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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on picture to see larger image.

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

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

Constant Comments

 

Editor-in-Chief:
Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

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

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

Wednesday
Dec122018

The Commentariat -- December 13, 2018

Afternoon Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd. -- A Very Bad Hair Day

Carol Lee, et al., of NBC News: "Despite ... Donald Trump's public declaration that he isn't concerned about impeachment, he has told people close to him in recent days that he is alarmed by the prospect, according to multiple sources.... His allies believe maintaining the support of establishment Republicans he bucked to win election is now critical to saving his presidency.... The president has yet to acquire a team to combat the expected influx of congressional investigations and continued fallout from multiple federal investigations of his associates. He's been calling around to his friends outside the White House and allies on Capitol Hill to vent and get the input. On Wednesday the president wasn't in the Oval Office until noon."

Kathryn Watson of CBS News: "The media company that owns the National Enquirer admitted to 'working in concert' with the Trump campaign to pay off a woman who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump in order to squash her story, prosecutors in New York said Wednesday. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York said it had agreed not to prosecute American Media, Inc. (AMI), the Enquirer's parent company, for its involvement in the scheme in exchange for the company's cooperation in the investigation into the payment to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model. AMI 'admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,' the office said. '"AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,' the [SDNY] news release said." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... The New York Times story, by Rebecca Ruiz & Ben Protess, is here. ...

... Badda Bing, Badda Boom. So Much for Trump's 'Smocking Gun' Defense. Dan Friedman ofMother Jones: "... sending the president's longtime lawyer to jail for helping Trump pay hush money to two women before the 2016 presidential election wasn't even the biggest legal blow landed by prosecutors from the Southern District of New York. In a release announcing Cohen's sentence, the prosecutors ... [said,] 'previously reached a non-prosecution agreement' with American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, under which the firm 'admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate's presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that [a] woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election.'... '"AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.'... 'One by one, the career DOJ prosecutors are removing possible Trump defenses,' former Solicitor General Neil Katyal tweeted Wednesday. 'Now it isn't just Cohen, but also AMI, saying these hush money payments were made to influence the 2016 Presidential election, and knock out the so-called "Edwards defense."'" ...

... Mike McIntire, et al., of the New York Times: "Establishing a nexus between Mr. Cohen's efforts to silence the women and Mr. Trump's campaign is central to making a criminal case of election law violations. That is why A.M.I.'s admission carries so much weight, said Richard L. Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California, Irvine. 'I's looking a lot like an illegal and unreported in-kind corporate contribution to help the campaign, exposing the Trump campaign and Trump himself to possible criminal liability,' Mr. Hasen said.... Until this week, it was largely Mr. Cohen's word against the president's denials." ...

... Natasha Bertrand & Russell Berman of the Atlantic: "AMI's cooperation with prosecutors, which is ongoing, could be particularly damaging to the president. After initially denying he had any knowledge of the payments, Trump now says the payments did not constitute a campaign contribution and that it's [Michael] Cohen's 'liability' if he made a mistake. But AMI's admission that they made the payment to prevent a scandal from derailing Trump's candidacy undercuts his recent claim that the payments were 'a simple private transaction.' Two other Trump associates who were involved in the payments -- the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, and the CEO of American Media, David Pecker -- were given immunity to testify about the scheme over the summer." ...

... Andrew Prokop of Vox: "... prosecutors have concluded that the payoffs were criminal, because they were effectively designed to help Trump's electoral chances but went far above campaign contribution limits.... Both reporters and prosecutors have suggested that Trump was informed about and involved in these payments at every step of the way.... In August 2015, AMI's CEO David Pecker had a meeting with Cohen, at which Pecker floated the idea of buying the silence of women who came forward with allegations about Trump. Prosecutors have said that 'one other member of the [Trump] campaign' was at this meeting. That seems to refer to Trump himself. According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump attended this meeting and asked Pecker for help with his campaign. That ... shows Trump and Pecker had an understanding about hush money payments well before they actually happened.... Trump's company certainly appears to have been heavily involved in these illegal payoffs -- which raises the question of whether the company itself will be charged." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: So can Trump pardon his company? Maybe so. Corporations are people, my friend. ...

... digby: "If [Trump's] accountant Weisselberg has offered corroborating evidence all they have left is Republican Senators acting like the potted plants they are and excusing this behavior as business as usual. Reminder: what Trump is accused of doing is paying off an adult film actress and a Playboy Playmate he slept with during the time his wife was caring for their newborn baby, and he did it to hide his deeds from the American people in the days before the presidential election. And keep in mind that as that was going on he was out there saying this:

... Bag Man to Go to the Big House. Benjamin Weiser & William Rashbaum of the New York Times: "Michael D. Cohen, the former lawyer for President Trump, was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday morning for his role in a hush-money scandal that could threaten Mr. Trump's presidency by implicating him in a scheme to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with him." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... According to NBC News, the judge also ordered Cohen to pay a $50,000 fine. Update: Cohen will also have to pay almost $1.4MM in back taxes & another $500K in forfeiture. The NYT story has added some figures since its story first broke, but they don't quite line up with NBC News' report. ...

... Shannon Pettypiece & Kevin Cirilli of Bloomberg News: "Michael Cohen ... is willing to reveal publicly what he knows about his former client once Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is complete and findings are released, Cohen's lawyer said Wednesday.... Cohen ... expects to testify about what he knows in front of Congress at some point, said [attorney Lanny] Davis, who was unwilling to detail what Cohen knows about Trump and Russian election meddling.... 'Mr. Trump and the White House knew that Michael Cohen would be testifying falsely to Congress and did not tell him not to,' Davis said." ...

... Bag Men Can't Sing. Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: All of the pundits are acting so surprised that Cohen didn't agree to fully cooperate with prosecutors, since it would have reduced his time to somewhere closer to zero. Maybe not. Cohen has repeatedly said his decision to cooperate was based on concerns for his family. Well, his family includes his father-in-law, "Fima Shusterman, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ukraine who ... was in the garment business and owned a fleet of taxicabs with his partners, Shalva Botier and Edward Zubok -- all three men were convicted of a money-laundering related offense in 1993. 'Fima may have been a (possibly silent) business partner with Trump, perhaps even used as a conduit for Russian investors in Trump properties and other ventures,' a former federal investigator [said]...." Not only that, if you read the linked Rolling Stone story by Seth Hettena, you'll see that Cohen has so many ties to foreign-based shady characters that his fear for his own safety should be as great as Paul Manafort's may be. Cohen made a wise, self-defensive decision, & he must be grateful to SDNY prosecutors for complaining he didn't fully cooperate with them.

Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post: The federal judge overseeing Michael Flynn's sentencing "on Wednesday ordered both ... Michael Flynn and the special counsel to turn over additional investigative records describing his January 2017 interview with FBI agents -- a conversation in which Flynn later admitted he lied. In an order filed Wednesday evening, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan demanded to see the formal FBI records and all other relevant documents detailing Flynn's interview with the agents in 2017 and agreed to review them under seal.... Sullivan sought more details about Flynn's FBI interview a day after Flynn's attorneys in a court filing made their own case for why their client deserved no prison time, stressing that he had been 'unguarded' when he spoke to FBI agents about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. The judge is well known for his concern about defendants receiving fair treatment from the government." ...

... MEANWHILE. The notorious Wall Street Journal Editors have opined about the Flynn-FBI meeting in a piece titled "The Flynn Entrapment." And it's possible they're at least partly right: "We also know from then FBI Director James Comey that this was his idea [firewalled]. This is 'something I probably wouldn't have done or wouldn’t have gotten away with in a more organized administration,' Mr. Comey boasted on MSNBC this weekend. 'In the George W. Bush Administration or the Obama Administration, if the FBI wanted to send agents into the White House itself to interview a senior official, you would work through the White House counsel, there would be discussions and approvals and who would be there. And I thought, it's early enough let's just send a couple guys over.' If the goal was to set a legal trap, it worked.... The judge should question the entire plea deal." Mrs. McC: Through a circuitous route, I was able to open the editorial in a private window, but unless you're a subscriber, neither my link here nor Google's will get you there.

Eric Banco of The Daily Beast: "Over the past year, the indictments, convictions, and guilty pleas have largely been connected, in one way or another, to Russia. But now, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office is preparing to reveal to the public a different side of his investigation. In court filings that are set to drop in early 2019, prosecutors will begin to unveil Middle Eastern countries' attempts to influence American politics, three sources familiar with this side of the probe told The Daily Beast. In other words, the so-called 'Russia investigation' is set to go global." --s

Mrs. McCrabbie: Former Secretary of Defense & Senator William Cohen (R-Maine) -- not exactly a wild & crazy guy -- made the same point on MSNBC that I did yesterday: Trump appears to have warned that if any legal attempt is made to remove him from office, he will incite his followers to revolt. There are so many ways in which Trump is a threat to national security; this is one of them.

The Trumpiefenokee Swamp, Ctd.

The von Trump Family Grifters. Stephen Braun, et al., of the AP: "The Opportunity Zone program promoted by Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner ... could also benefit them financially, an Associated Press investigation found. Government watchdogs say the case underscores the ethical minefield they created two years ago when they became two of the closest advisers to the president without divesting from their extensive real estate investments. Kushner holds a big stake in a real estate investment firm, Cadre, that recently announced it is launching a series of Opportunity Zone funds that seek to build major projects under the program from Miami to Los Angeles. Separately, the couple has interests in at least 13 properties held by Kushner's family firm that could qualify for the tax breaks because they are in Opportunity Zones in New Jersey, New York and Maryland.... On Wednesday morning, Ivanka Trump continued her public promotion of Opportunity Zones in a series of tweets. She did not address the AP investigation.... The couple's financial disclosures ... require recusal from dealing with policy matters that touch on real estate and 'would have a direct and predictable effect on Cadre.'" See also Akhilleus's commentary below. (Also linked yesterday.) Dear Javanka: Greed is the deadliest sin, Bea.

I'm probably the most ethical person you ever met. -- Rudy Giuliani, to the New York Times ...

... Where's Rudy? Ken Vogel of the New York Times: "The special counsel's investigation was grinding relentlessly onward... But Mr. Trump's personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, was in Manama, Bahrain, on Tuesday, meeting with the king and the interior minister of an important United States ally in the Middle East. The government-run Bahrain News Agency ... said the king discussed 'Bahraini-U.S. relations with Mr. Giuliani, who was described as leading a 'high-level U.S. delegation. But Mr. Giuliani was not in Bahrain, a country with a record of human rights abuses, on official business. He was there to seek a lucrative security consulting contract with the government. The trip was part of a concerted push Mr. Giuliani has undertaken in the last few weeks to win business from governments around the world -- including in Africa and South America -- for a firm he owns called Giuliani Security and Safety.... Mr. Giuliani is not a government employee, and is not subject to government ethics rules, including prohibitions on outside work." Mrs. McC: Wonder if Rudy warned the king of Bahrain that malicious liberal Twitter gnomes might invade his tweety text. Dear Rudy: Greed is the deadliest sin, Bea.

