The Wires

Public Service Announcement

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

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

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

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

CW: No idea why the picture is teeny-tiny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


The Hill: "Arnold Schwarzeneggar says his first season as host of NBC's 'Celebrity Apprentice' is also his last. In remarks Friday, the former California governor cited President Trump, who has repeatedly mocked the ratings of his reality TV replacement, as his reason. 'Even if asked [to do it again] I would decline,' Schwarzenegger told Empire magazine.... 'With Trump being involved in the show people have a bad taste and don’t want to participate as a spectator or sponsor or in any other way support the show. It’s a very divisive period right now and I think the show got caught up in all that division.'" -- CW 

New York Times: "Penguin Random House will publish coming books by former President Barack Obama and the former first lady Michelle Obama, the publishing company announced Tuesday night, concluding a heated auction among multiple publishers. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but publishing industry executives with knowledge of the bidding process said it probably stretched well into eight figures." -- CW ...

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Wednesday
May172017

The Commentariat -- May 18, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post: "A day after Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to investigate possible coordination between President Trump’s associates and Russian officials, he is heading to the Senate Thursday afternoon to answer questions in a closed session with all 100 senators." -- CW ...

... Lawyer Up, Trump. Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "Several White House advisers and personal associates of President Trump have urged him to hire an experienced outside lawyer to help him deal with issues arising from a surging controversy over whether his campaign had ties to Russia, according to several people briefed on the conversations. The recommendations came even before a special counsel was named on Wednesday to lead the investigation into any collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian officials. Mr. Trump’s aides and allies were said to be especially concerned by the revelation that James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director fired by Mr. Trump, has contemporaneous, detailed memos reconstructing conversations with the president." -- CW ...

... Greg Sargent: "... despite Trump’s suggestion that he is being victimized by a witch hunt, and that a more adept PR strategy could minimize the damage, this is a situation entirely of Trump’s own making. And each of Trump’s actions leading up to this moment are rooted deep in Trump’s autocratic and authoritarian impulses; his total contempt for basic institutional processes; and his tendency, when his sense of grievance strikes, to slip into a delusional belief that he can overwhelm the institutional independence of his persecutors the way he might steamroll someone in a business deal.... There are no indications that Trump even understands this." -- CW 

... Ashley Parker & Abby Phillip of the Washington Post: "As Donald Trump has grown increasingly angry and frustrated with his White House staff, the beleaguered targets of his ire have a quietly roiling gripe of their own — their boss, the president himself. Since he fired FBI Director James B. Comey, Trump has lurched through crises of his own making.... Trump largely thinks that his recent mishaps are not substantive but simply errors of branding and public relations, according to people close to him and the White House.... The president’s siege mentality was on display Wednesday when he delivered commencement remarks at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.... In his wake remain his exhausted aides and deputies, the frequent targets of Trump’s wrath as they struggle to control an uncontrollable chief executive and labor to explain away his stumbles.... Some White House staffers have turned to impeachment gallows humor. Other mid-level aides have started ... shopping their résumés.... One West Wing official recently stopped defending Trump or trying to explain away his more controversial behavior." CW: Boo-fucking-hoo.  

*****

Marc Fisher of the Washington Post: "Roger Ailes, who mastered the art of selling political candidates like Hollywood celebrities and was the architect of conservative-oriented TV news, died May 18 at 77. He was the longtime chairman and chief executive of the Fox News Channel, building it over two decades into an politically influential juggernaut until his abrupt ouster last year amid sexual harassment allegations." -- CW 

Louis Nelson of Politico: "... Donald Trump on Thursday blasted the appointment of Robert Mueller to be the special prosecutor overseeing the investigation into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 election, calling the probe on twitter 'the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.' He also accused former President Barack Obama’s administration and the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of committing 'illegal acts,' complaining that his campaign will now face the scrutiny of a special prosecutor while neither his predecessor nor 2016 opponent never have. 'With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel [sic] appointed!' the president wrote on Twitter Thursday morning, without elaborating further on the illegal acts he accused the Clinton campaign and Obama administration of committing.... 'As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,' [a] Wednesday-night statement from the White House, credited to Trump, said. 'I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.'” Thanks to Marvin S. for the lead. ...

     ... CW: Gee, it hardly seems possible that the guy who personally wrote out the anodyne statement Wednesday evening is the same guy who "blasted" the Mueller appointment a few hours later. Here, Trevor Noah of the "Daily Show" does a fine job of pre-documenting where Trump got his idea that Obama & Hillary Clinton got off scott-free while the Most Persecuted President in American History is to be further persecuted. Hint: Fox "News" personalities. I wonder if Trump will fire Rosenstein since firing Mueller would be political suicide. ...

... Sarah Burris of RawStory: "President Donald Trump’s measured response to the special prosecutor lasted approximately 10 hours before a Twitter meltdown ensued. But according to a New York Times report, that may have been encouraged by his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner.... Most of the staffers counseled Trump to respond in a level headed way 'with a conciliatory stance.' Kushner wanted to see Trump go another route and launch a counterattack. Kushner was also the aide responsible for urging Trump to fire former FBI director James Comey." --safari: So either Bannon is trying to filet Jared through the press, or Jared is shitting his pants as the FBI starts snooping in Trump's financial closet...

... Josh Marshall of TPM: "The very latest reports out this morning have it that Jared Kushner was a major voice pushing to fire James Comey. And the President is 'angry' over the backlash to his decision. A shadow of uncertainty must hang over every report like this. We’re hearing these details through interested parties, a yacht basin Lord of the Flies, with different faction leaders gouging each others’ eyes out as the executive branch descends into chaos.... But assuming it is true and – more importantly – because we have numerous other confirmed reports of similar behavior, we should draw the obvious conclusion: Kushner himself is a bad actor, performing the same abuses of power by proxy. My only uncertainty is whether Kushner is committing these bad acts to cover up his own wrongdoing along with his father-in-law’s or whether it is only his father-in-law's. In practice, I suspect that both on the political and business front, they are so intertwined as to be indistringuishable." --safari ...

... Rebecca Ruiz of the New York Times: "The Justice Department has appointed Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director, to serve as a special counsel to oversee its investigation into Russian meddling in the election, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced on Wednesday. The appointment of Mr. Mueller dramatically raises the stakes for President Trump in the multiple investigations into his campaign’s ties to the Russians.... Members of both parties view Mr. Mueller as one of the most credible law enforcement officials in the country.... The appointment is certain to soothe nerves at the F.B.I...." -- CW ...

...Josh Gerstein of Politico: "Robert Mueller could face one significant issue with his appointment as special counsel to lead the Justice Department's investigation into ties between Russia and Donald Trump's presidential campaign: The law firm he's worked at since 2014 has represented several prominent players in Trump's bid for the White House. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump's daughter Ivankaand his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are all clients of WilmerHale, the firm Mueller is leaving to assume the position of special prosecutor overseeing the high-profile Russia election probe...WilmerHale co-managing director Robert Novick said he could not comment on the government ethics rules, but he said Mueller didn't play any part in the firm's work for Manafort, Ivanka Trump or Kushner." --safari...

... Herman Wong & Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "Even as Democrats praised the Justice Department’s decision to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel, they continued to push for an independent commission. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, issued a statement that said, 'A special prosecutor is the first step, but it cannot be the last.… [Mueller] cannot take the place of a truly independent, outside commission that is completely free from the Trump Administration’s meddling.' Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), while still calling for an independent commission, acknowledged that Mueller’s appointment may have 'taken some of the pressure off' Republicans to get on board.” -- CW ...

... Josh Marshall: Rod Rosenstein "apparently gave the White House about 30 minutes heads up.... The DOJ contacted the White House and the major news organizations around the same time, made the news organizations agree to an embargo until 6 pm and that brief period from 5 or 5:30 until 6 pm was the White House’s heads up. That is about the absolute minimal courtesy Rosenstein could have provided. I still think Rosenstein deserves all the reputational damage he incurred over the last ten days or so. He knew what he was participating in when he involved himself in the Comey firing. What he probably didn’t realize was that Trump would essentially blame him for the decision.... There also needs to be an independent commission to investigate what happened in the 2016 election.... The truest and deepest national interest is that the whole story be thoroughly investigated and the full story get a public airing. That is far more important to the health of the Republic and its safety than whether particular individuals spend time in prison." -- CW ...

... Dana Milbank: "With the stroke of a pen, Rod Rosenstein redeemed his reputation, preserved the justice system, pulled American politics back from the brink — and, just possibly, saved the Republican Party and President Trump from themselves.... Rosenstein’s action rescues Ryan, McConnell and other GOP leaders from their own cowardice in refusing to demand more accountability from Trump." -- CW ...

... Pamela Brown of CNN: James Comey "would memorialize the conversations he had with Trump as soon as he got into his car after the meetings, [an] official [close to Comey] said.... Comey also kept memos from his phone conversations with Trump on at least two separate occasions, according to a source. '[The memos are] preserved because he presumes someone will want to see them.'He was concerned that Trump's suggestion to end the Flynn probe could be an example of obstruction of justice. 'It crossed his mind,' a person familiar with the matter said, adding 'even in its most benign form, it's an improper conversation. You're getting a little too close to the flame.' Comey did not share his memos with top Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, despite those concerns.... The source says Rosenstein had not viewed the memos as of Tuesday night.... It is not typical for FBI directors to meet alone with the President. Justice leadership takes the lead generally on talking to administrations.When President Barack Obama met with Comey to discuss appointing him as FBI Director, the President made clear the two would not meet one-on-one after that, according to a separate person with knowledge of the matter." -- CW ...

... Matthew Rosenberg & Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times: "Michael T. Flynn told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case. Despite this warning, which came about a month after the Justice Department notified Mr. Flynn of the inquiry, Mr. Trump made Mr. Flynn his national security adviser. The job gave Mr. Flynn access to the president and nearly every secret held by American intelligence agencies. Mr. Flynn’s disclosure, on Jan. 4, was first made to the transition team’s chief lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, who is now the White House counsel. That conversation, and another one two days later between Mr. Flynn’s lawyer and transition lawyers, shows that the Trump team knew about the investigation of Mr. Flynn far earlier than has been previously reported." -- CW ...

of McClatchy News: "One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington,* he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent. The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces.... Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president. Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months.... His position was consistent with the wishes of Turkey, which had long opposed the United States partnering with the Kurdish forces – and which was his undeclared client. Trump eventually would approve the Raqqa plan, but not until weeks after Flynn had been fired. Now members of Congress, musing about the tangle of legal difficulties Flynn faces, cite that exchange with Rice as perhaps the most serious: acting on behalf of a foreign nation – from which he had received considerable cash – when making a military decision." ...

     ... CW: Actually, according to the Times report linked above, quite a few people in Washington knew about Flynn's representation of Turkey, including FBI investigators, Trump & top members of his transition team. ...

... Kevin Drum: "The new news here is that Trump knew about the FBI investigation far earlier than anyone has reported before. By the time Sally Yates alerted the White House to Flynn's lying, they had already been warned off Flynn by President Obama and they'd known about the FBI investigation for three weeks. Nonetheless, they did nothing until it all became public." -- CW ...

...**Ned Parker, et al., of Reuters: "Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters. The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia...Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said...The people who described the contacts to Reuters said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far...The 18 calls and electronic messages took place between April and November 2016 as hackers engaged in what U.S. intelligence concluded in January was part of a Kremlin campaign to discredit the vote and influence the outcome of the election in favor of Trump over his Democratic challenger, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton." --safari...

What This Administration Needs Is More Wackadoodles. Tara Palmeri of Politico: "... Donald Trump, frustrated by his aides’ handling of the multiple scandals engulfing the White House, is turning to the comfort of his old campaign advisers. Former officials including Jason Miller, David Bossie and Corey Lewandowski have slid back into the president’s group of advisers as Trump has chafed at the steady stream of damaging leaks and critical blind quotes that have flowed out of the West Wing.... Many of the loyalists Trump is increasingly turning to were frozen out during the transition when chief of staff Reince Priebus, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, brought on a slew of his own staffers." -- CW ...


Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/white-house/article151149647.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/white-house/article151149647.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/white-house/article151149647.html#storylink=cpy

... Poor, Pitiful Trumpydoodle. David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "President Trump offered a robust defense of his presidency Wednesday, arguing that he has been treated unfairly by the Washington media amid a series of deepening scandals that have engulfed his administration. In a commencement ceremony at the Coast Guard Academy, Trump said 'no politician in history . . . has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down, can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.'... The president was clearly eager to defend himself, using the second half of his commencement address to express his frustration in rhetoric just loosely cloaked as 'advice' for the soon-to-be-commissioned officers. 'Over the course of your life, you’ll find things are not always fair,' he said. 'Things happen to you that you do not deserve and are not always warranted, but you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.' In an aside, he added: 'I guess that’s why we won.'... He received a standing ovation when he finished speaking.” See also Akhilleus' commentary below. -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Paul Waldman: "So when you face obstacles, you must whine, moan and complain as much as possible. What an inspiring message for these idealistic young people." -- CW ...

