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.

Short Takes

Five dead in attack outside U.K. Parliament.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) says there’s “more than circumstantial evidence” on Trump/Russia connection.

GOP healthcare bill in doubt.

Tough questions for Neil Gorsuch on Bush torture policy.

Arctic winter sea ice drops to lowest level ever recorded.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Short Takes

North Korea missile test fails.

Report: Laptop ban sparked by ISIS threat.

Paul Manafort hid a $750,000 payment from Ukrainian lawmaker.

Tweaks to GOP healthcare bill are panned.

Dow Jones begins to sink after figuring out Trump promises are falling flat.

Happy birthday, CLW.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Short Takes

Fighting erupts in Syrian capital.

GOP representative says “no evidence” of of Trump-Russia links.

Democratic representative says there’s “circumstantial evidence” of Trump-Russia links.

North Korea holds “high thrust” missile engine test.

Wildfire near Boulder, Colorado, forces thousands to evacuate.

R.I.P. Jimmy Breslin, 88, columnist and writer.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Short Takes

Snow pummels Northeast.

Dutch vote puts populist support to the test.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used an e-mail alias when he was head of ExxonMobil.

Female senators fiercely question Marine commandant over nude photos scandal.

Canadian Girl Guides cancel trips to U.S. because of Muslim ban.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Going Viral

Charles P. Pierce on the level of corruption in the Trump world.

The important part about dealing with epidemics is to deal with them early. Just like the fire department would really rather come into a building when there was smoke coming out of one window instead of when there are flames coming out of every window, because it’s a lot easier to control the fire early on, it’s much easier to control an epidemic early on.

—Dr. Don Francis, AIDS researcher, 2006.

It’s almost as though the entire bureaucratic immune system of the government is reacting to an invading virus. The worst thing any of us can do is assume that the ascent of El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago was not the sui generis event that it clearly was, and that he, himself, is not the sui generis occupant of the White House that he clearly is, and that he has not surrounded himself with dubious quacks and hacks that are sui generis in their approach to government as they clearly are.

There is a level of intellectual—and, perhaps, literal—corruption that is unprecedented in the modern history of the presidency and that is a genuine and unique threat to democratic institutions that are the objects of destructive contempt. The man ran on chaos. He won on chaos. And now he’s governing on chaos. The checks and balances and safety valves of the Constitution—the things that, well, constitute—the immune system of this self-governing republic are facing a threat that is as different as it is lethal.

The latest manifestation of this phenomenon is the sudden firing of U.S. Attorneys all over the country—specifically, those appointed by the previous administration. It is true that every president can do what this president did, and that most have. But the people who said all through the campaign that the rules changed with the elevation of Donald Trump cannot say that the rules are back now that he’s president. In addition, what he did on Friday was precipitous in the extreme and so much so that it seems to have been improvised on the spot, and that it might have been prompted by a virulent paranoia at the White House about “deep-state” saboteurs, a feeling encouraged by the hardbar caucus in Congress and pimped heavily by the conservative media auxiliaries.

There has been corruption in the White House before this present administration — the historians will note that one of the unique aspects about the term of Barack Obama is that there wasn’t any — and there will be corruption after this present administration.  (I well remember how after Watergate it was said that now we will be able to spot and excise corruption before it starts.  Ah, good times.)  But what makes this particular administration unique is that corruption, shady deals, tax evasion, lack of transparency, foreign influence peddling and manipulation, and other various crimes and questionable connections is not only acceptable in the eyes of certain elements of the electorate and members of Congress, it is what was needed to “shake things up.”

There are two questions that come to mind.  First, at what point will this house of cards collapse and bring down the central core of the current executive branch and who will be the ones to do it?  Certainly not the enablers in Congress; they are either too afraid of midnight tweets and the riling of the pitchfork-and-torches constituency to do anything but meekly go along, or they are in on it and are finally making something from being in office.  No help there.

The second question is who’s running the joint?  The current administration has left hundreds of federal office positions unfilled.  It may be some aspect of conservative political philosophy to shrink the size of government, but emptying whole offices and leaving statutory and policy positions vacant means that work that keeps the country running is not getting done.  You can’t run a Wal Mart outlet with two shelf-stockers and a cashier, and if this is the way Trump ran his businesses, no wonder he filed for bankruptcy so often.

We have recently been told to accept this situation as the way things will be for the foreseeable future and that we should “settle in” and ride it out.  At some point, though, the level of outright corruption and sand in the gears of the machinery will bring it to a halt, perhaps so slowly that we don’t even notice it as it happens.  Just as the sniffles turn into a cold that becomes pneumonia, this is happening now and by the time you start taking the aspirin and the Cold-Eze, it’s too late.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Meeting? What Meeting?

According to the Washington Post, Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador at least twice during the run-up to the election in November.  When asked about it during his confirmation hearing in January, he denied it.

Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general.

One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.

The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election. As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates. He has so far resisted calls to recuse himself.

[…]

At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

As noted in the video, Michael Flynn had to resign his post as National Security Advisor when we found out he lied about his meetings with the Russians. So now what?  Well, if we held Mr. Sessions to the same standard that he held President Clinton to in regards to committing perjury, he should resign.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

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?