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Public Service Announcement

November 26: Washington Post: "Federal health officials said Monday that only romaine lettuce from certain parts of California is unsafe to eat and that romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled to give consumers information about when and where it was harvested. If consumers, retailers and food service facilities cannot determine whether the romaine was grown outside California, they should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one got sick, according to a lengthy statement from Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. FDA officials said the most likely source of contamination is from the Central Coast growing regions in northern and central California. Romaine lettuce harvested outside those regions 'does not appear to be related to the current outbreak,' the FDA said. Hydroponically grown and greenhouse-grown romaine also does not appear to be affected in the outbreak. Romaine from those sources is safe to eat, the FDA said."

... November 20: New York Times: "In a sweeping alert, federal health officials warned people not to eat romaine lettuce anywhere in the country, after 32 people in 11 states fell sick with a virulent form of E. coli, a bacteria blamed for a number of food-borne outbreaks in recent years. The notice, issued Tuesday afternoon by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said consumers should not buy or eat any kind of romaine, whether chopped or whole, and restaurants should stop serving it. Anyone who has romaine, the health agency said, should throw it out." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Okay then, guess I'll throw out that romaine. Already ate one head, and I ain't dead yet.

"The Christmas Comet Returneth." New York Times: "Look into the night sky on Sunday [December 16] and you just might see a bright, fuzzy ball with a greenish-gray tint. That’s because a comet that orbits between Jupiter and the sun will make its closest approach to Earth in centuries, right on the heels of this year’s most stunning meteor shower. 'The fuzziness is just because it’s a ball of gas basically,' Tony Farnham, a research scientist in the astronomy department at the University of Maryland, said on Saturday morning.... 'You’ve got a one-kilometer solid nucleus in the middle, and gas is going out hundreds of thousands of miles.' The comet glows green because the gases emit light in green wavelengths. The ball of gas and dust, sometimes referred to as the 'Christmas comet,' was named 46P/Wirtanen, after the astronomer Carl Wirtanen, who discovered it in 1948. It orbits the sun once every 5.4 years, passing by Earth approximately every 11 years, but its distance varies and it is rarely this close. As the comet passes by, it will be 30 times farther from Earth than the moon, NASA said.”

By George O'Keefe or somebody.Maybe the Best Gift Would Be a Spell-Check App. Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Way back in November (so Slate has had plenty of time to make corrections), someone named Angela Serratore (hope I spelled that right), wrote a post for Slate, which is featured on its main page now, suggesting gifts from small museum shops. That's a nice thought, but it would have been even nicer if the story had not misspelled Georgia O'Keeffe three times: twice as "Georgia O'Keefe" & once as "George O'Keefe." But never "Georgia O'Keeffe."

Chuck Schumer & Nancy Pelosi leaving the White House Wednesday, Dec. 12, after making mincemeat of Donald Trump.Everybody Loved Nancy's Coat! It's turns out it's from a 2013 Max Mara collection. According to Ana Colón of Glamour, "the Italian fashion house sent out a press release that not only confirmed the origins of Pelosi's coat but also announced that Max Mara would be reinstating the Glamis into its outerwear collection in 2019. 'In a variety of colorways,' no less! A spokesperson for the brand confirmed to Glamour that the decision to bring it back was inspired by Pelosi."

Isabel Wilkerson reports, in the New York Times, on Michelle Obama's book Becoming. It's quite a compelling read.

Reality Chex Bargain. Someone will pay $1 million or more for a letter written by Albert Einstein. You can read it for free. ...

... New York Times: The "God Letter," "written [in German] in 1954 by Albert Einstein ... is being auctioned this week.... He sent the handwritten letter to Eric Gutkind, a German philosopher who had written a book called 'Choose Life: The biblical Call to Revolt' that, apparently, Einstein did not much like.... Einstein wrote dozens of letters in which he mentioned God or Judaism. 'Nobody should read one Einstein letter and think that solves what he thinks about God,' Walter Isaacson, the author of the 2007 biography 'Einstein,' said in an interview.... The letter surfaced in 2008. Until then, it had apparently been in the hands of Gutkind’s heirs (he died in 1965). And it rocketed into the universe of big-money auctions, selling for $404,000 in London.... It will go on the block at Christie’s on Tuesday. Christie’s set a presale estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million."

Here's New York magazine's take on A Very Melanie Christmas:

... AND Rhonda Garelick of New York has some thoughts on why Melanie's Red Forest is so empty of holiday cheer.

Chris Hayes reviews this year's White House holiday decor:

So if you'd like to read all about Mika Brzezinski's wedding to Joe Scarborough, Emily Fox of Vanity Fair obliges. It sounds as if it was a very nice ceremony. Except, you know, Mika & Joe.

Kwitcherbitchin. Think things are bad now? They were way worse in 536 C.E. A report in Science explains.

Click on picture to see larger image.

... New York Times: "A celebrated and enigmatic painting of two men and a turquoise pool by David Hockney sold at Christie’s on Thursday night for $90.3 million with fees, shattering the auction record for a living artist and cementing a major broadening of tastes at the turbocharged top end of the market. The price for the 1972 painting, 'Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),' easily surpassed the previous high of $58.4 million, held by Jeff Koons for one of his 'Balloon Dog' sculptures."

Jennifer Szalai of the New York Times reviews Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming.

Constant Comments

 

Editor-in-Chief:
Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. -- H. L. Mencken (probably)

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. -- A. J. Liebling

Saturday
Dec152018

The Commentariat -- December 16, 2018

Brad Plumer of the New York Times: "Diplomats from nearly 200 countries reached a deal on Saturday to keep the Paris climate agreement alive by adopting a detailed set of rules to implement the pact. The deal, struck after an all-night bargaining session, will ultimately require every country in the world to follow a uniform set of standards for measuring their planet-warming emissions and tracking their climate policies. And it calls on countries to step up their plans to cut emissions ahead of another round of talks in 2020. It also calls on richer countries to be clearer about the aid they intend to offer to help poorer nations install more clean energy or build resilience against natural disasters. And it builds a process in which countries that are struggling to meet their emissions goals can get help in getting back on track. The United States agreed to the deal despite President Trump’s vow to abandon the Paris Agreement.... The United States cannot formally withdraw from the agreement until late 2020."

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

David Fahrenthold, et al., of the Washington Post: "Two years after Donald Trump won the presidency, nearly every organization he has led in the past decade is under investigation.... The mounting inquiries are building into a cascade of legal challenges that threaten to dominate Trump’s third year in the White House.... Trump has been forced to spend his political capital — and that of his party — on his defense. On Capitol Hill this week, weary Senate Republicans scrambled away from reporters to avoid questions about Trump and his longtime fixer Michael Cohen...." The reporters summarize All the President's Messes.

... As Ye Sow, So Shall Ye Reap. Dan Balz of the Washington Post: "President Trump, more isolated than at any point in his presidency, is scheduled to leave Washington at the end of this week for a holiday respite: two-plus weeks at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. When he returns in January, he will be girding for what is likely to be the most difficult year yet of his tumultuous presidency. His approval ratings aren’t much different than they were when he took office. His hardcore supporters haven’t budged. GOP elected officials remain hesitant to break with him. But his party took a beating in the midterm elections, and the legal process continues to move closer to him. Newly empowered House Democrats are preparing to challenge his authority with hearings and investigations.... Trump’s ... search for a replacement for outgoing White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly is symptomatic of his situation.... Yet potential contenders walked away from the job until the president tweeted on Friday afternoon that he was naming budget director Mick Mulvaney as his acting chief of staff, not his permanent one."

Daniel Politi of Slate: "... Donald Trump went on Twitter Saturday to put forward a story line that is clearly misleading, pushing an argument that makes a software error sound like a grand anti-Trump conspiracy theory. Considering his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, did the same thing, it all looked like part of a coordinated strategy to plant doubts about the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. 'Wow, 19,000 Texts between Lisa Page and her lover, Peter S of the FBI, in charge of the Russia Hoax, were just reported as being wiped clean and gone,' Trump tweeted. 'Such a big story that will never be covered by the Fake News. Witch Hunt!'... An investigation by the Justice Department’s watchdog said the missing texts had nothing to do with any kind of malicious intent by former investigators Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. Instead, the missing texts — thousands of which were ultimately recovered by the way — had to do with a technology failure by the software the FBI used to sweep up the messages. The report by the inspector general said there was no evidence either Strzok nor Page purposefully tried to get around any kind of protocol by deleting messages.”

The von Trump Family Grifters, Ctd. Beach Haven Blues. Russ Buettner & Susanne Craig of the New York Times: "In October, a New York Times investigation into the origins of Mr. Trump’s wealth revealed, among its findings, that the future president and his siblings set up a phony business to pad the cost of nearly everything their father ... purchased for his buildings. The Trump children split that extra money. Padding the invoices had a secondary benefit for the Trumps, allowing them to inflate rent increases on their father’s rent-regulated apartments.... For tenants, the insidious effects of the scheme continue to this day. The padded invoices have been baked into the base rent used to calculate the annual percentage increase approved by the city.... Donald Trump, contrary to his lifelong claim of being a self-made billionaire, received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father. That fortune was greatly increased by dubious schemes — including instances of outright fraud — designed to dodge gift and estate taxes, the investigation found. Mr. Trump was a central player in the formulation of those strategies, which included grossly undervaluing his father’s apartment complexes in tax filings, interviews and records showed. He also received tens of millions of dollars in gifts from his father that were disguised as loans or business investments."