... Keeping Us Safe. Gail Collins: "Wow, Donald Trump can’t even give a commencement speech to the military without making it all about him.... But the topic of the day at the Coast Guard Academy was protecting America. And since nobody — particularly Trump — can talk about anything except Trump, let’s look at what the president has done recently to assure our security. Right now we have no head of the F.B.I. Most of the U.S. attorney offices — the nerve center of America’s war on terrorism and corruption — are without leaders. In March Trump demanded the Obama-era federal prosecutors leave immediately, and he has not nominated a single replacement.... Meanwhile National Security Adviser Mike Flynn turned out to be a mess on many fronts.... His successor, H. R. McMaster, came into the job with a stellar military background and then quickly became an embarrassment. He’s just another spokesman trying to cover up the president’s messes with carefully worded statements, only to be contradicted by a Trumpian tweet.... Also on the top of the Trump food chain when it comes to protecting our security: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a right-wing former senator whose greatest achievement so far has been to return the federal criminal justice system to a brain-dead policy of imposing long mandatory sentences on people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes." ...

     ... CW: See also Matthew Stevens' report on Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, linked below, and Johathan Chait's post on fascist David Clarke. Also too, Ken Dilanian's report on Clueless R. McMaster. ...

... The Sounds of Silence. Nancy LeTourneau of the Washington Monthly: "The one thing that strikes me about what is happening today is the silence. For example, unlike previous episodes where Trump has been challenged by something akin to the Comey memo story, he didn’t rage-tweet this morning.... The silence suggests that there is something different about this story. But in the meantime, White House sources are floating stories anonymously.... Here is one that has some teeth: 'A senior WH official tells @PeterAlexander that POTUS wasn't telling Comey to end Flynn investigation and suggest this is the way he speaks — Marianna Sotomayor (@MariannaNBCNews) May 17, 2017.... A senior WH official just affirmed that the Comey memo is accurate by saying that this is the way the president speaks. That’s huge." Emphasis added. -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Ken Dilanian, et al., of NBC News: "Some of the intelligence President Trump provided to Russian officials is so secret that American news organizations are still being asked not to report it, two U.S. officials told NBC News. The requests by U.S. intelligence officials cast doubt on the assertion by the president's aides that the sharing was appropriate.... National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters Tuesday that what Trump shared was 'wholly appropriate'.... McMaster, a serving Army general who is not steeped in counterterrorism, did not immediately realize the impact of what Trump had said, the U.S. official recounted. Many current and former intelligence officials said they were aghast at what they described as a reckless mistake by the president." Emphasis added. Thanks to Gloria for the lead. -- CW ...

...The Bratty Blabbermouth. Juan Cole: "Globally, US security partners are beginning to rethink sharing sensitive intelligence with the United States. That decisions should worry all Americans, since it puts the US at greater risk of being blindsided. The Republican Party has long claimed to be the party of security, in large part because they confuse belligerent rhetoric with security...The hollowness of GOP claims to be the party of strength are demonstrated by the mass of US allies running for the door and vowing never to show Washington anything remotely important. Even the Israelis, who would have no security without the US, are kvetching about Trump’s latest breach. It is widely thought that he endangered an Israeli spy who had penetrated ISIL. And Tel Aviv is royally angered...It should be noted that the CIA considers Israeli intelligence one of the leakiest among US allies...So if the Israelis now think Trump is too leaky to do business with, that is saying something...Trump has only been in office a few months, and he has already ruined intelligence relationships forged over decades." --safari...

... How Putin Sucked in Trump. Julia Ioffe of the Atlantic: "... one reason the alleged presidential disclosure [to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak] is hugely significant — even aside from its likely impact on Trump’s already strained relationship with his own intelligence community, and the likelihood it will damage intelligence-sharing relationships America depends on — is that it is yet another fruit of a strategy the Kremlin has long stuck to: telling the West that Russia is its ally on counterterrorism. This was, after all, what the Kremlin said Putin and Trump had discussed on their call two weeks ago, and it is the one area of cooperation that Putin continues to hold out to the West.... When Russia says it wants to cooperate with America on fighting terrorism, it is making a complex, and largely cynical, self-serving argument. But to realize that, one would have to understand the history and origins of this argument. The Obama administration mostly did, and it angered the Russians to no end. In Trump, the Russians have finally found an American president who will take their offer at face value and not ask too many questions." -- CW ...

... New York Times: "Stocks in the United States ended the day [Wednesday] sharply lower, a sign that investors might have growing concern over the turmoil in Washington." -- CW ...

... Et tu, mikey? Adele Stan of the American Prospect: "... the notion that [mike] Pence had no place inside the Trump administration’s burgeoning Russia scandal is too readily accepted by reporters and lawmakers alike...." Stan lays out some particulars that call into question pence's supposed ignorance of all that was going on around him. CW: See also Rosenberg & Mazzetti's report above, which came out after Stan wrote her piece. Since pence was head of the transition team, he knew the FBI was investigating Flynn. Mikey is really good at (1) looking the other way, and (2) acting all surprised when caught in a lie. ...

...Vaughn Hillyard of NBC News: "Vice President Mike Pence is launching his own PAC — the "Great America Committee" — to aid his own future political interests, including helping Republican candidates ahead of the 2018 midterms...This is the first time a sitting vice president has formed such a separate political arm. Former administration officials have used either party or campaign funds to cover travel costs...A source close to the Vice President said the organization will 'provide resources for the Vice President to actually support candidates who are supportive of the president's agenda.' The source also dismissed that there is any forethought into PAC being an infrastructure for a 2020 run of Pence's own." --safari...

...Matthew Nussbaum Theodoric Meyer of Politico: "Not since the release of the Access Hollywood tape, in which Donald Trump bragged about groping women by the genitals, have some conservatives thought so seriously, if a bit wistfully, about two words: President Pence...The still far-fetched proposition of removing Trump from office has increasing appeal to Republicans who are growing weary of defendingTrump and are alarmed by his conduct in office. But such whispers are cringe-worthy for Pence and his aides, who have made an art of not upstaging the mercurial president. Pence’s press secretary declined to comment for this article." --safari...

... Keeping Us Safe -- from the Press. Matthew Stevens of the New York Times: "... John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, probably did not intend for his quip suggesting President Trump use a sword 'on the press' to be recorded such that the world could hear. The remark came on Wednesday after Mr. Trump gave a commencement address to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., in which he lauded the service before telling graduating cadets that no leader in history had been treated more unfairly by the news media.... A a representative of the Class of 2017 presented him with a sword as a token of their appreciation. Mr. Trump then posed for a picture of himself with the sword and the person who presented it to him, before handing it off, and sitting back down next to Mr. Kelly. 'Use that on the press, sir,' Mr. Kelly said. 'Yeah,' Mr. Trump replied, before chuckling." -- CW ...

... Jonathan Chait: "Words like fascist and authoritarian get thrown around too promiscuously. But there is no other way to describe David Clarke, who today announced that he was named assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. (The Department has not confirmed Clarke’s appointment.) Clarke occupies the extremist, anti-democratic fringe of far-right officials, even by the standards of the Trump administration.... Clarke’s ironfisted beliefs about criminal justice can be explained in part by his own career. He oversees a prison that is notoriously brutal. Four people have died of mistreatment and torture in his custody.... Clarke’s mind is organized around a worship of the virtues of physical force, combined with a seething intolerance for democratic dissent. In his book, Clarke proposes that the Department of Homeland Security — the department that he has been nominated to serve — assume police-state powers to round up internal enemies.... Clarke is clear in his belief that the legal principles that have served as a bedrock against state abuse for centuries should be discarded. He would 'hold them indefinitely under a suspension of habeas corpus.'...” Read the whole post. -- CW ...

...Trump's Amerika. Jeremy Redmon of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "An Indian national who was being detained by federal immigration authorities in Atlanta died Tuesday at Grady Memorial Hospital. He is the second U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainee to die in Georgia in the space of two days.Atulkumar Babubhai Patel, 58, was pronounced dead at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday, according to ICE. His preliminary cause of death, the federal agency said, has been ruled to be complications from congestive heart failure.  Federal authorities are also investigating the death of a Panamanian national who was being held in an immigration detention center in Stewart County...Jean Jimenez-Joseph, 27, died after he was found unresponsive — with a sheet around his neck — in his solitary confinement cell at the Stewart Detention Center at 12:45 a.m. Monday, ICE said. He had been isolated for 19 days....Patel is the eighth detainee to die in ICE custody in the fiscal year ending this September." --safari

Matt Zapotosky & John Wagner of the Washington Post: "President Trump was meeting Wednesday with four candidates to succeed James B. Comey as FBI director, including former senator Joe Lieberman, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said. In addition to Lieberman, the president was to meet with former Oklahoma governor Frank A. Keating, who worked previously as a U.S. attorney and as the No. 3 official in the Justice Department; Richard A. McFeely, a former FBI official who spent more than two decades in the bureau; and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, who has taken over for Comey in the short term." CW: Not sure if Lieberman could get a pass in the Senate. Most of the senators know Liberman, and with the possible exceptions of John McCain & Lindsay Graham, nobody likes Lieberman.

Screw the Kids, Ctd. Emma Brown, et al., of the Washington Post: "Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post. The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies." -- CW 

Fill the Swamp. David Dayen of The Intercept: "For four years during Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s tenure as chair of OneWest Bank, its reverse-mortgage subsidiary Financial Freedom ripped off the government by receiving unlawful federal insurance payments on reverse mortgages, according to an $89 million Justice Department settlement made public today...The period of Financial Freedom’s misconduct covers a period that began shortly after Mnuchin became chair of OneWest and ended shortly after he and his fellow investors sold the company. He was either unaware of the breakdown in controls at Financial Freedom, or aware of the misconduct and allowed it to continue...Financial Freedom did not have to admit nor deny wrongdoing...New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed documents about Financial Freedom’s loan business within the past couple months, according to the company’s financial disclosures." --safari

Donald Trump, International Arms Dealer. Josh Rogin of the Washington Post: "When President Trump arrives in Riyadh this week, he will lay out his vision for a new regional security architecture White House officials call an 'Arab NATO,' to guide the fight against terrorism and push back against Iran. As a cornerstone of the plan, Trump will also announce one of the largest arms-sales deals in history. Behind the scenes, the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia have been conducting extensive negotiations, led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The discussions began shortly after the presidential election, when Mohammed, known in Washington as 'MBS,' sent a delegation to meet with Kushner and other Trump officials at Trump Tower.... The idea of an 'Arab NATO' has been bandied about for years — and has always had strong Saudi support — but until now was never openly endorsed by the U.S. government. Officials said the concept fits three major tenets of Trump’s 'America First' foreign-policy frame: asserting more American leadership in the region, shifting the financial burden of security to allies and providing for U.S. jobs at home (through the massive arms sales)." -- CW

Adam Peck of ThinkProgress: "According to Israeli publication YNet NewsDonald Trump’s advance team wants to shorten his visit to Israel’s Holocaust memorial to no more than 15 minutes, just enough time to sign the Yad Vashem guest book and deliver brief remarks alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In contrast, both President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush spent at least an hour at Yad Vashem, touring the museum and giving a public speech. The duration of his visit...might pass unobserved were it not for the Trump administration’s already tense relationship with the Jewish community and shaky grasp on the facts of the Holocaust...The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the administration’s only objective for Trump’s first foreign trip is to avoid any more diplomatic catastrophes. Trump himself reportedly tried to have the trip cut in half—to just five days." --safari

Ben Kamisar of the Hill: "A violent attack blocks from the White House that left nine protestors bloodied or injured is creating a new headache for the Trump administration on the eve of the president’s first foreign trip. The attack allegedly perpetrated by bodyguards and other supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came under fierce criticism from Washington, D.C., police and local officials, who described it as a violent attack on peaceful demonstrators.... Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham condemned the action Wednesday as an 'assault' on those protesting 'peacefully,' warning that the department will 'pursue everything that’s within our legal power to hold the folks that were responsible accountable for their actions.'... The State Department took more than a day to respond to the event...." -- CW ...

... Louis Nelson of Politico: "The State Department confirmed on Wednesday that Turkish security personnel were involved in a clash with protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Northwest Washington a day earlier that left nine people injured and two in police custody. 'We are concerned by the violent incidents involving protestors and Turkish security personnel Tuesday evening. Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest,' the State Department said in a statement. 'We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms.' A video of at least some of the fight, posted online on the Voice of America’s Turkish-language Twitter account, shows men wearing dark suits charging past a police line towards sign-wielding protesters and assaulting them. Some of the dark-suited, charging men appeared to be carrying holstered firearms.... In March 2016, Erdogan’s security guards reportedly attacked demonstrators and journalists outside the Brookings Institution in Washington.” -- CW 

Adam Entous of the Washington Post: "A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin. 'There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,' McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post.... Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: 'Swear to God.'... Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy. Before the conversation, McCarthy and Ryan had emerged from separate talks at the U.S. Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions. News had just broken the day before in The Washington Post that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee.... 'I’ll guarantee you that’s what it is. . . . The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research that they had on Trump,” McCarthy said with a laugh." ...

