Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Long Read: The Doctor Is Out

In case you missed it, our Sunday Long Read this week is a stellar piece of journalism by the LA Times on former USC Med school dean Dr. Carmen Puliafito, who left the university last year to pursue other opportunities. Some investigative reporting into why this happened turned up the Mr. Hyde side of the good doctor as he was self-prescribing some experimental treatments like "partying with co-eds" and "getting blasted on meth."

In USC’s lecture halls, labs and executive offices, Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito was a towering figure. The dean of the Keck School of Medicine was a renowned eye surgeon whose skill in the operating room was matched by a gift for attracting money and talent to the university. 
There was another side to the Harvard-educated physician. 
During his tenure as dean, Puliafito kept company with a circle of criminals and drug users who said he used methamphetamine and other drugs with them, a Los Angeles Times investigation found. 
Puliafito, 66, and these much younger acquaintances captured their exploits in photos and videos. The Times reviewed dozens of the images. 
Shot in 2015 and 2016, they show Puliafito and the others partying in hotel rooms, cars, apartments and the dean’s office at USC. 
In one video, a tuxedo-clad Puliafito displays an orange pill on his tongue and says into the camera, “Thought I’d take an ecstasy before the ball.” Then he swallows the pill. 
In another, Puliafito uses a butane torch to heat a large glass pipe outfitted for methamphetamine use. He inhales and then unleashes a thick plume of white smoke. 
Seated next to him on a sofa, a young woman smokes heroin from a piece of heated foil.
As dean, Puliafito oversaw hundreds of medical students, thousands of professors and clinicians, and research grants totaling more than $200 million. He was a key fundraiser for USC, bringing in more than $1 billion in donations, by his estimation. 
Puliafito resigned his $1.1-million-a-year post in March 2016, in the middle of the spring term, saying he wanted to explore outside opportunities. 
Three weeks earlier, a 21-year-old woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room. The woman was rushed to a hospital, where she recovered. Police found methamphetamine in the hotel room, according to a police report, but made no arrests. Puliafito has never spoken publicly about the incident, which is being reported here for the first time.

And man, this story gets brutal from here. Puliafito was a party monster, heavy on both the party and the monster, and a woman nearly paid with her life as a result.  It's an astonishing account, and the Times spent months running this story down.

The most gonzo part of the story is that Puliafito kept himself in one piece while doing benders that would make Keith Richards blush and still show up to work the next day...and he was fantastic as both a dean and as an eye surgeon, by all accounts.

It's a hell of a thing, doc.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo opines:

One issue I’ve touched on here and there in my posts on the Russia probe is my abiding sense that especially the younger generation of Trumpers: Kushner, Don Jr., et al. just don’t seem to grasp the magnitude of the trouble they’re in, or at least the magnitude of their legal exposure. I can’t point to any one piece of evidence. It’s more like every piece of evidence. The signs I’m going on are a mix of public evidence, things we see unfolding in the newspapers, and my own reporting. They just don’t act like people who get what they’re dealing with and are acting accordingly. 
The abiding sense I get is not simply that they don’t know the magnitude of the legal threat but that they don’t understand the nature of the threat either. Again and again they seem to think the legal vulnerability can be trumped by good news cycles or getting the press to focus on some other individual. They don’t seem to get that a big, sprawling federal investigation like this, untethered from the political chain of command and led by one of the top law enforcement professionals of his generation, trundles onward with a perfect indifference to whether you win the morning or kill it in 10 or a 100 different news cycles. Those things just don’t matter. And yet my sense at least is that Jared Kushner thinks he is helping himself by knifing his brother-in-law – as though if Don Jr is at the center of a media firestorm for a few days, Mueller will just forget about him.

See, for all of Marshall's points here, what Josh simply doesn't get is that Don Jr. and Jared both 100% believe the worst case scenarios for either of them will be a blanket presidential pardon.  They know that in the end, Trump simply won't let his eldest son, or his favorite son-in-law go to prison. Period.

Neither Jared nor Junior have paid any sort of legal price so far, and have been this dirty and awful.

