The Wires

The Ledes

Monday, December 11, 2017.

Washington Post: Simeon "Booker, the Washington bureau chief of Jet and Ebony magazines for five decades, died Dec. 10 at an assisted-living community in Solomons, Md. He was 99 and had recently been hospitalized for pneumonia, said his wife, Carol Booker. Few reporters risked more to chronicle the civil rights movement than Mr. Booker. He was the first full-time black reporter for The Washington Post, serving on the newspaper’s staff for two years before joining Johnson Publishing Co. to write for Jet, a weekly, and Ebony, a monthly modeled on Life magazine, in 1954."

New York Times: "... the prince, Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, is the mystery buyer of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting 'Salvator Mundi,' which fetched a record $450.3 million at auction last month, documents show. The revelation that Prince Bader is the purchaser, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times, links one of the most captivating mysteries of the art world with palace intrigues in Saudi Arabia that are shaking the region. Prince Bader splurged on this controversial and decidedly un-Islamic portrait of Christ at a time when most of the Saudi Arabian elite, including members of the royal family, are cowering under a sweeping crackdown against corruption and self-enrichment."

Politico: "PBS announced on Monday that CNN International correspondent Christiane Amanpour would be the interim replacement for Charlie Rose after he was fired and his long-running interview show was canceled over multiple allegations of sexual harassment.... 'Amanpour on PBS' will begin airing on New York’s PBS station on Monday and will roll out to other stations beginning Dec. 11."

Variety: "Netflix has reached an agreement to resume production on 'House of Cards' season 6 — the show’s final season — in early 2018, according to chief content officer Ted Sarandos. Production of 'House of Cards' season 6 was suspended in October, following sexual assault allegations against star Kevin Spacey. Season 6 of the political thriller will be eight episodes, starring Robin Wright, Sarandos said. The final season will not include Spacey, as previously announced. Each of the previous season have comprised 13 episodes."

In reaction to the horrors of what happened in Charlottesville, which is named after this queen, her ancestry is very relevant. -- historian Mario De Valdes y Cocom, on Queen Charlotte of Britain's biracial heritage ...

... Washington Post: "When Britain’s Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle announced their engagement Monday (Nov. 27), Twitter erupted with the news that the newest princess in the royal family would be bi-racial. 'We got us a Black princess ya’ll,” GirlTyler exulted. “Shout out to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Their wedding will be my Super Bowl.'... But Markle, whose mother is black and whose father is white, may not be the first mixed-race royal. Some historians suspect that Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III who bore the king 15 children, was of African descent. Historian Mario De Valdes y Cocom argues that Queen Charlotte was directly descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family: Alfonso III and his concubine, Ouruana, a black Moor.” The report on Charlotte's heritage is fascinating.

... Mrs. McCrabbie: One of the best things about Southern white bigots is that, slavery being what it was, they're very likely to be less than 99 & 44/100ths percent pure white. For instance, these two young fellas have facial features that are remarkably similar:

But, um, one of them is David Duke & the other is Jesse Jackson. Separated at birth? Give Duke a 'fro, & he'd easily pass for African-American. Maybe a hood kinda relaxes curls.

Guardian: Britain's "Prince Harry is to marry his American actor girlfriend Meghan Markle in spring next year, Clarence House has announced. 'His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince Harry to Ms Meghan Markle,' it said in a statement on Monday."

 

The full Neiman's Christmas book is here, with some items costing less than $35K.

New Yorker: Thomas Hargrove, a retired journalist, is developing an algorithm to solve serial murders. Interesting & not a bit nutty. Hargrove's research suggests that the number of serial killers still out their doing their jobs is much greater than police departments realize (or will admit -- serial killers are bad for local tourism). Also too, the percentage of murders that get solved has dropped precipitously in the last half-century.

Donaldo da Trumpo. Guardian: "On Wednesday, a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting sold for $450.3m, rocking the art world.... On Thursday, that same art world was given a reality check, when a sketch by the less celebrated Donald Trump sold for just $6,875 at an auction in Los Angeles. Trump’s untitled piece, which depicts the Manhattan skyline, barely cleared its minimum price of $5,000.... The president took on his project in 2009 for a charity event. Trump seems to have used either pencil or ballpoint pen for the piece, which measures 8in x 5in. The sketch shows what appear to be skyscrapers, alongside something representing the Empire State Building. Nate D Sanders, the auction house handling the sale, presented the sketch in a 15in x 18in frame, along with a signed photo of Trump."

New York Times: "After 19 minutes of dueling, with four bidders on the telephone and one in the room, Leonardo da Vinci’s 'Salvator Mundi' sold on Wednesday night for $450.3 million with fees, shattering the high for any work of art sold at auction. It far surpassed Picasso’s 'Women of Algiers,' which fetched $179.4 million at Christie’s in May 2015. The buyer was not immediately disclosed." ...

... New York Times critic Jason Farago calls the painting "a proficient but not especially distinguished religious picture from turn-of-the-16th-century Lombardy, put through a wringer of restorations.... The painting, when purchased at an estate sale in 2005 for less than $10,000, was initially considered a copy of a lost Leonardo, completed around 1500 and once in the collection of Charles I of England. [Some experts still think it's a copy.] Over time, its wood surface became cracked and chafed, and it had been crudely overpainted.... Cleaned by the conservator Dianne Dwyer Modestini, the painting now appears in some limbo state between its original form and an exacting, though partially imagined, rehabilitation."

Constant Comments

 

Editor-in-Chief:
Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. Des MacHale (often misattributed to H. L. Mencken)

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

Wednesday
Dec062017

The Commentariat -- December 7, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Mike Lillis of the Hill: "House Democrats will oppose a short-term spending bill when it comes to the floor Thursday afternoon, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said hours before. The announcement puts the onus on GOP leaders to gather the 218 votes they’ll need to pass the measure largely on their own — a feat they’ve been unable to accomplish on a long list of budget bills going back to 2011, when they took the House gavel."

Joe Concha of the Hill: "Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) former presidential campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, said early Thursday that President Trump was 'clearly slurring his words' during an announcement that the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, adding that 'the impairment is chilling.' 'I don’t know the cause of it, but when you combine it with [Sen.] Bob Corker’s critique that the president of the United States is unstable, that he’s dangerous, when you look at the private comments that are made by members of Congress around his stability, you look at his actions in recent weeks,' said Schmidt.... 'Morning Joe' co-host Joe Scarborough has questioned Trump's mental fitness on several occasions in the past, with the former GOP congressman most recently stating on Nov. 30 that 'people close to him during the campaign' told him 'he had early stages of dementia.'"

Alan Blinder of the New York Times: "Michael T. Slager, the white police officer whose video-recorded killing of an unarmed black motorist in North Charleston, S.C., starkly illustrated the turmoil over racial bias in American policing, was sentenced on Thursday to 20 years in prison, after the judge in the case ruled that the shooting had been a murder. The sentence was pronounced in Federal District Court in Charleston about seven months after Mr. Slager pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of Walter L. Scott when he shot and killed him in April 2015. It concluded one of the few cases in which a police officer has been prosecuted for an on-duty shooting."

Ryan Grim of the Intercept: "Progressive radio and television personality Sam Seder will be offered his MSNBC contributor job back and plans to accept, according to multiple MSNBC sources. Seder and MSNBC were set to part ways when his contributor contract expired next year, with reports indicating the departure had to do with a 2009 tweet from Seder surfaced by the far-right provocateur Mike Cernovich. After initially caving in to right-wing internet outrage over the tweet, MSNBC reversed its decision to not renew Seder’s contract.... Cernovich is a right-wing provocateur and conspiracy theorist who works in hand-in-glove with white supremacists. Cernovich dug up a 2009 tweet from Seder and claimed it endorsed rape. The tweet was meant as a satirical criticism of accused rapist Roman Polanski’s liberal defenders, but MSNBC took Cernovich’s bad-faith reading at face value and fired Seder." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Teevee executives are not very bright people & even obvious satire is way over their heads. When there's a possibility that one of these guys is in your audience, be sure to end your remark with "Only kidding!" Sure, it ruins the punchline, but it will save you from being the brunt of ridiculous rumors.

*****

NEW. Loveday Morris & Ruth Eglash of the Washington Post: "Palestinian protesters battled Israeli soldiers on Thursday in Jerusalem, Ramallah and other places in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, one day after President Trump announced that his administration would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  The Palestinian Authority called for a general strike in Palestinian cities. In Gaza, the Islamist Hamas movement urged its followers to ignite a third intifada, or uprising, against Israel. Shops in Jerusalem’s Old City were shuttered.  On the edge of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, Israeli forces fired dozens of rounds of tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of Palestinian protesters gathering to air their anger over Trump’s statement." ...

... Mark Landler of the New York Times: "President Trump on Wednesday formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing nearly seven decades of American foreign policy and setting in motion a plan to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to the fiercely contested Holy City." ...

... NEW. Josh Dawsey, et al., of the Washington Post: "For two decades, U.S. presidents had promised to do what Trump did Wednesday, but they ultimately issued repeated waivers to a law requiring relocation of the embassy. They said they were postponing the issue in hopes that it could be addressed in an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.... Several advisers said he did not seem to have a full understanding of the issue and instead appeared to be focused on 'seeming pro-Israel,' in the words of one, and “making a deal,” in the words of another.... 'The decision wasn’t driven by the peace process,' one senior official said. 'The decision was driven by his campaign promise.'” ...

... Trumpbot Nation. Mark Landler: "For Mr. Trump, the status of Jerusalem was always more a political imperative than a diplomatic dilemma. Faced with disappointing evangelical and pro-Israel backers like [Sheldon] Adelson, or alarming allies and Arab leaders while jeopardizing his own peace initiative, the president sided with his key supporters. In doing so, Mr. Trump invited opprobrium from foreign leaders, who said the move was reckless and self-defeating. He also acted against the counsel of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who worried about anti-American blowback, not least to diplomats and troops serving overseas. Mr. Trump conceded the provocative nature of his decision. But as he has before..., the president on Wednesday seemed to relish playing a familiar role: the political insurgent, defying foreign policy orthodoxy on behalf of the people who elected him." ...

... Josh Rogin of the Washington Post: "The State Department has set up a 24-hour task force to collect information and coordinate response to Trump’s speech, which has already caused protests at several U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.... Such a move is typically made to address a security concern or when American lives can be in danger. Examples of past task forces include the Japanese and Haiti earthquakes, the Kenyan elections and the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. ''Trump is putting diplomats as well as American citizens at risk,' one official said. 'He is putting a bullseye on the U.S. and making Israel a target for more violence right before the holidays, which always is a time for high alerts.'” ...

... Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times: "The White House said President Trump’s slurred speech at the end of his announcement about Jerusalem was no more than a case of dry mouth.... The slurred word prompted questions on social media about why the president stumbled over the phrase at the end of his speech. Trump regularly ridiculed ... Hillary Clinton over health concerns during the 2016 campaign, repeatedly questioning her stamina and strength." Mrs. McC: Really? Did the "White House" given Trump a physical? This is not a credible explanation. Surely after the screw-up just a few weeks ago, Trump's staff made sure he had water available. So it's something else. ...