"Swamp Creatures," Ctd. David Corn of Mother Jones: "In late 2016, as Donald Trump was readying to move into the White House, Elliott Broidy, then one of the Republican Party's top fundraisers, was working on a deal to gain control of what a business partner called 'billions of dollars in oil & gas, and mining assets' in Angola ... as well as mounting another project to provide intelligence services to the Angolan government[.]... It was a swampy endeavor involving old-fashioned political influence, a Beverly Hills activist and realtor, and a Nigerian American businessman who had been a close friend of Michael Jackson.... Broidy's wheeling and dealing in Angola -- a full account of which has not yet been reported -- reveal how he mixed commerce and politics." --s ... Dear Elliott: Greed is the deadliest sin, Bea.


Trump Sets Bad Example for Other Dictators. Michael Tackett & Charlie Savage
of the New York Times: "When President Trump said in an interview this week that he was willing to intercede in the case of a Chinese telecom executive facing extradition to the United States if it helped achieve 'the largest trade deal ever made,' it was a clear signal that his White House saw no problem intervening in the justice system to achieve what it considered economic gain. A range of experts agreed on Wednesday that the president had the legal authority to order the government to rescind the extradition request for the executive, Meng Wanzhou, or even drop the charges against her. But they could not point to another instance of a president injecting himself into a criminal proceeding in a similar way.... John Demers, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's National Security Division, bristled at the notion that the motivation behind the charges might have anything to do with leverage in trade talks. 'We are not a tool of trade when we bring the cases,' Mr. Demers said.... BUT 'By interfering in a Justice Department decision and giving the impression he may release her in exchange for concessions on trade talks, Trump may inspire authoritarian leaders to do the same to Americans around the world,' [former Undersecretary of State Nicholas] Burns said. 'You have seen that China has detained a Canadian International Crisis Group leader. Reciprocity is a fundamental foundation stone of international politics. Others will do unto you what you have done unto them.'"...

... Steve Myers & Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times: "China intensified its punitive campaign against Canada over the arrest of a top Chinese technology executive by arresting a second Canadian working here and announcing on Thursday that both men faced charges of undermining China's national security.... Accusing the two men of national security crimes -- as yet unspecified -- signaled a serious escalation of the diplomatic crisis that began when Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, at the request of American prosecutors on charges of bank fraud related to violating sanctions against trade with Iran. The second case involves Michael Spavor, a writer and entrepreneur who operates a cultural organization that promotes trips into North Korea." ...

... New York Times: "For President Trump, the focus on tariffs has been decades in the making, transforming him from a businessman into ...


Frank Rich: "My profound hope is that Trump makes good on his threat and shuts down the government right before Christmas. He will set his party back even further than he already has, and do so at a time when congressional Republicans are going to be trapped with angry constituents back home during the holiday break." Rich also weighs in on Nick Ayers' last-minute no-thank-you. (Also linked yesterday.)

Charles Dunst & Krishnadev Calamur of the Atlantic: "The Trump administration is resuming its efforts to deport certain protected Vietnamese immigrants who have lived in the United States for decades -- many of them having fled the country during the Vietnam War. This is the latest move in the president's long record of prioritizing harsh immigration and asylum restrictions, and one that's sure to raise eyebrows -- the White House had hesitantly backed off the plan in August before reversing course. In essence, the administration has now decided that Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the country before the establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Vietnam are subject to standard immigration law -- meaning they are all eligible for deportation.... But Washington and Hanoi have a unique 2008 agreement that specifically bars the deportation of Vietnamese people who arrived in the United States before July 12, 1995 -- the date the two former foes reestablished diplomatic relations following the Vietnam War." The White House has chosen to "reinterpret" the agreement to apply to all refugees who arrived before 1995. The story is a bit confusing, but it appears that most of those the Trumpies would deport have committed serious crimes. Maybe.

Vanessa Romo of NPR: "A scathing report by the Office of the Inspector General revealed that a consulting company hired by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to fill thousands of new jobs to satisfy President Trump's mandate to secure the southern border is 'nowhere near' completing its hiring goals and 'risks wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.' The audit found that as of Oct. 1, CBP had paid Accenture Federal Services approximately $13.6 million of a $297 million contract to recruit and hire 7,500 applicants.... But 10 months into the first year of a five-year contract, Accenture had processed only 'two accepted job offers,' according to the report. The inspector general called for immediate action." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Daily Beast: "Donald Trump has become the president who stole Christmas after canceling the annual festive party for the White House press..., Fox News reports.... The decades-old tradition would see reporters and the president put aside their differences for one night for a lavish party that would see spouses and family invited to drink and be merry.

Annals of "Journalism," Ha Ha Ha.

Radio Free Trump. Elizabeth Williamson of the New York Times: "The American government’s broadcast service to the world ... is becoming the news itself. TV Martí, which aims broadcasts at Cuba, aired a segment in May that called the financier and Democratic donor George Soros, a longtime opponent of authoritarianism, 'a nonbelieving Jew of flexible morals.' Voice of America, the flagship of American government efforts to promote its values abroad, was rocked in October when 15 of its journalists were fired or disciplined after an internal investigation found they accepted 'brown envelopes,' or bribes passed to them by a Nigerian official. And only weeks later, Voice of America fired the chief of its Mandarin-language section after a billionaire Chinese exile who is championed by some on the American right and is known for making unsubstantiated charges against Beijing was promised a three-hour live broadcast.... Under President Trump, the broadcasts are at risk of greater ideological tilt as more political appointees eventually join the organization.... Mr. Trump's nominee as chief executive of the global government media agency is Michael Pack, who runs a conservative filmmaking business out of his house in suburban Washington." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Apparently James O'Keefe was unavailable. ...

... Aaron Davis of the Washington Post: "The federal agency that oversees Martí launched an internal investigation this fall after a May report about [George] Soros was publicized and widely denounced. The probe has now expanded to include examining how [Radio & Television] Martí came to publish an earlier story that included anti-Semitic language about Soros, a U.S. citizen, as well as the anti-Muslim piece, the agency confirmed. Four Martí employees have been placed on leave and two contract staffers have been fired, according to ... a spokeswoman for the U.S. Agency for Global Media. All are reporters and editors, according to biographies on Martí's website and on social media."


Julie Davis
of the New York Times: "Representative Nancy Pelosi has reached a deal with dissident Democrats to limit herself to four years as speaker, she announced on Wednesday, her most consequential move to date to put down a rebellion in her ranks and clinch the votes she needs to be elected speaker in January. The agreement, which if adopted by Democrats would also bind the party's other three top leaders, would almost certainly clear the way for Ms. Pelosi, the Democratic leader from California, to reclaim the mantle of the first woman to serve in the post that is second in line to the presidency." ...

     Mrs. McCrabbie: It's an odd coincidence that two of the most powerful women in the world -- Pelosi & British PM Theresa May -- made exactly the same concession on the same day: to limit their leadership to four more years. See Ellen Barry's story linked under Way Beyond the Beltway.

Juliegrace Brufke of the Hill: "The House on Wednesday narrowly overcame a procedural hurdle allowing them to move forward with a vote on the must-pass farm bill. The bill only narrowly advanced in the House, 206-203, after language was tucked into the procedural rule preventing for the rest of the year a floor vote on any war powers resolution limiting the U.S. involvement in Yemen. The move sparked backlash from a number of lawmakers. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) blasted it, urging his colleagues to vote against the rule ahead of it coming to the floor." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

** Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress: "The most important news [this week from the judicial branch] ... was the [Surpeme] Court's announcement that it will hear Kisor v. Wilkie, a case asking the Court to transfer power from the executive branch to the judiciary. Kisor is likely to be the first of many such cases, and the Court's decision to hear this case so quickly after Kavanaugh's confirmation suggests that the Court plans to consolidate power quite rapidly.... It's not hard to guess why conservatives on the Supreme Court and in the Federalist Society are so eager to see judicial forbearance doctrines fall. Again, the question these doctrines resolve is not what should our nation's policies be. It is who should get to make that decision.... Overruling those doctrines shifts power to a Supreme Court that's likely to be controlled by Republicans for the foreseeable future.... [If this were to pass], Democratic administrations will have to seek permission from the Supreme Court's Republicans every time an agency wants to take regulatory action." --s

Capitalism Is Awesome, Ctd. Facebook's Fake Fix for Fake News. Sam Levin of the Guardian: "Journalists working as fact-checkers for Facebook have pushed to end a controversial media partnership with the social network, saying the company has ignored their concerns and failed to use their expertise to combat misinformation. Current and former Facebook fact-checkers told the Guardian that the tech platform's collaboration with outside reporters has produced minimal results and that they've lost trust in Facebook, which has repeatedly refused to release meaningful data about the impacts of their work. Some said Facebook's hiring of a PR firm that used an antisemitic narrative to discredit critics -- fueling the same kind of propaganda fact-checkers regularly debunk -- should be a deal-breaker. 'They've essentially used us for crisis PR,' said Brooke Binkowski, former managing editor of Snopes, a fact-checking site that has partnered with Facebook for two years. 'They.re not taking anything seriously. They are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck ... They clearly don't care.'"

Hiroko Tabuchi of the New York Times: "When the Trump administration laid out a plan this year that would eventually allow cars to emit more pollution, automakers. ... said ... the changes ... went too far even for them. But it turns out that there was a hidden beneficiary of the plan that was pushing for the changes all along: the nation’s oil industry. In Congress, on Facebook and in statehouses nationwide, Marathon Petroleum, the country's largest refiner, worked with powerful oil-industry groups and a conservative policy network financed by the billionaire industrialist Charles G. Koch to run a stealth campaign to roll back car emissions standards, a New York Times investigation has found." Dear Chuck: Greed is the deadliest sin, Bea.

Joe Romm of ThinkProgress: "The annual Arctic Report Card from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is out, but it appears that humanity is flunking science badly.... And one stunning result of this is that 95 percent of the oldest and thickest Arctic sea ice has disintegrated in just three decades. The Report Card makes clear that our failure to slow global warming has led to an all-but irreversible Arctic death spiral.... There are no do-overs or make-up exams for humanity's failure in the Arctic (and everywhere else on the planet). Failure just means ever worsening climate impact for our children and grandchildren and countless generations to come." -- safari: No worries, according to Drumpf's very smart gut, it'll all switch back and be very clean.

