The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Safety/Irony Alert. CNBC (December 25): Your new home security system may be an open invitation to hackers to make you, and perhaps many others, unsafe.” -- CW

Click on the picture to see larger image.... Low Society News. AP: "... Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump were among the guests as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin’s) married a Scottish actress. Mnuchin exchanged vows Saturday night with Louise Linton at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington. Mrs. Trump wore a pink blush dress" CW: which, if you follow Reality Chex, you will know was enhanced by some really costly baubles that remind the bride of Grace Kelly or happy times or something.

New Yorker: "In a paper in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers announced that they have pushed back the date of the earliest human remains to three hundred thousand years ago. And the specimens in question were found not in East Africa, which has become synonymous with a sort of paleoanthropological Garden of Eden, but clear on the other side of the continent — and the Sahara — in Morocco." -- CW ...

Washington Post: "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus took a final, bittersweet bow Sunday, staging its last three shows [in Uniondale, N.Y.,] after 146 years of entertaining American audiences with gravity-defying trapeze stunts, comically clumsy clowns and trained tigers." -- CW 

Guardian: "Pippa Middleton [sister of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge --] has married James Matthews in what has been called the society wedding of the year, in front of royalty, family and friends." -- CW

Washington Post: "Two months before Monday’s [May 8] announcement that Sinclair Broadcast Group would pay $3.9 billion for Tribune Media and add to its dominance as the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations, a top executive at Sinclair beamed a short commentary piece to many of the company’s 173 stations.In the segment, which looks like it belongs in a newscast, Sinclair vice president for news Scott Livingston stands before a wall of video monitors and warns that 'some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.' He accuses the national media of publishing 'fake news stories' — a direct echo of President Trump’s frequent complaint — and then asks viewers to visit the station’s website to share 'content concerns.' The piece was a 'must-run,' meaning news directors and station managers from Baltimore to Seattle had to find room for it.... While partisan coverage is a familiar staple of cable networks — Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left — it remains mostly unheard of in broadcast TV, where it has generally been accepted that public airwaves should be used in the difficult-to-define public interest.” -- CW 

CNN: "21st Century Fox and the private equity firm Blackstone are in talks to launch a bid for Tribune Media, one of the nation's largest television broadcasting companies, a source with knowledge of the matter said Sunday. The deal currently under discussion would see Blackstone and Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox forming a joint venture. Blackstone would provide the cash for the acquisition while Fox would add all its owned-and-operated television stations to the joint venture." -- CW 

New York Times: "Prehistoric humans — perhaps Neanderthals or another lost species — occupied what is now California some 130,000 years ago, a team of scientists reported on Wednesday. The bold and fiercely disputed claim, published in the journal Nature, is based on a study of mastodon bones discovered near San Diego. If the scientists are right, they would significantly alter our understanding of how humans spread around the planet." -- CW 

If you're curious as to how realistic the New York City apartments of TV sitcom characters are -- in terms of what the characters could reasonably afford -- the Washington Post checks out several of the hovels & dream rentals of a number of shows. Kinda fun. CW: My husband & I (he paid the rent) had a fairly spacious two-bedroom with a galley kitchen (dishwasher included!) & dining room plus teensy closets on Washington Square in the 1980s & '90s. NYU owned the building & helped considerably with the rent.

Politico: "Comedian Hasan Minhaj will be this year's entertainer for the White House Correspondents' Dinner later this month, the association's president announced on Tuesday. Minhaj is a stand up comedian and senior correspondent on 'The Daily Show,' where he has performed caustic bits on ... Donald Trump, liberals and others in between. Minhaj has Washington experience already, having performed as host of last year's Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner." -- CW 

AFP: "After months of uncertainty and controversy, Bob Dylan finally accepted the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature at a jovial, champagne-laced ceremony on Saturday, [April 1,] the Swedish Academy announced. The academy, which awards the coveted prize, ended prolonged speculation as to whether the 75-year-old troubadour would use a concert stopover in Stockholm to accept the gold medal and diploma awarded to him back in October." -- CW 

Contact the Constant Weader

Click on this link to e-mail the Constant Weader.

Constant Comments

Anyone with a cheap computer can become a columnist or a pundit. -- Dennis Ryerson, Editor, Indianapolis Star

About Me: I have a cheap computer.
-- Constant Weader

Follow CONSTANTWEADER on Twitter... for breaking news. I update several times a day & tweet only the big deals.

Thursday
Jun222017

The Commentariat -- June 23, 2017

Afternoon Update:

All the President's Lies. David Loenhardt & Stuart Thompson of the New York Times: "Many Americans have become accustomed to President Trump's lies. But as regular as they have become, the country should not allow itself to become numb to them. So we have catalogued nearly every outright lie he has told publicly since taking the oath of office.... There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers. No other president -- of either party -- has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant. We have set a conservative standard, leaving out many dubious statements (like the claim that his travel ban is 'similar' to Obama administration policy).... We are using the word 'lie' deliberately." -- CW

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "President Trump laid out his belief that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is biased in the expanding Russia investigation and suggested in an interview broadcast Friday morning that he may eventually need to step down. Asked by Fox News Channel whether Mueller should 'recuse himself from the investigation,' Trump said three times 'we'll have to see,' and argued that Mueller's long friendship with fired FBI director James B. Comey and hiring of investigators with Democratic ties are 'very bothersome' and 'ridiculous.'... Trump suggested that his threat of tapes may have intimidated Comey into being more honest in his recollection of events. 'I didn't tape,' Trump said. 'And I don't have any tape, and I didn't tape. But when he found out that I, you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether it's government tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed. I mean, you'll have to take a look at that, because then he has to tell what actually took place at the events.'" ...

     ... CW: In case you didn't notice, let me just lay out how nonsensical is Trump's claim about why he threatened Comey with "tapes." Trump already knew -- because the NYT reported it earlier -- that Comey had committed to paper his every conversation with the president. Further, Comey leaked the content of some of those records to the press. (Subsequent to his testimony he handed over the memoes to Bob Mueller.) There was never any chance that Comey was stupid enough to then go out and contradict the content of his memoes in sworn testimony. So, no, his story did not change after he learned Trump might have taped their conversations. Whether or not there were "tapes" & whether or not he would have preferred to lie through his teeth during sworn testimony, his "story" would not have changed because he's not a blithering idiot who has a secret wish to go to jail for perjury. ...

... Lyin'est Liar Straightens Out Straight-Arrow, with Assist from "Fox & Friends." Erik Wemple of the Washington Post: "On one hand, we have a lying president who made 669 false and misleading claims over his first 151 days in office. On the other hand, we have a career law enforcement official who was promoted to FBI director in part because of a famous act of integrity; who had won the respect of the FBI rank and file by the time he was fired by Trump; and who has told a wholly consistent and, thus far, largely unchallenged narrative of his dealings with Trump. So the dodgiest president ever is keeping honest a man of proven integrity. A reversal this comical is possible only on one television news program." That would be -- Fox "News." -- CW ...

... Nancy Cook & Josh Dawsey of Politico: "White House counsel Don McGahn has largely stepped back from managing Donald Trump's response to the expanding Russia investigation, but that hasn't stopped the president from lashing out at him about it anyway. Trump started the week by giving McGahn, a loyal supporter who was among the first Washington establishment figures to sign on with his presidential campaign, a dressing down in the Oval Office for not doing more to quash the Russia probe early on. The episode -- recounted by four people familiar with the conversation -- came as part of a broader discussion on Monday about the president's frustrations with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.... Trump's willingness to lay into him for the escalation of the probe -- largely the result of Trump's own decision to dismiss Comey -- illustrates ... Trump's desire to find someone to blame for his legal predicament." -- CW ...

... Aaron Rupar of ThinkProgress: "Over the past few weeks, the White House has gone from accusing former FBI director James Comey of lying during his sworn testimony before the Senate to saying that  -- thanks to President Trump's efforts to manipulate him with a misleading tweet about 'tapes' --  Comey actually told the truth. But that shift in rhetoric creates new problems for the Trump administration. If Comey was telling the truth, it's bad news for Trump." -- CW ...

... Mike Allen of Axios: "President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey is rightly seen as a terrific legal blunder: He undercut an investigation that might have shown he never colluded with the Russians, and spawned one that could result in obstruction of justice charges.... One of the president's outside advisers calls it the gravest political mistake since Richard Nixon decided not to apologize to the American people for Watergate, and instead proceeded with the cover-up." -- CW ...

... Mike McIntire of the New York Times: "Federal investigators are examining financial transactions involving Paul Manafort and his son-in-law, who embarked on a series of real estate deals in recent years fueled by millions of dollars from Mr. Manafort, according to two people familiar with the matter. The transactions involve the financing of apartments and luxury homes in New York and California using money from Mr. Manafort, as well as from other investors solicited by the son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, including the actor Dustin Hoffman and his son. F.B.I. agents have reviewed financial records related to Mr. Yohai, who has been accused in a lawsuit of defrauding investors, the sources said.... Besides the F.B.I. and congressional inquiries, the New York State attorney general's office has opened a preliminary inquiry 'focused on certain real estate dealings' involving Mr. Manafort, according to a third person with direct knowledge of the matter." -- CW ...

... John Parkinson of ABC News: "A bipartisan group of Senate Judiciary Committee leaders is examining former Attorney General Loretta Lynch's alleged interference in the Hillary Clinton email investigation. The group is seeking details about Lynch's communication with a Clinton campaign aide, Amanda Renteria, as well as copies of documents and information about whether the FBI investigated the alleged communication.... The senators question Open Society Foundations' Leonard Benardo and its General Counsel Gail Scovell, as well as Renteria and Lynch, about a May 24 story from the Washington Post that reported Lynch assured Renteria that she would not let the FBI investigation into Clinton go too far. An email reportedly recounting that alleged conversation and authored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who served at the time as DNC chair, was allegedly hacked by Russia, though the FBI later discounted its reliability." -- CW

Kareem Fahim of the Washington Post: "New tensions erupted Friday in a feud between Qatar and a group of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia after the leak of an onerous list of demands to be met by Qatar, including the shuttering of its popular Al Jazeera news channel. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar earlier this month, portraying the action as stemming from Qatar's support for extremist groups. The increasingly poisonous rift has split much of the region, elicited confused responses from the United States, a close ally to every party in the dispute, and revealed divides within the Trump administration." -- CW

*****

Robert Pear & Thomas Kaplan of the New York Times: "Senate Republicans, who have promised a repeal of the Affordable Care Act for seven years, took a major step on Thursday toward that goal, unveiling a bill to make deep cuts in Medicaid and end the law's mandate that most Americans have health insurance. The 142-page bill would create a new system of federal tax credits to help people buy health insurance, while offering states the ability to drop many of the benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, like maternity care, emergency services and mental health treatment.... Once promised as a top-to-bottom revamp of the health bill passed by the House last month, the Senate bill instead maintains its structure, with modest adjustments." -- CW ...

... Sarah Kliff of Vox explains the particulars. CW: My most favorite part of the draft bill is the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP) section: the bill won't start to phase out the Medicaid expansion till 2021; that is, right after the 2020 presidential election. So many a dummkopf won't know what's about to hit them (partly because you can count on Democratic candidates to mention that little provision in such opaque, incomprehensible terms that it won't penetrate the peabrains' peabrains). The most sensible Democratic slogan for 2018 & 2020 would be "Vote Democratic. Your life depends on it." But you won't see that because the media would get all upset that Democrats are suggesting Republicans are stone-cold killers. Um, which is true. ...

... Steve Benen: "In 2009 and 2010, Democrats wanted the public to know as much about their health care proposal as possible. Dems were desperate for Americans to learn the details, in part because Democratic officials believed people would like what they saw.... In 2017, however, all of this is reversed. Republicans plainly don't want Americans to get too close a look at their unpopular legislation, and have no real confidence that the public will actually like what GOP officials came up with behind closed doors.... If Republicans are pursuing regressive, unpopular, and dangerous ideas because they see themselves as insulated from public will, confident that they can act with impunity because voters won't or can't punish them, we're going to have to have a much larger conversation about the breakdown of American democracy." -- CW ...

... Jamelle Bouie: Republicans are bent on passing wildly unpopular legislation "because they can." "... extreme polarization means Republicans can mobilize supporters without being forced to talk about or account for their actual actions. Identity, for many voters, matters more than their pocketbooks. Republicans simply need to signal their disdain -- even hatred -- for their opponents, political or otherwise. Why worry about the consequences of your policies when you can preclude defeat by changing the ground rules of elections, spending vast sums, and stoking cultural resentment?" -- CW ...

