The Ledes

Sunday, January 20, 2019.

Hill: "A fire Sunday morning in Northeast Washington, D.C., damaged studios for Fox News, C-SPAN and MSNBC, and forced 'Fox News Sunday' to relocate its broadcast to a local affiliate's studio. Washington, D.C., Fire and EMS tweeted that an electrical fire broke out in the 8th floor television studio, but that nobody was injured. Steve Scully, the political editor for C-SPAN, tweeted shortly after 7 a.m. that  the Fox News and C-SPAN studios sustained 'extensive damage,' and MSNBC's studio took on 'extensive smoke and water damage.'"

New York Times: "Heavy snowfall, high winds and a dangerous mix of rain and sleet were expected to hit swaths of the Northeast on Sunday, prompting officials to warn of icy roadways and power outages from a vast winter storm that had been pummeling the Great Plains and the Great Lakes. The storm, which complicated travel on Saturday and busted plans for the three-day weekend across much of the country, had already caused problems from Kansas, where the governor declared an emergency, to Chicago, where a United Airlines plane slid off a concrete surface. Flights have been canceled by the thousands, and rapidly dropping temperatures on Sunday in parts of the Northeast would freeze anything wet, creating 'extremely dangerous' conditions on the roadways."

USA Today: "John Coughlin, a two-time U.S. pairs champion who was suspended Thursday evening by the U.S. Center for SafeSport and U.S. Figure Skating, died Friday, according to a Facebook post from his sister.... Kansas City police confirmed Coughlin's suicide.... Coughlin, 33, was a fixture at skating competitions and rinks around the country as a coach, TV commentator and a rising star within both USFS and the International Skating Union, the sport’s worldwide federation.”

The Wires
The Ledes

Saturday, January 19, 2019.

AP: " Forensic experts attempted to separate and count charred heaps of corpses in central Mexico on Saturday after a massive fireball erupted at an illegal pipeline tap, killing at least 66 people. More than 85 other people on Saturday were listed as missing as relatives of the deceased and onlookers gathered around the scene of carnage. Just a few feet from where the pipeline passed through an alfalfa field, the dead seem to have fallen in heaps, perhaps as they stumbled over each other or tried to help one another in the moments after a geyser of gasoline shot into the air Friday. The leak was caused by an illegal pipeline tap in the small town of Tlahuelilpan, about 62 miles (100 kilometers) north of Mexico City, according to state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex."

Public Service Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constant Comments

 

Editor-in-Chief:
Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

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

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

Sunday
Jan132019

The Commentariat -- January 14, 2019

Afternoon Update:

Annie Karni & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "President Trump said on Monday that he has rejected a proposal by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to temporarily reopen the government in an effort to jump-start talks with Democratic lawmakers on funding a border wall. 'I did reject it,' Mr. Trump said of the proposal, speaking to reporters as he boarded Marine One outside of the White House, en route to delivering a speech to a farm convention in New Orleans."

More International Policy by Tweet. Thomas Gibbons-Neff of the New York Times: "President Trump threatened Turkey on Sunday with harsh economic sanctions if it attacks Kurdish forces in Syria after American troops withdraw from the country in the coming months. 'Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,' Mr. Trump said on Twitter, suggesting that there would be a 20-mile safe zone around the group after American forces leave. He added, 'Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.' Mr. Trump's tweets marked the first public threat toward Turkey, a NATO ally, over the Kurds and seemed to offer a blanket of protection for the group, a band of American-backed militias that the Turkish government sees as terrorists." ...

... John Hudson & Kareem Fahim of the Washington Post: "As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo crisscrossed the Middle East this week to explain the U.S. military withdrawal from Syria, he repeated that he was 'confident' and 'optimistic' that he was nearing a deal with Turkey on a mutually agreeable exit plan. But a pugnacious tweet from President Trump on Sunday night vowing to 'devastate' the Turkish economy if Ankara attacks U.S.-backed Kurds revealed a much wider chasm between the two sides and prompted a new round of recriminations from Turkey. Hours later, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted Trump's 'threatening language...,' adding: 'You will not get anywhere by threatening Turkey's economy.' The row marked the second time in a week that the White House has intervened in negotiations led by the State Department in a way that infuriated Turkey and caught U.S. diplomats flat-footed. In trying to explain Trump's tweets on Monday, Pompeo told reporters in Riyadh that he assumed Trump meant the United States would levy sanctions on Turkey if it attacked the Kurds but that he did not know for certain.... [Pompeo said] that he had not talked to Trump about the tweet."

Juan Cole: "National Security Adviser John Bolton lied his face off when he told Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on his recent Mideast junket that he was sure Iran's leaders are dedicated to acquiring deliverable nuclear weapons. Nuclear security expert Joe Cirincione shredded Bolton over his false assertion, which is contradicted by UN inspectors and US intelligence. Bolton made sure to tell Netanyahu this so that Netanyahu could quote Bolton in his own fantasy-filled and inflammatory speeches urging an attack on Iran.... Ironically, when [Jim] Mattis first met Bolton, he joked that he had heard that he was 'the Devil.'... So then toward the end of his tenure Mattis found out that we weren't wrong about Bolton, and he had been foolish to be so insouciant.... I'm not sure exactly what the Democratic House can do to forestall Bolton's peculiar Iranomania from plunging us into another generation of war and instability and bankruptcy. But they should do what they can to get the madman out of office." --s

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post points out that Mike Pompeo also offered up only a non-denial denial when asked about the NYT report that the FBI had been investigating Trump as a possible national security threat. His non-answer, which he essentially repeated in response to a follow-up question about whether or not he knew about the FBI investigation: "I'm not going to comment on New York Times stories, but I'll certainly say this: The -- the notion that President Trump is a threat to American national security is absolutely ludicrous." Blake writes, "... given Pompeo's proximity to all this -- as both secretary of state and then-CIA director -- he's in a unique position to offer the most ironclad denial of basically anybody not named Trump or Mueller.... The fact that Pompeo wouldn't quite go there might be more significant even than Trump's non-denial-turned-actual-denial."

Katie Benner of the New York Times: "William P. Barr, President Trump's nominee for attorney general, promised on Monday that he would allow the special counsel to continue his investigation, seeking to allay Democrats' fears that he might shut down the inquiry. 'It is in the best interest of everyone -- the president, Congress, and, most importantly, the American people -- that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work,' Mr. Barr said in written testimony that he plans to deliver on Tuesday at the start of his two-day confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.... But Mr. Barr also included a subtle caveat, limiting his assurances about the Mueller investigation to the issues under his control:... That qualification could be important because Mr. Barr has long advanced a philosophy of strong executive powers under which any administration decision is ultimately the president's to make. His views also include the notion that the president is the nation's top law-enforcement official, not the attorney general." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie Translation: "If President* Trump tells me to knee-cap my old pal Bob Mueller, I've got a sledge hammer at the ready."

*****

Nancy Pelosi Is Not Amused. Catherine Lucey of the AP: "Military salutes. Heaps of contraband. Oval Office optics.... Donald Trump, who has long put a premium on stagecraft, is discovering he cannot resolve the partial government shutdown simply by putting on a show.... The president's Oval Office address and visit to the Texas border this past week failed to break the logjam. Aides and allies are fearful that he has misjudged Democratic resolve and is running out of negotiating options.... Many associates fear his hand is weakening as his efforts to define the stakes must compete with the testimonials of hardship from federal workers and people in need of shuttered government services. That may leave a national emergency declaration as Trump's only escape path -- one more showy strategy that could backfire."

Jonathan Swan of Axios: "President Trump chastised his new chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, over his handling of shutdown talks, creating an awkward scene in front of congressional leaders of both parties, according to two sources who were present.... The encounter came near the end of a meeting in the White House Situation Room on Jan. 4.... Trump had spent the meeting restating his demand for $5.7 billion for his wall. (Vice President Pence, at Trump's behest, had previously asked the Democrats for just $2.5 billion.) Mulvaney inserted himself into the conversation and tried to negotiate a compromise sum of money, according to the sources in the room. Mulvaney ... was trying to say we should find a middle ground," one of the sources said.... 'Trump cut him off ... "You just fucked it all up, Mick,'" the source recalled Trump saying.... Another source who was in the room confirmed the account. That source said their impression was that Trump was irritated at Mulvaney's negotiating style.... A fourth source, who was not in the room ... told me Trump has long been irritated that Mulvaney's initial 2019 budget only requested $1.6 billion for the wall. Democrats relish pointing this out...."

... Brett Samuels of the Hill: "Sen. (R-S.C.) said Sunday that he's urged President Trump to open up the government for a short period of time so lawmakers can attempt to broker an end to the ongoing government shutdown, but was adamant that the president is 'not going to give in' on his demands to fund a border wall. Graham said on 'Fox News Sunday' that he spoke with Trump on Sunday morning, when the president indicated an emergency declaration to construct his desired wall along the southern border is a last resort. 'I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug' on a legislative solution, Graham said." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: This is pretty much the Democrats' ask, but a few weeks shorter than they originally suggested in December. It seems Lindsey is trying to talk Trump down off the wall using the preferred cat-on-the-roof methodology.