Beyond the Beltway

Florida. Marc Caputo of Politico: "Federal authorities unveiled a 44-count, 66-page indictment Wednesday of a Tallahassee politician and a city official that involved six companies, five other players and a bank in a wide-ranging bribery, extortion, fraud and racketeering scheme. But ... indictment, one name is conspicuously absent: Andrew Gillum, who was Tallahassee's mayor at the time and who was accused repeatedly on the gubernatorial campaign trail this year by Republican opponent Ron DeSantis -- and even ... Donald Trump -- of being tied to the suspected wrongdoing the FBI was investigating. Republicans spent at least $7 million on TV ads -- 27 percent of the total $26 million dropped on air in the general election -- attacking Gillum in connection with the FBI probe. But the investigation, records indicate, ultimately had little to do with the former mayor."

Kansas. Jay Senter of the Shawnee Mission Post: Kansas state "Sen. Barbara Bollier this morning officially changed her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. Citing 'frustrations that have been ongoing for nine years,' Bollier said Wednesday that the inclusion of anti-transgender language in the party platform had proved a breaking point for her. 'Morally, the party is not going where my compass resides,' Bollier said. 'I'm looking forward to being in a party that represents the ideals that I do, including Medicaid expansion and funding our K-12 schools.' (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Kentucky. Eli Rosenberg of the Washington Post: "On Wednesday, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, laced into [the investigative news organization ProPublica] after it announced that it would be partnering with the Louisville Courier-Journal to fund a year-long investigative reporting project into a state government program. Bevin sought to discredit the partnership by smearing ProPublica's funding, about one to two percent of which comes from George Soros's Open Society Foundations.... Bevin ... released in a tweet and a three-minute video on his Facebook page. 'The Courier-Journal, which pretends that it’s an actual news organization, is so remarkably biased that they are now full in bed with this particular organization ProPublica,' Bevin said. He also took aim at Herb and Marion Sandler, a wealthy New York couple whose philanthropy helped found the organization, accusing the Courier-Journal of being a 'sock puppet' for ProPublica, George Soros, and others 'who hate America.'"

Michigan. Jason Linkins of ThinkProgress: "A Michigan public health official currently facing charges of involuntary manslaughter stemming from her role in an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease during the Flint water crisis has managed to secure a cushy new job with the state.... Dr. Eden Wells, who is currently serving as Michigan's chief medical executive, was recently hired by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as an 'advisory physician.' As such ... Wells will be entitled to 'an annual salary of $179,672,' as well as 'job protections she doesn't currently have as chief medical executive.'... The timing of the appointment is curious in itself, as it came five days before Wells was ordered to 'stand trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice and lying to a peace [sic?] officer.'... [The water crisis] 'killed 12 people and sickened at least 87' people in Flint... The 'advisory physician' position that Wells obtained was posted ... for just one week in November, not long after the midterm election. Wells was the only applicant." --s

New York. Allan Smith of NBC News: "New York Attorney Gen.-elect Letitia James [D] says she plans to launch sweeping investigations into ... Donald Trump, his family and 'anyone' in his circle who may have violated the law once she settles into her new job next month.... James campaigned on passing a bill to change New York's double jeopardy laws with an eye on possible pardons coming out of the White House. James told NBC News she wants to be able to pursue state charges against anyone the president were to pardon over federal charges or convictions and whose alleged crimes took place in the state. Under current New York law, she might not be able to do that." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

North Carolina. Timothy Williams & Alan Blinder of the New York Times: "The North Carolina Legislature on Wednesday approved a bill requiring new primary elections if the state elections board calls for a second vote of a congressional election. The measure opens the door for Republicans to consider replacing Mark Harris, their candidate in the disputed race in the Ninth Congressional District. The bill, backed by substantial majorities among both parties, could eventually place Republicans in the awkward position of choosing whether to stick with Mr. Harris, who appeared to have narrowly won a primary and general election -- both now buffeted by allegations of irregularities including tainted absentee ballots -- or replace him on the ballot.... The legislation approved Wednesday, first by the State House and soon after by the State Senate, creates the possibility that Robert M. Pittenger, the incumbent, could again face off against Mr. Harris in a rematch of the Republican primary that Mr. Harris won with the help of a significant number of absentee votes." ...

... Leigh Caldwell, et al., of NBC News: "McCrae Dowless, the man whose 'get-out-the-vote' activities are the center of the election fraud investigation in North Carolina, told a local political campaign volunteer that he was holding onto 800 absentee ballots, according to a new affidavit obtained by NBC News. The new affidavit is the latest development in an investigation into election fraud involving absentee ballots that has postponed the certification of the election of the ninth congressional district race and at least two local races in the Tar Heel State." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Way Beyond

** BBC: "Prime Minister Theresa May has won a vote of confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party by 200 to 117. Mrs May is now immune from a leadership challenge for a year. Speaking in Downing Street, she vowed to deliver the Brexit 'that people voted for'. She said she had listened to the concerns of MPs who voted against her and would be fighting for changes to her Brexit deal at an EU summit on Thursday. Mrs May won the confidence vote with a majority of 83, with 63% of Conservative MPs backing her and 37% voting against her. The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg said the result was 'not at all comfortable' for the prime minister and a 'real blow' to her authority." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Ellen Barry of the New York Times: "To save her job, Mrs. May had two arguments to put forward. First, she argued, changing leaders so close to the March 29 deadline for withdrawal from the European Union could open the door to something worse -- a Labour government or a reversal of Brexit.... The more important case was made at 5 p.m., behind the closed doors of a wood-paneled committee room, where Mrs. May promised Conservative lawmakers that she would step down before the next general election, currently scheduled for 2022."

Tuesday
Dec112018

The Commentariat -- December 12, 2018

Afternoon Update:

BBC: "Prime Minister Theresa May has won a vote of confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party by 200 to 117. Mrs May is now immune from a leadership challenge for a year. Speaking in Downing Street, she vowed to deliver the Brexit 'that people voted for'. She said she had listened to the concerns of MPs who voted against her and would be fighting for changes to her Brexit deal at an EU summit on Thursday. Mrs May won the confidence vote with a majority of 83, with 63% of Conservative MPs backing her and 37% voting against her. The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg said the result was 'not at all comfortable' for the prime minister and a 'real blow' to her authority."

Kathryn Watson of CBS News: "The media company that owns the National Enquirer admitted to 'working in concert' with the Trump campaign to pay off a woman who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump in order to squash her story, prosecutors in New York said Wednesday. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York said it had agreed not to prosecute American Media, Inc. (AMI), the Enquirer's parent company, for its involvement in the scheme in exchange for the company's cooperation in the investigation into the payment to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model. AMI 'admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,' the office said. '"AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,' the [SDNY] news release said."

Juliegrace Brufke of the Hill: "The House on Wednesday narrowly overcame a procedural hurdle allowing them to move forward with a vote on the must-pass farm bill. The bill only narrowly advanced in the House, 206-203, after language was tucked into the procedural rule preventing for the rest of the year a floor vote on any war powers resolution limiting the U.S. involvement in Yemen. The move sparked backlash from a number of lawmakers. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) blasted it, urging his colleagues to vote against the rule ahead of it coming to the floor."

The von Trump Family Grifters. Stephen Braun, et al., of the AP: "The Opportunity Zone program promoted by Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner ... could also benefit them financially, an Associated Press investigation found. Government watchdogs say the case underscores the ethical minefield they created two years ago when they became two of the closest advisers to the president without divesting from their extensive real estate investments. Kushner holds a big stake in a real estate investment firm, Cadre, that recently announced it is launching a series of Opportunity Zone funds that seek to build major projects under the program from Miami to Los Angeles. Separately, the couple has interests in at least 13 properties held by Kushner's family firm that could qualify for the tax breaks because they are in Opportunity Zones in New Jersey, New York and Maryland.... On Wednesday morning, Ivanka Trump continued her public promotion of Opportunity Zones in a series of tweets. She did not address the AP investigation.... The couple's financial disclosures ... require recusal from dealing with policy matters that touch on real estate and 'would have a direct and predictable effect on Cadre.'" See also Akhilleus's commentary below.

Benjamin Weiser & William Rashbaum of the New York Times: "Michael D. Cohen, the former lawyer for President Trump, was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday morning for his role in a hush-money scandal that could threaten Mr. Trump's presidency by implicating him in a scheme to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with him." ...

... According to NBC News, the judge also ordered Cohen to pay a $50,000 fine. Update: Cohen will also have to pay almost $1.4MM in back taxes & another $500K in forfeiture. The NYT story has added some figures since its story first broke, but they don't quite line up with NBC News' report.

Frank Rich: "My profound hope is that Trump makes good on his threat and shuts down the government right before Christmas. He will set his party back even further than he already has, and do so at a time when congressional Republicans are going to be trapped with angry constituents back home during the holiday break." Rich also weighs in on Nick Ayers' last-minute no-thank-you.

<>Mrs. McCrabbie: Former Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine) & Secretary of Defense made the same point on MSNBC that I did earlier today: Trump appears to have warned that if any legal attempt is made to remove him from office, he will incite his followers to revolt.

Vanessa Romo of NPR: "A scathing report by the Office of the Inspector General revealed that a consulting company hired by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to fill thousands of new jobs to satisfy President Trump's mandate to secure the southern border is 'nowhere near' completing its hiring goals and 'risks wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.' The audit found that as of Oct. 1, CBP had paid Accenture Federal Services approximately $13.6 million of a $297 million contract to recruit and hire 7,500 applicants.... But 10 months into the first year of a five-year contract, Accenture had processed only 'two accepted job offers,' according to the report. The inspector general called for immediate action."

Allan Smith of NBC News: "New York Attorney Gen.-elect Letitia James [D] says she plans to launch sweeping investigations into ... Donald Trump, his family and 'anyone' in his circle who may have violated the law once she settles into her new job next month.... James campaigned on passing a bill to change New York's double jeopardy laws with an eye on possible pardons coming out of the White House. James told NBC News she wants to be able to pursue state charges against anyone the president were to pardon over federal charges or convictions and whose alleged crimes took place in the state. Under current New York law, she might not be able to do that."

Leigh Caldwell, et al., of NBC News: "McCrae Dowless, the man whose 'get-out-the-vote' activities are the center of the election fraud investigation in North Carolina, told a local political campaign volunteer that he was holding onto 800 absentee ballots, according to a new affidavit obtained by NBC News. The new affidavit is the latest development in an investigation into election fraud involving absentee ballots that has postponed the certification of the election of the ninth congressional district race and at least two local races in the Tar Heel State."

