The Wires

The Los Angeles Times has the full list of Oscar nominees here.

NBC Sports: "Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martínez, and Mike Mussina have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America as part of the 2019 class. The results were just announced on MLB Network. Rivera received votes from every single writer who submitted a ballot, becoming the first player ever to be unanimously inducted into the Hall of Fame. Halladay and Edgar Martínez each received 85.4 percent of the vote and Mussina appeared on 76.7 percent of ballots. Rivera, 49, spent all 19 of his seasons in the majors with the Yankees. He was initially used as a starter, but quickly moved to the bullpen, becoming the greatest closer of all-time. He racked up 652 saves — the most in baseball history — during the regular season along with a 2.21 ERA anda 1,173 strikeouts across 1,283 2/3 innings. He saved his best work for the postseason. Rivera appeared in 96 postseason games, saving 42 saves in 47 opportunities with a 0.70 ERA and a 110/21 K/BB ratio in 141 innings. Rivera won five championships, five Rolaids Relief Awards, as well as MVP awards in the World Series, ALCS, and All-Star Game. He made the AL All-Star team 13 times."

Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: If you're a shut-out Trump Shutdown victim tooling around the Internets with nothing to do today, let's assume that some day some time, Trump will de-furlough you and you can get back to work enthusiastically serving the American people in your appointed capacity. In case Trump has rendered you a bit rusty in the area of job skills, Conan here provides some useful tools that may help you get to work on time, even on casual Friday:

ABC News: "Breathtaking drone video of a pod of friendly, playful dolphins joining a surfer as he took to the waves near the coast of Ventura, California, is making the rounds on social media and bringing smiles -- and wow's -- to viewers. ABC station KABC-TV's meteorologist Kimi Evans met the drone's owner Craig Badger, who shared the footage, and spoke to surfer Alden Blair.... The video has been seen more than 3 million times on social media." ...

NBC Suits Are Such Geniuses. New York Times: "After a drawn-out negotiation period, NBC and Megyn Kelly have formally agreed to part ways. The network and the onetime cable news star reached a final agreement on Friday, nearly three months after she wondered aloud on-air why it was inappropriate for white people to dress up in blackface for Halloween. NBC and a representative for Ms. Kelly declined to reveal the details of the exit package. But according to two people familiar with the negotiations, Ms. Kelly was paid the outstanding balance on her contract, a figure that amounts to roughly $30 million. At the time of the separation, Ms. Kelly was in the middle of a three-year, $69 million contract with the network."

New York Times: "The Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the novelist MacKenzie Bezos announced on Twitter Wednesday that they are getting divorced after 25 years of marriage. In a statement posted on Mr. Bezos’s Twitter account, the couple said they had been separated for a long period of time, but planned to remain involved as 'parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects.' According to a 1999 profile in Wired, the two met when they both worked at D.E. Shaw, a New York-based hedge fund, before moving in 1994 to Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered. They have four children.... As is the case in any celebrity split, the financial details of the divorce are sure to be complicated despite the couple’s vow to “remain cherished friends.” According to Forbes, which publishes an annual list of billionaires, his net worth is estimated at $137 billion and he is the richest man in the world. While much of his wealth is tied up in Amazon stock, Mr. Bezos, 54, the company’s chief executive, is also the owner of several companies, including The Washington Post and Blue Origin, a space travel company."

Here's a list of the Golden Globe winners, via Market Watch. CNN has posted highlights on a liveblog & currently has a whole buncha links to related stories on CNN Entertainment. And if you're in it for the red carpet, there's this:

New York Times : "Archaeologists have discovered a well-preserved, 4,400-year-old tomb of a royal priest and his family in Egypt, in a 'one of a kind' find, the Egyptian authorities announced on Saturday. The tomb was unearthed in Saqqara, a city south of Cairo and a vast necropolis from ancient Egypt. The discovery dates from the rule of Neferirkare Kakai, the third king of the fifth dynasty of ancient Egypt, according to Khaled al-Anani, Egypt’s minister of antiquities. The fifth dynasty governed for less than two centuries, from 2,500 B.C. to about 2,350 B.C., according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tomb had remained untouched, said Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of Egypt’s supreme council of antiquities, according to Reuters."

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

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

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

Thursday
Feb142019

The Commentariat -- February 15, 2019

Afternoon Update:

Peter Baker of the New York Times: "President Trump declared a national emergency at the border on Friday to access billions of dollars to build a border wall that Congress refused to give him, transforming a highly charged policy dispute into a fundamental confrontation over separation of powers. In a televised announcement in the Rose Garden, Mr. Trump said he would sign the declaration to protect the country from the flow of drugs, criminals and illegal immigrants coming across the border from Mexico, which he characterized as a profound threat to national security." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Unfortunately, I was working on a project I couldn't drop to change channels, so I heard the whole "speech"/strings of words & lies (all seemingly off-script)  & the Q&A that followed. Because I seldom listen to Trump's speeches, it was just about the stupidest speech I've ever heard. Litigators take note: Trump also completely undermined his "national emergency" argument by declaring he "didn't really need to do it" but was signing the emergency declaration because he wanted to build wall faster. In the Q&A, he told Jim Acosta of CNN that he had all kinds of sources for his "statistics" that contraverted the ones Acosta pointed out came from his own administration. P.S. If you're worried Trump will rip up the Constitution, you can stop worrying; he's already done it. And as contributor Schlub pointed out earlier in today's commentary, Peter Baker's report doesn't even hint at that. ...

Jonathan Chait: "Trump’s extemporaneous commentary defending his emergency decision repeatedly gave away his own rationale. He admitted he could have passed border funding through Congress during his first year and a half, but he was 'too new to politics,' and his fellow Republicans 'didn’t step up.' And he admitted the emergency declaration was a luxury rather than an emergency ('I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.'). He is clumsily undermining his already-shaky legal case, while making it plain his ploy is to claim Executive powers to override an area of control for Congress.... Trump chillingly praised anti-drug policy in authoritarian China, which he claims has achieved total success by brutalizing criminals. His argument for a wall could just as easily be used to justify overriding criminal-justice protections.... Trump has at minimum proven that he lacks the temperament or basic competence to serve as president of the United States.” ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: It was kind of enjoyable to hear Trump admit he didn't know WTF he was doingwhen he was "too new to politics," & completely predictable that he would blame Ryan & McConnell, et al., for failing to "step up." ...

... Trump said during Q&A that the Pentagon's planned spending projects "didn't seem too important to" him. One of the piggy banks Trump is planning to raid is for military housing. ...

     ... Joshua Schneyer, et al., of Reuters: "Deeply troubled by military housing conditions exposed by Reuters reporting, the U.S. Army’s top leadership vowed Friday to renegotiate its housing contracts with private real estate firms, test tens of thousands of homes for toxins and hold its own commanders responsible for protecting Army base residents from dangerous homes. In an interview, the Secretary of the Army Mark Esper said Reuters reports and a chorus of concerns from military families had opened his eyes to the need for urgent overhauls of the Army’s privatized housing system, which accommodates more than 86,000 families. The secretary’s conclusion: Private real estate firms tasked with managing and maintaining the housing stock have been failing the families they serve, and the Army itself neglected its duties." ...

... Brian Krassenstein of the Hill Reporter: "In [a] 2014 video, first posted by Conservative pundit, and Trump critic Bill Kristol, former Indiana Governor and current Vice President, Mike Pence attacks Obama’s use of executive powers to push through new immigration policy. 'I think it would be a profound mistake for the President of the United States to overturn American immigration law with the stroke of a pen,' Pence, said in the video, taken at the annual Republican Governors Association conference in New Jersey, just days after President Obama announced that he would use his executive powers to offer temporary legal status to certain undocumented immigrants." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: It's worth noting that President Obama's executive action was materially different from Trump's fake national emergency. First, Obama did not declare a national emergency. Second, Obama's executive order had little or no spending impact; i.e., it didn't usurp Congress's "power of the purse." Third, it did directly overturn a Congressional action; rather, it made a substantial policy change that Congress itself could have enacted into law. 

Holly Ramer, et al., of the AP: "Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, little-known on the national stage but well-respected among veterans in the GOP establishment, announced an exploratory committee for president on Friday, becoming the first Republican to move toward a serious primary challenge against ... Donald Trump. There are new signs he won't be the last. In the immediate aftermath of the 73-year-old Weld's announcement at a breakfast event in New Hampshire, a senior aide for former Ohio Gov. John Kasich indicated Kasich is likely to launch a primary challenge as well.... [Aides to] Maryland Gov. Larry ... Hogan ... acknowledge that the two-term Republican governor is openly considering a Trump challenge."

Pete Williams of NBC News: "The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday that it will take up the battle over a citizenship question for the coming census, agreeing to hear and decide the case before the court's term ends in late June. Eighteen states, several of the nation's largest cities, and immigrant rights groups sued the government over its decision to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census form that goes to every U.S. household. They said the question would make immigrants reluctant to respond to census takers, resulting in an undercount of the population."

Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the Supreme Court Friday for the first time since she underwent surgery in December, a court spokeswoman said. Ginsburg, 85, participated in a private conference with her colleagues as they considered which cases to accept for review or reject, said court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg."

*****

L'Etat, C'est Trump

John Wagner, et al., of the Washington Post: "President Trump is set to hold an event at 10 a.m. in the Rose Garden at White House, where he is expected to sign spending legislation to avert a government shutdown while at the same declare a national emergency with the aim of securing about $6.5 billion more to build his long-promised border wall without congressional approval. Many of Trump’s Republican allies have called the move ­ill-advised, and Democrats are promising immediate action aimed at blocking it. The declaration is expected to face an array of legal challenges, possibly including from congressional Democrats." Mrs. McC: Trump is such a nut case that this report is a live blog, in case there are "developments." ...

... Robert Costa, et al., of the Washington Post: "After three weeks of pained negotiations to keep the federal government open, President Trump almost blew the whole thing up again on Thursday. Headed for another defeat on his signature promise to make Mexico pay for a southern border wall, the president was frustrated after a briefing by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and others on details of the final deal to avoid a shutdown, according to officials involved in the discussions. Trump threatened not to sign the legislation, the officials said, putting the government on the brink of another damaging shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was on the phone with Trump at least three times during the course of the nerve-racking day, pressing him to stay the course and asserting that Democrats had actually lost the spending fight, two people familiar with the conversations said.... Trump refused to sign the bill Thursday until the White House Counsel’s Office convinced him it would not preclude him from declaring a national emergency, two senior administration officials said." ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Lawrence O'Donnell thinks this story is a plant, one intended to make Trump's base think he fought for wall till the last dog died. ...

