The Ledes

Saturday, February 24, 2018.

CBS News: "A woman suspected of ramming her vehicle into a White House security barrier on Friday afternoon has been taken into custody and charged with multiple criminal charges, according to the U.S. Secret Service and local authorities. A law enforcement source identified to CBS News the woman arrested in connection with ramming of the barricade at the White House today as Jessica Ford. The White House went on lockdown Friday afternoon when the suspect allegedly "intentionally drove a white can into a security barrier near the White House," as the U.S. Secret Service described the incident late Friday. The vehicle did not breach the security barrier, and no law enforcement personnel were injured in the incident. The woman — as a source described to CBS News' Pat Milton and later confirmed by the Secret Service — was known to the Service Service. She has been charged with 'numerous criminal violations,' according to the Secret Service."

The Wires

New York Times: "Margaret Brennan, the senior foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News, will be the next moderator of 'Face the Nation,' the network’s prestige Sunday morning public affairs show and one of the most influential venues in American politics. Her new role, announced by CBS on Thursday, makes Ms. Brennan, 37, the only woman currently serving as a solo anchor of a major Sunday political affairs show. She succeeds John Dickerson, who left 'Face the Nation' in January after less than three years to replace Charlie Rose on 'CBS This Morning.'”

 

... No, Reality Chex has not turned into a Playboy wannabe. I just thought you'd like to see how Louise Linton, the wife of the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, thought she should pose for an Elle article about her various missteps as, you know, the wife of the Treasury Secretary. Maybe she should start asking herself, "What Would Karen Pence do?" -- Mrs. Bea McCrabbie 

 

 

The Martin Luther King home in Atlanta. MLK, Jr. was born here. The house is a National Historic Site & you can visit it -- the National Park Service conducts tours.

More on the MLK house here.

Laura Holson of the New York Times profiles Joy Reid of MSNBC. Mrs. McC: If you've never seen Joy on the teevee, she is indeed a joy.

Cheddar Man! Serious Bad News for Donald Trump & All His White Supremacist Friends. New York Times: "He had dark skin, brown curly hair and blue eyes, DNA tests suggest, upending a common assumption that Britain’s indigenous populations were all pale skinned with fair features. He is 'Cheddar Man,' Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, which was discovered in 1903 in Gough’s Cave near the village of Cheddar in Somerset, in southwest England. He lived about 10,000 years ago in the Mesolithic period, the middle part of the Stone Age. Scientists have now reconstructed his features, demonstrating that he was part of a population of ancient Western Europeans that, scientists have shown in recent years, had dark skin. Research has shown that fair skin pigmentation — long considered a defining feature of Europe — only goes back less than 6,000 years." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: We all come from African ancestry, but now it turns out that those of us who appear whitey-white likely have more recent dark-skinned ancestors. Yes, Donald, you are Cheddar Man! Could you all stop being racists now?

Chrisco Gets Part-time Gig at ABC News. NJ.com: Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "has been hired as an occasional contributor to ABC News, according to sources familiar with the discussions."

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
Feb242018

The Commentariat -- February 25, 2018

Afternoon Update:

Senate Race. Adam Nagourney of the New York Times: "Senator Dianne Feinstein suffered a setback in her effort to win a sixth term representing California as the state Democratic Party declined this weekend to endorse her re-election bid. Ms. Feinstein is way ahead in most polls, and has a huge fund-raising advantage over her main opponent, Kevin de León, the California State Senate’s Democratic leader. Still, the vote here, at a raucous and well-attended party convention, is the latest indication of disenchantment with Ms. Feinstein, 84, among the party’s grass-roots advocates. A candidate must garner the support of 60 percent of the delegates to win the party’s nomination. None of the candidates running for statewide election met that threshold. Still, Ms. Feinstein’s showing was particularly stark given her status as a Democratic institution. Mr. de León drew 54 percent of the vote, or 1,508 votes, compared with 37 percent, or 1,023 votes, for Ms. Feinstein."

Stan Collender of Forbes: "In one of the most frightening stories I've read since the start of the Trump presidency, The New York Times reported on Saturday that the administration is seriously considering paying for the new U.S. embassy it wants to build in Jerusalem with funds provided by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.... Spending these funds would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution, a violation of federal law, an end run around Congress and a big step toward presidential anarchy."

Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "Russian military spies hacked several hundred computers used by authorities at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, according to U.S. intelligence. They did so while trying to make it appear as though the intrusion was conducted by North Korea, what is known as a 'false-flag' operation, said two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. Officials in PyeongChang acknowledged that the Games were hit by a cyberattack during the Feb. 9 Opening Ceremonies but had refused to confirm whether Russia was responsible. That evening there were disruptions to the Internet, broadcast systems and the Olympics website. Many attendees were unable to print their tickets for the ceremony, resulting in empty seats. Analysts surmise the disruption was retaliation against the International Olympic Committee for banning the Russian team from the Winter Games due to doping violations." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Yeah, Russians did the same thing in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but they made it look as if "a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed in New Jersey" did it. (Paraphrase -- Trump's actual claim was ungrammatical.)

*****

Philip Rucker, et al., of the Washington Post: "Tentative plans for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to make his first visit to the White House to meet with President Trump were scuttled this week after a testy call between the two leaders ended in an impasse over Trump’s promised border wall, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.... Both countries agreed to call off the plan after Trump would not agree to publicly affirm Mexico’s position that it would not fund construction of a border wall that the Mexican people widely consider offensive.... One Mexican official said Trump 'lost his temper.' But U.S. officials described him instead as being frustrated and exasperated, saying Trump believed it was unreasonable for Peña Nieto to expect him to back off his crowd-pleasing campaign promise of forcing Mexico to pay for the wall." ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Yet another way in which the insane fantasy world of Donald Trump impinges upon the interests of the U.S. And of course Trump's fantasies are not even consistent: he insists that Mexico will pay for a wall, but he uses Democrats' refusal to pay for the same fucking wall as an excuse to send Dreamers back to countries they don't recognize. ...

... Yes, But Things Are Going Well in Panama. Ana Cerrud, et al., of the Washington Post: "The majority owner of President Trump’s only hotel in Latin America abruptly ordered Trump employees out of the property on Thursday, triggering a confrontation in which Trump employees refused to leave and asked police to intervene, according to the Trump Organization and local news reports. This attempt at a takeover by Orestes Fintiklis — a Cypriot businessman based in Miami — marked a sharp escalation in his months-old effort to re-brand the Trump International Hotel Panama and replace the Trump Organization as its manager. Fintiklis blames Trump’s brand and Trump’s company for declining revenue and empty rooms."

This Russia Thing -- Is Blowing up in Trump's Face

Nicholas Fandos of the New York Times: "The House Intelligence Committee released a redacted Democratic memorandum on Saturday that counters Republican claims that top F.B.I. and Justice Department officials had abused their powers in spying on a former Trump campaign aide. The document, which underwent weeks of review by President Trump and his national security team, was intended by Democrats to offer a point-by-point refutation of what it called the 'transparent' attempt by President Trump’s allies on the committee to undermine the investigations into Russia’s election meddling and what role, if any, Trump associates played in it.... The Democratic memo paints a more expansive and detailed picture of the surveillance of the former aide, Carter Page, than the Republican memo it was meant to rebut. It also undercuts key Republican assertions about political bias in the origins of the broader investigation into Russia’s election interference.... Representative Adam B. Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said on Saturday that the Democratic memo should 'put to rest' Republican assertions of wrongdoing in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process. ...

     ... The article contains a copy of the redacted memo. The Washington Post has an annotated version here. ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Read the memo. Even with extensive redactions, it is clear the title of the Democrats' memo should have been more like, "Devin Nunes Is a Moron, a Liar & a Trumpian Stooge." ...

... Chas Danner of New York provides a summary of the chief points of the Democratic memo. ...

... Charlie Savage of the New York Times now also has an excellent summary of the rebuttal memo. Key points: "The F.B.I. used only a small part of the information provided by [Christopher] Steele.... The surveillance court knew that Mr. Steele’s clients had a political motive.... The Yahoo News article was not used to corroborate Mr. Steele.... Republican-appointed judges approved the surveillance of [Carter] Page.... The wiretap of Mr. Page generated useful intelligence."

... Kyle Cheney of Politico: "The FBI team investigating the 2016 Trump campaign's contacts with Russians had already opened inquiries into multiple people connected to the campaign when it received a controversial dossier alleging illicit ties between then-candidate Trump and the Kremlin, a Democratic memo released by the House Intelligence Committee revealed Saturday. The dossier, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, wasn't provided to the FBI's counterintelligence team until mid-September 2016, according to the memo. By then, the counterintelligence investigation into Trump's campaign was seven weeks old. 'The FBI had already opened sub-inquiries into ... individuals linked to the Trump campaign,' according to the findings of the committee's nine Democrats.... Trump on Saturday called the memo a 'bust,' tweeting: 'The Democrat memo response on government surveillance abuses is a total political and legal BUST. Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!'" Mrs. McC: Which is funny because you know Trump could not read an 11-page doc, redacted or not. ...

... John Bowden of the Hill: "The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee [Adam Schiff] on Saturday responded to President Trump calling the release of the Democratic memo rebutting claims made by Republicans on the committee a 'total political and legal bust.' 'Wrong again, Mr. President. It confirms the FBI acted appropriately and that Russian agents approached two of your advisors, and informed your campaign that Russia was prepared to help you by disseminating stolen Clinton emails,' Schiff responded." ...

... Jonathan Chait: "The Democratic memo lays waste to every important accusation made by Nunes. (Or, to put it more accurately, made by Trump via Nunes.)... Nunes is Trump’s leading goon in Congress. By the standards of the conservative movement, this renders him a champion of freedom, defined as protecting Trump from any accountability before the law.... Amusingly, the redactions to the memo are not all effective. One passage, meant to be blacked out, reveals that no fewer than four Trump-linked figures were under investigation for covert ties to Russian intelligence." ...

