Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Long Read: Moscow Mule

The now-infamous Steele Dossier on Donald Trump and his Russian contacts is the product of former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who gathered information on Trump at the request of his private sector employers, Fusion GPS.  The Guardian has a good piece on Steele and his story by Luke Harding, who is writing a book on Steele, Trump, and Putin titled, fittingly enough, Collusion.

In mid-2015, the Republican front-runner had been Jeb Bush, son of one US president and brother of another. But as the campaign got under way, Bush struggled. Trump dubbed the former Florida governor “low-energy”. During the primaries, a website funded by one of Trump’s wealthy Republican critics, Paul Singer, commissioned Fusion to investigate Trump. 
After Trump became the presumptive nominee in May 2016, Singer’s involvement ended and senior Democrats seeking to elect Hillary Clinton took over the Trump contract. The new client was the Democratic National Committee. A lawyer working for Clinton’s campaign, Marc E Elias, retained Fusion and received its reports. The world of private investigation was a morally ambiguous one – a sort of open market in dirt. Information on Trump was of no further use to Republicans, but it could be of value to Democrats, Trump’s next set of opponents. 
Before this, in early spring 2016, Simpson approached Steele, his friend and colleague. Steele began to scrutinise Paul Manafort, who would soon become Trump’s new campaign manager. From April, Steele investigated Trump on behalf of the DNC, Fusion’s anonymous client. All Steele knew at first was that the client was a law firm. He had no idea what he would find. He later told David Corn, Washington editor of the magazine Mother Jones: “It started off as a fairly general inquiry.” Trump’s organisation owned luxury hotels around the world. Trump had, as far back as 1987, sought to do real estate deals in Moscow. One obvious question for him, Steele said, was: “Are there business ties to Russia?”Over time, Steele had built up a network of sources. He was protective of them: who they were he would never say. It could be someone well-known – a foreign government official or diplomat with access to secret material. Or it could be someone obscure – a lowly chambermaid cleaning the penthouse suite and emptying the bins in a five-star hotel. 
Normally an intelligence officer would debrief sources directly, but since Steele could no longer visit Russia, this had to be done by others, or in third countries. There were intermediaries, subsources, operators – a sensitive chain. Only one of Steele’s sources on Trump knew of Steele. Steele put out his Trump-Russia query and waited for answers. His sources started reporting back. The information was astonishing; “hair-raising”. As he told friends: “For anyone who reads it, this is a life-changing experience.” 
Steele had stumbled upon a well-advanced conspiracy that went beyond anything he had discovered with Litvinenko or Fifa. It was the boldest plot yet. It involved the Kremlin and Trump. Their relationship, Steele’s sources claimed, went back a long way. For at least the past five years, Russian intelligence had been secretly cultivating Trump. This operation had succeeded beyond Moscow’s wildest expectations. Not only had Trump upended political debate in the US – raining chaos wherever he went and winning the nomination – but it was just possible that he might become the next president. This opened all sorts of intriguing options for Putin. 
In June 2016, Steele typed up his first memo. He sent it to Fusion. It arrived via enciphered mail. The headline read: US Presidential Election: Republican Candidate Donald Trump’s Activities in Russia and Compromising Relationship with the Kremlin. Its text began: “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in the western alliance.” 
“So far TRUMP has declined various sweetener real estate business deals, offered him in Russia to further the Kremlin’s cultivation of him. However he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals. 
“Former top Russian intelligence officer claims FSB has compromised TRUMP through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him. According to several knowledgeable sources, his conduct in Moscow has included perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB. 
“A dossier of compromising material on Hillary CLINTON has been collated by the Russian Intelligence Services over many years and mainly comprises bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls rather than any embarrassing conduct. The dossier is controlled by Kremlin spokesman, PESKOV, directly on Putin’s orders. However, it has not yet been distributed abroad, including to TRUMP. Russian intentions for its deployment still unclear.” 
The memo was sensational. There would be others, 16 in all, sent to Fusion between June and early November 2016. At first, obtaining intelligence from Moscow went well. For around six months – during the first half of the year – Steele was able to make inquiries in Russia with relative ease. It got harder from late July, as Trump’s ties to Russia came under scrutiny. Finally, the lights went out. Amid a Kremlin cover-up, the sources went silent and information channels shut down. 
If Steele’s reporting was to be believed, Trump had been colluding with Russia. This arrangement was transactional, with both sides trading favours. The report said Trump had turned down “various lucrative real estate development business deals in Russia”, especially in connection with the 2018 World Cup, hosted by Moscow. But he had been happy to accept a flow of Kremlin-sourced intelligence material, apparently delivered to him by his inner circle. That didn’t necessarily mean the candidate was a Russian agent. But it did signify that Russia’s leading spy agency had expended considerable effort in getting close to Trump – and, by extension, to his family, friends, close associates and business partners, not to mention his campaign manager and personal lawyer. 
On the eve of the most consequential US election for generations, one of the two candidates was compromised, Steele’s sources claimed. The memo alleged that Trump had unusual sexual proclivities, and that the FSB had a tape. If true, this meant he could indeed be blackmailed. 
When I met Steele in December 2016, he gave no hint he had been involved in what was the single most important investigation in decades.

It turns out Steele has stumbled onto the FBI, CIA and NSA already taking a long, hard look at Trump's Moscow connections.  Steele's own contacts allowed him to put together a dossier of reports that, in his professional judgment, were "70-90%" accurate.  It's a pretty fascinating story.

One we're still neck deep in, of course.  How it ends, is anyone's guess.

From Harare To Eternity, Con't

As widely expected in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has now been given an ultimatum to step down by his own political party and by the military coup d'etat that took power last week.

President Robert Mugabe’s own party voted to oust him as its leader on Sunday, a day after thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets to celebrate his stunning fall from power after a military takeover.

The governing ZANU-PF party, which held emergency talks at its headquarters in the capital, Harare, to consider the fate of the president who had ruled for 37 years, appointed the previously fired vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, as Mr. Mugabe’s successor.

Under the Constitution, Mr. Mugabe remains president, even if in name only. But if he does not resign by noon Monday, the committee members decided, he would face impeachment by Parliament.

Cheers and dancing broke out in the building after the vote, according to video shared on social media.

Before the committee’s decision, Chris Mutsvangwa, a war veteran who has led the campaign to oust Mr. Mugabe, said as he went into the meeting, “We are going all the way,” according to Reuters.

He said that Mr. Mugabe should just resign and leave the country: “He’s trying to bargain for a dignified exit but he should just smell the coffee.”

The central committee also expelled the president’s wife, Grace Mugabe, as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League. Mrs. Mugabe, widely viewed as his likely successor, has not been seen in public since Wednesday.

On Sunday, she was barred from the party for life, along with several other government officials — including Jonathan Moyo, the minister of higher and tertiary education. 

 It's all over but the shouting at this point, Mugabe is done. Mnangagwa is now the de facto leader of the country.  Whether much will change remains to be seen, but however the country does move forward, it will be without Mugabe or his wife.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Last Call For Franken My Dear, She Doesn't Give A Damn

If you've been following me on Twitter, you know that I believe a lot of politicians who have engaged in sexual assault and misconduct need to be out of Washington, starting with admitted serial sex criminal Donald Trump.  Roy Moore needs to go too.

But so does Sen. Al Franken.  And while Leeann Tweeden may have forgiven Franken and doesn't believe for now that he should step down from the Senate, there are others who see Franken's continued presence as both an insult and a weapon to be used again and again, and that he is no longer capable of doing his job.

