Sunday, April 22, 2018

Mitt-igating Circumstances

Mitt Romney finished second in yesterday's Utah GOP primary caucus yesterday, meaning he now faces a June runoff primary against state Rep. Mike Kennedy for Sen. Orrin Hatch's seat.

After a wild and raucous day of voting at the Utah GOP convention, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee was unable to win the 60% that he needed to head to the November ballot unopposed. When none of the 12 candidates were able to cross that threshold, the party continued with successive rounds of caucus voting until one candidate reached 40%. 
On the second round of voting, Utah state representative Mike Kennedy emerged in the lead with 50.88%. Romney came in a close second with 49.12%. 
Romney and Kennedy will now compete in a primary set for June 26. 
After the vote, Romney said he was looking forward to a primary race. 
"This is terrific for the people of Utah, and I really want to thank the delegates who stayed so late to give me the kind of boost that I got here today," Romney said, standing on the convention floor after the proceedings were adjourned. "We're going to have a good primary." 
Kennedy, who had framed the race as David vs. Goliath, said when asked why he had edged out Romney in the vote that he wasn't sure. 
"I don't know," Kennedy said when asked why he thought his message appealed more to delegates than Romney's. "I don't know -- it's just my message."

Or it could be that nobody actually likes the guy.  Still, Romney was able to navigate Utah's byzantine GOP primary rules and if he does win the primary would have to be considered a frontrunner for Hatch's seat.  Hatch is retiring after his 7th term, a whopping 42 years in the US Senate.

Then again, Sen. Mike Lee won the other Utah Senate seat by driving Sen. Bob Bennett out of the party in 2010 as not conservative enough.  Utah Republicans can be weird.

What I do know is that the leading Democratic candidate, Salt Lake City Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, doesn't have much of a chance.  We could be stuck with Mittens in the US Senate for a while if he wins the primary as he's 71, but if Kennedy wins, well, he could be in there for 42 years too.

No real good news here for Dems unless Utah goes through a major demographic change towards purple/blue like the rest of the US Southwest.  It may happen, but not soon enough to help this time around.

Sunday Long Read: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes

As the data privacy debate over social media and online services rages on, it already may be a moot point.  The federal government and many state and local governments are already customers of data analysis giant Palantir, and odds are Palantir knows everything about you already, consent or not.

High above the Hudson River in downtown Jersey City, a former U.S. Secret Service agent named Peter Cavicchia III ran special ops for JPMorgan Chase & Co. His insider threat group—most large financial institutions have one—used computer algorithms to monitor the bank’s employees, ostensibly to protect against perfidious traders and other miscreants. 
Aided by as many as 120 “forward-deployed engineers” from the data mining company Palantir Technologies Inc., which JPMorgan engaged in 2009, Cavicchia’s group vacuumed up emails and browser histories, GPS locations from company-issued smartphones, printer and download activity, and transcripts of digitally recorded phone conversations. Palantir’s software aggregated, searched, sorted, and analyzed these records, surfacing keywords and patterns of behavior that Cavicchia’s team had flagged for potential abuse of corporate assets. Palantir’s algorithm, for example, alerted the insider threat team when an employee started badging into work later than usual, a sign of potential disgruntlement. That would trigger further scrutiny and possibly physical surveillance after hours by bank security personnel. 
Over time, however, Cavicchia himself went rogue. Former JPMorgan colleagues describe the environment as Wall Street meets Apocalypse Now, with Cavicchia as Colonel Kurtz, ensconced upriver in his office suite eight floors above the rest of the bank’s security team. People in the department were shocked that no one from the bank or Palantir set any real limits. They darkly joked that Cavicchia was listening to their calls, reading their emails, watching them come and go. Some planted fake information in their communications to see if Cavicchia would mention it at meetings, which he did. 
It all ended when the bank’s senior executives learned that they, too, were being watched, and what began as a promising marriage of masters of big data and global finance descended into a spying scandal. The misadventure, which has never been reported, also marked an ominous turn for Palantir, one of the most richly valued startups in Silicon Valley. An intelligence platform designed for the global War on Terror was weaponized against ordinary Americans at home
Founded in 2004 by Peter Thiel and some fellow PayPal alumni, Palantir cut its teeth working for the Pentagon and the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq. The company’s engineers and products don’t do any spying themselves; they’re more like a spy’s brain, collecting and analyzing information that’s fed in from the hands, eyes, nose, and ears. The software combs through disparate data sources—financial documents, airline reservations, cellphone records, social media postings—and searches for connections that human analysts might miss. It then presents the linkages in colorful, easy-to-interpret graphics that look like spider webs. U.S. spies and special forces loved it immediately; they deployed Palantir to synthesize and sort the blizzard of battlefield intelligence. It helped planners avoid roadside bombs, track insurgents for assassination, even hunt down Osama bin Laden. The military success led to federal contracts on the civilian side. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses Palantir to detect Medicare fraud. The FBI uses it in criminal probes. The Department of Homeland Security deploys it to screen air travelers and keep tabs on immigrants.

