with the incoming Ukrainian administration and were acting in ways that unnerved the Ukrainians — even before President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had been sworn in. Biden had entered the presidential race barely three weeks earlier.

In a White House meeting the week of May 20, Hill was also told that Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, a major Republican donor tapped by Trump for a coveted post in Brussels, was giving Zelenskiy unsolicited advice on who should be elevated to influential posts in his new administration, the individuals said. One of them said it struck the Ukrainians as "inappropriate."

Zelenskiy was inaugurated that same week — on May 20 — snapping selfies and giving high-fives to the crowd as he made his way through the Ukrainian capital for his speech to parliament.

Hill learned of Zelenskiy's concerns from former U.S. diplomat Amos Hochstein, now a member of Naftogaz's supervisory board. Hochstein had just returned from pre-inauguration meeting with Zelenskiy and his advisers in Kyiv in which they discussed Giuliani's and Sondland's overtures and how to inoculate Ukraine from getting dragged in to domestic U.S. politics.

Zelenskiy's early concern about pressure from Trump and his allies, expressed in the May 7 meeting with his advisers and Hochstein, was earlier reported by The Associated Press. The fact that those concerns were then quickly relayed to the White House National Security Council has never previously been reported.

The bigger issue is that this assuredly means former National Security Adviser John Bolton's mustache is now directly in the crosshairs of Rep. Adam Schiff and House Democrats investigating the Trump regime's impeachable offenses.

Whether or not Bolton will talk is another thing.

According to multiple reports on Thursday and Friday, the former national security adviser’s lawyers have spoken with the three Democratic-led House committees about a potential deposition. If that happens, he would be by far the most high-level witness to testify, possibly giving investigators the most authoritative account of President Donald Trump’s policy toward Ukraine.

This is very bad news for Trump. The president and Bolton had a contentious relationship that spilled out into the open after the top aide left the administration: Trump said he fired Bolton, but Bolton clapped back saying that he resigned. That means Bolton is unlikely to protect the president and instead will recount what he saw inside the government as truthfully as he can.

He surely has some explosive things to say. After all, he was on the infamous July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which the American leader requested a “favor” in exchange in for investigations into Joe Biden’s family and Democrats. What’s more, two separate witnesses in the impeachment inquiry noted that Bolton felt the pressure campaign on Ukraine was highly inappropriate.

Today's story means Bolton knew as early as May, not July, what Trump was up to in Ukraine with Rudy.  He may very well want to set the record straight.

But another Republican has emerged as being neck deep in the Ukraine mess, and that's one of the GOP senators who would ostensibly sit in judgment on Trump in any impeachment trial: Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson.

Sen. Ron Johnson met in July with a former Ukrainian diplomat who has circulated unproven claims that Ukrainian officials assisted Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, a previously unreported contact that underscores the GOP senator’s involvement in the unfolding narrative that triggered the impeachment inquiry of President Trump.

In an interview this past week, Andrii Telizhenko said he met with Johnson (Wis.) for at least 30 minutes on Capitol Hill and with Senate staff for five additional hours. He said discussions focused in part on “the DNC issue” — a reference to his unsubstantiated claim that the Democratic National Committee worked with the Ukrainian government in 2016 to gather incriminating information about then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Telizhenko said he could not recall the date of the meeting, but a review of his Facebook page revealed a photo of him and Johnson posted on July 11.

“I was in Washington, and Sen. Johnson found out I was in D.C., and staff called me and wanted to do a meeting with me. So I reached out back and said, ‘Sure, I’ll come down the Hill and talk to you,’ ” Telizhenko told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

An individual close to Johnson confirmed that staff for one of his committees met with Telizhenko as part of an ongoing investigation into the FBI and its probes of the 2016 election, but declined to say whether the senator was involved.

The meeting points to Johnson’s emerging role as the member of Congress most heavily involved in the Ukraine saga that has engulfed the White House and has threatened Trump with impeachment.

It's bad enough that Trump did what he did, but he couldn't have done it without Republican senators playing ball, and Johnson is the first real connection among Mitch's merry band of mobsters to directly enabling Trump's dirty deeds.

Surely Johnson would recuse himself from any Senate proceedings involving Trump and Ukraine, yes?

