The Wires
The Ledes

Saturday, May 26, 2018.

New York Times: "Alan Bean, who became the fourth man to walk on the moon and turned to painting years later to tell the story of NASA’s Apollo missions as they began receding into history, died on Saturday at Houston Methodist Hospital. He was 86.”

You may want to cut the sound on this video so you don't go nuts before you get to move overseas:

Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: I found this on a political Website, so that's my excuse. Juliana Gray in McSweeney's: "The Incel Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." It begins,

"Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like an equal redistribution of sexual resources.
Let us go, through certain half-considered tweets
and form tedious arguments
about entitlement.

"In the room the women come and go
Talking of Maya Angelou."

Read on. Incels, in case you don't know,  (a portmanteau of 'involuntary' and 'celibacy') are members of an online subculture who define themselves as being unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one, a state they describe as inceldom. Self-identified incels are almost exclusively male and mostly heterosexual," according to Wikepedia.

New York Times: "A thousand-year-old English castle echoed with the exhortations of an African-American bishop and a gospel choir on Saturday, as Prince Harry wed Meghan Markle, an American actress, nudging the British royal family into a new era. Ms. Markle, who has long identified herself as a feminist, entered St. George’s Chapel alone rather than being given away by her father or any other man, a departure from tradition that in itself sent a message to the world. She was met halfway by Prince Charles, her future father-in-law and presumably the future king of Britain. Prince Harry, who is sixth in line for the throne, has long called on Britain’s monarchy to draw closer to the daily life of its people. But the most extraordinary thing he has done is to marry Ms. Markle, an American actress who is three years his senior, biracial, divorced and vocal about her views. Their choices at Saturday’s wedding, many of them heavily influenced by black culture, made it clear that they plan to project a more inclusive monarchy.” ...

Serena Williams, at the When Harry Wed Meghan rites.... Anthony Lane of the New Yorker attended the nuptials & reports back: "Love, as warmly recommended by the preacher, held sway. The sole unpleasantness that crossed my path took the form of a burly fellow wearing a fascinator, with ripped jeans and mirrored shades: not an outfit that I will soon forget." ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: If you are wondering what a "fascinator" is, so was I. There were hundreds of them worn to Windsor Saturday. It's a ridiculous thing that otherwise sensible women attach to their heads. We are not fascinated.

Shorter Wedding:

This is the WashPo's live coverage of the wedding of Britain's Prince Harry & American actor Meghan Markle. You can supersize it:

The Guardian is posting updates re: the wedding of Britain's Prince Harry & American actor Meghan Markle. "The Queen has announced the titles given to the married couple. Prince Harry, or to give him his formal title, Prince Henry of Wales, has been made Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel.So he will be His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex and, once married, Meghan Markle will become Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex."

Here's a Guardian interview of Harry & Meghan:

An American Princess. In case you're interested in all the tabloid-induced "scandals" surrounding Meghan Markle's family, Sarah Lyall of the New York Times will bring you up-to-date. As of this writing, IT IS UNCLEAR IF MEGHAN'S FATHER WILL WALK HER DOWN THE AISLE. Oh wow.

Guardian: "The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have named their baby son Louis Arthur Charles, Kensington Palace said. In a statement the palace said: 'The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are delighted to announce that they have named their son Louis Arthur Charles. The baby will be known as His Royal Highness Prince Louis of Cambridge.' The prince is the duke and duchess’s third child, the younger brother of Prince George and Princess Charlotte, and the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s sixth great-grandchild. Lord Louis Mountbatten was Prince Charles’s beloved great-uncle who was assassinated by the IRA in 1979. Prince Louis of Battenberg was the Duke of Edinburgh’s grandfather’s name. The three names are popular choices recycled by the royal family. Prince Charles is Charles Philip Arthur George, while Prince William is William Arthur Philip Louis. Prince George’s full name is George Alexander Louis."

... Guardian: "The Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to a boy. Kate and Williams’s third child was born at 11.01am at St Mary’s hospital, Paddington, central London. The baby weighed in at 8lb 7oz. The birth was announced to the public by Kensington Palace with a tweet.... The new Prince of Cambridge is fifth in line to the throne, and is Queen Elizabeth II’s sixth great-grandchild."

Mrs. Bea McCrabbie on "Why I take my political advice from country & western stars":

I would have voted for [Donald Trump] because, even though he was offensive, he seemed honest. Do you want straight or polite? Not that you shouldn’t be able to have both. If I were voting, I just don’t want bullshit. I would have voted for a feeling that it was transparent. And politics has a reputation of not being that, right? -- Shania Twain, a Canadian C&W performer

Especially if you're into very high-end decorative porcelain, here are some highlights of David & Peggy Rockefeller's collection that will go on auction beginning May 1. Unless you're a Rockefeller, your grandmother's curio cabinet never looked quite like this. To access the full Christie's catalog on the Rockefeller estate objets, start here.

Constant Comments

 

Editor-in-Chief:
Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

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

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

Wednesday
May232018

The Commentariat -- May 24, 2018

Afternoon Update:

Eileen Sullivan of the New York Times: "President Trump has notified Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that he has canceled their much-anticipated meeting to discuss steps toward denuclearization and peace because of recent 'tremendous anger and open hostility' by Pyongyang toward members of his administration. In a letter dated Thursday to Mr. Kim, the American president left open the possibility that the two could meet in the future. But hours later, Mr. Trump warned that the United States and its allies are prepared to respond should 'foolish or reckless acts be taken by North Korea.'” Mrs. McC: "Many people are saying" Trump should get the Nobel Peace Prize anyway. ...

... Jonathan Chait reproduces Trump's letter to Kim. "The letter clearly springs from, or at least reflects the deep influence of, Trump’s own mind. Almost the entirety of Trump’s very short list of favorite words is represented: 'tremendous,' 'massive,' 'powerful,' 'wonderful,' 'beautiful,' 'wealth,' and 'sad.'... The president was obviously manipulated by other actors into a series of impulsive decisions that rewarded his momentary ego needs.... He has, characteristically, refused to learn anything about the subject he was putatively negotiating.” ...

... Alex Shephard of the New Republic: "There’s no magic bullet — or magic summit — that will resolve the North Korea situation. Trump has finally acknowledged that. But in Trump-ian fashion he’s done so in a way that escalates the situation and alienates our allies."

"Most Unpatriotic President Ever" Whacks Black Patriots. Again. Jonathan Chait: "Yesterday, the National Football League capitulated to President Trump and announced a policy banning players from kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality.... Trump pressed his advantage. 'You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing,' he told Brian Kilmeade. 'You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.'... The explanation for this contradiction between his demands that players revere the flag and his own contempt for its spirit is easily explained. Patriotism is the cover for Trump’s true intention, which is to delegitimize protest on behalf of African-American civil rights.”

*****

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.
When Corruption Meets Panic

Mel Leonor of Politico: "... Donald Trump on Wednesday said he did a 'great service to this country' by firing former FBI Director James Comey. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Trump speaks only until about the 5-minute mark in the video below, after which some ABC News reporters, including White House correspondent Tara Palmeri, discuss his conspiracy theories. Mrs. McC: The video was produced & uploaded by some pro-Trump guy, but it's the only one I could find that covered all of the remarks Trump made yesterday on the White House lawn:

     ... See also Linda Qiu's analysis, linked below.

Eileen Sullivan of the New York Times: "President Trump repeated unconfirmed claims on Wednesday about federal investigators using a spy inside his presidential campaign, and said it could be one of the 'biggest political scandals in history!' The president also gave the scandal a name: 'SPYGATE.'... In a series of Twitter posts early Wednesday..., Mr. Trump departed from his previous language about the possibility that the government deployed a spy inside his presidential campaign. Instead, he stated it as fact.... 'Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State. They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!'... Mr. Trump’s claims about the government spying on his campaign are part of a pattern for this president, who rails about injustice and political bias among the top officials at the Justice Department — officials he appointed. He has described his own Justice Department as a 'deep state,' and on Wednesday appeared to accuse the department of criminal activity, calling it the 'Criminal Deep State.' The latest accusation is similar to Mr. Trump’s claims in the early days of his presidency that former President Barack Obama had Mr. Trump’s 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower. His unsubstantiated claims were later proven to be false after a Justice Department review.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Once again, the paper of record publishs a front-page story which describes the POTUS* as a lying sack o' and/or a raving lunatic.

Tom Porter of Newsweek: "In his new memoir, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths From a Life in Intelligence, [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper describes evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin swayed the election in a bid to secure Trump’s election as 'staggering.' 'Of course, the Russian efforts affected the outcome,' writes Clapper, as cited in a Washington Post review. 'Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win. To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense and credulity to the breaking point. Less than eighty thousand votes in three key states swung the election. I have no doubt that more votes than that were influenced by this massive effort by the Russians.'”

Sam Stein of the Daily Beast: "In highly charged and notably ominous terms, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Wednesday laid bare his fears about the damage Donald Trump was inflicting on the office he holds, and called out his fellow Republicans for lacking the spine to fight to it. 'Our presidency has been debased by a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division and only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works,' Flake declared, according to an advanced copy of the commencement address he was delivering to graduates of the Harvard School of Law. 'And our Article I branch of government, the Congress, is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily.'... 'This is what it looks like when you stress-test all of the institutions that undergird our constitutional democracy, at the same time.'” ...

... Jonathan Chait: "Trump’s ability to comprehend objective reality is characteristically cracked. But his confidence that the array of forces are shifting to his benefit, and that he may turn the tables on his enemies, has a real basis in reality. He is bringing his party, and the powers it commands, around to his warped manner of thinking.... The defense has ignored all this evidence of guilt, and instead focused on the question of why Trump was being investigated at all.... Planting evidence? Multiple spies? Obama political operatives? You might think ... Trump could not get his party to go along with this theory, to dismiss all the evidence of culpability as having been fabricated by a pro-Obama cabal in the FBI. But then you would be ignoring how far down the Trump rabbit hole the Republican Party has gone so far." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Greg Sargent: "... Trump’s latest tweets show him concocting crazy conspiracy theories in the face of an investigation that is closing in on him, his family and his cronies. Why is he doing this? Because the investigation, in tandem with dogged media digging, has already produced evidence of Trump campaign collusion with a foreign power to subvert our democracy and allegations of mind-boggling levels of corruption, which include Trump corruptly going to extraordinary lengths to subvert the workings of justice, with the active help of Republicans in Congress.... Democrats should talk about this.... Even if the public may not be closely familiar with all the details involving Russian collusion, Democrats can connect the Mueller investigation to a broader case about Trump corruption and Republican efforts to help him escape accountability.... Trump’s whack-job lies are not a sign that he’s winning the public argument; they’re a sign that he’s losing it. Democrats should act accordingly." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Elizabeth Drew of the New Republic: "In the past four days alone, two new items were added to President Trump’s list of impeachable offenses. He was already a sitting duck for a charge of obstruction of justice.... He was also already vulnerable to a charge of accepting foreign emoluments.... And now Trump has chalked up two more reasons to impeach him (or some kind of reckoning): abusing his office by ordering an investigation of the FBI’s investigation into whether his 2016 campaign conspired with Russia, and attempting to punish a specific individual by damaging that person’s business.... If Trump gets away with these things unscathed, dangerous precedents will have been set.... If a president can attack an individual for a reason of his own, no one is safe." 

Donald Trump Is No Adlai Stevenson (or JFK or LBJ or):

You Can't Make This Up:

     ... Seung Min Kim of the Washington Post: "A trio of influential Senate Republicans, cut out of a high-stakes meeting this week on classified information about a confidential FBI source who aided an investigation into Trump campaign advisers, is asking the White House to be allowed to review the material. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Tex.) made the request in a letter obtained by The Washington Post. In it, the senators stress their 'interest in attending such a meeting and in support of providing Congress with documents necessary to conduct oversight of these issues.'... In a separate letter sent Wednesday to Rosenstein and Wray, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged the officials to abandon plans for the meeting. If the meeting is held, the Democrats asked that it be opened up to a bipartisan group of eight lawmakers.... 'We can think of no legitimate oversight justification for the ex parte dissemination — at the direction of the president — of investigative information to the president’s staunchest defenders in Congress and, ultimately, to the president’s legal defense team.'” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

      ... Update. Jonathan Karl, et al., of ABC News: "The White House confirmed Wednesday it is planning for a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders, known as the 'Gang of 8,' to receive a highly-classified intelligence briefing on the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling, reversing plans to exclude Democrats altogether.... While details of the bipartisan meeting are still being worked out, a Republican-only briefing will go on as scheduled Thursday.... The bipartisan 'Gang of 8' includes the Republican and Democratic leaders from the House and Senate as well as the respective party leaders from the House and Senate intelligence committees." Mrs. McC: The Gang of 8 meeting will no occur until after the Memorial Day recess, giving Nunes & the gang plenty of time to spread & solidify whatever "facts" he claims he learned during his more-or-less "exclusive" (with Trey Gowdy [RTP-Benghaaazi!]) briefing. ...