     ... In today's thread, Victoria has an interesting & plausible theory about what is causing Trump's slurred speech.

... Pope Pops Trump. Philip Pullella of Reuters: "Pope Francis, speaking hours before ... Donald Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, called on Wednesday for the city’s 'status quo' to be respected, saying new tension in the Middle East would further inflame world conflicts." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

"Trump Threatens Government Shutdown, Blames Democrats." Jane Timm of NBC News: "... Donald Trump said Wednesday that a government shutdown 'could happen' and blamed Democrats for the looming threat, claiming 'they want to have illegal immigrants pouring into the country, bringing with them crime.' 'Democrats are really looking at something very dangerous for our country. They are looking at shutting down, they want to have illegal immigrants, in many cases people that we don't want in our country,' Trump told reporters at the White House. 'We don’t want to have that, we want to have a great, beautiful, crime-free country.' It's the latest swipe at Democratic leaders from the president, who needs the party's help to keep the government open and funded past Friday. And it's an exaggeration of what Democrats have said they want: protections for Dreamers, or recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, who work and live and pay taxes here.” ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Um, it's not an "exaggeration." It's a lie.

The Russia Report

** It Was Always about the Money. Mark Mazzetti & Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, told a former business associate that economic sanctions against Russia would be 'ripped up' as one of the Trump administration’s first acts, according to an account by a whistle-blower made public on Wednesday. Mr. Flynn believed that ending the sanctions could allow a business project he had once participated in to move forward, according to the whistle-blower. The account is the strongest evidence to date that the Trump administration wanted to end the sanctions immediately, and suggests that Mr. Flynn had a possible economic incentive for the United States to forge a closer relationship with Russia. Mr. Flynn had worked on a business venture to partner with Russia to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East until June 2016, but remained close with the people involved afterward. On Inauguration Day, according to the whistle-blower, Mr. Flynn texted the former business associate to say that the project was 'good to go.' The account is detailed in a letter written by Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. In the letter, Mr. Cummings said that the whistle-blower contacted his office in June and has authorized him to go public with the details. He did not name the whistle-blower.” ...

... The Best People, Ctd. Ryan Hutchins of Politico: "New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday he was ousted as head of ... Donald Trump’s transition due in part to his opposition to the hiring of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.... Christie has long said he had concerns about the retired three-star Army general, though he had never said exactly why.... When Christie was fired on Nov. 11, Flynn and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon tossed binders full of potential personnel picks into the trash to celebrate the departure.... It was ultimately Trump himself who decided to ignore Christie’s recommendation against hiring Flynn, two former transition officials had said...."

Manu Raju & Jeremy Herb of CNN: "Donald Trump Jr. would not tell House investigators Wednesday what he and his father discussed after reports surfaced about a June 2016 meeting he had in Trump Tower with Russians, citing attorney-client privilege.... Donald Trump and his son had a conversation this summer after Trump Jr. produced emails about his involvement in the Trump Tower meeting, according to Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and the committee's ranking member who attended the Wednesday session. At the classified hearing, Trump Jr. acknowledged speaking with senior White House aide Hope Hicks to help craft a response to the initial reports, sources said. But Trump Jr. did not provide details about communications with his father and invoked attorney-client privilege because of the presence of attorneys during the exchange with his father." Mrs. McC: As Schiff pointed out in his remarks, there's no such thing as an attorney-client privilege between parent & child, & the presence of lawyers is immaterial. ...

... Manu Raju & Jeremy Herb of CNN: "Donald Trump Jr. told House investigators that he did not communicate directly with his father when confronted with news reports about his June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, according to multiple sources with knowledge of his testimony. Instead, Trump Jr. said he was speaking to White House aide Hope Hicks about how to respond to the reports. He said ... Donald Trump, according to the sources, was debating between a longer and a shorter statement while the President and Hicks were aboard Air Force One. Hicks was aboard Air Force One and was speaking with Trump while the statement was being crafted.... While aboard Air Force One, Trump took part in crafting his son's initial response to the reports of the meeting, which was sent out through the Trump Organization under Trump Jr.'s name." ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: Okay, Junior talked to Daddy, but he's not telling what-all they discussed. Then he talked to the woman who steam-irons Daddy's pants (while Daddy is wearing them), but not to Daddy, about what-all would be in "his" response to the press. This makes sense in that it covers for Daddy's participation in obstructing justice, but it doesn't make sense unless he's trying to save Daddy's fat ass. Meanwhile, we see why Hicks got a promotion to communications director; it was a bribe to make sure she'd fall on her sword (or steam iron). It doesn't appear Junior is nearly as good at lying as is his old man. ...

... Sharon LaFraniere & Nicholas Fandos of the New York Times: "While he refused to recount his conversation with his father, the younger Mr. Trump told the committee about his earlier discussions with the White House adviser Hope Hicks about how to respond to the coming Times article, first published on July 8. His statement said the Trump Tower meeting was primarily about the ability of Americans to adopt Russian children. It made no mention of any promise of incriminating information from the Russian government against Mrs. Clinton.... He said that he was unable to remember a phone call that took place as he was discussing the need for the meeting with a Russian intermediary.... Mr. Trump was also asked about his private Twitter communications last fall with WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy group whose release of a trove of hacked emails rocked Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump told the committee that he considered WikiLeaks to be an independent news organization much like CNN or NBC...." ...

It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a nonstate hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. -- CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a Trump appointee, April 2017

... Josh Meyer of Politico: "Congressional investigators are scrutinizing trips to Europe taken last year by several associates of ... Donald Trump, amid concern they may have met with Kremlin-linked operatives as part of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Several people close to then-candidate Trump visited Europe during and after the campaign, including his son Donald Trump Jr., Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and foreign policy advisers Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Jeffrey Gordon.... Their explanations of those trips have not always been forthcoming, and some congressional investigators find their stories suspect.... Trump Jr. flew to Paris late in the campaign to meet with and speak before a foreign policy group with ties to Russian officials."

Sam Thielman of TPM: "TPM has obtained what appears to be the draft opinion article that Paul Manafort allegedly helped to ghostwrite, getting him in hot water with federal prosecutors and potentially the judge in his criminal case.... The draft op-ed, which can be read in full at the bottom of this article, could be described as a love letter to Manafort, crediting him with a number of pro-Western advances in Ukraine.... The op-ed is strikingly similar to the way Manafort has defended himself from charges of propping up a tyrant...." Thielman adds some detail on the possible provenance of the work of fiction. ...

... Jeremy Stahl of Slate: "As a reminder, here are some of the things that Manafort has already been accused of doing in Mueller’s indictment related to alleged secret work done on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party: Concealing payments of millions of dollars for pro-Russian lobbying work in Ukraine. Laundering millions of dollars through dummy companies 'to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States.' Evading taxes on those millions of dollars. Lying to federal investigators and on federal forms about these activities. Using money from these activities to defraud banks to the tune of millions of more dollars of loans. Those are just the alleged criminal activities we already know about. On Wednesday, it was reported by CNN that more charges could be coming."

Devlin Barrett & Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post: "Republican activists and lawmakers are engaged in a multi-front attack on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of possible connections between associates of President Trump and Russian agents, trying to stop or curtail the investigation.... For months, the president and his allies have been seizing on any whiff of possible impropriety by Mueller’s team or the FBI to argue that the Russia probe is stacked against Trump.... Several law enforcement officials said they are concerned that the constant drumbeat of conservative criticism seems designed to erode Mueller’s credibility, making it more politically palatable to remove, restrict or simply ignore his recommendations as his investigation progresses. Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity, one of the president’s informal advisers as well as one of his most vociferous defenders, on Tuesday night called Mueller 'a disgrace to the American justice system’ and said his team is 'corrupt, abusively biased and political.'’’ ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: It is worth noting that the Hannitys and Nuneses are the ideological descendents of the right-wing perpetrators of the 1940 & '50s "Red Scare," Joe McCarthy & the House Unamerican Activites Committee. The goal of these guys was to ferret out anyone who might have belonged to the Communist party at some time in the past & ruin their careers or imprison them (see Smith Act). Now, as Russia is even more successfully undermining the federal government, these wingers have come full circle & are aiding & abetting Russia's efforts. It's mindboggling, but for the fact that then, as now, the objective has been to undermine democratic principles & establish repressive, authoritarian control, especially of non-Christians & people of color (see, for instance, Paul Robeson).


** Thank You for Your Service. Now Go Find a Cardboard Shelter. Arthur Allen & Lorraine Woellert
of Politico: "Four days after Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin held a big Washington event to tout the Trump administration’s promise to house all homeless vets, the agency did an about-face, telling advocates it was pulling resources from a major housing program. The VA said it was essentially ending a special $460 million program that has dramatically reduced homelessness among chronically sick and vulnerable veterans. Instead, the money would go to local VA hospitals that can use it as they like, as long as they show evidence of dealing with homelessness. Anger exploded on a Dec. 1 call that was arranged by Shulkin’s Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans to explain the move. Advocates for veterans, state officials and even officials from HUD, which co-sponsors the program, attacked the decision, according to five people who were on the call.... The agency's move came as HUD on Wednesday released its annual survey showing a 1.5 percent increase in veteran homelessness over 2016 — the first rise since 2010."


Alan Rappeport
of the New York Times: "Republican leaders moved closer on Wednesday to resolving some key differences between the House and Senate tax bills, though several big issues, including the size of the corporate tax cut, remained in flux.As the Senate voted to begin the process of reconciling its tax bill with the House version, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, threw his support behind allowing a more generous state and local tax deduction in the final legislation.... Right now, both bills would only allow taxpayers to deduct property taxes and cap that at $10,000.... Complicating the discussions is the need to ensure that the overall bill stays in the $1.5 trillion bucket lawmakers have budgeted for the cuts. All the changes under discussion would cost money, requiring lawmakers to find ways to offset the effect on the deficit." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: That would be because the whole tax heist is "financed" by ballooning the deficit. But not to worry. The Great American Flim-Flam man has announced the GOP's plan to "fix" that. ...

... AND Away We Go! Jeff Stein of the Washington Post: "House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Wednesday that congressional Republicans will aim next year to reduce spending on both federal health care and anti-poverty programs, citing the need to reduce America's deficit.... 'Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that's really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.' Ryan said that he believes he has begun convincing President Trump in their private conversations about the need to rein in Medicare.... As a candidate, Trump vowed not to cut spending on Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. (Ryan also suggested congressional Republicans were unlikely to try changing Social Security, because the rules of the Senate forbid changes to the program through reconciliation — the procedure the Senate can use to pass legislation with only 50 votes.)” ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie Translation: We need tax cuts for the rich so we can make sick people sicker & poor people poorer. It would be great to throw old people out in the streets, but those obstructionist Democrats won't go along.