... Jonathan Karl & Katherine Faulders of ABC News: "The Justice Department has warned the White House a national emergency declaration is nearly certain to be blocked by the courts on, at least, a temporary basis, preventing the immediate implementation of the president's plan to circumvent Congress and build the wall using his executives powers, ABC News has learned. However, a senior White House official tells ABC News that the administration is confident it could ultimately win the case on appeal. Lawyers at the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and at the Pentagon have been working for weeks to iron out different options the president would have to obtain funds for his border wall." ...

... Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "The White House’s announcement Thursday that President Trump would claim emergency powers to build his border wall without congressional approval was a way out of the political crisis he created over shutting down the government.... Legal specialists warned that the long-term costs to American democracy could be steep. As a matter of political reality, such a declaration permits Mr. Trump to keep the government open without losing face with his core supporters by surrendering to congressional Democrats on his signature issue. As a matter of legal reality, the proposal is likely to be bogged down in a court challenge, leaving any actual construction work based on emergency powers spending an uncertain and, at best, distant prospect. But no matter what else happens, Mr. Trump’s willingness to invoke emergency powers to circumvent Congress is likely to go down as an extraordinary violation of constitutional norms — setting a precedent that future presidents of both parties may emulate to unilaterally achieve their own policy goals." ...

... New York Times Editors: "... President Trump is planning to take executive overreach to dizzying new heights.... The influx of migrant families at the southern border does not constitute a national security crisis, much less a bona fide emergency. There is, at this point, a worsening humanitarian crisis, actively fueled by the draconian policies of the administration. But the suffering on display requires thoughtful policy adjustments, not a steel monstrosity.... Mr. Trump aims to usurp one of Congress’s most basic responsibilities, the power of the purse.... The poison cherry atop this sundae is that Mr. Trump is subverting American democracy for a cause opposed by a majority of the public.... Mr. Trump’s eagerness to undermine the Constitution to serve his short-term political gain remains among the most outrageous." ...

... Peter Baker & Emily Cochrane of the New York Times: "President Trump plans to declare a national emergency so he can bypass Congress and build his long-promised wall along the border even as he signs a spending bill that does not fund it, the White House said Thursday. The announcement of his decision came just minutes before the Senate voted 82-16 to advance the spending package in anticipation of final passage on Thursday night by the House.... Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats were 'reviewing our options' in responding to Mr. Trump’s anticipated declaration and did not rule out a legal challenge.... Mr. Trump disregarded objections raised by [Mitch] McConnell and other Republicans who balked at what they deemed presidential overreach.” ...

    ... Update: "The Senate passed it 83 to 16, and the House followed later in the evening, 300 to 128." Mrs. McC: Note that both votes are veto-proof.

... Erica Werner, et al., of the Washington Post: "The [Senate] vote followed drama ... as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared suddenly on the floor to end hours of uncertainty, announcing Trump had agreed to support the bill. At the same time, McConnell told senators that Trump would be declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and get more money for his wall — and that McConnell himself would support the move, even though he’s been outspoken in opposition to an emergency declaration.... Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter that the the declaration is 'lawless act' and accused Trump of attempting to draw attention away from the president’s unkept promise that the wall would be paid for by Mexico.... The House could pass a disapproval resolution to overturn the emergency declaration, and McConnell would be forced to put it on the Senate floor, an outcome the majority leader had hoped to avoid. McConnell had cautioned Trump privately about the scenario." ...

Oh, wow. Well, he’s got a primary. -- Former GOP Lawmaker when told McConnell had okayed Trump's national-emergency demand ...

... Jeff Toobin asserted on CNN Thursday afternoon that no president has ever declared a national emergency to overrule a bill debated & passed by the Congress. Mrs. McC: I'd add that no president has ever declared a fake national emergency to fulfill half of a ridiculous campaign promise. ...

... Burgess Everett, et al., of Politico: "The surprise announcement Thursday that ... Donald Trump will use his emergency powers to try and build his border wall blindsided some Republicans, confused others and sent the Senate GOP into a general state of shock. The news, delivered by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor, came after weeks of warnings from his own party not to declare a national emergency at the border.... Aides privately predicted Trump will lose a vote on the Senate floor once the Democratic House passes a resolution of disapproval to block the move." The reporters quote a bunch of GOP senators hemming & hawing their "disappointment" & "concerns." ...

... BUT. Sam Stein & Asawin Suebsaeng of the Daily Beast: "... one singular promise defined Donald Trump’s candidacy: should he be elected president, a wall would be built along the U.S.-Mexico border and Mexico would pay for it. On Thursday, that promise officially died.... It was, on a pure policy level, a reversal of his campaign pledge and a constitutional challenge to a co-equal branch of government. And yet, few in a Republican Party raised a stink. Indeed, with few exceptions, they cheered him on, framing his handling of the latest shutdown showdown as a stroke of strategic brilliance.... Well before Thursday afternoon, conservative-media heavy hitters had already laid the groundwork for praising Trump for snatching at least something from the jaws of victory." ...

... Greg Sargent: "Trump plainly believes declaring a national emergency will make him look like he’s acting decisively and taking control of events in the eyes of his base. But ... it’s clear that he’ll still face many obstacles. First, there will be court challenges to the national emergency itself, and as Elizabeth Goetein has shown, the mere fact that Trump has delayed so long will undermine his legal argument, because it undercuts the notion that there actually is an emergency (which there isn’t).... The more times that Congress 'votes against providing the funding the president has asked for,' Goetein notes, 'the clearer it becomes that an emergency declaration in this case would be designed as an end run around the Constitution.'... Even if Trump does prevail in the courts, he will then face still more litigation from landowners, as Charlie Savage recently detailed.... And even if he were to win on all those fronts, it’s still not clear how much money Trump could round up. It’s likely that all that would result is some more of the same bollard fencing that’s been built for years, in targeted areas, since that’s what Customs and Border Protection has declared is its preferred form of barrier. It’s simply amazing that Trump is willing to put the country through all of this just for that rinky-dink outcome....” ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: It's also likely Trump declared his intention to go the national-emergency route to drive Andy McCabe off top of the front page. It can't be pleasant for the emperor/king to hear again that top officials at the DOJ & FBI were discussing proposals to cut off his head. I also think it's entirely possible that Trump will put his big fat signature on an emergency declaration & promptly forget it when the next crisis looms (way next week). ...

... Alex Ward of Vox: "The key law [that governs a president's ability to order construction in a national emergency] is the appropriately named 'Construction authority in the event of a declaration of war or national emergency.'... First, building the wall must require the use of the military. And second, the only money Trump can use is funds that have been earmarked for military construction projects but not yet assigned to specific ones. There’s roughly $21 billion of that money available. Both of those will likely present big challenges for Trump to quickly overturn.... One could easily argue that civilians could erect the structure.... [AND] Top lawmakers — including Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the Senate Armed Services Committee chair — don’t want Trump to use defense money for the wall.... Taking that money would ... remove funds from other potential construction projects at home and in war zones abroad.... Trump’s supposed quick fix to get a border wall is anything but, and extremely problematic to boot.” ...

... Kevin Liptak & Kaitlan Collins of CNN: "... in conversations with allies over the past days, [Donald Trump] has griped that Republican negotiators were outplayed by their Democratic counterparts, securing a border funding number far smaller than Trump has spent the last two months demanding.... Trump has cast the GOP's dealmaking efforts as inadequate and wondered why he, an experienced dealmaker, wasn't consulted at more regular intervals as the two sides haggled over an agreement.... That was intentional, according to people familiar with the process, who noted Trump's attempts at brokering an agreement between lawmakers proved futile during the record-length government shutdown that ushered in the new year." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Here again, Trump is grumbling out of both sides of his mouth. Other reporting said that Trump purposely stayed out of Congressional negotiations because he wanted to be able to blame Congress if negotiators could not come to an agreement. Wall, which started as a mnemonic device for an undisciplined candidate, was never something Trump really cared about. ...

... Litigators, Take Note. Andrew Kaczynski of CNN: "... Donald Trump once said taking executive action on immigration was an unconstitutional action that could lead to impeachment.... Trump made the comments on Fox News' 'Fox and Friends' in November 2014 when asked about executive actions by then-President Barack Obama that would halt deportations for the undocumented parents of children born in the United States. 'Now he has to use executive action and this is a very, very dangerous thing that should be overwritten easily by the Supreme Court,' Trump said.... He said Obama could certainly be impeached for his executive action on immigration.... The comments from Trump echo a tweet he sent, also from November 2014, in which he wrote, 'Repubs must not allow Pres Obama to subvert the Constitution of the US for his own benefit & because he is unable to negotiate w/ Congress.'"

** Yascha Mounk in Slate: "The president’s intention to issue an executive order declaring a national emergency at the southern border ... is ... [the clearest] piece of evidence that he really does seek unconstitutional powers[.]... From Adolf Hitler in Germany to Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, some of the most brutal dictators of the past hundred years have consolidated their power by exploiting emergency legislation.... The differences between the powers that American presidents have traditionally exercised during states of emergencies and those granted by the infamous Article 48 of the Constitution of the Weimar Republic are a matter of degree, not of kind.... It is hard to recall a juncture in American history in which the president’s congressional supporters have been so willing to do his bidding. Mitch McConnell is an especially striking study in the dereliction of duty." Read the whole essay.

The Trump Scandals, Ctd.

Adam Goldman & Matthew Haag of the New York Times: "Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy F.B.I. director, said in an interview aired on Thursday that top Justice Department officials were so alarmed by President Trump’s decision in May 2017 to fire James B. Comey, the bureau’s director, that they discussed whether to recruit cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office. The concerns about the president’s actions also prompted Mr. McCabe to order the bureau’s team investigating Russia’s election interference to expand their scope to also investigate whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice by firing Mr. Comey. They also were to examine if he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.... Mr. Trump appeared to react to the interview, attacking Mr. McCabe and his wife, both frequent targets of Mr. Trump, via Twitter." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... The Atlantic has published an excerpt of Andrew McCabe's book. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Rosenstein's Non-Denial Denial. Matt Naham of Law & Crime: "... Andrew McCabe ... resurrected claims that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ... proposed wearing a wire during meetings with ... Donald Trump and considered invoking the 25th Amendment.... Rosenstein, through a Department of Justice spokesperson, reacted on Thursday to the McCabe interview in a statement sent to CNN," which Naham cites. In the statement, "Rosenstein does not deny that he mentioned invoking the 25th Amendment or that he discussed wearing a wire. He said that he wasn’t 'in a position to consider invoking' it and said that his 'personal dealings' with Trump show that there is 'no basis' for doing so.... He also says that he never 'authorized' a recording, which is different from discussing one. Nor is there mention, as there was [when the New York Times reported the story last September], that Rosenstein was joking or being sarcastic." ...