Philip Ewing, NPR's national security editor, writes that Mueller has bupkus on Trump-Russia collusion. Mrs. McC: Ewing seems awfully good at looking past redactions & what-all the Mueller investigators may be holding back. Anyway, his post should please Trump. (Also linked yesterday.)


Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post: "President Trump made an unscheduled visit to Arlington National Cemetery on a rainy Saturday, following weeks of criticism for skipping ceremonial visits in the United States and abroad that other presidents have made and for his lack of meetings with U.S. troops in combat zones. The president spent 15 minutes at the storied Virginia cemetery, walking with two military officers dressed in camouflage and a tour guide, looking at the thousands of grave markers that had been decorated with holiday wreaths. The visit was not on Trump’s public schedule, which often signals a last-minute decision."

... And the Horse He Rode in on. Julie Turkewitz & Coral Davenport of the New York Times: "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a key figure in President Trump’s sweeping plan to reshape the nation’s environmental framework, will leave his post at the end of the year, Mr. Trump said on Saturday. Mr. Zinke’s departure comes amid numerous ethics investigations into his business dealings, travel and policy decisions. 'Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years,' Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. 'Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation.' The president said he would name a replacement this coming week.... In one of the final acts of [John] Kelly’s tenure as White House chief of staff, his team told Mr. Zinke that he should leave by year’s end or risk being fired in a potentially humiliating way, two people familiar with the discussion said." Thanks to Ken W. for the lead & to Patrick for the headline. (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Zahra Hirji of BuzzFeed News: Trump's "tweet came minutes after Bloomberg News reported Zinke would be leaving." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

Ryan Zinke has notified the White House he intends to step down as interior secretary. Concern about legal costs and scrutiny of his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest were factors in Zinke’s decision, I’m told. Plan is to announce Wednesday. -- Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg ...

... Robinson Meyer of the Atlantic: "In resigning, Zinke reveals the power of Democrats’ new ability to oversee the Trump administration. Zinke is the first casualty of the 2018 blue wave: the first Cabinet official who stepped down in the face of subpoenas. He left, in fact, to avoid facing subpoenas. Yet in resigning, he also shows the limits of that same new power. Democrats can no longer use Zinke’s hubris to get people to pay attention to the Trump administration’s larger set of policies at Interior.... David Bernhardt, the current deputy secretary and a former oil lobbyist, will take over the department. Little is likely to change under Bernhardt." ...

... "The Ultimate DC Swamp Creature." Rebecca Leber of Mother Jones (October 9): "As Zinke ticked off the accomplishments of his first year [at a Department of Interior event] — fulfilling the president’s vision for 'energy dominance,' selling off public lands, and taking on the Endangered Species Act — he might as well have been naming feathers in [David] Bernhardt’s cap. This stout, unobtrusive, middle-aged man in square glasses has been one of the most effective officials in the Trump administration, and after 14 months on the job, he appears to be within striking distance of taking over the department that oversees a fifth of the nation’s landmass. Smart and generally well-liked by his colleagues, Bernhardt is regarded, with grudging respect from environmentalists, as the 'brains behind the agency.'... Bernhardt is the ultimate DC swamp creature. Zinke is relatively new to Interior; Bernhardt, who spent eight years at the department earlier in his career, knows the ins and outs of its labyrinthine bureaucracy. And while Zinke has been mired in scandals and faces at least six active ethics investigations—including inspector general inquiries into possible Hatch Act lobbying violations and a Halliburton land deal in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana — Bernhardt has been largely invisible.”

Mike Allen, acting chief of DC gossip, on Mick Mulvaney's appointment as acting chief of staff: "President Trump had a meeting scheduled Monday with a possible candidate for White House chief of staff. Guess that guy ain't getting it.... Trump blurted out his decision with a 5:18 p.m. Friday tweet, amid coverage of how few top people wanted the job.... Trump announced Mulvaney as 'Acting' chief of staff, a puzzling wrinkle which prolongs the instability that a new chief of staff presumably would be tasked with vanquishing.... Trump keeps control and doesn't fully empower his guy, reminding Mulvaney who the real chief of staff is: No funny business like General John Kelly tried to pull, restricting enablers' access to POTUS. This is exactly why some other candidates didn't take the job or didn't get the job.... A senior administration official who spoke to reporters at the White House said: 'There’s no time limit.' Asked why Mulvaney was named 'acting,' the official said: 'Because that’s what the president wants.'" (Also linked yesterday.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: NBC News reports that the "acting" prefix was Mulvaney's idea; he doesn't want to get stuck in the job.

Trump is very  happy at the prospect of millions of Americans losing health care coverage. (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... BUT Congressional Republicans Don't Feel So Cheery. Paul Demko & Adam Cancryn of Politico: "... Friday night’s ruling by a federal judge in Texas that the Affordable Care Act must be scrapped once again puts the law front and center when Democrats take back the House just weeks from now. The ruling is sure to be appealed, and the Trump administration says it's business as usual in the meantime. But the decision spells bad news for Republicans, by allowing Democrats to replay a potent health care message that helped them flip 40 House seats: the GOP remains hellbent on gutting Obamacare and rolling back protections for pre-existing conditions.... [There] is likely to be a split GOP caucus that draws flak from both the right and the left. Republicans who survived the midterm election by vowing to protect people with pre-existing conditions will find themselves in a particularly tough spot.... [And Republicans who] voted to gut Obamacare’s individual mandate as part of the tax bill, argued Brad Woodhouse, executive director of [a] pro-Obamacare group..., effectively [laid] the groundwork for the Texas lawsuit’s winning argument." ...

... Manny Fernandez of the New York Times: "In the 11 years Judge Reed O’Connor has been on the federal bench, he has become a favorite of Republican leaders in Texas, reliably tossing out Democratic policies they have challenged. The state’s Republican attorney general appears to strategically file key lawsuits in Judge O’Connor’s jurisdiction, the Northern District of Texas, so that he will hear them. And on Friday, the judge handed Republicans another victory by striking down the Affordable Care Act, the signature health law of the Obama era. Judge O’Connor, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, has been at the center of some of the most contentious and partisan cases involving federal power and states’ rights, and has sided with conservative leaders in previous challenges to the health law and against efforts to expand transgender rights.... His rulings illustrate the ways in which the federal district courts have become politically weaponized, as Republicans and Democrats alike try to handpick judges they see as ideologically friendly to their cases." ...

... ** Jonathan Adler & Abbe Gluck, in a New York Times op-ed: "In a shocking legal ruling, a federal judge in Texas wiped Obamacare off the books Friday night. The decision, issued after business hours on the eve of the deadline to enroll for health insurance for 2019, focuses on the so-called individual mandate. Yet it purports to declare the entire law unconstitutional — everything from the Medicaid expansion, the ban on pre-existing conditions, Medicare and pharmaceutical reforms to much, much more. A ruling this consequential had better be based on rock-solid legal argument. Instead, the opinion by Judge Reed O’Connor is an exercise of raw judicial power, unmoored from the relevant doctrines concerning when judges may strike down a whole law because of a single alleged legal infirmity buried within." Read on. Adler & Gluck explain most of what you need to know about the decision & where it goes from here.

George Packer, now of the Atlantic: "The corruption of the Republican Party in the Trump era seemed to set in with breathtaking speed. In fact, it took more than a half century to reach the point where faced with a choice between democracy and power, the party chose the latter. Its leaders don’t see a dilemma—democratic principles turn out to be disposable tools, sometimes useful, sometimes inconvenient. The higher cause is conservatism, but the highest is power."

In case you thought Wall Street bankers were the most immoral corporate operators in the U.S., the New York Times introduces us to McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm that advises some of the worst politicians & businesses in the world.

Friday
Dec142018

The Commentariat -- December 15, 2018

Late Morning Update:

... And the Horse He Rode in on. Julie Turkewitz & Coral Davenport of the New York Times: "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a key figure in President Trump’s sweeping plan to reshape the nation’s environmental framework, will leave his post at the end of the year, Mr. Trump said on Saturday. Mr. Zinke’s departure comes amid numerous ethics investigations into his business dealings, travel and policy decisions. 'Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years,' Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. 'Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation.' The president said he would name a replacement this coming week.... In one of the final acts of [John] Kelly’s tenure as White House chief of staff, his team told Mr. Zinke that he should leave by year’s end or risk being fired in a potentially humiliating way, two people familiar with the discussion said." Thanks to Ken W. for the lead & Patrick for the headline. ...

... Zahra Hirji of BuzzFeed News: Trump's "tweet came minutes after Bloomberg News reported Zinke would be leaving." ...

Ryan Zinke has notified the White House he intends to step down as interior secretary. Concern about legal costs and scrutiny of his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest were factors in Zinke’s decision, I’m told. Plan is to announce Wednesday. -- Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg

Mike Allen, acting chief of DC gossip, on Mick Mulvaney's appointment as acting chief of staff: "President Trump had a meeting scheduled Monday with a possible candidate for White House chief of staff. Guess that guy ain't getting it.... Trump blurted out his decision with a 5:18 p.m. Friday tweet, amid coverage of how few top people wanted the job.... Trump announced Mulvaney as 'Acting' chief of staff, a puzzling wrinkle which prolongs the instability that a new chief of staff presumably would be tasked with vanquishing.... Trump keeps control and doesn't fully empower his guy, reminding Mulvaney who the real chief of staff is: No funny business like General John Kelly tried to pull, restricting enablers' access to POTUS. This is exactly why some other candidates didn't take the job or didn't get the job.... A senior administration official who spoke to reporters at the White House said: 'There’s no time limit.' Asked why Mulvaney was named 'acting,' the official said: 'Because that’s what the president wants.'"

Trump is very  happy at the prospect of millions of Americans losing health care coverage.