... Zack Beauchamp of Vox: "Having now read both memos, I can say with confidence: Schiff makes his case. Schiff quotes key FBI documents that explicitly contradict the Nunes memo’s core arguments. Any fair-minded observer who reads these two documents side-by-side can only conclude one thing: Nunes is either deeply misinformed or straight-up lying. 'This is a pretty thorough demolition,' Julian Sanchez, an expert on surveillance at the libertarian Cato Institute, wrote on Twitter after reading Schiff’s memo." Beauchamp gives a blow-by-blow account of the demolition.

... MEANWHILE, at CPAC, where the Trumpenproletariat were gathered, Devin Nunes received "the American Conservative Union’s Defender of Freedom Award, conferred on him because of his 'lonely pursuit of truth on behalf of the American people,'” Dave Weigel of the Washington Post reports. “'We actually wanted [the Democratic memo] out,' said ... Nunes ... [at the conference]. 'It’s clear evidence that the Democrats are not only covering this up, but they’re also colluding with parts of the government to cover this up.'” ...

... "Democrats Shred Devin Nunes’ Surveillance Memo." Scott Bixby of the Daily Beast: "Moments after [Devin Nunes] was fêted as a conquering hero at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the memo’s release on Saturday was a body blow to his credibility as a government watchdog. The Schiff-authored memo undermines many of the claims made in Nunes’ document." ...

Brent Griffiths of Politico: "Saying there were 'no phone calls, no meetings, no collusion'..., Donald Trump on Saturday pushed for an investigation of 'the other side' amid the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, while claiming 'we need intelligence that brings our country together.'" The interviewer was Fox "News" weekend host & Trump cheerleader Jeanine Pirro. Trump is pissed off at JeffBo for not interrogating the black guy & the woman for something. Trump will no longer even name Sessions, whom he reduced to one Session earlier this week. Now Trump calls JeffBo "you know who." "Whatsizface" is coming. ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: It's well-worth reflecting on the real danger packed into Griffiths' lede (and his headline). Trump insists (again) that his political adversaries be "investigated" (and we presume jailed) for "crimes" that "intelligence" -- that is, the FBI & perhaps other intelligence agencies -- cooks up. By imprisoning the leaders of "the other side" on false charges & intimidating lesser critics, Trump believes he will "bring our country together"; i.e., frighten the rest of us into pledging fealty to him. He already has succeeded in part of this goal by putting out carrots for easily-compromised GOP weasels, Now he's moved on to beating his adversaries with sticks. And some pundits were wondering this weekend how Trump could have hired a guy like Manafort who made his career puffing up vicious dictators. Please. Trump saw Manafort's vile past as an asset, not a liability. He needed Manafort's "expertise." Now he stuck with Pirro & Hannity.

... Steven Erlanger & Jason Horowitz of the New York Times: "Former European leaders who tried to bring Ukraine closer to Europe before a 2014 uprising there reacted with shock on Saturday after a federal indictment accused Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, of secretly paying former European officials some two million euros in 2012 and 2013 to lobby on the country’s behalf. Ukraine at the time was led by Viktor F. Yanukovych, who first agreed to closer ties to Europe and then reneged under Russian pressure and was toppled in the uprising. The indictment, released on Friday by Robert S. Mueller III ... did not name the former officials, but it set off furious speculation about who they might be." An ex-chancellor of Austria, Alfred Gusenbauer, & Romano Prodi, a former prime minister of Italy, former President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, & former president of the European Union Patrick Cox said that to their knowledge, it was not Manafort who paid them & that they had been working to bring Ukraine closer to the E.U., not as apologists for Yanukovych. ...

... Franklin Foer of the Atlantic: "There’s one primary reason that Manafort appears so unwilling to reconcile himself with the unimpeachable reality [that the Mueller investigation will bring him down]. For his entire career, he has taken audacious risks and managed to get away with them. His friends describe him as wired to take chances that most rational creatures would avoid. Such is the temperament that leads a person to allegedly launder millions, in a long series of batches, each one a fresh opportunity to get busted by the feds. And it has led him to spend much of his career working on behalf of murderous autocrats, capricious dictators and vengeful oligarchs, like the Angolan insurgent Jonas Savimbi and the Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos.... To live with the constant threat of personal peril requires a healthy dose of denial.... With the next turns of the Mueller’s screw, Manafort will be forced into an ultimate reckoning with all the witnesses, all the evidence, all the sentencing guidelines arrayed against him, a belated, harsh reunion with reality." ...

... Michael Wolff, the author of Fire & Fury, predicts that when push comes to shove in This Russia Thing, Trump & Kushner "will throw each other under the bus." Mrs. McC: Sounds like a reasonable prediction.


Ha! Timothy Cama of the Hill: "A West Virginia judge dismissed a coal mogul’s defamation lawsuit this week against cable television host John Oliver and HBO. In a decision dated Wednesday, West Virginia Judge Jeffrey Cramer accepted HBO’s argument that Bob Murray, CEO of coal mining giant Murray Energy Corp., failed to show that Oliver had defamed him according to the law. Oliver dedicated an extended segment in June to criticizing the coal industry, with a focus on Murray, including his frequent criticisms of former President Obama’s 'evil agenda,' his lawsuits challenging regulations and his closeness with President Trump....  Murray's company slammed the ruling and said it will appeal it the decision to West Virginia's Supreme Court immediately."

Lindsey Bever, et al., of the Washington Post: "Delta and United — two of the largest airlines in the world — have joined a growing list of companies cutting ties with the National Rifle Association amid a growing boycott movement inspired by the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a legally purchased AR-15 rifle." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Eric Lipton & Alexander Burns of the New York Times: "... the N.R.A. derives its political influence [not so much from buying politicians as] from a muscular electioneering machine, fueled by tens of millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads and voter-guide mailings, that scrutinizes candidates for their views on guns and propels members to the polls. 'It’s really not the contributions,' said Cleta Mitchell, a former N.R.A. board member. 'It’s the ability of the N.R.A. to tell its members: Here’s who’s good on the Second Amendment.' Far more than any check the N.R.A. could write, it is this mobilization operation that has made the organization such a challenging adversary for Democrats and gun control advocates — one that, after the massacre at a school in Parkland, Fla., is struggling to confront an emotional student-led push for new restrictions.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) 

Carol Morello & Anne Gearan of the Washington Post: "The United Nations Security Council on Saturday unanimously called for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, with Russia agreeing to the temporary hiatus only after forcing two days of delays that critics said allowed ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to pursue a renewed bombing campaign blamed for hundreds of recent deaths in a rebel-controlled area. The nationwide truce would begin 'without delay,' a victory for the United States and other nations that resisted Russian efforts to push back the start or soften the terms. It came after intense negotiations to persuade Russia not to use its veto power in the Security Council. Moscow had blocked 11 previous Syria resolutions." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

David Richardson of the Observer: "Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) communication director Ian Walters sparked controversy with a racially charged insult hurled at former RNC chair Michael Steele on Friday night. 'We elected Mike Steele as chairman because he was a black guy, that was the wrong thing to do,' Walters told hundreds of conservatives during the conference’s Ronald Reagan dinner as guests at tables gasped in shock.... Michael Steele was near the back of the room, and addressed Walters’ remarks. '... If he feels that way I’d like him to come say that to my face. And then I’d like him to look at my record and see what I did....'” Mrs. McC: "Racially charged"? It's just flat-out racist. Surprised he didn't use the N-word. ...

... Gabby Morrongiello of the Washington Examiner: "A conservative columnist was escorted out of the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday after slamming President Trump and conservatives for behaving like 'hypocrites' when it comes to women's issues. Mona Charen, a National Review writer and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, was asked during a panel about the Left's treatment of women what has left her most fired up in the Trump era. 'I'm actually going to twist this around a bit and say that I'm disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party, who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women,' she said. Declining to mention Trump by name, Charen said conservatives are guilty of 'look[ing] the other way' when it comes to the president and other Republican men who have faced allegations of sexual misconduct. 'This was a party that was ready to ... endorse Roy Moore for Senate in the state of Alabama even though he was a credibly accused child molester,' Charen said. 'You cannot claim that you stand for women, and put up with that,' she told the crowd, as several members of the audience shouted, 'Not true!' Charen's comments were met with heavy boos inside the conference hall, and she was later spotted leaving the conference with a three-person security detail." ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: Wow! I'm very, very surprised that CPAC TPAC officials & attendees are racists & misogynists.

Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker: "Instead of even defending the N.R.A.’s peculiar reading of the Second Amendment, which literally excises the 'well-regulated militia' part as though it had never been written, [NRA chief Wayne] LaPierre ranted against Democrats [at CPAC]. The villains included Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, and by implication, Barack Obama — as though the Republican Party wasn’t fully in control of all the levers of the federal government. He also warned against the F.B.I., Saul Alinsky, George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Steyer.... What LaPierre seemed to be saying was that true Americans need a right to a lethal weapon in order to show that they can’t be intimidated by their political opponents.... On Friday morning, Donald Trump spoke at CPAC, where he persisted in propagating his sick vision of a future America where heavily armed kindergarten instructors mow down determined psychopaths.... A world divorced from reality, completely unlike the one we inhabit, is the place where Trump and the N.R.A.’s leaders now live, and from which no amount of kindly cajoling apparently will persuade them to emerge."

Mrs. McCrabbie: If you don't agree with me (and I know many of you don't) that Democrats need new leadership, read Nancy Pelosi's response to Trump's false claim that Democrats don't care about Dreamers. Democrats need leaders who will stand up to Trump, not ones who buck him up: "I continue to tell people that the President cares about Dreamers because he has said repeatedly that he does." I realize that Pelosi's fake support for Trump is a political calculation; I think it's a stupid, self-defeating miscalculation.

Anna Fifield of the Washington Post: "The North Korean delegation to the Closing Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics said that Pyongyang was 'willing to have talks' with the United States, South Korea’s presidential Blue House said Sunday night. North Korea agreed that inter-Korean relations should 'improve together' with relations between North Korea and the United States, the Blue House said after an hour-long meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s chief representative, Kim Yong Chol, in PyeongChang, on the sidelines on the Games." Mrs. McC: Great! Glad we have Ivanka Trump -- whom Steve Bannon described as "dumb as a brick" -- to handle the U.S. end of things.