[The FBI was better off when] you all only hired Irishmen. They were drunks but they could be trusted. Not like all those new people with nose rings and tattoos — who knows what they’re doing? -- Jeff Sessions to Andrew McCabe ...

... Greg Miller of the Washington Post reviews Andrew McCabe's book, The Threat: "The description of [Jeff] Sessions is one of the most striking revelations in 'The Threat.'... He didn’t read intelligence reports and mixed up classified material with what he had seen in newspaper clips. He seemed confused about the structure and purpose of organizations and became overwhelmed when meetings covered multiple subjects. He blamed immigrants for nearly every societal problem and uttered racist sentiments with shocking callousness.... McCabe is a keen observer of detail, particularly when it comes to the president’s pettiness. He describes how Trump arranges Oval Office encounters so that his advisers are forced to sit before him in 'little schoolboy chairs' across the Resolute Desk. [Mrs. McC: I've noticed this myself from looking at too many photos of Trump.]... He documents the president’s attempts to impair the Russia probe and incessant attacks on the institution, describing the stakes in sweeping, convincing language." ...

... "Fox & Friends" Freak-out." Pilar Melendez of the Daily Beast: "The explosive report by 60 MinutesScott Pelley on This Morning that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe says top Department of Justice officials met to consider invoking the 25th Amendment on after the firing of James Comey — had the hosts of Fox & Friends questioning whether there was an illegal coup attempt to oust ... Donald Trump." And whom did they ask? Why, Devin Nunes, Man of the Midnight Run. “'They were opening up a counterintelligence investigation into a political party based on dirt and research from another political party,' Nunes said. '... Every American should be outraged by this. This is buried by the mainstream media for years. This has gone on two years. It is absolutely absurd and now you have people hawking books over the thing.'” ...

... ** It's Not the Collusion; It's the Compromise. Martin Longman, in the Washington Monthly: At the time (May 2017) Andrew McCabe broadened the FBI's election interference investigation to probe whether or not Trump had been working for Russia, they didn't "have the kind of proof they would have needed to make the case for removal under the 25th Amendment. If they had had the Moscow Trump Tower piece back then, it would have gone off like a thermonuclear bomb.... When the FBI saw how Trump was behaving in the aftermath of the election, they obviously suspected that he was compromised in some way.... It’s the compromise that makes Trump 'unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.' He started out as a candidate excusing the murder of journalists because he had a secret financial reason for doing so, and then he wound up doing the same as president because he’s too compromised to object. Anyone should be able to see that he cannot be allowed to continue in this job. The Deep State suspected this. The Deep State was right.” ...

     ... Longman also highlights the perfect parallel between Trump's repeated dismissals of Putin's killing of journalists & dissidents and Trump pal Tom Barrack's attempt this week to justify the Saudis' murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. "... the Saudi royal family has considered Mr. Barrack a trustworthy representative for more than four decades. It was Barrack who recommended Paul Manafort to Donald Trump. It was Barrack who hired Rick Gates.... It was Barrack who was put in charge of the inauguration, which is now being investigated by the Justice Department." Mrs. McC: I was immediately struck when I read Barrack's excuse that the U.S. commits "atrocities," too, at how exactly it mimicked Trump's defense of Putin: "I think that our country does plenty of killing, too."

Ken Dilanian of NBC News: "Millions of Americans are waiting for Robert Mueller to give them the final word on whether the Trump campaign conspired with the 2016 Russian election interference effort — and whether their president is under the influence of a foreign adversary. Millions of Americans may be sorely disappointed. Unless Mueller files a detailed indictment charging members of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia, the public may never learn the full scope of what Mueller and his team has found — including potentially scandalous behavior that doesn't amount to a provable crime.... The special counsel operates under rules that severely constrain how much information can be made public. Those rules require that the special counsel's report to the attorney general be 'confidential.' And, while the attorney general is required to notify Congress about Mueller's findings, the rules say those reports must amount to "brief notifications, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.'... There is a wildcard — if the Mueller report contains allegations of potentially impeachable offenses against the president, scholars have said the Justice Department would have to pass the full details of that to Congress. But short of that, it's not clear Congress will get access to the evidence Mueller has gathered." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: It is essential that Congressional committees get access not only to Mueller's "conclusions" or "determinations" but also to the raw material he gathered to reach those conclusions: interviews, grand-jury testimony, correspondence (including e-mails, texts, phone records), bank records, etc. It is not up to Bob Mueller to decide what an impeachable offense is; the Constitution says that is the purview of Congress. Mueller's charge is to ferret out any criminality, and his authority to do so comes from the Executive branch; he is an appointee of a political appointee of the head* of the Executive branch. Congress has a duty to review all data the Executive branch has collected and determine whether or not it views any of the evidence as rising to the level of "high crimes & misdemeanors," which need not be chargeable crimes. The whole pupose of separation of powers would be trampled if Mueller or Barr makes an "executive decision" as to the meaning of the special counsel's collection of evidence. Furthermore, the people who paid for that collection -- that is, you and I -- have a right to reasonable access to Mueller's work product.

Erin Banco & Betsy Woodruff of the Daily Beast: "Two teams of federal officials assembled to fight foreign election interference are being dramatically downsized, according to three current and former Department of Homeland Security officials. And now, those sources say they fear the department won’t prepare adequately for election threats in 2020.... The task forces, part of the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), were assembled in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.... One of the task forces is now half the size it was a few months ago.... There are concerns it will completely wither away. The other task force also shrank significantly shortly after the midterms..., and before its members produced a thorough assessment of what happened during the 2018 elections." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Steve Eder, et al., of the New York Times: "In the early months of the Trump administration..., [Donald Trump's] eldest sons embarked on a plan to roll out two new hotel lines in dozens of American cities.... Now, in a striking reversal, the Trump Organization is no longer pursuing the signature initiative, according to company officials. Plans for the two hotel chains, Scion and American Idea, are to be shelved indefinitely, most likely for the remainder of the presidency. As a practical matter, that means calling off just one agreement, in Mississipppi, though two years ago the Trump Organization said it had as many as 30 potential deals in the pipeline. The retrenchment comes as the company faces growing scrutiny from federal prosecutors and congressional investigators.... 'We live in a climate where everything will be used against us, whether by the fake news or by Democrats who are only interested in presidential harassment and wasting everyone’s time, barraging us with nonsense letters,' Eric Trump said in a statement." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Also too, it must have dawned on even someone as dumb as Eric that the Trump Org would not be able to exploit undocumented workers to build & renovate its cheesy hotels, as the company has done in the past.

Betsy Woodruff & Spencer Ackerman of the Daily Beast: "The boyfriend of confessed Russian agent Maria Butina wrote that she 'manipulated' a Russian spy agency when arranging NRA bigwigs’ trip to Moscow, The Daily Beast has learned. Paul Erickson, Butina’s boyfriend, made this claim on Nov. 25, 2015 in an email to a trip participant. The light-hearted, chummy tone of the email, which was subsequently read to The Daily Beast, contrasts significantly with how Erickson characterized Butina’s relationship with the FSB to The New Republic: tense, bordering on hostile.... Erickson [wrote in] the email ... to then-incoming NRA President Pete Brownell..., 'Miss Butina has (apparently) moved heaven and earth and manipulated the Russian FSB (the current incarnation of the old KGB) and gotten you cleared for a tour of one (1) Russian arms factory the day before the NRA delegation arrives in Moscow.... She found a way to shrink a normally 3-week process into about 3-days (probably because most of the FSB agents ‘assigned’ to her want to marry her).'”

Nicholas Fandos & Katie Benner of the New York Times: "The Senate confirmed William P. Barr on Thursday for a second stint as attorney general, handing oversight of the Justice Department — and its ongoing investigation into links between Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign — to a seasoned Republican legal hand known for his expansive view of presidential power.... Divided over whether to accept his assurances, the Senate voted largely along party lines, 54 to 45, to confirm Mr. Barr. Mr. Trump is expected to swear him in at the Oval Office later Thursday. A handful of senators separated from their parties on the Senate floor.... Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, voted against Mr. Barr, citing concerns over his sweeping view of executive power. Three Democrats from conservative or swing states — Senators Doug Jones of Alabama, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia — supported him."


Andrew Restuccia
of Politico: "... Donald Trump gained four pounds over the last year, according to a new assessment from his doctor, a weight increase that makes him technically obese. But Trump's doctor, Sean Conley, nonetheless determined that the president 'remains in very good health overall' in a memorandum released by the White House on Thursday. Conley recorded Trump's height as 6'3" and his weight as 243 pounds. Last year, the president clocked in at 239 pounds, according to an assessment by his former doctor, Ronny Jackson.... Jackson recommended last year that the president lose 10-15 pounds and put him on a diet and exercise plan. The White House acknowledged last week that the president has not followed the plan closely." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Trump is more obese than that. As Restuccia reports, "Based on his current height and weight, Trump's body mass index is 30.4, putting him across the obesity threshold." But Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, Trump is actually less than 6'3", so his body mass index is greater than Conley's report indicates. (As Maddow asked, if you can't trust his doctor to correctly report something as objective as height, what-all else is Conley lying about?) Maddow featured the photo of Jeb Bush & Trump (during a 2016 debate). Jeb Bush is 6'3". Actually.

Carol Morello & Anne Gearan of the Washington Post: "Vice President Pence on Thursday launched a combative broadside against some of America’s closest allies, calling on European countries to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran and accusing them of attempting to break U.S. sanctions against 'that vile regime' in Tehran. Officials from Britain, France and Germany — all countries that negotiated and signed the 2015 landmark agreement that President Trump withdrew from last year — were in the audience as Pence accused them of essentially joining sides with America’s enemy. Pence threatened to impose more U.S. sanctions against Iran and praised countries that are moving to reduce their oil imports from the country 'to zero.'” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) 

Barbara Starr & Bianca Britton of CNN: "The US commander who has been leading the war against ISIS told CNN Friday that he disagreed with Donald Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria and warned that the terror group was far from defeated, in a stark public break with the President. Joseph Votel, the top American general in the Middle East, also said that the US-backed forces on the ground in Syria were not ready to handle the threat of ISIS on their own.... Votel, speaking to CNN from Oman on Friday, revealed he would only have declared that ISIS had been defeated, as Trump did in December, if he was sure they no longer posed a threat.... Votel also said that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) -- who launched an offensive to oust ISIS from its only remaining enclave in Syria last weekend -- could not defeat the terror group without continued American assistance."