Police and sheriff’s departments in New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Los Angeles have also used it, frequently ensnaring in the digital dragnet people who aren’t suspected of committing any crime.
People and objects pop up on the Palantir screen inside boxes connected to other boxes by radiating lines labeled with the relationship: “Colleague of,” “Lives with,” “Operator of [cell number],” “Owner of [vehicle],” “Sibling of,” even “Lover of.” If the authorities have a picture, the rest is easy. Tapping databases of driver’s license and ID photos, law enforcement agencies can now identify more than half the population of U.S. adults.

Increasingly in America, Palantir's systems tell cops, fraud investigators, immigration officials,  and employers who to suspect, and once you get into the system, you're trapped there for good.  Never committed a crime?  Too bad: if you have any sort of relationship to anyone who has, you're in Palantir's digital gaze.  Your life is a series of data pages, and Palantir turns it into an open book for the right bidder to read.

We can talk about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica all day, but it's Palantir and data analysis firms like it already involved in every aspect of your life that are the problem outside the voting booth.

Who watches the watchmen?

Nobody knows.  But they are sure as hell watching all of us.

Farming Up Some Votes

Rural Trump voters in red states are coming to terms with what Trump's trade war with China means: already damaged farm economies are only going to get worse. Democrats think there's fertile soil here to grow something strong.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat and longtime farmer who is running in another of the nation's most hotly contested races, said that he would support subsidies over nothing at all if Trump doesn't back away from the tariffs.

"I think as a last-ditch effort, yeah," Tester said. "Short of putting people out of business, I'd support them."

But Democrats say Trump's trade agenda has gone in exactly the wrong direction for American farmers.

"What he really needs to do instead of contracting trade markets is expand them, and he's not doing that," Tester said. "Farmers would much rather get their payments from the marketplace, so he needs to expand the markets."

Many Democrats see political opportunity in the treatment the agricultural community has gotten from Trump, who said recently that farmers will "understand that they're doing this for the country" and that he would "make it up to them."

Kristen Hawn, a Democratic strategist who is working with several House candidates, said Trump's message won't land well in the heartland.

"Anyone who tells these hardworking Americans that they should take it on the chin is not just wrong," Hawn said. "They do it at their own political peril."

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said his party was already well positioned to take advantage of a Trump backlash among suburban Republicans and that White House trade policy could help expand the map of politically competitive districts.

"He’s not looking too good in the rural areas either right now," Pallone said. "If [we] start winning seats in Iowa and some of the farm areas, then they are really in trouble.”

Trump's actions forced the debate over tariffs and subsidies, but many Republicans and Democrats — and their rural voters — would like to see him simply walk back the proposed tariffs.

"He brought [subsidies] up but really the whole focus of the discussion shifted to markets and trade and fair trade and not having tariffs," Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said after meeting with Trump last week.

But the president also told lawmakers repeatedly that he has his finger on the pulse of rural America.

"He said multiple times he’s very focused [on] getting something that’s very good for agriculture and good for farmers and ranchers, and that farmers and ranchers supported him in his election," Hoeven said.

But even among those farmers, support for the president doesn't automatically translate into support for his agriculture policy.

Raybould, running against Fischer in Nebraska, has endorsed a bill introduced by Sens. Jeff Flake, Ariz., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., that would nullify Trump's proposed action on steel and aluminum imports.

"We need more trading partners, not fewer trading partners," she said.

In a statement released after last week's White House meeting, Fischer said she told Trump "how critical it is that we work together to protect markets" both domestically and internationally.

These issues are "causing anxiety and uncertainty" among her constituents, she said.

I don't have very high hopes for Democrats winning back states like Iowa or Indiana or Kansas, because I don't think for a second that the real issues people vote on in red states have much to do with economics.  Republicans will put together enough of a farm bill package to keep farmers and ranchers loyal, I'm sure.