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Paul Campos in LG&$: "The NYT opinion page decided that a good use of its space would be to pay David Brody to run a 900-word ad for his facially preposterous new book 'The Faith of Donald Trump: A Spiritual Journey.'... What exactly is the rationale for running this sort of garbage?  The short answer is some nonsensical concept of promoting 'intellectual diversity' instead of 'censoring' ideas, even if those ideas are both completely idiotic (Donald Trump embraces Judeo-Christian [sic] values) and transparently self-serving (buy my book if you want to put down your decaf latte and understand The Heartland....)... The New York Times has to engage in massive 'censorship' every day of the year, by deciding who does and doesn’t get to publish in its pages. Part of that decision process should be guided by various considerations of quality control and indeed simple decency that ought to make the publication of something like this op-ed in the newspaper of record impossible.”

Beyond the Beltway

Kurt Erickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "The process of deciding whether to impeach scandal-plagued Gov. Eric Greitens will begin as early as Monday in the Missouri House of Representatives. House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, spent Thursday and Friday reviewing which members of the Legislature’s lower chamber would be named to a special committee to investigate the charges against the embattled chief executive."

Friday
Feb232018

The Commentariat -- February 24, 2018

Carol Morello & Anne Gearan of the Washington Post: "The United Nations Security Council on Saturday unanimously called for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, with Russia agreeing to the temporary hiatus only after forcing two days of delays that critics said allowed ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to pursue a renewed bombing campaign blamed for hundreds of recent deaths in a rebel-controlled area. The nationwide truce would begin 'without delay,' a victory for the United States and other nations that resisted Russian efforts to push back the start or soften the terms. It came after intense negotiations to persuade Russia not to use its veto power in the Security Council. Moscow had blocked 11 previous Syria resolutions."

Lindsey Bever, et al., of the Washington Post: "Delta and United — two of the largest airlines in the world — have joined a growing list of companies cutting ties with the National Rifle Association amid a growing boycott movement inspired by the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a legally purchased AR-15 rifle." ...

... Eric Lipton & Alexander Burns of the New York Times: "... the N.R.A. derives its political influence [not so much from buying politicians as] from a muscular electioneering machine, fueled by tens of millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads and voter-guide mailings, that scrutinizes candidates for their views on guns and propels members to the polls. 'It’s really not the contributions,' said Cleta Mitchell, a former N.R.A. board member. 'It’s the ability of the N.R.A. to tell its members: Here’s who’s good on the Second Amendment.' Far more than any check the N.R.A. could write, it is this mobilization operation that has made the organization such a challenging adversary for Democrats and gun control advocates — one that, after the massacre at a school in Parkland, Fla., is struggling to confront an emotional student-led push for new restrictions.”

*****

This Russia Thing -- Is Ballooning

This man is happy because he just pleaded guilty to conspiracy against his country.Mark Mazzetti & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "A former top adviser to Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign pleaded guilty on Friday to fraud and lying to investigators in the special counsel inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and will cooperate with the investigation. The adviser, Rick Gates, is a longtime political consultant who once served as Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign chairman. The plea deal could be a significant development in the investigation — a sign that Mr. Gates plans to offer incriminating information against his longtime associate and the former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, or other members of the Trump campaign in exchange for a lighter punishment.... He also admitted that he lied to investigators earlier this month — after he was under indictment and was negotiating with the prosecutors — about the details of a 2013 meeting in Washington that Mr. Manafort had with a member of Congress and a lobbyist.... Press accounts have identified [the member of Congress] as Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, the Republican long known for his pro-Russia views.... [Gates] faces up to nearly six years in prison.... Mr. Gates was present for the most significant periods of activity of the campaign, as Mr. Trump began developing policy positions and his digital operation engaged with millions of voters on platforms such as Facebook." (This is an update of a story linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Tom Hamburger, et al., of the Washington Post: "The guilty plea ... caps a busy week for Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and related issues. It also ends a tumultuous period for Gates, who found himself re-indicted, changing lawyers and agreeing to plead guilty all within 24 hours. According to a criminal information — a document filed with the permission of the defendant which traditionally signals that person plans to plead guilty — Gates conspired to defraud the United States regarding the money he and his business partner Paul Manafort earned and lied to the FBI in a Feb. 1, 2018 interview about a 2013 meeting he had had with Manafort and an unidentified lobbyist.... Gates could provide the special counsel with valuable information about the inner workings of Trump’s operation: He served as a senior figure in the campaign and had access to the White House as an outside adviser in the early months of the administration." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Josh Gerstein & Theodoric Meyer of Politico: "U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson released two new indictments against [Paul] Manafort, one returned last week and another returned earlier Friday, removing some foreign-account-reporting charges that are part of a new tax and bank fraud focused indictment prosecutors unveiled in Virginia Thursday against both Manafort and Gates.... The new indictment filed against Manafort on Friday provides some new details on the Ukraine-related lobbying work, including that in an 'EYES ONLY' memo, Manafort called the so-called Hapsburg Group’s lobbying effort 'SUPER VIP.' He said it would involve 'a small group of high-level European highly influencial [sic] champions and politically credible friends who can act informally and without any visible relationship with the Government of Ukraine.' The group was led by a 'former European chancellor,' the revised indictment of Manafort says, without further identifying the foreign leader.” ...

     ... The story is mostly about Rick Gates' guilty pleas, & has more details than the Times story. For instance, the Politico reporters explain why Gates' former attorneys quit: "On the same day Gates allegedly lied to the FBI, Gates’ entire defense team moved to withdraw from the case." Mrs. McC: When you're "Queen for a Day" during a proffer, you can't lie to investigators or prosecutors. Everyone associated with Trump is a reptile. That's not accidental. ...

... Josh Gerstein & Theodoric Meyer: "The [Hapsburg] group was led by a 'former European chancellor' and was paid more than 2 million euros in 2012 and 2013, according to the court filings. The former chancellor isn’t named in the court filings, but appears to be Alfred Gusenbauer, who served as chancellor of Austria between 2007 and 2008. Gusenbauer and two lobbyists involved in Manafort’s lobbying campaign met with members of Congress and staffers in 2013, according to Justice Department disclosures retroactively filed last year by the lobbying firm Mercury." ...

... Allegra Kirkland of TPM: "Per the court filing, Gates on Feb. 1 knowingly and falsely testified that 'there were no discussions of Ukraine' at a March 19, 2013 meeting between Manafort, 'a senior Company A lobbyist,' and 'a Member of Congress.' Though the document does not name the other two participants, their identities can be pieced together from contemporaneous news reports and recent filings with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The member of Congress appears have been Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), jokingly nicknamed 'Putin’s favorite congressman' for his strong pro-Russia stance.... The lobbyist appears to have been Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman who now works for Mercury Public Affairs, a global PR giant.” ...

... digby: Friday "Trump led a rousing chorus of 'lock her up!' at CPAC. Apparently the wingnuts are chanting it constantly at the meeting. Guess what this plea deal says Gates and Manafort were buying off all these politicians for: lobbying various entities to say publicly that there wasn't anything untoward or illegal about the [Ukrainian] autocratic kleptocrat [Viktor] Yanukovych locking up his rival Julia Tymoschenko after she came close to unseating him in an election. Trump and Yanukovych have a lot more in common than Manafort." ...

... Dan Friedman of Mother Jones: "... Trump and his supporters ... assert the [Manafort-Gates] case is unrelated to allegations that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 election. But the new indictment alleges that both Manafort and Gates engaged in tax evasion and bank fraud even as they worked for the Trump campaign.... As Manafort’s finances were in increasingly precarious shape, Manafort was making indirect overtures to Russia. He maintained email contact with Konstantin Kilimnik, his longtime business associate in Ukraine. Kilimnik, who reportedly has ties to Russian intelligence, purported to pass messages between Manafort and Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate close to Putin. Manafort, who previously worked for Deripaska, reportedly owed the oligarch millions of dollars. In an email to Kilimnik first reported by the Washington Post, Manafort suggested he hoped to use his prominent position on the Trump campaign to 'get whole' with Deripaska. He also offered to privately brief the oligarch on the campaign. Shortly after the Republican convention in July 2016, Kilimnik sought an in-person meeting with Manafort to convey 'several important messages' to Manafort from a person the men referred to cryptically but who appears to be Deripaska. The messages from this contact, Kilimnik said, related to the 'future of his country.' Manafort and Kilimnik met on August 2, 2016.... [in] Manhattan.... Manafort and Kilimnik have denied the meeting involved coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. Deripaska through a spokesman denies conveying messages through Kilimnik. But Gates might have more information for prosecutors about what Manafort and Kilimnik discussed." ...

... Margaret Carlson, in the Daily Beast, suggests Mueller may be going after Trump on a bribery charge. "Seth Waxman..., [a former federal prosecutor]..., notes that Title 18 United States Code, section 201 ... specifically makes it a crime for a public official to take 'anything of value,' a bribe, in exchange for government action, which can be prospective.... Problem: Mueller is investigating conduct before Trump became one.... Waxman ... points out that in 1962, Congress extended the bribery law to cover activity prior to the assumption of office. It did so, he says, in order to close a 'loophole' afforded those 'who assume public office under a corrupt commitment.' The upshot? Trump became covered by 18 USC not when he was sworn in but as of July 21, 2016 when he became his party’s nominee...." Carlson cites several quids & quos. ...

... & of the New York Times: "In the nine months since Robert S. Mueller III was appointed to oversee the investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, he has issued more than 100 criminal counts against 19 people and three companies. Of the 19 people, four — including three Trump associates — have pleaded guilty. Thirteen are Russians accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Here is an assessment of the charges and the people facing them in the special counsel investigation." ...

