Sunday, January 27, 2019

Last Call For It's Mueller Time: Rolling Stone Edition, Con't

As I pointed out yesterday, Mueller has flipped all the major players that he has charged so far.  No surprise then that it certainly didn't take long for newly collared Roger Stone to go from "I'll never testify against Donald Trump" to signalling cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, did it?

Roger Stone, following a pre-dawn arrest at his home in Florida and ahead of an arraignment in Washington on Tuesday, said that he would discuss cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, if asked.

"You know, that’s a question I would have to –- I have to determine after my attorneys have some discussion," Stone told ABC News' Chief Anchor George Stephanopolous on “This Week” Sunday. "If there’s wrongdoing by other people in the campaign that I know about, which I know of none, but if there is I would certainly testify honestly. I’d also testify honestly about any other matter, including any communications with the president. It’s true that we spoke on the phone, but those communications are political in nature, they’re benign, and there is –- there is certainly no conspiracy with Russia. The president’s right, there is no Russia collusion."

Stone, 66, President Donald Trump’s longtime friend and a veteran political operative, was arrested after the special counsel filed a seven-count indictment against him as part of an ongoing probe into Russia interference during the 2016 election.

Now anybody who is in a position to know truly how much trouble Roger Stone is in (even a short prison sentence at Stone's age could be a life sentence) can read between the lines that Stone wants a deal here. The question is whther or not Stone has anything to offer Mueller that he doesn't already have. 

There's two positions on this, one, that Stone has nothing Mueller wants and that Mueller is going to put him in prison for the rest of his natural life as Daily Beast writer Peter Zeidenberg suggests:

Finally, do not expect to see Special Counsel Robert Mueller make any attempt to flip Stone and have him cooperate. A defendant like Stone is far more trouble than he is worth to a prosecutor. Stone is too untrustworthy for a prosecutor to ever rely upon. He has told so many documented lies, and bragged so often about his dirty tricks, that he simply has too much baggage to deal with even if here to want to cooperate—which seems unlikely in any event. Mueller, I suspect, would not even be willing to engage in a preliminary debrief with Stone to just test the possibility of cooperation out of concern that Stone would immediately go on television with his pals at Fox News to decry Mueller’s Gestapo tactics.

In short, Mueller does not need Stone to get to someone else and, even if he did, he could not rely on whatever Stone told him. Stone has nothing to sell that Mueller would be interested in buying.

Stone is clearly enjoying being in the spotlight now. He should enjoy it while he can. His remaining years won’t be nearly as pleasant.

Position two is Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez and his theory in his op-ed in the NY Times that Stone's electronic communications are the real target.

Of course, as the indictment also makes clear, the special counsel has already managed to get its hands on plenty of Mr. Stone’s communications by other means — but one seeming exception jumps out. In a text exchange between Mr. Stone and a “supporter involved with the Trump Campaign,” Mr. Mueller pointedly quotes Mr. Stone’s request to “talk on a secure line — got WhatsApp?” There the direct quotes abruptly end, and the indictment instead paraphrases what Mr. Stone “subsequently told the supporter.” Though it’s not directly relevant to his alleged false statements, the special counsel is taking pains to establish that Mr. Stone made a habit of moving sensitive conversations to encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp — meaning that, unlike ordinary emails, the messages could not be obtained directly from the service provider.

The clear implication is that any truly incriminating communications would have been conducted in encrypted form — and thus could be obtained only directly from Mr. Stone’s own phones and laptops. And while Mr. Stone likely has limited value as a cooperating witness — it’s hard to put someone on the stand after charging them with lying to obstruct justice — the charges against him provide leverage in the event his cooperation is needed to unlock those devices by supplying a cryptographic passphrase.

Of course, Mr. Mueller is likely interested in his communications with Trump campaign officials, but the detailed charges filed against the Russian hackers alleged to have broken into the Democratic National Committee’s servers also show the special counsel’s keen interest in Mr. Stone’s communications with the hacker “Guccifer 2.0,” an identity said to have been used as a front for the Russian intruders. By Mr. Stone’s own admission, he had a brief exchange with “Guccifer” via private Twitter messages. On Mr. Stone’s account, Guccifer enthusiastically offered his assistance — at the same time we now know Mr. Stone was vigorously pursuing advance knowledge of what other embarrassing material stolen from Mr. Trump’s opponents might soon be released — and Mr. Stone failed to even dignify the offer with a reply. With no easy way of getting hold of “Guccifer’s” cellphone, searching Mr. Stone’s devices might be the only reliable way for the special counsel to discover whether the conversation in fact continued on a more “secure line.”