Philip Ewing, NPR's national security editor, writes that Mueller has bupkus on Trump-Russia collusion. Mrs. McC: Ewing seems awfully good at looking past redactions & what-all the Mueller investigators may be holding back. Anyway, his post should please Trump.

*****

Abby Goodnough & Robert Pear of the New York Times: "A federal judge in Texas struck down the entire Affordable Care Act on Friday on the grounds that its mandate requiring people to buy health insurance is unconstitutional and the rest of the law cannot stand without it. The ruling was over a lawsuit filed this year by a group of Republican governors and state attorneys general. A group of intervening states led by Democrats promised to appeal the decision, which will most likely not have any immediate effect. But it will almost certainly make its way to the Supreme Court, threatening the survival of the landmark health law and, with it, health coverage for millions of Americans, protections for people with pre-existing conditions and much more. In his ruling, Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court in Fort Worth said that the individual mandate requiring people to have health insurance 'can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s tax power.'... At issue was whether the health law’s insurance mandate still compelled people to buy coverage after Congress reduced the penalty to zero dollars as part of the tax overhaul that President Trump signed last December. When the Supreme Court upheld the mandate as constitutional in 2012, it was based on Congress’s taxing power. Congress, the court said, could legally impose a tax penalty on people who do not have health insurance.” O'Connor is a Bush II appointee. ...

... Ezra Klein of Vox: "The Texas ruling finding the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional is ludicrous in its reasoning and unlikely to survive appeal. It argues, in short, that since Congress removed the penalty from the individual mandate, the individual mandate is no longer a tax; because the individual mandate is not a tax, it is no longer constitutional; and if the mandate is no longer constitutional, the entire law must be judged unconstitutional. To do anything else would be, of course, immodest. As Judge Reed O’Connor writes, courts 'are not tasked with, nor are they suited to, policymaking.' Yes, he is literally writing that as he tries to overturn Obamacare with a stroke of his pen. You can almost hear the 'lol' he must’ve deleted from the first draft. 'If you were ever tempted to think that right-wing judges weren’t activist ... this will persuade you to knock it off,' wrote law professor Nicholas Bagley. 'This is insanity in print, and it will not stand up on appeal.'... But if you want to know why Democrats are suddenly dotting the landscape with new proposals for Medicare-for-all and Medicaid-for-all, this ruling is a useful artifact.”

Matt Phillips of the New York Times: "For the first time in decades, every major type of investment has fared poorly, as the outlook for economic growth and corporate profits is dampened by rising trade tensions and interest rates. Stocks around the world are getting pummeled, while commodities and bonds are tumbling — all of which have left investors with few places to put their money.

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

Adam Goldman of the New York Times: "The special counsel’s office rejected on Friday a suggestion from Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, that he had been tricked into lying to F.B.I. agents investigating Russia’s election interference and ties to Trump associates. Prosecutors laid out a pattern of lies by Mr. Flynn to Vice President Mike Pence, senior White House aides, federal investigators and the media in the weeks before and after the presidential inauguration as he scrambled to obscure the truth about his communications during the presidential transition with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time.... 'A sitting national security adviser, former head of an intelligence agency, retired lieutenant general and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents,' prosecutors wrote in court papers. 'He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents to know the importance of telling them the truth.'” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: the linked "court papers" -- "The Government's Reply to Defendant's Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing" -- are interesting reading.

Josh Gerstein & Kyle Cheney of Politico: "The FBI released for the first time Friday night a two-page summary former FBI Director James Comey used to brief President-elect Donald Trump nearly two years ago on a so-called dossier about Trump’s ties to Russia.... Comey has said he did not show or give Trump the memo, but used it as a reference when briefing him on the dossier, which U.S. intelligence officials feared Russia might try to use as blackmail against Trump. The synopsis was also used to brief President Barack Obama.... The document was released Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by a Politico reporter and the James Madison Project, a pro-transparency group." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: "Released" is an overstatement. The substance of the summary is redacted. The unredacted part includes some background information about Christopher Steele, who is unnamed. So thanks, FBI!

Pamela Brown of CNN: "Special counsel Robert Mueller's team continues to be interested in interviewing ... Donald Trump, two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN."

George T. Conway IIITrevor Potter & Neal Katyal in a Washington Post op-ed: Having benn caught in multiple attempts to lie his way out of the campaign finance felonies, "Now Trump and his acolytes have turned to two other excuses: They point to an earlier case involving former senator John Edwards to argue that what Trump did wasn’t a crime; and they say, even if it was a crime, it wasn’t a biggie — there are lots of crimes, so what, who cares. The former is a very weak legal argument, and the latter a dangerous one.... The [Edwards] case is actually harmful for Trump.... Edwards repeatedly argued that the payments were not campaign contributions because they were not made exclusively to further his campaign. The judge rejected this argument as a matter of law, ruling that a payment to a candidate’s extramarital sexual partner is a campaign contribution if 'one of' the reasons the payment is made is to influence the election.... [And] there’s good reason to believe that the evidence in a criminal case against Trump would be much stronger.... The grievous minimization of serious campaign finance violations by members of Trump’s political party further corrode our commitment to our age-old ideal of being a 'government of laws, and not of men.'” The authors run down the significant differences in evidence in Edwards' & Trump's cases. Interesting. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: However, Conway, et al., are not taking into account Rudy's latest defense of Trump:

Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed…. This was not a big crime. -- Rudy Giuliani, to the Daily Beast (linked below)

I think Sec. Clinton would disagree with that statement. As well as a few million American voters. -- Dan L., in today's commentary


... Here's the transcript of George Stephanopoulos' interview of Michael Cohen. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Clare Foran & Manu Raju of CNN: "Sen. Orrin Hatch, the outgoing Utah Republican and most senior GOP senator, issued a statement on Friday expressing regret for telling CNN 'I don't care' when asked about ... Donald Trump being implicated in crimes by Michael Cohen.... Ha[t]ch went on to say [in his Friday statement] that 'when we see Mueller's full report and the complete filings from the New York U.S. Attorney's office, we can determine the path forward. While I believe the President has succeeded in a number of important policy areas, that success is separate from the validity of these investigations, which I believe should be allowed to run their course." ...  

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Hatch accurately stated his initial remarks were delivered in "an unplanned hallway interview." Yeah But. A high-profile pol who's been taling with the press for half-a-century maybe shouldn't complain Raju ambushed him. While you might think Hatch's statement represents his rethinking of the importance of the rule of law, it more likely represents the fact that his "I don't care" comment was the prominent feature of numerous media reports ridiculing the GOP response to revelations that Trump was implicated in a felony.

Murray Waas of Vox: "Paul Manafort ... provided advice to the president and senior White House officials on the FBI’s Russia investigation during the earliest days of the Trump administration. He gave guidance on how to undermine and discredit the FBI’s inquiry into whether the president, his campaign aides, and family members conspired with the Russian Federation and its intelligence services to covertly defeat Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.... In short, Manafort and Trump were working together to discredit the investigators as well as potential witnesses.... Manafort wanted nothing less than to 'declare a public relations war on the FBI,' this same person said." --safari: The alignment between Manafort's and Putin's interest is astounding.

Oops! Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post: "U.S. prosecutors on Friday asked a federal judge for permission to move Maria Butina to and from jail for ongoing interviews, including potentially to testify before a grand jury, in a filing intended to be sealed that appeared on the public docket for her case."

Mystery Witness. Darren Samuelsohn & Josh Gerstein of Politico: "Special counsel Robert Mueller appeared to be locked in a subpoena battle with a recalcitrant witness Friday in a sealed federal appeals courtroom, the latest development in a mystery case that has piqued the curiosity of Mueller-obsessives and scoop-hungry journalists. Oral arguments in the highly secretive fight played out behind closed doors under tight security. Officials at the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C. even took the extraordinary measure of shutting down to the public the entire fifth floor, where the hearing was taking place. More than a dozen reporters who had been staked out in the hallway adjacent to the courtroom — in the hopes of eyeballing attorneys for Mueller or the mystery appellant’s lawyers — were kicked off the floor...."

& When it came out this year that ... Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised and spent unprecedented amounts, people wondered where all that money went. It turns out one beneficiary was Trump himself. The inauguration paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company’s Washington hotel, according to interviews as well as internal emails and receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica. During the planning, Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s eldest daughter and a senior executive with the Trump Organization, was involved in negotiating the price the hotel charged the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee for venue rentals. A top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to 'express my concern' that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces, worrying of what would happen 'when this is audited.' If the Trump hotel charged more than the going rate for the venues, it could violate tax law.... 'The fact that the inaugural committee did business with the Trump Organization raises huge ethical questions about the potential for undue enrichment,' said Marcus Owens, the former head of the division of the Internal Revenue Service that oversees nonprofits.” ...

... Christina Wilkie of CNBC: "On Thursday..., The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported that the feds are probing where the record-breaking $107 million the committee raised actually came from, and where it all went.... Yet even before Trump was inaugurated, there were already signs of scattered mistakes and systemic failures in the way the fund's money was being raised and spent.... The first sign that Trump's inaugural fundraising committee was moving into uncharted political waters was the announcement, in late 2016, that it would accept unlimited corporate and personal contributions. This was unprecedented.... Barack Obama's first inaugural committee in 2009 had prohibited corporate money and limited individual gifts to $50,000. George W. Bush's 2001 inaugural committee capped all contributions at $100,000.... The committee then spent nearly all of this money, $104 million, on far fewer official events than Obama or Bush had held.... The first official report that the Trump inaugural committee filed with the Federal Election Commission in April 2017 was riddled with errors.... Despite the committee having filed an amended report to the FEC in the summer of 2017, to this day, there remain dozens of donors to the inaugural committee whose real identities are still shrouded in mystery.... The 990 Form that the nonprofit committee submitted to the IRS in October of last year sheds little light on where the money actually went." ...