     ... CW: What a patriot! The House Majority Leader "swears to God" he thinks Putin is/was paying Trump. He thinks it's hilarious that Russians hacked the DNC. But no matter if Russians interfered with the U.S. elections to put a traitor in the White House -- as long as the traitor helps push through these tax breaks for the rich. ...

     ... AND what liars! Spoksmen for Ryan & McCarthy both categorically denied McCarthy's remarks -- till Entous told them he had heard a recording. ...

... Kevin Drum: "Good on Adam Entous of the Post for getting a response from both men before they knew he had a recording. It's good for the public to understand how shamelessly and effortlessly they'll flatly lie about anything they think they can get away with." -- CW ...

... Nicole Guadiano of USAToday: "House Republicans blocked a vote Wednesday on legislation to create an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. A Democratic effort to force a vote failed, with only one Republican – Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina – joining them in a procedural vote that would have allowed them to bring up the bill. But Democrats also launched a petition Wednesday that would allow them to force a vote on the bill at a later date if they get a majority of lawmakers to sign on." -- CW ...

... Deirdre Walsh, et al., of CNN: "House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday he still has confidence in ... Donald Trump." The story includes video of some of Ryan's remarks. He makes my skin crawl. If, like me, you can't stand to listen, Dana Milbank (column linked above) has a good recap of Weasel Man's remarks:

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Ryan, reading from a typewritten statement, gave what amounted to a generous Trump defense. Ryan alleged that 'there are some people out there who want to harm the president,' and said of Comey: 'If this happened as he allegedly describes, why didn’t he take action at the time?' Ryan dismissed 'speculation and innuendo,' saying 'there’s clearly a lot of politics being played.' He cited the acting FBI director as saying 'no one has tried to impede' the FBI probe. 'There is plenty of oversight that is being done,' Ryan assured all. Walking out, he was asked if he had 'full confidence' in Trump. Ryan paused briefly mid-stride and said, softly, 'I do.' ...

... Elise Viebeck, et al., of the Washington Post: "Congressional Republicans are increasing pressure on the Trump administration to produce documents related to the latest string of controversies involving President Trump, amid flagging confidence in the White House and a growing sense that scandal is overtaking the presidency. As the White House sought to contain the damage from two major scandals, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the FBI for documents related to former Director James B. Comey.... In a separate letter, they also asked Comey to testify before the committee in both open and closed sessions." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Cristina Marcos of the Hill: "Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on Wednesday said if the reports about Trump's pressure on Comey are true, it would merit impeachment." -- CW ...

... Imagine. USA Today Editors: "Imagine what would have happened had a President Hillary Clinton abruptly fired the man overseeing an investigation of her campaign’s ties to a hostile foreign government. Imagine if the firing came ... weeks after Clinton had asked the man to drop a probe of a close associate who had lied about conversations with that nation's ambassador. Imagine, further, what would have happened had she invited the ambassador and foreign minister of that hostile government to the Oval Office at the request of their autocratic leader, closed the meeting to U.S. journalists, and claimed to have been tricked when the foreign adversary's media arm released chummy photos from the meeting. And then imagine that she had used the meeting to share classified intelligence with the envoys." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Jeff Larson of ProPublica, Surya Mattu of Gizmodo, et al.: The writers trolled Mar-a-Lago, the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and "the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and a golf club in Sterling, Virginia. Our inspections found weak and open Wi-Fi networks, wireless printers without passwords, servers with outdated and vulnerable software, and unencrypted login pages to back-end databases containing sensitive information. The risks posed by the lax security, experts say, go well beyond simple digital snooping. Sophisticated attackers could take advantage of vulnerabilities in the Wi-Fi networks to take over devices like computers or smart phones and use them to record conversations involving anyone on the premises. 'Those networks all have to be crawling with foreign intruders, not just ProPublica,' said Dave Aitel, chief executive officer of Immunity, Inc., a digital security company, when we told him what we found.... Trump properties have been hacked before. Last year, the Trump hotel chain paid $50,000 to settle charges brought by the New York attorney general that it had not properly disclosed the loss of more than 70,000 credit card numbers and 302 Social Security numbers." CW: Makes Hillary Clinton's little private server problem -- on which were transmitted very few sensitive documents and e-mails -- look like a fake can of worms. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Beyond the Beltway

Samantha Vicent of the Tulsa World: "... a jury on Wednesday night found Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby not guilty of manslaughter in the death of Terence Crutcher, prompting Crutcher’s family to allege that the trial revealed widespread corruption within the Tulsa Police Department that allowed Shelby to 'get away with murder.'... The case drew national attention and outrage because video footage released after the Sept. 16 shooting showed that Shelby, who is white, shot Crutcher, who was black and unarmed, and did not render aid as he bled in the street.... Crutcher, according to helicopter footage of the shooting, had his hands up in the seconds before he was shot. He was unarmed....” -- CW 

Olivia Messer of The Daily Beast: "'Grab her phone! Delete my numbers and texts!' the men shouted. Jane Doe could hear their voices while she lay on her back in a Waco, Texas, apartment...As many as eight Baylor football players had just finished taking turns raping her, and they jumped to delete her phone evidence, according to allegations in a new lawsuit. Doe’s complaint is the seventh federal Title IX lawsuit—which involve at least 15 women—filed against the nation’s largest Baptist university. At least 17 alleged victims of sexual or domestic violence have reported assaults by 19 Baylor football players, including at least four alleged gang rapes. Another lawsuit claims that there have been at least 52 rapes perpetrated by no fewer than 31 players on the team between 2011 and 2014...The alleged gang rapes, according to the suit, were a “bonding” experience for the team, during which they would take photographs and videos of “semi conscious” girls and then “circulate” them to other players." --safari

Way Beyond

Ed O'Loughlin of the New York Times: "Enda Kenny, Ireland’s prime minister since 2011, announced his resignation as the leader of his party on Wednesday. The announcement was not unexpected, as Mr. Kenny was under pressure from within his party, Fine Gael, because of his handling of a long-running corruption scandal over Irish police misconduct. Mr. Kenny hinted in March that he would step down as the party’s leader, and on Wednesday, he made it official, announcing his departure as party leader, effective midnight. Lawmakers and other members of Fine Gael must choose a new leader by June 2, and Mr. Kenny will stay on as a caretaker prime minister until then. Mr. Kenny drew widespread attention in March when, during a St. Patrick’s Day visit to Washington, he chided Mr. Trump and brought up the estimated 50,000 Irish who are living in the United States illegally, and who are at risk if Mr. Trump delivers on his campaign promise to round up undocumented immigrants." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Here's the Irish Times' main story. -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Jonathan Watts of the Guardian: "Angry crowds and outraged members of Brazil’s congress have demanded the impeachment of President Michel Temer following reports he was secretly recorded discussing hush money pay-offs to a jailed associate. The tapes were presented to prosecutors as part of a plea bargain by Joesley and Wesley Batista, brothers who run the country’s biggest meat-packing firm JBS, according to O Globo newspaper. They are said to contain conversations that incriminate several leading politicians, including the former presidential candidate Aecio Neves and the former finance minister Guido Mantega. Temer is alleged to have talked with Joesley about cash payments to Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the House who has been jailed for his role in the sprawling Petrobras corruption scandal...Cunha is in the same ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement party as Temer and initiated the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff that allowed him to take over the presidency. He has alluded to the many secrets he knows about his former colleagues." --safari

And now a public service announcement from Mother Nature. Damian Carrington of the Guardian: "[T]he world’s plant hunters discovered more than 1,700 new species last year, offering the prospect of better crops and new colours and scents in the garden...The report found that more than 28,000 plant species are now recorded as having medicinal uses and new climbing vines from Borneo and Ecuador may add to the list, being relatives of plants already grown to produce treatments for Parkinson’s disease. Finding so many new species in a year is not unusual and Prof Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew Gardens, said: 'There are just huge areas we know nothing about. I find it really encouraging that there are many, many new plants to be found in the world.' 'Plants are critical to life on Earth and all aspects of human wellbeing,” she said. “I get most carried away with the new food crops, because I think one of the most worrying things about climate change is its impact on food security.'" --safari

Tuesday
May162017

The Commentariat -- May 17, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Poor, Pitiful Trumpydoodle. David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "President Trump offered a robust defense of his presidency Wednesday, arguing that he has been treated unfairly by the Washington media amid a series of deepening scandals that have engulfed his administration. In a commencement ceremony at the Coast Guard Academy, Trump said 'no politician in history ... has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can't let them get you down, can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.'... The president was clearly eager to defend himself, using the second half of his commencement address to express his frustration in rhetoric just loosely cloaked as 'advice' for the soon-to-be-commissioned officers. 'Over the course of your life, you'll find things are not always fair,' he said. 'Things happen to you that you do not deserve and are not always warranted, but you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.' In an aside, he added: 'I guess that's why we won.'... He received a standing ovation when he finished speaking." See also Akhilleus' commentary below. -- CW ...

... The Sounds of Silence. Nancy LeTourneau of the Washington Monthly: "The one thing that strikes me about what is happening today is the silence. For example, unlike previous episodes where Trump has been challenged by something akin to the Comey memo story, he didn't rage-tweet this morning.... The silence suggests that there is something different about this story. But in the meantime, White House sources are floating stories anonymously.... Here is one that has some teeth: 'A senior WH official tells @PeterAlexander that POTUS wasn't telling Comey to end Flynn investigation and suggest this is the way he speaks -- Marianna Sotomayor (@MariannaNBCNews) May 17, 2017.... A senior WH official just affirmed that the Comey memo is accurate by saying that this is the way the president speaks. That's huge." Emphasis added. -- CW ...

... Elise Viebeck, et al., of the Washington Post: "Congressional Republicans are increasing pressure on the Trump administration to produce documents related to the latest string of controversies involving President Trump, amid flagging confidence in the White House and a growing sense that scandal is overtaking the presidency. As the White House sought to contain the damage from two major scandals, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the FBI for documents related to former Director James B. Comey.... In a separate letter, they also asked Comey to testify before the committee in both open and closed sessions." -- CW ...

... Imagine. USA Today Editors: "Imagine what would have happened had a President Hillary Clinton abruptly fired the man overseeing an investigation of her campaign's ties to a hostile foreign government. Imagine if the firing came ... weeks after Clinton had asked the man to drop a probe of a close associate who had lied about conversations with that nation's ambassador. Imagine, further, what would have happened had she invited the ambassador and foreign minister of that hostile government to the Oval Office at the request of their autocratic leader, closed the meeting to U.S. journalists, and claimed to have been tricked when the foreign adversary's media arm released chummy photos from the meeting. And then imagine that she had used the meeting to share classified intelligence with the envoys." -- CW ...

... Jeff Larson of ProPublica, Surya Mattu of Gizmodo, et al.: The writers trolled Mar-a-Lago, the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and "the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and a golf club in Sterling, Virginia. Our inspections found weak and open Wi-Fi networks, wireless printers without passwords, servers with outdated and vulnerable software, and unencrypted login pages to back-end databases containing sensitive information. The risks posed by the lax security, experts say, go well beyond simple digital snooping. Sophisticated attackers could take advantage of vulnerabilities in the Wi-Fi networks to take over devices like computers or smart phones and use them to record conversations involving anyone on the premises. 'Those networks all have to be crawling with foreign intruders, not just ProPublica,' said Dave Aitel, chief executive officer of Immunity, Inc., a digital security company, when we told him what we found.... Trump properties have been hacked before. Last year, the Trump hotel chain paid $50,000 to settle charges brought by the New York attorney general that it had not properly disclosed the loss of more than 70,000 credit card numbers and 302 Social Security numbers." CW: Makes Hillary Clinton's little private server problem -- on which were transmitted very few sensitive documents and e-mails -- look like a fake can of worms.

Ed O'Loughlin of the New York Times: "Enda Kenny, Ireland's prime minister since 2011, announced his resignation as the leader of his party on Wednesday. The announcement was not unexpected, as Mr. Kenny was under pressure from within his party, Fine Gael, because of his handling of a long-running corruption scandal over Irish police misconduct. Mr. Kenny hinted in March that he would step down as the party's leader, and on Wednesday, he made it official, announcing his departure as party leader, effective midnight. Lawmakers and other members of Fine Gael must choose a new leader by June 2, and Mr. Kenny will stay on as a caretaker prime minister until then. Mr. Kenny drew widespread attention in March when, during a St. Patrick's Day visit to Washington, he chided Mr. Trump and brought up the estimated 50,000 Irish who are living in the United States illegally, and who are at risk if Mr. Trump delivers on his campaign promise to round up undocumented immigrants." -- CW ...

... Here's the Irish Times' main story. -- CW

*****

The St. Valentine's Day Proposition. I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go. -- Donald Trump, to Jim Comey, February 14, 2016 ...

... ** Letters of I.M.P.E.A.C.H.M.E.N.T. Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting. 'I hope you can let this go,' the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. The existence of Mr. Trump's request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump's associates and Russia.... Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey's associates.... Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president's improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent's contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations. Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey's associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.... Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo. Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, only replying: 'I agree he is a good guy.' In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo." -- CW ...