But the reality is while Trump's trade war may depress GOP turnout, there's a wide chasm between "I'm not going to vote Republican" and "I'll vote for the Democrat in the race instead".  It's not going to be bridged anytime soon.  Trump's approval rating among Republicans remains upwards of 80-85%.

As long as he can prove that his policies are hurting urban Democrats and those people more than farm country, they'll applaud him while their economies burn, if not gladly hand him the matches and the gasoline.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Last Call For Assad's Useful Idiot

Before Nina Turner or Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein made it clear that cashing in on Clinton-bashing was a thing, former Dem Rep. Dennis Kucinich was making the rounds as the dirtbag left's favorite son.  With Ohio's Democratic nomination for governor relatively open, the Mistake from the Lake is already finding out just how much of a massive albatross he would be in a general election.

Ahead of a tight primary on May 8, Dennis Kucinich’s bid to win the Democratic nomination for the critical gubernatorial race in Ohio landed in trouble this week because of the revelation that he was paid $20,000 last year by a group sympathetic to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Now, largely overlooked election filings show that the former congressman’s political apparatus received thousands of more dollars from two brothers involved in multiple efforts to bring Kucinich and Assad together since 2007.

Elie Khawam, a member of a pro-Assad party in the Middle East, gave $6,000 to Kucinich Action PAC in two installments: $1,000 on May 4, 2015, and $5,000 on Nov. 1, 2016, two months before Kucinich’s most recent meeting in Syria with the dictator. Elie’s brother, Bassam Khawam, gave $2,000 to the Kucinich for President campaign on June 30, 2012. Both men, who are U.S. citizens, accompanied Kucinich on his January 2017 visit, and Bassam has said they funded the trip.

Kucinich has depicted his visits with Assad ― all but one of which took place after the Syrian ruler began turning his guns on his own people in 2011― as important diplomatic outreach to avoid American foreign policy mistakes and militarism. But he has also repeatedly downplayed credible reports of war crimes by the Assad regime, including at an April 2017 British conference the pro-Assad group paid for him to attend, three months after his trip to Damascus. Kucinich opponents are now making the issue central to the question of whether he’s fit to be governor.

“Kucinich has been an outspoken defender of the Assad regime in Syria even as it killed countless people and has repeatedly used chemical weapons against defenseless civilians,” former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D), a supporter of Democratic front-runner Richard Cordray, said Wednesday.

Cordray’s campaign is already demanding that Kucinich reveal any other income since he left Congress in 2013, including potential payments for multiple appearances on RT, a media outlet owned by the pro-Assad government of Russia.

The former congressman’s financial ties to the Khawam brothers could add fuel to the fire.

Asked about the donations, Kucinich spokesman Andy Juniewicz noted that the men had been friends for over 30 years. The Kucinich campaign says Cordray’s team is misrepresenting his views.

Admitting a 30 year relationship with pro-Assad war crimes truthers is probably a bad idea, even in Ohio.  I'm glad this came out now rather than after Kucinich might have beaten Rob Cordray in the primary.

Maybe it's terrible saying that, but hopefully this will knock Kucinich out of Ohio politics for good.

Meet The New El Jefe, Same As The Old El Jefe

After more than a decade, Raul Castro has stepped down as Cuba's president, handing off power to his selected successor and Cuba is still Cuba. Anyone hoping for major new reforms, especially in the Trump era, are going to be majorly disappointed.

His handpicked successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, 57, is a Communist Party loyalist who was born a year after Fidel Castro claimed power in Cuba. His rise ushers in a new generation of Cubans whose only firsthand experience with the revolution has been its aftermath — the early era of plenty, the periods of economic privation after the demise of the Soviet Union, and the fleeting détente in recent years with the United States, its Cold War foe.

Officials started gathering here in Havana on Wednesday morning and put forward Mr. Díaz-Canel as the sole candidate to replace Mr. Castro, all but assuring his selection by the Communist Party.

Though Mr. Díaz-Canel’s path to the top office has been forecast for years, many an heir apparent before him has fallen by the wayside in the search for a successor to lead the country, whether because of party disloyalty, snide remarks or projecting too much power for the Castros’ liking.

In that delicate balancing act, Mr. Díaz-Canel, a former provincial leader who became the most important of Cuba’s vice presidents, has shown the sort of restraint prized by the Castros. But that same caution has left him an enigma both inside and outside the country.