Jay Senter of the Shawnee Mission [Kansas] Post: Kansas state "Sen. Barbara Bollier this morning officially changed her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. Citing 'frustrations that have been ongoing for nine years,' Bollier said Wednesday that the inclusion of anti-transgender language in the party platform had proved a breaking point for her. 'Morally, the party is not going where my compass resides,' Bollier said. 'I'm looking forward to being in a party that represents the ideals that I do, including Medicaid expansion and funding our K-12 schools.'"

*****

"Trump Shutdown." Julie Davis & Michael Tackett of the New York Times: "President Trump on Tuesday vowed to block full funding for the government if Democrats refuse his demand for a border wall, saying he was 'proud to shut down the government for border security' -- an extraordinarily statement that came during a televised altercation with Democratic congressional leaders. 'If we don't have border security, we'll shut down the government -- this country needs border security,' Mr. Trump declared in the Oval Office, engaging in a testy back-and forth with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California.' I will take the mantle. I will be the one the shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it,' Mr. Trump added, insisting on a public airing of hostilities even as the Democrats repeatedly asked him to keep their negotiating disputes private.... Ms. Pelosi ... appeared to trigger the president's temper when she raised the prospect of a 'Trump shutdown' over what she characterized as an ineffective and wasteful wall." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Donnie argues with Chuck & Nancy. You can skip the first 5-1/2 minutes, which Big Fat Pinnochio lies his way through. Thanks to Jeanne for the lead:

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post has the transcript, annotated. (Also linked yesterday.) ...

Annie Karni of the New York Times: The meeting "was a remarkable exchange between a veteran congressional leader and a president who is rarely challenged to his face in public, especially by a woman. 'Mr. President, please don't characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as a leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory,' Ms. Pelosi said, about halfway through the meeting, after Mr. Trump accused her of 'being in a situation where it's not easy for her to talk right now.'... The exchange between Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Trump -- the first that tested their new power dynamic as Democrats prepare to take control of the House -- seemed aimed at making clear to Ms. Pelosi's Democratic caucus that she can take on Mr. Trump and brush off mansplaining. And it was Ms. Pelosi who may have benefited from the negotiating-in-public style the president prefers. She put him off balance from the start by referring to the possibility of a 'Trump shutdown,' causing the president to visibly recoil. Without raising her voice, she stood her ground as Mr. Trump repeatedly interrupted her with finger wags and calling her 'Nancy.'... Speaking to reporters outside the White House after the meeting, Ms. Pelosi suggested that she actually had gone easy on the president. 'I did not want to, in front of those people, say that you don't know what you're talking about,' she said." ...

... Rachel Bade & Sarah Ferris of Politico: "Minutes after a very public showdown with Donald Trump on Tuesday over his border wall with Mexico, the House minority leader [Nancy Pelosi] returned to the Capitol and railed against the president in a private meeting with her colleagues. Trump 'must have said the word "wall" 30 times,' the California Democrat said, according to multiple sources in the room. 'I was trying to be the mom,' Pelosi added, but 'it goes to show you: You get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.' And then, she went for the most sensitive part of Trump's ego. 'It's like a manhood thing with him -- as if manhood can be associated with him,' Pelosi deadpanned. 'This wall thing.'... At one point, after reporters and TV cameras left the Oval Office, Trump told Pelosi and Schumer that the new trade agreement he recently struck with Canada and Mexico is going to pay for the wall, Pelosi told lawmakers.... The entire thing baffled Pelosi. It's a 'cultural phenomenon,' Pelos told her colleagues, that 'the fate of our country [is] in the hands of this person.'" ...

... Russell Berman of the Atlantic: "Sparring with Trump in public, Pelosi more than held her own. She told him directly, 'You will not win,' and repeatedly shot down his cocksure pronouncements that a bill with wall funding could pass the House. Yet after a few minutes going back and forth with the president, she ... [said,] 'I don't think we should have a debate in front of the press on this,' Pelosi told Trump. 'Let us have our conversation, and we can meet with the press again.' Schumer, on the other hand, is a ... man about whom it is famously said, 'The most dangerous place in Washington is between Chuck Schumer and a TV camera.'... As Pelosi and Trump went at it, Schumer waited impatiently for his chance to speak. When his turn came, he promptly reminded the president that The Washington Post had given him 'a whole lot of Pinocchios' for constantly misstating the cost of the border wall. 'We do not want to shut down the government,' Schumer told Trump. 'You have called 20 times to shut down the government.'... As the president bestowed Democrats with a political gift [-- taking ownership of a government shutdown --] Schumer sat with his hands clasped and his head nodding. The cameras were running, and the smile never left his face." ...

... William Cummings of USA Today: "Pence sat stoically as his boss got into testy exchanges with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and the likely next Speaker, House Minority Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Stoically may be an understatement. Stonily might be more accurate. And he didn't say a word. As one Twitter user phrased it with a holiday metaphor, Pence sat there 'exactly like our Elf on the Shelf.'... Radio host Dean Obeidallah wondered if Pence 'is actually still alive' or if it was a "'Weekend at Bernie's" type scenario where they just prop up Pence at meetings.'" And so forth."

... The report cited below refutes pretty much everything Trump asserted & that first five-and-a-half minutes of hoo-hah:

... Rebekah Entralago of ThinkProgress: "According to a scathing report released by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, the federal government doesn't have much to show for its costly effort to increase border security staffing at the U.S.-Mexico border.... Last January, Trump signed an executive order directing DHS to amp up the number of agents on staff.... Accenture Federal Services ... [was granted] a $297 million contract to hire 7,500 CBP [customs & border protection] officers, Border Patrol agents, and Air and Marine Interdiction Agents.... An audit conducted by the federal government shows it has already paid Accenture [a global 'consulting' company] $13.6 million, but as of October 1, had only processed two job offers -- largely by using CBP's own resources.... The Pentagon estimates that [the active soldiers sent to the border] costs about $72 million. In exchange, troops are being tasked with shoveling manure, changing tires, and carrying out various other chores that don't include border control. All the while, the Trump administration is demanding even more money to secure the border. " --s ...

... AND This. Erin Banco & Lachlan Markay of the Daily Beast: "... Donald Trump on Tuesday cited the recent apprehension of ten suspected terrorists to bolster his case for building a wall along the southern border, implying that a porous border with Mexico is leaving the country vulnerable to national security threats. But the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees security and law enforcement at U.S. borders and ports of entry, was unable to provide data to directly substantiate that claim." Emphasis added. ...

... Aaron Rupar of Vox: "... Donald Trump wants you to believe that the southern border is now secured because of his tough measures. But he also wants you to believe the same border is in crisis and requires the construction of an expensive border wall to secure it.... Trump sent a tweet Tuesday morning accusing Democrats (falsely) of pushing for 'Open Borders for anyone to come in. This brings large scale crime and disease.' In fact, Democrats don't support open borders, and experts say migrants do not pose a public health risk. Trump then boasted about his achievements at the border: '... Our Southern Border is now Secure and will remain that way.'... But less than an hour later, Trump seemed to realize that claiming the border is secure is not a good bargaining position ahead of a meeting about funding a border wall. In another tweet he said 'A Great Wall' at the southern border is needed so desperately that he'll order the military to build it if Congress won't allocate money for it. (There's just one problem: The president doesn't have the authority to do that without congressional approval.) Trump also falsely claimed that 'much of the Wall ... has already been built.' The $1.6 billion Congress allocated for border security measures last year actually expressly prohibited funds from being spent on new wall designs." --s

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

Adam Serwer of The Atlantic: "Donald Trump can't stop telling on himself.... Given every advantage conferred on the wealthy and connected, including being the president of the United States, Trump can't help but provide both the public and the authorities investigating him and his campaign with knowledge of his state of mind. Proving guilt in white-collar crime is an exceedingly difficult task for prosecutors. Trump is doing his best to make it easier." --s ...

... So After Serwer Wrote That... Jeff Mason & Steve Holland of Reuters: "... Donald Trump said on Tuesday he was not concerned that he could be impeached and that hush payments made ahead of the 2016 election by his former personal attorney Michael Cohen to two women did not violate campaign finance laws. 'It's hard to impeach somebody who hasn't done anything wrong and who's created the greatest economy in the history of our country,' Trump told Reuters in an Oval Office interview. 'I'm not concerned, no. I think that the people would revolt if that happened,' he said.... 'Michael Cohen is a lawyer. I assume he would know what he's doing,' Trump said when asked if he had discussed campaign finance laws with Cohen. 'Number one, it wasn't a campaign contribution. If it were, it's only civil, and even if it's only civil, there was no violation based on what we did. OK?' Asked about prosecutors' assertions that a number of people who had worked for him met or had business dealings with Russians before and during his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said: 'The stuff you're talking about is peanut stuff.'" ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie P.S. In case you were wondering what could happen if Trump were impeached (and maybe he means also convicted, but who knows?), I think he just gave us a preview: he'll foment a revolution.

Adam Goldman of the New York Times: "Lawyers for Michael T. Flynn, President Trump's first national security adviser, asked a federal judge late Tuesday to spare him prison time for misleading investigators, and they suggested that the F.B.I. agents who interviewed him last year at the White House had tricked him into lying.... Mr. Flynn's lawyers singled out Andrew G. McCabe, the former F.B.I. deputy director, and Peter Strzok, a senior counterintelligence agent who interviewed Mr. Flynn. Both men were fired from the F.B.I. this year, and the president and his allies have attacked them as enemies bent on undermining Mr. Trump. They also have accused Mr. McCabe, Mr. Strzok and other former F.B.I. officials of unfairly targeting Mr. Flynn."

Benjamin Weiser of the New York Times: "Michael D. Cohen, the former lawyer for President Trump, is to be sentenced on Wednesday morning for his role in a hush-money scandal that could threaten Mr. Trump's presidency by implicating him in a scheme to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with him."

Lucien Burggeman & Soo Rin Kim of ABC News: "A federal judge presiding over special counsel Robert Mueller's case against Paul Manafort asked prosecutors for the 'underlying evidence' to support their claims that the former Trump campaign chairman lied after signing a cooperation agreement as part of their probe of Russian election meddling during the 2016 campaign. Defense attorneys for Manafort and prosecutors with the special counsel's office met Tuesday in a federal courthouse for the first time since Robert Mueller and his team described the subject of lies Manafort of perpetrating. The defense counsel said they did not have enough information from the government about their client's alleged lies to respond to their allegations Tuesday. A series of January deadlines were set for the defense to submit disputes with the government's accusations and for the prosecution to respond."