     ... Update Update. Rep. Adam Schiff said on MSNBC tonight that the head of an intelligence agency had assured him that -- contrary to White House statements -- the meeting among the DOJ, intelligence officials & members of Congress scheduled for Thursday would be "at the Gang of 8 level" and that leaders of both parties would be invited to attend. ...

     ... Update Update Update. Burgess Everett & Elana Schor of Politico: "Top Senate and House party leaders and Intelligence Committee leaders from both parties will be briefed on whether an informant was embedded in ... Donald Trump's campaign on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the matter.  The briefing comes after complaints from Senate Democrats and some Republicans about the adminstration's plans for an unprecedented briefing for two prominent House Republicans from FBI Director Christopher Wray and and the Justice Department on Thursday. At noon, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy will meet with White House chief of staff John Kelly, deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Chris Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, according to guidance from the Department of Justice. But two hours later on Capitol Hill, those same officials with meet with House and Senate Democratic Republican leaders as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the Intel Committees, a stunning shift after the initial exclusion of Democrats." ...

... Kyle Cheney of Politico: "The Justice Department hasn't indicated what documents or information it intends to provide two GOP lawmakers in a classified briefing Thursday about an FBI informant who made contact with ... Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. But top Trump allies in Congress are already signaling they expect to be disappointed. 'They’re not going to see any documents tomorrow, so it doesn’t matter,' Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told reporters.... Pressed on how he knows DOJ won't share the information Republicans have asked for, Meadows paused at length and then said he couldn't comment. He later added it was based on 'rhetoric' and recent history. Several other House GOP lawmakers expressed similar pessimism that DOJ would share the desired 'documents.'"

Rudy Is Saying Some Stuff:

     ... "Truth is Relative." -- Rudy Giuliani. Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post: "President Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani switched gears Wednesday, saying that he would prefer the president grant an interview to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s office and that a decision would be made within 'the next couple weeks.'... In Wednesday morning’s interview with The Post, Giuliani said the president sometimes seesaws on whether he wants to do an interview.... Giuliani said he was concerned that the president would become a target or that the interview would be a perjury trap, because the 'truth is relative.' The president’s legal team continues to try to set limitations on an interview, including the duration and questions posed, he said.... Giuliani also said the president was unlikely to make changes at the Justice Department and had no intention of firing Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein or Attorney General Jeff Sessions — all three of whom have come under sustained attack from the president.” ...

     ... Chris Geidner of BuzzFeed: "Rudy Giuliani says that an ultimate decision won’t be made on whether ... Donald Trump will sit for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller until 'the details of this "Spygate" situation' are figured out.... He later said that those facts include knowing more information about Trump’s recent allegations that an FBI informant who reportedly had contact with three Trump campaign officials constituted or was part of 'a major SPY scandal.' Trump has presented no evidence to support such a claim.... '... according to [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, is that they were spying on the Russians and, in the course of spying on the Russians, they ended up spying on the Trump campaign. Well, I want to know why, what the basis for it was, what did they acquire — nothing, I believe — so, if they acquired nothing in the counterintelligence investigation, how do you end up with another whole year of Mueller?'” Mrs. McC: I heard Clapper's remarks, and of course he said just the opposite -- that the intelligence community did not spy on the Trump campaign. But, you know, truth is relative. ...

     ... Update. Linda Qiu of the New York Times: "... Mr. Clapper never said what Mr. Trump [& Giuliani] claimed he did. In fact, he said the opposite.... He explicitly denied that the F.B.I. “spied” on Mr. Trump’s campaign.... Mr. Clapper described the use of this informant as 'a fairly benign tool' that the F.B.I. employs 'all the time.'”

** Paul Wood of the BBC: "Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 (£300,000) to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved. The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine's leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law. The meeting at the White House was last June. Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country's anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort." Read on. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, has been granted his permanent security clearance, a person briefed on the matter said on Wednesday, ending a period of uncertainty that had fueled questions about whether Mr. Kushner was in peril in the special counsel investigation. Mr. Kushner’s F.B.I. background checks had dragged on for a year.... Mr. Kushner’s clearances were approved by career officials after the completion of the F.B.I. background check and that the president was not involved in the process. The security clearance process had not been delayed by the special counsel’s investigation, said Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe D. Lowell.... Mr. Lowell said that Mr. Kushner has cooperated fully with the special counsel and met with Mr. Mueller’s investigators twice for many hours.... The resolution of his clearances does not guarantee that Mr. Kushner faces no legal jeopardy. But Mark S. Zaid, a veteran Washington lawyer who handles security clearances, said it was highly unlikely that the special counsel would uncover evidence of improper foreign entanglements and not flag it for security officials." (Also linked, in an earlier version, yesterday afternoon.)

Josh Gerstein of Politico: "A court filing Wednesday from special counsel Robert Mueller's office may be a signal that his investigation into Russian efforts to coordinate with the Trump campaign is nearing a conclusion. The filing asks a federal judge to start the process of preparing a pre-sentencing report for former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to investigators in the Trump-Russia probe. The move indicates that a sentencing for Papadopoulos could come this summer — without him testifying at the trials of others who may have been involved in alleged collusion with the Kremlin on its attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election."

Kevin Poulsen of The Daily Beast: "FBI agents armed with a court order have seized control of a key server in the Kremlin’s global botnet of 500,000 hacked routers.... The move positions the bureau to build a comprehensive list of victims of the attack, and short-circuits Moscow’s ability to reinfect its targets...[A]verage consumers have the ability to stop Russia’s latest cyber attack by rebooting their routers, which will now reach out to the FBI instead of Russian intelligence. According to the court filings, the FBI is collecting the Internet IP addresses of every compromised router that phones home to the address, so agents can use the information to clean up the global infection.... The court order only lets the FBI monitor metadata like the victim’s IP address, not content." --safari


Contributor P.D. Pepe mentioned this yesterday: Trump admitted to Leslie Stahl the reason he demeans the press:

John Herrman of the New York Times: "... on Wednesday, one of Mr. Trump’s Twitter habits — his practice of blocking critics on the service, preventing them from engaging with his account — was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Manhattan.... In her ruling, Federal District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote of seven plaintiffs who sued Mr. Trump and several of his aides after being blocked by Mr. Trump’s Twitter account that 'the speech in which they seek to engage is protected by the First Amendment.'... 'We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and are considering our next steps,' said a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, which is representing Mr. Trump in the case.”

Choe Sang-Hun of the New York Times: "North Korea said on Thursday that it had destroyed its only known nuclear test site.... North Korea allowed a select group of journalists from Britain, China, Russia, South Korea and the United States to watch its engineers destroy and close tunnels in its mountainous Punggye-ri test site, where the country has conducted all six of its nuclear tests. No independent outside nuclear monitors were invited to verify the dismantlement of the site. The action came two days after Mr. Trump backed away from his demand that Mr. Kim completely abandon his nuclear arsenal without any reciprocal American concessions."

Washington Post: "North Korea says it will reconsider [participating in a] summit with Trump ‘if the U.S. continues with its evil acts[.]’ The statement, issued by Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, took particular aim at Vice President Pence for his 'unbridled and impudent remarks that North Korea might end like Libya.' 'As a person involved in U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president,' said Choe, who was previously in charge of North Korea’s relations with the United States. North Korea was not begging for talks, she said a day after President Trump suggested the talks could be postponed or even canceled.” This was a breaking news story at 8:40 pm ET Wednesday.

Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "The Internal Revenue Service is preparing to crack down on states that try to circumvent a new limit on the state and local tax deduction, saying it will not allow workarounds aimed at helping individuals fully deduct those taxes.The $10,000 cap, which was included in last year’s $1.5 trillion Republican tax overhaul, hit predominantly Democratic high-tax states hardest since it limits the amount of state and local sales, income and property taxes that taxpayers can deduct from their federal taxes.... The Treasury Department on Wednesday warned that such workarounds are unlikely to pass I.R.S. muster.... The notice is a precursor to a formal guidance from the I.R.S. that will need to go through a review process." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Awasin Suebsaeng of The Daily Beast: "Fresh off their heated, 'fuck'-encrusted shouting match in China, tensions and policy fissures between Donald Trump advisers Steve Mnuchin and Peter Navarro are at an all-time high.... Navarro has ... privately nicknamed Mnuchin 'Neville Chamberlain' ... and likened the economic threat from China to that of fascist dictator Hitler.... A senior White House official described the dynamic between the two as a 'cold war that became hot,'... Other administration officials simply expressed dismay at the feud, with one noting with a sigh that 'this is not what [Trump] needs right now, more palace-intrigue horseshit.'" --safari

Missy Ryan of the Washington Post: "The Pentagon disinvited China from participating in a major naval exercise on Wednesday, signaling mounting U.S. anger over Beijing’s expanded military footprint in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan said the Defense Department had reversed an earlier invitation to the Chinese Navy to the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), the world’s largest international naval exercise, over the decision to place anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jammers in the Spratly Islands." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Gordon Chang in the Daily Beast: "Two China crises — one on North Korea and the other on trade — are intersecting, and feeding off each other. They both could escalate fast.... In addition to openly violating U.N. sanctions in recent months, Xi has undoubtedly been schooling Kim in the art of defiance of the international community, especially the United States. That second Xi-Kim meeting — held May 7 and 8 in the Chinese city of Dalian — preceded North Korea’s return to bad behavior. It took some time for Trump to recognize what was going on, but he evidently lost patience with the Chinese at the beginning of this week. On Monday morning, Trump took to Twitter to criticize Beijing." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Mark Landler of the New York Times: "President Trump opened the door on Tuesday to a phased dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, backing away from his demand that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, completely abandon his arsenal without any reciprocal American concessions. The president’s hint of flexibility came after North Korea declared last week that it would never agree to unilaterally surrender its weapons, even threatening to cancel the much-anticipated summit meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump scheduled for next month in Singapore." This is an update of a story linked yesterday morning. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Robert Burns of the AP: "... service members entrusted with guarding nuclear missiles ... bought, distributed and used the hallucinogen LSD and other mind-altering illegal drugs as part of a ring that operated undetected for months on a highly secure military base in Wyoming. After investigators closed in, one airman deserted to Mexico.... A slipup on social media by one airman enabled investigators to crack the drug ring at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in March 2016, details of which are reported here for the first time. Fourteen airmen were disciplined. Six of them were convicted in courts martial.... Air Force investigators found those implicated in the F.E. Warren drug ring used LSD on base and off, at least twice at outdoor gatherings. Some also snorted cocaine and used ecstasy."