Tony Romm of the Washington Post: "The Federal Trade Commission and Facebook are negotiating over a multi-billion dollar fine that would settle the agency’s investigation into the social media giant’s privacy practices, according to two people familiar with the probe. The fine would be the largest the agency has ever imposed on a technology company, but the two sides have not yet agreed on an exact amount.... If talks break down, the FTC could take the matter to court in what would likely be a bruising legal fight.... A multi-billion dollar fine would amount to a political reckoning for Facebook in the United States after a series of privacy lapses that may have put the personal information of its users at risk. Lawmakers have faulted the company for mishandling that [those!] data while failing to crack down on other other digital ills, including the rise of online hate speech and the spread of disinformation from Russia and other foreign actors."

Presidential Race 2020. Allan Smith of NBC News: "NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo will host the first 2020 presidential primary debate in June, the Democratic National Committee announced Thursday. The debate could be held over two consecutive nights in prime time, given the anticipated size of the field, the DNC said.... The [DNC]'s chairman, Tom Perez, said in a statement Thursday that he is 'committed to running an open and transparent primary process,' which includes updating the threshold for candidates to qualify for a spot on the debate stage that places a premium on grassroots support."

David Goodman of the New York Times: "Amazon on Thursday canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City after facing an unexpectedly fierce backlash from some lawmakers and union leaders, who contended that a tech giant did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives. The company, as part of its extensive search for a new headquarters, had chosen Long Island City, Queens, as one of two winning sites, saying that it would create more than 25,000 jobs in the city. But the agreement to lure Amazon stirred an intense debate about the use of public subsidies to entice wealthy companies, the rising cost of living in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods and the city’s very identity." ...

... Derek Thompson of the Atlantic: "In a statement, Amazon blamed local politicians for the reversal.... In a period of growing antipathy toward billionaires, Amazon’s corporate-welfare haul struck many — including me — as a gratuitous gift to a trillion-dollar company that was probably going to keep adding thousands of jobs to the New York region anyway.... The most obvious losers in Amazon’s reversal are real-estate speculators.... But ... it is ... likely that neither the city’s nor the company’s economic trajectory will be materially altered.... The larger truth is that corporate subsidies, including the $3 billion package offered to Amazon, are often pernicious and usually pointless. Studies show that these sorts of measures 'have no discernible impact on firm expansion, measured by job creation.'... The irony is that the quasi-socialist revolution behind [backlash against the deal] has voided a corporate-welfare deal that is more corporate cronyism than capitalism. It has taken far-left protesters to inject a measure of sanity into the free market.” ...

... Thanks, GOP! Laura Stampler of Fortune: "According to a report published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic (ITEP) policy Wednesday..., [Amazon] won’t have to pay a cent in federal taxes for the second year in a row. This tax-free break comes even though Amazon almost doubled its U.S. profits from $5.6 billion to $11.2 billion between 2017 and 2018.... To top it off, Amazon actually reported a $129 million 2018 federal income tax rebate — making its tax rate -1%.... But even though [Donald] Trump previously blasted Amazon for its limited state taxes — a single presidential tweet caused the company’s shares to fall by 9% — ITEP notes that its non-existent federal tax payment is a result of the Trump Administration’s corporation-friendly tax cuts. The think tank writes that the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act not only decreased corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%, but it also didn’t close 'a slew of tax loopholes that allow profitable companies to routinely avoid paying federal and state income taxes on almost half of their profits.'” ...

... Kevin Drum: "This is not ordinarily a gossip site, but damn. The story we’ve heard so far about Amazon gazillionaire Jeff Bezos is that he sent a bunch of, um, below-the-belt selfies to his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez, and then they were stolen and turned over to the National Enquirer, which tried to blackmail Bezos over them. The thief was Michael Sanchez, Lauren’s brother. What an asshole! He did this to his own sister! But wait. Gabe Sherman has an interview with Michael Sanchez today, and he doesn’t merely deny the allegations, he claims to have been Jeff and Lauren’s closest confidant about their affair over the past year[.]... Michael Sanchez ... thinks Lauren shared [the photos] with girlfriends.... This is either Trump-level lying or else the biggest twist ever to a story like this." ...

... Lachlan Markay, et al., of the Daily Beast: "Michael Sanchez, the Hollywood talent agent who allegedly leaked Jeff Bezos’ racy text messages to the National Enquirer, has a history of weaponizing his connections at AMI and the Enquirer on behalf of — and sometimes against — his former clients."

Beyond the Beltway

ABC News Chicago: "Chicago police confirmed Thursday that detectives are talking to two persons of interest in connection with the alleged attack on 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett. Multiple sources have told ABC7 Eyewitness News that police are investigating whether Smollett and the two men staged the attack allegedly because Smollett was being written off of 'Empire.'... Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson contacted ABC7 to say they are continuing to treat Smollett as a victim and the investigation remains ongoing. Chicago police told ABC News, 'Police are investigating whether the two individuals committed the attack - or whether the attack happened at all.'... Smollett's representatives said he is not being written off 'Empire.'... A source briefed on the Smollett investigation confirmed to ABC News that Chicago police are questioning the two persons of interest -- one of whom has appeared on 'Empire.'"

Wednesday
Feb132019

The Commentariat -- February 14, 2019

Late Morning Update:

Adam Goldman & Matthew Haag of the New York Times: "Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy F.B.I. director, said in an interview aired on Thursday that top Justice Department officials were so alarmed by President Trump’s decision in May 2017 to fire James B. Comey, the bureau’s director, that they discussed whether to recruit cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office. The concerns about the president’s actions also prompted Mr. McCabe to order the bureau’s team investigating Russia’s election interference to expand their scope to also investigate whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice by firing Mr. Comey. They also were to examine if he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.... Mr. Trump appeared to react to the interview, attacking Mr. McCabe and his wife, both frequent targets of Mr. Trump, via Twitter."

... The Atlantic has published an excerpt of Andrew McCabe's book.

Erin Banco & Betsy Woodruff of the Daily Beast: "Two teams of federal officials assembled to fight foreign election interference are being dramatically downsized, according to three current and former Department of Homeland Security officials. And now, those sources say they fear the department won’t prepare adequately for election threats in 2020.... The task forces, part of the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), were assembled in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.... One of the task forces is now half the size it was a few months ago.... There are concerns it will completely wither away. The other task force also shrank significantly shortly after the midterms..., and before its members produced a thorough assessment of what happened during the 2018 elections."

Carol Morello & Anne Gearan of the Washington Post: "Vice President Pence on Thursday launched a combative broadside against some of America’s closest allies, calling on European countries to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran and accusing them of attempting to break U.S. sanctions against 'that vile regime' in Tehran. Officials from Britain, France and Germany — all countries that negotiated and signed the 2015 landmark agreement that President Trump withdrew from last year — were in the audience as Pence accused them of essentially joining sides with America’s enemy. Pence threatened to impose more U.S. sanctions against Iran and praised countries that are moving to reduce their oil imports from the country 'to zero.'”

*****

Jordain Carney of the Hill: "Lawmakers introduced a bill late Wednesday night to prevent a second partial shutdown days before the deadline. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, filed the legislation to fund approximately a quarter of the federal government roughly 48 hours before the funding lapse deadline.... The 1,159-page bill includes $1.375 billion for physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border — well below the $5.7 billion President Trump has demanded.... A Congressional Democratic aide said the funding bill would only allow the administration to use 'existing technologies' for fencing and barriers.... Back pay for federal contractors impacted by the shutdown and an extension of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) were both left out of the bill." ...

... Peter Baker & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "As he inched closer to reluctantly accepting a bipartisan spending compromise without the money he demanded for his border wall, Mr. Trump offered no acknowledgment on Wednesday that his pressure tactics had failed even as aides sought to minimize the damage by tamping down criticism on the right. One call was made to Lou Dobbs, a favorite of Mr. Trump’s whose Fox Business Network show he often tries to catch live. Another was placed to Sean Hannity, the Fox host who regularly talks with the president. The message: Mr. Trump deserved support because he still forced concessions that he would never have gotten without a five-week partial government shutdown. Even so, it was arguably the most punishing defeat Mr. Trump has experienced as president, and it left the White House scrounging for other ways to pay for a wall on the southwestern border and rethinking its approach to a Congress now partly controlled by Democrats."

... Dana Bash & Betsy Klein of CNN: "... Donald Trump intends to sign the border security deal to avoid another partial government shutdown, according to two sources who have spoken directly with the President." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

The Trump Scandals, Ctd.

Sharon LaFraniere of the New York Times: "A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, repeatedly lied to prosecutors after he agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The decision by Judge Amy Berman Jackson of United States District Court may affect the sentence she hands out in the coming weeks to Mr. Manafort, 69. Judge Jackson said that Mr. Manafort had intentionally lied about his contacts with a Russian associate during the campaign and after Mr. Trump was elected. Prosecutors have said that the associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, has ties to Russian intelligence services. The judge also found that Mr. Manafort had lied about a payment that was routed through a pro-Trump political action committee to cover his legal bills, and about information relevant to another undisclosed investigation underway at the Justice Department." ...

... Philip Bump of the Washington Post provides a chronology that places into context Manafort's August 2, 2016, Grand Havana Room meeting with Kilimnik, a meeting about which Judge Jackson ruled Manafort lied. ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Here's how we know for certain that Donald Trump was complicit in "collusion" with Russia. If an innocent person learned that some of his employees even appeared to be involved in nefarious dealings with a foreign adversary, he would welcome or demand an investigation to find out who had betrayed him (and in this case, the nation) & why. (This was the tack Trump's lawyers initially tried, & eventually failed, to get him to take.) Instead, Trump has attempted to quash the investigations, has trashed the investigations & the investigators hundreds of times, has called cooperating witnesses "rats," & has supported those who refused to cooperate. (For instance, besides Trump's many remarks praising Manafort, according to Andrew Prokop of Vox, "... $125,000 paid out from a pro-Trump Super PAC to a political media firm during the campaign was later used to help pay Manafort’s legal fees.") He has also refused to rule out pardons for those found guilty of crimes. Trump not only participated in the underlying crimes, he has done everything he can -- short of shooting Michael Cohen on Fifth Avenue -- to cover up those crimes. This is the way a guilty person acts.