Why would either one of them fear it now?   The old man will save them, and they know it.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Black Lives Still Matter, Con't

Meanwhile, our good friends at the NRA are in fact trying to either sell a whole crapload of guns on the notion of white fear of black people, trying to stoke a violent, deadly race war where millions of black people are killed by angry armed white people, or most likely attempting to do both.  Here's NRA TV host Grant Stinchfield and his guest Chuck Holton discussing Black Lives Matter and South Africa this week:




GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): Our race relations are strained here in America after eight years of Barack Obama, but nowhere is near as bad as it is in South Africa where white families are being tortured and killed almost every day in racist violence. It is a warning for the United States that you will never hear from the mainstream media in this country. Veteran Army Ranger and Frontlines correspondent Chuck Holton joins me with more on this. Chuck, I know you’ve been looking into this, particularly doing some research, and really the things that we’re starting to learn are frightening and I guess it's not shocking that the mainstream media is not talking about this. 
CHUCK HOLTON: Right, you know the parallels between what’s happening in South Africa and the blatant racism and violence we’re seeing from people like the Black Lives Matter crowd, from people like Louis Farrakhan and his minions, is happening in spades in South Africa. The violence against farmers is being called for by government officials, it's being celebrated by politicians, and the scary thing is, it's kind of a warning for what could happen in the United States if we continue to let this get out of control, to go down this path of this racial tension, this racial hatred that is being forced on the American culture by the Black Lives Matter crowd.
[….]
HOLTON: This has to stop, and if you want to see why it has to stop, you look at South Africa. Over -- between three and four thousand white South Africans have been killed in the most horrific ways, brutalized, raped, tortured, drug behind cars, had drills taken to them. Some really horrific things.

If you had any doubts left that the NRA is a violent, armed advocacy group for white supremacy and black genocide in 2017, understand that this is propaganda that the NRA is happily willing to share openly, accusing Black Lives Matter of "forcing racial hatred" on America, and that "they must be stopped".

You would think that a group that supposedly advocated firearm training and open carry as a ncessity to preserve liberty would in fact be the champions of BLM and taking up their cause to protect them from a government that uses its power to kill them.

But this is the NRA, a firearms advocacy group that actually exists to sell firearms based on fear of black people and to openly advocate for their use in fighting a violent race war in the name of white purity.

The game hasn't changed too much in 400 years.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Things are starting to move fast on the Trump/Russia front.  First, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is out.

Sean Spicer, the embattled and increasingly invisible White House press secretary, resigned on Friday morning shortly after the president offered Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci the job of White House communications director.
The New York Times, which first reported Spicer’s resignation, writes that Spicer “vehemently disagreed” with Scaramucci’s appointment as his new boss, and that he quit in protest.

These developments appear to be the first steps in a long-promised communications shakeup at the White House, which has struggled to stay focused amid the unfolding Russia collusion story.

Scaramucci is a polarizing figure among the warring factions in Trump’s administration. According to Axios, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon opposed the appointment, while Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner supported it. As communications director, Scaramucci would be stepping into a position that has been vacant for several weeks since the resignation of Mike Dubke, a Spicer ally, in May.

Scaramucci is a fast-talking businessman, exactly the type Trump respects.  He's names Sarah Huckabee Sanders as the new press secretary, and Spicer gets to train his replacement through August.

But the White House wouldn't be getting rid of Spicer at this juncture if damage control wasn't the top priority, and they know they're going to have a hurricane or two worth of spin to put out. Spicer wasn't up to the job, frankly.  Something big is coming on the horizon, and that something may have been this major leak on Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.


Sessions has said repeatedly that he never discussed campaign-related issues with Russian officials and that it was only in his capacity as a U.S. senator that he met with Kislyak.

“I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” Sessions said in March when he announced that he would recuse himself from matters relating to the FBI probe of Russian interference in the election and any connections to the Trump campaign.

Jeff Sessions's perjury before Congress at his confirmation hearing involving the extent of his association with Trump's Russian buddies is basically the worst-kept secret in Washington, but this has now become the 90-ton giant robot in the room.

It's almost like the White House wants Sessions gone.  Oh wait, Trump does want Sessions gone, but the White House would rather not fire him outright.  They gave Sessions the chance to resign earlier this week after Trump's interview with the NY Times where he flat out said that he wouldn't have appointed Sessions if Trump had known Sessions would recuse himself on Russia.  Remember, this was basically the reason he fired Comey: perceived lack of personal loyalty to Trump despite his obvious misdeeds.

Suddenly there's a new WH Communications Director and this massively damaging leak on Sessions hits the Washington Post, along with calls from conservatives for Sessions to resign.

Don't need a PhD to put this one together, guys.  Trump wants somebody at the DoJ who will kill the Mueller investigation.  The Saturday Night Massacre 2: Orange Boogaloo is coming.

I mean hell, Trump himself is giving up the game.




Watch.