... right now, after eight years, the legislation rushed through the House and the Senate without public hearings or debate would ... raise costs, reduce coverage, roll back protections, and ruin Medicaid as we know it. That's not my opinion, but rather the conclusion of all objective analyses, from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which found that 23 million Americans would lose insurance, to America's doctors, nurses, and hospitals on the front lines of our health care system. The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It's a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else. Those with private insurance will experience higher premiums and higher deductibles, with lower tax credits to help working families cover the costs, even as their plans might no longer cover pregnancy, mental health care, or expensive prescriptions. Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions could become the norm again. Millions of families will lose coverage entirely. -- Barack Obama, partial statement. Full statement appears on Obama's Facebook page. Thanks to Diane for the link. ...

... "Fundamental Meanness." David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "The 44th president did not mention his successor, Donald Trump, but his scathing criticism and urgent tone -- imploring his supporters to speak out against the 'fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation' -- set up a direct public fight with the current White House occupant.... 'I am very supportive of the Senate #HealthcareBill,' Trump wrote in a tweet a short while later. 'Look forward to making it really special! Remember, ObamaCare is dead.'" -- CW ...

... Four GOP Senators Say CAHCA Isn't Mean Enough. Sean Sullivan, et al., of the Washington Post: "Four Republican senators from the conservative wing of their party say they oppose the Senate health-care bill as it was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday, which places the effort to overhaul the American health-care system in jeopardy as it heads for an anticipated vote in the Senate next week. Those senators -- Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah -- announced that while they cannot support the bill as its currently written, they are open to negotiating changes that could ultimately win their support.... McConnell introduced draft text -- crafted behind closed doors among a small circle of lawmakers and aides -- of the Senate GOP bill in a private meeting with Republican senators on Thursday morning.... Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R), who is up for reelection in 2018. Heller released a statement saying he has 'serious concerns' about the bill's Medicaid provisions." CW: They'll cave. McConnell's aides will massage the bill a little, & these guys will suddenly find their "serious concerns" have evaporated into the rarefied hot air of the capitol dome. (Also linked yesterday.) ...

     ... Alex Shephard of the New Republic: "... the intraparty drama that we can expect to see over the coming days will be very likely by design. This way, the many senators who express reservations about the contents of the bill -- particularly in the way it handles the phasing out of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, the opioid crisis, and funding for Planned Parenthood -- can demand revisions, declare victory when those revisions are made, and then fall in line. This is all kabuki. Making changes will allow Republicans to claim their bill is more moderate, even though all signs point to the fact that the changes have already essentially been baked into the process. They'll allow Republicans to focus attention on individual provisions instead of the bill's overall effect, which will be disastrous." -- CW ...

... Olivia Beavers of the Hill: "The AARP on Thursday slammed the Senate GOP healthcare draft bill, calling efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare 'harmful' and denouncing what it calls an 'Age Tax' affecting the nation's senior citizens. The lobbying group for seniors accused Senate GOP leaders of crafting legislation in 'secrecy' that 'would hit millions of Americans with higher costs and result in less coverage for them.'" -- CW ...

... E.A. Crunden of ThinkProgress: "Activists in wheelchairs protesting the Senate's newly-released health care bill were arrested and dragged from outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office on Thursday. The incident occurred after about 60 members of ADAPT, a U.S. disability rights organization with fierce objections to the American Health Care Act (AHCA), staged a 'die-in' outside of the Kentucky senator's office. The AHCA would cap and cut Medicaid, something that would have severe repercussions for Americans with disabilities. Many people living with disabilities rely on Medicaid for their basic care and survival." CW: Just to be clear, these were not healthy people whizzing around in prop wheelchairs. They were real, disabled people who need Medicaid & affordable health insurance. ...

... The Reverse Robin Hood Bill. Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times: "The Affordable Care Act gave health insurance to millions of Americans by shifting resources from the wealthy to the poor and by moving oversight from states to the federal government. The Senate bill introduced Thursday pushes back forcefully on both dimensions. The bill is aligned with long-held Republican values, advancing states' rights and paring back growing entitlement programs, while freeing individuals from requirements that they have insurance and emphasizing personal responsibility. Obamacare raised taxes on high earners and the health care industry, and essentially redistributed that income -- in the form of health insurance or insurance subsidies -- to many of the groups that have fared poorly over the last few decades." -- CW ...

...Tim Egan: "For the United States, the biggest institutional lie of the moment is that we have a government of the people, responding to majority will. On almost every single concern, Congress -- whether it's the misnamed People's House, or the Senate, laughably mischaracterized as the world's greatest deliberative body -- is going against what most of the country wants. And Congress is doing this because there will be no consequences. We have a fake democracy, growing less responsive and less representative by the day. The biggest example of this is the monstrosity of a health care bill, which a cartel of Republicans finally allowed us to peek at on Thursday. The lobbyists have seen it; of course.... Crafted in total darkness, the bill may pass by a slim majority of people who have not read it." Read on. -- CW ...

... ** Charles Pierce: "Hello, suckers. Yeah, you. All of you. All of you people who've been buying what the radicalized Republican party has been selling you since Reagan rode out of Trickledown Gulch back in 1980. All of you who easily gobbled up the fictions about welfare queens, and 'crazy checks,' and big black bucks buying T-Bone steaks, and, most recently, of immigrants come to steal your jobs and cut your throats in the night. All of you who worried so profoundly about your neighbors who were black, or Hispanic, or Muslim that you handed the government to the people who have been picking your pocket and selling off your birthright for going on four decades.... Of course, [the Senate draft bill] as bad as we all thought it would be. It virtually zeroes out Medicaid down the line -- letting it 'die on the vine,' just the way Newt Gingrich recommended 20 years ago. It forces low-income people to pay more for policies once called 'street-surance' back in the day. (John Grisham should sue these guys. They stole the entire plot from The Rainmaker.) Read on. -- CW

Deirdre Walsh of CNN: "Around the same time House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was declaring she had broad support to remain the top Democratic leader and jabbing back at her critics, a group of her colleagues met privately to brainstorm on whether there was a way to force her out. New York Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice, one of a small group who has gone public with the message that Pelosi should go, hosted a dozen Democrats in her office Thursday for an hour-long strategy session. Rep. Cedric Richmond, the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who many have touted as a rising star in the party, attended the session, according to three Democrats who also attended.... In an interview on CNN before the meeting, Rice admitted that the problem facing the party now is that no one has emerged as an alternative.... Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, another outspoken critic, also attended, according to sources -- and some in the group continue to point to the Iraq war veteran as a young member who could be cultivated to run." -- CW ...

     ... CW: While I agree that current party leaders should go the way of Debbie Wasserman Schultz (and I like and admire Pelosi, one of the most effective leaders in the modern history of the House), yesterday Steve M. pointed to the fallacy of dumping Pelosi as a quick fix for their "brand": "... if Republicans weren't demonizing Pelosi, they'd be demonizing some other Democrat -- Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Chuck Schumer, Adam Schiff, Kamala Harris. Republicans demonized 'Dingy Harry' Reid for years. And there are always the good old Clintons." Post also linked yesterday.


** Greg Miller
, et al., of the Washington Post: "Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried 'eyes only' instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides. Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed ... Vladimir Putin's direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.... The intelligence captured Putin's specific instructions on the operation's audacious objectives -- defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.... The intelligence on Putin was extraordinary on multiple levels, including as a feat of espionage." This is a detailed report that suggests Obama bobbled the ball & Trump dropped it or is running interference. -- CW ...

... Will No One Rid Me of This Bothersome Priest? Cristiano Lima of Politico: "... Donald Trump ... cast ... [Robert Mueller's] relationship with ... James Comey, as 'very bothersome.' 'He's very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome,' Trump said of Mueller during an interview with Fox News' 'Fox & Friends,' according to early transcript excerpts. The president went on to claim that those leading the federal government inquiry 'were all Hillary Clinton supporters.'... While Trump did not call for Mueller's recusal, he sought to cast the connection between him and his mentee, Comey, as troubling...." -- CW ...

With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea... -- Donald J. Trump June 22, 2017

...whether there are 'tapes' or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings. -- (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2017

... Surprise, Surprise! Mark Landler & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: Trump's tweets "left open the possibility that the conversations were taped without his knowledge, even by the F.B.I. or intelligence agencies.... The White House counsel's office reviewed the language in the tweet..., and Mr. Trump's personal legal team was aware of it. The wording did not change significantly over the past few days. But by giving the president some room to claim he might have been referring to someone other than himself doing the taping, his wording could diminish the possibility that his original tweet could have been interpreted as pressure on Mr. Comey before his testimony to the Senate. Yet when shorn of their extraneous details, the tweets essentially confirmed that Mr. Trump had been leveling a baseless threat when he wrote on May 12, 'James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!'... The timing of the announcement -- after an internal debate in which Mr. Trump was at first reluctant to come clean quickly -- seemed calculated to change the subject. Hours earlier, Senate Republicans released their health care bill...." -- CW ...

... Lachlan Markey & Spencer Ackerman of the Daily Beast: "Trump ended speculation on Thursday about whether he had installed a recording device in the Oval Office and made 'tapes' of his conversations with former FBI director James Comey.... But then, unprompted, he floated another possibility: U.S. intelligence or law enforcement officials might have his office bugged. 'With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are "tapes" or recordings of my conversations with James Comey,' Trump wrote.... Informed of the president's denial that he had recorded his conversations with Comey, a senior administration official replied, 'At least that's behind us.' When alerted to his apparent suspicions of Oval Office surveillance, the official replied in a text message, 'fml.' That's shorthand for 'fuck my life.'" ...

     ... CW: I've thought for decades that our intelligence agencies are populated with far too many cowboys who haven't got the brains to get away with a vending machine heist. But a POTUS, no matter what his personal views, has to express support for the agencies upon whom he relies to make the momentous decisions he doesn't hand off to his subordinates. For Trump to continuously float conspiracy theories & express doubts about the intelligence community poses a serious threat to national security. (See also the Rachel Weiner's story linked below. The way the former CIA officer & alleged traitor accidentally outted himself was downright dimwitted.) ...

... Philip Rucker & Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "President Trump said Thursday that he does not have 'tapes' of his private conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey, finally ending a mystery of his own creation that began last month when he suggested that he had privately recorded their talks.... After an inquiry from congressional investigators about the tapes, Trump tweeted Thursday, 'I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.'... For the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who were demanding that Trump provide information by Friday about the tapes' existence, his tweet does not settle the matter. 'We have to have an official statement, tweets aren't official,' said Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who is running the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Until they get that official response, Conaway said, he would not comment on whether a subpoena may still be issued.... Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, also said the president's tweet was not sufficient. 'We'd all like to believe that our president can be trusted when he says something; regrettably, though, he has repeatedly proved otherwise,' Schiff said.... Schiff said ... he has questions about 'why he would have said the opposite to begin with.' 'Was this an effort to intimidate James B. Comey, was this an effort to silence James B. Comey?' Schiff asked. 'Those questions still need to be answered.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Why, Mr. Schiff, Howevah Could You Accuse the President* of Lying? ...

... Dino Grandoni of the Washington Post: "... in his meandering speech [in Iowa Wednesday], Trump, perhaps tellingly..., focused ridicule at wind energy in Iowa, a state where the renewable energy industry makes up a significant portion of the energy portfolio. Only days earlier, Trump's energy secretary, Rick Perry, delivered a strikingly different message to Congress, telling lawmakers the United States will pursue an 'all-of-the-above' approach to energy production. In his Iowa speech, Trump also made unrealistic claims about putting solar panels on his long-promised border wall with Mexico and outright misleading claims about the recently exited Paris climate accord. It fits a pattern of misstatement about energy production that was also on display in Trump's Rose Garden speech announcing U.S. withdrawal from the Paris deal." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... CW: The solar-panels claim is a real hooter: (1) Trump didn't come up with the idea, as he claimed; (2) most experts agree that solar panels on a wall would be very inefficient (Trump may be unaware that the panels have to face, um, the sun); (3) they would (a) degrade & (b) be useless, since what electricity they did produce would have few buyers in the remote areas the wall is to be built.