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.... And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.' -- Attributed to Jesus, Matthew 25:35-41

I think he meant "those on the right." -- Mrs. Bea McCrabbie 

Helaine Olen of the Washington Post: Susan Collins is either getting hosed on promises made to her (one from Trump, one from McConnell!) re: health insurance or she doesn't care & was just looking for an excuse to vote for the tax heist. Olen writes that the bills Collins wants to get passed & signed into law wouldn't do much to keep premiums down (and would be sunsetted after two years anyway), but there's a good chance Congress will ignore her proposed bills. "Will Collins vote for the bill in the end? I’d predict public hemming and hawing and expressions of 'concern' from Collins — before she goes along and votes yes. Mrs. McC: Olen pretty much pegs Collins as a craven dolt.

The Republicans yell states’ rights all the time, but they’re hypocrites. The last time Congress passed a bill to impose the laws of one state on a different state, it was the Fugitive Slave Act. -- Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y) (slight paraphrase) ...

... Guns for Everybody, Everywhere. Nicholas Fandos: "The House on Wednesday easily passed a sweeping expansion of the right to carry concealed firearms virtually anywhere in the country, putting the fate of the National Rifle Association’s top legislative priority in the hands of a divided Senate. To win over Democrats, House Republicans paired the measure, which would require all states to recognize any other state’s concealed-carry permit, with a more modest bipartisan fix meant to incentivize better reporting of legal and mental health records to the national background check system. Together, the measures were the first gun-related bill to pass through the chamber since two of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States, in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Tex., in the fall. But the background check measure was not enough to win over most Democrats, nor did it persuade law enforcement officials in some of the largest cities, including New York, who say the legislation would force locales with strict gun laws to bow to places with few or no gun restrictions. Passage in the Senate would almost certainly require 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster...." ...

... Gail Collins: "The gun bill’s Republican handlers refused to permit an amendment banning bump stocks. Those are the devices that were used by the gunman who killed 58 people in Las Vegas. But you knew that, right? We now live in a country where average people know what’s required if you want to make an assault rifle work like a machine gun.... Liz Cheney [R-Nuts] of Wyoming declared the right to carry a concealed weapon is 'God given.' We will not pursue the question of What Would Jesus Pack.”


Yamiche Alcindor & Nicholas Fandos
of the New York Times: "More than half the Senate’s Democrats, including the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, called for Senator Al Franken to resign Wednesday, after a sixth woman came forward to charge that the Minnesota Democrat had made an improper advance on her. 'Senator Franken should resign,' Mr. Schumer said in a statement. 'I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately.' Mr. Franken scheduled an announcement Thursday on his future in the Senate, and Minnesota Public Radio reported that he would be leaving.” ...

... Brian Bakst of Minnesota Public Radio: "A Democratic official who has spoken to Al Franken and key aides says Franken will resign his Minnesota Senate seat on Thursday, the official tells MPR News. The official spoke to Franken and separately to Franken's staff. A staff member told the official that Franken had gone to his Washington home to discuss his plans with family." ...

... Matt Shuham of TPM: "Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) denied a report Wednesday that he had decided to resign the following day. Minnesota Public Radio had reported, citing an unnamed Democratic official who had spoken to Franken and his staff, that the senator would resign Thursday. Shortly after the story went live, however, Franken’s office said it was 'not accurate.'” ...

... Maggie Severns of Politico: "Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to appoint his lieutenant governor and close ally, Tina Smith, to Al Franken’s seat if the Democratic senator resigns on Thursday, three people familiar with the Democratic governor’s thinking said. But that appointment would be just the start of an upheaval in Minnesota. Part of the reason Smith could be heading to the Senate, the sources said, is that she has indicated no interest in running for Congress in the past and would not run for the remainder of Franken’s term, which expires in 2020, in a 2018 special election. That would clear the way for a wide open Democratic primary next year if Franken steps down." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: In other words, let's give Republicans every advantage possible, other than just not fielding a candidate at all. Doofus. ...

... Heather Caygle of Politico: "A former Democratic congressional aide said Al Franken tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006, three years before he became a U.S. senator. The aide, whose name Politico is withholding to protect her identity, said Franken (D-Minn.) pursued her after her boss had left the studio. She said she was gathering her belongings to follow her boss out of the room. When she turned around, Franken was in her face. The former staffer ducked to avoid Franken’s lips. As she hastily left the room, she said, Franken told her: 'It’s my right as an entertainer.'... Franken, who has been accused by six other women of groping or trying to forcibly kiss them, denied the accusation.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Elana Schor & Seung Min Kim of Politico: "A half-dozen female senators on Wednesday called on Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to resign in the wake of multiple sexual misconduct allegations against him. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was the first of Franken's fellow Senate Democrats to take that step and was quickly followed by Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Patty Murray of Washington and Kamala Harris of California." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Ed Kilgore takes a sober & sensible look at Senate Democrats' sudden decision to urge Franken to resign. "The obvious answer is that Democrats have significantly less leverage over Trump than over one of their own. But clearly some people think Democrats shouldn’t unilaterally disarm by disciplining a grabby senator when a grabber of a different order is allowed to run the country. That’s an argument Democrats must squarely confront. It would be good if they could get it all straight overnight." See also Jeanne's comment in today's thread. ...

... Rebecca Savransky of the Hill: "A vast majority of respondents in a new poll think Congress should investigate sexual harassment allegations made against President Trump. A new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday finds 70 percent of respondents think Congress should investigate the allegations. Just one-quarter of respondents think Congress shouldn't investigate the accusations." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: The downside for Republicans: they would expose Trump's disgusting serial pussy-grabbing. etc. The upside: the Gross Old Pervs would get real thrills out of "investigating" sexual abuse. Luckily for the rest of us, they work from behind humungous desks.

... Lindsey Bever & Abby Ohlheiser of the Washington Post: "Time magazine has named 'The Silence Breakers' as its 2017 Person of the Year, recognizing the women (and some men) who came forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault and helped force a nationwide reckoning. The magazine calls them 'the voices that launched a movement.' Among them Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, the actresses whose stunning accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein helped lead to his downfall; and activist Tarana Burke, creator of the #MeToo movement, along with the Hollywood star who amplified it on social media, Alyssa Milano.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Here's the Time cover story. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Abettor of the Year. Julia Manchester of the Hill: "White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended President Trump's endorsement of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore on Wednesday.... 'The president has tremendous moral standards. He has said, the White House has said the allegations are troubling,' Conway told CNN's Chris Cuomo on 'New Day,' after Cuomo said 'the president seems to have no moral standard at play.'" This would appear to be another alternative fact in which the allegations are "troubling" only because the women are all liars (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Lachlan Markay & Asawin Suebsaeng of the Daily Beast: "... Donald Trump has privately told confidants over the past week that he firmly believes Roy Moore’s innocence and feels no hesitation at all about endorsing the embattled Alabama Senate candidate, three sources close to the president tell The Daily Beast." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

Kelly Weill & Katie Zavadski of the Daily Beast: "Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Company are the subjects of a new class-action lawsuit in federal court that accuses them of a pattern of racketeering to cover up Weinstein's alleged serial sexual assaults. The plaintiffs, six women, seek to be certified as a class to sue on grounds of racketeering, civil battery, assault, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. All six women say Weinstein sexually assaulted them when they auditioned for him or met him at a company-sponsored events." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... ** Yes, Harvey Weinstein Is a Crime Boss. Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Post: "... as more details about [Harvey] Weinstein’s behavior emerge — most recently in a report from the New York Times entitled 'Weinstein’s Complicity Machine' — the more this legal argument feels like a potent metaphorical description of the people who facilitated and concealed Weinstein’s decades of depredation. Weinstein’s alleged ability to carry off an astonishing list of crimes depended on the participation of a disturbing number of other people.... Reportedly Weinstein was the boss, and he had a highly organized hierarchy of underbosses, caporegimes, soldiers and associates working under him." ...

... Congressional Races

Jamel Bouie: "Nothing substantive about the [Roy Moore] story has changed since the Post first broke the allegations. Moore’s accusers haven’t changed their stories, although Moore has changed his story on his memory of the women, first saying he remembered two of them and later denying that he knew any of them. What has changed is Moore’s political position. When he appeared weak and likely to lose, senior Republicans kept their distance. Now, with stronger prospects, they’re prepared to welcome him into the fold. Call it the Access Hollywood phenomenon.... [Upon the release of the Access Hollywood tape,] Republican leaders moved quickly to distance themselves from [Trump].... As Election Day approached, and the race between Trump and Clinton tightened, Republican lawmakers began downplaying their criticism.... Trump, for his part, responded to the allegations by framing them as part of a global conspiracy to thwart his nationalist movement, , echoing the anti-Semitic rallying cries of the alt-right."

Josh Dawsey of Politico: "President Trump is pushing Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) to run for the U.S. Senate, according to White House advisers. Trump has told advisers that he plans to call LePage, who endorsed him in February 2016, and ask him to jump in against Sen. Angus King in 2018 and offer his endorsement. King is an independent who often caucuses with the Democrats." Mrs. McC: Hey, Maine already has one U.S. senator who's a crave dolt. Why not two?

Andrew Blankstein & Alex Johnson of NBC News: "John Conyers III, a Detroit hedge fund manager named as a possible successor to his scandal-rocked father, Rep. John Conyers, was arrested in Los Angeles this year on suspicion of domestic violence, but prosecutors declined to charge him, according to documents obtained by NBC News." Oh, read on.

... Mrs. McCrabbie: Our candidates for public office are so special.

Outside of Washington, D.C., there is some encouraging news. ...

Beyond the Beltway

Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader: "David Ermold, one of the men denied a same-sex marriage license by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in 2015, hopes to challenge her for the clerk’s seat next year, he announced Wednesday. Davis set off an international furor when she denied a marriage license to Ermold and his partner, David Moore, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right for same-sex couples to marry. Davis, who said providing the license violated her religious beliefs, continued to withhold the license, even after a federal judge ordered her to issue it, and was jailed briefly. The issue was solved when one of her deputies, Brian Mason, agreed to issue licenses, and in 2016 the Kentucky General Assembly established an alternate license." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Now here's a candidate for office whom I can support. Even if Ermold is not particularly fabulous, the poetic justice of his replacing L'il Kim would be a thing of beauty.

He Doth Protest Too Much. Tommy Christopher of Shareblue: "Apparently, when Republican elected officials aren’t practicing or enabling sexual predation, they’re busy projecting it onto others. At least, that’s what appears to have happened this week when state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-PA) was the victim of a gentle arm-touch during a committee meeting, and lashed out at fellow lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Matt Bradford. As Bradford tried to finish a thought by gently patting Metcalfe on the forearm (over his clothes), Metcalfe went on a rant about how he loves his wife, and doesn’t like men, and could he please go molest some Democrats who might like that sort of thing.... A stunned Bradford could only try and laugh it off, but now, the state’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, is calling on Pennsylvania House leadership to remove Metcalfe from the state’s civil rights committee, citing a history of discriminatory statements...." With video.