Few American officials — even those in the United States Embassy in Havana — have spent time with him or can claim to have shared more than a few passing words. Even the most seasoned Cuba experts have only faint clues as to what he will do, how he will lead and how much latitude he will have to chart his own course.

Cuba’s next president could be hemmed in from multiple sides. For one, Raúl Castro is expected to remain the head of the Communist Party and wield great influence. Even Fidel, who ruled Cuba since the revolution, did not officially become president until years later, allowing others to occupy the post while he ran the country.

Beyond that, the diplomatic opening with the United States has closed abruptly under President Trump, limiting Mr. Díaz-Canel’s ability to maneuver economically.

There is nothing in his résumé to suggest he is going to take risks,” Theodore Piccone, a Cuba scholar at the Brookings Institution, said of Mr. Díaz-Canel. “But that is the way the system works — anyone willing to take the risk before now would not be in line to be the president.”

I would have to think that if Clinton were in charge, there would be a much greater chance of real detente with Cuba.  Alas, America made its decision, and it appears so has Raul Castro.

Besides, even if you did want democratic reforms in Cuba, why would you want them with, you know, a country that has Donald Trump for a leader?

A Couple Brief Sessions Of Sanity

Recently, Donald Trump has been placated and has put off firing Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller after Rosenstein gave the House Judiciary copies of former FBI Director James Comey's memos on his meetings with Trump.

The House Judiciary immediately leaked the notes to the press in hopes that it would somehow show that Comey wasn't credible, but that "brilliant plan" has already backfired and this morning Trump was attacking the "Special Council" on Twitter yet again.

But the bigger story this morning is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who over the course of the last week or so may have accidentally developed a microscopic thread of human decency.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently told the White House he might have to leave his job if President Trump fired his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the exchange.

Sessions made his position known in a phone call to White House counsel Donald McGahn last weekend, as Trump’s fury at Rosenstein peaked after the deputy attorney general approved the FBI’s raid April 9 on the president’s personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Sessions’s message to the White House, which has not previously been reported, underscores the political firestorm that Trump would invite should he attempt to remove the deputy attorney general. While Trump also has railed against Sessions at times, the protest resignation of an attorney general — which would be likely to incite other departures within the administration — would create a moment of profound crisis for the White House.

In the phone call with McGahn, Sessions wanted details of a meeting Trump and Rosenstein held at the White House on April 12, according to a person with knowledge of the call. Sessions expressed relief to learn that their meeting was largely cordial. Sessions said he would have had to consider leaving as the attorney general had Trump ousted Rosenstein, this person said.

Another person familiar with the exchange said Sessions did not intend to threaten the White House but rather wanted to convey the untenable position that Rosenstein’s firing would put him in.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. 

 I know, I'm astonished as well.  Jeff Sessions actually doing the right thing, going to bat for his eople to protect them from Trump after spending nearly a year twiddling his twiddlers doing nothing because of his recusal from the case?  Why, that would be two correct actions in 11 months.  At that rate, Sessions might win the Nobel prize in 3416.

Meanwhile the Democrats aren't sitting back and waiting around for once either (all these people in politics doing the right things, what the hell?)  Dems are now suing Trump, Russia, and WikiLeaks in a major civil case.

The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump.

The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there.

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.

“This constituted an act of unprecedented treachery: the campaign of a nominee for President of the United States in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the presidency,” he said.
The suit asserts that the Russian hacking campaign — combined with Trump associates’ contacts with Russia and the campaign’s public cheerleading of the hacks — amounted to an illegal conspiracy to interfere in the election and caused serious damage to the Democratic Party.

Go for it, guys.  Stormy Daniels shows us the way.

Economic Anxiety Watch 2018

Meanwhile, here in Ohio...


A display featuring several Confederate flags, black figures with wigs, and a black mannequin with painted lips is spurring controversy in Lindale. 
Some witnesses have described the display as disturbing. The homeowners claim they have received threats over it. 
The flags and figurines are outside a home in the 2000 block of OH-132, about a 30-minute drive east from downtown Cincinnati. 
“In no way, shape, or form should anybody think that it’s racist," said Louie Jones, Jr., who lives at the home where the display is set up. 
Jones says the porch has multiple antique pieces on it including a tin poster of John Wayne, a lantern, and a gnome. 
Jones lives at the home with his father. He says the display has been up for years.
FOX19 NOW's Maytal Levi asked Jones: "What would you say to someone driving by this saying that family hates black people?" 
Everybody hates everybody, ya know?" Jones said. "It just depends on what you hate and what you like. It ain’t got nothing to do with race, we ain’t racial.”

