Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Were They Talking About?

Via the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.

But the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. At one point last summer, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event that he hoped Russian intelligence services had stolen Hillary Clinton’s emails and would make them public.

So if there’s no evidence so far that they were colluding with Russia on the hacking, what were they talking about?  Borscht recipes?  Doping the Olympics?  Arranging dates?

Wishful Thinking

From the Nothing To See Here files:

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), meanwhile, told NBC News’ Kasie Hunt, in response to a question about the possibility of a bipartisan investigation of Flynn scandal, “That situation has taken care of itself.”

With any luck that statement will come back to haunt him like “third-rate burglary” haunted the Nixon administration.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Imagine The Howls

Via the Washington Post:

Trump was aware that his national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled White House officials and Vice President Pence for “weeks” before he was forced to resign on Monday night.

Trump was briefed by White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador “immediately” after McGahn was informed that Flynn had misled Pence, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday.

“We’ve been reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to Gen. Flynn on a daily basis for a few weeks, trying to ascertain the truth,” Spicer said.

The comments contradict the impression given by Trump on Friday aboard Air Force One that he was not familiar with a Washington Post report that revealed that Flynn had not told the truth about the calls.

“I don’t know about that. I haven’t seen it. What report is that? I haven’t seen that. I’ll look into that,” Trump told the plane.

If President Obama had known that one of his top advisers had not just lied to Vice President Biden and the White House staff but lied about it for weeks, the impeachment would have been over and done in twenty minutes.

Oh, and if Mike Pence had any scruples whatsoever, he’d tell Trump to get bent and resign.  Yeah, that’ll happen.

Blackmail Is Such An Ugly Word

But that’s what Michael Flynn was vulnerable to after playing footsies with the Russians.

The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said.

The message, delivered by Sally Q. Yates and a senior career national security official to the White House counsel, was prompted by concerns that ­Flynn, when asked about his calls and texts with the Russian diplomat, had told Vice ­President-elect Mike Pence and others that he had not discussed the Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the officials said. It is unclear what the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, did with the information.

Flynn resigned Monday night in the wake of revelations about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

This goes back a while; the Trump people knew about this even before Trump was sworn in but apparently they either thought it would blow over or it wouldn’t leak out.  All that mindset does is demonstrate that these folks have no idea how things work in Washington.

This isn’t over; perhaps we’ll be treated to legal action since now we’re finding out that Gen. Flynn was paid by the Russians for his trip to Moscow in 2015.

In addition, the Army has been investigating whether Mr. Flynn received money from the Russian government during a trip he took to Moscow in 2015, according to two defense officials. Such a payment might violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits former military officers from receiving money from a foreign government without consent from Congress. The defense officials said there was no record that Mr. Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, filed the required paperwork for the trip.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Reading

The Two-Year Presidency — Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post.

Good news: In two years, we’ll have a new president. Bad news: If we make it that long.

My “good” prediction is based on the Law of the Pendulum. Enough Americans, including most independent voters, will be so ready to shed Donald Trump and his little shop of horrors that the 2018 midterm elections are all but certain to be a landslide — no, make that a mudslide — sweep of the House and Senate. If Republicans took both houses in a groundswell of the people’s rejection of Obamacare, Democrats will take them back in a tsunami of protest.

Once ensconced, it would take a Democratic majority approximately 30 seconds to begin impeachment proceedings selecting from an accumulating pile of lies, overreach and just plain sloppiness. That is, assuming Trump hasn’t already been shown the exit.

Or that he hasn’t declared martial law (all those anarchists, you know) and effectively silenced dissent. We’re already well on our way to the latter via Trump’s incessant attacks on the media — “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth” — and press secretary Sean Spicer’s rabid-chihuahua, daily press briefings. (Note to Sean: Whatever he’s promised you, it’s not worth becoming Melissa McCarthy’s punching bag. But really, don’t stop.)With luck, and Cabinet-level courage that is not much in evidence, there’s a chance we won’t have to wait two long years, during which, let’s face it, anything could happen. In anticipation of circumstances warranting a speedier presidential replacement, wiser minds added Section 4 to the 25th Amendment, which removes the president if a majority of the Cabinet and the vice president think it necessary, i.e., if the president is injured or falls too ill to serve. Or, by extension, by being so incompetent — or not-quite-right — that he or she poses a threat to the nation and must be removed immediately and replaced by the vice president.