It was on a November evening in 2014, after a tailgate party on her University of Minnesota campus, that Abby Honold was brutally raped by a fellow student. Despite going to the hospital in an ambulance with bruises and bite marks, despite reporting everything to police, it would take more than a year for Honold to find justice. 
In August 2016, her rapist, Daniel Drill-Mellum, pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to six years in prison. Honold’s public and agonizing fight to hold Drill-Mellum accountable drew statewide attention, shedding light on the challenges of reporting and prosecuting sexual assaults. 
It also led Honold to the offices of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). Honold’s convicted rapist, it turns out, had interned for the senator. 
Franken, moved by Honold’s story, worked with her to draft a Senate bill that would provide federal funding for special law enforcement training on interviewing victims of trauma. He planned to introduce the bill this month. 
“He was one of the few people who listened to me and actually let me talk,” Honold told The Washington Post. “It felt really validating to be heard and to see something come of my experience that was positive for other people.” 
So on Thursday, Honold was stunned and crushed when she heard that a Los Angeles radio broadcaster, Leeann Tweeden, had accused Franken of forcibly kissing and groping her during a USO tour in 2006. He was captured posing for a photo grabbing Tweeden’s breasts while she was sleeping. 
Honold wholeheartedly believed the woman. She decided that her bill — and her efforts to combat sexual assault — could no longer be associated with someone who was accused of this kind of behavior. 
The 22-year-old no longer wants Franken’s name on the legislation when it is introduced and hopes to find someone else to sponsor it.

It’s really difficult when someone who has been a champion for you turns out to be the exact opposite for someone else,” Honold said in a phone interview.

Call me a stupid idealist, call me a purity crusader if you want, but at some point we have to be better than the goddamn Republican party in both word and deed.

I stand by my call for Franken to resign.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Turns out that not only did plenty of Trump campaign folks try to get an off-the-books secret Trump/Putin meeting going during the 2016 campaign, but plenty of Russian nationals did too, like the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, and once again Jared Kushner is at the center.

A senior Russian official who claimed to be acting at the behest of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia tried in May 2016 to arrange a meeting between Mr. Putin and Donald J. Trump, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The news of this reached the Trump campaign in a very circuitous way. An advocate for Christian causes emailed campaign aides saying that Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank who has been linked both to Russia’s security services and organized crime, had proposed a meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump. The subject line of the email, turned over to Senate investigators, read, “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” according to one person who has seen the message.

The proposal made its way to the senior levels of the Trump campaign before Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a top campaign aide, sent a message to top campaign officials rejecting it, according to two people who have seen Mr. Kushner’s message.

Though the meeting never happened, Mr. Torshin’s request is the latest example of how the Russian government intensified its effort to contact and influence the Trump campaign last year as Mr. Trump was closing in on the Republican presidential nomination. It came just weeks after a self-described intermediary for the Russian government told a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, that the Russians had “dirt” on Mr. Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, in the form of “thousands of emails.”

Soon after Mr. Torshin’s outreach fizzled, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, arranged a meeting at Trump Tower after being told that a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin would bring damaging information about Mrs. Clinton to the meeting.

Yet another unreported contact between the Trump campaign and Putin's circle of oligarchs, and Trump campaign officials keep scrambling to get out of the way of being involved in any way with these series of contacts. Jared Kushner, has suddenly developed selective amnesia on a number of issues it seems.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner told congressional Russia investigators that he did not communicate with WikiLeaks and did not recall anyone on the Trump campaign who had, a source with knowledge of his testimony told CNN. 
But Kushner did receive and forward an email from Donald Trump Jr. about contact Trump Jr. had with WikiLeaks, according to a new report this week and a letter from the Senate Judiciary Committee. 
Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law, was asked in July during his closed-door congressional testimony if he had any contacts with WikiLeaks or its founder Julian Assange and he responded that he had not, according to the source. He also told Congress he did not know of anyone on the campaign who had contacted WikiLeaks.
A separate source familiar with Kushner's interview with congressional investigators said he accurately answered questions about his contact and didn't recall anyone else in the campaign who had contact. 
In a statement Friday night, Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell said the committee had asked "a classic gotcha question. 
"Mr. Kushner was asked if he had contacts with Wikileaks, Guccifer or DC Leaks and said no. He also said he did not know of such contacts by the campaign. From all I have now seen, his statement was accurate then as it is now. In over 6 hours of voluntary testimony, Mr Kushner answered all questions put to him and demonstrated that there had been no collusion between the campaign and Russia." 
But Democrats are likely to amplify calls for Kushner to return for more testimony on the heels of a letter on Thursday from Senate Judiciary Committee leaders that charged Kushner failed to turn over certain documents on a range of topics to the committee, including those related to WikiLeaks. 

Every week it seems we learn about yet another contact with Trump's inner circle to Putin's inner circle that they "forgot" about for a year.  Mueller on the other hand, well, he's not in the forgetting business.  Every week, these contacts get closer and closer to Trump himself.

Stay tuned.

Ivanka Trump Presents Panamaniacs

Eddie, Alex, and David Lee jammed it out best twenty-some years ago:

Jump back, what's that sound
Here she comes, full blast and top down
Hot shoe, burnin' down the avenue
Model citizen zero discipline 
Don't you know she's coming home with me?
You'l lose her in the turn
I'll get her! 


In 2017 the song's all about Ivanka Trump's first money laundering job for her dad and the Russians.

In the spring of 2007, a succession of foreigners, many from Russia, arrived at Panama City airport to be greeted by a chauffeur who whisked them off in a white Cadillac with a Donald Trump logo on the side. 
The limousine belonged to a business run by a Brazilian former car salesman named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who was offering the visitors a chance to invest in Trump’s latest project – a 70-floor tower called the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower. It was the future U.S. president’s first international hotel venture, a complex including residential apartments and a casino in a waterfront building shaped like a sail. 
“Mr Nogueira was an outgoing and lively young man,” remembered Justine Pasek, who was crowned Miss Universe by Donald Trump in 2002 and was acting in 2007 as a spokesperson for Nogueira’s company, Homes Real Estate Investment & Services. “Everybody was so impressed with Homes as they seemed to be riding the top of the real estate boom at the time,” she said. 
One of those Nogueira set out to impress was Ivanka, Trump’s daughter. In an interview with Reuters, Nogueira said he met and spoke with Ivanka “many times” when she was handling the Trump Organization’s involvement in the Panama development. “She would remember me,” he said.
Ivanka was so taken with his sales skills, Nogueira said, that she helped him become a leading broker for the development and he appeared in a video with her promoting the project. 
A Reuters investigation into the financing of the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with the American broadcaster NBC News, found Nogueira was responsible for between one-third and one-half of advance sales for the project. It also found he did business with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering and is now in detention in the United States; a Russian investor in the Trump project who was jailed in Israel in the 1990s for kidnap and threats to kill; and a Ukrainian investor who was arrested for alleged people-smuggling while working with Nogueira and later convicted by a Kiev court. 
Three years after getting involved in the Trump Ocean Club, Nogueira was arrested by Panamanian authorities on charges of fraud and forgery, unrelated to the Trump project. Released on $1.4 million bail, he later fled the country. 
He left behind a trail of people who claim he cheated them, including over apartments in the Trump project, resulting in at least four criminal cases that eight years later have still to be judged.