Keep in mind that these possibilities aren't mutually exclusive, either.

Stone certainly should keep it in mind, at least.

Get Gillum: The Movie

Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis certainly isn't wasting any time when it comes to seeking vengeance against the man DeSantis beat in last year's gubernatorial race, Tallahassee's Democrat Mayor Andrew Gillum.  The race was ugly and DeSantis got nailed several times by the press for being a racist, but in the end he eked out a win anyway.  So when the FBI investigation into Tallahassee's City Hall didn't collar Gillum, DeSantis has decided to go the state route to abuse his power to punish the man who called him a racist on national TV by bringing state ethics charges against Gillum.

The Florida Commission on Ethics found probable cause today that former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor in 2018, violated state ethics laws when he allegedly accepted gifts during on out-of-town excursions with lobbyists and vendors and didn't report them.

The Ethics Commission’s vote happened behind closed doors. But the probable cause finding was confirmed by Gillum’s attorney, Barry Richard of Tallahassee, and Erwin Jackson, a local businessman who filed a state ethics complaint against Gillum in 2017.

Allegations of ethical improprieties over trips Gillum took while he was mayor to Costa Rica and New York City dogged him in the closing days of the general election. Depending on how the case shakes out, the allegations could further tarnish Gillum, whose political aspirations didn’t end with his defeat in the governor’s race to former GOP Congressman Ron DeSantis.

Gillum has the option of entering into a settlement with the Ethics Commission, which typically involves an admission of guilt, or contesting the allegations in a court-like administrative hearing.

Jackson’s ethics complaint alleged Gillum violated state law when he traveled to Costa Rica in May 2016 and New York City in August 2016. Both of the trips overlapped with with attempts by undercover FBI agents investigating public corruption to get close to Gillum.

During the Costa Rica trip, Corey, who later turned against Gillum, sent the mayor a calendar invitation for the two of them to meet with one of the undercover agents, who posed as a developer from Atlanta under the guise of Mike Miller. During the New York City trip, Gillum went on outings with Corey, Miller and at least one other undercover FBI agent, including a boat ride around Liberty Island and a performance of the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

Gillum’s campaign released documents during the campaign that it said proved Gillum paid for all of his expenses on the Costa Rica trip. Gillum also said his brother, Marcus Gillum, gave him the ticket to “Hamilton” and that he stayed one night with his brother in a downtown hotel where Corey and the undercover agents also had rooms.

After Gillum publicly distanced himself from Corey, a central figure in the FBI’s investigation, their friendship ended in acrimony. Working with Chris Kise, a Tallahassee attorney, Corey released emails calculated to damage Gillum in the closing days of the general election campaign.

It's obvious here that DeSantis is behind the effort to turn the FBI's investigation that so far has cleared Gillum into state ethics charges.  DeSantis isn't going to rest until Gillum is behind bars, because the worst thing a black person could ever do to a white racist politician is call them a racist during the campaign and have people believe that's true.

Stay tuned.

Sunday Long Read: One Hell Of A Commute

It's almost impossible today for tens of millions of women in America to get an abortion if they want one, and this is before the inevitable Roberts Court ruling that will almost certainly allow states to criminalize it.

The protesters are already positioned when she pulls up in her rental car. One lurches at women approaching the clinic, rosary beads dangling from her outstretched palm. Another hands patients tiny fetus dolls that match their skin color.

The doctor tries to ignore them. There are demonstrators at every abortion clinic and they’re all the same, she thinks: a nuisance. In Northern California, where she lives, a man yells, “Don’t take the blood money,” as she arrives at work.

At least here, in Dallas, the protesters mostly stay on the sidewalk. The doctor slips inside the mirrored glass doors of the clinic — one of the busiest abortion facilities in the United States.