... Steve M.: "This seems ... corrupt. And illegal. But as I regularly say, President Trump will probably weather all scandals until his poll numbers start to drop from the levels where they've been for months; they're holding steady despite a wave of recent revelations.... It's self-dealing and palm-greasing. Ordinary people can understand that. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it will strike most Americans as worse than the usual level of corruption (even though it is).... The inaugural isn't one of the patriotic ceremonies we cherish. If Trump were to skim profits off a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, then maybe the national conscience would be shocked. But inaugural corruption doesn't rise to that level." ...

... Yeah, 'Cause All This Inauguration Hoohah Is the Democrats' Fault. Nicole Lafond of TPM: "... Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday evening waved off concern over a new report that President Trump’s inauguration committee is under criminal investigation by blaming Democrats for the probe.... 'I think this is a perfect example of Democrats recognizing that all the accusations they made and the information that came out of the Michael Cohen case has nothing to do with the President,' she continued. 'So now they’re going to — I would say plan B, but this is more like plan D or E or F to take this President down.'” ...

... Tom Hamburger & Michael Kranish of the Washington Post: "The incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Friday that his panel plans to investigate possible 'illicit foreign funding or involvement in the inauguration' of President Trump, an event that was supported by more than $100 million in private donations. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said that the committee has examined allegations about improper inaugural funding and that the topic remains 'a matter of interest and concern,' while declining to provide specifics. 'Whenever a foreign nation uses its financial wealth to violate the laws of our country, it undermines our democracy,' Schiff said in a statement. 'When another country does so in concert with U.S. persons, it carries the additional risk of compromising them and presents a particularly acute counterintelligence risk.'” ...

... Mark Follman & Dan Friedman of Mother Jones: "The intelligence committee is one of two Senate committees with ongoing investigations into the possibility that additional Russian money flowed through the NRA. Two probes into NRA-Russia matters are also ramping up in the House as Democrats prepare to take control of the chamber in January. The House Intelligence Committee, soon to be chaired by California Rep. Adam Schiff, plans to scrutinize 'two major threads' regarding the NRA, a committee aide said. Those include whether [Russians Alexander Torshin and [Maria] Butina were part of efforts to establish a backchannel to the Kremlin, and 'whether Russian money was flowing into the NRA for the purpose of supporting Trump’s election.'" --s (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

Jeff Toobin in the New Yorker: "In an interview with the Times in July, 2017, [Donald Trump] asserted that if Robert Mueller, the special counsel, sought to investigate the Trump family’s business dealings he would be crossing a 'red line.'... On a recent weekend..., [Rep. Adam] Schiff [D-Calif.] talked about his plans for conducting an investigation that will be parallel to Mueller’s, probing Trump’s connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other places around the world. As Schiff described his approach, it became clear that he wasn’t just planning to cross Trump’s red line — he intended to obliterate it.... Schiff hypothesizes that Trump went beyond using his campaign and the Presidency as a vehicle for advancing his business interests, speculating that he may have shaped policy with an eye to expanding his fortune.” This is a longish profile of Schiff.


After two days of not showing up to work until noon, Trump got to work "early" Friday: 11: 43 am. Mrs. McC: If President Obama had kept the kind of "work" schedule Trump has been keeping for weeks, Republicans would have impeached him for dereliction of duty. (In fairness to Trump, Obama probably didn't spend two hours a day fixing his hair. Plus Obama's tan came naturally; he didn't have to lie around in a machine. So, you know, Trump has unusually time-consuming grooming needs. BTW, women who have to primp daily just get up early.)

Jordan Fabian of the Hill: "President Trump on Friday named White House budget director Mick Mulvaney as his Acting chief of staff. Trump said in a pair of Twitter posts that Mulvaney would begin at the beginning of next year after outgoing chief of staff John Kelly leaves his post." Mrs. McC: This makes zero sense according to Trump's rationale: supposedly the reason he couldn't come to an agreement with Nick Ayers was that Ayers would commit to serving only a number of months. So now, after Trump claimed he had bunches of fabulous willing candidates, he settles on someone who will serve in an "acting" -- that is, temporary -- chief. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Michael Tackett & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: “'For the record,' the president tweeted later Friday evening, 'there were MANY people who wanted to be the White House Chief of Staff. Mick M will do a GREAT job!' At the beginning of the week, the president said there were 10 to 12 candidates actively vying for the position, but that list seemed to shrink by the day during what was often a highly public audition. Mr. Trump met with members of his family and one of his top political advisers, Brad Parscale, before making his decision on Mr. Mulvaney.... Mr. Mulvaney was one of the few prospects for the chief of staff job who was seen as openly campaigning for it over most of the year.... Sarah Huckabee Sanders ... said Mr. Mulvaney was not resigning from his job at the budget office, but would spend all of his time as chief of staff. He will turn over running the department to Russ Vought, the office’s deputy director, at a somewhat precarious time.... A senior administration official ... said there would be no end date to Mr. Mulvaney’s role despite his 'acting' title.” ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: No end date? Really? Then why is Mulvaney's title "acting"? Is this Trump's way of keeping his thumb on Mulvaney or a means of diminishing his effectiveness & perceived importance? Or is it just another Trumpy lie & that Trump will continue to look for a "real" chief? The entire firing of Kelly & search for his replacement has been another Trumpy fiasco.

... Hope Trump enjoys watching his new chief of staff dissing him:

     ... Jackie Kucinich & Asawin Suebsaeng of the Daily Beast: "During a debate with his then-congressional challenger, Democrat Fran Person, on Nov. 2 of 2016, less than a week before Trump was elected president, then- congressman Mulvaney was blunt with those gathered at York Middle School in York, South Carolina."

... Thanks But No Thanks. Nancy Cook & Matthew Choi of Politico: "Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Friday that he doesn't want to be Donald Trump's next chief of staff, leaving the president with a dwindling list of candidates and underscoring the chaos of the search for the top West Wing aide. Christie, an early Trump supporter who led the White House transition effort before being ousted, made the announcement just a day after he met with the president to discuss possibly taking the role. Christie's firm statement also came shortly after reports emerged that he was the front-runner for the job, showing how quickly contenders' odds can rise and fall." Mrs. McC: As I wrote yesterday, Christie's "job interview" with Trump was a ruse to bolster Trump's claim that he was interviewing multiple willing candidates. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Nick Miroff of the Washington Post: "Twenty-seven hours before she died at an El Paso children’s hospital, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal walked across the U.S. border with her father and 161 other migrants outside Antelope Wells, N.M. It was 9:15 p.m. on Dec. 6, and the small, remote U.S. border crossing was closed for the night. There were four Border Patrol agents on duty, and no medical staff.... That night..., U.S. agents ... radioed the nearest Border Patrol station in Lordsburg, 90 minutes away, to request a bus, the only one available along that barren desert span of the New Mexico boot heel. What unfolded over the next eight hours, as Jakelin’s condition deteriorated but went unnoticed by agents and perhaps her father, is now the subject of an internal investigation at the Department of Homeland Security, and congressional Democrats are demanding a full accounting and meetings with Customs and Border Protection officials." ...

... Rebekah Entralago of ThinkProgress: "The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responded Thursday night to a Washington Post story about a 7-year-old immigrant child who had died of severe dehydration while in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol. The statement, which invokes 'drug cartels' and 'human smugglers,' effectively blamed the child and her father for making the dangerous journey to the United States in the first place. It did not address the fact that the pair may have been trying to enter the country legally through a border port of entry and that the girl was apparently denied care for hours before her death.... DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen [on Friday] ... also expressed sympathy for DHS itself — and not the girl’s family — saying that her 'heart goes out to [the agency].'" --s

Aris Folley of The Hill: "The Education Department on Thursday announced that it will be canceling $150 million in student loans, upholding an Obama-era policy that Secretary Betsy DeVos has long fought to overhaul.... [A] federal judge ruled in September that DeVos’s efforts to nix the 2016 regulations from taking effect was illegal.... Out of the $150 million in student loans the department has announced will be automatically discharged, $80 million is attributable to loans taken out by borrowers who attended Corinthian Colleges — which was a for-profit educational chain that closed its schools back in 2015." --s (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Confederate VA Secretary Wilkie Misled Senate in Confirmation Hearings. Andrew Kaczynski of CNN: "Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie gave inaccurate answers to senators during his confirmation process about pro-Confederate speeches he delivered in 2009. In response to questions about remarks he made at Confederate memorial events, Wilkie downplayed his participation in a June 2009 event at the Confederate memorial in Arlington National Cemetery as simply introducing a keynote speaker. He also said he didn't have copies of remarks because he had not delivered a speech to such groups in '15-20 years.' But Wilkie's comments stand in contradiction to what his spokesman told CNN's KFile team last week, when he confirmed that Wilkie delivered a speech extolling the legacy of Robert E. Lee at that June 2009 ceremony at the Confederate memorial. The speech was the same one that he gave to another group in December 2009, which was also published in the Confederate Veteran magazine."

He's in the Navy Now. CBS/AP: "President Trump's first chief of staff is on track to join the Navy Reserve, buoyed by a recommendation from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Reince Priebus, 46, served as chief of staff for about six months, beginning at the start of the Trump administration in January 2017. Priebus also was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2011 to 2017." Mrs. McC: I feel safer already, knowing that Prince Rebus is protecting me.