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

NEW. Jordan Fabian of the Hill: "President Trump >on Monday denied he 'worked for Russia,' his most direct response yet to a bombshell report that the FBI began investigating whether the president was working on behalf Moscow. 'I never worked for Russia,' Trump said.... 'If you read the [NYT] article you'll see that they found absolutely nothing,' he said." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: It isn't true that the New York Times article said the FBI "found absolutely nothing." The story was silent on that. Trump's denial mirrors his campaign-era repudiation of David Duke; at first, he wouldn't do so; then, under pressure, he repudiated Duke.

** NEW. Jeremy Herb, et al., of CNN: "In the chaotic aftermath at the FBI following Director James Comey's firing, a half-dozen senior FBI officials huddled to set in motion the momentous move to open an investigation into ... Donald Trump that included trying to understand why he was acting in ways that seemed to benefit Russia. They debated a range of possibilities, according to portions of transcripts of two FBI officials' closed-door congressional interviews obtained by CNN. On one end was the idea that Trump fired Comey at the behest of Russia. On the other was the possibility that Trump didn't have an improper relationship with the Kremlin and was acting within the bounds of his executive authority, the transcripts show.... While the FBI launched its investigation in the days after Comey's abrupt dismissal, the bureau had previously contemplated such a step, according to testimony from former FBI lawyer Lisa Page."

Jason Lemon of Newsweek: "Legendary journalist Carl Bernstein has said that he's been told that special counsel Robert Mueller's report will show how ... Donald Trump helped Russia 'destabilize the United States.'... 'This is about the most serious counterintelligence people we have in the U.S. government saying, "Oh, my God, the president's words and actions lead us to conclude that somehow he has become a witting, unwitting, or half-witting pawn, certainly in some regards, to Vladimir Putin,"' Bernstein explained during his appearance on [CNN's] Reliable Sources." Thanks to Ken W. for the link. Here's Bernstein's full discussion with Brian Stelter:

     ... Pundits are giving Ben Wittes of Lawfare a lot of credit for coming up with the theory last Friday that "the obstruction is part of the collusion." Bernstein said the same thing two days earlier. For more than a month, various reporters have told us the Mueller report, or a portion of it, would be completed soon. Bernstein is the first (as far as I know) to give a hint about the content of the report.

Julian Barnes & Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times: "President Trump's efforts to hide his conversations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and new details about the F.B.I. inquiry into his ties to Moscow have intensified debate over his relationship with Russia, adding fuel to Democrats' budding investigations of his presidency and potentially setting up a clash between the White House and Congress. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, who now leads the Intelligence Committee..., implored his Republican colleagues Sunday to support his effort to obtain notes or testimony from the interpreter in one of the private meetings between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin. 'Will they join us now?' Mr. Schiff wrote on Twitter. 'Shouldn't we find out whether our president is really putting "America first?"'... 'Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin, this man who is a former K.G.B. agent, never been a friend to the United States, invaded our allies, threatens us around the world and tries his damnedest to undermine our elections?' Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said on ABC's 'This Week.'... The administration appears unlikely to acquiesce to such a demand without a fight."

Peter Baker of the New York Times: "So it has come to this: The president of the United States was asked over the weekend whether he is a Russian agent. And he refused to directly answer. The question, which came from a friendly interviewer, not one of the 'fake media' journalists he disparages, was 'the most insulting thing I've ever been asked,' he declared. But it is a question that has hung over his presidency now for two years. If the now 23-day government shutdown standoff between Mr. Trump and Congress has seemed ugly, it may eventually seem tame by comparison with what is to come. The border wall fight is just the preliminary skirmish in this new era of divided government. The real battle has yet to begin. With Democrats now in charge of the House, the special counsel believed to be wrapping up his investigation, news media outlets competing for scoops and the first articles of impeachment already filed, Mr. Trump faces the prospect of an all-out political war for survival that may make the still-unresolved partial government shutdown pale by comparison.... The White House has begun recruiting soldiers. The new White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, has hired 17 new lawyers, according to The Post, as he prepares for a barrage of subpoenas from House Democratic committee chairmen." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Steve M.: "I understand the temptation to read a lot into [Trump's failure to deny he was a Russian asset], but I don't think it means much.... Trump isn't shrewdly avoiding a 'no' answer -- he's simply caught up in a story that he rehearses in his own mind on a daily basis and publishes on Twitter nearly as often. He doesn't sidestep the question -- he just forgets to answer it directly, so enraged (and caught up in his own narrative) is he.... It's not significant -- Trump just got carried away and was enthralled by his own recitation of his grievances." --s

... Not-So-Secret Agent. Max Boot in the Washington Post lists 18 reasons we already know about that Trump could be a Russian asset. Then he adds, "I can't think of anything that would exonerate Trump aside from the difficulty of grasping what once would have seemed unimaginable: that a president of the United States could actually have been compromised by a hostile foreign power.... If Trump isn't actually a Russian agent, he is doing a pretty good imitation of one." ...

... "It's Already Collusion." Strobe Talbott in a Politico Magazine opinion piece: "Whether he knows it or not, Trump is integral to Putin's strategy to strengthen authoritarian regimes and undermine democracies around the world. This unprecedented aberration defiles what America stands for at home and abroad; it alienates and dispirits our allies; and -- if it is allowed to persist -- it will jeopardize our security.... Trumpism is a godsend to Putin and a nightmare for governments in his sights -- including Trump's. The U.S. commander-in-chief is out of sync with his own administration, not to mention the government as a whole.... Trump has an affinity for dictators -- as he himself reportedly acknowledged only this week during a lunch with senators.... He envies their unchecked power, use of intimidation and penchant for operating in secret, apparently because he doesn't trust the advisers and agencies who work for him.... Trump has been colluding with a hostile Russia throughout his presidency." ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: We discussed the underlying story yesterday, but this AP headline is still astonishing: "Trump dodges question on whether he has worked for Russia." ...

... Tom Nichols in USA Today: "The president clearly has something to hide.... It is highly unlikely that there is any innocent explanation for the remarkable frequency and depth of the Trump coterie's interactions with Russia for some 30 years, and especially during the campaign.... It seems at this point beyond argument that the president personally fears Russian President Vladimir Putin for reasons that can only suggest the existence of compromising information.... For the president's supporters to double down in the face of mounting evidence that the president himself is, in some way, compromised by our most dedicated enemy, while making excuses for his secretive behavior by attacking the men and women of the FBI, is a road so dark that perhaps even Joseph McCarthy would not have dared walk it." ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: Oh yeah? Lindsey Graham is strutting down that dark road: ...

... Lindsey Knocks NYT, FBI. David Edwards of the Raw Story: "Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Sunday said that he does not believe a New York Times report that ... Donald Trump was investigated for being a suspected Russian agent. 'That story came from somebody who leaked it with an agenda,' Graham complained to Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday. 'I'd like to know who leaked it because they have an agenda not very friendly to President Trump. And I, for one, don't trust what I read in The New York Times.' Graham said that he planned to grill FBI Director Christopher Wray on whether a counter-intelligence investigation into Trump was ever open.... 'And, to me, it tells me a lot about the people running the FBI. I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. How could the FBI do that?' Graham concluded. 'What kind of checks and balances are there?'" ...

Ken Dilanian of NBC News: "Before Donald Trump's lawyer was pitching the Kremlin on building a Trump Tower in Moscow, the future president was negotiating to put his name on a building in a separate glitzy real estate development outside the Russian capital.... Trump's partner in this earlier project was Aras Agalarov, an oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the same man whose promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton set in motion the infamous June 2016 meeting at the original Trump Tower in New York. Two Congressional aides told NBC News the Agalarov project is now drawing new scrutiny from House and Senate investigators in the wake of the revelation in court documents that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen lied to Congress about his dealings on a separate, competing Russia real estate project. Cohen was also negotiating to build a Trump Tower in a separate part of the city." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Rosalind S. Helderman & Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post: "New revelations about Paul Manafort's interactions with a Russian associate while he was leading President Trump's campaign provide a window into how extensively the special counsel has mapped interactions between Trump associates and Russians in his 20-month-long investigation. When Manafort pleaded guilty in September to federal crimes related to his work advising Ukrainian politicians, Trump said the admissions by his former campaign chairman had 'nothing to do' with the special counsel's main mission, which Trump described as 'looking for Russians involved in our campaign.' But new details inadvertently revealed in a court filing last week -- including the fact that Manafort shared polling data about the 2016 race with an associate who allegedly has ties to Russian intelligence -- indicate that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has also been scrutinizing interactions between Russians and Manafort while he led Trump's presidential bid. Manafort is among at least 14 Trump associates who interacted with Russians during the campaign and transition, according to public records and interviews.... And it serves as a stark reminder that as Trump was offering Russia-friendly rhetoric on the campaign trail, his White House bid was led for a time by a man with long-standing ties to powerful Russian figures."