Nogueira, 43, denies the charges and told Reuters in an email: “I am no Angel but not Devil either.” 
Ivanka Trump declined to comment on her dealings with Nogueira. A White House spokesman referred questions to the Trump Organization. Alan Garten, the organization’s chief legal officer, said: “No one at the Trump Organization, including the Trump family, has any recollection of ever meeting or speaking with this individual.” 
Trump put his name to the development and stood to make up to $75 million from it, according to a bond prospectus for the project. He did not exert management control over the construction and was under no direct legal obligation to conduct due diligence on other people involved.

It's something of a Saturday Long Read for you, but the story is good and yet another reminder that while Donny Jr. and Eric Trump may be comically evil, Ivanka is as cold, as crafty, as mean and as greedy as her old man.

She's the one you really have to look out for.

Bet on Mueller knowing all about the Trump Ocan Club in Panama.  Bet on Ivanka going down along with the rest of her family too.

Soccer Takes Balls, As They Say

Cincinnati really tries to be a sports town, but frankly it just doesn't have the base to support too much in the way of major league sports.  The city's location may be great for transportation and distribution companies, but it's terrible for sports franchises.  

There are just too many other larger sports teams close to Cincy: Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Memphis and Charlotte are all a reasonable drive and compete for Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana sports fans.

FC Cincinnati won't get taxpayer help to build a new stadium in Hamilton County under a plan unveiled Wednesday. 
County commissioners rejected FC Cincinnati's pitch to use hotel tax money for a stadium and said the team should instead embrace the idea of playing games at Paul Brown Stadium on the riverfront. 
Instead, the county commissioners offered a plan to use parking revenues to pay for a $15 million garage for FC Cincinnati.

FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding, in response, said the club needs a soccer-only stadium if it wants to join Major League Soccer.

"Paul Brown Stadium would not support an MLS team, and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong," Berding said. "Therefore, Paul Brown Stadium simply does not work and does not result in a winning bid. It means a losing bid." 
Commissioner Todd Portune said the Bengals' home stadium, which is paid for through a county-wide sales tax, makes sense as a home for FC Cincinnati and would be far less costly than building a new, soccer-only stadium. 
"We believe Paul Brown Stadium can work," Portune said. "Paul Brown Stadium is our first option." 
His fellow commissioner, Chris Monzel, was more blunt: "The county already owns two stadiums. We don't need any more stadiums."

Whether the county's idea is enough to win FC Cincinnati a spot in Major League Soccer remains to be seen. Team officials have pushed for up to $75 million in taxpayer help to build a $200 million stadium in Oakley, which they say is the price of admission to MLS. 
The three commissioners did offer a Plan B to the team. If MLS rejects the proposal to play at Paul Brown Stadium, Portune said, the county would consider using some of its annual parking revenue to help pay for a parking garage for a stadium in Oakley.

The Oakley stadium still might come through, but there's no way in hell City Council is going to finance a $200 million soccer anything with county funding.  Not in this town.  If it gets done, it won't be with county money.

Odds are it won't get done in that case.  My biggest issue remains that the MLS Columbus Crew is just an hour away anyhow, with Atlanta and Chicago close by as well, and FC Cincinnati will go under quickly.  It makes much more sense for MLS to expand to Charlotte and Phoenix than Cincy next year.

I could be wrong, FC Cincinnati might be able to pull it off, but at this point I'm tired of $200 million stadiums when we don't have the money around these parts to say, fix the Brent Spence bridge.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Last Call For Cutting The Cordray

As many in Ohio have long suspected, it looks like the Democrats are finally getting their top candidate in the race for Governor to succeed Republican John Kasich in 2018: former state Attorney General Richard Cordray has quit his federal watchdog post at the CFPB.

Former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray will step down as the head of a consumer watchdog agency by the end of the month and is expected to run for the Ohio Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Cordray, the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, announced his decision to leave in an email to all bureau staff early Wednesday.

“As I have said many times, but feel just as much today as I ever have, it has been a joy of my life to have the opportunity to serve our country as the first director of the Consumer Bureau by working alongside all of you here,” he wrote.

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Eckart, a Cleveland Democrat, said “several prominent Democrats have told me this morning they expect Cordray to run for governor.”

He added, “Cordray has a very compelling story and is motivated by convictions that will resonate well in Ohio and especially for those voters in Ohio who believe they have been left behind, ripped off, or ignored.”

Joe Rugola, a leading Ohio Democrat and director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, said, “I fully expect he will at some time very soon be making some kind of an announcement about his intentions and I would be shocked if he didn’t run for governor.

“It absolutely isn’t too late for Rich to enter the race. The test will be to put together a campaign and surround himself with professionals who know what they are doing and raise a significant amount of money in a hurry.”

Former Ohio Democratic Chairman David Leland said he had not yet talked to Cordray about the governor’s race but “he would be a great candidate if he decides to run.”

“I’ve known him for over 25 years,” said Leland, now a state representative. “He always fought for issues that are important to people in the state of Ohio. I think taking his record at the CFPB and using it as a platform to say he’s actually fighting for working families in the state of Ohio would be tremendously successful for him.”

Kasich has overseen Ohio's transformation into a red state garbage fire over the last seven years, spouting nonsense about his "moderate" credentials and doing everything in his power to end legalized abortion in the state, all while plotting to wreck the country with a "balanced budget" amendment to the Constitution that would force massive austerity cuts.

Cordray meanwhile has been running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has already fought for getting billions in dollars back from crooked banks, shady mortgage lenders, predatory payday loan outfits and awful title loan shops. He has a real shot at winning in 2018, especially against somebody as awful as Ohio's current statewide office holders on the Republican side, anti-choice fanatic AG Mike DeWine, voter suppression expert Jon Husted, and Kasich's right hand, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

That's the good news.  The bad news is Trump is now going to appoint a new head to the CFPB in order to drive the agency into the ground, screaming.  His top choice is current Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

Mick Mulvaney once called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “a sad, sick joke.” Now, he may get to oversee Elizabeth Warren’s favorite regulator.

Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director, is being considered for a temporary role as interim director of the consumer watchdog after Richard Cordray steps down later this month, according to two people familiar with the matter. Mulvaney would be expected to name someone else or a team of people to run the CFPB on a day-to-day-basis so he could keep his focus on OMB, said one of the people.

The goal is to hit the ground running in overhauling an agency that some Republicans have called corrupt and that GOP lawmakers widely blame for burdening lenders with unnecessary red tape. It could be months before Trump nominates a permanent CFPB director and the Senate confirms his selection.

Under a federal vacancies law, Trump can replace an outgoing director temporarily with someone from another agency who has already won Senate approval. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has also been considered to run the CFPB on a temporary basis, said one of the people who asked not to be named because the deliberations are private.

Cordray would have been forced out eventually, his term would have been up in July 2018 anyway.  It would have been nice to get a few more months out of the one federal government agency that was actually not being awful and that Trump hadn't completely ruined yet, but there you go.

Bottom O' The Evenin', GOP Guvna

It's not just the House and Senate that are in play for the Democrats in 2018, but several state legislatures and of equal import, the two-thirds of governor's races across the country.

Democrats got mauled in 2014 and saw Republicans pick up state chief executive seats in deep blue states like Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont three years ago.  That's been a particular problem in Illinois, where Republican Bruce Rauner has vetoed several progressive bills and has been in a three-year long budget fight with Democrats.

But now these same governors are in real trouble as the Trump/Roy Moore millstone is threatening to drown them, and Democrats are waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces, and after 2017 losses, the GOP is scrambling to try to run from their own party.

Republican governors and their donors -- still reeling from GOP losses last week in New Jersey and Virginia -- are trying to distance themselves from their party’s problems and plot a 2018 strategy to protect their state-level dominance.