Chavie Lieber of Vox: "CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid of marijuana ... just got a big boost thanks to US lawmakers. On Wednesday, Congress voted to pass the US Farm Bill, legalizing hemp, a species of cannabis that CBD can be extracted from but that isn’t psychoactive. Historically, hemp has been illegal to sell or grow in the US, although it’s legal to buy from international sources.... With the growing and selling of hemp now legal, greater access to CBD could mean more substantial trials and more definitive research into its purported health benefits. And it will certainly be a boon to the CBD industry." --s (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Jordan Barab of D.C.Report: "In one of the first moves of the soon-to-be Democratic Majority in the House of Representatives, Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott has been elected chair of the newly christened House Education and Labor Committee. Yes, you read that right: (Re)Introducing the House Education and Labor Committee. The House Education and Workforce Committee is no more. What’s in a name? A lot. It means that the committee will once again be addressing the needs of working people rather than just their employers." --s

Yvonne Sanchez of the Arizona Republic: "U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl will resign from the U.S. Senate on Dec. 31, The Arizona Republic has confirmed, setting up a second appointment by Gov. Doug Ducey to the seat once occupied by the late John McCain. Ducey is required under law to name another Republican to the seat." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Casey Michel of ThinkProgress: "A former head of a Texas nonprofit [Kemal Oksuzpleaded guilty this week to concealing the funding behind a scandal-plagued Congressional trip to Azerbaijan in 2013.... The trip ... became a case study in how foreign governments seek to influence American legislators without disclosing their role, including using nonprofits to mask the actual funding, and then lying about who is bankrolling the travel.... There remains no indication that any Congressional representatives on the trip — which included Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), Ted Poe (R-TX), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) — committed any wrongdoing.... The trip is a clear example of post-Soviet kleptocracies seeking to influence American politics, long before Russia decided to throw its weight behind Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. After the Congressional representatives returned to the U.S., for instance, many of them began advocating for Azerbaijan’s interests in Washington." --s

Peter Granitz of NPR: "Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen warned party leaders that what she sees as the GOP's focus on conservative, white, male voters harms its electoral prospects. In an interview with Morning Edition host Rachel Martin, Ros-Lehtinen said Republicans would 'lose this whole generation' if it did not 'aggressively pursue' young voters.... Ros-Lehtinen has had a historic career, as the first Latina and first Cuban-American in Congress, as well as being the first woman to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee.... However, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in Ros-Lehtinen's district by nearly 20 points in 2016, and her House seat flipped to Democrats in 2018." --s (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

"I Speak for the Trees." Stephanie Ebbs of ABC News: "A federal judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals quoted Dr. Seuss' beloved environmental warrior [the Lorax] in a decision calling for the U.S. Forest Service to revisit its approval for a natural gas pipeline on the East Coast to go forward. 'We trust the United States Forest Service to "speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,'" Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote, quoting Dr. Seuss' 1971 book 'The Lorax.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

"Annals of Journalism," Ctd. Kyla Mandel of ThinkProgress: "The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently promoting its recent environmental rollback using an op-ed published in a news outlet owned by a Republican megadonor. The column, published by The Las Vegas Review-Journal Editorial Board with the headline 'There goes another one,' was sent around to journalists by the EPA press office on Thursday.... The Review-Journal is owned by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson who, with his wife ... also had a close relationship with the agency during former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s tenure. As Politico reported in March, Pruitt met with Israeli company Water-Gen at the 'request of Adelson.' Shortly after, the agency signed a research agreement with the company." --s (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Lisa Girion of Reuters: "[Johnson & Johnson] has been compelled to share thousands of pages of company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents with lawyers for some of the 11,700 plaintiffs now claiming that the company’s talc caused their cancers — including thousands of women with ovarian cancer.... A Reuters examination of many of those documents ... shows that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.... The earliest mentions of tainted J&J talc that Reuters found come from 1957 and 1958 reports by a consulting lab." --s

Alex Hurn of the Guardian: "A Facebook bug let app developers see photos users had uploaded but never posted, the social network has disclosed." --s

Stefan Nicola et al., of Bloomberg: "The U.S. has been pushing governments for months to block Huawei Technologies Co. from telecom networks. That strategy is now taking hold in Europe, where the Chinese technology giant is losing allies by the day.... While there have been no outright bans, the outlook is dimming for Huawei in its biggest market outside China.... In France, Orange SA said Wednesday it won’t use Huawei gear to build fifth-generation wireless networks, after BT Group Plc in the U.K. pledged to rip out some of the company’s equipment. In Germany on Thursday, Deutsche Telekom AG raised the prospect of dropping Huawei. Then Friday, the Norwegian government said it’s weighing concerns with using suppliers from countries with which there’s no security policy cooperation -- an oblique reference to China.... Troubles in Europe for Huawei come on top of bans of its equipment in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S." --s

R.I.P. Oliver Darcy of CNN: "The Weekly Standard, the magazine that espouses traditional conservatism and which has remained deeply critical of ... Donald Trump, will shutter after 23 years, Clarity Media Group, the owner of its publisher announced Friday morning. It will publish its final issue on December 17." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Beyond the Beltway

California. AP: "California moved Friday to eliminate climate-changing fossil fuels from its fleet of 12,000 transit buses, enacting a first-in-the-nation mandate that will vastly increase the number of electric buses on the road. The California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to require that all new buses be carbon-free by 2029. Environmental advocates project that the last buses emitting greenhouse gases will be phased out by 2040." --s

Washington. Meet your GOP, Ctd. Kelly Weill of The Daily Beast: "A Washington state lawmaker who wrote a manifesto justifying murder in 'biblical warfare' is accused of violating campaign finance law to donate to an anti-Muslim group and promote his radio show on a conspiracy website associated with a far-right secessionist movement. Republican Rep. Matt Shea is a conspiracy-peddling religious fundamentalist with ties to the extremist Christian Identity movement, fringe militias, and secessionist groups. Years of minor notoriety in Washington lead to national headlines last month when he was revealed to have published document outlining apocalyptic Christian warfare. Days after the document circulated, Shea won reelection. But watchdogs in the state say he may have violated campaign finance law with payments to a number of fringe groups." --s

** Wisconsin. Scott Walker Is Still a Jerk. Mitch Smith & Monica Davey of the New York Times: "Scott Walker, the outgoing Republican governor of Wisconsin, on Friday signed into law measures that diminish the power of his Democratic successor and expand the authority of Republican lawmakers who teamed up with him over the last eight years to move the state firmly to the right. Mr. Walker approved the measures over the vehement objections of the incoming governor and despite fierce protest in the State Capitol as Republican lawmakers rushed the bills through in a hastily-called session last week. Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat Mr. Walker in the November election, has suggested that he may file suit over the changes and said that Mr. Walker had chosen 'to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin.'... Participating in what many Democrats consider a legally dubious power grab also cemented another widely held view: that Mr. Walker is a bruising partisan willing to break precedent and ignore protests for political gain.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) 

Way Beyond

Powder Keg. AP: "Serbia has talked up the possibility of an armed intervention in Kosovo after the parliament in Pristina overwhelmingly approved the formation of an army. Belgrade called the move the 'most direct threat to peace and stability in the region', while Nato’s chief said it was 'ill-timed' and urged dialogue.... Serbia insists the new army violates a UN resolution that ended Kosovo’s 1998-99 war of independence. It has warned bluntly that it may respond with an armed intervention in the former province.... Russia’s foreign ministry denounced the Kosovan move and said the army must be disbanded. Any Serbian armed intervention in Kosovo would mean a direct confrontation with thousands of Nato-led peacekeepers, including US soldiers, stationed in Kosovo since 1999 ... Nato and the European Union ... expressed regret that Kosovo had decided to go ahead with the army formation." --safari: How are we going to explain this clusterfuck to Donny with crayons and construction paper?

Britain. Harriet Grant of the Guardian: "Plastic traces in animal feed could pose a risk to human health and urgently need to be the subject of more research, experts have told the Guardian.... More than 650,000 tonnes of unused food, from loaves of bread to Mars bars, are saved from landfill each year in the UK by being turned into animal feed. The system that strips off the plastic wrappings can’t capture it all, and so in the UK a limit of 0.15% of plastic is allowed by the Food Standards Agency. The official EU level for plastic permitted in animal feed is zero although in reality many other countries operate within the same 0.15% limit.... Globally, about a third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted from the farm to the fork. Food that is ultimately lost or wasted consumes about a quarter of all water used by agriculture, requires a land area the size of China and is responsible for an estimated 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions." --s

Nicaragua. Luis Manuel Galeano of the AP: "Nicaraguan police have raided the offices of five nongovernmental organizations and an independent media outlet, alleging that they participated in seeking the government’s overthrow. The raids were the latest strong-arm actions taken by the government of President Daniel Ortega. Since popular street protests destabilized his government in April, Ortega has reconsolidated power and methodically pursued perceived enemies." --s

Thursday
Dec132018

The Commentariat -- December 14, 2018

Afternoon Update:

Jordan Fabian of the Hill: "President Trump on Friday named White House budget director Mick Mulvaney as his Acting chief of staff. Trump said in a pair of Twitter posts that Mulvaney would begin at the beginning of next year after outgoing chief of staff John Kelly leaves his post." Mrs. McC: This makes zero sense according to Trump's rationale: supposedly the reason he couldn't come to an agreement with Nick Ayers was that Ayers would commit only to a number of months. So now, after Trump claimed he had bunches of fabulous candidates, he settles on someone who will serve in an "acting" -- that is, short-term -- chief.