Betsy Woodruff of the Daily Beast: "The Kremlin has long denied that it had anything to do with the infiltration of the NRA and the broader American conservative movement. A U.S. intelligence report reviewed by The Daily Beast tells a different story. Alexander Torshin, the Russian central bank official who spent years aggressively courting NRA leaders, briefed the Kremlin on his efforts and recommended they participate, according to the report.... While there has been speculation that Torshin and his protegée, Maria Butina, had the Kremlin's blessing to woo the NRA -- and federal prosecutors have vaguely asserted that she acted 'on behalf of the Russian federation' -- no one in the White House or the U.S. intelligence community has publicly stated as much.... The report, on the other hand, notes that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was fine with Torshin's courtship of the NRA because the relationships would be valuable if a Republican won the White House in 2016.... The report, published last year, is based on conversations that happened in 2015, before NRA leaders visited Moscow on a trip arranged by Torshin and Butina."

Time for Some Racist Tweets

Emily Birnbaum of the Hill: "President Trump on Sunday night mocked a video of Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) by saying the video would have been a 'smash' if she filmed it in 'Bighorn or Wounded Knee,' a reference to her Native American heritage. Trump suggested that Warren's husband, who appears in the video, should have worn 'full Indian garb.' The president also renewed his use of his racially charged nickname for Warren: Pocahontas. 'If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash!' Trump tweeted.... Trump's tweet refers to the massacre of more than 100 Native American men, women and children by U.S. Calvary troops in the late 19th Century. The massacre has become a symbol of the brutality experienced by Native Americans under European-Americans."

Michael Burke of the Hill: "President Trump late Sunday night quoted a column by Pat Buchanan ... to back his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. In a pair of tweets, Trump pointed to Buchanan's argument that the president's proposal is 'dead on' and saying that something needs done or the U.S., 'as we know it, will cease to exist.'... In 1999, Trump called Buchanan a 'Hitler lover' and said it was 'incredible that anybody could embrace this guy.' Buchanan, who has often been accused of expressing racist and anti-Semitic views, at the time was seeking the Reform Party's nomination for president.... 'I guess he's an anti-Semite. He doesn't like the blacks. He doesn't like the gays...,' Trump said on 'Meet the Press' in 1999.]" Mrs. McC: But Buchanan is all good now because he also "doesn't like the Hispanics."


MEANWHILE, Everything Is Going Very Smoothly on the International Desk. Anne Gearan
, et al., of the Washington Post: "President Trump dispatched national security adviser John Bolton on a cleanup mission a week ago, with a three-day itinerary in Israel that was intended to reassure a close ally that Trump's impulsive decision to immediately withdraw troops from Syria would be carried out more slowly and with important caveats. The plan seemed to work at first. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was all smiles, thanking Bolton profusely for the show of U.S. support. But by the end of the week, attempts to dissuade Trump or place conditions on the withdrawal faded as the U.S. military announced it had 'begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria.' A multipronged effort by alarmed U.S. national security officials, foreign allies and Republican hawks in Congress to significantly alter or reverse Trump's decision was effectively a bust. Since Trump's abrupt Syria announcement last month, a tug-of-war with allies and his advisers has roiled the national security apparatus over how, and whether, to execute a pullout.... The episode illustrates the far-reaching consequences of Trump's proclivity to make rash decisions with uneven follow-through, according to accounts of the discussions from more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials and international diplomats." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: You mean just because the President* is an impulsive, ignorant, out-of-control buffoon, things get messed up? Like, say, our international policy is nearly nonexistent & half the government is shuttered? Now, let's ask ourselves if Vladimir is happy. ...

... Eric Schmitt & Mark Landler of the New York Times: "Senior Pentagon officials are voicing deepening fears that President Trump's hawkish national security adviser, John R. Bolton, could precipitate a conflict with Iran at a time when Mr. Trump is losing leverage in the Middle East by pulling out American troops. At Mr. Bolton's direction, the National Security Council asked the Pentagon last year to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran, Defense Department and senior American officials said on Sunday. The request, which alarmed then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other Pentagon officials, came after Iranian-backed militants fired three mortars or rockets into an empty lot on the grounds of the United States Embassy in Baghdad in September.... Mr. Mattis and other military leaders adamantly opposed retaliating, arguing that the attack was insignificant -- a position that ultimately won out.... Since Mr. Bolton took over from H.R. McMaster in April, he has intensified the administration's policy of isolating and pressuring Iran — reflecting an animus against Iran's leaders that dates back to his days as an official in the George W. Bush administration. As a private citizen, he later called for military strikes on Iran, as well as regime change." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Back in the day, if you walked into a roomful of people & found Mr. Mustache, you probably would have pegged him for the craziest guy there. Now there's Trump.

** Charlie Savage of the New York Times examines William Barr's long career as a presidential-powers maximalist. "Mr. Trump revels in pushing limits -- a temperament that, when combined with Mr. Barr's unusually permissive understanding of presidential power, could play out very differently for the rule of law than it did last time" [when Barr advised President Bush I he could] start a major land war on his own -- not only without congressional permission, but even if Congress voted against it." Barr's confirmation hearings begin Tuesday. ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Let's see. Trump. Barr. Bolton. Now what are the chances Trump will start a gratuitous war before the 2020 election? This is Bush II all over again, though the target country might be Iraq's neighbor, not Iraq.

Rebeca Leber of Mother Jones: "Scott Pruitt left a long trail of investigations behind when he exited the Environmental Protection Agency last July to lead a private life as a coal consultant. On Thursday, four Democratic senators added yet another concern to the pile, requesting more information from the EPA revolving around Pruitt's legal defense fund. And Democrats can hammer the issue when Andrew Wheeler appears before the Senate on Wednesday for a confirmation hearing to become Pruitt's successor. Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Tom Carper (Del.), Tom Udall (N.M.), and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) addressed Wheeler in a letter that raises questions about a financial filing in December that revealed a $50,000 donation to Pruitt's legal defense fund from a ... businesswoman.... That is a problem, the senators argue, because the Office of Government Ethics forbids officials from accepting gifts from 'prohibited sources' -- or entities with business before the agency." --s

Pity the Confederates. Theodoric Meyer of Politico: "[M]ore than 60 Republicans exited the House this month, and so many of them are considering heading to K Street that not all of them are likely to find work, according to interviews with lobbyists and headhunters. 'Former Republican congressmen are a dime a dozen right now,' said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who left Congress a decade ago and is now a lobbyist for Holland & Knight." --s

Another Reason Not to Live in a Red State. Sudhin Thanawala of the AP: "A U.S. judge in California on Sunday blocked Trump administration rules, which would allow more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control, from taking effect in 13 states and Washington, D.C. Judge Haywood Gilliam granted a request for a preliminary injunction by California, 12 other states and Washington, D.C. The plaintiffs sought to prevent the rules from taking effect as scheduled on Monday while a lawsuit against them moved forward. But Gilliam limited the scope of the ruling to the plaintiffs, rejecting their request that he block the rules nationwide.... The ruling affects California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia."

Beyond the Beltway

Florida. Washington Post Editors: "In November, nearly two-thirds of Florida voters backed a state constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to roughly 1.4 million former felons -- a measure that undid a feature of state law, enacted after the Civil War by racist white lawmakers, designed to disenfranchise African Americans. Now some Florida Republicans who opposed the ballot measure, written unambiguously to be self-executing, insist 'clarifying' legislation is needed. That sounds like mischief intended to thwart the voters' will and maintain a system under which at least 1 in 5 black Floridians faced a lifetime ban on voting.... No other Western democracy has erected similar [voting] barriers.... Voting rights advocates are alert for land mines that may be laid by [Gov.] Ron DeSantis or other Republicans, who, in a state with a notorious history of electoral squeakers, may fear the consequences should even a small fraction of those 1.4 million eligible former felons exercise their franchise."

** Oregon. Shane Kavanaugh of the Oregonian: "The Oregonian/OregonLive has found criminal cases involving at least five Saudi nationals who vanished before they faced trial or completed their jail sentence in Oregon. They include two accused rapists, a pair of suspected hit-and-run drivers and one man with child porn on his computer. The five cases share many similarities: All were young men studying at a public college or university in Oregon with assistance from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the time of their arrest. In four of the cases, the Saudi government stepped in to help, posting large sums of money for bail and possibly underwriting legal fees. Three surrendered their passports. All disappeared while facing charges or jail time. The same Oregon defense attorney, Ginger Mooney, was hired to represent the four most recent suspects. Little is known of the whereabouts of the five, though some have been traced back to Saudi Arabia. The new details add to mounting scrutiny of Saudi Arabia's conduct abroad after the kingdom's role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last fall." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: I'm thinking this isn't happening only in Oregon.