Aren’t we there, yet?

Thus far, Trump and his henchmen have conducted a full frontal assault on civil liberties, open government and religious freedom, as well as instigating or condoning a cascade of ethics violations ranging from the serious (business conflicts of interest) to the absurd (attacking a department store for dropping his daughter’s fashion line). And, no, it’s not just a father defending his daughter. It’s the president of the United States bullying a particular business and, more generally, making a public case against free enterprise.

To an objective observer, it would seem impossible to defend the perilous absurdities emanating from the White House and from at least one executive agency, the Agriculture Department, which recently scrubbed animal abuse reports from its website, leaving puppies, kittens, horses and others to fend for themselves.

In a hopeful note, a few Republicans are speaking out, but the list is short.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz recently got a taste of what’s ahead for Republican incumbents. Facing an unruly crowd at a town hall meeting in Utah, the House Oversight Committee chairman was booed nearly every time he mentioned Trump. Even if many in the crowd were members of opposition groups, the evening provided a glimpse of the next two years. From 2010’s tea party to 2018’s resistance, the pendulum barely had time to pause before beginning its leftward trek.

While we wait for it to someday find the nation’s center, where so many wait impatiently, it seems clear that the president, who swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, has never read it. Nor, apparently, has he ever even watched a Hollywood rendering of the presidency. A single episode of “The West Wing” would have taught Trump more about his new job than he seems to know — or care.

Far more compelling than keeping his promise to act presidential is keeping campaign promises against reason, signing poorly conceived executive orders, bashing the judicial and legislative branches, and tweeting his spleen to a wondering and worrying world.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Short Takes

Appeals court rules unanimously against Trump’s executive order on immigration.

It’s a no-no: Conway gets schooled on hawking Ivanka merchandise.

Heavy winter storm cancels thousands of flights in the Northeast.

Russian airstrike kills Turkish soldiers.

Aretha Franklin announces her retirement.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Friday, January 13, 2017

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Ethics? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Ethics

Welcome to the new era of accountability.

Defying the wishes of their top leaders, House Republicans voted behind closed doors Monday night to rein in the independent ethics office created eight years ago in the wake of a series of embarrassing congressional scandals.

The 119-to-74 vote during a GOP conference meeting means that the House rules package expected to be adopted Tuesday, the first day of the 115th Congress, would rename the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) as the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and place it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee.

Under the proposed new rules, the office could not employ a spokesperson, investigate anonymous tips or refer criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the express consent of the Ethics Committee, which would gain the power to summarily end any OCE probe.

The OCE was created in 2008 to address concerns that the Ethics Committee had been too timid in pursuing allegations of wrongdoing by House members. Under the current House ethics regime, the OCE is empowered to release a public report of its findings even if the Ethics Committee chooses not to take further action against a member.

The move to place the OCE under the Ethics Committee’s aegis stands to please many lawmakers who have been wary of having their dirty laundry aired by the independent entity, but some Republicans feared that rolling back a high-profile ethical reform would send a negative message as the GOP assumes unified control in Washington. President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to “drain the swamp” and has proposed a series of his own ethics reforms.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) opposed the amendment to the House rules package, speaking out against it in the Monday evening conference meeting, according to two people in the room.

But the measure’s sponsor, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), said in a statement that it “builds upon and strengthens” the current arrangement and that it improves the due process rights for the House members under investigation and witnesses interviewed in the course of OCE probes.

This will really make America great again.

Update: Well, that didn’t last long.

After a fierce public backlash, the House GOP reversed course and withdrew the rules change that would have gutted the Office of Congressional Ethics, according to members who were present at the emergency GOP meeting mid-day Tuesday.

We just have to be on their ass all the time or else they’re going to get away with more of this.

Friday, November 4, 2016

“Trumplandia” — The FBI Has It In For Hillary Clinton

Spencer Ackerman in The Guardian:

Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election.

Current and former FBI officials, none of whom were willing or cleared to speak on the record, have described a chaotic internal climate that resulted from outrage over director James Comey’s July decision not to recommend an indictment over Clinton’s maintenance of a private email server on which classified information transited.

“The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent.

This atmosphere raises major questions about how Comey and the bureau he is slated to run for the next seven years can work with Clinton should she win the White House.