Of course, he'll need to get Mueller canned before the idnictments come.  I know I've said multiple times in the past that only the House can bring charges against a sitting president, and that it's up in the air as to if a federal grand jury can indict one, but hey, that depends on who you ask, and it's not the first time this question has been asked, either.

A newfound memo from Kenneth W. Starr’s independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton sheds fresh light on a constitutional puzzle that is taking on mounting significance amid the Trump-Russia inquiry: Can a sitting president be indicted?

“The 56-page memo, locked in the National Archives for nearly two decades… amounts to the most thorough government-commissioned analysis rejecting a generally held view that presidents are immune from prosecution while in office.

Just putting something out there.  Trump's damn well thinking about it, I guarantee you.

That Poll-Asked Look, Con't

Don't look now, but six months into his term, yet another poll (this time Monmouth U) finds significant support for impeaching Donald Trump among its findings:

Nearly two-thirds of the public believes the Russian government either definitely (36%) or probably (29%) tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election
. Just over 1-in-4 say the Russians probably (18%) or definitely (10%) did not interfere. Given the premise that Russia did in fact try to interfere in the election, most believe this caused either a lot (47%) or a little (21%) damage to American democracy. Another 28%, on the other hand, believe that Russian interference did no damage to American democracy. This opinion is driven by a huge partisan divide. Specifically, 60% of Republicans believe that Russian interference in the election caused no damage at all to American democracy while only 28% of independents and 6% of Democrats feel the same. 
"We'd like to believe that concerns about external interference in our democratic processes would unite Americans regardless of ideology. But in an era of partisan tribalism, it looks like short-term political ends justify the means," said Murray. 
A majority (54%) of Americans are concerned that Trump may be too friendly toward Russia. This level of concern has been creeping up from 45% during the 2016 campaign to 48% in the first months of Trump's presidency, and 51% two months ago when Trump fired former FBI director James Comey. A similar majority (55%) of the public is concerned that other members of the Trump administration may be too friendly toward Russia. This number is up slightly from 49% in May. 
The public is divided on whether Pres. Trump pressed his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, about that government's interference in the U.S. election when the two met in person earlier this month. Just under half - 46% - say it is either very likely (20%) or somewhat likely (26%) that Trump did this, while a similar number - 48% - say it is not too likely (22%) or not at all likely (26%). 
The public continues to be split on whether Trump's attitude toward Russia does (48%) or does not (48%) present a national security threat to the United States. This opinion is nearly identical to the May poll results, when 48% said Trump's position toward Russia poses a security risk and 46% said it does not. 
Over 6-in-10 (62%) Americans say the special counsel investigation into Russian interference should continue while 33% say it should be brought to an end. Two months ago, 73% supported continuing the related FBI investigation into Russia - before the special counsel was appointed - and 24% wanted it to end. 
Currently, 41% of the public think that Trump should be impeached and compelled to leave the presidency, while 53% disagree. The Monmouth University Poll asked the same question used by the Gallup Poll during Nixon's presidency. In July 1973 as the Watergate scandal started to unfold, just 24% of the public supported impeachment and 62% were opposed. Support for Nixon's impeachment was significantly lower six months into his second term as president than it is for the incumbent today. Interestingly, Nixon's job rating at that point in his tenure - 39% approve and 49% disapprove - was about the same as Trump's current rating.

And yes, I know I should take my own warning on impeachment: unless the Republican party magically reforms, it will never happen.  However, enough constituents saying that failure to vote for impeachment and removal will cost Republicans their jobs?  That's the only real way this happens.

Granted, that would take a majority of Republicans on top of Dems and independent voters, so we still have a long, way way to go on getting rid of Trump.  He's still not going anywhere currently.

Still, any poll where more Americans think Trump should be impeached than approve of his job in the White House does offer slim hope that the country can come to its senses.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Last Call For Bevin Gets Away With It

News flash here in Kentucky: Ethics Panel majority-appointed by GOP Gov. Matt Bevin dismisses all ethics complaints against GOP Gov. Matt Bevin. Shocking, I know.

A Kentucky ethics commission has unanimously dismissed a pair of complaints filed against Republican Gov. Matt Bevin over his purchase of a home from a friend and campaign donor. 
The Executive Branch Ethics Commission says Bevin didn't do anything wrong when he bought a house from Neil Ramsey, a friend that Bevin has appointed to the Kentucky Retirement Systems board of trustees. 
However, the commission told Bevin he should let Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton decide whether to reappoint Ramsey to the board when his term expires to avoid a conflict of interest. 
The five-member commission includes three people appointed by Bevin and two people appointed by former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear. A spokesman for Bevin declined to comment, saying he would "let the dismissals speak for themselves."