... Josh Kovensky & Allegra Kirkland of TPM: "A super PAC closely linked to Paul Manafort is facing FEC scrutiny over why it failed to report a $1 million contribution received just before the 2016 presidential election. In a Tuesday letter, the Federal Election Commission asked the Rebuilding America Now PAC for more information about the contribution, which the PAC first disclosed in an amended report in November 2018—some two years after the fact. The FEC letter raises new questions about the murky financial operations of the PAC, which was operated by two Manafort deputies. Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating whether Rebuilding America Now illegally received foreign funds and was connected to a scheme that Manafort allegedly lied about while purportedly cooperating with Mueller.... Geoffrey Palmer, [a] Los Angeles real estate [developer, was the] donor whose $1 million contribution shows up on the PAC’s amended report but was not reported on its original FEC report."

CBS News: "Soon after speaking to President Trump about the firing of his boss James Comey, Andrew McCabe, who became the bureau's acting director, began obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations involving the president and his ties to Russia. In his first television interview since his own firing, McCabe tells 60 Minutes' Scott Pelley he wanted those inquiries to be documented and underway so they would be difficult to quash without raising scrutiny. 'I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion, McCabe tells Pelley in the interview. 'That were I removed quickly, or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.'"

Brent Griffiths of Politico: "Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, pressed acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Wednesday to clarify his recent testimony, after Nadler and his panel found that Whitaker’s responses were 'unsatisfactory, incomplete or contradicted by other evidence.'... The New York Democrat’s request includes the possibility that the Judiciary Committee could have direct evidence indicating that Whitaker lied during his testimony.... Nadler writes of Whitaker’s answers to questions about whether or not he spoke with ... Donald Trump about the decision by Michael Cohen ... to plead guilty in federal court to lying to Congress and violating campaign finance law by arranging hush money payments on Trump’s behalf. 'Your testimony on this topic is directly contradicted by several media reports,' Nadler writes of Whitaker’s answers to questions about Trump and Cohen. The Judiciary Committee, Nadler continues, 'has identified several individuals with direct knowledge of the phone calls you denied receiving from the White House.'” Nadler's letter to Whitaker is here.

David Shortell, et al., of CNN: "As William Barr, President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, awaits a Senate vote to confirm his move to the top of the Justice Department, his daughter and son-in-law, both Justice Department employees, are on their way to different jobs. Mary Daly, Barr's oldest daughter and the director of Opioid Enforcement and Prevention Efforts in the deputy attorney general's office, is leaving for a position at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the Treasury Department's financial crimes unit, a Justice official said.... Daly's husband will remain in his position in the Justice Department's National Security Division for now....Tyler McGaughey, the husband of Barr's youngest daughter, has been detailed from the powerful US attorney's office in Alexandria, Virginia, to the White House counsel's office, two officials said.... Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics..., [said] that McGaughey's detail to the White House counsel's office was 'concerning.' 'That's troubling because it raises further questions about Barr's independence,' Shaub said." ...

     ... OR, as New York's Daily Intelligencer put it, "William Barr’s daughter and son-in-law want to avoid talk of nepotism … so his son-in-law is going to work for the office defending the president in an investigation overseen by the Justice Department." No link. ...

... Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "William P. Barr is all but guaranteed to become President Trump’s next attorney general, after clearing a procedural hurdle Tuesday with the support of not just Republicans but also a few Democrats, as well. The 55-to-44 vote to advance Barr’s nomination comes after weeks in which Democrats sounded alarm bells about his previous statements regarding special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Trump and his alleged ties to Russia, including a memo Barr wrote last year questioning whether Mueller would be overstepping the law by investigating potential obstruction of justice." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Chris Sommerfeldt of the New York Daily News: "The White House Twitter czar oversaw workers he knew were undocumented immigrants while managing President Trump’s tony Westchester County golf club, ex-employees say — and the New York attorney general is looking into the allegations, according to a source familiar with the matter. Dan Scavino, the White House social media director who helps the President craft his tweets, used to be the general manager of the Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor and supervised the upscale estate’s day-to-day operations — including the hiring of immigrants with fake employment papers, three former undocumented workers told the Daily News this week. Gabriel Sedano, a Mexican national who worked at the club from 2005 until he was fired last month along with dozens of other undocumented employees at Trump properties in New York and New Jersey, said ... Scavino — like other managers — knew of their illegal status but looked the other way."

Felicia Sonmez & Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post: "Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a billionaire real estate investor who is one of President Trump’s closest confidants, apologized Wednesday after defending Saudi Arabia in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and saying the United States has committed 'equal or worse' atrocities. Barrack’s remarks on Khashoggi, made Tuesday at a summit in Abu Dhabi organized by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Institute think tank, were first reported by Dubai’s Gulf News. 'Whatever happened in Saudi Arabia, the atrocities in America are equal or worse to the atrocities in Saudi Arabia,' Barrack told the crowd at the Milken Institute’s MENA Summit, according to audio provided by Gulf News reporter Ed Clowes.... In a statement Wednesday, Barrack ... appeared to suggest responsibility for the killing should not rest on Saudi leadership. 'I feel strongly that the bad acts of a few should not be interpreted as the failure of an entire sovereign kingdom,' Barrack said, maintaining that 'rule of law and monarchies across the Middle East are confusing to the West.'... In the 1970s, Barrack worked in Saudi Arabia, where he befriended sons of the Saudi king; he later went on to serve as their U.S. representative....”

Kara Scannell & Erica Orden of CNN: "The Justice Department is investigating the leak last year of confidential reports about Michael Cohen's personal bank records which led to revelations that the former Donald Trump lawyer was profiting by selling his access to the White House, two people familiar with the matter say. Prosecutors with the US attorney's office in the Northern District of California are leading the criminal investigation, one of the people said, and criminal charges in the case could be announced soon. The bank transactions of Cohen became public last May when lawyer Michael Avenatti posted a memo online outlining numerous payments to Cohen from a company linked to a Russian oligarch, pharmaceutical giant Novartis, AT&T, which owns CNN, and others."

Laura Strickler of NBC News: "A White House security specialist is seeking official whistleblower protection from the federal government after raising concerns about 'unwarranted security clearances' for administration officials, including Jared Kushner, according to two sources.... The specialist, Tricia Newbold, filed the whistleblower complaint less than two weeks after she was suspended without pay for defying her supervisor, Carl Kline."

Sophie Weiner of Splinter: "... it turns out that [Michael Avenatti] ... seemingly hid millions of dollars from bankruptcy court when his firm went under in 2017. The firm, Eagan Avenatti, was required to file monthly reports on its finances throughout 2017. Avenatti signed those reports, swearing that they were accurate. But the reports didn’t disclose that Avenatti had opened six bank accounts where he put millions of dollars of legal fees during the bankruptcy proceedings. That’s what his former legal partner Jason Frank is now claiming in court documents, according to the Los Angeles Times.... Frank and his team obtained evidence through subpoenas of banks showing that Avenatti was hiding money from bankruptcy court. It includes documents showing that one client, a Texas lawyer involved in a case with the NFL, sent nearly a million dollars to one of Avenatti’s undisclosed accounts." Mrs. McC: The LA Times story is firewalled.


About That "Executive Time." David Fahrenthold & Josh Dawsey
of the Washington Post: "President Trump has installed a room-sized 'golf simulator' game at the White House, which allows him to play virtual rounds at courses all over the world by hitting a ball into a large video screen, according to two people told about the system. That system replaced an older, less sophisticated golf simulator that had been installed under President Obama, according to two people with knowledge of the previous system. Trump’s system cost about $50,000, and was put in during the last few weeks in a room in his personal quarters, a White House official said. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity..., said Trump had paid for the new system and the installation personally. President Trump has built his schedules around long blocks of 'executive time' — unstructured periods in the day where the president’s schedules show no official meetings. He often spends this time watching TV, tweeting, holding impromptu meetings and making phone calls, aides have said.... The White House official said Trump has not used his new golf simulator during executive time — or at all since it was put in." Right. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Yesterday I suggested that the government put a putting green in the exercise yard of Trump International Prison so he could pretend he was at a golf resort. Turns out there's a better option available right now, one which will allow him to pretend he's at any number of great golf courses. Perfect!

Jonathan Chait: Republicans are trying, and failing, to come up with compelling reasons to allow Trump to continue to hide his tax returns. "One common thread through all [their] defenses is that they take Trump’s decision to break precedent and conceal his tax returns as a given. From there, they focus all the scrutiny on Democrats and their nefarious motives for getting the tax returns. And so none of Trump’s defenders have bothered to construct a motive for Trump’s decision to conceal his tax returns. It’s just something we must all accept. The president has done business with, and employed, a large number of criminals, is under state and federal investigation for a wide array of alleged crimes, but his decision to keep his financial information private apparently tells us nothing whatsoever about the secrets it may contain." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Matthew Choi & Darren Samuelsohn of Politico: "Roger Stone urged a federal judge Wednesday to make special counsel Robert Mueller’s office explain why it shouldn’t be held in contempt for violating the seal on ... [Stone]’s indictment by allegedly leaking it to the press.... In its motion, Stone’s team argues that CNN presented it with a copy of the indictment without a time stamp from the court records database, known as PACER, which it says is a sign the network had the document ahead of time.... However, the special counsel’s public release announcing the indictment was sent out minutes before Stone’s arrest, and it included a link to the same copy of the indictment without a PACER time stamp. Later that morning, Mueller’s office updated its link to an indictment with the PACER markings." ...

... Brian Stelter of CNN: Roger "Stone continues to promote a completely bogus narrative about the circumstances of his arrest. He is pushing a baseless claim about it in U.S. district court. Meanwhile, his wife [Nydia] is raising money off an easily disproven conspiracy theory about CNN's coverage. The Stones are getting help from members of the pro-Trump media, like Tucker Carlson of Fox News, who are ignoring what they learned in journalism 101. Even the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, has fueled the fire.... Within minutes of the raid [on Stone's Florida home], a conspiracy theory began to take shape on social media. Some of Stone's defenders claimed, without evidence, that Mueller's office tipped off CNN to the timing of the raid. Trump fed this idea by tweeting, 'Who alerted CNN to be there?'... Within hours this idea -- CNN and Mueller in cahoots! -- became gospel in far-right-wing circles.... [Stone and his wife] ... also ... claimed CNN legal analyst Josh Campbell was on the scene of the raid.... Campbell was on live TV from L.A. the morning of the raid."