Way Beyond

Thomson Reuters: "A Chinese court on Monday sentenced a Canadian man to death for drug smuggling after prosecutors said an original 15-year sentence, announced in November, was too lenient.Dalian Intermediate People's Court in the northeast province of Liaoning retried Robert Lloyd Schellenberg and handed down the death penalty, the court said in a brief statement on its website."

News Ledes

New York Times: "The man accused of kidnapping Jayme Closs and killing her parents told investigators that he had spotted 13-year-old Jayme getting onto a school bus last fall and decided then that 'that was the girl he was going to take,' according to court documents released Monday. The man, Jake Patterson, 21, was charged on Monday with kidnapping, burglary and two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, and was scheduled to appear in a Wisconsin courtroom later in the day. He was arrested on Thursday, shortly after Jayme escaped from under a twin-size bed where she was being held and sought help from a woman walking a dog." Includes a facsimile of the criminal complaint." ...

... Mrs. McC: As far as I can tell, Patterson is a white guy & presumably a U.S. citizen. I expect Trump to tweet about how dangerous white Americans are -- "they're rapists & murderers," etc. -- just as he does about criminals who are immigrants.

Saturday
Jan122019

The Commentariat -- January 13, 2019

Afternoon Update:

Peter Baker of the New York Times: "So it has come to this: The president of the United States was asked over the weekend whether he is a Russian agent. And he refused to directly answer. The question, which came from a friendly interviewer, not one of the 'fake media' journalists he disparages, was 'the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,' he declared. But it is a question that has hung over his presidency now for two years. If the now 23-day government shutdown standoff between Mr. Trump and Congress has seemed ugly, it may eventually seem tame by comparison with what is to come. The border wall fight is just the preliminary skirmish in this new era of divided government. The real battle has yet to begin. With Democrats now in charge of the House, the special counsel believed to be wrapping up his investigation, news media outlets competing for scoops and the first articles of impeachment already filed, Mr. Trump faces the prospect of an all-out political war for survival that may make the still-unresolved partial government shutdown pale by comparison.... The White House has begun recruiting soldiers. The new White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, has hired 17 new lawyers, according to The Post, as he prepares for a barrage of subpoenas from House Democratic committee chairmen."

... Brett Samuels of the Hill: "Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday that he's urged President Trump to open up the government for a short period of time so lawmakers can attempt to broker an end to the ongoing government shutdown, but was adamant that the president is 'not going to give in' on his demands to fund a border wall. Graham said on 'Fox News Sunday' that he spoke with Trump on Sunday morning, when the president indicated an emergency declaration to construct his desired wall along the southern border is a last resort. 'I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug' on a legislative solution, Graham said." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: This is pretty much the Democrats' ask, but a few weeks shorter than they originally suggested in December. It seems Lindsey is trying to talk Trump down off the wall using the preferred cat-on-the-roof methodology.

Tom Boggioni of the Raw Story: "According to a report from the Wall Street Journal..., Donald Trump’s White House — led by national security adviser John Boltonrequested options from the Pentagon to launch an attack on Iran in September of last year. According to the report, the request — which reportedly 'rattled' Pentagon and State Department officials — followed a mortar attack on into Baghdad’s diplomatic district, home to the U.S. Embassy." The WSJ report, which is firewalled, is here.

Ken Dilanian of NBC News: "Before Donald Trump's lawyer was pitching the Kremlin on building a Trump Tower in Moscow, the future president was negotiating to put his name on a building in a separate glitzy real estate development outside the Russian capital.... Trump's partner in this earlier project was Aras Agalarov, an oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the same man whose promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton set in motion the infamous June 2016 meeting at the original Trump Tower in New York. Two Congressional aides told NBC News the Agalarov project is now drawing new scrutiny from House and Senate investigators in the wake of the revelation in court documents that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen lied to Congress about his dealings on a separate, competing Russia real estate project. Cohen was also negotiating to build a Trump Tower in a separate part of the city."

*****

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

** This Is NOT Normal. Greg Miller of the Washington Post: "President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said. Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson. The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries. As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference." ...

... David Smith of the Guardian/Observer: "In [a] 20-minute live phone interview with Fox News on Saturday night, [Trump] described as an 'insult' the New York Times story that alleged the FBI launched an investigation into whether the he was acting as a Russian asset, against his own country’s interests. Trump said the story, which claimed the investigation opened after Trump fired the FBI director James Comey in May 2017, was 'the most insulting article ever written'.... On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that Trump took the notes from of a 2017 meeting with Putin in Hamburg from his own interpreter. Citing current and former US officials, the paper also said Trump instructed the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials. Asked why he would not release the conversations, Trump said: 'I would. I don’t care ... I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less.'... Holed up at the White House, Trump turned to the other subject dominating US politics.... 'I have the absolute right to call a national emergency,' he said. '... I’d rather see the Democrats come back from their vacation and act. It would take me 15 minutes to get a deal done and everyone could go back to work.'” ...

     ... Quint Forgey of Politico: "... Donald Trump on Saturday said he would be willing to release the details of his private conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last summer.... 'I mean, it’s so ridiculous, these people making up,' Trump said of the Post report, calling the paper 'basically the lobbyist' for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ e-commerce giant. Bezos is also the owner of the Post. 'The Washington Post is almost as bad, or probably as bad, as the New York Times,' Trump said.... House Republicans in July quashed an attempt by Democratic lawmakers to subpoena Trump's interpreter in Helsinki." --s ...

     ... The Daily Beast: "In a on air phone call with Judge Jeanine on Fox News Saturday night...Trump would not give a straightforward answer when host Jeanine Pirro pressed him on whether or not he’s working as a Russian asset." --s ...

    ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: I noticed this, too. Trump's "comeback" here, as if often the case, is to kill the messenger rather than to answer the question. The technique has become kind of a tell.

... Nicholas Fandos & Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "President Trump on Saturday unleashed an extended assault on the F.B.I. and the special counsel’s investigation, knitting together a comprehensive alternative story in which he had been framed by disgraced 'losers' at the bureau’s highest levels. In a two-hour span starting at 7 a.m., the president made a series of false claims on Twitter about his adversaries and the events surrounding the inquiry. He was responding to a report in The New York Times that, after he fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director in 2017, the bureau began investigating whether the president had acted on behalf of Russia." ...

... David Boddiger of Splinter: "Trump responded to the [New York Times] report [about the FBI's investigation targeting him] on Saturday with a fury of tweets accusing the FBI of corruption. 'Wow, just learned in the Failing New York Times that the corrupt former leaders of the FBI, almost all fired or forced to leave the agency for some very bad reasons, opened up an investigation on me, for no reason & with no proof, after I fired Lyin’ James Comey, a total sleaze!' Trump tweeted.... He continued ranting in several more tweets with a word salad of allegations against 'Crooked Hillary Clinton,' 'Bob Mueller, & the 13 Angry Democrats,' and 'Crooked Cop' Comey, among others." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Andrew Prokop of Vox: The NYT report "is the first outright confirmation that at a certain moment, the FBI explicitly began investigating Donald Trump’s Russia ties — including whether, as president, he was acting on Russia’s behalf.... n his interview with the New Yorker [linked next], the Times' Adam Goldman suggested another implication — that the counterintelligence probe into the president was central to Mueller’s appointment in the first place, and will likely be central to whatever findings the special counsel puts together at the conclusion of this investigation." ...

... Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker interviews Adam Goldman, the lead reporter on the New York Times story, about his reporting on the story. (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Charles Pierce parses a sentence in the Times report: "Deep in The New York Times's latest bombshell is one singularly deadly word, a lethal bit of shrapnel aimed directly at the vitals of a criminal — and possibly treasonous — presidency. The word is tucked into a sentence that, at first glance, seems to be a perfectly anodyne statement of the current facts.... That word is 'publicly,' as in: 'No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials.'... By dropping that fatal 'publicly' in there, the Times and its sources likely are giving us a preview of coming attractions. (Judging by his manic episode on the electric Twitter machine on Saturday morning, the president* knows this, too.) And the one thing about which we can all be sure is that is whole megillah is nowhere near as weird as it's going to get." ...

... Tom Sullivan of Hullabaloo: "Lisa Page, former assistant general counsel at the F.B.I., answered questions in closed-door meetings of a joint House Judiciary and Oversight Committee last July. Transcripts passed to The Epoch Times and published Friday afternoon may have prompted the New York Times to release its counterintelligence story Friday night. Page, in her testimony to Representatives focused on Hillary Clinton emails, confirmed that her agency saw Clinton's emails as 'an entirely historical investigation' of lesser priority. 'In the assessment of the Counterintelligence Division,' Page stated, 'they still don’t even come close to the threat posed if Russia had co-opted a member of a political campaign.' '[W]ith respect to Western ideals and who it is and what it is we stand for as Americans,' Page continued, 'Russia poses the most dangerous threat to that way of life.'” ...