The currently serving FBI agent said Clinton is “the antichrist personified to a large swath of FBI personnel,” and that “the reason why they’re leaking is they’re pro-Trump.”

The agent called the bureau “Trumplandia”, with some colleagues openly discussing voting for a GOP nominee who has garnered unprecedented condemnation from the party’s national security wing and who has pledged to jail Clinton if elected.

At the same time, other sources dispute the depth of support for Trump within the bureau, though they uniformly stated that Clinton is viewed highly unfavorably.

“There are lots of people who don’t think Trump is qualified, but also believe Clinton is corrupt. What you hear a lot is that it’s a bad choice, between an incompetent and a corrupt politician,” said a former FBI official.

So what’s going to happen when Hillary Clinton is the president and the FBI works for her?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Short Takes

Militants attack police academy in Pakistan; many killed.

Vatican to help mediate political situation in Venezuela.

Ex-attorney general of Pennsylvania sentenced to prison.

Pentagon trying to get back recruitment bonuses.

No kidding: Study says guns on campus won’t make them safer.

Game 1 of the World Series is tonight in Cleveland.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It Already Looks Like A Bribe

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi tells us that she didn’t return the campaign donation she got from Donald Trump right after she lost interest in joining the suit against “Trump University” because to do so would have looked suspicious.

At a hastily called news conference before the Cabinet meeting, Bondi said her only regret was not meeting with reporters earlier to discuss an array of Trump-related documents, released by her office in April, that lay out the Trump University chronology.

“I would never, ever trade any campaign donation — that’s absurd — for some type of favor to anyone,” Bondi said.

Returning the contribution also was never seriously considered, she said.

“If I had returned it, you would have reported, ‘Bondi accepted bribe, got caught, and returned it,’ ” she said. “There was nothing improper about it, so there was no reason to return it.”

There’s another really old profession that deals in favors for money, but I’ll pass up the comparison for now and just say that if someone is worried about improper impressions, there’s a pretty good reason that thought occurs to them: it’s because it is improper.

Other People’s Money

David Farenthold at the Washington Post is on the case.

Donald Trump spent more than a quarter-million dollars from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits that involved the billionaire’s for-profit businesses, according to interviews and a review of legal documents.

Those cases, which together used $258,000 from Trump’s charity, were among four newly documented expenditures in which Trump may have violated laws against “self-dealing” — which prohibit nonprofit leaders from using charity money to benefit themselves or their businesses.

In one case, from 2007, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club faced $120,000 in unpaid fines from the town of Palm Beach, Fla., resulting from a dispute over the height of a flagpole.

In a settlement, Palm Beach agreed to waive those fines — if Trump’s club made a $100,000 donation to a specific charity for veterans. Instead, Trump sent a check from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a charity funded almost entirely by other people’s money, according to tax records.

If Hillary Clinton bought a latte from Starbucks with Clinton Foundation petty cash, her campaign would be over.

But this is how Donald Trump operates.  He’s been running the big con since he got his first million from his dad and has been using other people — and their money — ever since.

PS: I could make some fun about a guy trying to win a dispute over the size of his pole, but I’m not twelve.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cracks In The Foundation

Finally.

Those in Donald Trump’s orbit appear to be nervous about the swirling scandal around the Trump Foundation—and they should be: The stakes are incredibly high.

The allegations of a quid pro quo between Trump and Florida Attorney General, improper use of the charity for personal benefit, and employment of the charity for political purposes have serious penalties beyond mere campaign optics—the possible consequences range from hefty fines to jail time.

The last seven days has been all bad news on the Trump Foundation front: House Democrats have publicly sought a Justice Department investigation into the charity, while left-leaning watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington alleged that Trump appeared to have bribed Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi by giving her a $25,000 contribution so that she would not join a lawsuit against Trump University.

And a New York Times investigation this past week showed that Trump had personally signed the check that constituted the illegal campaign contribution from his charity to Bondi.

Add this to a dose of personal animosity: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told CNN this week that “we have been looking into the Trump Foundation to make sure it’s complying with the laws governing charities in New York.” The Trump camp already despises Schneiderman due to his legal crusade on the controversial Trump University business.

“This reaches above a distraction for them due to the legal implications of it and long litigation possibility,” a former senior aide to Trump said. “Look, Donald signed those checks… he’s on there. He’s liable.”

