Monday, January 28, 2019

Last Call For Russian (Away) From Judgment

House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, led by Rep. Adam Schiff, are eager to get to work reopening the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump regime's role in that mess, but they can't lift a finger until Republicans name their committee members in addition to ranking Republican Devin Nunes, and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy has no apparent plans to actually do that.

The new leadership on the House intelligence committee is eager to revive the panel’s probe into the connections between Donald Trump’s camp and Russia, an urgency underscored by the latest indictment of a Trump associate accused of lying to its investigation. But three weeks into the Democratic-controlled Congress, House Republicans haven’t taken a critical step necessary for the committee to begin any work at all
The House Republican leadership has yet to name the intelligence committee’s Republican membership for the new Congress, with the exception of retaining Devin Nunes as ranking Republican. Without doing so, the committee is stalled—no hearings, no internal business meetings. Democrats announced their membership roster on Jan. 16, adding Val Demings, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Peter Welch to their 10 current members. (This Republican intransigence was first noted by The Rachel Maddow Show.) 
It’s not clear what the holdup is. “That will be announced when it is ready,” said Matt Sparks, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who did not address the reasons for the delay. A representative for Nunes—who does not pick the membership—did not respond to The Daily Beast's inquiries. 
Thus far, Democrats on the panel are not accusing the House GOP of deliberately dragging its feet on the committee appointments. Some Democrats are hopeful the GOP will name its roster by next week. But, a Democratic committee aide said, “There is an urgency in getting all of our transcripts to Mueller that we cannot ignore.” 
Friday’s indictment of Trump adviser Roger Stone underscored both that urgency and the stakes of the holdup. Among the offenses Mueller accuses Stone of committing are obstruction and false statements arising from his September 2017 testimony to the House intelligence committee, then under GOP management. Stone is the second such person to be indicted related to lying to the committee’s Russia probe, after ex-Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

Committee Democrats suspect others of having lied or otherwise giving them misleading testimony. One, identified by Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes, is Erik Prince, the founder of mercenary company Blackwater. (Some on the panel want several witnesses back for additional testimony, including Donald Trump Jr., while stopping short of saying those others lied as well.) 
Adam Schiff, the new Democratic chairman of the committee, has said for months that an early order of business for the panel is to provide Mueller with every transcript of every witness before its Russia inquiry, which may lead to additional indictments. That hasn’t happened yet—and until the Republicans formally join the committee, it can’t. Schiff, in a Friday statement following Stone’s indictment, called the transcript provision “the first order of business” facing the panel—when it can get down to business, that is.

It's pretty clear what the holdup is.  House Republicans know that Schiff won't have to roller skate backwards and uphill anymore to unload all kinds of juicy information on Trump's inner circle, and the GOP is stalling for as long as possible.  Mueller may want to keep his team plugging any leaks, but Schiff is going to flow like Niagra Falls and the last thing Trump wants is televised hearings with Erik Prince or Donald Jr. in the dock, under subpoena and under oath.

Now I'm pretty sure Schiff isn't going to blow a hole in the side of the Mueller probe in his rush to the front page (at least I'm very hopeful he's a better person than that) but releasing transcripts and recalling witnesses to clarify matters can definitely make Trump sweat most of his orange bronzer off.

How long McCarthy can get away with this, we'll see.  If Nancy Pelosi steps in and holds a vote to change the rules, things could get bad for him very quickly (as Trump himself discovered at his own peril.)  Maybe McCarthy was buying time until the shutdown was resolved, and maybe he'll keep sandbagging until February 15th, but eventually Schiff is going to get his pound of orange flesh.

A Brief(ing) Sojuorn Into State Media

As I mentioned last week, Donald Trump all but announced that the White House daily briefing with Mouth of Sauron Sarah Huckabee Sanders is dead, and won't be coming back.

President Trump said Tuesday that he directed White House press secretary Sarah Sanders “not to bother” with press briefings because he believes that reporters are rude to her and that most members of the media will not cover the administration fairly.

Press briefings, which used to be a near-daily occurrence, have become a rarity in the Trump White House. Sanders has not provided an on-camera briefing for more than a month, including the duration of the partial government shutdown.

“The reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the ‘podium’ much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately, in particular certain members of the press,” Trump said on Twitter. “I told her not to bother, the word gets out anyway! Most will never cover us fairly & hence, the term, Fake News!”

Of course, Trump still needs to catapult the propaganda, so White House briefings now take place almost exclusively on the FOX Trump State Media Channel.

It’s generally, like, you just watch Fox and run outside,” says a White House correspondent.

Keeping tabs on the No. 1 cable-news network helps fill a basic need for White House reporters: Quotes, feedback, clips, audio. That’s because officials like press secretary Sarah Sanders and counselor Kellyanne Conway are highly partial to doing live interviews with Fox News. From the start of the government shutdown (Dec. 22) until last Friday, Sanders did eight interviews on Fox shows of one sort or another (including Fox Business and “Fox News Sunday”) and two on other networks, including an appearance last Friday on CNN, according to Media Matters for America.