At the annual Republican Governors Association meeting in Austin, Texas, party officeholders downplayed those defeats and dismissed the political fallout of President Donald Trump’s historically low approval ratings and lack of legislative accomplishments. They brushed aside questions about the potential long-term consequences from growing sexual misconduct allegations that have engulfed Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore in Alabama.

"I think we’ll see Republican governors walking a tightrope in 2018 as they navigate a difficult election year," said Steve Grubbs, an Iowa-based Republican strategist and former state party chairman.

Thirty-six states will hold gubernatorial elections in 2018, with 26 of those now controlled by Republicans. In those races, which often have trickle-down effects on legislative and local elections, Republican candidates will have to decide just how closely to embrace Trump and distance themselves from an unpopular Washington.

"The Trump base is very strong, and alienating that base by pushing Trump away could cost a governor two to five points on election day," Grubbs said. "But there are also suburban voters who are bothered by the positioning of the White House and risk being lost on the other side."

I'm out of tears to shed for "Never Trump" Republicans.  They gladly played into racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and sexism when it benefited them in 2014 and 2016.  Now the bill for that is coming due and it's time to make them pay up.

Even if Trump’s popularity wasn’t an issue, Republicans are likely to face headwinds next year based on past trends. Midterm elections for a new president generally result in losses, sometimes big ones, and Trump currently has the lowest approval ratings of any president at this point in a first term. 
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the association’s chairman, is seeking a third term next November. He downplayed the role Trump will play and said he’s encouraging his colleagues to run their "own race." 
Walker and Florida Governor Rick Scott, while meeting with reporters, called for Moore to exit the race before the Dec. 12 special election. Scott called his alleged actions "disgusting," while Walker dismissed suggestions that Moore might hurt the Republican brand. 
No more so than Democrats had to answer for Anthony Weiner or Eliot Spitzer," he said, pointing to other politicians who have had sex scandals.

The problem of course is that both Spitzer and Weiner resigned and Weiner is in prison.  Trump is still in the White House, and Moore is still running for Senate.  I have a feeling voters are going to care a lot more about Trump than Anthony Weiner in 2018, even New Yorkers.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

It's a race at this point to see who is more cartoonishly and stupidly evil, Donald Trump's son, Donald Jr. or his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  Turns out both of these clowns were involved with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Assange's apparent attempts to shop a deal for stolen DNC emails.

Jared Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” and forwarded them to another campaign official, according to a letter to his attorney from the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 
Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Kushner failed to turn over the relevant documents when they asked for them last month.

“We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the Committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete,” the pair wrote in a letter dated Thursday to Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell. 
In a section of the letter titled “Missing documents,” Grassley and Feinstein said Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a senior adviser, had handed over some materials but omitted communications that mentioned some of the people connected to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 
“If, as you suggest, Mr. Kushner was unaware of, for example, any attempts at Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, then presumably there would be few communications concerning many of the persons identified,” the lawmakers wrote.
Grassley and Feinstein also alluded to documents they received from other witnesses on which Kushner was copied. 
“Other parties have produced September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks, which Mr. Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official,” they wrote. “Such documents should have been produced...but were not.” 
Likewise, other parties have produced documents concerning a ‘Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ which Mr. Kushner also forwarded. And still others have produced communications with Sergei Millian, copied to Mr. Kushner. Again, these do not appear in Mr. Kushner’s production despite being responsive to the second request. You also have not produced any phone records that we presume exist and would relate to Mr. Kushner’s communications regarding several requests.” 
They asked Kushner to turn over all responsive documents by Nov. 27.

We know that this overture from Assange and WikiLeaks exists because Donny Jr. was more than happy to tell everyone about it earlier this week.

Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.) 
The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.” 
The messages, obtained by The Atlantic, were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long—and largely one-sided—correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017. The messages show WikiLeaks, a radical transparency organization that the American intelligence community believes was chosen by the Russian government to disseminate the information it had hacked, actively soliciting Trump Jr.’s cooperation. WikiLeaks made a series of increasingly bold requests, including asking for Trump’s tax returns, urging the Trump campaign on Election Day to reject the results of the election as rigged, and requesting that the president-elect tell Australia to appoint Julian Assange ambassador to the United States.

Trump Jr. then tweeted copies of his conversations with WikiLeaks because he is both immensely arrogant and painfully idiotic, always a terrible combination.

As Ten Bears pointed out in the comments a couple days ago, we know Donny can't keep his goddamn trap shut.

On the same day that Trump Jr. received the first message from WikiLeaks, he e-mailed other senior officials campaign, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner... Didn't Our Tea Pot Dictator twit a teaser to the effect that dirt was on the way shortly thereafter? Like, the same day.

Why yes, yes he did.  That would be a very interesting subject to know more about.  So interesting, in fact, that the Senate is asking Jared Kushner what he knew at the minimum, and I'm betting Bannon, Conway, and Parscale will be asked to turn over any correspondence on this if they haven't done so already.

Robert Mueller too is on the case here in his own investigation.  The WSJ reported last night that Mueller issued a subpoena to more than a dozen members of the Trump campaign last month.

These guys are really, really bad at being sneaky.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Last Call For Bad Boys Bad Boys

Police officers protect citizens, supposedly, but sometimes they're just all-too-human dumbasses with guns and licenses to kill people who just happen to be comically bad at their jobs.

An internal investigation has been launched at the Detroit Police Department after two different precincts got into a turf war as they converged on an east side neighborhood. 
Neighbors who live on Andover on Detroit's east side will be the first to tell you this area is known for constant drug activity.

"Definitely a drug problem in our neighbor for years," said one resident, " but I don't think anyone can stop it." 
On Thursday Detroit police certainly tried -- but maybe too hard. 
Sources say it started when two special ops officers from the 12th Precinct were operating a "push off" on Andover near Seven Mile. That is when two undercover officers pretend to be dope dealers, waiting for eager customers to approach, and then arrest potential buyers and seize their vehicles. 
But this time, instead of customers, special ops officers from the 11th Precinct showed up. Not realizing they were fellow officers, they ordered the other undercover officers to the ground. 
FOX 2 is told the rest of the special ops team from the 12th Precinct showed up, and officers began raiding a house in the 19300 block of Andover. But instead of fighting crime, officers from both precincts began fighting with each other. 
Sources say guns were drawn and punches were thrown while the homeowner stood and watched.

The department's top cops were notified along with Internal Affairs. Each officer involved is now under investigation as the department tried to determine what went wrong. 
"You've gotta have to have more communication, I guess," said the resident. "I don't understand what happened about that - communicate."

I don't know where to begin on this story.  You have the odious War on Drugs, which has destroyed black neighborhoods in cities like Detroit for decades.  You have the property seizure angle, as the Detroit cops posing as dealers were completely ready to take people's vehicles regardless of guilt.  You have the race factor as these cops were there to contribute to crime in a black neighborhood in order to "stop" it, something that would never be tolerated in a wealthy white Detroit neighborhood like Palmer Woods or Sherwood Forest. And you have the police misconduct angle, where two sets of undercover cops got into a goddamn fistfight because each thought the other were actual crooks.

This is the state of policing in America in 2017, and under Trump and Jeff Sessions it's only going to get worse.

The Tale Of A Lesser Moore, Con't

Senate Republicans really, really, really want to get rid of Roy Moore for two reasons: first, he's not Donald Trump so he's problematic, second, they remember Todd Akin in 2014 (the whole "he's a repugnant chancre on the ass of humanity" doesn't seem to matter as the guy is a solid 98% vote for the GOP agenda.)