Ken Dilanian of NBC News: "Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told House investigators Thursday that President Trump seemed obsessed with the Russia probe and repeatedly asked him to say publicly there was no evidence of collusion, a U.S. official familiar with the conversation told NBC News." -- CW

Trump Appointee of the Day. Dino Grandoni: "Before William C. Bradford was appointed by the Trump administration to run the Energy Department's Office of Indian Energy, he tweeted a slew of disparaging remarks about the real and imagined ethnic, religious and gender identities of former president Barack Obama, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, TV news host Megyn Kelly and Japanese Americans during World War II. Bradford was recently appointed director of DOE's office in charge of assisting Native American and Alaska Native tribes and villages with energy development." He called Obama a "Kenyan creampuff," Zuckerberg a "little arrogant self-hating Jew/" and boasted that he coined the term "MegOBgyn Kelly." ...

     ... CW: It might be easy to write off Bradford's tweets as sick humor (something he himself has tried to do), but his animus for "the other" is deep-seated: Grandoni: "In 2015, he resigned from his post at West Point after writing an academic paper arguing the United States should threaten to destroy Muslim holy sites in war 'even if it means great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damage.' Bradford also called for legal scholars 'sympathetic to Islamist aims' to be imprisoned or 'attacked.'"

"A Strong Christian and a Family Man." Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post: "A former CIA officer sold top secret and other classified documents to Chinese intelligence officials, according to charges filed Thursday in Alexandria federal court. Kevin Patrick Mallory, 60, of Leesburg, Va., was arrested Thursday and appeared briefly in front of Judge Theresa Buchanan on counts of delivering defense information to aid a foreign government and making false statements. He asked to be represented by a public defender. Mallory had a top secret security clearance until he left the government in 2012.... Prosecutors say Mallory sent three documents containing classified information, one of which was labeled top secret, to a Chinese intelligence operative in May. 'Your object is to gain information, and my object is to be paid for it,' Mallory wrote to the Chinese contact...." CW: If Mallory really needs a public defender, I guess the traitorous greed thing didn't work out too well for him.

Slip-sliding into the Syrian Civil War. Helene Cooper of the New York Times: "To hear the Pentagon tell it, the United States still has no intention of getting involved in Syria's six-year civil war; the American presence there is solely to help its allies defeat the Islamic State. But a recent spate of incidents have [sic.!] raised alarm from diplomats and national security officials that the United States may be inadvertently sliding into a far bigger role in the Syrian civil war than it intended.... American military gains in Syria have far outpaced any diplomacy toward a political settlement of the Syrian civil war.... In past years, the Pentagon and its allies could stay out of the Syrian government's way -- and that of Mr. Assad's backers in Russia and Iran -- as all fought the Islamic State. Now, all sides are converging on a smaller piece of territory, resulting in competing forces increasingly turning on one another, in addition to the common enemy." -- CW

Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: "The government may not strip someone's citizenship for lying during the naturalization process without proving the falsehood is relevant, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The court unanimously rejected the government's view that simply proving that someone lied during the process was enough. Justice Elena Kagan said that would give the government too much power.... The position is a long-held one by the federal government, but it has taken on new importance with the Trump administration's focus on deportation. Kagan wrote that the government must show an illegal act by the defendant 'played some role in her acquisition of citizenship.'" The decision does not remove plaintiff's jeopardy; rather, the Court determined that the government must prove that her lies were material to her application for naturalization, which they may well be." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Betsy Woodruff of the Daily Beast: "A Republican coal baron is suing John Oliver, HBO, Time Warner, and the writers for Oliver's show over the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight. [The segment was embedded here earlier this week.] The suit, filed on June 21 in the circuit court of Marshall County, West Virginia, holds that Oliver and his team 'executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies' by airing an episode that ripped into him. Murray runs the country's largest privately owned coal company, Murray Energy Corporation.... The lawsuit isn't a surprise to Oliver. In fact, the British comic said on the episode of his show that aired on June 18 that he expected it, noting that Murray has sued several other media outlets in the past (including, in May, the New York Times).... Parts of the complaint read like it had been written by ... Donald Trump.... The complaint ... claims that '[d]efendants' broadcasts have vigorously supported and advanced Mrs. Clinton's agenda.'" -- CW

Grace Hauck of CNN: "The North Carolina man who fired an assault rifle inside a Washington, DC, pizzeria while investigating an online conspiracy theory known as 'Pizzagate' was sentenced to 48 months in prison Thursday. Edgar Maddison Welch, 29, also received 36 months of probation and was ordered to pay $5,744.33 in restitution for firing three shots with an AR-15 rifle inside the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in northwest Washington in December. He claimed he was attempting to find and rescue child sex slaves that he believed were being held at the restaurant -- a belief allegedly based on his reading of a false story circulating online that connected Hillary Clinton's campaign adviser to the pizzeria through coded messages in his leaked emails." ...

     ... CW: If only Alex Jones & Michael Flynn, Jr., both of whom spread the Pizzagate story, could get cells next door to Welch's, who was a dipshit mark targeted by these hucksters.

Way Beyond the Beltway

Robert Fife of the Toronto Globe & Mail: "A sniper with Canada's elite special forces in Iraq has shattered the world record for the longest confirmed kill shot in military history at a staggering distance of 3,540 metres. The Canadian Armed Forces confirmed Thursday that a member of Joint Task Force 2 made the record-breaking shot, killing an Islamic State insurgent during an operation in Iraq within the last month." -- CW

Wednesday
Jun212017

The Commentariat -- June 22, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Sean Sullivan, et al., of the Washington Post: "Four Republican senators from the conservative wing of their party say they oppose the Senate health-care bill as it was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday, which places the effort to overhaul the American health-care system in jeopardy as it heads for an anticipated vote in the Senate next week. Those senators -- Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah -- announced that while they cannot support the bill as its currently written, they are open to negotiating changes that could ultimately win their support.... McConnell introduced draft text -- crafted behind closed doors among a small circle of lawmakers and aides -- of the Senate GOP bill in a private meeting with Republican senators on Thursday morning.... Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R), who is up for reelection in 2018. Heller released a statement saying he has 'serious concerns' about the bill's Medicaid provisions." CW: They'll cave. McConnell's aides will massage the bill a little, & these guys will suddenly find their "serious concerns" have evaporated into the rarefied hot air of the capitol dome.

Surprise, Surprise! Philip Rucker & Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "President Trump said Thursday that he does not have 'tapes' of his private conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey, finally ending a mystery of his own creation that began last month when he suggested that he had privately recorded their talks.... After an inquiry from congressional investigators about the tapes, Trump tweeted Thursday, 'I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.'... For the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who were demanding that Trump provide information by Friday about the tapes' existence, his tweet does not settle the matter. 'We have to have an official statement, tweets aren't official,' said Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who is running the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Until they get that official response, Conaway said, he would not comment on whether a subpoena may still be issued.... Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, also said the president's tweet was not sufficient. 'We'd all like to believe that our president can be trusted when he says something; regrettably, though, he has repeatedly proved otherwise,' Schiff said.... Schiff said ... he has questions about 'why he would have said the opposite to begin with.' 'Was this an effort to intimidate James B. Comey, was this an effort to silence James B. Comey?' Schiff asked. 'Those questions still need to be answered.'" -- CW ...

Why, Mr. Schiff, Howevah Could You Accuse the President* of Lying? ...

... Dino Grandoni of the Washington Post: "... in his meandering speech [in Iowa Wednesday], Trump, perhaps tellingly..., focused ridicule at wind energy in Iowa, a state where the renewable energy industry makes up a significant portion of the energy portfolio. Only days earlier, Trump's energy secretary, Rick Perry, delivered a strikingly different message to Congress, telling lawmakers the United States will pursue an 'all-of-the-above' approach to energy production. In his Iowa speech, Trump also made unrealistic claims about putting solar panels on his long-promised border wall with Mexico and outright misleading claims about the recently exited Paris climate accord. It fits a pattern of misstatement about energy production that was also on display in Trump's Rose Garden speech announcing U.S. withdrawal from the Paris deal." ...

     ... CW: The solar-panels claim is a real hooter: (1) Trump didn't come up with the idea, as he claimed; (2) most experts agree that solar panels on a wall would be very inefficient (Trump may be unaware that the panels have to face, um, the sun); (3) they would (a) degrade & (b) be useless, since what electricity they did produce would have few buyers in the remote areas the wall is to be built.

Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: "The government may not strip someone's citizenship for lying during the naturalization process without proving the falsehood is relevant, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The court unanimously rejected the government's view that simply proving that someone lied during the process was enough. Justice Elena Kagan said that would give the government too much power.... The position is a long-held one by the federal government, but it has taken on new importance with the Trump administration's focus on deportation. Kagan wrote that the government must show an illegal act by the defendant 'played some role in her acquisition of citizenship.'" The decision does not remove plaintiff's jeopardy; rather, the Court determined that the government must prove that her lies were material to her application for naturalization, which they may well be.

*****

John Bowden of the Hill: "President Trump promised Wednesday that the Republican's bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare would have 'heart'. 'I think and I hope, I can't guarantee anything, but I hope we're gonna surprise you with a really good plan,' Trump told the crowd during a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Wednesday. 'I've been talking about a plan with heart," Trump said. "I said, 'add some money to it!' A plan with heart.' Trump also bashed Democrats for being unwilling to work with Republicans on the ObamaCare repeal.... Trump's comments come one day after Sean Spicer confirmed that Trump made remarks in a private meeting with Senate Republicans that the House bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare was 'mean, mean, mean,' and that he wanted to see the Senate bill have more 'heart.'" See also Maggie Haberman's report on Trump's Iowa speech, linked below. CW: This is, of course, Trump admitting that he has no fucking idea what's in the Senate bill. ...

... Paige Cunningham of the Washington Post: "Senate leaders on Wednesday were putting the final touches on legislation that would reshape a big piece of the U.S. health-care system by dramatically rolling back Medicaid while easing the impact on Americans who stand to lose coverage under a new bill. A discussion draft circulating Wednesday afternoon among aides and lobbyists would roll back the ACA's taxes, phase down its Medicaid expansion, rejigger its subsidies, give states wider latitude in opting out of its regulations and eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The bill largely mirrors the House measure that narrowly passed last month but with some significant changes." -- CW ...

... Jonathan Chait: "The Senate version of the American Health Care Act is supposed to be unveiled Thursday morning, but Paige Winfield Cunningham has obtained most of the relevant details. In sum, while it seemed for a time the Senate might gesture to the center, at least a bit, its bill is about as draconian as the House version.... Amazingly, the Senate bill reportedly institutes deeper Medicaid cuts than the House bill.... The most important design feature is that the Senate bill retains all the tax cuts in the House bill.... Senators have widely disparaged the House bill, and Senate moderates have talked a good game about protecting the sick and vulnerable. President Trump even admitted privately the House bill was 'mean.' But the bill they're voting on does pretty much the same thing." -- CW

... Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times: "Tucked inside the Republican bill to replace Obamacare is a plan to ... permanently restructure Medicaid, which covers tens of millions of poor or disabled Americans, including millions who are living in nursing homes with conditions like Alzheimer's or the aftereffects of a stroke.... The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the changes would lead to a reduction in spending on Medicaid of more than $800 billion over a decade. (That figure also includes additional cuts to the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.)... Most researchers who study the program closely say that it is already quite lean." -- CW ...

... CW: In case you're a high-income Democrat with good, reliable health insurance & are thinking the silver lining here is "Well, at least my own taxes will go down," think again. While your federal income tax may indeed be reduced, your actual costs may not. If you live in a blue state, your state will probably try to cover what the Republican Congress taketh away, so your state taxes will rise. Local taxes may, too, as counties & large cities try to care for your neighbors who have been pushed into financial straits by rising premiums. Meanwhile, your "good" insurance rates will certainly go up & so will any part of your own health care you have to pay for out-of-pocket. Hospitals & some doctors will treat patients who need urgent care, & if they can't suck blood out of those turnips, they'll suck it out of you. Many of those patients will be in extremis, & therefore needing really costly treatment for conditions that could have been caught & treated before the ailment became a life-and-death crisis. So the only "silver lining" is "Well, at least a lot of those sick people will die quickly." Nice.

... Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post: "Back when the Affordable Care Act passed on a party-line vote in 2010, the then-minority leader [Mitch McConnell] was full-throated in his denunciation of 'the partisan route' that majority Democrats had taken and of the /closed-door sweetheart deals that were made to gain the slimmest margin for passage of a bill that's about their health care.' If Republicans got back in control, McConnell vowed in 2014, 'there's not a chance' they would act as Democrats did. But that earlier process -- which also included many months of committee hearings and bipartisan negotiation -- was as transparent as a fish tank compared with the drafting of a health-care bill that is taking place privately in McConnell's office, largely with a small cadre of aides.... McConnell, however, is far from the only Republican who seems to suffer from a sudden case of amnesia." -- CW

John Bowden of the Hill: "A Capitol Hill police officer who was injured in a shooting last week at a congressional baseball practice threw out the first pitch Wednesday at the Congressional Women's Softball Game. Crystal Griner, who was still in a wheelchair from the shooting that injured Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and four others, threw two pitches before the game began Wednesday night. The pitches were captured by social media users, who applauded Griner for heading to the game as soon as she was released from the hospital." -- CW ...

... Rachel Bade of Politico: "House Majority Whip Steve Scalise's condition has been upgraded from 'serious' to 'fair,' his doctors said Wednesday. 'Congressman Steve Scalise continues to make good progress,' his doctors at MedStar Washington Hospital Center said in a statement. 'He ... is beginning an extended period of healing and rehabilitation.'" ...

     ... CW: I'm very glad to hear that, & I wish him a safe, speedy recovery. Too bad Scalise won't be "fair" to the millions of Americans whose health insurance & Medicaid payments he made sure the House would cut.

Meet Your GOP Congressman. Abby Livinginston of the Texas Tribune: "U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land [Texas], on Tuesday walked back comments he had made on local radio in which he accused -- without evidence -- former President Bill Clinton of admitting to the murder of a deceased aide and of threatening former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.... Olson speculated on local radio that in that [tarmac] conversation [between Clinton & Lynch], Clinton admitted he was a party to the 1993 death of White House aide Vincent Foster and essentially threatened some similar form of retribution against Lynch if she did not drop an investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's email server. There is no evidence Clinton said such a thing to Lynch, and every single official arm of the government that has investigated Foster's death has ruled it a suicide...." -- CW

MEANWHILE, Montana Democrats buy Greg Gianforte (R-Violent) a new outfit for his first day in Congress: a nice orange jumpsuit. -- CW

Jonathan Chait: "The special elections [this year] exist because Donald Trump appointed Republicans in Congress to his administration, carefully selecting ones whose vacancy would not give Democrats a potential opening. It feels like Democrats somehow can't win, but that is entirely because every contest has been held on heavily Republican turf.... As Dave Wasserman points out, in the four special elections, [Democrats] have overperformed the partisan baseline in their districts by an average of 8 percentage points[.]" -- CW ...

... Steve M.: "Even 'nice' Republicans in highly educated districts respond to 'Democrats suck.' So the GOP doesn't need an agenda. GOP voters don't need to like the Republican president. But plenty of Democrats don't turn out despite displeasure with Republicans. So, yeah, I guess Democrats need an agenda, because even the awfulness of McConnell, Ryan, and Trump isn't motivation enough." -- CW


Poor, Poor, Pitiful Prez. Maggie Haberman
of the New York Times: A rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, "Mr. Trump's first since the end of April, served as a venting session for a pent-up president who has stewed and brooded from inside the gilded cage of the White House over attacks from investigators, Democrats and the news media, his interview schedule drastically pared down and his aides imploring him to stay off Twitter. Style-heavy and substance-light, the speech went over an hour: an epic version of the fact-challenged, meandering and, even for his detractors, mesmerizing speeches he gave during his upstart presidential campaign.... Free from his handlers for roughly 70 minutes, Mr. Trump described his administration as he wished it to be: one in which he had made historic governing accomplishments and been stymied solely by the 'resistance.'" -- CW ...

... Graham Russell of the Guardian: "Donald Trump has said he doesn't want 'a poor person' to hold economic roles in his administration as he used an Iowa rally to defend his decision to appoint the wealthy to his cabinet. The US president told a crowd on Wednesday night: 'Somebody said why did you appoint a rich person to be in charge of the economy? No it's true. And Wilbur's [commerce secretary Wilbur Ross] a very rich person in charge of commerce. I said: "Because that's the kind of thinking we want."'... The president explained that Ross and his economic adviser Gary Cohn 'had to give up a lot to take these jobs' and that Cohn in particular, a former president of Goldman Sachs, 'went from massive pay days to peanuts'. Trump added: 'And I love all people, rich or poor, but in those particular positions I just don't want a poor person. Does that make sense?'" ...

     ... CW: Well, no. By Trump's standards, economists like Janet Yellin, Joe Stiglitz & Paul Krugman, even though they're not poor by most people's standards, are nowhere nearly as wealthy as Ross & Cohn, are not qualified to make macroeconomic judgments. ...

... Ignoramus-in-Chief. Mallory Shelbourne of the Hill: "President Trump in a rally on Wednesday evening said immigrants who enter the United States should not be eligible for welfare benefits for five years, though such a law has already existed for 20 years. 'The time has come for new immigration rules which say that those seeking admission into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years,' Trump told a crowd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.... Known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), the legislation was passed during the administration of former President Bill Clinton and said that an immigrant is 'not eligible for any Federal means-tested public benefit' for 5 years, which starts on the date the immigrant enters the country. There are exceptions under the law...." -- CW

Chiseler-in-Chief. Allan Frank of ABC News: "... Donald Trump's company, now run by his adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, has requested a property tax break of a quarter of a million dollars for the Trump National Golf Club, Westchester, in the village of Briarcliff Manor, New York, according to town officials.... According to [Gloria] Fried[, the town's tax collector], the Trump Organization filed a tax grievance on Tuesday with the town assessor's office in Ossining, valuing the course at $7.5 million, or half of the $15.1 million the town calculates should be the tax basis for the course. This is the same course, spread over 143 acres in Westchester County, that presidential candidate Donald Trump listed on his publicly-filed financial disclosure report as being worth $50 million in 2016.... Fried said that in past years, the Trump Organization has paid their taxes -- which are still being litigated for 2015 and 2016 in local courts -- with checks stamped: 'Paid Under Protest.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Timothy O'Brien has a long opinion piece in Bloomberg about Donald, Donald Jr., & Ivanka Trump's dealings with Bayrock, a shady Russian develop firm, & one of its principals, "a career criminal named Felix Sater who had ties to Russian and American organized crime groups.... It's unclear whether Sater and Bayrock are part of [special counsel Robert] Mueller's investigation." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... MEANWHILE. Julie Davis & Matt Flegenheimer of the New York Times: "The White House is quietly lobbying House Republicans to weaken a bill overwhelmingly passed by the Senate last week that would slap tough new sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 election and allow Congress to block any future move by President Trump to lift any penalties against Moscow. The effort is designed to head off an awkward and politically damaging veto fight between the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress on Russia at a time when Mr. Trump is laboring under the shadow of multiple investigations about his campaign's potential collusion with Moscow." -- CW ...

Matt Zapotosky & Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "People connected to the Russian government tried to hack election-related computer systems in 21 states, a Department of Homeland Security official testified Wednesday. Samuel Liles, the Department of Homeland Security's acting director of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division, said vote tallying mechanisms were unaffected, and the hackers appeared to be scanning for vulnerabilities.... Liles was testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia's efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, and his remarks add some clarity to the breadth of the Kremlin's cyber mischief.... In a separate hearing before the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified that Russia's meddling was 'unprecedented, the scale and the scope of what we saw them doing.' The testimony came a day after White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a briefing he did not know whether President Trump believes Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Emmarie Huetteman of the New York Times: "The Obama administration feared that acknowledging Russian meddling in the 2016 election would reveal too much about intelligence gathering and be interpreted as 'taking sides' in the race, the former secretary of homeland security said Wednesday. One of the candidates, as you recall, was predicting that the election was going to be "rigged" in some way,' said Jeh Johnson, the former secretary, referring to President Trump's unsubstantiated accusation before Election Day. 'We were concerned that by making the statement we might, in and of itself, be challenging the integrity of the election process itself.'" -- CW ...

... Peter Stevenson of the Washington Post: "Jeh Johnson, who served as Obama's homeland security secretary from 2013 to 2017, had harsh words for [the Democratic National Committee] at a House Intelligence Committee hearing Wednesday, saying that the Democratic National Committee refused to accept help from the Department of Homeland Security, even after its email systems were hacked.... Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) asked whether the DNC accepted his department's help after they knew about the hack. 'To my disappointment, not to my knowledge, sir,' he answered. 'The response I got was, the FBI had spoken to them, they don't want our help, they have CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm.' Johnson explained that the DHS had actually helped other departments with suspected hacks, and had been able to stem the damage -- but the DNC just wasn't interested.... Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who served as chair of the DNC from 2011 until she resigned in July 2016, gave The Washington Post a statement after Wednesday's hearing, saying officials did not contact her personally about the hack[.]" -- CW ...

... Jordain Carney of the Hill: "Top members of the Judiciary Committee indicated Wednesday that they will move forward with their own investigation into Russia's election meddling, after meeting with special counsel Robert Mueller. 'We appreciate Special Counsel Mueller's willingness to meet with us, and both parties have committed to keeping an open dialogue as we proceed,' Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a joint statement after the meeting." ...

... Seung Min Kim & Josh Gerstein of Politico: "... [Chuck] Grassley's reputation as a zealous investigator who can rankle administrations of both parties could be a quiet yet potent threat to ... Donald Trump, whose associates are under scrutiny in the unfurling investigations over whether they colluded with Moscow in the presidential campaign. Now at the helm of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley is swinging his powerful gavel into the Russia probes by his decision to investigate the circumstances behind the firing of former FBI director James Comey ...." ...

     ... CW: You never known what Chuck will do. He could go after Trump like a junkyard dog or he could use the committee to investigate, as Rep. Peter Olson (RTP-Texas) suggested, whether or not Bill "Clinton admitted [to Loretta Lynch] he was a party to the 1993 death of White House aide Vincent Foster and essentially threatened some similar form of retribution against Lynch if she did not drop an investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's email server." (See link above.)

Austin Wright of Politico: "Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, wants the White House to explain why senior adviser Jared Kushner still has a security clearance despite reports he failed to disclose meetings with Russian officials and businessmen. Cummings sent a letter signed by all the Democrats on his committee to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on Wednesday requesting documents by July 5, including Kushner's security clearance application and records of his contacts with Russians.... His letter also questions why the White House didn't suspend the security clearance of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after being informed by former acting Attorney General Sally Yates that he might be susceptible to Russian blackmail." -- CW ...

... Matthew Mosk & James Meek of ABC News: "House Democrats are raising concerns about the security clearance held by ... Jared Kushner, saying suspicions about his contacts with Russian officials should be enough to suspend his access to sensitive information. 'When there are credible allegations that employees may be unfit to continue accessing classified information, security clearances are supposed to be suspended while the allegations are investigated,' wrote Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, in a letter to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. 'Mr. Kushner reportedly failed to disclose contacts with dozens of foreign officials on his security clearance application.'... As a senior adviser to Trump and as someone tasked with helping orchestrate Middle East peace talks, Kushner likely has access to highly sensitive intelligence. According to the letter, his top-secret clearance is temporary, pending a routine screening by the FBI." -- CW ...

... William Booth of the Washington Post: "... Jared Kushner arrived [in Jerusalem] Wednesday evening with an audacious mission: to see if it is possible to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Few voices in Jerusalem or Ramallah sound very hopeful as the untested Kushner came for two days of preliminary talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas." CW: As part of the talks, Netanyahu & Abbas intend to inform Kushner, contra assertions by the U.S. Geographer-in-Chief, that Israel & Palestine are in the Middle East. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Max Greenwood of the Hill: "Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's pick to lead the department's $1.3 trillion student loan system is the CEO of a private student loan company. A. Wayne Johnson, who was tapped as chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid (FSA), is the founder and chief executive of Reunion Financial Services, a company that originates and refinances student loans. That credential is notably absent from the Education Department's release on Tuesday announcing Johnson's appointment.... Johnson will be appointed to take the place of James Runcie, who abruptly resigned last month over a dispute with DeVos. Just before he stepped down, the former student aid COO refused to testify before the House Oversight Committee about the agency's rising levels of improper payments for federal student aid programs." -- CW ...

... ** Gail Collins' readers pick the Worst Trump Cabinet Winner, and Betsy DeVos won, though Scott Pruitt & the Evil Elf ran close seconds. Collins highlights some LOL commentary: "Let's be extremely clear that this was not a scientific survey. In fact, it was pretty hard to get any count at all since many readers couldn't resist the temptation to take the easy route and pick all of the above. ('I've seen better cabinets at Ikea.')"