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "... it’s a shocking story: The nation’s leading law enforcement agency was looking into whether a sitting U.S. president was working for a hostile foreign nation. The decision was something the FBI reportedly struggled with for months.... It’s one thing to deliberately hamper the investigation; it’s another to suspect Trump might have done so on behalf of Russia.... What hasn’t been outlined ... are the proposed back channels between the Trump team and Russia. A month before Comey was fired, The Washington Post reported that Trump ally and Blackwater founder Erik Prince had proposed such a secret channel of communication between Trump and Moscow at a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles with a Putin representative. The FBI was also presumably aware at the time (because it monitors the calls of Russian officials on U.S. soil) that then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak had told his superiors in Moscow that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had proposed a back channel during the transition period.... If Trump was working for Russia, it would be logical to assume he’d need some way of actually learning what Russia desired.... Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki last year has also raised eyebrows. He met privately with Putin for two hours, with nobody but interpreters present, and apparently nobody in the American government really knows what they discussed."

... Adam Silverman of Balloon Juice: "... the President’s positions during the campaign and the actions he’s taken, in regards to domestic, foreign, national security, and economic affairs, have given Putin almost everything he wanted. The only thing he hasn’t gotten yet is the lifting of sanctions, but there have been efforts within the administration to chip away at and/or redefine them in the favor of Putin and the oligarchs he protects. And this brings us ... to the question: what, if anything, would the President be doing differently if we knew for certain that he was a Russian asset or agent? And the answer I keep coming back to ... is nothing. There is nothing the President would be doing differently. And that conclusion is one of the most disturbing I’ve ever come to in my professional career." Emphasis original. ...

... Jonathan Chait: "Trump has met with Russian officials since 1987. It was after his first trip to Moscow that he first contemplated running for president. It is well within the realm of possibility that Russians used blackmail, bribes, or perhaps just simple flattery to help shape his thinking on world affairs. It is hard to understand how else some of the idiosyncratic and bizarrely Russpohillic ideas he routinely spouts have found their way into Trump’s brain. His warning that tiny Montenegro is a threat to attack Russia, or his claim that the Soviet Union was right to invade Afghanistan in 1979, are not notions Trump would pick up from his normal routine of binge-watching Fox News.... The relationship between Trump and Putin did not merely rest on their mutual interest in the Trump campaign defeating Clinton, but indicates some deeper connection.... Now we already know Mueller is not merely looking into crimes, but trying to ascertain the foundational loyalties of the President of the United States." ...

... Josh Marshall reviews the chain of events leading up to & immediately following the FBI's decision to open the counterintelligence investigation into Trump's relationship with Russia.

The Great Trump Shutdown, Ctd.

Robert Costa, et al., of the Washington Post: "When President Trump made a rare journey to the Capitol last week, he was expected to strategize about how to end the government shutdown he instigated. Instead, he spent the first 20-odd minutes delivering a monologue about 'winning.'... The problem was that Trump offered no path to victory — other than brinkmanship.... The president who pitched himself to voters as a world-class dealmaker has proven to be an unreliable negotiator. Grappling for the first time with a divided government, Trump has contradicted himself, sent miscues and spread falsehoods. He has zigzagged between proudly claiming ownership of the shutdown and blaming it on Democrats, and between nearly declaring a national emergency to construct the wall without congressional approval and backing off such a legally and politically perilous action.... Trump’s advisers are scrambling to build an exit ramp while also bracing for the shutdown to last weeks longer. Current and former aides said there is little strategy in the White House; people are frustrated and, in the words of one, 'freaking out.'... As the shutdown dragged on, aides said, Trump has bragged that he looked 'tough' and that his supporters had his back.” ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: I'm so confused. Trump says he could "do a deal in 15 minutes" to re-open the federal government. Why didn't he do so weeks ago? Why not last week? And the week before? Why not now? ...

... Wait, Wait! Trump Has a Secret Plan! Nancy Cook of Politico: "... Donald Trump said Saturday he was alone in the White House with a plan at the ready to reopen the federal government, but close White House advisers and staff said they remained in the dark about how he would end the three-week partial shutdown." ...

... Wag the Dog. Mrs. McCrabbie: One thing to keep in mind is something John Cassidy of the New Yorker mentioned in a post published Friday, before the NYT & WashPo stories appeared: "The political battle over the border wall is essentially a diversion, and from Trump’s perspective, it has already served its purpose." That is, Trump has shut down the government, inconveniencing millions of Americans & devastating some, potentially endangering everyone who flies or eats uninspected food or or or, in hopes no one will notice what's going on in the Mueller probe. No doubt he knows a lot more about what to expect on that front than we do, & very likely he's known for a couple of weeks about the impending NYT report, which reporters have worked on for "a while," as lead reorter Adam Goldman told Isaac Chotiner (linked above), & therefore might have clued in the White House when calling for comment. Trump also would have known about the WashPo story prior to yesterday, for the same reason. ...

     ... Yesterday Cassidy wrote, in response to publication of the Times story, "... the past forty-eight hours have demonstrated that, whatever happens in the next week or two regarding the government shutdown and the fight over the border wall, the White House cannot escape the Trump-Russia investigation. Until it is finally resolved one way or another, everything else is a sideshow."

Greg Grandin of The Intercept: "Since its founding in the early 20th century, the U.S. Border Patrol has operated with near-complete impunity, arguably serving as the most politicized and abusive branch of federal law enforcement — even more so than the FBI during J. Edgar Hoover’s directorship." Read on for a refresher course on the Border Patrol & the history of racism in immigration policy.


The Acorn Doesn't Fall Far from the Tree. Maureen Dowd
contrasts the lessons Nancy Pelosi & Donnie Trump learned on their fathers' knees -- and how that all worked out. One of MoDo's better efforts, IMO. The accompanying photo of Nancy is super. ...

... Roger Cohen of the New York Times: "When Trump was in business, his shtick was stiffing contractors. If confronted, he would try some bombast and storm out of meetings, as he did the other day with congressional leaders, ending talks on the partial government shutdown caused by a crisis he has manufactured. His shtick now is stiffing all Americans. The technique is the same: Keep reality at a distance through hyperactive fakery. I have been fascinated by Trump’s compulsion.... Like the scorpion that stings the frog ferrying it across the torrent, he cannot help it. It’s his nature, you see.... In Trump the element of sadistic cruelty in his personality (mocking the disabled, for example), and the sheer gall of his fakery, make of him a malignant, rather than a benign, bullshit artist." Thanks to PD Pepe for the link. Well worth the read. (Also linked yesterday.) 

Jennifer Steinhauer & Dave Philipps of the New York Times: "The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing to shift billions of dollars from government-run veterans’ hospitals to private health care providers, setting the stage for the biggest transformation of the veterans’ medical system in a generation. Under proposed guidelines, it would be easier for veterans to receive care in privately run hospitals and have the government pay for it. Veterans would also be allowed access to a system of proposed walk-in clinics, which would serve as a bridge between V.A. emergency rooms and private providers, and would require co-pays for treatment.... If put into effect, the proposed rules — many of whose details remain unclear as they are negotiated within the Trump administration — would be a win for the once-obscure Concerned Veterans for America, an advocacy group funded by the network founded by the billionaire industrialists Charles G. and David H. Koch, which has long championed increasing the use of private sector health care for veterans.... Some health care experts and veterans’ groups say the change, which has no separate source of funding, would redirect money that the current veterans’ health care system — the largest in the nation — uses to provide specialty care. Critics have also warned that switching vast numbers of veterans to private hospitals would strain care in the private sector and that costs for taxpayers could skyrocket. In addition, they say it could threaten the future of traditional veterans’ hospitals, some of which are already under review for consolidation or closing.... Critics, which include nearly all of the major veterans’ organizations, say that paying for care in the private sector would starve the 153-year-old veterans’ health care system, causing many hospitals to close." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: I don't know what the scams are here, but you can bet the devil is in the (undisclosed) details.