     ... Update: "Late Tuesday, Representative Jason Chaffetz, and the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded the F.B.I. turn over all 'memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings' of discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey.... Mr. Chaffetz's letter, sent to the acting F.B.I. director, Andrew G. McCabe, set a May 24 deadline for the internal documents to be delivered to the House committee. 'If true, these memoranda raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede the F.B.I.'s investigation as it relates to Lieutenant General Flynn,' Mr. Chaffetz wrote." -- CW ...

     ... CW: Evidence of Intent. In any trial, it is helpful for the prosecution to be able to produce some evidence of a guilty mind. So here you go, via Schmidt: "Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office that day with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present -- including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- to leave the room except for Mr. Comey." You don't kick out witnesses if you think what you're about to do or say is above-board.

... Devlin Barrett, et al., of the Washington Post: "President Trump asked the FBI to drop its investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and urged former FBI director James B. Comey instead to pursue reporters in leak investigations -- according to private notes taken by Comey -- people familiar with the matter said.... Comey's description of the event made clear his understanding of the conversation was that the president was seeking to impede the investigation, according to people who have read the account or had it read to them, these people said. Comey felt that the conversation was improper and decided to keep the details of the conversations away from the case agents working on the Russia probe." -- CW ...

We had just gone and told them that the national-security adviser, of all people, was compromised with the Russians and that their Vice-President and others had been lying to the American people about it. We expected them to act. We expected them to do something immediately. -- Sally Yates to Ryan Lizza ...

... Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker interviewed Sally Yates. Interesting. Lizza's full profile of Yates will appear in next week's New Yorker. ...

... Euan McKirdy & Saba Hamedy of CNN: "Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Tuesday shot down the White House's efforts to downplay the severity of her warnings about former national security adviser Michael Flynn." -- CW ...

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "Four days ago, President Trump threatened fired former FBI director James Comey. He dangled the prospect that there were tapes of their conversations, suggesting he might use them if Comey leaked information to the press.... It turns out Comey has his own records of those conversations. And that should make Trump very worried.... The possible existence of a trove of Comey memos may be the real story here." -- CW ...

... Philip Bump of the Washington Post: "... the flood of information over the past 10 days has been pushing us to a point that we haven't yet reached, forcing an explicit choice between the word of the White House and the word of an outside party.... There is a surfeit of circumstantial evidence that bolsters the idea that Trump pressured Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn." -- CW ...

... Comey's Revenge. David Graham of the Atlantic: "In this case, as well as in the case of another story last week that reported on a dinner at the White House where Comey reportedly said Trump asked him to pledge personal loyalty, the fired director appears to have laid a series of booby traps for Trump ahead of his firing, ensuring that his side of the story would be told -- even as Comey himself remains silent." -- CW ...

... Brian Beutler: "For a White House as undisciplined as this one, the tape stonewalling scans less as a political position than a legal one. White House counsel Don McGahn, or someone else who understands the potential gravity of the situation, may well have told everyone to keep their mouths shut. If the White House were to acknowledge that there are no tapes, Trump would be caught in a very troubling fabrication to intimidate a witness, but if the White House confirms that tapes exist, Trump would face the legal obligation to preserve them and perhaps even surrender them to Congress." -- CW ...

... Austin Wright of Politico: "Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has invited former FBI Director James Comey to testify publicly at a Senate hearing, the South Carolina Republican said Tuesday." -- CW

Jonathan Chait: "The Republican Congress has surrounded the Trump administration with a protective wall.... Hours after the New York Times reported that James Comey has memos describing Donald Trump attempting to steer him away from the Russia investigation, that wall began to crack. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and heretofore a staunch Trump defender, has subpoenaed* all records of Comey’s meetings with the president. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, the fourth-ranking House Republican, endorsed the request, followed within hours by House Speaker Paul Ryan.... [This] paves the way for a series of revelations that are extremely likely to depict the president as having committed an impeachable offense. The implication of the next step is apparent to many Republicans. Senator John McCain says the charges have 'reached Watergate size and scale.'" -- CW ...

     ... * CW Note: Chaffetz didn't actually subpoena the records but requested/demanded them & said that he would subpoena them if necessary.

... Peter Beinart of the Atlantic: "The Kremlin, it turns out, is not the only institution able to outwit Donald Trump. American law enforcement and the American press can too. Comey, who unlike Trump knows the art of political CYA, reportedly kept a record of the President's efforts to obstruct justice. Trump's own White House is sabotaging him daily through massive leaks. And at both the Times and the Washington Post, the best reporters of their generation are participating in the journalistic equivalent of a dunking contest."-- CW ...

... Noah Feldman of Bloomberg: "High crimes and misdemeanors, to use the Constitution's phrase, aren't the same as ordinary crimes. What makes them 'high' is their political character. High crimes and misdemeanors are corruption, abuse of power, and undermining the rule of law and democracy. They don't have to satisfy all the technical aspects of an ordinary crime. And this act of Trump's, as described in a memo written by Comey first reported Tuesday by the New York Times, probably doesn't." -- CW ...

... CW: Feldman reminds me: if Trump were so concerned about Flynn's getting a bum rap, Trump could just pardon him. And that makes Trump's treatment of Comey all the more egregious: instead of pardoning Flynn & taking political heat for it, Trump wanted an underling (Comey) to surreptitiously let Flynn off the hook; when Comey refused to do so, Trump fired him. ...

... Tony Schwartz, actual author of The Art of the Deal, in a Washington Post op-ed: "Early on, I recognized that Trump's sense of self-worth is forever at risk. When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn't depend on facts and always directs the blame to others.... Trump was equally clear with me that he didn't value -- nor even necessarily recognize -- the qualities that tend to emerge as people grow more secure, such as empathy, generosity, reflectiveness, the capacity to delay gratification or, above all, a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong. Trump simply didn't traffic in emotions or interest in others. The life he lived was all transactional, all the time." -- CW

CNN developing story: "Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia is ready to provide US Congress with a transcript of the talks between ... Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Speaking at a press conference, Putin said the transcript could be provided 'if the US administration finds it appropriate.'" -- CW ...

     ... Update. Andrew Roth of the Washington Post has a more fully-developed story here. ...

... Adam Goldman, et al., of the New York Times: "The classified intelligence that President Trump disclosed in a meeting last week with Russian officials at the White House was provided by Israel, according to a current and a former American official familiar with how the United States obtained the information.... The officials ... said that Israel previously had urged the United States to be careful about the handling of the intelligence that Mr. Trump discussed.... General McMaster [said] that the president, who he said was unaware of the source of the information, made a spur-of-the-moment decision to tell the Russians what he knew.... The revelation that Mr. Trump boasted about some of Israel's most sensitive information to the Russians could damage the relationship between the two countries. It also raises the possibility that the information could be passed to Iran, Russia's close ally and Israel's main threat in the Middle East.... Israel's concerns about the Trump White House's handling of classified information were foreshadowed in the Israeli news media this year. Newspapers there reported in January that American officials warned their Israeli counterparts to be careful about what they told the Trump administration because it could be leaked to the Russians, given Mr. Trump's openness toward President Vladimir V. Putin." Thanks to James S. for the lead. -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Sheera Frenkel of BuzzFeed: "Two Israeli intelligence officials confirmed to BuzzFeed News Tuesday that Israel had shared specific intelligence with the US regarding ISIS plots to smuggle explosive laptops onto planes, and that it appeared that that intelligence had been shared with Russia without prior coordination. The revelation that Trump had shared that intelligence with Russian officials was Israel's 'worst fears confirmed,' said one of the intelligence officers.... Speaking to BuzzFeed News via a military base in northern Israel, [a second official] said Israeli intelligence officers were 'boiling mad and demanding answers' as to whether Israel's military would continue its current intelligence-sharing agreement with the US." -- CW ...

... Paul Waldman: "Back in January, departing Obama administration officials warned their Israeli counterparts to be careful about what they told Trump, since he might pass information on to the Russians. And what do you know, they were right." -- CW ...

... Brian Ross, et al., of ABC News: "The life of a spy placed by Israel inside ISIS is at risk tonight, according to current and former U.S. officials, after ... Donald Trump reportedly disclosed classified information in a meeting with Russian officials last week. The spy provided intelligence involving an active ISIS plot to bring down a passenger jet en route to the United States, with a bomb hidden in a laptop that U.S. officials believe can get through airport screening machines undetected. The information was reliable enough that the U.S. is considering a ban on laptops on all flights from Europe to the United States." -- CW ...

... Evan Perez of CNN: "The intelligence behind the US ban on laptops and other electronics is considered so highly classified that CNN, at the request of US government officials, withheld key details from a March 31 story on the travel restrictions.... Over several days, US intelligence officials spent hours on conference calls making specific requests to CNN to withhold certain details of the intelligence information. Those details included information that Trump reportedly shared in his Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak." -- CW ...

... Glenn Thrush & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "Mr. Trump's appetite for chaos, coupled with his disregard for the self-protective conventions of the presidency, have left his staff confused and squabbling. And his own mood, according to two advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has become sour and dark, turning against most of his aides -- even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner -- and describing them in a fury as 'incompetent,' according to one of those advisers.... There is a fear among some of Mr. Trump's senior advisers about leaving him alone in meetings with foreign leaders out of concern he might speak out of turn. General McMaster, in particular, has tried to insert caveats or gentle corrections into conversations when he believes the president is straying off topic or onto boggy diplomatic ground. This has, at times, chafed the president, according to two officials with knowledge of the situation. Mr. Trump, who still openly laments having to dismiss his first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, has groused that General McMaster talks too much in meetings, and the president has referred to him as 'a pain,' according to one of the officials. In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling -- and honest -- defense of the president: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of printed briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would do harm to United States allies." -- CW ...

... digby: "That's what constitutes an honest 'defense' of the president of the United States? That he's too lazy and stupid to be able to consciously leak sources and methods? Needless to say, that is not the question here. He's so lazy and stupid that without permission, he blurted out highly classified intel provided by a foreign country in such a way that sources and methods could be discerned by the Russian government. This means that he is so stupid he can't be trusted with classified information at all." -- CW ...

... Jeet Heer of the New Republic: "Through sheer incompetence, narcissism, and stupidity, Trump may well achieve his original goal of an 'America First' foreign policy better than if had pursued it in a more calculated fashion. By making America an unreliable ally, he is calling into question the value of NATO -- and providing Europe with an opportunity to reinvent its own foreign policy." -- CW

... Putin Pulls a Fast One, Further Destabilizing Trump Presidency. Philip Rucker & Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post: "The meeting that produced one of the biggest crises yet for a White House already well accustomed to tumult began as a favor from one president to another. On May 2, eight days before [Russia's foreign minister Sergei] Lavrov showed up at the White House, Russian President Vladimir Putin was on the phone with Trump ... noted that his top diplomat, Lavrov, would soon be visiting the United States for a previously scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. 'Will you see him?' Putin asked Trump, according to [a U.S.] official.... 'Yes,' Trump replied. Lavrov's itinerary had him going nowhere near Washington -- 4,100 miles away in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he and Tillerson would be attending a meeting of the Arctic Council.... Putin glossed over that detail with Trump, however, and once he agreed to a face-to-face meeting with Lavrov, the Russian minister changed his plans to jet first to Washington." -- CW ...

... Peter Baker & Glenn Thrush of the New York Times: "In a series of early-morning posts on Twitter, Mr. Trump did not dispute reports that he might have provided enough details to reveal the source of the information and the manner in which it had been collected.... Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the president's national security adviser, later told reporters that it had been 'wholly appropriate' for Mr. Trump to share the information with the Russians and that he had not violated the expectations of the Middle Eastern ally that provided the intelligence.... Mr. Trump's Twitter posts on Tuesday morning appeared to undercut the carefully worded statements made by his advisers [including McMaster] Monday night to try to dispute the original news reports without taking issue with specific facts in them." -- CW (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Glenn Kessler translates McMaster's remarks: "When a White House is confronted with a negative news story, officials face a difficult challenge if the story is largely correct. A common PR technique is to deny things that are not in the story or to make sweeping declarations while ignoring the specifics. The Trump White House is playing this game in its response to several key points from a May 15 Washington Post article.... As a guide to readers, The Fact Checker will translate the comments made by national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both on Monday evening and Tuesday morning, in response to the Post report. CW: A useful exercise. ...