Josh Lederman of NBC News: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu startled Iranians and even the White House on Wednesday with a strident call for Israeli-Arab action against the government in Tehran that was translated [from Hebrew] by his office as urging 'war with Iran.' Although Israeli officials tried to soften the reference by altering the English translation, the provocative comment was likely to further the perception that Israel, its Gulf Arab neighbors and the United States are interested in using military action to topple the government of Iran. It comes at a particularly delicate moment, as the Trump administration uses a U.S.-organized summit in Warsaw and this week's 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution to try to rally the world against the government in Tehran.... 'This is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran,' Netanyahu said [of the Warsaw summit].' Read on.


William Wan
, et al., of the Washington Post: "Less than two years into a tenure marked by five major hurricanes, lethal wildfires, and a tense relationship with his boss, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator William 'Brock' Long resigned Wednesday 'to go home to' his family, as he put it in an official statement released by the agency. Peter Gaynor, who has served as Long’s deputy, will be the acting administrator.... Long clashed with his direct superior, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, in September, when Nielsen appeared intent on forcing Long out of his job even as Hurricane Florence dumped historic amounts of rain on the Carolinas. The relationship deteriorated when an internal investigation became public. The Homeland Security inspector general looked into Long’s use of government vehicles to travel between Washington and his home in North Carolina." Long's decision to resign "surprised his colleagues."

Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News: "The chief executives of Apple Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Walmart Inc., are among 25 prominent Americans who will shape Trump administration efforts to develop job training programs to meet the changing demands of U.S. employers. The creation of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, announced by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and ... Ivanka Trump on Wednesday, will work with the National Council for the American Worker established last July by an executive order. Ivanka Trump, in a statement, said the board will 'ensure inclusive growth' and that the administration wants all Americans 'to have the skills and opportunity to secure good paying jobs and successfully navigate technological disruptions and the rapidly changing nature of work.'” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: I have complete faith that a "Workforce Advisory Board" formed by Wilbur Get-a-Loan Ross & Ivanka Sweatshop Trump will be great boon to American workers.

Adam Goldman of the New York Times: "A former United States Air Force counterintelligence agent was charged with espionage after she defected to Iran and helped it target her former colleagues, the authorities said. In an extraordinarily detailed indictment made public on Wednesday, prosecutors disclosed that Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, gave the Iranians the code name and mission of a secret Pentagon program involving American intelligence operations." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Catie Edmondson & Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "The House voted on Wednesday to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, a defiant and rare move to curtail presidential war powers that underscored anger with President Trump’s unflagging support for Saudi Arabia even after the killing of a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi. The 248-to-177 vote, condemning a nearly four-year conflict in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians and inflicted a devastating famine, will pressure the Republican-controlled Senate to respond. Eighteen Republicans — almost all of them hard-line conservatives with the Freedom Caucus — voted with the Democratic majority."

Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post: "House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Wednesday defended a now-deleted tweet that Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer and George Soros were trying to 'buy' November’s midterm elections, arguing that the message had 'nothing to do' with religion. McCarthy sent the tweet in October and deleted it the next day. But the topic has been revived in recent days amid bipartisan criticism of freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) over tweets in which she suggested that a lobbying group was paying lawmakers to take pro-Israel stances. Omar has since apologized; McCarthy was among those most strongly calling on Democratic leaders to rebuke her.... Soros and Bloomberg are Jewish, and Steyer’s late father was Jewish.... The tweet came during a week when prominent Democrats across the country — including Steyer and Soros — were being targeted by pipe bombs.... As the debate over Omar’s tweets has raged, some Republicans, including President Trump and Vice President Pence, have called on the Minnesota Democrat to resign from Congress or at least be removed from her post on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders issued a statement denouncing Omar’s use of 'anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters.' They have signaled they will not take any further steps to punish Omar.” ...

... ** Eric Levitz of New York: "On Tuesday, the vice-president revealed that he is so adamantly opposed to hate speech, he believes that merely using rhetoric that is reminiscent of anti-Semitic tropes disqualifies a person for high political office. 'Anti-Semitism has no place in the United States Congress, much less the Foreign Affairs Committee,' Pence tweeted, referring to [Ilhan] Omar’s seat on said committee. 'Those who engage in anti-Semitic tropes should not just be denounced, they should face consequences for their words.' The vice-president is, in effect, calling for the immediate resignation of not just Ilhan Omar, but also of Donald Trump, and much of the congressional GOP.” Levitz reprises a few of Trump's greatest anti-Semitic hits as well as Kevin McCarthy's. Read the whole post. Levitz has the best summary I've seen of Omar's tweet about AIPAC. ...

... Sarah Jones of New York: During a hearing Wednesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) questioned Elliott Abrams., whom President* Trump named special envoy to Venezuela. “'In 1991, you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding your involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush,' Omar began, before asking Abrams why the committee should believe anything he had to say." And so forth. ...

     ... The headline in the Washington Free Beacon, a right-wing Website, is "Anti-Semitic Congresswoman Defames Jewish-American Hero." No link.

Jamie Ehrlich of CNN: "Rep. Adam Kinzinger [R-Ill.] is being deployed to the southern border with an Air Force National Guard Unit, according to a statement by his communications director.... Whether members of Congress can serve in active duty has been a source of controversy in the past. In 2006, the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled that Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, could not sit on a military appeals court that decides criminal cases and also serve as a senator, citing the Constitution's Incompatibility Clause -- also known as the emoluments clause -- which forbids members of Congress from simultaneously holding an 'Office under the United States.' However, Congress has not acted in any case of an individual representative or senator regarding simultaneous service in the Reserves."

Presidential Race 2020. "Howard Schultz's Campaign about Nothing." Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "At the start of the town hall CNN gave Howard Schultz on Tuesday night, anchor Poppy Harlow promised, 'We’re going to talk about all the issues, because that’s what this is about.' Unfortunately, Schultz spent the next hour studiously avoiding taking a position on much of anything. The former Starbucks CEO and potential independent presidential candidate’s performance was almost a caricature of an independent candidate trying to say nothing except that the two major parties were doing it wrong. Harlow, to her great credit, repeatedly noted that he was skirting the questions and not talking about his own proposals. But Schultz would not be deterred from his anodyne generalities and platitudes.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Beyond the Beltway

Wisconsin. Molly Beck of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The state Assembly passed a resolution Tuesday drafted by the Legislature's black caucus to honor prominent black Americans during February — but only after Republicans blocked it until black Democratic lawmakers agreed to remove the name of ... Colin Kaepernick. Democratic Rep. David Crowley of Milwaukee, who authored the resolution, called the episode 'a textbook example of white privilege' and a 'slap in the face.' Crowley said he was grateful to ultimately have the Assembly pass the resolution authored by black lawmakers, 'but I had to get the blessing of all of my white counterparts.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) 

Tuesday
Feb122019

The Commentariat -- February 13, 2019

Afternoon Update:

Dana Bash & Betsy Klein of CNN: "... Donald Trump intends to sign the border security deal to avoid another partial government shutdown, according to two sources who have spoken directly with the President."

About That "Executive Time." David Fahrenthold & Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post: "President Trump has installed a room-sized 'golf simulator' game at the White House, which allows him to play virtual rounds at courses all over the world by hitting a ball into a large video screen, according to two people told about the system. That system replaced an older, less sophisticated golf simulator that had been installed under President Obama, according to two people with knowledge of the previous system. Trump’s system cost about $50,000, and was put in during the last few weeks in a room in his personal quarters, a White House official said. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity..., said Trump had paid for the new system and the installation personally. President Trump has built his schedules around long blocks of 'executive time' — unstructured periods in the day where the president’s schedules show no official meetings. He often spends this time watching TV, tweeting, holding impromptu meetings and making phone calls, aides have said.... The White House official said Trump has not used his new golf simulator during executive time — or at all since it was put in." Right. ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: This morning I suggested that the government put a putting green in the exercise yard of Trump International Prison so he could pretend he was at a golf resort. Turns out there's a better option available right now, one which will allow him to pretend he's at any number of great golf courses. Perfect!

Jonathan Chait: Republicans are trying, and failing, to come up with compelling reasons to allow Trump to continue to hide his tax returns. "One common thread through all [their] defenses is that they take Trump’s decision to break precedent and conceal his tax returns as a given. From there, they focus all the scrutiny on Democrats and their nefarious motives for getting the tax returns. And so none of Trump’s defenders have bothered to construct a motive for Trump’s decision to conceal his tax returns. It’s just something we must all accept. The president has done business with, and employed, a large number of criminals, is under state and federal investigation for a wide array of alleged crimes, but his decision to keep his financial information private apparently tells us nothing whatsoever about the secrets it may contain."

Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "William P. Barr is all but guaranteed to become President Trump’s next attorney general, after clearing a procedural hurdle Tuesday with the support of not just Republicans but also a few Democrats, as well. The 55-to-44 vote to advance Barr’s nomination comes after weeks in which Democrats sounded alarm bells about his previous statements regarding special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Trump and his alleged ties to Russia, including a memo Barr wrote last year questioning whether Mueller would be overstepping the law by investigating potential obstruction of justice."

Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News: "The chief executives of Apple Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Walmart Inc., are among 25 prominent Americans who will shape Trump administration efforts to develop job training programs to meet the changing demands of U.S. employers. The creation of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, announced by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and ... Ivanka Trump on Wednesday, will work with the National Council for the American Worker established last July by an executive order. Ivanka Trump, in a statement, said the board will 'ensure inclusive growth' and that the administration wants all Americans 'to have the skills and opportunity to secure good paying jobs and successfully navigate technological disruptions and the rapidly changing nature of work.'” ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: I have complete faith that a "Workforce Advisory Board" formed by Wilbur Get-a-Loan Ross & Ivanka Sweatshop Trump will be great boon to American workers.

Adam Goldman of the New York Times: "A former United States Air Force counterintelligence agent was charged with espionage after she defected to Iran and helped it target her former colleagues, the authorities said. In an extraordinarily detailed indictment made public on Wednesday, prosecutors disclosed that Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, gave the Iranians the code name and mission of a secret Pentagon program involving American intelligence operations."