Way Beyond

Michael Koziol of the Sydney Morning Herald: "Australia has officially become the 26th country to legalise same-sex marriage after the law was passed on Thursday with the overwhelming backing of the Federal Parliament. Thirteen years after changing the Marriage Act to explicitly forbid same-sex unions, federal politicians voted to undo the last major piece of discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians. It followed last month's emphatic resolution of the Australian public in the postal survey to join the rest of the English-speaking world by embracing marriage equality."


Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/state/article188302199.html#storylink=cpy
Wednesday
Dec062017

The Commentariat -- December 6, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Heather Caygle of Politico: "A former Democratic congressional aide said Al Franken tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006, three years before he became a U.S. senator. The aide, whose name Politico is withholding to protect her identity, said Franken (D-Minn.) pursued her after her boss had left the studio. She said she was gathering her belongings to follow her boss out of the room. When she turned around, Franken was in her face. The former staffer ducked to avoid Franken’s lips. As she hastily left the room, she said, Franken told her: 'It’s my right as an entertainer.'... Franken, who has been accused by six other women of groping or trying to forcibly kiss them, denied the accusation.” ...

... Elana Schor & Seung Min Kim of Politico: "A half-dozen female senators on Wednesday called on Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to resign in the wake of multiple sexual misconduct allegations against him. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was the first of Franken's fellow Senate Democrats to take that step and was quickly followed by Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Patty Murray of Washington and Kamala Harris of California." ...

... Lindsey Bever & Abby Ohlheiser of the Washington Post: "Time magazine has named 'The Silence Breakers' as its 2017 Person of the Year, recognizing the women (and some men) who came forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault and helped force a nationwide reckoning. The magazine calls them 'the voices that launched a movement.' Among them Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, the actresses whose stunning accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein helped lead to his downfall; and activist Tarana Burke, creator of the #MeToo movement, along with the Hollywood star who amplified it on social media, Alyssa Milano.” ...

... Here's the Time cover story. ...

... Abettor of the Year. Julia Manchester of the Hill: "White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended President Trump's endorsement of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore on Wednesday.... 'The president has tremendous moral standards. He has said, the White House has said the allegations are troubling,' Conway told CNN's Chris Cuomo on 'New Day,' after Cuomo said 'the president seems to have no moral standard at play.'" This would appear to be another alternative fact in which the allegations are "troubling" only because the women are all liars ...

... Lachlan Markay & Asawin Suebsaeng of the Daily Beast: "... Donald Trump has privately told confidants over the past week that he firmly believes Roy Moore’s innocence and feels no hesitation at all about endorsing the embattled Alabama Senate candidate, three sources close to the president tell The Daily Beast." ...

Kelly Weill & Katie Zavadski of the Daily Beast: "Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Company are the subjects of a new class-action lawsuit in federal court that accuses them of a pattern of racketeering to cover up Weinstein's alleged serial sexual assaults. The plaintiffs, six women, seek to be certified as a class to sue on grounds of racketeering, civil battery, assault, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. All six women say Weinstein sexually assaulted them when they auditioned for him or met him at a company-sponsored events."

Pope Pops Trump. Philip Pullella of Reuters: "Pope Francis, speaking hours before ... Donald Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, called on Wednesday for the city’s 'status quo' to be respected, saying new tension in the Middle East would further inflame world conflicts."

*****

Mark Landler & David Halbfinger of the New York Times: "President Trump told Israeli and Arab leaders on Tuesday that he plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a symbolically fraught move that would upend decades of American policy and upset efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Trump is expected to announce his decision on Wednesday, two days after the expiration of a deadline for him to decide whether to keep the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. Palestinian officials said Mr. Trump told the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, that the United States would move the embassy to Jerusalem. Jordan said the president gave a similar message to King Abdullah II. American officials, however, said such a move could not occur immediately for logistical reasons.... As a result, Mr. Trump is expected to sign a national security waiver that would authorize the administration to keep it in Tel Aviv for an additional six months. Still, Mr. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital — and to set in motion an embassy move — is his riskiest foray yet into the thicket of Middle East diplomacy." (Also linked yesterday afternoon. The story has been updated.) ...

... Nick Wadhams, et al., of Bloomberg: "... in a sign the announcement could be more symbolic than substantive, the White House warned that any actual move would take years and that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem are still subject to peace talks that have bedeviled U.S. presidents for decades." ...

... Sarah Wildman of Vox: "The administration’s planned announcement is already sparking fury across the Arab world. A spokeswoman for [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas’s office issued a statement early Tuesday warning of 'dangerous consequences' if Trump moves forward with plans to eventually move the embassy. King Abdullah [of Jordan] was equally critical, saying in a statement that the White House shift on Jerusalem 'will undermine the efforts of the American administration to resume the peace process.' Right-wing Israeli leaders, by contrast, didn’t try to disguise their happiness.”

... Yanqui Go Home. Gardiner Harris of the New York Times: "Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s reception in Brussels was distinctly chilly, as disappointment among European diplomats in President Trump’s nationalistic tone and insulting messages on Twitter built into quiet fury on the eve of an expected announcement that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Such a move could infuriate the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be their capital in a future Palestinian state. In a brief public appearance beside Mr. Tillerson, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top diplomat ... made clear that the European Union saw the Trump administration’s possible announcement on Jerusalem as a threat to peace in the Middle East.... Ms. Mogherini also warned the United States not to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, something President Trump has said he may do.... Ms. Mogherini’s remarks came just hours after Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel of Germany declared at a foreign policy conference in Berlin that relations with the United States 'will never be the same' and said that the Trump administration increasingly viewed Europe as a 'competitor or economic rival' rather than an ally. On Monday, President Emmanuel Macron of France warned Mr. Trump in a phone call that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a bad idea, joining leaders from Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and the Arab League in speaking out publicly against the move." ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: In less than a year, Donald Trump has alienated all our allies & foes alike. We are now a second-tier nation -- the Turkey of North America. That's quite a feat. Was that the plan all along? It looks that way; that is, Trump's desire for an alliance with Russia was just one leg of a plan to make the U.S. & Russia, along with some other authoritarian nations (like Turkey) a new "Axis of Evil." 

The Russia Scandal, Ctd.

Steven Arons of Bloomberg: "Special prosecutor Robert Mueller zeroed in on ... Donald Trump’s business dealings with Deutsche Bank AG as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in U.S. elections widens. Mueller issued a subpoena to Germany’s largest lender several weeks ago, forcing the bank to submit documents on its relationship with Trump and his family, according to a person briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the action has not been announced.... Deutsche Bank for months has rebuffed calls by Democratic lawmakers to provide more transparency over the roughly $300 million Trump owed to the bank for his real estate dealings prior to becoming president. Representative Maxine Waters of California and other Democrats have asked whether the bank’s loans to Trump, made years before he ran for president, were in any way connected to Russia. The bank previously rejected those demands.... Handelsblatt reported the subpoena earlier on Tuesday." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Josh Marshall: "This is a critical development. As we’ve discussed before..., all major banks have for years refused to do business with Donald Trump. The exception is Deutsche Bank, which is of course not a US bank but does substantial business in the US and is on the scale of other big banks that have refused to do business with the now President. Why Deutsche Bank still works with Trump (they financed most of the DC Trump hotel project, for instance) is a basic question running through the Russia story.... Lots of Russian money goes through Deutsche Bank and indeed the bank has been repeatedly fined for Russian money laundering. The Deutsche Bank subpoena is certainly about probing the President’s financial ties to Russia.... This is the kind of move Trump has suggested might provoke him to fire Mueller." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Stephen Collinson of CNN: "... Donald Trump's legal defense against Robert Mueller's unrelenting special counsel investigation is beginning to look as chaotic as his early days in the White House. A sequence of reflexive tweets and comments about the Russia probe from the White House and Trump's legal team has spectacularly backfired, suggesting that the administration was knocked off balance by news of Michael Flynn's plea deal and raising questions about whether its struggles reflect a deteriorating legal position for the President." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Don't Tell Mikey? Elizabeth Landers, et al., of CNN: "New revelations about Michael Flynn's lies to the FBI are laying bare Vice President Mike Pence's in-the-dark strategy when it comes to Russia's election meddling, raising new questions about whether he could have been left in the dark as he has argued for nearly a year.... Pence -- who was in charge of Trump's transition -- knew Flynn had contacted Russia, but was left unaware of the sanctions discussion, according to transition officials.... In the days since Flynn's guilty plea was unveiled last week, seven people close to the vice president continue to maintain that Pence did not know Flynn spoke with Kislyak about Russian sanctions, despite being the head of the Trump transition.But among top transition officials, Pence would have been largely alone in his lack of knowledge." ...

... Donald Trump Jr. asked a Russian lawyer at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting whether she had evidence of illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation, the lawyer told the Senate Judiciary Committee in answers to written questions obtained exclusively by NBC News. The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, told the committee that she didn't have any such evidence, and that she believes Trump misunderstood the nature of the meeting after receiving emails from a music promoter promising incriminating information on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump's Democratic opponent. Once it became apparent that she did not have meaningful information about Clinton, Trump seemed to lose interest, Veselnitskaya said, and the meeting petered out.... Veselnitskaya said there was no discussion at the Trump Tower meeting of hacked or leaked emails, social media campaigns or any of the other main aspects of Russian interference in the U.S. election." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: It is illegal in the U.S. for a campaign to accept "something of value" from a foreign entity or person. I don't know if it's illegal to request something of value which you don't receive. But of course Junior anticipated obtaining something of value. He set up the meeting & invited Kushner & Manafort because "On June 3, [Rob] Goldstone wrote ... that 'the Crown prosecutor of Russia ... offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.'" ...

... Katelyn Polantz of CNN: “Robert Mueller may not be through with Rick Gates, a deputy Trump campaign aide and one of the four people who have been charged as part of the special counsel probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. In a court appearance Monday in Manhattan, Gates' attorney Walter Mack said that federal prosecutors have told him that more charges, called superseding indictments, may be coming."


AND More Sad! News for Trumpelthinskin. Rebecca Savransky
of the Hill: "No tweets by President Trump made Twitter's list of the year's most retweeted posts. But three tweets by former President Barack Obama made the list. Obama's tweets on 'The 9 Most Retweeted Tweets of 2017' include one with a Nelson Mandela quote that says: 'No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.' The tweet received 1.7 million retweets and 4.6 million likes." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

** Consumer Fiancial Protection Bureau. Jessica Silver-Greenberg & Stacy Cowley of the New York Times: "The defanging of a federal consumer watchdog agency began last week in a federal courthouse in San Francisco. After a nearly three-year legal skirmish, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau appeared to have been victorious. A judge agreed in September with the bureau that a financial company had misled more than 100,000 mortgage customers. As punishment, the judge ordered the Ohio company, Nationwide Biweekly Administration, to pay nearly $8 million in penalties. All that was left was to collect the cash. Last week, lawyers from the consumer bureau filed an 11-page brief asking the judge to force Nationwide to post an $8 million bond while the proceedings wrapped up. Then Mick Mulvaney was named the consumer bureau’s acting director. Barely 48 hours later, the same lawyers filed a new two-sentence brief. Their request: to withdraw their earlier submission and no longer take a position on whether Nationwide should put up the cash."

