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.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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.