Adam Goldman of the New York Times: "The special counsel's office rejected on Friday a suggestion from Michael T. Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, that he had been tricked into lying to F.B.I. agents investigating Russia's election interference and ties to Trump associates. Prosecutors laid out a pattern of lies by Mr. Flynn to Vice President Mike Pence, senior White House aides, federal investigators and the media in the weeks before and after the presidential inauguration as he scrambled to obscure the truth about his communications during the presidential transition with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time.... 'A sitting national security adviser, former head of an intelligence agency, retired lieutenant general and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents,' prosecutors wrote in court papers. 'He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents to know the importance of telling them the truth.'"

Mitch Smith & Monica Davey of the New York Times: "Scott Walker, the outgoing Republican governor of Wisconsin, on Friday signed into law measures that diminish the power of his Democratic successor and expand the authority of Republican lawmakers who teamed up with him over the last eight years to move the state firmly to the right. Mr. Walker approved the measures over the vehement objections of the incoming governor and despite fierce protest in the State Capitol as Republican lawmakers rushed the bills through in a hastily-called session last week. Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat Mr. Walker in the November election, has suggested that he may file suit over the changes and said that Mr. Walker had chosen 'to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin.'... Participating in what many Democrats consider a legally dubious power grab also cemented another widely held view: that Mr. Walker is a bruising partisan willing to break precedent and ignore protests for political gain."

Thanks But No Thanks. Nancy Cook & Matthew Choi of Politico: "Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Friday that he doesn't want to be Donald Trump's next chief of staff, leaving the president with a dwindling list of candidates and underscoring the chaos of the search for the top West Wing aide. Christie, an early Trump supporter who led the White House transition effort before being ousted, made the announcement just a day after he met with the president to discuss possibly taking the role. Christie's firm statement also came shortly after reports emerged that he was the front-runner for the job, showing how quickly contenders' odds can rise and fall." Mrs. McC: As I wrote earlier today, Christie's "job interview" with Trump was a ruse to bolster Trump's claim that he was interviewing multiple willing candidates.

After two days of not showing up to work until noon, Trump got to work "early" today: 11: 43 am. Mrs. McC: If President Obama had kept the kind of "work" schedule Trump has been keeping for weeks, Republicans would have impeached him for dereliction of duty. (In fairness to Trump, Obama probably didn't spend two hours a day fixing his hair. Plus Obama's tan came naturally; he didn't have to lie around in a machine. So Trump has unusually time-consuming grooming needs. BTW, women who have to primp daily just get up early.)

George T. Conway III, Trevor Potter & Neal Katyal in a Washington Post op-ed: Having been caught in his attempts to lie his way out of the campaign finance felonies, "Now Trump and his acolytes have turned to two other excuses: They point to an earlier case involving former senator John Edwards to argue that what Trump did wasn't a crime; and they say, even if it was a crime, it wasn't a biggie -- there are lots of crimes, so what, who cares. The former is a very weak legal argument, and the latter a dangerous one.... The [Edwards] case is actually harmful for Trump.... Edwards repeatedly argued that the payments were not campaign contributions because they were not made exclusively to further his campaign. The judge rejected this argument as a matter of law, ruling that a payment to a candidate's extramarital sexual partner is a campaign contribution if 'one of' the reasons the payment is made is to influence the election.... [And] there's good reason to believe that the evidence in a criminal case against Trump would be much stronger.... The grievous minimization of serious campaign finance violations by members of Trump's political party further corrode our commitment to our age-old ideal of being a 'government of laws, and not of men.'" The authors run down the significant differences in evidence in Edwards' & Trump's cases. ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: However, Conway, et al., are not taking into account Rudy's latest defense of Trump:

Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed.... This was not a big crime. -- Rudy Giuliani, to the Daily Beast (linked below)

I think Sec. Clinton would disagree with that statement. As well as a few million American voters. -- Dan L., in today's commentary


... Here's the transcript of George Stephanopoulos' interview of Michael Cohen.

Mrs. McCrabbie: Safari has a longer & better summary of the following post than the brief one I posted in today's main page:

... Asawin Suebsaeng et al. of The Daily Beast: "Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner was handed a task considered critical to the president's operations. In addition to serving as a senior adviser in the White House, he would also be playing the role of the main conduit between Trump and his friend David Pecker, the National Enquirer publisher and chief executive of AMI. During the early months of the Trump era, Kushner performed the task admirably.... Starting in late 2016, AMI's priorities shifted from a potential business deal with Kushner to one focused on access to political power. Shortly after the Trump presidency began, Kushner and Pecker talked repeatedly, on subjects ranging from relations with the Saudi regime, to possible dirt that the Enquirer had on Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.... AMI, like Kushner, cozied up to the despotic Saudi government, which included the production of a glossy propaganda magazine boosting Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman." --s

Aris Folley of The Hill: "The Education Department on Thursday announced that it will be canceling $150 million in student loans, upholding an Obama-era policy that Secretary Betsy DeVos has long fought to overhaul.... [A] federal judge ruled in September that DeVos's efforts to nix the 2016 regulations from taking effect was illegal.... Out of the $150 million in student loans the department has announced will be automatically discharged, $80 million is attributable to loans taken out b borrowers who attended Corinthian Colleges -- which was a for-profit educational chain that closed its schools back in 2015." --s

Chavie Lieber of Vox: "CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid of marijuana ... just got a big boost thanks to US lawmakers. On Wednesday, Congress voted to pass the US Farm Bill, legalizing hemp, a species of cannabis that CBD can be extracted from but that isn't psychoactive. Historically, hemp has been illegal to sell or grow in the US, although it's legal to buy from international sources.... With the growing and selling of hemp now legal, greater access to CBD could mean more substantial trials and more definitive research into its purported health benefits. And it will certainly be a boon to the CBD industry." --s

Yvonne Sanchez of the Arizona Republic: "U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl will resign from the U.S. Senate on Dec. 31, The Arizona Republic has confirmed, setting up a second appointment by Gov. Doug Ducey to the seat once occupied by the late John McCain. Ducey is required under law to name another Republican to the seat."

Mark Follman & Dan Friedman of Mother Jones: "The intelligence committee is one of two Senate committees with ongoing investigations into the possibility that additional Russian money flowed through the NRA. Two probes into NRA-Russia matters are also ramping up in the House as Democrats prepare to take control of the chamber in January. The House Intelligence Committee, soon to be chaired by California Rep. Adam Schiff, plans to scrutinize 'two major threads' regarding the NRA, a committee aide said. Those include whether [Russians Alexander Torshin and [Maria] Butina were part of efforts to establish a backchannel to the Kremlin, and 'whether Russian money was flowing into the NRA for the purpose of supporting Trump's election.'" --s

Peter Granitz of NPR: "Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen warned party leaders that what she sees as the GOP's focus on conservative, white, male voters harms its electoral prospects. In an interview with Morning Edition host Rachel Martin, Ros-Lehtinen said Republicans would 'lose this whole generation' if it did not 'aggressively pursue' young voters.... Ros-Lehtinen has had a historic career, as the first Latina and first Cuban-American in Congress, as well as being the first woman to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee.... However, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in Ros-Lehtinen's district by nearly 20 points in 2016, and her House seat flipped to Democrats in 2018." --s

"I Speak for the Trees." Stephanie Ebbs of ABC News: "A federal judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals quoted Dr. Seuss' beloved environmental warrior [the Lorax] in a decision calling for the U.S. Forest Service to revisit its approval for a natural gas pipeline on the East Coast to go forward. 'We trust the United States Forest Service to "speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,'" Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote, quoting Dr. Seuss' 1971 book 'The Lorax.'"

"Annals of Journalism," Ctd. Kyla Mandel of ThinkProgress: "The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently promoting its recent environmental rollback using an op-ed published in a news outlet owned by a Republican megadonor. The column, published by The Las Vegas Review-Journal Editorial Board ... was sent around to journalists by the EPA press office on Thursday.... The Review-Journal is owned by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson who, with his wife ... also had a close relationship with the agency during former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's tenure. As Politico reported in March, Pruitt met with Israeli company Water-Gen at the 'request of Adelson.' Shortly after, the agency signed a research agreement with the company." --s

R.I.P. Oliver Darcy of CNN: "The Weekly Standard, the magazine that espouses traditional conservatism and which has remained deeply critical of ... Donald Trump, will shutter after 23 years, Clarity Media Group, the owner of its publisher announced Friday morning. It will publish its final issue on December 17."

*****

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

** Trump Was in the Room. Tom Winter of NBC News: "Donald Trump was the third person in the room in August 2015 when his lawyer Michael Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed ways Pecker could help counter negative stories about Trump's relationships with women, NBC News has confirmed. As part of a non-prosecution agreement disclosed Wednesday by federal prosecutors, American Media Inc., the Enquirer's parent company, admitted that 'Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate's relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.' The 'Statement of Admitted Facts' says that AMI admitted making a $150,000 payment 'in concert with the campaign,' and says that Pecker, Cohen, and 'at least one other member of the campaign' were in the meeting. According to a person familiar with the matter, the 'other member' was Trump.... Daniel Goldman, an NBC News analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney said..., "... if Trump is now in the room, as early as August of 2015 and in combination with the recording where Trump clearly knows what Cohen is talking about with regarding to David Pecker, you now squarely place Trump in the middle of a conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud.'" Emphasis added. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Cohen Twists the Knife. George Stephanopoulos, et al., of ABC News: "Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to arrange hush-money payments with two women because then-candidate Trump 'was very concerned about how this would affect the election' if their allegations of affairs became public, the president's former personal attorney said in an exclusive interview with ABC News.... 'I knew what I was doing was wrong,' Cohen told ... George Stephanopoulos. 'I stood up before the world [Wednesday] and I accepted the responsibility for my actions.' When asked if the president also knew it was wrong to make the payments, Cohen replied, 'Of course,' adding that the purpose was to 'help [Trump] and his campaign.'... 'Why should we believe you now?' Stephanopoulos asked. 'Because the special counsel stated emphatically that the information that I gave to them is credible and helpful,' Cohen replied. 'There's a substantial amount of information that they possessed that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth.'" ...