And so the mystery of Bevin's multi-million dollar home sold to him by a friend for a fraction of the price becomes a moot point.  It's a good real estate deal if you can get it.

Trump Takes The Pole Position

We've seen this before: Donald Trump visits a foreign country, blesses its autocratic rulers, then a few weeks later those same rulers pull something obviously authoritarian.  In the case of Saudi Arabia, it was the tacit go-ahead to ostracize Qatar while giving Riyadh a pass on Sunni Wahhabist extremism.  Now it's happening in Europe, where in the wake of Trump's visit ahead of the G20 summit earlier this month, Poland's ruling party has now shifted to take over that country's Supreme Court.

Imagine a government deciding one day that the country’s supreme court is corrupt and needs to be purged completely. A bill is introduced that will force all of the court’s judges to retire and be replaced—and it is pushed through with lightning speed and without regard for procedures. Unthinkable? Yet this is exactly what is happening here in Poland, until recently considered one of the biggest success stories of democratic transition in Eastern Europe
This month the government’s most authoritarian tendencies were encouraged by the July 6 visit of U.S. President Donald Trump, and now a different sort of transition is underway—to what some call a “hybrid dictatorship.” 
For anyone who values the checks and balances essential to democracy wherever it exists, the events of the last few days present a frightening precedent. 
Shortly after Trump’s visit, which served as a ringing endorsement of the current illiberal government, the country is facing the most serious political crisis since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. 
The tensions between the government and the opposition have turned to unprecedented open hostility and threats; chaos and confusion reign in the parliament; and fears are widespread that the fate of Polish democracy itself may well hang in the balance.
The crisis started coming to a head last week when, emboldened by Trump’s visit and taking advantage of the summer holiday season, the populist government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party pushed through a reform of the judicial system and of the National Council of Judiciary (KRS), a body charged with nominating and promoting judges.

The amendment, widely considered unconstitutional and yet to be signed by president Andrzej Duda (also PiS), would give the government virtually unrestrained control over the body—and therefore much of the judicial system.
That wasn’t all, however. 
That same day a new, even more shocking law was introduced. Ostensibly aimed to eliminate corruption and the remnants of the old communist system from the judiciary, the bill amounts to a total purge of all 83 judges in the country’s supreme court, giving the minister of justice, Zbigniew Ziobro, a virtually free rein in appointing their successors.

And you can thank Trump directly for this.   After all, we did much the same thing here when Mitch McConnell and the GOP stole a Supreme Court nomination and nobody so much as batted an eye.  If America can do it, so can Poland.  After all, it's not like we're going to punish them.

Besides, it's what Putin wants.  And Trump makes sure Putin gets it.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

We talked yesterday about Trump's NY Times interview where he left the door open to firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller if Mueller didn't back off of Trump's business deals, that Trump considered it a "red line" and left it unsaid what fate would await the investigation if Mueller crossed it.  Well, turns out yesterday's late Trump/Russia news included new information implying strongly that the Mueller investigation of Russia has indeed now widened to include Trump's business interests.

The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.

The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on Thursday that he was unaware of the inquiry into Trump’s businesses by the two-months-old investigation and considered it beyond the scope of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be examining.

“Those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the Special counsel; are unrelated to the election of 2016 or any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and most importantly, are well beyond any Statute of Limitation imposed by the United States Code,” he wrote in an email.

The Trump regime's response last night was breathtaking and instantaneous:  Trump is now floating a Nixon-style Saturday Night Massacre scenario where Trump fires everyone involved in the investigation and is even openly considering blanket pardons.

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people
. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.

With the Russia investigation continuing to widen, Trump’s lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel’s work. They are actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, according to several of Trump’s legal advisers.

A conflict of interest is one of the possible grounds that can be cited by an attorney general to remove a special counsel from office under Justice Department regulations that set rules for the job.

The president is also irritated by the notion that Mueller’s probe could reach into his and his family’s finances, advisers said.

Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face. His primary frustration centers on why allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinizing many years of Trump dealmaking. He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.

Trump has repeatedly refused to make his tax returns public after first claiming he could not do so because he was under audit or after promising to release them after an IRS audit was completed. All presidents since Jimmy Carter have released their tax returns.