Noah Bierman of the Los Angeles Times: "The White House press briefing reached an ignominious milestone this week when a spokesman stood before reporters aboard Air Force One, read a series of prepared statements, then refused to take on-the-record questions during one of the newsiest days of the Trump presidency. The briefing for decades has been a mix of spin and information. But under President Trump, a practice established to keep the public informed and the president accountable has increasingly failed to do either, according to academic experts and current and former journalists." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: What if Mrs. Huckleberry gave a "briefing" & nobody showed up? I don't see why reporters waste their time unless it's to get a surreal quote for their papers. This is worse than it was back in the day when Stephen Colbert said, "The President makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home." Now they have to add, "But Democrats say that isn't true." I don't know if April Ryan ever got her fake "homemade" pecan pie from Mrs. H., but I do know the White House didn't invite her to its Christmas party for the press. Ryan has been on the guest list for a couple of decades.

Ron Nixon of the New York Times: "The Senate voted on Tuesday to confirm Kirstjen Nielsen as the secretary of homeland security, elevating a top White House aide and former agency official to oversee the department central to President Trump’s plan to crack down on illegal immigration and beef up border security. The vote was 62 to 37."

This is gonna cost me a fortune. -- Donald Trump, at a speech in Missouri, November 29 ...

... Patricia Cohen & Jesse Drucker of the New York Times: The biggest winners in the Republican Tax Sweepstakes? -- the Trump & Kushner family businesses. "Most businesses were hit with new limits on deductions for interest payments, but not real estate.... The real estate industry ended up with an even more generous depreciation timetable, allowing owners to shelter more income. And in a break from previous practice, rental and mortgage-interest income qualifies for a lower tax rate, the kind of special treatment traditionally reserved for long-term capital gains and certain qualified dividends." ...

     ... The Trump Cabal. Mrs. McCrabbie: The most troubling part about this is not that Trump & family get a bigger tax break than other types of corporations -- it's that this is more evidence that nearly the entire Republican party has joined a corrupt scheme to enrich its titular leader. There is no chance they will impeach & convict Trump for anything. They are intentional enablers of & participants in an American coup -- the first in our history. ...

... Brian Faler of Politico: "Republicans’ tax-rewrite plans are riddled with bugs, loopholes and other potential problems that could plague lawmakers long after their legislation is signed into law. Some of the provisions could be easily gamed, tax lawyers say. Their plans to cut taxes on 'pass-through' businesses in particular could open broad avenues for tax avoidance. Others would have unintended results, like a last-minute decision by the Senate to keep the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to make sure wealthy people and corporations don't escape taxes altogether. For many businesses, that would nullify the value of a hugely popular break for research and development expenses. Some provisions are so vaguely written they leave experts scratching their heads, like a proposal to begin taxing the investment earnings of rich private universities’ endowments. The legislation H.R. 1 (115) doesn’t explain what’s considered an endowment, and some colleges have more than 1,000 accounts." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: That "pass-through"/tax-avoidance provision is another gift from Congress to Trump.

We Believe the Women. But So What? Jonathan Martin & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "President Trump’s sudden decision on Monday to endorse Roy S. Moore and direct the Republican National Committee to restore funding for the embattled Senate candidate in Alabama undercut party officials who have disavowed him. On Tuesday, Senate leaders appeared dismayed about — but also resigned to — being linked to Mr. Moore’s candidacy.... Mr. Trump’s improvisational, and often impulsive, political decision making has become ... routine.... Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, conceded that he could not stop Mr. Moore, a former state judge, from being seated if he won the special election next Tuesday. But in an illustration of how uneasy Senate Republicans are about Mr. Moore joining their ranks, Mr. McConnell pointedly said that if Mr. Moore was elected, “he would immediately have an issue with the Ethics Committee.” ...

... Kevin Drum: "This is the most depraved conduct possible from the Republican Party.... They publicly accepted that the charges against Moore were credible. They agreed that this made him unfit for office. But then, when it looked like he might win, they turned around and decided to support him anyway." ...

... The Party of Gross Old Pervs. Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post: "One can criticize the unapologetic manner in which [Conyers] left and the cheesy effort to install his son, but the important point is that the Democratic Party forced him out.... The contrast with the GOP, which stood behind President Trump even after the 'Access Hollywood' tape and now has thrown its full support behind an accused child molester, could not be greater — or more toxic — for the GOP. To be blunt, one party has adopted a zero-tolerance position (with Sen. Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, set to go before the ethics committee) and another party opens its arms to people it believes are miscreants." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Gabby Morrongiello, et al., of the Washington Examiner: "Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore's account of when he began dating his wife Kayla would place the start of their courtship before her divorce from her first husband, according to court documents.... Divorce records obtained by the Washington Examiner show that Kayla, however, had not yet even filed for divorce from her first husband, John Charles Heald, by the time she caught Moore’s attention at [a] Christmas gathering [in December 1984]. In fact, Kayla and Heald had only just separated on Dec. 1, 1984, two weeks before her and Moore’s serendipitous introduction." Mrs. McC: Moore had first become interested in Kayla when he saw her performing at a dance recital when she was 15 or 16 years old. ...

... Seung Min Kim & Kevin Robillard of Politico: "Senate Republicans are still trying to keep their distance from Roy Moore, creating a fresh break with ...  Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee, which have re-embraced Moore less than a week before a key special Senate election despite accusations of child molestation against the Alabama Republican. Both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC controlled by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said they plan on staying out of the contest. Several Republican senators furiously protested the RNC’s decision on Tuesday." Mrs. McC: I'm not convinced. They're trying to have their cake & eat it, too. ...

... Nolan McCaskill of Politico: "Sen. Jeff Flake [R-Az.] tweeted an image of a completed check for $100 for [Democrat Doug] Jones’ Senate campaign.... The check to Jones’ campaign ...  is for 'Country over Party,' Flake wrote on Twitter." Mrs. McC: Very nice. You didn't put country over party when you voted for the Tax Heist. You could have sent that $100 to Medlar & me -- or to any of the other taxpayers who are going to be paying a lot more than $100 in new taxes, thanks to your vote on the bill. There are no Republican heroes. There are plenty of grandstanding hypocrites, tho.

Elise Viebeck & Dave Weigel of the Washington Post: "Facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) resigned as Congress’s longest-serving member on Tuesday, becoming the first lawmaker to step down as Capitol Hill grapples with allegations of inappropriate behavior by lawmakers. Conyers, who represented the Detroit area for 52 years, yielded to mounting pressure from Democratic leaders to step aside as a growing number of female former aides accused him of unwanted advances and mistreatment. He has denied wrongdoing. From a hospital in Detroit, the 88-year-old congressman said he was 'putting his retirement plans together' and endorsed his son John Conyers III to replace him. Another Conyers family member has already declared his intention to run for the seat, raising the specter of an intrafamily contest.... Now that Conyers has resigned, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) will call a special election to replace him." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

Megan Twohey, et al., of the New York Times: "Harvey Weinstein built his complicity machine out of the witting, the unwitting and those in between. He commanded enablers, silencers and spies, warning others who discovered his secrets to say nothing. He courted those who could provide the money or prestige to enhance his reputation as well as his power to intimidate. In the weeks and months before allegations of his methodical abuse of women were exposed in October, Mr. Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, pulled on all the levers of his carefully constructed apparatus." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: In the end, Weinstein is just a fat, pathetic mogul who filled his hollow soul with shit. Citizen Kane without Rosebud.

When have we ever given protection to a food? -- Justice Sonia Sotomayor, oral arguments, Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, December 5 ...

... Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who almost certainly holds the crucial vote in the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, sent sharply contradictory messages when it was argued Tuesday at the Supreme Court.... The case, which pits claims of religious freedom against the fight for gay rights, has attracted extraordinary public attention and about 100 friend-of-the-court briefs.... Tuesday’s argument, which lasted almost 90 minutes instead of the usual hour, appeared to divide the justices along the usual lines." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Dana Milbank: "Piece of cake: If you can’t do it to racial and religious minorities, women and the disabled, you shouldn’t be able to do it to gay people." ...

... BUT Amy Howe of ScotusBlog, a disinterested & acute observer, sees the vote going 5-4 for the bigoted baker. ...

... Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker seems to agree with Howe: "The briefs in the case were full of testimonials about the artistic qualities of icing, and the argument veered at times into the metaphysical. (Does a four-year-old’s cake say 'happy birthday' from the baker, or from the kid’s mom?) But the message in the courtroom was, in the end, deeply sombre. Discrimination against gay people (and others) is clearly fine with the Trump Administration, and, in this case, it may be fine with the Supreme Court, as well." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: This is another of those cases that invites an easy fix: Congress (ha ha) could pass a law and the presidunce* could sign it (ha ha) protecting LGBT persons in the same way minorities & women are legally (if not actually) protected under civil rights laws. Of course, Colorado has such a law, but state laws can't override the U.S. Constitution. The bigoted baker is claiming a First Amendment right to free speech, arguing that baking a cake is "speech," just the way confederates think money is speech.

Unsolved Mystery. Josh Lederman of the AP: "Doctors treating the U.S. Embassy victims of mysterious, invisible attacks in Cuba have discovered brain abnormalities as they search for clues to explain the hearing, vision, balance and memory damage, The Associated Press has learned. It’s the most specific finding to date about physical damage, showing that whatever it was that harmed the Americans, it led to perceptible changes in their brains. The finding is also one of several factors fueling growing skepticism that some kind of sonic weapon was involved.... Acoustic waves have never been shown to alter the brain’s white matter tracts, said Elisa Konofagou, a biomedical engineering professor at Columbia University who is not involved in the government’s investigation."

David Faber of CNBC: "Disney and Twenty-First Century Fox are closing in on a deal, and it could come as soon as next week, according to sources familiar with the matter. CNBC has been reporting that Disney has held talks with the Rupert Murdoch-controlled media company to acquire its studio and television production assets, leaving Fox with its news and sports assets. Fox is also talking with CNBC parent company Comcast, but the talks with Disney have progressed more significantly. The deal contemplates the sale of Fox's Nat Geo, Star, regional sports networks, movie studios and stakes in Sky and Hulu, among other properties. What would remain at Fox includes its news and business news divisions, broadcast network and Fox sports." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Oh, crap. And here I was hoping that Hannity & Dobbs would have to appear on-air in Mickey Mouse costumes.