As one wit noted, “But Hillary Clinton used the wrong emoji on her e-mail, so it’s all the same thing.”

It would be too much to hope that all of this blows up into a huge deal that not only brings down some garbage on the Trump three-card monte but also takes out the Florida Attorney General as well.  But a guy can dream.

Short Takes

New York/New Jersey bombing suspect is captured after a gun battle.

The Syrian cease-fire ended.

Prosecutors say Gov. Christie knew about bridge lane closures.

Energy prices increased across the South thanks to a ruptured gasoline pipeline.

Pro-Putin parties show strength in local elections.

Tropical Update: TS Karl is going to stay clear of the East coast.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Twenty Questions

After Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald put out the lengthy report on Donald Trump’s business dealings with some really scary people — he wanted to do business with Libyan dictator Qaddafi — Hillary Clinton’s campaign has a few questions.  Twenty, in fact.

I have a question of my own.  If any other candidate had this kind of entangled web of dealings with questionable characters, some who are adversaries in both political and practical world conflicts, would they even be allowed to run for president?

But for the Trump Organization, Qaddafi was not a murdering terrorist; he was a prospect who might bring the company financing and the opportunity to build a resort on the Mediterranean coast of Libya. According to an Arab financier and a former businessman from the North African country, Trump made entreaties to Qaddafi and other members of his government, beginning in 2008, in which he sought deals that would bring cash to the Trump Organization from a sovereign wealth fund called the Libyan Investment Authority. The following year, Trump offered to lease his estate in Westchester County, New York, to Qaddafi; he took Qaddafi’s money but, after local protests, forbade him from staying at his property. (Trump kept the cash.) “I made a lot of money with Qaddafi,” Trump said recently about the Westchester escapade. “He paid me a fortune.”

This makes the Corleone family business look like a lemonade stand.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Short Takes

Senate Zika bill blocked by Planned Parenthood fight.

Trump denies any wrongdoing in donation to Bondi campaign.

ITT Tech shuts down after USDOE cuts off student loan support.

Gretchen Carlson gets $20 million and apology in Fox sexual harassment suit.

Giant pandas no longer on the endangered species list.

Tropical Update: Invest 92L isn’t moving yet.

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 2-0.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Business As Usual: Lies and Bribery

It looks like things are getting a little curiouser and curiouser for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and her solicitation of a campaign contribution in exchange for not being part of the suit against Trump University.  Via TPM:

The indefatigable Sopan Deb (one of the reporter standouts of 2016) reports that Trump today flatly denied ever speaking to Bondi about his foundation’s contribution to Bondi’s campaign in 2013, just before her office decided not to join New York State’s suit against Trump and Trump University.

Trump: “I never spoke to her” … “Never spoke to her about that at all.”

Legit?

Who knows? But according to multiple reports, well before this became a big story and never denied by Trump, Pam Bondi personally solicited the contribution from Trump.

Here’s the AP from last June: “Florida’s attorney general personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates.” (emphasis added)

Bondi responded furiously to the AP report, pushing back against claims of impropriety. But she never disputed the AP’s claim that she solicited the contribution personally.

[…]

So where did the AP get the idea that Bondi spoke to Trump directly? From an on the record interview with her political consultant Marc Reichelderfer, who Bondi asked to speak to the AP on her behalf!

Given that this information came from Bondi’s consultant, speaking to the AP on her behalf while trying to defend her against claims of a conflict of interest – and that it was never disputed post-publication – it is overwhelmingly likely that the two did speak and that Trump is lying.

Apparently it’s not a bribe if you ask for it up front.  It’s only a bribe if you have an underling collect it from a dead drop, preferably in a used paper bag leftover from a Subway sandwich and stashed under the third bench on the left in the park.  But if you’re bold enough to ask for it in person and then follow through with legal non-action through your office, well, it’s business as usual.

You have to give a little leeway to Ms. Bondi; she’s not as deft at skulduggery and payoffs as Mr. Trump — in those ranks he has no peer — and her previous attempts at fund-raising have been ham-handed.  She once had to call off the execution of a prisoner because it conflicted with a campaign event.

If there is any karmic justice in the world, this will all blow up in the next month or so and subject Mr. Trump and Ms. Bondi to the kind of scrutiny and suspicion that Hillary Clinton gets every time she scratches her nose.