The Boys From Santiago

As Will Bunch reminds us, there's only one country on Earth right now with a larger income inequality problem than Trump-era America, and that country is currently on fire in the middle of the largest protests seen in decades, with more than six percent of the entire nation taking to the streets.

The biggest fires are always started by the tiniest spark. That was almost literally true in 2011 when an unknown street vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest corruption and government harassment, and triggered the Arab Spring, a series of uprisings that roiled an entire region and inspired movements like Spain’s Indignados and Occupy Wall Street.

In 2019, as an autumn of popular uprisings erupts around the globe, the most dramatic revolution of the moment is taking place in the shadows of the towering mountains of Chile, where as many as a million people flood the streets of capital city Santiago by day, and harrowing street battles have erupted at night. What set off this political conflagration? A subway fare hike that -- converted to U.S. money -- amounts to less than 5 cents.
But to massive numbers of Chileans, those 30 extra pesos were literally the last straw, and not just because transit fares in the South American nation had doubled in 12 years to take a toll on lower-income families. The fare hike touched off much deeper anxieties about income inequality in a nation often held up as an economic success story because of its rapidly rising gross domestic product (GDP), yet has seen much of that wealth flow to a narrow sliver at the top. That’s in addition to social unease over fewer opportunities for Chile’s browner-skinned indigenous and mixed-race people, often packed into outskirts barrios.

At first, students began protesting by hopping turnstiles and dodging the fare, chanting: “Evading, not paying, another way of fighting!” But things escalated. More than a dozen subway stations burned. The government of President Sebastián Piñera responded with a repressive crackdown, then a retreat of rolling back the fare, announcing new measures for the working class, and lifting a curfew. Yet on Saturday, more than a million people flooded Santiago’s Plaza Italia for the largest protest yet, and no one knows how all of this will end.

Americans should be paying a lot closer attention to all of this -- and not just because 50-plus years of U.S. meddling in a capital some 5,000 miles south of Washington have played a key role in getting things to this point. After taking the advice of America’s conservative economics professors for decades, Chile now has -- according to one survey -- the world’s highest level of income inequality. No. 2 on that list? The United States. No wonder this nation’s billionaire oligarchs are so worried about the 2020 elections. They ought to be terrified.

I'd like to believe Bunch is on to something.  Sadly, we live in a nation where tens of millions of us are barely holding on to what we have, and the rest are invested in stepping over our burning corpses to get the scraps from people with more wealth in dollars than people on the planet.

Times ten.

Something is going to give, and soon.


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Last Call For Warren Terrah, Con't

The man running the resurgent ISIS from the chaos of Syria has killed himself rather than be taken by US special forces as Donald Trump's malignant narcissism manages to infect yet another historic American moment.

President Trump on Sunday announced that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive Islamic State leader, died during a U.S. military operation in Syria, a major breakthrough more than five years after the militant launched a self-proclaimed caliphate that inspired violence worldwide.

“Last night the United States brought the world’s Number One terrorist leader to justice,” Trump said in a televised announcement from the White House. “He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone.”

The president described what he called a “dangerous and daring” nighttime operation by U.S. Special Operations forces in northwestern Syria, which involved firefights and culminated in what he said was a retreat by Baghdadi into a tunnel. There, Baghdadi detonated an explosive vest, killing himself and three of the six children he was believed to have.

The high-risk operation brings a dramatic end to a years-long hunt for the man who spearheaded the Islamic State’s transformation from an underground insurgent band to a powerful quasi-state that straddled two countries and spawned copycat movements across several continents.

Trump said Baghdadi, a longtime militant who was once held in a U.S.-run prison in Iraq, had been tracked over the past two weeks to a compound in Syria’s Idlib province that was laid with tunnels. He said no U.S. personnel died during the operation but that other militants were killed.

The raid comes as the United States scrambles to adjust its posture in Syria in the wake of Trump’s decision to curtail the U.S. military mission there. Trump faced widespread criticism, including from members of his own party, when he declared earlier this month that he would pull out nearly all of the approximately 1,000 troops in Syria amid a Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish troops who have been the Pentagon’s main battlefield partner there. But evolving plans now call for a larger residual force that could mean a substantial ongoing campaign.

During his remarks, Trump thanked officials in other nations, including Russia and Turkey, and the Syrian Kurdish forces.


1) Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was a monstrous killer and now he is dead, and I won't lose a wink of sleep.  Let's get that out of the way first.