James Hohmann of the Washington Post has a pretty good synopsis of the Intelgate news as of yesterday. -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Shep Smith of Fox "News" kinda skewers the Leaker-in-Chief:

... AND Seth Meyers just sticks in the knife & smushes it around:

Tom Winter & Kenzi Abou-Sabe of NBC News: "Federal investigators have subpoenaed records related to a $3.5 million mortgage that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort took out on his Hamptons home just after leaving the campaign, according to a source.... The mortgage document that explains how Manafort would pay back the loan was never filed with Suffolk County, New York -- and Manafort's company never paid up to $36,000 in taxes that would be due on the loan. In addition, despite telling NBC News previously that all his real estate transactions are transparent and include his name and signature, Manafort's name and signature do not appear on any of the loan documents that are publicly available. A Manafort spokesperson said the $3.5 million loan, which was taken out through a shell company, was repaid in December, but also said that paperwork showing the repayment was not filed until he was asked about the loan by NBC News." -- CW

CW: I see Jonathan Chait agrees with me: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today announced that he has urged President Trump to nominate Merrick Garland as the new FBI director. Garlandmania has been sweeping the Republican Party since conservative Utah senator Mike Lee suggested it last week. The ploy is perfectly transparent: Garland is the chief justice of the D.C. Circuit, the second-most-powerful court in America, and Republicans would very much like to replace him with a member of their own party.... Could it possibly be that Republicans have this in mind, and not merely enthusiasm for Merrick Garland's irreplaceable law-enforcement managerial skills?... A cold self-appraisal of the state of the Republicans would yield the conclusion that their one core competency is stealing court seats from Merrick Garland. So they are trying to do more of that." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... BUT. Garrett Epps of the Atlantic: "I found myself wondering what would happen if the offer was made -- and if Garland then politely said, 'I accept, but first I must ask the chief judge of the Circuit for a multi-year leave of absence. Oh -- wait! I AM the chief judge! Leave granted. Subpoenas go out Monday.' Garland would then move to the J. Edgar Hoover Building for a year or two (long enough, say, to complete some unfinished counterintelligence investigations about Russia) before returning to a seat that was never vacant.... The only real aim of the Garland trial balloon appears to be the pure joy of frat-boy bullying — disrespecting Judge Garland, mocking his supporters, reminding the 'enemy' of an ignominious defeat. The country is in the midst of a grave crisis, and I fear that some charged with protecting its Constitution see only the chance to score partisan points." Via Chait. -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Ryan Koronowski of ThinkProgress: "On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA) became the first Republican member of Congress to call for a special prosecutor solely to lead the investigation into Russia's intervention in the 2016 election. His office released a statement on his official website saying that there is 'too much at stake' to not have a special prosecutor take over the existing FBI inquiry." -- CW ...

... MEANWHILE, let's see how a more prominent member of California's GOP delegation respoinds to the crisis:

I just asked @DarrellIssa abt the Comey news and he flicked me off -- literally gave me the middle finger -- and kept walking. Said nothing -- Rachael Bade [of Politico] May 16, 2017. Via Paul Waldman.

Hubby of Choir-Girl/Ambassador-Candidate Speaks out against a Free Press. Josh Dawsey of Politico: "Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Tuesday that ... Donald Trump should 'close down the White House press briefing room.' 'I am personally offended by the American news media. I think it is destructive and disgusting. It is a danger to the country right now,' Gingrich said. He also said the press should be banished to a nearby Starbucks and that Spicer should take questions from the American people. 'Just say to the American people, you get to choose,' Gingrich said. Closing the press briefing room would send a message to the country 'that the media is a corrupt institution and he is tired of being harassed by people whose only interest is making him look bad.'" -- CW ...

... Toljaso. Casey Tolan of the San Jose Mercury News: "Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former first lady of San Francisco and current Fox News host, is in conversations with the Trump administration about becoming White House press secretary, she said in an interview with the Bay Area News Group on Monday night. Guilfoyle said the idea of her taking the job or another press role in the White House has been 'raised by a number of people' in the Trump administration, although she declined to go into specifics. She noted that she's regularly in touch with members of the administration in the course of her job." CW: If I were Spicer, I'd just clear out my desk and go home. ...

... Inae Oh of Mother Jones: "Guilfoyle ... appears to be a good fit for the Trump White House. She has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and once suggested that Secret Service agents should 'kill' rappers Snoop Dogg and Bow Wow for making disparaging comments about the president. " -- CW ...

... MEANWHILE. Jonathan Tilove of the Austin American-Statesman: "[Monday], in the dark of night, out on Second Street, in front of the Corner Restaurant and Bar at the JW Marriott Hotel [CW: in Austin, Texas], Alex Jones and Roger Stone made a 15-minute video in which they warned that there will be a bipartisan move to remove ... Donald Trump from office under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution claiming that he is suffering from Alzheimer's disease." -- CW ...

... Timothy Johnson of Media Matters: "Following The Washington Post's bombshell report that ... Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian officials, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone offered several reassurances of Trump's mental state, saying the president is 'perfectly sane' and that 'he's not crazy; he's a genius.'... Stone appeared in three videos for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' Infowars outlet during the evening of May 15, where in each instance he said he had spoken with Trump 'recently' before offering assurances about Trump's mental state. Stone cast the Post story as part of a 'major media thrust' to 'destabilize' the president and portray him as mentally unfit for office. Stone has had a relationship with Trump for at least three decades and worked as a paid consultant to his campaign in 2015. He recently began marketing 'opportunities' for advertisers based on his access to the president." -- CW

Betsy Woodruff of the Daily Beast: "Under intense pressure from the White House, the Justice Department is prepared to aggressively prosecute government officials who leak classified information.... On Monday afternoon, the Washington Post broke the news that Trump shared classified information about ISIS with Russian officials. And on Tuesday, the New York Times reported that that intelligence initially came from Israel. Both stories cited anonymous individuals as sources of the information.... [Trump's] allies say the leak is the real story. Breitbart, the far right site formerly helmed by Steve Bannon, has pushed this line enthusiastically.... That all adds up to massive pressure on the Justice Department to track down and prosecute the officials responsible for the leaks. And the department's new leadership could be uniquely up to the task." -- CW

Scott Shane of the New York Times: "The weekend's ransomware attack is only the latest in a series of trials for the [National Security A]gency.... The latest nightmare for the agency, which is responsible for eavesdropping, code breaking and cyberespionage, appears to be far from over. Early Tuesday, a post purportedly from the Shadow Brokers [hacking group] announced that it was starting a sort of hack-of-the-month club.... Even the April release of N.S.A. exploits is not close to exhausted, according to several cyberspecialists. On the underground dark web, they said, another N.S.A. tool has been weaponized and offered for sale, and hackers are discussing how to use another dozen agency exploits." -- CW

The Environmental Pollution Agency Gets Told. Brady Dennis of the Washington Post: "Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency put out a call for comments about what regulations are in need of repeal, replacement or modification. The effort stemmed from an executive order issued by President Trump earlier this year instructing agencies to reexamine regulations that 'eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation' and/or 'impose costs that exceed benefits.' More than 55,100 responses rolled in by the time the comment period closed on Monday -- but they were full of Americans sharing their experiences of growing up with dirty air and water, and with pleas for the agency not to undo safeguards that could return the country to more a more polluted era." CW: Sadly, Scott Pruitt & Donald Trump don't care what ordinary people want.

Turkey Comes to Washington, D.C. Guardian: "Nine people were hurt and two arrests were made during an altercation at the Turkish ambassador's residence in the US capital during a visit by president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, police have said. Doug Buchanan, a DC Fire and EMS spokesman, said two of those hurt were seriously injured and were taken to hospitals by ambulance. He said by phone that emergency personnel were called to the residence about 4:30pm Tuesday. According to witnesses, the brawl erupted when the Turkish president's security detail attacked protesters carrying the flag of the Kurdish PYD party outside the residence." -- CW

Ed Pilkington of the Guardian: "Chelsea Manning, the army private who released a vast trove of US state secrets and was punished by the US military for months in penal conditions denounced by the UN as torture, has been released from a military prison in Kansas after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence." -- CW

Monday
May152017

The Commentariat -- May 16, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Adam Goldman, et al., of the New York Times: "The classified intelligence that President Trump disclosed in a meeting last week with Russian officials at the White House was provided by Israel, according to a current and a former American official familiar with how the United States obtained the information.... The officials ... said that Israel previously had urged the United States to be careful about the handling of the intelligence that Mr. Trump discussed.... General McMaster [said] that the president, who he said was unaware of the source of the information, made a spur-of-the-moment decision to tell the Russians what he knew.... The revelation that Mr. Trump boasted about some of Israel's most sensitive information to the Russians could damage the relationship between the two countries. It also raises the possibility that the information could be passed to Iran, Russia's close ally and Israel's main threat in the Middle East.... Israel's concerns about the Trump White House's handling of classified information were foreshadowed in the Israeli news media this year. Newspapers there reported in January that American officials warned their Israeli counterparts to be careful about what they told the Trump administration because it could be leaked to the Russians, given Mr. Trump's openness toward President Vladimir V. Putin." Thanks to James S. for the lead. -- CW ...

... Peter Baker & Glenn Thrush of the New York Times: "In a series of early-morning posts on Twitter, Mr. Trump did not dispute reports that he might have provided enough details to reveal the source of the information and the manner in which it had been collected.... Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the president's national security adviser, later told reporters that it had been 'wholly appropriate' for Mr. Trump to share the information with the Russians and that he had not violated the expectations of the Middle Eastern ally that provided the intelligence.... Mr. Trump's Twitter posts on Tuesday morning appeared to undercut the carefully worded statements made by his advisers [including McMaster] Monday night to try to dispute the original news reports without taking issue with specific facts in them." -- CW ...

James Hohmann of the Washington Post has a good synopsis of the Intelgate news so far. -- CW ...

... CW: I see Jonathan Chait agrees with me: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today announced that he has urged President Trump to nominate Merrick Garland as the new FBI director. Garlandmania has been sweeping the Republican Party since conservative Utah senator Mike Lee suggested it last week. The ploy is perfectly transparent: Garland is the chief justice of the D.C. Circuit, the second-most-powerful court in America, and Republicans would very much like to replace him with a member of their own party.... Could it possibly be that Republicans have this in mind, and not merely enthusiasm for Merrick Garland's irreplaceable law-enforcement managerial skills?... A cold self-appraisal of the state of the Republicans would yield the conclusion that their one core competency is stealing court seats from Merrick Garland. So they are trying to do more of that." ...

... BUT. Garrett Epps of the Atlantic: "I found myself wondering what would happen if the offer was made -- and if Garland then politely said, 'I accept, but first I must ask the chief judge of the Circuit for a multi-year leave of absence. Oh -- wait! I AM the chief judge! Leave granted. Subpoenas go out Monday.' Garland would then move to the J. Edgar Hoover Building for a year or two (long enough, say, to complete some unfinished counterintelligence investigations about Russia) before returning to a seat that was never vacant.... The only real aim of the Garland trial balloon appears to be the pure joy of frat-boy bullying -- disrespecting Judge Garland, mocking his supporters, reminding the 'enemy' of an ignominious defeat. The country is in the midst of a grave crisis, and I fear that some charged with protecting its Constitution see only the chance to score partisan points." Via Chait. -- CW

*****

Prime Minister Trudeau & President Trump Explain Things:

Josh Dawsey, et al., of Politico: "'It never stops,' one White House official said via text message Monday night. 'Basically chaos at all times.' The episode regarding classified information, which allegedly occurred last Wednesday in the Oval Office..., sent his White House again in crisis control mode, days ahead of his first foreign trip. Aides had sought a calm week to avoid a widespread staff shake-up, which a displeased Trump has groused about to advisers and associates for the past four days. Earlier Monday, several officials said they were scrambling behind the scenes to appease Trump and avoid any seismic moves ahead of the trip." -- CW

NEW. Nolan McCaskill of Politico: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has encouraged ... Donald Trump to nominate Merrick Garland to lead the FBI, the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday." CW: Well, of course McConnell has. If Garland left the bench, that would flip another seat on the prominent D.C. court from moderate to confederate. Meanwhile, Trumpity-Doo-Dah would hire Garland on Monday, have dinner with him on Tuesday & fire him on Wednesday. Perfect.

NEW. Louis Nelson of Politico: "The Russian government had 'real leverage' over former national security adviser Michael Flynn when he was fired by ... Donald Trump, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates said in an interview that aired Tuesday morning.... Yates denied an allegation from the president that it was she who had leaked the information regarding Flynn to the Post, telling [CNN's Anderson] Cooper that she had never leaked classified information to the newspaper nor had she authorized anyone else to do so. She also said that Flynn's actions were potentially criminal in nature...." -- CW

** It's a Day Ending in "Y," So Time to Tweet a Terrible Situation Worse. Ashley Parker of the Washington Post: "President Trump appeared to acknowledge Tuesday that he revealed highly classified information to Russia -- a stunning confirmation of a Washington Post story and a move that contradicted his own White House team after it scrambled to deny the report. Trump's tweets tried to explain away the news, which emerged late Monday, that he had shared sensitive, 'code-word' information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a White House meeting last week.... 'As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,' Trump wrote Tuesday morning. 'Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.'... In a later tweet, Trump returned to one of his favorite topics when accused of wrongdoing -- leaks. 'I have been asking Director Comey & others, from the beginning of my administration, to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community,' Trump wrote." -- CW ...

... ** Greg Miller & Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post: "President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump's disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said. The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump's decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump's meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.... Trump 'revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies[' a U.S. official said]." Thanks to Diane for the link. As contributor James S. wrote, "A BFD that will not be amenable to smothering in the shubberies by Spicy." -- CW ...

... Matthew Rosenberg & Eric Schmitt of the New York Times: "President Trump boasted about highly classified intelligence in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, providing details that could expose the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected, a current and a former American government official said Monday. The intelligence disclosed by Mr. Trump in a meeting with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, was about an Islamic State plot, according to the officials. A foreign ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information, which was considered so sensitive that American officials did not share it widely within the United States government or pass it on to other allies." -- CW ...