... Some Light Reading for Cadet Bone Spurs. Dan Lamothe of the Washington Post: During his tour of duty in Vietnam, Robert "Mueller ultimately earned two awards for valor, suffered a gunshot wound to his leg while responding to the ambush of fellow Marines and was reassigned after his injuries to serve as an aide-de-camp to the commander of the 3rd Marine Division, then-Maj. Gen. William K. Jones. In that role, Mueller excelled using a 'diplomatic and congenial manner' that 'significantly contributed to the rapport' Jones had with local Vietnamese officials and military officers, according to one account of Mueller’s actions. These are among the details of Mueller’s military service outlined in documents released to The Washington Post by the National Archives."

... ** Carol Leonnig, et al., of the Washington Post: "A top Justice Department official alerted the White House two weeks ago that significant information requiring additional investigation would further delay the security clearance process of senior adviser Jared Kushner, according to three people familiar with the discussion. The Feb. 9 phone call from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to White House Counsel Donald McGahn came amid growing public scrutiny of a number of administration officials without final security clearances. Most prominent among them is Kushner..., who has had access to some of the nation’s most sensitive material for the last year while waiting for his background investigation to be completed.... Rosenstein intended to speak to Kelly, but the chief of staff was not immediately available, so he ended up talking to McGahn instead.... A week after the call from Rosenstein, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly announced that staffers whose clearances have not been finalized will no longer be able to view top-secret information — meaning that Kushner could stand to lose his status as early as Friday. As president, Trump can grant Kushner a high-level security clearance, even if his background investigation continues to drag on. But Trump said Friday that he would leave that decision to Kelly.... The day before Rosenstein’s call to McGahn, The Post reported that Kushner was among dozens of White House personnel who were relying on interim clearances while their FBI background investigations were pending. White House officials have complained that they have had trouble getting information from the Justice Department and FBI about the status of delayed clearances, including Kushner’s. People familiar with the Feb. 9 call said Rosenstein was returning a White House phone call seeking guidance.... [Kelly] has said he would not be upset if the president’s son-in-law and his wife, Ivanka Trump, left their positions as full-time employees." ...

... Kushner ... is unlikely to obtain the full clearance as long as the special counsel's probe is ongoing, one of the sources said.... During that time, Kushner has been able to access the government's most sensitive secrets thanks to an interim security clearance. But that access could soon be cut off -- unless Trump steps in with a waiver. There is no indication that Mueller is close to wrapping up his investigation, and an impending crackdown by White House chief of staff John Kelly aimed at restricting access to classified information for those with long-pending interim clearances is expected to nix or downgrade Kushner's interim security clearance. The combination of factors could leave Kushner without a security clearance for months to come, even as he tackles sensitive issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States' relationship with Mexico." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: More fundamentally, you don't have to be a trained FBI analyst to know that Jared Kushner should never have had a job in the White House more challenging than "coffee boy." AND given his known corrupt dealings with foreign entities, he certainly should not be given even the lowest-level security clearance. Trump noted yesterday, as if it were exonerating, that Kushner "gets paid zero." Um, that was precisely Manafort's salary for running the Trump campaign. ...

... Kyle Cheney of Politico: "A lawyer for President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, told Congress late Friday that the outgoing administration was fearful of sharing classified intelligence with members of the incoming Trump team, especially Rice’s successor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. In a letter to lawmakers, Rice’s lawyer Kathryn Ruemmler, said Rice drafted a Jan. 20, 2017, email to herself on the advice of White House counsel to memorialize the outgoing administration’s reluctance.... Ruemmler’s letter was a response to GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who had inquired about the email that Rice sent herself just hours before the Obama administration left office." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Love the way Grassley & Graham have tried to turn well-justified prudence into a scandal.

... Nobody Wants to Talk to Devin Nunes. Julia Manchester of the Hill: "An associate of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) invoked the Fifth Amendment in order to not testify before the House Intelligence Committee on a dossier of opposition research that claims ties between President Trump and Russia, according to Fox News. The committee originally issued a subpoena for David Kramer — a former State Department official and current senior director of the nonprofit McCain Institute — in December. Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) had wanted to speak with Kramer about his visit to London in November 2016, during which he met with the author of the dossier, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. According to court filings, he met with Steele at McCain's request, to view 'the pre-election memoranda on a confidential basis.' Kramer then traveled back to the U.S. and gave copies of the memos to McCain, who in turn handed the documents over to the FBI. The committee interviewed Kramer last month prior to issuing a subpoena for him." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: I linked the next story yesterday, too, but I don't think I gave it enough prominence. What we have here is Putin's "fixer" -- with approval from the highest levels of the Russian government -- running a military operation to kill U.S. soldiers, & the President* of the United States, as far as we know, has done nothing about it. This is the same fixer who runs the Russians ops that are attacking the U.S. election system, and the POTUS* has had next to nothing to say about that, either -- other than "no collusion." We have gone way past cyberattacks here, & Donald Trump is mum about it. Unless Trump is doing something behind the scenes, I look at his silence on this Russian attack on U.S. military personnel as the basis for another article of impeachment for Donnie Dearest. Obviously, some people within the CIA or other U.S. intelligence agencies are outraged enough about it to leak the story to the WashPo. ...

... "Putin's Cook" Has Many Responsibilities Outside the Kitchen. Ellen Nakashima, et al., of the Washington Post: "A Russian oligarch believed to control the Russian mercenaries who attacked U.S. troops and their allies in Syria this month was in close touch with Kremlin and Syrian officials in the days and weeks before and after the assault, according to U.S. intelligence reports. In intercepted communications in late January, the oligarch, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, told a senior Syrian official that he had 'secured permission' from an unspecified Russian minister to move forward with a 'fast and strong' initiative that would take place in early February. Prigozhin made front-page headlines last week when he was indicted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on charges of bankrolling and guiding a long-running Russian scheme to conduct 'information warfare' during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. He is known to have close ties to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, forged when he was a restaurateur in St. Petersburg and expanded through what became Prigozhin’s wide-ranging business empire, including extensive contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry.... The intercepted communications show not only that was Prigozhin personally involved in planning the attack but that he had discussed it with senior Syrian officials, including Minister of Presidential Affairs Mansour Fadlallah Azzam." ...

... NEW. Adam Taylor of the Washington Post has more on Prigozhin here.


AND Speaking of Russia (Or Not) .... Mark Landler
of the New York Times: "President Trump announced harsh new shipping sanctions against North Korea on Friday — a clear signal, near the end of an Olympic Games marked by a rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula, that his pressure campaign against Pyongyang will not let up.... The measures target 27 shipping companies and 28 vessels, registered in North Korea and six other countries, including China.... [Trump's order] did not blacklist ships or companies from Russia, even though Russia is suspected of supporting the illicit trade.... It was not clear how successfully the United States could enforce the new measures. Cutting off the illegal trade, analysts said, will require interdicting ships at sea, and North Korea could well regard a blockade or forced inspections of its vessels as an act of war.... The timing of Mr. Trump’s announcement was notable, coming just hours after South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, played host at dinner to Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who is leading the United States delegation to the closing ceremony of the games on Sunday." Emphasis added. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Trump Threatens to Blow up the World. Eric Levitz: "... Friday afternoon..., a reporter asked the president about his North Korea policy. 'If the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go to Phase 2,' Trump replied. 'Phase 2 may be a very rough thing. May be very, very unfortunate for the world.' In other words: If North Korea does not meet my demands, I will deliberately inflict something 'very, very unfortunate' on the entire world.”


Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star: "Early in ... Donald Trump’s speech Friday to the Conservative Political Action Conference, he paused to ask the audience a question.... Would they mind if he went 'off script a little bit'? In truth, he had not been very on-script even before that. What followed the crowd’s endorsement, though, was the kind of rambling, inflammatory, oft-inaccurate, and captivating discursion he performed at his 2016 campaign rallies. He even brought back some of his campaign’s greatest hits: mockery of Hillary Clinton, graphic descriptions of crimes committed by Latino gang members, and a dramatic reading of the lyrics to 'The Snake,' a song he uses as an allegory for how dangerous immigrants are. It is impossible to do the speech justice by summarizing a few key points. Here is a minute-by-minute account of what happened[.]" ...

... Also, the White House is so very proud of what the Dear Leader said at CPAC, it has posted a transcript. ...

... Tierney McAfee of People: "In his speech Friday morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference..., Donald Trump took aim [at] Sen. John McCain, knocking the Arizona Republican for voting against his party’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Though Trump didn’t mention McCain — who is battling brain cancer — by name, the reference was clear to the crowd, which responded by erupting into boos directed at the senator.... The moment added fuel to an already contentious relationship between McCain and Trump, who came under fire in July 2015 for saying the former Vietnam prisoner of war was not a “hero” because he got captured. Axios also reported in September that Trump physically mocked McCain‘s war injuries while imitating his famous thumbs-up moment. But after McCain went public with his brain cancer diagnosis in July, the president called the senator’s daughter Meghan in the fall and promised to back off." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Obviously, there was no need whatsoever to knock McCain today for something that happened months ago. Trump is just such a low form of slime himself that he can't help sliming everybody. ...

... Chris Cillizza of CNN: "Talking about the stakes of the 2018 election, Trump said that if Democrats win back control of Congress 'they'll take away your 2nd Amendment.' As he closed his speech, Trump again said Democrats want to repeal the 2nd Amendment: 'They will do that, they will do that,' he said. Which is, of course, not true. It is also hugely toxic to any attempt to find shared ground on the sort of 'common sense' changes to gun laws that Trump, um, trumpeted later in his CPAC speech.... Trump ... [is] banking on the fact that none of the CPAC crowd cheering for that line has any real sense of the logistical unlikelihood of Democrats [being able to repeal a Constitutional amendment]. What Trump is doing is trying to scare people into voting.... Trump's pivot from compromiser-in-chief to flamethrower-in-chief on guns should surprise exactly no one. He did a very similar about-face on immigration...." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Cillizza of course presupposes that Trump knows how Constitutional provisions can be repealed or replaced. I don't believe a guy who thinks there are at least 12 Articles in the Constitution has the slightest idea of the provisions of Article V. All he knows is that yesterday Wayne LaPierre claimed that the Democrats' agenda was "stripping away Second Amendment rights away from law-abiding citizens." Our president* is a moron.