"Howard Schultz's Campaign about Nothing." Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "At the start of the town hall CNN gave Howard Schultz on Tuesday night, anchor Poppy Harlow promised, 'We’re going to talk about all the issues, because that’s what this is about.' Unfortunately, Schultz spent the next hour studiously avoiding taking a position on much of anything. The former Starbucks CEO and potential independent presidential candidate’s performance was almost a caricature of an independent candidate trying to say nothing except that the two major parties were doing it wrong. Harlow, to her great credit, repeatedly noted that he was skirting the questions and not talking about his own proposals. But Schultz would not be deterred from his anodyne generalities and platitudes.”

Wisconsin. Molly Beck of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The state Assembly passed a resolution Tuesday drafted by the Legislature's black caucus to honor prominent black Americans during February — but only after Republicans blocked it until black Democratic lawmakers agreed to remove the name of ... Colin Kaepernick. Democratic Rep. David Crowley of Milwaukee, who authored the resolution, called the episode 'a textbook example of white privilege' and a 'slap in the face.' Crowley said he was grateful to ultimately have the Assembly pass the resolution authored by black lawmakers, 'but I had to get the blessing of all of my white counterparts.'"

*****

Dancing the Trump Fantastic. Erica Werner, et al., of the Washington Post: "The threat of another government shutdown receded Tuesday as lawmakers lined up behind a fragile border security compromise and President Trump predicted that federal agencies would stay open.... With a shutdown deadline looming Friday at midnight, the president suggested he might be able to accept the deal, saying he could take other steps to fund his wall.... After speaking on the phone with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), Trump offered a more positive take. He praised Shelby in a tweet as 'hard working,' welcomed increased border security spending in the deal apart from the wall and wrote, 'Regardless of Wall money, it is being built as we speak!'... The House prepared to vote on it as soon as Wednesday evening, according to Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), and action in the Senate could follow Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also briefed Trump, later telling reporters that he hopes to have the president’s support, because 'he’s got a pretty good deal here.'” ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: The emperor has no clothes. The trick here is as simple as a child's tale. Tell Trump he won. Already he's telling the Trumpenproletariat that Wall has been built & is instructing them that their new chant is "Finish the Wall." I was thinking a few feet of concrete monstrosity should be built for future Trump photo-ops, but really, Photoshop will do. The Justice Department can scrap its memo prohibiting the indictment of a sitting president. Instead, just indict & convict Trump, then send him to a prison like the one pictured below, & tell him it's Trump Castle. Rename the exercise yard "Trump International," put in an Astro-turf putting green (say, here's one on Jeff Bezos' Amazon!), & he won't be the wiser. See also William Saletan's essay, linked below.

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania prison.

Peter Baker & Glenn Thrush of the New York Times: "President Trump declared on Tuesday that he was 'not happy' about the bipartisan border security compromise negotiated by congressional leaders but would not say whether he would sign it or veto it before another government shutdown hits at midnight Friday.... But he said he thinks he can still add to the measure and avoid another government shutdown. 'I don’t think you’re going to see a shutdown,' he said. 'If you did have it, it’s the Democrats’ fault.' He added, 'I am extremely unhappy with what the Democrats have given us.'... The president said he would have a meeting later on the measure.... Republican leaders, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, have accepted the agreement as the best they can get at this point to avoid another government shutdown by a Friday deadline. But conservative figures have protested loudly.... The agreement includes a provision that could give the Trump administration broad discretion to increase the number of slots to shelter detained migrants, a win for Republicans that could ease the sting of Mr. Trump’s failure to secure full funding for his border wall.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... The Times has a graphic -- with explanations -- of what wall exists, what Trump proposed, what Congress has approved. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... The Art of the Schlemiel. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "The deal as laid out does include some border fencing — $1.375 billion worth, or 55 miles. That’s well shy of the $5.7 billion and 200 miles in wall funding he demanded that led to the shutdown, but it’s not nothing. Trump could argue that he got something out of the 35-day government closure. But only if you ignore two very important things. One is that this compromise includes a concession to Democrats, too: a reduction in the number of detention beds.... But the bigger issue is this: The amount of funding is actually shy of the original deal Republicans and Democrats reached last year that Trump rejected. At that time, the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security included $1.6 billion for 65 miles of fencing, both slightly more than the current tentative deal. This was the deal on the table (it passed 26 to 5 in the Senate Appropriations Committee in June) when Trump initially began demanding $5 billion for his wall. He’s now getting slightly less than that $1.6 billion while also making a concession to Democrats on detention beds." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Greg Sargent: The "$1.375 billion for new bollard fencing in targeted areas ... [is] nothing like Trump’s wall — it’s limited to the kind of fencing that has already been built for years — and it’s substantially short of the $5.7 billion Trump wants. It’s nothing remotely close to the wall that haunts the imagination of the president and his rally crowds. The $1.375 billion is slightly less than what Democrats had previously offered him. It can’t even be credibly sold as a down payment on the wall.... The fake crisis that Trump invented — and with it, his broader immigration vision — is getting repudiated. The only question is whether Trump will agree to the surrender Republicans are trying to negotiate for him." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

The Trump Scandals, Ctd.

Ken Dilanian of NBC News: "After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee. But investigators disagree along party lines when it comes to the implications of a pattern of contacts they have documented between Trump associates and Russians — contacts that occurred before, during and after Russian intelligence operatives were seeking to help Donald Trump by leaking hacked Democratic emails and attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton, on social media. 'If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don't have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia,' said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview with CBS News last week.... The series of contacts between Trump's associates, his campaign officials, his children and various Russians suggest a campaign willing to accept help from a foreign adversary, the Democrats say." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Martin Longman in the Washington Monthly: "On Sunday, President Trump began boasting that he’d been cleared by the Senate Intelligence Committee of any wrongdoing in the 2016 election.... That’s not the full context of what Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina said.... Burr ... acknowledged that some people would see their findings (as they currently stand) as evidence of collusion. 'What I’m telling you is that I’m going to present, as best we can, the facts to you and to the American people,' Burr told CBS. 'And you’ll have to draw your own conclusion as to whether you think that, by whatever definition, that’s collusion.' In light of all of this investigative energy on the House side, it may be that Senator Burr doesn’t feel as much pressure to get to the bottom of Russia’s activities. What I know for sure is that other events will have overtaken their investigation long before they’ve completed writing their report [possibly in about seven months]. Contrary to what the president is saying, they haven’t cleared him of anything.  It’s uncertain if they ever will.” ...

... Dan Friedman of Mother Jones: "Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are pushing back on a claim by the panel’s chair, Richard Burr (R-N.C.), that the committee’s two-year investigation has not found 'anything that would suggest there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.' And they dispute an NBC News report saying that Democrats agreed with Burr that they have yet to see clear evidence of a conspiracy between ... Donald Trump and Moscow. 'That’s not true,' Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, told Mother Jones. 'I think it’s misleading. The intelligence committee hasn’t discussed the matter, let alone released a committee report.' Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), a senior Democrat on the panel, and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the committee, also said they have not reached any conclusions about their investigation. 'I disagree,' Warner said Tuesday when asked about Burr’s claims.... Warner, citing the Manafort revelations, said the public record alone challenges any conclusion that the Trump campaign did not conspire with Russia.”  ...

... At the Grand Havana Room. Rosalind Helderman & Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post: An Aug. 2, 2016, encounter [at a private cigar club in Manhattan] between the senior Trump campaign officials [Paul Manafort & Rick Gates] and [Konstantin] Kilimnik, who prosecutors allege has ties to Russian intelligence, has emerged in recent days as a potential fulcrum in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. It was at that meeting that prosecutors believe Manafort and Kilimnik may have exchanged key information relevant to Russia and Trump’s presidential bid. The encounter goes 'very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating,' prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told a federal judge in a sealed hearing last week. One subject the men discussed was a proposed resolution to the conflict over Ukraine.... During the hearing, the judge also appeared to allude to another possible interaction at the Havana Room gathering: a handoff by Manafort of internal polling data from Trump’s presidential campaign to his Russian associate.... What exactly might have been shared with Kilimnik at the Grand Havana Room appears to be a matter of dispute." ...

... Marcy Wheeler: "This August 2, 2016 data hand-off occurred in the specific context of Manafort trying to get whole on his $20 million debt to Oleg Deripaska. The data was [were!] also going to some Ukrainian oligarchs that Manafort expected to pay him $2.4 million in November 2016.... According to [Manafort's] grand jury testimony, at least as described by [prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann — he clandestinely handed off recent detailed polling data to a guy connected to the agency that was still hacking Hillary Clinton, to be shared with a bunch of oligarchs who could help him reverse his financial fortunes. It seems there’s a conspiracy there one way another. Either Manafort effectively stole Trump’s campaign data and traded it to foreigners for monetary gain. And/or Manafort handed over that data expecting that the campaign would get a thing of value from the foreigners he was sharing it with. Richard Burr would seem to argue that’s not 'collusion' unless Trump knew about it (whether he did is one of the questions Mueller posed to Trump). But it is a conspiracy, an agreement with Konstantin Kilimnik to commit one or more crimes, right there in the middle of the election season." Wheeler finds it curious that Burr & other Repubicans aren't outraged that Manafort "was putting his own financial imperatives ahead of sound campaign practice." Her suspicion seems to be that Burr knows or believes that Manafort was actually working at Trump's behest.

** David Lurie in the Daily Beast: "Donald Trump’s next attorney general may attempt to immunize the president from impeachment by preventing Congress from reviewing the most significant evidence against him: what Special Counsel Robert Mueller has found.... But [William] Barr’s suggestion that Congress can be prevented from seeing prosecutors’ evidence against Trump is wrong. A court decision that allowed the House to review the evidence the Watergate prosecutors assembled against Richard Nixon expressly states that Congress has the right to obtain all evidence gathered against a president by criminal investigators in connection with an impeachment proceeding.... An appellate court came to the same conclusion more recently in upholding the right of the House Judiciary Committee to review grand jury materials during an impeachment inquiry respecting a convicted federal judge.... The court observed that an impeachment inquiry could well be considered a 'judicial inquiry,' and to therefore fall within one of the express exceptions to the grand jury secrecy rule applicable to judicial proceedings."

of Bloomberg News: "The publisher of the National Enquirer, currently under attack by Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, has been facing steep financial losses that have left the once-loyal keeper of Donald Trump’s secrets with more than $1 billion in debt and a negative net worth. The closely held American Media Inc. -- led by the president’s longtime friend, David Pecker -- recorded a $31.5 million loss in the six months that ended Sept. 30, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg. That marked an improvement over the previous year, but nonetheless brought the company’s total losses over the last 5 1/2 fiscal years to $256 million. AMI owed about $203 million more than its assets were worth." ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: And these geniuses still thought the company had the wherewithal to blackmail the world's richest man.