Further adding to the challenges facing Trump’s outside lawyers, the team’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, resigned on Thursday, according to two people familiar with his departure. Corallo did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

“If you’re looking at Russian collusion, the president’s tax returns would be outside that investigation,” said a close adviser to the president.

The NY Times is backing up the Washington Post on this, adding that the Trump legal team is looking for any dirt they can find in order to dismantle the Mueller investigation entirely without "firing" him...for now.

For weeks, Republicans have publicly identified what they see as potential conflicts among Mr. Mueller’s team of more than a dozen investigators. In particular, they have cited thousands of dollars of political donations to Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, made by Andrew Weissmann, a former senior Justice Department official who has expertise in fraud and other financial crimes. News reports have revealed similar donations by other members of Mr. Mueller’s team, which Mr. Trump’s allies have cited as evidence of political bias. Another lawyer Mr. Mueller has hired, Jeannie Rhee, represented the Clinton Foundation.

To seek a recusal, Mr. Trump’s lawyers can argue their case to Mr. Mueller or his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. The Justice Department has explicit rules about what constitutes a conflict of interest. Prosecutors may not participate in investigations if they have “a personal or political relationship” with the subject of the case. Making campaign donations is not included on the list of things that would create a “political relationship.”

The examination of Mr. Mueller’s investigators reflects deep concerns among the president’s aides that Mr. Mueller will mount a wide-ranging investigation in the mold of the inquiry conducted by the independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr during the 1990s. Mr. Starr’s investigation into President Bill Clinton began by reviewing an Arkansas land deal and concluded several years later with the president’s impeachment over a lie about a sexual affair.

By building files on Mr. Mueller’s team, the Trump administration is following in the footsteps of the Clinton White House, which openly challenged Mr. Starr and criticized what Mr. Clinton’s aides saw as a political witch hunt.

Of course, it didn't work then, and it's not going to work now.   The panic is starting to set in at the White House, and panicked people do stupid, stupid things.  But as I said before, this is the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end.  There's still a long way to go.

StupidiNews!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Last Call For Interview With A Ham Pyre

Somehow, Donald Trump went over to the "failing" NY Times and gave them an exclusive interview, and his army of lawyers were somehow not present in order to consider using a device that would instantly encase him in rubber cement in order to keep him from talking.  This allowed the Times to put Trump's words both on paper and to record the audio when asked questions, and frankly if anyone had any doubts left as to what Trump was planning to do as far as making Nixon look like a candidate for sainthood by comparison, those doubts were splattered all over the windshield of Trump's limo.


President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”

In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’s decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said. 
In a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times, the president also accused James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired in May, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job. Mr. Trump criticized both the acting F.B.I. director who has been filling in since Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the deputy attorney general who recommended it. And he took on Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel now leading the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election. 
Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia. Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office. 
Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”

While the interview touched on an array of issues, including health care, foreign affairs and politics, the investigation dominated the conversation. He said that as far as he knew, he was not under investigation himself, despite reports that Mr. Mueller is looking at whether the president obstructed justice by firing Mr. Comey. 
“I don’t think we’re under investigation,” he said. “I’m not under investigation. For what? I didn’t do anything wrong.” 
Describing a newly disclosed informal conversation he had with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia during a dinner of world leaders in Germany this month, Mr. Trump said they talked for about 15 minutes, mostly about “pleasantries.” But Mr. Trump did say that they talked “about adoption.” Mr. Putin banned American adoptions of Russian children in 2012 after the United States enacted sanctions on Russians accused of human rights abuses, an issue that remains a sore point in relations with Moscow.

I don't even know where to begin on this.  He never would have appointed Jefferson Beauregard Sessions if he knew Sessions wouldn't kill the Russia investigation, he left the door wide open as to firing Mueller, he thinks Comey is part of a huge conspiracy against him and he believes his son did nothing wrong meeting secretly with Russian money launderers peddling Clinton campaign dirt.

Also he's innocent, he says. Innocent!

This is bonkers stuff and should really fill us all with dread.  It will not be long now until Mueller is fired along with probably Sessions.

Then things get really ugly.

It's About Suppression, Con't.

Former Obama DoJ civil rights division head Vanita Gupta sounds the alarm over VP Mike Pence and Kansas GOP Secretary of State Kris Kobach and the Trump regime's "election-integrity commission" and calls it what it is: massive federal voter suppression of Democrats.