John Walcott of Reuters: "Longstanding friction between ... Donald Trump and two top aides, the National Security Adviser and the Chief of Staff, has grown to a point that either or both might quit soon, four senior administration officials said. Both H.R. McMaster and John Kelly are military men considered by U.S. political observers as moderating influences on the president by imposing a routine on the White House." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)  ...

     ... digby: "I have no particular respect for either one but it's likely that whoever he brings in next will be even worse. I keep seeing John Bolton's name bandied about on Fox News. And we know who Trump listens to don't we?" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... It's Groundhog Day All over Again. Jon Swan & Mike Allen of Axios: "Some [of Trump's] aides feel the place is unraveling, that they can't trust their colleagues, that they don't know what's going on, that there's no path upward. But you know what? That sentence was as true in February 2017, in the frenzied weeks after the inauguration, as it is today. In Trumpw0rld, every day is yesterday." ...

... ** Roger Cohen of the New York Times turns to literature to try to ascertain why people in Trump's orbit are so awful. "Everyone is compromised, whether fatally or not. How could it be otherwise serving a man who does not know the difference between reality and make-believe? When it comes to Trump’s intentions, there is, as Gertrude Stein remarked of her native Oakland, no there there; and so people are driven crazy trying to imagine what is.... in no case does the 'somber and immense mirror' [from a Joseph Conrad short story] leading to dark compromise loom as large as in the case of Chief of Staff John F. Kelly.... He was not what he appeared to be and, once sucked into Trump’s maelstrom of turpitude, another side of his nature began to emerge.... Some of Kelly’s 'sacred' values turn out to be pretty ugly."

Say, the RNC Is Kinda Corrupt. Christina Wilkie of CNBC: "Soon after the Republican National Committee came under pressure for paying legal bills for Donald Trump and his eldest son [Junior] in the special counsel's Russia probe, it started covering expenses for the president's re-election campaign. The RNC is using campaign funds to pay Trump's company more than $37,000 a month in rent, and to pay thousands of dollars in monthly salary to Vice President Mike Pence's nephew, John Pence, party officials confirmed this week. The rent pays for office space in the Trump Tower in New York for the staff of Trump's re-election campaign. John Pence is the Trump campaign's deputy executive director. Campaign finance experts who spoke to CNBC said this type of spending by a party committee on behalf of a campaign is highly unusual but legal, and it appears the RNC disclosed it correctly.... 'Committees generally don't pay for campaign headquarters,' said the former DNC official. 'And this far out from 2020 makes it even stranger.'" ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: I see that mike pence takes nepotism literally. Merriam-Webster: "The 'nep-' spelling is from nepote, a 17th-century variant of Italian nipote, meaning 'nephew.'" AND the term "nepotism" has papal origins: "During his papacy from 1471-1484, Sixtus IV granted many special favors to members of his family, in particular his nephews.... [In the 1600s], nepotism began to be used in English for the showing of special favor or unfair preference to any relative by someone in any position of power...." Very religious of you, mike.

Gardiner Harris & Isabel Kershner of the New York Times: "Sheldon G. Adelson, one of the most hawkish supporters of Israel among American Jews, has offered to help fund the construction of a new American Embassy in Jerusalem, according to the State Department, which on Friday said it was reviewing whether it could legally accept the donation. The total price tag to build the new embassy to replace the current one in Tel Aviv is estimated at around $500 million, according to one former State Department official. While private donors have previously paid for renovations to American ambassadors’ overseas residences, Mr. Adelson’s contribution would be likely to far surpass those gifts — and could further strain American diplomacy in the Middle East. Before the embassy is built, the Trump administration plans to open a temporary one in Jerusalem."

Benjamin Hart of New York: "Several companies, including multiple rental-car concerns, discontinued partnerships and programs they had with the National Rifle Association as the hashtag 'boycottNRA' stood atop Twitter all day [Friday], in the wake of last week’s mass shooting at a Florida high school.... It’s another sign that American public opinion on guns may be shifting, and that the usual corporate impulse to avoid riling up firearm enthusiasts may be fading." Mrs. McC: What this does is make membership in the NRA less attractive. What's the point of paying for NRA membership if all you get is a card, some window decals & one of their stupid magazines? ...

Max Greenwood of the Hill: "Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that he is 'amazed' at how quickly President Trump bowed to the National Rifle Association (NRA) after he threw his support behind a proposal to arm trained teachers. 'Not surprised the NRA reeled President Trump back in,' Schumer said in a statement. 'Just amazed at how fast it happened.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Brandon Carter of the Hill: "Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele slammed President Trump for suggesting some teachers should be armed in order to prevent future school shootings, calling the idea 'delusional.' 'The president and others promoting arming teachers are delusional. Wake the hell up people,' Steele, who has become an outspoken critic of Trump within the GOP, tweeted Friday. 'There was a uniformed, armed police officer on duty at Douglas H. S. and he did nothing. And you expect teachers to do his job?'” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Patricia Mazzei of the New York Times: Florida "Gov. Rick Scott proposed on Friday the most significant move toward gun control in Florida in decades, in defiance of the National Rifle Association, though some of his ideas fell short of what student advocates pleaded for after they lost 17 classmates and staff members last week in one of the deadliest school shootings in American history. The governor, a Republican, backed raising the minimum age to buy any firearm, including semiautomatic rifles, to 21 from 18, a restriction opposed by the N.R.A.... Mr. Scott also said he would push to ban 'bump stocks,' which enable semiautomatic rifles to fire faster, and would ask for $500 million for mental health and school safety programs, including requiring at least one armed police officer for every 1,000 students at public schools.... Mr. Scott, who is widely expected to run for a United States Senate seat this year, also broke with the president and the N.R.A. by not endorsing putting more armed personnel in schools, an idea fiercely opposed by the students from Stoneman Douglas High." (Also linked yesterday afternoon. The story has been updated.) ...

... Mary Klas of the Tampa Bay Times: "A majority of Floridians support a ban on the sale of assault weapons, including a majority of Florida gun owners, according to a poll conducted by this week by the Florida Senate Republican leaders. The measure is the latest sign that the bills drafted by the House and Senate and expected to be unveiled on Friday may fall short of what most Floridians want lawmakers to do after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 that killed 17 students and teachers." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Richard Oppel, et al., of the New York Times: "The warnings that law enforcement officials received about Nikolas Cruz were anything but subtle.... More than once, Mr. Cruz was identified by those around him as someone capable of carrying out a school shooting.... 'I know he’s going to explode,' a woman who knew Mr. Cruz said on the F.B.I.’s tip line on Jan. 5. Her big worry was that he might resort to slipping 'into a school and just shooting the place up.' Forty days later, Mr. Cruz is accused of doing just that.... The authorities have acknowledged mishandling numerous warning signs that Mr. Cruz was deeply troubled. There were tips to the F.B.I. about disturbing social media posts. There were visits by social services to his home. There were dozens of calls to 911 and the local authorities, some mentioning fears that he was capable of violence." Read on. There's lots more ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Several days ago, I speculated that since Cruz was living with others, he would have earned enough money at his job at a Dollar Tree store to purchase eight guns plus ammo over the course of a year. However, the NYT report states that a tipster said that "Mr. Cruz had used money from a life insurance policy after his mother’s death to purchase the weapons." ...

... Eliza Relman of Business Insider: "The family of Colton Haab, a student at the Florida high school where a gunman killed 17 people last week, provided a doctored email to media outlets in order to defend Haab's claims that CNN rewrote a question for him to ask at the network's Wednesday town-hall-style event on school shootings. Haab told the Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Thursday night that CNN executive producer Carrie Stevenson gave him a question to deliver to lawmakers and told him to 'stick to the script.'... A CNN source provided Colton's version of the emails, as well as their versions of all of the communications between the Haabs and CNN, to Business Insider.... According to the metadata of the Word document containing the email that was provided to Fox, it appears that Glenn [Haab, Colton's father,] last edited it." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: As you may recall, President Clunkweasel tweeted out the Haab lie, deriding both CNN & MSNBC: “'School shooting survivor says he quit @CNN Town Hall after refusing scripted question.' @TuckerCarlson. Just like so much of CNN, Fake News. That’s why their ratings are so bad! MSNBC may be worse." Looking for a retraction & apology, Donaldo. Ha ha.

Gail Collins explores the intersection between politics & sex scandals. She sticks to Republican sex scandals, but it might have been a little more candid to mention the Democratic mayor of Nashville, who had an affair with her bodyguard & appears to have taken some "honeymoons" with the bodyguard at taxpayer expense. See link below.

Brian Faler of Politico: "It’s hardly surprising there would be bugs in the sprawling new [tax heist] law H.R. 1 (115), but some experts say the sheer number is unusual, and blame the breakneck pace at which the legislation was pushed through Congress. 'This is not normal,' said Marty Sullivan, chief economist at the nonpartisan Tax Analysts. 'There’s always this kind of stuff, but the order of magnitude is entirely different.'... Republicans would like to address the problems as soon as next month, as part of legislation needed to fund the government. But to do that, they’ll need assistance from Democrats, and it’s unclear they are in any mood to help. They were shut out of the process of writing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and may be looking for payback after Republicans steadfastly refused to allow them to fix hitches in the Affordable Care Act.” ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: This is not a time to play nice, Democrats. Republicans built a hot mess for all but the richest Americans. Let them own it. If you get your act together, you can work with them next year if you gain a majority in Congress.