** Patrick Smith of ThinkProgress: "Wednesday ... Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) said the EPA barred his staff from attending a summit on water contamination.... What’s especially concerning about this move is that Kildee represents Flint, Michigan, the site of an ongoing toxic water crisis.... In addition, the EPA once again barred press from covering Wednesday’s event.... Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) questioned who the EPA was really serving with this event, saying on Twitter that the agency was 'more concerned with protecting the EPA chemical summit from the public than it is with protecting the public from harmful chemicals.'" --safari

Civil rights groups slammed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for saying Tuesday that schools can decide whether to report undocumented students to immigration enforcement officials, saying her statements conflict with the law and could raise fears among immigrant students. DeVos’s answers came during testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was at one time undocumented, pressed the secretary for her positions on immigration enforcement.... The Supreme Court made clear in Plyler v. Doe that public schools have a constitutional obligation to provide schooling for children, regardless of immigration status. That means schools also cannot enforce measures that would deter undocumented children from registering. They cannot ask about immigration status. And according to the American Civil Liberties Union, they cannot report students or their families to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.... Under the Obama administration, Arne Duncan, who was education secretary, and Eric Holder, who was attorney general, issued guidance to schools reminding them of their obligation to educate all children, regardless of immigration status. And those officials warned schools that they would violate federal law if they required things an undocumented immigrant might lack, such as a U.S. birth certificate or a Social Security number." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: To be fair to Secretary Dumbbelle, Espaillat set her up. He asked her, "... do you feel that the principal or teacher is responsible to call [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and to have that family reported?” So, what with Betsy's boss embracing the theory that at least someone in that hypothetical undocumented family was a marauding gangbanger & machete-weilding murderer, Dumbelle replied, "... I think that’s a school decision. That’s a local community decision." As for the Obama-era guidance, reporter

AP: "The Trump administration is moving to reverse Obama-era rules barring hunters on some public lands in Alaska from baiting brown bears with bacon and doughnuts and using spotlights to shoot mother black bears and cubs hibernating in their dens.... Under the proposed changes, hunters would also be allowed to hunt black bears with dogs, kill wolves and pups in their dens, and use motor boats to shoot swimming caribou. These and other hunting methods — condemned as cruel by wildlife protection advocates — were outlawed on federal lands in 2015.... Expanding hunting rights on federal lands has been a priority for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke" --safari: Fuck you Zinke! (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Spencer Woodman of ICIJ: "Fresh disclosures that ... Michael Cohen used a shell company to receive huge payments from a firm linked to a Russian oligarch as well as two multinational corporations have highlighted the United States’ position as a leading global enabler of corporate secrecy. Reports regarding Cohen’s firm come just weeks after the British Parliament dropped a financial secrecy bombshell by advancing legislation requiring its island territories, which include some of the world’s most notorious tax havens, to publicly disclose company ownership. Cohen’s shell company is registered in Delaware, a state that allows companies to disclose little trace of their owners or directors.... 'Right now, the United States is the easiest place in the world to set up an anonymous shell company,' says Clark Gascoigne, deputy director of the FACT Coalition, a group dedicated to financial transparency." --safari

Gubernatorial Race. Maegan Vazquez of CNN: Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez won her runoff and became the Democratic nominee for Texas governor Tuesday night, making her the first openly lesbian and Latina nominee to win a major party gubernatorial nomination in the state. Valdez won 53.1% of the vote while her competitor, Andrew White, obtained 46.9%, according to unofficial election results." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Jackson McHenry of New York: "Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have started a criminal probe into the numerous sexual-abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. According to their sources, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York is looking into whether Weinstein lured or induced women to cross state lines for the purpose of committing a sex crime, which is a federal charge. Previously, local authorities in Los Angeles and New York had opened investigations into Weinstein, though neither have led to an arrest — though the NYPD has claimed that they are waiting for DA Cyrus Vance Jr.’s approval to make one."

Medlar's Sports Report. Victor Mather of the New York Times: "N.F.L. players will be allowed to stay in the locker room during the national anthem, but their teams will be fined by the league if they go onto the field and kneel, according to new rules adopted by owners on Wednesday in an effort to defuse an issue that escalated last season into a national debate catalyzed by President Trump. Players had previously been required to be on the field for the anthem. Commissioner Roger Goodell said that owners voted unanimously to rescind that rule and to fine teams if their players are on the field or sidelines but do not 'show respect for the flag and the anthem.' At least one owner, Jed York of the 49ers, said his team abstained in the vote.... Christopher Johnson, the chairman and C.E.O. of the Jets, said the team would not punish players who choose to kneel during the anthem, despite the cost.... The new policy was adopted at the league’s spring meeting in Atlanta without involvement from the players’ union.” ...

... New York Times Editors: "Rather than show a little backbone themselves and support the right of athletes to protest peacefully, the league capitulated to a president who relishes demonizing black athletes.... The league has now decided it will also override the best interests of America and try to substitute a phony pageant of solidarity for a powerful civics lesson."

Way Beyond the Beltway

Thanks, China! Joe Romm of ThinkProgress: "In a truly remarkable feat of innovation, scientists have figured out how to create 'hybrid' solar cells that generate power not just from sunlight but also from raindrops. This means we may soon see all-weather solar panels that work when it is cloudy and even at night, if it’s raining.... Much of this innovation is now coming from China, the world leader in both manufacturing and deployment of solar energy.... For instance, China has developed 'double-sided' solar panels that can generate power from light that hits their underside. That can enable a 10 percent boost in output.... Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects these panels could capture a remarkable 40 percent share of the market by 2025." --safari (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Weird News. Chris Buckley of the New York Times: "An American government employee posted in southern China has signs of possible brain injury after reporting disturbing sounds and sensations, the State Department said on Wednesday, in events that seemed to draw parallels with mysterious ailments that struck American diplomats in Cuba. The State Department warning, issued through the United States Consulate in Guangzhou, a city in southern China, advised American citizens in China to seek medical help if they felt similar symptoms. But it said that no other cases had been reported." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Will Fitzgibbon of ICIJ: "West African countries are plundered by companies and individuals, while governments do little to stem the flow. West Africa accounts for more than one-third of an estimated $50 billion that leaves the continent untraced or untaxed each year.... Overall, a combination of corruption, drug, human and weapons trafficking and other furtive import and export activities strip Africa of three to 10 times as much as it receives in foreign aid.... ICIJ partnered with 13 journalists on West Africa Leaks to investigate high-profile individuals and powerful corporations in the region. The investigation included journalists from six countries where reporters hadn’t before examined files pertaining to the individuals and businesses." --safari: This article leads to several others on the same subject. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) 

Tuesday
May222018

The Commentariat -- May 23, 2018

Afternoon Update:

Contributor P.D. Pepe mentioned this earlier today:

Mel Leonor of Politico: "... Donald Trump on Wednesday said he did a 'great service to this country' by firing former FBI Director James Comey.

Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "The Internal Revenue Service is preparing to crack down on states that try to circumvent a new limit on the state and local tax deduction, saying it will not allow workarounds aimed at helping individuals fully deduct those taxes. The $10,000 cap, which was included in last year's $1.5 trillion Republican tax overhaul, hit predominantly Democratic high-tax states hardest since it limits the amount of state and local sales, income and property taxes that taxpayers can deduct from their federal taxes.... The Treasury Department on Wednesday warned that such workarounds are unlikely to pass I.R.S. muster.... The notice is a precursor to a formal guidance from the I.R.S. that will need to go through a review process."

Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, has been granted his permanent security clearance, a person briefed on the matter said on Wednesday, ending a period of uncertainty that had fueled questions about whether Mr. Kushner was in peril in the special counsel investigation. Mr. Kushner's F.B.I. background checks had dragged on for a year.... Mr. Kushner's clearances were approved by career officials after the completion of the F.B.I. background check and that the president was not involved in the process. The security clearance process had not been delayed by the special counsel's investigation, said Mr. Kushner's lawyer, Abbe D. Lowell."

Eileen Sullivan of the New York Times: "President Trump repeated unconfirmed claims on Wednesday about federal investigators using a spy inside his presidential campaign, and said it could be one of the 'biggest political scandals in history!' The president also gave the scandal a name: 'SPYGATE.'... In a series of Twitter posts early Wednesday..., Mr. Trump departed from his previous language about the possibility that the government deployed a spy inside his presidential campaign. Instead, he stated it as fact.... 'Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State. They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!'... Mr. Trump's claims about the government spying on his campaign are part of a pattern for this president, who rails about injustice and political bias among the top officials at the Justice Department -- officials he appointed. He has described his own Justice Department as a 'deep state,' and on Wednesday appeared to accuse the department of criminal activity, calling it the 'Criminal Deep State.' The latest accusation is similar to Mr. Trump's claims in the early days of his presidency that former President Barack Obama had Mr. Trump's 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower. His unsubstantiated claims were later proven to be false after a Justice Department review." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Once again, the paper of record publishes a front-page story which describes the POTUS* as a lying sack o' and/or a lunatic. ...

... Jonathan Chait: "Trump's ability to comprehend objective reality is characteristically cracked. But his confidence that the array of forces are shifting to his benefit, and that he may turn the tables on his enemies, has a real basis in reality. He is bringing his party, and the powers it commands, around to his warped manner of thinking.... The defense has ignored all this evidence of guilt, and instead focused on the question of why Trump was being investigated at all.... Planting evidence? Multiple spies? Obama political operatives? You might think ... Trump could not get his party to go along with this theory, to dismiss all the evidence of culpability as having been fabricated by a pro-Obama cabal in the FBI. But then you would be ignoring how far down the Trump rabbit hole the Republican Party has gone so far." ...

... Greg Sargent: "... Trump’s latest tweets show him concocting crazy conspiracy theories in the face of an investigation that is closing in on him, his family and his cronies. Why is he doing this? Because the investigation, in tandem with dogged media digging, has already produced evidence of Trump campaign collusion with a foreign power to subvert our democracy and allegations of mind-boggling levels of corruption, which include Trump corruptly going to extraordinary lengths to subvert the workings of justice, with the active help of Republicans in Congress.... Democrats should talk about this.... Even if the public may not be closely familiar with all the details involving Russian collusion, Democrats can connect the Mueller investigation to a broader case about Trump corruption and Republican efforts to help him escape accountability.... Trump's whack-job lies are not a sign that he's winning the public argument; they're a sign that he's losing it. Democrats should act accordingly." ...

... Seung Min Kim of the Washington Post: "A trio of influential Senate Republicans, cut out of a high-stakes meeting this week on classified information about a confidential FBI source who aided an investigation into Trump campaign advisers, is asking the White House to be allowed to review the material. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Tex.) made the request in a letter obtained by The Washington Post. In it, the senators stress their 'interest in attending such a meeting and in support of providing Congress with documents necessary to conduct oversight of these issues.'... In a separate letter sent Wednesday to Rosenstein and Wray, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged the officials to abandon plans for the meeting. If the meeting is held, the Democrats asked that it be opened up to a bipartisan group of eight lawmakers.... 'We can think of no legitimate oversight justification for the ex parte dissemination -- at the direction of the president -- of investigative information to the president's staunchest defenders in Congress and, ultimately, to the president's legal defense team.'" ...

... ** Paul Wood of the BBC: "Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 (£300,000) to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved. The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine's leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law. The meeting at the White House was last June. Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country's anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort." Read on. ...

... At 2 pm ET, CNN is reporting that prosecutors have told a court they are ready to sentence George Papadopoulos. No story up yet.

Missy Ryan of the Washington Post: "The Pentagon disinvited China from participating in a major naval exercise on Wednesday, signaling mounting U.S. anger over Beijing's expanded military footprint in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan said the Defense Department had reversed an earlier invitation to the Chinese Navy to the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), the world's largest international naval exercise, over the decision to place anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jammers in the Spratly Islands." ...

... Gordon Chang in the Daily Beast: "Two China crises -- one on North Korea and the other on trade -- are intersecting, and feeding off each other. They both could escalate fast.... In addition to openly violating U.N. sanctions in recent months, Xi has undoubtedly been schooling Kim in the art of defiance of the international community, especially the United States. That second Xi-Kim meeting -- held May 7 and 8 in the Chinese city of Dalian -- preceded North Korea's return to bad behavior. It took some time for Trump to recognize what was going on, but he evidently lost patience with the Chinese at the beginning of this week. On Monday morning, Trump took to Twitter to criticize Beijing." ...

... Mark Landler of the New York Times: "President Trump opened the door on Tuesday to a phased dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, backing away from his demand that the North's leader, Kim Jong-un, completely abandon his arsenal without any reciprocal American concessions. The president's hint of flexibility came after North Korea declared last week that it would never agree to unilaterally surrender its weapons, even threatening to cancel the much-anticipated summit meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump scheduled for next month in Singapore." This is an update of a story linked below.

AP: "The Trump administration is moving to reverse Obama-era rules barring hunters on some public lands in Alaska from baiting brown bears with bacon and doughnuts and using spotlights to shoot mother black bears and cubs hibernating in their dens.... Under the proposed changes, hunters would also be allowed to hunt black bears with dogs, kill wolves and pups in their dens, and use motor boats to shoot swimming caribou. These and other hunting methods -- condemned as cruel by wildlife protection advocates -- were outlawed on federal lands in 2015.... Expanding hunting rights on federal lands has been a priority for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke" --safari: Fuck you Zinke!

