Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Run For Cover

I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this.

Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.

[…]

White House officials say Comey’s testimony about the scope of the FBI investigation upset Trump, who has dismissed the FBI and congressional investigations as a “witch hunt.” The president has repeatedly said there was no collusion.

Current and former senior intelligence officials viewed Trump’s requests as an attempt by the president to tarnish the credibility of the agency leading the Russia investigation.

A senior intelligence official said Trump’s goal was to “muddy the waters” about the scope of the FBI probe at a time when Democrats were ramping up their calls for the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel, a step announced last week.

If you’re over fifty and were paying attention back during Watergate, this all sounds familiar: the president trying to keep the investigators off the case by discrediting them and telling anyone who would listen that the “important work” of the country is being ignored and that only his enemies care about such things as obstruction of justice.

Like most people caught up in something like this, they either don’t know much about history — a cover-up never works — or they’re so wrapped up in their own ego that they think that they’ll never get caught.  Trump excels at both.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

This Is Special

Some reactions to the appointment of Robert Mueller as the special counsel.

Charles P. Pierce:

This administration is the worst thing to happen to D.C. cocktail hours since Prohibition. The end of business is no longer the end of business. It’s like being a volunteer fireman in hell. The best news is that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took a good look at the dents in his reputation and appointed Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI, to be a special counsel to oversee the DOJ in its investigation not only Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but also into “related matters.” Which means, well, everything.

If you want to know more about Mueller, then consult Dr. Google on the subject of “Stellar Wind.” That was the Bush Administration’s extra-constitutional surveillance follies. Mueller (along with James Comey, the Zelig of federal law enforcement) threatened to resign if the administration and its lawyers didn’t find a way to make Stellar Wind conform to constitutional norms. It’s important to remember that Mueller, at the time, was trying to find a way to rehabilitate the Bureau’s image after the intelligence community failed altogether on 9/11, but even Mueller found what the Bush NSA was doing was a long step over the line.

In short, if you were looking for someone with Washington street cred and a history of not being intimidated by people like presidents, even semi-competent ones, Mueller is as good as it gets. The administration’s toes just lost contact with the bottom of the pool.

Josh Marshall:

This is important and necessary but not sufficient.

There also needs to be an independent commission to investigate what happened in the 2016 election. These two options – special counsel or independent commission – are often bandied about as two separate options, one or the other, or as steps of escalation in a scandal. None of those things is true.

It is critical to understand that the most important details we need to know about the Russian disruption campaign and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with it may not be crimes. Indeed, I would say that the crimes we’re likely to discover will likely be incidental or secondary to the broader actions and activities we’re trying to uncover. Just hypothetically, what if Russia had a disruption campaign, Trump campaign officials gave winks and nods to nudge it forward but violated no laws? That’s hard to figure but by no means impossible. (Our criminal laws are not really designed for this set of facts.) The simple point is that the most important ‘bad acts’ may well not be crimes. That means not only is no one punished but far, far more important, we would never know what happened.

People who committed crimes should be punished. Unquestionably. But the truest and deepest national interest is that the whole story be thoroughly investigated and the full story get a public airing. That is far more important to the health of the Republic and its safety than whether particular individuals spend time in prison. Again, it’s not either/or. But one is far more important than the other. A counter-intelligence probe or even a criminal investigation could wind up and the details and findings never be known. That can’t be allowed to happen. We need a fully empowered commission charged not with investigating and prosecuting criminal conduct but ascertaining, as far as possible, what happened and then bringing that information before the public.

That’s critical. This is an important step. Great that it happened. But the country can’t get past this without that full accounting.

digby:

He’s a good choice if only because he was FBI chief for a dozen years without a whole lot of drama. Presumably he’s well respected by the rank and file and both parties will be satisfied. If nothing else, the Republicans won’t be able to whine too much about it.

The best aspect of this is if Trump picks Joe Lieberman for FBI chief, as is rumored. Having a Mueller as special counsel will spare us having to put up with him using the Russia investigation to punish liberals for beating him in a primary.

Yes, he is that petty.

History has shown that when a special counsel is appointed, the investigation becomes real.  Money is going to be spent, staff is going to be hired, and there will be results.  It also means that no one knows where it will go.  The special counsel hired to look into Whitewater ended up with Monica Lewinsky, and an investigation into the money paid to the perpetrators of a third-rate burglary led to the resignation of a president.