It's gotten so morbidly funny because Moore absolutely refuses to drop out, Republicans are trying to rig the election to keep their 52-48 majority in 2018, and they want to get placeholder GOP Sen. Luther Strange to resign ASAP, which would somehow trigger a brand new special election process and allow Alabama GOP Gov. Kay Ivey to appoint someone else.

Can you guess who that might be?

Republican leaders are exploring a dramatic remedy to salvage the Alabama Senate seat as fresh polling shows Roy Moore's prospects fading fast. 
With less than four weeks until the special election and no sign that the party’s besieged nominee will exit the race, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his top advisers are discussing the legal feasibility of asking appointed Sen. Luther Strange to resign from his seat in order to trigger a new special election.

McConnell aides express caution, saying they're uncertain whether such a move, one of several options being discussed, is even possible. Yet the talks underscore the despair among top Republicans over relinquishing a seat in deep-red Alabama, further diminishing their slim Senate majority. 
New GOP polling obtained by POLITICO suggests that Moore is cratering. A survey conducted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee after allegations emerged that Moore had engaged in sexual misconduct with teenagers showed him trailing Democratic candidate Doug Jones by 12 points. Other recent polling has the race closer. 
McConnell’s team had been high on the idea of asking Jeff Sessions, who held the Alabama seat for two decades prior to becoming Attorney General, to run as a write-in candidate. But the committee polled the prospect of Sessions waging a write-in bid and the outcome was unfavorable, said three people familiar with the results. Party officials worry that a write-in candidacy would serve only to split the Republican vote and seal a Jones victory. 
Plus, Sessions isn't interested, according to several people who've spoken about it with him. He has received overtures from Republican lawmakers, including Richard Shelby, Alabama’s longtime Republican senator, who spoke with Sessions this week.

I believe that Sessions might not want to do this, but I damn sure bet that Sessions will do it if Trump tells him to resign.  Of course in this scenario, Alabama would need another interim senator between whenever Strange resigned and whenever Ivey decides to hold the special election, and I'm guessing Sessions would be convinced to do it.

My theory then goes that Trump would need an interim Attorney General, and Trump would just play Saturday Night Massacre and keep firing people until he found somebody who would get rid of Mueller.

Of course, the combination of staking out Roy Moore in the desert and firing Robert Mueller would be that Constitutional Crisis™ moment that we've been expecting for some time now, with the results being who knows what.  It's going to be a political supervolcano going off under the country and I think things would get demonstrably worse around these parts very quickly.

Personally, I keep forgetting that the DoJ official that Nixon found to be his bag man to shitcan special prosecutor Archie Cox was the now infamous Robert Bork.  I wonder who Trump will find to pull the trigger should this go down.

And before you say "Trump won't do that" consider that we're at the point where the GOP is so completely morally bankrupt and fundamentally opposed to open democracy that they party leaders are now openly having a serious talk of voiding an election just to get rid of a guy whom they can't convince to step aside.

So yes, I absolutely think the GOP is 100% capable of doing this.  Whether Trump will or not I don't know, but it would be the best way to get rid of both Mueller and Sessions.  Both have slighted Trump in the past, and we all know how much Trump loves to gain vengeance.

If we're at this point in the game, where Strange is being pressured to resign now, then the rest of this is absolutely possible.  If it happens things are going to move extremely quickly.

Stay tuned.

What About Bill Whataboutism

Given a known vile Republican sexual predator currently in the White House and another one trying to win a Senate seat in a special election next month, only Democrats would be stupid enough to go after Bill Clinton at a time like this, but there you are.

How vitiated Bill Clinton seemed at the 2016 Democratic convention. Some of his appetites, at least, had waned; his wandering, “Norwegian Wood” speech about his wife struck the nostalgic notes of a husband’s 50th-anniversary toast, and the crowd—for the most part—indulged it in that spirit. Clearly, he was no longer thinking about tomorrow. With a pencil neck and a sagging jacket he clambered gamely onto the stage after Hillary’s acceptance speech and played happily with the red balloons that fell from the ceiling.

When the couple repeatedly reminded the crowd of their new status as grandparents it was to suggest very different associations in voters’ minds. Hillary’s grandmotherhood was evoked to suggest the next phase in her lifelong work on behalf of women and children—in this case forging a bond with the millions of American grandmothers who are doing the hard work of raising the next generation, while their own adult children muddle through life. But Bill’s being a grandfather was intended to send a different message: Don’t worry about him anymore; he’s old now. He won’t get into those messes again.

Yet let us not forget the sex crimes of which the younger, stronger Bill Clinton was very credibly accused in the 1990s. Juanita Broaddrick reported that when she was a volunteer on one of his gubernatorial campaigns, she had arranged to meet him in a hotel coffee shop. At the last minute, he had changed the location to her room in the hotel, where she says he very violently raped her. She said that she fought against Clinton throughout a rape that left her bloodied. At a different Arkansas hotel, he caught sight of a minor state employee named Paula Jones, and, Jones said, he sent a couple of state troopers to invite her to his suite, where he exposed his penis to her and told her to kiss it. Kathleen Willey said that she met him in the Oval Office for personal and professional advice and that he groped her, rubbed his erect penis on her, and pushed her hand to his crotch.

It was a pattern of behavior; it included an alleged violent assault; the women involved had far more credible evidence than many of the most notorious accusations that have come to light in the past five weeks. But Clinton was not left to the swift and pitiless justice that today’s accused men have experienced. Rather, he was rescued by a surprising force: machine feminism. The movement had by then ossified into a partisan operation, and it was willing—eager—to let this friend of the sisterhood enjoy a little droit de seigneur.

The notorious 1998 New York Times op-ed by Gloria Steinem must surely stand as one of the most regretted public actions of her life. It slut-shamed, victim-blamed, and age-shamed; it urged compassion for and gratitude to the man the women accused. Moreover (never write an op-ed in a hurry; you’ll accidentally say what you really believe), it characterized contemporary feminism as a weaponized auxiliary of the Democratic Party.

And Michele Goldberg isn't the only one dealing in hair shirts and horsehide whips this week, over at Vox Matthew Yglesias comes to the conclusion Clinton should have resigned 20 years ago in order to prove his wokeness.

In the midst of the very same public statement in which he confessed the error, Clinton also mounted the defense that would see him through to victory — portraying the issue as fundamentally a private family matter rather than a topic of urgent public concern.

"I intend to reclaim my family life for my family," he said. "It's nobody's business but ours. Even presidents have private lives. It is time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life.”

To this line of argument, Republicans offered what was fundamentally the wrong countercharge. They argued that in the effort to spare himself from the personal and marital embarrassment entailed by having the affair exposed, Clinton committed perjury when testifying about the matter in a deposition related to Paula Jones’s lawsuit against him.

What they should have argued was something simpler: A president who uses the power of the Oval Office to seduce a 20-something subordinate is morally bankrupt and contributing, in a meaningful way, to a serious social problem that disadvantages millions of women throughout their lives.

But by and large, they didn’t. So Clinton countered with the now-famous defense: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Ultimately, most Americans embraced the larger argument that perjury in a civil lawsuit unrelated to the president’s official duties did not constitute high crimes and misdemeanors.

But looking back through today’s lens, this whole argument was miscast. The wrongdoing at issue was never just a private matter for the Clinton family; it was a high-profile exemplar of a widespread social problem: men’s abuse of workplace power for sexual gain. It was and is a striking example of a genre of misconduct that society has a strong interest in stamping out. That alone should have been enough to have pressured Clinton out of office.