I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called 'advice of counsel,' and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid. Despite that many campaign finance lawyers have strongly..... -- Donald Trump, in a tweet Thursday ...

... Thursday in Trump Tall Tales. John Wagner of the Washington Post: "President Trump denied Thursday that he had directed his former personal attorney Michael Cohen to break the law during the 2016 campaign by buying the silence of two women who claimed they once had affairs with the future president. In morning tweets, Trump, however, did not dispute that he had directed Cohen to make the payments, as Cohen and federal prosecutors have alleged -- actions that could imperil Trump. The president claimed that Cohen bore responsibility for any criminal violations of campaign finance law but also asserted that Cohen 'probably was not guilty' of even civil violations related to the payments to former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels -- a view at odds with that of many lawyers. 'Those charges were just agreed to by him in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence, which he did,' Trump alleged.... Trump largely echoed his tweets in a television interview broadcast Thursday afternoon. 'I never directed him to do anything wrong,' Trump told Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner, speaking about Cohen. 'Whatever he did he did on his own. ... I never directed him to do anything incorrect or wrong.' Trump sought to minimize his relationship with Cohen, saying he did 'more public relations than law' and was generally responsible for 'low-level work.'&" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... The New York Times story, by Eileen Sullivan & Maggie Haberman, is here. ...

... Elura Nanos of Law & Crime: "... convenient as it may be for Trump to believe that it's perfectly legal to conspire with a lawyer to commit crimes..., in general, directing a person to commit a crime is ... a crime all by itself.... For most crimes, there is no requirement that the person giving or receiving instructions for criminal behavior actually know the law creating the criminal offense.... Criminal-level campaign finance violations (which are one of several categories of crimes for which Cohen was prosecuted) do require knowledge of wrongdoing.... But Cohen's knowledge isn't really what matters. If Trump knew his behavior was illegal, then Cohen could have been the leading expert on campaign finance and it wouldn't matter a fig.... It's not a great idea for Trump to bring up 'advice of counsel' here (although I'm very proud of him for spelling both words correctly for perhaps the first time ever). Using the 'my lawyer made me do it' defense is a terrible idea, because -- as my colleague Colin Kalmbacher discusses here -- it can indicate a waiver of attorney-client privilege." ...

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "President Trump on Thursday tacitly admitted, for the first time, that he directed Michael Cohen to facilitate hush-money payments to two women who had alleged affairs with Trump, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels.... It's worth emphasizing just how horrendous of a coverup this whole episode has proved to be. Regardless of legal culpability, Trump and his team have spent the past 11 months engaging in a very public and irreconcilable effort to obscure all of this. And as the days pass, their statements look worse and worse." Blake then takes "a trip down memory lane" to remind us of Trump & his team's previous evolving lies about the payments. ...

... Philip Rucker & John Wagner of the Washington Post: "For months, President Trump's spokesmen, his lawyer and his lawyer's lawyer denied that Trump knew about payments during his 2016 campaign to buy the silence of women who alleged sexual encounters with him. The president himself claimed the same. But after mounting evidence and fresh courthouse revelations of wrongdoing this week exposed those denials as falsehoods, Trump is shifting his tune. The president no longer disputes that he instructed his then-personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to make the payments to former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels. Instead, Trump sought to evade that question Thursday by saying he never told Cohen to break the law -- making a narrow assertion that was itself an admission that his and his team's earlier denials were false.... The evolving strategy on the hush-money allegations is textbook Trump: Tell one version of events until it falls apart, then tell a new version, and so on -- until the danger passes."

Martin Longman in the Washington Monthly: Since it has dawned on him that impeachment is a real possibility, "Trump now believes that he needs to hold on to the support of 'establishment' Republicans to survive.... That would be a difficult thing to achieve in the best of circumstances considering that Trump came to power by trashing them. They've basically gotten what they wanted from him already -- a big tax cut, two Supreme Court justices, and a bunch of relaxed or gutted regulation.... The president is giving the Republican Party ownership of a government shutdown they do not want on an issue they do not support. His White House operation is in shambles and the one person people trusted to keep it on track has been fired -- and there is no comparable replacement in sight. Presently, the Senate is voting to essentially rebuke the president for his position on Saudi Arabia, and that disconnect will grow more serious next year.... They've just seen two score of their colleagues cut down in the midterm elections, largely as a result of backlash against the president. There is no appetite for going into the 2020 presidential campaign with Trump as the Republican establishment's standard-bearer. Only two things can keep them in Trump's corner. One is fear of a primary challenge, and the other is a massive change of behavior by the president.... Trump's ability to inspire fear is waning and will soon be completely gone.... He burned his bridges and, at this point, the establishment is just waiting for Mueller, so they can clean out this mess." ...

... Susan Glasser of the New Yorker agrees with Longman: "During Watergate, the last time a sitting President was named an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal investigation, Hugh Scott, who was then the Minority Leader, and other Republican senators marched into the White House to tell Nixon to resign, but only once his fate was already clear. Nixon was not only a two-term President but a lifetime Republican who had devoted his career to the Party.... Trump faces a far different situation, with far fewer reserves of personal or partisan loyalty to call upon. A former Democrat, he was opposed by the vast majority of congressional Republicans in the party primaries for President. He has little personal connection to most of them now, did not spend decades raising money for their elections or campaigning for them, and has often publicly feuded with their leaders."

Josh Kovensky of TPM: "Trump’s inaugural committee is under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York over whether donors handed over cash in exchange for access to government officials and into whether funds were misallocated, the Wall Street Journal reported. Documents seized during raids of former Trump attorney and current felon Michael Cohen's home, office, and hotel room in April 2018 led to the investigation, the newspaper reported, which is focusing on whether the record $107 million the committee raised was given 'in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions.' Specifically, the report stated that federal agents seized the recording of a conversation that Cohen made between himself and former Melania Trump adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. In the recording, Wolkoff purportedly 'expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money,' the Journal cited one person as saying." ...

... Andrew Prokop of Vox: "Rick Gates -- the former Trump aide who helped run the inaugural committee and struck a plea deal with Mueller in February -- has also been cooperating with SDNY prosecutors, the Journal reports.... A week after the election, Trump named a murderers' row of uberrich Republicans as 'finance vice chairs' for the event. They included casino billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn (the latter of whom was later accused of sexually abusing employees), defense contractor Elliott Broidy (later involved in hush money payments to a Playboy model), and Anthony Scaramucci (later White House communications director for 10 days before resigning over an obscene interview with the New Yorker). The man in charge of it all, as chair of the inaugural committee, was Tom Barrack. He's a billionaire real estate investor who's been a close friend of Trump's for decades, and his business interests have recently been concentrated in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar." ...

... Sharon LaFraniere, et al., of the New York Times: "The inquiry focuses on whether people from Middle Eastern nations -- including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- used straw donors to disguise their donations to the two funds. Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal campaigns, political action committees and inaugural funds." The story includes some of the clues there was monkey business going on. And you know there was. ...

... digby: "By the way, The Inaugural Committee was chaired by Mike Pence."

So Donald Trump's private business, campaign, transition, inaugural committee, and White House are all under criminal investigation. Very legal and very cool. -- Matthew Miller, in a tweet

... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Looking at Miller's list, I see that mike pence chaired both the inauguration committee & the transition. In addition, for some reason he was talking to Mike Flynn about sanctions. He's either as dumb as the tree stump he played on teevee earlier this week, or he's implicated. We may be closer to having a woman president than we know. Her name will be Nancy.

Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times: "On Thursday, [Maria] Butina, 30, pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent in a deal with federal prosecutors. In doing so, she acknowledged that her activities were motivated by more than mere personal conviction. As part of the deal, Ms. Butina admitted to being involved an organized effort, backed by Russian officials, to open up unofficial lines of communication with influential Americans in the N.R.A. and in the Republican Party, and to win them over to the idea of Russia as a friend, not a foe. Ms. Butina's guilty plea now casts a spotlight on the Americans she worked with, including prominent members of the N.R.A. and her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, 56, a longtime Republican operative who ran Patrick J. Buchanan's 1992 presidential campaign and who now faces accusations of fraud in three states. Officials have said federal investigators are examining what Mr. Erickson and others who helped Ms. Butina knew about her links to the Russian government." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... David Corn & Dan Friedman of Mother Jones: "... much of the [news] coverage [of Michael Flynn] -- focused on Flynn's post-election contacts with [Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey] Kislyak, conversations that he lied about to the FBI and that led to his indictment.... Yet two Flynn associates tell Mother Jones that Flynn has informed friends and colleagues that prior to Election Day he spoke with Kislyak about how Trump could work productively with Russia if he won the presidency. One of these Flynn associates ... notes that Flynn said he discussed with Kislyak a grand bargain in which Moscow would cooperate with the Trump administration to resolve the Syrian conflict and Washington would end or ease up on the sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine. The other Flynn associate says Flynn said he had been talking to Kislyak about Syria, Iran, and other foreign policy matters that Russia and the United States could tackle together were Trump to be elected.... [If true,] it would mean Trump's chief national security aide was secretly interacting with the representative of a foreign power as that government was mounting information and cyber warfare against the United States[, an effort of which they were then aware because intelligence agencies briefed them about in August 2016]." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: There's a connection between the Butina & Flynn stories, and the connection is sanctions. Butina, surreptitiously acting as a Russian agent, was the first person -- back in July 2015 -- to ask Trump publicly about his position on sanctions, and his answer was, "I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin ... I don't think you'd need the sanctions." This answer may be a big part of the reason Russia helped Trump, even as Flynn, again surreptitiously, conspired in mid-2016 with the Russian ambassador to lift sanctions. The pre-election discussions between Flynn & Kislyak might help explain why Flynn lied to FBI agents about his little chats with Kislyak during the transition. Had he been truthful about the transition discussions, he would have anticipated the FBI's next question would be, "So is the first time you discussed sanctions with a Russian government official?" At some point, he was going to have to lie or spill the beans, as apparently he eventually has done.