So here we go.

Short Takes

DOJ appoints former FBI director Robert Mueller as independent counsel to run the Trump/Russia inquiry.

Wall Street tumbles over worries about Trump.

Despite calling it “worst deal ever,” Trump extends Iran deal waivers.

Tornadoes kill two in Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

Arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record up 150%.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trump To Comey: Back Off

From the New York Times:

Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The existence of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.

This shit’s getting real.  We now have evidence that Trump willfully and willingly tried to obstruct the investigation.  I believe that is not only a felony but falls under the definition of a high crime and misdemeanor.

Okay, Republicans, over to you.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Short Takes

FBI acting director contradicts White House line on Comey firing.

Trump tells NBC he “fully backs” Russia investigation.

“Voter fraud” commission established.

ICE says over 1,000 gang members arrested in massive sweep.

North Korea is upset with China.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

You’ve Been Served

If the purpose of firing James Comey was to put the kibosh on the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s involvement with the Trump campaign, they missed a spot.

Via CNN:

Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI’s broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

The subpoenas issued in recent weeks by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, according to the people familiar with the investigation.

Robert Kelner, an attorney for Flynn, declined to comment. The US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, the Justice Department and the FBI also declined to comment.

I suppose Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III could fire the federal prosecutors, but that might give people the wrong idea.

Short Takes

U.S. to arm Kurds fighting ISIS despite Turkey’s objections.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wants to investigate Trump’s business dealings.

China vows to defend climate change pact.

Workers at Hanford nuclear plant take cover after tunnel collapse.

Seattle mayor drops out of reelection bid due to sex abuse accusations.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Short Takes

Former Acting A.G. Sally Yates warned Trump White House about Flynn.

So did President Obama.

GOP enlists 13 men, no women, to draft Senate healthcare bill.

South Korea votes for a new president today.

Eighteen frat brothers charged in hazing death.

Four feared dead in flooding in Canada.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

All That’s Missing Is The Car

This has all the makings of a James Bond movie.

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.

Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.

Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.

U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump. The FBI declined to comment.

It’s got it all: secret meetings in exotic locations with princes and millionaires, scary groups like Blackwater and connections to people who could probably kill you with a paper clip, and of course denials from anyone in officialdom that anything like this could possibly be nefarious.  Even the name “Erik Prince” sounds like a Bond villain.  Throwing in his sister, Betsy DeVos, the woefully unqualified Secretary of Education, is the comic relief, but it makes you wonder why she got the job in the first place: payback or the price?

Anyway, the finishing touch should be the Aston Martin DB 5.  It was the coolest.

Monday, April 3, 2017

One Way Out Of Russia

Mark Cuban, billionaire and gadfly, thinks Trump can be exonerated from any blame if the Russian connection story goes full bore.

“No chance this is a DJT led conspiracy,” Cuban wrote in a series of tweets, referring to Trump’s initials. He argued that Trump “isn’t detail oriented, organized or big picture enough” to pull off any such “conspiracy.”

Instead, Cuban argued in a series of tweets that Russian President Vladimir Putin “recognized [Trump’s] greed and took advantage by back channeling coordinated misinformation in an attempt to influence voters.”

“Russians have made him a lot of money buying condos and investing in his buildings and hosting his beauty pageant,” Cuban wrote of Trump. “That makes them his friends. He ignored their backgrounds. But that’s not unusual. Starbucks takes anyone’s money and so do most businesses including mine.”

The Dallas Mavericks owner went on to argue that Trump wasn’t thinking about Russian influence when he hired Paul Manafort as a top adviser to his campaign. Trump viewed it as a “win win,” Cuban argued, with Manafort either helping Trump win the election or being good for future business deals with Russia if he lost.

Cuban theorized that Trump didn’t stop to think that Manafort or other advisers who joined his campaign and who had ties to Russia were motivated by Moscow. Trump was thinking more like a businessman than a politician, Cuban argued.

So in the same vein that Ronald Reagan was able to say he had no idea what his underlings were doing in Iran-Contra, Mr. Cuban is saying that Trump will be able to claim that he was just doing normal — for him — business and all the hacking and propaganda that went on were all done without his knowledge or approval.