Jeff Toobin, in the New Yorker, has an entertaining piece on Roger Stone & Jerome Corsi, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of a comedic Trumpian adaptation of "Hamlet."

So we have, let's say, 35,000 people tonight. And he has 200 people, 300 people. Not too good. -- Donald Trump, lying of the size of rallies in which he & Beto O'Rourke participatted in in El Paso last night ...

Also too, the only people who showed up for President Obama's first inauguration were a few hundred officials forced to be there under Constitutional requirements. ...

... Rebecca Morin of Politico: "The El Paso Fire Department late Monday denied ... Donald Trump's claim that officials gave him special permission to pack more people in to his rally than the facility allowed.... 'Now the arena holds 8,000. And thank you, Fire Department. They got in about 10,000. Thank you, Fire Department. Appreciate it.'... Fire Department spokesman Enrique Aguilar told the El Paso Times on Monday that Trump did not receive permission to exceed the limit and that there were 6,500 people inside the building during the president's rally. The coliseum holds about 6,500 people. There were thousands more watching Trump's speech on big screens outside the facility.... The president also falsely claimed on Monday night that former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who is considering a 2020 presidential run, only had a couple hundred people attend his counter-rally in El Paso.... Estimates from O'Rourke's anti-border wall protest show that 7,000 to 8,000 people attended his rally. Some other reports put attendance as high as 10,000 to 15,000." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Jon Sopel, North American Editor of BBC News: "I would really love to be able to say when I heard about the attack on our cameraman Ron Skeans that I was surprised. Or shocked even. I wasn't.... I covered endless Trump rallies in the run-up to the election and since - and there is a pattern. The attacks on the media are hugely popular with his supporters. They are every bit as much a part of his 'set' as Honky Tonk Woman and Satisfaction are part of a Rolling Stones concert. You just can't imagine it not happening.... There was no security last night, and the attack on Ron was stopped by a Trump-supporting blogger. Law enforcement were slow to get involved.... The uncomfortable truth is that with each month that passes the attacks have become more vociferous, the violent atmosphere on these occasions more palpable.... President Trump interrupted his speech and checked that Ron was OK. But there was no condemnation. No statement that this was unacceptable." ...

... Eli Stokols & Molly O'Toole of the Los Angeles Times: “... 'Finish the wall' is [Trump's] new rallying cry. Yet two years into his term, not one new mile of a barrier has been erected along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. At a rally in El Paso on Monday night, Trump went so far as to declare that nearby, just that day, 'the big beautiful wall right on the Rio Grande' had gotten underway. In fact, some brush was cleared in anticipation of construction, according to a check with the Homeland Security Department.... Even as the president has failed to get the funding he wants for a wall, despite two years with a Republican-controlled Congress, he has shifted to declaring victory and claiming credit for the 654 miles of fencing constructed under his predecessors — the same former presidents he often criticizes for their border policies, as he did Tuesday by derisively referring to 'our past geniuses.' Trump himself directed campaign officials that 'Finish the wall' was to be the theme of the El Paso rally.... With the slogan on red and blue banners hanging from the rafters, and on signs distributed to the crowd, when supporters chanted the usual 'Build the wall,' Trump corrected them: 'You mean finish the wall.'” ...

... ** Trump Rule No. 1: Ignore the Facts. William Saletan of Slate: "On Monday night..., Donald Trump held a rally in El Paso, Texas. He chose the location based on his claim, delivered in last week’s State of the Union address, that a border wall had rescued the city from rampant crime. By the time Trump arrived, fact-checkers had demolished this lie, pointing out that the wall had no effect. But Trump told his followers to dismiss the numbers and trust him instead. And they did, because this is a measurable fact about Trump supporters: They’re willing to reject all other sources of information — crime statistics, intelligence agencies, even conservative media — when the president tells them to do so.... Trump’s message [at the rally] was a recipe for incurable ignorance: Reject all contrary evidence as biased. Reject anyone who reports that evidence. Rely on your leader’s anecdotes. Trust the uninformed consensus of your friends. Respond automatically. And ignore anyone who says you’re a sucker. You’re not being credulous. You’re being vigilant against the fakers. You’re 'the smart ones.' This is insanity. But among Trump supporters, it’s the norm.”

Martin Crutsinger of the AP: "The national debt has passed a new milestone, topping $22 trillion for the first time. The Treasury Department’s daily statement showed Tuesday that total outstanding public debt stands at $22.01 trillion. It stood at $19.95 trillion when ... Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017. The debt figure has been accelerating since the passage of Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut in December 2017 and action by Congress last year to increase spending on domestic and military programs.... The Trump administration contends that its tax cuts will eventually pay for themselves by generating faster economic growth. That projection is disputed by many economists. Despite the rising levels of federal debt, many economists say they think the risks remain slight and point to current interest rates, which remain unusually low by historical standards. Still, some budget experts warn that ever-rising federal debt poses substantial risks for the government because it could make it harder to respond to a financial crisis through tax cuts or spending increases."

Juliet Eilperin & Dino Grandoni of the Washington Post: "The Senate on Tuesday passed the most sweeping conservation legislation in a decade, protecting millions of acres of land and hundreds of miles of wild rivers across the country and establishing four new national monuments honoring heroes including Civil War soldiers and a civil rights icon. The 662-page measure, which passed 92 to 8, represented an old-fashioned approach to dealmaking that has largely disappeared on Capitol Hill. Senators from across the ideological spectrum celebrated home-state gains and congratulated each other for bridging the partisan divide. 'It touches every state, features the input of a wide coalition of our colleagues, and has earned the support of a broad, diverse coalition of many advocates for public lands, economic development, and conservation,' said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). It’s a paradoxical win for conservation at a time when President Trump has promoted development on public lands and scaled back safeguards established by his predecessors. The bill, which the Congressional Budget Office projects would save taxpayers $9 million, enjoys broad support in the House. The lower chamber is poised to take it up after the mid-February recess, and White House officials have indicated privately that the president will sign it."

Ariane de Vogue & Ted Barrett of CNN: "Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a supporter of abortion rights who cast a critical vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh, said in an interview with CNN that despite his vote in a recent abortion access case, she did not believe Kavanaugh would ultimately vote to overturn Roe v. Wade." Mrs. McC: Sen. Collins reaffirmed that she also believes in unicorns, leprechauns & Santa Claus.

Peter Beinart in the Forward: "The following two things are true. First, Representative Ilhan Omar was wrong to tweet that the American government’s support of Israel is 'all about the Benjamins.' Secondly, she’s being judged by a grotesque double standard. Her fiercest critics in Congress are guiltier of bigotry than she is. Were the Republicans denouncing Omar sincerely opposed to bigotry, they would not reward bigotry against American Muslims and celebrate bigotry against Palestinians in the West Bank.” Beinart runs through a litany of Republican remarks & policies that “endorse bigotry.”

he following two things are true. First, Representative Ilhan Omar was wrong to tweet that the American government’s support of Israel is “all about the Benjamins.” Secondly, she’s being judged by a grotesque double standard. Her fiercest critics in Congress are guiltier of bigotry than she is.

Read more: https://forward.com/opinion/419206/the-sick-double-standard-in-the-ilhan-omar-controversy/

he following two things are true. First, Representative Ilhan Omar was wrong to tweet that the American government’s support of Israel is “all about the Benjamins.” Secondly, she’s being judged by a grotesque double standard. Her fiercest critics in Congress are guiltier of bigotry than she is.

Read more: https://forward.com/opinion/419206/the-sick-double-standard-in-the-ilhan-omar-controversy/

he following two things are true. First, Representative Ilhan Omar was wrong to tweet that the American government’s support of Israel is “all about the Benjamins.” Secondly, she’s being judged by a grotesque double standard. Her fiercest critics in Congress are guiltier of bigotry than she is.

Read more: https://forward.com/opinion/419206/the-sick-double-standard-in-the-ilhan-omar-controversy/

 
he following two things are true. First, Representative Ilhan Omar was wrong to tweet that the American government’s support of Israel is “all about the Benjamins.” Secondly, she’s being judged by a grotesque double standard. Her fiercest critics in Congress are guiltier of bigotry than she is.

Read more: https://forward.com/opinion/419206/the-sick-double-standard-in-the-ilhan-omar-controversy/

he following two things are true. First, Representative Ilhan Omar was wrong to tweet that the American government’s support of Israel is “all about the Benjamins.” Secondly, she’s being judged by a grotesque double standard. Her fiercest critics in Congress are guiltier of bigotry than she is.

Read more: https://forward.com/opinion/419206/the-sick-double-standard-in-the-ilhan-omar-controversy/

Shocking News. Another multi-billionaire -- Bill Gates -- says Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez's proposal to raise taxes on the ultra-rich is "extreme." “But we can be more progressive, the estate tax and the tax on capital, the way the FICA and Social Security taxes work. We can be more progressive without really threatening income generation,” Gates said. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) 

Senate Race 2020. Alex Isenstadt of Politico: "Chuck Schumer is actively recruiting a high-profile fighter pilot to take on Mitch McConnell in 2020 — a calculated act of aggression against a leading Republican foe. Schumer met with Amy McGrath, a Marine veteran-turned 2018 congressional candidate, at Democratic Party headquarters last month to pitch her on running against McConnell. McGrath listened and didn’t rule it out. The Democratic leader first contacted McGrath in December.... [In the 2018 race,] she was narrowly defeated by [Rep. Andy Barr (R)]. 

Alan Feuer of the New York Times: "The Mexican crime lord known as El Chapo was convicted on Tuesday after a three-month drug trial in New York that exposed the inner workings of his sprawling cartel, which over decades shipped tons of drugs into the United States and plagued Mexico with relentless bloodshed and corruption. The guilty verdict against the kingpin, whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán Loera, ended the career of a legendary outlaw who also served as a dark folk hero in Mexico, notorious for his innovative smuggling tactics, his violence against competitors, his storied prison breaks and his nearly unstoppable ability to evade the Mexican authorities.... The jury’s decision came more than a week after the panel started deliberations at the trial in Federal District Court in Brooklyn where prosecutors presented a mountain of evidence against the cartel leader, including testimony from 56 witnesses, 14 of whom once worked with Mr. Guzmán. Mr. Guzman now faces life in prison at his sentencing hearing, scheduled for June 25." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)