2) Trump thanked Russia a lot during his speech Sunday.  An awful lot, actually, and gave them top billing over US forces and intelligence agencies that made this possible.  It was American military and intelligence that made this possible, right?  I mean, this couldn't possibly be that Putin's boys gave up al-Baghdadi in order for Trump to pull out of Syria, you know?

3) He was golfing when the raid went down Saturday afternoon, supposedly.  Trump lackey Dan Bongino tweeted out a "stern-faced generals in the War Room" picture with Trump and the Joint Chiefs and former Obama admin photographer Pete Souza called bullshit on it.

4) Not a single Democratic member of Congress was informed of the raid until hours after it happened.  Not Pelosi, not Schiff, not Schumer.  Petty, through and through, Trump told the Russians before Pelosi, and Mike Pence all but confirmed it on FOX News Sunday this morning that this is the new normal.

5) The reason al-Baghdadi had a resurgent ISIS to work with in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan is because of Donald Trump.  Oh, and let's remember that Russia said they killed the guy two years ago.

6) Donald Trump is still going to be impeached, even though we're going to hear all this week that the impeachment process has now "failed" with the death of al-Baghdadi and that Democrats should just "move on".  Don't let him do that.

7) ISIS is still out there.

Trump Trades Blows, Con't

With the Kentucky governor's race just nine days away and both Donald Trump and Mike Pence headed here to shore up support for GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, it's important to note that nobody has done more damage to Kentucky's manufacturing sector than Trump himself, whose tariffs are now collapsing the commodities market and closing the state's last few steel mills.

Brenda Deborde cried throughout her 16-hour shift at the steel plant here when she received official notice this August that her job was being cut.

Deborde had hoped President Trump’s tariffs could revive this once-mighty mill on a bank of the Ohio River, which for much of the 20th century formed the center of economic life in this part of Eastern Kentucky.

She and her husband, Matt, had traveled to welcome the president as he went to a rally in nearby Huntington, W.Va., waving their Trump flag and “Make America Great Again” hat to the motorcade from the side of the road.

“We really thought the tariffs were going to turn us around — that things would go back to being the way it was. We thought it could be a kind of saving grace,” said Deborde, 58.

It wasn’t. By the end of this year, she and Matt will lose their jobs at the plant after almost two decades. They aren’t sure what they will do next.

Last year, Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to try to boost domestic production. It appeared to work, briefly, sending company stock prices higher and leading to more hiring and production.

But that boost now appears short-lived. The industry faces strong head winds threatening to undermine one of the president’s central economic promises ahead of his 2020 reelection campaign.

The stocks of the biggest steel companies — which also rose dramatically when the tariffs first came on — have similarly tumbled over the past year, in some cases by more than 50 percent.

They have been hurt by tepid domestic demand for steel production amid a U.S. manufacturing recession and a global slowdown in economic growth, among other things.

And there are Democrats out here in rural Kentucky who voted for Clinton and prayed the tariffs would save them.

They didn't.

“Everybody here was so excited. I don’t like Trump, but I really thought they would help,” said Kilgore, 48, a union leader who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “Now, I see they didn’t.”

The steelworkers in Ashland, including several who voted for Clinton, do not blame Trump for the closure of the plant. Most said they were grateful that the White House imposed the tariffs, which they considered long overdue, to stem the oversupply of steel in the market from foreign producers. Several believe Trump should have gone further and issued even stricter levies on steel imports.

But many also said that their experience gave them insight into the limits of tariffs for the average worker. Jack Young, a Trump supporter who has worked for 20 years as a pipe fitter at the plant, will lose his job next month. Young requires medication for several heart conditions that costs $6,000 a month and does not know how he will afford it once his health insurance is terminated.

“The tariffs — we thought they’d bring some life back,” Young said. “But they just raised the price of steel.”

Now the price of steel has collapsed to pre-tariff levels, and is continuing to collapse as the global economy is tipping into recession.  Nucor's new steel plant is now being delayed. AK Steel is going under after decades, finished off by Donald Trump's greed and an economic downturn made possible by a tax cut package last year that gave trillions to the rich and left devastation in its wake for the other 90% of us.

This is what Trump did to Kentucky.

We can help change that in nine days.