Nick Turse in Salon: "Within hours of President Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, equipment at that base was already being inventoried for removal. And just like that, arguably the most important American garrison in Syria was (maybe) being struck from the Pentagon’s books — except, as it happens, al-Tanf [military base] was never actually on the Pentagon’s books.... Officially, the Department of Defense (DoD) maintains 4,775 'sites,' spread across all 50 states, eight U.S. territories, and 45 foreign countries. A total of 514 of these outposts are located overseas, according to the Pentagon’s worldwide property portfolio.... But the most recent version of that portfolio, issued in early 2018 and known as the Base Structure Report (BSR), doesn’t include any mention of al-Tanf. Or, for that matter, any other base in Syria. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Niger. Or Tunisia. Or Cameroon. Or Somalia. Or any number of locales where such military outposts are known to exist and even, unlike in Syria, to be expanding.... Such off-the-books bases are off the books for a reason. The Pentagon doesn’t want to talk about them." --s

Election 2018

Igor Derysch of Salon: "The National Rifle Association appears to have illegally coordinated campaign ads with Republican candidates in key Senate races, according to Federal Communication Records (FCC) records obtained by The Trace. According to the report, the NRA’s ads on behalf of Missouri Senate candidate Josh Hawley and Montana Senate candidate Matt Rosendale in 2018, as well as North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr in 2016, were all authorized by the same media consulting firm that they candidates used for their ads. (Hawley and Burr won their races, but Rosendale lost to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.) The scheme appears to be in violation of laws barring independent groups from working in concert with political campaigns. According to the FCC records, at least 10 purchases by both the NRA and three Senate campaigns were made by the same person, National Media CFO Jon Ferell. The Trace reported that the company used the 'assumed or fictitious name' Red Eagle Media to buy ads for the NRA while using the name American Media & Advocacy Group to buy ads for the Senate candidates." --s

North Carolina. Beth Reinhard of the Washington Post: "Nine months before allegations of absentee ballot fraud tainted a congressional race in North Carolina, the state elections board gave officials from the Justice Department’s main office evidence that the political operative at the center of the scandal had used similar tactics in 2016. On Jan. 31, 2018, the chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which oversees prosecutions of election crimes, met in Raleigh with state officials and U.S. attorney Robert Higdon, according to an elections board spokesman. The following day, the state officials sent a public integrity lawyer an eight-page memo describing interviews with two campaign workers who said they were paid during the 2016 election to hand-deliver mail-in ballots to political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless.... Josh Lawson, general counsel for the state elections board, said he saw little indication that federal prosecutors pursued the Dowless matter." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Far be it from me to criticize Jeff Sessions, but one might suspect that JeffBo wasn't really all that interested in ensuring the integrity of the vote. Dowless, BTW, was working for a Republican candidate in 2016 (as he did in the contested 2018 election).


Presidential Race 2020. Maggie Astor
of the New York Times: "Julián Castro, the former housing secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, announced on Saturday that he would run for president, one of the most high-profile Latino Democrats ever to seek the party’s nomination. His first campaign stop will be in Puerto Rico, where he will speak on Monday at the Latino Victory Fund’s annual summit and meet with residents still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria. Later in the week, his campaign said, he will go to New Hampshire.... Mr. Castro, 44, was raised in San Antonio in a politically active family. His mother, Rosie Castro, was an activist with the Mexican-American political party La Raza Unida and frequently took Julián and his twin brother, Joaquin — now a congressman — to rallies and meetings. Joaquin Castro will be the chairman of Julián’s campaign."

Adam Bernstein of the Washington Post: "Judge [Patricia] Wald, whom Barack Obama called 'one of the most respected appellate judges of her generation' when he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, died Jan. 12 at her home in Washington. She was 90."

Way Beyond the Beltway

Emma Graham-Harrison, et al. of the Guardian: "New evidence has emerged linking an RAF [Royal Air Force] veteran to the death in 1961 of the UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld in a mysterious plane crash in southern Africa. Jan van Risseghem has been named as a possible attacker before, but has always been described simply as a Belgian pilot. The Observer can now reveal that he had extensive ties to Britain, including a British mother and wife, trained with the RAF and was decorated by Britain for his service in the second world war. Film-makers investigating the 1961 crash for a documentary, Cold Case Hammarskjöld, have found a friend of Van Risseghem who claimed the pilot confessed to shooting down the UN plane. They also gathered testimony from another pilot that undermines one of his alibis for that night...Van Risseghem died in 2007." --s

Friday
Jan112019

The Commentariat -- January 12, 2019

Late Morning/Afternoon Update:

David Boddiger of Splinter: "Trump responded to the [New York Times] report [about the FBI's investigation targeting him] on Saturday with a fury of tweets accusing the FBI of corruption. 'Wow, just learned in the Failing New York Times that the corrupt former leaders of the FBI, almost all fired or forced to leave the agency for some very bad reasons, opened up an investigation on me, for no reason & with no proof, after I fired Lyin' James Comey, a total sleaze!' Trump tweeted.... He continued ranting in several more tweets with a word salad of allegations against 'Crooked Hillary Clinton,' 'Bob Mueller, & the 13 Angry Democrats,' and 'Crooked Cop' Comey, among others." ...

... Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker interviews Adam Goldman, the lead reporter on the New York Times story, about his reporting on the story.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times: "When Trump was in business, his shtick was stiffing contractors. If confronted, he would try some bombast and storm out of meetings, as he did the other day with congressional leaders, ending talks on the partial government shutdown caused by a crisis he has manufactured. His shtick now is stiffing all Americans. The technique is the same: Keep reality at a distance through hyperactive fakery. I have been fascinated by Trump's compulsion.... Like the scorpion that stings the frog ferrying it across the torrent, he cannot help it. It's his nature, you see.... In Trump the element of sadistic cruelty in his personality (mocking the disabled, for example), and the sheer gall of his fakery, make of him a malignant, rather than a benign, bullshit artist." Thanks to PD Pepe for the link. Well worth the read.

*****

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

** Adam Goldman, et al., of the New York Times: "In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president'behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation. The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president's own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow's influence. The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.... The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it." Read the whole report. It's a blockbuster. ...

... Ben Wittes of Lawfare: "Observers of the Russia investigation have generally understood Special Counsel Robert Mueller's work as focusing on at least two separate tracks: collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, on the one hand, and potential obstruction of justice by the president, on the other. But what if the obstruction was the collusion...?" Testimony from both Jim Comey & FBI general counsel James Baker "is that the investigation was something of a criminal-counterintelligence hybrid from early on.... To the extent that firing Comey was the result of a decision to shut down the investigation, [Baker] said, that would frustrate the FBI's ability to ascertain what the Russians and their confederates had done." ...

     ... Martin Longman in the Washington Monthly: "... Wittes seems to be realizing for the first time that Trump's efforts to obstruct the investigation may be little more than an element of the underlying problem, which is that Trump has been working on the behalf of Russian interests all along. For this reason, his obstruction is just as much about protecting Russia as it is about protecting himself.... When Trump made himself an enemy of the investigation into Russia, he turned himself into a national security threat.... The firing of Comey ... wasn't just an effort to obstruct an investigation of himself. It was an effort to prevent the FBI from investigating Russia.... Ever since [Comey's firing], the investigation has operated on the assumption that Trump and Russia are coconspirators both before and after the fact.... While Trump has acquiesced in some tough measures against Russia, the overall picture is indistinguishable from what a Manchurian president would do if they wanted to press Russia's interests as far as possible while still retaining enough deniability to maintain their hold on power. That is certainly how the intelligence community sees things...."

Niall Stanage of the Hill: "Rudy Giuliani says President Trump's legal team should be allowed to 'correct' special counsel Robert Mueller's final report before Congress or the American people get the chance to read it. The claim, made in a telephone interview with The Hill on Thursday evening, goes further than the president's legal advisers have ever gone before in arguing they have a right to review the conclusions of Mueller's probe.... 'As a matter of fairness, they should show it to you -- so we can correct it if they're wrong,' said the former New York City mayor.... 'They're not God, after all. They could be wrong.'"

Katy Tur of NBC News: "Senate intelligence committee investigators are interviewing former members of ... Donald Trump's campaign as they hunt for evidence of possible collusion with Russia, asking one witness Friday fresh questions about the president's business dealings and how he formulated his policies toward Moscow. Sam Nunberg, who worked for Trump and his campaign in 2015, said he was questioned in a closed-door session on Capitol Hill about Trump's trip to Moscow in 2013, his company's interest in building a tower there and specific relationships between past members of the campaign and foreign actors who may have worked with Russia." ...

... Betsy Woodruff of the Daily Beast: "All the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter on Friday to the Justice Department's inspector general calling for him to scrutinize and potentially investigate the department's ethics practices. In the letter, the lawmakers expressed concern about Attorney General Matt Whitaker's decision to oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, despite having previously criticized the investigation and claimed it would find no evidence of coordination between Trump World and the Kremlin. The letter will not necessarily result in any action from the DOJ's government watchdog.... Michael Bromwich, formerly the inspector general for the Justice Department, told The Daily Beast a request like this one wouldn't necessarily result in any action. 'Letters like this come in all the time,' he told The Daily Beast."

Christian Caryl of the Washington Post: "... MIT scholars have developed a robust methodology for assessing how social media campaigns influence the behavior of their targets -- and now they want to bring it to bear on the Russian meddling in 2016.... To conduct such a study properly, we'd probably need far more information from the social media platforms than they've been willing to release so far.... Given access to adequate data, the researchers claim they can estimate the impact of the Russian influence campaign in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida 'with 95% to 99% confidence.'... And it certainly wouldn't hurt to know more about how the Russians did their targeting and any of the help they received on that front from outsiders. (Manafort?)"