... Jim Dalrymple & Jason Leopold of BuzzFeed: "Two US officials who were briefed on Trump's disclosures last week confirmed to BuzzFeed News the veracity of the Washington Post report, with one noting that 'it's far worse than what has already been reported.'... After news of Trump's revelations broke Monday, Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, said the White House is in a 'downward spiral.'" -- CW ...

... Jeff Mason & Patricia Zengerle of Reuters: "One of the officials said the intelligence was classified Top Secret and also held in a secure 'compartment' to which only a handful of intelligence officials have access.... U.S. officials have told Reuters they have long been concerned about disclosing highly classified intelligence to Trump. One official, who requested anonymity to discuss dealing with the president, said last month: 'He has no filter; it's in one ear and out the mouth.'" --CW ...

... Jeff Stein of Vox: "(The White House has denied the Post's reporting, though the New York Times has now confirmed it. [CW: And now so have BuzzFeed & Reuters.])... According to the Post, Trump didn't just inadvertently make a breach by a hostile foreign government or a leak of classified information more likely. Trump himself chose to voluntarily give away vital state secrets." -- CW ...

... Eric Levitz of New York: "... administration officials offered a number of denials, which varied significantly in tone. First Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell told CNN, 'This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.' Then National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said in a brief press conference that 'the story that came out tonight, as reported, is false.... At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed.' As Vox notes, the Post never said that Trump revealed 'intelligence sources or methods.' The paper reported that Trump naming the location could allow the Russians ... to narrow down who the source was.... One may interpret Trump's audacious candor ... as a testament to his illicit friendliness with the Kremlin.... But an alternative explanation for Trump's disclosure is that he is a thoughtless, lazy windbag who refuses to prepare for diplomatic meetings; says whatever comes into his head at any given moment; and sees his classified intelligence briefings as little more than affirmations of his own importance. Some of Trump's recent actions lend credence to the first interpretation; virtually everything he's done in his political life qualifies as evidence for the second." -- CW ...

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster ... [declared Monday] that The Washington Post's story about Trump giving highly classified information to Russia 'as reported, is false.' But the rest of McMaster's statement made clear he wasn't actually denying the report. And his entire brief statement [punctuated by McMaster walking away without taking shouted questions -- speaks volumes." McMaster repeatedly denied elements of the Post story that, um, weren't in the Post story. "At no point in his statement to The Post before the story went live or in his appearance in front of reporters afterward does McMaster say, 'President Trump didn't share classified information with Russia' or anything close to it." CW: McMaster also denied that the president gave puppies to to Lavrov and Kislyak or that he let either of them have two scoops on ice cream on their chocolate pie. ...

... Lachlan Markay, et al., of the Daily Beast: "Communications staff and senior staffers at the White House were literally 'hiding in offices,' according to a senior Trump aide, as a gaggle of White House press stormed White House hallways just after the Washington Post story broke on Monday evening. 'Do not ask me about how this looks, we all know how this looks,' the senior aide told The Daily Beast on Monday evening.... Administration officials see the optics of the situation as catastrophic to an administration struggling to deal with a torrent of news about the FBI's investigation, Comey's firing, and increasingly loud calls for an independent probe into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russian officials." -- CW ...

Crooked Hillary Clinton and her team "were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information." Not fit! -- Donald J. Trump July 6, 2016

... Scott Lemieux: "I'm glad James Comey found time to inform the public of the theoretical possibility that Anthony Weiner's laptop might contain incriminating evidence of Hillary Clinton in a timely manner; I would have hated to see someone that extremely careless about classified information in the White House." -- CW ...

Jack Goldsmith, et al., of LawFare: "This is perhaps the gravest allegation of presidential misconduct in the scandal-ridden four months of the Trump administration. This story is likely to be immensely consequential.... If true, Trump did not just jeopardize our own intelligence sources, but those of another country. Intelligence sharing relationships are critical to U.S. security interests around the world, and in particular in the fight coalition against ISIS.... To the extent foreign partners were already concerned, this episode seems to confirm their worst fears.... If the President gave this information away through carelessness or neglect, he has arguably breached his oath of office.... There's thus no reason why Congress couldn't consider a grotesque violation of the President's oath as a standalone basis for impeachment -- a high crime and misdemeanor in and of itself. This is particularly plausible in a case like this, where the oath violation involves giving sensitive information to an adversary foreign power.... Legally speaking, the matter could be very grave for Trump even though there is no criminal exposure." -- CW ...

... David Graham of the Atlantic: "Trump's disclosure of the sensitive details, withheld even from American allies, to Russia, an uneasy rival in the Middle East, is yet another jawdropping misstep.... While asserting his legitimacy and grandeur to foreign dignitaries, Trump seems to have committed a gaffe that calls both his qualifications for office and his ties to Russia further into question.... The Post story is notable for the direct quotes from the meeting the reporters were able to obtain. Trump's disclosure to Lavrov and Kislyak appears to have been a deviation from script delivered as the president sought to prove to them the quality of the information he received. An official quoted Trump as boasting, 'I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.'... Luckily for the president, who has courted comparison with Richard Nixon in recent days, Tricky Dick's claim that 'when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal' appears to apply here. The president has broad leeway to declassify information, even if disclosure of the same thing by any other official would be a serious offense." -- CW ...

... Clare Foran of the Atlantic: "'It's no longer classified the minute he utters it,' Republican Senator Jim Risch [Idaho] said, according to Talking Points Memo's Alice Ollstein. Risch reportedly noted that the president 'has the ability to declassify anything at any time without any process.' Republican Senator John McCain [Az.] initially took a similar tack. 'We certainly don't want any president to leak classified information, but the president does have the right to do that,' he said, according to the Associated Press's Erica Werner. On Twitter, however, McCain shared the report later in the evening and wrote: 'If true, deeply disturbing....' In the House, a spokesman for Republican Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters: 'We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation's secrets is paramount. The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.'" -- CW ...

... Allice Ollstein of TPM: "Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee said the news was 'of the gravest possible concern. It could harm our national security by cutting off important sources of intelligence that protect Americans against terrorist acts,' he said, noting that ally countries may fear in the future that the information they share with the Trump administration could be carelessly leaked. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said he hopes his Republicans colleagues absorb the seriousness of the news and take action before the next damaging report comes out. 'They need to know that this isn't the last story,' he said. 'They need to understand that the drip, drip, drip of connections between Trump and the Russian government is going to continue, and they had better get out in front of it with a special prosecutor rather than having to defend standing in way of a prosecutor over the next several weeks and months.'" -- CW ...

... Nothing to See Here, Folks, Move Along. Steve M.: "I feel this is being leaked because the leakers want the public and -- especially -- members of Congress to understand how unthinkably risky it is for Trump to remain in the Oval Office. This is really a cry for help to majority Republicans in Congress.... It won't help. The congressional GOP will remain loyal. The Trump White House and the pro-Trump press will tell us that this is fake news, a lie told by the Deep State because the presence of the People's Champion in the White House is intolerable to elitists and globalists." -- CW

More Good News about White House Security. Got a beef with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis? Or maybe you'd like to discuss your excellent plans for an anti-ICBM catapult with him. Well, just call him up! At home, wherever. Any time of day or night. Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller has kindly shared Mattis's personal cellphone number with you: he wrote "Mad Dog"'s phone number on a yellow-sticky note, slapped it on a document (probably classified, wouldn't you guess?) & carried the note around in full view of photographers, one of whom helpfully took a picture of it for you. Then the WashPo published the photo on its Website. After being alerted by a reader, Rachel Manteuffel of the Post checked the number in the photo. It's good! The Post subsequently took down the photo. But here it is.

Gardiner Harris & Somini Sengupta of the New York Times: "The Trump administration said on Monday it would vastly expand the so-called global gag rule that withholds American aid from health organizations worldwide that provide or even discuss abortion in family planning. The new policy could disrupt hundreds of clinics in Africa and around the world that fight AIDS and malaria. It affects about $8.8 billion in global health funding, up from about $600 million during the administration of President George W. Bush. The rules, issued by the State Department, mean that any foreign nongovernmental group that wants American money for any of its health activities -- from AIDS treatment to malaria prevention to safe childbirth practices -- must promise not to 'promote abortion as a method of family planning.' Already, American taxpayer dollars cannot be used for abortion services abroad. They are a follow-up to an executive order President Trump signed in January, which froze funding to nongovernmental organizations if they offer abortion counseling or advocate the right to seek abortion. In April, the administration also froze funding to the United Nations agency that promotes family planning efforts. But public health advocates say that in much of the developing world, there are no high-quality substitutes to these providers." ...

     ... CW: I see the hand of mike pence in this brazen act of cruelty. Expect Trump to move to the right each time Congress gets closer to scheduling impeachment hearings -- just as a reminder of who is waiting in the wings.

Pierre Thomas of ABC News: "Associates of fired FBI Director James Comey believe that his first comments on his termination will likely come in an open session before Congress.... He declined an invitation to speak to a closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday and was replaced on a panel testifying before that committee last Thursday by his temporary replacement, Andrew McCabe.... One associate describes Comey as being uncomfortable with a January dinner with ... Donald Trump, in which Trump is reported to have asked Comey for his loyalty -- which Trump has flatly denied. Sources with knowledge of the situation emphasized that they do not believe Comey would have spoken about the Russia probe with Trump under any circumstances. It was something he discussed only with key Justice Department officials, the sources said. In the letter from Trump notifying Comey of his dismissal, the president said he was notified by the director on three occasions that he was not personally under investigation." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Greg Sargent: "Trump is constantly trying to probe what abuses our institutions will let him get away with, whether it's the in-your-face use of important diplomatic business to promote Mar-a-Lago and steer cash into his own pockets; the refusal to release his tax returns while advancing a tax plan that could deliver him and his family an enormous windfall; the constant lies about millions voting illegally in our election, which undermine public confidence in our democracy, and which he will now try to legitimize with a 'voter fraud' commission; and, now, the firing of Comey. Republicans have tolerated (or even embraced) all of these things, and Trump would be reasonable in concluding that they have no intention of ever mounting a check on his power, no matter what he does. The question is whether a dramatic moment from Comey -- in which he asserts that the president did, in fact, demand his loyalty -- is enough to change this." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

... "Fake But Accurate." Shane Goldmacher of Politico: "White House chief of staff Reince Priebus issued a stern warning at a recent senior staff meeting: Quit trying to secretly slip stuff to President Trump. Just days earlier, K.T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser, had given Trump a printout of two Time magazine covers. One, supposedly from the 1970s, warned of a coming ice age; the other, from 2008, about surviving global warming, according to four White House officials familiar with the matter. Trump quickly got lathered up about the media's hypocrisy. But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an Internet hoax that's circulated for years. Staff chased down the truth and intervened before Trump tweeted or talked publicly about it.... Another White House official familiar with the matter tried to defend [the hoax cover] as an honest error that was 'fake but accurate.'... Aides sometimes slip him stories to press their advantage on policy; other times they do so to gain an edge in the seemingly endless Game of Thrones inside the West Wing. The consequences can be tremendous.... A news story tucked into Trump's hands at the right moment can torpedo an appointment or redirect the president's entire agenda." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Eric Levitz of New York: "Anyhow, the good news is that McFarland is expected to depart the White House for the ambassadorship to Singapore, a cushy patronage gig for which she is vastly less unqualified. The bad news is that McFarland isn't the only administration official who has tried to shape White House policy through editorially suspect content curation. The septuagenerian president has trouble navigating the internet on his own, a deficiency that gives his aides the power to dictate a hefty portion of his media diet. In recent months, certain administration officials have used that power to kill Elliott Abrams's appointment to the State Department and get Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh ousted from the White House. In the latter case, per Politico, Walsh's fate was sealed by a story in GotNews.com, the post-Twitter-exile home of right-wing troll Charles C. Johnson." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... David Graham of the Atlantic: "The Politico story points to three concerning tendencies that have emerged about the president. He is unable to tell fact from fiction.... He is hot-tempered and hates to hear bad news....Trump has no interest in policy.... Each of these three tendencies has had dangerous effects for Trump during a time when the crises that befall him are largely of his own making. Eventually, though, a crisis will arrive from outside.... The indications during a time of comparative calm are not heartening." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Dana Milbank: "Washington is abuzz with speculation about when [Sean] Spicer will be shown the door, but it doesn't really matter. His credibility, and his dignity, have already been defenestrated. He will soon be added to the heap of unhappy people who cast their lots with Trump and were repaid with misery." -- CW

Esme Cribb of TPM: "The co-hosts of MSNBC's 'Morning Joe,' Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, claimed on Monday that senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway used to say she needed a shower after defending Donald Trump on air." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post: "Barron Trump, the 11-year-old son of President Trump and first lady Melania Trump, will attend the private St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac, Md., this fall after he moves from New York to Washington with his mother." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Aaron Rupar of ThinkProgress: "One of the most powerful House Republicans  -- Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ), the new chair of the House Appropriations Committee  --  got a constituent in trouble by writing a letter to her employer that called out her progressive activism. The employee --  Saily Avelenda of West Caldwell, who's active in the progressive NJ 11th for Change group  --  ended up resigning from her job as senior vice president and assistant general counsel at Lakeland Bank, according to a report from WNYC.... Frelinghuysen, who was first elected in 1995, has voted in lockstep with President Trump and hasn't held a town hall since 2013. Though he won reelection in his suburban New York City district by 19 points last year, he's become a target for Democrats this cycle." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Adam Liptak of the New York TImes: "Three months after the federal appeals court in California blocked President Trump's first travel ban, a three-judge panel of the same court heard arguments on Monday in a challenge to Mr. Trump's revised ban, this one limiting travel from six predominantly Muslim countries.... The judges hearing Monday's arguments asked probing questions of both sides and may not be ready to endorse the sweeping reasoning of a federal judge in Hawaii who blocked major parts of the revised order. The appeals court judges, all appointed by President Bill Clinton, barely tipped their hands, but they did say they recognized that the dispute before them was momentous." -- CW

Pema Levy of Mother Jones: "The Supreme Court handed voting rights advocates a big -- if temporary -- victory on Monday morning when it announced that it would not review a massively restrictive North Carolina voting law. That means that a stinging 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that struck down the law will remain in place.... Generally, if the Supreme Court doesn't take a case, it means the justices are satisfied with the lower court's ruling. But this case might be different. After the 4th Circuit ruled, the state's Republican governor appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. But after that governor, Pat McCrory, lost his reelection bid in November 2016 to Democrat Roy Cooper, the Cooper administration attempted to withdraw the appeal filed by his predecessor.Chief Justice John Roberts indicated Monday that it might be the confusion over the appeal to the Supreme Court, rather than the merits of the case, that ultimately led the court not to take it up." -- CW (Also linked yesterday.)