Where Truth = Terrorism. Aidan McLaughlin of Mediaite: "Conservative blog Media Equalizer has been running an extensive three-part series on Sheriff David Clarke's response to CNN's Andrew Kaczynski, whose reporting sunk Clarke's would-be role at the Department of Homeland Security. Clarke who -- when he's not neglecting prisoners at his Milwaukee jail is traveling the country threatening strangers and collecting novelty pins -- bashed Kaczynski in an interview with Media Equalizer, a blog pitched as the right wing response to Media Matters (*shudders*). After reports surfaced that Clarke, an outspoken and controversial supporter of ... Donald Trump would be taking a job at the DHS, CNN's K-File team found that Clarke had plagiarized 47 parts of his 2013 master's thesis with the Naval Postgraduate School.... Since withdrawing from consideration for the post, Clarke has repeatedly derided Kaczynski as a 'college dropout.' Speaking with Media Equalizer, Clarke said Kaczynski is 'not accomplished,' a 'hired gun,' a 'defamation-of-character specialist,' and 'a purveyor in his smear tactics.' 'He uses fear and intimidation against his targets -- it's electronic terrorism,' Clarke added." -- CW

Sheri Fink & James Risen of the New York Times: "Fifteen years after he helped devise the brutal interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects in secret C.I.A. prisons, John Bruce Jessen, a former military psychologist, expressed ambivalence about the program. He described himself and a fellow military psychologist, James Mitchell, as reluctant participants in using the techniques, some of which are widely viewed as torture, but also justified the practices as effective in getting resistant detainees to cooperate.... The two psychologists -- whom C.I.A. officials have called architects of the interrogation program, a designation they dispute -- are defendants in the only lawsuit that may hold participants accountable for causing harm.... The suit, filed in Federal District Court in Spokane, Wash., was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several former prisoners of the Central Intelligence Agency." Includes deposition video." -- CW

The Snickers Caper -- Foiled. Jason Leopold & David Mack of BuzzFeed: "Several CIA contractors were kicked out of the agency for stealing more than $3,000 in snacks from vending machines, according to official documents newly obtained by BuzzFeed News. The thefts took place starting in the fall of 2012 and continued through March 2013, according to a declassified Office of Inspector General report from October 2013. The report is one of hundreds only recently released to BuzzFeed News through a Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit filed in 2015. The 'theft scheme' involved unplugging a cable connecting the machines to an electronic payment system called FreedomPay, and then using 'unfunded FreedomPay cards' to buy the snacks at no cost. After being informed of the thefts, the OIG installed 'surveillance cameras at several key vending locations where a high occurrence of thefts were taking place,' according to the report. 'Video footage recovered from the surveillance cameras captured numerous perpetrators engaged in the FreedomPay theft scheme, all of whom were readily identifiable as Agency contract personnel,' the report states." -- CW

Annals of "Journalism, Ctd. Jeff Horwitz, et al., of the AP: "The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday fired its highly regarded chief foreign affairs correspondent after evidence emerged of his involvement in prospective commercial deals -- including one involving arms sales to foreign governments -- with an international businessman who was one of his key sources. The reporter, Jay Solomon, was offered a 10 percent stake in a fledgling company, Denx LLC, by Farhad Azima, an Iranian-born aviation magnate who has ferried weapons for the CIA. It was not clear whether Solomon ever received money or formally accepted a stake in the company.... Azima was the subject of an AP investigative article published Tuesday. During the course of its investigation, the AP obtained emails and text messages between Azima and Solomon, as well as an operating agreement for Denx dated March 2015, which listed an apparent stake for Solomon. As part of its reporting, the AP had asked the Journal about the documents appearing to link Solomon and Azima." -- CW ...

     ... Erik Wemple of the Washington Post: The "documented lapses by Solomon ... reach a new frontier of ethical depravity. Only through a deep AP investigation did these dealings come to light, as opposed to the more obvious line-crossing of the fellows noted above. Not only that: Solomon thrust the Wall Street Journal into the worlds of surveillance and Middle East politics -- not as a chronicler of such topics, but as a possible player. Bonkers. Do read the AP's investigation of [Farhad] Azima, which bears the headline, "Worth killing over": How a plane mogul dodged US scrutiny.' It's a story that the Wall Street Journal wouldn't tell, for reasons that we now know." -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

Jordan Smith of the Intercept: "Twenty-five years after they were convicted of a crime that never happened, Fran and Dan Keller were formally exonerated on June 20 in Austin, Texas. The couple's prosecution in 1992 was part of a wave of cases across the country amid an episode of mass hysteria known as the Satanic Panic. Beginning in the 1980s, accusations flew that the childcare industry had been infiltrated by bands of Satanists hell-bent on brainwashing and sexually abusing young children. The Kellers' exoneration closes a decadeslong chapter of profound injustice for a couple that paid an exceptionally high price for the credulousness of local law enforcement.... The exoneration is the first for the nascent conviction integrity unit of the Travis County District Attorney's Office under the new DA, Margaret Moore." CW: Read this story, then tell me Smith is not a professional. She worked this case for years.

Bruce Vielmetti of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Former Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown was found not-guilty Wednesday in an on-duty fatal shooting of Sylville Smith that set off two days of violent unrest last year in parts of the Sherman Park neighborhood. The verdict drew an emotional reaction in the courtroom, prompting Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Conen to clear the jury from the courtroom as deputies escorted members of the gallery out." -- CW

Avi Selk of the Washington Post: The National Rifle Association has "been quick to defend [many] gun owners who made national news. [Philandro] Castile had a valid permit for his firearm, reportedly told the officer about the gun to avoid a confrontation, and was fatally shot anyway after being told to hand over his license. So some NRA members were furious when the organization released a tepid statement more than a day after the shooting that merely called it 'troublesome' and promised that 'the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known.' A year later, the investigation is over, and many more facts are known. Police recordings and court records confirmed initial reports that Castile had tried to defuse the situation, assuring the officer that he wasn't reaching for his weapon. On Friday a jury acquitted the officer, Jeronimo Yanez, of manslaughter. On Tuesday, video of the traffic stop was made public, showing Castile calmly telling the officer about his firearms -- followed within seconds by the officer shooting him and cursing in what sounds like a panic. So outrage is boiling again. And still the NRA has nothing to say.... The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus [-- Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) --] told the Associated Press that the jury had effectively told African Americans that 'the Second Amendment does not apply to them.'" -- CW ...

... Thanks to Nisky Guy for this link:

Devlin Barrett & Mark Berman of the Washington Post: "A man walked up to a uniformed police officer at the Bishop International Airport in Flint, Mich., and stabbed him in the neck Wednesday morning with a large knife, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court. A law enforcement officer who watched the stabbing and subdued the attacker said that the man -- later identified by officials as Amor M. Ftouhi -- yelled 'Allahu akbar' before stabbing the officer, an FBI special agent said in the affidavit. Ftouhi then yelled 'Allah' several times after stabbing the police officer, the agent said, before saying something about killings in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.... Officials said Ftouhi is a 50-year-old Canadian who had entered the U.S. on June 16 in New York.... Officials said the wounded officer is in stable condition and is expected to survive.... Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Wednesday evening that the stabbing was being investigated as an act of terrorism." -- CW

Way Beyond

Andrew Roth of the Washington Post: "A NATO F-16 fighter approached and was then warned away from a jet carrying Russia's defense minister, Russian media reported Wednesday, the latest in a string of aerial incidents that have marked rising tensions between the West and Russia. The incident occurred over the Baltic Sea in northeastern Europe, according to reporters traveling with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in international airspace crowded with Russian and NATO jets testing one another's nerve in sometimes dangerously close proximity." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Loveday Morris of the Washington Post: "For more than 800 years, the minaret of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri has punctuated the skyline of Mosul, calling worshipers to prayer.... But the Mosul icon was reduced to rubble Wednesday, the latest casualty in the war to wrest the city from Islamic State militants. The militants blew up the mosque and its minaret as Iraqi forces­ came within about 50 yards of the building, according to Iraq's joint operations command, which published a video that appeared to back up its claim, showing a blast emanating from the complex." -- CW

Tuesday
Jun202017

The Commentariat -- June 21, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Matt Zapotosky & Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "People connected to the Russian government tried to hack election-related computer systems in 21 states, a Department of Homeland Security official testified Wednesday. Samuel Liles, the Department of Homeland Security's acting director of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division, said vote tallying mechanisms were unaffected, and the hackers appeared to be scanning for vulnerabilities.... Liles was testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia's efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, and his remarks add some clarity to the breadth of the Kremlin's cyber mischief.... In a separate hearing before the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified that Russia's meddling was 'unprecedented, the scale and the scope of what we saw them doing.' The testimony came a day after White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a briefing he did not know whether President Trump believes Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election." -- CW

Chiseler-in-Chief. Allan Frank of ABC News: "... Donald Trump's company, now run by his adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, has requested a property tax break of a quarter of a million dollars for the Trump National Golf Club, Westchester, in the village of Briarcliff Manor, New York, according to town officials.... According to [Gloria] Fried[, the town's tax collector], the Trump Organization filed a tax grievance on Tuesday with the town assessor's office in Ossining, valuing the course at $7.5 million, or half of the $15.1 million the town calculates should be the tax basis for the course. This is the same course, spread over 143 acres in Westchester County, that presidential candidate Donald Trump listed on his publicly-filed financial disclosure report as being worth $50 million in 2016.... Fried said that in past years, the Trump Organization has paid their taxes -- which are still being litigated for 2015 and 2016 in local courts -- with checks stamped: 'Paid Under Protest.'" -- CW

William Booth of the Washington Post: "... Jared Kushner arrived [in Jerusalem] Wednesday evening with an audacious mission: to see if it is possible to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Few voices in Jerusalem or Ramallah sound very hopeful as the untested Kushner came for two days of preliminary talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas." -- CW

Timothy O'Brien has a long opinion piece in Bloomberg about Donald, Donald Jr., & Ivanka Trump's dealings with Bayrock, a shady Russian develop firm, & one of its principals, "a career criminal named Felix Sater who had ties to Russian and American organized crime groups.... It's unclear whether Sater and Bayrock are part of [special counsel Robert] Mueller's investigation." -- CW

Andrew Roth of the Washington Post: "A NATO F-16 fighter approached and was then warned away from a jet carrying Russia's defense minister, Russian media reported Wednesday, the latest in a string of aerial incidents that have marked rising tensions between the West and Russia. The incident occurred over the Baltic Sea in northeastern Europe, according to reporters traveling with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in international airspace crowded with Russian and NATO jets testing one another's nerve in sometimes dangerously close proximity." -- CW

*****

Jonathan Martin & Richard Fausset of the New York Times: "Karen Handel, a veteran Republican officeholder, overcame a deluge of liberal money to win a special House election in Georgia on Tuesday.... Addressing supporters in Atlanta, Ms. Handel noted with pride that she had become the first Republican woman sent to Congress from Georgia, and she pledged to represent all of her constituents, including Mr. Ossoff's supporters. But she made clear that she would work to pass major elements of the Republican agenda, including health care and tax overhauls." ...

     ... CW: This was a referendum on white people in Georgia. Their candidate said she did not support a livable wage. White people are good with that. I've thought for a long time that Lincoln was wrong; he should have cut those bastards loose. ...

... Matt Yglesias of Vox: "Ossoff was the best recruit Democrats had available in the district, but a guy with no elective experience whose house lies just outside the district boundaries is hardly an ideal candidate.... One thing [Democrats] might want to try is developing a substantive policy agenda to run on. They came close this time, and they'll just need to put forth an attractive package for voters in the 2018 midterms.... A chief of staff on Capitol Hill observed to me Tuesday morning that absolutely every faction in the Democratic Party -- from Third Way to the Berniecrats -- thinks Democrats 'need a positive economic vision,' and not just to talk about Trump. The DCCC's analysts agree." -- CW ...

... John Cassidy of the New Yorker: "If such a big swing were repeated nationwide in the midterms, it would produce a hefty Democratic majority. Still, as David Axelrod pointed out on CNN, shortly after the network called the race, in politics you don't get prizes for coming in second. And the ultimate message of the evening was that, in this heavily contested Republican district, traditional party lines held up, despite deep local misgivings about Trump.... In a district as red as Georgia's Sixth, the disheartening truth is that Ossoff probably wouldn't have done better had he run to the left. While many Republicans have some misgivings about Trump, they have even more serious misgivings about voting for a Democrat.... For now..., it is Trump and congressional Republicans who are smiling. Their Faustian pact remains intact." -- CW ...