Dan Alexander of Forbes: "Donald Trump sold an estimated $35 million worth of real estate while serving in the White House last year, according to a Forbes analysis of local property records and federal filings. Although the president delegated day-to-day management of his assets to his sons Eric and Don Jr. upon taking office, he maintained ownership of his business, which continued to liquidate properties. More than half of that $35 million came from a single deal, in which Trump and business partners offloaded a federally subsidized housing complex in Brooklyn for about $900 million. The president held a 4% stake in the property...."

The Trump Shutdown ...
... Is Now the Longest Shutdown in U.S. History

Trump Dawdles on Declaring Fake Emergency. John Wagner, et al., of the Washington Post: "President Trump on Friday threw cold water on the idea of immediately declaring a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, reversing days of signals that he might soon declare the emergency amid a protracted standoff with Democrats over a partial shutdown of the federal government. 'What we're not looking to do right now is national emergency,' he said Friday afternoon, surrounded by law enforcement officials at a White House roundtable. 'I'm not going to do it so fast.'" ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Apparently words or phrases associated with Trump's "policies" do not require (an) article; ergo, "wall" instead of "a wall" or "the wall" & "national emergency" instead of "a national emergency." Anyway, if it were real national emergency, a real president would not dawdle.  ...

     ... Here's Why Trump Is Dawdling. Melanie Zanona & Sarah Ferris of Politico: "A core group of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus is urging ... Donald Trump against the explosive step of declaring a national emergency to build his wall. Multiple Republicans in the conservative group have privately raised their concerns with the Trump administration, fearing it would lead to a years-long legal standoff that Democrats could win while setting a dangerous precedent for the presidency, according to more than a dozen lawmakers and GOP aides. They want Trump to hold out for a deal with Democrats, regardless of how long the partial government shutdown drags on. Trump's possible pursuit of an emergency declaration on the border divided the caucus during an animated meeting Wednesday night, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Ole Trump has got hisself caught between Nancy Pelosi & Mark Meadows. Sadly, he ain't half as smart as Br'er Rabbit. Meaning we is all stuck in tar. ...

     ... AND This. Shannon Vavra of Axios: "Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said Friday he opposes redirecting Hurricane Harvey disaster relief funds to build President Trump's border wall." ...

     ... AND This. Matt Belvedere of CNBC: "... Donald Trump should not declare a national emergency over illegal immigration in order to bypass Congress to get his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Sen. Chuck Grassley, a veteran Republican from Iowa, told CNBC on Friday.... 'I believe you're going to find it in the courts almost immediately. And the courts are going to make a decision' if Trump declares an emergency.... 'The president is threatening emergency action, a national emergency declaration. I don't think he should do that. I think it's a bad precedent. And it contravenes the power of the purse that comes from the elected representatives of the people,' said Grassley, who was elected to Congress in 1974 and the Senate in 1980." ...

     ... AND This. Emily Maloney of the Tampa Bay Times: "Ron DeSantis hasn't even finished his first week as Florida governor and he already appears to be on a collision course with the man who helped him get the job: ... Donald Trump. On Friday, DeSantis said that it would not be acceptable for Trump to take funds from hurricane relief to be used toward the border wall.... DeSantis' comments came after news broke Thursday night that Trump ... was considering using disaster funding intended for storm-damaged Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and for wildfire recovery in California to pay for the wall at the border." ...

Julie Davis & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "Officially, Republicans blame Democrats for what is now the longest government shutdown in the nation's history. Privately, many concede, the stalemate over President Trump's demand for a border wall has been made exponentially worse by White House ineptitude on Capitol Hill, where two years of contradictory statements and actions have built up a profound lack of trust. Republican lawmakers and aides worry that Mr. Trump has misunderstood Democrats' incentives to stand firm and that he has deputized the wrong aides to press his case. And they question who -- if anyone other than the president -- has the authority to resolve the impasse. They describe a dysfunctional dynamic where even senior leaders in Mr. Trump's own party never know quite what to expect from the president.... The president has now repeatedly undercut Vice President Mike Pence, to whom he has delegated the task of negotiating an end to a seemingly intractable stalemate.... Mr. Trump's assumptions about what Democrats will give in on, and what is motivating them, have also been almost comically wrong."

... Melanie Should Give Hubby That "I Really Don't Care" Jacket. Gabby Orr of Politico: "White House officials are warning congressional Republicans not to expect an immediate end to the government shutdown even if ... Donald Trump declares a national emergency at the southern border. The warning came during Trump's Thursday visit to the southern U.S. border.... Many Democrats and some Republicans have grown hopeful that a national emergency declaration ... might end a political standoff that has partially shut down the government.... Their thinking is that such an effort by Trump would allow him to declare victory and strike a deal with Congress to reopen the federal government, even though his extreme legal move would then face severe court challenges. But Trump's allies say the president is reluctant to hand Democrats a 'win' by reopening the government after he's invoked emergency powers."

Joe Ward & Anjali Singhvi of the New York Times: President Trump has frequently called the situation at the southern border with Mexico a crisis and insists that building his long-promised border wall will fix it. Here are some of Mr. Trump's most common assertions of a crisis, and the reality of what we know about immigrants and the border." ...

     ... Mrs McCrabbie: I guessed right the other day when I said one of Trump's incomprehensibe tweets might be about supposed drug smuggling. Somebody changed the tweet to, "Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border." As to the utility of that claim vis-a-vis wall, Ward & Singhvi write, "most heroin is brought into the country in vehicles entering through legal border crossings, not through the areas where walls are proposed or already exist." In a chart based on CBP stats, 90 percent of the heroin coming into the U.S. via all borders is brought in at legal ports of entry. So assuming (and this is not accurate) that all heroin came in thru the U.S.-Mexico border & that Trump's 300 heroin deaths/week figure is accurate, each week 30 Americans, not 300, die because of heroin smuggled across border areas that wall might make more difficult.

Gail Collins: "It’s as if we’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and landed in a Wonderland totally devoid of wonder. Even if you really, really want Donald Trump to be a total failure hurtling his way back toward civilian life, it's not comforting to have a president who's so out to lunch. Just think about that trip to Texas. McAllen, the city Trump chose to demonstrate the terror of wall-free borders, was recently listed by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best places to retire in the nation. But the president, who was making only his second trip to the border since he took office, assured the public he knew how terrible things are because 'I have been there numerous times.' And that was just one tiny piece of his week!"

David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "In his political fight for a border wall, President Trump has enlisted a new group of surrogates to join conservative talk show hosts and Republican allies in making a public case — Border Patrol agents. On a tour of a patrol station in McAllen, Tex., this week, Trump gathered 15 agents, dressed in uniforms and tactical gear, to stand next to him as he filmed a minute-long video. 'They have done an incredible job,' said Trump, sporting a 'Make America Great Again' hat. 'But we all want to see a wall or a barrier because that will make your job even easier ... Everybody knows we need a barrier; we need a wall.' The agents remained silent, but the visual message was clear: Trump wanted viewers to believe Customs and Border Protection, an agency of 59,000 employees, is firmly behind him in a political skirmish that has resulted in a partial government shutdown. For Trump, the episode offered the latest example of his willingness to stretch the boundaries of using law enforcement agencies for political messaging. Last week, he brought leaders of unions for Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the White House briefing room to tout the wall." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Just his wearing that campaign cap at a supposedly official visit is way out of line. Taxpayers should not be paying for this crap -- but we are. ...

...

... They Were Against It Before They Were For It. Ted Hesson of CNN: "A union that represents Border Patrol agents recently deleted a webpage that said building walls and fences along the border to stop illegal immigration would be 'wasting taxpayer money.' The deleted webpage, posted in 2012, argued that border barriers don't tackle the root causes of migration -- and could potentially encourage more migrants to enter the U.S. fraudulently or overstay visas. The webpage was taken down after the union's president endorsed the wall at a White House news briefing earlier this month."

How to Prove You're Totally Out of Touch with Real People. Caitlin Oprysko of Politico: "Federal workers furloughed because of the government shutdown might be 'better off' after they return to work because they essentially are getting a free vacation, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said this week.... Donald Trump's chief economic adviser made the suggestion in an interview on 'PBS NewsHour.' He said many of the 800,000 federal employees affected by the three-week partial government shutdown had been planning to take vacation days around the Christmas and New Year holidays, and thus wouldn't have worked during parts of the shutdown anyway -- but now they get to keep their vacation days.... He did, however, allow that the shutdown would have cost the economy around $20 billion in output through Friday and an additional $10 billion per week after that."