That worked with Reagan for two reasons: we knew from the outset that he wasn’t a micro-manager of his administration, and we also suspected, especially in his second term, that his health wasn’t all that great and perhaps he was beginning to show the signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease so that even if he knew about what was going on, he couldn’t remember.

It will be interesting to see if Trump’s defenders latch on to the “he didn’t know” argument after we’ve been told countless times that he “alone can fix it” and all the other lines about what a smart guy he is.  I don’t know how they’ll pivot that to make him sound like he was manipulated, but they’ll come up with something.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Immunity On The Table

If you watch enough “Law & Order” reruns you know that immunity comes up when a defendant is trying to save themselves from prosecution by ratting out a bigger fish or has has a stroke of conscience and wants to make things right (and stay out of jail above all).  That’s when the prosecutor gets that flinty look in his eyes and says that they need to hear what they have to say before they grant it.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — or his lawyers — must think they have something big to share with the investigators that will save his ass from being prosecuted.

So the questions are 1) who’s the bigger fish, 2) exactly what crimes does he want immunity from?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Getting Down To Business

The investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election is getting serious.

In an hour-long appearance, committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice-Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) framed their probe as one of most ambitious investigative efforts ever taken on by a congressional committee. Burr, a 22-year veteran of Capitol Hill, framed the investigation as “one of the biggest” he’s seen in his tenure in Washington, D.C.

Warner concurred, saying, “When we started this, we saw the scope, what was involved, I said it was the most important thing I have ever taken on in my public life. I believe that more firmly now.”

Their solemn assurances to investigate the full scope of Russia’s involvement, to look into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian officials, and to produce a truly bipartisan report on their findings offered a stark contrast from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation, led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). The House’s probe came to a standstill this week over Nunes’ overly close relationship with the President, and he and ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) haven’t appeared together publicly in days.

Those who remember Watergate will remember that it didn’t really get going until the Senate formed the Select Committee headed up by Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC) with Sen. Howard Baker (R-TN) as the ranking minority member.  And that was when the shit hit the fan for the Nixon administration.

Stock up on popcorn.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Just Blow It Up

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) is either really smart and conniving, or he’s pretty stupid and is exposing himself to criminal liability for obstruction of justice.

My money’s on the latter.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes called a press conference [Wednesday afternoon] to announce that he intended to commit a blatant act of criminal obstruction of justice with respect to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Trump and Trump associates’ connections to the Russians’ interference in our presidential election. Nunes began by declaring that President-Elect Trump’s personal communications may have been intercepted during the Transition due to “incidental collection” during an unrelated, completely legal and FISA-approved investigation.

He then said that the potential surveillance was not related to Russia, that it wasn’t clear that it was collected at Trump Tower and that he was “alarmed by it.”

He further stated that he had advised House Speaker Paul Ryan of his findings and that he was traveling to the White House this afternoon to share with them information that had been provided to him by the FBI in a classified setting for the purposes of advancing a congressional investigation into potential crimes committed by the people he will be meeting in the White House.

[…]

He claims that the surveillance is unrelated to Russia, and that may be his only criminal defense. He better hope that it will stand up in court. His press conference performance was a dishonest attempt to suggest that perhaps Trump wasn’t completely wrong when he said that Trump Tower was wiretapped at the behest of President Obama. He couldn’t assert either of those things but he made it seem like he had evidence pointing in that direction.

And his failure to share this information with the Democrats or notify them that he would be holding the press conference shows just how disingenuous his “alarm” really is.

But it’s his intent to share classified investigatory information with the subjects of a counterintelligence (and potentially criminal) probe that constitutes a crime. He must not be very bright. And he’s just destroyed his own committee’s investigation.

My guess is that Mr. Nunes decided that the probe into the Russian connection to the Trump campaign was skating too close to revealing what had gone on last year and he had to do something to blow the investigation out of the water.  Hence his press conferences and his trip to the White House to basically short-sheet his own committee.

If this was an episode of “Law & Order” or some such legal process TV show, we’d find out that Mr. Nunes has been promised a really nice payoff from the Trump administration for his efforts.  Given Trump’s record in paying for services received, Mr. Nunes will be left holding the bag, but the investigation by his committee will be blown to smithereens.