... Polls closed at 7 pm ET Tuesday in the race between Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel to replace America's top health insurance opponent Rep. Tom Price. Live updates of results are here. New York Times: "Georgia often takes a long time to count its votes. Be cautious about the early results: They will be from people who voted early, and people who vote on Election Day may be different." -- CW ...

     ... At 8 pm ET, the Times is posting the incoming results on its front page, too. ...

     ... At 9:40 pm ET, Handel is 5 points ahead, with 48 percent reportng. CW: I don't see Ossoff's making up the difference. ...

     ... At 10:15 pm ET, the AP declared Handel the winner.

     ... New York Times reporters Maggie Haberman, Alex Burns, Jonathan Weisman and Nate Cohn will provide live analysis here. You have to refresh the page to get the latest commentary. CW: I'm sure the results will completely bum me. Hope I'm wrong.

Live updates of election results for the House race in South Carolina to replace budget bunko boy Mick Mulvaney are here. New York Times: "Ralph Norman, a Republican and a former state representative, faces Archie Parnell, a Democrat and a wealthy former banker, in a special election for a U.S. House seat vacated by Mick Mulvaney, now director of the Office of Management and Budget. Polls close at 7 p.m. Eastern. Mr. Norman is expected to have an advantage over Mr. Parnell." -- CW ...

     ... CW: With 93 percent reporting, the AP has called the race for Republican Ralph Norman. However, at that point Norman had received only 50.9 percent to Democrat Archie Parnell's 48.2 percent. That's not much of a spread. The final result was 51.1 to 47.9, remarkably close to the Georgia race, where the Republican won 51.9 to 48.1 -- a 3.8 (Georgia) spread v. a 3.2 (S.C.) spread.


The Most Unethical President Ever, Ctd. Shawn Boburg
of the Washington Post: "President Trump's budget calls for sharply reducing funding for programs that shelter the poor and combat homelessness -- with a notable exception: It leaves intact a type of federal housing subsidy that is paid directly to private landlords. One of those landlords is Trump himself, who earns millions of dollars each year as a part-owner of Starrett City, the nation's largest subsidized housing complex.... Trump's business empire intersects with government in countless ways, from taxation to permitting to the issuing of patents, but the housing subsidy is one of the clearest examples of the conflicts experts have predicted.... Trump once called Starrett City 'one of the best investments I ever made,' but it was his father who was an investor in its construction, according to a representative of Starrett City." -- CW ...

... David Dayen in the New Republic: How Trump used one of his many executive orders specifically to help Met Life, a Trump contributor that is suing bank regulators.

Matt Apuzzo, et al., of the New York Times: "Senior officials across the government became convinced in January that the incoming national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, had become vulnerable to Russian blackmail. At the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- agencies responsible for keeping American secrets safe from foreign spies -- career officials agreed that Mr. Flynn represented an urgent problem. Yet nearly every day for three weeks, the new C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, sat in the Oval Office and briefed President Trump on the nation's most sensitive intelligence -- with Mr. Flynn listening. Mr. Pompeo has not said whether C.I.A. officials left him in the dark about their views of Mr. Flynn, but one administration official said Mr. Pompeo did not share any concerns about Mr. Flynn with the president. The episode highlights another remarkable aspect of Mr. Flynn's stormy 25-day tenure in the White House: He sat atop a national security apparatus that churned ahead, despite its own conclusion that he was at risk of being compromised by a hostile foreign power." -- CW ...

... Kevin Johnson of USA Today: "Jeff Sessions ... has [a] private lawyer of his own. Attorney Charles 'Chuck' Cooper, a longtime advocate for conservative causes, has been providing counsel to the attorney general, most recently in preparation for his appearance last week before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible collusion between President Trump's campaign and Russian officials. Cooper confirmed Tuesday that he is representing the attorney general but declined further comment, citing 'confidential client matters.'" -- CW ...

... Tom LoBianco of CNN: "House investigators will examine on Wednesday Russia's attempts to hack into state elections systems with former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson before the House intelligence committee. 'In 2016 the Russian government, at the direction of (Russian President) Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election -- plain and simple. Now, the key question for the president and Congress is: What are we going to do to protect the American people and their democracy from this kind of thing in the future?' Johnson wrote in prepared testimony released by the committee Tuesday evening." -- CW

CW: If you thought a post on the emoluments clause couldn't possibly be entertaining, read Jeff Toobin's report. Louis XVI! Ben Franklin!

The Incredible Shrinking White House Press Briefing. Rosie Gray of the Atlantic: "... instead of canceling [press briefings] entirely, the White House has appeared to embrace a different strategy: simply downgrading them bit by bit, from 'briefings' to 'gaggles,' and from on-camera to off-camera. Guidance for the briefings have begun to include a note that audio from them cannot be used. Additionally, though Trump has held short press conferences when foreign leaders visit, he has not held a full press conference since February.... Asked why the briefings are now routinely held off-camera, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said in a text message 'Sean got fatter,' and did not respond to a follow-up." CW: To better utilize our taxpayer-funded facilities, I'm planning to book the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room for a gun-control fundraiser. ...

... CW: Chelsea Clinton, who is as dimwitted as her parents are smart, called out Bannon for "fat-shaming" Spicer. ...

... David Graham of the Atlantic: As Tuesday's briefing "showed, it's almost not worth the trouble. Toward the end of the (very short) briefing, Spicer was asked to answer 'just very plainly ... does President Trump believe that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 elections?' Spicer demurred: 'I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing.'... Incredulity is the appropriate response here.... So either Spicer is lying and has talked to Trump; or else Spicer's presence is totally pointless, because he's not only unwilling but actually unable to respond to the most basic questions.... Maybe he is scared to say anything definitive about the president's positions.... Indeed, during Tuesday's briefing, Spicer said, 'We've had I think positive moment on China over the past five months of this administration. We continue to work with them and others to put the appropriate pressure on North Korea. Moments after the briefing ended, Trump tweeted a statement that seemed to totally contradict that: 'While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!'" -- CW ...

Donald Trump might as well get behind the podium himself, as the press coverage is the part of his presidency he cares the most deeply about. You can't be a credible press secretary when your boss makes you tell preposterous lies. You can't be a credible press secretary when you don't know what your boss thinks on key issues because he changes his mind depending on the last person he talked to. -- Tim Miller, Jeb Bush's campaign communications director

... Ezra Klein: "Trump is known to believe that his administration's main problem is that his communications staffers are failing to control the narrative and drive his message. To understand why he's wrong -- and why no communications shake-up will help Trump until Trump learns to help himself -- it's useful to read Sen. Al Franken’s new book. It contains an important lesson for Trump: A communications team is only useful if you listen to them.... There is no press strategy in the world capable of succeeding if the president of the United States is going to sit down with NBC's Lester Holt and say his White House was lying and he really did fire James Comey to squelch the Russia investigation." -- CW ...

... Maggie Haberman & Glenn Thrush of the New York Times: "... after weeks of fitful efforts to sell a job that for decades people have plotted to get, no one has jumped at the chance to become President Trump’s new press secretary, leaving the president -- at least for now -- with his beleaguered frontman, Sean Spicer. 'I'm right here!' Mr. Spicer said gamely on Tuesday, sporting a tight smile in a self-deprecating gesture that contrasted with some of his more bellicose performances in the past." ...

     ... CW: The main qualification for the job is to be competent to repeat a long list of variations on "I don't know." That's not hard, but having a Crazy Old Guy Living in the White House berate & undercut you every day could be a tad demoralizing. Spicer's annual salary is reportedly $176,471, with promises of riches to come when he moves to the private sector. If you've got a thick skin, send Reince your list: "I'll have to get back to you on that"; "I haven't discussed that with the President"; "C'mon, Glenn, we don't discuss conversations the President may or may not have with his staff."


Chris Mooney & Juliet Eilperin
of the Washington Post: "The Environmental Protection Agency has given notice to dozens of scientists that they will not be renewed in their roles in advising the agency, continuing a scientific shake-up that has already triggered resignations and charges from some researchers that the administration is politicizing the agency. Members of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) whose terms end in August will not see them renewed, according to an email sent to members and obtained by The Washington Post, though they can reapply for their posts. Moreover, five meetings of subcommittees of the board, planned for the late summer and the fall, will now be canceled because of lack of membership." CW: Officials with knowledge of the agency's plans tell the post that Administrator Scott Pruitt is planning to name new advisors Howdy Doody, Mortimer Snerd, Alfred E. Newman, and Moe, Shemp & Curly Howard. ...

... Zachary Hansen of the Arizona Republic: "The extreme heat forecast for Phoenix on Tuesday now has caused the cancellation of nearly 50 American Airlines regional airline flights out of Sky Harbor International Airport. According to a statement from American Airlines, the American Eagle regional flights use the Bombardier CRJ aircraft, which has a maximum operating temperature of 118 degrees. Tuesday's forecast for Phoenix includes a high of 120 degrees, and the flights that are affected were to take off between 3 and 6 p.m. Larger jets that fly out of Sky Harbor have higher maximum operating temperatures: Boeing, 126 degrees, and Airbus, 127 degrees, American Airlines said in a press release. Aircraft made from those manufacturers dominate the industry and are commonly flown by airlines that serve Phoenix." -- CW

Dan Lamothe of the Washington Post: "President Trump's choice to take the No. 2 job at the Pentagon had a rocky confirmation hearing Tuesday, with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) at one point threatening to withhold his nomination from a vote and other lawmakers questioning how he will overcome his lack of experience in the Defense Department. Patrick M. Shanahan, a vice president at the aerospace company and defense contractor Boeing, who was nominated in March to be deputy defense secretary, also faced questions about how he will manage day-to-day operations in the Pentagon while recusing himself from all decisions with a tie to Boeing. Shanahan has worked for the defense behemoth since 1986, with stints overseeing civilian airliner programs and military equipment." CW: McCain is all hat & no cattle; he'll vote to confirm Deputy Defense Contractor Secretary Shanahan. See also Brian Beutler's post, linked below.


StealthcareTM Gloria, Ctd.

Laura Litvan of Bloomberg: "One of the Senate Republicans charged with negotiating an Obamacare replacement expressed frustration Tuesday with the secret process, saying that even he hasn't seen the proposal set to be released in two days for a possible floor vote next week. 'I haven't seen it yet, either,' said Senator Mike Lee of Utah amid complaints by other Republicans that they don't know what's in the health-care measure being drafted by their own party's leaders. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to release a 'discussion draft' Thursday and that it will go to the Senate floor for a vote 'likely next week.'... 'Even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing a bill within this working group, it's not being written by us," Lee said [in a video posted on his Facebook page]. 'It's apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate. So if you're frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration. I share it wholeheartedly.'" -- CW ...

... Brian Beutler: "... while some Republicans might admit that their own methods are contemptible, they will never allow that they are essentially unprecedented or even worth stopping. The aftershocks of the AHCA, should it make the jump from secret bill to public law, are almost impossible to contemplate, and will roil politics for years. Every single Republican in the Senate is responsible for the fact that we've reached this precipice.... Having succeeded in perverting the public record with lies about Obamacare, Republicans in Congress see no downside to asserting that what they're doing today is the same thing Democrats did eight years ago." -- CW ...

... Greg Sargent: "We already knew that Senate Republicans were going to try to ram through their health-care bill by resorting to a scandalously secretive, absurdly compressed process. But now we have the details: According to the Wall Street Journal, the text of the bill will be released this Thursday; the Congressional Budget Office will release a score of the bill next Monday or Tuesday; and the Senate may well vote on it next Thursday. Unfortunately, there are signs this morning that the Republican strategy is already working precisely as intended." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... The Ignorance Project. Judd Legum of ThinkProgress: "A short interview Tuesday morning on MSNBC revealed why Mitch McConnell is pursuing it anyway. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), appeared on Morning Joe, and was asked if he'd seen the bill. Corker said he had not. Although the bill is based on the House version, Corker now had an easy way to avoid discussing anything of substance about a plan to could leave hundreds of thousands of people in his state without health insurance.... The conversation was brief (How long can you talk about a bill that no one has seen?) and Corker emerged unscathed.... The exchange above is far preferable to Republicans than having to defend the substance of their party's plans on health care." -- CW ...