Tom Vanden Brook of USAToday: "Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier and convicted national security secret leaker, will remain an active-duty, unpaid soldier, eligible for health care and other benefits, following her scheduled release May 17 from military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, according to the Army." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Way Beyond the Beltway

Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post: "The Syrian government has constructed and is using a crematorium inside its notorious Sednaya military prison outside Damascus to clandestinely dispose of thousands of prisoners it continues to execute inside the facility. At least 50 prisoners a day are executed daily in the prison, some in mass hangings, said Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Middle East. A recent Amnesty International report called Sednaya a 'human slaughterhouse,' and said that thousands of Syrians had been abducted, detained and 'exterminated' there." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Ellen Nakashima, et al., of the Washington Post: "Security researchers have found digital clues in the malware used in last weekend's global ransomware attack that might indicate North Korea is involved, although they caution the evidence is not conclusive." -- CW

AND They Laughed When He Sat Down at the Piano. Denis Dyomkin of Reuters: "Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday an impromptu piano rendition he gave on the sidelines of a meeting in Beijing had been hampered by an out of tune instrument." CW: So something else Trump has in common with Putin: an excuse for even the most inconsequential screw-up. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Sunday
May142017

The Commentariat -- May 15, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post: "The Syrian government has constructed and is using a crematorium inside its notorious Sednaya military prison outside Damascus to clandestinely dispose of thousands of prisoners it continues to execute inside the facility. At least 50 prisoners a day are executed daily in the prison, some in mass hangings, said Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Middle East. A recent Amnesty International report called Sednaya a 'human slaughterhouse,' and said that thousands of Syrians had been abducted, detained and 'exterminated' there." -- CW

Pierre Thomas of ABC News: "Associates of fired FBI Director James Comey believe that his first comments on his termination will likely come in an open session before Congress.... He declined an invitation to speak to a closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday and was replaced on a panel testifying before that committee last Thursday by his temporary replacement, Andrew McCabe.... One associate describes Comey as being uncomfortable with a January dinner with ... Donald Trump, in which Trump is reported to have asked Comey for his loyalty -- which Trump has flatly denied. Sources with knowledge of the situation emphasized that they do not believe Comey would have spoken about the Russia probe with Trump under any circumstances. It was something he discussed only with key Justice Department officials, the sources said. In the letter from Trump notifying Comey of his dismissal, the president said he was notified by the director on three occasions that he was not personally under investigation." -- CW ...

... Greg Sargent: "Trump is constantly trying to probe what abuses our institutions will let him get away with, whether it's the in-your-face use of important diplomatic business to promote Mar-a-Lago and steer cash into his own pockets; the refusal to release his tax returns while advancing a tax plan that could deliver him and his family an enormous windfall; the constant lies about millions voting illegally in our election, which undermine public confidence in our democracy, and which he will now try to legitimize with a 'voter fraud' commission; and, now, the firing of Comey. Republicans have tolerated (or even embraced) all of these things, and Trump would be reasonable in concluding that they have no intention of ever mounting a check on his power, no matter what he does. The question is whether a dramatic moment from Comey -- in which he asserts that the president did, in fact, demand his loyalty -- is enough to change this." -- CW

... "Fake But Accurate." Shane Goldmacher of Politico: "White House chief of staff Reince Priebus issued a stern warning at a recent senior staff meeting: Quit trying to secretly slip stuff to President Trump. Just days earlier, K.T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser, had given Trump a printout of two Time magazine covers. One, supposedly from the 1970s, warned of a coming ice age; the other, from 2008, about surviving global warming, according to four White House officials familiar with the matter. Trump quickly got lathered up about the media's hypocrisy. But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an Internet hoax that's circulated for years. Staff chased down the truth and intervened before Trump tweeted or talked publicly about it.... Another White House official familiar with the matter tried to defend [the hoax cover] as an honest error that was 'fake but accurate.'... Aides sometimes slip him stories to press their advantage on policy; other times they do so to gain an edge in the seemingly endless Game of Thrones inside the West Wing. The consequences can be tremendous.... A news story tucked into Trump's hands at the right moment can torpedo an appointment or redirect the president's entire agenda." -- CW ...

... Eric Levitz of New York: "Anyhow, the good news is that McFarland is expected to depart the White House for the ambassadorship to Singapore, a cushy patronage gig for which she is vastly less unqualified. The bad news is that McFarland isn't the only administration official who has tried to shape White House policy through editorially suspect content curation. The septuagenerian president has trouble navigating the internet on his own, a deficiency that gives his aides the power to dictate a hefty portion of his media diet.... Certain administration officials have used that power to kill Elliott Abrams's appointment to the State Department and get Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh ousted from the White House. In the latter case, per Politico, Walsh's fate was sealed by a story in GotNews.com, the post-Twitter-exile home of right-wing troll Charles C. Johnson." -- CW ...

... David Graham of the Atlantic: "The Politico story points to three concerning tendencies that have emerged about the president. He is unable to tell fact from fiction.... He is hot-tempered and hates to hear bad news....Trump has no interest in policy.... Each of these three tendencies has had dangerous effects for Trump during a time when the crises that befall him are largely of his own making. Eventually, though, a crisis will arrive from outside.... The indications during a time of comparative calm are not heartening." -- CW

Esme Cribb of TPM: "The co-hosts of MSNBC's 'Morning Joe,' Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, claimed on Monday that senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway used to say she needed a shower after defending Donald Trump on air." -- CW

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post: "Barron Trump, the 11-year-old son of President Trump and first lady Melania Trump, will attend the private St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac, Md., this fall after he moves from New York to Washington with his mother." -- CW

Aaron Rupar of ThinkProgress: "One of the most powerful House Republicans  -- Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ), the new chair of the House Appropriations Committee  —  got a constituent in trouble by writing a letter to her employer that called out her progressive activism. The employee --  Saily Avelenda of West Caldwell, who's active in the progressive NJ 11th for Change group  --  ended up resigning from her job as senior vice president and assistant general counsel at Lakeland Bank, according to a report from WNYC.... Frelinghuysen, who was first elected in 1995, has voted in lockstep with President Trump and hasn't held a town hall since 2013. Though he won reelection in his suburban New York City district by 19 points last year, he's become a target for Democrats this cycle." -- CW

Pema Levy of Mother Jones: "The Supreme Court handed voting rights advocates a big -- if temporary -- victory on Monday morning when it announced that it would not review a massively restrictive North Carolina voting law. That means that a stinging 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that struck down the law will remain in place.... Generally, if the Supreme Court doesn't take a case, it means the justices are satisfied with the lower court's ruling. But this case might be different. After the 4th Circuit ruled, the state's Republican governor appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. But after that governor, Pat McCrory, lost his reelection bid in November 2016 to Democrat Roy Cooper, the Cooper administration attempted to withdraw the appeal filed by his predecessor. Chief Justice John Roberts indicated Monday that it might be the confusion over the appeal to the Supreme Court, rather than the merits of the case, that ultimately led the court not to take it up." -- CW

Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today: "Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier and convicted national security secret leaker, will remain an active-duty, unpaid soldier, eligible for health care and other benefits, following her scheduled release May 17 from military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, according to the Army." -- CW

AND They Laughed When He Sat Down at the Piano. Denis Dyomkin of Reuters: "Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday an impromptu piano rendition he gave on the sidelines of a meeting in Beijing had been hampered by an out of tune instrument." CW: So something else Trump has in common with Putin: an excuse for even the most inconsequential screw-up.

*****

NEW. Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "The Supreme Court on Monday announced that it would stay out of a fight over a restrictive North Carolina voting law. The move left in place a federal appeals court ruling that struck down key parts of the law as an unconstitutional effort to 'target African Americans with almost surgical precision.' As is the court's custom, the justices gave no reason for declining to hear the case. But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. issued a statement noting that there was a dispute about who represented the state in the case and that nothing should be read into the court’s decision to decline to hear it." -- CW

Greg Miller of the Washington Post: "... the Kremlin has collected a ... return on its effort to help elect Trump in last year's election: chaos in Washington. The president's decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey last week was the latest destabilizing jolt to a core institution of the U.S. government. The nation's top law enforcement agency joined a list of entities that Trump has targeted, including federal judges, U.S. spy services, news organizations and military alliances.... In a declassified report released this year, U.S. spy agencies described destabilization as one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's objectives.... Even Trump alluded to Russia's presumed glee at the post-Comey turmoil, although he blamed Democrats. 'Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a Democrat EXCUSE for losing the election,' Trump said in Twitter post on Thursday." -- CW ...

... Oliver Laughland of the Guardian: "Former director of national intelligence James Clapper has accused Donald Trump of placing American democratic institutions 'under assault' following the sacking of James Comey and cautioned that the former FBI director's removal is 'another victory' for Russia. The forceful criticism comes as the justice department began screening candidates for Comey's replacement and Democrats renewed calls for a special prosecutor to oversee an investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. 'I think in many ways our institutions are under assault,' Clapper told CNN's State of the Union on Sunday. 'Both externally, and that's the big news here, is Russian interference in our election system. And I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.'... The comparison breaks down, however, in that the Republican response to Trump's lawlessness has ranged from full-throated support to muted statements of concern to, mostly, silence." -- CW ...

... Dahlia Lithwick of Slate: Laurence "Tribe has been acting as citizen attorney general in the 'shadow Cabinet' formed by progressive leaders in response to the Trump Administration and tweeting from the @ShadowingTrump handle. Tribe's tweets (from @tribelaw) have become their own form of must-see TV for the resistance." Lithwick interviewed Tribe via e-mail. Here are parts of his answers: "Because [Jeff] Sessions has already lied under oath to Congress, this little song and dance of recusal/nonrecusal seems to me part of a pattern of obstruction of justice in its own right.... Sessions ... needs to be held accountable.... And the only way I can see ... would appear to be impeachment.... President Trump's sneaky decision to rope Sessions into the charade ... seems to me part of Trump's own pattern of obstruction, which I've argued is an impeachable offense by the president." Tribe cites chapter & verse in arguing that Trump has obstructed justice & attempted to intimidate witnesses and investigators. Read on. -- CW ...

... E.J. Dionne: "The firing of James B. Comey as FBI director and the administration's fog of lies aimed at clouding the real reason for Trump's decision are the most important signs that we have a leader who will do whatever it takes to resist accountability.... Trump can be fairly regarded as both incompetent and authoritarian. We may be saved by the fact that the feckless Trump is often the authoritarian Trump's worst enemy. If we're lucky, Trump's astonishing indiscipline will be his undoing.... Not one word out of Trump's White House is believable on its face, and sowing convenient untruth is another mark of autocracy." -- CW ...

... Preet Bharara in a Washington Post op-ed, compares the firing of Jim Comey to that of the Bush II adminisration's firing, for political reasons, of eight U.S. attorneys. "In response, the Senate launched a bipartisan (yes, bipartisan) investigation into those firings and the politicization of the Justice Department.... Ultimately..., every top leader of the [Justice] department stepped down under a cloud. Finally, [AG Alberto] Gonzales himself resigned. Strict protocols were put in place severely limiting White House contacts with Justice officials on criminal matters." -- CW ...

... Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker: "... during the interview with [Lester] Holt, Trump all but acknowledged that he had fired Comey because the director had made sure that the Bureau continued to investigate the ties between Trump's campaign and the efforts by the Russian government and its allies to hand the election to him. This is exactly the kind of investigation that requires the F.B.I. director to have independence; Trump's short-circuiting of the probe, with Comey's dismissal, is a grave abuse of Presidential power. The interference in an F.B.I. investigation replicates, with chilling precision..., part of the Watergate story. On June 23, 1972, six days after individuals associated with Nixon's campaign broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters, the President and his aide H. R. Haldeman discussed a plan to stop an F.B.I. investigation into the matter. As captured on a White House tape, Nixon told Haldeman that C.I.A. officials 'should call the F.B.I. in and say that we wish for the country, don't go any further into this case -- period!' Yet there is one important difference between Nixon's and Trump's obstruction of the F.B.I. Nixon had the decency, or at least the deviousness, to do it in secret. Trump, with characteristic brazenness, is conducting his coverup in full view of the public. In 1974, the release of the June 23rd tape, which became known as the smoking gun, was the final goad to Goldwater and the other Republicans to cease their defense of Nixon and to join calls for his ouster.... The comparison breaks down, however, in that the Republican response to Trump's lawlessness has ranged from full-throated support to muted statements of concern to, mostly, silence." Read on. -- CW ...

... ** Brian Beutler: "Among themselves, and speaking to reporters off the record or on background, Republicans say incredibly alarming things... [about Trump's] mental fitness to hold high office.... What Republicans of real influence say when their names are attached to their quotes thus represents one of the most stunning derelictions of public duty in recent memory. If, as The New Yorker's legal writer Jeffrey Toobin put it..., Donald Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey was 'a grave abuse of power,' Republican congressional leaders, nearly all rank-and-file members, and senior administration officials are engaging in a similarly grave abdication of it." Beutler eviscerates Ryan & Co. for pretending they have no power over Trump and provides a partial list of actions they could take within their Constitutional function to check the excesses & wrongdoing of the executive branch. "Ryan isn't just choosing to look the other way; he is actually denuding himself and the Congress of some of its most basic functions." -- CW ...

... New York Times Editors: "What do Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders think a president may say or do and still deserve their enthusiastic support? We offer this handy reference list in hopes of protecting them from charges of hypocrisy in the future. They can consult it should they ever feel tempted to insist on different standards for another president. So, herewith, the Congressional Republican's Guide to Presidential Behavior." -- CW ...

... Well, There's This. Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "Senate Republicans, increasingly unnerved by President Trump's volatility and unpopularity, are starting to show signs of breaking away from him as they try to forge a more traditional Republican agenda and protect their political fortunes.... [CW: BUT] So far, Republicans have refrained from bucking the president en masse, in part to avoid undermining their intense push to put health care and tax bills on his desk this year. And the Republican leadership, including ... Mitch McConnell ... and ... Paul D. Ryan..., remains behind Mr. Trump." -- CW ...

... Ed O'Keefe & Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post: "Lawmakers in both parties said Sunday that President Trump will need to hand over any recordings of conversations in the White House if such a taping system does exist. Trump suggested Friday that he taped private White House conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey, who was abruptly fired last week, and White House officials have not confirmed or denied the existence of a recording system. The nondenials have intensified calls by Democrats for an independent, nonpartisan special prosecutor to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And several key Republicans and Democrats said Sunday that any recordings of White House conversations will need to be preserved for congressional review. 'If there are any tapes of this conversation, they need to be turned over,' Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told NBC's 'Meet the Press.' Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a former federal prosecutor, said 'it's probably inevitable' that such recordings would need to be handed over to Congress and predicted that they would be subpoenaed. Asked on 'Fox News Sunday' about Trump's decision to set up a taping system, Lee called it 'not necessarily the best idea.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Jenna Johnson: White House makes top staff unavailable to discuss Comey incident on Sunday showz. -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Louis Nelson of Politico: "Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday that he would support an effort to block any nominee to lead the FBI until an independent prosecutor is named to oversee an investigation into Russia's interference into last year's presidential election, as well as the possibility of collusion between the Kremlin and individuals with ties to ... Donald Trump or his campaign. The notion that Democrats might refuse to vote on any nominee put forward by Trump to be the bureau's director was first floated last week by a handful of lawmakers including Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)." -- CW

Economic Advice from Doctor Trumpenlaffer. Paul Krugman on Trump's "coinage" of the term "priming the pump": "I'm worried. Trump may be not just ignorant but deeply out of it, and his economic proposals are terrible and irresponsible, but they may get implemented all the same" because Republicans in Congress don't care about deficits." -- CW

Health Advice from Doctor Trumpenquack. Rachel Rettner of the Washington Post: "President Trump reportedly eschews exercise because he believes it drains the body's 'finite' energy resources, but experts say this argument is flawed because the human body actually becomes stronger with exercise. Trump's views on exercise were mentioned in a New Yorker article this month and in 'Trump Revealed,' The Washington Post's 2016 biography of the president, which noted that Trump mostly gave up athletics after college because he 'believed the human body was like a battery, with a finite amount of energy, which exercise only depleted.'" CW: And you think there is some possibility that this nutjob is capable of listening to reason, much less reason based on scientific evidence? (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Update: Thanks to Rockygirl for the link to the video below. Yes, we are in "Dr. Strangelove" territory, and that should frighten even the jackasses who voted for Trump:

AND the Ambassadorship Goes to the Choir Girl. Jeff Zeleny & Caroline Kenny of CNN: "Callista Gingrich, the wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is the preferred nominee to be the next ambassador to the Vatican. The White House hopes to announce her nomination before ... Donald Trump meets with Pope Francis on May 24 in Rome. The decision to nominate Gingrich has been made, but the announcement has taken longer than expected pending approval from the Office of Government Ethics, an administration official said." -- CW ...

... Jason Horowitz of the New York Times: "The idea of nominating Ms. Gingrich first became public in January, and during the transition Mr. Trump half-jokingly said he was intrigued by the idea of picking Ms. Gingrich because it could also get Mr. Gingrich, with whom he has a hot-and-cold relationship, out of his hair, according to one of the people with knowledge of Mr. Trump's remarks.... Ms. Gingrich, a member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, played a critical role in Mr. Gingrich;s conversion to Catholicism. But she also played a role in breaking up his second marriage, according to Mr. Gingrich's ex-wife and former adviser, Marianne Gingrich." Thanks to Diane for the link. Also don't miss her comment, below. -- CW

In business, as in life, nothing is ever handed to you. -- Ivanka Trump, opening sentence of The Trump Card ...

... Jill Filipovic in Politico Magazine: "Women Who Work is not [Ivanka] Trump's only book, nor is it the most revealing of her politics and her worldview. That designation falls to her previous book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life. If Women Who Work is the polished, media-ready Ivanka, then The Trump Card is the rougher, realer deal -- the Ivanka id. And while Trump herself comes across as much more honest in The Trump Card -- which she wrote just five years out of college, four of which she had spent at her father's company -- it also makes clear that she is indeed her father’s daughter: She's not above self-aggrandizement, self-dealing, or a stunningly Ayn Randian sense of entitlement and greed." -- CW

"Pocahontas" with Consequences. Trump Makes Sure to Repeatedly Insult Every Ethnic Minority. Darryl Fears of the Washington Post: "As chairman of a tribal commission established to oversee the Bears Ears National Monument, [James] Adakai, who is Navajo, felt he deserved a place in a meeting [Interior Secretary Ryan] Zinke arranged at the airport to discuss the monument's fate. Instead, Zinke met and toured the site in helicopters with Utah government officials and others who adamantly oppose the first U.S. monument designated at the request of Native American tribes to preserve artifacts and sacred lands.... [Zinke did meet with some supporters of the monument the following day.] As he signed his executive order ... to review Bears Ears and 26 other monuments ... two weeks ago in Zinke's office at Interior, Trump criticized former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, the Democrats who, respectively, created Bears Ears and another Utah monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante. 'It's time to end these abuses and return the control of the land to the people, the people of Utah,' Trump said." CW: Uh, he meant "white people" -- "rich white people."

The Evil Elf Keebler Kept in Hiding. Carl Hulse of the New York Times: "Given [Jeff] Sessions's long record as a zealous prosecutor and his well-known views on the dangers of drug use, his push to undo Obama-era sentencing policies and ramp up the war on drugs was hardly a surprise. But it was still striking, because it ran so contrary to the growing bipartisan consensus coursing through Washington and many state capitals in recent years -- a view that America was guilty of excessive incarceration and that large prison populations were too costly in tax dollars and the toll on families and communities." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post: "The Trump administration has removed or tucked away a wide variety of information that until recently was provided to the public, limiting access, for instance, to disclosures about workplace violations, energy efficiency, and animal welfare abuses. Some of the information relates to enforcement actions taken by federal agencies against companies and other employers. By lessening access, the administration is sheltering them from the kind of 'naming and shaming' that federal officials previously used to influence company behavior, according to digital experts, activists and former Obama administration officials...." -- CW

** Rachel Bade & Sarah Ferris of Politico: "House Republicans just voted to slash hundreds of billions of dollars in health care for the poor as part of their Obamacare replacement. Now, they're weighing a plan to take the scalpel to programs that provide meals to needy kids and housing and education assistance for low-income families.... Donald Trump's refusal to overhaul Social Security and Medicare -- and his pricey wish-list for infrastructure, a border wall and tax cuts -- is sending House budget writers scouring for pennies in politically sensitive places: safety-net programs for the most vulnerable. Under enormous internal pressure to quickly balance the budget, Republicans are considering slashing more than $400 billion in spending through a process to evade Democratic filibusters in the Senate.... The proposal, which would be part of the House Budget Committee's fiscal 2018 budget, won't specify which programs would get the ax [CW: the better to hide GOP cruelty]; instead it will instruct committees to figure out what to cut to reach the savings. But among the programs most likely on the chopping block, the sources say, are food stamps, welfare, income assistance for the disabled and perhaps even veterans benefits." ...

... Kate Daloz, in the New Yorker, on the self-induced abortion that killed her grandmother. "My questions about her life and death hadn't changed since I was twelve years old. What felt new, in the Trump era, was the urgency of her story." -- CW

Maggie Severns of Politico: "Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) ... was under siege ... [after] news reports showed he had bought shares in a tiny biotechnology company while sitting on committees that could influence the firm's prospects. A colleague, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), had tipped him off to the investment.... But what many saw as a scandal, others saw as an opportunity. On the very day that [Sen. Ron] Wyden [D-Oregon] was decrying Price's bad judgment, Rep. Doug Lamborn, Republican of Colorado, bought shares of the same tiny Australian company, Innate Immunotherapeutics. Within two days three more members also bought in -- Republicans Billy Long of Missouri, Mike Conaway of Texas and John Culberson of Texas. Conaway added more shares the following week. These brazen decisions to gobble up shares of a little-known firm at the very moment when such trading was being decried as an abuse of power reflects Congress' anything-goes culture around stock investments.... Politico found that 28 House members and six senators each traded more than 100 stocks in the past two years, placing them in the potential cross hairs of a conflict of interest on a regular basis. And a handful of lawmakers ... disproportionately trade in companies that also have an interest in their work on Capitol Hill." -- CW

Matt Zapotosky of the Washington Post: "A federal appeals court that President Trump has frequently criticized is to hear arguments Monday on whether to restore his controversial travel ban -- a significant step in the legal battle that has prevented Trump from implementing one of his signature initiatives on immigration. A three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit will join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in deciding whether Trump ran afoul of the Constitution when he tried to temporarily shut down the U.S. refugee program and suspend the issuance of new visas to residents of six Muslim-majority countries." -- CW

Laura Vozzella of the Washington Post: "Self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer led a large group of demonstrators carrying torches and chanting 'You will not replace us' Saturday in Charlottesville, [Virginia,] protesting plans to remove a Confederate monument.... 'What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,' Spencer said at the first of two rallies he led in the college town where he once attended the University of Virginia. At the second rally, dozens of torch-bearing protesters gathered in a city park Saturday evening and chanted 'You will not replace us' and 'Russia is our friend,' local television footage shows." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Sewell Chan & Mark Scott of the New York Times: "Security experts are warning that the global cyberattack that began on Friday is likely to be magnified in the new workweek as users return to their offices and turn on their computers. Many workers, particularly in Asia, had logged off on Friday before the malicious software, stolen from the United States government, began proliferating across computer systems around the world. So the true effect of the attack may emerge on Monday as employees return and log in." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Eric Geller of Politico: "The Trump administration hastily called emergency meetings Friday and Saturday to contain fallout from the ongoing global ransomware campaign that has now hit victims in at least 150 countries, including the U.S." CW: Uh, isn't pretty much every emergency meeting "hastily called"? (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Way Beyond the Beltway

Angelique Chrisifis of the Guardian: "Emmanuel Macron , France's youngest postwar leader, promised to rebuild his nation's self-confidence and relaunch the flagging European Union as he took power on Sunday in a series of ceremonies that deliberately emphasised France's military power.... Macron deliberately chose to mark his inauguration day with military symbolism -- emphasising France's defence strength at a time when the country is still under a state of emergency after a series of terrorist attacks, and currently has thousands of troops involved in military operations abroad, from west Africa to Syria and Iraq.