Lisa Rein & Jeff Stein of the Washington Post: "After an intense lobbying campaign by the mortgage industry, the Treasury Department this week restarted a program that had been sidelined by the partial government shutdown, allowing hundreds of Internal Revenue Service clerks to collect paychecks as they process forms vital to the lending industry. The hasty intervention to restore the IRS's income verification service by drawing on revenue from fees -- even as 800,000 federal employees across the country are going without their salaries -- has intensified questions about the Trump administration's unorthodox efforts to bring certain government functions back online to contain the shutdown's impacts. Critics, including many former IRS officials, described the move as an act of favoritism to ease the burden on a powerful industry. 'It seems crazy to me that a powerful bank or lobby gets to bring their people back to do their work,' said Marvin Friedlander, who served as a senior IRS official in the mid-2000s.... Because of the shutdown, the IRS was unable to process a key form that lenders use to confirm borrowers' incomes before they can grant home loans -- a roadblock that threatened to bring the mortgage industry to a halt."

Remember the Turtle! Colby Itkowitz of the Washington Post: "President Trump is not the only person in Washington who could end this government shutdown now. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could bring a 'clean' funding bill to the floor, free up his GOP caucus to support it and could quite possibly secure enough votes to override a presidential veto. McConnell already did it once, when he believed he had Trump's blessing. Before the holidays he allowed a vote to keep the government running until Feb. 8, to avoid a shutdown and buy more time to negotiate Trump's demand for border wall funding. It passed easily [Mrs. McC: by voice vote. But when Trump balked, McConnell] ... left the shutdown public relations to other Republicans, skipping news conferences and keeping a low profile."

The Great Wall of Stupid. Lachlan Markay & Will Sommer of the Daily Beast: "A decorated veteran who raised more than $20 million to finance construction of a wall along the southern U.S. border has announced that he will instead use the money to finance a new nonprofit group that will build the wall itself -- or at least a couple miles of it. Brian Kolfage's crowdfunding campaign on the website GoFundMe went viral in December, before news outlets uncovered previous instances in which the triple-amputee veteran appeared to have pocketed funds raised through similar, if far smaller, campaigns billed as efforts to assist wounded warriors. Now Kolfage, a prolific operator of conspiracy theory Facebook pages, has recruited a team of prominent figures in ... Donald Trump's orbit to run a new 501(c)(4) nonprofit, named We Fund The Wall, to do some wall construction of its own. The new group's board, Kolfage announced on Friday, includes Erik Prince, the founder of infamous military contract Blackwater; David Clarke, the former scandal-plagued sheriff of Milwaukee County; Fox News contributor Sara Carter; Tom Tancredo, an immigration hardliner and former Colorado congressman; and former Kansas Secretary of State and voter fraud crusader Kris Kobach[.]"...

... What? An Unethical Trumpbot? Unpossible! Brandy Zadrozny & Ben Collins of NBC News: "The GoFundMe fundraiser that promised to help privately fund ... Donald Trump's plan for a wall spanning the length of the U.S.-Mexico border surpassed $20 million dollars in donations this week. But the man behind it -- Brian Kolfage, a rising conservative media star -- may have had another goal. Through his border-wall campaign, he claims to have gathered 3.5 million email addresses, which are essential to his broader operation -- a wide-ranging and multipronged effort to collect a list of Trump supporters who have proven to be sources of donations for conservative efforts, former employees told NBC News. According to former employees and public records including website archives, Nevada business registrations and property records, Kolfage has repeatedly created GoFundMe campaigns and published inflammatory fake news articles, pushing them both from websites that he sought to hide behind shell companies and false identities, in part to harvest email addresses. Those addresses were then used to push people back to Kolfage's websites, to sell a brand of coffee he owns, or to be stockpiled for future use by conservative campaigns.... The [wall] campaign ... is only the most high-profile part of Kolfage's email harvesting operation, which former employees told NBC News extends back to his creation of far-right news websites -- an effort that resulted in a Facebook ban."


Mark Landler
of the New York Times: "President Trump has long claimed that he puts 'America first' overseas. But in two remarkable statements on Thursday, Mr. Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, explicitly favored foreign autocrats over elected American leaders. Mr. Pompeo chose Cairo, the site of President Barack Obama's 2009 address to the Islamic world, to deliver a caustic, point-by-point repudiation of Mr. Obama's message. He paid tribute to Egypt's repressive president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for his courage in supporting Mr. Trump's alternative approach. About an hour later, on the South Lawn of the White House, Mr. Trump said that China's Communist Party bosses negotiated in better faith than the Democratic leaders in Congress.... 'I find China, frankly, in many ways to be far more honorable than Cryin' Chuck and Nancy. I really do,' Mr. Trump said, referring to the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 'China is actually much easier to deal with than the opposition party.' This is the same China that Mr. Trump's national security strategy designated as one of the greatest threats to American interests...."

Eric Schmitt, et al., of the New York Times: "The American military has started withdrawing some equipment, but not yet troops, from Syria as part of President Trump's order to wind down that battleground against the Islamic State, two Defense Department officials said on Friday amid continuing confusion over plans to disengage from one of the Middle East's most complex conflicts. The officials said the number of American troops might actually increase slightly in Syria, to help protect the final process of pulling out -- an operation that is still expected to take at least four to six months to complete. There are currently about 2,000 troops -- mostly Army soldiers and Marines -- in northeast Syria or in the Middle Euphrates River Valley to oust the remaining pockets of Islamic State fighters and secure newly-liberated areas from their return. A vaguely worded statement from the American military headquarters in Baghdad ... said the withdrawal process from Syria had begun."

Grace Panetta of Business Insider: "... Ivanka Trump ... is one of the names being considered as a replacement for The World Bank's outgoing president, Jim Yong Kim, the Financial Times reported Friday. The DC-based World Bank, founded after World War II to finance economic-development projects in emerging economies, has traditionally been led by an American. Kim's sudden departure from the bank came as a surprise to employees and leaves the bank's future uncertain. The Trump administration, which has been wary of and even hostile toward Western-led international institutions like the World Bank, will now be tasked with submitting a recommendation to the bank's board." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: It seems superfluous to mention (but I'm doing it anyway) that an institution like the World Bank is highly-susceptible to Trump-style corruption. Ivanka would have a field day. As Reuters reported a few days ago, Kim resigned three years early because he "was at odds with the Trump administration's policies on climate change.... Kim, 59, a physician and public health advocate, was nominated by ... Barack Obama for a first and second term. Kim had pushed financing for green energy projects and largely dropped support for coal power investments, but had avoided public clashes with the Trump administration. Two people familiar with Kim's announcement to the World Bank executive board said he was leaving of his own accord and was 'not pushed out' by the Trump administration."

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), in a Washington Post op-ed: "... Republicans ... are often still struggling when it comes to civility and fairness. This was driven home once again Thursday as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) wondered aloud: 'White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive?'... When people with opinions similar to King's open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole.... Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism -- it is because of our silence when things like this are said.... King's comments are not conservative views but separate views that should be ridiculed at every turn possible." ...

... Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Lis Power, et al., of Media Matters: "When it comes to a congresswoman cursing versus a congressman embracing white supremacy, cable news apparently believes the cursing deserves more coverage -- five times more coverage, to be exact. On January 4, the day after Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) referred to ... Donald Trump by saying 'Impeach the motherfucker' during a reception with supporters, cable news outlets (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC) spent over two and a half hours discussing the topic. In comparison, in the roughly 24 hours following the publication of Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) comments in The New York Times that showed him embracing white supremacy, cable news devoted just under 30 minutes of coverage to the congressman's racism."

Aaron Katersky of ABC News: "Six families of victims killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School won a legal victory Friday in their fight against controversial radio and internet personality Alex Jones. A judge in Connecticut has granted the families' discovery requests, allowing them access to, among other things, Infowars' internal marketing and financial documents. The judge has scheduled a hearing next week to decide whether to allow the plaintiffs' attorneys to depose Jones."

Presidential Race 2020. Mrs. McCrabbie: Okay, here's a Democratic presidential contender who makes Michael Avenatti look pretty good.

Beyond the Beltway

Florida. Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald: "After nearly 70 years, all members of the Groveland Four -- four young black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in Lake County -- were pardoned by a unanimous vote Friday. The Florida Cabinet met for the first time as the state Clemency Board Friday, where it heard from family members of the men who were either imprisoned, tortured or murdered by mobs and a racist sheriff. The Groveland Four matter was only supposed to be up for discussion, and families were not expecting to hear a vote Friday. But at the very end of the meeting, Gov. Ron DeSantis called for a vote. 'I believe in the principles of the Constitution. I believe in getting a fair shake,' he said. 'I don't think there's any way that you can look at this case and see justice was carried out.' Some call the treatment of the four men one of the worst episodes of racism in American history."

News Lede

Guardian: "Two firefighters have died in a massive explosion caused by a 'pocket of gas' in a six-storey building in Paris. Another 47 people were injured, 10 of them critically, including a third fire officer, in the blast in the 9th arrondissement of the capital on Saturday morning."