Sunday Long Read: The Lost City

Jakarta, Indonesia's capital city, one of the most densely populated places on earth, will soon be a memory.  The seas are rising and in this week's Sunday Long Read Wired's Peter Guest tells us that the city is essentially all but doomed by climate change.

Heading north from the city centre to the coastline, Jakarta seems to be collapsing in slow motion. The Indonesian capital sprawls, its black-glass business district giving way to a low-rise hinterland where the bones of the city jut out; long spines of pale concrete pillars bearing kilometres of knotted overpasses and raised highways. In their shadows are industrial estates in various states of abandonment, stalled construction sites already succumbing to the creep of tropical foliage, sluggish waterways clotted with litter, and thousands upon thousands of houses, from clusters of bare-iron shacks to landed three-storey homes, none the same as its neighbour. 
The chaos runs all the way to the seafront, where waterparks, glossy malls and luxury condos jostle for space with container ports and fishing docks crammed so tight with small boats that from above they look like tangles of rusted wire snagged on the shore.
Some of these docks are now hemmed in by giant walls. At Cilincing – a northeastern suburb of the city made up of scattered fishing communities and industrial ports – five-metre-high concrete pillars have been dropped into the shoreline, supporting a sloping buttress that blocks all view of the sea from the land. Less than 50 metres behind it on the landward side is another wall, constructed less than a decade ago, that is now redundant; between them, fishermen use a placid inlet to tie up and maintain their boats.Twenty kilometres of sea walls have been thrown up around Jakarta Bay in the past three years, along with many more reinforcements along river banks, the first phase of a desperate attempt to fortify the city’s waterlogged northern districts. 
Jakarta, a megacity of 30 million people, is sinking. In places along the coastline the ground has subsided by four metres over the last few decades, meaning that the concrete barricades are the only thing preventing whole communities from being engulfed by the sea. 
Although many coastal cities, from New York to Shanghai, have been forced by the threat of climate change to build high walls to protect themselves, there are few places in the world as vulnerable as Jakarta, where a decades-old problem of land subsidence has intersected with sea level rise caused by global warming, creating an existential threat to the city. 
Such is the concern about Jakarta’s future that the national government is considering bailing out. In April, president Joko Widodo – himself a former governor of the city – announced a public search for a new capital for Indonesia, in no small part because of its environmental problems. 
The city’s new walls have bought it some time, but not much, and possibly not enough. Behind them is an alarming case study in how politicking, greed and vested economic interests can lead to a dangerous inertia – a microcosm of the global failure to address climate change. Whether the city saves itself, or whether it becomes the first megacity lost to environmental catastrophe, will depend on a combination of ground-level social change and engineering works of unprecedented scale to hold back the tide. 
“If we don’t do something, we’re doomed,” says Oswar Mungkasa, the city’s deputy governor. “We will be leaving Jakarta.

Imagine if the entire populations of Texas and Louisiana lived in New Orleans or Houston proper, and trying to come up with a defense plan to save the city and the people from increasingly awful hurricanes and flooding and pollution, requiring a reclamation, defense wall and drainage project that would cost tens of billions.

That's kind of the starting place of where Jakarta was ten years ago, only the first project failed miserably.

Now imagine having to try to salvage it.

Good luck.

Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

We've known for some time now that the White House knows full well who the whistleblower is in the Ukraine/Giuliani affair and has known for months.  All the Trump and GOP posturing to "unmask" the whistleblower is just that, posturing.  We know this because that's all Republicans in the depositions over the last several weeks have been asking about, in an effort to discredit them.

Republican lawmakers have used the congressional impeachment inquiry to gather information on a CIA employee who filed a whistleblower complaint, press witnesses on their loyalty to President Trump and advance conspiratorial claims that Ukraine was involved in the 2016 election, according to current and former officials involved in the proceedings.

GOP members and staffers have repeatedly raised the name of a person suspected of filing the whistleblower complaint that exposed Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine to conduct investigations into his political adversaries, officials said.

The Republicans have refrained during hearings from explicitly accusing the individual of filing the explosive complaint with the U.S. intelligence community’s inspector general two months ago, officials said.

But the questions have been interpreted as an attempt “to unmask the whistleblower,” whose identity is shielded under federal law, said several officials with direct knowledge of the depositions. Republicans appear to be seeking ways to discredit the whistleblower as well as other witnesses “by trying to dredge up any information they can,” one official said.