That economic anxiety, man, it's brutal.

Say what you will about Kentucky, there are entire counties in Ohio I won't go through because of garbage like this.

Bonus points as to how the story as framed as "Is this racist?  Opinions differ."

Friday, April 20, 2018

Last Call For Rudy Toot Toot

You guys, Rudy Giuliani is going to make the Mueller probe go away in May because, you know, he's the best lawyer on Earth!

Rudy Giuliani said Thursday that he will join President Trump’s legal team and hopes to bring an end to the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election meddling in “a week or two.” 
“I’m going to join the legal team to try to bring this to a resolution,” Giuliani told The Post. 
“The country deserves it. I’ve got great admiration for President Trump. 
“I’ve had a long relationship with Bob Mueller. I have great respect for him. He’s done a good job.” 
Giuliani, a former US Attorney, served as New York City’s mayor when Mueller was the FBI director. 
“I don’t know yet what’s outstanding. But I don’t think it’s going to take more than a week or two to get a resolution. They’re almost there
“I’m going to ask Mueller, ‘What do you need to wrap it up?’” he said.

When this blows up in his face, expect Trump to get all "apoplectic" again, sure.  But keep in mind that Rudy is the shiny object you're supposed to be looking at while Trump's real new lawyers, the husband and wife team of Marty and Jane Raskin, go to work.

As for Giuliani, the choice is peculiar. Trump has shown a penchant, especially lately, for hiring people more for their ability to advocate for him on television than for their experience. Unlike some of the other attorneys who have circulated through Trump’s team or been rumored as possible additions, Giuliani has legitimate criminal-law experience, most prominently as a U.S. Attorney. But he left that job in 1989 to run for mayor. Over the years since, he has practiced law, but most often has served as a consultant or an executive, not as a litigator. These days he is most often known for his outspoken and sometimes outlandish opinions.

He is also awkwardly tied to the Russia investigation. In July 2016, Giuliani asserted that Russia had possessed Hillary Clinton’s emails for some time. In November, he boasted that FBI officials were leaking to him about the Clinton investigation, and that he had known about Comey’s decision to reopen the probe before it was announced. National-security lawyer Bradley Moss tweeted that the government is due in June to file an affidavit in a case over whether Giuliani received FBI leaks during the campaign. 
Indeed, Giuliani told CNN later on Thursday that his involvement in the Trump team would be limited in both scope and timeframe. The last time Trump announced a big addition to the team, the former U.S. Attorney and current conspiracy theorist Joseph diGenova, Sekulow had to quietly announce a few days later that the new hire wouldn’t actually be coming on due to conflict-of-interest issues with another client. 
Raskin and Raskin might be a more important hire in the broad scope. Unlike Sekulow, a First Amendment specialist, they are experienced white-collar criminal-defense lawyers. While Ty Cobb, the White House special counsel working on Russia, has criminal-law experience, the president hasn’t had a real criminal-defense lawyer working on his personal legal team since John Dowd’s exit in March, at least as far as is publicly known. Moreover, the Raskins are not famous partners at a big firm, but litigators who spend a great deal of time in a courtroom. While there’s no first-call attorney for defending a sitting president, they have a record of defending public officials
Giuliani’s brash promise of a negotiated settlement, and the leak about Rosenstein, both telegraph a president feeling increasingly confident about the Russia investigation. Hiring Raskin and Raskin sends a different message: that Trump is moving toward getting serious about a very serious investigation.

Trump figures he has the clout to hire both Giuliani and the Raskins.   If one fails, the other approach might work.

Or, you know, Trump is just so completely guilty that they quit just like everyone else.

You Can Bank On The Winner Not Being You

The Trump Tax Scam™ has already saved taxpayers billions of dollars, and when I say "taxpayers", I mean the nation's six largest banks who posted record profits in Q1 2018.