Gubernatorial Race. Maegan Vazquez of CNN: Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez won her runoff and became the Democratic nominee for Texas governor Tuesday night, making her the first openly lesbian and Latina nominee to win a major party gubernatorial nomination in the state. Valdez won 53.1% of the vote while her competitor, Andrew White, obtained 46.9%, according to unofficial election results."

Thanks, China! Joe Romm of ThinkProgress: "In a truly remarkable feat of innovation, scientists have figured out how to create 'hybrid' solar cells that generate power not just from sunlight but also from raindrops. This means we may soon see all-weather solar panels that work when it is cloudy and even at night, if it's raining.... Much of this innovation is now coming from China, the world leader in both manufacturing and deployment of solar energy.... For instance, China has developed 'double-sided' solar panels that can generate power from light that hits their underside. That can enable a 10 percent boost in output.... Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects these panels could capture a remarkable 40 percent share of the market by 2025." --safari

Weird News. Chris Buckley of the New York Times: "An American government employee posted in southern China has signs of possible brain injury after reporting disturbing sounds and sensations, the State Department said on Wednesday, in events that seemed to draw parallels with mysterious ailments that struck American diplomats in Cuba. The State Department warning, issued through the United States Consulate in Guangzhou, a city in southern China, advised American citizens in China to seek medical help if they felt similar symptoms. But it said that no other cases had been reported."

Will Fitzgibbon of ICIJ: "West African countries are plundered by companies and individuals, while governments do little to stem the flow. West Africa accounts for more than one-third of an estimated $50 billion that leaves the continent untraced or untaxed each year.... Overall, a combination of corruption, drug, human and weapons trafficking and other furtive import and export activities strip Africa of three to 10 times as much as it receives in foreign aid.... ICIJ partnered with 13 journalists on West Africa Leaks to investigate high-profile individuals and powerful corporations in the region. The investigation included journalists from six countries where reporters hadn't before examined files pertaining to the individuals and businesses." --safari: This article leads to several others on the same subject.

*****

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

Michael Schmidt & others of the New York Times on ways This Russia Thing might play out.

Trump's Latest Conspiracy Theory. Julia Manchester of the Hill: "President Trump claimed on Tuesday that a 'spy' was embedded in his presidential campaign in 2016 as a means of aiding Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race. 'If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn't a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered - many times higher than normal,' he tweeted Tuesday night. 'Follow the money! The spy was there early in the campaign and yet never reported Collusion with Russia, because there was no Collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win - just like they did to Bernie Sanders, who got duped!'" ...

     ... Mrs. McC: Okay, then. The proof of "no collusion" is that the well-paid spy President Obama placed in Trump's campaign to help Clinton didn't report (to someone) any collusion between Trump, et al., & Russia. I'm convinced now that the Mueller probe is indeed a witch hunt. ...

... Louis Nelson of Politico: "'A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign. If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country,' Trump told reporters on Tuesday at the White House. 'That would be one of the biggest insults that anyone's ever seen and it would be very illegal, aside from everything else. It would make probably every political event ever look like small potatoes.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Conspiracy Theory, Longer-Form. Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair: "According to people familiar with Trump's thinking, his team is attempting to build the case that anti-Trump forces in the F.B.I. entrapped his advisers using informants to plant evidence about Russian collusion. The theory goes that the F.B.I. later used these contacts with the Russians to delegitimize his presidency. Trump's advisers say the intelligence community believed Hillary Clinton would win the presidency, but in case she didn't, they concocted this elaborate plot to remove Trump from office. 'Just when you think it can't get stranger, it does,' a Trump adviser told me. Stone claims the anti-Trump conspiracy includes senior intelligence officials from the Barack Obama administration. 'The guy who will end up burning in all this is [former C.I.A. director] John Brennan,' [Roger] Stone told me. 'If I were him I'd break the capsule and swallow it now. That psychopath is going down.'" ...

... Matt Ford of the New Republic provides an example of how the Trumpies come up with conspiracy theories, in this case the notion that Jim Comey privately forewarned Trump about the existence of the Steele dossier so CNN could report on it. The Dumbest Guy in the Senate figures in. Mrs. McC: To be fair, I'm liking the Trump-Broidy abortion/hush-money conspiracy theory, so I might not want to cast too many stones.

... Mel Leonor of Politico: "... Donald Trump on Tuesday declined to say whether he has confidence in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as the Justice Department kicks off a review into the FBI's interactions with the Trump campaign. 'Excuse me, I have the president of South Korea here,' Trump said when asked about the deputy attorney general during a joint media appearance with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is visiting Washington. 'He doesn't want to hear these questions, if you don't mind,' Trump added." ...

... Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker: "In the latest of the complex machinations in the Russia investigation, and in the investigations of the investigation, it's easy to lose the most important thread: that ... Donald Trump is still scheming to rid himself of the meddlesome special counsel, Robert Mueller.... This demand for an investigation of the F.B.I.'s behavior, which was promptly joined by a number of congressional Republicans, is without precedent in modern American history.... Trump's demand is so obviously improper that it's possible to see it in a different way -- not as a bona-fide attempt to gain information about the investigation but, rather, a dare to Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, to resign in protest.... [Instead,] Rosenstein devised what was, under the circumstances, an artful finesse.... But no one should think that Rosenstein -- or Mueller -- is safe.... At the same time that Rosenstein..., the President directed his chief of staff to accommodate a request from House Republicans to view certain secret documents from the Russia investigation. Likewise, under modern ethical traditions, the House members should have been immediately refused.... The final showdown between Trump and Rosenstein -- and, thus, Mueller -- hasn't taken place; it's just been postponed." ...

... Stephen Colbert explains the investigation of the investigators:

Gloria Borger, et al., of CNN: "Donald Trump's legal team is trying to narrow the scope of the President's potential interview with special counsel Robert Mueller to questions on Russia-related matters that occurred before Trump's election, multiple sources familiar with the matter told CNN. Trump's lawyers ... are looking for a way to get him to agree to limit -- or eliminate -- questions regarding Trump's conduct after he won the presidency, especially those related to whether he might have obstructed justice while in office. Their goal is to move past a standoff that threatens to drag out Mueller's investigation, and appears to be part of a larger strategy to negotiate with the special counsel through the media." ...

Disallowed Question: "When you fired Jim Comey, was it because of this Russia thing?

Allowed Question: What is your favorite color?

"It Was Sort of Like a Gift." S.V. Date of the Huffington Post: "His client insists there was 'NO COLLUSION' with Russia to win the presidency, but Donald Trump's lead lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has a new theory of the case: What's the big deal if he did?In a recent interview with HuffPost, Giuliani initially disputed the notion that Trump's daily citing, in the final month of his campaign, of Russian-aligned WikiLeaks and its release of Russian-stolen emails constituted 'colluding' with Russia. 'It is not,' Giuliani said. Then he switched tacks. 'OK, and if it is, it isn't illegal... It was sort of like a gift,' he said. 'And you're not involved in the illegality of getting it.'"

Danny Hakim, et al., of the New York Times: "A significant business partner of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer, has quietly agreed to cooperate with the government as a potential witness, a development that could be used as leverage to pressure Mr. Cohen to work with the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Under the agreement, the partner, Evgeny A. Freidman, a Russian immigrant who is known as the Taxi King, will avoid jail time, and will assist government prosecutors in state or federal investigations, according to a person briefed on the matter.... Mr. Freidman, who was disbarred earlier this month, had been accused of failing to pay more than $5 million in taxes and faced four counts of criminal tax fraud and one of grand larceny -- all B felonies. Each carries a maximum prison sentence of up to 25 years in prison. Instead, he appeared in court in Albany on Tuesday and pleaded guilty to a single count of evading only $50,000 worth of taxes; he faces five years of probation if he fulfills the terms of his agreement, the judge, Patrick Lynch of Albany County court, said during the roughly 20-minute proceeding." ...

... Eric Levitz of New York: "It seems reasonable to assume that the threshold for securing five-years probation -- for allegedly committing more than 100-prison-years-worth of felonies -- is also rather high; and thus, that Evgeny Freidman has substantial evidence that Michael Cohen was involved in crimes. Donald Trump surrounds himself with people who have serious legal liabilities -- and those people, apparently, surround themselves with other people who have serious legal liabilities."

Paul Campos in New York lays out more evidence that it is likely that the $1.6MM GOP fundraiser & lobbyist Elliott Broidy paid to "Shera Bechard, a Playboy model with whom Broidy now claims to have had an affair," was instead "a favor to Donald Trump, who actually impregnated Bechard, and then needed to hush her up about their affair and her subsequent abortion." Mrs. McC: But what will the evangelical abortion foes say? ...

... Shorter Paul Campos in LG&$: "What really happened is: Trump had an affair with Bechard, and impregnated her. Bechard contacted Keith Davidson and demanded money. Davidson called Michael Cohen. Cohen called Broidy, and asked him to come up with $1.6 million. Broidy demanded a meeting with Trump in the Oval Office, that Broidy could use to convince his Gulf State clients that he had Trump's ear about shifting US policy in the region. Broidy made his first payment on November 30th. Trump met with Broidy two days later. A few days after that, the U.A.E. gave Broidy's private company a $600 million contract." ...

... Paul Waldman in the Washington Post: "... today, we turn our attention to one Elliott Broidy, who may well be moving into the first tier of Trump scandal players. His is a tale of government influence, foreign machinations, piles of money, and even a Playboy model mistress." Waldman hits both the Shera Bechard question & the larger one -- the fabulous multi-million-dollar "consulting contracts [Broidy cut with] Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in exchange for which they would use Broidy's connections to the new president to help the Saudis and the UAE in their conflict with Qatar, a U.S. ally that houses a critical American military base.... Once we learn everything there is to learn, the Trump scandals may not wrap up into a neat and easily understandable package. But all the Trump scandals all lead back to one story -- a story about incredibly corrupt people, including the president himself, trampling over the law and the interests of the country in order to stuff their own pockets. And it just keeps getting bigger." Mrs. McC: Both Campos & Waldman connect the Bechard "favor" to Broidy's securing the Middle East contracts. These are just "theories" now, but the evidence is compelling. ...

Michael Riley & Lauren Etter of Bloomberg: "Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has asked about flows of money into the Cyprus bank account of a company that specialized in social-media manipulation and whose founder reportedly met with Donald Trump Jr. in August 2016, according to a person familiar with the investigation. The inquiry is drawing attention to PSY Group, an Israeli firm that pitched its services to super-PACs and other entities during the 2016 election. Those services included infiltrating target audiences with elaborately crafted social-media personas and spreading misleading information through websites meant to mimic news portals, according to interviews and PSY Group documents.... The person doesn't believe any of those pitches was successful.... Following Trump's victory, PSY Group formed an alliance with Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign's primary social-media consultants, to try to win U.S. government work, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News."

Squeaky Wheel Rule to Apply. Karoun Demirjian & Matt Zopotosky of the Washington Post: "Just two Republican lawmakers will be allowed to review classified information about a confidential FBI source who aided the investigation into the Trump campaign at a meeting Thursday with Justice Department and intelligence officials, a White House spokeswoman said Tuesday.... [Sarah Sanders] said Democrats were cut out because they had not requested the same materials that their Republican colleagues had.... The dispute comes as Trump and conservative lawmakers continue to rail against the FBI, the Justice Department and Mueller's probe. Conservative House Republicans unveiled a resolution Tuesday insisting on the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate their growing list of grievances." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Justin Sink of Bloomberg: "Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview outside the House chamber, that he believed [Devin] Nunes had requested that Democrats not be invited to the meeting. 'What we were informed by DOJ and FBI is that Chairman Nunes refuses to do it on a bipartisan basis,' Schiff added. Nunes declined to address Schiff's claims, telling reporters they could get information from him by watching when he is interviewed on the Sunday morning news shows." Mrs. McC: Because everything Devin Nunes says is true & accurate.

Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times: "A law firm of Stormy Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti was hit with a $10-million judgment Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court after he broke his promise to pay $2 million to a former colleague. Judge Catherine Bauer of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana ordered the Eagan Avenatti law firm to pay the $10 million to Jason Frank, a lawyer who used to work at the Newport Beach firm.... To settle his law firm's bankruptcy, Avenatti had personally guaranteed that the $2 million would be paid to Frank last week, but both he and his firm failed to turn over the money. At the hearing, the U.S. Justice Department revealed that Avenatti has also defaulted on just over $440,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest that he had personally promised to pay the Internal Revenue Service under another bankruptcy settlement for his law firm. Assistant U.S. Atty. Najah Shariff told the judge that the federal government would soon file a motion demanding payment."

Rudy's Contribution to the Opioid Crisis. Chris McGreal of the Guardian: "The US government missed the opportunity to curb sales of the drug that kickstarted the opioid epidemic when it secured the only criminal conviction against the maker of OxyContin a decade ago. Purdue Pharma hired Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor and now Donald Trump's lawyer, to head off a federal investigation in the mid-2000s into the company's marketing of the powerful prescription painkiller at the centre of an epidemic estimated to have claimed at least 300,000 lives. While Giuliani was not able to prevent the criminal conviction over Purdue's fraudulent claims for OxyContin's safety and effectiveness, he was able to reach a deal to avoid a bar on Purdue doing business with the federal government which would have killed a large part of the multibillion-dollar market for the drug. The former New York mayor also secured an agreement that greatly restricted further prosecution of the pharmaceutical company and kept its senior executives out of prison."


Mark Landler
of the New York Times: "President Trump said on Tuesday that his planned summit meeting next month with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, might be delayed. 'There's a very substantial chance that it won't work out,' Mr. Trump told reporters before a meeting in the Oval Office with South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in. 'It may not work out for June 12.' Mr. Trump expressed continued enthusiasm for the diplomatic encounter, saying he believed it could usher in a period of prosperity for North Korea. But he acknowledged that recent statements by North Korea had cast a pall of uncertainty over the timing of the meeting, which is set for Singapore. He appeared as baffled as anyone else about what might come next." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... John Wagner of the Washington Post: "Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the White House on Tuesday to remove an image of Kim Jong Un from a coin meant to commemorate the planned summit next month between the North Korean dictator and President Trump. Schumer's call, made via Twitter, came a day after media reports surfaced about the design of the 'challenge coin,' which features likenesses of both Trump and Kim, who is described on the coin as his nation's 'Supreme Leader.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Jonathan Chait: "While serving as secretary of State, Hillary Clinton disregarded an instruction from the Foreign Affairs Manual directing her to use State Department equipment for day-to-day operations. Clinton almost certainly did this for convenience ... but the issue somehow became a first-tier national scandal. The bizarre prominence this story took on is worth revisiting given Monday night's revelation that Donald Trump is doing essentially the same thing.... Notably, Politico's solid report [linked below] landed as a second-tier revelation, at best a distant second-place contender for most-damaging Trump news story of the day. Clinton's sloppy info-sec story blossomed into a narrative that overwhelmed every other aspect of her campaign.... We need to think more critically about the structural disparities that produce this double standard." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Steve M. is wondering why Lock-Her-Up Trump is still using at least one phone that doesn't have even the blocked-number low-tech security feature. ...

... Josephine Wolff in Slate: "In this administration, cybersecurity ... is something to tout loudly each and every time it can be used to justify a controversial or foolish or anti-competitive decision. Cybersecurity concerns are the perfect foil for attacking the Chinese tech industry.... The sheer hypocrisy of arguing that Huawei phones sold in the U.S. pose a risk to the cybersecurity of government employees or military personnel while the commander in chief himself openly walks around with an unsecured iPhone -- one that may well have been assembled in China itself -- is breathtaking. It's a reminder that while cybersecurity risks are important and require serious attention and consideration, they can also be wielded as a weapon to excuse any number of policy decisions made for other reasons."

Everything Is Running Very Smoothly. Eliana Johnson, et al., of Politico: "... Donald Trump has demanded changes to his communications team -- long seen as one of the most internally divided offices in his White House -- in an effort to crack down on the leaks that have plagued his presidency since Day One. White House chief of staff John Kelly signed off on a plan that would flush out some of the department's mid-level and junior aides, according to three people familiar with the situation. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other key senior officials are expected to remain, these people said." ...

... Gregory Korte of USA Today: "President Trump signed a bill Tuesday aimed at reducing the backlog of security clearance investigations -- but later reserved the right not to comply with it on constitutional grounds. In a signing statement Tuesday night, Trump said provisions of the bill -- the Securely Expediting Clearances Through Reporting Transparency Act of 2018, or SECRET Act -- encroach on his authority as commander-in-chief. Among the provisions Trump objected to: A section requiring the White House Office of Administration to report on its process for conducting security clearance investigations for White House officials. That process came under scrutiny in January when it was revealed that Staff Secretary Rob Porter -- the official responsible for the entire paper flow in and out of the Oval Office -- had been working without a permanent security clearance for more than a year. His clearance had been held up because of allegations of domestic violence from two ex-wives."

Trump Team Claims It Purposely Writes Stupid Tweets in Trump's "Voice." Annie Linskey of the Boston Globe: "West Wing employees who draft proposed tweets intentionally employ suspect grammar and staccato syntax in order to mimic the president's style, according to two people familiar with the process. They overuse the exclamation point! They Capitalize random words for emphasis. Fragments. Loosely connected ideas. All part of a process that is not as spontaneous as Trump's Twitter feed often appears.... Those familiar with the process wouldn't fess up to which tweets were staff-written. But an algorithm crafted by a writer at The Atlantic to determine real versus staff-written tweets suggested several were not written by the president, despite the unusual use of the language." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: If you can't open the Globe story, here's a New York Daily News report on the report.

Sideshow. Trump's Temporary Home Sinking into Swamp. Heather Timmons of Quartz: "... as of this past weekend, a sinkhole has been growing on the north lawn [of the White House grounds], Voice of America reporter Steve Herman observed, just near the press briefing room. 'It was noticeably bigger between Sunday and Monday,' Herman said. 'It's more than a foot long right now,' he said. A second sinkhole has opened up right next to it, he said.... Often described as a 'swamp' of corruption, parts of the city of Washington, DC, are also literally built on a swamp. The city's geological issues also include 'forebulge collapse,' a post-Ice Age condition that means the city could sink as much as six inches this century. Sinkholes have opened up across the city in recent years. They forced two residents to abandon their homes in March, and swallowed up a school bus last year."

Sideshow. Rachel Dicker of Mediaite: Members of Harvard's Class of 2003 are using traditional "Red Book" alumni notes to diss classmate Jared Kushner.


AP: "The Environmental Protection Agency is barring The Associated Press, CNN and the environmental-focused news organization E&E from a national summit on harmful water contaminants.The EPA blocked the news organizations from attending Tuesday's Washington meeting, convened by EPA chief Scott Pruitt.... Guards barred an AP reporter from passing through a security checkpoint inside the building. When the reporter asked to speak to an EPA public-affairs person, the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Miranda Green of the Hill: "When asked about the reporter's removal, an EPA spokesperson at first cited space constraints.... However, a handful of assigned reporter seats remained vacant by the time Pruitt began speaking, including one for a Wall Street Journal reporter who decided to watch the event via th livestream instead. A seat marked for Hearst Media was left open. Another publication was invited to the event but declined to send a reporter after learning that Pruitt would not be taking questions. CBS was the only major news outlet recording the event on video from the back of the room.... Reporters who were allowed to come to the event in the morning were also originally limited to only an hour of attendance. The entire summit spans two days. Journalists were at first not invited to stay through panel presentations, discussions and closing remarks regarding better regulating PFAS exposure and development of a cohesive federal standard." ...

... Update. Benjamin Hart of New York: "In the afternoon, after multiple outlets picked up on the AP’s report, the EPA reversed course and allowed [Ellen] Knickmeyer [-- the AP reporter whom the guards grabbed & shoved --] and the E&E News reporter into the meeting.... Earlier this month, Politico reported that the White House and EPA had blocked publication of a federal-health study on water contamination that the agency feared would be a 'public-relations nightmare.' Punishing news outlets for publishing unflattering information seems in character for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.... Pruitt, after all, prefers not to be asked any unexpected questions, and runs an agency that has taken a sneering, Trumpian tone toward the media." ...

... Emily Atkin of the New Republic: "Tuesday's altercation may be the most high-profile security incident Pruitt has faced in his 15 months as EPA administrator. That's saying something, considering that Pruitt insists on having a 24-hour security detail composed of 19 agents and at least 19 vehicles, costing taxpayers at least $3 million. Pruitt has repeatedly said this expense -- as well as his frequent first-class travel -- are necessary because he faces unprecedented security threats."

Is She Dumber than a Post or Just Pretending to Be? Jill Colvin & Colleen Long of the AP: "Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Tuesday she was unaware of intelligence assessments concluding that Russia favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. The U.S. intelligence community said in a January 2017 assessment that Russia had tried to influence the election to benefit Trump. 'I do not believe I've seen that conclusion that the specific intent was to help President Trump win. I'm not aware of that,' Nielsen told reporters after briefing members of the House on election security efforts. Homeland Security is the agency that oversees election security." Mrs. McC: Are you feeling safer now?

Devlin Barrett of the Washington Post: "The FBI has repeatedly provided grossly inflated statistics to Congress and the public about the extent of problems posed by encrypted cellphones, claiming investigators were locked out of nearly 7,800 devices connected to crimes last year when the correct number was much smaller, probably between 1,000 and 2,000.... Over a period of seven months, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray cited the inflated figure as the most compelling evidence for the need to address what the FBI calls 'Going Dark' -- the spread of encrypted software that can block investigators' access to digital data even with a court order. The FBI ... still does not have an accurate count of how many encrypted phones they received as part of criminal investigations last year, officials said. Last week, one internal estimate put the correct number of locked phones at 1,200, though officials expect that number to change as they launch a new audit...."

Alan Rappeport & Emily Flitter of the New York Times: "A decade after the global financial crisis tipped the United States into a recession, Congress agreed on Tuesday to free thousands of small and medium-sized banks from strict rules enacted as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law to prevent another meltdown. In a rare demonstration of bipartisanship, the House voted 258-159 to approve a regulatory rollback that passed the Senate earlier this year, handing a significant victory to President Trump, who has promised to 'do a big number on Dodd-Frank.' The bill stops far short of unwinding the toughened regulatory regime put in place to prevent the nation's biggest banks from engaging in risky behavior but represents a substantial watering down of Obama-era rules governing a large swath of the banking system." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Congressional Races, Etc.

The New York Times live-posted yesterday's primary election results for Georgia, Kentucky Arkansas & Texas.

Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams won the Democratic nomination for Georgia's top office on Tuesday, defeating ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans and advancing her quest to become the nation's first black female governor. She will face one of five Republicans in November in the race to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal, a competition that will test whether the state is truly competitive after more than a decade of GOP rule."

Kentucky House Republican incumbents have all won their primaries; three of the five were uncontested. Democrat Paul Walker prevailed in House District 1. Democrat Seth Hall in House District 4, Kenneth Stepp in District 5, & Amy McGrath in District 6. ...

... Eric Bradner of CNN: "A political newcomer knocked off Lexington Mayor Jim Gray -- a prized Democratic recruit and major figure in Kentucky politics -- in a primary for a US House seat Tuesday. Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot, won the Lexington-area 6th District contest and is now poised to take on Republican Rep. Andy Barr in a red-leaning district that Democrats hope will shift in their favor in November's midterm elections. Gray conceded the race Tuesday night.... The win for McGrath is the latest evidence of a political climate in which voters are eager to cast out those they see as figures of the political establishment. It also showed the strength of female candidates amid the 'Me Too' movement." ...

... Jack Brammer & Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader: "As upset teachers across Kentucky Tuesday tried to flex their political muscle, Rockcastle County High School math teacher R. Travis Brenda narrowly defeated House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell of Garrard County in one of the most-watched races for the state House, according to unofficial results. Brenda tried in the Republican primary election for the 71st House District seat to capitalize on teacher anger against legislators who backed a controversial pension bill in this year's law-making session. It was Brenda's first bid for public office. Shell, a farmer who has occupied the seat since 2012 and had the backing of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell as a potential rising star in the GOP, played a prominent role in handling the pension bill in the legislature."