Admitting they know they person's identity is illegal, hence the word games and ridiculous gymnastics, but they know full well who the person is and have for some time.  What they are doing is making it clear to Democrats that the person's identity is compromised, and that it will be revealed sooner or later.  It's witness intimidation.

A Republican staffer disputed assertions that Trump allies are seeking to unmask the whistleblower, arguing that those involved in the impeachment inquiry do not know the person’s identity but have suspicions. A separate senior GOP aide argued that exploring the political leanings of the whistleblower and others testifying before impeachment investigators is a legitimate line of questioning, as their political preferences could taint testimony and findings.

“This is an utterly unfair characterization of how Republicans are using their time in the depositions and advances erroneous facts to benefit Adam Schiff’s partisan effort,” the senior GOP official said in a statement, referring to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). “Our questions have resulted in the unearthing of material that Democrats want to ignore because they run counter to their impeachment quest.”

The first Republican official also argued that Democrats have been asking leading questions and that GOP members feel it is important to highlight facts they believe will be exculpatory for Trump — particularly regarding suggestions that Trump used U.S. aid to Ukraine as an enticement to obtain a political favor. 
As a result, Democrats contend that Republicans are not using the inquiry to uncover facts about the administration’s interactions with Ukraine. “There’s been zero interest [among the GOP] in actually getting to the conduct of the president,” a Democratic lawmaker said. “It’s not the subject of their questioning at all.”

The GOP laying the groundwork now for the screw-job later is important when the hearings move to the televised stage, perhaps as early as next month.  It's why Democrats are moving away from the whistleblower's testimony being vital in the wake of the recent depositions.  After all, if the dumbest Republican Congressman knows who the person is, it's definitely the worst-kept secret in DC.

But trashing the whistleblower as part of the "Deep State conspiracy" against Dear Leader was always going to be the plan and still is.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Last Call For It's All About Revenge Now, Con't

Donald Trump ordered Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to sink a $10 billion Pentagon IT contract for Amazon over the fact CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, according to a new Mattis biography out on Tuesday.

A new biography of former Defense Secretary James Mattis reports President Donald Trump personally got involved in who would win a major $10 billion contract to provide cloud computing services to the Pentagon, according to the website Task & Purpose, which writes about military issues. 
That hotly contested contract was awarded to Microsoft on Friday evening over Amazon in a months-long battle. 
Task & Purpose reports the new book, "Holding The Line: Inside Trump's Pentagon with Secretary Mattis" by former Mattis speechwriter and communications director Guy Snodgrass recounts that Mattis always tried to translate Trump's demands into ethical outcomes. 
According to Snodgrass' book, Trump called Mattis during summer 2018 and directed him to "screw Amazon" out of the opportunity to bid on the contract. 
Task & Purpose obtained an advanced copy of the book. CNN has not yet seen the book. 
For several years Trump has voiced his displeasure with Amazon and Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. He has accused Amazon of taking advantage of the Postal Service although independent investigations have disagreed with that contention. He also has linked his unfavorable view of Washington Post reporting to Amazon although the Post makes clear it is run separately
"Relaying the story to us during Small Group, Mattis said, 'We're not going to do that. This will be done by the book, both legally and ethically,'" Snodgrass wrote according to Task & Purpose. 
The White House did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.

As the story says the contract was put on hold a few months ago by new Defense Secretary Peter Esper after Mattis resigned at the end of last year, and lo and behold, this week Microsoft won that contract.

I'm not sad to see the obnoxious Bezos take a $10 billion hit considering how awful his corporate empire is.  Maybe his shareholders will sue him over this mess and he'll lose his shirt.  But let's not forget that everything Trump does is driven by revenge, and that he's a criminal mobster at heart.  Mattis wouldn't do what Trump wanted, so he was forced out and Trump found someone who was more than willing to hurt Bezos over his news stories.

Things haven't changed much since the Gilded Age, have they.

Greed Is Always In Fashion

Having a Treasury Secretary like Stephen Mnuchin, former Hollywood producer and Wall Street ace, basically guaranteed that Trump's tax scam was going to make everyone already rich even richer, even if they are convicted Reagan-era scumbags like Michael Milken.