She comes here once a month, part of an unofficial network of physicians who travel across state lines to perform abortions in places where few doctors are willing.

It’s not yet 9 a.m., and the clinic’s waiting rooms are filled, navigating them a game of human Tetris. Women with their husbands. Women pushing strollers. Women alone.

The young doctor will spend 60 hours in Dallas this trip and perform 50 abortions. She will have to run in the hallways to keep up with her packed schedule.

The California physician was one of more than a dozen doctors interviewed by The Times who commute to other states to perform abortions. She allowed a reporter and a photographer to accompany her to Dallas on the condition that she not be named and that her face not be shown in photographs, citing concerns for her personal safety.

The doctor acknowledged that when she began traveling out of state to perform abortions, she was nervous, recalling stories of abortion providers who have been attacked or harassed while far from home. But she said that abortion doctors living in states where access has been restricted face heightened danger and deserve her help.

“I can’t have people scare me away,” she said.

California doctors go to other states to help perform abortions because in red states, being a doctor who is willing to perform the procedure means you and your family will be a target for the rest of your life.  However long -- or short -- it may be.

Now watch what happens when Roe is overturned.

The Drums Of War, Con't

As President Donald Trump announced in the Rose Garden on Friday that his quixotic bid to secure more than $5 billion for a border wall would end with no money, he was met with applause from his Cabinet secretaries and senior aides. 
But the clapping belied a pervasive sense of defeat. 
Instead of emerging victorious, many of Trump's allies are walking away from a record-breaking government shutdown feeling outplayed, not least by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The President is now more unpopular than he was before the shutdown began, sacked with blame for the 35-day lapse in funding. 
Friday's announcement was an extraordinary comedown that left many in the White House and those who support Trump marveling at the futility of the preceding four weeks of brinkmanship. In the eyes of some aides and outside advisers, an entire fruitless month has passed that cannot be recouped, a waste of the most valuable asset a White House has: the President's attention and time. 
"A humiliating loss for a man that rarely loses," one Trump adviser said. "I miss winning."

But press briefings are back, and if you're wodering why, it's because the Trumpies want to get a hold of the narrative again.  It looks like Dr. Propaganda has ordered 100ccs of regime change stat in Venezuela and Team Trump is on board for a classic wag the dog scenario, that will almost certainly result in either a miscalculation or purposeful move leading to military action.

The United States on Saturday called on the world to “pick a side” on Venezuela and urged countries to financially disconnect from Nicolas Maduro’s government, while European powers signaled they were set to follow Washington in recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful leader.

In heated back-and-forth exchanges at a United Nations Security Council meeting, the opposing camp led by Venezuela and Russia, which has invested heavily in Venezuela’s oil industry, accused Washington of attempting a coup, and lambasted Europeans’ demand that elections be called within eight days.

Guaido, who took the helm of the National Assembly on Jan. 5, proclaimed himself interim president on Wednesday. The United States, Canada and a string of Latin American countries recognized the young leader in quick succession. Maduro, who has led the oil-rich nation since 2013 and has the support of the armed forces, has refused to stand down.

But on Saturday Guaido gained support from a key military official. Venezuela’s defense attache to Washington, Colonel Jose Luis Silva, told Reuters that he has broken with the Maduro government and recognized Guaido as interim president.

Speaking at the U.N. meeting called by the United States, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Maduro’s “socialist experiment” had caused the economy to collapse and reduced ordinary Venezuelans to rooting through dumpsters for food.

“Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side. ... Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem,” Pompeo told the council. “We call on all members of the Security Council to support Venezuela’s democratic transition and interim President Guaido’s role.

Pompeo also called on the international community to disconnect their financial systems from Maduro’s regime. Washington has signaled it was ready to step up economic measures to try to drive Maduro from power, but on Saturday Pompeo declined to elaborate on any such plans.

We're not that far our from a "Coalition of the Willing™" scenario, because Trump's gonna need to throw a crappy little country against the wall just to prove he's serious after getting smoked by Nancy Pelosi on his wall, and it's definitely looking like Venezuela is the next big winner in a long line of countries that the US will smack around in order to make voters forget about garbage domestic policy.

At least it's not Iran, I guess.
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