Rosalind Helderman & Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post: Russian national Maria Butina "called her strategy the 'Diplomacy Project,' an elaborate, multiyear scheme to infiltrate the conservative movement in the United States in hopes of cementing bonds to benefit the Kremlin.... Butina laid out the proposal in March 2015 and then pursued her plan over the next two years, traveling to conferences to schmooze Republican presidential candidates.... New details [of Butina's project] are included in documents obtained by The Washington Post that will be filed in court Thursday, when Butina is expected to admit for the first time that her activities were part of a concerted endeavor, coordinated with a top Russian official with the express intent of establishing unofficial lines of communication with Americans who could influence U.S. politics. The documents show Butina plans to admit she worked at the direction of a former senator who was deputy governor of the Russian central bank. That description matches Alexander Torshin, who was subjected to economic sanctions by the U.S. government earlier this year and resigned his bank position in November. Butina is being prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, not special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But with a plea, she will become the first Russian national convicted of working to influence U.S. policy around the time of the 2016 election."

Khorri Atkinson of Axios: "A federal judge in California on Tuesday ordered adult film star Stormy Daniels to pay Donald Trump $293,052.33 in attorneys' fees for her defamation case against the president, which the judge dismissed in October, and another $1,000 in sanctions for filing a 'meritless' legal challenge."


Greg Miller
of the Washington Post: "President Trump continues to reject the judgments of U.S. spy agencies on major foreign policy fronts, creating a dynamic in which intelligence analysts frequently see troubling gaps between the president's public statements and the facts laid out for him in daily briefings on world events, current and former U.S. officials said.... Presidential distrust that once seemed confined mainly to the intelligence community's assessments about Russia's interference in the 2016 election has spread across a range of global issues. Among them are North Korea's willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons program, Iran's nuclear and regional ambitions, the existence and implications of global climate change, and the role of the Saudi crown prince in the killing of a dissident journalist. 'There is extraordinary frustration,' a U.S. intelligence official said. The CIA and other agencies continue to devote enormous 'time, energy and resources' to ensuring that accurate intelligence is delivered to Trump, the official said, but his seeming imperviousness to such material often renders 'all of that a waste.'" ...

... So After Miller Wrote That... Steve Holland & Robert Rampton of Reuters: "... Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he stood by Saudi Arabia's crown prince despite a CIA assessment that he ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and pleas from U.S. senators for Trump to condemn the kingdom's de facto ruler....Trump again reiterated on Tuesday that the 'crown prince vehemently denies' involvement in a killing that has sparked outrage around the world.... Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by the prince, known as MbS, Trump responded: 'Well, at this moment, it certainly does.' Some members of Saudi Arabia's ruling family are agitating to prevent MbS from becoming king, sources close to the royal court have told Reuters, and believe that the United States and Trump could play a determining role. 'I just haven't heard that,' Trump said. 'Honestly, I can't comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I've heard that he's very strongly in power.'" ...

... Shira Tarlo of Salon: "Jared Kushner ... told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday night that U.S. intelligence agencies 'are making their assessments' about the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (The CIA has reportedly concluded that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder. After receiving a briefing on the killing, Sen. Lindsey Graham declared, 'There's no smoking gun -- there's a smoking saw.') When Hannity asked Kushner whether the U.S. would 'get to the bottom' of who was responsible for Khashoggi's brutal murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the White House aide did not mention the crown prince. Instead, he said only that 'we're hoping to make sure that there's justice brought where that should be.'"

David Sanger, et al., of the New York Times: "The cyberattack on the Marriott hotel chain that collected personal details of roughly 500 million guests was part of a Chinese intelligence-gathering effort that also hacked health insurers and the security clearance files of millions more Americans, according to two people briefed on the investigation. The hackers, they said, are suspected of working on behalf of the Ministry of State Security, the country's Communist-controlled civilian spy agency. The discovery comes as the Trump administration is planning actions targeting China's trade, cyber and economic policies, perhaps within days. Those moves include indictments against Chinese hackers working for the intelligence services and the military, according to four government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Trump administration also plans to declassify intelligence reports to reveal Chinese efforts dating to at least 2014 to build a database containing names of executives and American government officials with security clearances." ...

... Roberta Rampton & Jeff Mason: "... Donald Trump said on Tuesday that China was buying a 'tremendous amount' of U.S. soybeans and that trade talks with Beijing were already under way by telephone, with more meetings likely among U.S. and Chinese officials.... But traders in Chicago said they have seen no evidence of a resumption of such purchases following China's imposition of a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans in July.... U.S. government data has not shown any soybean sales to China since July...." ...

... Jeff Mason & Steve Holland: "... Donald Trump said on Tuesday he would intervene in the Justice Department's case against a top executive at China's Huawei Technologies [HWT.UL] if it would serve national security interests or help close a trade deal with China. Huawei's Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada Dec. 1 and has been accused by the United States of misleading multinational banks about Iran-linked transactions, putting the banks at risk of violating U.S. sanctions.... 'If I think it's good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made -- which is a very important thing -- what's good for national security -- I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,' Trump said." ...

... MEANWHILE. Josh Wingrove, et al., of Bloomberg News: "The detention of a former Canadian diplomat by China's spy agency signaled an escalation in the feud between the two nations, raising new questions about the safety of foreigners doing business in China. The former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, was detained by a branch of China's Ministry of State Security during a visit to Beijing on Monday, his employer, the International Crisis Group, said in a statement. The Brussels-based non-profit said Wednesday it has received no information from Kovrig since his detention and was working to secure consular access to verify his health and safety. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang declined to comment on the case, deferring questions to the Crisis Group, which he noted wasn't registered as a non-governmental organization.... Kovrig's detention marked a potentially explosive twist in the saga surrounding Canada's arrest of a top Huawei Technologies Co. Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou earlier this month in Vancouver. Chinese officials expressed outrage over her arrest and threatened 'severe consequences' if Canada failed to handle the case to its liking."

Chris Geidner of BuzzFeed News: "The Trump administration went to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, seeking an order that would allow it to enforce its new policy barring asylum claims by those who cross into the country at the southern border without authorization.... On Dec. 7, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied the Justice Department's request to put on hold a district court judge's order that halted the policy's enforcement.... The ACLU sued on behalf of organizations that assist with asylum applications. US District Judge Jon Tigar halted enforcement of the policy change -- issuing a temporary restraining order in the days before Thanksgiving. 'Whatever the scope of the President's authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,' Tigar wrote."

IOKIYAR. Shawn Boburg & Anu Narayanswamy of the Washington Post: "President Trump has repeatedly derided prosecutors investigating potential coordination between his presidential campaign and Russia as 'angry Democrats,' pointing to their past political donations as proof of bias. But William P. Barr, Trump's nominee to lead the Justice Department and oversee the Russia investigation, would be by far the most prolific political donor to step into the country's top law enforcement post in at least a quarter-century, according to a Washington Post analysis. Barr has donated more than $567,000 in the past two decades, nearly all to GOP candidates and groups, federal records show. His wife, Christine Barr, gave more than $220,000 over that time, records show. Before he was nominated to be attorney general, Barr criticized past donations by prosecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.... A White House official ... drew a distinction between contributions from political appointees and those from career prosecutors.... Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit group that works to limit money in politics, said in a statement that the nomination of Barr shows that Trump's attacks 'are hypocritical as well as bogus.'"

Juan Cole: "Trump is making Heather Nauert his ambassador to the United Nations, the most empty-headed such appointment since W. Bush tried to shoehorn the crazed John Bolton into that position.... Nauert is Trump' mini-me, aping his shell-shocked insouciance at atrocities and struggling to understand the simplest questions.... To plumb the depths of Nauert's ignorance about international affairs it would be necessary to deploy the Deepsea Challenger (DCV 1) that director James Cameron used to reach the deepest part of the Mariana Trench at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.... Nauert isn't capable of diplomacy, just of mouthing off in imitation of Trump's Twitterhea." --s


Adam Federman
of Mother Jones: "In an internal memo circulated within the Interior Department earlier this year, government scientists issued a stark warning: The Trump administration's plans to allow oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) could further jeopardize the region's already fragile polar bear population.... That analysis contrasts sharply with the administration's public rhetoric suggesting that the project would be harmless and should therefore be quickly approved.... Despite the Fish and Wildlife Service document warning of serious environmental and legal obstacles to the project, the administration has continued to downplay the impact that seismic surveys could have on the refuge." --s

Confused GOP MOC's Still Sure the Googles Are Conspiring Against Them. Colby Itkowitz of the Washington Post: "In an effort to understand how Google search algorithms work, a Democratic congresswoman [Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.)] asked the tech company's chief executive a simple question: 'If you Google the word "idiot" under images, a picture of Donald Trump comes up. How would that happen? How does search work so that that would occur?'... Lofgren was reacting to Republicans' allegations that Google employees manipulate results for political reasons.... Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, who was testifying Tuesday morning before the House Judiciary Committee, tried to explain to the roomful of mostly tech novices how the algorithms take into account some 200 factors -- such as relevance, popularity, how others are using the search term -- to determine how to best match a query with results.... Republicans on the panel couldn't get past the myth that some person(s) inside Google couldn't arbitrarily change search algorithms for political gain." ...

... Ted Lieu Is So Mean: If you want positive search results, do positive things. If you don't want negative search results, don't do negative things. And to some of my colleagues across the aisle, if you're getting bad press articles and bad search results, don't blame Google or Facebook or Twitter, consider blaming yourself. -- Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), during Tuesday's hearing ...

Sorry, Mr. Lieu, you are trying to pierce the impenetrable Confederate Feedback Loop. Can't be done. -- Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

Nicholas Fandos of the New York Times: "Reversing course, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on Tuesday that the Senate would vote on a substantial criminal justice bill before the end of the year, teeing up a bipartisan policy achievement that has eluded lawmakers for years. Advocates of the prison and sentencing law changes on Capitol Hill and in the White House have spent weeks lobbying Mr. McConnell, who controls the Senate calendar. They had the backing of President Trump, who endorsed the bill last month and urged Mr. McConnell in recent days to 'Go for it Mitch!' Mr. McConnell had repeatedly said that there was probably not enough time to consider the measure, and Republican leaders maintained as recently as a few days ago that the bill did not have the support of the majority of Republicans. Mr. McConnell made clear on Tuesday that the Senate was considering the legislation 'at the request of the president' and said that debate could begin later this week." (Also linked yesterday.)