The nation’s six big Wall Street banks posted record, or near record, profits in the first quarter, and they can thank one person in particular: President Donald Trump
While higher interest rates allowed banks to earn more from lending in the first quarter, the main boost to bank came from the billions of dollars they saved in taxes under the tax law Trump signed in December. Combined, the six banks saved at least $3.59 billion last quarter, according to an Associated Press estimate, using the bank’s tax rates going back to 2015. 
Big publicly traded banks — such JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America — typically kick off the earnings season. Their reports for the January-March quarter are giving investors and the public their first glimpse into how the new tax law is impacting Corporate America. 
Before the change in tax law, the maximum U.S. corporate income tax rate was 35 percent, not including what companies paid in state income taxes. Banks historically paid some of the highest taxes among the major industries, due to their U.S.-centric business models. Before the Trump tax cuts, these banks paid between 28 to 31 percent of their income each year in corporate taxes
The results released over the past week show how sharply those rates have dropped. JPMorgan Chase said it had a first-quarter tax rate of 18.3 percent, Goldman Sachs paid just 17.2 percent in taxes, and the highest-taxed bank of the six majors, Citigroup, had a tax rate of 23.7 percent. This is just one quarter’s results, however, and bank executives at the big six firms have estimated that their full-year tax rates will be something closer to 20 percent to 22 percent.

$3.6 billion per quarter comes out to roughly $14 billion a year for the six largest banks in America, and I'm sure all that money is going to the employees in the form of raises and to customers in the form of reductions in fees and service charges.

I mean, that's what Trump promised, right?

Oh, you mean that's not what the banks are doing?

Shares of Bank of America rose 0.3 percent in Tuesday midday trading after the bank announced it would be buying back an additional $5 billion worth of shares
The board of directors approved the additional repurchase, which will occur through June 2018. The company had previously announced plans to repurchase $12 billion in common stock earlier this year
In a statement from Bank of America, the repurchase program "will be subject to various factors, including the company's capital position, liquidity, financial performance and alternative uses of capital, stock trading price, and general market conditions, and may be suspended at any time."

Bank of America shares are 31 percent higher this year, with a 4 percent jump in the last one month alone, as investors bet that banks will be one of the top beneficiaries of tax reform.

That was in December.  Shares went up all the way into March before last month's Trump Tariff crash shaved BoA's share price back down to those December levels.  But hey, BoA has enough money to buy $17 billion in stock since Trump got elected.

That's just one of the big six.

And they just got another $600 million a piece this quarter.

But sure, her emails.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Last night I mentioned that the House GOP plan to mollify Trump involved a House Judiciary Committee subpoena to Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein demanding former FBI Director James Comey's contemporaneous memos from the months before he was fired last May, and that Rosenstein handed those memos over yesterday.

This morning we find that overnight the House Judiciary has immediately leaked those 15 pages of memos to every press outlet in DC in an effort to damage James Comey, Robert Mueller, and Rod Rosenstein.

In a series of startlingly candid conversations, President Donald Trump told former FBI Director James Comey that he had serious concerns about the judgment of a top adviser, asked about the possibility of jailing journalists and described a boast from Vladimir Putin about Russian prostitutes, according to Comey’s notes of the talks obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday night.

The 15 pages of documents contain new details about a series of interactions with Trump that Comey found so unnerving that he chose to document them in writing. Those seven encounters in the weeks and months before Comey’s May 2017 firing include a Trump Tower discussion about allegations involving Trump and prostitutes in Moscow; a White House dinner at which Comey says Trump asked him for his loyalty; and a private Oval Office discussion where the ex-FBI head says the president asked him to end an investigation into Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser.

The documents had been eagerly anticipated since their existence was first revealed last year, especially since Comey’s interactions with Trump are a critical part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Late Thursday night, Trump tweeted that the memos “show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.”

The president also accused Comey of leaking classified information. The memos obtained by the AP were unclassified, though some portions were blacked out as classified. Details from Comey’s memos reported in news stories last year appear to come from the unclassified portions.

In explaining the purpose of creating the memos, which have been provided to Mueller, Comey has said he “knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened” to defend not only himself but the FBI as well.

The memos cover the first three months of the Trump administration, a period of upheaval marked by staff turnover, a cascade of damaging headlines and revelations of an FBI investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The documents reflect Trump’s uneasiness about that investigation, though not always in ways that Comey seemed to anticipate.

Trump is claiming total vindication once again, especially since Rosenstein reportedly told Trump that he's not a target of the Mueller probe or the SDNY investigation into Trump's lawyer and fixer, Robert Cohen.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told President Donald Trump last week that he isn’t a target of any part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation or the probe into his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Rosenstein, who brought up the investigations himself, offered the assurance during a meeting with Trump at the White House last Thursday, a development that helped tamp down the president’s desire to remove Rosenstein or Mueller, the people said.