I'm going to say this once: Bill Clinton indeed needs to be reckoned with, but right now is about the worst possible time for the Democrats to be having this argument.  It's great to say that Clinton should have been pressured to resign two decades ago, but Clinton isn't in the White House right now.

Donald Trump is.

Can we pressure him to resign first since he's the imminent danger?  Can we do that?  Can we get Roy Moore to drop out?  Can we take a look at both Democrats and Republicans who are in Congress now who have sexually assaulted people and need to be pressured into resigning before we tackle Big Dog's very real issues?

Yes, it's far past time to talk about Clinton, sexual predator.  I get that.  But he's not in office right now.  We have sexual predators who are, one of who may be Democratic Sen Al Franken.

Let's deal with them first, shall we?


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Last Call For The Darkest Sequel

MSNBC's Steve Kornacki lays out the scenario: a rich businessman runs for President of the United States because of America's massive debt, promising to operate the country like a business. The establishment is corrupt, and middle-class white America is suffering from a recent recession. The voters are angry at the last president and want to throw all the bums out.

It should definitely sound familiar today, but the year was 1992.  The billionaire in question was Texan Ross Perot.

Despite what his critics say is a Perot predilection for falsehoods and conspiracy theories, millions of voters believed he was the only candidate telling them the truth about their country -- and they have a point. No other politician in this era has vaulted to prominence by insisting that the nation must swallow such horrid medicines as he has prescribed -- higher taxes for everybody and drastic reductions in popular government programs. 
John Jay Hooker, a Perot friend with whom the billionaire has frequently discussed political plans, said Perot has stated many times his intention to keep banging away on issues of the deficit and the economy's long-term decline.

"He'll never give up on this," said Hooker, a liberal former newspaper publisher from Nashville. "He believes the country's problems are malignant, so how can he go home and twiddle his thumbs?" 
People around Perot have discussed a number of ways he could stay active. One is for him to act as spokesman, and for his supporters to act as a permanent pressure group, urging reduction of the $4 trillion national debt. 
Perot most likely will take on the guise of a business-minded Jesse L. Jackson, a critic without portfolio. He could join retiring Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) and former senator Paul E. Tsongas (D-Mass.) in raising the deficit issue. But his supporters are unlikely to stay together unless Perot commits himself to keeping the coalition permanent. 
Unlike, say, the evangelical movement, his is a movement without a set of bedrock principles. His supporters are from the left, the right, from both parties -- they agree only that Perot is their leader. 
He has refused to answer whether he would run again in 1996. While he appeared to relish the adulation he received campaigning, he hated being questioned by the press. It was all new to him.

He had never run for office before and, in fact, he had said many times he is "temperamentally unfit" for government.

We dodged a bullet 25 years ago.  Last year we were not so lucky.  We failed to learn the lessons of Perot's 1992 and 1996 runs, or rather, the Democrats did.  The Republicans learned the lessons of Perot's outsider run all too well.

This year saw the kinds of tough economic times, and Perot led the kind of spontaneous and combustible movement, that under different circumstances might have given itself to a ghastly demagoguery or a politics of racial division.

Jim Squires, who served as Perot's spokesman in the first aborted phase of the campaign, said the nation is fortunate that the man who became the lightning rod for much of America's discontent this year was Perot -- and not a demagogue who would play on racial fears or other divisive antipathies.

"The next time the man on the white horse comes, he may not be so benign," Squires said. "He could be a real racial hater or a divider of people."

And so here we are today. Welcome to the nightmare sequel Squires warned us about.

The Blue Wave Builds, Con't

While Democrats have come up short picking up congressional special election seats in deep red districts created by Trump's cabinet picks in 2017, the good news is at the state level Team Blue continues to make gains in places that nobody thought they would ever be able to, places like, say, blood-red suburban Oklahoma.

Democrats have flipped another statehouse seat in deeply conservative Oklahoma amid growing frustration over years of state budget shortfalls and recent scandals that led to the resignation of Republican incumbents. 
Democrat Allison Ikley-Freeman defeated Republican Brian O’Hara in Tuesday’s special election for a state Senate seat representing parts of Tulsa. Complete but unofficial election results show that Ikley-Freeman, who is a therapist at a nonprofit mental health agency, won by 31 votes. 
That seat was vacated after Republican Sen. Dan Newberry said he would step down early to focus on his career in banking. 
Ikley-Freeman’s win marks the fourth pickup for state Democrats in special elections this year in Oklahoma, where Republicans have dominated state politics in recent years.

It's only a matter of time before the Democrats get wins in the House and Senate, as long-time Republicans see the coming Trump train wreck and are bailing in massive numbers ahead of near-certain midterm defeat.

A retirement wave has hit House Republicans, emboldening Democrats who have become increasingly bullish about their prospects of winning back a majority in 2018.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) on Thursday became the latest Republican to announce he would not seek another term.

The 13-term Virginian followed Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), both of whom announced Tuesday — hours before Republicans suffered sweeping losses at the polls — that they’d retire from Congress. 
All told, 29 Republicans will not seek reelection to their House seats, compared to only 11 for Democrats. Fifteen Republicans are retiring outright, rather than seeking other political offices or positions. Only two Democrats are doing the same. 
Anybody who has a pair of eyes and ears knows that the House is in play and at risk,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who heads a moderate GOP caucus and is not seeking reelection next year, told The Hill. “And I’m sure that fact enters into the calculation of many members who are contemplating their futures."

Do you really want to go through another year like the last one?” Dent asked.

Republicans are terrified.  We'll see what happens, but these aren't just GOP freshmen and Tea Party era Republicans retiring, these are long-time committee chairs and multi-term conservatives who easily survived the last blue wave in 2006.

Republicans have near total power in the government right now and they can't quit fast enough.

From Harare To Eternity, Con't

As I mentioned last night, the military coup in Zimbabwe to remove strongman Robert Mugabe from power has been successful.  The military, led by the commander of the nation's armed forces, Constantine Chiwenga, is now in charge of the capital Harare and has Mugabe under house arrest.

Zimbabwe’s military seized power and detained 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe in a struggle over the succession of the only leader the nation has ever known.

Mugabe told President Jacob Zuma by phone that he’s being confined to his home and is fine, the South African presidency said in a statement. Zimbabwe Defense Forces spokesman Major-General Sibusiso Moyo said in a televised address that the military action wasn’t a coup and was aimed at only “targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes.”

Troops took control of the state-owned broadcaster and sealed off parliament and the central bank’s offices, while armored vehicles were stationed in the center of the capital, Harare.

The military takeover comes at a delicate moment for Zimbabwe, where an estimated 95 percent of the workforce is jobless and as many as 3 million Zimbabweans have gone into exile. With an economy that has halved in size since 2000 and relies mainly on the dollar because it has no currency of its own, a severe cash shortage is choking businesses and forces some people to sleep in the streets near banks to ensure they can make withdrawals.

Zuma called for calm and urged the military to maintain the peace, while western governments including the U.S. urged their citizens in Zimbabwe to remain indoors.

The action came a day after armed forces commander Constantine Chiwenga announced that the military would stop “those bent on hijacking the revolution.”

Remember your five A's, Chiwenga had them in his pocket early.  It helped that he started out with Armed Forces as head of the country's military, which made getting the other four much easier.  He took the country's Airports and Airwaves, got the Asshole in charge in Mugabe, and has rounded up nearly all of Mugabe's Allies.