Beyond the Beltway

AP: "State investigators have found a nude photo and partially nude photo of a woman that they believe were taken with the work cellphone of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry's former lead bodyguard, with whom she has admitted having an extramarital affair, according to court documents filed Thursday. In affidavits by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the agency says there's probable cause to show Sgt. Rob Forrest shot those two photos while his timesheet says he was working and that the two were engaging in their affair while he was on duty. The photos were discovered in Forrest's work email, the filings state. There were 260 deleted chats between Forrest's phone and Barry's phone number as well as 35 deleted call logs, the affidavit states. The bureau stopped short of identifying who was in the photos. But in the affidavit, an agent says he believes a black purse in one nude photo is the same purse found in a different photo of Barry found on Forrest's phone.... 'Nothing in the affidavits released today ... indicates that I have committed any actions that violate the law,' Barry said in a statement Thursday. 'If any violations of the law occurred, they were in violating my personal rights.'" Mrs. McC: Barry is a Democrat. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Thursday
Feb222018

The Commentariat -- February 23, 2018

Afternoon Update:

Mark Mazzetti & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "A former top adviser to Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign indicted by the special counsel was expected to plead guilty as soon as Friday afternoon, according to two people familiar with his plea agreement, a move that signals he is cooperating with the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The adviser, Rick Gates, is a longtime political consultant who once served as Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign chairman. The plea deal could be a significant development in the investigation — a sign that Mr. Gates plans to offer incriminating information against his longtime associate and the former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, or other members of the Trump campaign in exchange for a lighter punishment.... Mr. Gates was present for the most significant periods of activity of the campaign, as Mr. Trump began developing policy positions and his digital operation engaged with millions of voters on platforms such as Facebook." ...

... Andrea Mitchell, et al., of NBC News: "Gates, who was indicted with former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort in October on conspiracy and other charges related to their lobbying work in Ukraine, will appear in federal court in Washington at 2 p.m. on Friday to enter the plea, according to court records." ...

... Tom Hamburger, et al., of the Washington Post: "The guilty plea ... caps a busy week for Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and related issues. It also ends a tumultuous period for Gates, who found himself re-indicted, changing lawyers and agreeing to plead guilty all within 24 hours. According to a criminal information — a document filed with the permission of the defendant which traditionally signals that person plans to plead guilty — Gates conspired to defraud the United States regarding the money he and his business partner Paul Manafort earned and lied to the FBI in a Feb. 1, 2018 interview about a 2013 meeting he had had with Manafort and an unidentified lobbyist.... Gates could provide the special counsel with valuable information about the inner workings of Trump’s operation: He served as a senior figure in the campaign and had access to the White House as an outside adviser in the early months of the administration." ...

... Nobody Wants to Talk to Devin Nunes. Julia Manchester of the Hill: "An associate of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) invoked the Fifth Amendment in order to not testify before the House Intelligence Committee on a dossier of opposition research that claims ties between President Trump and Russia, according to Fox News. The committee originally issued a subpoena for David Kramer — a former State Department official and current senior director of the nonprofit McCain Institute — in December. Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) had wanted to speak with Kramer about his visit to London in November 2016, during which he met with the author of the dossier, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. According to court filings, he met with Steele at McCain's request, to view 'the pre-election memoranda on a confidential basis.' Kramer then traveled back to the U.S. and gave copies of the memos to McCain, who in turn handed the documents over to the FBI. The committee interviewed Kramer last month prior to issuing a subpoena for him."

Tierney McAfee of People: "In his speech Friday morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference..., Donald Trump took aim [at] Sen. John McCain, knocking the Arizona Republican for voting against his party’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Though Trump didn’t mention McCain — who is battling brain cancer — by name, the reference was clear to the crowd, which responded by erupting into boos directed at the senator.... The moment added fuel to an already contentious relationship between McCain and Trump, who came under fire in July 2015 for saying the former Vietnam prisoner of war was not a “hero” because he got captured. Axios also reported in September that Trump physically mocked McCain‘s war injuries while imitating his famous thumbs-up moment. But after McCain went public with his brain cancer diagnosis in July, the president called the senator’s daughter Meghan in the fall and promised to back off." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Obviously, there was no need whatsoever to knock McCain today for something that happened months ago. Trump is just such a low form of slime himself that he can't help sliming everybody. ...

... Chris Cillizza of CNN: "Talking about the stakes of the 2018 election, Trump said that if Democrats win back control of Congress 'they'll take away your 2nd Amendment.' As he closed his speech, Trump again said Democrats want to repeal the 2nd Amendment: 'They will do that, they will do that,' he said. Which is, of course, not true. It is also hugely toxic to any attempt to find shared ground on the sort of 'common sense' changes to gun laws that Trump, um, trumpeted later in his CPAC speech.... Trump ... [is] banking on the fact that none of the CPAC crowd cheering for that line has any real sense of the logistical unlikelihood of Democrats [being able to repeal a Constitutional amendment]. What Trump is doing is trying to scare people into voting.... Trump's pivot from compromiser-in-chief to flamethrower-in-chief on guns should surprise exactly no one. He did a very similar about-face on immigration...." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Cillizza of course presupposes that Trump knows how Constitutional provisions can be repealed or replaced. I don't believe a guy who thinks there are at least 12 Articles in the Constitution has the slightest idea of the provisions of Article V. All he knows is that yesterday Wayne LaPierre claimed that the Democrats' agenda was "stripping away Second Amendment rights away from law-abiding citizens." Our president* is a moron.

Mark Landler of the New York Times: "President Trump announced harsh new shipping sanctions against North Korea on Friday — a clear signal, near the end of an Olympic Games marked by a rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula, that his pressure campaign against Pyongyang will not let up.... The measures target 27 shipping companies and 28 vessels, registered in North Korea and six other countries, including China.... [Trump's order] did not blacklist ships or companies from Russia, even though Russia is suspected of supporting the illicit trade.... It was not clear how successfully the United States could enforce the new measures. Cutting off the illegal trade, analysts said, will require interdicting ships at sea, and North Korea could well regard a blockade or forced inspections of its vessels as an act of war.... The timing of Mr. Trump’s announcement was notable, coming just hours after South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, played host at dinner to Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who is leading the United States delegation to the closing ceremony of the games on Sunday."

John Walcott of Reuters: "Longstanding friction between ... Donald Trump and two top aides, the National Security Adviser and the Chief of Staff, has grown to a point that either or both might quit soon, four senior administration officials said. Both H.R. McMaster and John Kelly are military men considered by U.S. political observers as moderating influences on the president by imposing a routine on the White House." ...

     ... digby: "I have no particular respect for either one but it's likely that whoever he brings in next will be even worse. I keep seeing John Bolton's name bandied about on Fox News. And we know who Trump listens to don't we?" ...

... Kushner ... is unlikely to obtain the full clearance as long as the special counsel's probe is ongoing, one of the sources said.... During that time, Kushner has been able to access the government's most sensitive secrets thanks to an interim security clearance. But that access could soon be cut off -- unless Trump steps in with a waiver. There is no indication that Mueller is close to wrapping up his investigation, and an impending crackdown by White House chief of staff John Kelly aimed at restricting access to classified information for those with long-pending interim clearances is expected to nix or downgrade Kushner's interim security clearance. The combination of factors could leave Kushner without a security clearance for months to come, even as he tackles sensitive issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States' relationship with Mexico."

Max Greenwood of the Hill: "Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that he is 'amazed' at how quickly President Trump bowed to the National Rifle Association (NRA) after he threw his support behind a proposal to arm trained teachers. 'Not surprised the NRA reeled President Trump back in,' Schumer said in a statement. 'Just amazed at how fast it happened.'" ...

... Brandon Carter of the Hill: "Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele slammed President Trump for suggesting some teachers should be armed in order to prevent future school shootings, calling the idea 'delusional.' 'The president and others promoting arming teachers are delusional. Wake the hell up people,' Steele, who has become an outspoken critic of Trump within the GOP, tweeted Friday. 'There was a uniformed, armed police officer on duty at Douglas H. S. and he did nothing. And you expect teachers to do his job?'” ...

... Patricia Mazzei of the New York Times: Florida "Gov. Rick Scott proposed on Friday the most significant move toward gun control in Florida in decades, in defiance of the National Rifle Association, though some of his ideas fell short of what student advocates pleaded for after they lost 17 classmates and staff members last week in one of the deadliest school shootings in American history. The governor, a Republican, backed raising the minimum age to buy any firearm, including semiautomatic rifles, to 21 from 18, a restriction opposed by the N.R.A.... Mr. Scott also said he would push to ban 'bump stocks,' which enable semiautomatic rifles to fire faster, and would ask for $500 million for mental health and school safety programs, including requiring at least one armed police officer for every 1,000 students at public schools.... Mr. Scott, who is widely expected to run for a United States Senate seat this year, also broke with the president and the N.R.A. by not endorsing putting more armed personnel in schools, an idea fiercely opposed by the students from Stoneman Douglas High." ...

... Mary Klas of the Tampa Bay Times: "A majority of Floridians support a ban on the sale of assault weapons, including a majority of Florida gun owners, according to a poll conducted by this week by the Florida Senate Republican leaders. The measure is the latest sign that the bills drafted by the House and Senate and expected to be unveiled on Friday may fall short of what most Floridians want lawmakers to do after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 that killed 17 students and teachers."

AP: "State investigators have found a nude photo and partially nude photo of a woman that they believe were taken with the work cellphone of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry's former lead bodyguard, with whom she has admitted having an extramarital affair, according to court documents filed Thursday. In affidavits by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the agency says there's probable cause to show Sgt. Rob Forrest shot those two photos while his timesheet says he was working and that the two were engaging in their affair while he was on duty. The photos were discovered in Forrest's work email, the filings state. There were 260 deleted chats between Forrest's phone and Barry's phone number as well as 35 deleted call logs, the affidavit states. The bureau stopped short of identifying who was in the photos. But in the affidavit, an agent says he believes a black purse in one nude photo is the same purse found in a different photo of Barry found on Forrest's phone.... 'Nothing in the affidavits released today ... indicates that I have committed any actions that violate the law,' Barry said in a statement Thursday. 'If any violations of the law occurred, they were in violating my personal rights.'" Mrs. McC: Barry is a Democrat.

*****

Rebecca Morin of Politico: "... Donald Trump bashed CNN [& MSNBC] in a tweet Thursday after [seeing] a [Fox 'News'] report that [CNN] allegedly tried to get a student to read a scripted question at a town hall on gun violence. [CNN] rejected Trump's assertion. 'School shooting survivor says he quit @CNN Town Hall after refusing scripted question.' @TuckerCarlson. Just like so much of CNN, Fake News. That’s why their ratings are so bad! MSNBC may be worse,' the president wrote online." Mrs. McC: Trump knows it must be true if he sees it on Fox "News." Imbecile. Even if Tucker's report were true, a Real President would be above mentioning it.