Medlar's Sports Report. Rebecca Ruiz & Tariq Panja of the New York Times: "Russia’s Olympic team has been barred from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The country’s government officials are forbidden to attend, its flag will not be displayed at the opening ceremony and its anthem will not sound. Any athletes from Russia who receive special dispensation to compete will do so as individuals wearing a neutral uniform, and the official record books will forever show that Russia won zero medals. That was the punishment issued Tuesday to the proud sports juggernaut that has long used the Olympics as a show of global force but was exposed for systematic doping in previously unfathomable ways. The International Olympic Committee, after completing its own prolonged investigations that reiterated what had been known for more than a year, handed Russia penalties for doping so severe they were without precedent in Olympics history." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Monday
Dec042017

The Commentariat -- December 5, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Medlar's Sports Report. Rebecca Ruiz & Tariq Panja of the New York Times: "Russia’s Olympic team has been barred from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The country’s government officials are forbidden to attend, its flag will not be displayed at the opening ceremony and its anthem will not sound. Any athletes from Russia who receive special dispensation to compete will do so as individuals wearing a neutral uniform, and the official record books will forever show that Russia won zero medals. That was the punishment issued Tuesday to the proud sports juggernaut that has long used the Olympics as a show of global force but was exposed for systematic doping in previously unfathomable ways. The International Olympic Committee, after completing its own prolonged investigations that reiterated what had been known for more than a year, handed Russia penalties for doping so severe they were without precedent in Olympics history."

More Sad! News for Trumpelthinskin. Rebecca Savransky of the Hill: "No tweets by President Trump made Twitter's list of the year's most retweeted posts. But three tweets by former President Barack Obama made the list. Obama's tweets on 'The 9 Most Retweeted Tweets of 2017' include one with a Nelson Mandela quote that says: 'No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.' The tweet received 1.7 million retweets and 4.6 million likes."

Mark Landler & David Halbfinger of the New York Times: "President Trump told Israeli and Arab leaders on Tuesday that he plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a symbolically fraught move that would upend decades of American policy and upset efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Trump is expected to announce his decision on Wednesday, two days after the expiration of a deadline for him to decide whether to keep the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. Palestinian officials said Mr. Trump told the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, that the United States would move the embassy to Jerusalem. Jordan said the president gave a similar message to King Abdullah II. American officials, however, said such a move could not occur immediately for logistical reasons.... As a result, Mr. Trump is expected to sign a national security waiver that would authorize the administration to keep it in Tel Aviv for an additional six months. Still, Mr. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital — and to set in motion an embassy move — is his riskiest foray yet into the thicket of Middle East diplomacy."

Steven Arons of Bloomberg: "Special prosecutor Robert Mueller zeroed in on ... Donald Trump’s business dealings with Deutsche Bank AG as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in U.S. elections widens. Mueller issued a subpoena to Germany’s largest lender several weeks ago, forcing the bank to submit documents on its relationship with Trump and his family, according to a person briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the action has not been announced.... Deutsche Bank for months has rebuffed calls by Democratic lawmakers to provide more transparency over the roughly $300 million Trump owed to the bank for his real estate dealings prior to becoming president. Representative Maxine Waters of California and other Democrats have asked whether the bank’s loans to Trump, made years before he ran for president, were in any way connected to Russia. The bank previously rejected those demands.... Handelsblatt reported the subpoena earlier on Tuesday." ...

... Josh Marshall: "This is a critical development. As we’ve discussed before..., all major banks have for years refused to do business with Donald Trump. The exception is Deutsche Bank, which is of course not a US bank but does substantial business in the US and is on the scale of other big banks that have refused to do business with the now President. Why Deutsche Bank still works with Trump (they financed most of the DC Trump hotel project, for instance) is a basic question running through the Russia story.... Lots of Russian money goes through Deutsche Bank and indeed the bank has been repeatedly fined for Russian money laundering. The Deutsche Bank subpoena is certainly about probing the President’s financial ties to Russia.... This is the kind of move Trump has suggested might provoke him to fire Mueller." ...

... Stephen Collinson of CNN: "... Donald Trump's legal defense against Robert Mueller's unrelenting special counsel investigation is beginning to look as chaotic as his early days in the White House. A sequence of reflexive tweets and comments about the Russia probe from the White House and Trump's legal team has spectacularly backfired, suggesting that the administration was knocked off balance by news of Michael Flynn's plea deal and raising questions about whether its struggles reflect a deteriorating legal position for the President."

Elise Viebeck & Dave Weigel of the Washington Post: "Facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) resigned as Congress’s longest-serving member on Tuesday, becoming the first lawmaker to step down as Capitol Hill grapples with allegations of inappropriate behavior by lawmakers. Conyers, who represented the Detroit area for 52 years, yielded to mounting pressure from Democratic leaders to step aside as a growing number of female former aides accused him of unwanted advances and mistreatment. He has denied wrongdoing. From a hospital in Detroit, the 88-year-old congressman said he was 'putting his retirement plans together' and endorsed his son John Conyers III to replace him. Another Conyers family member has already declared his intention to run for the seat, raising the specter of an intrafamily contest.... Now that Conyers has resigned, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) will call a special election to replace him." ...

... The Party of Gross Old Pervs. Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post: "One can criticize the unapologetic manner in which [Conyers] left and the cheesy effort to install his son, but the important point is that the Democratic Party forced him out.... The contrast with the GOP, which stood behind President Trump even after the 'Access Hollywood' tape and now has thrown its full support behind an accused child molester, could not be greater — or more toxic — for the GOP. To be blunt, one party has adopted a zero-tolerance position (with Sen. Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, set to go before the ethics committee) and another party opens its arms to people it believes are miscreants."

When have we ever given protection to a food? -- Justice Sonia Sotomayor, oral arguments, Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, December 5 ...

... Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who almost certainly holds the crucial vote in the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, sent sharply contradictory messages when it was argued Tuesday at the Supreme Court.... The case, which pits claims of religious freedom against the fight for gay rights, has attracted extraordinary public attention and about 100 friend-of-the-court briefs.... Tuesday’s argument, which lasted almost 90 minutes instead of the usual hour, appeared to divide the justices along the usual lines."

David Faber of CNBC: "Disney and Twenty-First Century Fox are closing in on a deal, and it could come as soon as next week, according to sources familiar with the matter. CNBC has been reporting that Disney has held talks with the Rupert Murdoch-controlled media company to acquire its studio and television production assets, leaving Fox with its news and sports assets. Fox is also talking with CNBC parent company Comcast, but the talks with Disney have progressed more significantly. The deal contemplates the sale of Fox's Nat Geo, Star, regional sports networks, movie studios and stakes in Sky and Hulu, among other properties. What would remain at Fox includes its news and business news divisions, broadcast network and Fox sports." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Oh, crap. And here I was hoping that Hannity & Dobbs would have to appear on-air in Mickey Mouse costumes.

*****

NEW. Nick Miroff of the Washington Post: "The number people caught trying to sneak over the border from Mexico has fallen to the lowest level in 46 years, according to Homeland Security statistics released Tuesday that offer the first comprehensive look at how immigration enforcement is changing under the Trump administration. During the government’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, U.S. border agents made 310,531 arrests, a decline of 24 percent from the previous year and the fewest overall since 1971. The figures show a sharp drop in arrests immediately following President Trump’s election win, possibly reflecting the deterrent effect of his rhetoric on would-be border crossers, though starting in May the number of people taken into custody began increasing again. Arrests of foreigners living illegally in the United States surged under Trump. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers made 110,568 arrests between Trump’s inauguration and the end of September, according to the figures published Tuesday, a 42 percent increase over the same period during the previous year."

Julie Turkewitz of the New York Times: "President Trump said he would dramatically reduce the size of a vast expanse of protected federal land in Utah on Monday, a rollback of some two million acres that is the largest in scale in the nation’s history. The administration said it would shrink Bears Ears National Monument, a sprawling region of red rock canyons, by about 85 percent, and cut another area, Grand Staircase-Escalante, to about half its current size. The move, a reversal of protections put in place by Democratic predecessors, comes as the administration pushes for fewer restrictions and more development on public lands." ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Although Trump's main goal in shrinking the monuments is to help his mining/robber baron friends, I suspect he's happy with the side benefit: disrespecting Native Americans. Before Trump clipped its ears, Bear Ears contained "some 100,000 objects of archaeological significance, including grave sites, ceremonial grounds, ancient cliff dwellings." Trump said he was shrinking the site because "some of the places in the original monument ... 'are not of significant scientific or historic interest.'” Isn't it odd how Trump is all excited about saying "Merry Christmas" but he shows no respect for Native American religious traditions? You might think he privileges one faith over most others. Which would be unconstitutional.

The Russia Report

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "President Trump said Monday that he feels 'very badly' for his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, because his false statements to the FBI have 'ruined his life.' Trump, who tweeted over the weekend that he fired Flynn from his White House job because he had lied to the FBI as well as to Vice President Pence, told reporters Monday morning that Flynn's undoing was 'a shame' and 'very unfair.' 'I feel badly for General Flynn,' Trump said on the South Lawn of the White House, as he boarded Marine One ahead of a trip to Utah [Mrs. McC: to destroy a national monument]. 'I feel very badly. He's led a very strong life, and I feel very badly.'... 'I will say this: Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI,' Trump said. 'Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied, and they destroyed his life. I think it's a shame. Hillary Clinton, on the 4th of July weekend, went to the FBI, not under oath. It was the most incredible thing anyone's ever seen. She lied many times. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied, and it's like they ruined his life. It's very unfair.'... White House spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request to substantiate Trump's allegation that she had 'lied many times' to the FBI.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: That might be because there is no evidence to substantiate Trump's allegation, as Jim Comey testified last year. It's just another of those made-up charges that Trump says "people will believe." Not sure if Trump is trying to appeal to Flynn in hopes Flynn will keep some secrets, or if Trump is laying the groundwork for a pardon of Flynn so he no longer has incentive to testify against Trump & others, or both.