Charles Pierce: Clarence Thomas, in his dissenting opinion in the Medicaid cases "went zooming off into the fever swamp to find a rationale...: ... these particular cases arose after several States alleged that Planned Parenthood affiliates had, among other things, engaged in 'the illegal sale of fetal organs' and 'fraudulent billing practices,' and thus removed Planned Parenthood as a state Medicaid provider.'... [Thus,] a veteran justice of the Supreme Court, as part of the reasoning for his dissent, has included a debunked smear emanating from the most notorious ratfcking operation in the professional conservative ratfcking apparatus." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

     ... Update. In yesterday's thread, Akhilleus asked rhetorically, "Doesn't this guy have clerks who can do, like, research? Doesn't he do research? I mean, something beyond the Breitbart archives." Later, RAS found the very likely answer to these questions: "It sounds as if Clarence Thomas' wife is now doing his legal research." Ginni Thomas, as Mark Stern of Slate lays out, is a key distributor of outlandish right-wing conspiracy theories. Even worse, she publicizes these nutty notions in service of her lobbying business. This presents, needless to say, a profound ethical challenge for the hubby. But, needless to say, his own ethics do not seem to be of concern to him.

Nathaniel Popper of the New York Times: "CBS News reached a legal settlement with three women who accused the network of not doing enough to stop one of its anchors, Charlie Rose, from sexually harassing them.... Three recent employees -- Katherine Harris, Sydney McNeal and Yuqing Wei -- sued the network and Mr. Rose this year after another article in The Post indicated that the network had ignored complaints from CBS employees who worked with him.... The women are continuing to pursue their claims against Mr. Rose, a lawyer for the women, Kenneth Goldberg, said."

Beyond the Beltway

Arkansas. Elham Khatami of ThinkProgress: "The Arkansas state legislature advanced a proposal Monday that would slash Medicaid payments to assisted living facilities that provide services to the elderly and individuals with disabilities -- a move that continues the state's assault on the public health insurance program designed for low-income people.... The Department of Human Services proposal would impact nearly 9,000 Arkansas residents who rely on the ARChoices Medicaid program.... According to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the proposal could lead to the shutdown of the nearly 100 assisted living facilities in the state that accept Medicaid patients." --s

California. Rosa Furneaux of Mother Jones: "Just a few months ago, climate activists in California were celebrating an impressive victory: New data showed that the state had brought greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990 levels, four years earlier than planned.... The recent Camp and Woolsey fires, officials say, have produced emissions equivalent to roughly 5.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, more than three times the total decrease in emissions in 2015. Recently, the Department of the Interior announced that new data shows the 2018 California wildfire season is estimated to have released emissions equal to about one year of power use." --s

North Carolina. Zach Montellaro of Politico: "The North Carolina Republican Party said Tuesday that a new election should be held in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District if a new allegation regarding the leak of early-voting results before Election Day is proven. The results of the race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready have already been held up over allegations of election fraud against a contractor for one of Harris' campaign consultants. But the state Democratic Party has highlighted another incident in the inquiry into the House race, releasing a signed affidavit from a Bladen County poll worker alleging that the results of early votes were shared improperly before the election.... Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the state Republican party, said it was likely early votes were leaked."

Texas. Jason Silverstein of CBS News: "A former Baylor University frat president who was indicted for allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow student will not serve jail time or register as a sex offender under a plea deal accepted by a Texas court on Monday, CBS affiliate KWTX-TV reports. A judge in Waco, Texas, accepted the deal and sentenced Jacob Walter Anderson, 24, to three years of deferred probation. Anderson must also pay a $400 fine and seek counseling. His criminal record will be expunged if and when he completes probation. In a tearful statement to the court, Anderson's accuser said she was devastated by the decision to 'let my rapist go free.'... In a statement to CBS News, Assistant District Attorney Hilary LaBorde defended Anderson's sentence and said the public didn't know all the facts that led to it. 'Conflicting evidence and statements exist in this case making the original allegation difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,' LaBorde said." (Also linked yesterday.)

Way Beyond

** Britain. Stephen Castle of the New York Times: "Britain's beleaguered prime minister, Theresa May, will face a no-confidence vote on Wednesday within her own Conservative Party, as lawmakers upset with her handling of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union seek to topple her from power. Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 committee of Conservative lawmakers, announced Wednesday morning that he had received letters of protest from more than 48 Conservative members of Parliament, the number needed under party rules to trigger a vote on her leadership. He said the contest would take place Wednesday evening." ...

... The Guardian is liveblogging developments here.

France. Foo Yun Chee & Gilbert Reilhac of Reuters: "A gunman on a security watchlist killed at least two people and wounded at least 11 others near the picturesque Christmas market in the historic French city of Strasbourg on Tuesday evening before fleeing.... Amid fast-moving, confusing scenes it was not clear if the suspect, identified by police as Strasbourg-born Chekatt Cherif, 29, had been cornered by commandos or had slipped the dragnet."

Monday
Dec102018

The Commentariat -- December 11, 2018

Late Morning/Afternoon Update:

"Trump Shutdown." Julie Davis & Michael Tackett of the New York Times: "President Trump on Tuesday vowed to block full funding for the government if Democrats refuse his demand for a border wall, saying he was 'proud to shut down the government for border security' -- an extraordinarily statement that came during a televised altercation with Democratic congressional leaders. 'If we don't have border security, we'll shut down the government -- this country needs border security,' Mr. Trump declared in the Oval Office, engaging in a testy back-and forth with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California. 'I will take the mantle. I will be the one the shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it,' Mr. Trump added, insisting on a public airing of hostilities even as the Democrats repeatedly asked him to keep their negotiating disputes private.... Ms. Pelosi ... appeared to trigger the president's temper when she raised the prospect of a 'Trump shutdown' over what she characterized as an ineffective and wasteful wall." ...

... Donnie argues with Chuck & Nancy. You can skip the first 5-1/2 minutes, which Big Fat Pinnochio lies his way through. Thanks to Jeanne for the lead:

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post has the transcript, annotated.

Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Trump hinted on Tuesday that he may be willing to forego a Christmastime shutdown battle with Democrats over his demands for billions of dollars for his border wall, hours before a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders aimed at breaking a year-end spending impasse. In a series of morning tweets ahead of a scheduled meeting in the Oval Office with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, Mr. Trump falsely stated that substantial sections of the 'Great Wall' on the southwestern border that he has long championed have already been completed, and he suggested that his administration could continue construction whether Democrats fund it or not. That would be illegal, but it suggested that he was looking for a way to keep the government funded past Dec. 21, even if Democrats balk at wall funding.... The president does not have the legal authority to spend money appropriated for one purpose on another task, such as wall-building."

Nicholas Fandos of the New York Times: "Reversing course, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on Tuesday that the Senate would vote on a substantial criminal justice bill before the end of the year, teeing up a bipartisan policy achievement that has eluded lawmakers for years. Advocates of the prison and sentencing law changes on Capitol Hill and in the White House have spent weeks lobbying Mr. McConnell, who controls the Senate calendar. They had the backing of President Trump, who endorsed the bill last month and urged Mr. McConnell in recent days to 'Go for it Mitch!' Mr. McConnell had repeatedly said that there was probably not enough time to consider the measure, and Republican leaders maintained as recently as a few days ago that the bill did not have the support of the majority of Republicans. Mr. McConnell made clear on Tuesday that the Senate was considering the legislation 'at the request of the president' and said that debate could begin later this week."

Charles Pierce: Clarence Thomas, in his dissenting opinion in the Medicaid cases (see related stories linked below) "went zooming off into the fever swamp to find a rationale...: ... these particular cases arose after several States alleged that Planned Parenthood affiliates had, among other things, engaged in 'the illegal sale of fetal organs' and 'fraudulent billing practices,' and thus removed Planned Parenthood as a state Medicaid provider.'... [Thus,] a veteran justice of the Supreme Court, as part of the reasoning for his dissent, has included a debunked smear emanating from the most notorious ratfcking operation in the professional conservative ratfcking apparatus."

Jason Silverstein of CBS News: "A former Baylor University frat president who was indicted for allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow student will not serve jail time or register as a sex offender under a plea deal accepted by a Texas court on Monday, CBS affiliate KWTX-TV reports. A judge in Waco, Texas, accepted the deal and sentenced Jacob Walter Anderson, 24, to three years of deferred probation. Anderson must also pay a $400 fine and seek counseling. His criminal record will be expunged if and when he completes probation. In a tearful statement to the court, Anderson's accuser said she was devastated by the decision to 'let my rapist go free.'... In a statement to CBS News, Assistant District Attorney Hilary LaBorde defended Anderson's sentence and said the public didn't know all the facts that led to it. 'Conflicting evidence and statements exist in this case making the original allegation difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,' LaBorde said."

*****

** Paul Krugman: "... not a single prominent Republican in Washington has condemned the power grab in Wisconsin, the similar grab in Michigan, or even what looks like outright electoral fraud in North Carolina.... The G.O.P., as currently constituted, is willing to do whatever it takes to seize and hold power. And as long as that remains true, and Republicans remain politically competitive, we will be one election away from losing democracy in America."

Brett Samuels of the Hill: "President Trump on Tuesday pushed back on reports that he's had difficulty finding candidates interested in serving as his next chief of staff.... 'Many, over ten, are vying for and wanting the White House Chief of Staff position,' Trump wrote. 'Why wouldn't someone want one of the truly great and meaningful jobs in Washington.' The president accused the 'fake news' of getting the story 'purposely wrong.'... Multiple news reports in the last 24 hours have portrayed Trump as scrambling to find his next chief of staff after the presumptive favorite for the position, Nick Ayers, said he would not be taking the job. Sources told The Hill there was no clear plan B after Ayers, currently Vice President Pence's top aide, dropped out." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: I gather from Trump's tweet that he is limiting chief-of-staff job applicants to people over the age of ten. Good idea.

3 Chief of Staffs in less than 3 years of being President: Part of the reason why @BarackObama can't manage to pass his agenda. -- Donald Trump, in a tweet, January 10, 2012 ...

Obama did have unusually high chief of staff turnover during his first term.... But Trump is still burning through chiefs of staff faster than Obama. -- Dara Lind of Vox, December 8, 2018 ...

... Everything Is Going Very Smoothly. Kaitlan Collins of CNN: "Trump is now embarking on a hasty search for a new chief of staff with no obvious choice in mind.... [Nick Ayers] and Trump huddled several times over the last week in the residence of the White House..., but they ultimately could not agree to terms [under which Ayers would become chief of staff,] and Ayers declined the job. Multiple sources familiar with Trump's mood told CNN he's frustrated with the Ayers process. One source described his mood as 'super pissed.' A second added he feels humiliated..., because the President did not have a backup candidate prepared.... Trump predicted Ayers would budge on his demand to be chief of staff on an interim basis, with a set departure date of this spring, and was not prepared with a second option." ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: You mean the fake author of The Art of the Deal can't outmaneuver a relatively unknown staffer half his age? ...

... Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair reports on how smoothly this all went down. Amusing. Here are some excerpts: "'It got back to Trump that Kelly was bad-mouthing him and Trump had decided he&'d had enough. His attitude was, "fuck him,"' [a source] told me.... After weeks of lobbying by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Trump had been convinced that Mike Pence's 36-year-old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, was the best candidate. On Friday afternoon, Trump met with Ayers, Pence, and Kelly and finalized the transition.... A press release announcing Ayers's hiring was reportedly drafted and ready to go for when Trump planned to announce Kelly's departure on Monday. But Trump's frustration with Kelly boiled over after Kelly pressed him to name his deputy Zachary Fuentes interim chief of staff. 'Trump didn't like how Kelly was trying to dictate the terms of his departure,' a Republican briefed on the discussions told me. Trump blew up the carefully orchestrated announcement and told reporters on Saturday as he walked to Marine One that Kelly would be leaving by the end of the year. 'John wanted to announce his own departure. This was a humiliation,' a former West Wing official said." And so on. ...

... Rahm Emanuel in the Atlantic: "Kelly's replacement won't really be the chief of staff, even if that's what it says on his door; Trump is unwilling to give anyone the authority needed to perform that job. But with Trump unlikely to choose the chief of staff he needs for this moment, what's important is that the next chief of staff be unusually good at protecting the rest of us from the president's penchant for self-destruction." ...

... "Whatever." Matt Yglesias of Vox: "No person's entire career can be summed up in a single quote. But ousted White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's defense to the charge that the Trump administration's child separation policy at the border was cruel deserves to be etched into his tombstone. 'The children,' he said, 'will be taken care of -- put into foster care or whatever.' That is roughly the degree of thoughtfulness and consideration that was put into the policy. And it properly reflects Kelly's true legacy as chief of staff.... The emphasis on times when Kelly could rein in Trump ignores the extent to which the two men were genuinely like-minded, and the many crucial moments where Kelly exacerbated Trump's worst instincts." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

Jim Acosta of CNN: "... Donald Trump has expressed concern that he could be impeached when Democrats take over the House, a source close to the President told CNN Monday. The source said Trump sees impeachment as a 'real possibility.' But Trump isn't certain it will happen, the source added."

Michelle Goldberg: "The 2020 presidential election was always going to be extraordinarily ugly, but one can only imagine what Trump will do if the alternative to the White House is the big house. 'It's dangerous,' said [Rep. Eric] Swalwell [D-Cal.], who worries that Trump could become even more erratic, making decisions to save himself that involve 'our troops or internal domestic security.'"

Greg Sargent: "The connecting thread in much of what we've learned as part of the latest round of revelations [from federal prosecutors] is that Trump likely has now defrauded the American electorate in not one, but two, ways. First, via these hush-money payments. And second, by concealing his ongoing negotiations with Russia over a real estate project that promised to be extremely lucrative -- during the very period in which GOP primary voters were choosing their presidential nominee. In both these cases, Trump has now justified this apparent deception by claiming that they were private transactions. In other words, Trump is explicitly saying that because these were private, keeping them concealed from voters was perfectly defensible.... He sees no problem with massively defrauding the voters by denying them information.... This isn't a defense. It's yet another admission of the degree to which he's placing his own interests before those of the country -- an admission, that is, of the depths of his own corruption."

Marshall Cohen of CNN: "At least 16 associates of Donald Trump had contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign or transition, according to public statements, court filings, CNN reporting, and reporting from other news outlets." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

GOP Profiles in Courage. Adam Raymond of New York: "On Friday, the Department of Justice called Donald Trump a felon.... On Monday, Senate Republicans had their chance to weigh in.... 'The Democrats will do anything to hurt this president,' Utah Senator Orrin Hatch told CNN.... When reporter Manu Raju reminded Hatch that it is not the Democrats, but the Southern District of New York, making the allegations, Hatch said, 'I don't care, all I can say is he's doing a good job as president.'... South Dakota Senator John Thune's argument ... is that campaign finance violations are not a big deal.... Senator Chuck Grassley meanwhile questioned if the allegations against Trump can even be believed.... Louisiana Senator John Kennedy echoed that argument, impugning [Michael] Cohen and questioning the willingness of prosecutors to believe him." --s ...

... MEANWHILE. Forty-four Former U.S. Senators, in a Washington Post op-ed: "As former members of the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans, it is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security. We are on the eve of the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation and the House's commencement of investigations of the president and his administration. The likely convergence of these two events will occur at a time when simmering regional conflicts and global power confrontations continue to threaten our security, economy and geopolitical stability.... At other critical moments in our history, when constitutional crises have threatened our foundations, it has been the Senate that has stood in defense of our democracy. Today is once again such a time."

Rosalind Helderman & Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post: "Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights activist, is poised to plead guilty in a case involving accusations that she was working as an agent for the Kremlin in the United States, according to a new court filing. Attorneys for Butina and federal prosecutors jointly requested in court documents Monday that U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan set a time for Butina to withdraw her previous plea of not guilty. They said they could be available for her to enter her plea as early as Tuesday. 'The parties have resolved this matter,' Butina's lawyers and D.C.-based prosecutors wrote in their joint filing." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Anna Nemtsova of The Daily Beast: "Often dubbed 'Putin's chef' because of the enormous catering contracts on which he built his fortune, Yevgeny Prigozhin is the central figure in ... Mueller['s] indictment.... He is also the alleged money man behind the Federal News Agency, known by the Russian acronym FAN, which wages information war by other means, specifically by pretending to be a legitimate source of solid reporting.... FAN['s] unabashed aim is to propagate a semblance of news that supports the Putin government.... Earlier this year Facebook shut down the agency's accounts, which infuriated FAN's managers and inspired them to take the conflict to the enemy.... The Russian information soldiers moved to Washington, physically. On Friday, The Daily Beast spoke with FAN's general director, Yevgeny Zubarev, about that strategy." --s

Nancy LeTourneau of the Washington Monthly: In House testimony last week, Jim Comey "indicated that an investigation had been launched into the leaks that were coming from the FBI's New York field office during the 2016 presidential campaign. According to a report from Reuters in April 2018, the Inspector General planned to release the results of his investigation last May. But so far, we've seen nothing. On Monday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) announced that they are suing the FBI for documents related to that investigation.... While it is important to investigate all of the ways that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election and to what extent the Trump campaign conspired with them to do so, it is also clear that rogue agents in the FBI's New York field office played a significant role in electing Donald Trump due to their extreme anti-Clinton bias. We need to get to the bottom of that one too."


AP: "... Donald Trump says the military will build his promised border wall 'if Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country.' Trump tweets Tuesday that immigration and border patrol agents and the military have done a 'FANTASTIC' job securing the border with Mexico. But Trump says 'A Great Wall' would be a 'far easier & less expensive solution.' He claims Democrats don't want border security for 'strictly political reasons.'" Thanks to Ken. W. for the lead.

Lolita Baldor of the AP: "The U.S. this week will begin withdrawing many of the active duty troops sent to the border with Mexico by ... Donald Trump just before the midterm election in response to a caravan of Central American migrants, U.S. officials said Monday. About 2,200 of the active duty troops will be pulled out before the holidays, the officials said, shrinking an unusual domestic deployment that was viewed by critics as a political stunt and a waste of military resources. That will leave about 3,000 active duty troops in Texas, Arizona and California, mainly comprised of military police and helicopter transport crews who are assisting border patrol agents. There also will still be about 2,300 members of the National Guard who were sent to the border region as part of a separate deployment that started in April." Mrs. McC: So no wall, no soldiers to protect from the invading hordes.

The Trumpiefenokee Swamp

Trump's Cronies Rake in $$$ from Sanctioned Nations. Ken Vogel of the New York Times: "As President Trump's administration has increasingly turned to sanctions, travel restrictions and tariffs to punish foreign governments as well as people and companies from abroad, targets of those measures have turned for assistance to Washington's K Street corridor of law, lobbying and public relations firms. The work can carry reputational and legal risks, since clients often come with toxic baggage and the United States Treasury Department restricts transactions with entities under sanctions. As a result, it commands some of the biggest fees of any sector in the influence industry. And some of the biggest payments have been going to lobbyists, lawyers and consultants with connections to Mr. Trump or his administration." Like Rudy Giuliani & Alan Dershowitz. The pay-for-play culture "has been encouraged, they say, by the willingness projected by Mr. Trump and his team to make deals around sanctions and tariffs exemptions. Previous administrations had worked to wall off politics from those processes, which are supposed to be overseen primarily by career officials and governed by strict legal analyses." Mrs. McC: Trump has engineered quite a nifty scam here.

David Cay Johnston of DCReport: "The Trump Administration hid a study documenting financial abuse of students by some banks working hands-in-glove with colleges, the latest example of how instead of 'draining the swamp' Donald Trump is turning official Washington into a paradise for swamp monsters. The suppressed fee gouging report was made by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or CFPB. Students attending colleges which have marketing agreements with banks and other financial institutions paid much higher overdraft and account fees than students at schools with no such deals, the study found.... We know of the study only because it was mentioned last August in a scathing resignation letter by Seth Frotman, a CFPB assistant director and student loan ombudsman.... The study was pried loose by Allied Progress through the Freedom of Information Act[.]" --s


Reuters: "The Trump administration is expected to propose weakening protections for U.S. wetlands on Tuesday, in a move sought by ranching and mining interests but one that will likely be held up in the courts amid opposition from environmentalists. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will make a water policy announcement at 11:25 Eastern Time (1625 GMT), the agency said without elaborating." --s

Brad Plumer & Lisa Friedman of the New York Times: "Trump administration officials at high-stakes climate talks [in Poland] offered an unapologetic defense of fossil fuels on Monday, arguing that a rapid retreat from coal, oil and gas was unrealistic. While that stance brought scorn from environmentalists and countries that favor stronger action to fight global warming, there are signs that the administration is finding a receptive audience among other major fossil-fuel producers, including Russia, Saudi Arabia and Australia.... The [U.S.] public endorsement of fossil fuels came two days after the Trump administration helped to block the United Nations climate conference from embracing the findings of a major scientific report on global warming. It amounted to what might be the most dramatic show of disdain for the Paris Agreement on reducing greenhouse emissions -- at a gathering meant to establish a set of rules for implementing the deal -- since President Trump announced that the country would abandon the pact. The United States -- along with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia -- refused to allow a collective statement that would 'welcome' the report...."