Trump Proposes Teacher Bonuses -- If They Pack Heat. Julie Davis & Eileen Sullivan of the New York Times: "President Trump on Thursday intensified his calls for arming highly trained teachers as part of an effort to fortify schools against shooting massacres like the one that occurred in Parkland, Fla., last week, even as he denounced active shooter drills that try to prepare students to survive a rampage.... Teachers who were qualified to handle a weapon — Mr. Trump estimated between 10 percent and 40 percent — would receive 'a little bit of a bonus,' he said, adding that he would devote federal money to training them.... The president made his comments as he convened law enforcement, state and local officials at the White House to discuss a range of proposals that could prevent future school shooting massacres.... Arming teachers is not a new concept. The N.R.A. advocated for it in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children dead." ...

... Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "The head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, leveled a searing indictment on Thursday against liberal Democrats, the news media and political opportunists he said were joined together in a socialist plot to 'eradicate all individual freedoms.' Mr. LaPierre’s remarks, his first since a gunman took the lives of 17 people at a Florida high school last week, seemed aimed at blunting the rising public pressure for stricter gun control. Conservatives, he said, needed to push back even as liberals tried to smear them. 'The shameful politicization of tragedy — it’s a classic strategy, right out of the playbook of a poisonous movement,' he said to a friendly but largely restrained crowd at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. 'They hate the N.R.A. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom.'” ...

... John Wagner & Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post: "President Trump on Thursday doubled down on his idea of arming some teachers as a deterrent for school shootings and praised the top leadership of the National Rifle Association as 'Great American Patriots.' In morning tweets, the president claimed the strategy of arming teachers would be far less costly than hiring guards and that 'ATTACKS WOULD END!' The tweets echoed a solution that Trump pushed during a 'listening session' Wednesday at the White House, which included relatives of some of the 17 people killed by a gunman last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida. 'Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive,' Trump said in one tweet.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Louis Nelson of Politico: "... Donald Trump claimed Thursday morning that he did not suggest the blanket arming of teachers at a White House listening session a day earlier, accusing CNN and NBC News of misinterpreting his proposal. 'I never said ‘give teachers guns’ like was stated on Fake News @CNN & @nbc. What I said was to look at the possibility of giving concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience — only the best. 20 percent of teachers, a lot, would now be able to immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions,' the president wrote on Twitter Thursday morning in a pair of posts.... Trump’s online explanation of his proposal differs from the language he used Wednesday at a listening session with survivors and victims’ family members from last week’s high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Addressing the group, Trump suggested that teachers undergo firearm training and be allowed to carry concealed weapons inside schools." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... The Week: "President Trump's plan to arm teachers to prevent school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida, has an important opponent: actual teachers. In a statement Thursday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said her union's position is firm, even among teachers who are gun owners: 'Teachers don't want to be armed, we want to teach. We don't want to be, and would never have the expertise needed to be, sharp shooters; no amount of training can prepare an armed teacher to go up against an AR-15.'" ...

... of the Washington Post: "Educators still reeling from gun violence that left 17 dead at a Florida high school expressed frustration Thursday at President Trump’s call for teachers to take up arms to defend their classrooms against school shooters, saying the thought of using lethal force in a crowded hallway or against one of their students was unimaginable." ...

... See also Akhilleus' comments in yesterday's thread on what a good idea arming teachers is. Mrs. McC: Another thing to look at is the way Trump came up with his brilliant "gun-control" ideas: he asked Junior & Eric & some dinner guests at Mar-a-Lago (update: and the NRA). A normal leader seeking to reduce gun violence would employ expert analyses to determine the most effective solutions. He would not try to talk kids into his dumb ideas at a session where he had to be reminded to listen. Should he hear from survivors? Of course. But those 16-year-olds are not experts, either, even if -- despite the trauma they had just experienced -- they are far more reasonable than Trump. Trump's reign of ignorance continues to amaze me, even though it's really all I expect. ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: AND what if Sister Mary Elephant is too skeert to confront the killer? It could happen. For instance...,

     ... Lori Rozsa & Mark Berman of the Washington Post: "The armed school resource officer assigned to protect students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took a defensive position outside the school and did not enter the building while the shooter was killing students and teachers inside with an AR-15 assault-style rifle, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said Thursday. Israel said he suspended School Resource Deputy Scot Peterson on Thursday after seeing a video from the Parkland, Fla., school that showed Peterson outside the school building where the shooter was inside and attacking." ...

... Noor Al-Sibai of RawStory: "In the wake of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, hundreds of schools have been the subject of threats in the interim. An uptick of copycat threats after mass shootings have been documented prior to the Parkland shooting. The Educator’s School Safety Network reported 369 'total incidents and threats' since February 15, and they reported an average of 50 threats per day in the week since. That’s five times more than the typical 10 per day they document." --safari ...

... Heather Sher, a Florida radiologist, in the Atlantic, describes the difference between the damage done by an AR-15 bullet (or bullets, since the AR-15 can shoot multiple bullets in rapid succession) & by a typical handgun. Mrs. McC: If you still think it might be a good idea for Sister Mary Elephant to tuck a nifty little silver .22 into her habit so she can gun down an AR-15-toting intruder, Dr. Sher might change your mind. Thanks to Akhilleus for the link. ...

... Philip Bump of the Washington Post looks at some of the economics of arming & training more than 700,000 teachers -- Trump's proposal -- a number of trained marksmen nearly the size of the Army & Navy combined. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Frank Rich: "However much 'listening' [Trump] purports to do, he will do absolutely nothing to remedy the epidemic of violence that is literally and figuratively consuming the country. Trump, who was endorsed by the NRA even before he won the presidential nomination and then benefited from $30 million of NRA campaign spending, is even now giving the gun lobby still more of what it paid for. Yesterday he called for more guns, not fewer, in schools, and he reiterated this nostrum with this incredible tweet [Thursday] morning: 'If a potential "sicko shooter" knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school. Cowards won’t go there … problem solved.' Let us repeat this: Problem solved!... He saluted Wayne LaPierre and his colleagues as 'Great American Patriots' in another tweet [Thursday] — so he won’t cross his base on this issue any more than he did on immigration. His sympathetic noises about the victims of gun violence are as empty as his repeated claims that he sympathized with Dreamers and wanted to help them." ...

... Trump Parrots NRA Jargon. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones: "... in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre offered schools his organization’s “free” support and guidance to protect themselves, saying that communities 'must come together to implement the very best strategy to harden their schools.' President Trump echoed the sentiment Thursday saying 'we have to harden our sites' to protect schools from gun violence. Before schools start lining up to take advantage of LaPierre’s generosity, it’s worth revisiting exactly what the NRA means when it calls for measures to 'harden' a school. Here are a few recommendations from its 2013 task force report[.] Mrs. McC: Most of the recommendations are preposterous & would turn leafy, learning-friendly campuses into prison-like barrens. ...

... Say, Why Hasn't Anyone Thought of This Before? Gideon Resnick of the Daily Beast: "During a meeting Thursday with state lawmakers, President Trump suggested violent entertainment is to blame for mass shootings in the United States. His proposed solution? A ratings system for movies.... It was unclear whether Trump was aware that the Motion Picture Association of America already rates films based on graphic sexual or violent content; or if he was suggesting that ratings system needs to be overhauled." ...

     ... Adam Raymond of New York: "That the 'ratings system' Trump proposes already exists is only the most obvious problem with his comment. The other issue is that there is no connection between violent crime and violent media. 'All we can really say for sure is that there does not appear to be a link at this time between violent video games and school shootings'” Villanova psychologist Patrick Markey told USA Today last week after Kentucky governor Matt Bevin parroted the same stale talking point. 'And if there is a link, it goes in the opposite direction.' Markey’s research suggests that school shooters are less likely to play violent video games than the average teenager.”

... Florida House Finds Solution to School Shootings. Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times: "With the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting still looming large, its students in the Capitol to lobby for gun controls, the Florida House overwhelmingly passed a measure Wednesday its sponsor said aimed at bringing 'light' to the schools. The bill (HB 839) would require all public schools to post the state motto, 'In God We Trust,' in a 'conspicuous place.'" And this was a Democrat's idea. 'dossier' of unverified intelligence that contains claims about Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Luke Barnes of Think Progress: "A major car rental conglomerate which operates three prominent national brands is ending its corporate relationship with the National Rifle Association, as backlash grows in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting. Enterprise Holdings, which operates Enterprise, Alamo, and National, had a partnership with the NRA to provide discounts to members. The discounts are available to NRA members once they pay their $40 annual fee — and were among the 22 corporations offering discounts and “five star savings” to the gun lobby’s members. On Thursday, however, all three brands announced that they would be ending the program within the next month.... On Tuesday, ThinkProgress detailed how 22 corporations were making membership to America’s premier gun lobbying group more enticing by offering a range of discounts." ...

... Josh Israel & Kira Lerner of ThinkProgress: "For more than a decade, the First National Bank of Omaha has offered special branded Visa cards to National Rifle Association members to support the group. On Thursday, following two days of public pressure, the bank announced it 'will not renew its contract' with the NRA. The bank confirmed, in a tweet, that 'customer feedback caused' the decision[.] ...

... "Nasty, Brutish & Trump." Paul Krugman looks at the big picture: "... you might want to think of our madness over guns as just one aspect of the drive to turn us into what Thomas Hobbes described long ago: a society 'wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them.' And Hobbes famously told us what life in such a society is like: 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.' Yep, that sounds like Trump’s America.”