The Trump administration’s election-integrity commission will have its first meeting on Wednesday to map out how the president will strip the right to vote from millions of Americans. It hasn’t gotten off to the strongest start: Its astonishing request last month that each state hand over voters’ personal data was met with bipartisan condemnation. Yet it is joined in its efforts to disenfranchise citizens by the immensely more powerful Justice Department. 
Lost amid the uproar over the commission’s request was a letter sent at the same time by the Justice Department’s civil rights division. It forced 44 states to provide extensive information on how they keep their voter rolls up-to-date. It cited the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, known as the Motor-Voter law, which mandates that states help voters register through motor vehicle departments. 
The letter doesn’t ask whether states are complying with the parts of the law that expand opportunities to register. Instead it focuses on the sections related to maintaining the lists. That’s a prelude to voter purging
Usually the Justice Department would ask only a single state for data if it had evidence the state wasn’t complying with Motor-Voter. But a blanket request to every state covered under that law is virtually unprecedented. And unlike the commission, the Justice Department has federal statutory authority to investigate whether states are complying with the law. 
These parallel efforts show us exactly how the Trump administration will undertake its enormous voter suppression campaign: through voter purges. The voter rolls are the key. Registration is one of the main gateways to political participation. It is the difference between a small base of voters pursuing a narrow agenda and an electorate that looks like America.

Here’s how the government will use voters’ data. It will create a national database to try to find things like double-voters. But the commission won’t be able to tell two people with the same name and birthday apart. Such errors will hit communities of color the hardest. Census data shows that minorities are overrepresented in 85 of the 100 most common last names. 
Purging voters is part of a larger malicious pattern that states have employed across the country. Georgia and Ohio are being sued for carrying out early versions of what we can expect from the Trump administration.

I can't stress this enough, guys. Tens of millions of people will lose the right to vote before 2020 and most likely before 2018 if the Trump regime's little project comes to fruition here.  Whether or not they can get that right to vote back, well the Trump DoJ will make that as difficult as humanly possible.  The GOP will be able to count on winning elections for decades.  It doesn't take much, either.

We have to fight this with everything we have, or we are lost.

It's that simple.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Three stories today on the developments in the Trump/Russia investigation, both involving Trump's inner circle.  First, it turns out that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort owed a bit of money to some folks, and while that's not suspicious in itself, the people Manafort owned money to are A) foreign interests and B) pro-Russian.

Financial records filed last year in the secretive tax haven of Cyprus, where Paul J. Manafort kept bank accounts during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, indicate that he had been in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in March 2016.

The money appears to have been owed by shell companies connected to Mr. Manafort’s business activities in Ukraine when he worked as a consultant to the pro-Russia Party of Regions. The Cyprus documents obtained by The New York Times include audited financial statements for the companies, which were part of a complex web of more than a dozen entities that transferred millions of dollars among them in the form of loans, payments and fees.

The records, which include details for numerous loans, were certified as accurate by an accounting firm as of December 2015, several months before Mr. Manafort joined the Trump campaign, and were filed with Cyprus government authorities in 2016. The notion of indebtedness on the part of Mr. Manafort also aligns with assertions made in a court complaint filed in Virginia in 2015 by the Russian oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, who claimed Mr. Manafort and his partners owed him $19 million related to a failed investment in a Ukrainian cable television business.

After The Times shared some of the documents with representatives of Mr. Manafort, a spokesman, Jason Maloni, did not address whether the debts might have existed at one time. But he maintained that the Cyprus records were “stale and do not purport to reflect any current financial arrangements.”

A campaign manager in hock for at least $17 million can probably be convinced to have his campaign and candidate to do all kinds of things, I would think.  Certainly that's the kind of thing the FBI and CIA would want to know about, especially if he accrued said debts working for the political interests of a foreign government as an agent of that government, and then failed to disclose that arrangement.

And that brings us to story number two today, Trump's son-in-law and current White House adviser Jared "How Does This Asshole Still Have A Security Clearance" Kushner will have some very pointed questions to answer under oath in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner has agreed to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Russian election meddling on Monday, July 24, ABC News has learned. The closed-door session sets up what could be one of the most highly anticipated interviews for lawmakers to date.
Kushner's lawyer Abbe Lowell confirmed the meeting to ABC News. “As Mr. Kushner has been saying since March, he has been and is prepared to voluntarily cooperate and provide whatever information he has on the investigations to Congress," Lowell said. "Working with and being responsive to the schedules of the committees, we have arranged Mr. Kushner's interview with the senate for July 24. He will continue to cooperate and appreciates the opportunity to assist in putting this matter to rest.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee has said since March that Kushner is one of many within the Trump administration it planned to question as part of it's Russia investigation.