These days, the Milken Institute is a leading proponent of a new federal tax break that was intended to coax wealthy investors to plow money into distressed communities known as “opportunity zones.” The institute’s leaders have helped push senior officials in the Trump administration to make the tax incentive more generous, even though it is under fire for being slanted toward the wealthy.

Mr. Milken, it turns out, is in a position to personally gain from some of the changes that his institute has urged the Trump administration to enact. In one case, the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, directly intervened in a way that benefited Mr. Milken, his longtime friend.

It is a vivid illustration of the power that Mr. Milken, who was barred from the securities industry and fined $600 million as part of his 1990 felony conviction, has amassed in President Trump’s Washington. In addition to the favorable tax-policy changes, some of Mr. Trump’s closest advisers — including Mr. Mnuchin, Jared Kushner and Rudolph W. Giuliani — have lobbied the president to pardon Mr. Milken for his crimes, or supported that effort, according to people familiar with the effort.

While the Milken Institute’s advocacy of opportunity zones is public, Mr. Milken’s financial stake in the outcome is not.

The former “junk bond king” has investments in at least two major real estate projects inside federally designated opportunity zones in Nevada, near Mr. Milken’s Lake Tahoe vacation home, according to public records reviewed by The New York Times.
One of those developments, inside an industrial park, is a nearly 700-acre site in which Mr. Milken is a major investor. Last year, after pressure from Mr. Milken’s business partner and other landowners, the Treasury Department ignored its own guidelines on how to select opportunity zones and made the area eligible for the tax break, according to people involved in the discussions and records reviewed by The Times.

The unusual decision was made at the personal instruction of Mr. Mnuchin, according to internal Treasury Department emails. It came shortly after he had spent time with Mr. Milken at an event his institute hosted.

“People were troubled,” said Annie Donovan, who previously ran the Treasury office in charge of designating areas as opportunity zones. She and two of her former colleagues said they were upset that the Treasury secretary was intervening to bend rules, though they said they didn’t realize at the time that Mr. Mnuchin’s friend stood to profit. The agency’s employees, Ms. Donovan said, “were put in a position where they had to compromise the integrity of the process.”

The opportunity zone initiative, tucked into the tax cut bill that Mr. Trump signed into law in 2017, has become one of the White House’s signature initiatives. It allows investors to delay or avoid taxes on capital gains by putting money in projects or companies in more than 8,700 federally designated opportunity zones. Mr. Trump has boasted that it will revitalize downtrodden neighborhoods.

But the incentive, also championed by some prominent Democrats, has been dogged by criticism that it is a gift to wealthy investors and real estate developers. From the start, the tax break targeted people with capital gains, the vast majority of which are held by the very richest investors. The Treasury permitted opportunity zones to encompass not only poor communities but some adjacent affluent neighborhoods. Much of the money so far has flowed to those wealthier areas, including many projects that were planned long before the new law was enacted.

The Trump era, where the greed of the Reagan 80's and the grifts of the Clinton 90's meet to form the new hotness in kleptocracy.  But what did everyone expect from the Trump tax scam?  It's already tanking the economy and we're positing trillion-dollar deficits that suddenly don't matter.

Trump's looting the economy on the way out, and the next crash will have to be dealt with by whatever Democrat's in charge in 2021.

The Reach To Impeach, Con't

House Judiciary Dems are trying to score testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn, and if they're smart, they'll call the Trump regime's bluff on wanting a "completely transparent process" and put McGahn on TV.

Negotiations to make former White House counsel Don McGahn available for a House interview have been active throughout October, the Justice Department indicated Friday, revealing that it has had discussions with the Judiciary Committee five times since Oct. 8.

Those talks — on Oct. 8, 11, 15, 21 and 24 — came despite an Oct. 8 letter from McGahn's successor, Pat Cipollone, declaring that the White House would refuse to cooperate with Democrats' ongoing impeachment inquiry.

"Although the Speaker of the House has announced publicly that, in her view, the House has now commenced an impeachment inquiry ... the Administration remains open to continued discussion of a possible Committee interview, under appropriate terms and conditions, of Mr. McGahn," Justice Department attorneys wrote in a brief filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., in response to Democrats' efforts to enforce a subpoena requiring McGahn's testimony.