Kara Scannell of CNN: "The White House's chief lawyer told ... Donald Trump in January he believed [-- based on his conversations with Acting AG Sally Yates --] then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled the FBI and lied to Vice President Mike Pence and should be fired, a source familiar with the matter said Monday.... Despite McGahn's recommendation that Trump fire Flynn, the retired lieutenant general was kept on. Flynn was forced out in mid-February after news outlets reported about Yates' warning to McGahn." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Greg Sargent: Trump's attorney John “'Dowd is basically arguing that as the chief law enforcement officer, Trump has the authority to block investigations into himself, his allies and into his friends, and nothing he does can be construed as obstruction of justice,' Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, told me this morning. 'The logical extension of all this is that Trump can try to remove Mueller and it would be entirely legitimate.'... Trump is amplifying a narrative that his media allies have banged away at in recent weeks, one designed to goad Trump into going full authoritarian. The basic idea is that Mueller and the FBI are themselves corrupt — Clinton is not being investigated, but Trump’s campaign is — so the only way to set things right is to close down Mueller’s probe. If Miller is correct, then Dowd’s new quote may telegraph an argument that might be used to justify this, and Trump’s vow to bring the FBI 'back to greatness' can also be read as a hint at this possibility.... Multiple GOP lawmakers have said Mueller’s probe should be allowed to proceed. But that isn’t enough. We should all do our part to ensure that they are pressed on whether Trump will face actual consequences if he tries to prevent that from happening.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "To be clear, this is a Trump lawyer effectively trying to knock down one of two major pillars of the Russia investigation — to exempt his client completely from being held liable for his actions in (roughly) half the investigation.... [While some lawyers saw some merits in Dowd's argument], [o]thers were blunter, arguing that Dowd's case is bogus and entirely self-serving. Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina's School of Law called it 'absurd.' 'The president is obliged to faithfully execute the law, and that includes in circumstances where he or his friends are involved,' Gerhardt said. 'He must also comply like every citizen is obliged to follow the laws in everything else he does ....” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Sean Illing of Vox rounds up more Constitutional scholars who write that, just because the president has the power to do something doesn't mean he has the right to commit a corrupt act. That is, he has the power to fire federal officials who serve at his pleasure, but it is unlawful to fire them for a corrupt purpose -- like, um, protecting himself & his friends. Mrs. McC: As MAG points out in today's thread, Trump has already admitted -- to top Russian officials, no less -- that "Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Hey, Even Jeffbo Agrees! Kyle Cheney of Politico: "In 1999, [Jeff] Sessions – then an Alabama senator – laid out an impassioned case for President Bill Clinton to be removed from office based on the argument that Clinton obstructed justice amid the investigation into his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. 'The facts are disturbing and compelling on the President's intent to obstruct justice,' he said, according to remarks in the congressional record. Sessions isn’t alone. More than 40 current GOP members of Congress voted for the impeachment or removal of Clinton from office for obstruction of justice. They include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who mounted his own passionate appeal to remove Clinton from office for obstruction of justice – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who was a House member at the time." ...

... Brian Beutler of Crooked: The press had adopted the White House's defense that "there is no evidence Trump & his campaign colluded with Russia." "This framing gets things almost completely backward: There is more than enough evidence to say definitively that the Trump administration colluded with Russia, and there is every reason to believe the plot encompassed criminal activity, even if that activity remains invisible for now.... After repeatedly communicating to Russia (in public and in private) that they welcomed interference in the election, Trump and his aides cast public doubt on whether the saboteurs were Russians at all. When Trump went on to win the election after benefiting from this interference, members of his inner circle, through Michael Flynn, secretly connived with Russia to subvert the countermeasures the American government had undertaken as penalties for Russia’s interference." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... McFarland Caught Lying to Congress. Michael Schmidt & Sharon LaFraniere of the New York Times: "An email sent during the transition by President Trump’s former deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, appears to contradict the testimony she gave to Congress over the summer about contacts between the Russian ambassador and Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Ms. McFarland had told lawmakers that she did not discuss or know anything about interactions between Sergey I. Kislyak ... and Mr. Flynn, according to Senate documents. After the hearing, Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, asked her in writing: 'Did you ever discuss any of General Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak directly with General Flynn?' I am not aware of any of the issues or events as described above,' Ms. McFarland replied.... But emails obtained by The New York Times appear to undermine those statements. In a Dec. 29 message about newly imposed Obama administration sanctions against Russia for its election interference, Ms. McFarland ... told another transition official that Mr. Flynn would be talking to the Russian ambassador that evening. The discrepancy is likely to add to mounting troubles for the White House that stem from Mr. Flynn’s interactions with Russian officials.” ...

... ** Josh Marshall reprints McFarland's full memo (via Michael Schmidt) & writes a long piece on the Trump administration's plans for a partnership with Russia: "As Mike Isikoff reported back in June, pretty much from day one in office, Trump administration officials began tasking State Department officials with drawing up plans for [a] rapprochement.... This touched off a panicked effort by career officials and Obama administration hold overs to slow down these efforts and warn key leaders on Capitol Hill of what was happening and what was being planned. But the preparation for this effort began immediately after the election, way back on November 9th.... As McFarland clearly understood[, the administration's deal with Russia] had to become a fait accompli before the full story emerged. Indeed, if the Trump Team could get in place before most of the information was revealed it might never become known at all since they would take over the key agencies doing the investigating. The urgency of [Flynn's] reaching out to Kislyak was to make sure a rapprochement was still possible by late January." ...

... Tierney Sneed of TPM: Ben Cardin (Md.), "the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is calling for KT McFarland to 'clarify' testimony she gave the committee on what she knew about former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador before she receives a floor vote confirming her as an ambassador to Singapore." Mrs. McC: Will Republicans really confirm McFarland after she flat-out lied to their faces on a significant matter the Senate was investigating? I just don't think she is going to Singapore, unless it's on a tourist visa. ...

... Josh Marshall: "... the nature of Flynn’s calls, specifically that they dealt with sanctions, were known widely among Trump’s top advisors: McFarland, Conway, Bannon, Miller, Priebus and certainly others.... This is ... based on the Flynn plea agreement and contemporaneous pool reports which detailed which top advisors the transition team said were with the President on the days in question handling the foreign policy transition.... Trump’s top advisors knew the true nature of the calls and repeatedly lied about it to reporters. This is the only plausible read of the the current evidence. They allowed Pence’s false statements to stand for weeks, which amounts to a furtherance of those lies.... This was a cover-up, a string of publicly verified deceptions that went back to the beginning of the month." --safari ...

... Looking for an example of Marshall's assertion that the White House had engineered a cover-up? Let's check in with Chris Hayes:

... Paul Manafort Is Dumber Than Dirt. Chris Megerian of the Los Angeles Times: "Paul Manafort ghost-wrote an editorial about his political work in Ukraine, violating a court order, according to a new court filing from the special counsel’s office. The allegation was disclosed Monday as the reason the special counsel was backing out of a deal on bail with Manafort’s lawyers. The deal would have loosened the terms of house arrest for President Trump’s former campaign manager. Manafort wanted to be allowed to travel among a few states in return for agreeing to forfeit $11.6 million in property if he missed a court appearance. The special counsel’s office ... said Manafort helped draft the editorial in recent days, working with a Russian who has ties to that country’s intelligence services.” Mrs. McC: Nothing like pissing off the judge who controls your fate. ...

... Rosalind Helderman & Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post: "Federal prosecutors asserted Monday that a longtime associate of Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Trump’s campaign, has been 'assessed to have ties' to Russian intelligence — the first time the special counsel has alleged a Trump official had such contacts. The statement came as prosecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III withdrew their support for a joint bail deal filed last week that would have released Manafort from home detention and GPS monitoring while he awaits trial on charges including money laundering and fraud." ...

What about mikey? Matthew Nussbaum of Politico: "As the White House contends with questions about who knew about former national security adviser Michael Flynn lying to the FBI, people close to Vice President Mike Pence are trying to make clear that ... Donald Trump’s No. 2 knew nothing at all.... Their story has been consistent, even as it has left outside observers wondering how Trump’s running mate and transition head could have known so little." ...

... McKay Coppins of the Atlantic profiles mike pence in a long piece titled "God's Plan for Mike Pence." Here's a nice outtake: "Within hours of The Post’s ["Access Hollywood"] bombshell, Pence made it clear to the Republican National Committee that he was ready to take Trump’s place as the party’s nominee.... Republican donors and party leaders began buzzing about making Pence the nominee and drafting Condoleezza Rice as his running mate.... [Mike & Karen Pence were] appalled by the video.... Karen in particular was 'disgusted,' says a former campaign aide. 'She finds him [Trump] reprehensible — just totally vile.'” ...

...

President Trump may have been involved with a change to the Republican Party campaign platform last year that watered down support for U.S. assistance to Ukraine, according to new information from someone who was involved. Diana Denman, a Republican delegate who supported arming U.S. allies in Ukraine, has told people that Trump aide J.D. Gordon said at the Republican Convention in 2016 that Trump directed him to support weakening that position in the official platform. Ultimately, the softer position was adopted. Denman is scheduled to meet this week with the House and Senate Intelligence committees to discuss what she saw, said two sources familiar with the briefings.... 'I dispute [Denman's] recollection of events,' [Gordon] said in messages with NPR.... The Obama administration also vowed support for pro-Western forces in Ukraine and supplied them with vehicles and other military equipment, but stopped short of weapons." ...

Electronic records show Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server as the No. 2 official in the counterintelligence division, changed Comey's earlier draft language describing Clinton's actions as 'grossly negligent' to 'extremely careless,' the source said. The drafting process was a team effort, CNN is told, with a handful of people reviewing the language as edits were made.... The shift ... [in language] reflected a decision by the FBI that could have had potentially significant legal implications, as the federal law governing the mishandling of classified material establishes criminal penalties for 'gross negligence.'" ...

... Adam Goldman & Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, defended his work force in an email on Monday, a day after President Trump said on Twitter that the agency’s standing was the 'worst in History' and its reputation was in 'Tatters'. In a message to the F.B.I.’s 35,000 agents and support staff that was provided to The New York Times, Mr. Wray said that he was “inspired by example after example of professionalism and dedication to justice demonstrated around the bureau. It is truly an honor to represent you.” He did not mention Mr. Trump by name.... A White House spokesman traveling with the president on Monday would not answer questions about the president’s tweets.” ...

... James Hohmann of the Washington Post: The president of the FBI Agents Association & Jim Comey are defending the agency on Twitter against Trump's tweeted assertions that the FBI is "in tatters" & the new director must "clean house." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...


** Matthew Cole & Jeremy Scahill
of the Intercept: "The Trump administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering 'deep state' enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency. The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.... Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed.... The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world.... According to two former senior intelligence officials, Pompeo has embraced the plan and has lobbied the White House to approve the contract. Asked for comment, a CIA spokesperson said, 'You have been provided wildly inaccurate information by people peddling an agenda.'” ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: We had better hope that unnamed CIA spokesperson is right, & this is one big left-wing wet dream of a conspiracy theory, because if there's any truth to the notion that Trump plans to establish his own, privately-funded deep state, this country is in even bigger trouble than we knew. ...

... Aram Roston of BuzzFeed reported a similar version of this tale on November 30. Mrs. McC: Oddly enough, one of the major companies reputedly involved in the plot works out of -- wait for it -- Whitefish, Montana, that nice little home town of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer & other fascists, & the owners of that two-person electrical contracting firm that ripped off Puerto Rico.

Frances Sellers of the Washington Post: "The defamation suit filed in January in New York State Supreme Court by [Summer] Zervos, a short-lived contestant on 'The Apprentice,' has reached a critical point, with oral arguments over Trump’s motion to dismiss scheduled for Tuesday, after which the judge is expected to rule on whether the case may move forward. If it proceeds, Zervos’s attorneys could gather and make public incidents from Trump’s past and Trump could be called to testify....... By turning personal and branding the women [who accused him of sexual trangressions] liars, Trump has perhaps unwittingly played into a cutting-edge strategy in the legal pursuit of sexual misconduct — claims of defamation.... 'An allegation of defamation against somebody who can seem flamboyantly reckless with the truth may have a higher probability of sticking,' said Naomi Mezey, a law professor at Georgetown University."