The appearance by Kushner, who has kept a low public profile since joining the administration, marks a new phase in the investigation as one of the president's closest confidantes is called to answer questions.

Congressional investigators are expected to focus on Kushner's contacts with Russians during and immediately after the campaign. All contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials have come under intensified scrutiny following repeated denials from the Trump administration that there were no undisclosed meetings with Russians -- statements that have since been proven false.

Additionally, investigators are likely to ask about Kushner's failure to disclose some of those encounters on his security clearance application, as required by law. Another attorney for Kushner, Jamie Gorelick, has previously stated that Kushner's security clearance form, known as an SF-86, was "prematurely submitted" and that "among other errors, [it] did not list any contacts with foreign government officials." Kushner has since updated that form with all relevant meetings, including "over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries," Gorelick told ABC News.

And while it may be a closed-door session, it's that second part about glaring omissions on his SF-86 security clearance form that Kushner himself faces the most trouble for. Lying on one of those is a federal crime and Kushner damn well knows it.

But Kushner won't be alone in Senate testimony next week.  Both Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. will get to chat with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as we come to the third leg of our trip this morning.

Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have been scheduled to testify before the Senate judiciary committee on July 26, the panel announced Wednesday. 
President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner is also expected to appear before the Senate intelligence committee on Monday. A source told CNN Kushner's testimony would be behind closed doors. 
The interest in Trump Jr. and Manafort builds on already intensive congressional investigations. In June 2016, the President's eldest son agreed to meet with someone described as a "Russian government attorney" after receiving an email offering him "very high level and sensitive information" that would "incriminate" Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, according to emails Trump Jr. publicly released last week. Manafort and Kushner attended that June 16 meeting. 
A spokesperson for Manafort told CNN that he'd received the invitation to testify and wouldn't comment further. 
Earlier this week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, said that Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller had signed off on the committee's request to interview Manafort and Trump Jr. in public.

The Senate Judiciary committee hasn't been too involved up until this point, because it's been run by Iowa Sen. Chuck "Assume Justice Dead" Grassley.  But apparently the Donald Trump Jr. story has pissed Grassley off enough that he's bringing the committee to bear, and that means critics on both sides of the aisle will get some tough questions in, including ranking member Dianne Feinstein, Al Franken, Patrick Leahy, and Dick Durbin, on the Democratic side as well as Ben Sasse and Lindsey Graham on the GOP side.

It should be a very entertaining session next week.  Stay turned.

StupidiNews!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Last Call For There Is No Dana, Only Fool

The Trump-Russia story is bad enough, but we need to take a look at other compromised Republicans in DC these days, starting with California GOP Congressman (and long-time friend of Russia) Dana Rohrabacher.  Turns out Dana hasn't just been taking lobbyist cash from the folks Don Trump Jr. likes to hang out with in meetings, he also takes policy direction...and apparently direct orders from the Kremlin to boot. Nico Hines at the Daily Beast:

Members of the team of Russians who secured a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner also attempted to stage a show trial of anti-Putin campaigner Bill Browder on Capitol Hill. 
The trial, which would have come in the form of a congressional hearing, was scheduled for mid-June 2016 by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a long-standing Russia ally who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe. During the hearing, Rohrabacher had planned to confront Browder with a feature-length pro-Kremlin propaganda movie that viciously attacks him—as well as at least two witnesses linked to the Russian authorities, including lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya
Ultimately, the hearing was canceled when senior Republicans intervened and agreed to allow a hearing on Russia at the full committee level with a Moscow-sympathetic witness, according to multiple congressional aides. 
An email reviewed by The Daily Beast shows that before that June 14 hearing, Rohrabacher’s staff received pro-Kremlin briefings against Browder, once Russia’s biggest foreign investor, and his tax attorney Sergei Magnitsky from a lawyer who was working with Veselnitskaya. 

The Browder in this case is William Browder, the US businessman and portfolio manager who was represented by Sergei Magnitsky before Magnitsky's unseemly death.  Rohrbacher by the way freely admitted to meeting with this Russian cast of characters back in May.

Although House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) had prohibited Rohrabacher from showing the Russian propaganda film in Congress, Rohrabacher’s Capitol Hill office still actively promoted a screening of the movie that was held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on June 13, 2016. Veselnitskaya was one of those handling the movie’s worldwide promotion. 
Invitations to attend the movie screening were sent from the subcommittee office by Catharine O’Neill, a Republican intern on Rohrabacher’s committee. Her email promised that the movie would convince viewers that Magnitsky, who was murdered in a Russian prison cell, was no hero.