... Thomas Kaplan & Robert Pear of the New York Times: "In impassioned speeches on the Senate floor on Monday night, Democrats complained that the bill was being developed out of public view. Before Congress adopted the Affordable Care Act, Democrats held numerous public hearings, and the Senate debated the measure on the floor for 25 days. Senate Republican leaders plan to push through their repeal bill under arcane budget rules that would limit debate on it to 20 hours." Emphasis added. -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd.

I was the op-ed editor at The Wall Street Journal at the peak of the Whitewater scandal. We ran a series of investigative pieces 'raising serious questions' (as we say in the scandal business) about the nefarious things the Clintons were thought to have done back in Arkansas. Now I confess I couldn't follow all the actual allegations made in those essays. They were six jungles deep in the weeds. But I do remember the intense atmosphere that the scandal created. A series of bombshell revelations came out in the media, which seemed monumental at the time. A special prosecutor was appointed and indictments were expected. Speculation became the national sport. In retrospect Whitewater seems overblown. And yet it has to be confessed that, at least so far, the Whitewater scandal was far more substantive than the Russia-collusion scandal now gripping Washington. -- David Brooks, in the New York Times, Tuesday

... Charles Pierce: "This may be the most shameless passage of political journalism I have ever read. It contains more of the elements of passive-aggression, self-absolution, historical amnesia, and outright falsehood in the same place than any other single location this side of the author's own frontal lobes." Read on. -- CW

Katrina vandel Heuvel of the Nation in the Washington Post: "For all of Trump's griping about 'fake news,' the mainstream media's prevailing focus on palace intrigue and White House scandals has come at the expense of substantive policy coverage, allowing Trump and the Republican Party to advance harmful, hugely unpopular policies without the scrutiny they deserve.... While the investigations into Trump's campaign and the president's possible obstruction of justice are clearly newsworthy, they have denied oxygen to other issues that have a far greater impact on Americans' daily lives. (On the day [Jeff] Sessions testified, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) urged his Twitter followers to focus 90 percent of their attention on health care.)... Perhaps [the media] simply learned the wrong lesson from the campaign: that keeping the American people shocked, rather than informed, is the easiest path to the ratings they crave. Either way, it's toxic to our democracy." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)


Dan Lamothe
of the Washington Post: "A Russian fighter jet came 'within several feet' of an Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane over the Baltic Sea and lingered by the side of the U.S. plane for several minutes on Monday, U.S. military officials said.... The Russian Su-27 maneuvered its wingtip within a few feet of the larger, slower RC-135 for several minutes, said Meghan Henderson, a spokeswoman for U.S. European Command. The Pentagon considered the incident, known as an 'intercept,' unsafe because of the 'high rate of closure speed' and the 'poor control of the aircraft' that the Russian pilot had, Henderson said." -- CW ...

... Michael Gordon of the New York Times: "An American F-15E fighter jet shot down an Iranian-made armed drone over southeast Syria on Tuesday that was flying toward American-backed Syrian fighters and their advisers, Pentagon officials said. The episode was a fresh indication that the air war between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the American military is likely to continue, and perhaps even escalate, even as the United States has sought to keep its focus on defeating the Islamic State militants operating in Syria and Iraq. The F-15E intercepted the drone and tried to get it to change course, but it continued to fly toward the fighters and was shot down. American officials said that the aircraft was a Shahed 129, the same type of Iranian drone that an American warplane blasted on June 8 after it dropped a bomb near American-supported Syrian fighters and their coalition advisers." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Jason Leopold of BuzzFeed: "In the seven years since WikiLeaks published the largest leak of classified documents in history, the federal government has said they caused enormous damage to national security. But a secret, 107-page report, prepared by a Department of Defense task force and newly obtained by BuzzFeed News, tells a starkly different story: It says the disclosures were largely insignificant and did not cause any real harm to US interests. Regarding the hundreds of thousands of Iraq-related military documents and State Department cables provided by the Army private Chelsea Manning, the report assessed 'with high confidence that disclosure of the Iraq data set will have no direct personal impact on current and former U.S. leadership in Iraq.'" Included DoD report. -- CW

Mike Isaac of the New York Times: "Travis Kalanick stepped down Tuesday as chief executive of Uber, the ride-hailing service that he helped found in 2009 and built into a transportation colossus, after a shareholder revolt made it untenable for him to stay on at the company.... Earlier on Tuesday, five of Uber's major investors demanded that the chief executive resign immediately.... He will remain on Uber's board of directors.... The move caps months of questions over the leadership of Uber, which has become a prime example of Silicon Valley start-up culture gone awry. The company has been exposed this year as having a workplace culture that included sexual harassment and discrimination, and it has pushed the envelope in dealing with law enforcement and even partners. That tone was set by Mr. Kalanick...." -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

Mitch Smith of the New York Times: "Days after a police officer was acquitted of all charges in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, a black motorist in Minnesota, video of the shooting was publicly released on Tuesday for the first time. The video reveals how a mundane conversation about a broken taillight devolved within seconds into gunfire.... This video, from a dashboard camera on Officer Jeronimo Yanez's patrol car, parked right behind Mr. Castile's car, was played several times this month to jurors during Officer Yanez's manslaughter trial but had not been shown outside the courtroom. The newly released footage provides the fullest account yet of an episode that led to a national debate over police conduct toward black people, but it also leaves unanswered critical questions about what happened that day." Includes video. ...

     ... CW: I did not watch the video, but Smith's report suggests Yanez had no reason whatsover to kill Castile. I don't know if the jury just decided to ignore the evidence or if the prosecutors failed to present a clear case, but the verdict appears to have been a travesty. ...

... Chao Xiong & Andy Mannix of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "The case file was released Tuesday following Jeronimo Yanez's acquittal Friday in the July 6 killing that thrust Minnesota into the national debate over police use of force and racial profiling.... Tyrone Terrill, president of the African-American Leadership Council, said the video could further widen the gap in community-police relations. 'No, no, no,' Terrill said minutes after viewing the video. 'You don't have to remain calm on this one. You have a right to be outraged. You have a right to be angry. And I would be disappointed if you weren't outraged, if you weren't angry. It raises the question -- how will you ever get a guilty verdict?'" -- CW ...

... Derek Hawkins of the Washington Post: "The parents of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen fatally shot by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, settled a wrongful-death lawsuit with the city Tuesday, closing the civil case over a killing that stoked nationwide debate about African American deaths at the hands of law enforcement. The settlement amount was not disclosed, but U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber of the Eastern District of Missouri said he was satisfied that the agreement was fair to the parties and compliant with the law." -- CW

Way Beyond

Martin Chulov of the Guardian: "King Salman of Saudi Arabia has ousted his nephew as crown prince and replaced him with his son, Mohammed bin Salman, confirming the 31-year-old as heir to the kingdom and consolidating its move to reassert its influence as a regional power. The move was announced by royal decree just after midnight, stunning the Saudi establishment, which has seen Bin Salman's profile soar over the past three years but regarded the role of the former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, a veteran security tsar, as secure. The upheaval follows a dizzying series of moves from the usually cautious kingdom, which in recent weeks has seen it recalibrate relations with Washington and open a diplomatic offensive against Qatar, led by Bin Salman's office, while pressing ahead with a war in Yemen and an ambitious economic and cultural overhaul at home. Bin Salman has been central to the changes...." -- CW

Kevin Rawlinson, et al., of the Guardian: "A suspected terrorist was shot dead by soldiers in one of Brussels' main railway stations on Tuesday night after what police described as a small explosion. Officers believe the man was wearing an explosive belt and a witness at Brussels Central station reportedly heard the man call out 'Allahu Akbar' -- 'God is great' in Arabic -- before the blast." -- CW

Tuesday
Jun202017

The Commentariat -- June 20, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Michael Gordon of the New York Times: "An American F-15E fighter jet shot down an Iranian-made armed drone over southeast Syria on Tuesday that was flying toward American-backed Syrian fighters and their advisers, Pentagon officials said. The episode was a fresh indication that the air war between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the American military is likely to continue, and perhaps even escalate, even as the United States has sought to keep its focus on defeating the Islamic State militants operating in Syria and Iraq. The F-15E intercepted the drone and tried to get it to change course, but it continued to fly toward the fighters and was shot down. American officials said that the aircraft was a Shahed 129, the same type of Iranian drone that an American warplane blasted on June 8 after it dropped a bomb near American-supported Syrian fighters and their coalition advisers." -- CW

Greg Sargent: "We already knew that Senate Republicans were going to try to ram through their health-care bill by resorting to a scandalously secretive, absurdly compressed process. But now we have the details: According to the Wall Street Journal, the text of the bill will be released this Thursday; the Congressional Budget Office will release a score of the bill next Monday or Tuesday; and the Senate may well vote on it next Thursday. Unfortunately, there are signs this morning that the Republican strategy is already working precisely as intended." -- CW ...

... Thomas Kaplan & Robert Pear of the New York Times: "In impassioned speeches on the Senate floor on Monday night, Democrats complained that the bill was being developed out of public view. Before Congress adopted the Affordable Care Act, Democrats held numerous public hearings, and the Senate debated the measure on the floor for 25 days. Senate Republican leaders plan to push through their repeal bill under arcane budget rules that would limit debate on it to 20 hours." Emphasis added. -- CW ...

... Katrina vandel Heuvel of the Nation in the Washington Post: "For all of Trump's griping about 'fake news,' the mainstream media's prevailing focus on palace intrigue and White House scandals has come at the expense of substantive policy coverage, allowing Trump and the Republican Party to advance harmful, hugely unpopular policies without the scrutiny they deserve.... While the investigations into Trump's campaign and the president's possible obstruction of justice are clearly newsworthy, they have denied oxygen to other issues that have a far greater impact on Americans' daily lives. (On the day [Jeff] Sessions testified, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) urged his Twitter followers to focus 90 percent of their attention on health care.)... Perhaps [the media] simply learned the wrong lesson from the campaign: that keeping the American people shocked, rather than informed, is the easiest path to the ratings they crave. Either way, it's toxic to our democracy." -- CW

*****

Louis Nelson of Politico: "When ... Donald Trump wrote online last week that 'I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director,' it was not an admission that he is indeed being investigated, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said Monday morning, but instead a Twitter-shortened reaction to media coverage of ongoing probes into his 2016 campaign. Conway's insistence Monday morning that Trump's tweet last Friday was not what it seemed followed in the footsteps of the president's personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, who said Sunday in an array of political talk show appearances that regardless of what he has written online, Trump is not under investigation." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Jeff Stein of Newsweek: "By the time Michael Flynn was fired as ... Donald Trump's national security adviser in February, he had made a lot of bad decisions. One was taking money from the Russians (and failing to disclose it); another was taking money under the table from the Turks. But an overlooked line in his financial disclosure form, which he was forced to amend to detail those foreign payments, reveals he was also involved in one of the most audacious -- and some say harebrained -- schemes in recent memory: a plan to build scores of U.S. nuclear power plants in the Middle East. As a safety measure.... In June 2015, knowledgeable sources tell Newsweek, Flynn flew to Egypt and Israel on behalf of X-Co/Iron Bridge[, a consultancy group]. His mission: to gauge attitudes in Cairo and Jerusalem toward a plan for a joint U.S.-Russian (and Saudi-financed) program to get control over the Arab world's rush to acquire nuclear power.... But the project faced opposition from the Obama administration, [Thomas] Cochran, [who was working on the deal,] says. 'They didn't want to do it with the Russians and didn't want to do it while they were negotiating the Iran [nuclear] deal,' he tells Newsweek. Trump's embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, offered an attractive possibility. And when Flynn, who had connections to the Russians, became the candidate's national security adviser, the ACU team ... suddenly seemed to have an inside man." -- CW ...

... Austin Wright of Politico: "Michael Flynn didn't list any interactions with foreign government officials on his application last year to renew his security clearance, despite indicating in a speech days after submitting the application that he had had extensive contacts in Saudi Arabia and other countries, according to a letter Monday from two senior House Democrats.... Monday's letter is from Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrats on the House Oversight Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively. It requests documents from Flynn's consulting firm and from two businesses that Flynn worked with to promote a U.S.-Russia joint effort, financed by Saudi Arabia, to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East. The effort was chronicled earlier this month in an investigative story in Newsweek.... Falsifying or concealing information on a security clearance application, the letter notes, is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison." -- CW ...