Chris Megerian & Eli Stokols of the Los Angeles Times: "For the second day in a row, the president had been in the White House residence all morning, fuming about federal investigations that have moved closer to him -- and are likely to get worse.... Trump has become increasingly isolated as he enters what may be the most difficult stretch of his presidency, one laden with political and legal dangers.... Tony Schwartz, the ghost writer of ... 'The Art of the Deal,' said ... Trump followed the tactics he learned from his late mentor, the hard-knuckled New York lawyer Roy Cohn -- 'Lie about everything, attack back twice as hard as you've been hit, keep at it relentlessly until people finally give up and [they] stop arguing with your fabricated reality. Trump is still living in that reality, but the world isn't going along with him anymore.'..."


Christine Stapleton
of the Palm Beach Post: "... Donald Trump is expected to spend 16 days at Mar-a-Lago over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, according to an alert issued by the Federal Aviation Administration this morning."

Mrs. McCrabbie: So I was wrong when I guessed (facetiously) that Ivanka would become Daddy's Little Chief of Staff. Because, um, her husband is trying to muscle her out: ...

... S.V. Date of the Huffington Post: "Having run through his first choices for his chief of staff vacancy without any luck..., Donald Trump is considering his own son-in-law for the job. Jared Kushner, the husband of Trump's daughter Ivanka and already an official White House adviser, met with Trump Wednesday about the job, a top Republican close to the White House told HuffPost.... Kushner has been pushing his own candidacy with Trump, citing his work on a criminal justice reform package and a claimed ability to work with Democrats, one person said." ...

... Martin Longman of the Booman Tribune: "If it's true that Jared Kushner met with his father-in-law on Wednesday to discuss taking the job of White House chief of staff, then we're nearing the endgame for this administration. This would be an insult too big to ignore and signal a final hunkering down. For starters, Kushner is every bit as much of a target of federal and state investigators as the president. Then there's the whole security clearance issue, because presumably a president's chief of staff has the highest clearance you can get. And, finally, just today the Senate condemned Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who happens to be BFF's with Jared Kushner, by voting to end support for the war in Yemen." ...

... According to Asawin Suebsaeng & others at the Daily Beast, one of Kushner's many White House jobs was maintaining the relationship between Trump & National Enquirer publisher David Pecker. That seems not to have worked out too well. ...

... Jonathan Swan of Axios: "President Trump met with Chris Christie on Thursday evening and considers him a top contender to replace John Kelly as chief of staff, according to a source familiar with the president's thinking." Mrs. McC: If there is any truth to the stories that the new chief-of-staff would have to pass muster with Jared & Ivanka, then the Christie meeting is a ruse to make it appear Trump has this long list of willing candidates to fill the job. As Swan points out, "... he is not a friend of the Kushners. (As U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Christie sent Jared's father to prison.)"

Brendan Cole of Newsweek: "White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she hoped her legacy would be that people viewed her as 'transparent and honest.'" Thanks to Akhilleus for the lead. See his commentary below, the most cogent portion of which is a long line of hahahahas. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Nick Miroff & Robert Moore of the Washington Post: "A 7-year-old girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday.... According to CBP records, the girl and her father were taken into custody about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in. More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures at 6:25 a.m., CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees, and according to a statement from CBP, she 'reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.'"

Julie Davis & Eric Schmitt of the New York Times: "The Senate voted resoundingly on Thursday to withdraw American military assistance for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, issuing the latest in a series of stinging bipartisan rebukes of President Trump for his defense of the kingdom amid outrage in both parties over Riyadh's role in the killing of a dissident journalist. The 56-to-41 vote was a rare move by the Senate to limit presidential war powers and send a potent message of official disapproval for a nearly four-year conflict that has killed thousands of civilians and brought famine to Yemen. Its immediate effect was largely symbolic, after the House earlier this week moved to scuttle it, all but assuring that the measure will expire this year without making it to Mr. Trump's desk." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Senate Unanimously Rebukes Trump, Administration. Aaron Blake: "Just moments after the Senate passed a resolution calling for an end to U.S. involvement on the Saudi side of the war in Yemen, the GOP-run Senate voted unanimously for Republican Sen. Bob Corker's resolution officially blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for [Jamal] Khashoggi's death. The resolution by Corker (Tenn.) says, among other things: 'The Senate ... believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.' That's also what the CIA has concluded, but it's a conclusion that Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and even Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have taken great pains to undermine."

Ginger Gibson of Reuters: "Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that members of congress from her party will seek to obtain ... Donald Trump's tax returns when they take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January - a move the White House is likely to strongly resist.... The House Ways and Means Committee will 'take the first steps' toward obtaining the documents, said Pelosi.... The records would provide congressional investigators from various House committees with information crucial to efforts to determine if Trump's business generates conflicts of interest."

Sheryl Stolberg of the New York Times: "In her quest to become speaker, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California appears ready once again to sacrifice the higher ambitions of her No. 2, Representative Steny H. Hoyer, and Mr. Hoyer is not shy about expressing his objections. 'She's not negotiating for me,' he snapped the other day, referring to Ms. Pelosi's deal with a group of House Democratic rebels to impose term limits on the leadership -- and not just herself -- of four years.... His longstanding ambitions to be speaker would almost certainly be curtailed by the plan's emphasis on generational change, though under it, he could technically serve four years as majority leader, and then, at 83, run for speaker. But over his more than 50 years in public life, 37 of them in Congress, Mr. Hoyer has proved himself a quiet survivor. He is now the House's longest-serving Democrat. Last month, he skated to victory to reclaim the majority leader's post, even as some fellow Democrats pushed for Ms. Pelosi's ouster."

Election 2018. Maine. Marina Villeneuve & Patrick Whittle of the AP: "A federal judge rejected a lawsuit Thursday by a Republican incumbent from Maine who lost the nation's first congressional election held under a candidate-ranking system. Democrat Jared Golden defeated Bruce Poliquin in the November contest, which allowed voters to rank up to four candidates. Poliquin won the most votes but failed to get a majority. Votes cast for two trailing candidates were then reassigned to voters' second choices, which swung the election to Golden. Poliquin then filed a lawsuit alleging that the new balloting system, also called ranked choice, violated the U.S. Constitution.... The judge [Lance Walker] said he failed to see how Maine's candidate-ranking system undercut voters' First Amendment rights 'in any fashion.' He said the system was 'motivated by a desire to enable third-party and non-party candidates to participate in the political process, and to enable their supporters to express support, without producing the spoiler effect.' The new method of voting 'actually encourages First Amendment expression, without discriminating against any voter based on viewpoint, faction or other invalid criteria,' said Walker, a judge with U.S. District Court in Bangor." (Also linked yesterday.)

Kavanaugh Was the Last Straw. Dan Morain of CAL Matters: "California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has quietly given up her Republican registration and re-registered as a no-party-preference voter, saying Thursday she had become increasingly uncomfortable with the GOP's direction nationally and in the state. In a phone interview with CALmatters, Cantil-Sakauye -- who was a prosecutor before becoming a judge 28 years ago and California Supreme Court chief justice in 2011 -- said she made the final decision to change her registration after watching the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 'You can draw your own conclusions,' she said."

Way Beyond the Beltway

France. Alissa Rubin, et al., of the New York Times: "The French police on Thursday night confronted and fatally shot the man believed to be responsible for killing three people and wounding many more in Strasbourg this week, bringing a tense, two-day manhunt to an end and providing a moment of relief to a nation shaken first by violent protests and then the rampage at a Christmas market. The attack traumatized Strasbourg and reminded the country of its continued vulnerability to terrorist attacks. French officials said Thursday that they were worried that the police were overstretched after four weekends of handling nationwide protests by the Yellow Vest movement."

Britain. A Christmas Riddle. As Santa Was Going to St. Ives ... How Many Cuss Words Did He Yell at the Kids? Rob Picheta of CNN: "Organizers of a Christmas event have apologized to outraged parents after a fire alarm reportedly prompted Santa Claus to burst out of his grotto, rip off his beard and scream at children to 'get the f**k out.' The incident occurred at an event in the English town of St. Ives, Cambridgeshire on Sunday, when an alarm at a nearby but unconnected event caused an evacuation of the building, organizers said. While parents and children were already evacuating, Santa Claus tore into the room and started causing havoc, a customer said on Facebook." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

News Lede

New York Times: "Nancy Wilson, whose skilled and flexible approach to singing provided a key bridge between the sophisticated jazz-pop vocalists of the 1950s and the powerhouse pop-soul singers of the 1960s and '70s, died Thursday at her home in Pioneertown, Calif. She was 81."