After the meeting, Trump told some of his closest advisers that it’s not the right time to remove either man since he’s not a target of the probes. One person said Trump doesn’t want to take any action that would drag out the investigation.

The change in attitude by the president comes after weeks of attacks on the special counsel and the Justice Department, raising questions about whether he might take drastic steps to shut down the probes.

The shift gives some breathing room for Mueller, as well as Rosenstein, who has been criticized strongly by House Republicans for being slow to comply with requests for classified documents. Last week’s meeting was set up in part to allow Rosenstein to assuage Trump’s frustration with his decisions.

If all this is true, and Trump's not a target (yet) it doesn't mean that Trump isn't a subject of either investigation, and Rosenstein's actions make a lot more sense: he's buying Mueller time to continue his probe.

Of course, there's ample evidence that leaking Comey's interpretation of his meetings with Trump isn't helping Trump's case at all.  It also isn't going to stop, say, Michael Cohen, who most certainly is a target, from flipping on Trump.

Stay tuned.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time, Con't

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post finds that House Republicans are now actively interfering with the Mueller probe in hope of slowing it down until after the midterms, if not giving Donald Trump cover for outright termination of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his boss, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein.

One of the big political questions of the moment is this: Will GOP congressional leaders act to protect special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation against President Trump’s threats to hamstring or kill it? 
But in a way, this question, while important, doesn’t really get at the full story here, because its premise is that Republicans are mostly behaving passively toward the Mueller probe, clearing the way for Trump to act if he wishes. In reality, Republicans are, under cover of fake oversight, actively working to interfere in the investigation, on Trump’s behalf. 
Here’s the latest on this front: The Post reports that House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte is planning to issue a subpoena for release of the memos that former FBI director James B. Comey has made of his private conversations with Trump, which have been turned over to Mueller
Those conversations include the ones in which Trump demanded Comey’s loyalty and pressed him to drop the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, but there is a lot more in those memos we haven’t heard about. They are probably important evidence in Mueller’s efforts to establish whether Trump obstructed justice.

Surprise!  And you thought Trey Gowdy and Jason Chaffetz were assholes.

The Justice Department is already signaling reluctance to release these memos. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, has already told congressional Republicans that he wants more time to evaluate “the consequences” of giving them to Congress and worries about “publicizing them.” 
Does anyone really believe Republicans are motivated by nothing but pure oversight impulses here? There are two other reasons they might want these memos. The first is to deliberately provoke Rosenstein into declining to provide them all — which could create a pretext to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress or even for Trump to fire him
“The Deputy Attorney General should be aware that no matter what he gives to these members of Congress, it will never be enough,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told me this morning. “The point is to create a conflict with the Justice Department that would give the president grounds to get rid of Mueller or Rosenstein. They don’t care what damage they do to our institutions to protect the president.” Separately, Schiff is pushing a new bill that would create disincentives for Trump to pardon people involved in the investigation.

The second reason for getting these memos — and let’s not pretend this isn’t perfectly plausible — would be to selectively leak from them, to mislead the public by, say, creating phony impressions of misconduct on Comey’s part that could provide more fodder for Trump and his allies to delegitimize the investigation, possibly manufacturing further pretext to hamstring or kill it. Let me remind you that Republicans already tried a similar caper with the bad-faith-saturated Nunes memo.

One of both of these will happen as a result of these subpoenas, count on it.  Not only did this happen with the Nunes memo, it happened with the texts of FBI agent Peter Strzok, who the Republicans have been flogging for months as proof of bias in the FBI.  It has worked, too: fewer than 20% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of Robert Mueller and 55% believe Mueller's investigation is "unfair" to Donald Trump.

And indeed, earlier today, Rosenstein caved on these memos and produced them for the subpoena. He's buying time and playing along, but of course now Goodlatte knows he can subpoena anything and everything that Mueller's team may have.

This will happen again, and soon.  And eventually Goodlatte will find something he can use.

The ground is being laid to fire Rosenstein and Mueller ahead of midterm elections.  We need to be paying attention...and more importantly, we need to be voting.

Trump Cards, Con't

Again, anyone at this point expecting Republicans to see reason and abandon Trump are people still somehow unaware that the real issue hasn't been Trump for the last two years, but the Republican party that enabled, nominated, and elected him.  Congressional Republicans, especially House Republicans, are now fully on-board with authoritarian lists of enemies to be prosecuted.