Moriah Balingit
of the Washington Post: "A federal judge in Virginia sided Tuesday with a transgender teenager who spent most of his high school years fighting to use the boys' bathroom in a case that stood at the center of the national fight for transgender student rights. The judge said the school board that passed bathroom restrictions violated the teen's constitutional rights. Gavin Grimm, 19, sued the Gloucester County School Board after it passed a policy requiring students to use bathrooms that aligned with their 'biological gender.' Grimm, who was assigned the gender female at birth, told his classmates he was transgender his sophomore year and began using the boys' bathroom. When parents learned of it, they protested to the school board, which passed the restrictions."

Bobby Ross, et al., of the Washington Post: "Prominent Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson was removed from his job as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary amid an evangelical #MeToo moment: a massive backlash from women upset over comments he made in the past that are being newly perceived as sexist and demeaning. According to a brief statement early Wednesday, the seminary's board of trustees made him president emeritus, 'for the benefit of the future mission of the Seminary,' and he will receive compensation." Mrs. McC: Meanwhile, of course, these same faithful are good with Trump.

Beyond the Beltway

Sidebar. Lost in Translation. Amber Ferguson of the Washington Post: A proud South Carolina mother went to her local Publix grocery store & ordered a cake to celebrate a family landmark: her son was graduated with top honors. Mom carefully typed out the wording for the cake: "Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude class of 2018." When Mom opened the cake for the party, "In place of cum, three hyphens appeared, as they do for some other profanities in family newspapers: Summa ––– Laude. The Post replicated her experience and got the same result because, according to Publix, Mom used a "profane/special characters not allowed." See commentary at the end of yesterday's Comments thread. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Way Beyond

Nicholas Casey & Julie Davis of the New York Times: "One day after President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela declared re-election victory, the Trump administration on Monday placed new sanctions on the crisis-ridden country, and nations across the region refused to recognize the election result. President Trump signed an executive order on Monday afternoon imposing the new penalties, which would bar United States companies or citizens from buying debt or accounts receivable from the Venezuelan government. The order extends to Petróleos de Venezuela, the government-owned oil company that is the parent of Citgo Petroleum Corporation. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

News Lede

New York Times: "Philip Roth, the prolific, protean, and often blackly comic novelist who was a pre-eminent figure in 20th century literature, died on Tuesday night at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 85."

Monday
May212018

The Commentariat -- May 22, 2018

Bill Barrow of the AP: "Four states will cast ballots Tuesday as the 2018 midterm elections take shape. Voters in Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky hold primaries, while Texans settle several primary runoffs after their first round of voting in March." Barrow reports "some noteworthy story lines." ...

... Ed Gilgore has more on today's primary races.

*****

Afternoon Update:

Alan Rappeport & Emily Flitter of the New York Times: "A decade after the global financial crisis tipped the United States into a recession, Congress agreed on Tuesday to free thousands of small and medium-sized banks from strict rules enacted as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law to prevent another meltdown. In a rare demonstration of bipartisanship, the House voted 258-159 to approve a regulatory rollback that passed the Senate earlier this year, handing a significant victory to President Trump, who has promised to 'do a big number on Dodd-Frank.' The bill stops far short of unwinding the toughened regulatory regime put in place to prevent the nation's biggest banks from engaging in risky behavior but represents a substantial watering down of Obama-era rules governing a large swath of the banking system."

Squeaky Wheel Rule to Apply. Karoun Demirjian & Matt Zopotosky of the Washington Post: "Just two Republican lawmakers will be allowed to review classified information about a confidential FBI source who aided the investigation into the Trump campaign at a meeting Thursday with Justice Department and intelligence officials, a White House spokeswoman said Tuesday.... [Sarah Sanders ]said Democrats were cut out because they had not requested the same materials that their Republican colleagues had.... The dispute comes as Trump and conservative lawmakers continue to rail against the FBI, the Justice Department and Mueller's probe. Conservative House Republicans unveiled a resolution Tuesday insisting on the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate their growing list of grievances."

Louis Nelson of Politico: “'A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign. If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country,' Trump told reporters on Tuesday at the White House. 'That would be one of the biggest insults that anyone's ever seen and it would be very illegal, aside from everything else. It would make probably every political event ever look like small potatoes.'"

Mark Landler of the New York Times: "President Trump said on Tuesday that his planned summit meeting next month with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, might be delayed. 'There's a very substantial chance that it won't work out,' Mr. Trump told reporters before a meeting in the Oval Office with South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in. 'It may not work out for June 12.' Mr. Trump expressed continued enthusiasm for the diplomatic encounter, saying he believed it could usher in a period of prosperity for North Korea. But he acknowledged that recent statements by North Korea had cast a pall of uncertainty over the timing of the meeting, which is set for Singapore. He appeared as baffled as anyone else about what might come next." ...

... John Wagner of the Washington Post: "Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the White House on Tuesday to remove an image of Kim Jong Un from a coin meant to commemorate the planned summit next month between the North Korean dictator and President Trump. Schumer's call, made via Twitter, came a day after media reports surfaced about the design of the 'challenge coin,' which features likenesses of both Trump and Kim, who is described on the coin as his nation's 'Supreme Leader.'"

AP: "The Environmental Protection Agency is barring The Associated Press, CNN and the environmental-focused news organization E&E from a national summit on harmful water contaminants.The EPA blocked the news organizations from attending Tuesday's Washington meeting, convened by EPA chief Scott Pruitt.... Guards barred an AP reporter from passing through a security checkpoint inside the building. When the reporter asked to speak to an EPA public-affairs person, the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building."

Jonathan Chait: "While serving as secretary of State, Hillary Clinton disregarded an instruction from the Foreign Affairs Manual directing her to use State Department equipment for day-to-day operations. Clinton almost certainly did this for convenience ... but the issue somehow became a first-tier national scandal. The bizarre prominence this story took on is worth revisiting given Monday night's revelation that Donald Trump is doing essentially the same thing.... Notably, Politico's solid report [linked below] landed as a second-tier revelation, at best a distant second-place contender for most-damagin Trump news story of the day. Clinton's sloppy info-sec story blossomed into a narrative that overwhelmed every other aspect of her campaign.... We need to think more critically about the structural disparities that produce this double standard."

Nicholas Casey & Julie Davis of the New York Times: "One day after President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela declared re-election victory, the Trump administration on Monday placed new sanctions on the crisis-ridden country, and nations across the region refused to recognize the election result. President Trump signed an executive order on Monday afternoon imposing the new penalties, which would bar United States companies or citizens from buying debt or accounts receivable from the Venezuelan government. The order extends to Petróleos de Venezuela, the government-owned oil company that is the parent of Citgo Petroleum Corporation.

Sidebar. Lost in Translation. Amber Ferguson of the Washington Post: A proud South Carolina mother went to her local Publix grocery store & ordered a cake to celebrate a family landmark: her son was graduated with top honors. Mom carefully typed out the wording for the cake: "Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude class of 2018." When Mom opened the cake for the party, "In place of cum, three hyphens appeared, as they do for some other profanities in family newspapers: Summa ––– Laude. The Post replicated her experience and got the same result because, according to Publix, Mom used a "profane/special characters not allowed."

*****

"Team" of Rivals. Mark Landler & Ana Swanson of the New York Times: "By the time American negotiators wrapped up high-level talks with a visiting Chinese delegation last week, President Trump's ambitions for a multibillion dollar trade agreement had, for the time being, shriveled into a blandly worded communiqué without any dollar figures. It was not clear that the talks set a path to success. Ceaseless infighting and jockeying for influence on the White House's trade team helped deprive Mr. Trump of a quick victory on his most cherished policy agenda, several people involved in the talks said. The deep internal divisions carried over into how officials characterized the agreement and muddied the outlook for the next phase of the negotiations between Washington and Beijing. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday that the United States would hold off on imposing tariffs on China, putting the trade war 'on hold,' but hours later, the United States trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, warned the Chinese that the Trump administration might yet impose tariffs." ...

... Eileen Sullivan & Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "President Trump defended his administration's approach to resolving a trade war with China in a series of tweets Monday, following three-days of negotiations with the Chinese that ended with little clarity. Mr. Trump, in an early morning tweet, initially questioned why Democrats and the previous administration did not 'do something about Trade with China'.... Mr. Trump said on Monday that China agreed to purchase 'massive amounts' of American agriculture products.... However, much remains unresolved, including how much -- and what -- the Chinese will actually agree to purchase.... The president also warned China that it needs to be 'strong and tight' on the border of North Korea while negotiations are in progress.... On Monday, administration officials fanned out on TV to talk up the state of trade negotiations but acknowledged much remains up in the air and undecided." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Keith Bradsher of the New York Times: "China has called President Trump’s bluff. Chinese negotiators left Washington this weekend with a significant win: a willingness by the Trump administration to hold off for now on imposing tariffs on up to $150 billion in Chinese imports. China gave up little in return, spurning the administration's nudges for a concrete commitment to buy more goods from the United States, and avoiding limits on its efforts to build new high-tech Chinese industries.... China's propaganda machine took a victory lap after the talks, proclaiming that a strong challenge from the United States had been turned aside, at least for now.... China's success partly comes from its ability to stick to a single strategy in trade.... By contrast, the United States has shifted its demands and struggled to send out a consistent message.... Mr. Trump, who proclaimed earlier this year that 'trade wars are good, and easy to win,' and his advisers may find that extracting concessions from China is much harder than they expected it would be." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)"

David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "President Trump will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on Tuesday amid signs that his close partnership with Seoul in brokering a historic nuclear deal with North Korea's Kim Jong Un is faltering. Moon's top aides presented Trump in March with the invitation from Kim to hold the unprecedented summit, an offer Trump accepted on the spot. But Moon's visit to Washington coincides with renewed tensions on the Korean Peninsula that have cast doubt on the fate of the meeting, scheduled to take place in Singapore next month." ...

Click on picture to see larger image.... Sideshow. Your Tax Dollars at Work. Benjamin Hart of New York: "There's significant doubt about whether the high-stakes talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, planned for June 12 in Singapore, will actually come off. Kim abruptly threatened to back out of the meeting last week, while Trump -- whose strategy for the entire affair consists of winging it -- is reportedly (and rightly) worrying that he's about to get played by the North Korean dictator.... But whatever ends up happening, we'll always have ... this.... Yes, the U.S. government has gone ahead and minted a gaudy, QVC-ready coin to celebrate a meeting that may not actually take place, and is extremely unlikely to lead to the denuclearization Trump has demanded even if it does. The coin, of which 250 have been minted, depicts a notably youthful Trump hunched over in optimum dealmaker posture, glaring at a double-chinned Kim, who is referred to as 'Supreme Leader,' in a nice bit of deference." ...

... Gerry Mullany of the New York Times reports some reactions to the classy coin.

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

Matt Zapotosky, et al., of the Washington Post: "The White House and the Justice Department have put off a high-stakes confrontation over the FBI's use of a confidential source to aid an investigation into the Trump campaign, after top law enforcement and intelligence officials met with President Trump on Monday to discuss the brewing controversy. A White House spokeswoman said Chief of Staff John F. Kelly plans to convene another gathering between the officials and congressional leaders to 'review highly classified and other information' about the source and intelligence he provided. That could be viewed as something of a concession from the Justice Department, which had been reluctant to turn over materials on the source to GOP lawmakers demanding them. But it also could be a bureaucratic maneuver to buy time and shield actual documents.... The Monday meeting, which included Trump, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, lasted about an hour. Trump personally called to confer with the officials.... It was not clear whether [DOJ officials] had backed down from their position and would now allow GOP leaders to look at or keep the documents, or whether there would simply be a follow-up meeting for more discussion." ...

... Peter Baker of the New York Times: "... President Trump has embarked on what amounts to a two-prong strategy to contain the threat and undercut the credibility of the escalating investigations targeting him and his associates. The blizzard of Twitter messages combined with a string of public statements by his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, in recent days seemed aimed at turning the focus away from the conduct of the president or his team to that of their pursuers while laying out a series of red lines to limit the reach and duration of the primary inquiry.... While he has assailed the investigations for a year, Mr. Trump's latest assertion of bad faith by the Justice Department and the F.B.I. went beyond talk and resulted in an extraordinary meeting on Monday at the White House, where the president pressured intelligence and law enforcement officials to allow congressional Republicans to view highly classified information related to the Russia investigation that they had previously refused to divulge.... In some ways, that mirrors approaches taken by other politicians who came under fire, including Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton." ...

... Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "When President Trump publicly demanded that the Justice Department open an investigation into the F.B.I.'s scrutiny of his campaign contact with Russia, he inched further toward breaching an established constraint on executive power: The White House does not make decisions about individual law enforcement investigations.... By unabashedly ordering the department to open a particular investigation, Mr. Trump has ratcheted up his willingness to impose direct political control over the work of law enforcement officials.... 'Yesterday made explicit what before was implicit, which is that Trump is crossing every line that protects the independence of the Justice Department,' said Neal Katyal, who drafted the department's special counsel regulation in 1999 for the Clinton administration and served as acting solicitor general in the first term of the Obama administration.... Legally, it is ambiguous and contested whether a president has the lawful power to order the attorney general to open or close a case -- especially one involving his personal interests. That is because attorneys general who view a president's request or demand as unjustified can refuse it. But the president can fire and replace the attorney general. The primary check against a president abusing that power is the willingness of Congress to impeach him, as well as potential voter backlash."

... Benjamin Wittes in the Atlantic: "Sunday afternoon, President Trump tweeted an extraordinary threat -- extraordinary even by the standards of Donald Trump's norm-busting use of Twitter and abusive conduct toward the Justice Department and federal investigations: 'I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes -- and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!'... The tweet on its own terms is alarming. It's a statement of intent to issue a specific investigative demand of the Justice Department for entirely self-interested and overtly political reasons. And Trump published it in the absence of a shred of evidence that might support the demanded action.... This is a nakedly corrupt attempt on the part of the president to discredit and derail an investigation of himself at the expense of a human intelligence source to whose protection the FBI and DOJ are committed." ...

... "The President Who Cried Wolf." David Graham of the Atlantic: "Stop me if you've heard this one. The president of the United States is seizing on vague news reports to allege a vast political conspiracy against him, demanding an investigation, and searching for vindication. Of course you've heard this -- it's a trope nearly as old as the Trump administration. The latest recurrence concerns a reported informant who fed information to the FBI about possible Russian interference in the presidential campaign. Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel led the way on the story two weeks ago, and over the weekend The New York Times and The Washington Post added a great deal more detail.... Lack of detail has not stopped the president from leaping on the story -- indeed, the vagueness has enabled him to make some strong charges[.]... Trump first declared that there was political interference in his campaign, and only second asked for a probe to figure out whether there was political interference in the campaign.... Trump has repeatedly cried wolf -- claiming wiretaps, malicious 'unmasking' in intelligence, improper requests for warrants, and now political spying inside his campaign. In the first three cases, each claim has quickly petered out." ...

... New York Times Editors: "As the old saying goes, if the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If both the facts and the law are against you, pound the table and yell. Welcome to the central organizing principle of the Trump White House.... There was a sophisticated, multiyear conspiracy by Russian government officials and agents, working under direct orders from President Vladimir Putin, to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in support of Donald Trump. The American law enforcement and intelligence communities warned the Trump campaign and asked it to report anything suspicious. The campaign didn't do this. To the contrary, at least seven Trump campaign officials met with Russians or people linked to Russia, and several seemed eager to accept their help. As the F.B.I. became aware of these contacts, it began to investigate. And yet the bureau went to great lengths to shield this investigation from becoming public before the election, even as James Comey, then the F.B.I. director, spoke openly about the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server. These facts aren't disputed." ...

... Gene Robinson: "Stop waiting for the constitutional crisis that President Trump is sure to provoke. It's here.... Trump's power play is a gross misuse of his presidential authority and a dangerous departure from long-standing norms.... Rather than push back and defend the rule of law, Justice tried to mollify the president by at least appearing to give him what he wants. The Republican leadership in Congress has been silent as a mouse. This is how uncrossable lines are crossed.... None of this is normal or acceptable. One of the bedrock principles of our system of government is that no one is above the law, not even the president. But a gutless Congress has refused, so far, to protect this sacred inheritance. Trump is determined to use the Justice Department and the FBI to punish those he sees as political enemies. This is a crisis, and it will get worse." ...

... Greg Sargent: "In what can perhaps best be described as an act of appeasement, the Justice Department has announced that its inspector general will examine whether the FBI acted out of political motivation in conducting its investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign.... he move by the Justice Department -- which was undertaken at the order of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein -- is meant to temporarily mollify Trump in the face of what is a dramatic escalation of his ongoing effort to delegitimize special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation. Here are three big takeaways: Nothing will ever be enough.... The system is probably holding -- for now, anyway.... The GOP's enabling of Trump could get even worse." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Rachel Maddow opened last night with a good -- and yeah, overly long -- segment on the Justice Department's multiple capitulations to Trump's demands:

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: I've been listening to the "experts," and they are all torn about Justice's responses to Trump. ...

... Jake Tapper of CNN: "A loose and informal group of Trump advisers outside the White House, some of whom think the President is being ill served by White House chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn, have been aggressively campaigning to attack Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as part of a 'deep state' plot against the President. The campaign has focused on pressing Trump-friendly media and the President himself to push Rosenstein to reveal details about the investigation that both the Justice Department and FBI do not want disclosed.... The members of this group working to persuade the President and Trump-friendly media include ousted former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, President of the Trump Hispanic Advisory Council (and CNN commentator) Steve Cortes and many others.... It was not clear how much [Rep. Devin] Nunes is part of any of these conversations." ...

... Inae Oh of Mother Jones: "Even though Trump was criticized for inappropriately intervening in Justice Department affairs, the president's reelection campaign saw the order as an opportunity for a new fundraising initiative. On Monday, they sent out an email quoting the Sunday evening tweet and inviting supporters to join in 'demanding this abuse of power gets investigated.' In recent days, Trump, along with Rudy Giuliani and conservative talking heads, have misrepresented reports late last week that an FBI informant may have illegally spied on the Trump campaign." ...

... Betsy Woodruff of the Daily Beast: "... Donald Trump’s latest round of attacks on the FBI has left morale at the Justice Department at a new low, with officials bemoaning what they view as a full-frontal assault on their institution. 'It;s a deliberate campaign to delegitimize institutions where the people who are inside those institutions are professionals and giving up lots of money for the jobs that they're doing and it's extremely demoralizing,' said one current federal prosecutor.... Another DOJ official told The Daily Beast that morale at the FBI has hit rock bottom.... Trump has been pushing a conspiracy theory that the FBI sicced a spy on his campaign during the election season. In reality, a longtime FBI informant -- per numerous reports -- spoke with several Trump campaign officials, including Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, and shared the information with FBI investigators.... Using informants is typical for federal law enforcement, including in large and complex cases like the one involving Team Trump. But the president took to Twitter to assert that something more nefarious may have happened." ...

... Sideshow. Jonathan Swan & Alayna Treene of Axios: "President Trump's top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, recommended appointing Stefan Halper, an academic and suspected FBI informant on the Trump campaign, to a senior role in the Trump administration.... During the presidential transition Navarro recommended Halper, among other people, for ambassador roles in Asia."

... [Former CIA Director John] Brennan started this entire debacle about President Trump. We now know that Brennan had detailed knowledge of the (phony) Dossier...he knows about the Dossier, he denies knowledge of the Dossier, he briefs the Gang of 8 on the Hill about the Dossier, which.... ...they then used to start an investigation about Trump. It is that simple. This guy is the genesis of this whole Debacle. This was a Political hit job, this was not an Intelligence Investigation. Brennan has disgraced himself, he's worried about staying out of Jail.' Dan Bongino -- Donald Trump, in tweets Monday ...

... Linda Qiu of the New York Times: "False. Quoting a conservative commentator >who appeared on Fox and Friends on Monday morning, Mr. Trump claimed that the F.B.I. began investigating links between his presidential campaign and Russian election meddling based on a dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy. As The New York Times reported in December, the investigation began in July 2016 — after George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, told an Australian diplomat that Russia had political 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton. Australian officials then alerted their American counterparts. The information provided by Mr. Steele did not reach the F.B.I. officials charged with investigating Mr. Trump's campaign until mid-September, The Times reported last week. Republicans who hold the majority vote on the House Intelligence Committee have also stated that the investigation was opened because of information linked to Mr. Papadopoulos -- not Mr. Steele's dossier."

Dan Mangan of CNBC: "Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani's claim that special counsel Robert Mueller is hoping to end his investigation into whether the president obstructed justice in the Russia probe by Sept. 1 is 'entirely made up,' a new report says. A U.S. official familiar with the case said Giuliani's assertion in a New York Times article on Sunday about Mueller's supposed target date was 'another apparent effort to pressure the special counsel to hasten the end of his work,' Reuters reported. 'He'll wrap it up when he thinks he's turned every rock," the unidentified source said, referring to Mueller's inquiry into possible obstruction by ... Donald Trump into the question of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.... The source added that Mueller's investigation into possible obstruction -- which is just one facet of his ongoing probe -- will not end based on 'some arbitrary, first-of-the-month deadline on of the president's attorneys cooks up.'"

** Brian Beutler of Crooked: "The countries that helped see to it that Trump became president, all of which are heavily corrupt, have been rewarded with extraordinary geopolitical spoils that have rendered U.S. interests an afterthought. Trump has frayed the western alliance more in a year and a half than the Russian government was able to do from the outside over the course of decades. He has at the same time thrown the weight of the White House behind a Saudi-Emirati effort to consolidate power in the Middle East a the expense of other U.S. allies. The scandal of Russian meddling in the 2016 (to hurt Clinton, to help Trump, to weaken the U.S.) may be transforming into a larger story of the corruption of U.S. foreign policy writ large by a transnational consortium of authoritarians, who saw value in having one of their own in control of the American government, and found in Trump a willing coconspirator."...

...** Desmond Butler & Tom Lobianco of the AP: "In return for pushing anti-Qatar policies at the highest levels of America's government, [Elliott] Broidy [a top fundraiser for President Donald Trump and fellow pornstar hush money bro] and [Lebanese-American 'businessman' George Nader expected huge consulting contracts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.... A new cache of emails obtained by the AP reveals an ambitious, secretive lobbying effort to isolate Qatar and undermine the Pentagon's longstanding relationship with the Gulf country.... Neither Broidy nor Nader registered with the U.S. government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.... Summaries written by Broidy of two meetings he had with Trump -- one of which has not been disclosed before -- report that he was passing messages to the president from the two princes and that he told Trump he was seeking business with them.... The cache also reveals a previously unreported meeting with the president.... Broidy and Nader proposed multiple plans to the princes for more than $1 billion of work." Read on. --safari

Conservative Max Boot in the Washington Post: "... look at all of the significant norms [Trump] has transgressed in the past week: Revealing intelligence sources.... It's safe to say that lickspittle Republicans such as Nunes care more about protecting Trump than they do the American people. Politically motivated prosecutions.... There is zero evidence of any political surveillance. The FBI was not trying to help the Democrats but to protect the country from Russian subversion -- something that Republicans evidently couldn't care less about.... Mixing private and government business. Did Beijing bribe the president? We need an independent investigation -- from either Congress, the existing special counsel, or a new one -- to find out. Foreign interference in U.S. elections. It's not just the extensive, unexplained contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia-linked operatives -- 75 contacts that we know of -- or the unseemly eagerness of the Trump high command to get Russia's help. Now we are also learning of efforts by the Saudi and Emirati governments to help Trump.... Undermining the First Amendment.... Trump demanded that Postmaster General Megan Brennan double the rate charged to Amazon and other large shippers.... This is part of his vendetta against what he has called the 'Amazon Washington Post.' (The Washington Post's owner, Jeffrey P. Bezos, is also CEO of Amazon.)" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Everything us naysayers predicted a President* Trump might do, he has done. In fact, he does them all the time. Hardly a day has gone by when Trump has not violated the Constitution, the law and/or a well-established norm. A responsible Congress would have begun writing articles of impeachment just for the things Boot points out came to light in one week; instead, GOP members of Congress are aiding & abetting him.