House attorneys have argued that they're at an impasse with the Justice Department over obtaining McGahn's testimony, which they have been seeking since special counsel Robert Mueller revealed in April that he was a central witness to potential obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump. McGahn refused to comply with a subpoena for his testimony in May and the Judiciary Committee filed suit in July, declaring that his testimony is crucial to determine whether the House should file articles of impeachment against Trump. Since then, sporadic talks with the Justice Department have reached no conclusion.

DOJ argues that the House's impeachment inquiry is "different" than the Judiciary Committee's pursuit of McGahn, even though Pelosi has blessed the panel's pursuit of potential articles of impeachment based on Mueller's findings.

The Justice Department's suggestion that talks were ongoing in October is misleading, a source briefed on the discussions told POLITICO.

"We have an obligation to try to reach an accommodation, even now," the source said, "but the White House has only ever discussed terms they know are unacceptable to us

Of course, the White House position that the impeachment inquiry "doesn't count" got a whole lot more untenable on Friday.

A federal judge on Friday ruled that the Justice Department must turn over former special counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury evidence to the House Judiciary Committee, a groundbreaking victory for Democrats in their effort to investigate whether President Donald Trump should be impeached for obstructing the long-running Russia probe.

In a double victory for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Judge Beryl Howell — the chief federal judge in Washington — ruled that the impeachment inquiry Democrats have launched is valid even though the House hasn't taken a formal vote on it. The decision rejects arguments by DOJ and congressional Republicans that a formal vote is necessary to launch impeachment proceedings.

"Even in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry," Howell determined, dismissing GOP arguments as unsupported.

Republicans had claimed that the House Judiciary Committee cannot begin impeachment proceedings without a formal vote of the House — and that even if it could, Pelosi is not empowered to simply grant that authority to the Judiciary Committee. But Howell rejected the arguments out of hand.

"These contentions are, at worst, red herrings and, at best, incorrect," ruled Howell, an appointee of former President Barack Obama.

In her ruling, Howell ordered the DOJ to provide by Oct. 30 "[a]ll portions of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election that were redacted pursuant to" grand jury restrictions.

The order also requires the Justice Department to provide "any underlying transcripts or exhibits referenced in the portions of the Mueller Report that were redacted" pursuant to those restrictions.

“The court’s thoughtful ruling recognizes that our impeachment inquiry fully comports with the Constitution and thoroughly rejects the spurious White House claims to the contrary,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.)

Needless to say, the DoJ will have to appeal this one pretty quickly the the DC Circuit Court since the deadline is Wednesday.  I'm not sure how quickly it will move after that, and I'm still not 100% sure that the White House wants to push this to SCOTUS, but giving Mueller grand jury info to the House Judiciary means that things covered up by Barr could see the light of day, and that could be fatal for Trump.

They'll fight this all the way, as they don't have a choice.

Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

Some Saturday deposition action today in DC as justice works a weekend, but State Department official Phil Reeker isn't expected to drop any huge new information blockbusters, but rather to corroborate what other State Department officials have said over the last two weeks.

The top State Department official overseeing US policy in Europe and Eurasia is expected to become the latest witness in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.  
Ambassador Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees on Saturday. As has been the case for all the other State Department officials who have testified in the probe, Reeker will likely be subpoenaed to appear. 
He is well-regarded among those who know him, with multiple officials pointing to his smarts. 
"He is one of the more creative and independent-minded people you will find in the State Department," a former State Department official who knows him told CNN. "He is a problem-solver." 
However, sources suggest he won't be bringing any bombshells to his testimony. 
"I have a feeling his testimony will simply be repeating what other people said," the former State Department official said, noting Reeker's status as an acting secretary. 
"He is in a tenuous position. I do not think he is in a position to go to bat for the foreign service because if he puts up a stink I am not sure he will stick around for much longer," a State Department official said. "They could reassign him at moment's notice." 
Reeker has served in the role in an acting capacity since March following the departure of A. Wess Mitchell in February. He has known former US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, who was an early witness in the impeachment inquiry, for decades. According to the former State Department official, the two would check in with each other, and Volker wanted to keep Reeker in the loop on what was happening with US-Ukrainian relations. That official said they did discuss President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and that Volker had told Reeker about when he met with Giuliani. Reeker seemed to indicate he did not want to get involved with the matter, according to the official. 

Fine with me, it would be nice to have a day or two without a brand-new impeachable offense by Trump, but the weekend is young, and Reeker could have a shocker or two.  Who knows?
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