These sessions often force Sanders & Co. out of their White House lairs and into the crosshairs of the mainstream media. If the White House press corps, for example, learns that Sanders is doing a “Fox & Friends” interview on the White House lawn at 8:15 a.m., it can take up positions nearby in the hope of lobbing a few questions once she’s done. In an interview on “Fox & Friends” last Wednesday, Sanders herself referenced the arrangement: “I stopped last night after I finished an interview where I took questions. ... I’m sure I’ll do that again here in a few minutes,” she said.

Newshounds are familiar with the Q-and-A sessions that Sanders referenced. The White House official walks up to a cluster of waiting reporters, cameras and microphones and takes a number of questions.

Those opportunities, however, don’t just drop from the gloomy winter sky. Someone has to figure out when Sanders is going out to chat with Fox News. Then someone has to hustle the equipment out the door and set it up. And then someone has to make sure that Sanders, once she’s done with her interview, presents herself to take questions before ducking back into the White House.

“They regularly are on Fox and because they have to come out on the driveway ... If you want on-camera answers to your questions, you have to set up on the driveway,” says Eamon Javers, a White House correspondent who has been with CNBC since 2010. White House reporters can enter the offices of White House communications staffers — Sanders and Hogan Gidley, for example — but they can’t run their cameras in those areas. Outside, though, is fair game. According to Javers, the reportorial scrum formerly shadowed White House officials as they walked back inside from their TV interviews, but that got messy: Cameras and audio equipment and bodies often got tangled up. So the crew established a beachhead of sorts on the driveway near the spot where the officials reenter their workspace.

White House reporters have long chased officials around the complex, of course. These days, though, it’s a higher-stakes proposition. “In past years, you’d see a handful of reporters buttonholing administration officials back and forth to live shot positions. But now, it feels like the bulk of the White House press corps is trundling after nearly every official who comes out on the driveway,” says Javers. Such are the exigencies of these times: Sanders’s absence from the lectern has helped the Trump White House establish an all-time record lapse in on-camera briefings. "Look, we’ll see what happens,” she said when asked on “Fox & Friends” whether she was done with this former staple of White House accountability. Gidley, for his part, said on Fox News that his colleague Sanders would resume briefings “when she finds a reason to do that.” Apparently she hasn’t yet found the informing-the-public reason.

Nor will she ever have to do so, especially if the media is going to play along completely and allow her to get away with being relegated to FOX's sloppy seconds.

At this point, FOX News is all but State Media in name, and increasingly they are the only game in town.

The Drums Of War, Con't

As you might remember from Turkey's abortive coup from July 2016, you have to have as many of the five A's in place as possible before you start up the coup-coup clock:
  • Armed forces
  • Airwaves
  • Airports
  • Allies
  • and the Asshole in charge you're trying to overthrow.
In Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido has only one of those five right now in his declared coup against President Nicolas Maduro, but it's a big one: in the Allies category, he has the Trump regime.  He's got enough breathing room to try to get the other four, starting with the Armed Forces.

The battle for control of Venezuela turned Sunday to the armed forces as President Nicolas Maduro, wearing tan military fatigues, attended army exercises, met with troops and watched as tanks fired into a hillside.

At the same time, supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido handed out leaflets to soldiers, urging them to reject the socialist leader and explaining how they could be eligible for amnesty if they help return Venezuela to democracy.

“We are waiting for you, the soldiers of Venezuela,” Guaido told a news conference, urging the armed forces not to shoot fellow Venezuelans.

“We are waiting for you and the commitment you have to our constitution.”

Sunday’s dueling appeals to the military followed a tense week as Venezuela took center stage in a global debate over who had a legitimate claim to power in the South American nation.

Guaido's move comes as the Trump regime's assets in Venezuela continue to buy him time.

Maduro broke relations with the United States on Wednesday after the Trump administration and many other nations in the region recognized Guaido, the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as Venezuela’s interim president, a move that Maduro denounced as a coup attempt.

Maduro gave U.S. diplomats 72 hours to leave the country, but the Trump administration said it wouldn’t comply, arguing that Maduro is no longer Venezuela’s legitimate president. That set the stage for a showdown at the hilltop U.S. Embassy compound Saturday night, when the deadline was to expire.

But as the sun set on Venezuela’s capital, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Maduro’s government was suspending the expulsion to provide a 30-day window for negotiations about setting up a “U.S. interests office” in Venezuela and a similar Venezuelan office in the United States. The U.S. and Cuba had a similar arrangement for decades before the Obama administration restored diplomatic relations with the communist-run island.

The State Department did not confirm the Venezuelan government’s account, reiterating only that its priority remains the safety of its personnel and that it has no plans to close the embassy.

This of course is not a sustainable situation, with Maduro holding the local military and Guaido with American allies.  Something's going to give and soon, either the US will hang Guaido out to dry (literally) and work with Maduro, or Guaido is going to find military resources of his own.  Maduro's not going to let the guy just putter around the garden, Guaido's three options now are he's President, he's in exile, or he's a corpse.

Which of the three will happen?  I'm not sure.  This is Donald Trump that Guaido has bet his life on, and Trump has this habit of screwing over people in the end.  Trump may build a coalition and start bombing the hell out of things down there, he may do it alone too.  He may piss off Russia, he may be playing along with Putin.  There's a lot of factors here.

But I do know that one miscalculation and all of this goes up in flames.

And Trump, well, Trump miscalculates a lot.


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