Adam Serwer of the Atlantic writes a long laundry list of Trump scandals, tho he admits even this list is abbreviated. But, he writes, "There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability.... The president's opponents have yet to craft a coherent narrative about the Trump administration's corruption, even though the only major legislative accomplishment Trump has to his name is cutting his own taxes." Serwer does point out that some of Trump's actions are not corrupt but merely immoral -- like his immigration policy. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Dan Friedman of Mother Jones: "At a meeting in Miami on April 5, Franklin Haney, the owner of an inoperative nuclear power plant in Hollywood, Alabama, sought a major investment for his facility.... His target ... was Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, Qatar's minister of economy and commerce and deputy chairman of the Qatar Investment Authority, the $300 billion sovereign wealth fund of the natural gas-rich Persian Gulf state. Also at the meeting, according to the sources, was Michael Cohen [who apparently arranged the meeting].... The Miami meeting came the week before an April 10 Oval Office meeting between Trump and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.... During this White House meeting, in a sharp reversal, Trump praised the emir for cracking down on terror funding.... Haney has aggressively courted the Trump administration. After giving heavily to Democrats for years, he donated $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee through one of his companies. He has also contributed at least $125,000 to the Republican National Committee this year.... Bloomberg reported last year that Haney had bragged to associates that he has dined with Trump at least a dozen times since the election. Haney is also a member of Mar-a-Lago, Trump's Florida club, according to the report." --safari...

... Coincidences. David Kocieniewski & Stephanie Baker of Bloomberg: "Cadre, a real estate technology startup co-founded and partly owned by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner,& is seeking an investment of at least $100 million from a private fund that receives much of its capital from the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to people familiar with the discussions.... Kushner ... hasn't divested his Cadre stake, valued at $5 million to $25 million on his most recent financial disclosure form...The nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an ethics complaint against Jared Kushner last year for failing to report his interest in Cadre on his original financial disclosure form.... Separately, Kushner Cos. has turned to a unit of Brookfield Asset Management Inc. to salvage its stake in the office tower on Fifth Avenue. The Qatar Investment Authority is the largest outsider investor in the [Brookfield] unit." --safari

Forget the E-Mails! Eliana Johnson, et al., of Politico: "... Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn't equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials -- a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance. The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.... While the president has the authority to override or ignore the advice provided by aides and advisers for reasons of comfort or convenience, [Nate] Jones..., former director of counterterrorism on the National Security Council..., said, 'doing so could pose significant risks to the country.' Trump campaigned in part on his denunciations of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state -- a system that made classified information vulnerable to hacking by hostile actors."

Trump, Congress Racism. Again. Sylvan Lane of the Hill: "President Trump has repealed auto-lending guidance from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), revoking a rule that was put in place to protect minority customers from predatory practices. Trump's signature on a congressional resolution erases the CFPB's 2013 guidance targeting 'dealer markups,' the additional interest that is added to a customer's third-party auto loan as compensation for the dealer. The president signed the resolution in a private White House signing ceremony. Auto dealers, banks and their allies in Congress said the CFPB policy was an unfair and unfounded attack on an essential and harmless financing tool. The move caps off an unprecedented use of congressional power, as lawmakers had never before passed such a resolution to revoke informal guidance from a federal agency."

Of Crackpots & Special Interests. Ken Vogel of the New York Times: "In the weeks after President Trump chose John Bolton to be his third national security adviser in March, Mr. Bolton ... engaged in his own speeded-up transition process, aided by a handful of longtime associates. Drawn from the world of conservative politics, international consulting and defense contracting, and working out of the downtown Washington offices of Mr. Bolton's political organizations, the group of advisers provided advice on National Security Council operations, while helping to vet prospective new hires for views that would be compatible with his own.... Mr. Bolton's continued reliance on longtime associates in either informal or temporary capacities at the N.S.C. has raised concerns among government watchdog organizations and N.S.C. veterans and scholars, who say it raises questions of conflicts of interest, and creates an echo chamber of identical views with little room for dissent...." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Vulture Moves to Belgium. Daniel Boffey & Jon Swaine of the Guardian: "A major financial backer of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, who once owned a housing estate in which low-income tenants were said to endure 'inhumane' living standards, has been nominated as the US ambassador to Belgium. Ron Gidwitz, a 73-year-old businessman from Chicago gave Trump and other Republicans $700,000 in 2016, and acted as the presidential candidate's campaign finance chair in Illinois." --safari ...

... The Swamp in Its Glory. Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago: "Gidwitz's appointment requires Senate confirmation, and may be asked about a 2017 incident in which he was ordered to pay $5.7 million in disputed law fees in a case involving his family's investment in a low-income housing complex in Joliet. But given his closeness to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Gidwitz should not have much trouble winning confirmation."

Jon Anderson of the New Yorker profiles John Feeley, who quit in March as ambassador to Panama. Mrs. McC: Superfluous reading, maybe, but heartening in a way. The country is full of decent people, & some of them are conservatives.

Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post: "White House budget director Mick Mulvaney acknowledged having discussions with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy about replacing House Speaker Paul D. Ryan before Ryan retires from Congress next year, a conservative newsmagazine reported Monday. The Weekly Standard reported that Mulvaney made the remarks Sunday during a conference sponsored by the publication in Colorado Springs. Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier asked Mulvaney about the prospect of McCarthy succeeding Ryan this year, before the midterm elections, and Mulvaney suggested that it would become a referendum on the top Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi.... The comment constitutes a remarkable admission from a member of President Trump's Cabinet that could be interpreted as conspiring to remove a sitting House speaker belonging to the president's own party. It comes against the backdrop of a freshly roiled House Republican Conference, thanks to moderate members who have recently defied both Ryan (Wis.) and McCarthy (Calif.) to force a potentially divisive debate on immigration."

Congressional Races

Jamelle Bouie of Slate: "On Monday, Democrats unveiled an anti-corruption message meant to highlight the kinds of graft and self-dealing we've seen from Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers. The message echoes Democrats' successful campaign in 2006, when they recaptured the House by running against George W. Bush and a host of GOP scandals in Congress. But the new message is still too focused on a broad 'Washington' and not enough on the singular figure of Donald Trump. Before Monday's announcement, conventional wisdom had it that Democrats should spend less time talking about Trump.... This is too clever for its own good. Trump is the central issue in American politics, and Democrats should spend more time on him, his administration, and the threat they pose to the country at large. In fact, Democrats can have the best of both worlds, offering their own vision for the country, while tying the president's agenda to his scandals and his corruption...." ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: Actually, as Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post describes it, the Democrats' message sounds fairly anti-Trumpy: "Democrats plan to highlight allegations of corruption surrounding the Trump administration -- and a legislative agenda to prevent future abuses -- as they continue rolling out their party platform ahead of November's midterm elections. The first planks of the 'A Better Deal' platform, released last year, focused on the party's economic agenda. Now, with questions about pay-to-play politics swirling around President Trump and his current and former aides, Democrats introduced new anti-corruption proposals Monday billed as 'A Better Deal for Our Democracy.' 'Instead of delivering on his promise to drain the swamp, President Trump has become the swamp,' said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during a rollout event on the Capitol steps." I would say Democrats need to sound more alarmist, because what Trump is doing is truly alarming, IMO.

Jamie Lovegrove of the Charleston, S.C. Post & Courier: "Archie Parnell, a Democratic congressional hopeful who earned national attention after nearly winning in deep red South Carolina last year, is resisting pleas to withdraw after his campaign staff discovered that he physically abused his ex-wife in the 1970s.... In October 1973, Archie Parnell, then a University of South Carolina student, was locked out of some friends' apartment to protect Kathleen Parnell, who was staying there. At 2 a.m., Archie Parnell used a tire iron to break a glass door, the complaint said. He ... [struck] her several times. She said she was beaten again later that evening.... [Kathleen obtained a restraining order & a divorce.] Confronted with the court records by aides last week, Parnell did not deny the allegations. But even as his staff fled the campaign en masse, he refused to drop out of the race Monday.... South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson called on Parnell to drop out of the race Monday."


Adam Liptak
of the New York Times: "The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that companies can use arbitration clauses in employment contracts to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues. The vote was 5 to 4, with the court's more conservative justices in the majority. The court's decision could affect some 25 million employment contracts. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said the court's conclusion was dictated by a federal law favoring arbitration and the court's precedents. If workers were allowed to band together to press their claims, he wrote, 'the virtues Congress originally saw in arbitration, its speed and simplicity and inexpensiveness, would be shorn away and arbitration would wind up looking like the litigation it was meant to displace.' Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, a sign of profound disagreement. In her written dissent, she called the majority opinion 'egregiously wrong.' In her oral statement, she said the upshot of the decision 'will be huge under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well being of vulnerable workers.'" ...

... Terri Gerstein & Sharon Block, in a New York Times op-ed: "This decision, Epic Systems Corporation v. Lewis, would be a blow at any moment, but it's especially harmful now. The rights of workers are under attack. Wage theft is rampant through violations of minimum-wage laws, refusal to pay overtime and forcing employees to work off the clock. Our crude national discourse encourages all types of discrimination. And we now know better than ever how pervasive sexual harassment is.... The proportion of American workers in a union is at an 80-year low. State and local government agencies that enforce laws to protect workers are chronically underfunded. And the federal government is doing everything it can to lend a hand to predatory employers.... Congress has the power to open the courthouse doors again for workers."

Michael Shear of the New York Times: "Former President Barack Obama formally announced on Monday a multiyear production deal with Netflix in which he and the former first lady, Michelle Obama, will produce television shows and films for the streaming service. The deal will give Mr. Obama an international television platform during his post-presidency, allowing him to reach millions of people in the United States and internationally. The couple has created 'Higher Ground Productions,' a company to produce content for Netflix, the streaming service announced.... A release from Netflix said the Obamas will produce 'scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features' that highlight issues and themes the president pursued during his eight years in office." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

     ... Mrs. McC: What? No "You're fired!" or other acts of humiliation? "Higher ground" indeed. Altho Shear writes, "The former president has told associates that he does not intend to use the new platform to wage a public campaign against his successor in the Oval Office, or to fight against conservative media outlets like Fox News," in fact, just the name of the Obamas' production company is a clear signal they are contrasting President Obama's legacy with Trump's.

Alan Pyke of ThinkProgress: "If elected leaders won't tighten gun laws in response to school shootings..., 'Maybe it's time for America's 50 million school parents to simply pull their kids out of school until we have better gun laws,' former Assistant Secretary of Education Peter Cunningham tweeted on Friday as news of the Texas school-shooting broke.... Cunningham's old boss, former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, gave the idea an immediate signal boost when he tweeted: 'This is brilliant, and tragically necessary.'... Duncan elaborated on the idea in television interviews over the weekend. 'It's a radical idea, it's controversial, it's intentionally provocative,' he told MSNBC's Kasie Hunt on Sunday.... Any political tactic predicated on kids staying home from school is also destined to collide with the realities of American economic and social inequality." --safari...

... Lois Beckett of the Guardian: "American high school students are organizing a National Die-In Day on 12 June to protest continued government inaction on gun control laws. The action will take place on the second anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, and will include a die-in at noon in front of the Capitol in Washington DC and another in Orlando.... The founder of the die-in day, Amanda Fugleberg, is an 18-year-old high school senior from Orlando who previously organized a walkout to protest gun violence at her high school in March." --safari

Robert McFadden of the New York Times: "Richard N. Goodwin, a senior adviser and speechwriter for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson whose later work as an author, journalist and political consultant reflected his unswerving liberal outlook, died on Sunday at his home in Concord, Mass. He was 86. Mr. Goodwin's wife, Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and historian, said he died after a brief bout with cancer."

News Lede

CNN: Hawaii's Kilauea volcano is erupting "again as Hawaii residents struggle with toxic gas, lost income.... The latest eruption happened early Tuesday morning, Hawaii County's civil defense agency said.... Officials have been handing out particulate masks to help residents on southeast Big Island breathe. But now they're warning about other hazards and even more eruptions.... Relentless lava flow has now reached the Puna Geothermal Venture property, the civil defense agency said. The plant produces electricity by bringing steam up from underground wells and funneling it to a turbine generator. Officials are trying to prevent possible explosions or the release of toxic fumes by 'quenching' most of the wells.... Since Kilauea's massive eruption, rivers of fire have swallowed at least 40 structures, hurled lava through cracks in the earth's surface and devastated livelihoods."