Alan Pyke of ThinkProgress: "After attracting more scandals in 18 months than his four predecessors managed in 16 years, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke quietly shut the door to further public scrutiny of his office over the Thanksgiving break. The secretary gave control of incoming Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to former Koch Industries adviser and longtime Zinke consigliere Dan Jorjani.... Zinke's move on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is best understood as a reshuffling of his resources, from attack to defense.... [Previously] Jorjani wrote to a colleague that Interior staffers' primary responsibility is to protect Zinke from negative press. He will now be the central gatekeeper of the agency's documents when journalists, watchdogs, and other citizens seek insight into the conduct of their government." --s

Richard Partington of the Guardian: "The storm clouds of the next global financial crisis are gathering despite the world financial system being unprepared for the next downturn, the deputy head of the International Monetary Fund has warned. David Lipton, the first deputy managing director of the IMF, said that 'crisis prevention is incomplete' more than a decade on from the last meltdown in the global banking system.... Lipton said individual nation states alone would lack the firepower to combat the next recession, while calling on governments to work together to tackle the issues that could spark another crash." --s

"Paul Ryan's Long Con." Ezra Klein of Vox: "Ryan's reputation was built on the back of his budgets: draconian documents that gutted social spending, privatized Medicare, and showed the Republican Party had embraced the kinds of hard fiscal choices that [George W.] Bush had sloughed off. And Ryan presented himself as the wonkish apostle of this new GOP.... For this, Ryan was feted in Washington society.... But to critics like the New York Times's Paul Krugman, Ryan was an obvious con man weaponizing the deficit to hamstring Obama's presidency, weaken the recovery, and snooker Beltway centrists eager to champion a reasonable-seeming Republican.... Now, as Ryan prepares to leave Congress, it is clear that his critics were correct and a credulous Washington press corps -- including me -- that took him at his word was wrong. In the trillions of long-term debt he racked up as speaker, in the anti-poverty proposals he promised but never passed, and in the many lies he told to sell unpopular policies, Ryan proved as much a practitioner of post-truth politics as Donald Trump."

Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: "The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to review lower court decisions that blocked efforts in two states to cut off public funding for Planned Parenthood, refusing for now to get involved in state battles over abortion rights. The cases did not touch on abortion itself, but three justices who said the court should have accepted the cases said that was the reason the court declined to get involved. 'What explains the court's refusal to do its job here? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named "Planned Parenthood,"' Justice Clarence Thomas wrote.... Thomas was joined in his opinion by fellow conservative justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch.... The court's action showed a split among the panel's conservatives, and might indicate a reluctance by the majority to take on controversial cases at a time when the Supreme Court is in the political spotlight.... It takes four justices to accept a case...." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Irin Carmon of New York: No, Brett Kavanaugh is not a stealth liberal likely to uphold reproductive rights. "... the two cases the court declined to hear involve interpretations of Medicaid law, not the right to access an abortion or how states can regulate it.... While it is true that these cases aren't technically abortion cases in the jurisprudential sense, I'll give [Justice] Thomas this: They're freighted with abortion politics.... In the end, the decision by Kavanaugh -- particularly so soon after being the subject of sexual-assault allegations -- and [Chief Justice] Roberts not to wade into this particular muck may mean nothing more than the fact that one or both of them would prefer a different battle. But when it comes to this Supreme Court, even a less-bad day is a good one."

Sarah Smith of the Fort Worth, Texas, Star-Telegram: "For decades, women and children have faced rampant sexual abuse while worshiping at independent fundamental Baptist churches around the country. The network of churches and schools has often covered up the crimes and helped relocate the offenders, an eight-month Star-Telegram investigation has found. More than 200 people -- current or former church members, across generations -- shared their stories of rape, assault, humiliation and fear in churches where male leadership cannot be questioned.... The Star-Telegram discovered at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 independent fundamental Baptist churches and their affiliated institutions, spanning 40 states and Canada."

Eun Kyung Kim of NBC News: "A group of journalists whose work has landed them in jail -- or cost them their lives — have been named Time's Person of the Year for 2018. 'Like all human gifts, courage comes to us at varying levels and at varying moments,' the magazine's editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal wrote in an essay about the selection. 'This year we are recognizing four journalists and one news organization who have paid a terrible price to seize the challenge of this moment: Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Md.... They are representative of a broader fight by countless others around the world -- as of Dec. 10, at least 52 journalists have been murdered in 2018 -- who risk all to tell the story of our time.'... The magazine revealed its choice of 'The Guardians and the War on Truth' on Tuesday on TODAY, along with the four magazine covers featuring Khashoggi, Ressa, the Gazette staff and the wives of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.'... Editors named [Donald] Trump as this year's runner up, citing 'a crowning irony' to the president's influence. 'His ultimate impact may be determined as much by the resistance he engenders as by the goals he pursues,' the magazine said.... Following close behind as the third runner-up was Trump's nemesis and the frequent subject of his anger on Twitter: Robert Mueller, the special counsel heading the investigation into Russia's meddling into the 2016 presidential election."

Robert McFadden of the New York Times: "Rosanell Eaton, a resolute African-American woman who was hailed by President Barack Obama as a beacon of civil rights for her role as a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against a restrictive North Carolina voting law that reached the Supreme Court in 2016, died on Saturday in Louisburg, N.C. She was 97.... Caught up as a witness to history in one of the nation's major controversies, Ms. Eaton, an obscure civil rights pioneer in her younger years, became a cause célèbre after Mr. Obama cited her courage in his response to a 2015 article in The New York Times Magazine about growing efforts to dismantle the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A year after the president's letter, the Supreme Court, in a 4-4 vote, let stand a federal appeals court judgment upholding the lawsuit spearheaded by Ms. Eaton and other plaintiffs. The ruling struck down a North Carolina statute whose provisions 'target African-Americans with almost surgical precision' in what the court called an effort to depress black turnout at the polls. In 2017, after regaining its conservative majority with the appointment of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal to revive the case, effectively overturning a far-reaching effort by Republicans to counter what they contended, without evidence, was widespread voter fraud in North Carolina." In 1942, she became "one of the state's first black voters since Reconstruction." Read on.

Election 2018. Florida. Gary Fineout of the AP: "Florida officials say thousands of mailed ballots were not counted because they were delivered too late to state election offices. The Department of State late last week informed a federal judge that 6,670 ballots were mailed ahead of the Nov. 6 election but were not counted because they were not received by Election Day. The tally prepared by state officials includes totals from 65 of Florida's 67 counties. The two counties yet to report their totals are Palm Beach, a Democratic stronghold in south Florida, and Polk in central Florida.... Under Florida law, ballots mailed inside the United States must reach election offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Overseas ballots are counted if they are received up to 10 days after the election. A group called VoteVets Action Fund along with two Democratic organizations filed a lawsuit a few days after the 2017 election that argued the ballots should count if they were mailed before Election Day. But U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said the restriction was reasonable and that Florida election officials have a right to establish deadlines.... The lawsuit, however, is still pending and Walker asked that state election officials report how many ballots were mailed before Election Day but ultimately were not counted."

Beyond the Beltway

Tom Perkins of the Guardian: "Republicans in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina suffered stinging losses in November, but the parties aren't transferring power quietly, or at all in some cases. On the way out the door, 'lame-duck' state legislatures are bringing in last-minute laws that will strip power from incoming Democrats, gut voter-approved ballot initiatives, or otherwise undermine the election results. But some legal experts say the most alarming legislation the Republicans have passed is unconstitutional and unlikely to survive outraged Democrats' legal challenges. Among other issues, they contend many of the Republican laws blur the constitutionally mandated separation of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government."

Not Even Raps on the Knuckles for These Twisted Sisters. Haroon Siddique of the Guardian & agencies: "Two nuns who worked for decades at a Catholic school in California embezzled a 'substantial' amount of money from tuition and other funds and used it to pay for gambling trips to Las Vegas, church officials said Monday. Sisters Mary Margaret Kreuper and Lana Chang are believed to have siphoned off cash from tuition fees and donations at St James school in Torrance, near Los Angeles for at least a decade. Neither has been charged with a crime.... The total taken from the school was still being calculated, Alarcon said, adding he could not confirm reports that it was up to $500,000 (£400,000).... The archdiocese has notified the police but [Monsignor Michael] Meyers said church officials did not plan to press charges and instead wanted to resolve the situation internally with the money repaid and the nuns disciplined by their order." ...

     ... Update. ABC News: The nuns spent some of the stolen money on travel. "At first the school said it 'does not wish to pursue criminal proceedings,' but now the Archdiocese tells ABC News the investigation has deepened and they are considering making this a criminal case." Sister Mary Margaret was the school's principal. Mrs. McC: Budding comedy screenwriters, take note.

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: I'm not sure why Republicans are so worried about Sharia law. The Roman Catholic Church seems to think that its leaders should decide many cases that otherwise fall under secular laws, from sexual abuse of minors to grand theft to healthcare mandates.

Way Beyond

BBC: PM "Theresa May is meeting European leaders and EU officials on Tuesday for talks aimed at rescuing her Brexit deal. She is holding talks with Dutch PM Mark Rutte and Germany's Angela Merkel after postponing a Commons vote on the deal. The UK PM has said she needs 'further assurances' about the Northern Ireland border plan to get backing from MPs. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU would not 'renegotiate' the deal but there was room for 'further clarifications'." ...

... Stephen Castle & Richard Pérez-Peña of the New York Times: "Facing the prospect of a humiliating defeat, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday that she would seek to postpone a parliamentary vote on her proposal for Britain's departure from the European Union, throwing the process into disarray and highlighting her tenuous hold on power. Parliament had been scheduled to vote on Tuesday on the agreement that Mrs. May reached with the bloc for Britain's withdrawal, or Brexit -- a critical moment in her political career and in the battle over an issue that has gripped British politics for nearly three years. But weeks of bitter criticism and days of parliamentary debate had left no doubt that the plan would be soundly rejected by lawmakers, due in large part to objections over plans for dealing with the Irish border that pro-Brexit lawmakers say could potentially leave the United Kingdom tied to some of the bloc's rules indefinitely." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Macron Addresses Les Gilets Jaunes. Alissa Rubin of the New York Times: "Faced with violent protests and calls for his resignation, President Emmanuel Macron of France said Monday that he had heard the anger of the many whose economic suffering has burst into the open in recent weeks and that he would take immediate steps to relieve their hardship.... He announced tax cuts and income increases for the struggling middle class and working poor, vowing to raise the pay of workers earning the minimum wage. He promised to listen to the voices of the country, to its small-town mayors and its working people.... [BUT] Criticisms came quickly from many of Mr. Macron's political opponents, who said his proposals fell far short of people's needs."