What sparked the coup? Mugabe made a fatal miscalculation by firing his vice-president in favor of his own wife, Grace.  That was apparently too much to bear for Chiwenga and the military.

The military intervention followed a week-long political crisis sparked by Mugabe’s decision to fire his long-time ally Emmerson Mnangagwa as vice president in a move that paved the way for his wife Grace, 52, and her supporters to gain effective control over the ruling party. Nicknamed “Gucci Grace” in Zimbabwe for her extravagant lifestyle, she said on Nov. 5 that she would be prepared to succeed her husband.

People involved in the “purge” of liberation war veterans from the government will be arrested and charged, according to a senior official involved in the army action, who asked not to be named as the information isn’t public.

Despite the armed forces’s denial of a coup, the country is now under military rule, said Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean law lecturer who is based in the U.K. and helped design Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution.

When you see a man in uniform reading news on national television, you know it’s done,” he said in a text message. “There are no more questions. Authority is now in the hands of the military.”

As far as Mugabe himself is concerned, South Africa's News24 is reporting that there's a growing political movement to offer him political asylum in that country in order to keep regional peace.

It looks to be all over but the clean-up.  What comes next?  We'll see if the country holds new elections, or if the junta stays in power.  After all, that plan worked for Mugabe for nearly 40 years. Many of these are the bloodied hands that kept Mugabe in power since 1980, so there's no reason to believe they will either relinquish power to new elections or be any better than the "Grand Old Man" of Africa.

Meet the new boss...


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Last Call For From Harare To Eternity

A possible coup in Zimbabwe is going down.

Soldiers deployed across the Zimbabwe capital Harare and seized the state broadcaster on Wednesday after 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party accused the head of the military of treason, prompting frenzied speculation of a coup. 
Just 24 hours after military chief General Constantino Chiwenga threatened to intervene to end a purge of his allies in Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, a Reuters reporter saw armored personnel carriers on main roads around the capital.

Aggressive soldiers told passing cars to keep moving through the darkness. “Don’t try anything funny. Just go,” one barked at Reuters on Harare Drive.

Two hours later, soldiers overran the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster and a principal Mugabe mouthpiece, and ordered staff to leave. Several ZBC workers were manhandled, two members of staff and a human rights activist said.

Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the center of the southern African nation’s capital, Reuters witnesses said.

Despite the troops stationed at locations across Harare, there was no word from the military as to the fate of Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader of the last 37 years and the self-styled ‘Grand Old Man’ of African politics.

In contrast to his elevated status on the continent, Mugabe is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power destroyed one of Africa’s most promising states.

In the only official word from the government, Isaac Moyo, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to neighboring South Africa, earlier dismissed talk of a coup, saying the government was “intact” and blaming social media for spreading false information.

“There’s nothing really happening. They are just social media claims,” Moyo told Reuters.

The Southern African nation has been on edge since Monday when Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said he was prepared to “step in” to end a purge of supporters of sacked vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Only a few months ago, Mnangagwa, a former security chief nicknamed “The Crocodile”, was favorite to succeed his life-long political patron but was ousted a week ago to pave the way for Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace to succeed him.

Remember the five A's of proper coup execution have to be in hand:

  • Armed forces
  • Airwaves
  • Airports
  • Allies
  • and the Asshole in charge you're trying to overthrow.

It looks like, unlike the completely failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016, Chiwenga and his forces now have at least three and by some reports possibly all five of the A's in his possession.  We'll see how things shake out over the next 24 hours, but at this point remember that Mugabe is 93 years old.

We'll see what the sun brings.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

So, turns out planning to commit illegal campaign collusion by receiving stolen data is a bad thing, especially when you're Julian Assange and WikiLeaks working with Donald Trump Jr. to get the goods you know they have because the goddamn Russians told you.

Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.)

The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.”

The messages, obtained by The Atlantic, were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long—and largely one-sided—correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017. The messages show WikiLeaks, a radical transparency organization that the American intelligence community believes was chosen by the Russian government to disseminate the information it had hacked, actively soliciting Trump Jr.’s cooperation. WikiLeaks made a series of increasingly bold requests, including asking for Trump’s tax returns, urging the Trump campaign on Election Day to reject the results of the election as rigged, and requesting that the president-elect tell Australia to appoint Julian Assange ambassador to the United States.
“Over the last several months, we have worked cooperatively with each of the committees and have voluntarily turned over thousands of documents in response to their requests,” said Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Donald Trump Jr. “Putting aside the question as to why or by whom such documents, provided to Congress under promises of confidentiality, have been selectively leaked, we can say with confidence that we have no concerns about these documents and any questions raised about them have been easily answered in the appropriate forum.” WikiLeaks did not respond to requests for comment.

The messages were turned over to Congress as part of that body’s various ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. American intelligence services have accused the Kremlin of engaging in a deliberate effort to boost President Donald Trump’s chances while bringing down his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. That effort—and the president’s response to it—has spawned multiple congressional investigations, and a special counsel inquiry that has led to the indictment of Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, for financial crimes.

Though Trump Jr. mostly ignored the frequent messages from WikiLeaks, he at times appears to have acted on its requests. When WikiLeaks first reached out to Trump Jr. about, for instance, Trump Jr. followed up on his promise to “ask around.” According to a source familiar with the congressional investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 campaign, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, on the same day that Trump Jr. received the first message from WikiLeaks, he emailed other senior officials with the Trump campaign, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, telling them WikiLeaks had made contact. Kushner then forwarded the email to campaign communications staffer Hope Hicks. At no point during the 10-month correspondence does Trump Jr. rebuff WikiLeaks, which had published stolen documents and was already observed to be releasing information that benefited Russian interests.

WikiLeaks played a pivotal role in the presidential campaign. In July 2016, on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee's servers that spring. The emails showed DNC officials denigrating Bernie Sanders, renewing tensions on the eve of Clinton’s acceptance of the nomination. On October 7, less than an hour after the Washington Post released the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, Wikileaks released emails that hackers had pilfered from the personal email account of Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta.

The timing of the Podesta emails, specifically designed to drown the Trump Access Hollywood tape, has to me always been the surest sign that WikiLeaks was directly working to help Trump win. Now we know what Assange wanted in return: Ambassadorship to Australia.

And we know Trump Jr. was listening.

In the winter and spring, WikiLeaks went largely silent, only occasionally sending Trump Jr. links. But on July 11, 2017, three days after The New York Times broke the story about Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with connections to Russia’s powerful prosecutor general, WikiLeaks got in touch again.

“Hi Don. Sorry to hear about your problems,” WikiLeaks wrote. “We have an idea that may help a little. We are VERY interested in confidentially obtaining and publishing a copy of the email(s) cited in the New York Times today,” citing a reference in the paper to emails Trump Jr had exchanged with Rob Goldstone, a publicist who had helped set up the meeting. “We think this is strongly in your interest,” WikiLeaks went on. It then reprised many of the same arguments it made in trying to convince Trump Jr. to turn over his father’s tax returns, including the argument that Trump’s enemies in the press were using the emails to spin an unfavorable narrative of the meeting. “Us publishing not only deprives them of this ability but is beautifully confounding.”

The message was sent at 9:29 am on July 11. Trump Jr. did not respond, but just hours later, he posted the emails himself, on his own Twitter feed.

The Russians have been using WikiLeaks and Assange for quite some time now.   We know Donald Trump Jr. is neck deep in this mess too.  And we know Mueller is waiting to pounce. Remember, this is all part of a larger operation by the Russians to compromise the Trump regime.