... Esme Cribb of TPM has a copy of the Cummings/Eliot letter here. ...

     ... CW: It's pretty amazing that at least three top Trump officials -- Flynn, Kushner & Sessions -- accidentally forgot to mention their meetings with Russians & other foreign nationals on their security questionnaires. Coincidence? I don't think so. Somebody whose name rhymes with Dump likely helped them fill out the forms. One of these guys, one of these days, is going to finger the person whose name rhymes with Rump.

... Rosalind Helderman, et al., of the Washington Post: "In August, as tension mounted over Russia's role in the U.S. presidential race, Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, sat down to dinner with a business associate from Ukraine who once served in the Russian army. Konstantin Kilimnik, who learned English at a military school that some experts consider a training ground for Russian spies, had helped run the Ukraine office for Manafort's international political consulting practice for 10 years.... Kilimnik, who provided a written statement to The Washington Post through Manafort's attorney, said the previously unreported dinner was one of two meetings he had with Manafort on visits to the United States during Manafort's five months working for Trump. The first encounter was in early May 2016, about two weeks before the Trump adviser was elevated to campaign chairman.... Manafort told Politico, which first reported his relationship with Kilimnik, that his conversations included discussions about the cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee and the release of its emails." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Philip Bump of the Washington Post also notices that Trump doesn't care about terrorist attacks when the victims are Muslims: "In one sense, it's odd that Trump hasn't tweeted condolences to the victims in London, given the criticism he's received for his slow response to [prior] attacks [on Muslims] -- but, again, it's not surprising that he hasn't, given his history.... To view attacks by Muslims as part of what being Muslim is about but attacks on Muslims as being distinct from the identities of the perpetrators demands seeing those two groups as fundamentally different. Trump has a presumption of guilt for Muslims that he doesn't for the white people who committed the crimes in Kansas, Portland and at the London mosque.... Trump's presidential campaign -- and therefore his presidency -- relied on the idea that America was under threat from terrorism and crime, a point of view that necessarily overlapped with America's complex racial history. That's the other reason Trump highlights terrorist acts by Muslims and ignores those against them: He has reaped political rewards from it." ...

     ... CW: Bump makes the case that for Trump, racism has paid off. Trump sees his racist sentiments as investments that promotes his "brand." Showing sympathy for people who are not white and/or not Christian, though sometimes necessary, dilutes his brand. ...

... Ishaan Tharoor of the Washington Post: "A full 24 hours after the incident [in London], Trump had yet to express condolences to the attack's victims or support for London. Contrast that to his rushed messaging when groups like the Islamic State are suspected to be involved.... Trump's silence was made all the more conspicuous by other foreign leaders.... The Trump White House seems to operate at times on fumes of Islamophobia.... The inference one is compelled to make is that the president has a callous disinterest in the successes of Muslims and is almost exclusively animated by their perceived misdeeds." -- CW ...

     ... CW: Fear of the "other," as expressed in various forms of racist acts or statements, is largely a result of self-indulgent ignorance. Trump is not only ignorant, he is growing more so by the day. It's worth noting that Trump's Islamophobia is not universal; he seems more-or-less comfortable dealing with wealthy & super-wealthy Muslims. But certainly he sees these wealthy contacts as "different," in the same way he sees the wealthy Jews he knows as "different": at a campaign speech before a group of Jewish Republicans, his way of finding "common ground" was flagrantly anti-Semitic: ""Look, I'm a negotiator like you folks; we're negotiators.... This room negotiates perhaps more than any room I've spoken to, maybe more," he said.

John Hudson of BuzzFeed: "As the White House fends off accusations of collusion with Russia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has taken it upon himself to guide the Trump administration's thinking on dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin." CW: This is a long, interesting post that rests on a classified document you can bet somebody at State leaked to Hudson. Tillerson, whose ties to Putin made him a suspect choice for Secretary, seems to be -- according to Hudson's report -- trying to be the Adult in the Room.

Buh-Bye, Spicey. Ashley Parker & Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "White House press secretary Sean Spicer is expected to transition to a more behind-the-scenes role overseeing communications strategy, part of a broader overhaul of the administration's most public-facing operation that has long been the subject of President Trump's ire and criticism.... Recently, the White House briefing had receded from its place of daily prominence, and Spicer with it. Spicer took to holding some briefings off-camera, as he did Monday, or deploying Sanders as his substitute, or inviting a Cabinet official to brief reporters. Some days, there has been no briefing at all." -- CW ...

... Esme Cribb: "CNN's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta on Monday ;said the White House is barring recording equipment from its daily press briefings so that its 'evasive answers' to reporters' questions will not be documented on tape. White House press secretary Sean Spicer's daily briefing on Monday was off-camera, with no broadcast or audio recording allowed." Read on. Acosta was ticked & he didn't hold back. ...

... Tara Palmeri of Politico: "... Sean Spicer is leading a search for his own replacement on the briefing room podium as part of a larger plan to shake up the White House communications operation, according to two people with knowledge of the effort. Last week, Spicer and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus reached out to Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham about the role of press secretary and Daily Mail editor David Martosko about the role of communications director, according to a White House official.... Ingraham declined to comment. In a phone call, Martosko said 'I can't hear you,' and then hung up. He did not respond to an email inquiry." CW: And you thought Spicer was not forthcoming.

StealthCare.TM Gloria Jeffrey Young of the Huffington Post: "Senate Republicans are hurling themselves toward passing an incredibly unpopular set of health care reforms that even they don't understand, haven't seen and likely won't see until just before it hits the floor. This rightly has raised the hackles not only of Senate Democrats and the media, but anyone who values transparency in government or is anxious about the consequences of reordering the American health care system and taking away health coverage from millions of people.... The purpose of this bill is to dramatically scale back the safety net so wealthy people and health care companies can get a massive tax cut. It's the biggest open secret about the secret Senate health care bill." -- CW ...

... Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "Senate Democrats ramped up opposition Monday to the emerging Republican health-care bill, launching a series of mostly symbolic moves including speeches that went late into the evening and a push to slow other Senate business to a crawl. The aim, Democrats said, was to draw attention to the secretive process Republican leaders are using to craft their bill and argue that the GOP proposals would hurt Americans. The Democrats lack the power to prevent a vote and they don't have the numbers to defeat a bill without Republican defections. So they are focusing this week on nonbinding protests." -- CW ...

... Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico: "Democrats will grind Senate business to a halt in a protest against Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare. Beginning Monday night, Democrats will start objecting to all unanimous consent requests in the Senate, according to a Democratic aide. They plan to control the floor of the chamber Monday night and try to force the House-passed health care bill to committee in a bid to further delay it. Without the votes to block Obamacare repeal, Democrats are turning to procedural moves they believe will underscore their most powerful argument: Republicans are hiding their repeal plan from the public and using Senate procedures to keep it a secret.... Democrats are unlikely to be able to force the House bill to committee or delay it. But it will force Republicans to answer for what Democrats say is a rushed process and bad policy." -- CW

Sylvan Lane of the Hill: "Six senators are calling on the secretaries of State and Treasury to review whether a potential Russian takeover of petroleum company Citgo could threaten national security and violate economic sanctions. Citgo, owned by the government of Venezuela, risks defaulting on a loan from Rosneft, a Russian state-owned energy company. Rosneft could take control of Citgo upon default, giving a company with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin command of United States infrastructure. The senators, including Senate Finance Committee ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (Ore.), Foreign Relations Committee ranking Democrat Ben Cardin (Md.) and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), expressed national security concerns in a Monday letter.... Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also signed the letter." CW: Biggest news: Ted Cruz found something on which he could agree with five other senators.

Scott Bland of Politico: "Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel face off Tuesday in a House special election that's doubling as the biggest political test of Donald Trump's presidency so far." CW: I'll be shocked if Ossoff wins. ...

... Charles Bethea reviews the race for the New Yorker. -- CW

Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "In a decision likely to bolster the Washington Redskins' efforts to protect its trademarks, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the government may not refuse to register potentially offensive names. A law denying protection to disparaging trademarks, the court said, violated the First Amendment. The decision was unanimous, but the justices were divided on the reasoning." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Adam Liptak: "The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that several high-ranking Bush administration officials may not be sued for policies adopted after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The officials include John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director who is now investigating possible links between the Trump administration and Russia. The case began in 2002 as a class action filed by mostly Muslim immigrants over policies and practices that swept hundreds into the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn on immigration violations shortly after the attacks. The plaintiffs said they had been subjected to beatings, humiliating searches and other abuses. The roundups drew criticism from the inspector general of the Justice Department, who in 2003 issued reports saying that the government had made little to no effort to distinguish between genuine suspects and Muslim immigrants with minor visa violations.... Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 4-to-2 decision, acknowledged that the way the detainees said they had been treated was appalling. But he said lawsuits seeking money from high-ranking officials were not the right way to address asserted misconduct in the midst of a national security crisis.... Three members of the court did not participate in the decision: Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who had not yet joined the court when the case was argued, and Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who recused themselves." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Justin Jouvenal & Julie Zauzmer of the Washington Post: "So far, Fairfax County police said they have no indication that Nabra [Hassanen, who was murdered early Sunday morning,] was targeted because of her [Muslim] religion, saying her killing was probably a 'road rage incident,' although they continue to investigate the motivation." -- CW

Josh Gerstein of Politico: "A federal judge in Hawaii has reined in an injunction he issued three months ago blocking key parts of ... Donald Trump's revised travel ban executive order. U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson scaled back the injunction Monday, nullifying its impact on studies and policy reviews ordered under the directive Trump issued in March and billed as an anti-terrorism initiative. In a ruling last week, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the bulk of Watson's injunction, but said portions of it that blocked the Trump administration from studying vetting procedures were too broad and should be lifted." -- CW

CW: You might not want to listen to a 25-minute segment about coal, but I promise this is worth it:

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Amy Davidson of the New Yorker at least partially exposes Megyn Kelly as the lightweight she is -- someone who either doesn't understand or is unwilling to convey the bigger picture. CW: It's always good to remember that it was the NBC suits who hired Kelly, & they don't give a flying fuck about content or context -- only ratings. How did that go? ...

... Lydia O'Connor of the Huffington Post: "With 3.5 million viewers, this week's airing of 'Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly' came in last place among the four major networks during the coveted 7 p.m. time slot, according to Nielsen Media Research. Kelly's show was not only beaten out by an ABC rerun of 'America's Funniest Home Videos' that attracted 3.7 million viewers, but also by a CBS rerun of '60 Minutes' watched by 5.3 million viewers, and Fox's U.S. Golf Open Championship coverage that received 6.1 million viewers." -- CW ...

... "Kids..., Santa Just Is White." Clio Chang of the New Republic: "Contrary to those who found the interview 'important journalism,' I thought it was hardly worth the hype.... The positive reviews Kelly has received were likely the result of the fact that Kelly reportedly drastically recut the show at the last second to address concerns.... Ultimately the controversy reveals less about Jones than it does about how the world continues to stoke Kelly's reputation as an 'intrepid gal reporter.'... [Kelly's new image] was a remarkable turnaround for a person who made her name preying on white people's fears about black people.... Her elevation to respectability could only have happened with Fox News as a toxic backdrop." -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

Oliver Milman of the Guardian: "Nearly a third of the world's population is now exposed to climatic conditions that produce deadly heatwaves, as the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere makes it 'almost inevitable' that vast areas of the planet will face rising fatalities from high temperatures, new research has found. Climate change has escalated the heatwave risk across the globe, the study states, with nearly half of the world's population set to suffer periods of deadly heat by the end of the century even if greenhouse gases are radically cut." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... How Hot Is It? Zachary Hansen of the Arizona Republic: "The extreme heat forecast for Phoenix on Tuesday has caused the cancellation of 20 American Airlines flights out of Sky Harbor International Airport. According to a statement from American Airlines, the American Eagle regional flights use the Bombardier CRJ aircraft, which has a maximum operating temperature of 118 degrees. Tuesday's forecast for Phoenix included a high of 120 degrees, and the flights that are affected were to take off between 3 and 6 p.m. MT." -- CW

Way Beyond

CBS/AP: "A man was killed Monday after ramming a car carrying explosives into a police vehicle in the French capital's Champs-Elysees shopping district, prompting a fiery blast, officials said. France's anti-terrorism prosecutor opened an investigation. No police officers or passers-by were hurt, the Paris police department said. It is unclear why the attacker drove into police, though officials said the incident was apparently deliberate." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)