The invite, reviewed by The Daily Beast, claimed that the film “explodes the common view that Mr. Magnitsky was a whistleblower” and lavishes praise on the “rebel director” Andrei Nekrasov. 
“That invitation was not from our office. O’Neill was an unpaid intern on the committee staff. Paul denies asking her to send the invitations,” said Ken Grubbs, Rohrabacher’s press secretary, referring to the congressman’s staff director, Paul Behrends. 
O’Neill went on to secure a job on the Trump transition team and then in the State Department’s Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. She did not return a call for comment. 
Rohrabacher’s office was given the film by the Prosecutor General’s office in Moscow, which is run by Yuri Chaika, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin who is accused of widespread corruption, and Viktor Grin, the deputy general prosecutor who has been sanctioned by the United States as part of the Magnitsky Act. 
That same Prosecutor General’s office also was listed as being behind the “very high level and sensitive information” that was offered to Donald Trump Jr. in an email prior to his now infamous meeting with Russian officials at Trump Tower on June 9—just days before the congressional hearing. Veselnitskaya attended that meeting with Trump Jr. She also happens to have worked as a prosecutor in the Moscow region and is a close personal friend of Chaika. 
The Daily Beast reviewed a copy of a document that was passed to Rohrabacher in Moscow in April 2016. The document, marked “confidential,” was given to Rohrabacher and Behrends. It lays out an alternate reality in which the U.S.—and the rest of the world—has been duped by a fake $230 million scandal that resulted in sanctions being imposed on 44 Russians linked to murder, corruption, or cover-ups.

So cooler heads prevailed, but Rohrabacher was literally going to use a Russia popaganda film as evidence in a House Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Russian sanctions, and this was all just around the time that we start seeing the Russians mess with voter registration systems, and start openly contacting the Trump people.

And yes, it's once again Valerie Veselnitskaya and friends.  Again.

Mueller has to be looking at Rohrabacher too.  You can make the case that Trump may not be fully involved (but knew what was going on) on the Russia side, but there's zero doubt in my mind that Dana Rohrabacher is outright taking orders from a foreign government.  Best case he's a fanatic and patsy, but worst case his actions meet the very definition, historical, literal, and legal, of treason.

We'll see how deep this krolichya nora goes.

Flaking Out In Arizona

One of the few GOP Senators in 2018 that may be vulnerable, Sen. Jeff Flake is now facing a massive primary challenge funded by...Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump and White House officials have had a series of conversations with prospective Republican candidates about challenging Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake in the 2018 primary. 
Kelli Ward, who has already launched her campaign, and Robert Graham, a former state GOP chair and Trump adviser who is considering it, both told CNN on Monday they have had multiple conversations with White House officials about opposing Flake in the Senate primary. 
Graham said the talks began shortly after the 2016 presidential campaign concluded, and both Graham and Ward said further conversations took place as recently as two weeks ago.

Another potential candidate -- state treasurer Jeff DeWit -- has had multiple conversations with Trump, sources familiar with those talks said. DeWit is close with Graham, making it unlikely both would run. 

If you're surprised in the least by Trump coming to slice Flake's throat open, you haven't been paying attention to the Revengeaholic-In-Chief .
Trump was furious at Flake last fall when the Arizona senator called on Trump to withdraw from the presidential race after the emergence of the "Access Hollywood" tape
He told a small group of Arizona Republicans last fall -- including Graham -- that he would spend $10 million on defeating Flake in the 2018 Senate primary, a source familiar with the conversation confirmed. That conversation and the White House's further involvement in recruiting a primary challenger were first reported Monday by Politico's Alex Isenstadt. 
"They used Jeff Flake in Hillary Clinton's ads, for heaven's sakes. It was like pouring salt on the wounds," Graham told CNN.

Flake made Trump look bad.  Now Trump will most likely end Flake's political career.  The message is clear: if there are any Republicans in the Senate even considering turning on Trump, they're dead and buried where they stand.

By the way, one of the Democrats running against Flake in 2018 is Deedra Abboud, a Muslim attorney who lives in Phoenix. If Trump's blackballing doesn't end Flake's career, then Flake refusing to attack Abboud for being Muslim should finish him off nicely.

I have no sympathy for Flake because I know whoever replaces him on the GOP side will be worse.

None whatsoever.
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