Eleven House Republicans — Ron DeSantis, Andy Biggs, Dave Brat, Jeff Duncan, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Andy Harris, Jody Hice, Todd Rokita, Claudia Tenney, and Ted Yoho — have signed a joint letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling for the criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton and a variety of other Obama administration appointees, career FBI officials, and even Trump appointee Dana Boente, who is currently the FBI’s general counsel. 
The lead of the letter states that the authors are “especially mindful of the dissimilar degrees of zealousness that has marked the investigations into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, respectively.” 
Clinton was, of course, extensively investigated by multiple committees of the US Congress as well as the FBI. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy went so far as to concede at one point that the only actual purpose of the Clinton investigations was to hurt her poll numbers, and though the FBI’s investigations exonerated Clinton, then-FBI Director James Comey offered, against DOJ guidelines, multiple instances of public commentary on her conduct that ultimately hurt her campaign. 
Nonetheless, House Republicans suggest that she should be prosecuted on the theory that because the Steele dossier was paid for in part by a lawyer who worked for the Clinton campaign, the campaign was “disguising payments to Fusion GPS” in a way that violated federal campaign finance law. 
But the issue here, to be clear, is not a particular zeal for campaign finance law. It’s a broad request that the full force of the US government be brought to bear against Trump’s political enemies.

Clinton, Comey, Loretta Lynch, Andrew McCabe, and several others are named in the six-page letter.  Trump has been shouting on Twitter for months, hell he held "Lock her up!" rallies across the country attacking Clinton both before and after the election.

But this is an official and formal criminal referral to the DoJ from eleven House Republicans.  This is something far more sinister that a tweet or a campaign rally chant.  This is the GOP starting the gears of the US government to declare the losing presidential campaign and the people investigating the president as enemies of the state.

Nobody who has been paying attention should be surprised by this, and I fully expect the number of House Republicans signing onto this abomination to grow.  You also shouldn't be surprised if the DoJ follows through on such prosecution.

And in fact on Andrew McCabe, it looks like they are considering doing just that.

The Justice Department inspector general has asked prosecutors in Washington, D.C., to examine whether former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should face criminal charges. 
Inspector General Michael Horowitz has referred McCabe to the U.S. Attorney's Office for Washington, D.C., according to a source familiar with the matter. The source asked not to be identified discussing the sensitive ongoing case. 
Such referrals are not uncommon when the Justice Department IG has completed its work, but they don't automatically trigger any action. Prosecutors could try to prove that McCabe broke the law, or they could do nothing. 
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment. The Justice Department and its inspector general's office both declined to comment. Attorneys for McCabe made no comment.

Expect more such referrals.

A Republic, if you can keep it.

Meanwhile in Bevinstan...

Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin is as awful at apologies as he is at everything else (being governor, being a empathetic human being, etc) after attacking protesting teachers and blaming them for causing child abuse and neglect by striking last week.

Bevin said of the protesters: “Children were harmed — some physically, some sexually, some were introduced to drugs for the first time — because they were vulnerable and left alone.” 
On Sunday, Bevin said “I’m sorry,” but buffered the apology with about four minutes of wordy passive voice. 
“I apologize for those who have been hurt by the things that were said. It was not my intent whatsoever,” the governor said. 
“It’s my responsibility to represent you — not only when I’m speaking to you, but when I’m speaking on your behalf — in ways that are clear, that are understood, that don’t hurt people and don’t confuse people,” he added, addressing public employees. “And so to the extent that I do that well, great, and to the times when I don’t do it well, that’s on me.” 
“I do again— I’m sorry for those of you, every single of one of you, that has been hurt by things that I have said.”

This is still a half-assed apology, the "If I hurt you" qualifier is a classic GOP copout.  "I'm sorry because I said things that were hurtful and wrong" is the correct answer, much less apologizing for suggesting that kids were physically abused because teachers were protesting and that it was the teachers' fault.

Also, Bevin didn't bother to apologize until after his accusations gained national attention over the weekend and after Kentucky's GOP-controlled House censured Bevin not once, but twice in the session where his vetoes were overridden, only adding to his massive embarrassment.

I really hope this is the straw the breaks Bevin's political back.  We'll see what the climate is like in 2019 when he's up for a second term, but at this point if he does go down in flames, this is looking like the point where Kentucky voters changed their minds about him.


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