A series of meetings between Russians and three Trump campaign advisers in a six-week span last year provide the strongest evidence yet that the Kremlin had mounted an intelligence operation aimed at infiltrating the campaign, according to former intelligence officials and experts. 
The recent acknowledgments by advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos that they talked with Russians and Russian officials around the same time that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin advocate indicates a coordinated effort to recruit Trump associates, possibly for eliciting information and conveying messages, intelligence experts told BuzzFeed News. 
“I don’t think there can be any doubt now that the Russians were targeting the Trump campaign, and there were members of the Trump campaign who were receptive to those approaches,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent in New York who now lectures at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. 
The failure of both Trump Jr. and Papadopoulos to inform US authorities that their Russian contacts said they had incriminating information about Hillary Clinton would have emboldened Russian intelligence to continue reaching out to Trump associates, the experts told BuzzFeed News. 
“Their overtures weren't rejected, and there was presumably no reporting of the [Trump Jr.] meeting by the Trump side to the appropriate authorities. They would have felt confident they weren't dealing with a reluctant partner,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who was a CIA intelligence officer for 23 years and director of intelligence and counterintelligence at the US Energy Department. 
The contacts illustrate the overlooked role in the 2016 election of Russian intelligence, which has flourished under Putin, a former spy. While President Donald Trump continues to say he's skeptical that Russia interfered in the election and denies that there was any collusion between his campaign and Russian authorities, outside experts say they believe there can now be little doubt that the Russian government was trying to penetrate the campaign.

And that campaign by the Russians has sloppy, gloppy fingerprints all over it.

On Aug. 3 of last year, just as the US presidential election was entering its final, heated phase, the Russian foreign ministry sent nearly $30,000 to its embassy in Washington. The wire transfer, which came from a Kremlin-backed Russian bank, landed in one of the embassy’s Citibank accounts and contained a remarkable memo line: “to finance election campaign of 2016.” 
That wire transfer is one of more than 60 now being scrutinized by the FBI and other federal agencies investigating Russian involvement in the US election. The transactions, which moved through Citibank accounts and totaled more than $380,000, each came from the Russian foreign ministry and most contained a memo line referencing the financing of the 2016 election. 
The money wound up at Russian embassies in almost 60 countries from Afghanistan to Nigeria between Aug. 3 and Sept. 20, 2016. It is not clear how the funds were used. At least one transaction that came into the US originated with VTB Bank, a financial institution that is majority-owned by the Kremlin.

We're rapidly approaching the point where Trump's hand will be forced, and with it, the GOP.  Stay tuned.

The Revenge Sessions

We've come to a nexus point on three things so far in the era of Trump, and they have produced one of the all-time bad decisions on the part of Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

First, the Mueller investigation is closing in on the Trump regime in general and specifically, Jeff Sessions himself.  He's been linked to the now-infamous March 2016 meeting of Trump's foreign policy team where George Papadopoulos floated arranging a meeting with Putin, while Sessions himself has stated multiple times under oath that he knew nothing of such attempts to arrange meetings with Russian nationals. He faces testimony today in front of the House Judiciary, at a time when a regular oversight meeting such as this is bound to be very bad for him.

Second, Republican patience with Sessions after his recusal from all things involving the 2016 campaign investigation has evaporated. Trump has been angry at Sessions for months for not protecting him from Mueller by firing him, and he's floated getting rid of Sessions several times. Refusal to prosecute Hillary Clinton has been a particular sticking point, we all remember the chants of "lock her up!" at Trump rallies both before and after the inauguration.

Third, the opportunity for Trump to rid himself of Sessions has now revealed itself through the disastrous mess that is Roy Moore's Senate campaign in Alabama's special election.  Multiple Senate Republicans have dropped their endorsements of Moore as now five women have come forward to accuse Moore of sexual assault when the victims were at the time ranging from ages 14 to 18.  The option of a write-in has come up, and while current placeholder Sen. Luther Strange is mentioned as the champion of that strategy since Alabama law precludes removing Moore from the ballot, or as the beneficiary of a move where Moore wins and then is pressured to resign and GOP Gov. Kay Ivey names a replacement (again), this used to be Jeff Sessions's Senate seat.  Ivey could name Sessions as the replacement and suddenly the post of AG is vacant.

It's a complicated and complex mess to be sure, but all three of these factors have combined to force Sessions to play his hand, and last night he did just that.

He's going after Clinton after all.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is entertaining the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate a host of Republican concerns — including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the controversial sale of a uranium company to Russia — and has directed senior federal prosecutors to explore at least some of the matters and report back to him and his top deputy, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

The revelation came in a response by the Justice Department to an inquiry from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who in July and again in September called for Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to investigate concerns he had related to the 2016 election and its aftermath.

The list of matters he wanted probed was wide ranging but included the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, various dealings of the Clinton Foundation and several matters connected to the purchase of the Canadian mining company Uranium One by Russia’s nuclear energy agency. Goodlatte took particular aim at former FBI director James B. Comey, asking for the second special counsel to evaluate the leaks he directed about his conversations with President Trump, among other things.

In response, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote that Sessions had “directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues raised in your letters,” and that those prosecutors would “report directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel.”

Trump has repeatedly criticized his Justice Department for not aggressively probing a variety of conservative concerns. He said recently that officials there “should be looking at the Democrats” and that it was “very discouraging” they were not “going after Hillary Clinton.” On the campaign trail, Trump’s supporters frequently chanted “Lock her up!” at the mention of Clinton’s name.
“Hopefully they are doing something, and at some point, maybe we are going to all have it out,” Trump said recently.

So in order to save his own ass, Sessions is destroying the last shred of his credibility to raise the possibility of prosecuting Trump's political enemies.  Frankly, I expected this earlier, but it seems that Sessions is now painfully aware of how precarious his position is.  For him to even consider this as he is, the hammer must be close to falling on him.  Whether that hammer is wielded by Trump or by Mueller, take your pick.

The larger problem is of course the end of the era of rule of law in the executive branch of the US federal government.  Should a second special counsel be appointed by somebody as compromised as Sessions is now, then the impartiality of the Justice Department will be forever ruined. We're deep in authoritarian regime territory on this one, folks.  Trump has only been in office ten months and we're facing the very real possibility of not making it out of this one as even a cursory democracy.

The notion that there's anything to investigate regarding the Clintons is ridiculous.  The Uranium One story is fully fabricated by the right and is a distraction, period.  No wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation has also been found, it's ethically lousy but legal.  To raise a special counsel over these issues is complete nonsense, and Sessions knows it.  This is an outright witch hunt, like Benghazi.

Still, at this stage I fully expect now for Robert Mueller to be fired.  The rest is timing.  If Sessions and the GOP are going this far, there's no reason for them not to dismiss Mueller and end his investigation into them. The indictments have got them terrified, and at this point it's all over but the justification.  There's still a chance that Mueller will be allowed to finish his investigation, but that probability just took a massive dip in the last 24 hours.  The one thing going in our favor right now is that the Mueller probe is robust enough to be self-sustaining if it's reached the "indictments and cooperating with the Feds" phase.  There's still much that will come out even if Mueller is dismissed.

Even with that information in hand as a hedge against lawlessness by Trump, this is still all kinds of bad, folks.  And I don't see a way out that doesn't involve extreme peril for the country.  America has certainly seen worse moments, but not in the last couple of generations. I don't honestly know how this ends, and anyone who tells you that they do is lying.  If Sessions does follow through with this (and if this is a bluff, it's a revolting one) all bets are off.

Stay tuned.
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