Jenna Johnson
of the Washington Post: "President Trump said [casually] Thursday that he has become so frustrated with California's 'lousy management job' in cracking down on illegal immigration that he's thinking about removing federal immigration officials from the state. 'If we ever pulled our ICE out, if we ever said, "Hey, let California alone, let them figure it out for themselves," in two months they'd be begging for us to come back,' Trump said during a roundtable discussion about school shootings Thursday with state and local officials. 'They would be begging. And you know what, I'm thinking about doing it.'... [California Gov. Jerry] Brown responded with a statement Thursday afternoon that said: 'In California, we protect all of our people from criminals and gangs, as well as dangerous assault weapons. We do our job, Mr. President, you do yours.' Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that 'the president’s attacks are not only mean-spirited, they’re patently false.'”

This Russia Thing

Matt Apuzzo & Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "The special counsel unsealed new charges on Thursday against President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, accusing him of hiding income and defrauding banks. Many of the charges are similar to ones he was charged with in October. According to the new 32-count indictment, Mr. Manafort provided false information about his income to banks when he applied for mortgages. Seven of the counts relate to Mr. Manafort’s failure to properly file reports on his foreign bank accounts. The indictment also revealed similar charges against Mr. Manafort’s longtime business associate and campaign deputy, Rick Gates. He was indicted along with Mr. Manafort in October.... The original indictment did not explicitly bring tax charges, an omission that experts predicted that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, would ultimately correct.... The charges do not involve Mr. Trump or his campaign and involve accusations that predate either man’s involvement with the president.... Court records paint an unflattering portrait of the man who ran the Trump campaign. Prosecutors say Mr. Manafort concealed years of lobbying for the pro-Russia government in Ukraine, laundered millions of dollars in proceeds and misled investigators about his foreign work." ...

     ... The new indictment against Manafort & Gates is here, via the Washington Post. ...

... Ali Dukakis of ABC News: "A Trump-appointed federal judge who donated to the Trump campaign and worked on his presidential transition team has rejected requests to recuse himself from overseeing a legal battle involving Fusion GPS, the research firm that commissioned the so-called 'dossier' of unverified intelligence that contains claims about Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Reuters: "The head of a federal commission who has helped U.S. states protect election systems from possible cyber attacks by Russia or others is being replaced at the behest of Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House. Matthew Masterson, a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission who currently serves as its chairman, has been passed over for a second four-year term as one of the agency’s four commissioners.... Masterson has been a popular figure among state election officials, many of whom have praised his expertise and leadership on cyber security issues and expressed chagrin at his pending departure.... The action raises fresh questions over the degree to which Republican ... Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans who control Congress are taking steps to protect the security of American elections...."


Dan Lamothe
, et al., of the Washington Post: "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to propose to President Trump that transgender members of the U.S. military be allowed to continue serving despite the president’s call last summer for a ban on all transgender service members, according to two U.S. officials with knowledge of the issue.... Trump surprised many Pentagon officials on July 26 by issuing a string of tweets in which he said he was banning all transgender people from the military, despite not having a plan in place. Trump tweeted that he had reached his decision 'after consultation with my Generals and military experts,' citing the tremendous medical costs and disruption' he believed it would cause. Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, moved afterward to stop any changes from taking place until a new policy was adopted, and Mattis backed the move.... Since then, the Trump administration has been challenged in lawsuits, and federal judges required the Pentagon to open the military to transgender recruits beginning Jan. 1. The Pentagon indicated in December that it would not stand in the way of the court’s ruling and issued new policy guidance to recruiters on how to enlist transgender men and women."

Vindu Goel of the New York Times: "After days of controversy over Donald Trump Jr.’s apparent mixing of his family’s private business interests and American foreign policy during his trip this week to India, Mr. Trump and his hosts have signaled a change of direction. The original title of his planned 15-minute speech Friday evening was 'Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation,' signaling that at least part of it would address American foreign policy and the relationship with India. Instead, Mr. Trump will now participate in a 'fireside chat' on an unspecified topic with an unspecified interviewer, according to the revised online agenda of the conference, which is hosted by India’s leading business newspaper, The Economic Times. The audience will be 2,000 members of India’s business and political elite, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Other scheduled speakers include executives from Netflix and Uber." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: A fireside chat! How Rooseveltian. I wonder if Junior will wear a smoking jacket whilst fondling a pipe. Gas fireplace or logs? Whatever the topic, whatever the format, I'm sure we'll all want to know what Junior thinks.

Barbara Starr, et al., of CNN: "With tensions flaring between ... Donald Trump and national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the Pentagon is considering options that would allow the President to potentially move the three-star general out of his current role and back into the military, according to half a dozen defense and administration officials.... There was discussion in the West Wing about replacing him last fall, but he ultimately survived because officials, including the President himself, were skeptical about the optics of appointing a third national security adviser in less than a year.... The decision was also driven by the White House's challenge attracting top talent for jobs in the administration due to Trump's 'blacklist' of individuals who have criticized the President...."  (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

All the Best People, Ctd. Yvette Cabrera of ThinkProgress: "Shortly after President Donald Trump nominated Leandro Rizzuto Jr. as ambassador to Barbados, the Florida business executive promised to give thousands of dollars for an upcoming gala at the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, according to a Washington Post report published Thursday. Rizzuto and his wife pledged the donation, which may be as high as $25,000, in mid-January to the Trumpettes USA gala scheduled for 2019.... Most if not all of the money raised for the gala by the Trumpettes, a Palm Beach-based socialite group, is funneled to Mar-a-Lago, not for charity, according to the Post." --safari

We Are Not Talking about Stormy Daniels:

Ryan Devereaux of The Intercept: "The lead U.S. agency tasked with granting citizenship to would-be Americans is making a major change to its mission statement, removing a passage that describes the United States as a nation of immigrants." --safari...

...Micah Hauser of the Guardian tells the story about how immigrants are being blackmailed and extorted at our southern border: "Over the past five months, at least 11 families with relatives – all asylum-seeking mothers and children – detained at the facility have been extorted by impersonators who have demanded payment to stop their loved ones being deported.... The scammers have cited inexplicably specific details about their targets, making it very difficult not to trust what they say.... In other words, the perpetrators are likely in contact with, or themselves employees at, the federal agencies or private companies that oversee immigrant detainees." --safari

"A Golden Age for Corporate Crooks." Jonathan Chait: "The Republican Party’s main legislative achievement was to facilitate the direct transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars into the hands of business owners. (The proceeds of the Trump tax cuts are mainly going into stock buybacks, a simple windfall for owners of capital.) But a second, less visible channel is the Trump administration’s program of lax regulation. While the tax cuts spray money at business owners as a whole, weak enforcement of regulations confers a windfall targeted specifically at businesses that cheat their customers or break the law.... A massive shift in power and resources is underway, from consumers and workers to business owners. The natural confluence of interest between Trump’s inclination as a proprietor of business scams, and the laissez-faire instincts of his partisan allies, is a golden age for corporate crime."

Beyond the Beltway

Gov. Greitens' mugshot.Mitch Smith of the New York Times: "Gov. Eric Greitens of Missouri was indicted on a felony invasion of privacy charge on Thursday by grand jurors in St. Louis. Mr. Greitens, a first-term Republican, photographed a nude or partially nude person without the person’s knowledge or consent in 2015, according to charging documents released by the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office. The indictment said Mr. Greitens then transmitted the photo in a way that allowed it to be seen on a computer, which prosecutors said made the crime a felony rather than a misdemeanor. The indictment comes weeks after Mr. Greitens acknowledged having an extramarital affair in 2015, before he took office, but denied claims that he blackmailed a woman or took a nude photo of her without permission. Mr. Greitens has resisted calls to resign, insisting that he had done nothing illegal...." Mrs. McC: Looks as if Greitens took that "Show-Me State" motto a bit too seriously. ...

... AND Right out of the Trusty GOP Handbook. Max Greenwood of the Hill: "Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) on Thursday accused the St. Louis Circuit attorney of being a 'reckless liberal prosecutor' out to 'score political points' after her office announced felony invasion of privacy charges against him." Mrs. McC: Right. Nothing "reckless" about your behavior, eh, Gov?

All the Best Candidates. Natasha Korecki of Politico: "A Republican candidate for the Illinois Legislature is under fire from his own party amid allegations that he asked a [Republican] African-American candidate for state attorney general whether she was a 'lesbo' and used a racial slur during a conversation with her. Now, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Republican floor leader of the Illinois House, Peter Breen, are calling for the candidate, Burt Minor, to drop out of a race for state representative."

Way Beyond

"Putin's Cook" Has Many Responsibilities Outside the Kitchen. Ellen Nakashima, et al., of the Washington Post: "A Russian oligarch believed to control the Russian mercenaries who attacked U.S. troops and their allies in Syria this month was in close touch with Kremlin and Syrian officials in the days and weeks before and after the assault, according to U.S. intelligence reports. In intercepted communications in late January, the oligarch, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, told a senior Syrian official that he had 'secured permission' from an unspecified Russian minister to move forward with a 'fast and strong' initiative that would take place in early February. Prigozhin made front-page headlines last week when he was indicted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on charges of bankrolling and guiding a long-running Russian scheme to conduct 'information warfare' during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. He is known to have close ties to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, forged when he was a restaurateur in St. Petersburg and expanded through what became Prigozhin’s wide-ranging business empire, including extensive contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry.... The intercepted communications show not only that was Prigozhin personally involved in planning the attack but that he had discussed it with senior Syrian officials, including Minister of Presidential Affairs Mansour Fadlallah Azzam."

AFP via RawStory: "Police have seized nearly 400 kilos of cocaine from the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires and arrested several members of a drug trafficking gang, Argentina’s security minister announced Thursday." --safari ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie's Conspiracy Theory Special: What if it turns out Trump & Co. have been running drugs for their Russian mobster friends???

Sean Ingle of the Guardian: "Nadezha Sergeeva, who finished 12th in the two-woman bobsleigh, has become the second Russian to test positive for a banned substance at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.... The disclosure of another positive doping test comes just 24 hours after the Russian curler Alexander Krushelnitsky was stripped of an Olympic bronze medal.... The news will heap further pressure on the International Olympic Committee, who will meet on Saturday to decide whether the Russian team will be allowed to march under their own flag at Sunday’s closing ceremony." --safari