Nahal Toosi of Politico: "The State Department has warned American embassies worldwide to heighten security ahead of a possible announcement Wednesday by ... Donald Trump that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The warning — delivered in the past week via two classified cables described by State Department officials — reflects concern that such an announcement could provoke fury in the Arab world...."


Jim Tankersley
of the New York Times: "A Republican requirement that Congress consider the full cost of major legislation threatened to derail the party’s $1.5 trillion tax rewrite last week. So lawmakers went on the offensive to discredit the agency performing the analysis. In 2015, Republicans changed the budget rules in Congress so that official scorekeepers would be required to analyze the potential economic impact of major legislation when determining how it would affect federal revenues. But on Thursday, hours before they were set to vote on the largest tax cut Congress has considered in years, Senate Republicans opened an assault on that scorekeeper, the Joint Committee on Taxation, and its analysis, which showed the Senate plan would not, as lawmakers contended, pay for itself but would add $1 trillion to the federal budget deficit. Public statements and messaging documents obtained by The New York Times show a concerted push by Republican lawmakers to discredit a nonpartisan agency they had long praised. Party leaders circulated two pages of 'response points' that declared 'the substance, timing and growth assumptions of J.C.T.’s "dynamic" score are suspect.'” ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: This is not only the GOP's own rule; it also their own committee. You can bet if Democrats take control of either house & propose a bill that the JCT estimated went $12 over the "revenue-neutral" rule, Republicans will be screaming to the hills. The only consistency in Republican philosophy is that rules are for thee but not for me. ...

... The GOP "War on Economics." Jonathan Chait: "After having spent years browbeating the Joint Committee on Taxation into incorporating 'dynamic' models that assume tax cuts bring faster economic growth, [Republicans] ignored reports which found the Republican plan would not produce nearly enough to pay for itself.... The fiscal effects of tax policy is a field of research, like climate science, where the Republican Party has dismissed the academic consensus and instead resided in a fantasy world.... After 2007, the 'Bush Boom' that conservatives had been celebrating as proof of the brilliance of their tax-cutting scheme was revealed as a bubble, which collapsed. Then in 2012, they predicted that the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on high incomes would cause the economy to slow, but instead it accelerated. The intellectual case for supply-side economics grows weaker and weaker. Yet the supply-siders control of the party remains as firm as ever." --safari ...

... **More Morons! Eric Levitz of New York: "While Republicans were manically outlining their plans to take from the poor to give to the Trumps, they also, accidentally, nullified all of their corporate donors’ favorite deductions.... This is a big problem. The Senate bill brings the normal corporate rate down to 20 percent — while leaving the alternative minimum rate at … 20 percent. The legislation would still allow corporations to claim a wide variety of tax credits and deductions — it just renders all them completely worthless. Companies can either take no deductions, and pay a 20 percent rate — or take lots of deductions … and pay a 20 percent rate. With this blunder, Senate Republicans have achieved the unthinkable: They’ve written a giant corporate tax cut that many of their corporate donors do not like.... McConnell’s mistake has two big implications. First and foremost, it means the Senate will almost certainly have to vote on a tax bill again before [this] one goes into law.... The second implication is that McConnell is going to need new revenue." --safari ...

... Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: "Appearing on CNBC Monday, Harvard economist and former Obama and Clinton administration official Larry Summers warned that if the Senate tax bill becomes law, about 10,000 people will die every year who otherwise would have lived. If anything, his estimate isn’t pessimistic enough.... The reason why is that the bill repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate ... which can cause entire insurance markets to collapse.... The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, if the individual mandate is repealed, 13 million fewer Americans will be insured by 2027.... [E]stimates vary regarding how many people will die if this many people lose their health insurance. One oft-cited study ... looked at how mortality rates declined in Massachusetts after that state enacted Obamacare-like reforms in 2006. It found that 'for every 830 adults gaining insurance coverage there was one fewer death per year.'... That’s 15,600 people who will die every year, thanks to the Senate tax bill." --safari ...

... Paul Krugman: "... it’s not at all surprising that [Congressional Republicans] were willing to enact a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy even though all independent estimates said this would add more than $1 trillion to the national debt. And it was also predictable that they would return to deficit posturing as soon as the deed was done, citing the red ink they themselves produced as a reason to cut social spending. Yet even the most cynical among us are startled both by how quickly the bait-and-switch is proceeding and by the contempt Republicans are showing for the public’s intelligence." ...

... The Gilded Age, Ctd. Dylan Scott of Vox: "Here’s a grim picture of the state of the American economy: The CEO of Dollar General explained to the Wall Street Journal why things are looking up for his company. Dollar General, with about 14,000 stores across the country and a $22 billion market value, targets customers making $40,000 a year or less. They are expanding, CEO Todd Vasos told the Journal. Why? 'The economy is continuing to create more of our core customer,' Vasos said." --safari: I thought all those irresponsible leeches were wasting their last pennies on booze, women, and movies...? ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Sorry, safari. It turns out those reprobates are buying cheap toothpaste & diapers for the kiddies.

Oh, Did We Mention? ... Thomas Kaplan of the New York Times: "With government funding set to expire at the end of Friday, Republicans are aiming to buy more time so they can negotiate over a long-term spending package. The task is complicated by a feud between President Trump and Democrats, whose votes Republicans need to secure passage, and measures on the politically fraught issues of immigration and the Affordable Care Act." ...

     ... Mrs. McC: Yeah, yeah, the federal government could be kaput by the end of the week, but hey, the IRS promised me a check in the mail & wiped out the bill they sent me last week, so what do I care? Sure, I might miss the next Social Security check, but Medlar was only going to use it to booze around with loose women at the movies. I've got leftover cat food, so I'll just whip up a few casseroles & we'll be fine.

Senate Race

Richard Fausset, et al., of the New York Times: "President Trump on Monday strongly endorsed Roy S. Moore, the Republican nominee for a United States Senate seat here, prompting the Republican National Committee to restore its support for a candidate accused of sexual misconduct against teenage girls. Mr. Trump’s endorsement strengthened what had been his subdued, if symbolically significant, embrace of Mr. Moore’s campaign. At Mr. Trump’s direct urging, and to the surprise of some Republican Party officials, the national committee, which severed ties to Mr. Moore weeks ago, opened a financial spigot that could help Mr. Moore with voter turnout in the contest’s closing days. 'Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama,' Mr. Trump posted on Twitter on Monday...." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: The GOP's failure to get a single Democratic vote has nothing whatever to do with the fact that Republicans completely shut out Democrats from their secret meetings & accepted no input whatsoever from them. I should note that when Democrats controlled the government, they took pains to include Republicans in the process. No, both sides don't do it. ...

... The Week: "Moore tweeted the news of the coveted endorsement and quoted the president as saying, "'Go get 'em, Roy!'" Mrs. McC: Oh, he will, Donald. As long as they're very young, female & good-looking.

... Stephanie McCrummen of the Washington Post: Debbie Wesson Gibson, one of the women who said Roy Moore dated her when she was a teenager, has found in a high-school scrapbook a note Moore wrote her. Moore originally admitted to knowing Wesson Gibson but now to dating her. He later said he did "not know any of these women, did not date any of these women and have not engaged in any sexual misconduct with anyone.” She also found a note (which she wrote in her scrapbook that Moore had given her $10 as a graduation gift. "On a page titled 'the best times,' she had written: 'Wednesday night, 3-4-81. Roy S. Moore and I went out for the first time. We went out to eat at Catfish Cabin in Albertville. I had a great time.' She had underlined 'great' twice." Wesson Gibson & her family continued their friendship with Moore for several years.


Yamiche Alcindor
of the New York Times: "Representative John Conyers Jr., who faces allegations that he sexually harassed former employees, plans to announce Tuesday that he will not seek re-election, according to a family member.... Mr. Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, will make the announcement by calling into a local radio show on Tuesday morning, Ian Conyers, a Michigan state senator, said in a phone interview early Tuesday. Ian Conyers, 29, the grandson of Mr. Conyers’s brother, said he now planned to run for the seat held by his 88-year-old great-uncle, a Democrat who represents the Detroit area." ...

... Todd Spangler of the Detroit Free Press: "Another former staff employee of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, came forward late Monday to publicly accuse the congressman of sexual harassment, saying he once slid his hand up her skirt in church. Attorney Lisa Bloom, who is representing Marion Brown, the former staffer who first accused Conyers, 88, of sexual harassment, on Monday night made public on Twitter an affidavit from Elisha Grubbs making many of the same accusations. Conyers, who is being called on by many of his Democratic colleagues to resign, is expected to have an announcement about his future at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday in Detroit."

Steven Zeitchik of the Washington Post: "HBO host John Oliver hammered Dustin Hoffman about allegations of sexual harassment and the actor fired back with a ferocious defense, as a seemingly benign screening became an explosive conversation about Hollywood sexual misconduct on Monday night.... [Oliver was hosting] an anniversary screening of the film 'Wag the Dog.' [He alluded] to an allegation made by Anna Graham Hunter last month that Hoffman groped her and made inappropriate comments when she was a 17-year-old intern on the set of the 1985 TV movie 'Death Of A Salesman.'... Approximately halfway through the hour-long talk, Oliver brought up the issue to Hoffman, saying he found the actor’s statements about the matter wanting. Nearly the entire rest of the discussion was then dominated by Oliver, Hoffman and the subject of sexual harassment.”


Adam Liptak
of the New York Times: "The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the third version of the Trump administration’s travel ban to go into effect while legal challenges against it continue. The decision was a victory for the administration after its mixed success before the court over the summer, when justices considered and eventually dismissed disputes over the second version. The court’s brief, unsigned orders on Monday urged appeals courts to move swiftly to determine whether the latest ban was lawful. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have denied the administration’s request to allow the latest ban to go into effect."

"Capitalism is Awesome" Ctd. Sarah Kliff of Vox: "There are 141 million visits to the emergency room each year, and nearly all of them ... have a charge for something called a facility fee. This is the price of walking through the door and seeking service. It does not include any care provided.... Most hospitals do not make these fees public.... That’s why Vox has launched a year-long investigation into emergency room facility fees.... A new Vox analysis reveals ... the price of these codes has increased sharply since 2009.... We found that the price of these fees rose 89 percent between 2009 and 2015 — rising twice as fast as the price of outpatient health care, and four times as fast as overall health care spending." --safari

Way Beyond the Beltway

David Filipov of the Washington Post: "Russia on Tuesday named Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and seven affiliated news services as foreign agents, in retaliation for similar U.S. moves against the English-language Russian network RT. The Justice Ministry published a list of nine outlets, which includes Russian-language subsidiaries of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that cover the Caucasus region of Russia, Crimea, Siberia, and two predominantly Muslim regions in central Russia, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. The ban also includes Current Time TV, which is produced by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Factograph a website produced by Radio Liberty."